An hour or two had passed since the man with the scarred face had seen a naked Cooper subjected to an unceremonious (wo)manhandling down the hallway, and he had now found himself seated at a cornered table in the tavern, secluded and out of sight, sipping a large tankard of, what he was told to be, ale. Though the taste did not have him entirely convinced.
The man had always considered himself to be a connoisseur of liquor, the final arbiter of good taste. He has never been able to showcase this ability though, as he has never had the coin to afford anything other than cheap ale. Regardless, he vehemently believed this to be true, as his namesake, Jay-Dee, was a well-renowned bottle of bourbon, and his late mother, who he loved dearly, would nurse it alongside him, daily. He believed this gifted him with an impeccable sense of taste.
And so, Jay-Dee continued to nurse his own ale, listing in his head all the reasons why this particular beverage was inferior to his previous ale – which itself was inferior to the ale before that.
In front of him, two more recently emptied tankards sat on the table and they both belonged to two women who sat on the opposing end of the table, facing Jay-Dee.
The woman sitting on the inside closest to the wall, Jay-Dee knew to be Ifri. Her features were delicate and, somewhat androgynous. She had a small dainty nose, with large brown eye’s that nestled under her cropped, straight brown hair. Her frame was petite and sylphlike, which she draped a long, fine green cloak over. Strips of leather-lined her torso, arms and legs, weaved together to form makeshift armour. Strapped to her back was a small quiver of arrows and a large wooden bow.
The woman to Jay-Dee’s right was Anna. She sat, slouched over the table with one knee up as her foot rested on the stool’s edge. She hid herself under a rich black shawl, which covered her body and shadowed her face; leaving only a pair of rose-coloured lips visible under the dim tavern candlelight. Jay-Dee had always known her as the most well-equipped of the group; agile and lithe, dextrous and cunning – that did not concern him though; what did concern him, was for all their time together, that was all he knew about her.
Ifri sat upright in her stool with a stiff back, exuding an air of prominence. She lifted her tankard and took a sip… paused, inspected the contents, or lack thereof, and Jay-Dee watched as her posture slowly stooped, and her expression curled inwards as she began berating Anna.
“Okay,” Anna said, suddenly finding herself on the defensive. “But all I’m saying is that I both did and didn’t drink your drink,”
There was a sigh from Jay-Dee. It’s going to be one of those days, he thought.
“No,” Ifri retorted, “It’s quite obvious that you did drink my fucking drink.”
“Yes, well, technically I did – but, when I was faced with the choice to do so, the universe split into two versions in order to accommodate both outcomes. In one universe I did drink your ale, and in the other – I didn’t. Shall I continue to explain?”
“Sure,” replied Ifri, inspecting her arrows for the sharpest one, “but not indefinitely.”
“I hate to interject,” said Jay-Dee, crossing his arms and resting them on the table, “but we are currently…” and he continued to speak with finger quotes, “… residing in a universe where our Auto-Looter got destroyed. I would very much like to change that fact, so maybe we could start putting our pretty little heads together to come up with a solution.”
Both Anna and Ifri, deflated into their seats.
“I guess we’ve no choice but to search for another one,” Anna said
“It was a stroke of luck that we found the first one in the lower levels of the Tower,” Jay-Dee replied, “If we discovered a second one so soon, it would almost feel like a trap.”
“We could steal one?” Asked Ifri.
“Not unless we have a reliable way to mimic the original owner’s voice and a face,” Anna replied.
“Cut off their head?” Suggested Jay-Dee.
Anna shaped her fingers into a form that resembled that of a mouth and began to ‘talk’ in a deep and guttural voice while her lips remained seemingly still; “ I’m a pretty good ventriloquist, but I doubt that’s gonna work… and it’s a lil’ gross.”
“We could always use a ‘Dulcet Shard’ to record their voice before removing the head,” Jay-Dee continued.
“That’s not a bad idea!” Anna replied, perking up in her seat. “How much do they usually go for?”
“About five-thousand gold,” Answered Ifri.
There was a sigh from Anna as she deflated back into her seat.
“We could steal one?” Jay-Dee asked.
“Or,” Ifri cut in, “We could go the realistic route and hire someone to carry our loot. Like we used to, way-back-when.”
Jay-dee let out a melodramatic moan and he clutched his chest in a dramatic display of grief; “And here I thought we were finally moving up in the world,” he cried.
“You were all too happily considering murder a moment ago,” Ifri grumbled. She continued; “The way I see it is that the only reliable way we’ll get another Auto-Looter is if we purchase one. But, we can’t get deep enough into the Tower to earn any decent coin if we’re over-encumbered with loot.”
“But, even if we did hire someone,” Jay-Dee chimed in, “It would take us a lifetime to grind for an Auto-Looter… Unless—”
“—Unless,” Anna continued, and she pulled out from within her cloak a rolled-up parchment and set it on the table, “We give this a shot. Considering this shows potentially unexplored regions of the Tower, I’d bet there’s decent coin to be found there.”
“Exactly,” Ifri replied with a smirk. “The only question is, who do we hire…” And her voice trailed off, as in that moment, from the corner of her eye, she spotted at the other end of the hall, far beyond the gaggle of patrons who crowded the tavern, Cooper.
The other two followed Ifri’s gaze, and they watched as Cooper carefully weaved and toiled through the crowds, deftly dodging drinks and unsteady drunks while heaving and hauling a keg on his back towards the bar, with a furrowed face and a sweaty brow.
“No.” Jay-Dee suddenly blurted out.
“What?” Exclaimed Ifri, confused.
“I veto it. We’re not hiring him.” Jay-Dee replied in a stern and stubborn manner.
“Well, I veto your veto,” retorted Ifri.
“What? No – you can’t—” He stuttered.
“I also veto your veto,” Anna piped up.
“That’s not how this works,” Jay-Dee proclaimed, “That’s not how any of this works. I’m the leader, so I get—” Jay-Dee abruptly fell silent when a dagger suddenly wedged itself deep in the table between his fingers and he looked up to see Anna holding a firm grip on its hilt. In response, Jay-Dee nervously nodded his head and meekly said, “I’ll go talk to him, I guess,” and he swiftly got up from his stool.
Immediately after, a boarish voice erupted from a large and indomitable woman who arrived at the table with a pair of recently filled tankards.
“Unless you’re planning to whittle me a gift,” Aífe said, setting the drinks on the table, “then you had better get yer knife out of my table.”
Anna sheepishly removed the knife and muttered a “Sorry,” before handing Aífe a handful of copper coins, who grunted a “Thanks,” in return. As Aífe turned to leave, in one swift movement, before Ifri had a chance to react, Anna lifted a tankard and glugged its entirety within a couple of gulps and, once finished, slammed it on the table with a satisfying clonk. Ifri watched in disbelief as Anna moved on to the second tankard and began to casually sip it, seemingly satisfied with herself.
“Are you fucking serious?” Ifri cried out, launching up from her chair and on to her feet. “Did you really just drink my fucking drink, again?”
“You know,” Anna responded, carefully settling her drink back on the table in a very lady-like fashion, “There’s probably a universe where you don’t overreact to these things.”
“Aye,” Ifri said, unhooking her bow from her back, “And there’s probably quite a few universes out there where’ve I’ve murdered you by now,” she continued, lifting an arrow out from her quiver and nocking it in the bowstring. She took aim at Anna and said; “and I’m going to be in one of them.”
Anna threw up her hands in protest, “Ah, wait!” She called out, “Did Jay-Dee just say he was going to talk to the keg runner?”
“Yes, he did…” Ifri’s face fell, and she lowered her bow as the realisation hit her, “Ah, shit.”
They both scrambled to their feet to catch up to Jay-Dee, but it was too late. He had already made it to the bar, and they watched as he cornered Cooper, indirectly pinning against the wall.
“Hi,” Jay-Dee said, offering his hand with an innocent smile, “I liked you better with your clothes off.”