The boy Starlark shot two days ago found us in the palace grounds this morning. It was a shock to see him. He was followed by the man Balthandar had spoken to when we returned him home. We have seen no living souls within the confines of Senida until today. My first thought was that they were ghosts of some sort.
They were clothed differently today, as if they were living back in their homes in a city rather than hiding in the jungle. Their garments were loose, billowy, and very colorful. Each came to a tight cuff around the wrists and ankles with a little fringe shooting out the other end.
The man Balthandar had spoken with told us his name was Gorung, and the boy’s name just sounded like two wet clicks of the tongue, so we call him “ClickClick.” Gorung is a Klotian slave name however. He told us that he would help us however he could.
When we asked why, he simply asked if we had not come to help them. He pointed at the blue blade of the Tetrarch on my armor and said that the last man to wear the symbol in Senida had liberated the Nantese from their Klotian oppressors. He assumed that whoever followed would finish by saving them from the Lost Children.
I asked if he meant Salisir, to which he nodded and began to tell us all that had transpired.
Salisir came to Senida around fifteen years ago, after successfully curtailing the reach of Graylag’s bandit warlords. He brought with him a relic known to the people as the “Life of Graylag,” and said he was seeking another. This much is confirmed by my own notes from Graylag.
Gorung said Senida was the last civilized city in the Nanten Kingdom besides her capital, Matasten. Not until Salisir came and upended the cart, so to speak, did she come to the same fate as every other city within this fallen state. Oddly enough, he seemed to see that fate as a good thing.
It was while he was navigating Senida’s social circles and investigating her secrets that Salisir, according to Gorung, was overcome with compassion for her Nantese underclass.
I find it hard to believe that Salisir could learn to even pronounce “Compassion,” within a short five years let alone develop enough of a sense of it to act on behalf of the slaves of Senida. But I suppose Bolton began to change in a matter of weeks, and he was nearly as soulless to begin with as Salisir will always be. Thus it’s not entirely beyond belief.
In any case, Salisir was on the hunt for something so what follows next tracks better with that understanding in mind than one of fanciful altruism. Whatever it was that Salisir wanted was going to do something horrible to the Klotians in Senida, something that would make them go quite literally insane. I’m guessing some Mentalist relic. As his search continued he spent much of his time surreptitiously training the Nantese to fight, preparing them to rebel.
He also, apparently, began teaching the Nantese leadership how to operate a “just” society in preparation for the collapse of the corrupt one that ruled over them. They were treated little better than slaves, Gorung told us, and Salisir was going to change that.
Then one day word spread throughout the Nantese underclass that the time had come. Salisir had found what he was looking for and would unleash it on the Klotians that very day. Gorung said he was supposed to lead a group of fighting men into the palace grounds and ensure the royal family was dead. He said that by the time they got there, no one was still alive.
They had all killed each other, gone stark-raving mad and murdered everyone they could before they succumbed to their own wounds. Every Klotian district in the city was the same. Salisir instructed them to move the bodies to the palace grounds and burn them, but the Nantese are not the kind to burn their enemies. Instead they piled the corpses underground and threw lye upon them – an apparent insult in death for the Nantese.
Gorung said they left the Klotian districts empty ever since, and while the economy had evaporated with their former masters they were happy to be poor so long as they were free.
The last piece of freedom to attain, he said, was from the Lost Children. Now that the Makonga drew near, that opportunity was neigh. Starlark left upon hearing that, the blood drained entirely from his face. He was bound to find out eventually. Later he said he’d known all along, in his own way.
We asked where Salisir had gone, but Gorung didn’t know with certainty. Once the Klotians were unseated, Salisir had traveled north back into the Nanten. There was another relic that Salisir was after. Some third power he needed for his mission in the heart of the Nanten. They hadn’t questioned his departure. They were simply glad he had stopped to help.
Gorung said that Salisir died sometime after that, near the mighty Nanten River far to the north. It was a day they had spent in mourning as a community, to honor the man that had slain their oppressors in an afternoon.
I asked why Gorung kept his slave name if he relished his freedom so much. He said it was his way of claiming that which was evil and redeeming it for good. The power in the name, he said, was in the named, not the word itself. I couldn’t have agreed more.
I find it strange that they associate the blue blade of the Tetrarch with such incredible acts of justice, and what’s even more surprising is that Salisir is the person behind this. If for no other reason than the honor of the Tetrarch, I will stay and help these people.
As for Salisir, it feels as though I’m chasing a ghost. A ghost who at every turn evades its own demise so that I might only find it in another even more remote location than the last. Is he truly dead to the north of us? I certainly hope so, but no one seems to have believed he would make it even half as far as he did.
We must follow him north, but I see no way of escaping the Lost Children on our own if we are being hunted by the Makonga. Our fate, it would seem, is more closely tied to Senida than we originally thought.
We will have to tell Starlark of the danger we face eventually, but as yet he does not seem to care enough to know. It’s easier to keep someone from discovering secrets when they do not wish to hear them. Balthandar and I are on edge, which he must sense, but that very knowledge is what seems to drive him into ignorance.
What we wouldn’t give for a little less knowledge of the world around us tonight ourselves.
Today was not entirely fruitless, thankfully. Senida has begun to open herself up to us. Whatever happened to the Klotian power structure that ruled their society started near the top. We hadn’t explored the palace at length yet, but today we found ourselves in a house on the palace grounds that appears to have belonged to some sort of minister.
Every mirror in the house was broken. Most had been stabbed with knives.
The palace appeared to be free of such wanton destruction until we finally discovered the private chambers near its heart. Every mirror there was broken as well, with more than one blade still in place at their centers.
Whatever depopulated Senida must have happened at around the same time, for these people would not have left broken mirrors lying around in their own homes. Klotians are wildly superstitious people, and because they are wildly purist I assume the upper class here held more in common with Klotians than just their architecture. Why they would do this though, I cannot guess.
We also discovered a makeshift catacomb beneath the palace grounds. It appears it was originally built as dry storage with a massive wine cellar, but now it is filled with more bones than goods. This was the first actual sign of corpses we’ve found in the city this entire time. I don’t know why we paid so little attention to the palace until now, but we will spend more time there tomorrow.
It makes me wonder what else we’ve missed as we’ve explored. Perhaps we were so blinded by the fact that we were in an actual city that we could not see what was awry within it.
The images of all of those bones haunt me now, and knowing that the Makonga draws near… I see faces in the shadows all the time. My mind is playing tricks on me, and all I can hope is that the Lost Children of Senida are as bad as things will get here.
We have yet to tell Starlark that the wraiths walk the streets at night. Balthandar gave him a potion to sleep again last night, and he is again improved for it this morning. His mood is still fragile, and he refuses to speak of his time apart from us, but he has begun speaking with us again on his own.
Our search of the city began with little to differentiate it from the rest. Then the distant knocking noise resumed.
We were all startled, but the noise put Starlark on edge. We explained that we had heard it only a few days before, and coaxed him into moving quickly to try and discover its source. We came close before it ceased, entering a small square which seemed a likely epicenter. The buildings here were decorated in various fashions, but the central theme to all of them was eagles.
At the center of the square, on a raised patch of grass, stood a solitary pole. Spiraling up around it was a series of smaller dowels, or perhaps handles sticking out of it at regular intervals. At its peak stood a solitary carving of an eagle in flight, and at its base lay a ceremonial staff made of heavy oak.
Marks on the side of the pole and staff alike indicated that this was the source of the knocking noise, but the wielder remained a mystery. The square itself was close to the edge of the city, and as we came to the rolling waves of golden grass Starlark stopped dead in his tracks.
“There,” he said. He didn’t point, he just stared out beyond the city. “A man.”
It took us a moment longer, but soon we could see the shape of shoulders and a head in the shimmering gold. Someone was trying to hide in the grass, watching us.
Wordlessly Balthandar and I spread out to the wings, acting as though we had dismissed whatever we had seen. Then, once we had given ourselves enough space so as not to be outmaneuvered to either side, we sprinted into the grass.
The figure before us immediately took flight. The hunt was on. Unlike running in the jungle, we were no longer inhibited by our packs. There was no consideration to be made for roots or unseen drops in the foliage. We could just run. It felt good, but the pleasure of the run was drowned by the exhilaration of the chase and the fear of the unknown.
We had seen no living soul within the confines of Senida. Who was this spying on us? How dangerous was he?
As we gained ground on the stranger he tried to break to the left, towards me, but soon realized he was only cutting the distance between us more quickly. Again he ran directly away from us and we strafed slowly left to reestablish our positions behind him.
And then Starlark drew his bow, stopped for the smallest of instants, and let loose an arrow. It took the stranger clean through the calf mid-stride. Starlark may be fragile when idle, but in action he is still himself.
The stranger continued to stumble away from us, sobbing as we drew near. We grabbed him and rolled him onto his back. Quickly we realized he posed us no threat. He was an unarmed boy, not much younger than Kantoo, and terrified beyond his senses at the three of us.
We visibly put our weapons away, trying to calm him. Starlark wasn’t so quick to be helpful, spite overcoming his reason so that we had to actively push his bow hand back and to its holster. The boy kept crying but didn’t scream when Balthandar removed the arrow. As Balthandar bandaged the wound, and we did our best to apologize without a shared language, the boy calmed down and stopped crying.
His fear wasn’t entirely vanquished, and he shied away from Starlark at all times, but he waved for us to follow him. He couldn’t walk well at all with the fresh wound, so Balthandar picked him up and carried him the direction he had pointed.
Soon Senida vanished over the horizon behind us, and as we neared the edge of the golden waves we came upon a large grove of trees. The boy indicated that we should stop, then shouted something to the trees. It took some convincing on his part, but soon dark faces appeared among the shadows. Suddenly a large group of armed men appeared.
All of us immediately reached for our weapons, but the boy quickly raised his hands to keep ours from moving and made a noise that communicated, “No, wait.” The group of men in the trees came forward half the distance to us, then laid down their weapons. Their leader stepped forward and reached out his arms, as if to take the boy from there.
The silence of the exchange was as strange as it was unnerving. Balthandar nodded and walked forward, passing the boy into the man’s waiting arms where he was inspected and then put down to hobble back on his own.
The man then began to quietly ask Balthandar questions. Starlark moved to join him but the other group immediately dropped in their stances. We were not to approach.
The conversation continued for some time, though it was painful to watch without being able to hear a single word. The man speaking to Balthandar looked tense, on guard. He was not afraid of Balthandar, though he certainly should have been. He was afraid of something else. Something he was speaking of to Balthandar.
Finally he bowed, then backed away to the waiting line of warriors. All of them picked up their weapons at once, and then retreated slowly into the waiting grove.
Balthandar didn’t move for some time, and then slowly turned and walked back to us.
“The Lost Children,” he said as he indicated we should begin walking back to Senida. “That is the name of the wraiths of the Grasslands.”
The boy, he explained, was an exceptionally curious member of the tribe’s scouting party. It was why he didn’t disappear when the others had run. He had wanted to see us.
Every few days they were sent to Senida to beat the pole at the eagle square. The eagles would come to the call of the pole, they told Balthandar, but only if the land was safe. The people lived there, in that section of the city as well as a few others, but when danger drew near they fled to the grove to hide.
The Mortuga, he said, were the first sign something was wrong. They began to migrate away as we drew near the city. Then the eagles left. If the eagles would not return to the sound of the pole, then the danger remained.
I asked if we were the danger and Balthandar said no, sometimes they have visitors. I asked about the wraiths, and he shook his head to that as well. The wraiths are a sign. The man told Balthandar that the Mortuga fear no human, as we had discovered, that something darker was following us.
I asked what he meant but Balthandar refused to say any more for the moment. He simply said we needed to return to Senida before nightfall.
Balthandar told me the rest once Starlark was asleep. What follows us, he said, is darker than the Lost Children – the Makonga is what hunts us now.
I couldn’t believe him for a minute. I had heard of the Makonga before coming to the Nanten, a mythical monster. A slouched figure that walks on hind legs, its body withered and hairy, its face a bare skull. They say it searches for a face. When it finds a face that pleases it, it lures its victim into the jungle with the voice of someone he loves.
Then the Makonga kills the owner of the face and takes it for itself, using it to lure yet more victims into the jungle and to their death.
The Lost Children, he said, are its victims.
They are confined to the tall grasses in the northwest portion of the Akari Grasslands, he was told, but when the Makonga draws near they grow stronger. Thus they could climb onto the obsidian, and eventually cross the blood river which otherwise serves as a natural barrier.
Now they are here, and it can mean only one thing: the Makonga is coming for us.
They have followed us, and now they are here. Starlark slept soundly, which improved his mood notably but not enough that I could tell him what we saw in the night. Now that I have seen it I can better understand his fears.
Somehow the wraiths of the Akari Grasslands have followed us into Senida. They only appeared below us in the streets during the night, and we only saw them twice. But they are here now. Perhaps it was foolhardy of us to believe that they were blocked by a shallow river. Perhaps it was only wishful thinking.
But it is true that they were unable to follow, at least at first, and they never once harassed us after crossing the blood river.
We convinced Starlark it was safe to descend from our rooftop, even though neither Balthandar nor I were truly sure of this. We took our time exploring the building to be sure that nothing waited for us, and then resumed our normal search of the city.
Moving through the streets seemed to calm Starlark’s nerves. We found some of the golden stalks of grass for him to chew on growing near the palace gates at the center of town. That even put a smile on his face for a moment, faint as it was.
We haven’t discovered any clues, but I have hope that we can restore Starlark’s shattered self if only we give it time.
We did find a Daedric temple hidden away behind some low buildings. It took every ounce of self-control I had to keep from burning it to the ground immediately, but the risk of destroying the entire city in the process stayed my hand. Is this proof that there is a Daedric Society hidden away in the heart of the Nanten? Or is it simply the result of Klotian influence, permitting such things to exist where they should be destroyed?
If nothing else it bodes ill to find such things allowed to stand within the confines of any civilization, abandoned or no.
We were awakened by something slamming itself into the trapdoor to our roof before dawn. We have it heavily barricaded, but whatever was underneath was persistent. Starlark immediately moved as far from the door as possible, cowering in a corner as Balthandar and I approached to watch and be sure the barricade held.
Starlark pleaded with us not to open the door, but was too distraught to offer any explanation for his fear.
It went on for what seemed like an hour, but was probably more like five or ten minutes. Then, as dawn began to break, it was over as suddenly as it had begun.
It is now sometime after noon and we have yet to venture downstairs. Starlark refuses to move any closer to the door and perhaps we should share his fear, but we do not know why he is so afraid and therefore it is not present in us.
Why is Starlark acting like this? The Nanten has its share of horrors, but none that we have seen yet offer an explanation for his behavior. The KoraKora refused to follow us into the Akari Grasslands, and the wraiths seemed barricaded by the blood river. What could hunt him now that he is back with us?
Starlark is not weak, but he has never been the most stable either. It was insecurity that broke his bonds to his family, and pride that drove him to leave. From that sense of rejection and abandonment, though it was he who left, came his temper. A temper derived from one’s insecurities burns hot, and never fully cools. This combination of pride and anger, intertwined with increased self-loathing, only caused Starlark to burn bridges with friends as quickly as his charm was capable of building them.
He has always been like this, for as long as I have known him. I often think the only thing that has kept his temper from flaring up at me is that he regards me as some sort of father figure. If not a father, then the model of what he wants to become. In any case, his eyes are distant now. His fear overwhelms him, leaves him raw to the touch.
We need to find some way to bring him back to himself, give him something to hold onto. For tonight Balthandar will mix up something to help him sleep, and hope that rest will give him a little bit of peace.
To my great joy, Starlark has returned to us. I can barely believe it has happened, and while my happiness is tempered by his state of health and mind I am glad to have him back.
For his physical health, he bears a number of cuts and bruises along his body that prove he faced the same trials and horrors of the Akari Grasslands as Balthandar and I. His ankles in particular are in poor shape, I assume from the rodents in the tall grasses, but he is still able to walk without great difficulty.
Still, he refuses to speak of his journey back to us. In fact he physically shies away from most of our questions as though afraid we might strike him. Apparently the recollection alone causes him physical pain. We have managed to gather a few details over the course of the day, but most of his experience remains a mystery to us.
It seems he was forced to hide in the jungle for the better part of a week in order to avoid what we assume was the KoraKora. How he left the Deadwood and where exactly he came out, we do not know. He said at one point that he was hunted, followed, and continually checks behind him as if he is still being sought. Even as we walked through the empty streets of Senida, he would hide behind corners and slowly peek around them towards the direction from which we had just come.
He seems paranoid well beyond reason.
When we offered him Mortuga meat he seemed shocked. He asked us where we had found meat, and we explained that it came from the monsters on the plains beyond the golden waves. He looked blankly at us for so long that Balthandar finally asked him what was wrong. Starlark simply said he had seen no such creatures after crossing the blood river.
We asked about the giant worms, the hawks, the wraiths. He didn’t answer any of our questions, but remained silent until we let him be and resumed our cooking.
Something in Starlark is broken. He is exhausted, afraid, but in ways that I have never seen him before.
We found him early in the day and stopped asking questions shortly after as it proved futile. We simply tried to help him feel safer. He certainly has calmed down, though it seemed to take him most of the day just to believe he had truly found us again. Even after returning to our rooftop sanctuary, sitting with him and eating a meal, I still don’t fully believe it myself.
I hope we can get more answers out of him, even if Senida refuses to give us hers.
I did not fully comprehend what was happening in the Deadwood while we were in its clutches, and only in the eerie peace of Senida have I had time with which to reflect upon it. Are the myths of the Nantese true? Do their dead congregate in that wood? I cannot deny the power of the place, nor the ghosts that visited and even assailed us.
The questions I have remain unanswered, and perhaps there are none to be found. Why did it seem to actively seek Bolton? Is that where his soul somehow remains? Will ours travel there should we die too? I physically shudder at the thought of being trapped in that place forever, and if that is truly Bolton’s fate I pity him above all men.
Those questions, though most pressing in my mind, are not the most important. The mystery of the magic fueling the Deadwood is.
Hierarchies of Power, the second book of the ancient Loremaster, is the tool to understand the mysteries of not only the Deadwood, but the wraiths of the Akari Grassland as well. At least, what I remember of Hierarchies of Power – I wish I had a copy of it to read.
The Loremaster’s compartmentalization of the world’s powers into three tiers is generally accepted as true: the spiritual, metaphysical (what he called the Atmosphere), and physical. What I want to know, and what few agree upon, is what presence or power the spiritual actually has among us.
The metaphysical is obvious, the source of all “magic” and power obtained beyond man’s natural ability. Unfortunately most of the Loremaster’s writings on the subject are useless to us as he lived before the Long Rise, at the tail end of an age where beings existed who could exert nearly limitless power upon the Atmosphere with the simplest of mental suggestion.
They lived in an age of unparalleled creativity, something that those living today scarcely believe could have been possible. The Loremaster’s account of his own abilities sound godlike. But one ability that he had which we can identify with today was what he referred to as “enchantments.” Although different from the enchantments of today, they are similar to our magic in general and offer key insights into the nature of the Atmosphere.
In order to explain it to the uninitiated of his day, he likened it to teaching their machines complicated algorithms so that they would take in information and respond with a desired result. In the same way he could teach the atmosphere certain responses to physical interactions. Thus he could design doors which would not unlock without the proper stimuli, or traps that would spring as if from thin air.
The Atmosphere, he said, was moldable. Teachable. He could attach its power to certain objects and states, creating powerful reactions even in the absence of someone as strong as himself.
Our understanding and how we express magic is much like this. The Four Known Skills are all different ways we interact with the Atmosphere (hand motions, meditation, the spoken word, and alchemical binding), triggering premade reactions that align with any given expression. Pures, people who essentially have a natural gift for interacting with the Atmosphere, are able to teach the Atmosphere to react to them in consistent, predictable ways.
A formalized expression is born when those methods are detached from the Pure himself and passed on to people with no natural connection to the Atmosphere. Thus the Hydro waves his fingers in just the right way and causes water to freeze, while the Unbound forms a particular mental picture through meditation and loosens gravity’s hold upon him.
The metaphysical Atmosphere, according to the Loremaster, exerts greater influence on the physical than the physical can return upon it. The hierarchy of the three tiers of existence is immutable, the metaphysical affecting the physical and the spiritual having power over both. Power and influence flows down actively with only a passive return.
What bothers me about the Deadwood is that few people are powerful enough to create mighty enchantments that sustain themselves actively over time.
The enchantments on my armor, for example, were masterfully made but only enhance the physical qualities of the armor or myself by an objectively small amount. The effect is significant to the user, but if we were to apply mathematics it wouldn’t add to the armor or myself what would exceed a fifth of our innate qualities. I doubt there are many persistent enchantments in the world that are much more powerful than this (though considering the variety of enchantments in the world, a direct comparison is difficult in general to draw).
Thus the amount of magic in constant use within the Deadwood could hardly be due to enchantment, but was clearly Atmospheric in nature as the persistent white mists should have proved (as you should remember from your training, white mist is a natural byproduct of the transference of energy between the metaphysical and physical states – the more energy transferred, the more mist is created). But what can exert that much power consistently? Even Inifra, whose appearance at the ford from the water itself created a thick mist, did not and probably could not keep up that single manifestation of power for long, let alone forever.
My fear is that there is some rift in the third tier, some spiritual breach into our world in the center of the Deadwood. I fear this because there have only been a few rifts recorded in the history of our world, and only one ever produced any good. The manifestations within the Deadwood, whatever power sustained them, were not good. What opens a rift is a mystery in itself, and no one knows with any certainty how to close one once it has opened.
I need to discuss it with Balthandar tomorrow and see what insights he can offer. This mystery is not my purpose for being here, nor can I risk a return to the Deadwood for answers, but I must record all that I can about it in hopes that one day these words find their way to the outside world. For if there is a rift in the Nanten as powerful and persistent as the Deadwood, then perhaps a Daedric Prince is not the greatest threat the jungle has to offer after all.