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Sebastian watched as the Red Guard rained down upon the trundling caravan. Griffins screeched above as streamers of rope dangled from a wooden transport bed held aloft by the great beasts. Glints of silver flickered in the sunlight while the naked steel in the soldiers’ hands set the tone.

There would be blood.

Leave it be, son,” Darius said. “Our fight is elsewhere.”

Crouched behind a growth of thick foliage, Sebastian glanced at his father and saw the red blotches that marred his cheeks. The color highlighted the fury he somehow managed to keep from his voice. The sounds of battle still called to the old warrior despite his many years away from the battlefield.

Sebastian’s narrowed eyes returned to the unfolding horror, his breath cold in his lungs. He heard the crackle of his father’s knuckles behind him as he clasped the pommel of his sword. Darius spoke of restraint but his body readied for war. Like father, like son.

The Red Guard, the witches’ military, dropped to the earth, kicking up clouds of gray dust in their wake. They charged forward the moment their boots hit the ground, their mouths drawn in grim lines. They called out no warnings, nor offered any mercy, as they set upon the wagons. Their purpose was clear.

In sharp contrast to the taciturn approach of the Guard, panicked whinnies filled the air as malnourished horses fought their tack to be free. The shrieks of frightened children rose above the animals and the frantic shouts of the caravan men readying to meet their foe. The sound of fear grated against Sebastian’s sense of honor, instilled by his father, and he, too, found his hand at his hilt.

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