I feel as though my ribs are under constant pressure as my anxiety builds. Even Balthandar’s spirits are low today. His silence was not interrupted by his occasional humming as we walked; his glance rarely rose above the stones before him.
There is a deep sense of sadness that requires no words for us to share it, but I must rid myself of at least some of its weight. Writing in this journal is the only means left to me to accomplish this.
As if to punctuate my sense of impotent frustration, there are hawks in this land that dive to attack us at will. For no apparent reason. Gods, I hate this place. I finally killed one, which kept the others at bay for most of the afternoon, but not before a few fresh cuts had been opened on my head and shoulders.
Godsdamned birds. A few more days of this and I’ll start to miss the leeches.
Bolton’s dying eyes haunt me tonight as we sit upon this massive chunk of obsidian. That look, I’ve never seen it so incredibly… distilled. I wrote earlier that all of the ghosts that haunted Bolton were pressing in on him in that moment, but that’s not the full truth of it. I think it was something else, and the more that image revisits me the more certain of it I am.
Or perhaps I am only reading into my own fears.
Bolton died having only just discovered real freedom. In the jungles of the Nanten, Bolton was finally confronted with the truth of what he was. When he met the Nantese and, in a surprising twist for all of us, found he could love them, Bolton realized just how truly wretched he was.
The Nantese represented everything he thought himself above. They are tribal, uneducated, even cannibals. And yet there is something noble to them, something of a deeply refined quality that runs to the depths of their marrow. They are fighters, survivors, and Bolton came to respect them.
Slad Bolton used to sell people like this into slavery for a living. For Bolton there was always a gap between himself and his chattel. He was superior; they were inferior. But when he came to know the Nantese for some reason he could not resist loving them, and as he loved them he realized he was no better than them. His attempts to convert us to this line of thinking speak clearly enough to the fact.
Before he died, Bolton had made friends among the Nantese. This is astonishing because someone like Bolton doesn’t make friends. To make matters yet queerer, he found some odd form of repentance in serving them whenever he discovered a way to do so. I think his friendship with Kantoo in particular led him to believe he had somehow been forgiven. He was finally free.
Until he was dealt his death blow.
Those ghosts that moved in upon him then did so in a way that differed from my own. Those that I’ve killed stay with me of their own accord, accusing and dragging me down as best they can. But Bolton’s ghosts acted as mirrors. In his last moments they showed him just how deeply horrible he was. He saw that there could be no forgiveness for even a fraction of his transgressions. He had deceived himself until his final moment.
Bolton truly saw himself then, with such clarity that I dare say he transcended death before he died. Remorse. Guilt. Terror. That’s what I saw as he died. His eyes haunt me with the threat of what awaits me should I die in this jungle. Will I only see myself for what I am in my final moments? Too late for any hope of redemption at the instant when redemption is most near?
I must face my own demons, even though I want nothing less. I cannot die like Slad Bolton, with the weight of the assurance of my condemnation the only clear sensation upon me as I pass.