There was a creek in the shadows as the door to Lucy’s room inched open, slightly ajar – followed by a pause, and a held breath as wandering eyes scouted the room. The man was alone, with only a whisper of cold in the air to greet him. Keeping light on his feet, he crept inwards, making way towards the dresser.
An amber halo filled the room as a match sparked alight in his hand, illuminating his face to reveal Jagged Teeth, hunched over the dresser rummaging through the drawers. He ran his fingers through knick-knacks and trinkets, baubles and belladonnas, combs and cosmetics, perfumes and oils before he hooked his fingers around a small jewellery box.
He brought the box into the glow of the match and took a deep breath before lifting the lid to reveal inside, a Dulcet Shard. He gently picked it up and the moment the tip of his finger brushed its surface, it glistened, and a melodic tune emanated from it, sounding as one would running their fingers along the rim of a wineglass. He watched the outer sheen of the Dulcet Shard morph and melt into a cloud of flowing colours, and for a moment, he became bewitched by it’s beautiful, yet melancholic melody.
“I’m sorry,” Jagged Teeth said, quickly pocketing the Shard, muffling its song. “I promise to pay you back,” And he slammed the jewellery box shut, tossing it back into the dresser empty, before scurrying out the door with his head hung low.
Dawn broke through the windows, stirring Cooper from his slumber. Alcohol clung to his breath and his head weighed heavily on his shoulders, but he forced himself up with a deep and guttural groan.
While sitting on the bed’s edge, memories of the night before came flooding back; his chance encounter, his new role within an Adventuring group, and the many Ale’s that were had. Cooper smacked his slips, suddenly reminded of the metallic taste in his mouth.
There was a knock on the door, and a call from Aífe; “We’re ready for you!” She said.
Suddenly, he felt uneasy and he grew trepidatious. He was not hesitant for his journey ahead or for his performance as a Looter – or at least, not entirely. But instead, he found himself unwilling to say ‘Goodbye’, and that surprised him. So far, his life had been comfy – comparatively so. As much as he begrudged his daily workload, and the pittance he earned doing so; he still had a roof over his head, and people who cared for him.
The words of Mariana rang through his head; “not many get the chance that Grendel has offered you,” and he agreed with her. And yet, he still found himself wanting more. And he couldn’t help but ask, why? Was it greed that spurred him onwards? Was he wrong for feeling unsatisfied with his life – after all, why not? Why shouldn’t he want better?
“Hurry up ya’ lil’ shit!” Aífe said, thumping at the door, “Before I start dragging your naked ass out ‘ere!”
“I’m coming!” Cooper exclaimed, hoisting himself up onto his feet. He quickly gathered his clothes, knowing Aífe would act true to her word, and made way to the tavern below, leaving his room with a cocktail of emotions; two parts eager and one part hesitant.
As Cooper entered the tavern floor, he was greeted by the rambunctious back-and-forth that was currently taking place between Jay-Dee and Grendel.
“Aye, it’s called Saurrin Dreg, not Sewer Drip – ya’ mouthy wee shite,” Grendel said, pouring a pint of ale with a heavy-hand.
“I just call it as I taste it,” Jay-Dee replied, scooping the pint up off from the counter while taking a tender sip. “Ah, Coop! So, you’ve decided to grace us with your presence.” He paused for a moment, looking Cooper up and down. “Are you not ready yet?” He asked.
Cooper, confused, quickly gave himself a once over – shoes? Yes. Made of simple leather and worn ragged, perhaps – but, in his mind he found them to be perfectly suitable. It was better than nothing, he thought, and nothing was the only other option. He sternly held the same opinion on the rest of his ensemble, undergarments included.
“I am,” Cooper said, hesitantly and with a raised eyebrow.
“Is that so? And how, if I might ask, do you plan on carrying our loot?”
“I was just going to, you know…” and he made lifting motions as if he was carrying an invisible keg.
“If I had not already seen your bare buttocks exposed, I would almost find your naivety adorable,” Jay-Dee said, getting up from his comfy position on the stool, “Worry not, though. For I come bearing gifts,” And he picked up from behind a large sack sitting on the floor and tossed it towards Cooper.
It landed at his feet and Cooper drew the string tied around the neck of the sack, allowing it to unravel like a blooming flower. Within its carpel was a tangled bundle consisting of leather strips, buckles and bags, sacks and pouches and wooden poles, coming together in a rostrum of materials, ideal for any Looter’s journey, and accurately named ‘The Looter’s Scaffold.’
“As part of our agreement, your equipment,” Jay-Dee said. “Unfortunately,” He continued, “It’s a two-man job to assemble, and frankly – I haven’t a baldy notion on where to begin. So, get experimenting, I guess. I’ll be here.” He finished, plucking himself back on the stool and back to his ale.
“I can help with that,” Grendel piped up, stroking his frothy beard while eyeing the contents of the sack with keen interest.
“You know how to set up this thing?” Jay-Dee asked.
“Intimately,” Grendel replied, and his moustache curled upwards as a smile formed under it.
Something about Grendel’s sudden enthusiasm unsettled Cooper and he had a vague suspicion that Grendel was going to enjoy this much more than he would.
“Aífe?” Grendel announced.
“Aye, on it.” She replied, taking position behind Cooper. “Alright lad,” She said, “Strip.”
Suddenly, Jay-Dee’s interest piqued, and he readied himself with knee’s crossed and drink in reach for the show that was about to unfold, much to Cooper’s dismay.
Although the passing of time was short, it did not pass with ease as it still proved to be a difficult task for both Grendel and Aífe to wrangle and outfit the uncooperative Cooper. But, between the mutters of Stop squirming and the threats of I’ll fuckin’ noose ya’ with it if ya’ don’t calm, they were eventually able to claim success.
First, they donned him with a set of simple garments and armour included in the package. The top and bottoms were made of a supple and thin fabric which fit close to his frame favouring mobility, while the soft and malleable leather pauldrons and gorget provided minimal, but needed, protection – although, it was not to protect from hostilities, as Cooper wrongly assumed. It was patchwork and rudimentary to most, but for Cooper, it was a fair deal better than what he’s ever had and still better than most of what he has seen on Adventurers walking through those tavern doors each night.
Next came a string of binds and straps, belted to Cooper’s torso and buckled in place to hold a series of wooden poles to his back; each coming together to form one large hallow frame, of which the inside was lined with hardened leather and it resembled that of a wicker-basket. Pointed outcrops protruded out from his sides and up over his shoulders where a myriad of bags and sacks were pegged and fastened to, allowing for ease of access. The Looter’s Scaffold sat heavy on his back, surprisingly so. The straps dug into his shoulders and chafed his neck, mitigated only by his leather gear – and it tilted him off balance, swaying heavily with his movements, but he quickly grew accustomed to it.
“Very good! Very good! Bravo!” Jay-Dee said, clapping his hands and rolling his r’s. “Would you like to have a look?” He asked, holding up a brass platter.
Cooper peered into it, eyeing his warped reflection and for a brief moment, he did not recognise himself. But, as he moved, so did his bronze self, and suddenly a burst of excitement coursed through his veins. He looked like he belonged to something, and that he was of importance to someone – and it was a feeling he did not know he yearned for, until he had it and realised, that he never wanted to lose it.
“I have something to offer as well,” Aífe said, and she held in her hands what seemed to be a length of animal hide, fashioned into what seemed to be a cloak. Its fur was speckled in greys and browns, and as she handed it to Cooper. It’s short bristly fur felt coarse on his skin, but it was light and thick and even his untrained eye could tell that it was crafted with impeccable care, and skill.
“There are beasts in the tower not like the others,” Aífe continued, “These great, hulking creatures roam freely – migrating great distances from the moment they’re born until their legs are worn. My people would follow these creatures, traversing in their footsteps, eat their fallen young and make pelts from their hide. It should serve you well, as it did I.”
“Siúlóir,” Jay-Dee said, adopting a more serious tone, “Biome Walkers.”
Aífe’s face shifted into curiosity, and she locked eyes with Jay-Dee. “You speak the Mother’s tongue?” She asked, in an old and ancient language.
“What’s left of it,” Jay-Dee replied, speaking in the same tongue.
“Biome Walkers?” Cooper interjected, lost in the sudden shift of language, of which he did not understand.
“Nomadic tribes who predominantly live in the World Tower,” Jay-Dee said, “They opt not to settle in Hiberia, believing there is more to be had amongst the shifting planes of the upper portions of the Tower. I’m surprised to find another like me in a place such as this.” He paused, and held his gaze on Aífe before eventually shifting it to Grendel, both of whom stood stoic. Then, like the release of a spring, his mannerism shifted back to its whimsical self. “Righto, time to go!” He said, urging Cooper towards the exit. “It’s been lovely meeting you, but time’s a-tickin’. I’ll be sure to bring him back, hopefully in one piece.”
“Cooper!” Grendel called out, catching Cooper at the doorway, “You were a shite keg-runner,” Cooper’s heart sank. There was a part of him, who thought maybe, just maybe, things had changed a little. “So,” Grendel continued, “You better come back as a decent Looter!”
Cooper turned to the door, refusing to let Grendel see the smile that formed on his face and he held up a hand to wave farewell, choosing not to say Goodbye as in his mind – Goodbyes were permanent and he exited the tavern, his home.