Eka, Lupin 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 bam cakes, listing the ingredients aloud in song. Every song ended with a solo of groans and growls, courtesy of Lupin’s empty belly.
“Ba-ba-ba-bam cakes! Ba-ba-ba-bam cakes!”
“Please stop singing about food,” Lupin said.
They had tried to ration some teaweet bread, but a hungry Hush raided their stores in the night. All 5 loaves had already been eaten, digested and expelled. Instead Eka and Lupin sucked on waterstones, slowly drawing out the water in economical doses.
“We’re going to die out here," Lupin said, groaning.
Eka did not share Lupin’s concerns. “Haven’t you ever been in the desert before? To those who know how to look, there's always something to eat.”
“Verido don’t walk on the ground,” Lupin said, every mention of the word eat was the stomach’s cue to start whining 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 Lew, it’s like you’re not of this world! When night comes we should be able to find some.”
Lupin continued to complain, but in a hushed, low voice. If anyone wasn’t of this world it was Eka, but it was true that despite having read many books, Lupin did not know much of the desert.
Eka stopped, stomped on the ground a few times and seemed pleased with the spot. “We’ll set camp here.”
Lupin was too tired and too hungry to ask why this spot was good, it looked like any other part of the desert. Using the chute they built a makeshift tent.
Come nightfall, Eka waited outside the tent, staring at the ground.
“Lew. Pssst! LEW! Come over here!”
Lupin yawned, rolling over to Eka's spot outside. The fabric of the chute wasn’t very big, it provided some shade in the day but did not protect them from wind in any direction, and most of the space under it was already filled with Hush’s gigantic head. The beast could not be persuaded to move. This tent served to mark their camping spot, but acted as a poor, poor shelter.
“What is it?” Lupin asked.
Red pointed over to a collection of little stems working their way out of the soil, their small, round leaves fanning out.
“Take the one closest to you,” Eka whispered.
Lupin went 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 real fast. It’ll stun them, and then you can grab one. Haven’t you ever harvested cactubs before?
“No,” Lupin said. “What’s a cactub?”
Eka laughed. “Only the best vegetable ever. I’ll do it. Watch me.”
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. Red 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 of it for dinner. Cactub was soft and sweet on the inside, 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 seed over the left shoulder.
“Eat one,” Lupin said, chewing on a seed, “toss one!” The other found its way back into the earth. They did this for a long while, smiling with every mention of eat one and toss one.
With food in their bellies, they huddled-in together to stay warm and to try to get some sleep. Eka looked at the sky and the stars, a finger tracing along the visible constellations and calling them by name.
“Salarus, Vitali, Neoneve.”
Eka recited these names every night before bed. The finger fell upon another star in the distance, it was lying low, and was brighter than all the others. A false star. Lupin had just dozed off, Eka knew this but couldn’t resist sharing this discovery. “LEW! Something! Over there!”
Lupin turned to look, long-faced and red-eyed. “It’s late. We’ll check it out in the morning.”
Eka had no intention of postponing this incredible find. “Fine. You stay. I’ll be back.” Halfway through the sentence Eka was up and racing towards the point of light in the dark.
Lupin didn’t like this at all. In part because somewhere within lived a fear that the Wonder would leave and never return. This Verido decided to get up to chase Red. It was easy to spot Eka's red mane in the dark.
They arrived at the low star, which turned out to be an oil lamp affixed to the stern of a vessel, it lay on its side half-buried in the sand.
“It’s a sandfin!” Lupin said circling it, trying to make out details in the dark. The hull was painted yellow, with a transom bow and a flat bottom. It had a single wooden mast, and two sails hanging limp from their ropes. Eka pointed to one of the portholes, there was the faint glow of a light. Someone was inside.
“Hello? Who’s in there?” Lupin called out, knocking on the hull.
A thin-eyed, short thing, came peering out of one of the portholes. “Waran di! Nono is fearsome! Away! AWAY youuuuu!” a shrill voice said.
The creature stuck its face in the porthole, it contoured its large head perfectly. It looked like the sandfin had a face growing out of its side. The creature was a Finiku, large-eared with a wide flat face. The Finiku’s hair was light and wild, not a single strand seemed to point in the same direction, all, except for a chunk of hair fused together. It was 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 too were stained with it, from handling ropes all day. Eka giggled, and watched as Lupin approached the porthole so the Finiku could see better. Even when standing close, still, the sandfinner’s eyes looked everywhere but in the right place.
“Specters! WARAN DI! Ahh how Nono be in Ash Plain? Nono noon sight, it be no good! NO good!”
“What? No. This is the central rim. We’re fleshy people. We’re right in front of you! Can’t you see us?” Lupin asked, perplexed.
“Too dark, too dark!” The Finiku replied, disappearing below. They could hear noises, as the owner of the vessel searched the cabin for something. Then a beam of light flashed in Lupin’s face. “Hmm. A Verido in sand? No. Fleshy? No no no, you no be a fleshy. And aaaa—?” The owner of the sandfin moved the light around, searching for whoever this fictional Verido was with.
“An Eka! Yora’nae Nono!” Eka said with a smirk, moving into the light.
Eka nodded. “Friendly and fleshy”
“I’m fleshy too. I’m a ground-dwelling Verido now.” Saying these things made Lupin uncomfortable and opted to change conversation, “your sandfin needs some repairs?”
The Finiku, that they came to know as Nono, explained to them what had happened. “Sandfin okay, but it no more move!” Nono’s eyes widened saying this, they were unusually opaque and sickly-looking. Lupin saw there was plenty of light in the cabin, yet the sandfinner claimed to see nothing.
“Right. Well, come daytime we’ll help you fix it.”
The next morning, Nono emerged from the cabin and stood on deck. Lupin was up already, in truth, sleep had not come because of last night’s events. Finikus had a unique physique, they were short pot-bellied creatures with long droopy ears. Those clear sick eyes were disturbing, it was likely that Nono suffered from a bad case of cataracts. Eka too arrived at the foot of the sandfin, waving hello to its captain.
“Ara ara! Body is—how you say this in common tongue? ‘Bigger’. Da na?” Nono said, standing right near the hyroo and getting ready to shake hands with it. Hush let out a long whoop.
Eka laughed. “This is Hush. Was asleep last night during our introduction.”
“I see, I see! Yora’nae Hush!”
“See? Are you sure you CAN see?” Lupin asked mockingly, that Finiku’s eyes definitely had a problem.
Now that light fell upon the vessel, they could see that it was damaged. The sandfin lay over a rocky patch and the rudder was ripped out. Most of the hull looked alright, but the area where the rudder had been had a large gaping hole. Nono leapt off the side of the yacht, and went to stand with the others to look at the wreckage. The captain stood 3 heads shorter than they. “Is light kink! Oh whyyyyy it no move?!”
“A kink? You serious?” Lupin said, outraged. “There’s a giant hole there at the back of it!”
“Iana, iana. No hole. Verido crazy from landsick.”
Nono’s eyes narrowed down to try and see the hole, then Lupin arrived and helped the Finiku closer. “Big one. Right there!” Lupin said. The Finiku was un-phased by the damage. It was only with a nose up to it that Nono noticed it. “Iana, iana, iana.” Nono’s head shook from side to side, there was no stopping it. Eka went to stand closer, as if 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?” Eka asked.
Nono nodded, the shaking of the head had ceased then too. “Finiku’wati be ready, always ready! We make rudder. No problem! I have material, all we need!”
Once all 3 got to work, Lupin realized just how terrible Nono’s vision was. “No one in their right mind would allow someone so blind to captain a ship,” Lupin told Eka, who just smirked, busy 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 and took measurements. They drew a rough shape on a piece of banabo wood, a surface normally used as a table. Lupin found a hacksaw stashed under a pile of spare lines, it was made of thin but strong metal, “says ‘Maka’ on the handle.”
“Renate steel!” Nono said, “siri de yorala!”
“Best in the land,” Eka translated.
Each had their own task to perform. Lupin cut the banabo board for the paddle, Eka was shaving the skin from an old oar to make the rudder post, and Nono was busy retrieving bolts and nuts that would fit it. The cabin was filled with tools and spares, there was no space to sit. “Where do you sleep?” Eka asked. “Table, good bed” Nono replied.
“How about sleeping in an actual bed instead?” Lupin asked.
“Ahh iana iana,” Nono began, “last time Nono sleep in bed, find some metal in skin!” Saying this, the Finiku showed the marks they had left behind. Lupin gasped, noticing there was another bit of stray metal in there still.
“Sou ya di naa…” Nono said with a sigh. “Embarrassing. Please ignore.” Even the table was not free of dangers.
All continued their work. Lupin 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 Lupins could make out.
“What’s that?” Lupin asked, pointing to a metallic barrel stored on deck, “plumpkin juice?”
“Best renewable and combustible matter in the central rim,” Eka said, reading the name of the product on the barrel, written in Finiku letters.
“Kaka.” Nono said. “Poop,” Eka said, seeing the look on Lupin’s face and laughing.
Lupin had heard of this, but did not think it to be 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 fiendlings say it ‘miracle substance’, make life easy easy! Why use hand when there is machine they say. Fiendlings sell this dream to Finiku, give machine… but what happen when it break? They have no part, no fuel. Beobug come fix, ask for coin! Beobug create— how you say? Dependency. Da na? Before, Finiku depend only on sawa and kira!”
“Wind and sun.” Lupin said. “I don’t understand what Ilk ‘kaka’ has to do with fuel.” Lupin said, perplexed.
“Beobug sandfin, it follow Ilk and take kaka! Then, Beobug process kaka on sandfin. Very profitable business, very profitable! Nono mapa say, ‘If Nono captain Beobug sandfin, Nono would make good coin!’” Nono’s head shook again, “Mapa say this, but Nono is like grand-mapa Etyl, care only to sandfin. Nono listen to voice of sawa and kira. Coin be cold. Mawani iana oro.” Nono said, putting a hand on the heart. “No soul.”
“Etyl is your grand-mapa?” Eka asked. “That name is known all over! First one to travel the whole of the land by sandfin!” Nono nodded. “Ora ora! Did it alone too!”
They completed the construction of their make-shift rudder and put it back into place, they also began work on patching up that hole around it. All the while, listening to stories of Etyl and the early days of sandfinning.
After a day of hard work,Nono tested out the rudder and saw no problem with it. Nono couldn’t believe it. The hull was missing paint, but was otherwise immaculate.
“Now, make delivery to Tiputa. Nono offer ride! Come aboard fleshy!”
Lupin and Eka were happy to join the crew, Nono didn’t mind Hush coming along too and 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 and leaving a golden cloud in their wake. The sandfin was running downwind, with two blue wings pulling it along. The wind freshened, and the sands began to blow hard but handling a vessel with two more aboard was easy. Eka made sure the sails had a good shape, while Lupin kept an eye on the horizon, there was no trusting Nono’s eyes. The two crew members helped with navigation, making sure to avoid patches of hard soil. Nono had no sense of direction, and kept mistaking dunes for other sandfins. Despite these handicaps, Nono was confident and blamed it all on bad light.
One night the Finiku offered to make dinner, serving them something that stank of pomparu with an unnappetizing grey color. Lupin joked that dinner had probably been scraped off of the hull, and after the meal their pained stomachs agreed with this theory.
"Do you know many other sandfinners?" Lupin asked Nono.
"Ora, Nono know other, but many no good. No many know what Nono know.”
The shock of this reply caused a chunk of looma root to lodge itself in the Verido’s throat. After a few coughs and gasps, the piece flew across the cabin and onto the wall. Lupin’s mind conjured up images of sandfins in piles lining a city, hulls kinked-up, full of holes with Nono duplicates at the wheel. All were sickly-eyed and yelling out orders while pressing a crew—that had long since left, and mutinied—to get under way. The sure-footed captains were unaware of the fact that their vessels lay broken and unmoving. “Just a kink!” They all said in unison.
Nono had brief moments of clarity, noting changes in the landscape with surprising accuracy. The crew thought it strange, surely there was no such thing as a condition that could better and worsen at random like this. Eka did not want to believe that Nono was a bad sandfinner. After spending many days together, they noticed a pattern. Nono’s vision was worse after drinking from the water stone tank. To extract the water out of the stones there was a foot pump in the galley, the pump would press the stones down, the water was then funnelled down a tube and would come out of a tap in the sink. Eka and Lupin still used their personal stock of stones for water, not to impose on Nono's supplies, so they 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 that secrete a toxin. Nono had been drinking bad water. The spoiled tank was the cause of their captain’s sick eyes, blurry vision and disorientation. Eka offered the Finiku waterstones from their supply, and after drinking from a good source the symptoms wore off. After Nono’s eyes cleared up, Eka went ahead and showed the captain the contents of the tank.
“Sou ya di! Good it is that Nono meet Eka and Lupin!” Nono said, scooping up a handful of mudbears and prodding them.
Soon, 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 all aboard were healthy, and happy. The sandfin accumulated distance quickly, and they arrived at their destination in record time. On arrival, Nono thanked them for their help.
“Nono fill waterstone tank in Kippu. 'It clean!' Kippu'wati tell Nono, but not so, not so! Nono think better to go back to help. Bad eyes no, no good da na?”Continue to Chapter 5