Into the Nanten: Summary to Date
If you would like to avoid any spoilers, click here to read the journal from the beginning. If you just need a resource concerning the names of people and places within the story, try the character list instead.
The summary is updated once per week. Currently up to date.
Into the Nanten: Summary to Date
Entries 1-7 ~ Day 117-123
Marceles na Tetrarch began writing in his journal on the 117th day of his exile as he approached the Blight Sea. At this point he was traveling with four companions, all of whose lives he has saved at one point or another. Why Marceles is exiled remains a mystery, though he says it has to do with his killing of a woman by the name of Lystra.
To veil his exile for what it was, his order – the Tetrarch – gave him a mission: find Brin Salisir, dead or alive, and discover whether he has completed his mission. Salisir was exiled to the Nanten 20 years before, and is the one person that Marceles truly hates most.
At a nearly abandoned trading post named Blithe, they were able to secure passage across the Blight Sea on the barge of an old privateer called Tarsh. Tarsh proved to be somewhat crazy, but also gave Marceles his first clue to the Nanten: the name “Bantish.” He also told them the story of a Nantese water goddess named Infiri, and left them with the uneasy feeling that he might betray them at any moment.
Along the way, Bolton and Starlark (two of Marceles’ companions who you can follow on Twitter) began getting on each others’ nerves. Bolton is a slaver from the Great Wastes, an old bigot who resents Starlark for his pedigree. Starlark, the black sheep of his noble family, increasingly dislikes Bolton for his hostility – especially since he feels as much outside the nobility as Bolton.
Of Marceles’ companions, Balthandar is said to be the most at ease with the whole experience. A spearman from the Summer Isles, Balthandar is described as “implacable,” as well as imposing, and an impressive warrior. Dionus is the one companion we know the least about at this point, save for the fact that he is a Walker (an expressionist who uses magic to manipulate the wind).
Entries 8-14 ~ Day 124-130
On the shores of the Nanten, Marceles decided to plunge head-first into the jungle to find whatever “Bantish” was. Seeking a guide along the shores of the Blight Sea did not appeal for fear of Tarsh selling them out. Once in the jungle, however, he began to doubt himself.
Marceles communicated some of Salisir’s story. As a boy, Salisir’s family was murdered and his father implicated, but Salisir held a local Daedric priest responsible. Salisir hunted down the priest and killed his entire following, which led to the beginning of his career with the Chaplaincy. Marceles seems to place some measure of blame for his own exile on the fact that Salisir would eventually join the Tetrarch.
The heat of the jungle began getting to Marceles, which makes his light armor all the more appropriate. How did Salisir feel about his own entry into the Nanten? Did he even take his mission seriously? If so, why? Salisir showed no real sense of dedication to the Tetrarch, the only thing that forced Marceles into the Nanten in the first place.
Soon Marceles began to doubt himself, wondering why he would so readily throw away a sure landmark like the Blight Sea for a hunch over the name “Bantish.” He wasn’t even certain what or who Bantish was. He recounted some history concerning Matasten, the capital of the fallen Nanten Kingdom, and reflected on how her fate was well deserved for the abuse of her people. Bolton’s antagonism was also beginning to intensify, even taking the form of threats.
The mysterious howling began again in the night.
Even though their packed supplies began to run low towards the end of the week, Starlark was able to bring down some game with his bow. Dionus’ ability to sense their movements in the air was of great help. And a snake bit Balthandar’s boot, leaving burn marks where its fangs had gouged the surface.
Entries 15-21 ~ Day 131-137
The monsters came for them in the night. The howling grew to a frenzy until they attacked the camp in a fury. Marceles and his companions were barely able to fend them off with the help of the smoke of their campfire, until a small man arrived and scared them off. He simply knocked flint against bamboo, and mysteriously the creatures fled. His name was Bantish.
Bantish took them to a waypoint where they would be safe. Marceles demanded that he help them, but he would only do so on one condition: that they help save his village from the howling menace. Bolton and Starlark, agreeing on something for once, almost killed him on the spot, but Dionus reminded them that they were no longer slavers or thieves. Finally, in need of help and with no alternative at hand, Marceles agreed to help Bantish.
The next day they arrived at Bantish’s village, a place impoverished beyond anything Marceles had ever seen before. His resentment showed through in his description of the people, but he accepted the fact that he must help them in order to advance his own cause. They left early the next morning, following Bantish further into the jungle until he abruptly left them. Before going he gave them flint and bamboo to protect against the howling menace, but warned that the farther they entered the jungle the weaker his magic would become.
As they advanced into the jungle, the water of the creek they were following began to run black. The trees also began to appear sick, weeping a dark green substance that caused Starlark to cough intensely when he sniffed it. And then the howling menace attacked them again.
They were some sort of ape, although far more violent and sinister than anything Marceles had ever read about. They were able to repel them with smoke and their weapons long enough for Bolton to strike the flint on the bamboo. Stunned momentarily, Dionus unleashed an attack with the wind that sent them fleeing into the jungle.
As they continued to advance they found the corpses of various animals choked to death on the toxic fumes of the trees. But what disturbed Marceles more were signs that indicated that there were Mentalists ahead. Mentalists created illusions that no one could escape, and were among the people Marceles hated most in the world. His fear only grew that there were indeed Mentalists at the root of this menace.
Entries 22-28 ~ Day 138-144
Marceles missed a day, writing only on day 139 that Balthandar had cut someone’s head off to break a spell. He seemed disoriented, and though he had little time wanted to write something if only to prove he was sane. The next day he went into more detail, describing how they had finally come upon the Mentalists’ camp. There were two of them, and in the most dangerous pairing possible: one subservient to the other.
The Mentalists had been using Nantese Organists (an expression that influences and even controls organic matter) to develop the blight they had seen in the toxic trees. The Mentalists trapped Marceles and his companions in a hypnotic illusion until Balthandar managed to strike out and kill the master of the two. They discovered from the servile Mentalist that the Howling Menace had been their tool to keep the Nantese from discovering their experiments.
Marceles left the Mentalist to the mercies of the liberated Organists. Bolton had fallen quite ill to the toxins of the trees, but was treated enough to continue by the Organists. A third Mentalist had escaped. They were left with only one clue: a strange key that matched nothing in the Mentalists’ possession.
The following day, they reached Bantish’s village, where his people produced a meager feast for Marceles and his companions. Marceles was unimpressed, insulted even by the meal the villagers put before him in exchange for their lives. Bantish bid them stay, restraining Bolton with a magic that Marceles didn’t recognize. Bantish impressed upon them that they were not yet ready to continue on, and as Bolton’s tree-born illness worsened, they found themselves reluctantly grateful for the forced respite.
Bantish took this as an opportunity to teach them more about the jungle’s plant and animal life. Survival skills in the Nanten were notably different than those required for the Old Empire. Marceles struggled with his doubts, wondering if he could in fact accomplish what he had been sent out to do. The completion of his tasks once seemed certain. The challenges of the jungle had shocked that presumption right out of his mind.
While waiting for Bolton to recover, Marceles inserted more of his notes on Salisir and the Scourge. Salisir had been picked up by the Chaplaincy and given support in his zealous hunt of the Daedra, but the Tetrarch would train him more completely. Unlike the Chaplaincy, the Tetrarch would not accept Salisir’s sense of independence – but they could not break him of it. In the end both parties needed each other equally, and ultimately they reached and maintained a shattered stalemate.
Salisir was brought into the Tetrarch to fight a Daemon, the highest form of transformation in a Daedric follower. That was what he wanted, and what the Tetrarch intended him for. Little was known of that first mission, but of forty Tetrarch sent on it, Salisir was the only one to return.
Finally Bolton was ready to travel and Bantish gave them a destination: Graylag, the ruined trade capital of the region. He warned them that it would be overrun by bandits, but told them that a man among them by the name of Prestorn might be able to help them. He also warned them to beware the KoraKora, a tribe of the Nantese who were to be avoided at all costs for their “unsavory practices.”
Marceles wondered what practices could be unsavory enough to so clearly distinguish one group of the Nantese from the rest…
Entries 29-34 ~ Day 145-151
Their first day back on the march proved to be an optimistic one for Marceles. He felt free, and though his task had in no way been made easier, he felt more certain approaching it with the knowledge that Bantish had bestowed upon them.
Dionus began stirring up breezes for them whenever the heat (or their complaining) became unbearable. His unwillingness to do so more frequently seemed odd to Marceles, who went on to recount how they first met. He had been on his way to meet with a Shahn, the king of a small nation of mountain tribes in the north, when Dionus descended from the sky and assassinated not only the Shahn, but his assembled nobility as well. It was impressive, but not even the most notable thing that Marceles had seen Dionus do.
The next morning Starlark found the bed of some massive creature in the foliage near their camp. Whatever had created it was larger than Marceles imagined possible.
Marceles’ doubts concerning what faced him and his companions only drew him to wonder how Salisir could have had even the remotest of chances in the Nanten. And why would Salisir submit to the Tetrarch’s exile in the first place? Marceles did so because it was his duty, what he had been trained to do all of his life. Salisir had no sense of duty, and in fact hated the Tetrarch. If he had been Salisir, Marceles would have simply escaped to some distant land never to return.
Salisir’s return from his journey to kill the Daemon left him broken and disturbed, so it was no surprise when he was exiled. He had a gift for violence, one the Tetrarch wanted passed onto its young, and so he was put in a position to teach at the Scourge. Marceles was beginning his first year of the Scourge, and was in Salisir’s first class. They hated each other from the beginning. Salisir even cut Marceles so badly during training that he nearly killed him. Salisir’s appointment to the Scourge was the first time Marceles ever realized that the elders of the Tetrarch could make poor choices.
The irony of being sent to die finding the man he hated so deeply only resounded more clearly from this memory.
Then the next day, continuing their trek to Graylag, they stumbled across the KoraKora. The KoraKora had captured an entire village, tying them together in a marching line like slaves. But the worst of it was when the KoraKora’s leader brought out a young man and offered him to the rest – as a meal. The KoraKora were cannibals, and the sight of them feasting on a living man burned itself into Marceles’ mind.
He had never imagined being eaten alive as a possible end, and now he would do anything he could to avoid it.
Images of the young man’s death made sleep difficult, leaving Marceles to wrestle with how people could do such horrible things to one another. He had seen far more atrocious things done at the hands of Daedric followers, but something about an act of cannibalism rang especially heinous in his mind. Starlark found yet another massive bed near their camp, leading Marceles to believe they were being followed.
They now needed to avoid a tribe of cannibals while some massive unknown monster hunted them – all while trying to arrive at Graylag in one piece.
Entries 35-41 ~ Day 152-158
The mysterious monster finally attacked Marceles and his troupe, forcing them into yet more trouble. After running for a full day, Marceles found a brief moment to make note of the poisoned dart that had struck Dionus.
The monster itself had been even larger than Marceles had feared, running on all fours with jagged spines running down its back and along its lengthy tail. The monster was practically impervious to their attacks, and so they had run. In doing so, however, they were forced north and stumbled head-long into the KoraKora. They ran east then, and fled the KoraKora who soon found themselves embroiled in a fight with the monster – what Marceles heard many call a “Bangara.”
The rest took chase.
Dionus was struck with a poisoned dart in the confusion and soon began to slow. They had to carry him on and off throughout the night as they fled the relentless pursuit of the KoraKora. When the half-light of morning found them they were forced to hide Dionus and fight. The leader of the KoraKora caught up to them then, and to Marceles’ surprised pleasure he offered a challenge in combat. When Marceles killed him, the rest of the KoraKora instantly dropped their weapons and fell into mourning. Marceles stayed just long enough to see them begin bathing their leader in their blood.
Dionus had a headache and was unstable on his feet the following day, but they were able to make decent progress. The problem became choosing a direction to travel, for in their flight Marceles was uncertain how far north they had run. Had they crossed the road to Graylag in the night? Or had they even yet reached it? Choosing a direction was made even more difficult by Starlark and Bolton bickering over opposing options.
Finally Marceles decided to angle to the north in hopes of coming across the river, the headwaters of which began near Graylag itself. This choice of direction only served to irk Starlark, who finally had enough of Bolton’s insults and punched him squarely in the nose. Everyone else in the party remained distracted that day by their own thoughts: Balthandar’s consumed with the Bangara, Dionus overcoming the poison, and Marceles reliving the scene of the KoraKora eating the young man.
Marceles wondered if his companions regretted their decision to join him.
One thing was certain: Marceles still hated marching. He hated it more with every passing step. His resolve to accomplish his mission and return to the Old Empire only grew stronger the more he dwelt upon the injustice of his exile. The anxiety of their newfound pursuers certainly did not help.
Dionus finally found his sense of humor again, and Marceles found a haunting statue in the jungle not far from their camp. It was comprised of a series of faces and hands, many of which looked sad or terrified. He thought it well resembled the dark country in which he found himself.
The next day Marceles was shocked to find a molted snake skin hanging from the trees. Clues to a snake that measured hundreds of feet long, and still none leading them towards Graylag. His hatred for the Nanten was only growing in tandem with his inflamed sense of injustice.
Entries 42-49 ~ Day 159-165
Naline: the woman that Marceles once loved – and still does in his own way. She was a young widow, the owner of a tavern that Marceles and his pack frequented in Elandir when hunting in the North. He grew close to her over the years, and they fell deeply in love. But not so deeply that Marceles would take her with him when he was called south by the Tetrarch. She would never have fit among them, he knew, but now he knows that to be nothing but an excuse.
She died in a fire when her tavern burned down. He found out only a month before his exile.
The next day they stumbled upon an abandoned village in a small clearing. The blue sky above was a comfort to Marceles for the most fleeting of moments. Bolton seemed agitated by the village and its lone corpse – presumably the victim of some bandits from Graylag. That corpse called up unexpected ghosts from the past, and left Marceles questioning himself and his call to the Tetrarch.
Upon leaving they were approached by two old men who begged them to beware: “When waters boil, stay out.” The next day they discovered the river they had been searching for, and with it the warning against boiling waters made sense. The river boiled, seemingly at random, killing anything on the water including one of their would-be river guides.
With a definite path to Graylag before them, Marceles’ thoughts turned to their approach and to meeting Prestorn. But novelties like sunsets were never far from his mind. The idea of approaching a densely populated area, as the ruins of Graylag promised to hold, created a deep anxiety in Marceles. Were they marching into a trap? What kinds of expressionists could be within her walls, waiting to unleash their magic on them as soon as they entered?
Scouting Graylag in the night proved that it was rather large, though poorly defended. The stone columns of the buildings were a strange sight in themselves, something Marceles had hardly believed possible within the confines of the jungle. They decided to approach along the river, and made their way that afternoon.
Prestorn met them before they reached the city and, having already heard of their approach from Bantish, offered them his protection and hospitality. Of course, Marceles noted, a little silver passed between them didn’t hurt. They discovered that Graylag was under the control of four different warlords, and held in a precarious peace. They threw a feast, the first “real” meal Marceles and his companions had enjoyed since leaving the Old Empire.
Prestorn pressed them for news, and seemed particularly disturbed by their encounters with the KoraKora. He explained that the blood they covered their leader in had been their form of paying his price to enter the afterlife. In any case, after all they had gone through, he was surprised Marceles and his companions were alive. He told them how he had been saved by Bantish as a young boy, and had stayed in contact with him over the years. There was no one better they could have crossed paths with upon entering the Nanten.
Then in the middle of the night, Prestorn woke them and rushed them out of Graylag. He said the man Marceles had killed was the brother of the chief of the KoraKora, and that they had mobilized their entire nation to hunt Marceles and kill him. There was no one the warlords of Graylag feared more, and there would be no mercy should the KoraKora discover they had harbored him. Leaving before anyone else discovered this was their only way of surviving. He put a map marked with strange runes in Marceles’ hands and told him to make for Senida, a city in the Akari Grasslands.
And with that Marceles and his companions were on their own again in the jungle.
Marceles noticed the next day that he had a building headache. Bolton and Starlark were bickering over a servant girl that Starlark had approached in Graylag, which Marceles found odd considering Bolton’s former trade of slaving. But most concerning of all was the growing sensation that there were expressionists somewhere in the jungle searching for them. Feeling out to find them. Both he and Dionus could sense it. The KoraKora were behind them.
Entries 50-54 ~ Day 166-172
Marceles’ headache continued to get worse, with increased cramping and dryness in his mouth. It concerned Balthandar enough to forsake keeping the peace between Starlark and Bolton. He focused on Marceles’ care instead. The next day they accidentally saved a village from a group of bandits. They didn’t realize they had done so until the villagers were sending them on their way. They gave Marceles a turtle-shaped gem to thank him.
Marceles’ entries continued to degrade in quality as his sickness progressed. The KoraKora finally caught up to them, and he saw their chief, but the rest blurred together. The next day’s entry was confused and incomplete. Somehow Lystra tied into his thoughts as he fought to maintain consciousness.
Then he blacked out.
A few days later he awoke inside a hut where he was being cared for by a few priestesses of Infiri. He had seen Inifra, and her beauty was the first thought he recorded in that day’s entry. He went on to describe the events as he remembered them, but mostly relayed what he was told by Dionus and Starlark. The KoraKora had surrounded them multiple times only to have their left flank dissolve – allowing the companions to escape. Finally they were effectively cornered at the river’s edge, which was where the chief of the KoraKora and his two expressionists appeared.
Marceles put his pen down then in the middle of his story, too tired to continue writing for the day.
Entries 55-61 ~ Day 173-179
The KoraKora attacked them at the river in full force. Marceles only compounded the difficulty of their position in his feverish haze by rushing into the midst of the fight on his own. He was yelling challenges at the chief of the KoraKora to fight when his Breaker (an expressionist who can control stone and earth-based elements) shot him straight back into the river with a blow from the ground. That was when Inifra arrived from the same river and took her fight to the KoraKora.
The companions took that as their opportunity to escape, crossing the river while it was emptied by Inifra’s assault. Her hatred of Imperials was only overshadowed by that of the KoraKora. The only reason she didn’t fight them as well was the turtle gem around Marceles’ neck, though Dionus seemed to think something else had happened. She said that since they had helped her people she would help them in turn, then sent them to the village in which Marceles had awoken.
Marceles had yet to see her, and wrote repeatedly that he wanted to. Dionus took some time to discuss the expressionists they had encountered with the KoraKora. One of them had been able to stir the passions of the KoraKora, and to great effect, which left them uneasy. Marceles explained that formalized expressions (like the Breaker) brought a level of knowledge that helped one know what they were dealing with. Mysterious expressionists, whose powers were largely unknown, made for greater threats.
Marceles noted some differences in the population of the village, and his conversations with Talita, a priestess assigned to his care. They were the only people in the Nanten Marceles had met who were not entirely ruled by fear. Marceles recounted some of his blessings, both in the pen he carried as well as the enchantments on his armor that helped save his life. His fast recovery was surprising and inexplicable to the priestesses watching over him.
In spite of the peace they found in the village, Marceles’ bitterness resurfaces. The miscarriage of justice that led to his exile bled into the end of that entry, along with concerns for his relationship with the father of his mysterious friend in the Old Empire.
Finally able to walk around the village on his own, Marceles notes the difference in attitudes between Bolton and Starlark. The former was doing everything he could to make himself useful to the people of the village, while the latter pulled small, childlike pranks on the priestesses to irritate them. One was trying to draw near, while the other did his best to keep their hospitality and kindness from bridging the gaps between them.
Did Bolton understand why they were there? It seemed to Marceles that he was more concerned with the average Nantese plight than with their main purpose. The Tetrarch, he asserted, exist to save the world from the greater threat of the Daedra, and that fight was to be carried out in this jungle. Empathy for the Nantese would only encumber them moving forward.
Talita told Marceles a slightly different version of Tarsh’s story about Infiri and the creation of the Blight Sea. The man who had betrayed her had not been any ordinary man, but her lover. The Imperials who led him astray had never been forgiven, though the people who follow Infiri do their best to judge the person before them without considering their uncontrolled associations.
Their time of rest in the village came to an end as Marceles’ strength returned. To his unending surprise, Bolton had made friends in their time in the village. Talita explained that Inifra usually stayed apart for a few days after a battle, and that her reservations against Imperials were a result of the incarnation of Infiri within her. Every high priestess Talita had known had been the same.
It seemed strange to Marceles how little the priestesses knew of the outside world and the doctrines beyond those of Infiri. An incarnate goddess was not something he had ever heard of.
Finally their hosts held a ceremony to send them off, giving each their own turtle pendant to match Marceles’. Bolton was pleased to receive a special pendant with extra gems from the friends he had made in the village. The animosity between Bolton and Starlark had flipped, with Starlark now the aggressor and Bolton attempting to convince the rest that they should better appreciate the Nantese. They made east in hopes of finding the Akari Grasslands, and there clues to Salisir’s passing.
Entries 62-68 ~ Day 180-186
Inifra appeared at the ford in the river that the companions had to cross. She remained unfriendly, but advised against their path to the Akari Grasslands and following after a man like Salisir. She too had heard of dark powers at the heart of the Nanten near Matasten, something Marceles did not want to hear. While he was caught up in her presence, Dionus remained tense and ready to fight until she left.
Marceles noted the next day how much Bolton had changed, and how it disturbed him. He wrote about his fears that Bolton’s presence would somehow undo them, a fear he had carried since the old slaver had responded to Marceles’ call for aid. The dangers of the Nanten weighed on Marceles from every direction, including within his party.
Starlark’s mood, though perpetually souring, lightened for one night in which he told one of his favorite stories of misadventures. Essentially he got drunk and thrown in a tiny jail. By the end of the night all of his friends had clambered into his cell thinking they would be able to help him (and each other) in the process. Marceles closed the entry with a dismissive appraisal of Starlark’s character, stating that he was the type of man who was only good for a winning battle.
Marceles wrote how Brin Salisir was not only his guide into violence, but his guide into hate. He learned more from watching Salisir’s hatred consume him from the inside than he ever could have by simply being afflicted by it. And then he learned to focus that hate and use it as a source of energy, to steel him against Salisir’s assaults. It became his joy to turn his instructor’s greatest weakness against him.
Starlark found a Bangara bed near their camp the next morning, leaving them all on edge. Doubts surfaced in each as they faced the stark realities of the lethal uncertainties of the jungle around them. Marceles thought back to Salisir’s fateful encounter with a Daemon as it formed, and how its defeat of him sparked his interest in joining the Tetrarch. Their failure to live up to their promises to him, Marceles guessed, would have felt like betrayal. Much as he felt betrayed by the Tetrarch. In that small way he had something in common with his former instructor.
They awoke the following morning to discover Starlark being consumed by a giant snake. After freeing him from the snake they took him into a nearby creek to wash him off, only to be attacked by a Bangara. Thankfully, Balthandar had connected a story from home about a similar monster and the Bangara. He grabbed a torch and used it to run the monster off, but not before it had done some damage to the companions.
Being eaten was something none of them had considered as a possible demise until entering the Nanten. The reality of it settled in even deeper upon discovering a village where the majority of the population were missing various limbs. Kantoo, one of the village boys who spoke the common tongue, explained that the KoraKora treated them as cattle. The cannibals returned from time to time to claim pieces of them and, in exchange for their docile behavior, rewarded them with their lives. The sight of the people only wracked Bolton with greater guilt. Marceles, not wanting to bring the wrath of the KoraKora down upon the people, decided they would leave immediately the following morning.
Entries 69-75 ~ Day 187-193
To Bolton’s joy and Starlark’s dismay, Marceles decided to allow Kantoo, the one-legged boy they met the day before, to join them on their journey to the Akari Grasslands. His translation skills and knowledge of the area were deemed worth the risk to the cohesion of the group, which was tested almost immediately when Starlark called Kantoo some slur. Bolton had his knife to Starlark’s throat in an instant. Kantoo’s attitude seemed unassailable, however. He told Marceles how the KoraKora had come for his leg on two different occasions, which led Marceles to feel a survivor’s kinship with him.
As Bolton sought to close the gaps between their cultures through questions, Starlark was content to leave them gaping. They discovered that Kantoo was unaware that there were two moons, which led Marceles into a moment of homesickness thinking about the season of light and the festival it would bring. Dionus tried to lead Starlark into conversation on his own, but his mood was irreversibly dour. Kantoo showed them a few new edible plants. To Marceles’ confusion, Kantoo was saddened by their story of killing the giant snake that had almost eaten Starlark.
The following day, Marceles asked Dionus to explain the expression of the Wind. Dionus used the eagle’s feather pinned to his chest to demonstrate, the feather itself a sign of mastery within the expression. Grand displays of power and strength meant far less to a Walker than subtlety and control. In order to prove they had attained that level, a Wind expressionist needed not only to make the feather dance on command but stand still on end. There was a lot to it, so go read the post if you want to understand it.
Kantoo laid out their path to Senida the following day. They would have to do their best to avoid the Deadwood, a roving section of the forest filled with ashen trees and the spirits of the dead. To enter it was to be lost to it forever, and its location was ever uncertain. Though dangerous, it was the most direct path to the Akari Grasslands and, more importantly, the head of what Kantoo called the “stone path.” He said it was the only safe way to cross the northern portion of the grasslands.
Balthandar continued to inject his sense of calm into the group as they marched, humming and telling stories as he felt appropriate. Marceles wrote down his story of Toron and the Pickle Famine, an attempt to demonstrate to Starlark that outsiders do not always know best. That night Marceles dreamed of Inifra, and during the following day tried to focus on her instead of the growing pit in his stomach. He was homesick.
He drank as he wrote, finishing the wine from Graylag as he tried to keep his thoughts from the food and people of Sterling. The harder he tried, the more he thought about it, and eventually of Lystra. Thoughts of Lystra led to thoughts of his trial and exile. “The greatest swordsman in the world, and they put me out like a stray cat. The fools. To hell with them. To hell with all of them.”
The next morning he wrote through the remnants of a hangover, angry at himself as much as everyone who had betrayed him. The stark futility of the mission before them ate at him. Even if they accomplished their goals and his companions returned home, he never could. He would place his hopes on his mission and do his best to forget home.
Entries 76-81 ~ Day 194-200
In spite of the tensions between them, Marceles felt his bonds with his companions were growing stronger. Unlike his brothers in the Tetrarch who abandoned him to exile, these men had given up their lives to help him in the Nanten. All that they had faced together was creating bonds stronger than oaths.
The next day, Bolton was bitten by a fire snake. It got him on the wrist as he reached to pull up a root for Kantoo. The venom began cauterizing the veins, immediately killing the surrounding tissue and steadily working its way up the rest of his arm. Without hesitation, Kanto killed the snake and was ready to do what was necessary to save Bolton’s life. Marceles assented, and Kantoo cut off the arm at the shoulder with grisly precision – something he had seen done to friends and family his entire life. With Balthandar’s help he was able to stitch Bolton’s new stump closed, but it was not an ideal procedure.
Kantoo continued to keep Bolton’s wound lathered in a salve potent in both healing properties and smell. Marceles contemplated the conundrum of the boy’s presence; how Bolton’s life would not have been jeopardized if he had not been gathering a root for Kantoo, but would certainly have been lost without him there to save him. They all agreed that they needed to move the next day, whether Bolton was ready or not. The KoraKora could have been anywhere behind them.
Yet they did not move the next day as Bolton remained too weak. He was improving finally, but not quickly enough to move without jeopardizing his health. This grew Marceles’ anxieties as his intuition confirmed for him that the KoraKora were drawing near. He wrote that it felt much the same as the time he saved Dionus’ life from a pair of assassins west of Gromond. It took days for Dionus to wake up, and the knowledge that there was a Walker’s feather up for grabs brought all kinds of scum out of hiding to try and kill him.
Waiting for the KoraKora to come, with no backup and no ability to run, left Marceles in a place to which he had wished he would never return. But as he had earned Dionus’ friendship previously, he allowed himself to hope that perhaps the same could happen with Bolton. “We are in a great deficit of friends out here.”
The next day things got severely worse. First they found a Bangara bed near their camp in the morning, then as they finally got moving they ran into a KoraKora scout. Starlark killed him before he could sound the alarm, but it wasn’t long before they were discovered. They ran straight into a mass of KoraKora; there were thousands of them. The chief was there, and he unleashed the horde on them after a small speech. Then three Bangara attacked.
The Bangara served as a distraction for some of the KoraKora, but not nearly enough of them. Dionus unleashed his power on the cannibals to buy time and make a path to escape. Marceles notes that he felt he might have to unleash his own power, but Dionus caught his attention and dissuaded him wordlessly. They managed to escape, but in their haste didn’t realize they were entering the Deadwood until it was too late. Kantoo shouted for them to stop, but Marceles’ companions were already well into the ashen trees. He committed to following them, calling for them to stop. Everyone did except for Starlark, who was already out of view. They never found him, and retracing their steps never led them out of the Deadwood.
With Kantoo left behind and Starlark somewhere in the vicinity, the group had reduced in number by nearly half in a matter of minutes. The Deadwood was devoid of color, the undergrowth brittle and gray, and there was no apparent end to it. Bolton needed plenty of rest, having already burst his stitches twice. It felt like they were being watched, and screams would startle them at random times as if the very plants were in torment. The Deadwood had them, and it would not let them go.
Entries 82-88 ~ Day 201-207
The journal quickly became Marceles’ last link to the world outside the Deadwood, and his thoughts turned constantly to Starlark – from whom they had been separated. He told the story of how he met Starlark and saved his life, a story he had never told anyone: Marceles had saved Starlark from hanging. Starlark had been caught stealing chickens by a patrol (which, ironically, served his father’s house). One of his fellow thieves, wanted for murder and arson, helped catalyze their judgment on the spot and the construction of a gallows. Marceles was running from a Daedric sect when he stumbled upon the execution in process, and freed the thieves in exchange for their help.
The patrol didn’t appreciate this, regardless of Marceles’ authority as a Tetrarch, and immediately beset them in a fight which doubled in intensity as the Daedra finally caught up to them. Starlark managed to return the favor and saved Marceles’ life multiple times in that fight. They had been friends ever since. Marceles loved Starlark’s zeal for life, even if it led him to act the fool sometimes.
It didn’t take long for things to get worse in the Deadwood. They nearly lost Bolton when he was absorbed into a tree in his sleep. The Deadwood seemed to want him most of all. Water was another growing concern, as they had yet to find any, but Bolton’s condition was most troubling.
A wraith approached Marceles in the night and whispered “Lystra” to him before screaming and disappearing. The next morning they heard Starlark’s voice. They couldn’t find him, and the more they called out the more they felt the Deadwood’s attention drawn to them. During the day, or what passed for day in the Deadwood, Marceles and Dionus sensed a gap in the constant exercise of magic surrounding them. Marceles hoped it was the clue they needed to escape, especially as something had changed in Dionus since their encounter with the KoraKora.
That night another wraith came, this time for Bolton. Marceles got up in time to block its massive sword from cleaving Bolton in two, but they were barely able to hold it back by their own efforts. The symbols on the map Prestorn had given them proved the key. Upon seeing them, for no reason that they could discern, it relented. Bolton woke up shortly after, oblivious to the entire exchange.
The next day they were able to discern the direction of the gaps in the Deadwood’s magic, all of them pointing towards a particular point. They were also able to hear Starlark’s voice with regularity and communicate with him what they were going to do. Bolton brought Starlark up to Marceles in conversation with regularity, fearful for the future of his former rival. His open concern for Starlark’s soul made Marceles wonder if he truly was dying.
The next day they were able to leave the Deadwood, and disaster struck. The gaps of the Deadwood led them to a place where the magic lay completely dormant. Upon four of the trees at the center there were four symbols that matched those on their map. They could hear Starlark clearly, though he was not with them, who guessed it was a compass rose, so they chose the one that indicated east and walked past it.
As they saw green they began to run in their excitement, unintentionally leaving Bolton behind in his weakened state. When he cried out, it wasn’t for them but for Kantoo. The boy was in the clutches of the chief of the KoraKora who had appeared from the forest to the southeast. Kanto screamed for them to run before the chief slit his throat. Then the jungle was flooded by KoraKora.
Marceles ran back to help Bolton but arrived too late as he dropped dead with a hole in his throat. They ran east then, the Akari Grasslands materializing before them as the jungle began to thin. But the Akari Grasslands were to prove no better than the jungle they left behind:
“If the Nanten was hell, then the Akari Grasslands are where hell’s rejects are sent to die.”
The KoraKora stayed among the trees, refusing to give chase across the grasslands as Dionus, Balthandar, and Marceles made for the stone path Kantoo had told them about. They discovered why when massive burrowing monsters attacked from beneath in an attempt to eat them. Balthandar and Marceles were saved by Dionus, who picked them up with a gust of wind and cast them to safety upon a nearby block of obsidian. Then he flew off, abandoning Marceles and Balthandar to the Akari Grasslands.
Thankfully the sun had set. This allowed the obsidian to which Dionus had cast them cool enough to touch. Come daybreak, however, they needed to get off quickly as the temperature of the stone rose sharply. The smaller stones of the path were fairly close-set in the grass, making it easy to follow them to the next block of obsidian by evening. Each misstep however, every time they landed on the ground, drew the burrowing monsters without fail. The only way to escape them was to run further along the path.
It looked to bend south, and Marceles could only hope it was the correct route to take them to Senida. Whatever had happened to Starlark and Dionus they didn’t know and had no way of discovering. With the KoraKora beind them, and the new hostilities surrounding them, they were now trapped on their original course to the heart of the Akari Grasslands.
Entries 89-94~ Day 208-214
The loss of Bolton and Kantoo left an unspoken sadness over Balthandar and Marceles. As if to aggravate their anxieties, hawks began diving to attack them for no apparent reason. Marceles couldn’t stop thinking about the haunted look in Bolton’s eyes as he died, and detailed Bolton’s transformation as he saw it. He felt that Bolton had found a path to redemption in seeing the Nantese as human and even befriending some. What concerned him most was whether he might not recognize the need for his own redemption until, like Bolton, it was too late.
As they progressed along the stone path, the grass continued to increase in height until they were barely able to see over it at all. The obsidian waypoints were getting closer together, which Marceles realized must have been necessary because their progress was steadily slowing. He was here because he had killed Lystra, but it hadn’t been his intention to kill her. He had gone with the intent of killing her lover, a Daedric assassin set on killing her father – the King’s Sword (highest ranking military official). The man had drawn a Daedirc kinfe on Marceles, which infuriated him to the point that he claimed he didn’t even see Lystra enter the scene. When she got between them intent on saving her lover’s life, she had forfeited her life. In retrospect, however, he realized how foolish killing her had truly been.
The next night, while thinking of home and [frankly] feeling a lot of self-pity for himself, Marceles accidentally flicked his pen over the side of the obsidian and into the grass. Kantoo had warned them not to leave the obsidian at night, but the pen was a gift from the father of his mysterious friend in the Old Empire. It was the only ink left to him in the world He could see it below, so he jumped down for it. Within moments he was assailed by wraiths from the grasses. Without his sword he was forced to run, but the wraiths kept coming from every direction. Finally Balthandar was able to intervene and helped him get back to the safety of the obsidian. As they recovered in the aftermath, he asked that Marceles tie a string to his pen from then on.
Their progress across the Grasslands only became more difficult. Between the tall grasses and the cuts healing all over, they were grateful for the nearness of the next obsidian block. Who made the road, Marceles wondered, and why didn’t they make it right? Were there Breakers or Telekenetics that lifted the blocks of obsidian? And if so, how could they have been powerful enough? The Akari Grasslands were incredibly hostile, between the sun and everything trying to eat them. Then there were the wraiths at night – Marceles swore he’d never set foot on the ground of the Grasslands at night again. Where were Starlark and Dionus?
“So many questions, and no way for me to find the answers.”
The next evening they came up against a river that ran so red Marceles said he wouldn’t be surprised to discover it was filled with blood. The debate between himself and Balthandar was whether or not to cross it, as they didn’t know what they would find in it (besides “godsdamned leeches”) nor what would greet them on the other side. The stone path ran to its banks and then disappeared. There was no path on the other side as far as they could see, even with shorter grasses on the far bank. They would discuss it and decide by first light.
Little did they know that they would be forced to decide in the night.
The mysterious wraiths of the Akari Grasslands attacked them in the middle of the night. Marceles awoke to find one standing above him, straddling him as it looked down and studied him in his sleep. Balthandar rammed his spear through the wraith’s skull and kicked it off the obsidian into the grass where it disappeared. They packed without looking down, and as soon as they moved to run the obsidian was overwhelmed with screaming wraiths. Balthandar and Marceles fled to the river. The wraiths stopped at the banks and watched them go, disappearing back into the grass as they climbed to the other side.
The grass on that side of the river was low enough to see over, but tall enough to obscure holes in the ground large enough to step in and trip over. Rodents of some sort lived in the holes that would bite at their feet, and large horned bull-like beasts attacked them on the plain. By the time Marceles had written, they had been forced to kill eight. At least, he noted, their meat seemed good to eat.
“One other positive note, however: there were no leeches in the bloody river.”
Entries 95-101 ~ Day 215-221
Though the sun continued to beat down on them, and there was no longer a clear path to follow, their trek across the Akari Grasslands had become significantly safer. Safe enough to dwell upon those Marceles had left behind, those he wished he could share his experience with, especially Naline. She had been his secret, and the one who kept his secrets. Naline was the one person to love him for who he truly was, and he had cast her aside.
Marceles seemed frustrated the next day, writing about his prowess with a blade and his ability to see (and thus understand) his opponent completely. There was no technique he had not encountered, no fight he could not win. Unlike his companions, he had been forced from a life that he could be truly proud of. He would build a new reputation for himself in the Nanten, and slay the darkness that lay at its heart.
The next day, Marceles noticed that the Mortuga (as Balthandar had begun referring to the horned beasts) had not only ceased to attack them but were giving them a wide berth. Marceles wondered what had happened to Dionus and Starlark. Perhaps they were dead? Even Balthandar had remained somewhat distant over the preceding days. Marceles knew he couldn’t spend too much energy looking back, dwelling on home or those he had lost, but needed to focus forward on finding Salisir. They were drawing close to Senida, he reasoned, and it was there he hoped to find his next clue.
They entered the golden fields surrounding Senida the following day, which is where Marceles assumed the city earned the name “City of Golden Waves.” The stalks of the golden grass contained a sweet liquid, the discovery of which was cause enough for them to laugh. They hadn’t tasted sugar in months. There were no Mortuga, no holes with vicious rodents in them, and no hawks. Marceles noted that he couldn’t help but feel happy, even if it was just the sugar coursing through his veins.
Disappointment set in when they reached Senida, which Marceles described as “a waste.” The city itself appeared in decent condition, but was completely devoid of life. They did a little exploring, found a well with good water in it, and then made camp on the open roof of a nearby building. They decided to continue exploring the city in the morning and barricaded the trap door to the roof as a precaution.
The people of Senida appeared to live in a luxury that outstripped anything Marceles believed possible in the Nanten. The strangest part for him was realizing the strong Klotian influence in their architecture, though he shouldn’t have been surprised as Klotia was their closest neighbor to the south. The emptiness of the city was eerie, and drove them to explore Senida more urgently. In the end it left Marceles with more unanswered questions, particularly concerning the fate of the citizens of Senida.
They worked to strike a balance between exploration and rest as Senida offered a sense of safety and provided all they needed without great effort. They even stumbled across a shop that had a number of spices that were sealed up in glass containers and still good to use. While silent on the streets of Senida, they spoke freely on their rooftop. Balthandar explained a number of different Islander techniques for spicing food as they cooked Mortuga meat. He made Marceles promise to visit his homeland with him should they survive the horrors of the Nanten.
Entries 102-108 ~ Day 222-228
A knocking sound could be heard echoing through Senida in the morning, but ceased before they could draw near its source. Marceles found it incredibly unnerving. His disappointment in finding Senida empty lay chiefly in the fact that he had assumed its people would hold the clues to Salisir’s passing. Perhaps, he reasoned, their disappearance held the clue he was looking for. What if Salisir was somehow responsible?
The knocking noise did not return the following day, leaving a silence which Marceles could not help but fill with thoughts of his lost companions. “Bolton, dead. Kantoo murdered by the chief of the KoraKora. Starlark lost to the Deadwood or worse. And Dionus, taken by the winds before we could even think to say goodbye.”
He missed them terribly. He needed them.
The next day his thoughts turned to the Deadwood and the mystery of its power. Perhaps it was a rift in the Third Tier (the spiritual realm)? He went on to lay out his own summary of how the three different tiers of reality in the world interacted (the physical, metaphyiscal “Atmosphere,” and spiritual). The gist is that they have strong interactions down (from spiritual to physical) and weak influences up (physical to spiritual) – again, a deep entry you should read for the details.
To their great surprise, Starlark returned to them the following day. He was quiet, paranoid, and unwilling to share what he had been through. He seemed in good physical condition with the exception of a few minor wounds, but Marceles worried something was broken in him. Starlark was shocked to hear about the Mortuga on the Grasslands, and while they couldn’t draw enough information out of him to confirm it, Marceles implicitly wondered if he had seen any of the monsters they had.
The next morning they awoke to something slamming itself into the barricaded trap door from beneath. It went on for an hour until the sun had fully risen, then stopped. Starlark was terrified, and Marceles couldn’t figure out why he was so incredibly scared. Starlark had never been weak, but he had never been stable either. All of the broken relationships over the years had made Starlark’s temper rather sensitive, but now he was raw in a different way. Marceles hoped there was a way to draw Starlark back into himself to heal.
That night the wraiths of the Akari Grasslands appeared in the streets below. They didn’t tell Starlark, but the monsters had followed them to Senida. They convinced him to descend with them in the daylight and explored a little, which seemed to do Starlark some good. The sweet taste of a golden stalk even drew a faint smile to his face. The one thing they discovered in their exploration was a Daedric temple. Even though it was hidden behind a cluster of close-set buildings, the fact that it had been permitted to stand at all revolted Marceles.
Finally, after a few nights of sleep induced by Balthandar’s potions, Starlark began to speak to them of his own accord. He refused to share what had happened in his time away from them, but Marceles was happy to see him improving. Still, they kept the wraiths a secret from him out of fear of what he would do when he found out.
Then the knocking noise returned. It startled Starlark especially, but they were able to convince him to help search for its source. This time they drew near before it ceased. It seemed to have come from a square near the edge of the city that was decorated in a variety of carved eagles. At its center stood a large pole covered in branching poles, with a discarded staff laying next to it. Then Starlark noticed a figure in the grasses beyond the city’s limits.
They chased the figure down, Starlark shooting him through the leg, and discovered he was only a boy. He didn’t speak the common tongue, but directed them out into the field with gestures after they bandaged his leg. Balthandar carried him until they returned him to his guardians. They only allowed Balthandar to approach while carrying the boy, then explained everything to him out of earshot of Marceles or Starlark. As the companions returned to Senida, Balthandar explained that they were a scouting party sent into the city to call the eagles. When danger approached, the eagles in that square were the first to leave, which served as an early warning. If they didn’t return to the knocking of the pole, the danger remained. The disappearance of the Mortuga served as a confirmation.
Marceles asked if they were the danger and Balthandar said no. They occasionally had visitors; humans weren’t the problem. After Starlark went to sleep he went on to say the rest. The danger that drew near, that could break the bonds of the wraiths of the Akari Grasslands and drive all other monsters to flee, was none other than the mythical Makonga. Death itself drew near, hunting Marceles and his companions.
Entries 109-115 ~ Day 229-235
Marceles and Balthandar elected to leave Starlark in his ignorance for a while longer as they continued to explore Senida. Finally clues began to surface. Whatever happened to the Klotian power structure in Senida appeared to have started near the top. Private chambers deep within the palace were ruined, with knives still lodged in a number of mirrors. And underneath they discovered a giant makeshift catacomb.
The next day the boy that Starlark had shot appeared in the palace grounds with his guardian, the man who had spoken to Balthandar. His name was Gorung, and the boy’s name sounded like two clicks – so Marceles’ companions referred to him as “ClickClick.” They had come to help because of their association with Salisir. Gorung told them that Senida had been one of the last standing civilized cities in the Nanten. Then Salisir had come and started a small revolution.
Salisir had been looking for an item, one he would turn against the Klotians if he found it. The Nantese themselves were oppressed or enslaved to the Klotians, but Gorung claimed that Salisir helped them prepare to free themselves. The day came that Salisir found what he was looking for and unleashed it on the Klotians. They killed each other in a maddened frenzy. Salisir instructed the Nantese to bury the bodies under the palace, then left for the north in search of the Nanten River.
Gorung and ClickClick returned the next day to help them continue their search of the palace grounds. ClickClick reminded Marceles of a more serious Kantoo. They were able to translate the Chief of the KoraKora’s last words over Kantoo before he died: Bora no kandoh mahotoo, which meant “All traitors die, so balance restores itself.”
Gorung showed them a route around the catacombs where they found four vaults, one of which was open and empty. They managed to open one of them with considerable effort in hopes of finding clues. While they found various treasures, there were no clues to be found. Thoughts of Kantoo and Bolton swirled in Marceles’ head through the day, leaving him wondering at how he could miss someone as cantankerous as Slad Bolton.
The next morning they made for a quarry to the north of Senida. There they discovered four explosive devices that had been designed to blast the rock. Each device had controls that enabled them to direct the explosions, so they put them to use opening the remaining two vaults. Each vault only required one blast. The first went perfectly, and they each took a Klotian blade from the spoils. Unfortunately, to Marceles’ dismay, the second blast destroyed much of the contents of the final vault. Marceles’ one consolation on the day was discovering what he believed to be an original copy of Heirarchies of Power.
In a moment of lucidity, Starlark realized that they had all the clues they needed in what had survived the blast: tax ledgers. As they dug into the books, they pieced together a record of every valuable item in the city. More importantly, they identified three houses with vaults of their own, and four more with redacted entries. “Whatever treasures Senida holds, they are not limited to what Salisir was after.”
Marceles felt the pressure building to solve Senida’s mysteries. The wraiths had made another attempt at their trap door the night before, and Balthandar had knocked another of the western face of the building. The Makonga, he surmised, was drawing near, and he hoped they could find a way to keep it from Senida forever.
Their final exploration of Senida the following day made a number of things clear. Seven relics had been kept in the city, each in its own suppression box, but none remained. Whatever they were, and perhaps even in concert, they had kept Senida safe from evils like the Makonga. Without them, there was nothing Marceles could do to keep the Makonga at bay. They needed to flee.
They left at first light. That night Marceles saw the Makonga. “Seeing its face is to look into the depths of sorrow. Its eyes dive to the very pits of human despair. Black. Soulless… the Makonga is worse than I could have ever imagined.”
Its very presence, just beyond the reach of their fire’s light, left Marceles struggling in the depths of his own loneliness and grief. Consumed with sadness over his missing companions and the loss of Naline, he could almost hear the Makonga’s promise in his own thoughts: “Follow and be free.”
The power of the Makonga lay in its ability to compel its victims to join it in the darkness. To bid them come die willingly.
Entries 116-122 ~ Day 236-242
The next day they were surprised by Inifra’s appearance as they forded the blood river. They were doubly surprised when Dionus appeared from the sky and struck her down. The two fought, Dionus radiating power like nothing Marceles had ever seen in his friend.
Inifra said she was there to help them with the Makonga. She said it hunted murderers. That was where its hunger grew. The Makonga needed to be stopped so that the wraiths would be confined again to the Akari Grasslands. Inifra knew how to help them. The risks to her own people were too great to ignore. Marceles asked her to return the next day when they would have an answer for her.
Then Dionus explained where he had been, how the winds had been calling him and how he had finally given in when they entered the Akari Grasslands. He found himself drawn to the skies and knew, as all Walkers do, that once he had given in he was lost to the skies. What he did not know was that he could surpass the wind’s call.
His time began with bliss, hunger and thirst minor things to deal with at his leisure. Slowly he began to feel a pull back towards the companions. And then the Makonga was below. Moving. Following his friends. He watched and waited as the tension grew within him. Fear for his friends eventually overcame the freedom of flight, and he regained control of himself the instant he saw Inifra appear at the ford. Now he was of a greater power than he had ever been before, and he was returned to them for good.
The next morning Inifra reappeared before they had had an opportunity to discuss her involvement. Starlark flew into a rage at her, which she calmly withstood. She told them she was there to help, and that time was short. Starlark, his anger turned, sulked and refused to rejoin the conversation.
Inifra told them that she believed the Makonga to have escaped from the Deadwood. It was a creature of the Third Tier, something more spirit than physical. The wraiths, she said, didn’t serve the Makonga but also most likely held ties to the Deadwood. It could be tricked, she said, blinded by the right combination of roots and leaves to the presence of humans.
Those were its prey, its hunt more a thing of wandering chance than of any real intent. Except for murderers. Those, she said, the Makonga sought with a single-minded determination that no root nor leaf could turn aside. Once they returned to the jungle she would try the ritual to blind it on them. If it continued to follow them from there they would know there was a murderer among them.
Starlark focused his angst and anger on Inifra, though he kept it mostly contained. Marceles realized he had been far happier at the return of Dionus than he had been when they found Starlark. Did Starlark realize this, he wondered? How great was the distance that was growing between them?
Marceles’ life was plagued by the children of the powerful, he wrote. Lystra the daughter of the King’s Sword and Starlark the son of the Scepter. Lystra had been the perfect shell, and Starlark a fuming core. Where Lystra had never let anyone in, Starlark had been defined by the rejections that started with his father and never truly stopped. He had become spiteful and petty – how could Marceles be expected to find joy in his return?
The oppressive presence of the Makonga returned in the night. Though they never saw it, its touch was heavy and forced them to dwell upon their own thoughts and regrets. Inifra’s concern was growing. Marceles’ thoughts turned to Lystra, and the truth that he had loved her in a way he had loved no other woman. The fact that he had never loved Naline as he knew she deserved while never letting go of his passion for Lystra ate at him. He could no longer hide from the lies he had told himself since he killed her. He had intended her to die that day. Whether from the shame of her lover’s Daedric associations or from his own blade, he had intended to destroy her.
They made it to the jungle again, and Inifra warned them against their own thoughts and feelings. The Makonga’s strength lay not in revealing the truth, no matter how true things felt, but in using whatever tools lay near the surface. They were not likely to hurt each other, she said, but themselves. The Seventh Death. Suicide.
Despite this warning, that was precisely where Marceles’ thoughts took him.
Starlark went raving mad in the night, screaming challenges at the Makonga in the darkness. Balthandar had to tie him to a tree until he calmed down. Starlark never truly recovered. Inifra gathered the necessary ingredients for the ritual to blind the Makonga. If it didn’t work, they would know it hunted a murderer among them.
Marceles noted that it was strange walking among the trees again without Bolton. Ironically, he had saved Bolton’s life when he had been tied to a post, much as Starlark was now tied to a tree. He hoped that he could save Starlark now where he had eventually failed Bolton.
The next day Inifra kept her eyes locked on Starlark. He had taken on even more feral qualities, hunched over as he walked. She distressed Marceles with only two questions:
“Weren’t there five of you before?”
“Have you noticed the touch of the Makonga lightening?”
Her implications were clear, that Starlark was the murderer among them. Marceles had never allowed himself to connect the various pieces of evidence, though he felt he had known all along. The wound that killed Bolton had been a clean arrow shot through the throat. A shot no Nantese would have been capable of making as far as they had seen. The motive was there, and if Starlark had exited the Deadwood near them, so too was the opportunity.
It explained his own distance from Starlark, his own suspicions. His friend had betrayed their company, and he didn’t know what to do about it.
Entries 123-129 ~ Day 243-249
Starlark had it out with Marceles the following day. He had never yelled at Marceles before. Starlark claimed that Marceles was the only family he had left, and he had abandoned him. Marceles left him in the Deadwood to die, then ran from him when they escaped it.
The Makonga’s influence was growing over Starlark, and had finally severed his ties to the rest. Marceles felt helpless, and had no way of consoling Starlark.
The next day, Starlark was gone. He left everything behind except his bow and one solitary arrow. “A final duel with death. Starlark has left us.” They searched but found no signs of where he had gone. Inifra immediately gathered the ingredients for the ritual to blind the Makonga again in hopes of evading it from then on.
They stayed put for one more day so as not to abandon Starlark should he return. Marceles knew he wouldn’t. He reflected on their friendship, realizing that he had already abandoned Starlark long before. The responsibility of it lay heavy on him, and he swore not to take his remaining companions for granted in the same way.
The guilt of betraying Starlark’s friendship followed him through the next day. They had fought and killed together, saved each other’s lives repeatedly. “How could I accept his help in my exile and yet refuse his friendship in the end? I will never forgive myself for that.”
As for the journey ahead of them, they had a destination: The Nanten River, roughly one month’s march to the north. Supposedly Salisir had died there, but so too had he supposedly died at every other destination along their route thus far.
Balthandar finally asked why Inifra had stayed if the Makonga was gone. Balthandar was not pleased to have her along. The Nantese, he said, were a conquered people – unworthy to be in Marceles’ presence. That finally helped Marceles understand Balthandar’s dislike of the Nantese as a whole. To Islanders, social hierarchies between civilizations and cultures were as open and rigid as rank in the military.
“An Islander’s distaste for someone like Inifra, powerful and elegant as she may be, would not be affected by anything save her heritage.” But unlike Starlark, Balthandar would remain civil so long as Inifra was in Marceles’ good graces.
The priestess herself remained distant, something Marceles wished would change.
Their release from the Makonga, along with the vacuum left by Bolton and Starlark’s constant strife, left Marceles feeling increasingly at peace as they marched through the jungle. He was surrounded by people he could trust, with a renewed sense of purpose around the mission at hand. He would follow through on his calling as a Tetrarch, whether or not he could rightly call himself one any longer.
“I was raised to fight the Daedra. I will die doing exactly that.”
“Our purpose is what unites us, and it is our common enemy that makes us tolerable to the world around us. The great Demons that have come throughout history are what define our very existence. Ever since the first ascended, we were there to stop them. Until the ninth comes, we will fight on.
This is our only drive. My only drive. To destroy Daedric society and do everything I can to win this unending war against the Demons. It is what first brought me to you. It is also what immediately took me away.”
The loss of his place among the Tetrarch had left Marceles scarred, and uncertain of his identity.
Entries 130-136 ~ Day 250-256
Inifra returned with questions about the Tetrarch which demonstrated to Marceles that she hadn’t fully understood him the day before. She didn’t see how Daedric sects could be so incredibly dangerous as to warrant all of the Tetrarch’s time and energy.
“How could we spend our days focused on preventing something that might happen, she asked, when there were evils we could stop every day? People starving in our cities. Murders in our streets. There were tangible wrongs committed every day, she said. How could we not fight those?”
That was what civil authorities were for, he said. The call of the Tetrarch was above local or even international affairs. It was to save the world.
The next day they found a KoraKora Totem, a horrible reminder that they were not as safe as they dared hope. Forty-five days had passed without crossing the cannibals, but now they could be anywhere. The fate of being eaten by another human returned as one of the most dreaded in Marceles’ mind.
Finally Inifra explained that she intended to help them find Salisir. They had proven themselves friends of her people, and enemies of her enemies. She needed to know if there truly was a dark threat at the heart of the Nanten. She seemed familiar with Salisir, which sent a pang of jealousy through Marceles.
Still, they disagreed as to the value of their greater callings. “What good is saving the world, she asked, if the world you’re saving has fallen into chaos on its own?” But Marceles didn’t see the good in propping up a world that was destined to be destroyed from above.
“Perhaps, if there is no threat at the heart of the Nanten, we can be distracted by the plight of her people. But even then, what good could we expect to do in such a nightmarish place as this?”
The next day they stumbled across another abandoned village. Inifra asked them to wait, and soon the villagers returned to see her. They were subdued, fearful of a man named Zorga, whom they called the bandit king of the mountains. One girl, Timber, stepped bravely forward to tell Inifra about Zorga when the rest tried to keep her quiet. Zorga took their young men from them and gave them over to the KoraKora.
Though the people asked them to leave Zorga alone, Inifra set her mind to doing just the opposite. Balthandar agreed with her for once. “We should help them,” he said. “What kind of men are we if we leave them like this?”
They set out for the mountains, though Marceles had a difficult time believing mountains could exist within the jungles of the Nanten. Marceles found himself hating Zorga already – not for the evil man he was certain Zorga was, but for the diversion the bandit had created from his own mission.
Inifra brought Timber along, saying there was more to her than met the eye. Timber was full of questions for Marceles, about his home and the women that lived there. She loved hearing about them, but was displeased when he said that they held women in high esteem as the highest creatures on earth. “She said that any man who wraps his words of women in flowers does so to keep them entangled in the stems.”
Timber’s presence served as another reminder of Kantoo, whom Marceles found he still missed. The idea of taking children into danger so young seemed foreign to him, but the Nantese saw it differently. He struggled with whether they should fight for the sake of the Nantese.
“What good does such action serve? If the Nantese can’t learn to stand up for themselves, someone new will take the place of any evil we evict.”
Entries 137-143 ~ Day 257-263
Inifra’s vendetta against Zorga quickly took over, leaving Marceles and the rest to follow her lead. She seemed wholly unconcerned with scouting ahead or gathering any intelligence. Still, Marceles found that he trusted Inifra’s judgment. She continued to speak of peace, of rebuilding the Nanten, and inspiring her people to seek the best for each other. Dionus was becoming more himself every day, and Marceles made it his goal to keep both Dionus and Balthandar with him to the end.
The next day, to their disbelief, they came to a lake and could see mountains rising in the distance. There was smoke rising from the top, an obvious sign of life the likes of which they had not seen in the Nanten. Inifra’s confidence was not shaken, but Marceles wasn’t so sure. She said the smoke was a sign of strength, that they were not afraid to give away their location, but that it also meant they likely had no expressionists among them. Expressionists in the Nanten hid themselves, which Marceles understood better than he let on to her.
Another surprise for Marceles came when Inifra made contact with one of Zorga’s lieutenants, who not only came to speak to her but then returned to bring them to Zorga the next day. In waiting for Zorga’s lieutenant to return, Marceles reflected on his growing feelings for Inifra and his certainty that she did not share them. His fear that she harbored feelings for Salisir continued to creep in at the edges as well.
Reaching Zorga’s fortress, and being welcomed like honored guests, left Marceles more uneasy than anything yet about their small quest. Marceles felt certain that Zorga could not be trusted, that he was plotting against them even as he welcomed them. The stronghold was built into the small valley between two peaks at the top of the mountain range, with a large reservoir behind its foundations and a waterfall coming out from the other side.
Zorga’s men clearly feared Inifra. Marceles seemed sure that it was their superstition that would keep them in check, even if Zorga attempted to rally them against her. Zorga, for his part, proceeded to ignore Marceles and his companions while obsequiously following Inifra around at all times. Marceles was uncomfortable with the division, especially when he and the other men were put up in chambers in a separate tower of the fortress.
The companions were followed everywhere by serving girls who seemed ready and willing to please, but who Marceles was certain were spies. Zorga continued to ignore them as he and Inifra sparred in an unspoken political duel. Marceles participated in a dagger throwing competition at the evening feast, which seemed to be a staple of life in the fortress. He simply hoped Inifra would inform them of her plans sooner than later. He didn’t like being left in the dark.
Then Inifra came and told them what she was after, there were prisoners in the lower levels of the fortress that were to be given to the KoraKora. They went about their day doing what little exploring they could, but decided to make a show of relaxing and do their real exploring by night instead. Marceles discovered that Zorga’s lieutenants did speak the common tongue after all, once they realized that the companions were not going to divulge anything at the feasts under the assumption they wouldn’t be understood. He managed to alienate one by asking why they feared the KoraKora. The rest he alienated by beating at the dagger throwing competitions. The sheer volume of food eaten and wasted at the feast bothered Marceles for the first time, with Nantese struggling to survive at the very base of the mountains.
That night they did their exploring, discovering two different routes into the lower levels of the fortress where the prisoners were being kept. Dionus managed to pilfer a schematic of the fortress, and with their combined information they drew up a plan to help the imprisoned Nantese escape. Inifra had passed them at the feast long enough to say they were to act the next night. So they withdrew to their chambers that night (after Marceles enjoyed himself betting with and beating yet more contenders at daggers) and finalized their plans.
Entries 144-150 ~ Day 264-270
Dionus and Balthandar made as if they had fallen ill over the course of the next day, finally breaking away from their unwanted entourage just before the evening feast. Marceles went to the feast by himself in hopes of maintaining appearances, and to keep an eye on Inifra during the escape. When the feast was in full swing, and the guards drunk or asleep, Balthandar and Dionus began their plan to rescue the prisoners under the fortress.
Each took a different direction, one through the dry storage and the other through the barracks. Dionus’ goal was to filter prisoners out through a service entrance in the pantries. Balthandar had the more difficult task of getting prisoners out through the drain that ran under the dungeon and against the current of the waterfall. Things went awry when a couple of serving girls tried to join them in their chambers, only to find them empty.
Guards were immediately sent to find them, while Zorga maintained appearances at the feast. He didn’t reveal that he knew what was happening until Dionus’ signal came, a blast of wind through the hearth that sent embers and ash billowing through the hall. Zorga had just finished telling Marceles the meaning of the word “Nanten,” which meant “Majestic Sky.”
“He smiled then. I have never been so chilled by any smile in all my life. He knew, and I saw it in that wry look. ‘It is a dark sky that protects dark men. What sky will protect you this night, Ocada?’”
Zorga stood then and stabbed Inifra at the base of the skull, killing her instantly. Marceles doesn’t yet write how, but he finally exercised his ability to save Inifra and get her out of the hall. When they reached the ramparts it was raining heavily. Inifra used the rain and reservoir to attack the fortress directly, slamming the water into the structure until it crumbled and fell over the cliff. She collapsed then, exhausted from the use of her power. They hid her in a cave that many of the former captives were sheltering in. Marceles felt he had taken a massive risk to save her life. “Gods help me. This woman had better be worth it.”
When Inifra regained consciousness, Marceles asked her what she had been thinking when she took them into Zorga’s fortress as she had. She explained that she hadn’t been concerned for their safety, Zorga’s men would be too superstitious to attack a holy woman without serious provocation. Freeing the captives was her main goal, but she wanted to make sure word would leave the fortress that it had been her to do it. This infuriated Marceles, who felt he had been duped into risking his life on a propaganda scheme.
He went on a walk to cool down, and found himself wrestling with their purpose in the Nanten. The Nantese clearly needed help, and perhaps Inifra was right that protecting the weak was well worth not only their efforts, but their lives as well. However he couldn’t shake the necessity of rooting out any Daedric presence in the jungle if it existed. He only hoped that his secret hadn’t been carried along with the story of Inifra ending Zorga.
Marceles realized he had to explain to his companions what had happened. Inifra would figure out what he had done eventually, and if he couldn’t hide it from his friends any longer there was no point in hiding it from his journal. Marceles was a Timeshift, and he felt relieved to share it. His mother had realized he was a Pure when he was a child, and at eleven he skipped for the first time, jumping forward in time a few minutes. He explained the mechanics of how it all worked.
Marceles’ mother made him keep it a secret, fearful of what would happen to him should he be discovered or abuse the power. He had spent his entire life hiding what he could do, unable to trust anyone with the knowledge. While Dionus had figured it out a few years back, few if any knew what Marceles was. When he saw Zorga slip the knife into Inifra’s spine, he knew he couldn’t hide any longer.
Marceles pulled time backwards, undoing the damage and then shifted it forward slowly from Dionus’ signal. He could make himself move faster than time around him, he had never done so for so long. All he had needed was the focus of fearing for Inifra’s death. He had killed everyone in the feasting hall before the ash had settled to the ground. The experience was invigorating, and left Marceles hungry to use his power again.
However his fresh exposure left him feeling insecure and vulnerable. What did his companions think of him? He had kept this secret all his life, and now he was surrounded by people who knew. People who might wonder why he didn’t use his ability to save Bolton or Starlark. Or Lystra. He couldn’t save them, the risks were too high. But he saved a priestess he hardly knew, would he save any of them? He maintained his distance from them and kept to his thoughts.
Inifra said the rains, which had yet to stop, might last a month. “Maybe more. I always hope it’s more.” While Inifra enjoyed the rainfall, the companions weren’t thrilled with being constantly wet. Marceles also brooded over the fact that Inifra seemed oblivious to the risk she had put him at. His only real safety, he wrote, lay in secrecy. Knowing what he was would give his enemies an edge, the ability to strike first and catch him unawares. Or if his enemy was a Timeshift, he would be unable to use his ability to his advantage at all. And there was no telling if someone in the Nanten had figured out what ability could counter the shifting of time.
Inifra countered the next day, saying that the secrecy of his ability gave him no advantage over any other Expressionist. She told him that “a power like mine would be prized. A man like me would be shown great deference.” This left him puzzled. He had always been afraid, and never thought of his ability as a good thing.
Timber saw this conversation as her chance to ask Marceles, through Inifra, what they had been doing in the fortress and how they had helped Inifra. Marceles marveled at Timber’s fortitude, writing “Gods, but they don’t make children like this in the Old Empire.”
The next morning another change occurred when Balthandar packed for Inifra. It appeared his respect had been earned through seeing her in action. Marceles hoped he could earn back whatever he might have lost.
Entries 151-157 ~ Day 271-277
Dionus finally had enough of Marceles’ sulking and spent the next day walking with him. He didn’t force conversation, he just maintained a presence. Dionus was blinded by the rain, unable to reach out and sense movement in the air through the constant cascade. They both appreciated Inifra’s ability to reach out in his place. Dionus also put him at ease, telling Marceles that he wished he had been able to see him in action in Zorga’s fortress.
The fact that Dionus, a Walker, would want to see his ability in full force gave Marceles a strange thrill. Perhaps he had been wrong to be ashamed of his power all along. While Dionus shared Marceles’ fear in his loss of secrecy, he was supportive.
Marceles’ mind was also consumed with his growing affection for Inifra, which he sensed to be far from mutual. He spun poor love poems together in his head and wondered how he could tell Inifra exactly how he felt.
In recounting the story of his ability to his comrades, Marceles realized just how furious he was with his mother. Syltra na Tetrarch, Beacon of the Second Order, his mother, had pushed him harder than anyone in his life. Then she had abandoned him to his fate at his trial, leaving him alone as everyone turned their backs on him. Marceles had hoped that the father of the person to whom he often writes would bridge the gap, but he too had fallen silent.
“I will never forget that silence. It stretched for minutes. It stretches to me even now; the stillness devoid of peace that only abandonment can create.”
When he was a child, as difficult as he knew it may be to believe, Marceles didn’t want to fight. He loved books, and imagined he would grow to be a scholar like his father. But in the Scourge, Marceles discovered a love for the sword, for learning and mastering it like any other subject, and for the thrill of definitively besting his opponent. He learned quickly, and eventually the only way to get that thrill was to fight to kill. “It’s true that I have come to a place where I love the affirmation that comes with victory, and the victory in a duel is always certain.”
Marceles’ hatred of the Nanten had been rooted there, he thought. There was no certainty in the jungle, no clarity of success. But perhaps, too, his renewed vigor in facing the darkness of the jungle was that Inifra was right: fighting small battles to protect the weak contained value in itself. It also provided a defined victory. Perhaps, he allowed himself, if they could uncover whatever was at work at the heart of the Nanten and defeat it, then he could turn his attentions to the plight of the Nantese.
The next night, Inifra left them to travel ahead and discover a definite destination for them. Inifra could reach out through the rains and discern a “disturbance” rising behind them. She didn’t clarify what she meant, but they all thought the same thing: The KoraKora were coming. Inifra’s plan was to send canoes for them along the river as soon as she found friends along her journey, but memories of the river boiling stood out as foreboding in Marceles’ mind.
Marceles related how his mother had taught him to contain himself, to withstand his fear and resist using his ability to save himself. She shocked and surprised him for the nine months leading up to his enrollment in the scourge. She threw knives into door jams as he entered rooms, lashed out with whips, even pushed him down stairs. If she caught him slowing time she would shake him out of it, and if she couldn’t catch him in the shift she would berate him after. His father did nothing to stop her; in a way they were her prisoners. And then she put exile into the minds of Marceles’ judges, and cast him out of her order.
“Gods, but it’s a miracle I’m alive at all with a mother like Syltra na Tetrarch.” As they faced the unknown threats of the river with the KoraKora behind, his fear was under control. For that at least he had his mother to thank.
The river they discovered was twice as wide as the one they had seen near Graylag. Unfortunately, the rain kept the open skies from view. Marceles wondered at how much the Nanten could drink, though they would find themselves submerged in the occasional flood. He had woken up with water rising over him on more than one occasion. It was enough to make him miss sleeping on the obsidian of the Akari Grasslands.
Entries 158-164 ~ Day 278-284
They discovered a KoraKora scout. Balthandar killed the man before he could blow his horn, which Timber leaped forward to snatch and break on a root. “There is fire in her eyes, a hatred for the KoraKora which blazes far hotter than our own.” They were unable to scout themselves with Dionus blinded by the rain and no Starlark to lurk around the perimeter. Still, neither Dionus nor Marceles felt the use of magic anywhere nearby. The KoraKora did not yet know their location, but there was no true safety in the knowledge.
The KoraKora attacked them the following night, likely an advance party for their size, but they took the companions completely by surprise. The water saved them, slowing the advance of the cannibals, and they were able to fight them off. Timber was snatched away in the fighting, and by the time Marceles caught up to her she had already injured her captor with a hidden knife. It appeared to Marceles that the KoraKora had bitten her, which enraged him at their sheer inhumanity. It also drew out the dread of the unknown, forged by the willingness of the KoraKora to break with the common ties of humanity.
Dionus flew into a rage of his own the following morning, lashing out and cutting down a tree in his fury. Timber stood with him, holding his hand until he had calmed. Marceles didn’t bother pointing out that it would make an obvious sign of their passage. Instead he simply hoped that Inifra’s canoes would arrive sooner than later.
The KoraKora caught up to them again the following day, this time in force. The companions made a stand on a low rise surrounded by deep puddles, fighting to within moments of being overwhelmed. Even Timber drew Balthandar’s Klotian blade and joined the killing. Inifra’s canoes arrived then, providing an escape from the KoraKora onto the open river. Maceles saw him then, the chief of the KoraKora. The tall warrior watched them until the haze of the rain obscured him from view.
The companions suffered a number of wounds, but were able to tend to them on the water. More importantly, they were truly able to rest. The men who piloted the canoes were of high spirits, which remained unhindered, neither by the rain nor by the close encounter with the KoraKora. While one navigated the river, the other bailed water from the long canoe. Nonda was the name of Marceles’ pilot, and he spoke enough of the common tongue to tell them that Inifra had found them a couple of days before and sent them upriver to find the companions. Marceles allowed himself to hope for the moment that their new form of transportation could spirit them away from the KoraKora.
Inspired by Balthandar’s regular fables and stories, Marceles decided to share one of his own. The Goblet of Time was a favorite of his, though one he never shared for fear that it would reveal him for what he was.
The next day they were forced to ground the canoes by the approach of the boiling waters. “Bromnom,” Nonda called it. The boiling water was caused by Bromnom, a fish that fed off the birds and other animals who braved the water. Nonda demonstrated by throwing a bird from their food stores into the water, which instantly began broiling as the fish entered a growing frenzy. Marceles asked how they knew the Bromnom were coming when they did.
“’Like KoraKora, he always send scout. Next time I show you.’”
Entries 165-171 ~ Day 285-291
Marceles expected Inifra back any day, but had seen no signs of her. He knew of all those among them he needed to worry over Inifra the least. He told himself he was concerned for her welfare because she had become one of them, and it was only because of his companions, helpful Nantese along the way, and dumb luck that he was still alive.
He found it humbling that men like Nonda would take them under their protection in such good humor. Marceles did not believe himself capable of such generosity. Without Bantish, Prestorn, Gorung, or Nonda, they would have had a more difficult time of their journey thus far. They would have died.
Nonda and his guides did lose a level of their levity however, which confirmed for Marceles that all was not well with Inifra. Even with the renewed sense of gloom as they traveled, riding in the canoes proved relaxing enough. Timber had made friends with their guides easily enough. Her courage and tenacity were framed in a different form of wisdom, and Marceles noted that it was easy to see why Inifra had chosen to bring her along. Timber was certainly cut from a priestly cloth, whether she knew it yet herself or not. Unfortunately they had heard the horns of the KoraKora that morning, and Marceles knew the cannibals could not be far behind.
The next day came and still provided no sign of Inifra. The guides set a ferocious pace downstream and only said that they must hurry. Marceles reflected on how he wished he could shift time enough to move forward and unravel the mystery before them, but was afraid to do so. Shifting time caused changes, and though he was often tempted to make even more dramatic changes himself, he feared the consequences. The weight of the capability mingled with a sense of responsibility, leaving him vulnerable to the guilt of those who had died around him. But he knew he could shift too far and pass his own death, or lose his connection to the present entirely.
He had met only one other Timeshift in his life, Goldrindal, and he had done precisely that. Just before entering the scourge, his mother had secreted him to a poorhouse in Silverdale where an old Timeshift was kept with the sick and dying. He was trapped in a vortex of ever-shifting time, one that Marceles stepped into when his mother made him take the man’s hand. It was the only time he would ever feel a kinship with another Expressionist, and served as a warning to him of what could happen should he abuse his power.
The next day they found Inifra, unconscious and under the guard of three canoes filled with Nantese warriors. Inifra had exhausted herself, pushing too hard and too fast to reach the Nanten River and return to them. When the warriors pulled her from the water, all she was able to say before collapsing unconscious was “Get me to my friends south. Tell them he made for the falls.” Balthandar disapproved of the increase of Nantese around them, but took personal responsibility for Inifra’s care regardless.
“Dionus asked Nonda if there are many warriors left among the Nantese along the river. Nonda said that all and none are warriors. The Nantese were brave once, but no more. Not in the face of the KoraKora.
Dionus laughed. ‘Perhaps we will have to change that.’”
Knowing they must now make for the falls, Marceles recounted what he knew of the area. Matasten, the capital city of the Nanten Kingdom under the Arbor King, rested upon a hill at the very heart of the jungle. Its towers rose even above the trees of the jungle. The Nanten River split at the foot of the hill upon which the city rose to flow around it and rejoin on the far side. Then the great mystery began as the kingdom fell to coups and civil war. No one knew how, nor who accomplished it, but everything ground to a halt on the day of the collapse.
For one hundred leagues in every direction out from Matasten, the ground simply dropped a few hundred feet. The civil war was thus contained within a ring of sheer cliffs. The depressed area became known to the outside world as the “Great Recess,” while the Nantese called it the “Great Hole.” The Nanten River, which had gathered its strength in the jungle to flow west and then south along the mountains to the sea, reversed its flow. Thus the great Nantese Falls formed over the cliffs, pouring into the Recess at both points where the break in the ground crossed its path.
“Where that water goes is unclear, for though it still encompasses Matasten it does not overflow its banks. As I said, it is one of the great mysteries of the modern world. I cannot wait to see it with my own eyes.”
The KoraKora caught up to them the next day in canoes of their own. They cut through the curtain of the rains in force. Unable to attack from a distance because of the rain, the cannibals sought to close the gap and attack up close. The companions paddled furiously with their hands, attempting to buy as much space as they could, when Nonda spotted signs that the Bromnom were near. Immediately the cry went up on both sides of the chase, and panic took over as the pilots fought for the shore. Nonda waited until the last possible second, correcting his course for the opposite bank once the KoraKora had taken the bait and gone to the west. The few canoes that could still see them made directly for the same bank, but they were not followed as the Bromnom were already thrashing the water farther upstream.
Marceles took the initiative as soon as they made land, leading the small war band south. They fell upon the KoraKora, catching the cannibals completely by surprise, and killed all that had followed them. The Nantese immediately drilled holes in the canoes and kicked what supplies were in them to the frenzied Bromnom in the river. Marceles took them back north, carrying their canoes to try and buy some more distance while they were forced from the river.
The next day the river began overflowing its banks, finally displaying its limits. The KoraKora did not know their destination, they reasoned, and so they debated between multiple paths with which to confuse them. Nonda wished to take them through the jungle itself once the waters were high enough, making a more direct route to the Falls than if they continued straight north. Even then, the shortcut would take them directly to the head of the cataracts that disturbed the river’s path all the way to the Falls. Marceles hoped Inifra would revive by then, knowing they would need her help to safely navigate the waters.
Entries 172-177 ~ Day 292-298
The constant paddling to maintain their speed began to take its toll. Marceles complained of his sore shoulders and tiredness, but these things were overcome with the necessity of speed. “The fear of the KoraKora has been driven into us. Now it drives us.”
That night, when Nonda was certain the KoraKora could not see them nor follow, he guided them into the trees. They were immediately forced to stop using their paddles for speed and instead direct them at the trees. Capsizing suddenly became their greatest concern. “We have entered a gauntlet that never ends.” Thankfully the Nantese among them had torches that could remain alight in spite of the rain, which made it possible to continue. The new travel experience quickly drew Marceles to reassess his hatred of marching.
Inifra’s canoe capsized the following morning, and she was still unconscious when it happened. Marceles dove in immediately to save her, which he said was as foolish as it may have been noble. The current was deceptively strong, whipping them along and nearly crushing them on multiple trees before he was able to grab onto a vine and hold on. Balthandar dragged them both from the water as quickly as he could. Exhaustion on the part of the pilot had caused the loss of two warriors and the supplies they carried. Perhaps most vexing to Marceles, somehow a handful of leeches had managed to find and attach themselves to him during the ordeal.
Inifra finally woke up the next day, too tired to help but able to speak. There was a fishing village that claimed Salisir had made for the Falls after helping them in exchange for supplies. Inifra had exhausted herself in her attempt to return to the companions more quickly, leading Marceles to note that she didn’t seem to know how to properly manage her power.
The KoraKora reappeared in the trees behind them, again attempting to close the gap for an attack. Even when they capsized the canoes of the KoraKora, which was easier for their position in the lead, the danger didn’t end with the cannibals in the water. The KoraKora who could swam to the companion’s canoes and tried to climb in. Dionus knocked a few trees down to slow them, but Marceles realized that running was no longer a viable option. They would have to make a stand at Hamada, the city on the cliffs at the edge of the Falls.
The open river was larger than any Marceles had ever seen. The shadowy presence of the trees was lost entirely to the rain and the sheer distance between them. Traversing the first set of cataracts was like going over rises and falls at a speed no galloping horse could match. They would be hard pressed to keep their canoes aright, even without the KoraKora. Inifra assured them the people of Hamada would stand with them when they arrived.
Entries 178-184 ~ Day 299-305
The KoraKora surrounded them the next day, but were confounded by the violence of the river. Entire canoes were cast into the air by water shooting over stones. “We found ourselves locked in two battles simultaneously, both won or lost on the effort to keep our canoes from capsizing.” The KoraKora tired for the first time, and remained behind the companions even between cataracts. Marceles knew they needed Inifra, who had been able to help enough to keep their losses to only one canoe. But it wasn’t enough.
“There is no swimming here. No returning to your canoe or grasping hold of another. Once you are in the water, you are dead.”
Finally Inifra did regain some strength, and opted to use it in a dash for Hamada. There, she promised, she could rally the people to stand against the KoraKora as they landed. There were too many to fight on the river. As the KoraKora kept their distance, the opportunity seemed right.
The next day, Inifra’s decision paid off. Nearly a hundred armed citizens of Hamada waited on the docks and successfully repelled the KoraKora as they approached. They killed half, Marceles figured, while the rest were left to drift over the Falls to their death. There hadn’t been more than a few hundred KoraKora, the rest apparently lost to the violence of the river. The companions barely had to fight, and were able to take solace in what appeared to be the final appearance of the KoraKora. Marceles noted the chief had not been among them.
They were well received, well fed, and left to sleep on solid ground in peace.
The locals of Hamada had their own stories of Salisir’s demise. He had used Hamada as a base of operations for his raids on bandits, whose leaders he assassinated in exchange for goods, but then disappeared some ten years back. Some said Salisir died on one such mission, while others said he died after entering the Great Hole, and yet more said he died in a skirmish on the banks of the river.
What shocked Marceles was that the people spoke of Salisir with familiarity, and how they recognized the mark of the Tetrarch on his armor. They showed it deference.
“He was clearly in no hurry to reach Matasten. Whatever he found to preoccupy himself kept him moving at an almost lazy pace. In the last six months we have managed to catch him up significantly. We covered ten years, half of his exile to date, in six months. It makes me wonder if it will take another six to find his body.”
They needed more clues before they could continue, but Marceles felt that Matasten must have been Salisir’s ultimate goal. Whether or not he ever reached it alive.
Marceles found Hamada fascinating. Built along the fault line of the Great Recess, half of it had fallen into the open space below known as the Broken Circle. That space covered a few miles until the jungle began suddenly, as if it had never been disturbed by the drop. The people of Hamada were kind, and showed them great hospitality while Inifra moved among them both in search of clues and ministering to their needs. They found themselves at peace, even the rains no longer bothering Marceles. However doubts about the KoraKora began to surface in his mind, disbelieving the KoraKora could have found enough canoes to launch their entire force.
While Dionus and Balthandar were happy to be on dry ground and under a roof, a new sadness had come over Inifra. Marceles sensed a new reluctance to her, with new reservations.
The next day the rain stopped, suddenly and completely, followed immediately by unbroken sunshine. Marceles could see out over the Broken Circle to the trees beyond, trees he never imagined he would stand above. Ruins of Hamada’s other half lay below, obscured under ground which appeared to have been churned, picked up, and dropped in massive chunks. Some small trees grew on the unbroken portions of the land below, but most was bare, defined by jagged rents and cracks.
Dionus spent much of the day standing out on a pillar that lay toppled and hanging over the edge of the cliffs. Balthandar seemed attached to Timber, watching over her as she made friends with the local children. Marceles spent his time interviewing locals, trying to gain clues to Salisir’s last destination. It seemed he had gone north, crossing the bridge over the Falls to a village standing just west of the cliffs. It marked the location of another city, one of Hamada’s trading partners. They had not been so lucky when the collapse came.
It seemed the most likely direction as they interviewed more people, and though Marceles found himself drawn directly towards Matasten he knew he needed to continue following Salisir.
“One more good night’s sleep, I feel, and I will be ready for our trek across this bridge and back into the jungle. My sleeping mat, the one final luxury I have from home, is so frayed that it seems worthless. Strangely, though I have always carried a mat upon which to sleep, I no longer unroll this one as frequently as I used to. I think I may leave it here in Hamada when we go.”
Before they could leave news arrived that the KoraKora had been spotted in the east. They were preparing to raid the fishing village that had offered Inifra information. Inifra gathered what she had to make the journey up the river, one that only she could make with enough haste. Dionus stepped forward and volunteered to go with her. When she refused, he looked to Marceles who nodded his consent. The people needed to be saved if it was possible. Inifra needed to come back to them.
There was nothing Marceles could do to help them or intervene on their behalf. “I will stay out here until the sun sets. I am not a man of prayer, but tonight I beg gods both Dread and Swift to steady the hand and guard the heart of both Dionus and Inifra.”
Entries 185-188 ~ Day 306-312
With no news from the east, Marceles continued to wait impatiently. The knowledge that the KoraKora had mounted an attack on the village meant that it was possible they had divided their forces. “Gods, but I’m such a fool! For all I know there is another army moving this way even as I write.”
Even if the warriors of Hamada proved capable of defending their home, one hundred of them could not withstand one thousand bloodthirsty KoraKora. Even with Marceles and Balthandar in their midst. He knew they needed to begin preparing defenses, just in case.
Still no news came the following day. The rains rolled through for an hour in the morning. Marceles set himself to selecting a defensible position and reinforcing it. They chose the northeastern corner of the city, dominated by the city’s largest hall which offered natural defenses on two sides (the river and the cliffs) plus the added benefit of an escape route over the bridge north. Marceles knew they could no longer flee. Hamada was their best and last opportunity to stand against the KoraKora. Timber helped rally more help, and they began dismantling other buildings to create roadblocks in layers south and west of the hall.
A flood of refugees into Hamada told them what they feared: the KoraKora were moving against Hamada. Worse than news of the destruction they wrought in their path was that of their numbers: thousands of KoraKora descended upon them now with their chief at their head. The assault on the fishing village was no punishment, but a diversion. The chief of the KoraKora had successfully removed Marceles’ two most powerful companions in the defense of another village, and now Marceles stood exposed before him. There were no other Expressionists in Hamada to help. Marceles steeled himself, prepared to use his ability again if he must to save the city.
Read the rest from here. Summarizing the end seems like so little fun.