The battle in the gully is not a rout, but the elves withdraw, their gains unable to make up for the losses weighing heavily on them. Morale is low, and Tric can tell that even Baeowin is feeling it. In his past two months of field work with her, he has found her to be professional and task-focused. She shows small bits of levity here and there, but overall she is very even-keeled. Now, though, the deaths of elves under her charge is clearly upsetting her. They lost the fighter Rhudin and the shaman Maeyna, two of the younger elves. Baeowin was leading the southern scouting patrol; regardless of what caused the undead to move in, she feels responsible for the damage they have caused.
Tric tries to lift Baeowin’s spirits, assuring her that they will all remember Rhudin and Maeyna. “They were doing their duty, as all of us must do, and it was not for nothing. We’re scouts; we were scouting the enemy out. We’ve learned a great deal more about the scope of what we’re facing.”
The undead force turned out to have around thirty creatures led by two revenants, but after the skirmish in the gully, they are down to just about twenty. The enemy have split into two prongs headed north, and the elves need to similarly disperse to get the civilians living in this region of the forest to safety in the main settlement. There they can take shelter within the brambles forming a palisade around High Lord Volas’s residence.
“We’re not an army, right?” Tric points out. “We don’t meet on the field of battle and go toe-to-toe. But we can harry them through the forest. This is our home. This is our turf, right?” Baeowin nods, and he can see he is getting through to her. “We will keep the scouting up, and every time we pull back, more of them will fall. Eventually, we will pull through.”
Tric gestures over at Hepalonia. She is currently bandaging injured elves, and the artifact from under South Tower lies on the ground next to her. “We still have the staff,” Tric tells Baeowin. “It seemed to attract the undead in some way, so we’re making progress. I don’t think we should deploy it, however effective it was, but we’re learning things about them.”
Baeowin calls everyone nearby to attention. Heppa pauses in her medical work to listen in. “The forest is our home. Protecting it and the elves in it is our responsibility. We are going to remember those who have fallen here, Maeyna and Rhudin. We will honor their sacrifice by doing our job well.” She sums up what they know about the strength of the foe and its movements. Then she issues orders on how the elves will split up to locate civilians.
Before the scouting crews disperse, Heppa pulls out her map to compare with Baeowin’s. Heppa spent some of the past couple months practicing riding Butterbell through this very part of the forest. She took advantage of that opportunity to further annotate her map of the local area. Now she puts that to good use, providing detailed information on precisely where all the elvish dwellings are. The scouting crews head out, each with a clear idea of where they are going and who they are seeking.
Fenowin has been hanging back, coaxing the forest itself to support their efforts by twisting into full-blown thickets. The rougher terrain will slow the enemy’s approach. Tric likes the idea and decides to help out by rigging up some traps himself. Mate provides some overhead reconnaissance to help pick a good spot, and then Tric gets to work with vines and branches. It is an effective setup, judging by the amount of damage it does to Tric’s face when he accidentally sets it off himself. “Everything is fine!” he announces, holding a flap of skin back in place. “Nothing to worry about!”
“It’s going to be hard for you to calmly convince people, looking like that,” his cousin Quaemilya tells him as she comes by. She has been further south harrying the enemy with faerie fire, but she is now on her way to aid in the evacuation. “Let me take care of that for you.”
“Oh!” Tric usually just thinks of his older cousin as a sorceress, but that does mean she spent time as a shaman and learned basic healing magic. “Yes, that’s probably a good idea.”
There is a definite air of practicality in Quaemilya’s treatment of her cousin, more so than compassion. She knows he has a way with words and might be able to convince holdouts to head to safety. As she coaxes her healing magic through Tric’s cheek, she does reveal some of her frustration at how the undead are encroaching upon a forest that is rightfully the elves’. “We need to get you presentable so that people will listen to you. These elves who live out here in the more distant huts, they have a right to their livelihoods, a right to an undisturbed peaceful life in our forest. The undead should not take that away from them.”
His face back together, Tric grins. “Thanks, Quaemilya. I’ll mention this to the revenant when I see him, that he’s infringing on our rights.”
Quaemilya does not play into Tric’s jocularity as much as her younger sister does, but she does not dismiss it completely. “Right. But first, the elves. You can seek out the skeletons after we get the elves out of here.”
Heppa visits a few huts, sharing her firsthand experience with undead. This communicates both the level of the threat and its immediacy. In the last three months, she has had multiple encounters with them, and also in the last three hours! The details she provides convince the elves she speaks with to head into the main settlement.
Tric, on the other hand, spins stories. He goes to the home of one crotchety old elf who has already told Baeowin he sees no reason in moving now when he did not move thirty years ago. To this fellow, Tric projects empathy. “Look, I know it’s stupid,” he says. “There are no actual skeletons. We’re running a drill. We need to know how fast we can get everyone to go. The sooner you can do that, the sooner we can all move on and you can come back here. Everything will be totally fine. Look, I’m not even injured at all! C’mon, the council is asking for this. They’ve assembled and everything. You can complain about it to High Lord Volas when you get there.” Grudgingly, the civilian agrees to participate.