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by Darrell Whitney

"Alys Brangwin! I'm calling you out!"

Even in the Hunters' Guild bar, where loud talk and louder bluster was the rule, a declaration like that couldn't fail to catch everyone's attention. Especially when it was bellowed at the top of a man's voice. Conversation fell to a sudden hush as everyone's attention turned towards the door.

The man was big, broad-shouldered and powerful, with close-cropped purple hair and a bushy mustache. He wore traveling leathers that looked as if they'd been recently purchased, and a broad-bladed sword hung from his waist. His face was red with fury, as if he'd spent some time working himself into a good rage, and his hands opened and closed spasmodically.

"Come on, Alys! I know you're in here!"

A beautiful, brown-haired woman in a red dress turned on her bar stool.

"You ought to, since I'm sitting eight feet from you," she said dourly.

"Oh, yeah?" the man sneered. "Well, Miss Big-Shot Eight-Stroke-Warrior, I'm saying you're a cheat, a coward, and a backstabber. So what're you going to do about it?"

People shrank back in their seats, putting as much distance between themselves and the two of them as possible. Garn, the bar's manager, wondered if that furniture sale was still going on at the Aiedo Marketplace.

"I'm going to finish my drink and wait for you to say something sensible."

"What! Ain't you man enough to stick up for your reputation?"

"I'm not a man at all," she pointed out. "Just like you, in fact." Alys sighed and turned back to her drink.

"Wha'd you say!?" the man bellowed, foam flecking his lips. "I'm Joss Howland, the toughest fighter in all Motavia, and I'll kick anyone's backside who says different!"

"Yeah. Right. Whatever."

Deciding that Joss wasn't going to go away his own, Alys reached into her pocket and took out a one-meseta coin.

"Call it."

"Huh?" was Howland's brilliant response.

"Call it. I don't have time to play my-daddy-can-beat-up-your-daddy right now, so if you win, you can be the toughest kid on the block, the king of the hill, or whatever they're calling it in Thrilling Stories of the Motavian West these days."

Before he had time to work his brain around a reply, Alys snapped the coin upwards with a flick of her thumb. Joss' eyes followed the glittering meseta as it spun upwards towards the ceiling.

He was too busy watching it to see Alys' fist slam into his face, the blow knocking him flat on his back and into slumberland. The tension evaporated from the room, and the patrons went back to their talking and drinking.

"Garn," Alys asked, "why do I always get all the idiots?"

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