Rhode felt like a tour guide for the past two days .
He wouldn’t usually agree to such demands, but he eventually agreed after pondering for a while . Then, both of them slipped out of the imperial residence and headed to Dalkest . Back then, Rhode didn’t bring Derick and the others for a trip there because most of them were young adults who had seen such places, so it wouldn’t alter their thoughts even if they were to visit the slums . But the situation was entirely different from a little girl like Lily . But Rhode brought along another person for safety .
“Leader, where are we heading to? Who is this little girl?”
Rhode rescued Anne from Marlene’s ‘etiquette hell’ and the little girl who followed Rhode around piqued Anne’s curiosity . Marlene’s etiquette education wasn’t tolerable for most people . She was brought up in an environment where her ceremonial postures were accurate to the extent of centimeters . This was also why Rhode slipped away immediately after watching Lize and Anne suffer under Marlene’s lectures . In the game, the players’ greetings to the NPCs were more like they were pretending to be elegant and grandeur, allowing for a sense of incorporation . Who would even bother with learning the proper noble etiquette? Of course, if one could receive aid from the dark by displaying precise hand gestures to illegal gang… It would be a whole other situation .
Marlene showed no mercy . Perhaps she knew that Anne wouldn’t understand any noble etiquettes judging from her carefree nature, she instantly force fed Anne and requested that she repeated the proper greetings a thousand times! Since Anne couldn’t remember everything, Marlene might as well force Anne into remembering them instinctively!
Anne was suffering bitterly . It was imaginable how painful it was for this lively young lady to repeat the complicated ceremonial etiquette a thousand times, so she was thrilled when Rhode asked for her as though she had been rescued from concentration camp . She was so deeply grateful for Rhode that she treated him like a benefactor .
“She’s Lily . She wants to look around the place where the poor lives, so I got you along to protect her . You should know what to do, Anne . ”
“That kind of place?”
Rhode knew that Anne wouldn’t understand what ‘slum’ meant and he explained to her simply for her to understand the situation . Mercenaries mostly lived in the bottom of the social class and often interacted with the poor people in the slums . Rhode shook his head at this thought . Come to think of it, this was the first time that he had such an innocent and unaffected young girl beside him who didn’t understand the pain and difficulties of the world . Lapis, Anne, and Lize had been mercenaries for a long time and they knew it inside out . As for Christie, perhaps she had experienced the darkest side of the Humans, much more so than most people . But even then, she was still able to maintain her kind side, which went to show how determined she was . As for a rich young daughter like Ann Clark, she had tasted the warmth and heartlessness of humanity after she returned from being kidnapped by the Cultists . But Lily was unlike all of them . Rhode felt that this little girl was like a fragile flower in a sterile greenhouse, protected by glass walls, warm temperatures, and having grown up in fertile soil . She had grown up in an incredibly comfortable environment and was never exposed to heat, storms, harsh chills, and dry, barren soil . None of them existed in her entire world and she firmly believed it .
Anne widened her eyes in astonishment and turned to the little girl .
“What do you want to do at a place like that? It is very dangerous there . A cute girl like you may be kidnapped and sold away in the blink of an eye . ”
A ghastly whiteness spread over the little girl’s face . But she plucked up her courage and lifted his head . She said with a shaky voice .
“But… Miss Anne, haven’t you…”
“Ah, Anne will do . Don’t call me Miss . Anne can’t stand hearing people calling me with ‘Miss’ . ”
“… Ah . Sorry . But, Anne, haven’t you… been to those places too?”
“That’s right . ”
Anne shrugged .
“Anne often followed my previous mercenary group leader to those places . They were dirty, messy, and terrible . There were many times when people tried to snatch me away . Hehehe . But, those guys aren’t Anne’s match at all! Anne swings my fist and those guys ran away! Hahaha . How funny . ”
Lily puckered her brows as though she was dissatisfied .
“Those people are so pitiful…”
“Anne knows that they’re pitiful, but what has it got to do with Anne? They’re in the wrong for finding trouble with Anne in the first place!”
Rhode let out an inward laugh as he gazed at Anne brandishing her tiny fists about and Lily who looked at her at her wits’ end… It seemed to be a right choice to bring this duo along . From a certain perspective, Anne was also a child . But she was one who had witnessed the hypocrisy of the world . The personalities of those people who experienced what Anne had gone through would usually change . The elderly mercenary group leader who fostered her died and it led to the cracks in the mercenary group due to them snatching the benefits and Anne was dragged into the situation too . One who got involved in such a predicament would more or less change mentalities . But Anne was different . She firmly left the mercenary group, but it wasn’t for the sake of stabilizing the harmony of the mercenary group by sacrificing herself . It was purely because she didn’t like the tense atmosphere of power struggles in the mercenary group . It was due to this that her every decision was based on her mood and she basically wouldn’t consider what others thought of her . From this perspective, Anne was still indeed like a child .
It was due to this that Rhode had chosen to bring her along .
Marlene belonged in the rational party while Lize was in the gentle camp, and their reasoning couldn’t get into a child’s head . Rhode knew that most children grew up without listening to major principles from their parents . The children defined matters by whether they liked it or not, and it was apparent in Lily’s case . Although Marlene and Lize could protect Lily well enough, their mentalities were too far off from the little girl’s . As for Anne… to put it bluntly, Anne and Lily’s mentalities were quite identical from a certain perspective .
The trio didn’t attract a lot of attention as they strolled along the streets like yesterday . This was the place of residence for commoners and was filled with busy workers or shoppers . Rhode’s ‘beauty’ and Anne’s splendid body, along with the large shield on her back garnered a few looks . But onlookers merely gave some curious glances and turned back to continue with their businesses .
Lily wrapped herself in a white cloak and stood close to Anne while curiously scanning the place . Rhode noticed a few looks of disapproval on her expression as it was apparent that this place wasn’t what Rhode had described . However, he had chosen this place for a reason . As the saying ‘nothing can surpass your enemy in understanding you the most’ went, Rhode had led players into death clashes in the Country of Light and he could even remember how many bricks were there on the street of Casabianca . He knew how to give this fragile flower the biggest shock of her life .
“This is the place . ”
Rhode turned the corner at the end of the street and came to a halt . Then, he turned to Lily .
Lily revealed a discontented expression . She turned around the corner and scrutinized dubiously . Then, she froze to the spot .
Unlike the clean, orderly streets, what presented before her very eyes was a pitch-black, muddy inclined path . Shabby houses made up of straws and wood extended along both sides of the path . The ground was uneven with trampled mud ponds . Some people in their tattered shirts trembled in the chilly winds as they curled up in the corner and gazed vacantly at the sky bleak of hope .
Lily gawked at the horrible sight before her . She stepped back subconsciously and faced the street on the other side . Flat, clean paths and neatly aligned houses that dazzled exceptionally under the bright sun . But here, just a turn of a corner, the world had as though transformed itself from light to shadow . It was only a step apart .
“H-How, how is this possible…”
The little girl stood on the spot blankly, but it wasn’t the tragic scene that she couldn’t accept . Instead, it was the heartless attitude of the people . They were leading their own busy lives blissfully, roaming the streets, and completely oblivious to the dark place separated by a wall as though what the trio saw was an illusion that didn’t exist . Not only that, but it was also obvious that no one was willing to get close to it . They wouldn’t even look toward this direction as though it was tainted by evil and darkness .
“Alright, Lily . From here onward, it will be the main dish . Anne, protect her well . ”
Anne nodded swiftly before retrieving her heavy shield . Shortly after, in a series of mechanical noises, the shield expanded and revealed countless barbs by its side . Anne winked at Lily .
“Alright, come here, Anne will protect you . Don’t leave Anne’s side, ok?”
“I-Is this necessary?”
Lily was taken aback by Anne’s actions . Then, she gazed at the people curled up in the dark corners with sympathy .
“T-They are just a group of pitiful people, there’s no need…”
“Lily, it isn’t only those fierce-looking people who are bad guys . Do you know why the people there aren’t willing to come close and even steal a glance at this place?”
Rhode extended his hand and pointed at the blessed, peaceful street .
“Why?” asked Lily .
“Because this is the gathering place of thieves, bandits, and prostitutes . ”
Rhode lifted his head and narrowed his eyes . His voice was filled with indifference .
“These thieves will steal their assets when the owners aren’t home . At night, the bandits will weld their sharp weapons and hide in the shadows to rob their targets . The prettified prostitutes will stand on the streets and seduce every man they meet . These people are just a bunch of criminals to the residents here, and not people who are worth their sympathy . You can ask any of them . If it’s possible, they would rather this place and its residence disappear forever . ”
Lily puckered her brows and displayed a discontented look .
“Mr . Rhode, you’ve mentioned that the people here are pitiful . They’re also the residents here, so why aren’t those people helping them…”
Rhode let out a snort disdainfully . He lowered his gaze and pointed forward .
“Do you know how many people live here, Lily? Hundreds? Thousands? Ten thousands? How to help them? Don’t forget, those living on the clean streets and houses are just ordinary people who neither have the authority of nobles nor the wealth of merchants . They work to provide a living for their families and themselves . Do you think they’ll put in unnecessary energy in caring for those who rob and steal their assets and are unrelated to them in any way?”
“But isn’t the parliament meant to…”
Rhode shook his finger and continued walking . Lily closed her mouth hurriedly and followed him into the dark corridor-like passage as though leading her into hell .
Lily sploshed across the muddy path in her expensive, buckskin leather boots . Even though it was winter, they could still smell the stench lingering in the air . In the total darkness filled with death and the ugly side of Humans, Rhode’s group, which was donned in vibrant clothes, garnered a lot of attention . Even though they had put on cloaks to conceal their luxurious apparels, the finely manufactured cloaks and outerwear was striking enough for this place, where people couldn’t afford decent clothing .
As they headed deeper, they felt an increase in malicious gazes projected on them . But it appeared that the presence of Anne’s massive shield forced them to give up on their wicked plans .
Lily looked forward with a heavy expression, but Rhode had no intentions of covering her mouth and nose from the pungent smell .
At this moment, a drunkard who screamed loudly was seen taken down by several rogues who pounced on him and held him to the ground . Lily puckered her brows, but the people around her appeared to be oblivious . Then, she witnessed one of the rogues lifting a large rock and smashing the drunkard’s skull .
The drunkard twitched uncontrollably and took in a final breath of air . Just a little distance ahead, a woman in revealing clothes was being pinned to the wall by a man and they were breathing rapidly in their short-lived enjoyment, totally heedless of the pitiful drunkard who had gotten his head smashed . The group of rogues sneered as they searched the drunkard’s body . Finally, everything including his ragged, filthy coat was snatched away, leaving a naked corpse in the muddy, dark alley . Lily shrieked in horror .
“Mr . Rhode! T-They just killed someone!”
“I saw it . ”
Rhode simply swept a glance, which left Lily increasingly worried .
“Q-Quick . Call the city guards . The murderers… They…”
“The city guards wouldn’t care . They have never come here . ”
Rhode continued walking .
“To them, it is best for the people here to massacre one another until there are no survivors . ”
Lily lowered her head and gazed in silence . Suddenly, a filthy child ran up to Rhode’s group from the side with a smile . Then, he extended his hands dirtied with mud .
“Dear sir and misses, please give me some money . I’m so poor that I can’t afford food . I beg you . Just one silver coin and I can survive . Please, kind=hearted sir…”
“Ah, please wait a moment . ”
Lily retrieved a sack of coins from the fold in her clothes . As she untied the strings, suddenly, the child revealed a malevolent expression and pounced on Lily with a dagger that he had hidden!
Anne snarled and swung her steel shield to strike off the rascal . The rascal rolled on the ground continuously before coming to a stop . Then, he quickly stood to his feet and glared at Anne . Anne was not at all afraid . She welcomed his sinister gaze and plunged her shield into the ground .
“Don’t even think of it with Anne around . Get lost, or Anne will crush you into mince meat!”
“Tsk . Bitch!”
The rascal spat disdainfully before disappearing into the dark alleys .
Lily looked vacantly at the commotion . She couldn’t believe her eyes . She was petrified when the rascal darted toward her with his dagger . She felt as though he wasn’t a Human, but a ferocious beast instead! If it wasn’t for Anne who came in time to strike him off…
“Why did he… I agreed to give him money already…”
Lily couldn’t find an explanation . Meanwhile, Anne curled her lips .
“Don’t be silly . He isn’t just begging for your money . Anne has seen this many times . This group of people will appear to be begging for money, but they are actually waiting for you to whip out the coin sack so they can snatch it away! What’s the point of you giving him one or two gold coins? They will still be living in this horrible place after they finish spending them, isn’t it? Only large sums of money can make them get away from here . Hmph . But that rascal is really stupid . Even if he snatched your money, Anne guarantees that he won’t survive for more than 2 hours . With that many people around and without Anne’s protection, he must be really blessed to be able to leave this place safely . ”
For unknown reasons, Lily’s expression turned incomparably complex when she heard the word ‘blessed’ . She opened her mouth as though to speak, but she eventually didn’t say a word .
The trio headed forward, but the dark inclined path seemed to be endless . The farther they entered, the more uncomfortable Lily was . Her pale expression due to the harsh winter had become ashen . She leaned close to Anne and if it weren’t for Anne, perhaps she would’ve collapsed .
Rhode came to a halt as they had arrived at a small plaza, which was also considered a market in the slum . There were some shabby-looking street vendors and several poor people gathered around . They stared at Rhode’s group almost simultaneously . There were hostilities, hatred, disdain, and uncertainties in their eyes . Rhode understood these emotions as nobles wouldn’t normally step into such places, after all .
“Mr . Rhode . They are…”
Lily was at a loss . She couldn’t finish her sentence .
“They’re losers . Losers who are abandoned by society . I think you can see it for yourself, Lily, that many of them don’t belong here . They’ve left their homes and came to Casabianca to start a brand new, better life . But they failed . They can’t find jobs and no one was willing to employ them . They’ve been abandoned by the city and can only gather in this place and live day by day . ”
“Why didn’t they leave?”
This time, it wasn’t Rhode who answered her doubt . It was an elderly man seated near them . He laughed grimly and gazed at the little girl .
“You think that we don’t want to leave, Miss? But how can we leave? Do you know how much hard work we’ve put in to come to this city? Some of us sold our properties while others gave up everything just to come here, for the sake of living the days of their dreams . But those sons of bitches who rule Casabianca are nothing more than vicious, ruthless devils!”
The elderly man pointed his trembling finger at himself .
“Look at me . My leg was broken off by cruel thugs and no one is willing to hire me . My family is gone . The financial groups and politicians got together and snatched my everything away! I hate myself for believing that this is a great, magnificent city . Ha! Have you heard what the group of politicians say? Casabianca was snatched away from the Light Dragon Soul by them and a paradise built by them, Humans! This place welcomes everyone equally! That’s a complete lie! The politicians don’t give a damn about our benefits . All they think about is themselves!”
The elderly man displayed a bitter smile .
“Back then, a politician specially visited us and brought a few men out . He claimed that he was the companion of the poor people and would assist us in breaking free from poverty! But what happened thereafter? After the elections, those men were thrown back into here like trash! Those sons of bitches politicians don’t care about our lives at all . We’re merely their bargaining chip to display their kind heartedness and loving care during the election! We instantly became a pile of worthless rubbish after they succeed . No matter the politicians, nobles, or anyone else, no one gives a damn about us at all!”
The elderly man coughed violently before spitting out a mouthful of pitch-black blood . He lifted his head and waved his hand weakly .
“Leave this place, Miss . This isn’t a place for you people . We’re just like the kind of people who that person beside you said—losers . We have no value in existing . Even though the Light Parliament claims to help us, they’re just a group of liars . Those politicians are busy fawning over the big bosses and trade associations everyday . How is it possible for them to care about people like us? We don’t have the right to vote and can’t help them gain their reputation and position in any way . ”
“But shouldn’t the Light Parliament be watching over everyone? For the sake of equality, freedom, and happiness…”
“Hahaha . Things have reached a stage where even a little child like you believes in their nonsense . ”
The elderly man interrupted with his laughter .
“They only think about themselves . Why would they care about such things as long as they have authority, position, and wealth?”
The elderly man lowered his gaze .
“Leave this place, Miss . This isn’t a place for you people, neither for us . Ultimately, we’re still outsiders in this place… We were never the owner and we won’t ever have the right to be one . Hah… Not only us, but also the Elves, Dwarves… None of them like this city, this nation . ”
“… Thank you, Sir . ”
Lily said . She retrieved a few gold coins from her pocket .
“This… Please have it…”
“These things are useless to me . ”
The elderly man waved his hand with an airy gesture .
“Money is the source of all evil in this place . I’m old and I don’t dare to accept the money . Perhaps I won’t survive to see the moon tonight after you people leave, so you’re better off leaving this place…”
It was already dusk when Rhode’s group returned to the imperial residence . The clear, vibrant glints in Lily’s eyes had as though been contaminated with darkness and became dull .
“Today… thank you, Mr . Rhode . ”
Back to the place where they first met, Lily seemed to have suffered from a huge blow, judging from her appearance .
“I’ve never known… that these people exist . I’ve always thought that the Light Parliament existed to bring happiness and freedom to the people and everything that they have done is to make the lives of their people better because only Humans can change themselves… I’ve always believed that light will shine on everyone and nothing will change…”
Lily lowered her head .
“But… is this right? Mr . Rhode?”
“This isn’t a problem that I can answer . ”
Rhode shrugged . Then, he gazed at the sky .
“But I can tell you a story, Lily . A story between the northern wind and sun . ”
“Northern wind and sun?”
Lily looked curiously while Rhode nodded slightly .
“The northern wind issued a duel with the sun to see who was more powerful in strength . They chose a travel in their sight and whoever could make the traveler remove his cloak would be the winner . The northern wind blew as hard as it could, but the traveler didn’t remove his cloak in the ferocious gust . Instead, he held it even tighter . Then, it was the sun’s turn . The sun used its warm rays to shine on the traveler . After a while, the traveler took off his cloak due to the stifling heat…”
Rhode shrugged .
“In other words, if the northern wind continues to blow and the sun doesn’t appear, the traveler won’t remove his cloak . ”
“… Thank you, Mr . Rhode . ”
Lily revealed a complex look . She pondered for a moment before nodding .
“Today… I’ve learned things that no one has taught me before . I’m deeply grateful for that… Alright then, I shall take my leave now . ”
The little girl turned around and her petite figure vanished as she turned the corner of the lush bush in the garden . The corners of Rhode’s lips perked up and he said softly .
“… You’re welcome . ”
Rhode turned around and faced Casabianca .
The scarlet brilliance of the setting sun illuminated a layer of bright, fiery red that had as though devouring the spotlessly white city . Rhode squinted and his eyes revealed a merciless smile .
“… Since everyone is being used for their selfish benefits, you’re better off being used by me, Your Majesty . ”
He mumbled under his breath .