§ 2020-07-25 22:46:48


[22:52] The kavkema rather preferred to move during night time hours, clearly equipped with a vision that could better handle those hours of darkness than the humans that tried to keep up with them. It wasn't so much a problem to see where one was going, in the rough, as the details of the forest floor, where feet caught against roots or smacked into the shallow tops of earth-submerged boulders.

And it wasn't strictly easy sleeping during the worst of the daylight hours – the lightweight tents that Samanta and Greg carried with them blocked out some of the light, but it gave the appearance of twilight more than of night, and the physical hardship of what was effectively a constant migration was wearing on them.

They had just narrowly finished dismantling their tents for another night's trek, the afternoon sun melting into a gradual dusk, the forested area they were walking through muting the light further, when a distant, indistinct sound spoke a warning.

They knew Asraaban and Nadani had been trailing behind the group a good deal, hoping to spot their pursuers before they came too close, of course, but it wasn't altogether clear if the high-pitched, distant sound was one from either of them, or whether it was perhaps simply an upset bird.

Greg stood for a moment, looking into the direction it had come from as though the thicket of trees might let him guess at the source. He eased the folded tent onto his shoulders by the straps it came with. According to Evenatra, if it was a warning, at least one of them should appear any moment now to deliver a report.

Evenatra was somewhere further ahead, likely even out of range of the sharp sound. If she had an opinion on it, they were oblivious to it. But the other kavkema of the group seemed to stir nervously, feathers rising, attention cast back rather than forward, like a group getting ready to run.

And yet, no one appeared as precious seconds ticked by.


[23:20] Samanta tried as best as she could to peer into the darkness, but even if it had been noon the density of the forest would have probably completely hidden whatever there was to see. The two of them had barely start getting used to the routine of the night march; now Evenatra's revelations had renewed and amplified all their stress. Sometimes they managed to focus on walking and walking, until time came to set up the tents. Sometimes every fleeting shadow and snapped twig conjured horrific visions of captivity, torture, and forced experimentation, as well as a clever and ruthless living weapon stalking them among the trees.

So she slowed her pace, and finally stood staring straight at the direction they'd came from, sweating and itching despite the night chill. Random patches of darkness and dim light shifted, and she thought she could see, at the same time, a Nayabaru army crashing through the forest holding mangled but cruelly breathing bodies, and their new friends rejoining the group, with whatever their equivalent of a smile was, saying there was nothing to be afraid of.


[23:37] Then some of the kavkema were beside them, nudging the top of their heads against them with some urgency. It was, apparently, time to leave. No one seemed absolutely certain that they were about to be attacked, but the sound had evidently been enough to inspire 'We need to move now!' sentiments in their friends.

And so Greg followed the prompt and moved, resisting a different urge to move into the direction of the sound. Presumably, after all, the others were there. Presumably, they could reunite with the rest of their crew, explain the situation, and possibly make a difference.

But for now they had promised to let the kavkema protect them, laughable as that seemed. The worse option was that perhaps, they needed that protection, regardless how flimsy it was. But surely that was paranoid?

And so they moved, watching the group scatter in silent gestures of directions, fanning out – both decreasing the chance that all of them could be rounded up easily and regrettably increasing the chance that one of them could be found by sheer dumb luck on part of the Nayabaru.

Greg spoke up after the only visible kavkema around them were two of them – Athechelt and Edaaj, if they remembered the correspondence of names to patterns and cosmetic markings correctly – with the others disappeared in the thicket: "Do you think they got both of them?"


[23:50] Edaaj had spent as much time as she could spare listening to the humans talk – with each other, and with Evenatra. It had availed her only a little – she had puzzled out and memorized a few words, but words had always been less reliable for her than materials. Still, from the few she understood and the sense of apprehension Greg seemed to exhibit, she thought she understood enough to guess.

[23:52] She whispered back with one of the more frustrating, but useful, terms she had managed to acquire: "Dunno."


[00:44] And that seemed the best Samanta and Greg could hope for, for the moment. The kavkema were making quite clear that they needed to move forward. Now that they no longer had the full group around them, it seemed only sensible to move away from the commotion and its cause, and toward Evenatra. Surely the two of them couldn't do wrong by following their hosts' advice.

Still, the kavkema looked awfully fragile, and watching them scatter away into pairs or alone gave Samanta the strong suggestion, hopefully a baseless one, that many would not come back. Then she realized that the kavkema probably had the same expectation. (Or did they? If their minds were as plastic as humans ones, they could get used to any dreadful situation as normal; and if the risks were lower than she expected, they would probably know.) Except they weren't watching strange aliens walk off into the darkness, but their own friends and kin.

[00:45] Surely if the kavkema could keep their lucidity and discipline in such a situation, so could the two humans. They did promise to follow Evenatra and the group. God, if only Saira and Jason were near.

"Greg?" she said, "Perhaps we should keep going. There in the dark we'd probably hinder the kavkema more than we can help them."


[01:09] Edaaj's "dunno" provoked a look of mild surprise and confusion in Greg, although most of it was effectively hidden behind the reflections of the visor. How much had she understood of his question? How much had she guessed from context? Was she even saying what she thought she said?

But they were probably never going to have certainty and they had greater worries right now. He smiled lightly at Edaaj, not sure if she could interpret the facial expression, especially with how her attention wasn't fully on his face to begin with – but such was his social urge and he knew fighting it would just make him feel worse about the situation, not better.

Samanta's observation that they were ill-equipped to fight for the sake of the kavkema in the gradual onset of twilight and dimming light, intensified by the landscape, was of course on point. Not that he intended on stopping; at most, in a moment of foolishness, he would turn and leg it into the other direction, hoping to catch sight of Jason.

"Yeah," he confirmed, not slowing – though their trudging was hardly high-speed. They were, in a way, slowing their two kavkem companions down considerably. The others had whispered through the underbrush like little feathered arrows.

Then an idea occurred to him, and he tried to switch to longer-range communication, knowing the trees would block most of it even if the others were in range. "Saira, Jason, acknowledge if you can hear this," he said, pressing fingertips to his suit near the mic out of some instinctive superstition.

And then some creature audibly shot through the thicket somewhere behind them, causing Greg to whirl around in reflex, as well as Athechelt. It had been a noise for him, little more – a sequence of rustling leaves, approaching in disregard for stealth, but he could swear it had ended at a point close enough to them that he ought to be able to see if it were one of the Nayabaru...

Athechelt hissed softly, raising his staff much like an impromptu weapon, ducking his shoulders a little lower and lowering his muzzle, but drawing lips back from teeth to bare them. Every feather on his body stood on end, puffing him up into a mostly white fluffball.

Then something darker than the shadows of the forest fell through the air, appearing in its motion like a boomerang. One limb caught against a thin branch, sending the item spinning – then it fell against the trunk of a tree near its roots a scant metre away from the ryrhakenem. Athechelt's attention twitched briefly to whatever had been thrown his way, then back up to where it had come from—

his attention snapped back to the ground in reflex as whatever had been thrown came to life, drawing itself up like a spider with the wrong number of limbs and too many joints in each leg. It was moving before Greg had registered its shape as anything other than a nondescript danger, jerking back in reflex ('Some help you are!' his minded chided him), running toward Athechelt.

One end of Athechelt's staff smacked into it, catching it by one limb. Rather than knock it back, the creature instantly held fast to the branch and as though unbothered by the change of inclination shifted its motion to a climb.

It took Athechelt an eternal second to decide, by which time it was almost to late, to let go and leap back.

At the same instant, a low growl surfaced from the brushes to his right and behind him, a way's away from the last rustle.

...a kavkem?


[02:04] It took more than an instant for Samanta to even form an impression of what had just happened. Was that an inanimate object, a machine, a predator animal, yet another kind of alien, a biological weapon? Her first instinct was to recoil, her second one to lean in and take a closer look to that thing (it would look much better inside jar of formalin than out there in the forest at night, if it was indeed a living organism).

Samanta bowed to the ground groping for something like a weapon — not as much actually to fight as to feel a little bit less helpless — without much luck: the ground was compact, without loose stones or branches, only tighly woven roots. Was she carrying anything of the right sort? Nothing she could afford to throw or use as a blunt weapon, definitely.

... The tentpoles. They were far too long to swing around, and far too light to do any damage, but maybe she could use them to knock the damn thing off its tree. She could reach much higher up than the kavkema, after all. She unstrapped the tent from her back and made a couple quick strides toward the tree. That was going to be much harder than it seemed. Her eyes were starting to hurt from the strain, and the tree's foliage was just a hazy mass of shadows.

Immediately before reaching the tree, she felt something loose under her foot that almost made her lose her balance. She picked it up: that had to be Athechelt's staff. She let the tent go and swung the staff just on the leaves just above the branch where she had last seen the creature, trying to summon as much spider-killing instinct as she could. Then she briefly glimpsed something crawl down the other side of the trunk, into high bushes. (Did she, or what that just a falling leaf?)

She withdrew. The last thing she was going to do was to let herself be drawn farther away from her position, and most importantly from Greg. "Eche, are you there?" she half-cried and half-whispered. "Eche! Your staff is here!" Thankfully the kavkema had white feathers, at least.

[02:05] She'd hate to think how this scene would have looked like if they'd been even harder to see.


[02:45] As Athechelt's staff had dropped to the ground, that manifest shadow had writhed its limbs as if in brief confusion, then dragged itself out from under the lightweight wood. By that time, Athechelt had scrambled to his left, up the slant of a rise, driven in part by an instinct that told him not to approach either danger as well as that it was easier to strike down than it was to strike up.

But he hadn't stayed there for very long – the strange object clambered up the tree as though it were indifferent to the slant of the surface it traversed, evidently preferring the steady surface of bark to the muddy rise, and he had hastily skittered further away and back down, expression partway between a snarl and a confused, fearful pant.

By the time Samanta had slipped a tent pole from the pack she was carrying and was setting her eyes on its insectine motions, it was halfway along a branch and by the looks of things intent to launch itself off it and toward Athechelt once it reached the end. Precious fractions of seconds were lost to the change of weapon.

Then, in the same motion as she swung the story staff to strike at the leafy end of the branch, a different shadow launched itself at Edaaj, a surprising likeness of feathers, teeth and claws, trying to attach to her back, away from Edaaj's teeth and claws, and pull at her tool necklace to anchor itself there.

But Samanta at least was successful – the alien creature dropped out of the tree before it could choose its trajectory and whacked against the mud of the rise, limbs squirming like fingers for a moment before in part inverting the direction they curved as that it might right itself. It was frightfully fast to adjust; by the time Samanta was aware it was doing it, it was almost back to being upright enough to run toward Athechelt again.

Fortunately, Greg had been paying some attention. He'd picked up the tent pole and with a lucky shot the tip of the pole rammed against the side of the creature. For a moment, all it did was knock it off-balance again – then another wobbling stab, accompanied with a soft sound of distress from Greg, smacked into its underside and pinned it loosely against a dent in the slanted landscape.

It didn't look like a stable configuration – the creature's limbs just had to hit the pole at the right angle once to knock it off its carapace – but it bought them precious seconds.


[03:03] Edaaj struggled to respond to the quickly-unfolding scene, at least in any other way than fleeing, but the horrible thing was in the tree after Eche before she had even begun to pat desperately at her tool necklace – maybe she still had that chisel she'd fashioned-

[03:06] The necklace was yanked back against her neck and a weight pressed into her back. Edaaj gave a strangled hiss of surprise, fruitlessly trying to reach backward to snap or claw at her assailant. Out of desperation, she tried to swing herself around toward the nearest tree, in hopes of scraping the creature – kavkem? – off against it.

§ 2020-08-05 21:12:31


[22:14] That little thing was hell to follow, let alone to fight. Even Greg's action, which by all rights should have ended it, apparently didn't. (A point for the thing being mechanical; an animal thickly armored enough to survive being stabbed like that wouldn't have been so fast at climbing, let alone jumping.) And now there seemed to be something else in the fray.

Samanta considered pursuing the thing against in the branches, but Greg seemed to have had a bit more success (well, a bit less unsuccess) with it. So she ran toward the latest commotion, clutching the staff in one hand, and dragging the tentpole behind her with the other. Was that... was that another kavkem? How wonderful. Wherever they had come from, they had jumped on Edaaj in a very unfriendly-looking manner.

So what, now? Was there another kavkem faction that nobody had mentioned 'til now, hostile to Evenatra? Or were a few kavkema, for some godforsaken reason, working with the Nayabaru? Or was this another trick, a robot, a hologram, a shapeshifter, something else entirely, just for the sake of sowing confusion?

The newcomer had grabbed Edaaj's necklace as if to strangle her, both struggling against a tree. After all this, Samanta really didn't like the idea of hurting a kavkem; but, everything else being equal, the one throttling their kind was more likely to be in the wrong. So she dropped the tentpole again, held the staff horizontally with both hands, and with that, as well as she could, she pushed the new kavkema against the tree trunk, hoping to stop it from pulling any further.


[22:34] Guided by the instinct of a wounded predator, Athechelt pounced toward the writhing, mechanical limbs, hoping to pin the creature down before it— one of its limbs whacked against the pole, dislodging it, and twisting to right itself. A sense of dread gripped Athechelt's gut, unable to stop his motion; then his arms smacked down against it, his weight bearing down on it before it had a chance to move toward him of its own volition.

Greg gave a shout – forgetting the kavkem notion that silence is golden in some primal expression of partial glee – then ran toward Athechelt as he wrestled with the creature's limbs to help defend against it, encouraged by that it could, apparently, be wrestled with. There was still enough of him that didn't want to touch it, but winning was more important.

Meanwhile, the kavkem that had launched itself onto Edaaj's back bore the brunt of Samanta's attack with Athechelt's storystaff turned impromptu weapon. Teeth briefly appeared to have an interest in biting at it but thought otherwise even before the kavkem's spine rattled against the trunk. A high-pitched, soft squeal came from Edaaj's assailant, transitioning into a displeased hiss as he was loosely pinned. Feathers puffed and sank back down, his mouth open in a display of teeth – but he wasn't making to bite at Samanta's fingers or any other accessible part of her body. Instead, he simply tried to squirm out from under the story staff, hands scrambling for hold on Edaaj, be it by feathers or the strings of her necklace.

But a moment later, Edaaj managed to jerk free from the grip, her assailant's claws snapping back, no doubt uncomfortably so. A less sturdy tool necklace might long since have been torn from her neck – but now she still had all her belongings.

By now, Greg was pressing down against the metal spider, finding that it was much stronger than it looked, judging by its size alone – another point in favour of an artificial design. But there really was no mistaking it; this thing was wrought of a shiny, near-black metal, its strong tentacles made of clearly delineated segments.

Unlike the biological creatures that were pushing down on it, it didn't seem like it was likely to tire any time soon. One of its arms caught against Greg's left lower arm, curling against it with significant pressure, making him cry out and bring up his right arm in reflex to try and dislodge the grip. "Samanta!" he called across, not sure what kind of help he was hoping for.


[23:09] "Ah... give me a second, will you?" Ok. The new kavkema wasn't struggling as fiercely as Samanta expected, not remotely. As long as she kept pressing, she'd probably keep them in place (unless they were just pretending, and waiting for a distraction). But if she let them go... kavkema were /fast/, and their teeth and claws looked like they could hurt even without weapons. She briefly considered knocking them out, but even if she could have done so, there's a very fine line between "temporary brain damage" and "permanent brain damage", and she really wasn't going to take /that/ risk.

Edaaj seemed to be well now; perhaps she could take over from Samanta? But the attacker seemed to have thrown all their fighting spirit precisely at Edaaj. They seemed much less furious now, with their feet dangling just out of reach of the ground, and if they moved it seemed more to adjust the position of their shoulder and tail to one less uncomfortable, than as an attempt to flee or attack again. They now glared straight at Samanta, with an expression that definitely didn't look like animal rage.

[23:10] ...wait. "Eda? Eda, are you there? Would you go help Greg and Eche over there? Greg and Eche, there." Samanta tried her best to point at the other cluster with her head, hoping that her words were at least a bit more understandable. Then she looked back at the pinned kavkem, and asked: "Are you a kavkem? Are you with Valcen? Do you understand what I say? English? Kenda— kendaneivash?"


[23:39] Edaaj was still panting her shock out of her system – the realisation that a kavkem had attacked her. It wasn't outright inconceivable, but there was an eerie strangeness to it, as though it were perhaps not narratively sound. But she recognised her name the second time it was spoken, and she definitely understood 'Greg' and 'Eche' and even 'help'.

And so she was moving toward the two even before she was fully aware of their situation – the writhing creature trying to gain the upper hand between them. Athechelt had moved to trying to pull it off Greg's arm, too, but the creature kept switching between grabbing and crawling along their limbs, making it hard for a single tactic to prevail.

She could see that it was clearly artificial. Someone had built it.

But in any case, it was a threat right now. She bounded closer, but rather than engage with this metallic enemy directly, she stared at it from all angles accessible to her in quick succession, trying to keep track of its rapid motions, building a model of it in her mind. Usually mechanical devices came with an 'off' switch – but she couldn't yet see one on this thing.

Meanwhile, back with Samanta, the pinned kavkem tried to slip out from under the story staff pinning it to the tree, feathers dragging along the smooth wood on one side, the rough bark on the other. With a single vigorous motion, it twisted free, dropping to the ground, then instantly ran toward Athechelt, no doubt intending to attack his necklace as well.

Edaaj had drawn the blade from hers, trying to hold onto the creature with one hand, onto the 'back' of one of its tentacles (although it didn't seem restricted as to which direction to move them in, making it an arbitrary designation), simple to have a steady enough target to try and jab the blade between the segments, doing her best not to cut anyone in the process.


[00:07] Samanta cursed quietly. So much for any attempt to communicate, though at least now she was sure the kavkem wasn't interested in attacking her in particular. Nor Greg, presumably.

She called, "Eda! Eche! Greg!" She also regretted it immediately. Warning them of the coming kavkema seemed a good idea, but distracting them all from the spider-thing at the same time seemed a terrible one. She tried to follow the attacker on the uneven ground; and when she though they were in her reach, she made a desperate jump to the ground, and grabbed one of their ankles. She didn't expect to stop them, or even to slow them down, but she hoped to delay them for a large enough fraction of a second to let the others react.


[00:11] The ankle slipped from Samanta's grasp with a single firm yank.

Athechelt spotted the motion out of the corner of his eyes in time to turn, letting the prize go. For a harrowing moment, it seemed that was all it took for the thing to break free and dangle itself against Edaaj's arms, then use one as a branch to climb her body — but Greg's instincts reasserted his grip just as it reached her shoulder, catching her and their metallic assailant in an awkward hug.

The nameless kavkem knocked Athechelt off his feet, rolling a few inches up the slanted landscape before gravity laughed at their measly momentum and tore them back down.

Then, abruptly, the writhing metal lost its cohesion. Black sand rained down between Edaaj and Greg, temporarily staining her feathers, leaving a fine structure of a different metal twitching as if in stubborn death throes, but without any strength. Greg backed away, pulling it off Edaaj in surprise, then stepped on it in a firm spider-squashing instinct. That pin sat.

Something flew down from the top of the rise – another kavkem, for a moment not more than a blur. Then it was on Athechelt's opponent, resolving as Evenatra, wrapping her arms around his neck, not quite as if hoping to strangle him, but clearly intent on being a worthy distraction. Only a few soft hisses and snarls later, Athechelt and Evenatra had brought their nameless visitor back down, pinning him to the ground on his side.

"We must move," Evenatra panted, snapping her gaze across at Samanta. "If I can hear you, the Nayabaru hear you, also." Oh. Yes. Greg had made some sounds, hadn't he?

...speaking of which, for the moment, Greg was still staring at the black sand, trying to comprehend what had just happened.


[00:52] Samanta awkwardly staggered back onto her feet and wiped the dust from her suit. So... Greg and Edaaj appeared to have won against the spider-thing, though they didn't look like they knew quite how. And the new kavkema... was their prisoner, now? And there was Evenatra, definitely responsible for the latter, probably for the former. And very, and very rightly, annoyed at all the noise they'd made.

"Yes, uh... Yes. Let's go." She picked up once again the staff, dearly hoping it wasn't damaged, and the tentpole. Athechelt walked over to her in quick strides, clearly ready to leave that place at full speed, and recovered the staff. "What's happened here? What was that... that object?" She half-pointed at the remains of the spider-thing with the tentpole as she folded it back into her pack. "And who is this kavkem?"

It had seemed to Samanta that the newcomer had actually reacted when she'd spoken Valcen's name against the tree. Kavkema facial expressions weren't too transparent to her yet, but it had been some twitch of awareness, surprise, perhaps. And now that they marched past her into the trees, safely between Athechelt and Evenatra, they briefly turned to look at her, as if there was something worrying about her.


[01:16] "<Who are you?>" Evenatra relayed to her captive, her weight pressing down on him.

"...Baishar," he responded – his gaze was caught on the black sand, his posture far less aggressive now. With how his attention was not quite on the kavkem on top of him, it was perhaps not because he was terrified of her. Something had changed about the situation. Had that artificial object exerted some kind of influence on him? But he didn't seem confused. Did he assume his chances had evaporated now that the tool had been destroyed? But he did not seem sad, either, at least in as much as the humans could tell.

"<And what was the contraption I disintegrated?>" Evenatra queried.

Baishar squirmed lightly, but not nearly enough to even give the impression of trying to escape. "<It's an Imitorunyema.>" A pause. "<...if I say 'Valcen made it', will you let me explain?>"

Evenatra hissed. "<If I must,>" she said, distaste in her tone. "<I'd rather put an end to whatever confused> yria <you're living, but I don't think our visitors would appreciate the gesture. So I will let you explain, on the condition you come with us without the slightest fuss.>"

Baishar lowered his muzzle deferentially, trying to look back at Evenatra without twisting his head around, straining his eyes a little in the process. "<I submit,>" he said, so drily and with certainty that it was clear to her that he meant it.

"<Great,>" Evenatra said, cautiously releasing her grip, keeping her tense attention on their captor.

Greg had picked up the mangled remnants of the artificial spider and ran a few of the black grains from its disrupted carapace through his fingers in quiet wonder. As Edaaj expressed interest in the object, he passed it to her absent-mindedly, then glanced across at Evenatra, just in time for her to attempt to summarise what she had learnt:

"His name is Baishar. This thing," she gestured a claw at the emaciated remnants Edaaj was now handling. "Is called 'Imitorunyema' and made by Valcen." Her tone was steeped in deep annoyance. She caught Greg's questioning gaze. "I destroyed it," she said. "Made the metal be something else," she added, as though that would explain anything at all – but given her mood, prying was probably not wise.

One of her forepaws slipped to grip Baishar's necklace at one strand. "<Does someone have rope?>" she asked the kavkema, hoping to bind Baishar's hands as that he wouldn't get any funny ideas about reneging on his promise.

To the humans, she said: "I will tell you more about this 'Imitorunyema' once we move and Baishar answers my questions." There was some venom in her voice – the feathers bristling at her spine suggested that what she had heard so far was enough to infuse her with apprehension.


[01:55] 'I made the metal be something else', she said. Evenatra sounded... annoyed, to use an understatement. The whole episode really shouldn't have happened, and without her they all wouldn't exactly have fared well. And given that her annoyance had apparently manifested as willing matter out of existence, Samanta was going to hope very hard that she wouldn't be around whenever Evenatra's annoyance escalated to anger.

So the... prisoner, this Baishar, seemed to be cooperating, though something he'd said had made her much unhappier, and it was clearly about something Valcen did.

Samanta walked closer to Greg and Edaaj, casting a glance at the rather pitiful remains they were holding. Not much she could ever hope to recognize, even if they'd been in perfect shape. She considered prodding Evenatra with more questions, but... right now, that was a very unappealing idea.

So she just said, "Very well. Thank you."

§ 2020-08-06 21:03:01


[02:38] Edaaj stared helplessly at the remains of the thing that Greg had handed to her, turning the ruin over and over in her hands as if trying to divine its secrets from what was left of it. A device that could run and attack as if alive? What artifice could create such a thing?

[02:41] The name, 'Imitorunyema', filtered through her consciouness, and she shivered briefly.

[02:48] The realm of the mind had, in a sense, always been her weak point. She thought she understood herself well enough, but other people were hidden mechanisms, their innards locked away behind speech and body language. For a device to be named for opening the mind... was it some kind of qidravem?

[02:53] Edaaj didn't know which was more terrifying: the idea that someone had made a mechanical qidravem at all, or that the existence of an Imitorunyema implied that there was, somewhere, an Oratorunyema for it to have been distinguished from.

[03:00] Carefully, as if expecting it to come alive again in her hands, she put the remains of the thing down, and rummaged almost absently in one of the pouches on her necklace. She produced a short length of rope, enough to bind Baishar's wrists, and gave it to Evenatra. She fixed Baishar with an unnerving stare. "<What was this thing intended to do? And are there more of them?>"


[01:02] Evenatra tipped her muzzle in a brief gesture of gratitude as she took the length of rope and twisted it about Baishar's wrists. There wasn't enough of it left over to form a good leash, but she tugged at it experimentally, regardless, and decided it would do.

At Edaaj's question, meanwhile, Baishar merely shrank a little and remained frustratingly silent, perhaps not yet willing to speak of this while the focal point of so much attention. There was an apology in his eyes, though – but whether it was for the assault, for the contraption, or for his current silence, was hard to tell.