Urdli's skin, the paint streaked where sweat had carved channels through the symbols.

In the center of a chamber stinking of incense, human sweat, excrement, and other odors that hinted at even less savory things, Kern hung suspended. Mundanely, Glasgian could see no supports. It was only by concentrating on his arcane senses that he could perceive the tall, gangly-limbed beings that held the man. The human in their grasp was covered in segmented things that glowed in an eerie blue color as they slithered over his body, occasionally gnawing their way beneath the skin and disappearing even from Glasgian's astral sight. Seemingly aware of his observation, the beings holding the human turned their narrow, solemn faces toward him. Discomfited by their stare, Glasgian shifted back to mundane perceptions. He took a moment to compose himself, then addressed Urdli.

'Has he talked?' 'Quite a bit.'

Not a useful response. 'What we want to know?' 'Much that touches on the matter.' Exasperated, Glasgian prompted, 'And?' 'It is as we thought.' 'Then let's get on with it.'

'In time,' Urdli said. 'In time. There is an order to all things.'

Urdli gestured and Kern screamed. The human's screeching clawed at Glasgian's spine. If he had talked and told Urdli what they needed to know, what was the point? There was no time for self-indulgence.

Glasgian looked down at Urdli. The dark-skinned elf was concentrating on the human, whose screams changed tone each time the dark elf gestured. But Urdli was asking Kern no questions.

Stepping up to Kern, Glasgian lifted one hand toward the man's head as a blade hissed out from its sheath in the cuff of his jacket. The next instant he drove the tapered steel into the man's eye, through the socket, and into the brain. The screaming stopped as the man spasmed and went limp.

'Ill-done,' Urdli said softly. 'I was not finished.' Glasgian stared at the old elf. 'This is not the time for fun and games.' 'Indeed. It is not.'

Urdli's midnight eyes bore into Glasgian's with an intensity Glasgian had only ever seen among the elders. There was challenge in those dark pools, challenge and reproval. Glasgian bridled, his anger stiffening him. He had no need to bow to this elf; he was a prince of Tir Tairngire, the scion of the Oakfor-est line, with a heritage as old as Urdli's own. One day he would sit on the council. Who was this Urdli to question that? True, Urdli was an elder, but age was not everything. They were working toward the same goal, and Glasgian's methods were as valid as Urdli's. Perhaps more so. The old elf only seemed interested in plodding along, but the Sixth World was not one to reward dawdlers. Whatever Urdli might have been once, he lived in the Sixth World now. Being born of that world, Glasgian knew it better than did the Australian.

'When you're cleaned up, join me upstairs,' Glasgian said, breaking off his stare.

Without waiting for a reply, he turned and left the chamber, wanting only to be out of there. For one thing, he had to change his own clothes; the stench of the chamber permeated them. Not only that, but the damned human had bled all over his sleeve.


Easy Money


The haze over Puyallup Barrens was thick, as usual. The sun, sinking toward the Olympic Mountains on the other side of the Sound, was already starting its evening display. Kham squinted at it. The sun was playing hide- and-seek among the clouds, but dark would not come for an hour or so. Not that he was worried-he was ork and orks were made for the night-but if he kept on now, he'd be home before dark. He wasn't sure he wanted to get there so soon.

Slowing his pace, he looked around for a patch of quiet, a doorway or an alley mouth with a good view of the street. Halfway down the block he found one, an old theater complete with a marquee that would shelter him in case of a shower. He scanned the graffiti on the wall. Hotbloods turf, by the signs. Zero sweat. He was neutral to them right now. They wouldn't mind him taking up their space, as long as he was ready to vacate the moment they showed up. He moved into the shadow under the marquee, feeling the coolness of the coming night already hanging in the darkened air. Settling in, he leaned back against the chill stone.

Things hadn't gone well today. Not that they'd been bad, but not good was bad today. No nuyen to dump onto Lissa's credstick. Everything was dry. Dry, dry, dry. Nobody talking and nobody doing. Worse, nobody running. Leastways, as far as his contacts could tell him. To go looking day wise had been an act of pure desperation, but he still had not turned up a speck of work, and no work meant no cred. The prospect of going home to Lissa without fresh cred was not very appealing.

She would be all over him about it. Probably start ragging him again to sign up with a corp or the fed army. Didn't she know that either of those options would mean he wouldn't be around much? Yeah, he supposed she did. Maybe that's what she wanted. She hadn't eased off since he came back from old Doc Smith's place with the replacements.

He looked down at the chromed cybernetic hand protruding from his right sleeve. It wasn't state-of-the-art, but it worked. He had almost died the day he lost that hand. What would have happened then? Where would that have left Lissa? Worse, what about the kids? At least he was still around, still able to protect and provide for them. Right, he thought, like today. Well, most of the time anyway.

He stared sullenly down the street, watching the locals and the day trippers. Cullen Avenue was one of the nicer parts of Carbonado, lots of well-fortified shops. The business day was coming to a close, and this stretch of Cullen was a real nightwise place. A few of the daywise folks were starting their scurry toward their nice, safe homes. He could see in their hasty pace and frequent glances at the sinking sun that they didn't find the prospect of gathering twilight nearly as comforting as he did.

The streets were crowded still. Most of the folks were still just folks, going about their business, but a few among them were heralds of the nightwise types that would soon haunt these same streets. A beefy ork girl was hooking on the next corner, while across the way a trio of bedraggled chipheads were begging. There would be more of both soon. Then a knot of leatherclad dwarfs came strutting past. Dressed in Ironmonger colors, they scoped Kham out as they approached. He gave them a smile, showing just a little of his upper tusks, and rubbed his broken lower tusk with a chromed thumb. The short, burly one behind the leader whispered something into his warlord's ear and they kept on moving.

By far the bulk of the crowd were breeders, stupid, puny, thin-skinned norms. They and the occasional elf scurried along the sidewalk, heading for whatever they called security for the night. The norms were being bright, since they weren't nightwise. Elves could see in the dark as well as any ork, but Kham supposed they were being bright, too. None of the Barrens that hedged in any of the megacity sprawls were kind or gentle places after dark.

And Puyallup Barrens, one of the two spawned by the Seattle sprawl, was no different. An urban backwater like Puyallup was nobody's first choice for a home, maybe everybody's last. That's why so many orks like Kham ended up here. Forced into the places nobody else wanted. Forced to scratch and scrape to get by. Forced out of the nice places because they weren't powerful enough to object. Or didn't have enough political clout. Or firepower. Or whatever it took to hold onto the good places.

Kham had grown up here and survived. So far. He had survived the gangs, the hate, the riots, and everything else the Barrens had thrown at him. And he'd thrived, clawing his way to the top of the gangs and eventually putting together an alliance of gangs that had ruled Carbonado. Past history, he mused. Gangs were kid stuff, and he wasn't a kid anymore. He had reached his full growth and would be twenty in a few years. Twenty!

He didn't really want to think about that. It was much better to dream of the day he'd be living in style. But style meant nuyen, which again brought him back to the reality that he'd not done very well at collecting any today.

There weren't many ways for an ork to pile up the nuyen. Sure, he could have gone into the fed army or one

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