April 28 2022

The Stone Dragon Series – Book 2, Chapter 4

 

Read by Chatull Aventari

Chapter Four. How Much for That Information?

Thick mist in the early dawn made the still water of the lake reflect only the muted grey of the world around; even the birds were silent. It was quiet and mesmerizing to watch the nothing. After a long while of watching birds hunt low over the water, and rippling rings of movement in the water where fish pecked at bugs on the surface of the smooth deep blue, I went back in the inn and woke the other two women.

 

We then all made our way downstairs from where we had fallen asleep on the second floor of the pavilion. After breaking our fast with leftover bread from our bags, we had a bit of a hike up the mountain to where the wagon collected us to start us on our journey to Ironhall.

 

The jaunt out of Jade Mountains and over to the island’s shore had revitalized our bodies and minds and even our spirits lifted when, by midmorning, the mist had burned off enough to see the light flicker through and warm the chill out of the day. There were massive thunderheads and the sky remained in a darkened battle with itself high above the sea as we journeyed that day.

 

I would have liked to have sung a song of joy and beauty, but I dared not. I was sure that sore vocal cords, the aches in my muscles, and the headache I still suffered were all worth the revelry around the firepit the night before, but this suffering wasn’t something I wanted to repeat anytime soon. From the looks of the other two, it appeared like Zyrina and Lucy would agree with me.

 

Zyrina became horribly sick after her first meal on the ship and we teased her a little about her travel stomach, thinking the motion of the ship had set her off but Lucy went snooping and found a problem in the filthy kitchen. The ship’s cook had died of some mysterious stomach ailment just before we had boarded.

 

Lucy first convinced whatever sailor had unfortunately pulled kitchen duty for this voyage that she was indeed a good cook and wanted to cook a meal, that she was bored as a passenger and would prefer to help in the kitchen. Lucy started by cleaning up the galley kitchen with hot water and soap, then she taught a few of the sailors a simple recipe for fish that they could do on their own. The captain humored her and then cheerfully let her cook the rest of the meals on the voyage after tasting his first helping of her fish stew and biscuits. He had three helpings. The rest of the crew were won over by the very same meal. Zyrina spent most of the voyage either sick or recovering from being sick. It looked like the sea did not agree with her, after all.

 

 

I spent the days practicing a new sea shanty that I heard some of the crew singing one day while they scrubbed the deck. Most of the time I could be found wandering around humming the tune.

 

When we arrived at Ironhall the sounds and sights near the docks kept our senses occupied while we searched for Violet’s ship and also for the young man called Finn Beanna. Although Fiona had been explicit about how to get to Ironhall, she was vague on the location of Finn’s working area or his schedule or pretty much anything other than he would know where all the ships that arrived at the local port were heading, or where they had been. Asking for him didn’t help. The locals stared at us as if we were asking why the sky wasn’t a lemon meringue pie and then they clammed up or wandered off. There was no help for it: we would have to search to find Laketown and then search Laketown from one end to the other.

 

We split up and started looking. Zyrina eventually found him and called us over. He was sitting behind the Broken Docks Inn and looking for all the world as if he were avoiding being found. He didn’t seem especially friendly, either. We decided on a friendly approach anyway, with a gift of rum from my backpack and bread from Lucy’s. 

 

What man can withstand three beautiful women bearing rum and bread? I tell you that Finn almost did. We got so little information from him after several minutes of talk that we began to wonder at Fiona’s glowing endorsement.

 

Finally, Lucy had had enough of the vagueness. “Fiona said he would know where the ship had gone.” Lucy complained in a half-whisper to me. Finn suddenly perked up.

 

“Fiona, you say? You traveled from Jade Mountains. Is it Fiona Thatcher that you mention?”

 

I looked him in the eyes, which he had finally dragged off of the map and scrap paper that he had been pretending to read the entire time. “Fiona. Yes, she gave you an encouraging testimonial but I’m skeptical at this point. You don’t seem to know much of what is outside your map.” At this I nodded toward the paper that Finn was rolling back up.

 

Finn narrowed his eyes. “Can’t be too careful these days, ladies. There are far too many forces afoot to be glib about casually passing information.”  Then he added casually, “How is Fiona? Her brother Oscar tells me nothing of her when he and I work at the docks, and he rarely works at the docks anymore.”

 

I smiled to myself as I recognized Finn’s feigned casual interest in Fiona’s wellbeing. “Fiona was healthy and full of vigor when she left us to go cook stew for Oscar.”

 

“What do you mean by ‘forces afoot’?” Zyrina interjected, curious.

 

Meanwhile I was sizing up the young man and his surroundings. There were no clues that he would know the whereabouts of any of the ships that came and went in the harbour, let alone anything else in Ironhall. Lucy and I gave each other quizzical looks and shrugged our shoulders. Maybe Fiona was wrong about Finn.

 

“Well, let’s see,” Finn narrowed his eyes and took a darting look around the area before speaking further. “Take that tattooed mage that waited nearly a week for the ship he arrived on to leave again. He had come from Spindleskog and arrived on a passenger ship that had scheduled to be here for a week. He was not pleased and tried to bribe the captain to leave again on his schedule, but the captain refused. The trouble-making mage asked probing questions about everything and everybody in the whole of Laketown and gave little away about himself.” Here Zyrina looked over at me.

 

I stuck my tongue out at her and grinned knowing how inquisitive I seemed.

 

“Why would some traveler button it?” Finn sounded truly perplexed even as he continued to look down while fiddling with the rolled parchment in his clenched hands.

 

“What mage is this?” It was Lucy’s turn to perk up.

 

“The quiet one?” Finn returned with a question.

 

Finn found himself facing three pair of iron-tinged inquiring eyes. He decided that more information-sharing might be in his best interest. After finally putting down the now-wrinkled scroll and scrap of paper, he accepted the bread, then the rum.

 

Then he added, “Did Fiona say if she was coming here to meet you?” He looked over their shoulders hopefully.

 

“No. She is staying in Jade Mountains and not travelling with us. She did say she expected you for dinner on your return to Jade Mountain.” Smiling, I let him down gently and though he appeared to lose interest in us, he did perk up again when I repeated, “She did say she expected you for dinner.” He looked engrossed again following the promise of a meal in the future with Fiona, so I prompted, “Tattooed mage?”

 

“Tattooed. mage. Tattooed mage,” he mimicked. Zyrina went completely still except her left hand which gripped her bow and her right hand which went automatically to the fletching on her arrows. Finn looked up in the silence after his sarcastic comment. The glaring didn’t cease, and those arrows in the sullen one’s hands looked sharp and deadly; so, he continued with a false bravado and an indifferent shrug to start telling what he knew of the mage.

“Small, blue and green tattoos on his face, walked nonstop during the day. Didn’t sit much. Dressed in obsidian robes, I think. He carried a big blue bag and a little leather-bound book that he seemed particularly fond of. He spent far too much time reading to himself under his breath from the book while he waited for the ship’s repair.”

 

Lucy shifted her weight and her armor squeaked loudly. “Do you know where he was going?” she asked quietly.

 

He looked up for a flicker of a moment, “Nope, but he came here to go to the Caverns of Skrekk. Nope, I don’t know what he was doing there either,” he forestalled after seeing the question rising in my eyes. Then he added as an afterthought, “He wasn’t an especially skilled mage. He often got sidetracked during spellcasting if even something as harmless as a stray cat walked by. Every now and then he would try some magic, but it never seemed to go the way he wanted it to go. As well, the ship he arrived on needed repair from his onboard failures. There were several fires and one small explosion here in Laketown that I helped put out.” He puffed out proudly. “Not one building burnt down.”

 

We stood motionless listening to him. He seemed to warm up to his story. He continued after a pause for a nip of rum straight from the bottle and a chunk of bread, which he tucked back into his robes without sharing. “That mage stomped around the village every single day rain or shine; walking, walking, always walking and muttering to himself, too. I tried to get him to go to the pub to share a pint and a story or two, but he’d just stare through me until I had to give up. It was that unnerving.” He shuddered a little. “We was all relieved to see him get back on the ship when she was ready to sail again.”

 

At this, we all reacted with raised eyebrows. He took in our reactions and went on, “None thought we’d see the end of him, he was that picky about everything. As if there were something to pick from. The Sea Byrd remained the only ship that anchored in port at Ironhall for the entire week so in the end he went back on board but only after he offered the captain 3 times the normal passenger fee to take him back.”

 

“The SEA BYRD? That’s my sister’s ship!”

 

“When did it leave?”

 

“Where did it go?”

 

“Did you see a snowy lynx on the ship?”

 

Finn laughed heartily at the successive questions and answered openly, “Yes. She left this morning, just as your ship arrived. Jade Valley is their next destination.”

 

Here I gasped, “That’s my home.”

 

Finn ignored me and continued, “The crew was muttering about the captain sending their best cook on an errand and having to drop her off along the way, but I didn’t hear where to. Something about a cook, a fish stew, and an escort mission.” He forestalled the next question shaking his head and wringing his hands in front of him, “No, I don’t know where after Jade Valley, but I know they are going to end up in Jade Island at Green’s Inch where Captain Violet likes to spend the winters.” He didn’t nearly look as ready to bolt in any direction at any minute anymore and I could see Rina had released the tension on her bow so she must be having the same thoughts as me.

 

Zyrina gave me a curt nod after moving slowly around behind Finn again.

 

I was relieved and thanked him by going on, “I really didn’t think it would be that easy to get this information we needed from you Finn, and here you just blurted some out.”

 

Then Zyrina narrowed her eyes, jutted out her chin and asked him very directly, “What is it you want in return for this information?”

 

Finn looked at her and shrugged. He had warmed up to us when he finally realized we were not searching for HIM particularly, and he was not the real target of our very pointy-looking arrows and blades. “Nothing,” he shrugged again. “You are friends of Fiona’s. If you had told me that at the beginning, we might have had an easier start.” He stared hard right back at Zyrina. “If you are looking for the Sea Byrd, the shipping schedules are usually posted on the public bulletin board near the arrival area, if it’s a town the Sea Byrd regularly docks in, that is. It’s the same for all the places that she travels.” Zyrina again strode behind Finn to take a leisurely look at the lake beyond.

 

She gave me a quick wink and I nodded once, knowing.

 

He looked at me, “Do you know where else your sister is sailing to?”

 

I shook my head, frowning slightly. And to keep his attention on me I asked, “How long till she comes back?”

 

“Could be weeks or months. Some of the locals have a betting pool on for odds of their returning date. Wanna place a bet?” At this, his eyes darted from side to side and he looked at Lucy and I, furtively.

 

I shook my head no, as did Lucy. He turned to Zyrina who also declined to place a bet.

 

“Fair enough.”

 

“Good day, we will take our leave. Thank you for your assistance.” Lucy nodded her head to him. And with that curt farewell, we picked up our bags and walked out of town.

 

The minute we were out of sight and earshot I asked Zyrina, “Did you get it?”

 

“Yep.” She pulled the stolen papers out of her boot that Finn had been so intent upon when we first arrived. They had suffered quite a few wrinkles in the process but were completely readable still. The Southern Red Branch” was scrawled across the top of a detailed map of Elysium Island with several towns circled in red. Jade Valley was one of those.

 

And another scrap paper tucked inside the map simply said:

3-2-2

M

 

“Now what the Titans does that mean?” Lucy was as perplexed as I was.

 

“Same writing as that other paper with numbers, from Riverside, and from Scroda’s too,” she pulled them from her pack. “See?”

 

Zyrina was right. Although the papers’ torn edges didn’t match, we could see that the numbers were drawn by the same hand. Still without understanding, Zyrina added the new set of numbers to the pile and tucked them all away in her backpack.

 

“Have any of you heard of the Southern Red Branch before? Do you think they are part of the Red Sashes?” I asked the others as I ran my fingers over the raised embossed heading on the map. The only answers were head shakes or shrugs. No one spoke up.

 

“Come on, let’s go home.” I decided.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

March 31 2022

The Stone Dragon Series – Book 2, Chapter 2

Read by Chatull Aventari

Chapter Two. Where Are You?

Creeping carefully through the starlit dark, I could finally make out the little brown and green elven cottage isolated out by itself in the woods. The door sounded solid when I knocked upon it. Its wood was decorated with small sigils all around it, but I couldn’t make them out in the starlight. Zyrina didn’t answer her door but she also didn’t lock it. It was open. She was obviously expecting me to go right in, right? Well, I hoped so anyway, because that’s exactly what I did. The first thing I saw was her sofa, and since it was exactly the right softness, I decided to rest my eyes for a minute and promptly fell asleep waiting for her to return.

 

Not enough hours later, upon waking with the dawn, I winced at the crick in my neck from sleeping crumpled up on this sofa. Where the heck was I? When I rubbed my still-tired eyes, I remembered the mad dash to get here and the emptiness on my arrival. …and now felt the emptiness of my stomach, too. I became aware of gnawing hunger and rumbling bits. In her kitchen, I found some bread and cheese and a little jug of ale left on the table. I also found a note from Zyrina. Munching thoughtfully on the still-soft bread and the sharp cheddar, I picked up the note in my free hand and started reading.

 

            Dear Lily,

            Yes, I know I’m not there. I meant to be there. Really, I did.  I have not lured you away from your library on a whim and I’m sorry I’ve gone. I left food and drink and left the lights on for you too. The bed has fresh bedding if you arrive needing to sleep.

I would be there except Lucy Featherbright sent me an urgent message. She has been looking after Torgin’s lynx while he and I left to find Phlebus to find out more about that artifact.  Anyway, Kitty is missing. …or Kitty left to find Torgin, Lucy was quite unclear on that point. There was honey on her letter and some of the writing was a bit smeared, too. What I know is Lucy needs to hear what Torgin’s been up to too, so that’s why I’m heading to Jade Mountains to find Lucy. There’s no telling where she will wander looking for Kitty and we both know she will get lost the minute she hits the edge of Jade Mountains. She’s worse with directions than you are. I’m pretty sure that she lives up the mountain overlooking the Hamlet of Jade Mountains. I know it’s a lot to ask you to follow me there, but I promise you will want to hear what I’ve learned. Then you can help Lucy and me look for Kitty. Torgin will not be happy if Kitty is actually missing.

Lily, that little leatherbound artifact book it’s… well, it’s just not something we can ignore. Please come soon,

                                Zyrina

            P.S. Remember there is a balloon by the stone bridge; it will take you to Jade Mountains faster than travelling by foot. However, if you insist on travelling by foot (yes, I remember your aversion to all things taller than two stories, but speed is important) you need to make your way to the far western Island of the Mistrendur and when you land at the port go straight to the top of the nearest mountain range to find Jade Mountains. When you arrive in the hamlet, stand in front of the Oracle Confirmatory facing away from its door. From that spot, Lucy’s place is up the mountain exactly at the southeast mark on your compass. If you really can’t find it then go to the Central location of Jade Mountains to talk to the Town Crier; they will direct you too.

                                     Z

 

 

Boy, I wish I had read that part about the bed before falling asleep on the sofa. I rubbed my neck again and shrugged my shoulders trying to loosen the aching muscles there. Sigh.

Well, I could go back home and wait to hear what they have learned the next time Lucy or Zyrina make their way through Jade Valley, or I could go on to Jade Mountains and find out firsthand. Of course, this really wasn’t a choice, I knew I was going to Jade Mountains. My bag was still by the door.

 

I took another chunk of cheese off the wheel and wrapped it in a small piece of cloth I took from Rina’s scrap bag, before tucking the rest back in the cool of its urn and setting the urn in the cool corner of Rina’s kitchen. Then I tucked the rest of the bread carefully in my favorite clean handkerchief before sliding it into the top of my backpack with the cheese set carefully in beside it. Provisions secured, I tidied up before securing the door.

 

Since I had just arrived by balloon, I knew exactly where it left Jade Gardens, sort of. I felt determined to get to Jade Mountains before anything else happened. Hopefully, I would arrive there alive. Hopefully, I wouldn’t scream so very often during flight this time. These contraptions were not for the faint-hearted!

 

Kitty disappearing was disturbing. Torgin was bound to that lynx and would not accept her loss lightly. So, I was absolutely willing to offer effort and time to help my friend, of course keeping in mind to only offer help that does no damage to my own life because that kind of thing isn’t helpful and creates even more trouble ahead and I’m not a martyr. Even so, I still had a crush on Torgin and could feel my heart swell a little and my face flush just thinking of him. Of course, I was going to help.

 

That little artifact book was more and more becoming the carrot at the end of a string that I didn’t know I was seeking, and I was beginning to believe it was far more important than we even guessed when I first came across it years ago. I took one last look around Zyrina’s place after tidying up. Lucy’s letter to Zyrina was still on the writing desk upstairs and of course I snooped… I wasn’t ashamed of it either.

 

            Zyrina,

            I know we all just got back home, but I need your help Rina, ‘cause Kitty’s gone missing and Torgin will KILL me if he finds out I’ve lost him.

            Please come as soon as you can,

                        Lucy Featherbright

 

That settled it, I was heading to Jade Mountains. I picked up my pack from beside the door and walked decisively out, pulling it shut behind me.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

 

March 15 2022

The stone Dragon Series – Book 2, Chapter 1

 

The Quiet Mage

Part Two of

The Stone Dragon Series

By Lily Byrd

ByrdPress

NBBN 00115-003

Read by Asclepius

 

There is Virtue in sacrifice for the greater good. There is no Virtue in sacrifice without purpose.’ Tsuneo, Shogun of Ardoris.

 

Chapter One. A Letter Arrives.

Late in the afternoon at the end of summer, I arrived at the bottom of this sheer pebbled cliff path a little dusty and a little thirsty after skipping down from the ancestral home of the Byrd family. Perched above the lush coastal town of Jade Valley here on Elysium Island in the southwest of Novia, the Moon Tower Keep may be slightly crumbly and possibly still full of mice (even with cats in residence), but it has stood the test of many generations and would sturdily stand for many more generations. It had been there when the Jade Valley Moon Tower was completed on Moon Mountain centuries ago. I recall the sudden appearance of Aunt Morgana, Owain’s sister, and the building of her keep up beside the tower. Her insistence that the Byrd family would be caretakers of the tower would not be quelled and so we all became caretakers and still are to this very day. Even Aunt Morgana, long lived as she was, eventually succumbed to an untimely demise. Novia was not safe from incursion and my aunt fell to one such event centuries before.

 

“Hmpfh.” I grunted.

 

I had just realized that as I departed from the keep that morning and waved goodbye to Daisy, that I had returned the same wave from the parapet each time I left the keep over the generations all the way back to her grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother and after all this time I only just now looked old enough to be a grandmother for the fifth-generation adult granddaughter of the woman who first took me in.

 

Taking a moment to stare out to sea from the bottom of the mountain, my stride slowed. I had been here in Novia a long time, a very long time. Straightening up to stretch my spine, I ran my fingers through my tangled blunt cut silver hair and reminisced. I had arrived as a grown woman from an Outlands that I barely remember. There is only a vague recollection of who I was before being swirled into a rip of space and time that deposited me here on the shores of Novia. There was no way to find out where I had come from nor how to return to that unknown place. I was a stranger in this land with nothing and no one to guide and protect me as I learned where I was and that I could not return. Those were dark years.

 

“Enough of that,” I scowled. Then with a shake of my head to clear it of the despair that still lingered. “Just LOOK at that sky!” and I spun in a circle laughing joyfully at the sight of the crescent bay spread out before me.

 

Thankfully, no one was near to see or hear me have this conversation with myself, as many of the local Novians were already suspicious of the woman who didn’t die. When I had appeared in Novia, the good people who took me in gave me a sense of belonging that has lasted through several generations. An outlander, some called me, but the Byrd family has always made me feel welcome and loved here in this sometimes-brutal land. Just walking a wooded trail could be a life-and-death adventure in these territories, as I had learned early on after arriving in Novia unequipped and uneducated, during a surprise encounter with a large mountain troll. It was vital to have a clan of people who would help each other. That’s what the Byrds were like. We helped each other, daily.

 

Early on, I learned what a powerful symbol the Ankh could be and that, as an Avatar in Novia, I was destined to feel the piercing of death without the permanence of death over and over here in this world, brought back by the grace of the life-giving Ankh. There was something special about being from away that gave the effect of immortality to those of us who were thrust into this place from another realm. Though I aged, it was slowly. Decades would fly by for the Novians while I barely changed at all. It was unnerving but something I had come to accept here as normal for me.

 

Centuries of Novian time have passed since I first arrived and there has been much to learn, even as a not very enthusiastic learner, training in family history and customs, accounting, law, geometry, cooking, medicines, potions, archery, self-defense, geography, music and so much more. I trained animals to be my companions and sewed armor for myself over and over, making stronger armor as I learned from experience just how to make a seam last, how to cobble a shoe, mend a stocking, how to aim a bow, and how to fletch an arrow properly. I learned magic and potions, spells too, and heal many who ask for a healer in this world. And still, with all this knowledge and after all these years, the most pressing thing I have to do today is to pick up supplies in town for the annual brewing of hops and grains.

 

 “It’s good to be ALIVE!” I shouted into the wind. I grinned, then laughed out loud again.

 

I could no longer see the family crest that I had helped to stitch nor the crest of the guild that my family was part of, both flapping in the breeze from the ramparts of the stone keep but I knew later that I would still be able to see at least the tower’s tops from town. It was still a long walk from where I was all the way over the stone bridge and into the town proper. The banners would not be visible again until I returned up Moon Mountain, but I would be able to see a smoke signal and if there was danger there would be a signal with lamps. That meant return immediately. Three long, three short, and three long blips of light would alert me to a pirate attack, or a dragon, or anything exciting at all. There had not been a signal in the last several decades since that business with the stone dragon, but my family had firmly instilled a sense of responsibility that meant I would still check over every now and then through the day to see if there were any smoke or lights flashing from the towers. I could always enjoy the hope that something exciting would occur. It rarely did.

 

This year, for several phases of the planets, I had been working with our caretakers and gardeners, digging in the dirt, tending to a heap of neglected accounting and correspondence for the Byrd family businesses, and generally poking my nose in all of the family affairs. Today, it felt exhilarating to be out of the stuffy old rooms and into the clear afternoon light, free from paperwork and ink.

 

I stopped to catch my breath in the shade under one of the large swaying trees along the path by the edge of the bay. From here, I could see all the way across to the fishing shack beyond the pier. One ship was in mooring which meant the markets might have the ingredients I needed to find. This mostly-peacefully valley at the edge of the sea was warm and fair, but the bit of bite of air in the mornings told of changes up in the high mountains of Elysium that would soon flood the valley with colder winds, even if today the air was still warm and windy.

 

No matter, I was now away from my desk in the tower and my work was caught up (sort of), though I did stuff the last few letters in the drawer and pretend to myself that they were complete. I’d be back soon enough and could feel guilty then. It was my own fault really; I had put it all off for far too long.

 

Earlier in the week, when I could not sit still any longer and simply could not look at one more piece of paper, I had escaped out into the gardens to help a little with the preparation for harvest of the brewing grains that we grew in raised beds on the wide tops of the walls of the old keep. My wildly eccentric Aunt Morgana had always said that if we were under siege at least we had dirt to grow food in… and dirt to put out fires from flaming arrows… and dirt to bury the dead in if it came to it. Now I was glad that she had them installed; the view while I gardened was stunning.

 

Although leaving the harvest work to my Uncle Owain’s cousin’s daughter’s family was probably something they all wished I would do, I did a little anyway because I nearly always felt a great deal better after working with the living plants than I ever did after balancing the bookkeeping. I hadn’t recently killed even one of the precious hops and Uncle Owain grudgingly admitted my gardening skills had matured since I had first arrived in Jade Valley, though he was drunk at the time and didn’t remember saying anything nice at all when I reminded him of it.

 

No matter, I had heard the words and taken them to heart. It didn’t matter whether I got praise from him for learning, so it didn’t really matter to me whether he remembered saying anything. He was right, I had improved. That’s the part that mattered; I had improved. I could see the plants and they were healthy. That was praise enough. This year so many of the Jade Valley farmers were still recovering from the devastating events of the destruction of River’s Crossing that none could spare help for our harvest this year. We were on our own after all, so even my hands were welcome when we are this shorthanded.

 

The harvest is imminent and, with a distinct shortage (due to rodent activity) discovered at the last minute before dumping the sacks of sugar into the vat for brewing (yes, vermin are still an issue up here in our kitchen storage even with the addition of my many beloved cats), someone needed to be sent to town for sugar. Errands need running and since I am still the least experienced farmer among the whole keep, I was sent to procure the things on a list placed carefully in my apron pocket by our cook and brewer and cautioned to return right away. NO DAWDLING!! Several warnings of time management that I could have done without followed, but this reputation is the result of years of forgetting to do assigned tasks. I can’t escape my past.

 

I sighed. “At least I’m out from behind that desk.” I murmured to no one.

 

It may also be that this was the family’s way of getting me out of the way and out of their fields, but I didn’t mind; I needed to walk some of the energy out of my mind after sorting numbers, and anyway, it was time to check on the Hall of Enquiry and Learning.

 

There were always books to sort and shelve when I had a free moment and, truly, as the town’s only librarian I felt responsible for the state of the bookshelves. I wasn’t a very good one, and quite slow at cataloguing anything at all, but I was fairly enthusiastic about reading the books in the library at least and could recommend a good book or direct patrons to the section they wanted to browse.

 

Finally, I made my way over the Stone Bridge of Happy Arrival after meandering past Doc Tud’s hospital and the Jade Valley Lighthouse. On the town side of the bridge, I didn’t go into the busy marketplace; I first waved to Becky, one of the Town Criers, then I turned south and walked past the Graewitch Gardens’ Vegs and Regs Market, the Jade Rose Tea Room, and the Byrd’s Nest Inn, where I saw the new barmaid sweeping the stone steps before the afternoon crowd starts trickling in.

 

“Hello, Lily!” Her friendly greeting rang out as I passed by.

 

Gathering up my skirts, I hurried my step past the Hall of Enquiry and Learning, mostly so I wasn’t tempted to go inside before I gathered the needed supplies. I waved at my neighbor as he hurried by on his own business across the street. Then, like a sweet breeze through a cherry tree’s blossoms, the sight of my little cobble cottage near the river greeted me.

 

This view never seemed to disappoint and, of course, the scent of roses carried me the rest of the way home.  I stepped up to the little white archway covered in small, flowered vines and a picket fence bordered with more flowers. Looking back north toward the market, I took a deep breath, enjoying the sensation of the clean fresh breeze off the bay mixed with the cooking smells at the food vendors nearby and the sounds of commerce winding down for the day. Sometimes living near this center of commerce and trade was too much for my senses but today I grinned as the haggling and hammering sounds wafted toward me.

 

Glancing at the ancient solid stone structure of the Hall of Enquiry and Learning next to my little cottage reminded me that there were errands to do here in town before I could make a cup of tea and put my feet up with a good book. Tending to books is the passion that keeps me sane while I listen to and write stories of adventures: those that locals tell me from their travels in the lands and, sometimes, adventures I’ve lived through. I collect and catalog the books written by other Avatars as well and spend many enjoyable hours reading those tales in the comfortable seating at the Hall library.

 

Books that I’ve written are far rarer, as I really am not as brave as many of the more experienced Avatars whose stories of courage, truth, and love I never tire of hearing. Wandering adventurers also leave their stories for me to keep in the library or I collect them during my own travels. That little library collection has become my rock while I grapple with grief of losing those close to me. I had grown to love and respect my adopted family and always enjoy watching them grow from sweet babies to old grumps, but each time their deaths are still profound.

 

Setting up and running the library was the only interest I found I still had any stomach for after most of my adopted family died in the raids on Port Phoenix long years past. Sorting and cataloguing books kept me alive while I grieved the loss of people whom I cared for deeply. Many of those days are lost to the swirls of my mind but the result was that the bookcases had been built and the Hall of Enquiry and Learning had been set up. My sister Violet and I had escaped our family’s fate only through a personal act of rebellion. The punishment for our rebellion was living while they had died. Though grief and guilt are a painful journey and one that each of us learns to cope with on our own, I had come to terms with the loss over time. The pain has dulled with time but didn’t disappear. I tried not to dwell on it today.

 

It was when the entire Byrd family holdings were given over to the care of my sister Captain Violet and I that I, Lily Byrd, started to learn the history of the world I had been thrust into and that I now found myself loath to leave. I felt I had let my family down with a variety of youthful indiscretions, so I now intended to learn to perform my family duties to the best of my ability even if it was too little and too late. Only, I missed the adventures and indiscretions. I missed my parents and Aunt Morgana. Those thoughts led me to other friends who had gone missing: Dragosani, Calan, Joe, and all those others lost to the swirl of the Outlands. I missed people here in Novia too, Lucy and Torgin Featherbright and Phlebus. Lastly, most of all I missed the quiet and thoughtful archer, Zyrina. She and I had become close friends while she tried to cope with some Obsidian magic that had plagued our valley and the menace of an old mysterious book of magic. People tend to bond when facing large enemies of immeasurable strength with unknown odds of survival. I smiled then, remembering the stories of fighting for her life alongside her friends.

 

Even though it had been years since we lost the trail of the mysterious magic book. Although I had not heard from any of my fellow adventurers for far too long, I still longed for something new and exciting. A large sigh escaped me then, and I crossed my arms in front of me. I knew telling stories of brewing, gardening, mushroom-finding, or fruit-growing didn’t have the same appeal to the folk who might stop by to hear a local story or two at the library either; story-time had become just me sitting among the books reading bits from my favorites to myself.

 

Living here in a farming and trade village really wasn’t much of an adventure, but this was a good village to settle into if you want to watch the world go by. Most of the local library patrons enjoy enough of a thrill from reading about the world or hearing the stories I tell them about the goings-on in Novia, gleaned from travelling and listening. They were the farmers and fishers who found no sense in leaving their valley to travel anywhere. I respected their caution regarding travel but did not share it to the same degree. I may not seek out spider-filled caverns on my own, but I travelled as often as I could, and I carried a bow and several poisoned arrows with me at all times, even here in Jade Valley.

 

 

Looking down after my musing, I realized I had halted while beginning to open the squeaky door of my little wooden post box. I winced and promised myself to remember to oil it before the day was over…for sure this time. Truly, it’s not an overly exciting event, opening a squeaky and mostly empty post box. Generally, if anything were in it at all, it would be flyers for various sales and events, but today among the sales fliers there was a letter. I smiled and plucked it from the fliers now destined for the outhouse paper stack. I could recognize Zyrina’s writing anywhere. Having just been recalling past adventures that we shared, I really wanted to savor this moment, pour a cup of tea, sit in a comfortable chair, and enjoy opening the missive but my impatience once again got the better of me and I didn’t even make it inside the gate before I haphazardly tore the envelope open in my haste to get to the paper inside:

 

Dear Lily,   

I’ve just arrived home. Come quickly. There is too much to tell since we parted. Here’s a quick summary: Torgin found another lead regarding that little artifact that you found (yes, Emrys confirmed that the artifact that you dug up when Arabella was kidnapped during the Mystery of Treasure Island Adventure was indeed a little leather-bound book).

 

Then the artifact vanished again only to reappear when we all joined forces in Jade Valley during The Stone Dragon Mystery. Merrik Dragon’s suffering was profound during that adventure and was absolutely linked to a specific spell from that particular little leather-bound book. Torgin and I found out it resurfaced at River’s Cross when mages misused a spell from its pages while drunk. Phlebus helped us find the thread of the story but I won’t divulge more details here as they are many and hair-raising; it was not simply a dragon burning down a village as we thought it was, that’s for sure.

 

This is the first time Phlebus, Torgin, or I have heard whisper of this book in many years. It is far too dangerous to leave to the continued misuse of the uneducated with ill intent. Torgin had much to say on the topic which I would like to tell you in person.

 

Come soon. When you arrive in Jade Gardens, you can find the little elven cottage I rent from your sister Violet Green and her friend Aslinne Gradh. Remember there is a hot air balloon that will bring you here from Jade Valley; it’s faster than ship or wagon. Please hurry. I’m going to need your help, Lily, at the very least to help get Torgin out of whatever it is he’s getting us into this time. Bring your herbs and potions; we will probably need them.

 …and your bow. We will definitely need it.

 

Please help,

Zyrina

 

Well. Now THAT was a letter. I absentmindedly stuffed it into my little skirt pocket and patted it smooth. This was going to take a little planning and a lot of effort. And I definitely was not going to help with the harvest nor finish my bookkeeping. Now I was really smiling. First, I needed to get the provisions sent up the mountain, then I needed to arrange for help at the library while I was gone. Of course, I rushed madly off in all directions.

 

And of course, the letter worked its way out of my pocket during my preparations and I didn’t have a clue how to find the cottage when I finally arrived in Jade Gardens days later and exhausted after dark. Wandering into the hamlet after the hot air balloon dislodged its passengers, I found myself lost for several hours traipsing among magnificent gardens, one after another heady with fragrance and flowery night blooms. Eventually, hearing him call out the hour, I came across the town crier near the docks. He directed me to the little elven cottage that Zyrina rented from Violet Green and Aslinne Gradh (Sequanna knows how they got into property ownership together… I assume it was the spoils from a gambling wager of some sort). So, I set out in the correct direction this time, and made my way by starlight to Zyrina’s home.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

February 23 2022

The Stone Dragon Series – Interlude – Old Pete

 

Interlude:  Old Pete

Read by Asclepius

Nearly a decade later at the Dragon’s Breath Inn in River’s Cross close to but across the river from Jade Valley.

 

Sitting in the old Dragon’s Breath Inn several years after his adventures in the area, Phlebus was enjoying the peace of the quiet afternoon after his leisurely walk down to the valley. He took another sip from the half full pint in front of him on the table. His ship had docked in Port Phoenix nearby and he had walked to the valley from there. It was time. He had been waiting for the right moment to ask the brewer about a rumour he had heard in his travels.

 

When Phlebus finally asked the question, Old Pete was thrilled to tell the story to another passerby. It wasn’t often that anyone asked him for a story anymore. It wasn’t often that anyone travelled this way into the valley anymore either.

 

“River’s Cross was a quiet little hamlet once. Before those strange elves usin’ magic showed up out of nowhere. They became the darlin’s of the village. There was even dances out in the square once in a while and me ol’ Uncle Clarence used to play his accordion for them. That was before. Before the residents all started disappearing like, one by one. No one really noticed till there was only me left tending the bar. I don’t mind, really. But it gets kinda lonely all by meself.”

 

“I gets travelers now and then. People like yourself travellin’ into or out of Jade Valley sometimes stop here to catch their breath before the long hike out of the valley. There’s not much to see now, but River’s Cross was once a right gem of a hamlet.” Old Pete took another sip from his whiskey.

 

“Seems you are interested in hearing more about my little pub. It’s called the Dragon’s Breath Inn ‘cause o’ what happened the night the elves left town. Well, I’ll tell ya, but I warn ya now…. it’s not a pretty story. And it doesn’t end well.”

 

He stopped to sip again from his drink then went on, “It all started about a decade ago when those elves showed up. They sauntered into town like they knew where they were going and had the money to pay for it, ya know what I mean?  It was the stink of magic that gave em away, an’ I don’t hold truck with no magic. I din’t pay em no mind long as they paid for their drink in gold and din’t get too uppity. Soon they had some of the other residents building a sort of temple for em. Somewhere they did their whispering and magicking. It used to be over down the lane, but it ain’t there now a days. Least ways I ain’t seen no one around there for a while now. Not since that night they all got drinking that special ale they had been promising that they were making for everyone in the Hamlet.” Old Pete tipped his glass to Phlebus again before swallowing. “They built themselves a brewery an set up doin little magic spells for folks to speed healing, or add a pox to an enemy, you know, regular stuff like that. Well then, after awhiles they were in here one night whispering. Always whispering. But that night they was purty excitable. Giddy almost, for that lot.”

 

“They was discussin’ the finished product they had made. An Ale. And not just any ale. Somethin’ special that never been thunk up befores. Ale of Essence they bin callin’ it. Ale of Essence? Now them is some fancy words for that swill. There was no reason for them to be so dang excitable about it. It didn’t taste right to me at all an’ I spit it right out, but them mages told me that it would give me everlastin’ life if I drank some. I don’t see no difference. Though I rightly am still alive so it must be workin’, eh?” He stopped to cackle a bit to himself over his joke before going on.

 

“Anyhoo’ it was a mostly dark and stormy night. We was all huddled around the bar and tryin’ to stay warm. You know the kind o night I’s talkin’ bout? An after a few pulls from their special cask, them elves started arguin’ who was the better magic user. You can imagine that it ain’t my place to get in the middle of angry drunk mages so’s I just stayed back here and sorta hid behind the hutch over there. They was castin’ spells and drawin’ funny shapes in the air with their wands, and soon enough they got serious. That’s when I got scared. Real scared. They wasn’t foolin’ round anymore.  One o ‘em decided to try to do a spell big and the others were shouting at the caster to stop cause an I quote “we didn’t get it right even with the whole group of mages in the temple”. It didn’t convince the mage to stop, and they just kept chanting an’ tossed some ol bone on the ground out front of the inn. T’other one, that one that was with all them elves but was human but still a magic user ya know? The quiet one. Well, he started a different chant, and I could feel the hairs on my arms rise up and let me know there was trouble. Big trouble. The quiet one’s chant put a shimmer around the pub. I ain’t never seen nuthin’ like it afore. Then the shrieking started. And the fires and the roaring and the fires. Them fires was sumthin’ alright.” He paused again lost in thought. He sipped awhile at the cup he nursed in the crook of his arm while he spoke.

 

“I looked outta that window over there and saw the shadow of the creature fly over us. It was huge, scaly, orange and spewin’ fire outta its maw every which way. Somebody tol’ me it was a dragon, I ain’t never seen one o those before. Don’t wanna see another one either. That shimmer from the quiet mage protected the pub from the dragon’s breath that night. We was the only building left standin’ the next day. Them mages mostly perished tryin’ to control that dragon thing in the night and lucky for them when the warriors from Jade Valley saw the dragon flyin’ round the valley they came and battled it to death. I don’t know what finally happened, but it got kilt some which way. You can see the bones scattered over there behind the inn in the woods still. The few mages that were still living the next day wandered off quick as a wink muttering something about everyone would know where they were now, and they needed to find some mage who had run off with their special book. It’s been pretty quiet these days, but you can sometimes see the smoke and feel the shadow of that dragon flyin overhead.  I reckin that shadow thin’ is looking for them mages even still. Now iffin you want some o’ that Ale of Essence you is gonna hafta go find one o’ ‘em what makes it. I ain’t going alookin’. More Ale?” He finished with a flourish.

 

“Do you know where they went?” Phlebus asked quickly, covering his pint with his hand.

 

“Nope, but I heard tell that someone called Nestor was the leader even iffin he weren’t herebouts. Maybe you’s can ask ‘im. Come back on in for a visit sometime won’tcha?” Old Pete waved as Phlebus downed the rest of his drink and rose to leave.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

February 23 2022

The Stone Dragon Series – Interlude – The Mages of the Red Branch

 

InterludeThe Mages of the Red Branch

Read by Alleine Dragonfyre

 

The evening of celebration had quickly soured in the small hamlet of River’s Cross near the second entrance to the valley past the old, covered bridge that led to Jade Valley town. The quiet mage completed the shimmery air spell that would continue to shield the pub for the rest of the night at least. He had been enjoying his drink before all the trouble broke out and old Pete didn’t deserve what was going to happen to his establishment. The buffer would at least protect the inn, and the innkeeper if he was smart enough to stay inside it.

 

 When several of the others started arguing about why the dragon summoning spell had not worked when they were at the old location in Jade Valley itself, why it would certainly work now, and they started calling on each other to make another attempt, then the mage knew they no longer deserved to be in charge of that magic book.

 

 It had been a subject he had been contemplating for months now. After discovering that the room of casting they built in Jade Valley was made from blocks made from stone bodies of people, he found himself questioning everything he knew about the Southern Red Branch. And when they built the brewery in River’s Cross using the stone bodies of villagers who weren’t sweet enough to become part of their Ale of Essence, he knew they had not learned anything at all from their experiences.

 

There was something missing in the teachings he had grown up with and no one was willing to answer his questions about virtue and vice anymore. The elf mages who raised him didn’t have much time for his questions before, but now they had become surly about even considering his questions at all.

 

He wanted to know where the book came from and how they happened to have it. He wanted to know the face of the person who created this magic. From what he experienced, this book had brought only pain and suffering to everyone who they encountered, and their own group was splintered and decimated. This was no way to build a new society of order and calm.

 

He thought the book might be cursed or worse, have come from before the fall when magic worked differently. No one would answer any questions about The Fall either. Cataclysmic. Devastating. That’s the description he was given, and it was expected to do. They swore that he could not squeeze knowledge from them that they didn’t have.

 

 He knew something was wrong with their logic and their thinking, but he had no way of determining what it was and no one in his cabal would help him search for the answers. The elven mages wanted power but had no plan how to become powerful nor what to do with that power if they were able to attain it. He was sure there was more to success than simply attaining power to do what you wanted to do.

 

 He watched them get more and more angry as they huffed and puffed and chanted. The rest of his group was single minded in their pursuit of success. He waited until the other mages had looked up the spell again, put the book aside, and were focused on the summoning spell itself. Finally, he was ready to act.

 

Quickly slipping the magic book under his garment into a small pocket he had stitched there for this very use, he made his way to the Obsidian dias on the roof of the pub to get a better view of what the drunk remnants of the Southern Red Branch mages would summon. He kept a travel scroll in his hand, ready to leave with the book.

 

 The dragon they eventually summoned was not part human this time. It was massive and glowed a shimmery orange colour. It wanted nothing to do with any of them. It was bent on destroying those who summoned it and anyone else who came into its path. Its struggles against the drunk mages’ control did not waiver. It turned and attacked the hamlet time and time again. Fire rained down and the buildings in the hamlet soon smoked and flamed. The billowing smoke attracted attention as it became obvious that fire was spreading.

 

Within a short time, folks all the way from Jade Valley started arriving to fight the fire. Someone quickly dispatched back to Jade Valley to beg for assistance from the few outlanders and townsfolk who could battle a dragon, too. After the dust and fire and rain of the battle subsided, everyone left gathered to find out just what had happened.

 

Jade Valley townsfolk found the remnants of the mages’ brewery and potion shop. They learned that the essence in the ale the mages had been experimenting with in their basement brewery was made from the remains of the townsfolk who had disappeared from River’s Cross hamlet. Whether it actually gave eternal life was difficult to tell without testing. No one was going to test the brew. It was destroyed. They tore the brewery down and obliterated any trace of the evil the elven mages had done. The few elves who remained alive were shackled and taken to the Jade Valley Jail to await trial. The dead were buried, and the fires raked over until they were cold.

 

The mage watched all this while hidden in plain sight on the rooftop of the inn. He took another long pull from his now warm ale before muttering a spell to use his last travel scroll. He vanished with the magic book in his pocket and a keg of Ale’s Essence tucked under his arm.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

February 10 2022

Black Rose Chronicles 15 – by Belladonna Rose – narrated by Asclepius

 

Black Rose Chronicles, chapter 15

Background music by Smartsound

 

After a lengthy talk with Astor she explained she wanted to go back out and try to help once again with this threat from the Undead. He agreed and said that things will be fine and for her to come home as often as she could. Although the lands seemed huge they were not. Many of the locations were within day or two for travels. And with the wagons and ships and even the Lunar Rifts it was easy to fast transport to anywhere in the realm. With that she donned her newly crafted armor and freshly honed weapons. Packed her backpack with a few necessities and she headed over the stone bridge towards the exit of town. She would hop the ship from Hidden Vale to Brittany and then take the ship from there to Ardoris. Might as well head back in that direction since she had already started some work there. She was not too thrilled about doing back there but she did what she had to do

After what seemed like months she walked into Knight’s Watch. Tired, dirty and hungry she trudged to her house by the river. When she walked up she notice that her quaint little house was no longer little. It had been built up to a sprawling stone building.
It was near dark and she did not enter the house. Maybe Astor thought her dead after so long away and let someone else build in her place. After a good night’s rest she would seek him out. So she headed to the tavern where she could get a quick meal and a cot upstairs.

When she made her way through the door the tavern was crowded. Many folk stood and sat around. Some gent named Omegaflux was at the piano banging out a lively tune while another named Ozzy Questor was trying in vain to keep up on his bagpipes. The laughter and talk were so loud even over the din of music. Bella saw Astor standing behind the bar and she approached. When the door slammed behind her the noise died down. Many of the faces she did not know or did not know that well, but she kept moving.
“Master Cerberus” she said once she found her voice.
“Did you give me up for dead?”
Smiling across the counter he shook his head in humor
“Nay, Milady. I know it would take more than some undead rabble to take you down.”
She looked at him for a moment and slapped her hand on the counter.
“Then perhaps over a pint you can explain why my house is missing.”
All the fellows in the tavern broke into laughter. Some shouting to Astor I told you so and such.
He too chuckled at her comment.
“Now now Bella. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. You were gone but a month when we all here
in town decided that you needed a much better house than you had built.”
Putting up his hand to stave off her retort he continued.

“Bella we all in appreciation for what you did to help the others build up their homes decided
to make you a grand house indeed. Furnishings and all. So when you come home you can sit back
and tell us your tales from your journey.”

The man named Ozzy came forward and peeked sideways at her.
“Tis a fine fireplace i built ya Miss. Hope it keeps ya warm on cold nights”

Others approached and told of the things they did to help as well.
Bella couldn’t help but blush, smile and even shed a tear for all the welcomes and the
help.
She looked back at Astor as he stood beaming behind the bar. She pointed a finger at him as if
saying…I will get you for this. Then immediately rounded the counter and started pouring more
pints for all.
“Drink up my friends and celebrate my return…..but i have you know I won’t be cleaning up the mess.”

As the revelry continued into the night Bella snuck up the back stairs and found an empty bed in the far corner. She cared not if anyone else came up there. All she wanted was sleep. As soon as her head hit the pillow she was out like a light.
The next morning she rose from the bed and quickly made use of the washstand. Washing the smell of pipe smoke and ale from her face and neck she quickly changed into some regular clothing. She would definitely have to brush out her leather armor later
in the day. Gathering up her things she hoisted her pack on her back and made her way down the stairs. Setting a chair upright she sat down for a moment. The fire had gone cold in the fireplace, so she gathered up some kindling and small logs and got a nice fire started. Going behind the bar she looked about for a kettle and a tin of tea leaves. Both were nicely stored underneath the counter. Checking the bucket of water next to the counter she deemed it quite fresh so poured it in the kettle and set it on the fire to boil. Searching around she found some food and quickly made a trencher of assorted items. Cheese, lemon bun, apple, grapes and a jar of butter. Plate of food in hand she placed it on the table. Then pulled the porcelain teapot from under the counter and a cup. This will be the first good tea she had had in a while. Those taverns elsewhere could not make a decent cup of tea for anything. As her tea steeped, she nibbled on the food in front of her. It was very peaceful and quiet inside. There was not much going on outdoors either except the chirping of the birds. This was one thing she did enjoy about Knight’s Watch. The quiet.

As time moved on and the town grew, she was able to do more adventuring. Often the residents of Knights Watch gathered and went on hunting parties. This she enjoyed a lot. She felt more at ease and enjoyed the company of her town companions. Often as not they would get into some real messy hunts, but the revelry of the group made it enjoyable. She was feeling quite content with her life as it was going. Still at certain times of the day or night her thoughts drifted back to her crew from the Black Rose. And of her old world where her family was. But it wasn’t long till a lot of those memories were just that

Waking one morning early she slipped her feet into cozy kidskin shoes and grabbed her oversized robe. Funny she thought to herself the men in this town still have not gotten the right proportions in making clothing for her. Usually, they had to take in and stitch up once she put them on. But this robe she would not allow them to adjust it. She loved it just like this. Slowly walking down the staircase she ran her hands along the stone. “Tis a fine house we built ya lassy”. She could still hear them the night they told her about the house. Pffft. It wasnt a house at all but a small castle keep. Huge in her eyes and all hers. Often times she would have them over for pints and meals and often times she would find someone sleeping off the revelry by the fireplace. Indeed, she had a grand fireplace.
She loved it all the more because they worked so hard building it for her. Fine furnishings and the occasional knick knack decorations they thought a fine lady would like. Although she had been far from lady like they still regarded her none the less.
Reaching the ground floor her trusty dog Roofus greeted her. Twirling in circles the lunk of a dog followed her towards the back door where she opened it up to let him out. Then she made way to the kitchen. The men wanted very much to provide a fine kitchen for her, but she refused. She had no idea how to cook on such things as they called pot belly stoves. She liked cooking on a hearth. The jug of water sat on the table and she filled the kettle full. Stoking up the fire she put it on to boil.
Taking down her fancy tin of tea leaves that Astor had gotten her on one of his adventures she sniffed at the aromatic leaves. Smiling she took a pinch and put them in the teapot and waiting for the water to boil. Today was to be a busy day. Many chores waited for her and the first thing she planned on doing was going into Kingsport to purchase some seeds. She had asked a couple of the men to build her some planting boxes as she was determined to grow some fresh vegetables and she was going to start some fruit trees as well.
While out she planned on riding up to Owl’s Head to get some other things that she knew she couldn’t find in Kingsport. It was going to be a busy day indeed.

 

After many months of being idle in her mind. Bella decided to venture back out into the lands. She had become restless staying in the Hidden Vale. She felt the draw of the sea and the need to put some newer lands under her feet.
Sitting around the large table in the tavern of Knight’s Watch she chatted with the others on places they had been and things they had seen. Since there were all brought to this world much the same as her she knew they too had been
of the adventuring spirit. Whether from needing to do so or hired to do so they had covered the entire realm. Many of those places she had travelled with them and many she travelled alone. But she felt she needed to move. At least for a couple months.
The Fall season was approaching so it would be a good time to travel.
Packing up her travel pack and gathering up her weapons she looked it all over to make sure she was set for a journey. Food was carried light as she was able to hunt and forage for pretty much what she needed. And when near towns she was sure she could come up with a decent meal in those. After the talk a few nights back with her fellow townsmen she knew where she was heading. Now to just get on the road and start moving

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

February 10 2022

3D Portal Adventure 2

A new chapter in this enthralling video adventure! The link to the video is here:

Chapter 2

Having established her crew, reluctant as she was to have a crew, Lady Beth began to step through the dimensional gate she had opened.  Tiger_T and the Catdude stepped up to follow her.  As Tiger_T neared the horizon of the portal, he noticed a slight tingle in his fur, almost, but not quite unlike a static charge.  He moved his hand towards and away from the portal to see how it affected the tingling.

The Catdude: “Yeah, weird, isn’t it?  Is this your first time through one of these?”

Tiger_T: “Yeah”

He continued his testing.

Tiger_T: “Interesting.  The CTC doors are different, like normal doors.  I’m curious as to what it will be like to walk through it.  I guess I will know soon enough.”

<Render 6>

Meanwhile, Lady Beth had mostly stepped through the portal, save for the hand she was using it to hold the portal open.

Lady Beth: “Come along, gentlemen.”

Tiger_T: “Aha!  Here’s our marching order!”

He carefully walked forward.  As his nose contacted the horizon, he felt a prickling sensation that propagated through his body, peaking at the parts as they went through.  Coming out the other side, he shook off the effects.

Tiger_T: “BRRR!  Like being combed the wrong way!”

He began looking around.

The Catdude stepped right through the gateway.  He got wobbly on his feet as vertigo momentarily swept over him.  Initially, he reached for Beth’s hand to steady himself, but remembering that he had not obtained such permission to touch beforehand, he braced his hands on his knees instead.

The Catdude: “Just a moment, My Lady.  I always get a head rush when I step through these things.  Five more seconds…..and done!

He shook his head to clear it and recovered.

The Catdude:“The headache will last an hour more, but I will manage.”

He joined Tiger_T in looking around.

CD: “Hmm, I wonder where we are.”

Meanwhile, Tiger_T pushed down a few patches of fur on his tail.

Tiger_T:“I guess I came through OK.”

<Render 7>

## Feel free to add in based on your own impressions. ##

Tiger_T and the Catdude stared out in rapt fascination over their surroundings.  Tiger_t notice that the “clouds” were not moving.

T_T:  “Ahh, like unto Van Goh’s Starry Night.  Very impression as all I usually see is standard YeOldeEarth Sky. ”

CD:  “Indeed so.  Funny thing, when Lady Beth first mentioned great height, I thought we might be headed to either Nar Shadda or the Cliffs of Eos but we are at neither.  We are at someplace I have never been before and I am glad of it.  My lady, thank you for letting me come with you.”

T_T:  “Say, Lady Beth, where exactly is ‘here’ anyway?”

Lady Beth gave no answer and stood quietly at a jutting pier, as if awaiting something.  It did not take long for that something to come into sight.

<Render 8>

T_T: “I think I see something coming towards us.  A…blimp?

CD:  Ahh, an airship with sailing ship gondola.  A beautiful way to sail the skies, although, if the weather takes a certain turn, the voyage can become…interesting.

<Render 9>

As the vessel approached, Lady Beth addressed her companions.

Lady Beth: “This will be our transport during our time here.  I will renegotiate the contract and bill of lading.  How much do each of you and your equipment weigh?”

Tiger_T:  That’s our ride?  Cool!  My weight?   I do hope an estimate will be exact enough.  Umm, I should be around 82 kg, and my backpack should be around 20 kg.

The CatDude:  I weigh between 105-110kg, my gear is 40 kg, half of which is ammo.  I suppose the captain will have some demands regarding storage.

<Render 10>

As the vessel pulled up to dock, the ramp extended out to the board gate of the ship.  Lady Beth began to walk towards the ship but then she stopped and turned around to face her feline companions.

LB: “Gentleman…if you trust me then please wait for me there.  I’ll…be…back.”

T_T: “ Umm…okay”

CD: “yes, my lady, I will wait as you wish.”

Lady Beth proceeded to the ship and went aboard.  Tiger_T turn to the Catdude with puzzlement.

T_T:  “I don’t see why she would bring us here only to then change her mind.  That alone is reason to trust her.”

CD: “I learned to trust unicorns with my life.  The first lesson I learned about them is that they are honest to the expense of politeness.  It can be off-putting to humans the first time around, but you get used to it.  If nothing else, it explains unicorns generally make for ineffectual politicians.  This probably has something to do with the crew, seeing as we are not part of the original contract that she is now having to renegotiate.”

Tiger_T nodded his assent and understanding.  Presently, Lady Beth returned and they snapped to attention to receive her next instructions.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

February 10 2022

Stone Dragon Series – Book 1, Chapter 9

 

Read by Addy

Chapter Nine. Kobolds, Trolls, and Liches? Oh My!

 

Torgin stopped to check the torch supply they had left piled along the tunnel before their descent into the dark, after he ran back up to the main corridor. He also took a good look at his own equipment while he waited for the others to climb out of the sloping tunnel behind him. Doing the chores had kept his mind occupied but as he cleaned the blade of his axe, he had time to think. He was shaken by what had been done to the human volunteers in the experiment room. Those volunteers who were experimented on didn’t get anything out of the deal; it was not mutual. It was torture. People should not have to suffer nor lose their lives simply for the curiosity of others. Shuddering a little, he could not help but hope he would overcome whatever other evils he would find ahead. With a deep breath and nod of his head to these private conclusions, he turned and watched Phlebus, Lucy, and finally Zyrina emerge from the smaller tunnel. They had a moment to speak quietly among themselves and check their own gear as the newcomers caught their breath from the climb out of the troll pit.

 

“What was done to those people…” Phlebus couldn’t even finish his sentence.

 

He simply pursed his lips and shook his head. Zyrina looked away from the others and kept her thoughts to herself, but the slump of her shoulders was obvious.

 

“Now we have to watch for kobolds, liches, and trolls?” Lucy asked as she looked both ways down the tunnels anxiously.

 

“Who doesn’t like variety?” Torgin joked, trying to lighten his own mood and that of his sister, too.

 

With a crooked half smile Lucy answered, “Ale, yes. Enemies? Not so much.” She shrugged and chuckled, “I prefer a nice strong dark ale and a single weak enemy.”

 

“This way.” Torgin peered ahead into the semi-dark hallway that went on and on. The others followed quietly. Zyrina at the end of the line watched their rear.

 

“Here we go a wandering throughout the mines so black. And as we go, I love to sing, my rucksack on my back.” Lucy stopped for a minute to light her torch, then continued loudly, “Come on join in! Falderi faldera falderi falder ha ha ha!” Her chorus rang out and echoed down the tunnel.

 

“SSSHHHH!  Lucy, are you TRYING to get us killed?” Zyrina shushed her friend.

 

Lucy shot her an annoyed look, “How do you not know a single mining song at all?”

 

Then they heard movement ahead of them in the tunnels and Lucy looked stricken. Zyrina had her bow ready to shoot before anyone even blinked.

 

 “I’m sorry,” Lucy whispered as her brother withdrew his axe from its holster. “I was trying to lighten the mood, too.”

 

When Zyrina saw Torgin drop his weapon back into its holster and crouch down she still kept her arrow nocked and drawn, aimed just beyond Torgin’s left shoulder. Lucy couldn’t see why Torgin knelt, either. Then, snowy lynx paws wrapped around Torgin’s neck, and a fuzzy feline muzzle gave the side of his face a nuzzle.

 

“I told you to stay put,” Torgin spoke gruffly to the lynx who rubbed up against his leg after he stood up again.


“We have been gone a long while.” Lucy excused Kitty’s behaviour.

 

Phlebus immediately stopped casting the bolt of electric energy that he was preparing, and Zyrina dropped the point of her arrow before releasing the tension on the string. Kitty walked a few steps into the dark then came back to the group and gave Torgin a piercing look before she padded down the corridor again. She was confident that Torgin would follow her.

 

Torgin spoke over his shoulder as he started following the lynx into the gloom ahead of them.

 

“She knows where to go.”

 

“How does she know that?” Zyrina wanted to know.

 

Lucy shrugged.  “I don’t know, but Torgin hasn’t ever been wrong about what Kitty knows.”

 

Lucy kept in step a little distance behind Torgin, humming a tune quietly to herself while holding the torch high. Torgin had light enough to see where he walked without blinding him. Phlebus and Zyrina followed quietly. Kitty, of course did not need the light but stayed close enough ahead that Torgin could make out the white and black swish of her tail every now and then at the edges of the light cast ahead of him.

 

When Torgin stopped suddenly in the corridor so did everyone else. No one was daydreaming this time. There was an exit from the main corridor off to the right just at the edges of where the torch lit the darkness.

 

Torgin spoke quietly, “Kitty sat down and faced that opening. There must be something in that cavern, or she would have gone in there or past it.” Still whispering, he nodded toward the entrance to the cavern, “Be ready.”

 

It was a mid-size cavern, with dripping stalactites and stalagmites growing up from the floor to meet them around the room. Steaming pools of greenish mineral water collected in some of the hollows formed by the constant dripping. In the middle of the room there were several dead bodies on the ground around a small glowing lantern. But the most striking of the particulars was the large shimmering lich in the middle of the room who had just turned from its killing spree. 

 

Torgin drew his axe and took a deep breath. Zyrina stepped from the back of the group and worked her way up to beside Torgin. When they touched shoulders, it was time.

 

“AAAAAARRRRRRRRR!!!!!” Torgin’s shout as he sprung through the door caught the attention of the lich.

 

Next, Phlebus stepped through the doorway and spoke the final words for his fire ring spell. A large circle of flames shot up around the lich. The fire only burned Phlebus’s target; Torgin was untouched by the inferno. Torgin led off with a knockdown, pushing the lich right into the middle of Phlebus’s magical blaze.

 

Zyrina entered to see Torgen swing his axe to strike the liche. The reverberation stuck the lich in place. Her arrows soon followed. She knew that Phlebus’s spells would not be the most helpful in this fight; physical strikes were the most effective way to overcome this magical monster. Liches were powerful mages but if Torgin and Phlebus could hold the lich in place she could send arrow after arrow into the target.

 

 Phlebus’s spells were long and complicated. Every time he was interrupted, he had to begin at the beginning. Magic was not very effective against a powerful lich mage because of all the interruptions; but he was doing what he could to assist.

 

Zyrina was learning it was worth her effort to make sure that no one interrupted him while he was casting, and she took it upon herself to be his protector while he cast. It had taken him years to learn and to perfect these spells, but they were magnificent. She was proud of her friend; he had been only a handful of years out of childhood when they had parted. Now he had grown into a resourceful skilled mage. She grinned and went back to firing arrows one after the other.

 

With the lich now stuck in place, Phlebus was already deciding on his next spell as he felt the healing touch of Lucy nearby. Lucy was casting a spell that she called Soothing Rain. It would keep healing each of them for a short time while they fought, no matter where they went in the room. Plebus was speaking a spell that would create a fire elemental wisp. It would strengthen any of the fire spells he cast. Immediately after it materialized like a human sized flame beside him, he began another ring of fire.

 

Between them, Torgin and Phlebus kept the lich pinned in place. Zyrina kept firing arrow after arrow, even though it felt like she was assaulting thin air. Lucy helped everyone when she added some kind of boost to their health and movement speed with a song she was playing on her harp while interspersing faster healing spells to each of them individually. Her calls of “Asen-Reno” could be heard over and over again. It was this welcome surge of energy that helped Zyrina to stay focused when the lich started wearing away at her defenses. She fired arrow after arrow in piercing shots. The battle did not take long. Soon enough the lich was a crumpled heap of opaque gelatin at their feet and Torgin was nudging it with his foot to make sure it stayed dead. He dropped to kneel for a moment after making sure the thing was not coming back to life.

 

“Ancestors,” was all he would say when he stood and saw Zyrina’s questioning eyebrow.

 

“Are these dead the kobolds that ran off earlier? Or the ones who left before we arrived? Is the book on any of them?” Phlebus was already looking through the pockets and bags of the closest body.

 

“They aren’t all kobolds. Look. This one is an elf. High ranked mage by the look of it.” Zyrina showed the body she had just turned over onto its back that was laying on its own by one of the pools in a dark corner of the cave.

 

“Elves too?” Lucy’s eyes went round. “This is really too much.”

 

Phlebus called from the back of the room where he had gone to examine yet one more of the stone statues. “There is an elf back here with a letter in its pocket, too.  I can’t read the beginning of it. It’s smudged.”

 

“Listen to this!” he called out again, and began to read aloud, “‘…have my suspicions about the fidelity of that mage we discussed previously. You know the one, the quiet one. I can’t recall his name. He doesn’t seem to take the usual approach to any of our activities here in the temple and doesn’t allow anyone to say “because we always did it that way” as an acceptable answer to his queries about procedure. I’m not sure if you remember he grew up here. Captured as a baby from one of the villages we passed through a couple of decades ago.

 

The Southern Red Branch has been the only family he has known, and he has been a trial for us to raise. I still doubt the wisdom of keeping him here but bowed to the council’s request. After we realized he would not be a good volunteer for the procedure to bind him with a dragon, things deteriorated even further. You remember the reports of his protest when he found out we had used spiders from the southern caverns to conduct our early experiments? The protest signs? The petitions? Yes, well lately he has begun questioning the wisdom of casting spells using the assistance of the moon shards. Can you imagine?

 

It’s not like he asks many questions, I’ve barely heard him speak and not often above a whisper, but those questions stick with you. Like this one: “Does it hurt the dragon when we merge it with another being?” What a silly question!

 

Regardless of the cabal’s trials, I look forward to a visit with you. My best regards to your family, Nestor. I’m certain we will be out of this mine for Sequanna’s fest and can meet at…’” Dejectedly Phlebus concluded, “I can’t read any of the rest.”

 

 

Zyrina spoke up then, “This Kobold has a part of a letter, too. I don’t think kobolds wrote this, either. This bit is addressed to Nestor, the Southern Red Branch. Listen: ‘The liches definitely have the book. Several of our mages have gone to the room of casting to retrieve it from them. After they left, several kobolds came screeching past our hiding spot in this cavern then continued down the corridor, and up to the lich room. I think that the kobolds are trying to claim the book for themselves after having discovered its power when they came upon the experiment room.

 

It’s a good thing we were already leaving when the kobolds battled their way through the troll guards. I am certain they did not see us sneak out of the area while they were fighting. I am confident in the abilities of our mages to withstand a few kobold miners with weapons, but it didn’t seem needed.

 

We are hiding here until the book is returned to us or we are all lost trying to retrieve it. I realize its importance. I am certain it was left when we fled the room of casting yesterday during the lich attack. If we had not forgotten it, we would already have left the area.

 

The liches who attacked us are members of the Dougan family. It seems they have been trying to protect their family member, Merrik Dougan, who was one of our human subjects in the experiment. There were several clones of that human that failed but we used the original Merrik Dougan, and he lived through the transformation. There still are few more clone specimens in the vats for further experiments. We had finished with the experiments on animals as they were too stupid to try to control. I suppose all of that’s moot now. We have to leave. Liches have been attacking for months, but the attacks intensified yesterday when the kobolds became roused after discovering our trolls and experiment room. The liches are not in the mood to go back to their crypts.

 

Kobolds are attacking everything they find but they have left us alone so far in this cavern, but I don’t feel sa…’”

 

Zyrina looked up then. “Blood covers the rest of the page,” she finished.

 

Phlebus mused, “Do you think this Nestor is their boss?”

 

Torgin reasoned, “Regardless, I think some kobolds found these elves hiding here, killed them, and were plundering when the lich attacked them.”

 

“The mages are all elves!” Lucy shouted far too loudly in her excitement, “Does that mean the mages who had the book are all elves?”  No one moved for a moment taking in what must have happened in the room just before they arrived.

 

In the quiet of the gloom in the damp and sulphur smelling cavern, Kitty spoke up, “Mrroeow.”

 

Torgin’s chuckle filled the cavern before the others shushed him, but the silliness was a relief after their battle. They were soon all heaving with silent laughter each time that Kitty beckoned.

 

“Kitty.” Torgin looked to his pet. “What is it?”

 

Kitty left the room. Torgin followed.

 

“Come on, there are more of them,” he called over his shoulder.

 

Slowly the others regained their composure before turning to follow Torgin and Kitty from the cavern.

 

“I think Kitty knows more than we realize.” Lucy voiced what they all were thinking as they gathered up their bags.

 

“It’s a little spooky alright. Okay, get ready. There are bound to be more of those liches and elves, and maybe some kobolds too,” Zyrina reminded them, as if they had forgotten.

 

“And trolls, don’t forget them,” Lucy muttered.

 

“Right, kobolds, elves, liches, and trolls.” Phlebus grinned. “Your favourite.” He winked at Zyrina who smiled but did not laugh at Lucy’s fear.

 

It’s not easy moving through damp dark muddy tunnels far underground looking for liches, elves, trolls, and kobolds. Not easy and not fun. Not at all.

           

Torgin stood at a bend in the tunnel and grunted, “The path splits several ways. One of them rises. That’s the path to the liches. Hopefully, the magic book is still there. It needs to be taken from those elven mages. Listen, you can hear the sounds of battle now. Can you hear it?”

 

Then, shuddering with anticipation, he took his axe out of its holster before reaching down to just behind Kitty’s ears and gently scratching the lynx standing by his knee. “Thanks, Kitty.” She melted into the shadows of the tunnel before they moved further on.

           

Now, they completely gave up stealth. The ones ahead in the fight could not hear anything but the battle around them so it was a waste of time to try to hide any longer. After a short jog up a small incline and around a few bends, they entered what looked like an ancient room carved out of large blocks. There was light streaming from somewhere.

 

Phlebus was sure this was another of the ancient rooms that had been buried during The Fall, or perhaps later, from the Obsidian period. They were found buried through all of New Britannia. There were large stone statues of humans leaning on the hilts of their swords, with the tip on the ground in front of each of them in a line along each of the long walls. In the middle of the room about halfway down the length, was a raised plinth with a big dragon leg bone laid on top of it. Nearby was a moon shard shackled with big metal chains to the ground. All that was at the base of a set of steps that led up to a throne at the very back of the room.

 

Phlebus had no more time to contemplate the architecture. His spells were needed, and they took all his focus to cast. He took a moment to collect his thoughts, then something inside his head cleared and he knew that he had reached that part of him that could touch the magic there. This magic always took something from him, too; he knew that no magic was created without cost. Sometimes that cost was to his own body, like now. He continued to be more than willing to help his friends survive this battle, even if it meant a few changes for a few days.

 

The changes were not usually permanent, and his hair had never remained snow white; he regained its dark luster in a matter of hours. His skin always smoothed back out, and his bent back straightened from the arthritic creaks that took hold of him while he cast. Magic that affected a whole area of enemies was incredibly draining to continue to cast and took longer to recover from afterward too. This was the fourth battle of the day. Phlebus was beginning to look ancient and frail. He hoped he had enough stamina and focus for the battle ahead of him.

 

He felt the small pouch of vials Lucy had handed each of them earlier. ‘Take these when you have no power left and they will rejuvenate you,’ she had promised. He knew she was a competent potion maker and trusted that they would indeed revitalize him. She had also handed him some cold Demon Tea stored in a waterproof pouch. He never could figure out how she managed to always have exactly what he would need, but she did. Every time. He had sipped it quickly before entering the room.

 

Torgin paused to take stock of what they faced before finding his first target. There were at least two liches that Torgin could see near the doorway that were not engaged in battle inside the room with the kobolds. There were several figures farther in who were battling up a set of stairs. As quickly as he could he took two deep breaths and then plunged himself into the fray.

 

This time it was not just one single lich. It was mayhem. There were many liches, in battle with kobolds. Although the liches had killed most of the kobolds before they arrived there were still a few battling the liches, and now battling Torgin too.  Torgin hopped over a few of their bodies on his way through the battlefield.

 

The waves of attacks by liches seemed to go on for hours and by the end it was difficult for Torgin to even raise his axe without shaking with strain. He was half-heartedly swiping at the last kobold when Zyrina’s arrow pierced its chest, and it joined the others on the ground.

 

Zyrina was out of poisonous arrows and had used all her steel headed ones. She had been picking them out of the dead and reusing the ones that still had integrity in the last minutes of the battle. Over at the entrance to the room, Phlebus had been knocked completely out cold near the edge of the fighting, but his eyes were now fluttering open as Lucy tended to him. Even Lucy’s supplies of reagents were sadly and nearly depleted and they were all barely still standing from exhaustion.

 

When the room was finally silent, Torgin dropped to his knee again, followed this time by Zyrina. Lucy wove between the two of them, touching each and casting spells to speed their returning strength and health. She cleaned and patched superficial wounds as they recovered their breath. It had been a vicious fight. Yet here they were, still alive and with a sizable pile of defeated liches and kobolds on the marble floor all around the room.

 

“Well, you two are in fairly good shape, considering. Even Phlebus is coming around after that bonk on his head.” Lucy patted Phlebus gently on the back to reassure him as he pushed himself to a sitting position. “At least there weren’t any trolls.”

 

Torgin chuckled, “Indeed not.”

When Torgin and Zyrina could stand they began searching among the dead with Lucy. Zyrina kept her bow and remaining arrow in her hands and Torgin did not sheath his axe. They were not sure if there was going to be more fighting even as they knew they would have a difficult time surviving another attack. After a few minutes of silence, Phlebus was ready to speak.

 

“Did anyone see the book?”

 

Unanimously, around the chamber there was a headshaking among the others.

 

“There are elves among the fallen.” Zyrina reported as she bent over yet another body. “I don’t remember fighting any elves. They must have died before we arrived.”

 

“Well,” Lucy said quietly while exploring around up the stairs at the end of the room. “There is a chest up here.”

 

That woke them all up.

 

“Chest?” Phlebus repeated while jumping to his feet unsteadily.

 

He nimbly ran up the flight of stairs only to stop and stare with Lucy.

 

“Are you kidding me?” Lucy was looking down at the mostly empty chest hidden behind the large throne.

 

“The book isn’t here. There are a few wood scraps, a little bit of gold, and some old clothing.”

 

Phlebus began feeling around the chest to check for a secret compartment. Down on the floor of the room, Zyrina and Torgin continued to go through the pockets of the fallen.

 

“It’s not here.” Phlebus sounded disappointed after his thorough search of the chest. It was just a common chest.

           

“There is a note in this fellow’s pocket.” Zyrina pulled the folded parchment from the pocket of the dead elf in front of her. “It reads, ‘success or death.’

 

“This message says that too.” Lucy threw the crumpled paper back to the ground after taking it from one of the fallen elves.

 

 “I found something.” Torgin called out.

 

It was part of a letter that had obviously fallen out of someone’s pocket and been trampled in the battle. Most was not readable, but the message was clear.

 

“Listen to this! ‘Nestor, I write as we pack to leave. We will get that magic book back from the liches regardless to the cost of our lives. Kobolds are close behind us. I can hear them in the passages. We have abandoned the experiment room. There is nowhere left to hide in these caves. Spiders and liches have taken over. Kobolds are digging everywhere and will soon find all our secrets here. There are rumours of others sneaking about. They must be searching for the book of magic, too. Several more liches broke free of our controls and turned to stone right in front of us. It is now confirmed that when using this magic book that when we lose control of a subject that they turn at once to stone. We shall teleport once we have recovered the magic book from the liches at their lair. One more battle. Success or death.’

 

The rest of the page is torn and stained with gore.

 

“The Southern Red Branch got here first.” Then he spat. Such a small clue and so profound.

 

“Turned to stone?” Lucy was considering something. “Did he say that the subjects were turned to stone when they lost control of them?”

 

“Yes. That’s exactly what is written here. Apparently, those people in Jade Valley had been under control of these mages for some amount of time.” Phlebus bleakly pointed out. “Governor Hari is not going to like that at all.”

 

“Where are the Red Branch now?” Torgin asked quietly and grimly.

 

 

“Who is Nestor?” Lucy asked again.

 

“I don’t know Lucy, but I’m sure going to find out,” Torgin vowed.

 

“I’ll join you,” Phlebus pledged. “The governor will want to know more about the Southern Red Branch, as I’m sure will Lord British and Arabella. I don’t think they have suspected that the old obsidian magics are being revived right under our noses.”

 

Zyrina was searching for any sign or possible direction the Southern Red Branch had gone but there was nothing.

 

 “Teleport scrolls,” she frowned and sniffed. “We won’t find them now.”

 

Phlebus knew from experience that if Zyrina couldn’t find a residue that no track could be found. Teleport scrolls were the worst. After reading the words on a scroll, the reader is transported through space to a new location in Novia. The location is chosen new each time a scroll is read. Then the scroll disappears as well, in a puff of blue smoke. Completely untraceable. Zyrina hated them.

 

“Then there is no way to find out where they have gone.” Phlebus shook his head, “They won’t be back now that this secret enclave has been routed and they have the magic book. There are no further answers here.”

 

“Time to go make a report to Governor Hari?” Lucy asked hopefully.

 

Phlebus nodded.

 

“Just like that? It’s over?” Torgin looked disappointed, “I thought there would be more to it than that.” Then he kicked at the rock staircase with the toe of his boot.

 

“No, it’s not over,” Phlebus vowed. “Jade Valley may now be rid of this menace but I’m going to find out who is responsible. They can’t hide forever.” He thrust both his arms over his head in a salute of courage just as Zyrina got to her feet beside him.

 

Zyrina coughed, “Phlebus when was the last time you bathed?”

 

Phlebus looked startled then shrugged and laughed heartily. “Apparently after I have a bath, that is.”

 

There was a general chuckle around the group. After gazing around fondly at his friends as they gathered their things to find their way out of the mine, he could hear Torgin telling Lucy what it was he wanted to do topside. A meal and a hot tub sounded perfect to him, too. In that order.

 

 “Thank you, my friends. You have bravely fought with me to protect this town and valley. I have great respect for your skills and talents and the honour of fighting alongside each of you makes me very proud to call you friends. We were able to discover what was causing the trouble here in Jade Valley. Maybe even stopped it from happening again. But we don’t stop there. We seek justice for those who have suffered loss. With patience and wisdom, we may yet discover where the Southern Red Branch has fled. They may have gotten away this time, but our search continues.”

 

He thumped his fist for emphasis. “We know what signs to look for now. We have done what we set out to do even if the answer was far grimmer than we imagined it. The loss of Jon the Caretaker weighs heavily on my spirit as I’m sure it does on each of you.” They all were silent for a moment recalling finding Jon in the cavern across from the Trolls.

 

“The valley will know what happened to their family, friends, and their livestock. This day we will expose the Southern Red Branch. This day we chase them from this fair valley. They may go into hiding. We will wait. We are patient. That malevolence needs to be addressed. And we are more than up to the task. We shall prevail.” And he finished with a flourish of his hands that cast a boost of spirit to each of them seemingly unintentionally. The effects were obvious. The group seemed all to stand a little taller.

 

Lucy snorted.  “Did you practice that while we were fighting?” She winked at Phlebus. “That was a better speech than the one you gave when we were heading out to the unknown.”

 

Then she broke into a fit of laughter. It was infectious and soon the whole group was grinning. Even Zyrina lowered her bow then smiled.

 

After gathering up their belongings Torgin lead the group out. Turning left upon leaving the room of casting, he soon spotted Kitty waiting patiently at the exit to the main mining area. It was a long walk out of the mine to go tell the townsfolk that the mine was empty of kobolds.

 

“Did you think your first assignment was worth it?” Lucy inquired of Phlebus as they trudged back to the entrance of the mine.

 

“Yes.” He grinned. “Absolutely. It’s too bad we can’t follow the Red Branch anymore, but I’ll keep looking for them. I’m sure someone will want to know where they have gone.”

 

“I just want an ale and some sleep. I’ll even buy the first round.” She winked at Phlebus.

 

“That’s what I like to hear!” Torgin’s step took on a little more spring. “Come on, let’s get out of this place.”

 

“We’re done.” Zyrina sounded as if she were relieved that they were at the end of their adventure. For now.

 

May you all find the courage the truth and the love in your own lives, till next we find the magic.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

 

 

February 1 2022

Black Rose Chronicles 14 – by Belladonna Rose – narrated by Asclepius

 

Making her way out of Kingsport she saw vast lands before her. From what she could hear in the conversations in the tavern there were several towns dotted around the massive island. Many boats were anchored on the shorelines and she could see smaller islands off in the distance. Turning around she saw massive groves of trees and even a swampy area along the coast. This should make for some interesting exploration. Right outside Kingsport proper there was a huge galleon ship. Assuming it only takes me back where she came from. Then a few strides away were a couple of smaller towns. Heading to the west along the coast she walked to the gate of one of those towns. This would be a good start. The sign at the gate said Silverston

 

As she walked across the bridge the center of the town looked pleasing. Central crafting area with all she needed to use. Vendors along the edges to buy what wares would be needed. Tavern that looked promising for a hot meal and drink. There were several row houses staggered along the walkways that seemed to be occupied and several along the river’s edge as well. Further back there was a most beautiful home she assumed was the mayor’s house. Fountains and other buildings dotted the area. For some reason as she took in the sights she felt at ease. A sort of peace fell over her. After a few moments a kind looking gentleman and another more regal figure appeared walking down the cobblestone pathway. They both looked up at the same time and saw Bella standing there looking about.


Gently she pulled her backpack from her shoulder and sat it at her feet as the two men approached. The one man smiled brightly and outstretched his hand.
“Welcome welcome to Silverston. My name is Andrew Silverston and this is my town. I see you have that look of a well travelled sort.” The other gentleman gave a slight cough and smile behind his hand.
“Thank you kind sir. Yes I have traveled quite a bit over the last month or so. Came all the way from Soltown.”
The more regal gentleman offered his hand and introduced himself. “Aye are you one the Outlanders that have arrived in Soltown. My name is Astor Cerberus.”
She looked the man up and down. His demeanour was casual and not offensive. “Yes Sir. I arrived from the sea by way of some vortex. I have lost my ship and crew along the way. I hope to one day find some of them if they survived.”
Both men shook their heads and then took her by the arms gently. The regal one hoisted her pack on his shoulder and they led her to the tavern.

“Let go into the tavern and have a pint while you tell us your tale.” Winking at Astor . “And we might tell you our tales as well. For we too are or once were Outlanders as well.”

She let them lead her to the tavern and for the first time since she had arrived in this strange land she felt safe and well met. This might just be a good place to set down roots as she had the feeling she would be here for a long while.

Sitting at the table with a pint of ale in hand. She regaled the men with her story. They both nodded often at the things she said . Once she was done they chimed in as well often repeating things she had said. They too had similar experiences . They talked about the area and what they had been doing for a what seemed like to them ages. They both agreed that for their troubles and adventuring they had amassed some wealth and established themselves
Clearing his throat Astor spoke up first.
” I have been all over the lands and currently live in Beran’s Reach. Its a nice place and I have many a friend there but I would like to settle in my own town for a change. Master Silverston here has gotten an itchy foot and wishes to travel so he has offered to
sell his fine village to me for a reasonable fee.” With that comment he winked at Andrew and they both chuckled.
“If you are of a mind to settle M’lady we or should I say Astor would love to have to take up residence here. “
Smiling at the gentlemen she nodded and from there they discussed the costs and such to gain a home in the town.

After a few more months of traveling about Hidden Vale she had gained the funds to purchase a plot of land. Small to start out with but was enough for her. With tools in hand she cleared the parcel and set about gathering the materials she would need to build her
first home. Tired, dirty and sore for most of the time she was pleased to have busy work to keep her mind occupied. Something other than rescuing folk and killing the evil in the lands. Although the latter part was always present. With the crafting tables in the middle of town it was easy to do what she needed. And her little spot by the river was just perfect for her.

 

Bella had met many a folk in Hidden Vale and even in the small town she now lived in. She helped others gain wood and stone to build their own homes. And as new travellers found their way into town she aided them as well. It was becoming quite a bustling town. So much that Astor decided to expand the town. And that is where Knight’s Watch came into existence. She was pleased with the name as it seemed fitting. The town sitting seaside faced outwards to the horizon and they could watch as ships came in and out when they happened to do so. A lot of trade ships were far and few between lately. Apparently, the unrest across the lands had caused problems on the water as much as on land. As they sat around the tavern one evening her and a few of her friends in the town decided they would work together to thwart the lands of the madness. They all agreed, and she formed a guild of her friends. They then became the Keepers of the Watch. Fitting name for sure. As the town grew so did the guild.

Standing on the docks one evening Astor was watching out across the waters. Bella approached and clapped him on the back.

“Master Cerberus. Tis a fine evening dont you think?”

Not turning to look her way he smiled and nodded

“Yes indeed.”

They stood there for a fine long time watching as the sunset on the horizon. Turning towards town he started telling her what he had planned for the town and asked if she would be interested in becoming a steward and helping out. Stopping she looked at him and smiled. Extended her hand and there they shook in agreement. First building was the Guild and Magistrate building by the stone bridge. Easily seen from the docks and the bridge. Here they would conduct their guild and town business. This pleased her very much.

Just outside the hall there were wagons that could ferry folk to neighboring towns like Kingsport and other smaller villages about. On the docks once shored up a bit and more stable there were also transport ships to some of the island towns around Hidden Vale.

Things were definitely looking up for Knights Watch.

So many new folk were coming into town Astor decided to place some Row houses along the dockside…..he called it a Promenade. He always like using fancy words. Here he hired vendors to sell the residents wares and also offered temporary housing for those who have yet the means to build their own homes. It was all working out for sure.

Standing high on one of the rises in the back of town Bella looked out over the sprawling landscape. Houses dotted the scene all about. Dirk Blackpool had claimed the land on the small island at the lake. Others had claimed spots within town. To make room for more homes in town Astor had built and elegant shogun crafting pavilion to hold all the crafting stations. It was wonderous to see when you walk through the clock tower from the docks and thriving Promenade. The vendors were often busy there now and it was nice to see more folk come to town and visit. With the boats and wagons commerce picked up a bit from Kingsport. Many adventurers found their way to Knight’s Watch. She smiled as she saw a ship come into the bay. One day she thought to herself. One day she will find her ship or better yet build another Black Rose and sail around this new land she had started calling home. She knew she would never make it back to where she came from. It weighed heavy on her heart that her family was still there, and she had no way to let them know she was alright. And there was no way for her to get back. Often, she missed the old lands, friends, and her family. But she was making new friends and her guildmates have become her new family. With that thought in mind she made her way down the path and back into the town. She had a task at hand and had strayed from it for long enough.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

February 1 2022

The Stone Dragon Series – Bool 1, chapter 8

 

Read by Amber Raine

Chapter Eight. Of Dragons and Men.

 

Creeping quietly down the seemingly endless tunnel in the dim illumination from the main passageway above by feeling along the slimy walls with their hands took all the concentration that any of them had. No one wanted to be the one to stumble and make noise that could be heard below. They had doused their torches. At this point in the dark, going ever downward didn’t seem to be quite their brightest idea. Each step led closer to a battle that none of them wanted, especially not deep in a mine tunnel against trolls.

 

Dirt. That’s almost all anyone could smell. The grit of it got between their teeth and everyone could feel it choking them if they breathed too deeply. And it was dank. Shallow breathing was the only deterrent to feeling as if they had taken in a pail full of wet dirt. Dirty and dank. Oh, and dark. Especially the dark. Their torches left with the packs in the tunnel above.

 

Zyrina shuddered. The unknown dark brought old memories of the world she had escaped and new fears of the dark places she had encountered in this world and she didn’t have difficulty breathing shallowly. She held on until the images from the past finished flashing into her consciousness. Those old experiences might help her keep alert to danger, but they were not this dark passageway heading toward trolls and she needed to stay focused on what was right in front of her. Even if she couldn’t see it.

 

She had avoided trolls since that incident in the mountains years ago and was not looking forward to repeating the experience even though she was a far better shot with her arrows than she had been when she first arrived. The tunnel went on and on. Just as she was going to call everyone back and try a different tunnel, she could sense the ground underneath level out. The others had gathered in a huddle ahead, whispering.

 

“There’s a cave. I can smell trolls.” Torgin whispered hoarsely.

 

“Torgin, you go in first, and get their attention. Zyrina will follow,” Phlebus nodded at her as she joined the group. “I will be right behind Zyrina and Lucy can follow me.” He lit a small spark of light into the palm of his hand with a quickly spoken magic phrase then paused to look around the anxious faces. “Alright?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Sure.”

 

There was a troll just inside the cave entrance that threw great boulders which wobbled the ground. It swung a massive axe over its head and struck at Torgin over and over missing by a hair’s breadth as he ducked and rolled away from the blows each time. Torgin indeed had its full attention. He led it on a merry chase near the entrance, teasing it even as he did so.

 

“Come on, you big lout!”

 

Zyrina peppered it with her arrows as soon as she emerged from the dark tunnel into the dimly lit cave and could see her target. She too danced in a circle following Torgin while he baited the troll. Phlebus stepped just inside the entrance and began reciting a spell while the power of his words manifests as a ball of energy between his outstretched hands. Lucy crouched near Phlebus, chanting the words to spells of healing that were directed to Torgin and Zyrina, wrapping them in a protective continuous healing warmth. Then without warning, Torgin’s voice changed from teasing to an order.

 

 “Jump!”

 

Not understanding Torgin’s order was for her benefit, Zyrina didn’t jump and soon found herself frozen in place by a stunning strike the troll managed to land that affected everyone who was in touch with the ground. Afterward, when she unfroze, it took nearly a half a minute for her to regain control over herself again. Her entire body had been rigid while she fought to free herself. When she finally did, she shook her head to clear it before stepping back a few paces trying to get out of range. She saw both Lucy and Phlebus also regain their own control after being stunned and they began casting again, as their spells had been interrupted by the stun.

 

“Jump!” Torgin called out again.

 

Zyrina jumped just as the troll’s blow hit the ground again. This time she did not get stunned and from that point forward listened carefully for Torgin’s voice among the clashing and bashing of axe and hammer. Meanwhile she continued to pepper the troll with shot after shot of arrows tipped in the poison of spiders.

 

Just as the troll they were fighting seemed to weaken and buckle, another one came into sight. Then there were two more and the group was fully engaged in new fights even as the first troll fell. These were all small trolls, thankfully. Zyrina had seen a full grown one before and could tell the difference in the trolls’ strength and size from a full grown one, even in the gloom of the caves. Regardless of their size, each of these small trolls could easily snap any one of their spines in a second if they were caught and were utterly trying to do just that. She saw Torgin take a blow that would have killed her. The troll threw him across the cave, and he lay still for a moment while she shouted and got the trolls attention, before Zyrina saw him jump up and run back into the fray.

 

Lucy was fully occupied casting spell after healing spell to keep both Torgin and Zyrina alive during the onslaught. Phlebus had managed casting without interruption long enough between jumps to create a fire ring on the floor of the cave that Torgin led the trolls into time and time again. The fire ring did not affect Torgin at all, but the trolls were not having as much success in the ring. The fire there seemed to melt them, and they dropped like snowmen in a lava pit.

 

“I didn’t know you could do that,” Lucy looked over at Phlebus who was breathing heavily and sweating from his effort.

 

He nodded but didn’t speak.

 

“More! Back here.”

 

Zyrina’s shouted warning came in time for Phlebus to cast and release yet another burning ring of fire for Torgin and Zyrina to lead the three trolls into with their teasing dance, arrows, and axe blows. One of these was a full-grown troll. It was twice the size of the others and twice as difficult to kill but it moved slower and somehow Zyrina and Torgin managed to stay out of the grasp of the unexpectedly agile smaller trolls and avoid the larger and more deadly one. This time the struggle went on far longer than any of them had thought they could manage to fight and yet they did not break or come to more harm than Lucy could swiftly dissipate with her healing magic. In the end there were five very dead trolls in the cave and four sweaty and exhausted humans catching their breath.

 

“Well, that was FUN!” Torgin looked rejuvenated after their efforts, and grinned from ear to ear, still swung his axe just for the pleasure of hearing the swish as it arched through the air.

 

Phlebus sank to the ground horrified and exhausted by the fighting. His experiences with causing death had been mostly academic in the last decade, and before that most of the killing had been done by Zyrina with her bow and arrows. Being directly responsible for the death of another being, even one as dangerous and vile as a troll took a toll on Phlebus.

 

After checking everyone carefully for injuries and healing the last of the superficial wounds from the clash, while Zyrina and Torgin were occupied in claiming treasures from the dead trolls’ vest pockets, Lucy lit her torch and wandered around the edges of the cave until she discovered a smaller cave tucked behind a rock screen deep inside the massive cave where they had fought the trolls.

 

“Hey, I think I found the room Jon was mentioning in his last testament.”

 

It was a small cave indeed and crammed with all sorts of things for experimentation. Near the entrance was a prison cell which held only a human skeleton. Throughout the room were several vats of humans suspended in some sort of fluid. No one could make out if they were sleeping or dead. An operating table was to the right with knives, saws, books and various potions lay displayed there. Near the back, on a large desk with a fancy Obsidian style chair with its jutting lines and uncomfortable seat, were stacks of journals and papers. Something fluttered by and Zyrina ducked automatically.

 

“Bats,” she muttered to herself, “of course there are bats.”

 

Once inside, Zyrina stared back at the entrance to the bigger cave, with her bow drawn. She was convinced they were not safe backed into this small area after that fierce battle. Were there more trolls? Were they coming? The others could go look through the books, and papers to find out what this place was used for. She was going to guard the doorway.

 

Torgin found himself staring at the bones of someone in a prison cell on a cot and the discarded skin of a young green dragon on the floor. He didn’t know what it meant but it gave him a pain in the pit of his stomach that made him want to harm whoever had been experimenting and torturing living beings here in this dark dank cave.

 

 Lucy moved around the room reading the papers and experiment books, trying to make sense of what was obviously some sort of lab. On a worktable, Lucy found and read aloud the record of the latest experiment.

 

“Oh, listen,” she recited, “…’The creation of a human dragon, out of the young dragon hatched from one of the viable northern Drachenfald eggs procured for the cabal and Merrik Dougan, the human subject’.”

 

“What?” Torgin looked shaken.

 

Lucy continued, “’…We have failed to produce a dragon with a controllable human mind and all we managed was a human with a dragon mind. The human dragon, who calls himself Merrik Dragon, refuses to follow the simplest instructions and is far too independent of a thinker to become any sort of tool we can use in the Southern Branch. We have no control over him. The experiment is a failure. Even the Dougan family Lichs didn’t recognize him any longer; when they attacked, he was no help to us at all.’

 

Torgin’s skin whitened as he heard what had been done to Merrik. Torgin who was still examining the dragon skin spoke, “So…. This skin and that skeleton are the leftovers from combining the human and the dragon? Isn’t Merrik Dougan the owner’s son of the inn upstairs?”

 

After nodding, Phlebus took over, reading out of a journal he had picked up while listening to Lucy.

 

 “’…The human retained its dragon memories and its human ones too. After several experiments, the dragon/human continues to insist on being called Merrik Dragon. He has no memory of how he came to be. The matter is out of our hands now as he escaped months ago. The Dougan family lichs rose up and attacked us shortly after the experiments on Merrik began and he fled in the confusion.’

 

Phlebus thoughtfully added, “the Dougan family lichs apparently took exception to their family member, Merrik Dougan being used in an experiment. I’m betting that’s why they rose up from the crypts in the first place.”

 

Lucy took over with another entry.

 

 “Listen to this: ’Yesterday, while we were in the room of magical casting trying to revive that old dragon leg bone we took from the Jade Valley Graveyard into an undead version of itself, we were attacked again, viciously.’

 

She quoted, “’The lichs attacked without warning, disrupting our magical spell today and they took over the room of conjuring. We were forced back here to the room of experimentation. We have hired trolls to guard the outer cave and to protect our work from those lichs attacking here again, as we were barely able to survive their first attack. The trolls don’t seem to care who they kill, and it has been a struggle even to get in and out of our own room here.’

 

Phlebus read, “’However, while displacing us from the room of casting, they have stolen the tome of magic we were using, and we go to retrieve it from the lich stronghold in our room of casting. We need that book to complete our work and do not want Nestor to know we have lost control here.’

 

“And now lichs have some old magic book?” Zyrina summed up, not having taken her eyes off the entrance to the room they were exploring.

 

Lucy was still reading and started to summarize what she was finding, “There is another notation here from a Red Branch mage that says lichs have attacked and stolen the tome containing the secret Obsidian Magic Spells they had been using. Another dragon had been summoned to try to link with another ‘volunteer human’ but the link broke when the lichs burst in and killed everyone and took over the room of casting where the magic book lay beside the dragon bone.”

 

She looked up at Zyrina, “Do you think that’s the dragon we faced at the graveyard last night?”

 

“Considering the timing, I’d say yes.” Zyrina still didn’t look away from the door. It was as if she didn’t trust the trolls that they had defeated to stay dead. “I want to know where that room of casting is located.”

 

“As do I.” Phlebus agreed as he scanned the journals on the desk for more information.

 

Lucy went on from her readings, “’There were few survivors from the lich attack. Those of us left are desperate to recover the tome because the spell to summon a dragon from bone of a dead one had been successful; the dragon bone had been forming and its completion only thwarted by yesterday’s attack of angry lichs, and theft of the magic tome containing the spell. We are determined to recover the tome and I write just before we leave to get it, and our room of casting back from them.’

 

“There are no directions to the location of the lich stronghold except to say, ‘further into the tunnels’, which doesn’t help us much.” Phlebus muttered.

             

“We’ve got to recover that spell book before the Southern Red Branch take it back from the lichs.” Lucy was firm and she was determined. In her eyes, enough innocent living beings had been lost to these experiments.

 

Zyrina nodded. So did Torgin and Phlebus. Lucy continued to collect samples of mushrooms she had found growing near the dark edges of the small cave.

           

Phlebus took some time to review everything they had learned so that everything was clear in his mind before he spoke again. “So, as far as I understand, the Dougan ancestors, now lichs themselves, seemed to have risen when Merrik Dougan, their direct descendant, was experimented upon a few months ago. And that’s when they killed all the visitors to the mine, as well as attacking these mages from the Southern Red Branch.”

 

“Yes, that’s right,” Zyrina nodded. “The lichs attacked everyone, even Merrik, after he was changed because they no longer recognized him as their own blood.”

 

“Then,” Phlebus took up the thread of events again, “Lichs attacked again and interrupted a magic casting and stole the magic book that the Southern Red Branch mages had been using to recreate Obsidian spells as well as claiming the room referred to as the room of casting.”

 

Torgin spoke then, “The lichs were protecting their family the only way they knew how, by keeping the Tome of Magic from anyone. They’re not likely to hand it over to us either.”

 

“How did the trolls get here?” Phlebus didn’t want to ask but he needed to know.

 

Lucy added after straightening up from her labours, “I read a scroll over there that discussed that. These trolls were brought to the cave by the elven mages themselves, from some other stronghold of theirs. It wasn’t named. They were brought to guard the entrance to the experiment room after the first lich attack some months previous.”

 

It all seemed to make sense to Phlebus now, but he was still unclear why anyone had turned to stone. There was a far deeper mystery here than he suspected but was beginning to understand that the magic book was central to all the horror.

 

“Who is Nestor?” Torgin brought up a point the others had nearly overlooked.

 

Lucy and Zyrina both shrugged.

 

“I don’t know yet Torgin, but The Southern Red Branch mages need to be chased away from Jade Valley regardless of who they report to. I’m betting whatever is affecting the animals and people in this valley is directly related to them being here.” He repeated, “We are going to have to take the book from them and take back these tunnels and rooms for the Dougan family.” Phlebus was grim but decided.

 

“Let’s go.” Torgin seemed eager to leave the room. He was still staring at the dragon skin and the skeleton of Merrik Dougan and didn’t seem to be able to shake the horror from his eyes. He could not fight this kind of evil and he felt helpless in the face of what had happened here. There was nothing he could do to change anything, and he was not used to the feelings of a helpless bystander in any situation. It shook him to the core of his beliefs.

 

“It sounds like the mages are just ahead of us, if they have indeed left to reclaim the room of casting, so beware. We might come upon the mages in the tunnel or worse, lichs.” Zyrina continued, “And we don’t know where this lich holdout is, but it has to be down these tunnels somewhere.”

 

“Remember that map on the bulletin board when we first arrived down here in the mines?” Phlebus reminded them. “There was a chamber discovered that was marked along that main passage we had been in before coming down here. It’s to the left near the end that we have not yet come to. Maybe we can start there?”

 

Everyone was in agreement. With that, Torgin led the tired group back up through the long dark dank tunnel to the main corridor far above this horror, turning to the left when he reached the passage.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns