Dawn of Chaos: The Ashen Plateau

Richard soon found a little hall behind the altar, decorated beautifully. The Zuka statue here had been destroyed as well, revealing a broken piece of wall whose cracks made it evident that there was a hidden storeroom here. Finding no form of energy undulations on the other side, Richard carefully opened up the path to the secret area to find a tightly-sealed copper vial. A powerful vitality spilt forth from the vial, filled with a violent strength. A few words had been carved into the side, simple enough for even him to read— Blood of the Sacred Spirit.

Blood of the sacred spirit? Zuka’s blood?! Richard was pleasantly surprised; the blood of such a powerful existence was an unobtainable treasure with a myriad of uses. If he wanted to, he could even offer this as a sacrifice to the Eternal Dragon.

He hastily called Flowsand over, and after some careful examination and testing through timeforce she flipped through the Book of Time for a while before stating with confidence, “This should be Zuka’s blood, the second sacred artefact of the troll empire. The grand shamans of the era used to ingest the blood of their sacred spirits, allowing them to communicate with them and use a portion of their powers. This is lucky, Zuka is a powerful being with an exceptional vitality. Even with his main body withered away, this blood is still extremely useful.”

Richard suddenly remembered the process through which his unicorn had been created, immediately lowering his voice, “This could be useful for the broodmother.”

Flowsand nodded, “Mm. The broodmother needs to ingest all sorts of powers to absorb. I don’t know what level Zuka was, but a sacred spirit with intelligence that can absorb faith should be no less powerful than a great dragon.”

Richard carefully stored the vial in his robes. While he had taken an exceptional risk in making this journey to Zhubvar, the spirit lance nearly taking his life, the profits had been tremendous. Just the high-quality maple amber alone was a huge amount of wealth, and these two sacred artefacts couldn’t even be measured in terms of money. While he had lost nearly twenty elites, it was definitely worth it. That was only ten days of output from the broodmother.

However, he wouldn’t stop here; there was still a third artefact to find. However, even with all his warriors rummaging through the shrine for a long time they didn’t find anything else of value.

Flowsand checked through the Book of Time for a long while, eventually using the inscriptions on the stone tablets to decipher that the third artefact had something to do with the grand shaman. It was said to be an artefact that held Zuka’s prophecies and great power.

“Quickly, the shaman’s residence!” Richard decided immediately. Two of the three artefacts were already in his possession; there was no reason to leave the third out.

The shaman’s residence was below the shrine and to the right, several metres higher even than the chieftain’s domain. At the core of the place was a stone table meant for artefacts, and upon it was a strangely large piece of parchment with words written on it in blood. So much time had passed that the blood had turned to a dark shade of purple that was almost black.

“Page of Holding!” Richard exclaimed immediately at the sight. The parchment’s aura was quite familiar to him, and the two pages he already held were reacting to its presence. There was no need to search further; he knew instantly that this was the third sacred artefact. He moved over to the stone table and picked up the page to fuse it with those he already had, but on second thought he had Flowsand come over to read what had been left behind.

Even Flowsand took a few minutes to interpret the contents. This was the prophecy from Zuka that both the shaman and Drahkzan had mentioned, passed down from generation to generation:

“The rivers of life are about to run dry. The capital of the trolls shall turn to ruin. Zhubvar shall wither away and be covered in dust, only revived when the rivers of life flow once more. The source of chaos is the Ashen Plateau.”

Below this, the grand shaman had left what seemed to be a journal entry:

“Six of the seven rivers of life have vanished; the waves of the last disappeared a month ago. We can only pray as we watch the cracked riverbed. Zuka has disappeared for a long time. Has he abandoned us, or did he enter the Ashen Plateau to search for the source of chaos? That is the land of the dwarves, those tiny creatures are difficult to deal with. But all the rivers of life flow from the Ashen Plateau, and one must pass through the dwarven kingdoms to understand why they have dried up.

“Those stubborn little things won’t let us pass; I have decided to decorate our spears with them, using them as sustenance for our brave men. Zhubvar’s wells are rapidly drying, and we will soon be without water to drink. This battle with the dwarves is necessary!

“We shall return.”

The contents of the page gave Richard another glimpse of the troll empire. All the rivers had dried up and the well water was gone, turning Zhubvar into a dead region. The trolls had no choice but to leave this place, most of them likely dying in battle on the Ashen Plateau. Zhubvar was left without any inhabitants, time weathering it into a ruin. The capital of the trolls had thus entered the books of history.

However, there were still many puzzles that were yet to be resolved. How had Zuka prophesied their arrival?

Flowsand copied the page’s contents to the Book of Time, and Richard then placed it together with the other two. A powerful energy wave surged as the Book of Holding emitted a blinding radiance, and by the time everyone recovered the three pages had merged into a regular book. Complicated patterns were carved on the copper cover, with a row of divine script that even Flowsand couldn’t recognise. This book seemed to have a hundred or so pages, but no matter how much he tried Richard could only flip through three.

The merging of the three pages gave the book an extra slot. It now held five grade 7 spells, although these spells had to come from the user himself. This was now an artefact powerful enough to turn the tides of a magic battle.

The army stayed at Zhubvar for another two days, carefully searching through the troll capital. However, they found nothing more of value outside of the altar itself. The broodmother could probably consume it for a boost in power, so he decided to find some time to bring her here after the Bloodstained Highway project was complete.

Richard finally headed back from Zhubvar, returning to the army stationed in the Bloodstained Lands. The nobles had already reorganised themselves, so they continued their march northwest. The only disruption to the journey this time were a few bandit groups who didn’t know better, and eventually the level red soil gave way to a greyish-white slope that extended all the way up to the horizon.

They had reached the Ashen Plateau. A bird’s eye view would show a clear divide between red and grey, distinctly marking out the boundary between the Bloodstained Lands and the Ashen Plateau. Even Richard couldn’t help his surprise at such a mystery.

The dry air of the Bloodstained Lands gradually vanished, replaced with a chilly and humid breeze. The cold only grew more evident the further they went; the day after they entered the plateau, they could already see permanent snow on the distant mountain peaks.

Thick, coniferous forests were everywhere in the Ashen Plateau, the needly leaves the same dark grey as the rocks of the mountains. Although it was cold, there were sources of water were everywhere so the army had little to worry about.

A gentle valley formed a natural path. The afternoon of their second day walking along this passage, Richard finally saw one of the cliffside fortresses unique to the dwarves on a hill. This was a place made entirely of rock, six to seven metres tall. It had four or five levels in total, two of which were underground with the entrance at the back. One had to enter the first underground level and make their way through the tunnels to the top. Every level had long slits for gunmen to station themselves at, allowing them to fire at any attackers.

The appearance of this stronghold meant they had properly entered the dwarven lands. The existence of the fortress meant this was a place the dwarves could not afford to lose. Richard had his unicorn stop and sized the place up and down, finding it difficult to believe that they truly had arrived.

A steel helmet poked its way out of the peak of the stronghold, a loud voice ringing out, “I see you, humans, this is dwarven land! Leave now, or my rain of pellets will remind you never to underestimate the determination of Firebeard!”

The dwarf had spoken in human tongue; this was evidently not the first time they were dealing with humans. The nobles behind Richard abruptly started cheering in excitement! It really was the dwarves! The Bloodstained Highway project wasn’t just a fantasy!

The nobles, especially those who had stuck with Richard from the start of the project, were exceptionally worked up. They cheered, shouted, and hugged each other, some even using their energy to bolster their cries. Even the mages started to amplify their voices with mana.

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