As the day goes on, Heppa and Tric continue to fall back towards the main village. They start to smell smoke, and as much as they would love that to just be cookfires, there is far too much of it. The sound of crackling flames draws them towards an area where an actual forest fire is in progress. Through the trees, they see skeletons carrying torches and actively setting plants ablaze. “Where did they get torches from!?” Tric seethes, though the most likely answer is from the elvish huts that have been abandoned during the retreat. He snaps a branch, burning at one end, from a bush and gives it to Mate. “Forest fire!” he tells the magpie and then launches the bird to go alert nearby elves of the problem. As Mate flies off, Tric begins taking shots at the skeleton with his bow. He knows he is unlikely to do them much damage, but at least he can distract them from their current labor.
Heppa’s first impulse is to use her ice shard again. She has done so much with it in the past couple days that it is now second nature. She figures that an icy coating on the plants will protect them from the encroaching flames. She thinks she can protect a large enough area. However, as she pours power through the runestone, Heppa feels something shatter. Suddenly, her sense of the rune is completely gone, as though all she is holding is a plain rock. She tries concentrating on it, wondering if she has broken it like she did Kachen’s ring, but she senses nothing. Then there is a flash of green light, but it is not from her. Heppa turns to see where it has come from and is shocked by what she finds.
Kachen stands in the underbrush, both hands wrapped around the necromancer’s staff from the Foul Fen. His arms are straight, holding it out vertically before him. The skull with all its tusks and horns is reattached and pulses with a green light. “Stop,” Kachen declares as he thumps the staff into the ground. His voice carries, firm and clear, and there is an air of command about him. The skeletons, some dodging away from Tric’s arrows, others placing their torches against bushes, all stop and turn to face Kachen.
Heppa stands, mouth agape. Green? That’s the wrong color. Wait, I have the rune stone that was in that. Oh, maybe that’s what the skull does. But what does the staff do? Kachen said it was aspected some way but never got around to telling me how. Wait, but Kachen? How? It should be days before the potion has boiled down enough. How did he get out of the coma? What was the dapper inkcap doing? Oh, that means my potion worked! Heppa’s mind races with questions, but all she can squeak out is, “What?!”
Hunh, he looks taller, Tric thinks. Kachen actually has presence when he wants to project it. It is definitely a surprise to see the human mage, but it is also a relief. Clearly Kachen knows some different magic that is very helpful here, something that can stop a creature in its tracks. Some sort of green light version of brambles. Then Tric is further reassured by who he sees through the trees not far behind Kachen. “Dad!” Tric shouts. They need all the water they can find in the shortest amount of time possible. “You’re the finest dowser in this forest—and the next! It’s time; let’s get that water!” Tric and Nasir work together to coax a new springhead, supplying a fresh water source for putting out the flames in the area.
With her connection to the ice shard broken—hopefully only temporarily—Heppa dips instead into her alchemical knowledge. I’ve been relying too much on magic lately, she chides herself. I’m not a sorceress or a shaman. There are other things to learn. She does not have her kit with her, as it is still spread across the table in Kachen’s hut, but she knows enough to improvise with what is on hand. The flame retardant she whips up works for preventing the further spread of fire. In the process of making it, though, she gives herself a chemical burn on the pad of her index finger. It is a minor injury but makes using that finger rather inconvenient.
These are the first undead that Kachen has come across since waking to Nasir’s explanations and meeting with Thrandolil. It is fortunate that only sympathetic elves like Tric and Heppa are nearby to witness his actions. All the while they have been working to confine the fire and dampen it down, he has kept the skeletons still. With the blaze now more under control, he attempts to put the skeletons down himself. He sweeps the staff back to gather energy and then points it at them. There is a ripple, like hot air above a fire, but it does not extend far enough to reach its target. It is frustrating but not shocking. From what Nasir told him, he has been unconscious for days. Kachen takes a quick a glance around. No elves he does not recognize are within sight, so he risks saying, “I can hold them steady for you to destroy them.”
Tric considers using the other necromancer staff, the one with the purple crystal. It has proven the most effective thing against skeletons, but it is liable to knock Kachen right back out also. Instead, Tric trusts in his own hands and wades into the skeletons, fists flying. It is a little unnerving to be smashing skeletons while they just stand there and take it. He still needs to be careful, since they are holding flaming branches, but he frowns a bit… This does not seem very sporting. Heppa joins him, hacking at the creatures with her sword. Tric turns back to Kachen and asks, “Is there anything you can do to just break their bones?”
It is oddly heartwarming that these elves have not responded in any negative fashion to Kachen’s admission that he can control the skeletons. There is no judgment in Tric’s voice, simply a request for aid. Kachen tries to rend the skeletons with arcane energy, but it is too difficult with Tric and Heppa right there among them. And regardless of how clear-headed Kachen feels right now, his body is still weak from lack of use.
More elves pour into the area, brought by Mate’s cries. The fire is eventually extinguished, and this group of skeletons dispatched. In the days that follow, the rest of the undead forces are destroyed. No more elves die, but the burnt tree trunks just south of the main settlement are a marked reminder of the loss. Someone is to blame for all this, and there are a lot of elves who think it is Kachen. Other elves note that the staff with a purple glow was effective at drawing the undead, so maybe those who brought in that artifact are to blame. And there are two elves who think Fenowin is. Estbryn Forest is secure, but only an inquest before the council and High Lord Volas can restore the peace.