Chapter One

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The Notation Reads:

These are the memories of where my end began.

May you never have cause to read them, lest you find yourself on the same path.

~ Masguard

Masguard's Log, First Encrypted Entry

The trouble with memory isn't so much that it lies.

If I, in the private corners of my mind, paint your first steps as bolder or your mother's smile as brighter than perhaps it really was, so much the better. My grief is lessened and your histories remain intact, undisturbed by the color of my brush.

No, the trouble with memory comes in painting too long, in staring so solidly at the mural that the lies mount into a shadow you cannot escape. Until you reach back and find only darkness clawing after you. And claw it will. Because memory is rarely content to remain in the past.

And the trouble with the past?

Is that it's always right behind you.

I didn't look over my shoulder as I trudged the desert on the day that would change everything. It was winter, but the desert cared nothing for that. Sense, season, and the rest of the world had been scorched from here, having required no assistance beyond the turning of a blind eye.

I myself was smaller then. Not in size, but in understanding. My career was young, and youthful inexperience had me thinking only that the sand had no right to be so hot. Not when my crew was tired and aching for the snow that should have dressed the dunes in the trappings of a different season. They'd been nearly a year ashore at this point. After months of search and toil, forcing them to sweat even after the job was done seemed the height of cruelty. So I sent them on to prepare the ship while I met with our client.

Which is where the memory begins in earnest.

I remember the sizzle and the grain.

I remember the rough and pressure and the heat of my breath.

I remember every inch of it so clearly that I often wonder whether it happened at all. Maybe my efforts to paint the memory into something less jagged have colored it beyond recollection. So much has been lost that I can hardly imagine it was ever once so simple as a bit of sand, a snowless sky.

Even shadows start small, I suppose.

You will know the region only as the Wastes. Map and tongue have spent so many centuries warning wayfarers from its shores that they've long forgotten it ever had a name. To them, its name was Famine. Its name was Drought. They called it Lightning and A Terrible End. Like the sand, its true name was innocent. Corin. A word that once danced from farmers and naturalists who gushed over fertile fields and crystal springs. That was before the Season Lord came and scorched the land until no bare inch of it could be used by creature or crop.

In a flash of history's eye, Corin crumbled.

But the Wastes never did.

A rotting corpse come to life, they grew. They swallowed what was and used the bite of razor-sharp mountains to cut themselves away from the world. As of this writing, they stand defiant and howling at the southernmost tip of Secora, accessible only by a single, harrowing path. A great stretch of sand that isn't sand at all, but the meal of a thousand castles crying to be remembered. Listen closely and you will hear them, as I did.

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