After considering your choices for a beat of silence, you suck in a slow breath and feel as though you have a good idea of what seems the better one, or, you hope so, that is.
“I guess we can look for the closest Shard thing,” you say to Moirine, and you shrug. “I don’t know anything about how they work, and while it may take a bit longer, going off what you’ve told me, they sound like a better choice. I mean, if they’re all connected somehow, then, surely that means we’ll get to wherever that genie is eventually?”
Moirine nods. “Indeed, pup, indeed. Come, then, and let’s start searching.”
The two of you begin to move across the sandy shore, veering to the left where there is a rocky path that leads upwards into the forested area. You swear you can’t tell where this is exactly, because you can’t for the life of you remember a forest BEFORE you ended up in that strange place with the shop, the massive tree, and the cave.
For now, you push this aside.
“How are these Shard things connected, exactly?” you ask. “I don’t quite understand.”
Moirine chuckles. “Think of the Shards as… what’s the word you would use… ah, a portal, we’ll say.” She flashes you a bright smile. “One Shard itself is a portal that leads to this pocket realm, or, belly button as I like to call them, where reality exists, yet it’s separate from this world where you come from. Now, on the surface, you might not think that a Shard could be attached to anything beyond your world, but, that isn’t the case.”
You furrow your brow at her, confused. “Go on…”
“All Shards are connected to one another in essence,” Moirine says with a nod, “but, the thing you should understand, my friend, is not all Shards are connected directly.”
Your furrowed brow increases. “Huh?”
She smiles. “Sorry, pup, I know, me saying it that way is more than a bit confusing for you. I’m trying to figure out the best words to use that it will make sense to you.”
She pauses for a beat while the two of you trek up the rocky path, moving over several smaller stones and the like as you gradually inch onto actual dirt and the trees. You glance around as you both walk, and, you can hear birds chirping around you, and some insects making their noises, too, but you don’t hear any sign of civilization near.
‘Weird,’ you think.
“Okay, here,” Moirine says. “Imagine your entire mortal world being represented as a massive ocean, just an ocean by itself, no islands, nothing fancy like that, and picture it at the center of whatever you use in your mind to conjure up imaginations.”
You frown, but, you do so.
“Now, picture a river that runs through this ocean… but only in certain spots,” she adds, using a hand to make the motion of something flowing. “See, if you can, try to imagine that river running ‘underneath’ the ocean primarily, as if it exists more underwater than it does ‘above’ the water, but it rises up randomly as it goes across in a straight line.”
You blink several times, but, you try to visualize what she’s saying. It takes a moment since you usually like to have some physical representation of things to better get a read of it (this was a constant annoyance for you in school growing up, for damn sure). Yet, after wrapping your mind around the imaginary ocean and a river running under it, you suppose you get a rough sense of the visual Moirine is trying to portray to you.
“Think of that river as what a Shard is, pup,” Moirine says. “Not in the literal sense, of course, but, in the figurative sense. It’s connected to your world, which we have being represented by a large, empty ocean, yet only in certain, random spots. The rest of that river, that Shard, is detached from your world, running concurrently.” She pauses to give you a meaningful look. “Are you with me so far, pup? Does this help give an idea?”
You nod slowly. “I… think so, yes.”
“Good, good.” She smiles. “Now just picture hundreds of different rivers like that first one, scattered all over the place.” She uses a finger to swirl around. “Some run vertically, some run horizontally, some run diagonally, and so on; the point is, there are countless rivers all over the place, and what that means is there will be plenty of overlapping as you mentally form more and more and more of them. Understand?”
It’s starting to grow clearer to you. “Oh… oh. I think…”
You take a breath in and mentally construct this image in your mind, almost like you’re drawing an imaginary grid in your head, but with rivers going all over the place instead.
“So, what you’re saying is that all Shards exist in this… lower, detached world,” you say, the words coming to you as your brain works through this bizarre concept she’s explaining to you, “and many of them are connected to each other, but, not every single Shard is directly attached to the other. Like tunnels underground, or, I dunno, a maze.”
“Exactly,” Moirine says.
You suck in a quiet breath and run a hand through your hair. “Okay. I… I get it, sort of.”
“There’s one other thing about Shards you ought to know,” Moirine says.
She pauses again, and in fact, she stops in full. She sniffs the air slowly, her gaze shifting about – she looks right, then left, and you watch her nostrils flare. She starts to take a few steps to the left, halts to sniff again, and then motions you to follow her.
“What’s that?” you ask when you both start moving again.
“This might make it a bit more confusing,” she admits, and she gives a brief shrug, “but, again, I’ll try to make it understandable for you. Let’s push aside the river and ocean analogy for now, but, we’ll focus on a single Shard for the sake of simplicity.” She nods at you. “You know how I said a Shard connects to your world, at random points?”
“Right, well, that isn’t just in the figurative sense,” Moirine says. “Shards are… fickle things, to be blunt. Few truly comprehend the foundation through which they exist, and, I could probably spend hours alone trying to explain how it is I feel they became a thing in the first place,” she waves a hand off, “but, I digress. In theory, every Shard can be found in a set area of your world at any time. However… where that Shard appears in its exact placement in said area differs depending on an unknown number of factors.”
“…you lost me again, Moirine,” you admit, a little sheepishly.
Moirine halts to face you. “Say that you are in a city, pup. Pick any, it doesn’t matter which, but,” she holds up a finger, “in that city, there is a Shard. What I’m attempting to convey is that the Shard will always be IN this city, yet WHERE in the city it will pop up is split between, I don’t know, five different locations overall. One could be in a park, one could be near a public swimming pool, another is in a shopping center, and another still might be inside someone’s basement. It’s sometimes random. Does that help?”
You blink several times, but, you end up nodding. “Basically, then, if there is a Shard nearby, it could be… anywhere in this area? Wherever the hell we’ve ended up being?”
“Basically, yes,” Moirine replies. “This is an island somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, I know that much. And I can smell a Shard is somewhere on the island, we just need to keep moving until we find where the stinking thing is hiding.” She shakes her head in mild annoyance. “I swear, it’s like Shards have some weird will of their own sometimes.”
You start to walk again with Moirine, and your head is spinning from all this information.
“Wait a moment,” you say, while you wrack your mind around everything Moirine has told you, “you told me before that the Cayreeg itself is located inside a Shard, isn’t it? Yet every time we’ve gone there, it seemed like we always ended up in the Cayreeg the same way. Doesn’t that mean the entrance to the Shard was, uh, ‘set,’ I guess?”
“Yes, that’s correct,” Moirine says. “But, I didn’t say every single Shard was like the example I mentioned above.” She flashes an apologetic smile. “It varies, pup. I wish I could give you a more concrete example or provide a list of Shards that are always in a specific spot, but, sadly, I can do neither. We can only try to locate a Shard near us.”
You shake your head and rub your neck. “Jeez, this is way more complicated than I thought it would be. I figured there was just a magic portal thing that we had to find, not that there are several magic portals, yet they can pop up in whatever spot they want.”
“Sorry, pup,” Moirine says. “Fortunately…” She sniffs the air again. “We’re close to one.”
“How can you tell?” you ask.
She points to her nose. “As a natural-born selkie, I can detect Shards through smell. Other beings can sense their location, or see them, or hear them, and so on, but we selkie have innately strong noses for smelling any trace of… magic, I suppose.”
“Oh,” you say. “Gotcha.”
She leads you on further into the forest, deeper into an area where more trees are springing out from the ground, casting a lot of shade around you. The air is cool, and there is a faint breeze that carries with it the smells of the dirt and the trees. You breathe it in deeply, and you admit it’s both pleasant and oddly calming to smell.
“We’re getting closer,” Moirine says. She sniffs again. “Mm, I can detect… ooh, how interesting.” She glances at you. “I can smell two different Shards coming up, I think.”
“Wait, two different Shards or…” You blink. “Two openings to the same Shard?”
“Two separate Shards that smell like they’re close together,” Moirine replies. “Remember the dozens of rivers analogy, pup; this happens frequently, so it isn’t always a case of one Shard manifesting by itself.” She waves a hand. “I know, it’s a pain in the ass to have to dwell on, believe me. We selkie have been frustrated by Shards in the past, particularly whenever we venture onto dry land to spend time in the human world.”
“Huh,” you say. You aren’t sure what else to say to this subject.
You decide to let the deeper talk about Shards slide away from you for the time being, because you feel you have a decent grasp of the Shard concept, but, you don’t want to end up with a headache from having to think too hard on this bizarre topic.
So, you follow Moirine for another few minutes among the trees, until she comes to another stop at a small area that isn’t really a clearing – too many trees around and not much open space – yet you can hear running water to the right. And this time, she sniffs the air a few times before she puts her hands on her hips and nods to herself.
“Here,” Moirine says, glancing at you. “There are two Shards we can make use of.”
You look around. “I… don’t see anything?”
“I know,” Moirine says. “But trust me on this – there are two Shards present in this vicinity. One is to the right, and one is to the left. Which do you want to go to, pup?”
You blink, and your lips purse. ‘Hoo boy.’
Written by Hollowpage on 22 May 2021