Alys Brangwin took a long, deep pull on her tankard, then let out a satisfied sigh.

"I tell you, Garn," Motavia's most famous hunter said to the bartender, "there's nothing more refreshing after a long, hard work day than something cold to drink."

"Well, it's a principle that I try to get people to live by," Garn agreed. "Mind you, I do have a few ulterior motives that play into that."

"Just a few," Alys agreed. "But so long as your ice supply holds out, I won't blame you. Right now, I'm in one of those good moods that nothing can spoil."

Garn glanced towards the door and frowned.

"I think that might be about to be put to the test."

Alys looked back over her shoulder and sighed.

"You know, Garn, I've been a hunter for quite a while now. You'd think that I'd have figured out at some point that saying things like that is just tempting fate."

The reason for their reaction was one Joss Howland, a tall, broad-shouldered man who looked like a tough, rugged hunter and actually was one. Unfortunately for Alys, adjectives like "tough" and "rugged" have little to do with intelligence, and in that area Joss was decidedly lacking. Making matters worse, he had a definite partiality for Alys and could not quite seem to get it through his head that "big and dumb" was not her type.

Usually, he reacted to seeing her in the Guild bar with a bellowed greeting and some kind of cheap pickup line. Alys made a mental note to check Hell for icicles, because this time Joss ignored her and focused on the bartender.

"Hey, Garn. You got something I can put on this?" he groaned.

"Put on wh—oh. That looks nasty, Joss."

"Feels nasty, too," Joss agreed, which Alys couldn't argue with. Now that he was up close, she could see that he was sporting a puffy, rapidly darkening bruise around his right eye.

"You know, a dose of monomate would take care of that right off," Alys suggested.

"Yeah, I know," Joss said, "but that stuff costs too much to waste it on this. Might need one some day when a Zol Slug is trying to dissolve my leg or something."

"That's a point." It could never be said that Alys Brangwin did not appreciate the value of a meseta. "Maybe someone could Res it for you?"

"Would you do that for me, Alys?"

She shook her head.

"Sorry; I actually would if I could, but I don't know any of the healing techniques."

Joss let out a sigh.

"Should have figured you'd be better at breaking stuff than fixing it. After all, you've already managed to give me this today." He jerked a thumb towards his eye.

Alys was starting to feel like she's fallen into some weird upside-down universe. First Joss more-or-less ignored her, and now this? A fair number of her encounters with Joss in the bar finished with him getting hurt in one way or another—generally without her even having to help—but that happened at the end of the business, not the beginning.

"Joss, I haven't seen you all day!" she protested. "How can you claim I did that to your eye?"

"Well, you didn't punch me in it or something, yeah, but it is your fault."

"Here's some ice," Garn interjected, handing Joss a towel wrapped around several crushed chunks from the cooler.

"Thanks, Garn." He pressed the ice pack to his eye.

"Again, I haven't seen you all day," Alys continued the more surreal part of the conversation. "So how can I be responsible for you hurting your eye?"

He gave her a long, searching look, as if trying to judge if she was being serious, given the apparent obviousness of the matter to his mind. Apparently deciding that it was just barely possible for Alys not to know, he decided to start his story.

For her part, Alys was kind of surprised that she cared. Joss Howland's health and welfare wasn't exactly something she spent a lot of time worrying about. On several occasions, in fact, she'd felt it appropriate to take direct steps against his health. She supposed it was just the seemingly false accusation that bothered her. Alys was perfectly happy to take credit for any bruises that she'd genuinely inflicted on Joss but didn't like to be blamed for things she didn't do.

"I've been working some shifts over at the jail as a fill-in guard," he began. "The town guard's got a few guys out sick, so they've been asking for hunters to take some of the prison watch shifts."

"Oh, yeah, I saw some of the listings for that." The pay wasn't much, since the job basically consisted of standing around and occasionally glaring at someone for six-hour shifts. Though those were two of Joss's better skills and Alys supposed that someone broke enough to worry about the price of monomates wasn't in a position where he could get too picky about paying work.

"So, I was over there this morning. The place was empty; the only guys in jail yesterday were a fellow who'd tried to sneak out of his inn without paying and two men who were up on being drunk and disorderly. They all made bail this morning, so there wasn't anyone there to guard. I didn't much see why they wanted me to watch over an empty row of cells but hey, if they want to pay me, I'm not going to argue."

"All right, so where do I come in to all of this?"

"Don't you remember? You were giving that demonstration out in front of the Guild."

"I remember the demonstration. I just don't see what you had to do with it." The Guild secretary had nagged, cajoled, wheedled, and threatened Alys into showing off some of her weapon and technique skills for a group of apprentice-age kids in a shameless recruiting ploy. As the Guild's most celebrated figure, Alys's name apparently meant something in shows like that.

"Well, c'mon, Alys, I had to watch it, didn't I? I'm your biggest fan!"

"Possibly in terms of size. So you left your job to come watch me show off for the kids?"

"Of course not! That would be a breach of my duty as a hunter. I can't believe you'd think I would do something so unprofessional as skip out on a job." He actually sounded a little hurt at the insinuation. Alys did not find herself moved to feel sorry, though; the day wasn't quite that strange.

"So what did you do? The prison is back behind the Guild and too far away to see clearly from," Garn prompted Joss, apparently curious despite himself.

"I used my skill and ingenuity as a hunter. I went up to the second floor of the guard tower and looked out the window."

"That'd let you see over the Guild building, but it's still kind of far."

"Which is why I used a spyglass! That way I got to see everything Alys did. You were great, by the way, especially when you used your Vortex on that one target dummy and then hit it with Foi. That looked really cool!"

"Um, thank you? But how did you hurt yourself doing that? A spyglass isn't one of the more risky pieces of hunter equipment unless you hit someone with it or something like that."

"Well, you know what those windows are like, right? Really narrow so attackers can't easily shoot or throw weapons in?"


"So just as you were getting to the big finish, the town guards brought in a pickpocket to lock up. Only, I had the cell keys with me since I was responsible for them. So the guard came upstairs without my hearing him and yelled, 'Hey, Howland, what the hell are you doing up here instead of watching the cells?' He startled me, so I turned around really fast, and the spyglass hit the inside of the window, which caused the other end to bash me in the face. So really, Alys, this is all your fault, because if I wasn't watching you I wouldn't have hit my eye or gotten half my pay docked for leaving my post!"

~X X X~

A/N: I suspect Garn gets his ice supply through liberal use of the Wat technique by his hunter clientele. Some tech-users probably pay off their bar tab that way!