Entry 262 – Day 397

Entry 262 – Day 397

Whatever we have unlocked in Wudan has set him alight like a beacon. I sensed it in the moments where he did not actively mute his power. I know it now because we have been attacked at last by Daedric followers as we marched.

Bastards. I can’t write of them without spitting. It’s amazing the bile that rises at the back of my throat to think of them. So long removed from my duties as a Tetrarch, and still the old hatred burns deep. There is nothing in this world I hate more. Not even Salisir.

They rolled into our camp like a wave, black floodwaters on the tides of death’s call. There must have been over a hundred. Hembila’s men on our northern flank died well, but they died fast. The Daedra didn’t quest, they didn’t search or spread out. They made immediately for Wudan as if they could see him through the very trunks of the trees.

We launched ourselves into them, breaking their flow and forcing them around us. Hembila appeared in our midst, swinging the blade from his hip with roaring ferocity. It was too little too late. We had been taken completely by surprise. Then, almost to a man, the Daedric followers staggered. Some fell. All of them gaped at us, mouths searching, gasping as if there was no air for them to breathe.

I looked back. Wudan held Dionus’ hand, the latter’s eyes lost behind a white hot glow of power. Slowly, each and every Daedric follower who had not fallen to our blades collapsed choking on Dionus’ will. A number of Hembila’s men wrestled themselves free of the Daedra as they died, including Kodara who struggled to unclasp a Daedra’s hands from his throat.

All eyes turned to Dionus. Slowly he came back to himself as the final wheezing breaths extinguished themselves around us. He blinked away the glow in his eyes, pupils drinking the power down like a vortex, then smiled at Wudan who was grinning uncertainly.

“I can separate the elements that make up the air,” he said so matter-of-factly that I wanted to laugh. “I’d never seen them so clearly before as to name them, but now I can reach out and touch each on its own.”

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The humor left me quickly enough. This boy, Wudan, he is too powerful to be allowed to fall into the hands of the Daedra. Where our presence might alter the course of the battles that are to come, his might alter the very course of history. We cannot afford to lose him, yet I dare not think of what must be done should that possibility arise.

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Entry 263 – Day 398

Entry 263 – Day 398

Over half of Hembila’s men are gone, and those who remain have lost their taste for injuring Dionus. Most appear to fear him, though some have come so far around as to show him small signs of respect. I can only hope this trend continues. Kodara sulks, massaging the bruises around his throat and watching us from a distance. He reminds me far too much of Starlark in his final days.

Dionus explained that he can see the actual composition of the elements that make up the air, though it loses clarity when Wudan is not empowering him. When he can see them clearly, he can separate them. That was how he killed the Daedra – he removed the oxygen from the air immediately around each of their heads.

A man can’t draw much air into his lungs, he said, so it didn’t require much to drown them standing. There was an evil twinkle in his eye when he said it. I’m glad to know the killer is alive and well in my friend. We have many more Daedra to suffocate if we are to topple the darkened kingdom. I only hope we can replace it with something bright.

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Hembila has made his peace with Dionus. Though it was formal, rigid, it was a good step in the direction of reconciliation. I can see now how Dionus’ plan to win our escorts over has been laid out. Through his patient suffering of their petty injustice, he has left the door wide open to restoration.

Hembila’s willingness to begin that process will hopefully lead the rest to follow.

Wudan was very clearly exhausted today. We have pushed him too far, though he would continue his training with us if we would let him. He has that blindness to limitation that only the young can fully master. Both for his sake, and to keep from drawing attention, we have asked him to minimize his touch on the Atmosphere as much as possible. We need to get into safer territory.

There were over one hundred Daedra that attacked us yesterday. One hundred. I’ve killed entire sects that were half as big. It’s difficult to wrap my mind around the idea that this is not only not an entire following, but only a minute fraction of a significantly larger one.

Their skin was blackened far more than I’ve ever seen as well. While their coloring was dark to begin with, the open sores and black wounds around them were far more pervasive than I had seen at that scale. Usually priests and the more dedicated followers succumb to the corruption of their arts in some small measures. It’s not uncommon to find what appears to be charred flesh lining their backs and necks in long streaks. But to see it on the hands and faces of a hundred men and women… I don’t know what to make of it.

Part of Wudan’s exhaustion was the result of Dionus’ pull through him. Conversely, Dionus felt invigorated by the experience, filled up. It would seem the price was paid entirely on Wudan’s account. He is too young for this, his body too frail. We have to be extremely careful what we permit him to do until he has grown some more, or until we better understand how to mitigate the cost.

It’s said that expressionists fray; in one way or another they come apart in time. Different expressions exact different costs on the user; some will destroy a person more quickly than others. A few, like the Wind, only threaten the life of the user should they succumb to the joys of their power.

Wudan’s touch is much more foundational than all with which we have ever come into contact. Where Dionus and I serve as bridges to certain specific aspects of the power that is available in the world, Wudan is himself nothing if not a conduit. Where the Atmosphere funnels itself through small openings into us, it flows through Wudan so completely as to consume him.

I wish we had Gront here to give us insight. We need a Titan’s understanding of the world around us if we are to properly guide Wudan. If we are to keep him from being destroyed by his very self.

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Entry 264 – Day 389

Entry 264 – Day 389

Hembila has picked up the pace of our march to the point that we are nearly running. His men on the perimeter killed a Daedric scout in the night, proving we are yet pursued.

My uncertainty at this point is how we will find refuge, even should we reach the Batsu. Are they so strong as to keep the dark tide at bay? Will they have a way to secret Wudan away long enough for the Daedra to lose his trail? I hate being pursued like this.

Wudan is recovering well, his usual levity returned to him today, but I can see the weariness that remains in him. It’s good to know he can bounce back, but what was the long-term effect of his exertion?

If only we could move more quickly. I muttered a curse under my breath today and said that if we restore the Nanten Kingdom, I expect them to build some roads. They don’t have to name one after me, just building them would be tribute enough.

Salisir overheard that and stepped up to walk alongside me for a moment. “Have you ever heard the maxim that you can always judge a nation by the state of its roads?”

“By that metric,” I said, “The Nanten barely qualifies.”

He nodded quietly. “Did you know that before the fall, and all of this went sideways, they used the waterways that crisscross this place? You’ve seen how far they reach; the jungle is covered in them. No map I’ve seen comes close to displaying them accurately, as I’m sure you know now all too well by now. They had no real need of roads; they could get all of their trade and transport done without them.”

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I’ll admit I didn’t get his point. “Then roads don’t really stand as a very good measurement, do they?”

“You’re failing to see the ingenuity, the spirit behind it. There are a lot of hard workers here, but they don’t work at what they don’t have to. You’ve come to love the Nantese, yes. I can see that. But you have yet to learn to respect them for who they are. If you continue to stand them against rules that don’t apply, then they’ll never measure up to much. And that is why you will continue to underestimate them: You don’t understand them.”

I had to chew on that for the rest of the day. I’m afraid it’s true, as little as I want to admit that Salisir was right. I look at the Nantese and I continue to place expectations on them that may not be fair. That come from the wrong angle.

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I can’t admit this openly, but perhaps Salisir truly does have more to teach me than the Great SwordSkills he hordes. I need to earn those from him, just as it would appear I need to work to better understand the Nantese.

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Entry 265 – Day 390

Entry 265 – Day 390

Wudan has been taken by the Daedra. We are in pursuit.

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The bastards struck so quickly we didn’t have time to react. They came in the night, bursting into our camp with reckless abandon. We killed a dozen or so in the confusion, but when they withdrew they had Wudan with them.

Thankfully Hembila’s men are excellent trackers. There was no resistance in getting them to take up the chase; they know just how dangerous leaving Wudan to these monsters would be. We have pursued the Daedra through the day and have only paused to eat a quick meal. Our only meal of the day. We are entering uneven territory, rockier than we have encountered anywhere outside of the Broken Circle.

I need to pack my journal back up. We need to get Wudan back.

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Entry 266 – Day 391

Entry 266 – Day 391

We have tracked Wudan’s captors to the opening of a narrow cave. It delves into the ground next to a broad lake and quickly turns out of sight below. The rocks within look loose and the boulders large enough to hide two men behind each. We do not know what awaits us within, but we have no time to debate. We are taking one final meal in the light of day.

Hembila is making his men pare down their gear and leave the majority of the baggage behind with a small guard. As for my companions and I, we will leave some things behind but will carry most of our own possessions with us. I don’t know where we will end up, nor how far this cave will take us, and would rather keep my things with me.

I do not want to go underground, but we have no choice. If we let the Daedra escape with Wudan, the consequences could be of the ultimate variety. We must get him back, whatever horrors the darkness beneath us holds.

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Entry 267 – Day 395

Entry 267 – Day 395

My head aches from the light of day. Even the gloom of the Nanten seems overbright after three long days in utter darkness.

The opening of the cave was rough, and difficult to navigate for the first few minutes. We were assailed almost immediately. An ambush was set just around the initial bend, arrows flying from dark to dark. A few light injuries were sustained, only one of Hembila’s men was forced to turn back from his wounds. But these skirmishes in the dark would only intensify.

The ground grew stable and flat after an hour or two of moving downward. At least, it seemed like hours. Time lost all sense of meaning in the perpetual darkness of the tunnels. We fought the urge to light torches, fearing that we would only be easier targets as we pursued the Daedra. The cave was made to appear natural at the entrance, but the tunnel is clearly manmade. Otherwise we would not have come so far in such a short span of time.

Various traps were laid for us, some intended to break legs and others to impale us on spikes hidden by nothing but the darkness. In our blindness, we lost a few more men to these traps as we moved. Each served to slow us momentarily, but the threat of losing Wudan pushed us to move faster.

Eventually torches were required. We made up a lot of lost time, but stumbled into another ambush for it a day into our pursuit. That one was bloody. The Daedra put their force into stopping us, leaving fifty followers behind to stand in our way. The initial fight came from the walls where they had hidden themselves in shadowed cracks. They launched themselves at us as soon as we were surrounded.

They wrestled half of Hembila’s remaining force to the ground. A number of torches sputtered out as we struggled to survive, stabbing and strangling in the deep shadows. Just as we gained the upper hand, our assailants thrashing in their throes, a wall of Daedric followers appeared in the dying light. They hissed and rushed forward.

Dionus was constrained in the narrow space, and though I was tempted to shift I could not see to what end. We fought, our weapons stone and floor as much as sword or spear. They snarled, biting and clawing more than they fought with their daggers.

A desperate age passed in those tunnels, punctuated with the screams of the dying and the fear that only fighting blind can produce. I have never felt such terror.

When all was said and done, only Hembila and three of his men remained alive, along with my companions, Salisir, and Inifra. Timber had been left with the baggage, thank the gods. We reclaimed our torches and lit them. None of us looked at the floor any more than was necessary to move on from that place. I pray it is buried and forever forgotten.

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The pursuit from then on was uninhibited, though we were hobbled by our injuries. We felt Wudan’s call, his touch on the Atmosphere shot down the tunnel and rocked us more than once. We pressed on, finally catching them up as the tunnel began to slope to the gloom above. Wudan was holding them back as if by force of will, he had figured out how to focus his call, how to send the Atmosphere broiling through his captors. All four of them were struggling to move him up the slope as if it were the snowy peak of a mountain.

We didn’t feel the force of it ourselves until we closed on them; Wudan had contained his fury within a bubble formed by a vacuum in the Atmosphere. We ran through that gap and suddenly were struck by Wudan’s power like walking into a headwind. Wudan saw us then and relaxed his attack. The men lurched upright, dazed and unable to focus on the world around them. We slaughtered them then and rolled their bodies back into the cave.

Wudan is safe, though he is completely spent. We cannot move him yet. Balthandar could barely find a pulse, and his breath offers only the scarcest fog on the flat of a knife. We were able to build a litter and carry him away from the cave in case anyone comes looking, but even during that small move he grew visibly weaker.

Inifra and Balthandar are pouring every healing skill they have into the boy, but it may not be enough. Kodara has suggested we kill him and be done with it, and though I am loathe to so much as entertain the thought, I see his point. Wudan is too valuable to permit to fall into the wrong hands – but what cost are we willing to pay to ensure that never happens?

We cannot turn to killing children simply because we are afraid. Let the responsibility for him fall on us. We will do everything that we can to protect him or die trying.

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Entry 268 – Day 396

Entry 268 – Day 396

Wudan is on the brink of death. We can feel the pull of him, reaching out even as he lies unconscious, searching. What he hopes to find I do not know, but he cannot survive long if he continues to use his energy for the task. Does he even know he’s doing it? It’s as though something is reaching through him. Inifra watches him closely as if he might suddenly transform into something completely different, as though there is something happening that she does not want to miss.

Salisir and Hembila agree that we have run almost due north, with a slight curve to the northwest. We are deep into Daedric territory and we need to get out. Balthandar spotted a patrol in the early light of the morning, and there is a good chance it is only one of many.

Kodara argued that we kill Wudan again today, which the rest of us unanimously refused. We may be killers, but we didn’t chase this boy down just to murder him in his sleep. The risk is incredible, but I fear we must do the right thing. It may cost us greatly, but we have taken too many quick and bloody paths to get here. Perhaps taking a longer road will lead us somewhere better.

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