After several unremembered hours, he awoke in a sweat. His mouth was dry to the point of cracking into pieces and streaks of lightning shot across the edges of his vision. Looking outside, he could see the sun had dropped far below the horizon, but the late-summer light would still hold for a while. Enough to guide him back to the inn, at least. He had only slept a couple of bells, but it was apparently enough to burn off most of the ale and brandy he had consumed earlier. He was still slightly drunk, but he was at least able to function. The world was no longer spinning, and comfortable shades and shadows of twilight were a welcome sight to his swollen eyes.
He made his way out to the rear of his home and drew a bucket from the well. He drank deep and splashed some over himself. The water was cool and refreshing, but he still had a different kind of thirst. Slipping back inside, he descended into the darkness of the cellar, and felt his way toward the large oaken chest. He unlocked the container and took out several coins. This will not last. This will not last.
Zhy brushed off the voice and wandered back into the house. An almost-empty bottle of sweet-smelling oil lay on a small table in an otherwise empty kitchen. He applied a few drops to his neck. As he moved toward the hall and the front door, he caught an image of himself in a dirty and smudged mirror that he kept meaning to sell or destroy.
A pale and drawn face greeted him. Most southern Beldeners were darker, having had more exposure to the sun, but Zhy's golden tan had faded under the dim lights of the inn, and the wasting effects of ale and brandy. His brown hair was shoulder-length and unkempt. He had tried combing it, but it only cooperated when soaking wet—and he was too eager to get back to the inn to attempt a bath. Maybe later. His father had provided him with broad and muscular shoulders, which now drooped and sagged. He was fairly tall, with long skinny legs. His avariciousness for alcohol led to an insatiable appetite, and he had the beginnings of a small paunch growing. Too often, however, the remnants of any meal wound up either in the gutters of Belden City, or in the rotting and neglected field behind his home. Otherwise he would be far heavier in the middle.
He spat and turned away. He hated his image, and what he had become, but the inn was pulling him. I have to get rid of that mirror, he thought with a sudden rush of self-loathing. There was a rope in the basement, and strong beams—quickly he forced the thought out of his mind and instead thought of the inn and its offerings. His mouth watered at the very thought ale touching his lips. In the far background, the sound of the surf only intensified his thirst. But, as with ale, he could drink the ocean and still never be satisfied.
He grumbled and finally made his way outside, his nostrils filling with the scent of the newly-applied fragrance. This stuff doesn't work so good anymore, he thought, but did not want to admit to himself that most women were not interested in a drunken, disheveled lout, even if he did have money.
He pulled at a dingy handle and flung the door shut behind him. Compared to his earlier stumbling and fumbling, his gait was now was purposeful and smooth. If it weren't for his appearance, and the crumbling building he was vacating, one would think he was a somewhat distinguished gentleman. But others who knew better saw only a drunk who could carry himself with a façade of sobriety.
And a destitute one at that, he thought bitterly. Not destitute. Not yet. But a bare whisker away from living in the streets, or the edge of town, or not even living at all. That wouldn't be so bad. The dark thought flittered across his mind, but he shoved it away. All he needed to do was get to the inn and get some ale. Everything would be fine.
A young boy playing sticks in the street startled at Zhy and scampered off. Must have been talking out loud again, he thought.
Zhy cursed and ambled along the familiar route to the inn. An entire city bustled about him, teeming in its pulsing rush of humanity engaged in countless daily chores, transactions, and manual labor. It was all a dulled blur on the periphery. For Zhy, the path to the inn was a dully-lit tunnel whose light was a brimming mug of ale, or a glass of strong spirits. His feet carried him past obstructions, around ox carts, and deftly out of the way of a large man carrying an oaken beam, while his eyes saw none of this—so focused were they on slaking an impossible thirst.