The Ilk town of Balandri

— Chapter 13 —

When the group arrived back in Renate, they stopped at the edge of the city, feet over an invisible grave in the sand. Many years ago, a guard from the Court Of Light had died here. Lupin and Eka did not know that this spot marked an important moment in Renzo's past, but they stopped too, mirroring their companion. A crowd gathered at the city border then, they moved toward the travelers carrying lavendiri leaves. They tossed them into the air, welcoming them back into the village.

Maka pushed through the crowd, rushing over and pulling Renzo into a hug. The metalworker wept. Lupin had sent the woth ahead with a message, a story of the happenings in Irideri. Maka had begun to cry then already, happy to hear that the lonely apprentice had found peace. “Not so hard!” Ren said with a laugh. A laugh, Maka couldn't believe it. Renzo never laughed, usually.

“Hard is all I can do, you know that!” Maka replied, speaking as curtains of tears cascaded onto the front of Ren's robes.

Lupin flashed Eka a smile. “All thanks to Mapoleon the woth!” Eka laughed, watching as the woth returned, coming to land in its glass ball. It did not respond to this name either, and started picking the dust out of its wings. "I'm beginning to think it doesn’t want to be named.” Lupin grumbled. "Mapoleon is a great name."

Eka smirked, "woth doesn't agree. Woth wants what woth wants."

"Ma-ma-ma-poleon?" Lupin tried, the woth did not react, it ignored the Verido and returned to its glass ball. "Not a stutterer..." Lupin made a mental note of this.

Maka offered a tent to Eka, Lupin and Hush for their stay here in the city, a tent made from tightly-knit hempa thread, and bearing yellow and blue, the city's colors. "You are family now," Maka told them, "to me and everyone in Renate."

Eka, Lupin and Hush stayed in town a while. Everyday, a different villager would come forward to invite them to tea, to play cards at the tavern, or to go on excursions in the canyons. Lupin enjoyed the brief moment of stability, of feeling part of a community again. The Verido enjoyed traveling, but missed the little things that only the sedentary could do, like planting a garden, or steeping massive quantities of tea to share with neighbors. Lupin knew a lot about the plants growing on the Ilk. High-altitude gardening was hard, but the locals could grow shroos with ease. They also grew hardy plants that could thrive in little soil, like looberries, loomas, kabacho, trumpets, plumpkins, bibiskiss, woodgeons, yellow brushfins and licky root. Lupin knew how to grow all these, knew what they liked and needed, but could not say the same of the ones in Renate. They did not know each other yet, only those who spent many years with them could really know them. These eyes, ears and mouth craved familiarity. Maybe we could stay here, a while, Lupin thought. I have friends here, people I can count on, and learn from. Committing to a city was difficult, this Verido couldn't do it, and did not want to think about why it is difficult.

Soon, a voice whispered at the ear of their little tribe, calling on them to keep going. And so, Eka and Lupin decided to leave, but first, they had to gather supplies. Both went around the village to find food and other items for their trip onward. Their little group had gone through most of the stores donated by Sovereign Kurono.

“Was this really baked this morning?” Eka said, inspecting the loaves of bread produced by the local baker, each one more solid than the next. “Um. Maybe Maka could use this one as an anvil..." Eka said, banging the loaf on the wall.

The baker continued to knead dough, working up a sweat—Eka wondered if those hands could knead rock into shapes too. “The Ilk is late. When it arrives we’ll have better stock. In the meantime you’re going to have to make do with what’s left on these shelves. We mix in 50% pebble meal, I've had to cut back on teaweet to make sure we can feed the Ilk." The baker watched Eka eyeing the loaves, and smiled. “If you let it rest for 24 hours with ripe bonans. The moisture will help soften the dough. Then if you soak it in stew, or soup or whatever it'll be easier to chew. It may have less teaweet, but it ain't less healthy. You'll work up a strong jaw eating it!"

Another villager overheard their conversation about the Ilk. “Sometimes Ilk change their route you know, depending on the weather. I just hope it gets here soon. We’re down to bams and kappages, and even THOSE we’re running out of!”

"I thought Renate had loads of fermented kappage always?" Eka said, remembering seeing caverns of barrel pickles.

"Yes, but none that we can give to transients, yield was bad this year."

Eka nodded. "Understood. Got to feed your own first."

Lupin was busy trying to find directions to the next city on their list. They already had a map but it was old and needed correcting. Renate housed a cartographer, working from a tent on the northern side of the main tent area. The dwelling was easy to find, with one of its faces bore a map of the tent city. Transients would often gather there to look at it, to find out where things were. Renate had doubled in the last 10 years, and kept expanding. Lupin apparoached the tent, stepped inside and was glad to find its occupant there, scratching away at a map spanning the entire room. Lupin looked at it, and saw the writing atop it saying "Edonor". The map was complex. Edonor was gigantic, it's size rivaling Montore. Most shops were there. While looking it over, Lupin spotted Nok's workshop, tucked in between a dye artist and a hatter. This was the former workplace of Orin, Bou's mapa.

"Nok's shop!" Lupin exclaimed, the sudden sound startling the cartographer.

"Oh dear, have you been standing there long?"

"No, no..." Lupin said, feeling rather guilty, "you're busy, I'll comeback later."

"Busy, yes. I'm always busy. Since I never stop being busy you ought to ask me what you need now, and it'll be up to me to tell you whether or not I can help."

"Oh, well my friend & I are going to Edonor. We need corrections on our map, it's a bit—um, aged. We heard there was a new village between it and Renate."

The cartographer nodded, and then waved a hand, asking for Lupin to come forward. Lupin approached, walking over the map and avoiding newly-painted markings. The Verido unrolled the map and laid it over the floor, then went down on hands and knees, mirroring the cartographer's position. "I'm Lupin."

"Mapoleon." the cartographer replied, eyes on the map.

Lupin's eyes widened then. "Really? What a coincidence..." It was no coincidence. Earlier that morning, Lupin had passed in front of this very tent and had seen the name. The Verido forgot, but the mass of muscle inside this head did not. It thought this combination of letters interesting, and put it away for later use.

Mapoleon's eyes studied Lupin's map, hands already busy correcting mistakes, adding new bridges, danger areas and such. “Didn’t happen to see an Ilk on your way over here did you? It’s late."

"An Ilk is coming here...?" Lupin was sweating now, "um... whi-which one?"

“Ilk of Balandri,” Mapoleon answered, "supposed to arrive soon, we hope.”

Lupin glanced outside through an opening in the tent, heart beating so hard it threatened to break out of its enclosure. Soon, Mapoleon finished adding corrections. Lupin thanked the cartographer and hurried back over to the encampment. Eka wasn’t back yet, and Hush was resting, fast asleep in a recess in the ground—a sure way to keep cool. Lupin waited, with eyes on the horizon. Memories of Volare rushed into Lupin's mind, memories of a place this Verido wanted to forget. Then, Lupin heard people shouting. “It's here! The Ilk of Balandri is here!”

The Ilk arrived from the south—not its usual path. The whole town was a swirling mess. People amassed empty carts and bags, gathered tools and extra hands. All were getting ready to help unload the Ilk. Lupin saw a tall ramp, with people running up the steps, getting ready to greet the visitors. This ramp wasn't unfamiliar to Lupin, but these eyes had never seen it from a ground perspective. From down here, the ramp looked frail and unsteady, swaying from side to side as people scaled its many steps.

The Ilk arrived at last and came to stand by the platform. Ilk were impressive creatures. They were skinny, long-legged, had giant three-toed feet, long thin faces with a great big set of horns. On their backs, they carried a small Verido town. “The Ilk of Balandri is here!” The people of the town shouted, relieved. Already, caretakers prepared bags of teaweet grain to feed it with. Renate villagers hoisted bags over their shoulders, and ran up the ramp and up to the top. Others were busy brushing the sand off the Ilk's skin, picking rocks from its toes. Other workers moved tents, to make a pathway up to the town. People would be coming on and off of it all week.

"This is so exciting!” Eka said to Hush, having just returned to their camping spot in the city. Hush lifted its head to stare up at the Ilk, unimpressed. Next to the hyroo, was Lupin, who bore the same disinterested gaze. Hush continued to sleep, but Lupin could not stop watching the Ilk. Eka went to pat Lupin on the head, but didn't, due to the presence of a cup, full of tea. Eka wanted to say something about it, but chose to ignore it.

The quiet town from this morning had turned into a bustling open-air market. Various vendors and store owners from Balandri were setting up shop in the center of town, between masses of tumbling weeds, dry sweet grass, lavendiri bushes and blue plovies. The place was full of life and co lour, people laughing and shouting. Eka took a seat and watched, the market was set up right near their spot. Already, some Balandrians were exploring the city. Like Lupin, they had ears like delicate flutes of skin, and they all bore tattoos and colors on their faces. Balandrians had red tattoos, rather than blue like those from Volare.

Eka was glancing from Lupin and back to the people of Balandri. “Dont you want to say hello Lew blue?”

“To what end?” Lupin said, reaching for the Thinking Cup, taking a sip of tea, before putting it back on its pedestal.

Eka took Lupin's side. "Suit yourself! Ilk are impressive though aren't they?"

“Nearly 1400 mirits tall..."

The Voice of the Balandri Ilk was walking through town, Lupin took note of it. They’d never met, but Voices were easy to recognize, they all wore the same robe. For a moment, Lupin wanted to hide, but found that no part of this body wanted to obey. With feet stuck to the ground and a heavy torso, linked to the spot by invisible chains.

Eka gave a loud whistle then, a song that held no secrets to Verido ears.

(....)Si-Re Re(..) Mi(_._) ___Fa-Sol(..)

The sound caught the ear of Klev, the Voice of the Balandri Ilk. Klev's eyes turned toward them. Lupin's dumb body did not want to move, but it was too late now anyway, the song was a dead giveaway. Klev pushed through the market folk and vendors and arrived at their little camp. By then, Eka had wandered off, to leave them alone together.

“The desert is loud huh?” Klev said, smiling. "You are far from home Volarian." The Balandrian knew Lupin's provenance from the blue ink. Klev noticed the cup, but like Eka, thought it might be better not to ask about it.

Lupin nodded, shyly. “Yes, though technically that would depend entirely on its whereabouts...” Only those with a birthplace with legs could say this.

“I admire you! I can’t imagine leaving Balandri. It’s very brave to venture out into the unknown like this, you must have seen much of the world."

“I have.” Lupin said, while a confused soup of pride and sadness swished around in this gut. Lupin was happy to have traveled the land and to have met its people, but over time, a hard lump appeared on the side of this head. Whenever thoughts of Volare circulated in this brain, the lump latched onto the memories like a thirsty vampire and gained mass. Then, the simple act of standing on one’s legs became difficult, the weight of it unbearable on Lupin's soul. “Any word of Volare?” Lupin managed to say, a hand massaging the ghostly-protrusion on this skull back down, accidentally knocking the cup off. Lupin caught it, but the tea spilled onto the floor.

Klev's eyes moved to the ground then, at the puddle of tea. “Moving along the Ash plains, last I heard.”

Ash plains?” Lupin said, alarmed. “But that would take them to the Rupture!"

Klev shared Lupin's concerns. “It’s what I’ve heard. Word is that the Ilk of Volare is um... word is that it's dying. It’s why I had to come and speak to you when I saw you were of Volare. I don't know if you know this, but their Voice died last year. It pains me to be the bearer of so much bad news, but I thought you'd want to know. It's been an emotional year for us all."

Lupin wanted to cry, but was too stunned to produce any expression resembling grief. The Verido's face was eerily devoid of emotion.

"Bala, our Ilk, has been behaving strangely. Imparts fewer and fewer thoughts these days, it may just be due to grief but I am worried—" Klev continued, in a lower voice. "We're all scared, afraid that both Bala and Oto will follow Vol into the Rupture. If this comes to pass, what does it mean for our people?" Klev's arm also extended out toward the market. "And what about them? Ground-dwellers rely on us to transport goods and food between cities."

Lupin thought of a conversation with Rosmus then...

"Not certain..." Lupin muttered. Then went on to thinking about Mago. What are you doing Mago… why is this happening? Surely you would have found the words to dissuade Vol. "Maybe all of this is my fault..." Lupin said. "The Voice of Volare isn't dead. My name is Lupin."

Klev appeared confused, but then heard the name. This named had traveled far, and most Verido knew it. "Your voice was heavy with grief, and now I know why." The Voice of Balandri put a hand to Lupin's heart, "I am relieved you're alive Lupin, but I don't believe your death was the cause of all this."

"How do you know?" Lupin managed to say, fighting back tears.

Klev smiled. "I don't, but believing it will be a burden to you. Put it out of your mind, for now, it will cloud your judgment and hinder any attempt at meaningful action. Until you know the truth, it is useless to you Lupin."

Lupin nodded, swallowing hard. "You're right." The Verido then too put a hand to Klev's heart. "Thank you. I needed to hear that."

"So what will you do Voice of Volare?"

"Meaningful action."

Lupin did not waste time, parted ways with Klev and went to visit Mapoleon the cartographer once more. "I need whatever update you have for the East road, Ash Plains and all the way to The Rupture." Lupin then spent a good half hour trying to convince Mapoleon to do the work. The cartographer had concerns, and was desperate in trying to convince the Verido not to take The Leap. "I swear to you, I'm not going there to die." Lupin said.

"You'd better, I do not want to be the one marking the road to it." The cartographer finished adding the desired modifications.

Map in hand, Lupin returned to their encampment then. "Eka!" Lupin began, "change of plans, we're going east to intercept Vol." Eka lay over Hush, arms laid out over its sides, caressing the large furry beast. "Okay Lew, east we go!" The Verido eyed Eka carefully. "You don't want to know why? Or is it one of those situations where you already know why and that I'm an idiot for asking."

Eka smirked. "You poor tortured soul."

"I'm scared Eka."

Eka had anticipated this sudden shift in mood, and was already halfway to Lupin, coming for a hug. "I know." They stood in each other arms for a long while. "If we walk we'll never make it on time." Lupin said, breaking the silence, eager, and anxious to find a solution. "I think I know how." Eka said.

Eka led Lupin to the northernmost edge of the city, to where transients moored their sandfins. Hush accompanied them on this trek, and bounded ahead to a carcass of a vessel, laying on it side. Its sails were in tatters, and its hull was dry and punctured. It bore the name "Tarka". Lupin walked over to it, and climbed into the cabin to assess the damage. "It's not looking too bad! But who does it belong to?"

"I don't know, but I know who knows." Eka said, gesturing to another ship moored in the area, a vessel with a red hull bearing the name Etyl.

"Nono's in town!"

They returned to the site that very same night, hoping to find Nono there. Lupin could see someone was in the vessel, a light was on. This resembled that night long ago, when they'd spotted the sandfin in the dark. "Nono's home." The Verido said, relieved.

"KIAO'RI NONO!" Eka shouted.

They heard lots of noise inside, and then Nono's head came pushing out of one of the portholes. Nono's eyes were healthy this time, and found them in the dark with ease. "Kiao' aikana dii!" Nono shouted, smiling. "Come in! Come in!"

They all went inside Etyl, with Nono serving everyone oversized mugs of bonan wine. Lupin eyed the tall glass, wondering if bonan wine could induce a headache by proximity. Eka threw an arm around the Verido's shoulders then. "We have time for this okay? Don't worry." Lupin loved hearing Eka say this, because it always turned out to be true.

Nono eyed Hush for a moment, with its head peering inside and the rest seated outside. "Ipaya?" Nono said, offering the hyroo a mug. Hush gave it a lick, but did not enjoy the taste. Nono laughed, and instead served the hyroo a bowl of mashed bams. "Sou mawani te dodon oro!"

"Good for the soul and the stomach you know!" Eka translated. "Looks delicious! Enjoy bud!" Hush licked up the entire contents of the bowl in a second.

"What brings you here?" Lupin asked Nono.

"Nono deliver teaweet from Montore for Balandri Ilk."

"Oh? Renate villagers asked for extra feed?"

"No, no, no. Teaweet is gift." Nono corrected.

"From who? Why?" Lupin asked, perplexed. People in Montore didn't exude generosity.

"Nono know who, but told no say. But Nono say this, Balandri Ilk visit Montore before come to Renate always, when Ilk late to Montore, someone see problem for Renate'wati. This make them do rare, kind thing."

Lupin laughed. "That's okay, I think I might know who." Despite having little evidence, Lupin knew who was responsible for this generous donation. There weren't many well-endowed philanthropists in Montore. This bit of good news warmed this heart and it offered comfort. City-dwellers would find ways to exchange food and goods without the Ilk. The Verido raised a mug-full of bonan wine. "To those who care!"

"To those who care!" They all said again, together.

"Do you know if Tarka belongs to anyone?" Lupin asked Nono then.

Nono thought about the name for a moment. "Iana. Belong to no one, is abandon."

Lupin's eyes lit up then, with the Ilk in town they would have all the parts they needed to repair it. This was a weight off this Verido's shoulders. They drank their drinks, and Lupin once again failed to catch Nono re-filling their cups. Preventing a Finiku host from filling your mug was an impossible task. Refusal was seen as modesty. Eka leaned in to Lupin then, "you know, if you don't want to have Nono re-flling your cup, just drink slow." The Verido had much to learn about Finiku drinking etiquette. Lupin did not get sick that night, having eaten enough muckwheat bread and murple bean sausages to soak up the alcohol and lessen its effects.

The next day, they marched over to Ren's tent to ask for help. Ren gladly accepted, and helped to patch up the holes in Tarka's hull. In the meantime, Nono was hard at work mending an old sail. For many years, Nono kept the sail in Etyl's bilge, and as a result it was in dire need of repair. "Ora, ora, sail still good. Nono fix it". Lupin and Eka repaired the rudder and mast, but faced a problem when they saw the state of the ropes onboard, the hempa fibres were worn and brittle and replacing them was necessary. Nono had used up the last of the hempa to repair the sails. Eka asked around town, but found out that Renate suffered a shortage of hempa fibres, even banabo was difficult to come by this season. Nono quickly intervened. "Hempa is good, but no one here have, and banabo stretch too much."

Eka thought for a moment. "What else is good?"

Nono looked up at the Ilk then, and Eka followed the Finiku's gaze. "Of course!"

Eka told Lupin, who went to ask Klev. Verido did not export isilk anymore, but would never deny one of their kin. Klev secured enough hair for their project, and again, Nono stepped in to do the work. First, the Finiku cut all hairs the same length and tied the ends together. Then, divided the bundle into three. Nono's twisted the three sections, holding onto two bundles between fingers, with the third bundle set between toes. Nono began twisting them all in the same direction, the bundles wrapped around one another forming a rope. Eka watched the process, and was soon able to replicate the work. They twisted and spliced isilk hairs together all day, whilst Nono sang sandfinner's ballads.

After many days of hard work, came time to test Tarka. On the first run, Lupin got the sandfin stuck in a sandbank, on the second, the tiller came loose. The third and fourth run revealed even more problems, but after that they found less and less. On run number 12, the sandfin surfed on the desert plains beautifully. Nothing rattled or threatened to break off. They proceeded to stocking it up with food and supplies for the journey ahead. Soon, the sandfin lockers were full with bags of teaweet flour, crates of waterstones, purple kappages, sweet bams and mapples.

On the eve of their departure, they organized a small gathering with friends. They made a fire, and laid out fabric on the ground to sit on. That evening, Klev played traditional Verido music, Maka cooked for everyone, and Ren told Iridi legends. This, paired with Nono’s sandfin stories made for quality entertainment.

Klev presented Lupin and Eka with a bottle of kabacho, which they shared with others on the spot. Lupin savoured every gulp. Klev played the donmol, fingers stroking the 4 double strings, improvising a tune that only other Verido—or wonders like Eka—could interpret. Lupin smiled, attentive to the lyrics. It was about mountains that could not kneel, moons that could not sleep, and of fires that could not touch. Eka was standing, busy expressing the meaning of the song to the other guests through exaggerated gestures. Nono and Renzo watched, each mind interpreting the patomime in their own way. "Ara ara! A durdle! Ora! It is hungry! Also, it no can swim." Nono said. "No, no, it's about the journey of a great warrior!" Renzo corrected.

After the song ended, Nono began reciting a poem about a loose bit of twine on Renzo's pant leg.

After the poem, Nono inched forward and cut the bit of twine away with a blade, cackling. Everyone roared with laughter. Nono then proceeded to fill all empty mugs with kabacho. "Drink! Drink!" Nono said, tapping the bottom of Lupin's cup, causing some of its content to spill. "I am, I am!" Lupin cried. All in the group were merry, all, but Nono and Eka, they too had consumed the same amount but as usual, it had little effect.

"Eka, Nono want to say," Nono said, moving close to the red-head, "Nono stop by Ministe to talk to friend, woth expert.” The Finiku filled up Eka’s mug again. Experiencing thirst in Nono's presence was impossible, Eka thought, the Finiku knew the level of liquid present in each mug at all times and insisted that their bottoms remain unseen. "It bad luck." Nono had said.

“We haven’t found the name of our woth friend yet.” Eka said.

“Nono know Eka find soon,” Nono replied, “Nono tell friend detail of wingspan, antennae and color of woth. Friend say it super woth! They grow big big!" Saying this, Nono's arms spread wide, spilling half the contents of a mug onto the sand floor. Then, Nono's body relaxed. "Long long ago, there is more big big thing in desert, and now, not so, not so. But, when Nono young, Nono see rare, big creature. Nono remember it well—" Saying this, Nono's eyes glassed over. "Nono si mawani de kira te'sawa."

Renzo overheard the last bit of their conversation, and eyed Nono then, in disbelief. "You saw the soul of the sun and the wind?"

Nono drifted to another place, recalling something that had happened years ago. Nono began to tell the story, switching to Finic, speaking in a low voice so Eka could translate.

Eka began to share Nono's tale...

"When I was a sproutling, I went to the Rupture with my mapa and my grand-mapa Etyl. Etyl was old, and sick, and decided that it was time to take The Leap. In the Ash Plains, near the Rupture, the ground is black with ash. It takes some getting used to. I was scared, but I never did say it, because this was an important day for Etyl and I did not want to ruin it. Together we walked to the edge of the chasm. We sat near it for a long while, talking, drinking tea, sharing muckwheat bread... but then, before dark, came time to say goodbye. Without a word, I watched my grand-mapa leap into the chasm, and disappear into the dark. We stayed for the night, but I could not sleep. I got up, and went to stand on the edge of the Rupture again. I knew my grand-mapa would not be there, but I found comfort in being here. But then, I saw a giant robed figure. Its long legs passed over my head! In passing, its robe sent swirling clouds of ash into the sky. The ash stained my clothes and skin, and obstructed my vision for a moment. I cleared it away from my eyes, and just in time to catch the giant stepping down into the Rupture! Then... then it was gone.” Eka said, stopping as Nono took a breath. All were listening, gathered around the fire and enthralled by Nono's story.

"I've heard a similar story," Klev said. "My friend Uggi was up late one night, observing the reflection of the moons on the dunes below. Uggi saw a tall shape in the distance, moving. Its legs spanned entire dunes. Uggi went to grab a glass to see its features in detail, but then it bent down and Uggi lost sight of it."

Maka nodded. "A giant left crates of foodpatches for us during the Raids, our people would not have survived without it."

Renzo also had something to share, related to Maka's story. "I've spent the greater part of my life in a walled-city, like you Klev, I did not see one with my own eyes, but I heard stories. During the raids at the Suvalba Sanctuary, soldiers stole seeds to bring back to Moera. One day, all awoke to the blood-curdling screams of a soldier. The soldier was shaking, claiming to have seen some kind of giant apparition wandering in the camp. No one else had seen it, and so they ignored it. On another day they saw leafhounds trailing far behind them, following them. Again, they ignored it. They arrived in Irideri, and noticed then that their bags had holes in them. They'd lost much of their seed cargo on the way here. They lied about it, of course... no one wanted to suffer Moera's wrath." Renzo smiled. "Soldiers would never admit to it, they're too proud, but many thought that someone had pierced the bags in the night, and that the leafhounds trailed behind to gather up the seeds."

Lupin couldn't believe it. The raid on the sanctuary was a horrible event. Zucca had saved many lives that day, and would be glad to know that someone else, a giant, some apparition, had saved many more.

The night ended with everyone sleeping around a dying flame, all, but Lupin and Eka. Both were lying next to each other, gazing up at the night sky. A question burned at Lupin's lips. “You didn’t look surprised when you saw me at the top of the mountain.”

“Surprised? No. Happy? Yes.” Eka said with a kind smile.

“If not me… then someone else?” Lupin said, feeling small and unimportant.

“No. Couldn’t have been anyone else. Couldn’t have happened any other way,” Eka said, rolling over and throwing an arm around Lupin's middle. “Others have come before you, but you weren’t born then so you have a good excuse.” Eka said with a smirk.

“You’re getting real tall,” Lupin noted.

"You noticed that huh?"

"When I met Uno, it was difficult to have a conversation. Uno was always sort of... detached. Mind was elsewhere. Is that what will happen to you?"

The wonder said nothing but pulled Lupin in close, until they were cheek to cheek, belly to belly. Lupin's eyes locked onto the skyrocks above. “Why aren’t you together?” Eka was drawing invisible picture on Lupin's back. “You could ask the same of the Ilk." Eka said.

"Well, they used to be together—" Lupin began, "but then they agreed to help us. Verido did this too, we used to be together. One big tribe. Separating made sense though, even if it was hard."

"You've got your answer, I think." Eka said.

Lupin gazed up at the moons then. "I wish I could live forever."

"A good life is better than a long one Lew, and the 'goodness of life' can't be determined by its length."

The woth crawled out of its glass ball and flew onto Eka's head. When it settled, Eka began to stroke the ends of the hairs on its back, humming. The sound put both Lupin and the woth to sleep.

p>The next morning, Lupin woke to the sound of arguing. Nono was awake, standing at the foot of a Beobug sandfin. It had come to moor here in the night. The vessel had kinked Nono's vessel while docking, an 'accident' that Nono believed was deliberate. Nono was swearing aloud in Finic.

Lupin walked up to Nono, then looked up and noticed Gree at one of the portholes. Lupin whistled. "HEY! Gree! Come down, that's hardly respectable! Hiding like that!"

"Gree no hide!" Gree shouted, exiting the sandfin in a huff, ready to smack whoever had said this but then, noticed who it was. "Araaa! Voice of Volare! An honor!"

"Stop right there—" Lupin said, "did you wreck Etyl on purpose?"

"No no no no—" Gree said, in a Nono kind of way.

Nono's face reddened at this, and angry, jumped onto Gree's back, pulling the Finiku's ears and screaming into them. "NAIBAKA DI!" Gree was running in circles, unable to dislodge the angry passenger. Both switched to Finic then. Lupin understood nothing, but could guess what it is they were saying, because their fight was an old one. Nono thought Gree had wrecked Etyl on purpose, to force Nono's hand in becoming a Beobug captain. Of course, Gree denied it all, yelling, struggling to pry Nono off. Nono was the strongest of the two, with legs hugging Gree's middle and hands tugging at the Finiku's ears, like one would pull on carriage reins. When the captain of Beobug II continued to deny the damage, Nono grabbed onto Gree's nose, a finger pulling at each nostril.

Gree's eyes started to water then. "IAAA—! NONO IANA!"

Lupin thought it tempting to separate them, but found it all too amusing, and besides, Gree deserved it.

"OKAY OKAY! Gree admit it!" Gree shouted then. "Is no mistake, Beobug II bump into Etyl."

Lupin sighed. "Now why did you do that?"

Nono let go, slipped off and moved to stand next to Lupin, eyes thin and angry. "It because Gree be FIEND."

Gree's face turned red and puffy then, hands curled into tight fists. "IANA! Is because Gree be angry! You no understand that Gree get Beobug job to impress Nono!"

"Nono don't care," Nono said, disintested. Lupin nudged the Finiku then, seeing as Nono wasn't being very kind. "If Gree want to do something that Nono like—" Nono began, "leave Beobug job, go home to mapa to say Gree lie about Nono."

Lupin's eyes widened then. "Is Gree... your sibling?" Lupin did remember Gree saying that they'd been grown on the same plot of land. Gree spent time at home with their mapa, jealous, and told lies about Nono. "You were grown together." Lupin said. Nono nodded. "Ora. Gree and Nono grow together. More than this, stem of Gree wrap around Nono, like snakadil! Gree suffocate Nono already then. Even now, Gree never stop to try to smother Nono."

Gree thought it unfair. "Gree was a seedling Nono! Truth is Nono always reject Gree! Many time for no reason!"

"Even as seed, already then Nono want nothing to do with Gree. Gree have rot inside."

Lupin remembered what Zucca had said about seedlings in the ground. They developed links to one another, and the sadness of one could affect its neighbor. Since both were grown together, linked-up, they had developed a bond unlike any other. Gree depended on Nono, more than Gree cared to admit. And Nono wanted to get away after being trapped early in life. Nono's revulsion of Gree was sown early.

"How about you two sandfin together?" Lupin suggested.

"Lupin crazy. Nono no work for Beobug fiendling." Nono said, disgusted with the idea.

"—Aboard Etyl."

Gree looked at Nono, "but if Gree did this, it leave Beobug II without captain..."

"Ara, ara, Gree need no worry. Beobug find other captain easy. Gree have no talent."

"So it's decided then! You'll travel together from now on." Lupin said.

Nono realized what Lupin had said. "No no no no no—" but before Nono could no-no any further, Lupin let out a loud whistle, so loud that even the Ilk of Balandri turned its head to find its source. It silenced both Finiku, a whistle like that commanded respect.

"This no fair for Nono. Is bad bad bad idea."

"Maybe it's time to-revisit the feelings you have for Gree. It sounds like you never really gave Gree a chance. You are family, and family, like community, is important. It's... it's everything..." Saying this, Lupin started to cry. Lupin went to sit on the ground, body shaking, overcome with grief. The Verido was inconsolable.

Both stared, uncomprehending. They thought themselves responsible, and felt bad. They gathered around the Verido, trying to offer comfort by standing close. "Ara ara—" Nono said, in a gentle voice, hand over Lupin's shoulder. Gree did the same. They looked at each other then, sighing. "Ok." Nono said, "Gree and Nono travel together. Nono be patient. Nono promise." Gree was about to wear the Beobug cap but Nono slapped it away. Both Finiku continued to bicker, but more quietly this time. They talked about how to cohabit on Etyl.

Lupin was on the ground still, unable to calm down. This is when Klev stepped in, the Voice of Balandri went to sit next to Lupin. The Balandrian held Lupin close, and began to whistle in ilken as a way to quiet Lupin's heart. "I have to go home." Lupin managed to say. "You are. Tarka is ready isn't it?" Klev said.

"Even if Vol doesn't die, how can I go back? They'll think I betrayed them."

"You fell," Klev said, "how is that a betrayal?"

"I never tried to tell them that I was alive. I could have done this but I didn't, I instead chose to let them sit with the pain of my death. I never wanted to be Voice, maybe I did fall on purpose..."

"Your reasons are your own Lupin, but you have to remember that they know and love you. They'll understand why you did what you did," Klev said, "maybe you were meant to fall, meant to come here, to meet Eka, to learn about the world. If what I think is happening with the Ilk IS happening, we'll need someone like you to help us adapt to life in the dust. I don't like to think about it, in fact, I've been land-sick all day..."

"I'd be a bad teacher," Lupin said, but then began to think back on everything that had happened, and a different picture began to form in this head. Lupin was strong, resilient, understanding and caring. These were the qualities of a teacher, of a good teacher. "Okay." Lupin said then. "Okay," Lupin said again, standing up. The Verido looked up at Bala, and began whistling to the Ilk. The Ilk of Balandri was eating teaweet and stopped in mid-chew to listen. After Lupin's message, Bala swallowed and turned its head downwind. It took a deep breath, its sides and throat bulging. A low, deep sound pushed out of its throat, reverberating through the town and across the desert plains. As it sang, the whole town stopped to listen, even if they could not understand its meaning.

Klev listened to the message, and smiled. "They will be happy to hear you're alive."

Lupin nodded, "Yes, I think so..."

Continue to Chapter 1