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Meric roused from an uncomfortable sleep, pushing himself into a sitting position, his arms sore from where he had been resting his head on them. Well, his right wrist was going to have been hurting anyways, due to the fact he’d snapped the bones in it not so long ago and still hadn’t healed completely. His wrist was wrapped in a rudimentary splint made from sticks and strips of cloth from an old shirt of his, but he still had some movement despite the splint since it had been put on a week ago and hadn’t been retied since. You had to be tough to survive living rough, and that meant not whining about your splint being too loose.

He looked about the dirty bar, wondering where the time had gone. There wasn’t anyone he recognized as being from his own group of raiders, the Mountain Wolves. The only people nearby were strangers to him.

Always in his life in the past, he’d had something to keep him busy, even before his time as a raider. But now, it looked like getting drunk was going to do him in, rather than getting shot somewhere important while on a raid. He hadn’t seen any of his gang mates in ages, or at least it felt that way.

“You all right there?” a voice asked, and Meric looked up, realizing he had been clenching and unclenching his left fist as he felt a bubbling up and tensing inside himself. The speaker was a homely woman wrapped in an apron standing behind the bar counter. Meric recognized her as one of the bartenders here at Dugal’s Bar who also pulled double-duty as a cook. Oh, that was where he was, Dugal’s. The bars around Columbus had started to blur together for him; he spent so much time at all of them waiting for his damned wrist to heal up.

“All right?” Meric mumbled. “Yeah, yeah, sure. I’m sure dandy.” He rested his head in his left hand, massaging his temples.

“Well, pardon my saying so, but you don’t look all right. You’ve been sleeping there since I started my shift three hours ago, for a start.” He peered between his fingers at her, glowering. Shut up. Just shut up. “How about some rabbit stew to wake you up?” she offered with a smile, waving her ladle towards a stove where a pot was giving off a juicy, savory aroma. That smell suddenly reminded him of his mother, and he found his stomach grumbling as he remembered a different stew also made from rabbit. That stew had smelled better, most likely tasted far better, than whatever she could come up with. However, he found himself nodding for her to serve him a bowl, and he searched out her nametag, which helpfully reminded him that her name was Violet.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he mumbled, briefly transported back to being a small meek boy.

“I’ll take some of that off your hands too,” a weather-beaten man wearing a baseball cap said as he set a backpack down by the stool next to Meric and sat down. Violet obligingly offered him stew as well and the two men ate in companionable silence. Meric didn’t recognize him, but that didn’t necessarily mean much. Meric wasn’t technically supposed to know or become friendly with the people his gang would raid. It made it hard to compartmentalize emotion from necessity.

The fact they had both shared the same stew might have been the end of their chance encounter, if not for what happened next. The doors at the far end of the bar burst open and a black-clad woman and man entered, each clutching a gun. Even Meric, who was used to guns in his line of work, flinched, recognizing them as vigilantes. The two sauntered slowly into the bar, glancing right and left at the patrons. Most people avoided eye contact with them, and conversation pretty much ground to a halt. Out of the corner of his eye, Meric saw Violet frozen, her mouth gaping open in terror. For some reason, he made eye contact with the man in the cap seated next to him. The man didn’t seem frightened or even nervous. He almost looked…ready.

“You!” the woman vigilante said, suddenly on Meric’s other side. “I don’t like the looks of you.”

“Well, that’s funny,” Meric said, before she could get any further. “I was about to say the same thing about you. What plague-infested, rat-filled pit did your mother give birth to you in? I want to send her my condolences.”

The woman casually pointed her gun at his chest. “You want to say that again? Nice and loud, so my partner can hear you?”

“No need, Roseblood, I heard him clearly,” the male vigilante said, coming up behind Meric. He wrapped his arm around Meric’s shoulders and pointed his gun at Meric’s temple as he leaned forward. “What say we take this to Heathen Yard instead? We wouldn’t want things to get ugly, now would we?”

There was a sudden flurry of movement. The man in the ball cap had flung his backpack for the male vigilante’s head, but then a shot rang out and he crumpled sideways with a cry of pain. Meric yelled, tackling the woman vigilante to the ground. They wrestled for her gun, and she managed to fire off a few wild shots that barely missed Meric. She smacked his broken wrist and he felt an intensity of lightning-white pain as sparks danced before his eyes.

Then the man was there again, blood dripping from his arm. He clutched the male vigilante’s gun in both hands as he shot the woman vigilante in the shoulder twice. Meric felt the heat of the bullets pass over his head. The man bent over Meric and got his arm under him, helping him to his feet, despite groaning and wincing from his own injury.

“Come on, man,” he said to Meric. “Let’s get the hell out of this blasted town.”

Right then, that was the best idea Meric had ever heard.