Entry 205 – Day 329

Entry 205 – Day 329

Marching. Gods damn it all; I hate marching. We have at least a month of it ahead of us. There is no river’s current upon which to ride, and no roads to even our path. Someday I will set foot on cobbled stone again. When that moment comes, it will be difficult not to throw myself upon it and weep from sheer joy.

Salisir. We are glad to leave him behind. I can barely believe he is alive. How is he alive? What happened to him in twenty years of exile? Perhaps now I will never know. It’s worth not having to follow him into the heart of this jungle, yet I’m uneasy to have him out of my sight so soon. Good riddance in any case.

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The strength of my companions is nearly regained. They remain quite tense, jumping at the smallest of sounds in the jungle around us. We were greeted with the pleasant sound of songbirds in the canopy above this morning. I took it as a sign that danger was past for now. Balthandar and Dionus will take a little more time to see things so brightly.

I can understand their fears. The Woads were quick, they said. The jungle masked their approach, so that though they could hear them they could not see the monsters until they were already leaping through the air to attack. Dionus’ defense only whipped them into a frenzy, and Balthandar could not skewer them fast enough to stop them. Even Timber put up a fight until her blade was knocked from her hand.

They clashed repeatedly for a few days. The Woads never left them alone for long.

In the end they had to run. Dionus looped himself into a cluster of vines so as to stay off the ground while silencing his magic. The remaining Woads patrolled under him for almost two days before moving on. There was no way to count them in the undergrowth, but Dionus swears there were dozens alive when they left – if not more.

We will keep a vigilant watch, but I am not so concerned about Woads tonight. I am concerned with what we will find in Matasten. Will we even make it there alive? There are so many questions to find their answers, so many theories that could transition into reality. Though dread fills me at the thought of a dark city filled with Daedric followers, it intermingles with excited curiosity. This is my life’s calling, the work for which I was made – my course has been set and it brings me some small measure of comfort.

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Entry 206 – Day 330

Entry 206 – Day 330

There is a new noise in the night. It is unfamiliar to us, like the scraping of stones against one another, and has left us unnerved. Thankfully we had already returned to our usual rotation at the watch as we sleep. I miss Hamada already, though I knew it would never last. Beds, roofs, these are things you don’t expect to long for. What daily wonders we take for granted when we have them.

“You don’t miss water until the well is dry.” That cliché doesn’t fully apply considering that water is one thing which we do not lack. I still have the tap Bantish gave us, though I’ve found no need of it for months. I wonder how his village is faring. I hope they are at peace, though I doubt there is any period of life within the Nanten that could be labeled as such.

If we can dismantle this Daedric society, perhaps we can change that.

Dionus wanted to know about our final fight with the KoraKora and their chief. He said he saw the explosion from the air. He still carries some guilt over reaching us too late. I told him that we had planned the explosions for what we hoped would be the maximum effect possible. The northeast corner of Hamada made sense, as it was our bottleneck and a guaranteed killing ground. There was no way we would ever successfully keep the cannibals from reaching it.

We had hoped for a similar effect with the bridge, but our primary intention there was to cut the KoraKora off from the chase. I was lucky not only that we had set the device on one of the bridge’s pylons, but that the directional controls were so powerful. Balthandar said the bridge essentially evaporated mere inches from where I was standing when the blast went off. I’m lucky to be alive on multiple counts.

Dionus said they realized it was a diversion after reaching the fishing village. It took the better part of a day to get there, and Inifra just a little longer. She arrived shortly after the KoraKora launched their assault. Between the two of them the KoraKora stood no chance, but that didn’t mean that no damage was done. Much of the fishing village was either burned or torn down.

“She mourned their losses for a day and a night,” Dionus said. “I had to press her to leave.”

The next day she left first thing in the morning. He said that her shame was too great to face the people. She had promised to protect them. She failed. Dionus stayed a little longer to ensure that no further traps were in store, but he knew we needed him. Once in the air, he could see the smoke for leagues.

By the time Dionus reached us, he said the fight had been taken out of the KoraKora. Only a few hundred remained, and most of them were already fleeing back into the jungle. By the time he found Balthandar and discovered what had befallen me, Inifra had fished me from the river. He checked on me, brought Inifra what supplies he could carry, and then set about searching for a way to bring the people back across the river to Hamada.

The carnage in the city on the cliffs would take months to clean up. Perhaps years. He said he did not envy the people who survived, but he was glad we were able to save so many. Balthandar filled in a little from there. How they had strung ropes across the river and used them to ferry people back and forth on narrow barges. The current was strong, but they managed to keep from losing anyone to the river.

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It warmed my heart to hear Balthandar talk about how many people we did manage to save. He seemed proud himself. It’s good to see him smile.

They are both having difficulty sleeping. I think that they are beginning to relax a little, but the anxieties brought on by the spiders and Woads linger. I suspect they will for some time.

I had better get some sleep myself. We have a long road ahead of us; if only that weren’t a metaphor.

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Entry 207 – Day 331

Entry 207 – Day 331

I spent much of today trying to teach Dionus to keep his touch on the Atmosphere in check. How one interacts with and understands the metaphysical world around us is unique to the person, so it’s difficult to translate how I see it to him. I think it’s doubly difficult in that I was never trained by anyone, let alone a true Master of my expression. As he was, Dionus uses language that I don’t fully understand.

I liken silencing my magic to standing still. Once one begins recognizing the patterns in the Atmosphere, its natural ebb and flow and the secrets which are already locked within it, the temptation is to interact with it at all times. There are different ways to better sense its vibrations, to test its use, but in doing so one uses it oneself. That is precisely what we are trying to avoid, for in using it we are detectible.

Dionus is far more accustomed to using his abilities than I am. I think he constantly tests the energy around us at an unconscious level, keeping his hand on its pulse if you will, so as to know what is happening around him at all times. He does so through his connection to the wind, and can therefore detect the physical world in ways I cannot. He is concerned that he will bring more death upon us if he cannot stop.

I told him to imagine the Atmosphere as the wind, and that if he moved it would send reverberations throughout. He had to stand still, to remain within himself and quiet his mind. Gods, it’s so difficult to put to words.

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Where he has spent his life honing his ability to use the Atmosphere, I have been honing mine to hide within it. I can’t even get my thoughts out clearly on paper.

In the end I told him to blind himself. He had to rely on his physical eyes, to remove his senses from the wider world. I think that worked. He hasn’t stopped squirming since. I understand the discomfort; it is disquieting to lose a sense upon which one relies. Tonight I am grateful I have never fully relied on it myself.

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I hope Inifra is faring as well with her own self-control. If she struggles in any area, it’s in properly controlling her power. We all need to be careful of this, for while the Atmosphere provides our greatest weapons, it also now poses us the greatest threat of discovery.

This venture into the center of the Great Recess is going to be more dangerous than I’d initially anticipated.

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Entry 208 – Day 332

Entry 208 – Day 332

We heard those noises again in the night. Stones on stones, grinding away as we tried to sleep. Needless to say, we got little.

Images of the Deadwood came back to me unbidden. Is there such a place in the Great Recess? Could we wander into another and never know? The Deadwood was marked by its ashen trees, all color drained from the brittle landscape. What if there is something similar here, yet with no obvious warning that we are about to enter it? Without someone like Kantoo to guide us, how would we know the signs should we see them?

There could be more things wrong with this part of the jungle than a Daedric society alone. Anything that can survive such dark evils would be dangerous in its own right.

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The map I have lacks any meaningful detail, though what detail any map of the Nanten could offer beyond the placement of rivers is beyond me. Even those have proved inaccurate more often than not. Discovering mountains to the south was a surprise as well, and I fear there may be more surprises ahead. Our approach to Matasten could well be flawed in our ignorance.

We need to be cautious, yes, but perhaps we should rethink our entire approach to this ancient city.

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Entry 209 – Day 333

Entry 209 – Day 333

We’ve come upon a small village. The people here are different than those we have met before; they are stronger, made of harder stuff. They did not flee when we arrived, but met us before we even knew their village was ahead. Seeing the blue blade on my shoulder again brought us more respect than I believe it deserves. After a brief exchange, they took us into their village.

They brought us into a low hut and gave us something to eat. I asked their chief why he respected the symbol I wore.

“Your master is a good man.” Everyone nodded with him at that. “He seeks to do good things for us. He knows great secrets.”

“What secrets are those?” Dionus asked before I could correct the ‘master’ nonsense.

“How to unite us and break the darkness. It has grown for a long, long time. Now we might bring it to an end.”

I asked how he fit into this plan. He said that when the time was right, they would gather information for Salisir. They know these jungles, he told us, for leagues in all directions. If there was anyone to help keep Salisir’s western flank from falling blind, it was them and the villages like them.

Terms like ‘western flank’ came as a surprise to me. These people are so much better educated than those we have already met. They are not cowed like those who broke under the shadow of the KoraKora. The weight of the Daedra has had quite the opposite effect; they seem to be emboldened.

That does not mean they are not afraid. They clearly are. They say there is another great power nearby, one that remains ever out of sight, but they know is there. We asked if it makes the noise we have been hearing at night and they said that it does.

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They have offered us their hospitality for the night. They don’t understand why we should wish to see Matasten for ourselves. Their chief said such things were foolish. “The darkness is known,” he said. “It is no small thing to approach. One does not poke the sleeping lion mere hours before the trap is set.”

We told them we were not here to poke, merely to observe. For my part, I think it is foolish to take Salisir’s word for things. I may have to blind myself to the Atmosphere to survive, but I cannot remain ignorant to this society and do the same. The village chief has promised to send scouts ahead to ensure that we are not walking into danger, but they will not go within ten leagues of the city itself. We will be on our own from there.

When we continue on tomorrow, we will do so thankful that we have made new friends in this terrible place.

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Entry 210 – Day 334

Entry 210 – Day 334

We saw more birds and even a small cat as we marched today. There is something peaceful about this region we are entering, even if there are strange noises in the night. I don’t know what to make of it. Even if we continue to sounds we cannot possibly explain, we feel comforted during the day.

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One of the scouts came to us tonight to let us know that the way ahead is clear. There are three of them moving ahead of us. They said that it was good practice for the months to come. They need to be sure that their skills are honed if they are to survive the war with the darkness.

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I find it interesting that they all refer to it as “the darkness.” I asked the scout if he had seen it himself, the darkness. He said yes, just recently. It was not the first time he had seen them, but it was the only time he had ever been brave enough to get close.

Only a few months back, not far from where we spoke, he had come across a camp. It was the darkness, he said. Men clad in black, tinged with glowing reds and teals. He said they were much like a hunting party.

He drew near them in the night. They were demons, he swore, and they stank of death. He watched them eat the raw meat of a wild cat, not bothering even to warm it over their fire. They were scarred, tattooed, and horrible to look upon. The next morning they were gone. The only sign they had been there was the smell, and even that faded in time.

“The darkness is real, Ocada.” He looked out into the jungle for a long while. “If you fall into their hands, you will wish you had never lived.”

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Entry 211 – Day 335

Entry 211 – Day 335

We were too late to save them. One of our scouts stumbled into our camp in the middle of the night. He was bleeding from the crown and his left shoulder. His breathing was so heavy from fright that it took us a few minutes to calm him down. Finally he uttered one word, “Latala.”

The scout who was already with us paled visibly. Immediately he began packing his gear, even as his friend sat down bleeding. Balthandar patched him up while I stopped the other and asked what was going on.

“Latala,” he said with finality. When he realized that I did not know what that meant, he shook his head. “Latala are killers, Ocada. They are thieves and murderers who live between the darkness and the light. They belong to no one but themselves.”

“Are they coming this way?” Dionus asked.

“No, Ocada. They are making for my village.”

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We packed as Balthandar worked on the bleeding scout. His wounds were light, though they had bled plenty during his flight. The other took off running into the jungle as soon as he had his things together. He was on the verge of failing in his duty. I could read it in him – he was about to fail and he knew it.

We ran after him as soon as Balthandar was finished. We couldn’t have been far behind the scout, but he was much faster in the night than we. I could see the orange glow long before we reached the village.

Everything was burning. What food and supplies they had were gone. Bodies were strewn about the village; most suffered their wounds in the back as they fled. Balthandar found the scout with his throat slit, sitting against a tree. He had died watching his village burn, knowing he had failed to warn them of the danger.

Dionus tested the air and told us they were gone. Whoever they are, they work fast. Dawn broke as the fires began to die down. Nothing burns for long in this jungle, but whatever does is utterly consumed. We moved away from the stench of it all and went to find our two remaining scouts.

Latala. We have new enemies in the Nanten tonight.

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