Hembila did not tell me that Fodafa has a giant pet lion. Good gods, but it’s huge. Fodafa himself is equally impressive. He’s taller than all of us, broad in the shoulder and as thick as Balthandar. Long thick braids run down his back, and his arms are clasped in gold bands. He is certainly proud. Regal.
The city of Motasta is immense. Where Graylag lay in ruins, and half of Hamada was broken on the cliffs of the Great Recess, Motasta is the first city within the jungle that we have found intact. The only trees allowed to stand to their full height within the city ring the palace at its center. I’m told this is an attempt at replicating the feel of Matasten.
There is so much blue sky above us that I am still adjusting to it. Not to mention the brilliant light of day.
As we neared the city, we were picked up by a new escort sent by Fodafa himself. This honor guard wore armor I can only assume is ceremonial as I cannot imagine fighting in it. Fifty men met us on the outskirts of the city, each robed in a cloak made from one large jungle cat or another. Their arms and legs were wrapped in thick cords and strings of beads.
We entered from the northwest. I could see what appeared to be the beginnings of a town built to the east, directly north of the city. Unlike the structures in the city itself, these were not made with stone, and unlike the other villages we had seen they were built between the trees. There was no clearing.
We didn’t go any closer to it, and soon were walking the streets of Motasta. This city feels massive, certainly bigger than Senida and probably twice the size of Hamada. The buildings are well-constructed, built with large stones set in mortar. There is no Klotian influence in the architecture here as there was in Senida, but there is also little Imperial influence.
Many of the structures have no walls. Columns carved like palm trees hold up high ceilings, creating a stone canopy in place of the forest. Markets sprawl through these structures.
The soldiers in this place are well disciplined. We saw their city guards throughout the city, walking among the crowds or standing atop the various structures. In one market we saw a thief try to make a run for it only to be tackled seconds later in the street.
Motasta has a clear sense of order to it. There is justice in this place, and the result is peace.
Fodafa was waiting for us in his palace at the center of the city. Many of the outbuildings here, too, had few walls if any. But the central keep was well fortified. It is a rather impressive structure, rising fifty or sixty feet in the air at an outward slope so that it reaches out overhead as one approaches. It feels very much like walking into a group of giant ferns.
His guard are all clothed in the pelt of jungle cats. The skulls of each cat remain atop the head of the man wearing it, though they appear reinforced with steel. The guards seem well trained, and their stalwart watch of the palace grounds gives them the most formidable appearance of any troops we have yet encountered. Their captains wear the skulls of Bangara on their heads. This alone draws my utmost respect, whether or not they killed the monsters themselves. We have yet to kill one ourselves.
Fodafa received us in his throne room, a long open space in the center of his palace with plenty of natural light. The long shadows cast by the crossbeams above and columns supporting them gave the space dramatic weight. Red carpet filled the empty floor, with granite tile at its edges. At the end was a low dais, upon which stood a massive iron throne. Fodafa sat upon the throne, and next to him a lion whose head was level with his own. It was huge. We were announced as we entered. The walls were lined with a variety of men and women in colorful garb, more clothing than I had come to associate with the Nantese. Behind them, guards stood stationed between the columns.
Hembila guided us into the chamber and up to within feet of the steps. The guards lining the dais stood silent as statues. When Hembila knelt, we followed suit. We waited there with heads bowed for a long moment before Fodafa finally spoke.
“My brother brings Imperials from his excursion into the darkness. Such a strange discovery.”
“My brother does great kindness to speak to his servant,” Hembila responded without raising his head.
“Who are these men that they should be brought to Motasta, city of the Sondu and seat of the heir to the Oaken Throne?”
“They are friends, my King. Friends who seek to stop the darkness as we do, and who would see the Arbor King restored in place of the usurper.”
The throne room resonated with a unified response from all present: “May the roots be restored to the mightiest of trees.”
Fodafa stood and Hembila looked up, so we looked up as well. Fodafa was smiling. With wide arms he walked down the steps and embraced his brother. Hembila introduced us by name then, and we each stood and bowed in turn.
“Imperials are some rare thing in this jungle. You are welcome to our hospitality. I see you are of the same family as our friend, Brin Salisir.” He pointed at the blue blade on my shoulder. “He too wishes to stop the darkness, and has pledged himself to the cause of our lost throne. I expect you shall do the same; there is great work for men of your talents, but in the meantime I must speak with my brother. Please, you will find your every need attended.”
He gestured behind us where we found an entourage approaching, and before we knew it we were being swept out of the throne room without Hembila. We were given rooms on the palace grounds in which to sleep, though we were told we were not permitted within the palace itself unless summoned.
One of Hembila’s men came to us after we had been settled to let us know that Hembila would come visit us in the morning.
Balthandar remains on edge, though he has relaxed somewhat. The three of us are sharing a large apartment with separate rooms and plenty of space to split between us. I think it helps Balthandar to have walls and a door with a lock; I believe he’ll sleep well tonight, though he refused his room. He is already fast asleep with his back to the door of the main entrance.
I wonder if there are any Batsu in the city with whom we could speak. I am curious what Fodafa will have to say to us when he finally takes the time, but I don’t want to let our wait for him stop us from making other friends along the way.
His reference to Salisir in the throne room makes me think that my old instructor hasn’t yet reached Motasta. That seems strange to me. I would think they should have arrived here days ago. Perhaps they ran into trouble of their own with the Latala. I hope Inifra and Timber are alright.
I’m going to put this massive bed to use and sleep as long as I can.