Entry 211 – Day 335

Entry 211 – Day 335

We were too late to save them. One of our scouts stumbled into our camp in the middle of the night. He was bleeding from the crown and his left shoulder. His breathing was so heavy from fright that it took us a few minutes to calm him down. Finally he uttered one word, “Latala.”

The scout who was already with us paled visibly. Immediately he began packing his gear, even as his friend sat down bleeding. Balthandar patched him up while I stopped the other and asked what was going on.

“Latala,” he said with finality. When he realized that I did not know what that meant, he shook his head. “Latala are killers, Ocada. They are thieves and murderers who live between the darkness and the light. They belong to no one but themselves.”

“Are they coming this way?” Dionus asked.

“No, Ocada. They are making for my village.”

Entry-211-Quote-Latala

We packed as Balthandar worked on the bleeding scout. His wounds were light, though they had bled plenty during his flight. The other took off running into the jungle as soon as he had his things together. He was on the verge of failing in his duty. I could read it in him – he was about to fail and he knew it.

We ran after him as soon as Balthandar was finished. We couldn’t have been far behind the scout, but he was much faster in the night than we. I could see the orange glow long before we reached the village.

Everything was burning. What food and supplies they had were gone. Bodies were strewn about the village; most suffered their wounds in the back as they fled. Balthandar found the scout with his throat slit, sitting against a tree. He had died watching his village burn, knowing he had failed to warn them of the danger.

Dionus tested the air and told us they were gone. Whoever they are, they work fast. Dawn broke as the fires began to die down. Nothing burns for long in this jungle, but whatever does is utterly consumed. We moved away from the stench of it all and went to find our two remaining scouts.

Latala. We have new enemies in the Nanten tonight.

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Entry 212 – Day 336

Entry 212 – Day 336

The scout we left behind was nowhere to be found yesterday. His blood marked the spot we left him but there was no discernable track to mark his exit. The other has yet to find us, if he is still alive.

Latala. I wish I knew more about them. How they operate, what patterns they follow, even just what they look like. How will we know them if we stumble across them? Do they have something to do with the grinding and scraping noises we hear in the night?

I would assume not as our scouts seemed as ignorant to its source as we are. We may have learned a lot over the last seven months in the Nanten, but we again find ourselves in new territory.

There can be no peace in this place without justice, and no justice without the rule of law. The destruction of that village has returned that lesson to the forefront of my mind. We have seen it time and time again in this jungle. I find myself questioning my decision to make directly for Matasten. What is our ultimate aim? We cannot hope to achieve much on this path, though greater knowledge of our enemy would be helpful.

Balthandar and Dionus weighed in when I asked them that. Balthandar is here to serve and protect me against all enemies, that will never change, but he too desires something more stable for the Nantese who have shown us such hospitality. Dionus takes it another step further. He wants to see justice reestablished in this place.

What lofty dreams we have found ourselves drifting towards.

Entry-212-Quote-Dreams

The Nanten Kingdom fell over a century ago. It was corrupt, riddled with illnesses that only greed and injustice propagate. It fragmented, and those fragments have fractured a dozen times over. How can we hope to reunite it all? How can Inifra or Salisir, for that matter?

While seeking out and destroying the Daedric society in Matasten would be a major part of any strategy, it will prove fruitless if there is no power structure to assume its place. Open a vacuum and all kinds of evil will fill it.

Allow this present evil to flourish, and no strength of arms will be able to stop it.

What are we to do? I still wish to see Matasten, but I’m wavering on the wisdom of making such a blind approach. There are allies we could make that would be able to help us. If Salisir has made his, I’m sure we can make our own.

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Entry 213 – Day 337

Entry 213 – Day 337

Death: The single binding force that brings all people to the same place in the same condition. We may rise to tower over our peers in life, but in the end there is nothing to distinguish us from each other. In the interim we live in a pleasant state of forgetfulness, as if the deaths might never rear their ugly heads to claim us. It’s in that space that we pretend we are so different from one another.

When I first learned that I was to be exiled into the Nanten, I knew that it was the beginning of a slow death. It changes everything to know you are going to die. No one looks at you the same.

Perhaps I’m attributing too much of the stigma I suffered to this fact, and not enough to my conviction as a murderer, but I believe the effect was the same. It doesn’t matter how high you rise, once you’re walking dead the vultures will circle. People pity you or they turn against you. I was hated; though, again, much of that hatred was due to murdering Lystra.

Lystra. She proves my case in a single point. The daughter of the second-highest ranking official in the Old Empire, and she’s now no better off than any village tragedy. If the two were to meet in the next life, how would you tell them apart? Lystra no longer has servants, soldiers, or wealth. Her jewels and her weapons no longer hang from her. All the things that gave her what status she held are beyond her reach.

Entry-213-Lystra-in-Death

That’s not entirely fair to Lystra. She was a striking figure in her own right, with a strength of personality that I would argue was unparalleled in Sterling. She burned brightly. But all things that burn must go out.

I wish I wasn’t the one to do the extinguishing. I wish I wasn’t an equalizer of men.

Entry-213-Quote death

These Latala are much the same as we are, though they certainly operate by a different code. Still, we all kill for our own reasons and find ourselves justified in them as we do. The KoraKora taught me that if they taught me nothing else. Right or wrong, we all kill, and the result is the same: We bring people low. We return them to the status from which they were born.

I would rather build men up than tear them down. Perhaps we can find a way to do just that in the Nanten. The question is, who?

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Entry 214 – Day 338

Entry 214 – Day 338

In all the days of my life I would never have dreamed it possible. The noises we heard in the night, the scraping and grinding, all of it was created by a massive forest Titan. I find it difficult to keep my pen steady on the page tonight.

We have met a Titan, a living ancient, and it was the single-most exhilarating experience of my life.

It spoke. Though that should be no surprise, I found myself completely flabbergasted. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Gods, where does one even begin with a story like this?

We heard the sounds in the night, as we have every night, but this time they continued into the morning. We decided to follow them. It didn’t take long before the noises grew louder. Again, we noticed more small animals than usual. Birds flew lower from the canopy singing. Perhaps hindsight tints the experience in memory, but everything felt more peaceful. The grinding and scraping stopped.

Then it was there.

We came around one of the massive trees and a Titan was standing not twenty feet behind it. Sheer terror mixed with exhilaration and joy coursed through me at once. We froze in place. It was looking right at us, its weight on its left leg and its head cocked to the side. It was tall, perhaps fifteen feet, with thick arms and legs of stone overgrown with thick vines. Gray with patches of green, knobby fingers and toes, its slow breathing left it looking like a statue.

It didn’t say anything at first and neither did we. What does one say to a creature that has lived since the beginning of time? Finally I managed to stumble through some awkward introduction of my companions and myself. The Titan nodded as I finished, which sent another thrill through me. It understood. Then it spoke.

“Not often to see men like you so deep in the jungle.”

Thinking it meant Imperials, I explained why we had come but the Titan held up its hand and shook its head. “I mean Expressionists. Your kind die quick in this part of the world. I am Grontmond, though you may call me Gront. Forgiveness if I struggle to speak. It has been a long time.”

I couldn’t hide my surprise. I asked how it knew we were Expressionists. “You might hide well from the Implings, but you cannot hide from me. You have only heard of it though you can touch it ever so lightly; I can see the Atmosphere. It flows around you with great respect.”

Flows around us, I asked? This was not the conversation I would have ever supposed would pass between a man and a Titan – if ever I’d taken the time to imagine it possible. “It’s very fluid, though I do think it would look much more like a thick mist to you. Why don’t you follow me? You look tired.”

Gront, the Titan, turned and moved steadily away. His joints rubbed and scraped against each other as he walked. The vines stretched against his movements and let out small groans. I asked him if they were a part of him. I felt nervous even though he seemed friendly enough for such questions.

“I don’t rightly know any longer. I didn’t always look like this, you know. When we were first born, we all looked much the same. My brothers and sisters liked to blend with their wards, so over time we all changed very much. I have changed many times, though not so dramatically. I don’t even recognize the deep water Titans any longer. Strange things, those ones. It’s been a few centuries since I spoke to one. She barely understood a word I said.”

“Are there more like you?” Dionus asked.

“Not many, no. If there are, our paths cross rarely. Most died in the remaking of the world. I barely survived myself. Here,” he said as he came to a halt. He pointed at the root of one of the trees where a variety of bright flowers grew. I had never seen so many flowers in one place within this jungle before. “I believe humans enjoy the red ones most. I prefer the blue.”

“You want us to eat your flowers?” Balthandar asked.

Gront the Titan lowered himself to the ground and sat with his legs crossed. A small fox appeared on his shoulder moments later. It was so unlike anything I have seen in the entirety of the Nanten that I had to remind myself where we were.

“Yes, eat my flowers. They’re quite good, and they will give you strength for whatever journey lies ahead of you. Which raises the proper question: What lies ahead of you?”

The flowers were delicious – it will be difficult not to taste every new bloom I see.

We sat with Gront and told our story, taking turns as we remembered everything we had been through. Bantish and the Mentalist camp. Running from the Bangara and the KoraKora. Prestorn’s hospitality and protection. Inifra’s hostility, Kantoo’s joy, the Deadwood and Bolton’s death. Starlark’s murder. Balthandar and I shivered over cold obsidian and Dionus pined for the open skies. We remembered the golden stalks of Senida with hunger and the terror of the Makonga with shudders. We recounted overthrowing Zorga’s fortress, our flight downriver, and close calls with the Bromnom. Gront seemed particularly interested in Hamada and the Broken Circle. Finally we told him of Salisir and our goal of reaching Matasten.

The fox played along his shoulders while we talked until it finally curled up against his neck for a nap. I found myself staring at the creature as if it were a gaping hole into another universe.

Entry-214-Gront-the-Titan

“So it is true. The land is fallen into a giant pit.” The Titan looked around and nodded to himself. “I guess I didn’t believe such a thing was possible. You would think, after all I’ve seen, that such tales would not be so difficult to understand.”

“You haven’t seen the cliffs for yourself?” Dionus asked.

“I haven’t moved from this region in decades. A century, perhaps. Before that I was farther northeast. But no, I haven’t seen the cliffs. I felt the quake that made them, but I did not bother to explore. I have been very busy. It is sad what you have said about Hamada. It was a beautiful city.”

I asked if he visited the cities often.

“No, no. I doubt any Titan makes a point of interacting with humans.”

“Then why us?” Dionus asked. “Why let us find you?”

“Context. In this time and place you are different. I may not have seen the cliffs, but I have seen the darkness rising in the jungle. The Implings are strong and they call to one of their Demons. I can see it even now, the fraying fabric of this forest. Their influence is everywhere; the Atmosphere twists to accommodate it. Healing the land is difficult enough without their prayers and sacrifices corrupting my work.”

I told him we were here to try and stop them.

“You will need many more men than three. I have seen how powerful your kind can become, but you are not enough. Many Demons have been born before, though it has been a long time since the last. Their followers are often spread wide. They hide, and in hiding they are not so strong. Here they live openly. They control much and thrive. I do not show myself to them, for they would rend me for my power if they knew I lived, but I see their darkness. Their perversions alter the flow of the Atmosphere. The Imp himself showed them these ways and called it his magic. I see it more here than I have ever seen it before. You would do well by us all if you were to stop them, but you cannot do it on your own.”

I told him that we had a legend about Titans who fought alongside the Greater Demon he referred to as the “Imp.” He nodded.

“Such things are true. Some Titans fight. They are the foolish ones. I do not fight and I will not join you, for I know that is what you wish to ask. But your war concerns me. That is why I have made myself known to you so that you might understand how grave the situation has become. The prince of the Implings commands an ancient power – one that few can understand. He is crafty and wise. He has unlocked much with blood, but he has not found his final key. When he does, I predict an Ascension. It is only a matter of time.”

I shiver even now at those words. Dionus asked him what this final key would be. Gront said he did not know, but our presence alone could sway things one way or the other.

“I find myself uncertain whether to ask you to leave or demand that you stay. Your blood is powerful, and I sense you bring others with you who are of great power as well. Such people can make a difference, but to what outcome it is always difficult to say. I will tell you this: do not go to Matasten alone. If they find you they will take you, and if they take you, you will bleed. They will grow all the more powerful for it and you will die.”

He pointed to the flowers and bid us take some for our journey, then pointed southeast. “You must make friends with those who share our enemies. The Imp had plans to lay all to waste and now his Implings and their Demons will do their best to make it so. This is the cycle of our world, and so it will be until all nine are stopped.”

He stood. We stood with him. The little fox scrambled down his back and disappeared into the bush. “Destroy these monsters, or they will consume everything we hold dear.”

With that the ancient turned and walked slowly into the jungle. We watched him go. It felt like waking from a dream. If my mind wasn’t made up before, it is now. We must turn back from Matasten and find a way to bring the Daedra to their knees. We need allies.

Entry-214-Quote-Titan

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Entry 215 – Day 339

Entry 215 – Day 339

I dreamt of Matasten. A city tall and dark, surrounded by massive trees that looked like mere shrubs at its base. Klotian towers, black and covered in spikes. The river that flowed around it red with blood.

All of the questions I should have asked Gront flooded my mind and forced me awake. My curiosity tormented me all day. How many other Titans are still alive? How many once were? Did they ever have children, descendants we might recognize in some form? The sheer volumes of history stored in that creature’s mind must dwarf most libraries in the Old Empire. Though he seemed oblivious to much of what has happened, the world he sees through those eyes is one we can only begin to imagine.

Entry-215-Atmosphere-Flows

Just more knowledge about the Atmosphere would have been invaluable. Dionus and I couldn’t stop talking about it all day. It flows around us with respect? What does he mean by respect? He said the fabric of the jungle was showing signs of wear and the darkness twists it as it grows. How? What kind of effect can it have on us? Does it open weaknesses we can exploit? Can they be exploited in us?

Damn it all. I can’t stop myself from coming up with new questions every time my mind returns to that encounter.

Entry-215-Quote-Atmosphere

Is there a way we too could learn to see the Atmosphere? Could it serve as a warning of danger?

I need to stop this and go to sleep. If I can sleep.

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Entry 216 – Day 340

Entry 216 – Day 340

The Batsu are my choice; they sound like the most appealing alliance we can forge. Guerilla warriors can’t stand on a battlefield against regular troops, but what battlefields exist in the Nanten? Salisir claimed that their leader, Nienatara, would be the most difficult to draw into his plans, which tells me she trusts him the least. That lack of trust in Salisir makes for common ground between us.

I am no leader of armies in any case. My work is the bloody business of brawls and back-alley assassinations. My job is to keep the war from forming. If the war has started, give me the light troops and perhaps I can make a difference.

Entry-216-Quote war

The challenge will be in circumventing Matasten without dropping so far south that we waste time, or run into the Sondu in Motasta. The way Salisir spoke of them, they sound most closely aligned to his vision for this jungle. We need to make further south though; after Gront’s warning I fear drawing too close to Matasten.

There are many things to fear here. Balthandar killed a firesnake in camp this morning. They aren’t terribly aggressive, but they are lethal. Bolton lost his arm to one within minutes and would have lost his life shortly thereafter had Kantoo not been there to cut the appendage off at the shoulder. I doubt any of us could do so with such skill, and if Balthandar is the one bitten, neither Dionus nor I have the knowledge to properly suture him up.

We’ve made good progress east over the last ten days; I would guess we are only another ten from Matasten. It’s hard to know how accurate Salisir’s map truly was, but for the amount of effort he’s put into this plan of his I would wager it isn’t far off. Beyond their obvious tactical appeal, I feel some other pull towards the Batsu that is more difficult to define. Perhaps it is the inherent distrust for the established authority that they display. For a man like me who has dedicated most of his life to supporting the standing order, perhaps that sounds strange. I simply feel they are my key.

If I can’t trust my intuition, there is little left that I can.

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Entry 217 – Day 341

Entry 217 – Day 341

We are being watched. We have yet to spot them, but Dionus can sense their movements and I simply know it. My fear is that we have been discovered by a scout, but whose?

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Whoever they are, they stayed close all day today. They move silently. If it wasn’t for our heightened senses, we would never have noticed them. We nearly didn’t. Are they Latala? Daedra? Perhaps they are something completely different.

Two of us will remain on watch at all times tonight. We need to remain alert. Someone is following us.

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