Senida, the silent city of the Akari Grasslands, is silent no more. We awoke this morning to a strange knocking sound echoing faintly through the streets below and carrying above the buildings around us. We do not know what made it.
We immediately began searching, but it ceased long before we drew near the source. The sound was steady, like a hammer pounding nails. It felt as though it stopped in response to our proximity. The silence only feels more oppressive now in its absence.
Our resolve was shaken in the wake of this experience. I don’t know why, but it was unnerving to the highest degree when the echoes of that knocking died.
The search we started afterwards was half-hearted and ended shortly after it began. We must find some clue of Salisir before we leave, however. It seems strange, but the mystery of the people of Senida has preempted that search for the last few days. I suppose because I always assumed that it would be from them that our clue would be derived. At the moment I find their plight more interesting.
Perhaps Senida itself is the clue. What if Salisir did this to these people? It seems ludicrous to think that a man, even one as prone to violence as Salisir, would be capable of emptying an entire city. But perhaps whatever he stole from Graylag gave him the power to do so.
Each day we stay here provides more questions. No answers yet present themselves.
I could not stop thinking of my lost companions today. Working in the silence of Senida as we do, searching house to house and shack to shack while trying to remain as quiet as possible, it leaves too much room for thoughts to wander. There is little but empty space to fill and few distractions to help fill it.
In the echoes of the silence, my mind could not defend itself against the onslaught of my grief.
More than once I wanted to scream. To bang the empty pots we found, break the warped glass in the palace windows, do anything to fill the silence that grew overbearing as we moved through the ghostly hollow that is Senida.
And ghostly it is. The knocking noise of yesterday did not return today. All we have heard beyond the sound of our own footsteps has been the quick breath of the wind as it rushes along the tall buildings in the heart of this city. What a cold heart it is.
Bolton, dead. Kantoo murdered by the chief of the KoraKora. Starlark lost to the Deadwood or worse. And Dionus, taken by the winds before we could even think to say goodbye.
Will either of them return to us? Bolton and Kantoo are certainly gone forever, their fate more grisly than I am willing to recount here, but Starlark and Dionus… hope remains that they are not lost to us yet, though what good such hope can do me I am not certain.
I need them, though. I need Starlark’s dogged loyalty. His boyish enthusiasm. His damned foolishness, just to remind me that not all things in the world are as bound to duty as I am. And Dionus – the comfort of his power and the wisdom his combined experience offers. The levity of his wit and the infectiousness of his smile.
So few people in the world know that side of Dionus. To most he is an accomplished killer, cold-hearted and cruel. Yet to be brought into his confidence is to discover a man whose first response to anything is naturally light.
I just want to hear one wry observation, one jab at my pride. Even to hear Starlark and Bolton bicker and hate each other would be a relief from the oppressive silence of Senida.
We have discovered nothing, and we have no idea where else to go. Our search for clues to Salisir’s whereabouts will continue tomorrow, and I hope that my mind can turn to more something more productive than grief and self-pity.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.