I’ve fallen crazily behind on this whole writing thing while working on funding a new project of mine, and my computer is filled with nothing but drafts. I figured I’d put one of these drafts out into the open:
Felix absent-mindedly fingered the coin that hung from around his neck. He could feel the touch on the coin just as clearly as if he were rubbing his own skin. He pressed the coin between his thumb and forefinger, and for just a moment, imagined he could feel the coin squishing, giving way as though it were his own flesh. He drew his fingernail back and forth along the coin. It tingled. Once, the tingling had felt distant, like an itch between his shoulder blades that he couldn’t quite find. That thought had bothered him once, but now it comforted him. The tension in his shoulders lessened. He was safe. Protected.
A warm tingling spread across his skin. A warning. He looked up at the sky, questioningly. Dark clouds stretched to the horizon, with not even a hint of the sun. Felix shrugged. He had gotten this far trusting his instincts. He looked around for a moment, scanning the horizon, then turned and trudged off.
The bar wasn’t impressive. That would have been a nice way of putting it. The door looked like it was rotting off of its hinges, although the smell would have given that away, and there was more peel than paint. But the walls were sturdy, and the windows fully boarded on the inside. At least they were prepared. Felix rested his hand on the door and paused for a moment. He pushed against the door, and it groaned, dragging along the ground as it opened. He stepped slowly inside, and the door swung shut behind him.
At first, he couldn’t see anything in the dark of the room. Unfortunately, his other senses worked just fine. The musk in the air was so thick he could taste it, all the blood and alcohol and sweat from drunken bar fights and sex. He heard a few grunts and wet smacks from somewhere to his right, and then a heavy thud. He guessed that meant a fight, but his guess was as good as any. He took another step forward, and heard his boots squelch. He couldn’t yet see what he was standing in. Perhaps that was for the best. He swallowed the growing lump in his throat and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to adapt to the dim room. A few embers lit the room.
In front of him was a game of cards, and judging from the scraps of paper on the table, it had just started. Not nearly enough possessions were up for grabs yet. In the corner, a woman had pinned somebody else against the wall — man or woman, Felix couldn’t tell — and was thrusting rhythmically into them. Felix couldn’t help but think the rhythmic bouncing of her breasts funny, if hypnotic in a way he didn’t quite understand. Against the wall, a man was blowing into a thin reed and dancing, although Felix could hardly hear the music in the room. Maybe he wasn’t playing anything at all.
He turned away from the spectacle and walked over to the bar. A young man stood on the other side. Too young for a bartender. Hardly old enough to shave, he guessed.
“I’d like to set up with a room for the night. No questions asked.”
The boy looked around uncertainly for a moment. “Pa’ll be back in a moment, but I think we’re all full up for the night.”
Felix grimaced at the young boy, then looked around him at the bar. When he turned back, an older man was standing behind the bar. “My son says you’re looking for a room. I hate t’disappoint such a fine sir as yourself, but we’re all booked up for the night, and the usual fare is already covered for the night,” he winked and grinned widely at Felix.
Felix reached into his shirt, to his chest, and pulled the Coin out. In response, the embers in the room flared, the bright light casting shadows across the room. He rested the Coin on the bar, his finger pressed atop it. A thin layer of frost spread slowly out from the Coin. The bartender’s eyes widened, and a look of fear spread across his face. Beads of sweat broke out on his brow. “I’m s-sorry, sir. I didn’t recognize you. I’m sure I can make a room available. Give me a moment.” He backed slowly away, his eyes fixed on the Coin.
The young boy stared at the Coin, transfixed. Eventually, he tore his eyes away, up to Felix’s face. Timidly, he raised his hand.
“Yes, boy?” The gruffness in his voice would have bothered Felix once, but there was no room for that.
“C-can I…” The boy looked down at his feet for a moment, then looked back up at Felix. “Can I see your Tribute?”
Felix frowned, his brow furrowing into a mass of wrinkles. They hadn’t taken anything. They normally did. Being a Coinbearer came with a cost. A Tribute. But he was whole. Physically, at least. The Coins had driven him apart from the one thing he’d had in the world, his friends. They’d underestimated how dangerous a man with nothing to lose could be. And he was coming for them.