Seven silvers and a copper. Pesh, grit, and other drugs tossed like bread flour. One dead body, bled out on the floor of the abandoned hostel. Blit sighed. The Banshees hadn't even tried to hide this mess. They relied on him too much lately. Blit set down his pack and got to work.
The disreputable knew Blit as the Patch Man—an ugly demonspawn with a gift for cleaning up after folks. The guilds of the Puddles hired him to patch up their problems and keep the city watch off their backs. Eighty percent of the time, that required only towels, soap, and a meticulous attention to detail (though to be fair, the criminals who made their home in the Puddles frequently lacked all three).
The rest of the time, though, even the most fastidious murderer needed someone with Blit's unique skills.
He pocketed the money (he considered it a tip) and swept the brown grit powder into a bag. The blood was more difficult, but Blit had devised a few formulae over the years for just this sort of work. He pulled a flask from his coat and sprinkled its contents on the floor where a gallon or two of blood had soaked into the wood. The dark stain bubbled and hissed until it became an oily, translucent substance, which Blit wiped up with an old rag.
What had happened here? It looked like a business transaction gone wrong. Probably the poor bastard on the floor couldn't pay up, or else he upset someone he shouldn't have. Gedrak, most likely; that son of an orc couldn't take an insult if you paid him, and his face was eminently insultable. Not that Blit was one to talk.
Regardless, it was unusually sloppy for the Banshees to leave all of this to Blit. He should be glad—sloppy guilds meant steady work for him—but every time they pulled him on a job, he was keenly aware of what would happen if he missed something. If it meant saving their own skins, nobody would hesitate to patch up the Patch Man.
Blit slid his hands underneath the corpse's arms and hefted the torso experimentally. It weighed about two hundred forty, maybe two hundred fifty pounds. Far more than Blit could carry. He reached into his coat again and fingered an array of vials. Dozens of them. His extracts. None of them were labeled, but even if Blit didn't have a strict organizational system, he could identify each one by color, smell, viscosity.
He selected a bronze liquid with the consistency (though hardly the flavor) of red wine. It went down his throat like axle grease, and within moments, he could feel the change within him. He put on his pack, which now felt as light as though it were empty. Then he grabbed the body by the armpits and hefted it onto his back. The arms fell across his chest and he held the wrists in front of him, so it looked like he carried a very large, sleeping child. It weighed him down, but with the bronze fluid in his system he could walk for miles before the burden even tired him.
Taking one last look at the scene—clean, but not so clean that it might raise suspicion—he turned and walked out of the hostel's double doors.
The goon outside sneered. They always sneered. It had become annoyingly predictable. "Patch Man."
"Odim," Blit said in return. He pointed his chin toward the doors. "Job's done."
Odim grunted and went inside. He probably thought he was performing a necessary task, checking up on Blit's work. But if that thug were capable of the necessary level of scrutiny to supervise Blit's work, then he would have pocketed the silvers before Blit had even gotten there. No, getting inspected by the Banshees wasn't what motivated Blit to do his job well.
Now getting killed by the Banshees...
Odim returned after a minute—not nearly long enough to determine whether Blit had done a good job. "Looks good," he said and handed Blit a small jingling pouch.
Blit knew without opening it that it wasn't enough. "I get ten. Twelve if there's a body." He shifted the corpse on his back to emphasize the point.
Odim shook his fat head. "Gedrak says eight. Says you're getting lazy. You missed something last week."
Lying ratsack. Blit never missed anything. "What, exactly, did he say I missed?"
Odim shrugged. "Ask him. I just do what I'm told."
Blit let out a weary sigh. If he'd missed something, then Odim was a wizard-in-training. But was Gedrak holding out on him or just Odim? "Tell you what. Give me two more, and I won't tell Gedrak you pocketed the rest."
Odim rubbed his chin between thumb and fat forefinger. "No dice, pinhead." He referred, of course, to the copious horns spiking out of Blit's skull. "No reason both of us need to be in trouble with the boss."
Not acting on his own, then. But he'd had to think about it, which meant he had the whole pay with him.
So, Gedrak was afraid of how the Patch Man would react to getting stiffed. "How's this?" Blit unfolded his legs to their full height, putting him eye to eye with the goon. He rested one of his toe claws ever so noticeably on Odim's boot and—just for that extra dramatic effect—hissed a phrase in the demonic tongue that turned the air around them pitch black. "You give me all the rest, and I let you—"
"Get off me, imp-cricket." Odim lifted his foot so suddenly that it threw Blit off balance. He stumbled back. Odim shoved him in the chest, knocking him the rest of the way down, causing the dead body to flop to the ground next to him.
Odim shivered and pulled up his jacket collar, though the night was warm enough. He turned his back on Blit and hustled up the cobbled alley without another word.
Disgusted, but not scared. Blit pushed himself off the ground and picked up the body. What an idiot he was—probably the only half-demon in all of Avistan who couldn't frighten anyone older than six. He still had a corpse to deal with. He produced two more vials from his inner pockets and downed them one at a time. Immediately, he disappeared (literally—that's the beauty of alchemy) and ran with inhuman speed to Wallow Lane.
Nobody came to Wallow Lane, so it didn't matter that his invisibility wore off by the time he got there. He climbed an old bridge, half of which had collapsed into the waves years ago. The ocean lapped at the pillars below. Even at low tide, the water was deeper here than anywhere else accessible by land. The perfect place to dump a corpse—or dozens of corpses, in Blit's case.
He lugged the body off his back and began tying loose rubble around its waist to weigh it down. All the while, he muttered ineffectual curses at Odim, at his boss, Gedrak, at all the damn Banshees. Those torble-pods needed him, certainly more than he needed them. Why did he play janitor for them and let them cheat him at the same time?
He knew the answer, of course. He'd tried the straight route, many times. It always ended in betrayal. At least the Banshees cheated him to his face.
He got ready to push the corpse off the bridge's broken edge when he caught a glint of something inside the man's jacket. Another tip, he thought. Maybe it would make up for what he'd lost.
He reached in, but instead of coins he found a silver crest. He hissed through his teeth. This man wasn't some grit addict who wouldn't pay up.
He was city watch.
∗ ∗ ∗
A couple hours later, Blit was face first in his third mug at a place called the Puddleglut. The beer tasted like rotten lemon juice, but at least the barkeep didn't sneer at him when he ordered, and the only other folks who were here at dawn weren't conscious enough to give him dirty looks.
The watch. What the hell was Gedrak thinking? The Banshees were more of a gang than a guild. They couldn't handle this kind of heat. They were good enough at what they did, although smuggling drugs and slaves through the Puddles wasn't exactly difficult (and considering how often they called upon Blit, maybe they weren't even very good at that). What would they do when twenty members of the city guard came through the district like drunken hill giants?
"No." Blit shook his head, aware that he was muttering aloud, but too fuzzed out to decide whether or not he should. "They can get themselves hanged all they want. Ain't my job to care."
Blit was inculpable, at least as much as anyone else in the Puddles. He just cleaned things up, didn't ask questions, didn't make trouble (not even when he tried to, apparently). If the watch came, he'd just hide out for a while and then work for the next guild to emerge from the depths.
Unless the Banshees scapegoated him. Shax's knives, that's exactly what they'd do.
"Blitterton!" said a cheerful voice behind him.
Blit groaned. "Would someone actually name their child that?"
"Well, I know Blit's short for something." Allyra took the stool next to Blit and leaned back against the bar. Her chestnut hair fell off bare, muscular shoulders and into a puddle of ale. She didn't seem to care. "Damn, Blit, you look worse than usual."
He grunted in annoyance. "Thanks."
She laughed. "You know what I mean, Blitskin."
"Not it either."
"Damn." She pounded the bar. "I'll figure it out eventually. So what the hell's wrong?"
Blit stared into his drink. He was going to tell her, of course. That's why he came here. Not for her looks, of course—human beauty was... odd. No, Blit talked to Allyra because he'd never met another soul in his life who would willingly start a conversation with him that didn't begin with: "Get out."
"Something happened at work tonight. I'm not sure what to do about it."
"Tell me." She refilled his mug as though she were the waitress—which she was, but you couldn't tell since Blit was the only customer with his head upright.
"It's that one gang."
She nodded. "The smugglers." Allyra knew about Blit's work—not the details, of course, but enough to know what kind of person Blit really was. He had started telling her to disgust her, honestly. To make her go away. She never did.
In a way, he felt like it absolved him—so long as Allyra listened to him, he couldn't be that bad.
"They're in over their heads, I think." And he told her as much of the story as he could get away with: about the drugs, the body, the argument he'd had with Odim. Always as vague as possible, never naming names and never saying the words "city watch."
Allyra listened intently, with compassion. "You're afraid someone's going to come after you."
"Maybe. I guess it's always a danger, but..."
She touched him lightly. Not on his human arm, but on his scaled leg. "I won't say you're safe, Blit, 'cause I don't know that. But it seems to me your gang has more to worry about than you right now. Maybe stay out of it for a while." She chuckled. "Besides, your boss will forget in a week. You know how short half-orc memories are."
Blit looked up sharply. He'd never told Allyra that Gedrak was a half-orc. Or had he? He couldn't remember now, and the drink wasn't helping. It didn't matter. If she knew that much, then Blit was in danger.
He slammed the mug onto the bar, splattering it. "I gotta go," he slurred and stumbled out into the dark predawn.
∗ ∗ ∗
He was so scared after that, he didn't leave his house for five days. ("House" was probably a strong term. It was essentially three and a half walls on the roof of a rowhouse whose neighbors had collapsed years ago.)
How much did Allyra know? Who had she told? Probably nobody. She was just a waitress, for Aroden's sake. Blit had probably just drunk too much and let slip something he shouldn't have.
Anyway, Allyra wasn't the real problem. It was Gedrak and the watch he was worried about. He should leave town, or at least move, but some naive, stupid part of him wouldn't let him until he knew he had no choice.
His corner of the Puddles stayed quiet until late that Oathday. Someone knocked on his door ("door" also being a strong term). He peeked over the lip of the flat roof to see Odim and another Banshee named Kip in the street. They were breathing heavily, as though they'd run halfway across town. Kip rubbed a bandaged wound on his arm.
"What do you want?"
"Patch Man?" Odim peered up at him, squinting. Humans couldn't see as clearly in the dark as Blit could. "We got... trouble," he said between breaths. "Need you... now."
Blit did nothing for a moment. Odim looked pale. He must have known about the dead guard, but that hadn't fazed him at all. Had something worse happened?
He sighed. He wouldn't refuse them. If he did, he'd have to run again, leaving Absalom for good. So long as there was a chance he could stay, he'd take it. "I'll be right down."
Odim and Kip led him a couple miles away, to an old wooden warehouse near the Foreign Quarter. They said nothing the whole way, walking faster than Blit would have liked.
Odim waved for him to go in and then sat down at the entrance like it was a normal job, like he and Kip hadn't shown up at his door with sheet-white faces.
"That's it?" Blit said. "What happened to you two?"
"Nothing. Just do your job," Odim said, pulling out a cigar. Blit turned away, and Odim grabbed his arm. "But do it fast, yeah? We don't know how much time we got."
Blit nodded and walked into the dark warehouse. Signs of struggle were everywhere. Fresh blood, shattered woodwork—recently shattered, as evidenced by the splinters dusting the floor and the warhammer near the dead body. There were two bodies this time, one of them Gedrak's goon. Blit set his pack down to work.
As soon as he did, he heard a faint cry. He stiffened. The noise had come from inside the warehouse, right next to him, in fact. He turned slowly.
It didn't take him long to find the source. One of the bodies was still alive.
Coming Soon: Deep trouble for Blit in Chapter Two of Adam Heine's "The Patch Man."
Adam Heine is the Design Lead for the computer RPG Torment: Tides of Numenéra. His fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Thaumatrope. Find him online at adamheine.com.
Illustration by Kuba Witowski.