Destroyer of Ice and Fire
Chapter 112: Dwarven burial ground
The darkness before dawn shrouded Windsough Canyon.
Here was the only road to the southern desolate lands. Humans had never settled anywhere in the southern wastelands at any time in history, though they were five times the area of the kingdom of Eiche. No one founded glorious ancient kingdoms there. Even the earliest beastmen tribes didn't like the wastelands' barrenness, preferring wilder and nastier environments like the demon forests where beast, monsters, and poisonous creatures gathered.
Some gnome and dwarven tribes had always lived in these lands. These dwarven and gnome tribes weren't very open for the most part, living in seclusion from the world, to the point they had always meticulously hidden their tracks out their innate dread of the outside world. They were as barren as the wastelands, as desolate, surviving thanks to some simple farming and gathering.
What was worth mentioning was that there was once a gnome tribe called “Moro.” They were innate tradesmen, careful and cautious by nature. Unlike the earliest dwarven kingdoms that traded with large-scale caravans, they instead wandered to every remote corner of the continent carrying willow baskets and leather bags on their backs. With the most ancient forms of barter and retail, they established one gnome store after another.
In these gnome stores, none of the merchandise was available in great quantity, because it was impossible to transport too great a reserve with the most ancient form of travel on foot.
Yet there was a great variety of goods. Men had to stoop to enter each of these wooden houses that looked as if they could only contain a bed and some shelves, yet you could see thousand kinds of goods. From ornaments manufactured from lizard teeth, to candies with bizarre tastes, to high-end gems manufactured especially for arcane masters, everything was on offer.
Even in the most chaotic of war eras, the footprints of these gnome tribes still covered every corner of the continent, to the point one could find traces of these gnome stores even in these most remote wastelands, in some aboriginal tribes, or in some magic beast forests only beastmen could live in.
Gooseberry Town was but a small-scale gathering spot surrounding a famous diviner back in the short era when bragging, swindling diviners were in vogue on the continent of Doraster. There were only a dozen different shops and hostels there, a gnome store among them.
“An Evil Dragon apostle is a generic appellation for the believers and followers of the Evil Dragon on the continent. The greatest lure about them is the power of the Evil Dragon's bloodline.”
Ciaran directed Moss and Ayrin to establish a camp inside a forest on a hillside. She arranged some warning snares and traps, while answering some interrogations the two of them had at the same time.
“In the true sense, the Evil Dragon apostles who obtained the bloodline of the Evil Dragon were those present during the very end of the War of the Dragon, when the Evil Dragon King Ned died. The combination of the blood and arcane particles he released resulted in a kind of peculiar particle that could be absorbed and confer some of the gifts of his bloodline. After that, many people discovered that his bloodline could be transmitted in this manner, without the need to transmit it through holy artifacts. Everyone who obtained the Evil Dragon's bloodline possesses formidable talent and power... The reason why King Ned could lead so many dragons in that era was that his bloodline was precisely the strongest among dragon bloodlines. Also, the most important thing is, the bloodline of the Evil dragon had the power of 'Dirt.'
“The life essence condensed with their blood and arcane particles can dirty another arcane master's blood. It's the greatest poison for other arcane masters. That's why the arcane masters pursuing them also often die from the mutual destructive methods they use.
“According to previous news, Evil Dragon followers established a secret camp in a certain ravine at the southern tail end of the Dragon Breath mountain range. In a straight line, the southern tail end of the Dragon Breath Mountains is closer to our St. Lauren than to many parts of our kingdom of Eiche, but we just happen to be on two projections stretching into the southern wastelands. To come here in a straight line, they would need to cross through a great patch of unknown wasteland. That's why Evil Dragon followers have been active around the several towns near the tail end of the Dragon Breath Mountains, while we never found tracks of their activities in these parts before.”
“You can instantly transform from the most mediocre arcane master into a genius like Stingham after obtaining the Evil Dragon's bloodline, and you can even obtain some formidable arcane skills imparted by the Evil Dragon camp. That's why, because of the lure of this pure power, many fallen arcane masters will lose their allegiance to safeguarding the peace of the continent, serving the Evil Dragon apostles instead, thereby obtaining the Evil Dragon's bloodline.”
“To obtain the approval from the Evil Dragon camp, they can even kill their own friends and families, assassinate those who protect the kingdom and who they believe to be their greatest threats. They're the most deranged degenerates who trample on their own beliefs.”
“We have to fight forever, unless every single one of our enemies is dead.” Moss inexplicably remembered this sentence inscribed on the wall of a certain temple inside Holy Dawn Academy.
“They can butcher their families and friends, kill the arcane masters protecting the peace of the homeland, because of their lust for power. In the future, I absolutely have to become a battlemaster and fight against these people.”
Moss suddenly felt as if his life gained a new meaning.
Ciaran felt that, in front of her, Ayrin's expression was a little strange.
“I don't know. This canyon looks a little strange.”
Frowning, Ayrin looked at the canyon in front of him.
This canyon was an especially wide canyon, like a plain squeezed between two mountain ranges. They were in the middle part of this canyon, on a rather tall hillside. But even so, in the faint daylight, he couldn't see either end of the canyon.
Wind blew in from the southern wastelands, giving off an especially mournful and desolate feeling, for some inexplicable reason. The wind even seemed to carry the sound of whimpers.
“It's just like the lands of departed spirits and angry ghosts from the legends. Ghosts seem to drift in the wind.” Hearing the sound of the wind, Ayrin honestly expressed his impression.
“Look at the canyon valley here. Do you see any difference with the canyon valleys we passed through while rushing here?” Ciaran asked.
“There are no tall trees growing here.” Ayrin immediately saw the difference. In the same area, there were at least very tall trees growing in the other canyon valleys, forming dense forests. Yet only short shrubs and weeds grew in the valley in front of him.
“This was once a region inhabited by dwarves. At its peak, more than thirty thousand mountain dwarves lived in this valley.” Ciaran breathed in deeply and whispered, “Once, the hillside we're standing on right now was covered by the wine barrel-shaped tree houses they built. They'd transported many stones from riverbeds and orderly buried them in the canyon valley below us, precisely to prevent wild trees from growing there and disturbing their crops. They planted millet in the intervals between the rocks and used it as their staple food. They spent a third of a year baking bread and brewing wine. But in the later stages of the War of the Dragons, an Evil Dragon army fled here and attacked St. Lauren. They also slaughtered to the last the mountain dwarven tribe living here.”
“Here is the burial ground of more than thirty thousand dwarves. That's why many books also call this place the Canyon of Dwarven Tears.”
“It's also because these miserable tales exist that so many arcane masters fight and willingly sacrifice their lives, so that these stories don't repeat themselves. Right?” Ayrin imagined the once noisy and joyous scenes here. He sucked in a deep breath, such a thought floating in his mind.
Sunlight gradually sprinkled inside the Windsough Canyon. The whimpers also seemed to abate for the most part.
After taking turns to rest, not feeling the slightest sleepiness and fatigue because of the stimulation from the novelty, Moss and Ayrin began to seriously lay in ambush and keep watch.
The opponent was an arcane master with only two open arcane gates according to the data. That was why Ciaran would only play the part of a spectator and commander during the course of the mission. She wouldn't act, unless something particularly unexpected were to happen.
“Hurry up and show up! Hurry up and show up!”
Ayrin repeated constantly in his mind. He itched for that arcane master to appear in the canyon in front of him right at this instant.
“Why isn't he coming yet?”
Since they'd issued a mission like this, that meant that the scouting team had been previously able to pinpoint his position. But the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. They waited all the way until noon, yet they never spotted the shadow of that arcane master.
“Let's wait for another hour. If that arcane master doesn't show up within an hour, then we'll abort the mission and rush to Scarlet Stone Village to receive the next mission. Scarlet Stone isn't too far from your Cororin Town.” Remaining calm and collected, Ciaran muttered in a voice only Moss and Ayrin could clearly hear, appeasing the two freshmen who were a little fidgety already, “Something unexpected will arise in any kind of mission, but you have to remain always calm and patient anytime the unexpected happens. Especially for an ambush like this. Even if the enemy has a change of mind and doesn't pass through our place, another arcane team will be dealing with him.”
“That's the theory. Even if it's very hard for an enemy to escape under tight surveillance, we won't have anything to do with this fight if he doesn't come our way,” Moss continuously prayed in his mind.
But it seemed his prayers were to remain unanswered.
An hour went by. No arcane master passed through the canyon.
“The ambush mission is canceled.” Ciaran took back a small hourglass. “Now let's get ready to rush at full speed to...”
Ayrin's expression suddenly became solemn just at this time. He whispered, “Teacher Ciaran, wait a moment!”
“I can sniff the smell of food,” Ayrin looked at Ciaran, saying in an even lower voice.
“Where?” Cold sweat covered Moss' back because of his nervousness.
Usually, very few people went through the Windsough Canyon. Now, the smell of food very possibly came from the arcane master they were waiting for.
Without the slightest hesitation, Ciaran nodded at Ayrin.
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