It has been over two weeks since Tric Manu and Hepalonia were last in their village. Their travels since then have taken them south through Estbryn Forest to the ruins of Hisanham and then northwest from there to South Tower by way of Gumreddoc’s farm. On the return trip, Heppa plots a more direct route, taking advantage of the opportunity to fill in her map with details of the features and landmarks between her settlement and the human city. It will ensure travel between the two locations can happen more swiftly and easily in the future. After all, someone will need to return Lady Sabine’s artifact after her father studies it. And other reasons…
The trip home takes four days. The cousins probably could have done it faster, but they are in no particular rush. They finish each day worn out by their heavy packs, weighed down with all they have acquired on their trip. Heppa has her new alchemy and writing equipment, plus she is still dragging around the old fire tongs she found in Hisanham. Tric, for his part, has two bows now, in addition to the creepy necromancer’s staff that he keeps on his back with his pack.
While Heppa focuses on wayfinding, Tric selects good places to sleep each night and supplements their stores with fresh food. Finally in the fields and plains that are his native habitat, Mate also shows his worth. Tric and the magpie bond more closely during hunting excursions and campfire cooking. Tric completely ignores everything Alric said about the magpie eating only raw foods. He gives Mate a share of the cooked meal each night, and Mate shares, too. One evening, after picking at a field mouse some, he pushes the remains over toward Tric. Heppa suggests that teaching the bird to recover berries might be more useful, but Tric’s only problem with the mouse is that there is not enough meat on it. Mate is not big enough to catch a ferret or an opossum, but Tric suggests squirrel as a starting point. Those can certainly work well in a stew. Mate begs for some more food, but once rewarded, he dutifully heads out on the hunt, yodeling for Tric’s attention when he has spotted worthy prey. Together, they bag some extra meat for the rest of the journey.
Every morning, Tric checks the staff and secures it between his backpack and his leather jerkin. It is safest in his care. Really, no one else should touch it. After a few days of carrying it, he is not sure even Uncle Thran would be able to safely handle it. And anyway, Uncle Thran will be busy with the package from Lady Sabine and maybe examining rings with Heppa. When the cousins do finally reach the village, Tric insists on going home first before delivering anything he is carrying to his uncle.
For her part, Heppa is eager to hand the artifacts over to her father, because the sooner that is done, the sooner she can experiment with them. Under his supervision, of course. She offers to take the staff from Tric, but he waves her off, saying he will bring it in the morning. She knows her father will be glad to see the staff—after all, it is exactly what he asked them to find—but she does not push her cousin any further, other than to reiterate that she is happy to take it.
“No, no, I’ve got it,” Tric tells her. “I’m just really beat. Besides, I’ve got to show this guy around the house,” he adds, nodding to his backpack, where Mate is resting.
Heppa bids him goodnight and heads home, looking forward to seeing her father. As for Mother and Quaemilya, they will eventually find out she is back. Heppa is not sure if they will even have noticed she was gone. She makes her way to her father’s library and flounces in with the cheerful cry, “Daddy!” She hands over Lady Sabine’s package and gives him a big hug. He is happy to see his little girl back again. She has been away on camping trips and such for school, but this is the most significant and adventurous journey she has ever undertaken.
Thrandolil tells her he has sent a variety of letters out on topics from the research they were conducting before she left, but he has not gotten many responses back yet. Elvish ponies are fast, but it takes a while for letters to reach their recipients and then even more for answers to come back. Such communications rely on outriders for delivery and that is dependent upon their other assignments taking them in the right direction. “But nevermind that now. How are you? How are you doing? Did you find something this time?” he asks.
“We found a staff!” Heppa cheers. “And I’m pretty sure it’s a necromancer’s staff.”
“That will be most interesting to study. Yes, yes…” Thrandolil rubs his hands together eagerly. His daughter tells him that Tric will bring it in the morning. “You and he are having a good time working together out in the field?”
That question triggers an avalanche of information. Although Heppa is tired from the road, she is excited to tell her father about a lot of the things she saw and learned. She initially proceeds in chronological order, starting with the woses, but soon she is jumping all over the place as random tidbits come to mind. She relays what the woses told her about the dapper inkcap. It is not a topic they have discussed much before, and Thrandolil just nods along, happy to hear about what interests her. “And the hair and teeth! Did you know about that?” Heppa talks about how humans age, and Thrandolil admits to not having really paid much attention to humans over the years. She tells him all about Gumreddoc’s arthritis.
Heppa pulls out her map and opens it across her father’s desk, pointing out places as she talks about them. It is heavily annotated—and doodled upon—but she intends to make a copy of the salient features for his library. She tells him about the Full Bloom Festival but glosses over her more dangerous activities in South Tower. Although she mentions that there was a friendly innkeeper, she omits the date. She tells her father that they met Tric’s mother, who introduced them to Lady Sabine, a red mage of some kind. Heppa is curious what is in the package from her, but Thrandolil just says he will look at it and the letter tomorrow. Heppa does tell him about Sabine’s library and the jewelry in it, including Gweddry’s amulet.
“I also got this ring,” Heppa says, pulling out the ruby. “This is a long story, how I came by it, but it’s an artifact! Look, it has a rune.” She tells him a bit about her experiments with it, though not that it was in the middle of a fight with thugs that she really put it to the test.
Thrandolil perks up a bit. “Oh! And does it have a connection to necromancy?”
“No, I think it’s just for magic users,” Heppa says. “And I have another one that I’m holding for a friend who is going to come visit. That one seems to make casting less taxing.”
“Is this the friend with the staff?” Thrandolil asks.
“Oh, yes, Kachen! He’s going to come visit in the summer.”
“And he’ll be bringing the staff with him?”
“I’m sure. And he will be happy to talk about it all.”
“Ah, that will definitely help with my research!” Thrandolil says brightly.
“But just wait until you see the staff we brought this time! The one Kachen has seems different from one we just found.” Although it is getting late, Heppa is amped up now and goes into detail about the new find and the purple light it emitted. She did not experiment much with the first staff, but it got jostled plenty and never exploded in such a way. Although she does not want her father to worry about her being in danger, she does tell him about the skeleton fight, since that is pertinent to his interests. She includes that the magic seemed odd in the area. It was difficult to work with and damaged the ring she was using. She talks about the cold feeling that washed over her when Ulf triggered the staff, which is why she is confident it is necromancy related. She admits, though, that she has not really gotten a close look at the new staff. “I think Tric is afraid that I’m going to turn to the dark side,” she adds. “I think he’s afraid to let me carry it and of what I might do with it.” He was similarly cagey about the skull from Kachen’s staff.
“Well, that’s ridiculous. Elves can’t do necromancy,” Thrandolil laughs. Heppa chuckles as well and then goes on to marvel at the light that human magic produces during healing. She describes some of her experiences with Rhaessa. Thrandolil shakes his head in pity. “Human magic is so strange and convoluted. They just don’t have the connection to the world and nature the way that we elves do. They make do as best they can.”
Heppa is really interested in magical theory after her conversation with the woses and her time with human mages. Although her father has some knowledge in this area, he encourages her to discuss her ideas with a druid or sorceress. Heppa has no desire to approach her mother on this topic, but maybe she could talk with Lala.