“Are you serious?” I laugh at the next second.
It’s surprising to me that I can still be surprised. We step out onto a black, rocky cliff next to a turbulent, deep blue ocean. Far below us is a small beach, stretching out into a bay. Covered in twilight, it’s night here, which weirds me out because today literally just started. Down and off to our left is a small town right on the shore, filled with mismatched wooden buildings shoved together. Lights illuminate from it, and I can hear hoots and hollers of all of the life happening there. A dirt path behind us leads directly into the town. But none of this is what got me.
What got me was the twenty or so ships sitting in the tiny harbor of the town, each with a crumpled Jolly Roger flag on its highest mast.
“Pirates?” I ask, not believing what I’m seeing. “Are those actual, like, swash-buckling, parrot owning, eye-patch pirates?”
Finn snorts. “Pirates, thieves, murderers, mercenaries, you name it. They seem to be drawn here to Praedo—it’s a hotspot for the dastardly side of traveling through dimensions, with black markets of all kinds.”
He starts off down the path to the town; laughing, I follow.
“So wait, like, why do they have the Jolly Roger? Like, isn’t that something from our realm?”
He nods. “Yeah, but you know the…”
“Oh my gosh!” It comes to me. “Is it the Bermuda Triangle? Please tell me it’s the Bermuda Triangle?”
“It’s the Bermuda Triangle.” Finn says shortly.
“Yes!” I exclaim. “Oh, that’s so awesome!”
When we make it into the town, which Finn tells me is called Kleftis, we follow the sounds of cheering down the stone sidewalk to a building larger than the others, and it looks crushed in between two smaller buildings. People—most humanoid, but there’s a variety—mill about everywhere; some are walking off in pairs, others hold arms in a brotherly embrace, more are fighting each other. Most are dressed in simple clothing, and I notice a few people carrying candles and lighting lanterns here and there. As we reach the door of the tavern, I see a sign indicating it’s ‘The Seafoam Saloon.’
Finn leads the way through the throng of people into the open-aired tavern. People part a little to watch us pass, taking double-takes for just a second then continuing with their business. Weaving through tables and chairs in a few rooms, we reach a long wooden bar, with glasses and bottles scattered all over it. The saloon looks straight out of a western movie, and I half-expect a cowboy to come strolling up to order drinks. When Finn walks up to take a seat at one of the stools, people spread apart with shifting eyes. I sit on the stool to his right, but before I can ask why everyone is looking at him weird, the bartender strolls up.
A burly, older man, the guy immediately says, “Well, well. Finnegan Doyle. ‘Eard you were dead.”
Finn looks a little confused. “Well, obviously I’m not.”
The bartender gives a hearty laugh. “No, no you’re not. And I’m glad about it, I am. But,” he leans into us, “not everyone ‘ere will share the same mind.”
Now, people don’t seem to bother hiding their stares and mumbles, and the room gets about a thousand times more uncomfortable.
I shift a little in my seat as Finn says softly, “Listen, Alastair, anyone in here lately talk about a big haul? Or the Repository?”
The bartender straightens, and his eyes widen. “Finnegan, look, I’ve got a business to run, don’t I? You know we get people from all over; I don’t keep track!”
He knows something, that much is obvious. I can see Finn get slightly angry.
“Alastair, seriously?” His voice is rising in volume. “You’re going to let someone get away with stealing from…”
“Uh, hi, there.” I jump in, placing my hand on Finn’s wrist and directing the bartender’s attention toward me. “Alastair, right? We haven’t met; I’m Elizabeth.”
I give him one of my dazzling smiles and hold out my hand over the counter. He shakes it cautiously.
“I’m Finn’s apprentice.”
The man scoffs. “’Finn’s apprentice?’ Finn doesn’t take apprentices!”
I fold my hands on the counter. “Ah, but he took me.”
Alastair laughs a good-natured laugh and begins to clean off some glasses. “Well, good luck to ya, ‘n you’ll be needing it!”
I laugh with him, and his eyes sparkle at me when I do. Glancing at Finn, I begin to ask the bartender questions—about his life, where he’s from, what got him here. We talk for about a half an hour. Honestly, I don’t retain a word of what he is saying, but eventually, after a lull in conversation, he folds in the card game he didn’t know we were playing.
“I like you!” He says, and I smile in victory. “Finnegan, you’ve surprising good taste in apprentices. Wouldn’t’ve guessed that!”
Finn, who had been watching the entire interaction with mild curiosity, shares a glance with me and nods slightly.
“So, Alastair,” I turn back to him, “this is actually my second time out on the job. It was very exciting to see the Repository; it’s a shame, though, about the, you know, thing.”
He sighs a little, reluctant, but then he says, “Well, I might know something.”
Finn and I lean over the bar simultaneously.
Alastair glances slightly at Finn but turns to me. “There’s a guy. I dunno his name, before you ask. He’s just called ‘The Collector.’ Never been in, never seen him, but I’ve ‘eard talk. Lots, ‘bout him.”
“Where can we find him?” I ask softly.
The man seems to be regretting every word. “A Door up past the one to the Repository. Supposedly, there’s a path through the woods. But that’s all I know, ‘n you didn’t ‘ear it from me!”
He turns away from us to other customers at the bar. I swivel in my stool, looking at Finn.
“Did good, didn’t I?”
He rolls his eyes and stands up, and we make our way out of the tavern. Heading out of town the way we came, night has fully set in, and we climb in the darkness.
“What is it with us and climbing?” I mutter under my breath when we’re almost to the Door we came in.
“What?” Finn asks over his shoulder.
“Oh,” I run a little to catch up to him, “uh, who’s this collector guy?”
Finn shrugs. “I don’t know. Never heard of him. Probably new to the scene.”
“Ah, new as in the past five years? Like while you were…off?” I gesture vaguely.
He nods as we finally reach the cliff we appeared on earlier.
We veer a little to the right, away from the cliff and onward.
“So this will be a new experience for both of us!” I chuckle.
“Yeah,” Finn says, distracted, “not necessarily a good or exciting thing. I think I see that path.”
He points off a little, a narrow dirt path winding into the long stretch of grassy plain. We follow along for a few minutes, the cliff disappearing behind us. We’re swallowed by the plain, the narrow path our only guide. I feel a bubbling excitement in my stomach, bigger than usual, with the knowledge that this is utterly and completely new. Finn and I both don’t know what we’re going to encounter, but standing beside him feels like the most normal thing I’ve ever done.
The path ends. Like, literally just abruptly ends. We share a small glance, then we proceed cautiously beyond the path, both with one hand slightly outstretched to find the Door. After a few minutes of silent searching, Finn calls to me softly. When I bound over, his right palm is flat against a veil of fluttering reality.
With his other hand on his sword hilt, Finn just walks through. No warning, no ‘here we go’ or anything.
“Wha…Finn!” I wait a hot second, taken a little off-guard, then I step through after him.
On the other side, a cold breeze welcomes me. Finn is directly to my right with his finger on his lips, so I silently take a look around.
It’s a small, cold room, walls of polished, deep brown wood creating a cool space. High ceilings, a few windows, and silence give me that weird feeling from museums that combines feeling out of place with admiration. Finn leads us out of our small room through a doorway without a door, and on the other side I almost run smack into a table.
Opening up into a huge room, there is stuff piled everywhere. Stacks and stacks of junk and jewels alike, it looks like what might happen if someone just dumped the Repository upside down. High windows let the orange light of sunset in, and I wonder vaguely what realm we’re in. But then my focus shifts to the table I almost collide with, which is the only clear space in the place, with only a book on top of it.
Finn creeps over to the book and begins to inspect it. I peer over his shoulder, and then it hits me that we’re looking at a sales book, names of people and objects with dates and prices attached. I glance around at the huge piles of stuff, with a path winding back and forth to the back of the room, and something dawns on me.
“How come this is the only book in the whole place?” I say what I thought was softly. Finn’s eyes widen as I clamp my hand over my mouth.
A large clashing sound comes from the back of the room to our right. The piles of stuff are too tall to tell, but it sounds as if someone dropped an old pan on concrete. It stops, though, and we share a look.
Then, the same sound crashes through the silence. But this time, it’s closer. Whatever it is, it’s slowly coming straight for us.
To Be Continued in the Finale, The Repository: Part 3
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