Kachen notes Tric speaking of ghosts to Renwick. Once they are out of the guard’s earshot, he brings up the topic, trying to determine what exactly happened at the keep without revealing anything himself. “Heppa’s letter mentioned that you encountered a ghost. Was it a problem for you?” he asks Tric.
“Not a problem at all! Dispatched it!” Tric says, full of bluster. “I was a little surprised I had to dispatch it twice.” As they get closer to the treeline, Mate lands on his shoulder to ride in.
“So it attacked you?”
“Yes, it attacked.” Tric does not draw the distinction about it attacking Glammur. He takes the opportunity to tell the story, not realizing how well that serves Kachen’s purposes. “When we went to Untdunben, we made friends with a bard there. Have you heard of Glammur?” On cue, Mate mimics the skirl of the dwarf’s bagpipes. “When we all stayed at the keep afterwards, that’s when we encountered the ghost…” Tric’s retelling focuses on the awesomeness of the two shots that took out the ghost, and he comments on how the skull-like face seems to be the creature’s single solid point. When he finishes the story, he reflects, “You know, like the skeletons, it seemed almost wistful. Although the ghost had completed whatever its mission was.”
“Oh, that was much later.”
“Were there skeletons at the keep?” Kachen asks.
“Oh, no, no, no,” Tric says, confidently dismissing that notion. “Well, none that we know of,” he adds under his breath. “No, this was in some cave underneath South Tower. I can tell you about it later. Oh! But that’s where we found another curious artifact. Sort of like that staff,” Tric adds, nodding at the carved wooden rod Kachen leans on as he walks. It does not look terribly sinister right now. Tric and Heppa took the skull with them as well as the crystal in the previous split, and Kachen has not replaced it with a new one, thank the soil. “This new staff, it seemed to drain energy. I don’t know exactly how, but I carried it back, and I felt it.”
“Did you cast with it?” Kachen asks.
“No,” Tric replies, as though that should be obvious. “It was just a heavy burden. Personally, I think it should probably be destroyed, but Uncle Thran is the most capable person to make that assessment.”
“And he has it for study now?” Tric confirms this. “Well, perhaps he would like to discuss that as well as this one,” Kachen comments. There is no excitement in the human’s voice, but he does seem a little interested.
“I imagine he will be keen to do so. But tell me of your travels!” Tric says. Although this is the longest day of the year, the light is beginning to grow dim, and more cheerful topics would be welcome.
“I left the swamp, as was agreed,” Kachen says without revealing any new information. “I apologize for the haste of my departure.”
Tric assures him that he and Heppa understood. There are no hard feelings, otherwise they would not have sent him a letter. He does admit that Heppa would have loved for Kachen to come back to the forest for experiments, but they did find other things to occupy their attention.
“Like skeletons?” Kachen asks, attempting to divert them back to their earlier topic.
“I don’t want to say that was the least interesting thing, but—”
“But you implied they had some sort of message.”
“As we put them down, they wanted to know where ‘the master’ was. And it was like they were sad.” Tric shakes his head in wonder at it. “I never ascribed agency or emotion to undead beings,” he comments. Well, except for Madame Bones.
“But they were all people once,” Kachen points out.
“Once, yes. But bodies don’t normally…” Tric searches for the right words and settles on analogy. “Look, a dead log does not grow.”
Kachen raises an eyebrow. “It is not an undead log.”
“Ugh!” Tric is repulsed by the very concept. “Is that…!? Can that be done? Why?!” How would one even know with a plant? “Are you more knowledgable of these… matters?” Even though they are alone in the forest, Tric is careful to avoid the word necromancy, given the tongue-lashing he got from Heledd about it.
Kachen sidesteps the issue of his knowledge base. “Well, let’s think about this and consider what we know. What undead have you personally encountered, Tric Manu? You encountered those corpses that walked, you said you encountered a ghost with a skull, and you said that you encountered skeletons. Those are all beings that previously were alive. Yes, plants are alive, but those were beings with souls. Do elves believe trees have souls?”
Tric’s answer might have been different back in the keep, but he has since had some illuminating experiences. “Well, the nature of a forest is complicated, but there are certainly woses, beings that are considerably more—well, a little more—animated than trees.”
“Do woses have agency, to use your term? Trees, it seems to me, do not.”
“Trees, as a collective, might. I don’t think a single tree does. A wose definitely does,” Tric insists.
“So a wose is some sort of tree person?”
“If that is the easiest way for you to think about it, then yes. But that is not how I construct it. A wose looks to the human eye to be a tree, perhaps a large one.”
“What does it look like to the elf eye?” Kachen asks, noting Tric’s word choice.
“Usually also a tree,” Tric admits. “But the careful, discerning eye can determine that it is a creature that can move with more speed than a tree, certainly.”
The movement issue seems to be crucial to Tric, but it does not matter so much to Kachen. “Can it think?” he asks, this being the crux of his didactic argument.
“Absolutely yes,” Tric answers with no hesitation. “Probably spends most of its time doing that, as it moves ever so slowly. Makes very careful plans for millennia.”
“Then I believe it could be raised,” Kachen concludes.
Tric shudders. “Let’s hope that such a thing does not come to pass.”
“But as for your log,” Kachen says, circling back to the original question, “I do not think you need to worry about that.”
“Uncle Thran and Heppa are probably studying that new staff right now. I’ll take you straight to them. They’ve been looking at a lot of things. Oh! We have your ring.” Kachen acknowledges that he instructed Heledd to give it to Hepalonia. “Yes, so we’ll get that to you. This should be a good visit. You get to enjoy summer in the forest. It’s a time of strong but more mature growth after the chaos of spring, with the melt and all the new buds. You get to see all the flowers come…” Tric just sees emptiness on Kachen’s face. Is he just focused on his task, or can he not actually feel anything? Tric wonders. He has been pointing out various plants, and Kachen’s eyes have not focused on them at all.
Tric continues his description of their surroundings, layering his fledgling power upon his words, seeking to induce a sense of wonder at nature. He does not know if it will be just an illusion, like the chest of rock coins, or if he will be able to temporarily rekindle whatever Kachen has lost. To draw attention more strongly, Tric punctuates his descriptions by plucking flowers and bringing them in for a closer look and a deeper sniff. Hope none of these have the pollen that detects dapper inkcap. Wouldn’t want that to explode all over him, Tric idly thinks. Probably should not have him go talk to Fenowin.
The haze over Kachen lifts while Tric talks, and his eyes start to track where the elf is pointing during all his poetic descriptions of the natural world. He seems to actually be listening, rather than just letting Tric ramble. At a break in Tric’s speech, Kachen asks how Heledd is doing. “I think she’s doing pretty well. She was injured.” Kachen echoes these last three words. Tric is not positive, but there might be a note of concern in his voice. “She was injured getting… not just your ring. She did pick up another ring. But she’s back to full health, and the fellows who messed her up have been dealt with appropriately. So she’s doing very well. She’s up a significant cache of wealth, thanks to you, I guess, and her own efforts. I would not be surprised if she’s going to do some more activity along those lines. But, that’s her business. Yes, I’d say she’s doing well, at least the last time we saw her, and she was glad to hear that you were doing all right. She’s looking out for you.” Kachen nods in acknowledgement of Tric’s words, but he does not say anything further on this topic.
Glammur said there was power in their words, and Tric is inclined to agree. Somehow, he has partially peeled back the veil over Kachen. It’s probably from that dapper inkcap, Tric thinks. That would make a lot of sense. Tric resolves to keep a corner of his mind focused on maintaining this effect as long as he can. It is like juggling in his head; he just has to keep this intent circulating.