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Amy stood in front of Ogre's, a cloak wrapped around her shoulder. In the afternoon silence, small flecks of silver fell from the darkening clouds rolling above. She held out a hand to catch them, marveling at the snowflurries before they melted against her warm skin. Perfect, tiny snowflakes sparkled in her palm before winking out of existence. Marti walked up, a scarf around her face in addition to her cloak. "There's a lesson to be learned in that, I'm sure."
"I suppose." Amy smiled at the alchemist. "Blown anything up today?"
Marti shrugged. "Nah. Weather proofed my lab. Some things can't take cold very well so I had to rearrange some furniture. Now yesterday..," she paused and grinned. "Oh, did I tell you the rather lovely shade of purple currently on my ceiling? I've considered leaving it alone and maybe painting stars or something-"
The sound of horses stopped their conversation as both turned to find the source. Three people on horses, one pulling a cart came up the worn path in front of them. One pulled back her hood, revealing a disheveled Bunny.
Amy never waited for a greeting or even Bunny to dismount. She jumped into Bunny's arms, wrapping her legs around her middle and catching the dirty, sweaty face in her hands. Amy kissed her hard, burst into happy tears and hugged her. "I brought you something from Border Town," Bunny said when she could breathe.
The other two had dismounted and were chatting with Marti. Amy blinked a few times through her tears at the guests. "Mom? Dad?"
"Baby!" Kiva crowed and held out her arms.
Amy jumped down and hugged her in one smooth, graceful move. Anthony rubbed their backs as the two women sobbed on each other's shoulders. "Women," he said fondly to Marti.

They were ushered inside the inn. "Uncle!" Amy bellowed. "We have company!"
Ogre came into the common room from the kitchen, wiping his hands on his apron. His smile was a big as his face. "SIS!" He gathered Kiva in a hug that would have crushed a grown man. She hugged him back just as fierce. "How long are you here?"
"Until the snow flies, at least," she said. "Actually, there's something I need to tell Tag."
Tag, hearing his name, came from the kitchen covered in flour. His face broke out in a smile. "Kiva! Anthony!" He hugged each of them, leaving them lightly dusted in white. "How long are you here? Oh, I'd better get cooking!" He turned to rush back into the kitchen.
Kiva caught his arm. "I have a message for you."
He stopped. "For me?"
She took an envelope from her pocket. "It's from Zell."
Tag's eyes filled with tears. "You saw Zell? How's Jo?"
"Beautiful, Tag." Kiva's eyes were shiny. "They're coming to see you as soon as the snows melt."
The cook's face lit up. Tears fell down his face, leaving clean tracks on his cheeks. "Really?!" The smile faded and he wiped his face. "You know what this means."
She nodded. "I do. We'll be ready."
Tag kissed her cheek and hugged her once more, shaking Anthony's hand and hugging him briefly. "I'd better get started on dinner." He disappeared into the kitchen.
Kiva gathered Anthony and Ogre with her eyes. "Let's unpack, shall we?"
Amy turned to Bunny. "What happened?!" she hissed.
"No clue," Bunny confessed, lost. "All I know is we were in the elvin kingdom and-"
"Wait..." Marti stopped her. "Elf? Is Zell an elf? I noticed Tag's half-elvin..."
"Yeah, she is." Bunny shrugged. "So what?"
Marti covered her eyes. "Because, my sheltered friend, a female elf doesn't leave her homeland to visit. She was either banished or is running away. Runaways are put to death."
Amy swore fluently.
"No way," Bunny protested. "That's awful!"
Marti shoved her towards the door. "Let's see what you brought, shall we?"

Ogre had already separated the crates according to contents by the time they arrived. He held up a head of lettuce half-chewed. "Tell me this was half price."
Bunny stared at it. "It was perfect when I bought it, I swear! I had someone with me who practically threatened every farmer with death if I didn't get the best stuff!"
"And she was cute," Kiva chimed in from somewhere near the cart.
"Stop helping, Aunt Kiva!" Bunny groaned, avoiding Amy's questioning look.
"Some other things look like they've been chewed..." Anthony frowned at a sack of rice. "This seems to have a hole clean through it. Good thing it's salvageable."
Ogre considered the sack for a moment. "What's there will do. I had some in the store room but a little extra helps if we get snowed in longer than usual." He looked at the darkening sky. "We should get a move on. I don't like those clouds."
"Can't say I'm fond of them myself," Anthony agreed and started moving faster.

By nightfall, the flecks had started to come down in distinct bits of white and stick to the ground. Amy and Bunny watched the whiteness pile up on the ground outside the windows curled together under a blanket beside the fire. Anthony played something on his mandolin while Kiva and Marti talked quietly with Maureen over a bottle of wine. The others were clustered around the fireplace, some chatting and others listening to him play.
There was a loud thump, a shouted curse and the sounds of something running followed by more shouting. Ogre busrt from the kitchen, armed with a cleaver. "Where is it?" he shouted.
Anthony jumped onto the table, a knife in his hand as soon as his feet hit the wood. "What was it?"
Everyone in the room was suddenly armed with some sort of weapon. Kiva tossed a knife to Bunny. "I don't know!" Ogre said, looking under tables. "It was big and tried to bite me!"
Amy dropped her knife and knelt down on the floor, smiling. "I think I found it." She reached under the table and cooed. "C'mon, little one. It's okay, I won't hurt you..."
She stood up, arms full of what looked like a cat at first glance. It was gray, marked in black like a tabby but had white toes and nose. It's tail was longer than a normal cat, tufted on the end and it's eyes were a bit more intelligent than a cat's. The paws were too big for it's body and the whiskers trembled. Amy stroked it's head and it relaxed, eyes closing and a rumbling purr filling the silence.
"It's a Malevolent." Tag said, lowering his cleaver. "It's just a wild cat from the elvin woods. Poor thing must've crawled into the cart and followed you home, Bun."
"Malevolent?" Amy asked, regarding the cat with suspicion.
He shrugged. "Closest word in Common I could come up with. They're wild animals, not usually kept as pets. Smart devils but normally up to no good. The word in Rune is 'not-very-nice-cat-animal-that-you-don't-trust'."
The animal opened one eye to glare at him. Amy looked at Tag. "So what do I do?"
"Name it." His eyes flickered over the animal. "Him, I should say." He smiled at the rest of the people in the room. "Dinner's ready, by the way." He went back into the kitchen, followed by Ogre who continued to eye the Malevolent.
"I hear Zelda is coming in the spring?" Bunny heard Maureen say casually to Kiva.
"That would be correct." Kiva poured more wine. "With Jo."
Maureen sipped her wine. "So what do we do? You were always the one with a plan."
Kiva winked. "That's why we came back." She raised her glass in salute. "C'mon, old lady. Dinner's waiting. What pairs with this wine, anyways?"
Arm in arm, Maureen and Kiva walked off discussing wine.
Marti stood up, glass in hand and shared grim looks with Bunny and Amy. "No rest for the wicked, eh?"
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August 2011

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