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This chapter is read by Amber Raine and Asclepius
The Stone Dragon Series
The Treasure of Mystery Island (coming soon)
The Stone Dragon
The Quiet Mage
The Magic Book (coming next)
By Lily Byrd
First of all, I am thankful to the creators of the Ultima Series and The Shroud of the Avatar. Without their vision I would not have seen the story I wanted to tell.
I dedicate this story to those who play through my quests in Shroud of the Avatar. Thank you to the many players and developers of Shroud of the Avatar who have given me ideas, items, use of properties, and time to develop this story and the quests thus far.
I am especially thankful for the help of Mal Hari and the rest of the Jade Dragons. Their support and help has made everything better.
To those who offer their spaces for me to invade, Dragosani Valynshar, Mal Hari, Calan Caitin, Rinaldi, One Zero, Elnoth, Merrik Dragon, Whereit, List Rostov, Thoryk, PeteWe TheDisoriented, Scroda, and Minerva: thank you. They have each hosted in-game properties and/or the use of their game characters in my story. Without these players there would not be quests nor stories to tell.
I particularly want to mention the people who have helped me with editing. Alley Oop, E.P. Buck, John Braga, and Zoe Agashi you are the rocks on which my imagination grows, thank you for your efforts and your time.
Lastly, I am supported by a few long time players from the Ultima series who also play Shroud of the Avatar. Merrik Dragon, Alley Oop, and Ravalox have spent hours and hours talking with me about the games, the lore, the traditions and the details. They have encouraged me to keep telling the story and their help and encouragement has made this project possible.
All remaining mistakes are mine alone. None of this story or the characters in it are representations of anyone or anything on Earth. May love courage and truth guide your day and keep you safe.
With respect, Lily Byrd
First Edition: June 20, 2021
ByrdPress NBBN 00115-002
Prologue: Novia just north of the Cascade River along the North Midmaer Way in the foggy rain of autumn.
The soaking wet wool hood hid the tall man’s face. Emyrs stood, shaking underneath an equally drenched grey cloak. Bent over a slender staff and clutching it for stability, he did not think he would survive this encounter.
“Who is he?” The woman’s voice was melodic and cutting.
“Some washed up mage from a corner of Elysium in a small port community called Jade Valley.” Answered another, deeper but equally melodic voice.
Emyrs could hear his captors’ discussion. None of them made any move to hide their words but he had not yet seen them clearly. Elves? He had been so very certain he had been undetected leaving with the book. He was mistaken.
“Is he alone?”
As soon as he touched it, Emyrs knew it was something that needed to be kept from harm, perhaps examined by Lord British or one of his mages; at the very least kept in a safe place until it could be studied. Magic books were rare, and old ones nearly unique. This one book’s recovery became his quest from the moment he saw it. No one questioned him, not even Lily Byrd. She knew he wouldn’t have hidden it if it weren’t for their safety.
“Did he have it?”
“Indeed. This.” The voice was smug and satisfied. There was no softness or joy in the acquisition.
Emyrs expelled his lungful of air and his shoulders slumped even further. They had already found his small bag with the book tucked into the pocket of his saddlebag. That meant he had no worth to them anymore. The magic book was lost, again.
“I’m going to take this back to the Southern Red Branch. Belthyr, I don’t want to meet this mage again.”
Emyrs felt the first blow, and each blow with varying amounts of pain and suffering as his consciousness fled and returned to the continuing horror over and over.
“He’s dead now.”
“Yup looks like it to me.”
“Let’s go get some of that stew.”
The thud of a last kick mercifully took his awareness one more time.
“A darkness fell with no hope of dawn; a noise with no hope of music…perhaps we brought the fall upon ourselves.” Sequanna, Titan of Novia.
Part One. The Stone Dragon
Chapter one. In the woods.
Jade Valley was finally in sight. Zyrina (zi-REE-na) and Phlebus (FLEE-bus) turned back to look for their two trailing companions. Eventually, the exceptionally tall and sturdy forms of a man and a woman carrying large packs on their backs meandered out of the covered wooden bridge. A large snowy lynx followed them, also at a leisurely pace.
Zyrina called out, “Meet us in town, laggards!! We’ll be waiting. Phlebus promises to spot you a drink when you manage to catch up.” She continued down the path toward the small harbour village about fifteen furlongs ahead.
Phlebus looked at her sharply, “Thanks a lot.”
“Don’t mention it. I’m sure you would’ve done the same.” She teased, knowing full well he would NEVER have offered something like that on her behalf.
She grinned at Phlebus’s dirty look then turned back to see Lucy (LOO-see) wave and Torgin (TORE-gun) Featherbright simply nod. The lynx appeared to ignore all of them as she focused on something in the distance. Zyrina squinted a little to see clearer and realized the twins with their long white hair were now bent over and engrossed in a water plant they were inspecting near the bank of the river. Those two friends that Phlebus met in the city while he was at school didn’t seem to be in a hurry to arrive anywhere, ever. As Lucy had informed Zyrina earlier, ‘I don’t hurry,’ and she was not lying. Zyrina had joined the twins and Phlebus just two days before. They all travelled together from Xenos where their ships had both docked on Elysium Island within hours of each other. The journey from Xenos at the North of Elysium Island to Jade Valley in the South of the island gave Zyrina plenty of time to get to know both Torgin and Lucy. She felt she understood why they were friends with Phlebus. Turning slowly and sighing a little she sprinted, and it didn’t take Zyrina long to catch up with Phlebus.
His quick even stride, still as familiar as his lanky frame, carried him faster than she normally walked, and it had been easy to fall behind on this journey into the little port valley. The desire to slow down, breathe, and just wander down the dirt road through the shady forest had been a heady experience after the darkness of the mines where she had been working for months.
Protecting miners who searched for silver had been a lucrative endeavor for Zyrina. It taught her how to be aware of her surroundings using all her senses, not just sight. It also taught her to stand up for her own needs and wants, and how to push for what she expected in a crowd of men who might otherwise overlook the slight brown-haired woman with the quiet voice. She had enjoyed keeping the miners safe from the various dangers in the mines in exchange for some of the silver ore. She had wanted a new pair of boots, and it cost dearly to have a pair made by a talented master-worker with all the precision and skill that she demanded. Working in the mines was the best way she knew of for getting some quick funds, and she now had a good bit of silver stashed in the only bank she trusted in the whole land, a new pair of boots on her feet, and had learned several colourful phrases with which she annoyed her friends. Zyrina grinned as she remembered Phlebus’ incredulous look the first time he heard her speak freely. Torgin and Lucy simply roared with laughter. Today, in the sunlight she found herself drawn to the warmth and brightness which rejuvenated her natural glow inside and out.
After taking a deep breath she coughed and choked a little. She had been expecting the fresh crisp spring air that they had been enjoying the entire walk from Xenos, but here on this side of the river, the atmosphere was filled with a disgusting stench that wafted everywhere. Something was up in this unusually quiet community, and it was decidedly rotten.
“What is that smell, Phle?” she covered her nose with her arm and wretched a little. “It’s disgusting. It didn’t smell like that at River’s Cross back where we entered the valley on the other side of the bridge.”
Phlebus heard the footstep of his oldest friend fall in beside him, but he did not turn, he simply pointed. There was a cart sized lump of something just off the side of the path. He was focused on the decay, and on the magic residue left there. This was old magic, He recognized it, but he had never seen any old magic in person before. He didn’t want to miss any part of what he was experiencing.
Earlier this morning as they descended into the valley, the woods had seemed peaceful, to him. The river had flowed lazily, and the air was sweet with a hint of chill late in the spring. But here nearer to the village, something malevolent and dark had steeped the land. Governor Hari had written about the darkness in his plea. It was harming humans, animals, and birds of all sizes. Phlebus’s body hair stood fully at attention as it had done since they crossed the covered wooden bridge. He was wholly focused on all his senses. Phlebus shook his head to clear his mind. His training had taught him to respect the knowledge of his body. His body could sense something his mind couldn’t. He was bothered that he could not pinpoint the location of the disturbance This magic came from something he could sense and not pinpoint.
“This is the reason we are here, Rina.” Phlebus had so far put off telling her what he had learned from the Governor in their private correspondence, and now he was more than ever determined to meet with Governor Hari before dark.
“Farmers and woods people are definitely spooked.” He said, neutrally. “Those people we tried to speak with as we came into the valley certainly had something on their mind. I know hill folk are generally not forthcoming or welcoming but them backing away from us and hiding was more than just usual suspicion of those ‘from away’.”
Zyrina thought back to earlier in the morning just inside the boundary of Jade Valley when the foursome had finally gotten one of the woodsmen to talk with them instead of skittering away into the shadows of the woods like the others did.
“I can see why they would be nervous.” Zyrina didn’t know how to keep the smell from engulfing her and took shallow breaths through her mouth, hoping to lessen the overwhelming stench. This was far worse than even the dankest of mines.
“Remember what that woodsman told us after we first got to the valley?”
“Name’s Bob, good day to ye?” Zyrina’s eyes twinkled as she mimicked Bob’s words.
“Yes, Bob.” Phlebus smiled even in his seriousness. She could always get him to grin.
Bob had stopped after loading his cart with the wood he that he had stacked to wipe his brow with the sleeve of his tunic. He didn’t balk or run. He simply nodded his head and then stared until they introduced themselves.
First, Bob removed his hat and placed it on a nearby stump then placed his axe up on his cart. They discussed the weather and the health of his family and theirs. As he drank cool water pulled from the waterskin he wore laced around his neck, he listened to their travel story politely, but it was obvious that Bob didn’t care one smidgeon about anything outside his own valley.
“Have you heard any local rumours?” Torgin eventually wanted to know.
At this invitation Bob nodded his head, he didn’t falter to voice his concern; even if these folks who stopped to pass the time of day were from away.
“Ain’t nothin’ right about them carcasses, nor them statues.” He spat on the ground.
“What carcasses?” Lucy asked.
“What statues?” Torgin wanted to know.
Bob stared at Lucy a moment before going on, “T’ain’t right, somebody should do something ‘bout that, yup.”
He shook his head and wiped his brow before donning his straw hat again and picking up his pack to move on, “You’ll see soon ‘nuff if’n you are headin into Jade Valley, that’s for sure.” He donned his pack and started pushing his half full cart of wood before him. “Stay back from the corpses you come across. They explode after a while. You let the council know what I said. Good day to y’all, may the titans keep you.”
With that he nodded and turned back to his cart and the companions moved on, thoughtfully. Bob wasn’t what Zyrina would call ‘a talker’. Zyrina recalled the look in his eyes, of fear and suspicion. She had mistaken it for suspicion of strangers but now she understood that it was something more local.
“These are the carcasses Bob was talking about?”
“Yes. More and more rotting carcasses of various sized animals have been appearing near Jade Valley in the last few months; each of them bearing the afterglow of magic. The loss of livestock has been causing havoc in the community.”
“Well, that’s just disgusting.” Zyrina repeated over and over, hardly comprehending the appalling mess that had completely spoiled her simple walk through the woods with an old friend.
They passed bloated reeking corpses of what might have been cows. Phlebus had seen nothing like this in all his training. He was nothing if not thorough and since this was his first assignment outside of the libraries and classrooms where he had spent most of his adult life, he was nervous about getting it right. The one they had managed to get close enough to inspect before it exploded like the others was fetid, charred, and had the telltale blue afterglow of magic clinging to its remains. These were not natural or accidental deaths. There was absolutely magic involved. He made a thorough inspection of the rotting form while Zyrina sat a distance away digging through her various pockets and bags.
“I won’t be long. Somebody has been using magic.” Was all he said before going back to his inspection.
“Think it’s Obsidian magic?” Zyrina wanted to know.
Of course, he had read about deformed creatures created hundreds of years in the past when the Obsidians had experimented by creating races of elves, Kobolds, and other creatures. Sometimes the creations did not survive their creation. But there were no more Obsidians. The Obsidians were four hundred years in the past. Or so it was said.
This magic was not old and dusty, fading on the shelves at the castle libraries. It was real and present and vile and right in front of him. Whatever caused this, it was not something that he had experience with and that was the point of his first assignment. This carcass was twisted and tortured looking, and it was deformed. He was now fully interested in finding out who had done this. And why.
“Not sure yet, Rina.” Was all he would commit to saying.
After the long and arduous journey with Lucy and Torgin, by covered wagon, boat, and foot all the way from his rooms in Novia’s largest city of Central Brittany, in Midmaer, to the southeast of Novia on the island of Elysium at the end of nowhere, he was ready to collapse. He found he missed the peaceful quiet and the more neutral odors of his city home. He had not imagined he had come all this way to inspect rotting corpses, but here he was, sketching away in his book. He plotted on getting back to his home and his comforts as soon as he could. He dreamed of a hot bath while he worked on drawing the rotting lump. Finally, he finished and retreated when the body began hissing and just in time to avoid the ensuing explosion.
“Whoever did this had no business having animals in their care.” Zyrina looked revolted.
“Yes, I agree. And now we’ve got to find out what’s causing this. Or who.”
Zyrina just looked him straight in the eyes assessing what she’d got herself into, and after awhile nodded her head slowly. “Okay,” was all she said before covering her mouth and nose with the clean handkerchief she had dug out of her bag. She handed him one too.
“You sure that’s clean?” He deadpanned and she burst out laughing.
“Does it matter at this point? It still would smell better than these corpses.” She went on, “there is something creepy going on here, that’s certain Phle. I’ve never seen anything like this in all these years travelling around Novia.”
Phlebus nodded but did not share his suspicions with Zyrina. Until he was sure he wasn’t going to say a thing. That’s how he had always been, but he did take time to add her remarks to his notes about the corpse. Earlier, Zyrina had been teasing him that he was full of “book learning but not real learning.” It annoyed him that she might be right, but he wasn’t going to show any indecision to his oldest friend, and he was not going to chance being wrong without knowing more about what had happened. She had gathered some useful practical skills while she travelled, and he knew she would not stop teasing him till he proved to her that he too had gained useful skills, he had indeed been studying with mages at the castle libraries (it was useful knowledge), and he hadn’t spent the entire nine years drinking with his friends, the Featherbright twins in Central Brittany. The handkerchief helped a little though, and he was thankful that she had thought of it.
While he was tying the kerchief, Phlebus looked back and could see the distant figures of Torgin, and Lucy had finally left the riverbank. They looked small from this distance. He sorted and picked up the rest of his belongings to move on. He was glad of the company of his friends for his first assignment, even if some of them dawdled. They had made him feel secure and protected in the wilds. The twins had been advised by the mages in Central Brittany before they had left the city and he hadn’t had to talk with them about the mission. They already knew.
He hadn’t seen the twins since they had graduated a few years earlier than he had. After their first assignments they had each moved out of the boarding-house and out of the city. So, this was a joyous reunion for them all. He was pleased to meet up with his oldest friend, Zyrina, even if he became slightly tongue tied in her company.
After passing a few farms at the edge of town, where the buildings started to be built closer together the smell faded into the breeze off the nearby bay. Zyrina took off her mask and took another deep breath.
“I’ve always loved the smell of the sea,” she admitted.
“We met by the sea. Remember?” Phlebus was smiling lost in his own memories now.
She laughed, “Yes. Pulling you out of the water in Ardoris was the best thing that ever happened to me, even if you looked like a drowned rat.”
“I did not!” Phlebus was indignant and took a breath to go on in his own defence but something caught his eye.
Zyrina turned to look too, “What the titans are those?”
There were two statues near what was obviously the Center of Justice; one of a man who had his hands up as if to shield his face, and the other a boy who looked as if he were in the act of turning and running.
“I don’t know, Rina.” The statues disturbed Phlebus in a way he could not explain. These were life-sized stone statues of what looked like normal folk going about their daily business, but frozen mid action. Phlebus became more thoughtful and even quieter.
It was beginning to be clear why the governor had called for help. Those statues really bothered him. Before he speculated about them, he needed to find out more information. To snap out of his disturbed state, he asked Zyrina an unrelated question.
“How long has it been Rina? You’ve hardly changed at all.”
“I think about five years now, isn’t it?”
“At least,” He nodded in agreement. “Probably longer.”
It had been far longer, almost a decade by his reckoning. She had hardly changed, though. Her gleaming dark hair and intense green eyes had not altered one bit and her caramel-coloured skin showed no signs of aging even if her cheeks had lost their baby fat. It was like she had been frozen in time. She had always had a small sparse frame and she still vibrated with pent up energy but had gained a steady hand and eagle eye when her arrows were notched. No matter her age, he was glad for her company and her bow.
It didn’t shock him really, as he knew she was an Outlander, but it was startling to realize how much he had aged in their time apart. She seemed ageless to him; not much older than when they had parted. He hadn’t thought much about her being ‘from away’ and had forgotten until seeing her in person again and confronting the stark difference in their age now. He knew Outlanders aged differently than Novians did, but now the question of how much difference would have to wait until he was back at his libraries with his teachers.
He saw Zyrina glace back at the twins in the distance and could tell she wanted to know more about them, but he would wait for her questions. They were sure to come. He felt like she was still a little wary of the friends he had arrived with from the big city.
“Think they will catch up before dark?” she asked.
Nodding his head, and grunting companionably, Phlebus thought about the last few days of travel; even if there were still some awkward silences in the group as they all got familiar with each other’s routines and movements, they had found their groove. It didn’t take long with true friends to regain the ease of companionship even after a long absence. Also, now he knew how ill equipped he had become; his survival skills were rusty from nearly a decade of study. ‘You just need to think faster than in your libraries, Phle.’ Lucy had informed him yesterday after killing the snake that had curled up in his sleeping bag when he froze. ‘Don’t hesitate. Just decide.’
“Where’d you meet those two?” Zyrina finally ventured, indicating back along the trail with a toss of her head.
It was as if she had read his mind, and he looked at her out of the corner of his eyes. “At the Byrd Boarding-house in Central Brittany. They graduated a few years before me, but we were room mates for a good long while before they left.”
He reminisced as he strode. “When I arrived at the academy in Central Brittany, after getting registered and finding a room in the boarding-house, I met the other boarders who were Lucy and Torgin. They invited me to the markets that first day and I gladly joined them. I soon found out that they went everywhere together. Twins.”
He went on, “I was so young, I was barely able to keep my jaw shut as I spun in circles wandered around the square staring at towering buildings.” He explained, “I had spent most of my life on the streets of Ardoris, as you know, but this city was more. More of everything. That first day I felt like a complete country bumpkin. I forgot even the basics of walking in a strange city. When I stopped to listen to a bard play a lively tune, before I knew what had happened, there was a quick scuffle beside me. Torgin emerged from the swirl of fabric, holding a youth by the scruff of the neck and demanded the kid return my purse. He did. I hadn’t even noticed the kid near me, let alone the light fingers on my purse. I begged Torgin to release the child because I remembered being a young’un looking for something to eat, and we watched him scamper off and then snatch another unwary shopper’s purse before dashing away again. The twins had laughed heartily and clapped me on the back, nearly knocking me down. Luckily, they took a shine to me. We three spent many years studying and partying together before they left the city three years ago after their first assignments.” He smirked a little remembering.
“They seem like they are good friends.” Zyrina noted.
“Yeah, they are.”
“I hope they have nose coverings too.”
“Me too,” he grimaced.
He looked Zyrina straight in the eyes. She looked worried. “We’ll find out what’s happening and put a stop to it.” he vowed. Zyrina nodded, too.
“Good.” It was all she said.
“Libraries don’t have these problems.” He sniffed through the mask.
Zyrina chuckled. She knew Phlebus’s time in libraries had not prepared him for the olfactory feast of the countryside let alone the brutality of decayed flesh. It had been a long time since he had slept under a bush with a stolen bun.
Mulling over the new sights and smells, Phlebus thought about the correspondence he had had with the Governor after his instructors told him this would be his first assignment. Governor Hari had originally asked Phlebus’s teachers for help and they had chosen Phlebus to step into the world outside the city and away from his scrolls. One day he was at his favored table in the castle library reading intently and the next he was ready to leave his home, his studies, and his teachers. He was made awkward by the suddenness of his re-entry into the world outside the boarding houses, libraries, and pubs he had become accustomed to frequenting.
At least his favorite teacher, Isolde the Elder had given Phlebus a clearheaded pep talk, taken him to be fitted for a proper weapon and mage armor, offered a few magic travelling scrolls for emergency use, and a small bag of dried herbs and reagents before sending him into the world. It was more than he had arrived at the school with nine years before and because of those kindnesses and more, Phlebus wanted to solve this mystery for Governor Hari, for his teachers, and for his own satisfaction, too.
Before his departure from the city, Phlebus had reread the correspondence from Jade Valley. Governor Hari had been concerned about this menace to his otherwise peaceful valley home. His letters had urgently begged for assistance from the high mages at the capitol city without giving much detail, but Governor Hari was certain that there was more to his problem than just local youth out playing pranks on the farmers in this valley. He wanted answers and knew this was more than his local law enforcement could deal with.
Strolling in silence alongside him, Zyrina realized she had taken to the twins right away. She and Phlebus had been writing each other irregularly but had not been in each other’s company for the entire nine years that Phlebus had been studying with the old mages and scholars at the libraries in the capitol city. There was much unknown between them now, like the twins in his life, but it was still a comfortable silence none the less. Neither had ever bothered to hide anything from each other and that had not changed. They would catch up, but it would take its own time.
She watched Phlebus deep in though as he walked beside her. Zyrina was thoughtful as well. Zyrina was not from Novia like Phlebus. She was one of those others; someone from away. She didn’t talk about the Outlands she had come from, though she always worded it as ‘escaped from’. She never talked about it. Not ever. The rift that had opened and swooped her in its magical blue light and deposited her here in this land of Novia had come just when she most desperately needed to escape, and she was willing enough at the time. Well, it was a permanent escape of sorts; or a prison she could not leave. She smiled, grimly. There was no way back either way.
Not that she wanted to go back, even all these years later she still worried that she may have been followed. Looking over her shoulder and trusting no one was second nature to her by the time she met Phlebus. He had been an orphaned sixteen-year-old, and she had barely been out of her teens. Now Phlebus had aged. She could see it in his face, and in his manners. He was grown to a fine-looking man and still had that gentle manner that she remembered fondly.
Being an outlander Zyrina did not age like Novians. Decades would go by for Novians and Zyrina would feel time passing as if it were not even a year. There were other differences too but aging and time was the starkest one. It alarmed many of the Novians she met, and so it was not something she made known to strangers, though many found out regardless. It meant she didn’t die either. Yes, she had been wounded, and had felt the piercing of death several times in battle but somehow each time she would find herself waking up again, wounds healed, with her weapon in her hand.
Phlebus may have gone straight to the libraries of Central Brittany upon reaching adulthood, but Zyrina could not be contained by the classroom and decided to travel the whole of Novia to learn about the place she had been deposited and to learn about how to survive here on her own. She moved with the experience she had acquired in her travels. No gesture was wasted, and she always knew exactly where she was in the world. She also had an uncanny prescience for danger approaching which Phlebus appreciated since apparently, he had none left from his experience as an orphan on the streets of Ardoris. He had been either oblivious or startled several times along the way by thieves, animals, and skeletons that haunted the roadways looking for unwary explorers.
Now, he hurried his pace for the last bit toward the center of town because he wanted to be done with this interview with the town council and booked into his lodgings before the late night was upon them. He grinned, knowing exactly how to speed things up a little.
“Come on Rina, I’ll race you the rest of the way there.” He readied his bags, then called to her “three, two, Go!”
They were off running full tilt. Their laugher and woops of delight in the footrace kept them occupied the rest of the way to the town center. After the gruesome finds earlier, it was superb to shrug off the seriousness of their journey and enjoy the race.
Jade Valley wasn’t large, but obviously was an important center for harbour trade and commerce for this area. The docks were active and bustling. There was a well-developed market filled with vendors arranged in three large squares in front of the harbour. Facing the market on its west side was a large wooden building that was the town’s guild hall. The Jade Dragon’s crest that hung just in front fluttered in the breeze off the bay, its black material stark in the sun and the bright green of a dragon with three daggers prominent. Phlebus remembered seeing it on the top of the scroll that the governor had sent to the Academy. After locating the guild hall and finding themselves with time to spare while they waited for the twins to catch up, Phlebus and Zyrina made their way over to the Hall of Enquiry and Learning to see what the historians in the valley could tell them.
I watched these strangers approach the Hall of Enquiry and Learning. Zyrina and Phlebus met me, Lily Byrd the Keeper of the histories of the Jade Dragons of the Jade Empire and the Librarian of the Hall. On my map of Jade Valley I showed them where to find the Town Crier down at the docks. Little did I know then that this was to become the beginning of a new friendship that would span their lifetimes and cause me to write about these adventures using the stories they divulged to me.
As a Keeper of the Histories here in the valley, I asked numerous questions of these interesting travellers from so far away. They were kind enough to indulge me and answered each question thoroughly. Zyrina was not loud or impatient and had a dry sense of humour that had me in fits of giggles more than once. I could tell we would be friends. Phlebus kept wandering off while we talked and picked up different scrolls and books as he did so. I appreciated that he put them back exactly where he took them from as few were inclined to do. It was obvious he knew his way around a library. Soon I felt as if I had known Zyrina for years and felt comfortable about letting Phlebus explore in the library without supervision.
After our conversation, Zyrina waited for her wayward companions to catch up, and I went back to cataloguing recently donated books.
“Phlebus look.” Zyrina called out.
I could see that she had come across some interesting local information about the history of this town.
“Can you believe the grit of these people? They are way out here at the edge of the world.”
I heard her telling Phlebus about her discoveries. Unsurprisingly, Phlebus wanted to return to the Hall before they leave the valley to learn more about the plucky Outlanders who settled in the area.
I then rejoined the conversation to talk about the travelling scholar study rooms available on the second floor. I offered him a place if he wanted to stay and learn more after he was done figuring out what was going on in Jade Valley.
Just then the largest man I’d ever seen dressed in clothing of the far north with long tangled white hair and beard and a massive axe slung across his back stood at the doorway. He was stunningly handsome. My voice trailed off as I stared.
“There’s no ale here Phlebus, you have tricked us!” The giant of a man squeezed through the open library door and his voice rang out in the empty Hall. He winked at me, and I blushed, completely captivated by the sheer magnificence of the man.
“We KNEW we would find you here.” An equally large and graceful woman in the same northern clothing, with striking eyes and stark white hair now paused in the door before she squeezed through right behind him. “This isn’t a pub, but I bet the librarian knows where one is located.”
She winked at me, too.
“These slowpokes are Lucy and Torgin Featherbright. Twins, as you can see.” Zyrina introduced them. “This is Lily Byrd, the librarian.”
I blushed again and stammered a little greeting before offering, “T T There is the Singing Bear Pub across the street, inside the Byrd’s Nest Inn. That’s my family’s business and you will be welcomed there. There is also the Jade Valley Outdoor Pub and Pavilion just down the way, on the west side of the markets, beside the Guild Hall and of course The River Rider Inn on the North side of the markets. Oh, and the Raven the Dragon and the Stew Pot further to the north over on Frojentia Lane.”
“Yes, we came across the outdoor pub on our way here.” Lucy nodded thoughtfully, “after the meeting we will go back there and collect that round that Phlebus has offered.”
“I think Zyrina will get the second round since she offered me up for the first!” Phlebus grinned at his friends.
“Hey!” Zyrina responded, “No fair, Phlebus is the one with the money bags.”
“And you aren’t?” Phlebus made a pantomime of opening a squeaky purse. Much to the delight of Lucy and Torgin.
“I’ll go with you over to the Guild Hall, I’m attending the meeting too and it’s about to begin,” I offered shyly, and then escorted the four to the company of Governor Hari up on the top floor of the guild hall, and other officers of the Jade Empire Council in the officer meeting room took over host duties.
When we entered, Rinaldi offered them seats and another officer of the guild, Elnoth, handed out a single ale to each of them with a grim look and then introduced them to the rest of the officers who were present while I found my seat.
“Well thank you, this will hit the spot.” Torgin did not stand on ceremony and downed the ale in one gulp, then picked another pint off the tray while wiping the foam from his upper lip.
The meeting of officers of the town and the newcomers started shortly after the last of the stragglers found seats around the large wooden table with the guild’s crest etched into its surface or standing near the back of the room where there were still spaces available. I sat with the other officers and waved at a few townsfolk who were standing near the back of the room observing.
After a short formal welcome and introduction, each officer soon revealed what knowledge we had acquired about the disturbing events of the past two months to the newcomers. The stories were more of the same sort of thing that Phlebus and the others had discovered on their walk into town. Animals dying and stone statues of townsfolk who were never seen again appearing willy nilly throughout the valley. It had been going on for months and none of us felt safe.
Scowling deeper after each speaker, with each passing moment Phlebus was becoming more and more withdrawn. This was not an easy thing to solve, nor was it a simple problem. The rest of the company listened attentively but kept their opinions to themselves.
After repeated stories of bloated and dead farm animals, and stone statues of people who had gone missing the room had all been spoken, Lucy reported what Bob had wanted the councillors to hear.
“Do you think this could be the pranks that local children would play?” Governor Hari thoughtfully asked. “There have been rumours going around town about a few youngsters starting fires and such. Or have we uncovered some evil from the past? Is it in other towns too?”
Then everyone became still and turned expectantly, waiting for the newcomers’ response. Now that it was his turn to speak, Phlebus stood and cleared his throat then thanked each of the previous speakers for their collective knowledge.
He then began, “Children don’t dabble in blood magic, nor turn anyone to stone.”
There were nods in the crowded room.
Phlebus went on, “These magics are old, and I haven’t seen this before. I don’t know if anyone living has seen this kind of magic. The only reference I could find before I left Central Brittany was to some obscure Obsidian tome from over four hundred years ago. I could not locate it before I left the city. When I return to Central Brittany, I will search that text out and see what it says. In the meantime, we will settle in for the night, and tomorrow have a good look around the valley to see what we can find out here. We will meet in a week to give you an update on our discoveries.”
The meeting ended in agreement. I stood and made my way over to the newcomers to say good night before making my way home. This was going to take several pages to write about in my journal and I wanted to get started right away.
“I’ll leave you all to your evening, and if you need any more information in the morning feel free to knock on the cottage door if I’m not at the Hall of Enquiry, alright?” I turned to Phlebus and saw him nod before turning to farewell the others.
“Meet me at the pavilion over by the outdoor pub,” Elnoth whispered to Phlebus as he was leaving the meeting room. “I know something that might help you in your search.”
Phlebus nodded once and continued to the staircase with his companions in tow. Even he was now ready for some food and drink and some time to talk with his friends regarding his suspicions that had been confirmed at the meeting. He waved to their new librarian friend before heading out in exactly the wrong direction. Without any assistance our wayward heroes eventually found the Jade Outdoor Tavern and the Pavilion right next door to the guild house. Everyone agreed to never listen to Lucy about direction ever again.
Echoes From the Caverns