Volume III : The Divine Emissaries
Chapter 75 – Could It Be Heaven?[3270 words]
Amon shouted in his mind, “Don’t fall asleep! Don’t close your eyes! The beasts will devour you…! I haven’t been to Memfis. I haven’t seen Icho. I haven’t solved the secret of the gods. I haven’t led my clansmen back home… ”
But he was losing control of his mind and body. Eyes half-open, he could only see a pervading darkness.
A cat came out from the woods and ran to Amon’s side, gently scratching his face and meowing anxiously. However, the prone young man didn’t react at all.
Actually, Amon could still hear the cat. But the sounds seemed to come from far, far away… The darkness was replaced by a cat. He saw Schrodinger, but this was not the cat currently at the bank of the Nile. Rather, it was the cat from his memories – the one which would often sleep beside the door of his house in Duc.
Amon “saw” his childhood. Starting from his earliest memories, the images of good times and bad times flashed before his eyes, one by one. Everyone he loved and hated came before him.
In Ejyptian mythology, a man’s life was like the rolling Nile River. It started from the Divine Abode and ended at the Underworld governed by Osiris. The King of the Underworld would send crescent ships to guide noble souls to their final rest. When Goddess Bastet, Osiris’ attendant, incarnates as a cat and appears at the side of a dead body, the soul of the dead would enter the Underworld.
Were the legends true? Osiris’ rib was right in Amon’s embrace. A cat was restlessly meowing beside him. A crescent ship was approaching from upstream. It seemed so small when it appeared on the horizon, but slowly revealed its colossal body as it drew near. There were two figures on the high forecastle of the ship, one standing, the other sitting.
Maria suddenly asked, “Do you hear something?”
Gabriel answered, “River water flows. Wind whistles through the woods. A cat is yowling on the east bank, off in the distance.”
“Have the ship sail along the east bank!”
Both of them had sharp eyes. They saw Schrodinger and Amon from far away. The latter was lying on the ground, motionless. A strange expression suddenly crept across Maria’s face. It seemed that the scene had triggered some of her old, buried memories. She mumbled, “Gabriel, that cat’s fur pattern… I find it familiar!”
“Familiar? We Ejyptians love cats, and there are many kept around the shrine. Maybe it just looks like one of them?”
Maria explained to her guardian, “Do you remember when I obtained the Gods’ Tear two years ago? That night, I almost stepped on a cat and caused a scene.”
Gabriel remembered. She muttered, “There was indeed a dirty, fat cat. It had somehow slipped into your room to sleep. But this one is different. It’s clean and pretty. They shouldn’t be the same cat.”
Maria sighed, “People change over time, why not cats? But there are always traces of the past. I still remember the pattern of the cat’s fur. They are exactly alike. Please tell the oarsmen to stop the ship at the bank and go see what happened to that man. It’s not common to see a cat caring so much for its owner.”
The old memories flooded her mind. Maria thought about those few days she had spent in Duc, and she was surprised by how well she remembered them. It was like those scenes, voices and smells were imprinted in her mind. She could easily recall everything she had experienced there. Even Schrodinger’s fur pattern was fresh and vivid in her memories.
Due to the ship’s depth, it couldn’t get too close to the shallow riverbank. The ship halted about a dozen yards away. With a single step, Gabriel jumped down from the forecastle, landed tiptoe on the deck, and then sprang high up into the air. In the next moment, her vigorous figure appeared on the bank of the river.
With sword in hand, she walked to Amon’s side. She bent down and asked, “Poor loyal cat, why are you yowling so anxiously? Is this man your master? What has happened to him?”
Even a lion would be frightened by her approaching formidable figure. But Schrodinger didn’t run away. It just sat on the ground and looked up at her. Gabriel was amused by her own ridiculous behavior. How could she expect an answer from a cat? She turned to Amon and examined him with the Detecting Eyes. Then, she stood up and shouted behind her, “My lord, this man is not severely injured on the outside, but his internal injuries are terrible! His vitality is leaving him, and he is extremely debilitated. But he is still alive.”
Before she finished her analysis, a faint, golden ring of light appeared over Amon. A white fog of light issued forth from the ring and fell upon his body, like a fountain of milk under the sun. It was a [Blessing from Isis], the theurgy that could only be performed by the Adoratrice with the help of the Gods’ Tear.
It could heal wounds and illness, ease pain and fatigue, restore vitality, and bolster one’s strength, faith and courage! It was truly a miraculous magic.
Two years ago, in the desert to the south of Duc, Maria had performed it for the first time. At the time, their caravan had been attacked, and Gabriel was lightly wounded in the fight. Maria then performed a Blessing from Isis, exceeding everyone’s expectations. It was the simplest yet most profound magic of the Isis Shrine. Maria possessed very little magic power back then, and so the effects of the Blessing from Isis had been minor and mostly symbolic.
But now, it was totally different. This Blessing from Isis performed by the Adoratrice was a genuine supreme magic, specifically targeted at Amon. Several days ago, Maria had ascended to the sixth level. In only two years, she had transformed from a common girl to a sixth-level mage!
Resplendent fog rained down from the golden ring of light, covering Amon’s body. Maria was already leaving the ship’s deck. Step by step, she gently walked on the surface of the muddy river water, like a goddess descending to the world. It was quite an artful use of air and water magic, even for a sixth-level mage. But assisted by what was perhaps the greatest staff in the mortal world, it was not a surprise that Maria could do this.
The female slaves and maids prostrated themselves on the deck, showing their awe of the divine might of the Adoratrice. Gabriel asked in surprise, “My lord, why have you come ashore by yourself?”
Maria stopped several paces away from Amon and replied,
“I wanted to see how this man is faring. It seems like he just escaped from a fierce fight. I can see that he is exhausted and fatally wounded. He must have gone beyond his limit… But I can save him. However, it’s too dangerous to leave him unconscious in the fields. Take him along with us, and you may ask him what happened after he wakes up.”
Lying on the ground, Amon was feverish and still hallucinating. Memories of his past flashed before his eyes – myriad scenes, people, sounds. The sunlight became golden and comfortable. He felt as if his soul had left his body and was floating among the clouds. The clouds embraced him gently. It reminded him of his mother’s tender caress… This was something from his earliest memories, which he had long forgotten. He also saw Aristotle, Crazy’Ole, his father, Gabriel and Icho. He returned to the villa in Duc, to the room on the first floor, where Icho was standing right beside him.
He was lying on the ground, and Icho was watching him. Her face was a blur, but soon became clearer. It seemed that she had grown up, now possessing a mysterious, sophisticated elegance. They were no longer in the room in Duc, but once again at the bank of the Nile River. Icho was exquisitely dressed, with a splendid staff in her hand and wearing a golden crown. She was looking into Amon’s eyes, and Amon returned her gaze.
Amon had awakened, but he hadn’t realized it yet. He was still in a trance. Contemplating her delicate face, he murmured,
“Icho… Is it you, Icho?… You look so beautiful, as I thought… I see you at last…! Am I dead? But how am I meeting you now? This isn’t the Underworld. Is it another place for the souls of the dead?… Where… where am I? What should I call this place? Could it be Heaven?”
Gabriel frowned, “What is this nonsense? The man is clearly delirious. He must have mistaken you for someone else.”
Maria’s thin arms trembled when she heard the word “Icho”. She hadn’t lost her calm like this even when the Gods’ Tear shone brightly. But Gabriel missed this detail, because she was focusing on the injured young man. Maria had already recognized him. It was Amon, the boy who had served her in Duc. Although he had matured over the past two years, some of his facial characteristics were still faintly recognizable. The cat’s familiar fur pattern removed the last doubt in her mind.
More importantly, he spoke out the name “Icho”. She had thought that nobody in this world would ever again call her by this name!
She still remembered her last night in Duc, when she secretly carved a message into the wall of her bedroom… “Amon: my name is Icho”. But she had eventually lost her nerve and erased it before sunrise. How could he have learned her name? Was it because she had left some traces on the wall? Nevertheless, her puzzlement was quickly replaced by the joy of knowing that Amon was alive.
She had already heard of Duc’s disaster during the flood. It was not long after she was coronated as the Adoratrice. She couldn’t believe it at first. She cried alone on the night she learned that the whole town had been washed away. It was the first and last time she cried after becoming the Adoratrice. To her, it was like a cruel farewell, or perhaps a warning. The divine fate was seemingly burying everything in her past, telling her that the girl Icho existed no more. Now, she should only be the guardian of the glory of the goddess and the Empire.
However, deep in her heart, she still chose to believe that Amon had survived. He shouldn’t just hopelessly die in the flood after he had extracted the Gods’ Tear. If Mother Isis was indeed almighty and benevolent, then she surely wouldn’t allow something like this to happen.
This appeared to be a vague, ridiculous dream, a delusion of a helpless girl living in a cold and hollow shrine. But today, the dream came true! Amon was alive, and she could see him with her own two eyes.
Amon passed out right after murmuring those words. Maria decided not to conceal from Gabriel the fact that she knew Amon’s identity. She calmed down and said quietly, “I know him. And you should know him too. He is Amon, the miner who extracted the Gods’ Tear in Duc. Do you remember?”
Gabriel was startled, “He does look a little like that Amon. No, it’s definitely him! He has matured, but I recognize him now. And this is his cat, although it seems to have gotten sick and lost weight. Thank Isis he is still alive! It must be the divine fate that has arranged this meeting! But what has happened to him?”
Maria turned her face from Amon and sighed, “The old records were right. He extracted the Gods’ Tear which allowed me to become the Adoratrice, and so I met him in his moment of need and saved his life. It’s the divine arrangement. This man is important! We shouldn’t just leave him here. Now that he is no longer at risk of dying, we can bring him with us and ask him questions after he wakes up.”
Amon found himself on a small boat when he next awoke. Schrodinger was sitting beside him. Faint golden light fell on his body amid the sunshine. The sick and dizzy feelings were gone, and the pain in his body had disappeared. He knew that he was being cured by a supreme healing magic. A mage must have decided to save his life at all costs.
Although he was out of danger, Amon was still very weak. He would need to rest for a good while in order to fully recover from this debility. He struggled to sit up and look around. He found that the boat was being propelled automatically. There weren’t any oars or sails. The boat was actually being dragged by an invisible force, following closely behind a splendid ship. A warrior was standing at the stern of the ship. She was a beautiful woman, surrounded by an awe-inspiring and majestic aura.
Amon recognized her, “Lord Gabriel, why are you here? Where am I?”
Gabriel smiled lightly, “You know my name. So it really is you, Amon! I still remember your voice. We found you passed out on the bank of the river. The Adoratrice saved you and told me to bring you with us.”
“The Adoratrice? Oh, so the one I saw was her! She saved me! Lord Gabriel, I came from Cape to visit Memfis. But I was attacked in the mountains…” Amon was sober now, but he simply felt too weak. He struggled to continue talking.
Gabriel’s majestic voice rose again, “Lie down and stop speaking. The Adoratrice is performing magic to heal you. Relax and keep your mind at peace. You can tell your story when I ask you later.”
Amon obeyed her command and rested. He somehow felt a wave of happiness in his heart. The sunshine on the Nile River was gentle, and a soft breeze was blowing. Everything was so peaceful. He totally relaxed, finally letting go of all the worry and fear from the pursuit. He had never imagined that he could meet Icho Maria again in such a way. She healed him and sent her closest guardian to look after him. He couldn’t be more grateful.
A man couldn’t touch the Adoratrice, nor the objects she used in daily life. So Amon wasn’t permitted to board Maria’s ship. Maria hadn’t wanted to place him below deck with the male slaves. Instead, she asked Gabriel to put him in a small boat behind the ship.
Looking at the young man, Gabriel was astonished even now. The Adoratrice had asked her to watch over him until he woke up. This man must mean a lot to Her Majesty.
Sitting on the rear deck, Maria kept performing the theurgy, healing Amon’s wounds from a distance. None of the maids had noticed it. What a great favor Her Majesty was doing for this man! But then again, he seemed to deserve this treatment, since it was he who had extracted the holy gem that was now healing him.
These thoughts flew through Gabriel’s mind. She just watched him silently. She was not only protecting him, but also ensuring that he wouldn’t try to escape. She wouldn’t let him go before finding out what had happened to him.
In the afternoon, the ship docked at a ferry. They were still several miles from Memfis. The Adoratrice chose to take a rest in the nearby town. Amon didn’t need to worry about anything. A coach was sent to carry him to a secluded villa in the town. Several well-dressed slaves were appointed to take care of him.
After dinner, Gabriel came to his villa and sent away the slaves. When they were the only two in the room, Amon kneeled down and greeted,
“Please accept my gratitude, Lord Gabriel, and please convey my gratitude to the Adoratrice! Thank you for saving my life.”
Gabriel waved her hand, “Please get up, Amon. I have something to ask you.”
“The Adoratrice is the guardian of the glory and the mercy of Mother Isis. She brings happiness and hope to all people. It’s not a surprise that she saved you. What surprised us is you, Amon! The Adoratrice asked me to find out what exactly happened to you.”
Amon might have chosen to hide his experience if it had been someone else. But it was Maria who had sent her to ask him. Amon didn’t want to keep everything to himself anymore. He had been hiding too many secrets ever since he left his hometown. It was a great burden to bear, and it weighed on his mind. He felt the need to share his feelings with someone. Although he had only known Maria and Gabriel for a short period of time, he somehow found them trustworthy.
He began telling Gabriel his story. He told her that after they had left the town of Duc, he was punished for paying the Gods’ Tear as tribute to foreigners. He was sent into exile and had to live in the deep mountains. But thanks to that, he also escaped the disaster that destroyed the town. He lived together with a tribe of cavemen for over a year, and happened to discover Nero’s remains in a cave. After that, he left the mountains and traveled to the Kingdom of Bablon. Then, he went to the Empire of Ejypt and stayed in Cape, where he returned Nero’s belongings to the Shrine of Cape and received a rich reward.
He departed from Cape with the reward and headed for Memfis. However, he was followed by two groups of bandits. After a fierce fight, the bandits all died, and he walked along the Nile in hopes of finding a ferry. Unfortunately, he was too severely injured and passed out halfway. — This is why the Adoratrice found him unconscious at the bank of the river.
Too much had happened to him in the past two years. Amon just made a sketch. He omitted anything about Crazy’Ole, Bair and Mourrin. He didn’t want to tell Gabriel that he was a sorcerer, which would only complicate things. And he naturally didn’t dare to speak of Bair and the gods. Amon tried to keep his story coherent when he mentioned what had occurred in Cape.
After telling the story, Amon handed over a cowhide envelope to the supreme warrior and said, “One of the bandit groups was led by Lord Vitru. He’s a priest of the Isis Shrine. I found this on his body. It looked like a secret letter, and I thought it might be very important. Please hand it to the Adoratrice. I know that I can trust you, my lord.”
The letter was originally sealed with magic, but Amon managed to seal it again after opening it. He used a method similar to artifact forging. Even Amon hadn’t expected that his first artifact would be a mere envelope.
Accepting the envelope, Gabriel was still in shock after hearing his story, “You were exiled for giving away the Gods’ Tear… But that also saved you from the flood… I am certain now more than ever that these events were arranged by the divine fate… This letter is sealed with magic. I must hand it to the Adoratrice as it is. Stay here and rest. I will return later and ask you the rest of my questions.”