The priest answered, “I can only read the message. I’m not able to erase it. Only a supreme mage can do that. But Master Urhiya will be arriving in Cape tomorrow. You can ask him.”
Rod Drick nodded, “Our revered supreme mage, Lord Nero, revealed some of his personal feelings and opinions which should have been restricted to academic circles. But he was undoubtedly loyal to his God and the Empire and even sacrificed his life for his faith. Everyone in this room should understand that the contents of the message must be kept secret. Anyone who spreads it will be regarded as a traitor to the sepat and to the Empire!”
The people in the room nodded in silence. They all agreed that some of the words in the message shouldn’t be heard by ordinary people. Especially —
“… the deities aren’t the only ones who have wills. I’m surprised at Bair’s power and courage. I am still wondering where it comes from. I tried to persuade him to go back into the embrace of the Shrine when he went by the city of Cape. But I failed. Bair told me that mortals can also become deities, the gods lie to everybody, we were all fooled.”
“Horus, my almighty god! I admit that I cannot hide my curiosity. I told Bair ‘please don’t seduce me’. I have already refused the devil’s temptation. But is the desire for immortality really the devil in our heart? I wish I could have the answer, even if the cost would be instant death. Is it this temptation that has led to Bair’s self-destruction?”
“I want to see Bair confirm this, so I let him and Troni leave Ejypt through Cape. Although I couldn’t have stopped him alone, it was true that I didn’t try my best. He is my clansman, and he has saved my life. I couldn’t make up my mind to challenge him in a life-or-death fight.”
Rod Drick, as the governor of Cape, knew how serious the consequences could be if these words were spread to the public. Amon was vaguely aware of this as well. So he didn’t mention anything about it while describing to Rod Drick what he “saw in the cave”. But Amon also wasn’t taking it too seriously. He simply omitted what was unnecessary to avoid any troubles in the future.
After another while of silence, Abham, the oldest nephew of Nero’s and the current head of the Ramose clan, spoke up, “I want to know what our dear uncle left to our family! Also, where is the written testament?”
Rod Drick put the ring on the table and gave him a bitter smile, “Everything is in this ring, which is itself a precious spatial artifact. It should belong to your family. Unfortunately, no one in the room can open it now. We will have to wait for Master Urhiya.”
Looking at the ring, the nephews and nieces of Nero’s couldn’t hide the eagerness in their eyes. The Ramose clan was one of Cape’s most wealthy clans, second only to the Drick Clan. As the former Oracle and chief priest of the Horus Shrine of Cape, Nero had been responsible for the well-being of the clan. However, he had actually been a notorious spendthrift in his youth.
Scroll-making was not a passion that common people could afford to dabble in. Along with the tremendous investment of time and effort and magic power required, the sheer amount of money expended would also be appalling. Some particularly rare materials could not even be bought with parangons. Even though he was a young supreme mage, Nero spent forty whole years on scroll-making. An unfathomable amount of wealth and resources had been used to fuel his extravagant addiction.
The clan’s wealth was hence greatly diminished. Nowadays, although still far from decline, the clan was much less powerful than it had been a half century ago. Following the disappearance of their old patriarch, the Ramose clan became “ordinary” nobles and never again enjoyed the protection of a supreme power.
Nevertheless, in Nero’s last years, scroll-making became a very profitable business for him. As his fame grew, the scrolls he produced became some of the most expensive artifacts in the Empire.
As the Oracle of Cape, he had his own workshop as well as the entire shrine of Cape working for him. Many of his scrolls were made for the sepat, but he also kept a large private collection. The scrolls left to Amon had been part of this collection.
After Nero became the best scroll-maker of the Empire, all of his scrolls, and his unique inventions in particular, were treated as treasures that mages from across the continent were willing to purchase at a high price. But few of them managed to strike a deal. Nero only made scrolls for or sold them to close friends or others who they had recommended. Even the chief executive priest of the Empire only managed to order a single set of scrolls from him by using the prestigious name of the Academy.
When Nero received the order from the gods to chase Bair, it had been sudden and demanded secrecy and urgency. He left almost everything in the shrine except for the staff. But when the Ramoses later went to check on his personal belongings in the shrine, they found that there was a large sum of missing items. They believed that some of his most valuable things disappeared with him.
The missing items should be the most valuable ones. Now that they had laid eyes on the precious spatial ring, the members of the Ramose clan knew that their conjecture was correct. But according to Rod Drick, they had to wait another day. Abham Ramose asked hesitantly, “This ring belongs to our family. Can we keep it until tomorrow?”
Before Rod Drick could react, Judah Fayol retorted, “Lord Nero clearly stated that the ring should be kept by Lord Drick! Are you implying that Lord Drick is untrustworthy?”
Abham started and hastened to explain, “Of course not! Lord Drick is certainly trustworthy. Please forgive my foolishness. But I was thinking… that foreigner held onto the ring for a long time. What if he already took something out of the ring?”
The senior priest shook his head, “The most powerful mages in Cape are all in this room right now. None of us can open this ring. Do you think a hunter from the mountains can accomplish what we cannot?”
Rod Drick added quietly, “The ring itself is precious enough. If he had wanted to keep it to himself, you wouldn’t be able to see it today.”
Abham uttered, “He is settling for the second-best. He wants the reward that my uncle promised. The three scrolls must still be in his possession. In his testament, my uncle said that one of them is even more precious than the ring and the staff combined! And that young man still wants more!”
Rod Drick replied, “He hasn’t asked for anything yet. Where are these presumptions of yours coming from? Let’s just follow what your uncle said in the testament. Anyway, the scrolls belong to the hunter. If he said that he lost them in the mountains, then we should believe him. He probably didn’t understand the true value of the scrolls, and instead prioritized the safety of the ring and staff.”
Hillah Ramose, the youngest niece of Nero suddenly screamed, “What? He lost my most precious scroll?”
Rod Drick finally failed to hide his impatience, “His scroll! Lord Nero promised them to him. That’s his loss, not yours! And he couldn’t have known how precious those scrolls are in the first place. We ourselves only learned about them from the testament.”
His words reminded Hillah of something. She screamed again, “That’s the problem! No one can be sure of what he actually saw in the cave! He might know more than we think he knows! Even those things he wasn’t supposed to know!”
Rod Drick disapprovingly replied, “I’ve already interrogated him. He didn’t see anything he shouldn’t have.”
But Hillah thought she had caught onto some evidence against Amon, “How can you trust what this foreigner says, my dear lord? He obviously wouldn’t say a word about it even if he did see something he shouldn’t have. We must keep him in our control. I think we’d better arrest him and use magic to give him a thorough check.”
Rod Drick’s face clouded. Aristotle berated her, “What a stupid idea! The young man trekked through the mountains and the desert to hand over Lord Nero’s staff. How can you question his integrity? It is the mercy of the gods which delivered the staff of the Shrine of Cape back into our hands at Khoiak. Are you saying that the gods sent the staff back with a dirty hand?… The man returned the staff and the ring to Lord Drick in front of all the people of Cape because he chose to trust Lord Drick and the shrine. Didn’t you see how the people reacted to his deed? What would they think of Lord Drick if the young man is arrested right after we invited him to the shrine? That would certainly damage the prestige of our shrine, of Lord Nero, of Lord Drick, of the sepat! It would even offend the almighty God Horus!”
Hillah finally shut up. Rod Drick nodded to thank his adviser and continued, “I will not allow anyone to damage the prestige of Cape. Before this affair is finished, the foreign young man will be my guest. He will be invited to my residence. We should show gratitude to him, not suspicion. He deserves to be treated like a hero. This is an order from the Lord of Cape.”
Rod Drick returned with a smile to the chamber where Amon was waiting, “We need help from a supreme mage to open Lord Nero’s ring and sort through his belongings. We will have to wait several days. You should be there when we open the ring, since you are involved in Lord Nero’s testament. So you’ll need to wait with us too. Amon, do you have a place to stay in the meanwhile? If you don’t mind, you can stay at my residence. I will call someone to retrieve your luggage.”
Amon replied, “I settled down in a hotel at the southern end of the city. I don’t have much luggage, just some old clothes and a sick cat.”
“Don’t worry. Your cat will also be treated well. If you need anything, feel free to call my servants for help.”
The invitation from the governor of Cape was also an order. Amon couldn’t refuse. Besides, he too was curious about what was inside Nero’s ring. So he followed Rod Drick to his residence. Rod Drick invited him to sit on his coach, and Amon soon saw the gate of the splendid mansion again. This time he was an honoured guest of the governor of Cape. The gatekeepers couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw Amon descend from the governor’s coach.
[List of Characters]
Urhiya: One of the three high priests of the Isis Shrine of Memfis. An eighth-level mage.
Abham Ramose: The eldest heir of the Ramose Clan.
Hillah Ramose: One of Nero’s nieces.