The Black Saint
The dead weight of the body on his arm wouldn’t shift easily, though for the moment he hardly cared to press the issue. Staring up at the tobacco stained ceiling through blurred, semi-intoxicated eyes, he swallowed hard to rid himself of the taste of amasec, bud-ash and the tang of his companion’s cloying perfume.
Now that he was awake and no longer imbibing alcohol with all the gusto of one intent on drowning himself where he stood, the after effects of his inebriation began to dissipate rapidly, soon leaving behind only the stench of sweat and the deep sense of regret that haunts all who take solace in the bottom of a bottle. Reaching over the side of his bed with his free arm he rifled through the tangled mess of his clothing and retrieved a solid object that he usually kept strapped to his leg, wrapped in a thick sheath of dark green webbing. Flicking the silver popper-clasp open he drew the heavy blade and held it up in front of his face, squinting at the murky surface and the dark smears that coated the weapon from its flat, thrusting tip to the serrated section along the spine near the hilt. As he watched, the stains began to evaporate, as they always did once the ancient blade was exposed to the air, leaving behind only a thirty centimetre length of glinting, razor-sharp steel. He had no idea at the moment whose blood it had been, but he knew he would remember after a swift tin of caffeine and a few lung-fulls of clear air. But that would have to wait. At the moment he had company and she had to be dealt with, one way or another, and for that he would be needing his knife.
Taking a firm grip on the black, hand-carved nal-wood handle, he leaned over gently so as not to alert her to his presence, bringing the blade down in a slow arc towards her head. With a flick of his hand he twisted the blade quickly, making absolutely certain before withdrawing it and throwing it forcefully across the room, sending it point down into the floorboards by the door where it sat, impaling a sizable brassiere through its left-hand cup.
He closed his eyes and shook his head at what he had done, adding yet another regret to the ever growing list of things he had done in the course of his extended life that we would gladly forget if he could.
"But still," he thought. "Life goes on…."
He raised himself up onto one elbow and carefully slid his tattooed frame towards the edge of the bed, leaving his left arm where it was, for the moment. Then he tensed his densely muscled frame for what was to come, running through the plan in his head several times so he could carry it out without having to consider the unpleasant details any more than he had to. He was about to move when he paused, turning his head back to the motionless girl in spite of his instincts and the wrongness he felt in the pit of his stomach, taking in the fullness of her breasts and buttocks, her perfectly curved hips and the softness of her skin.
"What a waste,” he muttered, tensing his arm to prepare it for the violent movement to come. Counting down from three to one he yanked on his arm and threw his body forwards, launching him onto his feet while the girl when spinning over the far edge of the bed with a yell of surprise. But by the time she thudded to the floor he was already running, and he paid no heed to her distress. He stooped and grabbed hold of his clothing in one hand and bolted for the door, grabbing his knife even as he lashed out with one bare foot and smashed the flimsy door in half lengthways. The girl’s screams echoed in his ears as he flew naked down the hallway, his hundreds of tattoos undulating as his muscles propelled him to the end of the corridor and through the door, taking him into the dazzling sunlight and into a crowd of blue uniformed workers as they made their way towards the manufacturing complex that lay on the far side of the shabby red-light district.
Ignoring their protests he stopped in the middle of the crowd and began to dress himself, pulling on his khaki trousers and slipping a sleeveless t-shirt over his torso before returning his knife to its sheathe on his leg. No-one dared barge into him as he ran his hands over his bald pate and worked the kinks out of his neck; though the sudden appearance of a naked man carrying a large knife while a hideously ugly prostitute screamed obscenities at him from her bedroom window had drawn more than a few stares.
“Frak, forgot my shoes,” he said, wiggling his bare toes to return some feeling to them.
“What about the frakking payment?” the prostitute screamed, turning the heads of dozens of workers towards her and then to the figure that stood in their midst, checking the contents of his pockets. Satisfied that nothing of consequence was missing he turned and strode away, refusing to take another look at the feature that so badly let down the rest of the whore’s fulsome body.
“I’ll call it a freebie,” he replied, to amusement of the crowd. “By the looks of you, you really couldn’t afford another go.”
He turned and headed down an alley while she shrieked in the distance, making his way towards the retail district where he could find food, caffeine and, most importantly, shoes.
The city stretch around him for kilometres; a squat place of shadowy alleyways and ruined buildings that were alive with crime of both the organised and rudimentary variety, precisely the kind of place where one might make a decent living as a bounty hunter. Everything, from the smog-stained hab-tenements to the semi-deserted shopping districts, spoke of past prosperity and a future that would see little more than further degradation, brought about by the disinterest of those who dwelt within the central spire and the apathy and creeping sense of hopelessness that pervaded the city that sprawled around it. When he had seen the place from above upon his arrival, it had struck him how suitable the place was as a metaphor for the Imperium itself; a glistening, virginal spire in plasteel and glass that reached for the heavens at the centre, surrounded by the ruination of the low-city and the down-trodden nature of the people that lived within it. A glowing beacon wrapped in filth, like a pearl in reverse.
But he was not here for a bounty, nor was he here to concern himself with anything beyond his own self interest. There was a galaxy full of fools that had plans for him, told him that there was a bigger picture to the Emperor’s work and that he was born to play a part in his schemes. For now he cared only about caffeine, food, a hot shower and, if he remembered to drink his amasec by the glass and not the bottle, pleasurable company.
”And shoes,” he muttered. ”No-one notices a man with a frak-off sized knife in a dredge hole like this, but going around with no shoes on only draws attention.”
Holding his hand up to block out the glaring sunshine he emerged into the retail sector, filled with the sounds of commerce and underhanded dealing, mingled with the smell of hot oil and the sizzle of frying meat. Choosing one of the many vendors he went about his breakfast, hungrily tearing into a bread roll filled with strips of rare-cooked meat that dribbled juices down his throat and coated his upset stomach with warm grease. He neither noticed nor cared about the offended glances that came his way as he swigged hot caffeine and devoured his unhealthy meal. Finishing it with a sonorous belch he swung his feet onto the trestle table and lit a lho stick, inhaling deeply and revelling in the carefree nature of his current existence. The universe could go hang for all it mattered to him, and it could take the Inquisition with it.
“And you,” he mumbled, glancing at his crotch and thinking of the morning’s rude awakening. “Once more and I’ll cut you off, ok? A universe of frakking nightmares at my back and you go and do that to me.”
He relaxed and finished his smoke, opening his eyes once more when he felt the touch of heat on his lips. He found himself looking into the wide eyes of a scruffy child, who was fearfully taking in his thousands of tattoos and the enormous blade at his side while furtively glancing at the small pile of change on the table.
The man grinned ferally, flicking the smouldering butt into his mouth with his tongue and swallowing it, to the abject horror of the child. “You need money, kid?” he snarled, swinging his legs off the table and leaning threateningly towards the would-be thief. The youth nodded fitfully in response. “Good. Then take that pile of change and head over to the gunsmith’s on the third promenade. Speak to the owner and ask for collection number thirty eight, it should be repaired by now. You bring it back to me safely and you can keep the change, along with a few more coins if you’re quick about it.”
The child swallowed hard, almost too afraid to speak and yet not stupid enough to turn down the offer of lucrative work. “But,” he stammered. “What if the owner won’t give it to me? He hates street kids hanging around his shop he does, says he’ll shoot us if he catches us touching any of his weapons.”
“Good for him,” the man replied. “By the looks of you frakkers there’s a dire need for contraception in this dredge-hole city. Just tell him my name and there won’t be a problem, and tell it to anyone stupid enough to try and take the package from you on the way back. I’ll be waiting right here until you return.”
The boy’s eyes widened further once he knew the man’s name and he thanked him profusely for not killing him, understanding how close he had come to feeling the cold kiss of steel against the inside of his chest.
He ran for the gunsmith’s as if the Emperor himself were on his tail, determined to impress the man and hopefully gain some small degree of favour in return. Until a few days ago he had never heard that name before, but now he was hearing it everywhere. It was said in whispers, muttered in confidence between those watching their backs or those with a vested interest in watching each other’s. He’d heard it yelled in bars before the speaker was silenced by his companions, almost as if even saying the name would somehow bring this bogie man down upon them, and he’d heard the name cursed as medicae teams and arbitrators arrived to collect the bodies the following morning.
Never had he expected to hear the name said without fear, and least of all from the lips of the man who owned it.
"Dude? Don't call me dude, it's disrespectful. Now, you've got five seconds to put that blade down before I use it to give you colon surgery. Dude" - Alexander Coburn.