Dusti found it somewhat humorous. He could tell that Amon was seeking trouble with Shog. This boy is audacious. Amon did have reason to seek revenge. Shog had almost cut his finger last time when Amon had done nothing to offend him. But Dusti still didn’t expect that the boy would take action.
Amon claimed that he found natural ores in the stream. It certainly wasn’t impossible, just rare. Even if someone found ores that way, they would just open them at home and tell nobody. No one would know if they earned extra parangons.
In effect, what Amon was doing was forcing Shog to pay the tax for him, which was his promise as part of his apology.
Shog’s face twisted but he had to restrain himself with all the people around, so he asked, “Amon, my lucky and honest boy, can you let me have a look at your parangons?”
He thought that Amon had at most one or two ores. When Amon took out a wrapped sheepskin sheet and unfolded it, the crowd burst out in low exclamations. Shog felt his sight go dark and promptly passed out. Fortunately, his servants caught his fall in time to prevent his head from bouncing off the steps.
Twenty transparent standard parangons lay at the centre of the sheet. In the middle of them was a lustrous blue parangon, glistening as if there was water flowing inside.
The crowd was shocked speechless. Silence reigned until the mayor, the first to recover, gasped, “Amon, you… you… you just picked them up?”
Amon nodded calmly, “Yes. I think the mountain torrents flushed through and opened a vein, so a pile of ores was brought to a stream, and I found them by luck.”
Dusti felt his throat go dry. He swallowed hard, looked around and said in a low voice, “Actually, you can… you don’t have to… you won’t…”
He could not complete his sentence but it was easy to understand. Amon could have kept the parangons to himself and told nobody. He did not have to confront Shog and force him to fulfil his promise. It did no good for him because Shog was surely going to retaliate, and Amon would be in trouble since Shog was much more powerful than he was.
Someone reminded, “Lord Macrobe passed out. What do we do?”
Amon continued, “Lord Dusti, I want to pay my tax. You won’t let me violate the laws, will you?”
Dusti sighed, “Wake Lord Macrobe up. We know that the tax of Amon’s family this year is going to be paid by him!”
The crowd did not understand why Shog passed out, but Dusti did. If there had been just twenty parangons, he would not have made such a scene because he just needed to pay eighteen parangons for Amon. It was a sum that caused a great deal of heartache, but nothing too extravagant. But the blue one changed everything. The townees did not know of its value. According to tax law, it was worth two hundred standard parangons.
So Shog had to pay one hundred and ninety-eight parangons total as the tax for Amon. Since one parangon was worth twenty gold parans, it meant Shog needed to pay close to four thousand gold parans. It was a sum that could buy a luxury manor with a herd of servants, cows and sheep.
Shog felt someone rubbing his chest. He woke up and managed to stand with his servants’ help. He asked in a trembling voice, “Amon, do you really need to pay your tax?” He stared at Amon so hard his eyes looked like they were going to burst into flames. If he could set fire to things with his eyes, Amon would be a pile of ashes now.
Amon maintained eye contact and stared back provocatively. He replied clearly, ”Yes, I do. Or are you, my lord, suggesting me to practice tax evasion?”
Shog was cornered. He had no choice but to pay the tax for Amon. He avoided Amon’s gaze and spoke to Dusti in a begging voice, “Lord Mayor, I now receive and register these twenty-one parangons as Amon’s income and to pay its tax.”
He thought that only Dusti could read between the lines. This was a wordplay. A blue parangon was also a parangon, so registering twenty-one parangons seemed to be alright. But there was a little secret in this wordplay, which was also Dusti’s and Shog’s most important source of income. They used to be delirious when there were special parangons extracted in the town.
The Ducians did not know the true value of the special parangons. Once extracted, they would be collected as tax. No special parangon would appear in the trade as currency, so the townees only knew that they are very rare — not even one in a hundred. Lord Dusti would happily give a standard parangon as an extra reward to the miner who extracted a special parangon.
The rest was an underhanded deal between the Mayor and the clerk. A special parangon was worth two hundred standard parangons, and the one who found it should get twenty standard parangons, but in fact, he only received one as the extra reward. The other nineteen parangons went into Dusti and Shog’s pockets. This was not even the most profitable way. If Shog carefully crafted his words, with the Lord Mayor’s permission to register it as a mere standard parangon, then this special parangon could bring them at least an extra one hundred and ninety-eight parangons!
But today the situation went opposite his expectations. The more valuable that blue parangon was, the more Shog had to pay for Amon. Shog was suggesting Mayor Dusti do the trick again and register it as a mere standard parangon. He even tipped him the wink that once they got Aquaticore from Amon, they could make a fortune with it.
Mayor Dusti hesitated too. He coughed. But before he could say anything, Amon cried, “Sorry, my dear priest, please don’t forget that I can read too! Please register according to the facts! Twenty standard parangons and a blue parangon. I can read it.”
Shog shook as if he had been hammered, then fell on his servant’s shoulder. He did not dare to look at Amon, so he turned to Dusti. Dusti’s face got longer. He spoke to Amon in a deep voice, “Leave the procedures to us, my boy. Don’t worry. We won’t let you pay any tax. By the way, your Aq— blue parangon, can you hand it to me? We will give you an extra reward.”
Amon objected, “If the tax was paid, I should keep all I get, shouldn’t I?”
Dusti felt his throat go dry again. He said quickly, “Special parangons are to be confiscated. You’ll get your reward. You won’t lose anything—”
He could not finish his phrase. Amon felt a hand on his shoulder and he heard Crazy’Ole’s voice rise unhurriedly, “Lord Mayor, I often see injustices these days. Some people seize the things that don’t belong to them so many times, that they begin to take it for granted, and forget that they actually don’t own those things. One day when they fail to seize those things, they’ll feel angry and think that the true owners don’t deserve their own property. What kind of men are they, my lord?”
Amon watched Shog begging Dusti like a dog. The embers of fury in his head suddenly turned into a firestorm. He almost lost his cool. The idea had spun through his thoughts like wildfire, making him shake uncontrollably. Crazy’Ole had shown up at the right time. He held onto Amon’s shoulder and pinned him down from the rage.
Mayor Dusti stopped, but Crazy’Ole went on, “They are truly demons. Desire is not a sin. It drives people to create and to pursue a better life… But I have a story to tell: There used to be a man who stole a coin from me every day. Nobody punished him. Then one day I kindly told him that it was not good, and he hated and cursed me. He asked me to encourage him to continue stealing from me and praise him for it, otherwise, it would be my fault. He had completely forgotten that he had already obtained so much from me… Please tell me, who was at fault?”
Being stared at by Crazy’Ole, cold sweat bedewed Dusti’s forehead. He stepped back and turned to Shog, “My clerk. Amon’s request is normal and legitimate. Register his income and let him see: twenty standard parangons and one blue parangon, tax paid by Shog Macrobe.”
As Dusti finished his last word, Shog’s eyes rolled back as he shook, spitting out a mouthful of blood and passing out in his servant’s arms. His servants brought him to the shrine in a flurry. Most people did not understand what had happened. To them, Lord Macrobe had suddenly fallen sick.
Crazy’Ole watched Shog being carried into the shrine. Then he said to Dusti, “The clerk is ill and cannot work. Please register it yourself, my lord.”
Dusti wiped off the sweat on his forehead and nodded, “Alright, I’ll register it. Just bring the boy away!”
Amon was struggling to restrain his rage. But seeing Shog spit blood and pass out calmed him as it probably hurt more than a punch would have. He felt that the dear priest was now like a worm. Crazy’Ole’s hand tightened on his shoulder, and he felt himself turning around and leaving with Crazy’Ole.
“Oh my boy, I know Shog deserved it, but you are causing suffering for no one except yourself. Do you now better understand the power of the two sides? Learn to face it, just like you learned how to use your arms……What you did today was dangerous. You are possessed by your desire. If you cannot learn to face it in this test, I will not be seeing your success any time in the future but rather your cold body,” said Nietzsche, finishing his goblet of wine in his home. He did not bring a goblet for Amon.
“Are you saying that Shog is going to retaliate?”
“What else would he do? You know it! He’s going to kill you… Don’t you know the value of an Aquaticore?”
“No, I don’t. You didn’t tell me. But I think it‘s worth something, isn’t it?”
“People in our town don’t have the same concept of money as outsiders. Let me tell you. An Aquaticore is worth two hundred parangons, or four thousand gold parans. And it is not something you can buy whenever you want. Such a great fortune can cause carnage at any time. A child like you would be stripped to the bone. Now that I’m with you, you are still safe in the town, but what are you going to do with it when you are alone? ”
“Seems that you knew what I was going to do but you didn’t stop me.”
“I can’t stop you every time. You have to face the desire yourself. From now on, you should try to find a way to deal with it, live with it, maybe even enjoy it. But never let it influence your mind and body. Regardless, it was satisfying to watch you punish Shog. He deserved it. Just beware of yourself from now on.”
“I think I understand now,” nodded Amon.
“Great, ” Crazy’Ole stood up. “Now you can learn the basic first-level magic. There are many kinds of magic: element control, spiritual magic, theurgy, spatial magic, message magic, and so on. It is hard for a sorcerer to master all kinds of magic. Most of them focus on the ones they are good at. I don’t know what suits you the best. But now that we have the Aquaticore, let’s start with water magic.”
The magic was mysterious and abstruse in Amon’s imagination, but Crazy’Ole told him that the criteria of a first-level mage were quite clear: to cover the ground with ice!
Summoning the water in the atmosphere and freezing it to ice on the ground somewhere near the caster. That was what Amon was going to do. He did not know that it already contained three water magic. Although they were all first-level magic, it was not simple at all to combine them naturally and cast with ease.
Crazy’Ole did not tell Amon what this meant to an apprentice who had just begun to learn magic. He just told him that it was the very beginning.
Freezing water was quite easy. Amon succeeded in his first try after Crazy’Ole taught him. Summoning water to form ice on the ground was harder, but Amon managed to do it with a few days’ practice. Crazy’Ole smiled and told him, “You can exercise it over and over again. But try not to use the Aquaticore when you cast.”
Amon found it ten times harder to cast the same magic if he stopped using the Aquaticore as a medium. By tradition, Crazy’Ole should have given him a staff, but the old man seemed to have forgotten it. He was asking Amon to cast the magic on his own, without the help of any medium.
Amon could not do it. In fact, many primary mages, even most third-level mages, failed to do so. There should at least be a staff inlaid with a standard parangon! But Amon knew perfectly the principle and the skills needed to do it. The technique was not a problem for him. He just didn’t have enough power. Frustration? Doubts? There was nothing to do but practice!
Then Crazy’Ole started to explain to Amon the characteristics of the Aquaticore and how to use it. The Aquaticore could not only help to awaken the power but also greatly facilitate casting any water magic. If Crazy’Ole had asked Amon to cast magic all by his own from the very beginning, he would definitely have failed. The Aquaticore was a cheat.
However, cheating can serve two purposes: first, to thoroughly master a magic and fully understand its principle and key points, and second, to surpass one’s limit in a life-and-death fight. Once you’ve learned how to cast magic, cheating while practising it would not strengthen your own power but create dependence and self-satisfaction.
So Amon did as Crazy’Ole demanded. He still could not pave the ground with ice without the help of the Aquaticore. But he was not anxious. He tried with the Aquaticore once in a while to see how much his power had grown. He was satisfied to see that the iced surface enlarged each time forming quicker and quicker.
Crazy’Ole knew perfectly well that it was extremely hard now for Amon to pave ice on the ground stealthily all by his own. It would astound him if Amon did it easily. Even geniuses had their limits! Apart from this, Crazy’Ole did not teach Amon anything. He did not even teach Amon body arts.
One day, Amon spent a whole afternoon building an imperceptibly thin layer of ice in front of the door of Crazy’Ole’s house. He was planning to catch Crazy’Ole by surprise when he slipped over it. But the ice disappeared strangely when Crazy’Ole came home while Amon behind the door slipped and fell on his back.
Crazy’Ole told Amon, “You are a first-level mage now, my boy. It’s an enviable feat. But I only hope there is enough time for you… The disaster is coming soon. You need to have the power to protect yourself and the know-how to do it.”
“What disaster?” asked Amon curiously.
Crazy’Ole did not want to continue on this topic, so he replied with a question, “Do you still go to the cold spring to practice your magic?”
“Yes. It’s a habit now.”
The cold spring was no longer as cold as it used to be. It was now a normal fresh spring. But Amon was used to calling it the cold spring, as well as bathing and practising magic there. It was deep in the Charcoal Forest, peaceful and familiar for Amon.
Crazy’Ole did not comment on his choice. He nodded and said, “Good. Do what you like.”
Amon did not understand the coming disaster Crazy’Ole was talking about, but he did experience a disastrous incident that night.