Volume II : The First Sin
Chapter 67 – Nero’s Legacy[4377 words]
After asking the Great Lord’s servants, they were shocked to learn that Amon was the man who had returned Nero’s staff in the square. Now that Amon had become a distinguished guest of the sepat, if he were to mention to the Great Lord what he had experienced at the gate, they would surely be swept out like rubbish! Shivering in fear, the gatekeepers hoped to meet with Amon again and appeal to his mercy, but they unfortunately couldn’t find the right opportunity.
However, what they had imagined and waited for didn’t come to pass. It seemed that Amon didn’t mention to the Great Lord anything about his earlier visit. Instead, the butler somehow heard of how they had treated the Lord’s distinguished guest. He had them on their knees and admonished them for a good while: To think that they had missed out on such a rare chance!
Amon settled down in Rod Drick’s mansion. The latter arranged a private villa for him. The things he ate, used and wore were more luxurious than he had ever experienced. For the first time in his life, Amon was able to enjoy the lifestyle of a real nobleman. However, he didn’t see Rod Drick even once over the next few days. He heard that the Great Lord was very busy with his official duties.
Rod Drick didn’t impose any limit on where Amon could go. Apart from Lord Drick’s own living quarters, he was allowed to freely roam in and out of the mansion and meet other people as he liked. Nevertheless, the butler would send a coach and escorts to him whenever he went out. It was a form of protection as well as surveillance. The accompanying benefit was that he didn’t need to spend his own money in the shops now. The escorts would instead pay for him.
Amon discovered this after he bought several interesting gadgets. He then decided to refrain from buying anything else. After all, he lacked for nothing while living in Lord Drick’s mansion. However, he received two more gifts soon after.
One was from the gatekeepers that he had met the other day. They offered him some good wine and a nice-looking homemade dessert. The gatekeepers begged him to forgive their misbehavior and to not mention it to the Great Lord. Amon didn’t want the gift at all, but he still accepted it with smile. He could tell that they would live in trepidation if he refused to take the gift. Accepting the gift would conversely earn their gratitude.
The second gift was from Tustin Ramose, Nero’s second oldest nephew. This nobleman came to visit him personally. He expressed the appreciation from the clan and his regret for not being able to entertain Amon in his own house. Tustin’s gift was simple yet useful: a hundred gold parans, several sets of outfits, two lovely young female slaves, two fine horses and an exquisite carriage with its decorations removed so that commoners could use it.
The outfits were well-made, each consisting of an outer garment, an underlinen, a pair of leather sandals, a necklace, a belt and a shendyt. They were not ornate like those of the noblemen, but instead comfortable and durable, practical for travelers. Clothing with this kind of fine, closely-woven and unique tailoring was hard to find in the shops. Amon accepted everything except the slaves and thanked him sincerely.
Amon was unaware of what had happened in the other room that day. Abham had been spiteful towards him, and Hillah had even wanted to arrest him. Tustin, on the contrary, publicly paid him a visit and sent gifts directly to the governor’s mansion, candidly showing the clan’s gratitude to everyone. He was the one who truly saved the family’s prestige.
Amon hadn’t seen Rod Drick for several days. He couldn’t help but ask the servants what the Great Lord was doing. He was told that Lord Urhiya, an eighth-level supreme mage, was visiting the sepat.
To his surprise, he recognized this name. It wasn’t that he knew this supreme mage in person, but because Urhiya was an old friend of Bair. In one of his last messages, Crazy’Ole had provided a list of people that Amon could look to for help while traveling across the continent. According to Crazy’Ole’s message, Urhiya was one of the mages who had benefited from Bair.
Over thirty years ago, Urhiya had been a sixth-level mage in charge of the archives of the Isis Shrine in Memfis. As a frequent visitor to the archives, Bair became quite familiar with Urhiya. And as repayment for Urhiya’s assistance in looking through the archives, Bair gave him a considerable amount of personal instruction and advice, helping Urhiya overcome one of the greatest obstacles lying in the path of magic practice: passing the test of “Faith’s Fusion” and ascending to the seventh level. This was an incredible favor that generally only existed between the closest master and apprentice.
When Bair decided to leave Isis Shrine with Troni, Urhiya was the first to notice. But he hadn’t tried to stop him, nor had he warned any others. Perhaps he wanted to return Bair’s favor. Perhaps he knew too well that he would be unable to stop him. Urhiya was supposed to lead one of the three teams of people in hunting down Bair, but he managed to find an excuse to stay in Memfis and persuaded a high priest to lead the team instead.
The Isis Shrine of Memfis, like the shrines in the other states, always had three high priests who were in charge of its ordinary affairs. But the Oracle of the Isis Shrine was the Adoratrice, who held great influence in the Empire. Because of this, the status of the high priests of the Isis Shrine was practically equal to that of the oracles and the governors of each sepat. Bair was merely an honorary high priest of the Isis Shrine with no actual power before he ascended to ninth level and became a senior member of the Magic Academy.
After Bair fled, the high priest who Urhiya persuaded to pursue him ultimately went missing as well. This then gave Urhiya the opportunity to become a high priest when he was still only a seventh-level mage. In this sense, Urhiya owed his newly-found position to Bair.
Crazy’Ole mentioned in his message that Urhiya might be willing to help him. But he also reminded Amon that people change over time and he couldn’t be too careful when dealing with them.
Amon didn’t think he would need help from Urhiya for now. But he was certainly interested in this supreme mage. He wanted to see how he would bring out the objects from Nero’s ring. So he decided to stay and spend some leisure time in Lord Drick’s mansion. Contrarily, the members of the Ramose clan couldn’t feel more anxious these days.
Rod Drick didn’t talk about Nero when Urhiya arrived in Cape. The supreme mage was received with a grand welcoming ceremony and the most magnificent hospitality. He was invited to all of the shrines in the state and was ardently entertained. Every shrine gave out their special presents and services, which made the inspector rather satisfied.
The Lord of Cape enthusiastically accompanied Urhiya the entire time, putting his other duties to the side. Rod Drick did this for a reason. In the middle of their tour, he received a secret message from the special envoy he had sent to Memfis. It told him why Lord Urhiya was sent to Cape and also passed on a message from the Adoratrice: Maria asked Rod Drick to do everything possible to keep Urhiya in Cape!
The reason behind this request was a little complicated. Although the people of Memfis were glad that the Isis Shrine had a new Adoratrice after the previous thirty year’s vacancy, there were a few personages who felt otherwise. First was the governor of Memfis. He used to be directly under the Adoratrice’s leadership. But when the position was vacated, he took charge of everything in Memfis. With the ascent of the new Adoratrice, however, he had to relinquish his power and once again refer everything important to her.
The three high priests of the Isis Shrine weren’t happy either. They had assumed leadership of the Isis Shrine and all other shrines in Lower Ejypt for the last thirty years. Now they too had to relinquish power and obey the Adoratrice.
They clearly understood that a new Adoratrice was necessary. Without an Adoratrice, the Isis Shrine would gradually lose its authority over the other shrines and the people of Lower Ejypt. But when the day came, they began to miss the time when they wielded complete control.
They desired the new Adoratrice to be a mere figurehead. This way, they could continue to take charge of the Isis Shrine. In her first year, Maria was still young and inexperienced. She did nothing other than devoting herself to practicing magic and learning the rules of the Shrine. She therefore didn’t have any conflicts with the high priests.
But of course, she didn’t want to be a purely symbolic figure in the Shrine and leave herself to the mercy of the high priests. Talented and independent, she wanted to seize her destiny with her own hands.
Recently, Maria had started to take over the duties of the Shrine by undertaking some of the more mundane tasks. She was even preparing to make a few drastic changes and rectify some long-standing practices which had formed in the last thirty years. The application from Cape for a resident supreme mage was a good opportunity. Once she had consolidated her power, she issued an order to Urhiya, who was the greediest for power among the three high priests, and sent him to inspect the border sepat.
Usually, inspecting the sepats was a pleasant job. Urhiya didn’t have any excuse to refuse. But Rod Drick had learned from the secret message that another order would be issued by the Adoratrice in a couple days, demanding Urhiya to stay in Cape for one year as the Oracle of the Shrine and to take charge of the matters of defense on the border.
Rod Drick couldn’t be more happy with it. As long as the high priest was still in Cape, he would have to accept the order from the Adoratrice. He wouldn’t even have the chance to argue with Maria in person, since he was still on his mission. It wasn’t a particularly canny political manoeuvre, but it was certainly an effective one.
One year was enough for Maria to appoint a new high priest and fully subsume Urhiya’s power. By the time Urhiya returns to Memfis, he would find that everything was already in order and that he had lost his place in the Shrine. Not to mention that Rod Drick would have one year’s time to persuade the supreme mage to stay permanently in Cape.
If things went well, Maria would fully consolidate her power in one year and send the formal order appointing Urhiya as the Oracle of Cape. The position of high priest would be occupied by her own supporter.
Reading the secret message, Rod Drick decided that his priority now was to spend as much time as possible with the high priest in Cape.
After a slow, leisurely tour around the sepat, they returned to Cape City. Before Rod Drick broached the topic of Nero’s legacy, the high priest himself brought up what had happened after the Khoiak festival, “Dear governor, I just learned about an issue from the priests today. I was told that several days ago, a foreigner brought the staff of the Oracle of the Shrine back to you. To my knowledge, didn’t it disappear thirty years ago along with Nero, the former Oracle of Cape?”
Rod Drick replied, “I was about to tell you about it. The day before your arrival, the old staff was returned to the Shrine. It is a sign, dear master! You are blessed by fate and our almighty god.”
Urhiya didn’t notice the implication behind the praise. He laughed heartily, “I heard that apart from the staff, there are also his effects. I am interested in what Nero kept with him in his last moment.”
Rod Drick beamed, “In fact, this has given us a headache. Nero left his effects in his ring, which is a spatial artifact. But since we didn’t have a supreme mage before your arrival, we simply couldn’t open it! I was wondering… could you find time in the midst of your pressing affairs and assist us with your supreme magic?”
Urhiya laughed, “It won’t bother me at all to do a little favor. I am willing to help. Where is the ring? Let me have a look at it.”
Rod Drick whispered to him, “Besides the matter of the ring, there’s something else I have to tell you…” He whispered a few more words to the supreme mage.
Hearing the whisper from the governor of Cape, Urhiya was surprised, “I didn’t expect that. Please bring me the staff. No, let’s find a quiet room.”
In a secret vault in the shrine, while holding Nero’s staff, Urhiya read Nero’s last message. His face stiffened with dismay. Rod Drick sat silently at the table. After a long time, the supreme mage activated the Terroculus and read the message again. Nero’s voice became weaker and weaker, and finally decayed to nothing. Quietly, the high priest erased the message from the world.
Urhiya spoke solemnly to Rod Drick, “Lord Nero’s last message involved many secrets, which should remain only between us. Who else heard it?”
Rod Drick rose from his seat and bowed slightly, “Those who heard it were all trustworthy. I have strictly ordered them not to tell these secrets to anyone else, or they would receive the most severe punishment. Now that the message has been erased, even if any of them spread word of it, it would only be groundless rumours.”
Urhiya asked, “What about the foreigner who returned the staff? What does he know? We must be very cautious of him.”
Rod Drick replied, “He read a message that Lord Nero had written on a cave wall. But none of the sensitive contents were mentioned in that message. He is now staying at my residence. I have him under close watch.” After a quick thought, he added, “Since he publicly handed the staff back to the shrine, the people in the city now regard him as a messenger of the gods. In my opinion, it is not a good idea to affront him at the moment. Instead, we must show our gratitude to him.”
Urhiya smiled and shook his head, “You are thinking too much, my dear lord. I am just curious about this young man. I’d like to meet him in person and thank him for his virtuous deed.”
“You will see him tomorrow. He will be summoned to witness the opening of the ring.”
For the first time in days, Rod Drick could go back to his mansion and have a good rest. In contrast, lying in the Oracle’s bedchamber in the shrine, the supreme mage passed his first sleepless night ever since his arrival in Cape. Rod Drick didn’t have a clue what the supreme mage was worrying about and longing for. To Urhiya, the foreign young man called Amon was the only one who had actually seen what Nero had left to the world. Urhiya had originally thought that the secret past between he and Bair had already been totally buried with the disappearance of Bair and the other top mages and warriors thirty-two years ago. He couldn’t be sure of what Nero had left on the cave wall. Had his history with Bair been mentioned? It was his greatest anxiety.
On the other hand, Nero claimed in the testament that Bair had once told him that mortals could become deities! It sounded impossible. But to Urhiya, it was somewhat convincing. What other temptation could drive the strongest mage of the Empire, the most versatile, erudite and prominent high priest, to leave the Shrine and choose to become the enemy of the Gods and the whole Empire? What was more, Troni the Adoratrice left with him voluntarily!
Bair must have known something! And Nero disappeared during his pursuit of Bair. He was probably one of the last people to have seen Bair. He should also know something about it! If he did know something, and it was not contained in the message in his staff, then it meant that he didn’t want the shrine to find out about it. So the information couldn’t be left in his ring either, since he had requested Lord Drick to find a supreme mage and open it. The only place left where the information might have been recorded was the cave! And the foreign young man certainly wouldn’t say a word about it even if he had discovered something — nobody would!
The next morning, Amon arrived at the shrine in Lord Drick’s coach. In a solemn hall in the back of the shrine, the people involved in the affair were all present. Lord Urhiya sat in the middle. A ring was placed on the round table in front of him. Standing to the side of the table were the priests of the Shrine of Cape, the chief officers of the sepat, the nephews and nieces of the Ramose clan, and finally Amon. Lord Drick, the governor of Cape, sat beside Lord Urhiya as the notary.
Amon didn’t dare to use the Detection Eyes in front of an eighth-level mage. He fixed his eyes on the ring. But what happened next slightly disappointed him. There was no exciting moment. Lord Urhiya simply picked up the ring, closed his eyes and slightly flicked the ring. And just like that, the contents of the ring suddenly appeared on the table. It was similar to how Amon would take things out of Osiris’ rib. Urhiya emptied the ring all at once.
Amon could sense that the supreme mage had used a supreme spatial magic, activated with an extraordinary magic power. He concluded that Nero’s ring was less profound than the rib he had. Even a third-level primary mage could use the rib!
What appeared on the table impressed everybody. It was indeed a considerable amount of treasure, occupying an entire half of the large meeting table. The treasure only consisted of two types of things: scrolls and parangons! At first sight, Amon estimated that there were at least seventy scrolls and one hundred parangons. Four blue parangons and two red ones were glistening silently among their colorless peers.
What amazing wealth! The special parangons were already hundreds of times more valuable than the ordinary ones. And the scrolls were even more valuable than the special parangons! As one of the top mages in the Empire, Urhiya knew best just how valuable these scrolls were. He almost couldn’t prevent himself from jumping up from his chair. Hillah’s knees buckled, and she leaned heavily on the shoulder of her elder brother. She panted and couldn’t draw her eyes away from the red parangons.
The governor of Cape was the only one who stayed calm. He lightly coughed and picked up a manuscript from among the parangons. He unfolded it and threw a glance at it, “This is the written testament of Lord Nero. It says, ‘Only to be presented and read by Lord Drick in public’. The ‘Lord Drick’ he referred to should be my father. I thank Lord Nero for the trust he placed on my family. Now that my father is no longer here, please allow me to read it to all of you.”
Nero’s testament in the ring was simple. He demanded the scrolls be divided into five portions: two given to the Shrine of Cape as his last contribution to the sepat as the Oracle; two given to the heir of the clan, in hopes that there would be a new excellent mage in the Ramose family to lead the family to more glory; the last one given to the finder of the ring as a reward for his selfless deed. The parangons were to be divided into three portions. Two for the clan; one for the finder.
Nero’s reward was indeed generous. But from another perspective, it was absolutely necessary, since the finder of the ring could well have kept the ring to himself and set his wits to open it alone.
In the last part of the testament, Nero mentioned one more thing. He asked the current Oracle of Cape to make an exception and allow the finder to look up his private scroll-making diary that he had locked in the Archive of the sepat and read it alone. Amon knew what this meant. It must be about the usage of the unlabelled grey scroll.
It was Nero’s last trick. He said in the message in the staff that the grey scroll was more precious than the staff and the ring combined, but only after the finder returned the staff and the ring could he learn how to use it.
The testament was read to the end. Rod Drick passed the manuscript around to everyone in the hall. But Amon didn’t take it, since he had already told the Great Lord that he didn’t know how to read the hieroglyphs. Abham Ramose was lamenting in his heart. He felt that the testament was too unfair. Amon, a lowly foreigner, received so much more than any of Nero’s closest kin!
But in the presence of the high priests and the Great Lord of Cape, he didn’t dare to express his objection. Pretending to be driven by an epiphany, he pointed to the parangons and said, “I don’t know the value of the magic scrolls. But I counted, there are one hundred and forty-five parangons. Divided into three portions, it’s forty-eight each with one left over. Amon, you can take forty-nine parangons with you, just leave us the colored ones.”
Rod Drick frowned. He threw a cold glance at the eldest heir of the Ramose clan. Tustin Ramose opened his mouth, “My dear cousin, could you please not disgrace our family just this once? Are you thinking in your delusional mind that only you know the difference between the parangons? Dear Lord Urhiya, dear Lord Drick, please forgive my poor cousin. Our uncle said in the testament that Lord Drick is trustworthy. We should listen to dear Lord Drick.”
Rod Drick didn’t try to be modest. He ordered Judah Fayol to count the parangons. Each type of special parangon had their own particular power and value. The rarest and most valuable one was Ventussalte. It could be used to make spatial artifacts. Each piece of Ventussalte cost about five hundred standard parangons. Terroculus came second in value, costing about three hundred and twenty standard parangons. A Pryosprite cost about two hundred and thirty parangons, and an Aquaticore cost about two hundred standard parangons.
There were one hundred and thirty-nine standard parangons, four Aquaticores and two Pyrosprites on the table, which was worth a total of one thousand three hundred and ninety-nine standard parangons. Divided into three, each portion would be worth four hundred and sixty-six parangons, with a remainder of one.
After listening to the report from his clerk, Rod Drick asked Amon, “My dear righteous young man, how would you like to be paid?”
Amon was truly shocked. He hadn’t expected that Nero’s belongings would be so valuable. The scrolls attracted him the most, but he knew that he couldn’t show the faintest interest in them. Hearing the Great Lord’s question, he replied, “I didn’t know the value of these colored gems. I want a red one and a blue one. That’s enough for me, and it’s convenient to carry this way. As for the rest of my portion, please give it to the servants in your mansion who have been waiting upon me these past few days. They did a good job. Please tell them I thank them very much.”
Amon was clever. He took an Aquaticore and a Pyrosprite with a legitimate reason: they’re easier to carry for a traveller. Travelling with four hundred parangons wouldn’t be a good choice. And if they were converted to gold parans, such a great sum of money would have to be carried by a coach! Amon generously gave the remaining parangons to Rod Drick’s servants, which pleased Rod Drick as well.
Since it involved Rod Drick, the others didn’t have a good excuse to speak out against it. Tustin added, “The Ramose family should also offer the same sum to the Great Lord’s clerk and officers for their work in this affair. The remaining nine hundred parangons can be divided into nine portions. Each of us can take one.”
Some of his cousins glared at him with discontentment. Amon generously gave thirty-six parangons to the Great Lord’s servants, and the clan felt obligated to give at least as many as that, so the actual number of remaining parangons was eight hundred and ninety-six. But none of them dared to object, since there wasn’t a better solution. The parangons were thus distributed. Now it was the turn of the magic scrolls. Rod Drick said humbly to Urhiya, “Master Urhiya, as a supreme mage, you know best the value of the magic scrolls. Please help us sort through the scrolls left by Lord Nero.”
Urhiya stared at the scrolls on the table. A hint of desire flashed in his eyes. He smiled bitterly, “The value of magic scrolls cannot be easily estimated. Some of them are priceless. Not to mention that the value of a magic scroll can vary greatly depending on the occasion and its holder. In my opinion, we’d better use the simplest way to sort them: There are thirty-six supreme scrolls and thirty-eight advanced ones. We can divide both categories into five portions. Lord Drick takes two for the Shrine of Cape, the Ramoses take another two, and the foreign young man takes the last one. The rest should be arbitrated by Lord Drick.”
 shendyt : An kind of short, pleated skirt worn in Ejypt.