A breeze picked up dust from the packed dirt of the street, stinging at the eyes and throat. Motavia was a dry planet, almost entirely desert even in its temperate regions, and the wise traveler kept a scarf or the turned-up collar of their dust-cloak over their lower faces in imitation of a Native Motavian when the winds blew.

Joss Howland broke into a coughing fit as sand blew up his nose.

He's consistent, at least, Alys Brangwin thought.

Joss had positive traits. He was tall, strong, and a good fighter, which helped him in his career as a hunter. He had a handsome face to match his physique, which attracted women. He wasn't cruel or malicious or even particularly greedy, that last area being one where Alys herself would admit that she needed some work.

Alys would have preferred it if Joss had been a villain. Then she could have kicked his hind end thoroughly and with great satisfaction. Someone might even post a Hunter's Guild bounty for her to do it.

She had no such luck. Unfortunately, Joss was only an idiot.

"So let me get this straight," she said. "I was hired by Jonas Clavier, trader, to protect his carters against bandits that would attack them on the way to Kadary—bandits that were likely hired by his unscrupulous cuttthroat of a rival, Mitchell Grieve." She glanced back at the three carts behind her. "You, on the other hand, were hired by Mitchell Grieve, trader, to raid the carts of stolen goods which his nefarious ne'er-do-well rival, Jonas Clavier, is using to undercut the Kadary market and drive his rival out of business?" She looked at the scruffy henchmen behind Joss.

Joss nodded.

"Yeah, that's right."

He didn't appear to have noticed Alys's sarcasm.

"So then, we're supposed to fight each other?"

Joss beamed and puffed out his chest.

"I've gotten a lot better since last time!" he said proudly. "You're sure to be impressed!"

~X X X~

"So what did you do?" Fenris asked her friend eagerly. Alys had broken off the story to add another line to the letter she was writing. Before she could answer, Joss walked up to the table, three brimming mugs in his fists.

"Here we go. Ale for Fen, and one each of your usual for us both." He set down the mugs, then pulled out an empty chair and sat down.

"Thanks," Alys picked up her mug and took a swig.

"Well, Alys?" Fenris prompted. "Aren't you going to tell me how the fight turned out?"

Alys arched an eyebrow.

"What fight?"

"What do you mean, what fight?"

She shrugged.

"I had a better idea, much as the opportunity was attractive, than two hunters brawling for the sake of a couple of greedy blowhards. I think my exact words were, 'Screw this. Let's go back to Aiedo and you can buy me a drink at the Guild bar.'"

Joss beamed.

"You see? It just goes to show you that if a guy doesn't give up, he'll get the girl in the end."

This time it was Fenris's turn to raise an eyebrow.

"You're kidding, right?"

"Not really," Alys told her. "Garn's is as good a place as any to write a formal complaint to the Guild about their screening process on this job, I need Joss to sign as a co-filer anyway, and if I'm going to waste my time on behalf of some idiot who doesn't deserve it...well, better the one I already know rather than adding to the list."

Joss chuckled.

"Gorgeous, skilled, and a great sense of humor," he beamed. "Is it any wonder she's perfect for me?"

"Having second thoughts?" Fenris teased.

Alys took a moment to think it over.

"Nah. Keeping up standards as a hunter is important, and while I was a little concerned about encouraging him, well, after all this time it's not like the opposite message ever had a chance of getting through."