Let’s backtrack again. For my own peace of mind, at least. It’ll be good to spend some time thinking about home…
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊
“Anything new from your friend?” Candle said.
I looked up to where she was hiking ahead of me. “You’re my only friend.”
“I meant from airbird sevens.”
“Nothing new, exactly. Just the same.”
She looked back at me through the cebelis trees. “Please avoid the golden plum?”
Candle sighed, pressing onward up a steep hill. We were walking through the woods outside of Blush. The trees were thick and bright and pink, and the ground was tangled with roots and rock and earth. Everything smelled bad.
We both hated tromping through the wilderness. We never would if Candle’s parents didn’t make us.
“I think you should stop obsessing over it,” Candle said.
“I’m not obsessing,” I said. Then, more quietly, “I just like saying it.”
There was a shout from behind. We stopped and turned, watching as Candle’s mom came scrambling up the hill toward us, pulling at the branches of trees to thrust herself forward.
“Emma Lyn?” she called. “Nova? You shouldn’t wander so far ahead.”
“We’re here,” Candle said, waving her over.
Candle’s mom’s name was Martha. She was tall and skinny, and her shorts and safari button-ups were always too big on her. She looked like a pair of sticks in a bag, and she wore a pea-green, wide-brimmed hat. A pair of binoculars hung around her neck. As she approached, she held them up to her eyes.
“Don’t let me lose sight of you,” Martha said, peering at us and chuckling.
Candle grimaced. “We’re sixteen. What are you afraid is going to happen?”
“Sixteen is an age when a lot of things can happen.” She lowered the binoculars. “Skim crashes. Poor decisions. Gangs.”
Candle eyed her mom. “Gangs?”
“I’m not going to run into the woods and join a gang.”
“I’m not worried about you joining a gang. I’m worried about you being snatched by one. The Diosec’s been taking unsuspecting kids for years.”
“Diosec?” I said, looking up, alarmed. “Where have I heard that before?”
Candle turned to me and frowned. “Honestly, Nova, for all the time you spend on the Crystic, you know surprisingly little about the world.”
“How do you know about them?”
“Some of us go to school.”
“The Diosec,” Martha said, raising a finger, “is a criminal organization. Big one, too. They have cells in almost every country in the Ferren.”
“And I don’t think they’re going to be worried about a couple teens in Blush hiking through the woods,” Candle said.
“Am I missing out on an argument up here?” came a voice from down the hill. Candle’s dad, Len, came marching up, a rumpled field guide tucked into the sweat stain in his armpit. His clothing—also reminiscent of safari gear—didn’t fit him any better than Martha’s, though where hers was too loose, his was too tight for his burly limbs. He had a thick moustache, and his forearms and legs were covered with hair.
When he reached the top of the hill, he let out a contented sigh.
“Isn’t this great? No technology. Just the natural flora and fauna of the Ferren, the way Eoea intended.”
“It’s great,” Candle said flatly.
“Technically,” I said, “Eoea also indented us to experiment with magic, and enjoy the luxuries it provides.”
“Well, we’ll never know what he truly intended, will we?” Len said, thrusting his chin up a bit. “Those secrets are buried in the Lorn.”
I opened my mouth to point out the contradiction in his words, but Candle elbowed me in the side, and I stifled it.
“Let’s press on!” Martha said jovially.
“Tally ho!” Len cried.
“And stay in sight!”
“Yes, mom,” Candle said.
“Yes, Martha,” I echoed.
Nevertheless, we still ended up a good ways ahead of them, though when I looked back I could still see the pair following after, pushing through the hanging pink branches and gaping at the scenery. Ahead, Candle was marching straight forward, her hands curled into fists at her sides.
“Are you okay?” I said, coming up beside her.
Fury at parents. I felt a pang of jealousy, but pushed it down. “They’re not so bad. I think they just want you to appreciate the interesting things in life.”
“The problem is that they’re always looking at the wrong interesting things.” She came up short and rounded on me, her eyes alight with fire. “Did you know that when I was six they took me and my sister on a vacation to Domita? It’s a flying city. In the sky! And we spent the entire time on the ground below it, hiking through nature. Why even bother!”
She glanced at her parents, then huffed and pressed onward, stooping under a low-hanging branch. Cautiously, I followed after.
Soon enough, she started up again. “We could have been up in the clouds. Flying! Instead we had our backs to it. That’s everything, isn’t it? The entire staving idiocy in a nutshell. My parents, my sister—without fail, they’re facing in the wrong direction. Technology is the future, Nova. It’s what’s going to bring the Ferren together. And all my parents want to do is study the past.”
It was true. Candle’s mother was an archeologist and her father was a cryptographer. They were beneficiaries of the Legacy Endowment, set up by the Assemblage to encourage scientists of all kinds to look for clues that might dig up our history.
I wonder how far in the future people will be reading this account. Will you have pulled back the curtain on the Lorn by then? Will all of this seem small? Fogwillow says we’re a lost people, the whole entire Ferren. Our knowledge stretches back a couple thousand years, and then… nothing. Ages upon ages of history, vanished. The Lorn. What happened then? What laid the foundations of our world? We have hints in the form of ruins, and clues in the form of unknowable ciphers, but by and large we’re a civilization built atop a void.
People like Martha and Len Candle worked to fill that void, and their youngest daughter never understood it. Emma Lyn Candle was obsessed with the future, in a family obsessed with the past.
“Hey you two!” Martha called. “Turn off just ahead, toward the stream!”
Wordlessly—Candle was still steaming—we headed toward the sound of flowing water.
We came up by the edge of a clear-water creek, bubbling beneath the hanging willows of a cebelis tree. A patch of steckleberries grew along the water’s edge, small and purple, their pungent smell hanging sweetly in the air.
“Look at that,” Len said, pushing into the grove. Martha followed after and let out a small gasp of pleasure.
I twisted around to see a terminal nested in the ground beneath the willow, flushed with color in the sharp afternoon sun. I gave a start. I had been so wrapped up in Candle’s worries, that I hadn’t noticed the magic growing stronger as we neared the terminal. But I felt it now. The air tasted like static, and my fingers met a strange, almost magnetic resistance as they moved through the air. The touch of wizardry. The texture of the Crystic.
“Did you know we have no idea what the terminals are made out of?” Martha said as she approached the large crystal stump. “Prisms are made of the same material, and it has never been replicated. A curiosity. It means that magic, for all its wonder, is finite. There are only so many prisms in the Ferren.”
But the wizard population was ever growing. I didn’t bother correcting her.
Martha knelt down and rested a hand at the base of the terminal.
“We’ve lost our history,” she whispered.
Suddenly, Len gave a cry, and we all turned to him. He was staring at the stream, pointing, with his mouth hanging open and moustache bristling. “An elegon!”
Above the water, small and faint, floated a pale green apparition made of light. Its edges were sharp, geometric, as if it were formed of a collection of overlapping squares. The squares drifted gently back and forth, darkening in dense clusters to create the semblance of a pair of watchful eyes and a gaping mouth.
Len bowed to the elegon, and Martha did the same. “We’re honored today,” he said. “Thank you, spirit, for your blessing.” He swiveled his head to look at me and Candle. “Come on, kids, follow after me. This is an aspect of Eoea, himself. A facet of the Crystic.”
Candle smirked, and whispered as we nodded our heads to the spirit, so that only I could hear. “An elemental of technology. The will of the future!”