White rays of sunlight fell inside the hexagonal city, and basked most of the wreckage in a layer of white.
Inside the empty city, on the abandoned streets, a blonde man dressed in a grey robe walked forward slowly. He surveyed his surroundings from left to right occasionally as his feet stepped over littered building debris and rubbish. There were also some mysterious deep pits on the ground that looked like white dots, and could be seen everywhere on the city streets.
Both sides of the street were filled with ashen shophouses and the occasional multi-levelled hotel building, and there were broken stone sculptures on the roofs of the buildings.
All of the doors and windows of the buildings were now empty black holes that allowed the cold wind to blow in endlessly.
The blonde man stepped on the ground with his leather shoes, crushing some of the broken stones and making crunching noises as he walked.
He walked on the streets alone while his eyes scanned the area from both ends quickly without giving his pupils enough time to focus.
After walking for a distance, the man passed through two neighbourhoods and walked unto an ashen stone arched bridge.
The right side of the bridge had been damaged by an unknown object and only left than half of it was left. Below it was a dried out river bed, where an abundance of fine green grass was growing in the black river bottom.
"To think that I wouldn’t be able to find a single survivor?" The man walked across the arched bridge slowly, as a doubtful expression appeared on his face.
After he had separated from the others, he decided to go to the museum alone to obtain the item that he was looking for-- the Striped Crystal. Initially, he thought that he would have encountered at least a few monsters, he certainly did not expect that he would not even see one.
"Garen! En… En… Oh…" Suddenly, the sound of Angel yelling and its echoes could be heard in the distance.
Garen looked towards his left near the further parts of the river, and saw Angel and Vicky walking further away in the direction of the river. Both of them were dressed in bright red leather armor, and resembled sharp, little red dots.
The yelling noises sounded throughout the empty city endlessly, and formed echoes.
"Did you find any… ni… ni… ni…?" Angel’s voice echoed from a distance.
Garen raised a hand and shook it from left to right, signalling that he did not.
Angel soon realised that her loud yells would easily attract monsters, so she shut her mouth and stopped shouting. Instead, she used her hand movements to point in the direction of the furthest part of the river to signal that she was walking over there.
Garen understood her actions and walked forward to point out his own direction as well.
Both of them waved at each other before they separated and continued walking forward.
After crossing the stone bridge, a street shaded by trees lay ahead, and when the cold wind blew, the fallen leaves on the ground would roll past and made soft noises as they brushed against the ground.
On the side of this street, a row of wilted buttonwood trees were planted there. There were almost no leaves on the trees, as most of them had become dried leaves that littered the ground.
Garen walked forward calmly at a seemingly slow pace, when in actual fact every step he took covered a great distance, and was actually an average person’s running speed.
He surveyed the environment of his surroundings and noticed that a majority of the shops on both sides of the street were clothing stores and accessory shops. There were shelves of women’s clothes and jewelry displayed inside, and some of the clothing racks had already collapsed while thick layers of dust had accumulated on top of the expensive fabric.
In the middle of the road in front, a brass statue was built there. It was a statue of a little boy in a urinating position which was connected to a round pool below. The pool had dried up completely and a pile of wilted buttonwood leaves had accumulated at the bottom of the dried out ashen coloured pool.
Garen walked to the side of the pool and stretched his hand out to pick up a buttonwood leaf. The wilted leaf resembled a yellow claw that had curled upwards at the edges.
He pinched it gently and the leaf instantly let out a crunchy noise, before it broke into many paper-like pieces.
Garen brought his hand up towards his nose and sniffed it, as a dry scent entered his nostrils immediately.
"What caused so many people in this city to leave this place? There isn’t a single trace of monsters. However, the fallen watchtower outside clearly shows that a war had broken out."
Still uncertain, he threw away the leaf pieces in his hands, and crossed over the decorative pool.
After crossing this neighbourhood, up ahead on the right side, a plaza that was filled with wilted leaves appeared before Garen.
The plaza was oval shaped with three different stone sculptures in the middle that depicted three different single-horned beasts that were posed in a neighing position with a single hoof raised. Their snow-white bodies had began to show thin crack lines.
On the sides of the plaza, long strips of flower beds had been erected to line the borders, but only black soil remained inside, as the colourful flowers had disappeared a long time ago.
Garen’s gaze scanned across the plaza before he looked in front and noticed a foggy rectangular building there.
It looked like a simple white rectangular box. The perimeter of this building was propped up by black stone pillars that were spread out at equal distances from each other, with unknown patterns engraved at the top.
Garen quickened his footsteps and walked towards this building.
Once he had reached the front of the building, he saw a triangular fountain at the main door that had dried up a long time ago. The road leading inside had been split in the middle with one end leading towards the right and the other to the left, forming the shape of an eye. On the outer area of the road stood two bronze statues of people. They were both identical statues of a young man raising a book in one hand. Garen felt as if he was leading something along with him, so he turned his head and looked behind as he walked forward and took long strides.
Garen came from the left side and walked around the fountain before standing in front of the sculpture and stroking the human sculpture gently.
The temperature was extremely low and the air was as cold as ice. The texture of the ground was also rough, and very hard.
He looked down at his fingers and noticed that a thin layer of black dust had appeared there.
He arched his head upwards and looked at the sunlight. Garen suddenly noticed that the sky had started to turn dark. The rays that had warmed his body earlier had now disappeared. Instead, it was substituted by a cold breeze.
Garen furrowed his brows and took his pocket watch out of his pocket. Inside the brass watch face, the hour hand stood straight at the ‘1’ position.
"One-twenty in the afternoon, who would have thought that it would be cold at this hour?" He kept his pocket watch carefully and wrapped his grey robe tighter around his body. He took long strides and walked towards the main door of the museum.
There was a large metal-framed wooden door outside the museum. The large door was as tall as two people, and the golden keyhole in the middle seemed to be of an expensive grade. Two silver chains hung outside the main door, and were probably used to tie it up.
Garen lifted the chain and twisted it lightly with his fingers.
A crisp noise sounded before the chain broke into two.
Once the chain had been opened, Garen pressed his palm lightly against the keyhole. There was no sound, so he pushed again lightly.
The entire keyhole was pushed inwards and fell on the ground with a ‘clang’.
The main door was pushed open slowly and the doors faced the outside areas in both directions.
The interior was completely empty and the floor was filled with black dust. The walls were also stained with traces of smoke and most areas had been burnt and melted by fire, causing some of the metal cupboards and burnt coal to stick together, blackened to the point where they were indistinguishable.
"This is going to be troublesome…" Garen knitted his eyebrows together closely.
He walked forward and looked straight ahead.
The whole museum could be seen straight ahead. Up in front, the middle section was completely burnt black, and the only undamaged exhibition counters were situated in the back. All of these counters were shaped like spheres, and were protected by a piece of transparent crystal glass. The surrounding floors were covered with scattered pieces of broken glass, causing the place to be in a state of disorder.
Garen crossed the charred section hurriedly and walked towards the last exhibition counter.
The sound of his own footsteps could be heard continuously throughout the empty museum, and as the noise echoed throughout the emptiness, it seemed as if another person was following Garen from behind.
He narrowed his eyes when he suddenly thought of the issue with Reylan last night, and his emotions turned gloomy all of a sudden. The echoes made it seem like there were more footsteps in the distance that were softer than his own, stalking him from behind. They seemed nearby, following him closely from behind.
Garen turned around suddenly and stopped in his tracks.
There was nothing behind him, and the sound of the footsteps stopped immediately as well.
"Was it an illusion?" He tried to silence his footsteps, not allowing himself to make any noise.
Suddenly, the hair-raising sensation from before finally ceased.
When he reached the front of the counter, Garen began to examine the exhibits inside one by one.
Extravagantly priced jewels, some exquisite copperware, ancient metal boxes, and the latest silver pocket watch. All kinds of mysterious exhibits were displayed inside the counters.
Garen walked passed the expensive but unimportant items right away, as his gaze scanned across the room, before finally noticing that there were lists of the exhibits placed on the wall a fixed distance from each other.
The lists contained clearly-written records of various treasures and the numbers of the counters where they were kept.
Garen’s eyes scanned across the lists before finally finding the counter where the Prime Crown was kept: Number 28.
He walked in front of the undamaged counters and looked at the numbers on top, noticing that were between numbers 270 to 350.
Garen followed the direction of the counters and walked forward towards them.
He quickly found counter 28 where most parts of it had already melted.
The crystal glass had been stained black by the smoke. He placed five fingers on the surface of the counter and pushed it lightly, before his fingernail suddenly penetrated it deeply.
A cracking noise could be heard as a large lump of coal and something else was instantly dug out by Garen.
The inside of it was empty, and seemed like it had not been burnt completely.
Garen reached inside and felt around, before grabbing a crown-like object, and pulling it out immediately.
A pure silver crown was now in his hands. The crown was completely spotless, a pure silver colour, except for the red diamond-shaped crystal embedded in the middle. The crown was simple, but also delicate and neat.
The jewel was the size of a fingernail, crystal clear, and pure beyond comparison. There was not a single defect or impurity to be seen.
Garen picked up the crown and examined the red crystal in the middle carefully.
"The Striped Crystal. It’s main characteristic is that when it faces external oppression, thin stripes will naturally appear inside it."
Garen’s finger pressed against the red crystal gently.
Suddenly, thin web-like lines floated upwards like countless stripes, and could be seen clearly.
"This is it."
He kept the crown in his clothes pocket immediately.
After that, he began to refer to the list again, before searching the other counters for the exhibits he might require.
In many of the burnt counters, the majority of the exhibits inside were unburnt, but the exterior of the counters had melted because of the fire, which made removing them more troublesome. The ones that had truly been burnt to a crisp, were but a few.
To prevent the exhibits inside from being damaged, Garen’s every move was executed extremely carefully, which proved to be unnecessarily tiring.
Seconds and minutes ticked away. The sky outside began to darken.
Garen reached his hand inside one of the burnt counters.
Suddenly a loud noise echoed from the outside and the ground began to shake violently. It sounded like the footsteps of a large creature.
"What was that?"
Garen kept his hands to himself and placed the black crystal inside his pocket.
Bang bang! Bang bang bang!!
The footsteps echoed once again and the ground quaked violently as large amounts of dust began to fall down from the ceiling of the museum.