Tarka lay quiet in the sand once more, not because the wind had left, but because a huge gap in the ground lay before them, barring their path.
They stood at the meeting point between two deep chasms, forming a squiggly V with it's two branches extending far, far out into the black desert.
"This isn't on the chart," Lupin said, standing at the bottom of the wide V. "It isn't on the chart...!" Lupin realized the irony of denying the existence of a thing while standing near it, but could not think clearly. "Mapoleon made a mistake."
Eka shrugged, "the Rupture is long, and it's possible that this particular part of it wasn't there until recently. It is difficult to map a changing world Lew."
Lupin wondered if leaving Hush in Renate had been wise, they could have continued on foot together. This part of the Rupture was too wide to gap by foot, but would be possible to cross with a hyroo.
"Come on, we'll sail back and find a way around." Eka said, motioning for Lupin to climb back aboard.
Lupin was paralyzed by fear. "We won't get there in time."
Eka leapt off the bow and moved to take Lupin's hand, gently leading the Verido back to Tarka.
In silence, they raised the sails again and turned the sandfin around, following the fissure in the black sand. Lupin took command of the vessel, determined to overcome this latest obstacle. The ride wasn't a cheery one, but the dark veil departed once they found a piece of ground bridging the gap. Tarka skidded across, ignoring the dizzying depth present on both sides.
A chart lay at Lupin's feet, with lines marking their progress. There were several x's indicating where they had stopped, due to lack of wind. Every x was added up in this mind, amounting to too much time, time they needed to arrive at the widest part of the Rupture before Vol.
All day they labored to ensure that the sandfin moved at top speed. After days in the sand, Lupin knew Tarka well and could optimize its sail configuration in any wind. Eka had never seen a sandfin move so fast, so well. Finiku were gifted sandfinners, but it appeared as though Lupin too had the right set of qualities, or the right motivation.
Eka was on top of the mast, feet laying firmly on one of the battens of their large, fan-shaped sail. Thousands of strands worked together, fingers interlocked to hold the wind and to pull Tarka towards its goal. Eka's blazing red hair was like a beacon, dancing in the wind. From the deck, it appeared as though a fire was burning overhead.
The Rupture was widening, to a point where it was difficult to see the other side. Mapoleon's chart was more accurate now, this part of the land was kind to have stayed the same, Lupin thought. A curious updraft came from the chasm, swirling out of nowhere to feed their sails. The wind carried shoals of tiny sooty agocets, too small to fight the strong air currents. A group was carried into the sails, their black bodies brushing by, leaving long black streaks behind. Once free of the sails, their wings fluttered wildly to try and stop spinning. Eventually, they regained control, and the shoal returned to the safety of the depths.
They were close now. Lupin's gut was in knots, the constricted organs made it hard to breathe. "We should have seen Vol already," Lupin said, voice heavy. The worrying was moments away from evolving into full blown panic.
Eka spoke up then, pointing ahead to a figure sitting near the edge of the chasm, with legs dangling in the void. "Someone! Ahead!" Eka yelled.
Lupin's eyes narrowed, trying to make out the shape of the person in the distance. The shape got bigger, and taller as they approached. Already then, Lupin knew who it was. The Verido brought the sandfin to a stop, releasing all sails and letting them flap in the wind. Tarka's hull groaned as it slowed, before coming to a full stop.
The figure on the edge looked at them, silver eyes admiring the vessel. "Beautiful." Uno said, blinking slowly. Every blink took enormous effort, the urge to remain shut growing with every passing second.
Lupin raced to Uno's side, but before the Verido could say anything Uno spoke up. "Sit." Lupin was about to protest but Uno said it again, in a more commanding tone. "Sit."
"What? No! I've got to save my people!" Lupin cried.
Uno looked like someone who had missed several night's rest, with sunken eyes, and pale, pale, translucent skin. Although, its surface was as flawless as ever, without scar, or blemish. All of the wear was concentrated in Uno's eyes, which had lost some of their former radiance.
"They are safe, they stepped off Vol in Tiputa a few days ago," Uno said, a large hand patting the ground, again inviting the Verido to sit down. "Surely you don't think Vol would have taken them along..."
Lupin blinked, trying to process all this information. "What about the people on Bala, and Oto?"
"Any moment now, they too will step off. News travels fast."
Lupin's chest felt warm, heart blazing bright fueled by thoughts of friends. The Verido felt a pang of relief, "but Vol..!"
"Is ready to die." Uno said, heels rubbing against the side of the cliff face, disturbing bits of rock and sending them tumbling in the dark. "Your friend will be glad that you are here."
Vol had not arrived, not yet. Lupin felt exhausted then, the long days of hard sailing and hard worrying had caught up in an instant. The Verido slumped forward, taking a breath, and focusing on that for a while. Breathing in and out. In and out. Nothing else mattered in this short intermission between moments. Lupin finally decided to sit down beside Uno, eager to rest.
"They're all safe..." Lupin breathed, back meeting with the black sand.
The hard part lay ahead. Lupin had hoped to deter Vol, but now knew that its death was inevitable. Soon, it would arrive and leap into the Rupture, disappearing from the world forever.
Uno spotted Eka's silhouette aboard Tarka, busy folding sails. Once their vessel was secure, the wonder moved to Tarka's bow and gazed at the giant. Lupin saw Uno rise, head moving up and towards the clouds. Eka raced over to meet the tall figure, arms locking around Uno's leg. The giant bent down again, and put a hand on the sandfloor, palm side up. Eka moved onto it and ran up to grab Uno's cheeks, caressing them gently, fingers inspecting every inch.
The wonder laughed then, and Uno's tired flesh remembered how to smile, stretching outward. They whispered softly to each other for a while.
Lupin tried to listen, but could not make out any words. Tired, the Verido stopped trying, mind focusing on the event ahead, although a curious jealousy began to settle inside this mind. Now that they had each other again, neither would have a need for someone else, an outsider. Lupin imagined the two locked together, unwilling to part, sharing knowledge in a low, hushed voice for all time.
Eka glanced down at Lupin then, noticing the Verido's expression. "Caught the gloom bug?"
"Yea." Lupin said. "You can keep talking with Uno. I mean, you two probably have a lot of important things to say to each other," the Verido said, trying to appear less blue, skin changing to a deep shade of red instead. Lupin didn't like feeling this way.
"Oh oh yes yes, very important things to talk about!" Eka said, nodding rapidly.
"Nothing and nonsense, really," Uno wheezed, "Eka was telling me of a good recipe for looma root bread."
"UNO! You WOUND me! Bread could never be nonsense!" Eka said, outraged.
Lupin laughed. Eka was still Eka, a creature with a big, big heart and eyes for everyone. Laughter helped to suppress the gloom, and to quell these silly feelings of inadequacy.
They sat together on the edge of the Rupture for a while. In the distance they watched groups of people gathering at various points, to witness A Leap, no doubt. Once in a while they caught songs in the wind, cheery compositions with notes that clung to the air. The sound bounced of the chasm walls, echoing down its long throat, propagated into its various limbs. On a quiet day someone on the tail end of the Rupture could catch the song, distorted by distance, but pleasant.
Lupin was growing quite fond of this place. Sooty agocets would sometimes fly off the edge of the plateau and into the void, disappearing into the darkening dark before emerging back into the light again, their small wings carrying them back out. Many came to brush my Uno's large feet, their wispy bodies caressing the toes, and darting away when one of them twitched, only to return again later, as if the group played a game of dare.
The people attending a Leaping Day paid them no mind, they were far, and focused on their loved ones. There was no doubt that they could see Uno from where they were, given the giant's size, but again, their eyes and minds were set on little things today, little things that mattered a whole lot.
Lupin wondered if this is how Uno was able to move in this world, unnoticed. Small people were as blind to big things as this Verido had been blind to the tiny birds and plants on the desert floor. Uno was like the wind, the desert and the clouds, a constant presence that most took for granted, touching everyone and everything.
Uno's gaze was fixed on the chasm. The thin eyes took in the blackness, and the rest of this large body too was beginning to give into the expanse. The giant was tired, so, so very tired. Breathing required some effort, a thing that everyday people don't think about at all.
"Are you going to sleep soon?" Lupin asked.
Uno took a deep breath. "Yes."
"So, what are you waiting for?"
The silver-eyed giant breathed again, and slowly turned to look behind. Lupin did the same, and then caught sight of a large dark shape in the horizon growing, and growing. Vol was coming. Lupin understood then. "You were there when Volare, Balandri and Otora built cities on the Ilk..." Lupin began, feeling a lump form in this throat, remembering the city, its plants, people, everything this Verido had known and loved.
The Ilk's pace quickened as it neared them. Everyone got up. Uno began to whistle, its sound as good and as natural as any Voice. Eka joined in the singing. Lupin too wanted to contribute, but couldn't, the lump did not allow it. It kept growing, and growing. Lupin swallowed hard, nearly choking on the lump, determined to dislodge it to give Vol, a good friend, a proper farewell.
Lupin's voice rose, and rose, subduing all other noise in the area. Its volume was so great, that all in the area stopped to listen.
Vol continue to march, following the sound to its source. One of its legs landed near them, and the beast stopped, its two-toed foot sinking into the sand as Vol put weight on it. Uno caressed its ankle, and then looked down at Eka, and Lupin. "You'll find the Balandrians in Renate, and Otorans in Montore Lupin," Uno said.
"Yo-you're not coming with us?" Lupin stammered, but Eka gripped the Verido's arm.
"Uno needs to sleep now."
"How could anyone sleep down there..." Lupin thought of the mountain top, and thought it infinitely better, unless the bottom of the chasm had its own ecosystem...
"Kit is waiting for me," Uno said, with a weak smile. The giant eyed Lupin fondly, and without another word, the giant began to go down the cliff face, inviting the Ilk to follow.
Eka smiled, and blew a kiss. Lupin was smiling too, but it was blurred by tears. Just like the force of a storm could form dunes in the desert, Uno helped shape the world to benefit its residents. This impossible being would return someday, but Lupin would be sand. This would be their last ever encounter.
"Aristollo and Uno traveled together, didn't they?" Lupin asked Eka then.
Eka nodded, eyes on Uno and extending an arm around the Verido into a tight, tight hug. "For many, many years. They had a lot of fun together."
Vol, sure-footed, put a leg forward into the crevasse as if expecting to step on land, and the large body began to fall...
Lupin let out a cry. Eka gripped the Verido's middle harder.
They stared as Vol tumbled head first, with surprising grace, straight into the abyss. Uno's yellow cape too was gradually absorbed by night. Vol began to sing as it fell, its enormous frame gradually enveloped by nothing. The Rupture amplified the sound, like a great big orchestra lay at the bottom of the chasm. The whole area rumbled, dust rose from the walls as its legs scraped the edges, and then it was gone. Uno too had gone, swallowed by the dust cloud.
Lupin continued to whistle then, more loudly, and more clearly than ever. The song was about the end of an era, of the splendor of a world inhabited by giants. Eka listened, eyes in the depths.
The Rupture felt limitless.
The two looked down, having quiet thoughts, each processing the event in their own way. They stayed like this a while, hand in hand, eyes fixed on the dark expanse. The Ilk of Volare was gone, and soon, Bala and Oto would follow.
"Tiputa..." Lupin said aloud then, "we're going to Tiputa."
Eka nodded. "Plot a course! Captain OH Captain Lew!"
"We need supplies." Lupin said, voice clearing as the weight of the day began to lift, like morning fog. There was life after this, just as there was life in the Ash Plains.
"Actually, we'll stop by Renate first, since its closest. Then, we're going to Tiputa," Lupin said, lips curling into a slight grin, not yet able to form a full smile. The body attached to these lips was eager to see the Balandrians again, as well as Klev, Hush, Maka, Renzo, and then Orin, and Bou, and all of Volare in Tiputa.
"AYE AYE!" Eka shouted, shooting upright, hands in the air.
The Verido's eyes looked inward, busy imagining Verido people on the desert floor, struggling, their bodies swaying from left to right and their faces green, swallowing back their sick. They would need guidance. Guidance, patience and time.
Lupin was finally ready to take the helm.
Suddenly, this Verido felt there was an infinite amount of seconds, minutes and hours. These eyes could see it written in the air, and in the sky, forming a tapestry of opportunities for the future. Lupin was excited.
"Then after that, we'll go back to Montore for some bam cake and tea."
"Oh yes, yes, that sounds good!" Eka exclaimed, mouth watering.
Wiktopher the woth landed on Lupin's head, beating its wings wildly.
"Let's go sandfinning."
Tarka's sails swallowed the Ash Plain air and pulled their crew along toward their destination. They both sat on deck, watching as the two suns neared the horizon, narrowing to a sliver before disappearing.
They sandfinned in the dark. Having balanced the sails, both went to lie on deck, eyes on the sky and lights overhead. Their fingers traced along visible constellations, and together, they recited their names.
“Salarus, Vitali, Neoneve…”
— Owari, the end —
This tale lives beyond these chapters. I am currently editing the text, making big changes for the final version. Details in the story may differ. Thank you for reading, and hope you read the final, edited version too when it comes out.Continue to Chapter 1