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The young man wore a look that hovered between benevolent and haughty, just as his clothes treaded the boundaries between flashy and good taste. Amy guessed ten people followed him in with the muscular man standing behind him functioning as a bodyguard. Everyone else dressed in muted tones, none standing out like the average-looking thin man in front. He smiled and ran a hand through his rapidly disappearing brown hair. "Good evening, kind hostess," he began with a pomposity fit to make her vomit. "Would you please let the proprietor that Marcus has arrived?"
"Certainly." She dimpled "First, if it please my lord, would you be so kind as to allow me to show you to your table?" She bit her lip to keep from grinning.
"Thank you, dear." He folded his arms into the billowy sleeves of his robes, oblivious to the smothered giggles and looks from the other patrons.
Amy led them to the tables facing the roaring fire, already set with trays of cheese, bread and cold sliced meats. "I hope you enjoy your stay."
He leered at her clevage and kissed her hand. "Oh, I shall..." he said suggestively.
She smiled and chewed her cheek all he way into the kitchen. The steam and smoke made her blink a few times before she could see the prep tables scattered about the room. "Ogre!" she shouted. "Oh, Boss-man!"
"What the blazing hell, Amy?" Ogre came from the giant fireplace in the back of the kitchen, covered in flour.
"Our problem child has arrived. He wishes to see you."
"Mostly either wants to know if you're single or wants something free," he grumbled. "Either way it spells nothing positive for us, kid." He dusted himself off and untied his apron. "TAG!" He shouted into the depths of the kitchen.
"Yeah, boss?" came a disembodied shout.
"Watch those damned pies, please?"
"Sure thing!"
Ogre looked at Amy. "Man the bar please?"
"I'll woman it and ask Ree to cover my section for a moment."
He relaxed. "Good. At least we have coverage. Let me go kiss some wizard punk-ass."
Amy went behind the bar and motioned for Ree to come up. The dark-haired barmaid came over, frowning. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah. Cover my section for a moment or two?" Amy squeezed out a bar rag.
"Who's the peacock?" Ree asked. "Four meads, please."
Amy shrugged. "Some wacko. Be nice." She filled the glasses and set them on a tray.
Ree took the tray, leaving Amy to polish glasses and straighten the bar alone. The inn was crowded tonight, which would have made an outsider guess that the locals were gawking at the new arrivals. She knew better, smiling at Bunny, deep in a conversation with two men. All three wore what would be considered plain peasant wear, nondescript tunics, pants and boots, but she knew that they were carrying weapons of some sort and were sizing up the wizard and his entourage. Even the bards, husband Gordon and wife Madelyn, were checking them out. Amy saw Madelyn close her eyes while singing an aria and knew she was checking for magic items. She spotted Hazard sitting with some of the workers from the vineyard, discussing something intently. Some off duty barmaids and kitchen help congregated in a corner with a few stable hands. Despite their air of nonchalance, Amy had no doubts they were aware of their surroundings.
She turned her attention to Ogre, a pained expression as he talked to the wizard. There was some nodding and Ogre managed a smile before inclining his head and stalking away. "Bastard wants a bottle of my best wine on the house to toast my good health," he snarled. "Give him a bottle of Maureen's bottom of the vat. He doesn't deserve the good stuff."
Amy pulled out wine bottle with blue label. "Your best vintage, sir!" she chirped.
"Shut up," he growled. "You get to take it to him. He likes you, or so it seems. I didn't tell him you prefer the softer variety."
She winked. "I've ways, don't worry about me."
He filled a tray with empty wine glasses. "There's a woman in his group that's only drinking from her own bottle. Some green stuff. She may be the one worth watching."
"Him?" She balanced the tray with one hand.
"A hack." He waved his hand. "You've more talent that he does. He tried to use a charm spell on me, I guess forgetting I'm immune. Doubt he'll notice your protection amulet."
She grinned. "Good!"
Amy made her way around the tables, expertly balancing the tray with one hand while cradling the wine bottle in her free arm. She smiled brightly at the wizard and noticed too late the leg waiting for her as she rounded the corner of the table. She inwardly sighed because she was hoping to play innocent for a bit longer.
Years of training took over. She let herself fall forward, releasing her grip on the tray and throwing the wine over her shoulder. With grace born of practice, she tucked into a ball and let the momentum roll her over once before springing up. She caught the tray before it hit the floor, her free hand collecting the glasses and placing them on it. The wine was safe on the instep which left her standing on one foot. Comepletely at ease, she swung her foot around and picked up the bottle. She smiled at the stunned faces around her, noticing out of the corner of her eyes that the townsfolk had tensed.
"There is only one kind of person who could have done," said a rich female voice. A woman with honey-colored hair slicked back into a ponytail stood up from her table. She wore a plain dress but the cut and dye told Amy's eyes that she was no mere peasant. "You're an acrobat, aren't you?"
The entourage parted, allowing them to see each other clearly. The wizard got between them. "Leave this to me, Marti!" he said boldly. "I'll handle this!"
The woman rolled her eyes. "Whatever, Marcus Doofus. You can barely light a match with your spells." She pulled a vial from her pocket and dropped it at her feet. It broke and smoke rose, sheilding her from their vision. Two more vials flew over the cloud, causing a bright flash upon impact.
The townsfolk sprang into action. Within moments, each member of the entourage had a sword or knife at their throat with Bunny's knife in Marcus' side and his throat in a choke hold. Amy had set aside the tray and bottle, kicked off her shoes and had fists at the ready by the time the smoke dissipated. The woman Marcus called Marti was gone. Ogre opened his mouth to say something when a slender man and woman dressed in head to toe snug-fitting black clothes came in, Marti between them. "Look what we found," the woman in black said. "Ryan said we should've knocked her out. I told him you wouldn't have thought that was funny and may have a question or two for her."
"You did right, Liz." Ogre folded his arms. "Before we talk, I've something to take care of." He took a pouch form his pocket and handed it to Amy. "Dust that fool and his associate fools."
Amy did as she told, Marti staring at her. "What's that?"
"Silence Dust," Ogre said proudly. "Created it myself."
"Really?" she seemed impressed. "What did you use? How long does it last?"
Bunny grinned. "You're an alchemist!"
Marti shrugged. "Yeah. So what?"
"What are you doing with these fools?" Ogre asked.
She sighed. "Long story. Can we get someplace comfortable and I'll tell you the whole tale? I promise not to do anything that would require you to use force."

Marti sat at a table with Bunny, Ogre and Amy. Liz and Ryan sat in chairs behind her, sharing a cigarette. Hazard and Maureen were perched on tables that had been moved aside to allow for the trussed visitors to be laid side by side, all sleeping peacefully thanks to a spell. She poured glasses of a green liquid from her bottle, waving at them to take one. "Well, I'm Marti, as you know. I am an alchemist but not just any."
"I figured as much." Ogre took his glass and sniffed it. "Smells green. What it is?"
"Absinth," she said proudly. "Brew it myself."
"You brew?" He looked surprised then grinned. "We should swap recipes then." His face clouded. "But why are you here?"
"Ever hear of Fissel?" She asked, drinking from her own glass.
"Yeah," Bunny leaned back in her chair. "Master alchemist. Older than dirt. I hear he doesn't leave his lab or see anyone except his broker."
"There is no broker." Marti glanced at Amy and Bunny. "It's not poisoned, I promise. I'm Fissel. No one takes a female alchemist seriously, especially a young one. I created the old man and made myself his 'broker' so I could make some money." She tossed back the remains of her glass. "Wanna see my lab?"
"How?" Amy sniffed her glass and took a sip. "Taste kinda like pine smells."
Marti stood up and looked at Ogre. "If I may?"
He stood up and nodded at her. "Liz will shadow you."
"Fair enough." Marti took a scroll from a tube on her waist and set it against the wall. She unrolled the canvas, revealing a painting of a door inscribed with symbols. The painting stuck to the wall and when she put her hand on it, the door swung outwards. Inside was a lab the likes of which no alchemist, chemist or mage would have dreamed of. Bunny didn't bother hiding the look of wonder on her face as a ferret stuck his nose out then step-hopped away. She closed the door, touched it and rolled it back up when it turned into a painting once more. "I have a storeroom in it as well. Anything I don't have I can whip up in a moment."
"You never answered why," Ogre reminded her.
"Marcus the Doofus hired me to research his spells." She yawned. "It was so damned boring that I was glad when your acrobatically gifted friend here did her trick." She clapped. "Bravo, by the way! Brilliant!"
"What now?" Ogre asked, arms folded. "What are your plans?"
"Dunno." She wrinkled her nose. "What are you doing with these jokers?"
"Forgetful Charm and dump them up the road in Maureen's vineyard." Ogre shrugged.
Bunny leaned back in her chair. "You do realize that our alchemist blew himself up trying to crack Haskil's Fromula?"
"That old thing?" Marti poured herself another glass. "Solved ages ago. Blew three labs but I did it."
Ogre frowned. "Really? What does it do?"
"Makes bubbles that will hold anything." She sniffed. "Useless. Last time I used it, I put flowers in them for some party."
He glanced around the room. "Marti, I have to take this up to the Council but would you be interested in setting up shop here? Bunny can explain everything in the morning. Amy, make Miss Marti a pot of tea. Liz, Ryan, thank you."
Maureen waved her hands. "I got these fools. Now worries, boss."
He looked at Marti. "Take the room first room on your left. On the house." He grinned, his tusks showing. "Welcome to Tilldae."
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August 2011


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