Chapter 3

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Red dyed the white robes of the fallen champion. She laid face down in the dirt road, her body horribly mangled and twisted. Black sludge ate away fabric and flesh until there was nothing left of the proud woman who had come to rid the town of their villain. She was another tally on his ever-growing list of defeated foes.

Fire flickered on the whip she held, its energy angrily pulsating as if it were alive. Jerrik tugged the whip from the cold grasp and coiled it neatly onto his belt. The fire faded leaving behind frayed leather. He stood with a grunt as his bones creaked. He looked at his burnt clothes and deep lashes on his torso. It had been a close fight, her skill with her weapon impressive. Had she won, her god would have surely been proud.

The gathered crowd watched him. He could hear their frighten murmurs. He titled his head back and smirked. "Ah," he rumbled, "we're you hoping I'd lose this time?"

People avoided his gaze.

"She almost had me," he waved a hand at his battered form. "Someone want to finish what she started? You might have a chance." After a minute, the crowd parted for him. He kept his blade out and at the ready as he passed through, black slime fell and left a bubbling trail of acid in his wake.

He arrived at a tavern a few short blocks from the town center where the fight had taken place. The squat wooden building looked odd stationed between the towering stone inns. Its sign, a cat with a long tongue, creaked in the autumn breeze. Even from the street, the noise of the lively Cat Tongue bar could be heard. Its stained glass windows glowed with the warmth of firelight.

Pass the swinging door tables cluttered the large main room. There were paintings and pictures of cats on every wall. Close to the ceiling were walkways and tunnels for the owner's cats to move around in, and platforms that jutted outwards into the room for dozens of felines to lay on. In the middle of the room was a large fire pit. Stones of different colors contained the roaring blaze. Along one wall was the bar with all the best liquors in the country. The men cheered as women with cats ears danced around.

"Welcome!" a girl in a purple dress popped up. Her corset tied so tight her breast bulged and looked as if they were ready to pop out. She opened her eyes, her smile dropped. "Oh," she squeaked.

"The backroom open?" he asked. The room slowly grew quiet.

"It's only for you, Bossman," an older woman pulled the girl behind her.

He hummed and moved through the room to a door directly opposite of the entrance. The old woman followed him and closed the door behind them. There was a private bar in the small backroom and a single round table with three chairs. At his request, they kept the backroom bare.

"I swear, he brings more cats in every day," Jerrik grumbled as he pulled the whip from his hip and dropped it onto the table. The noise in the bar returned to normal after the old woman had closed the door.

"He loves their mystique," the old woman chuckled.

He dropped heavily into the chair that faced the door. "If I'd known he'd turn it into a cat box, I wouldn't have agreed to partner with him."

"You could have him change the motif?" She brought over a bottle of amber liquid and placed it in front of him. He checked the seal to make sure it hadn't already been open before snapping the top off. He sniffed the contents once then handed it back to her.

"Judy," He said, "that man listens about as well as I do," he finished flatly.

The woman gave a barking laugh, "that indeed." She placed a full glass onto the table then stepped back and looked him over with a frown.

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