§ 2021-01-03 03:43:45
[03:44] It was the sound of the grate being moved that woke them more than any other commotion. Some Hesh boomed Valcen's name down into the pit, insisting that he clamber out, shooting Edaaj a look as though considering leaving her in it, but then instead simply leaving the grating slid aside for her to follow her alleged master.
Climbing out wasn't too difficult, even without any help given – the walls were rough, slightly soft, muddy in patches, just yielding enough to accept their paws and firm enough to be any use in propelling a kavkem upwards. A kavkem caught here would still struggle to escape, though; it was one thing to reach the top and another to stay there steadily and move the grating.
"[How's our guest?]" Valcen asked, brushing off some dirt from his feathers.
"[Alive]," a Nayabaru declared, dispassionately. The trait that mattered. "[We followed Katal's initial instructions, but they want you to call back.]" The word 'you' was delivered with palpable distaste.
"[On it]," Valcen acknowledged, evidently schooled in not rising to such barbs – or making haste with things, given that instead of running toward where the Nayabaru had stashed the humans for the rest of night on their arrival, he glanced toward Edaaj to see if she needed any help getting out of the pit.
[04:00] Edaaj had frozen in place as Valcen began to climb up, cowering as the light of morning streamed down around her. Every inclination ground into her by her upbringing screamed at her to hide.
[04:06] But ther was nowhere to hide. She did not even know if she would be allowed to cover herself with a blanket, and prudence told her it was unwise to try. She shuddered and scrabbled up the side of the pit, hindered slightly by the fact that her eyes were squeezed partly shut, silently but fervently trying to remind herself that the Nayabaru were much more certain to hurt her than the light was.
[04:08] "[Sorry,]" she said – she spoke to Valcen, but took care that the Nayabaru could hear it – "[I am not used to the daytime.]"
[04:23] If Tarnish was real, with everything she'd witnessed on the contrary these past weeks some clever ruse, it was in the process of eating her whole. According to the mythology of it, she would likely never even know – it would simply change her irreversibly while she was convinced that nothing had happened. There were variants of the belief where the effect was very obvious to a victim, but the lack of reported errant sensations given split-second exposures was considered evidence for the former.
But most strikingly, Valcen's very existence as a threat to the kavkema was strong evidence that Tarnish didn't exist. If all it took to turn a kavkem against their own kind was to hang them out in the sun for a while, the Nayabaru surely would have done this with all of their captives.
"[No worries]," the godshatter commented, a mundane, casual remark. "[You'll get used to it eventually, to some degree.]"
And then he started walking toward the glorified hut that was holding the humans. Presumably, they were not quite captives, but merely being strongly advised not to leave. The Hesha must have been feeling out of their depth; they were used to catching and trapping creatures, they were not champions at accommodating them as they would a Nayabaru guest.
[04:43] Edaaj followed, not quite managing to shed either her cringing posture, though she forced her eyes to open a bit wider – as much as she could without feeling like they were being stabbed, anyway. On the rest of her... she didn't know what she had expected. She had never given much credence to the more sensational effects some adherents of Nitish Ynas might have ascribed to it, but somehow some sort of burning sensation would have seemed appropriate, unlikely as it was.
[04:45] All she experienced was a warm but insubstantial caress, still weak at this hour of the day.
[04:55] As they came to the door of the hut, she muttered, "[Eventually. Do you know the belief of Ni-]" She stopped herself before using the Kendaneivash term, but struggled to find a suitable translation in Naya. "[...it might be called... Bad... Compelling? No...]" She sighed. "[No doubt it doesn't matter.]"
§ 2021-01-09 22:41:35
[22:42] Valcen stopped walking, glancing back at her for a moment, part confusion, part empathy. Then it clicked. He crinkled slightly – an oddly deferrent look on someone who could clearly have her for breakfast. "[Oh, is that—? Do you believe in Tarnish?]" he asked, glancing about as though for good shade, then gesturing to the shadow cast by the nearest roof's overhang. "[If it helps, against the anxiety?]"
He clearly was not expecting her to have a deep belief, lest he would have reacted more quickly, with greater alarm and with some acknowledgement that he himself didn't seem bothered. A true adherent of Nitish Ynas would have wailed and thrashed in terror and identified him as a vile demon – which, to be fair, by objective measure he was.
§ 2021-01-12 01:56:08
[01:56] "[Tarnish, yes,]" Edaaj replied gratefully. She eyed the overhang with a certain amount of longing; it was tempting to hide under it, but she felt reluctant to give in to the urge, as if flinching away from the light would shatter whatever delicate balance was keeping her calm in the midst of everything else she was doing. "[I am... managing. For now.]"
[02:01] In some ways, it was worse that she couldn't feel anything wrong. Her skin crawled about from the lack of it. Corruption shouldn't feel like that, surely, even though they said it did... "[I believed in it,]" she continued, "[though there were things I wondered about. But then I met the humans, who had no fear of the day, and yet did not seem Tarnished, and it all made less sense. I don't think I believe anymore, but the... feelings, are difficult to leave behind.]"
[02:08] While speaking, she had unconsciously drawn closer, as if for protection. Though there were good reasons for her to find him objectively terrifying, she nonetheless found him reassuring, or at least more so than everything else around her.
"[You have come across Tarnish before?]" She asked, eyeing the Nayabaru buildings with faint curiosity.
[02:16] Edaaj's discomfort was crisply apparent in her body language. Valcen considered what to do about it – if her rational mind wasn't quite able to banish the demons of the cosmology she'd been raised on, he doubted there was any argument he could give that would sway her emotions. If they were home, perhaps—
"[I have passing familiarity with a selection of kavkem beliefs, although Nitish Ynas is not the one I had the greatest exposure to]," he explained, evidently less concerned about using the Kendaneivash term for a religion, an isolated word in a longer sentence. It did net him a dirty look, but it subsided quickly.
"[You might say I was raised on Asara]," he mused, recalling Sanathi's mild beliefs and the more pronounced ones of the ryrhakenem she had consulted. The irony of the world view was not lost to him, although it was perhaps best not to elaborate on it in Edaaj's presence unless she asked.
Gently he bumped his muzzle against her shoulder, a light encouragement not to fear the sun. Then he slowly began to walk again, keeping his focus largely on her, as one might watch a packmate who had hurt themselves, ready to offer immediate assistance if they faltered.
[02:25] Edaaj kept alongside him, trying to take the silent encouragement to heart. She continued to fight off the lurking sense of panic, but it occurred to her that, at least at this time of the morning, the sunlight even felt, in the purely physical sense... good. That was, in its way, the most terrifying thing of all.
[02:35] She had to remind herself that, god-fragment though he was, Valcen had lived as a kavkem – of course he would have been exposed to one faith or another. "[Asara... I haven't encountered that,]" she managed, quite happy to try to concentrate on a conversation instead of everything else. "[Though I am not knowledgeable of the other faiths in any case – mostly just the names of those
followed by groups we came across.]"
[02:48] "[The Asara mythology considers the world we live in to be balanced on a kind of... metaphysical edge, representing a certain state of affairs]," Valcen explained. "[At any point, an event might occur to jostle it down, necessarily forcing the state of the world to change fundamentally. In the Asara cosmology, there are several of these, hmm.]" He searched for a better word. "[Narrow plateaus, maybe?
"[...several of these plateaus, arranged in order, with major events forcing a transition to the next, like a falling stone. The time of first conflict with the Nayabaru is generally referred to as Hechitaleq – during this phase, the conflict itself had not been decided yet.
"[But when the Karesejat first appeared, that event that pushed the world onto Raacheltaleq and the kavkema lost the conflict and were forced into perpetual retreat. That is how Asara would frame the story and it would claim the event, in abstract, was inevitable, although most adherents don't believe the events themselves are set in stone – only their consequences.]"
They neared the building that held the humans and Valcen's attention anchored itself on the entrance, his interest in her state of mind evidently only of secondary concern for the time being.
[03:05] Edaaj contemplated this. Like a ball perched on a rocky slope, she thought. Once the ball started going, it was going down – one didn't know which path it would take to get there, it might bounce around, it might go sideways or even slightly back, but ultimately, down it would go. She was no stranger to fatalistic worldviews, but there was a qualitative difference between things will probably never get better, which Tarnish at least seemed to allow for, and things were always going to get worse than it were before, which was what she thought she was hearing.
[03:16] Some of the terror, if not the tension, eased out of Edaaj's posture as they approached the entrance. For all that it might have artificial lights inside, at least she could try to pretend that the building was a nice dark cave. "[I admit,]" she replied carefully, "[that to me, that seems...]" She fumbled for a polite word, though she had to assume, considering what Valcen sounded like he was trying to do, that he was not himself a firm believer. "[...discouraging.]"
[03:25] Did the plateaus and edges go further down? She thought about asking, but decided, for the moment, not to, for the sake of her own mental health, which was precarious enough as it was. But the insistence of Valcen's mother that her young be sterilized was, in this context, clearly not merely a philosophical position, but a religious one.
[03:43] "[In a way]," Valcen acknowledged. "[Although this progression of states leads into death and oblivion, so some Asara adherents consider it prudent to hasten the inevitable fall. It's usually a question of where in the chain they believe the world to be – is this peak kavkem misery or can things still get worse?]" He shrugged lightly. "[But it is a rather bleak religion in sum, I agree.]" Like all the others.
Said, he tugged awkwardly at the door of the building to get it to open, poorly proportioned to get a good grip on it, but evidently used to having to do so anyway. A moment later, he was pulling it ajar, adding: "[Let's see how our patient is doing]," as though to change the subject.
[03:59] Edaaj gave an eager nod and followed Valcen through the door as quickly as decency allowed; though the inside was indeed lit, the feeling of being enclosed allowed her to say to herself: It's out of the sun. This light isn't real. It's safe. She looked around curiously. "[I hope he's all right. I like him.]"
§ 2021-01-12 23:46:49
[00:02] The interior of the building was arranged in a rather basic manner, with only the lavatory properly separated from the rest of the living quarters. The humans had been placed in one of two 'bedrooms', from view of the door into the far left corner of the building, visible behind a loosely fitted room divider that swallowed some sound but gave little overall privacy.
Greg had evidently been fully stripped off his suit by now and was lying either asleep or unconscious on the softened surface that made up a Nayabaru's bed – resembling much more a human bed (not that Edaaj had ever seen one) than a kavkem nest. Evidently, the Nayabaru hosts had graciously ceded control of half of the household to the aliens.
One of them was near the central pillar of the building, herself bearing Baskaat markings, agitatedly out of her depth, no doubt relayed through the telecommunication network all the way to Katal. When one of her agitated motions turned her to face the opening door and she spotted Valcen, she gestured for him to come.
Saira and Jason seemed far less agitated, but also draped into a sack of beans or rice as though exhaustion had taken them. Perhaps they'd been up all night. Perhaps the Baskaat Nayabaru had been up all night, unhappily trying to go through the motions of being a Yereso at the instruction of equally sleep-deprived Katal Yeresoa.
On the other hand, it was a few hours past dawn; it was more likely they'd done emergency-handling once, then postponed the rest until dawn, and summonned Valcen only after the Baskaat-Yereso language barrier had become thoroughly insurmountable.
Valcen steeled himself, wandered over to the receiver, grasped it and said: "[Valcen here]."
While the Nayabaru eyed her critically, Edaaj was evidently left to move as she pleased, including toward the humans to check more closely on Greg, herself.
He looked strange without his suit, that much was clear even given the blanket that had been hefted across him. An arm that lay outside the blanket showed only traces fur across a smooth skin, further heightening the sense that this was some hideous almalgam of amphibian and mammal, as the face she had seen through the face plate had suggested.
But even the face was strange now that one could see it unobscured – unnaturally flat, with only part of the snout protruding forward, the one that held the nostrils. The eyes were framed along their tops with fur, which made an arbitrary aesthetic impression. The jaws looked weak, completely unlike a predator's.
[01:18] Edaaj glanced at Valcen, then crossed the floor of the dwelling toward the loosely-defined area where the humans were resting. She approached Greg slowly, casting occasional glances at the others as if to be reassuring about her intentions, and contemplated his alien features.
[01:27] Still and asleep – or unconscious, whichever he was – and, on top of that, unfamiliarly bared to her sight, she had no good metric to tell how well he looked; those few signs of illness that she had seen had mostly been changes in behavior. About all she could say was that he did not seem to be breathing irregularly at the moment, which she supposed had to be counted as a good sign.
[01:34] If he was indeed a mammal, he was one of the more hairless ones she'd ever seen. She wondered how such creatures could keep warm, and whether they wore such suits as these on their own world for that purpose. She also wondered, if they ate meat at all, how they could possibly catch it and eat it. Weak jaws, pitiful claws on the hands. A tiny muzzle probably meant they could barely smell anything.
[01:36] To the kavkem eye, ugly, and indeed even grotesque, though at least in the case of Greg, and possibly also Samanta, it evidently had no connection to their personalities.
[01:38] Edaaj briefly extended her neck, as if about to nudge him with her muzzle, but stopped and pulled back, thinking better of it. If his condition was due to an illness caught from the environment, then a local component of the environment purposely touching him was probably not the best idea. She stood and stared at him, feeling helpless.
§ 2021-01-17 00:35:28
[00:35] "[No, there isn't one here]," Valcen was muttering into the receiver.
One of the two fit humans – the one that had taken note of her hours before – had risen to glance her way. As he was dressed in the suit, it would have been somewhat difficult to read him even if she fully grasped human facial expressions, but as it were, the expression was opaque. Was he suspicious of her? (Was he pretending to be suspicious of her?)
But staring quietly at her was all he was doing.
"[Um]," Valcen remarked, the syllable hanging in the middle of the room, clearly audibly by everyone, but addressed to no one. He sighed. "[Two days, I think?]" He glanced at the nearest Nayabaru and asked: "[How long from here to Katal?]"
"[A bit more than two days]," the Nayabaru responded, listlessly.
"[A bit more than two days]," Valcen echoed.
...apparently, moving the human to Katal was being discussed. That might not be anxiety-inducing if circumstances didn't heavily suggest that Edaaj was going to be brought along.
[00:49] Edaaj's feathers puffed out briefly; her eyes slid shut.
[00:54] It wasn't a surprise. She hadn't put a huge amount of forward planning into any of this, but it would have taken a severe lapse in thought to expect that she could simply wander around the landscape with Valcen indefinitely. He himself was based there; he'd already said that Greg would likely need to go there. And if she ever wanted to be able to build anything, she needed to be in a place where the capability existed.
[00:58] It wasn't a surprise. But it also didn't make it any better to hear the name said, and to know that her path was taking her toward it. Regardless of how well things went, once she was there, there was very likely to be no leaving.
[01:05] She opened her eyes, and regarded Greg for a moment. She wished, not for the first time, that she could talk to him, a prospect that itself seemed like it would never come to pass. If only-
[01:10] Her tool necklace still remained with her. Making a sudden decision, she opened up a small but heavy bag attached to the front of it, rummaged around, and withdrew a small but vividly pink piece of rose quartz. She stared at it for a moment, then turned a mournful gaze on the human watching her – Jay-son? – and held it out to him.
[01:11] Tapping it twice with a claw and then pointing to the sleeping human, she said quietly, "[For Ghregg.]"
[01:46] If Jay-son knew what to do with the gift, he certainly didn't show it. He took it with the caution of obvious ignorance. A glance to Ghregg revealed that he had at least identified the fellow alien's name correctly and likely discerned that it should be a gift, but maybe he had not expected to get one from Edaaj.
He turned to the other waking human and asked something.
Valcen briefly glanced up from the receiver, a trace of nervousness in his posture evaporating almost as soon as it made contact with reality, mumbled deferentially for pause into the receiver, then called something across in the aliens' language.
Jay-son glanced back to Valcen, then moved his head up and down a few times. Then he turned back to Edaaj, crouching down beside the bed. Holding the quartz in his right hand and resting that hand on his thigh, he reached out his left hand to pet Edaaj's head, perhaps as a gesture of appreciation.
His attention back on the receiver, Valcen was saying: "[Yes, the alien is currently sleeping.]" Followed by: "[I don't know what the status of the fever is, sorry – I only just got in.]" And: "[Yes, I can check.]"
[01:59] Edaaj calmly allowed Jay-son to pet her head; it was fortunate that Ghregg had already done the same thing before, so that she knew what to expect, though her mood at the moment was such that, had Jay-son decided instead to bash her head against a wall, she felt she would have accepted it with about the same reaction. A bit of unconsciousness wouldn't have come amiss.
[02:00] She also wondered if this was how humans did all their grooming. She supposed that, with muzzles like that, preening with them would've been horrifbly inefficient.
[02:11] She had to assume, given this reaction, that her intentions had been put across, at least ina general way. And maybe, barring disaster, Ghregg would go back to his world someday and have something to remember her by; and she, perhaps, would have at least one small piece of herself that would see a place beyond Nekenalos.
[02:12] Hearing the turn of the phone conversation, she sighed, gently disengaged from Jay-son's petting, and stood aside from the bed so that Valcen could approach if he needed to.
[02:37] Valcen handed the receiver to the irritated Baskaat Nayabaru for safe-keeping, then wandered over to the bed and addressed the third human, evidently unwilling to interrupt what Jay-son and Edaaj had going. She pushed herself to her feet and joined Valcen in fussing about Ghregg, talking with him about the chore, then peeling back to sift through one of the aliens' bags.
Jay-son walked up past the bed, briefly resting a gloved hand on Ghregg's shoulder, then set down the gem beside the pillow, at enough of a distance that it ran little risk of being flicked off if Ghregg tossed and turned, much less getting crushed into, and close enough that it wouldn't simply fall off the edge of the bed.
To Valcen, he said something in a stern tone of voice.
Valcen's attention snapped across to him, briefly looking curious. Then he responded something in a gentle, patient tone of voice. Edaaj could hear the syllables 'Nayabaru' stand out clearly.
Jay-son hissed something, two syllables that sounded like he was swearing. Maybe that was exactly what he was doing.
Valcen briefly closed his eyes. While he did, the other human slid up beside him with another tiny device and held it lightly to Ghregg's forehead. Valcen shifted to the side and back, giving her a little more space, then opened his eyes again. Three sentences into a response, he raised his voice a little, although only temporarily. Another two sentences followed as Valcen stared at Jay-son with a serious expression.
Jay-son grimaced so clearly that even Edaaj could tell he was somehow... displeased.
[02:47] Edaaj felt herself cringing away. She had never liked being around arguments, but this one was all the more unnerving for being in a language she couldn't understand. ...Were the Nayabaru going to do something? Or... Jay-son had started speaking just after setting the stone down. Was it related to her gift? Had she done something wrong? What trouble could handing out a stone cause? Everyone liked pretty stones, didn't they?