FoxHound

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7.

Moslay stared into oblivion, the particles floating around at the bottom of his mug only vaguely exciting curiosity before he went for another drink. The cold of winter was biting down hard, and he knew he should have gotten on his way already. Still, he knew this was going to be the only way he could sleep at night. Not just the ale but that encounter that was supposed to have taken place hours earlier. The tinkerer was supposed to be the best south of the mountains, but Moslay knew it wasn’t Thelus already. That woman was on time, more than punctual, and wouldn’t have been willing to meet at any old tavern. To be honest with himself, Moslay was certain this was a joke or a scam. No self-respecting worker of that craft would meet anywhere other than their own private shop. It was going to be a long night of waiting, he decided, or a short one if he got too sick of it all and got on his way back to the Dinn’s farm.

As he swallowed down the rest of the dizzying concoction, the bell above the door chimed slightly, giving Moslay the short and painful memory of that day on the bridge. It wasn’t so much the worry and terror or burden of what he had to do to survive but the wounds he was still not fully healed of. He was three fingers short on one hand, missing his good eye, and riddled with bits of metal that the healer said would have to work their way out in time. The fact his face had been disfigured, the lips ripped wide, the nose given a rift, and a collection of scars freckling his cheeks had, of course, been no fun either. All of those wounds that would make him uglier didn’t even begin to bother Moslay as much as the eye. Sure missing a few fingers wasn’t the best thing for anyone but lacking an eye was a whole different issue. Amid his distraction from the bell, Moslay did not realize the cat that had wandered up and lounged between his arms on the bar.

Cocking an eyebrow, Moslay tried to shoo the animal, muttering quietly, “Go on puss, I’m not hangin’ about and not lookin’ for a pet neither.”

“And your tab is up so until we gets our money, you dull country bumpkin, you shall be seeing no end to us, understood?” the coal faced cat remarked, not bothering to look at Moslay.

He continued to frown at the feline, “Real good, but whats if I give ya good crack cause I ain’t got the marks on me at the moment? I may be an honest man, but I ain’t bringin’ home no stray.”

“Oh, I would love to see that, my good fellow. Just be sure to do so outside, I don’t like scaring off too many newcomers in one evening, and it looks as though a few here are the squeamish type,” the cat remarked, more playfully than her words were in truth.

Leaning in close, Moslay whispered, “Look here, I’ve got enough for part of it tonight, but I need some for the tinkerer. Once I got my gun all fixed up and as many shells as I can carry, I’ll bring you the bounty for those responsible for the bridge being out and the disappearances. Sound fair?”

“I don’t care what you say, I’ve still been ordered to follow you until you pay your debt, in full, so don’t mistake me as foolish. Especially since you have the audacity to spend good coin in an establishment you owe money to. No less worrisome, you waste it on a man who’s going to sell you knock-off goods. Of course, what should we expect from one who sounds to be hunting bounties? Why not just give us that revolver in your coat and call it good?” the cat questioned, a smirk in its tone.

Moslay began to answer when the bell struck again, a man of scarlet skin stood in the doorway. His tan, leather jacket, well worn with burns and slashes, gave his career out very quickly to anyone who would know the marks. Quickly he scurried over to the bar and sat beside Moslay, the reek of oil and smoke, giving him away if the garments had not. Sunshine yellow eyes peeked out from beneath the hat and over a face covering that looked flatter than usual. The eyes raised in a sort of smile, the scarlet skin making that gesture come across almost more disturbing than settling for Moslay. His nerves were unshaken, but the cat seemed to alert to this presence. Not so much as to leave the bar, but two great infernos opened wide to view the stranger.

Sticking a gloved hand out, surprisingly in good shape, considering the man was a tinkerer, he began, “Sorry for my tardiness, had another engagement that ran long. As you may know, my work is rather sought after in the region, especially now with the big scare from the wilderness hanging over everyone’s head. I’d be half surprised if you weren’t looking for something to keep yourself safe from whatever it is they say is lurking about out there.”

“Something like that. I need to see what you have for more offensive measures. My old blaster decided to erupt not long back, and I’m in need of a replacement, you might imagine,” Moslay again forced himself into the most conversational tone he knew.

Nodding slowly, a more inquisitive look passed the tinkerer’s features, “I’m thinking you’re looking to replace more than that or at least should be delighted to know you may just be able to do that.”

“I don’t have a great deal of spare marks on me, and I’m sure you’re not charging less than a small fortune for most of what you do. I still have most of the gun and a sidearm that is still functional, if nothing else, I’d like to buy a good amount of rounds for that off you, if you’ve got them,” Moslay minded the cat who stared at him now quizzically.

That red smile grew all the wider under his mask, “Of course, of course, if you come with me out of here, we can barter our prices and settle up. I’d do it here, but the Prancing Unicorn often tries enough to strong-arm in and take their cut.”

“Cut of what? Ill-gotten gains? At least if the money goes to us, the poor sap it came from might take comfort in it not going to your addiction, Lo,” the cat scolded, rising from its sitting position and beginning to arch her back.

With a start, the tinkerer jumped up, throwing back his stool before he began to shout, “You don’t know nothing about nothing! And you, I thought you were a reputable client, not some inside man! I ought to...”

There was no end to that sentence as both the cat and Moslay saw the man Lo began to fling his arm forward in the distinct manner of one carrying a hidden blade. Before Moslay could draw out his revolver, the cat lunged, its strength plainly one hundred times that of its size. The tinkerer crashed into a table to his rear, his neck catching on the sharp, metal-lined corner. He wasn’t out from that one blow but was woozy enough for Moslay to get the drop on him and put the barrel right under his chin. From there, the cat fell away, leaving it to Moslay to handle. All the feline would do was encourage him to take the wretch outside before carrying on in his way. Moslay instinctively was going that way with the Lo but moved a step faster when the cat called to him.

Outside, Moslay whipped the man against the building, nearly impaling him against the many artificial unicorn horns sticking out from the wall. He kept the gun on the Lo, stepping back to make sure he wouldn’t try anything funny once he stepped away. Though Moslay knew Lo could perform magic, he didn’t think any spell or trick could be done faster than a bullet could fly. With the tinkerer coming around and the cat now at his side, Moslay’s mind kicked back to the logical side. He watched the golden eyes rouse, realize where he was and what was happening, and then show a hint of remorse for trying anything half so daring as he had.

“I’m sorry you’ve got to understand. I wasn’t going to kill you; I just need the marks. I’m dying out here, and it’s so hard to come by for one such as myself in the caves. Can’t you spare a poor Lo and perhaps spare a few marks as well?” the tinkerer tried his best pathetic voice, but Moslay could care less.

Clicking back the hammer, he showed he meant business from the first, “The jacket. I want to know where you got and if whoever you picked it off of was still alive. I know a tinkerer’s jacket when I see one, I know the guild’s emblem, and I know you could not be one in truth. Now out with it.”

“I... she... wait. I got it off an old man, who I don’t think was long for this world. But it was ok, his daughter said I should take it. Something about not having the hand for the family legacy like the old man, you know? I could take you there, but I don’t think she’s a tinkerer, you see,” the Lo begged, his pleading seeming far from sincere.

Casting eyes to the cat, Moslay asked, “What do you think?”

“If you need this tinkerer, I say we follow the silly little Lo. It’s not like he’s going to come out smelling like roses should he attack, and unless he’s really desperate, he’s not going to lead us into the horde, you’re call farmhand,” she remarked, carelessly licking a paw.

The Lo took some prodding all along the way, but he led Moslay and the cat to a workshop that had seen its better days. It wasn’t the pride of Haludram, but something of a hideaway stuck between a jeweler’s shop and a ceramicist. Even to his last moment around them, the almost human underground dweller begged for even the smallest coin to help him get his fix. Moslay offered him a bullet instead, which was promptly declined. Once the Lo had vanished into the night, leaving the patch of the tinkerer though being permitted to keep the coat, Moslay still felt his eyes on him. He couldn’t be sure this wasn’t a trap, yet the cat moved on ahead as soon as he opened the door. With that, Moslay had to figure whatever trouble waited inside was something he could handle.

Within was a very compact showroom that a workroom could easily be spotted from if one only looked through the window separating them. The cat jumped onto the counter and rang the bell, doing so first as a means of summoning the tinkerer then becoming enticed and smacking the metal chime around for fun. After a long moment that made Moslay consider that the craftsmen may no longer be about, the workroom door opened. A young halfling stood staring at the man and his cat, almost entirely oblivious she was in her nightgown and slippers. Her mouth fell open before she caught herself, “I forgot to lock the front door again, didn’t I? Silly me. Would you mind coming back in the morning if you’d like to browse Metha’s works? I do appreciate the patronage, but it’s getting quite late, you know.”

“I’ll be quick, I only need a few things worked on, and I can pay whatever you ask. Once I take care of this thing that’s out in the wilderness, I can pay you even more for the trouble,” Moslay shot back as quick as he could not even thinking of what he was saying.

With a sorrowful look, the shop owner looked up through her long, emerald lashes, “My apologies, sir, but I am no tinkerer. My father was, but he is... all that’s left now is what he had done and the skills he tried to work into my stupid skull... I’m sorry.”

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