§ 2022-11-20 01:19:04
[01:30] While the humans and Valcen were talking, Tanak shifted into a crouch beside Edaaj. In a deceptively gentle gesture, he reached forward and first tapped at her shoulder to get her attention, then wrapped his other hand around her left upper arm, staring down at her.
His earlier words in Naya were still quite crisp in her memory: Given your track record with assistants, you're not getting this one until after I've had a chat with her.
It looked like Tanak was losing interest in the translations — they could of course all be cleverly false, so they were of dubious value in the first place and maybe his increasing disinterest was not all that surprising.
But it meant that his interest had shifted to her.
[01:45] The thick-plumed kavkem had allowed herself to become distracted by the meeting with the elder Valcen and the sheer oddness of the idea of multiple, if somewhat diverging, selves, and the tap caused her to flinch; she turned and looked briefly at the Nayabaru's gaze, and her spirits sank again.
[01:46] She spared a moment – only a moment – to glance back at the others, before silently and unresistingly allowing herself to be led along.
[02:08] She could see the faintest hint of a bristle in Valcen-sha as Tanak began to lead her away, fortunately soft enough that, if Tanak had seen it, he seemed to attribute it simply to some perceived slight, like one might if one's property were removed without asking.
Then they were both outside the office, distinctly alone with each other, and Tanak let go of her, instead gesturing to follow as he started to trudge up the stairs.
He hadn't told her where they were going, but presumably it was somewhere out of the way, where it didn't bother anyone else.
Maybe one of the cells.
Indeed, it was three flights up stairs later that he veered to the side. The glyphs on the door were hard to decipher from the angle she was standing beside it, certainly not helped for their density and the Naya alphabet that she was only passingly familiar with.
When Tanak opened the door, it became clear that it wasn't a holding cell. From first impressions, it looked rather more like the sort of place that you'd take some high-ranking kavkem to if you wanted to break their silence.
Tanak smiled down at her, the expression rather without malice, gesturing for her to step inside.
[02:12] The momentary urge to run, or possibly attack, rose up, but Edaaj forced it down. As she'd told herself before, it would do no good here. She went inside.
[02:19] She had not expected the smile. She didn't quite know what to make of it; though it seemed unlikely, given what she knew of the Nayabaru and what she'd seen of Tanak's interactions with Valcen, that it was due to genuine benevolence toward her. Surely the occupation of a Hesh was not about being nice...
[02:26] She glanced around the room, its appearance not conforming to her expectations either. Uncertainty gnawing at her, she settled for turning back to Tanak and, after he closed the door – nowhere to go now! – asked, "How can I be of assistance?"
[02:34] The question seemed to deeply amuse the Hesh Nayabaru, as though she'd just said something deeply naive. "You can hold still for a few minutes," he grinned at her, reaching up toward a tangle of chains and pulling one down as far it would go, which was still not quite to her level. The clinking chains were more on level with a Nayabaru's shoulders, maybe their chest – a
good height if you wanted to use your hands on whatever was caught up in them.
Sure enough, he made to tug one of her arms up toward it, with the aim of lashing a shackle at its end around her wrist.
If she thought about it enough, it looked rather as though she'd be hung from her wrists and ankles once he was through with attaching her to the rig. Definitely the opposite of a position in which one could fight off a Nayabaru even in theory.
Maybe if she fought now, she could at least— but no, they were inside the Katal Pens, she'd at most make it to the top floor before some Hesh on guard duty struck her down.
[02:43] A kind of resignation washed through her, a thought that wasn't really composed of words but, if it had been, would have been a kind of ah, of course.
[02:47] Edaaj still had her part to play; whether Tanak actually believed it or not, she was supposed to be acting obedient, so obedient she was, holding still and not resisting as one arm, then the other, were shackled into place. But however well her face concealed her terror – and she wasn't sure it was – she could not keep herself from beginning to tremble again.
[02:57] If he noticed, he made no comment about it. Either he was expecting some degree of terror even in a freshly minted 'minion', or something else was afoot.
He did seem rather unafraid of her claws and teeth, and as her arms were slotted into place reached under her with both hands, grabbing her by the feet and pulling them off the ground with disregard for her balance, until he'd raised her off the ground completely and flipped her. Her right leg joined her left in a single hand as he worked the chains with the other.
A minute later, he'd let go, leaving her dangling from the chains.
"Looks like this ought to prevent you from giving me any trouble," he commented, conversationally, as though to prompt her to agree. That smile was back, unsettling for all the lack of context there was for one. "Comfortable?" he asked, in obvious humour.
[03:06] It was just as well that Edaaj was not heavily built for a kavkem. As it was, the joints in her limbs were already aching, and the position her torso was being pulled into by gravity added a certain amount of labor to her breathing. "In a manner of speaking," she wheezed.
[03:10] He seemed to consider the answer for a quiet moment, as though trying to decide whether to engage with it in some way, before opting for a stray, acknowledging nod.
With his hands free, Tanak plucked something from a shelf on the wall, out of Edaaj's easy view. With an all too casual tone, turning to face her, he mused: "Don't think I don't appreciate it, but your mistake is to assume that 'minion' equates to 'doormat'. It's very cute – and very obviously fake. Maybe you should have tried emulating Baishar."
[03:21] A long, ragged sigh emerged from Edaaj's nostrils, and she allowed her head to droop – more, that is, than it was already doing. So much for acting. It was a strange sort of relief, in a not-really-a-relief sort of way; she was just as doomed as before, perhaps, but at least there was no point in expending her emotional energy on maintaining her charade.
[03:27] There was a brief pause before speaking, as the idea of having anything remotely like a casual conversation with a Nayabaru was something of a novelty... and, too, she had no interest in antagonizing Tanak unnecessarily, even in these circumstances. But after a few moments, she murmured, "I did not have much time to watch him. I understand that he is currently in a certain amount of trouble, in any case, so he might not have been the best role model."
[03:29] The content of the words suggested calm, but the shivering became more severe even as she spoke. So much for conserving emotional energy.
[03:36] "Oh, good," Tanak said, a certain amount of delight in his voice. "I'm glad we can skip the embarrassing follow-up charade where you try to insist I've misjudged you."
His free hand grabbed a bushel of feathers at the back of her head and clutched at it, taking some strain off her neck at cost of another fragment of autonomy. He shifted to stand with his chest against the top of her head, holding her there, looking down at her.
"Are you going to tell me why you're here, or do I need to torture it out of you? Because, make no mistake, I'd enjoy that, but it's also messy and tedious and we can both spare ourselves the inconvenience," he asked her, his tone quite soft and, had it been spoken in any other context, perfectly courteous and friendly.
[03:40] Edaaj was quite happy to agree; yes, by all means, let's skip that inconvenience, oh gods please...
[03:45] "I had to stay with the human Greg," she answered, not managing to keep the whine from her voice. "And Valcen came to retrieve him. Baishar had told me about him, I thought I might learn from him, so I tried to be obedient and useful..."
[03:47] She was babbling a bit. It didn't take much effort. But it implied the only lie she dared, that Valcen had not been complicit in her act.
[03:50] "I don't want to try to damage anything or spy for anybody," she continued, "just to learn from him if he'll let me."
She could feel Tanak's snorted chuckle pulse against the top of her head. "Does Valcen know that you're a little lying shit?" Tanak asked, spearing right into the heart of her intended deception. The grip on her feathers tightened uncomfortably and something made of metal touched her shoulder, not quite so polite as to reveal its nature.
[04:00] Edaaj squeaked in barely-suppressed panic. "I don't know!" she managed. "If he suspected, he never said anything to me! I thought I was fooling him – no one had seemed to notice on the way to Katal."
[04:05] Another snort, pressing against her head. It was quite unclear from his body language whether he believed her, but he didn't pry in that direction, so maybe the deflection had worked—
"Do you know what we do to little lying shits in Katal?" Tanak asked, letting the rhetorical question linger very nearly long enough to promote it to a real one. Instead, he offered: "We feed you to Valcen and make you stop lying.
"So here you are, just pretending an Imitorunyema carved up your soul, while there's a full-fledged Torunyema down in Valcen's Lair that can do that exact carving much more precisely and much more permanently than his little mechanical helpers. And I promise you, once he finds out you've been fibbing, he won't even regret it, I happen to have it on very good authority that he has approximately zero tolerance for dishonesty.
"Should we go and find out what he thinks of your cute little infiltration? Your little ploy of getting into Katal and somehow coming away from it with just, what? More knowledge?" It was half derisive rant, half prompt.
[04:15] She emitted an anguished groan. For all that Valcen, or at least a Valcen, knew about her scheme, he would have to act as if he hadn't. And she knew enough about him by now to know that, if the situation – or Tanak himself – demanded it, he certainly would use the Torunyema on her.
[04:20] "Please," she quavered frantically, "I'm not trying to cause trouble, I already knew I wasn't ever going to get out, I'm sure I can make myself useful to him..."
[04:23] Her pleading spilled a peal of laughter from Tanak, booming, filling the small room with his voice. "Useful," he echoed, perhaps boggling at the idea that a wild kavkem could help Valcen with anything. "Like his other two assistants?" Tanak asked, darkly. "Did Baishar tell you about his history with the Torunyema? How about Ryrha? Did Baishar mention Ryrha?" Tanak prompted, bringing the hand with the tool around to press against Edaaj's jaw.
[04:30] "I, I, I was told about Baishar," Edaaj managed. "Not Ryrha." She wanted, desperately, to struggle against the restraints. But even had the feel of the tool against her jaw not been there to dissuade her, the quivering had drained the endurance from her muscles; she all but dangled limp.
[04:44] "Then let me tell you about Ryrha," Tanak promised. "She was Valcen's assistant before Baishar joined him and she had a history of Dynash. In case you don't know anything about Dynash, take it from a Hesh: You don't stop being Dynash. Dynash is like a mental disease. It sits in your brain and it festers and tells you to destroy and sabotage and destroy, nevermind doing anything constructive with your miserable life.
"Unsurprisingly, it bubbled up again eventually. Thankfully she told Baishar about it in an effort to recruit him, so he was aware, and he told Valcen, and Valcen tried to take matters into his own hands, in the same way he'd done for Baishar, but she ran and tried to escape, emphasis on tried. I was fortunately there to stop her.
"She was going to kill Valcen-sha, you know, just... murder him, and use Valcen-za's Torunyema against him in a moment of my absence. Very audacious. A venomous little cunt, full of little schemes. There wasn't any salvaging that wretched mind. Understand, Valcen tried, he really did, but he ran out of options.
"So he did the only thing he could: He erased her." Tanak had brought his head down to Edaaj's, revealing just how little he feared her teeth, whispering those last words. "She's still alive, you know. She just can't... think... or dream... or talk."
[04:54] There was a brief, horrified silence from Edaaj. No, she didn't think either Baishar or Valcen had mentioned being erased. She would rather be tortured. She would very much rather try to use her claws to sever a vital artery, but that unfortunately was not an option.
[05:00] She might even prefer being made genuinely subservient by the Torunyema. At least it would allow her some use of her mind.
[05:01] Words spilled out of her in a hoarse, croaking whisper. They were somewhat hard for Tanak to follow from lack of coherence, though evidently she was trying to make clear that she did not want to destroy anyone or anything or do anything that would make it necessary to erase her.
[05:09] Tanak straightened back up, lingering for a moment in a private smirk, making no secret of his enjoyment of her whimpering terror. "You really should let me assess that," he said, voice thick with enjoyment. "But who knows, maybe I'll even agree with you. Wouldn't that be wonderful?" The smile was back, deceptively light.
A deep, satisfied breath made his chest rise and fall. Finally he tapped the edge of his hand against her jaw a little, relenting from the pressure he'd been holding against it, although his grip on her feathers remained, and he said: "I'll make you a deal. You do as I say, right here, right now, and I'll consider it proof that you can behave yourself even without a Torunyema to compel you."
There was a moment's pause, as though he perhaps expected an acknowledgement, but he didn't honestly wait for one. Instead: "All new kavkem captives have their teeth filed and a Valcen minion would be no exception. We can't have you biting things. Open up."
[05:15] In other circumstances, it might have been a far more disturbing thought – though, still, an acceptable price for what she was seeking. Here and now, knowing the alternatives, it sounded like an absolute bargain, for all that Tanak's pleasure at the notion was a hidden cost.
[05:17] Regardless, she opened her mouth. Though her breath came out of it in ragged gasps, she made no move to bite.
§ 2022-11-20 21:03:30
[21:13] The grip on her feathers relented, leaving her head to be held up mostly by friction against Tanak's chest for a few precarious seconds. Then his hand grabbed her jaw, the opposable digit slipping into the corner of it behind her teeth to keep her mouth wedged open. The tool he'd been holding briefly came into view – a rough-grained file in a shape much like a cylinder – only to disappear into her mouth to drag across her teeth. Each motion buzzed angrily through her skull, her instincts insisting that it was shearing the bone, that torsion was going to break her head in the most literal sense, that her teeth, suddenly fragile, were about to burst like glass shards, taking part of her jaw with them. A vile taste of powdered enamel invaded her mouth.
§ 2022-11-21 19:16:57
[04:09] A few miserable whines came from Edaaj's mouth, but they were abruptly cut short in gagging as some of the powder attempted to go down her esophagus. She squeezed throat and eyes closed, and tried to breathe through her nostrils, in the hope that it might at least alleviate that part of the experience; but it proved little comfort.
[23:39] The worst of it was the ringing in her skull. Each motion seemed to file not only the tip of some of her teeth, but along the inside of her brain pan on the opposite end, at the edges of her orbits, and in the joints of her jaw. Depending on the angle, it was either a bearable discomfort or a sensation grating flakes off her soul.
Eventually the onslaught stopped. For a moment it was unclear whether it was a temporary reprieve, maybe Tanak pausing to let his arm rest — then he let go of her jaw and gave it a brief pat, before stepping away and letting her head loll down. "Not too bad," he commented, casually, even as he reached up to tend to the claws on her fingers and toes — attention that was blissful by comparison.
[02:10] Edaaj's head sank down until she was looking at the bottom of the opposite wall. If she was tempted to respond – and she couldn't imagine what verbal response could possibly be a safe one – any opportunity to voice it was stolen by coughing, as the horrid dust in her throat was expelled.
[02:15] She really, really hoped that she didn't begin to vomit up the bit that she'd already swallowed. Tanak had evidently gotten to the 'good part' of the experience, and she sorely needed it; not only would vomiting greatly interfere with that, but somewhere in the terrified confusion of her head, she imagined her captor might be annoyed – at the mess, if nothing else.
[02:16] Of all the things that she did not want to do at this particular point, antagonizing Tanak either on purpose or by accident was among the highest on the list.
§ 2022-11-22 23:00:56
[23:10] The claws were quick to be filed blunt and Tanak let go, leaving her to dangle freely from her joints as he meandered behind her, his feet just barely visible from the perspective of her lolling head. A sound of softly splashing water suggested he was perhaps cleaning the file. After a minute, it sounded as though he were setting it down somewhere.
Something made of clay clinked against the wall. The water was gently disturbed, the easy to ignore background sounds of its slow flow subtly altered. Then he was walking back over to her, reaching down to her head with one hand and hoisting it up by a bushel of feathers once more. "Drink up," he prompted, tipping a cup until a tiny rivulet of water splattered against her teeth.
"Task two," he said, although he seemed to have lost a sizeable fragment of his manic energy, suggesting that the filing had pleased him enough to placate him for now. "Is that you tell me how you came across Baishar in the first place."
§ 2022-11-23 18:13:24
[03:06] Edaaj coughed up a bit of water, but managed to get the rest down. It helped clear the taste from her mouth, at least. But the trembling continued, as much from emotional exhaustion as from fear.
[03:08] She almost didn't know how to answer the question. A lot had happened since that point, and during most of it her nerves had been slowly winding tighter and tighter – trying to recall what came before was surprisingly hard.
[03:16] "There was a group of us traveling with the humans Greg and Samanta," she began, in a hoarse murmur. "We were set upon by an Imitorunyema. Baishar came with it. I think they got two of us who were traveling behind on watch – I saw one of them later with the Nayabaru that Valcen had been traveling with. Then it and Baishar caught up with us.
[03:29] "The humans helped us fight it. Baishar intervened to try to restrain one of us, but we managed to capture him and disable the device. We brought Baishar along – we didn't like the idea, but we wanted to reassure the humans. They don't seem to like seeing prisoners being hurt. And he spent a lot of the time talking to me about Valcen. I think he thought he could escape by tempting me to help him and come along." And evidently he wasn't wrong.
[03:36] "And then the human Greg was injured and got sick. We couldn't help him, but we didn't want him to die. Baishar said the Nayabaru would know how to cure him. There was an argument about how to proceed – we did not trust Baishar, but he was the only one who could find the Nayabaru party safely. And someone else would have to stay with Greg until they came..."
[03:43] She paused to gather her spinning thoughts. "...someone had to. I saw the opportunity, and took the chance. The others left with Samanta, and Baishar went to find the Nayabaru – I have not seen him since, but I assume he succeeded, because they and Valcen came to collect us afterward."
[22:24] Tanak snorted softly, but his body language seemed fairly relaxed by now. If he'd at all considered her some kind of threat before, that seemed far from his mind by now, which presumably was a good sign. Like many Nayabaru, he seemed to enjoy his 'job' even in absence of its need, but maybe the lack of professional reason to torment Edaaj would still work in her favour.
"'Opportunity'," he echoed, contemplatively. "Did no one tell you that they would be going to Katal?" It was unclear if he was asking because he didn't realise that the original plan for Greg's health hadn't involved Katal, or whether he had thought it was an inevitability, given Valcen having his lair here.
§ 2022-11-25 01:25:01
[01:25] By this point, though Edaaj's heart rate was starting to wind itself down, blood was rushing to her dangling head, and she wished muzzily that Tanak would let her down, or flip her over. Or something.
[01:32] "Not as such," she managed. "The need to bring Greg here wasn't apparent until later. But it wasn't hard to guess that following Valcen would take me here, eventually."
§ 2022-11-25 20:39:36
[23:44] Another snort in lieu of a longer chuckle. "And you thought that coming here, to Katal, was worth it?" It was hard to tell whether there was something like respect in Tanak's voice or whether he thought she was more crazy than whatever he considered kavkem baseline to be. But the next question was far less innocent, coming almost as a growl: "What did Baishar tell you about Valcen?"
§ 2022-11-26 17:59:23
[17:59] "He showed me his artificial eye, and told me about what it could do, and that Valcen had made it," Edaaj replied, her voice vague. "And I'd seen the Imitorunyema, of course, and he told me that Valcen had made those too. And he told me about the big Torunyema here. Such things – they haven't been seen on this world before, surely. I don't think the humans have them, either.
[18:04] "And Baishar told me how Valcen explained things to him," she added. "And I thought: maybe I could learn things too. About the world, about making things. The things I made before, they're... primitive, toys, compared to what he's made..." The fluffy kavkem stood on the edge of babbling again.
[22:48] As Tanak grabbed another bushel of feathers to tug her head up, it was a mixed blessing – it stopped her heartbeat from thundering through her head quite so strongly, but it was clearly not a gesture of friendship. "And you want me to believe that you'd risk any marginally observant Hesh figuring out your little ruse, purely to, what? Observe someone better at you at doing his work? You could have sought out any Darhal and gotten the same. Why didn't you?"
§ 2022-11-27 23:35:21
[23:35] Edaaj's reaction to Tanak's question was... fearful, yes, but the fear in it was almost lost in sheer astonishment. It was a question she would never have thought to ask, and hearing it now only made her wonder what made Tanak ask it.
[23:40] "I... what? What Darhal or Otan would deign to help a kavkem learn anything of their craft?"
[00:06] At this, Tanak sneered. "Help? I know you little scoundrels watch Nayabaru all the time, for far less cute reasons. I doubt you'd dare in Katal, but there are other settlements out there with fewer resources you and yours prey on. Do you need what you see explained to you?"
At this, he laughed, as though it were a ludicrous idea. No doubt he had never seen Darhala teach each other, with how the different roles were kept so separate from each other; of course, that didn't mean it wasn't done. Surely there was plenty of teaching even in Nayabaru society. Surely even Tanak had been taught things, rather than merely absorbing them through observational osmosis? But maybe he didn't think Darhala worked that way, or maybe Hesh training only covered some basics, and he assumed the scientists were the same, and a kavkem pretending to be a Darhal should have those basics covered already.
Then he snorted to dimiss the idea and instead mused: "What made you think Valcen would teach you anything of his craft unaltered?"
[00:20] Had Edaaj been in a different situation, she might have tried to explain. She wanted to explain. Now that there wasn't so much blood in her head and she could think a bit, she had a fuzzy sense that she had encountered one of the gaps – the gulfs – in understanding that played such a role in the difficulties between their cultures, and she would have liked to try to bridge it.
[00:24] The problem was that the one she'd be trying to bridge it with was Tanak, and Tanak was clearly not interested. She doubted that any Hesh was. Reaching an understanding with kavkema was almost the antithesis of their purpose.
[00:38] "It was... a wild hope, I think, that Baishar had instilled at the right time. And desperate as it was, it seemed likelier than any alternative. But after having met Valcen, I had reason to think that Baishar had not been lying about it. Valcen is fairly willing to tolerate questions and give answers – as you saw."
[00:42] There was a brief pause, and then she added, "I just don't know if that was because he thought I was converted to his cause."
[00:51] A faint tremor of fear crept into her voice through the last sentence. It was genuine enough, even if the apparent reason for it was not; after all, there was no guarantee, once Tanak informed Valcen of the results of their 'chat', that Valcen would find it convenient to deal with any fallout from the charade, even if Tanak decided to allow for the possibility. Which, itself, was not guaranteed either. Possibly false hope was one of his tools of the trade.
§ 2022-11-28 21:44:18
[21:44] "I do suppose we'll find out," Tanak mused, idly, peering down at her with less manic energy than before. "Tell me about your history with the Nayabaru. What things have you broken and stolen?" Clearly the default Hesh assumption was that there was something dodgy in a kavkem's past; unsurprising, perhaps.
[00:34] Edaaj's feathers puffed out briefly near the end of the sentence. Evidently something there had caught her the wrong way, though she kept it out of her voice.
[00:44] "We lived in the mountains between the two great deserts. Nayabaru settlements there are not large but invest much into traps and other defenses, and our group, too, was not large or well-equipped. Our ryrhakenem and most of our group – including me – rarely felt that the gain was worth the risk.
[00:51] "There was one time, about two years ago, when a windstorm blew in from the western desert and we lost most of our coverings. That was the only time that I can recall that we dared to steal materials – we needed cover from the sun before the Tarnish came. There was a cart in a place where we could reach it, with rolls of fabric, and we took a few of those."
[00:52] She paused, and added, "But I have not broken anything. I was a Builder. I would not have felt it appropriate."
§ 2022-11-30 00:00:00
[00:33] Abruptly, Tanak let go of her, releasing her head back to gravity's pull. His exhale was ambiguous, sounding much like disgust to her perception.
Maybe that was what it was.
"I suppose that will do for questions for now," he said. "We'll go back to the Yeresoa, so they can check you up. I don't want you spreading diseases, especially to Valcen, and I don't want you dying from some easily preventable issue just because no one looked."
No doubt if it were up to him, he wouldn't want her dying for any reason. Death, after all, was hardly popular with the Nayabaru.
Said, he worked on releasing her arms first this time, letting her body sag down a little more comically than before, but at least coming to rest with her head against the ground to some degree. If she wanted, she could press against it and shift her position, but it was probably easier to just wait for him to free her ankles as well, and then drag her to the infirmary, to wait in line until Greg was patched up.
§ 2022-12-02 23:25:59
[23:25] With her ankles released, the rest of Edaaj flopped to the floor. Whether it was relief at the prospect that Tanak was at least marginally satisfied that she wasn't an immediate threat, or an entirely new anxiety at having to face the Yeresoa, or possibly simple exhaustion from emotional expenditure, she appeared not to have the energy to effect a dignified landing.
[23:27] She badly wanted to just lie there for a while, but managed to get her legs sufficiently under her to stand upright and follow Tanak.
[01:06] If her tenacity impressed Tanak, it was invisible in his body language. Either he was giving her no points for it, or was keeping the tally to himself. Regardless, he was less 'leading' and more walking beside her. Katal was new to Edaaj, but its layout was also simple enough that she likely would have found back to the infirmary on her own, even in her battered state.
It took them a few minutes to get back to it, especially since Edaaj's steps were hardly energetic, much less enthused.
When the glass walls of the infirmary came back into view, it quickly became apparent that the Yeresoa were indeed still busy with Greg. He looked significantly more passed out than any time the previous days, suggesting they'd sedated him – a notable feat, given the biological differences between what they were usually dealing with and their current patient. They were hovering over his leg, evidently trying to fix something up in that general area. But despite the slightly unnatural sag of his body, there seemed to be more colour to his skin again, whatever that actually meant.
Tanak sat down with his back against a wall, facing the closed doors of the infirmary, and patted the ground next to himself for Edaaj to sit, as though it were a matter of keeping him company.
[01:16] Edaaj cast a brief, worried eye at Greg as they approached the infirmary, but conscious that she would be of no more help to him – possibly less help – than she would before the Nayabaru had picked them up, she turned away. Besides, the chances of being allowed to go near him were effectively zero.
[01:24] Observing Tanak's gesture, she experienced a brief moment of uncertainty; but, distinctly uncomfortable though the idea of sitting next to him was, she did need to sit for a while. Purposely choosing some other spot to do it seemed likely to make things even harder than they were. She lowered herself to the ground in the indicated spot, though her body language could not conceal her unease.
[01:56] Tanak did not manhandle her or even particularly look her way, even with one eye. He, too, seemed quite content in simply watching the Yeresoa fiddle with Greg. It really wasn't easy to see what exactly they were doing; if it involved spilling blood, it was so little of it that the angle Edaaj was at revealed none of it.
One of the Yeresoa went to instead tend to Greg's head. Her motions were a strange mixture of gentle and harsh, like someone who knew precisely how damaging the wrong motion could be, and just as precisely which motions those were. There was a thin tube in his mouth, by the looks of it putting some water into him. That seemed like a good idea; Edaaj hadn't exactly witnessed him drink very much the past days, although the other two humans had tried to help with that to some degree.
"They look like misshapen frogs," Tanak mused without much inflection, clearly meaning the humans.
[02:06] Edaaj was mildly surprised at what seemed to be small talk; but, given what kind of talk she'd already had with Tanak, it was possibly an improvement.
[02:12] "Certainly they are very strange," she replied. "At least frogs have the sense to lay eggs – Valcen said humans don't do that. It sounded ghastly."
§ 2022-12-11 00:57:21
[00:57] Now Tanak looked toward her with partial attention, a lopsided glare. Maybe it hadn't been meant as small talk. Maybe he didn't want to converse as much as simply speak his own mind about it.
Nonetheless, he did respond, with a dull, matter-of-fact: "They're aliens," as if it explained anything at all. But then, this was a Hesh, not at all familiar with biology, beyond the basic observable workings of his own physiology. No matter what he might say about it, he probably had no actual curiosity in finding out the truth.
Meanwhile, the Yeresoa continued handling Greg, more like a puppet than a patient. Fortunately, he wasn't lucid enough to care. Eventually, they bundled him into a blanket and wheeled the table he was on to the side of the room, detaching the tubing. Evidently they were done with their work, at least for the time being.
Tanak rose back to a stand, then opened the door to the infirmary. "I need to know if this kavkem is healthy," he said.
One of the two Yeresoa looked first at Tanak, then over to Edaaj. "Are there any symptoms that you know of?" she asked, clearly addressing Tanak over Edaaj, as though Edaaj had no voice of her own.
"No, she seems to be doing all right, but she'll be spending time with Valcen and I want to make sure she won't pass any disease to him," Tanak explained.
"Ah," the Yereso acknowledged. "Bring her in."
§ 2022-12-11 23:38:05
[23:38] Edaaj allowed herself to be herded into the room, her mood falling again. While Tanak's request to the Yeresoa sounded reasonable enough, her experiences so far in being the center of attention for Nayabaru, though far, far less unpleasant than they could have been, had nevertheless also not been pleasant enough to even count as neutral. It was too much to hope that that would change now.
[23:46] In a strange way, the most depressing part of all was her apparent inability to have anything resembling a non-coercive conversation with Tanak. She had not expected to be considered an equal, but surely a response that supported one's own point should result in... something?
[23:49] Was it just lack of curiosity? Was it because he was a Hesh and particularly saw her as an enemy? Something of both? Perhaps she was merely being foolish – here she was in Katal, thinking about the possibility of conversation with those who were, after all, her captors.
§ 2022-12-20 19:36:19
[19:36] Tanak lifted Edaaj onto a different table. He could have handled her with all the care one might give a sack of potatoes and get away with it, but he chose to be gentle about it, making sure her centre of weight was well supported and lifted clear of the edge of the table instead of smacking against it.
It was probably best not to assume he did it because he cared. Maybe this was just how Hesha were when their focus was not on tormenting kavkema. Maybe it made some degree of sense that the guardians of the Nayabaru could be cautious.
The Yeresoa were a little rougher, but never to the point of causing distress. They seemed rather interested in an efficient handling of her, and with Tanak right beside her, they seemed to accept dealing with her even absent any restraints. Maybe that was something the Hesha decided.
Of course, if so, that decision made some sense – Tanak's interest so far seemed to be in catching her out on misbehaviour. If she tried something, it was certainly far less ambiguous this way. The risk of a single kavkem to two Yeresoa and a Hesh, on the other hand, was probably negligible.
Regardless, she had to put up with Nayabaru hands prising her jaws apart, a finger against the underside of her tongue; with them peeling her eyes open and shining a light into the corners; with fingers running across her flank and belly with an unpleasant pressure, as well as the rest of her body, probing for lumps or misplacements; and of course with getting jabbed, repeatedly, to sample her blood. There was a swab to get some of her saliva, and a considerably less pleasant one to her privates.
But all in all, the Yeresoa seemed disinterested in actively causing her any misery. It was clearly more of an engineering problem to them – she was some kind of complex machine that they were inspecting and had no interest in breaking in the process.
One of the Yeresoa had manipulated her until she lay on her side and was pressing some kind of device to her gut when the silence broke. "Parasites in her gut," the Yereso said. "But they're not transmissible as long as Valcen keeps his tongue out of her ass." It was said so drily it was hard to tell if that was meant as a joke or as a perfectly serious suggestion, Just In Case.
Tanak seemed to dither on something for a moment, looking down at Edaaj. Then: "What're they going to do to her?"
"Reduce her life expectancy by a month or two," the Yereso shrugged. "If she's not in discomfort now, she's unlikely to start being in discomfort later; as long as she's here in Katal, she won't be a diet that favours the parasites."
Tanak nodded in slow acknowledgement, staring down at her. "Treat her for it."
"Sure," the Yereso acknowledged, but first continued dragging the device along her side.
§ 2022-12-28 03:44:08
[03:44] In a strange way, Edaaj felt nearly – not quite, but nearly – as unnerved during the examination as she had under Tanak's questioning. Perhaps it was the feeling of having so many Nayabaru so close at hand. Quite likely it had to do with the examination of her more sensitive areas.
[03:49] Not exactly being restrained, her leg twitched with a repressed urge to kick. It would have made her feel better to talk, to ask questions – even, at this point, about the parasites – but her experience with Tanak thus far suggested that that wouldn't get her anywhere either.
And so, other than a faint whine, she said nothing.
[04:02] After the Yereso was satisfied that nothing else had been found and went to swap out the device for medicine, there was a moment of awkward pause. Kavkema were usually force-fed medicine; the fact that Edaaj was cooperating with them was a minor mental roadblock. Pushing a tube down her throat was hardly necessary, after all.
The Yereso exuded a non-verbal um.
A minute later, a bowl of water was set down on the table, a few drops of something green dissolving into it. "Drink up." The voice couldn't decide if it was gruff and commanding or gentle and encouraging, simply splicing the two together.
[04:29] There was brief hesitation, but given the conversation between Tanak and the Yeresoa, the likelihood of some kind of toxin seemed faint – at least without prior coordination. And, anyway, she was still thirsty, and the taste of enamel dust still lingered in her mouth. She drank it. There was a faint aftertaste, but nothing so definite as to be unpleasant about it; it was still cleaner than other water she'd had.
[04:31] With that thought in her mind, she ventured, "Would I have gotten the parasites through ingestion?" She asked it quietly, as if a lower volume might be less likely to annoy the Yeresoa.
[04:58] The Yeresoa still seemed mildly flummoxed about her, especially after her question, a strange sort of cautious curiosity at the very edges of their demeanour. "Yes," the Yereso that had given her the bowl said. "Scleroglossa." The word was completely foreign to Edaaj – and without added context, it was probably hard to tell that they were identifying a specific kind of food.
[05:48] Edaaj regarded them in bafflement, and opened her mouth slightly as if to ask for clarification – but decided not to push her luck. If, at the end of all this, Valcen still felt like answering her questions, she could ask him.
[05:50] Instead, she simply replied, "Thank you," and went silent again. It did not immediately occur to her that she might very well have been the first kavkem in years, if not generations, to say that to a Nayabaru unprompted.
§ 2022-12-30 01:55:04
[02:06] Indeed, the Yereso seemed at least mildly puzzled by her response, but not in the business of questioning good fortune. The other Yereso, on the other hand, did not seem perturbed and didn't bother to pause at all, instead approaching with another syringe – this one clearly already filled with something. One hand grabbed for her left foot, clearly with the intention of yabbing her with it, in the usual Nayabaru fashion not bothering to explain what it was for.
[02:46] A surprised squeak erupted from Edaaj's mouth. The Yereso having grabbed one foot, the other, apparently on its own agenda, decided to jerk itself into motion, but this only succeeded in the kavkem briefly balancing on the grabbed foot before crashing onto her side on the table.
[03:02] And in the needle went, stinging like the ones before. It took only a few seconds for it to empty itself into her bloodstream – then both the hand that held her by the foot and the syringe relented.
"Bring her here again in two days," the Yereso that had wielded the syringe instructed Tanak. "There are no obvious markers of illness or disease beyond the parasites at the moment, but if she has a very recent illness, two days will be a good time for it to develop to the point of detection. If you wish, you can quarantine her for those two days, but the absolute risk should be negligible."
Tanak shrugged mildly. At the end of the day, this entire situation had been intended as a minor private torment – he wasn't honestly concerned about Valcen's health, given the Yeresoa could easily patch Valcen back up if something did happen to him – and the idea of prolonging it another two days seemed more like an inconvenience than an opportunity.
"I appreciate the work, thank you," he nodded to the Yeresoa. Then he gestured for Edaaj to hop off the table and follow him. Hopefully, he was planning to return her to Valcen.
[03:19] Edaaj, caught in a strange nexus between fear, embarrassment, and weariness, got up and hopped off the table with as much dignity as she felt able to muster. Not, apparently, that it mattered; the three Nayabaru had not shown much sign of taking notice, much less amusement, from her clumsy fall. She supposed that, in their eyes, she had no dignity to lose.
[03:23] Tottering slightly, she followed after Tanak. She hoped that she would be turned over to Valcen – and also that the fact that Tanak had seen fit to go through the trouble of having her examined and treated meant that he would not make too big an issue of her deception.
[03:54] No one moved to stop her. No one sneered at her. By the way the Yeresoa immediately turned their attention back to Greg, they really had no interest at all in her beyond the work they had just finished.
Instead, Tanak led her back down to the basement. Rather than take the left door that they'd lingered in before, however, he took the central one, bringing her into a hall. A window on the left wall showed bits and pieces of the office that she recognised, but there was no corresponding one on the right. By the looks of things, they had lost enough time with Tanak's interrogation and the check-up that the humans weren't in the office any more.
In the centre of the room was a contraption that reminded her rather unpleasantly of the seat she'd seen in the infirmary and the strange setup that hovered directly above it identified it rather unambiguously.
Unhelpfully, her mind resurfaced Tanak's characterisation of Valcen: And I promise you, once he finds out you've been fibbing, he won't even regret it, I happen to have it on very good authority that he has approximately zero tolerance for dishonesty.
She had spent a lot of time appeasing Tanak. But how easy would it be to appease a Valcen who pretended not to have known of her deception?
"Valcen!" Tanak barked.
A head popped into view in the window, glancing toward them with curiosity.
It wasn't the one she'd come to know the past days of travel.
§ 2022-12-31 00:41:42
[00:41] There had been a moment – just a moment – of rapt fascination with the Torunyema itself, but it drained away as her situation came back to her, bringing with it a terrible chill into her blood.
[00:51] She had assumed that Valcen-sha would be present when she was made to admit to lying. He would have at least known what her situation was, even if he would have been unable to assist her. But this one... the chances that Valcen-sha would have been able to explain things to him so soon were remote.
[00:54] She would have to tell him that she had lied to his counterpart, and he would have no particular reason not to believe her. Unless she told the truth, in which case she would only endanger Valcen-sha, and probably Valcen-za as well...
[00:55] And Tanak wouldn't be at all pleased with her, either.
Trapped. She was trapped.
[00:59] At some point in the preceding chain of thought, her legs had stopped propelling her after Tanak, and she stood rooted to the spot, glancing helplessly between the Nayabaru and Valcen. Her feet started issuing her brain frantic demands to run away, but as yet were not heeded.
[01:13] As Tanak noticed Edaaj stalling, he turned to glance over his shoulder, but gave her little chance to assess how he might feel about her situation. Instead, rather quicker than she'd seen him move so far, perhaps quicker than she thought a Nayabaru could move, he snatched for her, trying to grab her by the scruff of her neck to first drag her a few feet along the ground, then lift her off it.
[01:16] She was too slow. Her feet started moving only after she was being dragged along, and continued futilely once she was in the air.
[01:17] Edaaj shuddered, and then slowly let herself go limp with a faint, hopeless sigh, dangling from her neck and trembling silently.
[01:42] The door to the office opened and Valcen-za exited, looking some degree of puzzled at the strange struggle. For an awkward moment, he was merely silent, observing the quivering kavkem, then answered Tanak's initial call as though Edaaj were really just a footnote. "What can I do for you?"
Behind Edaaj, Tanak rumbled in an ambiguous emotion. "You really need to learn to be more perceptive, Valcen. This is an infiltrator," he said, his tone cold as steel, as though they hadn't come to any agreement at all about Edaaj's behaviour and fate.
Valcen-za's puzzlement returned. "An... infiltrator?" he asked, evidently hoping for clarification.
"She's quite a normal kavkem, it turns out," Tanak said. "Unaltered."
An eerie silence settled between them. Then Valcen-za gave a soft, mildly nervous laugh. "Did you torture that out of her?" he asked, sounding a little crinkled. Instead of letting Tanak answer the question, however, he continued: "Of course she'd say that. No one changed by an Imitorunyema would perceive themselves as anything other than a normal—"
"But they'd remember the Imitorunyema," Tanak snapped.
"...I suppose?" Valcen-za conceded, though it didn't sound like he was convinced. "I'm confused, though, why you've been pursuing that line of enquiry. Has she been causing any trouble?"
"Not yet. It's my job to prevent trouble," Tanak reminded Valcen.
Valcen-za looked at Edaaj for a long moment, as though trying to assess her mind by staring at her. Then he looked back over to Tanak. "That's absurd, though," he protested, gently. "No one would willingly come into Katal."
"Are you questioning my information?" Tanak asked.
At this, Valcen-za's demeanour visibly changed, adopting a certain deference. "I'm sorry. It just doesn't make much sense to me," he apologised. "Do you think she's a threat?"
A tense pause. Then, finally, surprisingly making good on what he had said to her, Tanak said: "No. Just a liar."
Valcen-za nodded lightly in a Nayabaru gesture. "If she's no threat, perhaps it's all the same?" he mused aloud.
Tanak rumbled again. "You want to trust this scoundrel?" he asked.
"...'trust' is a stronger word than I would use. I'd simply like to not put her brain through a meat grinder," he explained. "It seems like that would be a bit crass if she's not a threat."
Tanak let go of Edaaj like a sack of feathers, letting her thud to the ground. "Your choice."
[01:52] Her landing, too, was remarkably sacklike; she folded up onto the ground. Some rational part of her was trying to explain that – or so it sounded – she had finally arrived at some point of pseudo-safety after her reckless gambles, but the rest of her failed to understand, as if the message was in a foreign language. Stress and fear and weariness, compounded by this last panic, had taken their toll.
[01:55] She lay on the ground, shaking, moving her mouth in a faint litany: "I just wanted to learn I won't destroy things I will try to be helpful I just wanted-"
[01:58] She stared at the floor as she spoke. In the middle of her gaze, her hands moved around each other, making deft, delicate movements with the fingers; it was not clear what this was meant to achieve, unless it were some kind of nervous tic.
[02:11] Tanak snorted derisively, putting a nail in the coffin of any appreciation she might have imagined him having, even briefly. "You could give her a backbone," he offered.
Valcen-za bristled slightly, but said nothing.
"Bah," Tanak concluded, revealing that he had indeed hoped this would play out differently. "Anyway – good news, she's mostly healthy. To cite the Yeresoa verbatim: Don't stick your tongue in her ass and you'll be fine. I'm taking her back for a second check-up in two days. Maybe you can beat some sense into her by then."
"Maybe I'll try that," Valcen-za echoed in a reconciliatory tone.
Tanak hovered over her for another twenty eternal seconds, clearly debating something, then nodded to himself. "You can have her," he confirmed, grudgingly, and turned to leave without further ado.
"I appreciate it," Valcen-za said, staying where he was and letting his attention follow Tanak out.
Then the Hesh was gone, and a few heartbeats besides, and Valcen turned his attention to Edaaj. "I thought that went well," he quipped, only to sigh. "I'll hand it to Tanak, you're an idiot. But I wish he weren't so... Nayabaru about that." He approached Edaaj, sitting down beside her and giving her shoulder a nuzzle in a soothing gesture.
[02:18] This close, it might have been possible for Valcen-za to determine that the hand motions were those of someone tying knots. There appeared to be a sequence of seven or eight of them, when she reached the end, she began again.
[02:22] It was hard to tell whether she found the nuzzle or the motions more soothing, but after a moment Edaaj's shaking began to subside, and the litany of words stopped. Her gaze remained fixed on her hands, but after a few more moments she replied quietly, and in all seriousness, "I prefer to think of myself as crazy, rather than idiotic. But thank you, regardless."
[02:27] She hesitated. Her hands finally stopped moving, and she glanced over her shoulder to be absolutely sure that Tanak was not there before turning back to Valcen-za. In a very, very low voice she muttered, "The other Valcen knows why I am here."
[02:34] "<He does, indeed,>" Valcen-za said, revealing that there had been some measure of exchange about it – and that he was comfortable switching to Kendaneivash now that Tanak wasn't in the room to complain about it. "<And to be crystal clear about it, the exchange just now would have ended very differently if he hadn't told me.>"
[02:46] It was a bit painful to hear, but certainly not unexpected. Edaaj replied morosely, also switching to Kendaneivash, "<he had made it clear that should my charade be exposed, he must act if he did not know of it. So I knew about the possible outcome, if not this particular version of it.>"
[02:49] She had almost said that she was prepared for the outcome, but clearly that was ludicrous on the face of it. She'd tried to be, perhaps, but it hadn't worked.
[02:56] It was one thing to know that it was possible to be... negated as a person. It was entirely another to be face-to-face with the possibility, and know that one had escaped it only by the thinnest margin. The very thought made her fingers try to twitch back into motion.
[03:02] She added, slowly and in a thick voice, "<I understand that this is... an imposition, of sorts. I suppose I was not taking a wide view of things when this idea was introduced to me. But I have, and do, want to be useful here.>"
[03:06] Valcen-za swerved his muzzle in acknowledgement, but said in a sombre voice: "<I don't object, but I need you to understand that if you're useful here, you will effectively become a monster to everyone you ever knew in your old life – regardless what it is you're doing. By helping me, you will be helping the Nayabaru. Can you handle that?>"
[03:16] Edaaj shut her eyes, not immediately responding. Eventually, she said, "<I... I spoke with a god, once. About this world. About the kavkema and the Nayabaru. And what she told me caused me to see that the kavkema are... trapped, though the trap is so large that many do not appreciate it. And what is being done to get them out is not working – not well enough.
[03:31] "<And the other Valcen had said some things. About doing what needs to be done. And moving forward.>" She struggled with it a bit, then added, "<And I could not do that where I was. It's possible that I could do it here. If that means helping the Nayabaru, then... yes, I think so...>"
[03:32] She trailed off, then added lamely, "<And I am here. If I can't handle it, then it's by far too late to back out.>"
[03:41] "<Astute observation,>" Valcen summarised, sighing again. "<Should you lose your nerve...>" He trailed off and pointed to the device that Tanak had yearned to see her strapped to with two fingers, his gaze anchored to Edaaj.
Then he softened a little, nudging her shoulder. "<But I'll do my part that you don't. You're safe here, at least. Tanak is the only Hesh that gets to touch you and he's ceded you to me. No one will hurt you.>"
And then he asked a strange question, brimming with an equally strange emotion: "<I hope you'll forgive me the curiosity, but... how is she?>"
[03:56] Edaaj opened her eyes and let her gaze follow Valcen's pointing, though she knew all too well what he was pointing at. There was fear in her gaze, very much so; and yet, too, the fascination was not gone. Her eyes lingered on the device before she pulled them away.
[04:07] She tried to regather her thoughts to answer Valcen's question. Considering everything else that had passed over the past days, it was a startlingly ordinary thing to ask. "<She was... well, I suppose, the last I saw her->" It felt very strange to have to say such a thing about a being like that. "<-but when we were told that the Karesejat was setting a trap for us, she had us go back and away from it while she and Asrabaan went on to look.>"
[04:13] Valcen-za literally rose a few inches, his feathers bristling in alarm, eyes wide. He opened his mouth a little, lingering in the pose for a moment as though he were about to say something... only to sink slowly back into a sit.
It took him a moment to recover from whatever had just played out in his head.
He was still looking at Edaaj with some intensity, almost as though he were hoping to hear something else from her – but before it provoked a continuation, he said: "<Well, I suppose that does sound like her.>" He sounded distinctly unhappy – like someone who had just heard that an amanat of theirs had likely been captured by the Nayabaru.
[04:31] Edaaj felt at a bit of a loss. Knowing that they had once been of the same kind, and apparently well-acquainted, it made a kind of sense that Valcen would be upset at the idea of Evenatra going into danger; it just hadn't occurred to her to think of Valcen as someone to be upset.
[04:36] "<Er,>" she began, floundered a bit, then continued, "<for what it's worth, it did not seem an... impulsive decision. There was considerable discussion beforehand. And she said that she was used to avoiding traps designed for her.>"
[04:48] Valcen-za swerved his muzzle in acknowledgement, but there was a sadness to it. Maybe there was a history to Evenatra's reckless behaviour. "<I can't do anything about it, so I don't intend to dwell on it,>" he promised. Then he set both of his hands down on one of Edaaj's arms. "<But I can do something for you.>"
It wasn't worded as a question, but he didn't make an obvious follow-up move. Maybe it had been intended as a prompt. Maybe he was considering the options.
§ 2022-12-31 18:39:46
[18:39] Edaaj pondered this apparent statement, which caused her a certain amount of discomfort. This was due in no small part to the fact that, after a day of mental and emotional gymnastics, complete with falls, trying to puzzle out how she should respond was very taxing. The other factor she said out loud.
[18:45] "<You – both of you – have already done much for me simply by having prevented the worst consequences of my foolishness. I am not sure I could ask more of you at this point.>"
§ 2023-01-01 19:05:32
[19:05] The observation inspired a mild, tired amusement. "<Well, that would be a waste of a long trip,>" he commented, softly. "<Let's get back to that later. You've been through a lot. When did you last eat? Do you want some rest?>"
It was a strange question to ask while they were both sitting in one of the scattered shadows of the... Oratorunyema, presumably. It couldn't really be anything else. The thing that had carved up Baishar's and Ryrha's souls. The thing that was still not in any way guaranteed not to do the same to her eventually.
It was also a marvel of technology. Maybe eventually, she would understand some of how it worked.
[01:03] The thing loomed over her, both physically and metaphorically. She tried to shut it out, for now. Now was not a good time to be thinking about it.
[01:10] Edaaj recalled that she had indeed come here for a reason – several reasons – but merely arriving here and being intact, after everything, was too much for her just now. It filled her world. A brief attempt to assemble her thinking processes enough to get around this obstacle, however, was interrupted by the mention of sleep.
[01:11] Dear gods, some sleep. Maybe she might be able to explain things better once she slept.
[01:14] "Yes, I... yes. Could use some sleep," she replied gratefully. "Wasn't sleeping well on the way here, and then... Katal. I'll be a bit more use afterward, I hope."