In a quiet rural town somewhere…
Gentle moonlight filtered by the cloudy night sky shone down on a certain family restaurant, the window curtains fluttering slightly in the soft breeze. Inside, the kitchen and dining area sat clean and unperturbed as the humans slept in their beds upstairs. Not a sound could be heard from anywhere but the storage room—where, splayed out on a thin felt carpet on the floor, was a yellow-green starfish snoring away, drool dangling from the corner of his wide and jagged mouth.
A tiny pincer poked at his smooth flesh, but he remained stone still.
Once more, and yet he didn’t stir.
The two hermit crabs at his side gave each other worried glances, their paper-thin antennae drooping.
Should we just tell him in the morning?
A hermit crab with a swirly shell came up from behind its two debating brethren and shook its head.
No. We have to go with the others now. We are already very late.
The natural order of things has been disrupted by our delay. There’s no more time.
The conical shelled hermit crab was about to debate, but its jagged shelled companion placed a claw on its head to stop it. All three hermit crabs gazed upon their sleeping leader wistfully. He looked so peaceful, deep in slumber after a satisfying day of hard work. Would their lively leader be able to keep his spirits up while they were gone? Would their absence impede on his work?
Their minds swirled with worry, but they had too little time to dwell on it now.
They raised their claws to their foreheads in salute, holding them in the air for nearly a minute before finally lowering them and turning toward the door.
We’re sorry, Leader. Please be well.
After one last forlorn look at their leader, they exited the room in perfect single file. The pitter-patter of their little legs was like dozens of pins dropping as they made their way out of the restaurant and began their trek toward the beach to reunite with the other crabs, remaining completely undetected.
The cooing of owls and rustling of leaves were the sendoff horn for the Frenzied Troops as they skittered solemnly further and further away from the one they adored most...
“Get a load of this! My incredible vegetable preparation skills!”
Naputaaku’s shout bellowed throughout the customer-less Fujisawa Eatery as his fin-like arm moved up and down faster than a pinball flipper being pushed repeatedly. His knife danced around the cutting board, and carrots, onions and peppers all trembled in his wake as the mad god diced them to bits.
“Slow down. It’s not a competition.” Ren Fujisawa, preparing broth over the stove, grumbled as he heard the rapid slapping of metal to wood. Naputaaku usually cleaned on prep day, but since both of Ren’s parents had other business to take care of that day, he had been asked to fill in. Naturally, the starfish was giddy as a clam to spend more time working with food. “If you’re not careful, you’ll—“
“YEOWCH!” Naputaaku yelped, and his knife clattered to the floor. Ren glanced back at him with a start, and lo and behold, the god was clutching the hand he had used to hold the board in pain.
“…You’ll do that. See? Told you.”
“Sh-Shut up!” Naputaaku cried, a tear of pain forming in his single eyeball. Being a god, he thankfully couldn’t bleed and wouldn’t suffer any permanent damage, but damn, did it still sting.
The two heard the sound of footsteps coming from the staircase. Ren’s older sister, Rin Fujisawa, came down and leaned against the rail in her typical smooth fashion. “Anything new happening here?”
“Naputaaku hurt himself,” Ren grumbled.
“I asked if there was anything new ,” quipped Rin, strolling over to the stove. “I’ll watch the pot, so go grab him some ice or something.”
Ren mumbled under his breath as he went to the other side of the kitchen where the fridge was to get an ice pack. In the meantime, Naputaaku pouted as he caressed his hand. “Curse this fragile vessel of a body…”
“You’re an idiot,” Rin said as she checked the broth, then turned it from a boil to a simmer. “But just between you and me…” the teenage girl shot Naputaaku a smirk. “…Ren did the same thing when he was little.”
“I’m right here, you know!” Ren yelled. He came back over with the ice pack wrapped in a paper towel and unceremoniously dumped it on the counter before Naputaaku. “Besides, I was just a kid! This guy’s a full grown adult!”
“Sure, but he just learned what a kitchen is, like, a year ago. He’s still in the formative phase…” Rin paused for a second, as she grew curious about something.
“Come to think of it,” she said as she came to the counter to collect the diced vegetables from Naputaaku, “how long do you guys live, anyway?”
“Um…” Naputaaku sat on the stool he previously stood upon as he rubbed the ice over his fin. “…forever?”
“Okay, better question. When exactly were you born?”
“On a human timescale? No idea.” Naputaaku hummed. “Technically, we come from a completely different plane of existence from this one. But Mag Menuek said he got to watch the moon form while I was twiddling my thumbs in the chaos realm! He always got the cool stuff all to himself!” he added with a huff.
Naputaaku noticed Ren and Rin had fallen silent. He whipped his head around and was surprised to see them looking at him with wide eyes and slack jaws.
“…What? What did I say?!”
“Nothing. Nothing at all…” Rin turned to Ren and whispered in his direction, “So he might be pretty old…”
Naputaaku wasn’t really sure what to make of any of this, so he just shrugged off the topic. “So, what am I supposed to do now?”
“Well, obviously we can’t let you work in the kitchen with that,” Rin said. “We’ll bandage it up and you get the rest of the day off, I guess. We shouldn’t have too much left to go here, anyway.”
“But do I still get paid?!” Naputaaku fretted a bit. He needed a replenishment of his ingredients fund soon.
“Of course. We have to compensate you for work-related injury and yadda yadda…”
Naputaaku’s face lit up. “Hooray!” Sure, the injury hurt like hell, but now he got paid time off! There really was an upside to everything.
Rin noticed the glowing expression on his face and narrowed her eyes at him with a threatening enough aura to quickly shock the excitement out of his system.
“If you’re thinking of ever pulling that on purpose…” her eyes practically became casted in shadow as she slowly whispered, “don’t.”
“Y…You got it, lowly hu—er…ma’am…” Naputaaku gulped. Ren groaned. Seriously, it’s like clockwork with this guy.
Now with extra time on his hands, Naputaaku decided to go shopping, figuring that he’d be fine so long as he didn’t rely too heavily on the injured fin. He’d deal with the pain if it meant he could get ingredients. However, Rin stopped him, insisting he had to stay and ice the wound every 20 minutes or so. He balked and tried to protest, but Rin said that if he was well enough to complain, he was well enough to work, and he found himself unable to argue with that. He reluctantly trudged up to his room (technically the storeroom) and plopped down onto his mat with a sigh. Turns out this wasn’t such a good deal after all.
He stared at the ceiling for a bit as he applied the ice pack to his wound again. Unsurprisingly, counting cracks in the foundation was mind-numbingly boring, and he wished he had a way out. Then it hit him—if his injury wouldn’t let him do anything himself…
“I’ll just get some helping hands!” he exclaimed, bolting up from his position. “My minions! Let’s go to the supermarket!”
Most of the time a few of his loyal hermit crabs at a time accompanied him, but strangely, none came into view with his summons. “I said, my minions! Where are you?” Naputaaku repeated to no avail. He fell back down on his bottom and folded his arms with a huff. He knew that sometimes the hermit crabs had their own business to attend to, but they sure chose a bad time to shirk on their duties.
And so the day came and went with Naputaaku not going anywhere, or doing much at all besides ambling over to the Fujisawas’ living room to watch a cooking channel on TV (thankfully, only one hand was needed to use the remote control) and continuing to ice his wound. Eventually he began to doze off there on the couch, and as he did, he for some reason couldn’t stop thinking about those hermit crabs. This wasn’t the first time they’d gone off somewhere, but as it started to get later in the afternoon, he wondered if they would come back before nightfall. Whatever happened, he figured he would just have to ask them where they had been tomorrow.
The next day arrived, and Naputaaku’s hand was just about back to normal. He might not have been borderline immune to pain like some of his fellow pillars, but being a god, his body was still able to mend itself multiple times more quickly than humans’. Thus, he was able to go back to his regular part-time job. Normally Sundays were quite busy at the restaurant, but today there happened to be a quite nasty spell of rain, so customers were few and far between. As a result, Naputaaku once again had little work to do that morning. While he worked, he kept an eye out to see if any of the hermit crabs had come back, but none seemed to be around. Once his shift was over, he combed the restaurant high and low and asked each member of the Fujisawa family if they had seen them, to which the answer was always no.
He was starting to become rather concerned and even more befuddled. One day was one thing, but two of not even showing up in the restaurant? And yesterday was a day he was in need, to boot. Were they…rebelling? No, that couldn’t be! What had he done wrong? He had to get to the bottom of this.
Naputaaku opened the closet in the storeroom and slipped on a small raincoat from the kids’ younger days that had been handed down for him to borrow. He was heading toward the stairs when a door clicked open from behind him. Ren was studying and had come out to get some water when he spotted the little god trotting down the hall.
“And where do you think you’re going?” the boy asked, causing Naputaaku to jump a bit.
“I’m stopping by the beach,” Naputaaku said, tugging the raincoat tighter around his neck. “I want to see what’s going on with my hermit crabs.”
“In this weather? Not a chance,” Ren chided him. “They’re calling for heavy rain and winds into the night. You’ll blow away or something.”
“I’m not that fragile, lowly human!” Naputaaku protested, his voice coming out like a toddler’s desperate whine. “And they’re my loyal minions! I can’t just sit around wondering if they turned against me, or if something happened to them, or…”
Ren sighed; he felt a twinge of guilt barring Naputaaku from going when, judging by his tone and the way in which the corners of his large mouth twitched, he was clearly distressed. But he couldn’t let him do anything reckless, either. Thankfully he had a compromise in mind, though he wasn’t sure it would work.
“Tell you what,” said Ren, “I’ll contact the club and ask if they’ve seen them. Maybe they’ve been around town.”
“Really? You will?!” Naputaaku’s cheeks lit up and his large antenna sprung upwards, billowing like a dog wagging its tail. “That’s a solid idea!”
Ren nodded and quickly pulled his phone out of his pocket. He then sent a quick text to the Occult Research Club group chat. “Now let’s just wait to hear from everyone.” He hated to bother the group, especially Ruru, but he figured they wouldn’t mind if it was to help Naputaaku.
Naputaaku got antsy and paced back and forth in Ren’s room the entire time they waited for responses. It was rather distracting, but Ren decided not to tell him off given the situation. Every time Ren’s phone buzzed, Naputaaku would fling himself to the back of Ren’s desk chair and peer over his shoulder with bated breath. After some time passed, they had heard from Ruru, Uneras (because Izuma didn’t use a cell phone), Yuika and Kikyo, and to Naputaaku’s dismay, all of them said no, but that they would keep an eye out when the weather let up.
When Ren received the last response, the dejected Naputaaku slid down from the back of his chair and slumped to the floor. “What am I supposed to do now?” he whined, his face buried in the carpet.
“The weather should be okay by tomorrow,” Ren assured him. “You can go check the beach then.” He didn’t want to admit it, but he was starting to get curious, too. The hermit crabs were most attached to Naputaaku, but they also enjoyed helping out at the restaurant from time to time and had taken a shine to Ren and his family. They didn’t seem like the type to just leave everyone behind.
Ultimately, Naputaaku left Ren’s room unsatisfied, but he had no choice but to let the rest of the day go on as usual. But sleep that night didn’t come quite as easily as it usually did.
Naputaaku’s weekday shifts were often longer than his weekend ones, as Ren and Rin spent most of the day at school, meaning he had to pick up some slack. Helping to tidy the place up for the week and catering to midday customers (usually elderly people coming in for lunch, as younger folks were at school and work) took some time, and Naputaaku ended up in an exhausting 4-hour-shift. It was a little strange–usually 4 hours didn’t feel that long, but today it was excruciating. And of course, there were no hermit crabs in sight.
As soon as both Rin and Ren were home, Naputaaku was let off, and immediately he bolted to the beach. He had hoped to find a sea of pincers and shells there waiting for him, but the sand was as blank as an empty canvas. The summer season had just ended, so people were also few and far between, save for a few strolling along the coast while it was still relatively warm out.
“Okay, minions! Enough is enough!” Naputaaku shouted. “Where are you all? Come to me now! This is an order!”
He was met with nothing but the puff of a gentle breeze. The mad god whipped his head around frantically just to make sure he wasn’t missing anything, but there wasn’t a single little claw to be found.
“Hello?! Answer me!”
This time, even the air was silent.
Instinctively he gritted his jaw, though he wasn’t sure if he was angry, worried, confused, or perhaps all of the above. Without a moment’s hesitation, he started plodding all around the beach. Restlessly he staggered around up and down, up and down, closely eyeing every shell and pebble poking out of the sand, even getting on his own hands and knees to dig around some as he repeatedly called for the crabs with his Frenzied Whisper. Some people stared at him as he passed, but he paid them no mind; in fact, he barely registered them in his vision. He had one thing on his mind and one thing only.
Unfortunately, his body couldn’t keep up with him for that long, especially after a tiring day at work. Panting heavily, he eventually collapsed on his back, closely feeling soft grains of sand shift around his exhausted figure. Nothing else remained but the muffled sound of the waves and the late afternoon sun dimly lighting the sky behind the clouds. It was almost like being half-submersed in a deprivation tank, exacerbated by his tiredness and the fact that he felt very alone.
That was, until…
“Naputa-kun? Is that you?”
“Huh?” Naputaaku grunted as he pried himself up after some time of almost becoming one with the sand. Approaching him was none other than Ruru Miyanagi, bucket in one hand and rake in the other, as well as Mag Menuek of Destruction on her head, of course.
“Little lady? And Mag Menuek?” he murmured. “What are you two doing here?”
“Digging for clams for dinner, of course. What about…oh!” Ruru gasped as she remembered the previous day. “You must be here to look for the hermit crabs! Ren told us at school that they never showed up last night.”
“It certainly sounds like a hassle,” Magu huffed. “I never imagined those little ones to be so elusive.”
Naputaaku sighed deeply. “Well, I haven’t had any luck. I just combed the entire place for them…” His antenna sagged before him as his shoulders drooped, and Ruru immediately felt a little pang. She knew better than anyone what it was like to miss someone, so she felt an irresistible urge to help–she would do it for anyone, but especially for a good friend.
“Don’t worry! We’ll help you out!” she said confidently, bending down and helping him back to his feet. “We’ll try to find them under the sand while we dig for clams.”
Naputaaku shook his head. “Tried that already. All over the place.” He made a sweeping motion with his arm, and sure enough, when Ruru looked closely, there were holes that were evidently made with Naputaaku’s fins dotted all around them.
“Wow. You really did look hard…” Ruru put a hand to her chin as she tried to figure out something else to do.
“Ah-ha!” she exclaimed with a finger in the air as an idea finally came to her. “I know! Let’s try this!”
Not too long later, Ren passed by the beach. He had to do a bit of a double take at what he saw.
Ruru was there hunched over on her forearms and knees, her back straightened like she was doing some kind of half-plank and her cover-up draped over her like some kind of carapace. She stared with a laser-focused glare into the distance. Magu and Naputaaku were on either side of her, trying to mimic her position as best as they could with their tiny limbs. Magu in particular seemed to be struggling, as the best he could do was splay out on his stomach and elongate his flexible, doughy body while he laid his arms in front of him in a military crawl position.
Ren descended down the stairs to the coast and rushed to their side. “What the heck are you guys doing?” he deadpanned, and they all looked up in surprise, not even noticing that he’d been there.
“Oh, hi, Ren!” Ruru greeted, still maintaining her position. “Did you know Naputa-kun was out here looking for the hermit crabs? How sweet of you to check up on him!” she added with a grin that was somewhere between sincere and cheeky.
“What?” The boy was taken aback by her comment, and the blood rushed to his cheeks. “No, that’s not what I–I was just on my run–I mean, I had a feeling he was here, but…oh, forget it.” He realized he wasn’t succeeding in covering himself up (she was indeed at least half right), but shook himself briefly to regain his composure. “So what’s up with…this?”
“We are very obviously ‘doing a crab,’ scamp,” Magu boomed, retaining the somewhat abrasive tone he often used toward Ren. It was apparent that the two of them had a bit of a vitriolic dynamic, though Ruru could never figure out why, as Ren had first told her they made fast friends.
“What he means is that we’re trying to become one with the hermit crabs,” Ruru explained. “I saw this on a wildlife documentary once. We’re acting like them to get into their heads. To draw them out, you know? Be one to know one, get the picture?” She crawled forward a bit and clicked her tongue to make little pincer noises, and Magu and Naputaaku pathetically tried to mimic her.
“No, I…I kinda don’t…?” Ren replied, clearly sounding befuddled. He was torn between this being a typical silly Ruru thing or a did-Ruru-hit-her-head-on-the-way-home-from-school thing. Thank goodness nobody was here anymore besides him.
Conversely, perhaps Ruru needed the reality check. “Yeah, this isn’t working, is it,” she said with a defeated sigh and sat back down on her knees. Magu and Naputaaku continued to wriggle around and make noises until Ruru said, “You guys can stop now.” The two of them paused before both flopping to the ground almost simultaneously.
Well, now this was just sad. Ren wondered if he should’ve just let them be. But they also clearly weren’t going to make any progress like that.
“Ack…” Naputaaku moaned, slowly peeling himself off of the sand, “I’m wiped. I guess I’ll just have to try again tomorrow…”
Ruru stood up and brushed herself off, with Magu following her lead. “Magu-chan and I are gonna stay here a while longer, so we’ll let you know if we see anything! Hang in there, okay?”
“Yeah…” Naputaaku trudged as far as he could before unceremoniously plopping before Ren’s feet. The boy sighed heavily and threw the starfish over his shoulder.
“I guess I’m taking him home, then. See you later, Ruru.”
“Bye-bye! See you at school tomorrow!”
As Ruru waved the duo off, Magu stared at the two of them silently, more specifically at Naputaaku. He had seen his old rival in many a sorry state before and did not care an inch, but this time he felt a mysterious twinge in his gut. Did he pity his plight? Perhaps he was growing softer than he realized. Or there was something else motivating him to sympathize. Something personal…
“Is something the matter, Magu-chan?” Ruru asked, snapping the god of destruction out of his ponderings.
“Nay,” he said, shaking his head-body side to side for emphasis. “Let us continue with our procuring of clams.”
He would need to think more deeply about this later.
The next day, Naputaaku decided to go to the beach around nightfall instead. He had wondered if perhaps they were there, but were shying away from something during the day, and would be more comfortable coming out at night. Granted, this would be uncharacteristic of the extraverted and friendly little critters, but he wouldn’t rule out the possibility that they just wanted some quiet for a bit. Everyone is like that sometimes, right? Would it be that unusual?
Or were his theories just an attempt to convince himself?
Once again he tried to whisper to them all, but his summons fell on dead air just as they had the previous day. However, he expected this. That was only his warm-up attempt–he had come equipped with a second part to his plan.
With a smirk that nobody could see, he triumphantly reached into a plastic shopping bag hanging on his arm to pull out…a container of seaweed, fresh from the store. He thought of it on a whim after his shift, and he was frankly surprised he hadn’t thought of it before. Of course food would entice them! Who wouldn’t be lured in by the promise of their favorite food? He still felt a little upset that he had to bribe his own minions when that was never necessary before, but that wasn’t important as long as it worked.
So one could imagine the shock he felt when it did not, in fact, work.
He had simply spread the seaweed in front of him, sat down pretzel-style, and waited patiently. And waited. And waited. And waited. And soon about a half hour or so (by his estimation) had passed, but the night was as silent as ever.
The starfish god’s body quivered with disbelief. How could this be? The hermit crabs had told him before that they had quite a keen sense of smell around water, so if they were around, they would surely pick up on the snack’s presence. Were they just not hungry? Who would ever not be hungry? Were they sick? Or…
…Maybe they weren’t there.
Naputaaku shook his head furiously, refusing to take no for an answer (especially now that he had wasted a perfectly good container of seaweed). “Oh, come on!” he cried, “I can’t take this anymore! Just…just…!”
His jagged jaw slowly began to expand, cracks forming along the yellow-green flesh surrounding his mouth, and his bloodshot eyeball inched forward to the front of the gaping void that was the inside of his mouth. He quaked as he took in a sharp inhale. He didn’t want to have to resort to using this since it took so long to recuperate his energy, but he saw no other way now.
A large thunderclap rang out overhead, causing him to jump and let out all the pressure he’d been building up for his signature move. He jerked his head toward the sky and, sure enough, a thin drop of water slid into his agape jaw.
“Oh, no. Not again—“
Another rumble knocked him off his feet, and the pattering of cold pins against his skin were beginning to grow more frequent and faster. The wind was beginning to whip up around him, slapping his flesh repeatedly with growing intensity. How there were so many storms these days when it was well past the rainy season, he had no idea, but it was annoyingly driving him out. He had no choice but to leave before it got worse.
He stood himself up and sprinted toward the stairs that led back up to high ground. Another gust of wind sent him face first into the cold, stone staircase, but he managed to crawl his way to the top. He clung to the rail at the top for a bit before taking off when there was a brief respite from the wind. Lightning had begun to flash in the distance. Trying not to stagger from the loud noises and wet cement along the way, he fought his way toward the restaurant.
A tear of frustration slid from his eyeball, melting into the sea of rain.
Naputaaku arrived home that night drenched, winded and battered. Only the head chef (Roku, the father of the Fujisawas) remained in the kitchen, and seeing the state his employee was in, wordlessly handed him a towel to dry himself off. Naputaaku then trudged up to his room, too exhausted to do anything more, and fell dead asleep.
It was the fifth straight day now of the hermit crabs being MIA, and Naputaaku was struggling hard to resist the creeping realization he was having. He was Naputaaku the Mad—he couldn’t let his spirit be broken so easily! He’d been in tight, almost hopeless spots before—recently, even—and always found a way to bounce back. This stubbornness within him drove him back to the beach once more that night, though he found himself trudging a bit more than usual.
“Tonight is the night I find you!” Naputaaku shouted as he stood tall with the waves at his back, and took his charging stance once again. This time he didn’t waste a moment standing around, lest luck turn on him again. His jaw opened wide, his inhale sending the air right into his mouth like a cannonball being loaded, and finally, he let the cannon fire.
His deep, curdling roar that had the power to disrupt the sound barrier and control the psyches of others penetrated the quiet night, his madness hurtling out of his throat with full intensity. With all his might, he projected his words so that they pierced the sky.
“ Where…are… ”
Suddenly a loud splash sounded out from behind him, interrupting Naputaaku’s Frenzied Roar and causing him to be swept right off his feet in surprise. And then came a booming voice in his mind:
Naputaaku swiveled his head around and gasped as he came almost nose to nose with…what in the dark of night appeared to be a giant blob with fins, but he would know that cry anywhere. With a sharp yelp, he stumbled back and began shaking in fear.
“You! What are you doing here?!” he shouted, holding his hand out and shooing his shark minion, also known as “The Ruler of the Sea.” “I told you to stay away from me!”
Wait! the shark pleaded. I heard you calling and just wanted to…
“Well, you’re not helping!” Naputaaku growled. “The hermit crabs will never come out with you scaring them off!”
Hm? What do you mean? the shark asked with a tilt of her head.
“If you must know, they’ve been missing for days!” Though he was still trembling somewhat, Naputaaku managed to stand up and brush the sand off of him. “Happy? Now go away,” he said as he too turned around and started to stomp off. Yet again he was forced to retreat. He didn’t want to be around her for a minute longer, lest his trauma intensify further.
The shark gasped. I’m so sorry! I never realized! Please, wait! I’m here to...
But the mad god didn’t so much as pause, and he was off. The shark drooped halfway back into the sea with shame. She felt terrible for scaring her beloved leader, and the hermit crabs were her friends. Wasn’t there anything she could do?
It was day six, and Naputaaku’s emotions were a swirling mess. After a spark of determination the day before, his multiple failures were starting to wear on him, and it almost felt like déjà vu. Sure, the previous night’s failure was sort of self-induced, but he couldn’t help his survival instinct kicking in.
Although he tried to pretend like it wasn’t, his distress was starting to become very noticeable through his work, too. It took him longer to get things done, he almost burnt his puddings, and he was abnormally quiet while cleaning (usually he was a chatterbox, whether he was boasting or complaining).
That evening, Ruru had come over for dinner, since she was running low on meals and was quite exhausted from homework and taking care of the house. She always felt somewhat bad about making the Fujisawas take care of her, but they didn’t mind, and she was happy to give them business, too. However, there was also another reason she decided to come on this night in particular.
“Naputa-kun!” The starfish had come out from the back almost as soon as Ruru was done eating. She approached him and smiled as he simply started swishing the mop back and forth in the same spot over and over, not even looking up to acknowledge her. The restaurant happened to be quiet that day, and Ruru was one of the last customers, so cleanup had already started.
“Look, Naputa-kun! I have something for you!” Ruru was holding a shopping bag she had brought with her, the contents of which she waited until now to unveil.
“Huh?” Naputaaku said listlessly, then paused what he was doing and limply glanced up to see what she had taken out of the bag. It was a little felt plushie that, besides being a bit thin, looked just like one of his hermit crabs, specifically one with a brown, spiky spiral shell. It had beady little button eyes, and it even wore a little stringy smile, despite real hermit crabs not having a visible human-like mouth.
“See? I made you a hermit crab plushie!” Ruru exclaimed, trying to keep a chipper tone. “Now maybe you won’t miss them as much!”
The mop clattered to the floor as Naputaaku silently took the plushie from Ruru’s hands. He examined it straight in the eyes for a good few seconds.
“But it’s just a toy,” he murmured before gently putting it on the ground and going back to what he was doing.
Ruru frowned. “Aww. I know it’s not the same, but…”
“I warned you he would say that,” called Magu from where he stood on one of the tables with his tentacles wrapped around the last of his tofu burger. He had already been through this experience, after all, and Ruru had attempted the exact same thing then.
Ruru glared at him. “You don’t have to rub it in.” She let out a sad sigh and, with slumped shoulders, sauntered over to Ren, who was wiping the counter.
“I had to try something ,” she said, “I just feel so bad for him…”
Ren nodded. “Well, it’s appreciated.” He tried to avert her gaze, staring down at the counter.
“To be honest, I really don’t know what to do either.”
Rin came inside from taking down the restaurant's sign and went up to the two of them, having heard their conversation. “Well, we’d better figure something out or hope they just turn up somewhere, because he can’t keep going like…this.” She gestured over to Naputaaku, who now stood with his head held low, peering inside the bucket with the mop dipped in, unmoving.
“But where else could they be?” Ruru asked. “Everyone’s been keeping an eye out for days, and Naputa-kun’s been to the beach a bunch of times.”
“I mean…” Ren started, “if they’re really just gone, maybe he could just summon some new ones?”
Suddenly Naputaaku’s antenna stood on end, and slowly he lifted his shoulders, his body trembling. “You…”
Venom dripped from his voice, and the group flinched, not expecting him to react this way. He stomped angrily over to the counter and leapt onto the ledge, not caring that Ren had just cleaned it down.
“Foolish lowly human!” he yelled, pointing at Ren accusingly. “Those hermit crabs are mine! How dare you suggest my minions are replaceable! ”
Before anyone could respond, he bounced off the counter and made a mad dash toward the restaurant doors, screaming with rage.
“Hey, wait a second!” Ren shouted, reaching out to him. “That’s not what I–”
But it was too late. Naputaaku pushed through the doors, and the force with which he pushed them was so great they practically flew open, swinging a few times before finally coming to a close.
“Damn it,” Ren muttered, banging a fist on the counter. “Me and my big mouth…” Not only had he further upset his buddy, he also managed to look like a big insensitive jerk in front of his crush.
Ruru furrowed her eyebrows. “I’m sure you didn’t really mean any harm. But he definitely took it hard.”
“I think you ought to go after him,” Rin suggested. “The last time he ran off like this, he got into a whole bunch of trouble. I’ll finish up here.”
Ren nodded and came out from behind the counter, fists clenched. “Don’t worry. I’ll make things right with him somehow.” He began to walk out the door, but noticed Ruru and Magu following him.
“We’ll come, too,” Ruru said, and Magu let out a hmph. If it was his disciple’s desire, he had to comply.
“You don’t have to,” Ren replied. “I’m the one that pushed him over the edge. I can deal with it…”
“It’s not that. I’m worried about Naputa-kun, too. I’ll be upset if I go home not knowing he’s okay.”
Ren exhaled deeply. “All right. As long as it’s not a burden to you…”
“Not at all,” Ruru said with a melancholy yet comforting smile. She then looked ahead toward the door, her eyes glistening with hardy determination. “Now, let’s get moving. I think we all know where he’s probably headed.”
The night had gotten a bit foggy, and whatever lights were still on in town were like the dull light of an old firefly as the group made their way toward the beach. They moved briskly so as to not be stuck in the fog for too long, lest it get any worse.
It was difficult to make out anything along the coast with the fog, but luckily Magu came equipped with a handy little trick. He was able to create something of a flashlight by weakly charging his eyebeam in front of him, letting the glowing ball of energy light the way. They still had to search quickly, as he could only hold it for so long. Ruru held him forward and swiveled him around like a beacon. At last, they found a starfish-shaped silhouette facing the sea.
“Naputa-kun!” Ruru called out, but he didn’t budge. Looking closely, Ruru noticed it seemed like his back was turned to them, and his body was low to the sand. “What’s he doing?” Ruru pondered, turning to Ren. He simply shook his head and approached him, Magu and Ruru following suit.
“Naputaaku,” Ren called as he drew closer from behind, “I–”
He paused, the words hitched in his throat, as he saw what was before him. Ruru gasped, and even Magu seemed a bit stunned.
Lined along the coast in front of the mad god were at least a dozen shells of all shapes and sizes–conical, round, spiraled, small and large. One thing was for sure–they looked familiar. Naputaaku knelt in the sand before them, his head bowed low. Shivering, he gently scooped up a few of them in his arms.
“I…I don’t understand…” Naputaaku whispered, a quaver in his voice. “It can’t be…why…?”
“Hold on,” Ren said, “we don’t know if it’s their shells just yet…”
Naputaaku turned his head toward him slightly. His eye was only slightly exposed and covered in shadow, but his pained look was evident even through the mist. “It’s theirs. I would know their shells anywhere.”
Magu hummed. “So they either fled…or…”
Ruru’s hands flew to her mouth. “No…”
None of them knew what to say after that. Naputaaku hugged the shells closer to his chest as his breathing grew heavier.
“It’s not fair,” he choked out. “Why would they…what did I do? Was I…”
He shifted his body to fully face his friends now, and up close they could see the fear-stricken look in his eye, his pupil dilated.
“Was I not good enough for them?”
He was met with silence, as none of them knew how to comfort him in that moment. Ren exhaled shakily, kneeling down to his level and gently putting a hand on his shoulder.
For a moment Naputaaku was still, as if processing what was happening. Then he began to tremble even more intensely, any semblance of words or breaths caught in a blubbering mess of sniffles. He shook his head furiously and broke away from Ren, staggering as he faced the sea once more.
He collapsed to the ground, his hands gripping the sand as if it was all he had left to hold onto.
Uncontrollable sobs wracked the starfish’s body in full force, his shrill cries like winds howling through the night. All his attempts, all his worrying, all of it shattered like glass, and his heart felt heavier than it ever had before.
Ruru was unable to hold back tears at the sight, and she too quietly cried along with the starfish, sniffling softly. Ren tried to avert his gaze at the two of them, clutching the skin of his knee hard as the grip of guilt wrapped around his chest.
Only Magu observed the scene unflinchingly, his watchful eye scanning his companions. In his mind, he was seeing a scene of his own. A scene of a house, of a human and two dogs, of himself clutched tightly by his disciple as they walked further and further away from them, and the littlest pup turned to him with a whine, tail between his legs. The numbness, the confusion, the anger–all of it came back to him as he witnessed his brethren crumpled on the ground, broken.
He wriggled out of Ruru’s arms, catching her off guard, and landed right next to Naputaaku.
“Naputaaku…” he started, raising one of his tentacles in the air.
And then, he slapped him right on the back, the starfish yelping at the sudden whip.
“...look at me, damn you!”
Ruru gasped. “Magu-chan…!” The octopus held his other tentacle out to stop her. Naputaaku looked up at him in shock.
“What…?” he whimpered. Magu wasted no time wrapping both arms tightly around his shoulders, his imposing, bloodshot eye staring directly into that of his fellow pillar.
“Cease your whimpering, you pathetic shell of a being,” Magu said sternly, jolting Naputaaku. “Have you no pride in yourself? In your minions?!”
“Huh?” Naputaaku sputtered. “What are you talking about, Mag Menuek?”
“I know what it’s like to lose a minion,” Magu growled, albeit a little bit softer. “It’s a blight on our dignity as gods, which depends so heavily on their loyalty and servitude. But…”
Magu flashed back once again, this time to him and Ruru in his home, and to the pup showing up at his door and licking his gelatinous body. Then to himself falling from the sky, his flesh half depleted, and falling onto a furry back dashing nobly through the mist. And finally, to the murky depths of the river, sinking and emerging, and then to a paw gently meeting his own with the setting sun behind them.
“...For a god to lose faith in the trust between themself and their minion is worst of all,” he said as his destructive gaze bore into his brethren’s.
Naputaaku tried to wiggle free from him. “But they’re gone, Mag Menuek. And it’s–”
“Whatever happened is not your fault,” Magu said. “Perhaps it was simply nature’s course, but I know they trusted you more than any other being in this realm. They followed you to the ends of the earth, worshipped the ground you stand on. They would never, ever hold a grudge against you. You have to believe in that trust. And in yourself as their leader.”
Naputaaku was silent. He wasn’t sure exactly what Magu meant when he said he knew how he felt, nor did he know why he was suddenly being so genuine with him, but somehow, it soothed him.
“So what do I do?” he asked in a low tone. Magu’s grip loosened around him.
“You live on. You become stronger. It’s what they would want.”
Naputaaku’s breaths slowed, and Magu let go of him fully. The starfish was finally able to stand, and while he still shook slightly, his tensed muscles began to soften.
“I guess you’re right,” he admitted between sniffles, “I don’t know how I’ll go on without them, but…”
Magu nodded. “You will. As much as it’s annoyed me, your tenacity is great. And perhaps…” Magu looked out at the wide sea. The fog was beginning to clear, and his pupil glistened as the stars returned.
“...Someday, somehow, you will see them again. And you will be stronger together.”
Naputaaku turned to him incredulously. “Even if they’re…?”
Magu shrugged. “Who knows? We are divine beings, after all.”
The starfish stabilized himself as he gulped back the last of his tears. In the meantime, he took the scattered shells and gathered them in a pile, as if making a marker of their memory. Ruru dried her eyes with a slight smile. She never thought Magu would be able to get through to him so well.
Ren too was relieved that Magu had somehow managed to soften Naputaaku’s grief. He hated to admit it, but he owed him one. He lifted Naputaaku from underneath his arms.
“It’s getting late. You ready?”
Naputaaku nodded, and Ren let him climb up to his favorite spot on his shoulder. Before they were off, Naputaaku took one last look back at the open sea.
Wherever you are...I’m still your leader.
A couple of weeks passed, and though he went through some brief relapses from time to time when he noticed the hermit crabs’ absence, Naputaaku was slowly but surely recovering back to his normal self. He still didn’t have the heart to summon new minions, but he forgave Ren for his comment, although mostly because he had been through such an emotional roller coaster that night that he had kind of forgotten it.
One late afternoon, after his shift, Naputaaku decided to take a walk. It had been abnormally warm for a few days considering it was nearly autumn, so he wanted to take advantage of the slightly cooler weather. He was very sensitive to both heat and cold, but the current mild coolness was just the right temperature to put him in a good mood.
Although he was getting better, he still hadn’t worked up the courage to visit the beach since the night he discovered the discarded shells. Whenever he’d go out shopping, he’d walk briskly past it and look away. Today, however, he paused in front of it, slowly turning his head toward the sun setting the glistening waves ablaze as it began its descent. Somehow it felt welcoming, like a nice warm hug, so he took a deep breath and waddled down the steps toward the shore.
Naputaaku approached what he believed to be the spot in which he had left the pile of shells, but the pile had disappeared—which he expected, of course, with the tide going in and out every day. He let the water’s edge nibble his feet, and it calmed him. For an immortal being that only looked like a starfish, he sure felt comfortable in one’s environment. Maybe spending centuries at the bottom of the sea somehow altered his chemistry.
Or perhaps it was simple nostalgia. The moment in which he’d finally broken out of his seal was a bit of a blur, but he remembered the first thing he’d felt upon rising to the surface was exactly what he was standing in now. As soon as he emerged, his eye laid upon none other than Mag Menuek in his new diminutive form, and they both proceeded to mock and deride each other. The girl accompanying Mag Menuek that he’d come to know as Ruru made herself familiar with him right away, challenging both him and Magu to a clam-digging competition. Even Ren had come by, though ironically Naputaaku barely acknowledged him at the time.
Then, during the clam digging competition, he belted out a Frenzied Roar, and…
Naputaaku shook his head. Memories started floating back up in his mind, but he tried to push them down. He had just made it through his first consecutive string of days without dwelling on them. Was he about to fall back into that pit now?
Suddenly the water felt a little colder and snappier. Perhaps he couldn’t be here just yet after all. He turned around to go home, but as soon as he did so he was tormented by the fact that he could have sworn he heard:
Naputaaku froze, unable to run as the explosion from the giant splash drenched him. The combination of the cold of the water and his shark minion’s hot breath on his back shattered any sense of serenity the environment might have previously given him.
Just what he needed tonight: double trauma.
Finally the fear sent a jolt through his system, and he managed to turn around, shivering as he slowly backed away from the shark, ready to bail. But the shark desperately held out her fins toward him.
Leader, wait! Please don’t run!
“Give me one good reason!” Naputaaku blurted, one foot already stretched behind him. Without a moment’s pause, the shark cried:
I found them!
Now Naputaaku was frozen again, but this time from a different kind of shock entirely. He slowly shifted his weight, which was leaned back, forward again.
“…What?” he barely squeaked out, stunned.
The hermit crabs! the shark gasped. They’re okay! I can explain everything if you just give me a chance!
The wave of emotions rushing over Naputaaku was even more intense than the literal one that had just hit him. He almost couldn’t believe his ears. They were okay? They were alive?! But wait—this was the shark that was talking! Could he really trust her, after all the times she had gotten so close she could eat him? How did he know she wasn’t just trying to lure him in? He wanted answers, but he was afraid, afraid…a nervous tingle went up his spine, and his antenna stood on end. He looked deep into the shark’s beady, pleading eyes. And then he remembered…
For a god to lose faith in the trust between themself and their minion is worst of all.
You have to believe in that trust. And in yourself as their leader.
Magu’s words resounded within his skull. That’s right—whether he had liked it or not, this shark was his minion. His Frenzied Roar wasn’t strong enough anymore to hold its possession of the psyche for long, but he did attract his minions long enough to earn their loyalty. That should apply to anyone he used his technique on. The only way in which the shark was unlike his hermit crabs was appearance. Besides, as much as he hated to remember it, she had saved him and the other pillars of chaos from a deserted island not too long ago.
Trust. He had to trust.
Naputaaku let out a deep, resigned sigh and let himself fall onto the sand, sitting cross-legged as he tried to regain his composure.
“Okay,” he finally said with a nod. “Tell me what you know, my minion.”
The shark nodded. I searched the whole ocean blue, trying to track their scent. And then I finally found them on an island out at sea.
Naputaaku cocked his head. “Like the one we got stuck on?”
No, a different one. Less tropical, more foresty. The shark quickly looked around. In fact, there should be a thin strip along the coast connecting this town to that island. That’s how they got there in the first place.
“So they left to go mate? Why didn’t they tell me?” Naputaaku’s jagged jaw turned into a worried frown. “They’re not mad at me…are they?”
The shark shook her head. Not at all. Even leaving you for just a little while upset them greatly. Tears began to form in the shark’s eyes. They were afraid to tell you you’d have to spend time without them, and hesitated for so long that they were actually late to meet up with the rest of their species.
Naputaaku hummed. He felt relieved about the extent of their dedication.
“Still,” he grumbled, “not telling me only made it harder on me. I grieved for days on end.”
I told them you were upset. They’re very sorry. But… the shark perked up a little bit.
When I saw them, they said the mating season was almost over. It’s only been a day or two since, but they should be back soon!
Naputaaku mulled over this for a moment. Technically he could wait…but he didn’t want to. He had a different idea. He stood and pointed at his shark minion.
“Minion, I have a favor to ask of you.”
The shark’s eyes lit up. You do?
Naputaaku nodded, holding himself up stalk straight with determination.
“Take me to them.”
The shark’s large maw went agape. Right now?
“I want to check on them. And I want them to see me.” He tepidly stepped forward. The shark’s imposing size still frightened him, but he didn’t have time to cower now.
“We have to make up. We owe it to each other as master and minion. So please…” he bowed his head.
“Let me visit them!”
A pearly tear slid down the shark’s cheek, and her eyes sparkled brighter than the sea. Finally, her leader was asking for help! Her help!
Just leave it to me, Leader! The shark briefly dived back underwater and swooshed her heavy tail, turning herself around with the momentum. When she emerged, her back faced Naputaaku, and she fanned her flipper to gesture toward him to climb on.
Naputaaku gulped, having never purposely felt the shark before. He gingerly placed both hands on her flank. It was cold, slimy, and a little bit rough to the touch, like sandpaper. It was an odd feeling, but he pressed on and slowly slid his arms forward, then mounted atop her with his legs, inching forward as though he was climbing a tree. Finally, he reached her dorsal fin, clutching it tightly with a grunt and leaning forward as he hugged his legs close to the shark’s sides. He tapped the shark’s side with one leg.
“Let us be off!” he shouted, pointing ahead.
Aye-aye, Leader! The shark took off instantly, her boat-like body gliding across the sea like a jet plane. The whooshing of wind and waves sung past Naputaaku’s ears. He clenched his teeth, a bold grin creeping on his face.
“Wait for me, hermit crabs! I’m coming!”
The ride to the island the shark was talking about wasn’t incredibly long, but despite being an excellent swimmer, Naputaaku wasn’t used to traveling at such high velocities. He wobbled a bit as he hopped off the shark’s back and onto the island’s rocky coast. Like she had said, this island looked different than the one he had been stranded on before. Rather than being lined with palm trees, a jumbled labyrinth of what appeared to be conifers stood before him. He was surrounded by the chirping of crickets and the cawing of birds whooshing through the trees. The air felt a bit cooler than it did back home. He was starting to wonder how this existed relatively close to a warmer beachside town, but he didn’t have much time to stand there and question. He had hermit crabs to find.
“What should I do now? I don’t see them around here,” Naputaaku asked, turning to the shark. “Will my Frenzied Roar reach them?”
When I came by, they happened to be here along the coast, the shark responded. They must be deeper in the forest now .
“Okay,” Naputaaku said with a nod, “I’ll go in a little further, then.” With a gulp, he stepped forward gingerly, wincing as he accidentally stepped on the edge of a rock, but pressed onward regardless. He wondered what kind of mates his minions had chosen. He imagined they couldn’t be all that different from them, since they were presumably the same species of crab. He shuddered as he remembered the other species he had come across on the deserted island, which was much more hostile.
Naputaaku went just far enough into the forest that he was surrounded by trees on all sides. It was starting to get dark, and he began to get the jitters again. He shook himself off, fighting the chill creeping down his spine, and took a deep breath as he opened his maw wide.
“ Minions! Where are you?! ” he shouted, the echo of his Frenzied Roar piercing through the forest faster than the hawks flying through the air.
Eventually he paused to catch his breath, waiting patiently as the roar’s reverberation gradually melted away. The trees and bushes swayed and rustled as startled birds and insects whizzed away (he had fine-tuned the frequencies of his roar to target the psyches of only creatures already under his control). The air grew quiet, and yet no hermit crabs came into view. Naputaaku began to grow worried. For a brief moment, he wondered again if the shark was tricking him. But Magu’s words popped back into his mind, and he shook off the thought. He arched his back, settling into position for another bellow.
Naputaaku let loose his Frenzied Roar once more, thrusting as much air through his lungs as he possibly could. The noise petered out when he could no longer maintain it, and he collapsed to his knees, exhausted. Nothing around him seemed to change. He grit his teeth. He couldn’t give up now! He tried to push himself back up for another move, but his limbs hobbled underneath him, and he fell to the ground with his face buried in the dirt. It seemed he was out of energy, and even attempting to use the attack again would make him pass out instantly. Coming all the way in here was stupid, he decided. What would’ve changed had he at least stayed by the coast? Now he might end up conked out in the middle of this creepy forest. A bitter tear welled up in his eye.
“Why…?” He managed to sputter as his vision, already hampered by the coming darkness, blurred. His head spun and spun, and he felt so weak he wondered if he would die here if he wasn’t an immortal being. The world began to grow fuzzy…
A squeaky telepathic voice rang through his skull. Great , he thought, now I’m hearing voices in my head, and not the literal kind.
The voice persisted. He wondered if this was his own psyche trying to keep him awake.
Leader! Leader! Leader!
The voices multiplied, a chorus of cries not ceasing for even a second. Naputaaku couldn’t take the mental teasing anymore. He mustered up his last ounce of remaining strength to lift his neck and shouted to the heavens, “Shut u–”
But his voice hitched at what he saw.
Blobs with shapes of all kinds atop their backs huddled around him. He blinked, his glance darting to and fro. To his front, to his left, to his right, perhaps even behind him where he couldn’t see. Even with his weakened vision and the oncoming dark of night, he could identify them easily. They were hermit crabs– his hermit crabs.
“My minions…?” Trembling, he reached out a fin to ensure he wasn’t dreaming. A few of the crabs drew closer and held his hand with their tiny claws. The others around them jumped up and down giddily.
Yes, they were real.
Naputaaku tried to choke out some kind of coherent thought, but all that came out were little gasps. A sloppy tear fell from his eye, but this time not one of sadness. Fueled by raw emotion, he staggered to his knees, flopped forward, and grabbed as many of the little crabs as he could, pulling them close to his chest. The crabs cuddled into his bosom, accepting his embrace.
The chaos god felt the overwhelming feeling of relief wash over him like a blanket, and his body began to buckle again. The hermit crabs that were in his arms crawled out, and the last thing he perceived before succumbing to his tiredness was the feeling of being lifted gently in the air.
“So…it’s definitely against health and safety codes to have 200 hermit crabs in the restaurant, right?”
Ren turned to his sister, who simply shrugged.
“I guess it’s too late to kick ‘em out now.”
Naputaaku’s mad army, now double in size, crawled about happily as they munched on the bountiful amount of seaweed and veggies their leader had bought them to celebrate their return. The god in question sat on the floor watching them, with a few climbing on his lap and shoulders.
“I’m just glad Naputa-kun is happy again,” said Ruru, who had come over to visit. She glanced over at Magu, who was next to his fellow pillar, systematically having the new arrivals “sign” their names in his Book of Destruction Disciples’ Blood Oaths as he gobbled down some of the excess seaweed. Naputaaku found him extremely annoying, but didn’t want to scare the new hermit crabs by shooing him away.
When Naputaaku passed out on the island, the hermit crabs carried him over to his shark minion and draped him over her. A few of them hitched a ride on the shark’s back to hold their leader straight as she took them back home, and when they made it back to Aikura, those crabs chauffeured Naputaaku back to the restaurant. Over the next couple of days, the rest of their kin made the trek back, the shark helping to speed up the process. And once they had all gathered safely, Naputaaku decided he wanted to treat them all as a sign of his forgiveness and appreciation.
“There’s going to be more where this came from!” Naputaaku said perkily, turning to the humans. “The females laid their eggs over by the coast. Once they emerge, my mad army will grow even bigger! Mwa ha ha!” The hermit crabs bounced along gleefully with their leader’s chortle.
“I think you mean my cult,” Magu grumbled, haughtily tapping his book.
Naputaaku smacked him lightly in response. “No way! Get your own minions!” he whined.
“Hrm…” Magu rubbed the flab of flesh where his chin would be, and his eye twitched in a way that could be interpreted as a smirk. “Actually, I seem to recall you owing me for snapping you out of your slump. I’d say joint custody is compensation enough.”
“What?!” Naputaaku sputtered. “But…”
He trailed off, for as much as he hated to admit it, it was Magu that kept his spirits up after he thought he had lost them. He groaned and swiftly turned away from him, scrambling to hide the blush forming on his cheeks, then folded his arms. “Snide little slimeball and your ‘I told you so’ crap…” he mumbled.
Ruru giggled and shook her head at the childish display. Meanwhile, Ren raised an eyebrow. Joint custody…?
The sudden sound of Rin clearing her throat startled the group. She had absentmindedly been checking the refrigerator, and her intimidating slow-walk toward the counter told the others whatever she had seen was something she didn’t like.
“I distinctly remember Dad storing some fish in the freezer. Any idea what happened to it…” she whipped her head in the starfish’s direction and glowered at him. “ …Napu?”
A bolt of shock ran down Napu’s spine as he yelped. He thrust his hands out in front of him to defend himself.
“W-Wait, hold on! I didn’t—well, maybe—alright, fine, it was me! But I promise it was for a good reason, okay?!”
“It better have been,” Rin growled. “You know what happens to employees who steal from our kitchen…"
“Okay, okay, fine!” The flustered Naputaaku said. “I’ll explain…”
As the sun set over the horizon, Naputaaku’s shark minion leisurely propelled herself over to the coast to gaze over the town—or at least what she could see of it from her lookout spot along the beach. She often wondered exactly what went on over there in the human world. She watched humans on boats or playing on the beach every now and again, but she couldn’t really get to know them, as almost all of them were frightened of her. She had seen her leader’s friends, the ones the hermit crabs told her were named “Ren” and “Ruru,” a couple of times. They seemed nice enough, but she thought it would be nice to get a little closer to the other humans her leader had gotten to know as well.
Of course, she wasn’t even sure if the leader would come back to see her. She thought about this with a sigh as the coast just barely came into view. She had done her best to help him, and yet she hadn’t seen him since he went back to the restaurant, even as she played taxi for the hermit crabs. If he was still scared of her even after all that, perhaps there really was nothing she could do…
She was briefly distracted from her reflection by a whiff of saury in the distance. She wasn’t super hungry, but she was a carnivore, and her instincts found it hard to turn down an extra treat. But the strange thing was that the smell didn’t seem to come from underwater, but instead was carried along by the wind. How odd—a fish out of water? Perhaps the creature had somehow gotten beached and died. She shimmied her tail a little faster, curious about the situation.
When she made it all the way to the coastline, she tilted her head, puzzled at what she saw. It was what looked to be a little dish covered with a lid. A few of the hermit crabs, guarding the container, waved to her. She tepidly waved back as she inched closer. When she did, the hermit crabs worked together to remove the lid, and sure enough, diced saury sat right there on the plate. There was also a little sticky note attached to the lid the hermit crabs had taken off. She had never learned how to read like the hermit crabs, so she couldn’t make out the funny little squiggles on the note.
But she did recognize one shape—one that made her gasp.
It was a tiny sketch of Naputaaku.
Her fins flew up in surprise, little beady teardrops welling up in her eyes. Swooning, she asked the hermit crabs what the note read.
It said: “Thank you, my loyal minion.”