[22:09] One poison barb was almost to be expected. Two was a coincidence. Three were enough to whisper a warning, suggest the area fundamentally unsafe, perhaps riddled with other 'countermeasures' they were less experienced at spotting.
[22:10] Right now, while inspecting their potential resting grounds for structural considerations, Edaaj was looking at a fourth spine protruding at an unnatural angle from the trunk of a tree, a thin, translucent sliver easy to miss if one was not specifically looking for it. Four was definitely too many to ignore – regardless how cautiously the crude trap was plucked from its anchor in the wood, this promised Tarnish they couldn't simply wash away.
On a purely practical level, the trouble with this density was that while there was little doubt that there was a Nayabaru settlement very close by, the direction was anyone's guess. Edaaj had never seen a Nayabaru and who in their right mind wanted to start now? Backtracking was a comparatively safe option, but they had already left traces there and there was a reason they had left their old home behind. She could send a Watcher to scout ahead for safe passage... or brave the matter herself. Either way, it would have to be addressed.
[22:20] Edaaj examined the barb without touching it. This required a certain amount of distance, because her feathers – brown on the lower arms and legs, but mottling with increasing amounts of white approaching her head and back – were rather long and thick. Up to a point, she resembled a kavkem-shaped bush.
[22:32] She had felt a brief urge to remove the barb, but no. Unwise. Besides, in the pouches around her neck she carried a selection of obsidian fragments that she'd managed to dig out of a pile of rubble at the base of a cliff; some very sharp edges possible with obsidian, and they'd been out of the light, probably for ages. Safer by far than trying to strap one of these barbs to a handle. With a faint feeling of regret, she backed away from it.
[22:47] Edaaj was careful as she threaded her way back to the others. In certain specialized respects, she was good at careful. She had always felt that seeing how things fit together also lent her a talent for seeing the things that didn't quite fit. When it came to things, at least. Kavkema, perhaps, not so much.
[23:09] And, too, she would've never been suitable as a Watcher, either. She got bored too easily. But she appreciated them, of course; she couldn't get on with the small things were they not watching for the big things. She admired them, even, in a rather-you-than-me sort of way. It had been particularly disappointing to realize that the Dawn Watcher had had to be left behind, and that he didn't seem to be about to magically catch up with them. He had brought her one or two nice-looking stones recently – too soft to be of much practical use, but suitable for carving, which she enjoyed doing.
[23:12] Come to think of it, he'd seemed to admire her a bit, too, which she found odd... though flattering. She'd been looking forward to carving something nice and showing it to him. A pity.
[23:15] At any rate, she thought, someone would need to look ahead for a safe route, and it seemed unwise to spend another Watcher on the task when one had just been lost. She approached the group, murmuring warnings about the barb she'd found, and meandered toward Athechelt.
[23:46] Eche was currently resting by a nearby outcropping of rock, the bundle of tarp he'd been carrying perched carefully against it to avoid leaving any signs it was here — just in case they had to move on from this place. This seemed like a promising place to stay, well-sheltered from sunlight, but it always paid to be cautious.
He spotted Edaaj approaching, and stood as she came near. She was murmuring something to a couple of the others, a warning of some kind. Inwardly, he steeled himself for bad news, and closed the remaining distance between them. "What did you find?" he asked softly.
[00:04] "Another barb," Edaaj replied, dipping her head briefly. "Like the others. It's fixed to a tree trunk back that way – that's four of them now." She shifted nervously. "Eche, there are too many traps here. Even if we avoid them, Nayabaru will come looking here for anything they may have caught. We should move on, if we can find a safe way forward."
[01:32@bnc] Athechelt grimaced lightly at the conclusion, casting his gaze upwards for a moment — they still had time to move, if they had to. "And if we can find a safe place to move to," he pointed out. They might still be able to stay here for the day, but... no, this felt too much like a trap. After a long moment, he breathed a sigh, shaking his head in agreement. "You're right, it's not safe here." He glanced towards the others in the group, pondering for a moment, before turning his attention back to Eda. "We can try scouting ahead, with great caution... but we should keep open the possibility of backtracking partway and finding another route." He clearly didn't like that option, but none of the options available were good.
[21:32] "Yes," murmured Edaaj. "I could do it, maybe. We're short one Watcher now, and shouldn't risk any others; but we have another builder in Era. And I'm good at spotting traps." She felt it impolitic to mention that, while indeed good at spotting traps, she was also quite good at spotting interesting stones, and unfamiliar plants, and slightly funny-shaped trees, and that she might very well completely miss a Nayabaru sitting out in plain sight.
[21:57] Rakashei dropped what he was carrying with a thump, giving his curt mane a shake as if to dislodge the remnants of what he carried, which, given that it was all wrapped up in one of the thankfully numerous tarps, was quite a silly gesture. "No need to risk going alone," he said, stepping into the conversation a little more literally than one might usual use the phrase. He dipped his muzzle but kept it horizontal, regarding Eda and Eche in a manner that might pass for subservient if he'd waited for their attention rather than effectively interrupting. "I can watch over Eda," he offered, opening his maw to grin a little – implying Eda needed watching over and implying a herbalist was well-equipped to do the watching. There was a little truth to both of these things, but not enough that it was reasonable to say so.
[22:32] Eda's nostrils flared, wondering why Aka had found it necessary to inject himself into the conversation. She had her limits, she knew, but she wasn't a child to be watched over. "There are not so many of us," she insisted, giving him a glance, "that more than one should go into danger."
[22:39] Rakashei tipped forward enough to rest much of his weight on his arms. "And yet it is also true that going alone increases the danger," he observed, his tone suddenly serious and gentle. "None of us have eyes in the back of our skulls. If there are Nayabaru nearby, though we may suspect them to be asleep at this time of day, it would surely be best to have another pair of eyes along, no?"
[22:54] Edaaj turned this argument over in her mind, but couldn't find any particular holes in it; she couldn't think of anything to say beyond what she'd already said. She settled for a grudging, "Possibly."
[23:07] Eche shot a glare in Rakashei's direction, an unspoken admonition against barging recklessly into a conversation, but was otherwise silent, letting the herbalist speak his mind. "True," he replied after a long pause, shifting his muzzle side to side, before adding, "Though also remember that two kavkema are easier to find than one. So long as you keep that in mind, and proceed with utmost caution, the benefits can outweigh the costs."
[23:13] As Eda reluctantly concurred, Rakashei nipped at the air, arching his back briefly and resuming his grin. It was a brighter expression now – less one of impishness, more one of joy. Of course, it was a bizarre body language for any wild kavkem to convey, especially at the prospect of walking into danger. Granted, given the spines Eda had found, they were already in danger. Walking around in the vicinity likely didn't slant their odds that much.
As Eche spoke, Aka dipped his muzzle anew, any previously bristled feathers settling down against his body smoothly. "Of course, ryrhakenem-pranata," Aka confirmed. "We will be cautious – and return before dawn."
[23:31] Eda's eyes narrowed; but attempting to protest further, she felt, would only be taken as childishness. She dipped her head again toward Eche – rather stiffly – and then, turning briefly to Rakashei, said, "Then it would be best if we set out now. Sooner gone, sooner back."
[23:34] With that, she rather ostentatiously turned away and meandered back in the direction the group had been heading before they'd started finding the barbs. She refrained from muttering out loud, but a detailed internal monologue began running through her head, musing on the necessities of associating with kavkema who, for some reason, couldn't bring themselves to mind their own business.
[00:02] The landscape around them seemed undecided whether it wanted to present them with a steep sideward slant or even ground, alternating between the two as though the mountain had once grown more like a tree, casting its roots across the world. Aka let Eda lead the way – it came naturally, given he had wanted to watch her back and stayed true to that promise. Of course it was only the others that lay behind them at first, but the trees would ensure they were out of sight of the group soon enough.
Gradually, a pattern emerged in the landscape. The spines were spaced quite a bit apart, but there was a certain regularity to them, as though someone had gone past the trees and counted them, then driven one of the translucent spines into each tenth tree. Given there was no obvious path through the landscape, it wasn't so simple as to say it was every tenth tree into a given direction, nor that it was strictly predictable, but there was nonetheless definitely a pattern.
[00:09] As the pattern became more obvious, Eda began slowing down, and finally stopped near another barbed tree. She felt uneasy, which was an entirely natural reaction to being surrounded by poisoned barbs; but it was more than that. She was not a good hunter by any means, but it seemed to her that she was missing something about the purpose of the traps.
[00:16] Putting aside her annoyance with Aka, she murmured quietly to him. "This is very strange. Once you know how the barbs are arranged, they are easy to avoid. Animals might keep being scratched by them, but surely the Nayabaru have no reason to trap animals?"
[00:17] After a moment's thought, she added, "Unless it's because they think it's fun."
[00:33] Aka seemed to give her mutterings some thought, which was perhaps more than she expected of him, given how impulsively he had butted into the conversation earlier. "I would expect the poison in the spines only works on physiologies much like our own," he mused, keeping his voice down as far as was practical.
They had stopped in a nook between the steeper slopes, a kind of tiny valley made mostly of moss, fungi and the most shadow-tolerant vegetation. In sparse intervals, resilient but spindly trees reached up to their more vibrant brethren; above them towered the canopies of those trees whose roots came down only as far as their heads.
"Though given their Tarnish, it's unlikely they care about the collateral damage a broader-application toxin would cause," Aka reasoned. "What difference does it make to them if the animals struggle with their contraptions? They do not need to feed on them, after all, and plants don't often rub themselves against trees."
[00:41] "Yes..." Edaaj hesitated. "...but... the way the traps are set up seems... easy. Maybe it was just because they didn't want to make the effort. But if this was all meant for kavkema, they didn't seem to care that we might think our way around the traps once we knew about them."
[00:49] Aka puzzled over Eda's analysis for a while, trying to construct a mental image of a Tarnish-corrupted mind, determine the motives for the arrangement of the spines. It did seem backward – they were announcing their presence in this territory rather than hiding themselves. If they were at all lucid about cause and effect, their concern could not be to be maximally effective in trapping kavkema. "A deterrent?" he offered, though he sounded deeply unconvinced by his own fleeting theory. Deterrence was for creatures who wanted to be left alone, after all, not for those who took every opportunity to fashion themselves into relentless enemies. Something was inconsistent here. Surely they were missing something – because it certainly couldn't be that their model of the Nayabaru was wrong.
[04:31@bnc] Edaaj, her gaze dartin around suspiciously, spent a brief time considering Aka's suggestion. At first it seemed no more likely to her than it did to him, but then it occurred to her that there was some possibility there.
[04:34@bnc] "They would not bother to hide themselves this way," she mused, quietly picking up an interesting red stone she'd spotted and slipping it into a pouch, "but possibly they could be storing something nearby that they would not want us to stumble upon? Something not otherwise guarded?"
[23:15] Rakashei found himself considering that line of thought for long seconds, before bristling at his own distraction. What did it matter if the Nayabaru were hiding something? They were certainly not going to look for it; not if they were at all sane about their path through the forest. What had their caution been for if they were going to hurl themselves into the heart of danger? "...maybe let's focus on finding a path to safety," Aka suggested, the feathers running down his spine seeming undecided whether to bristle or settle.
[23:16] Following his own advice, he started up the side of the short depression in the landscape. A chunk of the otherwise smooth incline had broken out and presented a short, steep slant barely worth noting. He paused under it, briefly dithering between routing around it and bounding up it as though it were a wall, then opted for latter, grasping at bushes to anchor himself against the landscape where it began to even back out, pulling himself forward, alert.
[03:17@bnc] Edaaj followed Aka up the slope, but found it hard to shake the idea of some cache of... something. What could be so important to them that they wanted to discourage intruders from going that way? Or, if not, why do it at all? It was the strangest method of trapping that she'd seen yet.
[03:20@bnc] "Even avoiding the barbs," she murmured uneasily, "I cannot help but think that they must come this way sometimes to check them. Whatever the reason, they may be paying attention to who comes through here."
[13:47] "That's why we're not planning to stay," Rakashei observed, what little tone his low voice possessed describing his path up the slope more than any one emotion. Then he stopped on the rise, giving his curt mane a shake, and cast his gaze forward through the trees.
A subtly glistening line crept along the groove in a tree not far from where he rested, reminiscent of syrup, likely ants marching along it. The pattern of troughs in the landscape continued for a while, though this rise seemed the highest of the lot. They could veer further up along the mountain, or down it, but the most information was likely to be found at this height. No doubt if they continued this way a little further, the landscape would flatten out, which almost surely increased the danger. A flatter landscape could be settled by comparatively sessile creatures like the Nayabaru, after all.
[13:48] Cautiously and quietly, Aka crept down the other side of the rise, before pausing halfway down to remember that he wanted to watch Eda's proverbial back, not her front. She was, after all, he reasoned, better at spotting traps – whereas Aka was better at spotting enemies in the distance. He opened his muzzle to say something, then paused, visibly alert. Asking 'did you hear that?' was nonsensical, though it crossed his mind for a moment, seeking confirmation. Most of what he was hearing was Edaaj's motions and the whisper of a breeze through the canopy of the trees, making it more difficult even than usual to pick out anything further away.
Confirmation came with a far less subtle cue – a beam of light leapt through the distant trees further downslope, wandering through the landscape. Aka's feathers bristled. Nayabaru Hesha. Backtracking seemed like a good plan. If there were Hesha here, there was indeed a settlement not far from here – certainly a decent fit for Edaaj's 'cache', if not what she had intended. Perhaps the group could veer upslope in its migration and avoid the settlement entirely, assuming there was not another to be found.
[13:49] Of course, Aka's mistake was keeping all of these thoughts to himself.
[04:13@bnc] As Edaaj crested the rise, she found herself starting to lose focus; she had absorbed the sight of the traps such that she was sure they would stand out to her, and there were an awful lot of nice rocks around (she absentmindedly withdrew one from her pouch and replaced it with a better one).
[04:16@bnc] But moving lights in the dark were hard to miss, no matter how terminally distracted one was, and she stopped when she reached Aka's side, blinking at the sight. After a while, she felt moved to say helpfully, "Nnnot that way, then?"
[22:08] There was an urge to hiss 'be quiet', but at no point had the volume of Edaaj's voice been a problem. Rakashei had frozen in place, easing himself into an alert crouch, keeping his profile low and tracking the pattern of the light's motions in the darkness like one might prey. Silently, he nudged at Edaaj's side, trying to inspire her to climb back, or some other form of 'up'. It was hard to say what the most silent path out of the area was. Instinct was 'up' for a reason – while climbing trees was often a noisy endeavour, what with their bark disagreeing with the claws that sought purchase in it, once you were up them they made for an excellent hiding place from groundbound creatures. If only they had thought to be up in the trees earlier.
If he judged the path of whoever held the light correctly, they were not approaching quickly – their trajectory seemed to take them along a path of approximately equal distance. In theory, Rakashei and Edaaj could wait it out. In practise... "Do you think we should run?" Aka's voice was so low as to be barely audible.
[23:25] Eda puzzled over the question. Generally, she relied on others to tell her when to run, and being asked for advice in this regard was an unfamiliar reversal of roles.
[23:27] Trying to remain as low to the ground as Aka was, she hesitantly whispered her reply. "Maybe if we just crept back over the crest of the hill and hid there? At least they wouldn't find us by accident..."
[01:19] And then a bright lance struck the ground a metre beside them, cast down from the next ridge over. It took effort on Rakashei's part not to shriek and jerk upwards and to the side, though his feathers bristled instantly, his eyes widening despite the glare, and his mind raced, trying to predict the consequences in a single instant – was the spill from the light enough to reveal him? As he watched the broad, dim spotlight, it climbed down their slope a little, suggesting it hadn't – but also making no promises not to return.
[00:50@bnc] Edaaj stared at the light as it moved. She found that she didn't dare try to speak again to Aka, not even in a whisper, as if the beam itself were a sentient thing that might hear. But sitting and staying, she felt, were going to get them captured.
[00:51@bnc] She started, with glacial slowness, to extend a leg backward, with the intention of backing up and over the lip of the ridge.
[13:49] And then the light swept across her forelimbs and caught Aka in its glare, the motion of the beam betraying that its wielder missed him for just an instant, before flicking it back and into focus. In perfect silence, Aka reared up from his crouch, simultaneous to a Nayabaru shout that infected the outlines of the light with a jitter, and butted both shoulder and the side of his muzzle against Eda as if to physically dislodge her from her current position, as though she were an obstacle that desperately needed moving.
[13:51] They could not run back to the others without putting them in danger – and while they were capable of climbing the greater mountain slope, it would slow them down, leaving them only with the options of running toward either light. The choice which to risk was easy – the one broken by the trees, now dancing to find them. Aka moved as though to leap, slanting slightly up the rise they had come down, but chiefly toward where it flattened into the landscape, his bounding run describing a shallow curving path into the denser trees.
[00:53] Eda's muscles froze for a moment – only a moment, but enough to suggest thatmoments like these were not her best fit. Danger right over the next hill was a concept she was used to; danger that knew where she was quite different. But she recovered, and then turned and ran after Aka.
[00:57] Bounding across the rise after him, she felt something come loose from around her neck, and just barely caught the pouch that contained her interesting stones; it came close to slipping from her grip twice before she was able to hold it firmly, requiring a sort of one-legged hop in her flight. An error, perhaps, in hindsight, but she hoped it hadn't slowed her down too much.
[01:49] There's no light tracing Eda's path as she runs and falters. It seems erratic, like a dangerous, unpredictable predator taking flight around her, searing part of her vision, erasing whole parts of the dark forest out of visibility. Instinct guides her remarkably well through the surreal patterns, weak scent, weak sound and disconnected slivers of vision combining to lead her after Aka. The shaft of light once closer to them loses itself in the foliage behind them.
It's the other that suddenly glances across them both, highlighting their feathers in stark white for a blinding instant, before returning to focus on Aka like a steady gaze, forcing Eda to some distance as she followed. A high-pitched but soft sound from Aka marks the trailing end of a subtle thud, visibly striking into his right thigh. Sensibly, it barely slows him down at first – he's not stupid enough to stop to worry about the inevitable. The light loses its grip on him as he angles his path sharply while in the shadow of a tree.
[02:18] Eda just makes out the thud, and the sound. She doesn't dare try to catch up with him now, any more than it would've been wise to lead the Nayabaru back toward the others – if Aka is injured, she can do him no good while they'rere being pursued, not without making them both more noticeable.
While the light is off her, she too angles her path, slipping between the increasingly dense foliage as quietly as she is able, while trying to keep a view of Aka.
[02:42] With the light weaving through the trees, the shadowed Aka isn't as crisp as he could be. It takes ten long seconds – eternal seconds drawn out by her instinct for survival – for her to lose track of him. Did he stumble and fall? Did he consciously stop to nestle himself into hiding?
Then a brief hint of motion, ambiguous to her senses, but enough to inspire imagination, suggests a conscious choice on Aka's part, pressed against the roots of a few trees. What little she'd guessed of his posture suggested he was well in the process of struggling not to collapse... and perhaps upending the contents of his innards in as much silence as he could muster. If true, it was a useless gesture – he'd know as much – but his body might be insisting on it regardless.
...hopefully those trees did not sport barbs to make his situation worse than it had to be.
[03:57@bnc] Eda has to force herself to remain still, to keep her feathers unruffled, to not shiver. Surely Aka will be caught – if she can see him, so will they – but if so, there is nothing she can do. As the various light sources converge through the trees, she lowers herself nearly flat to the ground and crawls into a sort of hollow between the roots of a nearby tree – still horribly exposed, if seen from the right direction, but as sheltered a hiding place as she can contrive.
[16:29] When deciding on the kind of tree to hide under, several factors find natural consideration: Does it provide adequate cover? How likely is it to be searched by the enemy? Are there any lesser creatures that might be disturbed by one's arrival, whose angry protests might alert those one sought to evade? It's Eda's speciality to consider yet another: Are there any traps to look out for?
Traps are a double-edged sword. Far from being an obvious deterrent, finding one provides an opportunity. Is it one that would make a noise if triggered? Then it is your friend as long as you treat it with respect – its silence suggests that the place where it was laid is undisturbed. It is much akin to hiding amongst a Nayabaru village when trying to escape it – the Hesha will look for you immediately beyond the borders of the settlement; then, when they have given up and it is the dead of night, it is safe to rise and take one's leave.
The barbs Eda finds hovering a forepaw's breadth above her muzzle, disturbing the comfort of the niche, would sing no song of entrapment – but perhaps they would have a milder effect in subtly deterring the Nayabaru from presuming her to have sought shelter here.
With both of them at rest against the foot of a tree, the search begins to falter in its clear direction. Fragments of Naya flit through the vegetation – a curt discussion, a change in responsibilities. Despite everything, a splitting of ways, no doubt as contrary to their own instincts as it was for kavkema to stay put in the middle of flight. One of them, continuing on in the same direction they had tracked them into so far, the other to search the area in case they were hiding. They were hiding – but this had reduced the number of sapient threats down to one for the time being.
[01:35] Eda struggles against the urge to flee. She also struggles against the lesser, but growing, urge to curl herself up into a fluffy ball and minimize her profile; she doesn't dare move now, not with the Nayabaru so close. With only one left, it would be limited in its ability to search the area efficiently; she might yet escape, if she were careful.
[01:46] Whether as a deliberate attempt to distract herself or simply because of the natural wanderings of her own mind, her gaze is drawn inevitably up toward the barb. If only it could be safely detached! Even aside from her regrettable current predicament, she has no tools for it. But it could be attached to a handle, perhaps, with gut or possibly strip s of rawhides, and made into a kind of shiv. She would feel much safer with one right now, especially with the remaining pursuer sounding as if it were now passing by the other side of her tree.
[03:52] By now, Aka seems to have completed his controlled collapse – his profile's shrunk. It's also lost all tension, meaning this is as concealed as he's going to get without help. Of course, the same is true for Edaaj, though the illusion of control is a comforting balm – though, if the light were to find her, she could still run. If the light were to find her, she could still fight. The ancestors of the Nayabaru had been their prey once and she had claws and teeth to prove it. Bringing down one without a pack to back her actions, though...
[03:53] The light's eye whispers across the landscape between Rakashei and Edaaj, its glare fragmented across leaves and twigs. The tree beside Edaaj, its roots nestled in a tight cluster of bushes, is explored in detail. A soft curse from the Nayabaru wielding the light reveals its frustration.
Then the focus breaks – and the light jerks over to one root reaching out beside Edaaj's position, the smooth, artificial illumination criss-crossed and dusted by the shadow of the emaciated shrubbery between her and the enemy.
[00:19] Eda struggled with the rising urge to still herself further by holding her breath – it would only risk exposure when her lungs ran out of air and she had to start gasping. Despite the hammering in her chest, she kept her breathing as shallow and gentle as she could.
[00:29] The possibility of having to fight had crossed her mind. She would do it, if she had to; but she didn't hold out much hope that it would be successful. Edaaj was not by far the best hunter in the group, a fact she was all too aware of; she could dimly remember being one of the perennial losers in mock battles in childhood. While she could outwit an animal, even one of below-average stupidity, it would take surprise and luck to take down a Nayabaru in full possession of its health and senses.
[22:45] As the steps creep closer, the light breaks from its position, leaping ahead, only a dim spill lighting up Edaaj's white feathers – too much for her liking, no doubt, but for the moment a good sign. There was a chance the Nayabaru was only passing by, not searching the roots of her arboreal sanctuary—
For an instant, the beam of light cuts down and to the side, sweeping across two of the roots simultaneously. The hypothesis wavers: It's looking for you right here.
Then the moment passes. The Nayabaru is too close for comfort, but its attention is clearly elsewhere, methodically sweeping through the foliage with both light and sight, but in a pattern that won't be finding her. Not unless she makes another sound or an overt motion. Bless the Nayabaru blindness in the night – even with the artificial illumination at its beck and call, it must not be finding her tracks at all.
[23:08] Edaaj remains still, but a tiny spark of hope springs up within her. The sun-cursed creature is moving away! Just let it keep going, she thought desperately. Just let it go home to, to a nice meal of- She finds herself momentarily distracted by the thought of what a plant-eater might fancy. -tree bark?
[23:09] The Nayabaru begins to pass by in its search, the light turned increasingly away from her.
[23:19] It's not as quick to disappear as she might hope. Much as it seems lucid of its dwindling chances — after all, the longer it searches, the more likely it is that its targets have since found a means to sneak away — it seems determined to put in its best effort. It's fortunate for her that its best effort is no good and at no point involves it doubling back on its route and only slightly unfortunate that its continued presence forces her to stay put, something that is making her increasingly aware of her angled joints.
Finally, the creature breaks off its search, barking something through the trees in Naya, perhaps hoping to be heard by its companion. Then the light's dance changes direction, gradually losing itself into the direction that they had come from. It stops a while later, at the edge of her perception, suggesting the Hesh had reached a pre-defined meeting point and was waiting for its companion to return, but it's far enough away that it might be worth creeping back out of hiding and tending to Rakashei.
[03:15] Eda gingerly turned her head to gauge where the Hesh had gone, and then eased herself behind a tree. She stretched her aching limbs for a moment, then crept quietly toward Aka, trying to keep as much vegetation as she could between herself and the distant Nayabaru.
[03:18] Coming up on the collapsed figure after what seemed far too long, she bent down near his head and murmured as quietly as she could manage, "It's me – are you alive? Can you stand?"
[04:03] Alive was a difficult state for a kavkem to be in. Here in these lands, it was a net positive; outside of the spine between the vast deserts of Asheenagiji, for all Eda knew, that couldn't be guaranteed.
Rakashei was certainly alive – if she strained her perception, she could make out his steady but shallow breathing. His eyes were open in narrow slits, but judging by his lack of reaction to her arrival or speech, he was either asleep in some form, or his senses had suffered an extreme dulling. He's a bundle of feathers at the base of the tree, loosely covered by ferns – not as well hidden as he might want to be if he had been fully lucid to choose his cover, but it had apparently been enough.
At least the Nayabaru that had almost happened upon her earlier now seemed to be content staying at a distance, unaware of her whispered words.
[03:16] Edaaj hunched over Rakashei, rather flummoxed. There were seemingly not may feasible options, and they all had downsides.
[03:19] One: Stay where they were until Aka came around. But the Tarnish would not wait as long as a kavkem could, and sooner or later it would come upon them both – if they were going to move, they could linger only so long.
[03:23] Two: Return by herself, and leave him here. It had a certain logic – two in danger was reduced to one in danger. But with the loss of Gehki, the group could ill afford further diminishment. Surely, if she could, she should try to preserve the both of them... somehow.
[03:30] The third option that occurred to her seemed, in many ways, the most... unlikely (she was not prone to using the term 'insane') but, somewhat to her own shock, she felt unwilling to avoid at least attempting it. She rocked back and forth for a few moments, concentrating her attention on a pebble as a distraction (it was not, in fact, a particularly interesting pebble, but it was better than thinking about what she was about to do), and then took a deep breath.
[03:32] And then, grasping Aka's legs, she made a heroic effort to start dragging the other kavkem across the ground. Stealth being paramount, of course, she did it very, very slowly.
[03:34] That the Tarnish might reach them before they got back to the group at that pace did not appear to factor into her thinking, at least at the moment.
[03:59] At least the sorry sight seemed blessed to be a private endeavour – the remaining mumblings of the two distant Nayabaru and their ugly, glaring lights seemed unimpressed by the rustling and tugging going on.
[04:00] Unfortunately for Eda, Rakashei is not light – kavkem arms were not made for stemming more than maybe half of their body weight at most, and Rakashei was a full body weight, making him about as easy to move as a sack of concrete.
That said, Eda does make progress, and once Aka is actually sliding across the ground, it stops feeling like a pointless endeavour. She can make it, probably even all the way back to the group, but she surely won't have much energy left for anything else.
Maybe she can drag him to better shelter, at least, and then leave, and then get back to him with a fellow kavkem in tow, help her lift her less lucky travel companion and bring him back...
[04:30] It didn't take too long for Eda's arms to start squealing in protest – and, come to that, for her lungs to start protesting being limited to long, quiet, shallow breaths in the midst of exertion. With a brief shudder, she let go of Aka's legs, panting and waiting for the world to stop weaving around.
[04:37] Whatever the benefits, this plan was not practiceable either. She would need help to transport him in an efficient manner – that and possibly some kind of stretcher, if one could be lashed together in time. It was unwise to leave him so near to where they'd nearby been caught, but surely...
[04:47] Further up the rise, the vegetation grew sparser again, but there were occasional boulders and rocks, long ago fractured away from the slope. They were none of them very big, but perhaps big enough, and certainly solid enough, to hide a kavkem behind for a time, and to hope that he wouldn't be found. With briefly-renewed energy, Edaaj grabbed Rakashei's legs again, and laboriously dragged him uphill, struggling not to keel over when he was at last arranged behind a rock of sufficient bulk.
[04:49] After another brief pause for breath, Edaaj scrambled over the rise and went as fast as she dared down the other side. One of the others could help, surely.
[04:55] Assuming they had not been (nonsensically) used in some fixed piece of construction in her absence, the group had a few meticulously kept staves at hand, kept at hand for various purposes, most often in constructing shelter one might euphemistically describe as 'tents'. Some of these were quite sturdy. If they managed to affix a tarp to two of them, they would have a stretcher – and it just took setting Rakashei down right on it for it to affix itself, so to speak. It was at least a plausible construct to consider. If she managed to fetch three helpers – that was almost half the group, admittedly, but nonetheless – they could even carry the construct in their jaws rather than arms that tired more easily.
But perhaps it wasn't even necessary. Even just an unaltered tarp would make dragging Rakashei easier by reducing friction somewhat, and by enabling two kavkema to drag at the same time...
[04:56] Yes. If this shelter did the trick to hide Aka from the sunlight long enough and the Nayabaru did not think to look here, likely all would be well.