§ 2021-04-28 22:09:45
[22:48] One benefit of Estedat had been that it was the first settlement attached to at least one broad road and certainly the first to have the equipment to make use of it: A kind of open carriage with a harness that slipped over large, bulky ceratopsians that were evidently willing to carry it at a steady pace.
Greg had been loaded onto the carriage wrapped into several layers of felt blankets, in consequence giving an almost comical appearance of some kind of pale-faced dummy in a move of furniture. But his state did not seem to be actively deteriorating, although he still slept more than he was awake.
Valcen had nestled himself beside Greg's torso like a ball of feathers; Edaaj nestled beside him in turn. Jason and Saira were on the other side of the carriage, with a good view of the kavkema and their sick friend.
The cart jittered in time with the uneven ground it was drawn across, but the road appeared to be remarkably well-maintained, so the jitters almost never turned to jumps, and it was easy to eventually let the rumble of wheels lull one to some semblance of sleep. The nimble-legged steeds they had been travelling on before followed in the wake of the carriage.
Only two Nayabaru did double-duty of guiding the animals and guarding the precious cargo. When a thin rain began to drizzle down, Valcen adjusted a pane of some kind of waxed fabric, pulling it over their heads. There was no dedicated frame to hold it, so it was occasionally pulled taut by Jason's head, whenever he decided to shift.
Eventually, in the middle of the night, the carriage parked somewhere while their beasts of burden caught some rest of their own. The sleepy haze morphed into true sleep – at awkward angles, more sitting than lying down, but better than nothing.
Saira's dreams were interrupted when Valcen disconnected the tarp from her end of the carriage to reveal dawn slowly rolling in. There was some lazy commotion at the front of the carriage, the heavyset ceratopsians clearly waking with the sun and ready to continue on their way.
Valcen meanwhile was sitting atop the carriage, behind her, and brought his muzzle down. "I need to steal you away for a while," he whispered; it was impossible to tell the exact tone from the softness of his voice, whether he was intoning it apologetically, and his body language was opaque to her in her groggy state, but he certainly did not sound demanding.
[23:20] It was frustrating that she couldn't actually rub the sleep from her eyes. The suit obstructed her from doing anything more than trying to work this kink out of her neck. She definitely slept on it wrong, but who could blame her, piled into the back of the cart like important offerings to some deity. Lamenting the lack of coffee, she was still a little bleary-eyed when Valcen approached her and murmured that he would like to speak to her. 'Stealing her away' sounded ominous but that may have been due to a willingness to attribute -anything- Valcen did as suspect and dangerous. She said nothing immediately and then glanced to Jason and then to Greg where he was laid out like a precious swaddled child. "This isn't going to take very long, is it?" Her tone was even, suggesting that she was trying to control herself, or at least give off an impression of alertness that she really did not feel.
[23:32] "...in all honesty, I don't know," Valcen admitted. In the thin light of dawn, he was little more than a collection of subjectively white and brown feathers, arranged in mysterious ways... but even so, he didn't seem to be in very good shape. For that matter, why was he sitting on the back of the carriage, behind her, rather than under the tarp he'd just started rolling back? He'd been sitting beside Greg for as long as Saira consciously remembered. It seemed unlikely he had clambered out purely to pull back the tarp.
[23:35] By now, Valcen should be used to the linguist's constant intense stares, but she favoured him with yet another as if she could peel back those feathers and uncover what was really driving him. It wasn't exactly safe to go off with him alone, and Jason would probably vehemently disapprove, but it might be a chance to work out more language and culture. Peering at him, she shrugged and threw caution to the wind. "Alright, I guess," she said, uncertainty clouding her voice. "Are you okay?" She glanced to where Jason presumably slept and Greg's still feverish slumber.
[23:40] The question bristled his feathers and did something to his body language. "I— I'm not sure, entirely." He raised his voice just enough that she could tell there was a tense, nervous edge in it, quite unlike any of the nervousness she'd heard in his voice before. "But does it really matter?" It sounded like the sort of question that should have been intoned much more bitterly, given their prior interactions so far, but he seemed capable of delivering it quite neutrally – and with it said, he began to clamber off the back of the cart and with a thud landed on the ground beside it, glancing back up at her from his new position with an attentive gaze.
[23:45] Following after him, she stretched her arms over her head to the suit's allowance once standing. She peered at him with obvious skepticism burning in her eyes, but she did not remark on it further. Valcen had proven himself to be a master at the half truth and was talented with the gift of providing just enough of a morsel to be left wanting more. "It kinda matters," she said at last, her gaze turned to the wrist panel as she checked the functionality and integrity of her suit. Finding nothing amiss, she looked up at him. Saira would not comment on his uncertainty, having nothing encouraging or even useful to say about it. However, it sat poorly with her, as this was some portent that she was on the cusp of deciphering, but could not put the last piece of the puzzle into place. With a sigh, she gestured for him to lead the way. As they departed, she looked over her shoulder at the cart where the others were.
[00:12] With them both out of the carriage, it was clear even in the dim beginnings of morning light that he was injured. It didn't seem to be a crippling one and the bleeding had stopped, but something had cut into his flank. Evidently, this wasn't something he couldn't be unsure about, so there was more to where it had come from than some accident or a fight amongst equals.
"While you were resting, a few things happened." — Of course, Saira could see that, if not exactly what. — "The long and short of it is that the Karesejat thinks I am conspiring with you. I don't exactly hold the impression against her, she's been injured..." — The Karesejat had been injured? That was worth noting? — "...but as it's patently false, one of you needs to talk to her, and I'm sure you agree it's best for Jason to stay with Greg to protect him."
The tone of his voice had finally resolved past the sleepy fog swimming through her head: He was miserable.
[00:18] Her eyes drifted towards the obvious injury; he didn't mention the cause, and was unlikely to expound on the subject should she ask. As he was explaining, she paid half attention to it until he mentioned the Karesejat. And -her- injury. She whipped around to face him with her whole body as the suit blocked much of her peripheral. "She's injured?" Though she doubted it, she wondered if this might put her at ease. That the weapon who was designed to be intimidating would be less so if she was nursing some wound. Glancing back to where the boys were still resting, she realized that in this, Valcen was at least speaking the truth. It was best for Jason to remain with the sick Greg. With Samanta still missing, Greg out of commission, and Jason needing to guard him and make recommendations, that left Saira. She rapidly processed this as best as she could and steeled her resolve to the only option before her. "Alright. I suppose there's no helping that. But if I die, I'm going to haunt you forever." It was the only threat the human could make and even then it was toothless. "Let me wake Jason so he doesn't panic when he finds I'm gone."
[00:22] Valcen seemed about to object to her plan, but then simply crinkled a little and waited for her to sync with Jason. He sat down on the road, tucking his limbs under his body, peering mostly toward the carriage to track Saira's progress, but occasionally cast a nervous look back along their strange procession – no doubt the Karesejat was there somewhere.
[00:29] She clambered back into the carriage to wake Jason so she could explain the situation to him. It was a risk, but then again, everything they did on Nekenalos was a risk at this point, so might as well embrace the danger and laugh in its terrifying face. Jason was predictably wary of the situation, and for that she could not blame him. She felt likewise, but there was nothing else that could be done. They were in accord that Jason ought to stay with Greg, and he wished her luck when facing down the Karesejat. Her features scrunched up into an expression that was more grimace than smile. Wishing him luck with getting treatment for Greg, she slipped back out of the carriage and returned to Valcen's side. "Let's get this party started, I guess?" Saira was not looking forward to another meal of protein goop, but it was what it was.
[00:37] "Thank you," Valcen said, in a tone of jarringly sincere gratitude. He peeled himself off the ground, turned and began to trot ahead of her, leading her away from their little caravan at a shallow angle. Perhaps that begged the question why the Karesejat had not simply come to the cart herself – but given that Valcen had described her as looking something like a spider, chances were it was simply meant as a courtesy. If one visually looked like a monster and knew as much, it stood to reason one might want to avoid shoving one's face into one's visitors' faces to wake them.
[00:41] Not knowing just how far back in the caravan the Karesejat was lurking, her still waking brain decided to just fling the most pressing questions at Valcen, rapid-fire style. "How did you get hurt? What hurt the Karesejat? Was it the same thing? What did you say to her to give her the impression that we're conspiring against her?" Naturally, Saira assumed that some report of Valcen's mislead the situation and now the Karesejat was debating what to do with her human guest-captives. He didn't have to look at her to hear the frown in her voice.
[00:59] At the barrage of questions, Valcen stopped walking, muzzle dropping, waiting for the list of questions to stop. It was hard to know precisely whether he'd managed to remember all of them, but he sighed softly, gathered himself into something resembling a dignified pose, and began to respond before he continued walking:
"Much as I know you don't care too much about my well-being, nor do I fault you for it, I know you have kneejerk reactions to violence, so please let me make this clear: Don't judge her for it. The Karesejat and I have a longer history or mistrusting each other and this is the equivalent of a slap in the face in the heat of the moment. It's specific to me. I deserved it."
Despite a vehement undercurrent, he didn't sound particularly as though he thought he deserved it; but he evidently thought it was what he ought to say, the best possible way of presenting the situation.
"Baishar is my responsibility," he elaborated, gradually resuming his stride. "I taught him almost everything he knows. He shares in some of my goals. We are supposed to be aligned and in all honesty, I think we are. And recently, Baishar made the judgement call to attack the Karesejat. The Karesejat rightly assumes I might have done the same in his position.
"Naturally, it casts me in a very bad light. I knew this could happen, but this is such an inopportune time – I want it to not have any impact on you, you have nothing to do with this, and that's easy to clear up." A pause. "...of course I want it to not have any impact on me, either, but as far as that's concerned, at most I can minimise the subsequent... damage." The more Saira listened, the more he sounded like someone who was grateful to still be alive at all.
Quite possibly, they had underestimated how terrified Valcen was of this Karesejat and how much of a hold she had over him.
[01:05] There was an unknown history between himself (a supposed 'god-like' figure in that he claimed responsibility for moving an entire planet into earth's orbit) and what she could only assume was some other deific figure. That did not bode well for the ants from earth. Their innocence of any conspiracy against the Karesejat would be their shield, and perhaps, ignorance was the better strategy. The less she knew about the goings on, the less she would have to feign or outright lie about in the face to face interview. "You'll recover, though, won't you?" It seemed only polite to ask him such. Few others seemed to know the human tongue and their twinned purposes of serving as translators was of paramount import. Then, she recalled that the Karesejat had been learning English from Valcen. It was a tangled up mess and they were like flies caught in the web of a spider. How true this was, she did not yet know or understand fully. "Alright, so what's a slap between friends?" Whatever precipitated Baishar's attack remained out of her ken, but perhaps it was for the best. This bravado was all a sham. A farce to see her through the confrontation with the Karesejat.
§ 2021-05-02 00:54:21
[01:18] The silence that came in response to Saira's question was in itself an answer – an unsettling one, that suggested that Valcen knew the answer to her first question was 'no'.
But what did that mean? He didn't look as though he were going to keel over from blood loss, or had any broken bones, or really had any ailments other than a single deep scratch in his flank. Presumably, he wasn't thinking about his physical well-being; the damage was not even pretending to be a mortal wound. Was his entire reputation with the Nayabaru on the line?
What had he said? 'I fight for the privilege of relative freedom every day.'
Was he in the process of losing that forever? It wasn't likely Saira was going to shed a tear, but if any of his claims that the Nayabaru were worse than what he was doing were true, perhaps there was more at stake than the pathetic fears of a second-class villain.
The caravan disappeared behind them and Valcen stopped in what seemed to be the middle of a clearing. "This is Saira," he said, the statement bizarre for the moment it took Saira to cognitively realise the Karesejat was here. Her eyes had yet to catch up to the fact. But even as they were searching for signs of the spider, the pattern of forest rippled into a sleek black guise, limbs longer than a human, body held about at height of Saira's shoulders, with a head that looked like someone had crossed a spider's with the aesthetics of a bull's, chelicerae and horns and more eyes than the customary two.
She was far, far too close. If Saira wanted, she could reach out an arm and just barely touch a spindly limb.
[01:26] The silence that descended between them was eerie enough. The lack of answer did not warm her up to the idea of meeting with the Karesejat, but she tried to marshall all of her bravery to the forefront. They didn't seem to get very far before Valcen stopped. Just as she was about to ask him what the pause was for, he made an introduction to the air around them. Eyes blinked in curiosity before scattering all about her to feverishly take in the scene around her. She saw nothing at first. She didn't even notice the rippling of the air where the form of the Karesejat sat waiting. But then everything materialized, bleeding back into their reality. True cloaking ability! Saira's mind whirled at the technological advantages of such things but only for a moment. The resolving shape was large, far larger than she had anticipated. She couldn't help the retreating step she took, her head tilting upwards to catch sight of the monstrous figure. At her wrist, her suit complained about her heightened heart beat, the quick breaths of air she almost gasped him. Valcen's warning that the Karesejat had built herself to be terrifying rang through her mind. She closed her eyes, took a couple of steadying deep breaths and looked back at the horrifying arachnid shape. "Hello." She managed to get the word out without her voice quavering too much. "My name is Saira Hoshino. I'm a member of the mission sent here from Earth." Any other pleasantries floated from her brain like rats abandoning a sinking ship.
[01:48] Three of the creature's dangerously thin limbs rose, their tips brushing Saira's peripheral vision, then withdrawing and easing down onto the ground in a slow, deliberate motion, tipping her torso downward slowly. One limb stayed struck into the ground before her. The head tilted – could spider heads tilt? – and then the creature held still.
In a voice that was clearly alien, thrumming from somewhere near the front of the arachnoid thorax, but far too smoothly recognisable, with no clichés of artifice in its flavour, the Karesejat said: "I am honoured to meet you, Saira Hoshino. I am the Karesejat Terenyira, which to best approximation is something of a supreme leader of the Nayabaru.
"I would like to apologise for my appearance. I have only limited control over it. Is there perhaps a colour I could take on that would make it less unpleasant?"
Like with Valcen, there appeared to be a faint trace of Indian English in the accent – an eerie effect. The Karesejat must have picked up the accent from Valcen, who in turn had no doubt picked it up from when he had been a human. But whatever the accent, the English was disconcertingly flawless, her manner courteous and her tone polite.
[01:55] Despite the rather upsetting form that the Karesejat took, Saira was struck with the folly of having sent her at all. No need for a linguist when the alien lifeforms spoke English. Holding tight to this irony, she steeled herself for whatever might fall out from this interview. An interview because the Karesejat had suspicions that Valcen was working with them against her. The accent was heard, sticking out like a sore thumb from her own, but crisp and clean, the words well enounciated, almost like a native speaker. Far closer than many have achieved on Earth. Saira pushed aside her thoughts on the words and continued to keep her eyes straight ahead. "Your colouring is fine..." She trailed off here, wondering if there was a way to style the address of the Karesejat, like one would with royalty on earth. "Forgive me, I should have prepared better; do I address you as Karesejat, ma'am?" The polite moniker seemed unworthy and not encompassing enough, but best to err on the side of caution. "I haven't even had my morning coffee," she said with something of a forced laugh to accompany it.
[02:06] "You may address me as you please," the Karesejat said, her voice far gentler than her appearance. "Karesejat is the title, Terenyira my name." A band of blue colour ran up from the tips of her limbs through her body, as though to explain, wordlessly, what she meant when she'd offered to take on a different colour, and she eased back up from her approximate kneel.
"No doubt you know that I summoned you here for a reason," the spider said in that deceptively pleasant tone, like someone apologising for disrupting someone's day. "Would you at all be willing to tell me what Valcen has been telling you about our situation? I don't mean to force the matter, but I felt it was time to hear such things from you, not from Valcen."
[02:30] Once again, her mind drifted to wondering about the technology of what appeared to be a cyborg body. The ability to change colour like that. The question was not out of place, at least not as Valcen had prepared her for. Nodding, she plastered a smile in place. "We spoke a lot about the languages used here, as you might well imagine. I might have been a little too focused on that, but language, even alien language is so... interesting. Valcen promised there was something like a primer on the Naya language that I could look at when we reached Katal. About your situation, and that of the kavkema, I confess to some confusion. As I understand it, the Nayabaru under your leadership are the dominant species and have created wonderous technology. My crewmates and I had split up before we received any message from Valcen. He explained to us somewhat about uh... Threadwielders? But that was... hard to swallow. I'm still working on resolving all that." Saira was wandering in her reply, not quite answering the question. How was she supposed to answer when she so fully disagreed with the mind altering device. "It's a lot to take in, and seems too fantastic for reality, but here we are, a new planet in Earth's orbit, so I guess I ought to be readjusting my worldview. As for the dynamics between the Nayabaru and the kavkema, I am not entirely sure I have a full grasp on what's going on. I saw the device that rendered a kavkem docile, which was for its own good, I was told... I just don't think I understand fully the politics and necessities." She was babbling, partially out of fear, and partially because she wasn't sure exactly would save their skins. "It's not our place to interfere," she said at last, like this was somehow useful.
[02:51] The worst part of the Karesejat's appearance was not so much the terrifying guise as the complete lack of body language clues. It wasn't even clear where she was looking, let alone whether she was doing so with any disdain, scepticism or friendly acknowledgement.
But when she spoke, the knot of uncertainty resolved: "Saira, you need to choose your words carefully neither for my nor your sake. It's a great boon to have an outside perspective on anything here. This planet has a tense history; I certainly don't expect you to enjoy the manifestations of that. Please, speak freely."
Something was wrong. This creature sounded reasonable. Had Valcen been lying about the Karesejat completely? Or was this the danger? Was the monstrous thing about her not her appearance, but instead her ability to speak her lies with flawless confidence and kindness?
[03:21] Terenyira was quite reasonable, smooth and flawless like the most successful politician. In many ways, she was nothing but that, despite whatever terrifying technology and abilities she might have hiding under that chrome carapace. Saira was not qualified to be representing Earth on these matters, but it was what it was. And all before she had breakfast. Valcen's timing was poor, if it could truly be blamed upon him. "I'm afraid the outside perspective is a bit uneducated." She was not making some great attempt to spare Valcen for his part in her education; she was trying to play as neutral as possible, her own attempts at politics. "I'm sure there is a vast history to speak of the current situation, and without some understanding of that, I fear I'm unable to comment on present events. I did witness that device in action," she added with a hint of distaste creeping through her voice despite her best attempts not to. "The Ino... Ino..." Glancing to Valcen for him to supply the word, one he had, she continued. "It seems harsh, but Humanity has done harsh things in the past, too, in the name of good. I suspect it can be no different here."
[03:26] "Imitorunyema," Valcen said, minimalistically, his own attention squarely on the Karesejat, feathers ever so slightly raised in tension.
There was no way for the spider to nod. Instead, she simply continued in tone as though she had: "And have you and Valcen been getting along? Is he treating you with due respect?"
[03:31] Saira hadn't even been close in naming the device that she had horrifically witnessed. Still, she repeated it as best she could before plowing on. The subject of Valcen's hospitality came up, and she wondered if this was not some sort of job review for him. He was injured somehow, for some attack against the Karesejet from an ally. She suspected the humans were a part of some conspiracy and it was Saira's job to disabuse the Karesejat of such a notion. "He has been very hospitible towards us. Polite, despite what fears we had regarding the lack of a language barrier. Which was somewhat disconcerting, as you can understand, I'm sure. He has answered our questions when they came up, which has been very helpful," she added.
[03:53] There was a significant pause; an unpleasant silence, given the absence of empathetic clues. Then the Karesejat said, tone still gentle: "Allow me to be entirely frank with you. Valcen and I are not friends – we tolerate each other and our major life goals are quite antithetical to each other.
"Regrettably, I have reason to believe he may be trying to poison your thoughts against me, since it's quite trivial to do and it serves his interest. Should that prove to be true, it is no fault of yours, and you are most welcome to continue to believe whatever it is you have come to believe – but I also have no interest in tolerating that behaviour from him.
"And so, as tedious and embarrassing as it is to have this line of conversation at all, as unpleasant it is for me to drag you into this display of petty personal conflict, I must ask you – and I beg of you that you please be honest as that we may resolve this with minimal friction – has Valcen made any attempts to form an alliance with you, specifically intended to be detrimental to me?"
Saira's best guess of Valcen's body language was that he was terrified.
[04:06] With only the most discipline as she could muster did she avoid glancing in Valcen's direction. To do so would seem a great misstep. "He has mentioned that there was some conflict and deeper undercurrents of understanding that we did not have, and I think has taken pains to be as neutral in the subject as possible. He repeatedly told us that he was attempting to make a fair accounting of the politics that rule this planet. He said he did not want us to prejudice us against you, and even warned us of your... unique but somewhat uncomfortable appearance. Without that, I might have run in fear." Because you're scary, Terenyira. "I don't know how much of this is accurate, if he concealed or embellished anything, but he seemed to have been desperate to be as fair as he could." Whether or not this would damn Valcen, she couldn't say. He had repeatedly spoke as she had described, not wanting to build up any resentment between the humans and the Karesejat.