Echoes of Invasion: The Society of Shadow | Scene 3

As Ulf gets them back on track following the wose conference, Tric offers his apologies. “I’m sorry if you were off-put by our elvish ways and dealing with the woses. They are truly guardians of the forest.”

“Aren’t they wonderful?” Heppa interjects, smiling broadly. “It is so nice to talk with them.”

“They experience time differently, so it’s always a little difficult to understand what they are saying and when it happened,” Tric says, finishing with his opinion that woses may not be that good at counting.

Ulf waves off Tric’s concerns. He checks around, and seeming satisfied that they are on the right path, begins leading them northward again. Heppa keeps up a steady stream of hypothesizing about sensing creepiness as they travel. “I think I should have been able to sense it. It must be something to do with the fae energy specifically, from what Dolmathengalin was saying.”

“All of us thought this place felt spooky,” Tric points out. “But you think you should have a more specific feeling about that?”

“Probably I should be able to sense it more magically,” Heppa says.

Tric shrugs. “Maybe Isthiniel was more formally trained in this.”

“Oh, I’m certain she was. Nobody would send me out as a sentry, that’s for sure,” Heppa agrees. 

Up ahead, Ulf pushes aside branches and steps awkwardly over thickets, occasionally looking for smears of pitch or tied black ribbons. “Well, we’ll see whether the Society of Shadow have a similar experience,” Tric says, unthinkingly adjusting his gait to smoothly follow the natural curves of the ground here. 

“Hopefully they’re not having trouble,” Heppa adds with concern, her own stride subtly altering to match the topography as well. Butterbell keeps up just fine. 

To Tric and Heppa and the elvish pony, this route is clearly a road. Sure, it is overgrown, but this forest has had some issues, what with the elvish civil war and then some undead armies. Recognizing the track as an elvish road is equal parts comforting—for the reminder of home—and unsettling, at thoughts of how the former elvish settlement in the area met its end. There is nothing wrong with the local trees per se, but the forest itself is in some disrepair, given what the woses have said about the undercurrents of magic. Elves died violently here, and those same elves could have been repurposed to attack the woses. They might even still be on the prowl.

The elvish contingent is moving so quickly now in their native environment that they actually pass Ulf as he pauses to catch his breath and reorient. He looks on in confusion as the group he is supposed to be guiding seems to be easily picking the path out all on their own. And so it continues for several more hours. Finally, at the end of an extremely long day of travel, when it is getting almost too dark to see under the tree canopy, they spot the wavering light of cook fires up ahead. When they reach the edge of the clearing, they see it contains huts with black strips of cloth fluttering from them. The remains of dinner still simmer over the fires. 

Ulf tells Tric and Heppa to wait at its edge. “I’m going to make the introductions, so just play it cool until I—”

“You left them on good terms, right?” Tric asks. “I should have checked this earlier!”

“I’m fine,” Ulf says. “Remember the whole password thing? They’re just nervous about outsiders.”

“Well, they’re the ones in the forest,” Tric shoots back. 

“Do you think they have a problem with elves?” Heppa worries aloud.

Ulf totally misses Tric’s implication that he and Heppa belong here more than the humans do. “I’m going to go vouch for you,” he assures Heppa. “So just stay calm and don’t cause any trouble until I come back,” he adds, with an eye to Tric.

Tric nods. They hired Ulf for this very job, so they had better let him do it. Still, he cannot entirely contain his mischievous side. Once Ulf is out of earshot, talking with a shadowy figure at the closest hut, Tric turns to Mate. “Can you do a little soaring? Just keep an eye on Ulf. Make sure he doesn’t slip away or get in trouble.” The magpie takes off from Tric’s shoulder, flying through the camp as though he is a natural inhabitant of the area. Since it is now dark, Mate hoots like an owl, but his noisy wings do not quite fit that role.