§ 2020-08-22 02:29:13
[02:31] Their prisoner and his guardian, owing to a slower pace, had dropped further and further away from them as they advanced. Eventually, they dropped out of sight completely, although when precisely Edaaj couldn't say, as their attention mostly faced ahead. Their route was clear and when it stopped being clear, they would stop and wait for the others.
As such it was strange when they caught up on their own, Baishar's arms no longer bound, and a severe expression in Evenatra's body language. "One of the Nayabaru caught up with us," she'd said. "It was the last thing it did, but let's veer elsewhere." Also known as 'a far less comfortable direction in the landscape'.
They took to climbing a rocky rise that didn't easily keep their trail, until that evened into hesitantly horizontal sliver that might, if one were generously inclined, be called a path through what was, here, a forest of skew trees. Athechelt lead their procession, the humans wandered immediately behind him, Edaaj behind the humans, then came Evenatra and Baishar.
Baishar's arms had been bound again as soon as the two had reached the new path, following some symbolic ritual that seemed perfectly natural to them, requiring no explanation. Whatever it was for, it evidently did not require Evenatra holding onto the end of the short leash, since she didn't bother (although it would have been difficult to remain in file if she had).
Then, finally, with the most immediate change of scenery behind them, Evenatra began to speak of her private conversation with Baishar. "Now that we've put some distance between us and the Nayabaru corpse," she said, in a volume that Athechelt could likely not make out, but didn't yet need to. "I believe I owe you a summary."
[02:47] Edaaj, by this time, had had plenty of opportunity to regain her composure, and to avoid thinking too hard about the fate of Nadani and Asraaban. Either they were all right, in which case there was no need to worry; or they weren't, in which case there was little to be done at this particular juncture. Further options would no doubt present themselves later.
[02:49] Nonetheless, there was still an unaccustomed tension in her stance, and some of it came through in her voice as well. "That would be ideal, thank you."
[03:18] "Be glad you managed to fight the device off," Evenatra said. "It would have twisted your soul beyond any recognition – most likely irreversibly." A pause. "Or Athechelt's soul. I don't think it would have been picky."
She let her attention flick back over her shoulder at Baishar, as though to make sure he wasn't changing his mind about trailing after them. "Baishar has been adjusted by something much like it," she explained, bluntly. "Which is why he's so unusual and why he attacked us.
"That said, he doesn't precisely mean to be our enemy; he's just following Nayabaru orders under the assumption..." – likely correct, if one was entirely honest – "...that if he does not, neither he nor Valcen will be able to continue what they're doing, which is working on a means to help me in particular."
Privately, she took note: And again, I am the reason the situation of my people has worsened. But Torai's admonishment still lingered in her memory. It was not her choice to torment kavkema – that was the Nayabaru. It was not her choice to destroy their souls – that was Valcen. Other than by staying on Nekenalos, she was doing nothing to attract Nayabaru ire to the kavkem population.
"Another copy of the device is with Valcen, who is accompanying the party of Nayabaru that are tracking us. There are still more of the devices, presumably in Katal, but supposedly not many.
"From what I understand of the Imitorunyemaa, our best defence may simply be to drape something prohibitively broad over our heads – an arm might do in a pinch, if you don't mind the contortion. Just something to keep in mind if we have the misfortune of running into another."
[03:36] Some of Edaaj's tension unwound itself. No danger – no immediate danger – of legions of Imitorunyemaa swarming across the landscape, and the only other one nearby had hopefully not yet been released – though the idea that it might yet be made it impossible to feel actual relief, as did the notion that it could twist souls if it were. It sounded like a small Tarnish on legs.
[03:42] In which case, the idea of covering one's head felt extremely appropriate. "The coverings we use to ward off the Tarnish might be repurposed," she mused aloud. "I had thought to manufacture bolas to try to tie together an Imitorunyema's legs, but a head-covering would require considerably less skill to wield." She glanced back, eyeing Baishar critically. "What, then, do this one and Valcen expect to be able to do to help from captivity?"
[04:00] "Indeed," Evenatra responded, evidently sharing Edaaj's broad assessment of their chances. "They're drawing plans against the Karesejat Terenyira. Given how hampered Valcen is by circumstances..." – Most notably, his death. – "...I wouldn't hold my breath that they'll ever succeed."
Baishar bristled, his Valcen knows what he's doing axiom protesting, but remained silent. The future was a matter of faith and it was plainly evident that Evenatra had none to the same degree that Baishar believed in Valcen's chances. Ideally, they would eventually simply resolve the matter by demonstration.
[04:28] Edaaj found it hard to contemplate. Planning against the Karesejat? From among the Nayabaru? Presumably dependent on the resources given by them? Perhaps Baishar and his mentor were mad after all; that sort of scheme sounded like an excellent and inventive way to be introduced to entirely new dimensions of unpleasantness.
[04:34] For all that they seemed to be able to accomplish – and the Imitorunyemaa, if they were indeed the ones responsible for them, were certainly an astonishing if disturbing accomplishment – surely they could not have the freedom of action or resources to seriously pose a threat to their captors. Surely the Nayabaru would never permit such a thing.
[04:37] If anything had been driven home to her over the past days, it was that although knowledge was there to be found, Kavkema were apparently not to be given the opportunity to find and use it freely.
[04:38] "How long will Baishar be remaining with us?" she asked, almost absently.
[04:58] Despite the physical leeway, Baishar was still Evenatra's prisoner, but for a moment the question found itself filed away as some sort of social nicety, and so Baishar responded directly: "...until the Nayabaru have calmed back down from finding their dead colleague..." – Step one on the Nayabaru to do list: Find the corpse in the first place. – "...and I can return to Valcen?"
Evenatra snorted. "No, you're not returning at all," she admonished, tone betraying irritation. "As long as you're not with the Nayabaru, they can't give you any instructions. The longer you stay with us, the longer you're not a weapon they can wield against the kavkema."
Still, there were scenarios in which she could imagine letting him go: The cybernetic eye becoming too much of a risk, too much of a potential tracking beacon despite its supposed passivity. A message needing to be passed to Valcen. A message needing to be passed to the other humans.
Or simply this group, ambushed, with Baishar the only one likely to walk free, the only even remotely able to break them out of it in the short or medium term.
But without those circumstances, she was not particularly interested in letting him return. They had only Baishar's word that Valcen was by some measure on their side and Baishar had already proven that his views were warped beyond recognition – letting Valcen manipulate this kavkem any more seemed like a dangerous and entirely preventable gamble.
§ 2020-08-23 01:15:03
[01:15] "That seems wise," Edaaj felt moved to comment, though privately she wondered whether killing him might not be even wiser.
[01:20] But there it was: Evenatra did not seem inclined to do so, and, in truth, Edaaj did not particularly have the heart to suggest it. Baishar had apparently been acting out of some misguided sense of the greater good, rather than malice; his way of thinking had come about due to a twisting of his soul, rather than his own true nature.
[01:24] Perhaps her previous idea about the Torunyemaa – that they were mechanical manifestations of the Tarnish – was not quite right, or at least not complete. If it were, surely Baishar would be more... straightforwardly unkind.
[02:12] And that was enough of a summary for polite kavkem company while on the run. If Evenatra had learnt anything else, she kept it to herself for the time being.
Nearly two hours later, the file came to an abrupt halt as their reluctant path, which had waxed and waned, finally disappeared into broken rocks.
Had the sun not disappeared behind the horizon by now, it would have been a Nitish Ynas dead end – there was no shade to hide under straight ahead or for all of what lay left and right of it that they could see. To Evenatra, it looked as though a large rockslide had taken out a chunk of the forest only a few years ago, now fortunately settled into stability.
A stream trickled between the rocks, barely accessible. They paused to wrestle with the geometries, pushing arms into gaps to refill their flasks, then began to climb the scenery up the mountain. Evenatra took the opportunity to speak to the humans in their own tongue about what she had learnt.
Up was the natural kavkem direction, of course – the obvious choice. Down would have sown more misdirection, but at cost of running into well-prepared Nayabaru that were waiting for them. Up they went.
Unfortunately, up was an exhausting direction to maintain, more so for their visitors. Well before the midnight sky loomed above them, they were running out of steam. When they came across a cluster of rocks that flanked a narrow cave-like structure, a fracture fissue with a roof, they crept into the shelter.
It wasn't large enough for the alien visitors to set up their tents by any measure, but they didn't complain – instead, they settled down into a sitting position, backs leant against stone, legs loosely splayed. Without tails to get in the way, that was a viable way to rest. Their packs were set down beside them, taking up again as much space as they did.
Edaaj and Baishar were bunched close to each other in the deepest recess, not too far from the humans, with Athechelt further to the mouth of the fissure, 'guarding' Samanta – although given their run-in with the Imitorunyema, this was more symbolic and out of social compulsion than out of any practical concern.
Indeed, he was continually nodding off even shortly after they had settled down.
Evenatra, who insisted on still having energy left, promised to patrol the area to be able to warn them if danger was catching up to them.
Greg fell asleep hugging his backpack slightly awkwardly; if it weren't for his suit, his cheek would have pressed against it. Samanta was simply hugging her knees – it didn't look like she was catching any solid sleep, but she was at least getting some rest. Athechelt had soon curled up into a ball, sitting on his story staff as though to guard it with gravity alone.
Baishar and Edaaj were also exhausted, but this was an opportunity to talk directly.
[02:45] This had been a very strange day for Baishar.
He'd finally seen a god — seen Tamachelu — in all her glory; had seen her disintegrate an Imitorunyema with hardly a thought and break a Nayabaru's skull without touching it — at least, not visibly. He'd spoken with Evenatra, and while he felt that he'd failed at communicating just how much Valcen hoped to accomplish, while it still hurt that she'd dismissed that and seemed implacable about treating Valcen as an enemy... there was still hope. Sooner or later, Valcen would find them, and he would be able to explain everything far better than Baishar had.
He'd also seen the Imitorunyema take its first true victim, its first proper field test. The memory of seeing that was delightful; it was a shame that he wouldn't get a chance to see it again for some time.
Which brought him to the strangest thing of all: Being captured by kavkema. Granted, at the moment, the bindings were more to protect him from the Nayabaru's potential wrath than to keep him contained, but it was still deeply strange. From what he'd gathered, they kept him alive to avoid unsettling the hyumans — from what Valcen had told him, they had a distaste for death not entirely unlike (but also not entirely like) the Nayabaru.
It was a lot to take in. He wondered when the Nayabaru would catch up with them; he wondered whether they had already found their fallen companion. He wondered what Valcen would do when his loyal servant didn't return.
On occasions like this, Baishar occasionally found it helpful to gaze at the stars; it helped him relax and remember that he had a place in the world. With a soft, slightly awkward motion, he raised his bound hands to the side of his face — and paused, briefly remembering where he was. He whispered to Edaaj, "I apologize; please do not be alarmed."
Without much more warning, he pressed one of his claws into his eye.
The eye did not burst, as one might expect, but rather shifted in appearance, the sclera adopting a gray sheen. A moment later, as if nothing strange had happened, he turned his gaze upward, at the solid rock of the cavern roof, a faintly relaxed expression on his muzzle.
[02:53] Edaaj had, up until this point, been studiously ignoring Baishar. So long as he did not attempt to flee or to draw attention to the group – which he seemed to have no inclination to do – what did it matter what he did? Edaaj had not yet been able to sleep, but a nap at least might be possible, to stave off exhaustion.
[02:55] When Baishar spoke and pressed his eye, she barely had time to register a sense of horror before witnessing the results. Her mouth, in the act of opening, clapped shut, until at last she said, "That is... a device? Your eye was replaced?"
[03:30] Baishar turned his attention back to Edaaj, a mild uncertainty in his body language. Was she horrified, or impressed? He couldn't tell. Perhaps it was some of both? After a moment's consideration, he dipped his muzzle respectfully. "Indeed," he replied. "Yet another of Valcen's incredible creations." He paused, uncertain how to explain its workings. "It... allows me to see things one cannot normally see." True, but perhaps unhelpful. There was a hesitance to his words, unsure as he was that they would be welcomed.
[03:33] Edaaj's hand twitched. She really sort of wanted to press the eye herself, which she doubted would be taken well. Or to examine it, which – since doing so thoroughly would involve prying it from his head – would be even less so.
[03:35] She would have to content herself with asking more questions. "Like what?" she said, curiosity making it sound as much like a demand as a question.
[04:01] The curiosity in her voice dredged up memories — memories of an earlier life, of a Baishar who did not yet understand his purpose in life. A time of embarrassing naivete and cowardice. His lips pressed to a thin line as he tried to forget that past. And yet, Valcen still took pity on me. He still taught me, he was patient. He answered my questions.
Surely, Valcen would be kind enough to indulge a kavkem's curiosity; and so Baishar should endeavor to do so as well.
But it was still difficult to explain. Like what. Start slowly, perhaps. "Well, for example, I can see the stars." His gaze wandered, scanning where the horizon would be. "... I can't quite make out where Evenatra is, but if she were closer I could see her." Interesting that he singled out Evenatra. He lowered his gaze further, then stopped, looking directly downwards.
"...Things like that," he said after an uncomfortable pause. "There's a... kind of light, I suppose, that kavkema cannot see. The stars emit it, but it passes through almost everything — rock, wood, metal, flesh — as if it were nothing. The gods, in their true forms, though, can see it; they inhabit it; and this eye can see it as well."
[04:25] Edaaj tried to imagine this. The idea of seeing the unseen, the realm of the gods themselves... she had gotten the impression, from things Evenatra had said, that the gods, besides not being as metaphorical as Tarnish generally held them to be, were not as thoroughly supernatural as other traditions held, either. In that way, she supposed, the idea of a machine that could see them made sense, even if it was not something she would have considered before.
[04:31] She was caught, briefly between the need to ask two very different sorts of question: she decided to forgo asking about what Evenatra looked like, and focused on the other. "And how is it that this Valcen is able to make things like this?"
§ 2020-09-01 20:54:42
[06:15] Baishar's gaze turned back to Edaaj, smiling lightly. "He has a workshop in Katal."
Of course, nearly every kavkem had heard of Katal. It was a place of nightmares; the largest and most infamous Pens were there. To hear it spoken of so casually was disturbing. Given the bluntness of Baishar's claws and teeth, it was a reasonable guess that he'd once been a prisoner there.
"The Nayabaru allowed him to make eyes like this, as part of his work on the Torunyemaa. Valcen was gracious enough to make one for me, and to convince them to install it." His claw reached back to the eye, which briefly shifted to an inky blackness before returning to normal. "As to how he makes them — I'm afraid I don't know all the details. He'd be infinitely better at explaining it than I would."
§ 2020-09-05 02:02:39
[02:09] Edaaj hadn't known what she'd expected. If it were easy to describe how to make things like that, they probably wouldn't be so miraculous. She'd never heard of the term 'industrial espionage', but clearly none of it would be happening just by talking to Baishar.
[02:10] The idea of talking to Valcen to find out more, however, was much less welcoming. The idea of working on such things in Katal, of all places, was terrifying.
[02:16] "Has he made other things?" she asked, changing tack. "Is there any sort of permission for him to make other things?"
§ 2020-09-12 22:53:13
[22:53] Oh, has he ever. "The Torunyemaa, of course," he replied, consciously trying to keep the tone of awe out of his voice. This was an ordinary kavkem, he reminded himself, untouched by Valcen's hands. They didn't feel the same way about the Torunyema as he did. "...You saw the Imitorunyema yourself; however you may feel about its use, you can't deny it's a technological marvel. The original Torunyema — the Oratorunyema — is even more impressive."
Baishar stopped himself. There was no need to wax poetic about the Torunyema; it would only serve to alienate him further. "...Understand, he didn't make those because he wanted to." ...Though, had Valcen wanted to? In the beginning? It was hard to tell; nor was it his place to guess at his master's wishes. "They were the price of his 'permission'."
For a long moment, Baishar was silent, wrestling internally with how to explain it. Finally, he turned his gaze to Edaaj, his expression curious. "Forgive me, I am not familiar with Nitish Ynas. You may not be familiar with the concept, but do you know what a qidravem is?"
§ 2020-09-14 01:32:47
[01:39] For Baishar to bring up the concept of the qidravem in this context suggested that certain previous speculations of hers had not been totally off the mark – much as she might have wished them to be. "Nitish Ynas as we know it," she murmured, "does not speak much of qidravema, but I know of them. I had not thought much of the idea.
[01:41] "But that, then, is what Valcen has made? Built qidravema? Things to hold the soul, and change it?"
[03:36] A toothy grin spread across Baishar's features, his tongue running across blunted teeth. "Precisely," he whispered, an electric excitement in his tone. "Although... a qidravem doesn't particularly change the soul it holds. In order for Valcen's plans to come to fruition, a single kavkem's lifetime isn't enough. So he's created a way to transfer himself into a fresh body."
He paused. There was more he could say, of course; he could explain the qidravem's functioning at a broad level, or the nature of Valcen's artificial hosts. He could share how honored he felt to be granted a qidravem of his own — though chances were the significance of that would be lost. Most kavkema don't like the idea of living forever, he had to remind himself. Most don't understand the appeal.
Of course, there was not much point in hiding the information from Edaaj; but he could at least try not to overwhelm her with too much at once. Let her ask questions, and provide what answers he could; much as what Valcen had done with him.
[03:48] So this was about another thing than the Torunyemaa. Edaaj was vaguely aware of the idea of gods using qidravema to transfer themselves into new bodies, though that had seemed the least credible part of the notion. But if a kavkem's soul could be molded like clay, then why indeed not held?
[03:49] She didn't know enough to say. She didn't know nearly enough. It frustrated her that she didn't, or quite possibly couldn't.
[04:01] "Functional immortality," she mused, sounding... not hostile, but vaguely dissatisfied. "Though, if it is a device, the qidravem could itself be damaged. Or impounded. Couldn't it?"
§ 2020-09-20 04:14:28
[04:14] Baishar grimaced slightly at the idea of damaging the Qidravem, briefly shuddering. "...In theory, it could," he admitted after a pause, the words tasting bitter in his mouth. "But it would be nearly impossible, especially without specialized tools."
... Tamachelu could do it. He'd seen what she'd done to the Imitorunyema, and what she'd done to the unfortunate Hesh who'd found her. Combining those, she could actually kill Valcen-sha. It was a terrifying thought; surely she wouldn't. She may disagree with his methods but surely she wouldn't try to destroy an ally.
"... Regardless, even if one could, there are still backups. Valcen knows what he's doing; he's planned this out. He's not going to die." And until he has no further use for me, neither will I.
[04:26] Edaaj had to wonder if that in itself might not have a downside. The Nayabaru, after all, did not kill. If ever they felt it appropriate to turn on Valcen, what torments might be possible to inflict upon someone could never have the release of death?
And yet... and yet...
[04:29] What things could be done with such a surplus of time? How much could be learned and applied when there was no interruption from a mind or a body crippled by age or infirmity?
Given long enough – given forever – could one not learn everything?
[04:32] "Very prudent," was all she said aloud, but in her distant expression it was quite possible to see the hints of a strange hunger.
§ 2020-09-28 21:44:21
[21:52] The flicker struck Baishar's gut in silence, resonating with it as well as giving it a twist. Her curiosity was familiar, giving the impression of kinship, but as much as he did not think he would be mistreated, he was still formally a prisoner, and trying to recruit someone, regardless how spiritually close to his own worldview as they may be, seemed like a dangerous gamble.
He wasn't even sure if it was right, circumstances permitting. He'd walked into his relationship with Valcen with eyes open and yet had still needed correcting. Despite what he felt about that, he still recognised it, consciously, as something that others might want to avoid.
"There's a lot out there," Baishar settled on saying. "Things we don't see or don't usually understand." Evenatra's words came back to him: No, you're not returning at all. His gut protested. "We could learn so much if we had the opportunity." It was three quarters mutual forlorn lament, one quarter predatory, hopeful lure.
Baishar could allow them to keep him away from Valcen for a few days, especially in the interest of duty, but the idea of having no further part at all in his master's plans or the discoveries he might make in their wake, for the entire rest of his life, was almost as unpleasant an idea as being returned to the Pens as a regular captive.
§ 2020-10-02 02:24:30
[02:30] "Yes," Edaaj replied with unusual vehemence, then caught herself, embarrassed. But it was true: Baishar' statement was one that she overwhelmingly agreed with, even if she had never exactly articulated it to herself. She went silent for a time, and then spoke again, particularly subdued.
[02:36] "I make things," she whispered, "for my group. That has been my role since I was young. I am good at it. And not so long ago, I would have been content to do continue to do so with stone and hide and bone and wood. That was all there was – the Nayabaru had everything else. And I would still enjoy it – but I have not been content like that since after the humans came.
[02:42] "Vessels that cross the sky. Devices that can hear and speak and see over distance. An abundance of metal and other materials I have never seen. Their world must be a place of wonders. Nekenalos is not like that – but it could be. It could be, if we were given the opportunity to make it so.
"If I had the tools-"
[02:43] Edaaj went silent again, staring at the ground.
[03:26] And if I were Baishar-sha, I could perhaps hear Valcen from a distance. I could speak with him now, share my thoughts. For a moment, Baishar let his augmented gaze swerve toward the part of the horizon that likely held Valcen and the Nayabaru he was travelling with. So near, yet so far.
"Or even just the knowledge," he added, softly.
After a pause, he added: "I said earlier that Valcen would be better at explaining this technology. What I haven't said is that he's always done that for me – explained it. I can't help him build it, everything has been too... delicate. But nonetheless, he has explained it, most without prompt.
"Much as Evenatra may be convinced that I'm helping Valcen solely because of the changes he's made, that's... unlikely, to say the least. He's taught me so much, from the very beginning. It's been such a vast expansion of my horizons.
"The Nayabaru don't deserve him, which is, of course, why they extort him instead. It's the only language they understand." He shrugged lightly, casting his gaze back up to the sky.
§ 2020-10-02 22:02:44
[22:02] Edaaj did not know how to interpret Baishar's adoration of Valcen. It sounded sincere – but then it would, wouldn't it? In this case, sincere would be a thing entirely orthogonal to artificial.
[22:15] Still, she thought she could understand the attraction of having a generous teacher with such a store of knowledge – it would be like being young again, still learning her knots, or so she imagined. She found herself able to spare some empathy over the feeling, though she wondered if serving the interests of the Nayabaru would really be worth it.
[22:17] "Would that there were a way to free him," she murmured, "though I imagine it would be not much more likely than freeing anyone from Katal."
[00:51] Baishar snorted softly, his body language one of second-hand regret. "He could run away any time; that's not the point. He's not far from here now, looking for us – looking for me.
"He's not shackled or bound – it's not necessary. The Nayabaru know they don't have to restrain him. They know the kavkema have nothing to offer Valcen; he needs access to metals, to glass, to wire, to tools finer than our mere claws can create from scratch. He could run, but it would come at cost of being able to do almost nothing at all.
"He's playing a very dangerous game – using the technology of the Nayabaru to draw his plans against them. They don't trust him, but they trust he needs them; he doesn't trust them, but he trusts they need him. Those circumstances are a more effective prison than any number of layers of Pens to detain him."
It was clear from Baishar's tone that he vividly resented that the Nayabaru had their hold on Valcen. Was that a reflection of his master's attitude, or only a convenient emotional justification implanted to make the alliance more narratively palpable?
[02:15] She puzzled over this for a time. Surely if one had so much time to work with, it could be possible to make anything one needed with enough patience? Start with the simple tools and work up to more complex ones? Inefficient, yes, and slow, but surely it would be safer?
[02:22] But perhaps having immortality was not the same as having time. If Valcen had to transfer himself between bodies, presumably some specialized tools would be needed, which he could only go so long without. And, too, perhaps whatever he was doing to help could not wait forever. If his plan had any intent to preserve the kavkema... well, who knew how long it would be before the Nayabaru rounded them all up?
[02:26] "Does he know what it is he's going to do?" she asked. "Is there a process he has in mind?"
[02:59] Some part of Baishar bristled – of course Valcen knew what he was doing. It was such a fundamental truth that it left a foul taste in his mouth that anyone would as much as imply otherwise. But the instinct softened quickly – he could share no details, not knowing them, himself, and he remembered all too well how unsure it had made him.
But he knew Valcen wasn't lying and he had not the slightest doubt his skills. The question was: How to convey that in a way that was accessible to people who didn't know Valcen at all?
"He guards it with great caution," Baishar said, by way of affirmation. "The more minds know of the details, the greater the risk. But I believe I've seen some of it," he gestured at his cybernetic eye.
...but had he? He'd seen some things that, given his education, seemed inefficient, perhaps misplaced, subtle things that a Nayabaru Darhal might miss for lack of better ideas – but he knew it was dangerous to underestimate his own ignorance. In all of Valcen's helpful abstractions, details could be lost. That which looked inefficient could well be the opposite.
"I do know his target is the Karesejat. It's an open secret; even the Karesejat knows it. She thinks she can outwit him." He remembered speaking to her and a chill visibly crept down his spine as a line of raised feathers. 'The person who predicted Valcen would stop me helped me destroy him. Now, what do you make of that?'
His eyes narrowed at the memory. No; not this time. "She's wrong." It was said with a cold certainty, not in the tone of wishful thinking. Valcen, after all, knew what he was doing, and they had come so far already.
[03:18] "...I see." Edaaj almost envied that level of conviction.
[03:27] Knowledge and understanding could overcome any problem, if you had enough of them. She knew that in her soul. And, maybe, who but a god – even a fallen one – might have enough to take on the Karesejat? But a risky plan kept close by a single person, however capable, was not one she could place any hope in.
[03:30] And her time alongside Evenatra had caused her to think she understood, very dimly, how limited gods were. Suppose the Karesejat was not as wrong as Baishar thought?
[03:38] She saw no gain in trying to contradict Baishar's statement, but trying to add credence to it was beyond her will power. Clearly disheartened, she fluffed out her feathers and pulled her head in close to her body, giving the impression of a cloud with a face.
[04:05] There was a flash of something like anger in his gut in response to her body language, a brief spark fortunately quick to extinguish – she believes Terenyira. Rationally, he couldn't hold it against her. Emotionally, it was an assault on the values he held dear.
With some effort, he sorted his thoughts, that desire to defend Valcen from what could just as well be an imagined slight. Perhaps the diplomatic solution was to point out the vast gulf between what had already been achieved and the final goal? Perhaps that could make her understand.
"Understand, it's taken him less than a year to design the devices you've witnessed and have them built – the eye, the... torunyemaa. But he expects it will take him longer than one kavkem lifetime to strike against the Karesejat."
From a wild kavkem's perspective, it was a mind-boggling picture he was painting, of course. Long-term planning was non-existent for their migratory culture; planning ahead as little as one year was a feat requiring extremes of wisdom. And here, Baishar was claiming with full conviction that Valcen was planning ahead a few decades.
On the other hand, perhaps that was about right for an immortal who had been given access to resources.
[04:35] Edaaj peered out of her plumage, eyeing him. "Perhaps," she replied woodenly. "I do not pretend to think that anyone I am aware of could do better. But I am used to plans that I am involved in, or which are made by those I know and trust. I don't know Valcen; I don't know how his plan will work. I have nothing to hold in my mind. I cannot see by squinting into the dawn, you understand?"
[04:47] Of course. As frustrating at it was, they were q'umoka at best. Perhaps Edaaj didn't even have an amanat, didn't know what it was like to dedicate large swaths of oneself to another. "You could ask him," Baishar said, softly, the words only barely audible, born more of sadness than of his frustration, clearly not actually expecting her to do so, but earnest regardless.
[05:08] Edaaj froze.
[05:18] ...Ask him? Her mouth moved slightly as various responses rose and died on her tongue. Ask him? Just like that?
[05:20] Her first coherent thought was: why not? Wouldn't the best chance of decreasing her own ignorance be to gain input from someone who had more insight into her questions? His answers could be carefully considered, put in context and evaluated for trustworthiness, and-
[05:22] The following thought was: that's ridiculous. What chance is there going to be of that, unless things go horribly wrong?
[05:26] She finally replied, just as softly, "I am not sure that, in a situation where we are likely to meet, there would be the safety for questions."
[05:36] For a moment, the thought if I brought you back with me, pretending you're a convert, you would be safe crossed Baishar's mind, and he opened his muzzle as the urge took him to articulate it. Instead, he faltered, unsure whether it would be appreciated. It wasn't a scenario he wanted to push for – it had simply been the first to come to mind.
With his body language conveying I'm sorry I ever suggested it but absent any verbalised suggestion to go with it, he closed his muzzle again and glanced aside.
[05:45] She was not the most observant when it came to other people, but it occurred to her that his stance meant something. "You had a thought?"
[05:57] His shoulders subtly twisted upward as his muzzle shrank back, hinting at a defensive posture held for a moment of silence. Then, with only some hesitance betraying that he had thought speaking of it a poor idea just moments before: "The Nayabaru sent me to bring them... recruits. They don't bind them and they pay very little attention to them.
"To say you could come and go as you please if you impersonate someone like that, if you went back with me pretending to be someone like that, might be an overstatement – but you could get in without being otherwise... accosted, threatened or maltreated in any way but perhaps verbally, and you could get out again.
"Valcen wouldn't mind – he would play along, I'm sure of it. There's no risk of exposure. They all act strange; they're still wary of the Nayabaru. They're not aggressive. They listen to Valcen, not to the Nayabaru directly, and it is Valcen who talks to them. And they're not good at Kendaneivash. We can pretend you don't speak Naya. It would obfuscate a lot."
His muzzle clacked shut. The look of apology returned, perhaps born of the realisation that it was maybe not the best reflection of his character that he had already thought this out in such detail.
§ 2020-10-04 00:34:04
[00:37] Her gaze went distant. If Baishar knew what he was talking about... if Valcen were really willing to listen to the questions of someone who would take such a risk...
[00:44] It said much about her, perhaps, that she found the idea appealing at all, but she did. It would not be the first time that obtaining knowledge had involved risk, but daily existence was a risk; every dawn brought the Tarnish, and a new chance of capture.
[00:50] It might work. It might. If Baishar knew what he was talking about, and if Valcen were really willing to listen, and to answer. But it required both those things to be true, and both individuals to be trustworthy. And while she had found that much of her resentment of Baishar had already quite evaporated, she had to remind herself that, under the circumstances, placing full trust in him would be fairly rightly viewed as foolish, while she knew Valcen only through what Baishar and Evenatra had said.
[00:53] And, even if both of them proved reliable... it all depended on so many other things not going wrong. No mistakes. No accidents. No making Nayabaru suspicious. Could she manage not to do that?
[00:55] "I think..." she managed, the words coming thick in her mouth. "It would... too many factors... I shouldn't."
[00:57] It only occurred to her after speaking that she hadn't factored the idea freeing a captive over the wishes of trusted companions into her decision-making process.
[01:22] A mild anxiety was visible in Baishar's feathers. He was torn between the glimmer of hope that he might be able to convince this kavkem to help him escape rather than try to hinder him if he tried to leave, and a pang of empathy – uncertainty was a powerful demotivator.
At the same time, he was aware the offer he'd made was time sensitive. It would work better now, when his disappearance was still fresh, than it was in a few days time. The longer such a charade was put off, the more he had to explain what had taken him so long.
Was it right to say that? Pressuring her into it seemed the wrong thing to do, both on a moral level and in regards to efficiency – she wouldn't talk kindly to being pressured, surely.
But was it right to withhold it? It seemed like important information, if she was truly considering it. He might not want to pester her, but he didn't want to sabotage her chances, either. It might be so easy to reward her curiosity, if only he could convince her gently...
"I understand," he said, finally, posture slightly submissive. He'd touched his eye again, triggering some kind of mechanism that made it appear normal and, as far as Edaaj could tell, act normal as well. "I suppose in a day or two it becomes moot, anyway. I'd... also need an excuse why I've been away so long and... I'm not that creative," he apologised.
It was certainly a sincere apology – he would rather they had as much time as it needed. He remembered how patient Valcen had always been with him and so had learnt to appreciate patience and the freedom of choice that it enabled.
[02:11] Ah. A closing window of opportunity – because, truly, the temptation was just not enough to deal with as it was.
[02:34] Her previous concerns still stood, but it was with a certain amount of agony that she replied, "Neither am I. But things are as they are. If it were only my own judgment to consider... I admit, it would be foolish by any good measure, but I might. The risk would still be quite high but, just to know, or to have the chance to..."
[02:49] She stopped, and started again, moved by her previous thought about loyalties. "But it is not only my own judgment. The gathering of recruits, and the way in which it led to our meeting, have almost certainly made you kaaru to the others, and it is quite reasonable that they should feel so. They do not trust what would happen if you were let go. And they are, I would say, my itaa.
To put them in fear, and go against their wishes, to satisfy my own curiosity would be... inappropriate."
[03:09] There was no need to hide that the word kaaru made him cringe slightly. To a kernel deep inside him, it seemed counter-intuitive – a kaaru in one's midst was simply killed. Of course, here the humans were complicating matters; he was quite lucid of that. Left to their own devices, these kavkema might have already slit his throat.
Left to their own devices, on the other hand, they would hardly have met in the first place. It was the arrival of the humans that triggered these events – it couldn't have happened any other way.
He knew he was not acting like a kaaru, not now. But what of earlier? It was a perfect fit, of course. It was fair if they didn't accept his explanation; he hadn't asked for forgiveness and wouldn't start now. But the notion that he truly might be kaaru to this group only further kindled his desire to return to his de-facto amanat.
It was from this private lament that his question spawned: "And you?" Only a slight pause followed, before he clarified softly: "Do you see me as kaaru?" For someone who had been armed with a weapon as formiddable as the Imitorunyema, he sounded surprisingly vulnerable now.
§ 2020-10-04 03:42:12
[03:42] Edaaj found it hard to meet his gaze. She hadn't really considered it. Before... yes, certainly she had. Of course she had. But now?
[03:48] The words came out as if forced: "I don't... know." A shiver ran down her body. "Possibly I should. But at the moment it is... hard not to feel that if things had been different, I would have gotten along well with you."
[03:51] If he hadn't tried to seize them. If he hadn't intended to change them. But in such a world, would he have ever been changed by the Torunyema himself? And would he have had the same kind of appreciation for knowledge and improvement that she thought she found in him here? It was hard to say, and she would likely never know.
[16:06] It was the closest to an explicit acknowledgement that the sense of kinship ran both ways that he was likely to get. Curiosity as a common denominator. Except he had been lucky – he'd been in the right place in the right time to learn his fill. But this woman was likely barred from it, unless she changed her mind, or someone changed it for her.
That last thought briefly lingered in him as a familiar, distracting emotion. For a while, he was quiet, keeping his posture neutral, trying not to get lost in a daydream that, while pleasant, helped neither Edaaj nor him.
"Does it frighten you?" he asked, finally, driven by a curiosity about her generally calm nature. "That the technology exists to let someone else decide how to change who you are?"
It was clear he expected the answer to be some variant of 'yes', but the way he'd worded it made it equally transparent that it did not frighten him and he could fathom that someone else might draw the same conclusion. The necessary trust he had to have for Valcen's judgement evidently ran deep; which, of course, was tautological.
[00:51] "Technology is not a thing to fear," Edaaj asserted, with little hesitation, "only how it is wielded."
[00:53] The statement came out without reference to the Torunyemaa specifically, and it took a moment for her to think: might this be different? But no; even a moment's thought was enough to dispel that.
[00:58] "I could see applications of such a thing," she continued, slightly more cautiously, "that I would find blameless. Sometimes there are those who experience madness not due to the Tarnish. Sometimes there are those who are no longer in the grip of the Nayabaru but are still troubled by what was done to them. Perhaps there is a role there for... mitigating damage, or to undo it, if that is possible."
[01:33] Baishar opened his muzzle slightly again, but stopped himself from speaking the first thing that was on his mind – that he certainly felt better now that Valcen had taken care of his anxieties. He was, after all, usually in Katal, constantly surrounded by Nayabaru, which could drive anyone to some insanity.
It was perhaps not the right baseline. He closed his muzzle again.
Only several minutes later did he cautiously volunteer his thoughts after all, voice halting, unsure if it was right to be so open about it: "I understand most of what I say is inherently suspect, but I owe Valcen much peace of mind – and Valcen owes some of his own peace of mind to me, even. We've used this technology to help ourselves in the context of Katal.
"I'm grateful – and I'm convinced my past self, if he could make a case for himself, would also be grateful. We've seen a lot of suffering. We're not blind to it now, but we can function despite it. Valcen still... minimises it. He takes away their fear first. He still wants them to be happy, to feel appreciated. To... not have to constantly run away, not constantly be on edge.
"We may not like what we're doing in overall sum – but we do what we can to make the trade-off worthwhile even for those caught up in it. Valcen does what he can to make it worthwhile even for those caught up in it.
"Understand, I'm happy when I'm with him and I miss him now. He wouldn't need to be kind to me, we both know that, he has my loyalty – but he is kind, regardless. He cares about how I feel. He reminds me, whenever I might make a rash decision, what he's done, asks me to factor it in and not... blindly follow."
It was unnecessary, of course. Valcen had done the right thing and Baishar wouldn't want it any other way. He needed no reminders. But something about the reminder felt good – the honesty felt good, that silly but heartwarming concern that perhaps Baishar's enthusiasm might run away with him.
[02:01] Edaaj had never concerned herself overmuch with difficult ethical questions. Most situations she'd encountered in her life had been, in her eyes, either Clearly Ethical, Not At All Ethical, or simply Necessary Action Required, in which case ethics had to be set aside. Hard decisions occasionally had to be made, but she'd hardly ever been the one to make them; she had never been a natural leader.
[02:10] But this, she thought, at least as presented by Baishar, seemed like a difficult one. Was it Clearly Ethical, or Not At All Ethical? ...if people truly were being made happy and content, was that not ethical? But it most likely, in many cases, being done without their consent. And yet it made their existences bearable. But should it? Are there not things that one should not permit to happen? ...But what choice did they have, in any case? Did the Nayabaru permit them any alternatives?
[02:20] So, was it that Necessary Action was Required? ...well, that was the question, wasn't it? It depended on the goal. In her own experience, the goal was to maintain qanu, a life worth living, at least so far as that was possible. But how did one define that?
[02:23] In the grip of the Nayabaru, there would be no merciful end, and there would be no freedom. Since both those things were denied in any case, might not happiness and lack of fear – even induced by another – be the closest approximation of qanu there was?
[02:25] She said nothing, but the idea troubled her. It very, very visibly troubled her, all the more because she could not articulate why it seemed wrong.
[02:41] The awkward silence stretched across a few more heartbeats. "I'm sorry," Baishar said then, letting his gaze drop. "You must think I'm talking a lot of nonsense, since you just... haven't seen it, how it is." He meant Katal, he meant Valcen's dangerous balance amongst the Nayabaru to be able to continue scheming, but it could just as well refer to the Torunyema itself.
[02:51] "I don't... I think..." she trailed off. No, she hadn't seen it – whichever he meant. She doubted she would. "...perhaps," she concluded unhappily, "it doesn't matter."
[02:56] Doesn't it? he wanted to ask, but stopped himself. She was clearly unhappy enough about the situation without that he twisted the knife – the point of this exercise wasn't to hurt her, it was to try to make her understand, to broaden his options.
And then, bluntly by content but softly intoned: "I expect I will try to escape in a few days from now. Will you try to stop me?"
There were many possible reactions to his question, of course. The kindest to him would be to look away; the middling ground was to watch him more closely; the harshest response was to take his restraining more seriously, although the more he was hobbled, the harder it would be to take him along. Evenatra might need to be informed.
[03:41] Edaaj stiffened, her feather bristline, and closed her eyes.
[03:44] She would have to tell Evenatra. And Evenatra would very likely find it necessarily to kill him, as Edaaj herself had thought should be done in the beginning. It might upset the humans, of course...
[03:52] The idea upset her. And he had to know what would happen if his escape was preempted, or if an attempt failed. "That seems like an extremely unwise idea," she croaked. "As is telling me about it. What purpose is there in that?"
[04:08] Baishar shrugged, somehow unperturbed. When he answered, it was gently: "The purpose of honesty. Does it change anything? Did you not honestly already think that was going to happen? None of you are guarding me with much passion. As you've witnessed, I'm willing to play along, I want to minimise the danger to you, but it's also true there's no future for me here.
"I want to return to Valcen, because he loves—" Baishar paused briefly. No, that wasn't the right word. "Because he appreciates me. And the fact of the matter is that you've all been kind to me – you've let me live and you've let me tell my story – so the least I can do is be honest in exchange."
§ 2020-10-06 10:54:17
[04:06] Edaaj worked her jaw in frustration. In most cases, she appreciated honesty, but she found it very difficult to deal with in this particular situation.
[04:08] The words cames out of her mouth haltingly, as if something were trying to claw them back: "If you... attempt... to leave... I... will have to... come after you."
§ 2020-10-07 00:34:19
[00:34] Whether he was being obtuse or just deliberately playing with words, Baishar softly responded with: "I don't mind." But past the frustrating detail that he was naively or intentionally missing her point, there was something pleasant in that statement: He didn't mind her company. Though they were formally on opposite sides of this conflict, he welcomed her.
§ 2020-10-08 21:38:42
[18:02] Edaaj felt briefly, and irrationally, angry. Though she found it hard to classify another kavkem as an enemy in the same sense that a Nayabaru would be, the fact remained that was on an opposing side and a prisoner and he was not acting like it. One did not announce one's intention to escape to a captor. It made no sense.
[18:05] There was no way in which an escape attempt could allow the current state of trust to continue. He had to know that. If it failed, or was preempted, he wouldn't get another chance, one way or the other.
[18:15] So when you can get them aside, tell the others. End of problem. Even if he makes an immediate break for it, he'll have pursuers right behind him. Evenatra can probably do something to catch up to him, even if no one else can. ...But he may be killed. He probably will be killed. It'd be too dangerous to let him live after that. That's the risk he'd be taking. He seems lucid enough to know it could happen. If he's at peace with the idea, so much the better. Yes, but-
[18:16] ...but she didn't really want him to die.
[19:08] The idea of acquiring knowledge of the world, and of how to use it to make things that could make living in it easier, was not unique among her fellow kavkema, but an interest in either beyond sheer survival value was difficult to find – even Idarago's project with the goggles was ultimately utilitarian. Baishar seemed to have some measure of that appreciation, and she could appreciate that.
[20:32] She would prefer him to remain alive. And present.
She failed to speak further. She wasn't sure she trusted herself to.
[00:32] "There's still time," he said, softly, breaking the tense silence light-heartedly. Yet it was heavy with the weight of ambiguity: There's still time to change your mind. There's still time for me to live for a while before I make my escape attempt in a few days. There's still time for you to ask any questions you might have. And, forebodingly: There's still time before the Nayabaru catch up with you.
§ 2020-10-09 22:29:30
[22:29] Edaaj eyed him for a minute or two, looking uncertain and regretful, and contented herself with, "Yes."