Entry 275 – Day 403

Entry 275 – Day 403

The farther we move from Matasten, the better I feel for it. My desire to avoid the place makes the thought of assailing it sound doubly miserable. Can it really be saved? I can’t help the temptation to burn the place to the ground, but that is not an option to bring up in front of Hembila. He would save it at any cost.

The gravity of the task before us has settled in his features. Though we are all of us silent as we move through the jungle, Hembila’s silence is of a deeper variety. What is it that he’s pondering? Has he been discouraged by what we’ve witnessed?

I wouldn’t blame him. I’m feeling discouraged myself.

Entry-275-Quote-Discouraged

I want to know what kind of armor the prince was wearing. It was massive, unlike anything I have ever seen in my life. It looked to be made completely from heavy plate, but of a thickness and size that would make his strength inhuman. More miraculous than that was his ability to walk through the fire unscathed; and how did he start those fires? Is that his expression? What we saw left too many questions and gave too few methods by which to gather answers.

In any case, we will have to take that bridge. Matasten’s natural defenses are obvious, between the moat of the Nanten River and the wall of trees, there is no way to move a large force into the city at speed. Not unless Salisir has recruited an army of men who can swim in armor, and swim very quickly.

We will have to leave strategy for another day. I asked Salisir if he had been in Matasten, as he had first hand knowledge of the city gates.

“Aye, though what good it will do us… the trick will be drawing them out as best we can to fight on the banks of the river. They will guard their bridges zealously, so we need to amass our armies at both.”

“Why both?” Dionus asked. “Why would you divide your forces like that?”

“They’re divided already.” Salisir chuckled to himself. “I don’t have to do any dividing. Better to let the Sondu and Oroun’s warriors compete to enter the city first. Besides, it will force the Daedra to divide their forces, which will even things out for us. I want to draw out everything they have.”

I asked about the Batsu.

“They’ll apply pressure to the flanks. The Batsu are little bastards in a fight, you’ll find that out soon enough. They’re no Latala, but they’re quick. Send them across in canoes to a few select points, and they should be able to maneuver into position to cut into the flanks. That will be your cover.”

“Shit.” Dionus said it with dread, but there was a smile on his lips. “You want us to assassinate him.”

“You’ve been thinking it all along,” Salisir said. “He won’t come out to the fight, not until it’s desperate; so take the fight to him.”

I asked how we would know where to find him. Salisir told us that Nienatara had spies in the city. “It’s the main reason we need the Batsu. Her troops are excellent, but it’s what they know that makes them invaluable.”

Hembila just shook his head in wonder. “How could she manage? All of our spies were rooted out or killed a decade ago. We haven’t been able to get eyes in the capital since then.”

“Let’s just say that we all have different strengths. Once inside the city, you’ll have to figure out how to kill the bastard. Hopefully Nienatara’s spies have figured him out, but last I knew there was no certainty of his expression or to what level of power he has risen.”

Dionus laughed. “If the other day’s display was any indicator, I’d say pretty bloody high.”

Bloody high indeed. We have never been sent to kill anyone this powerful, neither Dionus nor I. And what guarantee do we have that killing this prince will even have the result we want? Though he is clearly at its center, I fear the society we seek to undermine is capable of managing on its own.

We will have to see how this develops. Salisir talks about these things as though they are rapidly approaching; I suppose that after twenty years of waiting it must feel that way to him. But surely he couldn’t be ready to move within a few months’ time.

At least now our part in his plot makes sense. In order to pull off an assassination like he wants, there may be no better men alive to accomplish it for him. No wonder he talks of us as if he needs us.

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Entry 276 – Day 404

Entry 276 – Day 404

Kodara may be a little prick, but at least he’s quick about completing a mission. It shouldn’t surprise me considering that he’s one of Hembila’s handpicked soldiers, but it’s hard to believe someone I dislike so much could be competent.

Everyone who remains of our party was waiting for us right where we left the rest, just a mile or so west of the entrance to the tunnel. Eight of Hembila’s men are alive and Wudan is on his feet and ready to move. Inifra, Timber, and Balthandar were all anxious for our return, though, even more, I believe they want to get as far from this place as possible.

We can oblige. Already we have made a half-day’s journey north together. I hate the feeling of nearing Matasten again; it’s the same sensation of ascending the slope of an active volcano, hoping that for just another day it remains dormant until the descent is over. Matasten has a noxious caldera that is better left unapproached – how daunting to know that it won’t be long before I must throw myself over the edge in hopes of extinguishing its inferno once and for all.

Entry-276-Matasten-Caldera

My entire life, I was raised to this end. To fight and die in the defeat of the Daedra. Glory in the Tetrarch is tallied in releases. How many Daedra have you killed? How advanced were they? How exciting it is when the opportunity to release a high level priest or even a Daemon presents itself. It’s different when you’re facing one on the verge of godhood.

Entry-276-Quote-Survival

I don’t want to throw my life away, but I see little chance of surviving this.

Then again, what chance was I given in the first place? I should have died a dozen times over already in this jungle. What’s one more wretched threat thrown into the mix? Over time it all loses its sense of scale anyway. Add a sword to a pile of knives and you notice immediately; but grow that pile of knives large enough, and no sword will even register in the mass.

We have another day’s march to the tunnel that will take us east and into the territory of the Batsu. I’m ready to move on from this place, and even more ready to meet Nienatara.

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Entry 277 – Day 405

Entry 277 – Day 405

The tunnel east is guarded, though not so heavily that we cannot get through. It makes me wonder if some of the men we killed in rescuing Wudan were guards themselves.

Dionus suggested we circumvent this group entirely and continue through the jungle, but Hembila argued that staying above ground risked discovery by Daedric patrols. These tunnels aren’t just the fastest way through the jungle, they’re the most surreptitious as well.

Salisir agreed with Hembila, as did I. Not that I want to go underground again, but it’s a Wing’s breadth better than walking through Daedra-infested jungle.

Entry-277-Quote-Tunnels

We have set up a small camp roughly a thousand yards from the entrance to the cave and plan to strike in the middle of the night. We should be able to kill them quietly enough, and then we need to run. It’s time to put as much distance between ourselves and the Daedra as we can for the time being.

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Entry 278 – Day 407

Entry 278 – Day 407

Down this narrow tunnel of stone we plunge; behind us pours the wrath of the Daedric nation. We have permitted ourselves a brief respite, though none of us are confident that we can stay here for long. Still, I have to put down some thoughts while they’re fresh in my mind.

Our initial plan of sneaking into the guards’ camp in the night was immediately foiled when we arrived: they were awake. Initially we thought about coming back to try again later on, but our curiosity got the better of us.

The Daedra had a man in their custody. They dragged him into their camp and immediately fell into discussion as to his fate. It seemed those who found him wanted to have their fun with him, perhaps torture him. But everything escalated when one of them found a brand on his neck hidden under a light scarf.

He was an escaped prisoner, some sort of servant to the Daedric Prince himself. Things got heated then, with two distinct groups forming among the guards. One side argued that he should be killed on the spot for running away, while the other cautioned against action taken against a member of the Prince’s retinue.

Then a scout appeared in the camp, dressed in light armor and completely out of breath. Salisir moved forward before anyone translated what it was he said. We killed the lot of them without much difficulty – they hardly saw us coming. Standing around a fire will blind you to dangers lurking in the night.

Entry-278-Quote-Runaway

“Let’s go,” was all Salisir said as he hauled the runaway to his feet and took off running himself.

We’d gone a few miles underground before Hembila finally explained that the runaway was not only from the Daedric Prince’s household, but was one of his prized servants. More than that, a prized expressionist.

Behind us now is not just a search party, but a search battalion. There are more troops chasing us through this cave than can fit. I need to sleep while I can; I have the feeling we will be back up and running long before I am ready.

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Entry 279 – Day 408

Entry 279 – Day 408

The Daedra are as relentless as the KoraKora. I have never known Daedra to be so well organized and so bold. Perhaps it is the sheer number of them, but they press on uninhibited by the fear I’m used to seeing temper their action – at the same time they lack the crazed bloodlust that so often carries their kind recklessly forward.

There is cold intent here. If only they knew what other precious blood we have in our party, perhaps they would pick up the pace.

Entry-279-Quote-Precious

We have had multiple skirmishes with their vanguard, but each time we only fight long enough to make an escape. Their scouts were not prepared to meet armed resistance so, thankfully, they are poorly armed. This will not be true of the main body behind us.

Gods damn it all, I hate running for my life.

We do have a massive amount of power between us, but we are both unaware of the strength of our foe and uncertain it is wise to reveal ourselves so close to Matasten. We should be out of this forsaken tunnel soon, and if we find a strong creek we may be able to turn and fight in the open.

For once, I don’t want to.

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Entry 280 – Day 409

Entry 280 – Day 409

The open air tastes sweet. We have bought ourselves some time by collapsing the entrance to the tunnel behind us. It took some effort, shoving spears into the cracks of the cave’s ceiling and hauling on them as hard as we could. But once we opened them wide enough, Inifra was able to loosen them more by creating ice in the joints, and Dionus somehow finished the rest.

Entry-280-Cave-in-the-tunnels

We don’t know how much space that will give us, but we are taking as few chances as possible. After a few more miles trek into the jungle, we permitted ourselves a real camp with a large fire; although I think the fire was more to ward off fears of man-eating Bangara than anything.

I certainly hope that the collapsed cave deters the Daedra from following. Still, we take no chances by assuming they have been stopped entirely.

As best as we can tell, we’ve traveled something close to seventy miles in the last three days. Not nearly as far as we managed in the tunnel running north, but I’d swear by every bone in the Angel’s body that we could never move so fast in the Nanten if I didn’t know of these subterranean passages. It helps when you have something to chase, or are being chased.

My legs are screaming from the exertion. This second push threatened to undo us all. The thought of being sacrificed on that bridge was a better motivation than most, but damned if I never want to put one foot in front of the other again.

I’m going to join Inifra and Timber in their nightly stretches and then get as much sleep as I can before Salisir moves us on again. The old man is in control at last; or did he ever lose it?

Entry-280-Quote-Control

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Entry 281 – Day 410

Entry 281 – Day 410

If I had to choose a god to worship in this hellhole, it might have to be Infiri; her sense of timing and provision continue to amaze.

The Daedra must have moved through our stone blockage like it was sand. They were on our heels moments after Salisir had us strike camp this morning. If Dionus hadn’t sensed them coming, we wouldn’t have had time to gather anything.

Fighting was no longer something that could be avoided, but when you can hear your enemy roar through the jungle like an oncoming storm, gods help you if you don’t balk at it.

Thankfully, we had enough of a lead to choose our ground. The pressing issue was finding that ground before we all broke from exhaustion. When we stumbled onto a river, we knew it provided our best chance.

Inifra parted the waters for us to cross then set herself at its the center. The rest of us lined the far bank. It wouldn’t take long for them to flank us, but we would start the fight with both high and dry ground on our side.

Entry-281-Inifra-in-the-River

Inifra rose in the river until she stood nearly at its surface, her arms drawing the water up around her. The first wave of Daedra were met with a towering typhoon and when they woke up, if they woke up, they did so miles downstream. Dionus jumped in then, the trees bowing to the force of his power as he drew the winds down and through them.

The second wave of Daedra was blown back into the third.

But then they were everywhere on the far bank. For as far as we could see, north and south, the bank turned black with the tattered leathers of Daedric followers. They plunged heedlessly into the water. Inifra froze it. Great cracks and bursts sounded along the banks as the water snapped its jaws around its victims.

Those who followed simply ran across the solid river. Dionus pushed them along the slippery surface as best he could manage, but there were too many and the trees stood too close, weakening his draw on the wind.

Daedra. I have never seen a wall of them charge before. I have never seen them so well armed. Those with a touch on the Atmosphere had the darkest gashes, the brightest veins of red along their armor. They were grinning as they closed.

Terror and excitement mixed in my stomach, swirling to create a bloody elation. This was what I was bred to do. I am the stalwart stone upon which the dark tide breaks.

I froze time. The joy of it coursed through me as whirs and cracks of my own sounded in my ears, signaling the capture and slowing of everything around me. Out over the ice I ran, slicing and stabbing with impunity, hacking men in two with a force that cannot be put behind any normal strike.

I could feel my hold slipping too soon. Without Wudan I was beset by my old limitations, and truth be told that knowledge terrified me. I let go of my shift instantly and thirty bodies reddened the ice around my feet. More came.

Inifra rolled a shockwave of some sort through the river, disemboweling any Daedra not already drowned beneath the ice. She let it break up and joined us on the bank.

Balthandar put Wudan at our center with the runaway, and Hembila’s men made a ring around them. Dionus made to grab Wudan but I stopped him. Only as a last resort, I said. It’s too dangerous.

Salisir launched attack after attack. I couldn’t even see what he was doing, but I could feel the effects on the Atmosphere. Row after row of Daedric followers fell to the magic of Salisir’s SwordSkills, yet still they came on.

Entry-281-Quote-onslaught

Whips of the wind, ice lances, everything that Inifra and Dionus could unleash in that tight grove of trees without harming the rest of us they did. As for me, I spun through the slaughter.

Ba’hrain may have given Matasten the Oaken Throne, but they taught me their dance. In the few encounters I have had with Daedra since learning it, I have found that their training puts them at an inherent disadvantage to the dance of the Ba’hrani women. They could not touch me.

That would not last. The flow of warriors never stopped; there truly was a battalion behind us. After a while, it felt more like an entire division.

They pressed into us, forcing us back as we fought to maintain a perimeter, and then they were through. One of Hembila’s men was the first of ours to die. I got shot in the leg. Balthandar took a blow from a mace that put him on his back.

Then the river erupted.

Twenty women stepped onto the bank, fully clad in a swirl of blue and green leather armor. They launched themselves into the rear flank of the Daedra, howling in song as they hacked their way towards us. Within minutes we were bolstered, their double-sided blades as long as their bodies and twirling like bloodied windmills.

Their presence was enough to level the battlefield for a moment, but steadily the mass of Daedra pressed in upon us. There are moments when you know you cannot give any more, where time stands still of its own accord as if to give you one last chance to appreciate living before you lose that ability forever. That was when the Batsu made their appearance.

Three hundred arrows fell in unison from the trees, followed immediately by another volley. Then another, and another, until only the Daedra nearest us were left standing. We killed them before they knew they had lost.

“Brin Salisir,” a woman’s voice rang out through the trees. We still hadn’t seen a single bowman, the jungle around us devoid of human living form. “I thought I caught your stench on the breeze.”

“Nianatara.” Salisir bowed to the east; as he stood, a short woman in dark green wrappings stepped from the undergrowth. “I make whatever preparations will ensure my friends can find me.”

She snorted at that, then inspected the rest of us. Her hair was thick, twisted locks jutting out in every direction like black smoke trailing a dozen arrows, all interwoven with dark green ribbons. Her eyebrows arched briefly as she looked at the armed group of women among us. “Priestesses of Infiri?”

Then it made sense. Inifra said she had called for help back under the Falls, but I didn’t know what she meant. Have these women really been trying to catch us up this entire time?

“The dark tree bears fruit, and all the jungle strives to cut it down, Nianatara.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen Salisir so deferential, even before Fodafa.

“Is this true Inifra? Come closer child; you’re so much younger than your predecessor.”

Inifra stepped forward. She hid her irritation well, but I could see it perturbed her to be called a child. “All who would oppose the darkness are allies in this time, are they not?”

“Do you forget what he did to you, Inifra? Or did she not pass down those memories to you?”

Nianatara’s words caught Inifra completely off guard. She opened her mouth, but it took a moment for words to follow. “The memories of my predecessor have never been clear, Nianatara.”

“And all those who came before her?”

Again, Inifra paused. She looked at her hands before resuming eye contact with Nianatara. “There are darker things afoot than missing memories. The Batsu may not be directly in harm’s way, but once the Yatusu and Sondu fall, there will be no one with whom you can ally.”

“I have heard all of this from that mouth.” She pointed at Salisir. “I will not be forced into fighting when there is no fight brought to me. You have Hembila with you, I see. I know what the Sondu think – to rule us all in their grand superiority.” The sneer was clear in her words if not apparent on her face. “And you?” She looked at me. “What nonsense has this man filled your head with that you would follow him into suicide?”

“Following him was my punishment,” I said. And it was essentially true. I didn’t know what else to say; she clearly was not interested in what anyone yet had to offer. If Salisir was known to her for lying, I would be known for the truth.

“Your punishment? What kind of punishment is following Brin Salisir beyond cruel and unusual? What did you do?”

“I murdered the only woman I ever loved.” That earned some looks from my companions.

“Ah, how familiar.” Nianatara pointed at me and looked back at Salisir. “A murderer, and one whose crimes are so similar to your own. What a lovely addition to your crew, Salisir. Now, what leaf of murder, along which branch of insanity, would lead to this sort of exile?”

“She was the daughter of the Sword of the Empire,” I said. Salisir balked now too. Apparently he hadn’t heard that part. “I killed her because she loved one of them.” I pointed at the Daedric corpses at our feet. “I killed her because I hate the Daedra more than anything; the thought of her in the arms of one was enough to drive me mad.”

Nianatara laughed. “So dramatic. Imperials are such fools for love; it’s what happens when you sit behind your tall walls and live long soft lives. Judging by the faces of your friends, I doubt you’ve said as much to them. Pity. Friends should know these things first.”

“We need to resupply, Nianatara.” Salisir limped a step closer. I hadn’t noticed the gash on his thigh. “I’m taking Hembila to the Yatusu. You have nothing to do with it; I know where you stand. Just let us pass through and give us your protection for a few nights of rest.”

Nianatara laughed in his face. “Salisir, you think too highly of yourself. Why would I let you anywhere near my camp, let alone my city?”

Salisir gestured to the surrounding carnage. “Why would you save me from the Daedra?”

They shared a long silence after that. Finally Nianatara waved the air from her face and smiled. “Just a few nights, then. We know hospitality well in this inhospitable place. You will be taken care of, but only because you are traveling with a goddess.”

The way she called Inifra a goddess indicated how much faith she put behind the title: little. We didn’t see any of her soldiers the entire time we marched; I think she left them behind in case more Daedra followed. Which begs the question: why would they send such an overwhelming force after one man? This runaway with us tonight, who is he?

It took the rest of the day to reach Nianatara’s camp; our wounds didn’t help the pace any. Balthandar patched my leg, allowed one of Nianatara’s healers to do the same for his wounds, and then went straight to sleep. It’s the first time I’ve seen him let his guard down in months.

The rest of our companions have dropped off to sleep in their own time. I am want to join them, but there is yet one thing that plagues my mind and keeps me awake. What was Ninatara implying about Inifra’s memories? Could Inifra recall the older ones or not?

What did Salisir do to Inifra?

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