[20:51] When Aka slept, it was with the egg sunk under his mane. Serademar had skillfully crafted a harness to easily carry it with them and Aka had – with some token grumbling – sacrificed some of his downs to line the vessel, so Aka's neck had become the near-permanent point of residence for their unhatched companion.
Three days after the encounter, they were spending the light of day crowded into a niche that seemed flanked by owergrown halves of a boulder, one side of which asymmetrically provided an overhang. Thick shrubbery and the canopy of the higher trees conspired to grant a solid shade.
In the afternoon, with the towering face of the stone to one side enough to blot out the sun, a soft snort punctured the silence. "What are you doing in my niche?"
Aka snapped his attention up to the kavkem standing there, mottled sunlight playing across her feathers. For a moment, the surreality of it registered as the fragment of a dream – a kavkem apparition. Then the notions of Tarnish woke in Aka's sleep-addled mind and his eyes widened mutely.
[20:55] Seradamar was a bit more sluggish, opening an eye and saying, "It's too light out. Time to sleep."
[20:56] It took several moments for it to register that is wasn't Aka saying that, and his head turned sharply towards the interloper, trying to understand what had just happened.
[21:39] Standing a few metres away from their shelter was a kavkem neither of them recognised – almost entirely a shaggy brown, only with a few stray feathers in the left side of its mane providing white flecks, as if in afterthought. The decorative arm feathers had been dyed or dusted a dark green.
[21:40] "Well, you could sleep somewhere else?" she offered in a somewhat miffed tone. "What are you even doing here?"
"K-k-kraia— qi—" Aka stammered, his horror almost soft enough that the descriptive, damning words were inaudible.
The kavkem bristled, her feathers puffing, turning her appearance into something hovering awkwardly between a ridiculous fluffiness and a serious threat. "Don't you even dare start with that superstitious nonsense. My soul is fine, thank you."
[21:46] Seradamar finally scrambled to his feet. "Apologies, as we have had a very challenging journey. We did not realize this place was already in use."
[22:07] Challenging journey or not, moving while the sun was out was out of the question without a tarp to cover them from the light. And here was a kavkem, unconcerned by the sunlight the trees listlessly spattered onto her coat.
[22:08] And she was asking them to leave their cover.
Aka whimpered, not yet daring to follow Era's example, pressing himself to the ground instead.
"Oh, yeah?" she asked, although in a tone of curiosity. "What're you journeying?" She shot a glare at Aka's whimpers, evidently thinking little of Tarnish. Given her mannerisms, she probably had suffered some corruption, constant mottled sunlight exposure adding a bit of abrasiveness, stripping her of any desire to be particularly welcoming to strangers.
But of course, the Tarnished didn't know they were Tarnished. Presumably, at least. Athechelt had postulated they felt 'normal' from the inside.
[22:40] "We have been tasked with finding other kavkema who are willing to help our group. We have found strangers, strangers of great wonder, who look naught like us, yet speak and move as though they are intelligent. The Nayabaru have taken them." He paused for a long moment. "Though, with your permission, we would wish to stay out of the light, even though it is not your belief." He bowed his head lightly.
[22:55] The kavkem seemed to consider the words for a moment, running the notions through her head. "Well, but are or aren't they intelligent?" she asked, evidently hung up on the 'as though they' part of Serademar's speech. She trotted closer, dipping her muzzle to sniff at Aka's cowering form, as though his scent might reveal something important about him.
[22:56] Evidently she considered it natural to postpone talking about the light question for now, as though it wasn't a matter of utmost existential importance to her visitors.
[22:59] "I have interacted with them. They are intelligent, though understanding their vocalizations is... well, we have not yet understood them save for the most rudimentary of communications." His eyes followed her as she sniffed at Aka. "I am called Seradamar."
[23:22] "Akuned," she said, and it took a moment for Era and Aka to be clear she was not saying 'also here', she was introducing herself. "Get up," she snorted at Aka. "Looking me in the eyes isn't going to Tarnish your precious soul, or whatever it is you think will happen."
Rakashei blinked in alarm up at Akuned, perhaps not altogether convinced by that claim, uneasiness raising the feathers of his spine.
"Seriously?" Akuned asked. "Why do you—?" A snorted sigh. "Why do you even think sunlight would possibly—? I find it hard to take either of you seriously." She bared her teeth at Era, but the gesture was sufficiently subdued as not to be an open challenge – more of a statement that she could, if she wanted.
[23:23] To Aka: "If you two really want to take on the Nayabaru, it helps if you can look a fellow kavkem in the face."
[23:34] Seradamar finally nudged Aka lightly with one foot, lowering his voice and almost hissing out a near desperate, "Stand up, Aka, please!"
[00:00] Rakashei's brain-mouth filters had certainly kicked in by now, fortunately preventing him from accusing Akuned of being kaaru, but unfortunately rendering him otherwise mute. To think he'd taken on a Nayabaru on his own the other day. Whatever courage had possessed him then, it was absent now.
Still, he did manage to rise to a stand as Era nudged him, although he meekly pressed his flank against the rock.
Akuned watched Rakashei for a moment as though suspicious of his ability to stay on his feet, then finally accepted the gesture.
Still mostly standing in the flecked sunlight, she turned her attention to Era. "So, these non-kavkema you found – the wonders don't include taking care of the Nayabaru on their own?" Despite the probing content, it wasn't a derisively intoned question. By tone, she seemed genuinely curious, if rather flippant on the subject.
[00:29] "As far as we can tell, they do not know of the nature of Nayabaru, nor do they have sufficient number." He tossed his head a little, raising two fingers. "We have only seen three of them."
[00:37] "Three?" Akuned echoed, tone part alarmed surprise and incredulousness. Perhaps biting a down a lead-up of let's suppose I believe this grand tale; in that case, she asked: "And what is your interest in these non-kavkema?"
[01:18] Seradamar finally paused, knowing the tale would be even more unbelievable than what was already said. "These creatures... they came down from the sky in a large mother, which birthed them onto our land. They, from all appearances, intended to return to the sky. They could be allies against the Nayabaru, or, if they ally with them, our enemies instead. Given my own choice, between clueless sky-beings and sworn enemy sky-beings, I would choose the former."
[01:48] That observation provoked a noticeable change in Akuned's air. It was as though they suddenly had her full attention. "...the sky?" she echoed, perhaps as if she were doubting the truthfulness of the claim. And yet, it was sufficiently absurd that no one would bother with a lie like that.
And it had been in her lifetime that the sky had changed. The time of dawn and time of dusk had shifted. The size of the sun had changed. Its light was a subtly different colour. Its path wobbled as the year passed by, taking a toll on the frequency of weather patterns.
Visitors from the sky seemed almost inane by comparison. And the falling star she'd seen a few days ago...
It answered a lot of questions she had almost asked. It made it immediately obvious why the Nayabaru would want creatures that could pull that trick off. Give the Nayabaru the technology to reach the skies and they would put their eyes there. They would find any kavkem not underground.
[01:49] "I see your problem," she said. Then, perhaps remembering that she'd accused them of trespass and superstition, she added: "Shouldn't you be leaving this up to, I don't know, Shyilun?" Strictly speaking, neither Aka nor Era had denied being in Shyilun, but she couldn't imagine adherents of Nitish Ynas having the mental fortitude for a mission of this magnitude.
[02:19] "Shyilun is far away, and takes little interest in us inland kavkema." Seradamar then added: "But these are strange times, and kav' like myself who are no Watchers, are required to do more than expected before."
[22:13] Akuned eyed Serademar with some suspicion, a part of her evidently still wrapped up in the question whether the kavkema in her slumbering niche were simply concocting a suitably interesting tale to avoid being evicted before nightfall.
"I would expect Shyilun have already sent ambassadors toward these sky-creatures," Akuned mused, although without any vehemence. "In either case, I imagine in the time you've already spent seeking help, the matter has surely been decided the one or other way? Especially if you insist on your superstitions."
Something about the way she worded it made Rakashei tense up with a flicker of anger, the emotion momentarily overriding his fear. "Our friends are doing their best to prevent the worst in our absence. What more than due diligence can you expect?" he growled.
"I'm not trying to insult your family," Akuned shrugged, unimpressed by the outburst. "I'm making a factual observation on the likelihood of your collective success."
[23:26] Seradamar shrugged a little, unperturbed by the apparent insult, then mildly observed, "In the end, we are doing our part. Others are doing theirs. We may not be successful, but it will not be for lack of the attempt." He turned towards Rakashei, then took a limping step towards him, pointing at the egg. "And changing who we are in order to save who we are is still a form of death. Whether that is right or wrong, that is what we decided. Much like this egg, Rakashei fought off a Nayabaru so we could save this egg. It is not my egg, nor his, but it is one thing we can save, even if we can't save all." He turned back to Akuned. "Will you help us?"
[23:03] In speaking of death, Serademar spoke of adreth, not ut; a sometimes subtle distinction, but an important one. Nonetheless, Akuned seemed unconvinced. She let him finish his statements, although her gaze lingered on Aka once he was done.
"I didn't stay unmolested so long by rushing headlong into danger," she muttered, although without much conviction. She was still staring at Aka, evidently unconcerned whether Era had a good angle to get at her maned neck or not. Some danger she was clearly unbothered by. In fact...
She reached forward, deep into the shade of the niche, trying to loosely grasp Aka by the feathers of his jaw. Rakashei jerked back, opened his maw wide, and hissed. The gesture wasn't even fully over before Akuned had instead scratched him across the muzzle, her own feathers puffed back out, her eyes wide in attentive aggression.
[23:04] Aka tried to shrink back, but she simply followed, then grasped at his muzzle. His forepaws tugged on her arm feathers, trying to get her to relent, but while her discomfort was apparent, she didn't let go.
"You?" she asked finally, her incredulous tone distorted by a slightly tense huff, still scrutinising his face, held in her grip as it was. "You fought off a Nayabaru?" Her eyes narrowed in scepticism. But rather than launch into a scornful sneer, she instead ventured: "How?"
[23:42] "Surprise, I suppose. And, well, doing what has to be done." Seradamar then bends down towards Rakashei. "Please, though, he has been through, through... enough, for now." Seradamar then rose again and put one hand on Akuned's arm, gently. Risky, sure enough, but the sore kavkem was not making any form of attack, nor making a defense. "And the Nayabaru was focused on chasing me, too. The—" Seradamar broke off, his own memories of the event still rather confused by the associated mental... confusion. "—It happened, is all I can truly say."
[23:55] Era received neither bite or lashing out for his trouble; Akuned let go of Aka, then nibbled at the feathers of her wrists, pressing a tongue between them to soothe the cuts left by Aka's claws.
"And you prevailed," she observed, statement half muffled by her arm, half simply spoken between nibbling motions. "Guess you two are quite something," she shrugged, after some consideration. "Do you have a plan how to rescue these sky-people of yours?"
Aka picked himself back up, smoothing some of the feathers that had been abused as a handle back into their natural position. He seemed disinclined to share any mission information with Akaned; unlike Era, the question 'Will you help us?' struck him as a dangerous folly. He certainly didn't want Akuned to say 'yes'.
[00:12] "That is not our task. Ours is to-to try and get others to help. To bring more kavkema that can help." He looked at Aka, with a bit of a lost expression. "I was just one who saw, and can speak to what I saw."
[00:24] "Fate of the universe and you don't have a plan," Akuned grimaced. "But congratulations, I've decided you get to stay here and continue your daytime napping! ...while I go look for people who might have some tactical insights on the situation, based on when I last ran into some." She paused to assess Serademar and Rakashei's reactions, offering up a dispassionate "Should be in your interest as well," before she was fully done with her scrutiny.
[00:36] This piqued Seradamar's interest, despite the soreness. "Have you been having some kind of extra trouble out here?"
[01:01] "No," Akuned responded, flatly, raising one forepaw to drag her claws through her mane almost thoughtfully. "Just standard levels of trouble, about what you'd expect. But sometimes people pass through here looking for a bigger challenge... presumably finding it at latest once they hit the the coast and getting themselves caught."
[17:23] Seradamar pondered for several moments. "Yes, people that are looking for trouble might very well be the most useful around for such a task, though better to have level heads that will plan rather than rush headlong into—" He edited out 'the light', a slight pause, then, "—trouble. Headlong into trouble."
[17:40] "Sure, like you're doing," Akuned grinned toothily, the expression almost threatening in its intensity. "You'd benefit from some likeminded individuals with more experience running headlong into trouble, trust me."
Aka bristled almost imperceptibly – trust was the last thing he was willing to bestow upon a kaaru. But it was more of a turn of the phrase than anything requiring actual trust. Even if Akuned was completely crazy, it was practically impossible for her to walk away and return with a group of Nayabaru Hesha.
[17:54] Seradamar simply shrugged at this point. "I will not dispute that. How long until we will see you again? We were planning to continue our journey come dark."
[18:01] Akuned gave a dismissive single-syllabled chuckle. "If I'm not back by sunsink, move on. Although why you'd want to, if you're supposedly out here looking for help, I wouldn't know."
[18:02] Her gaze drifted into the sun-mottled landscape and she started to back out of the shadowed niche.
('sunsink' is the quarter of night before and abutting midnight – non-translated, it's 'kiikainosh')
[18:09] "Then I am glad to have met you, Akuned. I will see you before sunsink." Seradamar turned back to Rakashei. "And we can get some more sleep, Aka. And perhaps I can get a little less sore."