Volume III : The Divine Emissaries
Chapter 89 – Desert of Trial[2933 words]
Idu must have seen Amon reading locked documents in the room, but he chose to give an indirect warning by taking the token away from him rather than to outright expose him. Amon was wondering why. Was it because he considered that he was on the same side as Amon, for they were both promoted by the Adoratrice?
Amon then thought of another possibility: the supreme mage knew that he owned some of Nero’s scrolls, therefore he might have been trying to extort them from him when the opportunity presented itself. That was why Amon decided to first present High Priest Idu with two scrolls to see his reaction. However, judging from his response, the High Priest didn’t intend as such.
Still pondering other possibilities, Amon was ready to show himself out when he heard the High Priest, while watching the ceiling, mutter, “Idu is the name I use ever since I joined the Shrine. A long time ago, people called me Balathu. It’s a name that I don’t want to mention and hope no one would.”
Amon flinched. For a second he didn’t know what to say. He had actually heard of this name before. It was on the list of people that Crazy’Ole had told him in the messages! Balathu was a sorcerer, who Crazy’Ole met when travelling around Ejypt. Living in a small village near the city of Heraklion, Balathu was at the fifth level when he first met Nietzsche, who was already a supreme sorcerer then.
As mentioned in his message, Nietzsche included Balathu’s name in the list because the latter had sworn to repay Nietzsche or the bearer of Nietzsche’s token. Nietzsche hadn’t mentioned that Balathu had changed his name and joined the Isis Shrine in Memfis, since it must have happened after Bair’s death, and therefore Nietzsche wasn’t informed.
When a sorcerer ascended to the supreme phase, his status would drastically change. As long as he pleaded loyalty to a shrine, he would be granted an honorable identity. Balathu joined the Isis Shrine and became Master Idu. Twenty years later, after he became a High Priest, he encountered Nietzsche’s token once again.
The underlying message that Idu gave Amon was that he knew about the token and he was warning Amon not to mention it again. It became a secret between them. It had been more than forty years since Balathu met Crazy’Ole. The High Priest chose to let the past remain locked in the past.
Amon remained silent. Idu turned to him with a half-smile, “You are now an honored guardian of the Isis Shrine, and likely to be a supreme warrior in the future, which will change your life. But you have to remember, when you are in this shrine, you should follow the rules here. The deities shouldn’t be offended. But perhaps I was overthinking. What you did during the Hapisidis ceremony already proves that you are devoted to your duty.”
Amon nodded, “I will always remember your teachings, esteemed High Priest.”
“That would be great. I didn’t expect that you would be a warrior! If you have any problems, you are welcome to talk to me. I am willing to help you as long as it doesn’t go against the rules of the Shrine. I don’t want to read this file now. Please bring it back. Some memories are better left in their boxes unopened.”
Amon bowed and left the room and returned the case to where it had been. Idu’s warning was already a kind of repayment to Crazy’Ole. It was not that he didn’t want to do more, but now that he was the new High Priest, it was better not to mention old relationship with foreign sorcerers.
Amon was still in fear. He should have known that in places like the Isis Shrine, simple vigilance wouldn’t always suffice. Fortunately, it was Idu who had caught him, and Crazy’Ole’s heritage worked in his favour this time. On the same list in Crazy’Ole’s message was Urhiya, but Amon would have never taken out the token if it had been him who had caught him in the Archive. It would have just made him die all the quicker.
He must be even more careful from now on. Lady Luck was not known for being constant. Amon decided not to read anything in the Archive that he wasn’t supposed to read before he became a supreme warrior. The only good thing he got from this affair was that he learned about the nature of the grey scroll. It must be the only ‘Tiamat’s Wrath’ left in the world.
After leaving the Shrine, Amon went to Sihathor’s house. He did something he had been meaning to do for long: to buy Aesop from him. Sihathor was certainly reluctant to give up on such a capable slave, but Amon made an offer that he couldn’t resist: he directly placed ten parangons on the table.
It was definitely not the price for a slave. Ten parangons was the reward he took after he saved Sihathor in the desert and escorted him and Aesop back to Cape. Now he was just returning them to Sihathor, in the name of buying Aesop.
Sihathor was astounded. He didn’t even dare to take it. Instead, he promised to give Aesop to Amon for free, but Amon insisted that the merchant take the parangons. At last, Sihathor had to put them in his pocket with a shaky hand and a sweating forehead. He hurriedly had Aesop summoned and told him, “Mister Amon has just bought you from me. You belong to him from now on. You must obey his orders and serve him well!”
Amon left Sihathor a book when leaving and told him, “You should read this carefully. Hire a teacher to explain the contents that you fail to understand. You always wanted to be a nobleman, didn’t you? Then this book is very important to you. I borrowed it from the Archive. Keep it well and read it. I am setting out for a mission. There will be a long time before I come back. You can return it to me then.”
The book was about management of transportation. Sihathor was already familiar with the contents of the book, because he was a trader between distant cities. He organized trade caravans all the time. However, the book was about the management of military supplies, about army logistics during a war. Sihathor didn’t know why Amon wanted him to read it, but he understood the word “nobleman” and so he decided to listen to his friend. After all, reading a book from the Archive was already an experience that was worth mentioning at a dinner party.
When Amon walked out of Sihathor’s house, his new slave asked behind him, “Master Amon, why are you buying me? And why you are paying Master Sihathor the price you’ve taken for saving his life?”
Amon smiled, “Aesop, you are not lower than your Master Sihathor or your Master Amon. Being a slave doesn’t forbid you from having a free and noble mind. I will give you two choices. You can continue to work for Sihathor as his employee and get paid. But if you don’t want to, there’s a friend of mine who owns a mansion in Memfis and he needs a butler for he is seldom in the city. What do you think?”
Aesop bowed to his new master and replied, “You don’t need to talk to me like this, master. I will do what you ask me to do. I am just thinking that ten parangons are too much for a slave. You’ve made a bad deal, master.”
Amon laughed, “You talk like a butler already. That’s good. You can advise me any time. Let’s go to the mansion. I have a surprise for you.”
Amon’s surprise for Aesop was a blank certificate of identification. Anyone writing his name on it can become a citizen of Memfis. Amon once had had another one and he used it by writing the name Allaha on it. Maria gave him another one this time for the mission but he didn’t think he would need to use it, so he gave it to Aesop.
In the mansion, Aesop kneeled down in front of the young warrior for a long time. When he got up from his knees, his face was covered with tears. He replied with choking sobs, “I don’t know what to do to repay you, my lord. This is too precious a gift.”
Amon shook his head, “I already have the citizenship. This paper means nothing to me now. But it can help you get free. As for repaying me, you can try to take care of this mansion. I will leave you a sum of money. You can use it to do business when I am away.”
“Please don’t worry, master. I will take care of this place and the money.”
“Aesop, what are you going to put on this paper as your name?”
“Aesop, of course.”
Amon was curious, “Why don’t you change it for another name, so that others won’t recognize you?”
“I got this name from my father. I don’t want to give it up. There are many Aesops in this continent. A freeman named Aesop won’t ruffle anyone’s feathers.”
Amon nodded, “Then so be it, Mister Aesop.”
In Ejypt and in many countries, the owner of a slave could sell the slave and treat him well, even like a nobleman, but couldn’t give him the legal status of a freeman. According to the code, Amon had to apply to the authorities for a procedure to change Aesop’s status and gain him a citizenship. But he played a trick here, giving Aesop a new citizenship on the sly. The slave Aesop was gone and a freeman Aesop was born. To Aesop, it was like a dream come true.
The mansion was Amon’s secret base. He had stored quite a lot of personal things here. Thus he need someone to take care of it and manage the servants, so that Schrodinger could still enjoy daily food and wine even when he was away. However, to his surprise, not long after he and Metatro had left the city, the cat jumped out from the side of the road and stopped him, staring at him as if he had done something wrong.
Amon crouched down and said gently, “Schrodinger, I am sorry I didn’t tell you that I was leaving. I will go back to Duc on a mission so I can’t play with you in Memfis now. But you can still go to the mansion. The servants will offer you food and wine everyday like before.”
The cat just twisted its neck, making no sound but raising a paw, pointing at Amon’s back. Amon always carried a leather bag when he travelled, in which Schrodinger would place itself and sleep. It was quite dissatisfied seeing that Amon was travelling without the bag.
Amon tried to convince it, “It’s a dangerous mission. You’ve asked me to bring you back to Ejypt. And you are living a good life here. You don’t need to take the risk with me. Just wait here. I will come back soon!”
The cat just stared at him, still raising its paw. Metatro found it funny seeing Amon negotiating with a cat, but he knew that this cat was not an ordinary cat, so he just kept silent. Seeing the cat’s reaction, Amon knew that he couldn’t change Schrodinger’s mind, so he wielded his staff. A leather bag appeared in the air and he put it on his back.
Schrodinger sprang up and slipped into the bag, while Amon turned to Metatro, “We need to buy some good wine at the next town and make some more jerky. I will teach you how to process meat and fruits such that they can be preserve for long and remain tasty.”
Metatro asked, “My lord, you can always take things out from nowhere. What magic is that?”
Amon answered blandly, “It’s nothing. I just have some spatial artifacts. When you attain the sixth level, you will be able to learn the real spatial magic. By then, I will teach you how to use spatial artifacts. The more powerful you are, the more you can make use of them. Spatial artifacts are indeed useful.”
When they arrived at the next town market, they bought food and wine, as well as a coach and two horses. The two men and a cat travelled for a week before they finally reached the border, and Metatro had finished the first pass of the books on the art of war. In the meantime, they worked together to process meat and fruits into jerky and dry fruit. It seemed to be a trivial task, but it was actually a way of training on the mastering of magic power.
Making good jerky was not as simple a task as Metatro had thought. Turning a slice of beef into a piece of jerky required not only fire magic and water magic, but also elementary spatial magic. The timing was strict. It only needed a few seconds of misoperation to turn it into a piece of charred or soggy hide. It might be fun to process one or two pieces, but doing it for days was another thing. But Amon asked Metatro to keep doing it for days. He wanted him to learn to use magic like his own fingers.
Once at the border, Amon told Metatro to sell the coach and the horses. The two would continue the journey on foot. Metatro was confounded, “We still have a long and tough way to go. Why did we sell the coach?”
Amon smiled mysteriously, “You will understand later. Let’s go. Don’t be afraid of hardship. It’s necessary for you.”
They were crossing the Syah Desert through a trade road heading for the Kingdom of Bablon. They walked all the way, day by day. Metatro, as a fifth-level warrior and sorcerer, didn’t find it unbearable. On the fifth day, Amon suddenly said, “Turn left. We are going north.”
“Aren’t we going to Lynk’s tribe?” asked Metatro.
“Of course. But we are going to have a look at Duc first. Then we go east into the forest and mountains. That’s how I found Lynk’s tribe for the first time.”
Metatro scratched the back of his head, “My lord, I suggest we pick another way. We can go along this road all the way to Bablon, then we can cross the river and go north till we reach Kish. From Arcade, we turn west. There’s a ferry. We can go right into the mountains and Lynk’s tribe is not far from there.”
“I know it sounds that we are taking a detour, but it would be a quieter trip. Once we reach the river, the journey will be peaceful. When we meet Lynk, we can go to Duc together, even with El Mar, the Ironback. That would be much safer and easier for us.”
Amon shook his head, “Do you know why I bring you with me on foot? Metatro, this is your trial journey. If you want to pass the next test, follow me and go north. If you prefer a safer and more comfortable journey, go your way and wait for me with Lynk’s tribe.”
The young noble laughed dryly, “I am just making an idle suggestion. You are my guide, my lord. I will always follow you.”
The Ducian looked at him with depth in his eyes, “If you say so now, you can’t regret or hesitate later. Let’s make a deal here: Whenever there’s any trouble on the way, you will deal with it first. I will only help you when you are unable to handle it on your own.”
Metatro nodded, “Of course. I will protect you, my lord. You won’t need to do anything. Please trust me!”
When they walked deep into the desert, Metatro found that the promise he made meant more than he had expected. He was not a spoiled young master. Instead, he was determined and able to bear hardship. Searching in the deep mountains and trading Damasc iron around the borders was a dangerous, tough experience. Although he had enjoyed a good time in Amon’s mansion, trekking through desert was not the toughest days he had had.
But a man’s aptitude and will still has limits. When Amon suddenly accelerated in the desert, Metatro found that he had to run at full speed to keep up. They traveled all day and night except for the time they stopped for meals and meditation. Amon didn’t mind the heat in the day and the cold in the night. He just raised a cloud of freshness for himself and his cat. The young noble plodding behind, however, didn’t have the benefit of it. He had to suffer the severe conditions alone.
By the third day, he believed that he couldn’t hold it anymore, but he had already made the promise in front of his lord. Fortunately, at sunset, when they finished meditation, Amon told him, “We are making a pause here. Go sleep till wake up.” He took out a bundle of cowhide and built up a tent.
This must be the best night Metatro had had this year. He didn’t know how long he had slept before he was waken up by a meow. It was like a warning. Still with sore muscles, the young nobleman struggled to jump up and got out the tent.