Translator, Editor and Proofread: theunfetteredsalmon
Within the swamp were patches of soft soil that stuck out above puddles of water. However, it was not soft enough that people could not step on it. Lush vegetation would grow on these patches of land, making them seem like tiny islands. Because the water level had not fallen for a long time, the patches of land acted as the habitat of many creatures.
The post-flood landscape had not yet finalised. It would be further altered by the Black Fire Marsh in the west, the Euphrate river in the east, the Assyrian plateau in the north and the Syria desert in the south. It would take several years before the area would be accessible on foot; even then, it would prove difficult to traverse the terrain.
Amon gently stopped the boat on a high and dry slope protruding from the water. He scared any nearby beasts away with wind magic. Metatro was still quietly sitting alone in the boat so Amon chose not to disturb him and instead carried Schrodinger away to prepare a meal for him.
Amon roasted fresh snake meat, adding all kinds of spices whilst staying with Schrodinger. He didn’t actually know what cats liked to eat. Everything he made was according to the human palate. Regardless, Schrodinger seemed to enjoy the delicacies of human life. He loved wine as much as he did meat. Amon had bought the best wine for Schrodinger when they left Memfis.
Despite Amon’s young age and his lack of experience in drinking, his taste in alcohol was exceptional. Considering the fact that the wine sold in Duc was widely considered the best in other places and that his father was an alcoholic, the price was not an issue and thus he would consistently purchase the best wines. This was perhaps Schrodinger’s biggest satisfaction.
In addition to the roasted meat and delectable wine, Amon also boiled a pot of aromatic beef soup with an array of fruits and vegetables with his magically-prepared beef jerky. This dish was his forte, as Schrodinger can attest. The two ate like kings to make up for the three days of missed meals. At dusk, Metatro finally opened his eyes from meditation to take in a deep breath. “Amon, what is that fragrance? And wine! This will bring nearby monsters!” Metatro walked down the ship.
Amon smiled and said, “Schrodinger is hungry, he needs to eat anyway. How do you feel? Can you fight off monsters should they come?”
“My strength is still exhausted. My meditation on the boat has only helped restore ten percent of my strength. Of course, it would not be a problem dealing with ordinary beasts, but should we be attacked by something powerful again…” Metatro said bitterly. “Dear God Amon, I think I should eat something first as well.”
Schrodinger drank without a cup, instead directly holding the bottle with his mouth. It was said that the scent of wine in the dusk would attract a serpent with the tail of a scorpion.
This monster resembled both a house lizard and a crocodile. Its tail was very long, accounting for almost half of its body length. Its scorpion tail had an arc at the tip. It was about three feet in size. They sprang their heads up above the swamp water but did not dare to approach the camp.
Metatro had been scaring away the creatures for half a day only to find that the creatures were small and unaggressive. He sat down to join Amon and Schrodinger, collected a bowl of soup and sighed. “Amon, you told me the battle of the gods in the ancient times created nine monsters including these scorpion-tailed serpents, but they don’t seem strong enough to have participated in the battle.”
Schrodinger, still holding the wine bottle with both its front paws, glanced at Metatro with disdain. Amon considered his statement for a while and replied, “The scorpions we met in the desert were also fairly weak, but the Scorpion King definitely meets that qualification. I think Humbaba is another one of the nine monsters. It is possible that some of the monsters were killed in the initial battle of the gods. Even Humbaba, who lived to see the current age was slaughtered.”
“I have met Humbaba’s descendant before, in the Euphrate river. The two-headed serpent we encountered is far stronger, occupying the great lake. However, I don’t think all the monsters’ descendants are necessarily hostile except for the nine legendary ones, such as the Scorpion King. I am unsure if the original scorpion-tailed lizard still lives, but I have seen these small ones since I was a child. Like ordinary Ironbacks, they are not very scary.”
Metatro slapped his thigh. “When you mention Ironbacks, I only think of El Mar. Ordinary Ironbacks are not all that scary but El Mar was terrifyingly powerful. After all, he almost killed Lynk and I. El Mar must not be one of the nine monsters created by the gods. He was just a mutated Ironback with far more power and instinct than a regular Ironback. I have a theory, but I am not sure if I am right…”
“You can share your theories,” Amon prompted.
Metatro rubbed the back of his head. “Monsters like Humbaba and Girtublullu may not have been the creation of the gods. I reckon their origin is similar to that of El Mar, that they were merely mutant monsters who received their intelligence and instinct from their mutations, and were simply trained by the gods due to their potential, just as Girtublullu trained the legions of scorpions to fight. Did you not also teach El Mar magic and body arts? El Mar can understand you. Although he cannot practise body arts and magic like humans, he can at least exercise the power of his talent according to how you teach him.”
Amon nodded. “Your theory is sensible, but you forget that El Mar cannot speak nor transform into a humanoid as the Scorpion King could. If one day El Mar could shapeshift, perhaps it may be possible to systematically cultivate his strength in body arts and magic. I remember Girtublullu claiming that human beings have bodies similar to that of the gods, and thus it would be most convenient for us to cultivate this power.”
As Amon finished speaking, Metatro chuckled. Amon glared at him and asked, “You laugh funny, what are you thinking? Why do I have a feeling it isn’t something good?”
Metatro continued chuckling and replied, “I just realised I don’t actually know if El Mar is a male or female. If one day El Mar learns to shapeshift into a human, it will learn to walk without clothes, like the scorpions… If such a day does arrive, will you not become one of the ancient gods that created a legendary monster?”
Amon laughed on Metatro’s amusing thought. “You are right. You’ve made me curious as well. I suppose we shall wait and see. I intend to ask Lynk to teach El Mar to write. It would make practising magic much simpler. When I was at the Temple of Isis, I saw classics on metamorphosis, mostly based on informative theology. It would act as some sort of illusion in the beginning but it becomes fairly real after one becomes adept at metamorphosis. I felt that it was not something for humans to learn, so I suppose we could let El Mar try.”
Metatro asked curiously, “Write? El Mar? It can’t even speak yet!”
“We can still try. After all, El Mar is the ‘King’ of the Ironbacks and understands me fully.” At the same time, Amon glanced over at Schrodinger. This cat can’t speak, yet it writes the language of the gods. El Mar must try too…
Schrodinger was still grasping the wine bottle, taking large gulps occasionally. He ignored the conversation between the two men. Metatro Asked, “Oh, God Amon, you have yet to answer a question I asked a while ago when we were fighting the two-headed serpent. That serpent’s magic power was as powerful as its strength in body arts. Who taught it the cultivation of both paths?”
Amon fell into meditation. After a little while, he spoke, “Perhaps it’s their instinct to awaken the power. El Mar already knew earth magic when we first encountered it. It’s not the priests who taught El Mar magic. They do not have the ability to study the arts systematically so it would be incredibly difficult for them to master them. On the other hand, they are not bound by physical experience and the differentiation between magic and body arts, hence they would see both paths as one.”
Metatro frowned and said, “If this was what happened with El Mar, surely it was the same case for Humbaba and Girtublullu? If El Mar hadn’t met you, it would still be an Ironback living its life quietly in the pool.”
“The Scorpion King and Humbaba may have been taught by gods. After all, they are not human beings, and their path of cultivation would be different. This so-called power of both sides is only a summary, not a name. The gods are the ones who do not want this secret exposed, so we should also be careful.”
Metatro nodded. “I’ve been careful. Princess Sissila is still unaware of this. You should warn Lynk about this. I’ve been thinking about the two-headed serpent; if it hadn’t chased us, it would still be alive now. At least with the Scorpion King, we could be diplomatic.”
Amon sighed and said, “It became self-aware of its intelligence, realising its own power. It had a desire beyond animal instincts and was practically the king of the great lake. This kind of power harms itself.”
“It thought we would be its next meal so it chased us but I assume it hadn’t expected to meet its demise just like that,” Metatro commented.
Amon suddenly remembered something and solemnly continued, “I once told you to avoid killing with your bare hands if you could, and if you were forced to use lethal force that you should always expend the lowest power possible. But sometimes, the strongest force is the smallest force. If in an endless struggle you deliver countless blows, the total force used would be far greater than the final strike. We will encounter more monsters as we move on. If another such battle breaks out again, we may not reach our destination safely. On our next departure, we should avoid conflict as best we can.”
When the day came, the group continued their journey through nearly a hundred miles of nothing but marshes, bushes and grassland. The land had not met another flood in over a year, so it had become a lush jungle. Amon deactivated the invisible boat and chose to walk through weeds and bushes to conserve his magic power.
There were many huge and tall buffaloes on the grassland. Their curved horns protruded forward but they were gentle in temperament. They grazed leisurely in groups. Metatro said, “The horns of these cattle are unique. They could cause devastating damage in a group charge. Would they be the descendants of one of the nine legendary monsters?”
“I’ve seen this kind of cattle in the mountains. They don’t typically attack people, but when disturbed they can prove to be highly dangerous. Let us stay away from them,” Amon answered.
They quietly steered clear of the buffaloes and passed them. Metatro suddenly opened his mouth, raised his hand to point and said, “Amon, what do you think that is?”
In the distance was an ox, except it was much larger than even a bull elephant. Its gargantuan horns were bent like a giant’s bow and its sharp edges shone with cold light. It looked like a moving hill in the grasslands. Birds flocked around the buffalo, but it looked very calm. It looked back at Amon and Metatro, then bowed its head and continued grazing indifferently.
“This must be the legendary wild ox,” Amon whispered.
Metatro spat his tongue out. “He is… huge. Could it be another product of the gods?”
Amon replied calmly, “It doesn’t seem like it. The nine monsters created by the gods have the power to participate in the battle. This ox looks like a descendant, or perhaps a mutant bull. We should go around it. Be careful and don’t step on any cow dung.”
The two continued crossing the grassland until their feet touched soft mud again. The mud was knee-deep and people would typically sink upon stepping on it. However, this mud was not an obstacle to them, and so they left only two shallow lines of footprints and gradually disappeared into the distant horizon.
A night passed and the footprints had not faded. The next noon, two black spots could be visibly seen on the ground. The black dots were growing rapidly. The spots were unexpectedly dashing towards Metatro and Amon, who were now running back in the direction from where they came.
Behind the travelling trio came an ugly hissing noise. Amon and Metatro raised their heads to see a horrible sight; a monster was chasing them. It was a Flying Swamp Serpent. Though this serpent was not as large as Humbaba’s descendants, it was more than sixty feet long and sported a body thick as barrels. It had a scarlet sarcoma about one foot high on the middle of its head that resembled the crown of a rooster.
Furthermore, the serpent had no legs. Instead, it had a pair of film-thin wings of flesh, giving the monster a wingspan that totalled more than thirty feet. Its upper body would stir its wings sharply like a fine blade to soar in the air, chopping grass and shrubs wherever it flew.
As Amon ran, he said to Metatro, “I told you to be careful not to provoke monsters! You must have somehow provoked this big fellow. It is a giant mutant swamp snake with wings! Fortunately for us, it is not the legendary king of flying snakes!”
“I didn’t mean to, I just took a leak in the water. I didn’t expect that to attract such a monster!” Metatro was muttering in shock.
“I let you do your business and this is how you do it?! We’ve run so far back, wasting our day!”
Metatro pleaded bitterly, “God Amon, you refuse to fight but I have yet to recover even twenty percent of my strength, how will I fight? This serpent must be the head of the monsters in the swamp. Now that we’ve brought it back here, we could turn around again without stopping.”
Whilst the two men spoke, they rushed past the grazing bison with the winged serpent hot on their heels. The chaos disturbed the herd of bison, causing them to scatter and run in panic. Many of them ended up blocking the serpent’s path. The hoofs and horns of the cattle are highly lethal to humans, but the winged serpents were unafraid of them. A roll of its wings or tail would toss the cattle far away from itself.
The herd only became more confused and there was a cry of panic in the chaos. In the distance came a trembling roar. The earth beneath the men’s feet seemed to quake. It was the mutant bull who followed the direction of the movement. He already had its head lowered, and was now raising its four feet to charge.
The fleeing Metatro said quietly to Amon, “We should turn and speed up, let the monsters fight each other!”
Amon grabbed Metatro’s arm and suddenly accelerated while exerting his water magic to cover their presence. His body blinked as fast as a glimmer of light, raising smoke clouds. They circled around the herd and ran with the spooked wild buffaloes. The charging giant bull had finally come face-to-face with the Flying Swamp Serpent.
As the men turned, the roars of the bull and the serpent reverberated throughout the grassland. The smoke Amon had caused was very strong, uprooting and tossing nearby shrubs. The two monsters clashed. Metatro, now relatively safe from danger, sighed in relief. “Look at those two. Who do you think will come out on top?”
“This is not the swamp serpent’s territory,” Amon answered. “When two powerful monsters clash, they typically don’t do so for their lives. Typically, one of them would be fighting in retaliation. We’d better take advantage of our opportunity for safety and hurry away.”
So far, they have spent several days in the wilderness, trying to avoid all sorts of danger. They couldn’t just hide and take up arms. Amon refused to let Metatro fight. Whenever they encountered any form of danger, Amon would just use his iron stick to solve the problem. He would also record the status of the terrain and monsters they encountered. On that day, they finally reached the old site where the town of Duc once stood.
When the flood subsided, it was an island in the middle of the surrounding swamps and jungles. The soil was black, fertile and full of weeds. In terms of area size, this isolated island could accommodate more than a few thousand people for farming and living. As the flood eventually recedes, all the miles between all land would finally connect.
Amon, grasping his iron stick, was now standing in an empty space that once served as his hometown. He remained quiet and tearful for a long while. Schrodinger was crouched at Amon’s feet, showing a melancholy look in his eyes.
Amon continued standing at sunset and looked around the wilderness foolishly and silently. It was not until dusk when Metatro asked Amon, “Amon, is this the town of Duc?”
Amon reached out and wiped his eyes. “Yes,” he nodded. “This is Duc. The mountain torrents washed down from the Assyrian plateau and all the people were swept away along with their houses, cattle and sheep. There is nothing left. Only mud slits cover the land that served as Duc’s foundation, and we are standing on top of it.”
Metatro took in the gravity of the situation and whispered, “Don’t be too sad, God Amon. After all, you’re back in your hometown. In the future, it will become a prosperous home again and your wish will come true.”
Silavin: 3 Chapters this week. Here is to your enjoyment.