§ 2020-09-12 18:49:01
[18:49] Gravity seemed no less confused as reality rained back into his perception like sand, but the cause coalesced quickly: He was draped across some creature's back, rested partly on his side and partly on his belly, his spine protesting against the perpetual strain.
Nadani's body lay partly across his own, her breath a constant rhythm against his hips. Nadani. She seemed awake, possibly trying to guard him, although their presence atop this steed suggested 'alive' should not necessarily be amended with 'and well'.
And then there was a different kavkem – not at all like the one that Asraaban had fought amongst the foliage, before the Nayabaru had brought him down, younger, yet full of a strange authority that seemed misplaced in the current context.
The waking motions caught the stranger's eye. A quiet stare settled on Asraaban, as though he waited to see what, if anything, the captive would do. Not that there was too much that could be done – both Asraaban's wrists and his ankles had been bound together, limiting his squirms to a subset.
§ 2020-09-27 16:48:49
[16:48] There was something strange about that kavkem. Well. There were multiple things strange about him, starting with the fact he was over there and not wearing a collar or chains or, notably, a tool necklace. And there were Nayabaru in the area presumbly unconcerned for his presence, because there was no bellowing or launching of projectiles or any sort of fuss.
Instead, he was partially draped in a purple cloth, in a similar manner to some non-Hesh Nayabaru he had seen. So, he was one of them. But... perhaps not a pet? Asraaban had never seen a captive, even one hatched and raised by the Naya, that lacked any sort of chains.
Evenatra had mentioned that the cultures of different continents varied significantly. Perhaps this was a foreign trait? Or some allowance made to avoid startling the humans, with his owner confident that any escape attempt would be easily thwarted?
[16:49] Absently, still recovering from his dream, Asraaban ran his tongue along his teeth; uniform in size and shape and that... that was expected but in a strange way very slightly disppointing? What was IN that knock-out drug to destablise his emotions like that? The stranger's body language, though... he found himself suddenly wanting to see the stranger's teeth. A month ago he would have said kiikam were the realm of mythology. But in the last few days, too many myths were coming true.
[18:13] As Asraaban stirred, so did Nadani, fussing lazily and quietly with his feathers, as though reeling her mind in from some distant place. Now that he was lucid and less at risk of slipping off their mount when moved, she leant to embrace his shoulders and tugged him into a more comfortable position, turning him a little in the process, bringing his head closer to the stranger.
"Are you hurt?" Nadani asked, her tone a bit awkward, like someone who wasn't entirely sure if someone might shout obscenities at her, or bite at her hands. But why would he do that? Just because she didn't seem to be bound?
...why was that, anyway?
"Asraaban, is that right?" the stranger was asking. His voice was normal, at least, a courteous kavkem whisper, not the deep, rumbling bellows of Naya as spoken by the Nayabaru. And his teeth appeared normal as well – not even blunted, as a captive's might be.
But there were other oddities beyond just the banner. He had a way of holding himself quite unusual for his visible age; he couldn't possibly be any older than an adolescent. And of course there were the restraints that Asraaban had – but neither this stranger nor Nadani.
While there were clearly more mounts in the trek than just the on they were clustered on, the Nayabaru ahead of them were at a great enough distance that the whispers were likely not particularly audible to them, making them more of a background decoration – threatening, but not immediately dangerous.
[18:58] Nadani was unbound? WHAT? His first thought was this was about to become an escape, but then she should have at least loosened his bonds too. She was not Shilyun, but she was a Watcher and surely that meant she possessed enough caution and common sense to realise this. And if not, now was when she should be frantically correcting that error instead of grooming him.
Worse, she had been chatting with the kiikam. Or perhaps not a kiikam; his teeth were normal. In a sense. Normal for most kavkem, not for a captive, but if one were to dress a kavkem in the style of a Nayabaru, then why cripple him?
Not of Evenatra, not of Tkanetar-who-was-Jeneth, which left...
"Greetings and defiance, Valcen," Asraaban offered with icy politeness.
[19:18] Valcen tipped his head ever so slightly to the side, as though in respectful acknowledgement. "I see you're observant," he commented. "And do your Shyilun markings proud." Perhaps an odd thing say to someone who had been apprehended by the Nayabaru, but by body language, Valcen seemed quite sincere.
Nadani glanced over to Valcen, feathers puffing lightly and combining with a posture that screamed submission. This definitely wasn't the Nadani that Asraaban knew; this was some tranformed creature who happened to look like her. No wonder she didn't need any restraints.
"Nadani," Valcen addressed her, although his attention remained anchored to Asraaban. "Would you leave us two alone for a while? I won't hurt him, but I need to speak to him in private. Keep the aliens some company and watch over them for me, will you?"
Nadani's gaze fled back to Asraaban, as though torn – some part of her clearly wanted to help him, but she didn't dare.
And so a moment later, she started to move to leave.
§ 2020-10-03 17:08:14
[17:08] He knew of Shyilun. On reflection, that made sense; he was with a Hesh capture team, and even if Shyilun were rare in this area the Nayabaru would be intimately familiar with the thorns in their side.
Nadani... had she been drugged? Asraaban didn't know of any drug that would cause submissive pliability, but that seemed like exactly the sort of thing that Nayabaru would research, and also not the sort of thing that would be used in places where his shard were likely to strike, so if it was a new creation of Katal... That made it even more important for him to get away and warn the others.
Or, perhaps not to warn those travelling with the humans – they needed a distraction, he could BE that distraction – but to get a message to someone who could get it back to his fellows. There were no dead drops in the area. That was alright, he could improvise, but first he had to get free.
Much easier said than done, especially in the presence of a Threadwielder of unknown power. That meant Nadani was an unknown factor, so better she was out of pouncing range, just in case.
[18:21] It only took Nadani a few moments to slip down from their mount and scurry back toward where the humans were conversing in the tiny convoy.
A Nayabaru not far ahead spotted the motion, snorting and slowing his own steed until it was trailing a little behind Valcen and Asraaban, comfortably in hearing range, turning its head slightly to keep its right eye on Valcen and cast the gaze of its left eye back.
Valcen looked at the Nayabaru dispassionately, but it was easy to imagine any degree of annoyance being valiantly masked from his body language. Keeping to Kendaneivash, he said: "You don't speak Naya, right?" The obviously correct answer was 'Correct, I don't'.
[18:41] What was he scheming? Valcen was scheming something, but being dismayed by the presence of a nosy Nayabaru was normal kavkem behaviour (remember he is not a kavkem, never a kavkem) and the ruse was a harmless one. "No. Why would I strain myself learning to bellow?" Asraaban replying, scathingly.
[18:58] The Nayabaru's Kendaneivash was apparently poor enough that the exhange was lost to it; it snorted softly. "[You will speak Naya,]" it insisted, obviously in Naya.
Far too smoothly, Valcen gestured apology with his body language, so overt that even a Nayabaru not well-versed in the subtleties of kavkem body language would understand it. "[I can translate for you, but this captive does not speak Naya.]"
The Nayabaru snorted again, sceptical, but shrugged one shoulder. Asking Valcen to translate, after all, was going to yield mighty little information if he wasn't already willing to play ball. It considered it for a moment, regardless, perhaps hoping to be a thorn in his side, or that he might slip up with whatever lies he was instead trying to feed them.
"[Summarise periodically,]" it commanded, minimalistically.
"[As you wish,]" Valcen responded, meticulously proper. Then he let his gaze drop back to Asraaban and switched back to Kendaneivash. "As you see, your captors are not particularly fond of your linguistic disability, but we'll have to work with it, now, won't we?"
Definitely scheming something.
"Am I right in assuming that you have worked together with Evenatra for a while?" Valcen asked, conversationally using Evenatra's real rather than mythological name, perhaps as a thin layer of obfuscation — the Nayabaru knew to listen for 'Tamachelu', but perhaps not all listened for 'Evenatra'. Not that he had said anything incriminating just yet.
§ 2020-10-11 13:05:37
[12:59] 'We have spoken in the past' was the kneejerk response, but Asraaban bit it back. Yes, it was the truth, and pleasingly uninformative. It was also clear evidence of deception, or attempting to mislead with the truth, given that he clearly knew of Valcen and that spoke of more than an idle conversation.
"She sent me to rescue the children of Jeneth," he settled on answering. Still truthful, but more likely to imply that Evenatra herself was somewhere far away from here – possibly back at the crash site – and the eavesdropping Nayabaru were less likely to know the word 'Jeneth' than 'human'. Proving he knew Tkanetar's other name was yet more obfuscation and, at least a little, curiosity whether that could unbalance Valcen.
[13:50] "Unsurprising, given you've been travelling together," Valcen observed, although without accusation – at most with a mildly tired undercurrent at having to deal with someone plainly uncooperative.
Maybe the Threadwielder's knowledge of it could have been anticipated, given what Nadani knew and what she had no doubt shared with Valcen while she remained under her strange spell. Questions like 'is Evenatra here?' had no doubt already been answered.
"I'm rather more interested in your relationship with her. The measure of trust, to be frank, between you and her," he explained.
Dutifully, he glanced toward the Nayabaru and summarised in Naya: "[I am asking for his voluntary cooperation in helping us find Tamachelu, and by proxy the other human visitors.]" Not an accurate summary, but thematically close enough to pass muster if the Nayabaru had picked up on individual Kendaneivash words.
Still, the deception toward the Nayabaru hardly meant anything. 'The measure of trust'? Nadani's personality change was not subtle – was Valcen trying to find out whether it was a worthwhile endeavour to do the same thing to Asraaban after all? It was good news if it was a precious, limited resource he had to use to do it, to power that... device that had attached to Nadani's skull during the scuffle with the Nayabaru and Valcen's minion, but bad news if Asraaban were to fall victim to it.
If there was another of those, or if it could simply be used again at some cost of energy, ...? The rucksack Valcen was sporting gradually lost any air of innocence it might have possessed.
[15:46] How much had been shared, and how much had been willing? Had that mechanical squid merely stolen Nadani's body? Or had it somehow subsumed her will, and caused her to speak of anything Valcen asked? The former could be handled, to a degree. But if Valcen knew Evenatra had been travelling with them, and that he was Shyilun...
But both of those where things he could, in theory, have learned without Nadani's (possibly involuntary) assistance.
"Admitting anything more than a passing acquaintance with that person is a known way of making ones life very long and painful," Asraaban noted, neutrally.
[16:32] A soundless sigh visibly travelled through Valcen. "Technically," he said. "Simply travelling with her is just as damning; telling me what I want to know wouldn't worsen your situation at all, you're tier five either way." He glanced at the Nayabaru with a subtle flicker of snobby scepticism, as though accusing their culture of being a bit daft.
"Even in absence of that categorisation, you must realise I'm expected to deal with you, especially given our grim onlooker," Valcen mused, dispassionately. "The Nayabaru just want results – one trait I can't even particularly hold against them. I don't have forever to play this game of minimalist information with you; I'm going to have to start making assumptions and that may yield suboptimal results.
"I need someone I can trust to care for Evenatra to bring her important strategic information. I'm sure she knows she's in increased danger, but she might not know what form it is likely to take.
"I am better informed, but there'll be no use sharing it if she won't believe you if you bring her the news, either because she doesn't know you well enough to distinguish you from one of my minions, or because she simply doesn't trust you enough. And there'll certainly be no use sharing it if you're not willing to play along."
As though on cue, the Nayabaru snorted. "[What are you scheming?]"
Valcen glanced up at it. "[Pardon?]" he asked, innocently. He seemed fairly confident that he could keep up his charade, at least, which of course helped with it – there was currently nothing in his body language suggesting that he was nervous.
The Nayabaru rumbled: "[Did I not hear you use 'he-ra-i-e'?]" The syllables were exaggerated.
Valcen grimaced openly. He had used the term in the way he had spoken to Asraaban about playing along – deceiving, lieing, distracting with dishonesty. "[I did,]" he said, though. "[He was pretending not to care about my line of questioning and I called him out on it. Just behaviour you would expect from someone in Shyilun. I find it a waste of time, so I cut right through it.]"
"[You are speaking a lot for someone who should be asking questions,]" the Nayabaru added.
"[...while I realise that's not the Nayabaru way, I am trying to convince this kavkem to cooperate, and that requires a bit of friendly waffling. Let me do it my way. We can still switch to yours later on if I fail,]" Valcen gestured mild exasperation with his forepaws.
Another snort from the Nayabaru finally stopped the uncomfortable exchange in Naya. Valcen glanced back at Asraaban. "See what I have to work with?"
[18:46] Nayabaru were, in general, bad at deception. Lies of omission they could do, but not holding a conversation with matching body language when they meant the precise opposite.
So, their guard was not an accomplice to whatever scheming Valcen was doing.
Valcen, on the other hand, was a Threadwielder currently shaped like a kavkem. He only knew one Threadwielder and she was an exceptional liar who forgot to use body language when sufficiently tired.
Conclusion: Valcen was almost certainly lying through his teeth, but it was likely for personal gain and not for Nayabaru cultural benefit. Which... Asraaban wasn't quite sure what to do with that. He wasn't asking for Evenatra's location, he was asking if Asraaban could function as a messenger. In a way that was an insulting question, because he was Shyilun; of course he knew how to safety relay information in a way that would be received. Whether it would be ACCEPTED was an entirely different story, but that applied to any and all information that had had contact with a Nayabaru: and for their purposes, right now Valcen counted as Nayabaru.
A scale-free, excessively feathered one, but apparently the Nayabaru had similarly embraced kavkem-bodied people before.
And yet... as a Threadwielder, it was likely Valcen had more idea of Evenatra's capabilities than any Hesh, which meant there was more he could safely say.
"We have flown through the skies together. She trusts me enough to listen to what I could say. Given Nadani... I suspect it would be unsafe to trust in what was said, unverified." Asraaban curled his lips slightly, exposing a hint of teeth. "Would it help if I insulted you in mispronounced, broken Naya?"
[19:10] "I think our onlooker might mistake that for some understanding of the tongue to hold against us, but I appreciate the suggestion," Valcen remarked. His body language was dangerously opaque – if he was sincerely amused, it didn't show in how he was carrying himself, but perhaps that was part of the charade. Amusement was a little difficult to pass off as interrogation.
"In any case, the only way to verify what I'm about to tell you is to fall prey to it. Let's hope she doesn't need it," he observed. "The Weapon is here, of course; I expect Evenatra's deduced that already. What she likely hasn't deduced is that she is not here, not with this convoy in particular. Instead she is a way's ahead. She's working on blocking her path.
"They need to expect that there will be a whole stretch of forest not far up ahead where they cannot go much of anywhere but back toward this convoy. If Evenatra plays along with that scheme, it'll be the end of her. She needs to be willing to abandon the humans and kavkema if she wants to survive."
To the Nayabaru, he said, "[I am trying to convince him that there is greater peril in letting his allies move unchecked; that our kavkem recruit, Nadani, is clearly better off.]"
To Asraaban, he said: "And I'm running out of plausible time. I'd like to pretend to do to you what I've done to Nadani after you 'provoke' me. Are you willing to play along with that? It should let you go free."
§ 2020-10-18 14:29:28
[07:21] He couldn't curb his own alarm reactions. 'The Weapon is here and laying an ambush'. They could potentially rescue the humans. They were already faced with the task of having to rescue some of the humans, and if they were kept together it was not a significantly greater trial to save four instead of two. But if Evenatra was caught, or even cornered, they lost EVERYTHING.
There WERE other directions Evenatra could flee, should she have sufficient time to prepare, but he would rather they not have to buy that time with the capture of everyone else.
What Valcen had said about being Class Five was likely true, so if the rest was truthful then cooperation was his optimal – possibly ONLY – option. Everything hinged on that one question: how much lying was he doing? And, bitterly, what else could Asraaban do?
"I think this is a catastrophe waiting to happen. Let us hope it will be a catastrophe for-" He caught himself before saying 'Terenyira', that was the sort of thing a Hesh would notice. "For the Weapon, and not your kin. What do you need me to do?"
[15:19] Valcen wiggled his arms out of the straps holding his bag nestled to his spine as he spoke, his overt body language one of a particular annoyance, but laced with signs of tension that would never be present in its sincere counterpart. Presumably, the Nayabaru had a chance of picking up the former and not the latter; or if they picked up the latter, they might at least not know they were incompatible.
"You've seen Nadani's behaviour," he said, calmly. "I'm sure you can emulate it. Meanwhile, just assume I'm going to do something hideous to you. We should even be able to talk more afterward, with less time pressure. Know that if the Nayabaru interfere, that should not jeopardise anything." In other words: Don't really start panicking just because a Hesh is suddenly involved.
And then he was opening the bag with a comment to the nearest Hesh: "[Well, I tried. That's good enough for me.]"
The Hesh snorted, but snapped into a visible more alert state, clearly expecting Asraaban to at least roll off the mount or otherwise try some futile method of escape. "[So you wasted everyone's time, including the enemy's.]"
"[We're not in a phase of advance where it would make a difference,]" Valcen calmly countered, drawing what looked like an exact, chilling copy of the device that had latched onto Nadani from the depths of his bag. The matt black colour was still mildly reflective, catching traces of starlight. If Asraaban wanted to, he could count the segments of each mechanical limb, but there were many of them.
It confirmed, at least, that it was this device which had changed Nadani. It did not confirm that Valcen was only going to pretend to use it; no amount of rational thought regarding that no pre-amble or charade would have been necessary made it any less threatening to look at as a different, internal light became visible between some of the cracks and the limbs spasmed to life.
§ 2020-10-24 19:12:18
[19:12] "Meaning I have only your word that it needs emulating!" Asraaban snapped, in a lovely act of a panicked kavkem. Partially acted. More... did not suppress as many of his instincts beneath a thick layer of training and let the organic fear leak out visibly, which was a confronting thing to do in its own way because there was a Hesh and they LIVED on fear and prolonging it as much as possible.
He wriggled and tested every knot anew. Falling off the mount was pointless and would only cause injuries, injuries that might jeopardise everything that was neccessary (being able to run) without crippling anything sufficiently vital (his voice, presuming that that... THING was not in fact non-functional). Nothing. Of course. And it was simplicity itself to gape his mouth wide and pull his neck into an uncomfortable S, a gutteral hiss building in his throat that spoke the same lizard-tongue as every kavkem and Nayabaru and murehej and zarmata. 'This is a threat posture. Come close and I will bite you.'
[19:31] If Valcen cared about Asraaban's objection, it wasn't visible in his body language. The mount beneath them, however, cared very much for Asraaban's hissing and writhing, its docile nature not quite dampening its defensive reaction – a snort, the sudden shift of its hips and shoulders, a bucking of its spine, spilling both Valcen and Asraaban off one side.
Fortunately, it wasn't too high a fall – it hurt mostly their prides.
Valcen's left paw was clutched to the device, right arm pawing at the ground to gain some control over his folded posture, giving his own hiss and glancing up at the ceratopsian out of concern that it might want to try trampling either of them – but it wasn't that aggressive, merely taking a few bounding steps to what it considered a safer distance.
The Hesh, on the other hand, was off his own mount and beside them almost before they'd fully registered having fallen, stabbing the far end of its staff-like weapon at Asraaban's ribcage – fortunately without much force, clearly simply wanting to keep him some measure of still, but an unwelcome addition to an uncertain situation regardless.
[19:32] And then there was Valcen and his device, finally risen back onto his feet. For a moment, the alien beast made of impossible fingers continued to reach through the air as through seeking purchase, its owner's attention flicking between it and Asraaban's snapping, hissing body — then it was half thrown, half dropped, landing in the moss and leaves between them, a few inches from Asraaban's chest. Too close an instinct yelled at his heart; bound wrists automatically snapped up in mandatory unison to try and ward off the attacker. Instead, a heartbeat later, two of its limbs snatched at his arms and curled against them like a constrictor with a shockingly evident strength, then tried to use its purchase to climb at an impossible speed up along his left arm.
[19:52] There was no dislodging it, nor strength of will to stop trying to dislodge it, primal fears promising that this was a dangerous parasite that, if it wasn't stopped, could only be removed at cost of his own life. But it had a grip of literal steel and a precise balance, drawing itself up along his neck as though the mane weren't there to slow it down, limbs briefly drawn around his throat.
Then it lashed them about his jaw and skull, reminiscent of some Nayabaru's hand clasped against the back of his head, clutching with an impossible force – not inherently dangerous to the bone, not bruising, but only just shy of such traits – and held still.
It took Asraaban's adrenline-battered sense of chronology some time to notice it, but nothing happened.
§ 2020-11-07 15:23:22
[14:39] Perhaps he'd gone about this all wrong. Nayabaru barely cared for threat posturing – they were all convinced every unaltered kavkem was planning to eat them anyway, and describing their unpleasant flavour never helped – and a Threadwielder was akin to a god, but they weren't the ONLY things here. Perhaps he should have tried spooking the mount earlier, maybe gone as far as gashing its hide.
That would risk proper bucking and trampling and the sort of injuries a yereso may have trouble with. Or, if the non-existent gods were smiling on him (instead of running from spiders), the mount bolting AWAY from the Nayabaru with him onboard. That would certainly have been disruptive.
Potentially not in a sufficient way unless the mount physically ran into Teranyira, admittedly, but that was still better than THIS!
The Hesh was less impressed by the mutual hissing. Of course a Hesh would not yield to instincts. And likewise, Asraaban was a shyilun; he had been pinned while others poked and touched his belly and could master his own desires to freeze or lash out.
(If the Hesh had come within biting range... perhaps that would have been different, and he could claim it was a calculated attempt to disable an enemy.)
The... construct, that was a very good distraction from the Hesh. Its motion slammed something primal and made Asraaban want to dart back to a safe distance and then smash it with a rock, but it was very hard to smash living metal and moreso when pinned on one's back. Once it hit his mane even that potential was lost – which didn't stop a futile attempt to bite it, until it acted to prevent that too.
It was so very hard not to panic and scream at Valcen, and it took too long to realise that the device had frozen and... nothing was happening.
Valcen had, perhaps, been telling the truth.
Asraaban wrestled control over his body and forced himself to flop limply and breathe. Nadani had gone still. Pause, recover, and try to remember how ELSE she had acted.
[18:44] At the edge of Asraaban's vision, Valcen was still gradually righting himself, although his attention was on his alleged prey. The Hesh's weapon had nestled against Asraaban's ribcage in a symbolic gesture, surprisingly gentle given the physical fuss that led up to the point of Asraaban lying still.
"[Have you gained anything by your faffing about?]" the Nayabaru asked Valcen, too pleased about being 'right' to truly sound disgruntled.
"[Yes,]" Valcen said. "[A certainty that there was no other way.]"
The Nayabaru snorted its indifference.
Somewhere behind them, the humans on their mounts had stopped, Nadani obediently remaining with them, although her attention betrayed a great interest in – and concern about – what had just unfolded.
Having concluded his physical rearrangement with a sigh, Valcen padded closer to Asraaban. Following some unspoken social protocol, he sat himself down beside the motionless kavkem and waited. What he waited for was unclear – Nadani hadn't exhibited any change in body language that Asraaban could remember.
In truth, Valcen had simply learnt that the Nayabaru trusted the device to work better if it remained on its victims for a longer period of time – it only needed a few seconds to complete its work, it was hardly necessary, but the Hesh Nayabaru were a little superstitious about it, perhaps because their typical ranged weapons also required some patience.
Before Asraaban could fully fret about it, though, he reached forward, torso mostly eclipsing the Shyilungadech's view, and set his paws down on the device – he could still renege on his promise, he could still activate it now, nothing easier than that... but of course there was no gain in such a deception. Instead, a claw slipped into one of the many nooks on the metallic monster and its grip abruptly slackened.
"[There we go,]" Valcen said, gesturing to the Hesh to recall their mount. The Hesh gave a reluctant, soft snort – that wasn't really in its job description, after all, and it was likely just the same if Valcen and Asraaban went to the mount, but it had already gotten its emotional prize and there was no harm in helping at this point.
To Asraaban, Valcen said, even as he began to tug his slightly battered rucksack into position to return the device back into its unassuming depths: "Are you all right?"
§ 2020-11-08 14:54:29
[14:54] The device was gone, taking fewer of his feathers with it than anticipated. Which was a strange thing to be concerned about, but in the face of colliding existential threats perhaps his psyche had given up and latched onto the mundane.
"You have failed to mercy-kill me with a heart attack, which is possibly for the best," Asraaban answered, raising his head to look at Valcen. Nadani was displaying strangely subserviant body language. It was probably better for his to stay lying down for the moment, even if the Hesh looked to be turning away. "Instructions?" It grated to treat Valcen like his (temporary!) commander, but he was the one with the local information and – so he claimed – a PLAN. And more pressingly the detailed knowledge of what that device was supposed to make 'Asraaban' do.
[15:27] "Excellent results even when it's off, I see," Valcen commented in dark humour, though the way he was shoving the device back into the rucksack with unnecessary vigour betrayed some anxiety. "You should be able to fake a submissive posture so the Nayabaru buy it. Not so sure about Nadani, but I can probably convince her that it's all good.
"As for what happens now, we have a last little chat – about anything you'd like, really, the Nayabaru will not be paying as much attention now. Then I'll 'coordinate'..." – the scare quotes were very audible – "...with the Nayabaru about sending you back to your group, supposedly for their benefit. Sound good?"
[15:35] 'Do not bite the Threadwielder', Asraaban reminded himself. One, that was an excellent way of ruining everything. Two, he was no longer certain if Valcen could manipulate Thread, but best to treat him as he would a threat of Evenatra's skill, just in case.
He certainly caused disasters like one and was in the process of doing so once more.
He rolled himself to his haunches but stayed sitting, deferential. Nadani, a risk? Hah! The last days had been spent convincing a bunch of paranoid kavkem that he'd never run around in the midday sun while doing particularly foolish things, and that his companion was a perfectly normal kavkem who, completely coincidentally, had an incredible knack for learning a mammal's language in the span of hours.
"What are your plans for our planet's 'guests'?" Asraaban asked, subdued body language at odds with the barbed question.
[15:59] Valcen considered the question for a moment as he closed his bag.
Presumably, he could have gotten away with simply answering the question by expressing his interest in keeping the humans safe – that was certainly what he was aiming for. It wasn't quite the spirit of the question, though, and given Asraaban was kindly going to play messenger for him, a more thorough answer felt appropriate.
"I'm sure Evenatra already knows that this is true and told you as much," he pondered. "But their safety is paramount. They have a set of skills and technology that both the Nayabaru and kavkem culture at present lack and would be a great boon to anyone who might begin cooperative relations with them.
"Unfortunately, due to the tensions on this world, that can't be everyone. It's either the Nayabaru or the kavkema – much as I would like to flatter myself to think ex-Threadwielders were a category worth considering – and it doesn't take any brilliance to conclude that they would be poorly off if they chose to side with the kavkema.
"But they will. That's how they think. Their mission control might even agree with my assessment, but the crew that's here now is in the middle of it and has opinions. Humans are emotional creatures and as far as I'm concerned, this is in sum a very good thing.
"The trick, then, lies in supporting the kavkema in a way that the Nayabaru will either be oblivious to or in favour. Which is a complex subject that my knowledge of their language should be able to bridge.
"The Nayabaru will be hospitable to the humans as long as they have no reason to suspect they are enemies. Some mistrust will only go away with time, but it is in the Karesejat's interest that they be treated kindly, so they will be.
"In an ideal world," he mused. "And I doubt this is going to happen, just to be clear. In an ideal world, I will convince them of a few things: One, that the best way to handle the ongoing conflict is to accept kavkema to their own world as immigrants. The Nayabaru should like that and I think your entire culture would prosper there.
"Two, that they trade some technology with me that will let my long-term plans come to fruition sooner than they are currently scheduled to come to fruition, and, on completion of the plans, take me with them as well."
[17:25] Casually cruel in his calculation as Valcen was, Asraaban could see how he'd drawn those conclusions. If the humans were united, then by helping one species they would, inevitably, make enemies of the other. And while there was very little the kavkem could do to them, Nayabaru were expert torturers.
It was a surprise Valcen thought the humans would side with kavkema in the short term. In the LONG run, yes, because it was only a matter of time before even the dullest of Nayabaru realised they were omnivorous and willing to take risks, and at that point they would become Dangerous and something to be Controlled.
If the choice was to allow the humans to be taken by the Nayabaru and risk things growing worse, but in doing so to preserve Evenatra's life... well. Perhaps it made Asraaban a traitor, but was likely to save Evenatra. Especially when it Valcen implied that in the end, it would make little difference.
He didn't have time to dwell, for the second portion – that Valcen WISHED to aid the kavkema – was both astonishing and suspicious, and the third – that he felt the best way to do so was by banishing them all to a foreign planet...
Well. That was not quite how he had thought to interpret his dream, and he suspected that both Evenatra and Tkanetar would have dramatic reactions to such a mass migration, but if it could WORK-? There were many kavkem who would leap on the opportunity.
For such a prize, Asraaban felt that a raid to steal a Threadwielder could be arranged.
§ 2020-11-14 16:13:24
[16:15] "In addition to what you've warned... is there any message, coded or not, that you wish me to take to your sister?" Asraaban asked. None of Evenatra's names seemed particularly safe for him to say, just in case, so hopefully their true relationship was not one where that would be too much of an insult. To Evenatra. Despite his current willingness to aid Valcen, that was significantly out of enlightened self interest and did not eliminate the desire to bite him.
[17:51] A mild surprise infected Valcen's air as the word 'sister' fell. Evenatra? His sister? Familial relations barely existed in a Threadwielder context – in any sense that might approach the literal, they could never be siblings. They were definitely not spiritual siblings.
But perhaps the metaphor was apt, regardless – they were both Anigi-born, they were both about the same age, give or take a million years, they were both Threadw—
They were not both Threadwielders, not any more.
"...does she know that I'm dead?" he asked, softly.
§ 2020-11-15 16:50:09
[16:50] The question surprised him. "She has not been... especially forthcoming," Asraaban cautioned. "I think she thought you were dead, linked somehow to the planet moving. And then she declared that you were not dead, because..." He dipped his muzzle in a gentle indication towards Valcen, one that conveniently doubled as looking submissive. "...you're not. And she somehow realised the new figure was you, and you were surviving the Weapon's presence. But beyond that, beyond her mourning turning to anger, her teeth have been shut."
[17:06] Valcen's muzzle subtly bobbed along to Asraaban's narration, digesting the information, deep in thought. Then he closed his eyes for a moment and shrugged lightly, letting his muzzle slip ajar to grimace lightly.
"Maybe it's for the best," he said. "Should be easier on her to hate me for a few more kavkem lifetimes, rather than any alternatives." He briefly but vigorously scratched a forepaw at his jaw as though to alleviate an itch, a gesture belonging to a scene far more casual than this.
"No," he continued. "I don't think I have a message for her. You are, of course, free to tell her everything you know – and if there's any information I can arm you with that you think might be useful, ask. This may be the last conversation of its kind."
§ 2020-12-05 20:11:15
[20:11] What a lovely piece of pressure to lay upon him. There wasn't time for a proper debrief, and he doubted Valcen would give one anyway. No, he had his own plans, and perhaps those plans involved keeping his sister alive, but there were many terrible things that could accompany 'alive'. If she would hate him for the next several generations... that meant he would be bolstering the Nayabaru, or somehow otherwise pursuing kavkem.
That also suggested that if he knew how to evade Terenyira in the next twelve hours, Valcen would already have shared.
"Do you have any advice on how we should handle our..." Asraaban considered his phrasing. "Mammal guests?" There was another set of questions he wanted to ask, but shied away from. Part of his training was to know his limits, but Asraaban doubted he could maintain the current mask of neutrality when asking about plans when everything went wrong.
After all. Valcen, it seemed, was perfectly willing to earn Evenatra's hatred as long as his sister lived, and Asraaban was going to be forced to tell her to flee and trust the others to escape on their own. He had to face the possibility of them failing. And if they did... he had seen some of the behaviour exhibited by Valcen's servant, and had a chance now to observe what was left of Nadani.
If things went wrong, his best option might be to try exceedingly hard to emulate their behaviour, and to walk right up to the Nayabaru as if he was under their command too.
He was Shyilun. Killing multiple kavkem from within spike's reach of multiple Hesh was not a challenge he wished to attempt, but one that may become his duty.
[23:40] Valcen considered the question, digging through the fragments of human culture he still knew enough of. There were many things that could be said about humanity as a whole, but how much of it applied to trained astronauts?
But regardless how much he flirted with giving some sage, practical advice contrary to everyone's looming fate, any true recommendation returned to one core truth: "My honest recommendation is that you send them to me.
"It takes the pressure off the kavkema that are travelling with them, as they are then no longer of interest to the Nayabaru, it is safer passage for them, they can speak to someone in their own tongue who can teach them all they wish to know of this world, and they need not fear disease, hunger or thirst. I know you are loathe to give them up, but it is best for them and it is best for you."
It was spoken calmly and matter-of-factly, with only a little bit of sadness in his eyes. It was so subtle that perhaps it was imaginary.
§ 2020-12-06 15:27:53
[15:27] It shouldn't have surprised him. It did. It felt like a stab in the chest, even when he knew Valcen was untrustworthy. And yet here he was, forced to trust him anyway.
"They know what happens to captured kavkema," Asraaban pointed out mildly. "I doubt they would appreciate being handed over to those we declare enemies. That would ruin many hopes of a future alliance, and your plans to quench this conflict in a way that does not require the destruction of every kavkem on his planet."
[16:51] Valcen's shrug was almost imperceptible. "I've told you what I'm trying to achieve. I don't think falling short of the ideal requires as much destruction as you think," he mused. "And if you wish to pit our celestial visitors against the Nayabaru and by proxy Terenyira without years of patience and my assistance, I predict it will end badly for them."
[17:56] This was a mess he was supremely unqualified to handle. He wasn't sure any of them were. The best case scenario was escaping, keeping their humans alive and fed and out of Nayabaru clutches, communicating the full history of this planet, somehow putting them BACK in their flying egg, and then...?
Hm. Or perhaps their best solution was escaping this current trap, somehow liberating Valcen from Nayabaru clutches, presenting him hogtied to Evenatra (Asraaban wasn't an idiot, thank you), and somehow translating that into... well, apparently into humans taking them into Tkanetar's territory, which likely came with its own set of problems, but they couldn't possibly be worse than their current situation.
Well. Unless they proved more efficient at doing the same thing, like adopting Valcen's mindsquid machines.
"Perhaps fortunately for us both, I cannot make a unilateral decision. It may come down to our visitors. They are remarkably stubborn," Asraaban admitted. "I will carry your words and your warning." May his new career as a psuedo-ryrhakenem be successful and short. "What will be Nadani's fate? Should I be reporting her 'death'?"
[01:33] "'Should'?" Valcen echoed with some amusement, as though Asraaban had shared a private joke with him. "You are a Shyilungadech; the warning notwithstanding, which is in our mutual interest to communicate, I'm not going to ask you to be my mouthpiece, that would be both foolish and rude. You're free to report on her as you please."
But then his brief amusement abated rapidly in favour of an earnest air. "As to what might happen to her, it's rather unspectacular. She will be cared for, comparatively speaking – the Nayabaru will likely never be friendly to her, but they will not try to throw her into a prison. She has less to fear than any other kavkem on this planet.
"And that might be all, maybe. We may also send her after the group to try and find or even infiltrate them, but she would do a poor job of it – mostly because you will, I hope, warn them. So instead, she might rejoin the group as their prisoner for a while, then either be killed or allowed to flee, to return to the culture she now considers her own."
§ 2020-12-20 14:13:14
[13:51] ...he could make a kavkem think the NAYABARU were their culture?! Either that was a bluff – a spectacular one – or there wasn't a chance he'd been affected.
Of course, Asraaban mused, if one could rewrite such a core facet of one's identity without scrambling their memories entirely then one had the fine precision required to do devastatingly subtle manupulations. Perhaps he should question their captured kavkem, Valcen's self-proclaimed minion. Assuming there was a chance.
"Mostly I wondered if what made 'Nadani' was deceased," Asraaban clarified. In his judgement... yes. In the eyes of the others... well. He was working on a tight schedule, which meant being pragmatic, and occasionally chosing an immoral path to greatly benefit others. In this case, offering a minor benefit to Valcen to sunder Nadani's (local) benefit as a spy.
"I'm not sure if you're familiar with local mythology, but you should have her sit in the noon sun for a few hours, blindfolded if that will prevent eye strain. If there's anything of her beliefs left she'll believe that would bind her to you."
[14:45] "It's neither necessary, nor do I believe such abuse of Nitish Ynas would benefit anyone's narrative," Valcen mused, his tone oddly gentle for someone who had to be suspecting that he was being deliberately misled. "The cosmology is rather indiscriminate. If she doesn't think she's Tarnished now – and she doesn't – forced sunlight exposure would merely make her panic.
"Eventually she would notice that it's not a threat. I have no interest in making her feel miserable about believing the wrong thing for years." He shrugged and smiled lightly. "She's already having to deal with the shock of one narrative shift – a deep guilt of having unfairly demonised an entire culture." The Nayabaru. "It'll be a while before that settles."
[15:14] *Unfairly* demonised? For the first time, Asraaban found himself wondering what, exactly, Threadwielder culture was like. He knew they thought in terms of eons, and preferred to make small changes that would ripple outwards, and apparently at times struggled to foresee the consequences of their actions... but now he was wondering how they treated their hatchlings.
Perhaps they abandoned them in the wilderness and meandered back later to civilise the survivors. It may explain some things.
Asraaban shook himself briskly. "Well. Whatever you choose, her fate is now in your hands." Technically so was his, but hopefully not for much longer.
[15:28] Valcen nodded amicably, oblivious to that he had been misunderstood. "Go warn your friends," he encouraged Asraaban. "I'll tell the Nayabaru I sent the Shyilungadech to do their work for them. It won't stop them, it's antithetical to Nayabaru culture to let someone else do your work for you, but you'll be safe from suspicion for a while. Go."
[15:37] Asraaban carefully filed that snippet of Nayabaru culture away. He wasn't sure how to exploit it, but perhaps it could be useful in future.
He could, however, lean into it a little. Bowing to Valcen in acknowledgement of the order was... mildly irritating, but in the way being roused in daylight was. Keeping his body language under control as he turned to meet the Hesh's eye and repeating the gesture? That felt deeply wrong. But if it would grant him even a few minutes longer to run, some slight thought from the Nayabaru that eased suspicion, it was worth it.
Still. It was a great relief to lash his tail and leap off into the undergrowth.