I am in a small town by a great river, called Kreuzhofen. The coins those men gave me a few towns back when they were pleased by my Spirit Dancing are almost gone. There is only one inn here, and it's full anyway. So I can afford to eat at the inn, and I made camp at the edge of town, near the woods. My tent and bedroll are perfectly comfortable to me, and I hate crowds.
I walked a long time to get here. Tanis has not spoken to me in a long time, and I wonder if I've gone wrong somehow. Every day, I play the complex drum rhythms old Vladimir taught me. I dance the steps his daughter Ivanna showed me, because he was too old to perform them himself. I lose myself in the Spirit Trance, and have spoken with many spirits. But Tanis has become silent.
Home was much different than than these Imperial lands, but then it was different from Kislev proper, too. Still, there are plenty of cool woods that remind me a little of home, even if they don't have the same sense of agelessness, of majesty, and of the spirits that live deep within.
I was a young girl when I realized I how little I could see at night compared to my friends and fellow villagers. Eventually, as old Vladimir taught me the ways of the spirits, I heard Tanis, and he told me that he clouds my vision each night. He wants something from me, but his voice was always faint at best, and I have never heard what he wants.
I grew up in a privileged position, and my parents are much honored. As daughter of my mother and a forest spirit, I am close to the spirits. Vladimir started training me as shaman when I was still a little girl. When old Vladimir died, I became our villager's shaman, over Ivanna. She could have hated me for taking what would have been her position, but she honors the spirits and her father, and she loved me instead.
She cried when I left. But I had to leave: Tanis's voice was clear that one night, when the whole village sat around the fire on Genhan's eve and we breathed the smoke of the sacred sage. I must find Tanis, must discover what he wants, and then perhaps I can ease his way onward and I will be free of him.
And so I packed my gear and my small travelling drum, and began walking in the direction Tanis pointed to me: west, through Kislev and toward Imperial lands.
Kislev was unfriendly to me. They do not understand the ways of the spirits, which of course is why my ancestors long ago quit their so-called civilization and established the network of villages against the great woods that the Kislevites are so afraid of.
The Empire was something else again. I am exotic here, and although some are frightened by the aura of the spirits that hovers around me, others are drawn to me. I've never spent a night alone when I didn't want to.
I dallied longer than I meant with one man, just across the imperial border. Kent was a well-traveled merchant, and was in that town for business. He was attentive and a skilled lover, and he taught me the Imperial language when we weren't busy with other things. The spirits came to my aid, and I learned quickly. After a month, we went our separate ways. I to continue west and south, and he west and north, to return to his wife and children in Albion. I wished him well, and requested that the spirits watch over him.
I've seen other spirits on my travels, although none of the elusive wood spirits that live in the great forest at home. They are very different, and I have been shy about approaching them. Not one has shown any interest in me at all.
I've been camping near Kreuzhofen now for three days. I spent three days dancing, drumming, and meditating almost constantly, only stopping to sleep. Still, Tanis was silent. This morning, I walked into town, and finally, Tanis showed me a sign!
I looked all around me, and saw the road that came into town from the Yetsin Valley. Just then, a scarlet bird flew up from the brush and spiralled up over the road. As he flew his little circles, a person came into view, followed by three others. He flew away, over the lead person's head, and I saw a warrior woman, dressed in scarlet and orange and yellow, bright like the bird!
This is an easy sign to read: I must follow this woman, and she will lead me where I need to go to help Tanis.
She is exotic, and obviously not Imperial. I immediately reckoned her to be from somewhere far out east. Her clothing looks to be fine silks in reds, oranges, and yellows. Intricate embroidery also proclaims her status and wealth: she is no ordinary farmer's wife, for certain. She is small, several inches shorter than me. Beneath the flowing, silky layers, she seems delicate. But she moves with the strength and grace of a predator, which the swords at either hip proclaim her to be. A hideous scar stretches the length of the left side of her face, and she disdains covering the empty eye socket with a bit of cloth. No, she wears her scar proudly, for the world to see and judge her worth by. Her remaining eye has that something in it that tells you she has killed, and will again. But I also sense compassion from her, and perhaps a strongly felt duty to those weaker than herself. She is lovely, even with the scar -- no, the scar somehow enhances her, revealing a little of the true spirit we all hide deep within ourselves. I feel no attraction for her, though, beyond that the spirits have directed that I follow her. She is too foreign, too other. Too cold. And scary.
There are three who follow her. One is young, perhaps barely considered a man and not a boy, and he follows her closely, doing little things for her without her asking. A servant, then, and one who serves her because he wants to, not because he must. The second is harder to read. Here is one who has fought the will of the spirits, and is struggling still. He also has an aura of care and compassion for those around him. He is more open than the woman he follows, though. Both men appear to be imperials. The third looks like a youth, perhaps 17 years old, but he has the hard eyes of a professional soldier. He is another, like the woman, who knows what it means to take another's life. He is also one of the better-looking men I've seen in a long time. Tempting.
I spent enough time in the inn to hear their plans: they are taking a barge to Marigliano, in Tilea, and then a ship to Luccini. A ship waits for her there, to take her back home to Nippon. I don't know why Tanis needs me in Nippon, but I will go.
Thank you, oh spirits, for your guidance, for your help, for your kind regard. I will help those of you who need it, and I will do your bidding, as I am one of you.