When I was young, I made a few mistakes that could have been fatal. We all make such mistakes, those errors in judgment whose consequences leave one wondering how anyone grows to adulthood. Often though, those mistakes are simply frightening. As a child does not have the experience to know that the slightest pain will not kill them, so one often reacts to new, small incidents as if they were much larger.
Only with time and experience do we cease to fear that which deserves none. Such is the gift of perspective.
The difference is that when I got scared, time would slow down. I would move more quickly and, while I would evade what immediately appeared to be my fate, I would give away my greatest secret. This was where my mother had to work hard to train me to control my fear. She discovered my ability less than a year before I was to enter the scourge. She could not let me enter it as I was.
It speaks to her credit, cold as she may have been, that she was able to get such good results out of me so quickly. Still, her methods were reprehensible.
The tenseness in my scalp is how fear has always manifested itself in me. She taught me to focus on that as my anchor to the present the instant I sensed it. It was a tool, and she forced me to learn how to use it. She would shove me off of ledges, throw knives into doorjambs as I entered rooms. She would ambush me in any number of ways, then shake me out of any shift she could catch me in.
If she couldn’t catch me, she would still scream at me to control myself once it was over. Did I want to die, she would shout in my face. No, I would say silently.
Your power will be the death of you! Control it! Hide it!
For nine months of my life this carried on. Her attempts to harm me became more subtle, quicker. Some were less subtle. She lashed out with a whip in the middle of dinner. She pushed me down a flight of stairs. Gods, what didn’t she do?
And my father. He didn’t do anything about it. I could see it torturing him, yet he was too weak to stand up to my mother. There were times he objected, but he could never withstand the fury that would follow. We were prisoners, the both of us.
The day came that I was called to the scourge. My escorts arrived like saviors on horseback. I never looked back. Of course my mother had access to me where all other parents lose touch with their children in the scourge. She rarely exercised it, for it was heavily frowned upon, but she visited me a couple of times. I don’t remember much of those visits, but they were always at the worst possible times. She had a knack for making the difficult unbearable.
I was able to escape her in the field. Save for the times where she reached out to give me my orders, or formal events I was required to attend, I was able to avoid her. Until my trial. They tried to hide the details of the proceedings from me, my sentencing was supposed to be screened with secrecy. But I know it was my mother who called for my exile. I know she was the one who put that word into the minds of my judges.
Gods, but it’s a miracle I’m alive at all with a mother like Syltra na Tetrarch.
And now we are back along the bank of a river that threatens to kill us should we enter it. The rains have yet to stop and so we must be careful how closely we walk along the bank. There is no sure footing of which to speak. Timber has proved quite capable in navigating the soggy ground where the rest of us are forced to slow.
The KoraKora are most likely behind us, and yet we cannot sense their presence. Again, this rain provides a veil to their approach.
My fears are growing, but I am in control. If I learned anything from my mother, I know the dangers of letting myself be exposed. I know the risk in letting my guard down.
What is coming for us next? It seems as though the rains keep the dangers of the jungle dormant, yet I fear this is simply an illusion. Just because we cannot sense the danger does not mean it is not present. We likely spend our days walking mere feet from our death.
And yet, today, we are alive.
This river we follow is easily twice the size of that first one we saw months ago. If this is just a tributary to the Nanten River, I cannot imagine how large that final trunk of water will prove to be. This one moves more quickly as well, which is probably just a function of the endless rain. But still. It is massive.
How can the jungle drink as much as it does? There is plenty of runoff. The rivers and small creeks regularly overflow their banks, yet there is far more water falling on us than we see collecting on the ground. The jungle must swell this time of year.
The joy of discovering the open sky at the last river has been taken from us by the rain. We can’t even make out the canopy across the way. The line of trees on the far bank looks like a blurred shadow when we can see it at all.
We could drown standing up.
This makes sleeping difficult for obvious reasons. I’ve had to start sitting with my back to a tree every night. More than once I’ve woken up submerged from the waist down where there had been mere puddles when I settled in. If this rain ever stops it will be long-overdue. Keeping my journal dry has become my final contest with the rain. I’ve given up on everything else.
I would take sleeping on obsidian over this.
The KoraKora are coming. We found one of their scouts drinking at a pool this morning. Balthandar skewered him before he even knew we were there, then Timber smashed his horn on a root. She didn’t flinch at the sight of the blood. In fact, after she shattered his horn she just stood there staring at the scout until he died.
There is fire in her eyes, a hatred for the KoraKora which blazes far hotter than our own.
There was no hope of scouting the area ourselves. We cannot see far through the rain and Dionus cannot sense anything in the air. Starlark’s eyes are lost to us, as is his silent speed in the undergrowth. I do not feel comfortable allowing Timber to take his place, though she certainly would in an instant.
Neither Dionus nor I have sensed the use of magic since Inifra left us. The KoraKora have learned to mask their approach. Whatever method they are applying to track us in this tempest, we are completely unaware. Thankfully they don’t know our exact location. At least they don’t appear to yet.
If I were willing to allow myself to relax, I would assume that no one could follow us in these conditions. As always, I assume the worst in regards to my enemy.
I wish I could ask Timber how she knew to smash the scout’s horn. There are a lot of questions I would ask her tonight if I spoke Nantese. If only Inifra were with us, I would feel better on numerous fronts.
The KoraKora attacked us in the night. There weren’t many of them, it was likely an advance party, but they took us completely by surprise. The only thing that saved us was one of them slipped and fell into a pool right near Dionus. That woke him up while the rest of us remained asleep. I don’t know who was supposed to be on watch.
The other KoraKora scouts had made it quickly to the rest of us. The fight was grisly. I hate fighting in water. I was almost drowned before I could kill the first one to me. Balthandar killed the second to come after me as he lunged into the water. Dionus was able to deal a fair amount of damage in the initial moments of the skirmish, which swung things in our favor, but his power was weakened by the rain.
It was as the fight turned to our advantage that I realized Timber was gone.
I shouted for her and could just hear her scream above the torrent of the rain. She had been taken by one of the scouts.
It took me a moment to catch up to them, but finally I found her locked in a horrific fight of her own. Her captor didn’t realize the danger bundled up in his arms until he found a small knife in his ribs. I didn’t know that she had been carrying the blade with her the whole time. He clearly found it more of a shock than I did.
The struggle to subdue her had gone poorly. I arrived as he made the decision that carrying her alive was too difficult to be worth it. Thank the gods I arrived when I did. She put up an impressive fight. He was well bloodied when he died, but so was she. We’ve had to bind her wounds twice tonight to staunch the bleeding.
It looks like the bastard bit her.
How can these animals do such horrible things? And then they do them to children. The KoraKora aren’t even animals. They are of lower substance.
Where my hatred for them steels me against them, makes it easier to kill them, it also draws out a basic dread.
We fear the unknown. There are rules we all unconsciously choose to live by. When those are broken by a few madmen, what response can we have except stark terror? We do not know what to expect, and those men themselves immediately become a greater unknown than anything else could possibly be.
Thus, in their evident willingness to do what no human being would even think possible, the KoraKora become something else. They assume the stranger. The alien. And in doing so they become a greater threat in my mind than even the most powerful of foes.
We need to resume our watch-keeping duties with greater diligence. Gods I hate this jungle.
Dionus flew into a rage this morning. The endless sheets of water cascading around us are a growing frustration to him. The air is constantly moving in response to the water; subtly enough that the rest of us barely notice, but far too much for him to handle for so long.
I’ve never seen him so angry. He lashed out at a tree, striking its base over and over until it began to teeter and eventually fell into the river. His power is diminished, but not too greatly. Whatever the experience feels like, it has irritated him more and more over the last two weeks.
Timber walked over to him once he had cut the tree down. She grabbed his hand and held onto it, staring out at the water with him as he calmed down. The tree itself was tall enough that it might have reached the other side of the river. It was difficult to tell in the haze of the rain. Still, it was frighteningly impressive to watch Dionus hack it down in his fury.
I didn’t bother pointing out that it might well serve as a signpost to the KoraKora. I doubt he much cares right now. It may not matter in any case as we do not know how it is they are even able to track us.
I hope Inifra’s canoes show up soon. We need to move faster.
The KoraKora caught up to us today while we marched.
The scout’s horn blew off to my right. I never saw him through the rain but somehow he saw us. As soon as we heard that death rattle carry through the downpour we ran. His call was muffled, but the rest of the KoraKora were closer to us than we would have imagined so it didn’t matter. They were upon us in minutes.
We found a small rise on the bank of the river that was clear of puddles and made our stand there. They didn’t bother with arrows in the rain, their bowstrings most likely rendered useless when wet. They simply threw themselves at us through the water.
The puddles were deep; they slowed the attack enough that we could keep the KoraKora from making it to our level. The cannibals came from every direction. It didn’t take long for the puddles to run red. Dionus struck down at them on all fronts, calling the wind to thin them out and make the fight easier on Balthandar and me.
Even Timber drew Balthandar’s Klotian blade from his pack and began hacking at the approaching horde. Though she lacked skill or experience, her ferocity made up for a great deal in the fight.
We fought like that for far too long before a few arrows began ripping through the rain. They were no more accurate for the weather, but they posed a new threat. Dionus was distracted by his efforts to block them. His vision and sense of the air were confounded by the rain, forcing him to react at the last possible moment to each arrow that might have found its mark.
A few of them did. I don’t think any of us walked away without at least one arrow sticking out of an appendage. Balthandar took the most, three in his shoulders and one in the same spot he was cut on his leg.
We would have been overwhelmed had Inifra not kept her promise. As the fighting dragged on, the fatigue and wounds wearing us down, two canoes landed on the bank behind us. The men piloting them shouted for us. We backed away from the fight. Dionus spun his fury for a few moments to cover our retreat, and then we were on the water.
I saw him watch us go: The chief of the KoraKora. His headdress of bones and feathers were clear in the haze. He stood on the bank of the river, watching until everything had faded into gloom and gray.
We have been on the river ever since. One of the men piloting our canoes speaks enough of the common tongue to communicate. He says that they missed us the day before, traveling too far south along the river. They would have gotten to us sooner had there not been a massive tree in the water this morning blocking their path.
We should make good time now, he says. I hope we make good enough time to leave the KoraKora well behind.
In spite of my fear that these waters will consume us without warning, I slept beautifully through the night. Our guides covered the canoes with massive leaves as we slept. The sound of the rain pelting the thick fronds over me all night –combined with the gentle rocking of the river– put me right to sleep.
During the day the canoes remain open, which means that whichever of our guides is not poling at the stern is bailing from the bow. That is how these two-man teams seem to operate.
The pilot of Dionus and my canoe calls himself Nonda, and speaks a little of the common tongue. The other three men do not speak it whatsoever, but that doesn’t mean they don’t speak. It’s as if they were completely unconcerned by our confrontation with the KoraKora yesterday. They spend their time singing songs and making jokes back and forth between our canoes.
The rain has no bearing on their spirits. They are happy simply to be on the water.
Nonda said that Inifra found them a day or two after leaving us. She asked that they rush to bring us north. He said they must have missed us two days ago and only found us when they decided to double back.
Gods it feels good to sit and watch the world go by. What little of the world I can make out through the rain at least. Perhaps that is why I continue to fall asleep every couple of hours. I can finally rest while we let the current do its work. I cannot help but feel happy, even knowing the KoraKora are close. They could be a world away for all I care.
I can see how these canoe men maintain their sense of peace. We are afloat in tiny wooden sanctuaries, veiled on every side by water curtains. To hell with it, I’m going back to sleep.