October 20 2021

Arkah’s Doings 1 – by EMPStrike – narrated by Asclepius


And now we have the first part of a great story from Arkah EMPStrike, entitled Arkah’s Doings

Background music by Smartsound


Arkah set his last trunk down on the floor in his house. That made 5 large trunks, 4 backpacks, 2 sacks, 3 barrels and 3 crates. “Phew” he wiped his forehead as he stepped outside his door to tie up his horse, Trots McHorsington. “Sorry about all the work buddy!” he apologized and fed McHorsington a carrot.

“His name is awful!” said Xalia, who made herself very unhelpful in an armchair by the fireplace.

“Well,” Arkah scoffed, “it’s not Your name.” He said this while tossing stuff out of a trunk placed on his bed. “You don’t have to introduce him at parties. Besides, we’re so far out in the boonies that noone’s gonna care.”

Ever since the gas incident in Caelestis Canton, Arkah felt it better to move his research even further away than Malas. To the edge of the world in fact: a little known backwater village called Goti on the far shore of Norgard, about as remote as a man can get.

After packing everything away and thoroughly scattering his notes about, a knock came at the door, which was still open. “Greetings, Arkah.” A black hooded figure poked his head inside. Arkah stood up, from his paper-scattering, “Do i know you? Because you know me, Arkah, and that makes me suspicious so forgive me, would you like some tea?” Arkah offered the man a cup of demon tea he had been drinking and the man briefly declined and moved on to his purpose for being there.

“I need to discuss your recent research with you. The research that prompted you to move so far away from civilization.”

Arkah took on a more serious tone, “Go on” Xalia was quietly writing on a piece of paper by the fireplace, barely listening.

“I saw what transpired in Blood Bay, and though it was not your intent, I believe you may have stumbled upon something that could both kill people and cause certain others to want to kill you and your partner Professor Teekington.” the hooded man said pointedly.

“Oh.” Arkah was rubbing his beard in thought. “Well I don’t know who would want to hurt me but I can definitely see what you’re on about the…..curse or gas or whatever it is being dangerous.” Arkah thought back to a rather large flesh-eating plant he had to dispose of before moving. “I contained what I could and relocated here.”

“Indeed.” the hooded man replied, “But I am afraid you left unintended, and not surprisingly undetected lingering effects behind, and Grunvald may be in danger.”

“Well….dammit.” Arkah said, almost nonchalantly. “I had hoped any traces of what was left would be so dilute that it would be benign.”

The hooded man shook his head, “It grows, almost as if alive, and seeks out hosts. If you have done what I think you have done, Nature could turn against Caelestis Canton, and possibly a larger swath of northern grunvald.”

Arkah stopped rubbing his beard for a moment and narrowed his eyes. “Deez?”

The hooded man nodded.

Arkah’s jaw dropped and he began yelling, “You caused ALOT of trouble around Ordinis mister! I spent DAYS looking for Deez and Johnny Mark, and you just disappear and never even…wait you didn’t actually kill anyone. Then, who did we find in the river and behind the inn? Why were you-“

The hooded man interrupted, “Come, let us travel to Grunvald. Give me asylum in Ordinis Mortis so that I may conceal my location while we work, and in exchange I will explain the happenings of the past.”

Arkah and the hooded man rode Trots McHorsington up the hill in Ordinis to the Guild hall. “I posted a bulletin letting folks know not to attack you. Some of them might still remember you.”

The hooded man, who had been adorned in cultist garbs felt his appearance was more of a concern but felt honesty would avail him better than deception with these people. “I thank you Arkah. I will begin my concealment ritual and remain hidden here while we begin our investigation.”

Arkah helped the hooded man down off Trots and turned about. “Well, I’m off to Caelestis to see what’s up! Join me as soon as you feel it is safe to do so.”

The Hooded man nodded and waved as Arkah rode away on Trots, and then began setting up the stones for his concealment spell.

Several days later: (This event has already happened)https://www.shroudoftheavatar.com/f…ent-defectors-and-curses.166127/#post-1305833


Arkah returned to Ordinis at full gallop and almost vaulted off Trots as he approached the hooded man, clearly in a panic. “You ahhhh…..working a concealment spell are ya? Keeping yourself hidden, hmm?”

The hooded man’s tone betrayed confusion, “Yes? why?”

“There are a lot of cultists gathering just up the road.” Arkah said wide eyed and nodding. “So, why are there cultists outside the city? Why do they feel like camping out there?” Arkah had a nervous hand on his dagger.

The hooded man sighed. “I… honestly don’t know. They couldn’t have possibly detected me and I haven’t spoken to-” Arkah interrupted, “spoken to anyone, yea, except there’s a bunch of guys dressed like you amassing outside. Why?”

“They are after me.” Said the hooded man.

“After you?” Arkah replied sharply and in the exact same tone, “Why?”

“I am a ‘traitor’ to the cultists.” The man spoke without hesitation. “They want to see that I face Their justice. But they couldn’t possibly be so sure that I am here as to be amassing a force outside the city. I am at a loss, I do not know how they know.” he said more quietly as if in deep thought.

Suddenly a voice boomed over the plains. “We know the traitor is here, and we will take him. You will give him to us so that he may face our judgment, for true Justice.” It was echoey and loud yet calm-toned. Suddenly screams rang out from he Docks down the hill.

“WHO ARE YOU? HELP AAAAHHGGG” Someone had just been killed. “Arkah ran out of town to try and find help and returned with a small band of powerful fighters

“This is the place. The traitor is to be captured alive. Advance on the town until he is found.” The Ebon Dawn commander’s voice echoed everywhere at once from an unknown location. A vicious battle ensued as cultist soldiers poured into the city, at best being slowed down by the small band of fighters.

“Hold them off until i can prepare a sufficiently powerful Cleansing Rain spell to wipe them out!” The hooded man projected his voice to the fighters the same way he had communicated with Teeka so long ago. And they fought on.

One cultist spotted a magic stone pillar hidden in an alley behind the markets in Ordinis. “”I see…an illusory field, very clever.” The Ebon Commander’s voice boomed, “Once it is destroyed, you will face justice in disgrace like the coward you are…”. The Defenders became more determined, and even the most elite of the cultists could not push through them. “If you fall…you will do it again. ASEN-IGNIS-CORP-OBIX”. A smouldering red fog began materializing near the injured cultist soldiers that remained, and they began writhing and screaming as their forms were twisted and flesh melted from their bones, leaving only charred flaming skeletons that immediately began spewing and tossing fire at all of the brave fighters defending the city.

‘Oh gods my magic does not work on them!’ One of the defending wizards said to herself, as the burning undead chased them through the streets. Just then the hooded man’s voice rang in their minds, “”It is ready!”. His incantation quickly echoed over the plains. “”Desen-Wast-Umbra-Obix-Vatu”

Clouds began to gather and rain burst forth from the sky in a fierce thunderstorm. “What…what is this?!” The ebon commander screeched as the screeching became more 3 dimensional allowing the fighters to find his location from the sounds. The remaining skeletons were quickly extinguished. The first fighter on the field was the last, as she approached the screams only to find a spirit remained, which she quickly banished.

The Battle was won!

“Thank you, strangers.” The hooded man’s voice rang in their minds one last time as the skies began to clear.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

October 17 2021

Arkah’s Doings 2 – by Arkah EMPStrike – narrated by Asclepius


Arkah approached the hooded man, who seemed exhausted. “So uh,” Arkah put his hands behind his head, “that was…a lot.”

The hooded man sat on the ground, “Yes, I think I should probably get to Caelestis Canton as soon as possible. I don’t know how they knew me or that I was here, but if they knew then others may know and come looking.” He shook his head at the thought and looked at Arkah, though his eyes weren’t visible beneath his hood, “They may already know why we’re here and be waiting for us.”

Arkah was rubbing his nose fervently, stopping to respond, “Yeah. Maybe.” He rubbed his sleeve on his face once before letting his arms fall to his side, swinging. “But we can send someone ahead that shouldn’t draw any attention to make sure it’s safe.”

The hooded man uttered something and began to fade into shadow, but failed, and instead stood up again, “Very well, I’ll wait for your word to move. When you are ready, I will remove the stones holding the illusory field and proceed to Caelestis.”


Deez threw a hand of cards down on a table in front of Dem “Hah!” He shouted, just as Dem threw down his hand. Deez now looked angry.

“Hahaha! That’s right my friend, Royal Flush.” Dem reached out and seized a small pile of coin that lay in the center of the table as Deez grumbled, “No one’s THAT lucky.”

“Hey, you won last week.” Dem said trolling Deez. There was a knock at the door.
“We play every day you bastard.” Deez scoffed playfully as he stood to answer the door.

“How’s it going Arkah.” Deez greeted Arkah with his back turned as he made his way back to his seat. “Oh, you know” Arkah chortled unconvincingly. “Wanna make some money?”

Deez propped his feet up on the coffee table where they had been playing cards. “I’m listening.”

Arkah put a map down on the table at Deez’s feet and dramatically pinned it with a dagger on a small island off the coast of Paxlair. Deez sat up and studied the location. “I need someone to go here and guard a statue at the site of my old lab.” Arkah handed Deez some coordinates and a small pouch of gold. “Keep an eye out for cultists specifically.”

“What about me?” Dem said, counting his newly won gold.
“You’ve already been paid,” Deez said, motioning tward Dem’s gold with a grimace. “Besides, Malus only has two guards at the moment.”
Dem mouthed Deez’s words back at him sarcastically then happily took his gold into a back room.

Arkah threw up a directionless wave as he walked out the door, then poked his head back in briefly, “Oh and try not to breath the gas.”

Deez didn’t question it. He readied his things and headed to Caelestis Canton.


Arkah helped the hooded man onto his horse, “Deez says the coast is clear, literally.” He snickered at his own joke. “…Nothing? Anyways…” They began riding the road to the east toward Paxlair. After reaching the town they quietly made their way to the docks, where the ferryman to Caelestis Canton waited.

After arriving in Caelestis and meeting up with Deez at the contamination site, they were briefly attacked by confused blackbirds. “Agh I forgot about these.” Arkah announced sharply as he swatted with both hands.

“I want to show you something Arkah.” The hooded man knelt near one of the blue spruce surrounding the site, and he pointed out one of the roots breaking ground a bit of the way out from the base of the trunk.

“Roots.” Arkah said proudly, as if guessing correctly.
The hooded man walked a little further north and knelt again dusting a few leaves aside and pointed.
“More roots.” Arkah said again, not yet seeing where he was going with this.
The man walked even further north, much further than the roots of such small trees should extend, and pointed at the ground again.

Arkah scratched his head, “Are you sure these are the same roots?” As if on cue, the exposed root seemed to bury itself in the dirt as if it was aware it were being watched. “Whoa!” Arkah leaped back and grabbed the man quickly letting go and composing himself, standing akimbo, then pointing frantically at the ground, “Did you see that – what was that??” He asked frantically.

“The trees you planted have kept the air clear and safe, but in doing so has funnelled all the contaminate into the ground. The entire island is affected.” The man said walking back to the site.

“Well…well shoot man I didn’t know.” Arkah defended himself, “I’m not sure how to fix this.”

“Me either, but i have not come without ideas.” The hooded man produced a small sack. “I’ll need a lot of garlic and mandrake root. Luckily I  have plenty of sulfur left over as it was not needed in the illusory field.” The man walked to the edge of the nearby ruin and placed a sack on the ground. “I will also collect any materials i can from passers-by.”

“Right.” Arkah said snapping and pointing in no particular direction while looking around. “And I’ll go see what else I can find that may help.”

The next event actually occurred in game – The ‘failed Experiment’. The adventure is detailed in a Twitch video which is unfortunately not now available.  Suffice it to say that our heroes were victorious.


Arkah, crouching in a bush in a small grove of trees next to a clearing, guzzled a green potion and wrapped the empty flask several times in a thick cloth. He cradled it to his chest and quietly smashed it, as is customary.

A blue pit dragon that had been preying on a stag in the field looked up for a moment and let out a concerned growl. Arkah remained perfectly still. The dragon’s concern faded, and it returned to its meal. Arkah pulled a darker green flask from his pouch and began coating a dagger with its contents. Before he could finish, he heard a roar from above loud enough to make him stumble backwards onto his butt.

The dragon in the clearing looked up and returned the loud roar before taking wing. Arkah poked his head from under the canopy just enough to see a hoard of blue pit dragons flying out toward Spindrift Bay. “They don’t normally hunt in packs.” He said, rubbing his chin. “They aren’t known to migrate either” he said to himself. “I wonder if this has anything to do with that thunder.”

Earlier, Arkah remembered, there was a thunderous noise that came from the east coast, but not a cloud in the sky. It was a little odd but, he thought, it may have just been a couple of dragons fighting over territory.

Arkah picked up his pack and began following the dragon hoard towards Spindrift Bay.

Arkah could see smoke rising from the coast as his ferry approached the west end of Spindrift Bay. The Ferryman looked nervous as they began to approach Northwood.

“I’ll have to take you up the coast a ways. Word is dragons have been attacking.” The Ferryman said while changing course northward.

“Understandable!” Arkah said with a bit of a nervous giggle. He surveyed the skies as they sailed but found nothing. Suddenly a desperate roar echoed from a distant mountain, crushing the gentle sound of the waves against the boat. The ferryman looked startled.

“Maybe this isnt-“the ferryman was interrupted – “Head south!” Arkah shouted, confusingly pointing northwest. It was a tiny speck of a dragon taking wing from the distant mountain. “I need to cross the sea, take me south Brittany please!”

“My meter is still running.” The ferryman said trying not to let his voice tremble.


The Galleon pulled into port on the south end of the main island of Mystrendur. Arkah and his horse, Trots, went ashore. ‘I still have all my supplies from Drachvald, no need to stock up!’ He happily thought as he mounted Trots. “Let’s find their feeding grounds!” He said to Trots as they galloped northward through the mountain passes. After some time travelling, he spotted a large heard of deer. He looked around and saw sulfur deposits on nearby stones. Trots McHorsington was hidden in a small grove of trees and left to graze. Arkah crouched in the shrubs and waited.

After a while Arkah started to doze off. His eyes began to struggle to stay open, until something kicked him so hard in the back, it sent him flying into the herd of deer in the field, landing flat on his face and scaring the animals off into the nearby mountains. McHorsington had run off with them.

Arkah was in a daze and smouldering a bit. He managed to turn his head enough to see a small dragon charging at him. “The hell?”

The dragon stopped. Near him, its fangs bared. Arkah’s vision was a bit blurry now, but he could clearly see the dragons eyes glaring, it wasn’t feeding. “Do. Not. Follow.” The dragon growled. It sent chills through Arkah. He just noticed the wet streaks beneath its savagely angry looking eyes as its pupils narrowed and it turned to fly swiftly into the mountains.

Dragons did not speak to humans. Why did this one? Trots returned cautiously, and Arkah called him over. He mustered enough energy to pull himself onto his back before passing out completely.





A horse carries an unconscious man on the path in front of the White Raven in and stops for a moment, lowering its head to find a spot to graze. The man, clearly Arkah at this point, moans and rolls off the horse. The back of his neck seems blistered, and his clothes were singed.

“Uhnn…Mchorsntonyawait here” he muttered, almost incoherently as he rolled over on his back on the ground. McHorsington wandered off with his head to the ground looking for lush grass. Arkah kept his eyes closed and yelled “Imaneeda poshn! Red poshn ugn.” He was out of breath and reached into the pack that had fallen with him, felt around for a flask and passed out.


Arkah awoke in the same spot he had fainted in. Trots was grazing nearby. He finished retrieving the imbued regeneration potion from his pack, chugged it painfully, and smashed the bottle on the ground next to him as is custom. The burns on his neck and back began rapidly mending, but his clothing remained charred.

He looked around the intersection and saw a few concerned villagers.

“Excuse me!” Arkah raised his head pointing at a man beneath a nearby cherry tree.

“Welcome to the bank, good sir.” the man said in greeting.

Arkah looked behind the man at the wagon sitting out in the open. “Hmm..”

“I am Jason. If you need to make a deposit or withdrawl, we will take care of you.” the man nodded twards the cart.

“No thanks!” Arkah said, dismissing his mild security concerns. “I’m actually lost, where is this?”
“Meridian.” Jason replied, “A ways east and south of Tanglemire.”

Arkah thought for a moment. “Tanglemire?”

Jason crossed his arms, “Yessir.”

Arkah looked at Trots with narrow eyes. Trots looked back at Arkah blankly chewing grass. “Who brought me here?” Arkah asked

“I saw only you and your horse arrive, sir.” Jason replied with a slight yawn.

Arkah looked back at Trots. Trots continued to return the look blankly. “And we are….south of the main island. Correct? One would….have to have hired a ferryman to get here?”

Jason was ignoring Arkah at this point and already well into a thorough flirting with the magic merchant across the street. Arkah shrugged and climbed atop Trots, heading along the road in some direction.

Jason stands on the balcony of Cafe Istanbul, leaning heavily on the rails, and watching Jason and a stranger and a horse have an awkward conversation. He squints malevolently at the banker.

I hope you enjoyed the snow, my nemesis. I hope that horse kicks you! And that minstrel spreads a hilarious limerick about it!

Jason spits angrily and mumbles:

Imposter….shaved-head-having bank-storage-loving…. Jason Statham wanttobe…

He turns suddenly and returns indoors to resume his fate as this stories over-qualified dishwasher.

(somewhere in the past, before the blizzard)–“Where is everyone?” Arkah asked the NPC banker named after Jason, proprietor of Cafe Istanbul.
–“They are in the future,” answered the NPC, somewhat to Arkah’s surprise. “Winter has come, but you are too early.”
–“How do I get to them….in the future?” Arkah inquired.
–“Just wait……”

(Picking up where we left off….on a clear morning after a heavy snowfall)–TimeLord had given up on Mingo. The old bard sat before the fireplace vacantly staring into the flames, holding his pipe which had long gone out. With a sigh TimeLord loaded a few more logs onto the fire and went out the front door, there to meet Arkah.
–“We don’t’ see many horses in these parts stranger,” TimeLord said by way of greeting. “however there is a stable just around the corner, past Frida’s small farm.”
–“Thankee kindly,” Arkah said with a nod.
–“When you are done at the stable,” TimeLord said, gesturing across the way, “join us over at Cafe Istanbul.”
–“Is Mingo TheBard there?”
–“in a while I think he will show up.”
–Arkah urged his horse through the snow to the aforementioned stable. TimeLord made his way back to Cafe Istanbul. Frida noted the absence of Mingo. “Mingo iz not with you?” she asked.
–“Alas,” TimeLord replied, “I fear he is entranced by some dream of RL.”
–“I hope it is a good dream,” FireAngel commented.
–“I think not,” TimeLord said with a shake of his head. “I think it is a nightmare.”

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns


October 17 2021

The Stone Dragon Series – Book 1, chapter 2

This chapter is read by Addy

Chapter two. At the Tavern


Phlebus had a finely tuned sense of when Torgin was willing to listen, when he wanted to drink, and when he was ready to brawl. Since it had been a long week of rough travel from Central Brittany, complete with a tour of local rotting corpses (including complimentary aromatic country air) and because Zyrina had claimed he would buy the first round, he held out a tray full of too many ales for five people.


“Well, this is exactly as promised. Well done Phle.”  Torgin rubbed his hands together.


The twins exchanged looks with each other and grinned. He was not smiling at Zyrina on purpose.


Lucy took a wooden tankard of ale in each fist as did Torgin, then lifting the pints aloft they waited impatiently for Elnoth, Zyrina, and Phlebus to join them.


Phlebus handed Zyrina one of the three remaining mugs, offered one to Elnoth, and took the last one for himself.


Then he set the tray aside, raised his ale alongside his friends, and Phlebus and the twins all spoke in solemn unison, “To the chase” before the three downed them in nearly one gulp.


“Is that a ritual or something?” Zyrina asked.


“Yes, a ritual.” Phlebus began to explain as he picked up the tray and headed to the bar again.


“When we each go on our first mission outside of the school this is the toast we make,” added Torgin.


“Every time we drink until the mission is over,” Lucy finished.


“Well, cheers.” Elnoth added his own toast.


Zyrina matched it with “for Honour,” then tapped mugs with Elnoth.


By the time she finished her first swig and wiped her mouth, Phlebus had returned and set four more of the same ale down in front of the twins and took their empties to be filled before sitting down to enjoy his second pint while Zyrina and Elnoth still sipped their first.


“So THAT’S why you didn’t want to get the first round,” Zyrina clapped Phlebus on the shoulder and gave a hearty laugh.


“They are on their own now,” he grumbled. “Torgin is large,” he added with a wry shrug, “and he likes a wee ale upon occasion.”


Zyrina nearly choked she laughed so hard. It was about as big of understatement as Phlebus was ever to make. Torgin made even Lucy look tiny and she ducked when going through doorways. He scowled at the world even in his sleep. He fought with everything in his path and everyone knew it except him. Zyrina had also observed that he also had no understanding of ‘quit’ and he had a heart worth knowing.


“Where did you get the snowy lynx, Torgin?” Zyrina asked.


She hadn’t said anything earlier about the large feline that had been following Torgin silently from the shadows since they met up in Xenos. The cat lay curled at Torgin’s feet now, resting but not asleep. Her ears twitched occasionally.


“Lucy gave Kitty to me for my birthday, isn’t she perfect?” Torgin looked lovingly at the cat curled at his feet.


“Oh, Torgin, it’s not like you were pleased.” Lucy interjected, “You protested and swore at me and told me you didn’t need any ball of fur before that kitten wrapped you around her finger.”


She leaned closer to Zyrina and added, “On the very first day, that fluff ball just ignored all his loud grumbling, yawned, and curled up on his shoe to sleep.” Lucy was enjoyed telling this story of her big scary brother being at the beck and call of a tiny ball of fuzz. “He sat there for an hour until the kitten woke up and he’s been devoted ever since.”


“And Kitty is the name you chose?” Zyrina wondered aloud.


“Kitty doesn’t have a name. I call her Kitty because I don’t know her name.” Torgin replied stiffly.


“I think Torgin believes Kitty will talk to him and tell him her name.” Lucy guffawed.


Zyrina raised her eyebrow and looked at Torgin again. He was blushing now. Zyrina hid her grin.


“You don’t know everything sister,” was all Torgin would say on the subject.


The twins started reminiscing and soon they were lost in their own world and began speaking words that Zyrina hadn’t heard before.


Zyrina leaned over to Phlebus and whispered, “What language are they speaking now?”


“I don’t know, though it’s possible it’s one they made up. I have been trying to learn it with no success,” Phlebus whispered back.


After the animated discussion with Torgin about the origins of Kitty, Lucy was again shy. Preferring to exist in the vagueness of the background she sunk into her chair and nursed her drink for a time. The rest of the companions were scattered around the table listening to Elnoth’s description of the Snow Walkers of the high mountains that famously travelled to Jade Valley each winter and had just left as the weather warmed up. Torgin took a final deep guzzle to the dregs of his ale, wiped his mouth with his sleeve, signalled for another round to the server, then settled back to listen.


“So, what’s this tidbit that we are all waiting to learn?” Phlebus leaned to the right and asked Elnoth.


 Elnoth, set his drink down and began, “Well, it’s been entertaining to have a tipple with you. Thank you.”


He pulled out a small bottle of ink, a quill, and a parchment from his pack.


“These mutilations and the stone statues aren’t the first time this has happened here.”


“What? Why was this not brought to the attention of the council earlier?” Phlebus wanted to know.


“Not sure,” Elnoth shrugged, “but I think old-fashioned rumours don’t belong in council, do you? My butler, Matt, has been muttering for weeks about the old stories coming true but he wasn’t willing to talk in front of the whole council. He is hoping you will come over and talk with him directly. He knows what the old folks from hereabouts told him, and he thinks you should know it too.”


“What old stories?” Torgin asked.


Elnoth took a drink before going on, “I didn’t ask him but there have been rumours about this happening here in the ancient past.”


“How long ago?” Phlebus looked concerned.


“Well, let’s see Matt knows somebody who knew somebody who knew something, but that’s all I know.” Elnoth took one of the fresh ales the server brought over.


“When may we talk with Matt?” Zyrina wanted to know even before Phlebus could form the same question.


“Sure, how about tomorrow?” Elnoth completed his scribbling and put the lid back on the ink bottle. “I’ve written a letter of reference, so Matt knows I’ve sent you over, in case I’m not there when you arrive. My home is on the north side of the guild hall, you should be able to see it from your Inn.” He looked up, “you are staying at the River Rider Inn, aren’t you?”


“How’d you know that?” Phlebus wanted to know. “We didn’t even register yet.”


“Because it’s a small town, Phle,” Zyrina nodded and took a sip.


Phlebus looked horrified. “What else do you know about us?”


Elnoth took a deep breath and revealed, “Well you and those human giants over there met in the city when you were all studying magic. They hail from the far north and they are a few years older than the rest of you.” He nodded at each twin and went on, “Torgin’s good with an axe and Lucy is a renowned healer. Let’s see,” he said looking at Zyrina, “you’ve got a reputation around Novia as an Outlander with a fine shot with that bow of yours and a chip on your shoulder regarding Novians.”


Zyrina shot him an intense look of suspicion.


“And you are an Ardoris orphan with a brilliant mind and a great deal of skill with magic.” He added looking Phlebus up and down not quite believing what he had heard.


Taking in the look that Zyrina shot him Elnoth went on, “Ah, don’t be like that, you know word spreads in a village faster than a wildfire. The governor shared Phlebus’s correspondence with the rest of the council before the meeting today, is all. No need to get all hot under the hat.”


“Well how about you even the score and tell us who you are?” Zyrina demanded.


“Fair enough.” He puffed out his chest a little, “I’m one of the finest Master Crafters of weapons, amulets, armor and also a Master Enchanter here in Jade Valley. I have a few varied businesses and rental properties scattered in a few towns around Novia. Here’s my card.” He handed Zyrina a small rectangle of hardened paper.


“All right then.” Zyrina took another sip, read the card, and relaxed a little. So, a gossip and a businessman is what she thought to herself with a grin.


Elnoth the Viking Elf, at your service

For fine weaponry, armor, and enchants

Jade Valley, Elysium



Torgin and Lucy’s argument about who had actually spotted the mandrake near the bridge got louder and louder and finally could not be ignored. First there was a great deal of loud shouting and fist pounding. A few threats of violence and some tipped beers, then they hugged each other and vowed their eternal love for each other. Eventually they started to sing and dance to the great delight of the locals in the tavern that night. Kitty ignored it all with a flick of her right ear, as if it was normal to hear such fighting.


Neither of them had listened to Elnoth’s gossip, though they made sure he always had a fresh ale. Phlebus took a swig, then as Lucy and Torgin finished their song, he began singing and swaying to an old folk song:


‘Long ago ran the sun on a folk who had a dream
And the heart and the will and the power:
They moved earth; they carved stone; moulded hill and channeled stream
That we might stand on the wide plains of Wiltshire.

Now men asked who they were, how they built and wonder why
That they wrought standing stones of such size.
What was done ‘neath our shade? What was pray’ed ‘neath our skies
As we stood on the wyrd plains of Wiltshire.

Oh what secrets we could tell if you’d listen and be still.
Rid the stink and the noise from our skirts.
But you haven’t got the clue and perhaps you never will.
Mute we stand on the cold plains of Wiltshire.

Still we loom in the mists as the ages roll away
And we say of our folk, “they are here!”
That they built us and they died and you’ll not be knowing why
Save we stand on the bare plains of Wiltshire.’


Lucy and Torgin couldn’t resist joining in, and the townsfolk at the pub also began singing along. The old songs broke down barriers between strangers faster than any reassurances of good will and Phlebus was intent on hearing the gossip from each of the patrons of the pub that evening before they left. After the song, Zyrina gathered up the letter of reference Elnoth had set on the table, and she sat in a corner nursing her ale until the others were ready to leave. It was a long wait.


Of course, by that time Elnoth had wandered back home. When Phlebus noticed his absence, he insisted that in the morning they go to hear what Elnoth’s butler has to offer.


“But It’s just old stories, Phle. Why do you want to hear more of those?” Torgin wanted to know.


“Because many truths live in old stories, and I am looking for something ancient. Maybe the answer is in the past.”


“Whoa, now that’s some fine reckoning.” Lucy seemed to agree with Phlebus.


“Fine, but I’m not getting up at the crack of dawn again.” Torgin insisted. “We sleep till we are done sleeping. Agreed?”


“Agreed.” Phlebus approved. “As long as we are all up before midday.”


“Sure.” Lucy nodded.


“Sounds good.” Zyrina finished up


Scribbling into his book for a minute he wrote time to meet someone who knew somebody who knew somebody who knows something and see what knowledge they can add. He needed more information to confirm what Phlebus suspected was happening to disturb the valley.


Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

October 17 2021

The Stone Dragon Series – Book 1, Chapter 1

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

June, 2021

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?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

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.”

“Yes, Goldie.”

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

Echoes From the Caverns