Echoes of Invasion: Wesmere Welcome | Scene 2

Once Neia is gone, Heppa quietly asks Tric, “Where do you think Kachen was last? You don’t think this is related, do you?”

“He left our forest heading east two months ago. I guess he could have gone anywhere from Connie and Marvin’s. But it sounds like Lintanir’s problems started longer ago than that.”

“Right, right…” Heppa thinks for a moment. “But where did Kachen come from, though?”

“We don’t know if Kachen was ever further north than where we ran into him in the Estmark Hills,” Tric acknowledges. “It is certainly possible.”

“To be fair, though, any necromancer could cause undead problems if you’re not burying your dead properly,” Heppa points out. “And Kachen’s not doing it on purpose…”

“Outside of the Great Forest in that region, who knows what’s out there?” Tric adds. “Swamps, hills, fields. Surely there are not many human settlements. And there’s not much reason to go outside the forest there. It could be anything—Hey! No no no no!” 

Tric cuts off his ruminations when he notices Mate playing with something. It is the ring that the magpie acquired in the Grey Woods. When Tric last saw the object, it was in Mate’s roost, but now the bird has it out on a table and is hopping around on one foot, attempting to slide the ring over his other claw. Tric launches himself at the magpie to snatch the item away, but Mate gets his little claw through the circular opening. He spreads his toes as wide as possible, trying to keep the ring on his leg and still fly, but managing both proves difficult.

When Mate does not immediately turn into a monster or shoot lightning, Tric relaxes a bit. He fishes out some food and offers it in exchange. “How much do you like that ring versus how much would you like a peanut… wrapped in a piece of ham!” The magpie has since hopped off the table and out of Tric’s line of sight, but he hears a clatter of the ring hitting the floor. Then Mate swoops up, unburdened, snatches the snack, and flies out the open front door.

Tric carefully picks up the ring and holds it out for Heppa to see, explaining that Mate took it from the shadow mage encampment. The ring is onyx with a black opal mounted on it. The gem has an iridescent sheen, but Tric finds the combination rather gauche. Heppa pulls out her magnifying glass and examines the jewelry alongside Tric. The lens reveals small etchings in the opal. Heppa tries to draw magic through them but concludes they are not the same type of rune that Lady Sabine’s ring has. This is more like Gweddry’s amulet, something that has a single magical effect that any user can benefit from. Their magic is already set; no new magic is done simply by using them. Gweddry’s amulet imbued the wearer’s weapon with arcane energy; this ring cloaks the wearer in shadow.

Heppa’s theory is that whatever personal corruption is related to the runes is dependent upon doing new magic through them. Or maybe doing it specifically through that purple crystal from the creepy necromancer staff that they recovered under South Tower. “I don’t think this ring will cause more corruption,” she advises Tric. “I think that if there were corruption associated with it, it would have happened when it was created. I think it’s safe to use.”

“Do you think the shadow mages made it?” Tric asks, still wary of the item.

Kachen has made one magic artifact that they know of, so it is not unthinkable that shadow mages could do something similar. There is nothing about the ring to indicate its age. Heppa does not know enough to judge the origin of the etchings, but they certainly are not stamped as firmly as the dwarvish-made runes she has cast through. “It doesn’t seem like something that was made by a runemaster, so it’s possible,” Heppa tells Tric. “But I think it’s safe to use. I don’t think it would cause any corruption for you or for the environment.”

“What do you mean by corruption for me personally?” Tric asks, raising an eyebrow.

Heppa is taken aback for a moment, surprised at what she has let slip. But she has no reason not to confide in her cousin. “Blululldrum said that it sensed that there was a little bit of corruption that I had.”

“Oh no! Are you all right? How did this happen?”

“I feel all right. But I did experiment with a lot of different and dubious artifacts,” Heppa admits.

“I carried that artifact around for a while,” Tric says, thinking of the necromancer staff that weighed so heavily upon him. “I wonder if we’re both corrupt…”

“Blululldrum didn’t say how much. And I don’t know if it’s from doing magic with the runes or if it’s from experimenting with the purple crystal on that staff. I figured once we get back to our village I’d ask around. Maybe Fenowin will know. Maybe this was covered in school.” Tric shrugs; he was taught at home by Nasir. “Fenowin at least wouldn’t tell my mother. She might freak out and do some other thing, though.” Tric wrinkles his face in displeasure, remembering all the pollen problems the druid caused. “Anyway,” Heppa continues, “I was thinking it would be better not to tell too many people until I can get a handle on what it means. I feel fine. Am I doing evil things that I don’t remember?”

“No, not that I remember,” Tric encourages her. He evaluates his own actions and decides that slugging the poacher does not count, since the fellow was giving them trouble and had shot Heppa with arrows.

“And, you know how woses are,” Heppa adds. “They’re rather cryptic. And I don’t know what Blululldrum’s baseline is for purity, given that it is a pure manifestation of the fae.”

“Though I suppose if you live in the Grey Woods, you probably develop a good sense for corruption,” Tric posits.

“Blululldrum seemed to think I was running through my time—Oh! Maybe it’s from the hastening aspect of Lady Sabine’s ring!”

“You do move pretty quick with it on. Where do you think that time comes from? Maybe from your future. Like you’re literally living on borrowed time.”

“Huhn. Maybe it’s just that specific ring…” She imagines conducting tests with the ring and the woses back home. “It’s something I want to explore more, how to clean—That is, if there’s a way to clean corruption. But anyway, I don’t think this ring,” she points at the onyx piece, “is a problem. I think it’s safe for you to wear if you wanted to.”

“I mean, it looks really gaudy,” Tric says lightly. This idea of individual corruption is a new concept to him, one he does not wish to tangle with. But it sounds like the ring is safe for Mate to play with, so he decides to leave the ring alone for now, rather than find some way to dispose of it.

“Maybe somebody here can help me learn how to sense corruption. Maybe it’s taught in school.”

“Maybe we should poke around a little bit,” Tric suggests. “We’re not under house arrest; we should see what’s going on here.” When Heppa agrees, he heads to the door, but it takes a while for her to follow. At first she just grabs her map folio and a pen, but then it occurs to her that they are on the outskirts of Wesmere, so weapons might be a good idea, and soon she is packing up her poultice pouch in case they run into anyone injured. When they finally leave the guest quarters, Heppa has her full backpack on.