The trees are so cumbersome. No. The trees are so tall, I am so… I feel so cumbersome. Gods, I can barely write. It takes so much
My pen wanders the page and… and I can’t see
I can’t see. My head pounds. It hurts.
Drink all I can. Sweat… sweating now… on the page, and I try but I can’t.
I want to, but I can’t.
There are so hot. I can’t breathe. Darkness is too.
Lystra… why did you have to be so brave? So foolish…
I can’t feel them… Dionus says they’re coming. They are near. They attacked earlier. We ran.
We will must rest. Such can’t exhaustion…
I can’t feel them.
I’m scared. So scared… alone.
Why Lystra? Gods… why?
He is a nightmare. A living nightmare. The chief of the KoraKora.
I saw him.
Covered in yellow. Pierced with bones. So many bones.
He has a massive headdress. His eyes – they are the eyes of a Daedric priest, but with such power. A different power. A real strength.
Yellow paint. Yellow teeth. Yellow, bloodshot eyes.
The KoraKora attacked us. They press us onward, surrounding us. Forcing us to the river. We escaped once. Maybe twice.
I cannot remember anything except running. Terror. Yellow.
Gods… I can barely see. The world a fog. Can’t sleep… we must run again.
A nightmare. He is a living nightmare.
We accidentally saved a small village today. I say accidentally because we had no idea we were saving them until the killing was done.
I can’t write for long at once… my head pounds so loudly I can barely hear the jungle come alive with the darkness. I will try to be concise.
We are moving more quickly. Whoever hunts us draws closer every day. We fear it is the KoraKora. I wish I knew more about those beasts. Those wretched traitors to humanity.
I feel sick, like retching and being pulled into myself all at once.
There were bandits ahead of us, Dionus sensed them. He sensed them long before they knew we were there. We attacked.
There was no sense in sneaking past. We would have been forced a long way around. We might have been seen. Had to fight regardless. So we killed them.
They were sacking a village, one sitting on a small river. A tributary winding back towards Graylag. The villagers thanked us.
I don’t… we didn’t know they were there until they were thanking us. They gave me a necklace, to protect… to guard us from evil. It is blue stone… has a blue stone, carved like a wave in a turtle. They must worship turtles?
We did not stay, could not. We must move.
I can barely move. Gods… I am so sick. Trough water is as good, but can’t see for the trees.
Oh gods, did I really write that? It seemed so clear a moment ago… I must sleep. We must move tomorrow.
I feel worse over time as my headache grows and my throat dries out. There is a knot in my back, or two… it’s hard to be sure when I feel like I am beginning to cramp all over. The stiffness in my legs keeps me off balance as much as the pounding within my skull. Wine does not help.
Balthandar has all but forgotten the strife between Bolton and Starlark as he focuses his attention on my care. He watches me closely and keeps me drinking water all day. I have yet to relieve myself, however, and I fear I am horribly dehydrated.
I can barely sense those who seek us any longer, but Dionus has become deeply concerned. He says they are drawing closer to us with every passing hour. I wish I didn’t feel so ill, it leaves me vulnerable and useless to detecting any expressionists nearby.
But they are coming, that much is certain.
Gods, my head.
I can’t focus. Writing this is taking too much energy.
I will resume tomorrow. Senida, on the Akari Grasslands. We must get there.
Due southeast now we plunge into the Nanten. There lie the Akari Grasslands, the space in the gape of the jaws of the Nanten. This is not where I imagined we would go. I had seen them marked on a number of maps, but I never saw any notes that would relay the reason one might wish to go there. Why did Salisir?
For all we know, Prestorn has simply dumped us on the nearest side of Graylag to the approaching KoraKora in hopes of appeasing them. We could be marching straight into their jaws instead, and in a very literal sense.
Cannibals. Gods… I’m shaking as I write this. I cannot be eaten by such beastly men. It is no way for a Tetrarch to die. As if exile wasn’t shameful enough.
And to make matters worse, I am plagued now by a building headache. I don’t know if it is from the fear or if I am falling ill, but there seems to be nothing I can do to remedy it. And remedy it I must, for any lapse in my leadership may mean the end of us.
Starlark and Bolton are at each other again, bickering as they march. There is no overt threat in it, no blows have been exchanged, but there is a new venom lacing the insults. Starlark made some passing comment at a woman in Graylag the other night and it angered Bolton. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now I find it incredibly strange.
Why should he care if Starlark wants one of these Nantese women, or takes one for that matter? That’s what Bolton himself made a living from for decades. The jungle confuses all of us, and leaves me uncertain that I can predict any conflict before it forms between us.
Balthandar has taken to walking between them. When they grow hostile he interrupts with long stories and fables of the Summer Isles. I doubt it does much more than frustrate the other two, but it keeps them silent for good stints.
Dionus has grown even quieter than usual, but whispers to me when he draws near. Expressionists, he says. He can feel them. We are being sought by more than human eyes alone, and I can feel it too. There is no attempt to hide it from us this time, and I fear we are laid bare.
I do not wish to reveal my power here, not yet. I don’t know what eyes are watching and who might spread word throughout this wretched jungle. If Bantish can send messages to friends, then so can our enemies.
The only hope we have right now is to slip from this region unseen, and pass beyond the range of the KoraKora’s search. If we can do that, we may escape them altogether. Back on the march we go. Gods what I wouldn’t give for a horse.
No, forget the horse. I want wine for this headache. I wonder if Starlark stole any of that, too…
“The KoraKora are coming.” Prestorn woke us in the night and smuggled us out of Graylag.
The KoraKora, he said, were hunting us. He had sent scouts out yesterday immediately after hearing my story in order to discover their whereabouts. Word was already spreading through the jungle, he said. The KoraKora are coming.
There was no protection he could offer any more. The other warlords would have us killed as soon as they found out, and there would be nothing he could do to stop them. They fear the KoraKora more than anything, and would not risk the cannibals discovering they had harbored us.
I asked him why they feared the KoraKora so much. Each warlord commanded hundreds of men, and the ruins were clearly defensible. The KoraKora, I said, were little more than aggressive savages.
He shook his head at that. Graylag was a small coalition of bandits. The KoraKora, he said, were a nation unto themselves. A small nation, but unified and powerful. The man I had killed in the jungle, he said, was the brother of their chief. The ceremonies to mourn his death would have lasted a week after the chief arrived to officiate, and that week had just ended.
Now they would hunt those that killed the chief’s brother, Prestorn said. Now they would hunt us.
He hurried us through the darkness towards the southern end of Graylag. I protested, wishing to take to the river, but he insisted. Brin Salisir, he said, once killed many of the men he called friends. Brin Salisir was no pest, he was a true menace to the bandits of Graylag.
He had harried the bandits in this place for some time, until one day he took the “life of Graylag.” Some relic that had protected them from things like the KoraKora.
Salisir had not died here, he said, but in the Akari Grasslands to the distant southeast. If we were to find any proof of his death, it would be there. He shoved a parchment in my hand as he shook it.
“There are greater threats in this jungle than the KoraKora,” he told me. “Older threats, magical things. There are spirits, and there are gods. You will never make it to the Akari Grasslands alive, and even if you do the monsters that live there are unlike anything you have ever seen. You will all die out here.”
He pointed at the parchment in my hands. “That will take you to Senida, the City of Golden Waves, but I beg you to return to Bantish instead. Find the old man and leave this land behind.” He took my hands one final time, his unblinking stare boring into me in the darkness. “There is nothing but death here.”
With that he turned and disappeared back into the jungle.
I was stunned. I am still stunned. Within twenty-four hours we have been found, fed, celebrated, and then turned out before our hosts could slaughter us. After marching all morning I still don’t know what to think. Prestorn has saved our lives, but to what end?
The parchment he gave me was another rudimentary map, as worthless as the one Bantish gave me, but covered in a strange set of symbols and runes. I don’t know what they mean. I suddenly feel so lost.
Thankfully Starlark was his quite himself in the night. He found a stash of Imperial arrows that he stole along with some choice foods. Even Balthandar wouldn’t scold him for betraying the rules of hospitality after the events that essentially dissolved them.
Now we must make for the Akari Grasslands, and pray the KoraKora do not find us.
We are alive, and better than that: we are welcome. A little silver passed between hands didn’t hurt.
In approaching Graylag we were spotted by outposts long before we ever reached the ruins. A large troop of men came out to meet us brandishing all manner of spears and swords. They were as motley a crew as any band of pirates I have ever seen.
But as they came towards us they stopped short, just out of Starlark’s range. They demanded to know who we were, first in their local tongue then in the common. I shouted back that we were sent by Bantish, and looking for a man called Prestorn.
A man stepped forward and beckoned us near. “I am Prestorn,” he said so loudly there may as well have been no distance between us. “And it is lucky that you have found me first.”
Prestorn is indeed good friends with Bantish, and had already received word of what we had done for him against the Mentalists. He took us under his protection and walked us back into Graylag. Not without a well-expected gift, but to be honest we anticipated spending much more than he seemed happy to receive.
His protection was indeed helpful, if not necessary. It turns out that there are four warlords who share control of Graylag in a loosely held alliance. Each is strong, but not strong enough to overthrow any of the others on his own. This tenuous balance is held together only by a shared distrust. None of them trust any of the others enough to ally against a third.
Apparently one such alliance had been formed some years back, but the conspirators were slain by their own lieutenants, fearing war would break out and leave them vulnerable to the uninvolved party. The original leaders were thus immediately supplanted and balance restored.
It is a strained peace they maintain, but an effective one. Had I been greeted by any of the others, Prestorn said, they would have most certainly attacked us for our gear. As his guests, we were safe. Mostly. He said not to let our guard down at any point, just to be certain.
We were taken immediately to his stronghold for refreshments, and he pumped us for information on the outside world. He seemed most interested in the KoraKora and Bangara. The Bangara, he told us, was a pest bordering on menace.
I found it interesting to call a giant, invulnerable, man-eating lizard a pest, but I kept that thought to myself.
He told us that they often stalk men for days without being seen, only to pounce upon them with no warning and consume as many as they can capture.
Prestorn seemed disturbed by our encounter with the KoraKora. The man I killed, he said, must have been a great leader to command such mourning. For the KoraKora, blood is the toll to enter the next life. For a man to pay it himself is to be condemned to wander for eternity, so they bathe the dead in blood of their own to ensure safe passage.
He shuddered at the thought of the KoraKora much as I did and then moved on.
Bantish, he said, was a very fortunate find indeed. Their relationship started when Prestorn was only a boy. He had been pressed into the service of some older warlord and was on his first raid beyond what he referred to regularly as “the territory.” Bantish’s village, apparently, lies just beyond that.
Prestorn got lost during the raid. He fell sick with a fever, which he says was as much because of the terror in his stomach as any illness, and soon collapsed. Bantish found him and nursed him back to health. He tried to pull Prestorn from the life he had been forced into, but Prestorn said he was too young, too foolish, and too scared to listen to the wise old man.
They remained in loose contact over the years, however, and Prestorn learned as much as Bantish could teach him whenever they crossed paths. The most important lesson Bantish taught him, he said, was how to hide when sought. It seemed a strange thing to say, but he said it earnestly.
We were lucky, he told us, on all counts. Between disease, poisons, and predators he seemed certain we should have died already. No Imperial had made it so far into the Nanten in living memory. None, he said, except for Salisir.
I was about to start asking my own questions when we were interrupted. The other warlords had gathered, we were told, and expected us to make an appearance to beg their leave to stay. Prestorn said it was a formality, but an important one.
“To tread on the pride of the small is to entice a wrath most large,” he told us.
The council was long-winded, and involved a lot of yelling and arguing that Prestorn opted not to translate for us. The basic idea, he said, was to appear strong and mean. It kept the peace.
The warlords drank the entire time that they argued, and as the drinking continued the shouting grew louder, then subdued, until finally, on some cue unknown to us, they all decided it was time to feast. I have not eaten so well in months.
There were all kinds of meat and even a bread of some sort. There was palm wine and fried fruits… we ate until we were sick, and then we ate some more.
The warlords lounged more than sat. They wore the strangest garb, collections of a variety of different styles and incomplete sets of armor. Still, they appeared formidable. They were flanked by their lieutenants and served by spindly servant girls who they grabbed at will for their pleasure.
Many of them came alongside Balthandar and sized themselves up against him. This seemed a game more than any threat, as they would puff out their chests and try to make themselves as large as the spearhand. But most would dissolve into laughter and stumble away after a few moments. The others Balthandar just shoved back and ignored.
Among my companions, only Bolton seemed to grow increasingly tense as the evening wore on.
Prestorn showed us to the quarters in his stronghold that had been set aside for us. I told him I needed to hear what he knew about Salisir, but he said there would be plenty of time in the morning. He left no room for argument, and then abruptly left.
I suppose my questions must wait another night. Where Salisir went, and what he did around here to make himself known… but for now I am contented with a full belly and a warm welcome. We will maintain a watch tonight, as tempting as it is not to, for these men remain thieves and murderers and I doubt that their hospitality truly means much.
However I am intrigued by their customs, and look forward to investigating more as we discover our clues to Salisir’s path through these parts. Perhaps spending time with these brigands will teach us what we need to know to survive their kind throughout this lawless jungle.
I feel strangely hopeful. Perhaps once we have refitted ourselves here we will stand a real chance of finding Brin Salisir’s corpse and ending this quest alive.