It is an unbelievable pleasure to have these pages between my fingers again. Alive, every moment I receive feels unbearably sweet. Having my journals returned to me only heightens the sensation. As if the torture of waiting for the KoraKora had not been bad enough.
They attacked us before dawn. The horns and drums carried on through the night, but never approached the city. We thought they were still preparing off in the jungle, when in reality they were amassing on our borders to strike without warning.
What few scouts we had were overwhelmed without making a sound. The only alarm was a scream from the first layer of fortifications as the KoraKora flooded over them. Balthandar and I were not there yet. We had woken early, anxious and unable to sleep well, but were still finishing preparations at the second (middle) layer we had built.
That scream was all the warning we would receive. Immediately we roused any defenders that were sleeping and began lighting and throwing torches over the makeshift ramparts. The yellow-painted bodies of the KoraKora looked like skeletons in the torchlight. They moved silently forward, creeping until they knew we could see them.
We released what arrows we had to shoot and they responded with a volley of their own. The shower of missiles subdued our line. They didn’t relent until their comrades were climbing to fight us. By the time the KoraKora stopped shooting, half of the defenders were dead.
Balthandar and I held our position as long as we could, but our flanks dissolved and we were overwhelmed within minutes.
We fled to the hall, barricading the doors with large stones. Archers shot down into the KoraKora from the floors above while others cast down stones. Entire sections of the hall’s outer catwalks had been loosened and were now leveraged and slid out onto the writhing mass of KoraKora.
Still, no matter how many were crushed or shot, more poured into the square below. Many began scaling the walls, while others called for a ram to be brought forward. They had constructed ladders in the jungle and others had ropes with hooks. Hundreds of attempts to breach the hall were being made at once.
We were unable to fend them all off. We had to call for the retreat before the KoraKora were among us, or there would be no point. What forces we had left withdrew and fled across the bridge. There was one last bastion on the far side which could be garrisoned to hold the KoraKora back. At least long enough to give the refugees on the far side a chance to escape.
The KoraKora made it over the walls then and began pouring in through the upper levels. Balthandar had lingered to set his trap and suddenly we were locked in a fight before we could get out the door. Slowly they pushed us back. No matter how many we killed, more came. Soon we had the bridge to protect our flanks, but even then we were steadily being pressed. Arrows began to fly from the walls, landing indiscriminately in the fight.
And then he was there.
The chief of the KoraKora, covered in bones and the brightest of feathers. His warriors stopped fighting before we could see him. They held back even before he walked through the doors. As he did so they parted before him to make a path. Silence turned to a slow chant, which built in volume and fervor as their chief approached us on the bridge.
Soon the KoraKora were stamping and howling, cutting themselves and writhing with a collective bloodlust greater than any I have ever seen. The chief raised his arms and the KoraKora went silent. He reached over his shoulder, drawing a double-bladed bone sword off his back. Both blades ran up from the hilt, one large and the other slender. The smaller blade ran along the dull side of its larger counterpart, coming to its point at three quarters the other’s length, a gap of only an inch between them. A fascinating weapon.
He made a curt call and a captive was brought forward. One of the children Timber had befriended. Even the waterfall beneath us could not diminish the weight of the silence as that poor child was dragged forward. With great pomp and ceremony the chief inspected his sword, appeared displeased, and then plunged it into the boy’s chest. When he withdrew it to inspect it again he grinned.
“My blade finds today good for drinking,” he explained in the common tongue. His deep voice quivered when he talked. “I have waited long to avenge your murder of my brother.”
Then he shouted something in Nantese and the KoraKora cheered. I’d had enough. My blood was boiling to a rage. This man had chased me for months for killing his brother. For killing a man who was trying to kill me. I was itching for this fight.
I knew he was good when he stepped in to meet me. It was his footing, the grace of his motion. He was quick and skilled. Trained by the Klotians no doubt, or at least someone who had learned from them. His form was perfect. I adopted a Windswept stance and he immediately countered with a Southern Diamond.
He knew his swordplay. I had an advantage as I was better, but not enough to find my window. I was tired from fighting all morning. He was not. The KoraKora erupted, chanting and roaring for their chief as we rotated and spun along the bridge.
It would be a stalemate, I realized. Everything was going to come down to chance, and I needed to end it. To end him. That’s when I decided to shift time. If there was ever a time to cheat in a fight, it was then, so I slowed time and pushed my body to move ahead of it. But my blade did not slide past his.
The shock ran deep. He was a Timeshift. He had known all along. My gut dropped as he grinned. He was dragged along with my perception of time, the two of us locked in step even as I tried to pull away. I could feel him grasping for it, working to gain control of time over me.
And then the hall exploded. Balthandar had set one of the two charges at the base of the structure. The devices could direct their blast with startling accuracy, and he had set it away from us to shatter the structure’s foundations. The KoraKora were blasted and crushed by the hundreds. The cannibal nation stood in a moment of shocked silence before their chief turned on me in a rage.
Every tendon and vein in his neck sprung taught as he screamed at me. Then his real assault began. He swung his bone sword in a hailstorm of blows, hammering at me and bellowing the most terrifying noises. It was all I could do to signal Balthandar to set his second trap. I couldn’t make it. I knew I couldn’t make it, but I told him to do it anyways.
I knew in that moment that it was better I die if it meant this lunatic went with me.
He pressed into me, shards of bloody bone flying from the force of his attack. He pushed me back. I could barely stand against him. That was when I saw it and cursed myself. His fault, I found it all too late to use it against him.
I needed to master the situation if I were to shift time. If I were to trap him on that bridge. So I did what I have never done before. I let his sword pass my own. Gods but it tore through my shoulder like fire. The blow was an unexpected victory for the chief, one that elated him far too much. Elated him just enough to distract him. Thank the gods it worked.
With his focus on my shoulder, he didn’t notice the shift. He didn’t realize that in those two seconds of gloating, he was dead.
That bastard grinned as he hauled his blade free of my upper chest. He swung his sword around to finish me. Then Balthandar’s second blast ripped the bridge to shreds beneath his feet. Though I was behind the blast, I wasn’t spared the concussion. It knocked me senseless, and when I came to I was struggling to breathe.
I was underwater. But not for long.
Within seconds I was flying free. The mixture of water and air confused me for only a moment before my heart sank. Or rose. I guess it depends on which way I was flipping at the moment.
I was falling hundreds of feet to the Great Recess with a gaping wound in my left shoulder. Even if I didn’t die on impact, and somehow survived drowning, I was going to be weak. I was going to sink, or get eaten by something worse than a Bangara. Worse than the KoraKora. I was going to die.
I can’t explain it, but the certainty of it made me smile. Images of Hamada emptying out as we fortified the hall filled my mind. Images of Nantese children. Lives the KoraKora couldn’t claim. Lives across the entire jungle were safe now, if only for a moment. Lives were avenged. Bolton. Kantoo.
I could die, I decided. And then everything went black.
I woke up a day later, lying on a tiny island in the lake that forms beneath the falls. Inifra was there. She had dragged me from the water and bound my wound. She had saved me again.
“I thought that was it,” she said through tears. “I thought I was dead.” Strange words, considering I was the one who nearly drowned. Who was stabbed, inches from being blown to pieces, almost crushed by a massive fall, and then nearly drowned.
I had never seen her so undone. She wept over me. She watched me as I slept. She kept me safe until my companions could finally descend the cliffs and rejoin us. But they cannot rejoin us. The path at the foot of the cliffs is connected to one of the only safe passages across the Broken Circle, and that is miles south of here. We cannot meet along the cliffs, but must find a way to be rejoined within the jungle on the far side. Balthandar refuses to be tossed by Dionus, and though he himself can fly, Dionus cannot carry him.
Somehow Inifra managed to find my sword at the bottom of this lake. Dionus has been able to bring us some supplies and my pack, but he cannot carry full-grown adults. The distance across the Great Circle, he says, is too far to safely throw us as he did on the Grasslands. I sent him to help Balthandar and Timber across the Broken Circle. Inifra and I must find our own way into the jungle.
The minute we leave this island we are in the thick of it again, but I am glad to be alive and satisfied at how things ended with the KoraKora. Gods be good, but I hope they are destroyed forever.
My wound is deep but clean. We will give it until tomorrow and hope that is enough time to start moving. Thank the gods for Martingue broth and my armor, without which I would be dead twice over and crippled ten times again.