Echoes of Invasion: Plains Problems | Scene 10

That night, when Tric and Heppa are alone together laying out their bedrolls for sleep, Heppa comments that if the horse clans really are self-sufficient, there might be a set of people who are unhappy that resources are being drained outward without any incoming support. “I could imagine that Merriver might question why they need the king at all if he’s not actually helping in any way and the horse lords are doing everything themselves.”

That sounds reasonable to Tric. “And getting Sir Anyc to gather evidence against Sir Vinreddaent’s slanderous claims might turn up some information in support of the opposite position,” he says merrily, pleased at the sneaky approach. They might be able to find out some useful things before they even see Merriver.

“What is your interest in this?” Heppa asks.

“I’m just interested.”

“If she’s building an army, but it’s not coming toward the forest, what is our concern?”

“Here’s the thing. If you have an army, you tend to use it. People who succeed at their first target tend to keep going.”

“Good point. But if she’s fomenting a rebellion, I don’t know that we’re in a position to say whether or not she’s right or wrong. It’s just internal human politics if it doesn’t affect people we care about or our forest.”

“But it probably won’t stay internal if it is a rebellion,” Tric argues. Besides, the new dotted line on Heppa’s map shows that many humans think Estbryn Forest is internal to Wesnoth. “We don’t need to decide what’s right or wrong. We just need to get information to somebody who can protect our interests if the vines get all tangled.” Tric is also interested because he sees how much this is vexing Terwaen, and he is the one who put her in this position.

“Do you think this is something High Lord Volas will be interested in?” Heppa asks.

Tric shrugs. “I’ll tell him about it, but I think it will be low on his priority list. It doesn’t involve undead, though it is kind of close to our forest.”

“Instability in the human lands could turn out to matter,” Heppa says. “There may soon be many dead bodies. If there are a group of necromancers biding their time in the Dulatus Hills, and there is a big battle outside Weldyn, that is the perfect time for them to come down to raise up their own army. They’ll even have weapons already on hand!”

“And in the ensuing chaos, we plant more trees and expand our forest!” Tric jokingly cackles. On that note, he rolls over on his side to go to sleep.

Heppa stays up, looking at her map and pondering everything from the day. A sheet sticking out of the packet catches her eye, and she pulls it out. The Lay of Gritta… no time like the present to study it more. With her experiences in the Heart Mountains fresh in her mind, some of the figurative language finally becomes clearer as she reads through the poem several more times. One section of the text stands out to her in particular. It talks about “like calling to like” and how “you can feel it in your bones.” Using other clues from the stanzas around that part, Heppa realizes this is talking about the purpose of the skulls that hold the necromantic control crystals atop staffs. She knows from research she has done with her father that liches tend to use staffs with just crystals atop them, while dark sorcerers and necromancers have these elaborate creepy skulls. Liches are made entirely from bone, including a bare skull, so maybe they do not need an extra one. The skulls serve as amplifiers, helping necromancers to better convey their orders to their undead minions. That is what “like calling to like” refers to. Your boney minions—all undead, by extension—will listen to you better when you have a skull and work your magic through it. At first Heppa is excited because amplifier was one of her theories. But then a memory comes to mind.

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.

Kachen was channeling power through that skull to control the skeletons, a trick he may have learned from studying the Lay of Gritta. Heppa frowns, her confidence that her friend is not a necromancer shaken a bit.

It is now quite late, but Heppa cannot stop studying, not when so many things are finally clicking into place. She continues reading over the poem and flipping through all her map annotations. The next section she deciphers touches on the nature of the aetherium, where humans get their magic from. It seems to be an actual location of sorts, a plane parallel to the actual physical world. From the imagery in the poem, Heppa concludes that it can be used for travel. An uncomfortable shiver runs down her spine at the thought of all the corruption that could be absorbed on such a trip or dragged into the world by it.

A lot of the figurative language in the Lay of Gritta deals with mists, smoke, and fog. It reminds her of Mal-Vektor’s casting, which was frequently accompanied by such things. Even Gaenyn’s shadow-controlling had a similar vibe. The presence of such things are indicators of unsafe human magic use, sloppy work that spills pieces of the aetherium over into the world. It really was corruption she saw sinking into the ground during Mal-Vektor’s final attempt to make friends. That is not to say that the aetherium is inherently bad; after all, water is necessary for life, but it can still rust a blade or erode a rock. And humans do have methods for safely accessing the aetherium. Those techniques produce light—due to the release of energy—rather than darkness. It seems that exposure to raw, untransmuted aether is bad for the life force. Human magic theory centers on how to safely access that power source, preventing some of these problems. Heppa can understand better now the dangers of brashly reaching for this power and why humans would go to such lengths to find safer ways to access it. If by their very nature humans cannot access fae energy then this other route is their only option, and it is good that the majority of them are doing so carefully. 

These thoughts keep Heppa up all night. You were totally right, Alduin mages! she thinks, remembering Kachen’s warning to be wary of them. Maybe what they do is not completely safe, but it is certainly more considerate. 

She also wonders just how much of the Lay of Gritta Kachen understands.