After the flames

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The orange-red liquid sloshed over the edge of the tankards as they hit together, the foam of the beer pooling on the sticky table. Tranton looked into the marbled pattern swirling atop the ale for a moment, then took a long, deep drink. His throat was parched from the acrid smoke that still drifted across the city. That's why they'd retreated to the first inn they saw, after they'd completed their reports and the battle had been declared officially ended.

"That was quite a fight," he said.

"Not what you expected when you walked over those mountains?" Roldan Stryke raised his jug, wincing as torn muscles flexed in his damaged arm. He was battered and bandaged tightly across his chest; the nurse had apparently refused to let him leave the hospital - advice which he had evidently ignored.

"Which mountains? I've crossed a lot of them, now."

"Bragging won't win you any friends," Roldan said, then he laughed, grimacing as his chest contracted. He looked at Tranton, his face suddenly serious. "You saved my life yesterday," he said.

Tranton shrugged. "Just returning the favour. You saved mine when I first got here, remember?"

Turning the corners of his mouth down and nodding in surprise, Roldan conceded the point. "I wasn't the one that found you, you know."

"No, but you stopped them from eating me."

"Eating you! That's not what happens out there."

"I'd crossed into a completely unknown valley. Didn't even know if there was going to be any people here." Tranton took another swig and grinned. "For all I knew, you could have been very cannibalistic."

"Well," Roldan said, raising his eyebrows, "as you've now discovered, we're a very civilised society."

"I've noticed that."

The inn was crowded, as were all of the establishments which had survived the fires and the fighting. Bruckin was tending to its wounded, medically and otherwise, and the survivors of the battle were celebrating their continued life, while mourning their losses. Treydolain had never breached the areas to the north of the city, or the higher levels, but many had died in the fighting on both sides and the repercussions would take a heavy toll on the valley. The others were busy already planning the next move but Tranton had needed a moment - one evening away from princesses and gods.

Tranton raised his tankard. "To Fenris Silt."

Sitting up a little straighter, Roldan nodded. "To Fenris."

"He was a grumpy old bastard."

"He could be."

"I don't think he liked me," Tranton said.

"I know he didn't," Roldan said, "because that's exactly what he said so to me on more than one occasion."

"Huh." News of the old man's death had affected Tranton more than he'd expected. He'd never especially liked Silt, though he'd come to respect his abilities and inexhaustible, inexplicably youthful energy, but he'd become accustomed to the man's presence. He had been the only other adult in the room on their journey over the mountains - no disrespect towards the Bruckin squad - and had the advantage of not being subsequently complicated by the revealing of previously unknown magic powers. Silt had held some odd beliefs, which he'd clutched to his chest up until the moment Aviar came crashing down from the sky, and that was something which Tranton would have found deeply off-putting at another point in his life, but he'd been forced to shift the boundaries of what he considered reasonable behaviour by recent events. Aside from anything else, Tranton had known precisely where he stood with Silt at all times, which had provided a modicum of normality in all the chaos.

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