We are called the Seren,” Tristyan said. “And it is my people who created schisms.”
These words had been echoing through Flick’s mind for what felt like an eternity—though in reality it had only been seconds. But in those few seconds, sitting in Tristyan’s apothecary shop in another world, everything she thought she knew about herself, about her world, about magic and the multiverse, had all been turned upside down in a flash.
She looked over at Jonathan, standing beside her, looking as shocked as she felt, and then back at Tristyan. She realized her mouth was hanging open and tried to remember how to speak.
“They—you—created—” She shook her head. It felt extremely full.
“Schisms are natural phenomena,” Jonathan said. “They have always existed, they weren’t created by anyone. Although”—he gave Flick a look—“I suppose we do know that new ones can be torn, by some people.”
Flick, meanwhile, continued to stare at Tristyan. Until a few minutes ago, she had thought this tall, elf-like man was nothing more than a kind apothecary who sometimes helped out travelers from other worlds. But now she was cradling the revelation that he was her grandfather. Her own dad’s dad was from another world. And therefore, so was she. In a way. Her whole life had been turned upside down as quick as winking.
Felicity Hudson and her friend Jonathan Mercator were part of the Strangeworlds Travel Agency—custodians of a very powerful magical travel system contained within the dozens of suitcases stacked in an old and dusty shop. Within each suitcase was a schism—a gateway to another world—and to travel from one to another, all you had to do was step inside.
Schisms didn’t only exist within suitcases, however; they occurred naturally everywhere. At least, that is what Flick and Jonathan had been led to believe. To hear that the rips and tears in the fabric of the multiverse had been created was like learning that someone colored in the sky every morning. It seemed too far-fetched to be true.
“I don’t understand,” Flick said. “What is a Seren? Am I part Seren?”
Tristyan shook his head. “Let me explain properly. Please?” He indicated the chairs, and they each carefully took a seat.
Jonathan was still clutching the piece of paper in his hands that had given him hope that his missing father was still alive. Daniel Mercator, the true Head Custodian of Strangeworlds, had been missing for months, and presumed dead. But Tristyan had shown them with this scrap of paper that Daniel could still be alive, somewhere out there in the multiverse.
“The Seren are not a species,” Tristyan said, lacing his spidery fingers together. “They are an organization, not unlike the Strangeworlds Society. The difference is, once you are one of the Seren, you are expected to remain one for life. They become your family, your whole world.”
“And where does inventing schisms come into this?” Jonathan said, clearly not in the mood for sentimentality.
Tristyan gave him a small, sad smile. “Contrary to what you’ve been told, young man, schisms have not always existed. There was a time, thousands and thousands of years ago, when the worlds of the multiverse were free of schisms and tears. The worlds existed alongside each other but without any knowledge of one another, and certainly no travel between them. And in a world on the other side of reality from yours, there were the Seren.
“They were not a bad people, not in the beginning. They consumed magic to survive, in the same way you consume food and water. Since living things also produce magic simply by existing, there was plenty of excess magic to keep their world spinning happily. At first.”
“I think I know where this is going,” Flick said. “It’s like natural resources in our world, right? They got greedy. That’s what happened with the Thieves in Five Lights—they bottled so much magic that their entire world was damaged almost beyond repair.”
“Exactly. The Seren are just like the Five Lights Thieves, only on a much larger scale.” Tristyan gave a sigh. “They began to use magic to make other things—spells, and so on—and, as they grew more ambitious, their consumption of magic grew. Eventually, they were using it up faster than it could ever be replenished. And the walls of their world became thin.”
Flick sat up. “And a schism tore?”
“The first schism,” Tristyan said. “The first, and the largest. The schism tore their world to pieces, and the aftershocks of that opened schisms across the multiverse. When it happened, a few of the Seren tumbled into another world and survived. The rest of their people were lost.”
“That’s a sad story,” Flick said.
“Don’t be fooled,” Tristyan said. “Their story does not end there. Rather than learning from their mistakes and beginning their lives again peacefully in this new world, using magic in moderation, the surviving Seren simply picked up where they had left off. They would move from world to world, using magic to extend their lives, escaping through schisms as each world they touched died in their wake. The Seren are no longer a people—they are a virus. I am certain that it is they who caused the initial damage to the City of Five Lights, and I am positive it was they who were taking the magic of the Break in such frightening quantities.”
Flick tried to process what she was being told. “They destroy worlds? On purpose?”
“That’s right,” Tristyan said. “Though they have been quiet for a long time. I thought they might even be gone forever. Wishful thinking. What happened in Five Lights and the Break shows that they are back. The Seren are the biggest threat to the multiverse there has ever been.”
“And you were one of them?” Flick asked, incredulous.
“Not by choice,” Tristyan said. “As the Seren’s power grew, they… took, for want of a better word, children who were magically gifted, children who could help them harness even more magic. They raised us within the Seren and taught us to be one of them. I knew no better. I thought I was on the side of the good guys, until I met Aspen Thatcher, from the Strangeworlds Society.” He smiled sadly. “She showed me what the Seren really were.”
“So, you escaped?” Jonathan asked.
“I did.” Tristyan nodded. “Though I was not the first person to do so.”
“Other people have run away from them?” Flick asked. “Who?”
Tristyan gave her a wry look. “Can’t you think of anyone who was extremely magically gifted? Whose powers seemed to come from nowhere? Someone who did everything they could to keep the worlds of the multiverse safe from danger?”
Flick put a hand to her mouth.
Jonathan sat up sharply. “You don’t mean to say that…?”
“Yes.” Tristyan nodded. “The first person ever to escape the Seren was your very own Society founder, Elara Mercator.”