30th of Tredecimbra, 739AP
Despite my extensive travels, my readers may be surprised to note that this was indeed my first ever trip down to the southernmost reaches of continent Atlúma. After departing the small town of Karattra yesterday – a relief as my host family was a particularly tense lot, claiming their town was on the eve of battle with a neighboring tribe, or some codswallop – we made our way down a beaten footpath amid the rolling hills of that region. Eventually we came upon a straw hut, where a large, sinewy fellow came striding out shirtless. He did not speak our tongue with any casual finesse, but he managed remarkably well, accepting our coins happily in exchange for guiding us down the river.
He took us down a path behind his hut that carved around great mounds of purest green in the land. When I strayed to step upon them, for they appeared manmade, our guide would huff and fuss and, by the crook of my arm, drag me back down. I attempted this thrice, and on my third try he threatened to stop taking us. He did not have the words to describe the mounds significance, so my prodding here was useless.
Walking up a steep hill, we eventually found our way to its ridge, and, expecting to begin a steady descent down its southern slope, we were surprised to find it simply dropped off. The cliff face was sharp, and below we saw the very start of the Shattrakani forest. Indeed, Blarney and I had finally found ourselves in Shattrakan. The treacherous beauty of it all from up on high was diminished when our guide, Waky by name, attempted his hand at humor. He laughed diabolically as he mimed pushing us off the ledge and into the jungle below us.
After his gag was up, Waky took us to a place where wooden steps were built into the cliff face, which proved a most precarious descent. Upon finally finding ourselves below the canopy of the jungle, we could not ignore the potent humidity, thicker here than even the dankest days in Covetown had been. I suddenly sympathized with Waky’s shirtless state, and though I wished to do likewise, I merely removed my tunic. The pages of my journal absorbed much of the moisture, warping and pushing away from one another. I must remember to find a Fumarin anomalurgist who knows a thing or two about removing the damp, before mold sets in.
We found the river at the base of a hidden waterfall, which released its water from an underground river flowing out of the hillside. Brilliant. I had not seen such a thing in many a travel, and certainly not one so fine. Like a drainpipe it gushed its whitewater, spraying the air with a cool mist that somehow relieved our sweat-covered brows. Waky showed us where the boats were kept. Hundreds lined the river, each with its own unique markings, perhaps the names of its owners in the Shattrakani tongue. We walked a ways, over root and moist soil, making sure not to trip on the ropes which tied the boats to land. Waky showed us his boat, a blue vessel I was pleased to find, as this was made from the blue trees only found in this portion of the known world.
It took a bit of wiggling to get comfortable in the vessel, and Blarney nearly didn’t make the trip, what with his fat bottom and all. But we pushed off, our guide’s oars pushing gently through the wake.
It was early in the day, just after noon, when we caught our first glimpse of the fabled blue trees of the Shattrakani Peninsula. Marvelous, tall things. Skinnier than I had previously imagined. The base of the trees were no wider than the circumference of my leg, but they expanded as they grew up and out. The leaves, still wet with dew, shimmered a blueish green and hung low. The most remarkable part about them, as I had not known this until now, was that they grew in pairs of three. The hajta trees, as Waky liked to call them, grew together in a perfectly equilateral triangle. Some grew closer together, others were several stafflengths apart, but they always made up triangles in seemingly 60° angles, in proportion to one another.
I had to get a closer look. I stopped Waky several times on our journey downstream, making sure that he stopped on the bank so that I and Blarney could get closer looks at different examples of the hajta trees.* Even hajta seedlings, sprouting like no more than blue twigs from the ground, grew in pairs of three. It was something truly breathtaking.
We also witnessed an incredible breadth of wildlife and game. The birds this day were of particular note, those which made especially ludicrous sounds and mating calls. The large black eye of the colorful marqueep stared us down intently as we drifted along. The wings of the rathtalon beat viciously as we entered its territory, but besides giving us a quick fright it did not bother us.
The river rounded a long bend, almost a full 180°, to the point where it felt we were going back up north, but it corrected itself after a time. We eventually came to a clearing in the canopy layer, where the sun beat down at us imperiously. We were almost grateful to resume the humid shadows the jungle offered us.
Several hours after noon Blarney dozed off, snoring away as he does, fool man. We came upon our first encampment that looked inhabited. And it certainly was inhabited. Children came running out of their huts and out from under their root holes wearing naught but rags. The women of the tribe spared no thought into garbing their breasts, and the men but stared at us, weapons bared at their first site of swarthy men. Cautiously, we floated onto the bank, hands raised high, so that they knew we meant the tribe no harm.
*I’ve attached several drawings to the following pages so that you may get a better glimpse at the hajta trees remarkable growth patterns.