The KoraKora found canoes of their own. They caught up to us in the night. Who knows how long they have been in pursuit of us this way, but now neither the river nor the opposite banks provide us with any form of advantage or protection.
We first spotted them through the rain in the morning. Unlike our guides, one of the men in each of their canoes carried a paddle. Combining their efforts with the pole, they were making up the distance far too quickly for comfort.
Their bailers took time to try and shoot us, but their bowstrings were hopelessly wet and their blow darts too light to navigate the rain. After a brief period of such attempts, the chase resumed its intensity.
We began to paddle with our hands. The KoraKora were drawing close enough that Nonda began to strike them with his long pole, and then they all grew distracted. Shocked looks spread across every face I could see. Nonda shoved the pole back into the water and began to push harder than I had seen him.
“Bromnom!” He shouted at me. Our bailer pointed at a handful of dark points jutting from the water like blackened fingertips. Each made a quick “S” in the water before disappearing. “Bromnom!”
The call was echoing down the line of KoraKora of whose boats we could only see a few. Nonda and the bailer began frantically searching the water for more black points. He would later explain that they were trying to discern which direction the fish were coming from. If from the north, we had to get out of the water immediately, but if from the south we had time.
Time was important, he said, because we needed to land on the opposite shore of the KoraKora. Otherwise we were doomed.
The KoraKora began shouting directions. Their front boat was watching us, calling out whatever moves we made. Calling upon the horde behind them to follow. But time was growing thin. The boats behind us grew more panicked and the fear in Nonda’s face was tinged with confidence. His grimace turned into a ferocious grin, and at the last minute he began to steer us back to the east.
The KoraKora immediately behind us broke directly for the eastern shore. They called for their brethren to join them, but the boats behind had already committed to the west, thinking we were most likely to pull that way. There were only a handful of canoes filled with KoraKora landing a hundred feet behind us.
Nonda shouted for us to paddle. He screamed against the strain on his pole, and hurtled us onto the shore as the water began to thrash.
Each of our boats made it. Our guides jumped out immediately and hauled the boats into the foliage before they could be claimed by the Bromnom. Instantly I had my sword in hand and shouted for them to follow me. There were only a couple dozen KoraKora at most. It was time to thin the herd.
Balthandar and Dionus came up beside me as we dashed through the trees. Screams came from the river ahead. Not everyone had made it to shore in time.
And then they were before us. Their eyes widened comically. They never expected us to turn and fight. Gods I love that look.
We plunged into them. Every fighting man and woman from our party was upon them before they could draw their weapons. It was a slaughter. We spent a few minutes drilling holes in their canoes and kicked what supplies they had into the mouths of the Bromnom, then made quickly north to our own canoes.
Inifra remained asleep under the watch of her canoe’s passengers. We immediately distributed our supplies to be carried by the smaller of our members, and then the rest of us picked up our canoes and began moving north.
This was a chance to gain some distance. At the very least we would be maintaining it should the KoraKora think to move on foot as well. They had lost their vanguard and, I would find out later, we had gained a morale-boosting victory. The Nantese with us believed the KoraKora to be invincible. Unstoppable. We disproved that handily.
The Bromnom kept their frenzy up for some time, possibly a few hours, before the waters began to calm and they moved on downstream. We resumed the water immediately, this time with a handful of paddles fashioned from thick fronds in the undergrowth.
We have learned our lesson on speed and survived the KoraKora’s first advance. The chase is on, but we will not be caught off guard again. If only Inifra would awake, we would have an undeniable advantage against them.
We have finally discovered the limits of the Nantese water routes. The river, which had been rising steadily over the last few days, has finally begun to overflow its banks. Nonda says that unless Inifra awakes with a better plan in mind, we will use this to our advantage in another day or two.
The mouth of this tributary is large, he says, but broadens tenfold at the height of the rains. The KoraKora do not know where we are going, he says. Soon we will be able to leave the natural course of the river and travel between the trees as the floodwaters rise. It will get us to the falls much faster, he says, and will lose the KoraKora behind us.
The inherent danger is that the chance of capsizing will increase the farther into the jungle we go. Between striking trees and catching ourselves on vines, our situation will grow only more precarious.
The current has certainly increased dramatically. We must be passing other tributaries as we continue north. Still, we paddle as though our very survival depended upon it. It very well may.
Once we rejoin the river, Nonda says there will be cataracts. He hopes that they will be subdued by the swollen river as we cross, but they will still be dangerous. If, after all that, the KoraKora remain behind us and continue to follow, we will have no choice but to fight.
If that happens, I certainly hope Inifra will have awoken by then. Gods but we could use her right now. If I knew how to pray to Infiri, I would ask her to return her servant to us. We need her.
My shoulders are on fire. The tension in my back makes me fear that the muscles might begin to shred at any moment. Yet we cannot stop paddling. We take turns, but our periods of rest are insufficient. Yesterday was difficult on its own, but all of the work we put into paddling then is revisiting us in force today.
The fear of the KoraKora has been driven into us. Now it drives us.
Inifra remains unconscious, and the rain continues to fall. So little changes over the course of our day, and yet the tension builds. It builds in muscles, and it builds in the air. I must use what time I have left in this break to sleep.
Nonda waited until nightfall yesterday. He held course until he felt certain that the KoraKora could not see us even should they be close. And then he guided us into the trees.
Though we hope we have left them behind, our stress surrounding the KoraKora has only been supplemented by the fear of capsizing. Now, rather than use the paddles to move more quickly, we use them to fend off trees. There are all kinds of things jutting just above the surface that scrape the skin in the darkness and threaten to entangle the canoes completely.
We have entered a gauntlet that never ends.
The newcomers who arrived with Inifra have lit torches and placed them in the bows of the canoes. How they stay alight in the rain is beyond me, but it is certainly better than attempting this in total darkness.
If we make it through this alive I’m not sure I’ll despise marching as much by comparison. At least when marching there are no vines which, should they catch me as I walk past, will entangle and drown me in the dark.
We must weave constantly, for there is no direct path between more than any handful of trees. The motion of it all requires a concerted effort. A concerted effort which cannot end, for the current will continue to carry us should we pause, and there is no lashing ourselves to any trees to rest. For all we know, the KoraKora are right behind us.
I miss the open river most of all tonight. The blissful simplicity of sleeping while the current does all the work. Let us hope we find it again before these trees undo us all.
Inifra’s boat capsized this morning. She was still unconscious when it happened.
We are all of us exhausted by this shortcut through the jungle. There can only be another day or two of it, yet that seems an impossibly long time to me today. Exhaustion is causing mistakes.
Each pilot has abandoned his pole in favor of using paddles as rudders. Inifra’s pilot fell asleep while on duty and dropped his. Seconds later, they hit one of the trees. The water forced them up and over a collection of debris, then the whole thing rolled to the side and dumped them out.
There was shouting in the chaos. All of the supplies in that canoe were lost, and Inifra was still unconscious. I saw her slip into the water and sink. Without hesitation I dove from my canoe to rescue her, which was as foolish as it may have been noble.
The current of the water is deceptively strong. If I hadn’t grabbed her immediately, she would have been carried too far from me to find within seconds. I hauled her to the surface as quickly as I could, but hit a tree and was pulled back under in a daze. Vines reached out to grab us, tearing us apart. Branches of smaller trees jabbed us. Rises in the land swirled us away from our companions.
Finally I was able to grab onto a vine and hold up against one of the massive trunks. I held on for what felt like an age before Balthandar hoisted us out of the water and into his canoe.
They were able to salvage Inifra’s canoe, but none of the supplies. The pilot survived, but we never found the other two. The fool cost us so much, but how can any of us withstand the strain of this path for much longer?
Even I want nothing more than to sleep when it is my turn at the rudder or deflecting trees and debris from the bow. But I cannot allow myself to. None of us can make any mistakes like that again.
What I really want to know is how the godsdamned leeches managed to find me in the midst of all that chaos. I had to pull three off once I was back in the canoe. If there was one supernaturally persistent species of monster in this jungle, it would be the leeches.
I need to sleep.
Inifra finally woke up today. She is still too tired to move much, but she started to speak. She told us that there was a fishing village near the mouth of the river in which Salisir was known. She said he’d helped them with something in exchange for supplies, and then continued downriver to the falls. He was looking for something, and he never came back.
She said she was in such a hurry to return to us that she pushed herself too hard. Using the water to propel herself through the river is an effective way to travel, but one that costs too much. She had never tried to go so far so fast before.
She is still too weak to help us, though I don’t know what she could do to alleviate the struggle with these trees in any case. She doesn’t seem to know how to manage her power properly. This is the second time she has completely spent herself in the matter of a month. It makes me wonder how long she has had the powers of Infiri at her command.
I need to resume my place at the bow. We should be out of these trees shortly.
The KoraKora are closing the gap again. Gods but we cannot lose them. They are spread out behind us in the trees, which is good because it makes it easier to deal with them when they do catch up. We have capsized at least a dozen of their canoes as we are in the favorable position, but that only causes more problems.
They swim up and try to climb into ours.
Dionus has created some space by knocking down two trees behind us, but the effort required to do so in the rain has drained him. The delay has given us a moment to rest, but we must press on to gain more of a lead on the cannibals.
I need to get back to it myself. We need Inifra to recover already.