Mountain With No Name

— Chapter 3 —

Vennecs are strong, resilient creatures. They can walk a long time without being hungry or thirsty. Vennec carry water in their humps and store grains in their cheeks.

Lupen, carrying a bag full of waterstones, loaves of teaweet29 bread, and a few dried root vegetables, headed toward the mountain. Lupen’s couldn’t walk well, or fast, but made good time, arriving just as the first sun rose over the horizon.
    On the climb, there was no evident road or path to take, Lupen progressed slowly, climbing faces of jagged rock, finding cracks and creases for support, stopping often to eat, sleep, or to watch the world below get smaller and smaller. The mounting altitude was comforting, like being on the back of an Ilk. The sand plains stretched past the limits of Lupen’s vision, what looked unfamiliar from the ground was easy to recognize from up here. Their former campsite was just a few dunes saa’tae of the mountain.
    Lupen eventually arrived at a point on the mountain that exceeded the height of an Ilk. “If I were a giant, this scene would be most ordinary! Oh yes! With a flick of my finger, I could brush that dune away or pinch a new one over there!” Lupen said with a laugh, gesturing over specific points on the horizon.
    Soon thick wet clouds engulfed everything in sight. The air became moist. “Like breathing water!” The walls were perspiring, stained with green. Lupen’s climb slowed to a crawl. It wouldn’t take much to send this body over the edge.
    “One fall was plenty.” Lupen mumbled.
    Then finally, Lupen’s hand reached up to find a grip, but instead of a rock, it found wet moss.
    The Verido rose, gazing at the top of the mountain with no name. The summit was flat and full of shrubbery and flowers. The smell was dizzying. Mesmerized at the sight of a bright purple flower, Lupen’s knees met with the damp ground. The flower had massive petals, arranged in tight rows and bound together by a single fuzzy yellow button. Little droplets of mildew had accumulated on the petals, resembling jewels. “Is any of this real?” Lupen asked, fingers catching some of the droplets to taste them.

Amongst the flowers and wet leaves was a red-haired being, asleep, chest rising and falling with every breath, pink lips curved into a smile. All these things made for a bizarre, yet wondrous sight. Verido people liked to colour their hair, but no dye could produce a red like that. The tone was so rich and so vibrant that it burned these eyes. This creature was unique, different, with round ears.
    Lupen took a step back, keeping a line of tall grass between them. Awakening to a stranger could be unpleasant, Lupen thought. There was also a chance that this person did not care for the company of others, why else would anyone be alone up here? Perhaps this place was a refuge, a place of rest, or some sort of secret garden. It didn’t appear that anyone else had ever come here. The grass was tall and thick, it had been allowed to grow unhindered for many, many annums. Lupen gulped then, realizing how careless it had been to climb up here, to a hostile place without a clear goal, and wondered if Uno knew that someone lay here, atop the mountain.
    There was no shelter here, no pots or a table, not even a kettle, but there were fresh herbs everywhere. These nostrils could sense many different varieties, but could not put a name to them. Every passing moment revealed something new and amazing, but Lupen’s attention was on the one with red hair. “I ought to call you something. How about Saffa?” Lupen waited for a response for a short while, then nodded to no one. “Saffa it is, until you wake up anyway. What question should I ask you first? Where’s your kettle?” Lupen thought this one funny. “What is this plant? And that one? What about this one? Yes. So many plants to ask about, maybe I can take some home!” The Verido paused then, there was no more room for grieving in this heart, there was no point.
    With all this thinking and speculating Lupen thought that a long time must have passed, “no one sleeps forever, right?” Saffa did not stir, the slow breathing continued. Lupen sighed, impatient, but knew better than to disturb the sleep of another without good reason. Lupen would have to wait for a cue, a yawn, maybe some stretching or some wrinkling of the eyes. After much waiting, the sleeper still lay there, not a yawn or hint of eye wrinkling.
    The mountain was quiet. Lupen watched the flowers all day, undisturbed. There was an astonishing variety of plants, some sat atop lanky stems, others had long green fingers, curling around bits of neighbouring grasses. A beautiful rosary of dew drops accumulated on everything. Saffa’s skin bore these silvery jewels too, the result of the occasional droplet of water slipping down the centre of a leaf, and dripping onto this living canvas. Saffa’s torso now had a complicated motif all over it, thousands of little wet eyes.

After many days, burdened by disquietude, Lupen decided to try and speak to the stranger.
    “Ahem—” clearing the cobwebs from this throat was the first step, “he-hello?” A quiet voice was key, no sense in startling Saffa into wakefulness. No answer. I’ll have to be a bit louder. “Hello?” Again, no answer.
    A fear gripped Lupen then, what if Saffa was stuck in a state of perpetual sleep and couldn’t wake up? Lupen could still wait a few days longer. Dwindling supplies wasn’t an issue, there was enough plants and water here, but loneliness was a factor to consider. Verido people lived in groups and were seldom left on their own. Lupen imagined being here for annums, this Saffa-waking vigil seemingly unending. Maybe this was a trap? To keep people here until they were too tired to move, and then plants would sprout from their ears and make a garden of their flesh. Haunted by such thoughts, Lupen decided that staying here forever was not an option, but leaving meant that the Verido would always wonder about the one sleeping in the bed of grass.
    “Just a few days longer, then I’ll leave.”
    The air at the foot of the mountain was always thick with sand, but here it was fresh and clear. Its perfume varied depending on the time of day. Lupen imagined a flower guild, busy regulating smells using a timetable with slots allocated to each flower type. There was no need to protect the skin from the harshness of the desert. Lupen had no need of a sweater either, it sat at the waist along with the vest that was underneath. Lupen found a spot in the grass next to Saffa, then sleep grabbed hold and would not let go. The flowery scent permeating the area could rob travel-worn visitors of their wakefulness.

Lupen dreamt of a city erected on the back of a giant hyroo, on which the inhabitants had braided its fur into elaborate houses. The leaflings would play hide-and-seek in the forest of hair. A hatter made elaborate hats from the fur, twisted into high spirals or matted into various geometric shapes. Life here was idyllic and peaceful. Lupen was a hyroo whisperer and would go to the head to laugh and whoop with the hyroo, the sound travelling far across the world. In the dream, Mago arrived and shouted so loudly that it threw the city, along with all its inhabitants off the hyroo’s back. Lupen fell into darkness. The hyroo leapt from one planet to the other, and bodies were adrift in space. There were no stars, and the hyroo vanished in the distance. Even the suns had gone. Lupen felt nothing, and began to weep.

Then, a loud noise woke up Lupen. The whooping sound from the dream was real! Looking up, Lupen saw a large figure passing through the thick layer of clouds above, it landed opposite of the bed of grass without a sound and without disturbing the droplets on the leaves. The beast had large round ears, like Kit, in fact, it looked very much like Kit although its fur was different. Lupen didn’t know very much about hyroos.
    “Is that you Kit?”
    Sitting up, mildew trickled into the grass from Lupen’s chest. That fear of bodily intrusion by plants returned, but these ears had no sprouts, and the mouth and nostrils were also spared. Lupen thought then that perhaps Saffa had arrived around the same time, and exhausted, had lain here for a rest.
    The beast let out a laugh then, a high-pitched noise causing droplets to slide off their beds. This was definitely the sound Lupen had heard in the dream. The creature was a hyroo, like Kit. It moved over to Saffa and went in for a good long lick. Saffa yawned and stirred, then smiled, lips curving and carving a new shape for the cheeks. Then the arms and legs stretched out, Saffa’s hands found the tip of the beast’s snout and moved to caress its large head. All the while, the beast kept its eyes on Lupen, Saffa’s eyes opened and followed its gaze and stopped upon the stranger. They stared at each other for a long while, but Saffa’s silvery voice broke the silence.
    “Can I have that?” Saffa asked, reaching forward and tugging at the isilk sweater wrapped around the Verido’s waist. Lupen blinked, and undid the sweater, handing it over without hesitation. Saffa slipped it on, then put a pink nose in it to smell it. “Hmm! Smells like sand and earth! I can smell the hands that made it! Ah! I love sweaters, they say so much about a person and of the world. Every fiber tells a story you know! I can smell yours, most of all.” Saffa took a deep whiff of it again. “You wear this a lot!” Saffa smelled the fibres some more, and looked at Lupen again, wide-eyed. “Oh oh oh oh oh…ohh… ohhh oh!” This Oh-ing did not stop for some time. “Oh. Oh oh! No no no!” Saffa said, reaching forward and putting their foreheads together. “You’re lucky to have survived a fall like that! Oh, I’m glad your bones are better.”
    Saffa was alive and full of energy. Lupen didn’t know what to say, this fool of a tongue had somehow gotten itself into a terrible knot, plus all this talk of sweaters was confusing. Saffa left the bed of green and went to look at some flowers, body swaying from side to side as if there was a song playing no one else could hear.
    Saffa turned to face Lupen. “Are you ready to go? I’m dying to get down there to see what’s changed!”
    Lupen swallowed hard. “Um. Wait. I have so many questions!”
    “Nope! No questions! I forbid all questions unless they are about food, but I will say this! My name is Eka, and that fuzzy beast is,” Eka paused, as if trying to remember something important. “Hush! We are Eka and Hush!” Eka said, a hand brushing bits of red hair behind rounded ears. Hush, the hyroo, let out a whoop, taking a seat by Eka, who was inspecting Lupen’s face. “Lu-pen. Sky beetle! Lovely! Will you come and see the world with me?” Without waiting for an answer, Eka climbed up on Hush’s back. “Let’s go Lu!”
    Lupen was too stunned to answer. Eka’s arm shot forward and gripped the Verido’s collar, then, with a yank and a pull, both were sitting on the beast. Eka smelled like wet grass, a curtain of soft hair draped along the forehead and parted on one side, allowing those piercing red eyes to show. Seconds after that, Hush pushed off the ground with its powerful hind legs, bounding high and away from the mountain top, piercing the layer of wet clouds, the sandy world below coming into view. Eka laughed, while the other passenger tried not to scream. Hush made a few dampening landings, before its paws reached the warm yellow soil.

Both slid from Hush’s back. Eka laughed at the state of the Verido’s hair and brushed a hand through it to comb it back into place, the blue dye was all gone now, washed away by both wind and time.
    “Where should we go first?” a round, and pink button nose pressed right up to Lupen’s tanned, flat nose.
    Lupen’s eyes became round, lips curling inwards, with cheeks turning a deep shade of red.
    “You’re so timid!”
    Lupen pulled away then. “Not timid! Shocked! You were unconscious just a moment ago! This is weird.”
    “Do you always call things you don’t understand weird? If you want weird-weird look at this,” Eka’s ears wiggled about, independent of each other, waiting for a reaction.
    The Verido smirked and mirrored the ear wiggling. To finish, the Verido’s flute ears unfolded and flared open, before twisting back into shape. Eka watched the trick and laughed aloud. “Here’s a weird-weird move I bet you can’t do.” Lupen said. A whistle tunnelled out from the Verido’s rounded lips, a poem in Ilken.
    Eka’s smile would broaden and narrow depending on what was being said in the poem. Was it possible that Eka knew Ilken? Lupen stopped, turning red again. “Did you understand the lyrics of the song?”
    “Something about a beautiful Saffa flower on a green mountain,” Eka said, smirking still, “I’m flattered.”
    Lupen couldn’t believe it. How is it that everyone out here understands Ilken? The Verido was going to ask, but didn’t have time because Eka had wondered off, running through the sand, kicking up loads of it while laughing.
    “Do you know a city called Inepril?” Eka asked, kicking up more sand while exaggerating a walk.
    “Vol went by it a few annums ago, not much left there though. When the waterstone well went dry, everyone left.”
    Eka paced back and forth, making a mental note of this. “Um. Okay! Then Montore it is!”
    “Why do you want to go there?”
    Vol stopped there every annum, Montore was modern and exciting. Lupen had heard that many important people lived there. Lupen had never stepped down to visit any city while living on Vol, only those who exchanged goods with locals climbed down.
    “They make really good babam30 cakes there. Cakes paired with a fresh cup of mepperpint31 tea.” Eka paused, eyes closed with a hand pretending to hold a cup. “It’s like your insides become green! Maybe they really do turn green, I’ve never checked. I will get you a cup as soon we get there, and we’ll fill your bag so we never run out!” Eka continued, before climbing back up onto Hush.
    Lupen laughed and moved onto the hyroo’s back. “So we’ll live off mepperpint leaves then?”
    “No, no you can’t. If you eat too much your eyes will sprout leaves.”
    Lupen fell silent, suddenly very afraid of mepperpint.

  1. Teaweet A staple grain that is easy to grow.↩︎

  2. Babam A starchy tuber, pink on the inside, that softens when cooked.↩︎

  3. Mepperpint A popular leafy plant with rounded bulbs hanging from a thick central stem. Its leaves have a warm pungent taste with a cooling aftertaste.↩︎

Continue to Chapter 4