Hembila argued against taking Nodora north until she promised to show us another tunnel along the way. This one makes due east and should get us to the Batsu in a matter of days. It has guards, but not many as it a jealously guarded secret. We asked her how she knew of its existence if that information was kept so closely. She said her grandfather hadn’t idled away his years in hiding.
It is difficult for me to resist the temptation to see Matasten in person. Wudan can’t move far in any case. Though his body has recovered well, he remains disturbed by the Healer’s sacrifice to save him. Even with Nodora’s insistence that it was a good end of a long life, I think Wudan has had his first unwanted jolt towards maturity.
Kodara was sent into the tunnel to bring the rest of Hembila’s remaining men north with the baggage. While Balthandar, Inifra, Timber, and Hembila’s two remaining men stay behind to guard Wudan, Hembila himself has joined Dionus, Salisir, and me in our trek to Matasten. I think his motivation is a mixture of his sense of responsibility for us as our escort and curiosity of what lies behind the Daedric veil.
This territory is hillier and more broken up than we are used to. Nodora’s experience in moving undetected through it was evidenced immediately in how she led us. She knows the lowest point in every draw and the safest routes around each village. She says the villages look abandoned, but they are not.
Hembila asked how she lived in Matasten if the darkness ruled. Salisir translated her responses for Dionus and me.
“The smallest fern’s leaves are eaten last. If we keep to our business and do not speak up, we are ignored.”
The more she explained life in Matasten to us, the more normal it sounded. Though the stress of living under the Daedra was present in everything she said, it sounded much like life lived in any other warzone. Business was able to continue much as normal. Though taxes were high and access to goods and supplies low, she said they were not starving.
“It is the ritual that you must beware,” she said. “We try to remain invisible so that we are not chosen. When I was a girl, no one from Matasten was ever chosen. Now many are.”
Hembila asked to what ritual she referred, but she struggled to define it any further. “The ritual,” was all she could say, as if that alone stood as sufficient definition. I have a sinking feeling I know what she’s talking about, though I fear the scale to which a Daedric society might take it.
Dionus asked when these rituals were carried out. “When the Dark Prince demands it.”
The way she talked made all of it sound quite matter-of-fact. She has never known anything different. Salisir asked her if the gates were barred and she said no. I asked him why he asked, never having thought he would have seen the city himself.
“The gates of Matasten are famous,” Salisir said. “Matasten is the only city in all of the Nanten with a true wall. It’s built behind a solid ring of trees, and the gates are taller than any other you will ever see.”
“As tall as the trees?” Dionus asked.
Salisir laughed. “Not that tall, but when you’re standing under them it sure feels like it.”
Hembila objected to the idea of entering Matasten outright. Better to see it from a safer distance than be caught within the city itself. I would agree, but I want to see the inner workings of this society so badly. My emotions on the matter are unsettled. While the concept of a mature society raises great fears in me and drives me to anger, I have long moments of uninterrupted curiosity.
We will be there soon enough; it all seems so surreal. We are only two days away from answers I may soon wish I had never discovered.