Entry 289 – Day 418

Entry 289 – Day 418

Nianatara had us packed and on the move with the Batsu early this morning. Too early. I was getting used to sleeping as I wanted. Gods I hate this jungle.

We made good time. It was fascinating to see a portion of her troop move among the trees above us. They were so high, well over a hundred feet overhead. One slip and they would have died, yet none came careening down from the boughs above. It was good to see, certainly a useful skill that will be helpful in whatever fight is to come. I wonder if the Daedra have similar capabilities.

I would guess they don’t. After Golara’s comments, and the awe with which Inifra’s guards watch the action above, I think it’s safe to assume that few know how to do what they’re doing.

Salisir’s plan seems to be to move all three armies in conjunction, but his mention of setting dates to attack as a failsafe feels more reliable. I wish he’d given me more details. Perhaps, in his mind, keeping me on the outside will put me in a more favorable light with Nianatara. I welcome whatever might help; the light she sees me in must be tainted red. She hasn’t spoken to me in days.

Entry-289-Quote-Nianatara-Tainted-Red-Batsu

Some of her troops have ambled alongside us long enough to talk, however. Thankfully they spoke our language; with Wudan and Wauloo walking closer to Inifra’s party, we’d lost all of our translators for the moment. We really need to learn Nantese. Nianatara’s troops say we are within another two days of the Batsu’s forward camp. They don’t call any of their habitations cities, though by the sound of their size that is exactly what they are.

Nomads. Tree people. The Batsu roam so that they don’t overtax any one area with their population. It keeps them humble, they said. It keeps them sharp.

I can see how effective such a lifestyle is, as undesirable as it may be. They are lithe. Their muscles are lean, corded. The Batsu are a nation of guerilla warriors, rebels waiting in the wings. If we can capture their heart, the heart of Nianatara, we will be able to direct them at Matasten. If I could lead an army like this, I would be right at home.

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Entry 290 – Day 419

Entry 290 – Day 419

Inifra dropped back into place with us for a while today. Her guard couldn’t stop glancing back at us, but she must have told them to maintain their distance. It felt strangely nostalgic to have her walking between Balthandar, Dionus, and me again.

After walking in silence for a few minutes, she said, “Tell me about the magic of the Darkness.”

I shared a glance with Dionus then asked what she meant. Why the sudden interest?

“The red,” she said. “They glowed in places and their skin was blackened, like they burned from the inside.  What is wrong with them?”

I resisted laughing at the question. What isn’t wrong with them, I wanted to ask. They aren’t burning from the inside, I said, not in the same way an overzealous Pyron might consume himself with flame. They are transforming.

Entry-290-Quote-Daedra-Burning-Transformation

I referenced the Hierarchies of Magic to fill in gaps in my own knowledge; the rare book has been helpful. Magic, as the Ancients used it, was a natural extension of the self. The magic of the Greater Demon was a perversion of this, a twisting of the self to enhance and capture magic, then grow it into something else.

This was the beginning of the Daedric cornerstone of human sacrifice. Even in themselves, they sacrifice their own bodies and, through ritual, their very souls to enhance their grasp on the Atmosphere. Both physical and spiritual tiers can be used to alter the metaphysical power coursing through them. As they do so, one of two outcomes becomes inevitable: either their flesh is corrupted and irreparably harmed, or it is transformed into something infused with the Atmosphere, much like the bodies of the Ancients.

This is where Daemons and Princes come from. They are the rarest of monsters: men or women who have survived a complete transformation. The result is nothing short of spectacular, in the most terrifying sense of the word.

Entry-290-Scars-of-the-Daedra transformation

The majority of Daedra show signs of the corruption in tandem with the transformation. The glowing red veins of flesh that poke through are the new, powerful cells being formed. The blackened scars are the remnants of their failure to survive the new power. The stronger ones consume the armor they wear, the power bleeding through it until it fuses into their flesh.

“Is it painful?” she asked.

It drives them mad, I said. Then it kills them. Thus the short life-expectancy of devout Daedra. But it does give them power. Most grow stronger, and many dip into Expressions yet unformed. Thankfully most of their effort is inward-focused, so instead of mastering their growing grasp on the Atmosphere in some practical way that would make them more formidable, they redouble their efforts to make the transition into their own personal Ascension.

At least in every sect and Slick we’d ever encountered.

There are always a few who put some effort into learning an Expression, into figuring out a way to fight with their magic, but the obsession with becoming a Daemon drives most to forsake such endeavors. Like a virulent disease, it is an obsession that has every potential of manifesting itself in horror, but that balances this inherent threat by killing a high rate of the very people who harbor it.

“Have you ever seen a Daemon?” Inifra asked. “A Prince?”

I shook my head. The Prince in Matasten was the first I had ever seen.

“How can you know what it is we face, then? Hasn’t Salisir killed one of these things?”

Killed? No, I said. As I understood it, he tried twice and failed. She said he had told her differently. It was one of the reasons she trusted him to deal with the Darkness in Matasten – he had seen the worst it had to offer and he had put it down.

I decided to let it drop when she put it that way. We need all the faith we can get, whether or not it’s misplaced. We’ve already put enough in Salisir; why not believe he can kill Daemons?

It is doable, of course. The scars they leave behind never heal. I’ve seen a few myself, blackened rifts in the bedrock of the world, long gashes where nothing grows. The men and women who have released Daemons are the heroes of the Tetrarch, their names as familiar to us as the lineage of kings is to the Old Empire.

Salisir’s name is not listed among those heroes. He is on a different list altogether.

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Entry 291 – Day 420

Entry 291 – Day 420

It was Nianatara’s turn to walk among us today as we continued our eastward march. The woman’s laugh is deep, infectious, and yet slightly off-putting. I attribute that to the fact that she still has her walls up. As open and honest as she seems to be, there is little trust between us.

She explained the ways of the Batsu as we marched, how they were an old tribe, hunters and fishers. They were one of the few adept enough to escape the fall of the Nanten Kingdom and avoid the horrors that followed. “Motion,” she said. “It all comes down to staying in motion. Once you stop moving, that is when the world catches up to you. And when the Nanten catches up to you…” she snatched open air before us and made a crushing motion with her hand.

“Tell me how you know Brin Salisir,” she demanded.

He was my teacher, I told her. For two miserable years of my life.

“Brin Salisir is a murderer.”

Not that I took umbrage at the strange counter-title, but I asked her how she knew this. She responded that she had seen him do it. “Fodafa and Oroun may have fallen for his charms, but Brin Salisir is no man to trust. He is capable of great evil; evil that could consume us all.”

Entry-291-Quote-Capable-of-Great-Evil

I couldn’t believe I was about to defend my old instructor, but I offered up the possibility that sometimes it took a high capacity for evil to overcome it.

“Nonsense!” Nianatara looked at me as though I had confessed to eating children. “Only good can overcome evil. To put our lives in the hands of a man who would as easily snuff them out is foolishness. Utter foolishness. Fodafa is blinded by the Oaken Throne. He wants to warm that seat so badly he would burn the entire jungle down to make the heat. Oroun only loves the sound of his own voice and the philosophies it carries. Haughty, the both of them. They are closer to an alliance than they have ever been, and I will admit that Salisir is due credit, but that doesn’t mean we should trust him. And it doesn’t mean either of those men are fit to rule.”

I admitted it seemed Salisir had changed since I last knew him. There was something different about him, more refined. I asked her if it wasn’t possible the Nanten had changed him for the better?

“It doesn’t matter how long you wash a goat,” she said. “It’s still going to smell like a goat.”

I felt much the same way, all the way up until today. Suddenly I wonder if I have misjudged Salisir all along. I shouldn’t have voiced that to her though.

“When I met you, I found you honest. It seemed you were wise enough to distrust Salisir at the very least, but now I see I was mistaken. Like all the rest, even you who hated him all your life, now you fall for his charms.”

She left us then and moved back among her own people. The knot of anxiety that formed in my gut as she moved away was physically painful – will we lose her so easily? Before our own recent encounters with the Daedra, I would have hoped that Fodafa and Oroun’s forces would have been sufficient to the task. After, and now that I have seen the Batsu in action, I know how necessary they will prove to be.

Have I already ruined our chances of an alliance in such short order? We have to find a way to show her how very necessary this war will be. How necessary it already is.

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Entry 292 – Day 421

Entry 292 – Day 421

Dionus is stewing on a number of contingency plans should Nianatara not be moved to our purpose. We stand out too much to easily infiltrate Matasten, in every way from our skin color to our bearing. There are ways to mask that, he says, but his confidence in our ability isn’t as strong as it would be at home.

“So much of hiding is done in plain sight,” he said. “But you have to be familiar enough with your surroundings if you want to blend with them, and we’ve never even seen Matasten itself. On the one hand we have the benefit of being unknown, but on the other, we are obviously outsiders.”

I asked how we did it then, and he said through complete stealth. But without contacts in the city, without safe houses or known routes controlled by friends, it would be nearly impossible. Especially without using our abilities, which would only draw more attention to us.

“So back home you would walk the streets?” I asked.

“The open makes for the best cover,” he said. “Sneaking around is a lot more conspicuous than most people think.”

And then he told me something I hadn’t realized before, something that helped make perfect sense of his presence here with me now.

“That’s a big reason I followed you in here – there are a lot of people in the Old Empire who want to see me dead. It grew impossible to feel safe regardless of circumstances. Assassins shouldn’t be so recognizable.” I asked him how it came to pass that people knew him on sight; though I’d heard of him, I never knew his face until I saw him in action, and even then it was obscured by his cloak. “The feather, the cloak, they mark me.”

“Why not change how you dress?” I couldn’t help a little sarcasm.

“Then how would they know who did it? Calling cards build reputation and reputation makes for better business. There are those who have taken to spreading images of my face in the right places, that’s the step too far, a bid at vengeance. I imagine any other Walker suffers greater scrutiny on my behalf, but I doubt there are that many in any case.” He grew wistful for a moment. “My school is dying out – the Wind is regaining its peaceful past and pushing men like me back to the fringe. The further we press into this jungle, the more I wish I had been a part of reclaiming that peace instead of resisting it.”

Entry-292-Quote-Reclaiming-The-Wind

That stunned me. I asked about his career, the sheer accomplishment of his life overshadows that of any man twice his age yet living. He just shook his head.

“I’m an assassin, Marceles. A professional murderer, if we’re going to drop the flowery similes. Nothing worth owning is built on such foundations. I’m as hated as I am admired, feared more than I’m loved. What kind of life is that? You’re loved, at least you were loved by the entirety of the Old Empire. Your legend was one built the right way, brick by brick with good and selfless deeds. You constructed a house within which you could live. I made a monstrosity from which I had to escape.”

Until I burned mine down, I reminded him.

“I doubt it’s as destroyed as you seem to believe. We’re both looking for something in this jungle. You’re looking for the tools to repair what you’ve damaged while I’m looking for the key to recapturing, at the very least, what little soul I can hope is still offered to a man like me.”

I never thought Dionus could harbor such a low view of himself. He’s a Master of unsurpassed skill within his expression, whether in his own school or out of it. It’s impossible to fathom such a person should regard himself as on the wrong end of life’s offering, especially one as self-assured and confident as Dionus.

I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised; all men have ghosts that haunt them. Why should Dionus be any exception? Let us put ours to rest in the Nanten.

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Entry 293 – Day 422

Entry 293 – Day 422

We have reached the forward encampment of the Batsu – a sprawling metropolis of tents that cover the floor of the jungle and spiral around the trees overhead. Despite its size, I am left with the impression that this entire place could mobilize and disappear overnight. Nianatara has taken us to its very heart.

Her palace of a tent is wild to look upon. Strung up between three trees, it easily soars a hundred feet in the air, teeth of tanned canvas stretching high to provide a menacing depth to its façade. As we stepped through the broad entrance, she mentioned that it could be set up and torn down again in a matter of hours. Not without a strong hint of pride in her voice.

Entry-293-Nianatara's-Tent

Waiting for us were the men and women who make up her local council. Leaders from every walk of life, though each of them appears ready to fight should the occasion arise, they make up the eldership for this particular city. Their short green cloaks bore different markings on the back but I was not given any indication which meant what. We all stood around a broad table, the center of which harbored an oil fire that sent long wisps of dark smoke twisting through unseen vents in the ceiling above.

“Tell us, Marceles na Tetrarch, why you are here. Tell the leaders of my people why they should risk everything to face this threat you claim hovers on our borders. Convince them, and I shall call for the rest to join us here at the front.”

Not much for preamble in this court, I thought. What a contrast to Fodafa. Straight to it, then. I explained who I was, where I came from, and what I had seen in Matasten. The Daedra, Daemons, Princes, all of it. I told them of the long history of Demons ascending to assault our world, of the destruction kept ever at bay by the vigilant, and the penalty for lethargy and fear. I expounded on the theories and tenants of the Tetrarch. I watched as their eyes widened, some nodded their heads at various points, none of them interrupted me as I spoke.

When I was finished, Nianatara nodded and everyone turned to leave in silence. “You may leave, Marceles of the Tetrarch, for that is what your name means does it not? My council must think on these things for a night and a day, then I will ask them for their thoughts.”

With that she too turned and walked away, passing through a flap in the middle of her tent and disappearing. A man came quietly behind us and guided us back outside. He took us to one of the trees and gestured that we should make our way up. Not seeing how, we just stared at the tents overhead. He moved to climb the sheer face of the tree, and when we balked he laughed. He dropped back to the ground and called up to the lowest tent platform. A few seconds later a rope ladder rolled over its edge and dangled before us.

“It takes time to master the trees. Climb. Those above will help you get to your tents.”

A few awkward ladders later and we have found ourselves perched even higher than Nianatara’s massive tent. Looking out over the camp fires and torches as night settles over us creates the sensation that we are in a city filled with mighty towers. There are clear avenues laid out below, the bustle of life on the ground resembles that of any street back home.

Starlark would love this place. He would climb up in these trees and just sit and watch the people below for hours. It’s the perfect city and the perfect style of life for a man like him. He would have found a place here. Bolton on the other hand, he would have hated it. “No damn pubs.” First thing out of his mouth I’m sure.

Entry-293-Quote-Guarded-Peace

Lack of pubs aside, there is a sense of guarded peace here; the hum of life. I only hope Nianatara sees the Daedric threat for what it is and moves quickly to protect her people.

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Entry 294 – Day 423

Entry 294 – Day 423

Nianatara hadn’t called for us, but Inifra felt confident she could gain audience with our host. She wanted to try and sway her opinions and thought that perhaps I was the key to doing so. I told her that I was increasingly certain my presence was hurting more than helping. She just smiled, “Your presence changes far more than you know.”

It took a while to get out of the tree, but I feel like I’m getting the hang of it. We found our way to Nianatara’s tent, slowly weaving through the city-sized encampment as it came to life with the passing of morning. There were small markets to be found everywhere, people trading wares and food that they appeared to have scavenged themselves. Everyone pulls their weight in some fashion among the Batsu. It would seem most fulfill a variety of professions in their daily dealings.

Nianatara was not surprised to see us enter her tent, though she was not particularly thrilled. Inifra asked if we could speak, and Nianatara gestured to some low stools in a corner. Inifra explained all she had seen and her belief in the growing dangers of Matasten, but it didn’t take long for Nianatara to cut her off.

“You aren’t here for this,” Nianatara said flatly. “You know I cannot answer you until tomorrow, so why have you come?”

Inifra sat silently for a moment. She didn’t break her gaze from Nianatara, but it felt as though it took every ounce of her strength to hold it. Finally she said for all she had forgotten.

“This is something even Infiri cannot tell you, is it child?”

Inifra bowed her head, as if in shame. “You know that is not how it works.”

“Of course I do, but your followers do not. That is why you have walked with me all these days yet your deepest questions you have kept for now. I will keep your secrets Inifra, but do you want this man to hear them?”

Inifra said nothing but blushed, waiting only for Nianatara to continue. I got the sense that this was Nianatara’s way of establishing herself – she wouldn’t speak if I wasn’t there and Inifra knew it. This was Inifra’s moment to be humanized in my eyes, but I didn’t understand why.

“Your predecessor, she loved Salisir. You know that much, I am sure, for your feelings for him were conjoined with hers until only a few weeks ago. I remember him telling me about her, she was very beautiful. Infiri only chooses beautiful girls – perhaps you will be able to influence her to choose differently when it is your turn? Beauty is not such a strong outward marker for the inward fiber of a woman.”

Inifra remained silent and still.

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“I should hope you do. Beauty was always one of Infiri’s great failings,” Nianatara looked directly at me as she said, “As was her foolhardy notion of love. Much the same as the Imperial ideals of romance. You, my friend, hold this woman’s life in your hands, and you’re too thick to know it.”

Flabbergasted at her directness, I stuttered before asking how such a thing could be possible.

“You know the legends, at least I’m sure you’ve heard a few. Infiri was an Ancient, one who survived the atrocities of the long rise and everything that precipitated the Apocalypse to follow. She lived here in this jungle, a Swift God back then. It was what she did to this place that made her into a Dread God. That made this woman here a servant to the Dread Gods.”

There was spite that laced her words and, layered between them, more personal history than Nianatara would reveal. “Why don’t I trust Brin Salisir? Why will I not believe his tales and stand to fight his war? Look at her. He knew her legend. He knew that if she fell in love, she would be destined to die for the one for whom she fell. Yes, and the last High Priestess of Infiri fell for Salisir. Who wouldn’t? Back then, we all did. But Salisir didn’t fall for her, no. Salisir loved her in his own way, but he used her as his shield. Insurance.

Entry-294-Quote-Salisir's-Insurance

“Somewhere along the line he let her die for him. Whatever happened he never told me, but I know he had his hand in it. There was something she knew that had to be forgotten for his plans to come to fruition, and whatever they were, he found a way to erase them from the memory of a god.”

She turned her eyes back on Inifra, wide and boring deep. “That should frighten you, child. That should terrify and warn you away from this man and all of his plans. He refuses magic, yet can manipulate it to his purposes. He wards away love, yet commands the passion of the masses. Brin Salisir is more than a mere harbinger; Brin Salisir is the very agent of death, and he will bring it down on all of us.”

But the Daedra, I protested. Surely they were a greater threat.

“No threat is greater to any nation than the traitors within,” Nianatara countered. “No people falls completely except for the one whose very core has turned to rot. Brin Salisir is more than that rot, he is the catalyst for its fulfillment. We can survive this Daedric Prince – we have survived every madness that has beset this jungle, and that will never change because we are strong at our core. To permit the plans of Salisir to progress is to open ourselves to the only true threat we face.”

She turned back to Inifra. “I do not know what he did to her, Inifra, or I would warn you of it now. I do not know how your predecessor died, nor do I know Salisir’s part in it. All I know is that you should be wary and do not trust the emotions he left untouched. If you aren’t going to walk away from this, and sadly I can already see your decisions have all been made, then at least keep your wits about you.”

She said something in Nantese then that caused Inifra’s eyes to flash, but the priestess kept her anger in check. Nianatara rose, bidding us to do the same by implication, then sent us on our way. “Do not put your faith in this jungle,” she said to me. “No person or nation within it can be what you seek. None of us can stop this danger over which you obsess. Either find allies somewhere else, or leave us to our fate.”

Needless to say, I was not left with high hopes for what she should tell us tomorrow. How can they just give up? Running is not a life worth maintaining, for that is what they’re doing. They can remain nomads if they please, but they should do so on their own terms. Soon there will be little jungle left through which to roam, and then where will they turn?

As for the rest, what did Salisir do to Inifra’s predecessor?

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Entry 295 – Day 424

Entry 295 – Day 424

What are we going to do? I never thought I would feel so crushed at failing in the mission that Salisir gave me, but I’m in a haze tonight. The Batsu will not come to our aid. We cannot unite the Nantese against the Daedra. “I would never fight for Salisir,” Nianatara said. “And I would certainly never fight for a spineless mentee like you.”

Nianatara has given us a few days to gather what supplies we can before she inevitably presses us on away from her people. To be honest, there’s little we need that Nianatara’s people can provide. Instead I’ve kept my mind from my failure by taking time to give Timber fresh instruction on her stances (which continue to be too narrow for my liking) and have spent even more time with Wudan and Dionus.

What we’re trying to do is get Wudan to put up the protective suppression field and simultaneously amplify one of us ever so slightly. The first time we tried, he dropped the suppression field immediately and then amplified Dionus to full power. Thankfully Dionus was quick to quell his own touch on the Atmosphere and dropped Wudan’s hand, but that was how we discovered Wudan’s power could bridge to someone without physical contact.

It took us a few moments to get Wudan to stop pouring himself into Dionus, the loss of control frightening for the child at first. Then he blinked and the power stopped. Without prompting, Wudan put the suppression field back up, then gently opened his power to me. I could feel it grow within me, like added warmth coursing through my veins, and my grip on time solidified.

We continued to let Wudan play for a few minutes, for there was no better word as his curiosity overtook him, but once we could see it begin to tax him we bid him stop. If he does not need to touch us, perhaps there is a way to help him direct his power so that it doesn’t need to flow through him. It could save him whatever wear he is suffering as a result of using it.

We will need to try to guide him there if it’s possible, and we need to do it before we draw any closer to Matasten. I don’t like how close to the capitol the Batsu are camped in any case. Apparently they used to camp on the river where we fought the Daedra, but they now consider that the beginning of no-man’s land. More signs of gathering Daedric strength. Frustratingly, signs that they are aware of just what dangers brew in the west and yet are still unwilling to face them.

Wauloo watches us work with Wudan with a thinly-veiled curiosity that I’m beginning to sense is familial. There’s no pride in his gaze, little emotion at all now that I think about it, only an unbroken intensity that conveys his interest. Secretly, it bothers me. I have a mind to leave him here with Nianatara; I gather her charity would extend to someone like Wauloo, but I grow concerned over what he might do the instant we are apart.

Entry-295-Quote-Nianatara-Hides

What will Nianatara do once we leave? How can she hide when she has seen the Daedric force first hand? Does she really believe they can survive by hiding and guarding their “core?” Even if the Daedra are depleted in their fight with the Yatusu and Sondu, it’s only a matter of time before they gather their strength and march out here to finish the Batsu as well. And if we somehow win, how does she expect to remove herself from the new kingdom that will follow?

Nianatara wastes allies like disposable bits of armor and sets plans like a blind cartographer.

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