Their spies had brought news that a civil war was inevitable, it was the perfect moment to start planning their invasion.
Speaking in their name, was Ashun Dagfuur, Feather of the Red Lion tribe, temporarily appointed as High Feather, first among equals and spokesman of the tribes.
He was a tall man, around 1.84 meters (6\') high, with a lean and muscular body, an olive complexion and a long but well-groomed beard.
Like all the Feathers, he wore heavy white pants and shirt to endure the coldness of the night, and a turban on his head, with a huge ruby on its centre to represent his status in the tribe.
The meeting was held in a ceremonial tent, golden in colour whose sides and floor were covered by carpets and tapestries depicting the collective history of the desert.
The roof of the tent was enchanted to be able to turn invisible at will, since the Benefactor hated constricted spaces, and this way was still able to gaze at the moon and the stars.
The space was perfectly lighted by twenty-seven black iron braziers, one for each tribe.
Their fires were fueled by the magic of their respective Feather, used both to symbolize his strength and vote once a discussion had come to an end.
As always, Ashun spoke with passion, describing all the green lands and water springs, waiting for tribes to seize them from the weak and stupid plainsmen.
His black eyes searched for the other Feather\'s approval and support, but he found none.
After he had begun his speech, all eyes were fixated on the lonely figure standing on the other side of the tent, watching its every movement.
It was a fiery red bird, three meters (9\' 10) high, with the body of an eagle and the tail\'s feathers resembling those of a peacock.
The legendary phoenix Salaark, also known as the Benefactor of the desert, that centuries before had united all the tribes under its rule.
It was whispered that from each of its feathers, a peerless weapon could be forged, and that its blood held the secret of immortality.
To fit into the tent, it had shrunk remarkably, and was now in its most vulnerable state.
Despite that, no man or woman among the Feathers felt any kind of emotion aside from respect and fear.
Salaark stood still, its eyes closed, knowing it would not be able to controls itself if it opened them.
Once Ashun had finished, it asked a simple question.
So, are you going to leave the desert Salaark\'s voice wasn\'t loud, but still sounded perfectly clear to all of those present.
No, my liege.
The Red Lion would never do that. He raised his hands and lowered his head in a sign of submission.
I\'m only proposing for us to take revenge against the plains and secure new resources.
Revenge It asked opening a single eye.
To bring death to the living will not make their ancestors suffer.
It sounds more like a petty excuse to leave because you are unsatisfied with what you have now.
I will not leave and I\'m not ungrateful. He said trying to appear strong and confident, but cold sweat ran down his spine.
Then how do you propose to keep the conquered springs What good is a fertile soil if not tilled
Well, of course some of our men will have to stay behind with their families.
But only to establish a supply chain that will benefit all the tribes.
I don\'t care for your sweet words, only for their meaning. Salaark harshly replied.
You want for your people to move away, to grow their children in a foreign land, afar from the desert and from me! I have no objection to your plan. The last phrase left everyone shocked, leniency had never been its strong suit.
But at the same time, I will give it no support.
Those who wish to take part in it are free to do it, as long they first return to me all my blessings. The second part, instead, was perfectly in line with its character, making all the Feathers turn pale.
Just to be clear, are you speaking as High Feather, as Feather of the Red Lion tribe, or just for yourself Salaark\'s eyes opened, releasing a massive amount of killing intent that brought Ashun to his knees, its talons tapping on the ground had the rhythm of war drums.
He does not speak for the Golden Eagle tribe. Said a middle-aged woman standing up from her chair, just to kneel on the ground, her forehead touching the floor while her brazier turned black, denying the High Feather\'s words.
He does not speak for the Silver Wolf tribe. One after the other, all the Feathers knelt down, the black light from the braziers projecting an eerie atmosphere.
He does not speak for the Red Lion tribe. Recognizing Ashun\'s failure, the elders that accompanied him disowned their leader, hoping to spare their people from being banished forever.
Through a collective effort, they managed to snatch the flame from Ashun\'s control, turning it black and leaving him alone.
The turn of the events had shocked him, but not to the point to not recognize what had happened.
Beneath the tension and fear appearing on his peers\' visage, he could see their lips curling into a barely contained smile.
He knew to be unpopular due to his overbearing character, trying to benefit his tribe at everyone else\'s expenses.
But that was because under his leadership, the Red Lion had grown to be one of the most populous and strongest desert tribes.
Ashun had used that in the past to put pressure on the neighbouring tribes, to gain more and give less, boosting his status in his community.
When they had appointed him High Feather, he had thought they were finally ready to submit.
Instead it had all been a ruse to take him out without a war, in perfect accord with the laws of the desert.
Whatever the outcome of the Council, they would have gained a profit, either by invading new lands or by eliminating a powerful rival.
They had used his ego against him, turning Ashun in an unwitting sacrificial pawn.
He knew what was going to happen next, after being stripped of his title from the elders, the Benefactor would take away all the artifacts and the books Salaark had given him through the years.
Lastly, it would strip him of her greater blessing, the gift for magic.
Ashun had been a talentless youth before meeting the Benefactor.
The phoenix had been fascinated by his passion and dedication to the tribe, sharing with him her secrets and wisdom, turning the boy into one of the mightiest magical warriors of the Red Lion.
And now it would take everything back.
Ashun didn\'t know how Salaark had boosted his mana capacity and magical strength; he had been made unconscious every time it treated him.
But he had seen many times how it would revert the effects.
A simple glance and the victim\'s body would twist and writhe, the veins would turn blue and bulge out, while the mana would literally be squeezed out through excruciating pain, until nothing was left.
Ashun had lived his thirty-six years as a warrior, a leader, a man among men.
He couldn\'t bear the thought of losing so much and live the rest of his life in disgrace.
Before the sentence was carried out, Ashun used magic one last time, stopping his own heart.
In death, his honour would be saved, and his family would be treated as the grieving relatives of a dead Feather, instead like those of a traitor.
The Benefactor looked at the corpse, nodding slightly at Ashun\'s final decision.
Salaark had liked him as a boy and loved him as a man, but once he had become a leader they had grown apart.
The more power he acquired, the more dissatisfied he became.
First stealing from his own tribe, then twisting the arms of the neighbouring ones to quench his thirst for glory.
And now, he had even the gall to ask for Salaark to consent to a senseless migratory war.
If the phoenix had ever wanted to leave the desert, it would have already done it.
If it wanted to bathe the world in fire and blood, Salaark wouldn\'t need to spend centuries teaching the tribes magic and how to prosper in the harsh environment it called home.
I am Salaark, the desert\'s sun! My path, is the only path! My words are law! It roared spreading its wings, setting the whole tent and its occupants ablaze, yet burning none.
I can be like the sunrise that harbingers a new era, or like the sunset that preludes a dark night! Summon me again out of petty greed, and all the tribes will need new leaders.