My stomach drops as I watch the pebbles my feet scraped off bounce down the mountain into the jagged rocks below. We must be a hundred feet off the ground, clinging onto the side of a mountain and being drained of life. My eyes go wide, and Finn looks at me intently, willing me to stay strong for just a few more seconds.
After what felt like a year, the Occasus put its foot on the very edge and shifted its weight to lean over. Its head appears at our backs, but it doesn’t even have time to snarl before Finn’s left arm shoots up with his sword, and the Occasus lets out a scream. Finn jerks backward, and the thing’s foot flies off his sword and off the edge. We don’t watch it fall, too busy pulling ourselves back up onto safe ground. I lay on the dirt, splaying my arms out to rest them. The night sky is only slightly darker than the sky at night, and I see the twinkle of a few stars. Finn lies on his stomach looking over the edge of the cliff.
“Shit,” he says softly and pushes himself to a kneeling position, “it’s gone.”
“What?” I say, lifting my head slightly to look at him. “What do you mean ‘gone’?”
He stands and walks over to where I’m lying. “Well, we didn’t kill it; that’s for sure. But all that’s there is some blood on the rocks.”
“It, for real, just got up and walked away after falling off a mountain?” I ask incredulously.
Finn sits next to my head with his legs crossed, groaning a little as he lowers himself.
“Yep” is his answer.
I look at him for a while, then at the sky. I see the sun creeping out behind the mountain’s peak above our heads. Wait. No. Another sun, one that’s much smaller than the one out during the day. This place has two suns!
I start to laugh. Finn joins in. We stay there for a long time, laughing our heads off.
While we’re walking down the mountain, the night sun high in the sky, I feel like a little kid, and I climb all over everything, enjoying the weird beautiful thing that’s being alive. Not long into our walk, I turn to Finn.
“Okay, so this has been bugging me for a while.” I start, bouncing a little and unable to stay still for some reason.
“Yes?” He says, amused.
“How come we could understand Aila?” I blurt out. “Like, this might be a dumb question, but does she just know English? Or like…”
Before I can offer my other theories, Finn answers, “It’s something that happens once you travel between worlds. You see, before our people began the wegferends, another realm threw their people out into the Planescape. Opes, it was called. The Opes realm, oh man, you should have seen it.”
I smile as Finn grows more and more animated.
“Their cities were miles and miles long. There was a golden tint to everything, and all of their buildings and products had this goldish orange glow. They had the most advanced technology, science beyond anything Hominia will be able to make in years. Like, any sort of science fiction novel you’ve read, and they had that technology. But it wasn’t just that. Opes housed the most open place of knowledge; anyone who was a learner or adventurer was welcome. Amazing, it was.”
I take a deep breath. “Noticing a whole lot of past tense here.”
He glances at me then keeps his gaze at the ground in front of him. “We showed up. Wegferends, I mean. And it was great, two groups of people determined to learn everything they could. But the wegferends who were in charge when I joined, they were hell-bent on a democratic sharing of all technology and knowledge, and any system different in any way was immediately infiltrated and defeated. But everything got complicated. Another realm, Sanguis, their inhabitants had some ancient beef with Opes. Everyone grew paranoid, especially the wegferends. So, they ordered Opes to share all technology, afraid of anything being made for war.”
I walk in step with Finn, enthralled by this story.
“I’m not entirely sure what came about next. Something big happened, but I was only an apprentice at the time. The next thing I knew, Opes had closed themselves off from every realm. Shut and locked every single Door.”
“Woah,” I say, “can they do that? How do you do that?”
He shrugs. “They obviously found a way. But Sanguis has been in ruins for years now, and we have no sign from Opes; no indication that their ten billion inhabitants are alive. Sometimes their technology pops up here and there, but it’s all just left over from ten years ago. But anyway, they created some sort of device that creates a compartment in someone’s brain once they travel through a Door, allowing them to communicate.”
I nod. “Wow. Okay, then. But wait, were they?”
Finn raises his eyebrows. “Were who what?”
“Were the people of Opes creating something made for war?”
He nods in understanding. “Oh, yeah, definitely. In their ancient history, they first discovered how to create an Occasus. And I heard rumors at that time that they were big into wars in the mind, like turning a person’s subconscious into a battlefield. Mind control and the like. But no way would they ever admit that.”
By now, we’re near the bottom of the mountain, and I let Finn slip back into his old memories of Opes. It’s weird to me that there’s so much history I’ve missed, big conflicts and wars and innovations and all. When we reach the camp, I’m bouncing all over again, unable to contain my excitement at everything new I’ll get to see and learn.
Aila is waiting right where we left her about a million years ago, next to the faded old sign. A small crowd of the Conlites accompany her, watching with eager eyes.
“It’s gone.” Finn says before she can open her mouth.
The people let out cheers and sighs of relief, parents hugging children and couples embracing. Aila’s body relaxes, and she gives Finn a hug. I give him a surprised look over her shoulder, and his eyes tell me to shut up.
When Aila pulls back, she looks at the both of us and asks us to follow her. We oblige, and I smirk. Now she’s acknowledging my existence.
We walk through the camp, a small group of children beginning to play music. It’s soulful and acoustic, but unlike anything I’ve ever heard. I dance as we walk, in the midst of a celebration, in the midst of life.
We reach Aila’s tent, leaving the celebration behind.
“You said it’s gone,” Aila says in her soft voice, “but it’s not…”
“No, it’s not dead.” Finn says gravely. “It fell down the mountain, thanks to my apprentice’s ingenious plan, but it seems to have disappeared.”
I glow at Finn’s compliment.
“While we don’t know who created it,” he goes on without pause, “I imagine that it’s left this realm. I doubt it would stick around after being thrown off a mountain, whether its creator extracted it or not.”
Aila bends her head, grasping her locket and looking fully relaxed again.
“Finn, how do I begin to thank you?”
He smirks. “You don’t. Come on, Elizabeth, let’s go!”
“No!” Aila says insistently. “You have to stay; we’ll have a feast, we’ll…”
She trails off. Finn has a sad, knowing smile on his face. He jerks his head toward the door of the tent, and we exit.
Through the forest and up the hill, Finn’s quieter than usual, and he’s usually silent. The day sun is rising, casting a mix of blue and orange over the land. The little rock sculpture identifying the Door welcomes us back from our journey, but before we step through I have another question.
“So,” I start, amusement in my voice.
Finn rolls his eyes. “No, we were never ‘a thing,’ I don’t know where you would get the…”
He stops as I giggle.
“No?” He asks, embarrassed.
“No.” I laugh. “What I was going to ask was that I did pretty good, huh?”
He looks at me weird. I really wish he would stop doing that.
“Yeah. You did.”
He steps through the door, and I break out into a smile. And then I follow him through.
The Adventures of Elizabeth Shelley will continue next week in The Repository: Part 1!
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