Entry 247 – Day 372

Entry 247 – Day 372

The Latala struck us in the night. Apparently they, too, are searching for Wudan. Honestly it felt more like an accident that they came upon us, but the result was much the same.

Perhaps they misjudged the size of our party, or perhaps they simply grew too bold. Ten of them were found within our camp, their cloaked figures barely visible in the dying light of our fires. I’m not sure who on the watch spotted them, but the fact that they were able to infiltrate us so completely before being seen was shocking. Unsettling.

The fight that ensued was quick but bloody. They killed nearly twenty of Hembila’s men. We killed eight of theirs. The other two managed to escape in the chaos.

I saw Salisir approach their leader, bleeding and propped up against a tree. He reached out as Salisir approached, putting his hand up as if to protect himself. I heard him say Salisir’s name.

Salisir picked up a spear from the underbrush and twirled it into position, then slammed it through the man’s throat and into the tree. “Save your pleas, you fools,” he said. Then he walked back to investigate the damage.

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The sheer force of Salisir’s strike was incredible, unexpected for a man of his age. Even more impressive was the fact that the Latala captain knew him by name; he feared Salisir. My old teacher’s reputation precedes him to every corner of this jungle. Perhaps I should not so quickly dismiss him, even if I cannot fully trust him.

Entry-247-Quote-Impressive

One strange note for which there is no ready explanation: the Latala did not inflict any of our casualties before we were awake. One would expect to find throats slit, men dead in their sleep with holes over their hearts. Instead every single death was incurred in the struggle that ensued after we awoke.

Were they attempting to steal Wudan from us without our ever knowing?

There is something more to the boy than we yet understand. We need to keep a closer watch on him and hope that the mystery unravels before it undoes us all.

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Entry 246 – Day 371

Entry 246 – Day 371

We seem to be making decent time through the jungle in spite of the size of our party. The fact that Hembila’s men remain on the outskirts, moving at their own rapid pace along unseen paths, leaves them an afterthought to our own movements. They follow us like a fog weaving through the trees.

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Wudan seems oblivious to the tensions between our escort and ourselves. He speaks to members of either side with the same innocent inquisitiveness and smile on his face. Watching him makes me wonder if we were right to bring him along. He isn’t hardened to the cruelties of the jungle like ClickClick, nor has he witnessed its horrors first hand as Kantoo did. I suppose there is no protecting him from it forever, but it feels uncomfortable that we should be the ones to lead him into them for the first time.

At least the KoraKora do not reign here. Did we leave them destroyed in the end? We killed them by the thousand and left their leader in pieces at the bottom of the Nanten River. Surely they are weakened if not entirely disbanded.

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Can we do the same for the Nantese of the Great Recess? Can we bring an end to the Daedric society that has plagued them for so long?

After fighting Daedra all my life, after being the dominant force at all times, it feels strange to think that they might not only be our equals on the field, but that they might be superior.

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Entry 245 – Day 370

Entry 245 – Day 370

It should come as no surprise to me that Salisir would lie, but I feel like a fool for buying it. He had already asked Fodafa for permission to leave a few days ago, slipping into the city while we were busy speaking with Wudan’s grandmother. He left us surreptitiously last night to get our pass, and was back before we were up to move.

We truly are untrustworthy children.

What’s worse is that Hembila has chosen to be our escort from Fodafa’s territory. He made it clear that he wasn’t just there to protect us, he was there to keep our “corruption” from ruining their land. Again we do not know his full strength, though by the end of the day we guessed there were perhaps thirty men traveling with us. They treat us with a hostility that was not present in our trip to Motasta. They all watch Dionus.

My friend has withdrawn into himself, keeping his eyes lowered and his lips sealed. His rage remains kindled by these men that surround us. I can sense the Atmosphere respond to his anger, something I continue to try and bring to his attention. Balthandar and I spent the day walking on either side of him. Guard up.

Salisir says that Hembila’s men will leave us within the month. If they don’t alter their posturing, they may not live so long.

Entry-245-Quote-Posturing escort

Along with Inifra and Timber, Wudan has come with us. He did not want to stay in Banditown, and though his mother and grandmother protested at first, I think they were proud to see him off with us. They believe Wudan will be a great man, and the only way to become great is to do great things. Let us hope the great things we lead him to are not terror and sudden death in the depths of the Nanten.

To keep his mind off our escort, I started asking Dionus questions about Wudan. The potential applications of his ability to suppress or amplify the Atmosphere around him are a fascinating thing upon which to ponder. We cannot sense him use them at all until they are in full force. It makes sense, then, that the Daedra wouldn’t have found him before.

After thinking upon it, Dionus’ prevailing theory is that the Daedra were coming for us. Perhaps they had followed us into the city from the jungle, but in any case we are not so good at hiding our trail as we should like. Wudan knew we were there, and though he seems especially attuned to the Atmosphere we can only assume that there are others who can sense us as well. His kidnappers clearly sensed us coming before they would have seen us in the street.

Dionus thinks that they only diverted to Wudan because they could feel him reaching out to find us and realized what he was. Not only would he be easier prey, I imagine he would be more useful to them than we would. What concerns me most, then, is how certain I am that there were others we never saw. It means the Daedra are fully aware of Wudan’s existence now. They will try to take him again.

Timber doesn’t fully appreciate having Wudan along yet, but I think it will be good for her to have another child around. She’s made it clear that she expects her lessons with her blade to continue as we travel. It’s becoming one of my favorite parts of the day.

Salisir has said that he needs to mobilize Yatusu in the northeast, a feat that sounds impossible to hear him describe it. Yatusu and the Sondu aren’t natural enemies so to speak, but they are complete opposites in how they lead their people and what they hope for the future. The Sondu are obviously a strict monarchy, and hold to the claim their lineage places upon the Oaken Throne. The people of Yatusu, however, believe in a form of meritocracy. Their leader, Oroun, leads because his people deem him the most worthy to do so.

The Sondu and, by extension, the people of Motasta believe in noble hierarchy. The people of Yatusu do not. Neither nation much respects the other’s way of life.

The danger I see in the Sondu is that they are rigid. Though I can see differences in them, Fodafa and Hembila share this pride. As I watch Hembila struggle with this duty he has chosen for himself, to escort us from his home, I fear that if he cannot learn to bend, he will break.

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Entry 244 – Day 369

Entry 244 – Day 369

If we are to destroy this Daedric Society, one that by all indications has grown to an unprecedented level, we need to know more about it. Different social structures crumble in different ways. The trick to bringing any Daedric sect to its knees is to kill its leader, but an entire Daedric society?

Kingdoms don’t fall by killing kings and banks don’t fold when the banker dies. Decapitating monarchs is preamble to a coronation ceremony. Slit a banker’s throat and his constituents might toss you a share once the redistribution is finished. Kingdoms fall through steady destabilization, plague, or war. Broad actions that sweep the foundations out from underneath it over time. This is how the Old Empire has been consolidated down to only eight kingdoms over the centuries. Banks die harder, but burn the right assets and you can set them teetering.

Daedra don’t succumb to such things. Slicks and sects are born into adversity, their formation initiated in a very state of war. Kill a hundred followers and a hundred more will slowly seep in to fill the gash. But if you kill their leader, whoever it is that unites them and keeps them in line, they will scatter. There’s a reason we call them Daedric ‘followers.’

But will this society be different? I’ve never encountered a fully matured sect. There is no knowing what free thought is permitted in its administrators. What kinds of administration will it even have? Will there be a disciplined military? Regular troops? It’s terrifying to think of Daedra well trained, properly armed, and led by competent battle commanders.

As much as I would like to dismiss such thoughts, I cannot allow myself to underestimate my enemy. If there is a Prince, who is he? What is he?

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Salisir says that little is known among the Sondu, but there are others who dare to spy upon the Oaken Throne: the Batsu and Latala.

We don’t have any way of interacting with the Latala; to do so would be a risk in its own right. But this seemed my opportunity to make an open case to make for the Batsu. Salisir has made it clear that we are not to move in Motasta or anywhere the Sondu control without him. Our safety in this place rests on his reputation now. The idea that we are tied to Salisir like untrustworthy children is aggravating. Leaving this territory sounds undeniably tempting for that reason.

He said he would seek permission to leave the city tomorrow. Whatever his plans are for Motasta, apparently they are well enough in motion that he does not need to remain to see them through.

The Sondu are not what I want from the Nantese. They are too straightforward, too ready to step into a world they are not fit to create, even if they would be fit to rule it. They are Salisir’s tool to unseat the Daedric Prince, but they are insufficient to the task. Salisir wants to forge a sword to put in the right hand of the Nantese. We must find the dagger to put in the left. The attack must be pronged in order to succeed and I will ensure that happens.

Perhaps when he returns tomorrow, he won’t find us waiting for him.

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Entry 243 – Day 368

Entry 243 – Day 368

The history of Banditown is as fascinating as any we have yet heard. Wudan’s grandmother joined us again this evening and told us much of it. An old woman, she’s been here since its formation, which sounded impressive until she told me that Banditown was founded roughly thirty years ago.

The darkness, the name everyone here seems to use when referring to Daedra, had spread throughout the jungle for decades. They hunted for special men and women to bring back to Matasten. As the populations of those special people thinned, the darkness slowly retracted, condensing in Matasten until their incursions into the expanse of the Great Recess grew rare.

It was not to last. A few decades passed and they began to expand out from Matasten.

The general assumption we run into here is that the abductions are to swell the ranks of the darkness – something I don’t think I’ve encountered anywhere else. Daedra are prone to sacrifice those they steal, not attempt to convert them. Whether the Nantese assumption to the contrary is due to special knowledge, some cultural difference, or the result of simple ignorance, I do not know. In either case, the Daedra grew their claim.

Towns and villages were pressed steadily away from the center of the jungle until, eventually, they were forced to run for their lives. The old woman said her family had come straight south to Motasta with thousands of others. But the Sondu would not permit them to enter the city.

Motasta could not handle the population spike, they were told when they arrived. They needed to continue south and find somewhere else. But most refused to carry on. In the Sondu they saw their best chance at safety, and though Motasta was closed off to them they knew that one day they would be permitted in. Years passed, and the Sondu kept the refugees as far from the city as possible. A guard was set along the northern border of Motasta at all times.

If the refugees tried to join nearby villages, they were turned away. When they moved to clear trees and form their own they were run off. Eventually, the people grew sick of being homeless. Then one day their opportunity to alter their circumstances was handed to them.

During a particularly violent rainy season, a torrent unlike any they had ever seen rolled through the region. It collapsed a few buildings and washed massive amounts of debris north. Without exception the guard took shelter, assuming no one would move in the deluge.

The people were ready. In the refuse of the flood they found everything they needed. As the water receded in the night, small houses were raised. There was no time to clear trees or lay foundations, they just built what they could where they were able.

When the morning finally broke through the clouds over Motasta, the guards were greeted with a sight they had never expected. A town had sprung up to the north where nothing but trees had stood the day before. Not just a small village, but a city unto itself. They claimed only bandits and thieves lived there, but no one was confident enough to move against them. By the time action was attempted, Banditown had been born. The sheer mass of the population stood like a rock against the crashing of any wave.

Entry-243-Quote-Banditown

Still, the people are not protected, she said. They are now seen as the buffer between Motasta and the darkness. She asked that we do something, anything to bring about an end to the darkness that plagues them.

Her faith in us, blind as it was, left me somewhat speechless. For a long moment I forgot my sworn place in the world. Forgot that if anyone were to have a chance of upending the Daedric Society here in the Nanten, it was me. I just looked at her, wondering how someone could survive what she had. How anyone could live under the rule of such callous people.

I came to myself and assured her we would do everything we could, but I was left astounded. How can she even hope we are any different when everyone who could have helped her in the past failed to do so? Wasn’t she just warning me against thinking too highly of myself the day before?

Perhaps she doesn’t see us in the same light. Where we might not be so different as rulers, we could serve as fellow outcasts. Let us hope we are not dragged down equally instead.

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Entry 242 – Day 367

Entry 242 – Day 367

Salisir visited the palace this morning and returned with no good news. I would challenge him on the word he bears, but we have no other source by which to test it. We are truly and completely at the disadvantage and we have no choice but to trust him for the time being.

Fodafa has granted us passage into Motasta again, but we are not welcome in the palace. That may not change, Salisir says, until we have earned our way back in.

Dionus almost swept the building from its foundations at that. The fact that he kept his voice low made his anger all the more menacing. “We didn’t do anything wrong.”

“They didn’t,” Salisir gestured at the rest of us. “No. But as far as Fodafa is concerned, the faults of the individual lie with the tribe.”

I mentioned that platitudes weren’t helpful.

“How could they just kill him like that?” Dionus was fuming, his thoughts already returned to the young prostitute. “Not even a trial?”

“You’re in the jungle, boy,” Salisir said. “You should know by now it ain’t home. We do the same thing there anyways, just for different crimes.”

“It’s not a crime.”

“It is here,” Salisir shrugged. “Better get used to that. Find a girl and make pretend, or swear yourself to celibacy. You don’t have any other safe option while the leaves of the Nanten shade you from the sun.”

Dionus moved to the corner and sat with his head bowed. That didn’t keep Salisir from talking. “None of you are safe here. These people are your friends, but you don’t understand them. Assume that you will offend them, and do your best to learn so that you don’t wind up skewered like that boy.”

Balthandar asked Salisir what he could possibly want with us. He had made high claims regarding our usefulness; what were we here to do?

Entry-242-Quote-Pestle

Salisir smiled. That infuriating, arrogant, self-assured smile. “It’s like I said, be the pestle.”

We broke up for the evening then. Salisir won’t go into any great details about his plans with us. Inifra moved to the corner and took Dionus’ hands. She sat with him for a long while; just sitting, staring into his lowered forehead, eventually lowering hers until they touched. I think some small part of him mended tonight thanks to her. Another debt of mine to add to the many she already holds.

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“My people would not act so,” Inifra told me. “Right or wrong, what Dionus did does not deserve such hate.”

She asked what it was like where I was from, and I said it was as I had told Hembila. Men will want what they want, boy or girl, and it is expected that they will take it. It’s only thought unmanly to be passive. Still, it’s not ridiculed any more than the many odd couplings of men and women.

“The Batsu think like you do,” Inifra said. “So I am told. They would be much safer allies for Dionus.”

Another confirmation that we need to head east. Salisir will want us to accomplish something here near Motasta. I want to get as far from the city as we can. The longer we stay, the more likely Dionus becomes a target, and he stands out even more here than he did in the Old Empire. The Batsu held a natural pull for me already in their methods of warfare. If they can provide Dionus with protection, that gives me all the more reason to seek them out. Now to figure out how.

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Entry 241 – Day 366

Entry 241 – Day 366

We continue to observe Wudan and ask him questions when we can. He was so serious in Motasta, but here he has resumed his age. He plays with the other children as if nothing ever happened. As if we didn’t have to kill three Daedra to save him from abduction. It’s amazing how resilient children can be – I wish my own psychological defenses were as good.

Timber refuses to join the other children. She is a woman now. She doesn’t need to say it; she exudes it with every action. I can accept that from her. Let those children who have yet to lose their childhood continue to enjoy it. Build adults out of the rest.

Between my lessons with the sword and Inifra’s own variety, Timber doesn’t have much time to idle away in any case. I saw her draw water from a well this morning. No rope, no bucket, just water moving up and over the edge until she let it drop into a pail on the ground. Wudan was at her side before the first splash. He watched in fascination as she did it again.

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Wudan started asking a flurry of questions which caused her to lose concentration and with it the second batch of water she had drawn up. She snapped at him, and then resumed her attempt in irritated silence. She has a lot to learn, patience as well as concentration.

I watched Wudan. His eyes darted from the water to the well and back to Timber’s hands. He would have reached out to test the air if she hadn’t put the fear in him, but he can see things we only imagine are there – things we trust to follow our instructions but of which we never catch even the slightest glimpse. I have to understand this boy. The keys to so many questions hang from his neck and he doesn’t even know it.

His grandmother is another mystery. She has been watching me closely, and told me what I initially took to be a parable. It feels more ominous upon reflection.

“The Greatest of Trees stood on the slopes of the Morta. A fine hero it was, taller than any of its peers and righteous through each and every ring. In its branches all creatures found life, and in its shade the smallest of saplings grew strong. Then the Great Tree saw a darkness approaching that no other tree could see: the Black Wounds. They poison trees and turn them toxic to the surrounding world. The Great Tree did everything it could to warn its kind, to stave off the coming tide, but the disease swept through nonetheless.”

I asked her if this was the illness we saw in the trees when we first arrived. She shook her head quietly, not in denial but to say that I had missed the point. After a moment’s pause, I asked her what good it was to be the Greatest Tree if in the end it could not save its kind?

“Great good can come from such status, as those who lived in the Great Tree’s boughs long understood. But still, the Greatest of Trees is only a tree. And you are just a man.”

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