I smack directly into someone else’s forehead and fall to the ground. Grabbing my head in pain, I blink away the stars in my eyes. Mumbling an apology, I hear laughter trickling from a few feet away.
“Shut up, Finn.” I say, pulling myself to my feet and brushing Campestris’s red dirt off my back and pants. The boy I ran into does the same, adjusting the bow on his back that had been knocked out of place.
Finn walks over to me, still laughing, and he pats my shoulders reassuringly.
I give him a look and say, “You know, I think this is the longest I’ve ever heard you laugh.”
I roll my eyes as he laughs on, and I refocus my attention on the boy I collided into. I’ve seen him around the plateau occasionally. He looks young, probably only sixteen, which makes me wonder when he started training. Lanky with dusty dark hair, he always seems out of place to me, but I’m never quite sure why.
“Sorry about that,” I begin to explain, “um, I was just practicing with this watch I found that jumps between dimensions, but the whole landing thing can get a little tricky, so I was trying to land on my feet, but that kinda turned into running, so I…” I trail off, noticing the kid’s wide stare at Finn.
“You’re…” His voice is softer than I expected.
Finn finally stops laughing. “Yeah, I’m Finn Doyle.” Rolling my eyes at his ‘modesty,’ I watch as Finn’s eyes scrunch in thought. “You’re…Beata’s apprentice, right? Um…”
“Rhett.” The kid seems shocked that Finn knows of him. “My…my name is Rhett.”
Finn grabs his hand and shakes it, and I suppress a giggle at poor Rhett’s starstruck face. There’s a silence.
“I’m Elizabeth, by the way.” I grab Rhett’s hand from Finn, and the kid gives a small smile.
“Finnegan, why am I not surprised that you’re the one distracting my apprentice?” A tall woman walks up behind Rhett, smiling. She’s pretty, like, really pretty. Long black locks of hair lay softly on her shoulders, effortlessly smooth and shiny. Her heeled boots leave small imprints in the red dirt, and her lipstick could kill a man.
“Ah, Beata,” Finn says, “that was my apprentice, not me.”
I open my mouth, aghast that Finn is throwing me under the bus. But before I can say anything, Beata answers.
“You must be Elizabeth.” Her deep brown eyes fix on me. “Everybody’s been talking about you.”
“As well they should.” I smirk.
She smiles softly. “Oh, you’ve got a lot to learn.”
Then she gestures to Rhett, waves at Finn, and struts off toward a building on the other side of the plateau. Rhett gives us a smile of sorts then trots after her.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask Finn, puzzled and a little offended. He doesn’t answer, just gruffly tells me to follow him.
“Woah, wait.” This is the first time I have interrupted her, but I am too skeptical. “This is supposed to be accurate, Elizabeth.”
Her mouth opens in almost a perfect circle, and her eyes squint the way they do when she feels offended. “I have been telling the complete truth, Hayden! You were the one who asked me to do this, you know; I could be doing other things with my time!”
This is our second writing session, and I realize my mistake of interrupting her too late. It was easy to stay silent for the first session; the way she told everything aligned in every way with the other stories I’d heard, and she was a captivating storyteller. After a week of contemplating, as I sit once again in her squishy leather chairs, surrounded by the collections of her and Finn’s exploits, I am only more intrigued with her stories. But, now that I know what to expect in chronicling the most famous wegferend’s life, I find myself incapable of avoiding interruption.
Giving her a long look, I resign, “Was Rhett really like that back then?”
She throws her head back and laughs. I guess that’s my answer.
When we reach our building, Neva is standing outside the door with one of her manila folders in her hands, waiting for us to walk up. Finn snatches the envelope from her and walks through the door, not giving her a second look. As I follow him, I hear her huff and walk off.
“You know, maybe we should….um, be nicer to Neva.” I say as I walk in, but Finn, who’s opening the envelope over a small table, gives me a short glare. “Or not.”
He coughs. “We have an…understanding.”
“Uh huh.” I say, unconvinced. “Anyway, what’s the deal with that kid Rhett?”
Scanning the papers he pulled out of the envelope, Finn mumbles, “Uh, he’s just Beata’s apprentice. Came on while I was gone. I think his parents are, like, from different realms or something, that’s why he’s already doing field work at sixteen or whatever. Oh…”
I skip up next to him and look at the papers over his shoulder. “‘Oh,’ what?”
“‘Oh,’ we’ve got a case,” Finn says, handing me the papers and walking over to grab his bag.
“Oh.” I say softly and glance at the papers. When I see a wall of tiny text on each page, however, I widen my eyes and set them back down on the table. I prance off after Finn, who is already out the door.
“So, sum it up for me.” I snort as we walk off on the plateau.
The wind, particularly feisty today, whistles loudly. Because of the way the giant plateau stands, Finn told me, there is a sort of air current or whatever that sometimes causes gusts. I walk closer to Finn in order to hear his response.
“A man called Sigiwald.” He says.
I’m expecting a little more, but there’s just silence. “Okay, I gotta imagine four pages of tiny text would have had a little more than that.”
He’s a little tenser than before, fiddling with that ridiculous coat of his. “Yeah, well, he and I are on…let’s say, not good terms.”
“Oh, so like everyone else who’s met you.” I say.
He ignores that. “We’re headed for a realm called Gerheli. It’s inhabited by one of the most ancient races we know of. Humanoid, though, don’t get too excited.”
The smile that was spreading across my face disappears a little.
“Anyway, Sigiwald was their most promising youth, newly elected to their high conclave, oh, about ten years ago.”
“I’m guessing not so promising anymore.” I interject.
Finn shakes his head. “No. A…thing happened. What matters is now he’s got some power, and it’s gone to his head. He’s called the Forever King, apparently. Even though he’s not technically a king, but he acts like it. The stories I’ve heard…aren’t good. Neva says they’ve been sending people, but he refuses to let any wegferends in his city.”
We stop at the very edge of the plateau by just one large, smooth stone.
“Wait,” I say, giving him a puzzled look, “what was on those papers, then?”
He gives a small smile. “A summons. Let’s go.”
Finn leaves me there, ducking through the Door without another word.
“Why is everyone being all cryptic today?” I mumble to myself, and then I shrug and step through the Door.
On the other side, the sun is high in the sky and…green? Kind of. Like, it’s more like there’s this green filter on everything. And everything takes my breath away.
Under my feet is a long stone pathway stretching off into the distance. Pale brown rocks pared with white ones create a repeating pattern, a design or letter of some sort. Little sprouts of green shove up between the stones, grass fighting against the road. Surrounding us on both sides is a pine forest, creating a deep, cool atmosphere. The trees are spaced out, and a thin layer of pine needles covers the ground to the left and right. Every few feet on each side of the path stands a pillar, old and made of the same white stone in the path. It takes me a second, but then I see that each pillar, paralleled on each side as the road stretches into the distance, is crumbling, rocks missing and stained grey by the elements. There are large stone slabs, some laying on the ground, some still holding up, stretching between the pillars, indicating they used to be some sort of archway system along the path. I walk up to the pillar nearest me, crossing my arms from the sudden chill—way different from the heat of Campestris—and I notice something different from the other realms I’ve been to.
“They’ve got electricity?” I say, incredulous.
Inside the pillar I see horsehair thin wires, and on the top is a cracked glass of sorts, still flickering with a pale light a little when I fidget it. The pillars that look like they’re from ancient Rome are lamps.
Finn stands a few feet away, in the center of the road. “Not every realm is medieval or more primitive. Don’t forget that.”
He licks his finger and holds it up, then starts off in front of us down the path. I give the lamp glass one last flick of my finger and trot after him.
“You know, for being explorers and defenders of other dimensions, a crazy fantastical lifestyle, we sure do a lot of walking.”
Finn is unamused by my comment. But in my defense, we have been walking down this road for, like, a half an hour.
I decide to change the subject, as my mind wanders. “So this said…thing…that happened to Sigiwald. Didn’t have anything to do with you, did it?”
He gives me a look, like he always does. “What makes you say that?”
“Well, I mean…” I sigh, “have you met you?”
Finn looks a little offended. Oh, geez.
“All I mean is that you have that tendency to piss people off.” I explain.
“Well,” he chuckles halfheartedly, “you’re not wrong.”
He stops, as if that answered my question. I scowl.
“Alright, fine!” He tries to kick a little stone loose from the path, but it doesn’t budge. “I may have…visited ten years ago. I was just starting out; I was eighteen and, mind you, young and…reckless.”
I give a little laugh at the thought of a more reckless Finn.
“So, the young conclave member of Gerheli calls in need of help with a beast terrorizing his people. I jump at the chance, and as the new wegferend promising to be the best, how could he refuse me?”
“Wow, modest, much?” I snort.
He opens his mouth as if he’ll deny it, but then he just shrugs. “Anyway, I do my thing. The beast was a nasty thing, a native of Gerheli and horrifying. But, soon enough, it was dead. Only problem was, like I said, I was reckless. Not that it was entirely my fault, but it came a lot closer to the city than I had anticipated, and, well, the creature took half the city down with it.”
My eyes widen. “Oh.”
“Yeah.” Finn clears his throat. He doesn’t look at me, focusing on his feet. “Half the city was in ruins, and Sigiwald was the only member of their council still alive. Instead of allowing the survivors to reelect the remaining positions, he’s the sole ruler to this day.”
“So, who summoned us, then?” I ask.
He glances at me. “He did. Sigiwald. In response to the wegferend’s inquiries, he apparently finally sent a message saying he’d see me and only me.”
“Why am I here then?” I mumble to myself.
“In case he’s going to try and kill me.” Finn answers.
I open my mouth, then close it. “Oh. Good.”
Suddenly, the pillar’s light nearest to me, on the right, blinks on. A faint buzzing fills the air as one by one the lamps that are in front of us zap on, or at least the ones that aren’t shattered. Finn halts for a second, and I follow suit.
“Well, looks like the welcome committee is coming.” He says dryly.
I’m about to ask what he means when I hear the soft sound of footsteps. They’re growing louder, until eventually I see heads popping up in the distance.
About twenty tall men and women in platinum armor race up to us, each holding a steel spear. The armor is rather hefty, with a large circular helmet with an etched flower on the front bobbing on each one’s head and covering their faces. Their metal boots clang against the stone as they form a circle around us, but as I stiffen and start to bring out my sword, Finn gently sets his hand on my arm. His body is completely relaxed as they halt, and while he slowly puts up his hands in a signal of peace, his eyes are darting around rapidly. I realize that he’s not relaxed, just putting up a pretense. I follow suit, lifting my hands in surrender, too.
“Finnegan Doyle.” A rough female voice comes from underneath the helmet of the guard directly in front of us.
“Yes?” He asks.
The helmet snaps in Finn’s direction. “Come.”
Without another word, the circle of guards moves forward, those behind us lower their spearheads toward us, forcing us onward.
To Be Continued in The Forever King: Part 2! Stay tuned next Thursday to find out what happens next!
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