When the walking corpses arise, Kachen is not as unnerved as his elvish companions for he has seen such things before. Keeping his distance from the threat, he stretches out an arm and tries to draw forth the power he has studied. But he is out of practice or too tired, or his arm is too shaky. Whatever the explanation, the creatures continue on unharried. He would try again to help his allies, but a new threat springs from the water.
The skirmisher lurches up, rusty halberd clutched in both hands. It gives her more reach than the smaller spears of her people, but it is also awkwardly weighted on the front end. She thrusts it at Kachen, and he evades it by stumbling back away from her. The muck pulls at his robes, slowing his retreat, and he throws out his hands toward her in desperation. The gesture is more instinctive this time, a frightened response to the very near threat. Ripples of magical energy roll over her. She hisses and shakes, and he continues to slosh backwards, focused entirely on her. She sinks down into the water, out of view, alarming him even more, and he falls back all the way to Hepalonia’s side, looking around warily.
The human’s body language as he approaches Heppa is tense, and she realizes that he carries no weapons, just his small satchel. Perhaps that is why he stayed out of the fray. Given his alert manner, she thinks there might be more walking corpses around, but then he says, “The skirmisher is about. She could ambush us from anywhere!”
Known to stretch the truth himself, Tric is not sure he quite believes that, but he does not blame the frail, unarmed human from staying out of the fight. “You were spooked by the undead; it’s okay. It happens.” Kachen turns to him, but before he can refute that claim, there is a spray of water as the skirmisher really does rise up from the swamp. She has a small, simple spear that she hurls while making a gurgling, hissing noise. It catches Kachen in the side, tearing through his robes and plunging in deeply. He shrieks in pain and staggers toward Heppa, reaching toward her rucksack. From Tric’s vantage point, he can see that Kachen is going for the staff, probably seeking to arm himself in some way, but his cousin jerks away. The human moves all the way behind her, putting Heppa between him and his attacker.
Heppa steps away from Kachen, keeping eyes on both him and the saurian. Her bow is now trained on the latter, but she is not entirely certain about the former, who she finds a bit creepy. In her mind, there is no question about it: he was going for the staff. But another mystery has presented itself, and Heppa tries to puzzle through it. Why is the saurian attacking Kachen? I’m the one with the ranged weapon; aren’t I the bigger threat? Something does not add up. This creature stole their food, took a weapon, and did not attack them—probably because their numbers were too great. Now there are three of them, and here she is, attacking the weakest of their number. Was she in league with the corpses? Or just taking advantage of the distraction they created? Heppa is unsure whether saurians understand speech, but she demands, “Stand down! Explain yourself!”
“I don’t need to explain myself to you, egg crusher!” the saurian hisses back.
Egg crusher? Did Kachen disturb her clutch? Or is that just an insult? Heppa wonders. The saurian is outnumbered and could easily escape by submerging. Why is she still here?
Tric shakes some mud off his arms and makes conciliatory gestures, trying to diffuse the situation with a compromise. “Now, you took our meat and our halberd last night… You can keep the halberd, but I’m going to need that meat back.” He is sure they will be able to find some other object to push their raft around, although they may not even need it anymore, given what it looks like Heppa has found.
“Give me that meat,” the saurian hisses, nodding her snout towards Kachen, “and I will give you your dried meat back.” A clawed hand hovers near one of her throwing spears, but she does not ready it.
While her counteroffer is not attractive, Tric is pleased to have gotten her to accept negotiation as a way to resolve their differences. “Nah, that meat’s not any good. Why would you want it?”
“Better to have a meal today than be one tomorrow!”
So he might look weak now, but she needs to stop him before he gets… what? More dangerous? “He’s off the table,” Tric tells the saurian, “but, if you give us our meat back, we’ll take this meat far away.” After all, Tric and Heppa plan to search other battlefields for shards, and from the conversation earlier, it seems Kachen would be willing to join them in order to find one of his own. Everyone can come out ahead in this deal. What a smooth negotiator I am, all of this for the price of one halberd I’ve already actually lost… Wait, maybe I do need to offer a bit more. “You might have noticed that a lot of the water around here is bad. To sweeten the deal, I’ll throw in this… pristine elvish dowsing rod,” he offers, drawing forth the accursed implement that has been the bane of his existence for decades. “It will help you find clean water.”
Heppa gasps. “You’re giving away a dowsing rod!?”
“I’m not giving it away,” Tric says, mock-earnestly. “I’m making a necessary trade. It is a sacrifice that I have to make.” He is maybe laying it on a bit thick, hamming it up too much, but he cannot resist such an opportunity. Dad will understand when I tell him I had to do it to save a life and end unnecessary violence. The saurian nods her head sharply, and Tric holds the rod out with a broad flourish. “Have you got the bag? I want to see inside, make sure there’s still meat.” She sinks a little bit below the water and then comes back up, meat sack in hand. Tric makes a little tentative gesture as if to throw the rod, but he waits for the saurian to sling the wet bag at him before hurling the “precious elvish artifact” her way. She catches it and then submerges completely, the barest ripple the only sign that she was ever there. That, and the blood streaming down Kachen’s side.
With the threat gone, his posture loses its heightened tension, and Kachen staggers back, farther away from Hepalonia, clutching his injury. The rush of combat over, he shakes visibly. Between bloody coughs, he gasps out his gratitude. “Thank you for not feeding me to the saurian.”
“Well, she just didn’t have a good enough bargain,” Tric says airily.
Heppa keeps an arrow nocked and continues watching the area for threats. “Why was she so fixated on you?” she asks Kachen.
“Who knows how those things think?”
Tric slogs through the muck over to the human. “Well, they like to trade, it seems. They’re terrible traders, though. I had none of those things, except you, and I ended up with more!” With a mock sigh, he continues, “I did have to give up my personal dowsing rod, it’s true. But I think she’ll be able to do a lot of good with it.”
Tric Manu overdoes the dramatic tone. Hepalonia can tell he did not care about the dowsing rod. She suspects he does not actually know how to use it. She does not consider it a major loss though, since she still has Nasir’s if they need it to help figure out why the water is tainted.
Kachen accepts Tric’s help moving to shore. He is impressed with the elf’s ability to convince the saurian to value something he himself did not. Clearly, Tric is well-practiced in lying about things pertaining to himself and his interests. That implies a certain moral flexibility, one Kachen did not expect to ever find among elfkind. Maybe this is a kindred spirit of sorts, and he need not be so on edge around his current companions.
Heppa’s cousin throws an arm around the human, helping him hobble through the swamp to more solid ground. She hears him lightly admonishing Kachen about the impropriety of reaching into a woman’s bag without her permission. As she watches their backs, both literally and figuratively, the whole experience with the saurian continues to nag at her. Why did she attack the one unarmed person in the middle of a battle? Did she just think he would be easier to pick off? The side of Kachen’s robe glistens with wet blood. It occurs to her that if she offers to patch up his wound, she will be able to perform a thorough exam which may throw some light on his sickly condition.
She hears Tric Manu talking about going to another battlefield in search of a control crystal, and she points out that she thinks she already has one. “Yeah, but we’re working together,” Tric Manu reminds her. “He wanted one, too.” He nods at the man he is half-carrying. “And we were planning to go to another site, anyway. You two can look at this staff while we travel.”
“No promises,” Hepalonia says. Then another topic of unsatisfied curiosity springs back to mind. “And we need to look at the bog iron on the way out,” she insists.