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454 Pzenium

 'I knew that this place was a barren wasteland; however, it is a miracle that a kingdom has managed to survive in this type of environment.'

When Izroth first reached the borders of the Pzenium kingdom, he was greeted by the sight of a seemingly endless sea of shifting sands. There was no source of water as far as the eye could see, the air was dry, and the heat waves generated by the scorching sun were harsh.

The instant Izroth, Luna, Mirage, and Azalea crossed the border into the Pzenium kingdom; they received a couple of alerts from the system.

〈System Alert: You have entered into the fifth kingdom, «Pzenium»!〉

〈System Alert: Warning, the kingdom «Pzenium» you have crossed into does not have an official treaty with the kingdom «Amaharpe» that you are leaving!〉

The fifth kingdom Pzenium was considered a neutral kingdom and had not forged an official alliance with any of the other kingdoms. Hence, there was a lot of speculating as to which side Pzenium would join in the upcoming war. After all, given what was at stake, it would be impossible for any of the kingdoms to sit still.

Izroth and his party journeyed through the open Pzenium desert. If everyone had not already consumed an Ocean Spring Pill and gained the passive Ocean Rejuvenation, then their fatigue would have quickly depleted traveling in such an unfriendly environment.

After traveling for nearly 20 minutes, they had still not come across a single village or oasis. However, this was to be expected. If it were so easy to locate an oasis, then the Pzenium kingdom would not be in a constant state of internal struggles over power. In the Pzenium kingdom, the more oasis one possessed, the greater their power and influence.

Though if one believed that Pzenium was an easily evaded kingdom due to these qualities-they could not be more wrong. The continuous struggle over the oases bred a country of warriors and experienced fighters. Compared to other kingdoms, in terms of average strength per citizen, Pzenium was second to none!

"So hot! Is this really a kingdom? Also, why is a D-rank quest located so far away?" Mirage frowned. She felt that if things continued this way, she would melt under the sun before they arrived at their destination! If she knew that it would be like this, she would have thought twice before accepting his "generosity".

After the world announcement yesterday, Mirage practically spammed Izroth about not inviting her along on such a great adventure!

Since it was technically thanks to Mirage that he obtained the Call of the Thunder God skill, Izroth decided to use this opportunity to return the favor.

Although the Royal Bloodline quest was only a D-ranked quest, its reward showed as "???". This meant that there was a high chance that this was not just a simple one and done quest. In all likeliness, it was a chain quest! In the end, it was inconceivable that someone of Zelfyrion's caliber would hand out a D-ranked quest. This was even more so, seeing as how the Izroth acquired the quest within the Undying Maelstrom region of the Endless Pandemonium Tower.

As for why he invited Luna, that much was obvious. She was the first and only known player to undergo a race change and had become someone with a high-quality Trephasia bloodline.

Izroth did not know how the Trephasias in Pzenium would react to outsiders trying to enter their oasis. Therefore, he figured that things would go a lot smoother with Luna accompanying them.

Though even with the Ocean Rejuvenation passive, Luna seemed to be rapidly losing fatigue. Due to being a member of the Trephasia race, this type of harsh environment was the hardest on her. But, she maintained a calm and collected demeanor as she pushed forward.

"Hmph, undisciplined, and ungrateful. I fail to see why my teacher invited such a useless woman." Azalea commented as she glared at Mirage.

"Who are you calling useless, shorty?! Were you not taught how to properly respect your elders?" Mirage scoffed.

Azalea unsheathed her daggers as she spoke coldly, "Do you dare to repeat what you just said?"

"Ha? Who's afraid of you? Why wouldn't I dare? Shorty! Shorty! Shorty!" Mirage said without backing down.

Azalea's eyes turned icy cold. It looked as if she would explode at any moment! If there was one thing that annoyed her, it was people making fun of her height. While she did not consider her height to be a disadvantage, that did not mean that she would tolerate being mocked!

Luna sighed helplessly. It was the same way the last time when these two got together. For some reason, they seemed to have it out for one another naturally. She looked towards Izroth, who had a carefree expression on his face. There was no way that he was unaware of Azalea's and Mirage's attitude towards each other.

Mirage found Azalea to be arrogant, unfriendly, and withdrawn. At the same time, Azalea found Mirage to be too easygoing, friendly, and unreserved. They were practically the total opposite! It was no wonder that the two of them did not get along!

"Very well." Izroth said as he stopped walking. His actions drew the attention of Luna, Azalea, and Mirage.

He then continued, "You two seem to have quite a bit of energy. Since that's the case, how about a friendly wager?"

...

A few moments later, Azalea and Mirage stood facing one another. They were approximately ten meters apart. Right now, both Azalea and Mirage returned the other's glare with one of their own.

"Are you sure about this?" Luna asked as she stood next to Izroth.

Izroth nodded as he responded, "It is not bad to release some stress every now and then. Besides, what these two lack-this may help them discover it."

What the two of them lack? Luna was curious as to what Izroth was referring to. However, since he did not do meaningless things, this fight was sure to be more than just merely releasing stress.

Luna's thoughts were correct. Izroth was not blind. He could see that Mirage and Azalea held no respect for each other. A large part of this had to do with their conflicting personalities. But, it mostly stemmed from the fact that neither one of them had personally experienced the other's capabilities firsthand. As a result, they often clashed over trivial matters-as if one were unconsciously testing the other.

"This time, there will be no one to step in and save you." Azalea stated as she lowered her stance. The last time the two of them fought back in the Blazing Tempris Domain, Luna used her voice magic to interrupt their battle. But, the circumstances were different now. After all, this was a fight her teacher sanctioned!

"Hmph, do not think that I'm the same as last time! Just don't go crying when you lose!" Mirage scowled as she took her battle stance. Strands of electricity could be seen flowing around her fists and feet.

The scorching sun seemed to beat down harder on as the atmosphere between Azalea and Mirage became intense. There were ten seconds of pure stillness as the desert sands shifted beneath everyone's feet. The instant it reached the ten-second mark, Izroth voice sounded out.

"Begin." Izroth declared.

Azalea and Mirage both vanished the moment that word left Izroth's mouth. However, neither of them had entered stealth. It was just that both were moving at such high speeds that normal players would have a hard time following with their eyes, let alone keeping up!

As Azalea and Mirage engaged in combat, unknown to Izroth at the time, the second he stepped foot into the Pzenium kingdom, a strange invisible mark had appeared on top of his right hand.

...

Meanwhile, somewhere near the center of the Pzenium kingdom...

Near the center of the Pzenium kingdom was an abundance of beautiful oases. It was this sphere around the center of Pzenium that spanned nearly 250 kilometers, where one would find the vast majority of the oases within the kingdom.

However, not just anyone could claim an oasis in this area known as the Desert's Gem. The oases within the Desert's Gem belonged to those of high power and influence-the royals and nobles of the Pzenium kingdom.

In one corner of the Desert's Gem, a territory that covered 25 kilometers-10% of the entire Desert's Gem-belonged to a certain Great Duke of Pzenium.

At the moment, that Great Duke was inside a castle located at one of his many oases as he sat motionless on his throne.

A servant approached the throne as he kneeled. From his dark facial expression and constant shivering, one could tell that this servant was terrified.

The servant spoke and said, "G-Great Duke Hammer... The Grand Sovereign has summoned everyone to the Sapphire Eye Oasis to discuss the impending war. I-It is mandatory that-"

Woosh! Plop!

The room was filled with sudden silence as the servant's words came to a halt as someone could be heard hitting the ground as it rolled backward. The servant's body fell to the floor; however, it was missing something-a head! The servant had been beheaded without warning!

"My son... I have sent another to join you. I have sent another..." The Great Duke spoke. One could not see his appearance due to the inadequate room lighting generated by a few wall torches and the dark atmosphere, but the fierce aura he gave off was not suppressed in the slightest. Just by being in his presence, it was easy to discern that the Great Duke had experienced a myriad of battles.

A tanned tall, thin, yet well-built man with eyes the color of sand entered the room. He wore a battle-hardened leather-type armor and had two vicious-looking crimson scimitars placed on his back. He was a trusted advisor and commander directly under Great Duke Hammer, Controller Falcinean.

Falcinean felt something bump into his feet. He knew immediately that it was the head of the servant that had just entered; however, his expression remained indifferent as if it were commonplace as of late.

"Great Duke Hammer, the Grand Sovereign has issued an official decree. If we ignore the decree, it is the same as declaring war on the Grand Sovereign and all the nobles of the Desert's Gem." Falcinean said.

After noticing that the Great Duke remained unresponsive, Falcinean continued, "It is unfortunate that your son did not return from the Sky Palace, but-"

An immense pressure descended upon Falcinean that was being emitted by the Great Duke.

"Falcinean... If you had not served me well all these years, your fate would be the same as that servant. You who do not know what it is like to be a father-how can you understand the loss of my son, Anvil?" The Great Duke spoke in a cold yet defeated tone.