Echoes of Invasion: Kachen Release | Scene 11

Before going to bed, Heppa and Tric make plans for the next few days, which Heppa insists Kachen spend recuperating. Tric wants to maintain their agreement with the skirmisher, but Heppa points out that if they do not have the human along, it should be safe for them to return to the bog. After all, she is still curious about the bog iron. 

Everyone settles down to sleep for the night, but Hepalonia continues going through all the new information she has. Oh, or we could do a little research on the rod tomorrow and the bog iron the day after that, she muses. Then something suddenly occurs to her. “Do you think the rod is going to draw undead?” she calls over to Kachen, startling her companions to full wakefulness.

“I don’t know,” he admits. “That’s partly why I was looking for them.” He wearily pushes himself up to sitting. “We should find out….” Hepalonia waves him back down to his bedroll, saying that she and her cousin can split watches.

Tric nods. “Yeah, I’ll set some traps, we’ll post a watch. You need to rest, pal. This is a spooky place.”

“I can tell you haven’t been sleeping,” Heppa adds.

“There’s not much that is at rest in this place,” he replies cryptically, but he lays back down, favoring his wounded side and leaving the defense of the camp to the elves.

Tric walks around the ruined keep looking for inspiration and supplies. The raft currently serving as its door is where he focuses his efforts. He idly considers that it could make a good travois if they need to drag Kachen out of here, or even just to transport supplies. But for tonight, he dresses it up to look even more like a door and then jury-rigs a contraption so that when an intruder tugs at the door-raft to get it open, it will slam into them and they will be yanked up by vines. Heppa suggests involving the artifact in his plan. They discuss whether to use it as bait and settle on simply placing it somewhere that will funnel anything drawn to it through the doorway. 

After her cousin lies down, Hepalonia begins her watch. It is quiet, and the early spring air has a freshness to it. The moon is nearly full now, which means back home the Spring Budding Festival is underway. Some of her year-mates are advancing to the next tier in the shaman ranks, and undoubtedly her sister Quaemilya is getting recognized for some new sorceress milestone. That’s probably what set mother off. Here, though, the moon is doing something other than pointing out her insufficiencies. It provides enough light for her to inspect the interior of the small keep. Her pacing takes her past the staff, alluring with its mystery, but she resists tinkering with it right now. 

Kachen shifts in his sleep, perhaps due to her noise, so she moves to the other side of the keep where his supplies are. She peeks in a few small boxes to assuage her curiosity, but they contain only basic provisions. She finds herself reflecting back on dinner. Kachen drank broth and poked around some at the rest of the food, but she does not think he actually ate terribly much. She verifies this by cleaning up the dinner dishes that they had all left lying about when they got distracted by conversation and planning. Tric Manu may not be a master chef, but the meal was certainly good enough that a really hungry person would be glad to eat it. Is he disinterested in eating for some reason? she wonders. Then she notices that even this quiet clattering seems to be disturbing his rest.

Heppa drifts over closer to where Kachen is sleeping and watches him for a while. At no point does he wake up and speak to her, but from how restless he is, she concludes that his sleeping must be very shallow. Her guess is that with undead around and no traveling companion to watch his back, he just does not feel safe enough to fully embrace sleep. But that doesn’t explain why he is not eating… She thinks over the foodstuffs in his supplies, all cheap, bland choices. Nothing there would ever be found in her family’s pantry. Maybe that is all he could afford? But the meal Tric prepared was perfectly serviceable, and Kachen seemed to take no notice of the flavors at all. It was as though eating were just a mechanical task for him, something that brings no joy at all. Maybe it is a sensory disorder, like he can’t smell or taste… She idly starts considering ways to test this hypothesis.

Bog iron, necromancer rod, what’s wrong with Kachen… There are so many mysteries out here!

* * *

Halfway through the night, Heppa passes the watch to Tric and goes to sleep. He paces around in the chill pre-dawn damp ruminating about earlier topics of discussion. Different tribes of humans… what could those be like? There’s Wesnoth people, and then he mentioned Horse Lords… Are they actually horses? No, that’s dumb… But that could be true. Merfolk are sort of like fish, right? I bet horsefolk do exist somewhere. But where would they live? They’d need an even bigger plain than the Great Central Plain. Where is somewhere no one knows about? Ah! Beyond the Bitter Swamp! That’s where I can say that I met them. He starts composing a tale about a horsefolk he met named Master Edward. That keeps him occupied until the crack of dawn, when a terrible squealing fills the air as the raft trap sets sail.

Tric rushes out of the keep to find a wild hog bludgeoned by the raft. He had inadvertently gotten cooking grease on it from handling it after doing all the meal prep, and the hog must have come to sniff it and gotten too close. What he will tell the others, however, is that he rigged a snare component as a side-benefit on the off chance that one could catch a rare, rare, wild hog in this area. He pulls out his knife and sets to work.

Hepalonia awakens with a yelp. Are we under attack? The staff? Oh… I should have a weapon. She tries to remember where she left her bow, then crosses over to it. When she finally turns and stands ready, the horrible sound that roused her has stopped. In the dim morning light she sees her cousin gesturing at her with a bloody knife. “Who wants bacon?” he asks.

“What was it?!” she demands.

“Ah, well, we caught ourselves a wild hog. This is no bog hog, no. This is actually a fen hog, a highly uncommon creature in bogs such as these.” Tric shivers a bit, as a crisp, cold breeze blows by. “Whew, this place is drafty.”

“Well, it has no roof.”

Tric turns toward the new voice entering the conversation and sees Kachen sitting up on his bedroll. “You look hungry,” Tric says coaxingly. “I’m going to fry some up.” Heppa verifies with him that they are not actually under attack. “No, that’s what I set up traps for,” he tells her casually. “And it was about time to get up anyway.”