Posts Tagged ‘Anatu’

The Fifth Path (28/30)

November 30, 2016

Anatu’s Diary Entry for Tisritum 8th

Dear diary, I am sorry it has been so long. More than two months since I last wrote to you about the boring ride to the island that was to be the last on my former Baal’s Awakening. I had promised you then that I would write again soon. I was unable to complete that promise. Or rather, I did not choose to. I am sure I could have. But I had not been in the right mood for some time. I had to get everything sorted in my head. I still am not sure if I do have everything sorted. But I’m doing something now, so I guess its sorted enough. And now that I am doing something again I can write to you. As for having stuff to write about, at least I can deliver on that part. There is a fair bit to write about. In fact there is way more to write about today than is at all reasonable. I won’t be able to do justice to any of it. But I figured I should get it all out there now. Then I don’t have to worry about hiding it from you or something. I can go back and write more later. Now I shall just be writing the quick version, just to keep you informed of the happenings in my life. Lets get started, lest I get cold feet.

I guess the first thing to talk about is the island. It was definitely an exciting island. There was technology there like great en-jin as big as buildings that did more than propel a boat, but seemed able to do anything, like make light or open and close things or a hundred others things. They were terrifying and enormous, and the locals seemed to think they were gifts from a god, but they were quite impressive all the same. The locals also seemed in general to have better technology in most areas. Better hand cannons, better metals, better lamps. I can only imagine Nabua’s journal entries about the place. And in addition to being exciting in terms of new stuff, it also had nice clothing, pretty, but in respectable styles. I ended up in the military for a bit, as I’ll explain in a moment and the uniforms were very nice indeed. I kept the uniform, even though I was not supposed to, and just wear it some days as my normal clothes. Plus, the people were really nice. At least when they were not murdering one another. Any time I was not in a direct martial conflict with someone however, they were the very model of polite and attentive. Were it not for the whole civil war thing, it would have been one of the nicest islands on the whole adventure.

Lets talk about the civil war then. Basically, when I got there, the fighting had been going on for quite a while. I learned later that Nabua had kinda set it off on accident, though it would have exploded soon regardless most likely. I’ll get into the reasons for the conflict later, but suffice to say it was large scale. I ended up getting involved in it almost right away. As soon as our little boat touched down on the dock, a pack of rebels charged into the boat, hoping to commandeer it. I held them off for a while, with the help of some tight corridors and a miniscule amount of assistance from my scared stiff compatriots. Then the army arrived, routed the bastards, and since they saw me fighting and appreciated my skill, gave me a chance to join up right there. Considering their opponents had just tried to pirate the boat I was on, and I wanted an excuse to be on the island anyways, I took them up, leaving the crew behind terrified. I think they managed to actually make a decent profit before they left since the city was kind of under siege and really needed the supplies anyways. Didn’t really wait around to find out though. Just kinda joined the army and went off to war.

It was actually less than three hours after I joined before I was in combat officially. They had fitted me for a suit, gave me a hand cannon thing and taught me to use it, and given me instructions on the whole chain of command structure in that short interval. Still didn’t know why the fighting was happening during my second fight, but at least I was impressed by my side’s efficiency. I fought well, and I managed to get the attention of the leader of the ground based military for the whole island, one General Amkius, supreme commander of the homeland forces for Udisur Island. Ended up as part of his personal unit for the rest of the time I was fighting. Helped me get the big picture pretty fast. Learned the basic gist of the reason for the conflict. Seems like Amshur ended up on this very location when he passed out and started dreaming up the false lands, and the people of this island, as well as a crazy five headed woman defend the sleeping body in order to prevent almost all of reality from disappearing. At least that’s what I was thinking at the time. Some of the details ended up being a bit off later, but I’ll get to that.

In any event, the bad guys, or at least the guys we were all fighting decided the ancient task had been a trick, and that the best idea was actually to wake Mr Amshur up, and with it the world or something. They thought the five headed lady was in fact a monster that was trying to cause negative things to happen. In the end they don’t end up being totally wrong. Everyone was a bit wrong though. Neither side really nails it. But anyways, I fight for the side with the snazzy general and the tons of resources, mostly because I liked the people I was fighting with, and again, it gave me a chance to try and find my companions. Plus defending Amshur seemed like a good idea. Perhaps some priests might make the argument that the false lands are an evil distraction that should be ended, but having lived there and met people who were born and lived within the false lands, I could not in good conscious end its existence. That would include the peoples lives, and as much as they are not men and not women, they actually are men and women too. They are people, and wiping out their reality seemed like a really terrible thing to do. So I was on the side that did not want that to happen.

The fighting was intense. Lots of battles. Some were close, others were complete domination. Though we kept winning battles, we were somehow getting pushed back anyways, our positions being pushed in by more and more recruits on the enemy side. We were being pushed back to the temple where the god, Amshur, was kept, as well as where the five headed lady was often seen. As we got closer the battles got more and more crazy. Weird monster beasts started joining both sides, which was something I did not really understand. It was not so much our section of the campaign which had the monster allies, but other bits of the army commanded by others did. I ended up seeing glimpses of Nabua on the other side of the battle, which worried me. I could not really see how the other side was justified, but if he was over there then there was something I might have been missing. If I could have found time to go and talk to him I would have, but that doesn’t happen very much between two opposing armies. With the benefit of hindsight, I know I was in a couple battles with Uras as well, though I never did see him until the end. Did not know he was part of the other large military force fighting in the south while my General held the north.

As the battles got closer and closer to the great temple, General Amkius came up with a plan to decisively win the war. The other army would lure the rebels into the temple, holding strong at the deepest possible point, and then our army would flank around, and we crush them in a pincer attack. From what I heard the other army was not particularly happy with the arangement, but it was really the only way to ensure we could get enough of the rebels to end the fighting. If they were able to escape they would just recruit more and expand again. We needed to take them out decisively in a single blow, and this was the way to do it. We had to risk our most precious resource, the dreaming god, but with the other army as a shield within it did not feel like much of a risk. Ended up being a close thing on everyone’s parts.

There was a lot of fighting, we surrounded the forces, but they were able to use the terrain of the temple to hold our force with a much smaller one, while sending the bulk of their force in to try and break through the other army. It was a good plan, and I wondered if it was Nabua’s. (As it turned out, he inspired it, but he did not actually order it in that fight.) Our counterattack was focused attacks designed to force a couple units at a time through the defenses. I was one of those units, and soon found myself past the initial defenses of the rebels. I moved deeper and deeper into the temple, eventually reaching the deepest chamber where everything was going down. It was something of a standoff. A small group of defenders from the other army, including Uras and a well dressed woman I would eventually learn was the leader of the other army, was standing around something like a large stone bed with the unmistakable shape of a sleeping god lying upon it. I can’t tell you why it was so unmistakably a god, but it was. Or at least it was something non human. God is a word I don’t use as lightly any more. Anyways, standing with them is the five headed woman, each face more beautiful than the last, each pair of eyes a different color. And opposite them, was a large contingent of rebels, all heavily armed, with Nabua standing uncomfortable off to the side. I consider what to do. I was not sure if I had been seen yet, so I decide to wait and see what is happening.

One of the rebels talks to the leader of the army. It all seems relatively humane. But then they get to a part of the argument that they can’t agree on and it breaks down from there. It looked like a fight was about to break out. Before it can though, both Nabua and Uras speak. They talk about how different beliefs don’t have to mean combat, don’t have to mean death. Its pretty poignant, Uras’s for its elegance, Nabua’s for its raw nature. The fighting hesitates another moment. The five headed woman gets a chance to talk, but ends up aggravating everyone. The fighting starts. Nabua calls out some sort of scheme. I rush in to try and end the fighting as quickly as possible. The rebels drop fast, with me, the five headed lady, plus the other army people all together against them. But Nabua’s plan is clever. One of them just stood back and pulled out a trumpet, and blows it as hard as can be, hoping that she can wake the dreaming god with just a loud noise. All eyes turn to the sleeping god. He rolls over. Then he stretches. And while everyone is distracted with that, Nabua creeps up to the god and tosses a canteen full of water on the guy. Spluttering, the gods eyes open. I prepare for the end of all things, for the world around us to vanish in a poof of dream. The god rubs his eyes and stands up, yawns and looks around. He is very much awake. And reality, the false lands, are in fact still in existence. Everyone is quite surprised, even Nabua, who looks relieved. The five headed woman’s heads all retract down into one, and she rushes over to the newly awake god.

There is a few moments of almost comedy. Anshur is pretty confused about how long he has been asleep. When the answer turns out to be more than a millennium, he has a hard time accepting it. With Uras acting as something of a mediator, and Nabua inputting some questions and suggestions here and there, the story unravels. Long story short, Bel, the god that I had grown up worshiping as the one true god of the true lands is a super terrible person that ended up deceiving everyone for a thousand years. There was some sort of fight between him and Anshur as well as the five headed lady, who turns out to be named Tiamet, which is the given name of the Monster. But the Monster is not actually a terrible being hell bent on twisting the false lands into a hell scape and taking over the true lands. Turns out she was just a rival for power for Bel, and he had a complicated scheme to get her and Anshur out of the way.

Basically Bel ended up putting Anshur to sleep in a ways where he would never wake up naturally, only if woken up by another. Then he convinced almost everyone that it was somehow Tiamet’s fault, including Tiamet, and that their was a huge distaster that would happen if he was woken up early and did not wake up on his own. This got Tiamet to take him away and protect him. Once she was gone the story was able to be shifted even further, where Tiamet became the big bad of everything, Anshur became a victim who had made bad choices, and Bel became the only god/leader left in the area that came to be called the true lands because of further screwing around with stuff. Anshur being asleep ended up being associated with the continuation of all lands that were not controlled directly by Bel, and this trick held up for a thousand years. Tiamet took on the form of the five headed woman protecting Anshur because she was frightened of using her old name for fear people would try to hunt her down because of all the rumors. She believed Anshur would wake up on his own eventually.

Its quite a mess, and it had to be explained several times before I, and most people present got the idea properly. Kinda threw my whole concept of the world out of wack though. Baal are chosen by Bel to be rightful leaders. But Bel is not someone I want choosing leaders any more. Uras agreed and renounced his title. There was a lot of talks of what to do next. Somehow I ended up being tagged in as being the one that needed to go back and free the “true lands” from the tyranny of Bel. Got marked by Anshur and Tiamet with some special marks that makes me look like the Princess of Flame, a former goddess that Bel killed somewhere in this whole mess. It sounded exciting at the time, but after I got around to thinking about it, the idea kinda scared me. I was not sure at all that I was up for the freeing everyone from tyranny under Bel, the god I have trusted completely and totally my entire life. I was kind of a mess for a while. Ended up just kinda wandering across the ocean, island hopping, not wanting to think about what I needed to do to save my country. The marks that made me look like a dead goddess were good for getting people to give me rides and stuff, but they didn’t come with any special powers or anything, and with my language skills I ended up being quite confused and pretty lost real quick. I felt like I should have gotten an entourage. I had been a bit flushed with the whole, looking like a dead goddess thing at the time during the meeting and kinda missed a lot of the points. Then I walked out of the meeting and realized no one was traveling with me.

It turned out I did not get as screwed as all that, dear diary, Nabua met up with me about a month later, with one less hand, but with one extra pirate lady to whom he was now apparently engaged. Seems he had wanted to find her again, then was willing to help me get back to homeland. The whole losing a hand things seemed like a pretty big deal to me, but he didn’t seem interested in talking about it. He was so ecstatic about finding the pirate lady, he said it was a fair price to pay. It wasn’t his writing hand, which was at least good for him considering how much he liked his journal. He didn’t feel comfortable actually helping with the whole conversion of my people away from Bel thing, because he figured as a member of another religion he might actually make things harder, which made sense. He did inform me that I would be getting some help on that front though. Seems that Tiamet and Anshur were going to show up to help me out later, but they wanted a bit of time to spend together before going back to face the guy that put one of them in a coma for a thousand years and turned the other into an obsessed guardian hated by most of the world for that same period. Also seemed reasonable.

It was also reasonable for me to get a bit more help in the whole scenario then just myself and a few other humorists. And so, before I went back to my homeland, and faced that empty journey to the capital and the endless battle for acceptance that would begin at that point, I acquired a few more friends.

These friends were largely those we had met on our journey, who had stood out as being expectational and useful, as having gone over and above the usual call of duty. It was just such people that would be essential to beginning a revolution within homeland. There was some more than small amount of emotion shared between myself and Nabua, when we stopped on the desert island only days from homeland, and at long last reunited with Hadia. It was a good reunion, though one who’s celebration would have to be delayed, for we had to return to the boat, and head back towards land. And so, dear diary, I write to you know, telling you everything about my life in these last few months, and hoping that you too can help in my, yes dear diary, my, quest to save my people from the wickedness of our once thought god. So, we start tomorrow, wish me luck.


The Fifth Path (25/30)

November 28, 2016

Anatu’s Diary Entry for Abu 7th

Dear diary, the trip to the island we have been working so hard to reach, the island I described as myth and legend, was really boring. After I managed to get myself a job as security for a vessel, we set out the next day early in the morning. But we sailed a leisurely pace, and when I spoke with the crew, who had seemed reasonably exciting the day before, it soon became apparent that they were all generally not that interesting. Each one seemed interested primarily in the money of the endeavor, which was itself a not so great sign, but in addition, they didn’t even have any particularly great ambitions for what to do with the money. Buy a better house, or buy nicer food, or pay for more nights at the bar. These and more like them were the reasons I heard when I inquired into the motives of my fellow crew members. After having spent my life among the desperate poor, or the nobility, the wants and desires of those somewhere in the middle seemed painfully unimportant. Not that I begrudged these men and women their normal, average sort of wants, needs, and lives, but I became glad indeed that my life had turned out the way it did, that I had been the defender of kings and Baals, and not a simple trader or merchant. I could not imagine such a life being fulfilling. At least for me.

Even the captain, usually the person most interesting on the boats, was but a simple merchant, wanting a safe and easy voyage for a not particularly large profit. A modest reward was sought by all of these people, and in exchange they wanted no risk at all. I became more understanding of my companions interests in the absurd feats of nautical legerdemain that they had sought to and basically succeeded in performing in the days past. While I had never really considered myself a thrill seeker, or one much in favor of risks, the fear and complacence of the crew members here had me wishing we were sailing through another Gap, or heading towards another unknown civilization. I suppose, dear diary, that that last one is true. At least for me. I still know little about the culture of the place we are headed to. Some of the majesty has been lost to me however with the knowledge that men and women such as those aboard this vessel frequent it with little problem however. I wonder if my Baal and Nabua will be disappointed by this place, which has, to some extent, been the ultimate goal of our whole journey. It seems unlikely that a place so casually traveled too shall be quite as exciting or engaging as the mysterious lands of the unpronounceable kingdom or the dangerous depths of the “Green Sea”. It always felt to me like the last place would have to be the ultimate experience in a whole slew of interesting adventures. But it has begun to feel unlikely to me. But I could perhaps be being lured into a false sense of security by the people around me. Maybe they are truly rough and tumble individuals, who face danger, but treat it as just a days work. I guess we’ll see, dear diary.

The other aggravating thing about the journey, apart from the lack of interesting company, and the sheer banality of everyone around me, was the slow pace we set. I was already behind Nabua by a day or two, and it was quite possible my Baal had also managed to set out quickly, wherever he might have washed ashore. I was sure I was losing time however as my ship crept slowly across the water. My worst fear was that I would discover my companions had indeed arrived there, but then left without me. It didn’t seem particularly likely, but the possibility of it added to my general frustration with the ship I was on and the people around me. I was never directly confrontational, but as the days passed, people talked to me less, so I imagine that I was not the easiest to be around in that time. The days passed slowly but steadily. I was bored, and I thought to write to you, dear diary, but I had nothing truly to write about. I sat down to describe my day or days, but nothing came. The idea of filling you with the banality of the lives which surrounded me was not an appealing one. And so I sat around, talked with people I cared not a bit about, and did some exercises to stay in shape, in the unlikely event that my services as a guard would be called upon. Plus, seeing me doing active things seemed to put my crew members in a bad mood, as though the very thought of action or violence was too much. This was and effect I found not entirely undesirable.

At last however, I decided it was time to write to you, dear diary, for we are at last close to the island. My expectation, and hope is that whatever I encounter there will be at the very least, more interesting than what I found on the ride over, and I wanted to get through the boring bit now, so that I could cut right into the exciting bits next time I write to you. There were in fact a few interesting things that occurred at the tale end of the journey as well. I encountered the illusionary effect that had led to the island being considered beyond the edge of the world. It would perhaps have been exciting if my crew mates had not described exactly how it was created, and how it was nothing to be afraid of approximately five hundred times before it even came into view, apparently not wanting to see the unsettling sight of someone even momentarily excited or frightened by something. We did increase our speed a bit in order to crest the gap safely, reaching a speed which would have been barely above average for most vessels, but for this crew was positively startling. I tried to look over the edge, to the consternation of my crew mates, and get a look at the emptiness below, but it was a strange angle, and somewhat late at night, so I could not see far. Still, despite the best efforts of the rest of the ship, it was an exciting sight at least, unlike anything I had seen before, a crack in the ocean, where water fell in a massive waterfall, before continuing almost invisibly a bit past, above a black surface that looked like so much emptiness. I smiled as we passed over.

The island too managed to catch my attention a bit as we approached. In the night the towns lit up more brightly than I really thought possible. I could not imagine what could possibly be causing them to glow with such fervor unless they were on fire, and they lacked the warm red and orange glow of that kind of light. It was interesting, and the crew members had no simple explanation for it. I learned, when I asked, that they had not in fact ever gotten a chance to walk upon the island itself. Always they docked, and goods were transferred while they remained aboard their boat. That the place was at least that mysterious, and that its secrets were not known to people such as these, raised my spirits a good bit. Perhaps this place had the chance of meeting my expectations. In the last few hours, as I have been slowly writing down these events while considering and eating lunch, as we have been traveling the last short distance to the port where we are to dock, there have been a few more signs that have peeked my interest as well. A great deal of smoke became visible rising from a number of inland locations as we got closer. In addition, distant crashes, sounding somewhat like cannons could be heard in the far distance, as well as bright flashes of light here and there. It seemed like there might be something going on on the island of mystery. My fellow ship mates have been pointedly ignoring these signs for the last hours, which has amused me greatly, and as we close in on the dock, I can hardly wait to find out what news we shall discover. In fact I shall not wait, but rather prepare for disembarking. I shall write again soon, dear diary. And this next time I’ll actually have something worth writing about.

The Fifth Path (22/30)

November 23, 2016

Anatu’s Diary Entry for Abu 1st

I am sorry, dear diary, that I have not written to you for so long. Its been a week since I wrote to you, the day before we left the island of grey skinned people and sailed out on a little boat. And what a week it has been. A great deal has happened, and I am not entirely in a good place right now, but I will do my best to record the facts, get everything down on paper. Its helped before. Hopefully it will help again.

So, to start, we boarded the boat. It was very small compared to anything else I have used to cross the water. Room enough for maybe five people if you fit them in tight. As it was, with three of us, we still were close together. None of us really knew much about boats. I mean, we had all been sailing on ships for a while now, and we knew a bit about them, but this was a boat, it had no sail, and it was small, rocked and rolled by the waves more than any other vessel we had been aboard. I was not enthused, and we should have been more cautious. Maybe we should have tried to get a local guide. But we didn’t and we set out in the tiny boat, overloaded with all our gear and supplies, and us three. We all rowed together. My Baal was in excellent spirits after his lone excursion, and although it had not been nearly as much for those forced to guard the treasure, it was good to see him happy again. He had seemed down for a while. As such, we were all in a pretty good mood. We rowed, and kept watch for the next island, which would be close enough to see within a few hours of rowing according to the locals. Sure enough, about two hours after we began, almost on the nose, we spotted land. It was far off, and considering how tired my arms already felt from the journey thus far it was a bit discouraging, but it was good to see where we were going.

Nabua was acting as our navigator, and he kept having us weave back and forth through the water. He was convinced there was a current somewhere that would carry us most of the way without us having to row the whole way, and kept trying to find it. I don’t blame him for what happened, but had we stayed straight on track, then maybe things would have been different. Probably not, but maybe. So we weaved our way across the way, and as we did so the sky began to darken. The clouds became thick and black. The wind began to pick up, and the gentle up and down which had been so constant in our journey thus far became more of a jostle and then shove as we continued, doing our best not to let the little vessel capsize. That we might simply tip over and lose all our stuff and likely our lives was a constant fear, as the boat seemed not very stable at all. Somehow we continued on, the waves ever rising, sliding over the crests and rushing down and back up the next, only getting lightly splashed each time. It was a testament to Nabua’s general skill at picking up skills that we got through that part of the journey. He knew we might need to have someone who knew about boats at some point, so he had, before the journey began, packed a book on that subject. Then, the day before we were to set out on the fateful journey, he read the book cover to cover, picking up a hundred little things that most would not have realized after ten readings.

Cresting and rolling, barely able to see where we were going except at the top of each wave, we moved slowly towards our destination. Often times we had to move parallel to it in order to avoid being crushed by waves, but never further away. Inch by inch, meter by meter, we approached the distant island. Then, after hours of fighting for our survival, fighting each wave, fearing death with each fall and each rise, we appeared to finally be close. We could see rocks nearby, little extensions of the island. And then we messed up, and there was water, and I tried to swim and I hit my head on a rock and their was blood and I swam, and I started to drown, and I dragged myself up on a rock in the sea, spat out the water, then was pushed back in by a huge wave. I swam underwater, then above, trying to get air. I could not see where I was going or where I was coming from.

Again and again I found temporary refuge on small rocks and bits of coral, but they were both a blessing and a bane, for while they gave me temporary respite from swimming and bobbing, they were hard and sharp and when the waves pushed you up against them you could bleed or faint of be crushed. I don’t know how many times I grabbed onto a rock, was pulled away, swam towards another rock, and repeated the process. Somehow eventually, by the grace of Bel, I ended up on sand. My legs were bruised and bleeding and my whole body felt tired, but I managed to drag myself up the shore, away from the sea, get myself free from the water so when I passed out I would not be dragged back into the ocean. I looked, and saw no water reaching my feet and I passed into darkness.

I was awoken by a dream. It was fortunate for me that I was, for my first sight upon waking up was of a crab claw reaching for my eyes. Had I stayed asleep a moment longer I might very well have lost one or both eyes. As it was, I managed to pull myself away, and kicked out at the crab, startling it enough for it to back up. I noticed a dozen more like it nearby, in something of a circle around me. It seemed they were hoping for an easy meal. I planted my hands into the soft sand and pushed, getting myself to my feet, able to stand, but only shakily. With my full height reached, the group of crabs retreated, deciding they might seek easier prey. With that threat gone, my mind was finally able to take stock of the situation. I realized then that I had no idea where my companions were, or even whether they yet lived. I was not happy about this. Had the crabs known the language of Bel, they might very well have been shocked at the words I used in that moment.

My priority of course was Baal Uras, though finding Nabua was a close second. The shock of having lost track of them both managed to push my weakened body into a state in which I could run. And so I ran, up and down the beach, calling out, looking for any sign of my companions. After three beaches and over three hours of searching, I finally found a clue. Footsteps in the sand far down the third beach, and marks that could only be made by dragging someone along behind you over the sand. One of my companions had washed ashore here, and some group had taken them. I followed the tracks up to the edge of the beach, but after that, when the sand was no more, I lost them completely. I had never learned the art of tracking, as I spent most of my life in a city, where knowing who to talk to is much more important than knowing what to look for. Now of course I cursed myself, blaming myself not knowing a skill that I had really had no reason to learn. Had I been Nabua, maybe I would have packed a book on the subject, carried it in my backpack, and been able to figure it all out after an afternoon with it. But I was not so adept at learning from books, and in fact had no books on me except for you, dear diary. So I did what any self respecting bodyguard would do in that situation and rushed blindly into the jungle.

My maces had been washed away in the storm, but my belt held one long knife, intended for blocking. I pulled out the blade, intending at first to use it as a protective measure, but soon discovering the other useful property of such a long sharp blade, namely cutting through the vines and undergrowth of the jungle, clearing a route where it was possible to walk. I shudder to think how slow the travel would have been if I had had to climb under or over or between every vine and bush. While I was not focused much on the landscape and the surroundings, focused instead on any signs of human life, or any clue to the location of whoever had been dragged in here, I still managed to spot the incredible number of snakes that seemed to flee from my presence. The place was thick with them, both in the trees and pushes and on the ground. My interaction with snakes had largely come from the true land of course, so I had no fear of them, not really believing the tales of men dieing from simple wounds. Had I known that half the snakes I drove before me could have killed me in less than a day with a single bite, I would perhaps have been a bit more cautious. As it was, I killed two snakes that tried to bite me, and then was caught by a third, which moved much more swiftly than I was expecting.

From that point I lose a lot of memories. I remember continuing through the jungle, not aware of the danger I was in. I remember the arm swelling up, and a numb feeling spreading. I remember my lungs becoming harder and harder to use, and my heart fluttering. Then, there is a long time where my memories are not but images. The jungle from below. A snake slithering across my body. A great black beast walking solemnly past. A monkey taking my knife. The terrifying face of a demon. The view of the jungle from someones back. A house up in a tree. Strange plants and weird smells. A bed made of leaves and dirt. The demon giving me food. Night and day and night again.

While I was never truly unconscious for long, I woke up from my stupor like state after two nights. Or rather in the middle of the second night. I did not really understand what had happened to me. I saw the demon sleeping on the ground, but his face was propped up against the wall. I realized then that it was a mask. I knew I needed to keep looking for my companions. I tried to stand up. Pain. I was on the ground, face planted, nose first on the wooden floor. My nose was broken. I made noises and the man behind the mask woke up. He looked at me, and then, eyes filled with fear, he put on the mask, before lifting me up, and sitting me back down on the bed. He tried to speak to me, but I could not understand. I tried to speak, slowly and not making a lot of sense, but he could not understand. And so the miming began. It was a long slow process, but by the end I had a sense for what happened. The snakes were dangerous, and I was lucky to be alive. It seemed that most died when bitten by the snakes of this island, and that it was only due to the strength of my body, as well as the power of his herbs that I had been OK. I tried to get across that I was looking for my companions, that we had all washed ashore, and that at least one had been taken off the beach and into the jungle.

We tried to communicate about where my companion might be, but it proved impossible, until we started using lines in the dirt, as maps proved to be a universal language. It seemed there was a village where one might potentially find someone who had been taken from the beach. It was apparently dangerous for some reason however, and he did not want me to go, but I insisted, in my non verbal manner. There was little he could do to stop me, unless he wanted to try to trap me here however, so, I was soon moving about and on my way, I was weak still, and I had to get help from a long sturdy pole that I found near my saviors house. It would be useful in a fight certainly, especially with all of my other weapons gone, but the main reason was simply to help me move. My body was still not responding quite correctly, and it was much easier to walk with three legs than two. And so, I hobbled away from the shelter of my new friend, and out into the jungle, towards the village that my friend kept warning me away from.

It took me a day to find the place. The maps had not been very specific, and it was impossible to see more than a tiny fraction of area around you in the jungle. I likely passed within a few dozen yards of it many times before at last, stumbling into the very center of town. There appeared to be some kind of celebration going on, but all of the villagers, each dressed in a different horrifying demon mask, stopped short as soon as they saw me. Before I could respond, they had me raised up in the air, and carried around and around, before being put down in a large golden throne, which was sitting nonchalantly next to a house of leaves and twigs, and a pile of human skulls. They all shouted different things to be, none of which I understood, before at last, some kind of leader came up to me, and bowed low, before presenting me with a morbid gift, a large skull, with dried blood caking it. It was not till I brought the skull in close that I realized the blood formed symbols and letters, and soon I had a message decoded.

It seemed that it had been Nabua who had been dragged from sands to this place. The citizens had treated him kindly at first, but he soon discovered that they hoped to use his bones for fortune telling and he went into overdrive, trying to figure a way out. He apparently managed to do so by convincing them that he was one of their gods. He had left them the skull, to give to anyone who looked like him, for according to him, they too were gods. And the final part of the message was simple. It was instructions on where to meet. The final island, across the sea. It seemed that Nabua had gone on ahead, having some kind of a lead on a boat or something that might be able to take him on. I was hesitant. On the one hand, it was one place that we were all likely to try and go, but on the other, it seemed like abandoning the Baal to go on ahead without trying to look for him. Even as I was presented with a lovely and horrifying meal of meat, insects, and root vegitable, my mind jumped from place to place. Was my Baal also going on ahead? Was he dead? Should I look for him here, or would he need me in those future islands? I was very unsure of what to do.

When at last the party died down, and the people brought me to a very large and comfortable grass bed, this one covered with soft sheets, the same fabric that they had used in the unpronounceable land. I slept well, though my dreams were strange, filled with arguments and mysterious disappearances. I woke up and I slipped out of town, taking a handful of gold from a trunk that was sitting on the ground in my room, and a long spear with me as souvenirs. I had to look for the Baal, I could not give up just yet. And so I headed north. For north was where the port town to this strange island was, a place much different then the jungle that covered most of its surface. It would be there where boats could be hired, and there where my companions would have to have been seen or heard from.

It was a long journey. I killed a lot of snakes on the way, careful now to strike even quicker than they. They were dangerous foes, though thankfully they largely ran away from my presence. My most terrifying encounter was with a huge, twelve foot long brown snake, which reared up, as tall as myself. It struck in a flash. Had I kept my had in the same place on the spear than I would have lost it. Instead, it struck wood with its fangs and I pierced the creatures body with the spear. I stabbed it a couple more times to be certain. It had been a formidable foe. I had other encounters similar, though none quite as heated as that one.

At last I reached the port town on the northern edge. It was completely unlike everything I had seen on the island that far. Pirates and soldiers of Adroth and natives of the island all walked and talked together. Houses were made of stone or cut wood. There seemed a hundred ships out along the shore. I asked about my companions. Of Nabua, there was word. He had come in here, dressed in a rainbow cape, a gift from the tribe that had proclaimed him a god, and traded his services as a translator and navigator for a spot on a boat heading out into the wild lands beyond. But of my Baal I head not. None had heard of another foreigner landing on the sand, not even the locals. Could he be dead, drowned in the ocean before he could wash to shore? No body found indicated this was not likely the case. Still I was worried. But with no news, there was nothing to go off of. I could not search for him with no location where he might be found. So I was forced to follow Nabua’s plan. I would meet him at the fabled lands, continue the journey, alone now.

I did a demonstration of my fighting skills with the spear I had taken from the bone reading tribe, and soon had a job as a soldier on a boat heading in the direction of the fabled lands. It departs tomorrow, and I took this time, to at last speak with you diary. I am alone in the world now, though I know at least Nabua lives still. The quest continues however. If my Baal is dead, then his quest at least is not. I shall complete it for him if need be. The map shall have his name on the isle of legends. I hope that I shall see him there, but if not, then I will see it through at least. Tomorrow I travel the final leg, to the lands of myth and legend.

The Fifth Path (19/30)

November 20, 2016

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.

The Fifth Path (16/30)

November 17, 2016

Anatu’s Diary Entry for Simanu 12th

Dear diary, I know I have not spoken with you for a long time. I hope you can forgive me once you hear my story. If I could have spoken with you I would have, not once, not ten times, but every night. I am not sure I will be able to tell you everything this time dear diary. Not because I am not allowed, or because its too dangerous, but because I don’t know if I can go through with describing all of the events that have occurred since we last spoke. I’ll do my best though. I’ll really try.

We got captured by pirates. We did our best. We were careful. We almost got away a bunch of times. We got caught anyways. We were thrown into a terrible, disgusting, vile, foul smelling cell for a while. Then we were dragged out, stripped naked and presented to the two captains of the ship. They are named Randle Halk and Issi Halk, though they prefer being called Big Brother and Princess respectively. They are not really siblings even though they say they are. I mean, they grew up together, so maybe that counts, but they were born from different parents. Princess is the color of charcoal. Her hair is a touch darker, and even her eyes are all but pure black. Her clothes are always brightly colored though, and she always wears a bright red dye on her lips. Though she is very small, she is extremely strong and fast. She keeps her fingernails long and sharp. She is cruel. I like Randle better. He is huge, one of the largest people I have ever seen. His skin is like the ghost children that are killed at birth back home. His hair is like fire. He has a lot of it, all over his body. His clothes are bright too, always a color that compliments his sister’s. He is strong too, but he acts gentle. I know its not real, but its still better than Princess. He wants you to love him. She wants you to fear her. Together they get what they want.

When we first met them, they shot our friend, the not man, captain of our ship. His body was hung on the sail after he died from the wound. Or maybe before, knowing Prin Issi. Then they talked to Nabua for a while. I became very sick once we returned to the cell. The smell and the sea and everything left me with nothing but a need to get everything out, even after all of it was. That night, vomiting nothing and feeling the worst I have ever felt was the last time I saw Nabua for a long time. We were all taken to different places in the morning. I was made to row. I kept throwing up nothing, but I get beat every time I did, and somehow, eventually my body learned to stop. Or I learned how to make it stop. I still felt like I needed to, but I held it back, just jerked a bit, swallowing and rowing. I was so hungry. I tried to eat the food, but I knew that I would not be able to keep it down if I did. Somehow I managed to keep rowing even though I was sure I did not have the strength for it. It was that or the lash, and dang it, diary, the lash hurts. It doesn’t just hurt you though, it makes you dread it, makes you fear it, makes you do anything not to feel it. I was lucky I was strong. Once I stopped throwing up, I stopped getting hit. I rowed, I slept, eventually I learned to eat. I went above deck once or twice, which is when I saw our dead captain hanging there. I did not know the language of the person next to me, and they kept staring at me in the way that men do, so I had no desire to converse anyways.

I did my best to be ready for an opportunity to get out if something presented itself. I eventually realized that my Baal was also in the same rowing room as me, and so I began keeping track of him, wanting to at least be able to warn him of threats even if I had no way to protect him from them. I forced myself to eat the food and tried to make sure I moved my legs and exercised them even when I was so tired I could barely see. I got word from my Baal eventually about a break out attempt. I was ready to play my part. I was glad to hear that my Baal was trying to get us out of this. I was just trying to be ready for an opportunity, not looking to make my own opportunity. Sadly, it didn’t work out. All the other conspirators were killed the night before the breakout was supposed to happen. Maybe not all. I counted the dead bodies, and there was one less then there was supposed to be. Must have been the traitor that sold us out. I was surprised me and my Baal were not among the dead, but maybe the traitor didn’t know about us, or maybe they thought we would be worth enough money not to kill us.

The next day I was assigned to clean something near the captains’ room. I heard screaming from inside. Then it stopped. Randle opened the door, carrying a body. The body was dripping blood from a ton of different places. Looked like cat scratches, maybe from one of those large cats that we had seen in the unpronounceable kingdom. He looked sad that the body was in fact a body, and not a person. He handed the corpse to a nearby pirate. Then there was shouting from inside the room, and a moment later Princ Issi came out. Her fingers were wet with blood. It looked the same color as her lips. She shouted at Randle for a while, then looked around, stopped her gaze on me, then ran her gaze up and down my body. I was used to such looks, but it was the first time I had ever experienced such a thing from a woman. A bit calmer, she pointed to me, then spoke to Randle a bit. She went inside. Randle came over to me, kneeling down to look me in the eye, his face kind. He tried several languages until he hit on Hishtu. The fact that I only know that and the true language has become, over time, one of the most annoying things about this journey. So much of the world speaks something else. There are so many other things spoken. He asks me some questions about where I work, what I do, what my name is etc. After I manage to remember how to talk, I tell him, glad to have someone to talk to for a bit. He seemed so nice, not like everyone else. Then he patted me on the head, ruffled my hair, and went over to talk to the pirate in charge of my cleaning duty. The pirate nodded. Then Randle went back in. My day continued. But when I was finished cleaning, I was brought back, not to my cell with all the other slaves, but to a small, cramped, but clean, and free of smells, room with a single cot.

In the morning I was cleaned up, and given clothes that actually seemed somewhat nice. Then I was brought up to the same floor, near the captains’ room, then brought inside with a bucket and a mop. The floor was stained with blood. I dutifully began to mop it up. I looked around while I was there. The pirate in charge of me had stepped out of the room almost as soon as he could, apparently afraid to stay in his captains’ room. I was alone, in a room filled with interesting things. I spotted Nabua’s journal sitting on a desk, open, with papers filled with notes and squiggles around it. Apparently one of the captains was trying to decode it. Before I could see much more however, P Issi came into the room, and I started staring at the ground, not looking around at all, certainly not. She prowled around me, watching me work for a bit, before sitting down in front of Nabua’s journal and writing things down. A while later I finished up, and I asked her if there was anything else she needed from me. She looked at the door. Then she motioned to a chair in the corner, instructing me to take a rest for the time being. I set the bucket and mop outside the room, then sat down. Since my face was not visible to her unless she turned around, I went back to inspecting the room. There were maps and globes and weapons on walls and golden trinkets and all sorts of different coins. I saw something that looked like the thing Issi had used to shoot our dead captain. Lots of books too, but all in languages I did not know. There were a lot of things in there that I did not even recognize. Eventually Randle came into the room.

Issi got up, and I was instructed too as well. The pair asked me some questions. They introduced each other to me. Randle talked about wanting to be good friends. Issi was more ambiguous. They spoke about there early adventures as members of another pirate crew, the vile betrayal by our former captain which had resulted in the death of that ship’s captain. They talked about working together to battle their way to the top in the resulting power vacuum. They described their policy changes upon assuming control, talked about all the treasure they had accrued, how they were the third most feared ship in these waters, how they had working relationships with entire governments, who would negotiate individually with them to prevent there attacks. Then they talked about how they were siblings and as close as could be, but how sometimes, they liked to bring others into their little family. Told me I had potential. Asked me if I wanted to be a part of the family. Randle shut the door. Issa walked tow

I did not sleep well that night. I was bleeding in several places. It was good I was in the clean new room or I would have been badly infected. I cried. I tried to sleep. I kept thinking about Princess and Randle. Mostly Princess though. Each time I would start to drift off, or think about something better, she would be there in my mind, not letting me think about anything else. I think I managed to get some sleep. I remember being woken up. It didn’t feel like I had slept though. I almost forgot about the previous day during my shower and while I was getting dressed. Then, I was brought upstairs, and I saw the brightly painted red door. I tried to run. The pirate with me caught me quickly and shouted at me. I screamed. He hit me with the whip. I curled up. I couldn’t go back in. But of course I could. And eventually, after a while, I did. I was bruised and bleeding. I went in. The siblings looked at me with shock. They seemed upset at my condition. They ran outside, and the pirate who had hit me did not have a good day. Randle gave me a hug, patting me on the head, telling me it would be alright. A different pirate was brought up, took me back to be cleaned up, to be cleaned off. Then I was taken back. I stopped stock still when I saw the door again, but this pirate was kinder. He spoke softly to me, moved me slowly towards the door, and even though I had no idea what he was saying, the sound was able to get me unclenched, able to walk again. I went inside.

It was like nothing had happened that last night. The pair treated me like a good friend, like the part of their family that they had talked about at first before… Every time they moved a little fast, or looked at me the wrong way, I flinched, but they acted like they did not understand why. They comforted me, and said kind things to me. Princess treated me like a little sister, showing me different things, giving me advice. Randle too was kind, though this was not actually as much of a surprise. And the whole day, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never did. By the end I was managing to have fun. They were teaching me stuff, and it was interesting and useful. They were industrious pirates with an incredible knowledge of the sea and of people. Princess told me she would teach me her native tongue when I mentioned I felt bad about not speaking more than two languages. The day ended with no further events. I went back to my room, and I slept soundly.

The next day was the same. I woke up, got clean, then spent the day with the captains. I ate with them, meat and fruit and potatoes. We laughed and joked around and planned a raid on a port town. Then I went back to my room and slept. The day after that started the same too, but randomly, for no reason I could tell, at some point Randle closed the door, and that night I went to sleep bleeding again, again unable to sleep because my body kept shaking every time I thought about Princess Issi, and I couldn’t not think about her. And it continued like that. For days at a time they would treat me like their good friend, their little sister. I would learn and even get a chance to contribute. I taught both of the siblings some grappling moves. But then, sometimes, they would not be like that at all. And I would cry, and I would try and figure out why? What had I done wrong? I tried being nice. I tried to figure out what I could be doing or saying that would make them like that. It didn’t seem to matter. Even when I was as nice as I could be it would happen. And when I tried to yell, to ask them why, to get some response from them about it, they would just comfort me, tell me they cared about me. I started doubting myself. Was this happening? But I had the scars and the blood to prove it. I was not crazy. It felt like it would have been better if I was. It just kept going. I thought about fighting back, and I even tried once or twice, but it was always worse if I did. So I let it happen, and I tried to not make mistakes and I cried when it happened. Then we landed at a port town and the pair said they would be gone for a day or two. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad. Would those two days have been the good days or the bad?

So I waited in my room. I considered escape. We were at a port now. There was a place to run. But I did not know where my Baal was. He could be safe outside, having been taken out to be sold, or he might be still trapped inside the hull of the ship, surrounded by the rot and decay and stench of that place. Would escaping bring me closer to or further from my Baal? That is my excuse for why I did not consider it further, dear diary, though I think the true reason might perhaps have been simple fear. The consequences of trying to escape and failing would be… I remember the first time I was there, when I cleaned up the blood. I don’t know why that had happened, but it had to have been like me. Something pushed them that far, and trying to escape might very well be what it was. So I waited in the cell like a good little sister, biding my time, doing what exercise I could in the tiny space. Prin Issi had permitted me to take a small book of phrases back with me to my room so that I might study her language when I had time. Then there was an explosion. I terrible noise split the air.

Then, I did want out. I banged on the door, but no one answered me. I heard shouting and screaming. I heard the boom of cannons and the clash of blades. Someone screamed close by. I heard the jingle of keys, and my door was opened by a fellow that looked to be from the unpronounceable kingdom. He shouted at me in his language, then shoved a sword into my hand, and ran on his way. Charging down the hall, apparently in search of more pirates to kill. I saw the one he had dispatched lying in a pool of blood just around the corner of the hall. I was conflicted. I still did not know where my Baal was. If he was on the ship, then maybe he would be safe and maybe not. If he was on land, then I had no idea. I didn’t know what was going on. After a short period of hesitation, I charged off down the hall that my rescuer had ran down. I’d check the holds first, see if he was chained up down here. I found my rescuer just as he was impaled by another pirate’s sword. Acting as fast as I could, I ran, slid under his legs, and disemboweled the pirate that had done the impaling. My rescuer, gave me a pained smile, ripped the blade right out of his own chest, and continued on charging down the corridor, yelling, and now carrying two swords. I made sure to stomp on the fallen pirate as I moved after my crazy ally. I was in the mood for a little revenge.

As it turns out, you will eventually die from blood loss if you pull a sword from your chest and then keep on fighting. It took nearly another two minutes, and the man killed another five or so pirates before he fell, but it happened. I pressed on, vowing to be slightly less suicidal in my campaign through the ship. I picked up keys from every fallen pirate I found or felled. Then, when I got to the cells, I checked for my Baal, then tossed in the appropriate keys, which were handily marked with symbols, and waved my sword around to indicate fighting pirates. Then I would run on to the next cell. Soon enough I had a regular old army following after me, everyone clanging swords together, eager to get some pirate blood. We ran into another of the unpronounceable kingdom attackers, and I had to do some very quick and convincing gesturing to convince my freed prisoners that she was on their side. Soon enough we had killed another dozen pirates, and had released every prisoner in the cells. It would seem that my Baal had been taken out to market. I refused to consider the other possibility. Imagine my surprise, dear diary, when, ten minutes later, still moving through the ship with my army, I should encounter my dear sweet Baal along with a strangely dressed Nabua. I hugged my Baal tightly, which set up a round of cheers from my little army, then gave a slightly less tight hug to Nabua, though, after hearing his story, perhaps he deserved the tighter one. In any event, I motioned for my freed compatriots to continue the cleansing and go on ahead, while me and my original compatriots stopped to chat for a bit.

There was a general desire to know what we had all been going through, but we all realized that would take way too long, so, assuming the role I had started to acquire back in the unpronounceable lands, I made a suggestion, then after a half second to see if my Baal wanted to veto, turned it into a command. So we all rushed off towards the room I really least wanted to return to, the room with the bright red door. But we had to go back, it had Nabua’s journal, and it had other stuff of ours, including my Baal’s signed agreements with the nations we had visited and some of the gifts we had been given on our travels. The door was closed, and I got a sick satisfaction from kicking it open. I held my breath for a moment as the door crashed open, then exhaled, both relieved and disappointed when it turned out the siblings were not present. Of course they weren’t they had gone to shore. We found everything I remembered being in there, including you, dear diary, and the autobiography draft of my Baal, but Nabua’s journal was missing. Prin Issi must have taken it I explained, siting her interest in decoding it. Nabua seemed shocked that that might be at all possible. Then we decided on our next move. We needed a bit more info to go on than what Nabua had told us already, so we stopped and he talked, giving us the basics of why there was a whole group of unpronounceable folks attacking this ship. He explained he had made a deal with them, and that we should be able to get most of our possessions back, assuming this ship was captured. He was worried about his journal getting away though, and suggested we go after the captains. I considered for a moment, my body flushed from adrenaline, thinking on the pirates I had killed. But then, I thought about Princess Issi Princess and my mind froze, and I shook my head, mumbling about it being too dangerous. So we helped with the mop up on the ship, and the captains got away. Then we got to meet the captain. But I’ll tell you about him next time dear diary. Hopefully I can be braver next time. Hopefully I can tell you everything next time. I’m sorry.

The Fifth Path (13/30)

November 14, 2016

Anatu’s Diary Entry for Aru 11th

Dear diary, we finally left the capital city on the morning of the ninth. It was interesting being back on the road again after spending so long in the city. As different as the unpronounceable land was from the true land, living in the capital had started to bring back memories of living back in Bel’s city. Servants and guards and people everywhere were suddenly once again absent when we hit the road. We returned to the small world of just the four of us, with other people being few and far between. We returned to the world of tents and self cooked food. Once again my Baal and I shared a tent.

It was a bit awkward at first. He suggested partitioning the tent, but that seemed to negate the point of us having the same tent, namely my ability to protect him when he slept. If we were going to partition it, then instead I should just swap with one of the others. He was still obviously uncomfortable, not trusting one or both of not to start something but we talked about it, and decided that we really needed to be comfortable around each other without this feeling if we were going to get along for another ten and a half months under any number of situations. Of course the actual conversation was much more drawn and vague then that, with a lot of references and awkward pauses. I wish my Baal was less weird about it, but I suppose his behavior would be considered more embarrassing than mine out of context. Anyways, we decided we just kinda needed to learn to live with each other, and accept that maybe we would feel a certain way sometimes, but we wouldn’t act on it. And so we went to sleep, or rather, dear diary, he went to sleep, and I stayed up for watch duty.

I don’t think there is much more to say about the city itself. After we discovered the plot, and thwarted it, my Baal was able to get the agreement signed the very next day, then we were able to spend a few days exploring the city and generally resting before we moved on to the next place. We likely would not have done this, as our pale skinned ship captain was waiting for us back at port, but because of the reasoning which led to the assassination attempts, it was deemed wise to stick around for a few days and let Nabua hang out with the kid king for a little bit. I felt like giving someone what they want as a response to them trying to assassinate you was not the right message to send, but considering the power of the kid in question it was kinda reasonable. So, Nabua spent most of his time with the kid, while the rest of us wandered the city, getting a bit of a tour by our guide, who had apparently been something of an important person in several parts of this city several decades ago. We found this out after we found ourselves greeted by a small parade and an organized militia of children all chanting for the old man when we visited one section of town to the far north. After a lot of celebrations, introductions, and being shown around, we finally got a moment alone with the old guide and he explained one small part of his life, something I had begun to realize was likely something of an epic saga.

As it turned out, about thirty years ago, the city had been in the middle of a crisis of leadership. An elderly king was on the throne, but his failing health meant he had no real power. The council of eight was not empowered to run the kingdom however, as that was their mandate only for king’s too young, not too old. As such, the one truly in charge was the king’s adviser, a former member of the royal navy, famous for his ruthlessness in the destruction of pirates who occasionally raided the shores of the unpronounceable land. While this ruthlessness had allowed him to purge the pirates to the point that they were basically gone from the seas surrounding the kingdom, it was less welcome within the great walls of the capital city. This former captain had taken it upon himself to impose discipline upon a society which he had decided was corrupt. Imposing hundreds of restrictions and regulations, he used the incredible bureaucracy of the kingdom to snuff out anything that resembled dissent. If that had been the only problem, that would perhaps have been problem enough, but these harsh rules and restrictions created sufficient anger and resentment towards the palace and the guard that another leader was able to ascend to oppose the captain.

This leader had no official title, being a former leader of a large farming collective far from the capital. Her power was in her ability to influence the people with her words. She stirred up resentment towards the tyrannical captain, but even more than that, she stirred up resentment towards all people like him. I had not known this until the story began, but apparently this land had not always been united. In the past, their had been four different groups that each controlled one part of the large island. They had been united more than five hundred years ago, but there were still cultural differences remained. And, because the initial uniting had occurred through the military supremacy of one of the four groups, that group had retained political power in the country ever since. The king, and almost all of the powerful leaders in the capital were from that group. This woman, from a region still thick with the culture of another group, still somehow, resentful, after half a millennium, was harnessing that resentment and anger towards the quarter of the population that controlled the fates of the rest. The king, and the captain, and more than half of the council of eight were members of that group. So too were about forty percent of the population of the capital city.

Tensions were flaring. The guards had been empowered to act aggressively towards those who violated the captain’s strict orders, modeling the guards more after the military force he was used to running then was entirely appropriate for a group that was supposed to be protecting civilians. Meanwhile, the woman from the farmlands, called Kindle by her people, had, through speeches and manifestos brought a large number of men and women together in opposition to the guards, and to all of the people who supported, or even looked like, the leadership. It was not a safe place, with fights between the groups common, many buildings being burned, and innocent citizens being harassed or raided by one or both sides due to a belief they were helping the other. Now, initially the northern part of the city, the section which had thrown our guide a parade upon his arrival, had been able to stay out of the conflict. It was a part of town largely filled with houses and families, few businesses and little in the way of things of things to be policed. Unfortunately, it also had I high concentration of people from the captain’s racial group. And one night, after a particularly aggressive speech by Kindle, a large mob formed, deciding that if their families were going to be harassed and hurt by the guard, then they were going to do the same to the families of the guard, which, according to someone with a loud voice in said mob, happened to mostly live in the north part of town.

So it was that a group of Kindle’s men, carrying simple tools as weapons, and filled with anger towards the group which oppressed them, stormed through the previously calm streets of north town. Once they arrived, they stopped, and began to argue among themselves as what exactly to destroy or attack. North town was a pretty big part of town, and almost everyone knew someone in the area, so they didn’t want to burn the whole place down. Eventually however, they settled on a small section of town, a set of nicer houses, together with a large building that held many families. It was known to be almost exclusively populated by the hated race, and worse, rich members of said race. They moved slowly through the streets, shouting and knocking things over, and generally making a ruckus. But, no one came out to stop them. Hundreds and even thousands of people had been awoken by their moving about, their loud shouting, and their argument. Everyone knew where they were going, but each said, at least it is not us. Though the mob was barely more than sixty or so men and women, none opposed it, each family watching it pass by through there window. At last, they stood before their target, preparing to burn the place down, and catch anyone that tried to escape from the fire. That was when finally, someone opposed them.

It was an old man, still old, even thirty years ago, who had come out from a small building across the street from the targeted block. He was a bureaucrat then, a man who’s job was to make sure that all of the local services, such as street cleaning, firefighting, school teaching, etc, all got done, and all got done within budget. He had been working late, checking the attendance records of local teachers, making sure that everyone was being paid, but also that everyone was actually doing their jobs. He had heard the noise, heard the shouts and the promises of vengeance. So, seeing as he was in charge of making sure the buildings were maintained, and that being burned down was not very good for the long term maintenance of the area, he set out to make sure that that did not happen.

It must have been a sight to see, the mob of dozens of men, all angry, all ready to burn the place to the ground. And then, before them stands one lone elderly gentleman, wearing the clothes of an ordinary bureaucrat. And yet, they stopped somehow, they did not simply rush past the man, brush him aside. Something about his slow plodding steps, his warm, but unyielding stare managed to halt the group, at least for a moment. One of the mob stepped forward, speaking for them. He shouted for the elderly man to get out of the way, told him that he had no business here right now, that he had best move along if he didn’t want to get burned with the rest. The old man calmly explained that it was in fact literally his business to make sure the buildings did not get burned down. He said that there was only a small budget for rebuilding houses in this district and that it would only cover a couple of houses, not the dozens that would be burning if these folks had there way. He suggested an abandoned building a few blocks away if they really wanted to do some burning, it was apparently condemned anyways, and it would save him a bit of money if they didn’t have to pay someone to tear it down. All of this stunned the group for a bit, taking some of the bluster out of their sails. This was not the appropriate response to the demands of an armed mob at all.

Perhaps, if the mob had been less motivated, if the hatred that drove it had been a bit less justified, then that right there would have been enough to calm and disperse the group. Unfortunately, they rallied, the leader man telling the old man exactly how much he cared about the local finances. The people in the house were the enemy, they were the cause of the trouble tearing this city apart, and they were going to pay that night, regardless of the costs to the local government. The man nodded at this, seeming to accept this as a rational argument. He started to turn to leave, but then seemed to hesitate, turning back to the mob, asking them to wait just a moment longer. Again flustered, the mob leader asked what he wanted now. The old man explained that while he was all for the destruction of those causing this awful situation, and he understood that people had to pay for everything that had been done, he wanted to know if perhaps an exception could be made for one little girl in the block of houses. He told them that she was not even a part of the targeted racial group, that she was barely six years old, and that she hoped to grow up to be a dancer. The mob seemed uncomfortable burning the little girl to death. They were not here to kill one of their own, especially a child. Maybe this was not such a good idea. The mob leader united them again however, telling the old man that he could go in and retrieve the girl, but that they were burning the rest.

The man thanked them, and turned to go into the building, but he stopped a moment, turning back to them with another quizzical look. The leader shouted, asking what he could possibly want now. The old man, again expressing his general acceptance of the need to burn the place to the ground, wondered if he might also save one more child, a friend of the first. And while this child was indeed of the hated race, surely he hadn’t done anything yet, at the tender age of six, to deserve burning to death, and besides, the girl he was going in to save would be very sad without him. More grumbling in the ranks. They didn’t really want to kill kids right? Even the guard hadn’t actually killed any kids yet. They’d roughed some up certainly, but to burn down some kids seemed extreme. Somehow however, the mob leader still managed to get his people organized again, this time asking how many kids were in the building, and if the old man could get them all out. The old man thought for a moment, listed off a dozen or so names, explaining these were all the ones under eight. There another dozen older than that, but still kids. The arguing started up again. Before it could really get going, though, the old man interjected again, seeming to have just thought of something. He asked, ever so politely, if he might be able to save a few of the parents as well? For you see, without the parents, the kids would go to the orphanage, and he had just done the budget on that, and there was no room for another two dozen kids. Maybe ten would fit if he could get a little extra money, but he definitely needed enough guardians still alive to take care of the other fifteen odd kids.

And that, as they say, was that. The mob lost all of its motivation. The leader tried to get a few people back into the zone, tried to get people to go and maybe burn down a different part of town, with slightly less sympathetic characters. But the heart had gone out of it. The people had seen their targets as people, and with them seen that way, it was hard to unsee. And so it was, that our guide, in his role as municipal bureaucrat, saved a few hundred lives, and became a hero to the local people. And if, a few other districts seemed to have similar municipal minsters, and the heart went out of a few more mobs in the following weeks, then that was an awfully strange coincidence wasn’t it. And if all the people that lost there will to mob those nights seemed to lose the drive to mob another night, and the drive to mob itself seemed to flicker and fade, that was just good luck, certainly. And if, without a clear enemy or instigators of opposition, the captain was able to less and less justify his heightened security, until at last he was forced out of the job by a united council of eight, well that’s just the way history works. Lets just say, that after a couple days wandering around with our guide, and hearing little bits of the parts he played in the ending of a very dangerous situation, I found myself with an incredible amount of respect for the inscrutable old man. And how the man managed to learn so many languages was still a mystery as well.

In any event, that was the main thing we did for the last few days in the city, traveling around with our guide, going to various parties in his honor, and learning something of the history of this place. The only other somewhat odd event was that a number of individuals kept trying to give me large sums of money for some reason. I was very suspicious, and they never seemed to do it while the old man was around, so they couldn’t explain why they were doing it, so I turned each one down. I was wary of accidentally walking into some sort of deal I did not fully understand. I also said a tearful goodbye to my servant turned assassin turned servant friend, who I had grown quite fond of while we were here, and had, based on her tears when she understood we were leading, and various attempts to come along, also grown attached to me. This somewhat surprised me, for I had been rather harsh with the girl in the first few days of our acquaintance, seeing as how she was an assassin and all, but I suppose one comes to appreciate people, even if they tie bells to you and lock you in closets, as long as they are nice the rest of the time. I did my best to comfort her, but with zero ways to communicate, with the guide missing, and Nabua with the king, this largely amounted to a long hug, and several awkward pats on the head. I would definitely miss having my hair styled. It was an interesting experience, and it felt nice to have another do it.

But, as they say, dear diary, all things come to an end, both good and bad, and we at last departed the city. We got a chance to speak with Nabua again, as he had basically been absent entirely for the last couple days in the city, and he said that his language skills had much improved, and he had learned a lot about the country. He also seemed interested in getting horses or something to speed up the journey home, but the old man just laughed, and said that all true traveling in this land was done on foot. I didn’t really understand what that meant, but no one was willing to admit that, so we didn’t bring up the idea again.

As such, we walked, back the way we had come, up the mountain, and then down the other side. We encountered some of the same troubles on the mountain, like the large cat creature, but we also finally ran into some bandits as well. We were worried about them, until they got a good look at our guide, at which point they turned from hostile attackers to inviting friends. It seemed that the old man had once been a part of their bandit troupe, or a much larger one that had fractured or something. The old man was hesitant to elaborate about that part of his past, so my info mostly came from stuff Nabua was able to both overhear and understand. In any event, we ended up eating a large meal of freshly killed meat together with a troupe of bandits, and the night was quite enjoyable. That was the first night, up near the peak of the mountain. They showed us a shortcut on the way down, and we encountered no trouble at all. We managed to get within a days journey of the port city that second day, though it took a fair bit of walking, and all of our feet were sore indeed that night. My Baal had the first watch, and I the second that night, so I took the opportunity to speak with you, dear diary.

The Fifth Path (10/30)

November 12, 2016

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.

The Fifth Path (7/30)

November 7, 2016

Anatu’s Diary Entry for Nisanu 28th

Dear diary, I am not sure where to begin. So much has happened since last I wrote to you. Much of it I don’t recall well for I was very sick during our sea travels, but the last few days were memorable indeed. Let me sketch for you the basics of the days I did not truly experience, dear diary, then I can get into the parts that I did.

So, last time I wrote we had just boarded the ship again. It was captained by the same pale not-man as before. I have much more respect for him now, but at the time I still felt a little bit uncomfortable around him. We had left Hadia behind, something I still have reservations about, but was decided by our Baal, so there is no use dwelling on it. Then we set forth. I immediately became incredibly ill, as the seas were rough. We traveled for a long time by boat. The journey apparently took about twice as long as it was supposed to. The few times I remember being awake and moving about, the ship was rocking back and forth with incredible force, and the wind and rain were enough to make shouting necessary if one wanted to talk. I am afraid I don’t recall our original destinations name. I generally leave that part to the others, and we didn’t end up staying anyways. Some kind of crazy cultists or something had apparently taken over a large number of islands. The heathens apparently were enslaving all those who refused to be a part of their false religion. Again, I slept through the decision making process, but we because we couldn’t go to our original destination, we decided to take another route, one apparently filled with danger. I think it was Nabua’s idea. I kinda wonder if he is trying to get us all killed as revenge for leaving Hadia behind or something. Not likely I suppose, though he did like that girl to a degree that might be considered inappropriate considering her age.

In any event we headed into a section of the ocean which apparently regularly maroons and kills most of the people who try to cross it, because it apparently seemed like a good idea at the time. A half day into this endeavor I largely recovered from my illness, as one of the effects of passing through the “Green Sea”, a section of ocean thick and colored by underwater plants, is that it slows and steadies the boat. So the rocking became much less, and I was able to recover. Having been largely unconscious since we left the northern port of Hadia’s island, I was understandably confused by our location, and the endless green filled water which surrounded us. I must admit that it took a few minutes of explaining by Baal Uras before I was convinced we had not been killed in the storms and been sent to some kind of green hell. Based on his description of the danger of the place and the possible outcomes of dying of thirst or throwing oneself to the sharks, I was slightly concerned about the mental state of my companions who had decided to enter into this strange section of ocean. They explained that there had been little choice, that turning back was no true choice, and that all other options would likely have led us to being enslaved by fanatical heathens. While those choices did seem less then desirable, I am not entirely convinced they are worse then being trapped on a boat for the rest of one’s short life, a fate that we all found ourselves contemplating less than a day after I woke up.

As it turned out, we were not in fact more special than any of the other ships that try and cross through the “Green Sea”, and a little less than half way through the green hell, we became stuck, completely. We considered many options, and I volunteered to swim down, fight the sharks, and cut us free, but it turned out, that we could apparently live, somewhat indefinitely on the boat. Considering the experience I have thus far had with boats, I did not relish the idea, nor the looks I received from my companions once they realized they might never see another human being again. While the idea of a marriage with my Baal is not entirely distasteful, I had reservations about the moral character of my other two companions in that scenario. I am not sure how long all of us would have lived if we had really tried to simply exist on the boat. I feel confident in my ability to deal with Nabua, and likely the not-man too, considering his small stature, but it was still not a scenario I wanted to envision. Thankfully, Bel had different plans for us, and the next day we experienced an event indescribable. I trust not my words to convey the experience of that day. In the calm after the storm, I composed a short poem in order to try and encapsulate my feelings, for I felt as if I had been torn apart and put back together. I shall leave you, my dear diary, with that poem alone to convey the events of the next day, and then I will move on to the events following.

Of our god Bel, the priests do speak, in poem and word and song,

What they tell, unto the meek, is tales of right and wrong.

Yet when you see the power unveiled, the hand of Bel unhidden

One can contemplate alone, to act as Bel has bidden.

I saw my god, his power pure, he dragged me to the sky

Tossed and turned, filled with fear, through prayer I did fly

He set me down, my gentle god, his hands both wrath and kindness

By my Baal’s crown, I vow to god, to follow alone his guidance

My god I’ve seen, to heav’n I’ve been

What more’s there to see?

I serve as a Protector still, yet now my life is free.

We survived by the grace of god, rescued from our grisly fate in the “Green Sea” by the hand of Bel himself, tearing us out, and setting us down. We paused for a while after that. All of us, I think, contemplating our lives in the face of the divine. I wonder what the not-man thought then? What god did he serve? Could he truly believe that was anything but Bel himself? We waited half a day in silence, talking not at all. My Baal wrote. I composed that poem. The not-man fixed the boat. Nabua seemed to do not but stare out at the sea, then down into some books he had retrieved from down below. We slept, and in the morning we started talking, but notably, not about the experience we had just had. Together we cleaned all of the kelp off the boat, storing a bit so that Nabua could try cooking some. Then we got down to the business of figuring out what we were going to do.

Our captains quick actions before the storm had meant the boat was largely whole, and the sails had been stowed below deck, so we were seaworthy, able to travel. He suspected that there might be damage he couldn’t see to the basic structure of the boat, so his priority was getting us to a place he could dock as soon as possible. The only problem was that he had no idea where we were. The path we were taking through the “Green Sea” was supposed to take us basically right to a large town on the other town, but Bel had seen fit to drop us off somewhere else entirely. We were on the right side of the “Green Sea” but the edge was more than a thousand miles long. There were dozens of islands we might be near, not all of which were necessarily friendly. Thankfully, it would seem our resident Scholar had been doing research in our quiet half day. He had been comparing the closest island we could see, and its apparent coastline with descriptors from an old travel journal, and he felt he had an idea where we might be and what the island we were close to was. When he gave the name to the not-man, our brave captain began cursing rapidly in several languages. I on the other hand was not entirely sure what Nabua had spoken was in fact a word. It used sounds I had never heard a human mouth make before.

Baal Uras did not believe Nabua at first, telling him that the island, which I still can’t pronounce or write down, did not exist, that it was only a legend. Nabua and our captain worked together to convince him of its reality, though I could tell that the captain rather wished that it didn’t exist. That my Baal too was able to speak the name of this place mystified me. I began to wonder if there was a problem with my ears, if they had been damaged in the storm. But, I was able to hear everything else just fine, so it must be something people are able to hear. I asked Nabua to write it down later, but he did not know how to write it in our language, and was only able to write down something that looked more like strange pictures then words. Something about the writing looked familiar however, but I could not for the life of me figure out where I might have seen it before. The eventual trend of the discussion ended with us once more making the decision that the best path was to head straight towards the place of mystery and danger, because every other option was potentially more dangerous than that. I suppose this is a good thing for you, dear diary, that my entries are filled with excitement, but I begin to wish, before the end of the first month, that our journey might be just a little bit less exciting.

With the decision made, the problem became actually getting there. It seemed that after the actions of Bel, the sky was completely done doing things. There was no wind at all. Apparently boats can travel towards wind, using some strange maneuver called tacking, but with no wind at all this was impossible. And, it seemed that the thing that the not-man was most worried about in terms of damage was the “en-jin”. While he was not certain it had been damaged by our fall, he thought it likely, and apparently trying to use it if it was in fact broken could lead to an explosion that would tear the boat, and us, to pieces. In the end we were forced to row. It was slow, and hard, and all of us had to do it to make any progress at all, but we were able to slowly row our way towards the island, and around the edge that Nabua thought would lead to a port of some kind.

As it turned out, Nabua was correct, and just as the sun began to set, we saw the lights of town twinkle in the distance. We slowly made our way towards the lights, and by the time the sun was truly gone for the day, we had arrived at the dock of the place. Someone on the dock held a light towards our ship, and after a brief bit of shouting between him and our not-man captain, it was determined we would not be allowed to exit the ship till the morning, but we could dock. Grateful for the chance to dock at least, we did so, and then all went to sleep. I was glad I had not gotten very sick in the last day, or the travel would have been much slower, as an even number of rowers is important to move the ship. It would seem that if the wind and waves are calm enough, I can stand the ocean, to some degree at least.

The next morning was interesting. It would seem that our captain’s ability to speak the strange unpronounceable language was quite limited. One of our Scholar’s books had something like a traveler’s dictionary for the language, so we were able to use that to very slowly speak anything our captain didn’t know, but basically no real progress was made talking with the folks running the docks until we managed to communicate the languages we could speak, and they went and found someone who could speak something called Himkalc, which was apparently a bastard mixture of Hishtu and Raltic, and while none of us knew that language, because we all spoke Hishtu, and all of the others knew a bit of Raltic, we were able to communicate, to some extent. A lot of this pseudo-communication occurred, and after a long time it was decided we would be allowed to enter the kingdom. It seemed that the unpronounceable lands were somewhat similar to the true lands, in that they rarely allowed foreigners to enter. However, because of Baal Uras’s status as a foreign dignitary on a diplomatic mission, a special exception would be made for our party. There were a number of conditions however. Foreign money was not going to be useful within the kingdom, so we had to convert some of our goods into the foreign currency right here and now. We would be allowed to travel within the kingdom only once, so once we left the boat, we would not be able to return to it until we were ready to leave, because the boat technically existed outside the borders of the kingdom. And, we would have to be searched before leaving, for various foreign items and substances were banned, and so everything we brought would have to be checked. And finally, we would have to dress in the local fashion, in order to not draw too much attention and potentially cause riots. This was all agreed upon by everyone after an entirely too long period of negotiations, which, according to Baal Uras, contained entirely too many hilarious miscommunications.

I was provided with a few changes of clothes in the local style, which are comfortable, though a bit restrictive to move in. I knew that woman in some other cultures occasionally wore something other than pants, some strange garment kind of like a robe with nothing underneath. This was apparently essential for women hear, and to my horror, it only went down to just past my knees, and had no covering for my arms at all, not even the shoulder. Its one concession to practicality was a slit along the side, but this of course had the downfall of making much of my legs visible if I took too long of strides, or sat down the wrong way. Thankfully I was allowed to wear some thin white pants underneath the garment, but I was barely able to bring myself to exit the cabin after putting it on. The men are able to wear clothes much less revealing, with both sleeves and pants. After I was ready to go, and had the possessions I hoped to carry searched through, only unable to bring my weapons, and strangely my belt, it turned out I would still have some spare time, as the captain was trying to negotiate to sell his wears. So, with free time, I sat down on the dock, apparently still outside the unpronounceable kingdom, and wrote to you, dear diary. It looks like some kind of agreement might have been reached, so I’d better finish up, but expect more exciting stories from this place. Just from the little bit I have seen, and the smells alone, I know it will be different indeed.

The Fifth Path (4/30)

November 4, 2016

Anatu’s Diary Entry for Nisanu 12th

Dear diary, I won’t keep you in suspense. We managed to get Nabua to the capital in time. He got a real healer looking after him, and though it was apparently a close thing, it looks like he will pull through. We might have to spend a little extra time in the capital, but after what I’ve seen here, I certainly won’t complain. It seems that the attackers strikes miraculously managed to miss most of the vital organs. Some minor damage to some of them, but the danger was infection. The local healers seem like they have many more remedies than our own back in the true land. I suppose that they have more options to draw from in the false world though. This place is unlike anything I dreamed of. There are still things I hope to see, dear diary, that I have heard of in the tales, but truly my view of the world has changed. I must be vigilant however. The false world is beautiful and wondrous and terrifying, but it cannot truly match the reality of home.

As the priests say: All that is false shall fade. Only the real will remain. I must remember that this place is temporary. But still it is incredible. And our companion too. If I have wavered in my convictions of the unreality of the false world, then how much more must my faith be tested by Hadia? Can I truly call her a not-man? She is our companion, brave and true. She saved all our lives and brought us through the desert in better shape than we had any right to be. Could she not be the descendent of a man who became lost in the false world? I cannot think of her as only a piece of the sky’s dream, a pawn of the Monster. My knowledge is small though. When Nabua awakes, I must ask him. I cannot let my wavering conviction be seen by Baal Uras of course. For him I must remain true and steadfast.

Let me speak of my brave Baal for a moment. I think perhaps I disparaged him, dear diary, in my first few entries. While he may be stubborn and overly kind, I feel he has proved himself in our time in the desert. He stood strong against the scorpions, and even against the bandits he did not aquit himself so bad. Indeed it was my job to protect him, but he managed to deal with the one soldier that fought with him, and even acted to save the life of Nabua. He has shown a willingness to consider the advice of others while still keeping command. Not that I ever would have broken his commands of course, dear diary, but I do, perhaps, feel better about following them now. Maybe it is my own hubris that asks my Baal to prove himself to me, yet all the same, I think he has done a fine job so far. We shall of course see, as time passes, but I find myself in good company right now.

I suppose I still don’t know about Nabua. He has certainly earned my sympathy for the days he was dying in the desert, and his wisdom in finding and recruiting Hadia is commendable, but I still don’t know much about him. I will seek to try harder upon his recovery. If my journey so far has taught me anything, it is that knowledge and forethought are incredibly important. Nabua is a man who knows much, and he seems to have an OK head on his shoulder, despite his heritage. He can’t fight worth a damn, but that’s why I am here. I’ll have to keep an eye on him a bit better next time. Of course the Baal takes precedence, but he seems a little more capable of taking care of himself in a brawl. It makes sense of course. No Hishtu are taught to fight. I might have to break that rule a little out here though. I shall have to ask Baal Uras, but I think, considering the circumstances it would be a good choice. If this first week is any indication of the danger level of this trip, then we are going to need all the help we can get in the fighting department. If Hadia had been a little less competent than she was, we might have lost either or both of the men.

But of course, dear diary, you must be dying to hear about the capital that we are staying in. I do go on about my companions and my feelings about them don’t I. I must say that Baal Uras in his full regal attire and presenting himself as a ruler of the true land is a sight to behold. Despite the hurry we were in, and the late time of our arrival in the city, my young Baal pulled out all the stops. We turned Nabua’s palette into a luxurious resting couch. He dressed us all in the finest garments, even Hadia, covered in gold and silver, arms and faces painted with ornate designs, even if it could not be seen under the garments. He himself pulled forth an incredible crown and a scepter I had no idea we were carrying. We rode in, high on our camels, backs straight and imperious.

A few whispered words with some of the early beggars and a little scattered coin, and soon enough we had a procession, including music and people declaring us as we went forward. None dared stop us or even slow. Guards bowed their heads as we passed, and we went straight from the front steps to the very throne room of the capital. The procession had to stay behind there, and we had to leave our camels with some capable looking palace attendants, but we continued on in style, passing bureaucrats and lower officers of the court without so much as a nod. Many looked as if they wished to stop us, or ask us who we were, but none could meet the gaze of my young Baal. We stopped only when we stood before the twin thrones of the married couple which ruled this island. Hadia and I both bowed low, but Baal Uras only nodded his head, a motion mirrored by the couple, who managed to contain any surprise they might have felt from a three person processional marching right into their throne room after dark.

I of course had no idea what they were saying once they started talking. Baal Uras was speaking, what I assumed was Hashim. While he and the royal couple talked, Hadia whispered to me. It seemed that she had thought his Hashim had a strange accent, but now she understood. He spoke the older, formal Hashim that was used by the rulers and the high courts of the Hashim people. In that dialect he was all but fluent it seemed. Hadia kept me updated on the conversation in quick, quiet whispers. It seemed that there was a lot of protocol to get out of the way first. Much complementing of each other, and downplaying ones self, but never ones kingdom. That part dragged on for a while, and I thought that perhaps Baal Uras had forgotten his ailing servant, but apparently this was all necessary to start a conversation with a foreign power. He explained this later to me when I asked. At the earliest opportunity however, he mentioned the events in the desert, and the wounds of our companion. Hadia was a little confused at the wording he used when he described the battle. Apparently he described the desperate battle to death that we had had as a misunderstanding. Again, I asked later on, and again the answer was political. To suggest that armed robbers were out and about in another ruler’s lands and could attack a royal processional of another nation would be seen as greatly offensive. By casting the fight as a misunderstanding, the Hashim rulers could save face, but still understand the situation.

As soon as the situation was explained, round about fashion or not, the Hashim rulers were quick to send for a healer, and Nabua was taken away with haste to be cared for. The conversation moved on, and I am afraid both I and Hadia lost interest after a while. There was a description of our battles with the scorpions which was apparently amusing, if only for its attempt to both convey the horror of the situation, and play the scorpions off as harmless pests that our party had simply not been expecting. After that was much which interested none but the rulers. Much talk of lands and trade and the changes in the fates of nations. While I am sure it will all come to affect me in the coming year, since we will be traveling through many of the places that the conversation touched on, I was tired, and Hadia cared little at all, translating less and less. After four nights of vigilance in the desert, with two of them interrupted by relentless scorpion attacks, I was ready for sleep in a real bed, with a chance to spend the whole night asleep. My thoughts drifted more and more towards beds and pillows, but I was in the presence of royalty, dear diary, so I could not droop my head, or close my eyes. Instead, I relied upon the guards well honed skill of half sleeping while standing up. One cannot be a true guard without mastering this technique.

At long last the exchange ended, and I was jostled out of my reverie by Hadia, who had apparently managed to see that I was asleep despite my open eyes and upright posture. Baal Uras spoke to us quickly. We would all be sleeping in different places it seemed. He was of course to be treated to the special quarters for royalty, and I was to get good quarters as well, but for some reason unknown to the young Baal the royal couple had been reluctant to even let Hadia stay in the palace, let alone stay in a good room. Baal Uras had pressed the issue a little, recounting tales of her valor, and her many acts of assistance which had got them safely through the desert, and had managed to get her a room, but it had obviously cost him some political capital, and he had only managed to get her their very worst guest room, a full two floors below my own. I wanted to protest, but Hadia said it was alright, and Baal Uras said it would be unwise to press further. He asked Hadia if they might discuss the issue on the morrow, and she nodded, looking slightly frightened. I was tired however, and so were we all, so the issue was dropped for the time being, and soon we were all asleep in our respective quarters. I slept like the dead.

I awoke to the pleasant smell of some kind of spiced drink, and the noise of movement in my room. I carefully opened my eyes a crack, determined it was just a servant bringing me breakfast, then sat up and had something decidedly more nice than scorched scorpion for the first time in days. Sweet breads, a spicy drink called “chai”, and strange sticky fruits which were sweeter than anything I had ever before encountered. It was a wonderful start to what would come to be an excellent day. After the leisurely breakfast, I was given new clothes, long flowing robes, and a veil to cover my face. Nabua had explained that believers in Kazim had a fear of face stealing demons, and thus only revealed their faces among close friends and family. It seemed an exceedingly absurd belief to me, but I was not going to be impolite in the capital city, so I covered up. I still don’t really believe in these face snatching demons, but considering how little I really know about the false world and all I have seen, perhaps it is wise to be cautious. Despite the veil, I felt somewhat naked walking the halls of the palace, for while the people of these parts cover up entirely in the desert, in town many women, and even men wear clothes which reveals the upper arms and lower legs. Thankfully my robe was long, but my sleeves were not, and so I headed down to meet up with Hadia instead of up to visit my Baal, embarrassed to be seen in this state.

Unfortunately for my frazzled nerves, my young Baal was waiting in the room of Hadia already. And he was wearing clothes even more provocative than mine own. I could see his elbows, and a good bit of his calf. It was all that I could do to remain calm, and remember where we were and the strange culture of this place. My Baal seemed entirely at ease in this state of nakedness, and I was unsure whether to be impressed or put out. I feel I might need to learn to accept, or at least block out some of the strange fashion choices, because it seems as though the Hashim are far from the most revealing culture. Still, dear diary, I shall strive to maintain the purity demanded of Bel’s true people. When I return to the true land, I shall not let these strange cultures corrupt me. What is false must fade. I’m afraid thoughts of this nature and the general distraction of the clothing worn by everyone in the room made me zone out of the conversation, so I don’t recall all that was discussed, but the decision was made to visit our wounded companion, try and get an idea of his condition and recovery time, then explore the city with Hadia as our guide. I was excited for this second phase, and I think Hadia saw that.

We visited Nubua, who had not yet awoken, but the healer explained what I had already stated, that he was going to be fine, but it had been a close thing. It was possible that without Hadia’s flower, he might not have made it. We vowed to return again later to check on our companion then went forth into the city. What to say of the capital of the island? Grand. Filled with light. Filled with people. Filled with a thousand different intriguing things. I was better able to appreciate the many strange foods and clothes and items to purchase this time, for the people were all veiled, and even the skin colors visible were more uniform, the Hashim being only slightly lighter than the usual shade. We shopped. We visited places to sip the spiced chai. We climbed tall buildings and looked over the city. We observed the prayers of the people, who, according to Nabua, worshiped the elements, fire, water, wind, and earth. I had not noticed before, but every Kazim whispered a quick prayer before drinking, before lighting a torch, before stepping on the earth after leaving a building. I thought then of how few prayers I had spoken to Bel since entering the false land. Some argued that the Monster steals all prayers whispered in the false land, but I can’t believe that any could take a true prayer. I must endeavor to pray more frequently, even without the priests constant reminders and calls to prayer.

All in all it was a day of discovering new things, enjoying this new place, and remembering what I had left behind. As the day ended, we returned to the palace, and Hadia stayed below, while I visited the suite of my Baal for a while, asking questions about the conversation the previous night. We spoke for a while, reminiscing about home. It was quiet and a bit sad, but I felt much better when I returned to my room that night. I fell asleep quickly. This time I dreamed, though I remember not the specifics. Something about the ocean and a great veil to hide its face from the Monster. When I awoke, I once again was treated to a wonderful breakfast, much like the previous day, but with some kind of salted ground nut and fried root bits instead of the sweet bread. Refreshed, I met up with my two companions. It seemed that the young Baal would be having a meeting with the leaders again that day, and so I had the morning to myself. Hadia too had business, so I returned to my room and decided to write to you again my dear journal. I hope to have more to share with you soon.

The Fifth Path (1/30)

November 1, 2016

Anatu’s Diary Entry for Nisanu 5th

Dear diary, I know it has been a very long time since I last wrote to you. More than three years actually. After I started working for the palace after finishing training, I felt like I had made it, that I didn’t need to write anymore, that I should put aside childish things. I was a soldier and a servant of Baal Shamas, and there were too many secrets and hidden things for me to write it down. I could write and leave so much out, but I have always wanted to write most about the things that are the most important, so it didn’t seem useful to write when I could not write about that. I was busy.

Fine. All those things are excuses. They are true enough, but I decided to stop writing to you dear diary, and now I want to start again. I think you’ll see why once I give you an idea of where I am and what I am doing. Everything I am writing now is secret, and you absolutely can’t tell anyone, but things are different now. I don’t have to worry about Hishtu servants, or rival guards, or vindictive commanders. I can write now with no worries that any will read it, at least for a long time. Maybe when I return I’ll have to hide you away, keep you in a secret place, only look at you and read you in the dead of night. But now, I am free, I can write, and I want to tell someone about everything that has happened to me. Its incredible. So I am telling you, because I can’t tell anyone else.

The first thing I should probably say is that I don’t work for Baal Shamas anymore. I work for his son. No, not Baal Makru. My glory would be without end if I had been assigned to serve Baal Makru, but still I am blessed. I serve one of the second sons of Baal Shamas. He is a paired one, but the holy word of Baal Shamas declared them free of the taint of the double birth, purified by the godly bloodline of the Baal. His name is Baal Uras. He is young, a year younger than me. He has the incredible grace and beauty of all of the Baal, though perhaps in a way not so majestic as his older brother and father. Still, he will inherit that majesty. That’s partly why we are doing what we are doing. To help him become a true heir of Baal Shamas, ready for rulership. He is kind, which is nice, but I fear that perhaps the kindness is a sign of naivete. It was the command of Baal Shamas that I should protect my new master with my life, but before we left I was given a second, secret command by the exalted Baal. He told me then that I was too keep an eye on Baal Uras and make sure he was not being corrupted by the influences of the outer world. To see the outer world, to know its many secrets and mysteries, but not be fooled by its trickery is the test of the Ruler. Baal Shamas expects his son to succeed, but he told me that no ruler leads alone, and neither must this task fall to Baal Uras alone. I am to protect his body, but also his spirit from the wicked things of the world.

I think maybe by now you have guessed, dear diary, what has happened. I was chosen as the Protector for Baal Uras’s Awakening. And its not just any Awakening. This is also the young Baal’s path to rulership. Instead of a month in the outside world, our journey shall last a year and a day. It has been four generations since a ruler last took the Path of Travel. I had never dreamed of even seeing the outside world, let alone traveling through it for a year of my life. Truly Bel rewards those who are true and loyal. We left but days ago, and already I have seen such wonders as would shatter the minds of all from my hometown. Truly, I know not where to begin, dearest diary. There has been so much already. I guess I’ll start from the moment we left the Great City, journeying east towards the water, and the edge of true world.

We left late. We were supposed to leave on the first of Nisanu, and thus mark the beginning of our journey with the beginning of the year, but Baal Uras invited many of his friends and servants to a great party before his departure, and the party lasted a day longer than was anticipated. Truly I had never before seen such revelry. Were I not already the servant of the greatest Baals, I would have earned a place in many royal families during those days of revelry, so many times was my virtue tested and my hand in marriage requested. Even those who’s wives I had met earlier in the day spoke to me with such open suggestiveness that I began to doubt my own memory. Truly I am glad that we departed after that, for I am not sure I could have faithfully served many of the Baal who remained behind after seeing them in that condition. A year away from the decadence of court will do me well. But, let us forget now about the Great City. It is the lands beyond the true world that I must describe to you, a place I had scarcely imagined before in my life, known only in dark myths and tragic tales.

I must confess, dear diary, that my first encounter with the false world left me rather unimpressed. We had traveled by ox-cart from the Great City to the edge of the world, and we were met by a small boat, with a single sail. I had seen larger vessels upon the waters of the Inner Lake. And its captain was small as well. At first I thought him an empty one, how pale his skin was, but when I looked at his face I saw his features too were strange, and his eyes had color, though not much. I realized then that this was my first encounter with a not-man. It was said that some of the not-men have no color in their skin, but in my mind I had imagined a pure white, like that of a phantom. Instead it was just a sickly pale, with strange splotches of red and dark. Though the ship captain was obviously healthy and strong, helping us with our bags, and racing around the ship, tying and climbing, I could not help but thing of him as sickly. He spoke broken Bel-bys, but when we showed that we understood and spoke Hishtu, he switched to that alone. It was good to practice, for we all knew that Hishtu would be our one way to communicate with the not-men of the false world. They spoke not Bel-bys, not even the simplest words. At least we would have one another, when we wished to speak our native tongue.

Oh, diary, I suppose I should mention the last member of our party. Though I might wish that it was myself and the young Baal alone, all Awakenings have three members. Our Scholar is older than me, though I know not by how much, a tall and thin man with grey eyes. He might have been handsome if he had not been born a Hishtu, and even then he is not unpleasant for the eyes. He has spoken little thus far, and he seems upset, as though traveling to the false world is a terrible burden, and not a great quest. He is named Nabua, after the great astronomer. I hope he opens up as time goes by, for traveling with those who do not act like your companion can be a trying thing indeed.

But I am sure, dear diary, that you are not so much interested in the Hishtu, as you are in the wonders of the false world. So let us return, once again to the not-man captain of our small vessel. For while he seemed not unlike a man on shore, when we had departed, and we had reached open water, he turned to Nabua and spoke to him in Hishtu extremely quickly. Nabua agreed to something, and then stepped away from the man. Our Scholar then told Baal Uras and I to watch carefully. The not-man lowered the sails, thus ending our progress forward. Then he pulled a tarp away from a massive thing I had taken to be a room or storage location. With the tarp aside I had no guess as to what it was at all being nothing like anything I had ever seen. There was a grate that the man opened. Behind it was kindling for a fire, which he lit expertly before closing the grate. Then he stood back. At first their was nothing. We waited, and I began to wonder what the goal was here. Were we going to cook on this fire? But neither Nabua nor the not-man seemed in a cooking mood. Then, a white smoke began to escape the device, and for a moment I was afraid the not-man had lit his boat on fire, that he was an assassin hired by a rival Baal. I prepared myself to end his life and considered how best to save the young Baal. But before I could take this action, the device began to make a terrible noise, and to shake and rattle. I was greatly shocked by this, and might very well have killed the not-man out of fear, if I had not seen too that the water behind the boat began to bubble and boil. The ship started to move, slowly at first, but faster and faster. The giant shaking, crashing thing continued to emit its hellish keening, but apparently, somehow, that caused the boat to move. It was not treachery, though it was certainly magic.

My Baal’s face was filled with wonder, and he spent much of the remaining time of our voyage observing and measuring the thing. Once he cried out in pain, and my thoughts turned again to treachery, but it turned out that the massive thing was simply incredibly hot in some places, and the young Baal had burned himself. While Baal Uras was filled with wonder and a fascination with the device that I came to understand was called an “en-jin”, our Scholar seemed more interested in watching him and I, seeming to enjoy our stunned and wondering reaction to this thing. My opinion of the man darkened then, for I have known many men and women in my life who’s joy in knowledge is not so much their own gain, as it is the lack of it in others. Perhaps I am being unfair to my companion however. Maybe his enjoyment of our reactions is in our gaining of knowledge, and not in our previous lack. I shall not judge this early.

This marvel propelled us far faster than I had ever expected to travel by sea. The water roiled behind us and we all but skipped across the waves. I had heard and seen other people who became ill from the rocking of boats, but this was the first time I experienced it for myself. By the time we had made it to our destination, I was no longer able to stand, and all the food I had had in my body was lost to the sea. We travelled through the night and into the next day, and by the time we at last came to land, I was all but unconscious. Indeed, I am ashamed to say, Baal Uras himself helped me to walk from the boat to the inn that we stayed at after getting off the boat. I am afraid that I don’t remember much more from that night however due to the condition I was in.

But oh, dear diary, let me tell you of the wonders that I saw when I awoke. We spent all of the next day simply wandering the port town of Imba. Nubua was finding us guides for the next leg of our journey, but Baal Uras wanted to see the sights of this place, and so I traveled with him, as it was my duty to protect his life. There was so very much to see. First of course were the people. I had thought our boat captain pale, but truly their were those in Imba who were like the snow of high mountains. Others though were much like men in color, while still others had strange hues, yellow, red, and even the darkest black. And it was not skin alone that was different. The hair and the eyes too were shaded a hundred different hues. Though you may not believe me, dear diary, I swear to you that I saw a woman today with hair as red as blood. I know not if it was dyed thus, or if there is some strange land where the people are born this way. Perhaps the color is blood itself and her hair was so long because if she were to cut it, she would bleed.

Not only were the colors and shapes of the people so different, but also the variety with which they clothed themselves. Their were men and women who covered their head with cloth or great hats. Their were some who’s faces were covered completely, all but the eyes. Others seemed to wear nothing at all. So shocked was I the first time I turned a corner and saw a man with no clothing covering his chest, that I thought I had perhaps stumbled into a bedroom by accident. Legs, arms, bellies, and breasts. How one could live this way, and not feel the sin of it was something I could not understand. But while I lingered on this a little, the sheer variety and color of all things made me push it aside. These were not-men, what did they care for sin? Whether they truly had a soul at all was a debate the scholars never seemed to find an answer for. Surely it was not Bel that saved them from the fire when they died, and perhaps what ever god they called their own cared not for purity of the flesh.

I must confess, dear diary, that I was so taken aback by the people on that first day, that scarcely did I pay attention to the many objects and things that the people carried and bought and sold. Only once did I buy something that first day. A kindly old woman approached me with a strange coin, like nothing I had ever seen. It was a green tinged metal, with a carved picture of a sea beast. It was also thrice as large as any coin should be. She offered to sell it to me, and while I had no idea what the thing was worth, she accepted my initial offer of but a few bits. I felt afterwords that I had been cheated somehow, but I can not figure in what way that could have happened. I vowed to show it to Nubua, but I keep forgetting. Perhaps tomorrow.

The young Baal seemed even more entranced by this new land than I. He spoke with everyone, and I was surprised to discover that he seemed to know other languages beyond those of our land. I had known that he would receive special education as a Baal, but I had not imagined entire languages learned. He seemed to have bought one of everything by the time we returned to our inn that night. Even the food we ate that day was something new and different. I cannot say that I liked it, some strange orange thing, with a sharp odor, covered in a sticky liquid, placed between two cut pieces of bread. I was relieved when we had a simple meal of meat and corn that night, though the spices were new, though not, this time, bad. When we finished our meal I retired to my room and began to write to you. Tomorrow I hope I will learn more of this place, but for now I must sleep. Goodnight diary.