Garen scowled, looking around cautiously. "Looks like he did set this whole thing up to make sure we enter. What is he trying to achieve?"
"Your guess is as good as mine." Su Lin shrugged, "Let’s go then. The Falls is right in front, let’s find out how he planned to usher us, shall we?"
Garen nodded, the three of them slowly approaching a tiny waterfall within their sight.
The waterfall was like a quadrilateral white silk embedded in the middle of a vast green made of grassy fields and pine forests, on its right was a ruins full of oval white stones.
Grayish-white stone houses splattered all over the ruins. Destroyed walls and thriving weeds formed a harmonious concerto of gray, white, and green.
The trio walked past the waterfalls to slowly make their way up to the ruins. Garen replaced Su Lin as the group’s pathfinder.
He looked around, none of the three-story houses were spared from the destruction. All the windows lead to separate pockets of gloomy lifelessness.
"This used to be a small town… from decades ago, it seems." Garen muttered, "You can tell by the weathering of the structures and the density of the weeds."
"That’s right, more specifically, about fifty to sixty years ago." Su Lin pointed out.
Garen peered at him, "You can tell?"
"Don’t underestimate me. I’m a genius with five university degrees!" Su Lin beamed.
"Now that we’re here, what’s next? Duskdune Shura wouldn’t leave us hanging if he went through all that trouble to lead us here." Celine interrupted the banter, "Let’s split up to look for clues?"
"Not necessary." Garen turned toward a small alley between two houses on his left. The alley was dim and muted leading to the unknown. The only things visible at the other end of that alley were sinopia-colored boulders and mossy grass.
"Can you smell anything?" Garen inquired from Celine.
"Nuh-uh, still too mixed up to tell." Celine shook her head.
"This layout… it looks like the Ancient Endorian’s. A town that was only abandoned several decades ago, using Ancient Endorian infrastructure? Smells fishy." Garen mused.
"Duskdune Shura lead us here, so it must be one of his schemes," Celine speculated, "Do you think the secrets of Golden Sword Throne is hidden in here?"
"Beats me." Garen was not convinced, "What has Golden Sword Throne, from the Nabudas Empire of the Fivestar Continent got to do with Ancient Endorian civilization of the Stonecliff Continent?"
"Let’s search for more clues." Su Lin suggested.
"Like you said, the infrastructure here is similar to the Ancient Endorian’s. If it really is connected to the Ancient Endorians, we’ll need to look at the layout of the whole town." Garen recalled. "I need more information to identify the important areas in the town. Can you two do me a favor by counting the number of buildings in town, as well as finding a pattern of their distribution?"
"Sure, let’s split up." Su Lin nodded, "Be safe, Celine."
Celine retorted, "I can easily beat two of you, Su Lin. You’re the physical weak link, remember?"
Speechless, Su Lin partitioned the town into two parts, and went in different ways with Celine to check out the geography of their areas.
Garen stayed back to scrutinize the details of the infrastructure.
He pressed him palm gently against the wall, against the weird grayish-white moss. They feel damp, and slightly cooling.
Returning to the ruins, it was pin-droppingly silent now that both Celine and Su Lin have gone far.
Garen strolled torpidly. "If it’s following the Ancient Endorian layout…" He recalled the knowledge about ancient architecture he learned from the old man Gregor, deep in thought. "Maybe… over there!"
He sauntered along the path between houses and circled the ruins from outside until he arrived at a clearing with a collapsed metal fence. It was filled with platinu
m gray rubble. Weeds with different shades of green sprouted between the rocks, filling the area with a barren tranquillity.
Garen entered the clearing through an opening, stumbling ever so slightly every now and then.
The stones on the ground were extraordinarily smooth, only some crumbled and some fallen.
Garon took another few steps, as if to triangulate the clearing, and finally stopped beside a crooked gray stone.
Before he could crouch down, he hesitated and glanced toward the town ruins.
Both Su Lin and Celine were hustling toward him.
Celine was the first to arrive, and reported, "There were twelve buildings here."
"It’s a triangle, a very proper triangle. Isn’t that spooky?" Su Lin continued, clearly in discomfort.
Garen nodded, his eyes glazed as a donut, and stood there motionlessly.
A few minutes passed before he finally recovered.
"I get it now." He looked down in search for something. Not long after, he stood in a tiny clear space devoid of rocks and rubbles.
He crouched and started grazing the ground. Finding something, he pull it free of the grass.
In Garen’s palm there was a black metallic ring, attached to something before being pulled free.
"According to the Ancient Endorian style," Garen tried evoking his knowledge. It’s only after the old man Gregor’s death that he realize that the knowledge the old man gave him were all hidden secrets that no one will ever find in bookstores. Those are the knowledge no other appraiser will find out on their own.
He perused the very fine script on the ring, stood up, walked for about ten paces, and stood still.
"This was a graveyard." Garen whispered to Su Lin and Celine. "Follow me." Both of them were already heading toward him as he said that.
The trio arrived at the edge of the graveyard, beneath a tree.
Grazing the ground once again, Garen dug out some dirt, exposing a rectangular stone tablet with words engraved on it.
‘Eyham Vent, May Your Spirit Rest In Eternal Peace. 2867.3.1’
"This is someone’s tomb from Year 2867, we are in Year 2987, this was buried 120 years ago!" Su Lin frowned disapprovingly. "What on earth are you doing Garen?"
"This is the key to this riddle," Garen held both sides of the tablet, "I wanna open it." He forcefully lifted the tablet and set it aside.
Garen peered into the casket. It wasn’t a human remains as they thought it was, but a hole leading deep into the earth. Chilly air and odor poured out of the dark rectangular hole. It smelled like rotten eggs.
"Wow, you’re good at this appraisal thing!" Su Lin whistled, "You found the ruins of an ancient civilization!"
"Meh, this is just a traditional tomb from a long time ago, they used to store the deceased in a tomb cellar like this." Garen explained, unamused. "A long time ago, it was also very popular in the Stonecliff Continent. People believed that even after death, the souls would still need to perform daily routines, so they would base their tombs on a cellar for the living, they even have living rooms, bedrooms, and storage rooms."
"Tsk, I thought there was a huge discovery," Su Lin said dejectedly and pulled out his flashlight, "Lemme see."
He stood in front of the hole and shined his flashlight into it, causing some of the mud and dirt to fall in. Su Lin cautiously leaned over and looked down into the hole.
From within the hole, a black thread shot unexpectedly toward Su Lin’s face.
"Watch out!" It was too late for Garen to block it due to its speed. It was a black thorn with three sharp edges, spinning at high speed aiming for Su Lin’s forehead.
Garen tried to block it with his own body, but it was too late.
Su Lin stumbled backward and fell sitting on the ground. His hands were covering his face, panting heavily.
"What… what on earth!" Even his speech slurred. Just that instant he thought he was going to die.
Having realized that Su Lin avoided a death trap, both Garen and Celine sighed in relief.
Releasing his hands, a red scar emerged beneath Su Lin’s right eye, adding a sense of allure to his already charming face.
"Thank goodness I had a hunch and evaded, or else I’d be dead by now." He was still trembling, the red scar beneath his eye slowly faded away.
"As long as you’re okay. What’s that under your eye?" Garen inquired.
"It’s a Cryptic Secret Technique that I learned, it has a little side effect, so I can’t use it so often." Su Lin smiled wryly. "It’s just the beginning! I can’t believe they made me use my trump card already."
"Cryptic Secret Technique? It’s the kind that simplifies some of the application method in some Secret Techniques for normal fighters. A lot of stronger non-Martial Adept fighters will learn a little at some point." Sensing Garen’s confusion, Celine explained. "Of course, these sort of Secret Methods are less powerful than the full version, and most of them will have some sort of side effects."
Comprehending, Garen nodded, "Alright, if I’m correct, this tomb should have a lot of Ancient Endorian secrets. I think Duskdune Shura lead us here to make us solve the mystery of the Ancient Endors."
He raised his arm toward the black hole and felt a cool draft from inside the cave.
"This is not just a normal tomb, it probably have other entrances. Usually a tomb would only have one entrance."
"You’re saying this is an underground pass?" Celine’s eyes widened with glee.
"Very likely." Garen tossed a stone into the cave, and swung his arm on top of the entrance. After confirming that there’s no further traps, he declared, "Okay, it’s safe now. The poisonous gas should have dissipated about now."
"Are we going in?"
"We have to. If my assumption is correct, this entrance will have a Testament of the Dead who entered the Ancient Endorian ruins." Garen replied. "It’s the law of the Ancient Endor."
The three people carefully shined the flashlight into the cave again, revealing a silvery gray staircase which extends downward.
On the right side of the staircase, there was a white stone pillar, with oval red stone in an exquisite stone bowl. The stone is as huge as a fist, with carvings of symbols and fine patterns.
"That’s the one, I’ll recover it." Garen carefully stepped onto the stone staircase, advanced toward the pillar, and reached for the stone bowl.
Two clear dings echoed as something struck the back of his palm, two thorns like the one that attacked Su Lin shot down from above, hitting the back of Garen’s hand and made a golden spark.
"What a force!" Garen focused and continued reaching his hand over to grab the bowl.
Garen withdrew his hand by instinct, his index finger started to smoke, releasing a odor of burnt skin.
He looked at his finger, the pulp of it was charred, as if the whole area has been broiled with high temperature.