Entry 274 – Day 402

Entry 274 – Day 402

Hembila drew us all together tonight; he wanted to talk about what we had seen. We marched in silence through the day, sticking to the low points and hidden paths that Nodora showed us on our way north. It was good to speak in the light of our small fire.

He had known the Darkness to be a threat, he said, but never a threat like this. What we saw yesterday was enough to convince him that whatever compromise needed to be reached, it must, for the sake of all their people.

Salisir asked him what he thought Fodafa would say to that. Hembila said it would not be easy, but Fodafa must be made to listen. Whatever that took, Hembila was willing to help. The reluctance was still there, but I could see his fear of the Daedra winning out over his distrust of Salisir. The Darkness, he said, must be stopped.

Salisir asked if he would agree to the terms of the Yatusu and Batsu? Appoint Yatusu leaders to key positions in the government, and allow the Batsu to form a principality in the east. Hembila nodded slowly.

“Yes,” he said. “I would do such things if I were king. They are small prices to pay, and if the Yatusu are as successful as their reputation holds, then it would be foolish not to give them the appropriate offices to maintain. But my brother, he will not see it so easily.”

“Come with me then,” Salisir said. “Come see the Yatusu for yourself, see that they are noble and wise. Then perhaps your brother will come to see reason if you vouch for their leaders.”

Hembila thought on that for a moment before agreeing. “My brother will expect me back sooner.”

“I have messengers waiting for us with Nienatara,” Salisir said. “I’ll send them on to let your brother know you’re continuing with us, and to plead for him to mobilize his troops. You can see our time grows short. With displays of power like that, it’s only a matter of time before things escalate beyond our ability to contend.”

“I can see that,” Hembila agreed. “But how will you get the rest to mobilize?”

“We will have to tell them what they want to hear.” Salisir’s eyes never broke contact with Hembila’s. “You will have to tell them what they want to hear, Hembila.”

After a long breathless pause, Hembila slowly nodded again. Salisir’s plan has hinged on this man lying for him, making promises he cannot keep, and I’m afraid it may truly be the only way. I wonder if Hembila would ever have agreed to this without seeing the blood rituals over the Nanten River. How convoluted are Salisir’s plans? They cannot be riding such a thin edge as this. What if Hembila had never joined us as our escort?

Entry-274-Quote-Salisir's-Plans

Dionus brought up the fact that Wudan would make an ultimate sacrifice, of sorts. He asked what would happen if that came to pass. Salisir simply said “Chaos.”

I told Dionus that the Tetrarch teach if a Prince or Daemon can sacrifice enough Pures, or just the right one, it can ascend into something akin to the Dread Gods of old. As powerful as Infiri, and not hindered by the limitations of the flesh that Inifra brings to her incarnation. I told him I had read such things but never believed them. Before yesterday, I had only read of parade sacrifices and never believed them possible either.

Wudan aside, I said, we don’t know how close this Prince is to unlocking his own ascension or that of his master. It could be weeks, it could be hours. All I saw yesterday amounted to my worst nightmares manifesting in broad daylight. If we don’t move against the Daedra soon, we may never again have the strength.

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Entry 275 – Day 403

Entry 275 – Day 403

The farther we move from Matasten, the better I feel for it. My desire to avoid the place makes the thought of assailing it sound doubly miserable. Can it really be saved? I can’t help the temptation to burn the place to the ground, but that is not an option to bring up in front of Hembila. He would save it at any cost.

The gravity of the task before us has settled in his features. Though we are all of us silent as we move through the jungle, Hembila’s silence is of a deeper variety. What is it that he’s pondering? Has he been discouraged by what we’ve witnessed?

I wouldn’t blame him. I’m feeling discouraged myself.

Entry-275-Quote-Discouraged

I want to know what kind of armor the prince was wearing. It was massive, unlike anything I have ever seen in my life. It looked to be made completely from heavy plate, but of a thickness and size that would make his strength inhuman. More miraculous than that was his ability to walk through the fire unscathed; and how did he start those fires? Is that his expression? What we saw left too many questions and gave too few methods by which to gather answers.

In any case, we will have to take that bridge. Matasten’s natural defenses are obvious, between the moat of the Nanten River and the wall of trees, there is no way to move a large force into the city at speed. Not unless Salisir has recruited an army of men who can swim in armor, and swim very quickly.

We will have to leave strategy for another day. I asked Salisir if he had been in Matasten, as he had first hand knowledge of the city gates.

“Aye, though what good it will do us… the trick will be drawing them out as best we can to fight on the banks of the river. They will guard their bridges zealously, so we need to amass our armies at both.”

“Why both?” Dionus asked. “Why would you divide your forces like that?”

“They’re divided already.” Salisir chuckled to himself. “I don’t have to do any dividing. Better to let the Sondu and Oroun’s warriors compete to enter the city first. Besides, it will force the Daedra to divide their forces, which will even things out for us. I want to draw out everything they have.”

I asked about the Batsu.

“They’ll apply pressure to the flanks. The Batsu are little bastards in a fight, you’ll find that out soon enough. They’re no Latala, but they’re quick. Send them across in canoes to a few select points, and they should be able to maneuver into position to cut into the flanks. That will be your cover.”

“Shit.” Dionus said it with dread, but there was a smile on his lips. “You want us to assassinate him.”

“You’ve been thinking it all along,” Salisir said. “He won’t come out to the fight, not until it’s desperate; so take the fight to him.”

I asked how we would know where to find him. Salisir told us that Nienatara had spies in the city. “It’s the main reason we need the Batsu. Her troops are excellent, but it’s what they know that makes them invaluable.”

Hembila just shook his head in wonder. “How could she manage? All of our spies were rooted out or killed a decade ago. We haven’t been able to get eyes in the capital since then.”

“Let’s just say that we all have different strengths. Once inside the city, you’ll have to figure out how to kill the bastard. Hopefully Nienatara’s spies have figured him out, but last I knew there was no certainty of his expression or to what level of power he has risen.”

Dionus laughed. “If the other day’s display was any indicator, I’d say pretty bloody high.”

Bloody high indeed. We have never been sent to kill anyone this powerful, neither Dionus nor I. And what guarantee do we have that killing this prince will even have the result we want? Though he is clearly at its center, I fear the society we seek to undermine is capable of managing on its own.

We will have to see how this develops. Salisir talks about these things as though they are rapidly approaching; I suppose that after twenty years of waiting it must feel that way to him. But surely he couldn’t be ready to move within a few months’ time.

At least now our part in his plot makes sense. In order to pull off an assassination like he wants, there may be no better men alive to accomplish it for him. No wonder he talks of us as if he needs us.

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Entry 276 – Day 404

Entry 276 – Day 404

Kodara may be a little prick, but at least he’s quick about completing a mission. It shouldn’t surprise me considering that he’s one of Hembila’s handpicked soldiers, but it’s hard to believe someone I dislike so much could be competent.

Everyone who remains of our party was waiting for us right where we left the rest, just a mile or so west of the entrance to the tunnel. Eight of Hembila’s men are alive and Wudan is on his feet and ready to move. Inifra, Timber, and Balthandar were all anxious for our return, though, even more, I believe they want to get as far from this place as possible.

We can oblige. Already we have made a half-day’s journey north together. I hate the feeling of nearing Matasten again; it’s the same sensation of ascending the slope of an active volcano, hoping that for just another day it remains dormant until the descent is over. Matasten has a noxious caldera that is better left unapproached – how daunting to know that it won’t be long before I must throw myself over the edge in hopes of extinguishing its inferno once and for all.

Entry-276-Matasten-Caldera

My entire life, I was raised to this end. To fight and die in the defeat of the Daedra. Glory in the Tetrarch is tallied in releases. How many Daedra have you killed? How advanced were they? How exciting it is when the opportunity to release a high level priest or even a Daemon presents itself. It’s different when you’re facing one on the verge of godhood.

Entry-276-Quote-Survival

I don’t want to throw my life away, but I see little chance of surviving this.

Then again, what chance was I given in the first place? I should have died a dozen times over already in this jungle. What’s one more wretched threat thrown into the mix? Over time it all loses its sense of scale anyway. Add a sword to a pile of knives and you notice immediately; but grow that pile of knives large enough, and no sword will even register in the mass.

We have another day’s march to the tunnel that will take us east and into the territory of the Batsu. I’m ready to move on from this place, and even more ready to meet Nienatara.

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Entry 277 – Day 405

Entry 277 – Day 405

The tunnel east is guarded, though not so heavily that we cannot get through. It makes me wonder if some of the men we killed in rescuing Wudan were guards themselves.

Dionus suggested we circumvent this group entirely and continue through the jungle, but Hembila argued that staying above ground risked discovery by Daedric patrols. These tunnels aren’t just the fastest way through the jungle, they’re the most surreptitious as well.

Salisir agreed with Hembila, as did I. Not that I want to go underground again, but it’s a Wing’s breadth better than walking through Daedra-infested jungle.

Entry-277-Quote-Tunnels

We have set up a small camp roughly a thousand yards from the entrance to the cave and plan to strike in the middle of the night. We should be able to kill them quietly enough, and then we need to run. It’s time to put as much distance between ourselves and the Daedra as we can for the time being.

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Entry 278 – Day 407

Entry 278 – Day 407

Down this narrow tunnel of stone we plunge; behind us pours the wrath of the Daedric nation. We have permitted ourselves a brief respite, though none of us are confident that we can stay here for long. Still, I have to put down some thoughts while they’re fresh in my mind.

Our initial plan of sneaking into the guards’ camp in the night was immediately foiled when we arrived: they were awake. Initially we thought about coming back to try again later on, but our curiosity got the better of us.

The Daedra had a man in their custody. They dragged him into their camp and immediately fell into discussion as to his fate. It seemed those who found him wanted to have their fun with him, perhaps torture him. But everything escalated when one of them found a brand on his neck hidden under a light scarf.

He was an escaped prisoner, some sort of servant to the Daedric Prince himself. Things got heated then, with two distinct groups forming among the guards. One side argued that he should be killed on the spot for running away, while the other cautioned against action taken against a member of the Prince’s retinue.

Then a scout appeared in the camp, dressed in light armor and completely out of breath. Salisir moved forward before anyone translated what it was he said. We killed the lot of them without much difficulty – they hardly saw us coming. Standing around a fire will blind you to dangers lurking in the night.

Entry-278-Quote-Runaway

“Let’s go,” was all Salisir said as he hauled the runaway to his feet and took off running himself.

We’d gone a few miles underground before Hembila finally explained that the runaway was not only from the Daedric Prince’s household, but was one of his prized servants. More than that, a prized expressionist.

Behind us now is not just a search party, but a search battalion. There are more troops chasing us through this cave than can fit. I need to sleep while I can; I have the feeling we will be back up and running long before I am ready.

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Entry 279 – Day 408

Entry 279 – Day 408

The Daedra are as relentless as the KoraKora. I have never known Daedra to be so well organized and so bold. Perhaps it is the sheer number of them, but they press on uninhibited by the fear I’m used to seeing temper their action – at the same time they lack the crazed bloodlust that so often carries their kind recklessly forward.

There is cold intent here. If only they knew what other precious blood we have in our party, perhaps they would pick up the pace.

Entry-279-Quote-Precious

We have had multiple skirmishes with their vanguard, but each time we only fight long enough to make an escape. Their scouts were not prepared to meet armed resistance so, thankfully, they are poorly armed. This will not be true of the main body behind us.

Gods damn it all, I hate running for my life.

We do have a massive amount of power between us, but we are both unaware of the strength of our foe and uncertain it is wise to reveal ourselves so close to Matasten. We should be out of this forsaken tunnel soon, and if we find a strong creek we may be able to turn and fight in the open.

For once, I don’t want to.

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Entry 280 – Day 409

Entry 280 – Day 409

The open air tastes sweet. We have bought ourselves some time by collapsing the entrance to the tunnel behind us. It took some effort, shoving spears into the cracks of the cave’s ceiling and hauling on them as hard as we could. But once we opened them wide enough, Inifra was able to loosen them more by creating ice in the joints, and Dionus somehow finished the rest.

Entry-280-Cave-in-the-tunnels

We don’t know how much space that will give us, but we are taking as few chances as possible. After a few more miles trek into the jungle, we permitted ourselves a real camp with a large fire; although I think the fire was more to ward off fears of man-eating Bangara than anything.

I certainly hope that the collapsed cave deters the Daedra from following. Still, we take no chances by assuming they have been stopped entirely.

As best as we can tell, we’ve traveled something close to seventy miles in the last three days. Not nearly as far as we managed in the tunnel running north, but I’d swear by every bone in the Angel’s body that we could never move so fast in the Nanten if I didn’t know of these subterranean passages. It helps when you have something to chase, or are being chased.

My legs are screaming from the exertion. This second push threatened to undo us all. The thought of being sacrificed on that bridge was a better motivation than most, but damned if I never want to put one foot in front of the other again.

I’m going to join Inifra and Timber in their nightly stretches and then get as much sleep as I can before Salisir moves us on again. The old man is in control at last; or did he ever lose it?

Entry-280-Quote-Control

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