Hart and Horror

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Chapter 1: She Dreamed of Fire

The world came to her in pieces, a flitting reel of pictures whizzing by before she could focus on them. Her eyes cleared of their sleep-haze slowly, permitting a bleary view of the rattling tram she found herself in. She had vague memories of a terrible figure, melting like a wax candle, as though it were a snapshot in the dream she’d woken from. She sat in silence for a moment, looking around the compartment. There was a sliding door to the tram’s walkway, cushioned red seats and carved wooden cabinets above them, stuffed with luggage. Her breath quickened as she turned her gaze to the window, pulling back the curtain all the way to get a full view of the forest the train raced above.

The tracks were raised up on a stone path that trailed hundreds of feet above mountain-encircled woods. She fought to keep her panic at bay as she stared out at the unpopulated land and the tracks that stitched their way through the treeline. Gently dropping the curtain, she leaned back into her chair.

She did not know where she was. She did not know who she was. She was completely and utterly alone in the empty compartment with the monolithic mountains slowly passing outside. As she lowered her arm, she took pause, noticing a strange mark beneath the cuff at her wrist. Pulling it back revealed a strange, foreign glyph with small numbers that circled the outside of it. All the same sequence: 89724: 89724: 89724, again and again.

Pulling down her cuff and returning her attention to the inside of the compartment, she forced herself to take a deep breath. She would remember in time, wouldn’t she? Perhaps it was a passing spell, a result of her drowsiness. She closed her eyes and attempted to remember something in the vacuous blankness that was her recollection.

What was her name? Where was she? Perhaps there was a reason she’d forgotten her name. Perhaps she’d had a spill on the tram. Standing uneasily, she took a step towards the sliding door, peering through the window into the walkway between her and the next compartment. Should she go and ask for help? ‘Hello, I’ve forgotten my name but seem otherwise fine. If you could just tell me what name was on the ticket I gave you, that’d be lovely.’

Had she given them a ticket at all? Was that the sort of thing one did on this type of tram? Would they come by, looking for a ticket? Identification papers? She could feel her face light up as she directed her attention to the luggage in the cabinets above. Eagerly, she pawed at the smallest parcel, a leather carry-on bag with a golden clasp.

She was just too short for it. That’s fine— nothing frantically jumping on the seat couldn’t solve. In the middle of this delicate procedure, which involved bouncing emphatically on the red cushions and struggling not to get her fancy shoes stuck in the soft fabric, the door clicked and began to slowly slide open. She froze, fingers looped around the straps of the parcel, looking wide-eyed at a man who entered the compartment, seeming just as confused.

“Hello,” she said slowly, releasing the straps. “This is probably going to sound very strange, but… I was just looking for my identification papers and the bag was too high—.”

The man smirked weakly. He had tousled dirty blonde hair, a broad nose and a smile that only creased one of his cheeks. His eyes were green like the trees outside the window, but almost dark enough to be mistaken for black. Most importantly, he held a tray heavy with sandwiches and tea.

“Having another episode, are we, Violet?” He asked, gently sliding the door behind him closed with a foot. Violet took a deep breath, watching the man for a moment. Episode? She really wasn’t alright, was she?

“Apparently so,” she said, stepping down from the cushion. “If my episodes normally involve me forgetting just about everything.”

The man sat and patted the bit of cushion beside him.

“They do,” he said with a sigh, “I was hoping they’d stopped. It’d been a while.”

Violet sat down slowly, looking into the man’s face, vying for some connection to form. As she had expected, however, there was nothing. She took a deep breath to steady herself for a moment. She’d forgotten everything— everything. Not a single grain of memory existed in the vast, black space where they ought to have been stored. It was terrifying, truthfully. Violet’s hands clenched and unclenched in the fabric of her trousers before looking up at Aaron again.

“Take a sandwich, Vi,” he said, offering out the tray. “You need it.”

She took a sandwich, holding the tiny square of bread over her lap and starting to nibble at it. Her nose wrinkled as she smelled and tasted the turkey. The man laughed.

“It’s funny, no matter what you forget, you’re always the same as you were before,” he said. “It’s good. These will stop for good and you’ll be just who you were then.”

“Did you know I didn’t like turkey?”

“Ha, always, yes.”

“Then why would you bring it?”

“It’s nice to see you remember something,” he said. With a tired smile, he extended his hand. “Aaron Windsor. Twenty-seven. Childhood friend. We’ve been very close for a long time.” Violet licked a smudge of cream cheese peppered with scallions from her index finger before shaking Aaron’s hand.

“Violet...” she said slowly, once she’d swallowed. She let it hang in the air, waiting for Aaron to fill in the implied blank.

“Vanguard,” Aaron finished. “Twenty-four. Also childhood friend.” She nodded, as if she’d known— although she definitely hadn’t.

“Violet Vanguard,” she said. “I hope you didn’t get my least favorite tea to see if I remembered that, too.”

Aaron laughed, pouring a cup and handing it to Violet.

“No, of course not.”

The tea was just exchanging hands when Violet caught a whiff of herbal medley rising from the steaming cup and her stomach turned. She shook her head, putting her hand up to reject it.

“Oh, you liar! That’s herbal tea, isn’t it?”

Aaron laughed again, still holding out the cup.

“The woman in Yeavering said it was good for remembering,” said Aaron. “I know you don’t like herbal tea, but it’s what’s best right now.”

Violet grimaced, taking the cup in her hand and pressing her palms into it, staring into the brown liquid that was swirling with shreds of herbs. She took a hesitant drink of it, swallowing the bitter draught with a wince.

“So what happened? Why can’t I remember anything?”

Aaron’s face visibly tightened and he leaned back into the seat a little. Violet watched, tapping her finger against her cup, waiting for him to recount what he’d likely recounted a few times by now.

“We were in an accident,” Aaron said. “We took a trip for your birthday along the King’s Highway. We were tired— so tired… I shouldn’t have been driving, but….”

Violet chewed her lip. She took a short sip of her tea before setting it down on the tray, reaching her hand over to Aaron’s arm. She’d decided in that moment that fretting would do little to help fill the blanks. It was intimidating, taking that step over the chasm and past whatever she’d known before— intimidating, but necessary. Her voice was firm when she spoke again.

“We’ll fix things,” Violet said, cutting him off. It was clear that Aaron bore the weight of Violet’s amnesia. He made no secret of it. Regardless, she refused to allow him to. Aaron only laughed weakly.

“It’s funny,” he said. “You say that every time. A woman without her memories is more consoling than I am.”

Violet picked up her tea again.

“Don’t take it terribly hard…” she paused, saying tentatively, “... Aaron?”

“Yes,” he affirmed. “Me, Aaron. You, Violet.”

“That’s a very good way to end up with a lapful of hot tea.”

Aaron laughed again, this time with more strength.

“At least it’s herbal,” he said, taking up one of the sandwiches and eating it. They both stared out the window a moment as the train approached a tight valley, the tracks slipping between two mountains like thread through the eye of a needle. “And we will fix things. We’re headed to see Doctor St. Germaine in Hephaestus right now. He’s a specialist, he’ll be able to find out what’s wrong.”

“Hephaestus?” Violet asked, absentmindedly dropping more and more cubes of sugar into her tea. She knew it wouldn’t help the bitter taste, but decided slogging through a cup of sugar water was far preferable.

“Hephaestus School of Medicine,” Aaron answered. The mountains were so close to the train that it felt as though the reaching arms of certain trees could just barely skim the sides of it. “They’re the best hospital in all of Orcadia, take medical advancements in leaps and bounds. They employ necromancers, you know.”

Violet let out a snort.

“Well, I imagine it’s hard to get a bad rating if you can just bring back the ones who die on you.”

“Ha, I don’t think it’s for that.”

“Let’s hope not…. Anyway, do you really think they can help?” Violet asked. Her hands were folded in her lap now as she studied Aaron’s face. She wasn’t sure if she was searching for the answer in it or just trying to form a connection. Somewhere, somehow, she knew this man and she couldn’t for the life of her remember how.

Meanwhile, towers of a sprawling city in a valley of the ridge of mountains became visible in the distance, peeking over the tops of the hills.

“Well, we’ll hope so,” Aaron said. “But if not, I have a backup plan… ha, and you think it’s ridiculous every time I tell it to you, but you have to believe in me, this once.”

“That all depends on what you’re about to say,” Violet said, raising a brow. “If it’s ground-up unicorns, I can’t promise I can keep the sarcasm at bay.”

“It’s the entropes in Ashacre,” he said. His green eyes became searching, locking onto hers, as if trying to gauge whether or not the name meant anything. Violet kneaded her hands.

“Entropes?” She asked.

“The chaos mages on the other side of the country,” he said. “It’s said they’re the best at their craft… and it’s said they can heal anything— even memories.”

Violet’s heart fluttered. Entropes? There was something intensely familiar about the description, and she felt a temporary flare of rage at not being able to sort out why. Had she already been in Ashacre?

“I think the only preoccupation I have with this plan is the fact that you just put chaos and my memories in the same sentence.”

“It’s a plan, though,” Aaron said with a weak smile, shrugging. “I mean, if Hephaestus can’t fix it, then the Ashacre entropes definitely can.”

“It’s on the other side of the country?”

“Well yes,” Aaron admitted. “But we still have the money left from the birthday trip… and you know, maybe you’ll remember something on our way there.”

Violet was just about to remark on this when her attention was stolen by a commotion in the hallway. Unable to resist looking, Violet peered through the window of their compartment and could just see a young man, staring uncomprehendingly at two tall soldiers who had been quietly standing guard just a moment before.

“Where’s your passport, soloff?”

“I have shown this already,” the man responded, his accent thick. He held it out. “Is all I have.”

“It’s out of date,” the bigger guard said threateningly.

“They let me on train.”

“They didn’t check close enough,” he said, forcing the passport back in the man’s direction. “I’d make you ride with the luggage, but you might end up poisonin’ someone.”

“No,” was the only word the young man could find. Violet nudged Aaron without looking at him.

“I see it, Vi,” he said quietly.

“What’s going on?” she asked, turning to look at Aaron.

“Looks like an Imrauvian with an old passport,” he said, before turning away disinterestedly. “Mind your own, Vi. This isn’t your business.”

“But they’re hassling him.”

“You want them to start hassling us next?”

One of the soldiers shoved the young man roughly and Violet could feel the wall of their compartment rattle as he landed against one adjacent to theirs. Violet frowned as hard as she could, nails digging into the upholstery. She was about to try and convince herself to do something when an older gentleman stepped out of a nearby compartment. He was large, grey and distinguished with a salt-and-pepper beard and a well-kept brown cap. When he spoke, his voice was resonating, commanding the immediate attention of the soldiers.

“Good afternoon,” he said, his accent much like the young man’s, only sounding more rich and sure when he spoke with it.

“Foreman Golovin,” said one of the soldiers, the other clearly not recognizing him. Violet nudged Aaron again, unable to tear her gaze away from the hall, and Aaron only sighed.

“Give them some privacy, Vi, you snoop.”

“I noticed you were having some trouble,” said Foreman Golovin. He reached into the pocket of his vest and withdrew his wallet, rooting around in it and withdrawing a handful of thick, golden coins. “Nothing ten sovereigns can’t fix. I am trying to sleep.” He handed the fat sum to the soldiers who looked momentarily dumbstruck. “I hope this ensures a more quiet trip.”

The soldiers gladly took the money and Golovin placed a hand on the young man’s shoulder, starting to lead him away. For just a moment, he turned, looking Violet dead in the eyes. She froze for a moment, having forgotten she was openly staring. In response, Golovin touched the brim of his hat briefly, then slowly returned to his compartment, speaking to the young man in a language Violet didn’t know.

“That was a lot of money, wasn’t it?” Violet asked. Aaron flicked her elbow and she jumped.

“That’s their business, so hush,” Aaron said, “and look out the other window.”

Violet frowned at being chastised but looked, obediently, at the sprawling city outside their window. She stared down at it, at the raised iron rails that glimmered in the grey light of the gloomy day. There were dark metal cabs that raced along the rails, around the city and to the different buildings. There was a monolithic clock tower in the center of the city, and intermittently throughout the streets were large light towers on iron pylons, their dormant heads pointed to different quarters.

“It looks like a prison,” she mused.

“There are nice spots,” Aaron said. “It’s the city of lights, Hyde’s Landing… ringing any bells?”

Violet stared for a long time at the rails, the dark metal of the trolleys, cabs, and bars on the architecture catching the light of the sun that barely peeked through the clouds.

“Have we been here?”

“Once,” Aaron said, “on our way to Circenses. We had custard at that one shop in the Augusta square. There was a man there with a mechanical dog.”

“No,” said Violet, turning to Aaron. “That’s absolutely mad, a mechanical dog.”

“Ha, that’s exactly what you said then.”

“Very convenient, though,” she mused, looking out the window. Without realizing, the two said, in concert, “it wouldn’t make a mess on the carpet.”

Upon noticing their synchrony, they laughed, the tea tray shaking in Aaron’s lap. The city of lights was gone after ten minutes or so, and soon the mountains returned, showing only thick forest that blanketed the ground for miles. She didn’t realize she’d lapsed into silence until Aaron spoke up.

“Unless it got oil everywhere, instead," he said.


“The mechanical dog,” he added, smiling sheepishly. “I have no idea why I kept thinking about it.”

“Considering a new pet, apparently,” Violet said. “Where are we headed to now?”

“Soderquist. It’s where we’ll take a different train to Hephaestus.”

“Is that nearby?” Violet asked. Aaron chuckled, standing and moving to the set of cushions on the other side of the compartment.

“It’s a while yet,” he said, setting the tea tray on the floor and lying down on the seat. “Try and sleep. That’s how the brain heals itself, you know.”

“Yes, Dr. …” she paused again, frowning. “Aaron. Aaron?”


“You, Aaron. Me, Violet.”

He rolled his eyes, shifting to get comfortable.

“Oh, so you can say it and I can’t, is that right?”

“Of course,” Violet responded, leaning her head against the window again to sleep. “I’m the cute one.” Aaron just laughed, turning over onto his other side.

Despite Aaron’s reassurances, there was a ball of worry in Violet’s gut that rattled in time with the train. She fought to keep her eyes closed, her head resting against the shaking window, unable to sleep. There was a memory there, behind closed lids— one that Aaron hadn’t rebuilt for her. In the brief moments she caught of sleep, she’d see it and force herself awake. Behind closed eyes there was a memory that was more white-hot dream than helpful rekindling, more ache than roadmap.

Behind closed eyes, she dreamed of fire.

Violet wasn’t particularly sure how long it had been before the train rolled into the small station in Soderquist, gently pulling her out of her sleep. It was a rural town that had effectively made its mark on the landscape. The area that Soderquist took up was noticeably bare of trees and had very little in the way of plantlife, favoring instead cobblestone roads, dark colored hansom cabs, tall buildings with balconies on every story— most of them displaying the handsome red, gold and white flag of the Empire.

It was a city mostly formed around Trevithick Ironworks nearly a century before, and so most of the businesses bore hackneyed names like the ‘Smelting Inn,’ the bed and breakfast that Aaron and Violet just happened to be heading to.

“The Smelting Inn?” Violet asked, her voice hoarse and groggy. “That’s not the most comfortable name, is it? I don’t much appreciate the sound of being smelted.”

“They call the bar The Foundry,” Aaron said.

“And what do they call a toilet? The ‘blast furnace’?”

Aaron let out a snort. Whatever reply he might’ve been offering was all but entirely ignored as Violet caught sight of Foreman Golovin, exiting the tram and walking off determinedly to Aaron’s aforementioned Foundry.

It was a rough-looking place, made of brick and unceremoniously crammed between a grungy outlet store and an antique shop with a carved wooden facade that had long since started to break down. It had iron bars on the two front windows which were both made of a green glass that was impossible to see through. The wooden sign that hung above the threshold read ‘Foundry’ in thick white text.

Aaron made no note of him— or if he did, he ignored him— and continued to walk, forcing Violet to follow behind. It was very clear that Aaron did not want her involved in that particular aspect of Soderquist, and that only made her want it more. She followed Aaron to The Smelting Inn in a distracted manner, allowing herself to be led inside.

The bottom floor was spacious with several patriotic buntings along the walls just as proudly as they’d been displayed outside on the rails of the veranda. The floors were a dark wood, and the tables made of a lighter, hewn wood littered with the plates of various patrons. There was a bar adorned with loud, decorated veterans and a massive stone fireplace that was being currently enjoyed by a few more. Every doorway had a brick archway while every wall had proud paintings of war medals, rampant lions, and other military images. Violet stood and observed every part of the lively front room as Aaron checked them in and was snapped from her thoughts as Aaron touched her shoulder.

“Come on, Vi,” Aaron said, starting up the wooden stairs just through one of the inn’s brick archways. “Unfortunately I have to be heading off to work on something soon so we’ll need to get you situated.”

“Work on something?” Violet said with a frown as she followed Aaron up the stairs. He smiled apologetically and unlocked the wooden door that was, presumably, hers.

“I’m sorry, Vi, it’s important.”

“What’s so important, then?”

“I have to deal with the car we crashed,” Aaron said, “There’s a lot to be done.”

To Violet, this was a terrible idea. She’d only just started having some semblance of her memories— what if she lost her footing again? What if she forgot everything again? She wanted to insist on going with, or that Aaron stay while she made sure there were no forthcoming ‘episodes,’ but felt suddenly guilty at this. She could not seem to formulate an argument that didn’t make her feel needy or else demanding and so sighed, shaking her head.

“Fine,” she said, walking up to her door and opening it. “Take care.”

“I’m glad you understand,” was all Aaron could say before Violet shut the door. Yet another twinge of guilt, and then,

“I’ll see you later, Aaron. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” he said through the door. “Have a good night.”

Violet stood at the door for a moment, leaning against the wood thoughtfully as she listened to Aaron’s retreating footsteps. If he was permitted to leave ‘to work on something,’ then by all rights, so was she. She stepped over to the desk in the room and started setting about a way to deal with her episodes, should one arise, and worked with a bitter ferocity.

She would, in fact, have a good night.

When she left to The Foundry later that evening it was with a small paper tied around her finger that read, when opened, “check your pocket.” Within said pocket was yet another paper explaining as much as Aaron had earlier in the day. She was unreasonably proud of herself for this.

Quietly making her way down the stairs, Violet checked the front room. There were few guests about at this hour, the sun having fully set leaving only the grimy bathwater of twilight. She stepped through the front door to the cobblestone street and felt a sudden surge of excitement. How was she to remember more about herself in her room, after all? The nightmares kept her up far too often for sleep to be of any benefit.

Upon drawing closer to The Foundry, she found it much busier than before— crowded with people and loud enough for the noise and music to pour out into the street. There were thick clumps of men outside the door— fauns with long, caprine legs; muscle-bound men with tattoos; and at least one man with a moustache and long, pointed ears. When actually presented with the possibility of entering the tavern, Violet found her courage waning. Not one to come this far and turn around, however, she pressed forward, catching a few strange looks as she went and ignoring them as best she could.

The music in the bar was quick and spirited, predominantly featuring violin, brass, and cello. There was no live band that Violet could see, instead there was a radio sitting on the L-shaped bar that a long-haired woman sat beside, talking uninterestedly to a man in the seat next to her. Violet had found the true object of her interest sitting not so far away from the radio woman. Foreman Golovin sat at the bar, massaging a temple as the man next to him plotted out a move in the game they were playing. Before Violet could get a closer look at the gameboard, however, a firm voice nearby drew her attention.

Only, it wasn’t speaking any language she knew.

She turned to look at the man behind her, and what immediately grabbed her attention was his military cap. Beneath that, he wore a faded striped shirt and a thick khaki coat. He had coarse dark brows, short wavy hair and a tan satchel.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” Violet said finally, after a very uncomfortable pause had passed between the two of them. He grimaced a little, scratching the back of his neck.

“Mm, I said,” he started, clearly having trouble finding the words, “please excuse.” Violet stepped aside to let him pass before faltering.

“Wait! You were the man on the tram!”

“Ah…?” He intoned, tilting his head as though only half of the words made sense. Violet pressed on regardless.

“The one those soldiers were hassling,” she said. At this, Golovin turned away from his game. “Actually I don’t know why I… brought that up.”

With a nervous smile, the young man waved and started off to a corner, presumably to drink away the awkward encounter. Violet’s own cheeks were burning after it, but she tried to ignore that. Golovin took the man’s place before she’d noticed, approaching Violet and raising a brow.

“You’re following me,” he said, crossing his arms.

“I liked what you did on the tram,” Violet said, in a voice that approached shyness. “Do the soldiers always treat you that way?”


“Well… er….”

“Imrauvians,” Golovin offered. “Yes, they do, but if shoving is the worst of it, then we will manage. We’ve had worse.”

There were a few questions Violet had about this, and it took her a moment to decide which she wanted to ask first. Before she could, though, the music cut out and gave way to an excitable radio show host introducing that night’s installment of something called The Emperor’s Men. A few groans sounded at this, but the woman by the radio turned and snapped.

“It’s my radio,” she said in a rough voice, “I’ll listen to what I want. You want to fight about it, aleshy?”

No one wanted to fight about it.

As a result of this, they ended up listening to The Emperor’s Men, a ridiculous serial about the very pinnacles of Orcadian society taking on swashbuckling adventures. As much as people had groaned about it, it inspired spirited anti-Orcadian conversations. Golovin had given Violet a seat next to him at the bar as well as a short glass of scotch and she contented herself with watching Golovin play the strange board game in front of him.

After an hour, the station traded one slew of nationalist drivel for another when Alloicious Quinn came on. As little as Violet knew or cared about Orcadian politics, she found it hard to stop paying attention to him—Quinn turned out to be quite charming. He had a confident, boyish way of speaking that she decided was quite fetching. He would alternate between singing with purported Midnighters of the king to telling jokes that Violet wanted desperately to hate and yet found herself smiling at.

“There was an old soldier who lost his eye in battle,” started Quinn, in a mischievous tone. Lucretia, the Empire’s loveliest lady and Quinn’s partner on the show, let out a groan.

“Oh, Alloicious, not this one again.”

“Come, tell it!” boomed General Bardsley.

“He got a glass one to replace it. One day, he showed up to a gala without it and his friend said, ‘you’re damn near indecent! Where is your eye, man?’”

“Ha, I love this one,” said Bardsley, “every time.”

Alloicious laughed and proceeded with an accent.

“‘I left it with me things,’ said the soldier, ‘have to keep an eye on them.’”

“Ha! Tarmons!” Bardsley roared with laughter. He laughed for an inappropriately long time, in fact, and after a minute or so, Alloicious chuckled softly.

“Don’t look at me like that, Lucretia. I tell it for Bardsley. Look how happy I just made that man.”

Not many of the Imrauvians laughed, but Violet supposed perhaps the play on words was lost on them. Golovin insisted that it was that Imrauvians had a better sense of humor than that. It was when Quinn started talking politics that everyone listened— and very intently.

“When we lost our Annalise Cuthbert, a kingdom grieved,” Quinn said somberly.

“Give it a rest, Quinn,” the woman at the radio muttered.

“We grieved and then we set ourselves to what’s important,” he went on. “We picked up guns and swords and we cut that tenuous tie to our brothers in the North— watched them float away, let the winter claim them as it had their hearts. And we’re fixing to claim a little more.”

He was referring to Justice-Admiral Julius Vale’s plans to form a First Volunteer Regiment of willing and able Orcadian men. The Regiment had only one purpose: They had to steal Port Dasha away from the Imrauvians. Dasha was a port on the very crust on Imrauov, according to Quinn, and would provide the ideal positioning to flank Imrauov’s soldiers with the assistance of Orcadia’s newfound friends to the north— the people of Durmstradir.

Violet found it was hard not to listen. She felt very uncomfortable, listening to this sort of talk in a room full of noticeably disgruntled immigrants. Golovin had even stopped playing his game to listen, and Violet turned to him to try and read his expression. Apparently she’d had one of her own.

“We’re different than homeland Imrauvians,” Golovin said at Violet’s look. “We don’t appreciate what they did, either.” He cast an unreadable glance at the radio. “They ruined everything. The tsar ruined everything. I wish the Empire would not get that confused.”

Quinn only drove the nail into the coffin as he finished the tirade.

“Like hell if we’re going to lie down for freedom-hating soloffs!”

“He’s just saying that,” said the woman by the radio. She turned around to look at Golovin. “And damn is he lucky he’s pretty, because otherwise I’d go down to the station myself and….” She trailed off as she got a good luck at Violet.

“And what, Renata Ivanovna?”

“You were here the other night,” Renata said, ignoring Golovin and beaming at Violet. “You’re the one who got in that fight with me.”

Violet’s hands tightened on her glass.

“That was you?” Golovin asked. Violet wasn’t sure that she wanted to disclose information about her condition to veritable strangers, and so only smiled lamely, hoping Renata would go on.

“You cleaned my goddamn clock, I think I deserve a ‘hello,’” she said, laughing and punching Violet’s arm, disrupting her scotch.

“Hello,” Violet started, before suddenly brightening. “How was I acting that night, do you remember?”

Renata was momentarily confused by the strangeness of this question. She answered slowly.

“We talked a while,” Renata said, looking a little hurt. “Do you not remember?” Violet assumed from this they must have gotten on well. She forced a laugh of her own, setting down her scotch.

“Well, I remember thinking you were brilliant,” Violet said, “I was just a little plastered, that’s all.”

“I couldn’t tell,” Renata said, smiling again. “I just know you came in, you were in a mood... something about this man giving you trouble.”

“A man?” Violet asked. “Was it Aaron?”

“No, I don’t know who that is,” Renata said, shaking her head. “It was a mutual hatred, I remember that. I’m trying to piece it together. I was pretty corked myself that night. I thought it was Quinn, but...”

Almost as soon as the excited glint of recognition came into Renata’s eye was when a thunderous boom shook the establishment. Violet scrambled from her seat like a startled cat, and the rest of the immigrants seemed equally shaken. Every patron got up, heading for the door, and Violet found herself running right along with them. As soon as they made it outside, a column of smoke was visible, rising into the sky a few miles from Soderquist.

Violet didn’t even think. She ran back in the direction of the inn, hoping that Aaron would be there, and even more sincerely hoping that none of this had to do with what he’d gone to ‘deal with.’

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