Julia never did like elevators… she supposed it had something to do with being so used to flying with her own strength that entrusting a big, clunky machine to take her skywards just felt awkward and unnatural. It wasn’t a phobia per say, but it defiantly put her on edge.
But that was only a small part of the reason she was fidgeting like mad, her wings contracting and her tail swinging back and forth.
“Ow!” Victor cried, the appendage accidentally slapping the back of his head, “Watch it, Jules.”
“Sorry, Vic.” she sighed, staring up at the floor number displayed inside the elevator, “This… just doesn’t feel right.”
Victor pulled out his handgun, checking to see if was locked and loaded a final time in the case of an emergency, “Feels right to me. The guy who runs this complex is too nice to kick anyone out for an overdue rent, so his wife hired us to shake him down for it. Simple enough.”
The elevator finally reached its destination, floor five. Stepping out and continuing down the hall, Julia bit her bottom lip as she went on, “Does it really feel right to you? I thought you gave up stealing years ago… I know this guy skimps on his payments, but it’s just so close to what you used to do.”
“What? Mugging?” Victor grunted in disdain.
“Well… yeah. I mean, this guy probably deserve it, but…”
Victor quickly interrupted his girlfriend, “C’mon, Jules… he’s a complete scumbag. He’s taking advantage of the landlord’s good nature to skip out on his rent.”
“I know, I know… still, it just doesn’t feel right… not to me, at least.”
“I guess this line of work can just ugly sometimes… listen, Jules. This deadbeat is just a human, so I’m fairly certain I can take care of him myself. You’re free to wait out here if it makes you uncomfortable.”
“N-no, Vic. I said I’d stick with you. Even if it doesn’t feel right, we need the money. A-and it’s not like this guy didn’t have it coming.”
Julia and Victor reached the deadbeat’s room, a bronze ‘110’ on the door signifying it’s presence, “Alright then… thanks, Jules. Still, I think I can handle this fucker on my own. Just wait out here, and I’ll call you if I need backup.
Taking out the master key the landowner’s wife lent them, Vic hastily unlocked the door and swung it open, stomping into the room. Immediately catching site of the man, Victor pointed towards him and snarled, “Stay right where you are, dipshit.”
The dead-beat was a scrawny, pasty man with oily hair, an acne-ridden face, and a set of thick, square glasses on his face. He was basically the most stereotypical dork Victor had ever seen.
Ignoring the man’s question, Victor looked across the man’s sloppy room… it looked as though they had caught him relaxing in a recliner, watching some sort of anime.
Staring at the scream, an ugly grimace spread across Victor’s face.
“What’s this fucking moe bullshit?” he spat, watching as the chibi characters of a Lamia and Holstaur were eating ice cream at a parlor and talking about boys or some other boring crap.
Julia, standing outside the room, began peaking her head in when she heard her boyfriend and the deadbeat locked in a heated argument about the ins and outs of Zipanguen cartoons.
“Victor, could you stop arguing with anime about the guy we’re trying to shake an overdue rent from?!” Julia huffed, stepping into the room herself.
“Not until this skinny tard takes back what he said about Wurmorb Ultra!” Victor roared, his fists clenched in anger.
“The animation is fucking garbage, and the plot is contrived, plot-hole filled dogshit!” the deadbeat shot back.
“The plot was always contrived and full of plot-holes…” Victor snarled, grabbing the man by his collar, “And the animation has gotten way better!”
“Oh my sweet Goddess…” Julia grumbled, face-palming so hard she nearly broke her nose, “Maybe you’re both acting like fucking idiots arguing over stupid crap no one cares about. Ever thought of that?”
“I’ll have plenty of time to reflect on how much of a fucking idiot I was when I die.” Victor growled in response, lifting the man into the air by his collar.
“H-hey! Get your hands offa me, you friggin’ blockhead!”
At that insult, time itself seemed to slow down for Julia. Her heart dropping into her stomach, she slowly craned her head towards her boyfriend, finding his whole body tensed up and quaking. His mouth bore an enraged scowl, his eyes hidden by his crimson hair…
The only sounds in the room were Victor’s weapons rattling against his hip and high-pitched Zipanguen voices coming from the deadbeat’s TV.
“W-what the fucks wrong with him?!” the deadbeat stuttered, trying to shake himself free of Victor grasp, but quickly finding himself unable to escape his grasp.
“V-Victor… please, calm down… I know how you feel about the ‘b word’… but please, stop and think about what you’re about to do…”
“Wait, what?” the dork snorted, “Blockhead? Why does that set him off? That’s such a mundane insult, what kind of dipshit would-”
“NOBODY CALLS ME A BLOCKHEAD!” Victor suddenly boomed, tossing the thin man into the air before unleashing a flurry of blows, his fists becoming blurs as they crashed into the deadbeat’s body, each crushing blow sounding off like a gunshot.
With a final right hook to his jaw, Victor sent the deadbeat flying backward, roughly landing on the floor in a crippled, bloody pile of broken bones.
After the dust settled, Victor was left standing there, his bloody fists still clenched, Looking almost shell-shocked, his breathing was heavy and ragged as sweat dripped off his body.
Julia asked as softly as possible, tip-toeing over and softly laying a supportive claw on his shoulder, “You… you alright, Vic?”
“Y-yeah. I think I got it out of my system.”
With that confirmation, Julia slapped the back of Victor’s head with her tail, sending him stumbling forward and face-planting, “Good.”
“Yeowch!” Victor whined, sitting back up and rubbing the back of his head, “What the hell, Julia?!”
“Victor, I know how you feel about that insult, but you need to learn how to control your anger.” Julia scolded, pointing over to the deadbeat twitching on the floor, “We were just supposed to shake this guy down, but you nearly killed him!”
“Ah… you’re right, Julia. I’m sorry.” Victor apologized, sitting back up, “I promise I’ll keep my temperature under control next time.”
“You mean temper?”
“I know what I said.”
Rolling her eyes, Julia waltzed over to the deadbeat, checking out his injuries. His right arm and leg were bent in the wrong directions, blood spurted from his forehead, and overall, it looked like he was just run over by an 18-wheeler.
“Good grief, Victor. You really fucked this guy up. I’ll see what I can do for him, but we’ll probably need to call a hospital and-”
Swiftly losing interest, Victor turned around and began searching for any money the deadbeat might have stored around.
Looking over at the TV screen, Victor legitimately gagged as the moe anime was now taking an even more disgusting turn. The doe-eyed freaks on screen were doing some sort of shitty dance routine to an awful pop tune.
Spinning on one heel, Victor delivered a fierce kick to the television, busting the screen in.
“Victor! Was that really necessary?! You already beat the poor bastard to a pulp. We don’t have to wreck his shit, too.”
“If you want me to keep my breakfast down, then yes, it was.” Victor growled, ejecting the DVD containing the horrendous filth and snapping it in half.
“Did you forget why we even came here? We were supposed to shake this guy down, remember?”
“Yeah you’re right. If it turns out this tasteless dillweed doesn’t have any dosh, we’ll just have to take some of his stuff and sell it.”
Looking back over to the busted TV, Victor rubbed his chin as he watched it spark from within, “Do you think I reduced the resell value on this…?”
It was a slow day at the Sunken Skull… not only was it another weekday afternoon, summer was swiftly approaching, and the teenage students that enjoyed frequenting the club were driven back into their books as the looming threat of the finals closed in on them.
It was a time Julia was glad she no longer had to worry about… she might as well enjoy the frequent off time that came with being an urban mercenary before she went off to med school and was forced to start hitting the books once again.
Victor, however, never had to worry about any of that crap.
The dragon and her lover, aside from Geneva, were the only ones at the club at that moment, the both of them numbing their latest aches and pains with alcohol.
“…so, did he have anything worth anything?” Geneva asked, presenting Victor with his second mug of beer.
“Nah. I stole all of his figurines, but surprisingly, there isn’t much of a market for them on the street.” the somber human grumbled, downing a chug of his fresh beer, “So I just torched ’em all.”
Julia let out a long, depressed sigh, picking up another shot glass with one of her tentacles. It tipped the glass skyward and downed the drink, the booze sinking down right into Julia’s stomach, “Yep. The job was a total bust…”
“I wouldn’t worry about it too much.” Geneva consoled them, “One sour mission won’t kill ya.”
“Well, we are sitting on close to 13,000 dollars in cash.” Julia giggled, suddenly in a better mood, “And it hasn’t even been a full 2 months since we moved here with only 3 grand. It’s not like this some huge loss for us.”
“Vic, didn’t you win a few thousand in some kind of celebrity deadpool?” Geneva asked, washing out the human’s old glass.
Watching the frothy beer swish around as he tipped his half-empty mug back and forth, Victor answered her, “Well, I already spent all that…”
“What did you spend it on? A new car or something?”
“Ah, you know. Just a couple of weapons… a sniper rifle and some rounds for it, and a rocket launcher…”
Geneva, usually unflinchingly calm and collected, actually looked surprised for a second, “A rocket launcher? What could you possibly need a rocket launcher for?”
“For launching rockets at shit.” Victor replied as if it were the most obvious question in the world, “Duh.”
“Ah, well… I would’ve preferred we saved it for a rainy day. But it really was your money. Besides, that sniper rifle will defiantly come in handy, and I’m sure you’ll find a use for that rocket launcher.” Julia said, stretching out her sore wings.
“You bet your fine ass I will!” Victor said with a boisterous laugh, “Or my hair ain’t period-blood red!”
“Meh, I say it’s more of a broken hymen-blood red.” Geneva piped in, obviously bored of from her lack of customers.
Victor downed the last of his beer and picked up another fresh mug from Geneva, “Well, some sort of vaginal blood. You get the idea.”
Looking up from the bar, Geneva raised one of her many tentacles and pointed it to the club’s entrance, where a cloaked, feminine figure shuffled across the empty dance floor and right towards them, “Hey. Take a gander at her. Fuck, I really need to hire a bouncer.”
“What’s her problem?” Julia asked, “Who wears a cloak to a club in the middle of a weekday afternoon?”
“A club that’s also a meeting ground for mercenaries.” Geneva corrected, starting to mix a drink with her tentacles, “And you shouldn’t be that surprised. We get plenty of colorful characters around here, what with the whole being both club and mercenary meeting ground thing… but the oddballs usually roll in on the weekends.”
“Yes, but something’s different about this one… her aura is all flared up, like she’s looking for a fight.”
Julia nearly jumped out of her skin as the mysterious azure-haired Wight appeared next to her, leaning back against the bar with one leg folded over the other.
“Gah! Don’t scare me like that!” Julia chided, glaring down at the much shorter undead woman.
“Oh, don’t be a baby.” the Wight shot back, accepting the fruity drink Geneva mixed for her in a martini glass and taking a small sip, “But seriously, that woman’s looking for a fight. Best be on your guard.”
“Heads up, Jules, here she comes.” Victor warned, taking another sip of his beer. The cloaked woman ascended the small staircase, now facing the human, dragon, and squid… the undead woman vanishing from sight as per usual.
“So… I heard you two were the ones who bested The Gouger.” the cloaked figure grumbled, a shadow-masked claw emerging from the cloak and pointing at Victor and Julia.
“And if we were, miss?” Julia inquired, her muscles tensed up and ready for the woman to spring at her. She could tell by the woman’s accent she was from the Land of Mist, but nothing else beyond that.
“Then… I’d have to ask which one of you beat her.”
“Well… we both fought her, but Julia landed the finishing blow.” Victor bragged for his draconic girlfriend, “Like so. Hiya!”
Imitating the uppercut that knocked out the Grizzly off the platform and out cold, Victor forgot he was holding a pint of beer in the same hand, causing the brew to jump up in the air and land on the cloaked woman’s head.
Victor scratched behind his ear, looking rather sheepish, “Hehehe… whoops.”
“You… fool…” the woman growled, removing the soaked cloak, revealing her true face.
As Julia suspected, she was a Mistian Mamono… a Jinko. A mix of a tiger and a woman, a pair of orange and black claws replaced both her hands and feet up to her shoulders and mid-thighs, before ending in a tuft of white fur.
She wore a form-fitting, green qipao dress that’s skirt cut off before it hit her white fur. She left much of her long, honey-brown hair tied back into a bun, but that didn’t stop a single tuft of black hair from falling across her forehead.
“Oh! Uh… so you’re Jinko. Cool.” Victor stuttered, flinching under the intense glare of her fierce amber eyes.
“Even if the dragon was the one to finish off Gouger, you must have some ability to fight, correct?”
“Well, I get my ass kicked a lot, but I’m no pushover.” Victor admitted, rubbing behind his neck, “So, uh, sorry about spilling beer all over you… no harm no foul, right?”
Grabbing the chest of her wet dress between two claws, the Jinko let out a growl, “This dress has been in my family for generations. And you soaked both it and me with your cheap alcohol!”
Victor defensively raised up both hands, “H-hey! Come on. It’s just beer. It’ll wash out just fine. Here, I’ll even help dry you off.”
Taking off his shirt for a makeshift washcloth, Victor began rubbing the beer out of her clothes. But the Jinko’s whole face turned red with rage.
“H-hey. I’m just trying to help. Why are you getting so worked up?” Victor stuttered before he realized he was unintentionally fondling her breasts, “Oh. So that’s why you’re angry. W-well, if it makes you feel any better, you have fantastic tits.”
“Bastard!” the Jinko cried, slapping Victor across the face with her tail, sending him spiraling backward and falling back into his barstool.
“Oh my Goddess, Vic…” Julia sighed, her face planted in one palm.
“H-hey! I didn’t mean to! I was just trying to help!” Victor cried, rubbing the fresh bruise on his face.
“I challenge you to a duel!” the Jinko cried, “Right here, right now!”
“That’s a no.” Geneva quickly butted in, “I just cleaned this place. If you two wanna slug it out, I won’t stop ya, but take it outside.”
“Then it’s settled.” the Jinko said, wrapping her tail around Victor’s wrist.
“No it ain’t!” cried Victor, attempting to yank his arm away from the tiger woman, but to no avail. Her grip on his wrist was so strong Vic would’ve dislocated his shoulder before he managed to pull away.
“Stop resisting, you coward. One way or another, you’ll pay for your disgraceful actions!”
“J-Jules! Help me out here!”
To Victor’s shock, his girlfriend didn’t take his side!
“Vic, you soaked the woman in beer and groped her.”
“T-those were both accidents!” he cried, the Jinko starting to drag him away.
“Even if they were, you still disrespected her in a massive way. Why not duel her? As long it’s not to the death, everything should be fine, right?”
“No, everything’s not going to be fine! I’m going to get my ass handed to me by a kitten in front of my girlfriend!”
The Jinko stopped dead in her tracks, slowly turning her head towards the human, her fangs on full display, “What did you just call me, human…?”
“Uh… ki-kindred lover of battle!”
“Oh? Well, if you love battle so much, then you’ll accept my challenge without complaint.”
“Tch… don’t have a choice, do I?”
“No, you don’t.” the Jinko confirmed, continuing to drag him towards the back entrance of the club.
Honestly, Victor couldn’t believe his luck sometimes. One second he was raking in nearly 15,000 dollars with his girlfriend out of almost pure dumb luck from two separate occasions… but a few days later, he was somehow about to get his shit kicked in by a Jinko he just met after he single-handily fucked up what was supposed to be an easy mission.
At this juncture, he wouldn’t be surprised if he won the lottery then was immediately struck by lightning.
‘Are you sure that’s bad luck? Or is that you just being a complete fuck-up as usual?’
Victor clenched his fists. That bitter voice in his head was right on the mark. He couldn’t just keep dashing through life with a thumb up his ass and keep expecting luck to carry him through, then blame all his own failures on fate.
“Are you paying attention?”
Snapping back to reality, Victor realized he had been daydreaming in front of the Jinko. She had her hands up against her hips, shooting him a judgmental glare. Julia stood in the background, carefully watching and ready to jump in if either of them took things too far.
“U-uh… yeah, sorry. Just thinkin’.”
“Well, you’d best start thinking on how to defeat me, or this will be rather swift.” the Jinko growled, shifting into a low and wide stance. Shifting to her side, she held one claw raised behind her back, and another one forward. On both hands, her thumb curled up with the rest of her fingers.
“That’s weird…” Victor muttered under his breath, “Usually, you wrap the thumb around the other fingers…”
“You find it odd, do you?” the Jinko asked, her tail flailing back and forth, “This is Hei Hu Quan… the Black Tiger Fist! It was a martial art invented by my great, great grandmother and passed down through my family for generations!”
“Oh. That’s nice.” Victor said, “So, was your great, great grandmother’s fur was black huh? Was she a natural, or did she dye?”
“She was called the black tiger because of all the lives she took.” the Jinko explained, looking rather flustered, “Now stop stalling your defeat, fool.”
“Hey, c’mon. Don’t you think it’s a little unfair? I mean, I’m pretty tough, but… you’ve got claws and shit, and I don’t have my machete right now…”
“Don’t worry, human, I won’t use my claws on you. It will be purely hand-to-hand.”
“…still, I would feel better with a weapon…”
“Dear Goddess, fine.” the Jinko groaned, shifting back out of her fighting stance. Quickly scanning the alleyway, she found an old pipe. Grabbing the rusty thing, she lobbed it over to Victor, who caught it and examined it for himself. It was around 5 feet long and rather thick. It would make a fine impromptu club.
The Jinko returned to her unique stance, “There… now, the fact I defeated you without so much as using my claws while you were armed will make my triumph all the sweeter.”
The tiger began shifting towards the human, slowly and carefully, never breaking eye contact with him… almost like a predator about to pounce on it’s prey.
Unnerved, Victor took a step back, holding the rusty pipe in his hands like it was a short, pointless spear.
‘Shit, shit, shit…’ Victor mentally cursed, ‘This is like one of those crappy animes I’ve watched where the dude gets his shit slapped for grabbing some titty. Expect instead of getting slapped, I’m going to get my ass kicked.’
Then, the fight began. The Jinko burst forward, lashing out a kick. Victor barely dodged, leaning back just as her fuzzy paw zipped by his temple. The human didn’t even have time to catch himself before the tiger hopped onto the opposite leg, thrusting another kick, this time, aimed at his chest.
Victor raised his pipe up just in time to block her attack, but he was still sent stumbling back, the pipe vibrating from the impact and numbing his hands.
Deciding to go on the attack, Victor raised his pipe above his head, bringing it down on the Jinko.
The human was overcome with shock as the tiger woman easily caught the weapon. Attempting to yank it from her grasp, he was quickly disheartened to find he couldn’t even budge it.
Yanking the pipe forward, and Victor along with it, the Jinko delivered a powerful paw thrust into his chest, sending him hurtling and landing on his rump.
Rolling to his feet, Victor breathed a sigh of relief as he realized he managed to hold onto his pipe. But that relief was cut short as he saw the Jinko shuffling towards him yet again, that same predatory glint in her amber eyes.
‘Yeah. No way. There’s absolutely no way I’ll be able to beat her.’
Suddenly, the thought occurred to him. She may be a mighty tiger, but she was still a cat. And what did cats love more than anything else…?
“Holy shit, that guy is giving away free mackerel!”
“Where?!” the Jinko exclaimed, turning to see… nothing.
Before she could turn back around and clock the human, Victor brained her with his metal pipe, knocking her to the ground, out cold.
Victor blinked in surprise, staring at the pipe in his hands, then down to the twitching body of the Jinko, then back to the pipe in his hands.
“Holy fuck, I can’t believe that worked!” Victor cried, dropping the metal tube and raising his arms into the air, shocked at his victory.
“Victor…” Julia sighed, “Wasn’t that a just a tad too dirty?”
“Julia, are you out of your mind? There’s no way I would’ve won in a clean fight with her.”
“Well, maybe you should’ve lost fair and square.”
“Are you shitting me? Why the fuck would I just sit there and let that bitch beat the shit outta me cause I spilled some beer on her?”
“You also groped her. She challenged you to a duel, and you cheated…”
“Excuse me? She forced me into a duel. And she was the one stupid enough to fall for the whole, ‘there’s a distraction over there!’ trick. Even I’m not retarded enough to fall for that.”
“Whatever, Vic.” Julia groaned, hoisting the Jinko up into her arms, “I’ll let Geneva deal with her. I just hope you’ve learned some kind of lesson from this…”
“Like what? Don’t accidently grope mamono that can kick your ass, or cheating is a highly effective tactic?”
“Aha! You admitted it.”
“Ah, no sweat off my balls. I’ve cheated in stuff plenty of times… Let’s just go home and get some rest.”
It was a bright, sunny new day… a jay took to the skies, only to be caught by a Wyvern, the mamono dragging the poor bird down to the earth where she gave it to her pet hound for his lunch.
Across the street, in the garage of Victor and Julia’s house, the human in the relationship was doing some bench presses to finish what looked to be an intense workout, if the sweat covering his body was any indication.
“13… 14… and… grh… 15!”
Slamming the bar back into its rack so hard it shook the whole garage, his open water bottle tipping over and spilling on the ground. Vic sat up, rubbing his sore arms.
Over 300 pounds, 150 on each side. An impressive amount for a human, but his max paled in comparison to Julia’s. That didn’t discourage him, however. He needed to become even stronger if he wanted to get enough money to send Julia to med school.
After taking a quick shower and returning downstairs, he found Julia relaxing on the couch, her nose buried in a novel.
Victor hopped onto the couch next to her, grabbing the remote from the coffee table, “Sup, Jules?”
Julia’s left tentacle answered in kind, planting a kiss on his cheek. The human kissed it back, pressing the power button the remote and turning on the television.
Flipping through the channels, Victor stopped on one of his favorite movies, Golemcop. Unfortunately, it was on commercial.
After some infomercial for some fancy new milking machine, the next commercial started with a completely black screen.
Out from the darkness, a sultry voice rang out, “Hey, boys. Are you tired of being pushed around?”
The camera cut to a squadron of tall, muscular men- not that you’d be able to tell, with them all clad in spiked, pitch-black armor, each carrying a blood-red sword in one hand and an assault rifle in the other.
Glancing up from her novel, Julia scoffed at the screen, returning to the story she was previously immersed in.
The camera continued to pan across the squadron of knights as the silky, seductive voice continued, “The long will be long and hard… but in the end, it will all be worth it…”
The camera cut yet again, this time, to another knight garbed in black… only his armor was heavily customized with a reptilian face-plate and engravings. He held a mighty spear in one hand and a banner with a familiar insignia in the other.
“Join the Black Knights today.”
Julia visibly flinched, tightly gripping her novel.
“Hmm.. think I could ever become a Black Knight, Jules?” Victor pondered, looking down at his dragon partner. Of course, he was being sarcastic. He already knew the answer she was going to give.
Still, that didn’t stop the Jabberwock staring back up at him, looking quite cross, “T-there’s no way I’d let you become a Black Knight! You know what you’d have to do when you graduate!”
“Yeah. Of course I do…” Victor sighed, regretting even bringing that subject up.
“You know how I feel about those bastards!” she growled, now tightly gripping her book, tears forming at the corners of her eyes.
“W-wow… Julia, I’m sorry. I was just kidding around. That was pretty stupid of me… I know you’re still torn up about what happened with your family.”
“I-it’s alright, Victor.” Julia said between deep, calming breaths, “I’m over it.”
“A-are you sure? Because of you need to vent, I’m all ears. Here, I’ll even go make us some snacks and-”
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Victor nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard a knocking at his door so loud and overblown he thought the cops were busting down his door for past, and perhaps present, misdemeanors.
Starting to panic, he screamed towards the visitor in a strange accent, “VICTOR EZSN’T HOME, VIS IS HIS COUSIN BORIS!”
“Why do you keep dragging your cousin Boris into legal trouble every time things look bad for you?”
“Cuz Boris is a fuckin’ asshole, that’s why.”
“Urgh… it’s me, you fool!” an angry scream alerted him from behind the door. Both Victor and Julia recognized it as the voice of the Jinko
“Goddessdammit,” Victor muttered, stomping over to the door and opening it up to find the enraged Jinko at his doorstep.
“You… tricked me!” she growled, already burning red hot with rage, “You… you hit me while my back was turned! You filthy coward!”
“Well, it was more your own fault for falling the oldest trick in the fuckin’ book.” Victor spat bluntly, attempting to shut the door in the Jinko’s face, only for it to be caught by a fuzzy paw.
“I… I DEMAND a rematch!” she growled, forcing herself inside.
“Nah. I beat ya fair in square, right? Does your stupid little code say you can throw around ‘honor-bound duels’ like a chimp throws his own shit?”
“Fair and square? Y-you hit me from behind! You cheated! You owe me a rematch, coward!”
“Alright… I admit, maybe what I did wasn’t the… cleanest of tactics. But you never said I couldn’t do that, didja?”
“W-what?! You bastard! In what backward world do you live in where its perfectly acceptable to hit someone while their back is turned?!”
Something inside of Victor snapped. Now he was angry.
‘What backwards world!? What backwards world…? I’ll tell ya, what backwards world, you dumbass. You’re standing in it. I don’t know how you grew up, but here, in the city? Honor doesn’t mean jackshit if you’re dead! A lot of assholes out here will do anything it takes to survive, and if for me that means hitting someone in the back of the head, then I have no problems with it.”
The Jinko was actually taken aback. Her ears and tail dropping, she cast her eyes towards the floor, “O-of course. What was I thinking? If I had fought with someone out for my blood with such arrogance, with such a naive belief that they would fight fairly… I would’ve been slaughtered.”
It was true, wasn’t it? Tears started forming as she looked back up… to find Victor suppressing a giggle.
“W-wait a second!” the tiger snarled, grabbing Victor by the collar of his shirt, “That wasn’t some fight for survival! I can’t believe I almost fell for that!”
“Shit, I can’t believe you did either. Between this and the mackerel thing, you must be pretty gullible, huh?”
“You cowardly bastard…” the tiger growled, tightening her grip on the human’s collar and rearing back her fist, ready to punch his lights out.
“Alright, alright. I’m sorry.” Victor finally admitted, “Yeah, what I did was pretty cheap and dirty… I’m sorry, okay?”
“Hmph. Finally relenting, are you?” the Jinko sighed, releasing her grip on his collar, “I guess you aren’t a complete reprobate.”
“Thanks… I guess.”
“A-as much as I hate to admit it… even though you were lying, you did have a point. My homeland and this city are completely different places. I was a fool to think someone raised in the harsh environment would abide by such a strict code of honor on the field of battle.”
“Ah, see? I did have a point-“
“Even so!” the Jinko interrupted with a spirited cry, “If you’re truly sorry, then you owe me a rematch. And this time… no trickery.”
“Alright, alright.” Victor sighed, “If you’re really so dead set on it… just… just promise you won’t break anything, alright?”
“You’re quite strong, Victor.” the Jinko said, “While it was a cheap shot, you brought that pipe down with far more power and speed than the average man could muster.”
“Well, I do work out.” Victor chuckled, holding up one sore, muscular arm to show her. He grinned, although every single muscle in his body ached and cried out with pain. Not that he expected the match to go any different.
They were having their rematch in the backyard. A small, squared-off area, it nonetheless served its purpose as a battleground.
Victor, against his usual callous behavior, began to feel a bit bad for the Jinko. Even after he had cheated in their fight, she still held back against him. If he were in her shoes, he probably would’ve killed his opponent by now.
Although, that could simply be because of Julia hanging in the solitary tree in the corner of the yard, sitting in one of the branches and watching the fight like a hawk.
The Jinko burst forward, thrusting a paw at his center. Crossing both arms over his chest, Vic somehow managed to block her attack, although he was pushed back against the fence separating his yard and his neighbors.
“Alright, I think thats enough.” Julia called from the tree.
Vic, coated with sweat and struggling to even breath, managed to call back up to the dragon, “Hold up, Julia. I’m not done yet… I want to at least get a single hit in.”
“Are you sure about that, Victor?”
“Yeah, I’m positive.”
The Jinko, looking almost impressed, let a small smirk cross her lips, “Hm. I didn’t think you’d have this much backbone, cheater.”
“Heh. What can I say? I may be a cheater, but I’m no quitter.”
“Is that so…? Well, I’ll make this quick then.”
The Jinko and human both dashed forward, threatening to crash into each other. Rearing her balled-up paw of a fist behind her back, the Jinko thrust it forward with more power and speed the human could hope to match.
But when the fist connected with Victor’s cheek, he didn’t go down. Instead, he ground his feet into the earth, spun around on his heel, and delivered his own fierce haymaker to the tiger’s jaw.
“There.” Victor gasped, totally out of breath, teetering on the edge of unconsciousness, “I landed a blow. Stick a fork in me, cuz I’m fuckin’ done.”
“Yes, you did.” the Jinko nodded, wiping the fresh trickle of blood from her bottom lip, “You’re defiantly not an average man.”
“That’s a nice way to put it…” Victor muttered, unconsciously wobbling back and forth.
Ignoring his rambling, the Jinko held her nose up high, folded her arms over her chest, “And hat’s why I’ve come to a decision… Victor, you’re strong, but lack honor and skill. Thats why from this day forward, I’ll teach you martial arts.”
At that juncture, Julia butted into the conversation, “Wait, what?”
“You heard what I said.” the Jinko replied, “I’m going to teach Victor martial arts. Then, when he’s acquired true strength, we’ll have our real rematch.”
Julia wasn’t buying it. She narrowed her eyes and stared down at the Jinko, “Are you sure that’s the only reason?”
“O-of course! I have no ulterior motive…”
“Uhuh… then where’s your dojo?”
“Uhm… well, I don’t exactly have one… Victor would be my first student…”
“Then where would he study? Our house, or yours?”
“Actually… I’ve just kind of been… wandering, up until now…”
“Aha! So that’s why you wanna be Victor’s master!” Julia cried, pointing an accusatory finger towards the Jinko, “You just want to freeload at our house.”
“W-well, ever since I came to this land, I haven’t had a home. I’ve just been wondering around with my very few possessions and no money, seeking out strong foes…” the Jinko gulped, betraying her nervousness, “So yes, a home would be nice, I suppose.”
“Right.” Julia said sarcastically, grabbing the Jinko by her collar, “Well, its been good seeing you. Feel free to come back if you ever want to fight me.”
“B-but thats not the only reason, I swear!” the tiger woman stuttered, shaking herself free of the dragon’s grasp, “I’m not lying when I say Victor has potential to become just as strong as us! He just needs some training from a master such as myself.”
Julia reached out to grab the Jinko once more, but the tiger woman fell to her hands and knees, now begging.
“Believe me, Julia. Not only that, but you two are already fighting in deadly missions, right? I’ll help you out. I swear, I can pull my own weight,! Please? I just need somewhere to stay, and you two are the only ones here that will help me…”
Julia backed up, now feeling quite guilty that she got a good look at the tiger’s teary eyes. She didn’t know this Jinko from Jack, but she couldn’t just kick her back out on the streets, could she?
“What do you think, Victor?” Julia whispered to her boyfriend, “She defiantly seems like a capable fighter.”
“Well, why are you asking me? You’re the one who usually makes these kinds of decisions.”
“But you’re the one she wants to teach martial arts.”
“That would defiantly help me out…” Victor muttered, flashing back to his fight with the Grizzly, and how she knocked him around like he was nothing, “Well, its cool with me as long as its cool with you.”
Turning away from her boyfriend, Julia walked back to the begging Jinko, “Alright, fine. We can rent out a room, as long as you keep your end of the bargain. Teach Vic martial arts, and help us with our assignments, and you can stay here.”
A wide grin appeared on the Jinko’s face, “Y-yes! From the bottom of my heart, you have my deepest gratitude!”
Rushing past the duo, the Jinko burst back indoors, hopping atop their sofa and spreading out, letting out a soft mewl, “It’s been so long since I’ve had somewhere to call home~”
“Maybe I am too nice for my own good sometimes…” Julia sighed, slumping over.
“But that’s why I love ya, Jules.” Victor grunted, hobbling back inside, every part of his body screaming at him in agony, “Excuse me. I’m going to take another shower and die.”
Walking back inside herself, Julia leaned over the couch, staring at the content cat, “Hey, I never even caught your name.”
Prying both eyes open, the tiger smiled up at the dragon, “My name? Lao. Lao Hu.”
Eagle City was one of the largest cities on the whole planet, sporting a multitude of world-famous landmarks, restaurants, and theaters. As with any hotbed of attractions, the city raked in hundreds of millions of dollars from tourists. As such, in the upper city at least, it was very, very rich, holding some of the world’s foremost schools and universities.
One of these was the Eagle City Institute for the Magical Arts, or ECIMA for short. It was one of the leading researchers of the occult on the planet, having had several breakthroughs in alchemy and sorcery in that year alone.
The sun was setting and shooting its final rays of light between the towering skyscrapers, basking the institute in a soft, orange glow. While many of its students and faculty were returning home for the day, one man remained at his desk, hard at study.
The man looked to be in his early 30s and had long cyan hair tied into a neat ponytail, sharp features, and a set of square glasses covering his cold gray eyes.
Busily typing into his laptop, he paused for a brief moment when he heard a knocking at his door.
“Maxim? Are you busy?”
“Come in, Cyrus. I’ll make the time.”
Stepping into the office was a younger man with red eyes, pale skin, and short, spiky snow-white hair.
Pulling up a chair at the opposite end of the desk, the albino man let out a long sigh before taking a seat, “So… tell me straight, Maxim. Are the rumors true?”
“About what, pray tell? That I ate your tuna salad today?”
“Don’t play dumb, Maxim.” Cyrus hissed, putting a hand atop the desk and leaning forward, “About the grimoires of Greta. That they’re here, scattered all around the city.”
If he was surprised, Maxim didn’t show it. He instead ceased typing, shut the laptop, and stared Cyrus dead in the eyes.
“No one aside from our top researchers are suppose to know about that.”
“And I’m not a top researcher?” chuckled Cyrus. Lifting a finger, a small spark ignited above it, swiftly turning into a small but intense inferno burning right above them, wrapping the room in a stuffy heat and orange glow, “In the short three years I’ve worked here, I’ve already rediscovered several lost pyromancies.”
“Yes, and I do respect that, Cyrus.” Maxim breathed, the inferno above them fizzling out, “I would’ve let you in on it sooner, but the council forbade it. Apparently, they don’t hold you in the high regard they should.”
“Hmph. Well, life’s unfair, I suppose.” Cyrus grumbled, taking out a small thermos and pouring himself some piping hot coffee. Taking a sip, he held the container forward and gave it a gentle shake, “Want some? If you’re going to keep working overtime like this, you’ll need it.”
“Thanks.” Maxim said, holding out an empty mug for the fresh coffee, “So, the rumors really are spreading, eh? Then it won’t be long until others start searching for the grimoires.”
“…and if that’s the case, the grimoires would be sold to other organizations or to us for an exorbitant price.” concluded Cyrus as the last drop of coffee splashed into Maxim’s mug.
“That’s right. And we simply can’t have that. Greta was an unparalleled magical genius in her time, and it was most likely she who cast the incantation that allows mamono to birth humans to this very day. Just think about how many secrets could be locked away in those books…”
“So it’s paramount for the university to secure them for study.”
Leaning back in his chair, Maxim tried to take a sip of his coffee, only to find it far too scalding hot for his tastes. Pulling it back from his lips, he snapped his fingers above the brew, a small bit of frost materializing above it and cooling it down in an instant.
Taking a sip, Maxim turned back to the albino, “So, here’s what I was thinking we purpose to the council…”