Chapter Five. The Bones.
Read by Celith Wraine
Down the slope a little from the farming area, just behind the tall white wooden clock tower in among the swaying trees stood a maze of an old graveyard. On closer inspection the graveyard was a series of graveyards, some of them crumbling with headstones that no longer were readable. The old headstones and pockmarked sarcophaguses lay scattered seemingly randomly in a maze of half destroyed stone fences and decaying stone buildings covered in moss and vines. Large trees now grew in and among the markers, sometimes thrusting up through the displaced stones of the destroyed buildings themselves. Passing the area earlier on their way to the windmill, none of the group had paid more than a passing glance at the old graveyard because they were all focused on the windmill and the large sky ship anchored above the town’s gardens.
Looking up at the clock Lucy exclaimed, “Four in the afternoon! We’re missing tea!” She grumbled a little, “I hate missing tea. It usually means I’m doing something that I don’t want to do, like going to a graveyard to look for a half-drunk storyteller to hear the end to a very frightening story that he heard decades ago and none of the story might have anything to do with our mission in the first place.”
Hot tea currently unavailable, she continued grumbling under her breath even as she rummaged through her bags and eventually pulled slightly squishy packages of leftover cheese and mostly fresh bread from her seemingly bottomless pack and a stoppered flask of cold tea.
“I was hoping to be back at the inn, but these will have to tide us over for now,” and she offered the food and drink to everyone.
The group sat under the shade of the clocktower to eat their food and everyone had a moment to have a good look at the graveyard where they were to find Ivan.
“I didn’t realize Jade Valley had been here quite long enough to have so many old graves.” Zyrina noted thoughtfully while she chewed the last of her bread slowly. “Some of these are hundreds of years old.”
Brushing the crumbs away she waited until everyone had finished eating to suggest, “Well let’s get started. He’s got to be here somewhere.”
Phlebus started walking toward the nearest section to look for signs of Ivan or a gate with a skull but was easily distracted by reading the graves he passed. Zyrina followed him. Lucy was already distracted and excitedly digging up a plant that she found near one of the crumbled walls and Torgin left to start looking at the other end of the graveyard area.
Torgin was the first to spot the old graveyard with the skull on its gate. “Over here.” He stood near the road, waving.
As the others found their way over, Lucy stared at an old set of bones close to where Torgin waited. It looked like a massive dragon had died here some ages past. Torgin was beckoning the others to take a path that snaked from the road past the dragon bones.
“I remember passing these,” Lucy mumbled. “D’you think these are the bones that Jenny was the keeper of? Some are missing.” As she inspected the skeleton of the dragon she took stock of several missing rib bones.
She ran her hands along the massive row of ribs sticking out of the ground as she caught up with her brother. They felt warm to her touch. The sun must have warmed them, she thought to herself and nervously laughed a little.
“This way.” Torgin indicated a small overgrown stone path that led behind the dragon bones, right to a small, fenced graveyard. The metal skull gate was obvious, and the yard was surrounded by a rusting spiked metal fence and some kind of prickly hedge that appeared to be dead.
“I wonder why this part is fenced.” Lucy mused.
Phlebus peered around at the many graves that were not enclosed.
“Maybe these ones aren’t as old, Lucy.” He suggested, “it doesn’t look as decrepit as the rest of them.”
Zyrina had walked a little way away to get a closer look at a human sized stone shape nearby.
“Is that another of those stone statues, Rina?”
“Yes, it looks like it.” Zyrina shuddered a little.
The statues were so lifelike that Zyrina had a difficult time looking into their eyes. She wondered how long this one had stood in this spot, as some of its hat and edges of its cloak lay in bits and pieces at its feet.
“This one is older than the others, Phle.” Zyrina reported. “It’s beginning to crumble.”
Meanwhile, Torgin pushed the skull door open and led the way into the graveyard. Fading afternoon light cast long shadows on spiderwebs all around them. He prudently kept his dagger to hand in case the weaver of the web appeared. Lucy took a moment before following the others. Before she entered, she pulled a torch out of her pack and lit it with her flint and steel. The light cast was enough to keep from tripping on the grave markers or get caught in the strong spider webbing that could be seen throughout the area.
Just when they were sure they had missed Ivan, he coughed near the large spider covered fountain made of skulls carved into marble that filled the middle of the little graveyard and startled Lucy enough that she squeaked and jumped back causing a chain reaction of her companions wielding their weapons to protect her from whatever danger she had discovered.
“Spooked a little are ye Miss?” Ivan cackled delightedly at his joke but soon became somber again as he led them further into the shadowy maze. As they followed him, winding their way among the headstones, Ivan continued his story.
“Granny crept after her friends into this part of the graveyard that night though she was full o’ fear o’ tha’ ol’ story she had heard whispered in the dark, and dread o’ tha’ terrifyin’ spider they was seeking for Elaine. Granny didn’t wanna be there because she had heard tales from her elders ‘bout th’ dragon bones comin’ live after dark and turnin’ livin’ humans to dead stone.
She pleaded as they edged closer and closer, ‘Stop. Please. Let’s come back in the daytime. Strange things happen here after the sun sets. Those dragon bones might come alive. It hunts the valley after midnight for the gullible and mesmerizes you before it seals your fate in a covering of stone. There is no cure, no antidote.’ She pleaded, repeating the story her family had told her from when she were a young’un, but it didn’t have the effect she was hoping for.
‘That’s a tale to keep babies from wandering away from their homes. There ain’t anything scary ‘bout this place.’ Jon declared.
Even her little brother Jon wasn’t ‘fraid an’ his bravado made the others bold enough to scoff at Jenny’s story an’ her fears.
Granny said the oldest of the group, Tristan, paused for a split second, looking slightly concerned but then caught Elaine watching him and he stuck out his chest and swore that he HAD to see the dragon bones that night. He, who was obviously showing off for Granny’s pretty friend, insisted they have a look at the old dragon bones after collecting the spider for Elaine and before they disperse for the night. He promised to leave with them after they all peeked.
Granny’s friend, Elaine, finagled Granny Jenny to stay to find tha’ spider and then she promised she would leave with Granny, and so would the others. There was no way Granny would leave her little brother or Elaine in the middle of the night in a graveyard and so she bravely decided to stay, too. Tristan turned to go find the spider before exploring the dragon bones and hesitant as they were, the rest were not about to be left behind.
The kids looked for spiders among the old graves, finally finding just the one Elaine was searching for, a Ferocious Red Arachnid. She was elated, and after putting a collar on the fuzzy pet, named her spider Charlotte.
‘Good, let’s skedaddle.’ Granny Jenny sighed with relief.”
The story came to a sudden halt. By this point Ivan had led the group to the part of the graveyard with his Granny Jenny’s grave. Ivan stopped talking and laid a yellow flower at the base of his Granny’s headstone and then each of the companions had knelt and given a moment of silence and respect for Ivan’s Granny, too. Then Ivan led them back to the skull gate and continued his tale as he walked toward the dragon bones.
“Somewhere along the way my Uncle Jon had picked up a stick and when all four had arrived at the head of the dragon skeleton, he heroically thrust his stick into the eye socket of the dragon’s skull proclaiming his victory over his foe. Then things changed and not in the way any of them would forget.”
Ivan indicated an area near the fence. “Granny stood in this very spot when the Dragon woke up and looked her straight in the eye with its glowing red eyes. She could feel the breeze as the dragon started to breath in and then the heat as it expelled hot billows of soot and ash from great glowing nostrils formed of shadow and mist. In the instant they were hidden from sight of those penetrating eyes, Granny instinctively reached out and took hold of Elaine and her brother on either side of her. Both had frozen in fear and she pulled them into tha’ small stone crypt over there just as the dragon drew another breath and spewed boiling foul gray smoke all around itself.” Here Ivan pointed to a still intact stone crypt nearby.
“The oldest boy did not jump out of the way. Tristan felt the mist before he saw it, and when the dragon’s eyes started glowing, he let go the hand of the pretty girl Elaine. He took a very deep breath, drew his sword, then sprang directly at the dragon, shouting as loud as he ever had and distracted it from his companions. He disappeared into the magnificent swirl just as Granny closed the crypt door behind herself.
Granny, Uncle Jon, and Elaine with Charlotte tucked up in her cloak didn’t move till well into the next day when the light was strong and the normal sounds of birds calling out in the woods soothed their nerves. They emerged to find the dragon had reverted to dust and bones. In the defined horror of bright light, they could see that their brave friend had been turned to stone, caught in a pose as he attacked the dragon to save their lives, just like Granny’s elders’ story had predicted.
No one ever admitted what happened to the boy when officers of the realm came asking about his condition. Their questions eventually faded after years of looking for reasons with no answers. Jenny, Jon, and Elaine didn’t talk about it much, only enough to tell their families what had happened. They din’t want ta forget why no one was to go in th’ graveyard after dark.
The spider Elaine found in the dark that night grew to a most unusual size and was so aggressive, tha’ it had to be taken down into the tunnels o’ the family crypt an’ kept away from regular folk. Elaine continued to love Charlotte until that spider passed years ago. Built a special sarcophagus for her an’ ever’thin’. Most o’ the family credits digging that spider’s grave with the discovery of silver all around their family crypt. Became quite famous for awhiles. Mining it all went on for many years.”
Ivan stopped there for another drink from his flask, and a quick nervous squint up at the darkened sky.
Then he went on, “My Granny Jenny an’ her best friend, Elaine, and my Uncle Jon all made it through that night. They had some kinda pact to not talk ‘bout the dragon and tha’s why I only heard tha’ story tha’ one time. It stuck wit me though, and that’s the truth.”
He thought a moment before adding, “Though, I bet my Great Uncle Jon could tell you more about that night now’s everyone else has died off, iff’n yer interested.” Raising his eyebrow he addressed Phlebus directly this time.
Phlebus nodded and Ivan went on again, “You’se can find him drinkin’ down at The Raven, The Dragon, an’ The Stew Pot down in the Valley. It’s over on Frojenta Lane north o’ th’ Jade Markets, near the Dougan family Silver Mine and Family crypt tha’ I was tellin’ you’se ‘bout. Ask anyone.”
Ivan takes another quick scan of the darkened sky and nervously adds, “I NEVER go ta the graveyard after dark an’ it’s getting’ dark. Anyhoo that’s the endin’. How Ivan’s granny saved the day and lost a friend.” And that was indeed the ending of Ivan’s’ tale. With a quick wave of his bottle he disappeared before anyone even blinked.
Then, in the quiet of the early evening, our companions all heard a distinctive fiery snort and then felt more than saw the cold billowing mist begin to rise from the pile of bones right in front of them. It formed the outline of a dragon around the bones, solidifying as it gathered.
Phlebus and Zyrina exchanged a look, and the other two did as well. Each quietly loosened the fastenings on their weapons and readied their various potions and lotions in preparation for whatever might be behind this new development. Even as a dark mist started seeping toward them, they moved into a protective formation around Lucy who was still fumbling with the bandages she had prepared earlier. They then moved as a single organism into the mist toward the moving dragon bones.
Ahead, the pile of bones writhed slowly in the dark, forming itself into its full beauty and glory but the dragon was not yet breathing fire. It exhaled a thick black ash, cold and unnerving. The mist slowly became skin and muscle that covered the dragon bones as the form coiled around itself. Its slick orange scales glistened, and its eyes, its eyes GLOWED.
Arrows notched, swords brandished, spells cast, and the companions were as ready as they could be to battle this shadowy menace. Then just as they were ready to strike, the dragon just as suddenly as it had begun twisting, it abruptly stopped moving. The mist slowly dissipated, and the now re-exposed bones lay innocently along the roadway. The dragon’s eye sockets were as empty as the rest of the skeleton.
“What the Titans was that!!” Torgin was shaken more than he wanted to admit. He dropped his axe to his side but did not put it back in its holster. He searched the area for another attack.
“I don’t know, brother but it’s gone now. Time to leave before it comes back.” Lucy was firm. She turned to the little stone path and led the way back to the main roadway.
As they moved slowly away from the bones, not one of them turned their back on them until they were partly around the bend and down the hill and completely out of sight, even then each of them glanced back nervously from time to time.
“I’ve never seen a dragon do that before.” Zyrina kept her bow notched. She was unnerved and shaking.
Phlebus looked like he wanted to say something but just didn’t know how to start. “I I I’ve never even heard of a magic that could form a dragon from old bones.” He stammered. “I don’t want to say this because you are going to think I’m crazy but,” he took a breath before going on. “That seems like Obsidian magic from the age when they created Elves, Trolls, and Kobolds.”
“Come on, Phlebus,” Zyrina scoffed. “That magic’s been gone since before I arrived here; for centuries before.”
Lucy spoke up, “Phlebus I don’t think you are crazy. But what happened? Why didn’t it attack us? Where did it go?”
“Maybe something went wrong partway through spellcasting?” he offered.
It was the only thing he could think of. The sudden disappearance of the mist and the receding of the form reminded him of when he was learning and a spell would collapse half way through if he lost his concentration or if something moved in his sphere of awareness.
“What spellcasting? Did you see any spellcasters?” Torgin looked around as if he would spot one in the darkness as they walked down the hill toward town.
“Nope I didn’t see anyone else, except that dragon. Did you?”
Phlebus looked around the group but no one spoke up.
“They can’t have been very far away though, spells like that have a range, or so I’ve read. I’ve never seen one performed before. Unless…” Phlebus drifted off into thought.
“Will that dragon be back tonight?” Lucy nervously asked as she pulled yet another torch from her pack and lit it with the one that was dying. She swung it in a wide circle around the group as if protecting them with its light.
Shrugging Torgin looked to Phlebus for an answer, as did Lucy.
“I doubt it.” He shrugged.
It didn’t seem like making anyone more scared was the answer but Phlebus knew he had no idea if the dragon would return. It was puzzling indeed. He wanted to find more information about the dragon in the graveyard, and about the boy who had been turned to stone.
“Unless what?” Zyrina was watching Phlebus who had been thinking.
He looked up, “What?”
“Unless what?” She repeated.
“Oh, nevermind, it’s not important.” Phlebus shrugged, appearing nonchalant. “Just a passing thought.” He smiled reassuringly.
Zyrina was not reassured, she knew that look. Phlebus had an idea but wasn’t ready to share it yet. She just hoped he would be ready before it was too late. She suspected he wanted to look something up in a book before spitting it out.
“I think I need to talk with Ivan’s Uncle Jon at The Raven, The Dragon, and The Stew Pot after a cup of hot tea, supper, and a good night’s rest tonight. There’s nothing we can do now except try to find out more information from the locals. Maybe somebody has seen this before or noticed mages around, or strangers.” Phlebus decided when the group reached the sanctuary of their inn a little while later. “There is shard magic being used here, and I need to find the source of it before there is more destruction and death.”
“Moonshard?” Lucy looked concerned. “Did moonshards fall around Jade Valley too? I thought they fell farther north?”
“Not that I have heard, Luce, but some shards are small enough to transport without too much trouble. I’m going to speak with that librarian again in the morning. She might know some of the history of the dragon bones and whether there are any shards in the valley.”
“So, the plan is to gossip with the locals, and see who knows something they want to share? I can do that.” Torgin was the first to offer with a grin as the prospect of supper and storytelling began to form in his mind.
“I’ll help.” Lucy offered as well.
Zyrina just nodded.
Phlebus pushed open the door and led the way to the crowded restaurant inside. The server suggested they go up to the roof and he would bring their supper up when it was ready. The rooftop pub was also full of people. Apparently, they were not the only ones who wanted to gossip about what the group had found on their first day of the inquiry. Torgin found an appreciative audience for his tale of their experiences in the graveyard. Many ales were foisted on the explorers to aid their storytelling. The gasps and cries of surprize let Phlebus know that the dragon hadn’t formed like this in anyone’s recent history. He burned to find out what was causing the magic and what the dragon would be used for.
By the time Torgin and Lucy were drunk and singing loudly around the piano with the bar maids, and Phlebus was engrossed in a conversation about wheat and barley with one of the locals, Zyrina slipped away to her bed. She had had enough excitement for now and needed some time alone to think about what she had seen. The locals in the pub laughed and called them babies from the city when Torgin told their tale and scoffed at the story telling as ‘tall tales’ but she could tell not one of them doubted what had happened for a minute.