Ocean Of Light
[14:55] Exhaustion had long since been a problem with Nadani's party, but the romantic notion of reaching the landing site before dusk and then resting there shattered against the reality of a hot desert afternoon.
In the forests and even the sparse lowlands at the foot of the mountain ridges, sunlight was a Tarnish threat they had learnt to avoid. Out in the desert, the reflected sunlight itself seemed sinister, crushing, constricting. And while some were willing to press on regardless under Athechelt's implicit cosmological authority, the uncertainty magnified their physiological unease.
It felt wrong to stop with the intent of mere rest, surrounded by pure Tarnish, in the knowledge of what it had done to the Nayabaru. But rest was easy when most of them had been up the whole night before. Some bundled themselves into a sit and instantly fell asleep.
Nadani just felt exhausted.
She was staring at the relentless light beyond the confines of their hastily erected tent. The gusts of wind were gentle enough in their absolute strength, but came as sudden burst that added to the threatening landscape – a promise that their spindly constructed tent could be whisked away at any time.
They were somewhere between half and two-thirds of the way to the landing site, and she was having a crisis of faith.
[14:56] She had previously never quite been consciously aware that she doubted Tarnish. She couldn't speak it aloud as long as Athechelt was here, couldn't admit that her upbringing was still providing her with a cosmological framework completely different from Nitish Ynas.
But here, embedded in it, suffering from the dry heat and the brightness, it seemed so real. And she had brought them here. She was driving them through it.
She crept over to Idarago wordlessly, restless and distressed, searching for a conversation she couldn't bring herself to start. "We're losing so much time," she whispered helplessly – the Watcher habit of speech – while both tangibly confused and distressed. "But it looks like we'll be here until nightfall. Do you want to sleep?" Implicit, she hoped, the question: Can we talk?
[17:07] Everything was alarming, they were hiding under a glorified blanket, and Idarago found himself wondering if sunlight was the only corrupting force in the sky. If sunlight made one cruel and savage and repulsed by the natural cycle of life, like Nayabaru, was there another form of energy that drove people mad and reckless? Because apparently his whole pack had been exposed to it.
Himself very much included.
He'd ask Athechelt, but he was sensibly asleep, as all good kavkem should be. Which presumably meant Watchers were crazy kavkem by default. Maybe it was the reflected Tarnish that caused insanity?
"I'm not sure I can sleep," Idarago admitted in a whisper of his own. "I've gotten used to staying awake until it's dark, and I'm nervous." Surviving this would fix the nervousness, one way or the other. The former, though? That could be a problem, given there was no Dusk Watcher and two Dawn Watchers; one of them was going to have to swap eventually.
[18:02] From Nadani's perspective, this was too much light even for a Watcher. Her eyes were aching in a way they hadn't hours earlier, when she had been in constant motion across the desert, returning to the group. What was different now? Her mindset?
She picked at the leather strings of the generous flask of water weighing her necklace down. She felt thirsty, but it was a sensation in her head, not in her throat, so she was quietly filing it away as purely psychological. "I doubt we're at much risk of Nayabaru, despite being as exposed as we are," she whispered. "We're still too far from the landing site to attract attention and there's nothing else out here that's interesting." Well, except us.
[18:07] She shifted a little closer to Idarago and lightly butted her head against his shoulder, dragging her muzzle along the side of his neck, breathing through the sparse mane, making the tufts of the feathers flutter. She wanted to say: "Rest should be more important than Watching." She did say, quietly: "I've never seen this much Tarnish."
[02:38] Neither had Edaaj. She didn't want to, either. She'd gotten a bit in her eye, nonetheless, when the two had started whispering and woken her up; she'd squeezed the eye shut again, but sleep hadn't returned.
[02:39] A sigh and brief blast of air from her nostrils may have signaled to the Watchers, perhaps, that they were no longer the only ones that were awake, but she gave no sign of joining the conversation.
[05:19] He leaned back on her and didn't blurt 'but you ran across the desert with a stolen tarp'; that was dawn, not full day, and arguably this was still the same event. "...why would the creatures aim for the middle of the desert?" he finally voiced. "They can FLY. Flying things don't come here. Nothing really comes here by choice, barely even Nayabaru."
The aliens had hair, came from the sky and had landed in the place most exposed to Tarnish, when giant flying things belonged to the sea and coast. In the harsh light of day... he wasn't sure if they should be worried about the Tarnish corrupting them. Thumak would protect his own.
[00:21] Nadani considered the metal container one of the creatures had come from toward the end of their encounter. If one assumed that container had protected the visitors as they travelled, had been some kind of vehicle (which was her assumption, previously unchallenged in her mind), and that it had always looked that way, even as it descended – just glowing – then...
[00:22] "It's very flat out there. Maybe it makes for easier landing," she offered.
She caught Edaaj's snort – it was soft and fairly distant, but in the silence of their slumbering camp, she might as well have shouted 'I'm awake!'. Someone else that couldn't sleep. Nadani wasn't sure whether to be relieved or feel guilty. At least Idarago and she herself were Watchers – used to spending hours confronted by the Tarnish's existence.
Never this raw, though.
"It's still flat a lot closer to the mountains, though." Like right here. "Maybe they goofed that up?" She didn't sound very convinced – it was all helpless supposition.
While she spoke, she was eying Edaaj, as though trying to puzzle out if there was something that could be done about this lack of sleep. If they hadn't let Rakashei go off on his own, no doubt he'd have something in his bag of tricks to help.
[00:36] Without opening her eyes, Edaaj murmured, "Defense. Lines of sight. If they did not know whether their reception would be friendly, they would have seen wisdom in landing where others aren't, and where they could see any coming. And then they could fly away if they needed." At last, a sliver of bloodshot eye made an appearance. "For all the good it did them."
[00:43] Yeah. Yeah, they hadn't had the good sense to as much as flee back into their container back when the Nayabaru arrived. From all Nadani and Serademar had still noticed about the scene, themselves rather preoccupied with flight, they had just... stood there. Reckless, oblivious, it was all the same. "Perhaps," Nadani whispered across to Edaaj. "But you should try to get some rest."
[00:52] Eda strongly considered a cutting remark, but contented herself with: "I'm trying. But these are not the best conditions."
[00:55] It wasn't just the whispering, or even the brightness outside the tent. It was considerably warmer here than it was higher up, and even with the breeze, her thick feathers were proving to be uncomfortably good at trapping the heat.
[01:38] An 'I'm sorry' hovered on the top of Nadani's tongue, but she didn't quite manage to speak the apology. Instead, she dipped her muzzle in a gesture that was at least partially equivalent; as though perhaps speaking the words themselves would somehow be flippant in light of the gravity of their situation.
Then, quietly, she unhooked the hide of water from her necklace and awkwardly reached over to Edaaj, holding the item out to her in a silent offer. Edaaj had her own, really, but given it was hard to see from the outside how much was still in it, offering seemed polite, regardless.
[00:04] Edaaj hesitated, but then took the water. If it came down to it, she could pass back some of hers to Nadani.
[00:19] She took a drink – a small one, at least – handed back the hide, and whispered, "I don't suppose there will be a chance to examine their flying..." She hesitated. She hadn't seen enough of it, or heard it described well enough, to know the right term.
"...thing?" she finished awkwardly.
[01:56] "I don't know if it still has any parts that fly," Nadani apologised. "It didn't have any wings.
[01:59] "It looked more like... a seed, perhaps?" she mused, trying to recall the shape of the vessel that she'd never had the chance to inspect in any detail, especially through the cluster of rocks that Serademar and her had hidden in. "Possibly a very oddly shaped egg. Metal, though, not egg-shell."
[17:04] "I'm not sure we'd be braving the desert if they'd brought a giant flying eggshell with them," he murmmured. "There'd be too many traps being laid by terrified Nayabaru. We might be too small for such a bird but they'd be nicely snack sized."
[17:14] Nadani snorted in mild amusement at the idea of the metallic container cracking open to reveal a monstrously large carnivore. What had the last great predators been? Leather-winged stalkers? That would be a fitting thing for a sky egg to birth. But surely even those had had average sized eggs. It was always tricky to tell from an egg's size alone how large an adult was likely to be.
[17:15] I'm not sure we'd be braving the desert even given the attributes the visitors and their tools have, if I hadn't pushed for it, Nadani thought. The doubt briefly flickered through her posture – easy for someone who knew her well to spot.
But when she next spoke, she commented on something else entirely. "I know this light makes it difficult," she whispered, her voice clear in the silence of the desert pan despite its softness, diffused only by the slow breathing of the others of the group. "But we should all rest."
[17:40] Idarago caught the shadow of unease passing over Nadani and resisted his first instinct – whipping around to set his own eyes on the threat – mostly out of long hours of practice. Watchers shouldn't make sudden moves. Nadini had drilled him on that. Sudden motion attracted attention, and that could be fatal for the whole pack.
Instead he turned more smoothly and squinted against the glare. It still looked flat, featureless and empty to him. And bright. Definitely bright. The few extant shadows were still in their place and no new ones had joined them. He glanced back at Nadini. Something she'd seen and dismissed? They were all jumpy.
Which was justified, and why he objected to her statement. "Edaaj and one of us should rest. But we need someone on Watch. Just in case." He looked back over the group, paused at the tangle of feathers that were several kavkem huddling for comfort, tried to run angles in his head. "...and because I think someone will have to prod whoever that tail belongs to after noon, I think the shadow's edge might drift over it a few hours before dusk."
[18:03] A brief tension caught Nadani's shoulders as Ago glanced into the landscape, making much the same error in judgement he had – before realising that he must have reacted to something she'd done. Well, yes, if you're going to keep worrying about the mission you yourself designed, that's going to happen a few more times, she chided herself in the privacy of her thoughts.
"How rested do you feel?" she asked Ago. "I think we're all tired beyond the luxury of two simultaneous Watchers, but I'm not sure which one of us should Watch."
[16:20] He considered that. Truthfully he didn't feel very rested at all; he may be trained for Watching schedules, but not for the dawn shift. He'd probably wake up more past midday if the efforts of the night didn't catch up first.
On the other hand, it wasn't a question of whether he could do it. It was a question of which of them was more suitable to do it. "I feel tired, but that's why you should sleep first," Ago admitted. "You've been awake longer and running through the desert. You need the rest more."
The landscape remained tauntingly bright. "Unless you think the Nayabaru are likely to come across us after all. Because if they do, I don't think it will be until near dusk, and you're a better fighter than I am. Just in case you need to be fresh."
[16:31] The observation knotted in Nadani's gut. Please let that not be an actual scenario, she pleaded inwardly, directing it at nothing in particular. The situation was certainly daunting enough without needing to worry about the Nayabaru before finding where they might have taken the visitors. "Then let's take turns at some quick rest," Nadani suggested. "When you get too tired to keep Watch as well as continue the trek after the others have rested, wake me, and I'll continue the Watch."
[16:38] That was a comprimise he hadn't considered. It made sense though, and meant no-one had to guess times by the position of the shadows, which was far safer in a place where the shadows were thin enough to begin with.
"Alright," Idarago agreed, lightly nuzzling her neck, both offering and seeking comfort. "I'll last at least a few hours. Hopefully we'll get enough rest to keep us going."