The relief I feel today at our release from the touch of the Makonga only drives my heart to grieve more deeply for Starlark. Though I decided we must wait one more day, I know that he is gone.
This is my act of mourning. Starlark felt abandoned by everyone he had ever loved. We will keep this vigil for him, staying our progress into the jungle so that he knows he was not abandoned. We would never abandon him, no matter what he thought when he died.
But didn’t I? I know that I didn’t feel for him as I once did. My heart was closed to him, my friendship removed in the deeper sense of the word. Was that somehow worse? To abandon him while never leaving his presence? I dragged him into the Nanten only to condemn him to a final loneliness.
Balthandar has told me that none of this was my fault. Inifra has reminded us that our feelings concerning the past few weeks have been tainted by the power of the Makonga.
But how can I be sure? Perhaps Starlark was driven mad by that beast. Perhaps without it we could have been friends again.
Even as I write the words I know them to be false, or at least hollow. Starlark and I grew apart as was destined to happen.
I will not take those who remain with me for granted. If nothing else comes from Starlark’s death, let me at least learn to love those who have sacrificed so much to keep me alive.
All I can think about is the betrayal of my friendship to Starlark. It’s occupied my mind all day. Packing up and leaving the last place we saw him alive this morning only felt like betraying him all over again. Abandoning him. Assuming him to be dead when anything could be possible.
But I know he is dead. Even if he isn’t, he certainly would never come back to us again.
How is it that we fail most intensely those we love? Perhaps it is simply because love is involved in the first place. The disappointments wrought by strangers have so little investment behind them, the impact can never be a match.
Starlark and I may never have been destined to true brotherhood. We may never have been meant to share a kinship of the soul, but he deserved better from me than I gave him. We hunted and fought together, saved each other’s lives multiple times. How could I accept his help in my exile and yet refuse his friendship in the end?
I will never forgive myself for that.
Now we have at least a month’s trek north to the Nanten River, the great trunk of water running through the jungle gathering the tributes of all lesser rivers as it goes. There Salisir died. So we are told. But we have been told of his death at every turn in our journey thus far. Bantish said he died in Graylag. Prestorn said he died on the Akari Grasslands. Now Gorung says he died on the Nanten River.
Where didn’t he die?
How could he have lived?
Balthandar expressed his disapproval of Inifra’s presence to me today. The Makonga is gone, he said. Why isn’t she? I have wondered the same thing, but didn’t mind that she stayed.
Balthandar has always had a dislike of the Nantese, but I never fully understood it. I asked him why. He said simply that they were undeserving of our company. They were a conquered people. They were unworthy to be in my presence.
That opened it all up to me. Islanders believe in strict cultural hierarchies. Those that have conquered others, whether by war or trade, are considered superior. Those that have been conquered, then, inferior. It is a common enough sentiment across all human boundaries, however Islanders believe it openly.
Where many nations and cultures might show defiance to their betters, or simply attempt to avoid recognizing differences altogether, Islanders treat these hierarchies as if they were explicitly standardized. Thus they would show great deference to any Imperial peasant as if he himself were responsible for the Old Empire’s rise to power. The relationships between the Isles themselves are a spider web of confusion.
An Islander’s distaste for someone like Inifra, powerful and elegant as she may be, would not be affected by anything save her heritage. Islanders see groups first, they don’t see individuals. The Nanten is a failed state, a Kingdom that imploded. I can’t believe I didn’t catch this sooner.
Unlike Starlark, Balthandar will remain civil so long as Inifra is in my good graces. Still, I don’t know how far I can push that. Balthandar is calm, reasonable, but heavily influenced by his rearing. Having any Nantese with us for long could be cause for insult.
Inifra remains distant. Why is she still here? It’s as though she’s deciding something. I certainly hope it is not whether or not she should turn on us. Dionus’ sudden elevation in power makes me feel safer on all fronts, but having Inifra decide against us would cause me grief for other reasons. I have enough to cause me grief as it is.
It’s strange, but I feel a greater calm as we march through the Nanten than I have felt at any point along our journey. Though there is a sadness in me over the deaths of Bolton and Starlark, there is a peace as well. They brought so much strife to our midst. I didn’t realize how deeply it affected me.
I would never wish them dead. The fact that I feel so much better in their absence, however, makes for awful pangs of guilt. My own failures were inextricably tied to their fates. That is something I can never allow myself to forget.
The dangers of this place are no less than they have ever been, but we have survived much of the worst the Nanten has to offer. My companions are powerful and trustworthy. At least I hope that Inifra is trustworthy. And aside from Balthandar’s bias against the Nantese in general, there feels like little open strife between us.
We have a mission to accomplish, a goal ahead of us. We must find Salisir. I have to know what happened to him or I can never return home. More important, however, is to find this Daedric society at the heart of the Nanten and bring it to its knees. How we will do that is a matter to untangle when we get there. But that is my call as a Tetrarch, even if I cannot rightly call myself one any longer.
I was raised to fight the Daedra. I will die doing exactly that.
I realize that you know little of the Tetrarch or the ways in which we operate. I thought of this as I explained everything to Inifra today, and it is not to your discredit that I assume you know relatively little as well. I suspect few are privy to the inner-workings of my order. We are secretive to the point of definition in spite of being so publically visible.
But we have not always been so openly present.
The Tetrarch are almost as much a family as we are an order, and the term “Tetrarch” itself carries a number of meanings. Tetrarch is our collective name, but it is also my title, and the title of any other member. It derives from our leadership of four, refers to a long history, and relays a shared purpose.
We have not always been accepted by the High King, nor the rest of society. There have been long periods of persecution that have forced us underground, and other periods of stability where we find our place openly among our peers. This has been one of those times of relative peace, the longest in our history, but the dangers to us are what require our secrecy and exclusivity.
Our purpose is what unites us, and it is our common enemy that makes us tolerable to the world around us. The great Demons that have come throughout history are what define our very existence. Ever since the first ascended, we were there to stop them. Until the ninth comes, we will fight on.
This is our only drive. My only drive. To destroy Daedric society and do everything I can to win this unending war against the Demons. It is what first brought me to you. It is also what immediately took me away.
And this is the great truth of the Tetrarch: We are alone. No matter how well we are loved, or how quickly accepted, we are never truly able to reach back and connect. We bow to no kings and we fight no man’s war. We are dedicated to the preservation of the Tetrarch and the destruction of the Daedra. Our very purpose is to save the world, whether it would have us or not. To those callings alone do I hold.
Brin Salisir lost sight of that calling. He was egotistical and out for his own glory above that of the Tetrarch. At least so I was always led to believe, though the more we follow his trail the more questions I find waiting for me. What is certain is that he never fit the mold of the order. His enmity towards it was something I saw personally when I was just a boy. It came as no surprise to us when he was exiled, even though such a thing was beyond rare.
At least, it was rare for twenty more years.
What am I now, if I am not of the Tetrarch? It is my identity, exiled or not. My bloodline is pure. My mother holds station at Silver Hall. Until almost a year ago I was the shining star of our order. I was the name the Old Empire knew, even if no one truly knew the man behind it. I was feared on the Great Wastes, and welcomed like a conqueror in the Northern Range.
Who am I now?
Inifra didn’t understand much of what I had to share about the Tetrarch yesterday. She seemed to, but then today she came back with questions that demonstrated she did not.
For one, she didn’t comprehend the gravity of the presence of Daedric sects within any given location. Why were they any more evil than any other cult? The KoraKora, she said, seemed more dangerous than the Daedra I described. Certainly more formidable.
I tried to explain that it isn’t the men who make up the sect or society, it’s the power to which they kneel. That power is unique to any other in the known world. The more followers that gather, the greater the danger they will draw that power forth. If they draw it forth, if a Demon ascends, then the world must contend with it.
She asked how many had come, and then why she hadn’t heard of most of them if this was a problem that concerned the whole world.
I told her that the ones she hadn’t heard of were ones that had been stopped early. Just because they were not well known did not make them less of a threat.
How could we spend our days focused on preventing something that might happen, she asked, when there were evils we could stop every day? People starving in our cities. Murders in our streets. There were tangible wrongs committed every day, she said. How could we not fight those?
That’s what city guards were for, I said. Inquisitors, civil marshals, whatever form policing took in whatever city. We serve a higher cause than the petty transgressions occurring day to day. If it were not for what the Tetrarch accomplish, no other efforts would matter. Everything would come to an end.
She walked away to consider this and left me to my own confusion. How can she not see the overwhelming need for what we do? Comparing the work of the Tetrarch to that of any common soldier, let alone exalting that soldier above us, is beyond me.
The Nantese are backwards. It is something I should remember, but Inifra seems so different. She seems to carry the collective wisdom of her every predecessor. How can she miss this one simple truth?
We came across a KoraKora totem today. It stands twenty feet tall, a skull carved from the living wood of a massive tree of the Nanten. A snake was made to crawl through its eyes. Its gaping teeth were blackened with soot while the paint they used to color the rest was fading.
We have gone forty-five days without sight of the KoraKora. Forty-five happy days whose bliss went unnoticed by us in our ignorance. Now I look back upon them with a longing that they do not fully deserve. The KoraKora. I would take any of hell’s agents over these cannibals.
I didn’t need Inifra to tell me what it was. I knew.
She said we were entering the eastern reach of their territory. Many of them had left this place to join their chief in his hunt of us, but it would not be devoid of their presence. They could be anywhere.
Gods, these are words that – quietly – I had hoped were no longer necessary, let alone ones I could combine.
Of all the fates that could befall a man, being eaten by another human being seems among the worst. Being eaten alive, as we saw the KoraKora do when we first encountered them, that may very well be the worst.
What could drive men to such barbarism? Surely we all separate ourselves from those we kill. We dehumanize them. It is a vital part of the training of any warrior. But not to the level that one could eat another. Yet while that seems beyond capacity, it is obviously possible. What do they do to get to that point? How desperate could they have once been to resort to it?
Even Kantoo’s stories of how the KoraKora treated his tribe like cattle were difficult to believe, yet so cold and calloused that they could be nothing if they were not true. We have roughly a month to march through the territory of my most feared enemy, and there is no way around it.
I would be lying if I said I was not scared. I wish we were anywhere but back in the territory of the KoraKora. We will do our best to avoid them, and kill any we cannot.