I can remember her face, and that’s all. She’s beautiful.
I’m in some sort of hut. It is dimly lit, which makes it difficult to write – but so does the incessant throbbing in my head. My whole body aches. If I focus on any part of me, just long enough to take note of its present status, it hurts like it has been beaten with a club. Every part of me.
Gods… it took me the better part of an hour to have my journal returned to me. I don’t know who these savages are, but they seem far too happy to have me under their care. I will say however that even lacking real medicine, they do a fantastic job of it. I feel genuinely cared for.
Starlark came and sat with me for a while, then Dionus. They recounted for me all that has transpired. Apparently I was incoherent over the last few days, and completely unconscious for the last two. Reading my last few entries in this journal only serves to prove it.
It feels like I’ve been dragged behind a horse for as long.
I can remember her face. The woman that saved us. The goddess.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. I can focus long enough to write, but my thoughts still feel jumbled. I don’t know how long I’ll manage, so I should start from what I remember and blend Dionus and Starlark’s story in from there.
I fell ill, deathly ill, and if it hadn’t been for a providential comedy of errors and the enchantments in my armor I would have died.
The KoraKora had some strong expressionists among them, some of the most powerful we have encountered anywhere according to Dionus. They were adept enough to feel Dionus and me out from who knows how far, and they led the hunt to find and kill us. Thankfully their companions were completely undisciplined.
They attacked us as I fell into the height of my fever. Twice, Dionus said, they pressed into us and surrounded us. Both times their easternmost flank attacked us too early, whether because they lost contact with their comrades or simply were the least experienced hunters of men, Dionus couldn’t say. But their scattered approach made for a quick fight, and a way to break through their line.
The chief of the KoraKora was described as I remember him. Tall, covered in yellow paint and bleached bones. He wears a massive jawbone around his own, and a headdress made from a monster’s skull covered in red, orange, and yellow feathers. He arrived as we escaped both times, Dionus said. He didn’t look frustrated at our escape, nor did he seem surprised. He simply looked on us with a burning hatred tempered by patience.
They surrounded us a third and final time on the third day, using the small tributary as their easternmost flank. It would not break rank as their companions had. The water was rough, Dionus said, broken by many rapids and they feared dragging me across it. So they stood to fight. Arrows flew this time, and my companions killed a number of the KoraKora, but there were too many. Hundreds, Dionus said. Possibly thousands.
The Chief appeared again, flanked by two expressionists. Dionus could feel them exerting themselves, one feeding the bloodlust of the KoraKora, the other preparing some terrible assault of his own.
Gods, my head hurts. I’ll finish tomorrow, I need to sleep.
I do not remember any of what follows except for the beauty of Inifra. Her lean face was so dark, powerful… it comes quickly to mind as the only true memory I have of the last few days.
I only know the rest as recounted by my companions. From where I left off yesterday:
The KoraKora had us surrounded on the banks of the same tributary we had been following for some time. As I left off yesterday, two expressionists flanked their leader – one fueling the bloodlust of the KoraKora and the other preparing an attack. It makes sense now how the bandits of Graylag might fear an attack of the KoraKora: The second expressionist was a full-fledged Breaker.
I haven’t fought any elemental expressionists in a long time, and apparently in my feverish haze I thought that was the perfect opportunity to make up for lost time. I had been kept well behind my companions against the water while they worked to fight off the KoraKora.
Arrows and darts flew between every wave of attack, and Dionus was hard-pressed to deflect them. Every time he launched his own counter attack with the wind, a new wave of arrows would force him to pull back to defend our companions. We were effectively cornered, and the injuries began to accrue.
Then I ran forward. The infusion of strength can only be explained by my light armor and the enchantments upon it. The suicidal desire to fight seems easy enough to explain on its own, but I am grateful that in my stupor I did not reveal my true power.
I cut through the first three rows of KoraKora with ease, much to the dismay of my companions who were locked in the fight and unable to come to my aid. They said I was screaming at the chief of the KoraKora, taunting him and daring him to fight.
That was when his Breaker stomped the ground and threw down his fists. Instantly a pillar of stone shot from the ground to strike me in the chest, sending me flying back into the river. The only thing that saved my ribs, again, was the armor. But what saved me from the water was Inifra.
Inifra, I am told, is the chief priestess of Infiri, the water goddess, and she struck the KoraKora with a vengeance. It would seem that the only thing she hates more than Imperials is the KoraKora. Dionus said the river arced above them, casting me to the ground, and then crashed down into the ranks of yellow-striped cannibals.
She rose from the waters and fought the Breaker head on. The confusion this caused disrupted the entire rhythm of the battle, which gave my companions time to cross the rapids before the water returned. Soon the river was flowing in its place again, creating a barrier between the KoraKora and us.
Inifra raged on the other side of the river until the cannibals fled in terror. The Breaker, she broke.
When she approached us, Dionus said, her rage was not diminished. But rather than attack, she simply pointed at the necklace I had been given only days before. We must be those who had saved some of her followers, she said. For that reason alone she would spare us.
Balthandar begged for her help. I was unconscious again and shaking against my fever. She said no initially, but Dionus told me that something made her change her mind as she looked down on me. Finally she agreed, but she swore to kill us if we attempted to harm any of her people.
She directed them northeast, and then vanished back into the water.
The village was not far, and the people in it shared none of Inifra’s rage. They were welcoming and immediately began to care for our wounds and treat my illness. I think this stunned all of my companions, a response that has yet to fully leave them.
My head hurts a little less today. All I wish for is to see Inifra again. I haven’t craved the sight of a face in so long, but I haven’t beheld such beauty in even longer.
This village is home to a shrine of Infiri, apparently, the water goddess that Inifra serves and somehow incarnates. It is one of the smaller shrines, we are told. The priestesses that live here expect a visit from the chief priestess every few years, and in a rare stroke of luck it happens that her visit coincides with our own.
Inifra. Can she possibly be as beautiful as my memory leads me to believe? Perhaps I am simply lonely and starved for the women of home.
I must sleep some more. Already I have caught myself dozing multiple times as I write this entry. We have been bid to rest, and though Dionus gives the impression that Inifra wants us gone, her people seem to prefer that we stay.
I hope we can linger long enough to recover, but also long enough to unravel the mystery that is this water goddess and her priestesses.
Inifra still has yet to visit, for which I am strangely disappointed. I am still confined to my bed for another day, hopefully no longer. Dionus has taken the time to speak of the expressionists we have encountered, including what he saw in Inifra beyond what she did openly on the riverbank.
The Breaker, he said, was an easy identification to make. Elemental expressionists are always clearly identifiable. The other expressionist, he said, was far more difficult. It could have been Mentalism, except for the sheer number of people impacted by his efforts. There was something else going on, he said, something more subtle than control and completely unattached from the volition of the KoraKora.
There was some way their passions were stirred. It would have been far more efficient to have simply influenced us if it was Mentalism. I can tell it disturbs Dionus that he cannot pin down what he felt, and it frustrates me that I cannot offer any aid. It happens on occasion that we come into contact with a magic user who belongs to no known expression, and it is always a disturbing if not terrifying experience.
It all comes down to one fact: You don’t know what you’re dealing with.
When you encounter someone from a known expression, like a Breaker, you know their limits, their weaknesses, basically what to expect. If you come across a new form of magic that has never been put to a formalized expression, you are dealing with an unknown. It could be the most dangerous thing you’ve ever come into contact with, or the most benign. There is no way to be certain until it’s too late. It’s the same reason I keep my own power hidden unless necessary.
As for expressions, Inifra seemed at first to be a simple Hydra, albeit an extremely powerful one. But he said there was more to her than that. She put the water at her disposal to use with impunity. But at numerous points, when Dionus stopped his retreat to watch her, she was using the water as a mask for something else.
Her power was far greater than that of any master Hydron he has ever met, he said, and that leaves him more disturbed than the rest. She truly does have ties to some sort of strength beyond herself, whether that is the goddess she is said to incarnate or something else, he could not even guess.
All we know now is that we are under the begrudging protection and hospitality of a woman that poses us the greatest threat we have yet encountered.
Her people, however, seem oblivious to her hostility towards us. I think some of them are from the village we saved, come to see us made well. The women here cover their elbows, much as we have seen in every other village, but they also wear simple jewelry. One of my caretakers speaks some of the common tongue, and she says that the blue and green stones they wear are reminders of the blessings of their faith.
Each blue stone represents some aspect of the goodness of the water goddess, Infiri, while each green stone represents one of her incarnate chief priestesses. By my count there have been twelve such priestesses. Each time a priestess dies, she told me, she is replaced by her most loyal acolyte.
Inifra, she said, is the name they all take to remind themselves that they are of a higher state and station now. This chief priestess has only been in office a few years. I asked her if all the priestesses are as powerful as Inifra is, and she giggled. No, she told me, only Infiri is so powerful, and the woman she inhabits.
I am left as intrigued as I am mystified. Of course I have heard of the Swift and Dread Gods of old. I am in fact a believer in them, as I have seen the One-Winged Angel on the battlefield myself. But I never thought to encounter any others in my lifetime. I didn’t think any still existed.
I want to see Inifra even more now, although I find myself nervous at the thought. Starlark tells me that none of my companions have seen her since she appeared at the river. I hope that once I leave this hut I can find her to thank her, and to ask her my own questions.
Sitting by the river bank is so calming that I scarcely notice the pain any more. I spent much of the morning feeling grateful, believe it or not. This pen is so important to me, a gift from your father in fact. A very expensive gift. Capsulized ink is rare, and even though I’ve had this pen for over three years now it isn’t even half-used. I love my pencils, but this pen means so much more to me.
I’m glad I did not lose it in my feverish haze. I’m even more grateful that I am feeling so much better today.
I still ache, and it is difficult to focus, but overall I am simply exhausted. The priestesses seem surprised by the speed of my recovery. They remain unaware that it was the enchantments in my armor that ultimately made it possible.
They bustle about whenever they are at their work, often hunched over in focus on the task before them. But when they walk between the huts in this village, or go to socialize amongst themselves, they move with an almost lazed ease. They are the first Nantese we have encountered so far that do not appear enslaved by fear.
The women laugh easily, and the few men to be seen are stoic but relaxed. My primary caretaker is a woman by the name of Talita. She says the men have “been cut.” I take this to mean that they are eunuchs, which I have always found to be among the most uncomfortable concepts in the world.
Talita arranged for the men to build a hammock from vines for me so I could lay by the river to sleep and draw. I am able to see the thinnest sliver of the sky above, and whenever I lose myself in its shine I am transported to distant places and times.
I wish I was anywhere but in this jungle.
There are four enchantments woven into my armor, at least as far as I was told. The most pertinent to me now is a healing catalyst which, I believe, has as much to do with increasing circulation as anything. I’m sure it is what kept my fever from cooking me, and the lingering effects surely guided me to a rapid recovery.
Then there is the Kinesthenic enchantment that is designed to store energy for me to use in a fight. I never spent as much time focusing on my Kinesthenic training as I should have, but the armor makes up the difference. It’s fairly standard for all Tetrarch to learn at least some Kinesthenic disciplines, the expression of Strength as you may know it.
It has become standard practice among many militaries throughout the world, but few of my brothers specialize in Kinesthenics. The Tetrarch generally believes that it is wiser to rely on one’s own strength in combat, especially considering the long-term effects of the expression on the body. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we don’t have enough knowledge to use to our advantage when needed.
The other two enchantments on my armor are far more standard fare. One hardens the material instantly against any blow it detects, and the other negates a fraction of the armor’s weight so that it is easier for me to carry. I am grateful for each of these enchantments. Armor like this is rare, and this particular set was a gift from none other than your father as well. So that makes it doubly valuable to me.
I hope your father doesn’t hold my crimes against me too personally, though I know he was grieved by Lystra’s death. I’m sure many were… but what was I to do? Her lover was a Daedric follower, an attempt at infiltrating her father’s council. Isn’t her crime of attempting to save him more shocking than my execution of justice?
Justice. What a fool’s notion.
The world at large is starving for it, and this jungle is absolutely devoid of anything that would resemble the concept. These women live peacefully in the midst of carnage that terrorizes their neighbors, my armor saves me from wounds that would kill anyone else, and the Old Empire mourns a Daedric sympathizer while I am condemned to shame and exile for carrying out my duty.
There is no justice in this world. I am living proof of that.
I’m able to walk around the village a little on my own now. My mind has cleared completely and my aches are nearly gone, but the exhaustion lingers. Talita tells me what remains to be healed are the weary miles I have left behind me. She promises I will be well soon. My heart swells at the simple kindness.
These poor savages have been so kind to us, and all because we inadvertently saved some of their people. If only they knew how little we truly cared, although I think that Starlark has made that clear enough for himself. He doesn’t do much for fear of Inifra’s return, but he antagonizes the priestesses with small annoyances whenever the opportunity arises. He acts like a boy half his age.
I feel he does it to maintain some distance from them as their generosity has attempted to close the gap. But I think it serves more to irritate Bolton.
If any of us are learning to love the Nantese, I find it the greatest irony in this entire jungle that it should be Slad Bolton. The man made his living raiding villages like this in the Great Wastes for the express purpose of capturing the inhabitants and selling them as slaves. Suddenly a man completely devoid of compassion for anyone except himself is injured on behalf of irritated Nantese priestesses.
Ultimately I think this is a good development, if only because it means that there may be something redeemable in Bolton, but I am not certain I fully approve. We aren’t here to help these people. As a Tetrarch I have never been called to aid the populace directly. My calling is above that.
The Tetrarch exists solely to prevent the ascension of Demons into our world, and to destroy them if and when they cross. To this end we seek out Daedric society wherever it sprouts. The worshipers of the ancient Relequim are certainly nefarious enough on their own to merit their extinction, but more importantly their activities pave the way for more Demons to enter our world.
We do not kill Daedra because they are murderers, or because their practices are vile and unholy. That would be like an engineer plugging holes in a dam because he is worried about getting water on his shoes. No, we kill Daedra to stem the tide of horror and destruction that stands waiting on the far side of the wall that separates our worlds.
If we do not succeed in that, then the world is doomed. The fate of one village, one nation even, pales in comparison to the fate of humanity.
Bolton was not raised to this calling as I was, and though I am glad to see that he does indeed harbor some love for humanity I cannot afford for that to cloud his judgment moving forward. It is a strength to overlook the small problems and suffering of the world in one’s focus on the greater picture. We are here to advance that cause, not save the Nantese from their own superstitions and poverty.
Dionus and Starlark understand this. Balthandar simply strives to serve me. All of them are healed enough to move except for me. I hope that I am ready soon, for if this Daedric prince truly does exist, and Salisir failed as miserably as I am sure he did, then his mission has become ours. To fail in it ourselves is to invite disaster on the entire world.
I hope that they are nothing but rumors. I hope that Salisir died out here for nothing. Then we can return in peace to a world that is at least a little further from its doom than it would otherwise be.
I asked Talita if she had heard the story of Infiri and the Blight Sea before. She immediately launched into her own version of the story that Tarsh had told us during our crossing two months ago. The interesting difference in her story, however, was that the tribesman who betrayed Infiri’s trust wasn’t just any man. He was her lover.
The goddess had fallen in love the instant she lay eyes upon the man, Talita told me, and her passion for him was what inspired her generosity in providing for his tribe. He loved her in return, but not with the same intensity. And clearly his love was not enough to stop him from breaking his word to Infiri in exchange for some simple goods and treasures.
Infiri’s lover betrayed her to my own people. I asked Talita why she would help us if her god hated Imperials so. She said that every kindness deserves kindness in turn. She admonished me for thinking they would be unable to overlook their distaste for our ancestors in light of who we proved to be on our own merit.
We most certainly are not who she believes us to be, and for once I feel some small shame over the matter.
I am finally well enough to continue on towards the Akari Grasslands. I am not at full strength, but my recovery is inevitable now. As much as I hate marching, I believe that returning to it will do me good.
The priestesses are not able to refit us as well as Bantish was, but they have made a good effort and we are grateful for what little they have to give. I think Bolton may actually be dreading our departure; he seems to enjoy life here. I have seen him working in different huts, repairing damage to the roofs of some and making himself useful in whatever ways present themselves.
He has actually made friends here. I never thought Bolton capable of friendship.
We have been here for over a week and I believe we are well refreshed for it. In a way I can understand any hesitance to leave. I have asked the others about it and though their dedication to our cause has not wavered, there is a tiredness that hides behind their hardened exteriors.
I don’t believe we will find comfort like this again for some time, if ever within the borders of the Nanten. If nothing else, that is a true testament to the power of Infiri, and Inifra, her priestess.
We have yet to see Inifra again. Within the span of time that we have been here there has been no visit, not even a sighting from afar. I’m disappointed I did not get to meet her while in a lucid state. Talita told me that the chief priestess often meditates and prays for days after a battle.
She also said that Inifra is not as quick to overlook our origins as the other priestesses might be.
The chief priestess, she said, always harbors more of the old goddess’ anger and bitterness towards Imperials than the rest. Those memories and emotions, she said, are the result of Infiri’s incarnation. Every iteration of the incarnation Talita has seen has been the same.
The whole concept of an incarnate goddess in the host of one of her priestesses is something that intrigues me. It is certainly something the Temple would frown upon, and makes me wonder if the Red Priests are aware of such occurrences. I’m just curious how it works.
Talita said that whenever one chief priestess dies, her body is laid in the river and Infiri chooses her successor. That’s it, she said. The new chief priestess becomes Infiri incarnate, and takes the name Inifra.
How the power comes upon the priestess, why she chooses who she does, all of it remains a mystery. Occasionally, she said, the goddess will restore life to the priestess – but only if she has been exceptional in her service. That’s incredibly rare, she said, and usually a new one is chosen. She has never seen it happen any other way.
I can’t imagine serving a person who laid claim to godhood. These women are unaware of Dread Gods or Swift Gods, they seem oblivious to the world outside their own. They simply live in the peace of knowing their only god, and dedicate the rest of their time to making a wholesome existence out of their otherwise miserable lives.
It’s easy to understand the draw I feel to this life they lead. In spite of what may lack, it feels as though we were made for it.