With the human archaeologist Ulf as their guide, Hepalonia and Tric Manu leave Dan’Tonk, initially following the road that skirts around the hills northwest of Wesnoth’s largest city. Long before the road splits for Carcyn one way and the Ford of Abez the other, Ulf leads the elves off of the packed earth and into the Grey Woods. As they pass beneath its leafy canopy, he warns his companions that the forest has a reputation of being haunted. “Keep your bows close at hand,” he advises them. “I’ve personally never had any trouble of that sort here, but you never know.” Tric, always eager to trot out his ghost hunter credentials, perks up at the news that something more than just misunderstood magic might be at foot here.
“Haunted how? What manner of undead?” These are the first of many questions that Heppa directs at Ulf.
Initially, all Ulf says he really knows is that people claim that the forest is creepy. Tric’s excitement dims a little; humans think forests in general are creepy because they do not understand them, so there may be nothing here after all.
The archaeologist goes on to relate a story about a lich who marched an army through the forest on its way to attacking Elensefar in the far distant past. “That might be the source of the rumors,” he says with a shrug. “Or maybe when that attack failed, some of the underlings deserted and set up shop here.”
“Maybe there’s some sort of aura left by all the necromantic magic,” Heppa suggests.
“Maybe,” Ulf allows. “Halstead—just on the other side of the Grey Woods—collapsed under mysterious circumstances during a Wesnoth civil war about a hundred fifty years ago. Some mages from around here may have been involved in that.”
Heppa murmurs about residual magics, but Tric’s attention is drawn from the conversation to a yodel from Mate. The magpie has found something in a thicker section of the woods. Through the foliage, Tric sees the bird sitting on a high branch, and near him are glowing orange eyes. Alarmed at first, Tric then realizes he has seen such high, pupil-less eyes before. Woses! Tric darts a glance over at Ulf. As far as Tric knows, the concept of woses does not need to be kept secret from humans; most humans would not believe the stories anyhow. Although maybe if they did, they would be less likely to chop down the trees the woses protect… “Hang on. Hold up a second,” Tric says, halting the party. “Mate found something. I’m going to go check it out.”
He leaves behind the vague trail that Ulf has been guiding them along, slipping deeper into the brush. Worried that it might be gauche, he nonetheless politely knocks on the trunk far down below Mate. “Excuse me, do you by any chance know Roombledoombledeur?”
The eyes open wider and look down. “I have not touched roots with Roombledoombledeur in many years,” comes the slow reply. “Do you know Isthiniel? She never came back.”
“I do not not know Isthiniel,” Tric admits. “Did she go with Roombledoombledeur?”
“No. She is one of your type.”
“Oh.” Tric knows that asking how long ago something happened is not a very meaningful question to a wose. He casts around for something to use as a measuring stick, setting his hand on a tree he judges to be about fifty years old. Its bark is not recognizable though; this forest is made of different kinds of trees than the ones Tric is familiar with. “Was this tree here when last you saw her?” he asks.
“That is not a tree. Blululldrum has been here since Isthiniel left.”
“Oh my goodness! I am so sorry!” Tric apologizes to the additional wose, embarrassed. “I was looking at your backside.”
Eyes slide around the trunk, coming around to Tric’s side and looking down at him. “Dolmathengalin, is he here to replace Isthiniel?” this other wose asks.
“I don’t think I am,” Tric interjects. “But what was her purpose here?” The woses tell him that she was helping them watch. “Well, what do you need watched?” Tric asks, looking for a way to assist the stately creatures.
“There are dark things here,” Dolmathengalin says.
“Do you only need help watching? I can also take action,” Tric offers.
“You are a different kind of elf than Isthiniel.”
“I get that a lot,” Tric agrees. “What kind of elf was she?”
“She did not like to see violence.”
“I wouldn’t say I like to see it, but when one does see it, better to see it than receive it,” Tric says.
The woses narrow their eyes at him, trying to sift through his speedy words. Finally, Dolmathengalin speaks again. “The dead awaken, and their corruption spreads. Can you not feel it, young one?”
“Maybe? The dead have unfortunately been awakening in other places as well,” Tric reports.
“We have only been watching this place.”
“I don’t know if the other places have been experiencing it to the same degree as here. If it were a winter with snow everywhere, it may be snowing harder here,” Tric says.
“You said that you are not here to watch…”
“Watching is not usually what I do. I am Tric Manu, of course. You may have heard of me,” he says. The lack of response from the woses suggests his reputation has not preceded him. “But if you have a problem with undead, I and my cousin, Heppalonia of House Thrandolil—” He lets that hang a beat, but it also gets no recognition from the woses. “—we have dealt with such issues before.” He offers to bring Heppa into the conversation so that they can discuss ways to help, but then he thinks to ask, “Is this something that you keep secret from the humans that live in these woods?”
“We watch the humans,” Dolmathengalin says.
“Do they treat the woods with respect? Or at least, a healthy distance? Or do they take more than they need?”
“We do not get close to them. But from the roots, these ones are not overly greedy.” To Tric, this sounds like high praise coming from a wose. Dolmathengalin monitors the trees near the humans, and so far there have not been any major lumbering projects, as far as it can tell from the root network. “We woses do not get too close to the humans. Darkness does follow humans.” There is a loud creaking as Dolmathengalin twists its trunk around for Tric to see the nasty scarring in its bark. “This is from when Ardryn-Na, a vile human mage, brought her ghosts and ghouls through long ago.”
Tric frowns at the sight. “And did some of those ghosts and ghouls stick around?”
“It is possible that we have not dealt with them all. We were overwhelmed. It is good that Isthiniel did not stay,” the wose tells him.