Over the course of the next week, Tric and Heppa help out the woses however they can while learning all manner of useful information from them. The woses are not in any hurry, and anything truly useful for improving this area takes time to accomplish. In this case, it also involves a lot of manual labor, transferring high-quality dirt to the areas around the copses and working it into the soil so that new trees can take root in a richer environment.
Tric sleeps deeply each night. He is a healthy individual, but there is a reason he did not join the forester elves. He is a pretty slow digger; despite his tendency to boast, he has no qualms about admitting this. Lugging pails of dirt around and excessive amounts of shoveling are exhausting. On a break one day he relaxes by juggling his knife a little. Then it occurs to him to try the shovel, but he quickly finds that it is poorly balanced for that activity. He tries tilting his head back and resting it on his chin as well. That ends about as well as one would expect.
Hepalonia improves her understanding of elvish magic. In shaman school—at least the part of it she attended—the druids taught the basic use of brambles: entangling foes for defensive purposes. Being around woses is inspiring though, and it emboldens her to be more creative. She uses her magic to coax plants out of the way so that Tric Manu has an easier time turning the soil.
The spring days are warm, and the sun is hot as they work out in the open. One afternoon, Roombledoombledeur repositions to provide them with shade. Tric collapses, enjoying a chance to rest. He shares with the wose his revised understanding of what a forest is. “It is trees, plural, connected not by sight, but by dirt.”
Roombledoombledeur corrects Tric again. “It is not just the dirt and the roots but also the fungal network.”
Tric Manu pulls out his dwarvish fly and looks down at it, puzzled. Hepalonia latches onto this topic, as it touches upon her own recent research. And this is a wose. It could know so much about so many things! “What do you know about dapper inkcap?” she asks. Woses are a physical manifestation of the fae. If anyone is going to know about things that threaten a connection to the fae, it would be them. “Does it cut off the life force somehow? Does it cause problems for the fungal network?”
The response Heppa gets from Roombledoombledeur is as rambling and twisted as a cluster of roots, but she is thrilled to receive it. The wose explains that dapper inkcap is not part of the fungal network. Under the forest, the trees all talk to each other. This is facilitated by fungus on and among the roots. Such fungus forms filaments; Roombledoombledeur likens it to a net. The mushrooms that the elves see above ground are another type of fungus. Where the fungal network reaches up and pokes out of the earth, some grow such stems with caps while others are more like shelves or spirals.
This is all quite novel to Heppa, this imagining of a world beneath the dirt and grass that she has no way of seeing herself. Like all elves, she respects the trees and other plants, but this is the first time she has ever heard of them talking. From Roombledoombledeur’s description, trees have actual conversations with each other. “The way that I am talking to you through the air, the trees talk to each other through the fungus. It is not verbal, but it is communication.”
“So the trees have their ears to the ground,” Tric Manu interjects from his position sprawled at the wose’s base.
“The trees’ roots are their ears,” Roombledoombledeur clarifies, and Tric nods in understanding. “Everything works together in nature in some regards, but everything also competes. Just like there are predators and prey in the animal world, there are fungi that attack trees as well as those that aid them. When a crack forms in the bark of a tree, predatory fungi can move in and hurt the tree. The dapper inkcap is not a danger to trees, but it is a danger to woses. It is not a part of the fungal network in any way, though it does consume dead matter and recycle it as many mushrooms do. Beyond that, however, it does not contribute to the benefit of trees. And as for woses… it would feast upon them if the woses got too close to it.”
The elves are a little shocked to hear this, and Roombledoombledeur goes on to explain that this was not always the case. This is a recent development, at least by wose reckoning, and has not been a problem for even a millenia yet. The dapper inkcap’s nature has changed, and the woses are not sure why. They are not just very dangerous, they can actually kill a wose.
“Does it matter if the mushroom is alive or dead, for how harmful it is to woses?” Heppa asks.
“Even if one is plucked, it would still destroy a wose. There is something about them, some quality they have that picking them does not alter.”
Heppa shares what Fenowin told her about the danger the dapper inkcap could pose to elves. “She said the dapper inkcap was warped by magic a long time ago. She described it as dissociating an elf from the life force and preventing them from accessing their magic. But how does it do that? Is it damaging to the magic itself? Or to the being?”
Roombledoombledeur provides a long response, from which Hepalonia manages to piece together a better understanding of the forces at play. Whatever the current of energy is that elvish magic uses—sometimes referred to as primal or as fae by her various teachers—that power is a life-sustaining force for woses. Elves need to breathe, to eat, to drink to stay alive. Woses do not need water, soil, and light like trees do; they need to tap into the fae energy. Some alchemical property of the dapper inkcap blocks those receptors, essentially suffocating a wose.
“Would this prevent an elf from using our magic to help an injured wose?” Heppa asks. “Could we sustain a wose thus damaged?” Roombledoombledeur believes such would be possible. It would be like bandaging a bleeding person or breathing into the lungs of a drowned companion. From this answer, Heppa concludes that the dapper inkcap blocks a wose’s natural connections to the fae but does not interfere with their ability to actually process or digest that fae energy itself. This seems to fit with what Fenowin suggested, that the dapper inkcap is not likely to kill an elf, but it could prevent one casting or potentially increase the danger of doing so.
Heppa sits down next to her cousin and pulls out her map, scribbling notes in the margins as she pieces things together. Given what Roombledoombledeur has said so far, it sounds to Heppa like the dapper inkcap acquired its lethal qualities sometime around when humans and orcs came to the continent. They certainly did not bring the dapper inkcap with them, but the mushroom changed not too long after they arrived. This meshes with what her father has said about dark magic being a human magic. “If necromantic dark magic changed the dapper inkcap in some way, that fits with it being a type of magic that humans brought with them when they came here,” she theorizes.
“You know, Breda told some tales from long, long ago about who was in charge of the humans when they fled to our shores,” Tric says. “Some guy named Baldric or Haldric. They were fleeing those who used to rule them… lich lords! That’s right. Uh, yeah, definitely humans brought necromancy here with them. I don’t know if they really ‘own’ it, like it’s their magic. I think maybe it owned them for a while.”
“Maybe that’s why it’s a taboo in their society,” Heppa suggests, remembering that Glammur indicated execution is the Wesnoth nobility’s response to necromancy. “Even if humans today don’t know or remember that part of their history.”
“They might be ashamed about it. They were fleeing liches when they got to this continent, but it appears that the liches also came. And I guess some humans still turn to necromancy.”
The woses do not know anything about necromantic uses for the dapper inkcap, why it was changed, or what somebody might do with it. But they do know that it has some interplay with at least some forms of magic. Heppa points out that just because it is a blocker of one type of magic does not mean it could not be an enabler of another type.