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Short Story: The Goat in the Clearing

I’ve been playing D&D with a wonderful group the last few months, and through that it’s inspired me to take up writing again. I don’t know how many stories there may be but I thought this might be a good place to publish one I’d written about my character, Kharm Tradrush, a half-orc paladin. This takes place a few years before the campaign we’ve been taking part in, when Kharm was a brand new paladin. I hope you enjoy it! 

 

Kharm Tradrush, initiate paladin of the Priory of Helm, was nervous.

He felt silly in some ways. He was 7 feet tall, in plate armor, and carrying a sword and shield, through the woods he’d lived in since he was a child. But it was his first outing. His first mission.

“The wizards said they felt the presence up ahead,” Brother Narvos said. He was a senior cleric in the Priory and, as a Tiefling, one of the few who approached Kharm in size.

“What could it be, Brother?” Kharm asked, keeping the nervousness out of his voice with limited success.

“Oh we get these from time to time,” he said, his harsh accent coming through. “It is the price we pay for living in a land infused with magic. They are usually small elementals. Bits of wild hate and magic that come together to form a being. They aren’t particularly dangerous, but can harm a passing merchant or some of the wild animals, so we do our best to seek them out and put them down.” Narvos pushed aside a branch as they approached a small clearing. He looked to Kharm and smiled encouragingly. “Shouldn’t pose any problem for two big guys like you and I, eh?”

Kharm smiled through his tusks and moved into the clearing first, at the cleric’s insistence. He crouched low, listening, trying to hear past his own breathing. Narvos heard it first, whispering “It approaches,” to the Orc. He pointed to the north side of the clearing.

The Thing stepped into the clearing. That was the best description Kharm could think of it. It had a shifting black mass of a body, walking on four appendages, with long, curved talons. It seemed to survey the area, lifting it’s long, head-like part in an approximation of sniffing, though Kharm could see no nose, just a wide mouth with black, sharp teeth. It stood about half Kharm’s height, though it was hard to tell as parts of it seemed to be shifting around in the low light of the forest.

“Bigger than a normal one,” the Tiefling cleric said, a note of concern in his voice. “We should get a few more-“

His sentence was cut off as there was a rustling from the east side of the clearing. The Thing’s head snapped towards it, and it started moving. Unthinkingly, Kharm charged after it with a battle cry, dashing into the clearing. As he did, he could see the Thing’s target - a small brown goat, likely one that belonged to a local farmer or even the Priory itself, wandering out in search of something to graze on.

Kharm’s long strides covered the distance easily, the Thing heading towards the goat with single minded fury. Kharm got beside it and slammed it away with his shield, the Thing making a sickening thud against it as it went flying. He took up a defensive stance in front of the goat as the Thing charged again, this time at Kharm, an inhuman roar echoing from it as it leapt at him. His sword came slashing down at it, slashing into it’s side and knocking it back. It roared again and launched itself at him. He brought his shield up, but the Thing impacted with surprising force, knocking Kharm onto his back. The Thing started furious scratching at his shield, its claws making a sickening screech as they dug into the metal.

He saw a flash of brown as the goat butted at the Thing with an angry bleat. It managed to knock it away and into a tussle, the two beasts rolling on the ground. It slashed at the goat, missing as it dodged away, managing to get another head butt in and knocking it back. It jumped and slashed again, this time connecting with the beast’s side, the goat crying out as blood spurted from several wounds.

The paladin was on his feet by now. He stepped towards the Thing, casting Searing Smite as he did. His sword glowed with divine energy as he slashed underhanded up at it with a roar. The Thing’s screech of pain mixed with his roar as he cut a deep wound through it, his divine energy channeled through the sword. It fell back, screeching weakly, as it started to dissolve.

From the South side of the clearing Kharm saw Narvos come running, along with two senior paladins. “I ran to get help, is it-“

Kharm gestured to the large pile of black ash is front of him with the sword, catching his breath. “I think - I think I got it?”

Narvos laughed heartily, walking up and slapping the Orc on the back. “Well done lad! The size of that thing! Though of course I never doubted you!” Kharm smiled proudly as the cleric looked down at the goat. “We’ll need to put that down, of course, though.”

“What? Why?!” Kharm said with incredulity. “It - he, I think - saved me!”

“It’s been touched by darkness, my boy. You know the rules. All that’s left for it is a cursed life.” Narvos shook his head sadly. “Don’t worry, I can do it.” He drew a dagger from his belt and moved towards the goat.

“No!” Kharm bellowed, shoving the Tiefling aside. He knelt by the goat. The beast lay on its side, bleeding from several deep, black, unholy slashes, breathing shallowly. His eyes were wild, looking around frantically. On closer inspection, Kharm noted in the back of his mind the goat wasn’t pure brown - he had a streak of black hair along its side. He lay a hand on the goat’s shoulder. “There there. There there, friend.”

Narvos, recovered from the shove, stood over Kharm. “It has to die, boy. All it has ahead is a cursed existence. Better to end it now, quickly, spare it misery, eh?”

“No!” Kharm barked again. “I can - I can cleanse him!” He closed his eyes, whispering a prayer and casting Lay on Hands on the beast. A bright light flowed through his hand. The wounds on the goat’s side glowed softly, the blackness of them fading, though they still bled. His breathing slowed, his eye no longer flitting wildly, but locking with Kharm’s. “Thank you, friend,” he rumbled, as he felt the goat’s chest rise and fall one last time under his hand, and his eyes close. The paladin closed his for a moment in a silent prayer. The wounds had clearly been too severe, but he was glad he’d eased his suffering.

“I’ll need to report this, Kharm,” Narvos said gravely. “You’ve not only disobeyed my orders, but the laws of our order.”

“I understand,” the orc said, reaching under the goat and lifting his body in his arms. “And I’ll report for my reprimand.”

Kharm carried the goat towards the middle of the clearing and set him down.

“After I bury him.”

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