[20:59] When Serademar came to, it was to a blanket of ferns and twigs that made a far more precarious impression than a startled twitch could prove. The whole thing made an almost woven impression, and someone had clearly gone through a whole lot of effort to make it – which made more sense once enough of his surroundings coalesced to give him a position.
Rakashei had evidently managed to drag him into a tree.
Judging by the ache of his joints, it hadn't been a very good dragging, and there were a few bruises he couldn't recall the source of that suggested perhaps it had taken a few attempts, but in any case, he was now up in a tree, covered in ferns and branches, and it wasn't quite dawn yet.
Which was good, because if this cover was supposed to keep away the Tarnish, it was built to run mostly on faith.
Aka himself was crouched under the impromptu mat a little further down the branches that propped up Era, rustling the construct ever so softly every time he picked at his toes. For a moment, in the dark of night, under the foliage, it seemed like the patterns of his feathers had somehow changed – before it became apparent that he was cleaning blood out of his feathers.
[21:09] Piecing together the conflicting evidence of his location left more confusion than elucidation. Strange impressions flitted at the edges of his mind, of tripping and stumbling, lingering fear lapping at the edges of his recollection, though of what he remained unsure. Finally, a slurred mumble, "...Aka..." Even that word hurt, and he winced, eyes shutting to abate the headache. A few breaths, then he strained out, "What in all blackness happened?"
[21:18] Aka did not have the benefit of an involuntary nap lending him calmness, and visibly jolted, the construct rested on both of them like a stiff blanket rustling a little more audibly as he did. He extracted his sickle-toe from his mouth and peered at Era through the fern fringes for a moment's uncertainty, as though to ensure whether he was talking to a ghost or not.
Finally, if with some hesitation, he imparted the most useless piece of the puzzle: "I had to get you somewhere they wouldn't be looking for you, so I dragged you up into a tree."
[21:27] He started to move, possibly thinking of responding to this information physically, but then stopped once the pain became great enough that he was tempted to make more noise than the thin hiss that escaped him. "How... did the Nayabaru leave once I was disabled?"
[21:37] The first response to Serademar's question was an uncomfortable silence. Rakashei thoughtfully licked at his toes, tucked in on himself as he was, more ball of feathers with an attached tail than any other geometry.
[21:38] "I... must have scared it off," he said, haltingly, more softly than would be customary given the circumstance. A little helplessly, he picked at the base of his footclaws with his fingers, part explanatory gesture, part uncertain humiliation.
[21:47] Seradamar pondered this, then finally decided there must be more to it that he might pursue at a later date. "We need to move. This won't hold, especially once the light begins to corrupt us here." He didn't want to move, and the bruises and injuries promised that the travel would be... unhappy. "We must find something better before dawn."
[21:55] Rakashei's feathers puffed, partly in a gesture of apology for the inadequate cover, partly in relief that Serademar thought moving was possible. "Okay," he said, quietly leaning out from under the edge of his fern-twig blanket and partly shifting it to the side, partly dismantling it for better handling.
After a moment, he paused, glancing through the new gaps in the structure at Serademar to say: "...one of the eggs is still fine." The nonsequitur morphed to an odd afterthought as he resumed working – then a large chunk of the makeshift light shield rattled down the branches, leaving a manageable amount up in the branches, which he moved aside, letting Serademar move freely.
"I hid it in the bushes," he said, glancing down. "If the rodents didn't get it while we were hunkered up here, we should take it along."
[22:35] "Of course. If it is still intact, then we must take it." Shifting out of the makeshift cover was... more painful than he recalled being allowed to feel, though he contained the desired groans and put on a brave face. *No night for weakness now, daylight will bring rest enough.* His idle thoughts were not exactly reassuring. Their adventures throughout the night had thoroughly turned him around, and their exact location and direction of travel was now a fleeting memory. Once finally moving (slowly) on the ground, he looked about. "We should travel this way for some distance. That... next stand of trees over there may have possible places to hide for the day."\
[22:43] Rakashei glanced at him with some confusion, then shook his head. "No, no, we need to get much further away than that if we're looking for traditional cover," he urged, although softly so. "We're in the middle of it. I didn't have the strength to move you far. Up was the only place I thought I could hide you, in case they came back."
Of course, 'they' hadn't come back. That was the most perplexing thing.
There was a real chance they would only return come dawn, once the light was on their side, pinning the kavkema in place, making their hiding places more apparent, robbing them of their night-time alertness – but the Nayabaru Rakashei had run off had been out at night, presumably there was no reason it could not have come back at night just the same.
With a slight tremble in each careful motion – suggesting that Serademar was not the only battered wanderer – Rakashei began to clamber back down the tree, then dropped to the ground as soon as he hit a harmless height.
[22:48] "Then after you, Aka. We'll push as far as we can. Where is the egg?" Seradamar looked around for the bush, still somewhat bleary after all that had happened.
[23:03] "It's-" Rakashei began, then glanced around as though uncertain about something. Evidently it wasn't the position of the egg he was uncertain about, though – a moment later, he was beelining for something in perfect silence.
[23:04] He crossed quite a distance, very nearly lost to the sight of a kavkem staying at the base of the tree by the time he stopped. He dipped his head, vanishing from sight amongst the foliage, then resurfaced with an egg cautiously balanced in his jaw.
He trotted back slowly, passing the egg to his forepaws in the meanwhile, pushing it a few inches into his mane. "As far as I could tell, the mother managed to crush the others – the Nayabaru took no unborn prisoners." An inventory of fates. "And only one of the parents, if at all."
[23:08] Seradamar slowly tilted his head in acknowledgement. "Then let's ensure that there are no additional prisoners to the Nayabaru's account today. Let's go."
[23:18] Rakashei fumbled at the egg for a little while, as though contemplating whether to pass it to Serademar or build it a little harness out of what he had hanging on his tool necklace to free up his hands, but that could wait. He swerved his muzzle in assent, then took note of their position, and started to slink into the direction they had originally been heading.
[23:19] After a while, he glanced at Era side-on. "How often-?" He faltered before he had even truly begun, blinking a little as he struggled with a thought. "The mother was-" He clutched the egg closer to his chest. "She was still there, so I killed her. I don't know if I did the right thing. I don't even know if it's right to doubt it, but... if I'd known I could have run the Nayabaru off..."
The implication's clear – he'd managed to drag Era into a tree; if he'd known he'd have the time and security to do so, he could have done the same for the mother.
[23:25] Seradamar had been lost in his own thoughts and the pain of travel, so the question caught him by surprise. He glanced at Aka, then looked ahead, taking a dozen steps to gather his thoughts before answering. "Aka, friend," he began. "We still do not know if we will be Nayabaru prisoners before darkcover tonight. We could not stay, and neither of us are in condition to carry. You did... right."
[23:46] "Okay," Rakashei said again, still unusually subdued and non-combative. Evidently the qasai had shaken him up a good deal, especially in combination with his unlikely close-quarters tussle with the Nayabaru. Either on its own would inspire strong emotions in any of their brethren.
But the qasai likely weighed more heavily. A stranger's wishes were hard to consider when they were sedated and vulnerable – not like a friend, where appreciation came more naturally, where one could trust that philosophies aligned. Having that already unpleasant choice so rudely negated by later circumstance couldn't be easy.
[23:47] But Rakashei evidently accepted Serademar's thin verdict, gratefully and silently clinging to the hold it gave him. Era's tone made it clear it had perhaps not been the best possible choice, but it was, all things considered, not an incorrect one.
He moved on, at least for the time being. "Did you ever... fight a Nayabaru?" he asked.
[00:00] It took Seradamar several more steps to finally reply. "You have seen all of my experience fighting Nayabaru this very night. And I clearly only fared this well because of you."
[21:59] Rakashei was struck thoughtful by the comment. "I got lucky," he said, finally, reaching a verdict. "That's all it is. It was paying attention to you, not me, and I surprised it, and got lucky with the angle of attack..." He trailed off, then flicked his muzzle to dismiss the thought.
"As we both know, the last time I encountered a Nayabaru, I was in your position. ...I'm glad I was able to pay back my debt of freedom, if not to Edaaj directly. But I hadn't expected it to work out like... this." He sounded stumped. Between the lines: 'It would be dangerous if I mistook what I did as skill.'
[22:10] Seradamar looked away, likely partially disguised as a reaction to the headache and injuries. Regardless, it took him a long time to finally just say, "...Whether lucky or skillful, either way, I thank you. For my life."
[22:22] "I can't take credit for luck, but I too am glad I tried and succeeded," Aka mused, softly. He drew his lips back from his teeth, finally allowing himself to grin lightly. Then the expression softened. "How are you feeling?"
[22:30] "Battered like the middle hatchling on birthing day," he snorted out. "It feels like some kavkem has been throwing rocks at my head and missed often enough that it just hit my body instead." A long pause for several more steps. "But well enough. There is much ground to cover before darkfall, and I will make it. How is the egg?" He glanced at the extra cargo.
[23:26] Rakashei's attention drifted to the egg half-buried in his mane. Cautiously, he moved it a little, trying to feel the distribution of weight in the shell. "I'm not sure," he said after a while longer. "It doesn't seem to be a dud, or dead. But I can't tell if it will hatch."
If it didn't hatch, that wasn't the end of the world – it wasn't likely to register to either of them as a true loss. Rakashei had a partial debt to at least try to take care of it after dispatching the mother, but even newly hatched kavkema weren't people in any meaningful sense. Speech was an important component to personhood.
"I guess we'll just have to take care of it until that's clear, or find someone who wants to take it off us," Rakashei mused. The prospect of carrying the egg around while they were on a different mission entirely was not the most pleasant, but it was barely a burden, so he wasn't inclined to complain. "But we should build it a carrying harness tomorrow night."
[23:46] A brief nod, as he pondered the complication of an egg on their current mission. Whatever the conclusion, it was not reflected on his still face. "And what of you? You've not complained once, even while I've wallowed in the brightness. Are you all right?"
[23:59] Another bout of silence.
Finally: "Yeah, I think so." He opened his muzzle as though to continue, then closed it again. They neared another Nayabaru path cutting through the forest and he slowed to take in whether or not there were any lights travelling along its length – but all seemed quiet. He shook his mane as much as the egg allowed. "Just need a good day's sleep."