The KoraKora are moving against Hamada. A flood of refugees has come pouring into the city as the cannibals approach. They carry with them the most horrific stories of torture and slaughter. Worse, however, are the reports of the KoraKora’s numbers.
Though fear may inspire exaggeration, there are most likely thousands of KoraKora approaching Hamada. We know that there were at least 5,000 warriors with their chief in pursuit of us at one point. Whether that many remain with him now, and regardless of how many were split to assail the village to the east, that leaves plenty for an assault on Hamada.
Worse yet, he is among them. How he knows where we are, I do not know, but he is coming for us. He is coming for me. I fear now that the assault on the fishing village was no punishment, but a diversion. Only our most powerful members, as far as he knows them, could have made it in time to rescue the village. With Inifra among us he must have known we would try.
All that matters now is that his tactic worked. Inifra and Dionus are nowhere near, and we are outnumbered at least twenty to one. Gods, but we are done for.
There are no other expressionists in Hamada. We’ve searched high and low, but we are constantly assured there are none. Expressionists this close to Matasten, they say, are not long for this world. I am not convinced. There must be a few that are in hiding and who, like me, refuse to come out from fear. Who refuse even to save their own city.
I will not withhold my power when the moment comes, and I know now that it must. I will shatter the very foundations of time to stop the chief of the KoraKora. This ends here.
Another day and no real news. I should hope that Inifra and Dionus have arrived by now. Even more, I hope that they are safe.
The rains came for another hour this morning. Somehow they felt intrusive. They were doubly frustrating as they interrupted the work Balthandar and I have set for our hosts. We began barricading their central hall last night, and have continued that work all day today. It stands in the far northeastern corner of the city, with its northern flank covered by the river and its eastern by the cliffs.
It seems the most defensible position out of any in the city. It also serves as a choke point for our retreat over the river should we need to flee. Great quantities of stone and timber have been piled up along the external entrances to the bridge so as to force any attackers to follow through the hall. Once that work is complete we will begin another layer of fortifications a block or two out. Balthandar also had the two remaining explosive devices from Senida stashed in his pack. We are uncertain how we should put them to use, but I am glad to have them.
It was difficult to get the Nantese to offer us any help at first until a second barge arrived at the docks. They carried more news of the KoraKora moving through the jungle, slaughtering villages and worse as they went. Though there was no certainty that they were approaching us, the possibility spurred more people into action. Many of the citizens are yet unwilling to uproot and move closer to the fortifications, but this is unfortunately the norm.
The balance of convenience and safety is often difficult to sway until true danger arrives. One can only hope, in cases such as this, that there is still time to respond when it does.
Timber has found a group of other children with whom she has been able to spend a fair amount of time. They seem to regard us with a greater deference because of whatever it is she tells them. In turn, their parents were among the earliest to offer their aid to our effort.
We cannot flee any longer. The KoraKora will hunt us to the ends of this jungle and back again. With stone structures and a small but willing force to defend it, we stand our best chance of defeating the cannibals here should they arrive. If we are lucky, they will be a divided force, weakened in numbers and fatigued by their march.
Let us hope that at least some small measure of luck may fall our way in this encounter. We need all we can get. That is enough for now. I am running low on empty pages in this journal and should try to conserve them.
There is no word from the east. Though this is what I should expect, it is eating at me. Inifra and Dionus are gone to fight a battle whose urgency demanded that I be left behind. I cannot stand it.
How long does it take them to travel that far? How far are the KoraKora from that village?
How could I have been so foolish as to believe that the paltry show of force that followed us into the rapids was all there was to fear? Of course, even if they found a massive number of canoes to use in their pursuit, the remainder of the KoraKora would continue on foot.
Gods, but I’m such a fool!
For all I know there is another army moving this way even as I write. Our strength is divided. Balthandar and I cannot fight a large contingent of KoraKora on our own for long. Even if the warriors of this city prove able to stand against the cannibals, there are scarcely over one hundred that we know of. One hundred untrained Nantese warriors cannot withstand one thousand bloodthirsty KoraKora, even with the best sword and spear in the world at their center.
We must begin preparing some form of defense, just in case.
The KoraKora have been spotted to the east. They are not approaching Hamada, but rather are preparing to raid the fishing village that offered us information. It would seem they are to be punished for the slightest of associations with us. And to think I was willing to believe the cannibals scattered.
A small barge arrived this morning with the news. It left the village only a few days before the warning reached them. News of the KoraKora’s approach was spreading quickly through the jungle. Upon arrival, the captain of the barge searched out Inifra to beg her help on behalf of the village. The morning rains were coming, he said. Let her make haste to the east at once to save her people.
She immediately gathered what few belongings she had and made for the river. I asked if we could help and she said no. The trip up the rapids would take a week or longer by canoe, and by then it would be too late. She needed to go immediately and would return as soon as she could.
Dionus stepped forward and offered his help. He could make it there even faster than she. Inifra refused, so Dionus turned to Nonda and asked where the village was. The south bank, a day’s march east of the tributary we took north. He looked to me and I nodded.
Whatever will bring Inifra back to us safely.
Still we stayed silent. My friendship with Dionus no longer requires words. He boomed into the sky and within seconds was gone from view entirely.
Inifra cursed and leapt into the water. That was the last we saw of either. An hour later the rains returned. They lasted for an hour or so before the sunshine broke through again.
I am so anxious for my companions that I have walked out to the precipice from which Dionus stood only yesterday in hopes of feeling something else. Fear of falling. The rush of the knowledge that one misstep and I could die. Just like them. I cannot help them now. There is no intervening on their behalf, with blade or the shift of time.
I will stay out here until the sun sets. I am not a man of prayer, but tonight I beg gods both Dread and Swift to steady the hand and guard the heart of both Dionus and Inifra.
The rain has finally stopped. With no sign that it might, it ceased suddenly and completely. Within minutes the sun was shining. Brilliant blue skies stretched as far as I could see as if the very idea of clouds was yet unconceived.
We can see out over the entire swath of the Great Recess. The cliffs continue off to the north and south of us, gently curving before they disappear over the horizon. Below us is a canopy I never thought I would stand above. The massive trees of the Nanten only reach two thirds the height of the cliffs.
Below I can still make out a few ruins that tumbled from Hamada into the Broken Circle. That is the name they give for the broad swath of empty land that rings the Great Recess at the base of the cliffs. For two miles or so there are massive convoluted mounds of broken stone and earth. They appear as though they were once smooth hills that are now laid open by dry cracks and jagged rents.
Some smaller trees grow on the unbroken portions, but none of the mightier trunks rise from its surface. The people here speak of the Broken Circle as if it were a graveyard, haunted by the worst sorts of monsters. The rains drive most of those monsters into the cracks and caves beneath the surface. Otherwise it is an impassable section of land.
There is a path, Inifra said, that leads across it and into the jungle. That path, she said, is only really used by the bravest of traders. It follows one of the few routes that remain unbroken, and thus do not require that one enter or cross any of the crevasses. Still, it isn’t all that much safer.
Dionus spent much of today out on one of the stone pillars that lays fallen over the edge. He stared out over the recess, the wind whipping around him and tugging at his cloak. He said it reminded him of flying. That was sufficient, he said. At least for now.
Balthandar and Timber have made an odd pair the last few days. He seems to have become so attached to the idea of protecting her that, even in the midst of our newfound safety, he rarely leaves her side. I’d never seen Balthandar surrounded by children until she dragged him into a group of them today. It was also one of the first times I have ever seen him so visibly uncomfortable. I had to walk away so as to keep from laughing at him.
For my part, I have spent most of my time today with Inifra interviewing the locals. There is little consensus as to where Salisir may have gone, but more and more of the people have pointed us north. There is a mighty stone bridge that crosses the river at the top of the falls which their fishermen still use daily. They say that there was once another powerful trade city that lay a few dozen leagues north which built it in conjunction with Hamada.
Apparently it wasn’t as lucky as its trade partner. The entire city fell over the cliffs and was destroyed in the Broken Circle. There is a village that was built just west of the cliffs by the survivors, and it was to that village that we are repeatedly told Salisir went. This appears to be the direction we must head.
While I would prefer to make directly for Matasten, there are no guarantees that Salisir didn’t die long before he made it himself. We must continue to follow him until we know for certain where his body lies.
One more good night’s sleep, I feel, and I will be ready for our trek across this bridge and back into the jungle. My sleeping mat, the one final luxury I have from home, is so frayed that it seems worthless. Strangely, though I have always carried a mat upon which to sleep, I no longer unroll this one as frequently as I used to. I think I may leave it here in Hamada when we go.
Hamada is a fascinating city. Half of it is gone. It was built right along the fault line that would become the Great Recess, and when that fateful day fell so too did a great portion of the city. There are massive slabs of broken stone and ruined structures that soar out over the edge like shattered balconies.
I’ve seen more than one of Hamada’s residents seek solitude out on one of those perches. I have yet to climb out on one myself. There is nothing but rain and air for hundreds of feet beneath those slippery outcroppings.
The people here are kind. They make their subsistence off fishing and trade between the Great Recess and the upper portions of the river. The rains keep them subdued and indoors most of the day, thus in wandering the streets one might think the city abandoned.
But to me it feels safe. The stone is steady, the dykes and piers built over the banks of the river so that they do not overflow into the city. Whoever designed this city knew what they were doing, at least as far as rivers are concerned. I’m sure that the Great Recess could not have been foreseen.
It’s funny how the rain doesn’t bother me anymore. I haven’t had shelter from it in a month, why would I bother staying dry now? The rains provide a chance to wander alone and think, though I’d still rather spend more time sleeping.
I remain uncertain about our situation with the KoraKora. Could they truly have committed their entire nation to our destruction on the river? I wouldn’t put it past them to throw themselves so fully into the pursuit, but if so, how did they find that many canoes?
And how could such a high percentage of them die in the chase? If it hadn’t been for them, we would have only lost the one canoe when Inifra’s capsized.
She has been spending her time here speaking with the locals, receiving their gifts and performing various rites. It seems her duties as a priestess are never far. She said she hadn’t been to Hamada for some time, so there was a lot of work to be done.
Inifra does seem a little saddened as well. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s a new reluctance about her. It’s different. Her reservations have changed.
Balthandar and Dionus are happy to be off of the river. They have barely left the house we were given to use, drinking and eating and sleeping to their hearts’ content. I should get back to them, in fact. We need to discuss what we are to do about tracking Salisir.
The locals here have their own stories of Salisir, though nothing as fantastic as what we found in Senida. These stories seem much more in keeping with Salisir’s character. Excursions into the jungle to kill particular bandits, assassinating their leaders in exchange for goods or services. He used to come back to Hamada as a base of operations, but about ten years ago he went missing.
Some say he went north, hunting a bandit king that had caused them great strife for some time. Others say he climbed down the cliffs and entered the Great Recess in search of some myth in Matasten. Yet more say he was killed in a skirmish along the banks of the Nanten River. His remains, they claim, were washed over the falls and into oblivion.
There is no telling whose story is true. It is shocking to me just how familiar everyone here is with the symbol of the Tetrarch upon my armor. How they show me deference. How they knew Salisir themselves.
We cannot leave without a direction and some certainty that it is our best option. So far we have stumbled our way along after Salisir’s meandering trail. A trail, it seems, that he cut for himself over the course of a decade. He was clearly in no hurry to reach Matasten. Whatever he found to preoccupy himself kept him moving at an almost lazy pace.
In the last six months we have managed to catch him up significantly. We covered ten years, half of his exile to date, in six months. It makes me wonder if it will take another six to find his body.
Perhaps that should guide our strategy and we simply continue on towards Matasten. Even if Salisir took ten years to get to this point, it does appear that he was on his way to the capital city. Perhaps we stand a better chance of finding him if we go that way ourselves.
We will do the best we can to uncover as many clues as possible while we rest. Sleep is truly the one thing I crave most right now. After that, I’d like to explore this strange city.