Claude had heard Welikro describe the tower the day before, but his description, and Claude's imagination, had failed them both. The thing was colossal. It was certainly the largest single building Claude had seen since coming to this world, and knowing what it was made of, and the technology that had not been involved in its construction, Claude gawked at its sheer size.
"It's a castle!" Borkal half shouted, his mouth not closing after he finished speaking.
"No. It has to be even bigger than Restoration Plaza," Eriksson gawked.
Indeed, the plaza built on the sight were Stellin IX had been shot at, where the first true shot of the civil war had been fired, could not compare to this tower. Until just now, it had been the largest man-made structure they'd ever seen, now however…
Granted, this isn't exactly 'man-made' in the same sense as the plaza, but still...
Welikro walked along the walls, knocking on the stones with his stick as he did.
"Come look. I was right, yes? They're exactly the same as the roads'," he said, pointing at a particularly large boulder stood up between several smaller ones.
"Yes," Claude breathed.
The stones were half-hidden under vines, and trees had broken through between them in places, but their size could not be hidden. The roads' stones were jagged, like they'd been built in a hurry, or without attention paid to craftsmanship. These stones, however, were immaculately sanded, smooth all the way through, even in the inner bits exposed by cracks.
The tallest portions of the walls that still stood, stood two metres tall. The lowest of them, only one boulder above-ground, was still a metre tall. Small, white crystals formed on the tops of rocks, and were particularly dense and large on the ragged edges of cracks.
"Salt carried in from the sea," Welikro explained as he broke of a particularly large crystal, "You can eat it, but it's got a bitter aftertaste and most people get stomach-aches when they eat it."
The floor, or what could be seen of it, wasn't flat. About a third was hidden under rubble, and another third had half collapsed to the basement beneath.
"Why did the tower collapse? These walls are so thick, and they're made of such big boulders, how could it have collapsed? It's only been abandoned for a couple hundred years. I doubt even the strongest storm we've ever had could have blown it over," Borkal said, patting a boulder twice his height as he gazed up at its peak.
Eriksson stroked his chin as he stared at the wall.
"You're right, no storm could have knocked it down. A tidal wave might've, but it's too high above sea level, and too far away from the open sea for a tidal wave to get it. And any wave that did, would have wiped Whitestag clean off the map as well.
"The only other threat might be an earthquake, but we don't have any records of even a single earthquake in the thousand years since Whitestag was built. Dad said there's another ruin on Baryama, it looks about the same as this one, so something had to have struck both to take them down in such similar fashions."
"Hey, stop conjecting and help me set up! Besides, Dad told me the towers were blown up."
"How would he know?" Borkal retorted, "The tower's been down for at least two hundred years. So how would he know? Besides, an explosion big enough to destroy the tower would have been heard in town, and I've not heard anyone talking about something like that happening in the past, have you? Not to mention at least some of the fishers would have seen the people unloading that much gunpowder to set things up. I've not heard anything about something like that, either."
Welikro's dad was most likely right, though, Claude thought, the diary did talk about a very powerful gunpowder, and if the diary was right, it had already been used to blow up one such tower. So why couldn't it have been used to blow up the rest as well?
"I don't know, either. I asked him and he just knocked me on the head and called me an idiot. He says the traces of gunpowder are still there, if you know where and what to look for.
"My dad used to be a guard for the firearms research team the king set up. He's seen his fair share of explosions, and he's had to clean up his fair share of explosion wreckage afterwards, too. I trust him to know what he's talking about when it comes to explosions and gunpowder residue. Besides, you have no idea how powerful a couple dozen barrels of gunpowder exploding can be."
"Enough, weren't you the one telling them to not slack off just a few moments ago?" Claude snapped, slapping Welikro across his buttocks with his rattan like stick, "Are we camping here tonight?" he asked, smiling at Welikro's discomfort as he rubbed his arse, staring furiously at Claude.
"Uhh... No." Welikro said, continuing to rub his sore behind, "We still have a little bit to go. We'll camp where Dad and I camped last time we were here. It gets pretty cold up here once the wind picks up after sunset. You'll be happy for the walls."
Borkal and Eriksson picked up their shares of the luggage and the group continued to the designated spot in the ruin.
Claude had to admit Welikro's dad knew how to pick camping sites. Their current spot was by the seaside edge of the ruin where the walls stood just over two metres tall, and pretty solidly, too. The lines or rubble and boulders seemed to indicate the room had been about 20 square metres when the whole thing had still been standing. The floor was intact, and actually still smooth, somehow largely untouched by centuries of weather.
A stack of firewood about a metre tall hid in the best-covered corner of the room. Apparently it was leftovers from Welikro's last camping trip here with his father. He took a stump from the pile and thumped it against the wall, smiling with satisfaction at the clear, dry, unrotted thunk the wood made.
"Looks like we don't need to go get firewood again," he said, throwing the stump back on the pile, "Alright, let's set everything up quickly."
No one else had a reason to complain, the spot was even better than the previous night's. They cut down a few bushes and did a rough sweep-job.
"Pitch the tents here?" Borkal asked from one corner of the room.
"Yes. We pitched ours there last time, too. Don't do it like last night, though. We'll set up the big tent and take out the dividers. It should be big enough for all of us then."
"Then why did I have to set the other one up last night? Hell, why'd I even have to go through the trouble of convincing my dad to let me bring it?"
"I thought you guys would have trouble sleeping if we all had to huddle together with you guys shivering in fear, so I had you bring a small tent so I could sleep there," Welikro admitted, scratching his head awkwardly.
Eriksson's mouth twitched.
"Shiver in fear, is it? When the walls around us are two metres tall? Shiver in fear indeed!"
"We can still set up your tent on the pile of wood. We only need to put up one side to screen the wind then you can keep watch over the walls," Welikro said in a guilty voice.
The three sighed at him exaggeratedly, but still did as he suggested.
Welikro took a few long sticks from the ground beside the pile.
"Good, they're still here. They're nice and try, too, so they'll be tough. Here. Use them to pitch the tents."
Welikro's tent was simple to set up. They tied ropes to the four corners of the sheet and ran each end over a different wall before fixing it to a rock at their outside bases. The sheet flew up and formed a roof that covered most of the room. A couple of sticks were tied to the corners with the rope as well to keep the sheet from drooping too much.
Welikro gave each stick a good thwack to make sure it was firmly in place, and nodded each time it didn't budge.
"You said your father camped here last time, right? In the middle of winter? Wouldn't this collapse under the snow?"
"Yeah. It collapsed in the middle of the night the first time we were here. We only tied it to one wall when we were here last time so the snow could roll off the side. We won't get snow now, I hope," Welikro smiled devilishly, "So this setup should be fine. We're leaving tomorrow anyway."
"Where's the water?" Claude asked, already thinking about getting to work on lunch.
Welikro pointed down one side of the hill.
"About 50 metres that way. The stream's spring is there. The water's clean and hot. You can clean yourself there and get the water you need for cooking and drinking as well. It's even got a nice taste!"
The three went to get water while Claude started the fire.
The four finished lunch about an hour and a half later and started planning the hunt.
"You guys can go hunt. I want to explore the ruins some."
Claude had considered going with them for an hour or so before coming back, but he couldn't contain himself any longer. He'd barely been able to keep himself from shoving their lunch down everyone's throats as so they could finish faster and get out of his way. He didn't care at this point whether he found it in anything of a useable shape, if it was still there at all, he just wanted to find out. He could deal with disappointment, but this waiting was killing him.
"Really?" The three asked at the same time.
They had little interest in exploring the ruins, nor did they particularly care about Claude's desire either. They were quite insistent on dragging him along, but his feet were dug into the basement through the floor; he was not budging.
"Fine," Welikro finally caved when Claude promised to make them an even better dinner than the previous night, "Let's go. Eyke, leave your musket with Claude just in case. We should be able to hear a shot from where we'll be going."