§ 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?"