Making Acquaintances of the Worst Kind

<< Revenant Faith and Foreign Pilgrimage

“If when you wake up, you’re heavily sensorily deprived, gagged, bound to an immobile surface, cut off from non-verbal and networked communications, and the first thing you perceive is someone telling you that everything is going to be fine so long as you cooperate… maybe it still won’t end up being the worst day of your life. Maybe you’re just the victim of a prank in very poor taste.”

-Sermon from an unidentified Lorbish priest

“You’ve got no shortage of questions, I’m sure. But let’s cover the important stuff first.”

The envoy had stepped from the circular dish-bowl thing, and had managed to talk for around a hundred heartbeats without anyone getting stabbed or attacked. All around the strange human’s makeshift auditorium, envoys slowly and carefully interwove themselves. The comfortable unambiguity of the alien nature of the visitors, combined with the inoffensiveness of the delivered speech, had calmed things down… for now.

Ktsn saw some envoys who were most certainly not human. Some of them approached a villager in multiples. Several others navigated around specific villagers, leaving distinct gaps. She found herself uncertain as to whether she was getting more confused or less.

“To reiterate what has already been said,” the disk-rider lectured, with one hand pointing skyward, “you are all now residents of the place named Rhaagm. You see, there was a problem which caused your home to suffer a bit of a terrible inconvenience. No; let’s be honest, your home was in dire straits – your village, yes, but also your planet. If things continued down that route, you would have had to contend with awesome, horrible creatures. ‘Beasts,’ we call them.”

The newcomer gestured with a hand. Suddenly, a swarm of geometric textures appeared in midair above the circular vehicle. They fleshed out, carved themselves. In a heartbeat, they left a midnight-colored shape roughly half a body-length in size. It depicted a creature which was composed of a bulbous posterior, legs that weren’t much longer than Ktsn’s hands, and a set of jaws that seemed to rip it in half down to its midpoint.

When it began animating with a lunging snap, the creature’s speed made it less of a fast motion and more of a black stroke through the air.

“These things are extremely dangerous, and able to invade places, like the realm that your planet called home, under the proper conditions. Part of those conditions – something that is called a ‘type nine event’ – had been met recently. With that in mind, prudence dictated that we remove your world from-”

Ktsn was picking up the general vibe of the dissertation even without understanding its specific verbiage. “There was a problem, we fixed it.” She got turned around, though, when she tried to grasp the nature of the solution. The visitors from the sky had… abducted the planet? A huge number of unanswered less-vital questions rattled around her brain.

How did these strangers speak her language?

How long had they been watching her people?

And more important than all of these, why were they being so helpful?

Glancing to where her father stood nervously beside a hulking horned creature, he seemed to have many of the same inquiries.

“Hello. Ktsn Wdondf Daephod?” asked a voice to her side.

She turned in its direction, then looked up. And up.

The human that had come along next to her would have been the tallest upright living creature she’d ever encountered in person, if not for a couple of the others milling about. The one beside her father was such an example.

“Yes,” she said to it. “Him?” She assumed “him” based on several commonalities she observed between the tall person and Thomas.

“Ah! Nice to meet you. I’m your caretaker, for the time being.”

The human’s lanky steps carried him around to her side, standing cleanly in her right field of view. He drew a little bit close for comfort, when others following behind him needed to make their own ways through the crowd. Even so, she kept calm as the figure came near enough for her to get a good scenting of his strange form. His pale flesh looked almost like a grub’s, his smell reminded her of fresh-turned soil after a rain, and his accent sounded just as weirdly hollow as the lecturer still going on and on.

“Call me Eihks,” said the human. “Eihks Richard,” he clarified, and Ktsn nearly toppled over as her legs wheeled around.

“What did you just say!?” she demanded, and the tall human stepped away. His face contorted as though it would fold in on itself. He spoke more slowly, his frame crooking backward, then weaving forward again.

“My name,” he enunciated carefully, “is Eihks Richard. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Ktsn noticed that his biglottal vowels and a fair number of consonants were, in fact, coming from the back of his neck.


Wow. She felt dream-grass wobbly in the knees, looking up at the man, as her encounter with Thomas ran back through her mind once more. Tangible proof that she’d not been just having a terribly vivid fabulous sleep-vision. She’d remembered him; now she simply needed to learn what “You’ll be a boon to him in time” actually meant.

“… think I may know you,” she said to… Exw. How did one…

“Escs,” she tried.

The man blinked at her, rapidly, then she found herself leaning back as he crouched closer, eyes narrowing.

“Eihks,” he replied. Soft yet strong; iron wrapped in gauze. “But-”

“Ehxk,” she said.

The human stood, eyes returning to their weird forward frankness.

“Here,” said the man, withdrawing something from the jacket or skin or whatever it was he wore over his torso. “I have a demonstration for precisely this purpose.”

A metallic pin-hinged mechanical joint appeared in the strange one-thumbed hand, along with a little bag.

“Observe, repeat, and learn,” he said in a totally uninflected voice. The metal thing hung out at the end of one arm, with its end flexing loose. He turned the hand over, and the hinge lethargically answered the dictate of gravity.


Simultaneously, he pulled the drawstrings on the bag with the free digits, and a stream of heavy sand began sifting onto his now-level palm.


When the bag was empty, he had one of the thin lines of fur gracing his face above his eyes held aloft, the other pressing down.

“Now, after me: EEEEEEEKHHHhhhsssssssss.”

Somehow, he managed to perfectly mimic the sounds with his vocal apparatus. Ktsn could even swear she heard the rattle of hundreds of little gritty grains in his voice. Then, his lips curled upward, parting just a little.

“Now you try.”

“Eihks,” she answered, without the dramatic over-the-top production.


The human stared down at her, and managed to get most of the sand back into its sack by some mystic technique before stowing the props again. His face rippled once more as he looked out at the first newcomer, who had been talking uninterrupted for quite some time.

“The Way preserve us all, please let that woman get to the bottom of this soon,” he said. This time, his voice came out deeper, lower. Menacing. It approached Ktsn’s own register, and his inside-only teeth emerged, before sinking back behind his lips again. “It’s not like this is particularly complicated. Or it’s hard to tell what NEEDS to be said.”

He glanced down at the farmer, and made an idle-looking gesture; humerus straight forward from the shoulder, elbow angled to put the hand down across his chest diagonally and below the shoulder’s straight line.

“Sorry. From our perspective it’s all straightforward. You probably have too many questions to count.”

Surprisingly, Ktsn had only a few pressing and very immediate threads of inquiry stretching out at the moment – this, she suspected, would change very soon.

“It sounds like you do not think all of this is going as it should.”

She gestured vaguely, indicating the… everything that was happening. The sky. The strangers. The interminable dissertation. The temporarily-contained unrest in the other people of Goskec Tktl.


Somehow, she could tell that the sound was the equivalent of a necrotizing gastric stink. He looked straight across at the red lecturing figure, as though waiting for something. He considered the people of the village, and his face’s muscles contorted drastically once more.

“Is that human not saying what she is supposed to be saying? Or is there something she is saying that she is not supposed to be saying?”

That got a little twitch from Eihks, and he turned more fully to face Ktsn.

Wow, but he was tall. If she stood on her rear feet and braced herself on a sturdy wall, she’d be able to stretch above his head, but not while actually walking anywhere.

“Is that human…?” she began, but petered off.

He tilted toward the creature which had been the first alien presence of the village.

“Oh. For the record,” he said slowly enough to be easily legible, “I’m a human. She’s a pohostinlat. And what she’s saying is accurate and true and necessary. It’s also incomplete.”

The man placed his arms over and under each other in a way that looked uncomfortable. He took a long gaze at her, up and down, and those eyes slimmed in her direction.

“Where did you… Never mind. Anyway, I’m waiting for her to admit something. Look, let’s get something straight here.”

“Do what you will; just let me have the same luxury.”

THAT got a reaction from him; like most of the others, she gathered a certain sense of its intensity from the violence of his facial rearrangements, but not its nature.

“We need to be operating on the same level of comprehension. You get that we-”

A wide gesture indicating the collection of foreigners.

“-could, in theory, have ill intent toward you. I claim that we don’t, but that might easily be me deceiving you. For that matter, my pointing out this fact could be a gambit meant to ensure you see me as trustworthy. This all make sense so far?”

Ktsn gave affirmation.

“Good. So long as you don’t blindly trust me. Conviction isn’t meant to do away with thought; it’s supposed to complement it.”

“I understand,” said the farmer whose understanding was very far from complete.

“Correction,” said the human, tone of voice shifting around in a fashion that seemed like it surely had SOME significance. “You understand part of what we’re discussing. I’m sure there are many parts of it that still lie in vagary’s shadow.”

A thumb stroked sharply sideways, across the part of his face above those little fuzzy lines.

“I don’t know,” he said, which was evidently the vocalization of the body language. “Frankly, anyone who says they really get what’s going on, when they’re dropped in this kind of scenario – entire world uprooted, totally deprived of commonality with any part of the life you used to know – then they’re either lying, or have a very different concept of ‘getting’ something.”

“How… common is ‘this kind of scenario,’ in your experience?”

A languid blink.

“In scope, having your entire planet involved with a massive against-your-will relocation? This isn’t the first time it’s happened. It’s the first time I’ve been a part of it, though.”

Hearing those words, seeing those outer-toothless stretches of lip quirk up and down as the weighty phrases were ejected, and contemplating the way that colossal if silent heads still stitched the sky in every point of the compass… suddenly, a vessel of some kind shattered in Ktsn’s brain. A flood of panic washed out. It was the sort of panic that drives an entire village to sacrifice themselves, in the name of making the world safer for the generations to come. It was the need to join combat without the sure foreknowledge of combat being futile. It was too much. Just too much.

She reached out for her pickax, gripped the handle near the head, and loosened its binding. Just as she pulled the thongs keeping the length of the tool in place, she saw Eihks’s eyes widen, and he took a short jerky step forward.

Suddenly he gave voice to a strange sharpened sound, and turned away from Ktsn for just an instant, looking down at his weird chiral foot. It was an instant long enough that, under normal circumstances, she should have been able to sink the hard bevel into his head. Far faster than he ought to have been able, though, he whirled back, making a split-face expression. Without him touching it, without anything touching it, her pickax abruptly whisked itself from the intended course, slewing away and steeply down.

When it arced out, though, its new trajectory put the head to the inside of his nearer leg.

The sound of a clank, metal-on-metal. Cloth was torn apart, and fluttered noiselessly as it cleft. It revealed largely hairless flesh and a breechcloth wrapped around the man’s pelvis, as well as a lustrous wedge of an unknown dim red alloy.

Nothing happened, for a long long time.

Then the human slowly bent down, hauled the clothing back together around his legs, and made a deep-in-the-throat noise. His eyes almost danced over the rest of the scene, and Ktsn noticed that he was staring not at the other villagers, but his fellow foreigners. Many of them returned the favor.


The phrase from the human’s lips was a negation, a denial, and a chastisement, all three in the fullest possible range of implication. It arrowed past the culture-language barrier and straight through Ktsn. The farmer found herself unable to even contemplate a repeat performance, should she have still possessed the opportunity to employ her pickax. That was all without even looking in her direction.

She startled at the sight of the lecturer, when she saw the woman spontaneously standing less than two body-lengths distant. The… pohostinlat, keeping distance and under the scrutiny of most of the crowd, was very very emphatically saying something to Eihks, with both of her arms stretched out.

Eihks responded by closing his eyes, rocking back on the edges of his feet, and replying in a monotonous measured dictation. He pointed at the shining red shape on his leg, and traced some of the symbols on its surface. The thin even pelt on top of his head licked the wind with stiff stubbornness.

Another human in the crowd shouted. It was accompanied by a flurry of steps forward toward the tall human beside Ktsn. Another shout. Another. A couple more of the sources moved toward him. More moved away.

Ktsn managed one quick eye-contact with her father, before things suddenly got overly loud.

“Ktsn. Ktsn.

She looked back up at Eihks. A shivery haze played around his torn lower clothing, and she saw it coming back together one clump of fabric at a time. She didn’t even remember she was still holding her pickax until he poked the end of it with one forceful digit. Her nearer eye drew up to the set of straight lines ridging his face.


“We should go,” said the human. “Now.”

It was soft enough that she had to really work at hearing the statement.

She began to rub her hands together in a negative, but he halted her before she could refuse.

“I am encouraged, and required, to stay with you for right now. If you don’t like me, then we can lodge a complaint soon enough, and you’ll get someone else to take over my duties.”

When he whipped upright once again, a wordless look across the gradually more agitated crowd of his associates – and the increasing confusion and irritation of her own people – quelled the noise substantially. A few firm words and hand gestures that made little sense to her. Placating, and at least minimally effective, judging by how the foreign audience grew a tad less restive.

He turned back.

“Things are getting a bit ugly, and this isn’t a good place to be seen right this moment. If you have a residence or private accommodations or the like, it is best that we retreat there. They’ll calm down. In time.”

When she still hesitated, he seemed to project audial force from his mid-body region like a stomped bellows.

“You and I are joined at the hip for a little while yet. Now, we need to get gone. The phrase ‘anywhere else but here’ is a beautiful thing.”

Without thinking, enraged at the disorder and unfairness and simple fatiguing distance of it all, she whirled, rolling herself over by accident in her haste, and started galloping from Goskec Tktl for her home. The thin missing-beat rhythm of a bipedal gait following after her was the farewell drumbeat to her village, and the rest of her life.

And that was how Ktsn Wdondf Daephod first played a part in shifting the course of a certain pioneer’s existence.

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