Entry 282 – Day 411

Entry 282 – Day 411

The men and women who wear Nianatara’s dark green cloaks remind me so much of Starlark tonight. His cloak may have been dark blue, emblazoned with the long-tail star he claimed as his own personal sigil, yet the style is similar. They are ghosts in the trees, using hooked ropes to swing among the branches in the canopy, they travel without ever needing to touch the ground.

Dionus says he could sense them above us when we spoke to Nianatara yesterday, but only enough to know they were there. I’m grateful they opted to save us in the fight.

I’m also grateful and perplexed at the arrival of Inifra’s priestesses. Each of them is a warrior of the noblest bearing – they would fit well among the guards lining the halls of Sterling. Their discipline and stern appearance has been consistent, but only outward facing. I have seen them soften and relax amongst themselves, but I have only caught glimpses of it. Inifra has yet to emerge from the tent Nianatara gave her to use, spending all of last night and today in counsel with the women who heeded her call.

Nianatara let the rest of us sleep on the ground.

She is an odd one herself, a commander who carries a strength of personality that seems both richer and more complex than that of either Sondu. Nianatara laughs quickly, a deep and rolling chuckle that feels as impossible as it is infectious. That laugh dies as quickly as it is born; her emotions flash quickly across her entire being and though she does not let them rule her, there is no mistaking exactly what she thinks in each and every moment.

I find her refreshing. There are no games being played, only an evident and well-deserved caution for dealing with a man who has already crossed her. It’s good to find Salisir hasn’t completely abandoned his bastardly ways – I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one who saw him for the snake he is.

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Still, my old teacher remains my teacher, and he has let me in on another of the SwordSkills he holds so dear. It is no wonder, for they are impressive powers – remnants of the magic that formed much of what we now take for granted. They are pure, and when they are unleashed it is like reaching back in time to touch the very essence of the gods.

The one he taught me was that which he unleashed upon the Daedra yesterday. None of us has much energy after our days spent in flight, and he was notably stiff in his movement thanks in part to his bandaged leg, but when he stepped into the motions of the SwordSkills all of that melted into fluidity for a few brief moments.

Like all the others of which I know, this one has a conjoined name: SlitSweep. With a few quick variations on PiercePunch, the sword is swept in an arc before the swordsman and, as if the blade were extended an additional ten feet, everything in that arc is slit through. I would draw out the motions of it for my own records, but I feel the gravity of such action. The value of the SwordSkills, much like my own expression, comes largely from their rarity and secret nature.

The power is diminished by resistance, Salisir told me. The sheer thickness of the trees here prevents it from cutting much more than a couple of feet. Thus while its use against the press of the Daedra made it the perfect choice in that moment, their very density reduced its effectiveness to only two or three ranks at once. Still, he said, better than a naked blade.

I’m amazed by these skills. I asked him how long he has known them for, why he didn’t teach anyone in the Tetrarch, and he shrugged. “Why would I teach the Tetrarch? They used enough of my skills against me as it was.”

After a little more instruction to refine my technique, the effects of which were immediate and visibly apparent, Salisir told me he hadn’t really used the skills until he entered the Nanten. He had been too afraid of what attention they would draw within the Old Empire and, like me, he didn’t trust that they wouldn’t cause more trouble than they were worth. In the Nanten, he said, things were different.

He did mutter something about being a damned fool in not mastering them sooner, but he let it drop and walked back to camp to let me practice on my own.

For the briefest of instants, I wanted to follow him. I wanted to know that story, the one of the Brin Salisir who was afraid to display his power. The man who hated the Tetrarch like the Tetrarch hated him – who feared the Tetrarch in a way I thought only we could fear him.

Practicing a new SwordSkill proved too tantalizing to walk away from, even if all I wanted was to sleep. Gods it feels good to see my blade given new life – to feel it stretch and cut and bite though I cannot see more than wisps and glimmers. To think that once in humanity’s past there were beings that could create expressions of power with such precision and malleability. I could immediately control these skills with an ease that would take years to master in any known expression. It speaks to the craftsmanship behind it – the sheer genius of whoever designed them.

Let us heal a few more days, then let me turn this power against the Darkness in Matasten.

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Entry 283 – Day 412

Entry 283 – Day 412

In another strange turn of events, Wudan has identified the runaway as his older brother. Kidnapped when Wudan was too young to know him, the runaway was first a citizen of Banditown and then a captive of the Daedra. His name is Wauloo. What’s more, he is a Machinist.

This morning the two of them began to chat when Wudan sensed the man had a touch on the Atmosphere. Fascinated as he is by anything to do with magic, Wudan approached and began pestering him with so many questions I wondered if he wasn’t just mimicking Timber. After a few minutes he yelped in excitement and came running over to Balthandar and I.

All he could get out through his excitement as he pulled on our wrists and dragged us over to Wauloo was, “Brother! My brother!”

Wauloo told us his story. He was kidnapped shortly after entering manhood, before their father died and the Darkness withdrew to consolidate its power. He said that perhaps if he had been just a few years younger, his power yet untapped, he would have avoided capture altogether.

He described his unrefined sense of the Atmosphere as a child and how his mother warned him against the curiosity that drove him to explore it. It was known that people like him were the ones that were taken, but he couldn’t resist the pull that drew him through one door after another. Still, though he could reach out and touch the Atmosphere, he didn’t know how to call it to his bidding. Until one day he stumbled upon a relic in the refuse of Banditown.

Avoiding the press of the morning rush to the market, he took a different route than he would normally and said he felt a tingle unlike anything he had ever experienced. A light prickling of the skin, he said, dangerous and pleasant all at once. He let it draw him down one alley, and then another, until he found himself standing before one of the great trees of the Nanten. Between the foundations of a shanty and the gnarled root of the tree, he could sense what drew him, buried beneath the surface.

Wauloo began to dig, pulling out various pieces of garbage that make up the layers upon which Banditown sits. Then suddenly it was beneath his hand. He could feel the connection grow until his fingers dug down around it and latched on. The link between them was like the restoration of an amputated limb. He pulled out what appeared to be an orange made of glass and metal. The rivets felt smooth under his fingers, and he found himself thumbing the seams between the glass and steel.

This was a treasure, he knew. Something lost that had somehow been washed out of obscurity in Motasta and into oblivion under Banditown. He stared at it, wondering who could make something that appeared so fragile and yet proved so sturdy. Wauloo says he didn’t recognize the passing of time as he sat with the orb, though it only felt like minutes. He knows now that it was probably closer to an hour.

As he rotated the orb in his hands, peering into its depths and marveling at the invisible tension he felt between its surface and his skin, the glass began to glow. From its center, a dim blue light steadily grew until it blazed between his fingers. He said he would have dropped it from fright, but the pull of the light was magnetic. The brighter it glowed, the deeper into it he stared.

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He brought it to life. This was some ancient piece of technology and he restored it to its former glory. Wauloo placed the device into his sack, the light peeking through the weave as it swung under his arm. Elation was swiftly followed by a fear of discovery. He made for home where he reburied the orb under his cot. It took him the rest of the day to pull himself away, certain that his family must feel the pull to the orb that he did. But none of them seemed remotely aware.

Wauloo walked to the market and bought what he needed, all the while wondering if the people around him could feel what he felt. The tingle from before now whispered across his skin, half a memory and half a remnant of the orb. The crowds appeared oblivious, but he felt certain he was somehow more visible now than he had ever been before. Visible to whom, or in what way, he couldn’t tell.

He would take the orb out and look at it at night, rolling it in his hands and spinning it on his fingers. The weight of it felt negated by the bond between them. And then one night the Darkness came. He sighed and shook his head, staring at his feet before telling us how he was abducted.

It was a simple affair, he said. He stepped outside to get water from the nearest well much like he had done any number of nights before. His mother called after him, reminding him not to scrape the bucket against the side; it would leave grit in the water. That was the last time he ever heard her voice.

They were waiting for him at the well. It only took three of them and even that was overkill; he was too small to defend himself. One struck him on the back of the head as he let out the rope to the bucket below; by the time he regained his wits he was bound and gagged. They carried him out of Banditown. Through the fear, the sheer terror of knowing that it was the Darkness that took him, was the relief that at least they would not get his orb.

The trip to Matasten was long. He had never left Banditown in all his life and the weeks it took to make north through the jungle felt like months. More Daedra joined them as they went, carrying charges of their own as they moved back to their master. Their skin was rough, like the charred edges of meat overcooked. They stank like they burned.

His terror never abated. Every night the Daedra would sit down for their only meal of the day, from which he might get the last paltry scraps. It stank worse than they did, whatever it was they ate, but he could only refuse his empty stomach so long. Eventually he ate it too. It made him sick; the hunger was worse.

When they let him walk he scavenged what he could, eating roots and leaves that were easy to pick on the move, but they pressed him ever onward. Ever northward. Ever to Matasten.

Matasten. He said the name with a reverence that could be mistaken for religious awe if it wasn’t for the tension in his voice.

Every day moved them closer and the proximity brought a sick joviality to his captors. They laughed quietly among themselves, making crude gestures at the captives implying their fate would be more grisly than they would even imagine. If only he had believed them, he said, he might have tried to kill himself. The opportunity to choose the Seventh Death would soon be taken from him.

Wauloo said he remembered entering Matasten so clearly it burned to speak of it. The city was massive, bigger even than Motasta, with towering spires at its center that rose higher than any tree could ever dream. As they walked towards those towers, they passed a group of people crowding around a platform in an open square. Their captors stopped, and gestured towards the hundreds of people crammed against one another. “That will be where you go soon enough.”

For a few minutes nothing happened. Wauloo didn’t understand. The platform before them had two tall beams running up from its sides, connected by a crossbar that ran between them. Ropes dangled from the crossbar. What looked like a shallow gutter ran parallel to it through the wooden planks below, joining with another that dropped over the front of the base. The whole thing was covered in dark stains.

Then they brought a man and two women onto the stage. Naked, their arms were raised and tied to the crossbar at the wrist. The crowd began chanting, cheering as each knot was completed. The chant turned into low song until a priest appeared in their midst. He danced, the ropes and beads dangling from his broad headdress, concealing his form as he spun and shrieked to the tempo of the stomping onlookers.

Wauloo squirmed, but his captors wouldn’t let him look away. One of the men gripped his head, the man’s hand large enough to crush Wauloo’s skull if he struggled, and whispered in his ear, “True power resides in blood.”

Then the priest jumped on stage. A blade swung in his hand with the cords as he spun, and the leg of a captive was cut off at the knee. Wauloo tried to pull away, but the hands that gripped him were sure. Another victim lost a leg, her screams lost to the cheering of the crowd. Then the third lost her leg as well.

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Wauloo had paled visibly as he told the story, but at this point he began to shake. It was the silence, he said, the silence that followed echoed within him to this day. In unison, on some cue he couldn’t comprehend, the entire crowd fell completely silent. One of the victims screamed while another moaned. Each fought to keep their weight off their wrists. He could hear each pulse of blood spatter on the wood. Each foot slip and scrape to stay planted.

Wauloo vomited down the front of his shirt, but his captors kept his head forward. “The Dromonica teaches us that such gifts are of the utmost value,” the man behind him whispered words into his ear that he would never forget. “It teaches us that your blood is worth more than the life it sustains. One day you too shall give it to us, and we will thank you in kind.”

The victims each dangled by their wrists, their lives poured into a gutter that gathered it into in a vat below. As the last light of consciousness flickered from their eyes, the priest stepped forward. “Children of the night, in this hour these lives are forfeit.” The crowd stomped once in unison. “I have come for your souls tonight!”

The assembled mob erupted into a cacophony of howls and cheers as Wauloo was carried from the square, barely able to hold onto consciousness himself. “This is your new home,” the man carrying him said, smirking as he looked at Wauloo from the corner of his eye. “We hope you know now how welcome you are.”

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At that, Wauloo put his hand to his mouth and wept. Wudan took Wauloo’s hand and leaned against his shoulder as his older brother, a man he had never known before this week, broke down in a circle of strangers and cried. For tonight, Wauloo is finally free.

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Entry 284 – Day 413

Entry 284 – Day 413

Wauloo’s story left us all shaken last night. As much as we are glad to see him free of his captors, a multitude of questions followed that we could not yet ask him. How, if his fate was set to be a sacrifice, did he survive in Matasten for the last eight or nine years? The answer to that seems tied up in the other obvious question: why would they send an entire battalion to reclaim him?

What is Wauloo? It seems clear from his story that he is a Machinist. Whatever power he had over that relic seems in line with what we understand Machinists to be, though they are so incredibly rare. What could the Daedra possibly use him for? What’s concerning is that even in the absence of any answers to that question, one fact is readily apparent: whatever it is Wauloo is capable of, it’s worth an army to protect. If it’s anything akin to Wudan’s power, I do not doubt his value.

Dionus and I pulled Salisir aside this morning to ask him why this expression would be so valuable to the Daedra as to let Wauloo live rather than to claim his blood for the ritual, and he didn’t know. I was shocked to see that Wauloo’s story had left him shaken as well. He had heard rumors that the Daedra were hunting for relics throughout the jungle, but he hadn’t given it much credence. Whatever it was they found, he ventured, men like Wauloo might be used to power them.

When we stared blankly at him I think he realized we didn’t know much of Machinists, because he launched into an explanation. Machinists, he said, act as conduits and converters between ancient technology and the Atmosphere. Relics like the orb Wauloo had described were powered by energy that we can no longer capture, but Machinists can convert and funnel that power into them. Some, he said, can operate advanced machinery.

Those relics are so rare that most Machinists probably never know they even have a touch on the Atmosphere because they simply never have the chance to interact with one. And all of those relics are highly volatile. Salisir claims most can level entire city quarters if they sustain enough damage. It’s why they were so strictly outlawed for so long. Without the relics, however, Machinists are essentially powerless. Wauloo may be powerful, but he may also be skilled enough to operate some weapon the Daedra have uncovered.

We won’t know the answers to these mysteries tonight. Wauloo has slept most of the day and refuses to speak with any of us. Wudan and Timber have taken it upon themselves to watch over him, bringing him water and what little food he is willing to accept. What horrors has he seen? What horrors has he been forced to commit?

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Inifra has kept some distance from Salisir the last couple of days. Ever since Nianatara spoke of her predecessor there is a distrust that marks her movements. Her priestesses act as a bodyguard. ‘Hedge’ might be a more adequate word. They are regal in their bearing and none of them speak when they are on duty. Stalwart as the guards in Motasta, these women maintain a wide perimeter using only the glances they shoot.

I hope to inspect one of their weapons up close soon. The hilt is at the very center of the blade, which bulges out from the grip and tapers to a sharp point at each end. They are nearly as long as the women wielding them are tall. I want to see how they use them – another new skill I should very much like to acquire if they will teach me.

Nianatara’s troop have appeared in twos and threes over the course of the day. I doubt all of them will join us, but the size of the camp has already doubled. The men and women guarding the baggage train keep their distance from us. Everyone has broken off into their own segments and groups. There is too much whispering here for my tastes, and I can only hope it is focused on Salisir and not shared among the rest of us.

A Machinist in the jungle… I can’t get away from that thought for long. I have run into only one Machinist in the field, and all he could do was illuminate the darkness. His relic cast a brilliant light, which was useful enough at night, but essentially in the end he was just an overpowered lantern-bearer. Nothing worth sending a battalion after.

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Entry 285 – Day 414

Entry 285 – Day 414

A messenger arrived from the Yatusu this morning, dressed in brilliant oranges and swirls of yellow. He asked Nianatara for permission to speak to Salisir, then walked over to our little camp. With a long gnarled staff in his hand, he looked like a young Bantish.

“Brin Salisir,” he said with a deep bow, his shaved head catching the last glint of our morning fire. “It has been far too long.”

“Golara,” Salisir stood and shook his hand. “I’m glad you found us.”

“I’ve awaited your return among the Batsu for a little too long, I’m afraid.” Golara chuckled. “Now I climb trees and whistle like the Morning Lark.”

“If you aren’t careful, you might start swinging from branch to branch and feeding off grubs.”

Golara scrunched up his nose with a short laugh at that. “I never understood why a man would eat a wriggling worm when it could be used to catch a perfectly good fish.”

The two of them walked off, laughing like old friends until they were off between the trees. As likeable as I found Golara, he left me unsettled. Perhaps exactly because of how likeable he was.

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Inifra came to us when Salisir was gone, almost as quickly as he was out of sight. She told us she wanted to stay with our party rather than continue on to see the Yatusu. She said that she wished to spend more time near Nianatara; what she omitted was how little she now wishes to spend with Salisir. We agreed, of course, for to have her along is always an advantage. Part of me was relieved she didn’t want to continue with Salisir, but I told her I wanted to learn how her priestesses used their weapons and she said it was possible.

“I just thought you should know,” she said. Then she stood and left. So strange.

Timber and I spent a good hour practicing after that, waiting for Salisir to leave or Nianatara to move us on. Timber has improved steadily with her Klotian blade. She’s strong enough to deliver some hard hits, and her endurance has grown in tandem with the muscles in her arms. I’ll start moving more soon; it’s time I started showing her what real swordplay tastes like. She’ll enjoy it.

Nianatara watched us for a little while today. She laughed at some joke I didn’t hear, then immediately resumed her stern observation. I’m uncertain whether I like how plainly she wears her emotions – perhaps if I knew her mind as regards us, I would feel more at ease.

Wudan and Wauloo spent the day together, Wauloo finally asking his younger brother after their family. Every step he takes is hesitant, calculated as if to avoid unseen social pitfalls or rejections. Any conversation he enters must reduce its pace notably or he will withdraw after mere moments.

He quivers when he thinks no one is looking.

When Wauloo closes his eyes, it looks as though he is fighting to retain his composure – as if he is being engulfed by unseen waters. He looks like a man near drowning. The battle he faces every day within his own mind is something I can only imagine; I’m not sure yet whether to pity or distrust him for it. I feel both ways.

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There is so much more to keep track of now. So many variables. I want to know more – to know with certainty what awaits us. What Salisir has in mind.

What I need to know most right now is how Salisir plans to mobilize three nations at once. It would seem that messages can travel with surprising speed through the jungle, though they seem to have no Beacons among them – and why should I expect them to? There are so few expressionists in this place as it is that Beacons must be nonexistent – but can their messengers travel so quickly as to mobilize three armies from three directions with reliable precision?

Or is that part of the plan? Salisir might sacrifice one or two of them to weaken this prince and then strike with whomever he sees to be the strongest contender. That contradicts his assurances that he wants all three to come together in unity, but what better way to unify three nations than to rip out their cores and leave them defenseless and pliable?

I’m going to discuss this all openly with Nianatara. I find myself wanting to trust Salisir’s plan, to fall in line and support it, but I can’t. Not without assurances. Something’s not right.

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Entry 286 – Day 415

Entry 286 – Day 415

Golara spent most of the day with us and I can’t shake the feeling that he is not who he seems. It’s his smile; it comes too easy for a place like the Nanten.

Salisir plans to leave in a few days’ time. He seems to be goading Nianatara in his own way, proving some point by staying longer than absolutely necessary. She doesn’t seem exasperated, in what brief moments we see her, but she has a hitch in her stance that betrays her annoyance.

She wants to go home, but not until she’s seen Salisir safely off in the other direction.

Balthandar has taken it upon himself to inspect the various groups encamped around us. His agitation spilled over into action yesterday. He’s asking for small things, supplies like needles or Martingue, but I know he’s taking stock of everyone in the process. He doesn’t trust our surroundings. Long before I did, Balthandar sensed something amiss.

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Dionus, ironically, is the only one who remains completely at ease. Hembila’s men have all come around in the span of the last week or two. All except Kodara. That little prick still harbors some grudge against Dionus, one that none of us can understand, but it has been effectively silenced by the steady acceptance of my friend by the rest of his comrades.

Perhaps it is that small victory that smooths Dionus’ anxieties where ours remain enflamed. I asked him what he thought about sneaking into Matasten to assassinate the Daedric Prince and he even managed a smile. Conversely, my gut drops at the mere thought of approaching Matasten. He said we would find out how possible it was from Nianatara, but he would be up for the challenge.

“We were supposed to die here anyway, weren’t we?”

And that brings me back to what is plaguing me more than anything. I didn’t think of it until I wrote his response down, but the flippancy of it bothers me. Dionus and Balthandar put everything aside to follow me here, as did Starlark and Bolton. All four of them, for whatever reason, gave up their lives to die with me here. I may have saved theirs, but what right did I have to turn around and demand they sacrifice what I had given back to them?

I know their reasons well enough now, but I’m afraid. More, I feel guilty. Guilty for Bolton’s slow death and Starlark’s estrangement. Guilty for Balthandar’s lost career and the ignominious end to Dionus’ legend. Yet perhaps it’s our current surroundings more than anything.

I’m afraid.

Afraid they’ll find another reason to fight here in the Nanten. A reason bigger, better than me. How quickly my exile will be forgotten when this war starts. How easily will they start new lives here while I am left to flounder in my inability to let go of home?

Even after all they have done, all the ways they have proven their extreme loyalty, my greatest fear remains that in the end they too will abandon me.

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Entry 287 – Day 416

Entry 287 – Day 416

Inifra’s lesson for Timber proved a pleasant surprise for all of us this morning. She showed her how to make snow.

Watching delicate frozen flakes tumble through the gloom of the Nanten brought some semblance of peace to a place that is usually devoid of even the word. It was surreal. I found myself yet again missing the seasons of home that punctuate the onward progression of time. We all watched in silence, though Wudan’s awe-struck smile was loud enough to speak for us all.

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Our wounds are healed well enough and there is plenty to undertake. I want Salisir to leave already.

I asked him what his plan was. How are we to know when to move, where to meet him, or what would come next if things changed. He said he would send messengers, but that we should meet him at the ford where we fought the Daedra mere days ago. We would move overground from there, he said. There were too many risks taking an entire army through the tunnels, though advance parties would be sent that way.

He had already sent the appropriate messages to Fodafa, and Oroun would not be difficult to persuade. Salisir’s entire countenance was different. More certain. Things are going to move the moment he flips the switch and he knows it.

“That one there,” he pointed to Wauloo. “Watch him. He’s worn thin – too much time in Daedric hands. I know you can sense it.”

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I asked him why we didn’t just leave him behind then.

“That’s always the unfortunate balance of not knowing your allies from your enemies.” He looked at me pointedly. “You have to keep them close until you do. Just get Nianatara to bring her forces here, and do it within the month. Oroun will be ready to mobilize, whatever he may say through his messengers. He knows war is coming, and with Hembila we’ll give him everything he needs to commit to action. I have them on set dates to advance if all else fails. Give me Nianatara’s army and we can win this.”

I asked what happened if he was detained.

“Fodafa and Oroun will run into resistance before they expect it. The Batsu can get behind enemy lines and thin that resistance out. I need them to act as the prong that holds Matasten in place while the knives descend from the sides. Those treeborn elite can move, and fast. I need them to sew chaos and confusion.”

“What about Inifra?” I couldn’t help but ask. “What happened between you?”

Salisir’s mouth drew a tight line; after a brief hesitation he shook his head. “Don’t ask.”

“How can I trust you?” Part of my gut wrenched at the thought of alienating Salisir, a fear born from the idea that I would never learn another SwordSkill. A fear that he would betray me yet again, if for no other reason than to get even. I couldn’t help myself. “You’ve already almost killed me twice.”

Salisir laughed at that, tension released from every part of his posture. “Is that what you’re so godsdamned worked up about?”

I didn’t know what to say.

“I saved your life; I didn’t try to take it.”

I called him on that, but he insisted.

“You’re a Timeshift. Damn, boy, but you’re a Timeshift. Do you know how many people would come hunting for you if they knew that? Whatever your power actually allows, the legends would put the world in your hands if you mastered the expression. You’ve barely scratched the surface of what you can do.”

I flew into a rage at the nonchalance of his response. I couldn’t help the way I shouted my accusations. Why would he cut me if he was trying to ‘save me?’ Why bleed then run me to the point that I nearly died?

“You learned, didn’t you?” He didn’t seemed fazed in the least. “You slipped that day, during your lesson. Shit son, you handled a blade well enough to beat me and you were barely through your first year of the Scourge. Had to teach you a lesson, and when you got scared you slipped. You jittered. I saw it, saw you skip time, and knew that if it ever happened again where they could see you, they would kill you. So I beat the living shit out of you.”

Salisir laughed. “Both times I almost killed you, I know I almost killed you, but better to drag you to the House of the Deaths and show you what waited there than let them come and choose you in your ignorance. You had to learn, and you did. Obviously the lesson went over your head, but you got the idea anyways. No one knows, or no one knew; now this whole bloody jungle knows. They’re terrified of you.”

I sat staring at the ground before us. Anger, indignation at the treatment, yet a gravity to the debt I suddenly realized I owed him if he was telling the truth. Did he really know? Was he really trying to save me?

Salisir shook his head. “I don’t agree with the Tetrarch on much, but their resistance to adopting magic is smart. Keep a few expressionists to even the field and teach the rest to circumvent it. It wasn’t always like that, but they learned the hard way. I don’t trust magic; it eats away at a man. Makes him something less. Have you ever seen a Kinesthenic snap? Gods damn, I watched a man break his own back picking up a glass of water once. When it catches up to you, it catches up quick. Don’t forget that.”

“You never told anyone?” I asked.

“About you? Believe it or not, there were heavier things on my mind.”

Inifra walked by with a retinue of her guard. She ignored us pointedly. I raised my brow at Salisir as pointedly.

“Don’t fall for that one, that’s all I’ll say. She loves you. Plain as day, though she’s trying to hide it. Don’t know if that seals her fate or not, but if you fall for her in turn I know it will.”

Her fate?

“The curse. Infiri’s curse. She died for the man she loved, though he betrayed her. Her high priestesses all die for the one they love in turn. Seems like the women around here do most of the dying. Should be a man’s job at least once in a while.”

It made me think of Tyri to hear him say it. He would never have known her fate though.

“You’ve done enough killing of ‘em yourself. Lystra, hey? Little brat. I remember meeting her once at court before I fell completely out of standing in the Tetrarch. She was sharp. Sharper than her brother even.”

I didn’t want to talk about it. “Infiri’s curse is real?”

Salisir got quiet at that. He sucked air through his teeth after a minute and nodded. “Don’t fall in love with Inifra.”

“Did you? With her predecessor?”

Salisir ignored my question. He stood. “I’m leaving with Golara in the morning. The plan is well in motion. Once the Batsu and Yatusu are aligned, we’ll send word for the Sondu to advance from the south. I don’t know what to expect as far as counterattacks go, but expect things to get ugly quick. They’ll have magic on their side, but we have the numbers. I still have a few tricks hidden away.” He turned and looked down at me. “And you’ve got one on your chest.”

My hand drifted unconsciously to cover the chain at my neck. I realized it as I looked down.

“That key. I lost it a long time ago. I don’t know if it’s fortuitous that you found it or dumb luck, but I’m grateful in any case.” He looked at me for a long moment, then tightened his lips and gave a curt nod. “You keep it for now. I know you’ve got… issues with me. I want you to trust me.”

Fat chance, I responded. He laughed. “Get Nianatara’s forces to the river. One month. It’ll all be over a week or two after that.”

Salisir walked away and left me with a swirling haze of incomplete thoughts. He was trusting me, deeply, with multiple aspects of his precious plan. Had trusted me, to carry the key all this time. But was that just part of the plan? Was he playing me? What happened to Inifra? He knew a lot more than he was saying and as much as I tried to avoid it, all of my thoughts came back to those days in the Scourge. My brutal teacher, picking on me, choosing me to torture out of all my classmates. Beating me. Nearly killing me.

All to save me.

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Entry 288 – Day 417

Entry 288 – Day 417

Salisir is gone. I feel a mixture of emotions over the fact. I was ready for him to leave, to be away from the pressures his presence builds inside of me. The anxieties, the twitching uncertainty and the unbidden discomfort. But he’s taken on a different mask in the face of all that.

He has become a teacher to me, one who has taught me some of my most valuable lessons. He’s not what he seems, at least not what he always seemed to me. How he is portrayed by the Tetrarch. To hear his old contemporaries speak of him, you’d think he was a direct descendent of the Stone Lord himself. They hate him. But when Salisir’s stories are juxtaposed against those of the Tetrarch, his appear all the truer.

If it wasn’t for this unresolved mystery with Inifra, I would be tempted to start trusting him.

Entry-288-Quote-Unresolved-Mystery-Trust

I watched Salisir and Hembila walk off into the jungle with Golara. I stood by myself, watching the trees long after the small band had passed between them. There was no ceremony, no group to send them off. Just Dionus, Balthandar, and me. We shook hands. Hembila gave Balthandar and I sturdy shakes, hands clasped around forearms, but he took Dionus’ for an extended moment. There wasn’t anything said, but their eyes locked before Hembila gave him a sad nod.

That was all the apology the younger Sondu would give, but it was more than any of us ever expected. Dionus smiled as soon as Hembila turned away. Kodara made a show of spitting at the ground between us before following; I couldn’t help making my own rude gesture.

If Salisir thinks he can get the Yatusu here within a month, they must truly be ready to mobilize. Perhaps he won’t bring them here at all – it does seem as though he would rather crush Matasten between two forces. Grain between the mortar and the pestle, his regular reference. I suppose we will see, but the question of how to get Nianatara to mobilize is now the question.

With Salisir gone, I finally felt comfortable enough to approach Inifra’s makeshift camp. Comfortable isn’t the right word for it, considering she’s constantly surrounded by the most fearsome women I’ve ever laid eyes on, but I felt I could. I asked one of her guards for an audience, a strange request to make of someone to whom I’d had unfettered access for months. She left me with three others and entered Inifra’s tent.

It took some time. I tried to break the tension with the remaining guards by asking after their weapons. They wouldn’t humor me. The blades, from what I can see up close, are up to six feet in length. Each matches the height of its bearer, perhaps just an inch or two shorter, so they vary accordingly. But they are long.

The blades themselves are single-edged. The women hold the rebated, straight edge against their bodies, with the curved, sharp edge out. It tapers to a cruel point at either end: one broad and one narrow. The flow of the metal widens towards the center like a cresting wave; this is where the hilt lies. The hilt lends even more to the mystery of their use. I didn’t get a good look when they were fighting, and to call them reluctant to demonstrate would be understated.

The way the warriors hold the blades, overhanded, the narrow end rests near their head. The broad end remains pointed toward the ground. The metal glistens with a deep blue finish, runes etched along the rebated edge. They’re as beautiful as their bearers. Well, some of their bearers. I want to see them fight; I’d love to test them myself.

Inifra came out of the tent Nianatara provided her after a few minutes. She didn’t walk any farther than her guards, nor did she dismiss them. After an awkward pause, I offered that Salisir had left.

“I know,” she said. “Nianatara will move us on tomorrow, after she is certain he is away from us.”

This woman loves me. The thought ran unbidden through my mind. So Salisir claimed at least, but I wasn’t gathering as much from her posture. So many contradictions in such a small span of time. “We have to get her to mobilize her army,” I said. “I don’t know how we’re going to do that.”

“Neither do I,” she said. “But we’ll find a way.” With that she nodded and returned to her tent. Her guard closed rank accordingly. Points well taken, I said, and walked back towards my own shelterless camp.

It would seem I’m to remain just on the outside of every other.

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