Entry 233 – Day 358

Entry 233 – Day 358

I know we are drawing near Motasta because I have never seen so many villages so close together within the Nanten. It started with smaller encampments this morning, but the farther we go the more organized each habitat becomes. The people living here do not flee but come out of their homes to watch us. They are curious to see Imperials, but they are not afraid.

Most recognize Hembila and smile or bow as he passes. It is so strange to see the people react to us like this. Is it because of Hembila and his men, or because they truly feel safe in this part of the jungle?

The first settlements we encountered were separated by notable distances. We only saw a few in the morning but by the afternoon we were stumbling across a few every hour.

The people here seem much healthier than what I’ve come to expect from the Nantese. With the exception of Graylag or Zorga’s fortress, they have better food and more of it than anyone else we have encountered thus far. Hembila walks a little taller here. He seems to be a man who does not put on airs, which makes me think that perhaps it is simple pride at returning home that makes him stand a bit straighter.

Dionus has expressed his own pleasure at being close to a city again. I think we all associate cities with a level of safety. And food. There were so many good smells as we walked among the villages today. It felt like an endless sea of cooking fires. It’s difficult to believe that the city could be so large as to have such a dispersed outlying population. I look forward to finally seeing Motasta. There will be a lot to learn here. Everything is about to change.

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Entry 232 – Day 357

Entry 232 – Day 357

One benefit to being held captive is that we don’t have to worry about keeping watch. I’ve slept more in the last few days than I’ve been able in a while. Unfortunately, Balthandar is not as at ease with our situation as Dionus and I have become. He keeps watch over me like any one of our captors might be an assassin in disguise.

It’s comforting to have such a vigilant friend to keep watch over me, but it leaves me with some anxiety. One way or another, one of us is off-base. Should I be more concerned? Perhaps one of these men will kill me, but I find that highly unlikely. Why would they? The Nantese have proven over and over again that they are hospitable to a fault. Even though they have taken us against our will, they have explained themselves and offered to help us in exchange for our compliance.

It’s not ideal, but it is far from being held hostage.

What harm will this do to Balthandar? It isn’t good for him to sacrifice sleep to keep me safe when there are no clear dangers. We may be relatively safe within this troop of Natnese warriors, but he is right that we need to remain sharp. Maybe it’s his training. Balthandar was a bodyguard for the most valued members of his royal family. Perhaps his vigil cannot end until we are safely away from the Nanten.

If that’s the case, I fear he will never find rest again.

Entry-232-Quote-Vigil

Dionus keeps his eyes out during the day, but his awareness is far more analytical. His opinion is that these warriors around us are the closest thing to regular troops we have seen within the Nanten. I’m inclined to agree.

He pointed out that there is a strict pattern to their weaving through the trees. He would notice the patterns of a patrol. I often forget he’s an assassin at heart.

Our escort, for that is what I prefer to think of them as, sets itself on an interwoven pattern so that each member works his way to the outside of the formation as he moves through the trees, and then back again to the inside. Thus the warriors that come around the trees alongside us are different every time, but eventually cycle back. And we always see the same sets of warriors reappear together.

Their squads thus seem to expand away from us then collapse back in as we move. I suppose this is an effective way of keeping a watch on the perimeter while checking regularly to ensure that no one is lost. It displays a capacity for strategy but, more importantly, it shows discipline.

I asked Hembila about it when we made camp for the night. He says it is a standard tactic for keeping watch on the move, though he admitted it was advanced. I asked him where they learned it and he said he came up with it on his own. He got tired of losing men on the outskirts of his parties as they moved, only to discover they had wandered off or been killed hours later when they stopped to rest.

This way, he says, they know within minutes if someone is missing. He figures it has saved dozens of lives.

I find more reasons to be impressed with Hembila every day we move together. It builds my faith that he will hold to his word and let us carry on after we have met with his brother. I only hope Fodafa is as trustworthy.

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Entry 231 – Day 356

Entry 231 – Day 356

I had a nightmare last night – a rarity for me lately. That young man we saw eaten by the KoraKora so long ago. We could have done something to save him, but instead we sat by and watched as he was torn to pieces. The weight of the dream is different now than it has been in the past. I’m no longer plagued by guilt for not having acted, but am impressed with the urgency of helping those who still live in this jungle.

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Balthandar has been tense since we were taken captive. Unlike Dionus and me, he has remained so even as we have begun befriending the Sondu. His distrust of the Nantese persists. I thought he had warmed more towards them after our time with Inifra and Timber, but I suppose I was wrong. Being held captive will certainly have its effects.

Hembila has begun preparing me to meet his brother in earnest. The Sondu family is old, far older than I had assumed possible in a place like the Nanten. According to Hembila, the Sondu sat the Oaken Throne for over three hundred years. In fact, there was no Oaken Throne when his forebears first took power. He told me of their glory days, how the kingdom soared when trade opened to the wider world, and the Sondu declined into corruption and greed.

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That greed is what led to the implosion of the Nanten Kingdom. He said there was little else to blame. He even claimed the Great Recess was a direct result of the kleptocracy that formed in Matasten. He told me that this devolution was important to understand because it defined his brother now. There was great shame carried by the Sondu for the self-destruction that laid their kingdom low.

Fodafa, he told me, carries the guilt of his entire family. The only way Fodafa’s conscience will ever be cleansed is when he sits atop the Oaken Throne and declares peace across the land. Only then, when his officials stand upright and his edicts are heeded, only then will his conscience be put at ease.

Hembila told me I need to understand this because the weight on Fodafa’s shoulders is greater than any I would otherwise anticipate. He is not only trying to rule his people, but to redeem them by restoring a kingdom his great grandfather lost to his own greed. Fodafa is a proud man, but his rigidity is driven by expectations on himself before all others.

I can respect all of that. I too am seeking redemption in saving the Nanten Kingdom. What I find difficult is knowing I will have to kneel to this man. I suppose that is my own pride in action.

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Entry 230 – Day 355

Entry 230 – Day 355

What is Salisir planning? Hembila obviously distrusts my old instructor and is suspicious of what he plans for his brother. He is a noble savage if ever there was one. What an oxymoron… I never realized until just now how foolish it is to say such a thing. How can someone be both noble and savage?

I want to see Motasta now, nearly as much as I want to see Matasten. We are mere days from reaching it.

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What if we can help these people unite? What if, together, we can dismantle this Daedric society and unseat the would-be Arbor King at its heart? If I can do that, if I can bring a people, ignorant of the threat they face, and raise them to the level necessary to confront this challenge, I will have learned invaluable lessons.

Lessons that could earn me passage home.

I could redeem myself.

If the rest of the Sondu are as wise and noble as Hembila, then perhaps they will be of more help than I initially believed. Salisir wanted to bridge the gaps between the three remaining nations of the Nanten. I think I can help him do that.

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Entry 229 – Day 354

Entry 229 – Day 354

Hembila asked me about “the darkness” today. He says that Salisir has woven a tale of fear around his brother and he wants to know what I believe. I had to explain the dangers of Daedric society and my concern that an ascension might be possible. Salisir did make it sound probable.

He asked how we could know whether or not one would happen and I had to confess that there was never any real certainty. History obscures many facts surrounding all Seven that Have Come. No one knows exactly what it takes to enact an ascension.

Why, if the threat was so great, had he never heard of such danger? He had great teachers, and though they had spoken of Demons they had never told him to be wary of them. In fact they were treated as a distant threat from an ancient time.

I explained that even in the country I call home, belief in Demons wanes with time. The Tetrarch exist to subvert and destroy them, but we also maintain vigilance where others would forget. We are the watch ringing the camp of humanity. We are the beacon on the mountain side.

Many disbelieve the idea of Demons. Daedric society is seen as a cult, yes, but one whose beliefs are tragically misguided. Their crimes are well documented, but the idea that they could somehow call ultimate destruction down on the world at large is actually ridiculed by many. The only reason the Tetrarch continues to hold the place it does in the Old Empire is because the ruling classes are so well educated.

The fact that the Temple still holds sway helps, even if they begrudge our standing. I didn’t share this with Hembila, but upon reflection it seems odd to me that the Temple still maintains the relevance it does after the fall of the Holy Second Empire. I suppose the rise of the Tetrarch demonstrates that they are not as influential as I have always given them credit. Odd that I should have always thought them a threat when in reality they are most likely impotent to harm us.

Entry-229-Quote-Enemies

But again, shared goals can make uneasy friends out of bitter enemies. No one wants to see what would happen if a Demon achieved its aims.

As for Hembila, I tried to explain it with an illustration of clean water. The village we visited when we first entered the Great Recess was suffering from corrupted drinking water. He agreed that this was a common problem, and with a little probing said that though the solutions might be simple, they were often difficult to implement. People might suffer far less if only they would put a little effort into how and where they gathered their water.

Foresight may provide the information necessary for preparation, I said, but never the motivation. As frustrating as it may be, knowledge is rarely enough. A threat looming beyond the horizon is never as potent as one that can be seen above it.

In the same way, the Tetrarch finds itself constantly embattled with the convenience and comfort of ignorance. It is easier to live one’s life as if there were no danger than to be vigilant for years on end. Daily life is difficult enough already without introducing thoughts of the end of the world.

There used to be more attempts at education, but every initiative at outreach to the people coincided with a rise in Daedric activity. Whether they had more opportunity to flourish while our attention was drawn elsewhere, or the education itself drummed up more converts in a twist of dark irony, it was decided that these initiatives should be brought to a close. That was well before my time. I was raised in a generation that was given little encouragement to educate those we were ultimately protecting. We were taught to hunt and kill Daedra. That was all. We were good at it.

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But we were taught to ignore the plight of those we were to protect as well. That is what the Nanten has revealed to me to be an even bigger error. Demons are not something active in the mind of the public because there are more pressing matters before them. Where will their next meal come from? Who will protect them from those who would rob them? Who will avenge them on those who already have?

In order to create a vigilant civilization, one must create a just civilization. A safe one. Perhaps then the greater issues might be brought to bear on the minds of the people.

In any case, people are unlikely to act until they realize their peril. Until they feel it. In the case of water, they don’t seek solutions until they are sick. In the case of Demons, it is often far too late to do anything once the danger is apparent. Thus the need for vigilance. Thus the need for the Tetrarch.

Perhaps, I told Hembila, that is why I was sent. Perhaps I am here to raise the alarm before it is too late.

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Entry 228 – Day 353

Entry 228 – Day 353

Will I ever learn anything new? It’s a strange question but one that has followed me through the day. Who will teach me?

Years before my exile I reached a place where I could learn little from any swordsman in Sterling, let alone Silver Hall or any other corner of the Eight Kingdoms. While the Chief of the KoraKora demonstrated that I am not alone in my level of skill, even he had nothing to teach me in the end. Had I not been wounded and exhausted from fighting all day, I would have had the edge.

The Tetrarch gave me every opportunity to learn the varied methods of the world. The dances and the exercises. It took me decades, but over time they all blended together into a singular skillset. My skillset.

Now I am left wondering if I will ever expand it again. It’s so gray to think I won’t – the threat of boredom is high enough as it is in a place where so few use swords. Hembila’s men prefer spears and daggers. Arrows are as common. Hembila himself carries a sword, but I have yet to see him draw it. It makes me wonder if they are nothing but a badge of rank to the Nantese. A sign of wealth or power.

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The final step for me would have been to learn a Great Swordskill. Perhaps I would have been lucky enough to learn two in my lifetime. Some say there are ten, others twelve, but only a few men throughout history have learned that many.

The Swordskills are ancient. It’s said they were created for humans who had no touch with the Atmosphere – great warriors who guarded the Ancients. They are said to do any number of things, though it is impossible to know which could be real. The one name that comes to mind is Nightblade.

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Nightblade is a skill that, when enacted, creates a second blade of ethereal blue to follow the user’s sword at a slight delay. Its strike is said to be twice as powerful as the initial blow, and it costs the user nothing save a slight risk that he might shatter his blade.

Harold Grimwald, one of the old Chaplains, was said to know one or two Swordskills. The High King’s guard are all said to have one of their own. Within the Tetrarch it’s said the current Master Shadow knows a few herself. They’re old secrets, ones that few share and fewer seem to discover. I’m sure some must be written down somewhere, but it leaves me wondering how they work at all.

Perhaps if I ever make it home I’ll be able to find a mentor. I want to learn one of those skills as much as I want to return to the Old Empire. Perhaps even more.

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Entry 227 – Day 352

Entry 227 – Day 352

Salisir. It’s strange how we never stop being ourselves. Someone you love dies and it feels like the world should stop and take silent notice, yet it clamors endlessly on. You accomplish your greatest goal and the joy of the moment slips through your fingers until all you hold is normalcy. And how bland, how bitter the norm can feel in those moments. I was sent here to die, but at least I was given the goal of finding Salisir. A goal I never thought I would accomplish. If he hadn’t died already, I always figured I would in the meantime.

How quickly after finding him did my life regain its normal tempo. Even if I were to have stayed close to him, the profundity of finding him would have worn off. There was bitterness, fear even, but all of that would have ground down to the regular throb of pain that is life in the Nanten. If we see him again, we need to learn what we can from him. It’s funny how little I want revenge any more.

Why is that? I’ve hated him all my life. I hate him now. I suppose I see just how petty that hatred really was, even if it was merited. It was a child’s hatred. Even if he almost killed me, I’ve come closer to death a dozen times since. Even if he beat me, intimidated me, and abused me – I’ve had worse. Perhaps he served as the gateway into the life I would choose. I may hate him for it, but he no longer holds such an isolated place in my mind. He’s not so special as to inhabit that space any longer.

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Seeing him angered me because I had built him up to be some sort of superhuman monster. But he’s not. He’s a broken old man, strong as he may be. Perhaps that’s where my sense of shame comes from too: realizing that I have feared someone so incredibly human all this time. It’s amazing how convoluted emotions can get when facing the past made flesh.

If I face him again, and I expect I should, I will do my best to overcome all this. It’s easy at a distance. Let’s see how I do in person.

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