NOTE: Contains depictions of corpses.
In the heart of Rosehearth Abbey, where the sun's warm rays bathed the lush green surroundings, lived a young squirrel maid named Hazel.
Hazel Runwhistle was a spirited and curious creature, known for her boundless energy and mischievous escapades with her various friends.
Rosehearth Abbey was a haven of tranquility, a place where peace reigned and the soft glow of contentment enveloped every corner. The abbey itself was nestled in a serene valley, surrounded by rolling hills and vibrant wildflowers that painted the landscape with hues of gold and pink half the year.
As another day began, Hazel found herself perched atop a sunlit tree branch, her tail swaying playfully in the breeze as she read another note from a mysterious admirer who had been sending her poetry all Summer. From her vantage point, she could see the abbey below, with its stone walls gleaming in the noonday sun and the courtyard bustling with activity.
Technically, she was supposed to be helping gather fruit in one of the abbey’s many gardens but ‘words were just as valuable as food,’ according to the Abbot, and so she stayed.
The sound of gentle laughter along with an unseen lute somewhere in the distance echoed through the air as the abbey's residents went about their daily routines, tending to the gardens and sharing stories over hearty breakfasts. Hazel's bright eyes danced with excitement as she watched the joyful scene unfold.
“Hazel!” A shrill voice shouted. “Hazel, where are you?”
The young squirrel peered down from her perch and was chagrined to see the plump body of Mistress Oakgut - one of the Abbot’s highest ranking nuns. She was glaring up at the mischievous squirrel, tapping one of her great black furry feet on the grass.
“You’ve got some chores to do young missy!” The badger bellowed up the trunk of the huge, spreading oak tree.
Hazel smiled to herself and shook her head.
“Alright, m’lady - I’m comin’ right down,” Hazel said, putting one of her little paws on a nearby branch and turning about to get a better position.
She stopped suddenly. For an instant all noise ceased as she saw something in the far distance. She dropped the new poem from her secret admirer and couldn’t even hear it flutter through the branches below. She looked to and fro, trying to see if anything was out of the ordinary.
Her squirrel instincts had reacted to something, right? She scanned the hills all the way to the edge of the forest.
“Come ooooon, missy,” Oakgut called. “We’ve got the Summer Dance tonight: we’ve got food to collect!”
Slowly the other noises: the laughter, the songs, the conversations, filtered back into Hazel’s long fluffy ears.
“Y-yes mistress,” she said, finally climbing down. When she had reached the bottom, she considered mentioning it to Oakgut. She licked her lips. She had perceived something... maybe not saw it, per se, but...
Oakgut walked alongside her, rambling as usual about the importance of Hazel taking her duties at the abbey seriously. After a few moments, the young squirrel maid had relaxed and had sunk slowly back into her warm, relaxed routine.
She had reached the garden and began plucking vegetables and stone fruits while gossiping with the other young maids and lads in the field when she remembered something.
“My poems!” She gasped, standing up straight.
Wildthumb - a hare friend of hers - smiled. “You still gettin’ love notes from that secret admirer o’ yours?” She asked.
“Yes! And I left his latest note up in the Ol’ General,” she said, referring to the great spreading Oak Tree near the South Wall. “Tch, I’ll be right back Thumb,” she said, setting her basket down and sprinting.
“Oi! Missy!” Oakgut yelled across the busy abbey, but the squirrel was determined. Hazel looked up at the General and saw the parchment halfway up the tree.
Hazel - being a squirrel - hopped and skipped up the tree as easily as if it were a game. Slowing to the note, she bent down to reach it slowly. She grabbed it easily, then looked upwards.
Taking each branch carefully now, she reached the top of the ancient tree and peered over the vine-covered wall into the distance.
There! No... THERE!
She let the wind bend her branch slightly as the sounds disappeared once more. Was that a tree or a figure in the far distance?
Hazel gulped and squinted. When she focused her eyes, she couldn’t see the ‘tree’ anymore at the forest edge.
“Hallo up there!” Came a voice from below. “Having a good one are ye?” Oakgut yalped.
Hazel stared and stared into the dark forest at the edge of the territory in the far distance. Every branch that twitched and every shadow that moved heightened her senses.
The young squirrel maiden shook her head and the sounds of life from below filled the air once more. She gulped and could feel her heart slow down as she took trembling steps back down. This time, when the squirrel touched the ground, Oakgut could tell something was wrong.
The old badger swept Hazel in a half hug and sat next to her.
“What’s wrong my little one?”
Hazel sat next to her caretaker and cuddled. “I... I thought I saw something in the forest,” she said. “But I don’t... think it was anything.”
Oakgut grinned. “Ah, a young fancy turns many tales in their head, but just in case, we’ll send a few scouts out there. Would that be good?”
Hazel smiled and nodded. “I’m going back to the garden, mistress. I think distracting myself is the best thing to do right now.”
Oakgut and Hazel stood as the old badger gently swatted Hazel’s rump. “Well then get back to it, lass!”
Hazel skipped, poetry in hand, back to her labors as Oakgut, slightly worried, made her way to the abbot’s office in the main hold to make a report.
The young hare explorer stepped up to the main wooden gate of the ruins. It was rotted, and so she used her long stave as a winch to creak it open. She was technically a mage, and so her offensive magics could help if things... spiraled out of control.
Her primary occupation was archivist for the Tyrian Library in New Nottingham: a job she took with gusto.
Immediately she could tell that the old stories were false. The buildings themselves were a little unsteady, but that was normal for a thousand years of nature reclaiming the land.
She admired the craftsbeastship of the keep and continued. Making notes as her white tail tittered in anticipation, she noted the gardening tools in the shed, the weapons in the barracks all hung nice and neat...
...There was no attack of searats, here.
Taking another glance she noted that the place was deep in a thick forest: it was not surprising that other creatures had extreme difficulty finding the place.
Carefully opening the door to the main hall, the young hare’s bright green eyes darted from shields on the wall to moth-eaten flags hung over the main stone staircase. She gulped: it was as though ghosts were still here, setting up a Summer’s eve festival for a thousand years.
The stone staircase didn’t creak, but the wooden floor on the next story did. She reached into her backsack and pulled out one of the tomes on the Seven Vile Vermin.
An eighth was speculated upon, but no evidence had ever been found. The author of the tome she had in her hand disappeared a decade ago in search of evidence and was never found again.
The second story had slight stone windows that let in the cheery Summer air, but the hare archivist could feel something was wrong. At the end of the hall was her prize: the door to the childrens’ dormitory.
Initially, when she tried the door, it was stuck. She rammed against it and heard a rustle as it eventually gave way after a few more thumps.
The air that hit her delicate nose was the most foul she had ever dare dreamed, and it smashed into her nasal cavity like an irate ex-lover.
“Goodness! Lord Tyr, what is that smell?” She said to herself, covering her delicate white nose in her gloved paws. When she took a peek into the slim opening she was met with a face.
She jumped back and ran as fast as her hare-legs could carry her back down the staircase to the lower floor, priming her spells in case whatever horrible creature was up there decided to visit.
After a few minutes, she collected herself and made her way back up the stairs: She wasn’t going to let a ghoul dissuade her from the archaeological discovery of her career.
Going back to the door, wand at the ready, she carefully slid her way in front of the door. There was the face again - although it wasn’t quite a face. It was loose skin sagging on top of a very, very old skeleton.
“Goodness,” she said, her green eyes opening wider as she kicked the door. There was a clattering as more skeletons were brushed aside in the millennia-long darkness.
“Goodness...” she said softly, stepping back slowly. The skeletons were all against the door for some reason. She looked down at one of the corpses: a female squirrel - eyeless and mouth agape, just like all the others.
“No, no, this was no attack by searats,” she wrote in her notebook. “The militia was not assembled, and Rosehearth had been attacked many times before by various vermin, barely losing a soldier to them.”
“...The army... or entity... that destroyed this sacred place was something else entirely.”