If I had to choose a god to worship in this hellhole, it might have to be Infiri; her sense of timing and provision continue to amaze.
The Daedra must have moved through our stone blockage like it was sand. They were on our heels moments after Salisir had us strike camp this morning. If Dionus hadn’t sensed them coming, we wouldn’t have had time to gather anything.
Fighting was no longer something that could be avoided, but when you can hear your enemy roar through the jungle like an oncoming storm, gods help you if you don’t balk at it.
Thankfully, we had enough of a lead to choose our ground. The pressing issue was finding that ground before we all broke from exhaustion. When we stumbled onto a river, we knew it provided our best chance.
Inifra parted the waters for us to cross then set herself at its the center. The rest of us lined the far bank. It wouldn’t take long for them to flank us, but we would start the fight with both high and dry ground on our side.
Inifra rose in the river until she stood nearly at its surface, her arms drawing the water up around her. The first wave of Daedra were met with a towering typhoon and when they woke up, if they woke up, they did so miles downstream. Dionus jumped in then, the trees bowing to the force of his power as he drew the winds down and through them.
The second wave of Daedra was blown back into the third.
But then they were everywhere on the far bank. For as far as we could see, north and south, the bank turned black with the tattered leathers of Daedric followers. They plunged heedlessly into the water. Inifra froze it. Great cracks and bursts sounded along the banks as the water snapped its jaws around its victims.
Those who followed simply ran across the solid river. Dionus pushed them along the slippery surface as best he could manage, but there were too many and the trees stood too close, weakening his draw on the wind.
Daedra. I have never seen a wall of them charge before. I have never seen them so well armed. Those with a touch on the Atmosphere had the darkest gashes, the brightest veins of red along their armor. They were grinning as they closed.
Terror and excitement mixed in my stomach, swirling to create a bloody elation. This was what I was bred to do. I am the stalwart stone upon which the dark tide breaks.
I froze time. The joy of it coursed through me as whirs and cracks of my own sounded in my ears, signaling the capture and slowing of everything around me. Out over the ice I ran, slicing and stabbing with impunity, hacking men in two with a force that cannot be put behind any normal strike.
I could feel my hold slipping too soon. Without Wudan I was beset by my old limitations, and truth be told that knowledge terrified me. I let go of my shift instantly and thirty bodies reddened the ice around my feet. More came.
Inifra rolled a shockwave of some sort through the river, disemboweling any Daedra not already drowned beneath the ice. She let it break up and joined us on the bank.
Balthandar put Wudan at our center with the runaway, and Hembila’s men made a ring around them. Dionus made to grab Wudan but I stopped him. Only as a last resort, I said. It’s too dangerous.
Salisir launched attack after attack. I couldn’t even see what he was doing, but I could feel the effects on the Atmosphere. Row after row of Daedric followers fell to the magic of Salisir’s SwordSkills, yet still they came on.
Whips of the wind, ice lances, everything that Inifra and Dionus could unleash in that tight grove of trees without harming the rest of us they did. As for me, I spun through the slaughter.
Ba’hrain may have given Matasten the Oaken Throne, but they taught me their dance. In the few encounters I have had with Daedra since learning it, I have found that their training puts them at an inherent disadvantage to the dance of the Ba’hrani women. They could not touch me.
That would not last. The flow of warriors never stopped; there truly was a battalion behind us. After a while, it felt more like an entire division.
They pressed into us, forcing us back as we fought to maintain a perimeter, and then they were through. One of Hembila’s men was the first of ours to die. I got shot in the leg. Balthandar took a blow from a mace that put him on his back.
Then the river erupted.
Twenty women stepped onto the bank, fully clad in a swirl of blue and green leather armor. They launched themselves into the rear flank of the Daedra, howling in song as they hacked their way towards us. Within minutes we were bolstered, their double-sided blades as long as their bodies and twirling like bloodied windmills.
Their presence was enough to level the battlefield for a moment, but steadily the mass of Daedra pressed in upon us. There are moments when you know you cannot give any more, where time stands still of its own accord as if to give you one last chance to appreciate living before you lose that ability forever. That was when the Batsu made their appearance.
Three hundred arrows fell in unison from the trees, followed immediately by another volley. Then another, and another, until only the Daedra nearest us were left standing. We killed them before they knew they had lost.
“Brin Salisir,” a woman’s voice rang out through the trees. We still hadn’t seen a single bowman, the jungle around us devoid of human living form. “I thought I caught your stench on the breeze.”
“Nianatara.” Salisir bowed to the east; as he stood, a short woman in dark green wrappings stepped from the undergrowth. “I make whatever preparations will ensure my friends can find me.”
She snorted at that, then inspected the rest of us. Her hair was thick, twisted locks jutting out in every direction like black smoke trailing a dozen arrows, all interwoven with dark green ribbons. Her eyebrows arched briefly as she looked at the armed group of women among us. “Priestesses of Infiri?”
Then it made sense. Inifra said she had called for help back under the Falls, but I didn’t know what she meant. Have these women really been trying to catch us up this entire time?
“The dark tree bears fruit, and all the jungle strives to cut it down, Nianatara.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen Salisir so deferential, even before Fodafa.
“Is this true Inifra? Come closer child; you’re so much younger than your predecessor.”
Inifra stepped forward. She hid her irritation well, but I could see it perturbed her to be called a child. “All who would oppose the darkness are allies in this time, are they not?”
“Do you forget what he did to you, Inifra? Or did she not pass down those memories to you?”
Nianatara’s words caught Inifra completely off guard. She opened her mouth, but it took a moment for words to follow. “The memories of my predecessor have never been clear, Nianatara.”
“And all those who came before her?”
Again, Inifra paused. She looked at her hands before resuming eye contact with Nianatara. “There are darker things afoot than missing memories. The Batsu may not be directly in harm’s way, but once the Yatusu and Sondu fall, there will be no one with whom you can ally.”
“I have heard all of this from that mouth.” She pointed at Salisir. “I will not be forced into fighting when there is no fight brought to me. You have Hembila with you, I see. I know what the Sondu think – to rule us all in their grand superiority.” The sneer was clear in her words if not apparent on her face. “And you?” She looked at me. “What nonsense has this man filled your head with that you would follow him into suicide?”
“Following him was my punishment,” I said. And it was essentially true. I didn’t know what else to say; she clearly was not interested in what anyone yet had to offer. If Salisir was known to her for lying, I would be known for the truth.
“Your punishment? What kind of punishment is following Brin Salisir beyond cruel and unusual? What did you do?”
“I murdered the only woman I ever loved.” That earned some looks from my companions.
“Ah, how familiar.” Nianatara pointed at me and looked back at Salisir. “A murderer, and one whose crimes are so similar to your own. What a lovely addition to your crew, Salisir. Now, what leaf of murder, along which branch of insanity, would lead to this sort of exile?”
“She was the daughter of the Sword of the Empire,” I said. Salisir balked now too. Apparently he hadn’t heard that part. “I killed her because she loved one of them.” I pointed at the Daedric corpses at our feet. “I killed her because I hate the Daedra more than anything; the thought of her in the arms of one was enough to drive me mad.”
Nianatara laughed. “So dramatic. Imperials are such fools for love; it’s what happens when you sit behind your tall walls and live long soft lives. Judging by the faces of your friends, I doubt you’ve said as much to them. Pity. Friends should know these things first.”
“We need to resupply, Nianatara.” Salisir limped a step closer. I hadn’t noticed the gash on his thigh. “I’m taking Hembila to the Yatusu. You have nothing to do with it; I know where you stand. Just let us pass through and give us your protection for a few nights of rest.”
Nianatara laughed in his face. “Salisir, you think too highly of yourself. Why would I let you anywhere near my camp, let alone my city?”
Salisir gestured to the surrounding carnage. “Why would you save me from the Daedra?”
They shared a long silence after that. Finally Nianatara waved the air from her face and smiled. “Just a few nights, then. We know hospitality well in this inhospitable place. You will be taken care of, but only because you are traveling with a goddess.”
The way she called Inifra a goddess indicated how much faith she put behind the title: little. We didn’t see any of her soldiers the entire time we marched; I think she left them behind in case more Daedra followed. Which begs the question: why would they send such an overwhelming force after one man? This runaway with us tonight, who is he?
It took the rest of the day to reach Nianatara’s camp; our wounds didn’t help the pace any. Balthandar patched my leg, allowed one of Nianatara’s healers to do the same for his wounds, and then went straight to sleep. It’s the first time I’ve seen him let his guard down in months.
The rest of our companions have dropped off to sleep in their own time. I am want to join them, but there is yet one thing that plagues my mind and keeps me awake. What was Ninatara implying about Inifra’s memories? Could Inifra recall the older ones or not?
What did Salisir do to Inifra?