"Lower the skiff, we will land elsewhere," Saul said to the captain, glancing at the coastline in the distance.
"As you say, Archmage Saul," the captain blinked before putting on a smile. "But… City Chief Basdack has already prepared your welcome feast, my archmage…"
"There is no time for that. My friends and I have some business to attend to. Plus, I need to get back to the Maho Empire right away. I have no time to linger in Tumen." Saul hesitated, then said, "Please tell the chief that Yagor was dead. He can sleep soundly tonight." He paused. "There is one more thing. I don't want Basdack to flaunt the news around. I will be back in ten days. Yagor may be my enemy, but I still wish him peace in death."
The captain was a smart man, and of course knew what Saul meant. "I understand, my archmage," he said hurriedly. "None of these sailors know your identity or what happened on that island. Only City Chief Basdack and I know. If we keep it a secret, no one would know anything."
"Good," Saul said with a nod. He glanced at Anfey, who was lingering behind him. "Anfey," he said, grinning. "Do you want to go see Tumen in all its glory?" After their long conversation yesterday, Saul found himself liking the scholarly young man more and more by the minute. Should Anfey express his wish to stay in Tumen for a few days, Saul would very happily change his original travel plans.
"No, Professor," Anfey said. "Maybe it is because I've spent too much time on that lonely island, but I prefer solitude."
"I see," Saul said. "That is a good trait. Only those undistracted by worldly chaos can really achieve greatness. Keep that in mind." To Saul, Anfey was the embodiment of the traits he most admired. Not only was the young man scholarly, down to earth and loyal, but Anfey purposefully woke up early this morning to prepare warm water and breakfast for Saul and his companion Ernest. It was a small thing, but Saul found himself admiring the hard-working young man even more than he thought possible.
"Archmage Saul, the boat is ready," the captain said. "Do you need anything else?"
"No, this will do. You stay docked here for a bit, then go into the city, okay?" City Chief Basdack was a very welcoming man, especially towards Saul. Saul knew the reason for such hospitality was his position as the court archmage, but it never hurt to have a friend. He had always found it hard to reject Basdack's overwhelming enthusiasm, so slipping away unseen and unheard was the easy solution.
"Quit wasting time here!" Ernest said impatiently. He marched to the small boat and hopped into it. Ernest's movement, although it appeared simple, was a show of self-control and power. His landing point was in the middle of the boat, and the boat took the fall evenly, without tipping over or making a splash. Should he have leaned a hair to the left or right, the landing would not have been so steady.
Saul grabbed Anfey, and the two of them fell into the boat gently, mostly thanks to Saul's levitation spell. Anfey sat down and grabbed the oars. There was no sailor in the boat, and he couldn't let Saul or Ernest do the physical work.
"You know how to paddle?"
"Yes, I do," said Anfey, smiling brightly.
"There is no need. Sit still." Saul said, pointing to the boat and whispering a spell. A gust of gentle wind answered his call, and the boat lifted out of the water slightly before driving to land at high speed.
Anfey lifted his brows. He had only spent a day with Saul, but the man had already changed many of Anfey's prejudices towards magic and its uses. It didn't matter to him if high-level magic was really as powerful as the stories said; its usefulness in daily life had already been made apparent to him.
The captain stared after the boat, his eyes filled with resignation. His task, given to him by City Chief Basdack, was to keep Archmage Saul in the city for a few days. Even though he was a top-ranking captain, he did not dare to stop the great archmage. The only thing left for him to do was figure out how he would report this to the city chief.
After a few moments, the boat hit the shore with a soft thud. They landed at a place far from the major port city; the only place in sight was a small fishing village not far ahead. A few tanned fishermen fearfully watched the strangers from afar. In villages like this, even seeing an apprentice was rare. A common mage would appear high and mighty to them. Everything, from the people to the small bugs crawling onto the side of the boat before scurrying away, knew what to fear and when to stay away. Saul and Anfey both wore their mage robes, a garment more eye catching than a king's crown, and the fishermen knew better than to try to speak with them.
"Saul," Ernest said as he stepped onto the sand. "This idiot is going to be your responsibility now."
"I'm not an idiot," Anfey protested quietly.
"Ernest, are you leaving again?" Saul asked, realizing that Ernest had intentions other than staying. "Where are you going?"
"Me? I am used to wandering. I don't need a destination. Go, go back to the Maho Empire. I'll probably look around in the Tumen Commercial Union before deciding."
"Ernest, why don't you come with us to the Maho Empire?" Saul asked, taking a step forward.
"You're not worried about me causing trouble?"
"Trouble?" Saul frowned. "Ernest, if I considered you a troublemaker, I wouldn't even extend this invitation to you. You are my friend, one of the closest. How many times have I asked you? If you and I team up, there is no man that can stop us, not even Jerrofick. Ernest, I am begging you. Stop turning me down! Forget that damned justice. I am the court archmage, I know things you couldn't possibly imagine. Have you forgotten how Jerrofick treated you?"
Ernest stared at Saul silently. After the event that stripped Ernest of his innocence, he could distrust anyone or anything, but he would never doubt Saul. Even in his darkest days, when all had betrayed him, turning to that coward Jerrofick, it was Saul who had trusted and helped him. Ernest knew deep in his heart how precious this friendship was to him and Saul.
Saul stole a glance at Anfey. He was worried that such a conversation would bring unnecessary negativity to the young man, but Anfey appeared calm. Saul turned back to Ernest. "Listen to me, my friend. I know you are waiting for your chance at revenge, but you can't wait for that chance to drop into your lap, you need to find it yourself. Jerrofick is now a high-ranking general of the Alisen Empire's Storm Squadron. He is surrounded by the most powerful men and women in that empire. Jerrofick is rising in the ranks, and your chance of vengeance is diminishing. Come with me to the Maho Empire, my friend. The relationship between the Maho Empire and Alisen is tense now. Should war break out, the Storm Squadron would surely be a major player in the field. Then you would surely find your revenge. Listen to me. I have troubles of my own in the Maho Empire, and you would be of great help to me."
"My friend," Ernest began, his voice shaking, "I know. You are the court archmage. You have all this power in your hands, but you keep finding me. I know, I know. You want me to help you now, so you will have an excuse to help me when I go against Jerrofick, right?"
Saul felt a rush of blood to his face. He started, frustrated by his friend's stubbornness. "Then why are you still resisting? Just tell me, yes or no?" Ernest was right. Saul wanted to show him that he didn't need to be alone. Like how he sought Ernest's help against Yagor, the end justified the means. How they reached it didn't matter. The only thing that mattered would be that Ernest finally got his revenge against Jerrofick.
Anfey watched them, and felt himself moved by the two men's friendship. No, this was not an act. This was true friendship. One, running, was afraid that he would bring unnecessary trouble. The other, chasing, was determined to help no matter what, regardless of whatever excuses his friend had. Friendship this pure and this devoted was hard to come by nowadays.
As an assassin, Anfey was born to be a stranger. He didn't want to, and could not, have a close friend. There would be too many ways to make him spill his secrets—sleep talking, drunken slurs, accidents which could all lead to the exposure of his secrets. Whenever he was with someone else, Anfey felt uncontrollably nervous, fearing that others would find out who he really was. Only when he was alone could he truly relax. An assassin needed to rest his body and mind, or his mission would hardly be successful. Anfey would rather shut himself away in his bathroom than speak with a tavern owner or a patron.
If it was anyone else, being alone on an isolated island would cause at least some degree of psychological damage, but Anfey found himself like a fish in water there. He tried, on a few occasions, to cross the narrow channel that separated him and the world, but in the end he smothered that urge and kept himself on the island. Of course, he could manage it simply because he was used to loneliness.
"I…" Ernest smiled bitterly. Saul had left him no room to reject. "Alright. I will go with you to the Maho Empire."
"Good," Saul let out a sigh of relief and grinned. "We have a deal."
"Looks like you have to cross paths with Basdack now," Ernest said. "He controls Tumen's Commercial Union's teleporters."
"Why use teleporters?" Saul asked. "Let's go find a carriage. We can see some scenery on the way."
"Carriage?" Ernest asked, amused. "Since when are you willing to settle for carriages?"
Saul shot a glance at Anfey, but didn't say anything.
Ernest nodded. For a young man fresh from isolation, the world had become a stranger to him. If they just sent Anfey to the Mage Academy like this, he would perhaps become even more isolated. The best thing for him now was to have more contact with the world. A carriage was just an excuse to give Anfey more time to immerse himself in the culture of a world unfamiliar to him. Ernest had to admit, Saul did have the qualifications of a teacher. He was even more considerate of Anfey than Ernest had initially expected.