"Hey, Alys," Fenris called from the bar. "I saved you a seat." The redhead patted the bar stool next to hers.

Alys Brangwin crossed the crowded room and sat down next to her friend and fellow hunter.

"Thanks, Fen. The usual, Garn," she called to the bartender.

"Coming right up."

"You're really packing them in tonight," she remarked. "Is there a special sale on beer that I didn't know about?"

He set the drink in front of her.

"Nah, I think it's just that there's a lot of hunters in town right now."

"Well, that and the fact that the town guard's made it pretty plain that they'd prefer us to do our drinking here in the Guild bar," Fenris added. "They're not going to be letting hunters off with a warning for things that go down in bar brawls any more, but enforcing the letter of the law."

"One too many trained mercenaries getting his shorts in a twist over something stupid and wiping the floor with a room of merchants and tailors, huh?" Alys shook her head. "I swear, some people take a few drinks and it's like their brain just flushes out of their head."

"Well, alcohol does that," Fenris added.

"If you can't hold your liquor, then don't drink it where you know something bad's going to happen."

"Yo, Alys, baby!" a voice bellowed out from across the room.

"On the other hand, there's some people who don't need to drink, since they start out with a head that's already empty," Alys sighed.

Joss Howland was also a hunter. Big, muscular, and ruggedly handsome, he was actually fairly good at the work. What he wasn't good at was turning his affection for Alys into a romance, since her tastes didn't run to lunkheaded idiots.

"Too bad they don't sell that just from the neck down," Fenris said. "It's such a waste of good workmanship."

"He does only exist from the neck down, Fen; that's his problem."

Fenris pursed her lips.

"Why don't you just kick the crap out of him for bugging you, then?"

"And people wonder why the town guard doesn't want hunters hanging out in regular bars," Garn murmured under his breath.

"That's how we met," Alys said sourly. "He wanted to duel me to prove how great a fighter he was, I knocked him cold, and he's been in love with me ever since."

Fenris chuckled, then grew more serious as she watched Joss weave his way through the bar towards them.

"If he's really annoying you, though, you should report him to the Guild. Harassing a fellow hunter could get his membership dropped."

Alys grinned at her friend.

"If he ever bothered me that much, I would, but every time he's going to get to that point he manages to knock himself silly for me. How can I pick on a guy who gives himself his own punishment?"

"He doesn't always rack himself," Garn noted. "He's also drunk a sleeping potion."


"Yep—and a flaming double Nafoi while it was still lit."

"And he set his outside on fire once, too."

"Nearly sliced a tendon when he crushed that glass..."

"Almost popped a blood vessel trying to bend that titanium bar..."

Fenris looked back and forth between the two of them.

"You're not serious."

"You've seen a few yourself," Alys reminded her.

"Yeah, but..." She shook her head in disbelief. "Wow."

"That's Joss for you."

The sound of his name being spoken by his object of worship caught Joss's attention. Unfortunately, that made him look up as he worked his way through the tables instead of keeping his eyes on where he was putting his feet. He tripped against a chair leg, windmilled while trying to catch his balance, and fell heavily across a table, ending up face-first in a platter of bar snacks. Yowling, he jerked to his feet and reeled away, rubbing at eyes that had gotten a double dose of Garn's special Extra-Hot, Triple-Pepper Magman's Breath wing sauce.

"See what I mean?" Alys remarked.