[16:34] The maelstrom of darkness that had consumed Asraaban's thoughts was so pure that it had ceased to be soothing, though there was only a fragment of him there to appreciate it. The blind world was made of sound and touch, impressions of existence. Something had gently gripped his body in massive hands and twisted, painlessly arranging his limbs and spine in a manner nature had never intended.
He could only guess at the world and his own place in it. Gravity seemed to tug at him from several places at once, dragging at his right shoulder to about equal degree that it pulled gently at his paws. It was a deceptive gentleness; though he did not feel bound, he could not break free from its beckon to untwist himself.
The Nayabaru were here, that much was clear. Nayabaru and kiikama, like the one that had brought down Nadani – creatures in the guise of kavkema that had the souls of monsters. They were shapeless presences at his peripheral perception, surrounding him like the bars of a cage, but in all directions.
Eventually, he noticed that something sat on his left shoulder, a small source of warmth, equipped with tiny hands that held onto the feathers of his mane. He could feel it patiently worrying at his tool necklace like a heedless scavenger, unconcerned that the owner might make his objection known with violence. Perhaps it knew that such truly was beyond him.
Without pausing in its persistence, seemingly intent on stripping him of any tools that might allow him to escape once the strange, blind world released its hold on him, it whispered into his mind, sealing its mammalian nature: ~It would seem you have lost.~ There was a profound regret to its tone, as though it were not contributing.
[16:57] He had. In his defense, he had not been expecting KIIKAMA, nor whatever that... terrifyingly enhanced child of a spiderling was, with its metallic vines and whatever else it had that lead it to trying to eat Nadani's face. But that was untrue; of course it wouldn't eat her, that would be too merciful, so whatever it was tasked to do would be something much more unpleasant. Even if it was a glorified tranquilliser that deceived other kavkem into trying to prise it off instead of ripping her throat out and fleeing, like he should have done.
"I don't suppose you'd be willing to kill me for it, while you're there?" Asraaban tried to ask, feeling oddly hazy still.
[17:34] ~I am not really here,~ it commented, its weight no less convincing for the obvious truth of the statement. ~I cannot take your life.~ The first of the two circumferential strings of Asraaban's tool necklace gave way to the rodent's gnawing, a soundless snapping sensation.
~But the Nayabaru do make mistakes sometimes,~ it continued. ~Perhaps they will forget to feed you. There is much going on and it is easy to forget captives when there are no Yeresoa to tend to their health.~
For something presently stealing his tools, the mammal seemed oddly encouraging, as though there were genuine empathy to be found in its tiny, misshapen skull. As though it regretted the natural order of things, while still indulging in them, going through predictable motions. Scavengers. Thieves.
And yet the alien visitors were allegedly also mammalian. Perhaps there was a bridge to be built – perhaps in treating the visitors kindly, they could negotiate. It had been a kiikam that had taken down Nadani with metal writhing as if sprung from a magic spell, a kiikam that had wrestled with Asraaban before the blind world had claimed him, but perhaps the kiikama did not care.
Perhaps Tkanetar's brood were not malicious but indifferent, or some form of neutrality much like it. Perhaps one could seek an alliance with them. The rat on his shoulder at least seemed as though it could be reasoned with, if likely not about leaving him his tools.
[18:27] "If you can take my tools you should be able to take my life," Asraaban protested. This seemed logical to him. Somehow. He was upset that something was trying to steal his tools, he NEEDED them, but... he had to admit (his mentor had been ruthless on the topic of logic under crisis) that there was little to nothing on there that would have greater impact on the Nayabaru than his own teeth and claws. So. If the sacrifice of his tools could lead to freedom of body or freedom of death, then they were a necessary loss.
"Are you taking them for a reason or simply because you can?" he tried. Perhaps there was something he could trade, some piece of knowledge that would provoke the human-mammals in ways that the Nayabaru would not counter in time.
[18:40] ~Because I can,~ the mammal remarked. The second twine snapped, releasing Asraaban's tool necklace to one of the ambiguous tugs of gravity, presumably letting his mane puff out a little more – although whether anyone but the apparition on his shoulder took note of it in this world without light was a different question.
As the rat clambered from his shoulder and into his mane as if into a comfortable burrow, the rat observed: ~They can't help you, you know.~ It was an obvious comment about his musings related to their alien visitors; though it hardly seemed surprising that the psychic ability of mammals extended to some part to reading the minds of kavkema.
It was equally obvious that the comment was less about fundamental ability and more about... something else, as though the rat were convinced they would not help the kavkema, as though it were perhaps politically unthinkable.
[18:50] The rat didn't even seem to be stealing his tools, as much as letting them drop. Maybe. He couldn't quite tell, not at this angle; perhaps it had merely paused in favour of a nap in his mane. That WAS one thing mammals had in their favour: most were sensibly nocturnal.
Hyumans, less so, but then they'd shown remarkable flexibility; perhaps in their home, they slept whenever they required it with little care for the sun. Wouldn't the adherents of Nitish Ynas quail at the thought?
"What do we have to lose by asking?" Asrabaan remarked, cynically. The Nayabaru were clearly not seeking the hyumans in reaction to Evenatra's appeals but for their own purposes, so to do nothing was to lose.
[18:56] ~You can ask,~ the rodent commented, noncommittally. ~Asking will do you no harm. But they cannot help you.~ It seemed rather sure about its observation, as though it knew something about their inability to help that Asraaban could only guess at. Perhaps it had knowledge by way of mammalian kinship?
[19:00] Alright. The repetitiveness was key. "Why can't they help us?"
[19:09] ~You don't have the right teeth,~ the rodent commented with a flawlessly earnest tone. The statement triggered an emotional pang: The creature was obviously speaking the truth. It even seemed obvious in hindsight, with the firm certainty that came with dream logic.
[19:38] "It's not like I can steal their teeth," Asrabaan protested. Shed teeth could be useful tools, so it likely wouldn't be TOO unusual to ask for some, but that could take months. And even once the teeth had been acquired, there was the difficulty of fitting them.
[22:34] The rat chittered and hissed at the word 'steal', as though Asraaban was defiling something sacred with such a mundane suggestion – as though stealing teeth was unforgivable. Then it seemed to mellow, even in its silence, the body that Asraaban could feel buried in his mane losing its obvious tension. With significant delay: ~You would choose them, given opportunity?~
[18:42] Stealing objects was in the rat's nature. Stealing teeth was, apparently, in opposition. That surprised him, on some level, but he couldn't put a claw on why.
Would he choose them? On the surface, the answer was easy: of course. They were just teeth. Mammals seemed to cope just fine with their unmatching sets. But... bone deep, part of him knew there was more to it than that. That it was representative of... something. Tkanetar, most likely. He, Asraaban, was a creature of Tamachelu in story and deed, not of Tkanetar, and yet...
And yet, he knew that Tamachelu was not mere mythology. She was Evenatra, his friend and leader, the one who CARED, the one whom his people were being hunted for. And, likewise, he knew that Tkanetar was not the ruling deity of the Nayabaru (despite what their current hosts believed) but a third party. One who, truthfully, did not care for them. But perhaps cared for Evenatra's existence, and certainly for the humans in danger – at least in abstract – and opposed the now-twinning powers behind the Nayabaru.
And for that? For shared goals and desperation and the bright power of spite? "I think I would."
[19:42] The mammal was suspiciously quiet and still for a while, as though digesting what Asraaban had just revealed. Then it stretched its limbs in the fluff of his mane, pawing at his skin in the process, and remarked: ~I could give you a set.~ The undercurrent of its tone wasn't so much for a price as think twice, you might regret it.
[15:59] "Is there anything I should know, first?" Asraaban asked. It was good to be wary. And yet, there was very little that could go WORSE right now, so perhaps it was also good to be reckless.
[16:20] One tiny paw ran through his feathers like a misplaced nuzzle. ~Understand this – it will give you what you want,~ it mused.
To a waking mind, the statement might have appeared tautological. In the dream, it was a clear allusion to his thoughts from moments ago: It would cut his ties to Tamachelu and bind him to Tkanetar. It would affect how he saw the world, how he thought, how he acted. It was best to be sure about one's metaphysical allegiances.