Lupin was hanging out at the local snack bar at the edge of town. Everyone had agreed to meet here later that day, so right now was all about wasting time. The owner of the town’s only restaurant served the foreigner a local drink, a glass of bonan wine. Bonan wine was an alcoholic drink traditionally brewed in Finiku villages, every place had their own recipe, some added herbs, or other fruit. It wasn’t uncommon to give some of yours to a friend, the restaurant owner Javi explained.
Javi was proud of the wine produced here in Tiputa, “siri de yorala!” Then noticed Lupin’s vacant expression, and understood that the Verido didn’t understand Finic. “Best in the land!” Javi said again in the Common Tongue. It wasn't the first time Lupin had heard this phrase.
'Siri de yorala, siri de yorala...' Lupin repeated, determined to remember it this time. “Think others in the land say this too of their wine?”
“Ora,” the restaurant owner said, “but they be wrong!”
Lupin laughed. “I’ve had bonan before, cut thin and dried as chips, never as a drink. How do you make it?”
Lupin enjoyed conversing with Javi, that is, until Gree showed up. Gree was also a Finiku, and captain of one of the Beobug supply ships Nono had mentioned. Gree took a seat next to the Verido, sitting close even if there were some free seats further away. Gree had big bulbous green eyes, with dark hair that was licked back tight, so tight that the Finiku could not frown. Gree was good-looking, clean with a confident demeanor, Lupin imagined that Finiku mapas aspired to have children like Gree, a child with a job in the big city.
One of the supply vessels was moored outside of town, it was gigantic, with two masts and a green hull. The name Beobug II was painted on its side in golden letters. Gree was the captain of Beobug II, and even if no one had asked, Gree was now explaining how Ilk droppings were treated to be turned into gas to power machinery and vessels in Montore.
“It simple,” Gree began, “the gas undergo process. Beobug remove carbon dioxide to improve performance. Such good good work ora?”
A worded speech by a devoted employee, sourced straight out of the Beobug hiring manual, Lupin thought. Gree wore a matching company hat and ensemble. Lupin knew about Beobug, the Volare elders didn't like them, they thought it was disrespectful of them to follow the Ilk. When in cities an Ilk would eat its weight in teaweet, and when it was on the move again Beobug was always there to catch its 'deposits'. The Volare children all gathered to watch the adults standing as near to Vol’s rump as they dared, to better shout down at Beobug, forbidding them to take the droppings. The sandfins paid them no mind, and it made the children on the Ilk laugh.
“Those accursed Beobug sandfins are out there again!” Pumra would say, “using excrement for energy, it’s unnatural and downright sacrilegious!”
Beobug had plans to convert Montore to a fully-automated town. They would sell barrels of fuel to other settlements in the Soronan desert, but not many could afford it, nor had the systems in place to use it and instead relied on the wind for energy. The wind, as well as Ilk dung, was an inexhaustible source of power, but one of the two had a price tag. After Gree had finished paying homage to the gods of Beobug, the captain threw an arm around Lupin.
“Nono good friend to you da sa? You arrive on same sandfin. Gree see.”
“You want something?” Lupin said.
Gree smiled, pearly whites coming into view. “Hm. Seem like Lupin prefer to speak plain, so Gree do this. Nono best sandfinner, but package delivery, it is... how you say? Waste of the talent! Beobug I need captain, Gree ask and ask but always, Nono say no. I ask too too much! I need Lupin to do this, to ask for Gree. You Voice of the Volare Ilk! Lupin can do anything!”
It was a mistake to mention being Voice, Lupin blamed the bonan wine. No one had ever said that being Voice was prestigious. Seeing that the Verido was hesitant, Gree spoke up again.
“Lupin talk to Ilk! You authority! Use this title to get good thing for YOU!”
Lupin’s head was swimming. “Are we still talking about Nono? I don’t understand why a title is so important.”
“Sousou’iana… so much hesitation, this should not be so. Lupin grand being! If talk big, make all around listen da naa?” Saying this, Gree nudged the Verido with a sharp elbow.
This was an insight into Montore, a place where titles were important and where currency reigned. Perhaps Gree befitted the title of captain, but this did not mean that it could be used to dismiss or influence others Lupin thought.
“I don’t know.” Lupin said, attempting to move away but Gree’s arm was as a solid and unyielding as an iron bar. “You really think being the captain of a vessel that recycles Ilk dung is worthy of praise?”
“ORA!” Gree threw hands up into the air, as if in praise of some invisible deity in the ceiling. “No limit to the energy! Beobug give Montore great success! Gree swim in coin! No poor, no pain, no more, no more!” Gree said, eyes aglow.
“Wind is free.” Lupin said, “why bother with anything else? It creates smokestuffs doesn’t it?”
Gree smirked, “Little little smokestuff friend, nothing so so bad! Lupin seem to think Verido’wati taint-free." The Finiku's bulbous eyes were set on the Verido, narrowing for a moment. "All of you take free ride on Ilk. How long you do this, umm? 3 centuries da naa? Up there, it keep you from worse of desert. Lupin always safe before, no understand true misery.” The captain patted the Verido's leg hard then, causing the sand and dust embedded in the isilk clothes to rise. When the dust settled again Gree laughed. “Well, Lupin learning this now, ora? You are here in the dust with us.”
“The Ilk is a friend. We co-exist.” Lupin said, trying to hide the anger brewing in this heart.
“This what Beobug do too friend, co-exist. Mou ipaya Javi!”
Javi went to pour a generous serving of bonan wine to both, a bit of it overflowing outside their mugs.
“The dung helps to fertilize the land, if you take it all things will not grow.” the Verido insisted.
“Lupin think Beobug take it ALL with only 3 sandfin?!” Gree laughed aloud, nearly choking. “Even so, even so, foodstamp solve this.” The captain lifted up a green sleeve to show a stamp, pressed onto the skin. “Lunch. Much better than real thing, oro!”
“Yoroi di!” Javi said, inspecting the stamp. “Bam cake stamp! Good one.”
Lupin was unphased, “aah I see, I see... another Montore industry. Another way to amass coin. A path to the creation of more titles.” A glass of empty bonan wine sat in Lupin’s hand, “did I drink all of this just now?” Gree’s glass was also empty, but Javi was there to fill them right back up again.
“Industry mean progress.” Gree said, leaning into the Verido.
“Progress means coin.” Lupin replied, bored with the conversation.
“Coin is future Voice of Volare Ilk.” Saying this, Gree smacked Lupin hard in the back, resulting in Lupin nearly spitting out a mouthful of bonan wine.
“What is there to do with so much coin?” Lupin said, coughing and trying to inch away from Gree, with little success. “It sounds like a burden.”
The Verido believed in trading, they did not accept coin for services or items, attributing value to a piece of metal was a strange concept for them. "Coin makes people crazy, for some reason everyone wants to amass tons of it. I don't get it." Lupin said, trying to picture Gree in a bath of coin, failing to see the enjoyment in it. People seemed to attribute more worth to coin than to the services they paid for.
“Many coin, much success,” saying this, Gree pulled out a shiny golden coin, which in turn, found itself into the palm of Lupin’s hand. The coin had a face printed in its centre, but the quality of the engravings made it hard to make out its features. Montore was inscribed on it, and on the flip side was the number one hundred. Lupin was going to return the coin but Gree refused it.
“Keep coin, is payment for favor Gree ask. Lupin ask Nono for Gree, ora?”
The Verido thought it was strange to be entrusted with such a task, but with a gift of such value, with this coin that presumably had the power to elevate one’s spirit in such a way, it was better to pocket it and to accept. Lupin would mention it to Nono, but would not insist on it. Just then, Gree said goodbye and stepped off of the stool, jelly-legged, and returned to the crew aboard Beobug II.
Lupin stayed at the bar, suddenly unable to put a phrase together. Javi laughed at the state of this stranger, “have muckwheat dumpling, healthy with bobonion, dilly herb and looma root. Verido like looma root da sa? Will imbibe bonan in stomach.” Javi pushed a plate of steaming dumplings in front of the Verido. “Ora, ora. Eat, eat.”
Not long after, Nono left a client’s house, content, and ready to relax. Now armed with a bottle of plumpkin ale, Nono felt it necessary to treat the fleshies to a drink. All three gathered at Javi's snack bar, savoring their drinks, although the Verido had opted for tea instead. Lupin had a headache, the dumplings helped with the jelly-headedness but did little to ease the other pains of drinking your weight in bonan wine.
Eka told them about Orin, Bou, the incident with the pomparu, the fixing of the waterstone pump and all the other items on the list they’d been tasked with. Because of Eka’s experience with the pump on Nono’s sandfin it was an easy fix. Today, they had crossed many other items off the list, they managed 3 days work in just a day’s time. Eka was still wearing the wide pair of overalls, large clothing was always more comfortable, even if they were black with soot and streaked with grease.
Lupin spoke of the encounter with Gree, and told Nono about the favor...
“AH! This...this NAIBAKA ask Lupin to ask Nono to captain Beobug sandfin? IA’! Ianaaaaaaa,” the Finiku’s head began to shake, the shaking did not stop for some time. Eka wondered if their friend was stuck in a loop and needed help, but Nono recovered moments after that. “IA’ is what Nono say and always say!”
“Being on a sandfin like that must be impressive. Sounds like a prestigious post too. Why not do it?” Eka asked, the large green sandfin at the edge of town was hard to miss.
“Mai no yorala aini masayo, coin iana.” Nono said with pride.
“The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness, not coin.” Eka translated, grinning.
Both Eka and Lupin laughed at this. Nono went on to say that they were both grown on the same plot of land, because of this Gree thinks them to be close.
“When young, Nono travel on sandfin, but Gree stay at home village and make mapa think Nono useless! Say Nono waste time, that only good job is Beobug job. NAIBAKA DI!” Nono said, cursing at the air. “Beobug fiendling! Beobug do scam. All profit, no work. Beobug sandfin need no captain, no one know this, but it drive itself!” After saying this, Nono leaned in to whisper to them. “Nono watch Beobug sandfin always. Ponopo follow Beobug II, two other woth watch Beobug I and Beobug III. Nono go to village after fiendling leave, and Nono correct misdeed!”
As the evening went on Nono began to tell some sandfin stories, like the one about the notorious Dorake’s passage, known to have buried countless sandfinners over the years.
While Nono was talking, a small creature flew over and landed on the table. It had short antennae, as well as delicate yellow hairs all over its body.
“Ara, ara! This Ponopo. Ponopo carry message for Nono, has good memory and know desert well.”
Ponopo fluttered off the table and landed on Eka’s head.
“WOW! A woth! Yora’nae Ponopo!” Eka said, watching Ponopo hover back down onto the table, landing near a puddle of spilled plumpkin ale. The woth began to mop it up, its antennae wiggling as it drank the sweet, strong liquid.
Nono pulled out a small wooden box, laid it out on the table and opened the lid. Six round eggs sat in it, laying over a soft tan blanket.
“Woth egg.” Nono told them, “Nono carry many.”
Nono’s hand reached into the box and picked up an egg. “This woth egg ready! BUT, woth only come out when it find someone it like. Woth be loyal, it follow you always.”
Nono reached over the table and grabbed Eka’s hand, and placed a single woth egg in it. As soon as the egg came into contact with Eka's skin, the white egg turned sky blue.
“It’s blue!” Eka said, amazed by the unborn woth.
“Blue? Woth egg never blue.” Nono said, looking very confused. “No no no matter! Put finger on egg, do gentle, gentle stroke.”
Eka did as Nono instructed and put a finger on the egg, stroking it.
“Less stroke, better woth!” Nono continued. The blue egg cracked open after only a single stroke. Nono couldn't believe it. “Ara’ara! Impossible!”
Lupin and Eka watched as a new woth emerged from the egg. It had a blue body, covered in light blue hairs, it had long antennae, and an even longer wingspan.
“Yoroi di naaa! Strong woth!” Nono said, shaking a head in disbelief.
Eka knew many things, but knew little about woths, although this one did appear larger than Ponopo. Nono grabbed a measuring stick and jotted down every detail, the color of its hairs, the length of the wings and of the antennae, the diameter of the eyes too, everything.
“Nono visit hatchery and ask question to expert friend.” Nono put the tape away, and continued to marvel at the quality of Eka’s woth.
“What should we name it?” Eka asked Lupin.
“Iana! You no choose name! Woth choose!” Nono said, waving a finger at them. “Is no easy to guess name!”
“Yea, I mean, the name could be anything! How long did it take you to find Ponopo's name?” Lupin asked.
Nono took a long sip of plumpkin ale, after 4 pints the Finiku’s skin should have a red tinge, but it remained unaffected. “5 year, but only after Nono eat bad, bad herb. For Nono friend it take 20 year.”
“Ora, ora! Mu-mu-mu-mu-mumford. Woth stutter, make guess difficult.” Nono paused. “Woth listen with or without name, but name make connection strong strong! Some think woth no choose name, that woth wait to hear name it like.”
Eka hoped it wouldn’t take that long, a 20-year long guessing game did not sound fun. “You’ve got an easy name, isn’t that right Tom-tom?” a finger traced along the soft hairs on its back. The woth went about its business, and joined Ponopo on the table to get some of that sweet plumpkin juice.
“Tom-Tom?” Lupin said with a laugh. “It looks more like a Pino.”
After an evening of unsuccessful name-guessing, Eka and Lupin said goodbye to Nono. Nono gave them an updated map of the desert between Tiputa and Montore. The Finiku’s finger traced a line around a specific area. “This place. Many floater, many, many danger.”
They raised their tent in a clear space on the outskirts of town. Bou had given Eka an extra length of fabric to extend the size of their shelter. They sewed the two pieces together, and now two and half travelers could lie under it—Hush agreed to laying halfway outside of the tent, so the other two could have room. Unlike the hyroo, Lupin and Eka didn't have fur to keep them warm at night, nor did they have large ears to cool them down in the day.
“Would have loved to continue to travel in a sandfin,” Lupin said, watching the unnamed woth wing its way through the air, drawing shapes as it did. They wondered if this was its way of communicating its name, they spent a long time trying to deciper it, but it turned out to be complete gibberish.
Eka agreed. “They’re wonderful aren’t they? Wish the cabin was taller though, must have hit my head on the cross beam 10 times during the voyage.”
Lying in the tent, Lupin thought about name-giving. Verido had their names written on their faces, but this wasn’t true for everyone. “Did you pick your own name?”
Eka didn’t answer right away, brows furrowing as if in deep thought. “Yes, I’ve had many names though.”
“Do you remember being grown?”
“Nope, but I have slept for long periods of time. I imagine being born is like waking up after a long, long sleep.”
Another question burned at the Verido’s lips. “What about dying? Where do you suppose we go after we’re dead.”
“Your body stays right here.”
“What about my mind? Where do you think that goes?”
“Think about that time before you were grown. That was an okay time wasn’t it?”
Lupin shrugged. “Yea. I guess so. Well. I don’t remember.”
“We’re all part of the grand sweater that is our universe. We are a single thread, and together we form a complex design, criss-crossed into a variety of patterns. Sometimes these individual patterns unravel, but they’re not lost, they remain part of the grand sweater. Nothing ever disappears entirely.” Saying this, Eka began to unravel Lupin’s sweater, tugging on a loose bit of twine.
Lupin noticed this, and moved closer to help undo it. “I like this analogy.”
“Analogy? You mean you don’t adhere to the idea of a sweater-verse?”
Both spent the evening unravelling the isilk sweater until it was back to not being a sweater at all, just a collection of thread.
“You’ll be there to watch me unravel.” Lupin said, the bundle of thread in hand.
Eka leaned over to rub noses with the concerned Verido. “Oh Lew. How about some bobonion soup?”
“I’d like that.” Lupin replied.
Eka cooked up a pot of bobonion soup. They ate it with some slices of toasted muckwheat bread. Then, they recited poems about the sweater-verse until they feel asleep. Lupin did not dream of death that night, but dreamt of a world where everyone was made of fabric, their skin and clothed knitted together. Children made a game of unravelling each other’s arms, while the adults scolded them. The vegetables and fruit were comically overstuffed, round and made of hairy, soft fabric. Lupin was in this dream, and there hanging from the side of everyone's wrist was a thread, connecting Verido to Aodals, to Finikus, to Terins, to looma roots, to every grain of sand, and to skyrocks too. This thread bound all things in the known world and beyond.
The next day, Lupin and Eka spent time with Bou. They had finished their tasks early, so Bou closed the store for the day and introduced them to some of the locals. They ate plenty muckwheat bread, a local specialty. Everyone they came across would give them their own batch of bonan wine, they sampled some but when Lupin’s words began to merge into entirely new, made up words they decided it best to stop. One of Bou’s friends had Vennec babies and insisted on showing them off.
Vennecs were large, humpbacked, furry beasts with thin snouts, large pointy ears and a long slender neck. The vennec babies were all asleep in a pile, it was hard to tell where one started and another ended. Though soon, the babies were on their feet and ran circles around them. Eka laughed, stroking their soft hairs. Lupin’s face was buried in the fur of one of the larger cubs.
“Vennec too young now, but in one year you come back. Vennec be strong, make good travel companion.” The vennec grower said.
Having a pup now would not be practical, they had much travelling to do with all the places Eka wanted to visit. Lupin liked the idea of adopting a vennec, caressing one between the ears. “You look like an Aristollo.”
“Aristollo?” Eka said, eyes wide and glancing over at the Verido. “But that’s the name of a—”
“Skyrock? Yes, I know that.”
“No. Well yes. But it’s also the name of an—”
“Iridi?” Lupin’s mouth curled into a smile, it was nice to appear all-knowing for once, a rarity around someone like Eka.
“Yes again! Wow! Lupin you know everything!”
“I know of a hundred ways to prepare looma roots,” Lupin began, “but I don’t know the story of Aristollo. I’d like to hear it if you know it.”
Eka smiled. “It's not my story to tell. We’ll find someone to tell it to you, and on the way, you can tell me of the hundred ways to prepare Looma roots.”
“I really couldn’t. Even after having just eaten the word never fails to make me hungry.”
“Yes well, the muffled cries of your stomach pairs well enough with my singing.” Eka said.
Both were making their way back to the camp. Lupin held a hand up to make a landing platform for the woth. That morning, they had received a little portable house for their new friend as a gift, a round glass ball with a gap at its side to be used as a door. Inside it was an inner wall of soft banabo fabric, there was so much of it that the woth could easily find a spot in there and stay hidden. The ball was wrapped in yellow thread and had a permanent attachment to Lupin’s pants. Bou had left the gift hanging at the entrance of their tent. Vacation time was rare in these parts, people worked all day everyday. Eka’s help in the shop made it happen, and in thanks the Finiku made something special for them. The woth landed on Lupin’s hand, and then climbed down and found its way into the glass ball, burying itself in it.
“Rest well Duster,” but the woth did not react to this name either.
“Not even a twitch,” Eka said, looking at the sleeping messenger, “it’s a nice name, maybe it didn’t hear me say it?”
They weren’t sure what the rules were. How would the woth react once it heard its own name? Maybe it would produce a sound, flutter extra harder, or maybe it would change color again? Lupin wished they’d asked Nono more questions, but the Finiku left last night for another delivery, both suspected that Gree had something to do with their friend’s hasty departure. The three had already said their goodbyes, and had accepted a gift of a bottle of bonan wine, which they guessed would be stronger than all the others they’d tried today given Nono’s high tolerance to alcohol.
The following morning, even before Eka had time to slip on some day clothes, Orin appeared at the door a bundle in hand. The clothes were ready and the tailor was eager to see them on Eka. Eka changed out of these night clothes while Lupin brought the Finiku some herbal tea, served with a slice of lemoni lime and some grated sweet root. By now, word had spread in the village that the Voice of Volare was here, in a small town like this there could be no secrets. Gree had told others, and it made it to Orin’s ear. The tailor was unusually quiet, and stared at the Verido. They were rare in these parts, Ilk did not pass in this village given its modest size. They passed by Edonor every year, but there was so much to do in the shop that neither Nok or Orin had ever glimpsed it.
Eka modeled the set, the trousers were loose, yet tight in the right places. They drew up over Eka’s midriff and held there without the need for a belt. The undershirt looked plain to the untrained eye, but it was quality fabric, made of 100% banabo fibres. The stitching was reinforced around the neck and shoulders. Orin even made a scarf with sleeves, large enough to throw over your head for protection from sand storms.
“You are a true master! These are wonderful!”
Orin’s face reddened at those words. “Oh it nothing, really! It please me that you like it.”
“Like? I LOVE it!” Eka said.
The tailor had not noticed then, but Lupin had moved to the end of the room. The Verido came back with a large bundle of thread and placed it onto the Finiku’s lap.
“Vo-vo-vo-lare isilk?” Orin said, voice high with emotion.
Lupin nodded. Just the night before, the thread of the sweater was re-bundled and bound with a matching blue ribbon.
“Now you can make something for yourself with it,” the Verido said.
Just then, Orin began to bawl, fingers curling around the precious bundle of thread. “T-t-this is too much!” there was no stopping those tears, “Y-you be t-too k-kind.”
It was a great way to end their time here in Tiputa. They packed their tent and began their long walk to Montore, city of coin and titles.Continue to Chapter 7