This story is by Ryan Batla and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
“New street drug Stardust kills another dozen college students,” the radio announcer said as the bus rocked along Fannin Street, east of the stadium in Houston. Somehow the drug made for the Unseen World had found its way into the hands of normals. Their system couldn’t handle it, and Stardust killed over half of those who experienced its out-of-this-world high.
Which made it my problem.
I’m Gunner Hext and I’m an Edgewalker.
I knew normals couldn’t see the three-foot-long phase sword strapped to my back – even if they weren’t all attached to their phones – but I checked it anyway. I shook my head. Technology.
Stepping off the bus, I found my man, er, goblin, staring back at me from the middle of the crosswalk, normals weaving around him without seeing his mottled gray skin, flattened head, and three-inch bottom fangs. Right where my informant said he would be.
“You’ll never catch me, Edgewalker!” he shouted, bounding away.
Hard way then.
Touching the star tattoo on my left wrist, I said, “Speed,” and raced after the creature, as fast as a cheetah. I’d loaded only four powers today, speed being essential to catch any goblin.
Ever seen something in your peripheral vision that wasn’t there when you turned? Probably an Unseen or an Edgewalker chasing one. I’m not sure what the normals saw, but I bet their minds came up with an interesting explanation as to what the small gray blur quickly followed by a larger black blur had been.
The goblin dodged people and cars, then turned down an alley. Wrong move. I touched my tattoo, said, “Strength” and tackled the struggling creature. We were a tangle of limbs, and wrestled until I had him pinned. “You done resisting?”
“You like the chase,” he chided.
I gave him a look.
“Yeah, I’m done.” Letting him up, both of us panting, I released the magic. A small wave of tiredness washed over me. Price of doing business. “What you want, Edgewalker? I ain’t done nothin against the Laws.”
The Laws of Magic—those that governed the Unseen World.
“You’re full of it. Nonetheless, I need to know where the next shipment of Stardust is coming in. I’m tired of finding dead normals who don’t know it’s a magical drug.”
“And why would I know anything about that?”
“You know everything that goes on down here. Where’s the shipment of pills coming in?” I already knew the time.
His eyes grew wide. “You don’t know what you’re up against.” He shifted his eyes everywhere, wrung his hands and shuffled his feet.
“Still need to know.”
Sighing and dropping his shoulders, he said, “Under the ship channel bridge. We done?”
“Yes.” I watched as he walked to the end of the alley. Just before he disappeared, I said, “You wouldn’t steer me wrong, would you?”
He cackled as he vanished. “Guess you’ll find out!”
I called it in to headquarters and touched the badge on my hip; a Door appeared on the wall next to me in a flash of white light. Stepping through, I was instantly transported to another part of the city.
And into a hornet’s nest. Globbers—humanoid-shaped clay monsters—were attacking people on a restaurant patio, the patrons falling with various injuries, screaming, and running in all directions as tables and chairs became projectiles. Crap! The Globbers had crossed over into the visible, but why? That’s way out of character. I’d have to clean that up later.
I drew my sword, infused it with energy and turned the setting to Ice: the only magic that hurt Globbers. Rushing into the melee, I hacked one down, freezing the pieces as the blade sliced through and it shattered to dust. I beheaded the next one and stabbed another before one grabbed me and started absorbing my arm into its clay body. A quick pierce of the heart and the creature disintegrated, dropping a box full of Stardust pills.
Several females screamed from my left. That’s their target. Globbers loved to nab women, which rankled me to no end. Fifty of them blocked my way, and I roared a challenge.
An odd groan sounded. Instantly the creatures were sucked towards the noise. They combined, so instead of fifty, I was up now against one enormous Globber. The creature reached down and grabbed an oddly calm girl out of a group of screeching women and trotted through traffic towards the ship channel. Its current course would intersect the channel north of the bridge. “Speed” again, I raced after it.
My earpiece chirped. “Gunner Hext, abducted woman in your area.” No kidding. “Investigate and resolve.”
“Already on it.”
The lone Globber crossed back over into the Unseen and no one reacted to the two-story monster running through traffic. It’s incredible what people can ignore. I struggled to keep up. Finally the creature slowed at the water’s edge. I tried to catch my breath and ducked around a corner—we’d covered several miles in short order.
I ninjaed my way to the monster and hopped on its leg just as it entered the water. The Globber placed the woman on its shoulder, stuck up to her waist. Climbing for all I was worth, I made it up to her, grabbed both of her hands, planted my feet and started pulling. “Strength,” I said, tugging and battling the suffocating clay. The more I dug, the more it replaced itself around the woman, and the faster the water came up as the creature submerged.
The pretty brunette said, “Save yourself!” and was pulled away as the creature sank to the bottom, leaving me treading water. Was it my imagination, or did she let go? She could breathe as long as the Globber had her; its magic would keep her alive.
Swimming to shore, I released my powers and checked my watch – one hour until the deal went down. Too bad my magic didn’t dry clothes. I called in the report, requesting backup.
“Request approved. Reinforcements will arrive in one-point-five hours.”
Which was too late. I said as much, and got no response. If I didn’t stop this shipment, the city would be overrun with Stardust and more people would die. Couldn’t let that happen. Guess it was a solo mission. Again. Globbers weren’t known for their brains, so they had to be the muscle. But who was running the show?
I tried to call again, but the radio was down. Odd – they weren’t supposed to go down. Which means someone was throwing around some major mojo. Not good. Another thing for me to deal with.
Opening another Door, I appeared close to the bridge. The girl laid prostrate, clay binding her hands and feet to the ground, the creature looming over her.
Energizing my sword, I eased my way within spitting distance, drew on strength, then leapt up. I caught the creature by surprise and buried the blade between its eyes. With an otherworldly scream, the giant Globber disintegrated as I landed. That seemed too easy…
Sheathing my sword, I walked over to the now mobile woman. “You’re safe miss.” She let me pull her up then punched me in the face, sending me flying into some crates fifty feet away. Packages of pills marked “Stardust” fell all around me – at least I found that.
Striding toward me, green fire enveloped her hands, she said, “Idiot! I was going to drain the creature to empower the drugs! Now you’ll have to take its place!”
She let loose with her hands, green fire streaking toward me.
“Shield!” I said, touching my tattoo. A yellow half dome of energy flared to life and deflected the fire. Even so, the force of the blast threw me against a concrete wall.
Struggling to move, I found I couldn’t. A telekinetic as well. “Fool. Shouldn’t have meddled in my business. Now I’ll have to replace all that inventory,” she said, her clothes disappearing, replaced by a skin tight green suit. Sorceress. “This won’t be quick, and it will hurt. Prepare to die, Edgewalker, you –”
Sirens wailed behind her. Backup was early. Thank God.
She jerked her hand and I flew into another pile of crates. “This isn’t over!” she snarled, then disappeared in a blur of green flames.
My radio started working again. “Perpetrator allowed to escape by Gunner Hext. SWAT found the Stardust. Will burn and return to base.” Of course – just in time to take the credit.
They helped me up, burned the drugs and disappeared through a Door. I opened my own and, battered and bruised, sat down at HQ, doing the blasted paperwork. Bane of my existence.
One of the SWAT guys managed to get a good picture of the sorceress. I knew I’d seen her before, but where? I guess I’d figure it out at some point. It was my job, after all – walking the line between reality and the Unseen World, protecting you from what you don’t even know is there.