Volume II : The First Sin
Chapter 41 – A Divine Wager[3850 words]
Inanna leaned her warm, voluptuous and tender body onto Amon, and whispered in her mellow voice, “I’m not scared, with such a strong and handsome hunter like you… But why did you choose to let them go? They tried to kill you. They don’t deserve your mercy. A pardoned enemy may once again give you trouble one day.”
Amon thought for a second and answered, “I’m not interested in killing, and I don’t think there is any worth in doing it. They are not my enemy, but their own enemy. I chose to let them go because I’m sure that they won’t give me any trouble in the future… A senior friend of mine once told me, that if you choose to forgive, you should think it through and prepare to bear all the possible consequences for your choice as well. You should ask yourself if you are resolving hatred, or inviting greater harm upon yourself or on those you care for.”
Inanna glanced at him, moonlight glistening in her eyes like the reflection of a lake, appearing to try to look for some answer in Amon’s face. Then she showed him a charming smile, “Your senior friend is funny, and you are even funnier. A young handsome hunter, talking as if he was a god.”
Really? I’m talking like a god? Amon had never thought about this. After all, he had no idea what a god talked like. He soon lost himself in the quiet and beautiful rural scene as well as the beautiful smiling face in the moonlight. Strolling happily with Amon’s arm in her embrace, Inanna stilled and also observed the beautiful scenery, dropping the matter as if nothing had happened.
For a long while, Amon kept his mouth shut, seemingly lost in thought. Inanna noticed the long silence and asked gently, “Amon, are you angry with me? I’ve brought too many troubles to you today.”
Amon shook his head, “Not at all. I’ve kept silent to enjoy this beautiful scene tonight. I don’t want to break this quiet and nice ambiance… Why should I be angry with you? You’ve done nothing wrong… I was once about to be punished in front of a whole town, demanded to be cut off a finger. There was even an order from my Kingdom asking to cut off my head. But I know I’ve done nothing wrong. After all I’ve been through, I have no reason to blame you for anything.”
Inanna gaped at him, covering her open mouth with hands, “Amon! You haven’t told me that you have so many legendary experiences. You’re making me adore you even more! You should be my hero!”
Time flied. Before they could talk more about their own stories, they arrived at the grassland where Amon had met Inanna. Amon looked around and asked curiously, “Where are your sheep and your cote? Maybe I should accompany you to your home.”
Inanna untied the lamb and handed the lash to Amon, “Keep this. It’s the shepherd’s gift for you. My place is very close. You don’t have to go with me. My lord won’t be happy if he sees you… Thank you, handsome hunter! I won’t forget you. I’m looking forward to seeing you again!… My poor lamb, come home with me!”
She gathered up her skirts and trotted away in the moonlight, disappearing behind a small hill. The lamb was not tied anymore. But it bounced away happily, trailing Inanna’s steps. Amon was startled seeing this — that lamb did follow Inanna, was it really the one she had lost?
Inanna ran to just outside of the range of Amon’s Detection Eyes. Then the lamb behind her disappeared. She floated into the air and flew off towards the horizon just above the sweeping grassland.
At the edge of the grasslands, on top of a hill stood a tall old man. Inanna landed at a place not too far in front of him.
The two seemed to have arranged to meet there. Had Amon been there, he would have been shocked to find that the tall old man was the very shepherd he had met earlier today on the farm outside Som.
Inanna smiled and spoke to him as soon as she landed, “You lost, Enlil. That young hunter has fulfilled everything you’ve requested!”
“He didn’t become captive to my beauty. He didn’t follow his greed and eat up all of my pancake, asking for things he didn’t need. He didn’t let laziness delay what he should do. He didn’t hurt other people because of mere anger. He didn’t envy others only because they possessed things better than he had…”
The shepherd cut off her speech with a scornful tone, “I don’t doubt that. Look at the dress he bought you. Much more expensive and beautiful than what he bought for himself. But what amuses me is that you look so ridiculous in that dress!”
Inanna didn’t react to his taunting, she continued, “He didn’t have the meaningless and ridiculous arrogance because of the power and wealth he had, like many, many other mortals have.”
The old shepherd nodded, without a trace of disappointment in his face, “You win. From now on, you can freely enter and leave my realm as you please. And you get Duc back. But what do all of these things mean to you?”
“Maybe it means something, maybe not. But I have to try. Enlil the almighty god, has it ever crossed your mind that you could lose to me one day?”
The shepherd sneered, “In the flow of endless time, you will always have the chance to find one like him. I’m just a little curious. How did you find one this quickly?… That boy bought a lamb with two silver coins. He didn’t even try to bargain.”
Inanna laughed out loud. Her laughter was as clear as bells ringing in the moonlight, “It’s simple. He’s a Ducian. He might still be laughing at you for selling it so cheaply! Oh, god Enlil. Almighty as you are, you still can’t see through all of the myriad living things… I might have lost my herd, but I’ve just found a lost little lamb.”
Enlil changed his countenance, “No wonder he had the strength to beat down those two men, being a fifth-level sorcerer. It was the technique of Duc. There are still Ducians alive! And you just happened to find one that fulfills my demands?!”
Inanna couldn’t be happier, “Yes! Just before you started that furious flood, a boy was thrust into a forced exile. It’s said that he had tributed a Gods’ Tear to Isis. But it was not his fault! I’ve made quite an effort to find him.”
“When the Ducians come back to that land, I will still have it as my realm.”
“Mourrin, you are laughing too early. Nothing is certain in the unknown future, think about the difficulties.”
What would Amon think, if he heard this dialogue? Inanna called the shepherd “Enlil the almighty god”, and the shepherd called her “Mourrin”! There was a reason that Amon found her familiar at first sight. He had seen Mourrin’s statue in the shrine many times before. However, he failed to connect the solemn statue to the sweet and lovely shepherdess.
Inanna replied, “I laugh because I’ve seen the almighty God Enlil lose control in a game. Don’t forget the bet between us. If ever there was a man, who wasn’t enchanted by my beauty and didn’t finish my cake, who came to you, asking to redeem what I have lost, in a fair and decent way, and agreed to the price you gave without a bargain, then I shall win the bet… If he has even satisfied all the other demands, you will not hurt one more Ducian. ”
Enlil revealed a scornful smile again, “He’s just a fifth-level sorcerer. He should first take care of himself, loitering on this continent full of evil. As for the future of this land, you won’t be able to foresee it.”
“You don’t need to care too much about this boy.” replied Inanna, “It is I who has won the bet. Don’t forget that there are other Ducians alive. You can’t stop them from returning to their homeland.”
Enlil nodded carelessly, “I won’t stop them. But you can’t help them with your own hands either… That sorcerer has already helped you win the bet. Are you just going to let him go?”
Inanna smiled again, “He is handsome and funny. I’m interested in him.”
Enlil sighed, “Another poor guy falling into your hands. I mourn for his coming miserable life!”
Inanna’s laughter stopped. Anger showed on her face,
“Enlil, you cross the line!”
Enlil ignored her rage and spoke dryly,
“What man that you have loved, has ever had a good life? It has nothing to do with me. It’s your problem. But don’t forget. You can’t use divine power when you are leaving my realm this time. And there’s Humbaba waiting for you in Euphrate river. What are you planning to do?
Inanna humphed angrily, “If you send orders for Humbaba to stop me, I will use my divine power.”
Enlil shook his head, “Humbaba is not going to attack you. He still likes keeping all of his heads on his necks. But his descendants lived in the River too. Hopefully the young boy called Amon won’t be the fastest one to meet his tragic fate amongst all the men you have fallen in love with!… Hmmm, he might have already met it a while ago, hadn’t he had those little tricks to save him.”
Amon didn’t know that Inanna was Goddess Mourrin, Patroness of Duc. Nor did he know that Mourrin had made a bet with Enlil, which he had helped her to win. More interestingly, although Amon was only fourth-level sorcerer, Enlil and Mourrin took him as a fifth-level sorcerer when they mentioned him in conversation.
Amon watched Inanna disappear behind the hill. Then he cast a Detection Eyes to scan around. After he made sure that nobody was following him, he started to walk towards the Euphrate River. According to his original plan, he was going to cross the river, then head towards the east.
Metatro had told Amon that in order to go to Bablon City, he first had to cross the Euphrate River. But he must not cross the river at night, because there were crocodiles and even more ferocious monsters in the river. The monsters were said to be the offspring of Humbaba, the Patron of the Euphrate River. They only came out at night. Therefore one should never swim across the river, however strong he was. The only choice was to take a ferry at noon.
Amon didn’t need to swim. His bone could transform into a big boat. But after the incidents in Som, it was no longer an option for him to use the bone as a boat. Considering what kind of trouble that a single parangon had caused, a rarer and more precious sacred bone witnessed by others might become a constant source of further troubles.
The moon was bright. Standing on the bank of the river, Amon could even vaguely see the villages and fields on the other side. It was unwise to think that no one would notice him if he expanded the bone and crossed the river right now. A mage could tell by sight that someone was performing magic with magic artifacts, not to mention the monsters hidden in the river.
However, it was even less feasible to take out the boat in daylight. Thinking of this, Amon decided to go down along the river and find a ferry. After all, he was in no hurry. He could even first get a good night’s rest. It had been a long day for him.
Walking through the sparsely grassed riverside mudflat, Amon stopped at a hollow between two mounds. He remembered that it was time he made some food for Schrodinger. The cat seemed to have had a really good nap. It didn’t snore even a bit during the many trials that happened today.
Amon sat down and took off the bigger bag down from his shoulder. He was about to get Schrodinger out when the cat went out itself lazily with a hiccup, permeating the heavy scent of alcohol. It stretched its limbs and shook its hair, as though loosening up after a good sleep. One of the two bottles of wine that Amon had bought in Som was already emptied.
Amon smiled, “So you keep a bottle of wine untouched, Schrodinger. Is it for me or for yourself tomorrow?”
Schrodinger had been ignoring him in the past year, but it had been Amon’s habit to talk to the cat. To his surprise, the cat reacted to his words tonight. It reached out its paw and started to write on the mud land. Amon was shocked. He stood up hurriedly to see what the cat had written. By the moonlight, he saw a long phrase —
“Don’t try to look for me. I will come to you. Beware of that woman. Don’t let her see the bone. Never make her angry. Never […] her, or you will be in big trouble!”
Amon was startled, “What do you mean? … You don’t want me to look for you? Are you going to leave me?… Who is ‘that woman’? You mean Inanna?”
Schrodinger didn’t answer his questions. It erased the phrase with its little paws, then turned around and went up to the mound, disappearing into the taller grass. It was not easy to look for a cat at night. To make things worse, Amon couldn’t sense Schrodinger with the Detection Eyes. He couldn’t tell where it was once he lost sight of the cat.
According to what he knew about this amazing cat, most of the time it was impossible for him to understand what it was doing. Now that it said that it would come to him later, it was of no use for Amon to worry about it now. Schrodinger also told him to beware of Inanna. Though Amon could already tell that she was not an ordinary shepherdess, he could not imagine what else she was hiding from him.
In the sentence that Schrodinger had written, there was a space between “never” and “her”. There must be a verb missing in the sentence. Amon had no idea what it should be. There was too many possibilities. But given her and Amon’s age, and the day and night they spent together, the most likely options were obvious. Schrodinger had also said “Never make her angry”, telling Amon not to offend this woman. Then it ran away without any explanations.
Amon thought hard sitting at the bank of the river. At last he decided to listen to every word of the cat, since it was usually right and because he trusted it to get him this far. Thinking again, another question came to his mind: was Schrodinger saying that he would definitely meet Inanna again?
It was a waste of time to think about a question that had no answer, or at least one he couldn’t answer right now. Amon shook his head and threw it to a corner in his mind. He cleaned his hair, his body and his old clothes with water magic, then put on the newly bought flax suit and the cloth shoes given by the shopboy. The shoes were comfortable. Amon felt gratitude to Inanna for asking for this pair of shoes for him.
Amon put the old clothes and the other set of flax clothes in the bigger bag, right over the bone. This piece of a sacred artifact from the Isis Shrine couldn’t be sensed by the Detection Eyes. As long as Amon didn’t take it out in front of the others, no one would know of his possession of the bone. In its nature, Schrodinger was the same as the bone, even the greatest mage couldn’t have known that there used to be a cat in his bag.
It had become his habit to meditate at night. It not only helped to recover his stamina and energy, but also brought peace to his mind. In this deep serenity, Amon would always try to test his magic power, not by casting specific magics, but by extending his spirit to the outside, sensing and communicating with the surrounding world, like he had learned at the very beginning.
In the tender moonlight of midnight, a dim perturbation resounded deep in his serene spiritual world. Perhaps “perturbation” was not the precise word. It was the feeling of a budding new power. For the first time, he could see his mind, his body as well as the moonlight, the river, and the grassland.
But he was not looking with his eyes. It was a response. The power inside him was resonating with a cognate that existed in everything, too feeble to notice, too huge to perceive. It was the very source of the magic power that mages used to cast magic spells. Only with the understanding of its nature could a mage begin to comprehend the essence of magic itself.
According to Bair, it was a state that only a fifth-level mage could reach!
But Amon was just a fourth-level sorcerer! Perplexed, he opened his eyes, sinking into thought with knitted brows. He couldn’t remember that he had ever felt the coming of the test, let alone its passing. He knew that he was at the fourth level of body arts and magic, and the next test should be the “devil’s temptation”.
There was not much information concerning this test in Bair’s notes. He didn’t mention what the “devil” was and what kind of “temptation” might appear in the test. Crazy’Ole’s message was vague about it as well. It only said that to pass the test, one had to go through many trials and find himself again. Amon wondered if he had made a mistake, that he had been obsessed with just an illusion during the meditation. Then he realized that the quickest way to prove it was to try with his magic power.
Sitting on the ground, he picked up his staff and waved it. The view around him remained unchanged in his eyes. But if a person was watching the place where Amon was sitting from afar, he would notice that the moonlight between the mounds suddenly disappeared, leaving out a dark shadow, as if the area was engulfed by the dusk. It was the [Hide]. Amon had blocked out the light, the sound and other information around him from diffusing to the outside. Only a fifth-level mage could perform this type of magic. Now Amon had just cast it with the help of his staff.
Amon didn’t let his surprise break the magic. He sharply caught a subtle change in the environment. The intangible power that was everywhere in the world was oscillating. He soon realized that maintaining such a magic would consume a lot of his magic power. How could he make this effect sustainable? There should be a way to do it.
He took out five parangons, placed them around him and activated them one by one. Remaining seated, he felt like a drop of water that had merged into an ocean, flowing adrift, echoing with the vast, ubiquitous being that he had just discovered. After a long time of exploration, he found the correct way to connect it via the five parangons, establishing a stable state of resonation with this force of nature.
Now, if watched from afar, the shadow would have disappeared. The hollow between the mounds was still in the bright moonlight, but Amon disappeared. Amon had successfully distorted and altered the space around him, creating a small area that only belonged to himself without consuming his own magic power. As long as the parangons were still activated in this specific order, he could hide himself in this area for a long time.
The joy of success only made him more perplexed. There was a better way to check his level. He could just take out the Terroculus and try to read the next message from Crazy’Ole. It would be available when he ascended to the new level, and should now be accessible. So he took it out and activated it. As he had expected, he heard Crazy’Ole’s voice once again 一 “Hahaha, Amon, you finally become a fifth-level sorcerer. You passed the ‘devil’s temptation’. I don’t know if I should now express my congratulations or my sympathy and solicitude. You must have experienced a lot and went through some hardships in the mundane world. The test could vary from the simplest to the hardest among all. Things may have already happened before you were aware of them. Looking back, you can well realize the whole process, but no one can tell you clearly in advance, because no one can experience what you experience, including me… ”
In the next part of the message, Crazy’Ole explained to Amon the way he had dealt with magic power would now change in the second stage of magic practice. The elemental magic that Amon started to learn from the first level was a rudimentary way to manipulate the magic force that existed in nature. However, a primary practitioner couldn’t fully understand the essence of the force and make use of it.
Once a magic practitioner attained a further understanding of this force, he could manipulate it in a much more artful way. What Crazy’Ole showed him was not the way to practice magic but the principles of the different ways to apply the magic. The last part of the message was something that Amon had never been exposed to. It was knowledge dealing with magic formations.
A magic formation was not an accomplishment in magic practice. It was an abstruse way to combine multiple forces to reach a specific effect, a special arrangement that can conduct the forces of nature in accordance with a certain rule. A significant part of the formations were created to build a particular environment to help the mages learn or practice. For example, Crazy’Ole had once built a cold spring outside the town of Duc.
So far, Crazy’Ole had taught Amon everything that a mage could practice!
There was the making of scrolls, staffs and other magic artifacts, building of magic formations, the way to practice every type of magic and how to use them. Even the most powerful supreme mage could not be proficient in every type of magic and skill. One must learn to choose his own particular path and set of skills.
Crazy’Ole was a versatile sorcerer. He was not able to be adept in every field of magic. But having spent decades across the continent collecting and arranging voluminous literature, he had left Amon a veritable encyclopedia of magic, hoping for him to become not only a supreme mage, but also an erudite of magic, a great artificer and formationist.