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She swallowed. “Good morning, Chief Gunarth.”

Lokdon,” he growled. “Does the city pay you to loiter in front of headquarters? Because if the capital city of the Turgonian Empire, the most powerful nation in the world, pays its enforcers to loiter uselessly in front of my headquarters building, I’d think somebody would have mentioned it to me.”

Amaranthe opened her mouth to give him an obedient “yes, sir.” Or was it a “no, sir”? She had lost the question in his diatribe. “I’m waiting for my partner, sir.”

It’s five minutes into your shift. Where is he?”

He’s...” Hung over, still asleep, trying vainly to find a uniform that isn’t wrinkled…. “Investigating some suspicious activity at Curi’s Bakery.”

The chief’s already-lowered eyebrows descended further. “Let me explain something to you, Lokdon.”

Sir?” Amaranthe tried to look attentive.

Your first loyalty is to the emperor.” He reached above his head, demonstrating a lofty plateau. “Your second is to the city, and your third is to everyone above you in the chain of command.” His hand descended in increments as he spoke until he finished with, “Way down there by your boot is your loyalty to your partner. Understood?”

Emperor, city, you, boot. Got it, sir.”

Is that a joke, Lokdon?” His tone made it clear it had better not be.

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