The clashing continues along the path between the stacks, growing closer, and Finn runs past me to the right, grabbing my hand to drag me back toward the Door. The next thing I know, we’re on opposite sides of the open doorway, backs to the wall, silent, listening and waiting. The sound gets louder, and then there’s a smack as it reaches the table.
“You can come out.” An old, shaky voice comes from the open room. “I know you’re there.”
Finn and I share a glance, and he motions for me not to move. Then he steps out from the doorway. I gasp a little. What is he doing?
“Well, you must be this Collector I’ve been hearing so much about.” Finn says softly, and I watch his back disappear from my view. I breathe as softly as I can, but that’s hard to do when my heart’s racing.
“Ah, well, then you have an advantage over me.” The voice says, seemingly rejected. “Who are you, and why have you come here?”
Finn sighs. “Well, you see, it’s actually a funny story.”
I hear a smack.
“I don’t like funny.” The voice turns sinister. “If you’re not here to buy, you’re not here at all.”
“Ah, but you see, I can’t leave.” I can just tell by Finn’s voice that he’s smirking. “You took something from my friend.”
There’s a grinding, wheezing noise that I discern might be…laughter? “Oh, you’re the cavalry, are you? The brave wegferend come to take me down?”
The word ‘wegferend’ came out so mockingly I almost laugh at how ridiculous it sounds out of his mouth.
“Yeah, that’s me.” Finn’s voice is light. I smile a little.
The other voice just snarls.
“Elizabeth!” Finn calls. My eyes widen, but I peek out from the doorway.
“Yes?” I say lightly, but then I see it.
The Collector is a man. Just a plain, middle-aged guy with an ugly mustache and greasy hair. But behind him, where the light of the sunset is illuminating, is his shadow. Which did not match him.
Tall, spindly limbs reached up on the far wall, at least fifteen feet up the blank wall, but it doesn’t move. As I walk toward Finn, the man’s eyes grope me, but I notice the shadow thing only moves as he does. The Collector cocks his head this way and that, and the shadow moves the same. I reach Finn, and we share a look.
“Where are the W’s?” Finn asks, less as a question and more as a warning.
The Collector makes that weird noise again. “Oh, wegferends, can’t you see? And anyway, this is my living. I can’t let you just…take them.”
I scrunch my eyebrows. “Isn’t that what your living…is?”
He didn’t like that. Both the shadow and the man shake their heads wildly, and the shadow’s head projected on the wall hits one of the stacks. And some stuff on the top tumbles off.
“Wait…” My brain has to catch up with what happened.
“The shadow’s physical, Elizabeth.” Finn says quickly, pulling out his sword. “That’s what he meant by ‘can’t you see!’”
I pull out my sword, following suit but still not really understanding, as the Collector keeps shaking his head in some kind of fit.
Then, he roars. Which is weird, honestly, but Finn and I run anyway. Past the table and into the stacks of stuff, the man and shadow follow suit, albeit slowly.
“Stay out of the light!” Finn shouts at me as we swerve through the junk.
I run closer toward the stacks in their shadow, but I shout back, “Oh, yeah, I’ll try!” sarcastically.
Behind us there’s that clashing sound again, which now I realize is the shadow knocking all the junk over. Eventually, though, Finn and I skid to a stop at a little alcove of stuff in the back of the room. I look around for some way out or some advantage, but the man and his shadow are gaining. Finn, however, begins to look at the junk in the piles and in the few glass cases and starts to mumble to himself.
“White crayons, wegferend handbook, wardrobe…” He mutters, picking up some stuff in a small pile next to him.
“What are you doing?” I shout, running back to grab his arm. “Come on!”
“No no no, look, Elizabeth, it’s here!” Finn gestures toward the stuff. “It’s the W’s!”
I roll my eyes. “Oh, great, cool, well, we can tell Irby where we found them after we get out of here!”
I start to run off again, but he doesn’t follow. Instead, he turns around. The Collector rounds a corner and is now in sight at the other end of the path.
“Finn!” I start to protest, exasperated. I wait a second, my mind racing, but then I sigh and run up to stand beside him.
As the Collector, with his shadow trailing behind, slowly but menacingly walks up to us, I say quickly, “I still don’t get how a shadow can hit things.”
“It’s not a shadow, not really.” He’s panting about as fast as I am. “‘Can’t you see?’”
Oh. Oh, I’ve been looking at this all wrong. Finn nods quickly when my eyes widen.
The Collector isn’t the man. The Collector is the shadow.
“Oh, shit.” I say softly.
“Yeah.” Finn agrees.
The Collector and his man laughs that weird laugh.
Without a warning, Finn lunges, running straight toward the light, at the Collector, bypassing the man. He begins to hold off the shadow’s jabs and grabs, trying to stick it with his sword. The man mimics the shadow’s movements, swinging and grabbing in dead space. But after a minute, the shadow roars and rips right off the man, Peter Pan style. The man, now free, looks around wildly but then locks onto me, and he bares his teeth.
He jerks and stumbles at me, and I whip my sword up, my brain scrambling to remember what I’ve taught. The guy lunges at me, and I block with my sword, but he doesn’t seem to feel a thing when I scrape him. We go on, him lunging and me twirling and blocking. I barely register when Finn, to my back, yells something.
What did he say? I do a double-take at him, and the man-Collector almost hits me. I catch it just in time, cutting a deep gash in his hand.
Finn yells again. “The W’s!”
This time, Finn caught the attention of the man-Collector, and he jerked his body around to face him. Confused, I look at the pile containing the W’s behind me. And then I see a golden light, shining out between the W items. I run over to the pile, sheath my sword, and begin searching, throwing away whistles and windbreakers while glancing behind me occasionally, until I found the thing making the light.
A watch. Of sorts. A little larger than a normal watch, with a lightweight brown, leathery strap, there’s a beautiful golden face with twinkling silver stars etched behind where the clock would be. Instead of a clock, it’s some kind of complex mechanism on interloping silver bands and wires with an open center that has a rectangular screen of sorts, and that screen displays one line of some strange letters and a few numbers. I stare in awe as the golden glow it emits slowly dims. Compelled by some force that’s not entirely myself, I fasten the watch onto my left wrist, and it almost seems to settle into my wrist, morph to fit my body. I’m surprised that it lays relatively flat on my wrist, as the silver bands begin to move and enclose the face so it…closes. I think.
Suddenly, I jerk back to reality as Finn runs up next to me as the Collector and the man connect once more.
“Um, so, any grand ideas?” Finn gasps, holding his arm which looks dislocated or something.
I glance at my wrist again. “Yeah, actually.”
Without knowing how I know, I open the watch again and turn a small dial on the side. Then, I grab Finn and position him across from me and on the other side of the W’s. Holding his arm and touching as much of the W’s as I can, I press the dial on the side of the watch in.
For a second, nothing happens. Then, my entire body jerks, like I took a huge jump. There’s a bright flash of gold and white, and then I’m falling.
My back hits the ground flat, and I open my mouth in pain.
“Ohhh…” I groan, very softly.
I register something moving at my feet and then next to my face.
“Elizabeth! Are you okay?” It’s Finn.
“Yeah, I’m fine, I’m fine.” I say softly and blink rapidly. I see Finn sit back against a wardrobe, relieved. My mouth makes a slight ‘O’ and begins to speak before I shoot up to a sitting position.
“Wardrobe!” I say, my head and back still aching. Looking around, I see waffles and wagons and waistcoats. “The W’s!”
Finn looks around, past the W’s. “Are we…no, we can’t be…”
“The Repository!” A voice squeaks a little while away. A second later, Irby rounds the corner and bounces to us. “You’re back! I heard a crash, and I was way over in J’s and I was so worried, I said, ‘it can’t happen again!’ But then, I saw through Q’s that there was…”
Irby rambles on, and Finn and I, sitting on the floor, share a crazed glance and then a smile.
A little while later, we’re sitting in Irby’s little room behind the counter, holding cool glasses of water, and I’m recounting our story to them. When I get to the part about the watch, Finn asks to see it, and I have to peel it off my wrist; it doesn’t seem to want to come off.
Finn and Irby inspect it carefully as I watch, a little hurt when they share a glance.
“All I did was think about the Repository, and then I just like twirled the thing and pressed it, and then we were here.” I explain.
Finn scratches his head. “Some sort of…jump between realms. That’s not possible. Is that possible?”
Irby shrugs, unable to give an answer.
The two of them fall into a silence, flipping the watch over and over, until Irby lets out a slight gasp and shares another knowing glance with Finn.
“What, what is it?” I say finally.
Finn flips it over and slides it to me. “See that? The small golden oval engraved in the back there?”
“That’s the signature of Opes technology.”
I take the watch and look a little harder at it. “Opes, what, that one realm you told me about?”
Finn and Irby share a look again. They need to stop doing that. I’m the one who shares looks with Finn.
“Opes was far advanced, so much so the wegferends ten years ago got scared and told them to share everything they had.” Finn explains again. “They didn’t want to, and since they were always a little opposed to the wegferends, they closed off all their Doors. This watch is their technology.”
“I had no idea it was here.” Irby says, suddenly soft and serious. “And I know everything here. Usually. But sometimes Opes technology just falls through the system.”
We’re all quiet for a few minutes, as I finger the watch absentmindedly.
“You know what.” Irby says suddenly, grabbing my hands. “I think you should keep it.”
Finn looks startled, but they completely ignore him and look at me. “I knew people from Opes, when I was real young. Everything they did was for a purpose or with purpose. And I think the purpose of this watch is to be with you.”
They wrap my fingers around the watch, and I stare questioningly at Finn.
“Neva won’t like this.” Finn says warningly at Irby. They kind of just keep looking at him, until he continues. “Which, honestly, is reason enough in my book.”
“Really?” I say, bouncing on the balls of my feet.
Finn stares at me long and hard. “Yeah. Could be useful, being able to go between realms without Doors. We’ll have to test, make sure there are no repercussions in the realms or anything, but yeah. Just don’t be dumb.”
“Thanks.” I roll my eyes and fasten the watch back on. It vibrates a little. “So this can actually just jump between any realm?”
Finn shrugs. “Looks like it. It’ll take some practice and testing on your part, too. But the rule is right now no jumping without me either where you’re going or where you’ve been, okay?”
I nod, and he nods, too, acknowledging that we should be leaving. Irby gives Finn a tight hug and whispers something in his ear. They then hug me, smile, and bounce off into the depths of the Repository. Finn and I head back through the shelves of books until we come upon the Door to Campestris once more, as Finn steps through, I fiddle a little with the watch.
“Shortcut.” I whisper, and then I press the button. And I jump.
The Adventures of Elizabeth Shelley will continue next Thursday in The Forever King: Part 1
Featured Image found at: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/pictures/180000/velka/new-york-city-public-library-1465660412eRn.jpg