Volume II : The First Sin
Chapter 65 – An Embarrassing Testament[3366 words]
Lord Rod Drick had the flair of a skillful politician. He knew how to make the best use of the situation and steer it towards a favorable result even in times of emergency.
It was not a staged scene, but even the best playwright would find it difficult to come up with a better arrangement. Holding the staff up high over his head, the Oracle of Cape had the aura of a devout believer of the almighty god. It was as if the almighty god’s name had somehow empowered him. Amon, the one who had actually played the most important role in this affair, was kneeling behind the bodyguards, just like an ordinary onlooker.
The spontaneous reverie finally died down. Lord Drick stood up and thought of the young man. He approached Amon and helped him stand up, “Dear righteous young man, you mentioned that you discovered Lord Nero’s last words and belongings in a cave. Could you explain what happened in detail?”
Amon answered, “I was in the untraversed mountains on the west side of the Euphrate River. While hunting a goat, I lost my footing and slid down a cliff. There was a cave on the side of the cliff, and that is where I found the writings on the wall, along with the staff and a ring.”
He took out the ring and handed it to Rod Drick in front of the crowd.
Rod Drick’s hand dropped a little. It was a heavy ring, obviously a spatial artifact containing many objects.
As a sixth-level warrior and a primary mage, Rod Drick couldn’t use spatial artifacts. So he had to bear its weight and was unable to find out what was inside.
Judah Fayol added, “Amon. You said you are from the mountains. How do you know how to read?”
Amon didn’t have a good impression of the clerk. He replied quietly, “I am a hunter. But my grandfather wasn’t. He was a dismissed clerk.”
Judah Fayol frowned, “The mountains on the west side of the Euphrate River belong to Hittite. You must be a Hittite. So how did you learn to read the Ejyptian writings?”
Amon explained peacefully, “Lord Nero’s last words were written in two languages.”
He was not telling the truth, but what he was saying was not pure fabrication. He “borrowed” the story about how Crazy’Ole discovered Metatro’s great-grandfather’s remains and belongings. And Bair’s last words were indeed written in two languages. Amon seized excerpts from two different experiences and naturally braided them into one story. Even a deity would find it hard to tell whether he was making up a story, not to mention Fayol.
As for Nero’s last words, Amon was telling the truth. He was just repeating Nero’s message that had been recorded in the Terroculus at the top of the staff. Rod Drick could easily call for a mage to check it out. So he didn’t dare to falsify Nero’s words. But Amon couldn’t say that he had already read the message himself, since that could lead to suspicion about his identity.
On this continent, the languages were similar, but the writings were different. Amon could easily learn to speak Ejyptian, but he couldn’t hide his foreign accent. Rod Drick soon realized that it wouldn’t be wise to conduct the inquiry in public. There might well be secrets in the former oracle’s message that ordinary people were not supposed to know. So he held Amon’s arm and said enthusiastically, “Dear righteous young man, you must be tired after such a long journey. Please allow me to find you a seat. Let’s go to the shrine.”
The governor and oracle of Cape didn’t return home that afternoon. He had changed his mind and returned to the shrine. Escorted by the high priest amidst the cheers of the public, he disappeared through the door of the shrine.
Judah Fayol walked behind the crowd. He felt that Amon’s voice was somehow familiar. Looking at the young man’s back, he felt that he should recognize this figure. Although he was walking side-by-side with Lord Drick and was surrounded by the high priests, the young man’s pace was smooth, his back was straight. There wasn’t a bit of fear or uneasiness. Suddenly, a figure flashed into Fayol’s mind!
Two years ago, in a barren land near the desert, in a smoky and remote town called Duc, Judah Fayol had rendered the greatest merit of his life. He had lost no time in bringing the Gods’ Tear back to Lord Drick immediately after it had been extracted. He gave a bag of silver coins to the miner who had extracted it. He had no idea who that miner was. After all, it was not important.
But what impressed him was that, when he walked into that shabby house, the boy who was holding a hammer didn’t kneel down. Instead, he stood up straight beside the anvil, as straight as the figure he was currently watching. At the time, the boy had said a few words that he could still remember —
“Who are you? How can you enter like this?”
“I have to stand up to wield the hammer and extract the parangon, otherwise you won’t be able to see it now.”
“My name is Amon. That is what people here call me.”
That’s right. It’s him! He just told Aristotle that his name is Amon! — A wild voice was shouting in Judah Fayol’s head. He finally recognized Amon. He was the miner who had extracted the God’s Tear in Duc! Judah Fayol had thought that he would never see this boy again, but he was wrong. And in the worst-case scenario he could ever imagine, the boy was walking alongside Lord Drick, amidst the cheers of thousands of people.
How could he tell Lord Drick about this? What could he even tell Lord Drick? If he dared to speak out, the boy would receive more gratitude from the great lord, while he himself would be dragged into a terrible nightmare. Lord Drick had given him thirty gold parans as the reward for the miner, but he only gave the boy a mere thirty silver coins.
Normally speaking, it was not a big deal. Clerks would rarely be investigated for an occasional act of embezzlement. But now, there was a chance that his filthy secret could be exposed publicly, not to mention in the presence of Lord Drick! Judah Fayol’s reputation would be totally ruined.
It was interesting how a small matter like this would normally be of little importance… until it happened to be mentioned on the “wrong” occasion. It would then turn out to be a “grave matter”, a stain that would turn an honorable man into an immoral hypocrite. He would even be disdained by friends who might have once admired him for that “small matter” and called it his feat.
Has he recognized me? Judah Fayol mumbled in his heart. Hopefully he has already forgotten my face. But reason told him that this was unlikely. If he had been the miner, he wouldn’t have forgotten the face of the man who had taken the most precious gem he had ever extracted.
Will he talk about it? Please don’t! Even if he talks about it, may god forbid he mention the little detail about the silver coins!
When Lord Drick obtained the Gods’ Tear, the governor of Cape had sent a generous gift to Mayor Dusti. This time, Amon would be the one to receive a gift. In front of the public, he had returned the old staff of the Oracle of the Shrine right after the ceremony of the Khoiak festival. The boy himself was like a gift from the gods. Thirty silver coins were nothing compared to the great reward he was about to receive. Anyway, he couldn’t have known that he should have received thirty gold parans from Rod Drick, right?
Judah Fayol kept consoling himself.
Moreover, he felt that the boy was just too lucky. He had not only extracted the Gods’ Tear, helping Rod Drick in achieving his plan, but he had also recovered the old staff of the Oracle of the Shrine and returned it to Rod Drick at an opportune moment. Why? Why did this lowly miner have such good fortune?
It wasn’t fair!
The town of Duc had been destroyed by the flood. How could he have escaped death?
Nobody could spy the thoughts which surged in Judah Fayol’s mind. To him, the steps and the hallway of the shrine somehow seemed to be drastically lengthened. The weather was not hot, but sweat steadily trickled down his forehead.
Judah Fayol wasn’t the only one who had recognized Amon. Aristotle had also realized that this young man was the boy he had tried to saved in Duc. The boy had been sent to wait upon the Adoratrice for three days. But since Amon didn’t mention it when speaking with Rod Drick, nor had he indicated that he knew Aristotle, the latter presumed that Amon just didn’t want to talk about it. In fact, Amon had greatly changed in these past two years. And it wouldn’t be unusual for old acquaintances to be unable to recognize him.
Aristotle had learnt that Duc had been completely destroyed in the flood. This young survivor must have been through a lot. It was understandable that he avoided mentioning anything related to his hometown. After all, everyone had their own secrets. Aristotle decided not to broach the topic before the boy talked about it himself.
But even Aristotle was amazed at the luck possessed by this young miner. He was indeed like a deity blessing the governor of Cape. As one of Rod Drick’s most valued advisers, Aristotle fully understood what his young lord had been worrying about for all these years and what the boy had brought to him.
The Empire was still formidable. It had many powerful sepats. But the Pharaoh was gradually losing control over the Empire. And His Majesty was not aware of it. The viziers and the most powerful sepats were complacent with the power they had. But the weaker sepats such as Cape would soon become dangerous once conflicts between the Empire and the neighboring kingdoms began in earnest.
Bablon’s state of Uruk had the legendary hero Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the strongest warrior of the continent. Uruk was like the unbreakable shield of the Kingdom of Bablon on the shore of the Euphrate River. Nobody would be stupid enough to attack it. But what if the Uruk army attacked the Empire? Cape would be the first to bear the brunt of the invasion. Fortunately, Bablon had been maintaining a good relationship with the Empire in recent years. As for the Kingdom of Hittite, things were much worse.
On the face of it, the Kingdom of Hittite had acknowledged its allegiance to the Empire of Ejypt for decades. But the subjugated people of the Kingdom who desired independence had been accumulating their power in the dark. The flood had cut off the land transport between Hittite and Ejypt. This kept the sepat of Cape safe in recent years. But once the water receded, the crisis would sooner or later come. The Syah army had to be well prepared for this eventuality. Their morale was kept high, their weapons sharp.
It was said that the chief priest of Syah, Golier, had managed to save the city from the flood, and later became a ninth-level mage. His reputation was peerless in the state. The prestige he had gained eclipsed even that of the deities. Fanaticism was the most terrifying weapon in war. It could unite the people and stimulate their potential to the extreme.
The personal power of the top warriors and mages might be important in a battle. But for nation-level campaigns, what played a more critical role was their charisma and their ability to mobilize, unite and lead a nation in the war against the enemy. Unlike the most famous figures such as Golier, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Rod Drick was only a competent governor of a vulnerable border sepat. This was why the governor of Cape had almost lost his composure while holding the old staff over his head.
He was the ruler of a weak sepat at the border of a strong Empire. Cape was strategically important but constantly ignored, and it was potentially threatened by a rebellious vassal. Rod Drick had always been tormented by the lack of supreme power in the sepat. But he couldn’t just abandon his duties. He was not only the governor of the sepat… His clan, family manor and business were all situated in Cape.
After the death of Nero Ramose, the sepat of Cape hadn’t had a single supreme mage for thirty years. Personal power was not the decisive factor in a war, but it was certainly a symbolic deterrent force in times of peace. Compared to Uruk and Syah, Cape had been at an obvious disadvantage.
Ever since Maria became the Adoratrice of Isis, she had been gradually accumulating power and authority over most major affairs in the Isis Shrine of Memfis. Rod Drick often appealed to the Isis Shrine of Memfis to appoint a supreme mage to Cape. But he never received an answer. It was not until recently that the Adoratrice decided to send an inspector to the Shrine of Cape, who was an eighth-level mage.
Rod Drick had been busy preparing to persuade this supreme mage to stay in Cape as the Oracle and chief priest of the shrine. But he didn’t have a proper excuse. After all, who would leave the capital of Lower Ejypt, the land of Isis, the Magic Academy and the grand palaces to go to a border sepat like Cape? An eighth-level mage would be treated with the highest reverence in every city. However, the day before the arrival of the inspector, the old staff of the Shrine of Cape had miraculously been returned to his hand. Now, Rod Drick had a perfect excuse and opportunity to keep the supreme mage in Cape.
Amon was unaware of any of this when he shouted out in the crowd. In fact, his impression of the governor of Cape had always been favorable. It was because of him that Amon had had the chance to meet Icho Maria. So he was somewhat grateful to this great lord.
The Horus Shrine in Cape City was much more splendid than the one in Duc. In the middle of the grand hall was the statue of Horus. Everyone prostrated themselves to express their worship to the King of the Gods of this Empire. It was the first time that Amon saw such a meticulously built statue of this deity. The one in Duc had been a mere symbol showing the town’s allegiance to the Empire of Ejypt. Nobody there spontaneously worshipped Horus and offered sacrifices to him.
The statue of Horus in the Shrine of Cape was over fifty feet high. His arms were folded across his chest. A pair of wings came down from behind his shoulders. His head was that of an eagle. His eyes were every bit as sharp as his beak. In the legends, Horus incarnated as a gigantic eagle that soared through the sky. So his statue was designed like this. The huge statue radiated an oppressive feeling in the hall, forcing people entering it to prostrate themselves.
Amon was then invited into a side chamber. Even after being seated among a group of high lords, Amon didn’t feel overwhelmed. He had talked to the princess of Bablon and traveled with a goddess. Speaking with several advanced mages and warriors wasn’t a big deal to him.
However, Rod Drick was a little surprised. He smiled, “Amon, my dear righteous young man, you have an extraordinary bearing. It is not easy for a young man to behave this well in front of the priests.”
Amon bowed and explained, “I am accustomed to hunting and being hunted by wild beasts in the mountains. After facing death so many times, I hardly panic anymore.”
“I see. What doesn’t kill you indeed makes you stronger, physically and mentally! You said that you discovered Lord Nero’s last words while hunting. Could you tell me in detail what you have experienced?”
Amon repeated the adapted story of Crazy’Ole once again. At last, he said, “I read the writings on the wall. Lord Nero hoped the cave could be found and his belongings returned to Cape. He demanded that the staff be returned to the shrine and the ring be returned to his family.”
He didn’t exactly recite the message in the Terroculus. But he didn’t try to hide what he had obtained, either. He mentioned the three scrolls as well. Rod Drick would come to know about them once he checked the message, anyway.
Rod Drick continued to ask, “So, do you have those three scrolls on you now? Please don’t take this the wrong way. I ask this question purely out of curiosity. What Lord Nero gave you should be yours.”
Naturally, Amon couldn’t bring out the three scrolls now, because he had used them when getting out from the Underworld. Nor did he want to. He replied, “I lost them while climbing up the cliff. Fortunately, I still held onto the staff and the ring.”
Rod Drick sighed, “Good news is always accompanied by bad news. But don’t be worried. You will receive my reward instead… Please wait here. We are going to check the message left in the staff first.”
It was not difficult to extract the message in the staff. Most advanced mages could accomplish this. But they didn’t check it in front of Amon. Nero’s message possibly contained secrets that only the authorities of Cape should know. In a small meditation room in the back of the shrine, Rod Drick handed the staff to the most senior priest. All of the executives and high priests of the sepat were invited, as well as several members of the Ramose clan.
“Nero” was actually a religious title. When a priest decided to devote himself unreservedly to his god, he would only use the name registered in the Shrine as his own title. His family name was no longer bound to him.
Nero was born in a high noble clan in Cape, the Ramose clan. He didn’t have an heir to inherit his title, but in his family, there were still several adult nephews and nieces of his. According to the law, they should be present when the testament of their beloved uncle was revealed. The thoughtful Oracle of Cape had already called for them by swift horses.
When the senior priest imbued the staff with magic power, Nero’s voice arose in the chamber,
“To the one who is lucky enough to find my body and pick up this staff, though I have no idea who you might be, please listen to my last words! I am Nero, a seventh-level mage, the oracle and chief priest of the Horus Shrine of Cape, state of the Empire of Ejypt…”
“… When you come to the Horus Shrine in Cape to return my staff, please go to Lord Drick and ask him to invite a supreme mage good enough at spatial magic to take out the testament in the ring, and read it to the public. Lord Drick is trustworthy.”
The testament ended. Everyone in the room paled. Nero’s last words involved the secret of the gods, as well as his doubt of the gods and his hesitation when facing death. These contents absolutely shouldn’t be published. The Empire had already come to the official conclusion on what had happened thirty years ago. The details were not allowed to be circulated. Although Nero claimed that he had never betrayed his god, what he said would definitely undermine his reputation and shake the public’s foundation of belief in the gods.
After a long silence, Rod Drick asked in an undertone, “Can the message in the Terroculus be erased? We have all heard the message left by Lord Nero, and that should be enough!”
 sepat : An Ejyptian territorial division with a relatively independant governor. Equivalent to a state in other kingdoms.