Entry 325 – Day 455

Entry 325 – Day 455

One thing for which I can be grateful is that an army moves far slower than any regular unit. I’d like to keep from running for another year if possible. Unfortunately, I think Nianatara has devised a far worse fate for me in the interim.

Her treeborn elite came to us at the heart of our marching column with orders to take Dionus and me into the trees. They handed me a rope harness padded in leather, then two smaller ones for my boots. When attached, they add small spikes to the arch of each foot, enabling me to climb the face of the trees. At least in theory.

The sheer face of each tree is so broad that it can lose any discernable curve along its surface as one climbs it. I only made it about twenty feet before they told me to come back down. This is to be my exercise for the next week, climb ten trees every day until my legs and core are used to the exertion. It’s miserable, like walking a vertical staircase with my face against the wall and nothing but air to catch me should I tip backwards.

Dionus laughed until they handed him the same gear and told him it was his turn to try. If we are to make it into Matasten unmarked, they will take us through the trees. There can be no use of magic until the fight ensues. Wudan jumped up with Dionus to show him how to do it, and in bare feet he scurried twice as fast up the tree as the Walker.

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I don’t know if it’s wise to take Wudan into Matasten with us, but how foolish would it be to leave him behind? We know now just how powerful we can become with him at our side. We need to continue seeking a way to allow his power to pass around him and not through him. Such theoretical work is best left to the great schools and universities, but we have none present to aid us. As always, in the Nanten we are on our own.

I just hope I don’t fall out of a tree before we figure it out.

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Entry 326 – Day 456

Entry 326 – Day 456

I can’t tell which burns more, my legs or my ass. Walking was difficult after running; it’s near impossible after climbing. What the trees don’t tell you from the ground is that they taper ever so gently as they rise. The surface appears smooth, yet the higher you climb, the more grooves and rifts you find in which to place your hands.

I got well over seventy feet off the ground today and froze there for a good while. I told myself I was taking a rest. In reality I was trying not to follow my head and spin right off the side to my death. Climbing back down is the worst part.

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I watch the treeborn elite with a new fascination now that I have first-hand experience. They move along the surface without any sense of impediment, like snakes take across the ground as if legs were superfluous. Tree-born, I tend to think this term refers to the fact that they were all actually birthed into the trees. They’ve probably spent more time swinging among the boughs of the Nanten than walking between the trunks.

That is the part I am not looking forward to at all. I can handle the climbing, it’s an exercise, something that makes me stronger in a new way. Tossing a rope out from one branch to another and then swinging across open space, hundreds of feet in the air… it makes my toes curl just to write it out.

Timber has started climbing as well, but she won’t go with us. I’m grateful for that, though it’s bittersweet that she wants to come. There is a part of me that wants Timber at my side forever, to apprentice under me, to grow into a premiere swordsman and enter the larger world as a true sword. I could teach her so much. It makes me long for just such a student to pour myself into, yet dissuades me at the same time. How could I ever invest in someone new? Thinking about that future draws me into a grief over things which have yet to befall us.

We have to kill this prince first.

Inifra watches us all and laughs. She’s the only one who doesn’t feel any need to participate in the exercise. It’s good to see her smile, even if it’s at our expense. She bites her lip to end her mirth as often as it tapers off naturally. She can’t feel happy without a well of sadness rising within her, tears brimming in her eyes with an irregularity that betrays how chaotic her emotions must be right now.

Has she ever experienced loss on this scale before? I sat with her around the fire for a while tonight and realized as I looked at her that I forgave her for letting Starlark go. In many ways I suppose I would have done the same thing. In reality, I already had.

When I told her this, she fell apart. I never thought I’d see the day that Inifra would weep openly. She clasped my arm and did just that, bringing all conversation around the fire to a steady close until the only thing that racked the silence were her cries. She has lost so much.

Her bodyguard was comprised largely of girls with whom she had grown up, but she hadn’t told us that one of them was her sister.

“Malala,” she said her name with a longing I would describe as severe. “As children, she was my best friend. In times, my only friend. When there was famine, we scavenged and shared what we could find. When the KoraKora roved our territory, it was Malala who always knew the best places to hide. There was a time I was sick, too frail to move quickly enough into hiding, and she led the KoraKora scouts on a chase until I could crawl to safety.” Inifra shook her head. “She ran before the KoraKora for me.”

When Infiri’s call had settled upon her, had transformed her from within, she said that there was a period where she hadn’t even recognized her sister as family. She said that each time Infiri incarnated herself in a new priestess, this period of forgetfulness increased incrementally. There were too many memories, too many faces through which to sort, too many links to too many emotions and no way to process it all without losing one’s self for a time.

She said she operated on instinct and Infiri’s instruction for two years before she was able to see her sister’s face and know who she was. By that time the damage had been done. Malala never looked at Inifra the same again. There was love, Inifra said, intermingled with the respect that was her due, but the distance between them never shifted back to proximity. The walls raised were never toppled. Malala joined herself to service with Infiri’s priestesses as she had planned, but never served alongside her sister as she had intended. Instead she served her sister, and Inifra had no choice but to assume her superior role.

So many things left unsaid. So much unresolved and brought to sudden and incomplete resolution. There is no going back; we know this, all who have tasted death. That doesn’t mean we don’t still wish we could step through the veil for just one last conversation. If only we could close one of the doors left eternally ajar by the passing of our loves, block out the glaring pain they allow into our world in standing open, perhaps then we might reduce our suffering by that mere fraction necessary to permit ourselves to heal.

Perhaps we never truly heal from something like this.

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Entry 327 – Day 457

Entry 327 – Day 457

The battalion assigned to secure the tunnels through which we made our escape has broken west. The river at which we made our stand against the Daedra runs in the east not far from here. So many memories I will be happy to leave behind me forever. I never want to revisit any place I have been in the Nanten – they are all of them filled to the brim with sour memories.

Salisir has told us that he plans to leave us north of here to join the majority of this force with the standing Yatusu army. A contingent of light troops will be left with us, predominantly Batsu treeborn who will be dedicated to harassing the Daedric flanks. Salisir’s unification of this people is already underway. While he allows the Yatusu to keep their orange and the Batsu their green, he has given them new symbols. Standards for their units, not of the kind we are accustomed at home, but staffs for the commanders and pins for the soldiers.

I can see it at work already, bridging gaps by providing common links. It’s amazing how useless trinkets can become the symbols for which people will fight and die. We ascribe great meaning to such meaningless things.

Salisir’s plan hinges upon overwhelming pressure on Matasten. After the show of force against the Batsu he expressed some unease about this in private, but the mechanism is already in motion. Hembila has made promises to Oroun that his people will be given positions within the government once the throne is secured in exchange for placing a Sondu upon it. Oroun’s assessment of Hembila must be akin to our own because he has agreed. I only hope he doesn’t meet Fodafa before the coronation ceremony. He might rescind his offer.

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Pride of the kind those two men carry is that which will not easily find peaceful compromise. When all of this is over, I wonder what kind of unity will truly be had. Civil war is the last thing we want to lead the Nantese into; Salisir claims he has accounted for that in his plans. What we need to focus on right now, he says, is killing that prince.

“That prince” is something that haunts my dreams, both waking and not. Thinking of the task before us naturally leads to memories of what we saw on the bridge to Matasten, the carnage, the sheer volume of blood spilled to the river below. How is he capable of carrying the weight of such armor? And the fire he drew forth, like no inferno I have ever seen.

Is he close to an Ascension?

What if a Demon ascended into the Nanten before our very eyes? We would be undone. There is no contingency in place for such an event, and surrounded by the faithful which this prince has amassed for it… the jungle would burn. How could Starlark turn so sharply as to serve him?

I need to spend some time stretching and get some sleep. Tomorrow I’m going to make it into the canopy of the Nanten and I’ll need all my strength for the climb.

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Entry 328 – Day 458

Entry 328 – Day 458

I’m too tired to write much tonight. The view from the branches above was exhilarating. I never thought I would see the world from such a vantage point. The Batsu treeborn celebrated my arrival among them as though I had conquered death itself with a feast of red termites – crunchy to say the least. I think there were a few bets on whether or not I would ever manage the climb but any resentment over the results was lost in the joy they had at my success.

Dionus was close behind. We walked out onto one of the thicker branches, a vantage with which he was far more comfortable than I, and looked down on the army passing underneath. They looked so small, so utterly inconsequential as they ebbed and flowed through the wooden breakers below us.

The climb back down was the worst yet, but it feels more manageable with each attempt. My fingers find their place without much thought, callouses forming in new places to fill gaps left by the hilt of my sword. They are welcome additions. Wudan already moves freely along the face of the trees we climb, practically circling us in his boredom as he waits for us to progress.

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I look forward to the day when I can catch him as we climb.

Inifra seems to be regaining herself, the strength that leaked out of her slowly reentering. The exhaustion remains but it is the kind that is a sign of being replenished, no longer drawn out.

Timber is itching to use her blade again; we will have to practice in the morning before I set out to climb. The treeborn want us able to climb three trees in a day before they’ll begin teaching us to swing between them. I’d be fine if we never made it to that point in our lessons.

Nianatara has been pointedly absent in our march and time spent climbing. She does not want to be drawn into this fight and, even forced to do so, will remain as absent as physically possible. Her pride is of a different kind, though she is no less stubborn for having it.

I need to go stretch. My anxieties are no less for climbing, but they are being balanced out now by the rush of the accomplishment.

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Entry 329 – Day 459

Entry 329 – Day 459

If I thought I was tired yesterday, I was sorely mistaken for just how much energy I truly had. I climbed two trees today and think I’ll take a break tomorrow. It’s become a joy to climb. The work itself remains miserable, albeit a diminished form of misery. But the heights. I never knew I could love them so.

Standing in the trees alters one’s perspective significantly. I asked Dionus if it was like what he felt when flying and he smiled. “Something like it.”

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That desire is still there in him; the call of the Wind remains a very distinct tug on my friend. I tend to forget just how amazed I should be that he has resisted it for so long, that he ever overcame it.

I will master these trees. If Starlark was able, then so can I.

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Entry 330 – Day 460

Entry 330 – Day 460

The treeborn have begun prepping us to move from tree to tree; I am equal parts petrified and excited to give it a try. The harnesses are impressive works, a combination of rope, leather, and iron rings that seem strong enough to hold the weight of three men each. Dionus seems satisfied as well.

Each harness has three ropes attached and coiled at its sides. Two of them are used to swing, and one is used for “emergencies only.” I’m not sure if it’s comforting that they’ve accounted for emergencies or that such a rope needs to exist at all.

The hooks on the end of each rope are a minor wonder of engineering. Apparently, though they do not use these systems themselves, they were originally designed by the Yatusu. Each rope is secured to the hook at its end, but along the rope runs another series of thin wires housed in a separate, thin cord of flexible bamboo. These wires act as an activation and release system for the talons of the hooks, enabling them to fold both in and out, lock in place, and release as desired.

I don’t really think I want to entrust my life to these things.

We will begin training with them on the ground in a few days. Essentially it has been explained to me as follows:

The two primary ropes are linked to the harness under each arm, just inches below the armpit, and are secured to the wrist of the user so as to keep them readily in hand regardless of what happens in the trees. At that wrist binding is a small housing that holds three rings, each of which is assigned to a particular finger. Depending on how one pulls the rings, the three talons at the end lock in one of three positions or release.

The goal, then, is to cast the rope over a distant branch so that it loops, catches itself, and provides for a direct swing out. As we reach the apex of the following swing, our timing should be good enough to reach out for the next branch, release our hold on the first, and secure our grip on the second. All in one smooth motion. Of course, if you mess up the timing you only have a few hundred feet to fall.

I asked how they keep from losing altitude. It seems as though they would perpetually descend until there were no branches left from which to swing. All I got in response was a wink, which builds even less confidence than the tiny rings through which I’m supposed to loop my fingers.

I didn’t bother asking about the “emergency rope.” I’ll leave that unpleasantness for when they actually begin training us.

I need a drink.

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Entry 331 – Day 461

Entry 331 – Day 461

We could almost run between the trees when among their boughs. I hadn’t realized it when the heights kept me dizzy, but the more comfortable I grow walking along the thicker branches, the more confident I am that we could run and jump from one to the other. Asking about it drew smiles.

“Ocada learns as slow as he climbs.”

It comes as a relief to know that the swinging mechanisms aren’t all upon which we will be relying to move from tree to tree, but my trepidation at learning to use them remains. Not that jumping between branches is within the realm of my comfort, regardless of how large said branches may be. The problem with spending so much time in the canopy of the Nanten is that I can imagine falling from it that much more vividly.

The Batsu take turns running and jumping out to thick vines, swinging out and away from us before climbing back up. It’s a game to them, but it terrifies me every time they do it. What if one of those vines snaps?

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They pour themselves into their games and jokes and by doing so cover up the grief that hems their edges. They lost friends, a lot of them. As we begin to speak to them of making for Matasten, of what to expect and what spies they have in wait, the flicker of vengeance lights deep in their eyes. This will be dangerous for all of us, but success will taste sharp and sweet.

Wudan has made strides in bending the flow of the Atmosphere around him; that’s the best description for it that I can think of for what he does. He tried to describe it to us, but words failed him in the end and he attempted to demonstrate instead.

He is able to maintain a gap in the Atmosphere around us while pulling on that which remains inside, feeding it into either Dionus or me. The problem that immediately presents itself is that there is a limitation to how much energy exists within the field he has created and it can be expended.

If it’s only Wudan who touches and uses the Atmosphere then it appears to be recycled, but as soon as one of us touches it, it is converted into an energy that cannot be so quickly recaptured. This implies that the metaphysical world is converted into the physical when we use our abilities. Larger questions reside within that observation than I have the energy to delve into tonight.

In essence this gives us a combination of tactics to pursue. We can use stealth within Wudan’s gap field, but will not be able to accomplish much within it. We can also allow Wudan to amplify our abilities to a much greater extent than before as he bends the Atmosphere around him, but we cannot do so without lighting a metaphysical beacon to announce our presence.

The other question is how the gap field will affect the Atmosphere beyond it. If he’s repelling it actively, will that disturbance register with those who are sensitive to its touch? The Daedra appear to have some incredibly sensitive followers among them; what ripples can they feel?

Another couple days north and we will set up camp to wait; Salisir will set us loose shortly after that. Now to ensure we don’t come tumbling from the Majestic Sky in the meantime.

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