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Below is part of the short story Sosrghugre, it takes place in a Grim-Strange world where joy is hard to find and horror is around every corner. This world is being realized with custom D&D 5th edition content including over 23 archetypes, 40+ spells, variant rules, and more. If you want access to more short stories, more D&D content, and more strange and odd content come on over to my Patreon https://www.patreon.com/EvaOddveig and my website www.Roamingdark.com.Eva
The cold was oddly comforting, I sat just listening to my own breath and the sounds of the woods. Watching the fog that bellowed out from me drift off into the night until it had dispersed into the rest of the night. Just breathing in the cold Northern winter air doing my best to clear my head, definitely a struggle considering the circumstances. I had climbed halfway up an old pine to get a view and from this perch I could see for aways around, all the way to town if I craned my neck behind me, if I strained my eyes I could make out the crumbling turrets of the ruined fort and our first camp that we had run from, and just looking down trunk I could see the embers of our campfire, flames lapping at the remaining log within it, our single tent hastily set up. I almost can’t believe what happened myself thinking about what all had to happen to put me here, on this branch, in this gods forsaken forest, helping a town that didn’t give two shits about us, and for what? A couple pounds of silver that at the time I knew that Catta was going to take double shares of leaving single shares for the rest of us. I mean, he is, was, the leader so I can’t argue about it that much but I know I wasn’t the only one who was feeling uneasy about this job. Just, it had felt off, the whole damn time just off. The kids in the street singing that fucking song, missing people that others never acknowledged, the lack of birds, these are all omens or at least should’ve been. None of us were, green starting this out. Fiach was the newest but even he had seen a few battles, enough for us to give him the nickname Fi. Talius had come before Rega but after I had and was just a whole bundle of pent up aggression, Catta liked him so he stayed. So none of us had an excuse, we should’ve known better but the promise of enough coin to relax for a while got us all in the end.
These thoughts may just land on empty ears but I hope after everything that has happened since the Schism, some of the gods are still listening, maybe someone or something out there has us in their corner. I hope that it’s more than that damn monster that’s been scavenging my thoughts.
If I listened hard enough I could just make out the faint breaths of Rega below, more so than anything else I am glad that we got out. We had gone into this whole situation as a means of spending our coin to open up a tavern of our own, we had both ran from the Old Country to get away from the prejudices of that old land, and often we found it here as well. In the town we had to pretend and hide ourselves for fear or retribution or being staked up in a flame, burned by the inquisition that was sweeping these lands. What we had thought was a pass to live free was also seen from the inquisition as open range to ramp up their efforts. I knew I wasn’t going to sleep tonight, not after the day before, not after everything that happened.
The snow below my feet had a certain refreshing sound to it. The crunching was a sign of reality’s usually grounding nature, a needed solid reminder of the sort of presence folks often take for granted. Looking around, the others were still with me, we had barely gotten away and out of its lair.
“I didn’t, I didn’t mean…” stuttered Fiach, eyes locked on the frozen ground.
“I know… we know. You didn’t mean to…” responded Talius tripping over his own words as if by saying it aloud he’ll believe his own lies, “That’s just how it feeds you know? According to the legends I mean, regret, sorrow. I mean, it’s called the fucking Sorrow Eater for a reason. IT made you do it, it’s… it’s not your fault Fi, its that demon’s.”
From then we walked in silence, we were waiting for dawn to wash over us, to cleanse us from what we saw or thought we had seen, with that Thing it was all so hard to tell. I wondered what Fi had seen, seen when he had run Catta through with his spear. There was a rage in his eyes, frankly, it was…unnerving, inhuman. I knew that Fi had been in some real hard times back in the Old Country, I mean, we all had. It’s why we all came here, for a fresh start but whatever It did must’ve struck a chord, hit just the spot for Fi to forget the plan.
*We need to set up camp; it’s cold, dark, and snowing*
“We need to set up camp,” I ordered. “This forced mark is just making us easy targets. Rega set up our tents. Fiach and Talius, get a fire going. I’ll keep watch.”
“Frig, won’t a fire be like a damn dinner bell to this thing?” Talius questioned.
“Obviously it doesn’t need light to see, Tal,” Rega quipped back. “Just do what Friga says, she’s in command now. Just follow orders.”
“Just because you’re fuckin’ her doesn’t mean YOU get to order me aro…” growled Talius while glaring at Rega.
“Quiet! This is not the place and certainly not the fucking time! We are less than a 3-hour march away from that damned fortress, and I honestly have no idea how fast it moves. It could already be here and the last thing we need is is to be at each other’s throats.” I hissed out
Just for a second I watched them, making sure that everyone was doing what I had ordered and then found a nice spot just away from camp to keep watch. I wanted somewhere far enough away that I could actually hear what was going on around us and that the light of the campfire wouldn’t ruin my sight. There was a nice little cliff overlooking the camp and you could barely make out the the lights of town, far far off in the distance. *At least the animals are making noises. It hasn’t found us yet.*
It had been a couple of hours. I knew that I should’ve passed watch on a while ago, but I valued the time to think. The image of that ‘Thing’, that demon, was burned into my mind, a slouching yet towering bundle of sticks in the rough shape of an owl or maybe closer to a raven. Leather and fabric tied it all together and gave it the appearance of a robed figure. It wasn’t alive, at least, not alive like us. It wasn’t natural in any way, hell it wasn’t even undead. Just malice and hunger, it probably didn’t even need to eat, just does for the hell of it. I couldn’t help but think of the nursery rhyme that the town’s children sang running through the mud slicked streets.
Wake up, wake up
The birdie’s come to play
Wake up, wake up
For feasting and to stay
Wake up, wake up
Rub your eyes clear
Wake up, wake up
The birdie draws near
*Damn, creepy kids, monster terrorizing your town and you sing a fucking song about it… it should be light by now, what’s with this darkness?* I got up from my perch and walked down the small fading trail my footsteps had left in the snow. Getting into camp I added a log to the fire and woke up Fi.
“It’s your turn for watch. There’s a cliff just north of here; just follow my footprints.” I said as Fiach rubbed his eyes, shedding the sleep from them. I left his tent and walked over and into Rega and my’s tent, I never meant to get as close to her as I did, but I couldn’t help it. She made me feel…normal, happy even, fuck she made me feel like a person again instead of just an effective Sellsword. Her warmth was comforting, and if anything else, I knew it was real.
It felt that as soon as I closed my eyes I opened them again; Rega was kneeling beside me shaking me awake. Her face taut and focused, a ghastly calm, eyes like a lioness locked on mine as she took the finger from her lips and slowly directed my gaze to the center of camp to the fire. The fire which was now little more than embers on their dying breath. Rega put her finger up to her lips in a hush. Without a sound, I grabbed my sword and focused my eyes to where she was pointing. *It’s fucking Catta!* My heart raced *No, no, I saw him die, I saw him run through.* Gripping my blade and sliding out of the tent, my bare feet not making a sound on the fresh snow. *Why is it still so fucking dark?* I slowly swung around the parameter as Catta warmed by the embers, rubbing his hands on his chest and core. Sword in hand and all but oblivious to the burn of ice upon my toes, I crept forward, knuckles whitening as my grip made the blade an extension of my arm. *None of us checked the body, we just ran, what if it’s actually Catta.* My mind raced with doubt, *there was something, what did that old crone say?* I eased forward, *In murder saw, the bloodless caws* I looked back to my tent and saw Rega urging me forward, her own sword in hand. *Why didn’t we check the body? We always check the bodies.* My grip still tight like a weld, *I didn’t see the body,* from cracked lips I whispered out, “Catta. Catta, is that really you?”
Catta spun around with a wild look in his eyes obviously startled. “Shit Frig you sneaky bitch! Gods you almost gave me a heart attack. Why did you leave me? I twisted my ankle on a root. Next thing I saw was Fi thrusting his spear into thin air, and then all of you getting this horrified look upon your faces.” Catta continued, “I tried to call out to you but I guess none of you heard me.”
“No, no, that’s not what any of us saw Catta, we saw you die, we saw Fiach run you through with his spear.. to his damn fist, Catta.” I kept my blade at the ready, but he seemed real. Maybe it was the dark playing with our perception. No, I knew what I saw.
“It was hectic down there, how’d you even get away from it?” I questioned, grip re-tightening. “We thought you were dead and gone… and why didn’t Fi alert us that you were coming?”
Just then the sound of footsteps in the snow became apparent. *Its here* I whipped around only to see Rega coming down from the lookout cliff, an excited look on her face.
“Holy shit! Catta?” exclaimed Rega “I didn’t see you wa…”
Interrupting, I snapped, “Wait, what the fuck Rega, you were just in the tent, you just woke me up. How’d you…”
“What? No, I haven’t been in the tent for over two hours. No, I was on watch Friga. Fi changed out with me a while ago; I’ve been on watch since. I was coming back to wake you all up. This night seems to just go on and on,” said Rega, glancing around the woods.
Barely letting her finish her last words I sprinted back to our tent, sword clutched and ready to strike the first thing that I saw. I ripped back the flaps revealing an empty tent. “Rega, I swear you were just here.” *Damn it, what’s happening?* As this whole situation was growing in complexity and confusion I wanted at the very least to be warm during this whole tirade. “Someone better have a good answer how all these different stories are lining up because I’m about to lose my fucking head,” I said, grabbing my boots. *Gods, I could use a drink*. I quickly slid them on and turned around, only to face a barmaid asking what I wanted.
“Hey, are you ok? What did you want to drink? There are other people in line you know.”
“Ok, well how about just an ale. I’ll put it on your tab.” She said again, taking a wooden tankard and filling it to the brim.
Looking down I saw I was wearing a fancy dress and holding the hand of Rega. “Honey, are you having another flashback? It’s ok. Just drink your ale, and let’s get you something to eat.” Rega said as she gestured over to a table with a roasted chicken on it, leading me along. “It’s delicious; just bite into it. You’ll feel better right away.”
“What the fuck is this? Where am I?” I stammered, hand instinctively reaching to where I usually put my sword. Frantically looking around, all I see is people merrily drinking away, eating, and playing music.
*No this isn’t right*
“Don’t you remember us coming back here honey? Coming back into town? We’re celebrating our victory; it attacked us at our campsite. Don’t you remember?” Said Rega, placing her hands behind my head. “We’re heroes babe; we won! You just took a tumble; maybe it’s too soon for you to be out of bed. It hit you pretty hard wh…”
I stammered out “I was just, just in our tent… Rega, what’s going on?”
“It attacked you right away. It dropped down from the trees, and when you turned around it tossed you into a tree. Must’ve hit your head pretty hard. We killed it though, made sure it was dead and gone.” Rega said, giving a tight smile. “Baby, I’m so proud of you; you helped us get out.” She leaned in and placed a kiss on my lips. “Its okay; it’s over now.”
I sat down at the table, feeling the cool wet crunch of something on the seat. I placed my hand down as well and felt nothing. *Weird…no wait, this isn’t right, the townsfolk didn’t approve of us, Old World trolls* As I looked around again I started seeing fresh snow drift down from the rafters.
Fiach bellowed, spear coming out of nowhere and saliva stringing from his mouth, eyes wide open and nearly pulsing with rage. I was barely able to pivot my body so my head wasn’t struck directly, the spear’s edge slicing open my cheek with wet crimson flowing from the wound. Wildly I threw myself backward and off the ledge of the lookout cliff I had wandered to. I fell, landing hard on my back. As I tried to get my breath back I slowly sat up in bed peeling the covers off of me. I looked over and saw Rega’s beautiful face still sleeping soundly.
*No, wait, what?*
“Babe, are you alright?” Rega mumbled.
Outside the room I could hear voices. “Witches! They’re unnatural, being together, it’s a sin against the gods. We won’t have their type in our town”
I looked beside the bed seeing my sword, picking it up I stood, readying myself.
*Fucking savages, taking the Old World here*
“Let’s teach those freaks a lesson,” another voice said, as a figure burst into the room holding a raised ax and fresh snow fell onto my face.
*No, wait, wake up* Heart racing, I whipped around seeing only the looming forest above. I could only see my breath, escaping from me in clouds as everything lay in grave silence.
A blood curdling scream echoed off the trees in the direction of camp. *Rega, NO!*. I sprinted as fast as I could, legs burning, and sword glued to my palm. Stumbling up the hill from which I had fallen, snow sliding out from under my feet, hands plunging into the snow searching for purchase, I saw the Soarghugre hunched over the body of Rega, reaching it’s branch-like fingers out to her face, blood dripping from their dagger-like points. *NO* “No! Get the hell away from her,” I screamed, thrusting my blade into the nape of the demon’s neck, trying to take its whole head off. As the blade slid to the hilt, deep red started to pool and drip from the wound. *No* Sliding slowly down and onto my hands *no, no, nonono* Bubbles started to form and foam at the wound as Talius choked on his own fluids. His ax in hand, blood dripping from his beard, as Fiach lay on the ground, seemingly unaware of anything around him, eyes glazed in whatever fantasy he was trapped in *no, wait, how, no*. Stammering I whispered, “I’m so..I didn’t see… Rega, Tal, I’m so sorry”. Closing my eyes and with tears leaving glistening trails down my face I pulled my blade from Talius’ throat. With pitched whine the blade slid free, the steaming metal dropping rubies in the fresh snow as Talius’ gurgling form slumped to the ground, twisting and settling onto his back. Like a delta, blood streamed from the wound branching out into scarlet rivers, flowing among frozen and bleached white plains.
*This can’t be real…* Before I even had time to finish my thought I saw Rega, mouth gaping and eyes locked somewhere directly behind me, muttering “No, no, no, no, Frig, Frig behin…”
As she backed away I saw a shadow cast upon the ground, ever solidifying and towering, a willow taken demonic form, unfurling behind me. As I turned, my eyes slowly drifted upwards. Where once were the heavens now was the beast, poised and drinking in the air of horror like a leech affixed to a hemorrhaging wound. Long gulps sounded in my head, long satisfied gulps of essence like the land after winter, tasting spring for the first time. I heard the footsteps first echoing as if time itself had come to a halt. Rega was sprinting towards me as I tried to bring my blade to bear. It turned to me, staring, unblinking from obsidian eyes down its long branched beak, arms held aloft and basking in the radiance of my horror and regret. I didn’t know what to do. My blade dropped from my hands, and my knees gave out. *This is it.* I couldn’t break my eyes from it. *The end,* it felt that at any moment it would swoop *I failed*.
“Friga! Get Down!” Rega’s blade flew like a magpie through the falling snow, not daring to disturb a single flake, not daring to waste any effort on anything else but this raptor of despair. The sword hit pommel first, and with a hollow thud the Demon swayed off balance and shrieked, its gaze suddenly shifting to Rega. Recovering quickly, it once again expanded its wooden wings and shot into the sky, past the branches and falling snow, straight up into the morning sky, landing upon the towering oaks, waiting for another attempt.
“Friga, Friga! We have to go; we have to go now!” Rega shouted, holding my shaking shoulders. As I snapped to, I looked at her with hollowed eyes. “I didn’t, I didn’t mean…” I stammered, words tripping over themselves.
“I know, I know. We have to go. Let’s please go while It’s licking its wound. At least we’re still together; at least we still have each other. Please, while we can….” Rega consoled, as she lifted me off the ground. Looking around I saw Catta and Fiach wandering aimlessly, caught within their own nightmares and dreams, unaware of anything else. *I failed.*
The Beasts caw could be heard through the woods. *It’s going to get us.* “Friga, we need to wake the others,” Rega’s words shook me from my daze again.
“No there isn’t time. We need to run; we need to run NOW!” I shouted, grabbing my blade and Rega’s hand, pulling her along.
“Friga, we can’t just lea…” Rega attempted to reply.
“We’ll come back, I swear. we’ll come back, please, let’s just go” I pleaded, fear settling in.
As fast as we could we gathered ourselves and ran as fast as we could, pulling each other up as we fell in the snow, tripping over roots and drifts, and sprinted towards town, away from this, away from that thing, away from our failure, away from Catta, Fiach, and the twitching form of Talius.