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 hunted 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. It would be easy to slit his throat and save another Mage the suffering this oaf would cause. 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. So 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 and Ivan had used the entire remains of his vial. This crimson-cloak wouldn’t wake before dawn and even then he might not wake until well into the afternoon. Only one thing kept her from drawing the staff part and ending his wretched life.
He meant too much to 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 that of all the innkeepers, tavern masters, and assorted deviants they’d meet on their travels, Ivan was 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. 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. They kept slaves with them at all times, both to do their dirty work, and be pawns in an ambush.
There was nothing about the Vanguard Generals she liked.
“You look like you’re into redheads,” she said as she leaned over him. Both hands grabbed the sides of his shirt next to the buttons fashioning it closed. With a single yank, she broke most of the buttons, sending them flying. “Oops. Guess she got carried away.”
Siobhan spread his shirt open, revealing a clean chest. A little hair circled his navel, but otherwise it was as furless as his face. He mumbled, his head turning to one side, when Siobhan dragged a finger over his square jaw. Her eyes drifted to his pants where his purse hung by a single string to his black belt. Unlike normal people, the Vanguard Generals didn’t have to worry about hiding their purses. Only fools like Wren would steal from them.
Siobhan pulled the purse free and dumped the contents out on the small end table beside the bed. A vial full of a sparkling white liquid rolled within the coins that clanked against the wood. She frowned and flicked the vial with a finger. It rolled to the edge but didn’t drop to the floor.
“Of course he would have crystillium on him,” she muttered. As she counted the coins, she clicked her tongue. “My my. Only eight coins. Either you’ve had a lot of fun recently, or you really are new.”
She moved to his hip. It took little effort for her to free his sword belt and deposit it on the ground beside the bed. A normal man would care for his weapon and lean it gently against the wall or a chair. But this crimson-cloak was too busy having fun with his redheaded whore to care for such things. Siobhan intended for the room to look every part the lie she was going to infuse into the brute's head.
He kicked his legs as she began to undo his pants. She stopped, waiting for him to settle. A moan escaped his lips, making her smile. It was going to be easy to manipulate his mind if he were already having a fantasy play in his dreams. When he stopped stirring, she pulled his pants down to his ankles, leaving them pooled at the top of his boots.
“Oh dear,” she said, looking to his pelvis. Her head tilted to one side as she raised her pinky and wiggled it. “Somebody is either very cold, or you weren’t endowed with a . . . particular gift the Vanguard Generals are known for.”
And known they were. Siobhan had never partaken herself, but she’d met with many a woman—and some men—who had. There was nothing but gushing over their size and skill in bed. One woman even fainted at the thought of her time with an older crimson-cloak. Siobhan cringed at the thought of riding this lugs loins. Instead, she sat beside him and tapped a hand against his chest.
“Now the most important question.” She purred and traced a circle around his nipple. “Do you like it rough? Or would it be better for our girl to go slow?”
He didn’t answer. She sighed and searched her purse.
“Rough it is.”
She found the braided dried rose thorn totem and pulled it from her purse. Thorns poked her thumb and finger as she spun the braid and examined it. This was one of her favorite totems, if she had to alter her route for months to find a mage able to recharge it, she would. When used properly, it could inject any vision, thought, or story into a person’s mind. One so real they couldn’t possibly believe otherwise.
“Don’t worry,” she said, shifting to straddle the sleeping brute, “you’ll enjoy it. I promise.”
She pressed the braid against his chest over his heart. The thorns sank into his skin, breaking the flesh. Siobhan leaned down, gliding her boots against his thighs. He released a breath and shifted, the muscles in his abdomen tensed when she brushed a hand against his navel.