Hepalonia makes it from her father’s study to her own room without running into anyone. There she cleans off the dirt from the road and puts on clean, comfortable clothes. She heads downstairs in a simple green dress, rounds a corner, and suddenly her mother is before her. “Ummm….” is all she can think to stay, startled.
“Well. Aren’t you looking fine,” Penna snaps.
“Thank you, Mother?” Should’ve been more careful on the stairs! “And you, as well,” she rushes to add.
“That would have been an appropriate outfit to wear to your sister’s promotion ceremony.”
Heppa doubts that very much. Her flowing gray and white dress with the embroidered panels and gold braiding is still up in her wardrobe. What she wears now, while appropriate for shaman school, would surely have gotten critiqued if she had tried to use it for a formal event. But this is standard from her mother, finding a way to yell at her without yelling at her. “Um, thank you, Mother.”
“I hope whatever little errand your father sent you on has been completed successfully.”
“Have you formally signed up with the scouting corps then?”
“No, Daddy has some other tasks for me still,” Heppa replies, throwing her father under the cart. What she has said is true, but it might still earn him a tongue-lashing from her mother.
“So I suppose I shall need to tell the druids that you will not be back at school for the summer session.”
Hepalonia throws back her shoulders just a little bit and stands up straighter. She did fight undead; she should be able to handle her mother. “No, Mother, I can go tell them. It is my responsibility.” It is not exactly a bold rebuttal, but it is a start.
Penna smiles, pleased that her younger daughter is taking responsibility for something, at least. “Well, hurry along then,” she dismisses Hepalonia.
Having finally made it out of the house, Heppa heads to Tric Manu’s home to deliver the sample of bad water to Uncle Nasir. She returns his dowsing rod as well, praising how wonderfully it works. Nasir gratefully accepts the sample and, as she watches, uses his dowsing rod to take a reading. He confirms that the water quality is much, much worse than any of the reports they had been getting from the forest’s edge. This is confirmation that Heppa and Tric Manu definitely were much closer to the source of the problem. Ever curious, Heppa asks what her uncle can tell about the water, so he details some of the caustic properties it has.
“It is really good that you two have found the source of the problem and could cut it off. Something like this,” he shakes his head sadly at the sample, “can work its way into our natural systems and the creatures themselves. Particularly egg-bearing ones. There would be issues with fragility of the shells. Birds would have a real problem.”
“I thought so…” Heppa murmurs. “And saurian eggs?”
Nasir nods. “Yes, saurians would probably suffer the same ill effects as birds would.” They chat a little more, and he thanks her for being such a good road companion for her cousin. “Please continue to keep an eye on him and keep him out of too much trouble. Make sure to always bring him back.”
Heppa smiles at her uncle. “Of course. He is a pleasure to travel with.”
Hepalonia’s next stop is the glade where she expects to find the druid Fenowin. She looks around a bit, and then catches sight of movement in a thicket along the edge of the clearing. Heppa steps up to the bush. “Good day, Fenowin. How are you this fine day?”
From an adjacent bush, she gets the response, “Good day to you, Hepalonia.” Fenowin steps out, clad in a form-hugging mottled green dress. Flowering vines wind around her, and epiphytic gray moss dangles in clumps from her hair. “All continues to be right with the faerie path. How is the earth path treating you?”
“Very well, thank you.”
“Do you intend to embrace the earth path? Or will you reach toward the faerie path?” The barefoot druid emerges completely from the brush and stands in the beams of sunshine that reach the glade floor.
Heppa considers for a moment how to answer. The faerie path is the set of practices through which elves grow closer and closer to the fae and other esoteric aspects of nature, whereas the earth path is more grounded in the everyday reality of life on the land, working it and defending it with crafted tools. Her teacher is essentially asking her if she wants to earn her wings or will fight sword-in-hand. “Actually, I am still exploring both. But I’m doing a bit more field research, so I probably will not be at classes this next session,” Heppa tells her.
Fenowin wishes her well in her explorations of all forms, pleased at the nature of her pursuits. If or when Heppa decides to return to the classroom, her field research will be of great benefit to druidic studies. Hepalonia thanks her, relieved at how non-judgmental Fenowin is. Then, having taken care of that issue, she segues to matters of interest to her rather than to her mother. “I do have a question that I thought you might have an answer to. Do you know anything about the dapper inkcap mushroom? The only thing I know about it is that you should not eat it. But what it is for, or what its properties are, I do not know. Can you tell me anything?”
The druid’s eyes go wide. “You are not experimenting with dapper inkcap, are you?” Heppa hastily assures her she is not. “Then why are you asking these questions?”
“I have heard it mentioned, and I was curious what the nature of it is.”
“It is extremely dangerous,” Fenowin insists, “particularly the closer you are to the faerie path. It can cut off your connections to the otherworldly realms.”
“Just to touch it?”
“Ingesting it in any way is dangerous. Even just to touch it would be uncomfortable. It dissociates you from the very life force around you. It’s terrible. Terrible! Probably it was warped by magics long ago.” The druid shudders. “You should not toy with it.”
“I have not encountered it,” Heppa assures her teacher. “What would you use it for? What would anybody use it for?”
Fenowin considers for a bit. “Someone who is nefarious and learned might use it to…” She looks off, thinking, her eyes darting around wildly as she makes a series of mental leaps. “It could be weaponized! It could be used to incapacitate our sorceress and our druids… to interfere with their ability to access power. Have you heard of anybody doing research on it?” she asks urgently. “That would be a horrible thing for any of our enemies to experiment with.”
“I… I do not know the context of what it was for where I came across it,” Heppa tells her and then considers what else she should share with her teacher. “I do not think it was for weaponizing,” she says. That is not what it sounded like in Kachen’s letter.
“I certainly hope not! If you learn anything in your explorations that indicates that anyone—dwarves or humans—are working on such a thing, then you must let us know so that we can prepare proper defenses.” She wraps her arms around herself as if for comfort. “If you come across anything else like this on your travels, that would be dire indeed.”
“Of course.” Her teacher is growing more and more agitated, so Heppa steers the conversation to a less troubling—but equally interesting—topic. “What about pain-killing mushrooms?” She describes what Mari-Elin gave her to help her recover from the bat bites. “I have ingested one of those.”
“Ah, dwarvish fly. Those are indeed useful coagulants and anesthetics. But they do build up in the system, so do not expect them to have the same efficacy over time. They are more effective when doses are spaced out. There is no danger from overdosing, but it is an inefficient use of a valuable resource.” Heppa nods along, only half-listening. It is helpful information, but her mind keeps drifting back to the dapper inkcap and what Kachen could possibly be using it for. Weaponizing it just does not seem like something Kachen would do.
“It is rather rare,” Fenowin continues, still speaking of the dwarvish fly, “but certainly worth keeping an eye out for on your explorations. It prefers humid environments, so it can be found in caves and swamps. You are far less likely to find it in a forest, unless maybe in a particularly shaded area with a spring. And definitely not in open fields.”
Fenowin said that the dapper inkcap can cut someone off from the life force around them. Heppa wonders if that applies to all magic or just to how elves connect to the primal energy that they wield. She is reluctant to ask her teacher, though, worried that she might reveal something she should not. Heppa knows she is no Tric Manu when it comes to lying, and she does not want to misrepresent Kachen. He seems to have trouble everywhere he goes, and she is beginning to understand why. She returns to trying to figure out what he was doing. He was interested in the power of the staff, and the letter made a connection between it and the dapper inkcap. Maybe there was knowledge to be gained from both? It seems to Heppa like Kachen was trying to figure something out, not trying to make a weapon.
Hepalonia is not the only one whose mind keeps returning to the dapper inkcap. When the young elf takes her leave of the druid, Fenowin remains in the center of the glade, considering all the unpleasant ramifications of weaponized dapper inkcap. The warm beam of sunlight is not enough to prevent the chill that goes down her spine.