Judging from the magic they were using, the older one, fighting amidst the scorpions, must be a sixth-level mage, since he cast supreme magic from time to time.The younger one should have been at the fifth level. Their understanding of magic and prowess largely surpassed most mages that Amon had seen. Even Amon himself admired their smooth, if not flawless, cooperation while fighting.
Two random mages at their level must have lost their lives in the siege already. The duo were struggling, but there wasn’t yet a sign of a losing battle. However, the possibility of defeating these beasts was slim.
“A sixth-level and a fifth-level mage. They must have the same master. I wonder which great mage could produce such excellent apprentices,” said Amon, brows furrowed, “They are better skilled as mages than you and I. Joined together, the four of us could probably clean out these scorpions. I think it’d be our pleasure to lend them a hand. They are worth befriending. It’s not easy to meet and get acquainted with strong mages like them.”
Metatro tossed his staff, “Sounds good. Let’s do it then! Those littles bugs have annoyed me a lot these days. Today we are going to teach their parents a good lesson.”
Amon took out a glaive and a buckler and threw it to the excited young noble, “Give me your staff. We are in Hittite now, so you should be known as a warrior who has experienced a second awakening. And I’ll be the mage. We cannot let them know that we are practicing the power of two sides. We can collect some parts of the scorpion bodies as materials and process them later in Lynk’s tribe.”
Warret and Raphael were experiencing a hard time. Wherever they looked, they could see nothing but scorpions. These beasts learned fast and spurt out poisonous flames one after another, leaving the mages no time to pause. Fights like this were painful, because the opponents were not intelligent enough to negotiate with, and the more they killed, the more furious the rest would be.
Warret had some magic scrolls with him, which were able to make a breach in the scorpions’ encirclement and gain them a safe passage out. But he was hesitating. He knew that Raphael had magic scrolls too and didn’t use them either.
Master had told them that it would be a journey of trial. Raphael regarded the fight as a kind of lesson, a precious opportunity to temper himself. This young man was not quite aware that he was at the edge of ascending to the sixth level. As the nephew of the Chancellor of Hittite, and the favorite apprentice of a supreme mage, he seldom had a chance to fight just to survive, since none of his rivals would try to kill him on purpose. These scorpions were amongst the few opponents he faced that didn’t know who he was.
It was all calculated. Golier had sent him on similar missions before. All he needed to do was to overcome the danger. As long as he was able to muster his courage and fight with all his strength, Warret would accompany him to the end. The scrolls were to be used as a last resort.
Warret sighed inwardly. By his calculations, they had already killed over a hundred scorpions. But there were, from what he could tell, at least three hundred more. It seemed that it would be unlikely for them to break through. Glancing at his mate, he slipped two scrolls into his left hand, contemplating the right moment to use them.
Before he could make the decision, he suddenly noticed an outbreak of magic power far behind the dunes ahead of them. Startled, he shouted, “Watch out Raph! Somebody’s coming! Could be bigger scorpions!”
Of course, it was not scorpions that were coming. He then immediately heard a big blast. Five scorpions at the edge of the circle were torn into pieces by a huge space-twisting power. Flakes of carapace and flesh were spreading everywhere.
“A helping hand! Sixth-level mage at least!” uttered Raphael. He shouted, “Who is the dear friend over there? Warret and Raphael from Syah, thank you for your help!”
A loud voice arose behind the dune, “Travelling warrior Metatro and mage Allaha at your service!”
A tall warrior came out from behind the dune. With a buckler in his left hand, he strode towards the two mages, slaying several scorpions on his way with a shining glaive. The scorpions realized that a tough combatant was coming and wittily stepped back, shooting poisonous flames from their rising tails.
Metatro raised the buckler and swung the glaive. A spiral of airflow rose and drove the flame towards the buckler. Warret shouted again, “Beware, warrior! The flame eats metal! Watch out for your shield!”
Along with his words, the poisonous flame went high and then flew back onto the scorpions like burning yellow clouds. Another man came out from behind the dune, holding a staff in one hand and a Ventussalte in the other. He was Amon; the one who had cast the magic.
Only that he was now known as Allaha. Since he didn’t want to be recognized, the staff he was holding was another he had obtained in Bair’s cave. It was powerful, but no match for the iron stick.
The newcomers adopted the classic strategy. The warrior went up front and the mage gave support from the back. Metatro marched into the beasts, chopping his way to the besieged mages. Amon walked behind him casually, picking up stingers, pincers, and other useful materials from time to time.
The group of scorpions were split into two, then tried to encircle the two groups of people separately. They failed to stop Metatro from reaching the two mages. The four human beings soon joined together.
“Thank you, misters, for coming to help us in such great danger!” called Warret and Raphael in chorus.They expressed their gratitude from the bottom of their heart. Although they’d be able to get away with their magic scrolls, the cost wouldn’t have been small. The coming of Amon and Metatro spared them from using their last resort. Needless to say that rescuing beast-sieged strangers instead of bypassing was always an honorable deed.
Quite pleased, Metatro answered, “Behind every encounter is the divine destiny. I treasure every opportunity to meet heroes like you. It’s our pleasure to lend a hand.”
Amon wielded the staff, “We can do this later. Now let’s clear away these pests first.”
The four soon formed a temporary combat formation. With an advanced warrior, the mages could fight with much higher efficiency. Metatro still went up front, while Amon and Warret walked to the flanks to provide support. Raphael brought up the rear. The scorpions moved rapidly, keeping them surrounded.
But the four felt no fear. They proceeded across a couple of dunes, killing nearly a hundred scorpions on the way. Metatro was almost exhausted, whereas Amon had collected quite some materials.
Warret noticed Metatro’s status and was about to tell him to take a pause when suddenly all the scorpions turned around. They crawled back into the sand at the same time, as if they had been accorded to do so.
Lowering the glaive, Metatro panted, “What’s wrong with these bugs? Why are they gone?”
“They are smarter than I thought.” muttered Amon, “They not only know how to fight in teams, but are able to assess the situation and make quick decisions via communication as well. They realized that they couldn’t fight us, so they retreated.”
“I second this observation,” nodded Warret, “These huge scorpions are nothing like the ordinary ones. I have a feeling that they are trained, otherwise we might have already found a way out. It’s a terrible discovery. Anyway, I have to express our gratitude to you, misters. May I have the honor to know your names?”
Raphael and Metatro were both near exhaustion, thus the four chose to take a vigilant rest on a dune. Amon introduced himself as Allaha, a mage from the Empire of Ejypt, with an enthusiasm in processing magic artifacts and travelling around to collect rare materials, which explained why he was here in the desert.
Metatro told the two mages that he was a warrior from the Kingdom of Bablon. He said that he became good friends with Allaha after being saved by the mage in the deep mountains. And this time he went to the desert to help his friend, as well as to enrich his experience and train his skills. There was nothing to hide about his identity and he was mostly telling the truth.
Their stories didn’t surprise Warret and Raphael. On the contrary, it was the identity of these two that astonished Amon. They were both high priests of the state of Syah. As far as he knew, each state in the kingdom of Hittite had only a few high priests. They were the noblest people in a state, only second to the Oracle. Amon had never expected to have contact with such noble people when he was in Duc.
More surprisingly, the two high priests were travelling on their own. They didn’t have either a retinue nor bodyguards. Even ordinary mages from the shrines wouldn’t choose to cross the desert without the company of a warrior. But the two mages said that they were on a mission issued by their master, the ninth-level mage Golier. They were going to Uruk and to Cape.
Amon had met Golier once. It was in Duc, where he heard Golier arguing with Crazy’Ole at night and saw them go to Mayor Dusti’s house. At the end, Golier flew away from the window. Later that night, he was informed that Golier was the Oracle of the state of Syah; an eighth-level mage. The next morning, Mayor Dusti found an excuse to get him out of the town.
Crazy’Ole had mentioned Golier in his messages too. He told Amon that he could go to Golier for help if he got in trouble in Syah. Golier was trustworthy and he would do him no harm. There weren’t many people on the list that had received such high evaluation from Crazy’Ole. Amon didn’t expect that he could befriend Golier’s apprentices.
Amon didn’t tell Warret and Raphael anymore about his background since he didn’t have anything to ask from Golier. The four chatted in delight. Amon even made a wonderful meal and invited the priests from Syah to lunch. Raphael passionately invited Amon and Metatro to be his guests in Syah City, vowing that he would do everything he would to make sure that they felt welcome.
Seeing that the others were more or less recovered from fatigue, Warret stood up, “Mister Allaha, I believe that you are a wealthy man, carrying a spatial artifact and being an artificer. You must not be short of handy tools, but please do take this magic scroll. It might be useful for the rest of your journey.”
What Warret was holding in his hand was an advanced scroll. According to him, it was a [Lock], the space confining magic. Amon was familiar with it, since he had used it twice already. It was indeed a useful tool when escaping from strong enemies. He accepted it after a failed objection.
“Please be very careful on the rest of your journey,” added Warret, “There might be more powerful monsters in the area. Don’t waste time on the ones you cannot handle. No magic material is more valuable than your own lives. I’ve a hunch that the scorpions didn’t retreat. They were calling for some stronger beasts. We shouldn’t stay in one place for too long. Let’s part here. You will always be the dearest guests in Syah. We look forward to seeing you in Syah City one day.”
To his astonishment, the young mage from Ejypt suddenly got up, took out an iron stick, and plucked the Ventussalte into a socket on it. Amon’s voice was low and serious, “I’m afraid we don’t have time to leave. Beware, a much stronger enemy is already here!”
Warret failed to cover the fright on his face. Being a peak sixth-level mage, he was more experienced and had a better flair at detecting danger than most of the mages at his level. But evidently Amon had a sharper eye. The iron stick appeared to be a staff, but how could a staff be made of inorganic material? And the Ventussalte? The young mage in front of him suddenly became unfathomable. Metatro and Raphael had already jumped up with their weapon and staff in hand, respectively. At the same time, he sensed a strong and dangerous convergence of power. He turned around following this sense of menace and looked over.
What jumped into his eyes was an eerie scene. Not far ahead, three piles of sand were rising from the ground. Sand flowed out from the top of the piles like water from a fountain The sand fell to the ground, revealing three human-like shapes.
In the middle was a “man”. He was about twelve feet high and looked like a sturdy man above the waist, though instead of arms, he had a pair of huge pincers. Below the waist was the body of a giant scorpion. Eight feet standing on the ground, following a twenty-feet long tail. The stinger at the end was like a big blade. Above the bulging muscles, a flame-like tattoo could be seen on his grim face. Through his ruthless eyes were nothing but a pale gleam, deep inside the darkness. He stared at the four from above.
With a trembling gasp, Warret murmured, “Girtablullu! The god-defying Scorpion King!”
“No use to panic. We have four people here and he is alone. We still have chance!” Amon’s calm voice furnished the rest with ballast. He was already holding three scrolls in his left hand. But he was not as calm as he appeared to be. He made a mistake even in his first sentence. The Scorpion King was not alone. There were two figures floating at either side.
They were two gorgeous “women”. They were as tall as Amon. There wasn’t a string attached to their naked bodies. Even the hair between their long legs could be seen clearly. But behind the legs, a six-feet long scorpion tail was rising, adding an appalling element to their beauty.