The morning stretches wet and crisp over the garden. Up above, clouds still hang in layers of gray, trailing toward the dark horizon. The storm moves farther with every blink, with every hitching inhale. Zbu tears eir eyes away from it with difficulty, chest heaving in the stillness, ground solid beneath eir feet.
The new sensations are incongruous with what Zbu is used to feeling. The earth chains em, drags em down with pressure on eir shoulders. Only—it's not pushing from the outside, but from within Zbu's own body, clawing at eir bones as if it wants to swallow em whole. Somewhere, home surges away. Rushes on without em. The clatter of hooves still echoes in eir ears, although the ethereal horses have long left the land. Already too far away to reach.
The day's ride had started slow, as it always does, catching speed and collecting more and more riders along the way, until they were all a mass of thunder and lightning. Until they rained their thrill and their joy over the lands.
Now, though, Zbu's essence has fallen from the sky for the last time.
Something clenches painfully in eir chest.
But Zbu has a mission, a purpose for letting go of the reins—down here, in the garden, a soft song croons amidst the spring blossoms. Zbu pushes aside low-hanging branches, making eir way over slabs of stone toward its source.
Whoever it is startles before Zbu can emerge fully from between the trees, and the sound stops.
"Zbu," e says.
"What do you want?"
The human—at least it looks like one—turns around on the bench, blinking wide eyes. E rubs at eir cheeks with eir sleeves, perhaps in greeting, so Zbu rubs at eirs in turn. A gurgle leaves the human's mouth, but before Zbu can try to make sense of it, e stands. Folds of fabric flow around em with the motion, in a hush akin to heavy rainfall when observed from a distance.
"I wasn't singing."
"You made a song," Zbu insists.
A song that called to em so direly and fiercely that Zbu had to come. Had to see it up close, had to taste and smell and touch.
"That wasn't— What are you?"
"Zbu," e repeats, confused. "I am Zbu. What are you?"
"Mirabella," e says and it sounds like fat raindrops touching water.
"Mirabella. Songmaker." Zbu places a hand on eir chest. "Zbu. Stormrider."
At that, Mirabella steps closer, and Zbu thrums with anticipation. Humans always sing to the riders, calling them to their crops, beckoning for the rain.
"A stormrider," Mirabella says instead of singing, and the thing that hurts in Zbu's chest flutters. "From the legends?"
Perhaps—and Zbu should've considered this before—humans don't remember. It has been so long since one left the ride. "Yes?" Zbu answers, unsure.
Mirabella waves a hand. "Well, that explains the nakedness and the lightning marks."
The fabric around Mirabella whispers again as e pulls it away, only to wrap it around Zbu. It's warm and it smells like the song.
"I'm sorry to disappoint, but you've stopped by for nothing. I can't sing."
"But— You were."
Mirabella rubs eir cheek again, with eir fingertips this time. E backs to the bench and Zbu follows, sits when e sits. Mirabella blows a gust of air from eir mouth, too short to become proper wind. Zbu adds to it, until it meanders through the trees, shaking raindrops from the flowers.
"Wow," Mirabella says, "you really… Okay. Listen. I wasn't singing. I can't give you what you want."
Bitterness pushes up Zbu's throat, only to settle behind eir eyes.
"Can you go back?"
Zbu turns eir head to where the storm is a mere strip of darker clouds over the hills. "No. I'm already forgotten."
Nothing follows but silence. Zbu's hands start to shake where e's holding them in eir lap. The few blades of grass pushing from between the stone under eir soles are peppered with round, clear spheres of a rain Zbu's never going to—
Zbu is never—
The song lifts in the air. Beside em, Mirabella's frame trembles with the shuffling sound, whooshing and quivering, both gentle and harsh, both nourishing patter and howling tempest.
"I'm sorry," e murmurs in between the notes. "I just… I always lose those I care about and now you're lost because of me."
Whatever it is that drives Mirabella's song gathers in a swirl in Zbu, pressing and pressing.
A raindrop falls from Maribella's eyes.
Zbu catches it on eir finger.
There's hurt there, in Mirabella's rain. Loss of home and riders, aching like Zbu does. Mirabella sings and Zbu touches the rain on eir face, leaning near enough that it becomes all-encompassing. And when Mirabella pulls em closer, Zbu knows how to repay em for the song.
"If you want, we ride together."
The sound changes, rhythm stuttering with an infusion of sunshine. "I'd like that," Mirabella says.
Zbu's eyes make rain, just like Mirabella's. With Mirabella.
And it's soothing, unwinding the tension in Zbu until it is replaced by belonging.
Zbu's human is named Mirabella. E—she, Zbu has learned—is kind and gentle and sometimes stubborn. Always spirited. She sings like humans sing, most of the time, in low noises rumbling from her throat. But when Zbu wraps emself around her, she sings for Zbu alone, with delight and joy and happiness, so much of it that Zbu joins in each and every time.
They rain for each other. Together, they ride.
Author's note: Zbu's name comes from the word zbucium which means agitation and is used to describe storms. The folklore that inspired this piece is connected to the drought song, Paparuda, a ritualistic calling for rain. A modern version of the song is here.