Chapter 1543 - Quality Time (Part 1)
"I exploit the criminals to find the weak points of my trading routes and the flaws in my security, be they of human origin or not." Every five years or so, I have a chivalrous knight of the Desert rise against me and challenge my rule.
"Those who have the resources and the will to form a new country always follow him. The knight racks only victories, making his followers grow in number until even the most cowardly among the traitors crawl out of the shadows, certain that victory is at hand.
"At that point, I make my move and get rid of them all at the same time." Salaark shrugged.
"If they have an army so big that they can challenge your authority and such a powerful leader, how can it be so easy?" Tista asked.
"Because I'm that knight, silly Featherling!" Salaark shapeshifted several times into different men and women, each one of them exuding the charisma of a natural-born leader.
"Once every five years?" Lith blurted out in surprise. "How can people not notice the pattern and how can they fall for the same trick over and over again?".
"Because I don't instigate a rebellion, I just ride the wave the moment it takes form." Salaark said. "Hence there's no precise pattern. As for your second question, no one ever comes out alive of the slaughter.
"The only thing that the rest of the Desert knows is that the Valiant knight falls either due to an ambush of the cowardly Overlord or because of a traitor. I let each knight have a valiant death so that no one ever questions their loyalty to the cause.
"Also, the greater their fame, the greater mine grows with each one I defeat."
Lith had to admit that it was an excellent plan that allowed the Mother of all Phoenix to turn problems into assets. After that, the conversation moved to much scarier topics.
Elina had no qualms asking Salaark when they would meet Mimeria's daughter and how exactly the pregnancy of a Phoenix happened.
Ernas Household. Lunchtime in the Desert, nighttime for the Kingdom.
Friya Ernas checked her dimensional items' content with a list of provisions she had prepared, making sure to have not forgotten anything. Now that she was no longer a prisoner in her own home she couldn't wait to get out and have some fun.
"Are you sure that you want to go to the Desert?" Orion asked.
"Yes, Dad." She replied. "What Mom did to all of us, how she manipulated our family to further her plan, made me feel like back when I studied at the White Griffon and I was just a tool in the hands of my birth mother, Drenya Solivar.
"I need to sort out my feelings and I can't do it in a place that right now feels as toxic as my old household. Thanks to Lith, I can travel to the Blood Desert without any worry of stirring political troubles and deepen my knowledge about Forgemastery."
"Friya, you know that you can tell me the truth. I understand if you want to go to the Desert to search for your mother." The idea of his daughter leaving home so soon after divorcing his wife tore Orion's heart to shreds.
Actually, the divorce wouldn't be final until he destroyed Jirni's betrothal gift. Lord Ernas had damaged and fixed it so many times that he had lost count.
"Drenya is not my mother, Jirni is." Friya said with a cold voice that held no rage, only spite. "She's no different from an artisan that throws away one of their creations. She gave birth to me and then called quits.
"I know that you are angry with Mom, but to me, the difference between them is still like heaven and earth. Everything Drenya did was for herself, from giving me an education to getting me a tutor before I applied to the White Griffon.
"Everything Mom did, instead, she did it for me. She never treated me any different from Phloria ever since she adopted me. She didn't force me into marriage, allowing me to pursue my dream of establishing my own mercenary guild and she even helped me with the paperwork.
"Even kidnapping me and making a meat puppet behind my back was just her twisted way to protect me. Mom used me, but she did it out of love. I can't tell you what to do with her, Dad, but please don't let anger blind you."
Friya hugged Orion, who returned the embrace wishing he could never let her out of his arms so that she would always be safe.
"Are you sure you don't want company? I can take a leave and come with you." He said, dodging her request.
"Thanks for the offer, but no. Also, I doubt that Salaark would extend her offer to you without asking something in return." She chuckled while pointing at all the letters, invites, and job offers that the scouts from the Desert sent to Lord Ernas on a daily basis.
"That woman sure is persistent!" Orion grunted. "She alone manages to make me feel like Tista."
"Keep an eye on Mom and on my siblings while I'm away. I'll call you once per day. I promise." Friya said.
"Let's make it once per meal." He replied, haggling until he got at least three calls per day.
Blood Desert, a few days later.
Life as Salaark's guests was completely different from what the Verhens were used to in Lutia. Raaz and Elina had no responsibility there, allowing them to spend time with each other or visiting the tribes of the Desert.
Due to the lack of Warp Gates, to move from one to another the Feathers had to conjure a Warp array for them or a Phoenix would fly Lith's parents to their destination.
The kids were having the time of their life.
During the day, they would take part in the morning classes for magically talented children that the Feather of the Heavenly Plume held. After lunch, they would take part in complex games that required the use of magic and their steeds.
The Feather would reshape the dunes with earth magic, creating an artificial battlefield. The children would split into two groups in a game of tag that required the use of first magic and ended solely once one of the groups had been wiped out.
Unbeknownst to them, it wasn't a game so much as a military exercise. Kids had to grow fast in the desert since sand didn't allow them to build fortifications and the nomadic life made permanent arrays a waste of resources.
Monsters, brigands, or just sandstorms could strike at any moment. To make each tribe survive, everyone needed to pull their weight, even children. After that, Aran and Leria would go back to Lutia to play with their friends.
Time zones made so that the hours before dinner for them matched those before lunch for Frey and Filia. They would meet every day and then return to the Desert to sleep the moment that Zinya called for the meal.
Lith and Tista, instead, found themselves on the opposite sides of the spectrum.
Salaark allowed Lith to train his Forgemastery skills only for a few hours each day, forcing him to take it easy the rest of the time.