[00:59] The possible answers to Edaaj's questions trailed behind them far enough that the whispers were inaudible but as meaningless fragments. It had taken all of Athechelt's authority to pry her away from Baishar, not helped by his obvious reluctance. He too wanted answers, drained from his fight with the machine and their prisoner.
At least he had his story staff back – it was usually such a permanent fixture in his life that it had been eerie to see him without it, even briefly. It was still eerie to see him this rattled, emotionally exhausted in a manner that did not quite befit a spiritual guide.
In any case, they likely made the worst body guards in kavkem history, both quite distracted from the environment by festering thoughts on what had happened. The Nayabaru had never had anything like that, nor, it seemed, anything quite close to that, the near-harmless metal spiderlings that occasionally appeared amongst the landscape notwithstanding.
Baishar's presence was a maddening lure, tugging on her from several metres behind her, an enemy both in the sense that he had attacked them and in that he had answered only with silence, withholding whatever knowledge he had for the time being.
[01:08] It was not a survival trait for a kavkem to mutter audibly to oneself, and Edaaj remained silent for a time; but she visibly seethed.
[01:15] It was, in its own way, as eerie to Athechelt as his own mood was to Edaaj. He had seen her frustrated, even irritated, usually at some inconvenience in the arrangement of the world, but no case came to mind in which she had been so actively angry – even furious – at a person.
[01:27] She had never personally dealt with a kavkem who, to all appearances, was working with the Nayabaru. But that she could understand, to a degree; sometimes kavkema got captured and felt it necessary to submit to their captors; sometimes someone got trapped in the Tarnish. It happened.
[01:33] But this one had been in the company of a device – not just any device, like a tool that could be picked up by anyone and used, but one that appeared to have been quite deliberately designed for a nefarious purpose. Nitish Ynas did not generally hold that non-organic substances could be Tarnished, but in Edaaj's mind, it was possible to constructed something with a Tarnished purpose, and she felt that something like that had happened here.
[01:36] It was important to know what that purpose was. Their captive had that much information, she was sure of it. He had worked in tandem with the device. He might even know how it was made. Yet, he dared to remain silent.
[01:38] Edaaj, after a time, reluctantly concluded that dwelling on it would servce no purpose (for now). Possibly Evenatra would be able to persuade him to talk. She managed, with a certain amount of effort, to drag her attention to Athechelt. "Are you all right?" she whispered.
[01:50] It was perhaps an odd thing to ask that of someone who usually, when in the proper presence of mind, was the one to ask the question of everyone else. It was a good question, too. Was he all right? The dream was haunting him again, the scintillating angles, the overwhelming, alien strength. This had been smaller, but then, it had been identified as Imitorunyema.
At least silence between kavkema was not awkward, given that it was customary to think at length before one spoke, if the conversation had not gotten heated or one was under time pressure to conclude it. It took him a few minutes to say, with the weight of responsibility: "It disturbs me that none of us are prepared for this."
He wasn't sure what this was – but if Evenatra hadn't intervened, would they have won the exchange? Perhaps; it didn't seem inconceivable. But it was far from certain. "I'm not damaged," he added, softly. "A few bruises notwithstanding. I imagine your inventory is about the same?"
[01:58] "About that, yes," Edaaj replied, feeling her neck where her necklace had been tugged hard against it. (And that was another strike against the stranger, she realized: he could have taken her things from her.) "My mood is more injured than anything," she added.
[02:26] Athechelt swerved his muzzle in a reluctantly affirmative gesture. "Perhaps," he whispered. "It would be best if we viewed Baishar as a kaaru." More unorthodox than branding a stranger as kaaru was the idea that Baishar might be anything else. He certainly did not exhibit the usual traits of madness – he was well-behaved now that he had lost, after all, which suggested more awareness of his situation than madness would allow. But he had assaulted them without provocation and it was hard to slot that into a framework other than insanity.
Athechelt knew of the stories of Asara, wherein the world perpetually teetered on a precipice, never stable, and that their ryrhakenema spoke of Khaleitaleq, a time when the kavkema could no longer trust each other. He knew of the stories of Kiivenara that ascribed the heavens orchestrating powers and the appearance of a new sun as a vast disruption of the status quo. He knew of the stories of Leksharia, wherein some kavkema might willingly trade traits that were dear to them for a state closer to godhood. And he knew, of course, of Tarnish, which offered him deceptively easy answers – that this kavkem had soaked up too much sunlight, perhaps deliberately thrust into the sun's rays by his Nayabaru captors.
But Tarnish did not allow for alliances. A Tarnished kavkem would not, could not be treated as a friend by the Nayabaru. The Tarnish itself made the Nayabaru blind to potential allies.
And so he retreated to the superficial explanations, the worldly designations, all the while worried about his dream – how the threat was not in a kaaru, or in the human visitors, but something else he had not yet been able to divine. It was unsatisfying on every level, but all he could do to keep from losing his way.
"Do not take his actions personally," Athechelt remarked, offering the inevitable conclusion of the label he'd just applied to their assailant.
[02:44] "Were it not for his association with that device-" Edaaj began, crossly, then stopped. Expelling air through her nostrils, she began again, in a more subdued tone. "Maybe he is kaaru. But it seems odd to me, that a madman should be let out to accompany a thing like the Imitorunyema, or that he should refuse to say what he knows of it.
[02:46] "A thing of such a name," she added, "is surely something we must know more about, or else we will be no more prepared in the future than we were when the thing first struck."
[03:00] There was, of course, also the unanswered question of what had happened to Nadani and Asraaban. Given how they had wrestled with this 'Imitorunyema', it seemed quite conceivable that the others had simply lost a similar game.
And she was right. If any one statement could have summarised his feelings, it was that he felt dangerously out of the loop. That it extended well beyond the question what the disintegrated contraption might have been was secondary. They needed answers and they were tantalising close to at least a subset of them.
Perhaps this supposed kaaru of theirs could even interpret Athechelt's dream, although it was surely dangerous to take him by his precise word on anything, even if he began volunteering his knowledge or opinions.
"Let us give Evenatra some time to ask her questions," Athechelt remarked, a dejected reluctance coded into his posture. "Though I agree with you," he added. "If she fails..." — unspoken, 'or if she learns but does not share it with us,' — "...we should try our own approaches."
Then his concern got the better of him. "Do you think one of those devices might have... consumed Asraaban and Nadani?" he asked, staving off all other fervent pondering out loud for now: How many others are there? Do the Nayabaru know to wield them? How does one disable them? Why were they made? What do they do? What does it all mean?
[03:23] Her determined expression suggested that she agreed wholeheartedly with the notion of being open to their own approaches – though what, if anything, they would be in a position to do if Evenatra also saw fit to hide such information from them was unclear. Tamachelu or not, she clearly had powers that other kavkema didn't.
[03:29] Edaaj drooped a little at Eche's following question. "I... I don't know. Possibly such a complex device is a rare and treasured thing that cannot be spared too often..." Yet someone spared one for us, her treacherous intellect reminded her. She wished it hadn't.
[03:48] It was a beautiful fantasy – the idea that they had perhaps destroyed the only of these Imitorunyemaa in the vicinity, that the devices would not be a threat to any member of the group again. But the absence of Asraaban and Nadani weighed heavily on Athechelt, filling him with doubt.
It was a lot of doubt for one person to carry.
"What do you advise as a defence mechanism if there are more of them, from what you've seen?" he asked, forcing himself to think about their practical problems. His spiritual anxieties could wait.
[04:29] A good question, indeed. Edaaj wondered for a moment what she could be expected to do about a thing like that, but then thought: who else but a builder should be tasked with it? She tried to replay the encounter with the Imitorunyema in her head.
[04:33] "Its limbs were its advantage," she murmured after a while. "They were responsible for its agility. They should be crippled, if possible, or tangled. A trap or snare? ...Something like a bolas?"
[05:13] "Good, good," Athechelt acknowledged. The pragmatism soothed him, pretending to turn the situation into a tractable problem. It felt like a clarity he had been sorely lacking. It's just a machine. That there was no just about it and that all his metaphysical concerns were still wholly unaddressed did not factor in.
"Might you be able to construct something like that on short notice?" With the Nayabaru in pursuit and the question of other Imitorunyemaa technically unresolved, they might need a defence mechanism sooner rather than later. "And are you adept in wielding it?"
[05:29] "A bolas?" Edaaj considered that. She vaguely recalled, from her childhood, her birth tribe using them. The cord could be twisted leather – easy enough, even if they can to cut up something larger to get enough to make several. The weights, she thought, were supposed to be wood, but fashioning them might be too time-consuming... perhaps if they could find some gourds -
[05:30] "I believe I can make some," she replied slowly. "But I have only ever seen them wielded – when I was young. I've never done it myself."
[05:42] "Then we will have to learn," Athechelt observed, his tone encouraging. He was gradually convincing himself that it might work – that the strength and speed he'd witnessed could be stopped by some twine and rock as long as it was cleverly applied. And he knew Edaaj was clever. He could rely on her ingenuity.
For a while, he was simply silent, letting Edaaj ponder the logistics. Then, when a break in the trees inspired some caution in their advance, he broke the silence with a whisper of curiosity: "If it were your choice alone, what would you do with Baishar?"
[06:09] "Find out what he knows," Edaaj replied promptly, "One way or another. But after that..." She hesitated. She'd never killed another kavkem, or seriously contemplated putting one to death except out of mercy. But, then again, she had never expected to be attacked by one, either.
[06:13] "I don't know," she said, in a tight voice. "If he kept out of trouble and made himself useful, perhaps he could be kept on; but I am not inclined to think him trustworthy."