“I don’t know what in the hells happened out there, but you look like you need somethin’ strong,” Jim said with a worried look.
Mallory was sure she looked like the most mopey girl in the Inner Sea right now. Hitting the Right Place for the second time in a row, and she wasn’t even joining in the dancing or singing. She shrugged, pushing away the storm of internal thoughts for just long enough to respond.
“Uh… maybe not strong. Just… something comforting.”
Jim snapped his fingers. “I know just the thing. Hang on.”
He came back scarcely a minute later with a bottle and a glass. “Just like you’ve always liked it.”
Mallory blinked in recognition of the handwritten label. She’d forgotten they even carried this stuff! “Thanks, Jim. This is perfect.”
She popped the cork and poured herself a glass, settling in with a drink of the familiar. This was hippocras, made from white wine, a variety of expensive spices, and an absolute wagonload of honey. The spices couldn’t be tasted, but they certainly could be smelled. No one made it like this any more. In fact, no one made it at all anymore. Hippocras had long since gone out of style, but Mallory never understood why. Her parents were old-fashioned, and though they hadn’t let her have any when she was little, she always remembered the aroma. It was the smell of home. She took a relaxed sip and felt it wash through her, enjoying the scent as much as the sweet taste.
“What have you got there?” came Doc’s voice next to her, pulling her from her reminiscing.
She smiled warmly. “Hippocras!” she said. “Want to try some?”
She poured Doc a glass and slid it over to him, her mind again drifting off to home. Her father pouring this and serving it to guests when he’d have people over for parties… Few had ever tried it before, and most had never heard of it. But all of them loved it. In a way, she felt like she was carrying on a sort of tradition from her father.
“Oof, that’s sweet!” Doc exclaimed. “Good, but sweet.” Then, so typical of Doc, he flipped his notebook open on the table and wrote out a few quick marks about the drink.
With a chuckle, Mallory leaned toward his notes. “It’s meant for after dinner, traditionally. A digestive aid, I remember hearing. Think of it almost like a… heh… a dessert wine?”
“Ah, that makes sense!” Doc said, writing even faster. “A liquid piece of pie, almost.”
“Yeah! My dad used to serve it a lot. I was too young to have it of course, but it always smelled so good…”
The peaceful reminiscing, however, led back to her childhood memories of playing with the Ravidras kids. A name now soured, having seen it in the Cult of Calistria’s paperwork. The Everley and Ravidras families had been close as far back as Mallory knew, which admittedly, wasn’t that far since she was only a child at the time. Had there been some darker history between them? An affair, perhaps? A bad business deal, or a bad breakup? Maybe her father James had some tryst with Weiss Ravidras and was discovered? It seemed like wild speculation, but what could her parents have done to warrant one of the Ravidras signing off to kill the entire Everley household?
Mallory took another, longer sip, setting the glass down a bit more forcefully than she intended.
Her anger burned inside. When Helen Petley had come, when young Mallory had realized she needed to run, her first instinct was to run straight to the Ravidras’ house. But to go that way would mean sneaking past the killer she now knew as Helen. It would have been far too dangerous, and so Mallory went the other way, and never looked back. She nearly ran right into the arms of the ones who wanted her family dead.
In some ways, it might have been better, she thought bitterly. Then they’d have to confront the ugly pain they had caused… and kill me themselves, instead of having that assassin do the dirty work.
She took another sip. Those were foolish thoughts of course. She had lived, ended up in literally the right place, and built something of a life for herself in spite of their betrayal. And now, they could face the consequences for what they had done. Now…
There was that furious anger again. She found herself fumbling with the word “consequences” in her head. Her mind kept swapping it out with “justice,” “retribution,” and an incoherent, silent scream of pure rage. Was she just masking over it all to try and keep from cracking?
She reflected on Doc’s words from earlier in the day: “Either you have a very, very mature view of it, or you’re in serious denial.” She wasn’t sure which it was, herself. Maybe she was just denying her anger. But what else was she supposed to do? Embrace it and end up as a Calistrian in all but name?
Oh, right. Somehow she had forgotten that she fancied herself someone who could forgive even the gravest of insults and injuries. Even the murder of her parents. That was infinitely easier said than done, of course. And now that she had a family name to put to it… could she actually do it, and really forgive them? It would certainly be a process if so. Not something that would come quickly.
Another long sip as she thought on each particular member of the Ravidras family. The contract hadn’t said which person had hired the cult. So she ran through the possibilities. There was Hunter Ravidras, the father of Mallory’s childhood friends. Weiss Ravidras, their mother. They had two children, a boy and a girl: Quinn and Vanessa. The kids were obviously too young to have managed such a thing, though Mallory was sure Helen would have taken the job just the same. So the only real possibilities were Hunter or Weiss. Or, she supposed, some brother or other member of Hunter’s family that Mallory herself never knew about.
One thousand gold.
The number flashed in her head again and she quickly took another drink of hippocras at the thought. One thousand gold, that’s all it had taken. Such a small amount of money to utterly destroy so much. Not so long ago, Mallory would have considered that an eye-popping amount of money, but now she had more cash than that on hand.
For now, it seemed, there was nothing for it but to find out who had done it. She wondered what the Ravidras family was even up to these days… where the kids had ended up and what sort of people they had grown into.
If she met them, she wouldn’t be able to use her real name… just in case. It could raise alarm if the family realized she had survived. She would need to get to the bottom of it and figure out who had put out the hit, without giving away who she was… if she could help it. She wanted to reunite with Quinn and Vanessa, but for all she knew, they might now be in on whatever sordid business had led to the demise of James and Ella Everley. She would have to protect herself.
And she knew just the person to talk to for establishing a fake identity.
With another sip of her hippocras, she looked with a smile in the direction of Miri.