The king of Assyr shrugged, “I don’t need to elaborate. People will simply go and ask them. As some of the most prideful people on the continent, their self-esteem won’t allow them to explain. Can you imagine them lowering themselves to plead innocence? We can look forward to the drama! Naqia magically modified her physique to look like Enkidu. The bolt she used was made from the fang of a great serpent. It’s known to all that Enkidu slew Humbaba together with Gilgamesh. The supreme mages of the Isis Shrine will recognize the material used to make the bolt and report it to the Pharaoh.”
“It’s not wise to set these two people up. We must keep this as the highest secret.”
Sennachi humphed, “They are just two humans. I’m not afraid of them. Even if Bablon wishes to declare war against me, it won’t be easy for them. The Holy Mountains are our best protection. We are on the highland. It might even be an opportunity for me to make my own legend…! But you are right about this. I will keep it top secret. You shall be the last one in the world to hear of it. There will never be a fifth person.”
Alef sighed, “You might be right,sire. What else can your humble servant do for you?”
The king of Assyr looked into the distance, “Many things, my dear minister. The army must be ready before the end of winter. They will need to cross the highland and establish cities in the New Rich Land. The Holy Mountains are not only my protection… They are also the chains that shackle my burning ambition. Our lands are the least fertile among the kingdoms. Our warriors are the bravest and strongest, yet their talents are wasted in this time of peace. They can only grow old and die in bed.”
“But now, we are fortunate to catch a glimpse of the future and foresee the emergence of the New Rich Land on the west side of the Euphrate River. It will be the best chance of my life to expand my territory, to fulfill the dream of my father, to achieve what my ancestors failed to achieve. I will be the greatest king of Assyr, admired by all the peoples on the continent. However, Ramses, Lucier and Samsu… they won’t just watch me occupy the land. They are as eager as I am; I can imagine the desire in their eyes! So I simply reached out to ignite it. Let them enjoy fighting among each other, so that our men can take the New Rich Land first.”
Just when he finished his eloquent speech, a voice chimed in from the corridor, “Her Majesty returns. The Preceptor asks to see the king!”
A woman walked into the hall. She was dressed in a tight, black suit. Her long, dark gray hair was simply braided, with no headwear. She was Naqia, the queen of Assyr, the most powerful woman of the kingdom.
She walked lightly towards the throne. The tight suit only made the curves of her body more attractive. There appeared to be an explosive force hiding behind her tall, delicate body, her childish face and dark brown eyes, giving her a mysterious allure.
The king stood up and opened his arms, “My beloved, my dearest darling! I missed you all this time! You must be exhausted. How did everything go?”
Naqia gave her husband a hug. Then, she stepped back and nodded, “The Adoratrice is still alive. But we’ve done what we were supposed to do. Everything is going according to the plan. The Adoratrice’s composure impressed me, however. She must be the youngest supreme mage of the continent to date.” Naqia then turned around and greeted Alef, “Please excuse me for interrupting you, dear minister. I’m tired now. Please allow me to leave.”
Alef stood up and returned a salute, “I wouldn’t dare to disturb Your Majesty.”
Naqia turned to her husband again, “The Preceptor is waiting outside. You may want to ask him about the details.”
She directly disappeared behind the rear curtains. Her voice was impassive, and she didn’t use honorifics when addressing the king.
The minister whispered, “My lord, it seems that Her Majesty isn’t in a good mood. She must be very tired after such a difficult mission. It’s late in the night. I believe it’d be better for Your Majesty to stay with her and leave this affair to the morrow.”
Sennachi was a bit embarrassed. He coughed, “Indeed, the queen is tired and she needs a good rest. But as a king, I should focus on the most important things. Tell Faustus to come in. Let’s finish this together.”
Faustus, the Preceptor of the kingdom of Assyr, stood silently in the corridor. He was only in his forties, but his languished, curly grey hair and deep wrinkles made him look like an old man in his seventies. He had just finished a journey of three days without respite. As an official, he had to wait outside the hall until the king called for him.
He was the First Elder of the Magic Academy of Assyr. He was said to be the most erudite scholar in the kingdom, and his thirst for knowledge exceeded all of his compatriots. He could accurately recite the contents of every manuscript stored in the Academy and the Shrine. As a hobby, he enjoyed collecting rare documents and studying them until he could remember every word by heart.
He once said, “True knowledge gives man the power to change the world and to change himself.” He was called the philosopher and the preceptor of the king, which became his exclusive title later on.
The king demanded a seat for Faustus and asked him kindly, “My dear Preceptor, I am delightfully surprised to see you return so soon. How many flying scrolls have you used? Honestly, you didn’t need to hurry to this extent. Safety is more important than speed.”
Faustus smiled bitterly, “The queen wanted to return to Nineveh as quickly as possible. Although we were driving the [Twilight] the entire time, I used all the scrolls to increase its speed.”
Alef was astonished, “All of them? No wonder you could return in just three days. It must have been exhausting.”
“The scrolls are nothing compared to what we are going to obtain from the plan. The plan was my idea, so it was my duty to carry it out. Although we failed to kill the Adoratrice, the assassination attempt will drag them into a tangled conflict. We need to get ready for the second part of the plan. The coming mayhem will be the best cover for our expedition.”
Sennachi added, “That’s what I was about to discuss with the minister. We have to start preparing for the expedition immediately. Speaking of the New Rich Land, according to what you’ve learned on the journey, do the other kingdoms know of its existence, Preceptor?”
Faustus signed, “If I can predict its emergence through divination, the supreme mages in other kingdoms will anticipate it as well. It’s been several years since the flood. The water is slowly receding, and some land is already rising from the marsh. As time passes, more and more people will realize what is happening in that area. Not to mention that above us mortals are the omniscient deities. They will pass down the message through the oracles.”
Alef remarked, “I’ve studied the geography of the region. The first tract of arable land will appear at the southern edge of the Great Mountains. It will be surrounded by marsh from the other directions. The mountains block it from us and the marsh blocks it from the other kingdoms. As soon as we cross the mountains, we will be the first to take the land.”
Faustus took out his staff. Images and shadows appeared in the air. It was a projection of the region of Duc. He pointed at the lake to the north of the Syah Desert and said, “The marsh extends from the lake to the west, but here, at the foot of the mountains, we have a new land. Over time, it will spread towards the west as the marsh retreats. If we can establish a foothold here, we can slowly expand our territory to the whole area. Backed by the mountains and the lake, we will have a great geographical advantage against any attacks.”
The king pondered, eyebrows knitted. He muttered, “The Ejyptians are the most powerful and have the greatest ambitions. They have always been dreaming about crossing the Syah Desert and conquering us. The New Rich Land is the pivot they have been longing for, but the land nominally belongs to Hittite. A war between these two kingdoms will break out soon. The Adoratrice’s affair will be a good excuse. What do you think, Preceptor?”
“A war between two kingdoms is not a game. The supply lines will be long. They are not yet prepared. The war should start in about a year… Can we get everything ready by then?”
Alef’s eyes narrowed, “The expedition will be divided into several groups. The highlanders will be the advance detachment. The new lands are not very large at the moment. They are more like islands in an ocean. We’ll deploy our men from the foot of the mountains and steadily advance. Without intervention, there won’t be any problem.”
Living in Memfis, Amon hadn’t realized how many rivals he would have to face when he decided to guide the Ducians back home. Princess Sissila had already sent the giant clans to settle at the foot of the mountains. The king of Assyr was even more ambitious. He wanted to occupy the whole region, and he was even inciting wars between the other kingdoms in order to accomplish his aim.
Amon lived a peaceful live in Memfis. As a chief of the watchmen, he obtained two slave girls to wait upon him in his daily life. However, Amon felt uncomfortable being served by slaves. He would only send them to clean up the courtyard, wash his clothes and buy daily necessities. Services to this extent already made his life much easier.
As a branch of the guards of the Shrine, the watchmen were required to carry out routine drills. Amon was fine in combat skills, but he was new to many other forms of training. He learned about warrior-warrior coordination, warrior-mage coordination, and how to use various melee and ranged weapons in battle. Amon learned a lot from his colleagues, who found this young chief amiable and easy of approach, sometimes even childish.
As a chief of the watchmen, Amon had more chances to stay alone with the documents in the Archive. His reading speed increased. Many records about the practice of magic and body arts were quite useful to him as references.
But he still couldn’t practice magic in the shrine. In order to master the skills and confirm what he had gained from studying and his own ideas, he often needed to stay overnight outside the shrine. His colleagues spread a rumour that he finally found a mistress. In fact, it was just because Amon needed time and a private place to practice magic. He soon found it inconvenient and decided to buy a residence in the city.
At least, the residence could be used to house Schrodinger.
The cat hadn’t lived with him ever since he came to Memfis. It went to the shrine of goddess Bastet, as many other Ejyptian cats did.
The Bastet Shrine was actually inside the Isis Shrine. Isis was the major goddess worshiped in the main halls of the Isis Shrine, while there were other deities worshiped in the lesser halls.
Goddess Bastet was one of them. As the maid of Osiris, Bastet was enshrined in a smaller hall right at the street. The statue of goddess Bastet depicted a gentle and graceful young woman with the head of a cat. But her long hair made her look like a lion.
Cats were admired and worshiped in Ejypt. Traditionally, cats served as household helpers and would catch mice that stole food and damaged crops. Ejyptians would often feed stray cats and even raise them at home to catch mice.
The cats living in the Bastet Shrine didn’t catch mice, however. They would just lay in a corner or in the square all day. But passers-by still liked to feed them as a form of sacrifice to the goddess. There were also priests on duty who would put food in the shrine everyday.
The first time Amon entered the Isis Shrine, Schrodinger sprang out from his backpack and slipped into the Bastet Shrine. Hanging around with other cats all day, it must be very familiar with this place. The shrine was like home to it. This was not a surprise, since Bair had originally “stolen” the cat from the Isis Shrine. And Schrodinger had told Amon to “bring it back to Ejypt”.
Amon never understood what this cat was thinking. What was this cat planning to do all these years? What was its purpose? It had decided to leave Duc with him, guiding him to Bair. But after that, he failed to communicate with the cat again. Nevertheless, it had accompanied him in his most lonely period, helping him get through the hardest time in his life. Whatever this cat had been thinking, Amon was grateful to it.
Amon hadn’t been with Schrodinger for a long while. He found that he was starting to miss it. It wasn’t that he never had the chance to see the cat. Every time he went out of the Shrine, there would be a cat jumping out from a corner to scratch his legs. It was Schrodinger. Sometimes, when Amon found a quiet place outside the shrine to meditate or practice magic, Schrodinger would come along and watch him with great interest, head resting on its paws, like a leisurely spectator.
On every occasion, Amon would bring it a good bottle of wine. He would even keep a bottle of wine with him whenever he went outside. His colleagues noticed his new habit and gifted him with good wine from time to time.
But Amon had no idea what Schrodinger was doing in the day. This cat was becoming more and more good-looking and buoyant. Its body grew slimmer and stronger at the same time. Its fur was glossy, and it could run even faster than before. Amon was shocked to discover that he had to run at full speed to catch up with it. If not for the pattern of its fur, Amon almost felt like he had mistaken it for another cat..
Of course, there was another piece of definitive evidence. Schrodinger was still invisible to detecting magics.
Although Amon could perform supreme magics now, the cat still looked at him like a monarch looking at a subject. However, Amon seemed to have been upgraded from a commoner to a noble. It was quite happy to see Amon each time, and it even started to play around with him. This was unimaginable in the past!
Apart from the secret dates with Schrodinger, Amon was waiting to be summoned by Maria. Unfortunately, the Adoratrice seemed to be quite busy these days. Rumors said that she went to the capital of Upper Ejypt to discuss something important with the Pharaoh. It probably had something to do with the recent assassination attempt. About a month later, the Adoratrice returned to Memfis. But it was Gabriel who went to see Amon first.
Gabriel summoned him to her own office room. The relief sculptures on the wall depicted past guardians of the Isis Shrine, along with various fighting scenes.
The supreme warrior asked him to sit and said, “The Adoratrice told me to teach you body arts when I’m available. I was too busy recently, but I finally have the leisure to do this now.”
Amon replied, “I totally understand. With the Adoratrice ascending to a supreme mage and the assassination affair, I’m honored that you’ve still found time to teach me.”
Observing the young man, Gabriel suddenly asked, “How old are you, Amon?”
Amon was a bit embarrassed, “About seventeen.”
Gabriel sighed with marvel, “Genius! You surpass me; when I was your age, I was not as impressive. So long as you remain on the right track, you will surely become a supreme warrior someday. The Adoratrice was right. You must have caught the chance during the accident at the bank of the Nile, and then you ascended to the sixth level in Memfis.”
Amon nodded, “Indeed, you are completely right.”
Gabriel continued, “Everyone has his own life. But there are always similarities. I too made my breakthrough to the sixth level in a battle. If Lord Wadj-hotep hadn’t cured me, I would have died. After the battle, I found my strength grew to a new level, as if I had been given a new life.”
Amon nodded again, “That’s also what I felt recently. It was a tough experience… You are a supreme warrior. I was wondering if you can tell me what you experienced when you ascended to the seventh level?”
Gabriel smiled, “Nobody can actually tell. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember it.”
Amon was surprised, “You don’t remember it? How can that be?”
[List of Characters]
Sennachi Eliba : King of Assyr.
Naqia : Queen of Assyr. Sennachi Eliba’s wife. A supreme warrior.
Alef : The prime minister of the Kingdom of Assyr.
Faustus : The First Elder of the Magic Academy of Assyr. Respected as philosopher and the preceptor of the king.