A waning moon shone off in the distance behind the village, its pale moonlight faintly reflecting off of buildings’ pure white surface. The group stood at the edge of the village as it sprawled out in front of them, several small white blocks with a few tall spires dominating in height. Cleo took a step forward.
“What Di’Chosh could have created this? Does it jog any memories or anything Caelos?”
“I’m afraid not. I do not have much recollection of other Di’Chosh.”
Durrus approached one of the smaller cube-like houses.
Durrus paused as Horrus jogged towards the house. He walked through its doorway, axes drawn while peering around the corner. Moments later, he returns holding a few snakes in his hand.
“Sometimes animals like to hole up in abandoned buildings. There was a nest in there if you’re curious, but it should be no problem now.”
“Hah, I’m supposed to be the one giving advice like that! Thanks anyways kid.”
Durrus entered. From what little moonlight that fluttered in, he observed how it was a single-room building, mostly flooded with sand. It contained nothing more than what looked like a smashed bedframe shoved in the corner, a table half-buried, and a few chairs whose backs poked out of the mounds of sand. Off to another corner, a small area was separated by a short counter. He walked behind the counter, finding a cupboard like area carved into the counter, also filled completely with sand.
“Curi, bring that staff of yours in here, I need light!”
She jumped up and excitedly ran in, veering around the counter and lighting up the entire building. Durrus drew a knife as he dug sand out of the counter. Soon, something began to glimmer. He sheathed his knife and dug furiously at the glimmering object.
“Well would you look at this!”
He grabbed hold of the object and yanked it out of the sand. It was a dinner plate, made out of solid gold, only a few scratches and dents tarnishing its beauty. Curi crouched down, ogling the treasure. Durrus drew his knife again and began to scratch at the plate with it.
“Wait, what are you doing? Stop that, you’re gonna ruin it!”
“It’s all right kid, just confirming something. This definitely ain’t gilded, and I don’t think you can make something as smooth as this out of fool’s gold. Hah, and I thought whoever lived in the last ruins were being extremely vain about their weapons and tools!”
“The dishes I have at home are much shinier than this but, woah! We can throw out all of our old plates now, right?”
“No, of course not. We wanna keep these in as good as a condition as possible. Even if we don’t find any nobles vain enough to buy these, we can always melt them down.”
Durrus and Curi happily marched outside, showing off the plate to the rest of the group. Cleo swiped it out of his hands, feeling it and checking every side she could before he grumpily swiped it back.
“Incredible… If commoners ate off of gold, what do you think the nobles ate from?”
“Hopefully their plates are diamond studded and they eat with silver cutlery!”
He placed the plate in his sack.
“I’m gonna need to hire one hell of an excavation team when I return…”
“Come on, let’s keep exploring! I wanna find more cool treasures!”
“Now if we’re looking for nobles, I say we go to those tall buildings with the spires. They look royal enough to me.”
The group continued deeper into the collection of houses, weaving through the alleys overrun with sand. Among them, several of the fox creatures scurried about, digging through the sand, occasionally finding a strange bug or spider to snack on. Curi constantly stopped the group, peeping into any small house that looked somewhat different from the norm, Horrus and Caelos sticking close to her side as the other two tried to continue marching on. She surveyed each one quickly, to the delight of Cleo and Durrus, finding nothing more than sand, a few rats, or an angry snake who hissed at her only to be quickly silenced by Horrus. Not every house was fruitless, as she did manage to find a metal pot with a golden handle and a golden candle holder, which she proudly presented to the others before putting it away in a small bag of hers. Even the potential riches of the smaller houses distracted Durrus from the path, the slightest glint from any house causing him to take a slight detour. Despite all the constant interruptions, they reached one of the spire buildings. The spire, however, was only the very front of the building. It continued to extend back, taking on a more unique church-like shape with a tall, doorless archway at its entrance. The group entered together, Curi lighting up the entire room with her staff. The original purpose for the building was unfortunately unrecognizable, a mix of rubble and sand flooding the inside. The walls were all badly cracked and in desperate need of repair, the roof looking like it might collapse any second. More of the fox creatures were nested in corners with pups, closely watching every move of the group. The only thing still intact in this room was a wooden ladder, extending into the spire above. Cleo walked over, testing her weight on its first step, it creaking horribly in response.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to climb up that thing.”
“No, I think I got this.”
Cleo quickly took off her breastplate along with the rest of her equipment, only keeping her kilij strapped to her side.
“I want you all to stay below the ladder just in case it breaks and I’m too high up. Watch my stuff for me as well.”
As she began slowly ascending the ladder, Durrus stood below at the foot of it, staring up at her with a look of concern painted on his face. The ladder crackled with every step, the wood ever so slightly bending as she climbed higher and higher. She soon reached the top of the spire and climbed onto the stone floor, finding herself in an enclosed room smaller than a watchtower. Carved into the walls were windows, giving her a view of the entire village and beyond. The moon was nearing the horizon off in the distance, behind a massive castle-sized structure right at the edge of the dried lakebed. From what she could see, there were only three other spire like buildings scattered in the village, along with several stranger looking regular houses in some of the more tightly knit parts of the village. Some were longer, fatter, shorter, taller, and so on. A few strange buildings dotted among the regular small square homes were long rectangular structures which stretched out unusually, taking on curious cubical shapes. Even further off in the distance, far from the edge of the village, was what looked like a massive rectangular hole in the earth. Mentally noting the direction, she searched around the room, finding nothing more than a few strange birds eggs settled in the corners. After, she began descending the ladder, reaching the ground quickly.
“So, anything up there?”
“Unfortunately, other than some eggs, not really. It seemed like some kinda lookout area? I at least got a good look of the village. There’s another building like this not too far away, along with something very strange outside the village. It’s some kind of massive rectangular hole in the ground?”
“So something like a cave or quarry?”
“A… Now that you mention it, this stone had to come from somewhere…”
“We’ll check it out later, but I have a feeling what this entire village is made out of, and if my hunch is correct, I’m going to be colored beyond impressed.”
Caelos butted in. ef e“As should be expected of the work of Di’Chosh and humans.”
Cleo walked over to her gear and started putting it back on, as Curi ran over to the ladder.
“Is it all right if I can climb up there now?”
Caelos shook her head.
“I’m sorry Curi, that ladder is going to break any minute, and I can’t catch you if you do fall.”
“Well, what about Cleo? Can’t she catch me?”
Cleo was slipping on her breastplate.
“I’m going to agree with Caelos on this one. I’m positive that I used that ladder’s last use.”
“Aww, come on!”
Caelos looked down into her eyes. “Hush now, and don’t worry. There’s still a few other spires you can climb, right?”
“Yeah I guess…”
As they continued their walk, the sky behind the jagged mountain lit up to a bright pink. Less and less fox creatures wandered about, and the few they did see darted towards the nearest house. Curi still poked her head in every building possible, noticing now one or two foxes nested in the corners. On their walk, they noticed a fox charging out of an alley, only to be suddenly caught by the gaping jaws of an ahzak. The fox struggled only for a short while before it finally went limp, the lizard slowly lumbering out of sight with its catch. At the sight, Cleo brought out a journal of hers, flipping to a few pages and noting down something before putting it back. Durrus glanced over at her.
“Hey, what’s that for exactly?”
“This? Oh, I’m just logging all of the wildlife I find and any notes about them. Here, wanna take a look?”
She handed the journal to him who slowly flipped through, finding rough sketches of the foxes, aptly named the “Chidetan Fox”, the strange skeleton bugs from the compound named “Compound Crawler”, the tall, stilt walking beetle named “Sandfisher Beetles”, the terrifying larger burrowing beetle named “Shade Beetle”, and the small bulbous wormed simply named “Water Worms”, each one with several lines of notes next to their pictures. She had even noted down scarabs and ahzaks, the ahzak entry having freshly written notes in it.
“It’s important to log as much information as I can for when I get back. Plus I also thought calling them other names would be easier than just calling them ‘skeleton-looking beetle’ and such.”
“Well, I don’t object really. I’m not really willing to debate who gets naming rights, and I don’t think the others would object either.”
“Well to be fair, I’m probably the only one here who’s bothered to give all of the wildlife names.”
“You sure Curi hasn’t beaten you to that?”
She let out a quick smile before putting the journal back into her knapsack. They continued to navigate through the maze as the moon sank further down and the sun climbed higher up. As they approached the next spire building, several heads of birds peered out, before all of them flew forth from the spire itself. They looked somewhat like vultures, except with an odd deflated sack hanging off of their sides, fluttering in the wind. Durrus smiled a bit.
“Hah, I was about to ask where the vultures were! Glad to see our bodies won’t go to waste if we die out here, right?”
“Fat chance we’re going to anyways.”
This spire building held only a few piles of sand inside of it, several stone tables scattered around along with a mix of intact, damaged, and broken wooden chairs overturned and thrown about. Several planks, hammers, nails, and other tools were on the table and floor, and what looked like a furnace was at the back of the room. Durrus walked over and picked up the hammer.
“You think they could have at least gilded the handle or something…”
Cleo began walking towards the furnace, moving near one of the sand piles. Horrus glanced over, his eyes bugging out at the sight.
“Hold on Cleo, watch your step!”
He dashed forward as she paused. Suddenly, the top of the sand pile suddenly changed its texture as a flat lizard creature burst from it, mouth gaping open. Horrus shoved Cleo to the side and leapt towards the thing, grappling onto it. Cleo quickly drew her sword.
“Don’t try, I think I got a hold of em! And you might stab me as well!”
He and the beast writhed around, Horrus firmly locking his arms and legs around the creature. He let one of his arms reach for his axe and quickly smashed it into the beast. It let out a screech as Horrus released his grip on it, quickly following up with another swing. The axe cleanly broke the skin and entered the skull of it, the beast spasming one last time before going limp. He climbed up, wiping sweat from his face.
“Whew… good thing I noticed that that sand pile had eyes in time, huh? I guess that makes us equal now Cleo?”
She sheathed her sword, rage boiling over her face.
“Oh please, it probably would have gotten my arm or missed and I could have finished it off myself!”
“I’ll take that as a thank you. Glad to see we’re even now!”
“Fine, thanks. But all you did was stop me from getting an unnecessary scratch, all right?”
“Either way, fine job kid. Is the rest of this sand safe?”
“I don’t see anything funny about the rest of the piles, no.”
He giggled a bit to himself before she continued walking towards the furnace. She searched around and inside the furnace, finding nothing more than charred wooden remains. After a thorough search of the room, the group headed out the door, all except for Curi.
“Hey, you said I could climb to the top of this spire!”
“Well fine. First, just be careful-”
Curi immediately leapt onto the ladder, scurrying upwards. She didn’t get too high until suddenly one of the handles split beneath her weight, sending her plummeting to the ground. Caelos rushed over instinctively trying to catch her as she fell right through her arms, landing bottom first on the ground. Cleo and Durrus hurried over to her as Caelos hovered lower.
“You all right Curi?”
“As I was GOING to say, you need to be careful and take it slow, because we’re not sure how sturdy this ladder is. You’re lucky the ladder broke as soon as it did.”
Cleo grabbed her hand, helping her to her feet.
“Oww… Don’t worry it’s… I think I can walk it off.“
“Seriously kid, slow down a bit. It’ll literally save your life here.”
“I’m sorry I could not help you there Curi… Please, do be more careful.”
“It’s all right… ow…”
The moon had finally disappeared and the sun had overtaken the east, the mountain casting a massive jagged shadow over the village. The group had navigated out of the maze of buildings, moving towards the pit in the distance. They arrived after a lengthy walk, noticing how the pit was large enough to fit a castle inside of it lengthwise, and still with plenty of room to spare. Sand was slowly pouring into it, leaving a rather thick layer of sand at the bottom, filling almost half of it. The only way down was a sand-covered white slope. Durrus approached the slope, kneeling down and looking carefully.
“As I suspected. This stuff is marble, and so is the entire village. This is one hell of a quarry for a how old civilization now?”
“The wastes have only been recorded for a few centuries back now.”
“Makes sense then. I had my suspicions when that village was still standing.”
“Is there anything else here? Come on, let’s go back to the village!”
“Soon Curi, just give us a few moments.”
Cleo brought out her journal, flipping to an empty page, writing down more notes.
“Can you just imagine how much time it would have taken to carve out and haul back all of this stone? I can only imagine them hauling back a large chunk of marble, and carving the buildings out of the blocks. All of the buildings looked so seamless, no cracks or signs of them being constructed out of segments or anything.”
“If there’s a Di’Chosh out there who can carry really heavy stuff, I wouldn’t call it impossible.”
Caelos hovered closer to the two.
“Regardless of who did what, this village is a marvelous example of why we should reunite our two peoples once more.”
“Granted, this Di’Chosh might piss off some construction companies, but I’m willing to bet those in control of them would charge sky-high rates anyways.”
“Rates? Money has no worth to us. We would only work to help humans.”
“Well that’s implying an opportunist isn’t the one who gets ahold of the staff. You can’t really move anywhere outside the range of that thing, right?”
“True, but perhaps you can find some more generous folk to work with other Di’Chosh?”
“Yeah, you and Curi can have fun with that.”
“I’m certain Naha’Ja will be able to utilize the Di’Chosh to their fullest, I can promise you that.”
The shadow of the jagged mountain stretched through the center of the village, the tip stopping right before the massive castle-like structure. The group slowly approached it, gazing at the entirety of it, entranced by its magnificence. Large marble steps lead up to the entrance, which was lined with several towering ornate marble pillars. The entrance was as grandiose as the pillars, nearly reaching the roof, with several elaborate patterns carved on the outside of the archway, all covered by two heavy wooden doors. A large pile of sand had built up at the base, but the stairs leading up were far too tall, barely any sand tainting the clean white floors. They slowly climbed the stairs towards the entrance, all four of them having to push at the massive doors to even budge them. The interior was as magnificent as the exterior, the group first being met by a long, red carpet leading to a marble altar at the rear of the room. Several fine wooden pews, each one with an even finer lining of gold, and even more elaborate patterns inscribed on the sides, formed a half circle around the altar. Behind the altar was a small doorway holding onto the remains of a wooden door. The upper walls of the room had relatively small circular holes cut into them, letting sunlight freely light up the room. Cleo ran her hand along the wood, finding it to be incredibly smooth, not a single splinter sticking out. Durrus bent over, carefully inspecting the gold covering, finding an incredibly thin gap between it and the wood itself. He took out his knife and tried to stick it inbetween the gap to no luck. He walked along the pews, finding no nails or anything keeping it stuck to the wood. Curi ran about the temple, peeking under every pew and inspecting every crack with a massive smile plastered on her face, while Horrus strayed behind her. Cleo worked her way to the back of the room, inspecting the altar. Atop it were several mysterious gold and silver tools, bending and twisting into odd shapes. Behind the altar were marble shelves and racks. The shelves contained a few dozen jeweled cups and a few stacks of jeweled plates. The racks held several staffs looking similar to Curi’s, made of gold, silver, with a massive, beautiful gemstone adorning the top.
“Hey Durrus, I think I found your more expensive tableware you’ve been asking for!”
Durrus looked over, and sprinted on up to the altar.
“Dear lord on high, would ya look at all that!”
He grabbed a small stack of the plates and shoved them all into his sack.
“I think I might have to re-unite all my old friends in order to get all this stuff back home! With all this we’d be set for five lifetimes and still have plenty to spare! Hell, how many more villages like this do you think are still standing in the wastes?”
Curi ran up close behind and quickly took one of the cups.
“I’m definitely gonna take this home with me!”
She held it up into the sunlight, a myriad of colors reflecting off of the jewels.
“This is so pretty! Ohhh, I can’t wait to get home and tell everyone about all this!”
“I think you’d need every archeologist on the continent to even start scratching the surface of everything here.”
“And one hell of a fleet of caravans.”
The group continued past the shattered door into a rather small back room. There was nothing more than a few tables and chairs with another smashed door at the rear. A cylindrical indent in a small pedestal-like mound in the center of the room with a few skeletons surrounding it wearing tattered, decomposing clothes whose beauty had likely been long lost to time. Curi froze, gasping a bit at the sight. Cleo kneeled down closer, inspecting the bones, while Durrus and Horrus neared the next doorway. Cleo noticed, and leapt to her feet and trailed behind. The last room was a massive hallway, stretching downwards into the earth. The center was a pathway made of solid gold, running under several beautifully cut archways, each one with torch mounts on their insides. The group continued deeper down, passing under archway after archway, the light from outside very quickly dying out. A short distance down the ground finally leveled out, but the group halted before they reached it. Two compound crawlers stared right at the group, bathed in the white light of Curi’s staff. Both screeched at them, before quickly retreating into the darkness. They followed slowly, walking past even more and more archways, deeper into the dark hall until they finally reached a massive, marble door, swung all the way open revealing the all too familiar dark gray walls and floors, only lacking the sight of the dim green lights lining the walls. There was no small door blocking it off however, the compound being more of an extension to the elaborate hallway.
“Looks like we found what you were looking for Caelos. Everyone, stay close and behind me, and keep your eyes out for anything.”
The group took formation except for Horrus, who took the lead, marching down the hall. He stopped at the very edge of the light.
“Come on, hurry it up the rest of you!”
Cleo popped her head from behind Durrus.
“Sorry, we’re just trying not to be suicidal here!”
“I’m the one being brave here! You don’t even need to hide behind Durrus, I can deal with all these bugs before they’ll even reach you!”
“I’m willing to bet we’ll have to pry a few crawlers off of you!”
“Unless you two want to be swarmed with crawlers, I suggest you both shut up! Now let’s move on!”