Blit crept toward the body, fingering two vials which, when mixed, would create an explosive powerful enough to separate a person from their more important appendages.
Just in case.
The body was a woman, unconscious but still very much alive. She must have gasped in pain and then passed out again. No wonder—her leather armor bore a gash the length of Blit's forearm. How had she survived at all? Blit leaned in to see the woman's face.
He nearly dropped his vials. Allyra! He could even smell the Puddleglut's "famous ale" on her skin.
She still breathed, but barely. A trickle of blood had dried at the corner of her mouth. Trying very hard not to think about how she'd gotten there (in leather armor? And was that her warhammer?), Blit unstrapped the armor to get at her wound.
She had a ragged cut from her left hip to her lower ribs on the right. A serrated blade, like the kind Gedrak typically carried. Blit grabbed some rags from his pack. He cleaned the wound as best he could and wrapped it tight until the bleeding stopped. She was still breathing when he finished, which was something, but she wasn't waking up, and for all of Blit's tricks, he had nothing that could wake her. Ironically, patching up people wasn't in his job description.
What the hell could he do? He should kill her and pretend he'd never seen her alive, or tell Odim and have him do the job. Just the thought of that made him sick, though. No, he had to finish his work and get her the hell out of there. Somehow.
That night may not have been his best work. Every two minutes, he looked back to make sure Allyra still breathed, and every other minute to make sure Odim or Kip hadn't come in early.
What had happened? From the mess, it was clear most of the Banshees had been present, Gedrak included. Blit found what looked like an adamantine ring from a mail shirt. Gedrak certainly didn't own anything like that, nor was Allyra wearing anything so expensive. So who else had been here? Someone from outside the Puddles, certainly—and not the watch either.
And where did Allyra come in? She was a damned waitress!
With two bodies to cart, he'd need more than his bronze liquid. He drank the bronze and then added another extract that tasted like leather. His muscles bulged with the added strength the second elixir gave him, and he put one body on each shoulder like they were rolls of carpet.
As he shifted Allyra's weight, she cried out again. Blit's breath caught in his throat. What would Odim and Kip do if they saw her alive? And bandaged! Cayden's breath, what was Blit thinking? At best, they'd kill her immediately. More likely, they'd kill Blit too.
What he wanted to do was run past the goons and disappear, but that would make them more suspicious, not less. He'd just have to hope they didn't notice her. He shifted Allyra to better hide her bandage and then stepped outside.
"Job's done," he muttered, facing the street rather than the goons so his head would block any view of Allyra's stomach.
Odim grunted and left to check on Blit's work. Kip remained outside. He still rubbed his arm. He winced whenever he moved it too much, but the bandage wasn't very bloody—a blunt wound.
"What are you looking at?" Kip growled.
Blit looked away. Allyra breathed raggedly against his ear. Even with his extra strength, he felt like her breaths were rocking his whole body. Gods, he needed to get out of there.
"Looks good," Odim said behind them.
"Great," Blit said, relieved. "I'm gone."
He was several steps away when Odim said, "Hold it!"
Blit turned around slowly, expecting knives out and an inevitable chase—one he would almost certainly lose, even with his vials. When he saw Odim holding only a coin pouch, he let out the breath he'd been holding.
"You're jumpy tonight, Patch Man."
"Can you blame me?" Blit managed. "You two are spooked as hell."
Odim and Kip gave each other a look. "But why are you skittish? You don't know nothing about it. Do you?"
A hundred lies darted through Blit's head, each one worse than the last. Anything he said would make them question him more, make them doubt.
So he didn't say anything. He grabbed several vials, downed all of them at once, and then walked toward the goons.
Odim and Kip stepped back involuntarily. "What do you know, pinhead?" Odim said, a familiar look of disgust on his face. "Did you see something in there?"
"Nothing." The extracts began taking effect. He no longer walked toward them, but floated. Impressively, they stood their ground (though probably Blit was just less intimidating than he thought he was). He reached out for the coin pouch. As he touched it, the pouch melted into his hand and disappeared—the best kind of magic trick, what with it being actual magic.
Odim and Kip gasped and jumped back (finally—what did it take to frighten some people?).
Blit said, "Just doing my job," and before they could ask any more questions, he flew up over the rooftops and into the night.
∗ ∗ ∗
He was shaking when he got home. He'd dumped the Banshee corpse on Wallow Lane, then carried Allyra inside his crumbling hovel—all invisibly of course, but his nerves couldn't take much more of this. He was an alchemist, dammit. He shouldn't even have to spell "skullduggery."
The night was using up his extracts faster than most, and he wasn't finished yet. Allyra was still unconscious. He'd thought about taking her to the Puddleglut and leaving her there, but if they didn't already know about her secret life as a goon-hammer, then he might be betraying her. Besides, he was too low on extracts to get her there safely. Instead, he decided to go to the Puddleglut himself and ask for help.
He downed a vial that scratched his throat and filled his nose with the scent of lemongrass. In the mirror—a shattered, grubby thing that he kept only for this purpose—he watched as his hellish features disappeared. His horns sank into his head. His feet became smaller, with five pink toes, while his digitigrade heels sank to the ground and his scales became a pair of woolen breeches. His skin kept its amber cast (nothing's perfect), but he looked more human than most people. Good enough for what he needed to do, at least.
He walked to the Puddleglut—couldn't afford using his faster formulae, in case his night with the Banshees wasn't over yet. The pub door hung open as usual, but inside was dark and quiet. Blit sniffed the air detecting nothing unusual. He patted his cloak to reassure himself that he had vials to spare, and stepped inside.
Of course, the dark didn't hinder a hellspawn. To him, the bar looked exactly as it had when he'd been there last, sans people. No sign of a struggle even. Everyone was just... gone.
He searched behind the bar. Everything was there, even the cashbox and a half-empty bottle of Qadiran cider. The shrine to Cayden Cailean on the back wall smelled of melted paraffin, but the wicks were cool to the touch. They'd left some time ago, then—but why? And why in such a hurry that they didn't even close the door?
The door to the back room stood open a crack. Maybe he'd find some clues in there. He pushed his way inside and hissed through his teeth. He'd expected some kind of office, or a small bedroom for the barkeep. Instead he found a gods-damned Caydenite cleric revival tent. Much had been removed, but there were still stoles, tunics, and a single greave, most of which bore the religion's distinctive ale mug. No less than three Placards of Wisdom hung on the walls, two of them with texts Blit had never seen.
"Who the hell are these people?" The room had been emptied in a hurry, but there were loose pieces of paper lying around. Notes. Most made no sense, but a couple of them were enlightening. The first of these was a sketched-out organizational chart with Gedrak's name near the top, a question mark above him, and names Blit knew all too well beneath: Odim, Kip, Sidro, Alver, and half a dozen other Banshees.
The other note bore no names, but the dates and times on it matched Blit's visits to the Puddleglut exactly. If he had any doubts they were about him, the most recent date was the previous Starday—the last time he'd been there—and next to it the words: "Scared him off?"
He crushed the note in his hand. All this time, Allyra had used him. The Puddleglut was some kind of Caydenite spy house, and Blit was one of their sources. Gods, he was such a fool!
He patted his pockets, looking for something that would destroy the whole place, when he caught a whiff of oil and smoke and realized someone else had the same idea.
While he was still inside.
Blit bolted out of the back room, and a wave of heat blasted him in the face. Smoke poured into his lungs until he couldn't stop coughing.
In between coughs, he caught the scent of alchemist's fire mixed with the smoke. Whoever had done this wanted it done fast and right. There was no time. He ran to the back, a pair of vials already in his hands. He swallowed the extracts by the time the first explosion rocked the pub. He burst out of the door at supernatural speed, not caring whether anyone could see him or if the arsonists were still around. He guzzled his last invisibility extract and ran straight home.
∗ ∗ ∗
Blit slammed the door behind him and leaned against it. His hands wouldn't stop trembling. He felt like he couldn't get enough oxygen.
What the hell was happening? First the dead guard, then Allyra, now the whole Puddleglut had gone up in flames. The incidents were related—they had to be. Think, Blit, think!
The Banshees had killed a member of the city watch. But that hadn't scared them as much as whatever had happened with Allyra. Had they been meeting with their boss, the mysterious question mark above Gedrak's name on the Caydenites' notes? Had Allyra stumbled onto something?
And then who had burned down the Puddleglut? Were the Caydenites covering their tracks or the Banshees? Or someone else?
"Who the hell are you?" said a voice.
Blit squinted in a sudden glare. Allyra stood ten feet away from him, lantern in one hand and warhammer brandished in the other. "Where am I? Why am I here?"
Blit cocked his head to the side. "Allyra, it's me."
Her eyebrows knit in confusion. "I don't know you. How do you know my name?"
Right. His alchemical disguise was still in effect. "I'm Blit," he said, as he looked for a formula that would cancel the extract's effect.
"Blit?" She lowered the hammer and stepped forward. "You look... wrong."
That wasn't the word he would have used. "It's a disguise. Watch." He drank the vial he'd found. He knew it was working by the way her lips turned upward.
"Oh, thank the Drunk. How did you...?"
"Become more human?"
"Alchemy." He could tell by her expression that this surprised her, but only briefly. No doubt she was piecing together other clues she knew about him. Well, at least she didn't know everything. "Wait." He looked her up and down. "How are you okay? When I left, you were half dead."
She put a hand on her stomach. "I'm not great, but yeah, okay. Blit, I'm... not a waitress. I mean, I am, but I'm also a—"
"Caydenite." Blit snarled. Of course, she'd healed herself. All the revelations of the last hour came rushing back. "How long have you been using me to spy on the Banshees for you?"
Allyra's face turned to utter shock. "Blit, I haven't been using you!"
"Oh, no?" He marched toward her, taking joy in the fact that she seemed afraid of him. "What about the notes I found in the Puddleglut? ‘Scared him off?' one said. Was that your handwriting or did you dictate that one?"
"The Puddleglut? What were you...?" Her face became serious. "Blit, you don't understand."
"Ha! If there's one thing I understand, it's betrayal. It's my fault, really. Suspicion should be my normal response to someone actually wanting to listen to me, you know? I can't believe I bought your act."
"Gods, Blit, no!" She dropped the hammer with a crash and put her head to her hand. "I'm so sorry. That's not at all—"
"Really, I should thank whoever burned down the Puddleglut. It would've been a waste of materials for me to do it. You know, I—"
"Blit, shut up!" She put a hand on his cheek. The shock of human touch was the only reason he obeyed, really. "Someone torched the Puddleglut?"
He nodded. "While I was in it, no less."
She moved quickly, dousing the lantern and grabbing her hammer and a cloak. "We have to get out of here. Now!"
"What? Nobody knows you're here, and who would bother with me?" A quiet voice nagged that he'd been afraid of just that a short while ago, but he brushed it away. "I want to know how long you've been playing me."
"Blit, really, I—"
She was interrupted by a knock on the door. It was so heavy that paint chips leapt off the doorframe and dust fell from cracks in the wall.
"Patch man!" shouted a gruff and all-too-familiar voice. "It's Gedrak. Open up!"
Coming Soon: Tying up loose ends in Chapter Three 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.