2022.02.16. Note. I am currently improving the text, and plan to re-release it. You can read the first chapter of the story below...

2023.02.20 Note. Added back some of the corrected and finalized chapters (1-7). Will add the rest when they are complete.

2023.05.26. Note. Added back the corrected and finalized version of Chapter 8.

2023.05.29. Note. Added back the corrected and finalized version of Chapter 9.

Voice Of The Ilk

The giant walkers of the Soronan desert. There are three Ilk in existence: Oto, Bala and Vol. To communicate with each other, Ilk produce low-frequency vocalizations at high amplitudes.

Today was Naming Day in the Ilk village of Volare1. For the occasion, many came to place flowers and herbs on Lupen’s doorstep. The different varieties made the entrance to the house appear overgrown, and wild. No one bothered to knock, they knew that Lupen was likely too busy for visitors.
    This Verido was busy, busy searching for the missing piece to complete the ceremonial outfit. Lupen sighed upon seeing the state of the house. The floor of the main room was littered with many objects, pieces of unfinished projects, attempts at honing a skill, any skill. Lupen had tried to learn to knit but the resulting hat was a disaster and was now used as a tea cozy. Lupen had watched others knit before, the motions were familiar to these eyes but these hands could not replicate them. Everyone had a skill, but perhaps Lupen’s was the art of cluttery.
    Lupen paused the search to sample a batch of licky root2 tea that had been steeping since yesterday’s first sunrise outside. The dark roots of the plant, heavy with liquid, lay at the bottom of the bottle. The brew was tucked in the growing amassment of plants near the entrance to the house. The drink was syrupy and sweet. “Yep, it’s ready,” Lupen said, wrenching the bottle from the fuzzy arms of a plant that had encircled the bottle overdark, with the goal of reaching the precious beverage. Lupen carried the bottle back inside, careful to avoid the carpet of delicate leaves and stems, allowing them to breathe their last in peace. Licky root was grown here, Lupen walked to the base of Vol’s nape everyday to harvest it. Few plants could thrive up here, the altitude did not permit much, but shroos, and small garden herbs were plentiful.
    Si Re ___ Fa A whistle. “Look at you! All dressed up and fancy-like!”
    Lupen spun right around to look at Rosmus, a neighbour and close friend. Rosmus stepped over the plants carpetting the pathway leading into the house. This Verido was taller and an annum3 older than Lupen, with hair standing on end, higher than anyone in Volare.
    Lupen was looking more dapper than usual, dressed in traditional ceremonial wear consisting of a necklace of blue thread hanging over a bare chest, with a knee-long patterned cloth wrapped around the waist, the cloth was superimposed with a woven isilk4 mat. “Since the second sunset, that’s how long I’ve been looking for each piece. But I’m still missing a thing.”
    “Your hair looks real nice!” Rosmus said, impressed.
    Lupen’s hair was short on the sides and long at the top where it slumped forward and dipped partially over the forehead. During special events, Verido people dyed their sand-coloured hair and faces using the crushed pigments of the fruit of the looberry5 plant. Lupen had covered up most areas, but the paint was too thin, leaving visible pale broad streaks of tan skin. “I ran out of looberries halfway into it.” Lupen admitted. When applied correctly, the blue paint covered everything from the bridge of the nose to the top of the head.
    “Doesn’t show.” Rosmus lied, holding a basket. “Oh! I got you a gift! Thought we could hang around here and plant these trumpet flower6 bulbs! In a quarter annum they’ll start flowering! And when they do… well, you know what I’m getting at! No one else tends to your need for intoxicants like I do, eh?”
    “Your need you mean. Your house is full so you’re looking to invade mine, a space moocher is what you are,” Lupen said, “anyway, why are you trying to keep me here? You know what’s going on today.”
    “Yes but I’ve decided that we’re not going to that,” Rosmus said.
    “Oh, is that so?”
    “I’ve been making decisions for you for a long while now, don’t tell me you’ve just noticed it.” There was a bottle strapped to Rosmus’s belt, full of red liquid with a wrinkly fruit floating inside. “I brought kabacho7 for us to drink! It’s been soaking for a full annum. It’s going to be real strong!”
    Lupen laughed. “As much as I’d like to just sit around and drink with you all day I’ve got to go. I don’t have a choice.”
    “You do have a choice.” Rosmus corrected. “You think you don’t, but you can do whatever you want. Come on, don’t you think it’d be more fun to do this instead?”
    “Fun. Yea, sure. It sounds fun, but the ceremony’s more important, I think.”
    “Who cares,” Rosmus said, “why go at all? I mean, you already know you won’t be named Voice8 so you know, why bother?”
    “Right. Don’t you think it unfair though? To be part of a contest with a predetermined result? Mago’s family has always been Voice, since Volare’s time, and that’s not about to change! When you think about it, there’s really no point in you being there at all! Come on, give me a mug that I can fill.”
    “It’s just like you to say something like that…” Lupen said, busy upturning the place, finding other things thought to be lost, but these stayed in their spot, to be forgotten and rediscovered again at a later, more convenient time. “I’m going. Don’t ask me again.”
    Rosmus, lacking a mug, took a sip of kabacho straight from the bottle instead, then struggled for a moment, trying to finish a thought, having much trouble getting the lips and tongue to cooperate. “So you’re fine with pretending you can win this?”
    “I’m not pretending! Ah, it doesn’t matter. I’m fine with it is what I’m saying.” Annoyed, Lupen moved to the other side of the room to look behind a table. “Ha! It’s here! I’ve found it!” The long blue scarf had been hiding there this whole time, wedged between a table and the wall. Lupen put the scarf on, coiling it tight. In truth, this wasn’t an official part of the Naming Day ceremonial wear, but Lupen wanted to wear it anyway. The scarf was a gift from Levi, Lupen’s mapa9. “Anyway, I could never be Voice. Mago’s better suited for it.”
    Rosmus sighed, lips stained red with kabacho. “Did you ever think that maybe you’re always under-performing because you know you can’t win? That whatever you do won’t change the outcome, so you don’t try?”
    “I’ll find something else I’m good at. I’ll see it more clearly when this thing is over. I know it.”
    Rosmus set the kabacho on the ground, found an amusing hat and decided to keep it. Ros then picked up a koutra10 from the floor and tried to play it, holding it by the neck, stringing the isilk threads. “Lupen, singer songwriter?”
    “I’d need a better koutra, that one’s got a problem.”
    Rosmus played a short song to test the instrument, fingers dancing across its top-face. The notes were pleasant, and echoed through the house. Rosmus smirked at Lupen, and began to sing, “a quartet of strings. Harmonious singings.”
    “Yes, yes, I get it, I get it. It’s me… I’m the problem…” Even while admitting this, Lupen eyed the stringed instrument with resentment. “I’ve got to go.” The Verido moved toward the door, stepping over objects to get to it, but came up to the bottle of kabacho and decided to take a sip. “For my nerves.” Lupen said.
    “Hey! What if you actually did become Voice?” Rosmus yelled. “We could go drink at The Ear11 all day! Best view in all of Volare! No one would come to bother us up there!”
    “Now that would be sacrilegious!” Lupen said with a laugh, before breaking into a run. The centre of the village was nearby but the first sun was high, at any moment the ceremony would start.

Mago was standing in front of the Volare town hall, an imposing edifice on the lowermost area of the Ilk’s nape. There were people everywhere, wrapping looma12 vines around poles and hanging wreaths of dried bibiskiss13 on doors. The volunteers stood on top of tall, skinny ladders, swaying gently from left to right with the motion of their world.
    Much of the happenings in Volare are tied to what is commonly referred to as kaala. Kaala, the rhythm of Vol’s heartbeat, is used to count the time, to rock children to sleep, and to measure their advancement towards their next stop. A giant pendulum erected in the town square swayed too, a wheel of numbers counting up each time the weight swings to one side. When the number hits seventy-eight, a disc drops from the top of a pole. After ten discs, or ten horos14, the pole is switched out with an empty one, marking the start of a new day.
    To withstand the motion, Volare architects build tall, narrow houses, that twist and bend without breaking. Each structure is built around a central pillar positioned in the centre, with each floor permitting a fair degree of sway. Whenever Vol rocks to the right, the first floor of the houses also moves that way, but the second floor moves left, and the third to the right, and so on. This wobbling effect kept the structures intact.
    A disc dropped from the top of the pole then, marking a new horo. Re . Re .___ Re .._ SiFa Fa._. Someone whistled in Ilken15, loud enough for the entire city to hear.
    Mago gulped. Naming Day processions were supposed to start at the seventh disc drop of the day. Unlike Lupen’s, Mago’s ceremonial outfit was without wrinkles or dust. The Volarian’s short, sandy hair was heavy with decorative beads.
    Mago likes to climb, and does well in most sports. Today, Mago appeared less confident than usual, eyes looking up at the Ilk’s towering head, fidgeting with the ceremonial necklace.
    Everyone waved at Mago, smiling and saying things like: ‘Good luck in there!’ or, ‘You were born to do it!’ Mago wondered if they said these same things to cousin Lupen too, the townspeople were kind, and weren’t known to play favourites.
    “Mago!” Armyn, Mago’s mapa, called out, waving a hand to try and get their attention. Armyn was bound to a push-chair, ferried around by a younger Verido. “Mago! Anyone in there?”
    Mago groaned. “I don’t have to say yes yes at every word! You know I’m listening mapa…”
    “Well, I want to hear you say it.”
    “I’m nervous, okay. You know I am!”
    “Yes, but you forget that I went through the same with cousin Levi, and my mapa went through it too with cousin Laggra. I’m here, right now, telling you that you have nothing to worry about! Our family line is strong, and I know firsthand who’s the best for the role.” Armyn said, smiling up at Mago. Levi had taught Lupen how to be Voice, but then that job fell onto Armyn to teach them both. “It happened ages ago, but looking at you now, it’s strange… like going backwards in time.”
    “Cousin Levi was really good. I heard the stories. Levi almost got the title.”
    “Yes, that’s true. Levi would have done many more great things, but we can’t think about what could have been, we’ve got to focus on what is! Lupen is good, but lacks your focus my love!” Armyn’s eyes darted back for a moment, “I have to go! They’re waiting for me. I’ll see you there!” Armyn was wheeled away, disappearing into the town hall, passing under a banner that read ‘Voice of Volare naming ceremony’.
    A small child stood near the banner, trying to sound the words written on it in Ilken with little success. “That doesn’t sound right at all.”
    “You almost got it.” Mago said, with a kind smile, “Here, watch me.” Mago’s hands moved into place, cupping the mouth in the right way. Mago took a deep breath, stomach clenching, and then out came a series of soft whistles. The sounds varied in length, pitch and rhythm. Otherworldly, metallic almost. This song was played quietly because the receiver was nearby, but for Verido people Ilken was a loud language, usually reserved for long distance communication.
    Mago whistled a second time to make sure the child had heard it right. “See? Voice-of-Volare. Now you try it. Watch your pitch on the vowels.”
    Eyes wide, the child positioned both hands and lips in the same way, and tried again. Most Verido people could not speak it, but many liked to try. Only Voices had the training to carry words far. They could not vocalize like an Ilk, but for their size, they could produce the loudest sound in the desert.
    “Do you really talk to the Ilk?” The child asked.
    Mago smiled. “No. Not yet, but if I become Voice then yea, we’ll talk everyday!”
    “Wow!” The child said, starry-eyed.
    Volare villagers were setting up a small stage near the town hall onto which they would be playing music later. Mago loved the sounds of the donmol16 and the koutra. All children in Volare were raised with music at their lips and fingers.
    Lupen arrived to take Mago’s side. “Well, well! If it isn’t the Tongue Wart of the Ilk!”
    Mago grabbed Lupen’s left ear, twisted, and pulled it. “Think that if I keep your ear like this for five days it’ll shrivel up and fall off?”
    “Ow! Ow! I’ll tell everyone you tried to cripple me!”
    “They’ll think you did it to yourself! You do hurt yourself a lot.” Mago said, twisting it harder.
    “Ow! Well yes, but not on purpose! You think I like pain?”
    “You like attention, so who’s to say!” Mago paused then, “hey, why are your lips red?” Mago said, releasing Lupen’s ear. “You reek of kabacho! You fiend! You’ve been drinking!”
    “Before the ceremony? I wouldn’t dare,” Lupen said with a sly grin, while trying to get some feeling back in that pained ear. “As if you could hold it like that for days…”
    “Oh, you know I totally could and would.” Mago said, trying to reach for Lupen’s ear again, but then stopped, noticing the scarf. “Levi’s freaky scarf!”
    “Long isn’t freaky.” Lupen protested.
    “I love it. Coiled around like that, it makes it look like you have no neck. Why did Levi make it so long again?” Mago asked, grabbing the end of the long, long blue scarf, fingers stroking the neatly woven Isilk threads.
    Lupen shrugged. “Who knows. Lev just kept adding lengths to it, saying I would need it long. Never really gave me a straight answer when I asked why. That was near the end anyway, one of many strange things Lev did. Though I can’t imagine how long it would have been if I hadn’t hidden those last bundles.” After a long pause, Lupen spoke again. “How’s Armyn doing?”
    Mago shrugged. “Mostly fine. Health has deteriorated fast this quarter though.” Seven days ago, Armyn was able to walk, but now the shroo17 infection had moved into the lungs. “Hasn’t gone up to The Ear in days.”
    “Yea, it happens fast.” Lupen put a hand to Mago’s shoulder then, to offer comfort. “So, when’s The Leap18?”
    “Soon.” Mago said.
    “Well, I’ll be there for Armyn, and for you.” Lupen said, with a reassuring smile.
    “Did you feed Henbi today?” Mago asked, but seeing Lupen’s expression it was evident that Henbi had not been fed. “I ought to take it in, you’re too forgetful to take care of smellydough19. You can’t keep abusing it like that you know?!” Mago said with a sigh. “I’m surprised you haven’t killed it yet.”
    “I know, I know,” Lupen said, guiltily. “I always remember to do it, eventually.” In fact, Lupen kept a bag of woodgeon berries right next to the jar of bubbling wet flour. “I even ground berries this morning, I just got distracted that’s all.”
    A large crowd had gathered around them at the town hall. The two sun were about to set. It was time. Everyone quieted down, and watched as the doors to the town hall opened. Lupen gulped. Even a funny-looking scarf wouldn’t be enough to calm Mago’s nerves now. But Lupen always knew what to say in such times…
    “Let’s go inside, oh Venerable Nose Hair of the Ilk!”
    “Hey don’t say that too loud!”
    Mago chuckled as they both entered the building. The crowd cheered, waving flags of blue isilk, shouting their names.

In Volare, there were no mansions or grand palaces. The town hall was an important, modest-sized building, its walls bore painted murals, images of the Ilk’s travels as well as a depiction of their founder and great leader Volare. The table sitting the village’s council members was covered with an embroidered isilk cloth, featuring stylized relief images of clouds and suns. The two now stood before 6 council members. Armyn was sitting on the far left, smiling and waving at them.
    “Happy you could join us. Today, our Armyn, seventy’be annums old, is retiring after a lifetime of service,” the appointed speaker from the council said aloud, smiling at the two Voice candidates.
    Armyn bowed. “I will miss being at The Ear, but my body is giving me clear signs that it’s time to let someone else delight in this experience. I’ve learned much of the world through Vol. I’ve no doubt that the new Voice will do grand things. I have personally trained both, and am very, very proud of them.” Armyn glanced at the two cousins fondly. “I will be preparing to Leap from Vol’s snout five days from now, I will want to speak to each of you before I go. You, whom I love.” Saying these last words, Armyn’s open hand turned into a fist. “I will carry this love with me.”
    “We will all bear witness to it, a Leap is a grand thing,” the speaker said.
    Armyn smiled at this, as did Mago. Lupen remembered when Levi leapt off The Snout. Their friends all gathered to watch, but they remained at the base of The Neck since The Head was reserved for family. After Levi’s Leap, Lupen was given a seed to sow in the town nursery.
    A musician began to play the donmol, an instrument with a flat back, triangular-shaped sound holes, four double strings, a long neck, and a raised fingerboard. The song was a re-telling of the history of this city and of its founders. Lupen favourite moment was whens the three founders, Otora, Balandri and Volare, first encountered the Ilks. The three giants were gathered at the foot of a mountain in the Central Rim, grazing on sweet grass. Volare stepped up first, sure-footed, bowing at Vol’s hoof. The song was famous to the residents of Volare, but Lupen could listen to it again and again without tiring.
    After playing a last note, the musician motioned for Lupen to continue the song in Ilken. To become Voice, the candidates always performed the last chorus on their own, as proof of their mastery of the language. Lupen did well enough, despite missing a few notes, while Mago’s performance was pitch perfect. There were other tests, which included recitations and improvised verses, again, Mago triumphed while Lupen’s lacked finesse.
    The last part of the ceremony consisted of a public reading of their full family tree by Volare’s appointed Pattern Reader20. Every Verido’s skin bore patterns, a series of lines and dots, etched in deep like the veins of a leaf.
    “Disrobe please,” said the Reader, standing up and approaching Lupen first. The Reader was short, and had long wispy eyebrows, that tickled the young Verido’s face. Mago caught this, and held back a laugh, a smile danced on both of their mouths. The Reader’s finger followed the blue lines on Lupen’s chest, racing down the arms and then down the back before ending on the face, muttering names and words in a hushed voice for some time. “Lupen, Levi, Laggra and Lunav. Direct descendants of Volare, same klorea21 coursing through your veins. Very good.”
    Then came Mago’s turn, the Reader followed the patterns, mumbling. The set of wrinkled hands then touched a patch of rough skin. A burn. The Reader looked dismayed. “I can’t read you.” The finger lay on an old wound, carved there on Mago’s backside. Armyn was distraught, recalling the event. Years ago, the Ilk stepped into a deep crevice. The violent motion made the city on the creature’s back tremble. Armyn, a hot kettle in hand, lost control and the scalding liquid left a lasting mark on Mago.
    “But you know my family! We’ve been at the Ilk’s ear for three generations!” Mago explained, red-faced. “What does it matter if you can’t read it? There’s no denying where I come from.”
    The other councillors shook their heads, disapprovingly. All present in the room knew the family yes, everyone in Volare did, but the councillors were superstitious, and tradition was tradition. Appointing someone with a muddy pattern, they said, would offend the Ilk, and they couldn’t risk it. At these words, Mago froze. These words shocked Lupen too. Armyn said nothing while the rest argued, they said the word ‘muddy’ often, each time hurting Mago further.
    Then the council came to an agreement. The Reader spoke up, “Lupen,” Mago’s eyes fell to the floor, avoiding Armyn’s gaze, “you will be the bridge between us and our Great Carrier Vol.”
    Both had undergone the same teachings, but there was never any doubt that Mago would get the role. Can I refuse to be Voice? Lupen wondered. No. Mago would never think of being Voice now, not after what they said. There was nothing to do. The festivities were already beginning. Someone was outside announcing the good news. As per tradition, a ceremonial wreath made of braided isilk hairs was placed on Lupen’s head, along with the robe worn by all Voices. Lupen wasn’t happy, and could sense the same in Armyn.
    The Reader led Lupen outside to face the crowd, hands threw fistfuls of dried woodgeon berries in the air and all began to sing. Rosmus stood there, still in plain clothes, laughing, and waving a bottle of half-empty kabacho.
    Should have stayed home, Lupen thought.
    All chanted, repeating Lupen’s name like a mantra. The world was a blur, a mess of people amassing close and saying kind things. The eldest of each family added a single bead to the wreath, after a while the weight of it was giving Lupen neck pains.
    “You speak for us all when you’re up there! We trust in you. May your presence at The Ear grant us many more annums on Vol’s back,” the Reader said, adding yet another bead to the wreath.
    It was tradition for the Voice to climb to Vol’s ear during the day’s festivities. The people would sing, dance and play games while awaiting Lupen’s return the next morning. Wreath and all, the Voice climbed up to The Ear alone, pushing through the tall tangles of hair on Vol’s spine.
    The stomach in tangles, constricted by obligation, and responsibility, Lupen found it hard to swallow, or breathe, even taking steps was difficult. “I’m going to be sick,” Lupen said, afraid that vomiting too could offend Vol. “What if I say the wrong thing, what if I get everyone… thrown off.” The Voice’s vision began to blur at the thought of getting everyone killed. “A looberry fell and fell from the mountain top,” Lupen began to sing a song aloud to try and chase those thoughts away, a song common to Volare children. “It rolled and rolled down down down into the yellow yellow sand. Along came a snakadil22, and they began to play and play, but it soon began to cry and cry. The looberry berry longed for home, but the snakadil did not know what to do.” After singing it, Lupen regretted the choice of song, and swallowed sick all the way up to The Ear.
    On arrival, Lupen stopped to stare at Vol’s large, tufted, parabolic ears, wondering what distant inaudible sounds they could perceive. It was a calm, windless day. The horizon was hidden by a distant sand cloud. All Lupen could hear was the faint noise of music of the happenings in Volare, this, and the sound of the Vol’s breathing. Even after being told many times what to do, and what to say to the Ilk, standing here now Lupen seemed to have forgotten it all. Before the Voice could say anything, the Ilk spoke. Vol spoke in rythmic hums and grunts, a version of Ilken adapted to Verido-ears.
    Paying close attention to the length and pitch of each sound, Lupen understood. “No wind.” The Voice said in Ilken, smiling. “Want to hear a song I wrote?”
    Vol’s ear twitched at these words, listening closely. Lupen pulled out a tiny instrument that looked like a comb with flexible prongs and began to play a song. The Ilk seemed to enjoy it, its ears twisted at every second note.
    As time passed Lupen became more comfortable. The Ilk gave periodical updates on the weather or the terrain. Lupen listened to the whistled conversations between it, and the others of its kind. There were two other giants, the Ilk of Otora and the Ilk of Balandri, they too carrying cities with Verido people. Few could hear Ilk communicating with each other, and yet it was widely known that their conversations spanned the entire desert. Veridos were able to detect some of their low-frequency seismic communication.

The next morning, the festivities were over, Lupen descended, but once again, was forced into more activities and celebrations with the village people. All the while, Lupen thought of Mago, hoping to stop by the house. Lupen did go later that same day, but Armyn let no one inside.
    Lupen gave up, and went to see Rosmus instead. The tall-haired Verido was busy grinding carapace shavings with a giant mortar and pestle. “How was it up there?” Roz asked.
    Lupen smiled. “Amazing. Could have stayed longer, but um…I’m not feeling too good. I’m worried about Mago.”
    “Mago needs time, that’s all…”
    “Did you know about the burn?”
    Rosmus did not look at Lupen, and continued to pulverize some more shavings, “No. It’s silly though isn’t it? This whole thing? Muddy! What nonsense. Mago’s lineage was clear as day.” Rosmus mixed a handful of powder with the juice of a looma root, and began to massage it into shape. “Land-dwellers name themselves, did you know this? Pattern Reading, as it is now, has become a matter of superstition. Vol doesn’t care about patterns or klorealines. We do. We rely on half-baked rituals because we are afraid.” Rosmus said.
    “Afraid… of what?” Lupen asked, but in truth, did not want to know the answer.
    “That our future is not certain, and that your presence at The Ear doesn’t guarantee a thing.”
    While talking, Rosmus had shaped the soft mass into a recipient, and was about to start carving shapes onto the outer sides of the bowl, but decided instead to reach into a bag for an object, which was then placed onto Lupen’s lap. “Here, I made you a tea cup.” The teacup was mottled grey with a blue hue, it had a bulbous shape, and Rosmus had coiled a decorative isilk braid around its handle. “You can tie it to your belt with it, carry it around, maybe have a cup at The Ear. Tea will help you think.”
    “I already have a tea cup.”
    “Yea. I’ve seen it. This one is better.” Rosmus grabbed the cup again, and set it atop Lupen’s head. “It’s a Thinking Cup. Forces you to look at the world, makes you question everything. If you need to have a long think, fill it with tea and set it atop your head. It works, you’ll see.”
    “I don’t need a cup of tea on my head to think,” the Verido said, removing the cup from its perch. “I’ll look ridiculous.”
    “No, you’ll appear pensive, which will make you look smart.” Rosmus said, continuing to crush more powder, amassing enough material for a dozen more Thinking Cups.

Everyday Lupen climbed to The Ear, bringing a new joke to tell. This was a challenge that resulted in many sleepless horos, Lupen was busy, hard at work composing jokes suitable for an Ilk. It was possible that the Ilk did not have a sense of humor, although some annums ago Armyn had mentioned something Vol had said about a grain of sand and a mudbear at a snack bar. Mago had been certain that this was an attempt at a joke. Lupen missed their friendship, they hadn’t spoken in days.
    “We don’t want to see anyone.” Armyn had said, dishevelled. After the ceremony both went home, and had not come out since. The only person who had dared to visit was Lupen.
    “That can’t be what Mago wants.”
    “I don’t like what you’re implying,” Armyn said, eyes narrowing down, “you can’t come here everyday.”
    “I’m sorry, I know Mago ought to have been…” Lupen stopped, wincing at those last, unspoken words. “Please let me help.”
    “A curse has befallen us!” Armyn pushed forward and whispered through closed teeth, “it’s Vol, it meant for this to happen. Don’t you see? It shook the ground, and made me harm my child! Oh! I will die with this pain in my flesh…”
    Feeling sad, Lupen left. Evidently Armyn was not well, but Mago was likely worse. Was this the end of their friendship? They were family, Lupen couldn’t stand the thought of losing them both, but insisting further at this point would only cause them more harm.

Every day Mago had dreams about pushing Lupen off Vol’s head before waking up, feeling nauseous and guilty. Lupen was a friend, getting rid of this rage was more important than grieving. There was no telling how such thoughts could affect Mago’s mind. Already there was an itch there, a dark sludgy patch that consumed up all the good thoughts. The only way to get rid of that feeling was to find Lupen and to apologize for disappearing. It was time to move on, there were plenty of things to do on the Ilk, in fact Lupen had hoped to become a Hand23 of the Ilk, like Levi had been.
    “That’s right, I could be Hand,” Mago thought. Levi wanted to be Voice, but after being denied the role, had adored being Hand. In fact, Levi’s work had saved Vol from a major digestive system infection many annums ago, one that threatened the creature’s life. It was a worthy, important role.
    Mago finally left the house but did not find Lupen home. A strong wind rushed inbetween the buildings, sounding like a long wailing cry. Mago gazed up at the Ilk’s head, most of it already engulfed in a thick cloud of dust, and concluded that this is where Lupen was. During stormy weather, someone had to stay at The Head. If ever something bad happened, Vol would communicate it to The Voice, who in turn would translate the message, whistling it to the Hands who would attend to the problem.
    That morning Lupen had communicated that a storm was coming, so people in the city closed their shutters and wrapped scarves around their faces. Once at The Nape of The Neck Mago tied one end of a braided isilk rope as a security line that ran along Vol’s spine. Hands made use of these safety lines often.
    And so began the long, arduous climb to the head. The wind increased, but this wasn’t Mago’s first climb in such conditions, and the safety line was enough. Mago used the thick hair on the Ilk’s spine as handholds, and quickly arrived at the top.
    Lupen stood next to The Ear, which looked like a giant fuzzy plant, dark on the outside and pink on the inside. Once in a while the ear would twist, the Voice caressed it, in an attempt to calm the giant. There was little shelter on the head, nothing to keep the sand from grinding you down. Lupen wore a scarf and a thick cloak. Vol’s eyes were cloudy, a third eyelid drew across them and acted as a protective curtain, a lot of particles lay trapped in its eyelashes too, they did a good job of keeping the vision clear. The tiny specks looked like insects trapped in a web. Their thick coats insulated them from the intense heat radiated from desert sand, and their gait and wide feet help them to walk without sinking.
    The Voice was too busy scanning the horizon to notice that someone else was there. The rope tying Lupen to the Ilk lay on the ground. Mago was waiting for the right time to step forward, but couldn’t gather the courage to do it.
    Finally, their eyes met. Lupen turned, yellow eyes showed through small openings in the blue scarf. With a back to the wind, Lupen pushed a bit of scarf away to reveal a smile concealed underneath.
    “I’m sorry I didn’t congratulate you, and that I avoided you… and my mapa’s behaviour…”
    “You should be Voice Mago, not me.”
    “Please don’t say that.”
    “I mean it. Vol keeps correcting my Ilken. It’s embarrassing.”
    Mago smirked at this, but did not feel worthy of Lupen’s kindness.
    “We’re still friends right?” Lupen asked.
    The Ilk let out a groan to warn them of an incoming gust. Both Verido braced themselves for impact. Sand swept Lupen up into the air, as a flurry of yellow grain swallowed the world. Mago stayed put, belly on the ground, holding onto the security line. When the wind eased enough to stand up, Mago grabbed Lupen’s tether, the air was still thick with sand, making it hard to see. “Hold on!” Mago screamed, but there was no weight on the other end.
    “This can’t be real.” Then came the end of the line. “Lupen!”

  1. Volare. One of three cities, built on the back of Vol, an Ilk. Volare is also the name of one of the founders of the city bearing this same name.↩︎

  2. Licky root. Grown for its roots, which have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects. This plant is very hardy, it grows in high-altitude areas.↩︎

  3. Annum An annum follows the growing cycle of teaweet, which takes 240 twin sunrises. There are 10 annums in a ki’annum.↩︎

  4. Isilk. A sought-after fabric made from Ilk hair.↩︎

  5. Looberry. A sweet eatable fruit with a hard outer shell, often used as a dye.↩︎

  6. Trumpet flower. The bowl of the flower contains a syrupy fluid, a very strong and delibilitating drug. It is diluted, and served as a drink during celebrations.↩︎

  7. Kabacho. A fermented drink made from the fruit of the Kaba plant.↩︎

  8. Voice. A traditional Verido role. Only Voices can speak to an Ilk.↩︎

  9. Mapa. A term of endearment, used by the child of the bearing parent.↩︎

  10. Koutra. A plucked instrument with a small round body, made from a looberry shell. The neck is 1 mirit long, and pierces the body.↩︎

  11. The Ear Where the Voice stands atop the head when speaking to an Ilk.↩︎

  12. Looma root. A climbing vine with small eatable cream-coloured heart-shaped roots.↩︎

  13. Bibiskiss. A purple flowery herb that is often infused to make tea. When brewed, the colour leeches into the drink.↩︎

  14. Horo A unit of kaala(time).↩︎

  15. Ilken. A whistled language spoken by Verido Voices, playable with an instrument. It is used to speak over long distances, and to converse with the Ilks.↩︎

  16. Donmol. A plucked instrument with 4 double strings, a long neck and a raised fingerboard. It has a flat back, with triangular soundholes.↩︎

  17. Shroo. A plant that grows in low-light areas. Some varieties are eatable, others poisonous and can cause serious physical and cognitive dammage.↩︎

  18. Leaping day. A death ceremony which involves leaping into the Rupture, or from the snout of an Ilk.↩︎

  19. Smellydough. A fermented woodgeon berry and water mixture with a strong smell and taste. The more it smells, the better the flavor.↩︎

  20. Pattern reading. The art of reading Verido skin patterns. A patterns reveal the Verido’s name, as well as their lineage. When a Verido comes of age their patterns stop changing, and their names are read to them.↩︎

  21. Klorea. Any of several related green pigments found in the cells of all beings of the Soronan desert. It allows them to absorb energy from the light.↩︎

  22. Snakadil. A type of small reptavian that moves just under the top layer of sand. When surprised, snakadil suffocate their victims.↩︎

  23. The Hands. Hands inspect the Ilk’s body for signs of disease or wounds. It is dangerous work, many have fallen and died while on the job.↩︎

Continue to Chapter 2