I feel free. Like a child who has finally established himself apart from his parents. The jungle opens up before me, and with my companions I will conquer it.
The education we received from Bantish was brief, but expansive. I know what plants to trust, which snakes are poisonous, and what will counteract their venom. We have a curved instrument for drawing water from the trees, and another for quickly removing the leeches we attract in the creeks.
We will not starve, nor will we succumb to simple fevers or parasites.
My task has been reduced in neither complexity nor danger, but the tools I have to face it have been multiplied.
We made good progress today. I would estimate that we covered over ten miles. Now that we seek to follow natural pathways rather than cutting out our own, we meander more but make better time. This would be completely different if we were not able to travel light. Accomplishing a day’s work with a larger expedition here could take a week. Perhaps longer.
Telling our direction without stars or an easy read of the sun is still challenging, even with what tricks Bantish taught us. I feel more confident in our ability now, however. We should reach the old road in a week’s time, at which point we can turn due east and make for Graylag.
Bolton has started grumbling again. It’s good to know he’s getting back to normal, I just hope he has mellowed some through the experience of his illness. I have begun giving him small tasks to keep him busy, usually related to fetching water or gathering roots. He accepts the chores begrudgingly but I think he is just happy to be up and moving.
I too am happy to be moving. It is time to find Salisir’s corpse.
Dionus has begun to stir up breezes for us whenever the heat becomes unbearable. He says it tires him if he does it too frequently, which I find strange, but I cannot stress just how great a relief it is.
Bartola Dionus is famous, probably the only member of my little troop who you would have heard of outside our conversations. Walkers, as you know, are a lethal breed of expressionist. The magic of the wind is no easy task to master. Hundreds of men become Alchemical Healers, thousands become Kinesthenics. Only a few ever become true Walkers in any generation.
The term “Walker” has become widely used for any who can manipulate the air around them. It is the colloquial term now for any member of the expression, regardless of how masterful they are. But a true Walker, one who has earned his feather and kept it, is a rarity.
Dionus is just such a rarity. The fact that he has put his skills to use with such lucrative proficiency makes him all the more intriguing. I met him near Elandir some five years ago. He was sent to assassinate a Shahn in the Northern Range at an annual council meeting along with all of his bannermen.
That meant he was to kill one barbarian king and eight or nine of his warlords. Surrounded by their personal bodyguards, and a small army besides.
What makes a Walker unique is that this is a task he will undertake on his own.
What makes Dionus unique is that he would choose to attack them all at the same time.
The rumors that spread and the legend that grew was that Dionus floated into the enemy camp and slaughtered the lot. The way it was often told, he killed the Shahn and each bannerman in turn. Then he waited for the horde and fought them all day until each and every one was dead.
I don’t want to disparage my friend Dionus, nor claim that he is anything less than his legend. But there is not a man alive, Master or no, who can fight thousands on his own.
I was in the region, and knew this Shahn. In fact it was he who had called upon the Tetrarch for help, claiming a Daedric sect had taken root in the mountains and was harassing his people. I took a contingent of my brothers and hunted them down.
On our way back out of the mountains we altered our course to meet the Shahn and his bannermen. We wanted supplies for our journey south. No sooner had we arrived than did Dionus descend.
Thankfully we were at the edge of the camp. The barbarians in the mountains don’t trust men on horseback, I suppose they’ve been ridden down enough, so we were in the midst of negotiating our passage through their ranks when there was a clap like thunder and the clouds were ripped in two.
They swirled as Dionus tore through them. He came to a sudden stop just above the ground, claps and snaps erupting everywhere as the winds exploded around him. Everyone beneath him was thrown back save the Shahn, before whom Dionus touched down with a dramatic sense of elegance. He only needed to take one step to drive a dagger into the Shahn’s heart.
The bannermen he dispensed with slashes of air and the bursting of their lungs. It was over before the assembled bodyguards knew it had happened. And then Dionus leapt into the sky and was gone.
Looking for someone to blame, the barbarians immediately turned on us. Thankfully we still had our horses, otherwise we may not have escaped so easily.
That was the first time I saw Dionus in action, but it would not be the last. Nor would it be the most impressive. And now, on this journey together, I look forward to studying his art more intently as time allows, for I have never had the chance to see it so closely.
This morning Starlark found what appears to be the enormous bed of some creature. It must be huge, whatever it is. The vines and undergrowth were stamped down and the impression that it left at the center was about four paces across and eight long.
We don’t know what made it.
There was no noise in the night, and we can’t be certain when exactly it left. The scent of it lingered in the clearing it created for itself. There were deep gouges in the trunks of the trees ten to fifteen feet off the ground.
And just when I had begun to feel my confidence returning…
I actually slept last night. My mat is beginning to fray and yet, somehow, it provides even greater comfort that way. We are still making good progress through the jungle. If Bantish’s map is correct, we should reach the road in a few days.
It gives me time to think on Salisir, to wonder what his movements would have been. Bantish made it sound like Salisir was out to make a name for himself, which fits with his character but not with his mission. Why risk discovery on a reconnaissance mission that could quickly turn into an assassination attempt?
I’ve always wondered what leverage the Tetrarch could have over a man such as Salisir. To think that he was pressed into exile when he could have simply hacked his way out of Silver Hall and never returned baffles me to this day. Unlike my exile, which was enforced by the High King’s command, his was purely an internal affair within the Tetrarch.
Salisir’s approach to the mission he accepted seems equally counterintuitive. I suppose an Imperial wandering through the jungle was bound to make discovery inevitable, however. And perhaps he was trying to make amends for whatever happened beyond the Highridge Mountains.
When Brin Salisir returned from his mission to find the Daemon he had become a troubled soul. He was embittered. Forty seasoned warriors left with him. Only Salisir returned.
Where Salisir had once been willing to compromise with his superiors, he was found to clash at every turn. He bucked authority, and struck out on his own missions. It is said he even began murdering bystanders who were unfortunate enough to spark his rage.
The Tetrarch moved to bring him to heel.
This was as impossible a task as you might imagine. Salisir was brought to the Scourge to teach. He had a gift for physical violence and he was expected to pass that on to the youth. Rather than pass it on, he used it on us.
Salisir hated the Tetrarch with all of his heart. He made that clear every time he struck us for reciting our oaths. He didn’t want to hear the words, he would say. Recite them in our drills or on our cots but not on his training field.
He ran us hard. We ran leagues more than any class before us. He beat us with canes when we were slow, and struck us with his fists if we complained.
He spent most of his time staring off to the northwest, lost in the dark storm clouds that brewed within his mind. He had seen horrors. We thought he was broken.
But what was worse was that on the field or in the wilderness we were completely under his power. There was no authority for us to appeal to. We were trapped.
There is little finesse to the first two years of training in the Scourge. There is physical discipline, the renewing of the mind, and training with the sword.
Salisir cut me once. He was teaching me to parry, and when I missed he let his blade connect with my shoulder. He could have held back. He should have held back. The cut was deep, and I bled a lot.
When I wasn’t back in line the next day he found me and dragged me out to make me run with the rest. When I passed out, he beat me. When my classmates carried me, he beat them. A run that should have only taken me an hour almost took my life.
Thankfully I was relieved by the headmaster and permitted to heal, but Salisir kept his eye on me from that day on. He hated me and I hated him. What’s more, it opened my eyes for the first time to the potential of imperfection within the Tetrarch leadership.
Why would they let me be beaten within an inch of my life before intervening, and then only so far as to keep me alive? They never disciplined Salisir or moved to protect us. What good could that possibly serve?
Now, in some sick twist of poetic justice, I am thrust into this fallen land of darkness to pay for my sins by saving the only person I truly despise. This, above all other reasons, is why I hope to find proof of his death before I ever find him alive.
Tonight I have seen evil incarnate itself in the form of men.
The KoraKora are far worse than I had allowed myself to believe. They are cannibals.
Bantish warned us to avoid the KoraKora for their “unsavory” practices. I never imagined he would offer such an obscene understatement in assessing said practices. With every step the Nantese prove more backwards than the last.
Dionus detected their activity shortly before we would have otherwise come upon them. Starlark snuck closer and found them assailing a small village much like Bantish’s. He came back and named them KoraKora, as identified by the yellow paint that lined their features and formed designs across their bare chests. We gathered at the fringes to see what would happen.
I don’t recall ever feeling the urge to retch at the sight of blood. Today may have been a first.
The majority of those the KoraKora had captured were bound and then tied to each other until they formed a long, interconnected queue. Once they were secured, the leader of the KoraKora dragged a young man out of a nearby hut.
No one fought back as far as I could tell. If they had, none of the KoraKora showed any wounds to prove it. This young man was already bleeding from the crown of his head where he had been struck, ostensibly to keep him down while the rest were gathered.
The KoraKora howled when they saw the stumbling captive. They beat their chests like drums in chaotic fury until all fell into the same rhythm. They chanted in time with their fists and a shiver went along my spine as my stomach churned.
The leader held a knife high as he shouted. He threw his hands wide and laughed at the canopy above as the chanting grew louder. He made a pronouncement I could not understand, and then rammed the knife into the captive’s stomach. He slid it sideways in a rough motion and took a step back.
The rest of the KoraKora rushed forward, reaching for the wound and ripping at it. They tore the man apart before our very eyes, eating him as they went. Hooting with delight. I felt as sick as I was stunned.
When they were done there was nothing left save bloody bones and torn garments. Many of the victim’s former companions could not contain their horror, but there was nothing left for them to do. With a sticky orange hue now covering the KoraKora, they led their catch off into the jungle.
I have never seen such brutality before. I don’t know what to make of it.
We can defend ourselves against these creatures, but we should do everything we can to avoid them. There is no telling how many belong to this tribe, nor what tricks they may have in store for trespassers.
I am not afraid of dying, not truly, but I never thought I would be eaten alive. Now that I find myself in just such a position I will do whatever I must to avoid that fate.
Tomorrow we strike out to the east, for that is the direction we must ultimately go in any case. We will circumvent these savages, and then make north once we feel confident we are safely away from them.
I will have nightmares of what I have seen for years to come.
We now find ourselves tracked by an unknown monster as we seek to avoid a tribe of cannibals.
Starlark has found further evidence that such a beast is following us. Every morning he scouts the surrounding area before we move on, and again he found evidence that something giant had slept near our camp.
The bed of matted material where it lay is as large as the last time we found one. Whether it is the same animal or not is impossible to say. We don’t even know what kind of animal it could be. Perhaps it is some descendant of the forest Titans of old? Perhaps it is something entirely different.
Where only days before I wrote of how free I felt to be moving again, now I feel trapped by the motion. We push on not for progress; we push on to live.
I slept poorly last night, images of that boy being ripped apart are burned into my mind. Every time I close my eyes some new aspect of that horror revisits me.
How can people do such things to one another?
I take it as further proof that we do not belong here. It seems a miracle that anyone even continues to survive in such a place. A twisted, morbid miracle.
If there are gods left in this place, they are the cruelest I have ever heard of.
We should move east for at least one more day before turning north again. Having no knowledge of the KoraKora leaves us vulnerable, we have no way of knowing for certain just how large their territory is or what the pattern to their movements looks like.
We should be able to probe north to keep track of them as we move east until we are certain they are no longer between us and our goal. From there we should only be a day away from the road, and then only a week from Graylag.
We were attacked by the monster at last, and in fleeing we ran straight into more trouble.
We have spent the last twenty-four hours running for our lives without stopping. Dionus can barely walk on his own, so we must take turns supporting him as we move. Balthandar has had to carry him more than once.
We are exhausted.
The only reason we have stopped is because we physically cannot go any further today. Dionus was struck with a dart of some sort. The color of the feathers looked similar to pondsweed, a poisonous flower that Bantish had shown us.
I applied the antidote he had taught us as soon as we found a halix plant, but it was too late to stave off the worst of the symptoms. Dionus will live, but only if we save ourselves.
I must sleep. I only expect to get a couple of hours, maybe three if I am lucky. The others are all asleep already, too tired to bother setting watch. We need to start moving again as quickly as possible, but I wanted to make note of the poison. We must review all we were taught as soon as we have time to do so.