They said that if you made it across the red desert, you would arrive in a land of blue rock. Vivin didn’t even know what blue looked like, but he figured he would know it when he saw it. His whole life had been the dry red earth stretching into the far taunting horizon of the harsh red sky. Based on what the elders sang about on nights when the three moons rose, they were a banished people.
Long ago, when the first bright stars fell from the sky and brought beings from above, the Himfalan, ruler of the three lands, had welcomed them. She had allowed them to use their strange magics and tools to change the planet’s landscape. Vivin’s ancestors had led a rebellion against the Himfalan. Back then, their voices of power were still potent, but even with singing the forbidden songs of destruction and death, they failed to win against the power of the Himfalan and her new alien allies. For their crimes, Vivin’s ancestors were banished to the fourth land.
Vivin wrapped the rican scale blanket tighter around himself and pushed deeper into the hole he’d buried himself in for the night. His antennae stuck just a bit out of the ground, and he could hear the predators of the night calling to each other. He shivered and wished his mother was with him. The unfortunate story of his people happened millions of years ago, and apparently, more recent Himfalans had sent envoys to bring his people back to the three lands. Most took the offer, but some remained unrepentant and vowed to suffer in the red desert rather than live among aliens.
Vivin had only known the desert, and so had everyone else he knew. None of them had ever met an alien before, and they couldn’t even tell you why they hated them, but they carried the rage of their ancestors upon their backs. They gnashed their teeth in fury over a war they never fought in and took joy in the weight of sins they did not commit. Vivin shivered and was tempted to sing a song of heat, but he was still too close to the hunting ground of his people. They would not be looking for him yet, but someone might hear the echoes of his song.
He closed his eyes and willed sleep to come, but his heart kept pounding. The sound filled his ears and kept sleep at bay.
“How will I walk tomorrow if I don’t sleep now?” he whispered.
He clenched his fists and tried to expel more air out of his body through his antenna. Usually, when he was having trouble sleeping, his mother would guide him through the deep exhalations that would allow him to go into a state almost like hibernation for the night. He was definitely old enough to do it himself, which was what his fathers had always said, but she helped him anyway.
As she guided the air out of him, she would tell him stories. Vivin began exhaling again and imagined his mother was with him now, still alive and still telling him stories to help him sleep. His favorite story was the one about when she ran away from home. A member of the Guimol tribe, from farther north, in the direction he was now traveling, had visited his tribe and told them of an envoy from the three lands that had visited their tribe. The envoy had brought an alien with them. It was an alien that lived in something called rawa. It was green and traveled in a clear floating bubble filled with the rawa. His mother Hadn’t known what those words meant, but the story had inspired her, and she’d run away determined to meet the alien.
Of course, she hadn’t made it very far. Her parents had found her and brought her back. Fortunately, she was female and too valuable to the tribe, so she could not be killed. She had been kept in a sealed borough for eight weeks and then released. She was always adamant that she did not regret her actions, so she named him Vivin, which was apparently the alien’s name. Vivin’s heart rate slowed to almost a stop. His fists unclenched, and finally, sleep came.
# # #
Vivin rolled the tips of his antenna around through the small holes in the ground. He tested the air in every way he could, scent, vibrations, sound, and finding nothing out there, he finally stuck his head out of the ground. The red sky welcomed him. To the east, Carak, the deep red sun, hung in the air, and towards the north, Rivan and Colacta, two of the three moons, were like white specters masked by wispy clouds. Vivin looked around again as his eyes adjusted to the light. Some black criptans flew in flocks across the sky. A small hedwig rolled across the red earth in front of him, picking up insects in its mouth as it rolled. There were no dangerous animals around, and most importantly, there were no people.
He rolled his shoulders out of the hole, then stuck his arms out to pull himself the rest of the way. He glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the Cadioun forest. The tall line of red stone trees was eerily still, and Vivin gulped. The hairs on the back of his neck raised, and his antenna shivered. He quickly filled up the hole and did his best to hide traces that he’d been there. It only needed to look good from a distance so that no one would come closer to investigate. There would be no hiding that he was there if anyone came within a few feet as his scent was rich in the air.
“Ok. Let’s make some good progress today.” He stretched his neck out, then faced in the direction of the two moons and started running.
Somewhere in that direction were the three blue lands. Vivin ran on all fours, pushing himself to move as fast as possible. Whenever he felt tired or the thought of taking a break snuck into his mind, he imagined each shadow from the rocks were his fathers’ shadows, hunting him down, and the thought spurred him on.
The hunt would have started that morning when they found him missing from his borough, and whether they wanted to or not — and he knew they would want to — his fathers would be charged with leading the hunt. It wasn’t that there was anything worth chasing after him for. He hadn’t stolen anything or even taken any food with him. He’d left home with the blanket his parents wove for him, some coins he’d saved up, and his flute. His absence in the tribe would not even be noticed as many others could play the flute during The Bright Night and other occasions, as well as take care of the livestock. Still, they would chase after him, even if the cost of chasing him would be more than any benefit he could provide.
He had to be brought back, and his death made a spectacle because the consequences of abandoning the tribe had to be fully carved into the minds of every member. Even if he were to die along the way and never make it to the blue lands, there would always be doubt if there was no corpse to show. People would start to wonder if he survived. And if he survived, did he make it to the three blue lands? Once that possibility was allowed to take root, others would attempt to do what he’d done, and the elders could not allow that. So Vivin ran with all his might.
Vivin panted as he came to a staggering stop. His chest heaved in and out, and his heartbeat felt more like kicks to the chest. He collapsed in the shade of the rocks and tried to catch his breath. He looked back the way he’d come. The tall spires of the stone forest were no longer visible, and aside from birds and small lizards, there was no sign of anyone. Still, he did not relax. His eyes continued to scan his surrounding as he began humming the beginning tune for the song of water.
He felt his mana begin to flow into his throat and closed his eyes. The tune, one of the first he’d learned, came quickly to him. He hummed with his throat while his antennae let out bursts of ultrasonic sound. Together a song formed and coalesced the mana in the air. He opened his eyes, and a clear sphere floated before him. Water flowed into his open mouth as if pulled by gravity. He drank quickly, sustaining the song with his antenna. Once he had his fill, he stopped singing, and the mana dispersed. Immediately, his head began to spin, and he leaned his back against the rock. He felt bile rise to his throat, but he kept it down. He couldn’t afford to lose the water he’d just drunk. His stomach rolled in angry waves from hunger and nausea from using his powers while already so low on energy. He sighed and leaned back as the wave of dizziness passed.
He was surrounded by rocks of various sizes, most taller than him. He slowly got up and began walking. He’d never seen anything like this before. Unlike the loosely organized tall and slim stone spires that made up the Cadioun forest, this looked almost like a mountain had exploded and its shards embedded in the ground. He moved carefully through the irregular slabs of rock. Movement caught his eye, and he froze and held his breath. Just ahead of him was a limpar. The small creature hunched over an insect on top of one of the rocks. Vivin slid behind the rock he was up against, laid flat on the floor, and carefully crawled towards it. He tucked his antennae down and made sure not to scrap the pads of his hands and feet against the ground. He made it into the shadow of the rock the limpar was on. It had started chewing on the insect.
Vivin held his breath, then, in one motion, leaped up, extended one of his claws out, and sliced the limpar’s head clean off. He caught the body before it fell and almost shed a tear at his luck.
“Thank you for your sacrifice,” he muttered as he sliced the creature open and bit into it. He ate more than half of the limpar before stopping himself. Some had to be saved for later, so he cut the rest into thin strips, then sang a quick song of preservation on it and put it away in his sack. The sun was high in the sky, and the heat was punishing, but Vivin turned northward again and began running.
# # #
As the sun began to set, and Himra, the third moon, started rising, Vivin finally made it out of the scattered rock shards. In front of him was a soaring rock column. It glowed orange in the light of the setting sun and gave off an oppressive energy that caused Vivin to shiver. He slowed his run slightly. It was a monument he recognized, not from sight, but from descriptions he’d heard. The tall column of rock that looked like a giant had smashed through its side with a club, leaving a jagged hole near the top reminiscent of broken teeth. Around it were more shards of rock, and past it was an expanse of dry red sand.
This was the entrance to the Guimol tribe’s lands. His heart rate picked up, and he increased his pace. If he could just make it to one of their settlements and ask for sanctuary, his tribe would not be able to forcefully take him back. He’d just raced passed the massive column when something flew out from behind it and tackled him. Vivin and whatever it was rolled on the rough ground a few feet before coming to a stop. Vivin fought against his attacker and managed to pull himself out of the grip and roll to a stand.
“Taman!” he yelled, as he recognized his second father. Before he could come to terms with the sight of his father, camouflaged in a red cloak, someone grabbed him by the hair and pulled him back. He felt three sharp extended claws against his neck.
“Hurry up and bind his mouth and antenna, Yular.” His yermal, first father, said.
“Yermal?” Vivin asked in confusion. How had they gotten ahead of him. “How..” He didn’t have time to ask questions. His taman approached to bind him, and he knew the rest of the tribe would not be far behind. His mind ran through all his options. He could sing a call for help. If he was lucky, patrolling members of the Guimol tribe might hear and investigate, but would they make it in time. Even if they did, he was barely in Guimol lands, so it was debatable if he would even have the right to ask for sanctuary should some random patrol find them. No, he had to fight and get deeper into Guimol territory. His tribe would not carelessly encroach upon their lands en masse unless they wanted to start a war.
He struggled against his yermal’s hold as his taman approached with a cloth. The nails dug into his neck.
“Be still unless you want me to decapitate you right now,” his yermal whispered.
Vivin stilled, not because he was afraid of the threat; after all, now or later, the result of running away for a male would always be death. He stilled, and calmed himself, then inhaled deeply.
“No!” his taman yelled and leaped to block his mouth, but it was too late.
Vivin closed his eyes and released a song. He projected his voice as loud as possible, and the song of blinding light shattered the air. Even behind his closed eyelids, he could get a sense of the brightness of the light. His yermal’s grip on his head loosened, and Vivin burst out of his grasp. He started running with his eyes still closed. The light faded, and he opened his eyes. On all fours, he sped deeper into Guimol lands.
“Vivin!” one of his fathers yelled. Vivin was too confused to tell which one, and it didn’t matter anyway. He heard them stumbling behind him, still blinded by the light and chasing him based on scent.
Vivin wished they had ambushed him when he was still among the stone shards. Now here in open lands, their temporary blindness would only limit them so much. Vivin’s psycor twisted in knots, and he began to draw his mana again. His antennae buzzed, and he quickly sang a song for speed. It wasn’t a song he had mastered, as he wasn’t a hunter, but it was enough to give him a boost. Not enough to escape. He was tackled from behind again. He landed with his back on the ground. Before he could get up, a weight landed on him. His yermal, eyes red from the effects of the blinding light, held him down with his knees. His yermal quickly covered his mouth and grasped his antenna.
“Very impressive, Vivin. When did you learn such a song? Did your mother teach you?”
Vivin stared at the twisted expression of his yermal. Bloodshot orange eyes, yellow-green skin, and white hair, usually stylishly sleeked back, now messy and caked with red dirt. Even if he could answer, he wouldn’t have. There was nothing he had to say to this man.
“Vivin.” Vivin glanced to the side as his taman reached them. His hair was cropped short, and his eyes, like Vivin’s, were green. His voice was filled with pain as he spoke again. “Why would you do this? You know the consequences.”
Vivin closed his eyes. In a harsh dry voice, his yermal answered in his place. “Why else, Yular? His foolish mother raised a foolish son.”
“Do not speak of Rilan, that way, Grion… do not,” his taman said.
“Oh, and what good have either of them done. Because of both of them and their foolish, childish ideals, our family has been disgraced. After we bring him back, we will be lucky if we are not all executed. If you and Rilan had raised him correctly… If Rilan hadn’t been such an idio….Ahk!”
Vivin bit into his yermal’s hand until it drew blood. “Do not speak of my mother like that.”
The slap slammed Vivin’s head into the rock. His Yermal grasped his cheeks, and his slightly extended nails drew blood. Vivin squirmed, but it only made the nails dig deeper into his cheek.
“Vivin!” his taman yelled.
“Shut up and stay there, Yular, or you will be next. I have put up with this nonsense for too long. If I had never been forced to marry Rilan, my life would have been so different.” His grip grew tighter, and Vivin whimpered.
His mother’s first marriage had been arranged. Her parents had partnered her up with his first father, Grion, as he was from a well know conservative family. They’d hoped he would be able to reign in her impulsive nature. From what he’d heard, the marriage was terrible from the beginning. They agreed on nothing and despised the sight of each other. It wasn’t until their second marriage, which brought in his second father, Yural, that unity was brought to the household.
They both loved Yural, and he acted as a way to bridge their differences. Soon they had Vivin, and for some time, their family was wholesome and at peace, even happy. But his mother’s nature could not be kept at bay. It started with the stories she would tell him in secret, but even that wasn’t enough. She wanted badly to see what the world outside of their tribal lands had to offer. She wanted to see aliens descend from the sky, and at night, when she would sometimes see the blue and green trails of ships flying into and out of the planet, her desires only grew stronger. What was it like outside this planet? What was it like to be among the stars?
The event that sparked her death occurred a month ago. Just like when she was a child, traders from the Guimol tribe arrived as usual, but this time, they were ecstatic to share the news of a recent encounter with some aliens. The talk was quickly shut down by the tribe’s leader, the Himfel, but not before it reached his mother’s ears. She immediately decided that they would be moving to Guimol lands. It wasn’t unheard of, people could petition the Himfel, and usually, requests were granted, but with his mother’s history, and recent events, her request was denied, and no more could be made.
When she stayed quiet, they’d all thought that it was over. Then five days ago, the Himfel’s guards dug up their boroughs in the middle of the night and dragged his mother away. The next morning, her body was displayed at the center of the village, along with the letters she’d been exchanging with a man from the Guimol tribe. They had been planning to arrange a wedding which was the only other way she would have been allowed to leave the tribe. From the letters, it seemed that they really did care for each other, but underlying it all was the fact that this was still a ploy to escape the tribe. As this was her second offense in ‘rebellion against the purity of their species,’ she was put to death.
Vivin held back tears as he remembered the feeling of clinging to his mother’s corpse until he was dragged away. The next day, a full tribe meeting was called. Vivin, despite his grief, was still forced to play his flute as part of the band for the event. After a day of highlighting the pain from the betrayal of a tribe member, the idea was to celebrate the loyalists. People who upheld the tribe’s ideals. As each honoree was announced and their deeds recited, Vivin soullessly played his flute to celebrate them.
Then the next name was called. “Grion Hemgar-Hemtiol.” Vivin’s breath had died in his throat.
The one who had given those letters to the Himfel was none other than his yermal.
“For unmasking a vile ploy to subvert the superiority of the Himfel and the sanctity of our tribe and species, despite being personally attached to the criminal. You’re bravery and selflessness if duly acknowledged and appreciated.”
Vivin had been so shocked then. His flute was frozen upon his lips, and his mind remained blank until he returned home. He did not agree with everything his parents did and had an especially difficult relationship with his yermal, but he loved his family. First, his mother’s death and then the revelation of a betrayal. He’d buried himself in his borough for three days, and in that time, his shock had burned into fury.
He glared up at his yermal, now with eyes filled with rage and pain. People had always said that aside from the eyes, Vivin was his exact copy, and he’d always been proud of that. Now the resemblance disgusted him. This man, with the face Vivin would grow to have, had betrayed his family.
“Traw..tor.” Vivin squeezed out through his held lips, and tears flowed down his eyes. “Trai..twor.”
“Traitor? Vivin. I saved us all,” His yermal yelled in a pained voice. “I did that for you! To protect you and your taman from your mother’s wickedness, and this is how you repay me.”
“Grion, stop. He is in pain.”
“He will be dead!”
“He is a child. We will convince the Himfel like we talked about. We will protect him.”
Vivin glanced between his father’s. His yermal shook his head with a look of pity.
“You are so naive, Yural, so naive and weak to think that life is that kind. There is no saving him, and we must end him with our own hands before the Himfel.”
“No. That’s is not what we discussed….” The look in his taman’s eyes began to change. His pupils trembled.
“It is the only way to protect ourselves, the only way to protect you….” his yermal turned to face his taman, then added in a voice thick with emotion. “I’ve already done it once.”
Vivin’s eyes widened, and a horrid silence descended upon them. Vivin’s mind reeled at the implication. No, never. His yermal couldn’t possibly mean what he was thinking.
Finally, his taman voiced the thought Vivin was too scared to think.
“Grion… surly… you,” a laugh like cracked glass escaped his lips. “Did you… did you k-kill her?”
A tear drop fell on Vivin’s face, and he gazed up at his father in disbelief.
“It was the only way to protect you and Vivin. I had to prove our loyalty.”
“Proving you’re loyalty?” Yural smiled and took an unsteady step forward. “Proving your loyalty would have been burning those letters when you found them… instead, you ran to the Hinfel and damned us all.”
Yural knelt beside them and grabbed the hand digging into Vivin’s face.
“Get off him.”
“Yural, this has to be done….”
“Get your filthy hands off of my son.” Before either Vivin or his yermal could react, Yural sang a wind song. He crafted the melody quickly and directed a blast of wind at Grion, knocking him back ten feet.
“Get up, Vivin.” Vivin numbly followed his father’s directions. “Let’s go.”
“I’m not going back there,” Vivin mumbled in a state of confusion as his father began half dragging him deeper into Guimol territory.
“We won’t. We will never step foot there again. This is all my fault… Come.” Vivin didn’t know what his father meant by saying it was his fault, but he followed him. As long as he was moving farther from his tribe. Before they could take one more step, the ground in front of them rose up, blocking their path.
“Stop right there.” They both glanced back to see his yermal. His antenna still buzzing from the song he’d just sung to manipulate the ground.
“Yural, have you lost your mind as well… do you know what you are doing right now?”
“I’m protecting our child.”
“You are following Rilan to the grave.”
“Oh, so you plan to kill me as well?”
“You killed your wife, threatened to kill your son, and now your husband as well? All to protect your family? What family?” Yural’s mind was a complete mess. He’d received too many shocking revelations in quick secession. First, Rilan’s death, then discovering Vivin was missing, and now this betrayal from his husband. The only clear thought in his head now was protecting his son.
“None of this would have happened if not for Rilan..none of this.”
“Stop smearing her name, do not even speak it again. You destroyed this family!” Yural gripped Vivin tighter and pulled him behind his back. “I will not let it continue. If you want to harm Vivin. You will have to do it over my dead body.”
Vivin gripped his father’s clothes and peaked from behind him. His yermal was weeping, and a small part of Vivin still wanted to console him, but the distance between them now was one that he would never attempt to cross.
“Yural, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I only did what I could to protect you. We can start our family again. One that is not tainted by wicked ideals.”
“Start a family on the graves of my wife and son… I have heard some stupid things in my life, but this has got to be the stupidest. Grion. The rest of the hunting party is not far behind. They will be here in a few hours at most. If you have any love left of Vivin and me, then let us go.”
“I cannot do that.”
“Then you will have to kill us both. The moment we are captured, I will confess that I not only knew of the letters but also encouraged them.”
“You would go so far.”
“Make your choice. Either way, you have already lost us both.”
His yermal hunched over as if he’d been punched in the gut. “I just wanted to protect our family.”
“Then protect us now.” His taman’s voice held no sympathy and was as dry as the ground they stood on.
Vivin sucked in a breath. If he didn’t let them go, he would have to be ready to fight. His taman was the most powerful of his parents, but Vivin knew he would never be able to fight seriously against his yermal.
“I’m sorry, Vivin,” his yermal said, and Vivin braced himself for the fight. “Please forgive me. I have not shown it well, but I love you both so much…” his voice hitched. “Even Rilan, despite everything, I loved her as well. This tribe and our ways are all I’ve ever known. When I discovered those letters, I only thought to protect you both the only way I knew how. I’m so sorry.” He gave them a lingering look, then turned and began walking back in the direction of their tribe.
Vivin released the breath he’d been holding, then glanced up at his taman, who was trembling.
His father’s watery green eyes turned toward him. “Let’s go,” his father said through tears. They turned around and began running in the opposite direction.
There’s so much left to explore with this story. I’m not sure when, but I’ll have to write a second part to this. I want to explore Yural’s emotions a bit more, as well as how his relationship with Vivin might change. Of course, I was to expand on the three blue lands as well. Thanks for reading!!