We have made it to the open river. I have never seen one to match it. The current is unstoppable, propelling us faster than a galloping horse could ever hope to. And it is unending.
Where the shadowy presence of the trees never completely left our sight on the tributary north, they have vanished from view on the Nanten. They are absorbed completely in the unceasing rain.
There are sections where it feels as though we are traversing rises and falls. These are the upper cataracts, Nonda tells me. They force us to work to keep the canoes aright when we cross them, and they are the weakest of the rapids. We are days away from the falls, and there are five more sets of cataracts to cross.
Inifra says that there is a city at the top of the falls. If we can make it there, she can rally what fighters inhabit it and we can make our stand. That is if they do not flee before the KoraKora.
She assures us that they won’t, that they do not fear the KoraKora so near the Great Hole. I can only hope she is right. We cannot do this on our own, especially with her recovering and Dionus’ power reduced by the rains.
These rapids will claim our lives if the KoraKora do not. The KoraKora surrounded us yesterday, flying east along the river to catch and kill us. There were canoes filled with the monstrous cannibals in every direction by midday. The rapids are the only thing that saved us, even as they sought to undo us.
We found ourselves locked in two battles simultaneously, both won or lost on the effort to keep our canoes from capsizing. The cataracts are more violent than ocean waves crashing against breakers in a storm. Water is thrown so high in the air that we cannot see how high it reaches through the rain. More than one of the KoraKora’s canoes were crushed at these points, as was one of ours.
Others were cast into the air, where men and boats were separated and lost to the fury of the water. There is no swimming here. No returning to your canoe or grasping hold of another. Once you are in the water, you are dead.
By the time we reached the relative calm between cataracts, we were too exhausted to fight. Even the KoraKora, whose relentless pursuit of us defies reason or human capacity, stopped their pursuit to regain their strength. Only a few made efforts to approach us before we were swept into the next round of rapids.
This water is the single most relentless force I have ever encountered. It is no wonder Inifra can channel such strength from this place. If only she could raise herself to the occasion now.
She has been able to help steer some, and at more than one point pulled some trick to keep a canoe aright. Still, she is not able to do much more. Perhaps it isn’t fair to expect more of her, but she’s the incarnation of a Dread God, by the Angel’s Bones! We need her!
The falls are only another day ahead of us and the KoraKora have fallen behind again. They are as tired as we are, and perhaps for that reason less willing to throw themselves at us. We must take the opportunity to rest, for there are yet three cataracts to survive.
Inifra has gone ahead of us. There is yet a half-day or more to go to the falls, and she wants the people there to be ready for our arrival. It’s understandable, but gods I wish there was some way she could just move us there with her. We have one final cataract to cross and I do not relish the fact.
We have lost no more canoes, and no one else has fallen into the water. Let us hope we can maintain that record just a little longer.
The KoraKora continue to hunt us, but they have kept their distance. We only catch glimpses of them behind us on occasion. The rest of the time the rain veils their pursuit. Why have they given up? Their assault has been suicidal until now. Why change that when we are most vulnerable?
We must survive this night, and hope that by morning we are among friends.
Our final fight with the KoraKora is done. They must have died by the thousands in the cataracts. Only a few hundred made it to Hamada, the city on the cliffs. The fight was brief. Inifra had gathered nearly a hundred people willing to defend the docks.
We hardly fought at all, my companions and I. Exhausted, we crawled from our canoes and took up positions behind the people of Hamada. They repelled each attempt by the KoraKora to disembark, killing half and forcing the rest to continue to the falls.
If any made it to the other side before being swept over the edge, I do not know. Only a few of our new friends were killed in the fighting. It was an astonishing victory over what has been our greatest enemy in the Nanten. Their ferocity had been greatly diminished by the struggle on the river. They died like sheep at the slaughter.
I did not see him at the docks. He must have died in the cataracts. Gods, but it feels good to sleep knowing that the KoraKora no longer pursue us. Hamada’s leaders have posted a watch along the river to ensure no stragglers are able to sneak into the city. I’m not sure if it’s the elation at our deliverance that makes me feel so relaxed, or the simple pleasure of solid ground beneath me, but I am not concerned about it.
We have been well fed, and now it is time for some much needed sleep.
The locals here have their own stories of Salisir, though nothing as fantastic as what we found in Senida. These stories seem much more in keeping with Salisir’s character. Excursions into the jungle to kill particular bandits, assassinating their leaders in exchange for goods or services. He used to come back to Hamada as a base of operations, but about ten years ago he went missing.
Some say he went north, hunting a bandit king that had caused them great strife for some time. Others say he climbed down the cliffs and entered the Great Recess in search of some myth in Matasten. Yet more say he was killed in a skirmish along the banks of the Nanten River. His remains, they claim, were washed over the falls and into oblivion.
There is no telling whose story is true. It is shocking to me just how familiar everyone here is with the symbol of the Tetrarch upon my armor. How they show me deference. How they knew Salisir themselves.
We cannot leave without a direction and some certainty that it is our best option. So far we have stumbled our way along after Salisir’s meandering trail. A trail, it seems, that he cut for himself over the course of a decade. He was clearly in no hurry to reach Matasten. Whatever he found to preoccupy himself kept him moving at an almost lazy pace.
In the last six months we have managed to catch him up significantly. We covered ten years, half of his exile to date, in six months. It makes me wonder if it will take another six to find his body.
Perhaps that should guide our strategy and we simply continue on towards Matasten. Even if Salisir took ten years to get to this point, it does appear that he was on his way to the capital city. Perhaps we stand a better chance of finding him if we go that way ourselves.
We will do the best we can to uncover as many clues as possible while we rest. Sleep is truly the one thing I crave most right now. After that, I’d like to explore this strange city.
Hamada is a fascinating city. Half of it is gone. It was built right along the fault line that would become the Great Recess, and when that fateful day fell so too did a great portion of the city. There are massive slabs of broken stone and ruined structures that soar out over the edge like shattered balconies.
I’ve seen more than one of Hamada’s residents seek solitude out on one of those perches. I have yet to climb out on one myself. There is nothing but rain and air for hundreds of feet beneath those slippery outcroppings.
The people here are kind. They make their subsistence off fishing and trade between the Great Recess and the upper portions of the river. The rains keep them subdued and indoors most of the day, thus in wandering the streets one might think the city abandoned.
But to me it feels safe. The stone is steady, the dykes and piers built over the banks of the river so that they do not overflow into the city. Whoever designed this city knew what they were doing, at least as far as rivers are concerned. I’m sure that the Great Recess could not have been foreseen.
It’s funny how the rain doesn’t bother me anymore. I haven’t had shelter from it in a month, why would I bother staying dry now? The rains provide a chance to wander alone and think, though I’d still rather spend more time sleeping.
I remain uncertain about our situation with the KoraKora. Could they truly have committed their entire nation to our destruction on the river? I wouldn’t put it past them to throw themselves so fully into the pursuit, but if so, how did they find that many canoes?
And how could such a high percentage of them die in the chase? If it hadn’t been for them, we would have only lost the one canoe when Inifra’s capsized.
She has been spending her time here speaking with the locals, receiving their gifts and performing various rites. It seems her duties as a priestess are never far. She said she hadn’t been to Hamada for some time, so there was a lot of work to be done.
Inifra does seem a little saddened as well. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s a new reluctance about her. It’s different. Her reservations have changed.
Balthandar and Dionus are happy to be off of the river. They have barely left the house we were given to use, drinking and eating and sleeping to their hearts’ content. I should get back to them, in fact. We need to discuss what we are to do about tracking Salisir.
The rain has finally stopped. With no sign that it might, it ceased suddenly and completely. Within minutes the sun was shining. Brilliant blue skies stretched as far as I could see as if the very idea of clouds was yet unconceived.
We can see out over the entire swath of the Great Recess. The cliffs continue off to the north and south of us, gently curving before they disappear over the horizon. Below us is a canopy I never thought I would stand above. The massive trees of the Nanten only reach two thirds the height of the cliffs.
Below I can still make out a few ruins that tumbled from Hamada into the Broken Circle. That is the name they give for the broad swath of empty land that rings the Great Recess at the base of the cliffs. For two miles or so there are massive convoluted mounds of broken stone and earth. They appear as though they were once smooth hills that are now laid open by dry cracks and jagged rents.
Some smaller trees grow on the unbroken portions, but none of the mightier trunks rise from its surface. The people here speak of the Broken Circle as if it were a graveyard, haunted by the worst sorts of monsters. The rains drive most of those monsters into the cracks and caves beneath the surface. Otherwise it is an impassable section of land.
There is a path, Inifra said, that leads across it and into the jungle. That path, she said, is only really used by the bravest of traders. It follows one of the few routes that remain unbroken, and thus do not require that one enter or cross any of the crevasses. Still, it isn’t all that much safer.
Dionus spent much of today out on one of the stone pillars that lays fallen over the edge. He stared out over the recess, the wind whipping around him and tugging at his cloak. He said it reminded him of flying. That was sufficient, he said. At least for now.
Balthandar and Timber have made an odd pair the last few days. He seems to have become so attached to the idea of protecting her that, even in the midst of our newfound safety, he rarely leaves her side. I’d never seen Balthandar surrounded by children until she dragged him into a group of them today. It was also one of the first times I have ever seen him so visibly uncomfortable. I had to walk away so as to keep from laughing at him.
For my part, I have spent most of my time today with Inifra interviewing the locals. There is little consensus as to where Salisir may have gone, but more and more of the people have pointed us north. There is a mighty stone bridge that crosses the river at the top of the falls which their fishermen still use daily. They say that there was once another powerful trade city that lay a few dozen leagues north which built it in conjunction with Hamada.
Apparently it wasn’t as lucky as its trade partner. The entire city fell over the cliffs and was destroyed in the Broken Circle. There is a village that was built just west of the cliffs by the survivors, and it was to that village that we are repeatedly told Salisir went. This appears to be the direction we must head.
While I would prefer to make directly for Matasten, there are no guarantees that Salisir didn’t die long before he made it himself. We must continue to follow him until we know for certain where his body lies.
One more good night’s sleep, I feel, and I will be ready for our trek across this bridge and back into the jungle. My sleeping mat, the one final luxury I have from home, is so frayed that it seems worthless. Strangely, though I have always carried a mat upon which to sleep, I no longer unroll this one as frequently as I used to. I think I may leave it here in Hamada when we go.