Years ago, the mortal world was consumed by endless war. Seas were red with the blood of tainted souls and saints alike. Horrors grew more foul by the year until, finally, the Gods intervened. Like parents, they treated us as children and separated our world in a way only they could.
The Gods divided our world into unique territories. In each domain, there was an ocean and a grand island that sat in its center. The Gods ruled over their islands as kings and queens, offering blessings to their people in exchange for loyalty and devotion. Peace was found by the guiding hand of our brilliant lights. The endless death had finally ceased.
But there came a time when mortal men sought to explore beyond the walls built around them. Captivity, even under prosperity, was a crushing thing. Pride fought humility and reason till many were driven to seek more than what was offered.
That's when we came to understand the Gods had trapped us in their territories not to save us from ourselves but to feed their unquenchable thirst for devotion. Ships could only travel so far before hitting what we came to know as an ocean's divide. They were significant gaps between territories, between oceans, with the sole purpose of keeping mortals dependent and loyal to their Gods. If a ship tried to cross the gap, it simply fell off the water's edge into a black void of seemingly nothing. No one knew what existed in the black, and no one ever returned from its abyss.
But there was a way through the barriers.
Witches, mortal men and women born with power, could bridge an ocean's divide. Through the use of water steps, a spell capable of manipulating water, it was possible for boats to cross safely.
Such a discovery resulted in war between Gods and humanity. But of course, humanity won.
Gods could only replenish their power through the worship of mortals. Their gifts came from sacrifice. Our blood, sweat, and bones became their essence. Naturally, when we abandoned them, our deities began to die. Eventually, all the Gods were gone, either slain or vanished after a lack of devotion. Still, their territories remained trapped.
Witches became vital to the survival of us all. Without them, the seven islands would have remained isolated.
But witches were rare. And very few were willing to sacrifice their freedom to become tools of their respective kingdoms.
In the kingdom of Via, where I lived, there had been an unusual amount of witches. So, unlike other kingdoms, we didn't need to force witches to work for the crown.
Our king himself was a witch.
But as abundant as they might have been throughout our kingdom as a whole, Lord Jordan's city had few with magical ability. I was lucky once to find a witch willing to let me travel with them. At times I wondered if another opportunity would ever arise.
Even after two years of abandoning my studies, I perhaps remained ready to leave at a moment's notice. If only I hadn't been tied to so many I could never bear to see suffer.
"Bastien. You have to fold it twice and cut it once. You've folded it once and cut it twice."
"Sorry," I said.
"You'll have to start again," Mother told me.
I might have taken my three days in peace, but my father's medicine was far from cheap. To keep wages consistent, I decided to help Mother in Jordan's Castle. Our Lord was hosting yet another party, his second of the month.
Food, especially baked goods, was our territory's greatest achievement. Naturally, we were expected to prepare meals befitting the Gods, even for the most mundane events. My mother showed great skill to earn her role in our lord's kitchen. I, on the other hand, was accepted thanks to my mother's friendship with the head chef.
Regardless, my lack of skill was evident. I attempted the simplest job of preparing a basic bread, but even that was a challenge. My skills were in translation, literature, and culture. Truthfully, baking skills hadn't been inherited through my family's blood.
"So what's the reason this time? Why is Jordan working us? Another party, I assume," I said.
"Quite the opposite. Our king is coming," Mother told me.
Mother, myself, and two other women were preparing bread on a single long stone island. Behind us, a butcher carved meat from the bones of a bleeding beast too large to have been natural. The head chef had several pots boiling, which he was tasting on the other side of the great kitchen.
"Yes, to discuss recent events that threaten all of the seven islands," Gretchen, another of my mother's friends, explained while she took yet another batch of bread from my hands and tossed them to the crows.
"What event?" I asked.
"You haven't heard?" The butcher behind my back joined the conversation, to my surprise.
The sound of his hacking away at flesh was swift but powerful. It took an effort to keep thought.
"My boy wouldn't know. He hasn't lived in the day for many months," Mother explained.
And, of course, we all spoke in a whisper. If the head chef thought we were too idle, he threw salt in our hair before setting it on fire. Luckily for us, the kitchen was large, and several other stations were working on dishes more tedious than bread.
"A group of witches was caught after bridging an ocean's divide," The butcher explained, but it lacked an element of concern.
"Isn't that what they do?" I suggested.
"Cours it is, but they left it. They left the bridge open," the butcher went on.
With my bread-making efforts proven fruitless, I decided to turn my back to the table and gave my attention to Roswell. His work was gruesome but mesmerizing.
"Is that even possible?" I asked.
"With enough witches or one with enough power, anything is possible," he said.
The divides kept kingdoms isolated aside from wealthy nobility and companies with access to witches. If the borders between lands were to fall, it might have opened trade, exploration, and worlds of knowledge. But there would have been little to stop a war.
Why would one island continue to trade with another if they could simply overthrow it and take its resources? That's how people might have thought. That's how kings might have thought. Was it not? In the past, before acts of God, kings warred over less.
Lost in conversation, I was taken off guard when I felt the sudden itch of something in my hair. Turning my head back to the island, I found the head chef tossing pinches of salt my way. Quickly I ran before he had chance to add fire.
The Gods had trapped us in their territories. Ships could only travel so far before hitting what we came to know as an ocean's divide. They were large gaps between territories, between oceans, with the sole purpose of keeping mortals dependent and loyal to their Gods. If a ship tried to cross the gap, it simply fell off the water's edge into a black void of seemingly nothing. No one knew what existed in the void, and no one ever returned from its abyss.