In the dim light of evening, Tric watches his distressed magpie mime out information. “I got the message!” Tric reassures him. “You did a great job.” Mate snatches up a stick with his beak and mock-jabs it at him. “I’ve got it, pal!” Tric reiterates. He pulls out some pemmican for a treat and speaks soothingly to the magpie as the bird eats it, then enjoys a piece of it himself.
Once Mate is calm enough, they head to the scouting area to raise the alarm. “South, that will be skeletons,” Tric mutters to himself along the way, recalling Roombledoombledeur’s tales of the war. “Possibly other types of undead, but definitely skeletons.” It took Tric and Heppa several days to get to the southern edge of Estbryn Forest where Hisanham’s ruins are, but they were really taking their time. He is confident a scouting crew led by Baeowin could get there much faster. While most elves live around the center here, there are homes scattered throughout the forest. The family that sheltered him and Heppa—and gave her the parchment to start her mapping hobby—could be in danger along with the rest of Tric’s scout team.
Tric tracks down Nopirmd, the elvish rider in charge of a crew currently on break from border patrol. He is finishing dinner with a couple of his scouts. “I just got an urgent message from the south, Baeowin’s group, that they are under attack by undead,” Tric announces. “How long will it take to get some more people down there?”
Nopirmd raises an eyebrow. Tric is definitely not the one who usually issues orders around here, but he did play a significant role in that whole scare with the necromantic staff a couple months back. He likely knows what he is talking about here.
“Are you responsible for this one, too?” the fighter Emirond asks.
“You can think whatever you want right now,” Tric snaps at him.
“I’m just saying… You’re the one who lost that staff. Now you’re the one saying that, oh, there’s skeletons. And you’re the one who brought a human into the village!”
“I agree: I’m a very active person,” Tric tells Emirond. “What did you do in the last week?”
“Oh, I patrolled the western border, the northern border…”
“Did you see the falcon that went by?”
“Birds are allowed to fly above our forest, Tric Manu,” Emirond shoots back.
“Birds wearing leathers?” Tric counters.
“Enough!” Nopirmd cuts into the quickfire exchange. “We’re mounting up,” he tells his crew. Turning to Tric he adds, “We’ll head south right away, but this is a larger issue. We might need shaman support.”
“Is this a call-the-council kind of thing?” Tric asks. Raising the scout alarm is one thing, but dragging the council in is another level. Nopirmd nods. “I’m on it,” Tric agrees, already departing for his next stop. Maybe this is all happening because Kachen’s condition has changed, for better or worse.
When Tric enters Kachen’s hut, it is lit by Heppa’s little alchemical brazier. She is watching a bubbling liquid and muttering to herself about maintaining a steady temperature as she adjusts the air vent to lower the flame. “This is going to take forever to boil down!” she grumbles.
“Is Kachen awake?” Tric demands.
“No,” Heppa says glumly.
“Is there any change in his demeanor?” Tric presses.
Heppa throws a glance over at their still guest. He remains unconscious and in the exact same position she last left him. “No. And this is going to take a while still. At this rate, it won’t be ready for three days.”
“All right, we have a problem. The southern scout guard has most likely been attacked by undead or are fighting them.”
“And they’ve gotten to the village?” Heppa asks, a little surprised that she has not heard any hubbub. She has been very focused on her work, though.
“No, Mate came back and let me know.” When Heppa asks for details on the scale of the invasion, Tric admits he does not have exact figures. “Enough to cause trouble,” he insists. Mate pokes his head out of Tric’s bag and begins a series of short, sharp chirps. There are a lot of them.
“Are you summoned as a scout?” Heppa asks, now more alarmed.
“I sounded the alarm because I got the information,” Tric clarifies. “But I thought maybe this is because something happened to Kachen. Bad news does follow this fellow.”
“He’s not a necromancer,” Heppa insists.
“I didn’t say that!” Tric replies defensively.
“No, nothing has changed here. Do you think it has to do with the staff? You know, the artifact that we brought back.”
“That’s a possibility,” Tric allows, “but we had it for two months and nothing seemed to happen.”
“But how fast do they go?” Heppa wonders.
“Skeletons? Well, they shamble—” Tric cuts himself off from their old travel game of what-if. “Look, I don’t really have time—”
“And how many times have we set it off since it’s been here?” Heppa continues.
“Only you can tell me that,” Tric replies. Heppa is the one who he last saw use the purple crystal.
“Well, there was once in the forest,” she points out. That was the last time the staff was fully assembled, back when Endathalas accidentally triggered it.
“Regardless of any of that, there are undead attacking. We need to alert the council. I think we should ask your mom to do that, because it might be bad if we start with Uncle Thran.”
“Mother is on the council and she’s a sorceress, so she’s perfect for this,” Heppa says. “I think she would be very glad to hear the news first.” There is a certain prestige that comes with being the first to know new information, and Heppa is aware of how ambitious her mother is. “Maybe mention that you came straight to her.”
As they are about to leave together, Tric looks over at Kachen. “And he’s fine to just… sit here?”
“I don’t think he’s going to go anywhere,” Heppa says. Endathalas is out on patrol now, but his replacement guard is still at the door to Kachen’s hut. If something happens, yet another alarm will be raised. “We should talk to Mother. She’ll know what to do.”
“Well, I’m going to head south too after we tell her,” Tric says. “I feel a little responsible for this mess…” he mutters. “And I’m going to drag Fenowin with me.”
The meeting with Penna does not go as smoothly as it could have. She is not happy to hear this news—no one would be—but Tric is subjected to the same sort of aggrieved disappointment usually reserved for Heppa.
“I’m happy to accept all the blame you can sling,” he tells his aunt, “but right now we need to deal with this.” Penna does take him seriously, agreeing to call the council together to decide on whether to send a group of shamans. “I’m going to head south right away,” Tric says. “I’ve already alerted the scouts. They’re sending reinforcements.”
“Do you have information on the type of undead?” Penna asks.
“I suspect skeletons, but I do not have explicit information. Based on the reports I received and my past dealings with skeletons, that’s what it sounded like. Undead creatures that are armed with weapons, not shambling corpses, not ghosts.”
Penna purses her lips together and nods. “You’ll need magical support.”
“Hence Fenowin coming with me,” Tric tells her.
Heppa listens to the whole exchange, wondering what she should do. She has no actual duty in this situation, not having an official career. Heppa is not brave, but there are some unique things she could contribute to this effort. “I’ll come with you,” she announces after her mother strides off. “I’ll bring all the runes we have. I wonder if we should bring the staff.”
“It was effective,” Tric reluctantly allows. “But that seems like a—I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad idea, not entirely sure that’s a good idea.”
“We may be able to control them.” By we she really means just Tric, since he is half-human.
“I don’t like that idea,” Tric says with more certainty. Still, it may be useful to have the artifact on hand. They agree to meet up at the stables with their gear. They will get there faster if they take Butterbell. Tric can just ride behind Heppa, since Quaemilya will need Petunia if she gets dispatched by the council.
Heppa gets all the pieces of the new staff from her father, but instead of going straight to her pony, she actually diverts to Tric’s house. It is possible she and Tric will just be gone for a day, but it may be longer, and she needs someone responsible to watch over Kachen. She could write out instructions for the hut guard, but that person’s focus is better directed elsewhere than a bubbling flask. Instead, she asks the most reliable and detail-oriented person she knows, her Uncle Nasir.
Nasir has not met Kachen before, but he has heard from Tric that he is a mage here to help Thrandolil with a research project. Tric has also suggested that bad luck seems to chase the young human. Indeed, Tric grumbled over several suppers about Fenowin and how she knocked Kachen out. He granted that she was coming from the right place, but clearly he was frustrated. Nasir’s advice then was the same that it always is for adversity: “Well, you’d better deal with that, my boy.” And now there are undead approaching, and the young folk are going to deal with it. Nasir had his time on a front thirty years ago, providing logistical support down near Hisanham, but he is no fighter. Taking care of a helpless person is a far better way for him to help deal with this current situation, so he agrees to Heppa’s request.
Nasir accompanies Hepalonia to Kachen’s hut where she explains what she has been doing to take care of him. She also shows him her alchemy set-up. “Once the liquid gets down to this level,” she points out, “then it is concentrated enough to administer.” If anyone can judge liquid levels, it is a water dowser. “I think that will take three days, but I can’t be sure and I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. Also, it’s possible he will just wake up. This is the first time anybody has encountered this so…” Heppa shrugs. “I’ve been feeding him, but he hasn’t had access to some medicine that I don’t know what he’s taking it for. I don’t think Kachen is dangerous, but he may be kind of unstable if he wakes up. He might need access to his medicine, but it is dangerous for elves. It can cut off access to our magic. Probably temporarily. I think you’d have to ingest it or breathe it in for that to happen. But still, maybe don’t touch it directly… I’ve left it in a small pouch in his satchel there by his cot in case he wakes up and needs it right away. I just don’t know what state he’s going to be in when he wakes up and how much he’s going to need it or… or not.”
Nasir puts a comforting hand on his anxious niece’s shoulder. Clearly Heppa has been worrying about this a lot and working hard for the past few days. “I’ll handle this. Be careful, and keep an eye on my boy.”
“Thank you,” Heppa says, grateful and encouraged. She has better insight now into why Anador sent Nasir to pick up baby Tric. One could not ask for a more responsible elf.