There is a legend among travelers: if you keep traveling long enough, if you don't turn back to revisit a place you've been before, one day you'll reach the end of the world.
They are on their way out through the city's main gate when they encounter him: travel-worn and tired looking, heading into the town with a large pack slung over one shoulder. There is no mistaking what he is, and no mistaking what they are, either. A person and a motorrad, probably looking just as travel-worn as he.
"Hello there, traveler," he says pleasantly. He is waiting in line to be admitted through the gate and has time to chat.
Kino nods in acknowledgement. Then, because this is a different gate from the one they came through when they entered this country and they do not know what lies ahead, "Good traveling on this road?"
"Good enough. It's paved for a good long way from here, before it gives over to dirt. Your motorrad will handle it just fine," he tells them. "As for the rest, you'll have to see for yourself, won't you?"
Kino nods again, thoughtful.
"Been traveling a long time?"
Long enough to have forgotten where, exactly, they came from, or who they had been before they picked up the name Kino and became a traveler. Kino murmurs noncommittally.
"Don't see many that stick with traveling for very long."
Kino would know; a traveler is a rare novelty in most of the places they have visited.
"You know," the traveler continues, moving past Kino as the line moves toward the gate, "they say if you keep going far enough, eventually you'll get to the end of the world."
It's a story Kino has heard before, but not one they have thought much about. Certainly not one they have put much stock in. "Maybe someday."
The traveler is chuckling to himself as he steps up to the gate to present his papers. Kino walks alongside Hermes for a few steps more, making sure they are well clear of the gate before climbing on and starting the engine. They are on their way.
They do not look back.
What do you think it's like? Hermes asks that night as they sit near a warmly crackling fire.
"What do I think what is like?" Kino asks.
The end of the world, Hermes says, as if it is completely obvious.
Kino falls silent, listening to the fire hiss and pop as it bravely fends off the night's darkness, remembering. They've heard the stories from a few of the other travelers they have encountered along their way, but they never really thought about what it might mean, the end of the world.
They remember a country of empty houses with no people left, a different country buried by a volcano's wrath, another place where the road simply ended at a cliff's edge. A peek over that edge had revealed thick beams and roofing amidst the rubble, all that remained of the people who had lived there. They'd had to turn around and find a different road to continue on.
At the time, each of those had seemed like the end of the world. And they were, at least for the people who had lived in those countries.
And yet there was always another road to take, even if they had to backtrack to find it. Kino tries hard to imagine a true ending. What would that look like? A shoreline beyond which there was nothing but empty ocean, which no road could cross? A desert stretching past the horizon, so arid that nothing could live there? A wall as tall as the sky, with only dark silence looming beyond?
"I don't know," Kino says at last. "Maybe there isn't an end. Maybe the road just goes on forever."
It is Hermes's turn to mull things over. Can anything really go on forever?
Kino smiles at the thought. "That would be something to see, wouldn't it?"
Long moments later, as if it is an afterthought: As long as you bring enough fuel!
Kino pulls off the road, lets Hermes run idly for a moment before turning off the ignition. It is quiet here, the silence broken only by the soft susurration of the breeze and the occasional hushed sounds of the local birds. Kino steps away and leaves Hermes beside the road while they stretch sore legs, working out the kinks left over from a long day's ride.
The air here is cold and damp, and smells of sea salt and fish. It smells wild and free. It's not an unpleasant place.
They have been following this road for the past few months, stopping when there are new places to see or when they need supplies, but it has been a long time now since they encountered any other people, and longer still since they found anyplace interesting enough to warrant a stop. Except for a few meanders in the road's path they have been traveling north for all that time. Up ahead, the road turns into a broad curve before slowly heading off into the trees to the west. To the east, betrayed by the salt smell, lies the sea. There is more sea to the north, Kino thinks, though no map exists to confirm it.
Kino does not know what lies down the road, to the west, for it is shrouded by a thick forest.
The end of the world, maybe? Hermes suggests helpfully.
Kino laughs out loud at that, the joyous, infectious kind of laugh that comes from being far away from the world they know, on their way to somewhere new. The kind of laugh that they only share with Hermes. "Well, this can't be the end of the world," they agree. "There's too much here. So maybe you're right."
There's only one way to find out, Hermes points out, sounding eager.
Kino laughs again, sharing Hermes's enthusiasm. They linger in this place for a while, until the sun starts creeping lower in the sky and dusk approaches, and then it is time to see what lies down the road.
Maybe it will be more wilderness, gradually giving way to more settlements and countries, just like the land they have traveled through before.
Maybe it really will be the end of the world.
There is, after all, only one way to find out.