Were Chax a Strasmin, Aun would have run to him without hesitation, cast a comforting arm around him, and supported him with reassuring words until the consuming, body-wracking grief had run dry. Though Aun felt the urge, in the end he dared not take such a liberty. (What part of an Oistrem was the shoulder, anyway...?) He sat quietly, cast his eye politely downward and tried to keep his own feelings level, for in spite of Chax's most reasonable disclaimer of any ill intent, his words had touched Aun with the rage that attended any unjust slander. This rage was somehow the worse because he was unsure how much of the slander might actually be true.
Chax found himself shaken even more deeply than he had feared. It was one thing to share such a confidence with one's own kind, and debate its truth among one's kin and peers. Reshaping the story to present it to an alien mind had opened the raw edges of it, and Chax had forgotten how hard much of it was for his younger self to accept, and how grieved he had been, when he and his comrades had gleaned it from the patiently-etched records of discussions among Oistrem long, long dead. He missed them now, and again cursed the path that had set him at odds against them, trading close warmth and buoying comfort for an unliving ideal.
Chax breathed deeply until he was reasonably sure that he could speak without sobbing again, and paused and looked at Aun to regain his attention. Aun stopped toying with the eluctuant and looked up, hoping that his empathy was evident, unable to inquire if it was. Chax continued.
"Some say that the... this sundering was a saving move, an act of mercy by Botaram to preserve our overwhelmed forces from final contamination by the Strasmin's treachery. I think that this is a satisfying explanation, and therefore unlikely to be true. I think that we did fall from grace that day, and that our prohibition from entering Botaram stems from this disaster.
"As to what followed... The Craisht itself was unable to function for a great while, leaving the Oistrem in the direst situation with no firm guidance. Some of the story I have just told you was scratched into the spines of Susekho during those times.
"The Strasmin were put down, and banished from most of the world, but could not be destroyed entirely, for we were weak, and most cruelly, the Strasmin were still necessary. They had so warped the senses of the beasts of the world that they were needed to maintain and guide them. And thus, we withdrew for a time from the fight upon the surface of the world. According to some stories, the debris in the valley overseen by Uemai is a battlefield that we abandoned in our retreat to Susekho.
"The surviving Oistrem, tear blinded and weary, leapt in stages up the trailing tendrils of Susekho, and strove to make sense of what had happened and create a system that could work from the bones that remained.
"I have little more to tell of this, but I did find it curious that you spoke of invaders, for we were quite sure that the disaster was your doing, and that some genus of beasts now dead were your deadly thralls during the revolt. From where did your ancestors say these things came, if they were invaders?"
Aun rocked his frenting rod gently on the ground as he chose his words. "It is not the ancestors who speak thus," he said, "at least not with certainty. It's mostly my idea, and perhaps we are as eager to absolve ourselves of blame for what happened as you are."
"So what do you think, then?" Chax pressed. "Botaram surrounds, permeates, and engenders the world. The evil certainly did not come from Botaram, and may the thought perish as I utter it. How could something be not of the world, and invade the world?"
Aun was pensively silent for a long while. "It's something I perceived a long while back, Chax, and it stayed strongly with me for I know not what reason."
He gestured to the top of the Kollen's dome, where the drones were finishing the last segment of the sealing repair.
"There's an outside to everything," said Aun quietly.