top of page



    Despite the gathering traders and shoppers that were rapidly filling the market square, it was easy to spot the two towering figures who were pushing their way across the street. And not just because they were a good head taller than most of the humans who were quickly dodging out of their way. Dressed in dirty camo shell cloaks, and re-enforced carapace breastplates, there was no mistaking the two orcs were twins. Ugly, heavy-jawed, broken-toothed twins at that, even for their own kind. But then, Grubs Daily hadn’t picked the Pogg Brothers to win beauty competitions. They were his enforcers and debt collectors. Very effective ones too. Which was why Blake was already pulling himself out of the booth. He stumbled into a gnome waiter who was scuttling down the aisle.

    “Say! Look where you’re going, can’t you?” the gnome protested, nearly dropping the tray of tankards he was carrying to a nearby table.

    “Sorry,” Blake grunted, although his attention hadn’t left the window. He could see the Pogg Brothers were turning right toward the café.

    “What’s the matter, Blake?” Skreet looked up from the menu at the commotion. “You bustin’ for the latrine?”

    “I think we need to go.”

    Skreet frowned. “Why? We haven’t even had our…” Then the goblin followed Blake’s gaze through the window and quickly realised the problem. “Oh, crap…”

    “Exactly. Come on.”

    Blake started toward the back of the café before Skreet had even slid himself out of the booth. But with Blake’s side beginning to pulse painfully even after a few strides, Skreet had soon caught up.

    “You think they’re looking for us?” the goblin asked fearfully.

    “Not if we’re lucky.” Blake swung past another waiter and burst through some swinging doors. He found himself in the smoke and heat of the kitchens. Gnome waiters and dwarfish cooks peered up from their work. A voice cried out: “Hey! You can’t be in here!”

    Blake ignored it. With Skreet hurrying closely behind, Blake headed to a back door, bursting out into a littered alleyway with crates and bins stacked against a wall. One way led out into the market square, the other was a dead end with high walls.

    Blake hesitated as the door swung closed behind Skreet. Perhaps if they waited for a while, the orcs would move off and they could sneak away unmolested?

    “Stay here,” he told Skreet. “I’ll see if the coast is clear.”

    “The coast?”

    “Just don’t move,” Blake said, and he slunk down the alleyway until he reached the edge of the street. With his back to the wall, he peeked around the corner.

    It was even busier than before. The noise of the market overrode most of the passing traffic. Blake swept the surrounding areas. To his relief, he couldn’t see the Pogg Brothers anywhere. It seemed they had moved off.

    He leaned back and motioned to Skreet. “Okay. Looks like they’ve gone.”

    Scampering up to join Blake, the goblin let out a breath. “That was close.”

    “You’re not kidding. Look, it’s probably best if we don’t go back to the hanger for a while. Maybe you could go over to Qualen’s for those connectors for the damper springs? I need to take a trip to Otto’s anyway.”

    “Ran out of drink, huh?”

    “Just do as I say, alright?”

    “Sure. Whatever ye like, Blake.”

    Blake chanced another look around the corner again. The orcs were still nowhere to be seen, and satisfied they had wandered away, Blake stepped out into the bright sunshine. He was only a few paces across the street when he heard a shout go up: “Blake McCord! And where you think you going?” 

    Blake abruptly stiffened. Then he slowly turned his head, part of him hoping he was mistaken by the brogue of that familiar voice. But it was just as he suspected. There was Pogg Brother ‘Number One’. He was loitering on the corner of the café, presumably while Pogg Brother ‘Number Two’ was inside. Blake hadn’t seen the creature as he had been partially hidden by a pillar.

    “Oh. Hi.” Blake tried as amiable a voice as he could muster. At the same time, he flapped his hand behind him to signal for Skreet to ease himself back into the alley. “Zlothor Pogg. How you doing?”

    The orc stepped away from the pillar. “It’s Kuthor…” he rumbled.

    “Of course it is. You’re the handsome one, right?”

    Kuthor growled. “You been difficult man to find, McCord. Grubs Daily is very eager to see you.”

    “He is? I had no idea. How nice.”

    Then the door to the café swung open and Zlothor Pogg stepped out carrying two cartons of squirming food.

Zlothor soon turned his eyes to where his brother was staring. The questioning frown on his sallow, pock-marked face quickly turned into a hideous smile.

    “Blake McCord!” he cried. “By the Gods! Where you find him, Kuthor?”

    Kuthor shrugged. “He just here. Walking across street.”

    “Yeah, and I was just on my way to…the thing…with the…thing, you know? So, why don’t I leave you to your breakfast and I’ll take myself over to Grub’s later. How’s that sound?”

    But Kuthor was already dragging a pulse pistol from the holster on his belt. “No. You come with us now.”

    “Yeah. Sure. I’d really like to but…”


    Blake held up both his hands as if in surrender. “Okay. Okay. But before we go, could I ask you both something…?”

    Kuthor’s lip curled. “What?”

    “Is that a stone giant behind you?”

    Immediately, both the orcs lurched around, tensing at the prospect that one of their most feared enemies was strolling down a Mirian street in broad daylight. Kuthor even raised his pulse pistol. Which was just enough of a distraction Blake needed.

    Before the orcs could turn back, Blake was already sprinting away. He threw himself into the press of morning commuters and shoppers who jostled aside letting out indignant cries. But at least he had bought himself some shelter. Behind him another cry went up, this one full of rage and disbelief. Not that Blake looked back. Despite his burning side, he powered on, managing to force his way through the knot of resistant bodies. Soon he emerged on the other side of the market square and came to a breathless stop, scanning the area, and desperately weighing up his options.

    There weren’t that many. Cutting through onto Billick Road would leave him exposed. And he didn’t want to throw himself into the Dials, a maze of alleyways that could just as easily take him into a dead end. Another shout echoed through the throng behind him. Blake chanced a look over his shoulder and could see the crowd of people moving frenetically, as if they were trying to stumble out of the way in each direction.

    “Damn it…

    Blake bolted to his right. He reasoned he could head down the steps toward the canal and cut through the Old Gardens that would bring him to the back of Otto’s bar. If Otto let him in, Blake hoped he could hide in the bar keep’s secret lock-up where he kept all that illegal elven wine. Even if the orcs forced their way onto the premises, they would be unlikely to find him. At least, that was the plan. First, he would have to get there. And with his ribs making it almost impossible to breathe, he wasn’t too thrilled about his chances of outrunning a couple of relentless orcs.  

    Then he saw the courier. 

    It was a kobold. A squat, long-limbed, goblin-like creature trying to force a helmet over its quivering ears before it hopped on a hover cycle. The bike had already been powered up, drawing its energy from a sun-stone battery. It was just starting to lift off the ground when Blake took his chance. He shouldered his way past a man carrying an armful of bags, pushed the kobold aside causing him to drop his helmet, and Blake leapt into the hover cycle seat. Just in time, too. The Pogg Brothers emerged through the crowds on the edge of the market square.

    The kobold yammered something in its guttural language. Blake ignored it as he twisted his fingers around the accelerator, the bike giving a powerful kick. And with a satisfying rasp, he surged away, barely missing an advancing mono-truck that blared its horn. Nor was that the only thing Blake avoided by a hair’s breadth. For as he swung into the traffic, a nearby dwarf was struck by a jag of crackling blue lightning and collapsed to the ground. Blake, startled, threw a look over his shoulder. Behind him, he saw Kuthor Pogg with his arm raised, his pulse pistol smoking with tendrils of expelled energy. Blake turned back and kicked the cycle onto greater speed, slipping behind a grumbling dust wagon.

    Lodged in the slip stream of the noisy truck, Blake wondered if the Pogg Brothers had their own transport waiting nearby. Not that it mattered much. He had a good measure of this area of town and pretty much knew all the short cuts. All he would need to do is take a few side-roads, doubling back if necessary, and he was confident the orcs wouldn’t be able to find him. It was just good luck he had been able to jack a cycle. With his ribs still throbbing and his head still aching, he wouldn’t have given himself good odds to outrun the Pogg Brothers on foot.

    Even so, Blake knew this was just a temporary reprieve. Grubs Daily had obviously run out of patience. How long, Blake wondered, could he hope to avoid paying his debts before those two bruisers finally caught up with him? And once again his thoughts drifted to the bottle the elf had given him, still sitting on his desk in the office. It was certainly a valuable commodity. Maybe Grubs would accept it as a down payment in lieu of the credits? Except, Grubs Daily was a homunculus: a genetic mutation born from the experimental sludge created on the shadowy planet of Xoros. There was no way of telling whether the healing waters would be of use to him, even if he had anything wrong with him to heal. Besides, within the next day or so the waters would be useless to anyone anyway. It didn’t seem like a viable idea.

    Backing off the dust wagon, Blake drifted the cycle into the left lane. Up ahead he saw the turning for Dulo Street. By his reckoning, if he peeled off in that direction, he could make a few convoluted turns before doubling back and taking the main road up to Qualen’s. There was no point in returning to the hanger quite yet. He also knew he would have to come up with some idea of what to do about the money. The Pogg Brothers would come knocking again pretty soon, especially after all this craziness, and when they did…

    A figure jumped out in front of him.

    Blake’s mind had been so preoccupied, he saw it too late. And by that time, he had no chance to duck out of the way. A huge, veined arm swung across the windshield and swept him clean off the bike’s seat. The blow was like being struck by a tree branch. Blake felt another flash of agony sweep across his body, heightened by the wounds he had already suffered. He hit the ground hard, sprawling in the gutter. The bike snaked out from underneath him, smashing into a nearby wall.

    Blake groaned. He couldn’t move as thin skewers of pain like hot pokers drove their way into his back, ribs, and head. Blaring horns and the hiss of traffic seemed muted and distant. Then, slowly, he returned to his senses and became aware of the crunching of approaching footsteps. Blinking into the hazy sunlight, Blake stared up as two ugly orc faces leered over him.

    “You shouldn’t have run,” Zlothor Pogg informed him matter-of-factly. “You were stupid to run.”

    “And now you come with us,” Kuthor added, unhooking a pair of manacles from his belt. The two orcs then reached down to haul Blake to his feet.

bottom of page