Lupin could hear someone screaming. Was it the wind? Or was it the sound of life leaving this body? Lupin would have preferred not to know that skin and bones could scream. The sound was unbearable. The young Volarian did fear death, but didn't think that consciousness would part with the flesh in flight—contrary to what the elders in Volare believed.
Leaping from the Ilk's snout was common practice with the old and the sick of the village. All habitants of the Soronan Desert celebrated Leaping Days. Lupin always thought that it was a joyful and painless experience, but this was a beautiful lie. Lupin was afraid, and falling fast. In a panic, the brain struggled to find ways to cope with the stress...
"Returning to the earth is good! There's no pain there. It's a return to normality. Yes! Normality. I remember being grown. I couldn't see or smell... but I could hear things. Singing? Someone was sitting to me! WOW I remember that! Umm I wonder what else is in here? Can I remember before being grown? Can I remember life as a seed? Or life before that? Ah no, I can't remember. There was only darkness. Darkness is scary. The absence of senses is bad, how can I know I exist without that? But wait— rocks exist, and they can't smell, see or feel, well at least I think they can't. I wish I'd asked the elders more questions. Maybe that's what it was like to be a seed, and before I was even made into that, and before a rock was a rock. I felt nothing then, and after I die I will feel nothing. It'll be the same! That makes it okay to die doesn't it? Yea, it's okay. This is okay. I'm okay—"
A great dark mass came and hit Lupin then, followed by a wave of pain, and then... nothing.
With eyes closed, Lupin could feel sand creeping over the legs and torso. The desert was not wasting time burying this body. Nothing would be left of it soon.
Bits of broken crossbars lay scattered in the sand. Small breaths escaped from Lupin's mouth, but the lungs longed for a rest.
"It’s time to let go, let go." They sang. The bones and muscles agreed.
"It’s time." The skin and the rest of the organs chimed in, all, but the brain who refused to give in.
"Well now! That doesn't rhyme at all!" The brain said, AH it doesn't matter. It's all nonsense anyway. No one is letting go! Not ever!. The brain said these things, ignoring the damage the body had suffered during the fall.
"But we're broken!" The left arm and its corresponding muscles cried out in pain. But then, came a rush of adrenaline and the body and mind stopped quarrelling and began to work in unison.
Lupin moved to a sitting position, pushing off the ground with a groan. The desert was empty, the Ilk was gone. Lupin watched as sand continued to roll over the legs, the tip of the toes buoying over the surface. Lupin's back found the sand floor again. "They're all gone, everyone is gone... and I'm, I'm going to die." Lupin wanted to cry. "Why didn't I just die from the fall... this is cruel, too cruel."
With the two suns perched high above, without cover or water, it wouldn't take long. "What is the point of this!?" the Verido cried out.
"What will kill me first?" Lupin wondered, weeping at the thought of never seeing Volare again. No tears came, as if the body knew it couldn't spare the moisture. The skin felt tight, as if pulled in different directions, and crisp too, as it began to cook under the two suns. There was nothing covering the face now, the scarf had disappeared in the fall and there was no way to move any limb now because of the pain. "Why bother to do anything that would prolong this pain..." Lupin thought.
While falling Lupin had decided it was okay to die, but certainly didn't feel that way now. When another storm came, this body would be buried in sand. If someone walked over the mound they wouldn't know that there was a body here, a body with a story. Lupin would disappear forever.
"Let me tell you the story of Lupin, a Verido who liked books, jokes and looma roots! Lupin became Voice and then fell off the Ilk. The end."
"I'm useless." Lupin thought. Then this mind became tired of thinking, maybe it was time to let go...
Lupin awoke again later to a pained body and more sorrowful thoughts, though at this point, even the brain had too little energy and will to conjure up anything positive.
This melody was soothing, the only thing tethering this mind to the earth.
The Verido's tired eyes decided that this was the last time they'd open. The last time they'd see the world alight before the darkness took over. Lupin's cheek lay flat on the sand, the eyes were unable to point skyward as the head was too heavy to turn. The lids were about to shut. "No wait— not yet!" the eyes said, they'd found something moving in the distance...
An Ilk? No. Smaller than an Ilk, but big. VERY big, Lupin thought.
The figure was coming this way. This better not be a side-effect of land sickness. Now THAT would be too cruel. This conversation took place in Lupin's head, as the lips could not part to produce sounds. The closer the figure came, the more details came into view: it was a tall rider, sitting atop a furry beast. They were enormous from afar, and even more so up close. The rider disembarked and walked over, carrying a blue scarf. Lupin's scarf looked tiny, lying between the giant's thick digits. A pair of heavy knees touched the sand floor to be closer to the Verido, but even when kneeling the stranger's head towered high above, obscuring one of the two suns.
“Hello Lupin of Volare,” the rider said, voice booming, the sound startling a flock of Passari Tremblers many, many dunes away.
This being had short dark hair, sharp facial contours and eyes like silver marbles. The giant's shoulder carried a thick yellow robe, like a flowing mass of sand, it covered a set of dark garments. The robe, if standing on its own, could serve to shelter a fair-sized group of people. The most impressive detail was the height of this being, thin with proportions that dwarfed most. Now, those silver orbs stared at Lupin's broken body.
“How do you know my name?!” Lupin exclaimed, startled by the stranger's words.
“It’s written on your face, remember?” The rider replied with a soft smile. “I’m Uno and I'm here to help."
The Verido was growing weaker, drifting off to sleep, or toward something more permanent. Uno noticed this and put a hand on the side of Lupin's head. "Stay awake. You will be okay." The giant said in a commanding voice. "Look to the sky. Protus is out. Name all of the skyrocks that you know. Loud, so I can hear."
When Verido leaflings were young, they'd make a game of naming all of the known bodies in the sky. The names were difficult, so anyone who could remember them all was pronounced 'skyrock expert' and won the game. The majority of the skyrocks were not visible to the naked eye, but leaflings knew they were up there, the elders assured them that they were. No one knew who had named them, it was a story passed on through generations. These names had been written into stories after that, making them popular. Protus was one of the moons circling this planet, the only one in view now. Encela was another, but these two were the easy ones...
Lupin knew a lot of the names, but this tired brain would have to work extra hard to remember them all. "Baladavos–" A fear gripped Lupin then, was Uno here to carry this body into the next world? "Cencitris, Naxagorus–" This giant could be the embodiment of death, or a hallucination, also fever-induced. There was a chance that the pain in this body was so grand that it brought forth these visions. This was the best explanation, any rational person, Lupin thought, would come to this conclusion too. In a moment, these colourful visions of Uno and the beast would vanish from the world, and the darkness would take over. "Liminik, Omoretus–" The darkness did not come, Uno and the beast were very stubborn hallucinations. Thinking about skyrocks also kept this mind occupied, away from the allure of sleep.
Uno began unfastening sheets of rolled fabric from the beast's back, all the while humming a tune that reverberated all the way down into Lupin's core. The tune was soothing, it helped to quiet the pain.
Uno pulled out some long poles and put up a tent, then laid a vibrant orange carpet inside it. Another bag lay strapped to the furry creature's side, Uno grabbed it and began to unload its contents, which consisted of a collection of herbs, a small kettle, mugs, some grains, plates, a crate of waterstones and a bag-full of other miscellaneous items.
Not long after that, Uno walked back over to Lupin. "You're only missing Aristollo."
"I've never won the skyrock game." Lupin breathed.
"You'll remember it now." Uno said. The giants scooped the Verido's body up with ease, and carried it inside the tent to begin treating the wounds. Lupin's fear of this stranger did not linger, evident strength aside, Uno was gentle.
Lupin slept for a long while, Uno stayed close, sitting at an arm's reach. While the patient rested, the tall stranger read through a pile of old books, a thick finger rapidly tracing from the top to bottom of every page. The rest of the time, Uno was cooking and caring for Lupin's wounds. The giant left the tent every now and again, but not for long.
A series of naps divided the Verido's days, at every wakeful moment Uno had a different book in hand, the pages were full of annotations, notes and scribbles. One of the books read: "A tale of 3", Lupin saw a drawing of Volare markings in one of its margins. When asked about it, all Uno said was that keeping records of what one sees was important. Before the interrogation could continue, there came a wave of fatigue, the body and the mind agreed that it was time for another rest.
“You look better,” Uno said one morning, offering a cup of lemoni lime tea.
Lupin nodded, unable to mask the sadness in this soul. “Yea, part of me does anyway."
Uno understood this. "Everything heals, in time."
"You don't...have anywhere to be? I feel bad to keep you here like this."
"Take your time."
Now that they'd spent some time together, the other-worldly veil had dissipated. Uno was quiet, and did not always care to answer questions, but declined them politely always. There are things that Lupin wanted to know, but after a few weeks asking seemed pointless. It was hard to get the giant's attention, but Lupin timed questions well, waiting till after Uno had finished reading a book. After finishing one, Uno was always more responsive, more present.
"Why do you carry so many books?" Lupin had asked once.
"It's important not to forget," was all Uno had said.
Like every other morning they'd spent together, the giant served tea, a mixture of medililly and lemoni lime herbs. "Great for circulation," Uno would say.
Today, Uno seemed especially aware of the surrounding environment. After serving tea, silver eyes scanned the skies and the horizon, before stopping upon a mountain. “Drink your tea. You need to be in good shape, especially if you are to climb a mountain," Uno said with a grin.
“Yes. That one.” A long finger pointed to a tall mountain in the distance, a thick layer of clouds obscured it's upper half. “All the way to the top of it too.”
"You're crazy" Lupin replied, "I'm better than I was, but I'm not fully healed."
Uno scanned the Verido's body, stopping at the face. "You're healed enough." The tall being spoke in a calm and authoritative voice. It inspired confidence. A voice like that could not lie. If those silvery eyes found you, Lupin believed, they had the power to lull you into doing almost anything, they could see past the layers of flesh and muscle and tugged at your insides. This though, was not the work of a manipulative fiend, Lupin knew that Uno would never make anyone do anything contrary to their desires.
“Why would I climb a mountain?” Lupin asked. With eyes now set on the mountain, Lupin wondered if it had always been there, the shape of it seemed familiar yet no name came to mind. Vol had passed here many times, surely someone would have noticed it there. It was like it had always been invisible, that is, until Uno had mentioned it.
“My friend has returned today,” Uno said, walking out of the tent, "Come, let me introduce you."
Lupin felt too weak to stand, but Uno would hear nothing of it.
“Come!” Uno insisted. Very few possessed the strength to dismiss the words of a living relic. Lupin groaned, and managed to stand up. These legs did not like to support the combined weight of a torso, limbs and a head, it was like trying to keep balance on a pair of wobbly stilts, street performers could do it with no sweat at their brow. Panicked hands grabbed onto anything they could, pulling the rest of the body over to the entrance of the tent. Those hands found a solid perch there, fingers locking around one of the poles holding up the tent.
Uno presented the friend at once. “Lupin, meet Kit.” Images of a tall rider sitting atop a beast resurfaced then. Kit was a large big-eared creature, no doubt it could hear things small-eared folks could not. It had light-coloured fur, with what looked like spots of ink spattered about its body. Two darker spots sat over its eyes, giving an air of severity and general discontent.
"A hyroo? Thought those were extinct...!"
It occurred to Lupin then, that like the mountain with no name, Uno was familiar. There was a story that Pumra read to leaflings during town feasts while the adults were busy. The story was about beings of great height. In the early days of the world, they towered above the clouds and spent all their time admiring the passing comets and planets. They kept their eyes to the skies, but then one day, a comet landed at their feet and they averted their gaze ground-ward. Both began to watch the sandstorms form and dissipate, then, came life. Greenery began sprouting from the ground. The tall ones observed this change, they watched the green grow and spread. They spent so much time looking down, that they began to shrink, to watch the happenings on the ground more closely. The tiny things of the world became more important than the big things. They became the first growers and sowed life of their own across the Soronan desert. They were "the guardians of the world". Lupin and Mago argued over the story a lot. "Foolish stories for fools like you!" Mago had said once, "if there was anyone that tall out there we would have seen them." Mago wasn't wrong about that. There were drawings in the book, sketches of two tall, thin beings.
"It's you" Lupin mumbled, eyes fixed on some distant non-existing thing. The Verido did not believe that tall ones had created the world or its inhabitants, that was due to some other more complex process, but the idea that ageless giants existed was amazing. They had the knowledge of centuries. Uno reading Verido markings did not seem so far-fetched now, it was not so difficult to imagine that someone long ago had imparted this skill.
Suddenly Lupin could not draw breath, it was like the air had vanished from the world. Nothing in the environment had changed, this was awe. Standing in front of this living illogical thing, Lupin found breath again, began to laugh and could not stop. Every organ ached with laughter. Is this what Volare felt when first gazing upon the Ilk? A ridiculous and continuous stream of emotions all contrary to each other? The awestruck brain, unable to produce the right sort of reaction due to shock, would flip all the switches on at once and hope for the best. "Ah, dry mouth," Lupin mumbled, yet another addition to the growing list of uncontrollable symptoms of being awestruck.
"Tell me what you know of the early days of the world." The Verido said suddenly, eyes full of wonder.
Uno laughed. Kit's ears perked up at the sound and proceeded to nuzzle its master. The laughs died off, but Uno's face still bore a large smile. This reaction did not confirm or deny it. Lupin spent the rest of the day watching the ageless giant. Uno's head did not reach the clouds, maybe it would again soon, maybe the happenings at ground level were of more interest? This was a pleasing thought. Lupin liked to think that such a grand being would rather live down here in the dust. Lupin tried to imagine what other great creatures walked this world. Uno and Kit had awoken a newfound curiosity in this Verido, who only knew of life on the Ilk. Falling off from Vol's back wasn’t so terrible now, there was so much to do and see out here.
The nameless mountain came to Lupin's mind then. "I’m going to climb you.” The next day, Lupin shared this intention with Uno, who smiled and denied ever having introduced the idea in the first place.
After spending many more days together, one morning Uno got up and began packing up the patterned carpet and fabric, the herbs and waterstones too. Before they parted ways, Uno presented a copy of "The tale of 3" and handed it to Lupin. “For you,” the book was bound beautifully. "I transcribed it from a rare original. It's all true, all about your people. You'll enjoy it." There was another gift too, but like the scarf, it already belonged to the Verido. The gift was Lupin's safety chute, the Verido had forgotten all about it as it had failed early on during the fall. The chute was taken apart and rolled up tight, it was now the size of a small loaf of bread. "Salvaged this for you, it was torn badly but I mended it. Fabric is hard to come by in these parts. You can use it for shelter." Uno also gave the 4 crossbars, these could also be used to give the shelter a proper shape.
“Thank you.” Lupin presented a gift too, Levi's blue scarf, "My mapa did tell me I would need it long, maybe it's because it was meant to be yours." Uno accepted it, with many thanks said. It appeared tiny on Uno's neck, the piece of fabric could not go a full two turns around it so the giant wrapped it around once, and made a knot to hold it in place. This being took a liking to it straight away, large hands carefully rearranged the knot again, as if handling the petals of a flower.
Uno climbed up on Kit’s back, the motion of the giant's cape sent a flurry of sand flying around them.
“Aristollo was named after an Iridi. Was a good friend of mine, reminds me of you actually.” The giant said this, right before Kit bounded up high and far into the horizon.
Lupin waved at the illogical giant, the one who looked down and extracted that sad, broken, pile of a creature from its deathbed. A thought came to mind then too, perhaps this body chose to fall off Vol's back, heavy with ambition and eager to see the world. It was silly to think such things, this Verido knew better. Like Rosmus purposely chose to not be a Reader, Lupin fell, having chosen not to learn how to tie decent knots.Continue to Chapter 3