We used to be dreamers

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Candlelight flickered on each table and along the bar, the inn choosing to eschew sourcelight in favour of something older and more tangible. A thick layer of smoke drifted languidly about the room, seeming to clump around each table, new plumes exhaled from every mouth like the factory towers that punctured the Bruckin skyline.

Fenris Silt had left Tarn and Kirya in another inn altogether: a small, unshowy establishment on the other side of the district that provided clean sheets and little attention. Though he was the elder companion on their journey, he was continuously surprised by their lack of stamina and grumblings at the hardships of their journey to the city. Kirya was more used to a finer life, and she seemed to have rapidly infected Tarn with some of that same assumption of privilege, though he had clearly lived far worse. The boy's fumbled attempts to ingratiate himself with Kirya would be charming under other circumstances, perhaps, but Fenris had not forgotten the report from the city guard who had discovered Beautraire and his crew lying in the Treydolain gutters. Leaving them to enjoy a quiet evening in the warmth of the inn, without having to consider matters of kings and state and history seemed wise.

Traversing the city at night was much like the day, with furnaces still burning and casting their furious red glow across the half-frozen ground, the sound of hammers reverberating between the walls. Bruckin was known as the city that never slept and it had never been more true. Fenris could feel the tensing before a leap; the city was preparing for a war it knew was coming. Everybody from children to factory workers to the guards and guild leaders behaved as if conflict was inevitable and due soon. He marvelled at the cohesiveness of the city's efforts, with every echelon seemingly united in the focused effort. Treydolain and the crown had the formal structures and processes, not to mention ample funds, but Bruckin represented a densely packed block of resolve that the highly trained Treydolain forces would splash upon ineffectually like water against rock.

Observing from the doorway of the smoke-filled inn, Fenris allowed the door to close behind him and brushed fallen ash and snow from his shoulders. The inn was called The King's Head, the appropriate irony of which amused him greatly. Fenris moved slowly and quietly into the pub, noting the subdued conversation that could be heard only in small moments here and there, despite almost every table being occupied. The raucous revelry that threatened to spill out of most taverns was entirely absent: this was a place people came to wallow in their own sins, where they could quietly ruminate on their prior failings.

The bar was sticky with layer upon layer of dried beer, accumulated over many years. The barman was a pock-marked fellow with sunken and drawn-down eyes who looked like he hadn't smiled for at least thirty years. He approached and stared at Fenris without uttering a word.

"Two pints of something local and golden, innkeep," Fenris said. As he waited he scanned the patrons, casting his eyes over the tables without lingering and drawing attention. The inn was populated entirely by men, most of them looking to be over forty. Few looked like they had better places to be.

After paying, Fenris hefted the glasses and made his way to a dark corner of the inn - even by its own dimly lit standards - and stood beside a particular table. Another man, about Fenris' age, sat hunched against a bench, the dregs of his drink swilling in the bottom of a glass which he hugged close as if it were a lover. Fenris placed one of his newly acquired pints on the scratched, splintered wooden surface.

"That is for you," Fenris said. "I suspect it is long overdue."

"Damned sure it is," the other man said, his speech slurred. He pushed his empty away and took a sip from the new one. "Should have gone for something darker."

"I'm a little out of touch with what constitutes a good brewery this far north. May I sit?"

The man gestured dismissively. "Chair's free. I don't own the table. Sit where you like."

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