Sunlight spilled through the dome glass and brightened the spacious hall entirely . Lize arranged the framed drawing on the wall cautiously before taking two steps back and nodding in satisfaction .
“All’s good,” Lize mumbled while caressing the little girl’s head gently . “Christie is really talented because not anyone can draw such a beautiful picture . Putting this here as a decoration is a really great suggestion . ”
“…” The little girl was dressed in a simple yet elegant robe . She hugged the drawing board in her arms while blushing and lowering her head shyly . Lize smiled in response to Christie’s shyness and once again patted her head .
“This is really, really beautiful…” Lize praised softly .
Christie’s drawings skills had become increasingly adept and she could draw a much wider range of subjects now . From the start, this little girl could only draw human portraits and landscapes . But now, she learned to draw some imaginary stories and even legendary battle scenes . Some of the extraordinary scenes portrayed heroes who triumphed over evil and battles between the Demons and the undead creatures . These scenes were drawn so realistically that some might have thought that Christie had seen them for herself .
But Lize was more worried about another matter .
“Rhode… is not back yet?” The little girl lifted her head hesitantly .
Lize sighed helplessly . Ever since the Fortress was built, everyone had been busy . Rhode’s planning covered every aspect perfectly before he left, but this meant that everyone had a lot of responsibilities . Marlene oversaw the overall situation in the Fortress from morning to midnight every day while Canary and Mini Bubble Gum trained the mercenaries and sometimes wouldn’t return after a few days in the wild . As for Lize, she was occupied with the management of the Fortress and other Clerics . Last but not least, ever since Rhode had handed over a mission to Lapis, she had been cooped up in her alchemy workshop and seldom stepped out . Once in a while, Lize would check on Lapis when she had the time and it was apparent that this young lady wasn’t having an easy time either .
Back in their days in Deep Stone City, everyone would accompany this little girl for shopping during their leisure time and ever since they moved into the Fortress, they had been so busy that they didn’t even have time for themselves . Even though Christie had been sensible and obedient all this while, Lize felt that this little girl was actually feeling really lonely .
But, when exactly will Mr . Rhode be back? It had been almost a month since they left the Land of Atonement and there was no news of them . Come to think of it, they should be back by now… Lize squatted and gently stroked Christie’s long hair .
“Don’t worry, Christie . I think they will be back soon . Just a little while more and I’m sure Mr . Rhode will be…” before Lize could finish her sentence, Christie gazed over Lize’s back and her eyes lit up instantly .
“Rhode…” Christie let go of the drawing board in her arms as she called out Rhode’s name softly while Lize turned around and recognized the familiar person instantly .
“I’m back, Christie, Lize . It seems like you two are doing fine?” Rhode greeted gently .
“Rhode…” Christie called out for Rhode softly once more as she scuttled forward and dived into Rhode’s arms . Rhode smiled widely and caressed Christie’s long hair tenderly before lifting his head at Lize . Facing this black-haired young man, Lize felt her clear vision suddenly blur and distort . Then, she blinked to force the tears out of her eyes . “Mr . Rhode, you’re finally back…”
“There’s Anne too, Lize . Christie~!” Anne peeked out behind Rhode while waving to Lize cheerfully . She squatted down quickly and gave Christie a big hug, not forgetting to rub the little girl’s fair, tender cheeks . “Ah… Christie . Long time no see Have you missed Anne?”
“… Yes… Of course . I feel bored when Sister Anne isn’t around…”
“Alright then, Anne shall bring you somewhere fun, okay?”
Ahem ahem . Lize coughed humorously as the both of them were getting rather out of hand . Then she realized that apart from Gillian who had always been by Rhode’s side, there was a pair of young man and a lady who seemed to be mercenaries around Rhode’s age . It felt as though they were country bumpkins who were stupefied after witnessing this spacious hall . “Mr . Rhode, they are…?”
“Two new mercenaries . Get Kavos to make arrangements . From today onwards, they will be members of our guild . ” Rhode snapped his fingers at the both of them before leading Christie and Anne up the stairs . “By the way, Marlene should be in her room, right?”
Lize displayed a bitter smile . “Erm… She indeed is in her room . But I think you’d better leave her alone, Mr . Rhode . ”
“Oh?” Rhode asked curiously . “What happened?”
Marlene was very annoyed at the moment .
She glared at the two paunchy and swaggering nobles before her while trying to restrain herself from blasting them out of this Fortress . “I’m sincerely regretful to inform you both that we, Starlight, have signed a contract with the Silver Libra Trade Association and Keller Trade Association . As long as the contract is still in place, we forbid any other trade associations from entering without permission . Furthermore, both of your procedures are not in compliance with our regulations, so I hope both of you can understand this point…”
“Of course we understand, Miss Senia,” One of them answered with a mocking smile . He stuck out his beer belly while pulling up the belt that almost snapped under his wide waistline . “But rules are dead while humans are alive, right? This is the first time we arrived in your territory, so we weren’t aware beforehand . Besides… Our stocks have already been transported here . It wouldn’t be too good for us to transport them all the way back, right? After all, we came here in kindness and we will really suffer great losses if we can’t do any business here…”
“…” Marlene gnashed her teeth while controlling her temper .
These two noble merchants arrived at the Fortress half a month ago with hopes to expand their business . However, they were stopped immediately by Marlene . After all, these suspicious merchants claimed to have traveled from a faraway place in order to operate their business here . Marlene was dubious because merchants wouldn’t usually choose a faraway land to operate their main business . Although this arrangement was possible for traveling merchants, even local merchants in the Paphield region wouldn’t dare to go to the Land of Atonement without any affirmation . This showed that something fishy was going on since these two foreign merchants understood that much about the commercial situation in the Land of Atonement .
Marlene never expected these two fellows to be this stubborn . Not only did they not give up, they continued to display a smirk on their faces as though they wouldn’t leave unless Marlene allowed them to start their businesses here . Marlene had warned them several times; however, these two merchants wouldn’t leave no matter what . Furthermore, Marlene was fuming that as they were negotiating with her, their men had actually attempted to begin their operations in the Fortress!
If they were ordinary humans, Marlene would’ve blasted them out of the Fortress in no time . However, they were foreign nobles and weren’t merchants of the Munn Kingdom . They were representing the Soloman Financial Group from the Country of Light with an officially-approved clause . The Soloman Financial Group was one of the five biggest financial groups that supported the Country of Light . At the same time, they had a certain degree of business dealings with the Munn Kingdom .
Marlene did consider agreeing to their terms and observing the situation . But, as the Fortress had just been established, these unpredictable factors might affect the Fortress’ development . Furthermore, Rhode didn’t have a favorable relationship with the Country of Light and Marlene found this situation somewhat difficult to manage .
“Miss Senia, I hope you can consider our proposal . ” The other noble stood up and moved closer to Marlene with a sinister grin . “We came here because we saw the potential in your guild, so isn’t this good news? Moreover, we hold the Buttonwood Agreement and according to it, we have the right to protect our legal interest . Or are you intending to go against our Soloman Financial Group? Do you know the consequences?”
“…” Marlene’s forehead furrowed and before she could retort, a voice sounded from the corridor .
“You’ve got the balls to bark in my turf with your small, little Soloman Financial Group? I’m curious to see what you guys can really offer . ”