Volume II : The First Sin
Chapter 70 – The Hunt[3453 words]
“Please relax. This is just between you and me. Lord Drick, you know very well that Amon hails from another country. I must remind you of how powerful Nero’s last scrolls are… I can sense your anxiety about the future of the sepat. And I assure you, those scrolls are the last things you would want to see in a war against Cape… Besides, rather than telling me all of this, please pay more attention to the Ramoses. You should be well-aware of what some of them are thinking with regard to that foreign young man.”
Rod Drick nodded, “Thank you for your warning, dear Master. But please trust me, what I said previously was entirely for your benefit.”
Urhiya smiled, “That’s very kind of you, my lord. I appreciate it. I can discern the sincerity from a noble heart. The same words from another person might have left me confused.”
Rod Drick stood up, “I am sorry to have disturbed your repose. Please allow me to retire. I look forward to our fruitful collaboration in Cape!”
While exiting the shrine, Rod Drick was troubled by the knowledge that Urhiya was targeting Amon. It was not something he wanted to see. But unfortunately, he didn’t know what exactly Urhiya was planning. He couldn’t take action against Urhiya for something the supreme mage hadn’t yet done. Rod Drick didn’t even know where Amon was! Urhiya merely promised him that whatever he did would be kept secret, so that the reputation of the sepat and its governor wouldn’t be damaged.
What could he even do if Urhiya did something to Amon? As the supreme mage had pointed out… Between Urhiya and Amon, which one would he side with? He had no choice. He was nothing in front of an eighth-level mage and high priest of the Isis Shrine.
He had done his best to dissuade Urhiya, but he had failed. Now, he was forced to compromise and turn a blind eye to the matter. He could only hope the boy would be lucky enough to lose his pursuers. If Amon could survive the flood, perhaps he could survive the pursuit this time.
Returning to his bedroom, Rod Drick once again saw the coconut box on the table. He somehow felt ashamed. He kneeled down in front of the table and prayed to Isis. Then, he called for his servants and told them to send the box back to Aristotle with another large sum of money.
A coach was running at full speed on the main route from the city of Cape to the border of the sepat. The coachman was a sturdy warrior. The curtains of the coach were drawn shut. A warrior rode in front of the coach on horseback, and two other horsemen followed behind the coach. It looked like a wealthy merchant delivering something precious with his bodyguards.
But a closer inspection would reveal that the coach was rather light and firm. The pulling horses were of the highest quality. The warriors were actually excellent riders. And there were several riderless horses tied behind in reserve. This team was obviously engaged in an urgent task.
Sitting in the coach was Vitru, Lord Urhiya’s trusted adviser. The warrior riding out in front was Havon, Urhiya’s chief bodyguard. They were sent by the supreme mage to find and kill Amon.
It had been more than half a day since they had met outside the city and started the pursuit. At a crossing, Havon drew the reins. His horse came to a stop, as did the coach behind him. Vitru opened the curtains and asked, “What’s wrong, Havon? Why have we stopped here?”
Havon jumped off the horse and muttered, “The target’s coach seems to have turned its way towards the sea. I need to make sure of this.”
Shuite, the coachman, asked curiously, “Head, how do you know the target turned course?”
Havon explained, “It didn’t rain last night. His coach passed through yesterday, and the wheel tracks are still here. However, the tracks change direction starting from here. We need to inspect the ground in this area.”
The coachman asked again, “But there are so many wheel tracks here. How do you know which tracks belong to the target’s coach?” Shuite had an over-inquisitive mind. But since he was Urhiya’s nephew, Havon had to keep his temper. Tired of explaining, Havon drew out his dagger and sliced down on the wheel of the coach, leaving a light breach. He said, “Drive the coach for a round, and look at your wheel track.”
Shuite drove the pulling horses forward several steps, jumped down from the coach and observed the wheel track left behind the coach. There was actually a unique mark on the track every certain distance! This was due to the breach on the wheel. Every coach had its own unique marks on its wheels, and these would leave signs on the ground. As an advanced warrior, Havon’s eyes were sharp enough to find the marks left by Amon’s coach even when galloping on horseback.
Amon didn’t go to the border. He turned north from the main route, onto a small path leading to a trade town beside a port. Vitru and Havon tracked him all the way north. They had set off from the city of Cape nearly a day later than Amon, which was not a long period. The weather was excellent. The wheel tracks were quite distinct in the sunlight. The path didn’t have any forks. The pursuers ran at full speed!
They ran for two hours, and sunset gradually approached. The warriors felt fine, but the horses were exhausted. They rotated the horses and continued on. Vitru spoke from the coach, “Night is coming. The target has probably stopped by now. We were moving fast today, so we should be able to catch him in the night.”
Havon shook his head, “He was moving fast as well. He must be a skilled driver, and he also has a good coach. Judging from the tracks, the target ran at full speed all day. We haven’t gotten much closer to him.”
It was an interesting mistake. Amon wasn’t actually a skilled driver. However, the whip he was using was gifted by Enlil, and Amon could use magic to give orders to the horses. In fact, any mage could easily be a good driver. But how often would the noble priests and lofty mages deign to drive a coach?
Vitru frowned, “But he still needs to rest, doesn’t he?”
“He’s driving a first-class light coach with two superb horses. I asked about this previously. The coach was gifted to him by Tustin Ramose. Our horses aren’t much better than his. Not to mention that we will need to rest as well. The mountains are ahead of us, and it’s not like we can continue to travel at full speed through them, especially not at night. Even if he chooses to make camp, we won’t be able to catch up to him before tomorrow morning.”
“But we cannot delay! If he manages to reach the port and board a ship, it will be too late…! Lord Urhiya was right. There’s something suspicious about this foreigner… Why else would he be fleeing like this?”
They continued on until they could no longer see the path in the dark. At dawn, they set off once again. The warriors hadn’t untaken such a rough task in years. Even though they were all advanced warriors, it was still not easy to endure. Vitru, sitting in the coach, was the most comfortable among them.
But what they were worried about didn’t come to pass. The next afternoon, they found that Amon’s coach had changed course again near the port. This time, their target went west. There was a small path winding along the coast, detouring around the city of Cape and heading towards the city of Djanet.
When this was discovered, Vitru was confused, “What is this Amon thinking? Why didn’t he take a ship? Why would he want to go to Djanet instead?”
Havon muttered thoughtfully, “This seems to be what happened… But his destination is not necessarily Djanet. He might be heading elsewhere via Djanet.”
“He has been running at full speed this entire time. Apparently, he must be trying to escape from any possible pursuers. But why didn’t he just leave Ejypt?”
Havon shook his head, “A man with so much treasure won’t feel at ease. He didn’t even dare to hire a bodyguard. It’s natural that he chose to run as fast as possible, so that others will find it difficult to pursue him. He probably doesn’t even know for sure whether he’s being followed. He’s doing all of this simply to be cautious. But just as Lord Urhiya said, I’m certain now that he’s hiding something other than the treasure.”
Havon was right. Amon didn’t know he was being followed. But he had considered this possibility. Thus, he first went east after leaving the city of Cape, and then turned north several hours later in a deserted area. He thought the pursuers, if there were any, should have been shaken off. However, Havon and Vitru’s coach managed to track him all the way.
On the third day, the warriors felt exhausted. They were forced to slow down. The warriors took turns resting in the coach. Amon slowed down as well, because his horses were tired. He was unaware that his pursuers were just half a day’s distance from him!
They were on the only path to Djanet. Havon observed the wheel tracks from time to time. He was confident that he wouldn’t lose the target. Amon would surely take a rest once he reached the city. So long as the foreign young man decided to stay even a single night in Djanet, they would be able to catch up to him there.
The path became broader as they approached the city. Houses and markets could be seen along the side of the road. Havon kept asking the people on the roadside if they had seen a good-looking light coach driven by a young man.
Many did remember the coach. Tustin’s coach was well-made, and it wasn’t something commoners could see everyday. Judging from the feedback and the wheel tracks, they were slowly getting closer to Amon’s coach.
Shuite, the coachman, threw out another question,
“Head, why are you bothering to stop and ask? The wheel tracks are clear, and there are no forks on this road.”
Havon had to explain, “He could easily change to another coach or choose to ride a horse instead. We are looking for him, not the coach. Till now, luck has been on our side. He hasn’t changed the coach yet. It must still be in good condition. And he doesn’t seem to know that he’s being followed.”
But the next day, Havon discovered something troubling. The wheel tracks showed that Amon had driven the coach into the woods to camp for the night, and had set out in the morning. However, when they asked the people on the roadside, nobody had seen that coach!
The reason was simple. Amon felt that the coach was a little too eye-catching. So he made a few changes to the coach. Although he wasn’t a skilled carpenter, as the son of a blacksmith and the student of an excellent artificer, it was not too hard for him to change the appearance of the coach.
The wooden frame was blackened by fire and smoke, like an old carriage escaped from the battlefield. The hood was covered by a piece of old canvas. The vermeil color of the shafts had been rubbed off.
Amon was cautious even now. He didn’t want the coach to be noticed by any possible pursuers. But Havon’s team was still tracking him and drawing ever closer…
Havon kept asking and eventually pieced together the new appearance of Amon’s coach. A passerby told him that the driver of the coach was a young man with a long-poled whip. There was also a peculiar stick placed on the shafts of the coach.
At noon, they took a short break. Havon estimated that they could reach Djanet before nightfall. The wheel tracks left on the ground were still clear. Vitru opened the curtains and asked, “How far are we from the target, Havon?”
“We are getting closer. About twenty to thirty miles.”
Vitru came out from the coach, “Shuite, let me get off. I am going to track him with magic now. Thirty miles is an acceptable distance.”
The mage approached the wheel tracks left by Amon’s coach and took out an artifact. It was a stone – black, flat and square. A parangon was inlaid at its center, and the stone was carved with mysterious patterns and hieroglyphs. Vitru held it in his left palm and wielded his staff with his right hand. The parangon suddenly brightened as if a candle was lit. A faint, circular ring of light formed around the parangon.
The wheel tracks at their feet were reflected in the ring of light, but then the image started to change. It was as if the wheel tracks were being viewed through the eyes of a bird in flight. After a short time, a coach appeared in the image. The angle of view shifted. The pursuers finally saw the front of the coach and… their target!
The foreign young man was wearing old clothes, and he held a long-poled whip in his hand. A branch-like stick was placed beside him.
The warriors gasped in admiration, “It’s miraculous! We can finally see him…! Look, there’s a town not far ahead. He might stop there and take a rest. Let’s move! We can catch him before sunset!”
As an excellent sixth-level mage, Vitru knew how to perform supreme magic. But the spell of [Eye of Horus] was still beyond his ability. He could just barely cast it with the help of the supreme artifact lying in his palm. This was the advantage of being a mage from a powerful Shrine. A sixth-level sorcerer without such a precious magic artifact would never be able to track a target thirty miles away.
Satisfied with the praises from his colleagues, Vitru smugly put the artifact away and laughed, “We can’t openly attack him in the town. But we could pass through and await him on the other side. Once he leaves the town, we shall catch him in the fields. I must admit, this Amon was quite a tough target. But he has no idea of the might of the Isis Shrine.”
Amon was currently slowing down. He had spotted a town not too far in the distance. He picked up the cat and caressed its head, then pulled out a bottle of wine from his bag.
Amon had been driving the coach at full speed for several days. Any pursuers should have lost his trail by now. Amon decided to relax a bit and enjoy the view of the countryside. Schrodinger had been sleeping for long stretches of time ever since they had entered the city of Cape. But it would sometimes wake up, yawn, stretch itself and eat some food before falling asleep again. It was slowly but steadily recovering, which was a great relief to Amon.
Amon uncorked the bottle and put the rim to the cat’s mouth, but the cat didn’t stick out its tongue like before. It suddenly opened its eyes and arched its back, hair bristling. It yowled and pointed its paw behind the coach. This was the first time Amon had heard the cat make such a noise. He had never seen it act so dramatically since reuniting with it in the desert.
At the same moment, Amon sensed something in his soul. It was some sort of spiritual touch from the cat. Amon had never been able to detect Schrodinger with magic, but this time the cat was actively emitting something. Amon’s new ability worked once again. He was able to sense the intense emotions radiating from the cat. It was an alarm! The cat was telling him that great danger was approaching from behind.
Amon halted the coach and jumped down to the roadside. Looking back, he found nothing. There wasn’t even a bird in the sky! Schrodinger was struggling in his embrace. It seemed that it wanted to be placed on the ground, and so Amon gently obliged. The weak animal staggered to the back of the coach and drew a mark on the ground every certain distance.
Amon followed and observed. Beside each of the cat’s marks was a corresponding mark in the wheel tracks, and these marks appeared regularly and repeatedly! Amon immediately understood. He noticed a triangular breach on the back right wheel of the coach. This is what had left those unique marks on the ground. Amon had a sinking feeling. He picked up the cat, jumped back onto the coach and spurred the horses to full speed.
As the old saying went, a good marksman would eventually die for his last miss. Amon wasn’t experienced in stealth and evasion. Subconsciously, he hadn’t actually thought that he had been followed. He simply took a few measures to hide his whereabouts out of caution. But this small degree of negligence ultimately betrayed him. With this warning from Schrodinger, he found that all of the precautions he had taken over the last few days had turned out to be a joke.
Vitru and Havon’s team rushed to the town, skirted around it and laid the ambush. Havon went into the town to look for Amon’s coach. He was quite confident when he entered from the west side of the town. Amon should have entered the town from the east. Havon hadn’t found any of the distinct wheel tracks from the coach in the west, which assured him that the young man was still in the town.
Havon slowly looked around. He suddenly paled. He saw Amon’s coach sitting in the town’s market, but Amon wasn’t on the coach! He walked up to the coachman and learned that a foreign young man had sold his coach and two pulling horses at a very low price. The young man then bought the best horse in the market and rode out of the town several hours ago!
The ambush had failed! Amon was already gone! With such a delay, it was possible that Amon had already entered the city of Djanet.
Vitru was infuriated by the bad news,
“God damn this cunning rat! He knew about us! He was playing us! I’ll grind him to mince after we catch him!”
Havon’s face was distorted as well. He had carefully considered everything on his way out of town, “He couldn’t have known that he was being followed. That’s impossible. He just chose to wipe out any trace of his presence in the town before he reaches Djanet. I underestimated this hunter. But it’s not an irredeemable mistake. He must feel reassured and will certainly stay a night in Djanet. If we seal the city tonight, we can still sniff him out.”
Shuite interrupted, “We also have Lord Vitru’s tracking magic!”
Vitru wanted to glare at him, but he chose to explain patiently, “He didn’t leave any trace this time. And even if I had his trace, the distance is too great. It would cost me too much magic power. Moreover, once he enters the city, it’ll be impossible to distinguish his trace from all the others.”
The coachman continued to ask, “Head, if you can trail him from the wheel tracks, why not from the hoof prints?”
Havon said sourly, “You think I didn’t try? Here, I can just barely discern the hoof prints he left. But once he approaches the city and treads on the pavement, there won’t be any hoof prints!”
Vitru smiled coldly, “It’s already getting dark. That foreigner must feel rather safe now. He’ll want to have a nice rest in the city. I’m quite familiar with the governor of Djanet. With Lord Urhiya’s order, we could go over the whole city with a fine-tooth comb. We can’t let him escape this time!”
Havon reminded the mage, “But we can’t arrest him in the city. We’ll have to find him and watch him until he leaves the city, then we can finish him in the mountains.”
Vitru nodded, “That’s how it’ll end. I didn’t expect that it would take us so much time to make our way to Djanet. It’s not far from Cape at all! It’s time we sent a message to Abham Ramose. He’ll certainly be interested and hurry over here.”
[List of Characters]
Vitru: Urhiya’s adviser. A sixth-level mage.
Havon: Urhiya’s chief guard. A sixth-level warrior.
Shuite: Urhiya’ nephew, a member of the team sent to pursue Amon.