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829 Order Refugees 2

 A long, long time ago, the Dragon Soul Continent prospered and flourished. The continent was incomparably wide with unlimited sources of water and land that extended to the ends of the world. However, everything changed after the Creation War. The bugle that signified the start of the Creation War engulfed the entire world. Sacred areas protected by the dragon souls were destroyed in clashes. The Order protection barrier weakened while Chaos infiltrated the abandoned land and enveloped everything. After the end of the Creation War, the borders of Order once again stabilized.

However, the people who resided in regions devoured by Chaos didn't die off completely. Some of them relied on Order Flame Columns and sought refuge in the dark underground, escaping from the corrosion of Chaos. They lived there while struggling on death's door, hoping that the glory of Order could eradicate the endless Chaos and help them return to the surface.

These people were called the 'Order Refugees'.

"Oh my goodness..."

Everyone gazed blankly. They didn't expect that this was possible. If they didn't personally witness the Order Refugees, perhaps they wouldn't have believed this story.

"Why didn't they move out of there?"

Lize asked with knitted brows.

"It's impossible. Every refuge has hundreds of people, but only a few of them are permitted to leave and show up outside Chaos because the range of protection under the Order Flame Column is limited. If they move away from there, they would all be devoured by Chaos, which explains why the Order Refugees are in this state now. They occasionally use the Order torches to get through the Chaos barrier and transact with outsiders for supplies. Those who wish to transact with them have to establish an Order Flame Column outside the borders of the Land of Chaos. This way, they could use the resonance of the Order Flame Columns to determine their bearings and ensure that they won't lose their sense of direction."

"But what if it is only a coincidence?"

Randolf asked curiously.

"Simple. They will form a pattern with stones left around the Order Flame Column for those who understand what they mean. Then, they will proceed with a transaction. Of course, this is sort of a risk for both parties."

I see...

Nell said inwardly. She finally understood why Rhode kept making her check for any strange patterns around the Order Flame Column. But how did he know all this? She just couldn't figure it out. She had met several knowledgeable Undead Creatures in the Country of Darkness that had lived for a long time. But not even they were able to explain this situation as well as Rhode. On the other hand, why did he make a transaction with the Order Refugees?

Nell puckered her brows. For the sake of safety, Marlene didn't tell everyone the value of those items that looked like trash. However, Nell already knew. Could it be that Rhode did it for the precious magical materials? It didn't seem likely because judging from her observation, Rhode wasn't a greedy person. He also wasn't one who would do whatever necessary to get his hands on them.

So what was the reason?

'Mr. Rhode, why did you make a transaction with them?"

Lize asked as she believed that Rhode wouldn't do things for no apparent reason.

"We need a guide, so we have to maintain a good relationship with them."

"A guide?"

"Yes."

Rhode turned to her.

"If I'm not mistaken, the Country of Darkness should be temporarily ceasing their attacks on the Light Mainland in the near future. When that happens, I will need a group of qualified guides to lead us into the Land of Chaos. No one beats the Order Refugees as they have been living there for decades."

"Into the Land of Chaos?"

Lize widened her eyes.

"Mr. Rhode, what are you going to do in the Land of Chaos?"

"Not only me."

Rhode's eyes glinted with traces of smiles.

"You're also going, Lize, Marlene, and everyone... Our territory is barren and I don't think Her Royal Highness Lydia will confer Paphield to me anytime soon. Also, I'm not interested in the Southern Port, so we have to rely on ourselves to survive. I think that it is crucial to expand into a new territory, especially one that is full of opportunities and resources."

Lize stared blankly. At this moment, she just heard something that she had never thought of.

As the people of the Light Mainland, she understood what Rhode meant. Back then, after the Creation War ended, in order to strengthen their territories, the Country of Light and Country of Darkness gave development orders to the knights and subjects, where they penetrated territories contaminated by Chaos in order to awaken the hidden Order-the powers of the Creator Dragon Souls. If they succeed, they would gain authority over the territory as the new ruler. This was how many territories and countries came about. However, as time passed, people stopped pursuing and as rules solidified, the territories contaminated with Chaos became much more dangerous. Therefore, there were no more humans who attempted this.

And now... It was apparent that Rhode was planning to do this.

What is he planning exactly?

Before the start of spring, everything that Rhode hoped for had happened. It could also be said that it was sort of dramatic.

After endless wrangling, the Light Parliament finally agreed to officially sign the order for the Munn Kingdom's Battle Angel Army to be stationed in the Winter Castle. The second day after the Battle Angel Army set up their defenses in the Winter Castle, the Country of Law issued a command that requested for the Country of Darkness to explain the situation regarding the Chaos Beings' emergence in the Eastern Plains. Thereafter, the Country of Darkness retreated from the Munn Kingdom entirely, but this didn't mean that they had given up hopes of conquering the Country of Light.

Rhode uncharacteristically burst into laughter. If it weren't for him being afraid that Sonia would reveal her identity to the Light Parliament, he wished that she could let him see the parliament members' faces when they heard this piece of news. However, even though he couldn't witness their bewildered expressions, he felt incredibly good just imagining them blowing their tops, where not even defeating the Undead Army delighted him this much.

Of course, he would be even more satisfied if he could crush their skulls, burn their city, and trample on their corpses in the crumbled Light Parliament hall like he did in the game.

But before that, he must be capable enough.

***

The spotlessly white doors embedded with golden floral patterns opened widely. The tune of melodious music and the fragrant scent of red tea assailed his nostrils. Rhode tidied his clothes and entered the room in large strides. Shortly after, he spotted a young lady lying languidly on the sofa as per usual.

However, Lydia wore a different outfit today-a maroon robe that accentuated her gracious curves and a silky, thin shawl that draped over her soft, snowy shoulders. She smiled and stood to her feet upon seeing Rhode.

"Welcome, Earl Rhode. It's been a while."

"Greetings, Your Royal Highness Lydia."

Rhode bowed respectfully.

"Earl Rhode, I heard everything you've done in the Eastern Plains from Gaya. Thankfully, with Christie's and your help, the Chaos Beings failed to succeed with their plans. Not only that, but you have also brought us a wonderful opportunity for this armistice. How wonderful..." Lydia pushed the cup of tea and the plate of exquisite slices of cake before him. Then, she narrowed her eyes and scanned him.

"By the way, how is Christie doing? Honestly speaking, although I'm aware that she possesses powerful strength, I didn't expect her to be strong enough to eradicate Chaos. In fact, I'm truly surprised. I'm thinking of giving her a small reward. Even though it isn't possible to give her a piece of land, a manor is still possible. But..."

Lydia gazed at Rhode and winked playfully.

"... I'm not sure if you're willing, Earl Rhode?"

"I still hope for Christie to stay by my side."

Rhode replied calmly. He knew that Gaya was loyal to Lydia and didn't expect her to keep Christie's powers a secret from her. If Gaya didn't reveal what she saw to Lydia, it would make Rhode even more suspicious about her true thoughts.

"I guessed so too."

Lydia smiled.

"Alright then. Is anything the matter for your visit today, Earl Rhode?"

"Yes, Your Royal Highness Lydia."

Rhode put up a stern expression. He took a sip of the warm tea and gazed at her.

"I hope to gain your approval and confer me in the name of the Munn Kingdom ruler for a... Development order."

Lydia narrowed her eyes and twitched her brow while Rhode gazed straight at her eyes. He lifted his head confidently in silence. Frankly speaking, he was rather concerned before raising this request. In the past, several rulers had encouraged their men to repair Order in territories contaminated by Chaos after the Creation War ended. However, it was agreed in the post-war treaty that the ones who reawakened Order held the rights to become the overlord of that territory. This was also why in the later stages of the game, there were fewer rulers dispatching their subjects for this goal. After all, no one would wish for their subjects to gain too much independent authority, status, and territories, right?

It was due to this that Rhode had chosen to personally speak to Lydia about this matter. Even though he was still an overlord in name, he was more like a self-financing army leader judging from his encampment, where he didn't need to protect too many subjects or territory. This was why he didn't mind following Lydia's orders. However, it would be different if he obtained the Land of Chaos. The reconstruction of Order would bring fertility to the land. In other words, it would mean that Rhode would have an endless flow of resources he obtained from the Land of Chaos. There was platinum hidden underground and the amount of materials such as Fog Stones could be weighed in tonnes. Under such a circumstance, would Rhode still listen to Lydia's command? What if Lydia needed him to sacrifice his territory and benefits in order to protect the Munn Kingdom? Would he be willing to?

This was a question without an answer. No, perhaps it would be right to say that the answer was already in their minds.

In an instant, silence permeated the room. After a few moments, Lydia let out a sigh and shut her eyes.

"Pioneer... A synonym for the brave written in ancient books and scrolls. After the Creation War ended, people raised their flags high and headed into Chaos, all for the sake of the same goal. Some sought freedom, courage, greed, and even promise. Humans are complicated beings and it was this reason that they fought for the same goal with different purposes in mind and sacrificed their lives. This is true beauty. Unfortunately, just like the dark clouds that surround our future path, pioneers disappeared in the historical dust. Their once glorious deeds were no longer remembered..."

Lydia paused. Then, she revealed a gentle smile.

"I never thought that there would be someone willing to accept this flag covered with dust in this era, Earl Rhode. Even the most ancient of seeds will grow under the nurture of spring water and soil. Earl Rhode, since you've made up your mind, I can only bless your courage and ideals. So then..."

It's here.

Rhode gathered his attention for this crucial moment. He witnessed Lydia's statesmanship and even if she was an Archangel, she wouldn't possibly let loose this easily. Even though Lydia wasn't sure where Rhode was heading into exactly, the new territory would most likely be connected with the Munn Kingdom. In other words, it was impossible that she wouldn't ask about it.

However, what Lydia said next astonished him.

"... Are you willing to accept my blessings and become an Honorary Knight?"

Honorary Knight?

Rhode knew what she meant. An Honorary Knight wasn't a knight who would be loyal to the ruler unto death. On the contrary, it was more like a noble title-one that was filled with strong political purpose. Honorary Knights didn't need to follow all commands from the ruler. Judging from this point, it was more like a symbolic title, just like a relationship that symbolized the relation between the two in the form of an oath.

Should I accept it?

Rhode pondered in silence. He knew that there was only one answer.

"It would be my honor, Your Royal Highness Lydia."

"Good."

Lydia revealed a delightful smile. Rhode realized a trace of slyness from the glint in her eyes.

Could it be that there are some other issues involved? No, this is just the title of the Honorary Knight. There should be no restrictions...

"Alright then, please get prepared, Earl Rhode. Since this is a sacred ceremony, we will need a just witness."

Lydia clapped her hands and a Battle Angel opened the door and entered.

"May I hear your order, Your Royal Highness?"

"Get Rin here. I have something that needs her help."

"Yes."

Rin?

Rhode was astonished. He couldn't remember hearing one with this name in the Golden City. He thought that the witness would be Grand Mage Amund or Gaya since they were close with Lydia and held suitable identities. But now, who was this Rin...

The grand room doors opened once again and a beautiful young lady with dark, silky hair strode in. She gazed at Rhode and couldn't conceal her surprise and curiosity. Then, she revealed a gentle smile and went up to him.

"I didn't expect to meet you here, Sir Rhode. I thought I wouldn't get to see you again. It's been a while."

"Excuse me, you are..."

Rhode scanned the young lady curiously. Her voice was somewhat familiar, but he just couldn't figure out who she was. Even though this young lady was as beautiful as Lydia, she was much more reserved and her clothes were more plain. Lydia chuckled at the sight of Rhode's confused expression and introduced this mysterious young lady.

"Earl Rhode, meet Her Royal Highness, the Princess of the Country of Darkness, Miss Erin. I guess you two have already met earlier on, right?"