Story by Jon Vassa
Illustration by Bradley K. McDevitt
I went back to the Sonic Jade before the match was to start. I slipped in near the back and asked to look at the bets. A man handed me the odds and gave me a picture of the two contestants. I took one of the pictures out of his hand and studied it for a moment.
It was the same picture I was carrying in my jacket. The one I’d been given at the crystal shop. I kept my cool and made it seem like I was weighing out my credits. ‘This is a real Imp then?’
The man nodded, with a cigar hanging out his mouth. ‘We got a new client. They caught a few of ‘em in some other realm. So what’ll be?’
I handed him the picture back. ‘Put me down for the Imp.’
He moved the cigar in his mouth and then pulled a small glass pyramid from his jacket. I tapped my credit piece upon it, making my bet.
He walked away and I went to the bar to get a drink and then settled myself in the back. The place was quickly filling up. I noticed the androgynous lady sitting at one of the tables a few rows up from mine. Then a couple of tables over, I noticed a crowd I’d been hoping to see.
There was a female halfer with another Caasian, and a small pink-eyed man next to her. I thought the Caasian looked familiar, but I couldn’t get a good look. Might’ve been at the restaurant with the ambassador.
The lights went down all of a sudden and the arena lit up. The crowd began to stir. The room was now filled with all kinds of smoke.
A man stepped down inside the arena, speaking loud enough for us all to hear. He introduced the contenders and then jumped back out of the arena.
Out came a Krilack growling with red spit that dripped from its mouth. It was a tiger-like creature with reptilian leather you might find on an alligator. It looked mean down there. I would’ve jumped out of the arena real quick too.
Then came the moment we’d been waiting for. The Imp slinked its tiny body out into the arena. It looked puny compared to the other creature. It was eyeless, but still glancing its head around the room, unperturbed, almost bored.
I sipped my drink and waited for the show.
The Krilack lunged at the Imp, missing it by a great deal, then snapped its head to the side trying to bite it, but missed again.
The crowd screamed at the close nick and the Imp seemed to have dodged the Krilack’s teeth by mere blind luck – than anything else.
The Imp started walking in the opposite direction.
The Krilack made another snap with its jaws, catching the Imp’s leg in its mouth. The crowd roared and howled. The Krilack began thrashing the Imp around, then threw the Imp up against the wall, breathing heavily, with black drips on the edge of its teeth.
The Imp stood back up, blind, looking in the wrong direction.
The Krilack rushed towards the Imp, but ran suddenly into the wall, with a solid thud.
The crowded cheered and booed at the same time.
The Imp seemed to have disappeared from the arena.
The Krilack stood up and then shrieked with a reptilian growl. The Imp was on the back of it, digging its claws, deep into the creature’s neck. The creature thrashed about, trying to get the Imp off its back. Then the Imp opened its mouth with a horrid screech as it bit down on the beast’s neck.
The Imp moved its claws out of the Krilick’s back, and then reached swiftly, underneath the beast’s chest. The Krilick shrilled a pinched sound as it choked, smashing its face into the ground. It then opened its mouth and closed it a few times, before the blood rushed out of its throat, and its eyes turned to glass.
The crowd jumped to their feet shouting. Chairs were tossed out behind them and tables were flipped over.
The Imp had won.
I kept my eyes on the halfer in all the commotion.
She threw a hood over her head, moved away from the table, and slowly moved behind the crowd, and up a spiral staircase near the back.
I slipped out from the table, exited the crowd, and went up the stairs behind her, unlatching my gun from its holster. She ducked inside a room on the sixth floor and locked the door behind her.
I went over towards it and pulled a pick out from my jacket. I clicked the latch open and drew my gun. She stood up quickly as her cloak fell off her body. I waved the gun at her a few times while shutting the door back behind me. ‘Anyone else in here?’
She shook her head, her forehead glowing a little; as if she were talking to someone through it.
I walked in closer, glancing at her naked figure. ‘Where’s the crystal,’ I said.
She glared at me, cupping her black nipples, as her forehead went back to normal.
‘I’m not stupid. Where’s the crystal.’
She spat on the ground towards me. ‘You’re a fool.’
‘Yeah? Where are you keeping it? Is it here now? I’ve gotta get it back to its rightful owner you see.’
‘It doesn’t belong in a vault,’ she said. ‘This is our birthright.’
‘From what I’ve gathered it was stolen from a Caasian family a long time ago.’
She laughed and then smiled at me. ‘You fool. You know who they are? What group you’re working for? They’ll destroy your realm if they get their hands on it. They don’t care. All they want are your precious hearts.’
I reached down to pick up her cloak, keeping the gun aimed at her. I pulled an Ipthian weapon out of it, put it in my jacket, and then threw her the cloak.
She caught it, quickly wrapping herself up.
‘So where’s this crystal then? You’re just a pawn, aren’t you? A grunt working the streets.’
She glared at me again.
I froze as I heard a knock at the door. I pointed the gun at my lips, telling her to be quiet as I slowly went to the door. There was another knock.
‘Zia? Come on. We need to get this thing back. Get your clothes on and let’s go.’
She let out a scream.
The door began to rattle.
I went past her and kicked out the window. Six stories was too high to jump from. I then went back to her, keeping my gun between her shoulder blades. ‘Alright,’ I said. ‘If this is how you want to play it.’
We walked over to the door and opened it. The small pink eyed man stood outside. He drew a weapon fast but then paused.
‘Let him go,’ she told him. ‘Put the weapon down.’
He hesitated before setting it on the ground.
She spoke to him in a foreign tongue for a moment. I pushed the gun harder on her back. ‘Enough of that.’
The little man held up his hands and walked down the hall. I pushed the halfer out of the door and backed us down the spiral staircase. We went through the second floor and broke a window at the end of the hall. The streets were filled with drunken winners screaming and shouting, like a parade of debauchery and sin.
‘We’ll jump it together. Don’t get any ideas or you’ll be laying there like your hairy friend.’
We jumped out the window and crashed to the ground. She stood up quickly, trying to run, but I clung to her arm and thrust the gun into her back again. ‘What did I say?’
‘I’m not in the mood.’
I pushed her fast towards the nearest alleyway. There was too much commotion going on around us for anything to seem odd. I kept the gun up against her back, leaving the crowds behind. ‘Alright, lady. I don’t mind leaving you here to sleep.’
‘You won’t find it.’
‘You’re wrong about that. I’ve got a bit of an idea of my own as to where it is.’ I fixed the gun firmly again. ‘You see, the other day I happened to stop in at an Ipthian restaurant, pretty far from here, and saw an interesting thing taking place. Nothing out of the ordinary I guess, an Ipthian Ambassador and two diplomats with him. If I’m not mistaken it takes a great deal of paperwork to get one of your kind out of that shit hole. Am I right?’
She grunted. ‘You don’t know anything.’
I pushed us further down the abandoned alleyway. The crowds echoed behind us still. ’But then for someone like yourself,’ I said. ‘There’s a bit of leeway. You’re not full Caasian, neither full human. What an interesting pawn if you think about it. You can travel with ease, thanks to your genetic makeup.’
She squirmed and growled like a child beginning its tantrum.
‘So if let’s say a group of Caasians had been trying to push a legislative measure, to open up the portals to their own kind, and all of a sudden they get a halfer like yourself who can go hopping from realm to realm. Well, then they’d have a pretty nice hand. Especially when they could use that halfer to steal a crystal that’s in transit between vaults.’
She growled under her breath.
‘That’s right,’ I said. ‘Those Imps have a power other than destroying things. It was something I picked up from the old family who hired me. They can open those passages you need. Much faster than waiting for a legislative measure to go through. Am I right?’
‘And what’s wrong with that kind of freedom?’ she said.
‘Nothing’s wrong with it for responsible people. But I’m guessing those bitter rebels – like the family that hired me, might have other plans if they get open access to any realm they please. Resuming the war they started over a century ago, you think?’
‘They overheard our conversation,’ she said. ‘I didn’t know what family they were a part of. It was a shitty little pub. The small pathetic bartender and his inbred boss with his deformed horns. They weren’t supposed to know anything we were saying. They acted like country hicks.’
I let the gun up an inch. ‘Well that’s your mistake then, isn’t it? You never know who you’re talking around.’
We kept going down the alleyways, passing through the crowds. Everyone was acting strange for some reason. No longer cheering but rushing around a bit too frantic. I saw some people running past us in a hurry. Then I heard a few shouts.
I stopped at an intersection to look. There were Imps climbing up the buildings, slipping in through the windows, and gathering at the roof. My mouth dropped open and my eyes fixed on them.
‘You see,’ she said. ‘You’re too late.’
— ♦♦♦ —
I watched the little Imps climbing up the buildings with my mouth agape. She threw an elbow into my face, knocking me to the ground, with pain searing through my swollen cheek. I pulled the gun up and aimed it at her, but she was already dashing away.
I stood up quickly to chase after her. She dove into a crowd, blending with them for a moment, but then I was able to fall her trail, just watching the stir she made in the opposite flowing direction.
We ran into the business district, losing the anxious crowd, for all the business folks standing frozen as they watched the Imps up on the buildings in the city. I glanced at the Imps for a moment. They were docile, their fingers were glowing red, but they weren’t harming anything yet. I guess this is what happens before they open up the passageways to the different realms.
I then saw the halfer ducking into a posh building on the main street. I rushed in after her, catching a glimpse of her heels, going up the staircase.
I hurried behind, checking each hall for any movement. I heard a door slam down one of the higher ones and went to figure out which it was. The hall was empty. There were some cleaning supplies abandoned in the middle of the floor that I almost tripped over them as I searched for her.
The lights began to flicker above me and then went out as a dark mist started to fill the world outside. I went to the glass window and stared at the mist shaping into a heavy nimbus hanging close to the city. I turned around and looked down the dark hall. There was a green light shining underneath one of the doors.
I went over to it, pulled out the Ipthian weapon and shot the handle off its frame. I was met with a volley of fire sent out through the door. I hit the floor and rolled to the other side, leaning up against another door.
The small man with pink eyes came outside with his weapon in hand. I grabbed him by his neck before he saw me and threw him to the ground. I was quick to step on his hand, breaking it, and then kicked his weapon away.
He screeched with pain as he rolled on the floor, holding his hand to his chest. I blasted another door open and threw him into the bathroom, locking him in. He was still hollering up a storm. I went back out and jumped into the green light coming out of the room.
The halfer shot me in the side and I dropped my knees. I threw up my gun and blasted her shoulder, tossing her to the floor as well. There was another Caasian in the room holding onto the crystal as if his hands were glued to it. I caught sight of his face. It was the Ambassador of course.
I pulled myself up and dodged another shot of hers. I then blasted her in the leg and quickly leaped on top of her. She threw me off like I was a child with her massive strength. Her head began to glow, as did the Ambassador’s behind me. I aimed another shot at her and missed by an inch.
She hesitated a moment from firing. I felt the Ambassador behind me. I got closer to him and then moved behind him as he held the crystal in his hands.
She gritted her teeth, not daring to shoot while I was so close to the Ambassador.
We were stuck in a stalemate for a moment. The Ambassador was oblivious to everything happening around him as his hands were magnetized to the crystal.
‘He’s a remnant from the old war too I guess?’
She spat on the ground. ‘He’s not one of them. His blood is pure, royal. Not like those hicks that hired you. His great-grandfather was the first Caasian to pass into the mid-realm, as the first true ambassador of Ipth. He pushed for their cause every single day, until his last breath. Always fighting to open the realms to all of us, like we’re doing now.’
I lifted my gun quickly over his back and hit her in the side. Her eyes went wide with panic, then turned into a blank stare, as she fell to the ground, this time staying down there. The light faded from her forehead as a black liquid drained out the corner of her mouth.
I went over to where she lay and picked up her weapon and threw it away, just in case. I then aimed my weapon at the Ambassador’s hands, shooting them off at the wrist, disconnecting him from the crystal.
He came out of his trance with a swell of pain and a howl that carried throughout the hotel. I rushed to the crystal, picking it up as he was distracted by the pain, and ran out down the stairs.
‘YOU FILTH,’ his voice echoed. ‘HOW DARE YOU TAKE THIS FROM US.’
I felt weak holding the crystal with my bare hands. Like I had turned into an old man; ready for a wheelchair. I tripped down the steps, lost my grip on the crystal, and fell, fumbling the crystal across the lobby floor.
My strength came back in a moment, not touching the crystal any more, and so I lifted myself up and took off my coat.
The screams were getting louder, echoing down the staircase.
I rushed to wrap the crystal inside my jacket and leave the building before the Ambassador reached the lobby. I was weak, as blood ran down my side. I only noticed my wound when I stumbled out onto the streets.
I felt dizzy but kept stumbling along the road. The Imps were starting to climb down from the buildings and the dark mist was vanishing from the skies. Everyone around seemed frozen, like statues, etched out of giant rocks.
I kept ploughing through the city. The tiny creatures began to line up, slowly gathering near me. I staggered away from them, down the street and towards my hotel. They were keeping their pace behind me as if they were planning to devour me once I fell to the ground.
The crowd of people standing on the sidewalk, confused by this situation, turned their heads watching the Imps as they followed me.
I then stopped to turn around, breathing heavily, looking at the Imps. ‘Go back to your homes,’ I shouted.
They looked at me for a moment with their eyeless faces and then dissolved, together with the mists above us.
Everyone stared at me. I didn’t know what to tell them.
— ♦♦♦ —
My side was wrapped up in linen from the hotel. It was full of blood, but oh well; I just did this realm a big favor. I deserved it.
I sat on my bed for some time, thinking of the golden liquid, and how rare it was. I needed to keep going. Another decade more perhaps? That would be my last though. This time I swear by it.
But I couldn’t get past the thought of those Caasians that hired me, taking hold of the crystal, opening us up to another great war. Could I be that selfish? Just to live another decade?
After a while, I made a call through my com-link and waited in my room, keeping an eye on my side. After a while, there was a knock at my door, so I got up, and let her in.
She looked past me, straight at the crystal, which lay wrapped on the bed. ‘You’re an idiot,’ she said.
I shrugged. She was probably right.
‘It was the Ambassador,’ I said. ‘He wanted to open up a passageway to all his people. You need to keep a better eye on that embassy you know. He wasn’t the only one either, might want to check it out.’
She fixed her platinum hair back and went over to the bed, unwrapping the crystal to look at it. She put my jacket down over it and then looked at me. ‘What are you going to do with it?’
I took my last cigarette from the nightstand beside me and lit it. ‘You guys have a reward for it or something?’
She looked at me and nodded. ‘I’ll make sure they pay you.’
She nodded. ‘Are you willing to take that?’
I sighed a heavy breath full of tar and smoke. ‘Don’t have much choice, do I?’
She didn’t respond.
I shook my head sighing even louder this time. ‘Go on and take it. But leave my jacket. I like that one.’
She touched her wrist, alerting the others. They came inside right away as if they’d been standing outside my door the whole time. They had a special case for the crystal that they threw onto my bed as they unlatched it. With the most care I’d ever seen, they picked up the crystal, put it inside, and closed the case back up.
‘I wasn’t that gentle with it,’ I said.
They ignored me and went outside with the case.
She stayed a moment longer to look at me. I hated that look. Like I’m a lost mutt sniffing at back alley dumpsters.
‘I’ll be fine,’ I said. ‘I haven’t died yet.’
She came over, reached out, and took my hand. ‘Thanks, Riley. You did the right thing.’
I gave a dry breath. Full of bitter air.
‘It looks good on your record too,’ she said.
I shook my head. ‘Fine.’
She let go of my hand and straightened her hair. ‘Where are going next? Maybe I can take you to the hospital?’
I paused, scratching my chin. It was rough with coarse hairs that needed to be shaved. ’I was thinking home,’ I whispered.
She got up and went to the door, lingering there, still looking at me that way. ‘Come on. Let’s get you checked out first.’
I didn’t move right away. I took my time finishing my cigarette, stubbed it out, and then went over towards her.
She held onto my back as if I might fall while helping me out the door.
— ♦♦♦ —
Tristan Neese was just an ordinary guy living in a dilapidated apartment building. He did his best to keep to himself and ignore the filth and desperation around him. But that little girl Tracy…she needed help, and he was compelled to give it to her. He had heard Tracy’s drunken uncle yell at, and hurt her one too many times. He would help her, even at his own peril. Of course, this meant drawing the attention of The Guardians. You see…Tristan wasn’t from our world, and he had magical power humans couldn’t understand. But his race was in hiding on Earth, and Tristan rendering aid to this little girl would put his entire race in jeopardy.