“Kachen was unconscious when a lot of this stuff happened. I don’t really know how he could have done anything,” Heppa says to Tric as they make their way to Kachen’s hut on the first day of his house arrest. They have just gotten word that there will be an inquest to determine his culpability for the disaster that recently befell their forest.
“Yeah, Dad was with him the whole time you weren’t. We should just have him tell the council what time Kachen woke up compared to when all the fighting was.”
“Do you think this is somehow Fenowin’s fault?”
“She had some sort of experimental weapon that has scarcely been tested,” Tric says, rather testy himself as he recalls his sneezing fit. “We don’t know what the full extent of its powers are. Maybe it was the cause.”
They hush up as they approach the guards around Kachen’s hut. Once inside, Heppa offers apologetic pleasantries, but Tric cuts right to the chase. “In a day or two, the council is going to be called. A lot of people on it are thinking that you were somehow connected to this undead attack, Kachen. We know that’s not the case, but we don’t understand the magic as much as you do. Is there anything you can tell us to help us make sure they reach the right decision? Do you have a known allergy to pollen?”
“Does the dapper inkcap relate to anything?” Heppa asks. “What are you taking it for?” Her alchemy setup is still here from brewing the elixir that woke him up. Heppa would really like to prepare something to better treat whatever condition has him consuming the dangerous mushroom. She does not see how it could be related to what happened, but it might be.
“We know you didn’t summon these undead,” Tric adds, giving Kachen no chance to explain. “They came from our own forest; they didn’t follow you in.”
“But the dwarven fortress is bound to come up,” Heppa points out, “if anyone knows about it.”
“Yes,” Tric agrees. Glammur was in the village for a while; they might have told that tale. “Whoever is representing the opposing side is going to bring up Untdunben. So what happened there? Just so we can be ready to answer.”
It makes a world of difference to Kachen that Tric and Heppa have not approached this by asking him flat out whether their elders’ suspicions about him are true, that they are seeking to help him rather than condemn him. These two elves already possess some knowledge of his activities, and what they do with more could be devastating. However, given what they have said and how they have acted around him up to this point, Kachen suspects they are more likely to help him escape following a negative legal result than they are to abandon him to his fate. As Kachen mulls over his response, Tric continues, “Are you somehow, I don’t know, cursed?”
That provides a valid excuse for what has happened, a framework Kachen can operate in that does not directly put him at fault. “What happened in Untdunben? The same thing as happened here,” Kachen tells the elves.
“They attacked you with pollen?” Tric asks.
“No. I didn’t have access to dapper inkcap. In this case, it was because I was unconscious. In Untdunben, it was because my supplies had run out. And then they came. It is indeed the case that I am cursed with these undead showing up around me. I take the dapper inkcap to conceal myself from them. When I am without it, as I was because I was comatose from having that pollen material used on me, then… then they come looking for me. As for Untdunben, I was in the habit of making monthly supply visits to the dwarvish fortress. My store of dapper inkcap had also run out and I was down in the tunnels searching for more of it, as the mushroom grows down there. But it is harder to track time underground than above, and so I was not aware of quite how long I had gone without a dose.”
The elves accept this explanation without batting an eye. “Untdunben, though, that was just a few undead,” Heppa points out. “Here, he was out for four days and there were about thirty. They must be coming from just whatever is already in the area.” Kachen’s answer, delivered with more emotion than she has seen from him before, has also explained the purpose of the dapper inkcap. Heppa is satisfied in that regard, but it is too bad that the main emotion he is showing is anxiety.
“Yes, the undead are already there. Your curse is that you’re a victim and they’re constantly looking for you,” Tric sums up.
Kachen nods, accepting that explanation. “I have not resumed taking dapper inkcap since I awoke here.” He glances down at the satchel next to the bed on which he sits and then looks back up at Heppa. “Your observations at the keep helped me see how fogged over it was making me, and I need to be fully alert if I am to be on trial. Let me assure you, though, that the forces your people defeated were the only ones in the area. They are no longer a problem.”
Something about the way Kachen says this sits uncomfortably with Tric. It seems like the human is talking around some larger issue that he does not wish to reveal. “What is chasing you? Is Mal-Ravanal back? Is it some other lich? Mal… I don’t know, Mal-Orpheus? I’ve heard of death knights, is it that? Is it—” Tric grows somber, then intones, “Is it Madame Bones?”
“I have not heard of Madame Bones,” Kachen says. He unfolds his arms, resting his hands lightly on his knees, and continues, “It is, after a fashion, Mal-Ravanal. When Mal-Ravanal was defeated, it was an incomplete job, in that clean-up was not done.” As Kachen provides his explanation, frustration grows in his voice. “As always, people assumed that once the dust settled, everything was fine. White mages do this all the time. They knock down undead and they wipe their hands and they say, ‘We’re done!’ They don’t bother to look deeper into the underlying causes. And they don’t even want to listen!”
Heppa hears echoes of Kachen’s letter to her, warning her about those of Alduin. This seems to be a deep-seated source of aggravation for him. He is the most worked-up she has ever seen him. “It is harder to put down undead than anybody is willing to admit, and it requires more work than anybody is willing to do,” he says. “But if you try to tell people that, that’s when you start getting labeled. And you start getting in trouble. It’s not an ‘unhealthy interest’ in ‘forbidden topics,’ it’s a necessary thing to protect people!” Heppa nods; this is exactly what she has been thinking. If we don’t figure this stuff out, how are we ever going to defeat them?
“Sure, people will claim there are thousands of years of magic of the light,” Kachen continues his rant. “That can stop a skeleton here or there, but they’re still leaving these restless souls floating around!” he seethes. “Then all it takes is for somebody to come around, and they are right on hand. Stockpiles of proto-undead are being left around, primed for the taking. They are waiting for somebody to attach themselves to.” Kachen’s voice slows, the energy of anger leaving it. “And unfortunately, they are partial to those of Ravanal’s line.”
“Oooooooh. That is unfortunate,” Tric agrees quietly.
Heppa looks at Kachen quizzically. “Before he was a lich, he was a man,” Kachen says. “I am his great-grandson, and as far as I know, his only living descendant. This is an issue that has plagued my house for as long as I have known.” That is as much as he will say about his family and history at this point, though. He is quiet for a moment and concludes, “They are still out there looking for a leader. Because of who I am, they will gravitate towards me.”
“And because they have only been temporarily disabled, rather than properly put to a final rest,” Heppa adds. “It takes more work, and I think there are differences between different types of undead.”
“They need to be obliterated, and that’s not what people want to hear,” Kachen replies. “It’s laborious, something that must be handled one by one. When they’ve just finished a battle, nobody wants to hear that they still have more work to do.”
“That’s true,” Tric agrees.
“I am trying to find a large-scale solution. As for your forest, I can tell that there are no others in the immediate area and I’m actively…” Kachen seems to search for how to describe what he is doing, and finally settles on, “I cannot maintain this for a long time. It takes a lot of effort for me to actively suppress that call. The dapper inkcap, though maybe not a perfect solution, was at least one that didn’t require my active attention.”
“There must be a better formulation,” Heppa murmurs, flipping through her notes and the correspondence from Damal. There is so much work that Kachen could help them do; they cannot just let him go! “This is exactly what Daddy wants, too, to find ways to repel undead.”
“Do you think we should call Thrandolil as a witness?” Tric asks.
“I don’t know. If Kachen is drawing undead, some on the council may view that as the same thing as unleashing them upon our village. From what I have heard of human society, if undead show up wherever you go, no one will care whether you intentionally brought them or not. Hopefully our leaders will be more enlightened and will understand that we should not have knocked him unconscious.”
“I think that is the tack we’ll be forced to take.” Tric sighs. “The council’s probably going to—at a minimum—make you leave the forest,” he tells Kachen. “Whether it is your fault or not, they will think this is too big of a risk.”
“What will they do if they find out he is part of the line?” Heppa wonders.
“That is information I would prefer they not learn,” Kachen interjects.
“There are a lot of people who lost a lot of loved ones in various undead attacks,” Tric says. “A lot of people would put a lot of blame on anyone connected to that. Our legal code doesn’t permit punishing children for the crimes of their parents, but this is a fresh undead attack.”
“Agreed. I’m not sure how much we can safely say. This runs pretty… deep…” Heppa’s words draw out as she grows reflective.
“What runs pretty deep?” Tric asks.
“I don’t know if it will trigger Daddy.”
“Yes, that thought occurred to me, too…” Tric agrees.
“What do you mean?”
The elves look at each other almost guiltily at Kachen’s question. This is his legal defense they are discussing, so he has a lot riding on it. At the same time, though, Thrandolil’s mental conditioning to forget the brother killed by undead is a closely guarded family secret. “Uh, that’s not pertinent to our current discussion,” Tric brushes it off. “Thrandolil is not going to be able to get you completely out of this. He’s not technically on the council anymore…”
Kachen waves the matter away. “I do not want much about me widely published, but I’m fine with banishment from your forest. That is much better than what would happen to me in other places and other circumstances. I will still be able to correspond with Lord Thrandolil to get him the answers to some of his questions.”
“It’s nice that you’re understanding, but we feel really bad about this,” Tric says. “You might be able to hang out with Connie and Marvin. They are somewhat close by and could be able to relay messages. I don’t know how comfortable they’d be with it, but they owe me a favor. And they’re definitely not going to turn you over to the law, so there’s that, at least.”