The Skin of the Earth — Chapter 1

Chapter 1

The sidewalk felt strange under Daniel’s feet. Maybe it wasn’t so much the concrete of the sidewalk but the knowledge that below the sidewalk was, quite literally, merely ground. The skin of the world. Solid was, perhaps, a better word than strange. The sidewalk felt thoroughly solid underfoot. It was an unnerving sensation for a man who had spent the entirety of his life in the himmelburg, the city in the sky.

Just one of many to come, Daniel decided.

So far, everything his brothers had warned him about the bodenburg seemed to be true. It was incredibly hot, smelly and occasionally sticky. Just like any long-unwashed body.

The badge that hung from his neck beeped, indicating that it had found his target – his partner. Well, his soon-to-be-partner. They hadn’t actually met yet.

“Tell me,” he said to the device.

“Sixty two point eight meters north, north-west. Approximately, twelve storeys above your current location,” the metallic voice chirped from his ear piece.

Twelve storeys. That sounded good to Daniel, some space between his feet and the ground. He hoped this was the right building this time. The structures down here were not as expansive as he was used to – they were stunted, ungainly things with tumours and offshoots. Twice he had almost closed in on his soon-to-be-partner’s coordinates, only to round a corner and discover an impossible wall or impassable fissure between two buildings. Down here, everything was haphazardly piled or crammed into whatever nook or cranny was convenient. Larger buildings half-swallowed lesser ones, only to fall to ruin on one side and have fungal sub-structures grow out of the remains.

Daniel wrapped a hand around his badge, the golden city crest hugged by the sword and staff – representing the laws of both man and mage – and tucked it behind his jacket as he began to jog up the stairs in search of his soon-to-be-partner.

Escaping the pull of the world was not as easy in the bodenburg as it was the himmel. By the seventh floor, Daniel’s steps came at a much slower pace than he would have liked. Eventually, he willed his way up to the twelfth floor, forgetting about the comfort of having space between himself and the ground for a brief lean on the railing and a few breaths of hot, sticky air before continuing on.

Just past the stairwell’s landing, stood his soon-to-be-partner. Her eyes were closed and she was leaning against the wall. Her long black hair was pulled into a braid to one side. She was wearing a dark brown leather jacket that made Daniel sweat just looking at it.

“Detective Sundown?” he called. His brothers had told him that all of the women in the bodenburg were scarred from the sun, that they were obsessed with garish implants and cheap glamours. This did not seem to be the case with his partner; she didn’t appear to be wearing makeup let alone any augmentations or charms. “Detective Sundown?” Daniel repeated as he took another step closer.

She answered him before she opened her eyes. “Yep.”

“Detective,” Daniel showed off his badge to her. “I’m your new partner.”

There was the slightest flash of disbelief in her glance of him. She laughed. “I think there’s been a mistake.”

“There’s no mistake,” Daniel assured her. “I’ve been looking for you for the entire morning–”

She put her hand up suddenly, dark eyes looking away, listening.

Daniel remained still trying to hear what his reluctant partner was hearing.

Sundown took out her gun and immediately, Daniel’s own hand shifted to the butt of the gun at his side. Calmly, his partner shook her head tossing him a handsign that meant all was ok. As Daniel began to relax, she exchanged her gun’s clip for another out of her jacket pocket. Daniel caught the slightest hint of frankincense.

“Is that runed ammunition?” he asked incredulously.

“Down here, we just call them witch bullets,” Detective Sundown replied as she clicked the clip into place. “Don’t worry, there aren’t any magic-wielders around here.”

“Then why are you –”

“Stay here,” she commanded as she rolled around the corner of the wall and into the next hallway.

Unsure of the situation, Daniel opted to do as he was told. Still, he called after her in a strained whisper, “What are you doing?”

Sundown didn’t bother to turn to look at him or lower her voice as she marched down the hallway. “Negotiating,” she said.

She walked past two doors on either side before stopping between the third and fourth door of the east wall. She brought up her gun, aiming point blank at the empty wall and fired.

The shot rattled Daniel’s ears as it bounced along the hallway. The flash of light cut the hazy atmosphere for a split second as the bullet exploded into the brick wall, arcs of magic crackling at the impact. Soon, the arcs spread out from the centre eventually covering an entire chunk of the wall in hot, blue-white light. The magic was raw, poorly imbued – Daniel could tell by the hiss and crackle it made. Just as quickly, the bright light dissipated, leaving only a void where a brick wall used to be. Wiring and studs from where the witch bullet had eaten away at the brick hung from the top of the hole. Sundown casually walked through the opening she had made.

A dissolve spell, Daniel realized, finding that his feet were now following after his partner, curiosity overtaking caution.

Sundown was standing in the middle of a sloppy living room. A man in a pristine white shirt and jeans stood behind her, arms raised defensively. Daniel put his hand back on his gun as he joined his partner.

“I told you, Sunny,” the man said exasperatedly. “I’m not on your take anymore. I told everyone – I’m not.”

Sundown was holstering her gun as she said, “You really think my payroll is some kind of special club you can join and leave as you like? You’re on my take so long as you have information I can use. So tell me about the Jerrica thing before I decide to make your place very open concept.” She made a gesture of shooting her finger towards the outer wall. “Next wyrmfall is not going to be fun for you, Diggs.”

“Come on,” the man moaned.


©MSR 2014

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