We’ve been tucked into one corner of it for a while now. In Blush, along the eastern coast of Trill, and in the mountains, not far from that. The far edge of the world. A pocket of civilization on a quiet, pink and purple continent. There is more.
I’ve never thought of myself as much of a historian, or a geographer, or really even much of a writer, but Fogwillow says I should try to capture the world as I see it. If future generations are going to read this account (assuming the Ferren has future generations) then I want to present an accurate picture of what the world looks like right now. As accurate as I can. And I have to tell you, it isn’t exactly a comforting picture.
There are seven continents. There used to only be two, but that was before memory, way back in the Lorn. They say the Lorn ended when the Ferren broke. We call it the Shattershock, and it split our world into pieces, cleaved entire continents, one from the other. If you look at a map, you can see the patterns of where they fit together, like a broken plate, or a puzzle. This is the earliest event in our known history, the boundary between the shrouded millennia of the Lorn and the thousands of years since cleaning up the mess. We don’t know what caused it, we can only live in what came after.
What came after. The Prism Wars, for one. Kings, queens, and feudal lords warring for control over these finite magical totems. I vaguely remember learning about this during my history lessons with the Wizard Ketchling at the Advance Academy, but I have to be honest, he was boring, and I wasn’t really paying attention. I do remember that prisms can’t be mined, and that they have no source in nature we can find. What we have is what we have, and what they are is what they appear to be: crystalized pieces of magic left over after everything broke. And so a hundred separate armies fought for control across the Ferren, for power, for bits of glowing pink Crystic. This is what really ruined us. The Shattershock destroyed our land, but the Prism Wars are what destroyed our history. Libraries were burned. Civilizations toppled. Anyone who ever knew anything about the days before the wars died with their secrets untold.
So we live in this world, split by calamity, destroyed by greed. No history and a future in crisis. We built our cities between the ruins. And the ruins, themselves? We catalogued them. We tagged them. People like Len and Martha studied them and wrote about them and debated them. And now the Ryvkk is here, bent on breaking our world even further, shattering the Crystic, itself. Maybe someday someone will find a clue in the ruins before it’s too late. Maybe someday someone will make sense of this whole big stupid Ferren.
In the southeastern corner of the map, the continent of Trill. My home. A small round flush of color and life. It was split from the mainland during the Shattershock, and now its only connection is a narrow strait along the northern coast called the Broken Bridge. One pleasant boat ride across that strait lies the continent of Gesh.
“Pleasant, my ass,” Candle said. “It’s freezing.” She sat huddled in the boat, a warm coat wrapped tightly around her, eyes shadowed and miserable. I could see her rattling breath in the air. The edge of winter was coming on.
“It’ll get warmer the farther north we go,” Fogwillow said. “Besides, I think the view is quite lovely.”
Fogwillow’s estimation had been eerily accurate: it had taken us six weeks to the day to reach the Broken Bridge. I suppose a keen sense of travel time was a given when a person made a career out of wandering the wilderness. Most of those six weeks passed by rather uneventfully. We managed to shrug off the Shift Patrol early on thanks to Fogwillow’s direction, and ever since we’d avoided cities and towns, cutting northwards across Trill while the trees shed their leaves and the world grew colder around us. We slept mostly in ruins. There was plenty of time to talk, plenty of time for long stretches of silence, and, eventually, plenty of time for a cold, weary truth to settle into my bones: traveling was boring.
“Can you see it?” I said. “Look Candle, it’s Gesh!”
Candle grumbled a little, but crawled up to join me at the bow. It was a gray, overcast day, with a bite in the air and every once in a while a few specks of snow that danced around us, directionless. Our little motorboat was about halfway across the strait. Behind us, the rising cliffs of Trill were beginning to disappear into the white haze of fog, and up ahead the rolling coast of Gesh was pulling itself into view. The first glimpse I’d ever seen of anything besides Trill. The water was slate gray, mostly calm, with a few choppy bits here and there.
“You should be thankful it’s so cold,” Fogwillow said from the tiller. “In the warmer months, the strait is filled with tourists. We would certainly have been spotted.”
Candle shivered. “I’ll be thankful if I can feel my toes once we get to the other side.”
It turned out Fogwillow had a little hideout Trill-side of the Broken Bridge, a waystation she often used on her travels through the wilds of the Ferren. It wasn’t much. Just a sleeping pallet and few dry goods in jars lining the walls of a cave. There was also, however, a small boat with a prism powered motor. We’d spent one shivering night in the cave, then pulled the boat out into the icy water and set off into the fog.
“If you look to your right,” Fogwillow said, “you’ll see the island of Ferrenheart in a moment.”
“Really?” I sat up a little straighter. Candle, too, seemed to perk up, her chill forgotten.
“I think if we just get a little bit closer…” Fogwillow adjusted course. The motorboat cut to the side, and I shielded my eyes against the wind.
It happened slowly. Clouds broke off the starboard side, and sunlight found its way through in pale swathes behind the white haze, cold and metallic. By its light, I began to see the humped shape of an enormous island a good ways out to sea. The coast nearest to us rose hundreds of feet into the air, rounded at the top like a teardrop. I knew from photographs I’d seen that the island tapered smoothly down to a point on its eastern side, to white beaches and aquamarine sandbars. Ferrenheart.
“On a clear day it has a golden shine,” Fogwillow said, “and you can see it from either coast.”
I stared, mouth open, trying to wrap my mind around the idea that I was viewing a famous landmark. To be honest, it didn’t seem particularly notable in person. Just an island, really. It was only through an aura made up of history textbooks and cheap travel postcards that I could see it for what it was.
Fogwillow continued. “That island is what separated Trill from the mainland. Whatever broke the Ferren during the Shattershock arrived with such force that whole mountains erupted, their parts flung halfway across the world. Ferrenheart itself broke from the sunderlands, way in the north. When it landed here it severed Trill, flooding the land bridge that connected us to Gesh, though the continents weren’t called by such names in those days.”
I tried to picture that island flying through the sky, a comet. I tried to picture it landing, breaking everything around it, carving the coastlines of two continents and changing the shape of the seas themselves. A piece of land that didn’t even belong here. A heart torn from some other part of the Ferren.
The motorboat sped along, and the island slid back into the mists once again.
I slumped down into the boat, twisting around to Fogwillow.
“What will we do, once we make it to Gesh?”
“Keep going north.”
“More walking.” The set of Fogwillow’s face would brook no argument. I tried anyway.
“Aren’t we kind of in a hurry? The Ryvkk could strike again any time. He could come after me! I need to be ready.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“I don’t know. Rent a skim. Take a trolley. We’d find a way to blend in.”
Fogwillow cut off the engine. Everything fell silent in the strait, and the boat slid to a gentle drift. Snowflakes spun around us. “What is the point of this, Nova?” In the middle of the suddenly quiet waters, her voice was too loud, though she barely raised it. “Why did you run from the Advance Academy?”
“Because they didn’t actually care about me. Just what I was.”
“Because…because they would have destroyed me if I’d stayed.”
“I don’t know! You tell me.”
Fogwillow gave me a calm look. “You left in order to become a better wizard than they could ever make you.” A gust of wind found its way across our bow and the small boat rocked back and forth in the gentle waves. The wind moved on. The boat settled. “You wanted me to teach you. The journey is part of my teaching. The wilds are my classroom and the walking is my syllabus. Answers…” She waved a hand dismissively. “Answers are easy. They exist. The thaumaticians have them. They can be found.”
“So let’s find them,” I said. “The sooner the better.”
Fogwillow held a hand up for silence. She lowered it slowly. “It was once believed magic was a kind of wisdom. Not energy, not power, not even connection, but wisdom. To become wise was not merely ancillary to the practice, it was the practice. Though we know better today, that is the path I still follow. Dean Enislen believes in structure and algorithms. Wisdom is my school.”
“That sounds…kind of boring.”
“On the contrary. It is very fulfilling.” She reached to start the motor. “Slow down,” she said. “Think.”
The boat puttered to life, and we took the rest of the crossing without speaking. It took another twenty minutes, and in that time, the wind picked up and the waters grew rougher. I moved to the back of the boat and shielded my face against the cold.
On the far shore, I stepped onto foreign soil for the first time in my life. The coast of Gesh was a vast stretch of slick, flat rock, polished red by the lapping waves and the ocean spray as they beat against the edge. Narrow rivulets veined the landscape, and puddles collected in divots where slops of green algae grew. On the opposite side of these salt-damp flatlands ran a line of stunted hills, in the middle of which I could see a foggy cleft that looked to be the only path forward.
The problem was, there was someone approaching from that very same cleft.
As Fogwillow and Candle wrestled the boat onto the rocks, I let out a call and pointed. Fogwillow straightened, wiping seawater from her brow.
“Eoea’s staff,” she said under her breath. “Give us a moment, why don’t you?”
“You know who it is?” Candle said.
“Coastal watchman. I brought us to the most isolated landing site I could, but even here has one measly little watchtower.” She pointed toward the cleft and up, at a dark little building balanced on crisscrossing pylons. “Seems they’re eager today, if they’re coming out to meet us. Listen.” Fogwillow pulled us toward her, speaking above the breaking waves. “I’ve made this crossing often and the watchman may very well recognize me. He’ll certainly recognize Nova. So. Hoods up. Let me do the talking.”
Fogwillow was the only one of us wearing a proper cloak, but my hoodie obscured my face well enough and Candle’s winter jacket had a big bucket hood that essentially swallowed her head. By the time we hid our faces—presumably as a shield against the spray coming in off the ocean—and turned, the watchman was nearly upon us, heavy boots stamping over slick rock and puddles.
“Hello there!” he called. He was a red-haired man with a heavy build, and a beard that crept a little too far down his neck. He wore a pea-green, water-repellant cloak that looked incredibly heavy, and seemed not to mind the saturating mists affronting us as we stood upon the shore.
Fogwillow bobbed her head a few times. She was standing, I noticed, with more of a slouch than usual.
“Well met, watchman, well met,” she said.
“What’s your business in Gesh?” the watchman asked, friendly enough. He drew to a stop before the three of us and rested one hand on his considerable waist.
Fogwillow answered smoothly, keeping her face hidden, head bowed in deference. “We’re on a pilgrimage to Yillig. Intend to travel the length of Tillamen Road by foot, as our elders once did.”
“Aye.” The watchman nodded slowly. “Seems more and more folks are doing that these days. Mighty slow way to travel.”
“I suppose it makes us feel connected, see? What with everything that’s been happening and the Red Wilkin and all. Don’t you think?” Fogwillow addressed that last question to me without warning.
“Yes,” I stammered. “Makes me feel I’m a part of history.”
“You see?” Fogwillow said. “We walk in the footsteps of our ancestors.”
The watchman scratched his chin. “Well, when you put it like that… maybe I’ll try it myself one of these days.”
“You should, sir. You certainly should. We’ll be on our way, then.”
“Hold up, there, ma’am. I apologize, but I’m on the lookout, you see, for three travelers such as yourselves coming up from the south, led by a wizard goes by the name of Fogwillow.”
“Oh, I know Fogwillow, sir, certainly do.”
“There are few who don’t. I myself have enjoyed many a talk with her as she passed this way over the years. But she’s mixed up in something right irresponsible at the moment.”
“Oh? Can’t say I’m surprised, sir. That old crone never seemed to have a lick of common sense about her.”
“What sort of trouble’s she in?”
“Well…ah…I’m not supposed to talk about it, but seeing as you’ve been so accommodating of my questions…I don’t suppose you read the Answer’s ticker, did you?”
Fogwillow made a dismissive sound. “Can’t spare the time for such things. I can barely put up with the whining and complaining from these two.” She jerked her thumb at Candle and I.
“Well, I hate to be the one to say it, but seems Fogwillow helped the Answer break free of the Advance Academy. Now, I don’t put much stock in that sort of thing, didn’t seem like they were treating him right anyway, but they attacked a member of the Shift Patrol a few weeks back and now they’re on the run.”
“Attacked a staving alt?”
Beneath my hoodie, I cringed at the term, used only by those who had no love of the slipshapes. The watchman only held his hands up. “I hear you, I have no loyalty to them either—weirdos if you ask me—but the one the Answer attacked, Rhyme or something, seemed a right nice fellow, and now Fogwillow, the Answer, and this girl named Emily are fugitives of the law, and I can’t say I’m too keen on getting on the wrong side of that sort of dispute.”
“Don’t blame you. Not a bit.” Fogwillow took a deep breath. “Well, we haven’t seen any travelers like you describe, but if they’re foolish enough to take the Road and we spot ‘em, we’ll be sure to send the Answer straight to the nearest Vault.”
“Appreciate it, ma’am, I surely do. Now, would you mind lowering your hoods, the three of you? Got to search you for anything you might be bringing across the border that might not be strictly welcome.”
“Of course. Only too happy to, sir, only it’s awfully wet out here. Don’t you suppose we could head back to your watchtower there? We’ll dry off and you can give us a proper search?”
“Forgive me, I forget how uncomfortable these parts can be, used to them as I am.”
“However…” The watchman tugged at his collar. “I’m afraid I must insist on searching you now. Not that I don’t trust you, you see, but it’s standard procedure.”
“Oh, well, if it’s procedure…” Fogwillow raised her hands to her hood. With barely a hesitation, she lowered it, straightened, and in doing so rose at least six inches taller than the red-haired watchman.
The watchman let out a grunt and nodded, as if it was no less than what he expected. “Fogwillow.”
Fogwillow returned the nod. “Gorman.”
In an instant, the watchman, Gorman, was reaching into his cloak, but before he could get there, Fogwillow whipped her staff out and sent him flying across the rocks. He landed in a puddle, sending up a splash of algae-green water.
Fogwillow barreled over to him, with Candle and I in her wake. She spun her staff about as Gorman attempted to rise and pressed him back down to the ground by the shoulder. He let out a small oof and winced.
“Did you see it, Gorman?” Fogwillow said.
“A great giant elk. It came down from the hills and nearly ran you down. Mad, I think it was.”
“What are you—” Fogwillow made her point by jabbing him with her staff again. Gorman oofed again, but seemed to catch on. “Right,” he said. “A great giant elk.”
“And that boat. It sunk right down into the sea and no one ever saw it. No one even knew it was here.”
“Doesn’t look sunk to me.”
“I’m sure you can find a way.”
“Oh, come on now.” Color rose in Gorman’s cheeks. “You can’t expect me to do your dirty work.”
“A great giant elk, Gorman. Great giant elk.”
She swept past him in the direction of the cleft. I gave the poor watchman a pained, sorry expression from beneath my hood, then hurried to catch up with Fogwillow.
“You trust him not to tell?” I said.
“Gorman’s a simple fellow. Always wants to do what’s right.”
Candle came alongside us. “I’m not sure what’s right is very obvious here.”
“Precisely. It’ll be a fun mental puzzle for him. I give it three days before his guilt gets so crushing he breaks down and rats us out. Fortunately, we’ll be a long ways up Tillamen Road by that point.”
“Tillamen Road?” I repeated. “I thought that was just a cover.”
“Nonsense. The only way to get from here to anywhere is the Road. From coast to chasm, it’s a sight you must see. At least for a few days. Then we’ll take to the woods.”
I groaned. “I thought we’d left the woods behind in Trill.”
“My dear Nova, the Ferren is covered in trees. And everywhere’s a bramble.”
As we neared the cleft, I took one last look back. Through the mist, I saw the dark huddle of Gorman, pushing Fogwillow’s little empty boat back out to sea.