We have arrived at the borders of the Nanten. As we crossed the Blight Sea, the realization that this was my final journey for the Tetrarch returned to mind with every passing mile.
This is my death sentence. Now that I face it directly, the weight of it strikes like a physical force.
Watching the immense forest of the Nanten rise up from the cobalt surface of the water drove my heart steadily under it. There is no return from this place. At least, if I am to do so I will be the first.
The Nanten is the most hostile environment in the world. The remnants of a failed state smoldering upon the densest, most dangerous jungles you will ever hear of. Sorcery, unending war, and even cannibalism are the words that come to mind when the Nanten enters conversation. These are never polite conversations.
The monsters that live in nightmares inhabit only one other place: This bloody forest. It’s older than the known world. They say that aside from the granite peaks of the Northern Range, these trees were the only thing to survive the day of reckoning. To stand under them is to believe the tales. They soar.
My journey to this point, where I write these words by firelight and shaking hands, was as treacherous as any I have undertaken. And that was only to begin my quest. In contrast, setting across the Blight Sea proved to be one of the most tranquil parts of any journey I have undertaken, even if my suspicion of the old man ferrying us has left me discomforted.
The trail to the Blight Sea had few moments of safety. And now that we finally stand on solid ground again, I find myself turning paranoid. I questioned Tarsh’s trustworthiness even after he had let us off his barge and sailed away. He yelled something unintelligible as he drifted into the distance. It sounded ominous even though I have no idea what he said. The garbled words sent chills along my spine all the same.
Will he tell his contacts here of our arrival? Will he betray us for a jug of palm wine or a jawbone knife? To many our lives are worth as much.
Dionus believes he was subtly manipulating the wind to keep us moving. Considering Dionus is a Walker himself, I’m inclined to believe him.
It’s no surprise that someone like Tarsh would hide his abilities with magic should he have them. I would assume it to be common practice in a place as dangerous as this. It’s the fact that I didn’t recognize it myself that leaves me with an even greater sense of unease. Now I can’t shake the feeling that this oversight will somehow return to haunt me. This malaise is only amplified by the looming darkness of the Nanten above me, and the lingering specter of Bantish, whatever that may be.
I cannot risk staying on the fringes where we stand exposed. My intuition tells me that this Bantish is our key to the Nanten, and so we will find it first. Will we succeed at finding Salisir? Did he lead a glorious foray into this jungle and leave his mark, or die from some terrible fever within feet of this very spot? We will soon find out.
As for me, what will be said of my own exile? What are they saying of me back home? I’m sure you will be able to tell me if I ever return, but I doubt you will need to. The stories of those who fall from grace spread more rapidly than any other kind. People love to watch the mighty fall. They must have loved to see me shamed.
I don’t feel shame, however. I feel anger. Indignation. What was done to me was wrong, however understandable it may be. I never thought I would hate my own kind, but as I stare at the deep shadows of this jungle and listen to the canopy storm high above, hatred boils in me.
Why should I be sent here to die? For carrying out my duty? Fools. Old and cumbersome in their leadership. Someday I will return, and then I will supplant them.
But for now I must simply survive. Before me stands the greatest adventure of my life. Within it, more like than not, my death awaits as well. What form it will take is perhaps the most intriguing mystery of all. Will it be the anger of a water goddess? The knife of a crazed ferryman? Or perhaps the cold hands of a traitor in my own party.
All under the guise of finding Brin Salisir. What nonsense. And in this moment, as I write those words, I curse my inborn sense of duty. If only I could bring myself to walk away.
Tomorrow we must move onward. My heart grows heavy at the knowledge, yet there is an excitement to it as well. If I succeed here, there is nothing in this world that can stop me.
Tomorrow we strike into the jungle and discover a world that has fallen into myth.
Tomorrow – we find Bantish.
The howling is what disturbs me most. It almost sounds human. It started around nightfall and hasn’t stopped since.
There is a mythical creature called the Makonga that is said to live among these trees. A slouched figure that walks on hind legs, its body withered and hairy, its face a bare skull. They say it searches for a face.
When it finds a face that pleases it, the Makonga kills the owner and takes the face for itself. It wears the face convincingly enough, though it cannot mimic the mannerisms or voice that once belonged to it. It uses that face to lure those that love it into the darkness, and then it takes their faces too.
It makes sense why I didn’t get much sleep as I lay on my mat tonight, watching the embers of our fire dim and die. My shift at the watch came as a relief. I hate pretending to sleep. Almost as much as I hate not being able to. As I sit here and wait for the sun to rise, I still don’t know what’s making all that noise.
Then there are the bugs. Thousands of them seem to swarm to our fire in waves. They descend with a deep thrumming of the air, as if a thousand arrows were being loosed at once. They swirl around us, they bite, and are gone just as quickly. My arms and neck are covered in burning red dots. I could only imagine how horrible it would be if they were to stay.
The trees of the Nanten stand over two hundred feet tall at the shortest. There isn’t one I’ve seen that doesn’t reach the broad canopy overhead. It’s as if they do not grow from saplings but spring straight from the ground fully-matured. They are immense. If all five of us were to hold hands I doubt our combined length would reach around the trunks.
In spite of this, the undergrowth is formidable. That much is obvious, even standing on the shores of the Blight Sea I could see this. I can tell that striking out to make trails of our own will be an arduous task best avoided.
But how do you avoid carving trails where no feet tread? The very thought makes me grind my teeth in anxiety.
Tarsh was obviously trading with someone here, otherwise Blithe would have ceased to exist some time ago. Who he was trading with remains the mystery. Was it this Bantish? I’ve seen no sign of human settlement. No boats. No paths. Nothing.
Yet no matter how bad things get, even between the pits of war, commerce exists. There are always things that men cannot – or will not – live without, and there will always be those willing to risk their lives to provide them. I imagine this jungle is no different. For wherever mankind takes root, so trade must follow.
If we can find these traders, I believe we will find our route into the Nanten. But I feel exposed along these shores. What Tarsh may trade in, for all we know, is slaves. Even to set bandits upon us to kill us and loot our corpses would be the most profitable find in a decade for someone like Tarsh. I’m not worried about our ability to fight our way past an assault, but I do not know what poisons or traps may be laid out for us while we sleep.
Better to strike out into the jungle and avoid discovery than risk being so easily found near the sea. We will move inland to find Bantish. If we don’t, then we are lost. I don’t know why I trust the power of that name even when it comes from the one person I trust least. There is simply something about it that draws me.
I hope it isn’t the song of my death that calls.
None of us can sleep.
The howling persists tonight. Though at times it sounds so close I could reach out and touch its source, nothing presents itself.
We are camped well within the borders of the jungle now. The Siltlands and the Blight Sea are left behind us. As eerie as it was standing on that broad swath of dead earth, the open surroundings provided the comfort of a clear line of sight. In this jungle I can barely see ten feet.
By day we are greeted with stony silence, save the occasional bird call echoing along the trees. By night, the darkness comes to life. It fills my heart with a deep dread that is tinged with loneliness.
There is a pressing weight to the atmosphere under these trees. A stillness that lends me towards hoping for the lightest of breezes. After working our way as far as we did today, I am grateful I brought my light armor. I haven’t worn it in almost a decade.
My formal battle armor is not suited for this, but it pained me to leave it behind. There’s something comforting in the clank of plate and the rattle of mail. You feel untouchable. It did save my life enough times to earn that sense.
The enchantments on my light armor are less powerful but certainly more diverse. What I am most grateful for is the mesh from which much of it is made. I would cook in full plate. Now I have to learn to trust this replacement. Like an old friend, old armor is always easier to trust.
Loneliness… an ever-present companion of the warrior on the move. There is a comradery to be found among your brethren, but even then – at night, alone and staring at the darkness above – there is always the looming specter of your solitude. Killing… killing is what makes it worse. Each life you take distances you even further from the living.
Thoughts of Salisir plague me tonight. The man was a brute as I recall him. Unrestrained with the cane, never hesitant to let it fly. But my own experience is limited to that of an acolyte in training. There is much I do not know about him as a warrior. I read as much about him as I could find in the short time I had to prepare. There isn’t much available. This is only impressive because of the reputation Salisir built for himself.
The official stance of the Tetrarch is that Salisir is a traitor, a red stain on an otherwise unblemished history. His crimes go largely undocumented, however, and his official punishment is unique in the annals of the Tetrarch: Banishment.
No one, to my knowledge, has ever been banished from the Tetrarch. And no one ever had been again.
No one until me.
I believed all I’d ever been told about Salisir. It was easy, considering how he singled me out among my peers. I still hate him to this day. If I do find him alive, there’s a good chance I won’t leave him that way. But finding him, dead or alive, will be difficult. With what little time remained to me before being forced to leave, I searched for everything I could concerning Salisir.
The more questions I asked, the more fascinating his story became. Warrior, the scourge of Daedric Society, rebel. He’d been a Chaplain before the Tetrarch called him into service. One of the oldest to ever join our order, and one of the most prolific. It seems as though he has more Daedric releases to his name than any Tetrarch I’ve ever met. Perhaps that’s what drove him mad.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason he was sent here to die. Now I must keep from joining him in that fate.
Slogging through this jungle is a punishment in itself. I do not have the energy tonight to write, so instead I’ll insert some notes on Salisir and pick up tomorrow.
-Salisir of Hendrow-
Born of low station, the son of a smith within the urban center of New Rinoa, Brin Salisir was nothing special as a child. He studied earnestly under his father, and by what few accounts I’ve found was well enough liked in his community, if not generally ignored. That all changed shortly after his seventeenth birthday.
The stories vary, but one fact remains constant and central: Salisir’s mother and sister were murdered. For this crime his father was implicated, imprisoned, and executed. That’s where things get confused. Some reports say Salisir’s father did it out of jealousy because his wife was cheating on him, but this doesn’t take fully into consideration the daughter’s death. Why murder her? Why her and not Salisir?
The other two accounts both involve Daedra.
One suggests that Salisir’s father gave himself to a Daedric priest, and in doing so lost his mind. The other is that the Daedric priest visited and killed the family when Salisir’s father did not give him what he wanted.
In any case, the accepted theory was the cleanest: that revolving around a jealous lover’s revenge. Salisir, however, never believed his father possible of such evil. Whether he was right or not, he left on his own to find this priest. When he did so he released him on the spot. They say he did it with his father’s hammer.
This was an impressive feat in itself, for Salisir was just a boy, untrained in combat and unbloodied. But because he did it in the priest’s slick, at his own personal shrine, and in front of a number of his acolytes, it exceeded what anyone would have ever expected of Salisir. When he then turned and slaughtered those very acolytes, it became the stuff of legend.
Brin Salisir was not content with what blood he spilled that day. Otherwise, his story would have come to a notable, yet isolated finish there. He had only just begun.
Salisir was picked up two years later by a detachment of Chaplains who had been tracking a Daedric sect somewhere north of Greenward. The Chaplains had spent years tracking down this sect before honing in on them. When they finally rode into the slick they found the entire sect scattered dead around the grounds.
At the center of their blood shrine, sitting atop the spiked altar itself, sat Brin Salisir. At first the Chaplains report not knowing what to make of the scene, finding a young man sitting on the altar in the midst of such carnage. Then Salisir opened his eyes as if to finish meditating. He stepped off the altar, shook blood from his hands, and smiled.
Harold Grimwald, captain of the unit and a man of legend in his own right, snatched Salisir up for his own in that instant.
It was with the Chaplains that Salisir underwent his first formal training and found a sense of unified purpose. He became known among their ranks simply as the Butcher, and is credited with the release of hundreds of Daedric followers while wearing the White.
He would have been happy to stay in the ranks of the Chaplaincy forever, I believe. At least, if it had not been for the offer that came down from the Tetrarch. As I read what few journals and interviews with Salisir survived, I came to the realization that he never wanted to join the Tetrarch. It was the deal they made him that drew him into their ranks.
Perhaps if he had stayed away he would never have found himself alone in the Nanten. Perhaps then I would never have fallen from grace myself.
This heat is unbearable. If it wasn’t for the mesh of my light armor I might pass out at any moment along our journey, and I am not ashamed to say it. There is no breeze amongst these massive trees. Without this daily ritual of reflection in writing which I have undertaken, I would forget to take the time to appreciate their age and history. I would simply curse them for stagnating the air.
We have made decent progress into the jungle, but thus far no sign of human life presents itself. I don’t know what to make of this, as we are barely begun on the fringes of a massive territory. But this land feels empty. Even the howling that kept us awake those first few nights belied the vast hollow that seems to best define this space.
Perhaps it is misleading to say something like that about a terrain that is so compactly filled with foliage that I can barely breathe. It is suffocating. I have never been one to fear enclosed spaces, but I can see how one might develop the reaction. At times, as the air closes in and wraps itself around me, I feel constricted. Between my own sweat rolling slowly across my face and the stillness of the air, I might go mad.
Each day starts sluggishly as we pack our camp. It is often difficult to know how long the sun has been up as the thick canopy above casts us into an eternal half-light.
We don’t have much, no more than we can carry. The mat on which I sleep is the one comfort I allow myself, one tie to home. Otherwise we have stripped ourselves down to last a long march. What gets wet takes far too long to dry in this thick air, and we stink as if we had been at this for weeks already.
I wonder how Salisir felt when he first saw these trees. How he cursed against the frustrations he met as he advanced under them. Did he take his final mission seriously? Did he commit himself to carrying it out?
He had little regard for the order he joined, that much is apparent. Why would he so willingly submit to the will of its leadership? This makes no sense to me. If it was not for my absolute dedication to the Tetrarch I would have simply disappeared into the southern reaches or the Summer Isles, I would have even defected to Klotia, never to be seen again. I would not have come here to sweat and suffocate. I would not accept my death so willingly.
But Salisir… Salisir was a rebel at heart. Why would he put up with the stifling heat and the futile efforts of cutting his way through this accursed jungle? I cannot fathom it.
Perhaps I will find the answers in my notes. Perhaps I will find Salisir so he can tell me himself. It is more likely that I will never know.
Perhaps entering the jungle directly was a mistake. I can’t admit this to my comrades, confidence is all I permit myself to show them. The name Bantish echoed in my ears, pushing me inland when perhaps I should have tarried longer on the fringes. Now I cannot guess at where we are to go.
We have been working our way northeast for nearly a week. If it hadn’t been for Tarsh’s mutterings I would have searched along the Siltlands to find his trading partners. That was my one landmark from which to work. My one guaranteed starting point.
And I threw it away.
But there was power in that name. A power that my years of training and life in the field fighting the Daedra recognized at once. You learn to trust that instinct. I could not let it slip me by.
It is the heart of the Nanten that draws me, its very center. The capital was built there, even if I do not know myself how to get to it. Matasten. That was back when it was a city. Now it is said to be little more than ruins piled among the trees.
Matasten was renowned in its time, as much as it is now maligned. The Sapphire City, it was called. Seat of the Arbor King. There were few minerals that were not extracted from the territory under her stewardship. She was rich, endowed with an endless flow of gold, copper, gemstones, and hardwood. These gifts she bestowed upon the Southlands, the Great Wastes, and the Old Empire.
That isn’t to say that Matasten was ever a place you would call accessible. This jungle through which I slog every day has never been tamed. But there were trade routes that were braved, often at greatest cost to the men who traveled them. It’s said that thousands died every year navigating the rudimentary roads out of Matasten carrying goods for their employers.
Wherever great profit arises, the value of men’s lives declines. I suppose it is their lot. None of us can control to what fate we are born. Not all of us can have intrinsic value.
The Arbor King may have ruled from Matasten, but his subjects were little more than slaves. His capital was built upon their graves. Whether this is literal truth or not, the underlying idea is the same.
One thing is certain, their country was exploited by the men entrusted to protect it. A very small group profited from wealth that could have built another Empire, and while the people languished in poverty her leaders lived in luxury.
But eventually every evil is revisited upon its maker. The glory of Matasten was not to last. If we are to reach it in a reasonable time frame, we may need to discover which rivers lead closest to it. The rivers of the Nanten are legendary. They carry the lifeblood of the jungle. Like any good veins, hopefully they can lead us deep into her heart.
I caught Bolton uttering threats against Starlark last night. The two of them seem on the verge of exchanging blows. Bolton feels threatened by Starlark’s pedigree, and Starlark feels rightfully threatened by Bolton’s hostility. The last thing I need is for this party to fall into disarray from within.
The howling has started again.
As we penetrated deeper into the jungle it dissipated more each day. Last night it began afresh. I don’t know what could make such horrible noises, like coyotes or wolves, but harsher and more menacing. There are grunts, and screams. Between them I am not sure if I am listening to something wild feasting on men, or feasting upon themselves.
It sounds like a frenzy. And it sounds far too close to us for comfort.
Brief explorations outward in the morning light reveal nothing. At least nothing we recognize from our own experience, which between us is varied and expansive. We dare not risk a full search in such foreign territory. The light under this canopy is difficult to see by in any case, as if it too were weakened by the stagnancy of the air.
Even Starlark has a difficult time making out the shapes moving in the half-light, and he has spent much of his life living in the forests of the west. He still manages to bring down birds when he spots them, and the occasional snake. His archer’s eyes are still strained to find their mark in the darkness of the Nanten, and every miss requires a search for the arrow. Out here there are precious few.
Thankfully Dionus can sense their movement in the air, which makes finding them for Starlark that much easier. It also helps to divide the discovery of game between them. Everything seems larger in the Nanten. The animals are similar to home, and though they are often more colorful they all seem more sinister in appearance. I’ve never felt such hostility in otherwise harmless creatures before. Even the small lizards we find glare at us as if calculating our demise.
One of those snakes attempted to bite Balthandar. Its fangs caught in the reinforced straps around his boot, and he was able to cut its head off before it could untangle itself. Its fangs led us to believe it was venomous. There were burn marks beneath the scratches it left in his boot. Needless to say, it leaves us on edge.
Other than these occasional finds, our supplies are beginning to run low. We have flatbake bread that we were able to make in Blithe that should last us a while yet, but of meat and dried fruit we have little left. For all of the plant life here there seems to be little fruit, and we remain uncertain what roots and stems we might safely eat.
If things get bad enough, we may just have to find out.
These are the sorts of mysteries one doesn’t anticipate. The looming threat of some unknown monster is something I expect. Neither recognizing any plant, nor knowing which among them might be nutritious I do not. I hope that wherever or whoever this Bantish is, there is a supply of food nearby.
Thankfully water is easy to gather from the plants themselves. There are more than one type of fern we have discovered that collects dew and rain in funnel-like leaves. These are plentiful, as are small streams we cross regularly, which is the only reason we are able to carry on at the pace we do.
I doubt very much, however, that I would like to know just how far we have actually come in the last week. I’m afraid it would discourage me. Discouragement is the last thing I need to feel more of today.