The howling is what disturbs me most. It almost sounds human. It started around nightfall and hasn’t stopped since.
There is a mythical creature called the Makonga that is said to live among these trees. A slouched figure that walks on hind legs, its body withered and hairy, its face a bare skull. They say it searches for a face.
When it finds a face that pleases it, the Makonga kills the owner and takes the face for itself. It wears the face convincingly enough, though it cannot mimic the mannerisms or voice that once belonged to it. It uses that face to lure those that love it into the darkness, and then it takes their faces too.
It makes sense why I didn’t get much sleep as I lay on my mat tonight, watching the embers of our fire dim and die. My shift at the watch came as a relief. I hate pretending to sleep. Almost as much as I hate not being able to. As I sit here and wait for the sun to rise, I still don’t know what’s making all that noise.
Then there are the bugs. Thousands of them seem to swarm to our fire in waves. They descend with a deep thrumming of the air, as if a thousand arrows were being loosed at once. They swirl around us, they bite, and are gone just as quickly. My arms and neck are covered in burning red dots. I could only imagine how horrible it would be if they were to stay.
The trees of the Nanten stand over two hundred feet tall at the shortest. There isn’t one I’ve seen that doesn’t reach the broad canopy overhead. It’s as if they do not grow from saplings but spring straight from the ground fully-matured. They are immense. If all five of us were to hold hands I doubt our combined length would reach around the trunks.
In spite of this, the undergrowth is formidable. That much is obvious, even standing on the shores of the Blight Sea I could see this. I can tell that striking out to make trails of our own will be an arduous task best avoided.
But how do you avoid carving trails where no feet tread? The very thought makes me grind my teeth in anxiety.
Tarsh was obviously trading with someone here, otherwise Blithe would have ceased to exist some time ago. Who he was trading with remains the mystery. Was it this Bantish? I’ve seen no sign of human settlement. No boats. No paths. Nothing.
Yet no matter how bad things get, even between the pits of war, commerce exists. There are always things that men cannot – or will not – live without, and there will always be those willing to risk their lives to provide them. I imagine this jungle is no different. For wherever mankind takes root, so trade must follow.
If we can find these traders, I believe we will find our route into the Nanten. But I feel exposed along these shores. What Tarsh may trade in, for all we know, is slaves. Even to set bandits upon us to kill us and loot our corpses would be the most profitable find in a decade for someone like Tarsh. I’m not worried about our ability to fight our way past an assault, but I do not know what poisons or traps may be laid out for us while we sleep.
Better to strike out into the jungle and avoid discovery than risk being so easily found near the sea. We will move inland to find Bantish. If we don’t, then we are lost. I don’t know why I trust the power of that name even when it comes from the one person I trust least. There is simply something about it that draws me.
I hope it isn’t the song of my death that calls.