There has been no sighting of the Bangara since yesterday. It took some cajoling, but I managed to get Starlark to make a sweep of the area before we left this morning. He hardly slept last night.
I know it is good for him to keep to his duties, however, so I will press him on those. We all need things to set our minds on right now, otherwise I worry we will begin to capitulate to our fears.
Being eaten. None of us has ever even fathomed the idea as existing within the realm of possibility. If it isn’t snakes, it’s cannibals. If it isn’t the bloody leeches in the streams, it’s a Bangara from the banks. Death by sword, hanging, or illness has crossed each of our minds at one point or another. Death by digestion… that’s new.
It has been hammered home even more completely by our discovery of another village today. The inhabitants were not far off, and most came back once they realized we were not bandits or KoraKora. It seemed their curiosity won out over any caution they may have had.
Many of them were missing limbs. Some were missing legs at the knee, others arms at the elbow. Some had lost entire appendages.
One of the young men was excited to try to speak the common tongue with us. He told me his name was Kantoo. I asked how he knew to speak to us, and he said his grandfather had been a tradesman. He had insisted his children and grandchildren learn. Even Kantoo was missing his right leg from the buttock, but he hopped around quite nimbly on a bamboo crutch. I asked what had happened to him, to the people in his village.
The KoraKora in this region, Kantoo told us, do not often take entire villages when they raid. Within their own territory they treat the people much more like cattle. They visit unannounced and take tribute in the form of limbs. Outside of their territory, he said, is where they find and take whole people.
I asked what they did with the limbs. Without missing a beat told me as a matter of fact that they ate them, usually in front of the person they had just cut them from. Bolton was listening intently, his veins bulging at the story.
Bolton asked the boy why the people didn’t leave. Why would they stay and face mutilation like this? Kantoo just shrugged and said they were safer here. If they left the territory, he said, they would lose more than their limbs.
The people were kind enough to offer us their hospitality. The children keep calling us “Ocada.” I’ve heard it a few times before, but never so brazenly directed to us. Kantoo explained that is their word for Imperials, or at least the light-skinned among us. I think the first Imperial trader to the Nanten had a similar name, if I remember my history correctly.
Bolton immediately set himself to helping with whatever tasks he could find. He almost seemed in a panic, rushing to do whatever he could to make himself useful. I could read it on his face, it’s a look I’ve seen on a dozen others – his ghosts are closing in.
Guilt has infected Bolton like a plague. These poor mutilated Nantese only inflict it upon him with greater intensity. In them he sees his own victims on the expanse of the Great Wastes.
We will leave for the Akari Grasslands as soon as we can tomorrow. The last thing we want is for these people to get tied up in our conflict with the KoraKora.