Volume II : The First Sin
Chapter 42 – Where Is the Devil?[4145 words]
It was unlikely that Amon could become an adept in all types of magic as well as a master artificer and a formation expert. But it would be very useful for him to have a full understanding of them. Crazy’Ole was not sure if Amon could find Bair, but what he had hoped for was that Amon could solve the secret of the gods, so the more he knew, the better chance he might have.
Crazy’Ole had also invested tremendously in Amon’s staff, making it one that rivaled the Adoratrice’s sacred scepter, if not outright outclassing it, so that Amon could learn and master every type of magic as quickly as possible.
Reading the latest message flashing in from the Terroculus, Amon couldn’t tell whether his heart was filled more with wonder or appreciation. Crazy’Ole had traveled across the whole continent for nearly a century, getting into countless shrines and archives, invited or not, just to compilate such a complete and detailed compendium of magic. And he left this legacy all to Amon, storing it into this Terroculus.
However, his previous doubts grew larger after reading the whole message. He thought he had made a mistake before reading Crazy’Ole’s message, and now he suspected that Crazy’Ole had made the mistake. Where were all those “experience a lot and go through many hardships” things as the “devil’s temptation”? He had just spent a day in a small town after he came out of the mountains.
The devil? Where was this devil?
Nevertheless, it was a verified fact that Amon could already practice fifth-level magic. So he decided to put aside the problem of crossing the river. He was going to find a quiet place for himself to get familiar with the new way of understanding and using the magic power. By ascending to the next level, he could examine what he had learnt before from a higher perspective. However, it would be better to do this before crossing the river. Once he got to places with more people, it would be more difficult to practice magic without being noticed.
He opened the four sockets on the staff, took out the parangons from inside, successively replaced them with a Terroculus, an Aquaticore, a Ventussalte and a Pyrosprite.
He had already had the power of an advanced sorcerer and an advanced warrior. He could even open up the socket on the top of the staff and put the Gods’ Tear in if he wanted to.
But shortly after thinking it over, Amon chose not to. He could still remember the strong wave spreading throughout the whole town when he had extracted the Gods’ Tear from the ore in Duc. Everyone who was familiar with magic power had been able to sense the massive disturbance. He knew that he couldn’t be more careful with such a precious treasure. Unless he was sure that he was capable of protecting it or found a way to use it without letting others know of its existence, he would rather just leave it inside the bone.
Anyway, even without the Gods’ Tear inlaid, his staff was extraordinarily powerful already. For example, there was no staff, other than this one, whose previously inlaid parangons could be replaced again and again. At least not any of the ones Amon had seen before. Once inlaid, the parangon in an ordinary staff became an inseparable part of it. Not to mention that the function of this staff could change according to the types of the implanted parangons and the order they were implanted.
Even though Amon had now learnt the basics of how to make staffs, he nonetheless had no idea how this staff could have been made. It was far out of the range of his understanding. It was generally accepted among the artificers on this continent that Damasc iron was not a material that could be used to make staffs. One of the fundamental things of staff making was that a staff must be made from a part of a living thing, for example a branch of a tree or a bone. But Crazy’Ole somehow managed to turn an iron stick into a powerful staff!
Picking up his staff, Amon removed the formation, collected the parangons and moved away from the river. He chose a place that was hard to find, at the foot of the mountains. He stayed there for seven days. Then he left for the river, travelled along the bank and looked for a ferry.
Amon didn’t know that his sudden impulse decision had let him successfully elude the men that the Mayor of Som had sent after him. What he also didn’t know was that he had eluded another pursuer who had been lying in wait for the last seven days.
The Mayor of Som had been in a mixed mood of anger and fear. He had been sure that Amon was not someone who was easy to deal with. He couldn’t exclude the possibility that Amon was a high lord or a powerful official who travelled in disguise. If this was the case, he and his family would be in great trouble. In any case, he had to know where this foreigner was. Since what had happened to his two sons was not something that he wanted others to know about, he was obliged to send out people and search secretly. Several days had past, yet not a trace was found of the foreigner. The Mayor had to give up. The foreigner had probably already crossed the river by now.
For the sake of convenience, Amon had put the five scrolls he had obtained in the cave into the bigger bag when he started travelling to go outside the mountains, so that he could quickly use it when he needed to. When he came to the area where he had met Inanna the other day, he once again saw the beautiful grassland. White clouds wandering in the blue sky, the murmur of the Euphrate River could be heard afar, like a whispering song from beside his ear.
The view was as wonderful as before, and Amon’s mood was also great. Walking by a bushel of tiny flowers, Amon thought of Inanna again. Schrodinger had reminded him that he had to beware of her while trying not to offend her. Why?
With this question in his mind, Amon went through the gentle slopes covered in grass and the sparsely grassed mud land. The small rolling hills along the river were abruptly ended by a sheer cliff. Ahead of him were some treacherous rapids with some rocky reefs. Amon was still wondering why there wasn’t a ferry along the long way down here when he heard a familiar sobbing behind the highland on his right. It was the sobbing from a young woman on the brink, sad, but melodic, like a mellow, somber song. It was Inanna’s voice!
Amon happened to meet her when she was sobbing, again! Was it really a coincidence? What was the trouble she ran into this time? Amon hurriedly run up to the ridge of the highland. He caught sight of Inanna from afar, who was crying with a little lamb in her embrace, “Where is your road ahead, my poor little lamb astray? Every one of my herd has gone away. You are the only one I have! Who can tell me what to do? Who can take me back to my homeland? Should I curse this miserable destiny, or should I jump into this running river?”
After saying this, Inanna loosened her hands from the lamb’s neck, stood up and walked towards the cliff. It seemed that she was going to jump into the Euphrate River. Amon could even recognize the dress he had bought for her the other day.
“Inanna, don’t! We can talk about this. Don’t jump!” Amon’s voice broke out from the shrubs. In a big stride he leaped to Inanna, grabbing her arm.
“Oh dear lord! It’s you, Amon!” Inanna heard Amon’s voice. As response, she fell into Amon’s embrace, her arms hanging on his neck, crying even harder. Her tears dampened Amon’s clothes. She murmured, “I thought I wouldn’t see you again before I left this world!… Amon, why are you still here? Haven’t you go on with your journey?” Amon could feel her soft body and her tempting smell, and her bosom slightly, seemingly unwittingly rubbing his chest. Amon felt his body heat up. He wanted to push her away, but found his hands holding her gently.
No man could resist such a tenderness in his embrace. He lowered his head and said softly, “I was occupied the last few days. I was looking for a ferry today before seeing you crying here… Please don’t cry. Tell me: what happened to you?”
What flashed across his mind when saying this was that Schrodinger had warned him that he should “never […] her”. The word isn’t “hug”, or is it? Anyway, he was already hugging her, and it felt good. So just let him hug her for a little while longer.
Inanna turned up her head from his embrace with surprise, eyes swollen with tears, “You are going to cross the river? Can I go with you? Please take me to the other side of the Euphrate River, I will thank you very much!… If you can’t take me with you, I will have to jump into the river from here.”
“What happened to you? You should tell me first.” It was the third time he asked this question.
Inanna managed to hold back the tears, “I daren’t tell others who I am. But I can tell you that since you are the only one I can trust on this land, I don’t want to lie to you, Amon. Have you already known that I’m not a shepherdess?”
Amon nodded, “I can see that you are definitely not a normal shepherdess. Where are you from? Who are you?”
Sticking in Amon’s embrace, Inanna started to tell her own story to Amon. It was a sad story.
Her real status was too high to be mentioned to anybody. Even her name must be kept as a secret. One day when she was on a covert excursion, her convoy was attacked by a gang of bandits. She had to run away alone, ending with wandering in this foreign land.
Having no money with her and no one to depend on, she had to seek help from the boatmen at the ferry, asking them to take her to the other side of the river. Coveting her beauty, the boatmen made a request that she couldn’t accept. She turned to the locals for help. Another man promised to offer her help, on the condition that she herd his flock of sheep for him.
She had to make sure that no sheep were lost, and the quantity of milk and wool didn’t decrease. She could have all the new-born lambs with black dots on their back as her reward. Considering that the lambs could earn her the fee to cross the river, she accepted the job and became a shepherdess.
Inanna began herding the sheep from last autumn to this summer. Seeing that the herd was in good condition and the number of new-born lambs was increasing, she was delighted, for she could soon earn enough money to pay for the ferry and even enough to go home. However, misfortune befell her once again. The day she went out to look for the lost lamb, the owner of the sheep broke his promise and took away all the sheep with him, leaving her alone with this little lamb they had found back in Som.
A single lamb was not enough to pay for the ferry across the river. Inanna couldn’t help but cry hopelessly. She even wanted to jump into the river. Fortunately, Amon saw her and stopped her in the last moment.
This was a wild story. Hardly anyone would believe it. Inanna seemed to acknowledge that. She watched Amon’s eyes appealingly, “Can you believe what I have said? I know it is hard to believe, and I don’t know how to prove it to you. But I can write my name for you. That can prove I’m at least not a shepherdess.”
She pushed Amon gently, leaving his embrace, then pick up a twig and wrote down her name on the ground 一 Inanna. Amon was shocked again. He now believed that Inanna’s status was higher than a shepherdess, because not only she could write, but she wrote in hieroglyphs!
She wrote down her name with the wedge writing of the hieroglyph. More surprisingly, she drew a square around her name, and drew a triple curved lines like a flame. According to the grammars, it was the only way to write the name of a god without offense. Among mortals, only a monarch or the relative of a monarch could write his or her name in this way, otherwise it would be considered as arrogation.
Schrodinger drew a symbol that looked like an arched door above the word “me” when writing messages in pen writing hieroglyphs. It was the equivalent grammar rule. Seeing how Inanna wrote down her name, Amon could tell that she must be a noble, and not an ordinary one. Not every noble knew how to write the hieroglyphs, let alone adding such a symbol when writing his or her name.
“I trust you, Inanna. You must be from a noble family.” looking at the writing on the ground, Amon nodded sincerely.
Inanna dropped the twig and stood up, turned to Amon and asked with a little surprise, “Amon, you can read the hieroglyphs?”
Amon had to explain, “I can tell that they are hieroglyphs even though I can’t read them. Knowing how to write them has proven that you are a noble… My dear miss, why didn’t you seek help directly from the authorities, but instead chose to become a shepherdess? And what can I do for you?”
Amon didn’t want her to know that he could read the hieroglyphs, because such information may make others think of magic and suspect him of being a sorcerer. Besides, it was normal for even an illiterate person to tell that Inanna was writing the hieroglyphs since there were plenty of them written in the shrines as decoration, many were hymns praising the gods.
Inanna replied distressed, “Please don’t call me ‘dear miss’, Amon, just call me Inanna. I like you call me this way. My identity can’t be revealed in this foreign land, or someone may abduct me so as to ask for a big ransom. I could even have been assassinated before the envoy come… Amon, I tell you all these because I trust you. If you help me get across the Euphrate River and take me to the capital safely, I swear the reward will be more than you can imagine!”
What she said made sense to Amon. If her identity was indeed as noble and important as Amon thought, it was reasonable to believe that someone may abduct her for money. As for what she said about the possible assassinations before she could see an envoy from his family, it might have something to do with the complicated court politics.
Seeing Amon confused, Inanna flung her arms around his arm and explained in a sweet begging voice, “I have always held the doubt that the attack to my convoy was actually an assassination plot arranged by my political enemies. They must think that I’m already dead. If they realize that I’m still alive, they would do their utmost to make sure that I can’t return to Bablon in one piece.”
“Amon! My handsome hunter, my brave hero!”
“If you are afraid to be involved, you can just take me to the other side of the Euphrate River and lend me some money. I will go to Bablon myself. I will tell you of a place in Bablon City, so that if I return home safe and one day you visit Bablon City, you can get a large reward in that place.”
Arms trapped in her embrace, elbow rubbed by her tender bosom and nose filled with a fascinating scent, Amon could hardly feel the ground under his feet. But he managed to keep his mind functioning, asking another question, “Inanna, how much do you still need to get to Bablon City once you cross the river?”
A hint of disappointment was tinged in Inanna’s answer, “A gold paran will suffice… Amon, I will thank you for the rest of my life even if you are not going to Bablon City with me!”
Amon shook his head, “I didn’t say I wouldn’t take you to Bablon City. I was just wondering. After all, I’m going to Bablon City too. I am happy to go with you. But can you promise me a few things if you want to accompany me? Otherwise I will give you twenty silver coins and you can make your journey home yourself.”
Inanna was surprised, “Whatever you ask me to do, I will promise you! You are my hero. I really don’t know how to reward you. I have nothing with me now, only myself…”
Amon interrupted her, “You don’t need to talk about a reward now, because I haven’t done what I promised to do for you yet. Didn’t you just tell me that you will reward me when you get to the capital?… What I want you to do is simple. You must wear flax clothes and put some mud on your face to hide your beauty… You don’t want to be recognized before you reach Bablon City, do you?
Amon had learnt the lesson from that day in Som. He got robbed in the night partly because he accidentally revealed his parangons in town, and partly because Inanna was too attractive. Amon didn’t think that bringing Inanna with him when he crossed the river would be a problem. He liked to offer help to others. He just didn’t want to cause any trouble like the other day in Som.
Schrodinger had warned him that he should never offend Inanna. But even if the cat was right, he couldn’t just watch her jump into the river. If what Inanna had said about herself was true, he could understand why Schrodinger had warned him about her. A mysterious member of a royal family was not somebody he should offend. As a foreign exile, it was reasonable for him not to get too close to her, because she might involve him into some bigger troubles.
Amon was asking her to put mud on her face. For a second Inanna’s face turned embarrassed, there was even a hint of anger that flashed through her eyes. But at last she replied sweetly, “We can do that after we cross the river. There’s still a long way to the capital. I don’t think anyone will recognize me in such remote places. Or we can hire a carriage so I can hide myself in it.”
Amon nodded, “Alright. Let’s think about that after we cross the river. Hiring a carriage is a good choice, but you had better change your clothes and put mud on your face. It’s for your own safety and mine too.”
Inanna lowered her head, “Let’s cross the river first. I’ll show you the way to the nearest ferry.”
“I was just looking for somebody to ask where the ferry is. It’s great that you know how to get to the ferry.”
As a deity, Mourrin wouldn’t allow a mortal like Amon to put mud on her face. Fortunately, Amon didn’t ask her to do it immediately. They would talk about it at the other side of the river. She led Amon down the highland. Not far off from the highland were several villages, ahead of which was a market town. Walking through it, they found a ferry quay at the bank of the river not far away.
The ferry quay served as a distribution center for the whole region and as a traffic hub of the commercial roads across the Euphrate River. It was not surprising that the village next to it developed into a town. Not every site at the bank of the river could be used as a quay. The river surface had to be quiet and the water had to flow slowly. Since the wind on the river didn’t have a fixed direction, sails couldn’t be used. Punting was the only choice. Therefore the water across the river at the quay couldn’t be too deep so that the pole could reach the bottom of the river.
Amon was a resolute person. He didn’t like to waste time once a decision was made. Inanna didn’t want to put mud on her face right now, so he brought her to the town and bought her some flax clothes. After Inanna changed, they came to the ferry quay. The little lamb follow them all the way, Inanna didn’t even need to take a look back.
The ferry was large and wide. Both ends of it were flat. It was very different to the crescent-shaped, deep and long freighters. It had a shallow draught and allowed more people to stand on board. Many of the passengers were merchants who did business across the river, and they needed to pay for their goods they carried with them. The fare for a man was fifty copper coins. The fare for a sheep was twenty copper coins. Amon paid the boatman a silver coin and twenty copper coins, then boarded with Inanna and the lamb.
Although the quay was built at the slowest, quietest and shallowest channel of the region, not long after they had left the bank, the water got deep. Amon could tell from the waterline of the pole that the distance from the water surface to the bottom of the river was about thirty feet. It was difficult to quant a pole this long. There were three boatmen at each side of the ferry, in total six poles quanting together, slowly sending over sixty people, a dozen of livestock and a big pile of goods to the other side of the river.
Amon and Inanna were not staying in the crowded cabin. They went fore with lamb in hand to admire the scenery. Cool wind blowing in from the front, Inanna’s long hair tickled Amon’s face. Feeling itchy on his cheek and ears, Amon felt his heart itching too.
He found that he actually enjoyed this feeling quite a lot. In this mesmerizing gentle breeze over the river, he couldn’t help thinking, “Travelling with Inanna is really not that bad an idea. At least I won’t feel lonely on the journey. And I can have a lovely pleasant guide.”
Losing himself in the cosiness, Amon’s reflexes were weakened. It was not until the wind started to swirl and a strange whirlpool was formed in the river that he was seized by the smell of danger. It was as if a frightening power under the water was nearing the point of eruption.
Suddenly awakened by the menace, Amon dragged Inanna into his embrace than jumped back into the cabin, shouted, “Everybody watch out!”, then jumped to the front once more, raising his staff.
As soon as he did this, the water in front of the ferry was slashed apart, a huge long tail rose from the water then struck mercilessly towards the ferry. The monster existed indeed. Hiding in the water, for some reason it decided to attack the ferry now. But Amon was familiar with this trick. El Mar the king Ironback used to ambush his friends like this.
The incoming tail was much bigger than El Mar’s. The part above the water was already over ten feet long, almost as wide as a barrel. Covered with palm-size dark green scales, it looked like the tail of an enormous snake. The huge tail descended so quickly that the passengers on the ferry could hear a cracking sound when it broke the air. The strike seemed to be so powerful that the ferry was going to be smashed into pieces!
But the seemingly intense strike failed to reach the ship. Suddenly a nearly-transparent ice shield appeared from nowhere and blocked it in midair, and immediately cracked into countless fragments with crisp breaking sounds. The tail then fell onto a mass of thick smoke. Delayed for a second, it managed to get through the smoke and kept falling heavily towards the ship.
The whole space seemed to be distorted for a moment and the tail was stopped in midair in a peculiar way. Then people on the ferry heard a bellow from the fore.