8.30 am

Porter got out of his vibro, looking worriedly around himself at the seemingly calm, peaceful street.

In this part of town, leaving a vibro in the street, according to the vacant-eyed man at the rental office just ten minutes before, was not a Good Idea.

"Oh? Because of vibro thieves?" Porter asked.

The man looked as if Porter had spent the last few years under a rock. Then, he tipped back his head, laughing. Real deep belly laughs. Stopped suddenly with eyes a little too wide, and said, "You're kidding, right?" When Porter frowned, the uproarious laughter started up all over again.

Heading out the back, the man was heard to call out, "Hey! Kam! He said 'Vibro thieves'! Yeah! Can ya believe it?"

Porter noted that, under the rental insurance fees quoted, there was a special section where "Travel via Poralla Street" was 30% higher than the usual rate, while "Stopping in Poralla Street" was 70% higher.

He considered lying, then shrugged, and slid across the company's credit slip without further comment.

Porter glanced up and down the street. Poralla Street was a quiet, pleasant place, he thought. Clean. No gang inscriptions polluting the view. Here and there, residents had planted nice little gardens in their flower-boxes. Somewhere, there was the calming sound of cheerful birdsong.

He smiled at the peace of it all. And concluded that rental vibro guys were a nutty breed.

He checked his records, looked at the building numbers, and headed with a bounce in his stride toward number 23 Poralla Street, Kerav City.  

He headed up the steps, noting out of the corner of his eye how some parts of the stone looked -charred. While there seemed to be half-washed away bloodstains over by the ornamental rail.

Trick of the morning light. He squinted upward at the strands of smog playing interlace-tag above his head, shrugged, then knocked firmly on the door.

Semi-muffled, he heard a man's voice call out, "Hey! No problem, Crawt, I'll get that!"

"Ach!" came another voice. "F 'the love of- Wait! I'll get that!"

"Eh, so who's it gonna be, huh? Only th' crazies we know would be out this early, Crawt -"

The door opened. It was one of those old-fashioned doors. With hinges and panels and all that kind of retro stuff.  

And the inlaid runic marks of spellcasters wards, traced across the width and depth of the surface.

And a six-foot-six-inch dragon with one claw wrapped around the edge of the door, the other frozen in the act of scratching the scaled lid of an eye, easing an early morning itch.

The other, open, eye grown wider than wide.

And the man's voice Porter had heard came now from out of a gaping mouth lined with dozens of sharp teeth, a pulsing tongue, and seeping tendrils of sulphurous smoke:

"Oh, sweet frak in th' morning. ..!"

A claw came up, one talon raised. "Ah -stay right there a sec, will you?" the dragon said, and quietly closed the door.

On the other side was muttering from within. "You saw what?"

"Hey- how was I to know, huh? I - whoop! Man, do those things always break that easily?"

"Ach -much as I respect ye deeply, 'less you do something about that tail o' yours, man --!"

"It's okay. It's all good. Watch this." The door opened again.

Porter's mouth was still wide open.

"Hi there," came that voice, but now used by a rakishly handsome man who wore a light casual house robe, and was surreptitiously making 'Be calm!' gestures to someone else to his left. "What can we do for you, this fine morning? What is it this time? Tax? Noise control? Stench abatement?"

Porter closed his mouth, pulled at his collar, swallowing, then cleared his throat. "Ah -for a moment there, you looked like a dragon."

The man tilted his head, smiling slightly. "Really? Why ever would that be? Better watch the smog, fella -- it plays tricks on the eyes."

Porter stared at him again. Then said with a small voice, "You're Eoghan Crawter?"

The slight smile became as brilliant as the stars on a clear night.

"No. Stay right there, and I'll get him for you." The man turned his head and said to his left, "A customer, Crawt."


There was a scrambling sound, then a slighter man appeared.

His face was bright blue, his hair was sticking straight up as if he'd just been electrocuted, and there was something furry attached to his arm, engulfing his hand. Something that snarled, menacingly.

Porter’s mouth fell open again, and he was without words.

“Ah,” Crawter looked wild-eyed toward his seemingly untroubled companion, and added, “ye see, I had a little accident this morning, just as I got up. The sink was blocked. And plumbers cost a lot, don't they, Revelin?"

Revelin blinked at him. "I'm just a guest. I'm sorry , I don't keep up with that kind of thing."

Crawter jerked his arm, and the growling grew louder momentarily. Crawter grimaced. "Well, ye see, I plunged th' sinkhole, and nothing happened. So I lifted up th' cover and put my hand down to feel for th' obstruction."

Revelin whispered conspiratorially to the still stuck-dumb Porter, "He's Irish. I hear it's genetic. Not contagious, though, so don't worry."

Crawter glared at him. Then continued, "I'm sure you've heard about a few of the wee instances of trans-dimensional oddities around these parts." He eyed Porter hopefully, until he saw a slow shake of the head. Crawter's face fell. "Ah. Well, y'see -this is one o' them. Me good friend Revelin here came awake this a.m. and stopped laughing eventually, and said this wee beastie was trying to digest me bit by bit, but that I needn't worry because it hasn't been known t' eat Irishmen. Me friend Revelin is quite th' comedian at first bird squawk. So, he offered an alternative -- involving me holdin' still and a carefully targeted flame blast."

"I dabble with -- incendiaries. As a hobby ," Revelin provided. "Look, Crawt -this guy's a customer. Don't ya think you'll scare him off?"

"Have ye ever heard of dimensional flashback?" Crawter continued, looking earnestly into Porter's eyes. "No, neither have I. And I wasn't told about it until -" he checked the time, "about five minutes ago. After the wee explosion." A pained expression came across his face, then Crawter raised a finger, saying, "Excuse me a short while. Just fix this up."

He slipped out of view, while Revelin maintained a nonchalant pose, and Porter counted the pulsebeats across his own temples. After a moment, they heard someone yell out, "Take that, ye furry fergin' wee bastard!"

Followed by a brief roaring sound, and the crash of a window after something smashed through it at great speed.

Then, behind Porter came a loud thud. And the sound of something suddenly engulfed in flames.

Porter turned around, and stared out into the street.

Crawter came up behind him, peering around one shoulder. "Tch. That was your vibro, I suppose? Sorry about that -- th' beastie slipped off mid- swing. Didn't like a blade stick into its eyeball much. Hey, I hope you got some insurance on that, it looks expensive."


8.50 am

"Ye want me t' investigate th' killings."

Porter nodded. He hoped his nod was one of quiet, calm enthusiasm. Eoghan Crawter, so Porter's sources advised, was the best one in Kerav City for such an investigation as this. Something about -- paranormal expertise, so one source said. The guy had a nose for the bizarre.  

"Sorry .Can't help you."

Porter stared at him. "Pardon?"