Inifra asked me why I had removed myself these past few days. I explained how she had put me at risk. How I needed time to think it over. She seemed confused and said that what I had was an incredible gift, a powerful gift, one that should not leave me afraid.
I disagreed. What I have gives me an advantage in its secrecy.
Inifra said that it gives me no greater advantage than any other expressionist who has hidden his power. Perhaps I was right to be afraid in the Old Empire, she said, for she knew not what dangers lurked in my homeland. But here, in the Nanten, a power like mine would be prized. A man like me would be shown great deference.
I didn’t know what to say to that; she could see it and left me alone afterwards. Somehow, in spite of the danger, she made me feel better. Great deference? I never thought of my ability in that light. Timeshifts are spoken against very clearly at home. Feared.
Perhaps there really is more to it than I have always been told.
Timber saw Inifra’s approach as her opening. An hour or so later she began asking me questions again. Where had we been in the fortress the whole time we were there? What had we done to help Inifra? How had I killed all those men so quickly?
I did my best to answer, though initially I didn’t feel like talking. Still, again, I felt better for it. I asked Timber how she had occupied herself in Zorga’s fortress. She simply said she had been watching Inifra and learning. She had a lot to learn, she told me. Inifra agreed.
This little girl is so brave. She has yet to flinch at the sheer might of force and death she has seen. She hasn’t once appeared at a loss in our company, nor have I seen her act in any way that would make me think she is homesick.
I asked her about that later, if she missed her village. She thought on it for a moment before saying no, she didn’t. They were weak, she said. Unable to do what was right for fear of the consequences. She didn’t want to grow up to be like that.
I reminded her that her village had been under the thumb of Zorga and his forces. Beyond that, they were beset by the KoraKora. She shook her head when Inifra was done translating, then said that it didn’t matter. Better to die doing what was right than live under a liar’s boot. The translation was a bit rough, but I got the point.
Gods, but they don’t make children like this in the Old Empire.
They don’t make women like Inifra either.
Balthandar packed for Inifra this morning. She doesn’t carry much with her, but that is beside the point. Balthandar respects her now. I can see it in the way he stands when addressing her. The way he stiffens when he knows she is looking his way. He saw who she is at the reservoir. He saw what she is.
I wonder if he is reassessing his view of the Nantese in general, or if this woman is worthy of his respect as an individual. It makes me glad to know that she is finally welcome among us, even if I feel uncertain of my own place at the moment.
I have come to love each of the members of my party. They have all given so much to help me, to guard my life, and to fulfill my mission. I don’t know what they think of me at present, but I hope I can earn back whatever love or respect I have lost.
Dionus walked with me today. He said I’d had enough time alone. I asked him what he meant and he just started whistling. He didn’t stop for some time, except for the occasions when he got hit in the face with an unanticipated splash of water off a nearby leaf.
Finally he said his ability to sense anything around us was being nullified by the rain. He’s blind. He nodded at Inifra and said we were reliant on her for now. “Glad to have her now especially,” he said. “But gods, what a show she put on at the reservoir.”
I agreed. Zorga’s fortress made a better stronghold than a raft. Dionus smiled.
“I bet you put on a show yourself.” He shook his head. “I wish I could have seen it.”
I asked him if it didn’t upset him. He laughed at me then. “I’ve wanted to see you do that ever since I found out you were a Timeshift! When you slipped in the Northern Range, that was nothing compared to what you did to Zorga and his men. If I’m upset, it’s because you didn’t do it in front of me.”
I got the strangest thrill from that. Dionus, a Walker, wanted to see me use my ability? No one wants to see that… I thought no one wanted to see it.
Have I been wrong this entire time? No, my mother knew the dangers of what would happen should word spread of what I could do. She was right about that. Dionus only knew because his senses are so heightened that he felt me pull on the Atmosphere in a desperate situation without ever seeing what I actually did. It was one of the few times I’ve ever used my ability to save my life, and Dionus was clever enough to put it all together.
I asked him if he wasn’t concerned that our enemies in the Nanten might know now. Absolutely, he told me. He had never wanted me to have to use it unless absolutely necessary. He knew the risks, and he had been thinking about it ever since I told him what I had done.
Dionus shrugged then and told me not to worry about it. I was bound to lose the advantage of surprise eventually. He smiled. “Next time,” he said. “You’d better let me know so I can watch. Shouldn’t be hard, since you won’t need to surprise anyone.”
I pray there never is a next time. But perhaps I could put on a show for him someday. I would be proud to impress one of the greatest expressionists of our time. To impress my friend.
I spent much of today trying to think of ways to tell Inifra what I think about her. How she makes me feel. None of it comes together right in my head.
I’ve never worried about such things before. I’ve never concerned myself about what I will or won’t say to a woman in the course of my attraction to her. Why would I? You just do what you do and things happen as they will. At least that’s what I always thought.
But Inifra is different. She’s something immensely different. All I want is to tell her that I think so, as foolish as that makes me feel. I shouldn’t. She can barely tolerate us as it is. I should keep my mouth shut, but my mind won’t stop spinning ludicrous sentences together.
“Though the sun be extinguished, the moons fall from the skies,
still I see by the sparkle in the stars of your eyes.”
Stupid things like that. Things that don’t even make sense. And what kind of sparkle… I mean I should tie in the fact that she’s a Master Hydra somehow, but “the stars of your rain” doesn’t rhyme. And her eyes…
Gods, I’m an idiot. I wish I was a poet. I never thought I’d ask for that before now.
I often wonder if my mother can hear me. If she knows my thoughts. I’ve always wondered that, but if she can read my mind at all she has never tipped her hand. She wouldn’t want to hear what I’m thinking now if she could.
I didn’t realize just how furious I am with her until I explained my past to my comrades. My ability. She was the one that found it, Mother. She was the one that helped me control it.
Syltra na Tetrarch, Beacon of the Second Order. My mother.
She could have stopped this, you know? She could have kept them from throwing me out of the Old Empire. She could have stopped my exile from ever happening. Then again, your father could have stopped it as well.
Few people know how influential my mother is within the Tetrarch, and even the wider world beyond that. Her station is in the Second Order of the Tetrarch, but you might think she belonged among the First. Her word carries so much weight. Whether that is because of the force of her personality or the authority of the Beacon, I do not know.
What I do know is that she was a force that I could barely reckon with. Syltra na Tetrarch is not a woman to be taken lightly. ‘Serious.’ That was the word I always associated with her. ‘Strict.’
She was harder than my father, harder than most of my instructors at the scourge. She pushed me. Every day of my life she pushed me to go farther, work harder, and be better.
And then she kicked me out of her order and out of the country that she called home. What kind of mother does things like that? What kind of person invests so heavily in someone only to cast them out at the first opportunity?
They all turned their backs on me so quickly. The only person to weep at my sentence was father, but he has always been one to weep. For a moment I hoped your father would reach out, would bridge the gaps that were forming, but he remained silent. He let them splinter into rifts.
I will never forget that silence. It stretched for minutes. It stretches to me even now; the stillness devoid of peace that only abandonment can create.
Gods I hate this jungle.
And the godsdamned leeches. I hadn’t mentioned them but damn it all if they aren’t everywhere in this rain-soaked nightmare.
Will you fill that silence if I come back? If I return, and hand this account of my life to you, will you at least give it a fair reading? I know I will ask you to. I know you will want to, deep within yourself. But will you?
If I don’t drown in this rain. If I’m not eaten by filthy cannibals. If I don’t wake up in the maws of some giant snake, or under the swords of a band of slavers. Would you take me back?
When I was a child I didn’t want to fight. I think that would come as a surprise to anyone who knows my reputation. Probably to anyone who reads this journal. But I didn’t want to fight, not really. I liked to read. I enjoyed following my father around and asking him questions as he studied and carried out experiments. I never thought I would grow up to be a warrior.
Not because I didn’t want to be one. To be in the Tetrarch is to go to war. But I never thought I had it in me. I thought I would be more like my father: a scholar, a warrior-poet. I thought I would research the Daedra like he did, study the movements of the world and learn as much as I could about the mechanisms by which it runs.
Then came the scourge. Of course I had been given lessons with the sword already. It is a rare child in the Tetrarch whose play does not consist of some form of training. To enter the scourge without preparation is effectively the sign of neglectful parents. But I never enjoyed those games much. I liked books.
It was in the scourge that I discovered my love of the sword. I didn’t want to put it down. I remember the first time I sparred with another boy and the thrill in knocking his wooden blade from his hand. That thrill has never left me. Even when my instructors beat me, I relished every moment for I knew that I was learning. I could see what they did and I could emulate it.
I wasn’t just good with the sword. I was a born master with the sword.
It was never the violence that appealed to me. At least Salisir didn’t corrupt me there. It was the sheer limitless potential of the art itself. There was a lot to learn in the world, and I discovered that there was a lot to learn with the sword.
In that way I never changed. I simply found a subject to study that suited me perfectly. There were so many techniques to learn from so many different parts of the world. It was like learning each culture’s form of self-expression in dance. I felt like I could reach every part of the world. I only wish I had not been exiled so young, before I discovered a way to learn one of the Great Swordskills.
Now I can’t get that thrill from practice. At least it’s rare. Unless there is someone to teach me something I have never seen before, I would prefer my life to be on the line. I would rather beat someone soundly. Undeniably. It’s true that I have come to a place where I love the affirmation that comes with victory, and the victory in a duel is always certain.
Perhaps that’s so much of why I hated the Nanten. There was no certainty to anything I set out to do here. Salisir could be alive or dead, but what good is it to find him in either case? The Daedric society the Tetrarch used as a public excuse to send him here is just as unlikely to exist. What could I do against it alone even if it did?
No, I think that part of the reason I am beginning to flirt with a renewed sense of vigor is because I am beginning to believe that Inifra is right. Perhaps she is, and fighting these small battles to save the weak for just another day holds some value in itself. And those battles come with definite victories as well.
I need to finish what I was sent here to do, but I will not shy away from helping those we come across. Once we’ve found Salisir’s corpse, or turned him into one, then perhaps we can focus on the plight of the Nantese. It is Inifra’s dream that they can rule themselves again and find peace. Perhaps I can help.
Inifra will leave us tonight. She said there is a river one day’s march north of us, and she intends to get there by morning. It runs east but bends north after a few miles and flows into the Nanten River. She wants to travel ahead of us to find out if anyone knows where Salisir went or died.
I’m not looking forward to her leaving us. She will come back to us. At least she plans to. We will continue north along the river until she returns. The march itself would take three weeks, but she says she should be able to meet us in about ten days. She intends to do so with a more precise destination for us than “the Nanten River.”
If she finds anyone loyal to Infiri with canoes she will send them for us.
That immediately brought back bad memories. When we first encountered a river in the Nanten it boiled. We watched as a canoe and the man inside disappeared into the water. She said it was nothing for us to worry about. If she sent anyone for us, they would know how to navigate the river safely.
That still didn’t answer our questions about the river itself, but she had already moved on to more important things. She emphasized that we need to keep moving. The increased speed offered by canoes would be important because there was movement of some sort behind us.
Like Dionus can sense motion through changes in the air, apparently she is able to reach out and feel movement through the rain. There is what she called a ‘disturbance’ rising behind us. She would not name what that could be, but I know we all thought the same thing: The KoraKora are coming.
She did not say that, however, and simply told us we needed to move as quickly as we can. Once we are able to travel by river she said we will be able to continue moving day and night. Traveling nonstop is where the true speed of the canoes is derived.
We will say goodbye to her tonight, and then do our best to meet her as far north as we can manage.
Gods, I hope the KoraKora are not behind us. After over five months in the Nanten, I should know better than to hope so highly.