The Fifth Path (10/30)

Anatu’s Diary Entry for Aru 4th

Dear diary, I am afraid I lied to you in my last bit of writing. Or rather I left out something big and important. I told you of the fight with the rat creatures, and of my dressing of the wounds of Baal Uras, but then I ended the story, acting as if I simply watched, then went to sleep with no more notable events. There were very notable events, and while I thought perhaps it was not good to write them down, I feel that they are such a significant part of my story, that I must do so, or I am afraid I will stop writing to you, dear diary, like I did when I worked at the palace and could not write all. And so I shall tell you, my diary, but you must be sworn to secrecy, for the dignity and good name of both myself and my Baal would be ruined completely should this story be released to the people of the real land, or even to the other companions on this journey. How then to begin?

I suppose I’ll start with some subtle signs, before it became completely obvious. My Baal, as we moved through the unpronounceable land, first the city, and then the trails outside it began spending more of his time gazing at, first women in general, and then, after I dove to protect him from what turned out to be a child’s toy, specifically me. My Baal has always been absolutely chaste from what I have seen, having the respectful manner of one that knows that their marriage will be arranged and decided based on political matters later in life, and thus is divorced from the day to day interactions between those of opposite genders. But for some reason, perhaps the unseemly clothing of the people of this unpronounceable land, or some realization made during our time in the “Green Sea” or after seeing the hand of Bel, he seemed to have given up that chaste nature, and seemed to be seeing women for the first time, with all the awkwardness and distant looks typically associated with teenagers experiencing this same first surge of emotions. I thought it strange, but mostly blamed it on the sleeveless garment that I wore, and the stress of the last few days. I assumed it would pass, and I thought it inappropriate to comment.

It was obvious that the young Baal was having trouble with this new interest in the opposite sex, and found himself unable to meet my gaze, which I thought adorable, but harmless. These new thoughts obviously were distracting him, for the young Baal was, during our day of walking, repeatedly tripping. Not wanting him to hurt himself, I stayed close by to make sure he did not fall, but I must admit that I found something of this new attention flattering, and I might have stood a bit too close, touched him before he truly needed my help. I’m sure my actions did not help his condition, but I found the situation somewhat amusing, and I couldn’t help but want to get back at him a little based on the decision about Hadia, which, while I understood, still felt cruel in my mind. So we talked through the day, seeing the sights I described in my last entry, dear diary, and I think the mind of my young Baal became more and more affected as the day continued on. As the day ended, and we set up the tents, I noticed a visible reaction to the realization that we would be sharing the same tent. This seemed a little excessive to me, considering all the times in the past we had slept close together with no problem. Still, I went to sleep with little thought of it.

What followed was of course the battle with the rat creatures, the injuries of my two fellow real landers, and the treating of wounds previously described. What I failed to disclose earlier however was the physical reaction to my close proximity that became very obvious once his shirt and pants were removed in order to properly dress wounds. I know that such reactions are not fully voluntary for men, but it was still one of the many possible first steps in initiating a courtship, something I had never considered at all before, knowing my Baal would be married to another Baal later in life. Was there precedent for a Baal on an Awakening to marry one of their companions? I knew not. Truly there were few Awakenings that were on the scale of this one, and perhaps precedent might be broken when the length of time was so great. Many thoughts moved through my mind, but I did my best to keep my face neutral, acting as if I had not noticed, and finishing the dressing without comment.

Again, I have already described the bit following, with explanations for the rats and a continuing of guard duty, what I left out was a number of events both in the tent and outside in which I interacted with my Baal. The first was immediately after we both returned to the tent. I was gathing my stuff for watch duty, when I finally decided to go for it, and take the next step in the courtship dances of the capital city. As the old saying goes, “Turn not away the gifts of Bel.” If my Baal had decided to pursue me, I might as well take the chance on it. He was a handsome boy, and he would soon be the ruler of the true lands. I would never again get a chance to marry, or even court, a Baal. If there was any place where the rules might be ignored, it was this strange unpronounceable place off the edge of the world. It was likely that my young Baal had no real interest in me, and that the earlier signal had been unintentional, in which case I would be rejected, which would be no worse than my current situation, even if slightly awkward for a time. And so I took the next step of the dance, a coy smile directed only at him.

Now there are many responses to this signal. A shake of the head means no real interest. Am upward head movement meant interest, but only on their terms. A returned smile meant interest on an equal footing. Downward turned eyes indicated that one was smitten, that they were willing to submit in order to make the relationship work. I expected one of the first two responses. What actually happened was completely unexpected. Not only did the boy lower his gaze, but he lowered it twice, first to stare at my body, then lower than even my feet. And his face burned a bright red. I had heard only of this level of deference when the class levels between the two were great indeed, such as when a Hishtu tried to woo a Baal. Even then it was not this level of abject surrender. Somehow in the last day, my Baal, this boy, had fallen for me harder then was really proper considering our positions. It was good his eyes were so downcast, for I froze up completely for several seconds at this response. Once again, my mind flooded with thoughts and possibilities. I could accept him equally, accept his love with him in a deferential position, reject him, or indicate I was interested, but that I needed to see more. Not truly believing this was happening, I surprised myself, and doubled down. If he was this interested in me, willing to debase himself before me as he just had, then I’d see how far it would go. I clicked my foot on the ground, an indicator for him to look up again, then gave him my sauciest smile, and walked out with an extra swing in my hips. Lets see what he would do to prove himself.

As I wandered the camp, and watched for more rats, I thought about what I had just done. I was really surprised by my own choices. I had never considered myself very aggressive when it came to relationships, and my expectation had always been that I would end up in an equal relationship with a man around my own status, or perhaps a weaker relationship with someone a bit higher. I had never considered being the dominant force in the relationship, partly because that generally meant marrying someone of lower class, which I had never felt particularly comfortable with. The wise and responsible choice would have been to accept my Baal’s advances as an equal, for trying to put oneself ahead of the Baals is all but a sin in the eyes of Bel. And yet somehow, seeing my Baal change from poised and confident diplomat to embarrassed, deferential boy all because of his attraction to me, had instilled me with a confidence and willingness to take the lead that I had rarely experienced outside of my unique skills as a bodyguard. He had looked so, incredibly cute and vulnerable, standing there, red faced, eyes downcast, waiting for my signal to proceed. I liked this balance of power.

My instinct was to quash this new-found interest, to reject it as being outside of the will of Bel, as being sinful and lacking in propriety. But something, perhaps my experiences in this last month, or what I had seen in my companions in that time, made me pause, and consider. While it was true that the Baal were given absolute authority by the word of Bel, so too was the dynamic between men and women in marriage allowed to be free. This was not me trying to take my Baal’s authority away. He would not lose command of the mission from this. This was a relationship dynamic, a potential balance between a husband and wife, which was allowed to be any way that was agreed to by both. If I enjoyed this dynamic, and my Baal, thus far was willing to accept it, then why should I not proceed. It seemed likely that eventually the dynamic would shift back to something more neutral, and the Baal would be unwilling to accept such a slanted dynamic, but why not make him at least work for it. Beyond the edge of the world, a girl has a right to a little fun. So, I considered this dynamic, and thought about ways to have a little fun, and generally had a pretty good time as I guarded the camp. A small group of rats did actually try and get in again, but I managed to dispatch them without needing to raise the alarm.

Eventually, my time was up, and I went to wake up my lovesick little boy. I gave him another smile, a chance for him to try and up his status, or further submit to my dominance, and once again his eyes fell immediately to my feet, and his face went red. My grin widened at this. I had expected him to rally by this point, try and regain some of his lost dignity, but instead he was just as submissive, cementing our relationship dynamic further. A few more interactions like this and it would be set in stone, impossible for him to come back to an equal status unless something truly earth-shattering occurred. I was once again surprised by my reaction to this thought. Did I truly want to maintain this dominance indefinitely? Apparently I did. Even the nature of my thoughts surrounding that thought was strange to me, a kind of, almost smug supposition of superiority, of rightness of dominance. Was this what the Baal felt all the time, this complete surety that they were meant to lead, that their say was more important than others? Whatever this was, it felt right in my head, and having already convinced myself of its acceptance in the world of Bel, I felt no regret, except perhaps a moment of pity for my poor, sweet, little Baal, perhaps not realizing I would truly accept his submission if he gave it to me so freely.

As I considered this, I stretched suggestively, an action which made the boys knees buckle for a moment. Then, taking into account my position, in a moment of pure brashness and arrogance, I decided to start taking off my clothes, letting him decide whether to stare or avert his gaze, both of which would cement my position. Instead, once again, he went even further down the path of submission than I had expected, basically fleeing the tent. I took a moment to laugh to myself, then noticed that the poor boy had forgotten his torch. Whatever would he do without me? I wrapped myself in blankets, covering enough to ensure the boy wouldn’t pass out, then took the torch out to him. Despite the nature of the relationship we had developed that night, my level of suggestiveness and willingness to expose my body was perhaps not the most shining example of my service to Bel. Still, in those heady days, I thought little of such things, and truly, considering the clothing I had available to me, I was not being much more revealing then base clothes. Anyways, I had originally planned to just hand him his torch and give him another one of my grins. I did the second part however, and his reaction was so adorable that I decided I wasn’t done having fun.

Instead of simply handing my little Baal his torch, I decided the boy needed a lecture on proper night time safety. I explained, step by step, the things one needed to bring along and do when guarding a group of tents at night. As I did so, the boy nodded along meekly, and stared straight at my barely clothed body, apparently unable to look away, but unable to meet my gaze either. This new found part of me felt the relationship cement further and further as this continued, pushing the envelope as I went, treating him like more and more of a child, and speaking in an increasingly smug and condescending voice. At one point, near the end, I do believe he tried to save some small measure of dignity, to preserve an iota of pride, but as he started to speak, he tried to look me in the eyes. I smiled indulgently and the poor thing lost his ability to speak, mumbling nonsense before once again dropping his gaze, this time all the way to my feet. Had I been the girl I thought I was the day before, I would have, at that point, seeing that my little Baal had at least tried to equalize the playing field, done something to restore the balance of power, maybe not all the way, but to something much more even then this. Instead, I took that moment as the last surrender, expanding my lecture to include audibility and how rude it was to mumble before at last, finishing the boy off. I walked up very close to him, patted him on the head, then gently grabbed his chin and directed his gaze up at my face, forcing him to meet my gaze. He was paralyzed, unable to respond. In the most playful and smug voice possible I asked him if he understood, telling him to nod if he did. I had to repeat it a couple more times before he complied, speaking more slowly each time, but at last the boy nodded and I gave him his torch. I sauntered back into my tent then. He was mine completely. He had given up any and all control in the relationship and I was totally OK with that. I slept better than I had since we left, the calm, cool feeling of complete control letting me pass into pleasant dreams.

Perhaps, dear diary, you are at this point, tired of this very one sided affair. When living it, it was certainly exciting, but perhaps hearing it described is not perhaps as enjoyable. Should that be the case, I apologize, but I must continue, I must record this whole period of time, really write it down, for I am not sure if I will be able to let it go if I do not. So bear with me, dear diary, as I continue to describe my subjugation and humiliation of my Baal, the man I have sworn my life to serve. As horrible as that sounds, as you’ll soon see, it was enjoyable for both sides.

So, I awoke, my dreams having been light and fluffy things. I always woke a bit early in order to get a bit of practice in with my weapons before the others woke. When I peeked outside though, I saw, not the elderly guide we had brought along, but rather my Baal, still sitting outside, watching the area, having apparently forgotten to switch watches with our guide, and stayed up the rest of the night. Awake and refreshed, I went out, and dragged the young Baal inside the tent. As flush as I was with my dominance, I still understood that it was not something we could allow others to see, and while it was early, Nabua had been known to keep odd hours, so I thought it safer to take this conversation inside.

I started it out much like the night before, a lecture about the need to switch out watches, about the importance of rest and a clear mind. Except instead of letting him listen and nod along meekly, I forced him to look me in the eyes every now and again, something he failed at utterly, and I furthermore quizzed him on the simple information I had explained. The eye contact and my tone of complete control were apparently too much for the boy, as he could not seem to keep the conversation straight, being unable to answer even simple questions about stuff that I had described moments ago. I doubled down on this, requiring him to look me in the eye when answering, making him try again on failed questions. This would have continued indefinitely if I had let it, for the boy was getting worse, not better as the questions continued, and he began losing his ability to even really formulate words. I was enjoying myself, but that part of me that had kept driving me to go further was pushing me again. As I took apart my little Baal, piece by piece, I got a sense that this relationship dynamic couldn’t be this one sided without something more than his complete love for me. Could he perhaps enjoy giving up his power? The thought seemed almost sacrilegious, but the more I watched him, and thought about it, the more it seemed possible. The ultimate test of course would be simply to ask him. This would be outside of the rules of courtship, something completely new, and it would give him an out if he wanted to escape the relationship, as well as a venue to rebalance the relationship a bit by saying no. But so far he had always acted in the most submissive of all possible ways. Additionally, while I was enjoying myself a great deal, I still was me, still, in some sense, loyal, to this boy I was toying with, and I did not truly wish to break him down to this level if he didn’t want it. So, I decided to ask.

If I was going to ask this though, I wanted a real answer, I did not want him lying because of shame. So I would have to really get to his very core, make him unable to speak anything but the truth. I started by grabbing his head, moving it forcefully to face me, the rest of his body following along meekly. His eyes were downcast, which was cute, but I wanted to look him in the eyes for this. So, I started whispering to him, telling him again and again to look me in the eyes. He tried and failed, but I kept telling him, and at last the force of my will overcame his, and he met my gaze, now completely unable to look away. It was in this position, me holding his face, he, caught in my gaze, unable to even blink, that I asked. I asked him if he enjoyed this, if he enjoyed my power, enjoyed being helpless before me. In his eyes I saw his will break down. His mouth moved noiselessly, as he first failed to rebuke me, then failed to say no. At last, he said yes, in a voice so timid and pleading, and with his shame being sufficient to tear himself free from my gaze, unable any longer to meet it.

I think in that moment, I really understood the situation I was in. Even as I had reveled in my power during the last day, I had not truly believed it could last. Each step was taken knowing that at some point my Baal would regain his senses and the dynamic would vanish. With his simple yes, I knew that, should I want it, I could have him forever. He would marry me, damn the rules and the consequences. He would be my obedient servant and loving husband till death parted us. He had well and truly given himself up to that. As I thought about it though, considering my duty, I knew that I could not allow that. I could not steal my Baal’s future, or allow him to be nothing but my puppet for life. He had a destiny, and a purpose, and a quest. But him getting those things was on me. I was his Protector. I would, in this case, have to Protect him from himself. But, I thought, need I do this now? Could I not let this thing linger a little longer, let myself dream a bit longer in this false world of dreams? Perhaps I should have answered no, but instead I answered yes. I would return him to his proper position, but I would give him and I a chance to enjoy this first. So I put off saving him from himself and from me, and now knowing this was temporary, knowing I would never marry this man, I decided to take it even further, beyond the limits of propriety. I had sworn to serve Bel completely after he had delivered us from the “Green Sea”, but in that moment I set that aside. I kissed him.

It was, like the relationship, aggressive and one sided. He melted in my arms, and I had to hold him up as his legs went wobbly and he seemed to lose all bodily control. I didn’t let up, kissing him vigorously, and slowly carrying him across the room to his bed. When I decided I had enough, I dropped him, and he fell only the bed in a sprawl. I instructed him to pack up the tent and carry my things for the day, then I sauntered out of the tent. That had been fun.

The rest of that day was not easy, though still fun to a certain extent. It soon became obvious that my actions had left my Baal in a state barely capable of comprehending the world around him, let alone leading us all in any sense. So the task fell to me, as well as the task of hiding his condition and the cause behind it from our companions. So I spoke for him, and explained he had a sore throat and couldn’t talk well, pretending to listen to his orders before simply giving my own. There was not a whole lot that needed to be done on that front, as the guide was incredibly competent, and so our journey went smoothly, but there were snags here and there.

We got held up by robbers, and I had to talk them down, convincing them that we would be able to win if they fought us, all while translating through the old man, while pretending to translate through my Baal. The guide negotiated us passage across a roaring river aboard a boat I did not feel at all comfortable about. We stopped in a small village for a while, and the guide stopped to play a strange game with another elderly man, managing to convince us that the game was vitally important, while afterwords admitting he just liked to keep his mind sharp. Eventually, we finished our journey for the night, and once again we put up tents. I was glad my Baal’s mental faculties were up to the task of tent setting, and it was nice to be able to skip that particular task for once, usually being the one to do it while the others discuss things or plan without me. I thought about that, how I was usually out of the planning process, and after effectively running the show for the day, I started to feel a little annoyed about it. When the tent was finished, I put the other two on the first two watches, then entered into my tent to find my cute, little, Baal waiting patiently for me, kneeling on his bed. I had thought to go easy that night, to give my Baal a chance to recover his senses, but it seemed that he had spent the whole day thinking about me and tonight, and I was feeling annoyed about the planning thing. As such, I laid into him about the planning, tearing his enfeebled intellect apart, and proving I was the better planner over and over before impelling him to include me in all future decision making processes. He readily agreed, and after a bit more in the way of dominating question and answer sessions, I once again kissed him, and left him in a heap on his bed. This time though, I moved my own bed close, and curled up, allowing him to cling to my back. Once again, I slept a deep and wonderful sleep.

Not much of note happens on the next day. Lots of walking. Lots of rice fields. The old man teaches us how the hills are converted to places one can grow rice after Nabua asks a question about it. Nabua and I get in an argument in which he tries to act smarter then me, but I have grown used to the dominant side of the conversation, so I manage, not only to turn it around and win the argument, but also get him to apologize. I hoped then, that the confidence I had newly received would remain after I released my Baal from this relationship. We encounter a rare bird, a silver tailed creature with great majestic plumage which the elderly guide tells us is good luck, and a rare sight. Though my Baal is once again eager to do stuff when I return to the tent after taking the first watch, I think he really could use a break, so I give him a short lecture on getting enough sleep, then fall asleep.

My Baal does seem slightly more sentient the next day, and I allow him to speak finally, but still stay mostly in charge, explaining that his voice is still weak. We encounter something called a mountain for the first time. I had seen it in the distance the last day or so, but I did not understand what it was, assuming it was some kind of strange cloud formation or something. Instead, it is something incredibly large, like a hill grown to adulthood. If I had not witnessed the hand of Bel, I might have been more impressed, but still it was a special experience to see, and the prospect of the view from its heights was deeply exciting. It was slow going up the mountain. It was steeper than most hills I had climbed, and we had been going up and down hills for the last several days, so all our legs were a bit tired at that point. We had to be cautious as we climbed, because according to our guide, the mountains were a prime location for bandits and thieves. It would seem that there were many hard to reach places and cavern systems that were perfect for hiding out in up here. We were cautious, and we did see some signs of either bandits or other travelers, but we were lucky enough to never get attacked by, or even meet any bandits. Our only dangerous encounter that day was somewhat late in the day, and it involved, once again, a wild animal.

It was Nabua that spotted it. It was like an incredibly massive cat, with tufted ears. It was way up in the trees ahead, barely visible, staring down at us patiently. My instinct was to go and try and scare it off, but our guide cautioned against that. He explained that while that had been the common wisdom for many years, in recent times, a change had come over these feline predators. While they had always hunted alone, this had changed, packs of the these creatures would hunt together, setting traps and working together to take down larger animals or groups of people. So, we stopped, and analyzed the trees and terrain ahead of us. It soon became apparent that this was likely a trap. As we looked at the places we could see, and where we couldn’t, every path that lead towards the cat, or even that made a wide angle around it passed through a spot where another such animal might hide, impossible to see from our angle. It was possible that this was coincidence, but that seemed unlikely. Talking together, we managed to construct a simple plan. While we had been back in town, we had purchased something similar to the explosives that had frightened us when the kids set them off, but much more powerful. It would create a bigger explosion, and more importantly in this situation, it would be incredibly loud. We unpacked the strange object, placed it on the ground, and lit a long black string that extended out from it. Then we rushed a distance away, and covered our ears. The massive cat creature stared at the moving fire that burned down the string, cocking its head to the side in confusion. Then it exploded. Even with my ears as covered as I could make them, the sound was louder than anything I had ever heard before. The cat creature fled in a panic, and I managed to spot a half a dozen other shapes, similar to the first darting out of the hiding places we had suspected. Once our hearing returned, we all congradulated each other, then returned to truding on for a while longer before it got dark.

I once again took advantage of my little, lovesick Baal, and managed to get out of putting up the tent. I wandered around the edge of the camp, nominally checking for signs of predators or bandits, but mostly lost in thought, considering the next couple days and nights. According to our guide, we would reach the capital of this unpronounceable kingdom a bit before noon the day after tomorrow. At that point my Baal would need to have to be returned to his senses, at least to the extent that he would be able to negotiate with the leaders of the unpronounceable kingdom. I briefly considered trying to do what I had been doing in the last few days, and do the negotiations for him, but I dismissed that almost imediately. I had not the training my Baal had for this sort of a situation. If I were to take away his ability to do these negotiations I would truly be commiting treason, truly seeking to usurp the power of Baal Uras outside of any possible exception. So, I would have to release him, I would have to reset our relationship somehow. Still, I had another day. I could wait one more day. I knew it was risky, knew that he might not be able to recover in time if I waited till tomorrow to reset, but, dear diary, I really enjoyed this, I enjoyed the relationship, and I enjoyed the dream of marrying a Baal, of stepping beyond my role, both as a commoner, and as a woman. It would be risky, but I would wait. Tonight, my Baal would remain mine.

So it was that that night, I went a bit further then before. I was perhaps a bit cruel, even within the context of the situation. I picked some topic, or activity, I don’t even remember what exactly it was about now, and I made it possible to succeed. Instead of getting more and more condescending and playful however, I put dissapointment and a growing frustration into my voice. The boy became more and more desperate to succeed while becoming less and less capable of doing so. Eventually it reached a peak, and he broke down, crying, apologzing for being unable to succeed, clinging to my leg. A piece of me felt sorry for him, felt like this was going too far, but another part had wanted to push it this far, bring him to this place. I gently dragged the poor thing over to his bed, then laid down next to him, putting my arms around him and speaking slowly, softly. I told him it was ok. It was ok that he couldn’t do it. I didn’t blame him. I didn’t expect him to succeed. I knew it was too hard for him. I still liked him. He wasn’t very smart and he wasn’t very strong and he wasn’t very good at anything, but I still liked him and it was ok. This part might sound cruel as well to you, dear diary, but this was most definitely not. In the place he was in, what he wanted most of all was my acceptance, my love. He would not have really believed me if I had told him he was smart and good and strong. Instead, by emphesizing the difference between us, by building myself up in comparison to him, I made my acceptance, my love of him even more powerful. He was shaking, his happiness and bliss at this, at my acceptance of him despite his flaws, almost inexpressibly powerful. So I held him to me, felt his raw joy at being mine, and we both drifted off to sleep.

I of course had to wake up in time to replace Nabua on watch, as I really didn’t want the Scholar walking in on me and my Baal all wrapped around each other. So I woke up, gently escaped my Baal’s arms, and went out to relieve Nabua. I felt refreshed by the cold air, watched the stars, and prepared myself for tomorrow. That would be the last time. I would have to give that up, give up on that need for me, on that submission and desire for my approval. I sat in the dark, and readied myself. I took my Baal’s turn at the watch as well and kept thinking, kept preparing, letting the boy sleep. Then, at last, I woke the old man, and went back to bed, sleeping in my own bed, turned away so I did not have to look at the still smiling form of my Baal.

In the morning, I did my best to restore Baal Uras to his senses. He was badly gone from the world when he first woke up. Speaking softly, asking him questions about the world and slowly bringing him out of his own head, I managed to get him into a state where he could speak somewhat normally. I wondered if this was enough, if I could just do this the next day, to give him the ability to speak with the rulers without having to give up the relationship, but as the day progressed, I saw that it was not enough. He could interact with the world alright, but he was missing some of his old spark. He didn’t believe himself a Baal, and I think perhaps, he couldn’t, as long as this continued. Still, I only had to step in to help lead a few times that day, as he was able to do alright. We reached the summit of the mountain early in the day, and I got to see a sight that I will never forget. Never had I been so high up in my life. The view was stunning. The green of the hills and fields, the grey of stones and buildings, and even, at the edge of the horizon, the blue of the sea, which we had come from only days ago, though it felt like much longer. We stayed to see the view for a few minutes, the old man apparently enjoying our sense of wonder. Eventually we had to move along however. The capital was in a valley on the other side of the mountain and we could see the road leading up to it, though the capital itself was not visible because of the local terrain hiding it around a turn in the valley. We began our descent quickly however.

In terms of notable events, there were only two that day after we reached the sumit. One was another bird of exceptional beauty. This one was a golden color, and the elderly guide explained it was even rarer than the silver one we had seen before, something only seen by those truly blessed by fate. I am not entirely sure the man was not messing with us, for I often got the vibe from him that he was not being entirely serious most of the time, but it was still incredibly beautiful and it was fun to imagine it as some kind of mythical beast. The other event was less nice. A small group of locals, dressed in sturdy looking armor and wearing the matching clothes only evident in well organized militaries stopped us, demanding to see our papers which allowed us to travel to the capital. Nabua was able to find the papers, but the soldiers were suspicious nonetheless for reasons I did not understand at the time. Our guide spoke with them for a long, long time, eventually turning back to us and explaining that the soldiers wanted some sort of proof that Baal Uras was truly a leader of a foreign land, and not simply another merchant. This was the point where I really, fully accepted that I would have to end my relationship with the Baal that night. I am certain that before the beginning of our relationship, my Baal would have stood up, and proven himself royal through sheer force of personality, by simply being commanding and royal. I could see then in his eyes however that in that moment he was unsure himself of his own authority. So we had to find an object instead that might prove it. Thankfully my Baal had packed a jeweled crown that he had been given by the rulers in Hadia’s land. With a bit of convincing from our guide, this apparently sufficed, and the soldiers marched on, after cautioning us about bandits. After that there was nothing more of note for the day. We descended, moving slowly, and eventually we camped for the night. The night, of course, was notable.

I took the first watch, wanting to give myself a bit more time to prepare. My Baal was of sufficient mind to write during this period which I took as a good sign. I actually ended up spotting a small group of the rat creatures that night, but I was in no mood for their shenanigans, and the creatures seemed to sense that, for when I approached, they backed away, fleeing into the dark. At last my time was up. I woke up Nabua, then headed into the tent to finally end what my Baal and I had started. My Baal, sat waiting for me, cute and submissive, head down. He had just finished his writing it seemed. I think he knew what needed to happen too, but did not have the strength to end it. For a moment I blamed him, thinking that he was my Baal, he had an obligation, as a leader, to make the hard decisions, to do the hard things that had to be done. But then, I reflected that I too had opted into a leader-like position. I had not had to keep pushing the boundary of our relationship dynamic like we had. I had made choices that had brought us to the point, and while my Baal had not opposed those choices and had in fact eagerly submitted to them, it had been me that had made the choices, not him. It was my responsibility here to make the hard decision, my responsibility to restore things to a place where my Baal could be the man and the leader he needed to be. My resolve was finally firm. I sat down before my Baal, looking gently at this boy, who had such potential.

I touched his face, drawing him carefully towards me, and I kissed him. This was not like the other times, not a kiss of dominance and aggression, but rather tender and soft. I held it for a while, then I let it go. Then I spoke to my Baal. I told him that that was our last kiss. I told him that this relationship had to end. I was releasing him from his obligation. I was claiming no superior status through rejection, simple ending it on a neutral and happy note, knowing that it could not work out. I told him though, that this was final, that I would reject absolutely any further advance he might consider making in the future. I told him he had a responsibility to be a leader, and he had not been meeting that obligation these last few days. I told him I knew he could however, and I would be there as his Protector, but from now and forever, only that, never more. I thought about telling him how much I had enjoyed this time, how much I wished it could continue, but I didn’t. I didn’t lie to him, but I never gave him any indication that I had enjoyed the last few days, told him only that it could not go on and that he needed to move on. I told him that he was my Baal, and that he had to be that for me, could not surrender that authority to me, that he had been chosen as a leader by Bel himself. I watched his face as I told him this. It was hard. A lot of emotions moved through him as I spoke. They all mixed together and I am not good at faces, but it was enough that even I knew this was something that affected him greatly. Then finally, I was finished, and I smiled, and in that smile I did lie. It was not the smile of compassion and love and shared experience that I felt. Instead it was a smile of someone with faith in their leader, a smile of innocent confidence. Then I laid down and pretended to sleep. It didn’t come that night, and instead I listened to my Baal as he lay down as well, listened to his breathing, listened to his brief period of crying, and listening to his eventual fall into sleep.

The next day was a bit of a blur to me. I can say not else but that I was depressed. I was sad for what I had lost, what I had chosen to give up. It was not till the end of the day, when I got a chance to foil an assassination attempt on my Baal that I really managed to straighten my mind out. I’ll get back to that though, after I give you, dear diary, a brief description of the events that occurred before then, as much as I was barely paying attention to them. We walked the last few miles to the capital. We passed through the gates, the officials waving the strange same batons, recording strange squiggles on their paper, then waving us through. The city was impressive. Had I been fully there, I am sure it would have left more of an impression, but I only have vague impressions instead. It was very red. Almost all the buildings and structures were painted a vivid red. One could tell how rich or poor a place was by how bright its paint was, as repainting to get back the brightness was something commonly done there. There were many people. Their clothes were a bit different then all the ones we had seen up to that point, more conservative, less colorful, except for the red clothes, which were again, vibrant. Many of the men wore strange little hats, and the woman all had their hair long, but tied up in complicated styles above their head. It took us a long time to get to the actual meeting with the leaders. The word that Nabua told me later to descibe the process was beaurocracy. Apparently the unpronounceable kingdom had a lot of it. We had to travel to seven odd different buildings, answering questions and filling out forms before we could enter the palace, and then we had to talk our way past a dozen odd lower ranking officials before we at last were able to meet with the council of eight, who ran the kingdom, in the name of the king of their land, who would normally rule, except he was currently six years old. We met the young king, and he took a liking to Nabua when the man tried out the strange language he had been practicing since we arrived. He seemed frightened of me however.

When we at last got to sit down with the council of eight, it was finally time to see if I had screwed everything up or not. Had I waited too long to release my Baal from our relationship? Would he be unable to be the commanding, witty, diplomat he had shown himself to be in our last royal encounter? I watched, and at first I was worried. The interactions were made using our guide as a translator, and at first the faces of the eight rulers were guarded and suspicious. But after a few minutes of talking, my Baal seemed to finally come out of his shell, and the tone of the meeting changed. He had spent the day asking the old man questions about the beaurocracy even as we traversed our way through it, learning the politics of this place with only a short time to spare. It seemed he had finally figured it out to some extent, because he was able to make the appropriate references, joke about the right things, and generally get the council to see him as an amiable foreign dignitary, and not as a suspicious foreigner. I watched this slow transition in the faces of the council, and I smiled to myself, proud of my Baal. I had made the right choice. He had been made for this. I had broken him, but I had also managed to put him back together.

When the meeting finished, their was still a lot to discuss, and another meeting was called for the next day. We were given a private wing of the palace, each with our own rooms, but all connected with a common living area. We ate together with two of the councilmembers, who had invited us for dinner. I have no idea what I ate, but it was different, but not in a completely terrible way. Too many different flavors for my taste though. Afterwords, we headed to a private bath to wash away the dirt and grime of our days on the road, something I was looking forward too immensely. As we were walking however, we passed by a servant carrying a plate of food, and without warning, this servant dropped the plate, and stabbed at my Baal with a small silver knife. I was moving before the plate hit the ground, leaping towards the servant, managing to drag her down to the ground before the knife could connect, then twisting it out of her grip and pinning her down. After a second for everyone to compose themselves, I shouted for the old man to interogate this girl. He shook his head, and motioned towards her head. I looked down at the girl, who’s mouth was opened wide with terror, and noted her lack of a tongue.

We thought about turning the girl over to a guard, but the old man had a different plan. He told us that it was likely one of the council wanted us gone for some reason. There was no guarentee that anyone we might turn her over too could be working for that same person. It was better to hide as much information as we could until we could figure out more. He suggested killing the girl, and hiding the body, but I suggested we might be able to just hold her in one of our rooms for now, be able to use her for leverage later or proof of something. We all discussed it together, and eventually decided to go with my plan. The old man told something to the girl that seemed to terrify her completely, and she followed along with us meekly, after we picked up her plate and food. She stayed in my room. We tied bells to her limbs, and I gave her a little cot next to my bed. Despite having an assassin sleeping next to me, I slept well that night, much better than the previous one, feeling good in general, if worried about the whole assassination thing.

When I woke up in the morning I found the girl hadn’t moved at all, apparently frightened to even turn in her sleep for fear of ringing the bells. Once I took off the bells, she immedietly tried to be as helpful as possible, helping me dress and style my hair, something I had never done in my life. I watched her carefully, making sure she wouldn’t try to kill me or something with some of the needles she was sticking in my hair, but she seemed eager to do something useful. Nabua showed up at that point, telling me he wanted to set up a meeting in a few hours to plan for the day. I told him to go ahead and set it up. When he left, I sat down to write to you, my dear diary. It was as I wrote, that I realized the implications of the last few days. Even with the relationship I had with my Baal gone, my relationship with the group had changed in those days. I was part of the planning process. My ideas were respected when making decisions. Nabua was checking with me before making decisions. Thinking about my interactions with my Baal since then, I think I still have a fair bit of authority there as well. He has managed to look me in the eyes and give me orders since then, which is good, as thats part of his job, but in retrospect, he has been following my non-verbal cues, he becomes quiet when I talk, and I do believe I managed to silence him completely with an arched eyebrow. I’ll have to use this power carefully, and I feel like I have a lot more responsibility now, along with my increased power, but all the same, dear diary, a girl could get used to this.

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