I fall to the ground in a heap, sweat leaving me like a flood. Everything hurts, my hands the most as they sting from the reopened scabs and callouses now beginning to bleed again. I close my eyes to rest, for just a second.
My eyes fly open again, and I reluctantly heave myself to my feet. Finn stands twenty feet above me, on top of a fake cliff occupying the entire back wall of the training center. I glare for a solid second then begin to scamper my way up the cliff for the third time. Every time I reach the top, I get pushed down and end up falling back onto the mats on the ground. I’m supposed to try to gain the upper hand or whatever. ‘Precision in event against elevated attacks’ or some shit.
Four weeks have passed since I met Finn. Four weeks since the day that changed my life forever. It’s crazy that now the cuts and bruises and scars and scratches have become normal to me. Nonstop training for at least three years before two more years of field work before maybe possibly passing the eight-part wegferend authorization test, that’s what I have in store for me. Or at least that’s what the first page of the four-hundred-page guidebook Neva gave me right as I jumped through the Door for my first day.
The realm of the wegferend headquarters, Campestris, seems to be just a singular plateau. My first day here, as Neva trotted away to the main complex, I stared in awe. Stretched out in front of me were clouds, like literal clouds, as far as I could see. I walked carefully toward the edge, the red-brown clay of the plateau crumbling slightly under my feet, and I peeked over the edge. We were miles off the surface, and I could just barely make out a tiny space, between the clouds, of black soot and dirt. The surface was desolate and far, far, far below. Then, my primal instinct kicked in as my stomach began to drop, my eyes drawn to the rocks under my feet beginning to tumble down the long cliff side, and I was jerked backward by my arm.
Finn dragged me in a few feet, grip tight on my upper arm, and then we halted. His face broke out into a sideways smile.
After that, he pulled me away from the ocean of clouds to a small building away from many of the others. The buildings, all grey and somber against the red clay, reminded me of encampments in movies about Mars, where the astronauts always set up bases on long, large expanses of red dirt.
Inside the building, which I’ve now come to think of as ours, is our training area and personal base camp. It’s actually pretty fancy, with an entrance lounge room with leather chairs, thick carpet, maps of realms, artifacts and books galore. Down a hall to the right are business rooms for meetings with clients and the such. From the entrance, there are two doors that lead into the training center, what Finn called ‘a glorified gym with swords.’ With a center area for sparring of all sorts, an enclosed room on the right wall for archery, a weapons case of, like, a ton of weapons on the left and a few more enclosed rooms in the back for the rock wall and weather condition training, his phrase is pretty accurate.
I’m two-thirds of the way up the rock wall when I get an idea. Legs pumping and muscles aching, I finish my climb, but this time I place myself directly under the outcropping Finn is standing on. I’m hugging the wall, pulse racing. And I wait.
I see Finn’s feet move closer to the edge, as he tries to look at what I’m doing. In the middle of one of his steps, my hand shoots out to grab his ankle. Finn, already bending over, is put off balance, so I yank his ankle back and over the edge. I hear a soft ‘puff’ as he lands on the mats below.
Triumphant, I heave myself onto the outcropping and let out a whoop.
“Pretty good, huh?” I bend over to say to Finn. But I don’t see him.
Suddenly I’m weightless, and then I thud on the ground on my stomach. I groan.
“Never let your guard down!” He laughs from the outcropping.
“Damn, you’re fast.” I groan, pressing my face into the squishy mat. He squirrels his way down, beaming with how quickly he overthrew me with my own move.
He’s about to begin lecturing me on something when I hear a faint ringing sound.
“Is that the phone or just my ears?” I say weakly, using all of my strength to lift my head up.
Finn looks surprised. “Phone.” He trots out of the training room to answer it.
A few minutes alone allows me to regain myself. I slowly stand up, stretching out my arms and my back, some muscles here and there, and I walk over to where he had disappeared. When I walk into the lounge, Finn is sitting next to the table on the old-fashioned landline that has been silent for the entire time I’ve been here. I quietly flop onto the leather chair directly opposite him, exhausted.
He’s on the phone a long time, muttering yes’s and uh-huh’s every so often. Then, he looks at me, says yes, and hangs up.
I raise my eyebrows, the only way I can form a question.
He stands up without a word and walks purposefully into the training room. A second later he emerges with his sword and his packs. Too exhausted to move, I watch him prepare himself for whatever case he’s been put on, soaking in his mannerisms and preparations, storing them in my mind as useful information for later.
“Well?” Finn says, not looking at me and adjusting the sword on the belt at his hip.
I blink a few times. “‘Well’ what?”
Still focusing on his equipment, Finn only glances at me. “Come on; get your stuff.”
I shoot up, all exhaustion replaced with adrenaline. “What, really?!”
He smiles slightly, then he reassumes his unattached, gruff, mentor manner. “Hurry up.”
I bound over into the training room and hurriedly grab my stuff. Our very first lesson four weeks ago was how to pack ‘official’ wegferend equipment. I throw everything on: my first aid pack and my sword at my waist, my all-emergencies bag made by the Rillian people on my back. On the first day, Finn handed me the lightweight, dark brown bag, and I looked at him incredulously.
“This is it?” I said, laughing. “This fits everything I need? Are you sure?”
“The Rillian People of the Paratus Realm weave these bags together from their grass.” Finn explained. “The material not only is one of the strongest in the Planescape but also has this curious ability to expand on its own and encompass its contents, storing more items in smaller surfaces.”
“Uh-huh.” I raised my eyebrows but didn’t question it.
Now, the bag sways lightly on my shoulders as I run back into the lounge while quickly braiding my hair. Finn’s got one hand on the door, and when I reach him he asks if I’m ready.
“Well, yeah.” I say like it’s obvious.
“Are you sure? Because, you know, technically I’m not supposed to take you on a case for another year.” He looks at me, half amused.
“I didn’t take you for a rule-follower, Finn.” I laugh and push my way out the door before he can respond.
He chuckles softly and shuts the door. Taking in the image of me bouncing up and down on the balls of my feet, waiting anxiously for him to lead the way, Finn nods.
“So….where to, exactly?”
I’m bouncing behind Finn, following him across the red dirt of the plateau. We pass little rock pyramids here and there, each one slightly different, marking Doors to different realms. Finally, we halt in front of a complex little pyramid, with tiny stones making a circle behind it. Inside the circle, reality seems to shimmer, and light warbles slightly, moving back and forth as though in the breeze.
Finn just smirks at my question, and he steps carefully into the stone circle and through the Door.
I watch his back dematerialize, and I can’t believe this is actually happening. I laugh to myself then run headfirst through the Door. I feel weightless for a second, the brief feeling of in-between realities which seems to last an eternity at the same time, an odd feeling of everything halting for a split second and forever.
Out on the other side, I slam directly into Finn’s back.
“Oof! Sorry.” I peak around his back, blinking wildly in the bright new sunshine.
He steps back as I instinctively step forward, soaking in what I’m seeing.
Sprawled out in front of me is the most picturesque view I have ever seen. We seem to be on a hill, and down a gradual slope in front of us a bright green forest springs with life. The bluest blue sky with cream puff clouds crash right into a lush green mountain past the forest in front of us. I breathe in the new world, smelling the light, misty air, like the smell following a summer rain. I hear the scuttling of creatures from the forest, and I break out into a smile.
“Wow, it’s…” I begin to say.
“What do you notice?” Finn interrupts in his urgent teaching voice. “Not see, anybody can see what’s in front of them; what can you notice?”
I narrow my eyes, looking beyond the scene in front of me. “It’s spring, wherever this is; there’s wet dew on the ground and blooms in the trees. There’s something up on the mountain, there, looks like a temple of some sort. Probably important, because there are no other buildings up there, so someone took the time to build it specially. Smoke, over there at the base of the mountain, so probably a camp or village of some sort. So that’s where we’re going, yeah?”
I smirk at him, knowing that was good. At least for this being only my third experience with a different dimension. Finn, to my dismay, doesn’t look impressed.
“You’re missing something.” He studies me in silence for a second. Before letting me take in any more, he starts down the gentle slope to the forest.
“But you are right. Come on; to the smoke.”
We enter the forest, and I wait for him to tell me why we’re here. He doesn’t. Silently striding forward, Finn leads me into the brush, and soon we are enveloped in the woods. Ten minutes into our trek, and he still hasn’t said anything.
“Okay, what was it? Was it something behind us?” I begin to guess whatever I had missed. “I noticed that the sun was behind us and we were going west; I just didn’t think I had to say that.”
I ramble on, noting everything I had seen or was seeing. Finn is still silent, only occasionally cracking a smile at my guesses. Fifteen minutes later and we’re at the edge of the wood with a small encampment before us. Almost like a gypsy village, the only buildings in sight were canvass tents and wagons.
“Or maybe the…” I finally trail off, as Finn holds up a finger and looks at me.
“Just listen.” He says.
I look at him, puzzled, but he raises his eyebrows in indication, so I listen. I hear the faint bustle of whoever’s in the camp, a fire crackling somewhere, some scuttling in the woods. Then it dawns on me. What do I not hear?
“Bugs.” I say softly. “No buzzes or chirps or clicks or…zzzz-ing” I imitate a bug noise, splaying my hands out for affect.
Finally, Finn smiles. “No bugs. Ecosystem like this, that’s impossible. Doesn’t matter what dimension you’re in, some small creature has to carry pollen and the like. So either they are very quiet and very few or….”
He trails off, but I pick up on what he means. Something bad. We emerge from the forest, and I watch him as we enter the camp, copying his demeanor. Finn strides in unabashedly, somehow looking completely relaxed but also completely on guard at the same time. I try to watch him out of the corner of my eye while taking note of everything in the camp.
The first person I see is a little girl, sitting with her back leaning on a wagon, with an odd guitar-looking instrument. She plucks at the strings, tiny hands struggling with the notes, but it makes me halt in my tracks. There is something mesmerizing about her, long dark hair with almost a tint of green, small barefeet splayed on the dirt, skin that at first glance looks normal but the longer I look the more it looks midnight blue. She looks up, knowing I am watching her, and her striking violet eyes hit mine.
Finn, who finally realized I wasn’t next to him, walks back to me, and whispers, “Conlis. That’s where we are.”
I think for a second, eyes still met with the little girl, and I smile. The girl, plucking absentmindedly, smiles back. I glance at Finn, over my right shoulder, and smile even wider. He smirks, then rolls his eyes.
“Come on, we’ll be late for our appointment.”
To Be Continued in Cliff’s Edge: Part 2
Featured Image found at: https://static.pexels.com/photos/33937/pexels-photo-large.jpg