The very next afternoon, Mien marched through the woods following Lyndon along with Soletus and Kiao. He didn’t expect everything to happen so soon. Maybe a day or two and they would explore. However, when he told Kiao Lyndon had an idea where the maker might’ve set up at, she was all for finding. He felt a little uneasy about jumping into investigating so soon, however, Lyndon assured him everything would be okay.
The young scout led the group down the same stretch of road Mien travel to get towards that small cave. He expected to travel towards it. Instead, the young scout let them further down the parched road. He soon abandoned the road, veering towards the left and into a stretch of forest Mien had never been. The undergrowth was thick in the area they traversed. Mien’s trouser legs were constantly getting snagged in thorn covered plants. He couldn’t weave around them as the trees grew close together. It didn’t help that Kiao wasn’t good at holding back low growing branches. He got slapped in the face several times during their walk by them.
Soletus asked from behind him, “You want me to walk in front of you?”
“No,” said Mien to him, then raised his voice. “I just want some consideration.”
Kiao looked behind her. “Sorry. I rarely do the woods.”
Lyndon then chided her, saying, “You spend way too much time indoors. You should get out more.”
“I look for herbs and go for horse rides. That’s as much of the outdoors as I need,” she said, swatting the air around her head. “Besides, too many bugs and it’s hot.”
“You can’t learn stuff about the area if do only those things,” stated Lyndon, leading them down what Mien took as a deer trail. “There’re things to investigate, like the ruins we’re heading too.”
Soletus then put in, “Technically, the ruins are a restricted area.”
“Why,” asked Mien, alarmed.
“We’ll start with a brief history,” said Lyndon. “Did you know that the Dias Brotherhood’s original name was the Brothers and Sisters of Dias?”
Mien sighed. “Yes.”
“Do you know what split the order,” said Lyndon using what could be described as his teacher's voice.
Mien gave Soletus a pleading look to get his cousin to stop. Soletus glanced at him and encouraged Lyndon anyway. “Because of a disagreement.”
“Correct. The original home of our order is in High Perch where the Sisterhood is located.”
Mien massaged his forehead, annoyed. He hated history. “I know that. What does that have to do with the ruins?”
“I’m getting there,” said Lyndon. “What was the purpose of the order originally?”
“The original purpose was to help travelers and those who live in the Highlands,” answered Kiao. “There are many elves who prefer the colder climes like the Dyne. It’s also a dangerous place to live and is outside of the Seat’s rule. Therefore, there are no soldiers to help and keep order. And they became self-sufficient. Presently, the Dias Sisterhood governs all territories of the Highlands.”
“Correct,” said Lyndon. “Back then, they were just an order like the Brotherhood with no governing powers other than the town of High Perch. Then one day, the Seat asked for assistance. Usually, the Brothers and Sisters of Dias never assisted the Seat. The wanted individuals for wars and they were an order of peace. However, he needed help with the incoming onslaught of drass beasts and help with the remains of the Kanu people.”
“Yes, I know,” said Mien impatiently. “The Matriarch didn’t want to help because the Seat never came to their aid when asked, but the Patriarch did.”
“Yep, the disagreement took two sides. The majority of women on one side and the majority of men on the other. Most of the men when down south and most of the women stayed north. While the men were away, the women took control of the order and renamed themselves the Dias Sisterhood. They sent anyone still loyal to the Patriarch packing. They joined him and his forces down here. The men then made the Dias Brotherhood in spite.”
“You know, it’s embarrassing this order came about out of a rooster and hen war,” said Soletus.
“But it’s funny though,” said Lyndon, grinning. “It wasn’t like no one tried to make the order whole again, but those of the Dias Brotherhood felt their duties lay in protecting those here and watching the wall. They never returned to the mountains.”
Kiao let out a snort. “They probably liked the warm climate.”
“Nice history lesson, but what’s the point,” said Mien.
“Where the monastery sits isn’t where the original town of Grace’s Hope was at. The town was actually called Grace. And that’s where we are headed too or what’s left of it,” said Lyndon.
“Because the ruins have an interesting feature.”
“But why is it restricted?”
“Why do you get caught up in such minor details,” exasperated Lyndon.
Soletus then explained. “It’s restricted because warders in the past would go there messing around. Too many of them had accidents, so a patriarch of the past made the area off limits.”
“In other words, someone died there,” said Kiao.
Mien rubbed his arms. He didn’t like the thought of walking into a place where elves died.
“Don’t worry, just keep your eyes open for sagging earth and no one will fall into an old well and drown,” said Lyndon.
Mien looked down at his feet and then around him. He saw more golden sunlight touch the vegetation. It highlighted a section of moss-covered rocks lined up in a neat row. He realized what he was looking at was the remnants of a wall. Ahead of them was an old archway covered in vines. Mien could see the skeleton of a town over by thickets and vines. It was eerie. Trees with dark foliage grew thickly giving the impression there were more shadows than there really was. It was also unnaturally quiet except for something ringing all around him.
“Keep your hearing sharp,” said Soletus. “There isn’t a lot of visibility here.”
They stopped at what used to be the town’s center.
Kiao swept the area with her eyes. “Doesn’t look like anyone has recently been here.”
Lyndon crouched down, examining the moss-covered stones under their feet. A oval shape too shape on his shoulder. And the blue hued manifestation took the shape of a screech owl. “We need to teach you how to track. Someone’s been here.”
Soletus’s attention was ahead of them. “Not too recent, if that’s any indication of a timeframe.”
Mien didn’t see anything and glanced at Soletus to explain.
“Look there,” he pointed. “That’s not something you see here.”
All Mien saw was a brownish leaf.
“That’s a sweet leaf wrapper. Whoever left it mother taught him nothing if he tosses the best part,” said Soletus.
Kiao smiled. “Whoever thought your knowledge in sweets would come in handy.”
Lyndon then announced, “I’m going to have Nox scout ahead before we go on.”
The owl flew off. Lyndon became still, looking vaguely ahead of him. He could see and hear through Nox. Doing so left him vulnerable, so Soletus stayed near him while examining the area.
Mien spun around, trying to find the source of the ringing. He took a few steps forward one direction. The sound got softer. He walked backwards, hearing it get louder. He picked a direction between those two points and went forward. In front of him was the remains of something that was too large to be a home. The door frame had to be something with double doors. The threshold below his feet, had a burning ash leaf etched into the stone. It was a chapel.
There was nothing left inside of it. It was missing the entire back wall and the roof. He couldn’t even tell where the dais was. The floor was covered in layers of leaf litter and what remained of the walls had vine trailing up. He took a few steps in and the noise grew to a climax. He looked down at his feet. A single hexagon stone was as clean as the day it was placed, resounded. It was an imbued tao stone with some kind of rune on the surface. He crouched down and felt the surface as if that would allow him to read it. The Kiao stated from behind him,
“It’s some sort of ward.”
He jumped to his feet and clutched his chest. His heart thudded in his throat. “Can’t you walk louder?”
“I was walking loud,” she said. “You were focused on that.”
She took him by the shoulders and pushed him back out.
“Sorry, he’s being a chanter again. There’s a ward over there,” she said to Soletus.
Great, now wards can distract me, thought Mien. He disliked being timbre sensitive more than he liked it. He worked on ignoring the stone, but couldn’t close that channel in his mind’s ear.
Soletus rubbed the back of his neck. “We shouldn’t stay here long. It’s getting late and I want to be back before it's dark.”
Lyndon, who was still looking ahead, smiled. “Feeling phantoms of the past? They claimed this place is haunted.”
“The only thing that haunts this place is old wards,” said Kiao, glancing around her.
“What are they warding against, drass beasts,” questioned Lyndon.
“A drass beast’s ward sound different. Whatever it is, I can’t block it out,” said Mien.
“Is it uncomfortable,” asked Soletus.
“Yes and no. If it was stronger, it would be unbearable. It’s annoying right now.”
Kiao then added, “It’s fairly weak because I can barely hear it. Mien can hear it because he’s sensitive.”
“Good, Nox found what we’re looking for,” said Lyndon, blinking and waved to them. “Follow me.”
They continued onward straight before veering off down a path that should’ve been overtaken by twisting branches and tendrils, but it was clean. Someone had cut the unspoiled growth. If Mien had to guess, they were hacked by a dull tool given how ends were splintered. The trail they were following dropped off and continued downward in winding narrow stone steps. They should have been covered with years’ worth of leaves but had been swept clean. The broom that had done it was tucked in an egress of a crumbling building.
As they descend down the steps, a sour odor washed over them along with dampness.
Kiao wrinkled her nose. “What smells so sour?”
In front of them was something that looked like a pond but was lined with bricks.
“This is what I wanted to show you. Grace had a reservoir,” said Lyndon, spreading his arms to the pool. “Are you marveling at my brilliance yet?”
The water’s surface was orange-green. Water poured in from an opening in the rocks at a trickle. The water in the reservoir had a runoff that vanished between two rocks going underground. It was discolored with a cloudy green color. What made it worse was a cleared-out spot where a line of planted trees that looked an awful lot like the illustrations of the five-finger tree.
Lyndon started laughing. “This is impressive.”
“How,” snapped Kiao.
“Their growing two prohibited substance right in the shadow of the monastery. That takes some stones.”
Kiao looked as if she wanted to rip them off the person who had done it.
Soletus approached one of the five finger trees and inspected a roll of bark. “These have been growing here for a while, given the girth. I can’t say I’m willing to give the peaceguard credit for doing this.”
“It’s too clever for them,” said Lyndon. “I bet they come across this and took advantage of it.”
Kiao stood at the edge of the water and crouched down. “There’s nothing living in this glorified pond. I don’t hear a single frog.”
“It’s the algae making it inhospitable for them to live here,” said Mien. “A real maker would never do this. You need little algae. A few small pots will suffice. This is just careless.”
Lyndon stretched out his arm so Nox could land on it. “Have you noticed how quiet it is?”
Mien could hear crows crying out in alarm in the distance. However, there were no evening doves. He also noted he couldn’t hear or see any squirrels running around.
“I know we came here to tear all of this up, but I don’t like this place. We should get going.,” advised Soletus. “When we get back, we need to talk to my grandfather.”
Mien heard the now faint ringing get louder. In the same instant, a shadow slithered across his mind like a cold slip of silk. Lyndon glanced at him just in time to see all the green drained from Mien’s eyes, leaving them a hot gold.
Lyndon’s shoulders sagged. “Please tell me there isn’t a drass beast around?”
“I don’t think lying is going to help,” returned Mien. He felt it again before it weaved out of his radius to sense it. “It’s right at the edge of my range, but it’s just one. I think those wards were alarms.”
Kiao’s eyes became large. “A drass beast here,” she said with her voice high.
Lyndon patted her shoulder. “Keep your voice low.”
Soletus slid out his hunting knife. “Is it in the direction we come from?”
“No,” said Mien.
“Good, we leave the direction we came,” he whispered. He then said to Kiao. “Have you been around a drass beast before?”
The young woman swayed her head, looking like a frightened girl than she should.
“Noise agitates them, so does a lot of movement. Keep your footsteps soft and don’t talk.”
“Alright, Lyndon, you take the rear, Mien behind me.”
Soletus took the lead. Mien crept behind him as they wound their way back up the stairs slowly. They only made it up halfway before he heard more footsteps. He reached for Soletus’s sleeve and tugged it. It was too late. The young monk stopped in mid-step and come face-to-face with the peaceguard who had come to the infirmary.