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.

Entry-282-Quote-bastardly

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.

Share on Pinterest
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?

Share on Pinterest
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

Share on Pinterest
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.

Share on Pinterest
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.

Share on Pinterest
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.

Share on Pinterest
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.

Share on Pinterest
Page 4 of 512345