Franny has already come a ways down the caravan, asking if anyone has seen her missing child and pleading with them to keep an eye out for Ffion. Tric considers spinning a more interesting narrative to heighten people’s vigilance. “Maybe if we tell them there is a goblin stalking the caravan with a red cloak pulled over their head…” he begins. Although it is an interesting story and might make people more alert to noticing the red-haired child, Heppa worries that it does not prime them to send news of Ffion back down the line. She thinks Falcon Sight might be a more effective approach.
“What about a shape-shifting mage in the guise of a child?” Tric half-heartedly counteroffers. Realizing though that now is not the time for tall tales, he takes hold of Butterbell’s reins while Heppa climbs up on the pony’s back for a better vantage point from which to spot mages or red hair. “Maybe start with the goats,” he suggests.
This area is well-primed for connecting with the fae, thanks to Tric’s recent dowsing activity. Heppa channels the energy from the environment and into her eyes the way her sister explained. This is Heppa’s first time trying the spell on her own out in the field, and she is rather excited by the experience. She exchanges her normal binocular vision for a wider field of view. Colors are suddenly more vibrant, standing out sharply against the blue background of the sky and the green of the land. Details everywhere are sharper. Sudden movement and a flash of light draw Heppa’s eyes to a tawny-skinned human with curly light brown hair in a darker brown robe. He holds a stick about a foot long, and as she watches, he whips it around in a circle above him, and another set of small balls of light burst forth.
“It looks like someone is casting something a little showy farther back in the caravan,” Heppa announces.
“Showing me up?” Tric mutters.
“Maybe entertaining children? That might be a good place to look,” Heppa concludes brightly. She is distracted for a moment by another movement, a tasty-looking field mouse further on. With a shake of her head, Heppa dismisses the energies, returning her sight to the elvish norm.
They step to the side of the track, out of the main flow of the caravan, letting it move past them. Carts roll by, and one churlish driver calls out with a snicker, “Ah, yeah, lazy guards taking a rest.”
Tric is ready with a rejoinder. “Hey, my goal is to make it as easy as possible for you. If it gets exciting, that means we screwed up.” I’m sure it will screw up later, Tric adds to himself. “Believe me, we both want this trip to be as boring as possible.” Tric would prefer fodder for future stories, of course, but this fellow does not need to know that.
The jaded carter reconsiders his position. “That’s a good point,” he observes. “I never thought of it that way before.”
“If there is any excitement, Tric Manu will take care of it,” Tric assures him. “And if you see a ghost, let me know.” It cannot hurt to spread his reputation a bit.
The cart continues to rumble past, and Heppa says, “I thought we were looking for a little girl, not a ghost.”
“You basically found her already,” Tric replies.
Then Mate flies in, returning from the front part of the caravan with a clawful of wiry red hair. The bird announces how clever he is, and Tric sighs. “You know, strictly speaking, I didn’t ask you to do that,” he tells the magpie. His claws and beak are a bit messy with blood, but that could have been from an unrelated snack. Hopefully he did not hurt any of Franny’s other children too badly. Still, Tric cannot refrain from a joke. Taking the hair, he turns to Franny. “Sorry, this is all that is left of Ffion. My pixie dragon ate her. You’ve got other kids, though, right?”
“That’s a magpie,” Franny tells him, thoroughly familiar with this type of bird and not as amused by him as her children are.
“Common misperception,” Tric mutters. He hands the hair back to Mate, though, saying, “Why don’t you save that for your roost, pal.”
As the section of the caravan with the mage reaches them, the shorter Ffion becomes visible as well. She is in conversation with a young man in a rough burlap robe. It has a hood, but in the hot weather, he wears it thrown back. Once again, he makes a wide sweeping gesture with his arm, and a few balls of light shoot up, dispersing in the air above.
Heppa points out the mage and child to Franny, who wastes no time running over and grabbing the little girl by the ear. She admonishes Ffion for running off and leaving her post with the goats. Ffion gives as good as she gets; her argument is that if she is to have any chance at Alduin, she needs to get started as soon as possible. “Tomos here was able to start telling me some things. I’m getting started on my studies and not even paying for it yet! That’s a good deal!” she insists as her mother drags her away. The other children trail behind, double-timing it back up the caravan to return to their herd.
“I had no idea the goats were theirs,” Tric mutters to Heppa.
“It’s a big caravan,” she observes. “We don’t know everyone in it yet.”
“Yes, and we’ve been focused on the threats,” Tric agrees, fabricating a valid-sounding excuse.
Hepalonia turns her attention then to the mage, who is looking a little downcast at having lost his conversational partner. His wand hangs sadly down at his side now. The man—or perhaps boy?—looks older than any of Franny’s children, but still quite young. Judging human ages is still difficult for the elves, though. If he is knowledgeable about human magics, Ffion is right about getting a good deal; Heppa herself has recently learned just how expensive private tutors can be. She politely introduces herself and her cousin to Tomos. They are technically working right now, so she does not want to get too distracted, but a little bit of talking cannot hurt too much. Just as long as we don’t get in trouble… “So are you a mage? Have you traveled to Alduin? Is that where you trained?”
Tomos explains that he is returning to Alduin to finish his schooling, having just recently completed an internship in South Tower. The first few internships an aspiring mage does tend to be much closer to the Isle of Alduin, but now that he is reaching his final years of school, he was allowed to do a posting further afield. That was a nice treat for him, since his family is from South Tower. Heppa is quite curious about what a magical internship entails.
“I got a spot at the local House of Light,” Tomos says. “It gave me a chance to closely observe a white mage at work to help me decide whether I want to be one or not when I finish my schooling. I got to learn some aspects of their work, including basic medicines and wound care. And of course I got some mentoring from the mages there on arcane spells.” He places prideful emphasis on the last two words and then brings the wand up again, its point above his head as he whips his arm forward. Several small balls of light shoot upwards.
This guy likes his flashy-flashy, Tric thinks, acknowledging the value of a good performance. Can’t blame him.
Heppa recognizes the spell as what Kachen did back in the keep near the Foul Fen. A simple fire missile, he called it. “So, can you tell me what you’re doing with that spell?” she asks Tomos.
“Oh, this is the fire missile,” he says, giving the name imposing weight. He whips his arm around again and does another.
Heppa doubts such elaborate movement is required to cast the spell, as Kachen summoned the lights and then simply pointed the staff where he wanted them to go. Though maybe Tomos does need the windup, she considers, if he is a less experienced mage. The balls of fire Tomos launches go up into the air, so there is no telling whether he hits whatever mark he was targeting. “So can you feel it when you’re pulling the magic…?” Heppa asks. She thinks a moment, trying to better articulate her question. Kachen’s explanations were full of unfamiliar jargon and she jotted down as much as she was able to remember, but she still thinks of magic in fae terms. “Can you describe how it feels when you’re wresting the energy from the aetherium?” she tries. Channeling fae energy can be taxing, but that involves moving power through channels that naturally exist in elves and the world around them. “Does it hurt when you pull magic from where it’s not supposed to be? Are you exerting yourself? Is it resisting you?”
“Well, not any more,” Tomos says self-assuredly. “I’ve mastered this spell.” He fires off another small set of fire missiles. “Of course, it took many years of study and effort to be able to reshape the energy in this manner.”
It sounds to Heppa like this was hard for him to do for a long time. And while Tomos may have this spell down now, it may be the one he is best at, given how much he is doing it. She appreciates hearing his perspective, though. Primal magic is not necessarily hard to learn, it is more a matter of concentrating properly when one channels the energy through its natural pathways. True, sometimes Heppa overloads those channels or misdirects the energy, but she is always having it do completely reasonable things. Human arcane magic sounds more like forcing energy from one place to another by routes that are not already there, rather than guiding it where it naturally can go. Elves discover for themselves how to use this power that is their birthright. From what she has learned so far about human magic, it seems like someone, some time in the past, discovered that there was a stockpile of energy—which they called the aetherium—and worked out a way to drain it. Heppa wonders what the aetherium really is. Kachen spoke of it as a separate plane that mages violently wrest energy from. Are humans just breaking into our pool of fae energy and siphoning it away? she worries. Is this costing the woses in some way? As for fae energy, there is still plenty Heppa does not know about that. Maybe there is some set pool of it, or maybe more is constantly being generated by living organisms. Heppa did not stay in shaman school long enough to learn these things.