Alys Brangwin hadn't been in the Hunter's Guild bar for a couple of weeks. First a monster hunt in Zema had occupied her, and once she'd cleared out that nest of locustas it had been off to the island of Uzo to find a kidnapped daughter who'd actually run away with her boyfriend. The jobs had been completed successfully, though, and the commission fee safely paid over into Alys's hands. There was a jaunty spring in the step of Motavia's foremost hunter as she entered the bar.
"Alys!" the bartender greeted her cheerily as she swung up onto a stool. "It's been a while."
"Hey, Galt. One of the usual, please. Hey, I really like what you've done with the place. New mirror over the bar, new seat covers and tables, even the glasses are sparkling in their racks."
"Yeah, we did a bit of cleaning. How about you, though? Been out on your latest exciting crusade?"
"It pays my bar tab." While Alys's opinion of her own abilities was justifiably high, she didn't feel the need to go around and tell everyone about all her exploits. Bragging, at least, was one sin they could acquit her of.
Galt set a mug down on the bar in front of her.
"One of these days I'm going to hear about one of your jobs from you instead of from the gossip round."
"I'm sorry, Galt. I just don't like to shoot off my mouth."
"Hey, everyone!" a loud voice boomed out from the doorway. "The conquering hero is back after three months on the road."
"Unlike some people," Alys muttered.
The newcomer was Joss Howland, a big beefy lunk of a hunter who although moderately capable in battle balanced out what he had been given in strength and looks with a complete lack of brains and common sense. Worse yet, he'd gone from viewing Alys as a rival to be defeated (annoying but manageable) to seeing her as his romantic ideal (a complete disaster).
"Alys!" Joss shouted. "Wait until you hear about my latest adventure!"
She smiled winsomely and patted the stool next to her.
"Why don't you come over and tell me?"
Eager anticipation leapt into Howland's face, and he sprinted full-tilt across the taproom--or at least he tried to. Halfway across, one of his feet skidded out from under him, he executed a beautiful if involuntary backward somersault, and faceplanted himself into unconsciousness on the stone floor.
"Did I mention that I really liked the new wax job, Galt?"