§ 2022-08-01 22:35:21
[22:35] Two days came and went with three humans alone in a cart guided by the Nayabaru. Their initial anxieties had dulled by now; no one was hurting them, or even demanding anything from them.
Saira and Edaaj had spent most of their idle minutes learning to communicate with Valcen's help. They could still not have a conversation with each other without it, but at least basic words were beginning to commit to memory. Interestingly enough, Edaaj seemed much quicker in the uptake of English than Saira was of Kendaneivash, despite the kavkem's lack of linguistic education.
And then Valcen was clambering into the cart from what had seemed to be a passing conversation with a Nayabaru and exhaling in another borrowed human gesture. "We're due for Katal in under an hour," he announced. And then, as though it explained anything, he gestured through the trees.
At first glance, there seemed to only be the sky in the gaps between the branches. But as high winds imbued the clouds with a fake parallax, a different structure became apparent at the edge of what the straight road could offer of the firmament, some kind of gossamer peak, like a thin fabric held aloft by a curve of metal that glinted in the afternoon light.
[22:43] In the passing days, Saira was content to help along not only her understanding of Kendaneivash, but also Edaaj's understanding of English, which she was doing quite well. After one put aside the strangeness of talking to these strange bestial people, it became much easier to just hold a conversation. She was actually becoming quite accustomed to Edaaj, though she still regarded Valcen with some wariness. It was more difficult to warm up to him, given his precarious position of both harming and claiming to want to save the kavkema. Edaaj seemed more pure, despite her circumstances. With the aid of the tablet that had all the pictures of the different flora and fauna they had found so far, they combed through the vocabulary. She even showed Edaaj how to take pictures with it, and soon in the manner of small human children, there might have been dozens of out of focused or uncentered pictures now saved to its SD card. At the announcement that they were due to reach the Nayabaru capital soon, Saira froze, a little uncomfortable with the idea of being there. She could put it off over the last few days by willfully ignoring it, but now there was no where to hide. "Can we see it yet?" she asked, already scooting to the edge of the cart so she could get out and look at it properly.
[23:50] Jason leant to the side, trying to get a look of the road ahead unimpeded by the horns of the beasts of burden pulling them there, or the folded tarp that offered them shelter when it rained. It took him a moment to spot the fabric-like texture and once he did, he squinted at it, not quite sure what he was seeing and whether he was seeing anything at all.
Silently, he pulled a face.
"Vaguely," Valcen was saying, tone tinged with an unhappy undercurrent. "In this light and through the trees, I suppose it only looks a bit like a static cloud, or an ivory thorn." A pause. "Down the road. Last stretch of sky," he clarified his pointing.
[01:21] She didn't like that note of upset in Valcen's voice. The small indication that he was displeased or unhappy with their nearness to Katal. Not that she could blame him all that much. It felt as though she was walking into the mouth of a great beast. Getting out of Katal would hopefully be an uncomplicated, easy affair. After Greg's illness had been cured, or at least treated, they could go.
That's what she was hoping. Slipping out from beneath the tarp, she began to walk behind the cart, occasionally pausing to stand on her tip toes to see the city, but there wasn't much with all the foliage in the way. "Are you alright?" she asked Valcen. There was little use putting the question to Jason, he was most definitely not alright with what they seemed to be stuck doing. It was as if circumstances had strong armed them into agreeing to this visit, as if Greg wasn't ill. Saira just hoped she made the right decisions.
[01:38] Valcen stared back at Saira and, for a moment that was too long not to register as awkward, remained silent. In the privacy of his own thoughts, he thought: I hope they stay true to their word.
He didn't mean the humans.
"Mixed feelings," he said openly. "For all intents and purposes, Katal is a prison for me, as strange as that may sound, given they don't need shackles to bind me. But it feels like a prison."
§ 2022-08-02 21:56:15
[21:56] If that's how Valcen felt about Katal... It bode ill for the human party, the possibility that they too would be held prisoner, with no means of a way out. As chilling as that was, she had to be positive. Hopefully, they could help Greg, and the humans could go on their way back to the craft. Frowning, she glanced at the kavkem and then shook her head, largely unseen inside her bulky suit's confines. "I hope it proves to be something more than that for us. I'm sorry you're having to return to somewhere you clearly don't want to be." A little bit of sympathy offered to Valcen, though he seemed as complicit as the Nayabaru in their circumstances. A sigh could be heard as she plodded on behind the car. "Do you have any idea of what might have befallen Greg?" she asked, and probably not for the first time.
§ 2022-08-07 00:40:23
[00:48] Valcen twisted slightly to look over to Greg, who had remained mercifully stable. His companions had been able to feed and hydrate him during brief periods of lucidity, but largely he had been sleeping, sweating into his blanket.
"Probably some kind of infection," Valcen said first, making no interesting statement at all. But then he continued: "A hardy bacterium producing some kind of toxin our local mammals are better-adapted to resist."
Jason wasn't listening, still leant across the side of the cart to stare toward Katal. "What is it?" he asked, almost crossly.
Valcen's attention swerved. "Pardon?"
"I don't recognise that as a city skyline," Jason said, gesturing toward Valcen's 'ivory thorn' that grew slowly as they approached. "What is it?"
"Oh," Valcen said, gathering his thoughts. "It's... I suppose the best way to describe it is as something between, ah, perimeter fencing and decoration or monument."
[01:02] Edaaj peered out at the sight as they slowly approached. Inside, deep inside, there was panic, but resignation lay on it like a weighted blanket to keep it from surfacing. The only outward sign of it, aside from her expression – doubtless opaque to the humans – was the faint movement of her feathers as she vibrated with the tension.
[01:06] It surprised even her that she should be as still as she was. But then, what good would it do to jump up, to panic, to run? Within sight of Katal? Where could she possibly go? How would she hide? She would learn nothing from being captured, except, perhaps, the sheer depth and meaning of the mistakes she'd made to get her to that point.
[01:12] And it had occurred to her, too, that Valcen was taking on a form of risk in having cooperated in maintaining her ruse. Should it become obvious to the Nayabaru that the supposedly compliant kavkem was no such thing... Valcen would not be able to help. He might have enough trouble for himself, and, indeed, his self-preservation would likely depend on a claim of having been fooled by an unusually good actor.
[01:14] No, the panic could wait – would have to wait – for a private moment, provided she ever had one again.
[01:16] Aloud, but very faintly, she murmured a single word as she stared at Katal's outline in the distance: "Tkanala." Even now, she did not know if the prize she sought would be worth it.