The little Consortium of Fair Semblances, high in the northern Draconian Mountains, is the only world young Mishael Henoch has ever known; but one night, he and two friends, Javan and Shashi Togarmah, decide to break through the Impenetrable Thicket, which has stood as an impassable barrier around Fair Semblances from time immemorial. Although unsuccessful at first, the consequences of their night escapade lead Mishael to the solution of an ancient riddle, hidden in plain sight of the people of Fair Semblances for many generations. Armed with this new information, he breaks through the Thicket, and finds himself in a world vaster than he had ever imagined. This boundless new world is in the midst of a great struggle between good and evil, which is even more epic and terrifying than the ancient legends had been able to convey. In the very midst of this struggle is Fair Semblances; and now that he has escaped from Fair Semblances, so is he.
At the far north-eastern corner of the most honorable Consortium of Fair Semblances, one chilly April evening, stood three young men, scarcely more than boys, peering into the inscrutable gloom of the Impenetrable Thicket. The two closest to the thicket, remarkably alike in appearance, were in fact brothers, not quite two years apart.
The name of the older was Javan Togarmah, and his younger brother was Elishah, although everyone called him Shahshi, a nickname which had a very notable history, no doubt, but a history which does not fall within the scope of this tale.
Hanging back a little from the other two, with an air for which he was already noted, in spite of his youth, of a certain pensiveness and almost excessive caution, which made him seem quite older than his age sometimes, was the brothers' companion, a boy by the name of Mishael Henoch. There was little about him to distinguish him from the ordinary, apart from the cautious disposition already mentioned. He was of rather medium height and build, and had a great profusion of dusty blonde hair constantly spilling out from under his leather cap and cavorting about his eyebrows.
The mere fact of this twilight rendezvous was really quite unexceptional, unless one might consider it a little strange that two Togarmahs should be meeting with a member of their great antagonists at the Divertisement, the Henochs. For in truth, as long as the good people of Fair Semblances could remember, this sort of venture was a very common nighttime thrill, spoken against gruffly by the older generation, but with something of an excusing twinkle in the eye from that more affable sort who could still remember their own childhood forays. And it was a mostly harmless affair, moreover, and almost always went something like this: two or three daring young men would egg each other on to conquer their fears and march off into the Thicket; at long last, one of them would assay to take three or so steps into its darkness, never letting the meadows of Fair Semblances out of his sight, and then come running wildly back and spend the greater part of the next fortnight regaling all his peers with the tales of a pervasive atmosphere of horror and confusion, and the desperate shrieks and bloodcurdling cries he had encountered, which no one else could hear who was not in the Thicket. Then, next Spring, among the children a year or so younger than they, the same thing would happen all over again. Of course, this was all strictly forbidden by the Grand Proprietor, and the borders of Fair Semblances were quite often patrolled by the Ministerium, in the vain attempt to stop these scandalous sorties. And there were, as well, all the old stories, which no one knew whether or not to believe anymore, of those who had gone a step too far, and been lost in the gloom, and spent the rest of their lives wandering about in confusion, and crying out with those shrieks of despairing anguish that such daring boys as our young heroes would later describe so eloquently to their credulous companions.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, we must take a moment to describe the Divertisement, and the old feud between the Henochs and the Togarmahs. No one knows for sure when the Divertisement was begun, but the legends would have it like this: sometime in the misty origins of the Present Age, when the Seekers had just made their way through the Great Desolation, gallantly fighting off the seed of Wyrmwood, to find the fruitful plains of Fair Semblances, the elders who had lived through the journey feared that the generations to come might forget the realities outside its borders, and so also forget the necessity of vigilance and wartime preparation in the lull of a tranquil and unharried life. As a remedy against this contingency, they had devised a sort of instructive game, in which each member of the community had a character to control in a thoroughly epic, even if imaginary, struggle against the wyrms and their great master Vrak. It was said, in fact, that the game held the secret key to victory in the true Struggle - but no one except the most na?ve among them truly believed that anymore, and most of them laughed off the legends of the ancient journey as mere childish fantasies, and even doubted the very existence of Vrak.