Page 30

and you’re up to your knees

then cross the sleeping beach.

Time is a hard and heavy rule

You’ll find it behind the door

Adventure is there

(he’s lost all of his hair)

Beyond is Furthermore!

It was a nursery rhyme Alice had known forever. A tale of nonsense, she was told. Just funny words strung together to trick children into sleep. It was only now, as Alice repeated the words aloud, that she saw the secrets between the silliness.

She grew quiet as she finished the poem, and Oliver nodded, recognizing her silent realization. “Long ago,” he said, “in the very, very beginning, Furthermore and Ferenwood were united, despite being split vertically by sea. It was a land called Anymore. Things were different back then,” Oliver said thoughtfully. “Anymore had opened its borders to the non-magical world.”

Alice’s eyes went wide. This, she’d never known.

“Magical folk married non-magical folk and things were alright for a while, but—you know how it is. We can’t survive without magic, and non-magical folk didn’t understand. Mixed magic made it so some children were born with talent while others were not, and they couldn’t always tell right away. Non-magical parents would want to take their children out of Anymore, to go back home, and things seldom ended well. To make matters worse, giving birth to magical babies was very hard on non-magical mothers. Many of them died in childbirth. It was a very dark, very unhappy time.”

“Oh, Oliver,” Alice said, her hand on her heart. “This is a terrible story.”

Oliver nodded. “And I hate telling it, so I’ll skip ahead. Do you know the origin of Feren and Further?”

Alice shook her head.

Oliver was solemn as he said, “They were twin sisters. Their birth had killed the mother, and they were raised by a grieving magical father. But the two girls processed their father’s grief in different ways. Feren, who’d inherited her father’s magic, wanted to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again by cutting ties with non-magical folk. Further, who’d not inherited any magical ability, wanted to honor her non-magical mother by maintaining those ties. It was the beginning of a revolution for the land. The two became figureheads for a controversy that’d been brewing for decades. Wars were waged. Sides were taken. Anymore split in two to become Ferenwood and Furthermore as we know it now.”

Alice was so stunned she could no longer stand, so she sat down, legs crossed beneath her, and leaned back on a bit of cloud.

“And then what happened?”

“They never spoke, not ever again,” said Oliver. “Both sides lost so much life and magic during the war that they eventually agreed to agree to only one everlasting law: That they would never meddle in each other’s magic matters, for as long as their lands still stood.”

“Wow,” said Alice.

“Furthermore has been true to its founder’s wishes and deals with all kinds of visitors, magical and non-magical alike. But the twisty business of Furthermore attracts the wrong sorts of visitors. Few come to Furthermore in pursuit of decent pastures.” Oliver frowned. “And it doesn’t help that this land has been reckless with their magic. It’s a deeply unsteady, turbulent place, and its people have fractured into hundreds of smaller villages, each with its own rules and officials, and each with contradictory laws and confusing legislature. It’s a land rife with inconsistencies because the confusion suits their underhanded ways. But they burn through magic faster than the land can produce it and, in their desperation for more, they’re willing to do awful things.”

“What kinds of awful things?” Alice asked.

Oliver paused, then said. “Well—we live off the land in Ferenwood, don’t we? We are made more magical because of the fruits and plants and nuts we eat, are we not?”

Alice nodded.

“Right. So.” He cleared his throat. “In Furthermore, they eat more than just fruits and plants and nuts.”

Alice nearly jumped to her feet. “I knew it!” she said. “That’s why they eat animals, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Oh, how awful!”

“I’m afraid it’s much worse than that,” said Oliver quietly.

“What?” Alice stalled. “What do you mean?”

“Furthermore is very hungry for magic, Alice. And we—that is to say, you and I—are meant to be”—he hesitated—“well, we’re meant to be consumed.”

Alice blinked and stared, confused.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” Oliver said. “Consumed, Alice. They want to eat us. They will eat people for their magic. Though they do prefer to eat visitors,” he added. “Something about it being more compassionate that way. They’ll only eat their own in the most desperate situations. And in order to avoid these desperate situations, they’ve taken proactive measures.”

Alice made a squeaking gasp of a sound.

Oliver bit his thumb, deep in thought. “I suppose Furthermore is a lot like a series of increasingly complicated spiderwebs. Each village has a distinct way of catching its prey, which, well—you know.” He raised an eyebrow. “It makes it so it’s very difficult to stay alive here.”

“How awful!” Alice cried. “Oh, I can’t imagine, I can’t even imagine—goodness,” she said, holding a hand to her chest, “I can’t breathe, can I? I’m sure I can’t breathe.”

She was wrong, of course; she was entirely able to breathe, but Alice was scared, and so she was, for the moment at least, very short of breath. And it was then, as she struggled to right her breathing and keep from upsetting her stomach, that she decided she hated Furthermore more than she’d ever hated any place in her entire life. She was now fully terrified for Father, and she couldn’t imagine what horrors he’d already experienced.