Having just spent three full days in the village, Tric is due to be back out on border patrol the next day. He finds Baeowin in the morning brushing down her pony and immediately starts explaining to her all the reasons he should remain behind. For example, they need to send a reply with the message bird that showed up the previous day, and he is best suited to handle that. In addition, they might actually be able to get their visitor back on his feet today if Heppa’s plan works out. He considers Kachen’s health to be the biggest threat currently. Baeowin hears him out, including his offer to send Mate in his stead. Tric suggests Mate could do some aerial survey work, though keeping the magpie away from the falcon is also one of his motives. More convincing is his final argument. “Sometimes you’re an elf short, so this can be a good exercise for the rest of the crew. It happens. Someone gets injured or…” Tric looks pointedly over at Kachen’s hut, “What if someone is incapacitated by some attack that knocks them out, as happened earlier this week?” Baeowin starts to nod, and Tric, sounding a bit sorry for himself, throws in, “I’ll be busy writing a letter all day. Super boring, I know.” Baeowin grants him leave to stay behind while she takes Renwick, Endathalas, and Mate out to patrol the southern section of the forest.
Freed from those responsibilities, Tric joins Heppa and resumes work as her secretary. She talks freely as she works, constantly spouting questions and observations to share with Damal. She shares her findings on the magical interactions between the dapper inkcap and Fenowin’s pollen, but Tric is initially hesitant to write any of that down. “Are you sure he’ll want to know about that?”
“They are just properties,” Heppa points out.
Tric chooses his wording very carefully. He settles on the neutral term vapors to describe anything that Heppa has said was magical. Heppa has many questions, which is no surprise to Tric, and they cover more than just the project on hand. Other alchemical experiments from the past month jump to her mind seemingly at random, and Tric adds those topics to the letter as she brings them up.
“Make sure you tell Damal that his help on this has been invaluable, and tell Alric that I miss him!” Heppa adds.
Tric offers to scribble in a little note to Alric, but ultimately Heppa decides to compose a proper letter herself while she is waiting for one of her solutions to finish percolating. In it, she includes news of Kachen, since she believes Alric would want to know how his friend is doing. She reports that Kachen got to their village safely, but then there was a magical accident. She describes it as a misunderstanding followed by an alchemical reaction rather than placing blame on anyone. She assures Alric that they are working on an antidote, though she imagines he probably already knows that from what Damal sent.
When Heppa starts on her letter to Alric, it occurs to Tric that they should see if Thrandolil wants to send anything to Lady Sabine. There is the harness rig, so Aderyn can transport more letters than usual, maybe even the artifact itself if Uncle Thran is done with it. It is unlikely any other elves in their settlement need to send messages to South Tower, but Tric does some checking around anyway on his way to Heppa’s house.
When Tric enters Thrandolil’s study, his uncle eagerly asks if Kachen is awake yet. “Hopefully tomorrow,” Tric says. “Heppa’s working on some stuff. But we’ve received a message back from South Tower. We could send something back if you have anything you want to send to Lady Sabine or anyone else there.”
Thrandolil dashes out a note for the archmage based on where he thinks her broach was made. As Thrandolil writes, Tric observes his uncle and takes in the condition of the office, nervous about the staff having affected him. The necromantic artifact remains in multiple pieces. The willow staff is on a rack, the skull sits on the desk, and the purple crystal is nowhere to be seen. It is clear from the papers strewn out before him that Thrandolil has been sketching the three pieces. Other drawings, pages from books and letters, are also out on the desk with their depictions of similar artifacts. It really does look like nothing has gone wrong here yet, but Tric still feels a little unsettled, like maybe things are going too well.
Once he has finished his letter, Thrandolil hands it to Tric along with Lady Sabine’s artifact. It is a small ornate leaf made from a flat marbled green stone. The metal work is golden in color and includes a pin for attaching it to cloth. The entire piece is no larger than a walnut and will be easy for Aderyn to transport with her harness. Tric leaves his uncle’s office with those items and a sense of foreboding that he cannot quite shake. That feeling turns out to be justified: Mate comes zooming into the village from the south. The magpie is supposed to be out with his crew, so something bad must have happened.
Mate does not have anything tied to him, so his mimicry is his only tool for relaying a message. He chooses words he has overheard before and echoes them to Tric, “The master, the master.”
Tric’s stomach sinks further. He knows where Mate has heard that: in the caves below South Tower when the skeletons attacked.