Volume II : The First Sin
Chapter 68 – One Last Thing to Ask[3322 words]
Rod Drick threw a glance at Urhiya and looked around, “Then I will keep it simple: Thirty supreme scrolls and thirty advanced scrolls will each be divided into five, making it six scrolls per portion. The remainder should be conferred to Master Urhiya as our reward for his gracious help. After all, we couldn’t have opened the ring without him! Does anyone have a better suggestion?”
Astute as he was, he had already noticed how greatly Urhiya desired the scrolls. And so he promptly awarded him six supreme scrolls and eight advanced ones. Now, the supreme mage was fully satisfied, and Rod Drick hadn’t lost out either. The Ramoses and Amon obviously wouldn’t say a word against it.
Amon naturally wouldn’t say anything. Every single scroll he obtained today was a windfall! The Ramoses simply didn’t dare to contradict the Great Lord. Thus the deal was made. Rod Drick casually sorted the scrolls on the table into five portions, and then handed the “remainder” to Urhiya.
Urhiya couldn’t be happier. He thanked the governor of Cape and took the scrolls with a smile. These scrolls were part of the last set produced by the legendary scroll-maker of the Empire. They were each uniquely valuable. Although Urhiya was quite wealthy as one of the three high priests of the Isis Shrine of Memfis, there were still things he could only obtain by chance.
Rod Drick took two portions from the table and ordered his clerk to put them away carefully. The Ramoses took two portions as well. Amon took the last portion and gently tucked the scrolls into his leather bag. Observing the young man, Lord Urhiya found himself sinking into a bog of uncertainty. His first impression of Amon made him feel that this foreigner would not be easily bought.
In Urhiya’s mind, almost everyone has a price. But Amon’s price was likely too high, since he had just made an incredible fortune. And the young man didn’t appear to be too avaricious in the first place, for he had chosen to return the staff to Cape. How should he deal with this person? If Amon couldn’t be bribed, then he would have to resort to more drastic measures like intimidation… or perhaps something more.
Before Urhiya could say anything, Abham mumbled, “Twenty-four scrolls for our nine clan members. How are we going to split them among us?”
Rod Drick smiled, “This is not a problem. If you don’t want to keep the scrolls, I can purchase them in the name of the Shrine of Cape. And I am willing to buy some for my personal collection as well. I know that you may worry about the price in such a large purchase… I can assure you that I will offer the best price I can. But please don’t be too harsh.”
Hillah spoke with surprise, “We surely have confidence in our Great Lord. If the scrolls are converted to money, things will be much easier.”
Tustin shook his head, “I would like to keep some of my uncle’s scrolls as family heirlooms. I shall bid the same price as Lord Drick. Only, I don’t have enough money at the moment. I think I can only purchase a few.”
Rod Drick laughed, “I almost forgot that you and your brother are mages as well. The scrolls are certainly useful to you. If any of you would like to purchase a scroll from your clan’s portion, be the first to bid. They belong to the Ramose family in the first place. I won’t compete with you.”
Tustin was a bit embarrassed, “That would be too kind of you, my dear lord. How dare I bid before you? Please name a price, and I will follow it. Once the value of the scrolls is decided, I will buy a few for my personal use.”
In the end, Tustin paid a large sum of money to buy two supreme scrolls and three advanced ones. All of the other scrolls were purchased by Rod Drick. Most of them were bought using the treasure of the Shrine, with the rest becoming part of the governor’s private collection. Rod Drick was well-aware that the value of these scrolls couldn’t be measured in parangons. A powerful scroll could temporarily turn a primary mage into an advanced one and an advanced mage into a supreme one! And this was without expending too much of their magic power. In times of war, an ample storage of high level magic scrolls would play a decisive role in determining victory or defeat.
Urhiya glanced at Rod Drick. The Lord of Cape was a quick hand, buying the scrolls from the Ramose clan at the first opportunity, and even using the treasure of the Shrine of Cape. Was he preparing for a war?
But he soon thought of another possibility. These scrolls were the last ones made by Nero, and their value could only go up in the future. Thus the Lord seized the chance to persuade the Ramoses to sell their share of scrolls to him. Whatever the price he bought them at now, he wouldn’t lose out! He would only have to figure out what the scrolls do and how they should be used, and he could then profit by selling to mages in desperate need of them.
As the current Oracle of the Shrine of Cape, he surely had access to Nero’s diary and could easily learn about the scrolls. By selling them to the mages across the Empire, he was definitely going to make a fortune! Urhiya already began to regret not bidding against Rod Drick! But on second thoughts, he shifted his gaze to Amon.
The scrolls were distributed. Urhiya coughed and said, “There was a last request in the testament. The finder should be allowed to look up Lord Nero’s private scroll-making diary and read it alone. Are you going to read it, Amon? Oh, by the way, where are the scrolls you obtained in the cave? Do you have them with you now?”
This question was deliberately asked, for Amon had already said that he had lost the scrolls in the mountains.
Amon turned to look at Urhiya. Suddenly, he became aware of something. He caught an indescribable sense of danger from the way this supreme mage stared at him. It was like a cat staring at a mouse. Amon’s new ability revealed that Lord Urhiya held malicious intent towards him.
He replied warily, “As I reported to Lord Drick, Lord Nero left three scrolls in the cave. But I dropped them while climbing up the cliff, and I wasn’t able to find them again. I don’t want to see the diary, by the way. There’s no need. It’s not like I’d be able to understand anything.”
He actually yearned to know the usage of the grey scroll. But, alarmed by the subtle gleam in Urhiya’s eyes, he firmly suppressed his eagerness.
A commoner wasn’t supposed to be interested in learning about magic scrolls, especially not the rare and powerful ones like those Amon had “lost”. Had he showed even the slightest interest in Nero’s diary, he would have been placed under suspicion. The high lords at the table were hungry cats, and he was just a disguised mouse.
Seeing that Amon didn’t intend to read the diary, Rod Drick asked him kindly, “Now that Lord Nero’s last wishes have been fulfilled, as the governor of Cape, I thank you for what you have done for us. Is there anything else you desire?”
Amon shook his head, “I’ve already received too much today. Lord Nero’s reward was beyond my imagination. How can I wish for more? I only have one last thing to ask.”
Amon appeared to be worried and embarrassed, “I knew that the staff was precious. But I really didn’t expect that the reward from Lord Nero would be so generous. To be honest, I carefully hid the staff throughout my journey, for I didn’t dare to let others find out about it! Now that I have so many valuable items on me, I feel even more anxious. Great Lord, could you please help me leave the sepat safely?”
It was a bit rude to say this in front of the high nobility of Cape. But as a foreigner, his safety should indeed be his first concern. Rod Drick answered seriously, “It shouldn’t be a problem. The whole sepat is grateful for your deed. You have no enemies here. Lord Nero’s affair has concluded, and so you are free to do as you wish. You may leave at any time. If you don’t feel safe, I can send my troops to escort you.”
Amon laughed like a little boy, “Thank you, dear lord! I really appreciate this promise! The troops won’t be necessary. I believe that Cape is a safe place under the rule of Lord Drick. I wish to leave as soon as possible. When I go back to my hometown, I will be the richest man in town!”
Amon was asking to leave right away! But Rod Drick had already made the promise, so it would be awkward to ask him to stay any longer. It was normal for a man who had just obtained a huge sum of money in a foreign land to feel the need to return home. Urhiya was still trying to come up with an excuse to keep Amon in Cape. Now, with the promise from the governor of the sepat, it would be very troublesome to do so.
An idea suddenly sprang to his mind. He smiled and said,
“It’s comforting to see your selfless deed rewarded, Amon. May I ask you some questions in private?”
Amon felt his blood freeze under the gaze of the supreme mage. He nodded, “Of course, I am willing.”
Urhiya brought him to another room and asked directly, “Amon, I am particularly interested in the last words that Lord Nero left in the cave, as well as the scrolls you lost in the mountains. Could you tell me every detail you remember?”
If Amon had just made up everything, the details would certainly have betrayed him. But his account had been spun from a mix of Crazy’Ole’s story and Nero’s words in the Terroculus. So he simply retold the story, down to the little details.
Urhiya gave him a piece of sheepskin and a pen, asking him to record what he had seen in the cave. Amon wrote down the message in the Terroculus, obviously leaving out the sensitive contents. Urhiya also asked him to draw a map. He wanted to know where the cave could be found.
Amon explained, “It was in the deep mountains. There are hardly any paths, and the lay of the land is very complex. I can’t recall everything precisely. But I will try my best.”
He drew a map of the mountains on the west side of the gorge of the Euphrate River. The terrain there was indeed complex, so what he drew was obviously imprecise. It would be almost impossible to find the cave by using the map. But as a common hunter, he already did a great job. After finishing the draft, he respectfully handed the piece of sheepskin back to Urhiya.
However, Urhiya was still worried. He suddenly asked,
“Did he mention Bair?”
Amon looked up and asked back innocently, “Who’s Bair?”
The supreme mage shook his head, “Forget about it. Did he mention the deities?” He actually wanted to ask about the secret of the gods. But he couldn’t speak of it directly, and thus had to resort to making discreet inquiries.
Amon asked back curiously, “Which deity? But anyway, I already wrote down everything I saw in the cave.”
Urhiya frowned, “As the Oracle of the Shrine of Cape, how can it be possible that he didn’t mention any deity at all? Especially in his final moments! Are you trying to hide something from me, Amon? You don’t need to worry, my boy. Nobody is going to blame you for telling the truth. Please tell me if you know anything about it.”
Amon scratched his head, “I don’t know… I wrote down everything I saw in the cave. I’m just a hunter. I daren’t speculate about what Lord Nero was thinking.”
Urhiya stared at Amon coldly, as if he wanted to see through the young man. Amon suddenly found that he could no longer sense the supreme mage’s emotions. Urhiya must have entered a special state of meditation and managed to stop diffusing any information. Urhiya’s magic was not something Amon could understand. But he at least felt sure that Urhiya couldn’t do better than Inanna and somehow pry the thoughts from his mind.
This discovery made him more vigilant. He was already certain that this supreme mage didn’t trust him and secretly wanted something from him. Crazy’Ole had told him that Urhiya had received a great favor from Bair. But Amon definitely wouldn’t mention it now. The last thing he wanted to do was show Urhiya that he had any connection to Bair.
Urhiya suddenly broke into laughter, “You’re right. You’re just a hunter. The scrolls you received today don’t mean anything to you. After all, you can’t eat them or use them! But they are very useful to mages like me. I am willing to purchase them at a high price, say… the same price as Lord Drick’s. Could you sell them to me?”
Amon surely didn’t want to say yes. But it was not easy to refuse. It would be abnormal for a hunter to want to keep so many magic scrolls.
Amon thought for a while and replied, “My dear lord, I am from a small town in Hittite. In the market of my hometown, the price when selling items in bulk to a single person is always much lower than the price when selling a single item to many people who want it. The more valuable the items, the greater the difference in price. These scrolls I received are the most valuable items I have ever seen in my life. Since I won’t have a problem with money in the near future, I was thinking: if I go to a place with many mages and sell the scrolls to them one by one, shouldn’t I be able to sell them at a much higher price than what was offered by Lord Drick? Lord Urhiya, you are a kind and selfless high nobleman. Would you please tell me if I am right?”
“Are you sure that you can meet wealthy and powerful mages in the future and sell the scrolls to them safely?”
“I think I will be strong enough to protect myself when I find the chance to sell them.”
Urhiya sighed in his mind. This young man was not as simple as he pretended to be! He was quite sure that Amon had hidden something from him. And he had to find out what it was! He felt determined to wring out every secret from this young man, even if he must use the cruelest tortures. If by any chance Amon knew of his past with Bair, then he definitely couldn’t be allowed to live.
But since they were currently in the shrine and keeping the others waiting, Urhiya couldn’t do much in this situation. He laughed, “You are smart and honest, Amon. These are the virtues everyone should have. Since you will be leaving shortly, I wish you a fair journey. May the gods bless you.”
While saying this, Urhiya decided not to make things difficult for now. He would wait until Amon left the sepat. Then, he would go alone to intercept the young man in the middle of his journey. He was going to do this by his own hand, so that no one else would know of his deed. His mission in Cape had already been completed, so he could leave whenever he liked. Nobody could say a word about it.
It would take one or two days to leave the sepat even with the fastest horse. There was no chance of Amon escaping him. He would take the young man into the desert and torture him until he had everything he wanted to know, and then make sure the man would disappear forever.
Urhiya planned out everything in just a few seconds. He was about to bring Amon back to the hall and say some kind words, when a loud voice suddenly thundered in their ears, “Lord Urhiya, Lord Drick, I have here a new order from the Adoratrice!”
Urhiya was startled. He was already going to leave the sepat tomorrow. Why would Lord Maria, the young Adoratrice, issue another order to him? And why would it arrive in Cape today? Was there something important happening in Memfis?
He tidied his clothing and strode to the front hall where the herald was waiting. Lord Drick and the priests of the shrine were already there.
In her latest order, the Adoratrice gave an oblique warning to Rod Drick, criticizing him for his incompetence in presiding over the affairs of the Shrine of Cape. The Adoratrice simultaneously praised high priest Urhiya for his feats and virtues. In the end of the message, she ordered Urhiya to stay in Cape for a year as the supervisor and acting Oracle of the Shrine of Cape.
The order completely took Urhiya by surprise. Having just laid his worries to rest and feeling that the situation was back in his control, this was like a blow from nowhere. Since he was not in Memfis, he wouldn’t be able to meet the Adoratrice in private and persuade her to change her mind. But staying one more year in Cape was unacceptable to him! His plan was completely disrupted. Besides, the situation in Memfis would certainly change significantly after a year. He urgently needed to send a message and sound out the other two high priests in Memfis. Perhaps they could find an excuse to ask the Adoratrice to call him back.
The young man beside him also posed a problem. He couldn’t intercept Amon on his own now. He would have to send someone else, and it must be someone he could trust. If the secret Amon carried was too important, he would do what was necessary to ensure that he was the only one who knew it. Only the dead could truly keep a secret.
The herald was Lord Nekhebu, the vice officer of the Archive of Memfis. He was from a distinguished noble family. Rod Drick warmly welcomed him with a grand feast, which was also held to welcome Lord Urhiya as the new supervisor and acting Oracle of the Shrine of Cape. The festivities lasted until very late in night. The governor of Cape was too preoccupied to even think of going home. Amon was neglected.
Amon didn’t know that Maria’s order actually saved his life. Lord Urhiya abandoned the plan to intercept him personally, which would have left Amon no chance to escape. But Amon was still cautious. He left the city that very afternoon. He drove the coach gifted by Tustin, with only a bag and a cat at his side.
The servants in Rod Drick’s mansion were somewhat reluctant to see Amon leave. They had heard that Amon had left them about thirty parangons, which meant about a dozen gold parans for each of them! The gatekeepers led Amon’s horses all the way to the city’s gate and watched him depart with tears in their eyes.
Amon’s destination was Memfis. This name had been lingering in his dreams for many years now. Memfis was situated to the west of the city of Cape, but he exited through the east gate. Anyone keeping watch on him would think that the foreign hunter was eager to cross the desert and return home.