The beast's hot breath issued through saber-like teeth, turning to mist in the cold forest air. On its back the elf lord Balatria hummed a cheerful tune. The train of elk was laden with piles of cloth and foodstuffs destined for the dwarf fortress. The little miners had been fast friends since the War of Attrition. Together they had blasted the goblin fortress and sealed the demon under a million tons of stone. Now, in the new era of peace, the elf sought to engage the dwarves in the friendly intercourse of trade.
The giant tiger stopped in its tracks, growling low. Balatria leaned close to its neck, patting its cheek.
"What is it Kethier?" asked the elf prince.
"Danger," said the tiger, its silent voice finding the elf's mind alone.
Out of the woods, a black bear man stepped before the caravan. The prince signaled the caravan to halt. Ahead in the woods, Balatria could see the shadowy shapes of more animal people. He called his elf escort forward. They were elite elf warriors armed with clubs, menacing with long thorns, dripping with the deadliest of poisons. One by one the savage creatures showed themselves. There were bear men, deer men, even raccoon and hare men representing their kind with disturbing silence.
"Make way, friends," said Balatria. "We children of the Forest Spirit are on a errand of peace."
The bear man stared at Balatria, its shoulders rising slowly with every breath.
"If you seek the little hunters," it said, "you will find nothing but pain."
As the caravan sauntered on, Balatria was wracked with doubt. The animal peoples were not easily united. Perhaps this mission was not the will of the Spirit. But was it not the will of his mother, Queen Tiriera? Instinctively he reached for the medallion hanging from around his neck. The gold leaf of Duladaria, worn only by the true heir to the high tree throne. The trees soon thinned enough to see the tops of the tall blue mountains.
The elves' expressions grew grim as the train of elk plodded on. Everywhere around them lay the dead stumps of murdered trees. The forest floor was replaced by the cold hard stone of a cobbled road. A lonely stream wound its way through the waste, nourishing nothing. They looked for a place to ford the waters, but only sharp stones jutted from the quick stream. Then they saw it, an unnamable obscenity laid across the tortured land.
The wooden bridge was wide and tall, nailed together with the corpses of a hundred living beings. Balatria slipped from Kethier's shoulders and stopped to say a prayer at every plank. How could these devils be anything better than goblins? Yet it was the will of the Queen that they be courted and appeased. When they finally reached the other side, the elf prince looked up to see the high stone towers of the dwarf fortress.
"Danger," spoke the tiger.
"I know, Kethier," said the elf lord. "I don't like it either."
As they approached the gate of the fortress the air was filled with the smell of burning flesh. Along the road, skinned animal hides were on grisly display. The creatures that did this were monsters, no less evil than ettins or cyclopes. When they reached the trade depot it was deserted. Balatria scanned the high walls, his hand falling to the hilt of his wooden sword.
Like thunder they came, appearing from behind rock and tent, and the battlements above. A hundred marksdwarves, raining down a hail of missiles from their deadly crossbows. The elk screamed in horrid pain as they were struck by multiple bolts. The gate swung open and the dwarves charged, brandishing enormous war axes.
"Ambush!" Balatria told the elves. "Kill those runts!"
Balatria leapt onto Kethier's back and charged the dwarves. The giant tiger knocked the dwarves around like so many toys. A blond-bearded dwarf jammed his polearm into the elf lord's ribs and knocked him from the tiger's back. Balatria shot to his feet and slammed his sword into the side of the dwarf's neck, rendering him unconscious. He raised his blade to finish the opponent and was struck in the belly by half a dozen bolts.
The dying elf lord scooted on his knees leaving a trail of blood. He found the giant tiger at last.
"Kethier," said Balatria, "take this to the home tree. You must avenge me."
Balatria placed the medallion of Duladaria around the beast's neck and fell dead. Kethier licked his master's face, raising his head as the dwarves approached, lances ready. The tiger growled, thirsty for blood, but it knew its master's dying wish. The dwarves cheered as the mournful creature disappeared into the forest.
"Many of my charges have been knocked from the sky by these foul bearded monsters," said the sharp-beaked petitioner.
The audience chamber, high in the home tree, was silent as Queen Tiriera regarded the red-tailed hawk man. It seemed to the queen that all the animal peoples would address her, one by one, with bloodthirsty requests for war against the dwarves. Had not she just sent her son to the mountains on a peace mission?
"We will allow the prince to return with news of the caravan," said the Queen. "We must not be quick to judge our small bearded friends."
"Friends!" squawked the hawk man. "Look here what your friends have wrought."
A pair of red cardinals beat their wings straining to hurl the feathered cap they carried at the feet of the Queen. Many a winged creature had given its life in the name of dwarven fashion. The red-tailed hawk man stared into the Queen's eyes and was met by a gaze of stone. The elves held their ears as the hawk man ripped the air with a cry that seemed to shake the very trees. No, it was a thousand birds beating the air with their wings. Such was the wrath of the bird peoples.
"Know this, cold tyrant," the hawk man said with venom. "There will come a time when your loved ones suffer at the hands of these murderers. Then, only the Forest Spirit will hear your pleas, for no bird will aid you."
The angry hawk launched into the sky, joining the cloud of birds churning above. The elf lords in the audience chamber stood like statues, not daring to move, lest they anger the queen. She strained hard not to let her irritation show. The dwarves were allies in the War of Attrition. Could the animals not show the least gratitude to the dwarves, who had helped defeat the enemies of all life?
Something plucked at the back of the Queen's mind. A sound, distant and annoying, barely audible below the infernal squawking above, an itching, scratching sound. It was the final insult. The Queen rose from her leafy throne, taking up her golden bow and arrows. She walked swiftly to edge of the platform and pointed her weapon down. Far below, at the base of the home tree, a giant tiger scratched the trunk, red sap bleeding from the damaged bark.
Queen Tiriera let fly, but some questioning doubt fouled her aim. The arrow landed a hair's length from the tiger's hind foot. The beast sat back on its haunches. A flash of metal shone from the animal's chest. As the Queen met the beast's eyes, a voice sounded in her head.
"Danger," said the tiger, bowing its head.
"Kethier?" asked the Queen aloud.
The tiger bounded off into the woods. The queen launched off the platform against the shouted protests of her court. She swung from vine to vine, reaching the forest floor in a matter of seconds. Elf guards were already on the scene, spears at the ready. A crowd gathered, watching the Queen, whose downcast eyes met the medallion at her feet. It was the gold leaf of Duladaria, still covered with blood. Her son was dead. The elves tried to be strong. But how strong could an elf be when they saw their Queen crying?
An antlered being stepped from the woods, an elk woman holding a long wooden staff. At its side a cougar man walked with slow feline grace. The elves parted in the face of the pair, lowering their weapons. The elk woman reached out and took the Queen by the hand. Together, the animal pair led the mourning ruler away into the woods as the elves watched in wonder. She would soon be with the Forest Spirit.
Screams echoed from the mountainside as the captive elves suffered and died. Mad dwarf Almok raised his silver stein and laughed, spilling purple wine on the new elven tunic he had taken from the ambushed caravan. On his head he wore an antlered cap fashioned from the dead steed of one of the elf prisoners. A drunken dwarf guard stumbled toward him and summoned him inside. They retired into the mountain, laughing again and again as another elf fell screaming to his death.
"Lord Almok," said a fat dwarf overseer. "This one refuses to fight."
The dwarf warlord threw his blond, braided beard over his shoulder and leaned against the low wall surrounding the gladiatory pit. A terrified human pressed against the brick wall, holding his spear out before him. The elf, one of the caravan escorts, stood proudly in the center of the ring, a sword laying at his feet. Lord Almok was furious.
"Pick up that weapon, you sap-sucking vermin," yelled the dwarf, "or its the tower for you!"
"Do what you will villain," said the elf, calmly, "for your fate has already been sealed."
Almok ordered the dwarves to pull the elf from the pit. They marched him at spear point to the top of the high tower. At the rocky bottom of the cliff was a pile of bones and broken bodies. A brief feeling of vertigo passed through Almok as he stepped too close to the edge in his drunken stupor. The elf watched him with cool hatred. Angered, Almok gave the order and the dwarf guard pressed his spear into the elf's throat. The prisoner stepped backward and toppled over the edge. Almok watched with wonder as the elf plunged silently to his death. The dwarf lord shrugged his shoulders and retired into the mountain.
The animal guides backed away from the Queen as they reached the forest center. The sun shone on an enormous lake surrounded by dancing satyrs. A pair of the horned, goat-legged dancers took Queen Tiriera by the arms and spun her in circles, dancing toward the lake's edge. Their merry prancing almost brought a smile to the Queen's tear-stained face. Finally she kneeled before the lake and rested in the pose of meditation, trying uselessly to repress her hatred.
A flash of light broke the peace of the smooth water. A giant swan burst up through the center of the lake. It stretched its wings wide and beat the air with magnificent fury. The Forest Spirit appeared as a different creature to every petitioner. Why did it have to be a bird? It was their kind which she had so grievously insulted.
"Divided," said the great swan, "there can be no victory. However, it is your destiny to fight, to strive to destroy those that have wronged you. You must act according to nature."
Kethier waited in the woods just outside the lake. Queen Tiriera leaped onto his shoulders. As she rode through the forest toward the mountain, she was joined by animal men of all kinds, bears, squirrels, wolves and coyotes. Elves rode up from behind, riding proud stags covered in war paint. It would be war, and the elves would suffer no dwarf to live.
The dwarf lord's wine-stained lips sucked at the leg of a dead forest bird. He wondered vaguely at the weak nature of the elves, who had suffered such insults without retaliation. Great expense had gone into the defenses of this fortress. He wondered now if it would have been better spent expanding the wine cellar. A dwarf page burst into the throne room, his long lacy tunic blowing behind him as he ran.
"Master," said the young dwarf, "our scouts have returned from the outpost. The sentries... they have been eaten!"
"So," said the warlord, wiping bits of meat from his beard, "they have come at last."
"Sire," said the Captain of the Guard, hastily dressed in his plate mail suit, "there are battle formations the likes of which the Forge Father has never seen!"
"Marksdwarves to their posts!" commanded Lord Almok, slapping the horned helmet on his head.
Almok stood atop the battlements with his generals looking down at the mighty host that had gathered below. It seemed as though the forest had vomited forth all of its animal denizens. Bear, deer and wolves marched together. Some, to the dwarves' dismay, walked on two legs carrying weapons. Elves marched in dense lines waving tall green banners baring the mark of the home trees. At the head of the army, Tiriera rode the magnificent tiger Kethier, flanked by an elite guard of great cat men.
The air was torn with the simultaneous snap of a thousand bow strings. Arrows and bolts filled the sky. Not a inch of ground was safe from raining death. Animals howled in pain while crossbow-wielding dwarves were struck from the walls. Almok dove behind a stone slab as one of his generals was struck in the neck and sent twitching to the ground. Galrok, Almok's lieutenant, crawled toward his lord.
"We cannot win this exchange lord," said the general. "We must draw them forth and trap them inside!"
The dwarf lord nodded, eyes closed tight as arrows slapped into the stones all around him. Far below Tiriera watched as the stone doors swung slowly open. She drew her curved blade Elstra, a wooden sword polished for a hundred years in the brooks and streams of the forest until it took on the aspect of steel. The animal peoples made ready to charge, wielding clubs and spears, while their animal companions howled and bayed.
A hundred mad dwarves charged from the black innards of the mountain, screaming and holding their axes high. The animals howled and tore into them while elves fired deadly missiles from the backs of their steeds. Kethier roared and struck down dwarves with his mighty claws while Tiriera brought her blade down onto their necks sending heads and arms flying into the air. The dwarves sounded the retreat. The forest army charged ahead, driving the dwarves before them. Kethier stopped before the stone archway.
"Danger," said the voice in Tiriera's mind.
"Fear not, milady," said a jaguar man. "We will take them!"
"No," said the Queen, "it's too dangerous."
But it was too late. The animal people charged through the gate. Bloodcurdling screams echoed from within as spiked metal discs fell from the ceiling and blades shot from the walls. Still the animals came, on a single-minded mission of hatred. The queen wept as creature after creature was torn apart. After what seemed like an eternity of pain, the machinery of death ground to a halt, jammed by the carcasses of a hundred victims.
"Horrid monsters!" cried the Queen. "You will not escape punishment."
She urged Kethier on and launched through the entrance. She passed into the dark tunnel beyond the carnage of death. One trap remained, a sharp spear that shot from the floor and struck Kethier in the shoulder. Tiriera was thrown from her mount and landed on a pressure plate which dropped a steel cage around her. Dwarves emerged from the shadows holding spears out before them. Kethier growled in anger.
"No, Kethier," said the Queen, "take this to the elves, I will be avenged."
She threw the leaf of Duladaria to Kethier who caught it in his jaws and trotted back out the tunnel. Tiriera was disarmed and led, hands bound, up the stairs of the high tower. She emerged into the sunlight to find herself surrounded by wine-sodden dwarves. One, his beard stained purple with drink and an antlered cap on his head, approached her tottering on his feet.
"Foolish elf," he said, "this fortress will stand a thousand years. Long enough to see your forest reduced to kindling for our furnaces, and your precious animals butchered."
"You and all your friends will be eaten before the day is through," said Tiriera, "and this fortress will be a tomb for your bones."
"Over the side!" shouted the enraged dwarf lord.
As the dwarves forced her to the edge of the tower a small metal object fell at the Queen's feet, the gold leaf of Duladaria. Smiling, Tiriera leaped from the edge. A squadron of giant eagles descended on the dwarves sending them screaming over the side of the tower. Almok was alone, when they came. A pair of seagull men landed on the tower and advanced on him. The dwarf lord screamed denial as the bird men plucked out his eyes. Blind and hopeless, the wretched dwarf hurled himself over the side to escape further tortures, smashing his body against the bones of his enemies.
The red-tailed hawk man bore Queen Tiriera back to the forest.
"Your sacrifice was not unnoticed," said the hawk man.
"Let this bond, born of hatred," said the Queen, "last long into days of peace."
First of all, this story was written with an evil (or typical) dwarf mode player in mind. If you are wondering why the dwarves didn't honor the alliance that was forged fighting the demon, it's because you or one of your friends started playing their fort. As usual, the analysis is partial since we've already written a lot of the elements up in other places.
Here the elves decide to send a trade mission to strengthen bonds and seal a lasting alliance with the dwarves. More involved gestures than just sending over a diplomat should be the norm. The animal peoples also showed up to say that this was a bad idea -- current allies should be able to influence diplomacy with third parties.
Here, a very loose group of creatures (the animal peoples) were united by the will of a larger force to which they all had a tie. This isn't much different from warlords or knights being called together under a king, for instance, and that sort of thing should be fairly common in certain civilizations.
Certain objects can be associated to a creature and/or a position (as the gold leaf in the story), and just the presence of that object away from its supposed keeper can symbolize something or reflect a great deal about what has happened. Having artifacts or important items with even simple associations can thereby add an extra layer of depth to any situation.
Creatures should react differently to their surroundings based on their culture/history. Even if the dwarves hadn't placed tree corpses and skins on the road, an elf being up in the mountains for the first time would experience something. This could happen with your migrants when they arrive in your oddly placed fortresses, or to your companions as your travel in adventure mode, for example.
There's a point near the beginning at which the elves take a bit of time to look out for an ambush in a suspicious location. If a creature can take time to do this in the game, they should probably do it when they enter a player's depot for the first time. The player often ambushes caravans, though it might be difficult to translate this into dwarf mode terms in a way that you'd notice, unless it tells you explicitly.
Smells already have mentions up in dev, but the smell of burning flesh here deserves an additional mention.
The prince was willing to go along with the queen's orders even in the face of contrary advice and repeated extreme assaults on his sensibilities. The reactions here of in-game characters should depend on their personalities and other factors.
From pigeons to giant pet tigers, there's the notion of being able to hang an object or message on an animal that then knows or can understand where to go or whom to seek out to make the delivery.
Having people lining up to petition the ruler for a redress of grievances and for a dispute settlement could be fun. Allowing the player to wait in line for any appropriate activity would be fun, especially if it can tell when you try to cut.
The process of making a show of displaying evidence to increase the power of the presentation came up.
Withholding aid due to past wrongs came up.
It's important for some people to maintain their position or dignity by observing court etiquette/decorum even when under strain.
When summoned, there might be specialized escorts that bring you to a location. They might be the only ones that know the way, there could be supernatural forces at work, there might be practical (eg defensive) reasons, or it might just be tradition.
There were a few brief back and forth negotiations and refusals to comply with demands in the story. Having these exchanges occur explicitly rather than just clearing everything up with a single roll would be preferable.
There were some rituals associated to communing with the Forest Spirit, though it's hard to say whether they were required, spontaneous or traditional. The elven prince also had a superstition/ritual associated to the deceased trees that made up the bridge planks.
The Forest Spirit in this story was implied to be able to choose the form of its manifestation. Currently deities have only one associated form, but there's no reason to stick to that in all cases.
Competent advisors should be able to make suggestions to their leader when the leader fails to come up with something at a pertinent time. In general, there can be advisors that expand and influence the leader's choices, though they can have their own agendas.
Clearly, the wood wouldn't have become as steel in just any stream. Spirits or deities in stories often help the protaganists along by granting them helpful objects.
Although the seagull men weren't explicitly stated as such (unless you emphasize the "they" in "Almok was alone, when *they* came"), there might be special units within a force that are tasked to punish defeated opponents. These in particular were something between executioners, torturers and special forces.
The elite elves had natural weapons with natural poisons. Civilizations should continue to utilize resources from their environment as more opportunities are added, in keeping with their ethical framework.
The giant tiger Kethier had a telepathic link with the prince and later the queen. There are lots of parameters to be fiddled with here -- who can the tiger speak with in this way? At what distance? Is it one-way? If the ability is tied to specific creatures, can it be transferred? Assuming you can "talk" to animals or even trees, is it at some kind of emotional level, or can they form sentences of some kind?
Creatures should be able to idly whistle or hum or sing.