[01:12] Even if their sleep-deprived and sceptical-on-average state, the 'rescue party' Nadani had drummed together generated a handful of competing ideas.
[01:13] One was to first head back out to the landing site and track the visitors from there – the immediacy of which enthused Nadani, to no one's surprise.
[01:14] Another was to sleep now, but wake early to spend a night crafting weapons and a larger-than-usual number of utensils that could be used to help detect or disable traps, as well as discuss generic tactics of approach to maximise each other's ability to assist if someone did fall prey to something. Nadani, self-proclaimed leader of the expedition, felt that the extra carrying load would slow them down, nevermind the day lost to preparations that might not come to fruition.
Another obvious one was to combine the two – to track the visitors, but to stay back once their location was obvious and their circumstances better known, and spend a day carefully crafting plans then.
[01:15] And one particular perplexing one was to look for other kavkema – to talk to a different group for insights, to recruit them to the rescue party, to be a sufficient force as not to need to fear even armed Nayabaru, to be able to take a handful of downed members in stride. It was tempting to get help, but it was bogged down with far too many unknowns for it to sit right with Nadani.
...but on the other hand, Rakashei did not want to be a part of the rescue party, and no one had the heart to even attempt to argue with him about it. And so the option came up whether he could do the searching – looking for fellow kavkema, then tracking the 'rescue party' to bring the potential allies to them once found. And with that option came the obvious question: Would anyone want to accompany him?
[19:43] Seradamar had listened to the various plans that Nadani had managed to elicit (themselves from various sources) with increasing alarm. The idea of taking some kind of larger force of Kavkem so they could save these strange beings even if they lost some number of their own seemed... well, suicidal wasn't the right term, but perhaps giving an excess of importance to them being saved. The needs of these few would be required to so outweigh the needs of the whole Kavkem to make such a plan worth the time. Neither was he excited by the prospect of an underprepared assault on Nayabaru warriors. However, in the end, he merely said, "An approach that is balanced seems more prudent than one that might tip us into the light without proper dark. A smaller advance would be more likely to escape notice, and if a larger one is needed, then they can be brought." He didn't add that he was apprehensive about the whole affair. "And smaller numbers mean lesser risk if things slide into brightness."
[21:58] Rakashei ran the tip of his tongue along the upper ridge of his teeth, as though considering Serademar's observations as a suggestion of their own. "I reckon we can improve our odds if we find allies – there's a reason one is normally wise to leave rescue missions to organisations. Let's not forget that we wrote off Gehki after he succumbed to Serrata – it was for that same reason."
He dipped his muzzle in remembrance of the Dawn Watcher, a gesture reflecting his hope that perhaps his captors had been suitably inept to let him die by now – but also in full lucidity that he would be in the same situation if Edaaj had not dragged him back. She wouldn't have dared if he'd been anything more than sedated; the risk was too great, be it of infecting the others or of attracting their enemies' attention. He had been lucky – simple sedation, a determined friend, inattentive Nayabaru.
"Surely none of us labour under any misconception that we're better equipped to rescue someone on our own now. We all know smaller numbers may mean a decreased likelihood of being found or spotted, but also that it's far from any guarantee, and we are right to be wary.
"Larger numbers, on the other hand, afford a much better ability to recover from tragedy. Not to mention the greater the pack, the more likely we can take down several Nayabaru rather than face capture."
[23:20] Edaaj had long since gone past the point of worry. Worry was for when you saw the light coming and needed to get away from it fast. By now, she felt, the light had already come and there was no shelter. Something big and probably stupid was going to happen, and that was that. She looked mournful.
[23:24] (Even while wallowing in self-pity, the mention of Gehki brought a brief little stab of pain – and, somewhat to her own surprise, a bit of resentfulness. What, we can go to rescue a bunch of strange creatures... but one of ours, no, we had to just leave him?
[23:26] (She really did sort of miss the pretty stones he'd given her. She didn't even know if these creatures knew how to carve things.)
[23:27] Aloud, she commented, "I still think we need some more equipment before trying this... but if we can't be bothered to do that before going, at least a larger pack could make themselves useful and prepare some before joining us."
[23:51] Of course, the sun was up, so in some sense, the light had come – but they were plenty sheltered for the time being and knew the path of the trees' shadows well.
[23:52] "We may not be better equipped," Nadani reasoned, glancing toward Rakashei. "But this is arguably more urgent." Would you not, if you had the chance, come to Maenona's aid? To Tamachelu's? But those questions made no sense in the framework of Nitish Ynas, forcing Nadani's uncomfortable desire to explain her urgency to linger well past its welcome.
She gave her mane a shake in a – temporarily – successful attempt to rid herself of the building tension. The tail end of the motion trailed off into the tilt of her muzzle to better glance at Edaaj. With a tone more patient that she felt, she said: "I'm just concerned we'll end up equipping ourselves with the wrong things, slow ourselves down with the luggage without any gain."
[01:25] Seradamar merely shrugged. No amount of preparation would allow them to take on the Nayabaru head on and win. Planning for losses to that end seemed a fool's errand, but he was not strongly influenced either way. "In the end, preparations that we make can be best used by knowing what we are stalking into. Perhaps with the right knowledge, the hunters could be the hunted."
[02:06] "I agree," Nadani reasoned. "Though this situation is very unique and I doubt any templates we've gotten used to would be reasonable to apply." It seemed clear to her that the Nayabaru would have captured the visitors – but what capture even meant in this context, what the consequences of it were, she couldn't even guess.
[02:07] Despite the level air he was trying to put on, Rakashei was nervous – he'd brought his right arm around to preen his primaries absent-mindedly, giving him a slightly awkward posture. No, Rakashei wanted nothing to do with the Nayabaru – none of them did, but his memories of direct contact were too fresh for anything but An Alternative to be on his mind.
"Aka still needs someone to accompany him," Nadani observed, showing some signs of tiring that she was stubbornly trying to keep from bubbling to the surface. It had been a long, strenuous day, and it was far past their collective bedtime. "He's not going to join the main rescue party, we've already established that, but if he is going to seek allies to provide help for those of us that will, he can't go alone."
Both options – the rescue party and to join Rakashei in search for other kavkema – were vast unknowns, but Rakashei's part at least allowed the lucky participant to deliberately avoid the Nayabaru, regardless how successful they might be with that.
Of course, it was certainly also an option to simply join neither endeavour, but unless doing so suddenly spawned a mass exodus from the overall, abstract plan, it seemed as though a kavkem choosing that option might find themselves quite lonely. (How much this impression had a bearing on reality still remained to be seen.)
[18:50] For the most part, Athechelt has been content to remain silent, listening to his people and making an effort to understand their arguments. (The lack of sleep and the late hour were not doing him any favors.) Too many strange things had happened in too short of a time, and listening to the others process their thoughts and plans aloud helped him process his own.
"We lack information," he finally said, grimacing lightly. "Until we understand the situation more clearly, we can't plan or prepare effectively. And we will need to prepare." He fixed Nadani with his gaze for along moment before concluding: "While we should follow the trail before it grows cold, I believe gathering information and avoiding notice should be the 'rescue' party's initial goal; unless the situation is dire and urgent, we should return to safety, get some sleep, and aim to prepare for rescue the following night."
[19:07] Idarago fluffed his feathers nervously. This was beyond his experience. It was beyond everyone's, which meant he wasn't the only one out of his depth, but that wasn't comforting. "Nayabaru hate travelling by night and aren't good at covering their tracks, so we've got a little time to follow," the young Watcher pointed out. "But that means they're travelling by day. And they're making the visitors travel by day. If we're unlucky, they might be too gone to help even if we can hunt the Nayabaru. At least we know how what Nayabaru will do in an ambush."
[19:13] Idarago's observation made Nadani uneasy and she glanced to Athechelt with a renewed uncertainty. What effect did the Tarnish have on these creatures? What if they really were clad in some protective suit? Did that matter at all? It had all seemed clearer earlier, when she had spoken to Athechelt on his own, but she felt a renewed doubt now, without that shew knew how to voice it.
Instead, she harkened back to Athechelt's recommended scenario. "What information should we be trying to get?" Nadani asked, shifting her attention to the ryrhakenem with genuine curiosity. "I ask as I estimate it may well be nightfall before we're back at the landing site, since we'd have to take our own shelter from the Tarnish with us to get there, which necessarily slows us down.
"If we then trace the Nayabaru's path from there before granting ourselves rest, we may be skipping sleep altogether. I think neither of us want that. So I am concerned as to what information we can gather before we sleep, much as I want to do just that."
[20:18] Athechelt frowned, pondering over this new information. Idarago's insight was worrisome indeed — for all they knew, they could be too late to save these strange creatures from the Tarnish, let alone from the Nayabaru. And the logistical issues made this even more dangerous. "Perhaps if we waited until nightfall to head out? The Nayabaru were able to make it to the landing site by shortly after sunrise, so their settlement can't be too far from it. Then we could take this chance to rest, and move more quickly once we have the night to protect us."
"As for what we should try to learn... We may be able to learn much from the landing site and the path to the settlement itself. Were the creatures able to defend themselves from the Nayabaru? Were they able to protect themselves from the Tarnish? Are there more within the metal structure than the three you saw emerge, and if so are they planning a rescue mission of their own? From the settlement, or wherever the creatures are, we should learn at least its defenses, and where the creatures are being held."
[20:52] If their settlement was where they had taken the visitors, rather than to such mythical places as Tain or Katal – places which may or may not truly exist, but were in either case a shorthand for a much greater danger than some random backwater town wedged between the deserts of Asheenagiji.
Are there more? The question made Nadani's feathers stand on end. There were more, that much she was sure of, but what if the insinuation that some had managed to escape the Nayabaru was correct? They would not be at the landing site, it was not a safe place to hide, but if they were out there, on their own, lost and afraid...
Did these creatures feel fear? She thought back to their first encounter, to the antics of the first of them. Had she seen fear? Had she seen concern? What assumptions could they make about their behaviour?
[20:53] "So we go back to the landing site, together, with enough materials to protect ourselves from the Tarnish and be sheltered for the night," Nadani summarised, cautiously, mentally preoccupied with the new variables she was not yet addressing out loud, that threatened to call the usefulness of this mission into question. "Taking care not to be discovered, with a tight Watching schedule. We sleep within sight of the landing site, salvage any items of use from the ruins of the fallen star, then follow the tracks from there. Then we assess the situation wherever the visitors were taken, fall back to a safe distance, prepare tools and plot an angle of approach."
She glanced to Rakashei. "Meanwhile Rakashei and at least one other person head out to look for help, to come first to the landing site then to where the Nayabaru and our tracks lead them." She glanced to Serademar, then to Idarago. "Era... Ago – do either of you feel equipped to join Aka? Era, the benefit of your companionship would be that you have been to the landing site and you know how to describe the visitors even to complete strangers who may have questions we have yet to anticipate. On the other hand, Ago, you are a Watcher, you can best see friend and foe in the light, should the both of you need to keep moving once the sun rises. Either of you would be an asset."
[22:51] "I could act as guide for this. I know the way, though you were the one that spent the time interacting with the creatures." He tossed his head lightly, then added, "Be it as best."
[23:52] Nadani was visibly relieved, if subtly so, as a volunteer came forth to help Rakashei with his part of the plan. It gave her the sense that he was accounted for – that he would be safe, that there would not be a repeat of the situation he'd suffered once before. She shifted her glance to Idarago, as if asking for his confirmation that it would be best for Serademar to go with Rakashei, and Idarago head out with the rest of the rescue party.
[18:23] They were all going to die, but at least they would die doing something stupid and heroic, which was better than being captured and never dying at all. "If we can't construct a suitable shelter for an ENTIRE DAY and have to get plucked, I will complain at you every Watching until my next moult," Idarago grumped. "I'll follow you to the landing site."
[18:31] Rakashei seemed subtly alarmed at the suggestion that the rescue party might get caught in the Tarnish long enough to warrant something that extreme (or worse), but relaxed as it became clear it wasn't an actual prediction.
Nadani was less fazed, a little more familiar with her fellow Watcher and his eccentricities as she was. "Then it's settled," Nadani observed, her voice so calm as to suggest they had agreed on something trivial. "Rakashei and Serademar look for help and the rest of us head to the landing site as soon as we've got enough mobile shelter to do so."
She rose from her sit. "Let's get to it."