Mark "Ripper" Keane gripped the guitar harder than he ever had in his life. He knew that if he applied any more pressure from any direction, he would snap the neck. Hugging the body like it was a person, he slowly ground his teeth quietly in the darkness of his room.
Sunny was gone. That was ancient history. But he hadn't quite healed up all the wounds she'd left him with before the next hit came, when his band, Gotthammer, had fallen apart. Trouble was supposed to come in threes, and Ripper was waiting for the third.
He'd been trying to make the music thing work so hard for so long. Maybe it was time to cash it all in. He wasn't getting any younger, and Edmonton wasn't exactly the best place to be launching a music career. And then there was the style of his music.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, a way to set the band apart from all the other local acts, to incorporate the bag pipes, an instrument he'd been playing since he was a young boy. A testament to his heritage. And as gimmicks went, it'd been a good one. It had set them apart from other bands, especially given that Ripper had paired the bagpipes with overdriven guitar rock. And everything had been going well, until Gotthammer's incredibly good-looking female vocalist had gotten an opportunity to do a solo project that was more mainstream, and more pop. The record company backing the recording had said the band needed a new image to keep up with where they'd be taking her. Ripper refused to change, and got left behind. He told them they wouldn't be taking the name or the songs with them. The record company had said they wouldn't be needing either.
"We can make a career off her tits and ass," one of the suits had told Ripper. "What the hell makes you think the music industry has anything to do with songs?"
So now her first single was playing on the radio everytime you turned the damn thing on. The Edmonton stations were pushing the "local girl makes good" angle, and giving her all the support they could muster. None of the interviews said anything about Gotthammer. It was like the band had never existed.
A sliver of light penetrated the darkness of Ripper's thoughts. He looked up to see Blackout's silhouette in the doorway.
"Wanna get a coffee?" Blackout asked. "I've closed up the shop, and I wanted to go say hi to Lara, seeing as she's tied to the store while Andrew's doing those courses."
Ripper nodded silently, and relaxed his grip on the guitar, glad once again he hadn't broken it in a fit of anger.
Blackout remained quiet while Ripper put on his jacket and they descended the stairs from their apartment next to the comic shop the two of them owned together. It was their financial "fallback" in the event neither of their music careers took off. Ripper's dream was to be a rock star. Blackout's was to be a DJ. Neither had found success yet, but at least Blackout had a girlfriend. At the moment, Ripper had nothing.
Their shop was located upstairs and over from Magik Beans, which was housed in the corner of the building they all leased in, facing the street. They entered Magik Beans, and as he had come to expect, Ripper felt a sense of peace come over him as he came into the presence of the Tree. He had written some of his best songs in the shadow of those branches, sometimes actually laying back on one of them, strumming his guitar or writing lyrics.
The shop was quiet, a typical Monday night crowd. Blackout bee-lined for Lara, who was sitting at one of the tables, poring over a stack of resumes. They kissed, and Ripper looked at the floor.
"Looks like you've had a day of it," Blackout said, looking at the stack of resumes.
"Those are the rejects," Lara replied. "I've got these--" and she patted three resumes set apart from the rest, "to make my final decision with. Besides, it might not be as difficult as I'd originally thought. I can always hire more than one."
"What are your choices?" Blackout asked.
"Well, the first is a dragon," Lara said, and suddenly Ripper was paying close attention.
"Did you say dragon?" he asked.
"Yes--I put out the help wanted ads throughout the Tree."
"You can do that?"
Lara nodded. "There are quite a few courier services which provide delivery throughout the worlds. You can limit the scope of your search as much as you like."
"And you got a dragon to apply," Ripper mused.
"He was one of the least strange," Lara said. "I had a zombie in here for heaven's sake."
"I need to get a coffee," Mark said, excitement rising in his chest. "You guys want anything?"
Blackout asked Ripper to get him a cafe mocha, and Ripper walked over to the counter, where Mikey was working. Mikey looked up at Ripper through his dreadlocks.
"I don't remember the last time I saw you smiling," Mikey said. "What's up?"
"I'm getting the band back together," Ripper said.