The Fifth Path (6/30)

The First Draft of the Autobiography of Baal Uras, Soon to be 28th King of the True Land

Running Title: The Birth of a Ruler: Forged in the Crucible of the False Lands

Composed Nisanu 26th In the 59th Year of Baal Shamas

Chapter 5: The Green Sea

My decision had been made. The only thing left was to put it into effect. On the morning of the 16th, before we were to board the vessel which would take us once again across the waves and to a new land, I spoke to my companions in this journey. I thanked our guide, a young woman, who, despite her age, had saved all our lives a dozen times over. I gave her the agreed upon amount, as well as a considerable bonus. I even went so far as to give her a letter, drafted in my own hand, giving her permission to visit the true land, something that only a precious few residents of the false world had ever been blessed to receive. And then, I told her that she could not join us on our quest further. I explained that the journey of Awakening was one to be walked by three, and no more. Others may join for a time, but all must be temporary save those three.

I could see my Scholar open his mouth to argue. Truly I knew what he would say, that the declaration of three only applied to those of the true land, that one more leg of our journey of a year was hardly the whole thing. And truth be told, I agreed with him. I knew my argument to be a weak one. I knew that the girl’s skills would be valuable indeed, even in a land she knew not as well as the desert. Still, I silenced my Scholar with a look, allowing him not a single word. He had forced my hand. Perhaps I had forced my own. But now, I had not choice, and the girl could not join us. The girl was stricken. While she put forth a brave face, I had been trained in the reading of faces since youth, and I could see her feelings of betrayal and sadness. I felt truly low in that moment, wondering if I made my choice for reasons of pride and stubbornness. But when I turned my gaze from the girl to my Scholar, I knew my choice had been correct.

While my Scholar’s face too contained those same emotions, shock, betrayal, sadness, there was one thing there as well that was the true cause of this decision. That other feeling, that other thing visible in his face as he turned first to the girl, then to look at me, was rebellion. That it had got this far was my fault alone, but so it was. My companion thought to reject my decision, the decision of his Baal. This could not be allowed. It is the job of those that serve to help and assist, to provide different perspectives. They can explain and suggest, discuss problems and point out mistakes, but ultimately, once the decision was made, they must submit. While I learned much early in these travels about following the advice of my companions and advisers, it soon became clear I had gone too far. They began to think my decisions inconsequential, my choices something to be changed with argument, not something to respect and consider. I allowed myself to be swayed too many times, and in doing so I lost the respect of my servants. Looking at my final companion, and seeing even in her, a hint of dissatisfaction, of belief that my decision was wrong, I understood how deeply I had erred before. The path of a Baal is truly a razor wire.

Before any more damage could be done, I commanded my Guardian, with a flick of my eyes, to deal with my Scholar. Before he could do anything that he might regret, and I might be forced to respond to harshly, she took his arm gently but firmly. She looked him in the eyes, and the pair stepped away. This of course left me with the only member of my party in which I had not seen a hint of disrespect, who had accepted my decision as final, despite obviously not liking it. The only member of my party I was sending away. Perhaps her arguments earlier in the palace had been overly strong, perhaps she should not have been quite so extreme in her thoughts about us going through the desert alone again, but can I truly blame her? She knows not our culture. She knew only that the best way to protect her companions and friends was to get us into a caravan. Had I been wiser and considered that course originally, perhaps it would not have come to this. But it had. The others had leaped to her side, and I had given in, and while it had been the right choice, the way of the argument had left me looking weak and stupid. And in the time since then, I had noticed changes, noticed a difference in how I was talked to. That argument, combined with my previous penchant for accepting the advice of my companions over my own initial thoughts had sparked a thought in there mind. It had poisoned them to rebellion, and before that poison could spread, I had to cut it off. I made the decision to cast out the woman who then stood before me, and it was the fault of all but her.

I thanked her again. I was more specific, describing the feats of bravery she had performed and wise choices she had made. I welcomed her to visit the true land, and I told her that I hope our paths might cross again. I think perhaps I made her feel a little better. We embraced for a moment, something not common in either of our cultures, as far as I understand, but seemingly appropriate in that moment. I suggested perhaps she might want to spend a little time with the others before we left, telling her that the boat was not leaving for another few hours. She nodded and left. I boarded the boat. I spoke with the captain for a while, then retired to the cot I thought of as my own below deck. I rested then, wondering if perhaps my companions would become a companion. Had I acted to late, and truly lost my Scholar? There was precedent for desertion and death of companions on an Awakening, but I had never thought it might happen to me and mine. I wondered if the journey would be possible without a Scholar. I knew I would have to try. To return with an Awakening unfinished was allowed, but it meant failure. I would never be allowed to rule, and indeed my title of Baal would be all but gone, with no real weight behind it. The thought of my twin and my younger brothers in such a case was more than I could bear. I resolved then that I would journey on with zero companions if that was what it took. I would sooner perish or be stranded in the false world forever then return a failure, unable to take the throne.

I tried to sleep a little, but my mind was too active, my worries too immediate. Instead I retrieved the gifts and signed agreements I had received from the Hashim rulers. I studied the crown they had given me, a different gemstone for each of the four elements they worshiped. It was beautifully made, but ultimately the product of a heathen religion. I could never wear it back in the true lands of Bel. Should I truly carry it for an entire year then, and return it to the true land, only for it to be melted down or cast away? To throw away the gift of another ruler however seemed unnatural, disrespectful. I put the crown down, and turned my gaze to the agreements signed. For those of you who know not, a typical Awakening is complete after a month’s time, but also after reaching new agreements with at least three false world powers.

While it might seem strange that I had only managed one in almost the full time allotted to a normal sojourner, the expectations were different for one such as I, who walks the Fifth Path. I only need to sign five agreements with nations, but they must be ones unvisited since the last walker of the Fifth Path. There are nations close by the true world who are, in the eyes of the Baal, almost neighbors. It is a well traveled path one walks when they are visited. Though it might be years between visits, still those visits are prescribed. For me, I must walk further and travel longer to get even one. It has been almost a century since the last Baal spoke with the rulers of this Hashim island. This event was historic. This signed slip of paper, and these flowery words represented a contract between nations unseen by living eyes. And our journey would take us even further. Our next destination was the last stop for my ancient counterpart, the previous walker of the Fifth Path. After that we would be traveling further than any true man had in more than five centuries. I shivered then, overcome by the sheer scope of our travels. When I returned home, my tale would be told for generations.

This thought however, brought me back to my current predicament. It was the planning and daring of the very servant who I was now waiting for that had put such bold journey in motion. While certainly my own ambition had been a deciding factor, without the knowledge of my Scholar, and indeed without his belief in the possibility of making such a journey, we would not be traveling now, only a month into a year long voyage, to the very edge of the known world. In another month we would be going to places that were no more than myths to the people of the true world of Bel. I had asked around in the capital city, and even to these people of the false world, our final destination was all but legend. I wanted to make this journey. I wanted to forge a legend. But all that now rested on the decision of a Hishtu man I had that very hour seen be moments away from open rebellion. So I waited restlessly. I could take no comfort in the trophies of my victory thus far, for they were but a reminder of that which I had yet to accomplish, and that which hung in the balance. I allowed time to pass. I listened intently for the sound of incoming footfalls and the muffled noise of conversation. After a period of time entirely too long for my taste, I heard what I was waiting to hear. I heard steps, and I heard my two companions talking softly. I waited a minute or two to avoid seeming overeager, then I walked up from this undersea chamber.

I looked first at my Guardian. In her eyes I saw naught but quiet sadness and loyalty. She nodded at me. The questioning was gone from her mind. She had accepted my decision. I lingered a little overlong on her face. I must admit, with shame, that in that moment I was afraid to see what I might in the face of my other companion. What might I see there? He had returned, which was something, yet would he still be a rebel? Would I have to make another example later, feel these feelings again? I steeled myself and turned to look him in the eyes. I was surprised by what I saw.

I saw no respect for my authority. I saw a belief that my decision had been wrong. I even saw a hint of resentment. But, more than that, I saw conviction. While this Hishtu might not wish to follow me, and may believe me incompetent even, he was committed to the journey. He would follow orders and do his best, because he had something I had honestly never thought I would see in a Hishtu, let alone a Hishtu Scholar. This man was filled with ambition. It had not been only my ambition that had fueled this journey. He too had a drive to explore and to reach the end of this Path. His loyalty was too the mission, and not too me, but after a moment of thought, I knew that was enough. To expect true loyalty in every citizen was more than any Baal could expect. Would I have received years of training on how to rule through both respect and fear, if both had not been needed? He would do his job, and he would follow orders, and he would drive us to the completion of this journey. We both nodded at each other, an understanding of his place. By casting away the girl I had sacrificed his goodwill toward me. But by continuing on despite that, he had sacrificed any illusion he was not committed to the journey. His commitment need never be questioned again. It was enough. Perhaps I could earn again his respect, and perhaps even his friendship, but for now, what we had was enough. We cast off a few minutes later. The girl, Hadia watched us go. My Scholar watched her and waved until she was no longer visible. We were on the open water again.

The journey from this island to the next step on our journey was meant to take three days. It took six instead. The sea was not kind in those days. My Protector was no more able to deal with the rocking of the ship than she had been last time, and the storms and large waves were much worse than before. Even I was not immune to the tossing and the rocking. I felt ill indeed. I began to suspect that my Scholar had not been truly recovered when we left the capital, for while he exhibited the symptoms of seasickness, it seemed as though he had something of his old delusions as well, calling out sometimes and acting strangely a few too many times. The only one on the ship at full strength was our captain. Despite the sickly look that his skin gave him, the man was an unbreakable iron chain. He leaped from place to place. He fixed leaks, kept the boat going, avoided waves, watched out for land, and generally kept us all alive.

It seemed so strange to me that the heroes of this journey would be false landers, that the those from the true land of Bel would be so helpless in the face of the many trials of the false world. I was glad indeed for the competence of our captain, but after being kept alive by first the Hashim girl, and now this pale, ghost of a man, the world didn’t seem to make quite as much sense as it had a month ago. What was so “true” about those of us from the true land, if we needed the people of the false world to keep us alive? It was thoughts such as these that filled my head even as I did my best to help the captain and did my best not to vomit all over the ground of the boat or my companions. I had never yet encountered in my life storms such as those we passed through, even on the relative safety of land. That they happened while we were in a tiny wooden vessel miles from the embrace of land made it worse. Had I not needed to consider my appearance and inspire those around me, I might very well have broken down from fear in those days. Little did I know then what would face me but a few days later.

Those six days of terrible storms ended at last, and our boat, bedraggled and battered, crawled its way to the harbor of our destination. Or at least that was the plan. Instead, on that sixth day, something made our captain suspicious. Before we landed at the port, we put up anchor a distance away. The captain left me in charge of the boat and my two, less than well companions, and swam to shore, planning to check out the town we were to dock in. A few tense hours later he returned, bearing news most dire. It seemed that, while we could dock here, our chances of leaving once we did so were slim. It seemed that Agaan extremists had largely taken over this island, which had long leaned in that direction, but never to such an extent as now. All those who came to the island were forced to convert or be imprisoned then enslaved as some sort of indoctrination program. We managed to wake my Scholar from his delirious slumber long enough to hold an impromptu meeting. We looked at our supplies, our possible destinations, and looked at maps and sea charts. The captain had a vested interest in selling a large chunk of goods he had stowed in the ship. We of course hoped to continue our journey, reach another kingdom that I might hold council with its rulers.

We all made suggestions. We charted paths, looked at tide charts. Various suggestions were made. There were few good options. Many of the close islands had a good chance of having been taken over by the Agaan extremists as well, and we would not be able to take a third trip, our supplies being far too low. We could turn back, but no one wanted to do that because our captain couldn’t sell his stuff, and we would be moving backwards on our journey. In the end, it was my Scholar who made the suggestion that we followed, though I cannot deny that I pushed hard once the suggestion was made. The captain looked grim when it was suggested, and there was a bit of harsh discussion, but after looking at it from all the angles, it seemed our best shot. We would cross the Green Sea.

You can, gentle reader, be excused if you have never heard of the Green Sea. Truly who from the true land has any need to know of its existence. But for those who live close by to it, it is a name to be avoided and feared. A section of ocean separating a number of major islands, its existence is a barrier in the sea which has shaped the fate of nations and turned the tide of wars. It is ocean like any other part, but growing up from underneath is a forest of kelp and seaweed, plants which live deep in the ocean. In the Green Sea however, these plants are everywhere, and their tendrils reach up to the surface of the water. This might not seem so dangerous, but the kelp is sticky. It clings to boats that go through, and while one tendril is nothing compared to the force which moves a boat, a thousand is more dangerous, and even when you break some, the broken bits cling on, connecting and clinging to more kelp and weighing your ship down. All but the most prepared end up trapped in this undersea forest, unable to move their boats at all. And trying to get down to cut the tendrils is incredibly dangerous. The forest provides food to millions and billions of fish, and these fish attract predators. The Green Sea is perhaps the section of ocean most dense with life. Anything that goes in the water has perhaps seconds before it is noticed by some predatory fish or shark.

Straight through the Green Sea was the only direction which satisfied all our needs, not liable to get us enslaved by extremists, but allowing us to continue the journey. Little was known about the cultures that lived on the other side of the Green Sea. It was possible to go all the way around the Green Sea and visit those places, but that was a long journey indeed. In effect the Green Sea was a divider, an artificial extension of space. Though it might only be a day across at its thinnest places if it was empty of the seaweed, it might as well be a year across. Going through was not suicide, not completely. Traders did it. A small number made it through each year. But most didn’t. Most died, there ships trapped in the endless expanse of green, usually leaping from their ships into the waiting predators instead of waiting to die of dehydration and starvation on-board their vessels. How do I know all of this you might ask? Is this all just passed on from the mouths of my Scholar, and the ship’s captain? In this case no. When I was a young man, my uncle returned from his own Awakening. His last stop had brought him in site of the Green Sea. He told me its tale. I was fascinated. The ocean always interested me, and the idea of this endless patch of sea, barely explored, teaming with life seemed so magical to the young boy that I was. I became obsessed, researching it as best I could. I read every book on the subject, and even managed to have an expert from the false world brought in as a special tutor for a short time. So when my Scholar suggested we pass through this place from my youthful dreams, I might be excused if I was a little biased towards that suggestion.

Our ship was well suited to the voyage. It was smooth and well made. There was little to catch or cling to. It was small enough that it sat low in the water, but heavy enough that its mass could tear and pull. And we had the “engine”. This was our big advantage. The engine was a relatively new invention and their was speculation that it would be powerful enough to tear through the Green Sea’s foliage. Some had tried. None knew yet if they had succeeded. We had a shot, which was more than we could say for our other options. Needless to say, I was incredibly excited. The thought of facing down the Green Sea was sufficient to pull me out of my seasick funk. I moved with energy, helping the ship captain with what I could, as we moved away from our initial destination and towards a place much more exciting.

It took us the rest of the day, and half of the next to reach the edge of the Green Sea. We waited a little before entering. It felt momentous. Eventually we just entered. The seaweed made a sort of slurping sound as we did so. The Sea is less dense at the edges, and becomes more dense as you get deeper in, so, at the beginning, it was smooth sailing. At least kinda. We wanted to be careful, so we used long poles with spikes on the end to dislodge seaweed from the side every hour or so. It was the accumulation that got dangerous. If we could keep it from getting to the critical point, we should do OK. That was the theory anyways. Our first day in the green mass ended with no problems. The captain and I swapped out sailing the ship during the night, keeping the angle steady, and removing seaweed every hour. When the sun rose, we had made a lot of progress. According to the maps we had, which were admittedly, not so great for the Green Sea, we should make it through in two and a half days at our current pace. It was getting tougher though. We started clearing the weeds every half an hour.

In the end we made it another half day before we became stuck. We managed to get our self free with an hour or so of scraping, but another hour later and we were stuck again. Almost half way through, but we couldn’t seem to go any further. It seemed we hadn’t had what it took to make it through the Green Sea. On a brighter note, the slower progress of the boat, and the stabilizing effect of the seaweed meant that my companions recovered. Unfortunately they recovered into a scenario out of a nightmare. We were trapped. Our supplies were low. The clouds were darkening. Plans were made and scrapped. My Protector wanted to jump down below the boat with a knife and cut us out manually. We sacrificed a few fish from our supply to demonstrate why that was not a good idea. My Scholar pointed out we would not go hungry. We could fish easily, and according to my Scholar, many varieties of seaweed were quite edible. This left only the matter of water. The captain piped up with a complicated scheme involving water catchment. Apparently we could turn the salt water of the ocean into drinkable water. It relied on either sunlight or fire however, so if the clouds stayed, we would eventually run out of fuel, but still, it seemed as though we might be able to live on the boat indefinitely. We looked at each other, contemplating how we felt about that. The odds of another boat finding us were slim, but perhaps possible. We agreed that our best bet for the moment was to stick tight, survive, and try and think of a better plan.

That night was one of the strangest of my life. We told stories. We talked of our hopes and fears. Somehow the thought of living together on a boat for the rest of our lives, brought us all together. The mood was light, yet tinged with a certain amount of fatalism. I think I learned a lot about my companions and myself that night. After the strange night together, we all slept. I noticed that the eyes of the captain, and even my Scholar fell upon my Protector a bit too long before we slept. The prospect of living together indefinitely on this boat gave one a different sort of perspective about certain things. My mind did not go to that place that night, but perhaps if time had passed, and we had remained trapped it would have in time. In the end, however, we were rescued from our fate by either god or the devil.

I can not truly describe the experience of the next day. I say truly that either Bel or the Monster must have taken a personal interest in our affairs that day. When we awoke, it was still as dark as night. The clouds twisted above us, black and billowing. Lightning flashed in the distance, and the low sound of thunder could be heard. And yet no rain fell upon us, and the wind was gentle. It was so calm. When the captain woke, and looked around, his face became almost a caricature of terror. He looked almost unhinged. He began shouting for us to tie everything down. Anything we wanted to keep should be stowed in the deepest part of the ship, everything crammed tight as could be. He started taking down the sail. We were confused, but complied, trusting his expertise. When everything that could be stowed was stowed, including the sails of the ship, and even the steering wheel, which the captain detached and put below deck, the captain gathered a large section of rope, and proceeded to tie all of us together, then tie us to the center mast. This seemed too ridiculous to be useful, but one look in his eyes and I knew there was no use in arguing. His knots were complicated, but he explained that by pulling on different parts of the ropes we could change how loose or tightly we were together, and how close we were to the mast. It was pretty ingenious. I still did not entirely understand the purpose of all this, but a few moments later I did.

In scale there is nothing I can compare it to. I have heard tales of something called mountains, like hills but reaching up, taller than the clouds. If these mythical mountains are half as large as the thing which appeared before us, they would be impressive indeed. It was a column of water. It was filled with seaweed and water, and it reached upward forever. It was wider than an island. It was incredibly, indescribably, impossibly large. It was the hand of foot of some god or another. It is impossible that such a thing was created by nature alone. Only the dreams of Anshur, driven to madness by the wickedness of the Monster could have conceived of such a thing. As it pulled the very ocean into the sky, the sea began to empty, the ocean became a bowl, with this impossible twisting column of death in the center. We were on the lip of the bowl and we tipped, then fell. We fell, the entire ship, whistling through the air. In that moment, I saw the forest of seaweed, the water pulled away. It was a mile of green strands all wound around each other. It looked like a mop of hair for the planet. We crashed bounced off the ocean, sailing through the air towards the great twisting, god thing in the center. The seaweed had been ripped from our boat by a force unmatchable. We fell into the thing in the center. We were pulled up into the sky by a force made by god. I don’t know what happened after that.

I have something like memories of that time. These memories are unlike any others I have. Still images, showing the earth from heights I shall never reach again. Views from inside the twisting column of wind and wave. The faces of my companions, barely visible through the walls of seaweed and water which pass around and through us. I can remember the feeling of being encased in water, surrounded in seaweed, pressed and pulled by winds moving faster than any living thing. It was an experience.

We survived. We ended up on the far side of the Green Sea. The Sea itself is torn and crushed behind us. The captain says he can see land with his spyglass. My mind, in this time can do not but record. I had survived the Green Sea, and I had survived the fist of god.


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