Pulling on my headphones, I shove my hands into my pockets and walk down the sidewalk. It’s a cold October day, and my boots give a satisfying crunch as they tread over the fallen leaves. The sun begins to creep into the sky, and honestly, it’s way too early. I stifle a yawn and try to focus on the music blaring in my ears.
Every day, Finn and I meet at dawn to train. Lucky for me, dawn in Campestris is about fifteen minutes after the one here in Hominia. So, as the first streams of sunlight come in between the buildings, I walk slightly faster and then veer off into the neighborhood park. ‘Neighborhood park’ is a strong phrase. More like a cluster of trees around a creek, I had never visited the park until four weeks ago when I met Finn. Now I stride confidently in, the way to the Door second nature to me by now.
Walking down a slight slope, I come across a tiny rock sculpture: three smooth stones piled together into a pyramid. Without a second thought, I step past the stones and in through the Door. The sensation catches me off-guard every time, feeling weightless for a second and forever, and as my stomach drops, my right foot steps onto red dirt. Not only does the Door sensation always catch me off-guard, but so does Campestris, and I inhale the warm, wet air.
The orange sun beats down today, so I quickly peel off the coat that had been necessary back home. I drape it over my arm and look out at the puffy white clouds stretching out to the horizon. Walking to the edge, I gape in wonder, like I always do, at the plateau’s cliff receding down and disappearing into layers and layers of clouds. They’re high today, the clouds, right level with my feet. I could almost step right onto…
“Hey!” I jump and whirl around to see Finn standing, fully awake, about thirty feet away at the entrance to our building. “Come on, let’s go!”
I groan internally and make my way over to him. “You know, it’s not natural to be awake this early.”
He ignores me and proceeds inside. I roll my eyes and follow.
By the time I throw my bag down, braid my hair, and stretch, Finn’s already sweating, beating up a punching bag. When I walk over to him, he doesn’t seem to notice, throwing punch after methodological punch, focused at an alarming degree. It takes me grabbing the punching bag from the back for him to look at me and refocus on reality.
“Right!” He says, shaking his hands a little and walking away from the bag. I follow, slightly concerned. It’s only been a week after my first outing, my encounter with the Occasus. The next day I came in Neva was in the lounge talking in a hushed tone to Finn, and she seemed genuinely surprised to see me. Before she said a word, however, Finn tilted his head in the direction of the training room, and we left her sitting there alone.
Finn claps his hands together, scanning the room to decide what we’ll do today. But then, the sound of our door opening stops us both. We exchange a small glance of confusion; then Finn shrugs and starts toward the lounge. Before he can, someone bursts into the room.
“Finn!” The person says and runs right up to him. I watch intrigued as they immediately throw their arms around him, and he, though surprised, embraces them back. He opens his mouth to say something, but they beat him to it, running straight up to me.
“OH! Oh, hi! You must be Elizabeth!” They pick my hand up and shake it. “My name is Irby! I’ve heard so much, so much!”
I quickly take in everything I can about them. Short, about five foot. Short, vibrant red hair, relatively baggy clothes covered in patches in stains. Goggles pushing back the hair—goggles that look like something out of a steampunk movie. They have Hominia features; nothing out of the ordinary. It shocks me a little how fast I note these details, and I realize this weird training must be paying off.
“Uh…hi.” I say, still confused by the situation. “What are…”
“Finn!” They turn abruptly back to him, moving on after I had been acknowledged. “Finn-you-have-to-help-I-swear-I’d-do-it-but-I-can’t-just-go-off-but-we-have-to-find-them-oh-it’s-a-travesty-and…”
“Irby!” Finn stops them, leaning down to put his hands on their shoulders. “Irby, what happened?”
They take a deep breath. “Okay. Okay, okay, I’m good. Um, so I was opening up shop as I always do,” They turn back to me without stopping, “I work in the Repository, you see.”
I don’t see, but in the same breath, they turn back to Finn. “And, like, two-thirds of the W wall is GONE just GONE, and so I go up to Jemy, and she says to me ‘go check the post-Z’s, m’boy! The post-Z’s!’”
I have no idea who Jemy is, but I love the impression. Irby turns back to me, still in one sentence, saying, “I’m fluid, you see, I go by he’s and her’s and them’s and all of them,”
They finally take another breath, but that’s just to turn back to Finn. “SO, I go to post-Z’s not expecting to find them and wuddaya know, I didn’t, so I ignored Jemy and came straight to you!”
Finn and I share a glance, silently asking if they’re finished. They’re not. “So you see, you gotta go find ‘em Finn! Someone’s taken ‘em!”
“Irby,” Finn says softly, “it’s nice to see you again.”
They seem to stop visibly bouncing for a moment.
“Been too long, Finn.”
The two of them stay there for a second, and it occurs to me that they must not have seen each other since Finn came back. I smile a little.
Finn clears his throat. “But Irby, I’m sorry, this isn’t really our job. I know that Beata would be…”
Irby gasps. “Finn. You can’t honestly think I would let anyone else handle anything from the Repository. I mean, now that you’re here, you’re the only one that can!”
I watch this entire exchange with growing amusement, and looking at Finn’s face, I know what he’s going to say. Irby glances back at me expectantly, and when they see my grin, they launch into a huge string of thank-you’s. I run over and grab my stuff—sword and med-pack and bag—and rejoin them in the lounge.
Finn opens the door for us, and as we walk out onto the plateau, Irby links his left arm with my right and pulls me up ahead of Finn.
“So,” Irby says with extreme seriousness, “how in the entire Planescape did you convince Finn to be your mentor?”
I start to laugh and launch into the explanation of that cold day one month ago.
We walk across the plateau, passing little rock sculptures here and there, arm in arm. I tell my story, and Irby interrupts occasionally, but each time they do, I like them more and more. Finn trails behind us, and when I look back at him, he gives his little sideways smirk.
We stop before the tallest rock sculpture I’ve seen. Irby spins around to face me and asks if I’m ready.
“Of course!” I laugh, even though I have no idea where we’re going, and they pull me through the Door as Finn follows.
When I step through, Irby beams at me as I gasp. We’re surrounded by bookshelves. The cool air kisses my face as I stare up, books reaching literally as far as I can see. The shelves create a tight passageway, weaving out in front of us on and on. Odds and ends are scattered on the floor, cogs and wheels and little complex machines and figurines. But I’m drawn to the books, stacked tightly and neatly on the shelves, packed end to end. Walking to the shelf to my right, I reach out with my right hand and touch my fingertips to a particularly old, large, leather-bound book.
“No time!” Irby squeaks. “Come on!”
They trot down the passage in front of us, and I whimper a little but pull my hand back from the book and follow.
The three of us walk amongst the forest of books for a long while. I try to catch glimpses of titles as we go, and eventually Finn has to drag me away from some obscurely named novel. I didn’t think it possible, but we reach an end to the bookshelves.
The room opens up into a circle, the ceiling far above us opening also to let in glowing yellow sunlight. All around in stacks and piles and lumps are random items, ranging from large chess pieces to cell phones to weird things I can’t even describe. There’s a counter toward the back with odds and ends on top of it too, and a room seems to open up behind it. The window above the counter is closed, like a food truck, with a metal shuttered door blocking the counter off.
But it didn’t seem to make a difference, as Irby sighs before making their way to the line of about fifteen people behind the counter. There’s a few human-looking people, including the first man in line, but as I study the rest of them, my eyebrows raise. A giant man, probably eight feet tall, with blotchy, pale green skin, holds something that looks like a complex clock. Someone a few places back in line looks like a woman with blue, almost gelatin-like skin; she’s beautiful and looks like she’s made of water. I get double-takes of a few others, following Irby and Finn up to the counter.
As Irby fumbles with a key ring on their hip at the door leading into the counter, the people in line begin to talk at them.
“Irby! I’ve been waiting a half an hour; I need a copy of The History of Mentior: Its Significance in the Fourteen Wars!” The man in front’s voice bursts out of the hullabaloo of voices.
“Grontin, the Repository is closed,” they say as they finally get the key in the door, “I’m sorry, but we’re…”
The voices escalate, and Irby walks in the door and pushes up the covering on the counter, shouting, “ATTENTION EVERYONE! The Repository is closed!”
Finn and I watch from the side as murmurs of dissent ripple through the small crowd.
“The Repository doesn’t close!” Grontin says incredulously.
Irby rolls their eyes. “Well, it does today.”
Irby pulls the covering down, and Finn smirks at me. I laugh openly as a recording begins to play from crackling speakers which don’t sound like they’re used often.
“PLEASE RETREAT IN AN ORDERLY FASHION THROUGH THE REPOSITORY BACK TO YOUR RESPECTIVE DOORS. STAY CALM. DO NOT ENGAGE ANYONE YOU DO NOT KNOW. PLEASE RETREAT….”
The patrons mumble, unhappy but defeated, and make their way off in various directions.
“So,” I say to Finn over the announcement, “how many Doors are there to this place?”
“Oh, loads!” He says. “The Repository is the most visited realm out there. Established some hundred years ago, this place was found by Irby’s family. They had stumbled onto an empty realm filled with what seemed like junk.”
We walk into the little room behind the counter, where Irby waits and the recording is much softer.
“The junk, however, wasn’t just junk. Irby?” Finn indicates in their direction.
“Anything and everything you see here was brought for a reason,” they say, a smile forming on their lips, “either by someone specifically or more often by some weird force. We dunno how the stuff is chosen and usually not where it’s from either. It’ll just pop here one day! But every single object is important to somebody somewhere out there!”
I’m confused. “Wait, stuff just, like, shows up here randomly? And no one has figured out how or why?”
Finn turns to me, suddenly very serious. “Listen, there are over a thousand known realms, and who knows how many more. We’re gonna see a lot of things we won’t be able to explain, and in some realms they call that magic. But remember, magic or weird forces like this are just things we don’t understand yet. This isn’t just some mystery to be left unsolved.”
Irby motions for me to follow her to a door behind us. Through that door, we find a small room with three little cots off to one side and a table of complex scientific equipment off to the other side. Anything and everything was bubbling and buzzing and beeping, computers and flasks and microscopes and things I have no word for.
Irby smiles. “My great-grandpa started these tests when he found the Repository. I continue them, and I’ll figure out how this place works, someday. Wanna know my main theory though?”
I nod, and they lean into me, close and buzzing with excitement.
“I think this place is alive,” they whisper, “but Finn doesn’t like that too much.”
Finn scoffs but insists we stay on track. Irby giggles and leads us back out into the main room, where the recording has stopped and the patrons are gone. Finn and I follow them through a few corridors of shelves packed with random things, until we reach a huge sign that says ‘W.’
The shelves beyond are the first empty ones I’ve seen in this place yet. For about twenty feet across and fifteen shelves up, everything is gone. Finn walks up to the shelves, a puzzled look on his face.
“Do you know when this happened?” He asks softly, running his hand across the shelf at his eye height.
“Sometime between one and seven AM!” Irby answers, sounding distraught.
I watch as Finn looks about the area and assess possible modes of entrance and exit. After about a minute, he turns to me.
“Well?” A challenge. So, he’s got some sort of idea then.
“Well, uh…” I say, walking in a small circle before facing back to him, “where’s the nearest Door?”
“Good. Where’s the nearest Door?” He asks Irby.
We follow her once again about halfway down the W section, then we hang a right to a dead end hallway filled with books once more. Irby halts a few feet before the end and gestures onward.
“Here.” Finn states. “Most likely suspects. Where’s it go?”
They dawn a look of understanding. “Oh…uh, that would be Praedo.”
Irby and Finn share a small look, then he says simply, “Well. That certainly shortens my list. Elizabeth, come on.”
He disappears through the Door before I can respond, so all I can do is warily follow him through.
To Be Continued in The Repository: Part 2!
Featured Image found at: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/pictures/180000/velka/new-york-city-public-library-1465660412eRn.jpg