‘You really think the situation is that bad?’ said Axiolis.
“When was the last time either of you went on a mission?” the General asked. “Three months? Longer? You’re isolated out here, because you have children. But once they’re grown, the Vanguard will return you both to active duty, and you’ll be lucky to see them once or twice a year.”
Mariana was unfazed by her words. “That is what it means to serve.”
‘You were right when you said that we were uncompromising,’ said Shenado. ‘That has not changed. In fact, after everything you’ve just said, we should take you captive and turn you over to our own general.’
That remark left a stinging silence in its wake. For a time, no one moved.
Salazar smiled through the ill atmosphere. “Well, before you do anything you’ll regret, allow me to remind you that we are guests in your home. And as you mentioned earlier, we came here alone--which we didn’t have to do. We could have brought several followers with us, but we chose not to out of courtesy, respect, and peaceable intentions for you and your family. I would expect the honorable Elroys to not trample on our goodwill.” She held up her rice cake. “Not quite a ‘shared meal,’ but I believe it still captures the spirit of hospitality.”
Mariana saw her husband nod.
“That’s what I like about you Rainlords,” said Salazar. “Observers of the old customs. You take your promises seriously.”
“Yes, we do,” said Zeff. “Which should tell you that we will not be breaking the ones we have made to the Vanguard, either.”
“I figured as much,” said Salazar. “But I want you to know that there is no time limit on this invitation. If you change your mind one day, seek me out.”
Shenado shook her head. ‘I can’t believe you’re deserting. And why join the Vahgrakaanas, anyway?’
‘For the freedom,’ said Armengél. ‘Even if we managed to get accepted into Sai-hee’s exclusive little club, we still wouldn’t be able to do what we want.’