Trekking through a vast desert alone was going to be a difficult prospect. One could never be too prepared for it. The most pressing problem was water. In a desert, even water magic couldn’t get you enough water. Fortunately, Amon had Osiris’ rib. He stored enough water for the trek from the lake, then sat down and took a rest.
He set out on the journey before sunrise, just like the time he had left Duc, with an iron staff in his hand and a sleeping cat in his bag. But instead of travelling in the rainy, mountainous forests, he was facing a boundless desert this time. His destination was the Empire of Ejypt, a mysterious and faraway country which he had heard much about since his childhood.
Although it was almost winter, the sun was still scorching at noon. The desert sand reflected the intense light in all directions, dazzling Amon’s eyes. Warm, dry wind blew over the ground, trying to take away every tiny drop of water from each traveler who dared challenge this land. Sometimes, a scorpion was exposed by his footsteps, which then hurriedly wormed into the deeper sand. Amon walked evenly with his staff, without taking a rest.
Not that he didn’t want to pause, but there was simply nowhere to hide from the sun and the warm wind. Had there been someone walking beside him, they would have found that the air was surprisingly cool and humid. It was a magic effect. Amon cast this due to the cat in his bag. Schrodinger was weak. He didn’t want it to suffer from the extreme weather.
Amon had been thinking about what he had experienced recently, including what had occurred with Metatro, Princess Sissila’s ambition, Inanna’s plan, what he had been through in the Underworld, etc.. It was a comfort to his sorrowful mind to see that the soul of his father as well as that of Mayor Dusti were no longer held prisoner in the Underworld. Crazy’Ole had once told him that even though the mayor hadn’t meant to benefit him, he should still be grateful for what was offered to him. Finding his son and guiding him back home would be his way of repayment.
Dusti’s soul had told Amon that the Underworld was not where the souls of the dead should be, but was rather a domain created by a certain kind of magic. Amon had crossed seven gates together with Inanna during his visit to the Underworld. Was it the structure of this complex magic domain? Was it what a deity’s realm was like?
Recalling the ruler of that realm, Amon thought it fitted her well. But in his opinion, as a world, it somehow lacked something important. It was not the world that the souls of the dead should end up in, and he hated it. Crazy’Ole had asked him to find the secret of the gods. If one day he could find it and become a god, he would definitely go to destroy the Underworld and create a suitable resting place for the souls of the dead.
Anyway, for now, it was just a wild dream in a fifth-level sorcerer’s head. But even so, who could stop a young man from having his dreams? The Queen of Death certainly wouldn’t expect that the ‘little sorcerer’ would have such grand ambitions scarcely after escaping from her realm. Even if she knew, she would have just regarded it as a joke. She wouldn’t take a mere mortal seriously.
Performing magic while walking in the desert under the scorching sun drained Amon’s magic power continuously. Although, only Amon enjoyed such a habit. After recovering from his magic power exhaustion in Uruk, he started to realize its harm and had been pondering on how to keep outputting magic power over a long period of time while avoiding getting into that kind of situation again.
The sunlight shone at its strongest at noon. Looking at the glittering sand, Amon summoned a cloud of fine spray and froze it into tiny pieces of ice, which bent the sunlight away from him. If only I had a coach with a covered wagon now! Amon couldn’t help thinking of the coach that he had left in Arcade. At that same time, he raised his head and caught sight of a coach driving out from behind a dune about a hundred yards in front of him.
The coach was approaching him at a surprising speed. The driver whipped the horses again and again. Wasn’t he worried about the horses’ condition? The driver saw Amon too. His face lit up at first but soon clouded with disappointment. He shouted at the lone bypasser, “Run! Sandmen!”
Growing up in Duc, Amon had often heard stories of the sandmen from the merchants. The Syah Desert was a region joining Ejypt, Hittite and Bablon. Merchants frequently traveled across this vast desert to trade between these countries. So did the sandmen. They were the worst nightmare of trade caravans.
In the legends, the sandmen were the shadows of the wind. Nobody knew where they were from and when they would appear. Few people could survive their attack. They would always kill everyone in the caravan and rob every valuable thing. It was said that they were the true host of this vast, arid land, ones who punished anyone who invaded their territory. The Empire of Ejypt had once tried to send troops to eliminate them, but ended up finding nothing.
Big caravans would hire advanced warriors as bodyguards for a high price. Small caravans who couldn’t afford a sufficient escort to defend them could only pray to their gods. The driver was a good man. He wanted to call for help at first. But when he saw that Amon was just travelling alone, he instead warned him to hide from the sandmen.
The sandmen were still behind the dune. If Amon could find a place to hide, he might be able to escape from the sandmen. But he just nodded to greet the driver, “Thank you for telling me that. Don’t worry, I’ll stop them.”
It was Amon’s first time meeting with the sandmen. He was quite curious about them. Besides, it wasn’t a bad thing to help people. Why not try to be a hero? Amon waved his staff, and the cloud over his head disappeared silently. He watched the coach shoot past him, and then he heard the sound of hooves behind the dune. Two men and four horses appeared.
The two men were robed in black, heads covered by cloth, each riding a horse. Two riderless horses ran behind them. They ran after the coach, pointing their sickle-swords at it and shouted, “Fat boy! You have no place to go! I’ll… Who’s this brat?”
The two sandmen suddenly noticed Amon. They were greatly surprised that this young man stood still instead of running away from them. But it didn’t bother them too much. Right after one of them had posed the question, they were already about to run past him. The man on the left wielded his khopesh to finish off this bystander For him, killing one more man meant nothing. He didn’t even care to ask anything else.
His khopesh was made of fine iron. Its curved blade could help him cut the enemy’s throat more efficiently. With the help of the running horse, the strength in his attack was incredible huge. A faint light, which extended several inches into the air, arose from the surface of the blade when it neared Amon. It was a martial skill that only a fifth-level warrior could have. The sandmen were as horrific as the legends had described.
But his plan failed. Amon struck his “stick” at the khopesh, but somehow narrowly avoided the blade and snaked along its hilt, striking the man’s arm.
With a shrill scream, the man’s forearm was separated from his body. What was more, there seemed to be an invisible rope at the end of the “stick” which wrapped around the man’s body and threw him away from his horse. The man dropped heavily to the ground. The other man, who had already passed Amon, was shocked by his friend’s sudden defeat and circled around with his horse, rushing back to kill this young man.
Unfortunately, his horse stepped on a patch of quicksand and its forehooves buckled. The man on the horse was thrown forward. He fell to the ground and was then trampled by the horse that lost its balance. He passed out without a sound.
Amon dealt with these two sandmen neatly and quickly, in just a few seconds.
As a fifth-level warrior, he might not be as skillful in martial arts as the sandmen, but he was calm and prepared while his rivals were too careless. He only used one strike of his staff to knock down the first man, and the second man hadn’t noticed the earth magic he cast at all.
Amon recalled his experiences in Lynk’s tribe. These two men were not as frightening as the beasts. In fact, what he didn’t realize was that, young as he was, he seldomly felt frightened or scared anymore. It was mostly something to do with his recent experiences.
For a man who just escaped from the Underworld, the sandmen’s threatening attack was just a piece of cake.
The first sandman struggled to raise his left hand and shouted, “Please pardon me, dear lord! We didn’t know of your mighty power!… Please pardon me! I wasn’t coming for you! Please set me free. I’ll give you my treasure. I have plenty of gold and jewelry.”
“Dear Lord, don’t listen to him! He will just bring more of his men back to kill you! These two men are their leaders. They just killed the rest of the people in my caravan! I’m the last survivor!”
A sweating, panting fat man ran up to him from behind. Looking back, Amon found the coach had stopped not too far away. The horses had fallen to the ground, dead from exhaustion.
The sandman’s eyes brightened when he saw the fat man. He shouted to Amon, “Dear lord! Don’t listen to him! He stole my treasure and ran away. I followed him here to get my treasure back! You can just kill this thief and take all my treasure. I won’t say a word! If you let me go, I will give you even more! Whatever treasure you find on him, I will give you the same! Sebni Abu always keeps his word!”
Amon had heard of this name before. The merchants who did business in Duc had mentioned him several times. Sebni Abu was a terrifying name to the cross-border traders of Ejypt. It was said that he had a troop of forty skeleton warriors that didn’t fear death. He had been assaulting voyagers in the desert for years. Both the state of Syah of Hittite and the state of Cape of Ejypt had sent armies to look for him in the desert but found nothing. The fat man was frightened by this name. He stopped and trembled, “Dear Lord, I can give you much more, please don’t kill me! I have properties in Ejypt. I can give you three times the treasure I have on me now.”
Though he called this young man “Dear Lord”, he had no idea of the identity of this weird person who walked across the desert alone. What if he was also a thug? He might well just rob and kill everyone and leave. The fat man felt he had to raise the ransom too.
Amon didn’t even try to figure out what they were thinking. He turned to the fat man and asked, “You are going to Ejypt by coach. Who are you and what happened to you?”
He spoke in a low yet authoritative voice. The fat man bowed and answered, “My name is Sihathor. I’m from Memfis. I was bringing some goods to the state of Uruk in Bablon. But these muggers attacked my caravan, killed my fellows and chased me all the way here.”
“You do business in Uruk. Do you know Leiskkhut?”
“Of course! Leiskkhut! He has been trading crops with me for a long time! I sold him a great deal of things a couple months ago. May I ask: are you a friend of his?”
“Kind of. I once saved his life.”
Sihathor the fat man immediately “figured out” who this young man was. He must be an advanced warrior. And Leiskkhut had once hired him as his bodyguard. He smiled and walked up to Amon, “It’s great to know that! So you are also a friend of his, which makes us friends too! Would you please protect me on the way to Ejypt? I am sure that you won’t regret doing so!”
Seeing the two starting to become friends, the sandman lost his patience, “Dear Lord, please don’t be fooled by that cunning businessman! They are the last ones to keep a promise… If you kill him now, you can get the treasure right away. If you set me free, I will pay you another large sum of money. You know my name. Sebni Abu always keeps his word!”
Amon didn’t respond to him. He pointed at the horses and told Sihathor, “Bring these horses with you. Choose two for your coach and tie the others behind it. Let’s go to Ejypt. I was on my way there as well. You can come with me if you are heading for Cape.”
The four horses hadn’t fled after the two sandmen fell off of them. Even the one which had just rolled over the sandman managed to stand on its feet. Since the two horses pulling Sihathor’s coach were already dead, they needed at least four to ferry them across the desert in turn.
Sihathor’s servant had just come to them. He quickly took the reins and brought the horses to the coach. He harnessed one of them to the shafts and tied the others behind the coach, untying the waterskins from them in the meantime. Then he reported respectfully, “Master, and Dear Lord, the coach is ready.”
Sebni Abu struggled to sit up and shouted, “You can’t do this to me, dear Lord!”
Amon just picked up the two khopeshes and handed them to Sihathor, “Take them. They may be useful.”
Sihathor trembled. But he still took them carefully and asked, “Would you kill these two robbers?”
Amon shook his head, “I don’t want to kill anyone.”
Sebni Abu was still struggling to sit up, but failed since he had broken his legs. He yelled, “Why are you taking our horses and water, if you don’t want to kill us? We are going to die of thirst in the desert!”
Walking towards the coach, Amon replied slowly, “I won’t kill you by my hand. But it doesn’t mean you deserve to be saved. You didn’t even bother to ask my name when you leveled your swords towards my head, as if I’m a pile of hay. And you ask me now to save you? If you don’t want to die of thirst, here’s my advice: pray to your god and wait for him to save you, or kill yourself so you won’t suffer any more. ”
Sihathor shivered. Amon didn’t have mercy on these people at all. But considering what these bandits had just done to him, his reaction was quite normal. If Amon had failed to beat them down, he would already be a corpse. Amon asked the coachman when he got on the coach, “What is your name?”
The coachman answered, “My name is Aesop. I am Master Sihathor’s slave.”
Amon nodded, “Thank you Aesop. You’ve done a good job. Please drive us to Cape.”
The coachman turned the coach around and went south. Lifting the curtain, Sihathor looked back and muttered, “He’s not going to survive.”
“Oh? How can you be so sure? Somebody might pass by and save his life.”
“Not by the slightest chance. Ever since the flood, the north of the desert has become a giant marsh. The old trade routes are ruined. Nobody travels that way now. I was there only because I was fleeing in such a panic that I failed to pay attention to which direction I was headed.”
“I see. So they indeed don’t have any chance then. That man called himself Sebni Abu. I have heard his name. He has done many evil things in the desert. He deserves it.”
Sihathor suddenly thought of something, “Dear Lord, I just remembered. Sebni Abu, the Lord of Bones. He has been robbing voyagers in the desert for years. Lord Drick of Cape set a high price on his head. You almost missed this opportunity!”
Instead of telling the coachman to go back, Amon only pointed to the khopeshes in Sihathor’s hand, “I’m not interested. If you want to have the reward, go get his head yourself.”
The merchant trembled again, “How dare I go back alone? Anyway, you don’t need to do this. I will certainly give you a satisfying repayment once we return to Cape.” Apparently, he still found it a pity to leave Sebni Abu’s head in the desert. But he also knew that as long as Sebni Abu’s gang was at large, the one who brought his head for the state’s award would be targeted. And he still wanted to do business across the desert.
The coach moved southward. Sihathor finally couldn’t hold back his curiosity anymore, “Dear Lord, please pardon me being inquisitive. Could you tell me your name and where you are from? I just want to know a bit more about my savior.”
“My name is Amon.”
Amon didn’t tell him where he was from. But to Sihathor, this was already enough. To him, Amon must be one of the errant warriors who traveled across the continent and made a living by selling their physical prowess.
[List of Characters]
Sebni Abu: The head of a gang of bandits in the desert.
Sihathor: An Ejyptian merchant.
Aesop: Sihathor’s slave.