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Courting Trouble

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The brooms' overlapping cries of "REDURTNI!" drew Matoya's attention to the entrance of her cave. Raising her crystal eye brought into focus a sullen, shifty-looking dark elf, which she was in no mood to deal with. A wave of her free hand silenced the brooms; on the elf she turned the full acid force of "Did you see a welcome mat?"

He scowled. "I have business here."

"I don't buy from solicitors, and this isn't a shop. Go on, scram!"

His features twisted in some combination of indignation, contempt, and embarrassment. "You're a witch. I require a potion. You will brew me one, or—"

At her gesture, one of her brooms swept over and smacked him soundly on the backside. She watched him fight with it for a while, grasping the stick and kicking at the bristles, until he seemed to be getting the upper hand; then she sent in two more brooms as backup.

"I need a love potion, you hag!" he shouted as he was forcibly swept outside, and yes, that was definitely mostly embarrassment now. Matoya allowed herself a thin smile as she angled her eye back on her book.

"You. Scholar."

Unne looked up from his desk and caught a glimpse of a hooded figure before a piece of paper was thrust in front of his face. "I say," he began, but the figure shook the paper at him and continued, "You will give me your professional opinion on this confession of feelings. I demand constructive criticism."

"Now see here!" Unne slapped his palm on his desk and peered around the paper. "I am the most renowned linguist in the known world, and you—you have claws." He had noticed this because the claws were currently pressed against his throat. Under the hood he could also make out horns, sharp teeth, and the blue-gray skin of the sort of creature that had no business in Cornelia.

"I would enjoy burning you alive and frolicking in your ashes," the creature said cheerfully, in a sibilant Elvish patois.

"That, ah, won't be necessary," Unne replied in the same. This seemed to amuse the dark elf enough to make breathing a less nerve-wracking task. With hands that shook only slightly, Unne accepted the page and read:

You beautiful, breakable fragile(?) delicate creature, I desire nothing more than to hear you whimper watch you squirm have you as my own. I do not yet fully understand my overpowering feelings for you, but I am almost certain that I no longer want to kill you.

If you would have me, I would tear you apart tear your clothes off kiss you bruised and bloody consensually. You will learn to crave my touch. Expect me in your chambers tonight, and post no guards you do not wish to see slaughtered.

You-know-who The dark master of your heart Your secret admirer

"It's a first draft," the dark elf said, nervously.

Unne cleared this throat. "It's certainly, ah, honest work."

The elf's face flushed, and his tone went wistful: "Will it make him love me, do you think?"

"I, ah..." The claws dug in again. "Romantic relationships are complex. He might be a bit put off by your, shall we say, intensity."

With an aggrieved sigh, the elf tightened his grip. "I'm an intense person. He should appreciate that."

A vanishingly small number of endings to this encounter seemed likely to involve Unne remaining in one piece. He picked his words carefully: "Have you considered other methods of communicating your feelings? Through song, perhaps, or an alluring dance? The university library has a splendid volume on traditional courtship—"

The elf's grip shifted; instead of claws, Unne felt flesh close around his throat as he was yanked bodily over his desk and hurled toward the door, where he landed hard on his knees, gasping for air. "What are you waiting for?" the elf demanded. "Fetch me this volume at once!"

"Y-yes. Of course. Right away!" Unne trembled so badly that the doorknob proved a challenge, made trickier by the dark elf's impatient hissing. When he finally got it open, he stumbled out in the streets and broke into an undignified sprint for the docks.

City life had its scholarly perks, but now seemed like a good time to embark on a bit of impromptu field research. Melmond was probably nice this time of year.

After one last spin to make her skirt billow out around her, Arylon leapt up on the edge of the fountain and finished with her signature high kick. The crowd responded with a mixture of applause and whistles as she took a moment to pose, arms and leg raised, and drink it all in.

"All right, folks," she said, hopping back down to the street, "that's it for the afternoon. But remember, I'll be dancing tonight at Mathilda's with full musical accompaniment and moves I'm not allowed to show off in public." She winked theatrically at the space between her two best-dressed spectators. "Ten gil cover charge! Don't miss it!"

Once the crowd had dispersed, she splashed a handful of the fountain's water on her face, shook her hair out of its tie, and headed home. She had just enough time for a nap, maybe a quick snack—

Something grabbed her and dragged her into a alley. When she drew a breath to scream, a cool, rubbery hand clapped over her mouth, its sharp nails digging into her skin.

"You will teach your sensual dance maneuvers to me," a voice hissed into her ear. Both hands let go and and shoved her toward the center of the alley.

She whirled to face her attacker, a hooded man with terrible posture, and wagged a finger at him. "Listen, pal, lessons are fifty gil an hour and only on Mondays. And I'm not teaching anyone whose legs don't even bend the right way."

The man's clawed hands flashed out of his cloak, glowing with what Arylon was pretty sure was some kind of magic. "Demonstrate an alluring courtship dance, or I will peel off your skin and wear it."

As if she hadn't heard worse at Black Mage's Night at the pub. "You want a dance, honey?" she said, voice low and honey-thick. "You got it."

Head thrown back, hand on chest, legs sliding against each other, Arylon eased into the kind of dance that usually commanded a thirty gil cover charge. Her gyrations widened; her bouncy bits bounced. As she slunk closer to Astos, she high-kicked in slow motion, running her hands up her leg. Once, twice, then a real kick with her pointed shoe that landed squarely between his weird legs.

He toppled sideways with a shrill wail.

"Leave your tips on the counter," she said, and went home.

"REDURTNI!" chorused the brooms.

Twice in as many days. Muttering curses, Matoya shushed the brooms, rolled over in her bed, and reached for her crystal eye. Her palm patted her empty nightstand.

"This is how you see, isn't it?" said a faintly familiar voice. Matoya didn't hear many voices that weren't from brooms or unwanted visitors, which were all visitors. It was unusual for one to come back and unprecedented for one to sneak past her crack team of security brooms all the way to her bed.

She ground her teeth as she sat up. "Return that immediately, or you'll spend the rest of your wretched little life as half of a worm."

"Ha! You can't jinx what you can't see." The changing direction of his voice suggested that he was bouncing around the room and making himself a difficult target. The brooms certainly weren't able to keep up with him, not without her guidance. "I have a better proposal. Give me your finest love potion, and I might—might!—consider returning your eye."

So he was that intruder. Matoya had thought his accent sounded a bit Elvish. "Here's a love potion for you: peel the thickest horseradish root you can find, and shove it up your—"

"These potions are labeled!" The elf cackled amid the sound of vials clanking together. "You blind old fool! You have no leverage at all!"

Footsteps bounded toward the exit. From the sound of it, one of her brooms managed to swat him good on his way out. This was of minimal comfort.

Well, the joke was on him. Matoya purposefully mislabeled everything in case of thieves. She still hoped someone would go for the "Potion of Eternal Life, Wealth, and Sexual Prowess" someday, even though it would leave a dreadful mess for the brooms to clean up afterward.

She couldn't recall what she'd affixed the "Love Potion" label to, but that elf would be back soon to beg for an antidote, no doubt. When she got her eye back, she'd have to work out a more secure storage solution for it. Maybe she'd just swallow it every night before bed.

Things had not gone according to plan.

After killing so many guards he'd ended up a bit winded, Astos found the prince in a state unamenable to seduction. His alluring courtship dance didn't improve matters, which wasn't much of a surprise. His legs really did bend the wrong way for it.

So he'd moved on to the love potion, which initially seemed like a success; it took some work to make the prince swallow it, but afterward the prince fell immediately against him, relaxed and pliant. After a full minute of tentative groping and babbling about feelings, Astos went in for a kiss and discovered that the prince was also drooling, snoring, and completely unresponsive. This was not conducive to romance, particularly when the prince started mumbling in his sleep about acorn jelly and his dead mother's teeth.

Astos sniffed the dregs of the potion and caught a strong whiff of valerian root. See if he ever trusted a blind witch's labeling again. In retrospect, this seemed a bit obvious.

So much for all that, then. 'Twas better to have loved and lost. Probably.

The prince's body hit the floor with a dull thud, and Astos, unpleasantly full of feelings, slunk off to raid the treasury. That usually made him feel better.