Gods, what have I done? I had no choice when I revealed my power today. I cannot bring myself even to write more than that, but it is done, so what’s the use in hiding it any longer from even my private written thoughts? Part of me hopes that somehow the secret is kept, but I know it can’t possibly be.
Dionus and Balthandar ran into their own separate problems tonight while breaking the captives free during the evening feast. For one, a handful of servant girls thought that they would take advantage of their weakened state and see if they could win any favors off of my companions while they rested in their chambers. It took them a while to convince the girls that they only wanted to rest, having pretended to fall sick earlier, but I believe that the whole encounter raised suspicions.
The two of them were finally able to sneak down to their entry points into the dungeons, arriving well after the guards’ food had been delivered and eaten. Balthandar decided not to kill the guards at his entrance in the barracks as they were already drunk and asleep. Dionus killed his and hid their bodies before unchaining the first captives.
During all of this I sat alone at a table full of Zorga’s most loyal men. None of them showed any of the levity towards me that they had in nights previous. Even Zorga finally rested his eyes on me. He had ignored me the entire time we had been in his fortress, but tonight he watched me.
Dionus had his captives unchained and ready to move within an hour. Balthandar was able to move a little more quickly as he had fewer captives to free. His problems began in the sewer. The water levels were high enough to wash over the ledges upon which the captives were to crawl. The captives were weak from their imprisonment and initially quite reluctant to move. He had to practically force them to form a human chain, pushing each captive from behind so that they propelled each other out.
Dionus’ problems began when the servant girls returned to our chambers. They hadn’t bought the act and returned with two guards. Of course they found the rooms empty.
I was confronted shortly after this, just as I was trying to break the tension of my table by challenging my neighbor to a game of daggers. “Where are your companions?” I was shaken from behind by the two guards. I told them that my companions had been sick. Perhaps they were walking the ramparts to get some air.
Zorga turned aside from his conversation with Inifra and asked what was happening, then demanded I be left alone. Surely there was some mistake. Regardless, his guests were not to be mistreated. What I didn’t see was he quietly sent men out to search for Dionus and Balthandar.
Dionus was already beginning to filter the captives from the storage rooms to the pantry when a pair guards arrived to investigate. He killed them both and immediately began to rush his captives out.
When others arrived at the barracks they initially thought that all was clear, as Balthandar had left the guards there alive. Only when the two sent to storage didn’t return did more get sent into the lower levels, including the dungeon through the barracks.
Balthandar had most of his captives in the sewer by then, but they were struggling to move towards the reservoir. He found himself defending the opening to the sewer as well as the last few captives from a sudden and continuous flow of armed guards.
Dionus’ captives were out and moving towards the ridge by this point, as best we can guess. He was able to spot and kill any guards that appeared in the tower, but soon arrows were raining down from the ramparts as well. I’m not exactly sure how Balthandar got his captives out. He still refuses to speak of it hours later, calling the sewers “An unspeakable shame,” but it must have been challenging with the wound he received on his left thigh.
It mustn’t have taken long for Zorga to figure out what was happening, but he didn’t act immediately. He was smart in that, for he didn’t reveal his mind until Dionus sent his signal.
But he had stopped ignoring me.
“Do you like our little kingdom? Little, at least, in the great expanse of the Nanten,” he asked me. I answered that I had come to appreciate its beauty, and the majesty of the trees. It was unnerving that he would speak to me suddenly.
That was a very appropriate choice of words, he said. The trees were where the Nanten got its name. “Did you know that? In the old tongue of the jungle, in the age before it was unified as one kingdom under the Arbor Kings in Matasten, ‘Nanten’ meant ‘Majestic Sky.’ We have no need for the open blue of the Akari Grasslands or any realm beyond. We have our great Majestic Sky, black and pure, to guard us day and night.”
He smiled then. I have never been so chilled by any smile in all my life. He knew, and I saw it in that wry look. “It is a dark sky that protects dark men. What sky will protect you this night, Ocada?”
Dionus sent his signal then. The wind came straight in through the hearth, blowing embers and smoke out into the hall to provide cover for our escape. It was too little too late.
Zorga was already standing. I saw it happen so slowly. My scalp tightened in fear, realization of what he was doing, but I was too late to react. He had a blade hidden in his sleeve, one that extended beyond his hand with the flick of his wrist. He buried it in Inifra’s spine, just below her skull.
I didn’t see the blade, but I knew it when her eyes rolled back. He raised his arm and she slumped forward. He was shouting for his men to grab me. Shouting that Inifra had betrayed them, had freed the men from the dungeons.
I could have fought them off. I could have killed the lot of them in the confusion of the smoke and ash. I could have escaped just like that, but I couldn’t bring myself to let Inifra die. I couldn’t hide any longer…
I can’t write it. I have never told anyone, and now when all hope of secrecy is lost, still, I cannot bring myself to write it.
We escaped. That will suffice for tonight. I got Inifra out of there alive as Dionus began to assail the ramparts with an unhindered fury. And then the rains began to fall. I have never seen rain like the rains of the Nanten. It came in sheets, in rolling vertical waves, and then Inifra transformed into something else.
We ran to the ramparts where I allowed Dionus to cast Timber and I onto the shore of the reservoir. But not Inifra. She rose above the ramparts of her own accord. Suddenly she too could fly. It was the rain, I realized. She was surrounded by her element in the purest form imaginable.
If I didn’t believe she incarnated a goddess before tonight, I will never doubt it again. She rose up and flew out over the reservoir. She turned slowly, her eyes aglow, white mists pouring off her body and mingling with the cascade of the rain. And then she boomed.
A shockwave rolled out from her, casting the rain straight at the walls of the fortress. It struck so hard that the very mortar between the stones was shattered. She did it again, and again, and each time the fortress shook. Then she lifted the very waters of the reservoir beneath her and rolled them hard.
The fortress could not hold against the swell of the water. Steadily the whole structure broke up, giving way and falling over the cliff to the darkness beyond. I had never seen power of that magnitude. I was stunned. I am still stunned.
She came to us then and collapsed on the shores of the draining reservoir, unconscious. We had to carry her to the caves where many of the captives were still hiding.
We are alive for tonight, but so many questions remain unanswered. So many risks have been taken, and to what end? To save a few harmless young men from a grisly fate? I almost lost everything tonight, and may have still lost my greatest advantage. All because I couldn’t let her die.
Gods help me. This woman had better be worth it.