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.
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…
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.
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.
Bolton is healthy enough to move on tomorrow, so we will strike camp and go. He refuses to speak of the illness that laid him out. In fact, he remains quite subdued.
Bantish has given us a great deal to work with, and even a destination: Graylag. He says it was the capital of this region, and a center of trade. It was where Salisir first made a name for himself, and if we are to find any clues of his whereabouts, it will be there.
Bantish seems certain that Salisir died of a fever in the jungle not far from Graylag. He told us to find a man by the name of Prestorn. They are old friends, and he should be inclined to help us. If anyone can point us to Salisir’s grave, Prestorn should be able to.
All that remains of the city, as with any in this failed state, are ruins. There are a few standing buildings, but to his knowledge they are all inhabited by the bandits that ravage the area. They will make our lives difficult, Bantish says, but they can be dealt with. They are quite partial to silver, he says.
I wonder if it would be wiser to make a statement early though. I suppose word of what we’ve done here may spread, but seeing how isolated individual groups are I doubt anyone will ever know. If we kill this group of bandits, however, perhaps we will earn a reputation that will keep others at bay in the future.
Bantish says they raid and pillage without warning, killing and taking what they want on a whim. The people under attack simply flee into the jungle and hide. The only reason they haven’t come this far lately has been the Mentalists’ roving beasts. In some horrible irony we have left these people exposed to older threats.
They will have to fend for themselves. At least they have Bantish to watch over them. I remain uncertain of what expressions he has mastered, but I have seen how magic flows through him.
He gave us a very old map, one that shows the road to Graylag where it once ran and the posts that dotted the way along it. I get the sense that “road” was a generous term back when this map was accurate. Today I’m sure we will be lucky to find a path to walk along.
These people are so backwards. They leave their food exposed to the elements when they prepare it, and cook with open fires where their children play. I have seen a number of the poor wretches with deforming scars and twisted limbs caused by falls into these fires. What foolishness.
The women have no modesty whatsoever in how they dress, save that they will not expose their elbows. Somehow elbows are the most sensual part of a woman’s body to these people. Even if they walk around completely topless, they will cover their elbows with strips of cloth and beads.
I won’t even pretend to understand the Nantese.
All that matters to me is that they have given us our direction and our next goal. We will strike out for Graylag tomorrow. Bantish says we can make it within two weeks if all goes well. But he says we must beware the KoraKora. They are some tribe that has dispersed throughout the region, rejected by the rest for their “unsavory practices.”
I don’t know what that means, but he urges us to avoid them at all cost. They are marked with yellow lines along their faces and over shaved heads. While many in the Nanten wear the bones of animals in their noses and ears, he says they wear the bones of humans.
We will certainly do our best to avoid them. I would rather not discover what unsavory practices would separate any group from the rest of these savages. It must be obscene in the extreme.
We are still waiting for Bolton to recover, but to be honest the rest of us need the respite as well. Bantish has already gathered more supplies than I would have guessed possible. He has promised to teach us more about those items, along with more lessons of the jungle tonight. His manner is steady, sage. It is hard to resist trusting the little savage.
I am getting anxious to continue our mission. I plan to ask Bantish more about Salisir tonight. He knows the name, and I hope that he points us in the right direction. He watches us closely, and though he never appears hostile I can sense that he is always ready for confrontation. I look forward to leaving his unyielding stare behind.
In the meantime I will insert some more of my notes tonight.
-Salisir and the Scourge-
It doesn’t matter how high you rise as a hero. It only takes one catastrophic fall to be remembered as anything else.
Brin Salisir was just such a dying star, destined to burn before he had ever fully risen. His voyage over the Highridge Mountains was long in coming. For though the Tetrarch recruited him he was not allowed to make the trek without their blessing. He first had to become a member of the order.
I realize you aren’t familiar with what all this entails, so I’ll do my best to summarize what I am at liberty to share. The seven year training period has no formal name beyond “the School,” although its participants have given it many names. We knew it as the Scourge. It remains an accurate portrayal to this day.
Salisir was one of the oldest people to enter the Scourge, as most raised within the Tetrarch begin it at age twelve. This is their final indoctrination into discipline. Salisir was nearly twice the age of his classmates.
He had little mind for discipline, and less for authority. He had been tolerated in the ranks of the Chaplaincy only for his proficiency in finding and releasing Daedra. He would not be tolerated by the Tetrarch, not in how he carried himself at that point. They would try to break him.
It is debated to this day who broke who, but I tend to think that they reached some sort of shattered stalemate.
The first year of the Scourge is the worst. Not because it is the most physically trying, or the most dangerous, but because it is the year you lose yourself.
From sleep deprivation to absolute physical exhaustion, you are beaten and you are driven until you begin to forget who you are. Whether it’s through drills, or the endless recitation of oaths and creeds, your mind is steadily wiped clean. Then you are tested, and wiped again.
Salisir would not break.
This is known beyond the reaches of his school simply because it is otherwise unheard of. Rather than break, Salisir became more resilient. Harder. Members of the Tetrarch still use him as a gauge of stubbornness to this day.
There came a point at which his instructors resigned themselves to let him persist in his free mind, so long as he didn’t disrupt the training of the rest. They needed him, and they knew it, but they resented him for it.
Salisir resented them yet more.
The seven years of the Scourge carried on much as it otherwise would, with Salisir excelling in violence and failing miserably in subservience. The Tetrarch commanded the lives of its members. Every member but one.
The fateful day finally came when Salisir crossed his bloodline. He took his final oaths, slit his forearm, and gave up any formal rights to himself. He did this only so he might have his chance at a Daemon rumored to be ravaging the Great Wastes. The Tetrarch only accepted him for this shared purpose.
The day finally came when Salisir was to cross the Highridge Mountains. They gave him a small army. He refused more than a squadron. They commanded him to take the Cindron Pass. Salisir took an unmarked trail through the mountains.
There’s not much known about Salisir’s first mission as a Tetrarch. What is known is that he is the only man of the forty in his squad to have returned. The Daemon he sought had been little more than a rumor, but whatever it was he found had somehow been darker in nature. Brin Salisir returned alive, but changed for the worse.
It was that change that inevitably led to his exile, and his exile that eventually led to my own.
Continued from Entry 25
I have never been as glad for an education as I am tonight. We’ve learned so much.
The snake that bit Balthandar’s boot, for example, is simply known as a firesnake. The name is fitting as its venom burns whatever it comes into contact with. Apparently if said venom gets into the blood stream it will cauterize the veins as it travels towards the heart, which can kill the bitten appendage rapidly.
Odds are strong that it will either turn the limb black, or kill the person outright, whether or not the venom makes it all the way to the heart. For this there is no cure, unless a Sympathetic Healer happens to be nearby.
There are so many unique plants here, I would have had no idea which were safe to eat and which were poisonous if it were not for Bantish.
He showed us a number of different roots and small flowers which I had barely noticed along our journey thus far. Most that I would have assumed were safe were quite the opposite, and many that look frightful to eat appear to be the most nutritious.
Before I forget, I must draw a few here for future reference.
These flowers have various poisonous properties, as marked. Strangely it is some of the prettier flowers that prove the most dangerous, as with the Pondsweed.
These look similar, but are quite safe to eat and hold various nutrients. The difference lies in how the stems split, and the shapes of the leaves.
The most impressive plant he showed us was a small tree that grows no taller than waist-high. The Martingue. Every part of this plant contains different nutrients, and its stems are as satisfying to eat as flatbake.
Bantish claims it is the most valuable plant in the jungle, and by far the most nutritious. Whenever they find one they nurture it to maturity and then use its leaves in as much of their food as possible. If there is any illness in the village, they harvest it from leaf to root, and consume it all. The roots in particular, he tells us, are invaluable for curing illness.
To demonstrate, he gave Bolton a broth made from Martingue root. Bolton’s fever lifted in minutes, and he was awake within the hour.
The plant is rare. Any time we find it, I have instructed the others to harvest and pack it along.
This evening was encouraging. I certainly feel less like we will starve in the jungles of the Nanten now.