“Toward the dark part of the forest.”1 That was where she was told to go to meet her new teacher. Before she could ask, her father added with that smile that told her she was in for more than she expected, “From there, I’m sure he’ll find you.”
Translated from Elven
I hope so, she thought. Things were starting to look a bit scary. There’s a reason why most people stayed away. It wasn’t nighttime, yet darkness had fallen upon Rirosorchalwen. She told herself she wasn’t scared. There were stories about the things you might see if you came this far. She remembered them from her books, but never actually thought about what she’d do if she encountered the kind of frightening beasts she expected lived here. It was a terrifying thought. I’m a big girl now and big girls aren’t scared. Saying it didn’t really help.
As she pressed on, she noticed a mist starting to appear on the forest floor. Every few steps it got thicker and rose higher. After about twenty feet, she realized she’d made a mistake. This isn’t mist—it’s smoke! If something were on fire, she’d have noticed already. It didn’t seem to be moving, so she continued walking, curious now as to its source. It smelled… different. This wasn’t how normal burnt things smelled. Could this be some kind of magic? Curiosity mixed with fear as she realized any number of evil things might be waiting for her to lose herself in the smoke before falling upon her. Wait, which way was I going? Something felt off. Rirosorchalwen noticed she could no longer discern her direction. As it occurred to her that now would be the time to turn back, she realized she couldn’t.
She paused for a moment, considering what she might do. But before she could think, she heard them—the sound of three creatures moving around her. Not just moving. Surrounding. She reached for her shortsword. “Who’s there?”, she demanded. She thought she sounded intimidating. From the smoke, three figures appear around her, each about six and a half feet tall—at least a head taller than herself. At first glance, the figures appeared to be women, but it quickly became clear that they only used to be. Rirosorchalwen could barely make out their blotched and bruised skin, but had no trouble at all noticing the empty sockets that used to house eyes. In response to her challenge, they opened their mouths, but could only hiss and cackle—they had no tongues. Not good. Rirosorchalwen considered which one she might attack first, perhaps throwing them off guard and allowing for an escape. But she had no idea which way to go. The hags advanced slowly. They were about twenty feet away, still mostly obscured by the smoke, apparently relishing in the opportunity before them. Rirosorchalwen cursed the smoke around her. Somehow it was preventing her from thinking straight. This has to be their doing. Why are they moving so slowly? Before she could realize the smoke was affecting the hags as well, one of them charged. Creak. No one had time to notice the sound. Rirosorchalwen raised her weapon to meet the coming threat. Then came a sound like an explosion and, before her eyes, the hag seemed to disappear. In its place was a large trunk, about as wide as a person, but oddly proportioned and formed from knotted wood. Beneath the mass of wood, she could see the hag… well, some of it. Actually, most of it now seemed to be strewn about where it had just been standing. The shock of what she just witnessed drowned out the earth-shaking sound of the former threat being crushed ten feet away from her. Creeeak. She tried looking up at the… tree? Or was it a large branch? The force of the impact had blown much of the smoke away, but it quickly began to fill back in. As she followed the shape to its source, it began to move. The smoke was thicker than ever now. She could barely see, but it was hard to miss the knotted wood rise above her and smash the ground again, this time in a different area about twenty feet away. Isn’t that where a hag… There was the sound of another explosion, followed by what could only be the start of a scream before it was cut short. A third explosion. Same spot. This time, she managed to fully comprehend the volume of the strikes. What could possibly…? Again, she thought it wise to leave. Still unsure of which way was the correct one, she turned around and began to run. Creeeak. A few steps later, she almost ran into something, but managed to stop just a couple feet before running into it. Oh, the third hag. She was expecting it to attack her with the same hiss as before. Instead, the only sound it made was a scream. Later, Rirosorchalwen would swear it sounded almost like a twisted, gurgling “Nooooooooooo!”, before being smashed into the ground like the others in an explosion that almost knocked Rirosorchalwen off her feet. In front of her was the same tree… something… as before. This time it didn’t move, but she could hear a faint creak. The smoke began to fade a bit and she looked up, following the shape in front of her and over her head to a larger shape behind where she stood. As she had suspected, the thing that crushed the hags was indeed a tree… or part of one. The “arm” part to be precise. Looking behind her now, and up several feet, she saw a large face looking down at her. Spread across it was the biggest smile she had ever seen. “Fooooooliiishhh haaagsss”2, he spoke with a lazy drawl.
Not translated from Common
Apparently, Rirosorchalwen was never in any danger that night, as it was not she who had wandered into hag territory, but they who had carelessly chosen to enter the nearly thirty-foot tall kapre’s. That was the proper name for this huge tree who was her new instructor, although he introduced himself as “Oakfist”. He even admitted that he came up with the name himself, so Rirosorchalwen wasted no time thinking about the implausibility of such a name being given normally. It’s still pretty cool, she thought. Roots and branches knotted across his body to form what looked like muscles and his many ember-like eyes burned with a warm glow. Rirosorchalwen wondered if trees even needed muscles or if it was just a convenient coincidence. What he didn’t need, she thought, was that thing in his mouth—the source of his constant smoke and her annoyance. It was about two feet long and burned slowly, apparently wrapped in some kind of special material and containing a particular kind of leaves. A “cigar”, he called it. With it, Oakfist could usually confuse those entering his territory, allowing him to catch them off guard after assessing any threat. He meant no harm to good creatures, but this deep in the forest, nasty things were everywhere. According to him, kapres are mostly pacifists, but somehow she got the idea that he was an anomaly who simply used his circumstances as an excuse for getting into fights with evil creatures. He clearly enjoyed it, as she learned over their many excursions. As it turned out, the stories about the deeper forest being plagued with all sorts of threats were very true. However, thanks to Oakfist’s patrols—who was somehow even faster than she was—most were tracked down and smashed into the earth or beaten badly enough that they kept away for a while. It might seem odd for a creature so big to teach one so much smaller than itself to fight, but he was certainly not lacking in enthusiasm. One may even think the sight of a huge tree and a young elf rushing through the forest to brawl a pack of leucrottas or troop of baregaras comical if the fate of the forest didn’t potentially hang in the balance. Nonetheless, it didn’t seem as if anything could match Oakfist and he made sure to have plenty of fun as he taught Rirosorchalwen how to fight without the weapons she was used to.
Eventually, however, she had to ask, “What happens when I try to fight something as big as you alone? It doesn’t matter how strong I am then, does it?” Oakfist nodded and opened his mouth to speak, cigar holding its usual position. Why doesn’t it ever fall out of his mouth!? “Ssstrrrooonnng nnnooo mmmaaatterrr. Fooollooowww Oooaaakfiiist.” Rirosorchalwen followed the tree to a medium-sized pond in a relatively safe part of the forest. “Fiiight liiike theeem”, he said, motioning to a group of cranes standing around the edge of the water. “Like a bird?”, she asked. Birds usually got eaten or flew away, she thought. “Nnnooot liiike biiirrrd”, Oakfist explained. “Liiike thooossse biiirrrd.” She didn’t quite get it, but he did seem to know what he was talking about, so she approached one of the cranes. It turned its head to look at her. She turned around to her teacher. “I don’t want to hurt them…”, Rirosorchalwen started to object, but was cut off by Oakfist’s thundering laugh. “HAAA HAAA!!!” Each sound was drawn out in a way that would have sounded very unnatural for a normal creature, but she had gotten used to his speech by now. “Tooouuuchhh biiirrrd iiif caaannn!”, he continued laughing to himself and, rather loudly, sat himself down as if preparing for a show. The cranes didn’t seem to mind. Rirosorchalwen figured if Oakfist wasn’t worried about her hurting the birds, they would be ok if she just held back a bit.
Lunging for the one in front of her, she knew she was too close for it to get away by flying. Instead of her grabbing it, the crane moved its head out of the way and spread its wings, knocking her arm back. Heeeyyy! How did it…? Okay, maybe a wing… The crane stepped aside and hit her arm with one of its claws. Behind her, Oakfists laughter grew noticeably louder. Hmmm. Maybe if I grab its whole body at once… She dove, but the crane dodged backwards and pecked her in the head with its beak as she fell into the shallow water. Ow! She instinctively drew her hand to her head, feeling the area that was just poked. Oakfist was clearly enjoying this, almost rolling over as he held his sides and laughed his slow, loud laugh. Rirosorchalwen began wringing out her clothes as well as she could. A few moments later, Oakfist managed to somewhat compose himself. “Leeeaaarrrnnn mmmooovvve liiike biiirrrd. Thhheeennn nnnooo ooonnne tooouuuchhh yyyooouuu.” And so, for the next several weeks, Rirosorchalwen returned to the lake each day after her studies and watched the cranes.
Sometimes Oakfist came to watch, other times he was indisposed fighting this-and-otherworldly creatures. One day, apparently satisfied with her progress, Oakfist told her to return the next day with a weapon. She had become quite accustomed to not using one now, but remembered that they were also part of her overall training. “Leeeaaarrrnnn gooooood trrriiick”, he promised, followed by a big smile.
And so she arrived the following day, sword in hand. “You’re not gonna tell me to fight them with a sword, are you?”, addressing the mighty tree who was waiting for her. “Nnnooo fiiight biiirrrd tooodaaayyy. Fooolllooowww.” Relieved that she didn’t have to swing a sword at the poor cranes, although she wasn’t sure at least one of them didn’t deserve it, Rirosorchalwen started to worry when her teacher led her deeper into the forest than she had ever been. She knew there was a reason why he didn’t have her accompany him to this part before. As they marched, Oakfist brought up something they’d never discussed previously, “Eeelllf mmmaaagiiic gooooood, yyyeeesss? Yyyyooouuu stuuudyyy mmmuuuchhh.”
“Umm, yes, my parents make sure I practice a lot. I’m not sure I’m very good though.”
“Oooaaakfiiissst heeeaaarrr yyyooouuu gooooood liiightnnniiinnng.”
Rirosorchalwen blushed slightly and smiled. “I’m better at those, I suppose. But it’s hard to use spells and a weapon.” She placed a hand on the sword at her side, wondering what would be expected of her today. Oakfist merely nodded with approval, puffing contentedly on his cigar.
A couple hours later, they stopped. creeeak. Oakfist knelt down to whisper to Rirosorchalwen. “Eeelllf mmmaaagiiic gooooood. Ooonnniii aaalllsssooo mmmaaagiiic. Caaarrrefuuulll”. It wasn’t much of a whisper, but he did his best. Motioning to a cave just within sight, Rirosorchalwen tried to discern what it was she was meant to see. There was a light coming from within the cave. It looked like someone had built a fire within. “Ooonniii iiinnnsssiiide. Nnnooo beeelllooonnng heeeerrrre. Mmmooovvve liiike biiirrrd. Wwwaaatchhh ooonnniii mmmaaagic. Dooo wwwhaaat ooonnniii dooo. Nnnooo wwwooorrrrrryyy. Oooaaakfiiissst wwwiiithhh yyyooouuu.”
So she was to fight this “oni”, learning something from it in the process. She wasn’t sure if that meant she was to face this creature alone—if she even could. Still, she aimed to do her best and not let her teacher down.
Entering the cave, she stood tall, like she had learned from the cranes. Oakfist approached with unexpected grace, making only slight tremors with each step, stopping before the entrance, nodding her onward. Rirosorchalwen didn’t have to wait long to find out what this oni looked like. She never saw one before and would have thought it some kind of ettin due to its two heads. It stood about fourteen feet tall and was facing the back wall. It soon sensed her presence though, grabbing a double axe before turning to face her. Recognizing an intruder, one of the heads roared in rage. If she hadn’t already planned to wait before initiating her attack, this sight would have certainly given her pause. One of its heads looked like that of a typical brutish humanoid and yelled something at her in a language she didn’t understand. The other head had three eyes and was adorned with tattoos and gems. Weird. The second head didn’t speak, but the arm not holding the axe made some motions she recognized. It’s casting a spell. A moment later, the head of the axe in the other hand erupted in electricity. Whoa! How did it do that? She didn’t have time to think about it as the oni charged, swinging its axe back and forth. The cave had plenty of room, so the oni’s movements were unobstructed, but Rirosorchalwen’s relative small size did provide some advantage dodging the large creature’s attacks. She had to fight back though. Then, she remembered what Oakfist said. Holding her free arm in its defensive posture, she motioned with her hand like she had seen the oni do. Unlike other times she had cast the spell though, this time she tried to focus the casting into her sword.
Electricity burst forth, surrounding her blade the same as the oni’s. That seemed to catch it off guard, causing it to momentarily hold its attack. It worked! She figured that was as good a chance as any. Rirosorchalwen moved to strike, but the oni quickly recovered and swung again with its superior reach. She let the axe come, catching its uncharged haft with her forward free hand, deflecting the weapon and striking back with her blade. Got him! Her sword hit its mark, discharging the held electricity. It didn’t seem to do much…
Behind her, Rirosorchalwen heard Oakfist’s stomping approach. From the corner of her eye, she saw a knotted arm the size of the oni itself connect with its upper half, sending the oni crashing into the cave wall. Oakfist could barely fit in the large cave, but wasted no time pressing the assault and obliterating the oni before it could recover. She wondered if he might bring the cave down around them. Either way, she decided it best to give him his space…
Outside the cave, Rirosorchalwen waited for her teacher to exit. She didn’t have to wait long. After a few moments of smashing, he returned with a triumphant grin. “Diiid gooooood! Leeeaaarrrnnn gooooood trrriiick?”
“Yeah, I had no idea I could do that!”
“I guess I’m still not good enough to fight an oni by myself though…”
“Haaa haaa! Liiittllle ooonnne nnnooot fiiight ooonnniii fooorrr looonnng tiiimmme. Sssooommme daaayyy. Tooodaaayyy juuussst leeeaaarrrnnn iiisss gooooood.”
Yes, that was enough for today, wasn’t it? As they headed back toward home, Rirosorchalwen reflected on what she had learned and wondered what excitement tomorrow would bring.