The enemy has been slowed sufficiently that the elvish forces are able to set up a proper watch overnight and actually get some rest. A significant burden has been lifted from their shoulders now that the civilians have headed north towards the main settlement. In the morning, Tric and Heppa continue lending their support to the Estbryn defense, monitoring the enemy and taking potshots at them when the opportunity arises. The scout buffer is performing a slow retreat to give the civilians time to get behind safe thickets but also in the hopes that they can eliminate all the undead before they reach the center of population.
Unfortunately, the undead are not the only danger in the forest. As Heppa is leading her pony through the trees, she and Tric come across a pack of wolves upset by the unnatural disturbances in the woods. Having been riled out of their dens by the terrifying undead, the animals are now anxious and unpredictable. If wolves are going to attack someone, Heppa would really rather they attack the undead, but Tric does not feel that is the wolves’ job. He pulls some chunks of meat from their reserves, intending to lob it over at the wolves. Mate disapproves, flapping about Tric’s face and criticizing the plan as stupid. “Calm down!” Tric tells the magpie. “There are still snacks for you.”
When the food lands in their midsts, most of the wolves turn their direction to it, all but one. Heppa uses the rune on her ice shard to send a cold breeze at them, hoping to encourage them to run off. The wolves do not mind. They probably even find it refreshing. As she watches them warily, though, she realizes that the one wolf not partaking of the food also completely ignored the breeze. Instead, it lurches toward her. Rather than have the natural grace of a forest animal, it demonstrates the lumbering gait of a walking corpse. This wolf is undead! Heppa realizes. She finds this novel creature more interesting than scary, but she launches a frozen blast from her ice shard nonetheless. They cannot leave undead wandering their forest, regardless of what the creature was in life.
Tric steps up to the frozen corpse and regards it, thinking about his discussion with Kachen about souls. The body is still, but it has not crumpled into dust the way the walking corpses in the Foul Fen did. “We’ve got to kill it twice,” Tric says.
“Yes,” Heppa agrees. “We need to obliterate it.”
Tric looks for a way to smash it completely. He levers up a log from the forest floor and topples it over onto the frozen corpse, but the partially rotten wood falls away without shattering it. “That’s not going to cut it,” he mutters, disappointed. On the bright side, though, he did not smash his own face in this time. “Can you medically dissect it?” he asks his cousin. “Just separate all the bones so we can scatter them?”
“Yes, that would probably be best. Daddy told me not to bring undead into the village, not even for study.”
“All right, well, we’ll just dismantle it enough so that it cannot come back together. Separate them so that they are too far for the gravitational… necromantic… magic to keep those bones going,” Tric says, searching for convincing language. “You know how to do this, Heppa. I know you sometimes don’t like to say that you’re specifically a shaman or a doctor, but you’re really good at this. Normally, you put things back together.” Tric still has some small bones on hand from their recent pheasant meal, and he pulls them out, snapping them as he offers his encouraging words. “Just… work in reverse.” As he concludes, Tric holds out the furcula to his cousin. “Make a wish.”
Heppa grabs the other side of the wishbone and laughs, snapping off her half. Tric is so good at taking the pressure off. “We can just break the bones strategically,” she starts thinking out loud. “It wouldn’t have to be all of them. Just enough so that…” She sets to work with her sword and Tric’s knife. It is a little creepy to dissect an undead creature, but it is also fascinating in its own way.
As Heppa works, she talks with her cousin about a few ideas on how to render someone unraisable. She has certainly heard before that when people die in a state of trauma, they are left open to raising—as ghosts, for example. But some of what Heppa observes during her current dissection reminds her of disease. As far as the walking corpses go, there appears to be a plague-like component, something transmittable. A person—or animal—killed by such an undead creature transitions into one. Thus, if you are killed in battle, you could become one of the opposing side. “Interesting…” Heppa muses. “You can’t heal someone who is dead, theoretically, but you might still be able to cure this disease. Maybe magically remove the condition before they rise up…” Another solution, as horrible as it sounds, is to take the fallen in battle and hack them into pieces, scattering their remains. “Or maybe I could make some sort of potion to fortify someone against being raised, at least as one of these corpses… I’ll talk to Daddy about it!”