Miss Scarlet leaned back, took a deep breath. Then, she straightened. “It’s a fine bit of reconnaissance, Mr. Edenburner,” she said. “You’ve certainly lived up to the standard I imagine they expected in Mandrill’s Raiders. You’ve found the enemy, found his weakness, and struck hard and fast.”

This time, it was Jed’s turn to be silent at the mention of the Raiders.

“In fact, I’d say that this is an awful lot like the way Colonel Mandrill planned the Sack of New Marvel, wouldn’t you?” Scarlet continued. “Scout the enemy extensively, seize a strong point, and then let the enemy destroy themselves?”

“You, of all the sapients around here, should appreciate what we did that day,” Jed said. A dark note had crept into his voice, and his earlier warning about being baited crossed Scarlet’s mind. “Those were rebels in the heart of their poisonous countryside, and if they had carried the day, you and all your people, whoever they are, would be thralls or worse.”

“It must have been going through your mind with each thrust of your saber, that,” said Scarlet. “I imagine, once the men broke and fled, that each woman and child you put to the sword, you yelled that out loud. ‘You’re a rebel in the heart of a poisonous countryside, and if you carry the day, people who I’ll one day threaten and bluster will be thralls or worse.'”

Jed was on his feet moving toward the door, and with such feral agility that Scarlet scooted backwards as if he was going to come straight through the door. “You think I don’t feel anything over that?” he snarled. “You think I got off easy? I see their faces every night, Miss Scarlet. Every. Night. And the only thing that keeps me from kissing my revolver and letting every ounce of pain just blow away is the ironclad, unshakable notion that I was doing my job. I was following orders.”

His hand was trembling, the revolver pointed at no one in particular. Scarlet reached down, as quietly as she could, and picked up her repeater.

“And where’s that gotten you, all this following orders?” Scarlet said. “Here in my boudoir, holding hostage the very sort of person, in my Pearl, that you say all the people at New Marvel died to protect. You’ll forgive me, Mr. Edenburner, if I wonder how the same orders can have such opposing effects?”

“You’d dare–dare!–to suggest that I am betraying what I did in the war?” Edenburner howled. “Colonel Mandrill was a good and noble man, and he knew the rebels and their foul magics were a scab that had to be ripped off for the wound to heal! That’s all I’m doing here!”

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