Entry 218 – Day 342

Entry 218 – Day 342

Cold cobblestones, isolated from each other by water and blood. Tiny islands glistening in the light of a broken lantern. My breath misting along it all, rasping along my throat. This is not the first time I have been followed, but it is easily the most unnerving. Even considering how close I came to dying in Gromond.

My pack was on the hunt for a Daedric Slick rumored to be hidden within the city limits. It’s illegal in the Old Empire for Daedra to congregate, but urban sprawl is impossible to fully police, so we get intelligence most readily within a city’s boundaries. That’s not to say that finding such places is ever easy.

One thing we’re taught in the Scourge is to assume that no one is going to support our mission. Given the status of the Tetrarch in the Old Empire, many of us found this difficult to believe. Our instructors seemed cynical, and as soon as we were free to pursue our own methods many of us relaxed from our training. We traveled more openly, revealed ourselves for who we were in order to gather better information, and generally didn’t worry about being marked as Tetrarch when on the hunt.

Young pride. We wanted people to know who we were and fear us. Or love us. We simply enjoyed the attention we were given regardless of the emotion behind it.

The lesson was hard-learned.

Corbin, Tyri, Kalin, and Darent. The five of us had been together since the Scourge. We were inseparable. Tyri was like the sister I never had, and the rest like the brothers I always wanted. It’s still painful to think of them. Of all my surviving companions only Dionus knew them personally, so it’s easy to go without speaking of them.

Gromond wasn’t as friendly to us as the villages in which we had begun our careers. None of us had lived in the capital yet. To us, Gromond was immense. It seemed like it would dwarf any existing city.

It was late fall, cold, storming, and we quickly found the task before us to be a daunting one. There were some senior Tetrarch posted in Gromond to whom we were to report. They gave us the contacts they thought we would find most useful and then left us alone. They had other things to attend to and didn’t find our mission particularly compelling. It was the first time we were without direct supervision.

Those contacts they gave us were useless. Only two had any leads of which to speak, both of which proved faulty at best. We were left with the impossible job of digging through an entire metropolis on our own. Gromond is home to an innumerable population. Even if the census puts it over two-hundred-thousand, there is no knowing how many live in the slums at its heart or the shanty towns on its rim. A Slick like the one we were hunting might be hidden anywhere, comprised of as few as twenty people. There were hundreds of thousands in Gromond.

We decided to cast wider nets, asking for help and canvasing the streets. We were not as warmly welcomed as we would have liked. There are mandates from the High King giving the Tetrarch the authority necessary to carry out our duties, but these mandates don’t guarantee popularity. In fact many hate us for it. The reaction to the blue blade of the Tetrarch is warmer in the Nanten than I found it in many places within the Old Empire. This hostility was a fact we knew to expect but didn’t believe until Gromond. We were given bad directions, sent on fool’s errands, and eventually sold out to the very Daedra we were hunting.

Entry-218-Quote-ambush

They followed us for a few days before we knew they were watching. Even realizing they were a step ahead of us, we couldn’t avoid the ambush they set.

It was raining. We were told there was a butcher who had been saving blood and giving it to the priest. We should have known better when we saw the alley. We should have seen just how dark and narrow it was, how dimly the lanterns burned over the doors. We were young and frustrated. I don’t think we truly cared.

We didn’t make it half-way down the alley before they fell upon us. It was a brawl. I was the first to go down with a blow to the head. My pack killed our assailants, but nearly all of us were forced to seek medical attention afterwards. All except one. I remember lying there on my side, watching my blood mingle with the water trickling between the cobblestones. My breath misted over it all.

My precious breath. Head injuries are strange in how they dissociate you from the emotions you would normally feel. Ambushes enrage me, and the sight of my brothers fighting from the disadvantage terrifies me. Yet I could only worry about myself as they fought to protect me. All I could really think about was that it was my blood on those stones. My life leaking away. My breath covering it all.

Two of the Daedra survived. We made them talk. Rather, Corbin made them talk. Corbin was always given to cruelty, but he was exceptionally so to those bastards that day. They killed Tyri. I remember her blond hair matted against her face in the darkness. She died looking into my eyes, but I can’t remember the details. Her face has never been a clear memory for me.

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Corbin never let another woman join our pack after that. Losing her was too painful for him, though I never fully understood his reasoning. He couldn’t do that, of course. The Tetrarch doesn’t differentiate the sexes in service, so Corbin refused any replacements at all. Perhaps he just wanted her seat to remain open forever. I suppose we all mourn in our own ways. We rarely spoke of her in front of him.

We learned from that experience. We hid ourselves, even in friendly company. We covered the blade on our armor unless necessity drove us to reveal it. We paid for silence from our contacts and we killed those who couldn’t be bought. We were hardened in Gromond in a way that was invaluable, but at unbearable cost.

The Nanten poses the same threat, but we don’t fully understand its mechanics. We have discovered friends in this place, but we don’t know how deep that friendship runs. Now that we are certain we are being followed, we don’t know to whom we could reach out, nor how to try and nip the inevitable ambush in the bud.

Perhaps we will be lucky and incur no such violence. My gut tells me that is wishful thinking.

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Entry 219 – Day 343

Entry 219 – Day 343

Balthandar got shot in the early afternoon. An arrow took him in the shoulder from behind. Dionus knocked three more from the air, then silence. We never heard another sound, nor saw who loosed on us. Ghosts. The Latala.

Whoever they are, they’re deadly. Why they show restraint is the question, but we have altered our course a little more to the south in hopes that we can evade them. Perhaps it is a futile gesture, but we must try something. We stopped early to allow Balthandar to rest. He says he has taken more arrows over eight months in the Nanten than his entire career as a warrior and bodyguard.

Entry-219-Quote-vulnerable

I’m left on edge, and Dionus has not stopped searching for signs of assailants. If they can sneak up and fire upon us at will, we are far more vulnerable than we thought. How close to us can they get undetected? We will not sleep well tonight.

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Entry 220 – Day 345

Entry 220 – Day 345

They took us completely by surprise. We could have recovered, but they have a suppression relic unlike any I have ever seen before. Balthandar and I were on watch when something thunked into the ground between us. It looked like a dagger. Its hilt was thick enough to be a spear, the tip of which glowed like fire caught in a gemstone. Instantly I could feel it. Something was wrong.

Nets fell as we scrambled to our feet. Heavy nets. Dionus awoke and tried to lash out, but nothing happened. I couldn’t get my sword untangled before they were upon us, striking and knocking us to the ground. I tried to shift time but there was no response; we were completely cut off from the Atmosphere. There was no power upon which to draw, like trying to use a limb only to discover it dismembered.

Once they disarmed us and bound our arms, they set us aright and began the march. They were silent and difficult to see in the dark, so there was no telling their numbers. They didn’t respond to any of our questions, but their guidance was sure. We didn’t stumble once.

We marched for a few hours before they sat us down together in the darkness and disappeared. Still they remained close, as did the relic. We were unable to move on our own and removed from our power. There was nothing to do but sleep, so sleep we did. If they wanted us dead, there was nothing we could do in any case.

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They marched us all the next day. Their faces are stern, with hardened features and long narrow noses. Their dark skin is lightened subtly by a blue paint. The designs are reminiscent of the KoraKora, a fact that caused me no small distress upon seeing them. But they remain gentle with us, if stern. They continued on the same path we would have chosen for ourselves before having been spooked to the south.

I remain ill at ease, but our reception by their leader was disarming. We arrived in their camp late in the evening and he made certain we were well fed before sending us to sleep on thick mats of grass. They didn’t unbind us last night, but they were kind.

They remained silent at all times; that, along with the paint, maintained their ominous force of presence. The next day they marched us again, moving as quickly as we might on our own. Sometime in the afternoon one of them cut our bonds, eyebrow raised to remind us not to take advantage. It was tempting, but we were outnumbered. And that blasted relic was ever present. I believe there may have been more than one, but I couldn’t tell.

We made camp tonight and they wove fresh grass mats for us. They still refuse to talk, and it’s clear we remain their prisoners, but I don’t know what to make of it. Are they delivering us to someone? The fletching of their arrows marks them as the ones who shot Balthandar the other day, but they show no intent to harm us now.

They have disappeared into the darkness again, but they have permitted us a fire. We too remain silent now, afraid of what they might understand. We will do our best to come up with a plan without speaking, but so long as their numbers remain a mystery and that relic close by, we are at a grave disadvantage.

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Entry 221 – Day 346

Entry 221 – Day 346

We march with the Latala. They are lethal; it’s clear in the way they carry themselves. Each of them has bloodied his or her hands; the lingering presence of death is visible in their eyes. They’re killers, all of them, perhaps even moreso than we. They come and go from the trees like wraiths of the Deadwood. Silent, intent, and dangerous. It is rare to see one for more than an hour, and I’ve only seen each once or twice. There must be dozens traveling with us.

There are always six within reach of us. Our packs and our weapons, however, are carried out of sight. We only get our gear back at the end of each march, and our weapons have remained hidden since they took us. They are cautious. I would go so far as to call them professional.

Their leader is only marked by his bearing. The others treat him with respect, but he seems to accord himself no real honors or privileges. We only see him in camp, and only for a few minutes before he disappears into the night. He seems to want to assure himself of our condition before retiring.

Entry-221-march with the Latala

My mind is awash with possibilities. They could very easily be taking us to some Daedric post to trade or sell us. They might be working for one of the three nations Salisir told us about, and perhaps they are bringing us in as mercenaries. They obviously knew we were Expressionists, and perhaps the arrows were a test to see of what sort we were.

They could be taking us for some purpose of their own. The villagers we met some weeks ago described them as nationless, between the light and the dark. If they’re independent, then, what can we expect from them? Perhaps their true leaders have hopes to use us for their own war. Perhaps they have their own purpose for our blood.

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Gront the Titan was right; we are too dangerous for this place. Our very presence might sway balances we don’t understand in ways we cannot control. We are cards to be played from a deck that is unbalanced at best. I have never felt so completely like an asset to be traded as I do right now.

If we are lucky enough to be traded and not killed or eaten.

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Entry 222 – Day 347

Entry 222 – Day 347

The motives and sympathies of the Latala remain an undiscernible secret. They have bound us again, though we don’t know why, and they no longer withdraw entirely from us at nightfall. We were freed to eat in camp, but I have a feeling that as soon as I put down my pen I will be tied again.

All the more reason to write for a while.

Oddly, I can’t think of what to put down. The paper is blank and refuses to change.

What awaits us at the end of this march? Why do we continue east as we had intended all along? I wish I had my sword close by. I don’t think it would be wise to try our luck against the Latala in our current condition, but it would bring me comfort to rest my hand on the hilt.

Bitterness. Perhaps that’s what keeps my mind blank. There is so much upon which to reflect, from interacting with a Titan to the very real probability that there is a Daedric society mere leagues from us tonight. There are mysteries to unravel and dangers aplenty, yet I find myself dwelling on my pack. My ‘brothers.’ The men who watched me enter my exile and spared not a breath to oppose it.

I suppose I cannot blame them. I was a pariah to the Tetrarch, and their association with me was strong enough as it was. We fought and bled together for over a decade. I suppose I expected more protection from them. Together we functioned as a more cohesive whole than any other team I’ve been a part of. Even Dionus and Balthandar cannot hope to understand my thoughts as they once did.

We were a single fighting organism, alive and growing on the deaths of our enemies. We shared something special. There’s a reason we were regularly stationed in Sterling. If it wasn’t for our proficiency we would never have stayed, and I would never have met you. Had I not met you, I would not have had the opportunity to teach you what I was able.

Entry-222-Quote-Slience

Had I not come to love and befriend you, Marsuvius, I would not have been so disappointed when you too remained silent at my sentencing.

I have been so thoroughly abandoned.

Even if Dionus or Balthandar never congeal with me into the whole I once knew, they have one thing over every other person I have ever known. They have taken my death upon their own shoulders and are carrying my burden where no other dared. They are the truest friends I could ever hope to have.

I hope we make it out of this alive.

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Entry 223 – Day 348

Entry 223 – Day 348

The Latala have been run off, yet I am not so certain we are rescued. We seem to have exchanged one set of captors for another.

A patrol from Motasta found us this morning, led by the second brother of the Sondu family: Hembila. The Latala must have known they were coming, which made sudden sense of why they had resumed binding us. They made us run before we knew what was happening in an attempt to escape. Some stayed behind to act as a rearguard and skirmished with the approaching Motastans, but we only found out about that later.

Hembila Sondu led a flanking maneuver that headed us off. The Latala attempted to scatter us, but the Motastans were too numerous to be so easily circumvented. Rather than fight, the Latala fled, leaving us to our fate with the Motastans. They took their suppression relic with them. The relief that flooded into me with the return of the Atmosphere was like water sating a week-long thirst. It left me tingling for hours.

Hembila is spear-shaft straight. His bearing is righteous, but not nearly as condescending as one might expect from such a description. His men show him great deference, and he spoke kindly to us in the common tongue – which he speaks very well.

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We told him we were trying to reach the Batsu. He recognized the blue blade on my armor and asked why we were not with Salisir. Was he not our friend? We were on a different path, I told him, but our goals are shared. He nodded, then told us he was obliged to refuse our passage. I think we all bristled visibly at that because he put up his hand to ask for patience.

“There are dark excursions to the east,” he said. “They come south from Matasten with impunity. We came north to disrupt them, but we fear their activity this deep into our territory means they have found Expressionists we were unable to bring safely to Motasta. It is impossible to pass safely east. We have given up on traveling there ourselves, for their numbers are far greater than we have seen in a very long time. You are very lucky we stumbled upon you.”

When he asked what the Latala wanted with us we were forced to admit we didn’t know. His men found our packs and weapons nearby, which they returned to us, and then Hembila asked that we accompany them to Motasta. I asked him what choice we had in the matter.

He was very cautious in his answer, which he gave after a moment of deliberation. “I only ask that you meet my brother, Fodafa. His goals are much the same as yours, I am sure, and he would expect you visit him if you pass through his land. He is the rightful heir to the Oaken Throne and king of all this land. If, once you have spoken to him, you find your path leads you on, you may pass in peace.”

I agreed, mostly because to refuse was to fight, and to fight was to ruin a potential alliance. They are not who we wish to befriend, but we cannot so quickly dismiss potential friends in the Nanten. Over everything else, I simply do not want to fall back into Salisir’s plans. I also fear that these men will attempt to use us to their own ends.

Perhaps we can use them first.

We begin our final march to Motasta tomorrow. Let us hope we can leave in peace from there.

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Entry 224 – Day 349

Entry 224 – Day 349

Hembila is surprisingly well educated. He walked with me all day, and though no conversation was forced I found myself falling easily into it with him. He is regal in his bearing. He tells us that their family is the direct line of the Arbor Kings of old. The Sondu made Matasten the Sapphire City, and he intends to see it restored to that glory under his brother’s reign.

I asked about his reference to the Oaken Throne yesterday. Salisir was the first person from whom I had heard such a name. I told him I had seen no oak of which to speak in the Nanten.

Entry-224-Quote-Hembila

“That is why it is so valuable. The largest oak in all the world was found in the forests of Ba’hral, carved into a throne of one solid piece, and given to our forebears as a gift from the Prince of Ba’hrain. Soft wood is invaluable in the Nanten. Why do you think we build little from wood, but prefer clay, bamboo, or stone? These trees are difficult to fell and impossible to mill. Some of their branches are used to make canoes, musical instruments, or even works of art. But to build an entire house from this wood? It is simply not done, nor is it worth the effort.”

I hadn’t really thought about that. I told him that wood is ubiquitous in the villages of the Old Empire, but that much of the cities there are made of stone as well. What I found lacking in the Nanten, I ventured, were roads.

“Roads kill everything underfoot. They are a way of destroying for the sake of convenience. Perhaps this jungle makes for slower travel, but nothing needs to die so that we might pass.”

Since we are to meet his brother, I asked what we should expect him to ask of us.

“My brother’s plans are his to disclose, but he will listen to you. I hope he does, for he listens too closely to this Salisir and, like you, I do not trust him.”

“We’ve been told his is not the only claim to the Oaken Throne,” Dionus said.

“His is the only legitimate claim, and you would do well to remember this when speaking with him. My brother is a good man, but he is proud. These usurpers are a source of anger for him. We will unite the kingdom again, but for that to come to pass there will be blood spilled on both sides. It is the way of civil union forged from the ruins of war. No one will exit this generation with clean hands, but we can protect the consciences of our children.”

We will have to keep that in mind for when our plans to visit the Batsu are revealed to Fodafa. The players in this game are as ruthless as Salisir led me to believe. I only hope he knows what he is doing in putting his hopes behind the people of Motasta. I found it reassuring that Hembila doesn’t trust Salisir either, but wonder what that means for us. Suddenly I want to earn Hembila’s trust myself, especially if Salisir never did.

Entry-224-Hembila

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