Chapter 233 Ancient Ruins
The further east they sailed, the thinner the fog became, but the sky still remained gloomy as if the sun was unable to reach this part of the sea.
The surrounding reefs also got higher and higher, gradually turning into sturdy stone pillars, Ashes didn’t know why the ship was still stable, even though the water level was steadily falling. Even the rolling sea waves have lost their power, including the spray, which was now as tranquil as a lake without wind.
“Why don’t you just wait for the seawater to reach the lowest level before you enter the Shadow Sea?” Tilly asked, puzzled, “Then you do not have to be afraid of hitting the rocks, after all, by then all the reefs will be exposed.”
“Because if we wait until the seawater ebbed away, we won’t be able to see the Ghost Red River, which shows us explorers the only channel leading to the ruins,” Thunder explained. “These pillar-like islands you see everywhere aren’t fixed, with each ebb and flow their position will change. And it must be said that the seawater will swallow the majority of these pillars, so they cannot be used to locate the direction.
“Ghost… Red River?” Tilly asked, confused.
“That’s right. Look, there it is–” Thunder whistled and pointed to the bow.
Looking in the direction he pointed, the witches saw the dark blue sea, with a few red figures within – flashing through their view, like a phantom. But soon, another two or three red shadows came drifting along, and this time Ashes could clearly make out their bodies, they were fish, that had completely red scales.
“Are they… fish?”
“They are the unique red scales fish from Shadow Island,” Thunder stroked his chin and laughed, “Later on you will see the actual color of the Ghost Red River.”
Gradually, more and more fish were gathered together, no longer just the small groups of just two or three. Instead, they had gathered together in massive swarms, collectively swimming in the direction the stern was pointing – looking far ahead, Ashes was stunned by the scene she saw. More and more fish had come together to form a powerful current, making it appear as if there was a thick dark red carpet within the sea. The sailing ship visibly sailed forward along this red line, and when the bulge passed through the shoal of fish, from time to time sounds of collisions could be heard.
So, that’s the reason. Ashes suddenly recognized that this was the Ghost Red River – a strange nonexistent river! As the ship continued to move forward, the dense shoal of fish expanded to such an extent that the channel could accommodate several ships side by side. Slowly the dark blue water seemed to completely disappear as if the sailing ship was traveling on top of the fish. If they hadn’t been moving in opposite directions, Ashes would even believe that the ship was being carried by these fish.
“Why are they doing this?” Tilly asked in surprise.
Ashes also very much wanted to ask this question, she had absolutely never seen such a scene before, in Greycastle or any other Kingdom, – covered in dense fog, under a gloomy sky, the bizarre huge rocks and the red scaled fish forming a “river”. For the first time, she was awed by the wonder of the sea.
“It is because of the main island,” Thunder said, “It’s just like a triangular spire, with a massive cave running through the middle of it where these red-scaled fish like to lay their eggs and give birth to the next generation. Then during the ebb, the cave will emerge out of the water, and the shoal of fish that are staying in that habitat will always be the first to experience the change of water level will begin rushing out. So as long as we just follow the Red River, we will be able to arrive at the main island of the Shadow Islands.”
“Captain Thunder, there is a huge obstacle ahead! It looks like a mountain!” the lookout suddenly shouted.
“It seems that we are reaching our goal,” Thunder said, shaking his pipe, “Ladies, welcome to the Shadow Islands.
Not long after, Ashes finally saw the main island appear. Just like Thunder had said, it looked as if several pieces of it had come together forming a triangle which was wide at the base and narrow at the top, with a surface which at first glance looked very smooth, not at all resembling a natural creation. But believing that the whole spire had been sculpted by people was a bit too hard to believe. Just the exposed part of the tower already reached the size of half of King’s City, while the hole in its middle was large enough to entirely enclose the Tower of Babel the church has built at Hermes.
The sea was still retreating, and water rushed out of the cave just like a waterfall, while the shoal of fish completely covered the parts of the island that were still emerging. As far as Ashes could see, the whole sea had been dyed red, letting her wonder, if perhaps millions of scarlet red fish had been living in the cave.
Waiting until the sky had turned dark, the sea water finally retreated, revealing the bottom of the cave. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Thunder ordered his sailor to stop the ship and connect it with a long, thick hemp rope to a copper stake. Standing at the edge of the gigantic cave, you could see right through it to the mouth at the other side – yet light coming in from both sides could still only illuminate a minuscule area, with the center of the cave being almost pitch black, causing people feel an ineffable oppression.
“Did you left these stakes behind the last time you were here?” Ashes asked.
“No,” Thunder shook his head, “When I came here for the first time, they had already been here. It should be the former inhabitants of the ruins who built them.”
“The ruins… where are they?”
He smiled and pointed upwards. “Just above us, we’re at the entrance to the ruins.”
The following part of the journey could only be described with one word, inconceivable. The witches followed Thunder and his sailors and entered the gigantic hole through a stone gate, following the stone steps, along which the water was still flowing down, taking one step at a time, slowly spiralling towards the top. Even though everyone was holding a torch, their flickering flames only allowed an extremely limited view, hiding the end of the staircase in darkness. And making them a feel both weak and small.
When they proceeded through the darkness of the abyss, Tilly tightly grabbed Ashes’ arm, no any longer showing her usual calm and composed expression.
This is the princess I know all too well, Ashes thought. Even in the palace, she had always followed her own ideas. The 5th Princess who confronted any challenge with confidence, had only one weakness, her fear of darkness. Even in the middle of the night, her room had to always be lit with candles. And after their escape from the palace, whenever it was impossible to do so, she would ask Ashes to accompany her in her sleep.
While walking inside of the damp and dark spire, Ashes mood instead became a lot more cheerful.
All along the way they didn’t come across any demonic beast or any mechanism to block intruder – even if they had, after being immersed in the seawater for so long, it would have most likely lost its effectiveness by now. The only problem was the endless climbing which physically exhausted a large part of their group, slowing everyone’s movement more and more. So when the stone steps finally came to an end, the whole team could not help but burst into cheers.
The last barrier was not a stone door, but a door made out of metal, which brightly reflected the torchlight. Stepping forward, Thunder placed his hands on it and pushed, slowly opening the massive door panels with an ear-piercing screeching sound.
Grabbing her sword with one hand, Ashes was the first to enter the room. Only after confirming that there was no danger, were Tilly and the other witches allowed to step into the hall.
After hanging the torches along the walls, a large hall appeared in front of everyone – although wide, the room seemed empty, one glance was enough to have see the whole room and come to the conclusion that there was nothing worth finding here.
“This is the ruins?” She removed the dirt from a green stone table with the palm of her hand, “Apart from some stone tables and stools, there is nothing else here.”
“Indeed, there is not much left,” nodded Thunder, “The ruins have slept at the bottom of the sea for too long, apart from stone, everything else it hard to conserve. I already told it to Her Highness Tilly beforehand, but she still insisted on seeing it for herself.”
“The red stone, where did you find it?” Tilly opened her mouth and asked. “Where, exactly, did you find it?”
“Right away on the ground, at that time, they were scattered all over the place, there were probably dozens of them.
However, there was now nothing left, when Ashes looked at the ground she saw nothing besides the ground covered in seaweed that also made it slippery. After the ruins were discovered by Thunder, many other explorers had arrived here, one after another had come to plunder this place, so if they were able to find a magic stone, it would be a curious occurrence.
But Tilly was still in high spirits, holding her torch up high, she carefully searched through every corner of the hall, especially in the darker places which was where she would ask the sailors to come over with some more torches. Meanwhile, Molly summoned her magical servant, letting it spread over the ground, turning it into a cushion for everyone to rest on. Ashes instead kept herself constantly at Tilly’s side, and overlooked her feeling the wall to examine it.
“Hey,” the 5th Princess suddenly shouted and stopped, “What is this?”
When Ashes looked down at Tilly’s hand, she merely saw a piece of a wall covered with green algae, but then she discovered a faint reflection of their flames.
Tilly immediately reached out with her hands to tear the algae off, exposing a gem half buried into the wall to their eyes – it had a prism-like shape, and was almost arm thick, and sparkled as brightly in its scarlet color. But it seemed to be inlaid in a golden frame, like a card slot to be fixed inside. Even soaked in seawater for so long and the gold just like the stone was as bright and clean as if it was new.
Tilly tried to pulling out the stone, but the precious gem didn’t move a single bit.
“Let me try it,” Ashes offered.
The 5th Princess shook her head, seemingly thinking about something, she then put her hand on the prism and closed her eyes.
Suddenly, a brilliant light flashed through the center of the prism – when nothing further happened, Ashes already thought that her eyes had played her a trick on her. But then, a rumbling sound could be heard coming from behind the wall, as if a mechanism had suddenly began to move, in no time the sound spread through the entire hall. It seemed as if the rumbling noise was coming from everywhere, followed by the sudden appearance of a soft light on top of the wall, even the ceiling above their head began to light up.
Not knowing what was going on, the Sailor stood up in panic and pulled out their weapons. But as they did not know from which side they should defend themselves they ultimately decided to gather together standing back to back. Molly’s servant once more enclosed them in its magical embrace.
However, no monster appeared or rushed at them.
When the sound finally calmed down, the hall started shining in bright light.