Tric breathes a sigh of relief when he turns the necromantic staff over to Thrandolil (and the fire tongs for handling it more safely). He offers many more apologies and explains that although it felt heavy when he had it, it also seemed like a good idea to not hand it over right away. “I don’t know why,” Tric says. “But clearly, you’re the most accomplished person to deal with this.” Heppa asks when Tric noticed something was wrong, since he carried the staff the entire time. Tric cannot put his finger on when it started, though. He just kept coming up with reasons not to hand it over, which he justified to himself as wondering how safe the staff really was. “How safe is it, really?” he asks again now, and answers himself, “Not at all!” Tric lets out a long breath, feeling better now that it is out of his hands. “I see why Ulf wanted to get rid of it. And he activated it!”
“It must be easy to activate, I think,” Heppa adds. “Endathalas did it just by tripping over it.”
Thrandolil shuffles through a variety of papers on his desk to find one that is blank and starts taking notes. He interviews Tric on his experience, and Tric answers readily, feeling that he needs to make up for his blunder. He gives his uncle as many details as he can about when Ulf triggered it right next to him and the skeletons. “It seemed effective on them,” Tric adds, “but obviously we can’t just use this.”
“I wasn’t able to get samples of those skeletons. Would that have been something useful?” Heppa asks her father.
“No, I’m interested in the artifacts, not the undead themselves,” Thrandolil clarifies. “Please don’t bring undead into the village.”
“They might have been elvish skeletons,” Tric tells them. “They were definitely using elvish bows.”
“Interesting.” Thrandolil makes some more notes.
“Sure, an elf cannot perform necromancy, but you could become the victim of it. It happened to Endathalas, and it happened to me, as far as the staff goes.”
“Of course. If elves could not be victims of necromancers, we wouldn’t need to defend ourselves against them,” Thrandolil points out.
“Well, there’s being the victim of a necromancer and there’s being cut in two by a skeleton’s axe. I feel like those are slightly different things,” Tric observes.
“While elves cannot perform the magic of necromancy, they can certainly be harmed by it,” Thrandolil acknowledges.
“Yes, but what I meant was, based on those skeletons, dead elves could be raised in skeletal armies.”
Heppa supplies all the details of where they found the staff so that her father has the full context. Tric, who was actually down in the dig pit during the fight, did not see any evidence of who owned the staff in the past. “But the skeletons did talk,” he adds. “They seemed almost wistful, as though they missed their master. It was unsettling.”
“Yes, this sort of thing generally is,” Thrandolil says. “I appreciate you young folks going through the efforts that you do to acquire these things.”
“So what can you do with this to help further protect the forest?” Tric asks, wanting the stressful experience to be worth it.
“I’ve only just gotten it right now, Tric. I’ve got to examine it and read up on references… See if there’s anything we can do… Perhaps we can work out a way to develop something with a resonance to counteract it.”
The two young elves relax a bit, relieved that Thrandolil knows how to handle this. “Fenowin was talking about metaphysical defenses, too,” Tric shares. “I should have talked to her! Maybe her pollen could have detected this. Maybe she would want to collaborate with you, Uncle Thran. I understand she’s… She works in her own ways.”
Thrandolil gives a soft no. “Her areas of expertise are a little divergent from this topic.”
“Or when our friend comes to visit—”
“Yes, the one with the staff!”
“Yes…” Tric hesitates, now not sure whether that will be a good thing or a bad thing.
“I don’t remember that staff being quite as…” Heppa struggles to settle on a good descriptor for this one. “I carried it and we also jostled it, and it never did anything like this one did.”
“But we didn’t carry it for a week,” Tric points out. “But you’re right. There definitely was not the same immediate level of danger.”
Thrandolil studies the staff. Within the many-tusked skull, there is a purple crystal. “Maybe it is something related to the combination of the staff and the crystal. Did you wish to see whether this crystal feels the same to you as the other crystal you brought back?” he asks his daughter. She seems to have some affinity for them. He pulls the light blue one down from one of his shelves and offers the ice shard to her.
Heppa is surprised that he would let her take the new artifact apart, but she is happy to do so. She extracts the purple crystal, and much as she suspected, it has a rune etched in it. She thinks twice before trying to activate it here in her father’s valuable study, though. “But maybe we should try this outside,” she suggests so that they do not destroy the library.
Tric accompanies his cousin and uncle because he feels a responsibility to see this through. On the way out, he grabs a handful of nuts from their house. Cracking them open and sharing their contents with Mate gives him something calming to do as he nervously stands away to the side, not eager to be within range of the experiments. For his part, the magpie also opens nuts and shares the kernels back. He is not strong enough to wield a nutcracker, but he tries dropping rocks on them or using the notch between tree branches to hold them while he pecks them open. Mate’s experiments soothe Tric far more than Heppa’s and Thrandolil’s do.
Heppa carries the two crystals out into the backyard, and her father brings the creepy staff. The new crystal is purple, like the wave of energy was, so she suspects it is the source of the effects they have witnessed so far. Since her father thinks it is safe enough to try, she decides to start by simply willing the crystal to do something. The runes she has encountered before all had some basic power that did not require much effort to trigger. The ice shard could make a little blizzard, Kachen’s emerald is soothing, and the ruby… Well, it can wipe a person out for using it, but actually triggering its hastening effect was trivial. Once she forms the intent to do something with the purple crystal, the rune pulses. With a fwoomf, the wave of purple energy rolls outwards from Heppa. At the epicenter as she is, she does not feel anything. Tric and Mate are far enough away that it dissipates before reaching them, but the effect does pass through her father.
“So it makes purple light?” he asks, sounding either confused or disappointed. He stands a little bit away from her, not right next to the staff like Tric was when it rattled him so much.
What made Heppa shudder in the cave seems to not even have ruffled her father’s feathers. Maybe her father is made of sterner stuff than she is. Heppa just caught the edge of the debilitating effect, and she was a similar distance away from Ulf. “Well, that’s what it did before,” Heppa says, “but I definitely felt something then. Maybe it’s just the range?” She did not feel anything this time, but perhaps that is because she is the wielder.
Heppa steps back a little farther from her father and warns him that she will now try to cast through the rune. Not wanting to do anything that resembles an attack, she focuses on simply constructing some sort of barrier, like coaxing brambles up into a thicket. Runes channel their own type of power though, and it is not fae energy that responds as she concentrates on the crystal. A purple mist rises up out of the ground around her and clings to her. She does not feel anything unsettling from it, but the experience is enough to tell her that this shard is not attuned to barriers the way the blue one is attuned to attacks with ice. Heppa knows from her previous experience trying to heal through runes that they cannot mend flesh the way her primal magic can, but something about this crystal is giving her a similar vibe, like it might be related to healing. This seems a contradiction to her, one that will require further experimentation. Could necromancy be considered sort of like healing? Only a wrong sort, after things are dead?
It has been a long day, and with the light starting to fade, it seems best to put these items away for now. There will be plenty of time to experiment more in the weeks to come.