Gods I’m so angry today. I woke up with a headache from the palm wine I finished last night and a sickness in my stomach from the fact that there is no more wine. No more gods damned wine. And this defines my exile in one terrible analogous reality: I cannot get wine if I want it and when we find it we have to steal it, but when we steal it – it’s no bloody good.
Unless you’re looking to afflict someone with a splitting headache the following morning. In that case it’s excellent wine.
Where once my reputation alone would get me whatever I wanted at no cost, now I live on the providential graces of whatever inbred gods inhabit this wretched jungle. I could scream!
I’ve never been homesick… I’ve never wanted to go somewhere so badly. And I can’t. It’s closed off to me, and there is no going back. I tell my companions that once this is all over, once we have found Salisir and dealt with whatever Daedric presence is in this jungle, we will be free to go home. I will return to claim my place in the Tetrarch at Silver Hall. My companions will be living legends.
The truth is that even if we do accomplish our mission, which is damned near next to impossible, “we” will not be going anywhere. My companions are free to return home, but I stand a better chance of surviving the Nanten than I do returning to the Old Empire.
Still, I will keep those promises alive for my companions, it may be the only motivation strong enough to keep them from losing hope. But hope in me is most certainly dead. And what a bastard hope is in any case – what a cruel affliction. As bad as this hangover – ever lingering, reminding you of what elusive joy could be yours while simultaneously poking holes in its promise to prove it false.
I will not rest my hopes on home. Instead I will turn my focus on finding this Daedric Prince and releasing him myself. If nothing else I may hold on to my calling as a Tetrarch, the highest calling. We serve to save the world and nothing less. Perhaps dismantling the Daedric society at the heart of the Nanten will even bring about an era of peace for these poor Nantese.
Assuming such a society even exists.
Gods, what futility.
None of these men knew each other before I called upon them for aid. Now they know each other far too well. Spending nearly three months with anyone under normal conditions will reveal much of their character. This journey into the Nanten has exposed far more.
The pretense of fearlessness has been lost to all of us. Courage and manliness have succumbed to terror, illness, and grave uncertainties in everything including ourselves. Our bothersome habits have grated on one another, and the lack of privacy has led to more than one frustrated outburst between us.
In spite of all this, strangely enough, all of the bonds between us have been strengthened. With the exception of that between Starlark and Bolton, of course.
It’s as if by struggling and striving together, we overcome and forget those things that would otherwise repel one another. This is not uncommon among brothers in arms, but I have never felt any bonds grow as strongly as I do with these four.
The only men from whom I have ever felt so inseparable are exactly those who abandoned me in my moment of greatest need. In spite of the countless hours spent hunting Daedra, fighting for our lives, even burying those we loved together, none of it could overcome their duty to the Tetrarch.
In their loyalty to the Tetrarch they let me leave. Because of my own sense of duty to them I left.
Those men knew these men. They were the link between them all, much as I am the link between them now. Those men were with me on nearly all of my adventures, north, west, or east. These men have only shared a selection of those with me.
And yet, sitting here surrounded by the towering trees of the Nanten, I find that I would trade those brothers in a breath for these.
These men gave up their lives because once I had given them life. Now in turn I am forever indebted to them in kind. Somehow this bond, coupled with the terrors we face together daily… somehow it makes all other brotherhood pale in comparison. Be it blood or be it oath.
I will do whatever I must to preserve them, as I know they have already done to save me.
Bolton was bitten by a firesnake. The venom burns on contact, and I can only imagine what it did to the inside of his arm. He was bitten on the wrist as he reached down to pull up a root for Kantoo. His arm turned blue almost instantaneously, and then slowly began to turn black from the bite up. He thrashed around in horrible pain, screaming until suddenly he passed out.
By the time we got to them Kantoo had already killed the snake and used the strap from his water skin to form a tourniquet at Bolton’s armpit. Still, the black continued to creep upwards. Kantoo looked to me. No words were necessary, Bolton was going to die unless we did something dramatic. Immediately. I simply nodded.
Kantoo didn’t hesitate. He pulled the knife from his belt and immediately began to cut away at the arm with surgical precision. He has seen it done so many times to others… gods, the poor boy. To know at his age how to do what he did to Bolton.
When it was over, a bloody stump remained where Bolton’s left arm had once been. We stitched the flap over it as best we could with Balthandar’s field kit, but in the end…
I don’t know if he can survive this. It’s not as though it was done properly.
We will stay put to give him a day of rest and watch to be sure the rot did not move into his shoulder, but a day’s rest cannot possibly be enough. It is, unfortunately, all the time we can afford. Balthandar has already fed him Martingue broth, and Kantoo has put a salve over the wound that he says is what the KoraKora use. Bolton remains in a feverish haze.
I cannot imagine what he is going to do when he awakes to find he has lost an arm to a firesnake. For all I know he may reverse course and swear to kill me again. I wouldn’t blame him in the slightest if he did.
The Nanten… what the jungle wants from us it will take, whether by cannibal or snake. What the Nanten demands, the Nanten will have.
Bolton’s state deteriorated steadily until this morning. His recovery has made a visible swing for the better, but I remain uncertain if it will be enough. We cannot wait here for long. We must assume the KoraKora continue to hunt us, and every day we remain motionless is another day between us that no longer exists.
Dionus believes we are presently safe, as we have felt no touch of expressionists searching for us. I am not so sure. They may have learned from our previous encounter, and I would rather over-estimate my enemy than assume him capable of the same fault twice.
Kantoo’s salve stinks like a latrine, but it has kept Bolton’s shoulder from getting infected. We are so far from any form of modern healing that such remedies are all we have. Though it cannot compare to the touch of a Sympathetic Healer, I dare say it may be better than the salves of home.
Bolton’s desire for Kantoo to join us has become a conundrum. If the boy had not come along, Bolton would never have been bitten helping him gather roots. But if Kantoo had not been present there is a good chance Bolton would have died from the bite. There’s a better chance he would have been bitten repeatedly had Kantoo not killed the snake immediately.
The boy is a mystery to me. He’s so intelligent, quick both in wit and body. He seems so unencumbered by the weight of the world, yet can be deathly serious when the occasion calls for it. I wish we would have found him sooner, and I am grateful for his guidance now.
We are all in agreement, even Bolton: we must move tomorrow no matter what. I cannot imagine how he will be able to, but we must continue on. There is no such thing as safety in the Nanten, but motion seems to provide a greater sense of it than does stillness.
Let us hope that we do not regret our decision.
We decided not to move Bolton yet as he remains too frail. I cannot overemphasize how anxious this makes me. The KoraKora are coming, I am certain of it now. There are instincts you learn in the field, instincts that are honed through experience which you cannot rationalize and which no science or study can prove.
Perhaps there is magic behind the sensation, but it seems most profoundly human. Call it intuition, call it paranoia, call it whatever you will – this feeling in me is rarely wrong. Bad things are coming, and worse are bound to follow.
But I cannot move Bolton too suddenly or his recovery will be jeopardized. Balthandar keeps shaking his head and wishing aloud for a real hospital, for a real Healer, but such wishes are not to be granted by the gods of the Nanten. There is no one to help us now.
When I saved Dionus’ life it felt much the same as this. He had been drugged by a pair of assassins sent to claim his feather – an invaluable prize. We were all staying at the same Inn up near Gromond.
I had drunk far too much for my own good that night, but at least that made things interesting.
The Tetrarch hunt in packs. There is a reason they call us the Wolves of Silver Hall: we very rarely go at any mission alone. We never deter the parallel. It is our accepted practice to stick together when in the field. Security for our brethren is paramount, and most easily found among the pack. That night was different – I left my pack behind.
That summer I had been leading an expedition of four of my brothers into the Lorendian Wastes, tracking a particularly elusive Daedric sect. We often stayed in a rundown inn west of Gromond between raids. The beds were hard, but the food decent and the price right. The tavern was always full.
That night I saw Dionus drinking alone in the corner. I recognized him immediately. He kept his back to the wall, something I have come to know he always does. I sent him a drink with my compliments, but left him well enough alone. Approaching a Walker uninvited is inviting trouble. Later in the evening I saw him get up uneasily and stumble outside.
Two men followed a little too quickly.
I was curious, and drunk, so I decided to see what would happen next. It’s not every day you get to see a Walker defend himself. Foolishly, I left my brothers inside.
To my surprise, when I got outside I saw the two men dragging Dionus off behind the stables. I followed. No sooner did I come around the corner than did a bolt strike me in the shoulder. I don’t think I’ve ever been so surprised to be shot.
They were good. Damn, it gives me tingles to think about it now. The rush of that fight has stayed with me so clearly. One of them had the crossbow, which he tossed aside in favor of two curved daggers. The other wielded a slender, double-handed sword with a hooked tip. Both intriguing choices, perhaps even moreso to me in my intoxicated state.
When I stepped forward to fight I can remember smiling, even though my left arm hung practically useless to me. The weight of my sword felt right regardless. I was really drunk. That’s probably what made it such a good fight, I had a bolt through one shoulder and liquor on my brain, but all I remember was the exhilaration of a fair match.
I can still hear the whistle of that slender blade and the clack of those daggers on my own. Sometimes a little alcohol frees your mind of its encumbrances. You speak Truan a little more fluently, or you laugh a little easier. My footwork was divine. They couldn’t touch me if they’d had nets. They didn’t die too easily though.
Whatever they’d given Dionus was intended to be lethal, and even with my Healer it took a few days to bring him around. We had to stand guard over him the entire time: as soon as it was known that he was vulnerable there were plenty willing to try and take his feather. It was incredibly stressful, not knowing how many might come or how powerful they could be. Standing guard with no reinforcements to be had.
It’s why he has come with me to this place – it’s why he is willing to spend his last few days bound to this earth at my side.
When he came to he was silent for a full day, sullen even, before he finally told me that no one had ever cared for him. No one had ever risked their life for him. Most would have simply taken the place of his assassins for the simple trophy of his feather.
He had never had a friend.
It’s funny, but until that moment I hadn’t thought it possible for someone like Dionus to even be my friend. Since then, I have always thought of him as such. And what a good friend he is.
Bolton, on the other hand, is no friend to any of us. In fact he was my enemy until only a few years ago. Until the Nantese began to soften his heart, he remained my enemy in spite of his service. Now he is something else. He even attempts to change us, to help us see the Nantese in a different light.
I find what I am about to write to be as strange as anything I have seen in the Nanten, but suddenly I hope he does not die. Not because he doesn’t deserve to, and not even because we need all the swords we can get, but because in some strange way I hope he truly can change. The possibility bodes well for all of us. I hope he can cease to be my enemy, and perhaps he could even become my friend.
We are in a great deficit of friends out here.
The KoraKora found us yesterday, and now we have lost two members of our party… gods be good, it only gets worse from there.
The day started out like any other with the exception of Bolton’s condition. He was in a great deal of pain, but seemed to accept the loss of his arm with a surprising level of calm. Starlark scouted out the surrounding area while we packed as usual, and that’s where things began to go wrong.
He found a Bangara’s bed not thirty feet from where we had slept. And then, within moments, he found another.
We were anxious the entire morning, expecting Bangara to attack us nearly every step of the way. How could there be two? Did they hunt in packs? There was no way we could stay still, and thankfully, though Bolton had a difficult time of it, we were able to make progress.
Balthandar kept feeding him Martingue broth he had saved in the empty wineskin, and Kantoo served as Bolton’s crutch as much as Kantoo’s bamboo did for him. We made it the whole morning without any new threats revealing themselves. Until the KoraKora found us.
There was only one scout, as surprised to see us as we were him. Starlark put an arrow through his throat before he could sound his horn. We immediately picked up our pace.
It didn’t take long for the KoraKora to find the corpse. Horns began sounding behind us with responses coming from a multitude of directions. We were not surrounded, but they were on our every flank.
Then came the drums. The KoraKora were on the hunt.
We ran then. We had no choice, even though Bolton’s stitches threatened to split. This time I was not buffered from the terror by illness. My mind was clear, my senses unhindered. The world slowed down around me to match my fear.
Then the KoraKora were before us. It was a small party, maybe twenty of them. We fought, but as we killed them Starlark saw more coming from the southeast. We broke off and ran north, pushing Bolton ahead of us as quickly as he could manage. I don’t know how he kept his feet when Balthandar wasn’t carrying him.
As we ran Dionus and I dropped back sporadically to keep the pursuing KoraKora at bay. Each fight grew more ferocious, and soon they were driving us back faster than we were able to hold them off. It was then that I heard Balthandar shout for me.
We ran north. It was there we came into a clearing where before us stood thousands of KoraKora. At the center of their line was their chief.
The KoraKora beat their drums, screaming and hollering in chaotic fervor. Behind us more yellow-painted KoraKora began to line the edge of the clearing.
The chief of the KoraKora slowly raised his arms, the drums halting as they aligned with his shoulders. Bones. He was covered in the bones of men, pierced by them in a dozen different ways. “Come now villains,” he boomed in the common tongue. His twisted grin formed the words. “Let us bring justice upon you.”
The KoraKora cheered. They rushed forward as one. And then the Bangara attacked.
There were three of the giant monsters, and they must have seen our confrontation as a feast. They rolled through the ranks of KoraKora like cats in the snow. The Bangara served as a distraction, but they were not the solution to our problem. While many KoraKora turned to the new threat, most of them did not.
They rushed in on us from south and north. Dionus now had room to work and began to let out even more violent attacks than he had been able in the confines of the trees. Starlark forsook his bow immediately and drew his sword, while Balthandar began skewering the KoraKora two at a time on his spear.
We had a real fight on our hands. Gods… we had fight.
They crashed upon us with terrifying weight, throwing themselves into our midst with no regard for their own lives. We slew them by the dozens, their weapons no match for even our light armor and their zeal no match for our skill. Still, even with the distraction of the Bangara, their numbers were overwhelming. We could not hold for long.
I was tempted to take matters into my own hands, but Dionus caught my eye from above. No. And that was all I needed to hold back. Not yet. He pointed to the east and shouted that the way was clear. With a loud series of snaps and booms, the KoraKora between us and the east were sucked up and blown into the trees.
We disengaged and ran.
Dionus was like a god. He stayed above the battlefield, hovering over us as he struck down at the KoraKora again and again. Batting them back. Slicing their front rank, and slicing into them again. His efforts bought us the distance to the edge of the clearing.
We were forced to carry Bolton then, running with him between Balthandar and myself. I do not know how Kantoo kept up with us on his crutch, but he managed.
Starlark started to pull ahead, scouting for the enemy, while Dionus worked to catch up from behind. Bolton came to in a start and started struggling against us until we had to put him down.
“I can carry my own damn self,” he said with a glance to his shoulder. “What’s left of it.”
So we let him.
Balthandar ran immediately behind Bolton, pushing him to move as quickly as he could, with Dionus immediately in front in case the KoraKora circumvented us again. I brought up the rear. We were running single file, and then Kantoo was screaming.
I turned to find that Kantoo had stopped running. He was almost out of sight between the trees, and it took a moment for me to understand what he was shouting: Deadwood.
I turned back to see my companions entering a white forest, a white forest within which I had already began to run. I only had an instant before I would lose sight of them. I made the choice without hesitation: better to enter the Deadwood than lose my companions forever.
And so I plunged after them, keeping them in sight and yelling for them to stop. As soon as I lost sight of the green jungle behind me, I never found it again.
Balthandar stopped running and began shouting for the others ahead of him to do likewise. Bolton was immediately at hand, and Dionus was just a little farther on. Starlark was nowhere to be found. We shouted for him, and though at one point we could hear him shouting back there was no other sign of him.
After an hour of this we decided to take the risk of the KoraKora and tried to retrace our steps. We had only been a few hundred feet into the Deadwood, surely it would be only a few hundred feet back the way we had come. Yet the edge of the jungle was nowhere to be found.
Bolton needed rest desperately, and I was unwilling for any of us to let us lose sight of the others, so we bedded down for the night. But we could not make a fire, for the ashen vines of the Deadwood will not burn. As darkness fell the trees became no less visible to our eyes, as though burned into our vision like bright flashes of the sun. The jungle became as a forest of bones.
The pervasive silence around us turned to the sound of a light breeze, yet the air moved not. And as we sat in the Deadwood waiting for sleep to take us, our fears turned to other things which might claim us instead. I never thought I would wish for those familiar trees of green to sprout up above me. I am more terrified now than I have ever been in my entire life.
I have written this by first light. I hope it is not my last entry.