If the Nanten was hell, then the Akari Grasslands are where hell’s rejects are sent to die. Balthandar and I are alone tonight, and I cannot guarantee that we will survive another day of this.
When we fled the jungle we were running as hard as we could. There were KoraKora everywhere. The undergrowth was overflowing with the savages. They were hooting and hollering and closing in around us. We had to fight our way through them at least twice but we couldn’t slow. We just broke their lines and ran. I don’t know which injuries we suffered at their hands because what came next dealt its fair share.
The grasslands, we could see them through the trees. Somehow the Deadwood brought us to them a week faster than originally planned. It was the sunlight that drew us, the brilliant sunlight that shattered the gloom as the trees began to thin out. We picked up our pace, putting everything we had into those last few hundred feet. The KoraKora sensed it. They matched our pace, but as soon as we were out in the open they stopped.
Dionus, Balthandar, and I kept running until we were out of range of their arrows, and then we turned to look back. They had stopped among the trees and they refused to come any further. The sun was beginning to set behind them and they did not continue their chase.
The grass… the grass is waist-high here and quite dry. It’s a stark contrast to the green of the jungle. It’s also what keeps you from seeing them coming.
Dionus sensed them first, then the ground shook. Giant tentacles shot out of the ground around us and tried to slam us down. We began to dodge, fighting with the long brown tendrils, cutting at them as we tried not to get hit. And then the full bodies followed.
They’re… they’re like giant worms, except their mouths are full of teeth. They could eat a man whole with no trouble. Around their mouths are eight long tentacles that they use to capture their food and pull it in.
This is why Kantoo told us about the stone road. They are utterly and suicidally vicious. We killed one that didn’t stop trying to eat us up to the point that it died. And there were more.
Dionus saw one of the great stones that was supposed to be an anchor to Kantoo’s path. With more of the worms converging on us he didn’t bother asking, he just sucked Balthandar and I up into the air then shot us towards the stone. We would have been crushed if he hadn’t also cushioned our landing.
And then he was gone. Dionus didn’t follow, he just flew off.
Thankfully the sun had set by this point, and the stone was already cold. The big stones are like massive chunks of obsidian, relatively flat and large enough for ten men to sit upon. But as soon as the sun hits them their temperature spikes. We found this out yesterday morning and will not make the same mistake again.
But now it’s just Balthandar and I. Within the span of a few days we have lost every other member of our party. All I can think about now is Starlark, for his predicament is more dangerous than any of ours if he was left alone in the Deadwood. Then Kantoo and Bolton, lost to us in the span of seconds. And Dionus… I can’t believe he left us.
Balthandar and I will continue on this path, for there is no safety in remaining here. It appears to curve south, and I can only hope it will bring us to Senida as Kantoo promised. The stones vary in size and spacing, but most are only a few feet apart and don’t capture the sunlight’s heat. Whenever we have set foot on the ground between them, however, we bring those filthy worms upon ourselves without fail. The only way to escape them is to run farther along the path. Apparently they are deaf to our footsteps so long as they fall on stone.
I can only hope that this does not go on forever. I’m not sure which I prefer, evading these giant worms or the KoraKora. Failure for both results in the same horrific fate.
I feel as though my ribs are under constant pressure as my anxiety builds. Even Balthandar’s spirits are low today. His silence was not interrupted by his occasional humming as we walked; his glance rarely rose above the stones before him.
There is a deep sense of sadness that requires no words for us to share it, but I must rid myself of at least some of its weight. Writing in this journal is the only means left to me to accomplish this.
As if to punctuate my sense of impotent frustration, there are hawks in this land that dive to attack us at will. For no apparent reason. Gods, I hate this place. I finally killed one, which kept the others at bay for most of the afternoon, but not before a few fresh cuts had been opened on my head and shoulders.
Godsdamned birds. A few more days of this and I’ll start to miss the leeches.
Bolton’s dying eyes haunt me tonight as we sit upon this massive chunk of obsidian. That look, I’ve never seen it so incredibly… distilled. I wrote earlier that all of the ghosts that haunted Bolton were pressing in on him in that moment, but that’s not the full truth of it. I think it was something else, and the more that image revisits me the more certain of it I am.
Or perhaps I am only reading into my own fears.
Bolton died having only just discovered real freedom. In the jungles of the Nanten, Bolton was finally confronted with the truth of what he was. When he met the Nantese and, in a surprising twist for all of us, found he could love them, Bolton realized just how truly wretched he was.
The Nantese represented everything he thought himself above. They are tribal, uneducated, even cannibals. And yet there is something noble to them, something of a deeply refined quality that runs to the depths of their marrow. They are fighters, survivors, and Bolton came to respect them.
Slad Bolton used to sell people like this into slavery for a living. For Bolton there was always a gap between himself and his chattel. He was superior; they were inferior. But when he came to know the Nantese for some reason he could not resist loving them, and as he loved them he realized he was no better than them. His attempts to convert us to this line of thinking speak clearly enough to the fact.
Before he died, Bolton had made friends among the Nantese. This is astonishing because someone like Bolton doesn’t make friends. To make matters yet queerer, he found some odd form of repentance in serving them whenever he discovered a way to do so. I think his friendship with Kantoo in particular led him to believe he had somehow been forgiven. He was finally free.
Until he was dealt his death blow.
Those ghosts that moved in upon him then did so in a way that differed from my own. Those that I’ve killed stay with me of their own accord, accusing and dragging me down as best they can. But Bolton’s ghosts acted as mirrors. In his last moments they showed him just how deeply horrible he was. He saw that there could be no forgiveness for even a fraction of his transgressions. He had deceived himself until his final moment.
Bolton truly saw himself then, with such clarity that I dare say he transcended death before he died. Remorse. Guilt. Terror. That’s what I saw as he died. His eyes haunt me with the threat of what awaits me should I die in this jungle. Will I only see myself for what I am in my final moments? Too late for any hope of redemption at the instant when redemption is most near?
I must face my own demons, even though I want nothing less. I cannot die like Slad Bolton, with the weight of the assurance of my condemnation the only clear sensation upon me as I pass.
The grass continues to grow higher every day we press into the Akari Grasslands. The stalks are a yellowed green, and increasingly they make it difficult to see the stone path before us. Ironically, our worst obstacle has become the large obsidian monoliths upon which we camp.
Their frequency has increased, which would be a blessing if only we wanted to stop earlier for the night. We do not. If we reach one of them in the middle of the day we are forced either to wait until dusk for them to cool, or to go around them. If we must go around them, which indeed we must in order to keep from wasting significant amounts of time, then we draw those massive man-eating worms to the surface.
Then there are the damned hawks that dive at us when we least expect it. Twice today I was knocked from the stone path by the infernal beasts only to draw yet more unwanted attention from underground. Rediscovering the stone path in the midst of the ensuing chaos only becomes a greater challenge. It remains a miracle to me that we are alive.
The grass grew so tall today that we could barely see over it at all. From where I write, now, it appears to only rise higher in the distance. Our pace may indeed slow to match the new distribution of obsidian as we will soon be forced to hack our way through the grass to stay on the path. Perhaps that explains their increasing frequency.
I can only imagine how many lives it cost to build this precarious highway upon which we tread.
One clear benefit to our change of scenery, however, is that there are no godsdamned leeches in the grass.
How did we end up in this place? When Lystra stood between me and her lover, she thought she was saving him from murder. She thought I was jealous. She should have known better. On so many levels, she should have known better.
You should know by now that he was working his way into her father’s council. That was why he was in Sterling in the first place. He was connected to a Daedric sect we had been unable to root out for years. We still haven’t rooted it out. He was our one clue, and he made himself unusable when he decided to assassinate Lystra’s father.
We couldn’t allow that to happen. I couldn’t allow it. Rarely will the Tetrarch interfere in such activity if it means we lose our route to the source of a sect. But allowing the King’s Sword to be assassinated would be too much, even for the Tetrarch.
I suppose I could have chosen my timing better, but I didn’t realize that Lystra was there visiting him. I also should not have gone it alone. There were no witnesses. Another reason to stick with one’s pack.
I walked straight into his home. No one tried to stop me. Who would? A Tetrarch in full armor is not someone to question. The door was unlocked. I found him in his drawing room. He knew instantly why I was there. The little bastard tried to attack me with an actual Daedric knife.
That got my blood up – I was so angry.
Lystra put herself between us then, when he was on his back and my rage had peaked. I didn’t even see her, if I’m being honest. I remember her screaming for me to stop, mumbling some rubbish about how we could never be. None of that mattered. All I saw was a sympathizer, so I cut through her to get to him. I cut through the daughter of the King’s Sword, the highest ranking military official in the world, to kill one pathetic Daedric assassin.
In retrospect I truly was the fool.
Kantoo warned us not to leave the obsidian at night, and now we know why. I cannot describe them, because even in the light of both moons I could barely see them in the grass. They were quick, whatever they were, with fingers like daggers. Their faces were drawn out into long beaks, but looked more like festival masks than anything real.
I was watching the moons rise, playing with my pen after finishing last night’s entry. I may have a few pencils in my pack with which to draw, but my pen contains the only ink I have left in the world.
The moons looked brilliant last night. With no trees to impede them, they lit the grasslands around us like the ever shifting waves of the sea. It was beautiful, eerie. I couldn’t help but think about home. The Festival of Stars is taking place this week, it started last night, and as the moons rose towards each other I could barely keep myself from crying.
And then I accidentally flicked my pen from my hand.
It skipped and bounced off the side of the obsidian and into the grass beyond. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t dare wake Balthandar over something so silly, but I began to panic. I couldn’t lose it. Not now, not after having lost so much.
I crept to the edge of our stone encampment and peered into the crisscrossing shadows of the grass. I could see my pen, not far at all. I knew that I could be quick enough to grab it and get back on the rock before the worms had enough time to surface, but I hesitated.
The weight in my stomach… I was so scared. I gathered my courage, knowing it to be a simple task yet fearing the worst. Then I jumped.
My landing was muffled by the grass, but in trampling it I obscured the pen from view. I searched desperately, images of spindly tentacles flooding my mind. But I realized there were no rumbles in the earth. There was no noise.
I found the pen at last, yet as I pulled it from the grass I had to stop. There was a sound in the grass like the rustle of the wind, and yet something was not right. I paused, crouched and ready to climb back up the rock, when a face appeared in the grass.
Its eyes were sunken and black, its nose a long white beak. It screamed and lashed out at me, cutting into my forearm. I kicked it squarely in the chest, then hammered its face with my fist. There were more, and suddenly I was running for my life.
Panic took over. I’ve never reacted to a threat like this in my life, but my blood was up and all I could see was the grass before me. As my senses returned I could hear them chasing me, closing in from every side. I reached for my sword, but it was not on my back. Of course not, you fool!
I pulled hard right. I had to get back to Balthandar. They started screaming, and then one was right before me. It appeared from the grass like a wraith, so suddenly that my heart flooded my mouth. I rammed my forearm into its throat, its claws wrapping around me. I didn’t know what else to do, so I dropped with it and broke its neck.
It cut me numerous times before I killed it.
I was on my feet again. They were all around me. Then I saw Balthandar standing high above the grass, spear in hand, the moonslight brilliant behind him. He shouted and threw my sword. I caught it just as another of the monsters launched itself from the grass.
It tackled me hard. There wasn’t much weight to it, and yet it took me clean off my feet. I rolled, whipping my blade free and slicing its chest open in one motion. It screamed. I rammed my sword down its throat in response.
Then the rest were upon me. I spun from one attacker to the next, but there were too many. They were fast. Gods damn they were so fast. Then Balthandar was beside me, shouting and whirling his spear so quickly that the grass bent back from the force of it. We killed and rotated, shifting our positions until we were finally within reach of the obsidian.
The monsters just kept coming.
They continually appeared from the grass and, once knocked down, simply vanished back into it. We were cut, bleeding, and terrified. I can still feel the tension along my scalp.
I leapt for the obsidian, swinging myself up to turn and defend Balthandar’s retreat. But one of the creatures was there waiting for me. I finally had a good look at it in the moonslight. Its frame was skeletal, like a malformed boy. Its head too big, its bearing… lifeless.
I couldn’t turn my back on it, so I rushed it. It came at me as quickly, screaming as it spread its claws. My first strike went wide. It tackled me. As we slid to a halt, Balthandar’s spear went straight through it. He flipped it off me and over the edge of the obsidian where its body was obscured by the grass.
Then there was nothing but silence. The grass waved in the breeze as the moons continued to rise, like nothing had ever happened. We sat there breathing hard for a while, the only proof of what had happened oozing from the cuts on our arms and faces.
Balthandar asked me to tie a string to my pen from now on.
Between the high grasses and the cuts that are healing all over our bodies, we did not make progress with much speed today. I now understand why these obsidian blocks are increasingly close to one another along the stone path. This journey only gets more difficult as we press on. I barely had any energy to write tonight, but I figured that I must at least put something down.
Who made this road? And why didn’t they develop it into something more passable? They went through an absurd amount of trouble just to make it. Why not make it right?
I really want to know how they moved these massive chunks of obsidian. Few if any Breakers could have moved this much of it, though it makes sense that a stone expressionist would build a stone path.
Still, it would take a true master if not a Pure to work with stone as hard as this. Even if there were carts in the world sturdy enough to carry these, they would never have survived the trip through the grasslands. Perhaps there was a Telekinetic involved?
That raises the same problem though. There are few Telekinetics in the world who could lift this much weight. If I were to venture a guess, however, it seems more likely that a group of them could move these blocks than any number of Breakers together.
Breakers… the chief of the KoraKora had a Breaker with him when he first caught up to us by the river. Dionus claimed that Inifra killed him. While I hope that’s true, there are worse expressionists that could be after us. As long as they don’t belong to Shatterism, most Breakers are harmless. They’ve achieved some of the world’s greatest feats in architecture, after all.
I find it hard to fear them, unlike the Akari Grasslands – it is with no difficulty that I find it to be among the most threatening places in the world. By day the sun scorches us, and the ground threatens us continually with massive man-eating monsters that burrow up from underneath. Between those two there are the hawks, which present more of a persistent annoyance than any real threat.
I think I’ve cracked that mystery, however. We saw a few of the hawks eating what appeared to be massive droppings not far from our camp this morning. My guess is that they attack us from a desire to see us eaten so that, in turn, they will get their chance to eat us as well. Does everything in this accursed territory see us as a meal?
Then at night there are those spindly wraiths. Until my encounter last night there had been no indication that they even existed. I don’t know what to make of that, but I will never set foot on the ground of the Akari Grasslands at night again. I doubt I will even sleep tonight, the images of their horned faces have been burned too brilliantly in the darkness. And then there was the one that got up on the obsidian with us…
What prevents them from doing that again?
Balthandar and I will sleep sitting back to back in the center of our stone camp, if we sleep at all.
Where is Dionus? We need him so badly now. Is he alive? Is Starlark?
So many questions, and no way for me to find the answers. We need to get to Senida, and as quickly as possible. How long can we possibly survive like this?
We have stumbled upon a quandary in the form of a quarry.
A broad river crosses the Akari Grasslands ahead of us, and at its edge our path disappears. It is a shallow river, and it runs red.
The edges and shallowest of places appear orange in the light of dusk, but the deeper pools look like blood to me. Thus my assumption that a quarry must be upstream, or perhaps it is simply that the ground here runs rife with iron. Either way, I truly hope it is not what it appears to be.
It would not surprise me to find a blood river in this hell.
The debate that passes between Balthandar and myself now is whether to risk crossing it or not. We don’t know what lies within, and there appear no obvious stones upon which to make our crossing. Will the burrowing monsters attack us from under the water? What new horror lives in the water itself?
Godsdamned leeches I’m sure. If there’s one thing I could avoid for the rest of my life it would be leeches.
But here we stand, on this outcropping of obsidian that barely breaches the tall grasses around it, staring at a half-mile stretch that looks like a fresh battlefield. There is no river on either map in our possession, thus we have no clue to our whereabouts in relation to it. Whether it is a known entity or not, it now stands in our way. We will make our decision by first light, but I don’t see what option we have except to cross.
One encouraging note is that on this side of the blood river there are no giant man-eating worms. In fact the ecosystem here seems entirely different. This second observation is not as positive in nature as it may at first appear.
To begin with, the grass is significantly shorter. This seems like an improvement until you come across what I can only describe as oversized bulls with horns jutting straight from their foreheads. Some have a fourth, smaller horn protruding from their nose as well. Their sight is blessedly short, for when they do catch sight of us they immediately charge. And they keep charging.
So far we have been forced to kill eight of them. At least their meat seems good to eat.
The grass is still tall enough, unfortunately, as to obscure a smattering of holes just large enough for one’s foot. I can’t say whether or not these existed on the other side of the river, as we did our best to stay on the stone path at all times, but they are a nuisance. They contain some sort of rodent that bites whatever appendage is unfortunate enough to fall into them.
Thankfully we know that the grass wraiths will not follow us here, for they are the reason we crossed the river in the first place. Two nights ago I laid my pen down and went to sleep, only to be awoken by one of the spindly beasts above me.
It stood quietly straddling me, with the moons casting a halo in the fibers around its head. It was watching me, studying me. I didn’t move at first. How many were there? Why was it on the obsidian with us? Why didn’t it attack?
Then Balthandar’s spear rammed through its skull, the spray glittering as though he had skewered the moons themselves. He kicked it off the obsidian and it disappeared into the grass. The winds picked up in response.
We kept our eyes up, packing our gear without looking down. Somehow, without speaking, we both knew that to look down was to invite our doom. Then we ran. As soon as we made to move the wraiths appeared en masse, flooding over the obsidian and screeching as if their very souls were under duress.
They chased us to the banks of the blood river but came no farther. There, like a strip of bone peeking from the top of a red gash, they watched us cross the river and mount the far bank. In a strange way there was no hostility in their bearing, but rather a depth of intense sadness. Slowly, without retreating from the river’s edge, they disappeared one by one into the grasses beyond.
I am glad to leave them behind, but doing so leaves me with no illusion of safety. Every threat removed from us in this place is immediately replaced with another.
I am beginning to forget what it is to rest.
One other positive note, however: there were no leeches in the bloody river.