So here’s what you need to know: My name is Stu, I’m the Eldest Elder and the second oldest person in the town of Cornucopia, and YOU NEED TO STAY INSIDE THE TOWN WALL.
D’you hear me, kid? DON’T EVER GO OUT INTO THE OVERWORLD.
The town Founders built Cornucopia for a reason. It’s scary out there. Real dangerous. There are terrifying monsters and bloodthirsty animals and strangers who do not have your best interests at heart.
Sure, there might be good scenery and interesting people and untold riches beyond the wall. Forests and seas and emeralds and axolotls, whatever they are. And yes, some people might tell you that the fine folks of Cornucopia are all descended from grand adventurers and that we all hold the potential for bravery, valor, discovery, and creativity, blah blah blah.
Poppycock, if you ask me.
Stay within the wall, child. We have everything you need.
Don’t go out there.
You never know what you’ll find.
It might be your own doom.
Now get out of my shop. Out you go. Children are noisy and annoying. That’s why I never had any of my own. I like my life like I like my town: quiet, calm, and boring.
Before you leave, would you like to buy a hoe? Potato farming—that’s the way to go. Just rows of potatoes as far as the eye can see. Potatoes for dinner every night. A nice, solid potato never did anyone any harm.
You don’t need a sword or armor. You don’t need one of those newfangled horses.
You just need to settle down inside the wall with your potatoes and wait for old age to claim you.
Mark my words—the Overworld is the last place you want to be.
The wall is your friend.LENNA
So here’s what you should know: My name is Lenna, I’m the apprentice of the oldest and weirdest person in town, and you shouldn’t listen to a single thing Elder Stu says. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s never once been outside the wall around Cornucopia, even though there’s currently a great big opening in it so that our people can come and go freely.
Or—well, kind of freely.
They still don’t like it when me and my friends go out into the Overworld.
Even though we were the first people in our town to venture beyond the wall in four generations, and even though we’ve saved the town—twice!—Stu and the other Elders still think we’re up to no good.
Of course, we’re used to people in the town treating us differently. They used to call us the Bad Apples, and some people still do. We’re not as normal as they’d like us to be.
Like I said, I’m apprenticed to the oldest, weirdest person in town, my friend Mal’s great-great-great-grandmother Nan. She keeps the lore, and we’re creating a library for everyone to use, so they can learn about our history and the world beyond the wall—the biomes and flora and fauna that we don’t have around here. Nan also taught me how to shoot my bow and arrows, how to craft a few things, and how to bake her famous cookies. Maybe more important, she taught me that there’s nothing wrong with being different. My family made fun of me all the time for getting lost in daydreams and being, as they said, a bit loony, but Nan tells me it’s a gift. I’m starting to believe her.
My pockets are stuffed with cookies as I head through downtown and past the Hub, which is the very center of Cornucopia. Most of the Elders and more traditional families live here, where the old houses are tall and skinny and jumbled together, but my friends and I have all chosen to settle down a bit farther out. I live in a little cottage by Nan’s house in the forest farthest from the middle of town, right up against the wall. Nan’s great-great-great-granddaughter Mal lives with her parents on a cow farm out where the houses have some space to breathe and room to farm. Chug and his brother Tok now live behind their store in New Cornucopia, which is a recent settlement just outside the wall. And Jarro, who used to be our bully but has become our buddy, set up shop right beside them to raise horses and llamas and rent them out to travelers.
I’m on my way to have breakfast with my friends. Actually, it’s halfway between breakfast and lunch, which Chug has decided to call lunfast. He loves naming things, but he’s not particularly good at it, which is why his pet pig is named Thingy. My own pet, a tamed wolf named Poppy, jogs beside me, tongue out and tail wagging. She loves lunfast, too, because she can play with Thingy and also Tok’s cats, Candor and Clarity.
I used to fear the Hub, because Jarro and his minions Edd and Remy would always pop up to bully me, but now Jarro is on my side and Edd and Remy have been deemed old enough to go to work. They both found jobs in my family’s mine, and they’re welcome to each other. I always knew they were dumb as rocks, and now they can spend all day with their kind. It’s a relief, walking through town with only a few dirty looks and no rotten beetroots slamming into my back.
Mal is waiting for me in front of her house, sitting on the fence and scratching her favorite cow, Connor, behind the ears. He moos happily, and I present him with a sheaf of wheat I plucked from an overgrown pasture along the way.
“You brought more than wheat, right?” Mal asks, jumping off the fence and joining me on the road.
“I’ve got a pocket, got a pocket full of cookies,” I sing. She fist-bumps me, which is nice. My friends know I don’t generally like being touched. This is our compromise.
It’s not too far from Mal’s farm to the wall, and she tells me about all the ores and gemstones she’s discovered in the small mine she’s digging out behind the cow pasture. It’s funny how I was born to a mining family but hate it, and she discovered mining out in the Overworld and realized she loved it. Maybe things would’ve been different if I was an only child working with cows all day instead of the youngest of ten very serious kids raised by very serious parents in a very serious mine, but I guess we’ll never know. I’m just glad I found Nan and she saw my potential. I’m happy now, and so is Mal, and when the boys see how many cookies I brought them, they’ll be happy, too.
The door in the wall comes into view, and my spirits sink as I recognize the people blocking us from leaving town.
“Oh no,” I mutter.
Mal looks ahead and sighs.
My oldest brother, Lars, steps into our path.
“Names, please,” he says. He puts away his sword and pulls out a book.
Mal and I look at each other.
“Names?” she asks, because she’s a lot braver than I am, especially in front of my family. I’d rather face a hundred zombies than my older sister Letti, and Lars is only a year younger than her and not a bit more understanding.
Lars puffs up his chest. “Names. The Elders have decreed that we must keep track of who enters and leaves the town at all times. So give us your names.”
He’s in full iron armor—which my friend Tok made—with his sword hanging at his side. Whoever gave Lars a weapon clearly wasn’t thinking straight.
“You know who we are,” Mal says. “You two are siblings. And we’re third cousins.”
The other guard swings around and glares at us. It’s Jami, one of the town’s main sheep farmers. I don’t know him super well, as he’s an adult and usually sticks to his farm, but he has definitely called us Bad Apples in the past. He, too, has a sword.
“The Elders don’t want your family tree, kids. They want names. This is a new process, and you’re expected to comply. So just state your names, and we can all go back to our very busy days.”
I look around. There is no one else on the road to or from the wall, not a single living creature visible in the Overworld as far as the eye can see.
“What are you busy doing?” I ask.
“Explaining the rules to rude children,” Jami says through clenched teeth.
Mal and I look at each other, confused, and she shrugs. “I’m Mal. That’s Lenna. Can we go now?”
Lars writes our names in the book, his tongue poking out between his teeth. He was never that great at writing. “Mal and Loony Lenna.” I wince at this old family nickname that he just won’t let me forget. “Okay, then my initials and the date. Destination?”
“Destination?” Mal echoes.
Lars sighs dramatically. “Where are you going? We’re keeping track of comings and goings, so you have to tell us where you’re going.”
“We’re going to have lunfast with Chug, Tok, and Jarro in New Cornucopia. You know, the other part of our town that’s outside of the wall?” Mal says, her face swiftly growing as red as her hair.
Lars writes that down, too. “There, was that so hard? If you would just follow directions, we would’ve been done already.”
“Are we free to go?” Mal asks.
Copyright © 2022 by Delilah S. Dawson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.