Tallok @rev1701
Tallok Originally posted August 21, 2018

The Tenno had long left behind the Lotus.  This one was rebellious and unruly - known for asking far too many questions and seeking out answers when they were not given freely.  They had been awakened and then summarily cast aside. It was with other outcasts they found their home - among the members of the Steel Meridian and the Kavor who assisted the Syndicate.  It had taken a while for them to become fluent in the language - speaking Grineer came fairly readily, but slang and dialect made it explicitly clear where each defector had originated from.  Meridian Grineer was treated as its own dialect at this point - using Tusk slang and the prim Kuva Fortress dialect in the same breath before throwing in a few words of Corpus origin for good measure when discussing prices.

It was a bewildering language, but the Tenno wasn’t alone in their confusion.  New defectors, some young tubemen with bright eyes and clear skin - not yet scarred by the horrors of Grineer warfare - some old Grineer - more machine than flesh and only now feeling the call to defection after years of loyal service - but most somewhere in between were equally confused by the terms thrown around.  In or out of their warframe, the Tenno stood out significantly from the others. For starters, even Clem - the definitively shortest member of the Steel Meridian - was taller than them. When they first came, they covered their face with the hood of their Transference suit, clinging to whatever identity they had as the faceless Tenno warrior-god they had been taught they were.  It took them by surprise that there was no demand to remove the hood. No pleas to see their face. But, looking around them, the Tenno - or, rather, the Operator realized why. Newly-defected Grineer frequently kept their masks. They continued to hide their faces and wear the armor that stripped them of any identity other than Grineer until they were ready.

It happened differently for every defector.  Some removed their masks as soon as they set foot in the Iron Wake.  Some never did, but instead painted and re-painted their armor until finally they felt it was Right.  Some discarded armor for civilian clothing - but those were more Kavor than Meridian. Every revealed face was met with warmth and welcome, no shame in scars and crooked teeth.  No comments about blind eyes and broken noses. It is with the help of Cressa Tal that the Operator first removes their hood, and it feels like a rebirth. There is no quiet serenity of the Lotus, no gentle peeling back of the hood and no comment of their beauty.

Instead, Cressa tells the Operator to hold perfectly still while she takes a sheev to the hood.  The smell of burning rubber and (for some disturbing and unknown reason) flesh fills the room as the heated blade slices through the hood in several places - letting the Operator tear it off of themself and throw it aside, gasping for fresh air as they stumble out of the room, Cressa close behind.  They are stunned when they are met with the same cheers as the Grineer who remove their masks, and when Cressa hands them their ruined hood the Operator hesitates before holding it above their head and screaming before throwing the hood to the ground. Without realizing it, the Operator has once again mirrored the behavior - and story - of the Grineer defectors.

“You’ve got the Vaykor Tal in you, kid.”  Cressa said, clapping the Operator on the shoulder - using two Grineer words they did not yet know.  They had heard vaykor before, certainly, attached to old weapons treated with careful reverence carried that name, and tal … Well, they had thought it was just a name, but it seemed that the Operator had been wrong in that assumption.  They never got the chance to ask Cressa what it meant, not before being absorbed into a group of young defectors all eagerly chattering away at their new tennotal.  More than once, the Operator hears the word tallok , and finally, they get frustrated enough to ask.

“What the hell does that mean?”  The Operator demanded, pushing a heavy Grineer hand off their head only to have it back on their head in seconds.  Only some Grineer had hair, and none of them had hair as soft as a Tenno’s could be, and it was clear that Meridian Grineer were a very touch friendly people (although, the ones who didn’t want to be touched never were), so they put up with it.  “Tal.  I’ve heard it a lot. Tennotal, tallok, Vaykor Tal.  What does that mean?  I thought it was Cressa’s last name.”

“It is, but it isn’t,” one of the older defectors supplied, sitting down next to the Operator and offering them some of his food.  It was jerky of an undefined meat, and the Operator happily took some. “Tal can mean a lot of things, but most of the time it means us.  Not us, the word us, but us… defectors. Using it as a last name the way Cressa does means her name is ‘Cressa the Defector’, although a lot of Loyalist sikkhat Grineer skoom use tal to mean defective.  We don’t though. It’s a badge of pride.”

That made tennotal make sense, at least.  They were tal in probably as many ways as the Meridian Grineer were, especially depending on the way tal was being used.  Although the Operator knew sikkhat was the Grineer word for Infestation, they had the sense it was being used more as an expletive right now.  They didn’t bother asking what it meant in this context. Nobody would answer them. Instead, they asked what lok meant.

Rahk, kid, who’s been teaching you?”  The defector asked, before getting slapped by someone else and getting a gentle and teasing reprimand for swearing in front of the Operator.  Rahk was always an expletive.  The Operator didn’t know what it meant, but every time they said it after dropping something at least four Grineer would shout ‘hey’ at them.  It was entertaining. “Lok means little or small.  Don’t ask me why javloks are called javloks.  They’re not small. Anyway, tallok directly translates to little defector.  It’s used for newbies and short people. Like you!  You’re both.”

He ruffled the Operator’s hair affectionately, leaving it sticking up in all directions as he returned to his food.  It was strange how familial the Meridian Grineer were with the Operator, and they rocked where they sat for a moment before looking at the man sitting next to them.  He certainly looked old enough to be their father, or maybe uncle, but it was hard to judge age among the Grineer.

“And, because I know what you’re gonna ask next,” the defector started through a mouthful of jerky.  “Vaykor doesn’t really… have a proper translation to standard.  For the weapons, I guess it could mean honored, but... The closest word I’ve heard to it is spirit. Vaykor Tal is the defector spirit.  It’s what drives Meridian and Kavor alike to leave, and it ties all of us together.”

“And, because I know what you’re gonna ask next,” the defector started through a mouthful of jerky.  “ Vaykor doesn’t really… have a proper translation to standard.  For the weapons, I guess it could mean honored, but... The closest word I’ve heard to it is spirit.   Vaykor Tal is the defector spirit.  It’s what drives Meridian and Kavor alike to leave, and it ties all of us together.”

“Of course you do, kid!”  He crowed. “You’re Meridian.Rahk, tallok … anyone with working eyes can see it in yours.  If they can’t see, they sure as hell can hear it in your voice, and if they can’t do that either, they’ll be able to feel it in the air around you.”

“Of course you do, kid!”  He crowed. “You’re Meridian.   Rahk, tallok … anyone with working eyes can see it in yours.  If they can’t see, they sure as hell can hear it in your voice, and if they can’t do that either, they’ll be able to feel it in the air around you.”

“Is that what I feel here?  The VaykorTal?”  They asked.  “The sort of… warm feeling in my chest.  It’s happy but sad at the same time, but it just feels right - like some sort of hole has been filled, and I… belong here.”

It took a long time for the Grineer they sat with to answer that.  He scratched the side of his head absently, near the ridge of a long scar that was clearly from a wound that was almost fatal before he sighed.  “Kid, I have no idea. It could be, but… If you ask me, I think what you’re feeling is safe. That you’re… Look, you are among people who share a story like yours.  You’ve found a sense of belonging and purpose after being kinda aimless, and it’s not what you thought it was gonna be. I know this because I felt the same thing when I first came here, and I think all of the Meridian has. Tallok, it might be the Vaykor Tal, but I feel like it’s more like… the vaykor of family.”

It took a long time for the Grineer they sat with to answer that.  He scratched the side of his head absently, near the ridge of a long scar that was clearly from a wound that was almost fatal before he sighed.  “Kid, I have no idea. It could be, but… If you ask me, I think what you’re feeling is safe. That you’re… Look, you are among people who share a story like yours.  You’ve found a sense of belonging and purpose after being kinda aimless, and it’s not what you thought it was gonna be. I know this because I felt the same thing when I first came here, and I think all of the Meridian has.   Tallok , it might be the Vaykor Tal , but I feel like it’s more like… the vaykor of family.”

“That’s what you are to us, after all.”  He added. “Family. Probably not the one you expected, and… definitely not the one you lost.  But you’re family to the Meridian. Don’t forget that, tennotal.  You’re family here, and there’s always gonna be somewhere for you here.”

The Operator was only aware they had started crying when the man hugging them gently wiped a tear away from their cheek with the gentleness that he would his own child.  Most Grineer couldn’t have children, but it sounded like it didn’t matter much. Not when they were ready to accept as many tallok as they could into the strange, large, messy but loving family that was the Steel Meridian.

This was originally written with my own Operator in mind, but I changed it to be a bit more general. It's also pretty headcanon-heavy in terms of Grineer language and what Steel Meridian life is like.
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