The silence of the desert speaks volumes in winds and heart beats. One plays the flute while the other keeps time on the drums. They play a haunting song to echo our loneliness as we cross the threshold. Soon the arch vanishes too, and we are led deeper into the abyss by something like faith. It is the only frail guide we know with eyes squeezed shut, ears full of wax, mouth and nose bound by cloth, and skin numbed by abrasive space.
We were led by this blindness with wind at our backs, carried away by a strange twilight world. And as quickly as the storm had risen, it fell away just as fast. The arch and my people had vanished in the distance, and my eyes gazed upon a new landscape.
Here the sand dunes vanished into wave-like patterns as if a giant snake that stretched across the horizon had traveled through these lands. Perhaps there really was a giant snake, and so both me and Duck prayed that we would not encounter such a fearsome beast. The wind was stronger and more fluid so the sand did not have the chance to form the familiar humps in Wingless lands. And so we began to count the number of wrinkles until we lost count, and then began to count again.
Someone once told me about an ocean. They said it stretched as wide as a desert and was filled with water. What a wonderful place I thought. Until they said that you couldn't drink ocean water. My memory brought forth a description, and I dreamed that this must be what an ocean is like. It was an infinite expanse of curves on top of curves, a new crest appearing as the previous vanished from sight. Only it was yellowish white in place of deep sapphire blue.
The mirages seemed to agree with me and I thought I saw a great ship with sails slide through the desert heat before shaking the image away. I had never seen a real ship before. And the mirage brought forth a different memory. Someone long ago once drew a picture of a ship in the sand with his staff. And for a moment it seemed to move as the sails puffed up catching the wind before the desert blew it away to its true home.
His name was Omar, the great inventor. But we knew him as Jin, a spirit of great creativity bound by circumstance. He had fallen far, and we knew he was itching to create but was chained by the struggle to survive. He drew the greatest contraptions in the sand only to have his thoughts carelessly washed away. And though he could carve the most fantastic on his staff, Jin was left without tool or material to build with.
We could feel his frustration with the desert. And when he disappeared Wingless were left with dreams of a better life.
Somewhere in between counting wrinkles and rising memories, a glint in the ever changing landscape caught our eyes. Duck was the first to stop short. It was something silver, solid, and stable in a place enraptured in movement. The object brought back another memory of Jin. He had always carried a pocket watch that was set to midnight, the time when Omar fell and became a different creature.
As I drew closer, a lone scratchy voice that vaguely seemed to speak in tune with the voice in my memory echoed across the terrain. It couldn't be, but I turned anyway.
Alone and buried in the shadow of a cactus, a bald man with heavy eyebrows pulled together with thought, a deep set wrinkles, and a single twisted tattoo of a sprocket laid with sand up to his neck. He looked carelessly at the blade in my sash and asked if I was here to take his life. In his current situation, death may have been more favorable but he may be Wingless. And I was not one to take life with doubt.
The man's face showed many signs of bruises, scars, and damage from exposure. He was left to die for a reason. His wrinkled brow changed from a look of an acceptance of fate to mild curiosity. "I haven't heard that name in a while, could it be young Eurus? The child of wind?"
"What time is it Jin?"
"Midnight, my darkest hour."
His answer provided the confirmation I needed. And So I brought the silver poke watch over to him. "Do you wish me to turn these hands to a new time?"
"No, I wish it always to be midnight."
"Do you remember your accused crime?"
The answer made me pause. But I had decided that perhaps even spirits of great power needed help sometimes. And so began the long process of unearthing a mostly buried man.
"Eurus, what if I told you the accusations were true?"
I paused again tilting my head in thought. "Then don't tell me. It will make saving you harder."
"What if I didn't want to be saved?"
He was mostly uncovered now. "Then turn yourself in, bury yourself again, or off yourself in some other way. Just don't do it in front of me. This is the way of the Wingless."
Wingless take care of their own, even when one has fallen so far to become criminal, a simple grain of truth for survival.
And so I helped Jin up on Duck before giving him some water. The odds of survival for him were still slim in his weakened state. But we never left anyone behind. There were already enough spiteful ghosts haunting this place.
Although it was out of the way that the wind was pushing me, I knew I had to find an oasis and then a desert town. Jin would not recover any other way. And hopefully Jin was not so wanted that an isolated town would turn against him. I thought it to be more wise not to ask about the details of his crime.
Finding an Oasis is a difficult task. Locations of these precious gems were usually only passed through by clan and story. At home the first skill they taught is how to remember where life stems from. Slowly I learned to read the sun, the stars, plants, and wildlife for even in motion they were consistent. It was a long time ago when I first marked a sand dune in my memory. When I awoke, the sand dune had become flat land and it seemed that I had traveled far away in my sleep.
I learned to never mark sand in memory again, only to count the grains with blessing.
Without guide and in a strange land, I had to rely on the locals, even if they weren't people. Desert life is hidden. But it is said if you look hard enough and follow the lonesome howls of a coyote, blue sapphire gems are sure to be near. And where there is water there must also be stable human life.
Slowly the creatures that faded into the sand grew larger; the vegetation became more plentiful and diverse. It was on our third silent day of our journey when we saw it and confirmed that this was not a mirage. A single tree above the horizon waved in eager welcome. The sand then gave way to a pit of serene blue, the greatest treasure this land could offer.
In the days before his disappearance, Jin had been hunched over such a treasure much like he was now. Cool water hid tears of a mind that was always ticking away. He dreamt of vast stone structures that he called irrigation canals, an invention of the past world that moved water thousands of miles across lands that were once barren. But here there was no stone and no mortar.
He was never good at hiding his emotions or telling a lie. I knew he was being untruthful when he told me long ago that he had never loved, never lost anything precious, and never built something that changed the fate of a people. I knew he was lying through his teeth right now when he told me that some things were just part of the past and he had learned to let go. I knew this because he held on tightly to a tiny silver clock that ticked no more instead of letting it sink to the bottom of blue.
The curse of Wingless is strong. No one forgets about the world that we left behind. Even I, a child of this land, can almost smell the past through inlaid whispered secrets from the fragmented thoughts of story-tellers.
One tells of a man who breathed life into a two-wheeled device. His name was Omar. This man had a mother who was a falconer and a father who was a watchmaker. The two were indeed the strangest pair. Their respective shops stood side-by-side in the most chaotic part of the city, the area of small shops and street vendors. Love, I am told, happens often due to geographic distance. Somehow a falconer and a watchmaker from two vastly different worlds collided in a street full of color and energy.
A few years later, a tiny Omar first poked his head out of the now joined shops to gaze upon the strange meeting place of dizzying contradictions. His first invention sprang to life when he was six, a simple mechanism activated by the cogs in a clock to shoot bright streamers. It soon grew to become a falcon locater working with the bell to create a visual reference.
Omar was soon tattooed with the sprocket, a symbol for a mind desiring to fit mechanical puzzle pieces together and create something the world had never seen before. This man was born destined to create many great things, but his greatest and final creation before vanishing was a symphony hybrid between mechanical and beast. They called it a motorcycle.
The very first harnessed the power of steam. It was a large and bulky contraption, but a pressurized compartment forced movement to drive and pedal a modified bicycle forward. It was like the first creature that decided to slide its way from water to land, poorly adapted. It also hissed loudly and frightened small children and animals away. But as Omar evolved, so did his invention.
The inventor shaved his head and so his invention became more sleek. His voice deepened and so the invention changed its shrill shriek to a low rumble. And when Omar began to age, his creation sprouted a stable frame and wider wheels to support the creator.
It could be just coincidence that the assassin before me was once named Omar, but some part of me doesn't believe that. And I wondered what kind of name could be given to such a strange and metallic beast of burden. I wondered too if it could really skim across any landscape with the speed of an arrow, a brilliant streak of purpose in a hazy land. They said it trumpeted freedom, wildness, determination, and chaotic calm hidden beneath black shades.
But I had never seen such a creature. And I could only gaze in wonder at Jin and his many secrets. The small town next to the small oasis seemed to be quiet and accepting of a traveler and a wounded man. The medicine man we met was old, but strong. They said that his eyesight was failing but his sense of smell for choosing the right herbs was stronger and more accurate than ever.
A part of me wished to stay and peel back the layers of darkness to truth, but I had learned that sometimes a lie can mean everything. And while Jin slept, I continued on my way leaving two things behind: a blade and a message. "You will need this more than I will".
Though it was gift and linked me to my people, the blade had sat uneasily around my waist. And when I left it behind, I felt relief for finding a suitable use.
Perhaps some gifts were meant to be rewrapped and given away. They were just waiting for us to meet the right person to give them to.
Author's Note: Suggested song for this chapter is Feel the Silence by Goo Goo Dolls