The Last Legend
The smell of salt in the air tickled at Sander’s nostrils. The wind was alive and the night was chilly but the warmth of the modest bon fire wrapped round his shoulders like a blanket, the wood crackling as the flames tore them apart, licking the air in their hypnotic dance. But it was the sky that drew Sander’s interest. It was clear, unobstructed and the lively tapestry of pinpricks woven into the deep indigo of the velvet firmament shown through, bathing them in a muted white light.
Lias took a long drag of the blunt, holding in his breath. “There was nothing to be done,” he said, though Sander didn’t hear him, “so I said fuck it.” Lias exhaled and a thick smoke left his nostrils. He held the blunt deftly between thumb and forefinger of his left hand and leaned to his side as he reached over to Moises who took it in his own. Moises put it to his lips and breathed deep.
“Well, at least they let you off,” he said on exhale. Lias chuckled as he gave a one-sided shrug in affirmation.
It was a typical thing, the way Lias seemed always to possess some extravagant anecdote with which to regale them all. He had just told them about the time he jumped from the cliffs into the bay. The drop measured at about a hundred feet, so the fact his legs didn’t shatter against the water’s surface tension had proved a most remarkable feat. Sander had never done it, himself and never fancied the notion, hadn’t ever cared. But Lias was proud, most certainly.
There came a tap at Sander’s shoulder, bringing him back to the here-and-now. He turned to meet Moises’s own hand and reached for the blunt. Sander took it without a word. Lias had rolled it expertly in a thick, brown canvas that smelt heavily of grape. Sander’s mouth watered. He brought it to his lips and drew in a deep breath, careful not to burn his fingers. Then he held in the smoke, could feel it fill his lungs and burn at back of the throat. He closed his eyes and held open his mouth as he slowly let the smoke vacate the oral cavity in long and thick tendrils that writhed in the air like something alive.
Sander rather enjoyed the taste of the smoke. It was musty, but also thick and somewhat tart. Though, he had to grow to acquire an agreeable taste for it. When first he ever smoked a blunt, he’d drawn it in much too quickly. It had almost burned so he choked a bit as it tickled his throat, erupting in a fit of coughs. His friends, though strangers at the time, had a good laugh at his expense. His old friend, Kieran, would only pat him on the shoulder. “Don’t fret, mate,” he’d said with a smile, “you’ll get it the second time around.” Two years later and Sander had grown into a fluent, practiced pothead.
Alya sat to Sanders left, so blunt in hand, he offered it to her, always to the left. She took it and thanked him. Sander offered her a mock salute and then crossed his arms, his shoulders shrugged.
At long last, Sander felt it, the distinct sensation akin to being adrift out on the water. It was as though he were being rocked gently, to and fro, a silent sort of lullaby, soothing and reassuring. Sander closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“This is some good shit,” Moises said in that space between moments. Sander couldn’t help but agree and there was nothing for it but to concede to his point.
“Aye,” Alya added on exhale of smoke in concentric rings. “We should count ourselves fortunate the blight never took the marijuana.”
“We’d be so fucking doomed,” Lias offered at a chuckle. Sander nodded his head with a modest exuberance. Lias had right the measure of it, insofar as Sander was concerned, at least. It was the only sufficient distraction available to them. It was likely this very reason the adults never minded their recreational activities. But just in case, they were always sure to reserve such actions for when they assembled at the Lookout, a modest cabin situated on a smaller, neighboring island about an hour’s row from the docks. Sander always liked it here, and would always remain ever grateful for the day some three years back when Kieran first shared it with him.
The blunt made its way full circle from Alya to Lias who took it gleefully with a thanks and a sheepish smile.
“Fuck the Looming Doom,” Moises said, suddenly.
Lias huffed. “Damn, right,” he added.
Sander could only nod. There was nothing to say. After all, the world had met its end. What else was there? Marijuana, of course, a small comfort, but it was common knowledge and an unspoken sentiment — the Looming Doom comes for us, all, it was said, and time was all that mattered. And tomorrow the festival would begin and the Fate’s Measure would be underway.
“Fuckin’ hate the Fate’s Measure,” Sander finally offered after a time. The words came out a most potent venom.
“Aye, mate,” Lias added with enthusiasm. “I don’t know how you do it, friend.”
Sander knew what he meant, but said nothing, offering only to meet that of his friend’s gaze. Then he looked away.
“I’m only sayin’,” he continued, “were it me, were it my birthday that fell upon the coming of the festival…I dunno, I’m not envious, I’ll tell ya that much.”
After the Collapse, birthdays had come to lose their meaning. In the generations that followed, the practice of their celebration had simply died away like an erosion, a slow death, surely, but a death, nonetheless. Birthdays measure life, and the world had ended and suddenly their seemed to be little use in the celebration of such things. It was the Fate’s Measure that mattered, of which everyone seemed to care, was preoccupied. And whenever Sander’s Day made its approach, it would always seem to usher the festival, his birthday its own measure of fate. For a time, it had seemed a cruel fortune. But these past few years, Sander had true friends, and eventually there arose a new tradition. It had been the greatest gift Sander ever received…
…and there was only Kieran to thank.
His scar began to itch. He raised a hand to the back of his head and scratched at it lightly. Moises passed him the blunt and Sander took it gladly.
“You talk too much,” Alya offered. Lias only laughed, nodding his head with a youthful exuberance.
Moises leaned himself forward on his knees. “It’s all he’s good for, talking, and he’s good for little else.”
Alya chuckled. “This much is true.” Sander passed her the blunt.
“I have other talents,” Lias shot back.
“Talking ain’t a talent,” Moises said. Alya must’ve forgotten herself for she let loose a guffaw and started to laugh heartily.
Sander was content and nothing else mattered.
“What is it that you see?” Alya came to ask him after a time. Sander had the fingers of each hand interlocked behind his head. He had been staring up at the stars again, absent of mind. They seemed always to beckon him. And their willing slave, Sander directed his gaze heavenward. It would take him little effort to find the only constellation he knew by heart: three distant luminaries bound together in a lateral dance — The Three Brothers, Kieran had named them. His friends had gone on talking as the blunt made its patient way round the circle like the turn of a clock and Sander had forgotten himself. It took Alya’s query to bring him back.
Sander offered only a shrug. “…nothing but the light.”
“He’s a dreamer, that one,” Lias remarked, as the blunt made its way to his patiently eager fingers. “He might lay eyes upon the stars, but what he truly sees: we might never know.” He took a puff and then passed the blunt on its way.
“I don’t get it, why some think so much of the stars. They look all a mess: unappealing and discordant,” Moises said, crossing his arms.
“Your problem is a lack of imagination,” Alya shot back. “If they are a mess, they are a most beautiful one…”
They were fortunate. The skies were not always clear, the stars not always visible. Perhaps it was a gift from the universe, itself: something for Sander to enjoy on a night that does not always harbor the most pleasant of memories.
“I wonder if the stars are just as glorious, out there,” Lias said, gesturing with his head towards the shore and the distant horizon.
“Your mind is always of elsewhere, of places distant and long gone,” Moises countered.
“I’ve a curious mind — can I be blamed, a youthful spirit, such as I am?” Lias offered with a grin and a slight chuckle. By the firelight, Sander could make out those of Lias’s sharp canines and something of a mischievous glint in his eyes.
“The blight may touch all, but it cannot reach the stars…”
Alya had right, the measure of it, and herself, looked upwards to behold the tapestry.
“Granny says our fates are woven by the stars: pinpricks in the firmament where leads the needle of Fate, itself, crafting a grand narrative in a great and wondrous manifold,” Lias said, as the blunt made it his way a second time. Sander had heard the tale, before. It was a familiar sentiment, though Sander, himself, did not know if he held much stock in the assertion. To him, the stars had always seemed mostly benign and uncaring of the fates of men and little children. To ascribe to them so much power seemed just the sort of maudlin wish a child might make. Was it not enough that bad things seemed to happen — need it be necessary for such terrible happenings to be ordained in the night’s sky?
Sander scratched again at his scar.
“I bet the Brisk Young Sailor would tell it different,” Moises said.
Lias tsked. “You know as well as I, the Sailor never speaks.”
“I’m only saying, if he could, he might have much to say of the stars, but certainly not that they ordain our fates. I mean, the notion is charming but also unlikely.”
Lias crossed his arms. “What, and you think the measure of the fracture in a giant crystal is any more reliable a measure of fate than the stars above?”
Moises had only a shrug to offer. “I don’t buy the thought that one can measure fate, whether by the crystal or the stars.”
“Tell that to the council,” Lias said through a smirk.
All the while, Sander stared at the flames. They seemed slow in their flickering, their dancing a sensuous, fluid movement to and fro. He thought of the crystal and the stars. And he thought of the Brisk Young Sailor and the obsidian mask he wore, his silent gaze and strong hands. And he thought of his oldest friend, Kieran.
“The Sailor ought to be here soon,” he said after a time. Sander needn’t look up from the flames to know that he bore the gazes of each of his friends. They exchanged glances among themselves, silently, each of them likely unsure of what they ought to say next. Sander knew it well enough what was on their minds.
But it wasn’t to be. There was no use in Sander getting his hopes up. And yet, it was impossible not to think on it, no matter how hard he tried. It was bound to happen sooner or later. Sander had killed the mood.
“Sorry,” he offered them, punctuating the pregnant pause. Even after two years, it still felt raw, his scar, what happened. No one understood it at first. They would say that the Looming Doom had gotten to him, his old friend. That Kieran had simply snapped. But that didn’t explain it, why Kieran picked up that rock, why he struck Sander, why he shouted at him. “You did this! It was always you! You touched the crystal!” Had it not been for the Brisk Young Sailor, Kieran, his oldest friend, might’ve killed him. It was the Sailor who restrained him, who would take Kieran with him upon his departure. And that had been the last time they saw him. Always, Sander would wonder as to his oldest friend, if he was out there, somewhere, in that desolate world, if ever they’d see each other again…
And then suddenly Sander felt it, that burning in his eyes. The tears began to fall and there was nothing Sander could do to stop them. He brought up a hand and wiped them away.
Alya reached over and put a hand on his shoulder. Moises followed suit. No one said anything, and they didn’t have to. Sander didn’t want them to. If he were being honest, they all knew this would happen. It happened every year. To even try and prevent it would have only proved a futile exercise. All there was left for his friends to do was to soften the blow.
His friends let him speak first. “I fucking hate the Fate’s Measure.” Despite himself, Sander smiled. The others laughed in response.
The water’s surface was like a black mirror and it was still, almost as if frozen. The outrigger cut through the water as Lias rowed in a patient rhythm. And he never spoke. Which was fine by Sander. So he looked up and he watched those stars…
…it was Kieran who’d taught him about the stars, had shown him where to look. He had grabbed him by the wrist. Look, right there, Sander could still hear his words, could remember the feel of Kieran’s fingers on his wrist and how warm they’d been. And with his hand, pointed them out: those three stars, one-two-three. “I don’t get it,” Sander would tell him. “What is it about the stars, what is it you see?”
Kieran’s gaze was heavenward and he never looked away…
“…nothing but the light…”
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