Lupin marched towards the mountain, carrying a bag plump with supplies. Uno had donated enough food for the difficult journey ahead. The bag contained a dozen waterstones, 5 loaves of teaweet bread and a few root vegetables.
The climb was difficult. There was no evident road or path to take. Lupin progressed slowly, climbing over faces of jagged rock, feet and hands finding cracks and creases for support, stopping often to eat, sleep, or to watch the world below get smaller. The mounting altitude was comforting, like being on the back of an Ilk. The sand plains stretched past the limits of Lupin’s vision, this terrain was unfamiliar at ground level but was easy to recognize from up here. Their former campsite was just a few dunes west of the one resembling an Ilk’s spine.
As Lupin climbed, a new perspective came to view, one exceeding the height of any being in existence. “If I were a colossus, this scene would be most ordinary! Oh yes! With a flick of a finger, I could brush that dune away or pinch a new one into existence!” Lupin said with a laugh, fingers narrowing over specific points on the horizon. This imaginary behemoth, if it so desired, could even pocket the suns and moons.
Soon the environment began to change in big ways, with thick wet clouds engulfing everything in sight. The air was moist, Lupin took deep breaths. “Like breathing water!” The Verido coughed, this body was adapted to dry climates and not to an overabundance of moisture. The clouds lowered the visibility as well, and so Lupin’s climb slowed to a crawl. It wouldn’t take much to send this body over the edge.
“One fall is plenty.” Lupin mumbled. The body and its organs agreed.
One morning Lupin’s hand reached up to find a grip, but instead of a rock the hand and attached fingers found grass. It was a strange sensation. How can something feel cool and warm at the same time? Lupin climbed up, stomach sliding onto wet grounds, flattening rows of plants.
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 Lupin’s knees met with the earth, this Verido had never seen colors like this before. 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 surface of its petals. The droplets looked like jewels, but in a world of interminable desert these were much more precious. “Is any of this…real?” Lupin asked, fingers catching some of the droplets and bringing them to these lips.
It’s here, that the Verido discovered another illogical creature.
A red-haired being lay in a bed of soft grass, amongst flowers and wet leaves, asleep. The Wonder's pale chest rose and fell with every breath, pink lips curved into a smile. All these things made for a bizarre, yet wondrous sight. Verido people liked to color their hair for special events, but no dye could produce a red like that. This creature unique, different, with round ears and a pale, pale complexion, paler than the moons.
Lupin took a step back, keeping a line of tall grass between them. Awakening to a stranger could be unpleasant, Lupin thought. There was also the chance this person did not care for the company of others, why else would anyone be alone up here? This would be a rather disappointing discovery, coming up all this way to find it occupied by a misanthrope. Lupin much preferred to think that 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, strong. There were no predators up here. There being no on else was not shocking to Lupin, when people left the safety of the city it was with purpose, not for sport. Energy was a precious thing in the Soronan desert. Lupin gulped, realizing how dangerous the climb up here had been. The decision to come up here had been a careless one.
The Verido wondered if Uno knew that the Wonder lay here.
It was possible that this person lived here, but there was nothing around, no shelter, no fabric, no pots or table, not even a kettle. The mountain top was full of fresh herbs, pulsing, and caressing Lupin’s arm, as if asking to be brewed. These nostrils could sense many different varieties, but could not put a name to them.
Lupin was excited to be here. Every passing moment revealed something new and amazing. How grand it would be if The Wonder would open its eyes to tell its secrets! Lupin tried to think then. *What question should I ask the Wonder first? Um—where's your kettle?* Lupin 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, but there was no more room for grieving in this heart, there was no point. Life had changed in a really big way, it was better to make the best of it.
With all this thinking and speculating, Lupin thought that a long time must have passed. Anytime now, Red would awaken! But the position of the sun relative to the moons said otherwise. Skyrocks could not lie. Lupin sighed, impatient, but knew better than to disturb the sleep of another without good reason. Lupin would have to wait for a cue, a yawn, maybe a stretch or some wrinkling of the eyes, all signs known to precede waking. After much waiting, the sleeper still lay there, not a yawn or hint of eye wrinkling.
The mountain was quiet, Lupin could lay in blankets of green and watch the flowers undisturbed, doing this would occupy much of this young Verido’s time. There was an astonishing variety of plant life, some sat atop lanky stems with surprising balance, others had long green fingers, curved around bits of stone and neighbouring grasses. Collections of flowers sprouted forth from the ground in fireworks of color, then there was the beautiful rosary of dew drops accumulating on everything. Even the Wonder’s skin bore many of these silvery jewels, the result of the occasional droplet of water slipping down the centre of a leaf, and dripping onto this living canvas. The torso had a complicated motif all over it, like thousands of little wet eyes, with a big breath some of the droplets would slide off, leaving small wet trails behind.
After many days, burdened by disquietude, Lupin 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 this person into wakefulness. No answer. The voice would have to be a bit louder. “Hello?” Again, no answer.
A fear gripped Lupin then, what if the Wonder couldn’t wake? What if this slumberer was stuck in a state of perpetual sleep? Lupin could wait a few days longer to disprove this theory, even some months more was not a problem. Dwindling supplies wasn’t an issue, there was enough plants and water here to ensure good nutrition. Loneliness was a factor to consider, Veridos lived in groups and were seldom left on their own. Lupin imagined being here for years, this wonder-waking vigil seemingly unending. Could this be a trap? The allure of this mountain-top treasure would keep people here for ages until they were too fatigued to move, then, the plants would sprout from their ear holes and mouth and make a garden of their flesh. Lupin decided then that staying here forever was not an option, but leaving meant that the Verido would always wonder about the one asleep in the bed of grass.
“Just a few days longer, then I’ll leave.” A promise Lupin was sure to keep. This place was a wonder for the senses, a few more days would not be bothersome.
The air at the foot of the mountain was always thick with sand, but here it was clear, and its perfume varied depending on the time of day. Maybe there was a flower guild, regulating smells using a timetable with slots allocated to each flower type. There was no need to cover your nose with a scarf here, nor to cover skin from the harshness of the desert sun, Lupin had no need of a sweater either, it sat at the waist along with the vest that was underneath it. Lupin found a spot in the grass next to the Wonder, then sleep grabbed hold and would not let go. The scent of the place and the softness of the bed of grass, a combination that could rob travel-worn visitors of their wakefulness with ease.
Lupin dreamt of a city erected on the back of a giant hyroo. The inhabitants had braided the fur on its back into elaborate houses, patches of fur had been cut away to make space for people to walk unhindered. 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, a thing of envy. Lupin was a hyroo whisperer and would go to the head to laugh and whoop with the hyroo<, the whooping sound travelling far across the world. In this dream then, Mago arrived and spoke so loudly that the force of it threw the city, along with all its inhabitants off the hyroo’s back. Lupin fell, but there was no end in sight. The hyroo leapt from one planet to the other, and bodies were adrift in space. This was not a fall, but a slow drift that would take you away into a sea of black. There were no stars here and the hyroo vanished in the distance. Shouting for help did nothing, the surrounding space was devoid of life. Even the suns had gone, but this body did not feel the cold left in their absence. Lupin felt nothing, and began to weep.
Then a noise propelled the Verido back into existence. The whooping sound from the dream was real! Looking up, Lupin saw a large figure passing through the thick layer of clouds above, it landed opposite of the bed of grass, landing without a sound and without disturbing any of the droplets on the leaves. The beast had large round ears, like Kit, in fact, it looked very much like Kit although its fur patterns were different. Lupin didn’t know very much about hyroos, so it was possible that they could change their fur patterns at will.
“Is that you Kit?”
Sitting up, a cascade of mildew slid into the grass from Lupin’s chest. That fear of body invasion by plants returned, but these ear holes had no sprouts and the mouth and nostrils were also spared. How much time had passed? There was no way to know. Had the green garden acquired a new slumbering prisoner? Lupin knew how foolish this was. The glow of the suns through clouds was a poor sign of the passing of time over long periods. Perhaps the Wonder 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. It caused much of the droplets around to slide off their beds. This was definitely the sound heard in the dream. The beast was a hyroo, like Kit, it moved over to Red and went in for a good long lick. And then, the Wonder yawned, followed by some wrinkling of the eye and a stir! Red smiled, lips curving and carving a new shape for the cheeks, arms and legs stretching out, then, eyelids slid open, pale 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 Lupin, the red wonder followed its gaze and stopped upon the stranger. Red’s eyes had found the intruder. They stared at each other for a long while, but Red’s silvery voice broke the silence.
“Can I have that?” Red asked, reaching forward and tugging at the isilk sweater wrapped round the Verido’s waist. Lupin blinked, and undid the sweater, handing it over without hesitation. Red 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 strand tells a story you know! I can smell yours, most of all.” Red took a deep whiff of it again. “You wear this a lot!” Red smelled the fibres some more, and looked at Lupin 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…!” Red said, reaching forward and grabbing Lupin’s head and putting a forehead to it. “You’re strong to have survived that! OH I’m glad your bones are better.”
The wonder was alive, and full of energy. When asleep, Lupin wanted those pink lips to speak words, but now that this wish came true this fool of a tongue had somehow gotten itself into a terrible knot, plus all this talk of sweaters was confusing. Red was definitely a treasure, a lost, and forgotten thing. All these thoughts had been so distracting that Lupin had missed Red leaving the bed of green. Red was standing up, looking at the flowers some distance away, body swaying from side to side as if there was a song playing no one else could hear.
The pale being then turned to face the stranger .“Are you ready to go? I’m dying to get down there to see what’s changed!”
Lupin swallowed hard. “Um. Wait. I have so many questions!”
“NOPE! No questions, not now. I forbid all questions unless they are about food. But I will say this! My name is Eka, and that fuzzy beast is…” the wonder paused, eyeing the furry companion over for a moment, 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 next to its friend. Eka inspected Lupin’s face. “Lu-pin. 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 beetle!”
There was a long moment of silence, but then an 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, with hair so very red and short, a curtain of 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, then, they started to fall fast, 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 paws touched the soft yellow soil. It had taken a long time to climb up there, coming back down so fast was rather dissatisfying. The Wonder and Hush did not seem to care about this though, with all this excitement, came the realization that the mountain still bore no name. Combination of letters appeared in succession in Lupin’s mind, forming words and possible names for it, but this was no time to make such a decision.
Lupin was breathing hard, with hair standing on end, both slid from Hush’s back then. Red laughed at the state of the Verido’s hair and brushed a hand through to comb it back into place. This gesture was a surprise, Eka had no problem with proximity, keeping a pale face a few short inches away.
“Where should we go first?” a round, and pink button nose pressed right up to Lupin’s tanned, flat nose.
Lupin’s eyes became round, lips curling inwards, with cheeks turning a deep shade of red.
“You’re so timid!”
Lupin 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, and continued, waiting for a reaction.
This Eka was strange but there was no malice in it, the Verido smirked and mirrored Eka’s ear movement. To finish, the Verido’s flute ears unfolded and flared open, before twisting back into shape. Eka watched the trick, and laughed aloud at the end.
“Here’s a weird weird move I bet you can’t do.” Lupin said, a whistle tunnelled out from rounded lips, the sound was sweet-sounding and complex. Lupin was reciting a poem for the wonder in ilken.
Eka’s expression was smiling, but it would broaden and narrow down again depending on the ‘words’. Was it possible that Eka knew ilken? Lupin stopped, face turning red again.
Eka clapped two hands over Lupin’s red cheeks. “You flush so easily Lew! Here I was thinking that the Volare national color was blue!”
“Yea it’s blue.” Lupin said. “Wait, how do you? Did you understand the lyrics of the song?”
“Something about a beautiful red flower on a green mountain,” Eka said, smirking still, “I’m flattered.”
Lupin 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 and was busy 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.
It was possible the Wonder had been asleep for ages, anyone else present would agree that Red’s behavior was odd. The Verido tried to ignore this, focusing on the question instead.
“Vol went by it a few years ago, not much left there. When the waterstone pit 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 year, it was a city that had grown large. Montore was modern and exciting, but many thought it vulgar, even if they’d never laid a toe in it. The buildings were tall, and the population was dense. Many important people lived there. This is something Lupin had heard, or seen from atop the Ilk.
“They make really good bam cakes there. Cakes paired with a fresh cup of mepperpint tea.” Eka paused, eyes closing with a hand pretending to hold a cup. “It’s like your insides become green with it. 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 with it so we never run out!” Eka continued, before climbing back up onto Hush.
Lupin laughed at this and took a spot on Hush too. “So we’ll live off mepperpint leaves then?”
“No you can’t. If you do, your eyes will sprout leaves.”
Lupin fell silent, suddenly very afraid of mepperpint.Continue to Chapter 4