A Cactub is a nutritious, bulbous root vegetable. They spend most of their time underground, and only emerge at dark to gather moisture from the surrounding air. Cactubs are sensititive to loud noises and movements, and they temporarily seize when panicked.
Eka, Lupen and Hush wandered the desert, alleviating their thirst
with waterstones. Hush could no longer stand to have any weight on its
back and walked behind them, panting. They could not get to Montore fast
enough, though the thought of cake and tea did offer some motivation.
During the walk, Eka sang about babam cakes, listing the ingredients
aloud. Every song ended with a solo of groans and growls, courtesy of
Lupen’s empty belly.
“Ba-ba-ba-bam cakes! Ba-ba-ba-bam cakes!”
Two marima leaves
Two avoka nut pods
Three bushels of nutshroos
Six bunches of bobonions
Seven sprigs of dilly herbs
One bale of teaweet, stemmed and floured
Remove skins from babams, and dice into cubes. Boil with a marima leaf until soft. While babams are softening, crack one avoka nut in a pan and saute diced bobonions and chopped nutshroos. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated, then let cook until browned. Chop the dilly herbs, add to pan with nutshroos. Mix together and take off heat.
Drain babams, mash with a stone mortar and let cool. Add teaweet flour to mashed babams. Take a handful of dough and flatten into a disk, add some nutshroo mix into the centre and cover with more bam dough. Crack another avoka oil in a pan, and fry until golden, flip, and repeat.
“Please stop singing about food,” Lupen said.
They tried to ration some teaweet bread, but Hush, hungry, raided their stores after the last second sunset. All five loaves had already been eaten, the remnants now scattered across the desert floor. So, Eka and Lupen sucked on waterstones, slowly drawing out the water.
“We’re going to die out here,” Lupen said, groaning.
Eka did not share Lupen’s concerns. “Haven’t you ever walked on foot in the desert before? To those who know how to look, there’s always something to eat.”
“Verido don’t walk on the ground,” Lupen said, every mention of eating made the stomach whine again, “if what you’re saying is true, then why aren’t we finding anything?”
“Because it’s too hot!”
“Of course, only idiots would be out here in this heat.”
“Oh! The things you say Lu, it’s like you’re not of this world! When the suns set we should be able to find something.”
Lupen continued to complain, but in a hushed, low voice.
Then suddenly, Eka stopped, stomped on the ground a few times. “We’ll set camp here,” Eka said, pleased with the spot.
Lupen was too tired and too hungry to ask why this spot was good, it looked like any other spot of sand in the desert. Together, they built a makeshift tent using Uno’s fabric.
After the second sunset, Eka took a seat on the ground just outside
their tent. “Lu. Pssst! Lu! Come over here!”
Lupen yawned, rolling over to Eka’s spot outside. Their tent wasn’t very big, it provided some shade in the day but did not protect them from wind, and most of the space under it was already filled with Hush’s gigantic head—the beast could not be persuaded to move.
“What is it?” Lupen asked.
Eka pointed over to a collection of little stems nearby, working their way out of the soil, their small, round leaves fanning out.
“Take the one closest to you,” Eka whispered.
Lupen came to sit beside Eka, and tried to grab it, but all of the stems went to hide back into the soil.
“You’re terrible at this.”
“This? I have no idea what this is!”
“Lower your voice,” Eka commanded, “and be still. When the stems come back out and the leaves open up, clap your hands together to stun them, and then you can grab one. Haven’t you ever harvested cactub before?
”No,” Lupen said. “What’s a cactub?”
Eka laughed. “Only the best vegetable ever. Look, I’ll do it.”
Like before, the cactub stems emerged, and the leaves opened up in a fan. Eka neared two hands to one of them, and then…
The cactub froze. Eka grabbed the stem and pulled it out. The cactub was a bulbous root vegetable, purple and covered in little round nubs. They peeled the skin off, and ate slices for dinner. Cactub was soft and had many seeds.
“You can eat these too, or toss them. They’ll grow back from the seed if you do that. For every two I eat, I toss one,” saying this, Eka tossed one.
“Eat one,” Lupen said, chewing on a seed, “toss one!” The other found its way back into the earth. They did this for a long while, eating some, tossing some.
With food in their bellies, they huddled-in together to stay warm and tried to get some sleep. Eka’s finger moved from skyrock to skyrock, drawing a line between each one to make constellations.
“Salarus, Vitali, Neoneve…”
Eka found another skyrock in the distance, it was lying low, and was brighter than all the others. A false star. Lupen had just dozed off. “Lu! Something! Over there!”
Lupen turned to look, long-faced and red-eyed. “It’s dark. We’ll check it out after the first sunrise…”
“Fine. You stay. I’ll be back.” Halfway through the sentence Eka was up already and racing towards the point of light in the dark.
Lupen followed partly because somewhere within lived the fear that Eka would leave and never return.
They arrived at the low star, which turned out to be an avoka oil lamp attached to the stern of a vessel, its bow lay half-buried in the sand.
“It’s a sandfin!” Lupen said, circling it, trying to make out details in the dark. The hull was painted yellow. It had a single wooden mast, and two sails hanging limp from their ropes. Eka pointed to a faint glow of a lamp from one of the portholes. Someone was inside.
“Hello? Who’s in there?” Lupen called out, knocking on the hull.
A thin-eyed, short thing, came peering out of one of the openings. “Wai’re korei?!” a shrill voice responded. “Nono ask oo out derr!” The voice repeated, switching from Finic to the Common Tongue.
The creature stuck its face in a porthole, the frame contoured it perfectly, making it look like the sandfin had a head growing out of its side. The creature was a Finiku. The Finiku’s hair was light and wild, not a single strand seemed to point in the same direction, except for a chunk of hair covered in pinny tar and coiled in a thick braid. Pinny tar was a thick, black substance used to protect ropes on a sandfin. The Finiku’s hands were also stained with it. Eka giggled, and watched as Lupen approached the porthole so the Finiku could see better. Even when standing close, the sandfinner’s eyes looked everywhere but in the right place.
“We’re not ghosts!” Eka replied.
“What? No. We’re fleshy people. We’re right in front of you! Can’t you see us?” Lupen asked, perplexed.
“Iane. Too dark, too dark!” The Finiku disappeared below. They could hear noises, as the owner of the vessel searched the cabin for something. Then a beam of light flashed in Lupen’s face. “Verido de yorala? Impossible. And?” The glow of the light shifted toward Eka, as the Finiku searched for whoever this ‘Verido in the sand’ was with.
“An Eka! Yora’nae!” Eka said with a smirk.
Eka nodded. “Friendly and fleshy”
“I’m not a mai… uh. Maya? Ugh. I don’t remember the word…”
“Mai’ia?” Nono said.
“That’s the one! I’m not a mai’ia. I’m a fleshy too. I’m a Verido in the sand now.” Lupen felt uncomfortable and opted to change conversation, “I’m Lupen.”
“The Finiku inched forward out of the porthole and smacked the Verido in the head to see if it was opaque.”Orae. Nono now believe.”
“Ow!” Lupen stepped away from Nono’s finger.
Nono explained to them what had happened. “Sandfin fine, but it no move! Why it no move!” Nono’s eyes widened saying this. Lupen saw there was plenty of light in the cabin, yet the sandfinner claimed to see nothing.
“Right. Well it’s too dark to do anything about it now. Come daytime we’ll help you fix it.”
The next morning, Nono emerged from the cabin and stood on deck.
Lupen was up already, unfortunately sleep had not come. It was easy now
to make out Nono’s features, although their eyes appeared clouded, and
Eka laughed, arriving at the foot of the sandfin just in time to catch Nono trying to shake hands with Hush’s snout. “Nono, this is Hush, who was asleep during our introduction.”
“I see, I see! Yora’nae Hush!”
They surveyed the damage. The sandfin lay over a rocky patch and the rudder was gone, ripped out. Most of the hull looked fine, but the area where the rudder had been was now a large gaping hole. Nono leapt off the side of the vessel, and went to stand with the others. “Light kink!” Nono said.
“A kink? You serious?” Lupen said, outraged. “There’s a giant hole! You’ve got no rudder!”
“Ia’ia. No hole. Verido is crazy crazy from landsick.”
Nono’s eyes narrowed down to try and see the hole, then Lupen arrived and helped the Finiku closer. “Big hole. Right there!” Lupen said. The Finiku was unphased. It was only when Lupen put Nono’s nose up to it that the extent of the damage was revealed.
“Ianae, iane, iane…” Nono’s head shook from side to side, there was no stopping it.
Eka went to stand closer to offer moral support, and even laid a hand over the Finiku’s shoulder to try to steady that tottering head. “You have materials on board?”
Nono nodded, the shaking of the head had ceased then too. “Finiku dey always ready! We make rudder. No problem. Nono have material, all we need!”
Once all three got to work, Lupen realized just how terrible Nono’s
vision was. “Who in their right mind would allow someone so blind to
captain a sandfin?” Lupen asked. Eka only smirked, gathering materials
from inside the cabin.
Together, they devised a plan to build the sandfin a new rudder. They removed bits of the old one, took measurements. “You sure you want to use this? You don’t need a table?” Lupen held a thick slab of banabo wood, but then Nono walked up and began to mark it. “Okay then,” Lupen said, releasing the table and reaching for a hacksaw stashed under a pile of ropes. “It says ‘Maka’ on the handle.”
“Renate steel,” Nono said, “sosae’di de yorala!”
“Best in the land.” Eka translated.
Lupen cut the banabo board for the paddle, while Eka was carving an old oar with a blade to make the new rudder post, and Nono was busy retrieving bolts and nuts that would fit it. All the surfaces of the cabin had something laying over top, and every crack was filled with tiny stray bits of hardware.
Lupen was fascinated by the sandfin, they were a common sight while travelling on the Ilk. The winged vessels looked tiny from up there, the colour of their sails and the dust rising with their passing was all Lupen could make out.
“What’s that?” Lupen asked, pointing to a barrel stored on deck, “plumpkin juice?”
“Kapo.” Nono said.
“Poop,” Eka translated. Seeing the look on Lupen’s face, both laughed.
Lupen had heard of this, but did not think it was true. Nono explained that while the sandfin had no need of fuel there was always a barrel stored on this vessel to give to others. “Montore fiendling, dey say it ‘miracle fuel’, make life easy! Why use hand when derr is masheen, dey say. Beobug32 dey sell dis dream to Finiku, give masheen… but wat appen when it break? No part to fix, no fuel. Beobug come fix, ask for coin! Beobug create… dependency, dae’na? Before, Finiku depend only on sawa te kira!”
“Wind and sun.” Lupen said, happy to know that this mind knew a few Finiku words. Everyone in the Soronan Desert used these two words. “I don’t understand what Ilk kapo has to do with fuel.” Lupen said, perplexed.
“Beobug sandfin follow Ilk and take it! Den, Beobug process it on sandfin. Very profitable! Nono mapa say, ‘If Nono captain Beobug sandfin, Nono make good coin’,” Nono’s head shook again, “Mapa say dis, but Nono is like grand-mapa Etyl, care only to sandfin. Nono listen to voice of sawa te kira. Coin mawani’ia oro.” Nono said, putting a hand on the heart.
“Coin has no soul,” Eka said, “Etyl is your grand-mapa?” That name is known all over! First one to travel the whole of the land by sandfin!”
Nono nodded. “Orae orae! Did it alone too!”
Nono repaired the hole, and completed the construction of their makeshift rudder, fitting it to Etyl’s stern, all the while, listening to Nono telling stories of the early days of sandfinning.
After a day of hard work, Nono tested out the rudder and saw no
problem with it. The hull was missing paint, but was otherwise
“Nono offer ride to Tiputa, come aboard!”
Lupen and Eka hopped aboard. Nono said that the sandfin could use the extra weight at the stern.
They unfurled the sails and set course for Tiputa, plowing through the sand, leaving a golden cloud in their wake. The sandfin was running downwind, with two cream-coloured wings pulling it along. The wind freshened, and the sands began to wash over the deck but handling a vessel with a crew of three was easy. Eka made sure the sails had good shapes, while Lupen kept an eye on the horizon, careful to avoid rocky patches, there was no trusting Nono’s eyes. Nono kept mistaking dunes for other sandfins.
The Finiku offered to make dinner, serving them something that stank of pomparu with an unappetizing grey colour. Lupen joked that it had probably been scraped off of the hull.
“Do you know many other sandfinners?” Lupen asked.
“Orae, Nono know many many, but Nono tink dey not so so good.”
Lupen’s mind conjured up images of sandfins in piles lining a city, their hulls full of holes with squinting Finiku captains at the wheel, unaware of the fact that their vessels lay broken and unmoving. “Light kink!” They all said aloud together.
Eka could not believe that Nono was a bad sandfinner, no one trained under Etyl could be terrible. After spending many days together they noticed a pattern, Nono’s vision was worse after drinking from the waterstone tank. To extract the water out of the stones there was a foot pump in the galley, the pump pressed the stones down, funnelling the water up a tube to the sink. Eka and Lupen, who still used their personal stock of stones for water as to not to impose on Nono’s limited supplies, deduced that the water was to blame. One morning they opened the tank and found it infested with mudbears, tiny insects that burrow in waterstones and secrete a toxin. Eka offered the Finiku waterstones from their supply, and after a while Nono’s eyes cleared up.
Nono returned to the helm. The Finiku could read the sand and sky well, and knew to adjust sails right as conditions changed. The sails no longer sagged, the vessel was stable and soon they arrived at their destination. On arrival, Nono thanked them for their help.
“Nono fill waterstone tank in Kippu. ‘It clean!’ dey tell Nono, but not so, not so! Nono tink better to go back to help. Sick eyes… is dangerous, dae’na?”
Beobug A Montore company that owns cargo sandfins. The sandfins follow the Ilks to gather kapo to turn into fuel.↩︎