[17:13] The enforced nap left Nadani feeling weaker than she had before her sleep, but there was no helping the matter in hindsight. Presumably, there had been an objective benefit and her body was only to stubborn to acknowledge it in the midst of the Tarnish.
Once the sun began setting, she roused Idarago, then the others, and the trek continued. There was a wariness to the group, as though they all had the collective, unspoken belief that in sleeping out here amongst the bleached stones, they had lost something that would take a long time to recover from.
Regardless, they pressed on. Under the safety of night, they arrived at the landing site, and after ensuring that no Nayabaru were still obviously lingering, Nadani explained the encounter with the visitors and the direction the Nayabaru had come from in detail.
Or started to.
[17:14] "The creatures came from this structure," she stabbed toward it with her muzzle as she cautiously approached it, aware that given the Nayabaru's earlier presence, any number of traps might have been lain in their wake. And stopped, bringing the equally cautious precession of kavkema behind her, a necklace of short brown feathers with white markings only barely visible in the starlight, to a halt.
"-other kavkema!" she exclaimed, bewildered. "The tracks! Someone else was here while I was gone." She gestured for the others to stay still and tried to find out where the paw-prints might have come from. There was no chance it had been one of their group, she'd kept them all accounted for as they approached, but if they all followed their curiosity now, they might destroy the evidence.
[01:24] Edaaj had stopped when Ada motioned, but was only barely conscious of what she'd said or her subsequent investigations. She only had eyes for the structure.
[01:27] All that metal. All the things that could be done with all that metal. And what things must it have inside it, to allow beings to travel across the sky? Could they be understood? (Might the creatures be willing to give some to her, to play with?)
[01:29] She still had grave doubts about this entire venture, somewhere in the back of her mind, but just now she wasn't thinking of a single one. There might be wonderous things to learn here, if only there were an opportunity, and her expression was one of unabashed hunger.
[01:48] That was one thing it sure would be useful to stay in one place for – metal-crafting. It had been done in the past and some particularly clever kavkema could do some of it on the proverbial fly, but if anyone in central Asheenagiji had that kind of technology, Edaaj was oblivious to it. To imagine it, though!
And then Nadani's investigation ended almost as abruptly as it had begun, with her feathers bristling in startled bewilderment, staring at the vessel with sufficiently wide eyes that some of the whites of her eyes were visible. She blinked, then snapped her head back.
More quietly than her previous elaborations, tone brimming with soft uncertainty: "...they might still be inside?" Her mind launched into speculations – some other group of kavkema had found a way, on their own, to open the vessel – some of the visitors had managed to hide, and were chanced upon later by stray kavkema, who were in the process of learning their language – some kavkema had come here and been captured by Nayabaru, making their rescue attempt extra important.
But there were no Nayabaru tracks near what must be the vessel's door.
[02:01] Eda kept staring at the big metal seed in helpless longing for a few more moments before the word sank in. Kavkema? Already inside?
[02:02] She ran her tongue along her teeth, feathers trembling gently with excitement. "We could go in and see, perhaps?"
[02:13] No. Nadani froze in place, confusion holding her still.
If there had been Nayabaru tracks all over the scene, it would have been frightening, but expected. Such was the way of the world – the Nayabaru were a menace, but a constant you could reckon with. As long as you were careful, they could be handled.
If there had been barely any new tracks at all, that would have surprised her, in that she'd been sure there must be more visitors in the quaint metal vessel, and surely the Nayabaru would be... thorough. But she could have accepted that.
This, though? This was so counter-intuitive that it was daunting. Who had come here, then? Who might still be here now? The idea of other kavkema being any measure of foe seemed strange, but instinct insisted it was a possibility. "...is that-?" she asked, haltingly. "Is that a good idea?"
[01:57] Edaaj attempted the mental shift required to understand Ada's thought processes, and came up short. It had never entered her head that other kavkema might be a problem. Nayabaru were a problem. Kavkema might be competitors for resources, but the party wasn't here for resources (not that some wouldn't be nice).
[01:58] And, still, there was the beguiling call of the structure, with all the interesting things it might have inside.
[01:59] In the end, Edaaj was reduced to answering with, "...isn't it?"
[21:51] It was then that Nadani began to think out loud: "I don't—" only to be sharply interrupted by a hiss coming from the vessel, more menacing than from any creature she cared to name. She flattened herself to the ground in misguided instinct – there was no foliage to hide behind. Feathers bristling, she held her ground, ready only to run if any Nayabaru were to reveal itself.
Instead, as the vessel's door slid open, the first thing it revealed was a strange kavkem. Strange captured two traits above any others: First, the feather coat was a lot thicker than what Nadani was familiar with from the local breed; second, she'd never seen a kavkem hold such a confident posture before, casting an intent stare out at the visitors.
[23:23] Edaaj, half a second or so behind Ada, began to copy the latter's motion, by which time it was already evident that it was doing neither of them any good. She gave up and eased herself back upright in the most nonthreatening manner she could manage.
[23:24] She felt like someone should say something, but it had been a long, long time since she'd spoken to someone she hadn't spent years around. "Um," she managed.
[23:54] Who is that? The question doesn't quite cross the threshold to speech.
The kavkem at the edge of the vessel, before the door has fully opened, waves the edge of a tarp that's gradually being revealed at the group. "I assume this is yours?" she asks. While her tone is both cautious and friendly, her accent is... non-existent. Even just by speech, she's clearly not from here. "There were Nayabaru here earlier. They might return."
And then the door has fully opened, revealing another, shier kavkem tucked into the alien recess behind the tarp-wielder, and something far stranger – some kind of glossy, awkwardly shaped, bi-pedal creature. One of Nadani's 'visitors'?
Nadani's found her voice again: "We know. I was there when it happened." A pause, glancing in confusion at the alien itself. "I assumed all of the visitors— I'm confused. Did the Nayabaru not capture them?"
[23:55] The first comment nets her a swerve of the head, a silent acknowledgement, the second a light, barely perceptible shrug. "As far as I can tell, some of the visitors have gone with the Nayabaru, no doubt under false pretenses." The tarp-wielder's begun to drag her slightly unwieldy inventory item out of the vessel. "If you come to rescue them, we share the same goals."
>Whump< The tarp lands at Nadani's feet. "My name is Evenatra. This is Asraaban. As far I was able to ascertain, the alien creature behind me calls himself Ghregg. Asraaban and I come from the coast, we followed the signs of the landing, assuming Nayabaru involvement. You're brave to come here, even as a group."
Whether brave ought to be interpreted as a synonym for naive was evidently up to the listener – Evenatra was not intoning it in any unambiguous way. Leaving them an out? But why would two kavkema from the coast feel better equipped to handling the Nayabaru than a whole group?
[00:31] Eda managed to untangle her tongue. Something along the same lines had occurred to her, but so had something else. "You knew what the thing was before it landed?"
[00:34] Evenatra paused for a moment, then flicked her muzzle in an ambiguous direction. Maybe. "I've been tracking the stars since the shift," she says. "This vessel was an imperfection in an otherwise mostly static night sky before it came down. So after a fashion, I knew what the thing was before it landed, yes. In other important ways, I did not."
[01:05] Eda shook her head in a vague sort of way, but appeared dubious. That the stars were different, she had been aware, but surely they could be seen just as well anywhere as here; why wander away from the coast to watch them? So she took Evenatra's statement to mean, at least. Eda hadn't the vaguest notion of where the nearest coast was, but she knew it was far too far to traverse the distance in a timely fashion.
[03:26] When Nadani finished collecting the tarp, rolling it up and draping it across her shoulders with some hesitance, cautiously keeping her attention on the visitor behind the two foreign kavkema. Something about the name— oh! Yes! She remembered. One of the visitors had referred to another as 'Greyg' at some point – the same individual?
"I suggest we track the Nayabaru and their prisoners before dawn breaks," Evenatra addressed the group. "The less time we lose, the better." A nod toward the one Nadani knew as Greyg. "Ghregg will come with us; we believe his presence should grant us a legitimacy when we encounter the others."
[23:01] Edaaj eyed the other group nervously, then brough her muzzle close to the side of Nadani's head. "We were hoping for assistance," she murmured. "It appears that we've found some."
[23:35] Nadani still seemed mostly bewildered, which was perhaps not the best sign their impromptu leader could be giving them. The source of her confusion was at least fairly clear – the adage 'too good to be true' was especially ingrained in kavkema, starkly countered by that kavkema knew to trust each other with their lives (rarely having any other options).
"...maybe," she whispered back to Edaaj, not so much to conceal her statement as to politely acknowledge that it was a faux pas. "What about the vessel?" she asked Evenatra. "Is anyone left to guard it?"
[23:36] "The vessel will remain protected, another of Ghregg's kind remains within," Evenatra assured, stepping down from the edge of the vessel.
"Is that enough?" Nadani asked. A warning kept gnawing at her gut: Something is strange about this kavkem. Yet even in Akynkulla, she knew of no kiikama that tried to lead kavkema astray with words.
Some mythologies claimed there were kiikama that herded kavkema, drove them into the arms of Nayabaru that way. But this one wasn't asking them to do anything they hadn't been ready to do already. If anything, it was making her waver when she had been sure before. How strange.
"It should be," Evenatra responded. "The vessel is difficult to breach and can propel itself back up to the sky if need arises – although as far as I've gleaned, that would strand Ghregg and the captive visitors on this planet for a while."
[23:49] Edaaj was, very briefly, tempted by the notion of offering to remain in the vessel. She still badly wished to see inside it, and was still not particularly keen on attempting a rescue of these creatures from the Nayabaru. Regardless, she felt unable to allow herself the privilege of staying while
[23:50] they others went onward – and she doubted anyone would take her up on such an offer in any case.
[23:51] "Is it known what the Nayabaru want with them?" she said aloud. "Are they getting bored of capturing kavkema?" She paused, a dreadful thought creeping up on her. It was hard to avoid, since it echoed her own desire. "Do they want things that are inside the vessel?"
[00:17] The questions visibly startled Evenatra. For a moment, she paused in silence, as though assessing a strange new worldview. Were these questions no one asked at the coast?
Then she flicked her muzzle in friendly disagreement. "It's easy to miss when you've never had the poor fortune of interacting with them directly, but the Nayabaru don't really work that way," she explained as she strode up to Edaaj. "They don't have desires or opinions the way we do. They perpetuate the ideas of their ancestors without much reflection.
"These visitors are a threat to them, in technology, and in the alien nature of their culture. That's the only excuse the Nayabaru need to detain them."
[00:18] The entire commentary was delivered in a matter-of-fact tone, seemingly without any resentment. Appended as if in afterthought: "You can't expect the victims of the Tarnish to make much sense."
[06:33] Edaaj gave an acknowledging swerve of the head, but with a certain amount of apprehension.
[06:47] She had been an adherent of Nitish Ynas for as long as she could remember, but she was vaguely aware that not all kavkema were. That one from the coast would choose to invoke the Tarnish in explaining the Nayabaru – Edaaj did not know enough to be certain it was strange, but it seemed to her that it very well might be.
[06:56] Possibly she could ask Nadani later, when there was opportunity. If there was opportunity. Edaaj recalled hearing that the older kavkem had supposedly joined the group from outside, though she could not personally remember her not being there. She might understand better.
[06:57] Then again, she seemed to be slightly at a loss just at the moment.
[22:06] On the other hand, how far did Tarnish reach? How far was the coast? None of them really knew the answer to either question – none of them had been at the coast, or in any stretch of territory where Tarnish was not the dominant cosmology.
There were other mythologies, that much everyone knew. Some knew some of their names: Akynkulla, Leksharia, Neimakanaach. For most of the group, it would seem unlikely they mattered any more at the coast than they did here – they were fringe beliefs, mutually tolerated as all kavkem beliefs ultimately were, but no less fringe for it.
And it was true that it made little sense to seek reason in the Tarnished, if Tarnish was indeed what one believed in.
Nadani seemed to share some private reservations about it in common with Edaaj.
She stole a glance back to Athechelt, hoping for some guidance encoded in the ryrhakenem's body language, but he was still only the stolid, quiet observer – invested in his own concerns far greater than some semantic squabbling. Pleased was an altogether other thing – but he remained alert and she knew that if he saw signs of trouble, he would lead them back to safety.
"Okay," Nadani said, finally. "Okay, let's go. Let's track them. Or does Ghregg know where they went to?"
[22:07] And then Evenatra did something strange: She spoke in a foreign tongue. "Noh werh hijumhans ghoed?" she asked, clearly addressing Ghregg.
[16:37] He trusted Evenatra with his life, and more importantly his death, which meant he trusted she knew what she was doing.
If this was anyone else, Asraaban suspected he would be wrestling control of the conversation and tearing it away from religion and Nayabaru psychology before the locals started to question WHY she knew Nayabaru psychology or called her bluff about their personal religion.
Rescuing a group of alien mammals was already going to be tricky enough. He'd rather not suffer the additional hobble of hiding under a tarp as he did it. A tarp was not the most encouraging of weapons. Although if he flung it over their face that could be rather effective, Nayabaru tended to panic when blinded, and their darts were light enough that if there was sufficient distance between his hide and the tarp at the time then it could work as a deflection, should things get sufficiently desperate, and the group likely had the numbers to take out two Nayabaru if he and Evenatra got their claws bloody...
[16:41] Assuming, of course, they did not enrage these locals by being tripping over a local superstition or Evenatra revealing her wrong-divine nature. By learning an alien language in an evening, for example.
[17:15] Evenatra understood Tarnish – she'd been through the territory often enough to grasp the fundamentals and their implications. Tarnish wasn't the problem, regardless how far removed from the Taaravahr baseline it was. Tarnish faith she could emulate. Tarnish fervent faith she wasn't willing to emulate, but that was hopefully hardly necessary.
But the trouble with meeting thousands upon thousands of kavkema in one's lifetime was that the exceptional outliers stopped appearing like outliers, and it was easy to forget that instantly memorising vocabulary near-perfectly was a once-in-a-century talent, as opposed to one she could credibly pretend she just happened to have.
Knowing that it was possible for kavkema to do this did not rescue the plausibility of the moment. If Evenatra realised that in this instant's hindsight, though, she did a fine job of appearing oblivious.
"Whent," Ghregg said, startling a few of the kavkem with his voice – unusual in pitch in composition, spatially distorted, but rich in detail, to the degree kavkem ears could determine. If the creature's tone was comparable to that of kavkema, he was either offering a very scholarly answer to her question... or correcting a word she used. "Ai kenn shoh jiu."
And he took out a little device not any larger than one of his forepaws, which came to life with a complex light of its own.
A light of its own. For a moment, Nadani was so startled by the symbolically frightful choice of technology that she almost forgot to voice her thoughts from a moment before. But as 'Ghregg', unconcerned with the context he was operating in, started to quietly interact with the device, clearly in search for some particular information, she mustered the calm to ask.
Struggling for a tone that was more respectful and curious than outright startled, she asked: "Their language – you speak it? How?"
[00:01] Edaaj might also have been surprised at the kavkem's ability to speak with 'Ghregg', but if so, her thoughts in that direction were completely banished by the introduction of the device. Edaaj flinched briefly at the light, then goggled at it as it reflected on Ghregg's face.
[00:08] Without hesitation, or for that matter much thought, she meandered over toward Ghregg, craning her head to look at the part the light was coming from and see what it was doing. This brought her face within a few feet of the human's, though it didn't occur to her to look at him.
[00:10] Belatedly, after a few seconds, she did mutter, "Excuse me, don't mind me," not taking her eyes off the device – for all the good that it did, given the language barrier.
[00:46] Being closer to the creature made it much easier to be sure that it was in some kind of suit, with its detailed features behind a transparent pane – glass, perhaps. At first it made it no easier to see the screen, given 'Ghregg' ended up quite startled by Edaaj's abrupt interest and jerked to the side... but he calmed quickly and let her watch.
The device was the kind of magic that Edaaj only knew of far-away tales whose nature as a fully literal account was questionable – technology from other continents or from Katal, depending on who one asked. Technology that let you look at a lot of different kinds of information without needing even a fraction of the amount of paper that normally conveyed the same.
Ghregg was navigating an interface that seemed to mostly consist of the light itself – at least the device seemed to change the display at some of his gestures without that a visible button had been pressed. Cryptic glyphs scattered across the bright view, stark geometries, high contrasts.
[00:47] Then an irregular but smooth pattern of wavey lines appeared on a background of muted colours, along with a handful of brighter, straighter lines that slashed across the others, breaking up into individual dots and short streaks toward one end. ...was this some kind of map and the different stark colours some kind of indicator where Ghregg's kin had gone to?
If so, why did they break up toward the end, rather than simply coming to an actual end? He didn't seem distressed by that.
"Hhir," Ghregg addressed Evenatra. "Lukk." And he turned the device in a particular way, then stretched out one arm – a little cautiously, sparing a glance at Edaaj – to briefly point in a particular direction.
[00:57] Edaaj's gaze bored into the device, as if by staring hard enough at it she could understand how it worked. She suspected that she had no chance whatsoever, a suspicion confirmed when Ghregg pointed and she was unable to fathom how he had found out. She felt the brief urge to grab the device and shout at it.
[00:58] She gave one last hungry look at the device, and then, expelling a long breath from her nostrils, looked away from it.
[16:48] Asraaban twitched at the strange kavkem who had approached like a curious hatchling, but curiousity was one of the better responses. It was the apparent leader of this... don't think of them as a shard, of this group, who was more important to placate.
"They sheltered us in their kap-shul, their skyegg, this afternoon," he attempted to explain to Nadani, flicking his head slightly towards the Ghregg and the device he held. "The aliens have more things like that inside, but larger, and the small one is linked to it? By radio?" He seemed uncertain of that, but the aliens had clearly sent pictures from one to the other and that was the only way he knew of to talk without presence.
"I think the larger one is like their story staff?" he continued. "One of them acted like their ryrhakenem, and used the device to show their language to Evenatra all afternoon." He paused. "Well, I THINK they were trying to tell stories, Evenatra was." Asraaban was not about to confess he'd spent time getting increasingly confused before deciding the aliens made enough noise whenever he did
something unexpected that an approaching Nayabaru would provoke an even more vigorous reaction, and had curled up to take a much needed nap.
[17:09] Somehow, despite the unlikeliness of such a construct, that of all things netted Asraaban a quiet acknowledging motion from Nadani, a wordless 'I see, that makes sense'.
Evenatra expanded on Asraaban's narrative while keeping her attention on Ghregg and his device: "I learnt enough for some broken basics. Enough to doubt that I'll ever be anywhere near fluent – even in the small selection I dealt with, some of their words behave in completely nonsensical ways.
"You can't always derive different word forms from the base word, for example, and the pronunciation doesn't reliably correspond to the glyphs they write them with." She glanced up at Ghregg, throwing more mangled syllables at him – possibly a question. He responded, and she studied the display.
Then, looking first at Nadani, then at Edaaj, she said: "If either of you want to stay here and learn the basic language, know that I do encourage you to do so. That said, Asraaban and I will focus on the rescue, and we appreciate any assistance."
[17:10] Nadani's comparatively thin feather coat puffed out slightly. "Of course. You have mine. It's why I'm here."
Evenatra smiled – still radiating that unusual confidence, as though despite all the strangeness, she knew what she was doing. "Excellent – then let's go. Their last known position is a long trek on its own."