The weight of the blade in his hand was familiar, the grip cool against his smooth, toughened palm that came from a lifetime of wearing gloves. Standing in the shadowed corner with his back to the chair in the centre of the room, he picked at some dirt under his fingernails with the tip of the blade, waiting for the choking behind him to stop. One of the chair's legs was shorter than the others; the rhythmic clacking of the wood against the cold floor as the chair rocked grated on his nerves. The harsh overhead light swung from a creaking chain. The knife rang as he slid it against his palm.
"Once more," he said. "Don't lie to me again."
The choking turned into shallow breaths, and just as he thought with an itch of irritation that the man wouldn't answer him and he'd have to persuade him further, words gasped forth from a hoarse throat.
"She…they…" A cough. Swallowing. He could almost hear the sweat drops hit the stone beneath their feet. Not his. He closed his eyes, fist clenching. Patience wasn't his forte.Information procurement was.
Or whatever the new fancy jargon was for this.
"She?" he asked quietly, turning his head to look over his shoulder at the bloodied figure in the chair. A slow smile spread across cracked lips.
"She told me…to tell you where you can go kiss her-!"
Fast, sudden, a flare of frustrated anger, a fist slammed into the gut.
The ropes strained as the man bent double in the chair, convulsing, the short chair leg clacking loudly on the stone as the weight was flung forwards. Blood splattered to the floor between his feet.
Flexing his fist, he leaned over and lifted the man's head sharply, hard enough to let him know how easy it would be to break his neck. Blood trickled crimson from the corner of the man's mouth, and he saw defiance in the cold grey eyes that glittered out from the darkness. But he saw no fear in this man's eyes yet.
That was fine. He had all night, and a whole range of new techniques he'd been practising along the way.
"Try again," he growled. A glob of spit-stained blood splattered just below his eye, and the anger reared its ugly head again, baring sharp teeth. It bit, and a knee to the face threw the chair backwards as the man's nose was shattered. He took a deep breath, pushing the heat of fury back into its box, and leaned over to look into the cold eyes again.
"Forget it," the split lips muttered thickly. Instead of hitting him again, though he dearly wanted to, he took a moment to stare the man down and then retreated out of the pool of light and into the shadows again.
Sheathing his blade – for now - he found his bag and reached inside. His fist closed around the cool handle, and he pulled it out and set it to one side, reaching in again for- yes. "I tend not to forget things." He kept his voice slow and level, the quiver of anger at the tips of his fingers. He wanted to hurt this man. Slowly.
This man would die of course. Whether or not he was aware of that yet, he didn't know. But he did know that the thought of killing him made him feel nothing at all.
As he fondled the narrow, sharp items, rolling them around in his fingertips, it occurred to him that he had never stopped to question what he did. The walls dingy with damp, the stench of blood and sweat, pleading tears. The cries of agony and the hollow echoes. Limp bodies. Floors slick with vomit, and worse.
The dead eyes.
The eyes, he decided a long time ago, were the most unnerving part of this. Even in the shadows they pierced the gloom. Thankfully he'd done too much of this to have nightmares any more. Perhaps that was the point. He'd done too much of this.
They weren't always men; sometimes women. Sometimes children. The youngest he'd had to slot had been ten years old, a boy still rasping out profanities even as he'd choked on his own blood. He'd given him the easy way out, because the boy had reminded him so much of his brothers.
Even then he still couldn't muster up an ounce of emotion. Age was simply a number. It didn't define anything about who you were or what you did. If you ended up in this chair, you weren't any different from one another at the end of it all.
He himself was just twelve, going on twenty-four.
He pricked the tip of his finger with one of the pins, and blood bloomed on the skin before dripping to the floor with an echoing plop, looking black in the dim light. No, age had nothing to do with it.
"No, I tend not to forget anything," he said again quietly, letting the grip of the hammer slide back into his palm. He hefted it a little, and satisfied with its weight he turned back to the captive.
"I'll make you a deal. The more you tell me…" he narrowed his eyes and swung the hammer into his palm, judging whether or not the man was going to bite. "…The more body parts you get to keep."
A silent contest. Unwavering, the cold granite met fierce bronze. He held the gaze, swinging the hammer absently, leaning indifferently against the worktop where his bag of instruments lay. The light's chain whispered a creak. The man narrowed his icy eyes infinitesimally, a slight tremble, and he knew that the man was trying to judge whether or not he meant what he'd said. But it was hard to see into anything that hid in the shadows.
Granite hit bronze. A spark. A barking laugh.
"I'm waiting," it spat. "For you to show me something original."
He sounded unafraid, but the hands gripped the arms of the chair, a slight tremor in the sneering disgust. White knuckles stood out like islands in the grime. That's where he would start.
He gave a cool smile, nodding to himself. Just as he'd planned, then. He made as if to turn away from the man, and then swung.
The hammer connected with a sickening, cracking slam, and the scream that echoed off the walls dug deep into his skull, filling his ears with static. He felt the bones break, felt them give way under his grip, and he stood back, cocking an eyebrow. He wasted no time; picking up the pins. The ice cold eyes met him with a semblance of fear, melting to tears in their corners.
"You ain't getting much better."
"You," he growled, "Shut up. Unless," he leaned down and smiled conversationally at the man, but the hard-edged glint in his eye told the man he was anything but. "You have something you'd like to tell me?" This time he saw it coming and dodged the spit, before slamming his fist down on the crushed hand. A howl, like a wolf, grating and raw. He twisted, just a little. A strangled yelp.
"You son of a bitch! I got a lot to say to you…!" the man hissed through streaming eyes.
"Let me put this another way," he lowered his voice, straightening up and turning away to reach for the pins. He didn't feel anything inside, just the wide-open void where he found peace. You could either kill hot or you could kill cold. "You will tell me what I want to know, if you value anything even remotely to do with your ability to reproduce."
There was a pause, a silence, where the man hung his head so he couldn't see his face. At first he mistook the gesture for despair, but it became clear as he raised his head again that he was far from scared.
"Please," the man scoffed, a laugh teasing the edges of his voice, "I've heard better threats from a nuna chick. You just want me t'tell you what you want to know so that you can go home and feel like going around killing people like this is a job well done, at the end of the day." The man spat eloquently between his feet, narrowed his eyes at him. He strained forwards suddenly, the ropes pulling taut with a snap. "Well I say – screw you! You got no hold over me, and when you go home you deserve someone waiting for you in the shadows to show you what it feels like to be in this chair! You're a savage."
"You have no idea what you're talking about," he snarled, grabbing the head of one of the pins under the man's nails, "No idea!" He pulled on it slowly, hearing the squelch as it retracted, feeling the hoarse screams under his skin. He could see it moving through the fingernail, just under the nail bed, and he managed to drag it out half way before slamming it all the way back in again.
The howls receded. He found his hands were trembling with rage, and he struggled to contain it as the black void inside him started spewing up thoughts he didn't want to face.
Like how he and his brothers trained other men to do this. To become cold, heartless monsters with no emotion, no thought of the suffering they inflicted. They could barely be called men. He clung on to his identity, that idea of family, and those fine threads kept him sane as he tore others apart. But the brothers he'd trained didn't have such ideals. They were lost.
He retreated into the shadows and clenched his fist. At the end of the day, it was whatever helped you sleep at night. You couldn't spend your time worrying about things you had no control over.
The man in the chair spat again. "You think I don't know who you are? They call you the Shadow. 'Cause you come out of the dark and they don't see you until you're right behind 'em." He sniffed, swallowed, a low, hoarse laugh rumbling in his throat. "And by then it's too late…yeah…I know 'bout you. You killed a few colleagues o' mine last time I checked."
He turned slowly, picked up his knife. A drop of liquid – blood? Water? Who knew – plopped and splashed silently in a pool in the corner of the room, and the knife slithered out of its sheath. "You know nothing about me."
"I know you want to find that Ko Sai lady. An' I know that she paid me way too much to keep my peace for me to just tell you everythin' over a caf and cakes," the man muttered darkly.
He scowled, furiously impatient. "Sorry I skimped on the cakes." He flicked the knife around his fingers a few times, twirling it as he came into view again. "But I had more important things to worry about at the time."
He didn't have time for this. None of them had time for this. He needed answers, results, not preamble that went around in circles.
Clawing, shaking anger built up pressure in his chest, roaring through his veins, and this time he gave in to it. The knife sang almost silently as he slashed, slicing into the bound arm of the man. Blood poured out, dripping onto the floor, and the man let out a feral yell. He didn't stop to talk this time. He slashed and hacked and cut everywhere he could see skin, the blood getting on his hands, his clothes, his shoes and his mind. He saw red everywhere, knowing he couldn't kill cold any more. It got personal from here on in.
The man was weeping, blood running into his eyes, which flashed out at him as he stopped to wipe the sweat from his eyes, glittering with the beginnings of fear. Finally. He raised the blade again, ready to strike into raw flesh this time, and the man screamed.
He paused, knife poised to fall. In the silence, blood dripped forlornly onto the stone floor and the light swung gently, squeaking a friendly reminder that irritated his nerves. His mouth quirked up at the corner in a cold smirk.
He lost track of time, his mind shutting off, his body on autopilot. The knife was soon replaced by his fists again, the fists by an electroprod. The convulsions sent the chair's short leg banging against the stone floor. The air was heavy with the stench of blood and urine, charged with electric bolts that pressed down on his chest. His black shirt clung to him with sweat.
Eventually he paused to take a sip of water. The man eyed the canister with bloodshot eyes; he gave a smirk as he drank.
"Seems I skimped on the caf, too," he said, and then held out the canister. "You want some?"
The man said nothing. Didn't even move. The vein in his neck pulsated with fury as he tried to blink crusted blood out of his eyes.
"Too bad," he growled, and took a long swig. His hand reached in his bag for something as he replaced the flask. "Now I'm going to make good my earlier promise about damaging your ability to reproduce. Any last words?" The man stayed stubbornly silent, aside from a stifled, choked half-sob. "Didn't think so."
The sobs turned into hiccups, which in turn began to morph into chuckling. At first he mistook the high, wheezing sound as sobbing, but the chuckling turned into hysterical laughter as the man threw his head back and cackled. He froze.
"Something funny?" he asked quietly. The man continued to laugh, a high, panic-stricken gasp that aggravated him, scratched on the inside of his skull. He slammed the electroprod into the man's underarm again with a grunt. "Something funny?"
The man cried out, but laughed harder and hunched over. Tears plopped onto the floor between his feet, the man's ribcage spasming. He grabbed the man under the chin and threw his head back so he would look at him. The ice in his eyes had melted into tears, but the rest of his face was an ugly sight of drying blood and raw flesh.
"You…you…I…" the man broke off into frantic laughter again, and he hit him across the face to shut him up. He shook his shoulders hard enough to give him whiplash.
"You are going to shut up right now!" he roared. It was enough to frighten the man to a hiccupping halt.
"I…I know nothing," the man started to laugh again, and leered at him with a self-satisfied smirk. "Some guy approached me on the street an' handed me a huge lump o' creds and told me to cover for him as long as 'e needed. I didn't think this was gonna happen!"
The man dissolved into fits of frenzied, high laughter again as a cold wave washed over him, constricting his throat. He stood up straight, heart pounding painfully against his ribcage as if it wanted to break out and run. "You're lying." Please tell me you're lying…
"No," the man sighed, "No, I ain't. And let me tell you – this has been fun, but you gotta let me go now. While you've been holed up in here with me, the real guy has had enough time to get off planet and disappear. Good luck trying to get 'im back. He'll be star systems away."
He leaned in again, bile rising in his throat with the terrible feeling that he was falling. "You got a name for this guy?"
"Why would I tell you that? You can't keep me here no more now y'know I don't know nothin'."
A cold, calm feeling settled in his gut. No, the man wouldn't have told this man his name. You kept your mouth shut for credits.
He'd been so stupid! He'd wasted hours here when he could have been hunting the real man he wanted, not some phony with the intelligence of a Hoth ice worm! Angry, painfully so, and filled with a disappointment that drained him, he stood up and nodded silently. He wanted to kick something, but that would wait until later.
He disappeared into the shadows, attempting to quell the furious, gnawing disappointment in the time he'd wasted, in himself. His hands trembled with shock; he shook them out. He couldn't miss now. "That's where you're wrong." He drew his Verpine from the bag, loaded a clip. "Very wrong."
He clicked the safety catch off. The man's eyes widened in terrified realisation. "No…hey, wait a minute…"
"You admitted yourself that you know nothing." He checked the charge on the Verpine; it whirred almost silently in the gloom. "So therefore you are of no further use to me."
"No…please, wait, I-"
"You do know something?"
A silence. Panicked breathing. Creaking chain, dripping blood. The stench of fear hung heavy in the putrid air; the man swallowed.
"Shut up," he said quietly. His arm extended, light falling on the clenched hand with the Verpine in its steady grasp. This, he knew how to do. The man shook his head frantically, grey eyes fixed on the gun.
Verpine shots were virtually silent. Except for the screaming afterwards. But this time there would be no screaming; the round went straight in through the forehead and the blood splattered the wall behind. Steel grey eyes bulged, staring up at the ceiling. Dead.
"I said," he muttered quietly, "Shut up. Hut'uun."
He stood in the shadows listening to the gentle plish-plop of blood dripping onto the stone floor. It was the first real, heavy silence he'd had all day, all week. A silence where you could hear your own thoughts, whether you wanted to or not; they echoed in the hollow of his bones.
A wave of crushing disappointment settled over him as he knew he'd failed, then anger, rising in goosebumps over his flesh, because he'd done everything he could and he'd been played. Shab. Then it settled, washed away, and he was left with an empty echo of himself in his bones, the heavy afterglow of knowing it was over for now and knowing there was nothing you could do to go back. He stuffed his knife back into his bag, and then reached for his comlink slowly. After a pause, he called.
"Kal'buir? No go. We're going to have to find another way to get to her." He sighed wearily, hanging his head and rubbing his face with his blood-smeared hand. "I'm sorry, buir. I've failed you."
"Prudii? Ad'ika, don't worry about it. We'll get her eventually. She can't hide up forever. I've got a few more tricks up my sleeve. You just focus on getting home now so we can figure something else out. Your vode are waiting for you."He listened in silence to his father's familiar voice; nodded once, too tired to argue.
"Okay. I'll clean up here and head home. K'oyacyi."
The link went dead; the silence descended again. He turned around and stared at the limp, lifeless body in the chair, wondering how he would get rid of the evidence. If the local government found the body, they'd find his DNA all over it in fingerprints and blood and sweat. Even if it did come back to a genome of Jango Fett, who was supposed to be dead. Still, even in such a Grand Army there were only six of him. That narrowed the field for the geneticists to play with. No matter how careful you were or how much you cleaned and scrubbed, they always found something.
He rummaged in his bag for his lighter again, and then flicked it on with a ding-chlack. Not even the shadows saved you from fire.
His footsteps sounded loud as he walked once around the body, dousing it with accelerant again. Once he stepped in something slippery that squelched underfoot; likely flesh. Liquid splashed sloppily onto the stone, mixing with blood. He threw some up the walls, into the corners, and then stood back.
Taking a deep, hollow breath, he closed his eyes, stretched his neck, rolled his shoulders. Long day. He'd have time for a nap on the way home. The bag's handle was cool and smooth in his grip as he shouldered it, taking a second to look back at the body and make sure he felt nothing.
No. Just the dull, tired ache in his bones. There would be more, and this body was just in the way of his goal, just another in the line. His allegiances lay with his family. And he'd do anything for his family.
Like a shadow in the night, he was gone.
Don't even ask why I wrote this. Some line in the short story 'Republic Commando: Odds' by Karen Traviss made me think that Prudii (whose name means 'shadow' in Mandalorian) was the 'specialist' of the Nulls in this field, and it just kind of…spawned an Evil Bunny. I think there's something wrong with my head. Apologies if this story wasted your time.
Thanks to JainDo for supplying the sound of the lighter. :) And for beta'ing for me. Serious thanks!
Thanks to you all for reading. A review would be really appreciated, if you have the time.
I'm back! Sort of…ha.