Echoes of Invasion: Wesmere Welcome | Scene 10

The Ka’lian is the most prestigious and powerful elvish council on the whole entire continent, despite Wesmere occupying less area than Lintanir and the Great Forest. Perhaps this is because of its dealings with humans and other newcomers to the land, or maybe it is a holdover from ages past when more of the land was forested. At any rate, Tric and Hepalonia are only vaguely aware of its significance, viewing it as just another forest’s council, much like the one that Volas runs in Estbryn.

The two visiting elves travel to the heart of Wesmere, where the River Telfar runs through it. They follow it north, reaching a large island in the center with fine bridges arcing over to it. Among the many stately trees, there is a large structure with tall walls. Tric and Heppa wait in a busy holding area for a while, watching other elves go inside the enclosure and never come out again as far as they can tell. Finally, the Estbryn emissaries are called for their turn.

Within the walls is a grander space than the room in which Kachen’s inquest was performed. Each member of the Ka’lian sits separately from the others in their own private little tower, with their own contingent of assistants and hangers-on ready at its base. Raised daises ring the open space in the middle, making it impossible for anyone addressing the Ka’lian to face all the members at once, thus keeping the supplicant always slightly off guard. The council members are dressed in much finer clothes than the young elves have ever seen, even among the human nobility of South Tower. There are some similarities in style to Volas’s regalia, but the materials are finer and the circlets of authority are more elaborate. The high lord’s is practically a crown, even, but his seat is at the same height as all the others.

The Ka’lian is primarily made up of lords and ladies, but there is one elf dressed differently from the others in a more down-to-earth style. She wears a greenish-brown dress with a brown shawl over her shoulders that is embroidered with autumnal leaves. Shimmering wings catch the light behind her. This is undoubtedly Soliana, the elvish star that Tric and Heppa have heard mentioned several times. Indeed, among the elves at the bottom of her pedestal is young Neia, clad now in browns and mauves evocative of her mistress’s garb, rather than in standard shaman dress. I wonder if Soliana can sense my corruption from all the way over there, given that she’s the senior expert in it, Heppa muses.

As they make their way to the center, Tric and Heppa are announced by a herald in the same manner they introduced themselves to Filvarel earlier in the week. “This is Hepalonia of House Thrandolil and Tric Manu of the water dowsers, representatives of High Lord Volas of Estbryn Forest.”

One of the nobles rolls his eyes and adjusts his seat in a manner that clearly indicates he feels they are wasting his time. He does not articulate this, but his gestures speak eloquently as he looks over at the elf with the fanciest circlet. That lord, however, maintains a polite disposition as he welcomes them to Wesmere forest. “I am High Lord Aolis,” he introduces himself, “and we will hear what news you bring.”

Tric comports himself seriously. “Greetings, High Lord Aolis and entire council. We bring tidings from the Grey Woods, south of the Great River. As you know, that place is corrupted and was infiltrated by a group of humans. Under the advice of the woses there, Dolmathengalin and Blululldrum, Hepalonia and I have banished the humans from the woods and cleared out that infestation. They were meddling in dark magics, including undead. The woses asked us to petition any elf that would listen to post a sentry to help them guard the Grey Woods from this corruption. So, this being the nearest forest and the grandest forest, we thought it wise to bring these tidings to you.”

“We have not had news from the southeast in a very long time,” Aolis says. “It is interesting that the news you bring is of right across the waters from our forest, and not your own.”

“This is preposterous! That’s clear across the Great River; it’s no concern of ours. There are plenty of other things we should be focusing on right now. Clearly, whatever threats there were, were not affecting us,” the eye-rolling lord says dismissively.

“These are appointed representatives of High Lord Volas,” Aolis intones, “and you will treat them with respect, Theodmer.”

Tric’s eyes go a bit wide. This is a level of division that he did not observe in his own forest’s council. That Theodmer was so bold in his contentious statements makes Tric wonder who really has power here. In Estbryn Forest, Tric already knew all the players—could even appeal to his own aunt—and it was clear that Volas was in charge. The ground here is far more unsteady.

With the appropriate politenesses, Heppa speaks up, explaining that their speciality is studying the activities of undead as they travel. She pulls out her map to demonstrate what they have charted so far. “We seek an information exchange, which is another reason why we came to your forest.” She offers what she has put together so far, believing that the more people in power who are aware of this, the better. Heppa takes a step toward one of the pedestals, holding her maps out to show the noble, and one of the support personnel comes forward to take them for review.

Another noble speaks up dismissively, Lady Gaelira. “Drawings on a piece of paper? That’s not really evidence. How can we know that these are not just stories that young elves tell for attention? Filvarel told us what condition they arrived in; perhaps their heads took a bit of a ringing in whatever scrapes they got into out there.”

Neia did warn them that their youth might be a mark against them, but she also told them about some of the current undead threats to elves elsewhere on the continent. Lord Ardonath recently petitioned the Ka’lian to provide aid to Lintanir on this matter. Heppa synthesizes that and what Ash told them of his undead encounters in the Heart Mountains with what she and Tric have seen and heard about in their own travels through Wesnoth. She tries to tie these all together, providing more specific details that Gaelira cannot as easily wave away as fanciful notions. Unfortunately, she has trouble articulating her conclusions smoothly. Words tumble over each other, sometimes resulting in incomplete sentences as she jumps to the next important concept or suddenly realizes another key idea. 

“There may not be one intelligence behind everything that is going on. We may be dealing with the leftovers of Mal-Ravanal’s living forces. Some necromancers fled his defeat at Weldyn. By now, they have dispersed across the continent, and some of them may be at the point of trying to become liches themselves. Necromancy certainly causes corruption, and that may be stirring up undead wherever they go as a side product, even when the would-be liches are not explicitly raising them. Consider the Grey Woods as a small laboratory, where the lingering effects of necromancy cause corruption to bleed out. The whole Grey Woods was affected, and not because necromancers were camping under every tree. It’s not necessarily going to stay localized.” 

Heppa has been turning nervously, addressing various council members, and now she settles on Lord Theodmer. If they can get him on their side, that could be a big win. “Just because you’re on the other side of the Great River doesn’t mean corruption can’t reach you. It has a larger footprint than just where a single event occurred, and it can seep over here. And that’s not even taking into account what’s coming down from the Heart Mountains! Sure, it could be stronger closer to the source, but undead are just a symptom of the problem…” Heppa rambles on a bit longer, but as she addresses her points to Theodmer’s side of the courtyard, she notices how he keeps looking over at Gaelira, attentive to her responses. Heppa wonders if that is what she looks like when she gazes at Alric. There seems to be some sort of political alliance between Theodmer and Gaelira—they support each other’s arguments—but Heppa thinks it goes deeper on Theodmer’s part.

“Yes, yes, get to the point, get to the point,” Lady Gaelira says wearily after Heppa has spouted more detailed analysis of undead as evidence.

“Yes! Can we move on to the next topic now?” Theodmer hastily adds, backing her position.

“Forgive me,” Tric cuts in. “The high lord asked for news of Estbryn Forest. We have ill tidings of undead challenges of our own. As you know, just thirty years ago, Mal-Ravanal’s forces ravaged across—”

Theodmer harrumphs. “Mal-Ravanal did not even dare to attack the Great Forest. This is of little concern to elves.”

“You are correct! He dared not attack the Great Forest,” Tric agrees. “We held him in check. For you see, the elves of Estbryn Forest—a little-known secret, perhaps—are among the finest undead hunters in all of elfdom. We have specially developed methods and unique training capable of dealing with undead,” Tric exaggerates, his voice growing more and more dramatic as he goes on. “We can crush skeletons, beat down walking corpses, shoot a ghost through the very heart with an arrow—or a word. In our gathering of more intelligence, we came upon this infestation in the Grey Woods. It was not just some errant human mages. There was a human necromancer summoning not just mere phantoms, but a wraith!” To emphasize that threat, Tric tugs down his collar, exposing the branching lightning scar—nevermind that it was caused by Gaenyn. “Would these undead overrun your own forest? Perhaps, perhaps not. They did not overrun ours, but they took many of our loved ones when they attacked. My very own father Anador, son of Cleomithir, was taken on that day thirty years ago.”

Tric’s words do cause Theodmer some concern for the safety of those he cares about, but he also feels the young elf is talking up his small forest an awful lot. And what were they doing messing around in the Grey Woods, anyway? “Ah! So there are undead-expert warriors in the Estbryn Forest!” Theodmer turns to Aolis and asks, “Why are we marshalling troops here to send east? Why doesn’t High Lord Volas march up to help Lintanir?”

“Our arrows are sharp, but our bows are few,” Tric points out, in defense of his small forest.

Aolis and Soliana have been rather quiet through all this deliberation. The high lord seems to play more the role of moderator in this council, not the head decision-maker position that Volas does. As for the star, she has been considering what was said so far, and now she weighs in. She does not care about the emissaries getting belittled; she cares about the state of the natural world and the corruption spreading through it. “This is not a parlor game,” she snaps at Theodmer. “This is not a problem to get some other forest to solve.” She accuses him of being small-minded and not seeing the larger forces at play here. 

Theodmer actually backs down pretty quickly when Soliana glares at him. Tric is amused to see Neia, at the base of Soliana’s pedestal, also glaring at Theodmer with arms folded across her chest. Ah, the classic Dicllon glare; Heppa must not have been in school long enough to learn how shamans can stare people down.

Soliana herself turns to Aolis. “And this is why we need to make sure that Lord Ardonath has shamanistic advisors in the troops that we’re sending back east to support Lintanir’s efforts. Just because the shamans are young,” she throws a glare at Gaelira now, “doesn’t mean that they haven’t been well trained. They are prepared to dive headfirst into dealing with issues like these. The information provided by these envoys further supports that Lord Ardonath needs our troops to get organized and be on their way.”

Although Tric and Heppa are glad to see Soliana beat back the points of Theodmer and Gaelira, she is muddling their concern—a sentry for the woses—with the council’s other major agenda items. They need to get the council back on track, or at the very least get Soliana interested enough in what they have to say that she will meet with them later to discuss corruption. To that end, Heppa shares that corruption can infect the pool of fae energy, the life force itself, so it stands to reason that it can affect the living as well as the dead. “It could infect woses, who are closer to the source. Or even elves!” She emphasizes that these suppositions are not just from observations, but from woses, sages, human mages, experimentation, and so on. Heppa uses the dapper inkcap as an example of corruption’s lasting effect in the natural world. It is a living thing that was so corrupted by necromancy that the fungus can suffocate woses by blocking their access to the life force. The dapper inkcap mushroom has been ruined by necromancy. “What else might be ruined? What plants in the Grey Woods right now—because they have not had an elvish sentry to monitor these things—might be suffering lasting effects? This isn’t just about people. It’s not just about individual wolves and bears being corrupted by the plague touch. It is not about set areas. The undead respect no borders.”

Heppa has played right into Soliana’s point about the usefulness of shamans to the war effort. “See?” the star says to the council at large. “This young elf has this valuable new information. We haven’t paid that much attention to this one particular type of mushroom—” Soliana interrupts herself to address Heppa directly. “That’s very interesting. I’d like to talk with you more about this after the council adjourns. We can catch up later about this interesting fungal example that you just gave.”

Tric needs to drag the council back to the woses’ problem. “Noble councilors, I understand that there’s a much-needed discussion pertaining to undead across the continent, but we have simply come to ask you to post a single sentry to the Grey Woods just across the river from you. That, perhaps, is a good place to start to assess the situation, so that you can gather your own information and see for yourself using one of your own trusted sources. Perhaps if you have someone eager, a volunteer with the right skills…” Tric looks over at Neia. “That might give you the information that you need, if you want more information before you make a larger decision.”

There has been enough discussion—or squabbling, depending on the point of view—that Aolis speaks up with a solution that he believes can work for everybody. “I see that there is concern over the forest nearby that has had recent issues. The Grey Woods has not been an elvish forest for hundreds of years. It was the site of infighting among elves before humans ever came to these shores. That left a mark on the forest, even before humans started mucking around with dark magics there. Such activities probably took advantage of the pain and distress that lingered in that spot. I don’t think it is sufficient for a trainee to be sent, not that I feel they could not handle the responsibility. No, the burden of sole accountability is too high for a single untested individual. Moreover, this issue is not something that is only under Wesmere’s purview to decide, especially given that Estbryn Forest clearly has a stake in the matter. While Wesmere forest will contribute a shaman to this new effort, every other forest must do so as well. Having a single sentry there was clearly a point of failure in the past.”

No, she just didn’t want to do anything, Tric grumbles to himself, though he holds his tongue.

Aolis looks around at his council members as he speaks, and finds they are nodding in agreement. He then addresses the emissaries in the center of the courtyard. “We need to have a more council-like system at play, a network of shaman sentries. Wesmere can certainly provide one and get one sent on the way, but you will need to take back to Lord Volas that Estbryn needs to contribute one. We will also send messengers to the Aethenwood and back to Lintanir. I understand that Lintanir has other problems right now, but if they could spare Lord Ardonath and his cohort to spend years crossing the northlands and recruiting allies, they can spare a single shaman to put to rest something that goes back to elvish civil strife. That is what I propose.”

Tric is not so bold as to make agreements on behalf of his forest, but he does tell Aolis, “We will bring your message to High Lord Volas to review and render a decision. He will be delighted to receive it, and we will certainly recommend that he send someone.” Volas will love having Estbryn Forest put on the same level as the three major forests. And I can think of at least one person who would be a good fit for the job…. Dicllon, how would you like to be banished from the forest for a bit?

With the matter settled for now, attendants escort Tric and Heppa out of the council’s presence via a doorway on the opposite wall, so that they do not pass through the waiting area again. They remain up in that general part of Wesmere for the rest of the day, consulting on the wording of the letter to High Lord Volas and waiting for a summons from Soliana.

Tric catches up with Neia to thank her for being supportive as far as she was allowed to be during the council meeting. “The right glare at the right time can really put a person off-balance. It could be just what you need. Trust me, I’ve received a few,” he tells her.

Neia takes the compliment. She has her name in the running to be the Wesmere representative to the Grey Woods. “I’m pretty sure I’ll be chosen,” she says confidently. “And if not, then I’ll be heading off to Lintanir, which is not just as good, but still good.”

“It’s doing something, which is the important thing,” Tric reflects. “I have something for you, just in case.” He gifts her a dwarvish fly. “You never know what you might find in the Grey Woods. Or what might find you. This can help heal any wounds you might suffer. Watch out for if any shadow mages try to return. At least two got away from us, including the one who summoned the wraith.”

“Hopefully you can figure out what woses look like,” Heppa adds lightly. “Otherwise, you will spend a long time talking to every tree.”