Not spent much more than a tick in the Scablands of Skarem, always seemed like folly to me. No pathways carved yet, as it were, but reckon that’s part of the allure. If that’s your cadence.
Every drifter I’ve crossed who truly stinted those parts had a peculiar churn to them.
No big corpo ops out in them Scablands. Lots of squares yet to be marked. It’s that fog - the climmering question of what lies within and the unconcern as to prospects of cream or bad sap - that brims the pot of the right wash of drifter. Untilled soil. Open to anyone to lift the lid on discovery.
Once loaded some botanicals out of that green Iris, right on the demarcation that borders the Scablands, the rock. Twas right on the breach into those vast cut channels that I encountered an odd sort of loner. Her tenor has since marked my impression and defined the ethos of the Scablands. At least by my slice of cake.
Called herself the “Loot Eater.”
Wouldn’t give me any other name. Clearly a drift name, but one that I got the sense she may have given herself. She was no tourist though. That was clear as. A roaming native one becomes when you camp the wild more than a season.
But there were an odd twinge in her whiff. Her enthusiasm almost caused me discomfort. Seemed to curdle past the edge of reason. Her passion was absolute. No regard for tradecraft or coin. I just couldn’t relate. Where I saw desert and a stretched stay, she saw hidden treasures.
“Eater,” I said, still the skeptic, “So what loot do you trade in round here?” I was met with a right wave.
Did I know there were lizard with a diamond-shaped skull mucking deep in the crater bowls on the 37th ringline? Or that there’s a crystal that glows red that no one ever seen before that she found runs the Iris border? And apparently the pirates and jumpers holding fast among the Scabs are not so clever with how they hide their prizes - marking holes with saluting totems of stacked rocks.
“So you steal from the pirates, and then hawk the loot?” I ask, trying to find footing. Nay. Just moves it, concealing them better than their own keepers. What? For the thrill of making it disappear? I scratch my scalp.
Heard chant that for several months the Scablands was hit by a thundering dust storm that punted most drifters to packing. Her reply, “Never was a better time to find rare loot!” The searing sands and shifting landscape served well to reveal new prizes for the Loot Eater.
Her tales of odd quests for odd treasures seemed drawn from a bottomless cistern, but her ramble rolled such that, as a collector of tales, I did something I rarely do. I interrupted her.
The completion of the puzzle still eluded me. I asked her when did she actually profit? Had she not already accrued a fortune and shouldn’t she take her winnings back and live out her days like royalty?
That froze her tongue. At least for a moment. She stammered that it would be foolish to leave now with so much loot still out there.
She asked if I wanted to come help her find some cache of brember rumored to have been jettisoned nearby. I shook my head and she quickly left. Squishy thing is she left a rough cloth bag. Inside were a shiny assortment of precious stones - a two-stretch haul for some. She just left it and it didn’t feel like it were in error.
I speculate she didn’t care about riches at all. They just slowed her down. She had a fire in her stomach for expedition, the irresistible scratch of the pursuit - the object at the end need only be worth pursuing. And here criteria were broad.
Every Scablands drifter I’ve encountered since has had at least a drop of this sort of blood in their veins. The fog. The itch. This is what I’ve come to learn drives drifters to the Scablands. And it’s a rare sort that wants it.