[22:37] While Valcen filed himself away to one end of the room, evidently intent to get back to work – and, given his remark about 'erosion', who could blame him? – Ryrha led Baishar to the makeshift tent. From up close, the fabric seemed thin enough not to give a heavy impression, although still impressively impermeable to light for all practical purposes.
Ryrha wiggled in under the edge, prompting the other kavkem to follow.
[22:38] To one like Baishar, who had spent his recent time in a tiny cell, the interior of the dark tent seemed fit for at least five kavkema. The ground consisted of several layers of textiles, topped off with nearly enough pillows to conceal the soft underground, an impossible comfortable contrast to how he'd had to live just an hour ago.
"<Welcome to 'my' home, as you put it,>" Ryrha said. "<Not much ownership to it. I just use it and quietly count myself thankful for the privilege.>" She stepped aside, leaving most of the space to Baishar, a silent prompt for him to choose a spot first.
[23:14] In comparison to everything he'd been through, the inside of the tent was like walking into a beautiful dream. Space, darkness, soft floors. Away from the prying eyes of Tanak. For a moment, he half-expected the smell of a nighttime forest, but of course that was a pointless hope. He was still deep within Katal, deep beneath the earth; nothing could hide that fact forever, but at least this small piece held comforts rather than horrors.
Baishar took Ryrha's cue to make himself comfortable, exploring the interior for a bit. He found himself a spot near one of the edges of the tent, leaving plenty of room for Ryrha and eventually Valcen. Though he was sure to place the 'wall' of the tent on the opposite side of where the wall to his cell had constrained him. He stretched out on the soft ground, his muzzle sinking into a pillow, eyes half-lidded, his tail gently brushing back and forth, enjoying the freedom of motion.
[23:24] Ryrha watched him in silence as he sought his place, then trotted over, easing herself into a sit, limbs tucked under her body. She wasn't quite leant into Baishar – they didn't know each other that well yet – but there wasn't very much space between them. Her muzzle reached over and she gave his shoulder a preening nibble.
"<I'm going to reiterate what I said earlier,>" she said, although her voice was soft now – modulated for not having to carry far, driven by an instinct born of the conflict with the Nayabaru: Silence was better, but if you had something to say, it was best to say it quietly. "<You were an idiot to agree to Valcen's deal. You could have tried to argue with him, at least.>
[23:25] "<At the moment he could ask you to gouge out one of your eyes and purely by rights you'd have to do it,>" she observed.
...that was an alarming thought. Was Valcen the type to ask and insist on such things? She seemed fairly relaxed – so perhaps not. On the other hand, nateha were not exactly famous for having the same ethical understanding as kavkema.
[00:05] Baishar let out a soft, drawn-out sigh at Ryrha's insistence on his idiocy, his eyes rolling shut for a long moment. Her patient observation elicited a minor jolt from him, the mental image frighteningly easy to realize. One eye rolled open, focusing on her, trying to gauge how likely she thought that scenario was.
After a few moments of silence, he asked in a voice as quiet as hers, "<Does he strike you as the sort to demand such cruel things for no reason?>"
[00:11] "<He doesn't strike me as anything in particular,>" Ryrha responded, without missing a beat. The clarification takes a moment to coalesce from the silence, though, separated from the initial statement by another light preening: "<He has a much larger range of emotion than he commonly lets on. I think he's capable of just about anything.>
[00:12] "<As, I suppose, one would expect of Q'ur.>"
The hypothetical deity's name is said calmly and matter-of-factly – as though she's not speculating about his identity, she's simply given it the name it deserves.
[02:31] The name caught Baishar doubly by surprise — that Ryrha was a fellow Lekshariagadech was unexpected, though perhaps not surprising in retrospect, if Valcen had approached her similarly to how he'd approached him. Though evidently he hadn't demanded 'complete obedience' from her.
That she considered Valcen the foretold Q'ur, counterpart to and ultimate enemy of Garukaron, bringer of the end of all things in madness and chaos, could only be an error.
His fragile mind, already reeling from too many shocks to his worldview, simply refused to consider the possibility. "<He isn't Q'ur,>" he replied, eyeing Ryrha with a mix of skepticism and confusion. A moment later, his curiosity got the better of him. "<What makes you think he is?>" Surely it wasn't just a large range of emotions. Tamachelu was as capable of rage as she was of kindness — though the former, the rare times it was spoken of, was often an expression of the latter, like a mother's protective instinct.
[22:30] Ryrha glanced in the direction of Valcen as though she might be able to peer through the drapes. Rather than answer the question directly, she said: "<You'll see.>"
That it happened to be obvious to her even without the evidence she expected Baishar to come across – that she had come across well after realising she was dealing with a new god, necessarily the only that was still unaccoutned for – gave her no reason to strongarm Baishar into the realisation now. It would solve itself in due time.
"<What do you think?>" she asked, with just enough pause to make it clear she was asking about the situation in general, as opposed to Valcen's pantheon-identity.
[04:03] And here he was, thinking Valcen was mysterious. 'You'll see.' If somehow Valcen was Q'ur, it seemed like the sort of thing he ought to be worried about — that Ryrha's hypothetical scenario was far more likely than he suspected. And yet she didn't seem to care one way or another about it. Perhaps it wasn't worth worrying about — he'd already agreed to the terms, whether it was foolish to do so or not.
It took Baishar a moment to realize what Ryrha was asking about. He closed his eyes, letting his muzzle sink another centimeter into the pillow. "<Far too many things,>" he replied, voice slightly muffled. Where could he begin? Everything was jumbled together. "<The reality of it all is... unexpected. An hour ago I was in a cell. Now I'm involved with... all this. I don't know how long it will take to fully accept that. To process all the implications. There are too many of them.>"
[23:58] She brought her attention back to him, resuming a friendly preening as he shared his thoughts. For long moments, it seemed as though the physical attention was going to be all she was going to comment on the matter, too; then she rolled onto her side, facing him, letting her head rest on the pillows as well, although in clear sight of Baishar.
"<I find it easiest to map out the extreme scenarios and come to terms with those,>" she revealed and advised. For a moment, she lingered on her own words, considering whether it was reasonable to continue, or whether Baishar was best left to untangle his own thoughts first.
She concluded that some examples were needed. "<One example: I have no doubt he's capable of completely erasing our culture and species, were he to put his mind to it. It's not his professed goal, but we've... somewhat spoken about it as a fallback, if all else fails. I think that would be a decent outcome.>"
[01:00] Ryrha's shift in posture tugged at Baishar's attention. A moment later he rolled onto his side, mirroring her posture, a soft 'clink' from the chains still attached to his collar. ...He should probably ask Valcen about getting that removed at some point, but now was not the time. He could live with it — had lived with it for some time, even, if life in the Pens could be called living.
Pushing those thoughts aside, he leaned his head forward, gently preening at Ryrha's neck and shoulder as he pondered her words. Mapping out extreme scenarios. How could he map anything out, though? All he had was shreds of information pulling in varying directions. Only some of those directions were even into the future; several pointed to questions whose answers lay in the past.
Her example prompts a pause in the preening. "Qasaia <for all the kavkema?>" The notion was mildly disturbing. On an individual basis, death could easily be a mercy; all kavkema, regardless of creed, knew this deep in their bones. But for their people as a whole...?
"<It... isn't the worst fate I can imagine,>" he replied, tone ambivalent. He resumed picking at a few stray feathers, smoothing them out as he smoothed out his thoughts. "<But the loss of the stories, of everything that ties us together... Who would remember who we were? Tamachelu, perhaps Maenona, but I doubt any other god would care.>" Probably not even Valcen, if he were successful at his goals.
Even if it could happen, there was still an obstacle in the way, obvious once you knew where to look for it. "<Do you think the Nayabaru would let him do that?>"
[01:13] There was a subtle discomfort in her body language at the nibbling on her mane, but it dissipated quickly. They were perhaps not quite friends yet, working their way through the social steps that would get them there and beyond – and mere acquaintances didn't often go near the neck, though given their manes, it wasn't taboo.
"<For what it's worth, he promised to keep our stories,>" she mused, softly. "<Although whether he will remember that when the time comes...?>" The musing trailed off into a verbal shrug.
Then she shifted her wandering gaze back to Baishar, her attention to his last question. "<I don't think the Nayabaru would let him do that. But I don't think they're clever enough to know he's planning it until it's too late to stop him.>" A pause. "<Easier still if the Karesejat...>"
[01:14] Again, she trailed off, this time as if superstitious that speaking of the Karesejat's dethronement or demise might mysteriously come to guard her from any such fate.
[02:04] There was a soft snort at the mention of his promise, but he didn't bother replying in words. Valcen had just commented about his own erosion, after all. It was strange that he'd 'promised', though, given how unwilling he was to promise he'd manage to help Tamachelu. It was also strange that Ryrha believed him, if she thought he was Q'ur.
At the mention of the Karesejat, there was a ripple of tension through Baishar, as if some part of him were convinced speaking of her might summon her. As Ryrha trailed off, he gave his muzzle a light upwards flick, taking care to avoid her feathers. "<She would know.>" Ka resejat. She who sees, with eyes in many places. "<And I'm sure he has plans for... doing something about her. But she is a> havnateh."
There was a brief silence as Baishar rolled the idea around in his head, continuing preening her absentmindedly — though avoiding the neck, this time around. "<For a plan for if all else fails, this still seems to require many things to work,>" he noted, tone one of neutral, almost academic interest.
[02:16] A strange look passed through Ryrha at the mention of the Karesejat being havnateh – part amusement, part certainty, part confusion or question, distantly like a parent who wasn't quite sure if they could appreciate the exact depth of a hatchling's struggling comprehension. "Baishar," she addressed him, in a tone of patience. "<So is he.>"
[02:47] A thread of irritation weaved its way through his body. He isn't Q'ur, he nearly insisted. There's no evidence for it. Instead, he focused on what he knew to be true. "<He wants to help Tamachelu,>" he replied, tone struggling to remain even. "<Which makes him unlike any havnateh we know of. It's entirely possible there are others we don't know of, but if he is...>"
His voice trailed off, a poisonous thought crawling out of his gut and sinking its claws into his mind. "<Was,>" he corrects, though it's unclear which of them he's correcting. "<Even if he was one, he isn't now. And... I'm not sure yet about this, but... I think Terenyira was involved with this, somehow. With the reason he's in this state to begin with. I just don't know precisely how yet.>" Maybe he was going to learn.
[02:54] Again, a strange glance from Ryrha, not quite the same flavour of before – concern mixing in? Weighing her options? Gauging if it was the right time for a particular comment, perhaps? Wherever it had come from, she visibly suppressed those first instincts. "<Oh, he'll tell you,>" she said, with a subdued tone of promise.
[03:50] More strange looks, more awkward silence, more frustrating statements. "<I'm sure he will, once I ask him.>" In the meantime, he'd been hoping to have some time to sort through his thoughts, take a rest from the constant shifts in the metaphysical ground beneath him. Apparently Ryrha, despite her best intentions, wasn't going to let that happen.
Baishar pulled his muzzle back from her, for a long moment watching her, trying to decipher her expression. Concerned? Confused? He couldn't tell. He pushed himself up into a sit, a reversed motion from hers not too long ago.
"<Regardless,>" he added after that long moment of silence, "<I doubt considering the possible ends is likely to help me.>" A soft sigh, his gaze staring downwards past Ryrha, into the distance, as he tried to put thoughts into words. "<I already know the rough shape of the end I hope for. That at least is obvious. The path to get there is not. And if nothing else — even if he is, or was, a havnateh — he's taking a step along that path. Even if for him it's a step back to what he was, if I can understand it, if I can follow, it's a step forward.>
"<It's the specifics around that step, around Valcen himself, that are troubling and confusing. The privileges. The alliance with the Karesejat. The need to tamper with eggs, to get a host that works for him. The very fact that he's a former god turned mortal, a concept that by all rights should not exist.>" That last sentence was almost hissed, and accompanied by a look of disgust, feathers puffing out briefly. "<...And now, apparently, he's also a havnateh. Maybe you're right and he is Q'ur. I don't know.>"
[04:07] Ryrha stared at him as if he'd said something insane, but she was considering it regardless. Which part was it? That he had a specific goal in mind, despite the chaos he'd just been thrown into? That he was trying to become a deity? That he wanted to become one? That the whole setup wasn't transparent to him? That he was using the word 'maybe' in relation to Q'ur?
Finally, she let her muzzle slip back down to the ground and her gaze crawl into the shadows above her head, and sighed. "<When he's calmed down and you've settled into your situation, I suggest you talk to him about what brought him here, and what he's doing,>" she recommended. "<What he's planning. Judge for yourself; decide how far you really want to trust him.>"
Even though the arrangement of those words suggested he shouldn't trust Valcen absolutely, there was almost a hint of a matter-of-fact threat woven into her tone, as if she might intervene if the answer was anything other than 'absolutely'.
[04:08] In either case, it seemed clear Ryrha wasn't plotting how to best stop Valcen. Instead, she seemed to be wearing her intentions to manipulate the budding havnateh openly. What had Valcen told Ryrha to make her this complacent? She certainly didn't seem submissively inclined. How did that mesh with her theory that he was Q'ur?
She didn't seem entirely arrogant enough, not quite, to think she simply had that influence naturally.
[19:28] The stare from Ryrha didn't particularly bode well for their attempts at friendship. She thinks I'm crazy. Why? Baishar pressed his lips to a thin line, going through what he said, trying to pick out what it was — not that he didn't have a guess. Wanting a qidravem was an uncommon belief among kavkema outside Leksharia, and even within Leksharia there were those who didn't see the value in trying to obtain one. Granted, he'd never actually met any Lekshariagadecha who weren't also Dynasharigadecha, but he knew abstractly they were there.
What were the odds Ryrha was from a different branch? He had no idea of their relative numbers; he'd always assumed Dynashari to be the overwhelming majority, but that could just have been due to where he was — and Katal didn't care where a kavkem was from. But given her reaction to his statements, given the difficulty he'd had so far, it was unlikely she adhered to the same variant that he did.
How much of that mythological basis did they actually share? Was there something from her understanding of the state of the gods that gave her more reason to believe Valcen was Q'ur?
Baishar was silent for a long time, in part mulling over his conjecture about Ryrha, in part trying to soothe the emotions roiling in his gut, in part still trying to process the situation as a whole. Finally, he spoke, his tone a mixture of confusion and cautious curiosity. "<If he is Q'ur... why are you so eager to help him? What do you hope to achieve?>"
[19:50] Still lying on her side, she closed her eyes, but reached out gently with one forepaw to touch blunted claws against Baishar's nearest limb, a soft contact. "<I'm not 'eager' so much as 'willing',>" she revealed. "<While I've only known him for a few weeks, he's already willing to defer to my opinion on some matters.>
[19:51] "<Could the situation be any better? I doubt it. I could have refused to take any part in this scenario, which would have deprived me of all opportunity to influence anything at all. I could have plotted and arranged for his death, but despite his current project, I doubt that would truly stop him – he might recoalesce a few hundred years from now, well after I've died.>
[19:53] "<No, this seems the safest and surest way to make the best of the situation, this... culmination of> Kaar'heril. <Benevolence toward the Nayabaru need not strictly manifest as malevolence toward the kavkema. Someone must accept that responsibility – why not I?>
"<And why not you?>" Her eyes opened and her muzzle lifted, glancing at Baishar with friendly encouragement, with a flicker of hope.
[21:26] There was a moment of tension at Ryrha's touch, but as she spoke it was quick to dissipate. Things began to fall into place in Baishar's mind, now that he was not trying to match her worldview with his own, now that he could think to view things from another angle. Suppose Valcen was Q'ur, shoved into mortal form. The logic from that premise seemed reasonable — particularly that killing this incarnation wouldn't stop the inevitable.
It was strange to him that an incarnation of Q'ur would bother listening to her opinions. It was strange to him that Q'ur would be considered benevolent to the Nayabaru. But neither of these were entirely inconceivable, if he started from the core tenets of Leksharia. The gods themselves that once shaped this world were surpassed by yet greater powers. Tamachelu by Terenyira. Maenona by Vemar. Tkanetar by Zysthea. Garukaron by Q'ur. Not all of these had yet come to pass, but all would come with time.
The mention of Kaar'heril confirmed his earlier suspicion — he recognized the term, though he knew very little of the details behind the so-called 'cursed fate'. From the name and from Ryrha's seeming acceptance of Q'ur's arrival, he imagined it must be less optimistic about the kavkema's hopes of mattering than Dynashari. And yet... there was some hope in her eyes. You believe you can make a difference.
Baishar leaned down and nuzzled Ryrha's shoulder, one forepaw tracing blunted claws gently along her outstretched arm. An affectionate gesture, forgiving, understanding. There was a soft sigh, more relieved than anything else, as if releasing a long-held breath. "<I'm afraid my familiarity with the teachings of> Kaar'heril <is lacking,>" he began. "<I was brought up with> Dynashari." In case somehow that wasn't blindingly obvious.
"<I suppose... I doubt we are so close to the End of Time that Q'ur would reveal verself. I believe there may yet be some time we have to make a difference, to aid the old gods in making the transition to> havnateha, <becoming powerful enough to stand against the new.>" He exhaled a sigh, lifting his head to look at Ryrha directly, his expression saddened. "<It sounds like you think it's too late for that?>"
[21:39] Ryrha seemed to consider the question for a moment, perhaps trying to fit her square Kaar'heril peg into the Dynashari circular hole, match them up enough to squeeze some mutual coherence from the frameworks.
Finally, she shook her head, though her forepaw continued to pet absent-mindedly at Baishar. "<If the stories are to be believed, Tamachelu has been fleeing from Terenyira for several thousand years. No one speaks of credible tales of her ever as much as attempting to stand up to the Karesejat.>"
She looked thoughtful for a moment, her gaze losing itself for a long moment. "<If all that time has brought her no closer to being a> havnateh, <when do you think that would change?>"
[22:19] Baishar tilted his head thoughtfully, listening patiently. "<What is a thousand years to a god?>" he commented initially, the question purely rhetorical, if a bit trite. A long moment later, he replied, "<But in truth, I think she needs help, and neither Maenona nor Garukaron are in a position to provide it. She has had kavkema and yirha, but we can only aid her so much. The path of ascension is never easy, and it only gets harder the further along the path one is.>
"<But Valcen... whoever or whatever he is... is at least willing to help her. Intends to help her. He told me as much, and I believe he was telling the truth.>" He shifted back onto his side, slightly closer to Ryrha now, giving her another comforting nuzzle. "<Between that and the opportunity to learn about> qidravema, <I knew I couldn't refuse his offer.>"
[22:32] "<While I think he believes it when he says it, I'm not sure it's true,>" Ryrha cautioned. "<But I suppose we're in the best position to find out, one way or another...>" she added, her voice soft, almost as if it were speaking of a dream.
She brought her muzzle around to bump it against Baishar, preened a few of the feathers in the area absent-mindedly, then rubbed her head against his shoulder a little more vigorously. A moment later, she let herself drop back down, stretching herself out a little, making herself accessible, though absent even the slightest demand for attention.
"<You know, I do think you're strange to pursue> qidravema," she smiled at him. "<But what does it matter? We all have unusual goals. That's why we're here.>"