"So where do we go?" Blit pulled the hood of his cloak over his head. He wasn't used to being out at sunset. He felt exposed.
"Green warehouse at the old pier," Allyra said. "We've known about it for a while, but our cell isn't equipped for large-scale rescue, so we never moved on it."
"So the two of us are going to do what you and all your friends couldn't pull off."
She lowered her chin with a smirk. "Yup."
Blit sighed. She was enjoying this far more than he was.
The green warehouse lay in one of the lowest parts of the Puddles. The bottom of it was perpetually wet, covered in barnacles and algae—that's why they called it the green warehouse, apparently.
There were no guards going in. Blit and Allyra dashed up the stairs to a long corridor with rooms on either side. There were no guards here either—the Banshees were busy with the slaves imprisoned in each of the rooms. Blit and Allyra entered the first room on the right.
Thwack! Allyra's hammer sang. A Banshee fell to the floor.
Blit winced. "That was Alver!"
"I know. Will you get the key?"
He poked Alver in the chest. "I think you killed him!"
"Blit." She put a hand on his shoulder. "We don't have much time. Are we helping the slaves or the bad guys?"
Blit wasn't sure—just a couple days ago, he was one of the bad guys.
"The key, Blit."
He nodded in spite of himself.
While he was digging around in Alver's pockets (a disgusting thought, whether Alver was dead or not), she gave the slaves directions to a place in the Foreign Quarter where other Caydenites could keep them safe for a while. The slaves were a mishmash of races and cultures, and not all of them spoke the common tongue, but those that did translated quickly for the others.
"Got it," Blit said. He tossed the key to Allyra, who unlocked the first slave—man, not slave. That man began unlocking the rest.
While they set themselves free, Allyra turned to Blit. "We have to split up."
"What? But I thought—"
"I said there's no time. Listen, I'll try to make noise about it. Hopefully they'll all come after me."
"Then you help the ones who are left." She leaned forward and—to Blit's simultaneous surprise, joy, and disgust—kissed him on the cheek. "Be careful."
Then she was gone. A couple of the prisoners who hadn't been freed yet stared at him.
"Shut up," he said. Realizing they hadn't said anything, and maybe didn't understand Taldane anyway, he added, "Get yourselves out of here."
Blit poked his head into the hall, ducking back quickly as a handful of thugs chased Allyra out of one room and down the dark corridor. Blit stepped into the room she'd vacated.
Kip and two other Banshees were still there. One of them, whose name Blit couldn't remember, slashed a knife across a halfling slave's throat. The halfling fell to the ground, choking on his own blood. Blit gagged. He'd seen the aftermath of murder, but he'd never thought about how it happened. This is what the guilds did—killed for their own gain.
And Blit was absolutely complicit.
Five other prisoners—men and women—lay on the ground dead, while another dozen trembled, waiting their turns. Blit didn't think at all. He mixed and tossed two bombs before anyone knew he was there. The entire building shook with the blasts (so much for Allyra's distraction). When the smoke cleared, Kip and Sidro were lying on the ground—most of them, anyway.
The other Banshee (Nye! That was his name) charged. Blit slipped a vial quickly to his mouth, giving himself a burst of speed, and he ducked easily. He dashed to where part of Kip lay and grabbed his club, then drank the vial that tasted like leather.
Nye attacked again, clipping Blit on the arm, but he barely felt it. He moved so fast now that he was able to get behind Nye and whack him on the back of the head, dropping him easily.
A slow, heavy clap sounded behind him. "Well, well," Gedrak said. "I didn't—"
He only stopped because Blit had smashed the club into the half-orc's face.
He hadn't really meant to. Normally Gedrak's voice would have frozen him still, but something about the adrenaline or the extracts he'd drunk or the fact that several dozen prisoners were counting on him to not die (not yet, anyway), again drove him to act without thinking.
He hadn't expected the club to splinter on Gedrak's jaw, though.
Gedrak staggered to one side but didn't fall down (also somewhat unexpected). With a feral growl, he drew his serrated blade and attacked.
Blit rolled away, grabbing Nye's short sword on the way. Unfortunately, Blit had no idea how to use a sword, but he was fast enough that Gedrak had trouble fending off all of his pathetic attacks.
He needed more firepower. He led Gedrak out into the corridor where his bombs wouldn't accidentally hurt anyone. Then with his extra speed, he leapt backward and tossed a bomb at Gedrak's feet.
The half-orc howled in fury. But when the smoke cleared, instead of Gedrak pieces, the guild boss's ugly face snarled only inches away. Reflexively, Blit reached for another vial, but Gedrak slashed at his cloak. The jagged blade missed Blit's mortally important parts, for which he was grateful to no god in particular (all of them equally, really), but it ripped an enormous gash through his pockets. Chemicals splattered all over Blit. Glass vials sprinkled on the floor, many of them shattering, none of them mixing into some fortuitous cocktail that blew up the whole building (alas).
He still had his strength and speed, but not forever. Without any more alchemy, he'd be dead for sure.
"This isn't you, Blit." Gedrak breathed heavily. He was at least as wounded as Blit himself. Blit had done more damage than he thought. "You're the Patch Man, not some hero."
"Yeah, well." Blit found he was panting himself. "Someone was short-shrifting me."
Gedrak laughed at that. "You think your bar wench isn't doing the same? She's using you, Blit. She wants one thing. I want another. Nobody cares about what you want, do they?"
Blit blinked. Allyra had used him and, to be honest, was continuing to use him for this rescue.
"Walk away, Blit." Gedrak put his blade back in its sheath. "Really. If you walk away now, I'll forget I ever saw you here. You can leave the Puddles and start again, just like you want."
That was Gedrak's mistake, really. Blit did want to walk away, to forget he'd ever come to Absalom in the first place. But the last thing he wanted to do was start over somewhere else.
Gedrak's other mistake was putting away his blade while a supernaturally fast alchemist stood in front of him. Before Gedrak could blink, Blit dove forward and grabbed one of the vials that hadn't broken. Not just any vial—he knew his extracts by sight, even scattered across the floor—but his mutagen.
By the time Gedrak had his blade out again, Blit had swallowed the green liquid. He grew a foot in height. His hands became claws. His teeth stretched into tusks every bit as ugly as Gedrak's. His entire body became monstrous and foul—even more so than before.
Gedrak charged. Blit punched the half-orc in the chest, knocking him backward and sending his blade spinning across the floor. Then he stretched out his claws and released a demonic roar.
Gedrak stood and roared back. He leapt forward and grabbed Blit by his now enormously strangle-proof throat. They tore and bit and clawed at each other. Blit tossed Gedrak through a wall and rushed in after him. Gedrak ripped a board up from the floor and belted Blit in the head, sending him staggering back.
While Blit recovered, Gedrak tossed a smokestick at Blit's feet. Thick smoke filled the hall and his lungs. He coughed violently. Then through his tears, he saw Gedrak emerge through the smoke, driving a blade at Blit's gut.
There was a shout and a gurgling thud, but neither came from Blit. He opened his eyes. Between Gedrak and him stood Allyra, with the point of the half-orc's blade sticking out of her back.
She'd saved him.
Allyra spat up blood. Gedrak blinked. And Blit, still under the effects of his speed extract, did what any unthinking, feral half-demon who had just seen his friend impaled would do. He grabbed Nye's sword from the floor of the hall and drove it straight through Gedrak's misshapen head.
The half-orc slumped to the floor. With no one holding the blade, Allyra fell too, unconscious and breathing raggedly. Blit dropped to his knees, cold ice gripping his heart. His thoughts were fuzzed from the mutagen, but he knew there was nothing he could do for her. He had no extracts that could save someone's life.
The sound of footsteps strolled toward him. A mysterious wind dissipated all of the smoke at once, and Blit found himself looking up at a tall, imperious-looking woman dressed in a noblewoman's finery. A glint of adamantine mail peeked out from her shirt. She was so out of place in the Puddles that he knew immediately who it must be. "Talish."
The woman looked down her nose at Blit, at Allyra, at the dead Gedrak. She peered into each of the rooms where the other dead Banshees were and where some of the slaves were still locked up.
Blit flexed his claws, but he was trembling. He didn't know whether he could defeat her in his current state—a woman whom even Gedrak served, who had a whiff of magic about her.
Finally, Talish nodded. "It would seem you've patched up my loose ends." She nudged Nye's blade, turning Gedrak's head back and forth. Then she turned around and left as calmly as she had arrived.
An unnerving silence filled the corridor, broken only by Blit's heaving breaths.
"Allyra!" He spun around, unsure what he would do, when suddenly more unexpected visitors burst into the corridor. Men and women in brigandines, wearing red scarfs with an ale mug embroidered on them.
Two of them rushed to Allyra and knelt at her side. One muttered something that sounded suspiciously like a prayer while the other wrenched Gedrak's blade from her belly.
"What are you doing?" Blit growled.
"She'll be all right, Blit," said one. Blit blinked. It was the barkeep from the Puddleglut.
Allyra gasped, then fell back down, breathing.
The barkeep smiled in relief and said again, "She'll be all right."
Blit's heart became ten times lighter. He didn't know what means the Caydenites had to save her from a wound like that, but he didn't much care either. She was alive!
He stood, bumping his head on the ceiling, and felt suddenly self-conscious. He didn't want her to see him like this. He looked around at Gedrak, at Sidro and Kip, at the slaves making their way out into the night. He shouldn't be here either. He hunted for an invisibility extract in the tattered pieces of his cloak and found one still unbroken.
The next moment, the Caydenites were alone.
∗ ∗ ∗
It took him until sunrise to pack what remained of his equipment. He would've finished sooner, but (one) he was hurt and (two) his claws had kept getting in the way until his mutagen finally wore off. Packing up was bitter but familiar work. Even bitterer would be the work of finding a new home.
"What are you doing, Blittervy?"
He hadn't heard Allyra open the door. She hunched over, one arm wrapped over her stomach in an enormous bandage. Had she walked here like that?
"Blittervy? Really?" Blit sneered, then shook his head. "Town's run me out again. Time to move on."
"Run you out?" She slammed the door behind her. "What the hell are you talking about? You're a hero!"
"Well I can't work as a Patch Man anymore, can I? Gedrak's gone, sure, but he's not the only guild boss that used to hire me. They'll all hear of this, maybe come after me just to make sure I don't turn on one of them, too."
"Oh." She looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I forget, you've been on your own for so long."
He snorted. "I gotta say, being a hero's even less practical than a fiend-blooded alchemist."
She came up behind him and touched his shoulder. Softly, she said, "I saw you, you know, when you were fighting Gedrak."
He froze. "You saw...?" He never wanted her to see, never wanted anyone to see, what he truly was.
"It was amazing." She squeezed his shoulder, once again making him feel awkward as hell. "But it wasn't you, any more than those human masks you wear."
Blit didn't know what to say to that.
Examining the paraphernalia in his pack, she said, "Have you considered the clergy? The Lucky Drunk could use someone like you."
He laughed loudly, then found he couldn't stop laughing until long after his chest started hurting. "No," he finally said, wiping a tear. "No, I don't think the Drunk wants someone like me at all."
"You never know." She took a deep breath. "Anyway, listen. I'm not supposed to tell you this, but my order has this potion—a great secret, mind you—that's said to reveal one's true self. If you wanted—"
He rolled his eyes. "It's beer. You're talking about beer."
She laughed. "Yeah, want some?"
Blit looked at his pack, at his tiny room that he couldn't stay in any longer, and smiled. "You know what? I really do."
Coming Soon: A mission to the island of Veedesha in Chapter One of Evey Brett's "Diamond in the Rought."
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.