A teenage writer’s adventure thriller
By Abhivir Beri
This ground beneath our feet is not constant. It too is ravaged by the endless tides of time, as the world becomes smaller and smaller. Each second, a bit more of the Aeon crumbles away, lessening the amount of space that we humans can live in. The Edge leads to the Abyss, and the Abyss leads to the afterlife. That is the one true constant in this constantly shifting and changing world.
I trudged through the barren landscape, the wind blowing the hem of my cloak open. As I stared into the dystopia surrounding me, I lost myself in my memories. This was once a lush, verdant place, teeming with life. Now, it was nothing but brown. The hills, once covered with dense thickets, now lay eroded, the skeletons of trees poking out of them. The wind, once clear and clean, now blew dust in great gusts across the landscape. Truly a shame to see my homeland reduced to such an ashen-coloured land.
I looked down at the holo map glowing faintly on my wrist. "I am close now," I thought to myself as I bent down. I took off my backpack and opened it. Inside was my special gear– a grappler with extra hooks, gravity boots and my visor. After taking my gear out, I unclasped my cloak and took it off. Underneath, my lean, muscled body pulsed as I grew more and more excited. I equipped my gear and stowed my cloak into my backpack. It was time to scavenge, for I am an Edgerunner, a person who risks their life to gather resources from the crumbling edges of the world. But we all know the true purpose that Edgerunners live for– the rush, the feeling of being alive.
The adrenaline had already started coursing through my body as I reached the edge of Norvgard. This city once expanded across the horizon, so huge that you had to be at least a dozen kilometres away to lose sight of it. Now, it was no more than a pile of rubble falling into the Abyss. Major chunks of it were already gone by the time I had arrived, but there was still enough for a run at it. I stretched my body thoroughly and switched on my visor. This allowed me to see various things, such as the energy left in my gravity boots, or where to aim to get a hit with my grappler. However, Edgerunning is not so simple that anyone can do it. It requires elegance, grace, and precision unseen in any but a soldier. That too a good one. But most of all, Edgerunning requires guts. To be able to stand at the Edge of the world, look into the Abyss and smile as you grapple away to a new location, this is not something that a common person can do. Some people call us Edgerunners lunatics. To be honest, no one sane would ever undertake this. With this thought looming in my head, I smiled and took off at full speed, heading straight towards the heart of the city, fearless as a lion.
The ground streaked across my vision as I raced along with loping strides. Some Edgerunners form groups, but I am more of a lone wolf. The adrenaline had already taken over, and I had entered the zone. My ever-present smirk had probably turned into that feral, primitive smile that other Edgerunners had attached to my name.
I ran among the buildings, not even bothering to check the first few blocks. The Edgerunners would have ransacked it months ago. No, I ran straight to the heart of the city, the part teetering on the Edge, slowly crumbling more and more into the Abyss as time passed. It is here that the rich lived, and here that I would find anything worth any real value. When Norvgard was first discovered by the Edgerunners, the Edge had already reached halfway through the sprawling city. Ideally, most cities have their noble factions and important personnel living at the edge of the city which is away from the Edge of the world. This allows them to escape first. However, Norvgard was an old-fashioned city, not yet adapted to the new way of living. Hence, the centre of the city was also its heart. This made Norvgard a gold mine for us Edgerunners.
Novice Edgerunners are plenty in number, and most don't have a grasp of being an actual Edgerunner. These greenhorns only run the far edge of the cities, not even venturing further in. This is because they are afraid of the Abyss, and what it brings. However, there are some. Some like me, who accept the Abyss for what it is, and welcome it with open arms. The elite faction of the Edgerunners, the Vanguard.
The houses suddenly gave way and opened into a huge park. Now completely overgrown, it looked nothing like the prim and maintained park of my memories. Now, it looked more natural. With an abundant groundwater supply, this one part of the city had flourished, making it a botch of green among a sea of steel grey and ashen brown. The undergrowth was too thick to actually pass through, so I decided to use my grappler. As I approached it, I fired the hook onto a thick branch of an elm tree and swung up. Skilled Edgerunners can use the same grappling hook multiple times before having to replace it, and I have a reputation of being the best grappler around. I swung further and further until I finally let go and burst through the canopy. For a split second, the entire city spread out below me. The once-grand city was now being reduced to nothing but rubble. It was just more fodder to feed the never-ending hunger of the Abyss. It brought forth a sorrow in me I hadn't felt since my grandmother had died.
The monotony of swinging through the dense thicket, sometimes using my grappler, other times the vines growing from the trees, made me lose myself in my thoughts. I had come to this very park so much as a child, climbing these trees, swinging from the branches and laughing with glee. To be able to do it once more after all these years made my childhood come back to me in a flood. Even the parts I had tried so hard to repress. It brought a tear to my eye, the agony I had faced as a mere seven-year-old.
Suddenly, I had nothing left to swing on. I was out of the forest and had not even realised it. One good thing about being an Edgerunner- you get used to the panic. I calmly twisted in midair and used my grappler on the closest tree. I pulled myself towards the tree and struck the trunk feet first. Gently lowering myself, I turned around to behold the sight I was sure to see. An avenue of grand skyscrapers spread across my vision, and my smile became even more intense.
I walked among the skyscrapers, reminiscing about the lush greenery that had once bordered this avenue. As I moved towards the centre, each skyscraper towered over the last. But even as the skyscrapers became grander, the cracks in the earth became more prominent. I finally reached the edge of the Aeon, and stared into the Abyss. "We meet again, old friend," I said, staring deep into its shadowy depths. No one knew what existed down there. I wasn't going to find out any time sooner either.
I readied my grappler, checking my visor to see if the boots were fully charged again. The boots were an older piece of technology than most, running on a solar battery rather than those newer ones that recharged on kinetic energy. The visor was somewhat newer, but still not as accurate as even the cheaper range of the new generation ones. My grappler had seen its fair share of wear and tear too, but I diligently maintained it after every run. For an Edgerunner, these three pieces are what their livelihood depends on. I had the means and the money to buy the top of the line models, but I just couldn't bring myself to. These three pieces were part of my body at this point. And suddenly, I was off. My grappler caught a ledge and pulled me off the ground fast, and I unattached it to immediately reattach it to another handhold. Grappling is an exquisite art-form, one which every Edgerunner should master. I swung like this a few times, feeling the wind on my face. The adrenaline was pumping throughout my body as I finally twisted towards the edge of the Aeon, and headed for the skyscrapers there. They most probably wouldn't have been ransacked as of yet. Practically a gold mine for a Vanguard like me.
Each home in the skyscraper expanded across two or three floors. It was a lavish lifestyle, a man-made utopia. After checking the first few homes at random, I found nothing of much value. However, then it struck me. The higher the floor, the richer the person. I flashed my feral smile once more as I jumped out of the window of the current house I was in, twisting and reaching for the clouds.
I broke through the cloud cover and reached the very top of the skyscrapers. This was where the various influential aristocrats lived. I grappled a balcony and struck the wall feet first, my gravity boots automatically activating. Not wanting to waste much charge, I unattached my grappler and ran along the side of the building, parallel to the ground. I kept an eye on my visor as it gave me the optimum route to reach the balcony. After this, I forced open the door with my knife and stepped inside. Bingo.
I had entered a seating area of sorts. All around me, the sense of lavishness and luxury increased hundredfold from what I had seen before. This was probably the house of a high ranking noble. Using my visor, I found the various safes deposited throughout the house and started to check each one. Two out of the six were empty, but the others were piled with money. After collecting it all, I checked the bedrooms. I found a bit more money here and there, and decided to take my leave.
I leapt out of the window, manoeuvred myself and managed to grapple the next building that I could see. But as I swung towards it, my grapple suddenly unattached itself and I started falling. As I broke through the cloud cover, panic entering my mind for the first time in a while, I heard a low rumble coming from below. That's when I knew- a Tremor had hit the Aeon.
Falling through the clouds, looking into nothing but milky whiteness, had a strangely calming effect on me. The panic cleared for a moment, allowing me to look at everything objectively. I retracted my grappler and readied myself. Then, I broke through the clouds and the panic intensified.
Tremors are earthquakes of a sort, but they are not exactly earthquakes either. Earthquakes occur due to the shifting of the ground beneath us, the very roots of the Aeon. Tremors, however, were caused due to the Abyss somehow pulling in the ground. Like a black hole. That is why the Tremors usually occur at the Edges of the world. That is also why they are so many times more dangerous than a normal earthquake.
I dropped out of the pure white sea above, and all I saw below was the Aeon crumbling into the Edge. A Tremor so big had hit that the Abyss had started swallowing the heart of the city. A part which I had been in only moments ago. My mind went blank. My senses dulled to a point where all I could process was the whooshing of the wind. Then suddenly, a rock came whistling at me and scratched my cheek. It was a deep scratch and immediately started bleeding. The sharp pain snapped me out of it. But the panic was not yet gone.
I closed my eyes and my mind to everything around it to calm myself. I was extremely high up, so I definitely had the time. Not too much though, or all that would be left of me would be splattered on some debris. I took a deep breath, and went to the one place I truly loved. The night sky was a sea of stars, shining above me with the brilliance of a thousand suns. The moon was full, and it glowed with an inner light, almost like silver. A light breeze blew across the landscape, stirring some willow trees to make a soft, almost eerie sound. I sat atop my little hut, surrounded by a crescent-shaped thicket. My entire body tensed up, then relaxed as I let go of my breath. With this, I opened my eyes.
The adrenaline was pumping in overdrive, but my heartbeat was calm and measured. I precisely swung my arm, aiming for a collapsing building still close enough for me to reach. I would have to make it quick. If I didn't, it would mean certain death for me. I Swung myself towards the building, shooting and retracting my grappler until I got close enough to use my gravity boots. I struck the wall and started running downwards. The Abyss gaped its maws at me like it was alive. The swirling blackness was almost entrancing, inviting me to touch it. To be one with it. I shook off my hysteria and jumped off the wall, using my grappler to swing towards another building. I was slowly but surely making progress towards the Edge. But then, a piece of rubble fell and grazed my legs, hitting my feet hard enough to mess up my gravity boots. Now, all I had was my grappler and my visor telling me the optimal path to take. Time to show why I was in the Vanguard.
It was significantly harder without my gravity boots. Nonetheless, I made fast progress. Swinging from one building to another, running along the crumbling ground, jumping through windows. All this really tested the limits of my stamina. But then, the end was in sight. The solid Edge was only thirty feet away. All it would take was a good swing, and I would be safe. I shot my grappler and started swinging. But then, halfway through the swing, another Tremor hit. This time, it was a ripple caused due to the initial tremor. My grappling hook broke, and I fell into the swirling Abyss, only meters away from safety. My last thought was that Edgerunning had been fun. Nothing but silence remained.
Then came a scraping noise, as a grappling hook slid across the ground, fixing itself on a rock.