Before we had a chance to resume our discussion of Inifra, she was among us. The Makonga, she said, had removed itself from us until it better understood the new powers with which it must contend. The addition of Dionus and herself to our party, she said, was enough to buy us a day. Maybe two.
It was not enough to save us.
Starlark lashed out at her immediately, enraged. He was weeping as he shouted, unstoppable and inconsolable. He called her a liar and a witch, among other things. To Inifra’s credit, she stood solemnly through the entire tirade. She listened, never once looking away from Starlark. Finally, when his every insult and venomous spew was spent, she spoke so softly we could barely hear her.
“I understand your fears, for my people are terrified of the Makonga as well. So was I once, before my calling to become High Priestess, before my immortality was granted for a time. I am here as your servant and your friend, for this evil is one that all must face within the confines of the Nanten. We have been given time, and we must use it wisely.”
Starlark muttered that he had had his fill of friends and sat to the side to sulk. What are we to do with him? He only grows more distant with time, and no vein of conversation can draw him back.
I asked Inifra what she had meant about the Makonga’s hunger for murderers. She said that the Makonga is a beast of happenstance. It wanders the jungle, lost and alone, and only feeds when it stumbles upon a source of food. It keeps to the outskirts of villages or encampments until it has taken its first victim, and will attempt to build upon that success.
If the village realizes what is happening, she said, they can perform certain rituals that will drive the Makonga back into the jungle. She said that it can be blinded by them, and will thus continue to wander on as if the village did not exist.
Dionus asked her why we couldn’t just do the same now. If the Makonga could be confused, we should do whatever was necessary.
Murder, she said, awakens a hunger in it that cannot be blinded. Whether from some ironic inborn sense of justice, or a jealousy for its own methods of gathering food, she could not say. The Makonga can see murderers, she said. It will hunt them until it claims them. She looked at me as she said the words, as if she was actually worried for me.
The necessary materials, predominantly roots and leaves, were not to be found on the Akari Grasslands in any case.
Balthandar asked if we couldn’t simply kill it. He said that every monster has its weakness, why not this one?
She shook her head. If the Makonga were so easily dispatched, she said, it would have been done by now. The Makonga escaped from the Deadwood; that was the story that made the most sense to her. It was of the Third Tier, a creature more spirit than physical, and was thus beyond our power to kill. Someday, she said, it might be possible to trick it back into the Deadwood. Until then we must find a new way to blind or redirect it.
I asked about the Lost Children, and told her we had been led to believe they were servants of the Makonga. She denied that, claiming that while the Lost Children shared ties to the Deadwood, they were not the victims of the Makonga. They are weaker, however, and thus will stay away from us so long as the Makonga hunts us. Its presence has broken their natural boundaries within the Akari Grasslands, but as soon as it returned to the jungle they would be trapped again.
That came as a relief to me for the people of Senida. If we lead the Makonga to the jungle, at least they will regain their safety for now.
Inifra said that all we could do now was continue to move and attempt to turn the Makonga aside when it next appeared. How we would, she said, she was unsure. But we must try. That much was certain.
It was strange to spend the day marching with Inifra in our midst. She kept out ahead, marking good time and keeping away from conversation. The only time she spoke again all day was quietly to me as we made camp. She simply said to keep my wits about me, and then walked away and lay down to sleep.
Starlark sits across the fire from her, staring out from under lowered brows. It would seem he’s found an outlet for his inner torment, a replacement for Bolton in our party. I hope we can release that torment somehow before my friend is lost to me forever.