Kantoo has laid out our path before us with no small store of knowledge. There are many paths to the Akari Grasslands, but the one we want is the direct path to which he is leading us. It should be no more than a month’s journey from where he joined us. But to cross the Akari Grasslands, he said, there is only one path we can take.
Kantoo said that he has always been a messenger between villages, and that he has been taught all the paths of the region. The one we will take, he said, is rarely used. Although it is the most direct, it is the most dangerous. I gave him a scrap to draw on so we could better understand.
To get to the Akari Grasslands, and then Senida, we must travel south by southeast. The inherent danger to this path, he said, is the Deadwood.
The Deadwood is a portion of jungle that is made up of nothing but ashen trees. They look just like the other trees of the jungle, Kantoo said, except they are gray, bordering on white. The Deadwood, he said, is never in the same place twice, and is often difficult to distinguish in the half-light until one is already walking among its trees.
Once you lose sight of the living trees, Kantoo said, you cannot return to them. The Deadwood shifts, it changes, and it will trap you forever. Starlark scoffed at this and asked how Kantoo knew any of this if no one ever returned to say. Kantoo simply said it was how his father had died.
It is rumored, he emphasized heavily for Starlark, that within the Deadwood the spirits of those who have died in the Nanten congregate. Those who enter living are left to their mercies. He shook his head after a moment of silence and continued to draw on his makeshift map. He said there is no certainty to where it may be at any given time.
I should note that I find most of this hard to believe, but I am learning not to assume my experience means much in this accursed jungle.
After avoiding the Deadwood, his plan is to take us to the “stone path.” There is only one path through the northwestern portion of the Akari Grasslands that is safe, he said. And even then, it is only safe if you stay on the stones. Dionus asked what happened if you stepped off the stones, and Kantoo shrugged. He had never strayed from the stone path.
The smaller stones all lead to large ones, he said, which is where you can camp. On his map the path looked like an ant’s trail between a few nuts. You cannot sleep on the small stones, he warned, for at night there are other terrors that can reach you. And you cannot stay on the great stones during the day, for they get too hot in the blinding sun.
The sun. That was what stuck with me from all of that. We haven’t been in the sun in so long… all of us, save for Balthandar and Kantoo, will burn in minutes I’m sure. But I crave it now more than anything.
I took his map and laid it next to the one Prestorn had given us in Graylag. They looked surprisingly similar, which gave me a greater sense of confidence in the boy. Our present location is easy to find by the rivers we’ve crossed, and it demonstrates that the maps we have been given conform to no true sense of scale. Even Senida seems closer on Kantoo’s map than Prestorn’s – and that, I hope, is true.
I meant to ask him if he recognized the symbols that are scattered around Prestorn’s map, but I will have to do so tomorrow. He seems to know so much, it doesn’t feel like a stretch that he will know their meaning.
One week until we reach the Akari Grasslands. As long as the KoraKora do not find us, I feel confident we can handle any other threat that comes our way.