[01:03] Amongst kavkema, 'safety' was a colloquial euphemism for 'far away from the Nayabaru'. There was no true safety, so there was no use keeping the word around for its strictly traditional meaning.
Two nights after escaping the Nayabaru settlement with their new alien friends, after letting them get provisions and some gear from their landing vessel, they had gained enough distance to the scene of their nebulous crime that they felt reasonably sure that the Nayabaru would not descend upon them in immediate vengeance.
The humans had brought heavy rucksacks with them and some kind of light-weight tarp-and-aluminium-pole construct that they set up to sleep in. A lot of what they did seemed unwieldy and troublesome – Evenatra explained they were taking precautions not to catch any diseases on this planet, which is why they never publically took off their strange clothes.
She learnt a great deal more about their language, speaking it with them at every opportunity, by own claims gradually becoming a less awkward conversationalist. Her companions couldn't tell much about the quality of the conversations they heard, but a change was perceptible.
Athechelt carefully chose not to view it as evidence of her divinity, clinging to a thread of scepticism as a precious commodity, unsure when it might yet save their lives.
As the third night rolled in, with the roughly diurnal humans that had been slowing the group down during the night time treks finally adjusted to a nocturnal rhythm, Rakashei happened upon the group again.
By the looks of things, he had lost one companion and replaced him with two others.
[16:48] Nothing made sense and everything was confusing.
He was a Watcher. It was his job to be awake by day, and it was increasingly obvious that this was the humans' nature too. They were diurnal mammals. They were more Tkanetar's than even the Nayabaru. And yet... and yet they were being friendly. They listened to the warnings about Tarnish. They made (admittedly humorous) attempts to groom. They – and this he found compelling – had not been visibly mistreated by the Nayabaru, and yet DID NOT SCREAM and alert the Nayabaru to his and Evenatra's presence.
It didn't make sense from beings who, by the sheer nature of their diyurnal-ness, HAD to have lived their lives in sunlight.
...maybe the light of other stars wasn't corrupting? He'd tried, tentatively, raising this with Athechelt, without success, but being in the presence of two potentially corrupted and/or insane kavkem (Idarago refused to recant what he'd seen and Athechelt had been treating him oddly ever since) plus several aliens had left their ryrhakenem on edge. And now more strangers were coming to unbalance things.
...maybe the humans would let Idarago hide in their tarp-cave?
[17:12] There was no sound as Rakashei and his two kavkem strangers approached – no one shouted to greet them, no one whispered amongst themselves. Instead, several heads pointed their way, expressing their curiosity in couteous silence.
Athechelt stepped toward them, bridging the last few metres. A quiet gesture rippled through him, muzzle dipping in concerned greeting. "Welcome," he whispered. Then he let his attention drift to Rakashei and with a concerned but no less subdued tone, he asked: "And what of Serademar?"
"We met another kavkem," Rakashei offered, a little nervously – he couldn't honestly say that he felt Serademar was in good hands, even if formally 'two kavkema' was the perfect size for a group. Akuned just did not feel as though she should count as a whole person when the counting was done for safety's sake. "Her and Serademar are still looking for further help."
That seemed to mostly soothe Athechelt; he took the opportunity to glance back at the newcomers. "Athechelt," he introduced himself, pawing briefly at his own chest with his free hand. Despite the budding conversation, one of the two newcomers was peeling away, heading toward the alien visitors with a look of deep curiosity.
"Kalina, of Dynash," the remaining kavkem introduced herself. "And Yanaru," she gestured, loosely, to her moving companion. "He cannot speak, so he is not as interested in pleasantries, but I assure you that you have his full interest and support. We assumed from the tracks that you had successfully rescued some of these creatures, but it is good to see we were right."
"As near as we dared to verify it, the landing site is overrun with Nayabaru," Rakashei whispered. "No doubt they are preying on that the visitors might return." Nervously, he glanced over to where Yanaru was headed – he'd never seen a human, of course, and their alien proportions and posture disturbed him on a fundamental level.
[04:03] Edaaj regarded Yanaru's approach sufficiently to determine that another kavkem was approaching, but quickly lost interest. She had spent most of the return journey following the aliens and keenly watching them interact with each other – and with Evenatra.
[04:19] She remained rather uncertain about Evenatra. That she claimed to be Tamachelu was concerning. That Idarago had claimed to see some of her power was baffling. But Eda had, eventually, thrust these concerns aside; regardless of the reason for it, Evenatra seemed to be making considerable progress in speaking to the aliens.
[04:25] Eda wanted to do that too. What things they must have seen! What things they must know! She had tried, while trying also to look like she wasn't trying, to listen quietly to the conversations Evenatra had with them, but so far only the occasional word had begun to make any sense.
[04:34] She had been trying, with increasing difficulty, to stop herself from asking Evenatra if there was anything she could teach her about their language. She had a vague sense that Athechelt might be unnerved by it, though the reason why escaped her.
[04:42] Now, in relative safety, her ability to restrain herself crumbled. She diffidently approached Evenatra. "Excuse me," she offered, "but how difficult, do you think, would it be for another kavkem to learn the hyuman language?"
[05:46] Evenatra was presently helping one of the humans – Sahmanta or somesuch – dismantle one of the tents. She paused as she was sliding a metal rod into a more compact form, like a telescope, peering with some curiosity at Edaaj, mildly but not unpleasantly bewildered that the conversation would be struck up now.
"...well," she reasoned, a bit haltingly. "It's a different language. In principle, it would be a little harder than it would be for a kavkem to learn Naya, which, as you know, is routinely done. In practise, there are no teachers to do so. In time, I could be one, or once I teach the hyumans enough Kendaneivash, they may be able to take on the role."
She eyed Edaaj as though suspecting that might not quite have been the question the engineer had meant to ask. "In the mean-time, I can translate almost anything you'd like," she offered, smiling. "Communicating a thought might take a few tries, but I can probably get it across. Is there something you want to tell them?"
Yanaru had paused at a polite distance and listened. Silently, he brought up a forepaw and picked at his teeth with his claws, his attention on Evenatra in particular. Perhaps the claim that she could speak to the visitors had caught his attention.
Meanwhile, Athechelt was flicking his muzzle to Rakashei. "Surreal though it may be, we were able to observe that the Nayabaru mean these visitors no harm – so far, at least. Indeed, some of these aliens made the conscious choice to stay with the Nayabaru." He did not seem happy about it – or even sure how to present that information with any confidence.
"We've met two members of Shyilun," he explained, gesturing with his staff first to Evenatra, then to Asraaban. "They would have extracted the other aliens as well, no matter the cost, but I've prioritised the safety of the group. A few more days of travel and we may rest easy, confident that the Nayabaru will invest their resources in something other than hunting us specifically."
Kalina bristled in dual alarm and confusion – she and Yanaru had been called in for a rescue mission and now the local ryrhakenem was telling her that the humans needed no rescuing? It wasn't offensive, but impossibly quaint. "Why do you assume they will stop hunting you?" she asked, softly.
Athechelt inclined his muzzle, puzzled. "They always do."
Kalina let her gaze drift over to the humans. "Yet you usually travel with fellow kavkema only. Might that not be part of the reason the Nayabaru relent? What value might these creatures have to them?"
[06:19] Edaaj felt slightly uncomfortable under the scrutiny. "To ask them, I suppose," she muttered. "But what I want to ask them is... well, everything. About their world, and how they traveled through the sky, and their devices. I imagine it would take time away from other concerns."
[01:33] Kalina's question visibly inspired unease into Athechelt, as though it were twisting a dagger in a wound he'd only poorly been dressing with his own assurances, for want of any better tactic.
He glanced at Evenatra from afar, grimacing at her, plainly discontent with her and her actions – though he was evidently willing to give Nadani a pass for the same hubris, as the originator of the 'noble' idea of rescuing these strangers within his own group.
Sighing, he said: "I cannot guess. I want only safety for my people and, circumstances permitting, for these foreign creatures that have done us no harm. If you think it wise, we will extend our flight by a few more days—"
"At least one yennedo," Kalina suggested, with a gentle firmness. "No less."
"...we will tire long before then," Athechelt observed, tiredly. "What would make the Nayabaru hunt us for as much as even half a yennedo?"
"I too can only speculate, yiluita," Kalina lowered her muzzle respectfully. "But it stands to reason that before we fully understand the Nayabaru's interest in these strangers, we must assume they are of extreme value to them. Should we underestimate their interest, it will be too late to fix our misconception later."
Meanwhile, Yanaru was settling into a respectful sit at a polite distance away from Evenatra and Edaaj, although he made no secret of his interest in their conversation.
Evenatra considered Edaaj's question, her body language expressing a deep regret and concern for Edaaj, as though there was something to the knowledge she sought that would do her harm eventually. "Perhaps," she offered, her tone friendly. "We might ask them about it, one question at a time?"
[17:10] "Kalina may have a point," Asraaban interjected, reluctantly. They'd been careful with names, there were Shyilun laying a false trail at great distance, it was UNLIKELY that the local Nayabaru or these lost humans would reveal their feint, but... he knew, from reports and Evenatra's tales, that if the Karesejat had motivation she would hunt this group across entire continents, and they stood little chance of outrunning her.
Perhaps it was for the best that this 'Valcen' was the one likely in pursuit. Perhaps he would be satisified with a portion of the humans. Even one was damaging enough. "In the interest of prepareness, it may to wise to think what to do if the Nayabaru are persistant." He looked around at the size of the group. "A controlled scatter?" There was, at least, one guaranteed way to ensure the Nayabaru chased Evenatra and himself, so that they could be led away from the humans.
[23:59] "The Nayabaru likely have sufficient numbers to track any scatter," Kalina presumed aloud. "And it would appear as though they would only need to track two groups even if we were to split into ten, if these creatures are indeed what they are after." Not privy to Asraaban's thoughts about the Karesejat, of which there was only one, she couldn't yet see the merit of the suggestion.
Athechelt pressed his muzzle against his story staff, closing his eyes in a soft grimace. Contingency plans for when the Nayabaru caught up with them struck him as futile – there was a reason the standard advice for Nayabaru interaction was 'run away as fast as your legs can carry you'. That this was more of an intermediary plan didn't make the awkward feeling go away.
"We could let them give us their foot-garments and use them to lay false tracks," Athechelt offered in defence of Asraaban's plan.
[14:10] That seemed like an excellent plan that they would, hopefully, not have to use; if the local Nayabaru seldom hunted kavkem this far, it was entirely possible they'd evade them with local knowledge. Decoys could help with that.
Asraaban swivelled to look more closely at the foot garments in question and paused. Looked down at his own claws. Considered the humans once more.
"If we're forced to do this, how DO we do this?" he mused aloud. "Their feet are... that's not how mammal feet usually go?" But mammals lacked hands and ran on all fours, so they were already exceptionally strange mammals. "I'm not familiar with the area, what local plants can be used to make significant quantities of string?"
[15:12] At that question, Athechelt's gaze shifted over to Edaaj. They were out of comfortable whispering range to the group's engineer, but Edaaj was still the expert on the topic.
Kalina followed his gaze, then began to quietly trudge over to Yanaru, pausing beside him to touch a paw to his feathers, her gaze taking in Evenatra, Edaaj, and the human wrestling what looked like a misshapen tarp into a bag behind them.
Then Athechelt passed them by, muzzle slightly lowered in a friendly approach to the two kavkema that were evidently having a conversation of their own. "Eda? We may need your advice."
[19:14] Edaaj had considered Evenatra's suggestion with visible hesitancy, possibly even mild anguish. She wanted to know – the idea of having to be drip-fed that knowledge through a third party was a terribly unsatisfying one.
[19:17] But life was not made to be satisfying; she knew that well enough. It would work, at least for now. And perhaps, over time – if there was time to be had – she could persuade Ghregg to teach her some of his words, enough to talk about... well, something.
[19:22] "Very well," she replied at last. "Could we start, perhaps, by asking if they use such devices all the time, even on their world? They seem very fond of-" She paused when Athechelt approached, and listened to his request. "Um? Oh. Yes?"
[19:24] Well, at least Evenatra had been made aware of one question. With any luck, she could compose more later.
[23:38] "This is Kalina, of Dynash," Athechelt introduced the newcomer. A moment of hesitation lingered as silence – then he gestured to Yanaru fleetingly, perhaps not altogether sure to what degree the mute wanted to be part of the conversation. "Her companion, Yanaru." He clasped at his story staff, regarding Edaaj respectfully.
Evenatra dipped her muzzle in formal greeting to the two Dynashgadecha. "Thank you for coming to assist us. I am Evenatra of Shyilun – I see you've already met Asraaban, my travel companion."
Kalina snapped her attention back to Asraaban, proving that she could identify who Evenatra meant by context, then back to Evenatra.
"Then you are the Shyilungadecha Athechelt mentioned. Your name seems somewhat... familiar," she observed, smiling lightly. "Though I suppose it is no surprise that the circumstances would attract those of certain fame. I apologise for remembering no details, but presume you must surely be an asset to these people."
"I haven't had much of an opportunity to," Evenatra responded. "But I hope you're right." Between two members of Dynash and two members of Shyilun, even if one were not a Threadwielder, the group was now well-stocked with tactical and strategic thinkers – perhaps still shy of the best imaginable constellation, but at least far up on the list of options.
Kalina's observation that she had heard at least one story of an Evenatra for a moment did not sit well with Athechelt – before it began to register that this was the first outside suggestion that Evenatra was perhaps not insane. Stories of insane kavkema were not very popular; if a mind did not lend itself to rhyme or reason, it was usually not narratively pleasing to speak about.
He lingered on the observation for a moment, his attention clearly wandered – then he snapped it back onto Edaaj, focussing his thoughts. "The question's come up whether we may be able to lay false trails of the visitors, without losing too much travelling speed in the process.
"Assuming our mammalian guests might lend us their peculiar foot garments to impersonate them, do you see a realistic means of pulling this trickery off?"
[00:48] Edaaj too had dipped her muzzle to the Dynashgadecha; it occurred to her only now that Yanaru had been lingering nearby for aomse few minutes and had failed to register on her awareness.
[00:53] But even this realization dissolved as she considered Athechelt's question. A few moments' consideration yielded some possibilities. "Possibly easiest, from a construction standpoint," she replied, "would be to insert a long stick into the foot garment and attach it with twine. There are some trees we passed not long ago, with spiky leaves; if one strips off the bark, the fibers beneath can be used to make a twine that is coarse but sturdy.
[00:57] "Another possibility – though it might take slightly longer – would be to create our own footwear. If we could find pieces of wood wide enough, we could carve their undersides to resemble the footwear, and flatten the tops so they could be stood upon, and strap them to one's feet. That would also disguise the involvement of the kavkema laying down the tracks, making it appear that the visitors had gone off alone, should that be desired."
[01:38] Athechelt absorbed the information, visibly trying to picture the constructs – and succeeding, judging by the affirmative swerve of his muzzle. "I hope this deception will not be necessary, but it helps to be prepared. How much of this could you work on while travelling? And how long would either of these ideas take to be made?"
[02:21] Edaaj gently moved her mouth as she tried to visualize each process. "The twine will be needed in either case," she said at last. "To harvest the fiber from the trees may take an hour or so, possibly more – depending on how much is needed, and if we take care to harvest it quietly. The signs of what was done to the trees will be very visible, regardless.
[02:24] "Trying to make the twine is best done while stationary, but I think I can do it while moving, if I have someone else ahead of me for me to follow and to hold the ends of the fibers; I will not be able to pay much attention to where I am going."
[02:27] She hesitated, considering the logistics of making the foot-boards. "Some decent lengths of twine can be made over several hours. The foot-boards, however, will be complicated. With a soft wood, I could possibly whittle a pair in an hour or two, but probably not while moving."
[03:39] "Then we will harvest the fibre now, and I will pair with you to make the twine," Athechelt suggested. "We can decide how to proceed afterward." He breathed deeply, almost rendering it as a sigh – this whole adventure was a few magnitudes larger than he strictly wanted anyone to be part of, but presumably it was well past the point where it could be helped.
Perhaps at some point he should talk to a different ryrhakenem about his dream and sort out, at the very least, when the tragedy was likely to hit, so he could stop constantly expecting it around the next corner.
He glanced across at Evenatra. "Could you explain this contingency plan to our guests once we begin our preparation work on it? And ask them about the footwear?"
Kalina looked at though she was about to ask a surprised question, but Yanaru raised a paw to touch at her shoulder, gazing up at her, drawing her attention down to him instead.
Once he had her attention, he let go, then began gesturing with his forepaws. When he finished, Kalina seemed to consider whatever information he had imparted for a moment, then brought down her muzzle, eyes closed, and rested it against his.
Evenatra, meanwhile, responded: "Of course. Do you want me to emphasise that it's a contingency plan?"
[15:10] Idarago stepped forward. "I can help Athechelt with the guiding, if necessary. But won't we need two extra sets of foot boards, then, so the humans can wear them too? Nayabaru may be poor trackers but I think they'll notice if the human prints double, so we have to make the humans look like kavkem. Or... something else, I guess," he added, squinting at the mammals' feet. Something big and flat. A herbivore. Pity most of the big and flat footed herbivores lived in places with less forest and trees. Hm. Maybe the humans could climb trees for a bit? Or get carried?
[00:14] Athechelt gestured noncommittally at Evenatra's question. Whether the visitors would consider it a fallback or primary plan seemed secondary – they would already have to begin working on it either way. He was about to reason it out out loud when Idarago interjected, dragging Athechelt's attention to the Watcher.
Was an extra set of foot boards a good idea? He tried to imagine it – his mind's eye gave him only a poor emulation of the mammals' gait, the obvious-but-intractable wrongness of it distracting, but that wasn't important. What tracks might they leave?
"Perhaps it would be best if we don't do that," he mused. "If we split the Nayabaru's attention that may be better than giving them a set of tracks that runs risk of looking obviously false.
"Presumably they are not yet experts at identifying the mammals' prints, but if we attempt to mask their gait with something native, it might be obvious from different pressure points that this is where the humans have gone."
[00:15] Evenatra, having made as if to turn her attention to their guests, now paused, evidently preferring to wait for the conclusion of the discussion before speaking to the alien visitors about it.
[17:15] That was a point, but a risky one. Clearly they needed to find as many rocks as possible to run on, and sidestep as much of the mess as possible. "For a worst case scenario... we DO have a lot of us here." As many kavkema as he'd been around in his life, really. "And we've several tarps and lots of sticks. Our guests are about the size of a small bellower and there's only two of them, we could
carry them a little way." Maybe not if they'd left two behind to use the footboards; how dense WAS a human? They were mammals but big mammals just didn't exist. Also, most mammals were fluffy enough that it was hard to judge mass.
...granted, they also had a god; maybe Evenatra could carry more than a kavkem even when shaped like one?
[17:59] Oblivious to Idarago's private musings, Evenatra took the open-ended musings as a hint that the basics were best already discussed with the humans. The details could wait, no doubt. The whole thing wouldn't work if they didn't have the basic backing of their visitors.
"Of course, if we were to carry them, our own tracks would deepen. I am not sure that is necessarily better," Athechelt submitted with a tinge of regret.
Kalina flicked her muzzle upwards, as though to discard the current line of thought altogether. "I estimate the visitors to weigh about as much as any of us – and I submit that any obfuscation of their tracks is better than none at all.
"But if we are indeed concerned about their trail being too obvious by merit of some imperfect mimicry, I suggest we all wear false prints when we scatter, of various creatures, to avoid having them be comparable. Let them all be imperfect mimicries; give the pursuers no choice but to scatter as well. Perhaps the one or other trail will even be missed."