It was late in the night, the feast had come to an end. Rod Drick was tired and took rest in a courtyard behind the shrine. Shrines consisted of more than just a temple. Stretching over a square mile, the Shrine of Cape made up the largest group of buildings in the city. Behind the grand temple, there were many courtyards and gardens created for the clergymen’s use and pleasure.
Lord Urhiya, in contrast, was energetic. After the feast, he summoned several people one by one, including the senior priest who had read the message in the staff, Judah Fayol, Abham Ramose and Hillah Ramose.
It was an honor to be summoned to a private meeting with Lord Urhiya. The purpose of these meetings was kept secret, but everyone summoned knew that it had something to do with Amon. Urhiya first spoke with the senior priest, then asked Judah Fayol about everything Amon had said and done when reporting to Rod Drick, and particularly about what he had claimed to have seen in the cave. Urhiya carefully compared this report to what Amon had personally told him, in the hope of finding a contradiction in his statements. Any discrepancy had to be studied closely, for it could mean that the young man had been hiding something important.
Fayol vaguely sensed the high priest’s attitude towards Amon and took the opportunity to add his own feelings, “Dear master, I can tell that there’s something fishy with that foreigner. He stayed several days in a hotel before he returned the staff to Lord Drick. He was clearly waiting for a big ceremony so that he could return the staff in public. A cunning rogue! I suspect that he was hiding something from us. His story about the cave might not be the whole truth!”
Urhiya muttered impassively, “You think that he should be investigated thoroughly? He is not Ejyptian. If he’s hiding something which could harm the Empire… if he spreads it to the other countries, it could spell trouble for us.”
Fayol had been waiting to hear this, thus he continued fawningly, “The best solution is to capture him and open his mouth, or even make sure that his mouth is shut forever. But it can’t be done publicly, or else Lord Drick’s reputation will be damaged.”
Urhiya threw a glance at Fayol and moved to another topic,
“I heard that some of the Ramoses hold resentment towards Amon. Is it true?”
Fayol nodded, “It is true, dear Master. Lord Abham and Hillah once suggested that the Great Lord should arrest Amon and interrogate him. But they were reproached by the Great Lord!”
Urhiya laughed, “Lord Drick is a wise man. Such a foolish suggestion should naturally be rebuked. The ruler of the sepat can’t let his reputation be tainted by inappropriate behavior. As the governor of Cape, his prestige should be carefully maintained… You may leave now. Tell Abham and Hillah to come here. Also, I will be staying in the sepat for a long time. Can I depend on you?”
“It would be my greatest honor, dear Master.”
Urhiya summoned the two Ramoses in the next few hours. They had a long, casual conversation. The high priest expressed his sympathy for the loss of their old patriarch and his congratulations for the retrieval of their family treasure after three decades. The talk turned to what had happened earlier in the day, and of course to the foreign young man, who had left the shrine immediately after he received his reward.
The Ramoses had obviously drunk a little too much during the feast. Once the topic turned to the foreign young man, they became agitated. They thought that Amon only came to Ejypt because he couldn’t open the ring by himself and couldn’t find a supreme mage in his hometown. Nero must have left something more important in the cave, and the deceitful foreigner was lying about it! They said that they had tried to persuade the Great Lord to arrest the young man and carry out a strict and thorough interrogation. It was a pity that the Great Lord hadn’t adopted their suggestion.
Urhiya gave them a half-smile, “Lord Drick made the correct decision. You shouldn’t express your discontentment publicly. However, what Lord Nero left in the cave is absolutely worth investigating. This concerns your patriarch, after all. You naturally have the right to learn the truth. Now that the governor has expressed his will, you should act accordingly. But Lord Drick also said that Lord Nero’s secrets cannot be revealed, no matter what. And I completely agree with him on this point.”
The cousins of the Ramose clan thought of something. They exchanged a look and left after a short discussion.
After the meeting with the Ramose cousins, Urhiya called for Vitru, his officer attendant. Vitru was a senior priest of the Isis Shrine and a sixth-level mage. Urhiya had brought him along to Cape as an adviser. The two slowly devised a plan. At last, Vitru nodded solemnly and Urhiya said, “You can’t be too careful dealing with that hunter. A man who can safely carry a precious staff across the desert must be an advanced warrior at the very least. I can tell that he practices body arts.”
Vitru replied, “This affair should involve only a few people at most. I shall bring three or four warriors from your bodyguards. Please stay in the city, in the public eye. The bodyguards should be given several days off. This way, the disappearance of a few of them won’t draw any suspicion.”
Urhiya had brought two mages and twelve warriors with him to Cape. Being an eighth-level mage, he didn’t actually need this kind of escort when travelling along the main road in the Empire. The escort was merely an honorary tradition of the high priests of the Isis Shrine.
The supreme mage thought for a second and continued, “I’ll give you a team of three. Havon will be their leader. He is only one step from becoming a supreme warrior. Once he accomplishes this task and ascends to the seventh level, I will send him to Memfis. I’ll find a chance for him to take Gabriel’s place. Gabriel is no longer on our side. She decided to be that young girl’s guardian and fight for her. Now, she is only an obstacle to us. If only she had been banished, instead of me…! Well, let’s put that aside. Tell me more about your plan.”
Vitru followed, “As your chief guard, Havon is definitely trustworthy. The other three shouldn’t be told too many of the details. Havon was a hunter before he joined the Shrine Guard. He is well-trained and skilled in stealth and tracking. That Amon boy can’t escape from us.”
Urhiya nodded with satisfaction, and then warned his adviser, “Havon has passed the second awakening. He can use primary magic and advanced scrolls. But don’t underestimate this mission! That hunter has many scrolls. Beware of them! Don’t let his last bite take your lives.”
Vitru was surprised, “He’s not a mage. How can he use those scrolls?”
Urhiya shook his head, “You never know… perhaps there’s a mage behind him. As an advanced warrior, it’s also possible that he has passed the second awakening. Even if he can merely use some primary magics, he’ll still be able to activate the advanced scrolls.”
Vitru started, “Dear Master, are you inferring that he’s a sorcerer?”
Urhiya said solemnly, “You can never be too careful. Once you meet him, you will know the answer. Here are three scrolls, two of them are advanced and the last one is supreme. Take them, and give one advanced scroll to Havon in case of emergency.”
Vitru hesitated, “They are too precious. How can we waste them on a countryman?”
The supreme mage insisted, “I also don’t want to see them wasted on that Amon boy. Don’t use them unless there’s an emergency. But you have to be sufficiently prepared! I don’t want to leave our prey even the slightest chance of escape. After all, he has more precious scrolls with him. Once you catch him, we will gain much more than what we could ever lose.”
Vitru took the scrolls and asked, “Is there anything else, Master?”
A cold smile appeared on Urhiya’s face, “Once Havon tracks down that young man, leak the information to Abham Ramose. But don’t let him know who sent the information. The Ramoses will surely be interested in meeting him again.”
Vitru was perplexed, “What is your plan, Master? Shouldn’t it be kept a secret?”
Urhiya answered, “Of course. Nobody is supposed to know what you are doing. But what if you fail to cover it up when dealing with Amon? Perhaps the scrolls will create too great of a disturbance, or perhaps something unforeseen will occur. Whatever the case may be, we’ll need someone else to be there. The investigators, if there are any, will only find the Ramoses.”
“Or their bodies.”
“That would be even better. I’ll give the guards a few days off tomorrow and tell them to travel around the sepat. As for you, I’ll send you to Memfis to deliver my inspection report to the Shrine. Havon and his team will join you outside the city. You can take your time to track down and deal with the Amon boy. Once you return to Memfis, you have to find a chance to meet privately with Lord Burke and give this letter to him in person. Most importantly, don’t let the Adoratrice hear even a whisper of your activities!”
The next morning, Vitru, Lord Urhiya’s assistant, was sent back to Memfis to hand in some reports. Since Lord Urhiya was going to settle down in Cape, he granted his guards a few days off so that they could travel around and enjoy some distractions.
After a busy week, Lord Rod Drick was finally able to return to his own mansion. Aristotle stayed in the shrine till noon. He went to the Great Lord’s mansion to have lunch, and was stopped at the gate. One of the gatekeepers gave him a small box and politely told him, “Lord Aristotle, Mister Amon asked me to give this box to you when he left yesterday.”
It was a box made from coconut shell, with a crack on top that had been sealed with beeswax. Amon had bought it from a small shop in the city. Aristotle was surprised. He had been unsure of whether or not Amon had recognized him, since the young man hadn’t acknowledged him at the shrine. But Amon actually left him a gift before departing! Aristotle quickly returned to his room and opened the box.
Lying in the box was a blue parangon, glinting softly, like the sea glinting in the sun. Beside it was a small piece of sheepskin, on which was written two words: “Thank you!”.
Aristotle realized that Amon must have recognized him. The Aquaticore was meant to thank Aristotle for previously saving him in Duc.
Aristotle’s expression changed. He thought for a while and suddenly left the room. He went to Lord Drick’s bedroom and asked to see him. He knew that the Great Lord must be very tired at the moment, and that Amon had already left the city. He had been planning to tell the Great Lord something at dinner. But after seeing what Amon had left him, he decided not to wait any longer.
If anyone else had woken him up, Rod Drick would have been livid. But for Aristotle, his most important adviser, he quickly got dressed and told him to come in.
Aristotle first apologized for his recklessness, and then placed the coconut box on the table, “My lord, please look at this. Amon left it for me when he departed yesterday.”
Rod Drick had already noticed the Aquaticore. He was shocked. Picking up the sheepskin beside the gem, he asked with perplexity, “What is this about, Aristotle?”
Aristotle sighed, “The Great Lord might not remember. Amon was a miner in the town of Duc. It was he who extracted the Gods’ Tear! He also served Lord Maria for three days. I once mentioned it to you, that I helped him avoid a severe punishment in Duc. I believe this is his gift of appreciation. He has grown up in these past two years. I hardly recognized him! But he recognized me.”
Aristotle briefly recounted what had happened in Duc. Rod Drick’s eyes widened, “What an incredible coincidence! I heard that the town of Duc was completely destroyed in the flood. But this Amon somehow survived it! He is truly favored by the gods! Isis must have blessed him when he extracted the Gods’ Tear. But why didn’t he mention this in the shrine? Had I known his identity, I would’ve thanked him with even greater rewards!”
“He has his own concerns. Perhaps he didn’t want to recall the disaster that destroyed his hometown, or perhaps he didn’t want to think about anyone related to his early life before the flood. Whatever the reason, this boy must have been sent to you by Isis. He extracted the Gods’ Tear, which ensured Lord Maria’s ascent to the position of Adoratrice. And he also returned the staff of the Oracle of Cape to you. Please consider how this boy has changed not only your fate, but the fate of the sepat! He deserves your most ardent protection.”
Rod Drick looked to him in concern, “What do you mean? Is there anything wrong?”
Aristotle muttered, “I don’t know what is actually happening. I only have my personal suspicions. I didn’t want to express them to you prematurely. But when I saw this box, I felt I had to… otherwise, I wouldn’t have peace at night. Lord Urhiya summoned several people last night. I presume that it was about Amon, although I can’t be completely sure of what they discussed. But you can ask Fayol. He’s one of those who were summoned last night. You should also ask Lord Urhiya in person. I hope they aren’t planning anything which might damage your reputation or that of the gods! I hope that I’m just being too sensitive.”
Rod Drick’s expression became serious. He waved his hand, “Thank you, Aristotle. You may leave now. Tell Fayol to see me.”
Judah Fayol was surprised when he was summoned to Rod Drick’s bedroom. After the greetings, Rod Drick asked directly, “Lord Urhiya summoned you last night. What did he say?”
Judah Fayol didn’t dare to hide what Urhiya had said from his lord. He reported the conversation from last night in detail, but he conveniently omitted the bad things he had said about Amon. In the end, he explained warily, “My Lord, I wait upon Lord Urhiya in service as you ordered, and try my best to satisfy him. I can tell that Lord Urhiya is worried about that Amon. But I also tried to persuade him not to do anything that may do harm to you.”
Rod Drick nodded with a sullen face, “I see. Tell the guards to get my horse ready. I need to see Lord Urhiya right away.”
Urhiya was similarly woken from his dreams. He nearly lost his temper, but then learned that it was the governor of Cape who wanted to see him. He got dressed and went to the parlor, where Rod Drick was already waiting. When they were the only two in the room, Rod Drick asked, “My dear Master, are you planning to stop Amon? Is there anything I can do for you?”
Urhiya twitched, then smiled, “You truly have firm control of your sepat, my dear lord! But I was wondering, why you are asking me this? Are you having doubts about me?”
Rod Drick shook his head, “I wouldn’t dare to. Your Honor must have a reason for everything you decide to do. And it’s my duty to provide assistance. I only have one thing to say. If Amon were to be harmed in Cape, the reputation of the sepat, of the Shrine and of Your Honor would be significantly damaged. What you gain might not make up for what you ultimately lose.”
Urhiya suddenly laughed. He replied, “I can see that such a thing would cause damage to the sepat and to your reputation. I am fully aware of it. So please don’t be worried, my dear lord. I can assure you that no matter what happens, what you are worrying about won’t come to pass. Is this promise enough for you, dear Lord Drick?”
Rod Drick didn’t answer. Urhiya continued with a half-smile, “I will be spending one year in Cape as the supervisor of the Shrine, and I believe collaborating with you will be a pleasant task. I have a question on a merely hypothetical basis… Between a foreigner and I, who would you defend?”
Rod Drick lowered his head, “Why are you asking such a question, Master? Of course I would defend you, dear Lord Urhiya. There is no doubt of it… In fact, I have long been wishing that one day Your Honor could become the Oracle of Cape. The Oracle’s staff was returned even as you arrived in Cape. It is surely a sign of the gods’ will.”
Urhiya was startled when Rod Drick suddenly brought this up. He soon understood what the governor of Cape was implying. He laughed and said, “Indeed. When I saw Lord Nero’s staff, I could feel what fate was revealing to me. But as you know, this is not something that I can decide. The Pharaoh and the Adoratrice understand fate and the will of the gods far better than I. I am wholly at their command.”
Rod Drick looked at the supreme mage, “As long as your answer is affirmative… I hope I didn’t offend you. If one day the gods’ favor is on me and the sepat, may Your Honor give your full support to the people of Cape.”
The supreme mage laughed, “Are you expecting me to be the patron of Cape? I’m flattered, Lord Drick… In this case, we don’t need to play around with words. I can promise you that I will regard the sepat as my own life, and I will do nothing that hurts Cape’s reputation. But there are two things that I must warn you about, my lord.”
“I am listening with full respect.”
[List of Characters]
Vitru: Urhiya’s adviser. A sixth-level mage.
Havon: Urhiya’s chief guard. A sixth-level warrior.