[22:16] By the time anything changed, the shadows had shrunk to their narrowest. It had been tempting for some to write off Nadani and Serademar, to simply assume the light had consumed them despite their haphazard preparations – but the more Athechelt concentrated on the arid landscape, the more it became apparent the moving fleck of shadow creeping between the bushes was no illusion. He was already tired from his vigil amongst the last of the trees beyond the foot of the mountain ridge, but the picture was becoming increasingly clear.
[22:17] The motion was halting, cautious, suggesting the one or two kavkema under their shield occasionally glanced back from whence they came. That made a disheartening sense – to be heading back at this hour, something had to have happened. Under normal circumstances they would have stayed put and waited for night fall.
But then, what were normal circumstances when a light fell from the sky? What were normal circumstances when a kavkem sought out the light? At least its corrupting beckon had evidently lost its hold, but at what cost remained to be seen.
[23:02] Hours of staring into the brightness could easily play tricks on one's eyes, and Athechelt had been trying to keep his hopes from rising too prematurely. But the shadow was indeed creeping closer, and it was vaguely kavkem-shaped enough to make his heart race with joy. They'd returned.
Eche allowed himself a moment's rest, closing his eyes to block out the terrible brightness and resting his muzzle against the story-staff tucked beneath him. Doubts flowered in his mind — it was still too early to tell whether there were one or two kavkema under the tarp. What if only Nadani made it back? What if only Serademar? What else might they have brought back with them? He took a long, slow breath, trying to center himself. He'd know soon enough.
After another moment, he opened his eyes again, finding the shadow again and tracking it as it approached. The first order of business would be to make sure Nadani and Serademar were okay, the second to make sure they hadn't been followed. (It didn't seem like they had been from his vantage point, but with their stopping-and-starting, he couldn't be sure.) Once those were taken care of, the next most important thing was to find out what they'd seen — especially Nadani. He could make guesses based on his dream, but they'd be metaphorical guesses at best; only once he saw what the metaphor represented could he make sense of the specifics.
[23:08] Given the current trajectory, they were going to enter the forest a couple of metres to his right. It would be tricky to get there while avoiding the patches of light – it was easier to verify no immediately visible trailing threat and simply raise the story staff to draw attention to himself.
[23:16] As it draws closer, it becomes more clear that there are in fact two kavkema under the (slightly odd-looking) tarp, dispelling some of Athechelt's fears. It also becomes clear they haven't seen him yet. After taking a few moments to look around and ensure there aren't any visible threats, he raises his story-staff and gives it a small shake, hoping to draw their attention.
[23:19] That at least does the trick to stop their motion yet one more time. After a moment's pause, the still fairly indeterminate bundle visibly shambles in his direction, awkwardly suspending the tarp above their heads.
And gradually, the closer they get, it becomes apparently it's not their original tarp.
[23:36] Once it's clear that he's caught their attention, the staff comes back to the ground to avoid attracting anything else's attention. The odd-looking tarp definitely isn't what they had originally. Which means either they ran into Nayabaru, or they ran into... something else. If not for his dream, he wouldn't even consider the latter option. It was large enough that it might be Nayabaru-made, but... hard to be certain. More questions upon questions. Maybe today would end with more answers than new questions, but somehow he already doubted it.
Once they're close enough for conversation, the very first words out of Athechelt's mouth are: "Are you all right?"
[23:49] Nadani is not convinced the distance suffices for conversation, her feathers matting down against her body as she shuffles almost close enough for their muzzles to touch, keeping hers low, avoiding signs of aggression, as was customary. "Yes," she says, finally, half slumping, half relaxing under the tarp shared with Serademar. Her mouth opens in a soundless pant. "I think I may have made a terrible mistake," she admits, then glances to Serademar – as though to get his permission to include him in her remark. "We may have." Her muzzle flicks up, feathers bristling, teeth gnashing at the air briefly. "They were- we- we have visitors, Eche, and we didn't stay to protect them." She stares intently at him, her feathers subtly rising and falling against the back of her head. "Raktat 'kenem, what do we do now?"
[00:25] For a long moment, Athechelt watches Nadani silently, as if trying to judge whether her statement that she was all right was truthful. Then his expression thaws, and he nuzzles the side of her neck, nipping gently at her feathers, welcoming her back to relative safety. The talk of 'visitors' is troubling — if not for his dream, he'd imagine kavkema from far away, but the image of small balls of fur and misshapen teeth, creatures born of light, is all that comes to mind.
"You're telling the end of the story before the beginning," Eche notes, fiddling with a pouch of water attached to his necklace and offering it to the two kavkema. "Let's start there, first. What did you see?" He resists the urge to ask, 'what possessed you to follow the falling light?' — it had happened, and right now the reasons could wait.
[00:38] Nadani lets Serademar take the water while she maintains the conversation, mindful of her words. "There was a strange metal house on the desert plains," she began. "I think it was the light that came from the sky, though there was almost no light left when we arrived there – a few specks of it, at angles that posed no threat.
"There were two very strange animals near it," she continued. "We startled each other. They had a very reflective, smooth skin, and appeared as though they owned two faces – one transparent, the other a strange, short, misshapen thing. It is possibly they were wearing something to cover their whole body and the second face is their only, but I cannot guarantee it.
[00:39] "For all their strangeness they were still... recognisable? They have two eyes, as is customary, and while their nostrils appear to be attached to a very short, small snout all on its own, I believe they have two of those as well, and a mouth through which they spoke.
"Their language is neither Kendaneivash, nor any dialect of Naya, as far as we could tell, and they are unfamiliar with our language. We spent a while trying to understand each other – I was urgently trying to explain the danger of the rising dawn to them. We managed to convince them to come share our tarp in the last minutes before the light would have touched them.
"I believe they understood, but... I cannot say." She rests a searching gaze on Athechelt, pausing to assess if she should go on.
[02:10] It's not easy material for a ryrhakenem. The attempt to visualise the 'visitors' was likely already a challenge on its own, let alone the spiritual significance of the encounter with them.
[02:11] Nadani waited until Eche appeared somewhat less than a hundred percent flustered, then continued: "During our interactions, we met another one of these creatures. It came out of the metal container with this..." – she tugs at the edge of the foreign tarp – "...and joined its two kin and us outside.
"It was about then that a pair of communitarian Nayabaru scouts found us," she lamented. "The tarp we left with was tied as to grant shade without being constantly held, so I apologised to the newcomer and grabbed theirs, leaving the visitors with ours... and then Era and I fled.
"I don't think we were followed, and I believe that if the visitors are advanced enough to fly through the sky then they are no victims to the Nayabaru, but we may easily have left them in peril."
[03:41] The story is almost too much to take in. A shard of light (escaped from the sun?) falling to the earth and shaping itself into a metal house; what did this mean? A pair of creatures with reflective skin and two faces, one inside the other; what did this mean? If their skin reflected light, did this make them more or less likely to be susceptible to the Tarnish? (Certainly it would be more dangerous to be around them in the light.) Metal didn't Tarnish the way living things did; perhaps these creatures had other ways of avoiding Thumak's corrupting influence?
If these were the same sorts of creatures as those from his dream though — or if those creatures were meant as a metaphor for these ones — then they still might represent a danger. A hand traces along the edge of the foreign tarp, trying to imagine the sort of creature that would have made such a thing. "...Forgive me, I'm still trying to understand the nature of these creatures," he replies, still visibly flustered. "How large were they? ...And when they spoke, did they use their transparent face or the misshapen one, or both?" A pause, then: "You called them 'visitors' — where do you think they come from?"
[04:10] The fabric seems far more complex than the cloth available to the kavkema – even just a cursory examination reveals that it must be made of at least three layers. It has a strange stiffness to it, married to an ambiguous softness. At least one its side appears to be slightly reflective – more metal, so thin as to become as light and flexible as fabric?
"I find it hard to judge their size," Nadani observed, cautiously. "They share with the Nayabaru that they walk only on their hind legs. As far as I was able to tell, they have no tails. I did not try to lift any of them, but... they may not have much more weight than we do. One must look up to look into their eyes, if they do not crouch. But they are definitely smaller than Nayabaru.
"The speaking seemed to come from the second face – that is why I think they may have been wearing something. I don't know why they would – I imagine the air might go quite bad within such a setup, but they gave no impression of deterioration, so I don't know."
[04:11] She craned her head to one side awkwardly for a moment, indicating that the last question was giving her some trouble. Softly speculating, she offered: "A year ago and for some days after that, after the winds, after the... twist of the sky... there were receding crescents in the sky, curved against one faint, textured circle each..." She lingered on the silence that followed, not quite brave enough to make the implication any more tangible.