\"Eh? We\'re moving off again? Anne is so tired… Leader, can we rest for a few more days?\" Anne lolled in her chair like a spoiled child.
Marfa leaned against the wall and pondered in his puckered brows. Even though he had joined Rhode later than the rest, Rhode trusted him a lot. After all, Rhode lacked calm, reliable guild members and Marfa\'s presence filled up the gap. He was a courageous and reticent person, but he often expressed his thoughts, which was necessary within a guild. On the other hand, even though Randolf and Joey had improved tremendously, their youthful vigor might not be a good thing.
Gillian was making little to no noise and she laid eyes on Rhode while swaying her big, fluffy tail from left to right. Ever since this Fire Elemental Lord knew that Rhode had been called over by Gaya, she had been presenting this expression. As for Lize, she had been behaving cautiously after she took over Marlene\'s adjutant role temporarily. She stood quietly beside Rhode with unknown thoughts on her mind.
\"Sir,\" Marfa said. \"Please pardon my rudeness. Can I know where are we heading to this time? How long will we be there for?\"
Rhode waved his hand surprisingly. \"Ah, not all of you need to move out. I\'m only telling you guys that there is such a matter going on and I want you to be mentally prepared. I will be heading there alone to complete this mission. I guess you are aware that this is a direct order from the King\'s Party and for the sake of safety and convenience, I have decided to accomplish it myself. During this period, you will all be coordinating with the garrisons to defend the Cloud Summit Fortress. But please take this seriously and stay alert because I foresee that the Southern Legion\'s aggression will become even fiercer in the near future.\"
\"Eh? Where are you going, Leader?\" Anne flipped out of the chair and hopped to her feet, looking fixedly into Rhode\'s eyes with glittering brilliance. \"Can Anne go with you, Leader? Please bring Anne along. Anne promises to not cause trouble for Leader!\"
\"Not this time, Anne,\" Rhode cut her off with a hand gesture. \"They need your help here and besides, you will surely cause trouble for me if you followed. Be good and protect the Clerics during battle. This is a very important duty and only you can do it… Understand, Anne?\"
\"… Alright…\" Anne gave in reluctantly, but she pouted, pondered and displayed a proud smile with a nod after listening to Rhode\'s trusting words. Rhode let out an inward sigh because even after she had experienced so many battles, she was eventually still a 15 years old girl. She might have a similar height as himself and a well-developed body, her mental age was still that of a child. Adult methods wouldn\'t work on a child like her.
Rhode glanced from the corner of his eye.
There was actually someone even more childish than Anne.
Rhode clapped for everyone\'s\' attention. He had been thinking of a way to make full use of this good opportunity while he was away. But it wouldn\'t be that good of a news to someone. \"Alright, I\'ve told you guys everything… By the way, Lize will be taking charge of everything in my absence and you guys can report and seek advice from her. Are there any issues?\"
Everyone including Marfa gaped at Rhode in silence while blood drained off Lize\'s pale complexion like a white sheet of paper as she stared unbelievably.
Even though everyone was bewildered when Rhode mentioned that he was heading off alone, they weren\'t too concerned because the intelligent and formidable Gillian would still be around. They knew about their intimate relations.h.i.+p and it went without saying that Rhode would have chosen Gillian as the acting guild leader.
Who knew that he actually chose Lize?!
It didn\'t mean that the mercenaries hated or distrusted Lize. In fact, she was highly popular among the mercenaries as she was the leader of the Clerics. Most of them had been rescued and treated by the Clerics so it was impossible that they would harbor hatred toward her. Moreover, her kind gentleness was well liked by them. But it was an entirely different matter when it came to commanding battles because she was a reserved person. Most of the mercenaries subconsciously perceived her as less capable than Marlene in leading and commanding skills.
Lize gaped with her mouth wide open like a pale-faced doll as though Rhode had just sentenced her to death…
\"I know all of you have different opinions on my decision, but I truly think that Lize has the capability. I seek your cooperation to obey Lize\'s commands because her commands are my commands and you have to follow them no matter how foolish they sound. I will arrange for Gillian to supervise; I hope you won\'t disobey her. If not… I won\'t mind punis.h.i.+ng you with the guild regulations.\"
Rhode swept a glance at the silent crowd and they nodded in agreement hurriedly. Even though they weren\'t fully convinced, they had no reasons to object since Rhode had put up the guild regulations. Gillian would also be supervising from the sides and who knew how would Rhode punish them when he returned?
An unprecedented sense of fear and loneliness clouded Lize\'s mind as she looked vacantly at the dispersing crowd. She saw Marfa and his contemplative expression and Joey without his usual, wide smile as they turned around. As for Randolf, he stole a glance at her and said nothing.
Everyone has changed a lot.
Lize came to a realization. It felt as though Joey, Randolf, and Lapis had just joined the guild yesterday and the fresh image was still vivid in her mind. She had never thought that this young, wacky Thief had this serious side of him while the Ranger who stooped to compromise in order to protect Lapis had become so unfl.u.s.tered.
What about me?
Lize thought that she could live on like this forever. She presumed that she wouldn\'t change and as long as she stayed behind them to support and protect them, everything would be fine. But now… Is that enough?
An agitation sprouted deep in her heart.
The night had darkened.
The Cloud Summit Fortress returned to its tranquility and the reinforcements that arrived this morning finally settled down. Garcia stationed troops around the Fortress to the best of his abilities. After all, the Southern Legion wasn\'t their only enemy here. Even if the Water Elemental Plane of Existence overflowed and water creatures emerged from within the fog, Gaya just needed to flick her fingers and they would be slaughtered mercilessly. As for Rhode\'s men, he had cautioned them to avoid the central zone where the thick fog was and these guys were smart enough for Rhode trust them.
Knock knock knock.
\"Come in,\" Rhode stood by the window, gazing at the pitch-black sky and thin fog drifting languidly. He knew that there would only be one person who would visit him at this time.
The door opened gradually. Lize entered the room with an apparent painful, difficult expression as she clasped her palms together before her. Thoughts clouded her mind but she couldn\'t utter a word. She instinctively refused this responsibility that Rhode appointed her because she agreed that Gillian was the suitable candidate just like the others. Gillian was smarter, read Rhode\'s mind like a book, and the mercenaries supported her even more. What about herself? Lize had the idea to change herself, especially after she realized the growth of Joey and Randolf, who had joined the guild later than her. But it shouldn\'t be a gamble where she would be betting on others\' lives! A wrong judgment could lead to the death of many and these people were her companions, friends, and men… Could she take this risk? Could she sacrifice them for the sake of her growth and experience?
\"M-Mr. Rhode…\" Lize stammered and her soft, trembling voice was like a candle in the cold wind. \"I-I feel that I\'m not suitable for this position… I lack the capabilities and I think that Miss Gillian is a better choice…\"
Lize heaved a sigh of relief even though the unwillingness was still deep down in her heart…
\"What are you afraid of?\"
\"Eh?\" Lize stood petrified as though she were glared at by Medusa. Rhode turned towards her. \"Are you afraid that your mistakes will cause the deaths of others and that\'s why you chose to avoid? Will you hate Gillian if she misjudges the situation and causes the deaths of your friends? Will you treat yourself as a victim and detest her with a clear conscience? If it weren\'t for her misjudgment, you wouldn\'t have lost your friends and companions. This way, it wouldn\'t be your fault because you were only responsible for carrying out the orders and the one giving out orders wasn\'t you and you don\'t need to take the blame, am I right?\"
\"I… I…\" Rhode\'s every sentence hammered the bottom of her heart. She s.h.i.+vered and was stricken into silence.
\"What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of losing your companions or them hating by you? You\'re not willing to accept this possible outcome and responsibilities and that is why you chose to avoid?\" Rhode ambled towards Lize while she stepped back innately. She felt the ice-cold wall on her back and Rhode pushed his hand on the wall. This was the first time that Lize felt so frightened as though a beast was in front of her.
\"You know that I won\'t change my decision, so what do you want to achieve by coming here? Lize?\"
\"I… I…\" Lize had never been this nervous before and her mind was in a blank.
\"You just hope that I would encourage you, right? But how do you want me to do that?\" Rhode caressed her cheek gently and she tensed up entirely. \"It\'s very late now, Lize. You\'re a woman and I\'m a man. You came into my room alone hoping for me to encourage and console you… Do you know what this means?\"
\"No… M-Mr. Rhode… I…\" Rhode wrapped around her slender waist with his left hand like a slithering snake and yanked her into his arms. She looked into his eyes confusedly and the corner of Rhode\'s mouth twitched as he scrutinized her body.
It\'s definitely nothing good when Mr. Rhode smiles without Christie around.
This random thought flashed in her head and before she reacted, Rhode had lowered his head and forced his lips against hers. \"Wu…!\"
Her warm, soft body s.h.i.+vered as he pried open her mouth with his tongue, teasing with hers on the inside and the faint fragrance emitted from her body aroused him even further. He slid his fingers across her smooth curves and unb.u.t.toned her top, sneaking his hand into her undergarments.
\"Ah…\" Lize groaned softly as Rhode fondled her squishy chest. He caressed her b.u.t.tocks from underneath her skirt and glided his fingers between her upper thighs.
\"… Ah! Ah…!\" Lize clamped her thighs innately. She widened her eyes in embarra.s.sment as Rhode\'s kisses and touches stimulated her senses. Then, Rhode forced his left hand deep between her tender upper thighs…
\"No—!\" Lize plucked up her courage and pushed Rhode away. She moved towards the door instinctively as she trembled in fear while gazing at the man that she could no longer recognize. Rhode wasn\'t surprised that Lize rejected his advancement and he simply looked at his left hand. \"Do you hate me, Lize?\"
\"No… Mr. Rhode… I don\'t hate you, I…\" Lize covered her unb.u.t.toned top and held down her skirt. She didn\'t hate Rhode for doing that to herself and she was even feeling somewhat excited. But why am I so afraid when it happens?
\"Sorry… Sorry, I…\" She grabbed the cloak beside her and wrapped her entire body before bolting out of the room.
Rhode smiled nonchalantly as he leaned against the wall with folded arms and watched her leave frantically. He twitched his eyebrows and s.h.i.+fted his attention to the shadow on the other end of the room. \"Alright, there\'s a limit to peeping, Gillian.\"
\"Aiya, how did I get discovered by you, Master.\" The fox-eared young lady walked out of the shadow with a sweet-looking grin. \"Master, I didn\'t expect that you would actually let her escape. Could it be that your skills have gone rusty? Or perhaps you can\'t erect anymore? This isn\'t a good sign, Master~ Do you need me to get Lapis to concoct some potions for you…\"
\"I appreciate your kindness.\" Rhode interrupted her teases and gazed at his finger. \"Indeed, it won\'t work without sufficient foreplay.\"
\"Of course, Master. You\'ll get hurt if you force yourself on her and it will also leave an eternal scare if you leave some bad memories for her.\"
\"But time doesn\'t wait for everyone and I\'ll still get her sooner or later, right?\"
\"It\'s important for an experienced bystander to guide you during such times, Master. No matter what, it\'s still her first time and it\'s natural that she feels nervous and uncertain. It will be much easier if someone is by her side to set her mind at rest.\"
\"I think so too,\" Rhode nodded. \"So then, Gillian, I will leave her to you. Don\'t be too blatant and it\'s fine if she makes mistakes sometimes. You have to give her s.p.a.ce to relax and make courageous tries. This girl will truly mature only when she accepts it.\"
\"I understand, Master. I will support her on the battlefield. But… what about on the bed?\"
\"Same goes for that. Of course, if you\'re able to accomplish the mission satisfactorily… I wouldn\'t mind rewarding both of you. Just like you\'ve said, it\'ll be much easier if there\'s someone around to set her mind at ease, right Gillian?\"
\"Really?\" The fox-eared young lady\'s eyes brightened in antic.i.p.ation. \"You must keep your promise, okay? I won\'t let you off if you break your promise so be prepared! So then, I shall go check on Little Lize… Don\'t worry, Master, I promise to accomplish the mission!\"
Gillian scampered out of the room impatiently while Rhode shook his head and shrugged heavily. \"I don\'t remember a fox being in oestrus 365 days of the year… Forget it, I won\'t lose out anyway.\"
Rhode strolled toward the window and felt the touch on his fingers. \"It felt great…\" 14369