The Fifth Path (19/30)

Anatu’s Diary Entry for Simanu 30th

Dear diary, I write this to you under strange circumstances indeed. As I write I am sitting alone in a small room. I am dressed in the most bizarre combination of “wedding dress”, a strange garment used in this land to depict that the wearer will soon be married and is female, and “plate mail”, a type of armor that uses a simply obscene amount of metal to protect and cover all vital areas of the body with thick pieces of “steel”, which is some kind of super iron, stronger than anything known in the true lands. In a few short hours I am to engage in a duel with the soon to be monarch of this inexplicable land. Should I lose this duel then my Baal, who I have sworn, body and soul, to protect always and forever, will be executed for hostile remarks towards the very man I am about to battle. However, should I win, I shall be forced to marry my duel opponent, a man that, while handsome, is so completely and totally full of himself that I can barely stand to be in the same room with him, let alone be his bride. And, in case you are thinking, dear diary, that I should simply endeavor to tie instead, I’m afraid the result of that is the worst case scenario, with both my Baal being executed, and myself married off to the insufferable man I will soon be trading blows with. While there is obviously only one correct path, as I can and shall never let my Baal be killed, the very idea of this man touching me or even looking at me with such thoughts disgusts me so mightily that my stomach threatens to rebel. Let it be recorded, dear diary, that I am not happy. But, instead of ranting on, complaining about that which I cannot change, I suppose that I should instead tell you how I arrived in these unfortunate circumstances.

It began the day after we made it through the “Northwall Gap”, that deathtrap that my companions were so excited about traveling through. That we once again sought to traverse the “Green Sea”, even after our previous encounter was resolved only through direct divine intervention made me doubt completely the sanity of all my companions, including the captain Mae, who I had begun to respect so much in the past weeks. That we succeeded scarcely makes it better, for I can only imagine it will inspire more such acts of sheer stupidity. I suppose I will likely not be present for such future endeavors, seeing as I will be married to the world’s most self centered man, but that thought brings me no joy whatsoever. I shall instead hear one day of the tragic fate of my companions, throwing there lives away in some damn fool sea voyage even after I had sacrificed myself to a fate worse than death itself. I was perhaps not in the greatest of moods that day. The voyage had almost taken my body beyond my new found mental control over my vomit reflex and returned me to the state of complete emptiness and horribleness that had been my fate on so many previous sea journeys. And that was of course compounded by the fact that I almost wish I had been unconscious that I would not have had to watch as we courted death a thousand times in half as many minutes.

Physically, mentally, and emotionally I was not well. My sleep is, even weeks after freedom, still troubled by thoughts of the pirates who stripped me of my dignity, and so I was unable to restore myself to full vitality again by the next morning, and continued to be in a dark mood as we approached an island that had, in all the history of the true land, been visited exactly twice by previous sojourners. That it was at least pronounceable was some consolation, but not much. My mind whirled through dark thought after dark thought as we carefully maneuvered our way to a stop along a massive, white painted, dock, larger than all previous docks I had encountered before on the journey combined.

We had been given a brief description of this place, called Adroth, home of the Doktik people. They were supposedly extremely competitive in all aspects of life, believing that being superior to others in several key facets was the key to the goodwill of their gods. That they were blessed with an abundance of arable land and natural resources made extending this superiority out to those from other islands easy, and they believed that their citizens were truly superior to all other lands. They dominated all other nearby islands militarily, rarely actually engaging in conflict, but putting on shows of force to intimidate those around them into following their rules and customs. Strangely, this belief in the superiority of their people did not make them unwilling to allow others to move in. Instead they simply assumed all wanted to join there island, and were happy to invite you to become a member of the greatest nation of the world, so long as you proved yourself competent in at least one of their areas of focus.

They had a focus on racial purity, but it was not any given race that was considered superior, but rather a preference for those who’s appearance fit very well with the extremes of a given race, for some reason believing those of mixed race to be less exceptional than those who were descended purely from one race or another. This was observed later on, once we had landed, for while the city itself teamed with people, generally a kind of mixed brown coloring, the average of the many races, when we found ourselves in the capital building and the seats of powers, their were few middle tones, instead a hodge podge of extremely dark, extremely light, and very specific shades of colors in general. It was an interesting shift for sure, and made it generally easy to identify those in power, though there were always exceptions, for those with incredible skill could rise in the ranks despite a mixed heritage.

But less us return to the moment when we arrived at this land, the island of Adroth. Nabua had just finished explaining to us the culture of the place, as I have relayed to you above, but he wanted to add something more. It seemed that most of his information had come from the journal of the first Baal who had visited this island long ago, the legendary first Baal. That was where most of the information had come from. The second journal was perhaps more fantastical, as that journey had been plagued by problems of communication, none in the party knowing more than a handful of languages at best, largely forced to rely on pantomime in many of the lands they visited. As such, their understanding of the cultures was limited, based solely on observation, with no explanation every given save that guessed by the sojourners. It was in this second journal however that something was described which was quite terrifying in nature. As the second group explored this island, they claimed to have encountered strange beasts, which looked and talked like men, but had bodies of pure metal, completely impenetrable to harm. These creatures were the subject of much speculation and wonder by this second group, but had been mentioned not at all by the first journal, which was in general perceived as much more reliable. While it was possible that such creatures had invaded the island in the time between the first and second visits here, Nabua was skeptical of their very existence, and warned of the possibility, while dismissing as likely something of a misunderstanding. As such, when we stepped off the boat, we were prepared to encounter almost anything at all.

The people we were greeted by had no metallic luster to their skin however, and were in general normal, with the exception of their speaking style, which seemed incredibly dramatic and forced, something I would come to understand was a cultural thing, each citizen acting as though they were the main actor in a dramatic rendition of their life. It was an unsettling habit at first, seeming to scream out falsehood and deception to my senses. The captain spoke with these men for several long minutes, settling the issue of docking fees and getting a quick explanation of tariffs for goods both bought and sold. Once that was complete however, we set off down the dock, the captain promising to allow the crew free reign of the town once she had secured them lodging. The four of us began, what turned out to be an incredibly long trek down the dock, which was longer than was at all reasonable.

It was during this endless walk that my Baal let out a short exclamation and pointed. I looked and took a step back. For truly, as I live and breathe, I saw the metal creatures described by the second journal. As if their was nothing exceptional about it at all, two such creatures walked amidst a group of soldiers, carrying weapons, and seeming to act like just another one of them, though larger, and covered in metal and spikes. Our party did its best not to stare as we passed by the lumbering creatures, somehow able to move silently despite their metallic nature. This was astonishing to me, just as their apparent ability to speak like a human was astounding. Despite my best intentions, I stared back at the creatures after we had passed them by, watching them move and walk. I felt almost like I was in a dream, though, since Princess Issi was not anywhere around, I knew that could not be the case.

The others seemed as curious as I, with Nabua muttering to himself about different possibilities, that it had to be some kind of metal skin, for the inner organs could not be composed in that way, as life was impossible without the fleshy bits. Baal Uras seemed simply impressed, apparently interested in meeting one of these strange creatures and befriending it, learning if they thought like men or if they were truly alien. The captain, a woman who had spent her whole life on the waves, traveling from one strange land to another simply shook her head, adding it to the catalog of wonders and horrors she had witnessed in her time. I was interested to learn what we could about these creatures, since we had the language skills to actually ask about them.

After what seemed like a day’s journey, but was, upon later investigation, almost exactly one mile, we finally left the dock and entered the city proper. The city was bright, with white being the main color theme, but any color that was pure and bold seemed to be allowed, with shocking blue and yellow buildings, as well as jet black ones and even a royal purple tower visible in the distance. The people were similar, either wearing the purest of whites, or going completely in another direction, but always wearing one color only, never mixing and matching at all, even between pants and shirts, or between different shades of the same color. During our long march down the dock we had seen more of the creatures, all in the company of soldiers, all carrying weapons. We had at first wondered if they might be being watched or guarded by the soldiers, but why then would they have weapons as well? Maybe they were simply exceptional in the martial arts considering their metallic nature and were predisposed to becoming a member of the military, possibly even forced into that role. Always though, they did not seem to draw any special attention from others around us, so they were obviously normal within this society. It was a nice thing that there was an official building right at the end of the dock, as we were all eager to ask questions, about the strange metal creatures, as well as the steps needed to contact the leaders and set up a meeting.

When we stepped inside, we all stopped, frozen by a grotesque sight. Standing before us, lounging against the wall, was one of the metal creatures. Unlike his brethren however, this one’s head had been replaced by that of a man. Its own head appeared to be lying on the ground nearby. It was Nabua that understood first, commenting that using that much metal to protect one person was absurd. We all understood then, after varying amounts of time to think about it. These were not creatures of metal. Instead they were men and women like any other such in the false lands. But, somehow, they were important enough that they had had armor constructed for them from metal alone, enormous quantities of metal molded and shaped for just one individuals use. One could arm a hundred men with axes or spears with that metal, or even make ten sets of armor if intermixed with a little leather here and there for the less vital places. The thought of just one individual being given that much protection was more than I could handle. The cost had to be incredible. Not to mention the time to make something like that. I had known that this land was rich in materials, but I had not truly appreciated how rich. If they could spare this much metal for one individual, then how many cannons or larger things of iron might they construct?

Baal Uras began talking with the well armored man, who again affected the strange overexaggerated speaking style of his people. The language used was not one I knew, so I wandered around the area a bit, looking at objects in the room, seeing if I could spot anything else that might be an indicator of the extreme wealth of metal and other materials that they seemed to have. It was hard to tell what exactly many things were made of however, as the people of Adroth seemed very fond of paint, especially white paint, and they laid it on thick, coating objects so that the material could not be discerned with the eyes. I would later discover that many common objects that in other lands would be made of stone, wood, or bone, were indeed forged from metal here, but I was not able to discover that at the time, and instead simply wondered at how they were able to get such a vast quantity of paint, something I had heard stories of running out for some nations when they tried to paint a single ship in their navy.

The conversation didn’t end up lasting all that long, so soon we were on our way, my Baal having discovered that the governing body was some sort of large assembly, with between one and five rulers presiding over the group, depending on how skilled those individuals were. The five virtues of the Doktik people were Love, Battle, Leadership, Craft, and Sport, and the greatest at each of these subjects was given the position as one of the rulers. Occasionally an exceptionally skilled individual would be the greatest at multiple different areas however, and thus the ruling body would be reduced. As a foreign dignitary, my Baal was allowed to call upon the governing body, and speak with its leaders. Before we went though, we decided to get rooms at an inn, hopefully one with enough extra space for all of the pirate crew. And so, we set out boldly in search of such an inn, my Baal striding along, apparently trying to imitate the braggadocio of the people of this land. After a few false starts, we managed to find one appropriately large and haggle ourselves a fair price for ourselves and the crew members. We were going to wait for the captain to return with her crew, but picture of the rulers, hanging above the beds in each room changed that plan a little.

When Mae saw pictures, she glanced up, looked down, then did a double take, staring at one of the pictures for a long moment. Then she explained that she would not be able to accompany us when we went to visit the more important parts of town. It seemed that one of the three current rulers was someone she had had dealing with in the past, and she suspected that being seen by that individual would not be good for her health or for the success of our mission. Nabua was a bit put out, but the captain reminded him that they would still be staying in the same room at night, which perked him up a bit, and the three of us decided to simply head out right away since we did not need to wait for the captain. According to the innkeeper, a rail thin woman with striking white hair and black skin, the capital building was a good walk away, that we would likely only manage a short audience, or perhaps only be able to schedule a future meeting before the leaders departed for the day. The idea of leaders who only worked part of the day as leaders was a strange thought to us, but it made sense if one had more than a hundred people involved in leadership. You couldn’t build a palace for each of them. So, we set out, hoping to at least get a meeting scheduled for tomorrow.

Our experience in the unpronounceable land’s capital had taught us that one should always try to act as soon as you could, because the number of steps to actually get anything done could be incredible. It seemed likely that this land would be much less obtuse in its governmental situation than the unpronounceable kingdom, but better safe than sorry. And so we walked, my feet already slightly sore from the hard stone of the dock, and likely to improve little from the cobblestone of the city streets. I had managed to forget my dark mood due to the wonder of the metal men, but with feet hurting and the prospect of a potential encounter with bureaucracy again, my concerns returned and I began to once again fall into a state of general annoyance with the world. This feeling was only compounded by our few interactions with the people of the island on our journey to the capitol building, as their exaggerated motions annoyed me for some reason. The city was a large place, but the streets were wide, and signs were plentiful, so it did not take too long to find the building, though the actual travel time was long due to the sheer size of the town.

One of the things that made it a bit more difficult was that unlike most towns, that building was not clearly larger or more impressive than any other. In a culture of competition and overblown drama, any random building might be built as if it were a palace. We encountered a house covered entirely in gold, which, upon investigation, turned out to be a simple bakery. Similarly, the twelve story purple tower that we had observed at a distance before really entering the town was, in truth, a school, with each floor dedicated to a different age range. On the other hand however, we would find signs which pointed to the home of the greatest swordsmith or the head office of the navy, and these would be simple white buildings with no frills or extra bulk. Judging the importance of something based on its size and color seemed all but impossible. The capitol building at least ended up extremely large and imposing, though it was the simple pure white color of most of the city.

We entered the massive, domed building, and looked around for someone to inform about our presence. After a couple of false starts with people that looked like they knew what they were doing, but were instead just standing around looking impressive, we finally found a clerk who could actually help us out. He explained that we had just missed the end of the session for the day, but that he would be happy to slot us in for tomorrow, adding us to the notes. We thanked him after he gave us a time, and we began to return back to the inn, but before we could even leave the building, we were interrupted by an enormous, well muscled man, dressed in white, but who’s skin seemed almost of pure bronze. He was the first person I had seen who wore more than one color, a fact I noticed only after I turned my gaze up to look at his face. The man was wearing something of a crown, or rather three crowns, each a different color, each stacked atop the other. Purple sat below orange, which sat beneath a pinkish red. He was startlingly attractive, with long, curly, brown hair, and a perfectly proportioned face. He looked down at all of us with a wide smile, and even the accent with which he spoke Hishtu was sultry. It wasn’t until I actually stopped and registered his words that I realized I hated him. Before that he had seemed rather nice.

This was our first encounter with the thrice crowned prince of Adroth, leader of men, seducer of woman, winner of battles, and all around git. I will not attempt to render for you the exact contents of this man’s speech but let it be known that it was the most self centered, vain, nonsense I had ever heard, that was of course until a few seconds later, when he uttered his second sentence. He was convinced we knew who he was, that I was in love with him, that my companions were seeking to emulate him and the Doktik people, and that simply by giving us the time of day he was blessing us more than we had any right to be blessed. How he managed to convey all of that in a sentence that was short on both wit and substance as well vocabulary was somewhat incredible. He was a man who we would soon discover was credited with a thousand miraculous abilities, but the only one that ever truly managed to impress me was his ability to convey just how much of an arrogant, misogynistic, lilac scented, jerk face he was in seven words or less.

I am afraid I kinda lost track of the actual conversation after the first two or three sentences. I knew I hated the dude, and I was angry. I looked at my Baal, expecting him to lay into this guy, but he was much more polite than I would have been at first. He had put a number of things together faster than I had, realizing that the guy we were talking to was the most powerful individual within the politics of the realm we were currently residing, and that he would likely need the man’s support to achieve our goals. And so, my Baal’s initial strategy was one of charm, hoping to win the man to our side, get this hulking, self loving, lunk as a friend so as to be in the best position politically. And, it seemed to work well enough. When the man walked away five or so minutes later, he still had a huge grin on his face, and he had clasped Baal Uras in a tight hug briefly, before doing the same to me and Nabua. I was less than enthused. And so, as we walked back across the vastness of the city, towards our little inn, Nabua and I spent most of the time ranting about the vain princeling, while Baal Uras made a halfhearted attempt to assuage our anger and defend his decision to befriend the hunk of spoiled meat. Then, we all dug into a delicious meal, surrounded by equally voracious pirates, and then went to sleep right away. Or at least my Baal and I did. It was possible Nabua might have participated in some recreational activity before that.

The next day was much akin in many ways to our conversation with Yulam, which was the name of the narcissistic waste of space we had met the previous evening. The court of the Doktik people had the same arrogant attitude as their thrice crowned leader. That my Baal managed to continue politely conversing them, without conceding any of the true land’s greatness, but not disparaging the isle of Adroth either was a miracle I still don’t fully understand. It was a masterful dance of words with which Baal Uras was able to agree with everyone while turning aside the full weight of their self flattery and disparaging of other “inferior” cultures, relentlessly putting the true lands up on the same pedestal as Adroth while still never directly disagreeing with anything.

Though I have said before that I am not one for interpreting faces, the exaggerated nature of the emotions and actions of the people of this island allowed me to follow along just as well as one with training might. I observed initial frustration and annoyance turn slowly to respect and admiration as the day wore on. At last the time we were allowed was concluded and we withdrew for the day, leaving the assembly to discuss other things. Before we managed to extricate ourselves completely however, my least favorite member of this whole political situation finally spoke up, and somehow managed to insinuate that he was in some way responsible for our more than respectable showing that day, and that he was looking forward to guiding us through the next day as well. I wish I had murdered him then instead of finding myself in the uncomfortable situation I am in now.

The day after was when things took a turn for the dire. It began much the same as the day before, but as time went by, Yulam began to assert himself, apparently deciding that he needed to be getting more of the spotlight in this whole situation. He began initially by supporting us, but when my Baal did not immediately respond by turning into a sycophant, his words became more double edged, he began insinuating and suggesting things which were not exactly in our best interests. For me however this was great, as I then had the pleasure of my Baal tearing through those slights and quibbles in the same practiced and casual way he had turned aside all other dissent during his time before the assembled politicians. And while he never directly took Yulam down or even did anything less than flatter the man, somehow the general feel of the proceedings became such that it was clear that Yulam was losing, that my Baal, clever as he was, had handled the thrice crowned dunce, and that it was my Baal in control of the situation. This was not at all acceptable to the bronze colored bureaucrat, and his insults and attacks became more and more direct, his exaggerated facial features more and more enraged. He began slipping in phrases in other languages, trying to trip my Baal up, but each time simply being shown up again and again. As we left eventually for the day, he did not speak at all, but instead simply stared at us, an expression of hatred etched across his perfect face. I couldn’t have been prouder of my Baal if he had just become ruler of the world.

It was the third day when the last straw was placed, and the situation shattered. The whole assembly was somehow more muted. Yulam sat in his place of honor, a blank expression on his face, as my Baal slowly began to work the crowd again, earning for a third time, their respect. Then, in the middle of this, just as it seemed we might be finished, and an agreement might be forged, the princeling lashed out. All tact and grace, all witty allusions were gone. It was unbridled aggressive verbal assault. And of course, my Baal batted it aside with practiced ease. And the next and the next, each brutal attack was countered with a clever remark and a veiled insult. But then, at what seemed like the climactic moment, the final counter-retort was given. It was clever. It was so incredibly clever. It completely shut down Yulam and his entire structure of arguments, but, it was not veiled. It was insulting pure and simple. My Baal defeated the thrice crowned git, but in doing so he was unable to avoid the temptation to push the final barb right through the heart. Yulam sat down, face filled with a calm fury. As the agreement was finalized and then signed, I found myself watching his face, not because of its handsomeness, but instead because of its lack of drama. Instead of simmering in a resentful hatred like he should have according to his cultural identity, he was barely emoting at all. And the more I looked at him, the more I suspected he was in fact holding back something of a smile.

I couldn’t understand why he might be doing something like that, and I remained confused through the day. We received the signed agreement and returned back to our inn, celebrating our success. But then, half way through our meal, there was a heavy knock upon the door of the inn, and a moment later a dozen individuals, dressed in the plate mail that had so confused us upon our arrival, burst into the inn. One of them read some kind of proclamation off of a large scroll, and then pointed at my Baal. Two of the metal men moved towards him, and I instinctively moved to intercept, but even as I moved, I realized I had no idea how I might damage these foes without any weapons. Perhaps I could grapple one, but the other would have me in an instant were I to commit to such an attack. I looked to my Baal for a sign, and he shook his head. They dragged him out and away. Their was a great deal of confusion after that. Nabua told me he’d figure out what was going on. I nodded, somewhat pulled out of the situation by my Baal’s absence, but I managed to pull myself together and help the captain in organizing the pirates, so easily riled by the presence of law enforcement. Then, I waited for Nabua.

The full nuance of the situation was lost on me. In simplified form, this was the situation. The five key elements of the Doktik culture are Love, Battle, Leadership, Craft, and Sport. Each one is associated with one of their five gods, and each one is dominant over another, Love over Battle, Battle over Leadership, etc, with Sport looping back around and being dominant over Love. The five prince or princesses that presided over the large court were the most superior at each of these traits. Normally their would be five different leaders. But, somehow, Yulam had managed to be deemed the greatest at three of the five. He was considered the master of Love, of Battle, and of Leadership. As such, he was extremely powerful. He was also dangerous to insult. Because he was the head of both Battle and Leadership he had full control over the police, something usually split between two individuals. My Baal’s actions during the day had been seen as a challenge to Yulam’s mastery of leadership, but the insult at the end was excuse enough for Baal Uras to be locked up, as the law was loose, intended to be interpreted by two somewhat opposed individuals. Based on an extreme interpretation of a law surrounding foreigners, to impugn the character of one of the five leaders was an offense punishable by death. And, according to Nabau’s quick research concerning the governing law of the land, their was only one way to overturn the decision and save my Baal from his fate.

As the law was an act of Leadership, and leadership was dominated by Battle, one could challenge any law considered unjust only by the method of a duel, a Battle to decide the spirit of the law. Nabua explained that I had to act immediately, go down to the station and invoke the right of Battle in defense of my Baal. Otherwise, he could be executed at any moment. I did so with great haste. My complaint was registered, as well as my challenge, and I was told to report back in the morning. And I did so.

The next few days were a blur of arguments and counterarguments, a full blown brawl in the house of law on the isle of Adroth. Some argued I could not do what I had done as a foreigner, others argued that the implied superiority of the Doktiks meant that they should accept all challengers from the lesser islands, others still referenced the agreement that had just been signed between them and the true lands which guaranteed special protections to each others citizens. This was compounded by people who argued that the Baal had bested Yulam at Leadership and should take his place, and if I should win the battle, then I should take his Battle slot as well. Then, partially through all of this, a counter was set down by Yulam. Since the power dominant over Battle was Love, he proposed marriage to me in order to counter my Battle counter to his Leadership based arrest. After looking everything over, Nabua concluded that my only option, if I wanted to maintain my claim of Battle, was to counter his Love with my own, and accept his proposal. If his act of love was equaled by my own then it did not counter the battle, which would commence as planned. And so, heart filled with loathing and disgust, I assented. The whole thing was dramatized in the way of these people, and the marriage was planned to begin the moment the battle was over. Of course, should I lose the battle, then I would be free to turn down the marriage as I would not care if he won out in the world of Love, but should I win, I would need to go through with it, in order to sustain my Battle based victory, and defeat the law that was sentencing my Baal to death. As such, I am now here, waiting for the battle, prepared for one of two terrible fates. I really wish I had killed this bastard the first time we met.

And so, dear diary, I am afraid this may very well be my last entry. If I should fail to save my Baal, I shall be ashamed of ever writing again. Should I die in battle, then I’ll be dead, and if I end up married to this smarmy, half-cocked, bastard, arrogant son of a whore, then I may just have to kill myself and also be dead. Nabua is working away, looking for some secret way to counter all of the counters and get us all safely out, but I am not optimistic. But, I know I can’t lose, so, dear diary, goodbye.

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