Hardedef set up a banquet at his residence and earnestly invited Amon to come, claiming that he learnt how to cook recently and wanted Amon to taste his cooking. Unable to believe it, Amon accepted the invitation. At the dining area, there were only the three of them. Metatro sat beside Amon and constantly filled Amon’s cup with wine.
Hardedef sent all his servants away, poured a glass of wine for Amon, and went into the kitchen. He was busy with something for a long time, presumably cooking. After Amon finished a bottle of wine, Hardedef finally returned with a fine silver plate containing three nicely grilled fish. He put this dish in front of Amon and said respectfully, “Supreme General, please taste my cooking.”
Amon put down the cup in hand, stopped smiling and looked silently at Hardedef, his eyes full of authority. Seeing that Amon did not eat, Hardedef smiled and said: “Is the Supreme General worried that it tastes bad? I caught this fish from the Nile River with my own hands. I tasted it just now, it tastes quite good!” Next, he took a knife, sliced a large piece of fish and ate it, including the bones after chewing them into pieces.
This time, Amon stood up and said coldly: “Hardedef, what is it exactly that you need of me?”
The Ejyptians do not eat fish or catch fish from the Nile River because it has been said that the fish in the river contains the flesh of Osiris in their bodies. By inviting Amon to dinner and offering him fish, it could be considered a blasphemy to the Ejyptian gods. However, it did not seem like he was trying to get Amon into trouble since he ate the fish first.
The atmosphere became very awkward and Metatro quickly stood up to explain. “God Amon, Hardedef has discovered that Moses and his followers are practising the power of the two sides, but he did not mention this to anyone else. He understands that Lynk and I are your disciples and he wishes to become a disciple as well and receive your teachings about this power. Back in Mount Horeb, you have already taught Hardedef the technique of Duc, enabling him to control the restless power with him. This means that he is already your disciple. Why don’t you just accept him formally?”
Amon ignored Metatro and continued staring at Hardedef while asking: “So you planned all these, that’s really not simple of you. To think that the commander who used to be full of anger can now be so meticulous, it makes me happy for you. I just want to ask you, if I reject your request, will you threaten me with my secret or hold a grudge against me?”
Hardedef left his seat and kneeled down in front of Amon. “Supreme General, I would never dare to do that, nor would I want to do that. By making this request personally, I am handing over my life to you. I owe everything I have today to you, and even if you reject me, I will still be grateful to you forever!”
Although Amon lost his power, his ability to detect emotions became even more sensitive and accurate than ever. Amon could sense that Hardedef had answered honestly and sincerely without a shred of pretense. After a moment of thinking, Amon sat down and proceeded to eat a piece of fish. After eating, he drank a cup of wine. Then he slowly spoke: “How do you explain this plate of fish? If it’s merely for the sake of expressing your loyalty, it seems unnecessary, and I don’t appreciate it either.”
Hardedef raised his head while still kneeling and said: “Ever since I was born, everyone told me to believe in the gods as well as which gods to believe in. However, I have never obtained true guidance from these gods. Back then, I prayed countless times to the goddess of the moon to try to calm down the restless power within me, but it did nothing.
It was only until you came to Mount Horeb that I was finally able to experience true peace and clarity of mind. You told me that I needed to have an unwavering faith, religion or otherwise. It was only when I could see clearly what I truly pursued in my heart that I could then know what I needed to overcome. Later, I finally managed to do it and advanced to a supreme warrior. This is an achievement that countless people dreamed of but could not achieve.”
Amon’s expression softened and found it a little funny since the goddess of the moon which Hardedef mentioned was Bastet. With a serious tone, Amon said: “I can tell that your original wish has been realised. Now, you wish to ask for more from me?”
Hardedef shook his head. “No, that is not my intention! Today, the purpose of this plate of fish was to show you the true beliefs in my heart. Just now, Metatro addressed you as God Amon. I think of you in the same way, and unlike the other gods, you are right here in front of me!”
Amon asked again: “Hardedef, what is your view of the gods?”
Hardedef closed his eyes and placed his hand on his chest before replying: “I have no intention of disrespecting any deity, but whoever can guide me to face the agitation in my heart so that I won’t lose myself and to obtain true power as well as true peace of the soul, that is a god! It does not matter whether he is one of the gods worshipped in a shrine or one sitting right in front of me eating the fish I offered.”
Amon finally smiled and waved his hand. “Get up, let’s finish our meal properly. Next time, don’t start this kind of nonsense with Metatro again.”
Hardedef refused to get up and remained kneeling. “God Amon, you have not given me clear guidance.”
Metatro went over and gave him a playful slap. “Just when I thought you became pretty smart, why did you become so dumb again? If God Amon tells you to get up, then get up.” Hardedef finally realised the meaning of Amon’s words and bowed joyfully before getting up.
Several days later, in front of Bastet’s shrine, Amon formally taught Hardedef the power of two sides. As he had lost his power, Amon did not use his staff.
Although Amon had taught him the method of meditation at Mount Horeb, he did not mention anything about the tests at each step regarding the power of two sides, so this time he explained the path clearly for Hardedef.
Amon didn’t use any magic. He simply let Hardedef pray in the moonlight. Using the faith in his heart as a guide, he opened the path to godhood. This was different from any awakening ritual performed at a shrine. It appeared to be just a few minutes in the moonlight, but the real process was in the years that had passed.
Amon instructed Hardedef to forget that he was a supreme warrior and to start on this path from the basics. Practising the simplest magic arts, revising the most basic body arts, and facing the tests that came at each step.
Hardedef left. But Amon still stood in the moonlight and looked towards the sky. Stretching out his hand, he seemed to be caressing the radiance surrounding him. Feeling emotional for some reason, he started singing a poem, and it was the one in the text regarding goddess Bastet.
It was hard to imagine that Amon could sing poetry, even for himself, but as of this moment, he was doing it so naturally. It was as if he was trying to console the goddess of the moon. After he finished singing, Amon suddenly turned around and spotted Schrodinger sitting at the entrance of the shrine.
The cat had a pitiful expression and its eyes were tearful. Amon walked towards the cat and asked: “This is the first time I see tears in your eyes. Did my singing remind you of your sad past?”
Schrodinger turned its head around and a voice appeared in Amon’s mind. “You are wrong, that is just the reflection of moonlight in my eyes. I’m just wondering, when did you learn to sing poetry?”
“I asked you several times after I read the book, but you didn’t explain. You want me to help you to set you free, but in order to do that, I need to know what exactly has happened. Also, how do you explain the legend story?”
“I want you to read the text, because I want you to know about the stories circulating among the people. When you are able to understand what happened you will naturally know it, words are insufficient to describe it properly. The path to godhood which you taught Hardedef just now, you call it the power of the two sides. You need to truly possess that power before you are able to help me. I have already waited for so many years, so I don’t mind waiting even longer.”
Amon asked again: “But I don’t want you to wait too long. Are there any hints that you can give me? If this is a test, how do I pass the test?”
Schrodinger lowered its head and replied: “Now that you have reached this point, even the gods cannot allow you to restore strength directly. The test you face is not a test of restoring strength, but a test of finding your true self. It is only when you are able to let go of everything that you can regain all that you have lost. I know exactly how to pass this test, but even if I tell you, it doesn’t mean that you will be able to pass the test. Otherwise, everyone in the world will be gods.”
Amon was silent for a long time as he pondered over Schrodinger’s words. Finally, he sighed. “Understanding what needs to be done and actually doing it are two very different things. Witnessing the existence of gods and understanding the secret of becoming a god does not mean that he becomes a god. Even if one denies all that has been achieved in this world, ignores all knowledge and wisdom, he will not thus become superior and go beyond them. However, I still want to know: it is said that the goddess Bastet turned into a cat under the judgement of fate. Her power was sealed by Osiris, losing her might. What is that all about?”
Schrodinger curled up its body and started shivering, as if it was feeling cold. Amon picked up the cat and placed it on his lap. “What’s wrong, are you feeling cold, or did I ask the wrong question?”
Schrodinger replied: “You saw with your own eyes how Enkidu perished. That was the interrogation from fate, the final judgement. I also experienced it and my body was destroyed, but my soul did not dissipate. I was originally a cat, so when I had the opportunity to choose, I became a cat once again. It was Osiris who guided me to recovery, but before I could understand what was happening, he sealed my power by making me make a choice.”
Amon looked at Schrodinger for a long time and frowned. “I don’t understand.”
Schrodinger sighed. “When you can understand, you will naturally understand without needing me to explain it. When you free me from the seal, you will also help yourself, so that you can do better when you face the test of the ninth level. However, it’s still too early to say these for now.”
Amon suddenly thought of something and asked: “Have you ever experienced the test of losing your power?”
Schrödinger replied: “Of course, if I have not experienced this test, how can I be sealed in the body of a cat for so many years and still remain sober and calm? The one who can guide you through this test may not be me, there could be someone else who could provide you with a greater hint or revelation regarding the test, and that person will not necessarily be a god. But in the end, it all depends on you. When you are no longer confused about your power, everything will become clear.”
Spring came and went, and seeds sprouted on the newly cultivated lands. Then the long and hot summer neared its end and the wheat in the farmlands became ripe for harvesting, the Ducians’ first harvest. It was finally time for the Hapisidis. Amon ordered Lynk to stay behind to look after his territory. Then he divided his personal guards into three teams. One team stayed in the territory while the other two would follow him to Memphis. Hardedef and Metatro also went along.
Even after such a long time, Amon did not regain his power. Although he began to understand what Schrodinger told him. In fact, Crazy’Ole had left behind similar words in his last message. But understanding did not mean that he passed the test. Nevertheless, with two teams of guards as well as Metatro and Hardedef, it should be sufficient to ensure his safety.
In this period of time, Amon continued his training in body arts every day. As he could not use his power, he simply practised martial techniques and basic meditation. Without having to think about how to use the magic power, he became even more focused.
Sometimes he could even feel that his magic power was growing, but he couldn’t use it. It was like a man trapped in a desert constantly digs up all sorts of treasure like gold and jewelry, but cannot spend any of it. If he ever made it out of the desert, he would possess an amazing amount of wealth. That was the kind of belief that Amon held when he practiced. He did not know when his power would return but he intended to continue his progress in the meantime. When the moment came, he would have far greater power than he ever had.
Amon set off for Memphis in advance and arrived several days before the festival. Obviously, the first thing he did was to meet the Adoratrice, whom he had not seen in more than half a year.
The meeting place was still the spacious private study belonging to the Adoratrice. First, he greeted her according to etiquette. Then they talked about past events and the preparation work for the oncoming ceremony. The Adoratrice also kindly asked Amon about his life in his newly received territory, and all words exchanged between them were polite and cordial.
Amon wanted to find an opportunity to talk to Maria alone, but before he said anything, Maria waved her hands to the surroundings and said: “I have several questions to ask the Supreme General in private, the rest of you are dismissed.” Gabriel was used to such a situation by now, and after the servants had left, she walked out of the room, closed the door and stood guard at the door.
Amon and Maria were left alone in the room, but the two of them did not say anything for a long time and simply looked at each other silently. This period of silent gazing was a precious time for the two of them.
Unfortunately, Maria had limited time to spare, so they could not continue staring at each other forever. In the end, Maria sighed softly and said: “Amon, the achievements you have made astounds me. I already knew that you would do very well, but you still managed to surpass my expectations!”
Amon also sighed. “I remember when I returned to Memphis with the army, you were the only one who did not come to congratulate me. You only sent someone to express encouragement and blessings. For everything I have achieved, the one I should thank the most is you, Maria! It is only possible because of your guidance and help.” She addressed him directly as Amon, and he also addressed her directly as Maria.
Maria looked at him, her eyes seemingly filled with the light of Isis’s blessing, and said slowly: “I did not come to congratulate you because I know that that is not what you want. Even though you achieved great fame and reputation here, it is not what you came here for in the first place. Regardless of whether you gained or lost these achievements, you won’t be moved. You want to save your clansmen and bring them back to their homeland, but you have yet to succeed. In my eyes, you are the one who needs most consolation.”
When she spoke, her small lips opened slightly as she breathed, looking so beautiful and so tempting. For an instant, Amon even avoided her eyes and lowered his head to look at his hands, but then he raised his eyes again and said: “I am unable to hide anything from you.”
Maria asked again: “You could have fulfilled your wish today, why haven’t you done that?”
This time Amon truly lowered his head and replied with a whisper: “You are well aware of my situation. Although I have all those fame and reputation, I was not allowed to leave my territory as I wish. I can come to see you today because I used the excuse of participating in the ceremony. Most importantly, I lost my power. I do not know how to find it back, needless to say when. I am not sure if I can succeed if I leave now. I always try my best to make sure that everything is fine in my plans, but now I can’t.”
This was Amon’s biggest secret. He did not even mention it to Idu or his disciples such as Metatro and Lynk, but in front of Maria’s eyes, he said it with no hesitation. Maria was slightly surprised. “You covered it up so well that I didn’t even realise it! Thank you for trusting me so much.”
Armon crossed his hands and smiled bitterly: “If even you cannot be trusted, who else can I trust?”
Maria looked at him with a firmness in her eyes. “You are wrong about one thing! You have considered this matter well enough. Even the gods cannot be sure of everything. You have done your best, there is no way to do better than this. This is not like you at all, otherwise back then you wouldn’t have captured King Lucier and taken the enemy by surprise. Now, I’m going to ask you a few questions. Please answer me with honesty. Because it will also be the answer to yourself.
Amon said: “I will. Please ask.”
“You used to be a hopeless traveller, dying at the bank of the Nile. Later on, you became a great and famous general of a great Empire. When you were on the battlefield, were you still the hopeless traveller at the bank of the Nile? After you returned to Ejypt with a great victory, you handed over your military authority and was confined to your territory. In your territory, were you still the great general at the battlefield? At this moment you are sitting in front of me with your head lowered, are you still the boy I saw in Duc? If you are not, then who are you? If you are, then who is Amon?”
After some long silence, Amon raised his head and met her eyes once again. “I understand now.”
“Do you really understand?”
Amon nodded. “Yes, I do. Thank you, Icho! I’ve been a fooled prisoner. You set me free.”