Echoes of Invasion: Kachen Up | Scene 16

Heppa and Tric ride south through the night. Butterbell is faster than walking, but Heppa prioritizes safety over speed, since the pony is laden with two elves. In Heppa’s opinion, she and her cousin are not that crucial for defending the forest, so there is no particular need to rush. The first blush of dawn is lighting the sky as they arrive at the scout encampment. They have not traveled as far as Hisanham; this is closer to where they overnighted with a friendly family on their way there. It is also close to the area where the elvish retreat was attacked by a splinter group of Mal-Uldhar’s forces thirty years ago.

Other scouts have arrived more quickly than Heppa and Tric. As the newcomers enter the encampment, Baeowin strides up to them, asking, “How did you know, Tric Manu? Nopirmd and Meillion got here with their teams shortly after we saw the first signs of skeletons. Nopirmd said you sounded the alarm.”

“Eyes in the sky are faster than on the ground,” Tric replies. Mate sticks his head from the backpack and looks around nervously.

“I’m impressed by your assistant scout. I’ll admit I doubted when you said he could be your replacement.”

“I think you were right to doubt,” Tric acknowledges. “I’m glad it worked out at least. Is everyone on the team all right?”

Baeowin tells him that they have not actually engaged with the enemy yet. They have been monitoring the situation and trying to locate the elves that live in this area to get them out of the way. She fills Tric in on where their team first spotted the skeletons and walking corpses. They were well within the borders of the forest. Baeowin lays out her detailed map and points out where they are encamped relative to the old battleground. “The undead seem to be coming from where the retreat was attacked back in Mal-Ravanal’s time,” she says.

It seems to Heppa that a useful job would be cleaning up remains. “The big problem seems to be that undead, even when they die, just come back again,” she observes.

“Proper burial is a hard thing to do when you’re retreating,” Tric says in defense of their elders. “People forget exactly where their mates fell, and they are hard memories for a lot of folks.”

“They’d need some sort of bone dowser…” Heppa muses.

“Are the creatures moving towards the center of the forest?” Tric asks Baeowin. 

“Yes, yes they are.”

Tric nods. “That’s not surprising,” he mutters. “And they’re pining—”

“Sorry,” Baeowin cuts in. “Did you just say that’s not surprising?”


“You think they’re making for our main settlement?” Baeowin asks.

Heppa pats the length of wood still tied to Butterbell’s side. “Or this staff,” she says.

“Whoa,” Renwick interjects, coming up to join them. “Is this about your visitor? This is the trouble that follows him?”

“Well, it could be the trouble that follows him when someone knocks him out cold,” Tric replies, shooting a glare over at Fenowin, who has just arrived with the rest of the magic support. “I’ve traveled with him before and actually never encountered un—Well, all right, there was one time in the swamp, but that’s the swamp.

“Yes, they were there already,” Heppa backs Tric up. Turning to the person in charge, she offers, “If it would be all right with you, Baeowin, I could put together the staff and see if they change direction.” Heppa’s current hypothesis is that the skeletons were awakened when Endathalas accidentally triggered the staff. That was near the village, so it would explain the direction the undead are heading. Sure, it was two months ago, but maybe skeletons are just very slow to rally. She shares this idea and then adds, “Or maybe they were confused because we took the staff apart.” 

“How many people did we lose thirty-odd years ago at the retreat?” Tric asks. “How many undead could we be dealing with here?”

“About a dozen elves died, all told. Plus some humans died; we don’t know how many were killed when the undead attacked their village after we left,” Baeowin tells him. That leads Tric to wonder whether Roombledoombledeur is all right, as undead could be moving around Hisanham, too. Baeowin offers to dispatch a messenger in a route around the approaching force since Mate is unlikely to be able to clearly communicate with a wose. Getting back to Tric’s question, she continues, “The other factor, though, is the defeated enemy. We fought with and smashed up a variety of undead. If you’re saying that undead themselves rise again, then it’s not just our dead who fell in the battle that we may be facing, but also the undead dead that fell in the battle.”

Tric states with confidence, “My experience with undead is that once you put them down twice, they’re done.”

“My understanding from Serces is that a lot of undead were destroyed—or died?—when Mal-Ravanal was struck,” Heppa adds. “But I don’t know if that means they were destroyed forever or if they just collapsed because their master was no longer there. I don’t know what it takes for them to come back, if they can or not.”

“I have no idea,” Baeowin freely admits.

“I don’t either, but I’m seeing the benefit of retreating so that you’re not a dead body that can continue to fight.” That early lesson on running away in scouting school was a valuable one, more so than Heppa realized at the time.

“That is the problem with undead,” Tric agrees.

“We’re looking at potentially ten to thirty assailants,” Baeowin sums up, “depending on what woke them and what’s making them move. Our scouts have seen at least six distinct creatures, some of which were purely skeletal and some that still had remnants of flesh clinging to them. No engagement so far.” She thinks their lure plan is worth a try. If the staff does get the attention of the undead, maybe the elves can draw them away from the central village and into an ambush. They pore over the map together and select a gully more towards the eastern edge of the forest. Tric volunteers to wield the staff; he unfortunately has a lot of experience with it, and he is the most human of anyone here, in case that matters for what it can do. And if he pulls this off, it will be an amazing story.

Heppa maintains that the most likely case is that the undead are attracted to the staff. She and Tric have seen its power work on skeletons, so maybe the solution will be as simple as Tric setting it off when the creatures are close enough. They debate for a bit whether she should be right there with him, since she knows how to use runic magic. Tric was right next to Ulf when the human triggered the staff, and Tric definitely felt the attack. Would it have been different if he had also had a hand on the artifact? They do not know. Ultimately they decide it is too much of a risk to have Heppa with Tric in the gully. In order to avoid hurting any elves with the staff’s power, he should be completely alone down there. Mate will be safely in the trees or sky. Tric does not insist that Fenowin play any particular role in the combat, just that she lend her support. Regardless of what Heppa thinks about the staff drawing the undead, Tric still considers the druid partly to blame for this whole situation.  

Baeowin gathers everyone together for a discussion on tactics. The trees along the top edges of the gully will be filled with scouts. Arrows will not be very effective against skeletons, since there is not much to stick to, but they should work well on the walking corpses. Those with ponies should look for opportunities to do ride-by attacks. Butterbell, not being combat-trained, will stay a safe distance away. 

For magic support, they have the sorceresses Quaemilya and Blodyn, the druid Fenowin, and a handful of less experienced shamans. Healing the wounded remains a top priority for the shamans, but Baeowin reminds them that their staffs are likely to be more effective against skeletons than the scout’s bows are. Their entangling brambles can also make the terrain difficult for the enemy to move through. If the shamans see an opportunity for such attacks, they should take it. Baeowin trusts that the sorceresses can judge for themselves when best to unleash their faerie fire. Heppa is not particularly brave, but she still feels uncomfortable with Tric being exposed alone. She volunteers to be his personal magical support and chooses a spot partway up one of the sloping sides. It is out of the blast range, but she should be able to reach him quickly if necessary.

Everyone else gets into position. Heppa assembles the staff fully and hands it to Tric down in the gully. “So, you know how to use it?” she double-checks.

“Yes,” Tric replies, but it does not sound convincing. Heppa tilts her head a little, trying to think how to explain this. Anyone can activate the basic ability of a rune, but she does not know what more this artifact could do for him or what she would be able to get the rune to do herself. Before she can articulate any of this, Tric adds, “Look, I used the ice thing once, right? It should be the same.”

“Yes,” Heppa encourages him, “it’s just like the ice shard. Just focus your intent.”

“Great!” Tric says with false enthusiasm. “We can do this.”

Heppa turns to leave but pauses. “Do you want the ring? You could activate it as well.”

“No, that’s too complicated. You keep it.”

“It will make you faster,” Heppa points out. “A lot faster.”

“Won’t you need to be fast, too? I’ll be fine.” 

Heppa acquiesces, slipping the ruby onto a finger. She offers Tric one last bit of encouragement. “I really think it’s just the staff. All the power is in it. You can just point it and make it do its thing.” Then she scrambles up to her hiding place. 

Tric squares his shoulders and centers himself in the gully. He is no Mal-Manu, but he has to get as many undead as he can as close as he can for this to be fully effective. He has accepted responsibility for this, but he still feels a little nervous. Tric begins to put on a show for his own benefit, shouting about the accursed undead and dramatically punctuating each word with a thump of the artifact, using the smooth wooden staff as a drumstick against the ground. “Come all you walking corpses, you skeletons, you bones! Come, and I’ll give you your final rest! Your master cannot help you!” On the final shout, Tric pounds the staff into the ground and wills the rune to trigger. With a fwoomph, a sphere of purple light expands out from his location, visible to all but hurting no one, as all the elves are far enough away. A corner of Tric’s mind also notes that no sticks or logs were upset by it, just like Kachen predicted.

Mate is up above, eyes in the sky again, and he yodels down to Tric. There is movement coming this way.

The Battle for Estbryn has begun.