Posts Tagged ‘Uras’

The Fifth Path (30/30)

November 30, 2016

The First Draft of the Autobiography of Uras Hailt, Soon to be Father

Running Title: Many Paths: Choices make Fate

Composed Nisanu 4th In the 3rd Year of First President Anatu

Chapter 87: Reflections

As I reached a turning point in my life, the upcoming birth of my first child, it just so happened that an important date came by just then. The fifth anniversary of the day I left my homeland and went out on a journey of Awakening. Every time I think about my quest, what it started out as, and what it ended up becoming, I cannot help but chuckle. Truly it was a journey of Awakening, both of myself, and in the more literal sense of the god Anshur. But neither I, nor those who had helped make the decision that put me on that journey had understood even faintly, what the implications would have been. Looking back, it seems clear to me that my journey was something of a political move by my father. The danger of having twins, especially in a royal family, is that it is not clear who has seniority. And so by sending me out on a dangerous but potentially glory filled quest, he was going to create the hierarchy. Either I would fail, or not return, in which case my brother would be the more important and senior of the two of us, or I would return in glory and claim my spot as a soon to be king, and thus take my seniority. It helped of course that my studies seemed to align me the greatest with the skills of languages and negotiations, the two most important skills for walking the fifth path. I do still wonder who it was that had the idea initially. There was a certain amount of creativity to the decision that I have come to respect in time, even admire. The bite of being used has faded over time, leaving only the reflection of why I was used, and how that affected the final outcome.

I think that the trip was sufficiently powerful that, even if the final island had not changed everything, I still would have come back different, and may very well have moved the homeland in the direction it now moves, though obviously not nearly as quickly or as decisively as Anatu has been able to. Still, the thought that I might have been able to make something of a difference as a result of having the experiences I had is one that makes me feel warm. My effect on the world has always been something that has driven me, both when I thought I had a destiny, that I was a chosen leader of men, and afterwords, when I was simply a person with unusual and valuable experiences. In the last five years since that day, my fear that my life shall not truly make a difference has faded, the joys of living a life with a loving wife being part of it, but having been a part of, in at least some small part, the revolution that brought down the corrupt god Bel and transformed my homeland into a modern democracy, certainly helped as well. As I consider the future and the child I will soon be raising, my effect on the world becomes again something of a focus. What shall I have done that that child will be able to point to and be proud of? Those are the thoughts that troubled my mind on that day of reflection.

As such thoughts often do, these worries faded, replaced by other, more pressing concerns, but over the day, they returned again and again. It seemed madness of course that I would feel like I had not made a difference after all the changes my choices had wrought upon the world, but I am not entirely unhappy with the continued uncertainty. What can one accomplish if one keeps believing they need to make a difference, that the one they have made is not enough? Well, hopefully you’ll get a chance to see gentle reader, hopefully you’ll get a chance to see.


The Fifth Path (27/30)

November 30, 2016

The First Draft of the Autobiography of Baal Uras, Soon to be Savior of the True Land

Running Title: Points in Time: The Conflux of a Thousand Years

Composed Abu 15th In the 1st Year of Baal Makru

Never in my wildest imaginings, gentle reader, had I though that the culmination of my journey would be as climactic as it turned out to be. I had thought to discover a new land, to see that which had not been seen before, to be awed by strange cultures and customs, and to strike an accord with those much different from myself. I imagined learning that which was new and unknown, not some ancient secret long lost to the people of the true land. I considered myself a pioneer perhaps, a king destined to be far seeing and respectful of the lands around us, but not some special individual, not a king with a destiny much greater than average. I never imagined myself a savior. And yet, as time passed and events conspired on the final island, my fate began to seem more and more akin to legend. The world around me seemed to focus in on me and my situation and the map of my journey seemed an arrow, each step preparing me for that which I was to do here on the island past the edge of the world.

I shall not ruin for you now, gentle reader, the surprise, for the figuring out and the realization of what was truly at stake on this island was something worth experiencing, and so I shall take you on that same journey of discovery, not skipping a step or a way, but leading you along just as I walked. In so doing, you will see the world as I saw it, and feel, perhaps, some small part of what I felt as my world was turned upside down and my understanding of all that surrounded me and my place in it was focused to a sharp point. This path shall be a gnarled one, but the view will be well worth the exercise required to follow it. So join me now, gentle readers, as I take you from the point I last left off, when I finally managed to convince my lovely admiral to allow me onto the island and I spent my first few day exploring the port town of the island past the edge of the world. From here we will move as I did, and the grand story shall be uncovered.

So our tale shall resume in the stables of the military barracks of the port town on the island past the edge of the world, a place which I had finally been able to name, the Island Udisur, a word that sounded much like a combination of words in the tongue of the true land. I assumed it was an amusing coincidence at first, but I would come to see soon that it was much more than that. I had slept in the stables, a place warm and dry, and honestly rather comfortable, despite the obvious attempt at flirtatious harassment my dear admiral had intended by getting me a place to sleep there. I was lucky indeed that I had no weakness to the long cuts of grass used to feed the horses of Udisur, for I knew some for whom such a bed would have been a living hell. Instead, I woke refreshed, prepared for a new day upon the island of miracles and wonders which I had barely begun to understand in that day before. The power of the God Towers was still incredible to me, that the divine would interact so directly with the world of humans. It was proof indeed that as the dream reached its furthest point, the border between fantasy and reality became less and less harsh. I knew not just how correct that thought was.

The day started out peaceful enough. I was able to get food from one of those assigned to work in the very stables in which I had slept, sharing an early morning meal, feeling togetherness through the connection of food and a mutual loathing of the sunlight slowly coming over the horizon. Perhaps I need not have woken so early, been able to sleep in and thus not so loathe the light, but I was excited to begin my day, and the prospect of spending any more time on the relative waste of sleep was something I could not allow. And so me and the stable hand met the rising sun, finishing our meal just as its full face crested the horizon. Belly full, I headed out into the town, interested in exploring a bit on my own before the admiral woke up. Her tour the previous day had been most enjoyable and I expected to spend most of this next day in a similar fashion, but the idea of getting a short period of time of self direction had a strong draw, which I gave in to.

I waved at the on duty guards, who motioned back, bleary with sleep and the coming of morning, who, if they had been more awake, might have stopped me, or at least asked questions. Then I walked. I heard strange chanting, and saw many people moving together towards a short, but wide building with marks I had seen many times the previous day, but not understood. Figuring the best place to start learning was from concentrations of people, I moved toward the group, then followed after them into the building. A woman at the door looked like she considered stopping me, but I gave her a confident smile, which was apparently enough. And so I entered into the building, amidst a large group of locals, all in somber attire and with serious expressions. Inside it was easy to see that this was some kind of temple, something I had guessed but it was distinctive in a number of ways. For one thing, the deity apparently worshiped was different than any others I had encountered on my travels. Seeming to be a woman with five heads, it was depicted in numerous situations, acting as a fighter and a protector, a sleeping man being defended often in much of the art within the temple. The second distinctive element was the coloration and style of the pictures within the temple. Each portrait seemed to have a color theme, but they were too, distinctive, colorful, and emotive. One could see strong emotions in each piece, the goal of the five headed woman clearly visible on its many heads, with mixed faces being found on painting in which the emotional response of the group was particularly susceptible to interpretation, or several distinct interpretations of emotion were very much both there.

The third noticeable thing was something that shocked me greatly. While there was often text upon the pictures, most of it was in the strange alphabet of Udisur. However, upon closer inspection of a few of the pictures I found something strange indeed. The runes of the true land were written under these pictures. The wording and phrasing was incredibly old, like something out of a direct reading from the ancient scriptures. Yet I could read it well enough, and the message was clear enough. The sleeping man was Anshur, the dreamer who gave form to all of the false lands. The five headed woman must then be some kind of guardian, for common was the depiction of the many headed woman defending the sleeping god of sky from a variety of beasts, who were perhaps possessed or mislead by the Monster. It seemed that this protector was greatly honored as a defender of the dreamer, and a defeater of monsters. I was of course too taken aback by the presence, not only of the presence of my language, a rare enough occurrence as it was, but also by the apparent usage of one of our prime religious figures within this place so far removed from the true land. How had this place, never visited by any member of the true people within recorded history, have the same deity as us, so far away? Then of course the answer came to me. It would have been instantaneous if I had not been so changed by the ways of the false world.

How might a civilization know of the dreamer, the spinner of all of the world outside of the true lands? How might they have encountered knowledge of the god who ruled over the sky, and slept out in the darkness of the false lands, dreaming worlds into existence around himself? The obvious answer, was that this place was either the place in which he had lain down to rest, or someplace close. Had I thought of own beliefs as true, as the stories of Bel and Anshur and the Monster as history, and not as legend then that would have been easy to see. Instead, I thought of them in much the same way that I thought about the religions of the other civilizations I encountered, as stories which could be spread and shared, but which came from man, and could originate only from them. I had not truly believed that somewhere out in the false world the still sleeping body of the god Anshur could be found, assuming instead, that it was more of a tale, or something outside the physical plane. But now, it seemed as though the stories of the priests might very well be true in the literal sense, instead of the way I had slowly been changing to think about them, as a good basis for life, but something entirely removed from the cause and effect of standard, every day, life. My faith, slowly weakened by my education, and by my travels had punched back in those swift moments, as I stared at the portraits of Anshur and his mysterious protector, lost in the wonder of it all.

I walked around the room, taking in each picture, trying to piece together the exact mythology of this place, the extension to the story that I knew as a denizen of the true land. For while we knew the tale of how Anshur was born, his adventures with Bel, their battle with the Monster, and his eventual departure from the realm of the real, that is where the story ends for us, when it comes to Anshur. We know he yet dreams, for the false lands remain, ever changing, yet eternal. But more than that, we know not. This place though seemed the opposite. They knew not, perhaps, the origin of the god Anshur, seemingly worshiping his protector more ardently than him. They knew the continuation of the tale, but not the beginning. I hoped to learn that part which I did not know, that segment of the story beyond the knowledge of the true land. And so I observed the pictures, read the text beside them, at least those parts in the true language, and listened to the congregation of townsfolk begin to worship, a process that was apparently just as filled with arguments as any political meeting. I did my best to understand the proceedings, discovering, too my surprise, that something of this foreign language too was similar to the language I spoke as a child. This place was a bent and fractured mirror of the true lands, a place thick in dreams and ideas.

After the service was over, I sought to speak with one of the congregation members, hoping to learn more about this religion, and about how it might compare and contrast with the stories of my own. To complete the legend was something I had never thought I might do. Strangely however, while I was able to get the attention of a few members after leaving the stocky sort of building, they all seemed reluctant to speak, looking this way and that, and giving me clear indications that while they might be happy to discuss such things in a private place, such things were not discussed out in the open where any might hear or mishear. And so I ambled back towards the barracks, considering if I might converse on the topic with my admiral, or if she would be angered by my self driven exploration. In the end my curiosity got the better of me, and I sought her out, wishing to learn more of this thing which seemed so incredible. That my final island, the goal of my journey would be the very location where the dreamer laid down his head seemed incredible beyond belief. Perhaps, my thinking went, I truly was blessed, given a destiny higher even than all the others who wear the crown of Baal.

When I finally found her, and told her of what I learned, she quickly took me aside, away from all the clerks and aides and lower ranking soldiers who surrounded her, bring us to a place where we could be alone. In hushed tones she explained that there were schisms within the island of Udisur’s religion. For centuries the faith which I had observed would have been considered the one true faith of the island, a depiction of what was valued and believed. The dreamer, Anshur, was not truly known, a sleeping being who’s sleep served either to sustain something or keep some terrible thing at bay. What was known, or at least believed by the vast majority of folks on the islands, was that some great calamity would fall if the dreamer would ever awake, and that the five headed woman, known to them as simply, the Lady, or the Protector, was the one responsible for preventing such a disaster. She had protected the sleeping god for centuries, preventing all things from reaching its place, and keeping him sleeping and content, and thus protecting the world from doom.

Such an indomitable spirit, a willingness to believe in, and act upon faith, and a general feeling of competence all combined together into a focus upon the Lady, relegating Anshur to something of a set piece roll, neither good nor bad, but a force of nature. And in his sleeping form, this might very well be true. Could one be truly described as good, if they help us not at all, but simply dream, thinking not of the world they inhabit, but merely describing it. The dreams of Anshur could be wonderful and good, but so could they be terrible. Had I not been met with a host of both sides of that coin on my journeys thus far? Without the context of the sleep, the reason why it had happened and what it meant, it was reasonable to think of the dreamer as something incomprehensible, and anyone who might protect him as someone more worthy of worship. I wished to learn more about the five headed woman, but of course, the comments of the admiral were such that there was only one reasonable response to such statements, a question about what had changed, what new beliefs had begun supplanting the faith of the youth all round the world. And so I asked, and so she answered.

It would seem that somehow, after a millenia of the peaceful sleep of Anshur, people got it into their heads that whatever he might be dreaming was not truly important, or that he was perhaps trapped in dreams, unable to actualize himself into this world. These heretics, for that is what they would have been considered for much of history, opposed the five headed woman, believing her not a Protector, but a Jailer. That it was her that kept the dreamer asleep, and it was because of her that the next section in history, the next pivotal time, would be a distorted illusion of a time, and not the true world that might be seen in an awakened world, a world in which the dreamer has woken from slumber. Thus it was, that each side opposed the other, each seeing each other as the ultimate foe. For those of a conventional bent, the heretics were yet another manifestation of the beasts which sought always to awaken the dreamer. For those heretics, the view was flipped, and the five headed woman was the ultimate evil, a creature which kept the world from changing, creating a decaying place for little to no reason, unable to be seen in the light of the awakened morning. For them, the earth and the sky were alive, which was technically true, places of beauty which ought to grow and progress as the times change. That the god of the earth seemed absent entirely, and that the god of the sky was asleep, unable to wake and change the world, created a fatalistic feel.

I was glad for the candid response, thanking the admiral sincerely. There was a moment of hesitation, where I decided whether to ask new questions, or seek further knowledge of the old, or perhaps to simply move on, leaving the questions of such things for a better time. Then, I asked the obvious question, a somewhat daring move at that point in our relationship. She hesitated, something uncommon for her, as she was almost always decisive and quick to decide. It seemed that she too was weighing both what to say, and what affect she wanted to have on our burgeoning relationship. And she too chose simplicity, a strengthening of the relationship through honest discussion. She told me that she was unsure, that while she was a member of the military, and the government, and as such sworn to the church of the five faced lady, in many ways, she had heard often and many, the arguments in favor of the other way of thought, and she felt hard pressed to dismiss it without cause. She was conflicted, not knowing who to believe, unwilling to accept other on faith alone, as each demanded. This was an answer which was true, and an answer that showed a certain level of vulnerability, which I had never before seen in the woman. I felt a great compassion for her in that time, and I did my best to exhibit the understanding and tolerance which I both felt, and knew that she was hoping to receive from me.

I was rewarded with a shy smile, again, something new and open, but before I had a chance to respond to perhaps take it further, there was a hard knock on the door of our secluded chamber, and moments later a soldier was reporting to the object of my affection, speaking rapidly in the language I could now understand small fragments of, interpret words I had not known to be cognates before. It was still incomprehensible in its entirety, as the crossover was low, and the speaking had been fast, but it was fun to listen and try to understand. What was less fun was the change that came over the admiral’s face as she listened to the rapid fire report. The soldier left once the report was finished, and Samunith Hailt spoke with me alone for a moment more. It seemed that the very things we had just been discussing had become significantly less academic. The heretic faction had begun a rebellion, burning the temples of the five faced goddess and killing all those followers which stood to oppose them. This behavior was spreading across the island, the heretical teachings having grown even stronger and further than any might have predicted. Her answer from before was now unacceptable. She was a soldier of the Isle of Udisur, and as such a defender of the five faced goddess. She would be fighting the heretics, and should I choose to follow her, she explained, so would I.

That she would invite me along was a strong sign of trust, and doing anything but agreeing would be throwing any shot at the relationship out the window, but I still stopped to consider. I had been guilty of not taking my religion seriously, and I would not commit the same sin again. I knew more of the story than those out here, and I should be able to determine the correct choice from what I knew. And so I considered, and, as you, gentle reader, might have seen straight away, it was indeed the side of the admiral which fit best with our own teachings. Thinking upon the story of Anshur, his love for the Princess of Flame, the tragic outcome of that love, the conflict with the Monster and with Bel, and the outcomes of all that, it was obvious that awakening Anshur before the proper and anointed day was doomed and foolish. His sleep was essential for the existence of all the world around it, and until the great shaper forged the dream bridge and carried the heart of the long dead princess to his resting place, any periods of awakening would be moments of horror and despair. I could not allow these heretics to succeed, and in so doing destroy all those things around us, and all the places I had been and visited. My journey had taken place in the world of dreams, and for it to have meaning, that dream must continue.

And so, after considering it carefully, I gave my admiral a nod, which was rewarded by a salute more filled with happiness than most smiles I had seen. Soon, I was assigned a place in the military structure, and was working to move out, assembling weapons and loading equipment on to carriages so that all could be moved to the front lines. Never had I been in a war before, though I had heard often of them, strange conflicts, largely between close islands. The feeling of being part of something larger, of being a small piece of a greater whole was infectious however, and despite the general lack of interesting features in my particular job that day, I found myself quite happy, when at last, later that day, we began to move out. I, by dint of my role as logistics coordinator, was allowed to ride in the middle with the commanding officers, including of course, my admiral, who was in charge of this whole section of the military, despite its currently land based maneuvering. It felt good as we marched along, or rather as I watched others march while I rode amidst a cart of spears and blades. Outside of my expectations for the island, but certainly an exciting twist. I would, in time, come to feel a bit bad about my initial enthusiasm, but it was perhaps inevitable. I think none could feel the movement of an army for the first time from within, and not be impressed.

We rested that night, set up in tents, slept well from a day spent in busy preparation and quick movement, then moved out again upon the first light. By noon the next day we had reached one front of the conflict, observing the smoke and hearing the loud noises of conflict as we got closer and closer. And then, but moments after having reached the scene, we joined the conflict. This was much akin, in many ways, to that first violent tussle with the bandits in the desert. I don’t know what I was doing, or what anyone around me was doing. The whole thing seemed a stream of still images and terrible fear. This was of course a thousand times worse, for it never ended. I would scramble for my life, stabbing and cutting, leaping and dodging, running and turning, looking around, helping others, being helped, a hundred little fights, a thousand attacks and counterattacks. Every moment was filled with the momentousness of danger and fear of death, but without any sort of conclusion, as every moment you lived, or killed, or were injured just led into another such conflict, no less deadly, bringing you no closer to any sort of resolution. I fought and wounded and was wounded in return. And in the end, the endless conflict ended, the battle stopped and things slowly calmed.

I could not seem to find any more to fight or kill. The conflicts became less, and I noticed the enemy was routed, running away into the forests. Some chased on, and I heard the fire of the pistols that were so common here, and still smelled the smoke of the many burning buildings around this place. But I was good and done. I had no desire to chase a fleeing foe into a forest I knew nothing about. So I got to work instead, searching the many bodies upon the ground for those that yet lived, and slowly helping them move, or carrying them to medical tents, which had been set up on the edge of the battlefield, even as the battle itself had happened. The thought of someone calmly putting up a tent that close to such a chaotic thing as this battle was not entirely comprehensible to me, but it gave me great respect for the healers within. For hours I moved the wounded, and when at last all those had been safely stowed in tents, I began to help moving the dead, bringing them together, laying them out to be identified before they were burned in a great funeral pyre. When that was finished, I pitched my own tent, and passed into sleep.

It was during the middle of the night that I was awoken from my sleep by the sound of something moving, opening a flap in my tent. I tensed up, fearing an assassin, or a random soldier from the enemy side, seeking to cause damage. It was the smell that stopped me from striking out as a shape moved through the darkness from the edge of my tent up to my sleeping bag. It was the smell of fresh apples, a scent which hung to the uniforms of the crew of my admiral, who always served apples with every meal, in order to prevent some special disease. I smelled that scent, and I realized then that this was no killer come to take my life, but instead the woman I had been courting slowly these last days. She slid in next to me, and we held each other. She was shaking a bit, and I could not understand why at first, knowing she had been in many battles before, but then, I realized that never before had her own people been the enemy. For me this had been a fight like any other, me against the evil foes trying to kill me. For the rest of the people in this conflict, their foes could be neighbors or family or friends. In winning this battle, she had caused the deaths of hundreds off her own people. I held her tight, and she held me tight, and we fell asleep like that, never letting go, seeking nothing more than to hold and be held.

When she snuck out in the morning, I wanted to hold her again, not let her go, but I understood that she could not be seen, could not have this sort of thing effect the moral of her people during a conflict such as this. So I stayed my arms, and feigned sleep. I kept up the illusion until I actually did return to sleep, only waking several hours later, with the loud sound of a trumpeter. I began the early morning process of taking down the tent, stowing my things, and reporting for orders and breakfast. And so began the cycle. The next days were much akin to this. There was the mundane parts of the day, when food was eaten, things were packed and carried and stored and catalogued, when we marched and set up tents and cooked and planned. Then, at some points, sometimes well planned, other times out of nowhere, we fought, and it was chaos and it was blood and it was death. And then, at night, I would get a chance to hold the woman I had come to love in the days or weeks since we had met one another. There was not much else to it than these things. There was occasional moments of exploration and deduction, when we looked at maps, trying to figure out where the rebels would strike next, or checked out a burned temple, trying to figure out something about there methods and members.

I saw some strange things during that time, and I am not sure now which of them were true, and which were the fabrications of a tired and frightened mind. Once, I thought I spotted my Scholar, dressed as a rebel, fighting and creeping around the other side of a battle. I tried to fight my way across the battlefield to see him, but when I arrived he was gone, and likely he had never been there at all. Another time, I thought I saw my Protector, cutting through the fight like an avenging angel, striking down friend and foe alike on some mission that I could not fathom. I have the memory, but I do not know when it was gained, as my memories of the battles are often jumbled and confused. I saw too my dead father on the battlefield, as well as several other people who had no business there, such as our many guides and captains that brought us this far, Bel himself, my brothers, and nightmarish creatures, like animals but fighting like men, tearing and ripping soldiers to pieces in tight formations and whirling dances of death. That time was chaos and I did not know what to believe. In the light of the slow times, when everything was normal, it seemed that none of those things could be real, that my mind was fabricating it all, but when I fought, and when I held tightly to my love, these things seemed more real, more possible. A world in which my destiny had brought everything to this point, where all the players had returned again for the finale seemed more real then.

Such thoughts, of my own importance and roll to play, were infrequent at first, despite the sheer implausibility of having reached this island, let alone days before this conflict erupted. But as the battles moved closer to the center of the island, and I began hearing tales of a great temple, the place where Anshur truly rested, and the possibility that we might literally defend his sleeping body from these heretics, the whole situation seemed too perfect to have come born from chance. That I might be at the right hand of the leader charged with its defense, that I might be one born with special knowledge of the secrets of Anshur and the scriptures about his return, that I might be here, on this island, in this scenario, defending a god from those who wished to wake him and end all the dreaming lands. I had come to love this place, this false land, and while some might say that it would be better if its temptations ceased, if Anshur awoke and forged a new true land beside or above the domain of Bel, the thought of all those that lived in dream dying for such a future could not be accepted. I would be fighting to protect each and every friend, foe, ally, annoyance, shopkeeper, traveler, and shipmate I had met on my journey. I would be fighting to protect the people of all the cultures I had made agreements with, fighting to protect the pirates who had enslaved me, fighting to protect the Green Sea, and fighting to protect my love.

We got closer to this great temple, and I started to hear about it in the strategy meetings, not just in the rumors of the troops. It was indeed a place, and it did apparently contain the body of a god. There was also some argument as to whether the five faced woman would be there to help us defend. Some believed she would be there to help, while others did not believe she would harm the citizens of Udisur, despite their dangerous intentions, that she was to protect the dreamer only from external forces, not from the mind and hands of men and women. That I might be fighting beside a pseudo god with five heads was something I had completely not considered at all, and the idea struck me as ridiculous, despite my attempts to really treat my religious beliefs as being factually accurate. Something seemed too fantastical about that scenario. And yet, as we got closer and closer to the great temple, things in general seemed to get more and more fantastical. The beasts I had been imagining on the battlefield began to appear more and more, and I started seeing them even outside the battlefield as well, limping away from the fight after it was finished, or eating the corpses of dead enemies. They had many shapes, but they all seemed off somehow, as though slightly to much like humans, and not enough like animals. They were also all the wrong side. Elephant beasts as small as a man, as well as rat beasts as large. I knew not what to think of these creatures, but after all I had seen in the campaign and on my travels I simply avoided making them angry, or even communicating with them much at all.

My admiral wanted to do the smart thing and win the fight before the enemy could make it to the great temple, or even just form a perimeter around it, and not let the heretics through. The one member of the military higher ranked than her had flanked around from the other side of the island as well however, and had a different plan. He wanted to have my admiral’s forces defend inside the great temple, drawing the enemy inside, before crushing them completely with a flank around from behind, striking them from both sides with nowhere to run. My love was angered by this, but she had no choice. Despite understanding it was dangerous, I was personally a fan of this plan because it would bring me into the situation I had been thinking about, an epic final confrontation to save the world I had come to love and the people within it. Still, as the heretics pushed in, us now not defending nearly as hard because of this new plan, the hugs became tighter and I could feel the worry and stress this plan was putting on her. I felt selfish for my own thoughts about the situation. Still, it would be happening the way I wanted it to, and there was no sense in fighting that. We retreated to the great temple. We planned our defense. I was not permitted to see the sleeping god. Instead I prepared the outermost defenses.

I had the dubious pleasure of working with some of the strange beasts that had been involved in the fighting. One of the soldiers claimed to be able to communicate with them with a little brass whistle, and they were able to direct the creatures this way and that. And so, not only was I directing soldiers into defensive positions, but so too was I directing animal creatures for the defense. It was not something I was really familiar with, but I supposed few really would be prepared for something like that. I did my best, which I think was pretty reasonable at that point. My love and I met secretly that day earlier than night, for we would be defending in different places that night. We had both been in constant threat of death for the last week of constant battles, but somehow this seemed even like a more precarious position. We kissed for the first time. They were much akin to the holding, something tender, but also rather desperate, wanting to feel each other and be connected in a sort of primal way. I was more determined than ever to survive this and make sure she did too.

There was one last notable event before the conflict. I had finished everything I could in terms of preparation. I had even reached into my bag of tricks and pulled out something of an inspiring speech, sadly not in there native tongue, but at least in one the troops all understood, or at least the human ones. But as I returned to my tent, preparing to record the events of the day and rest myself for the coming conflict, I suddenly realized I was not alone. The lighting was strange and I saw a shape, like a woman, but different. I saw a beautiful face, stunning in its perfection. Then I saw another, even more beautiful in a different way. Then another, and another, and another. I realized that the Lady, the Protector of the sky god was standing outside my tent. She looked me over with each of her five pairs of eyes, sizing me up, determining my worth. Then she spoke. It was five languages at once. Most I did not know, and the ones I did were hard to hear and seemed to be saying different things. I latched on to one of the languages, trying to block out all the others and at least understand the gist of one instead of only a fragment of all.

It was some rather simple stuff. Telling me to defend the dreaming god with my life. Telling me to strike hard and fast to kill the leaders of the enemy team, especially those who might be planning something or doing something sneaky. Explaining that brute force and quick action could trump crazy plans if executed well. I managed to get in a word edgewise before she vanished, asking who she was. The reply was just a name, Tia Matir. It was not a name I recognized, though something about it gave me a bad feeling, connecting to something half remembered in my brain. It kept going through my mind, something wrong about the name and the five faced woman in general. But I could not figure it out at the time, and so I had to let it go, let myself relax, write my notes, and then sleep. Even so it, nagged, and my sleep was not what it could have been. I had a lot to loose, and I was perhaps not at my best, but I was as ready as I was going to be. The next morning would be the climax of my adventure, the ultimate end to a journey that had been filled with crazy things. I was ready. At least I hoped.

The Fifth Path (24/30)

November 26, 2016

The First Draft of the Autobiography of Baal Uras, Soon to be 29th King of the True Land

Running Title: A Point of View: Things Seen in a Year Outside

Composed Abu 6th In the 1st Year of Baal Makru

Chapter 19: Captain Hailt

My companions and I boarded our little vessel, my Scholar having read up on the proper methods of locomotion and navigation for such a journey. It was much less relaxing than previous non-enslaved nautical expeditions, as I had to row almost constantly, alongside my companions. My Scholar sought to alleviate that need, by searching for a current that might carry us along without needing to row, but he never found it, so instead he simply added a strange weaving pattern to our travels, one that I do not think was truly appreciated by my Protector. I was generally too busy being completely exhausted by the rowing to give our exact navigation much notice. I did manage to notice however when the seas started to roughen and the sky darken. It would seem that this novice crew would have to deal with something of a storm on our way to the next island.

We fought the storm as best we could, doing a respectable job relative to our experience and skill. We were able to survive rolling waves and avoid being crushed when they crashed. We managed to stay on target even as tides pushed us to the sides and harsh winds blew us every which way. There was even a notable incident with a particularly large wave, where we managed to ride the wave and time our turn in such a way that our little boat all but leaped over the space between waves and landed on the top of the next one over without falling into the intervening space. In the end though, we were not good enough at this, or the waves and wind were too fierce, or our little boat was not made to handle this kind of situation. Whatever the excuse, not far from the island, near to some rocks and coral outcroppings, we crashed, our boat flipped, and everyone was pulled into the depths. At the time I had no idea what had happened to my companions, but truly, in those moments I thought not at all of them, but instead merely on staying alive. Not drowning was my top priority, and one that was certainly a challenging task.

I am not entirely sure how it came to be there, perhaps our boat crashed into a rock after we were all evicted from it, but somehow there was a chunk of wood, which floated above the rolling waves, and I managed to grip it. As water crashed over me, and currents pulled me, and as I whirled this way and that, I simply gripped the chunk of wood, trusting in it to keep me alive, and trusting in Bel to deliver me safely to the island, and not crush me cruelly against a sea-born rock. I was torn and cut a little by rocks that I was dragged past, but never was I crushed, and so I hung on, and prayed to Bel and was carried through the water. It was a long time before the moving stopped, before the storm ceased in its pulling and pushing and dragging and throwing. My arms had lost all sensation long before then, and I had reached a state somewhere between consciousness and sleep, not really perceiving the world, but not truly gone from it either. My hands had become vices, gripping only, not willing or able to do anything else at all. All of this together made it difficult for me to realize the storm was over.

I had been expecting to either die, crashed against some rocks, or wash ashore on the island that had been our goal. Instead I found myself hours later, blearily perceiving a world in which I was still clinging to the bit of wood that had been my salvation, and farther from the island than before the storm. It seemed as though I had been pulled into a current that had taken me out to sea, and not in towards the land. This was a worrying predicament, for once I realized that the storm was over, the numbness in my arms turned to searing pain, an incredible tiredness filled me, and the vices which had once been my hands began to feel more like hands again, their gripping strength draining away. I managed to maintain my grip, but only barely, my body not wanting to be part of this whole situation at all. I noticed then how far the island was from my location, and I must admit, that in that moment I did perhaps give in to despair. Maybe more like exhaustion then despair. I was quite tired. And yet I could not release my grip, I could not allow myself to let go or I would drown, for while hanging on is tiring, it is much less so than swimming. And so I hung on, watching myself drift further and further from the island that had been my goal. I had no particular plan or hope for how to survive, but I could not simply let myself go. I had a goal or drive to simply hold on, to extend my life by those few minutes or hours, or however long I could hold it. Despite my pain and exhaustion, I refused to let myself go. I hung on.

In the end this primal instinct, this desire to simply continue, even with no purpose or hope, saved me. It took me far longer to notice my savior than it should have. My eyes were mostly down, staring at my hands and arms that so burned and cried for release. When I did look up it was to stare at the ever receding island. So imagine my confusion when I happened to glance to the side and see a full blown ship sailing through the water not far away at all. I almost let go of my plank of wood and drowned right there and then. I managed to flail about and avoid that fate, then wave with one arm and yell with all that I could muster, coughing and spluttering with my parched throat. And someone on the ship saw me, and the ship came for me. A rope was thrown down to me, and I tried to climb, but I could not. So they pulled me up, and I did what I had done for so long, and hung on.

I was greeted by a crew, better dressed than many crews I had seen, which gave me hope I had not just found myself captured by pirates again. They were also remarkably similar in terms of appearance and dress, a uniformity that had not been evident at all in the pirate crews I had seen, which gave me further hope I was not in fact condemned to another period of servitude and rotted food. Their dress was similar enough that it might in fact to be appropriate to call what they were wearing a uniform. I wondered if this might not be some kind of military, for the uniforms and the sameness of appearance made that seem possible. The particular combination of skin tone, facial features, and general appearance was one that struck me as strangely familiar, but which I could not place, not seeming to fit any of the cultures that I was aware of, or had witnessed on my travels thus far. I similarly did not understand the language that they spoke to each other after I first made my way onto the ship. This worried me for a moment, but then one of them tried a few different languages out on me, and I was able to recognize a couple. It seemed like I was to be questioned, but after only getting to the point where I explained my name, there was an interruption. Someone from the back of the group spoke up.

The tone of voice and the way the others responded made me realize that the speaker was the leader. When the crowd parted and I saw the speaker I was a bit surprised to find a woman, but it seemed that there were many more female leaders in the false land than the true, so it was less surprising than it would have been a few months ago. I shall wait to describe this woman, for she becomes rather important to the story going forward. Suffice to say that at the moment, she was directing the others to give me a chance to rest before interrogating me, and since sleep was the thing that I most wanted at that moment, it would be fair to say that I took a shine to her right from the start. I nodded thanks to the woman, who gave me a curt nod as a response, then I was directed to follow one of the crew.

The room I was given was tiny, barely having enough room for the small pallet that it contained, but it had a place to sleep and was dry, which was more than enough for me at the moment. I closed the door, took off my soggy clothing, and then, managing to stave off sleep for a few more seconds, took a quick stock of what I had with me. Thankfully, we had been all wearing backpacks on the boat for space reasons, so I had mine on, which contained my notes for the very book you hold in your hands now. It had managed to avoid being destroyed completely. Unfortunately, that appeared to be all I had. I did not even have anything to write with. Just a backpack, a book, and my clothes. The lack of any resource for payment worried me a bit, but I was too tired to do much more than be glad that I at least had my notes. Then I threw myself down on the mat on the floor and immediately fell into sleep.

It was when I woke up that I really managed to understand the precariousness of my situation. I had lost almost all of my worldly possessions, as well as my two companions. And I would soon see that I had lost something else that I had thought never to lose. I felt relatively confident that my companions had survived. If I had then my Protector would certainly have made it, and I really couldn’t imagine my Scholar dieing to something as mundane as a boat crash. Not exactly compelling evidence, but the fact that I lived seemed evidence enough for me, who’s mind was not particularly willing to accept much more loss at that moment. It did soon become a priority of mine to try and meet back up with them, and I resolved to make landing on the island and searching for my companions a priority in my upcoming negotiations with the boat captain. I was sure there was something that could be worked out to that effect. Little did I know that their would not exactly be “negotiations” in the traditional sense that I was used to. Once I had put back on my clothes, dried now in the time I was asleep, I knocked on the door to indicate I was rested and ready for my interrogation and then waited for someone to retrieve me. Shortly, a member of the crew did.

I was brought to the office of the woman in charge. It is here that I shall describe her, and the general features of most of the people of this boat. The people were a mixed color, somewhat similar to the tone of the true people, though slightly darker. Their hair was either brown or a dark blonde. It was their eyes that made them unique however. For typically those with darker skin and hair tend to have darker eyes as well, but these people all had very pale eyes, either blue or green in color, but lighter even than normal for these colors. The woman who was sitting in a large chair behind her enormous desk when I came in had striking eyes indeed, the palest blue. They contrasted with her skin in a lovely fashion, her color being a bit darker than most of her peers. Her people tended to have thinner facial features than most of those I had encountered, and she was no exception, except that her eyes seemed particularly large in comparison to the rest of her face. It might have been an illusion however, created by the intensity of her gaze. It was not the same level as the leader of the island I had just visited, but it seemed a similar vein, the gaze of an effective leader. I smiled as I came into the cabin and sat down at the chair on my side of the desk. I noticed the tiniest hint of a frown as I did this, not from the smile, which had been apparently ignored, but from the act of sitting down. She apparently did not know she had communicated this though, as she shifted into an open smile after a moment, and invited me to speak, after introducing herself briefly.

I told her my story, or rather a very brief summation of it. I explained my situation and my quest, several of the notable adventures my companions and I had overcome and my current goals, both to retrieve my companions and the go to the final island beyond the edge of the world. While I was speaking, I was also taking time to really look her over. She had a slightly more complicated version of the red and blue uniform this ship seemed to favor. Her hair was a lustrous brown, grown out into long curls. Her face was above average in terms of appearance, but she would not have been considered a great beauty back in the true lands, on account of lack of thick lashes and the thinness of her lips. I could not see her body well underneath the uniform, but she seemed in shape, which made sense considering the military feel that I had gotten from this vessel. When I was finished, I was greeted by an expression unfamiliar to me, not so much in concept, as I had seen it used before, but in personal experience. The woman was leaned back in her chair, and she at last let her face move from the neutral but interested expression she had maintained for the whole story. She was smiling, but her one of her eyebrows was raised considerably higher than the other. She responded, and I realized with horror that she did not believe me. She did not believe I was a Baal, or indeed anyone of any real importance. She thought I was lying.

Her reasoning for dismissing my tale as being one of fancy was compelling. There had indeed been many incredible events upon my journey, and the skills and luck of myself and my companions are sufficiently above the norm that our feats might easily be considered unlikely without something to back them up. And seeing as how I had only myself and the notes for this very book you are now reading, I did not truly have much evidence, as the notes might very well be considered evidence of making this up just as well as being an actual record of my travels. Without my fortune or my companions to back me up, what did I truly have? I had a reputation and I had people who could vouch for me, but only on the islands behind us. Ahead of us there was nothing of my story. I had my skills at language, and my ability to negotiate and interact politically, but might those also not be skills of a professional liar?

As she explained all this, I searched for some thing that might persuade her, but I could think of nothing at all. And her last point was the most shocking of all, for she explained that while she had indeed heard of the true lands, it was that recent knowledge that really pushed my story out of the realm of the credible, for she informed me that the ruler of the true land was not named Shamas as I had told her, but instead Makru. This was of course the name of my oldest brother. It seemed that my father had died in these last few months. And to add insult to such painful news, it seemed my twin brother, Alam, had been sent on an Awakening to be ready as the next ruler. And this woman had met him, heard a very similar story, but with actual wealth and companions to back them up. And in the history of the true land, never had there been two such potential rulers out on their awakenings at the same time. The timing of my father’s death was unfortunate and had created an unprecedented situation that served to make my story seem particularly unlikely. I insisted that my story was true, refusing to admit that I was lying which seemed to be her goal, but I did admit that my story seemed implausible from her perspective. This seemed like enough of an admission to her, so we moved on to other topics.

Of course I was not truly prepared for the tone of these other discussions. In my whole life I had always been important. Sometimes disliked, opposed, or made to seem incompetent or young, but always important in some fundamental way. I was always known to be rich and powerful, and even if someone chose to not care about my opinion or wishes, this was an active choice, this was someone deciding that they were going to go against the grain and not do something that was accepted and normal. But now, I was a moneyless vagrant saved from death on the sea. I was not a Baal, not a potential future ruler, and I was not even rich. I was poor and I was perhaps a liar and I was as such, not in fact important. I was a person, and thus worth some small amount of consideration, but not much more than that. This was well established by the tone of the conversation after it was understood I had no evidence to suggest I was anyone important. The woman was in fact important, as the captain of the vessel, and so she would be the one talking and largely making decisions, and I was only here due to her charity, and so I would listen and make some small decisions within the context of what she told me. I did not quite grasp this at first, and tried to interject a few times but she did not respond well to this, and I figured out the situation pretty quickly. It was a bizarre feeling.

I had of course been in a situation where a woman had a great deal of power of me recently. My brief but intense relationship with my Protector had been that way, but there had still been an understanding that I was important to her, that this power dynamic was special because of its difference than the natural order of things. Here was different and I felt rather put out by it. I listened to the woman, and respected her choices, understanding it from her point of view, but I felt insulted, as though this was something inherently unnatural. It made me feel like how I had been on the pirate vessel, though obviously this was much less extreme. I was distracted and my emotions were not particularly stable, but I managed to disguise this as best I could. My first try at interjecting had been when she explained where we were going, as it did not include a stop on the island that likely contained my companions. I of course wanted to stop there, but she said it wasn’t on the schedule and that she was not rerouting a whole ship because of one lone vagrant. I was informed that I would be allowed to depart at any of the ships next five or so stops, but would have to be off relatively soon, not being a part of her crew. She further explained that no one rode on her ship without working, and that while she would not throw me to the sharks unless I did something to deserve it, I was not going to get any food or water unless I worked. I just nodded at this, slowly coming to terms with the fact that I was poor. Then the interview was over, and I returned to my room, being told I would start working after lunch that day.

I thought about what I should do. I considered trying to make it to shore somehow, maybe stealing a rowboat or something. But then I stopped, going back through the islands that the captain had told me we would be visiting, that I might be dropped off at. I had not know the names of most any of the islands that she mentioned, but she had described basic locations in relation to each other, and when I imagined them in respect to each other, I realized something. Based on the vague maps that we had been able to acquire from a few of the islands we had stopped on of the furthest lands, it might very well be that the last stop of this ship’s voyage was the very island that was to be the outermost destination of my Awakening. Thinking back to the title the woman had given herself when she first introduced herself to me, it became to seem more likely.

According to her, she was one Samunith, Third Admiral of the Wakeword Fleet. There were a lot of rumors about the island we were hoping to visit, that it was off the edge of the world, that it is the last island of the world, that it has technology beyond human imagining, that it is entirely populated by people with the heads of dogs, and a hundred other fanciful tales that are unlikely to be true. What seemed more likely to be helpful was descriptors of its people, how they were described by others and how they might describe themselves. I had only been half listening when my Scholar had described these details to me, but now, thinking back, it seemed that they mostly fit. It seemed very likely that this was indeed a ship of the navy of the very island I was hoping to visit. And if my companions could not find me, then they would assume that I was continuing the journey. And so, then, instead of running away, I needed to sail on this ship back to its home. I could potentially accomplish all my goals by simply doing whatever job these people asked of me, and staying aboard the ship. Off course the one place that the good captain Samunith had said I could not depart was their home island, but I’d just have to deal with that when I got too it. And so I resolved to win the trust of these people, and figure a way onto their island and prove my royalty at that point. So I got to work.

The next days passed pleasantly enough. I got to know the rest of the crew, who were suspicious at first, but came to like me once I got a chance to know them. Telling my stories directly did not go over super well, as the captain must have told them to distrust me in regards to that, but when I rephrased the stories as being events that happened to a friend of mine, they appreciated the stories more, and liked the adventure and romance and exploration of it all. I worked hard, doing my best to learn how to actually do these jobs, not only because I wanted to be liked, but also because I figured now was as good a time as any to actually pick up some skills that I might be able to be better at understanding the jobs others would be doing for me later.

The other interesting thing that happened over that period was something I was not initially trying to do, but ended up just sorta happening. It seemed that my attraction to woman in power was not restricted to my Protector. This may very well be a weakness in my character, and it will be something that needs overcoming before I could assume power back in the true lands. The attraction was not the same extreme complete surrender of self that had occurred previously, which was certainly an improvement as far as my ability to actually accomplish anything while feeling these things, but it was definitely something. I thought of Admiral Samunith rather frequently, though again not to the same crippling extent that I had for my Protector back in Xexan. And so, being in a strange situation far from home, in a somewhat uncomfortable situation, I acted on this impulse, and began to court the winsome woman. It was subtle. The different in our perceived station was such that the direct approach would be inappropriate. I am not exactly bad at the wooing process, despite the evidence to the contrary you have thus far observed in this story, gentle reader. While I had never before this trip actually considered any individual a real potential wife, I had learned the appropriate methods one would use when one was found, and I had been particularly studious in those particular lessons.

So it was that my efforts were not met with complete disapproval. The smiles and fleeting glances and such things that I was good at noticing indicated some amount of interest being returned, and so I continued, growing a bit bolder. I began to play the careful game that would be required to ever actually have something of a relationship. This of course was the game of power dynamics, this time played to win, or at least break even, as opposed to the complete failure of last time. Since she was in fact my superior in this situation, and currently had all the power, it was important to always be respectful, never oppose her directly, or even really imply I was. But it was also necessary to assert myself, to oh so subtly imply equality, or make reference to my noble status, even in jest. This was initially not received very well, but as I continued, and it became clear that I was not trying to usurp her power so much as carve out a place for a potential relationship within that dynamic, she warmed to it, and began to play along as well, biting back with the occasional flirtatious utilization of the current dynamic. It was an enjoyable game, one that was played well by both sides. It served to help pass the time, and while it did in fact serve my own interests, as it made me more liked, and thus more likely to be allowed to depart upon the island of her home, it was in fact an end in and of itself, because, as I said, I had become rather enamored of this woman.

So the days passed, in work, and then after work in song and swapping of stories, and the occasional intriguing exchange of dialogue with the Admiral. It was a happy and somewhat carefree time, one of the first times in my life that the burden of leadership was lifted, and while I was still committed to my goals, they had a timetable and a schedule I could not control, and so I was able to simply allow the trip to happen, to simply enjoy my time with these interesting new people around me. It was a good time all together. We stopped at several ports, and each time I was offered a chance to depart, and each time I turned it down, and the crew members and the admiral were happy with that choice, glad I was staying on for a little bit longer. The only annoying part of the situation was that I was unable to acquire anything with which to write for the longest time. It was only at the last port before the island of my goals that I was finally able to get one, the captain presenting it to me as a present, something for which I was most grateful, not only for the renewed ability to write, but also because of its symbol as a new step in our relationship. The giving of gifts is symbolically powerful in many cultures, and I expect it is the same for hers. So it was with joy in my heart that I was able to write down the notes for this part of my story, moving towards the island I have so long dreamed about, observing its bright lights, too bright to my eyes, and wondering how things would turn out.

Would I be allowed to depart on this island? Would my companions be waiting for me? Would I be able to prove my status and make an agreement with the rulers of this place? How would this affect my relationship with the attractive admiral? These questions and more rushed through my mind as the boat docked at the end of a long spindly black dock, and I put the last few words into my notes. This was the culmination of a lot of time and effort. The island off the edge of the map, the island past the edge of the world. It was an exciting time, in a life filled with such wonder.

The Fifth Path (21/30)

November 22, 2016

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

Running Title: Earning the Throne: The Acts of a King

Composed Dumuzu 24th In the 59th Year of Baal Shamas

Chapter 18: The Isle of Ogdash

In order to secure my fifth agreement, I had to go on a quest. While it has been true that this whole endeavor could be termed a quest, there were a number of components to this particular leg of the journey which made that term seem particularly appropriate. First off, I traveled alone for this section of the journey. While my increasing trust and respect for my companions and those around me had been a theme of my journey thus far, so too had my own increasing feeling of inadequacy. I felt a need to prove myself on my own, so when my Scholar told me that the first Baal had made the trek on this island by himself, I decided that I would follow in his footsteps. It was true that I had been instrumental in securing the agreement on Adroth, and even got a chance to save my Protector from a terrible fate, but I had also had to be saved by her first, and likely would have been executed if both of my companions had not had my back. This of course seemed like a very compelling argument to not leave them both behind, and yet I did so anyways. The need to rely only upon myself, to have no backup or safety net should I fail was strong. Could I do what needed doing by myself? That question is of course what this chapter shall answer for you gentle reader.

Before I describe my quest, first let me describe to you my initial impressions of Ogdash. The word that perhaps best suits it is stark. The people are tall, thin, and grey, with dark clothing and few words. Even their hair and eyes seem to reject the idea of bright colors, for they are pale and dark respectively. In contrast to the isle of Adroth, only a few days travel by boat away, this island had few resources. Its people were hungry, and possessed few things. The island is largely flat, with grasslands covering all but a few small forested areas. Water is scarce. My initial impressions of the people’s general disposition was not favorable. I thought them fatalistic and a bit depressed. My opinion would change as I worked my way through my quest, but in general I felt a very gloomy vibe from the whole place at the start.

I did not spend much time at all in the initial port town. We said goodbye to the pirate captain who had helped us so much these last weeks. I had had some apprehension that my Scholar might try and go with her, but it seemed that he had made his decision before we landed, and while sad to see her go, was committed to finishing our journey together, or at least seeing the furthest lands, the places beyond the journals. I was not happy to see the captain herself go, though no longer being surrounded by pirates day and night was something of a positive. Of course I gave myself little time to enjoy my time with my companions again, for it was less than two hours after we said goodbye to the captain that I said goodbye to my companions for a time, loaded up a leather backpack and headed out into the plains, searching for the leader of Ogdash.

Why did I have to search? Well, it turned out that permanent residences were rare on this island, for most places did not have enough resources to support human life. As such, much of the population wandered from place to place, and this included the leader, who’s job it was to look after the small communities that did not move, ensuring that they were able to get the resources they needed to survive. The exact journey of the leader was not known however, for they had to adjust their path with the turning of the seasons and the needs of the communities they ruled. And so, I searched. I had no idea at all where the leader might be, or even much idea of where the next community might be. I knew only that this was how the first Baal had traversed this land, and trusted that I too would be able to survive the wasteland somehow. It would perhaps have been wise to put a bit more thought into the journey ahead of time. Packing some food and getting something of a map would have been really good choices that would have saved me a lot of time and effort. But alas, that is not what I did. Instead I set out with not much more then some money, some trading goods, and some supplies for camping and hunting. In the end it was enough, but only by the slimmest of margins.

With the exception of a rather exciting episode near the midpoint of my quest, it was those first days that came the closest to killing me. I had hunted a little in the true land, but always in large parties and always with the tracking part done by others. I had never had to search for water before. We had been careful to carry a lot of it in the desert at the beginning of this journey, but other than that, it had never really been an issue. Food and water both became an issue very quickly. I had brought one canteen of water, which I carefully rationed out for the first day. Then however, I was out. I had not thought to take any food at all, having trusted that I would find something out in the wastes. I saw a few small animals, but was unable to catch them in any way. As such, while I was not exactly thirsty at the end of my first day, I was quite hungry, and had no water for the next day.

I was lucky, in that I had the presence of mind to collect some of the morning dew that next morning, managing to fill my canteen about a quarter. This lasted me maybe two or three hours, but it was something at least, and I might very well have not made it at all if I had not done that. I tried again that day to hunt, but I found nothing at all. So mostly I just walked. I had no idea where I was going. I had gotten one of the people in the first town to point me in the direction of the closest village, but I was pretty certain I had gotten turned around, and there were basically no landmarks out in the endless waste. That second day was extremely hot, and I became incredibly thirsty very quickly after I had exhausted my supply of dew. I tried eating some of the grass, hoping it would have some wetness in it, but it tasted vile, and I was unable to finish it. I had though I might be able to eat anything after having had to deal with the worm ridden bread in my period of captivity, but it turned out that I had gained no such power. So, when at last it turned dark, and the sun dropped below the horizon, I was barely able to get out my blankets before dropping to the ground to rest. I was more thirsty than I had ever been before, and the hunger of two days without food gnawed at me. I thought perhaps I should try and walk during the night instead of the day, but the thought of walking another step was too much for me, and instead I curled up and slept, my throat parched and my dreams ragged.

Had it continued like that for my third day, I might very well have died. Instead I was saved by the fall of rain in the night. This woke me up from my sleep. At first thoughts were of only how to protect myself from its cold touch, but then, as my throat again interjected its own thoughts on the discussion, I realized that I needed to act now, to collect what water I could. I only had the one canteen to store water for travel, but I was able to set up some of my gear as little pools, so that I could at least drink deeply in the morning. I drank my fill in the night, set up what I could to catch more, then huddled under my blankets, shivering. I managed again to sleep, lulled by the sound of the rain. In the morning I drank all of what I had captured, then secured my canteen tightly, vowing to preserve the water better than I had before. Then I once again set off with no direction in mind. It was cooler that day, with the dark clouds still covering the sky, and occasional sprinkles of water throughout the day. The ground became muddy, which made the travel slower, but it was still better than the day before. Still, when I stopped at last, I still had no food at all. It was hard to quiet my stomach and ignore its cries. Had I been less exhausted by the endless walking, I might not have been able to sleep from the pain in my gut.

On the forth day I met another person. It was not until after a great deal more walking, but around noon I spotted a shape in the distance, and all but ran. I greeted them, and while they were as short on words as the others I had met, when I explained I had not eaten in days, they were quick to give me supplies from their own pack. Then they simply watched me while I munched away on the dried meat and tuber things they had given me. After I was satisfied, or rather after I forced myself to stop eating lest I consume all of my savior’s food, I asked them about the leader, and explained my quest to find them. They offered to travel with me on my search, but, still hoping to accomplish this task with no guide or companions, I turned down their generous offer, instead asking for only directions, and perhaps some tips on how to acquire food and water in the wasteland. They did not seem to understand why I was turning down their offer of accompaniment, which was probably because it was completely irrational, but they were happy enough to help with what they could. They showed me how to find the tuber things that I had eaten, what to look for, as well as a few other edible plants, including one that was quite juicy, and hence could be seen as a water replacement if the rain did not come or the dew did not suffice. The practice of hunting was too much for them to really explain in such a short time, but they gave me a few things to look for if I wanted to try and track down some of the small animals or even some larger ones. Then, they gave me some directions to a town they knew had been visited by the leader not too long ago. From there I might be able to find their next destination and catch up with them. I thanked the wanderer profusely, tried to give them some money to no avail, then continued on my way, feeling better then I had since arriving, finally not dying of hunger.

There is not too much to say about the next several days. I was able to keep myself fed and watered enough to survive in the waste now, perhaps not comfortably, but well enough. I was greeted with suspicion by the residents of the small village where the leader had visited. I managed to convince them my motives were pure however, and was soon on way with information about the next village the leader had been headed to. I was able to purchase a second canteen as well in the village, which made my water supply issue a bit easier. Then I continued on my way. It was about a day to the next village, whose residents confirmed I was catching up with the leader, but had not yet caught him, and the next day I was on my way again, towards the village they had told me the leader was visiting next. A day or two of travel later I was at my third village, then a bit later, my fourth.

It was in this final village that I learned I had caught up. The leader was not in town, but was returning. They had trekked out to hunt a dangerous beast who had been terrorizing the locals and their livestock. My body wanted me to rest, to simply wait for the leader in the village. I had been walking almost constantly the whole time, only stopping to eat, drink, talk, and sleep. All of me was exhausted. But, this was a quest, and waiting was not what I had set out to do. I was going to meet with the leader, and hopefully, could even help with the dangerous beast killing.

So, I ate some food I was able to buy in this latest village, drank deeply of their water supply, then took my hunting supplies in hand and set out. Once again, I really had no idea what I was doing, having still not ever actually successfully tracked or hunted anything without help, but that did not stop me. I simply started walking in the direction the villagers had pointed me. In the end it was pure luck, or perhaps lack of luck, which resulted in me finding the creature. It was much more that the creature found me than anything that I did. One could perhaps say that it was me who was the hunted, and not perhaps the hunter.

I was walking through a particularly dense area of grass, when I heard rustling to the side, and turned in that direction. I saw fur and claws, and I barely managed to get my arm up to protect my neck. The creature was on me, having leaped from somewhere, its force knocking me to the ground. Its teeth were in my arm, and it was biting again and again, while its claws clung to my chest, and its back ones rakes across my legs. I did my best to keep its gnashing teeth away from my face and neck, defending myself with one arm, while trying to push it back with the other. I flailed about, feeling incredible pain in my arm and my chest and legs as I was being cut and bit. I was not really able to think in all of this, simply pushing away, but some part of me understood that if this continued, then I would lose blood, and I would die. So, instead of just trying to keep the mad beast away from me, I struggled to turn over, to get the beast underneath me instead of the other way around. And so, using my somewhat free arm as a brace, I pushed against the ground, rolling over on top of the creature.

I had been carrying a bow with me as I walked, intending originally to try and shoot the creature from afar if I saw it. The bow itself was somewhere behind me, but the arrow I had held was on the ground next to me. I snatched it off the ground, and stabbed randomly. I tried to keep its head back, and get inside the range of its claws. I wrestled and stabbed and pushed back the head and stabbed and felt new gashes torn in my body and stabbed and wrestled and eventually, I realized I was wrestling nothing. The creature had stopped struggling. I slowly pulled myself out of its grasp, and looked at its body. It seemed that one of my blind stabs had gotten the creature in the neck, and that had likely been the fatal strike. I knew I needed to bandage my wounds, to stop the bleeding. I tried to get up, to get my backpack off so that I could wrap something around me. But, I was so tired. I was exhausted and tired and then I was asleep.

I awoke not feeling any pain at all, which was not at all what I was expecting, and was in fact, a little alarming. I had a hard time sitting up, and everything felt weird. It was dark wherever I was, but I was able to make out the shape of my own body. I was naked, except for an apparent mile or two of bandages wrapped around me in a number of places, including some places that I think were perhaps bandaged less for medical reasons and more for reasons of propriety. I thought perhaps to shout for someone, but I figured it had to be late, and I was healing, so I decided to wait till morning, letting myself fall back into sleep, something that was very very easy.

The next time I awoke, I saw a face staring down at me, a complex expression etched into it. In many ways I will continue to argue, until my dying day, that the face of the leader of the isle of Ogdash is the most beautiful face that there is. The leader was a woman, something that had never been implied by anyone I had talked to, and something I had not been expecting. She was not old, but she was no youth either. Her skin was the same grey shade as the rest of her people, and her hair white, pure as snow, with a soft look to it. Her eyes were intense, dark on dark, and large. All of this was attractive, but it was the lines in her face, and the complexity of her expression that made her truly beautiful.

Her face was like a map, with thin lines intersecting and splitting apart all over it. But while normally one’s face wrinkles and the lines of a hard and difficult life set in with age, you could see that these lines were not those of an acceptance of fate. These etches in her face were each a symbol, a representation of a person or group for whom she was responsible. A hundred times and a hundred times again her face screamed out that this was a person who cared. She ruled this whole island, and she did not just think of the good of the island, or the good of each town. Once could see, if they can read faces like I can, that she cared about each individual, every life on this island was her charge, her responsibility, and her pride. This was a woman who cared in a way that I have never seen another living being care. And now, looking down at me, I could see that this care extended to me. Though I was but a visitor, I was on her island, and as such, under her care. Every wound I had suffered at the hands of the beast was one she wished she could take upon herself instead. And now, looking down at me, she was trying to think of how best she could help me, what would be her best course of action so that I would be best helped. I did not really understand how to react to this expression.

She helped me sit up, and then we spoke, softly and gently. She had found me and the dead beast less than an hour after our battle. She had been tracking it, and had finally caught up. She had found me, and thought that I was dead, but she bound my wounds all the same and carried me back to the village upon her back. There I was given an herb which numbs pain, and my wounds were cleaned by local elders. She learned of my quest to find her from the locals, and decided to wait for me to awake before continuing her journey, since I had come so far. Now I had awoken, and she would hear my story. She thanked me for killing the beast, but expressed sadness that I had been so hurt, feeling that it would have been better for her to have caught the beast, and that what I did, while brave, was foolish, not only as an individual, but as a leader. She explained that I had a responsibility to my followers, and getting myself mauled was not living up to that expectation. Then she apologized for yelling at me. I confirmed that I understood why she was saying what she was saying, and that I understood that I had not done the most rational thing.

We talked for a long time. About leadership and responsibility. About my quest, both my long term journey one, and the one specific to this island. When I explained that I was putting myself in danger in an attempt to improve myself so that I might be a better leader she seemed to soften a little on my decision, but she still generally thought I was being a bit of an idiot about the whole thing. Her point was that going and doing things on your own does not mean going and doing things without a plan or without asking questions and figuring stuff out. I agreed. Most of what I had done on this island had been very impulsive and not really the right choice. In the end, I think we were friends. She agreed to sign an agreement between our nations, but only if I traveled with her for a few days. She said I had the potential to be a great leader, but that she thought that perhaps I could be improved if I saw some of her work. I agreed, and the next day we traveled together.

I think some day I will have to write a book about those few short days I spent with the leader of Ogdash. It felt very deep and important, like I learned something essential in those days. But to try and express it all in a short paragraph within this story here seems somewhat disingenuous. Still it is an important part of my journey, perhaps the most important part so I will see what I can do.

In terms of actual things done, there was a lot. We traveled to different towns, and each one had different needs, different ways it needed help. But it also had different ways it could help. In one village we brought food for the two dozen residents, helping prepare a big soup for everyone that night. Then, we went around to each of the citizens, and collected from them spare clothes that they had, for they were a village of clothing makers. Then, we went to the next village and helped them set up a system for collecting water, for they were having a hard time getting enough, using an idea someone had created in a village weeks before. We took from those people a few spare tools for digging, which were needed in another town, which also had need of the clothes from the first. It was a network of interconnected needs, and somehow the leader kept it all straight in her head. She seemed to know every name, to know what each person was good at, what each person had and could spare, even if they did not think they could spare it. We traveled quickly, on great birds that ran as fast as horses. From village to village, being the messenger and the mailman and the leader all at once. It seemed too much for one person, this job that the leader had, and perhaps it would have been, for anyone less than her. But it was done, and she did it, and I watched and learned.

I learned many things in those days. If I were to pick only a few, only the most important out of all the essential things she taught me, it would have to be the importance of responsibility and of caring. As a leader, you need to be willing to take all of the weight upon yourself, to be the one to whom all can look, and all can rely upon. And in order that you do so as best as you can, in order that you really do what is right for all of the people, you need to care, not just abstractly, but individually, and specifically. For the leader, the only true way to lead was to know and believe in every single member of her people. It was an incredible way to be, and something I will always strive for, even if, in the end, the true land is too big for such an approach. On the last day, when she signed my agreement and lent me one of her great birds to return me back to my people, she spoke with me again, and taught me another lesson.

She explained that she had one great failing as a leader, and that she saw in me that same failing, though perhaps more extreme, but perhaps more fixable. She explains that while it is your responsibility as a leader to take all of the responsibility upon yourself, it is also your responsibility to make sure that those things which need doing are done, and this almost always means relying on others. The villages rely on each other she explained. None could live without the others to help supply what it lacked. Each has a specialty and focus and is valuable in its own way, but each has needs as well, and ways in which it must be supported. So to are people. Including oneself. She says that for her, though she knows this, she has a hard time letting others help her. She cannot seem to let go of any of the problems which she takes for herself, accomplishing them herself, even if it might be faster and better for her people if she were to share the problems. And so, in my quest to prove myself alone, she saw the thread of that same problem.

She had listened to my story, and knew how I felt myself to be the least useful member of the party. What she said then is something I will never forget. She explained that pride is the most dangerous weakness of a leader. She herself has too much, which is why she believes her successor will be better than her. And for me, she says, accepting that I might not be the most useful could be a step I need to take. You can’t always be the best, and sometimes people are better than you at one thing, or many things, and accepting that is also an important part of leadership. If you refuse to admit others are more skilled, or stronger, or smarter, then you are limiting yourself as a leader. Only by understanding the true capabilities of everyone, including yourself, can you make the best decisions. And with that thought, she left me. I road the bird through the wasteland towards the small town I had left my companions. I was lost in thought for the whole journey, glad the bird knew the way, for I still couldn’t navigate well in the emptiness of the grasslands.

My companions were happy indeed to see me upon my return. It had been a long and boring time for them, protecting our stuff being a task that both took time and was not interesting at all. I apologized to them for making them do this, and said I would not be going off on my own again, but that it had, I think, worked out for the best this time. My Protector was a bit annoyed at this, and I explained further that, while it had indeed worked out, it was only through a lot of luck that it had, and that it would have been the wiser choice to have not gone alone. I did not bring up the fact that someone still would have still had to watch our stuff, and leaving only one person to do that would not have been kind. Once I told the basics of my story, and showed them the agreement I had made with the leader, we moved on to the next subject, which was finding a new boat to continue on our way.

In terms of islands to be dropped off on with no transportation, this was not a particularly great one. The locals did not make boats for traveling long distances, and their were few traders in other boats that came this far. In the end we were able to find one local boat that was supposedly large enough and secure enough it could make it to the closest island to this one, where the locals said there were many more ships. We purchased the boat, and prepared to set out in the morning. I gave my two companions a chance to go out in the town together, and stayed to guard our stuff alone. I took the time to reflect, to think on the wisdom of the leader of this strange island, and to think about the future. For now, there was but one more destination. In myth alone was our next destination recorded. We would be traveling beyond the border of knowledge.

The Fifth Path (18/30)

November 19, 2016

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

Running Title: The False and True: Reforged in the Outland Seas

Composed Simanu 23rd In the 59th Year of Baal Shamas

Chapter 15: The Northwall Gap

Things moved fast after the whole business with the pirates was put behind us. I was not particularly comfortable with the pirate admiral that rescued us, and obviously not so happy with the pirate siblings who had enslaved me for a month. As such, the idea of traveling on board a pirate vessel for the next leg of our journey was not something I particularly relished. Considering how much of our escape was owed to my Scholar, and his obvious interest in the pirate captain of this particular vessel, combined with the fact that this was pretty much the best possible scenario as far as being able to travel easily and far made the decision for me. The woman in question was likable enough. She respected my status as a Baal but also made sure that I respected hers as the captain of the vessel we were traveling on. I was not exactly happy with the fact that she technically worked for the admiral who had caused all that trouble years ago in Xexan, but it seemed like the command structure was pretty loose most of the time, at least for people like our captain, who were respected and trusted by the admiral.

Route planning was one of the things we started to do first after we gave up on the chase of the pirate siblings. My Scholar was still complaining about not getting his journal back, but considering he got to sail on a ship captained by his new girlfriend I figured he would be able to deal. I’m less sure if the decision to abandon the chase was a good one for my Protector. She still had unresolved issues with the pair for certain, which she continued to be unable to talk about, but were somewhat deducible based on surrounding evidence. I am afraid I must admit that I don’t know enough about the mind to know whether getting some kind of resolution in that matter would have been good for her, or simply reopened those wounds again. Maybe just leaving them all behind was the best choice. I was worried about her though. She was usually upbeat and focused, but occasionally she would seem to zone out, not being quiet in the moment, and those times felt dangerous. I hoped that time and distance would heal those wounds. I know good food and the chance to walk around free of shackles for a bit did a great deal for my own mental state.

If there is one thing I was left with from the experience though, it was the need to actually be worthy of being a Baal. I have been less and less sure of my innate superiority as told by the priests as this journey continued. That time as a slave really pushed that belief to the limit. I thought about it, and I think perhaps in the middle of that time, I lost the belief entirely. But now, with time to reflect, I think I just needed to change my attitude about it. Instead of assuming my superiority was intrinsic without effort, I instead have begun to see it as something of a responsibility. If one is to be a leader, then one needs to hold themselves to a higher standard. One needs to be better than what they would be if they did not have this added responsibility. And so now, looking forward, being the person I was born to be has become my goal. I do not think I have yet achieved my potential as a Baal. But if I would keep that title, then I must do so. I will be Baal. I must be Baal. I was born into it. I have no choice but to put my heart and soul into becoming that which I am destined to be. Destiny is a responsibility and not a guarantee. Or at least the conclusion I have come to so far. I shall need to consult with the priests upon my return to ensure my mind has not been corrupted by the influence of the false land.

All that aside, deciding where to go ended up being relatively straight forward. We needed to go around the Green Sea, cross over its northern edge, then head further north in order to reach our final destination. There were two ways to do this. As I have explained before, the Green Sea is incredibly large. To go around the entire thing is an incredible voyage, especially as the Sea curves east at the far north, necessitating not just a journey north, but also around the eastern hook. However, there is another option. The point where the Green Sea turns is a strange one in terms of tides. There are shifts and movements in the water there that make sections of the Green Sea part, allowing boats through unhindered. The danger of course is that these tides change over time, and the effect is something like a maze, with any given bit of said maze potentially disappearing in minutes or hours. It was a difficult and dangerous route, and as such few attempted it. My Scholar’s girlfriend seemed to think nothing of it though. And since we would be put months behind if we didn’t take that shortcut, we are once again taking a risk on traveling through the Green Sea. I would be as upset about this as my Protector was if only I was not instead incredibly excited. Somehow our near “death by starvation and exposure to the elements” previously had not curbed my enthusiasm for the place. Tackling the Northwall Gap was a chance one only got once in their life, and I was not about to pass it up.

As we traveled north, I picked up my third alliance with a foreign power as almost an afterthought. We had to stop at a small island to stock up on supplies for the long journey north, and I was informed that the port town was also the capital of this small nation. I made my way over to the palace, which was not in fact a palace but a courthouse, and made a simple but profound trade and culture agreement with the rulers of this small place, who were in face a panel of judges, each elected by a different segment of the populous. The idea of elected leaders was one I had heard of in my studies and in my travels, but actually seeing it was something else entirely. These “rulers” that I was speaking to had no divine blood, no “mandate of heaven”. They simply did a good enough job that people thought they should keep doing it. Though the very idea seemed anathema to me initially, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered why it felt that way. In the false lands, where there is no Bel to give divine commands, what real way is there to determine who might rule the best? Perhaps a choice decided my men was no worse than one decided by blood or the will of false gods. It could certainly be much worse. Then, if a ruler failed to live up to their expectations they could be replaced bloodlessly, and not using the sacrificial alter and the scream of the crowd so oft used to destroy the false Baal in homeland. I must be truly corrupted by the outlands now. I shall need to be purified by the priests. Yet such a purification is far from now. For now I have my own mind and thoughts alone.

With that agreement reached and the land of Yiasmit now a proud ally of the holy land of Bel, we moved on, ever northward. In my quest to become worthy of my own title, I used the time aboard the ship, waiting to reach our next destination as an opportunity to learn. I tried learning a bit more Xexan from the many multilingual crew members as well as picking up and understanding more and more of how boats and ships functioned and how one would run such a vessel without the fine help of these well trained individuals. I also finally got around to getting me and my Scholar some training in the martial arts. I had been meaning to get my Scholar better prepared for such engagements ever since his unfortunate stabbing, but my Protector had always been sick at sea, and on land we had always been busy, so it had not yet occurred. If there was one positive from the whole pirate scenario it was that somehow my Protector seems better able to hold herself on board ships. Not having to watch her writhe around in obvious pain for the entire duration of sea voyages was certainly a nice change. And so she was able to give us some training. While all of us had different favored weapons, my Protector was a master, and thus knew her own weapon as well as dozens of others, and was thus able to instruct me in my axe fighting as well as my Scholar in his choice, a pair of knives, one long and one short.

When we first began, the crew members not actively working would stop and watch our training, curious about our fighting techniques. They seemed to get a kick out of watching me and my Scholar get repeatedly disarmed and knocked over by my Protector. After a couple days though, the captain decided she was not going to give up this opportunity to get all of her people a bit better trained, and soon everyone that wasn’t working was training, or in the case of the captain and a few others that were particularly skilled, training others. It was a regular battle academy, with people learning and teaching all sorts of different weapons and styles. There was an ongoing sparing ring where folks could challenge one another, and a nightly tournament which was very competitive for the simple fact that the winner got double helpings at all meals the next day. It started out being largely a tournament between people of middling skill such as myself, but as each day a new champion was crowned, and that champion was annoying enough that better people decided they needed to show them a thing or two, the level of skill improved over time.

As was only appropriate, the final night before we faced the Gap the tournaments final round was between my Protector and the captain, both having only deigned to enter on that final night. It was a battle to behold for sure. The winner was decided only by a sliver, as it was one such chunk of wood sliding into the foot of our fine captain that distracted her sufficiently to be disarmed by my Protector. Credit to the woman, despite her obvious annoyance, she crowned my Protector all the same, and spoke nothing but her praises, never once using her still bleeding foot as any sort of excuse. Later that night I overheard her being asked about it, and her response was that checking ones footing is an important part of any battle, and that it was her fault she had been so injured.

On the next morning, the whole crew allowed to rest well and sleep in for the tough days ahead, we prepared to face the Northwall Gap. My Scholar had a notebook of tides and seasonal variations and was checking it against what we could see before us and the day and month. The crew was checking all bits of the boat, making sure there were not leaks or bends or breaks, that we would only die if we made a poor choice, not if we did everything right but the boat wasn’t strong enough. Then, after a brief prayer session, in which seventy eight of the thousand odd gods of the Xexan faith were specifically called out, we set out into the Gap. It started slow and easy. The Gap was wide, the tide was slow, and the boat rocked little. Time passed, and I began to wonder if the dangerous nature of the Gap had been nothing but overinflated stories. Then of course, we came to our first intersection. A tiny, fast moving section of clear sea continued on straight, while a slower and wider, but windy one turned off to the right, into the green of the Northwall. As we approached, the captain called out orders as my Scholar recited bits of his book in the strange sounds of the Xexan language. As much as I had improved in the last few days, it seemed that the Hishtu man had continued on at his own incredible hurtling pace, learning a language never before truly known by any true lander. I was glad he had been chosen as my Scholar. Had I had anyone less competent we would have been dead a hundred times over by now. Though, considering his nature in designing the route, perhaps we would not have taken quite as many risks either. Still, hurtling through the tiny gap, moving faster and faster, I would not have traded him for the safest Fifth Path in history.

I tried to keep track of the other path we could have taken, watching it move further and further away from our own, disappearing into the green expanse of the Northwall. I climbed up the sail, trying not to disturb the pirate who was already up there, watching the path we were actually on, and kept following the other path with my eyes, until it vanished to nothing. We had chosen correctly it seemed. With that fact established I turned my attention back to our actual path, seeing on the horizon yet another choice. The pirate next to me had seen it a moment sooner and was shouting down to the captain below even as I was seeing the choice. This time there were three paths, each very similar to the other. None seemed faster or slower, or more or less windy. It seemed like a gamble pure and simple. And yet, a moment later, after consulting with my Scholar, the captain shouted an order, and we all prepared to take the rightmost path, the opposite choice as last time. We zoomed forward, and turned at just the right time, having very little time to maneuver, with the path widening into three for only a short distance indeed.

As we raced through the Gap, the tide became faster and faster, while the paths became smaller and smaller. That our captain was able to move this relatively large ship through these tight corridors without making contact with the green sides which would latch on and disrupt the journey was incredible, especially as the paths took tight turns and zigzags. It was about two hours into this journey of hard decisions and lightning reflexes that the first mistake was made. The captain had been making turns and decisions at an incredible pace for that whole period of time, and that she might have become exhausted by that point is not in any way a mark against her. We made a wrong turn, and we soon realized we would be hitting a dead end. Thankfully our pirate observer saw this well ahead of time, while we were close to another path, and our captain was able to make a snap decision, slamming us into the green barrier that separated the paths. We slowed for a moment, but our momentum was such that we managed to break through without being stopped and returned to the correct route. But as I looked behind us I saw the undersea trailing of green kelp that had stuck to the bottom of the boat. We could only make so many mistakes like that before we would be trapped.

Over the next several hours a few more situations like that occurred. We went down a wrong path, or were not able to turn fast enough on a tight angle and we slowed for a moment before pulling away. Each time though, we slowed more, and each time the volume of green which trailed after us under the boat increased. As if the Gap was testing us, at this point we began to encounter sandbars, or small islands dotted across the Gap, turning good routes into deathtraps, and making even those that were not fully blocked off much tighter for we had to fear being caught by the green as well as beached on a rise of sand. As I watched however, we seemed to be almost aiming for the islands and the sandbars, our ship moving closer to them, barely missing, scraping the edge of the islands, being just a moment away from beaching on the shore. I began to question the decision making of our captain at that point, as I watched her choose between two routes, one straight and clean, the other with multiple rising sandbars to dodge and worry about, selecting the later with no hesitation. We scraped and dragged and we made it through, but it was a close thing, and when I saw that the other route rejoined with this one, that we could have avoided all of that, I considered stepping in, perhaps advising another to take the lead for a while so that our captain could rest and restore her rationality.

I watched as we once again made a mistake, taking the wrong route and having to move through the green to avoid being mired in it. Thinking about how much kelp we had stuck to our ship, I wondered if we would make it through at all. But strangely, we seemed to have done better than before. When I looked back after we completed our maneuver, I saw less green trailing then before. Straining my eyes, I looked back at the sandbars we had just passed by, and realized that what I had perceived as a failure of rationality had instead been the height of it. Our captain had been intentionally moving us close to and scraping against sandbars and islands in order to scrape the accumulated seaweed off of the bottom of our boat. I saw little green strands on each shore we had scraped by. I shook my head. Once more my hubris seemed to know no bounds.

In the end there was just one final challenge that had to be overcome. The end of the Northwall Gap was a final fast and straight path, with no curves or bends. But, it was exceedingly narrow. As we approached that final section, our scout reported what he saw, and after some calculations, we determined that our boat was too wide. We would be caught by the green. It seemed cruel that we had made it so far only to fail in the final stretch, but our captain and crew were having none of my doom and gloom. Called into action, every man and woman on the ship began to move below deck, gathering everything with weight they could find and hurling it overboard. If we could reduce the weight of the vessel, it would rise in the water and the width of the part touching the water would be less. I joined everyone else, dumping food and provisions, even large caches of gold and silver. We even had to push a few of the ships cannons over the edge. In the end however, it was enough. We were able to sail through, and while the last mile or so was in fact too narrow, our speed and mass was sufficient that we were able to push through, dragging the green tangles behind us, slowing down more and more, until at the very end, we exited the green sea at a pace slower than walking. But, we were out. We had braved the Northwall Gap and won our way into the Northern Seas, a place barely mapped and rarely visited by any of the cultures known to the true land. We were, as the old saying goes, off the edge of the map.

The Fifth Path (15/30)

November 16, 2016

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

Running Title: The False Land: How Not to Die

Composed Simanu 12th In the 59th Year of Baal Shamas

Chapter 13: Pirates

A short time after we departed from the port of Xexan, land of the phoenix and the assassin, and the inscrutable monetary system, we were captured by pirates. Gentle reader, I am afraid that the events that I am about to describe may horrify some of you. That I am writing this story of course means that the ending is at least a little happy, but the events along the path are anything but that. I describe this to you again, because it is the truth, not because I truly wish it to be told. There are dark things in the false world and in the last month, I have seen more than a few. If you do not wish to see that darkness, to not see the terrible things people are capable of doing to people, then please, skip past this chapter, move on to the next chapter, which I do hope will be much brighter and more cheerful. I don’t thing anything could be worse certainly. With that said, I begin.

It was on the second day of the voyage that we spotted the pirates following us. We had the en-jin as a way of outracing them, but it was still not completely fixed, so our outlander captain did his best to keep us away from the pirates, while also working to fix the en-jin so that it might be used to flee before they caught us. We tried to help a little, with my Protector scrambling up the sails to change things and watch out for the pirates, while my Scholar looked at charts and books of tides that he had bought in Xexan, hoping to find us an escape route, or a way to hide from our pursuers if the en-jin could not be fixed. He seemed to only remember that he had bought the book after a while however, as he took the time to write in his journal in that secret code of his before beginning the sea chart exploration. As for my self, well, I was useless. I tried to stay out of everyone’s way, and did my best to help when I could, fetching tools and turning the steering wheel when asked to. Time passed and the pirate ship got closer. It was much larger than our own little ship, outfitted with a whole row of the cannons I had heard my Scholar talk about when we first left the homeland. Our captain explained, that not only could we not let the ship catch up to us, but we also couldn’t let that side of the ship with the cannons get within any range of us, or we would be sunk.

In my education, I had occasionally seen a pirate, but only on the execution block. Most pirates that troubled the shores of the true land were killed out at sea by our brave admirals, but some were sufficiently dreadful that they were brought back to the capital to be killed, just so that all of the Baals might be sure that they were truly dead. So I had seen pirates, but never in the wild. I had never really considered them a threat, more like a pest for those unlucky few that lived on the coast, or made their living on the sea. Truly my empathy has expanded in the days since I thought those terrible naive thoughts. In the end they caught up.

This is not to say that anyone on our side truly failed. At the last moment, just before it seemed that all hope was lost, our captain finally fixed the en-jin, and we began roaring away, our speed now much more than the massive vessel which chased us. But only a moment later, we heard something like a storm starting behind it, and saw the massive ship too accelerate. It had had its own en-jin, but simply waited to use it until it needed to. My Scholar’s research found a small section of sea that had a low bottom, that our small vessel might move over, but which would stick fast the large vessel. We fled towards that place, hoping to scuttle our pursuers, and make our escape. We passed over the shoal and saw the great ship follow, feeling a surge of hope as it began to slow. But then the sound of its en-jin increased, roaring like nothing I had heard since the fist of Bel. And it moved over the shoal, simply pushed itself over the sandbar, unconcerned with the fact that it was mostly above the water. It caught up and a dozen pirates could be seen on the edge of the boat, hooks with ropes in hand. They tossed the ropes, and we tried to cut them, and we did a few, but some began to swing down instead of crawling, and then we were fighting and not just cutting ropes. Then there were a dozen abourd the ship against us four, and though I knew my Protector would go down fighting and would likely take a half dozen down with her, I shouted for surrender. We raised our arms, and the pirates took our weapons, and the pirates carried us back to their ship.

We were beaten up a bit, then stuffed into a cell deep within the ship. The smell of the place was worse than anything I had experienced before, and I soon realized why, when I felt something sticky and wet fall down upon me, and I realized that the wet of the ground was not seawater. It seemed that the pipes that took the waste of the ship and dumped it into the sea passed over this room. And they leaked. I looked for something, anything to clean myself, but I found nothing but my clothes, so I tore off my shirt, used it to wash my body, then hurled it away from me, curling up in a corner that seemed free from filth. There we waited. We tried to talk, but there was a guard, and each time we spoke, made a noise, or moved too fast, the great fat woman poked us with a long stick, yelling something at us in something that almost sounded like Xexan, but not quite. So we waited in silence, together with the smell.

After a time, we were dragged out of the cell, unceremoniously stripped of our clothes, washed off with buckets of water and painful sponges, then our hands were clamped in irons, and we were all dragged up several flights, still naked, barely able to climb the ladders because of the chains binding our arms. We were stopped before a well made door that seemed much cleaner than anything else in the ship. One of the pirates stopped at that moment, and started shouting at us in different languages, finally hitting on Hashim as one that at least most of us could understand. The rough looking man, notable for his incredibly huge and lumpy nose, and what looked like a bite taken out of his shoulder by some great beast, told us we would be meeting the captains and that if we wanted to live through it, we might try being polite. He said it in a slightly less mannered fashion. Then we were shoved through the door, all of us wet as drowned rats, naked, and clamped in irons. Not perhaps the best side of someone.

The captains were a unique couple. It was a man and a woman, who called each other sister and brother, but quite obviously were not. The man was close to seven feet tall, with skin paler than any I had seen before, and shocking red hair. The woman was less than five, with skin black as pitch, and hair to match. They wore brightly colored clothes, obviously tailored especially for them, in a fashion I did not recognize but knew was, at least in these parts, the height of style. Each had a hat bigger than any I had seen more, with feathers to match, bright blue and gold in color. Had I not seen the twin phoenixes of Xexan they would have been the most beautiful feathers I had ever seen in my life. I knew that this was my chance to save us. I was the talker, that was my skill. I was good at reading people and faces and finding what people wanted. I opened my mouth, but before I could so much as utter a sound, both of the captains had turned all the attention to our own pale captain. They shouted something in a language I did not understand, but had heard before. Our captain responded. They spoke again, and he spit on the ground in front of them in response. Then the woman pulled out something like a cannon, but much smaller, lit something on fire, and a moment later our captain had blossomed red, lying in a pool of his blood on the ground. Then, while our companion lay screaming, bleeding to death on the ground next to us, they turned back their attention to us, and spoke. Perhaps, gentle reader, you can understand, if not truly forgive, my sudden lack of voice in that moment.

The captains were fine spoken. The man spoke in a friendly way, with many apologies and seeming sympathy, which extended to his face and eyes not at all. The woman interjected with more threatening messages, suggesting consequences and punishments. It was an impressive performance to say the least. For a few moments during that moment, I managed to think about what they were saying, and not about my dying friend. It was my Scholar who seemed to have kept his head somehow in this situation, despite being the closest to our, soon to be late, captain in both emotions, and physical space. He answered the captains questions politely and quickly, explaining exactly what they asked for, without expanding at all. He told the truth when their would be a way for them to confirm, and he lied otherwise, seeing no reason to tell these people anything that might be useful to them. Still, with my autobiography draft and my Protector’s diary being aboard the recently captured ship, there was little that could not be confirmed should they choose to double check, so largely the truth was told. I began to regret not coming up with a secret code like my Scholar. The talk did not last very long. Mostly they appeared to want to see their newly captured guests, shoot our captain, and figure out who we were and what we carried. Once they had the info, we were returned to the filth filled rooms bellow, and again we waited.

In time we were given food, but it was so filled with maggots and flies that I could not even try eating it. Neither of my companions seemed able to either, though they both at least gave it a bite before setting it aside in disgust. Time passed and we tried to sleep. My Protector, already feeling terrible from the movement of the ocean, with the smell compounding it, was soon retching onto the already vile floor. It was difficult to sleep as the sound continued, even after her belly emptied, her body kept trying to make her, and she made the dry rasping that results from that. It was, not my most pleasant night. Half way through my generally failed attempt at sleep, my Scholar moved slowly over next to me, and shook me.

He spoke in a soft voice, saying that the guard had left because of the noise, and that we had this chance to talk. He explained that our presumably deceased captain had, based on the short exchange between the three, been a crew member together with these captains, or perhaps they had all been together under another. It would seem that he had betrayed the rest in order to get his own ship. They had given him a chance to rejoin the crew, but he had no interest in that idea, so they shot him, with, what my Scholar called, a matchlock pistol. He said that we had a few things going for us that might make it possible for us to get out of here. My royal blood might get us, or at least me ransomed instead of turned to a slave. His citizenship in Xexan might have some effect. And the general exotic beauty of myself and my Protector might at least save us from a life of hard labor. I believe he was trying to lighten the mood with that last one, but it was really not the right moment. I did what I could to keep morale up, telling him good job, and to keep up on the data collection. I told him that they would likely not know how many languages he could understand and might let something slip thinking he couldn’t understand, so it might be a good idea to hide understanding of most of his languages. He nodded at this, seemingly ready to do just that. Then he slipped away, back to his own filth free corner, and was soon at least looking like he was asleep, something I found quite impressive at the time. It was a feat I apparently managed as well at some point, for I found myself waking up eventually, a bucket of dirty water doing the deed.

That first day afterwords was a painful blur. Mostly there was rowing. Endless pulling and pushing on a piece of wood, chained together with others also chained. We followed a beating drum, pulling then pushing, then pulling again. If we should grow tired then one of the pirates would strike us with a whip, until we found that extra reserve of strength to carry on. Or, as I observed once that first day, till you lost consciousness from the pain and were dragged away to who knows where. We were given only short breaks and few moments to eat food, again nothing but maggot filled bread. Again I declined to eat, but at least I earned the approval of my rowing partner by giving mine to him that day. I spotted my Protector once that day, doing the same work as me. I nodded at her, but she did not respond. I don’t think she saw me. The next day I ate the bread. I threw up. Day after that I saw our outland captain again. Got a chance to go up on the deck for the first time. The sunlight burned my eyes. I was mopping the deck together with others. Happened to look up at one point at the string of hung bodies handing along a section of the sail. Our captain was one of them. Apparently they had hung him after they shot him. The elements had not been kind to his body. Managed to choke down the bread that day. Had been put in a cell different than my companions after first night. It smelled less horrible and I did not have to listen to my Protector throwing up all night. I hated my self for feeling happy about that.

It was not till the fifth day that I learned my rowing mates name. Talking was punishable by beating, and neither of us knew what languages the other spoke, so even in the moments where we could get away with it, we knew not what to say. Each of tried speaking a few things in those moments, but it was not till the fifth day that one worked. Turns out we both spoke at least a little Raltik. Actually turned out the guy was a Raltik. Had not actually met one since the journey started. One or two had visited Bel’s city during my education, to help me with the language and to teach me about their religion. Raltik was always used by my other tutors as a prime example of the corruption and moral decay of the false lands.

For those of you readers that did not grow up in the capital and get a chance to learn about them, the basics are as follows. They only believe in one god, named Raltik. They think that Raltik created all things for the pleasure of thinking beings. As such, they believe that taking pleasure in the things of the world and in each other is the highest calling of each man and woman. But strangely, this only extends to the physical world. They think that emotional love should be reserved for their god alone, and that while you can lust after another, or wish to spend time with them for reasons of increasing pleasure, loving another takes away from your love of Raltik and is thus a sin. I remember this baffled my mind at the time. My Raltik tutor tried to tempt me a little to see the value in his beliefs, but at the time I did not get it at all. Now, having lived a fuller life, I can much more clearly see what might be the draw of such a belief system. In our circumstances at the time, I can surely say that the belief system which motivated him was of little concern to me. He was another prisoner, another stuck in the same dire circumstances as myself, and thus we became fast friends. Or friends in so far as one can be when one is able to sneak only a few dozen sentences in in a day and one of you only kinda knows the language.

It was maybe four or five days after I learned his name, which was Jayce, that he let me in on a plot that was being constructed among the slaves. It would seem that a revolution was being planned, or at least an escape, and if I was willing to help, I was invited to reap the potential rewards. Needless to say, I was happy to finally have some hope. Each day I had tried, in those moments when I was not to busy working endlessly, or passing out from exhaustion, to consider a way out of this situation, to return to my destined path, return to my rightful place, and yet I could think of no way at all to do so. I had had one chance to use my skills, as a leader and a talker, and in that moment I had frozen up, had contributed nothing at all. Now I was out of my element, I was in a situation where all of my knowledge of language and ruling and diplomacy served me not at all. I guess the language one did a bit, seeing as it let me talk to my friend. Still, I felt in myself, in that time, that I was completely helpless, that I had lost all autonomy. In that belief, my hope had slowly started to dwindle, to fall away. My belief in my intrinsic worth as a Baal fell away under the endless burden of hard work and the degradation of my condition. So, when I got the chance to try and get free, when I had hope again, I leaped at the chance.

I learned more slowly over the next several days about the specifics of the proposed escape. It was somewhat brilliant and at the same time ridiculously straightforward. The pirates were a cautious bunch. Slaves were chained to their rowing chairs. They were moved from their cells to the chairs and back only in small groups, with more pirates than unchained prisoners always. The only exception to this was during mopping duty, or cleaning duty. But then it was still only small groups, and while their were less actual guards during those times, the deck was covered in pirates that would step in if something happened. As it turned out however, it was not unprecedented for the pirates to take bribes, assuming the prisoners were able to provide something worth bribing with. This was primarily used to take a nap during the day, or find some alone time with an opposite gendered prisoner. The plan was simply to set up a perfect storm of all the possible ways that prisoners might be free, make sure all of the ones that were were in on the plot, and then overwhelm the pirates, unlock as many compatriots as possible and get the hell off this boat.

The plan called for three people to be bribing their way to some alone time, one to rest, and two to act as a couple. Then, their would need to be one person with a great deal of pain tolerance to pretend to be knocked unconscious by the whipping. It would be timed such that the bribe people would be coming back right as the whipped guy was being taken away. As they passed each other, they’d all go for it, try and take the guards by surprise. Usually there were four guards, but if one group was taken up to the deck their would be only three, and with four total prisoners released, they would have the numbers and the surprise. It was a shot. I knew I wasn’t much of a fighter, but I was able to tell them about my Protector, who could be the female in the scenario and would also be a great force in a fight. They were able to set up communication with her for me, and soon she was in on it too. The tricky part was knowing when people were going to be sent up to the deck with enough time left to set up the bribes. But thankfully getting deck duty was something people paid bribes for as well, and the guards would let people who might be able to bribe know when that might be available. Time passed, and I waited, and then it seemed like it would be the next day. But when I arrived the next morning my friend was gone, and so were several others in the conspiracy. Had they escaped without me? Nope. We were all brought up on the deck in small groups to be shown their corpses, hanging near my now mostly skeletal former captain. My moral dropped to basically nothing at that point.

In the days that followed, the worst thing started to happen. I started to get used to it. I started to accept the job and the awful bread and my cell and the smell and my place. I started to accept that as normal. I stopped trying to think of ways out. I started just zoning out. I started just going through the motions, not really living my life at all. If it had not been for a shake up in the schedule, I fear truly where my mental state might have ended up. But that’s not what happened, our ship pulled into a port, and things changed enough that I was able to act.

I heard about it from my new rowing partner a day before it happened. We were about to head into port. There were two positive parts of this. One was that we would not have to row till we left port. And some of us might be sold. And while few really knew what one might do as a slave for another, none could really imagine it could be much worse than this. So in general the moral for the slaves was high. Even the pirates were excited for the chance of port, so the beatings were less common, the mood almost cheerful on the rowing floor. I even heard rumors that they bought new bread from markets so the food might actually be good for a few days after we left. In general I felt much more positive about all of this than I really should have. It shows you just how far I had fallen that the prospect of a few days of bread that was not stale or maggot ridden gave me such joy.

As it turned out, I was among the lucky few that would be brought out of the ship to be given a chance at the slave market. From what I was able to infer, what my Scholar had said all those many nights ago had not been completely untrue. It seems that the appearance of the true people was considered exotic and attractive out here in this land, and it was due to this that I was chosen to be sold, as I might get extra value due to my looks and general youth and lack of deformities. So it was that after we pulled into the port the next day, a process which involved a more complicated than usual drumming routine, I was dragged out of my seat, given my second scrub down since I boarded the ship, put in the first clean clothes I had experienced in what seemed like a lifetime, and marched out into the sunlight. As it turned out, it was actually somewhat late in the day, but for my eyes, used to the dim depths of the pirate ship, it was still quite bright. We were taken to some kind of slave holding cell, which was much less secure than our normal situation. If there was one thing that I hated about myself it was the fact that I noted that fact, but felt absolutely zero motivation to act on it in any way. I suppose perhaps it was well that I didn’t for we heard a piercing scream in the night of one attempted escapee and found her the next day missing a hand, but still that I did not so much as consider escape was a failing I can not truly forgive myself.

In any event, the next day I was brought out to the slave auction. The people were a mixture of all sorts I had seen before. Many looked similar to the Xexan, but there were all sorts, though in general they had a more rough and intimidating look to them than most I had seen. I watched as person after person was inspected, observed, and sold. Then I stepped up to the block. I did not know what system of currency was being used, but the bids were higher than for most of the previous individuals. I was happy that this fact did not make me happy. I am not sure if I could have lived with myself if it had. It came down to something of a bidding war between someone veiled all in grey, and an older looking woman absolutely covered in jewelry. Something about the grey figure seemed familiar, but the woman ended up winning. The way she looked me over when she came up to collect me did not give me good feelings.

Indeed, these feelings were justified a short time later after I had been transferred to her care. My hands were bound together tightly, and my legs given just enough space to shuffle. I was pushed into a carriage by an overweight man that seemed to be combination bodyguard and carriage driver, then the lady came in after me. I shall not sicken you, gentle readers with what happened in that carriage, but suffice to say, I am glad that my first kiss had already been taken at that point. I was relieved when we reached a stopping place, some kind of roadside inn. Less relieved when I was locked in the old woman’s bedroom while she and the guard went to get dinner downstairs. Now at last the impulse to escape came upon me. Somehow the horrid food and the terrible working conditions and the general reduction of my value as a person had been something acceptable to me on some level and I had started to accept them, but the idea of spending the night with this woman was not OK at all. Or at least it was different enough to shake me out of the miasma of acceptance I had fallen into.

As it turned out, the lady had not been particularly careful about trapping me in the room. The windows opened easily with a little prodding, and though we were on the second floor, and my hands and feet were bound, I almost simply leaped out, but I retained enough sense to realize that would be stupid to do right off the bat, though the thought of being free did make it tempting. I had some time, so I decided to see if I could get myself unbound somehow first. Seemed unlikely the leg bindings could be broken, considering they were metal, but my hands were bound with just rope. I searched through the luggage that was left up here when we were dropped off. I found a vaguely sharp piece of jewelry, and took that, figuring I’d cut myself free later because it might take a while. I also found a key, which I could not believe could possibly be the key for my leg bindings. But it was. So those were gone a moment later. I shook my head, kept the sharp jewelry in my hand, and lowered myself out the window, dropping down as quietly as I could. I saw movement in front of me. It was the grey veiled individual who had tried to buy me at the market. I was not in the mood for being owned at that moment, so I charged forward, stabbing out with my sharp broach thing. I struck home, and I heard a familiar sounding curse, lamenting being stabbed again. I gasped. The stranger pulled off their veil to reveal my Scholar, now bleeding from the gut for the second time this journey. He grimaced in response to my apology.

I of course wanted to know everything. How had he escaped? How was he able to be free enough to try and buy me? Why was he dressed like he was? Where were we? But he cut me off. The most important thing he explained, was that our last companion was not yet free. We needed to act now, with no time for anything else. I nodded at this. And so, just like that, or rather, a moment later after my ropes were cut and we bandaged up my Scholar’s midsection, we were off to rescue my Protector, from what I came to understand later, was a pretty terrible fate even by the standards of horrible fates I had been thinking in recently.

The Fifth Path (12/30)

November 13, 2016

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

Running Title: A King’s Awakening: Walking the Fifth Path to Understanding

Composed Aru 7th In the 59th Year of Baal Shamas

Chapter 10: The Palace of Xexan

I did not sleep well after the second assassination attempt. The first time we had captured the assassin and Anatu had been watching over her. At this point I trust Anatu completely and totally, so that assassin was not a problem any more. The second one escaped though. That they had been skilled enough to not get caught after Anatu had blocked their initial attack also worried me a bit. Thus far in our journey my Protector’s prowess at fighting had been so far above anything that we have faced that it made physical danger seem much less of a threat. In the very heart of a kingdom just as large as the true lands however, it might be conceivable that their would exist those who could at least match her. And potentially whoever was targeting me had enough resources to employ such skilled servants. My Scholar’s news that two of the council had potential motive for my elimination was about what I was expecting, but it was still disheartening.

For most people, I think, the prospect of negotiating an alliance with an isolationist power while sharing no common language with its rulers would be challenge enough. For me and my companions though, assassination attempts had to be thrown into the mix. So now I had to solve some kind of complicated plot in a city known for its complicated nature while not knowing the language of any of the citizens. Add in existential fear of assassins actually bursting into my room and ending my life, and I think, gentle reader, you can forgive me some tossing and turning. Still, I was not too tired when I awoke, and the bitter beverage that was served at all times of day in this land seemed to have some of the same awakening properties of the coffee of the true land. So by the time our morning meeting got going I was ready and raring to go.

The meeting went well enough. It was however, just as strange to me as all of the meetings since getting into the capital city have been for me. The natural order of all decisions throughout the journey thus far has been the natural order of all meetings between a Baal and their servants. I lead the discussions, and bring in suggestions and ideas from my companions. Sometimes my companions can be dismissive of my initial suggestions and we end up going with something nothing at all like I had originally planned, but each step is still a decision by me. Now however, that has shifted. While no one is subverting my authority, neither are they deferring only to it. There seems to be no real leader in terms of direction of discussion, with it moving from topic to topic based on stuff brought up. And while I can still make the final decision on each step, this has two caveats. One, Anatu can also have the final say. If we are discussing something, some times she just makes a statement about a decision and we move on to the next topic. Secondly, and this has only happened once, so maybe this is all in my head, I was once about to make a decision on a topic, and Anatu caught my eye, arched an eyebrow at me, and I just automatically stopped, and waited for her decision instead. Its a strange feeling. No matter how I look at it, I can’t seem to see my power being usurped exactly in any way. The social dynamic just changed. Its not necessarily a bad thing, as again, I trust my Protector’s judgment, but it feels weird. Perhaps this effect will fade as we move further in time away from the period where my Protector had to make all the decisions. It doesn’t feel that way though. It would seem that this Awakening is changing not only me, but my companions as well. Hopefully everyone can keep their minds free from the corruption of the false world.

In any event, my Scholar was once again sent out alone, the only one of us able to effectively act away from our guide due to the language problem. His rapid improvements in the language are impressive and have proved extremely useful. He was sent to follow the money trail, as apparently there are extensive records of payments and money changing hands withing the palace, for the scanners allow the wealth one is carrying with them to be checked very easily. It was not something I would have thought of, but our guide mentioned the records after Anatu made some comment about the gentlemen with the scanners always laughing about something every time they scanned her. Once my Scholar heard about this, he lit up, and he explained his plan. Then he explained it two more times until we all mostly understood. We would know who is paying who and by how much by the end of the day.

Meanwhile, the rest of us had two goals for that day. One was to continue the negotiate with the council, and the second was to make an attempt at an alliance with the negative money printing council member who’s name was thankfully pronounceable. Our ability to actually do anything about the assassin sender even if we figured out who he was was limited as foreigners. We needed someone with a lot of political clout to fight our battles for us on that front. Depending on how long these two things took, we might get a chance to explore the city a little more as well. The first day’s exploration had been clouded by the incredible, mind numbing, bureaucracy we had to endure, and yesterday we were too busy because of all the ceremonies I mentioned before.

There was about an hour left before the meeting with the council after the meeting concluded and my Scholar practically danced his way out of the room and towards the records office. I spent that time learning a few greetings and formalities of Xexan from our guide. While I had no hope of becoming anywhere close to conversational in the short time we had here, I had learned a lot of languages in my life, and the least I could do was learn enough to greet others and be polite. Such things could go a long way I knew. As such, when the meeting finally started, I was able to greet each of the eight council members with the proper greetings and titles, which earned me a respectful head bow from each one, which, according to our guide, was about the equivalent to a standing ovation in this situation. I was happy my memorizing skills had not failed me, and glad my tongue was finally managing to wrap around these new sounds.

The negotiations that day were exceptionally fun. Not only were we finally getting into the phase where decisions could finally start to get made, but I was also using my questions in suggestions, not just as valuable parts of the negotiations, but also as signals that might draw out emotional responses from the council members. It seemed likely they were all skilled at hiding their facial expressions, but the off chance of a reaction that might actually tell me something meant it was an important thing to try. As such, my suggestions and answers were a bit more blunt then they would be if I was putting all of my effort into diplomacy, in hopes that rapid shifts in tone might shake one of the council members up. It slowed down the negotiations, but as we finally neared the end of the meeting, I could see it start to work. The council members were starting to get more distracted by thoughts of what they would be doing later as we got close to the end, and thus paying less attention to the flow of my words, or rather the flow of my guides words. As such, it was more possible to surprise them by shifting tone rapidly. What the small amount of info I was able to gain told me was strange however. Based on the way they reacted, both of the council members who had been pegged as potential assassin buyers seemed actually interested in the success of this deal, reacting positively as it moved forward, and seeming distraught if the negotiations hit a snag. The other strange bit of info I was able to gain was also not expected. One of the members in charge of the port authority, and thus standing to gain the most from additional trade, seemed incentivised to slow the process down, seeming worried when it sped up, and, after I started looking at it, intentionally bringing up points and things that would serve to take up time. We would have to look into him. In the end the meeting ended well enough, with some progress made, but still, potentially, a ways to go. I said the appropriate goodbyes, and we exited the room.

Now we needed to try and get the attention of our potential benefactor. The scheme was relatively simple, but I was happy to have come up with it. With my usual leadership role being less important in the discussions, it had felt like I needed to contribute more on the idea front. We started by asking a completely different member of the council where the mint for the positive money was. Then, we would head there, then through conversation and happenstance we would decide to check out the negative money mint and just happen to bump into our target. From my Scholar’s work yesterday we knew he was always at the mint to check on it in the early evening, so we planned everything in order to get us there at the right time, and have a good reason to be invited in to his private office and have a chat.

Things went smoothly up to the point where we were visiting the positive mint. Unfortunately the owner of that mint had a big problem with our target, so it became very difficult to bring up the idea of visiting the other mint without offending our host. Thankfully our guide managed to play on the mint owner’s feelings of superiority, and we got him to talk about it in the context of his mint being better. From there we managed to get the location and a pretext for visiting it easily enough. As we were traveling across town to our real destination however, we passed through a dense crowd surrounding a sale on fish, just brought from the port. While I was walking through, one of the many frenzied shoppers suddenly turned, large knife in hand and stabbed me, or at least tried to. I managed to jerk away just in time to avoid being skewered, but the blade still managed to cut through my clothes and put a gash in my chest. My protector was on the man in a moment, but something startled the crowd, people started running into us, and the man managed to escape in the confusion. Needless to say, I was a bit frazzled. Unfortunately this put a bit of a snag in our plan. It would not seem natural at all for us to keep going to visit a mint we supposedly only have a passing interest in right after I got stabbed. Going anywhere but a hospital or back to the palace would be very suspicious. But, we were able to adapt.

Since we actually knew where our target council member lived and what time he was expected to arrive at his mint, we were able to head towards the palace, but do so in such a way that there would be a good shot we would run into him on the road. And seeing me bleeding in the street it would be only appropriate for him to stop and offer us a ride. And that was just what happened. We all entered into his carriage, and he took us to a doctor he knew well to treat my wounds. And in the short bit of time we had in the privacy of the carriage, we sought to bring him into our confidence, explaining about the assassination attempts, and expressing a fear that it was the work of another council member. His response was strange. He acted shocked by the attempts on my life, but it seemed feigned, and he seemed disinclined to get involved in the situation at all. It didn’t seem likely that he was the attacker, but, I realized, it did seem that he likely knew who was, and was scared of them. This did not bode well. We had not considered the possibility of a complicated net of loyalties within the council, or the possibility of some members being manipulated by others. So it was with a great deal of concern that I sat, thinking about the possibilities even as I was stitched up, and my wound cleaned.

It seemed foolish to wander the city after such an attack in broad daylight, so we returned back to our rooms in the palace. I had the strange experience of walking in to my room and finding my former assassin making my bed. Whatever had driven this girl to try and kill me seemed to have vanished completely, at least as far as Anatu was concerned. I still had my reservations, but if my Protector, the person sworn to defend my life with hers, believed in her, I wouldn’t fight it. What could have possibly transpired that inspired that trust is a mystery to me, especially considering the complete inability for the two to talk to one another. Anatu and I took the time to learn a board game from our guide, the same one he had wasted several hours on during our first day of traveling. It had a lot of depth to it, and I could see how one might value a good game of it quite highly. Once we got the rules down, our guide bested both of us a few times, then set us up against each other. It was an interesting contest. We both ended up winning a few games. I had more experience with board games in general, but she was better at seeing some of the attack angles in the game.

We kept playing until Nabua returned. He was dead tired, and dropped a bunch of names connected to each other with reasoning in front of us, muttered something about not knowing anyone’s name, then passed out in his room. It seems we had forgotten that our Scholar didn’t know the names of anyone except the council members, so while he had been able to make connections he didn’t know who they were really between. Our guide chuckled and took the papers into his room, mentioning that he’d try and make sense of the names in the morning. Anatu and I played a few more games, but I started to get tired and made some dumb mistakes in all of them, allowing her to win each one. I was a little annoyed and wanted to win one before I slept, but after the third loss I realized it was not happening that night. I said a sulky goodnight to my protector then passed out.

It was the next day when everything came to a head. The guide was out and about in the morning connecting names with faces and figuring out who everyone was. Meanwhile my Scholar was busy writing. So once again that left Anatu and I to play the board game. I was pretty determined to win the first one, and after a hard fought battle, I did. But she picked up the next few, and it soon became apparent that my experience was being caught up to, and I needed to improve if I didn’t want to keep losing. The grin my Protector was wearing was getting dangerously smug. I could feel my mind returning slowly to the place it had been earlier in regards to my Protector, and I knew I should quit before the effect increased, but my pride wouldn’t let me. As I kept losing, the tone of our conversation shifted, falling into the rhythm of those nights. It was a good thing that our guide burst in when he did, exclaiming that we were all in deep trouble, because I was on the borderline of being able to think about the outside world at that point. I managed to shake myself out of it by the time my Scholar was fetched, and the guide started explaining the situation. My Protector sat down next to me and apologized for going too far. I shook my head, telling her it was my fault. Then we both listened.

I must confess I did not follow all of the reasoning. Some of it was exceedingly complex financially, and some had to do with local culture, but the end result of it was that the money paying for these assassins seemed to be coming from the royal treasury, which could only be accessed by the vote of the whole group, or by the young king. Since the whole group negotiating with us while trying to assassinate me at the same time seemed pretty silly, it somehow had to be the young king, or someone acting as him setting up the assassination attempts. We decided that I would go to the next meeting with the council while at the same time Nabua would try and talk to the young king, see if he could figure something out.

In the end the mystery was solved in a rather anti-climactic fashion. While I was continuing the negotiations, my Scholar managed to get an audience with the king. It then soon become apparent that the king had indeed sent the assassins but mostly because he had liked Nabua from first impressions and he didn’t want him to leave right away. Nabua apparently gave the kid a quick lesson on morality and explained that he was doing something important right now and wanted to keep traveling, but would be willing to hang out until he had to leave. Once the news of this reached the council room, the one council member who had been slowing me down stopped trying to do so, apparently having been under orders from the young king. The negotiations progress smoothly from there, and it reaches the point where I think one more day might be enough. I don’t of course know the reason for this until I meet up with my Scholar later that day. With the assassin threat gone, we finally get to explore the city a bit, and release our ex-assassin servant from our rooms. She decides to stick around until we leave though. While we are out and about, I purchase a copy of the board game that the guide bought us.

We all celebrate not getting assassinated with a lot of food and games that night. Anatu and I show Nabua how to play the game, but when we play him, he ends up winning his first game against both of us. We keep playing him and he seems to be getting better at an alarming rate. After he destroys us for the fifth or sixth time he starts breaking down laughing. Apparently he and the old guide had been playing it together basically since we met the guide, and he was just pretending to be new at it. Anatu smacks him, but he just keeps laughing. We all have a good time and then fall asleep.

The Fifth Path (9/30)

November 10, 2016

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

Running Title: Journey Round the World: A Thousand Different Shores

Composed Aru 2nd In the 59th Year of Baal Shamas

Chapter 7: The Yon Xar Pass

As we traveled further into the Xexan territory, the beauty and majesty of the surroundings was breathtaking. A true survey of that place would describe the sweeping vistas and well run farms, the perfect fusion of the natural with the constructed, and the industry and creativity that went into its construction. Unfortunately, I can give you no such survey, for my mind was focused not upon these beauties and utilities, but was rather consumed with a strange passion. I must again, for what must seem like the hundredth time, admit weakness here. In our own culture, men and women both, cover their bodies as best they can, leaving only their face exposed as the vehicle for their expression. The rest of the body is reserved for ones eventual husband or wife. It is both a protection against temptation, and a protection against those who have succumbed, that this covering provides.

Since departing on my journey, I have seen many styles which have been much more loose, much less interested in protecting the propriety of those who adopt them. It has slowly dawned on me, as I have traveled, that perhaps, in some cultures, marriage is not a prerequisite for physical intimacy, and that it might actually not be considered morally wrong to engage in such activities outside of that structure. This realization was mostly hypothetical at first, and in retrospect. I had not fully actualized this thought until our short period of entrapment on the Green Sea. With the thought fully actualized however, the skin revealed by the outfits of the other cultures changed in tone. They were not meant to attract me into a marriage that I would never be willing to enter into, but instead were hints of the possibility of physical intimacy outside of that, a suggestion of a willingness to engage in such acts if I might be willing. Having never considered the possibility of such acts outside of marriage, my mind became afire with the possibilities, the fact that I could make such a choice easily, with little chance of danger to myself or of discovery. The movements and actions of some of the Xexan women in the port town only enhanced this, and the clear view of the shoulders, arms, and lower legs of my Protector, who, while I had always considered her appearance adequate, now, with the scope of possibilities open in my mind, I understood to be in fact, incredibly beautiful. Her tackle of me when she was defending me from the sound of explosions had resulted in extended contact with her exposed skin, and the general feel of the shape of her body. None of this had helped my present condition.

My mind was untrained in defense from such thoughts, and so, as we walked in silence through the rolling hills outside the port city, I was, in my mind, imagining many things I had thought unimaginable, and mentally committing the deeds that I had so recently condemned my companions for considering during our trapped period on the Green Sea. My mind was so occupied by this new diversion, that I must admit, gentle reader, that I might very well have tripped and fallen several times, if the very cause of my condition had not been there to catch and steady me. I do believe she was worried for my health, and my inability to meet her gaze must have only added to her suspicions. The result of this was of course that my Protector stayed every closer to me, and occasionally reached out to touch me, and the cycle continued. By the time night fell, and we set up camp, I all but leaped for the privacy of my own tent.

Unfortunately for me, the crazy old man that was guiding this expedition apparently thought that one person tents were dangerous, and that it was better to be on a two person tent system. You shall never guess who my tent companion was. I curled up, inches away from the woman my mind had been undressing all day, doing my best not to listen to her breathing, and imagine how her body moved because of it. Truly, I was a pathetic sight. If you, gentle reader, are perhaps disgusted by these descriptions, then you are in a right place with Bel. I am afraid however, that in order to give a fair an accurate account of my travels, I will be forced to describe such feelings and thoughts further as the story goes on. Be prepared and think carefully so that my failings my at least be a lesson to you. I am not proud of my thoughts in the coming days, but neither will I deny them.

I was freed from my torment by a terrible cry. My Protector was up in a flash, telling me to stay in the tent, but I ignored her, eager for a distraction from my current train of thought. I looked out at the surroundings, trying to see the source of the commotion. It was a little hard to see, because it was out in the dark, but the noise made it easy to find. A human shape, presumably my Scholar, was surrounded by, and being attacked by a large number of small, maybe foot or two long, creatures, the nature of which was hard to see in the dark. Our crazy old guide shouted for someone to get a light near the battle, then drew out an incredibly long bow from somewhere or another. Seeing as I was closer to the tent, I rushed inside, grabbed a torch, lit it in the fire, then charged in to save my danger attracting Scholar.

When I got close, and with the light of the torch, I was able to see the creatures plain. They looked like rats, but huge and furry, with incredibly large, gnashing teeth. They scattered a bit from the light at first, but returned again, leaping and biting at both me and my Scholar. I swung the torch like a club, realizing in that moment that I really really should have grabbed my axe as well, and did my best not to get gnawed to bits. My Scholar was already bleeding in several places, but seemed to be still fighting, which was better than he had done the last time we had been in a fight together. As the frantic beating back of the giant rats continued, I heard the whistle of arrows, and one by one the creatures went down. They seemed to notice the falling of their companions and broke ranks to flee, but my Protector had run around to the other side to cut them off, and soon all but one of the rat creatures were crushed by her dual maces. The one almost managed to escape into the darkness, but one more arrow by the elderly guide ended that swiftly enough.

With the excitement over, our guide rushed over with another torch and began examining my Scholar. He explained that the bite of the creatures could cause infection very easily and that any cuts or scraped needed to be specially cleaned and treated with an herb we had bought in town. He began work on my Scholar right away, and instructed my Protector to check me out. This of course necessitated her inspecting my body and touching me a fair bit, and when it turned out that some of my clothes had been torn or ripped in the fight, also involved me taking off my shirt and pants so that she could look at me and check for scratches more easily. And when she found them, she was instructed to clean them, and lets just say that my mind did not exactly stay pure, and without heavy clothing, that became somewhat obvious. To my Protector’s credit, she commented not at all, and acted as if she had not noticed.

We got a quick explanation of what the creatures were and what they were called from the elder after all the wounds were treated. My Scholar wrote it down, but I am afraid I have a hard time remembering or even pronouncing many of the Xexan words. Apparently the creatures hunt in packs, and specifically target sleeping things so they can kill them before they wake up. Its why keeping a guard is so important, because their ability to wound or kill is much greater if their target is on the ground sleeping compared to standing up. The elder congratulated my Scholar for having spotted them, but warned that going out into the dark alone like that was usually not the best plan, and that sounding the alarm or throwing out a torch to see, might have been a better plan. My Scholar took this advice with a nod and a wince. He had been bit in a number of places, and had several bandages covering his body. All of this served as something of a distraction for the short time it lasted but then it was time to return to sleep. Thankfully my Protector volunteered to go next, so I would have a chance to go to sleep without listening to her breathing. But, all the same, when we were both in the tent for a bit, as she readied herself for the watch duty, she caught my eye, and gave me a little smile, and I knew I was doomed. I felt my own face redden, and I averted my gaze down, unfortunately straight towards her body, which caused me to look away again after slightly too long of a pause in eye movement. She walked out with an extra spring in her step.

For those of you readers, who come from more conservative locations then the capital city, where men and woman truly do not interact in a physical way at all before marriage, I shall explain. The courtship dance of the Baal and those other high ranking officials of the city is arcane and nuanced. But what I had done, my physical reaction, my reddened face, my inability to meet her gaze in response to her smile, all pointed towards me being very interested in marriage. Her smile was an indicator that she was considering accepting, but that I would need to prove myself further. I was trapped in a number of ways.

Were I to respond negatively at this point, to reject her, or appear disinterested after I was the one to apparently initiate the ritual would be the height of rudeness. It would ruin our relationship completely, effectively indicating that I had been playing with her emotions, and make the rest of this year impossibly awkward. On the other hand, if I explained the signals were unintentional, I would have to admit that I had had such thoughts with no intention to marry. This would be even worse. She would consider me corrupted by the outside world, or trying to take advantage of her. What then of simply failing to meet her qualifications intentionally? Were we equals, and I not her leader and Baal, that would be perhaps the best choice, but in the courtly dances of the capital, the rejector forever has some level of power over those they reject, assuming that it is due to failure to meet expectations instead of simple lack of interest. My authority over her would be compromised and our relationship would forever be balanced in her favor. Considering the difficulties I had already had with my other companion in this regard, I did not want to have my authority any more usurped.

As we narrow down the options, this leaves only to the option of proving myself to her, and our eventual marriage. Which, as I explained before, is politically impossible. But, that last option was the only one I could do that would not result in something terrible results immediately, so for the time being, that would be the path I would have to pursue, hoping that something might come up to present an additional option. Considering my state of mind at the time, this path also seemed the best from an emotional level. The downside of course was that, during this part of the courtship ritual our relationship would be even more slanted in her favor then even being rejected would have put it. I would have to trust her to keep that private, and not publicly utilize this advantage however, because doing so would be incredibly detrimental to my already fragile relationship with my Scholar.

As all of these realizations and thoughts swirled through my head, they managed to distract me enough from their original source that I was at last able to get to sleep, though unfortunately, I was still filled with something of a warm glow even as I slept. As I had said before, I was doomed.

She, of course, woke me up for the next watch a while later, once again giving me the smile that I could not meet, and even going so far as to stretch suggestively while I was gathering my gear for watch duty. When she started to strip down before getting into bed, I was forced to flee the tent, not even having collected my torch. This of course led to her coming out a bit later, only wrapped in blankets, to give me my torch and lecture me about being prepared for watch. I nodded along meekly, unable to meet her gaze, but not wanting to not look at her for fear of seeming disrespectful towards her assistance. As such, I stared at her barely covered body while she spoke to me with increasing playfulness and smugness. I needed to do something to preserve my dignity if I did not want to lose all of my authority, but when I tried to speak up, I looked into her eyes for a second, forgot what I was going to say, and looked back down at her feet. That was it. I was done for. Socially I could do nothing against her at that point. She held every card. The responsible thing for her to do in that situation, considering how our dynamic was supposed to work, would have been to try and rebalance the equation somehow, give me back a little of my dignity. Instead she went in for the kill. She patted me on the head like a child, brought my face up so I had to look her in the eye, and forced me to nod that I understood. I watched her swagger into the tent like a love sick puppy. She had me, completely.

Its a good thing no more of the rat creatures came while I was on watch, because I would have been useless. I was in fact, as it turned out, a love sick puppy. I ended up staying through the whole night, never waking up the elder for his turn, and the whole time I was thinking about my Protector, nominally trying to figure out a way to normalize or end this, but repeatedly returning to thinking about her body and voice, or considering the social dynamic and slowly feeling its effects seep through my mind, changing my decision making process, giving her more and more control as I thought through the scenario again and again. And because even that was interspersed occasionally with thoughts of her

skin and her way of speaking, which was, in my state, quite pleasurable, the social dynamic began to feel that way as well. Which of course, only added to the spiral, because as soon as her absolute control became pleasurable, my plans to figure a way out became less and less spirited, and the thoughts of that control began to loop in on themselves, pleasure begetting pleasure.

When it was her who woke up early, and found me still awake, long after I was supposed to have been asleep, the situation only got more dire for me and my dignity. She had the decency to at least pull me into the tent so that the other members of our party would not see or hear, but then she once again lectured me, but this time she dropped all pretense of not having complete authority. She kept telling me to look her in the eyes, something I could not do for more than a second, and resulted in me turning very red and loosing track of the conversation entirely, which made it worse, because she kept quizzing me, to make sure I understood what was happening, and why it was important for me to swap out for guard duty and get enough rest. When I failed, she would shake her head, and repeat it again, very slowly. She would of course require me to look her in the eyes when I tried to answer her questions the second time, and the cycle would continue.

At some point, after she apparently decided she had had enough of that kind of fun, and I was barely even able to speak, my entire body burning with embarrassment and desire, she took it to the next level. She grabbed my head, preventing me from looking down. I was acutely aware that she was the same height as me, though in that moment she felt much taller. I still tried to look down, but she spoke softly to me, telling me to look in her eyes, again and again, till I could do nothing else. I looked, trapped and caught in them now that I couldn’t look away. Then she asked me a question. She asked me if I liked this. She asked me if I enjoyed her power. My mind raced. This was outside the script, outside even the most esoteric levels of the courtship dance. There was no proscribed answer here, nothing I could fall back on. I could reject the question, reject this advance as going too far, and thus save myself from this situation. It was the right thing to do, the hidden out that I had been hoping for. I tried to think, tried to compose that response, to summon the righteous indignation and the haughty tones that would put this hired Protector, this common girl in her place. But I was looking into her eyes. I couldn’t even imagine anger, or a haughty tone. That I was her Baal seemed impossible in that moment, the dynamic completely wrong. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, could not get myself in the right frame of mind.

So then my next choice had to be to say no. She would understand that this relationship couldn’t continue like this, that this was too much, the power dynamic too extreme. My signals had put me in a position to defer to her lightly while I sought to prove myself. This was beyond that. This was untenable. But even as I tried to speak that short simple word, my mouth dried up, my tongue would not move. The feelings in my body and mind were too much, to enjoyable and extreme. You must understand I had, before that very day, never so much as lingered my eyes on a woman. I had no experience. I couldn’t deny myself this, the truth was that I did enjoy it, and I did not want it to stop. So at last, I turned to yes, as my only choice, and even then I held out hope that I could at least speak it with dignity, if such an admittance could contain such a thing. In that too I failed. I tried to speak it surely, to maintain the gaze into her eyes, their pale green engulfing all of my vision. But I couldn’t. My eyes fell to her mouth, and my voice stuttered my reply, a yes with an almost begging to it.

Her mouth was for a moment, a hard line. She was considering her response. If I could look up into her eyes, my training would be able to tell me what she was thinking, give me a clue to her reaction. But of course I couldn’t. I was instead forced to guess based on small changes in her mouth. The hint of a frown at first. I had disappointed her perhaps. Slight opening of the mouth. Maybe she was considering the implications. Curl upward at the corner. Amusement. A purse of the lips. She had made a decision. She spoke then. A simple acknowledgment, only a few words, light and cheery. It seemed almost inappropriate for the gravity of the situation. Her amused grin was more appropriate however as it followed a second after, conveying all the dominance and smug enjoyment her voice had lacked. Then, she threw tradition and decency out the window, and kissed me, forcefully and aggressively.

I melted before it, my righteous indignation and sense of propriety like candles before a hurricane. My legs gave out, and she caught me, holding me to her as all of my resistance and will seemed to spill out, my mind seemingly unable to worry about limbs, when it could instead experience the kiss and the feel of her arms around me. I did not even notice as she moved us slowly while the kiss continued, but then she let me go, and I fell down hard, expecting to crash into the ground, but instead falling comfortably into my blankets and onto my pillow. Then she left the tent, telling me, as she did so, to pull myself together for the long day ahead, and inquiring if I might be a gentlemen and pack up the tent, as well as carry her things that day. The thought of doing otherwise didn’t even cross my mind. All visions of reversing this dynamic or exercising my authority as her Baal over her were gone. I did as instructed.

The next several days likely included a number of exciting events, lessons learned, cultures to observe, and plenty of interesting scenery, but I truly remember none of it. That the old man and my Scholar did not suspect a thing during that time is a credit only to my Protector, who took to her authority easily, speaking for me deftly, explaining away my muted, distant reactions by explaining I had troubles sleeping, and generally keeping us all on track, while doing both her job and mine. She was the perfect Protector while with the others, acting deferential to me, making sure that the others did as well, and generally acting like none of what I have just described occurred. In the night, and the morning, when we were alone in the tent however, it was different indeed. It is only thanks to her own good judgment that we did not become consummated in those nights. We never progressed much past kissing, though mostly we did not even do that, only when she felt the desire for it. It was mostly talking, her authority and command making sharp contrast to my soft deference and stuttering submission.

Now however, it is the night before we will reach the capital of Xexan. I will be meeting with the rulers of this nation on morrow, and I will need all of my elegance and eloquence if I am to walk away with the agreements that I need to complete my quest. I wonder if I can do that in my current state. It was with those thoughts in mind that I waited in my tent, writing so as to express my thoughts to myself. Even as I finished my experiences, I knew not what to do.

The Fifth Path (6/30)

November 6, 2016

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

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

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

Chapter 5: The Green Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fifth Path (3/30)

November 3, 2016

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

Running Title: The False Year: A Tale of Wonders and Horrors from beyond the Veil of Truth

Composed Nisanu 10th In the 59th Year of Baal Shamas

Chapter 2: The Desert

To describe the desert in words is all but impossible. I had heard tell, in the books and from the scholars, that the domain of the Hashim was that of the desert, a place described as endless sand, with heat that scorched the skin and tore the water from within your body, leaving you a living corpse. Being a skeptical youth in that time of learning, I had dismissed this tale as another fantastical tale of the false land, something true perhaps in the basics, but blown out of proportion in the retelling. While oft my skepticism has served me in life, when it comes to the tales of the false world, thus far it has failed me utterly. We covered our bodies entirely in rough, pale, cloth. Again, I balked at this, but my Scholar, and the guide he had found for us, were insistent and I bowed to their wisdom. It was truly a testament to my own wisdom that I did, for had I walked the path of listening not to the council of those who serve me, then that day I surely would have died. Even with our bodies covered entirely, the sun beat down upon us like a mother disciplining a particularly willful child. How our beasts of burden, the camel creatures I described to you before, managed to endure it, whilst carrying us and our baggage is a mystery to myself. Perhaps their heavy fur turns away the heat somehow.

Let me then try, for your sakes, gentle reader, to describe the desert. Imagine perhaps the market’s of Imba that I described to you before. Think of the riot of colors, the cacophony of voices and peoples. Now compare that to the quietest field, or most hidden forest glen. The desert is, in emptiness, to that most quiet of places, as that quiet place is to the markets I have described. There is not but the endless sand and the cruel rays of the sun. Nothing else. No plants. No clouds. No large rock or visible mountains. Nothing on the horizon but more sand. No living thing save ourselves, and we became less fitting of that descriptor with each passing hour in that place. If the priests speak truth, and there is a place Bel sends the unworthy, a hell that the Monster has true reign over, I might think this desert that place, except, in truth, I do not believe even the Monster could stand to rule this place. And yet, somehow, the capital of this island, an entire city rested in the very center of this forsaken place. And according to our guide, a knowledgeable, if very young, Hashim, there are those who live in this place, and visit the towns and cities only on rare occasions. Somehow they find both food and water in this place of total emptiness, and endure the heat of it through each passing day. It is things such as this that make me truly believe the words of the priests. A place such as this could not truly exist except in the false world of dreams. And yet the desert is so solid. Truly the dreams of Anshur are powerful, even influenced by the Monster.

So it was, that we passed through the desert. Our first day, Nisanu 6th, I must feel shame for my weakness. The heat and the overpowering emptiness of the desert got to me after only a few short hours, and I, though I hate to recount it now, fell from my camel. It is a testament to the skill and speed of my Protector, that I survived the fall. Even before I had struck the ground, she had leaped from her place behind me, and caught me in her arms. My consciousness returned but a few moments later, and for a brief moment I thought my Protector an Angel of Anshur, come to take me from the world of Bel. As my senses followed my consciousness however, and my memories soon after, I recalled that I had journeyed forth from the true world of Bel already, and that the angel I looked upon had in fact accompanied me there. I do now truly understand the wisdom of my father in selecting this protector. While perhaps more shameful to be saved by a woman, to be held and protected by one is a much more pleasant experience than it might have been with a protector who was a man. I must not allow this to show of course, as to get the poor girls hopes up, when, upon returning, I must marry another Baal, would be cruelty most severe. Still, I favor her with a warm smile, thank her for the rescue, and begin to follow the advice of our guide more stringently, drinking deeply of the water we brought along, despite its warmth and strange flavor. Perhaps the true purpose of the Awakening is to teach a young Baal the wisdom of listening to their advisers. Truly I will die one hundred times over before this journey is concluded if I continue to ignore their advice.

After that embarrassing episode, the rest of the first day passed by smoothly, though the sheer implausibility of the desert continued to wear on my mind. In a fit of peek, I demanded from our guide an example of something that the supposed wanderers of this blasted waste might eat, not believing that there could truly be anything at all. We stopped, and she set out on her own for a few short minutes. A moment later she came back with not one, but two possible foods. One was a strange lizard, which she said could be eaten for its meat, but also carried within itself a small packet of drinkable water. The other was like a great black spider, except with an arched tail ending in a wicked looking spike. This she called a scorpion, and said that it could be eaten if cooked well. Its tail carried a powerful venom, but even that could be cooked and eaten, though carefully. She asked if I wanted to eat either now, and when I declined, she suggested we might try them for dinner after we ended our trek for the day. The idea of eating either of those creatures set not well on my stomach, but I decided then that I must try a taste, if only out of respect for the small girl’s culture. Before we continued on, the girl spoke about the danger that these scorpion creatures could cause, especially for parties as small as our own. At the time I was not overly worried, though now, with the memories of future events to guide my actions, I wish I had listened with more intensity.

At last, the sun began to crest the horizon, and the guide told us that we must stop. She arranged our camp in a strange way, with four fires surrounding our tents, which surrounded the three camels together in the center. Though there was nothing out in the desert, she insisted on a watch all through the night. The watch was to patrol the outside of the tents, with a torch and watch the fires. If a fire ever got low they were to stoke it, and they were to watch carefully the shadowy areas between each fire, making sure nothing came through. I thought to ask her why, but the day had made me already feel like and idiot and I was tired from our long journey that day. I should, perhaps, have offered to take my place in the watch rotation, but, as I said, I was tired and feeling dull from the day in the sun, so I allowed my servants to protect the camp without my aid. A ruler must always consider when to delegate and when to help directly, but I think, on that night, I chose incorrectly. Still, it would not be that night that the danger approached so my decision had little impact. I slept a troubled sleep, my mind turning and twisting through the events of the day, considering how I might better have both led and listened. When I awoke however, my mind was at rest. With a new day there is a new chance at excellence. Being the most well rested I was obviously the most energetic, so I cheerfully helped break down camp, and, I hope, improved moral in my doing. We had not cooked the scorpion or lizard that last night, but that morning I had the dubious pleasure of trying each. The scorpion was bad, though not as much as I had assumed, but the lizard was a tasty treat, much akin in taste to the squirrels of the true land.

After we had eaten, and just as the sun began to fully rise again, we set out once again, across the sand, through this empty void in the false world. This day felt much akin to the last, an endless battle against the heat which threatened to burn us alive, and the sheer lack of anything to see or experience, which threatened to turn our minds against us, minds looking for something, anything new to see, hear, or feel. Even as our camels trudged on, step after step, never tiring, stopping only to occasionally drink and eat from the food and water we had brought with us, my mind wandered every which way. I imagined lizards and scorpions stretched out under the sand, barely hidden under a thin layer of the white and yellow powder. I imagined a great beast, larger than the sky, hidden under the sand, waiting for ancient conditions to be fulfilled before it consumed the world. I imagined specks of movement on the horizon, trying to hide themselves in the suns rays so that they might creep up on us. When that last imagining failed to disappear from my mind however, I turned to my Protector, and told her of what I saw. It took her a few moments to find the specks on the horizon, and I saw doubt in her eyes. That doubt was like a knife for me. My actions of yesterday had been less inspiring surely, but I had not thought that I had been so diminished in my followers eyes that they would doubt my own. I resolved then to do what I could to earn the respect of my companions, for none can be a true leader without it.

Even as I made this resolution, my Protector finally saw what I had seen. She acted quickly, pointing out the movement on the horizon to our other two companions without making it obvious to any who might be looking at us that we had spotted anything at all. The camel with the other companions upon it moved closer to us almost imperceptibly. Once we got close enough that we could talk without moving our heads, our young guide advised us of what to expect. It seemed that the sun angle hiding did not itself imply an ambush, as many of the desert tribes were cautious and would hide themselves at first before they decided what to do. The movements she had seen since we had spotted them however were suspicious and we were likely going to be attacked. We had two choices. The first was to spring the trap, and fight the brigands. The second was to move around the area where they were setting up the ambush. While the second initially seemed more wise, our guide recommended the first. She explained that raiding parties rarely give up on an attack because of the rarity of people in small enough groups to raid. Turning aside would simply mean they would try again another day, and this next time they would be stealthier and we would not necessarily spot them the second time. The logic was sound and so we prepared to spring an ambush. The girl knew well how long it would take us to reach the ambush location, based on the speed of our camels, and so we were all given a length of time, and told to count it down in our head, being ready to react as the countdown reached zero.

The moments leading up to the springing of the trap were among the most intense in my life up to this point. I have been in dangerous situations, and even practiced fighting with live weapons, but never before had I been in an encounter with anyone with real intent to murder me. I tried to keep my companions in mind, and overcome any fear or hesitation I might have with the need to be a strong and respected leader. I could not afford to act in a cowardly or inept fashion here if I wished to truly lead this expedition. With that thought in mind time passed slowly, and I worried that my count was far off as we traveled, for to me, every sand dune looked the same, and I had only the ever decreasing number in my head as an indicator of how close we were. My number reached zero, and nothing happened for a long time. I tensed up, barely able to keep my hand from reaching for my axe. Then, the sand shifted, and four shapes, covered in the same heavy cloth as us, struck.

I wish, gentle readers, that I could tell you exactly what happened in that skirmish. I know many of the greatest tales of valor describe each swing of a weapon, each clash of blade, and dodge of strike. But for myself, I barely remember my own actions, let alone those of my companions. I can describe only in broad strokes what happened. Shamefully, I did freeze, but only for a moment. My Protector lived up to her name, leaping off of the camel, and striking at the two enemies closest to my own camel before they even knew they had been seen. I had known her to be a weapons master, for every guard of the Baal is one, but her ferocity and skill was incredible to see. Had I not heard shouts from the other side, I would perhaps have remained frozen, not from fear, but from fascination with her battle style, an aggressive, close quarters style of fighting involving a pair of long handled maces, as well as liberal use of her limbs and head. But while my Protector was more than holding her own against two of our attackers, our other flank was not doing so well. Our young guide seemed to be holding her own, but I could not tell for sure, for my attention was on my Scholar, who had apparently, in that first moments of battle, been stabbed. Leaping from the camel, not perhaps as gracefully as I would wish, I charged towards the raider who seemed in prime position to take the life of my Scholar.

From that point forward, until the end of the battle, I fought. It was desperate and clumsy. There were no elegant parries or moments of calm. Me and my handaxe fought with the Hashim raider and his knives. There was biting, and kicking, and wrestling, and even spitting. I was more terrified than I ever had been before in my life. I was cut many times, but so too was my opponent. In the end it was not my skill or any trait of mine that won the day. Instead, the man tripped, I think over my fallen Scholar, and I slammed my axe into his head, ending the fight. I thought then to turn and join the rest of the battle, but somehow it seemed that the tide had turned, and my other two companions had reduced our attackers to one. Confident in the pairs ability to deal with the last of them, I turned my attention to my Scholar.

While I knew the basics of how to treat and care for the injured, I had no idea how close to death my companion was. He had been stabbed twice in the chest and gut. If those stabs had struck important organs, then the man might well be as good as dead already. If they had missed, and he had been lucky, then he might survive. I did what I could. I cleaned the wounds with water and with alcohol before bandaging them up, that his blood might not seep from him. By this point my other two companions had finished up the last of our attackers, and they helped me. We fashioned a sled for our injured companion, that he might lie down, and be dragged smoothly instead of feeling the up and down jostling of a ride upon the camels. I asked of any place where he might be cured, but the guide said we must continue, that the capital alone had those of sufficient skill to heal our friend.

I wish I could tell you that the journey was smooth and our companion cured quickly. There was one more trial we had to face however, before we could make it to the city. And as luck would have it, wicked things seem to clump together, for our final trial would come that very night. We camped again as the sun began to fall, and again our guide made four campfires. This time I had no choice but to join the rotation, for our Scholar could not take a turn. I would not have skipped it in any event, for while I had proven myself adequate in the combat, I continued to feel the need to prove myself to my companions. So it was that late in the night I was circling the camp with a torch, watching the dark places between the fires. This was harder than it might seem, for the flickering of fires and the changing angle of my own torch as I walked made many shifts in shadow. It was easy indeed to imagine some movement where there truly was nothing at all. So I moved cautiously, double checking all that I saw, perhaps still paranoid at moving shapes after our last encounter with them. This paranoia might very well have saved all our lives, for I did spot something that I thought was movement, and when I looked again and did not see anything, I did not simply move along, but approached to have a better look. What I saw then still keeps me up some nights.

What I had first seen turned out to be a lone scorpion, but when I moved forward to shoe it away with my torch, it seemed that the shadows on the dunes moved with it when it ran. I took another step, and again the very sand seemed to shift. I realized then, to my horror, that the blackness of the sand was not due to the lateness of the night but due instead to the fact that what I was seeing was not sand. It was scorpions. A carpet of scorpions stretched out across the dunes. As my eyes adjusted, I saw them in every direction, thousands and millions of scorpions surrounding us, surrounding the circle of fires and tents and camels. I screamed. What followed, was, like the fighting, something more akin to a desperate dream than any real experience. The two sleeping women awoke, and after some quick words lit there own torches. We waited then for the scorpions to strike, for our guide said that when they reach this number, they cannot help but strike. In the darkness of the night, with fire as our only defense, we fought back the tides of scorpions when at last they came. Four shadowed paths between the fires, three companions with torches with which to block the paths and push the creatures back. The scorpions were endless and tireless. Sometimes they broke through, and we had to drive them back out with flasks of oil and hasty fires. Once, they breached the tents, but luckily it was an empty one, and we burned it down and them inside. For hours that seemed like days, we chased back the scorpions, defended our camp, kept up our fires and stayed alive. Then, at last, the sun rose, the scorpions retreated, and we could rest. Or rather, we might have rested if we had not a desperate need to travel. We broke camp in the scorching heat of day, ate a quick breakfast of charred scorpions, and set forth once again, dragging the Scholar behind.

That next day I was so tired that I barely remember anything at all. I asked our guide why the fires were set as they were, why we did not simply light eight and ward every entrance. She explained then, that while the scorpions feared the fire, if there was no way in but through it, then the hunger of those behind them would push those in front into the fire, and put it out through sheer bulk of bodies, smothering the obstacle with their corpses. If instead there was a path, however small, they would seek to take it, not sacrificing themselves to the fire. By giving the scorpions a small path in, we slowed their advance, and made a series of choke points to defend instead of a pure wave of scorpions that could have overwhelmed us all. I shook my head in wonder. This place is so deadly, yet the people here have learned and adapted still. The cunning and the persistence of man struck me then. It seemed moving indeed that people could find a way to live in this blasted, forsaken place. That any obstacle, any circumstances can be overcome, has always been a basic tenant of my faith, but for me, the scorpions of the desert truly proved that. I spent the rest of that day in a haze of exhaustion and contemplation. We camped again, and I fell asleep right away.

I was awoken by the cries of my companions, and once again a battle with scorpions commenced. There were, I think, less of them that night, and they attacked later. Somehow the fight seemed less desperate as a whole, though every given moment still was frantic and filled with fear. We beat them back till morning came, then we continued on our way. My Scholar had been stable that last day, but in the night he took a turn for the worse. He began to cry out, to shiver and to shake. I feared indeed for his life then, for this seemed to me the madness brought on by infection. I thought then of what to do if my Scholar were to die within the first week of our journey. How might we continue with such a loss of knowledge? Again, however it was our young guide that saved us. When his cries became desperate and weak, the girls stopped our march and disappeared into the dunes. She returned, half an hour later with something I had never expected to see in the desert, a flower. She claimed it had healing properties, and when it was crushed and applied to his wounds, the man did indeed seem to calm. He cried out still, but softer. We made camp, and though I took my turn that night watching, thankfully there were no scorpions. When we all awoke that day, our guide said that this was the last day, that by evening we should reach the capital. With that in mind, we took a longer rest, knowing we had time, and I set down these words you read now. I looked forward then to the capital of this land, and to my first meeting with a foreign dignitary. I would be taking my first step then, on way to the throne.