Echoes of Invasion: Kachen Up | Scene 6

It is well past dusk—and well past dinner time—when Tric and Kachen reach Heppa’s house. Tric raps on the door but then lets them in without waiting for an answer. In the hallway, they encounter Quaemilya who is surprised to see them. Tric provides a quick introduction, saying that he and Heppa met Kachen on their first trip and that he is here to work with her father. She raises her eyebrows at that but politely welcomes the visitor. 

When Quaemilya then asks about the nature of Kachen’s business here, he hesitates to respond. He knows that Tric and Heppa are involved in research related to necromancy, but he is not sure how widely that work is publicized. Tric seemed a bit of a kindred spirit, but the same is not necessarily true of the rest of the household.

Seeing Kachen’s reticence, Tric interjects, “He has an interest in artifacts just like Uncle Thran does. And Heppa. They wanted to swap information about their artifacts.”

“Yes,” Kachen agrees, now having a clear idea of how to present himself. “I’m bringing this staff for your father to study.” Tric relays an abbreviated version of how he and Heppa found it with Kachen and ended up splitting it. He avoids the word necromancy in this retelling.

“Oh, yes, my sister will be delighted. She has a keen interest in these artifacts,” Quaemilya says. She has spent more time with Heppa in the past few months than in the several years prior. It would be hard not to notice that artifacts are all the rage with her younger sister right now. Quaemilya gestures in the direction of the staircase and tells Tric that her father and Heppa are up in the library right now.

Quaemilya heads off, and Tric tells Mate to go get them some pemmican. The magpie flies off to the pantry while Tric and Kachen make their way upstairs. When they get to the top, Tric knocks on the door and then throws it open. 

* * *

Thrandolil’s study is even more messy than usual. In addition to the stacks of books, scrolls, and artifacts that usually cover all the desk and sideboard, there are also Heppa’s parchments and inks, some of which are on the floor, as well. Father and daughter have been spending this day poring over responses that Thrandolil recently received to his queries from earlier in spring. A few of his contacts have sent old scrolls with illustrations (or copies thereof) depicting battles from some of the necromantic incidents in the years since humans came to this continent. After going through them all and comparing them, Thrandolil and Heppa share their observations. In the depictions of human necromancers leading undead armies, the staffs are always shown with some sort of tusked skull on the top. However, when the villain leading the undead army is themself skeletal, the staff is topped by just a very visible crystal. Maybe there is a reason why the foul casters who still have the trappings of humanity bear artifacts with skulls. There seems to be, at the very least, a tradition of adorning these artifacts with eerie skulls. It could be an intimidation tactic or perhaps a declaration of intent.

Up until now, they have been thinking of the necromantic artifact as composed of two pieces of power, the staff and the crystal, with the skull just a decorative holder for the latter. However, Heppa begins to wonder if they dismissed the third component too swiftly last time. Possibly the skulls purpose is to protect the crystal, but maybe it has some functionality related to necromancy. Of course, since elves cannot do necromancy, there would be no way for her to trigger it. Still, she decides to try something. There is no rune etched on the skull from the South Tower staff, but Heppa tries to treat it as if there were. It definitely seems like more of a human thing, so trying to channel fae energy through it like a dowsing rod would not be appropriate.

Although Heppa is definitely willing to try using the skull, she does hope nothing will happen. Things will be safer that way. She holds the skull out before her, aloft in one hand, and cautions her father that she is about to treat it like a rune. Heppa tries to build a barrier on her skin again. It is an approach that has been working well in her experiments so far, and it does not seem as dangerous as some other things she might attempt. Also, she has gotten a lot more comfortable with casting it over the past several weeks. But this time, nothing happens. The skull definitely does not use runic magic. However, Heppa feels some sort of resonance from it. She continues to hold it out before her, turning it this way and that to look at it. Whatever it is, magic was used to craft it. The pieces come from multiple creatures, but they were not just cleverly glued together. The seams were welded together magically. Even if it is not a magical artifact itself, it is the product of magic. “It doesn’t work with rune magic, but it does something else,” Heppa says excitedly. “Maybe it’s an amplifier.”

Then there is a rap on the door.