Chapter Four

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          Siobhan crossed her arms and stared at the slumbering oaf

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          Siobhan crossed her arms and stared at the slumbering oaf. The baggy cloak and pressed shirt hid any definition of his muscles, though she knew he had some. Vanguard Generals didn't become the highest order of the crimson-cloaks if they weren't the best at everything. When she first crossed paths with the brutes, she watched them chase down a mage who couldn't have been more than ten. The boy had zero grasp of his magical ability, yet they chased him down like a dog. Didn't even give him a chance to fight back before they ran him through.

Most mages they allowed to live, but the children . . . many didn't live past puberty if the Vanguard Generals found them. Children were no use to their order. They succumbed to the effects of their magic far too easily and even worse to the effects of the crystillium that numbs their abilities and allows the Vanguard Generals to capture them in the first place. While she had no way of knowing if this man held the brutality of the crimson-cloaks she saw that day, she still wanted to slit his throat. How many young lives had they taken? How many mages lived in fear each day because of the threat the Vanguard Generals held?

Siobhan touched the end of one staff part and narrowed her eyes. It would be simple. She could remove the half, unfold the blade, and open his jugular without him waking. A single drop of knock out potion was good for an hour; Ivan had used the entire remains of his vile. This crimson-cloak wouldn't wake before dawn and even then he might not wake until well into the afternoon. There was only one thing keeping her from drawing the staff part and ending the wretched life of the sleeping Vanguard General.

Ivan.

He meant too much to the mages, and all things magical, for her to ruin his business over her rage. Many of her first totems came from trades with Ivan. When she needed a place to hide, he managed to give her at least a small corner of hay in his back room. Master had taught her of all the innkeepers, tavern masters, and assorted deviants they'd meet on their travels, Ivan was the one to keep close. It helped immensely that he hailed from the same kingdom as Siobhan, though they never crossed paths until they were both in the lowlands. Nothing happened in the lowlands Ivan didn't hear about. The fact she hadn't seduced him was simply because of business arrangements more than a lack of desire.

She sighed and stepped closer to the slumbering crimson-cloak.

Goddess he was young. Too young. If he was even above eighteen, Siobhan would be shocked. There were no whiskers speckling his chin, unlike most of the Vanguard Generals. His dark skin was smooth, free of any scars or markings, aside from the dark bruise surrounding his eye. If he'd been a random man on the street, Siobhan might have found him attractive once. Maybe they would've had a good romp together when she was bored and looking for amusement. She leaned down and lifted one eyelid. His brown eyes didn't move, the pupil remained dilated—he was down for the count.

Siobhan grabbed his cloak and unhooked the golden clasp holding it closed at the neck. It took several yanks before she was able to pull it free of his weight. She crumbled it in a ball and tossed it behind her, allowing it to spread out on the floor. One hand tapped her chin as she examined the pressed shirt. Though most Vanguard Generals weren't born of noble blood, they were treated as if they were. Their clothes were the finest in all the lowlands, hand pressed by servants and cleaned daily even when they were on the road. They kept slaves with them at all times, both to do their dirty work, and be pawns in an ambush.

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