Entry 371 – Day 501

Entry 371 – Day 501

I can’t find Inifra. I don’t know where else to look, but I can’t find her. She can’t be dead.

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The combined Yatusu and Sondu force took the bridge and then hammered down the gates of Matasten. They flooded over the river in an armada of canoes and barges, sweeping the jungle and taking the wall with utter decisiveness. It was the Mentalist box that drove the Daedra into their fury. It was the relic from Graylag that drew them to the walls.

Inifra lent her considerable strength to that fight until she felt the spike of power from Matasten. Until she knew we were fighting the Daedric Prince. She couldn’t let us do it on our own. That’s what Timber told us today. We’ve scoured the palace grounds looking for her.

One of the treeborn units found us late this afternoon and have taken it upon themselves to act as my bodyguard. There are rumors of murders rising in the ranks of the Nantese, attempts to strike out at those of us who lead.

There are still pockets of resistance that are being put down, and rumors that Oroun was killed in the fighting by one of these plots. I could hardly care less at the moment. We need to find Inifra.

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Entry 372 – Day 502

Entry 372 – Day 502

Inifra is alive. She was knocked into the palace grounds, leaving her in bad shape but better off than Dionus or me. The palace was not empty, and she found herself instantly engaged in a fight with the guards. That fight led to another just outside the walls, where she was joined by a few dozen Nantese resistance fighters.

They drew her north into the city where Expressionist captives were being executed to prevent them from rescue. She found herself at the head of a growing fighting force that swept the northern reaches of the city clean over the course of yesterday. I am so thankful to find her alive.

The leaders of the Nantese did not fare so well. Nianatara is missing and Oroun is reported dead. It is rumored he was murdered by someone in his retinue before his body was thrown into the river. I asked after Fodafa and Salisir but have heard mixed reports. I’ve brought our small band to the palace grounds. It seems a central enough location and, after clearing it, a safe enough one as well. That said, we will remain encamped on the open grounds before the stairs.

The halls are broad and well-lit by natural sky lights and hidden mirrors. That is about as much good as has been retained. The walls are covered in a black tar that I fear has its base in blood. Every wall and column is marked with a Nine-Link Chain, Horned-Demon, or any other variety of Daedric symbol. I stopped exploring after discovering a third Slick. There are so many rooms dedicated to torture and sacrifice that I would burn the whole thing down if it were left to me to decide. I cannot fathom the amount of work Fodafa will have to put in if he wants to restore this place.

It stinks, far worse than the rest of the city. I can feel the Daedric presence lift even as I write these words, slowly, like corrupt air trapped in a stagnant room. What they accomplished here was terrible, but not nearly what it could have been. Why Gront’s death wasn’t enough I don’t know, but the Prince seemed convinced it should be. I’m grateful that he missed whatever it was that kept him from succeeding.

I have yet to enter the throne room and only partially because it seems inappropriate without Fodafa at hand. I don’t want to see what the Prince did with the inner reaches of this place.

Entry-372-Quote-alive the-palace-courtyard

The courtyard itself remains green, albeit surrounded by deep shades of black. There is one fountain at its center, clogged and overgrown. There are skulls hidden just beneath the filmy surface.

Hopefully our allies find us soon. I’ll feel safer in the midst of a crowd of friends. We have some few around us now, those that fought with Inifra through the north of the city. They check on her regularly, bring her offerings of food, and more than one have pledged themselves to Infiri. Still, I’d like to see more regular troops around, and soon.

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Entry 373 – Day 503

Entry 373 – Day 503

Fodafa is dead. So are Oroun, Nianatara, and a distressingly large number of their top officials.

Salisir and Hembila finally joined us today, both of them lightly injured, and it was with them that the bad news was brought. Hembila immediately set to preparations for the ceremonies that must take place to mourn the dead, including his brother.

Fodafa’s body lay untouched for nearly a day. His lion sat next to his corpse, growling at any who approached, and slowly eating the body of the man that killed him. It took Hembila himself to approach the beast and pull it away long enough to take Fodafa’s remains for the pyre.

The battle for Matasten has turned into a massive cleaning effort. The mess was left in part by the fighting, and in part by a Daedric occupation that lasted well over a decade. There is enough rot in Matasten already; they can’t permit any other avenues by which disease might enter into the city.

Salisir sent messengers out to the three nations for aid, hoping that this rebuilding process will be the first among many geared towards reunification. There has been a flurry of activity as guards have been set around the palace to watch Hembila night and day. There seems to be little worry any longer over a conspiracy, many accounts coming in that the leaders who died did so on the field engaged with the enemy.

Still, there is something unsettling to their number being so thoroughly thinned.

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Inifra has been able to draw an immense amount of water from the wells scattered around the palace grounds. She says that the reservoirs below are incredibly deep and has been able to wash away a lot of the tar-like substance that coats much of the palace. It’s a deep green underneath, like the entire structure was carved from jade.

Wauloo’s corpse was found on the palace grounds as well. I’m glad. Even though he saved us in the end, there would have been no rest for him on this side of the war. I’m grateful for how things resolved for Wudan as well – living with the monstrosity his brother was driven to will be easier knowing he died saving him. Even if Wauloo would have let the jungle burn and us with it.

Entry-373-Quote-Wauloo's-corpse

Dionus and I have been put to work overseeing the palace security force for the time being. Who better to keep the place safe than an assassin who can’t help but see the holes in any defense?

Timber has attached herself to us when she’s not helping Inifra draw and direct the water. The sheer volume of it has already spread through the city’s gutters and, after they clear a number of blockages, I think this place will wash clean. I hope it does. Gods know they need no Daedric presence of any kind here, living or dead. The river will take it all. Who knows what it will do with the filth, and who cares?

Timber doesn’t speak much, but she sticks close to us as we move through the palace. The Klotian blade she carries has a new notch on it. There will be plenty to discuss someday, but for now we will let her keep her stories to herself.

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Entry 374 – Day 504

Entry 374 – Day 504

Salisir, that bastard. I don’t know what to do now.

I saw his messenger, Golara, the snake from when we first met the Batsu. I don’t know how I missed it, but he had blue lining the nape of his neck. Just a scrape of it, deep like a stain. Then I remembered the blue stain lining the orange markings of the other Yatusu messenger. The shock of his silent movements, his ability to sneak up on the Batsu in the treetops.

I asked after the corpse of Fodafa’s killer immediately. They pointed me to where they had set it apart, destined for some extra dose of desecration for the crime of killing their king. There wasn’t much left of the man, but one of his arms was intact below the elbow. The same blue stain ran in faded loops on skin under strips of armor tied around his wrist.

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Salisir’s messengers are Latala, the force that nearly killed us when we entered the Great Recess.

Who else among us is Latala? If they can so completely fool the Yatusu into believing they are one of their own, I can only imagine that they have infiltrated the Sondu and Batsu as well. I can’t help but fear the worst, that the leaders of these people were murdered by the Latala and thus, by extension, Salisir himself.

I have to confront him, but I fear it is a confrontation from which I will not walk away.

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Entry 375 – Day 505

Entry 375 – Day 505

I finally know Salisir’s plan in full, but the results remain up to me. I am paralyzed tonight, unable to act for fear of the cascading effect any retribution might enact.

Dionus, Inifra, and I found Salisir in one of the palace wings where he has set himself up to work. We waited for the various aides and messengers to leave whatever meeting he was holding and then confronted him. I had only hinted at my suspicions to Dionus. Inifra knew instinctually what I feared.

Salisir, surprisingly, told us everything without so much as a threat.

He needed something to sway the balance, he told us. Expressionists that could stir the pot and get the Daedra moving – a rarity in a jungle where Expressionists had been hunted and killed for decades. More importantly, he needed someone to sway the Batsu to action. To get them to stop listening to Nianatara and see the dangers for themselves.

When we broke off from him shortly after meeting, he sent the Latala to watch us and, if we continued east on our own, keep us from harm. If we turned south, however, they were ordered to capture us and later allow us to escape once we were near the Batsu. He didn’t want us interacting with Fodafa for fear that the elder Sondu would try to take and use us for his own short-sighted purposes. When we broke south, they intercepted us, then tried to keep us from both Daedra and Sondu. While they were to protect us they were also under orders not to resist any rescue attempt from the south.

Our interactions with Hembila were fortuitous, in Salisir’s mind, as it helped open the younger Sondu’s mind to new ways of approaching the Darkness. When Salisir found out that we had been rescued and were headed for Motasta, he sent Latala agents ahead to arrange for Dionus’ seduction, then outed the young man with another spy. I could feel Dionus fury rise as he listened to Salisir explain the cold calculation of gaining leverage over his life, and by extension my own.

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It bought space from Fodafa as well, who would see Dionus’ actions as reprehensible. That prevented the Sondu from making a claim over us, which would have limited Salisir’s ability to put us to use. I asked him how he was so confident we would be of such help, and he responded that with the threat of execution, we would have little choice. However leaving us with the Batsu unattended would build our pliability, as would the temptation of learning SwordSkills.

He shrugged, “No secrets left to hold here. You should know all of this.”

It suddenly made sense, why the Latala he had killed in the jungle knew his name. Why he reached out not in fear from an enemy, but pleading with a superior for his life.

Nianatara had nearly botched the whole thing in refusing to fight and losing the treeborn elite. He told us that we were fully aware of the rest of his plan, save for the assassinations. He had Latala trailing the national leaders into battle, ready to kill them should the Daedra fail to do it for him.

“Aren’t you afraid that they’ll kill you for this?” I asked him.

“It was all I had to give.”

“You’re a monster,” Inifra said.

“Do you think this could have happened any other way? This jungle was on the verge of being engulfed, and all for the pride of a few fools. Fodafa couldn’t see the need for allies, nor allow himself to compromise in order to draw them in. Oroun, for all his bluster and political prowess, would never have stepped aside. And Nianatara. She wanted to stay out of Matasten’s new government? She would have sparked a civil war in the attempt if Oroun and Fodafa didn’t manage to do so first.

“When the dust settles, there can be only one ass on that throne. Why do you think coups are always so bloody? Upending a government is easy; properly filling the vacuum is the challenge. I preempted that entire process and now there is peace under Hembila. There will be peace under Hembila. The Nantese had it all within themselves, they just didn’t have the time table right and they couldn’t survive another civil war. That’s all I gave them. I could have died months ago and it still would have turned out this way because they wanted this.”

Dionus stormed from the room immediately, followed shortly by Inifra. I stood there for a long time, Salisir’s hands open on the table between us.

“If you tell anyone how Hembila took the throne, you threaten to undermine him. To begin an erosion of this peace that will be unstoppable.” He spread his hands. “That’s why I’m not afraid to tell you, ‘cause I’d rather there were no surprises left.”

“Dionus will probably kill you,” I told him.

Salisir shrugged. “I’ve lived long enough.”

I walked out then. I still don’t know what to think, but he’s right. We can’t tell anyone what we know.

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Entry 376 – Day 506

Entry 376 – Day 506

Dionus took Salisir to the top of one of the spires here in Matasten. He did it this morning, before dawn. I know only because he told me this afternoon, about the temptation to throw the old man over the edge. To watch him fall, helpless to the mechanics of the world as his victims had been helpless to his own.

He couldn’t do it.

I asked him why, and he said that Salisir had convinced him not to. I don’t know what was said. Dionus knows how to keep his lips sealed when it’s prudent, but I’m insanely curious now. Whatever it was, it convinced Dionus that Salisir was more valuable alive. Something there is of greater worth to him than the fulfillment of vengeance. Dionus really has changed in the last year.

Later I asked Salisir how he liked the view of the city. “Don’t ever let that friend go,” he said. “He’s worth more than any I ever had. Tenfold.”

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Odd to hear my old teacher recommend anyone’s friendship. The loner. The blight. I suppose it’s fitting that he should endorse the world’s premiere assassin.

Pyres are burning on the western shore of the island. The smoke is carried west on the wind, something Dionus is encouraging to spare us from choking. So many bodies to burn. Wudan asked us if we could burn his brother separately and so we made a small pyre in the parade ground for him. Fodafa and Nianatara are being prepared for their own. They will be burned last and, after having been seen privately mourn Wauloo, I think they’ll follow suit and use the parade grounds.

They already speak of him as a savior of the Nanten, a key that turned one final lock and opened the door to the victory we had here. Funny to hear the name “Wauloo” spoken on lips who never met him, who never saw the madness in him. The twitchy, writhing hatred of all things including himself. I suppose this is where legends are formed. We need our heroes, who cares from where we dredge them?

The smoke rises high to the west. It started this morning and will continue to billow into the sky through tomorrow, I’m sure. I’m just glad we’re spared the smell of it, even if we can hear the crackle and pop of fat on the flame. It sounds like a dull hiss over the walls and rooftops of Matasten, but we know what it is.

We know what it cost to take this place.

Will the Nantese ever know the true value of that cost?

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Entry 377 – Day 507

Entry 377 – Day 507

There are long rows of cages underground, some under the palace itself and the rest spread across the northern reach of the city. Perhaps this is why the Daedra fought to keep us from entering the city from the north. They were filled with anyone who had a touch on the Atmosphere.

I could see the signs of ritual, carried out quick and without preparation. They slaughtered these prisoners one at a time, draining them of their blood and carrying it back to the palace where they could pour it over a slick. They were pressed into it prematurely for fear that we might break through and free their captives. Thankfully they were not truly quick about it, even as they dispensed with ceremony in their haste. Otherwise Inifra would have been unable to save so many.

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They follow us still. Everywhere Inifra goes, there are dozens who bow or kneel when they see her. They stay like that until she touches them, and every time they rise with a smile plastered to their lips. She saved so many lives by herself, rushing into danger to save complete strangers from ignominious fates. Her selflessness is just that: selfless. Winning converts is purely a side-effect.

Fodafa’s pyre will be set at midnight tonight with Nianatara beside him. Hembila will represent the Sondu family, along with a few scattered cousins among the army who survived. Nianatara has no relations in the city, so Timber has taken it upon herself to stand for her family. Nianatara was brave, Timber said. She was a good woman, even if we didn’t agree with her, and for that reason she deserves to have someone cast her into the next life.

I don’t know what to expect from the ceremony tonight but I’m proud of Timber. It’s enough to make me rethink my frustrations with the Batsu leader, even if only in passing.

I’m tired. My armor has done its work, leaving me as fit as ever, but there is an exhaustion that runs beneath it all which no magic can touch. So many deaths. So much weight to carry to this point. And these scars that mark me are bizarre. Like the dark roots of a tree, they shoot down my right arm and spread across my ribs. Fitting to receive it in a place like the Nanten.

The people here have seen them on my arm, many have heard rumor. Some brave few have even asked to see them. They call me something different now: Tolada. Touched one. I think they mean it in a nicer sense than I’m inclined to hear in the translation.

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It’s closely related to the word Ocada, but sounds like their word for lightning. The one touched by lightning. There is an even greater sense of profundity to the way they look at me in the streets. They may bow for Inifra, they love her, and they fear Dionus, but they revere me. Strange as it is to say, I can see it in their eyes. In how they give me space and never look in my face, even if they’re smiling when they do it.

What strange things become of us in the Nanten. What people we once were may never return. In fact, the man I was may already be gone.

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