Panic took hold of the victim’s mind, compelling him to fight all the
harder. The rope cut into his throat, holding back the fearful
screams. He reached behind and grabbed the killer’s hands as they
pulled the noose tighter. The victim tried to pull the predator over
his shoulder but faltered as he felt the fangs sink into his long
upright tail. Tears of pain and rage streamed from the squirrel man’s
eyes as the werewolf pulled him up against a tree and squeezed out
the last of his life.
Evil glowing eyes scanned the nighttime forest. All around, in the
bushes, rodents looked on as the werewolf fed. Unable to watch his
master torn apart, a small red squirrel darted away into the brush.
Not knowing where to turn, the little creature rushed to where all his
instincts told him to stay away, the elven orchard. There dwelt the
haughty ones, the ones that turned up their noses at the people of the
forest. So his master told him, but always, he heard admiration in
the squirrel man’s voice.
Suddenly, the little squirrel stopped. Matagan was not dead a minute
and already the predators were after him. High above, he heard the
wings of an owl, barely perceptible above the silence. He dare not
run across open ground, but if he stayed at the trunk of the tree,
death was certain. Coyotes bayed in the distance. The dark wood was
full of killers.
Something moved in the tree above, an owl woman. Queen of the night,
she scanned the forest floor with her all-seeing eyes, her talons
gripping the tree branch. "I hear you little mouse," she said. "Come
out, that I may eat you." The squirrel felt his chest tighten, his
heart beating loud -- too loud. A light shone out into the forest.
Someone behind it coughed twice. The squirrel looked up. The owl
woman was gone. Quickly, he made his way toward the light.
At the base of the mighty tree, an elf guard stood, picking grime from
his ring with a shining blade. Animal people rarely came here, and
the tiny squirrel had never been without his keeper. The elves believed they had lordship over the forest.
The forest spirit proclaimed no such thing. The elves domain lay as far as an
arrow’s flight from their orchard. At least that’s what Matagan told
the squirrels, when they were young. After much consideration, the
squirrel hopped out into the light of the glow-flowers.
"What are you doing here, little guy?" asked the elf, sheathing his
weapon and kneeling to inspect the creature. "You are one of
Matagan’s charge, aren’t you?"
"Come, let us sort this out." The squirrel was surprised by the
kindness of the elf. For a moment he dared believe everything would be set
right, that he could return home and the squirrels be safe. This elf
seemed a brave one. He was broad of chest and wide of chin. His hair
was as red as the autumn leaves and he wore it in a careless manner
like that of an adventurer in one of Matagan’s stories. The elf
carried the squirrel up the smooth trunk of the tree, using holds not
even a squirrel could see.
Guards saluted as the elf passed in onto the main dais of the elven
home tree of Doulan. There he found Princess Cameda and her
hangers-on were drinking deep from a ram’s horn. The latest tonic
Druid Nthari had concocted, thought the elf. He frowned at that. It
was wrong that they should act so, partying every night when others
suffered. As for the druid, one could only wonder how he kept the
"Captain Itho," shouted the princess from her pillowed seat, a hint of
fierceness in her eyes, "why don’t you join us?"
The captain’s hand jumped from the ring with which he had been
fiddling and prodded the squirrel under the chin. The high elven
nobles lounged on leafy couches. They laughed and pointed at him.
The princess laughed with them, but when she turned to face him, she
was no longer smiling. Itho bore a weary expression of frustration
"I seek the druid," he said.
The princess indicated the way with a bored gesture, taking care not
to look at him. As Captain Itho carried the squirrel across the
twisted branches he began humming an ancient tune. It was not unlike
the songs Matagan used to sing to them at day’s end. How he wished
the elf could hear his words. He seemed like he could truly be their
champion. At last they reached it, a crude hut made of two great
leaves. As Itho approached, the druid Nthari emerged. He was pale
and stretched, his hand covered with a sticky blue substance.
"What’s this?" demanded Nthari.
"A red squirrel," said Itho, "one of Matagan’s tribe."
The druid leaned in and squinted at the squirrel. He could sense the
darkness all about it. Seeing the seriousness in Itho’s face, the
druid frowned. "Bring it inside," said Nthari.
Inside the magic fire burned, smokeless and bright. As Itho took his
seat by the fire, Nthari fed it handfuls of dead grass he had
collected from his garden. The flickering flame played across the
druid’s stark features. He was skin and bones. The captain looked
into the sunken eyes that were now staring back at him. "Yes Itho, I
haven’t too many more years to live. The spirit told me so," said
Nthari coughing into his shirt. "Do you think it so bad I give others
the joy I was denied in life?"
"What the princess does with her life is her business," said Itho.
"Now tell of the little one."
The sickly elf reached over and plucked up the squirming animal with a
sticky hand. The squirrel cried out as the druid rolled it over and
over in his hands, stopping to poke at it with bony fingers. Itho
came to his feet and reached out to snatch away the squirrel from the
sadistic elf. Suddenly the fire went dim. The captain froze, not
daring to tempt the unseen forces.
"Matagan is dead," said Nthari, "murdered by a wicked creature of the forest."
The druid looked at Itho and laughed, dropping the squirrel and rising
to fill another flask. Angered, Itho took him by the wrist. He
stared into the elf’s wine-stained face. Nthari’s eyes were those of
a dead fish. He had given up on life, on the wood. How then could he
speak for the forest spirit, he who trafficked only in darkness?
Itho slapped the drunken elf across the cheek.
"The spirit told me," shouted the crazed druid. "You are to take up a
quest for vengeance. As your shaman I must demand it of you."
The druid laughed with mad glee. Itho could only hold his gaze so
long before he released him and strode from the tent, stopping to
gather up the little squirrel, clearly as frightened as he was. Itho
didn’t stop as he passed by the princess’s party, deaf to the cat
calls of the delinquent elf lords. The guards at the exit looked at
him, questioning. Standing for a moment, Itho reached up onto his
chest and plucked off his badge, dropping it at the guard’s feet. As
he descended the tree, his mind burned with anger. He was bound to
the quest, but he would no longer be bound to these people. The
princess watched over her gilded wine glass as the elf disappeared
over the side.
The squirrel snuggled against Itho’s neck as he jogged through the
dark forest. He fumed with anger, but as the squirrel clicked and
purred he found himself at ease. As the first light began to peek
through the leaves, it found the elf humming a merry tune. At last he
came to rest against an old rotting stump. He released the squirrel
and dropped a few seeds from his pocket. The squirrel looked up to
see the elf once again fiddling with his ring. He looked down at the
"You are looking at this?" asked Itho. "This was given to me long
ago, by someone very dear to me. Now it is all I have left."
Itho gave the squirrel a curious look. "You know, we haven’t given
you a name yet."
The squirrel lifted up on its hind legs, gobbling a seed into its cheek.
"You need a strong-sounding name," said Itho. "You shall be called Root."
The squirrel chirped with joy, daring to hope for the first time.
Together they tramped through the wood, careless avengers on a quest
for justice. A robin man darted across the trail. Itho nodded to the
bird man with a flashing smile and strode on by. The bird man stared
at him. Root watched as the robin man plucked up a giant worm and
swallowed it down into its bright orange belly. As beautiful as he
was, thought Root, the robin man still had the hungry eyes of a predator.
As Itho skipped on his merry way, Root was once again plagued with
doubt. His new elf master knew nothing of the danger he now faced.
They were nearing the scene of the crime. Itho could feel Root
clinging tightly to his neck. He drew his sword but could see nothing
in the fading light. He prodded the ground until his sword tip bumped
against a large rodent’s skull. The elf knelt down and brushed away
the damp leaves. The forest had been quick to claim the body of his
old friend. Root watched as the elf drew invisible lines in the air,
calling on the forest spirit to claim its fallen son.
"I would have killed him," said a deep, cooing voice from above, "had
he not the protection of the forest spirit."
Itho looked up to see a great shadow swoop down from above. It
flapped its wide brown wings over a feathery, feminine body. Huge
black eyes stared out from a bright white face. Itho pulled his sword
as the creature hopped forward on be-taloned feet. It hooted twice,
bobbing its head, its eyes following the motion as Root squirmed
under Itho’s shirt.
"Buldagra!" shouted the elf warrior. Pointing his sword, he said, "If
you know what happened here, tell us."
"Us?" said the owl woman, twisting her head all the way around. "I am
hungry. Perhaps if you give me your little friend I’ll tell you."
The elf advanced, planting his sword point into the creature’s belly.
"You will tell me what I want to know, or I will pluck you myself."
The owl woman threw back her head and let out a long mournful cry.
When she looked on Itho again, Buldagra’s huge eyes were filled with
"You elves are always above reproach," she said, "but tell me. How do
you know the forest favors your silly quest for vengeance?"
"Because it is justice I seek," said the elf, withdrawing his weapon.
"The animal that did this will pay."
Buldagra launched into the leaf-shrouded sky. "It was no animal that
did this," she said. "It was a monster."
"But how will I find it?" shouted Itho.
The owl’s curse fell faintly over the trees. "There is no need. He
will find you."
That night Itho trudged through the underbrush, hacking through the
thorny vines with his sword. He was headed in the direction of the
Dark Mountains, the place from which all monsters came. Root hid
inside the elf’s pocket, his eyes peeking out into the darkened
forest. He could sense forces gathering around him. If only he could
understand, thought Root, I could tell him. Then he saw that the elf
felt it too. The forest spirit had long since written his destiny in
the rings of the trees. At last they broke out onto a wide clearing.
"Itho," said the werewolf, "you have come at last."
The monster stood before the trees, casually regarding his foe. There
was something familiar about this villain, thought Itho. It wasn’t
the flashing yellow eyes, or the dark, shaggy pelt. Nor was it the
snaggletooth grin or the razor sharp claws. It was the cocky attitude
that betrayed its false bravery. Itho felt his breast swell with
pride and rage. He drew his sword slowly. It would be a pleasure to
put this creature down.
"I see you bear the princess’s favor," said the werewolf, "for you
wear her ring."
"Folly!" cried Itho. "What do creatures of the underworld know of
The werewolf struck a martial pose. Itho snarled like a great lion
and charged across the field. The monster blocked blow after blow and
Itho cursed him a murderer. It wasn’t long before Itho realized the
creature was playing with him. Bit by bit, he felt his strength fade
away. Through force of will, the elf fought on. The wolf monster
caught the final stroke by the wrist. Root felt its hot breath as the
creature leaned close and said, "I’m going to cut that ring off of
"Niira?" asked Itho. "My brother?"
The monster sank its claws into Itho’s chest.
"The princess is mine," it hissed, "and mine alone!"
Screams echoed through the forest as the werewolf tore into Itho’s
body. The sword tumbled to the ground as the elf fell. The werewolf
climbed on top of him, clamping its jaws across the dying elf’s neck.
Root hopped out of the Itho’s pocket, ran down the elf’s arm, and
pulled the ring free. The monster raised its eyes to see the tiny
rodent holding the ring. It swallowed the treasure with one quick
gulp. The werewolf shouted denial and raced after it.
Princess Cameda leaned back on her leafy couch, laughing heartily. It
seemed a long time since she had a care. Let shepherds care for their
animals. An elf’s place was in the trees, above the rest. Again came
thoughts of Itho and the dangers he faced every day. She shook her
head and laughed, reaching for another glass. Her eyes strayed to the
edge of the great wooden deck and the small animal that stood there.
The creature hopped toward her, until she could see its fur was slick
with blood. The princess rolled from her seat and leaned closer. The
squirrel stared at her for a moment then spit forth the golden ring.
The princess’s face went pale.
"No!" she screamed.
A dozen emotions played frantically across Cameda’s face. She
snatched up the squirrel and ring and stomped toward the druid’s
chamber. There she found Nthari, passed out on the floor. "What is
the meaning of this?" she demanded. The druid did not stir. She
dropped the squirrel and bent over the drunken elf. He was dead, an
empty flask on the floor near the body. The squirrel leapt up onto
her skirt and hid in her pocket.
Stricken with grief, the princess felt her life running out of
options. The elf lords grew silent, watching the pride of their merry
circle walk as a ghost to the edge of the tree. The guards reached
out to her as she leapt out into the air, catching a vine and
rappelling down the side of the trunk. Once at the bottom, she set
out into the woods. Closing her eyes, she let her instincts take her
to the only one who could save her. After a night’s wandering,
weariness took hold of her limbs. Perhaps to rest for a moment, she
thought, and dream of her friends now gone.
She awoke in the sacred grove. All around satyrs danced and played
lively music. The squirrel chirped and chattered. The princess
looked to see a wide tree, bearing the gnarly face of a man. It bent
down a branch and shook down some seeds to the appreciative squirrel.
"What?" said Cameda, "What is going on?" The tree looked on her and
she felt shame. Dear Itho, she thought. It is all my fault. A rough
hand took her wrist and pulled her up. Her tears became laughter as
she danced with the satyrs into the night.
As the figures around them spun, the tree god spoke strange words,
twirling the squirrel around with its knotted finger. The creature
began to grow. Cameda stepped into the circle, fascinated. "The
forest spirit," she said, holding out her hand. A shape lay before
her, crackling with light. A hand reached up and seized her palm. At
last, a squirrel man stood before the tree.
"What is your name?" croaked the tree.
"I shall be called Root," said the animal person.
"This is a good name," said the tree, "for a keeper of the forest."
The tree fell silent, and Cameda looked around confused. All the
strange creatures had vanished, leaving nothing but an old contorted
tree. Root took her hand and guided her away. She noticed as they
ran that they were flanked by all manner of scurrying rodents.
Squirrels, chipmunks and ground hogs ran with them. High above the
owls watched, eager to know who would be the victor in this contest.
"Where are we running?" asked Cameda.
"There is no need to run any longer," said Root. "He has found us."
Across the shallow stream stood the werewolf, its face still stained
with Itho’s blood. Again and again, it called for the squirrel -- the
squirrel and the golden ring. With Itho’s sword, the monster hacked
through tree limbs in its madness. It would be a mercy to slay this
creature, thought Root. A wind blew and he could smell the
desperation. He nodded his head. It would be done.
Princess Cameda looked over Root’s red shoulder at the crazed
creature. There was something in the way it swung its shoulders and
the careless way it twirled on its feet. Her mind swam with hurtful
memories. She withdrew her hand from her pocket, knowing what she
clutched in her fingers.
"It cannot be," said the princess, her voice spent of all emotion.
"It is so," said Root. "The monster is Itho’s brother."
Root stared out across the stream. "The time is now," he said. "I
must face him."
Cameda drew a silver blade out from the sheath at her back. "This was
my mother’s blade. It was forged by the dwarves at the dawn of time.
It is said to have killed dragons." She knelt in the muddy ground.
"Take this weapon, oh protector," said the princess, "guardian of the
Root emerged from the trees, sword in hand. This was the time. He
felt the spirit flowing through him. The outsider must be destroyed
for the good of the forest, for the good of the tribe, for Matagan!
The wolf saw him and froze. The monster’s lips peeled back across its
sharp yellow teeth. The werewolf laughed, tossing Itho’s sword from
hand to hand. With a final snarl, he charged. Root set his feet and
launched toward the villain. Root knocked away a series of savage
blows, relying on greater reflexes and the teachings of his murdered
master. It was not enough. The squirrel man leapt up onto a tree.
Howling victory, the werewolf chopped at the tree trunk.
The forest went silent as Cameda emerged from the trees. Around her
the rodents watched. Slowly she stepped out across the stream. The
werewolf turned to face her, wiping away its slobber. It pulled the
sword from the tree and she stepped back. She held forth her arms in
supplication. In her hands she held the ring. "Niira," she said, "I
know it’s you." The fur of the werewolf’s head fell away, revealing
the face of a confused elf. He staggered forward.
"Cameda," he said, "I..."
Blood spilled from the werewolf’s mouth as the squirrel man plunged
his blade down into the side of its neck. Root yanked the blade free
as the naked elf sank to ground, blood pouring across his chest. The
squirrel man dropped the sword down next to his fallen foe and walked
toward the growing crowd of animal people. He turned to say a word to
Cameda as she ran by but was quickly swept away by a wave of cheering
"Why did you do it?" cried Cameda, her hands desperately trying to
staunch the flow of blood from Niira’s neck.
"My love for you," croaked the monster, "is greater than that for the forest."
That night, high in the trees, Root sat watching the full moon. All
around him the little ones chattered, safe now, and thankful to the
spirit for sending such a brave hero. Root laughed and sang one of
the tunes Matagan used to sing when he was young. When all the little
squirrels and chipmunks were asleep Root hopped across to his old den,
too small for him now, but familiar. Above in the leaves, the owl
"Laugh while you can, little tree mouse," said Buldagra. "It is said
the spirit shines on us all. We will see how long you can escape the
As he watched the owl woman disappear into the stars, Root thought on
all that had passed. The shadows might be long, he thought, but all
are followed by bright sunshine.
In this story, the forest spirit is associated to three fairly separate groups, the animal people, the satyrs and the elves. The druid acts as an intermediary for the elves, where the animal people are acted upon more directly and they have a relationship with the animals which is natural to all involved. There is some tension between the elves and animal people despite their common object of worship, but there is also respect (Matagan and Itho are referred to as friends, and the princess respects the animal people as guardians of the forest). The satyrs are simply associated with the forest spirit's physical presence here, but that relationship was not examined. There is a notion of the spirit's favor, which can presumably be lost, and among the animal people, protection of the forest spirit stopped the owl woman from preying on Matagan the squirrel man. The forest spirit appeared in a grove, but the location might not be a permanent one.
There were a few physical transformations from one form to another here. We've discussed the complications in the past of tying one body to another, and there's an additional complication in this story of a partial transformation between two forms (not just the animal people being halfway between an animal and a "full" humanoid, but when the werewolf get his elf head back when he is startled/confused).
The horrifying events in the beginning of the story lingered on in the squirrel enough for the druid to sense a dark aura, and it was possible at that point to divine the past events. The historical events are already stored, so it would just need to tie them to a temporary residual effect.
The wasting ennui-sickness of immortals popped up through the druid, though you can never be too tired of life to get others drunk! It's tricky to simulate faithfully since it presumably takes a while, but this kind of thing could happenly on occasion at random influenced by personality traits and (a lack of) historical events, say.
The owl woman shows some discretion in not hunting the squirrel when the guard approaches. This sort of thing is sorely lacking among the predatory creatures. They really need to prioritize things even when they are targeting something.
There comes a time when Itho decides to sever his ties with his entity and resign his entity position, though he ultimately continues on an entity-based quest for spiritual reasons (feeling bound by the will of the forest spirit). This kind of individual/entity tension should drive a lot of what goes on in the world.
The owl woman at one point offers information in exchange for Root (as dinner), although she likely didn't expect the elf to give up the squirrel. If an AI critter can make these kind of half-hearted requests of the player during the course of a conversation, there's a danger that the player could take them too seriously, but it might be fun to develop that kind of interaction.
It would take a great deal of confidence to play with an opponent when a single strike can be fatal, but having an AI critter sadistically prolong a battle should be possible. They could mock the player while they are attempting this if the player is involved.
There was an instance of grief-stricken wandering. Dwarves can currently be stricken with melancholy, but it would be more interesting if they wandered off to familiar locations, etc.
There are a few objects in the story (the mother's blade as well as perhaps the gilded glass) that came from the dwarves, and this type of cross-cultural interaction should be reflected everywhere.
At the beginning, there's a combat situation that respects the position of one combatant behind another for an extended period of time, and there are attacks like over the shoulder throws and strangulation mentioned. The villain is also fatally wounded from his blindside when he becomes distracted. That sort of positional information is only respected for specific strikes right now, and it's pretty vague and unclear even when those happen, so this can be worked on quite a bit.
A body became gradually covered into the debris on the forest floor. Forests need leaf litter and humus in general.