At the southern end of the gully in which Tric stands, undead emerge from the trees. Leading the way is a hefty skeleton clad in bits of armor with a helm atop his skull, even. He wields a nasty-looking axe in one hand, and the other arm bears a small shield. He has an air of command about him and an unsettling aura. Behind him are a mix of walking corpses with flesh clinging to them and pure-bone skeletons, the latter bearing rusty swords or timeworn bows.
“That’s new,” Tric murmurs as he watches the imposing leader approach. He hears a startled exclamation from his cousin upslope. It is not the screams that accompanied some of their other combat experiences, but it gives away her position, nonetheless.
Tric still holds the necromancer’s rod before him, thumping its ironshod bottom into the ground. He has experienced it himself up close and has seen Heppa activate the crystal in her backyard, so he has a pretty good idea of the purple light’s range. He waits until the front of the undead forces is close enough, taunting them as they approach. “You’ve fallen once before; you’ll fall again. Everyone knows undead die twice.” The artifact is unnerving, but its sleek willow rod is smooth in his hand. He thumps it one more time, willing the violet light to issue forth. This time, he knows what to expect and is at the epicenter, so he has a clear view of what happens. It is a good thing Mate is not directly overhead because the wave of purple energy extends in all directions, including upward.
The ripple hits the revenant and the undead beside it at the front of the enemy host. As they shudder from the energy, Tric feels something directed toward himself from the staff. He realizes this feeling must be what disturbed Ulf so much. It is not pain; it is not the cold wave Tric felt when the staff’s power afflicted him. But the artifact is funneling something to Tric. Fortunately it washes over him with no lasting effect.
Heppa keeps her wits about her as the enemy approaches, but she cannot help muttering in wonder, “Could that be the revenant Jeddeth was describing? Where did he get that armor from? I thought these were elvish undead. Does he have special magic?” She has special magic, thanks to all the artifacts they have found. Heppa wears Lady Sabine’s ruby ring on a finger this time, not a toe, and she holds the ice shard from the Foul Fen in her other hand. This will be an educational experience, for sure, as she puts them both through their paces. Heppa activates the ruby, confident that this time, at least, she will not fall out of a tree while using it. The world seems to slow around her at the same time that her heart flutters more quickly in her chest.
She shifts her focus to the blue crystal, drawing power through its rune and launching a flurry of snowballs at the group of skeletal archers towards the front of the enemy force. They did not seem as badly shaken by Tric’s purple light as the others around them, and Heppa is worried they will shoot her cousin. Two of them are struck in pieces by her attack, and the one that remains starts up the slope towards her, launching arrows in her direction. The footing is poor, though, and none of the missiles hit their mark.
The revenant and some walking corpses, reeling though they are from the staff’s blast, continue on towards Tric. Behind them, the rest of the undead forces respond to the elvish ambush. Ponies charge down the steep ravine sides so their riders can smack at the undead and then be borne back into the safety of the trees. A flare of turquoise light jets down from where Tric knows his cousin Quaemilya is stationed, and faerie fire rips through a group of skeletons. The very plants themselves shift and grab, blocking off enemy movements. Heppa charges down the slope herself, unnaturally fast. As she passes closer to him, the ice shard in her hand flashes blue. The undead approaching Tric flinch a little, anticipating a blast directed at them, but they are not the target. A protective icy sheen covers Tric like early morning frost on grass in deep winter. He does not have time to thank his cousin though, as she keeps running up the other slope.
Tric takes advantage of the distraction Heppa’s spell has caused. He plants the staff firmly and leaps up, kicking out at the revenant with both feet. In Tric’s imagining, this move will knock the creature’s skull right off and he will scoop it up and bash the walking corpses with it. That is how he will tell the story later. Reality, though, does not match up with this. It is a solid hit, smack into the revenant’s breast plate, but the undead warrior shrugs it off completely. As they shuffle closer, the walking corpses flail at Tric with their uncoordinated arms. He dodges and weaves, ducking their blows and using the staff to keep them at bay until the revenant’s axe knocks it from his hands. Purple light pulses in his otherwise empty eye sockets, and he growls at Tric, “You are no master.”
Heppa runs up the opposite slope, adrenaline coursing through her. She would have liked to make the frost a bit thicker on Tric, but it is still exhilarating just to have put a barrier up on another person for the first time. That one rickety archer skeleton is still stumbling after her, firing arrows. Most hit the hillside rather than their target, but one lucky shot finds its mark in her arm.
With undead closing around him, Tric cannot get to a safe distance for shooting arrows, not that that would do much good against the revenant. And that armor, he just cannot get through it. Tric resolves to talk to his dad about making some sort of oak knuckles to add a bit more weight to his punches. It would be like dowsing for bad guys’ faces. Surely Nasir would appreciate Tric taking more of an interest in wood carving. Right now though, Tric is doing all that he can to avoid blows and not trip over the dropped staff. “Endathalas!” he calls, shouting for aid from his fellow scout.
Milquetoast is charging down the side of the gully at another group of undead when his rider hears Tric’s cry. Seeing that Tric is disarmed, Endathalas redirects the pony. Milquetoast closes the distance and rears up, striking out at the revenant with his hooves; Endathalas has taken to heart Baeowin’s advice that crushing attacks are far more effective for snapping bones than arrows or swords are. The revenant is tough though. He staggers a little from the blow but retains his footing and his hold on his axe. Not willing to be outdone by another animal companion, Mate swoops down. He bats his wings at the frightening monstrosity, but the creature is unfazed.
Endathalas leans down and grabs Tric’s arm. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
“The staff!” Tric says, but Endathalas yanks him up onto Milquetoast. As soon as Tric’s feet clear the ground, Milquetoast takes off at a gallop, Mate close behind. “I keep losing that staff,” Tric mutters, looking over his shoulder at it lying among the underbrush. Then he sees his cousin zip back down the hillside, still hastened by Lady Sabine’s ring. The revenant and his minions are lurching after Milquetoast, and Heppa runs behind them, snatching up the staff from the ground. She speeds up the other side of the gully, launching another volley of rune-powered snowballs at the remaining skeletal archer before it can land another arrow in her. The undead creature collapses in a pile of bones and rapidly-vanishing ice. Heppa reaches the top of the gully and practically collapses herself, completely sapped of energy as the power of Lady Sabine’s ring cuts out. She is winded and the elves are falling back towards the central village, but Heppa cannot help smiling to herself. She really does like this ring.