Episode 124 – Ashes
Half curious, half excited, she pushed the object out of the stone pillar with her own Morph, doing her utmost to preserve the original shape of the pillar. Luckily, she was a master in this regard so even after the object had been pushed out, the pillar remained exactly the same, not a single carving was amiss.
Only after ensuring that she hadn’t ruined the exquisite piece of architecture, did Nelaira look down towards the object in her hand that had previously been hidden inside the pillar.
It was a well preserved leather-bound booklet with no title on the cover. There were fleeting signs of mana on it, as if it used to be enchanted, but the enchantment had long run out of mana and evaporated.
Curious, Nelaira flipped the book open gently, afraid that the wheels of time had made the book brittle although it outwardly looked fine. Fortunately, the inside was just as well preserved as the outside, no doubt being stuck inside a stone pillar helped.
The book flipped open to the middle, to the position of a red silk bookmark. The bookmarked page was filled with runes written in a messy handwriting written in haste.
Nelaira could tell at first glance that the booklet was a diary because of how every entry had a date on the upper right corner. She smiled warmly, even letting out a soft giggle: “Zel would be thrilled! While other people dream of finding divine artifacts, he dreams of finding diaries.”
Unlike her, who was only interested in the architecture and sculpture, her fiancé was interested in culture and knowledge of the ancient civilizations. That’s why the best treat he could find in his exploration was a diary filled with random thoughts. Such diaries gave a wonderful glimpse into the everyday life and important happenings at the time.
If the diary were written before the Great Mage Wars, it would most commonly contain some kind of research notes on various subjects that could be potentially extremely valuable to the current society, as a lot of knowledge had been lost during the Wars.
However, most diaries they found were actually written during the Great Mage Wars, and besides the historical value, they didn’t contain much else. After the start of the Great Mage Wars, people were worried that every day could be their last. Therefore, everyone wished to leave a part of themselves behind in case of their death. Thus, they wrote and left many diaries behind.
Nelaira stashed the diary carefully in her bag, imagining the excited glimmer in the eyes of her other half when she returned with this little diary. He’d be so sorry he hadn’t gone with her on this expedition.
She was right. What her fiancé would regret the most in his life was not going on this expedition with her.
Nelaira proceeded onwards, not putting a second thought on the matter why the diary was hidden inside a pillar, after all, diaries contained private thoughts, it was only natural that the owner would hide it.
She continued her exploration, completely unaware that this little book was neither of the things she expected it to be. Blissfully unaware of the staggering price she and her comrades would have to pay for stumbling upon this unassuming booklet.
Unaware, that she might never again see that excited glimmer in the eyes of her fiancé…
While Nelaira was looking left and right at the architecture, Luki was busy looking for medicinal herbs. Usually, he would ask either Nelaira, the redhead or her husband, to escort him around, since he was on closest terms with those three. However, Nelaira went off exploring, and the two lovebirds wanted some alone time, so he ended up going with the comrade with the orange-green crew cut.
Luki was fully focused on his work, hopping around excitedly and picking various herbs. Then, like a woman shopping, he would fill the arms of his escort with herbs while he continued striding around, looking for more “merchandise”.
His escort looked at him helplessly but said nothing.
The pink haired elibu went through most of the nearby meadows until he reached a meadow near the village where he noticed a variety of interesting specimens. He noticed a bluish grass mixed within the greenery that most people would fail to notice, yet Luki recognized it as Silvermoon Root. The plant had wonderful healing properties, especially effective against swellings, burns, bites and irritated skin.
Luki checked the surrounding grass for snakes or spiders, and upon not finding anything dangerous he squatted down to pick it.
Underneath the bluish grass was the actual root. Silvermoon Root looked similar to a long and thin silver carrot that just kept growing longer, burrowing deeper into the earth. Luki had to dig deep to be able to pull it out. Luckily, he could morph the earth away from the root, so he eventually managed to pull it out, careful not to damage it in the process.
Luki intended to cast a Cleansing to remove the dirt from the root, but upon closer inspection, he realized that only the upper half of the root was contaminated with the brown soil.
He wiped his finger across the lower half of the root and brought it up to his eye level. There was no soil on the root, rather, there was some kind of brittle gray dust.
The pink haired healer looked back down into the hole he had created and widened it to reveal the soil in which the root had been growing. The upper layers of earth were normal brown soil, however, around two feet in, the soil became brittle and gray.
Luki’s heart almost jumped out of his chest, worried that he had inadvertently come into contact with Ink. But after the initial scare, he realized that it couldn’t be Ink. If it were, the Silvermoon Root which was in contact with it would have withered away, followed by every other plant here.
Ink spread so fast it was visible to the naked eye. It was just like dripping a drop of black ink into clear water. The black tendrils would spread in all directions until the clear water turned dark. This behavior and its black appearance was probably why the scourge had been named Ink in the first place.
Still, he couldn’t help but feel curious. If it wasn’t Ink, why was this soil gray?
As he dug deeper, he soon realized why.
There was a thick layer of ash buried underneath the earth. Other than ash, there were also some kind of gray flakes mixed within, which crumbled with the lightest of touch.
Curious. Luki mused. Did the people here use to bury the ashes of their deceased?
His curiosity piqued, Luki turned towards his escort. “Hey, could you mow down the lawn?”
His companion stared at him dumbfoundedly. “You want me to do what??”
Luki hoped that he would find a tombstone or some other landmark in this place, covered by the overgrown grass. He would be praised for his achievement if he found anything with writing on it.
Unfortunately, even after mowing down the nearby area, there was absolutely nothing there.
It probably got buried under the earth with the passage of time. Luki concluded. He wasn’t an archaeologist, but after years of expeditions, he would be stupid if he didn’t pick up a thing or two.
Thus, Luki took some time to weave a large-scale Morph spell on the ground, hoping that he would be able to feel the monument. He wasn’t a scout and didn’t specialize in using large-scale Morph spells to feel the surroundings. However, he was a healer, and healers used the Morph spell to feel the bodies of their patients. The precision of his sensing ability was higher than anyone else in the group. It’s just that doing a small but precise Morph spell wasn’t the same as doing a large, less precise one. Thus their scout was still better when it came to large scale sensing.
After the spell had been completed, Luki stood there, feeling the ground, for a long, long time.
He felt many little rocks underneath the ground and even reached the bottom of the soil where the hard mountain began, yet, he couldn’t feel anything that could possibly be a tombstone or a monument.
Perhaps the ancient civilization had a custom of burying the ashes of their deceased without a tombstone? Becoming one with nature and all that?
Luki rubbed his chin in thought and decided to Morph the upper layer of earth into a wall around the area to reveal the ash underneath. Soon, what greeted his eyes was a dense circular layer of ash the size of an average bedroom.
Luki’s green eyes narrowed. If they simply used this area as a graveyard, why would the distribution of ash be circular? Without a monument, how would they even know where to bury the ash? Unless of all of it was buried at once?
Perhaps they had a giant pyre and buried the remains here?
“I say, a fire dragon probably burped here.” Luki’s companion offered his opinion.
Luki looked at the man with the crew cut strangely, unsure if he was joking.
“If that’s the case, we should leave quickly. Dragons can be quite territorial.” A familiar voice floated over to reveal another comrade, who had probably gotten overwhelmed with pity for the comrade who had been forced to carry around plants, and thus decided to come help out.
Luki returned his gaze to the ashes, deep in thought. Fire dragons did have a bad habit of setting things on fire. They are also known for burying miscellaneous stuff. It was possible that the dragon buried the remains of his activities. But…when had Luki ever simply accepted the most reasonable and likely answer?
“If the ash had been buried here for a long time, it would have been slowly dispersed and mixed with the soil. Yet there is still so much visible ash here.” Luki looked up, giving his comrades a meaningful look. “Do you know what that means?”
“Uh…that we should warn the rest about a potential fire dragon threat?”
Luki sighed sadly, mourning the severely lacking imagination of his companions.
“The quantity of ash is too large for it to be the remains of a simple fire. Someone burned a large quantity of matter and buried the ashes here within the last 20 years.”
When Nelaira returned to their campsite for lunch, she overheard a rather interesting conversation between her comrades:
“I’m telling you. A fire dragon took a dump and then buried its droppings. Its droppings were hot and burned the adjacent foliage.”
“There is too much ash. No way would adjacent foliage leave so much ash behind. Are you saying he burned down half the forest compressed into ten square meters?” Luki argued.
“Or perhaps it had a lair here. All I’m saying is that it’s possible.” The argel with a crew cut shrugged his shoulders. Luki glared at him and tsked.
Aurel Iphis, the husband of the redhead, sighed in resignation. “Luki…only you’d make such a fuss about finding some ashes.”
Seeing Nelaira’s approaching figure, Luki’s eyes lit up. “Lieutenant, help me out here.”
After receiving the summary of the situation, Nelaira had a strange expression on her face.
As an expert with dealing with Luki’s overactive imagination, she knew that the more one opposed him, the more he wouldn’t let go of his view. So, she decided to take the opposite approach this time: “Alright, for the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right.”
The middle-aged argel with a monocle, who sat next to Nelaira, grunted: “Don’t humor him…” but Nelaira ignored him: “Let’s say that someone indeed buried the remains of a pyre here in the last 20 years. The question is, why would someone bother burying the ashes of a pyre?”