“What are you saying?” said Zeff. “You intend to abandon the Vanguard?”
‘Yes,’ affirmed Armengél.
“Come with us,” said Salazar.
Mariana could hardly believe what she was hearing. “What? You must be joking.”
Salazar looked over everyone again, settling on Mariana. She had a rare gaze, this woman, thanks to her heterochromatic irises. Deeply brown on the left and brightly hazel on the right. “We’ve been thinking, lately, about who we trust the most,” she said. “Shenado and Mariana here came to mind. Maybe things’ve changed after all this time, but I remember you two being some of the most uncompromising individuals I have ever known. And yes, that made you a pain in my ass on more than one occasion, but it also helped me trust you when things went bad--as they often did.”
Armengél nodded. ‘We don’t know your husband quite so well, but the Elroys are renowned for their sense of duty, and if you were willing to marry him, then it’s a fair bet that he is trustworthy.’
‘How can you spout such traitorous nonsense?’ said Axiolis. ‘You’re genuinely asking us to leave with you? Just like that?’
“We know it is sudden,” said Salazar. “And we know you have a family to think about. Bring them with you. We will keep them safe. We won’t force them to fight for us, either.”
Shenado seemed more shaken than anyone. ‘Why are you leaving? Only because you fear a bit of corruption in our ranks? You’re a general! You say the problem facing us is organizational, but aren’t you in a position to change that?!’
“We’ve tried,” said Salazar. “It’s too late.”
‘That’s not good enough!’ said Shenado. ‘What about Sermung?! Have you even lost faith in him?!’
“Sermung is the most powerful person in the world,” the General said. “I still have faith in him. And in three of the top eight. Sanko, Lamont, Jackson. But everyone else? I don’t know. And that’s not enough anymore, because I no longer have faith in what they’ve built. I can’t tell if the Vanguard is crumbling, but I know that it is at least changing. And not for the better.”