*Tap* *Tap* *Tap* *Tap*

The buzz and error message seemed to mock his over-eagerness, yet his jittery thumb immediately retried the familiar four-tap-sequence on reflex. His excitement betrayed him again however and another “Incorrect Code” message appeared. He took a deep breath, holding his smartphone in a whisper grip for him that still held it very firm, and calmly put in the right series of digits and unlocked his phone.

Excitement and hope coursing through him again, the young man immediately went to his inbox and did a little fist pump upon seeing the acceptance email and that he’d secured an interview. Going by the date scheduled, it would be at least a month until he was going to be able to start working for the company though.

‘Just one more month in this place.’ He thought as he surveyed the back kitchen of the bar, leaning back in an old chair in a corner where the draft wasn’t so bad. The youth had just finished washing the dishes before checking his phone, he hoped Vale wouldn’t notice one of the ceramic plates he’d given a hair-line fracture.(She’d been absolutely brutal the first time he’d shattered a glass.) He did not want to relive that experience a second time.

The sound of a wooden chair creaking, then finally breaking, interrupted the young man’s thoughts. He dearly hoped nothing else would come of it, but seconds later his hopes were dashed.

“Jared!” Vale shouted as she stomped down the steps, nostrils flaring as she reached the landing and approached him. “That’s it, get her out of my bar.”

Jared sighed as he turned around and regarded the tall woman; blue skin, muscular frame with delightful plumpness around her hips and thighs, barely covered by a pair of short-shorts and a tank-top. And two golden horns poking through her shoulder length, silvery hair made her race obvious. “Can’t you do it? You’re plenty strong enough.” Jared said, gesturing to her rather imposing stature and physique, easily half-a-foot taller than him. Appealing to Vale’s ego and looks worked most of the time, but today she just wasn’t having it.

“Of course I could, but that’s what I hired you for when the need arrived. Now go do your job before I start re-evaluating your employment.”

Jared thought about arguing further for a moment, this could seriously complicate things if he did as she said. But his resolve hardened after a moment; between the debt, rent, and daily expenses he was only a single pay check away from being homeless. Keeping his secret wouldn’t really matter if he became too destitute to improve his life. With a muttered, “Yes, Miss Vale.”, Jared reluctantly stepped out from the kitchen and into the main area of the bar, immediately spotting his target.

It was Mildred again.

The ogre, muscular even by the standards of her fellows, was boisterously hooting, drinking, and banging the table with her little circle of friends. She was clad in all black leather, as usual, tastefully torn in places to entice and the ludicrous boob-window was nearly as large as a football. Her shoulder length white hair was clearly matted-down from the downpour outside, and the wet spot underneath her chair was a testament to how absolutely soaked she’d been upon arriving here.

Then Jared’s eye caught the source of the breaking sound he’d heard from the kitchen; a wooden chair in pieces, chips of wood mingled among glittering fragments of what had clearly, previously been a glass mug. The older woman had probably done it as a dumb dare, or had simply gotten overly excited; either way it really didn’t matter. This was the third time this month and the boss said she needed to go, and he was going to do it unless he wanted to get fired. The bar itself was mostly business as usually, a dozen or so mamono chatting and drinking while loud music blared from speakers situated in the corners, with a wooden floor clean enough that it reflected the lights above.

‘Maybe my secret being known wouldn’t be all that bad? The world’s already full of fantastical magic, maybe I’m just being overly pessimistic?’ Jared hopelessly thought, knowing deep down that his initial instincts since childhood would be right; fantastical feats did exist but such things had never come from “mere humans” like him.(A phrase he’d heard bandied out occasionally among the haughtier patrons.)

As he made his way past all the other partially occupied tables Jared got few smacks on the ass from the more confident and inebriated costumers. And an especially hard one from a regular. A minotaur named “Sasha”, a beast of a woman that smacked then gave his left cheek a generous squeeze.

Jared sighed and commenced the usual routine; he turned around, dislodging her hand, and gave her a playful smack on the wrist. She just grinned, her green eyes twinkling with amusement as he sauntered towards his actual destination. Sasha wasn’t too bad, and she was genuinely friendly when sober, so Jared didn’t mind being a bit more playful with her than the others.

In contrast, he tastefully ignored the numerous comments of “dark meat” as he finally made it to the table, boots squeaking against the wooden floor. Mildred and her friends, a rough looking were-dire-wolf dressed in a similar leather get-up with matted fur and some kind of lamia with bright, red scales and wearing what he guessed was a woolly jacket that failed to conceal how curvy she was underneath the bulky article of clothing. Her face had the kind of angular, fierce look and make up style that made him peg her as Egyptian.

“Can we help you, cutie?” Mildred asked, surprise at seeing his sudden approached replaced with confidence and a leer that showed off a tusk-like tooth as she looked over his muscular frame. Nothing like that of a body-builder, and slimmer than her certainly, but still put him comfortably above the slim frame of a runner and firmly into the category of “brawny”.

‘No sense in delaying things.’ Jared thought, his heart-rate speeding up further before quickly pointing towards the shattered remains of the chair and saying. “You need to leave.” Then his arm whipped forward, taking Mildred by surprise as he grabbed her by the bicep like a parent grabbing a naughty brat. Then, to the utter shock of everyone at the table, and before anyone could react, Jared took a firm grip of the bicep that was larger than his calf and bodily lifted up over three-hundred pounds of ogre out of her chair and to the tips of her feet in one, smooth motion. From this position their figures were into even further contrast; the ogre was taller than him by nearly a head and was visibly thicker in overall frame and muscle mass.

Jared’s perception had become solely locked on Mildred and her friends at this point, adrenaline narrowing his view, so he didn’t notice at first how this display nearly silenced the background noise of general, bar conversation. And after a second of stunned hesitation from everyone, Jared included, he started boldly walking her forward and everything went crazy.

Mildred immediately set to struggling and swearing, “The fuck- let go of me!” The sudden, berserker rage gave her tone a terror inducing tenor.

Jared nearly panicked as his surprisingly sweaty palms nearly made him to lose his grip on her arm. But he thought quickly, and in a sudden motion, used both hands to put her left arm behind her back in a more secure hold, barely registering her straining against him. He couldn’t let her get out of her grip and turn this into a brawl; that would turn things from nerve wracking to a proper fucking disaster.

His thoughts came to grinding halt as a big, meaty paw grabbed his shoulder from behind, claws digging in and through the beige work-shirt, only to do no damage once it reached his skin. Jared nearly stopped mid-step, before adjusting his footing and started walking as if trekking through snow. Not because the force of the grip bothered him, but if he wasn’t careful than she might try lifting him up and discovering that he was as light as his frame suggested instead of just attempting to pull him back. He didn’t want to look back at the werewolf trying to stop him, or see the reaction of the patrons, seeing them might break his resolve.

Jared’s adrenaline rush didn’t stop him from hearing the change in volume this time, mostly because instead of the sound lowering it increased to a roar that seemed to wash over him. The young man couldn’t really make out what was being said, he just prayed other patrons wouldn’t try to get involved as he got within a few feet of the front door.

A bright red snake tail with shimmering scales tried to coil around his legs, the lamia had apparently decided to use the lower end of her tail instead of getting too close after seeing her friends fail to stop him. Almost on reflex Jared lifted a foot and stepped on the slithering appendage, his worn work boots sinking deep into the tail, the force of the blow causing the floorboards underneath to creak audibly. The blonde lamia shrieked in pain and yanked her tail away just as Jared finally made it to the door

But before he could try to open it he looked down and saw that the Ogre’s restrained arm was going red at the shoulder and her arm was twitching in a way that didn’t seem natural. But the sensation of her struggle had far more of an impact than the sight; He couldn’t tell the difference. Jared legitimately felt almost no difference between her regular struggles before and the shoulder-dislocating effort she was apparently putting in now.

That was the straw that broke the camels back for Jared; he’d never been in a real fight before in his life, and this wall all too much at once. With a quick motion he let go of Mildred’s arm, causing her to stagger forward as she suddenly felt no resistance, and opened the door to the small lawn and dingy parking lot outside. Then with both arms he shoved her outside, eager to finally get this over with.

Unfortunately for Mildred the adrenaline rush and his own nerves had finally made Jared’s concentration slip, if only slightly. So, what he had intended to be a strong shove launched her over four feet into the air and easily over ten feet forward, resulting in a skidding landing across the parking lot asphalt. And while Jared hadn’t planned it, the ogre stopped rolling just as she hit her own motorcycle; all black and with handle bar that were almost comically high.

Jared flinched from his accidental launch before turning back toward the bar entrance and noticing that his sudden movement had caused the werewolf trying to drag him back by his shoulders to inadvertently rip away a large part of his shirt. This almost assuredly damaged the cheap shirt beyond repair, his uniform resembling more of a sash than a shirt now, threads dangling and whipping about in the late night, fall wind.

Ignoring their shocked expressions, he lunged forward and grabbed both mamono by the color of their coats and dragged them past the threshold before they got a chance to react. And then threw them both down onto to the soft grass only a few feet away, not trusting himself to bodily shove either with much force after what happened with Mildred. The women landed with audibly, and obviously pained, exhalations of breath as the landings knocked the wind out of them.

Then Jared just stood there, breathing deeply despite not being physically harmed or having exerted himself all that much. The strange young man nearly, so very nearly, whimpered as he saw Mildred get back to her feet, eyes fixed on him with a fierce glare. Mercifully her friends still seemed preoccupied with gasping on the ground as they tried to get air back inside their lungs, the action sending waves of pain through what were probably bruised ribs.

Just as Mildred’s lips peeled back, a snarling insult on the tip of her tongue a muscular, blue arm snaked across his shoulders.

Vale was here, arm around his shoulders and leaning against him in a way that oozed confidence and plainly demonstrated her condescension as she stared down Mildred. “Alright, I think that’s quite enough.” The older women said, cutting off whatever the ogre had been about to spit at Jared. She then walked over to where the curled-up werewolf was and, with a mighty flex of her leg and much more effort than Jared would have needed, kicked the wolf-woman bodily off her lawn and down to the sidewalk. The lamia took notice and tried to slither away, but wasn’t quick enough and received an equally powerful kick to her stomach that sent her sprawling on top of her furry friend.

“What the hell, Vale!?” Mildred shouted, a pained twinge to her voice as she cradled her bruised arm.

“I told you to stop smashing my shit, told you that the next time this happened you wouldn’t get off so easy, and you were dumb enough to not listen.” Vale said patiently, her tone nearly parental if not for the crass langue. Then she made a show of looking over the whole seen, a lightly amused look on her face. “I’d say you should have seen this coming.” Vale then gave Jared’s shoulder a slight shake. “Let’s get going, I need to get some new threads on you.” And with that she turned them both around to walk back in.

“H- hey, you can’t just-“ A lot of the confidence had seeped out of Mildred’s voice now, even as she tried to get one more word in before being cut off.

“Mildred.” The Oni said, voice infused with steely confidence born from living a life rougher than any of the four other people out here had lived. “Shut the fuck up before I tell here Jared to shove that tacky bike up your ass.”

For the barest moment, it looked like Mildred was going to defy her and start stomping towards them regardless, large firsts clenched in rage. Then her eyes locked to Jared, at how he wasn’t sweating or winded, at his shredded shirt and the completely unharmed skin underneath. Completely missing the fear in his eyes.

With a frustrated grunt she turned around, got on to her motorcycle, and promptly drove off. And seconds later, after much muttered cursing and threats, her two friends followed suit in their own vehicle.

Only after their pick-up truck was out of sight did Jared finally relax, muscles he hadn’t realized were tense finally loosening. He just barely stopped himself from sagging to his knees, before he tensed again when Vale placed a kiss on his cheek. The sudden affection and the woman’s alcohol scented breath jarring him back to attention.

“C’mon, big boy. I’ve got a spare work shirt in the back for you.” Vale said before leading him by the hand back inside, the neon sign spelling out “Risky Bar” casting a shadow onto them in a purple hue.

You could here a pin drop in the usually loud bar. A quarter of the patrons present had their eyes locked on him, others had suddenly become very interested in the contents of their drinks, and the rest were not so subtly making their way towards the alternate exit on the other side of the bar.

‘At least no one slapped my ass this time.’ Jared thought ruthfully before sighing when was in the back room again.

This was going to be one long month.

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