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Chapter 5: The Cat’s Tooth Inn

    The young mother-to-be sat alone at table in The Cat’s Tooth Inn, staring dejectedly into a mug of water. Her chin rested on the back of her hand, propped up by her elbow on the table. No one would be able to really see she was pregnant at this point. In fact, she had only just begun to show the physical signs; her belly had swelled slightly, making her pants and skirt a little tighter. If one paid attention, they would have see a well-worn notch in her belt two holes down from where it was currently buckled. The red-headed mercenary was pondering many things; how much damage would a nice mug of ale really have on a child? How much longer can I keep working? Just what good will finding Nat really do? Can I expect anything from him? Should I go back to Kanon, see if I can milk my war hero status from Reona? Do I even want to be a mother?

    Natasi sighed, then picked up her mug with her left hand and took a long draught. The water had a stale taste it, but she always expected that at inns. It was always one off taste or another with inn and tavern water, which was why people so rarely drank it. Taste wasn’t the only reason she begrudged drinking stale water though, with all the stress in her life now, all she wanted was to drown in all in an alcohol induced haze just so she didn’t have to care anymore. Yet, despite her apprehension about motherhood, she couldn’t bring herself to do something to harm this unexpected little quarter-elf she carried within her now.

    Jeren had bounce in his step. It was perhaps the first thing everyone noticed about him, rarely the last. The charismatic, charming flier strolled into the fifth inn on his list. The only thing fatigued about him was his coin purse, which he was sure would be near empty greasing palms for information, though mostly in vain. It didn’t help that he would probably end up a drunkard in the face of having to do business to get anyone to talk to him.

    Slipping onto a bar stool, the Mossian leaned forward and placed down several coins, enough to purchase five flagons of whatever. “My good friend, could I perhaps trouble you for some information?”

    The barman, rubbing clean a tankard, glanced down at the money. “Whatcha lookin for? Whores or thieves?”

    “Neither, though perhaps what I seek could be called both if you sought to be particularly cruel. I’m looking for a man named Nat. He came through this place, passing through. Heard the name?”

    The handsome new patron caught Natasi’s eye as soon as he stepped in, and what further captured her attention was what he said to the innkeeper.

    “No, I haven’,” the innkeeper replied, his eyes darting to Natasi. “But yer not the only one who’s asked.”

    At that, the female mercenary rose from her seat and made her way over to Jeren, swinging her hips as she walked. Natasi slipped into a barstool beside him. “I wonder what you could want with Nat... maybe we could help each other?” she asked smoothly, placing her hand on his arm.

    “’Tis not what I want with the man,” Jeren said, his head turning to see his new company. “You could call my search a favor for a young lady with a three season matter of business with him.” The ex-knight hopped off of his stool. “I should introduce myself. I am Jeren Octavian Aldener, Dragon Rider and Free Knight by trade.” Bowing to the lady fair, he looked back up to her. “And does my gracious company also have a name?”

    Three season? What does that mean? Natasi wondered as she continued to smile at Jeren, amused by his gracious bow. “Natasi, former soldier in the Kanon Free Army and mercenary by trade,” she replied, mimicking his introduction. She, after all, had her own impressive resume. Still with a smirk on her lips, the auburn haired mercenary rested her head on her fist, propped up on the bar. “If we’re indeed looking for the same Nat, perhaps I could join your search?” And it was after she asked her question that her mind finally tumbled out a response to what she was wondering. Three season... pregnancy? Ugh, that charming bastard went and knocked up some other girl, didn’t he?

    “Well, it is not a decision that I can make, of course. It is the choice of my... companion, I suppose. But if you know anything of him or his travel path, I cannot imagine her avoiding your assistance.” Jeren smiled as she bowed. He found a certain charm in women who chose a more masculine approach, assuming they never lost the playful attitude of it all. “Might I inquire as to your goals in seeking this man out?”

    Natasi leaned forward, resting her arms on her crossed knees now. “Let’s just say he owes me money,” she said with a wink. “To assure your ‘companion’, I don’t intend to hurt him, badly, but I do need to get what he owes me. The boy’s a bit of a flake, you know.”

    “I might consider ‘flake’ to be an understatement.” Jeren’s drink finally arrived, but he didn’t touch it. He never did, in fact. If he had, the world would be quite the unbalanced thing, twisting and jarring. “Well, I have two more establishments to check, if you’d care to join me. Then its back to our arranged meeting place. You can speak with my companions there, if you’d like.”

    Natasi laughed lightly at his comment about Nat. “Sure, I’ll join you,” she said. “Though I’ve asked around this town a bit and no one’s seen hide nor hair of him recently. Someone mentioned seeing him about a year ago, but that doesn’t help, as I haven’t seen him for about...oh, about four months.” As Natasi talked, she realized that Jeren hadn’t so much as glanced at his drink. “You gonna drink that before we go?” she asked.

    Jeren glanced at the mug for a few seconds with disinterest. Brow furrowed in consideration, the knight finally reached over to the mug and pushed it in front of the man on the other side of him. “On me, friend.” Stepping away from the bar, he nodded his head towards the door. “Shall we?”

    “Sure,” Natasi said, hopping out of her chair. The mercenary quickly returned to her table to pick up her traveling pack, then caught up to Jeren. “Let’s go,” she said with a grin.

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