Sheldon only looked for the road on the quiet days. Back home, in Espia, they called it the Wylick Passage. There, the road stretched out like a strand of gold and silver, a winding path that snaked out of the fields of the Dark Hollow, past Selgar’s Rise and the Kallesan Fields, off into the unending distance at the edge of the world.
And it was the edge of the world, as Sheldon had managed to find out. Taking that road through the roiling fog, he watched the trees change. Those silver trunks dulled to muddy brown tones, and those leaves — once gold and virulent — faded to umber and burgundy as they dropped to the ground.
Autumn, they called it — the people of this strange new land — and it had been Sheldon’s undoing. He had memorized the location by the shape of the trees and the arrangement of foliage. Only weeks later, the wind had blown those sickly leaves off the boughs and branches. When Sheldon thought to return home, he could not recognize the way.
And thus began his long year in a world that was not his own.
Sheldon hardly regretted it. He’d taken the form of the native population, magicking himself into a four-limbed creature with a mane of wild hair and a bright smile. He carved his cheekbones and jawline to mimic that of the most handsome youth and drew the dust of the earth up into his bones to solidify his incantations into a permanent fixture around his fragile being.
The people were pleasant, but they offered little for Sheldon to enjoy. As the trees grew quiet and white snow covered the world, Sheldon walked the empty forests and climbed the high peaks in search of a way back to Espia. Perhaps he could see his homeland if he could only climb high enough. Just one glimpse of the Wylik Passage would be enough to guide his way.
His search yielded nothing more than a crushing blow to Sheldon’s own navigational prowess. He reached for his magick, attempted to tune it to the fragile vibrations of his former homeland, but found those minor attunements distorted by the land beneath his feet. This world, too, was alive and breathing. Perhaps, Sheldon reasoned, those leaves would come back again.
All he could do was wait.
With spring came new hope. Sheldon watched the leaves blossom, watched them thread themselves into brilliant green hues like none he had ever seen. This was foreign to him, the stylings and vibrance nestled into this waking world. Suddenly, the desolation around him lifted. Sheldon found himself standing among small flowers, sprouting trees, and burgeoning youth.
The world came alive again and with it, Sheldon hoped, a way home. He began wandering the old roads, searching for the one that might guide him back there. After such a long time away, Sheldon struggled to remember the arrangement of the leaves that he had carved into the folds of his mind.
The details were fading and, Sheldon noticed as he wandered the forgotten corners of the earth, so was his magick. It was a subtle thing at first, a missing digit, or a sliding eyebrow that made the native screw up their faces in disgust and awkward curiosity. Then his skin began to crack. Once, the fleshy plates around his knee shattered and exposed the bone. Sheldon managed to repair it, but he could feel this new world begin to drain him, to turn against him.
During those summer nights, lurking just off the roadside, Sheldon dreamt of Espia. He could see himself wander across the the ember-charred fields of the Orlannis, or stalking the nightgrass at Cen’Vo Nar. Though they were merely dreams, but Sheldon drew hope from each of them, clinging to those memories as he searched for the passage home.
The sun was approaching is afternoon peak one day in late summer when Sheldon, limping now, noticed that the trees had begun to change. That green virulence was fading, the leaves were dying — and the world began to look familiar. In those precious hours, Sheldon scoured every road and path available to him. He shed his human form and scoured the land in his natural state, no longer camouflaged by his own, failing magicks.
He found the road by coincidence, wandering down a dirt path after a fall rainstorm, as the fog rolled in from a nearby lake. Sheldon turned and corner and stopped in his tracks. There it was, the exact arrangement of trunks, branches, and leaves that he remembered.
Sheldon gathered his wits and sped down the road, into the endless fog before him. He hesitated for a moment, unsure if this was the way, when he caught at glimpse of the first sliver of gold hanging on a slender, silver sapling.
In the distance, he felt Espia tugging at the forgotten magick in his bones. Sheldon gave a shout and sprinted down the Wylik Passage, toward home.