The monsters of the Broken Circle are unlike anything I have ever seen. Spiders grown larger than horses, with armored plating and long forelegs like iron scythes. We could see them roam the surface of the circle during the day. They are quick, lythe. Somehow that makes them all the more disturbing. They roam on the hunt, returning to hide in the cracks and crevasses that crisscross the land.
Inifra says the caves under the Circle are vast and convoluted. I can only imagine the most hellish of images: unknown beasts fighting for dominance in the darkness and rising to the light only to feed. They hide in the low trees that grow atop the broken hills. I know this because when the rains come, they drop immediately and scurry into the nearest crevasse.
They also drop from the trees when any unfortunate animal happens to wander too close. I saw a deer with straight antlers come to such an end. Those sharp forearms killed the poor beast instantly. If they hadn’t, the weight of the monster on top of it would have crushed it in any case.
Having seen all of this from the safety of our island, I was reluctant to cross the water. But Inifra knew the timing of the rains, which was what made our passage possible at all. Minutes before they came she helped me swim to land. There were rapids just below the lake, so taking the river out of the Broken Circle was not possible for me. We had to make land and move on foot.
More than once Inifra struck out at something in the water to keep it at bay. I never saw it myself, and I did not want to know what it was. Finally the rains came. From where we floated in the water we could see three of the giant spiders drop from trees and scramble for cover. I would never have seen them otherwise. They were terrifying.
We made our way along the shores of the lake and then the river. At every point where the crevasses opened nearby those things attacked us. The reward of food outweighed their distaste for the rains. Inifra could use the falling water against them, splintering ice in their eyes – of which there were plenty to attack – and pressing them back underground by sheer force. Only when the rains stopped did we have troubles.
I was unable to fight. It took all I had to keep moving forward. Inifra had to start drawing water from the river to force the monsters back, but they no longer retreated underground. Instead they began to follow and harass us. At one point there were three of the monsters, though they began to jostle for position then.
Their mouths were small, but lined with hideous teeth. Inifra began to grow weary keeping them back, and then by accident knocked one in the river. It sank. Immediately she knocked a second in the river. It sank as well. The others backed off then, though they never fully left us alone.
We made it beneath the familiar towers of green and away from the Broken Circle after a few hours of steady progress. For all we could tell, the spiders did not follow. Regardless, we moved another mile into the jungle to build some space. We will stay by the river and wait for the others to join us. I need the rest, and it makes for a better landmark than anything south.
I hope they have had less difficulty than we did in their crossing.
Inifra left me for a few hours to check on Hamada. The people there are having a difficult time making their way across the rapids to return home. Destroying the only bridge that crossed the Nanten River was an unfortunate necessity. My ears didn’t stop ringing for days after that blast.
I can’t stop thinking about the chief of the KoraKora, nor how deeply he hated me. What shocked me, and what continues to shock me, was how similar we were. He is the only other Timeshift I have ever met who hadn’t lost himself to the shift. The only other swordsman I have ever met who could match me in a fight.
A chill ran through me last night when I realized I no longer hated him. The place he held in the world has left a gap in me, one that I didn’t realize was there: A loneliness for someone who understands me. Someone who knows himself and his skills as well as I do but, more importantly, whose skills are the same as mine.
He followed me for months to avenge his brother. He mobilized an entire nation for vengeance. That is not something I would ever do, but I am no stranger to revenge. Or could I have missed something? Was it because he knew that I too was a Timeshift?
What keeps me from crossing that invisible boundary that borders good and evil? Or is that border so wide that I find myself in it already, traversing the no-man’s land of grey between the black and white in which I always thought the world was draped? Am I so good?
I murdered the only woman I ever truly loved in a moment of blind rage. I forsook wisdom to perpetrate that crime, and left my brothers behind where no Tetrarch should ever venture on his own. I took my people and despised them, cast them aside in favor of my own self-righteousness and jealousy.
How is it that I see the Nantese as something other when the very villain they feared was a brother to me? How can I see myself above them when, truly, they have been the kind ones. The hospitable ones. The ones to sacrifice themselves for total strangers, whose hearts were blackened by bigotry and murder.
I am no better than them. I deserve none of their assistance. None of their care. Yet they give it so freely.
What can I give in return? I do not feel the pressing weight of guilt or self-hatred that I would expect. I simply feel detached. Distant. I feel as though I belong to some race entirely separate from the human one, an alien who does not feel what it should feel nor love how it should love. I feel numb, and it is far worse to be standing here staring at the contrast of who I am and who I should be than any wave of loathing could ever feel.
What have I become?
There has been no word from our companions yet. Inifra says the people of Hamada watched them cross the Broken Circle from the cliffs. They lost sight of them once the rains began, and by the time the storm had quit there was no sign of the travelers below.
Gods but I am anxious for them.
Inifra and I resumed our discussion of justice in the Nanten today, but from a different angle. At least my angle has changed. I cannot continue to ignore the plight of the people across whom we stumble, not in good faith. My callousness to their suffering is tantamount to inflicting it upon them. If I can stop it and don’t, how am I any better than the KoraKora who plagued them?
It almost angered me how happy it made Inifra to hear me say that. She went off on her dreams for a peaceful, unified nation. One whose people lived in harmony with one another.
I am not entirely certain what good it will do in the end, for any vacuum in power here is bound to be filled by the worst sorts of people. But creating those vacuums is better than leaving the cruel and despotic rulers of these regions unpunished.
Inifra doesn’t seem concerned with power herself. She wants to spread the influence of Infiri and raise her standing among the Nantese, but it is not an exclusive goal. She doesn’t want to oust any other gods, nor does she wish to rule in a political sense. Inifra’s desire is to spread her religion. I don’t see it as enough to unify this people. What I want to know is what we can do to help them regain greater stability.
She seems to think that helping one person at a time is enough. I can aid her in that for the time being, but I doubt that will be sufficient for me in the long run. And what of Salisir? Discovering his fate is my pass to return home.
Do I even have a home? Or is the Nanten my home now? Perhaps I could make it my home if Inifra would be a part of it. If only I could get a better read on her. With momentary exceptions, she goes cold at the most inconvenient of times. I would tell her how I feel, but every opportunity I get is preemptively sabotaged by her attitude and distance from me.
It’s as confounding as it is confusing. Perhaps that should serve as communication enough. This desire for intimacy and my longing for her to open up to me, to be mine, is just that. It is mine, and mine alone. I should not be so foolish as to think she would share it.
Another couple of days drinking Martingue broth and I should be healthy enough to continue on. I hope that Dionus, Balthandar, and Timber join us by then.
We moved down the river about a mile to a small fishing village. There is some form of illness that has claimed the lives of a number of children here. Inifra has spent the day investigating, but has yet to guess at the cause. It is nice to be among people again, and it makes sense to wait here. Much easier for our companions to find a village than the two of us alone in hiding.
Where are they, though? The path couldn’t have come out more than ten miles south of here, and is likely closer than that. Why has it taken them so long to reach us? As soon as I am strong enough it will grow tempting to try and find them instead of staying put.
But remaining in one place, as agreed, is the best chance we have of seeing them again.
We are off Salisir’s trail in any case. The last clue we had was that he had gone north, above the cliffs. It’s possible he came down here after that, possible even that he made it all the way to Matasten. But as unlikely as our survival has been, his was even less likely.
I realize now that it is probable that we will never find the proof of his death that I crave. Even should we follow our clues, at some point they will stop coming. Whether he died between destinations, or the last to see him alive have died as well, there would have come a time when we came up short. There would have been an end to this path with no further guesses or legends to follow.
And then what?
We would have to make a decision then much as we must do now. Do we move to Matasten to search out the source of these Daedric rumors, or choose some other path? My sense of duty screams for Matasten. My pity calls for the aid of the Nantese before me. My heart… I have given up trying to guess at what my heart desires.
What do we have before us now but a village in need? We can tend to them for the moment. When Balthandar arrives he will be able to treat their ill as well. We can go from there, to Matasten to find out about this Daedric Prince or just to the next person in need of help. We have been in need many times in this jungle. If it were not for those who helped us along the way we would be dead.
Now it is our turn to do the helping.
He stepped through the foliage and into the firelight like a ghost. He still is a ghost, the ghost that haunts my every step.
Brin Salisir walked into my camp last night as if it were his own. He spoke to me as if unsurprised by my presence. He spoke to Inifra as if she were an old friend. All of my fears, all of the torture of this voyage, the pain, the death, all of it negated in gravity by his cock-sure swagger.
The way he sat on that stool as if he were in his own home lounging…
I didn’t even hear what he said over the crackling rage that built within me. I wanted to lunge across the fire between us and strangle him. I wanted him dead, hoped him dead.
I had believed that Brin Salisir was dead, and that was as I wanted it.
Then he stepped into life. There wasn’t a care that burdened him, nor any crack in his comfort among the Nantese. Not only did they recognize him, but immediately they began to speak to him as if he were a long-lost friend. The bastard speaks Nantese.
He didn’t bother asking why I was there. He didn’t care to find out that Slad Bolton and Roos “Starlark” na Crestward – the son of the bloody Scepter of the Realm, I should add – had died searching for him. He didn’t give two shits for us.
Brin Salisir didn’t ask me a single question until he looked at me and requested I join him. The bastard asked me for my help.
I walked away then, because if I didn’t leave I would draw my sword and kill him sitting. I would shift. I would freeze time itself, walk up to him, and slide my blade between his neck and collar bone until it pierced him to the bowels and pinned him to that stool. I wouldn’t let anyone see me do it. To them it would appear to have happened instantaneously. But they would fear me for it.
This entire jungle would fear me for my wrath.
I walked away so that the ghost before me could live another day.
Inifra came to me later but I turned her away. I didn’t want to hear his name on her lips. I hated that she recognized him even though she had never seen him with her own eyes. I could not… I don’t know that I can handle this.
Inifra came to me twice yesterday and again today. Finally I let her sit with me in my hut. She wants to go with him. Gods help me, but she wants to go with Salisir.
She says he has a plan. Everything we have spoken of, all of the dreams she has for peace within the Nanten, all of it comes together brilliantly in this plan of his. He knows the Great Recess, she says. He knows Matasten. He has learned it all, and he knows how to make it whole.
She says that it is the Nantese who will save the Nanten in the end. That is what excited her the most: The Nantese will rule themselves again.
How can she trust him? This man beat me as a child. He hated me and I hated him. He was exiled for his incompetence, his failures, and his rebellion against the Tetrarch. How can such a man be thought fit to unify a nation? How can he have a plan at all?
How can she want to go with him?
She is so excited.
My stomach hasn’t stopped churning since that conversation. I never had a chance to make her that excited myself. I have lost whatever chances I will have with her in the future. She is taken with this plan. With this man that I hate.
I refused to hear what he has told her. I cannot bear it.
She has asked me to join them. She told me I am needed. Now I am needed? Now, when he is here, now she needs me? But it isn’t her, is it? It’s them. They need me, whoever ‘they’ are.
Balthandar and Dionus have not found us yet and these two wish to move off into the jungle tomorrow. Can I let her go with him? How could I stop her? I may lose her forever. And finding Salisir was my mission. As false a mission as it may have been, I need to know what he knows about Matasten. I have to know his story or I can never go home. Even if I did, would your father ever let me return?
But if I leave tomorrow, what will happen to my companions? Are they even near us now, or do they need help somewhere to the south? Staying on the river is the best chance I have of ever seeing them again. I cannot abandon them, not like I abandoned Starlark.
But what if by staying here I lose Inifra to Salisir, and my companions to the dangers they face elsewhere? I could be sitting in the very place from which I can do the least good.
I am out of pages in this journal, and that is well enough. I need to put my pen down and think. I need to make a decision and must do so by morning. Gods, but I hope the right one.
Fall of the Arbor King starts tonight!
My friends remain lost, if they are not dead already. To make matters worse, the woman with whom I was enraptured has been drawn into the plan of the man that I hate most in the world. I feel as though I have been tossed from the heat of the jungle into the frigid waters of the north. If only Brin Salisir had been dead as I had hoped.
What bitter words to begin a new journal.
I sit and write by the Nanten River, a mighty trunk of water flowing in opposition to itself. Alone, it forms the vein and artery both that feed the heart of this jungle: Matasten, capital of the fallen Arbor Kingdom. Somewhere nearby I can only hope that my companions, my dearest friends, remain alive tonight.
Dionus, Balthandar, and even little Timber. It is their plight that keeps Inifra close another day, and only because Salisir has concerned himself with their fate.
The last few days have drawn me from a hole within myself. My grief dragged me into blindness, into foolish action. Grief over my exile. Over Naline, and Lystra. The appearance of Brin Salisir shocked me from my stupor. I wonder now how I could have acted with such certainty before, but my muddled missteps stand before me in stark clarity. I suddenly find myself with nothing upon which to stand.
He seemed set on leaving until he discovered we traveled with a Walker. Dionus, my closest remaining friend, is an Expressionist of legendary skill. He is somewhere in this jungle tonight, and now Salisir wants him for a pawn in his scheme.
It requires all the self-control in the world to keep from ripping his throat out every time he speaks. I hate Brin Salisir, more now than I ever have before. Somehow seeing my old teacher in the flesh has awakened a primal fear in me – one that converts itself to rage in his presence. This man beat me, cut me, and would have killed me without the intervention of the other teachers of the Scourge.
Now that he is an old man, Salisir is weathered but sharper for the wear. He is not nearly as large as I remember him, though that should be expected. Still, I can see the violence that made him infamous. It rests just beneath the surface like muscles twitching under the skin. He has new scars that I don’t recognize; each marks a disappointment, a failed promise of death to this man who has no right to live.
And now he has a plan.
I don’t know the full extent of it, but the goal is simple enough: unify the warring factions of the Great Recess and turn their energy towards the darkness in Matasten. Salisir claims he wants to unite the Nantese under one stable government again. Who he intends to put on the throne remains a convenient omission.
Inifra’s imagination has been captured by the concept. She speaks to him like she knows him. Worse, she looks at him through eyes filled with memories from times long past. Memories she herself did not create, but received as a gift from her predecessor. This gift seems to be more a curse from Infiri than a blessing. At least so it seems to me.
Inifra says she does not remember much with clarity, but every hour in Salisir’s presence recalls more to mind. How can such talk make me feel so sick to my stomach? Have I lost all self-respect?
Salisir wants to help us find our companions, but he doesn’t believe waiting here is the best course. There are dark things in the Great Recess. Things that hunger for magic and consume those who wield it. Someone as powerful as Dionus would attract attention quickly. The fact that we have not heard from them in days only heightens my anxiety.
Do I choose to believe Salisir? Do I leave the river and its obvious aid as a landmark, or do I stay here on my own and pray my companions find me? If they are in trouble, I should go to them. What if they’re already dead?
Suddenly, now that Salisir sits a stone’s throw from me, I have lost all sense of direction. He was my mission. Find Salisir. Finish what he started.
Now that I’ve found him, helping him is the last thing I want to do. When one reaches north, where can their compass point?
My indecision has led us to wait another night in this fishing village, but I doubt he will be so patient tomorrow. We have stepped into a whirlwind within the Great Recess of the Nanten, and I fear it will sweep us up into chaos.
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