The lamp went first.
A cracked and swinging oil lamp, clasped in the thin hand of a stumbling girl. Her breath came quick, quavering; hushed for fear. Her dirty turnshoes scuffed over the rough and dusty floor, halting.
Behind, hobnails crunched and clacked slow over the tile. Five pairs, laced to the armored legs of cutters behind.
"Steady, girl," said the first behind. Three paces back. "Eyes on the floor."
The girl gulped, nodded. Her gaze twitched, nervous, over the cracked and mildewed details of the stone underfoot. Every line and grouted seam. Every pebble and chip of cracked bone.
As she advanced, the five did, too. Three paces back, always. If she stopped, they waited; abruptly halted in close file along the narrow passage. They wore old-fashioned helms and peaked bodyplates, clacked metallic when they bumped into one another. Bare blades and primed guns hung at their sides, clutched in nervous grips. Cutters, armed and wary.
The girl stopped. The cutters did, too; grumbling and treading on heels. "What is it? Said the first," a wide-eyed man. "What do you see?"
Ahead, the lantern quavered, wracked by the tremors of a fearful hand. The girl stood, shoulders bunched, staring at a lump slumped along the wall.
A bony, broken, small figure. Head tucked to chest; forearms wrapped in bandages stained in brown; brown that had pooled on the surrounding floor. Not armored, nor even armed. A shock of long, dry-rotted golden hair obscured its sunken face. The cutters craned to look at it, exclaimed, muttered woefully.
"Oh, aye," said the man, averting his eyes. Behind him, the others did, too. "That'd be Pellem." His tone was strained. "Had to leave her here, last month's attempt. Didn't think she'd run further in." He averted his eyes. "Don't worry; she had her salt. She won't bite."
The girl whimpered, kept staring. The lantern shook in her white-knuckled grip.
"Go on, girl. It's safe, I said."
Quaking, she took a fitful step. And another, lifted her foot high to span the corpse.
The corpse of a girl with a broken lantern still clasped in her bony hand.
"Hey, kid." A gloved fist knocked on the dirty shipping crate. No response came from within.
"Kid," the glove wrapped again. Its owner, a wiry woman swathed all over in woven trappings of leather and silk, spoke louder. She stood on the salt-encrusted deck of a dockyard, addressed a banana crate covered in tarp. At that moment, the tarp twitched aside.
The smudgy, unshaven face of a teen boy showed through, scowling. "Ai, what?"
"You want a job?" asked the rag-woman. A picketed yellow smile split her woven lips, overencouraging.
"What kind of job?" said the boy, lifting a dirty arm to scratch his chin. A flea fled his elbow. The rag-woman's smile wavered only a smidge. "A good one," said she, smiling wider. She knelt, bounced on her haunches. The steel cap of an archaic scabbard, hung from her belt, nudged the deck. It was not the only knife about her person. The boy looked her over, lingered on grips of blades, frowned. "What kind of good job?" he said, looking her in the eyes.
Those yellow eyes rolled under cloth-covered lids. "Good venturing job," insisted the woman. "That's what kind."
"Ai, I thought you looked like un maldido cutter," said the urchin, dismissive, attempting to slink back into his crate.
"You want some pesetas or not, Crate Boy?" said the woman, smile turned mean. "Bet you don't get soliciting employers very often," she said, looking around the nearby rotting crates and piles of redolent fishguts. "Given your neighborhood."
"How many pesetas?" said the crate.
"Ten per day," snapped a red tongue behind its picket-teeth.
The urchin reappeared, dubious. "Ten per day?"
"Ten," said the rag-woman, leaning closer. Her breath smelt of clove and whiskey. "And beer when we camp."
"Camping? Where is the job?"
"Down the long beach. Working on a cave with some treasure inside. We have a camp outside with lots of beer. And fish."
The boy licked his lips, emerged from his crate. Stood on the deck, he was tanned, shirtless, and his ribs stuck out. "What do I need to do?" he said.
Another grin. "Nothing complicated at all. Don't even need to do the heavy lifting," she gestured grandly. "Just have to hold a lantern while we walk. Just hold the light, so the rest of us can see."
"Just hold the light?" said the boy. He extended a hand, cocked his head. Reluctantly, woven fingers clasped round his greasy palm, shock tersely.
"Just hold the light."
On the very lowest stratum of the already-lowly caste that is the cutter, there exist linkenden: Lantern bearers.
To check it out, see the Incunabuli playtest.