“Well, if you are as awake as I am now, Hepalonia, perhaps we should look at the staff,” Kachen remarks. Although she is curious about it, she suggests they wait until after breakfast, but Kachen waves dismissively over at her cousin, who is heading back out beyond the ruined walls to fetch chunks of meat. “Tric has to take care of all of that. We have time now.”
“With your injuries, I think you should eat a little something while we wait,” Heppa tells him. She pulls a couple biscuits from one of the boxes, holding one out to him and keeping the other for herself. Kachen takes the biscuit and disinterestedly chews on it while she brings the staff over.
Heppa sits down near him with the artifact between them. “Got any ideas?” she asks across the creepy skull-tipped wooden staff. It looks quite different from what her father had, not that she knows much about that artifact. This one is much longer, for a start. Maybe Daddy’s was a broken version of something like this. She cannot recall having seen illustrations of anything similar before. Too bad I don’t have any of Daddy’s tomes with me. Through the eye sockets she can see a sliver of bluish-purple crystal. The shard looks mounted to the staff though, not attached to the skull. There is no lower jawbone, just an unsettling number of tusks. She wonders whether the curving rams horns serve any purpose other than ornamentation. They could probably just remove the skull completely, and then they would have full access to the crystal. She notes that Kachen, though he has been looking intently at the rod, has not touched it. Would my hand explode as soon as I touch the crystal? she wonders.
“This is definitely a thing of power,” Kachen observes. “I can feel that much.”
Looking can only get Hepalonia so far; it is time to try. “The only thing separating you from knowledge is the experience itself.” The corners of Kachen’s mouth twitch up into a small smile. He does not attempt to dissuade her as she jumps to her feet and snatches up the artifact. “That’s what Daddy always says.”
The rod in her father’s study had a feeling of wrongness about it. But the dowsing rods, those felt natural. She waves this artifact around, trying to treat it like an elvish implement. Suddenly, a snow squall rips through the keep. It takes Heppa a moment to realize that it is actually localized on her. Did I do anything, or did the artifact? she wonders. The shard pulses with an inner light. She feels mixed magical messages, a creepiness similar to what she felt in her father’s study but also the primal rush that has accompanied the rare occasions when she has actually managed to perform elvish magic. It seems to her that there might be two separate elements at play here, the staff and the crystal.
“Whoa!” Tric shouts when the cold suddenly sets in and a vortex of snow encircles his standing cousin. The chill is unexpected given that he is bent over their fire cooking up breakfast. “Freak snow squall! Maybe that really is bad water.” When he realizes Heppa is holding the rod, he feels a moment of relief that the wild hog has not also gotten to its feet. He sees Kachen absentmindedly gnawing on a hard biscuit and watching Hepalonia with rapt attention.
Heppa turns the staff, trying to examine the components, and in the process she realizes that the squall is moving as well. She spins around and gives the artifact a sharp snap, launching the snowy vortex across the small space and out the open doorway. It collides with a small shrub, icing up the branches and snapping them. Then it dissipates. Meanwhile, back in the keep, Hepalonia’s foot comes down on a lingering patch of snow and she slips. When she hits the ground, the staff is jarred from her hand. Everything is quiet and still for a moment.
“Bountiful forest, that was amazing, Heppa!” Tric exclaims.
She blinks her eyes a few times and then turns to Kachen. “Did not see that coming!” she says excitedly.
“Interesting,” he observes more calmly. “I did not expect that to happen either.” Heppa sits up and reports her impression that the rod and the crystal are two different magics. Kachen extends a hand out toward the staff, and then pauses, seeking her permission to try it. She grants it, getting all the way to her feet to give him space and moving away so that she is not caught up in the next snow squall. Is it different for different people? Did it make snow because I treated it like a dowsing rod? She has so many new questions now and is curious whether it matters that she was an elf using it and this will now be a human doing so. In which case, what would happen if Tric Manu tries?
Kachen looks at the staff for a moment, seeming to steel himself to something. Then he takes hold of it and pushes himself to his feet. “Tric Manu,” he says calmly, “can you step to the side?”
“Sure. You going to finish off breakfast?” Indeed, small balls of fire grow around the skull at the tip of the staff. Kachen gestures with it, and they zip across the open space and splash across the roasting hunks of hog. “Nice! Instant breakfast!”
This is all quite fascinating to Hepalonia. That magic was not so different from the faerie fire that sorceresses use to defend Estbryn Forest. “What did you do?” she asks excitedly. “I basically treated it like the dowsing rod, and I got snow.” She considers asking him to try out the dowsing rod, too, but she notices he is leaning upon the staff. She has been so caught up in discovery that she has forgotten that using magic can really wear a person out.
“That was a simple fire missile,” he answers.
Heppa thinks aloud, trying to work out what is going on. “So the magic is not innately in the staff or the crystal?”
“I didn’t touch the crystal,” Kachen says.
Nor did she, at least not physically. Ooooh. She is starting to form another hypothesis. “You mean magically?” He nods. “I’m not sure if I did.”
“Well, I can try again…”
“After breakfast!” Tric cuts in, bowls of food in hand.
Kachen turns to him. “Or you can.” He holds the staff out to Tric.
Tric is not as interested in this artifact as his companions are; it just does not look like a good prop to him. However, he hands off the two breakfasts and accepts the implement. He exerts no effort to activate any magic. Instead, he tests the balance and then takes a two-handed grip at the middle of the staff. His act opens with simple twirls. Then he whips it around behind him and up into the air, intending to catch the spinning staff with a final flourish. As his eyes track its movement, they settle on the slight glow from the crystal. Maybe that could make a cool sparkle effect. His concentration lingers there for just a moment too long, and a vortex of snow suddenly swirls around him. Although it startles him, he manages to catch the staff, but his foot hits a patch of new snow on the lunge, and he ends up on the ground, just like Heppa did. “Well, so much for spellcraft,” he concludes as he sits up.
The other two sit alongside him, and they all begin breakfast. Heppa continues asking questions though. Kachen is a real, live example of a human doing magic, something completely new in her experience. “Can you cast the fire missile without the staff?” she asks.
“Yes,” he acknowledges, “but it is more powerful with it.” Hepalonia tells him that she cannot create the snow squall on her own. Tric ribs her a little, insisting that she is a sorceress. Kachen turns to him. “But you were also able to make the snow squall,” he observes. Heppa teases her cousin right back. “Do you have any training?” Kachen inquires.
“Well, I’ve already mastered the dowsing rod, which Heppa mentioned having used, so maybe it was some interdisciplinary skill derived from knowing how to use that.”
That explanation makes very little sense to Kachen, but he does not press the point. Tric is no elvish sorcerer, but he keeps fabricating lies. This duplicitous response seems related to concealing something about Tric’s relationship with magic. Is it embarrassing in elvish society to not be able to do magic? Or is there some aspect of magic he has studied that he doesn’t want people to know about? Kachen wonders. He files this information away for later. More and more, he is feeling a certain kinship with this prattling performer. And Hepalonia’s open willingness to experiment has been refreshing.
Tric remains in good spirits. “That did more than I expected, but I’ll leave the artificing to you two.”
Heppa gets excited again by the prospect of conducting experiments with the dowsing rod, which Kachen admits to never having studied. Tric begins spouting on about how dowsing is a mystical art rather than a magical one. He pauses when Heppa wonders aloud if it only works with elvish magic. Suddenly, Tric has a potential excuse other than his own lack of effort. Maybe it is only passed down matrilineally… He is not sure his father would buy that. Yeah, Pop, it’s your own fault!
Kachen does look over the dowsing rod after breakfast, but he is unable to do anything with it. Tric assures him it takes years, even decades, to learn the dowsing rod and theorizes that is the reason why it is more an elvish art than a human one. Humans just do not have the time. Heppa keeps quiet about how quickly she was able to use it.
“So, was this what you were looking for?” she asks Kachen, indicating the artifact. “I’m not sure if this is actually a necromantic control crystal, which I believe is what my father is trying to study.”
“I feel that if I had a necromantic control crystal, it would belong in a staff like that,” Tric comments. That skull is creepy, and there are far too many tusks for that size. “On the other hand, that would be a great place to hide something else, maybe?”
Heppa mulls over the sensations she felt during the snow vortex. Kachen voices a question about the elves’ source on the very existence of necromantic control crystals. “This is clearly a powerful magical artifact, but why does that mean it has to control undead?”
“Daddy thought so. He has theories. And one of those is that maybe the crystal can be used for different things, for more than just raising an undead army quickly. It’s all theoretical right now, though. However, you said you sensed great power from it, so I do wonder if we should consider waiting before we break it.”
Kachen sits up straight. “No no no no no! We should not break this thing.” She suggests separating the components from each other. Kachen agrees to that, putting forth that she take charge of the crystal and he take the staff. Heppa concurs.
With that, Hepalonia considers the experimenting to be done for the day. The artifact could use a rest, and frankly, so could Kachen. She may be pushing him a little too hard so soon after a grave injury. She removes the skull and pops the crystal out of the socket at the top of the staff before handing that to him. “Do we need to find more? Maybe we should keep looking,” she says.
“There is that other battlefield we’re going to check out,” Tric reminds them.
Heppa looks at her crystal, already formulating experiments in her mind. “This may be what I was looking for,” she says. “I don’t know if it is what you were looking for, though.” Kachen, who she finds she is thinking of as ‘the human’ less and less often, has not been terribly specific about what he is pursuing.
Kachen holds the staff across his lap, looking down at it. “It’s a start.”