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864 In the Name of the Holy Sage

 Tinder Origin.

Rhode gazed at the tall tower that seemed rather similar to tall buildings with 200 to 300 floors on Earth. The thick crystal glass plates on its exterior reflected the brilliance of the tinder while green vines climbed around it, which reminded him of movie scenes of destroyed cities... Yes, he had to admit that this beautiful view of humans and nature was truly moving. In the distant azure sky, there was a glass-like barrier that kept out all Chaos. That was the strength of the tinder. Unlike the strength of Order that was struggling whilst at death's door in the refuge, Chaos wasn't able to penetrate this perfect Order barrier despite the tinder already being so weak.

"Order exists forever over Chaos."

"Keep your guards up and don't attack recklessly. I don't wish for them to treat us as enemies."

"Them?"

Lize gazed curiously at the tower. Rhode shrugged and nodded in agreement.

"That's right. If I recall correctly, there should be Order Refugees living there. But unlike the ones in the refuge, the Order Refugees here are protected by the tinder, so they shouldn't be that..." Rhode shifted his gaze to Bell, waved his hands casually, and skipped this part. But even if he didn't mention, those who went to the refuge knew what he meant. "... But I guess you're aware that the people here have been secluded for hundreds and thousands of years. We may possibly be their first visitors. Currently, this is their territory and we need their help. So, no matter what happens, as long as it doesn't threaten your life, you do not retaliate. Understood? Besides, don't belittle those guys. Although they remain isolated here, they are a race that has mastered battle techniques and survived the first Light Mainland war a thousand years ago. It definitely isn't due to luck for them to survive to this date. All in all, you should never attack unless I give the command. You may feel afraid or that this is exaggerating, but you have to know that the time that they're living in now is still a thousand years ago, strictly speaking."

"Yes, Sir."

Everyone responded in unison. But they were also curious. A thousand years ago? If it was according to what Rhode said, then these people had already lived here before Munn Kingdom was built. At this moment, they didn't take notice of Marlene, who stood a distance away from Rhode in the back, gazing at the tower with complicated emotions. She held a rather old-looking badge and let out a subtle sigh.

It seems like I'm eventually back to this place.

Rhode turned to the entrance that was blocked off by a thick, heavy slate. Then, he took in a deep breath and took two steps forward, when suddenly an arrow struck the ground before him. At the same time, everyone heard a deep, strange voice.

"... Who's there... Where did you... come from?"

Although everyone was somewhat unfamiliar with the language, they could still understand to a certain extent. They looked up hurriedly, but no one acted recklessly.

Rhode scanned the trembling arrow with the feather tail. He took half a step forward and looked at the pitch-black tower before him. Although it seemed to be uninhabited, he knew clearly that this was the time for him to present his sincerity. Even though he told his subjects that the Order Refugees here wouldn't be as crazy and dangerous as the ones in the refuge, he was aware that the years of isolation might change their perspective, just like in the Eastern Plains, where people had different views on matters of the outside. The Eastern Plains wasn't entirely cut off from the rest of the world, but this place was. Therefore, the behavior and mindset of the people here might be entirely the opposite of those from the outside world. It could even be said that this place had no standards of humanity. For instance, the players also met this situation when they explored this area. The residents had a unique custom and that was if the newborn was a boy and had a disability, they would instantly kill it and use it as fertilizer or livestock food. If the newborn was a girl with a disability, she would be nurtured and used as a 'fertility machine'. This was because this place was completely cut off from the outside world, where the protection of the tinder would entirely deteriorate if they couldn't breed offspring to maintain the place. Therefore, it was totally normal for a woman to be pregnant with children of different fathers. Not only that, but some residents who became old in age would also be executed or chased out of the place, in order to save on food, water, and supplies.

It was apparent that not only the NPCs couldn't tolerate such customs, but the players also expressed their disapproval. As the game was targeted at the entire age group, there were many female organizations and child protection organizations coming online and protesting, stating that such overly cruel displays would harm the mentality of children. Besides, it was too unacceptable for the modern human society. In the end, the developer was forced to switch up that part of the game under the pressure of public opinion. However, they had only changed the minimal stuff on the table for the sake of harmony. For instance, players in the past would personally witness the Order Refugees chasing the frail and old out of the tinder barrier or slaughtering them directly. But later on, players would only witness them being taken away and after a few days with careful observations, players could find traces and chunks of bloody flesh around. Although players continued to oppose, the developers had better things to do and in the end, they could only settle the matter by leaving it unsettled-anyway, this wasn't the first time that this genre of games faced such a problem.

That's the benefits of having a monopoly...

Rhode shook his head helplessly. Back then, the Dragon Soul Continent was extremely popular on Earth, where they beat other online games and came in first. Although the other companies did think of creating a similar virtual reality game, the core technologies were developed by the Dragon Soul Continent's developers and were never distributed to the public. Of course, some countries penalized them in accordance with anti-monopoly laws, but the developers weren't swayed at all. Moreover, the attractiveness of this virtual reality game was too much to resist for the players. In the end, every country could only turn a blind eye and appease the people if there were any objections. Fortunately, the disputed topics surrounding the Dragon Soul Continent were mainly about the game and there were no high-pressure situations in which the players had been angered by clauses, frauds, or some other sort.

Even though Rhode didn't know if the residents here were normal humans or cannibals, he had to see it for himself. All he could do was hope that the residents wouldn't behave uncharacteristically before Lize, Marlene, and the others, such as selling their babies and cooking them in a pot... Rhode didn't tell them of the possible strange situations that might happen with the guardians of the tinder. Firstly, he couldn't explain the situation to them and secondly, not every Tinder Origin had anti-humans. In the past, although the people were more rigid, their values weren't too different from ordinary humans.

"Guardians of the tinder."

Rhode called out.

"We are people from the land of Order. We followed the guidance of our ancestors to awaken the tinder. I hope that you can open the entrance, so we can enter the ultimate path to Order!"

"..."

Total silence.

There wasn't a single sound from within the tower. After all, as the people of Order, since they carried the heavy responsibilities of protecting the tinder, it wasn't wrong that they observed the visitors cautiously.

But... It took rather too long.

Rhode gazed at the tower silently before taking a look at his pocket watch. One and a half hours had gone by, but they didn't respond at all. Did they not intend to interact with Rhode? Or were they carefully investigating the situation? Rhode scanned the surroundings boringly, and shortly after he shifted his gaze to the sealed entrance, which had the pattern of a beautiful flower that seemed like a symbol. However, the pattern had almost vanished entirely over time. For unknown reasons, Rhode felt that he had seen this symbol somewhere...

"Let me do it, Rhode."

At this moment, someone disrupted his thoughts. He twitched his brow and turned over, only to find Marlene walking out of the crowd. She gazed solemnly at the tower and after a few moments of pondering, she took out an old-looking badge from her pocket and raised it high.

A dazzling, magical radiance emanated from the badge and shone the pattern of a staff with a lily in full bloom.

"I hereby declare--!"

Marlene held her head high and announced.

"... that I, Marlene Senia, ask for you to open the entrance and pave the way toward Order. Guardians of the tinder, under the glory of the Senia Family, now is the time for you to fulfill your mission and end everything. The pointer of truth and rules of gears shall return to this point and complete the ancestors' wishes! Restore past honor and glory!"

The badge in her hand shook while golden magical rays shone from all over the tower. Then, the badge suddenly turned into a dazzling light beam, and a mysterious staff appeared in her hand.

It was a staff designed in a scientific style. The brass staff was almost two-meters long while its tip was unlike ordinary staffs that were embedded with gems. Instead, it had three large biting gears that rotated slowly in coordination. At the bottom of the staff were all sorts of mechanical components running in place and hot steam ejected from the openings. Not only that, but there were also three golden halos hovering above the staff.

Marlene clutched the staff and thrust it into the ground, when suddenly an enormous golden ritual emerged beneath her feet. Within the golden ritual was a square with its edges marked by the shimmering radiance of the four main elements: wind, fire, water, and earth.

"The door to fate has been opened. Guardians, it is time for you to fulfill your mission!"

Everyone watched in silence as they gazed at Marlene in astonishment, where even Rhode uncharacteristically displayed a look of surprise. Even though he knew that Marlene had her reasons for insisting in joining them into the Land of Chaos, he didn't expect that she was related to the guardians of the tinder-no, judging from her words, it should be said that the Senia Family was related to them!

This was totally out of his expectations. He always treated the Senia Family as the most powerful family in the Munn Kingdom with the most advanced magic technologies. There were no rumors among players that the Senia Family was related to the ancient civilization of magic technologies at all. As for Marlene, the players thought that she was just a magical talent who was an expert with the four main elements and the leader of an all-female mercenary group. No one had discovered this side of her. But now... what kind of strange development to the story this was!

Finally, at this moment, various noises sounded from within the quiet tower.

"T-That staff!"

"Is she the Holy Sage?!"

"Open the door!"

The heavy, sealed slate blocking the entrance slowly moved. Although Rhode was mentally prepared, he couldn't tolerate this difference in treatment... But before that, he had an important question to ask Marlene.

"Marlene, you..."

"I know what you're gonna ask, Rhode."

Marlene smiled and interrupted.

"That's right. Just as you thought, our Senia Family has a deep relationship with the guardians of the tinder since a long time ago. As for the reason... It is fairly simple." Marlene paused. Then, she gazed silently at him. "Because on this continent, the first tinder was created by our Senia Family after inheriting the technique from the Creator Dragon Soul."

"How is that possible?!"

Rhode was baffled. Indeed. Creating the tinder was the only technique grasped by humans to protect and develop the land of Order. However, the technique was lost a thousand years ago. Besides, if the Senia Family indeed possessed such advanced magical technologies, they could build a country with perfect magical infrastructure! In fact, based on the war against the Country of Darkness in the game, he felt that the Senia Family shouldn't have fallen to this state. If they were able to get their hands on the tinder that created this continent, they would be able to create a legendary weapon that could destroy the world. Back then, it was the most godlike, legendary weapon that an ordinary human could use to fight against the Creator Dragon Souls. However, the Senia Family perished entirely in the Country of Darkness's invasion, so Rhode couldn't understand why. Judging from that, it would be illogical to say that the Senia Family possessed shady technologies. This was as though this were a movie where aliens invaded Earth and destroyed a country, only to be told that the country actually possessed technologies that could destroy the entire galaxy. It was just too strange, wasn't it?

"That is the truth, Rhode."

Marlene gazed at the young man.

"I always believe that you would come here and your choice has proven that my judgment is right, Rhode. You shall light up the tinder, allowing the honor of Order to return to this land. And I will always be by your side as the guardian..."

Marlene paused, but didn't finish her sentence eventually. She kept the final statement to herself.

"...Until that moment comes."