Echoes of Invasion: Whirlwind Tour of Weldyn | Scene 14

At dusk, as the light fades over the plains around Weldyn, Tric and Heppa arrive at the southeastern gate where one of the customers at the Elvish Retreat invited them to meet her for a tour of the battlefields. Firain welcomes them and gives them each a hand up into the multi-bench wagon where a variety of humans are already seated. She was a healthy-looking, youngish human when Tric met her last night, but now gray hair sticks out from under her kerchief and she has a stoop to her posture. A sturdy horse stands ready to pull the wagon along, and a single lantern extends out on a pole alongside the creature to light the way. Tric smiles, already liking the theatrics. The level of detail put into the atmosphere is impressive. 

Once the tour gets underway, it becomes apparent that Firain’s Scenic Tours employs more than just her. When she talks about the ghosts rising over the battlefield, a woooooo sounds from the back row of the wagon, where a man has some sort of small instrument cupped in his hands and pressed to his lips. Throughout the night, he provides sound effects to complement Firain’s words. Other employees are stationed at various places around the route ready to set a bonfire ablaze or raise up a sheet-covered scarecrow with bladed hands to simulate the ghostly creatures known as shadows and nightgaunts.

At one point, Heppa asks if they are allowed to get out of the wagon to see the battlefields more closely, but Firain tells her she has to remain aboard. “We cannot guarantee your safety if you leave the wagon,” she says ominously.

“They can’t guarantee our safety if we don’t leave the wagon,” Heppa mutters to her cousin. “Not if there really are ghosts.”

Firain spins her tale. “Weldyn, following the siege, the city half in ruins, was then confronted with liches on all sides. The crop fields that you see now—during the daylight hours, of course—full of wheat, well, back then, they were all set afire!” Flames fwoosh to life on cue. “Huts burning! People starving as the winter sets in! The undead, of course, have no regard for the cold.”

“This is way better than I thought it was going to be,” Heppa says. “I thought we were just going to be walking around in the mud.”

“This is an incredible production,” Tric agrees appreciatively.

“Lich after lich after lich,” Firain continues. Weldyn is set into the river of the same name, but a crescent of countryside surrounds it. During that final battle, at least half a dozen encampments were spread around the city, each populated by undead under the control of a lich. Firain points out their locations as the wagon makes its circuit around Weldyn.

“Each led by a lich?” Heppa asks.

“Yes, each led by a necromancer who had ascended to lichdom,” Firain confirms. Heppa asks for the names, wondering if she has already heard of any of them. So far she knows of Mal-Ravanal, of course, and the “fancy skeleton” who attacked Hisanham and then the Southern Outpost, Mal-Uldhar. Firian’s list is an entirely new set of names that all bleed together: Mal-Drakanal, Mal-Hadanak, Mal-Katglagad, Mal-Xaskanat, Mal-Akranbral, and Mal-Larakan. Heppa jots them down as best she can; she does not bother asking for the spellings. 

“Sir Owaec’s forces charged each of the encampments. While that battle was going on, Gweddry and Dacyn, along with a few choice warriors, descended into Mal-Ravanal’s crypt to face him. The agreement had been that Gweddry and Mal-Ravanal would duel and that would settle the war. But after Gweddry departed, all these other liches appeared and started to attack Weldyn! Owaec handled that—Sir Owaec, Knight Commander of the King’s Horse these days, a title that he earned after this battle because his horse-mounted troops were essential. They had to cover a lot of terrain to deal with all the liches that popped up.” Heppa and Tric are already familiar with that name, having seen the man participate in the joust at the Full Bloom Festival in South Tower.

Firian describes how the battle unfolded from the perspective of those watching from the walls of Weldyn. Heppa would like more practical details, though. “So, how did they make sure the dead were dead? How did they dispatch them?” she asks.

“The troops charged at them. The paladins, their shining lances blazing with righteous fury, burnt holes through the flapping robes of the ghostly creatures, and healed those who had suffered from their grasping claws.” This is, of course, another cue for a startling effect, and Heppa fails to contain a shriek as a sheet mounted on crossed poles flaps in the wind nearby. They hear the nearby clangs of metal on metal and the duller clacks of metal on bone, as well as the sound of horses charging across fields.

At first, Heppa thinks that the paladins had artifacts, but when Firian gives a few more details, she realizes that these special warriors must actually be minor casters of some kind. Their lances probably function like staffs, and they must have training in the same light magic as white mages like Rhaessa, if they are also able to heal. Firian continues, “Mal-Ravanal’s power cast a shroud over this whole area, unnaturally extending the darkness. Mages of the light—of course working in tandem with red mages and arch mages during the battle—powerful as they were, could not reach all corners of the battlefield with their illumination. The paladins’ speed and maneuverability enabled them to spread the light of day to combat the preternatural darkness covering the land.” Heppa now realizes that aside from the light that magic produces, the advanced mages of the light are also able to actually shed light, illuminating their surroundings and cutting through the darkness produced by their enemies. “Many of the foul creatures, the ghosts, the spectres, and such, do not require light to be able to see,” Firian explains. “They can sense things, and they can also hide in the shadows!” Another sheet-clad employee jumps out of the door of the hut they are passing, once again eliciting a scream from Heppa.

Tric keeps his cool, having anticipated the antic, which Firian telegraphed clearly. Impressed with the professional job, he cannot contain the large smile plastered across his face and does not even bother to try. This is fantastic! A full sensory experience! Tric’s own interactions with the guide are less about gathering information and more about contributing to the production with leading questions. Everything Firian has said so far has rung true with what he heard from other sources, like Gumreddoc and Serces. That includes her description of the clawed hand of smoke reaching up to the sky and then dissipating in the breeze after Mal-Ravanal was destroyed. Firian seems to have only added spectacle, rather than fabrications, to her account. She’s missing out on an opportunity, Tric thinks. There could have been ten liches, or thirteen!

“When the air cleared, the enemy’s troops collapsed, and the rebuilding of Weldyn could commence. Of course, all Owaec’s work would have been in vain if not for Dacyn using the Null Stone to bind Mal-Ravanal in place for Gweddry to strike down.”

Heppa looks at her map of Weldyn, surrounded by potential recruiting sites for undead. “What did they do after the battle? Did they burn the bodies?”

“Those who fell defending Weldyn—and there were many—were interred in a communal grave with a befitting memorial erected in their honor. As for the undead, they were just plowed over,” Firian says.

“That’s probably for the best, actually,” Tric tells his cousin. “It means they are not concentrated in one all-you-can-raise buffet known as a graveyard.”

Heppa is not sure she agrees, though. The capital of Wesnoth is essentially surrounded with enemy troops ready for the next powerful necromancer to come by. She makes some more notations on her map. “It sounds like there was no systematic plan, not even a discussion of how to prevent future raisings.” Heppa looks off, staring into the flames of one of the bonfires that were part of the show. “Maybe we need to find a volcano with some sort of rock island in the middle,” she murmurs. “We can have Kachen stand in the center and just let them come to him, a beacon to attract and trap them.”

“Whoa. That’s a good idea. He could travel around, gathering them, and just lead them in,” Tric suggests.

“He wouldn’t have to worry about controlling them; they’d just fall in the lava. He might not even need to gather them. He could just stand there and wait. They seem like they just come.”

Raising his voice, Tric poses another question to Firian. “Do undead occasionally rise up here, even today?”

“Rest assured that everything you have seen out here tonight has been for your entertainment. No actual undead were involved in anything here.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. This is fantastic! I’ve fought some ghosts in my time, and this hit it on the nail. Those bladed hands scared me!”

“There are tales of unrest in the mountains and hills further afield,” Firian continues. “Something magically unbound everything raised by Mal-Ravanal when he was defeated, but it did not strike down his necromancer underlings, for they were not undead themselves. It is possible some of them slunk away deep into the Dulatus Hills. Mal-Ravanal was the driving force of the invasion. Without this arch lich—who exerted influence over even other liches—around, any individual necromancer who might seek power can be easily crushed under the hooves of our good king’s forces.”

“Would you say that sometimes, on cold dark nights when it seems so quiet, every now and then you hear a wail in the distance of a ghost pining for its master?” Tric poses the questions to play into the woman’s performance.

“Why, yes,” Firian agrees, and one of her employees has the initiative to produce just such a sound, terrifying one of the children along on the tour.