by Yiu-On Li
Art by Amanda Zhu
Issue: Solivagant (Winter 2018)
They stood dangling on the side of a cliff face. Precariously. Strong winds gusted about. You know, your typical life-or-death situation. Sunday thought he could still taste some of the apple pie he had for lunch. Those clouds below looked like marshmallows.
“How? How? How can you possibly be bored?!”
“I mean, you have to admit, this is getting old,” countered Melia, her feet jamming into rock in search of a foothold. “We must’ve dangled from the sides of at least three cliff faces by now, not including this one.”
A few pebbles loosened and tumbled from the wall of sediment. “Furthermore,” Melia continued, “if we’re going to die, it’d be much spicier to do so in, oh, I don’t know—”
“A pit of magma with starving crocodiles somehow impervious to the heat of molten rock?”
“Yes, exactly. Except we’ve done that already, too. Twice. Someone had put a sign in our way that read, word for word, ‘a pit of magma with starving crocodiles somehow impervious to the heat of molten rock.’”
Sunday tried a bit of his levitation magic. A few sparks, uh, sparkled from his fingertips, but nothing came of it. He produced a mighty huff of frustration (you really should have heard him; it was quite the huff). “Well, it was nice of them to let us know about it, at least.”
“Yeah. And boring. Boring, boring, boring.” On a whim, with nothing else better to do, Melia smacked the cliff face with her knuckles. She must’ve been very bored indeed. The entire wall trembled in pain—that is, if grand, inanimate objects could feel pain in the first place. “Come to think of it, this has all the makings of a lazily-written story. Give me a pencil and some paper and I’d gladly give these supposed set pieces a makeover.”
“Hey, watch it! I almost slipped there.” He had to steady himself by pushing his body against the rock. “I’m not sure our grand, inanimate friend here takes too kindly to being smacked around like that. You ought to be careful with your strength.”
“I don’t think anybody calls it that.”
“They do in the meta. Let me put it this way—” Melia’s retort was cut short by distant rumbling.
The two looked up and bore witness to a series of rather large boulders from the sky eager to come say hello. But neither Melia nor Sunday were quite in the mood for conversation with a third party. Which was too bad, because gravity is mean and has a penchant for crushing hopes and dreams.
Sunday braced himself against the wall and squeezed his eyes shut. “I didn’t sign up for this. I said I’d follow you around for a few weeks. I even brought my lawn chair.” He pointed to his smallish backpack, which contained four medicinal herbs, a jar of peanut butter, two living chickens, and the offending seating device (miniaturized, of course).
Melia scoffed. “You wanted a career in adventuring. I’m just showing you around.” No sooner had that last syllable left her mouth did a boulder slice the air between them.
Sunday, spooked: “I thought you were supposed to be the experienced one.”
“Let’s not forget that I’m not the one who spent all their magic on petty errands.” Melia checked her surroundings. Up was a cluster of browns, down was white, and left and right were blue. “You ought to have spat in the guy’s face and told him”—a rock nearly landed on her head—“‘sir, while I could magic up some delicious pies for you, I should’”—a smaller rock grazed her shoulder—“’point out that the world is an unfair place and’”—Sunday yelped in shock as a boulder the size of this paragraph sailed over his hair—“’you should just go collect those apples and bake those sticky abominations yourself.’”
“Hey, he was offering some good coin—” It was Sunday’s turn to have his retort interrupted as two chunks of earth nudged both sets of the bickering adventurers’ fingers from their handholds at exactly the same time (convenient, I know). Time… stood still… for a while… until it resumed and gravity pulled them down, down, down through a pristine mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and pie aftertaste.
Melia gave a whoop. “Now, this is what I call excitement! I’ve never fallen out of the sky before.”
Sunday’s whoop was more of a pained shriek. “Yeah, suit yourself. It’s a spicy way to go, but that doesn’t mean I want to go.”
“Well, some of your levitation magic would come in handy right now.”
“Oh, you don’t say.”
Some more sparks sparkled from Sunday’s hand, which succeeded in slowing them for a few moments before his stamina gave out once more.
“I’m all out.”
Melia thought for a while as the air whooshed past her ears and she met the cumulus marshmallows. “I’m sure we’ll find some way out of this. We literally can’t die.”
They fell in silence.
And some more silence.
Sunday: “Wait, why are we doing this again?”
It had been ten seconds of silence. He scratched his nose.
“The alligators, the cliff, the falling out of the sky thing. What’s the point? Why’re we even here?”
Melia gave it some thought, as usual.
“Well, weighing the multifaceted conjectures of existentialism and quantum mechanics, there are many competing hypotheses as to the nature of our existence—”
“No, no, no, that’s not what I meant.”
“No. I mean… why are we here? You said it yourself: It seems like we’ve already done everything there is to do (multiple times!) and we’re still no closer to finishing our quest.”
Melia narrowed her eyes in concentration. “It’s…”
“Um. Whatever our quest is in the first place. I didn’t quite catch that,” Sunday added with a touch of meekness.
Air sprinted past their faces.
“I don’t know,” Melia finally admitted.
“Do you ever know?”
Eye roll. “Oh, now you’ve really got me going.”
“Seriously, how do you not know?”
“It’s just instinct, you know? I walk out my door, and bam! Adventure! Like tying shoelaces. Or haggling for equipment. Or gutting the innards of a slime.” She pantomimed the elegant stabbing and filleting motions.
Sunday, pridefully: “Slimes do not have innards. That much I know.”
“Oh, you’d be surprised. Let me tell you the story of how…”
For a moment, Sunday was captivated by the prospect of learning about the guts of slimes. But he snapped back to attention. “Don’t you dare change the subject!”
“You’re the one who wanted to know about sentient gelatin.”
“Yeah, but… look, if you have no idea why you get up in the morning to fall out of skies or murder unreasonably aggressive creatures, why do it at all?”
No. Melia: “Okay, fine, I do have some idea of why we’re on this quest. We need to get the MacGuffin!
“No (also, shush, copyright infringement)! Didn’t you pay attention in literature studies? Standard adventuring fare! The MacGuffin!”
“We never learned about that in class.” Pause. “But I’m guessing it’s important? You capitalized two letters in that word, after all.”
Silence returned from its vacation before leaving again, because it was so done with this.
“The ground’s getting closer,” said Sunday.
“We can’t die! The world needs our story to continue!”
“Not if it’s the end of the world. Or the story.”
They could make out individual blades of grass.