Tric sets Kachen up in a small hut where scouts can keep a general eye out for the visitor. He then ducks into Renwick’s place to catch up with him. Tric’s scout crew has returned to the village, having completed their multi-day shift on the eastern edge of the forest. “Is everything clear on the border?” Tric asks.
Renwick assures him that everything was fine, as far as they were able to tell. They did follow Kachen’s path back a ways to make sure there was just one set of tracks. This verified that he did indeed come out of the Estmark Hills and that no one had met up with him recently.
Tric thanks him for the good news. “Maybe it was just bad rumors about the guy,” he says. “Or maybe our forest is just well protected.”
“Yes, it’s good that we’re on top of this,” Renwick says with satisfaction. “We’re keeping eyes out. You know, it’s important to stay alert, Tric Manu.”
Tric nods. “It is. I feel safer having your eyes out there.” He slaps the other elf companionably on the shoulder. They really are getting along better these days. Tric can fit in with many walks of life, from saurian skirmishers to dwarvish drinkers to human poachers. Apparently that list also includes macho elvish champions. Tric bids Renwick a good night and heads home to bed. Along the way, he sees Kachen let Heppa into his guest quarters. I hope she lets him get some sleep, he thinks.
* * *
Heppa still views Kachen as a patient—and a mystery—and she is dying to know what he is using dapper inkcap for. But she also feels that they have been poor hosts to immediately start in on study without first seeing to his well-being. When he answers the door to his hut, she asks him how he has been doing and whether he has taken any injury on the way here. She apologizes for not inquiring after these things when he first arrived.
Kachen does allow her in to talk with him, but he deflects her questions. “It sounds like I have had a far less eventful few months than you and Tric have. I heard you were attacked by skeletons? Could you perhaps tell me something about that?”
Thoughts of mushrooms vanish as Heppa dives into telling Kachen about their experiences under South Tower. She describes the cave where the new staff was found, including that magic did not seem to work very well there. Heppa also talks about the archaeologist they worked with and the other artifact, the one that he kept. She does not say much about the battle, since she was rather off to the side and did not observe many details about the elvish skeletons Tric and Ulf fought. Kachen asks a few more questions about the location, so Heppa pulls her map out of her bag and spreads it out across the small table in the hut. Although Kachen does not say very much himself, it becomes apparent to Heppa from his questions that he is familiar with the specific cavern.
“Oh! Do you know the place? It’s near where they found Gweddry’s amulet.”
“I have passed through those caverns,” Kachen admits.
That makes sense to Heppa, since the tunnels do lead all the way to Untdunben, where she knows he has spent at least a little time. Kachen then asks her some specific questions about the manner in which the staff was found, but Heppa does not know those details. She instead talks about how Ulf set off the staff even though he was not trying to use it. “What is interesting to me is that its power affected the skeletons as well as the living,” she comments.
“I am not surprised to hear that,” Kachen says. “What you have described does not sound like any kind of targeted attack. It sounds more like a ripple effect, so anything caught in its way—” Kachen pauses with a ghost of a chuckle. “I will go back to my discussion earlier with your cousin. I think anything with any semblance of a soul would be affected by it. It would not disturb the rocks in the area or any logs that might have been around.”
“What do you mean by a soul?” Heppa asks, no longer thinking at all about letting Kachen get a good night’s sleep. Not when there is so much new material to discuss!
“Whatever grants you your personhood,” Kachen says. “Whatever it is that animates you and makes you who you are.”
“Do you think that’s separate from the life force?”
Kachen shrugs. “That could just be a different term. I don’t know anything about elvish philosophy.”
Heppa’s brow crinkles. “And that is what the skeletons would have?”
“That is what is animated,” Kachen states.
“They were elvish skeletons.”
“Well, then I think elves have souls,” Kachen observes dryly.
His delivery is understated, but Heppa laughs at what she perceives to be a joke. “Why, thank you,” she says. Getting back to the topic at hand, though, she explains that elves get their life force from the fae. As far as she knows, that is also where they get their magic. “Do you think souls are different from that?”
“I don’t know how it works with elves,” Kachen tells her. “I know humans… We have to work very hard to be able to access the streams of magic. Having a soul, while it might be a prerequisite, is not the only thing one requires,” he jokes mildly. “It takes many years of study.”
Heppa stumbles over her words, trying to figure out what exactly makes undead. “Presumably the magic re-imbues the soul?”
Kachen shrugs again. “Who knows how these necromancers do their works?” he asks rhetorically.
“Do they not touch on that at Alduin?” Heppa asks.
Kachen raises an eyebrow. “Certainly they would never cover necromancy in Alduin. It’s a forbidden subject.”
Anything Kachen knows about necromancy must be things he has heard rather than practiced himself, Heppa concludes. “I don’t know if they cover it here, either,” Heppa admits. She did not stay in school long enough to even learn about staffs! “There might have been a magic theory class, I don’t know.”
“I would be very surprised if elves openly studied necromancy, even among themselves. But you would have more access to that sort of information. Perhaps it is something you can inquire about.”
“Daddy says elves cannot practice necromancy.”
“But they could still study the concepts,” Kachen counters. Heppa agrees with that. She thinks her father is probably the person who would know the most. “Then we shall have many things to discuss,” Kachen observes. “Tomorrow.”
Heppa had really wanted to talk with him about his use of dapper inkcap, but she can always ask later. She accepts his dismissal for the night, knowing how tired he must be. She double checks that he does not need anything else, thanks him again for coming, and tells him she will see him in the morning for more research.
On her walk back to her home, Heppa reflects some. She has previously wondered what exactly is wrong with Kachen, and the list of possibilities has included that he was perhaps a member of a necromancy group himself. In light of their recent conversation, though, she considers that she might have been viewing his use of dapper inkcap in completely the wrong light. Maybe he has suffered some trauma, just like Sir Marthynec did, and that is what he is trying to treat. Poor Kachen, she thinks, wondering what it might have been.