[02:56] Once the three kavkema were on their way, Akuned cast her attention at Serademar. Gesturing loosely after the group of three as though there were still visible enough to make out a precise target: "I get why we're not walking with your prickly companion, but just to clarify, did you genuinely want to do anything on the way?" The tone suggested she was fine with either answer, but expecting a negative.
[03:02] Seradamar proverbially tossed the ball back in Akuned's court. "If you genuinely have a few more kavkema we can contact, I would be delighted to do so. I'm absolutely wishing we had more experience with Nayabaru to draw upon." He looked over at Akuned with a level look. "And you don't really strike me as the type to lie, despite the implications of the others. Did you have some kav in mind?"
[17:44] "I find the truth far more entertaining," Akuned shrugged and grinned at the second-hand accusation, peering otherwise a little listlessly into the landscape where the others had last been seen.
Slowly, she turned, gesturing almost absent-mindedly for Serademar to follow if he pleased, as though it was her that knew the way. "But whether I have anyone in mind largely depends on if you want to stage one of those 'trivial rescues' I mentioned."
[19:49] "Wait, what kind of 'trivial rescue' are we looking at?" Seradamar trailed in her wake, briefly considering haring off after Aka, now. If she glanced back at that moment, she might have registered a flash of shock in his face, quickly extinguished. "And what kind of situation are we likely to find ahead of us?"
[20:08] "There's a tiny Nayabaru settlement about a night's walk from here," Akuned elaborated. "They snared someone about nine weeks ago. I imagine their captive hasn't died of malnutrition just yet, though we might be cutting it close – I doubt these Nayabaru know exactly what they're doing. But that same cluelessness may help us stage a rescue."
[20:09] Somehow, she sounded completely calm as she explained the circumstances, as though she was not at all concerned about the nature of the place she was considering leading Serademar to. "What do you say?"
[20:31] The... longer than average pause may have revealed a great deal of hesitation, however, he finally managed a quiet, "Then let's get to it." He then picked up the pace and began walking beside, rather than behind Akuned.
[20:45] Without any further explicit acknowledgement of their quest, Akuned led the way in silence for a while. After a while, she struck up a conversational tone and broached the controversial subject from before: "So you think the Nayabaru are the way they are because they live in sunlight?"
[20:58] Seradamar contemplated the question for a bit, turning one eye towards Akuned, and thinking back to the 'adventures' he'd had previously. "To blame Nayabaru behavior solely on their relishing the light would be folly, in my opinion. It may be in their nature to be corrupt to begin with."
[21:45] "Ah, I see," Akuned observed. "So you're entirely caught in the trappings of Tarnish! Good, good. You can, then, fathom that vicious behaviour may arise independently from the exposure to daylight. I'm left to wonder why do you attach significance to it at all?"
[22:00] "Does it really matter why I attach significance to it?" He turned to her as they walked. "I have seen people change when walking in the light. They may not see it, but I do. Is it all? No, but few who have chosen that path have remained as they were before. That is my experience."
[22:20] "Really?" Akuned remarked, managing somehow to sound both intrigued and dismissive at the same time. "Not selective perception on your part? Choosing what you see, dismissing what doesn't fit the narrative? 'cause I've seen that happen plenty of times before."
A soft snort, as though to dismiss the entire train of thought. "And it matters inasmuch as it guides your actions – and if you truly believe, if you're not just giving it some lip-service, it will. I don't want to wake up in some prison just because you decided to have a chat with a Nayabaru sitting in the shade."
[22:25] "The last thing," Seradamar snorted, with a genuine chuckle following. After managing to get his laughter under control, he finally continued. "The last thing you will have to worry about is me spending time talking to a Nayabaru, regardless of their shadiness. Should I be similarly concerned that you might brashly walk up to some Nayabaru in the shade and demand to know if they believe in the Tarnish?" His eyes have genuine mirth at this impossible scenario.
[22:50] "I'm talking about that general class of failure modes, not that particular scenario," Akuned snapped. "Don't think I haven't seen it happen. You want to ascribe meaning to bits and pieces of the landscape that don't care what you think about them, and you make mistakes.
"Me? I just go by evidence. The evidence says Nayabaru are idiots, but they're very dangerous idiots that can ruin your life."
[22:51] Then, as though her mind considered it an interesting tangent to pick up on: "Although it does make me wonder. Do Nayabaru even have religions? I've never heard of anyone claiming they do."
[22:57] "Yes, yes, I make mistakes. There's no question of that. In the end, I've put my trust in you at this unusual moment in our life-story." Seradamar briefly pondered whether that will qualify as a mistake or not, but he was fully invested in this course of action... no chance to jump from the light back into the darkness and declare that nothing had happened. "I have no real understanding of Nayabaru in this. Perhaps? They seem to have trappings and things that would indicate some belief in a power beyond their own. Or, they are driven by some motivation that is beyond my comprehension. Religion? It would make sense."
[23:32] Akuned processed the ideas as they strode through the landscape, her superficial attention on the obstacles – a fallen branch here, a gnarled root there, and the occasional abrupt rise or drop of elevation. After some minutes, she reached a tentative conclusion: "I'm not sure," proving she was capable of admitting to a less than stellar confidence about something.
"Do you know any Naya?" she asked. Was that meant as a follow-up question? It seemed quite unrelated to whether or not Nayabaru were religious to ask whether Serademar knew their language.
[23:40] "No, I do not. Do you?" The weird thought that occurred to him, which he was having difficulty dismissing is the wondering thought if she was specifically trying to isolate a kavkem for some shadowy cabal of Nayabaru masters. A few blinks and a glance at Akuned, and he dismissed this as overactive imagination at work. "It's not exactly one taught to hatchlings, after all," he grinned.
[23:55] "A little bit," Akuned said, softly – it's evidently not a bragging topic for her, despite her boisterous nature. "Nayabaru don't always notice you're... there... if they aren't actively looking for kavkema," she elaborated, haltingly. "So sometimes, I listen in.
"You can learn a lot if you observe Nayabaru. You just need to dare to do it." Her tone remained subdued; evidently she wasn't expecting it become common practise. Perhaps she even knew that the mental image she was painting of herself with such claims was one of terrifying recklessness.
[00:06] Seradamar was silent at this revelation, which cast his mind on his own experience trying to distract the Nayabaru while Rakashei saved the egg. "Could it be they just cannot see well in the night conditions? When I... um..." He'd been rather circumspect on his role in the whole encounter with the Nayabaru that night. "When I. Was, um, distracting the Nayabaru, I had thought he could see me, but was not reacting as though he was. Looking straight at me, even. But when I ran, he had no trouble finding me again, even in the darkness. I don't know. Observing them so closely must be... be... like touching the monster and hoping it does not wake at the wrong moment."
[01:23] "That's one part," Akuned remarked. "But they're also... less active at night, so there's less to listen to. And the Nayabaru you encounter during the night are nearly all going to be Hesha, who are looking for you.
"No, I listen to the Nayabaru at daytime. Just... climb a tree near the settlement. Sit there, perfectly still. Wait for everyone to wake up and go about their bland, unconcerned business. Leave at nightfall."
[01:28] "But where do you—" The pause was obvious, unfortunately, but there was nothing for it at this point. "...never mind, it isn't something you'd have to worry about. of course. What do you think of the Nayabaru, then? Are they interesting somehow?"
[01:59] Mercifully, Akuned didn't seem interested in making Serademar finish his first question; '—put the tarp?' would no doubt have set her off on another rant about the danger of believing in Tarnish.
"In a way," she answered. "I find it interesting that – for all intents and purposes – they... don't actually talk about us at all. It's almost as though we don't exist to them, like it's only the Hesh Nayabaru that even perceive we have a place in this world."
She paused both in speech and stride, long enough to look at Serademar with a vivid, deep scepticism that was just as plainly not directed at him. "Did you imagine that? Does that match your expectations?" she asked, curious and almost forlorn rather than accusatory.
[02:05] "I really never considered it," the kavkem said. "My life has not revolved around Nayabaru... until recently, that is." His words were slower as he was apparently thinking about this and pondering it on the fly. "Without having considered it before, it only makes sense that there would be some who remain away from the fighting, whose life is dictated not by the chasing of kavkema and more by the needs to feed, mate, and create new things. Just wish that less of those created things were about capturing kavkema."
[02:17] "But at all?" Akuned asked, letting her pace gradually return to a steady stride. "I would have expected 'kavkem' to be a curse word. I would have expected to see young Nayabaru told to keep near the settlement, lest the predators-that-shall-not-be-named tear their limbs off. At least some banter about a recent captive, when one had clearly been made? But nothing."
[02:24] He shrugged. "Have you listened to the Hesh Nayabaru, or just those in these relatively protected places?"
[04:05] "No – I mean, I know the Hesha speak of us," Akuned clarified. "But it's only the Hesha." It seemed clear that to Akuned, this was an important puzzle to solve. She clearly had data – more data than many kavkema, for her bizarre willingness to approach the enemy, somehow escaping unscathed – but only limited means to interpret it.
Being kaaru, discussion was likely not readily obtainable. Being kaaru, she couldn't exactly compare notes. But on the other hand, being kaaru might have driven her to do these things in the first place.
[04:18] "I... really do not know. Perhaps it is like a specialization, like a Watcher? Those that deal with us might be far more inclined to think of us on a regular basis. I just... don't know." He pondered the implications for a while. "Perhaps the thinkers among us might be able to put this information in a better perspective. After this is over, would you be willing to speak to some kavkem about it?"
[21:01] The question made Akuned bristle briefly, although not with aggression – apprehension, perhaps? Her response was determined to let none of it on: "Sure."
[15:34] "Thank you, Akuned." He allowed the next several steps to pass without comment. He cast a few glances at his travel companion, allowing his curiosity time to tie up his apprehension and leave it trussed up on an anthill for the predators to consume. Once that was accomplished, he finally, quietly, murmured the question that had been bothering him since meeting her, "How did you end up on your own?"
[16:35] "Nothing much to it," Akuned remarked. "Lots of kavkema don't like it when their precious mythological underpinnings are questioned. So the short version goes like this: Once I was old enough to ask questions, I was old enough to aggravate them. Instead of accepting that they were wrong, they figured it was easier to just... tell me to go away, so that's what they decided to do.
"'course, reality didn't care. The shadows don't keep you safe, any more than Tamachelu can save you. But no one's willing to listen – not even you, and you're being fairly polite about all this – so there's not much I can do to stop people from constantly... optimising for the wrong things."
[17:05] About what he expected to hear, admittedly, leaving him a trifle disappointed. "In the end, safety isn't found in shadow or light, except, perhaps Eternal safety after passing. There's no shame in admitting that particular truth. But even that is for the spirit, not the body. In the end, it is to their loss that they could not look past their snouts or to be so easily shaken by words as to have their belief taken by... by... merely being questioned."
[17:18] Akuned grimaced. "Yeah? And how else might you expect pure fiction ought to be shaken up?" she countered. What an aggravating mine-field of prickly opinions. Perhaps this topic was better steered around, given that whatever Akuned's underlying motivations were, this line of thought continually brought her back to proving herself kaaru.
[20:13] There was no point, really, and Seradamar went on to the task at hand. "And what are we expecting to see when we get there? A Nayabaru town, or what? A pen filled with kavkem just waiting to be rescued? Guards and walls?"
[21:20] "No, the settlement is just made up of a couple of houses," Akuned commented, evidently unbothered by the change of subject. "They likely only have one captive. Maybe more if they've been busy since I last looked, which I don't hope.
"It's ringed by traps, as is customary, of course; generally the defences are not very noteworthy, but about what you'd expect." A grin flashed across her muzzle, a hint of eagerness. "Only one Hesh, though, near as I could tell."
[21:56] "You relish the thought of encountering a Nayabaru?" Genuine curiosity tinged his voice as he looked at Akuned.
[21:57] "Oh fuck no," Akuned chuckled. "I relish the thought of sneaking in without that one bastard noticing, though."
[23:26] "Oh, good." He flashed her a grin, adding, "That's something I can get on board with!"