Dionus’ face paled when I explained to him what happened at the feast. What I did to save Inifra. What I did to Zorga and his men. He alone knew my secret, and he knows precisely what I have lost.
This cave is small, one of many in a cluster that housed many of the captives we freed last night. Most of them spent the night prostrated around our cave, paying tribute to the unconscious priestess within. The goddess. Come dawn, they all fled. I imagine, and hope, they have returned to their families. They are safe from Zorga now, and from the KoraKora – at least for a time.
Inifra regained consciousness late in the afternoon, but was too weak to continue today. One more night and we should be able to resume our march. I was able to ask her questions soon after she awoke. First and foremost, I wanted to know what she had been doing in Zorga’s fortress.
The Nantese respect proven gods like Infiri, she said. Even if they don’t worship that god or goddess, once their power is known their priests are treated with great deference. The only major tribe to defy this custom is the KoraKora.
Thus, knowing she would be recognized, she was unconcerned for our safety. It was Zorga she needed to understand. She needed to see whether he was deferential or not, and she needed to know what he was up to so she could undo it. The reason he ignored us was simple, she said. To openly extend the hospitality he owed her was to elevate us to her level. To do so would put himself beneath us.
That was how she immediately knew what kind of man he was. His men feared her, and it is beyond bad luck to assail a holy priest to whom hospitality had been extended, so he was caught. He couldn’t openly show his hostility – hostility, she said, born of a knowledge that Infiri was a goddess who opposed the KoraKora and all that they practiced.
Freeing the captives was her main goal, for she knew there would be some in the fortress. She did not realize how many there would be. She also did not realize just how loyal Zorga’s men would be to him. Had they been less loyal, or perhaps more superstitious, she would have demanded they kill him and disband.
But that would have been difficult regardless of their level of fealty. She knew that she needed us to get the captives out surreptitiously, and then we could deal with the rest.
Why the games then, I asked. Why didn’t we just band together and slaughter the lot? We had been there for days. Certainly we could have discussed it, gone into it with a plan of attack, and made it out in half the time.
She said that wouldn’t do. She wanted the reach of Infiri to spread farther east, and this was the opportunity by which to accomplish that.
I was furious.
I demanded on the spot if we had risked our lives just to spread some religious propaganda?
“My goals were never different from those I shared with you. How one accomplishes their goals, however, leads to different results. I wanted those men to see me, to know me. Those who survived will tell the tale of how Infiri, goddess of river and lake, crushed one of the great strongholds in the Nanten to save the weak. They will fear me more. Had they not known me before I struck, no greater gain would have been had.”
I left then and went for a long walk along the emptied reservoir. I don’t even remember finding the rock upon which I now sit.
We risked so much just to spread the influence of some backwater goddess? I confess that what I saw yesterday was impressive, and Infiri deserves to be known more widely. But my friends could have died. Inifra did die. And now I may be exposed, all to press the agenda of this water goddess.
I can still see stones of the foundation in the waters below me. The only remaining markers of our accomplishments. I wish this rain would stop, but it has continued without pause since it began last night.
Accomplishments. What did we accomplish last night? Were those lives worth what we risked?
I knew that entering the Nanten was an exercise in futility. No one will ever know what has transpired under this ‘Majestic Sky,’ this oppressive canopy of green turned black. No one will know if I lived to accomplish any of this, or died within minutes leaving the Blight Sea.
But is that what matters? What people back home know and think of me? Can I truly clear my name, even if these words ever reach the Old Empire? I am doomed to obscurity, lost to humanity. Destined to the futility of this jungle and all of the unimaginable threats it has to offer.
Perhaps Inifra is right. Perhaps the lives of the weak are worth the efforts of the strong. Perhaps I should have risked more sooner in order to save the few I have encountered already. Certainly, I am stronger than most within this jungle. There is much good we could do.
But that doesn’t negate the necessity of finding and ending whatever Daedric presence is at the heart of the Nanten. Even if we forget our quest to find Salisir, we cannot ignore his path entirely for it is our single best clue to that very presence. A Daedric society, if one has truly taken root here, will be of greater consequence than ten nations of KoraKora.
Yet the KoraKora are at the root of so much of the evil we have encountered. Without them there would have been no mutilations. Kantoo would have still had two legs. These villagers would have never lost their sons. Their daughters would never have been impregnated in such horrific ways.
Still, what good can spot justice do in a landscape of such perilous inequality? Gods save us, but we will die in this place for no reason regardless of what path we choose. And no one will ever know it. But I cannot allow myself to believe that this is truly futile. I know it is, I have known it since my sentence was passed, and yet I know that somehow there is good that will come of it all. Known or not, I will accomplish something in this jungle that will resonate throughout history.
But I want to control the story they tell of me here. Inifra wishes for hers to resonate throughout the jungle. I fear that mine will be carried along with it, my secrets laid bare.
I should get back to my companions. We need to leave this place early tomorrow, before the KoraKora catch wind of what has happened here.