Another chunk of blood was coughed onto the track.
Jonah clutched his chest, his strained gasps echoing throughout the tunnel as he hobbled forward, his left leg bloodied and limp. A pickaxe swung from his other hand, the tip dragging a crooked line through the dirt. The lanterns above caused his shadow to extend before him, its shape malformed with every jerky step. He could feel his bones growing heavy, desperate to collapse in exhaustion.
But the distant growls kept him going.
For years, the beasts had been a constant presence, picking off anyone stranded and alone at night, but never had they been so aggressive. No longer a lone shape in the darkness, now they hunted in packs with an almost sadistic ferocity. Jonah was sure it was because of that vicious old coot Marcus; strange chanting could be heard from the caves night after night, and more of his grotesque charms were being strung up than ever before. At first it was just the miners at risk, disrupting their already dangerous work, but then they started going for the village itself. Jonah and his team had fought tooth and nail just to keep safe, and sometimes they were able to hold the monsters back long enough for everyone to hide away.
Every day made it harder.
Then, coming back to see his home in ruins with no sign of life, a flush of rage ran through him. He’d rushed down into the shaft without a second thought, grabbing his pickaxe with the intention of killing every single monster in his path. First, he would clear the mine, then he would go to the caves and finally kill Marcus.
Three went down before his courage left him.
He dragged himself around a corner, leaning against the support beam to try and catch his breath. At last, he’d reached the beginning of the track, a cart still laden with ore and jewels waiting to be pushed. His dark eyes dragged over the scene, taking in the discarded tools, scattered chunks of ore… and shreds of blood-stained clothing.
Knuckles whitening, a lump forming in his throat, Jonah choked out “… I’m sorry… I’m s-so sorry…”
“Looking for a trinket?”
The high voice cut through the silence, causing Jonah’s head to jerk around in response.
There, tucked into a corner of the cavern… was a stall.
Tall and made of polished ebony, covered with an embroidered canvas of vivid green and blue flowers, small bells adorning the edge. The front tray was covered in jars, bottles, boxes, and an assortment of herbs. Jewels and unrecognisable devices cluttered shelves along the side, while weapons lined the back with their edges glinting in the lantern’s flame; swords, daggers, maces, and bows. Manning the stall was a green skinned goblin, bright yellow eyes poking over a hooked nose. The creature, standing at only around three feet, was perched on the edge of the front tray, garbed in a blue tunic with a white sleeveless robe over the top. A flat cap the same shade as the tunic rested on her head, with a white veil underneath; this gave the illusion of a sheet of white hair.
The colourful garments and multitude of strange items contrasted starkly with the dark, earthy tones of the mine, but nothing was more out of place than her bright, cheerful smile.
“… y-you… you’re still here?” Jonah hissed, a burst of pain running up his leg as he dragged it over to the stall.
“O’course Jonah! Ya didn’t think I’d abandon my best customer, did ya?” She chuckled, her nasally tones reverberating against the empty walls.
Jonah flinched at the sound, turning back to the tunnel with his pickaxe raised.
But he knew the beasts were still around.
“What the fuck are you thinking? This is the worst place to be right now, don’t you know what’s down here?”
She tilted her head, long ears twitching as she responded “Dearie, I know damn well what’s down here. And I’ve got to say I’m impressed with how ya’ve been handling those furry beasties! Keep it up and I’ve no doubt ya’ll end up a local leg-”
“CUT THE CRAP RAYNE!” There was a crack as Jonah’s fist thumped the stall, his features twisting as he stared at her. “Look, you’ve been appearing everywhere lately! You must know how bad things have gotten… how many of us are g-gone. Yet you’re still alive! And you’ve got all… all this!” He swept a desperate hand over the tray, his face twisted in a contortion of fury and desperation. “Can’t you do anything?!”
“… tut tut.” Rayne’s smile never faded throughout his tirade, though her eyes narrowed as she continued. “Ya know I’m just a humble merchant working for the monies. But my services are always open to ya… if ya wish?”
The two watched each other, both unblinking and unwilling to look away.
Insects scuttled along the dirt, while the lantern flame continued to flicker. Jonah had gripped his pickaxe more tightly as he contemplated, not for the first time, taking a swing at this mysterious merchant; how badly he wanted to wipe that calm grin off her face. But the pain in his leg, the faint rumble of the nearby monsters, and the will to survive, made him instead reach into his pocket. A small selection of coins, gems and scraps of metal soon clattered onto the tray.
“This is all I can carry. I need to heal. Fast.”
Rayne ran her fingers through the treasures, selecting a rough emerald and rolling it back and forth. She squinted, ears twitching and tapping her fingernail against its surface before chuckling to herself. Then she selected a bottle full of red liquid, holding it out for Jonah to take.
“Quickest brew I’ve got, should mend those bones good and proper.”
He snatched the bottle from her mottled fingers, popping the cork and downing the potion in one go. A flush of heat rushed through him within seconds. He jerked, feeling muscle stitch and bones snap back into place. The pain was still there, but his mobility was back, and with it a renewed sense of vigour.
Time to make those bastards pay.
“Safe travels Jonah!”
A grunt was all the acknowledgement he gave Rayne as he turned towards the western tunnel, following the sloping ground, and pulling his weapon close to his chest. He gritted his teeth, determined to take down as many monsters with him as he could. If he could get to Marcus then he would, but now he’d settle for raising hell. He even managed to force a smile, dragging in one more breath before turning the corner.
He felt the teeth before he saw them.
Rayne listened to the sounds of tearing flesh for a few minutes.
Then she hopped the stall, strolling along the tunnel until she came across the limp mess of blood and flesh that used to be Jonah.
Ripping into it was a tall beast, covered in shaggy grey fur with a long, curved snout; the snout was now dripping crimson. It looked up at her, green eyes narrowing and shoulders tensing as it prepared to strike. Rayne pulled out a gold coin from her pocket, half stained red with blood; the image of a dagger with two flowers and a ring on the blade was engraved upon it. The beast nearly leapt into a pounce but shuddered to a stop when it caught sight of the coin. It hesitated, bouncing slightly on its heels as if wanting to keep moving, before reluctantly backing away with a petulant growl.
Satisfied with this reaction, Rayne knelt to examine the bloody remains.
She sighed, returning to the stall as the beast once more set about devouring Jonah’s corpse. The back canvas was pulled aside to reveal another sloping tunnel, much steeper than the one she had just come from and with no visible source of light. The darkness did not impede Rayne from walking confidently along, ears twitching every so often as she listened for the sound of voices.
Sure enough, three of them could be heard behind a curtain of fur.
She ducked inside to find a tall cavern, illuminated by glowing crystals. Stood in the middle were three figures, gathered around a wooden table in deep conversation. The table was strewn with jewels, tools, and several bottles of spirits. One was a dwarf, dressed in a brown leather coat over a chainmail dress, her bushy black beard braided down to her knees. Beside her sat a dryad, towering over the others with pale brown skin the texture of bark, while long green tresses all but covered her face, trailing down to the ground; small pink buds hung delicately on the ends. The last of them was a naga, sat on a pile of his own orange and black scales. His yellow eyes bugged out, looking too big for his head, while his fangs protruded from his mouth.
Rayne stopped a few paces away from the group, letting out a sharp whistle. The three stopped talking, turning to look at her inquisitively.
Nothing happened for several moments. All three stared at Rayne, their expressions wide and their mouths opened.
Then the dwarf let out a loud guffaw “Ha! I knew it! Pay up you big tree!”
The dryad sighed, passing a jingling bag to the smirking dwarf before adding in a deep voice “Ugh, I was so certain he would last longer. How did you know Bernice?”
“Lesson number one Willow; the more of a hero complex they have, the more that’s going to bite them in the ass!”
“Tell me he at least died to one of the alphas.” The naga hissed, shuffling to the side as Rayne jumped onto the table.
“No such luck Adaro.” Rayne replied, grabbing the nearest bottle, and taking a long drink. “Random beastie jumped him right after he heeled up. Shame, seemed to still have some fire in him.”
With a low mutter Adaro snatched the bottle off her, taking a swig himself. “Fuck’s sake, and here I thought Helena was a disappointment. At least she went down to a pack!”
The bottle was passed around a few more times, the group listening to details of Jonah’s death and comparing notes of other people they had come across. Soon enough two more figures entered the cavern. One was a tall human with coal-black skin and dark brown eyes, clothed in a yellow robe with a longsword on his back, while the other was a squat man with a hooked nose and pointed ears; they were similar in shape to Rayne’s, but his skin was an almost translucent white.
“Things have been incredibly quiet up there boss, and Marcus is starting to get cocky. I don’t think he’ll play by the rules for long.” The black man said, to which the other man nodded in reply.
“True, let’s hope Talia gets back soon with news.” He looked towards the table, raising an eyebrow at the four figures. “You’re all down here now? How dead is business?”
“Dead as Jonah.” The dwarf laughed, earning a playful punch from the Dryad as she did so.
“Damn, he was one of the last real survivors out there. Looks like we are going to have to move out.”
Rayne groaned, her nose wrinkling as she did so. “Don’t tell me we’ve got to go on the circuit again, I liked settling down!”
“Better the circuit than this godforsaken mine; I would give anything for some sunlight.”
“You know if Bernice can’t deal with it then it must be bad.” Willow commented. “There has to be somewhere we can go.”
“There’s always Parthon?” The black skinned man took the bottle from Rayne, draining it in one gulp.
“No. Sorry Kanza, but I am not spending another night with those self-righteous, judgemental idiots.”
“Damn right sister.” Bernice banged her fist on the table, knocking down the remaining bottles with a clatter as she did so.
“Just a suggestion, no need to take it out on the drink.”
The group exploded into a roar of laughter, even the boss chuckling along. “Well, let’s at least see how the haul has stacked up.”
All of them began pulling out an assortment of coins, jewels, figures, and devices, earning an approving grunt from their leader. They were picked through, sorting the fake from the genuine and shares were divided between them, while the remaining dregs of alcohol were glugged down. Half an hour passed before a loud squawk caught their attention, the group look up to the ceiling.
A harpy, blue feathers glistening in the light of the crystals soared down to join them, a satchel wrapped around her. She landed on the ground beside the boss, giving his ear an affectionate nip as she did so. “Hi papa, got some letters here.”
“Perfect timing darling, we will be moving on soon.” He took the envelopes from her, sifting through them and scanning the letters with his eyes. The others watched in anticipation, all but holding their breath as they waited. Soon a grin spread across his face. “Oh, we have hit the jackpot! My fellow guild members, what would you say about a new place currently going through a bit of a civil war. With the added bonus of an invading force… and a necromantic criminal underworld?”
The cheering ricocheted off the cavern walls, all of them laughing and whooping with unrestrained excitement. Kanza and Adaro both slapped the table hard. Bernice jumped to her feet, chainmail rattling as she danced a jig, Willow soon clapping along. Talia tried to copy the dwarf’s movements, her wings beating gusts of wind across the group. Rayne was the first to ask, “Where we going boss?!”
This only made the excitement grew. “The city? That place is huge! We could make a fortune there!”
“And we will!” The boss stood up, hands on his hips and a smirk on his lips. “Pack it up everyone, we set off at first light! First impressions are important after all, and we’ve got some important folks to meet if we’re gonna set up shop. And remember,” He pulled a gold coin out of his pocket, with the same design and blood stain of Rain’s. “Respect the bloody coin!”
All of them pulled out their own identical coins, holding them up in a circle, the metal shimmering under the crystal light.
“RESPECT THE BLOODY COIN!”
Decided to start a new fantasy series, inspired by the merchants of Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil Village (notably that line from Duke indicating he knew the merchant). It’s going to be more of a typical fantasy setting (still dark fantasy though) and a bit more story-focused than Demon Skinned Postwoman, though the characters will still be the main driving force. I am loving being able to create a new world and cast, and hopefully it won’t be long before the next one is up.
Also I am stupidly proud of the title ‘Respect The Bloody Coin’; definitely the best title I have ever come up with.
Here’s the itch.io link – https://anmanarrative.itch.io/respect-the-bloody-coin-episode-1-jonahs-purchase