That morning Lupin got up early, eager to set eyes on Tarka again after dreaming about it all night. In the dream, a tiny Verido wandered Tarka’s insides, feet running along bolts and nuts, and hands tracing along the grain of the woodwork. Many yukwood trees were felled to build this vessel. Lupin thought of trees as records of history, the libraries and archives of the desert. Reading the growth rings in the wood, was like moving backwards through time. Each ring marked important events in the tree’s life throughout the ages.
Now, the full-sized real world version of Lupin stared at the vessel, with its patched hull, up-cycled sails, hand-woven lines… and was proud!
The Verido saw Maka near Tarka, knees in the sand and hands deep in a bucket filled with a thick, purple substance. Beside the bucket, lay a basket of wet, glistening plurple beans. Maka had strained them to make grease. Lupin had seen other villagers in Renate do it to use as decorative paint. The grease was thick and wet, but would cure after a day of full sun.
All contributors were awake now, and gathered around the bucket to dip their hands in it. Then, they took turns stamping their gooey palms on the sandfin’s stern. With these markings everyone would know that restoring Tarka was a collaborative effort. Lupin noted the different sized hands, and could associate each one with its owner. Nono’s hand was nearest to the ground, small and covered with cracks due to years of handling ropes. Renzo’s hand was medium-sized with thin fingers, while Maka’s print was the largest, it was textured, with thick rounded fingers. Eka’s hand was small, bigger than Nono’s.
“Your palms are very wrinkly Eka.” Lupin noted. “Like an old licky root rind.”
Eka was getting the last basket of supplies onto the sandfin, “m'yeaaa, or like your face when you stare directly into the sun.” Saying this, Eka smirked and disappeared inside the cabin.
“My face doesn’t do thaaat…” But creases formed on Lupin’s face then from scowling. The Verido stopped, fingers busy flattening down the creases. “Okay, okay. My face does it a bit…”
Lupin’s palm print on the hull had lines and dots, it resembled growth rings on a tree. And like a tree, these patterns told a story. The Verido thought of home again then, but wasn’t sad because this brain no longer summoned negative images along with it—it had finally learned that this wasn't a healthy thing to do. Home was home again, a pleasant place with pleasant residents.
Eka arrived outside to pour tea into the mugs of their companions. All had slept around Tarka that night, all but Nono who preferred staying on Etyl. Lupin passed some bonan leaf plates around, each one had slices of toasted muckwheat bread with a generous portion of spiced bam purée. Klev and Ren refused a plate, they hadn’t yet recovered from yesterday’s drinking. Maka and Nono did not hesitate to consume their portions.
After breakfast, Nono boarded Tarka and inspected the deck, outer hull and rigging again. The Finiku's big wet eyes scanned every bit of hardware and followed every rope from working to bitter end. The eyes let the fingers inspect every knot, they knew the 10 digits had more experienced in the matter. Even the feet got to prove their worth, their bottoms stomping down hard, sounding the hull for abnormalities. After a thorough inspection, Nono climbed up to half mast to make an announcement. “Good good good work Soronan’wati! Nono say Tarka ready to fly!”
There was no breeze to sail away with yet, but Nono had seens signs of its coming. Once in a while, the Finiku would climb up the mast to look at the horizon. “Ora ora! Sawa come, sawa come soon!”
Eka was spending time with Hush, caressing the beast’s large parabolic ears. “I’m sorry you can’t come with us on Tarka.” The hyroo had grown too large for a sandfin, even Eka could not stand upright in the cabin. The Wonder caressed the hyroo’s soft cheeks and head, hands grabbed the sides of the beast’s snout. Hush whined a little, but then decided not to protest any further, trying to not worry Eka. “We’ll come back for you soon, I promise.”
Nono had more deliveries to make and would leave shortly after Tarka. The captain was already busy filling Etyl with packages. Gree too was aboard the sandfin. The Finiku wore plain clothes and had altered the Beobug cap to continue to wear it, but even the modified version angered Nono. The company logo was gone, but it was difficult not to associate the color with the brand, there was a darker spot where the patch used to be, the sun had immortalized it on the fabric. Gree was busy taking boxes from Nono’s hands, carrying each one below deck. It warmed Lupin’s heart to see them together, but knew that it wouldn’t be an easy transition. Nono was tense, and Gree, quiet.
“How’s it going so far?” Lupin had asked, with Gree out of earshot.
“It is, how you say? Full of mind and body pain.” Nono replied.
“Painful,” Lupin corrected.
“Ora da sa… very veeeery pain-full for Nono,” Nono said, glancing at Gree on Etyl with feigned affection, “…but Nono try.” Saying this, Nono spotted Gree adjusting the standing rigging and began to yell. “IA’IA’! TAWARI’IA!”
Gree gave Nono a dirty look and continued to adjust the lines. “Nono yaga, kora oki sousou oro…”
Nono stormed back on deck and both continued to bicker in Finic.
Renzo was standing not too far away and had witnessed the argument, knowing that Lupin did not speak Finic, Ren translated. “In short, too many captains.” Ren said, drinking some plumpkin juice—a good ingredient to help calm a troubled stomach.
“How’s your head?” Lupin asked.
“Like it is filled with rocks,” Renzo said, massaging a painful spot between the eyes and the bridge of this nose. The alcohol had long exited this body but its effects lingered, the bonan wine had made of quarry of Renzo's brain. “But you, you look fine? How is this possible…”
Lupin smirked. “Trick is to drink slow. Suffered from head rocks many times before I learned.”
Renzo groaned. “Yes yes... but I put my hand over my cup. Nono must have filled it through the gaps in my fingers. I am not sure how, I didn’t actually see it happen.”
"I saw a durdle licking your fingers this morning. Are your hands sticky?" Lupin quizzed the headache sufferer, with an ever-widening grin.
"No..." Renzo made a face then, "well, not anymore."
"You sure it’s okay to leave Hush with you?” Eka asked Renzo then, joining them near Tarka. Hush was sitting near the bow of the sandfin in the shade. Children were gathering around the hyroo now, stroking its fur. A mess of tiny hands ran in its mane like teeth on a comb. Hush had a crowd of appreciators around at all times. The large beast did not mind this, and seemed to enjoy the attention.
Renzo nodded, stroking the side of Hush’s head. The apprentice offered a sip of plumpkin juice then, Hush would not dare deny such an offer and started to drink. Ren gripped the cup well so the beast wouldn’t lick it up by accident. As the hyroo was drinking, the sproutlings did not stop brushing, they laughed as the beast spilled plumpkin juice everywhere, little wet orange droplets spattered even those waiting for their turn in the back of the group. The apprentice smiled. This mouth had learned a new trick and was eager to practice.
Eka caught the smile, and was as determined to catch many more before they left for their trip. “Vi ana tribu.” Eka said to Ren.
At these words Ren froze. It was Aodan, an old language used by very few today. Words spoken in this language transported this body to another time and place, its rhythm was comforting, better than music, it was like re-discovering a long-forgotten, and favorite childhood meal. Ren had learned Aodan while first employed in the Court of Light, Enji grew up speaking it, and had taught Renzo over games of Gomino. Aodan had lit a spark in this brain, the choice of words too added to its intensity: “We are one tribe, one family.”
The Iridi’s face softened. Ren moved closer and put their foreheads together. “Jui, vi la ana granda tribu. Tanka koroa Eka.” Each had one hand pressed behind the head of the other. They stayed locked together for a moment before Eka pulled away.
"We will see each other soon yea?
Renzo nodded, smiling brightly. Another one for the trip, Eka thought.
Eka spotted Klev then, and saw Nono stepping off of Etyl, and decided this was a good time to say goodbye. Klev was busy braiding a bracelet when Eka came, stopping to exchange a few words. Then, Eka moved to talk to Maka. The metalworker held a box with a gift inside. It was full of fresh purple bean sausages, appropriately paired with jars or mapple jam. “I added loads of grated chilabi to one of these sausages,” Maka told Eka with a wink, “not telling you which!” Chilabi was a popular ingredient in Aodal cuisine. A hot, pungent condiment that would burn the nose, and that could be painful depending on the amount consumed.
Renate residents liked to play a game called Chilabi Plusa—to mean, chilabi with something extra— where each got an identical dumpling and had eat it in turns. All contained chilabi, but only one of dumplings has 10x the amount, enough to make you cry, sweat or cough. The goal of the game was to hide your discomfort if you got the spicy dumpling, or to pretend you got it when you didn’t. It was up to others to guess the truth. Chilabi Plusa was an acting game where the best pretender won.
Eka laughed. They’d played this game once already at a party. Eka did not get a spiked dumpling, and neither did Lupin, although Eka was very good at pretending and had won the game. Now, one of them would have to suffer its effects for real…
Nono was next in line, Eka knelt down to match the Finiku’s petite height. “I found the woth’s name.”
Nono’s eyes widened in surprise. “Aaaaaara! Nono happy to hear!” Eka leaned in close to whisper the name. “Sousou di!” Nono said, ecstatic, pulling Eka in close, the Finiku’s short arms barely able to encircle the wonder.
Lupin also said goodbye, but spent the most time with Klev, chatting away in ilken. Both Verido were using the short form, whistling away while the villagers stared, perplexed by the absence of a worded conversation. Klev had finished the isilk bracelet, and gave it to Lupin as a parting gift. “Now you carry Bala with you.”
“Thank you, it’s lovely.” Lupin said, fingers stroking the braid, its red hue evident under the two suns. Then, the Verido removed the skyrock necklace and handed it to Klev. “It’s a piece of skyrock. A reminder that the world is bigger than the Ilk, bigger than the Soronan Desert even. It’s an amazing place and there is much to see.”
Klev took the necklace, eyes locked onto its shiny, smooth surface. “Wow… thank you.” In a changing world this object, Lupin hoped, would offer Klev some comfort.
Then finally, it was time to leave. The two stepped aboard the sandfin and raised the sails. Having picked a windy day to cast off, the sails filled with air and the sandfin plowed forward.
All in the village waved as Tarka pushed through the sand. Nono held up a scarf, the wind catching it and sending ripples throughout. The others in the group did the same, waving whatever piece of fabric they happened to have.
As Eka and Lupin left Renate, they could see the scarves undulating in the wind, like colorful arms of knitted fabric. Lupin could hear the Ilk of Balandri singing a parting tune, the sound resounding throughout the desert. The Verido knew that this song would catch Vol’s ear, and for a moment, wondered if perhaps it would convince it to slow its pace, or change its course. Lupin knew this was silly though, as it is impossible to dissuade anyone from taking a Leap. When the body and mind are ready, little can be done. Lupin’s mind went to Levi then, and to a day they’d spent together in Volare…
There was nothing special, or important about that day, and that’s why Lupin liked it. Levi was feeding Henbi, then put a nose to the bubbly and sour smellydough starter, smiling, before picking through a sac of freshly-picked woodgeon berries. Lupin’s heart ached then, troubled by thoughts of Henbi. No one was there to feed it. The smellydough starter was a family heirloom, all members of Lupin’s family had handled it, and contributed to its health and growth, feeding it everyday, and baking with it for years and years. Lupin liked watching it expand and settle during the day, like it was breathing. Henbi was likely dead now. Lupin swallowed hard, sitting with this loss for a moment before returning to the main memory. Levi was crouched down over a large bowl full of dry woodgeon berries, hands running through them to shake the skins off. In this memory, Lupin was lying in the hammock on the upper floor, with the overhead shutter open to invite in the sun. Lupin’s skin was warm, and this nose could detect the subtle fragrance of the woodgeon berries as Levi moved them around, these ears also helped to form the memory, remembering the sound of Levi’s fingers catching the bottom of the bowl. This memory made Lupin happy and sad, these two emotions manifesting together at the same intensity. This Verido sat with this wonderful memory too for a while, and then let it go. That day, Lupin made a plan to try and plant a garden in the desert, like Zucca.
“I wonder if woodgeon shrubs can grow down here…”
Tarka was sailing itself, bow pointed toward the Rupture. The wind was with them that day, they were making good progress. As Renate faded away, they settled into their respective tasks, taking bearings, checking the horizon for obstacles or other vessels. Lupin took notes of all they saw on a map.
About midday, the wind died. Lupin kept an eye on the horizon for wind, but not a single grain of sand was shifting. With all of this time to think, the Verido remembered the Tale of three, Uno’s gift. Every page was full of annotations and drawings, Uno had tracked the paths of the 3 Ilks for years and years. There was a drawing of their world route, along with all of their usual stops. There were also notes on the three founders Otora, Balandri and Volare. Lupin couldn’t believe it, Uno had been there with them! Uno put all of their conversations and meetings throughout their lives to paper. In one of the exchanges, Uno told Volare about the location of the nesting grounds of the Ilk. The book had handwritten letters scattered throughout, one of them was written by Volare themself! The letter was written in ilken, and comprised a series of notes, like a set of instructions on how to play a song. Those with a background in music could play parts of the song, but many notes were specific to ilken and would be difficult to decipher. The meaning of this letter was meant for Voices, or those with a deep understanding of Ilken. Lupin read it, and saw that it was addressed to Uno…
"Today the Verido have found salvation. To think that the solution lies with the giant desert walkers! Our collaboration will ensure both of our futures on this rock. I don’t like to think about us, or them, falling into nothing. I made the foolish assumption that Ilk were beyond death, but their lives, like yours, are finite and near-spent. I will keep my promise to you dear friend, we will care for them until the very end. Already, I’ve secured dealings with cities, they will provide teaweet on passage, and we, will carry items for them, and sell what we produce using materials that grow on their backs.
The world really is changing though, isn’t it? Food is scarce. At least, it is for giants like the Ilk. You told me that there was little room for giants in this new world, but I do not believe it. I know that this is me being wilfully foolish again, I cannot help it. I know you are tired, and that it is greedy of me to ask you to stay. I will do what I can for the Ilk, to spare you and your companion of this demanding task.
I trust this message reaches you safely, have a good rest my friend. When you see me next I’ll be dust, but please, say hello anyway."
Lupin’s heart was racing. “Volare knew the Ilk were dying, Uno did too…” The Verido continued to turn pages, finally arriving at the main story…
During a year of terrible desert storms, 3 Verido siblings, Otora, Balandri and Volare took it upon themselves to save their race from the hardships of the sands. The eldest, Otora, proposed that they build a moving machine, a contraption that could keep the town moving, so they could stay ahead of the weather. All places on this dust planet were dangerous at one point or another. After designing this machine they realized that it would not be possible to build.
Such a machine would require insane amounts of resources. It it was too extractive, this detail worried Balandri. They would need to dig the earth to mine crystals, further damaging the desert. The Veridos had great respect for nature. Balandri, in turn, proposed that it be powered by wind, like sandfins. But no one in the land could help design a sandfin large enough to carry a small city. They considered a flotilla of smaller vessels too, but given their sizable population it seemed difficult.
Volare, who had once walked the entirety of the Soronan Desert by foot, proposed that they walk. The others did not share Volare’s love of trekking through hot deserted lands.
Volare thought on this for a long time, but could not figure out a way to keep everyone safe. One day, a tall stranger arrived at Volare’s tent. “I have a solution for you.” The silver-eyed giant said. The next day, Volare announced to Otora and Balandri that salvation was at hand. Together, they trekked across the desert to a lonely mountain, following the giant’s instructions. They rested in the day, and travelled at night. Eventually, they reached the mountain, and went through a pass carved in its middle. On the other side, they found 3 Ilk, busy grazing on bibiskiss and hempawoods. The 3 appeared thin, and tired.
The giant told Volare that the Ilk lived here together. There were 3 Ilk, and 3 Verido leaders, nothing could be more perfect.
The Ilk were desert walkers, as tall as mountains. They had strong backs and legs, their feet were wide and gave them stability for walking in sand. In times of storms, they could anchor deep into the soil to wait it out. They had long slender necks, and long snouts with a set of horns.
They spent years learning about these giant beasts, be-friending them. They learned how to approach them, and how to communicate. One day, the Ilk lowered their heads and invited the Verido on their backs. This was the beginning of a friendship that would last for a long, long time. Each befriended an Ilk, and soon built cities on their backs. The Verido built houses made in the hollows of the hard skin on their spines. They learned to speak with the giants creatures. Before every passage, each sibling would climb up the long neck to the ear to do it.
Travelling on the backs of the Ilk ensured both their survival. The Verido were safe from the weather, and kept the Ilk healthy. Many hands worked at keeping parasites away, inspecting every inch of skin from head to toe for bruises, and tending to them. One year two Ilk became sick with a rare fungi, but the problem was diagnosed early and the fungi was eradicated. Verido did not use outside materials to build their city. They could build anything using isilk and carapace shavings. The Ilk had a tough carapace covering their backs, also found on their elbows and knees. It would re-grow after harvested. Every year it was measured, and the Verido would only ever harvest if it had grown back enough. Food was harder to come by, but they soon found ways to grow it.
This happened hundreds of years ago. Otora, Balandri and Volare died, but the Ilk continued to march. The Veridos became a race of travelling merchants, craftspeople and inventors. They would carry provisions from village to village, where they also sold their wares. This was a way to keep the Ilk fed, as the Verido could not manage it alone. The desert wilds had grown thin, and could no longer sustain 3 Ilks, not without help.
“Wow.” Lupin said, eyeing the various drawings and notes in the Tale of Three. One drawing by Volare featured a rough design of the city on Vol, another tallied all the residents. Just as the Verido was reaching for another letter, the wind rose again…
“Sail’s UP UP UP!” Eka bellowed, running to the foredeck to raise the headsail, then tied off the line and ran amidships to raise the other sail. Tarka started to shift forward, and as the wind continued to rise its twin keels cut through the dunes, sending sand flurries all above deck.
Lupin hurried and put the book away to avoid getting sand lodged between its pages, but the wind caught one of the letters and sent it flying. Eka was there to catch it, and handed the sheet over to Lupin. The Verido smiled back, and secured the pile together, and put it away inside. Now, it was time to focus on sailing again.
That evening, both took a seat on deck and watched the stars. “You tired?” Eka asked Lupin.
“No, I can take the first watch.”
Eka nodded, and went inside to sleep. The woth was with them on this trip, and was awake too, on deck and hiding behind a bulkhead from the wind.
“How’s your night so far?” Lupin asked Wiktopher the woth.
The woth moved its antennae, but not because it was replying to the question, it was busy working bits of sand out of them.
“Do you know what lies ahead Wik?” Lupin asked again, “A pass,” Lupin paused for effect, “Dorake’s pass.” The Verido knew that Wiktopher knew this already, but insisted on saying it to break the silence. Dorake’s pass was an opening between two sets of mountains, the meeting of two great capes. In this area, the cape effect accelerates the wind, and the height of the mountains accelerates it even more. The day before, Nono was helping them plan their route to the Rupture on a map, and the Finiku explained that taking Dorake’s pass, although treacherous, was a shortcut, and their best bet to intercept the Ilk. The wind was strong in that area most days, but they’d timed their departure after the passing of a dry cold front, sailing on the trail-end of it, and they knew it would take some time before another would come trailing behind it. Nono had gone through the pass many times, unharmed, when countless other sandfins were buried and suffocated in its blowing sands.
“How did you make it through safely all those times?” Lupin had asked Nono.
“When glass fall, sandfinner make sail small. When sky yellow to brown, sandfinner put anchor down.” Nono said.
Nono had many more rhymes to help memorize the signs of bad weather, and how to respond to them. Lupin remembered them all. “Ring around kira, all gone is sawa…” The Verido said aloud to sand, the stars and the glowing skyrocks, “not tonight, tonight sawa is with us.”
Tarka sailed through the night. Their vessel’s sails were well-balanced, and required little adjusting. Lupin would loosen and tighten the sheets as needed, hands black with pinny tar. With little light, it appeared as though the Verido had no hands, with the black substance staining the hands and forearms. Lupin laughed, alone, in the dark, and then decided to stamp a pinny tarred-covered hand on this face. After doing that Lupin laughed even harder.
Eka awoke a few hours later, and climbed out of the cabin. “Time for bed Lew!” But saying this, Eka noted that the Verido wasn’t in the cockpit. “Lew?” It was dark, but the sky was clear and the skyrock Retna illuminated the entire deck from bow to stern. No Lupin. The Wonder returned inside to search there, but that space too was devoid of Veridos. Eka returned outside, eyes locking on the dim horizon line, wondering if maybe Lupin had fallen overboard. “Oh no…LEW!” The Wonder grabbed lines and was ready to turn the sandfin around but then heard laughing overhead. Lupin was perched at the top of the mast. Eka was relieved, and whistled in Ilken, the sound penetrating distance and air. Lupin heard, and started coming down, coming to meet Eka on deck.
“Beautiful night eh?” Lupin said, smiling, not the least bit tired, but then noticed Eka’s expression. “What is it?”
“Thought you’d fallen off.”
“I wouldn’t dare.” Lupin said. “Sorry if I frightened you. I’ve got a tether and everything, with a good knot too.” A line encircle Lupin’s middle, and led back to the mast.
Eka returned the Verido’s smirk, then noticed the dark hand print. “The mark of a true sandfinner” saying this, one of Eka’s fingers traced the pinny tar hand print on Lupin’s face. “You look at home up there Lew.”
Lupin nodded, “Yea… I like it there. Like being on the Ilk, but having more control you know?” The Verido stared up at the mast again, and watched the sails, bellies taut, hundreds of strands of hempa locked together, and thought it beautiful, elegant. “Balandri wanted our people to travel by sandfin. It didn’t make sense then, but now…”
“Mind’s a whirring tonight!” Eka said, “I’m proud of you you know.”
Lupin’s cheeks reddened, but no one would notice it because of the low light. Then, the Verido leaned forward and planted a quick kiss on Eka’s mouth, leaving a pinny-tar lip print behind. Then, unfastened the rope and tied it around the Wonder’s middle. “I love you Eka. Goodnight.” Lupin said, before hurriedly going below in the cabin to sleep.
Eka smiled, hand lingering on the lip print. “Goodnight… lovely, lovely Lew blue.”
A voice inside the cabin enumerated the skyrocks in the sky, “Balavados, Encitris, Naxagorus, Liminik, Omoretus, Retna, Alpininsis…” And then the night quieted, Tarka’s voice resounding across the desert dunes. The hull creaked and groaned, pushing through sand and leaving a deep track behind. Dorake’s pass lay ahead, a 3-day sail away. For now, it remained a distant concern for Tarka and crew.Continue to Chapter 15