Maqi mumbled, “I… I… I couldn’t wait any more. I just wanted to ask you where you found the ores last time?… Amon, we are neighbours, I’ve been watching you ever since you were born, how would I hurt you?… I’m very sorry about tonight. Let’s just forget about it, alright? I’ll def—”
And he stopped. Then, Amon saw the weirdest thing he had ever seen since he was born. The ice that lay on the ground suddenly spread, wrapping and freezing Maqi’s body. Countless cracks appeared all over him. Maqi’s body collapsed as if he was hit by a miner’s hammer, decomposing into a pulp.
The ice dissolved and all that was left was a puddle of red mud. Maqi had disappeared for good.
Amon turned up his head and saw Crazy’Ole, as he expected. What was the magic this great sorcerer had just performed? Freezing? Space cutting? Maqi vanished in the blink of an eye! It was the first time Amon saw a man killed in a way that was more eerie and frightening than he could’ve ever imagined. Amon gasped before asking, “Crazy’Ole! You killed him just like that and asked nothing?”
“He had been following you for ten days, and also had snuck into your home three times during midnight,” said Crazy’Ole emotionlessly. “He was rushing at you waving a huge hammer, what else do you think it could’ve been?”
“He’s been in my home? While I was away?” Amon was shocked.
Crazy’Ole nodded, “Yes. You’ve been calm and cool-headed these days, but not careful enough, although you made progress tonight and exposed him. Never stop observing and evaluating the environment. Now you know how important it is! Hmm, perhaps I am asking too much of you. You’re just a boy after all. Regardless, you did not kill him, which means you pass the first test.”
Amon was confused, “You’re talking about me passing the test of desire’s awakening? Except, you killed him without asking questions. Why? You should’ve at least let him finish his words!” he was still in a state of shock watching the red mud.
“Because, my boy, sometimes it’s just a waste of time! What you’re going to learn is not just magic or body arts. If that was the case, you would have nothing more than some useless power! The beasts are strong enough, would you like to be an ignorant beast?”
“Ignorant? I just wanted to know why he was here and what he wanted to accomplish: capture or kill me. ”
Crazy’Ole pointed at the traces on the ground, “There was no need to wave the hammer like that if he just wanted to catch a boy, not to mention with that strength and speed! It was a killing shot… He certainly did not have any intention to talk to you. Maybe he was afraid that he couldn’t do it if the both of you were to converse, so he went straight for the kill without the least hesitation.”
Amon could not help to shiver, “Are you sure?”
Crazy’Ole sighed, “Maqi lived right next to you. He’s been watching you since you were a baby. But he did not hide his face tonight, and he did not care whether you would recognize him. Which can only mean that he was not expecting you to live through this night.”
Amon lowered his head, “I can’t believe Maqi would do this to me. He’s earned it, but I’m at fault too. Had I not brought the Aquaticore out that day, this wouldn’t have happened.”
“So you figure he was sent by Shog.”
“How could I not after hearing your analysis? He wasn’t even wearing a mask, so he aimed to kill me in the first place. It can only be Shog, since Maqi was his servant. ”
Crazy’Ole came to him and patted his back, “You said you were at fault, but that is your business, it has nothing to do with Maqi. You have done him no wrong. You could’ve chosen to kill him or spare him, but the next time you want to forgive somebody, you have to understand two things first.”
Amon turned up his head and watched Crazy’Ole’s eyes, “What two things?”
“First, you have to clearly understand that everybody involved will bear all possible consequences for each of their choices, whether they like it or not. For example, since Maqi decided to do this tonight, he should bear the possible consequence of being killed, regardless of whether he realised it.”
“Second, if you choose to forgive, you should think through it and bear all possible consequences for your choice as well. You should ask yourself if you are resolving the hatred, or bringing greater harm to yourself or to others… As for Maqi, he was a third-level warrior. He must have noticed that you used magic on him. Even if he could not kill you, he would denounce you. You may have done nothing to him, but he could’ve still wanted you dead.”
Amon lowered his head again, “You don’t need to explain to me in such detail. He didn’t even need to denounce me. You said that he was a third-level warrior. Once I set him free, he could’ve killed me right away.”
Crazy’Ole smiled as if he were mocking himself, “I don’t even remember the number of people I’ve killed. It’s the first time I’ve had to explain all of these things to a child. Amon, you are much calmer than me when witnessing slaughter for the first time. Remember the events that took place tonight. Everyone has their first time, and experience is your biggest wealth.”
Amon looked at the ground with his eyes glazed, “Maqi died for his plot, and for Shog’s excessive desire. Shog is still in the town though, what should we do?”
“Think for yourself! Think as if I were not here, what would you do then?” said Crazy’Ole. He then felt that it might be too hard for a boy, so he threw a glimpse towards the town and continued, “If you are clever, then you should do nothing. Time is precious, don’t waste it for men like him.”
Amon soon understood why Crazy’Ole had told him to “do nothing”. Lord Macrobe had gotten sick again, but this time much more severe than before. He lost a whole lot of weight and became worried all the time. He did not seek further trouble with Amon. On the contrary, he would try his best to avoid Amon when he occasionally showed up in the town, as if he could not face him.
Maqi was an important figure in Duc as well. His disappearance had become the talk of the town. The topic was discussed in every house across the town. His relatives and neighbours were looking for him everywhere, but they found no trace of him. His wife sobbed day and night. His family went to the shrine of Mourrin filled with worries and prayed to their goddess.
It was unknown whether their goddess had heard their prayers, but the priest surely had. It was said that Lord Macrobe gave them a large sum of money as his condolence, which earned him great appreciation from the townies.
Shog was on the edge of bankruptcy after paying Amon’s tax. How would he be so kind as to bring out such a large sum of money? He had been feeling guilty and scared since the day Maqi went missing. He did not know what happened to Maqi. Perhaps he had lost his way in the Charcoal Forest? Or had he been killed? Could he have been captured and confessed all about him? Or had he just failed and run away? Countless possibilities ran through his head. Each of them was torturing him, telling him that everyone would eventually come to know everything he had done.
Shog made up his mind. If Maqi had failed and confessed, he would deny everything. It was Maqi who lost his mind after seeing Amon’s parangons and tried to kill him. After all, there was no evidence of his involvement and Maqi’s words were not enough to nail him down. He would just become a false accuser.
However, nothing happened. Maqi had disappeared into thin air. Instead, Mayor Dusti asked him if he knew something about Maqi’s disappearance. Shog, of course, said that he knew nothing, but he felt that Lord Dusti’s gaze was odd that day, which only worried him more.
Shog really wanted to know what exactly had happened, he was obsessed with it. He sent Maqi to kill Amon, but Amon returned as if nothing had happened. Shog did not dare to ask Amon, in case the latter might find out his secret. He could not figure out how things had come to this. Fear engulfed him.
At last, Shog could not withstand the torture any more. He requested Lord Mayor to excuse him for leave and went to the city to see the doctor so he could escape from Duc temporarily.
What had Amon been doing these days? He had no time to deal with Shog. Crazy’Ole taught him a lot of things, or rather say, poured a lot of things into his head. He explained almost all first-level magic to him. Amon could not practice all of them in such a short time, nor did Crazy’Ole want him to. He just told Amon to remember them.
Even the greatest sorcerer could not master all magic perfectly. But a sorcerer should have proper knowledge of them so that he would know how to counter against them. On the other hand, Crazy’Ole did not know what Amon would be good at in the future. It seemed that he had no time to observe it patiently, so he just laid a foundation for Amon. No shrines in this continent would teach a new mage the way he had been doing.
Amon tried all he could to remember the complicated instructions and information. He had to keep himself in the most concentrated state to keep them in his mind, which happened to be harder than mining all day. Compared to this, it was much easier to learn the body arts. Crazy’Ole taught him about magic and asked him to practice body arts only.
The first-level body arts was about explosive strength, which Amon could already accomplish. Crazy’Ole asked him to apply it to all kinds of circumstances until he could control the proper amount of force. It was contained in the technique of Duc, but the initial purpose of training his explosive strength was to build a stronger body. Most of the skills about exploding extra force were used in combat, and they were called martial arts.
Crazy’Ole was not adept at fighting skills, so he asked Amon to use the stick to explore himself. As a supreme sorcerer, he had not needed to fight people with a sword or his fists. In fact, most mages thought that it was against their dignity to fight like barbarians.
Most of the important experience of physical combat could only be learned through real fights, which Crazy’Ole could not teach Amon too much about. So what Amon had been training himself every day was mostly his strength, accuracy, dexterity and teachendurance.
Amon was experiencing mental fatigue. Had he not practised the magic a lot in the former period, he could hardly have kept the instructions in mind. Fortunately, he had been making progress physically. His body became stronger and he felt comfortable about the training. However, right after Shog left town, Amon fell “ill” suddenly.
Amon had no idea of illness since he had never been ill. This sudden illness was strange. He felt hot and cold, similar to the feeling he had when he first began bathing in the cold spring. Two years ago, he fell and broke his leg. One year ago, he sprained his shoulder and back. These wounds had healed long ago, but these days Amon felt their pain and it was unbearable.
He did not show any signs in his daily life so as not to scare his father, but in fact, he was suffering a lot. He could hardly control the stick when he practised body arts. Crazy’Ole cast curing magic on him. However, the curing magic from an eighth-level sorcerer could only stop the pain temporarily. It was not able to root out the illness. The ache would always return shortly after relief.
Amon did not understand what had happened to him. He was not afraid, but he was a little bit anxious. Crazy’Ole, on the contrary, appeared to be quite happy. He noticed Amon’s worry and one day spoke to Amon, smiling, “My child, you must be suffering these days, aren’t you? As a matter of fact, I have to thank you. Your recent performance has proven a theory that I have developed for years. You did not disappoint me and reached your next test very quickly.”
“What theory? And what test? I remember you said that the first test a mage would face is ‘desire’s awakening’. To achieve the top of primary magic, the coming test is ‘faith’s confirmation’, but I don’t feel anything wrong about faith or something.”
“Not just the tests for the mages.” Crazy’Ole shook his head, “You have awakened the power of two sides, so the tests you will be facing is from both sides as well. I call this test ‘body purification’, it should be a test for warriors, but has been neglected almost entirely. No instructions on the body arts have ever mentioned it specifically. Before I tell you what it is, please listen to a piece of my experience. I arrived at this conclusion after countless casualties.”