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

August 25 2021

The Box with No Soul – by PhoenixWolf – narrated by Asclepius


Here is another great story from PhoenixWolf, entitled

The Box with No Soul

Background music by Smartsound


Destiny tapped her pen mindlessly while she talked on the phone. One of the residents of the mental institution had run away just over a day ago, causing quite a stir. George, the escapee, wasn’t a difficult person. He took his medications without complaint, did everything he was asked to do, and never caused trouble with the other patients. 


It was a shock to his orderlies and doctor when he managed to escape and  got stopped by police over 100 miles away. 


“Okay, I’m sending someone there to pick him up. He should be there in about two hours. Will that be okay?” 


She continued to tap the pen, an anxious gesture. She wanted to spread the good news that they found George, and that he was coming home safely. 


“Okay, thank you, sir. Please call me if anything comes up. Yep, you too. Goodbye.”


She pressed the receiver button to end the call, then immediately dialed George’s doctor.


“Dr. Steele, this is Destiny. I just got off with the police officer who has George.”


“He’s not hurt, though he’s a little out of it, and may be going through withdrawals from his meds. Otherwise, he’s not hurt and is being cared for until we can get him picked up.”


“Yep, I’ll call you when he gets here. You’re welcome, doctor.” 




George sat on the shady bench, his hands wrapped around a tiny brown paper wrapped box and held close to his chest. He hadn’t said much to the police officer, Sgt. Lee. He was finishing a phone conversation with someone at the mental institution. He knew he would have to go back. The thought of that fact made him shudder.


“Hey, are you hungry?” Sgt. Lee said. “Some people are coming to get you, so we have some time.”


“Yes,” George said, looking cautiously at the officer’s equipment belt. “Are you going to put me in handcuffs?”


“That’s up to you. Are you going to run away or fight me?”


“No. Can I have a real hamburger?”


“Okay, we can do that,” the officer said, gesturing toward his car.




An hour later, George finished the last of his meal. The diner was nice, quiet, and cool. He still held the small box carefully. Sgt. Lee watched George stare intently at the box.


“That box must be really important to you,” Sgt. Lee said.


“It is.”


“What’s in it?” 


“My soul.” George said, hesitation drawing the words out a little.


Sgt. Lee raised his eyebrows. “What’s it doing in a box?”


George looked him in the eye, “It’s there for safe keeping.” 


The sergeant thoughtfully considered George before he spoke again.


“It’s wrapped like a gift. Were you wanting to give it to someone?”


“An angel,” George said, a little sadness showing in his eyes. “But I couldn’t find him.”


“Angels can look like anyone, how would you know who to look for?”


“This angel carries a sword and a shield.”


Sgt. Lee took a sip of his water and settled back into his bench. “There aren’t many people that walk around with swords and shields,” he said.




George looked back down at the small box. It felt heavy in his hands, but it was also very warm and comforting. He felt tired. His efforts to keep the package safe had been difficult, especially after leaving the institution. He had met plenty of people over the last 36 hours, none of which had looked right. Now, his time seemed to have run out. 


He looked at Sgt. Lee, his badge looked a little like a shield, but it was so small, and he didn’t carry a sword. Did he miss something? Were his prayers in vain, causing his search to be fruitless? Doubt gnawed at him. 


Sgt. Lee sniffed and wiped his hands on his napkin. “It looks like your ride is here.”


George suppressed another shudder, but still stood up from his bench and walked out of the diner as Sgt. Lee walked behind him. The orderly who came for him opened the car door for George. He got in without saying a word, his actions felt heavy and final as the door closed. The orderly exchanged information with the police officer for a few minutes, then got into the car and began driving toward the highway. George looked back toward the police officer, but he was already gone. 




Destiny was still working at her desk when George walked through the doors, escorted by the orderly. He kept his eyes down, but made quick glances at the other residents who were in the foyer. He looked like he carried a heavy burden on his shoulders.


“It’s good to see you’re okay, George.”


He nodded, his eyes focused on a little scuff mark on the desk where Destiny tapped her pen. 


“He does have something that needs to be checked in,” the orderly said. 


George tensed visibly, but shook his head jerkily. “It’s just an empty little box,” he said with a sheepish expression.


“Well, we still have to inspect any packages that come through, even little ones,” she said apologetically. “It will only take a minute, then you can have it back.”


He shook his head again. “No, no. It’s okay, it’s empty! See?” He said, shaking the little box for her to see. 


“I wish I could just let you keep it, but I have to follow the rules and make sure nothing is in there,” she said.


George took a step back and cupped the box in both hands. “No, I can’t let you open it. It’ll get away!” 


The orderly spoke calmly as he closed a little space between George and him. “George, it will be alright. She just needs to make sure there isn’t anything that can hurt someone.”


George backed away a few more steps, the orderly followed him slowly.


“That’s all I need to do. It will be quick, and I promise to put it back together again,” Destiny said.


“No, you can’t, I’ll die!” George said. 


George’s expression became more frightened when a second orderly approached him from behind and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Come on George, we’re here to help you. We’re not going to let you get hurt or die,” the second orderly said, his voice warm and relaxed.


“You can’t help me anymore.” 


Without warning, George threw his shoulder against the second orderly, knocking him off balance. He turned to run back toward the entrance doors when the first orderly wrapped his arm around George’s waist, stopping his escape before it even began.


George’s screams of protest rang through the foyer and halls, echoed by the other residents. A male resident who was sitting in the foyer dropped to his knees, his face turned upward and babbling as if toward heaven. Two other residents began crying with their faces buried in their hands. 


One of the orderlies wrestling George tossed the brown box, now slightly smashed on one side, onto Destiny’s desk. Relieved slightly by the distraction of the box, Destiny took it and began to untie the string holding it. 


As more orderlies arrived to help, George continued to cry out and fight like his life depended on it. 


“No! No! No! Don’t open it!” Destiny could hear George yell over the cacophony. 


“I’m going to die! Don’t open it!” She heard him yell one last time before he was buried under the collective weight of the orderlies. 


She could still hear George clearly when he was half dragged, half carried away from the foyer, but the noise from the other residents hadn’t abated. She tried to focus on just the box, unwrapping the brown paper to reveal a plain white gift box, something a ring case could fit in. 


George’s screams became even more frantic as he was pulled down the hall, answered with equal intensity by the residents all around. 


She pulled the dented lid from the box, and stared, perplexed at its empty contents. At nearly the same moment, the screaming stopped. The sudden silence felt deafening to the noise before it. Destiny looked down the hallway, the orderlies now standing around the still form of George. His face was twisted into a frozen, silent scream. His skin had turned ashen white and seemed to stretch across gaunt features that weren’t there moments before.


Her blood turned cold when she saw the other residents. Each one, whether in the halls behind the thresholds of their rooms, had their hands pressed together in front of bowed heads, as if in prayer. An eternity of stunned quiet filled the building, the only sound to be heard was the ticking clock on the wall.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns


July 29 2021

3D Portal Adventure – Chapter 1

This is our first attempt at an audiovisual production. The video file is here:

3D Portal Adventure, Chapter One

Either within or without, it is hotly debated, the vast multitude of universes and existence possibilities, there is said to be a forest that exists in none of them, but it connects them all.  At the back corner of this forest between is a café where certain folk gather and socialize, with no visible impact upon their life stories…well, for the most part.  This place is the Cross Time Cafe


Their reasons and causes for being there vary as greatly as their number, but for a few, it is a respite from duties elsewhere.  But ultimately, duty calls, and those bound to it must answer.


The first to answer this call is Lady Bethelynn the White Guardian, formerly a unicorn princess of the Blue Mountain Blessing, now the proprietress of the Café, along with her great-grandsire, White Pony,

[Picture of White Pony]

 a seemingly merry and mischievous old stallion, content to live a happy-go-lucky lifestyle, in contrast to her serious tone of life.  Indeed, one would not immediately recognize them as being related, aside from their white fur.  For starters, while he was completely equine in form, she was anthropomorphic, half-human in fact, standing upright at 8 feet 6 inches.  Her forelimbs were arms, ending in hands with two fingers and an opposing thumb.  Further, her alicorn, the spiraled horn from which unicorns project their magic, was no more.  Lady Beth had been the victim of a magical catastrophe that had left her in this half-human, half equine shape.  The accident has cause her alicorn to melt, burning a distinctive scar on her forehead, leaving her with a reminder of what she believed was her guilt in this accident.  No less embarrassing, her equine mammary glands, once abdominal and fairly flat, had become human mammary glands, thoracic and anything but flat, causing her to gain unwanted attention, mostly from males.  It did not take her long to become familiar with the phrase “my eyes are up here, if you want to keep on living”.

[Lady Beth in the blue body suit]


No longer able to project magic through her missing alicorn, she uses a pair of bracelets of a shiny silvery metal, given to her by an arch-mage who taught her how utilize magic in her humanoid form.  Thus, did she become a warrior-mage, a protector, the White Guardian.  It is that duty that now summons her.  Away from her respite as café proprietress, and back to her duties as a protector.

[Lady Beth in armor]


In one the basements of the Café, Lady Beth stands before an archway, seemingly leading straight into a blank wall.  She commences an arcane ritual, and a trans-dimensional portal begins to form with the archway.  If she had hoped to do this unnoticed, her hopes were futile, for it wasn’t long before she had a small audience watching her.


[PGA picture 1]

Turning to her audience, she issued a caution. “You have no experience here. Now Go!! If you follow me, I cannot guarantee your safety.”


A boldly striped royal tiger named TigerT spoke up.  “I’d like to be of assistance, but I trust your abilities and judgement of risk. Still, wouldn’t it be more safe to take someone with you, than to go alone?”


A fairly leonine figure with stripes covering half his body named CatDude, who was also in the audience, climbed the stairway to stand beside her. “My lady, life has only one guarantee for me, that it will someday end. Much as I wish that day to be far in the future, the importance of life is not derived but its length, but the quality with which it is lived
You once asked us how brave we were, and I dared to say, “as brave as you need me to be.” Time for me put up.
On last thought before we enter. I do not come to follow or to lead. Be it your pleasure, please let me walk beside you.”


[PGA Picture 2]

Lady Beth gave a barely perceptible nod, saying  “First…I will wait here. For one hour. For you to gather your equipment and survival supplies. If you are not here this portal is closed.  Second…this is not a vacation. Or a date.  Keep your emotions in check. I need you to help protect my arsh, not stare at it.”


A voice from the back of the room muttered “Apparently Lady Beth has to take on a speech impediment when using vulgar language!”


“Understood, Lady Beth!” Replied TigerT. He ran off immediately to gather what may be of help, returning after a couple of rushed minutes with with a medium sized backpack, filled with: a few bottles of water, some high density food bars, a one gallon lightweight pot, a first aid kit, a small tent, a pocket knife, a lighter and a towel.
“I got my sturdy cargo-pants and jacket too!” he grinned, wearing a belt with a folding spade attached to it.
Donning a basecap, he said  “Okay. I think I’m ready to go.”


The Catdude busily donned his “Dragonscale” vest and trousers, muttering “That brand never let me down. Excellent protection with minimal sacrifice to agility.”

Then set about inventorying gear:

M-41 pulse rifle with grenade launcher, check

600 rounds ammo, 30 grenades, check

BlasTech DL-44 pistol, check. While I do subscribe to hokey religions and use ancient weapons, a blaster at your side is a still a good idea.

5 power packs, check

lightsaber, check. I’m a green blade myself.

adamantium dagger, check. Forged by dwarves, enchanted by elves, always have final backstop.

Runestone collection, check. Foolish mages may mock at runestone magic, until they run out of reagents and spell components.

Letterman multi-tool, check

multi-adaptive breathing mask, check. works underwater or in toxic gases.

first aid kit, check. It is as much for you as for me. Relying on magical healing is probablematic. I can receive healing magic from others, sadly, in my own usage, I can only heal myself.

500 meter para-cord, check

30 days energy rations, check

4 liters of water, check

a couple changes of underclothes and socks, check. Some lessons from mothers never do leave us.

Towel, check. Never leave home without one.


Strapping on his backpack, he met Lady Beth at the gate with two minutes to spare.–

“I know, cutting it close. Always did give my teacher anxiety that way.

My lady, about the last few things you said, I understand this is serious and I will conduct myself accordingly. I will keep my emotions in check as the Jedi have trained me to do. And I promise, I will keep my eyes where you need them.

Let us proceed.”


Catdude, offering a paw to TigerT for a pawbump, said “Well, mein guten Herren, I guess it’s pretty obvious who is the camper and who is the soldier in this motley crew of ours.”


TigerT, accepting the pawbump, replied “I’ll let you know I can wield a pretty mean folding spade, Mister.”


Catdude nodded “Glad to hear it, hopefully we won’t have to put it to use.

“ That brings back some RL memories from ROTC, Sgt. M ends class with “What is the spirit of the bayonette?” Class responds with “Kill! Kill! Kill!” Then I pipe up with “What is the spirit of the e-tool?  Kill! Maim! Mutilate!” Class burst out laughing, Sgt. M is not amused, orders “Class dismissed” with a “get the hell out of here.” tone to his voice. As we walk back to barracks, Cadet Okie, big smile on his face, says, “____, sometimes you have one seriously demented imagination.” I respond by reminding him of “All Quiet on the Western Front” and the use of spades and entrenching-tools there. He nods and says I’m right.–

But back to our journey.

On a lighter note, it seems our group stands at three:

A lion, a tiger, and mare.

Oh my!”


[PGA Picture 3]

Lady Beth casts a scornful look at the pair and says “Seriously?!”

“sigh” Alright …. T, you’re in charge of setting up base camp and food prep….. CD’s in charge of security.  This should provide us with the best arrangement of our resources.

And gentlemen… if either of you become ill or injured – – tell me immediately. As long as you keep me alive, I’m the best first aid kit you’ll ever need. But I’ll warn you now… I have terrible bedside manners.


CatDude earnestly replied “My lady when I am thusly geared up and attired, rest assured, I am serious. Unless that was a commentary on my punnery.

I’m pretty certain your bedside manner can’t be any worse than that Andorian nurse on Sigma Lyra-d. I mean, when does a shrapnel wound to the shoulder require a…umm…uhh, never mind.

By your command, I assume camp security and rearguard on the road.

And my lady, I apologize if an earlier remark I made sounded like I was making light of coming events.”

He ponders….CD? haven’t been called that since………


TigerT grinned and said “I agree – hope we don’t need the spade!”

You’ll have to excuse us Beth, but I guess puns are one thing you’ll have to bear when we travel together. 😉

(I’ll try to keep it down)

Camp and Food. Check.

It is better to stay in good health anyway, but I’m glad we have you around if that option isn’t available.

But now I’d say: Let’s not waste any more precious time.

TigerT clicked his heels together and followed Beth onto the portal stairs.


A noble cheetah-lioness, Mooncat, waved from the sidelines. “Have fun storming the castle…or whatever.”


McClaw, a white tiger in the audience, offered Beth a small device.
“I have duties here, but activating that should generate a signal I can home in on. And if there isn’t too much interference, it’ll act as a transceiver so you can request special equipment or resupply, too.”


A grey Chakat, Kryslin, also waved at the trio.  “As much as I’d like to join in, I can’t, for various reasons.  Have fun storming the Castle!”

[PGA Picture 4]

Just as they were about to enter, Lady Beth turned to the pair and spoke. “There’s one more thing I should forewarn you about. Unless we’re in any danger – I prefer to sleep in the nude. This armor is not very comfortable.

But if this makes either of you uncomfortable, then I will continue to wear my armor for sleep.”


TigerT blushed deeply, and muttered  “We.. We’re all adults here.

So.. I guess we can ignore this.

No need for you to be uncomfortable. Right, CD?”


CatDude responded “Dragonscale* is not comfortable to sleep in either. So however you sleep is how you sleep. My armor is also coming off at night. But if it’s all the same to you, I’m keeping my shorts on while I sleep. I know, a silly human modesty some have said I should discard, but having so much of my humanity stolen…

Also, I have been told I snore like a chainsaw, so I won’t be offended if either of you don earplugs. Although, if we’re are sleeping on the ground instead of bed, it won’t be an issue, the snoring only occurs in a bed, if I end up on my back. Maybe that’s why most complaints occur when I snooze on a chaise lounge or an easy chair.”


A note from your humble narrator: * Dragonscale is not to be confused with the controversial failure called Dragon Skin. While superficially similar in appearance, Dragonscale was created three centuries later when the necessary nanotech needed to make it work came about.


“No problem there, CD.”, said Tiger_T “I’m sure I have a pair of earplugs somewhere in my pants’ pockets.  As a half-cat you can always say you’re just purring.   I too usually go with shorts for sleep.  *shrugs* 


The Catdude thanked his friends for the well wishes and then climbed the stairwell to stand at Beth’s side. “Well, my lady, it truly seems to be just the three of us. Let’s go forth.”  Tiger_t also gave his thanks and joined the pair at the gate.


[PGA Picture 5]


Before stepping through the gateway, Lady Beth gave one last caution, “I hope nither of you are afraid of heights.  Where we’re going—one wrong step…and you’re bye-bye.”


NOTE from your Narrator: yes, the word “nither” is a word. It’s a Scottish dialectal variant of the word, “neither.”


“Not to worry, my lady, I do not fear heights that will kill me. It’s the heights that will merely injure me that annoy me, because if it happens, then it is time wasted healing the injuries.” Said CatDude, “Hey Tig, is it wrong of me to be amused that Lady Beth is worried about a pair of felines having height anxiety?


“It’s a valid concern, I guess.” Said Tiger_T, “I do not fear heights.  I just have a healthy respect for them.  I think of that as a good thing as it keeps me alert in situations where they matter. Although.. My hope is that we won’t need to climb any vertical mountain-sides, even if I do have inbuilt spikes to help keep my grip.”

 “At least we always land on our feet.” Said CatDude with a chuckle.


End of Episode One

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns



July 29 2021

The Isle of Xee – by Xee – narrated by Asclepius

The Isle of Xee, by Xee

Background music by Smartsound

The Isle of Xee was discovered in the early Earth year 2016 by a crew of pirates and their Captain, named Xee.

Konahrik, Embys, Talimar, Reinkur and Sir Xee aboard the Dark princess locked up their manor on the Island in the Bay of Oracle Oasis and set out in search of the famed mines of gold and silver.

It was a dark night with wind blasting the sails, and swells as tall as towers ensured that the Dark Princess and her crew didn’t see the ominous island in the storm. It was then that the Dark princess crashed into an uncharted island off the coast of Xenos.

The ship lay in a wreck, smashed on the rocks and scattered on the beach.

As days passed with no hope of rescue, the crew, led by Sir Xee, began to trek the island to see if they could discover any semblance of life. It was during their scouting that they came across a dark cave leading into a cavern not far from the beach.

Sir Xee and the crew, with rope in hand, lowered themselves into the cave.

In the cave a glimmer of light could be seen as they ventured intyo an open area, where they were greeted by a winged imp!

The imp, standing in a mystic circle, smiled and introduced itself as Kruel, the island’s keeper. It explained that this island had been expecting us and that the storm drove us here.

We sat and listened to the tale Kruel weaved into our minds. We soon learned that we had discovered something more exciting than gold or silver. The island was alive with magic, and guarded a secret that would see us all prosper beyond our wildest dreams.

We took shelter with Kruel and learned the rituals which I dare not write in this journal, and will keep the secret to those that we trust.

Days, weeks and years passed as we started to settle here on the island. We brought what remained of the ship ashore and started to rebuild. Using supplies we had brought along with our tools, we soon decided to make this our home.

It was thus that the Isle of Xee was born on this day. We settled in our first built houses of stone near the dock we had built.

The great city keep we decided to build above the caverns and sealed the entrance in a crypt so that others who land on the island would not discover the secrets.

Years passed, and we started to travel the sea by longboats, finding our way by star to the nearby city of Xenos. It was there we ran into a merchant who built these flying machines called hot air balloons. We found these were a much safer way to travel between Xenos markets and the isle. It also helped keep unwanted travellers from landing on the island.

We learned from a local in a tavern in Xenos of the rich mine that we had originally searched for. Soon the crew and Xee had riches flowing back and forth to the island, and the construction of a few houses turned into many.

It was not long afterwards that the group decided to make a planned trip back to the homelands of Oracle with the purpose of conscripting more women and men into their ranks; this to help expand the hamlet into something bigger.

As the years passed more people started to hear of the wealth through stories and word of mouth, and the isle started to grow.

One night, while visiting the Guild leaders, Xee sat down with scribe Tila, who convinced him that he should look into the magic of her scrolls, promising that through the mystic arts this would allow transport to and from the isle. Xee liked magic, and was enraptured by this amazing concept; he immediately agreed to allow her to host a shop so that all may come and go at a faster pace.

In the years that followed, the Isle of Xee grew quickly and was soon a village full of life. The Keep grew from a hall into a castle. Kruel the Imp had not lied to us with the promise of wealth.

Soon every tavern was talking about this mysterious place, and many other like-minded adventure seekers came to visit the isle.

The locals of the island started to open many shops, and their masterworks spread through the land, bringing even more wealth.

Sir Xee soon became a Governor, as the numbers grew faster than imagined.

Today the Isle of Xee is 20 strong as of October 28th 524 PC

I must end this chapter here as guests are arriving soon for a feast on the island. We look forward to sharing with each other all the things we have learned.

Perhaps you who are reading this will one day live here or have already done so.

The island takes care of its own, and all that live here under its rule will prosper.

We give thanks to Kruel and the island’s magic for providing



Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns


July 29 2021

The Death Cake – by PhoenixWolf – narrated by Asclepius


The Death Cake

By PhoenixWolf, aka Alexander Huffman

Background music by Smartsound


Jorib padded up the ramp into his spaceship, a white box bouncing in his hands with his excitement. Behind him a human male in his early adulthood years stood wide eyed, gazing at a large stack of green sheets of paper in his hand. Jorib didn’t have any idea of how money worked on this planet, but he figured fifty thousand units of the human’s currency was more than enough for this purchase.

The ramp closed and Jorib felt the inertia buffers turn on as the ship ascended into a safe orbit.

“Norgat!” He squeaked out as he broke into a run down the corridor. “I got it! Come see quickly!”

Jorib made excited giggling sounds as he entered the dining hall. Just as he placed the box on the table, Norgat shuffled in rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. Norgat was a short and stocky example of his species, just like Jorib. His head stalks, which usually stood straight up from the top of his head, were askew to one side, and dark lines creased his grey skinned face. The telltale signs of his most recent nap being deep and way too comfortable.

“What?” Norgat said drowsily.

“I got that human food item that I was telling you about! The confection that was named for bringing death upon those who dare eat it,” Jorib said with a dramatic wave of his stubby hands.

Norgat stifled a yawn, ‘Okay…so, what are we going to do with a deadly dessert?”

“What else! We’re going to eat it!”

“What??” Norgat was definitely awake now.

“I have prepared everything we need. We will not only brave this deadly confectionery, but survive to document its effects for science and posterity!”

“By we, you mean me, don’t you?”

“Not this time! I plan on consuming this human creation too. Just after I document your experience with it first.”

Norgat stared at his companion for a silent moment. “You just want to see me suffer.”

“No! Your physical health is important to me. How else will I learn from these humans without your expert assistance and experimentation?”

Norgat’s stare turned into a dark glare. Not that it mattered much, once Jorib got an idea in his head, he was very difficult to dissuade. Jorib started to lift the lid of the box, but its corners caught part way, causing him to struggle and grunt as he tried to wiggle it free. Norgat watched this struggle for a few moments, enjoying Jorib’s growing frustration.

Norgat grew bored waiting, he grabbed the lid with Jorib and helped lift. It came free and slid smoothly off its base with a satisfying rush of air filling the space the lid occupied. They immediately jumped back with their nose holes wrinkled at the smell that filled the room.

“Uhg! That’s horrid!” Jorib cried out.

They retreated to the furthest wall away from the open box and waited for the smell to dissipate.

“If I start smelling like that after I eat it, my clutch-mate will replace me when we get home!”

“She still hasn’t forgiven you for bringing that Durian Fruit home?” Jorib asked.

“I had to sleep in the bog for a week!”

Jorib shuddered in sympathy.

“I think the smell is mostly gone now.” He motioned for Norgat to approach the box again.

Norgat rolled his eyes, but walked up to the box again. He took a cutter tool and carefully cut the corners of the box, letting the sides fall down to reveal the contents in all their glory.

“Oooh!” They both exclaimed at the sight. The cake was dark brown, almost black. It was also very tall, the top being made perfectly smooth, with dark brown flower-like embellishments arranged around its edge.

Jorib reached out with shaking hands toward the cake, but stopped short as if touching an invisible barrier. “Wow. Norgat, feel the power!”

Norgat gave him a sideways glance and eye roll. “Okay, let’s begin documenting. What do the humans call this?”

Jorib carefully enunciated the human words, “Death by Chocolate Cake.”

“‘Death’ meaning ‘the expiring of life,’” Norgat began speaking into his handheld computer.

“‘Chocolate’ being a substance created from the offspring-seeds of the cacao tree, and ‘cake’ being a special confection of layered bread substance held together with a sugary paste. The implication of the name being the chocolate cake brings death to anyone who eats it.”

“You take all the mystique and drama out of everything! Can’t you see this is a very artifact of human daring and death-sport?”

“Your romantic fascination with human death-sports does not bode well for posterity.”

Jorib dismissed the warning with a hand wave. “Nonsense, I have prepared the antidote in case the worst should happen.”

He grabbed a tray with two glass containers filled with a white liquid from the cooler. Norgat immediately began shaking and backing up quickly at the sight of the liquid.

“Is…is that…cow milk?” He said, the look of shock apparent on his face.

“No, it comes from a different animal! The Almond. I tried it myself earlier and no profuse leaking occurred from any of my orifices.”

Norgat’s shock turned quickly to horror, “you didn’t follow safety protocol! And you sampled human food without alerting me first?”

Jorib ignored Norgat this time. Why let pesky things like protocols and assistants get in the way of true discovery?

He continued speaking, “while cow milk is the superior antidote, the almond milk should still prove adequate.”

Norgat just stared, gobsmacked, at Jorib.

“Now,” Jorib continued as he pulled a long dissection knife from the drawer, “If you would do the honors, we must make exacting dissection cuts from the center point to the edge of the cake, creating a wedge shape. We will then extract it for our first sample.”

Norgat glared as he grabbed the knife a little more forcefully than usual. He carefully lined the blade up to the cake, making sure the tip was centered.

“Carefully!” Jorib said as the knife began to cut into the upper layer of fondant.

Norgat took his eyes off the cake and glared daggers at his companion as he let the knife slide through to the bottom. Jorib nibbled on his stubby fingers in anxious horror as Norgat made another perfect cut.

“Tray,” Norgat said, as he carefully slid the knife beneath the cake slice and lifted it out. Jorib held a clean tray at the ready as Norgat smoothly transferred the four-layered slice of cake off the knife.

“Oooh!” They both exclaimed again as they inspected the pristine goo-marbled layers of dark chocolate frosting and sponge.

“It still stinks really bad, but it looks amazing,” Norgat said. Jorib could only nod, his mouth was agape in total, dramatic awe.

Carefully, Jorib handed an eating utensil to Norgat, never taking his eyes off the slice. This was the moment Norgat was dreading the most. He took the utensil with an audible groan and forced himself to take a bite-sized portion of the cake. His hand shook and he whined pitifully as he painfully drew his portion toward his mouth.

“Courage, Norgat,” Jorib said, “we are on the frontier of real science!”

The encouragement did little for Norgat. His hand inched toward his face, but his mouth kept moving further away. Jorib finally took hold of the utensil and Norgat’s head stalks, wrestling the cake into his companion’s mouth.

There was a stifled scream as Norgat’s eyes widened in shock. His mouth made large chewing motions. An exaggerated gulp followed a moment later.

“Well?” Jorib asked impatiently.

Norgat didn’t move a muscle, but his skin started taking on a strange dark shade, spreading steadily over every inch of his exposed body. Jorib panicked when Norgat began convulsing and turning a dark shade of chocolate brown.

“Antidote! Antidote!” Jorib grabbed the glasses of almond milk, spilling most of it, and splashed the rest into Norgat’s gasping mouth. When the convulsions didn’t stop, Jorib ran around the room in a panic, knocking shelves over and throwing things in a hasty attempt at finding something to help his dying companion.

He made it back to Norgat’s body with an armload of items in time to see Norgat’s final shudder and stillness, a foamy gurgle of almond milk pouring out his mouth in a ghastly final death sigh.

Jorib cried out in horror, dropping down to sob on the lifeless body of Norgat.

“No! Norgat! You *sob* were so *sob* young and full *sob* of promise!”

A gurgle bubbled out of Norgat’s mouth. Jorib looked up with bloodshot and goopy eyes in time to receive a faceful of chocolate cake.

He fell backward trying to wipe the deathly confection from his face and eyes as Norgat let out a hearty squeal of laughter and began rolling on the floor.

“You’re alive?” Jorib asked in disbelief as he rubbed the cake out of one eye. Norgat still just rolled around in laughter.

“You’re still alive?” Jorib yelled angrily, realizing he was now the butt of a very messy joke.

Jorib, dripping in gooey cake, dashed madly for his own fistful of cake. In a few moments, the dining hall was covered in a gloppy mess of cake and frosting as the two aliens enacted another great human tradition: the food fight.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns


July 29 2021

Six Short Scary Tales – by Lyla Starflare – narrated by Asclepius

Six Short Scary Tales

By Lyla Starflare
Background music by Smartsound

1. “This New Old House”, by BatoutofHell821
We bought an old house, my boyfriend and I. He’s in charge of the “new” construction – converting the kitchen into the master bedroom for instance, while I’m on wallpaper removal duty. The previous owner papered EVERY wall and CEILING! Removing it is brutal, but oddly satisfying. The best feeling is getting a long peel, similar to your skin when you’re peeling from a sunburn. I don’t know bout you, but I kinda make a game of peeling, on the hunt for the longest piece before it rips. Under a corner section of paper in every room is a person’s name and a date. Curiosity got the best of me one night when I researched one of the names and discovered the person was actually a missing person, the missing date matching the date under the wallpaper! The next day, I made a list of all the names and dates. Sure enough each name was for a missing person with dates to match. We notified the police who naturally sent a crime scene team. I overheard one tech say “yup, it’s human”. “Human? What’s human?” “Ma’am, where is the material you removed from the walls already? This isn’t wallpaper you were removing.”
2. “I hate it when my brother has to go away”, by horrorinpureform
I hate it when my brother Charlie has to go away. My parents constantly try to explain to me how sick he is. That I am lucky to have a brain where all the chemicals flow properly to their destinations like undammed rivers. When I complain about how bored I am without a little brother to play with they tried to make me feel bad by pointing out that his boredom likely far surpasses mine considering his confined to a dark room in an institution. I always beg for them to give him one last chance. Of course, they did at first. Charlie has been back home several times each shorter in duration and the last. Every time without fail it all starts again. The neighbourhood cats with gouged out eyes showing up in his toy chest my dad’s razors found dropped on the baby slide in the park across the street, mom’s vitamins replaced by bits of dishwasher tablets. My parents are hesitant now, using “last chances” sparingly. They say his disorder makes him charming, makes it easy for him to fake normalcy, and to trick the doctors who care for him into thinking he is ready for rehabilitation. That I will just have to put up with my boredom if it means staying safe from him. I hate it when he has to go away. It makes me have to pretend to be good until he is back.
3. “Guardians”, by DarkAlligator
He awoke to the huge, insect-like creatures looming over his bed and screamed his lungs out. They hastily left his room and he stayed up all night, shaking and wondering if it had been a dream. The next morning there was a tap on the door. Gathering his courage, he opened it to see one of them gently place a plate filled with fried breakfast on the floor, then retreat to a safe distance. Bewildered, he accepted the gift. The creatures chittered excitedly. This happened every day for weeks. At first, he was worried that they were fattening him up, but after a particularly greasy breakfast left him clutching his chest from heartburn, they were replaced with fresh fruit. As well as cooking, they poured hot steamy baths for him and even tucked him in when he went to bed. It was bizarre. One night, he awoke to screaming. He raced downstairs to find a decapitated burglar being devoured by the insects. He was sickened but disposed of the remains as best he could. He knew they had just been protecting him. One morning, the creatures wouldn’t let him leave his room. He lay down, confused but trusting as they ushered him back into bed. Whatever their motives, they weren’t going to hurt him. Hours later, a burning pain spread throughout his body. It felt like his stomach was filled with razor wire. The insects chittered as he spasmed and moaned. It was only when he felt a terrible squirming feeling beneath his skin that he realised the insects hadn’t been protecting him. They had been protecting their young.
4. “My Daughter Learned to Count”, by RealScience87
My daughter woke me around 11:50 last night. My wife and I had picked her up from her friend Sally’s birthday party, brought her home, and put her to bed. My wife went into the bedroom to read while I fell asleep reading a book. “Daddy”, she whispered, tugging my shirt sleeve. “Guess how old I’m going to be next month!” “I don’t know beauty” I said as I slipped on my galsses. “How old?” She smiled and held up four fingers. It is 7:30 now. My wife and I have been up with her for almost 8 hours. She still refuses to tell us where she got them.
5. “He Stood Against my Window” by sabethook
I don’t know why I looked up, but when I did, I saw him there. He stood against my window. His forehead rested against he glass, and his eyes were still and light and he smiled a lipstick-red, cartoonish grin. And he just stood there in the window. My wife was upstairs sleeping, my son was in his crib, and I couldn’t move. I froze and watched him looking past me through the glass. Oh, please no. His smile never moved but he put a hand up and slid it down the glass, watching me with matted hair and yellow skin and face through the window. I couldn’t do anything. I just frozen, feet still in the bushes. I was pruning, looking into my home. He stood against my window.
6. “The Happiest Day of my Life”, by recludus
I watched as my soon to be father-in-law held his daughter’s hand as he walked down the aisle. Tears streamed down his face as the wedding march that played in the background reminded him that, in a few minutes, he would be watching me hold his daughter’s hand and slipping on her ring. He walked up to the altar and I took hold of her hand, grinning from ear to ear. It was the happiest day of my life. My bride’s father got down on his knees and started begging. “Please, I did what you asked. Just please give my daughter back.” I glared at him. “Shut up and stop ruining the moment. If you sit back down and enjoy the ceremony, maybe I’ll tell you where I’ve hidden the rest of her body.”

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

July 29 2021

Heart of the World – by Finrodel – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with a great story from a new author Finrodel, aka Alexander Huffman, entitled

Heart of the World

Background music by Smartsound

The morning light glittered off the pendant as it hung on the lamp. Lexi had woken up before her alarm again. She didn’t want to get out of bed, so she laid there, gazing at the heart-shaped locket her mother gave her before she retired.
“It is a link to the past. It’s easy to forget where we came from,” she said. “Everything changed when the whole started hearing the voices. Before we had the implants to protect us from the maddening sounds, there was a world of color, life, and feeling!”
Lexi could still remember the look on her mother’s face when she described her childhood. It was like looking at long forgotten pain, yet she wanted to experience it again.
“It was a time when joy and sadness had meaning. Now they’re empty memories, words we tell ourselves we’re better off without.”
Lexi touched the locket. A strange sense of longing pulled at her, though she could not describe why. Perhaps just beyond that pull, something whole existed, like a real home.
Her alarm rang, the impression interrupted by the mechanical sound and following automatic rhythms of her morning routine. Her phone rang shortly after. It was her supervisor, he always called at the same time each morning.
She connected her phone device to the implant and answered. Her foreman would always ask the same three questions,
“Are you healthy?”
“Yes.” Not that he cared how Lexi really felt, but an unfit worker was a liability and slowed down the workflow.
“Will you arrive at 0730?”
“Yes.” Punctuality meant production times were kept.
“Will you report any delays or production failures for your shift?”
“Your responses have been noted. Goodbye.”
Minimum interaction, maximum efficiency. She finished her morning preparations.
As expected, the workforce commuter bus was on time to each stop. The people that rode with her were almost always the same, sitting in the same places with the same clothing and expression. The color of work uniforms was the primary difference between each person. Lexi’s uniform was white, utilitarian, and indicated her position in food services. Her hair was cut short, it was more efficient that way. Practicality had little use for style, and she could not recall the last time she saw someone with long hair.
The bus dropped Lexi off at her usual stop. She was often the only person to come down this corridor in the morning. Today, she was not alone. A man in a grey uniform was leaning against the wall, staring at a stream of water dripping from above him. He was mumbling something.
He didn’t seem to notice her as she approached, but she was able to hear what he was saying.
“302203, 900556, 30220…”, he kept repeating over and over.
The grey uniform meant he worked in transportation across the complex. He was a long way from where he should be and his behavior was far from normal.
“Hello?” Lexi said, stopping near him.
“556…The water drops, they keep repeating the numbers. What do they mean?” He said, confusion filling his voice.
Lexi cocked her head and listened, but only heard the water dropping. “I don’t hear anything.”
“It’s there! See, 2, 2, 0, 3…” he continued to the sound of each water drop.
She heard about rare cases where the interface negatively affected perceptions, but she had never seen it happen before. She looked at the implant slot on the side of his head. The slot was empty, no communication device, no data drive. It didn’t matter if he wasn’t part of her work crew, she had been trained to provide help to people if they needed medical aid. Besides, it didn’t feel right to leave him in this state.
She gently touched his shoulder and started pulling him away from the dripping water. “I think your implant may be malfunctioning. Let’s get you to Medical so they can help” she said. He didn’t struggle or speak during their walk.
The production room was quiet after the end of shift notice. The sterile silence after the constant noise of machinery and workers felt soothing to her ringing ears. She walked between the workstations for her final inspection of the night. Beneath one workstation, a single piece of paper had slipped partially under a panel and gone unnoticed. She pulled the paper out and went to discard it in the trash when she noticed the writing. On one side a series of numbers were written multiple times in three columns before the writer ran out of space.
302203N 900556W
In a moment of intense clarity, she realized that the numbers were the same ones the man in the grey uniform was mumbling when she saw him that morning. A surreal feeling tingled down her spine, a sensation she was very unfamiliar with. She held still for a long moment, waiting for the sensation to pass.
“Lexi, something wrong?” A familiar male voice spoke from behind her.
She spun around a little too abruptly to face her supervisor, the look on his face showing a wary suspicion of her behavior. He was a bland faced man in his 40’s. The only distinguishing feature was the pipe whistle he kept in his uniform pocket.
“No, boss. I just found a piece of notepaper someone must have dropped earlier,” she said, regaining some of her composure.
“What’s written on it?”
“Just some numbers, I’m not sure what for,” she said, handing the note to him.
He looked briefly at the numbers written before looking back at her. “You sure you don’t know what they’re for?”
The intensity of his gaze was surprising. Was he testing her?
“Yes, boss.”
He looked at her for a few long moments. “I’ll talk to you in the morning.”
She nodded and left the production room, trying not to break into a run, or even a swift walk.
Lexi awoke early again. The sunlight cracked through her window, glinting off the heart pendant and into her eyes. That same strange fascination with the locket absorbed all her attention as she stared into the reflected light. Her thoughts again drifted from her memories of her mother to the strange events of the night before.
The thoughts and feelings filled her mind completely as she felt pulled into that light. Without thinking, she let herself flow into a dreamlike trance. All around her were pathways of light flowing along channels that curved, split, and angled away from some massive central point.
She looked into that nexus of branching pathways, her vision adjusting to its brightness. She realized then she was seeing a massive tree, its branches reaching upward and outward, carrying the light into distances beyond.
A small vine of light grew from the ground beside her until it touched her outstretched hand. The warmth of it filled her body with a sensation like she belonged there. She gazed into that thread of light that now gently curved and grew up her arm and saw something in its brightness.
Numbers. A message.
30.2203°N -90.0556°W Return home
She recognized the numbers as coordinates. The message is simple enough. She must go wherever the coordinates indicated, and soon.
Her phone rang, ripping her from the vision and making her jump. It was her supervisor, on time as usual. She couldn’t work today, she had to find what this all meant.
“Hello,” she said tentatively.
“Are you healthy?” The voice asked in his usual dry tone. She knew she would have to lie, but this was important and she needed to do this.
“No,” she answered, but felt her voice sounded weak and unsure.
There was a pause before he answered. “You’re not the only one.”
“I’m sorry?” She asked, not sure what he meant.
“It’s the numbers, right?”
She breathed in sharply. Another lie to keep him from reporting her to medical seemed prudent, but she dismissed the idea. He had never caused her any grief when she had issues or problems, even if they were her own fault. She owed him the truth, especially since he knew something was going on.
“I can hear them in the tones of your voice. What does it mean?” He asked.
“I don’t know yet, but I think I can find out.”
“Okay, please let me know? If you find it?”
“I will, I promise,” she said. She hadn’t felt the need to make a promise before, it felt right.
She grabbed her locket, placing the chain around her neck. It was time to go.
The trees rose up all around her, their branches reaching overhead like a tunnel of emerald green. The coordinates lead here, down a long forgotten road and past buildings nature had claimed decades before.
She would have found it beautiful if it weren’t for the buzzing noise in her ears. The further she walked, the worse it became.
Her head began to pound in rhythm to her footsteps and she slowed to a shuffle.
An eternity of head splitting noise later, she collapsed to the ground. Why was she here? What was she meant to do? The thoughts disappeared into the drowning static of her current existence.
“Help, please”, she whispered, a plea she knew would not be heard, but she didn’t know what else to do. She felt as if the noise and pain would kill her.
“I can’t do it. I can’t.”
Tears flowed freely, both from the despair she felt and the pain in her head. She was about to give into the pain in hopes of dying, when the light hit her face. Her covered her eyes as a new wave of pain washed over her. Through the cacophony of her senses, she began to hear something else. A faint whisper reaching out to her, touching her mind.
She opened her eyes again and saw her pendant laying in front of her, the light once again reflecting from its surface. In the tiny lances of light, she could see the numbers and message once again.
“30.2203°N -90.0556°W Return home,” she whispered and repeated each time she saw the light carry it across her vision.
Like a mantra, she spoke the message again and again. She crawled toward the source of the light. The plants and brush thicker with each movement, tangling her hands and legs. Within moments, she became impossibly entangled in the vines. The more she struggled, the faster it caught her. The light disappeared, and she felt fear.
“No! I can’t breathe!” she gasped, but struggled in vain.
As soon as her vision went black, the world exploded out in front of her. The tree from her vision was before her, reaching into the earth and sky. She saw its roots and branches touch everything in the world. It was not just a tree, it was a nexus of all living things in the world. She looked all around her and saw the world as it was, and with her now a part of it. She was home.
She could see the rest of humanity collected in massive cities. They were suffocating behind the walls of their implanted minds, unable to hear the call to come home. A longing sadness filled her as she saw what humanity had become.
She awoke wrapped in a soft cocoon of vines which fell away as she arose. She pulled at a dense vine that was lodged into her implant. The vine came free, the sensation causing a momentary shudder.
She could hear a voice whispering in the breeze and rustle of the leaves. Nature found a way to integrate with technology. The world’s voice bypassed her implant and gave her the ability to hear it again. She thought of everyone who still wasn’t connected like she was, and the sadness welled up again.
“How do I help them?” she asked the world-voice. It answered.
She knew what she had to do. It was time to bring everyone home.

Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns

July 29 2021

Interview with Death – by Womby – narrated by Asclepius

Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with another great story from Womby, entitled

Interview with Death

Background music by Smartsound

It’s not often that I get to interview a genuine celebrity, but recently I heard that none other than Death himself was in New Britannia inspecting the ubiquitous resurrection ankhs scattered throughout the land. We caught up with Death and his lovely wife Morticia where they were staying at one of the delightful cottages in Kiln.

”Good afternoon, Death. First let me say what a rare privilege and honor it is to meet you.”

”Nonsense. I get to meet everyone eventually.”

”Quite. If it isn’t too much trouble, I’m sure my readers would greatly appreciate it if you could answer a few questions.”

”Sure, no problem. Ask away.”

”Many in New Britannia are curious as to why outlanders are apparently immortal. Frankly, they’re more than a little miffed about it. Is there anything you would like to say to put their minds at ease?”

”Ah yes. ‘Project Groundhog’ I call it. Technically they are not immortal. They die just like everyone else. The difference is that in their case they do it more often.”

”Oh, I see. But why?”

”The Oracle and I have a bet. She thinks that if outlanders are given multiple chances to correct their mistakes, they will eventually become virtuous. I disagree, so we have a little wager going. We’ve agreed to give each outlander a set time to become simultaneously virtuous in Truth, Love and Courage, and to facilitate that I have installed resurrection ankhs to bring them back to life every time they die before their time is up.”

”What exactly is the nature of this wager?”

”I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

”Never mind, it’s not that important. On another subject, Rumor has it that you are contemplating retirement. Does this presage an imminent end to mortality?”

”You wish! No, my son will be taking over. A real go-getter that one. I’m sure he’ll be setting out to impress his old man and make a name for himself.”

”Hmm. Will that be happening any time soon?”

”Probably right after I win my bet with the Oracle. She’ll no doubt be somewhat annoyed with the avatars and withdraw her protection. That would be the ideal time for my son to take over.”

”Well, thank you so much for the interview. I hope you enjoy your stay in New Britannia.”

”No problem. I look forward to our next meeting.”


Echoes From the Caverns

Echoes From the Caverns