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We Are So Tired Writing Contest 2020: VoidDancer's entry

The rain was relentless. A steady stream of water falling from the skies, be it in a torrent or that fine, misty drizzle that somehow drenched you even faster than the heaviest downpour, it had been a constant for months now. If you asked anyone, this had been the greyest, most depressing winter in recent history. No snow to blanket the land and make everything look like a wonderland. No ray of sun peeking through the clouds to enjoy. Just the ever present rain.

Vidra shook her head and tried in vain to get the water out of her eyes while carefully making her way along the muddy forest path. She would have given just about anything to be back in her forge where it was warm and dry. Instead she had been trudging through the forest for the last hours, trying to find the Log Beast that had attacked a group of traders the day before. They had arrived at the village in a panic, covered in mud and leaves and soaked to the bone, all their gear lost. She had found the scene of the attack easy enough, clothes and scraps scattered in the mud. But there was no trace of the beast and the rain had washed away all tracks overnight, not making her hunt any easier. Log Beasts were masters of camouflage and hard to find at the best of time, mimicking fallen trees and waiting to pounce when their victim´s back was turned. Now the dripping water dulled all sound and made it seem like there was movement just out of the corner of her eye, which had caused her to whirl around more than one time just to find herself alone in the sodden forest.

Vidra sighed and yet again shook off the water, pausing for a moment to rest and get her bearings. A quick look at the sky told her that she´d have to turn back soon, the murky grey clouds darkening further with the approaching evening. She was frustrated at her lack of progress. Not only was she cold, soaked in mud and it would take hours until she would feel her fingers again, she was no closer to finding her quarry and thus would have the dubious pleasure of repeating it all tomorrow.

She turned to make her way back to the main path leading back to the village, it would not do to get caught out in the forest after dark. Tiredly she shouldered her weapon and had only taken a few steps when she froze at a loud noise to her right. She frantically looked around, trying to make out the source. Just a fallen branch? An animal? Or was it the beast?

Water dripped from her hood into her eyes, blinding her momentarily and cursing harshly she wiped it away with a paw. There was nothing to be seen. Trees, mud, dripping water. Another sound, much closer this time. Before she could react something barrelled into her, causing her to lose her footing in the slippery mud. A screeching sound to her left, another attack she could barely block while desperately trying to get back on her feet. The impact with her hammer seemed to have stunned her attacker, the creature pausing a few steps away. Vidra blinked. That was no Log Beast. Before she could take a closer look it charged at her again. She evaded it and threw her hammer to the side, quickly untangling a length of rope tied to her belt. On the next charge she managed to trap the thing´s legs in the rope and within minutes it was completely tangled and immobilised.

Panting Vidra stood over the creature she had captured. Bark and leaves covered its entire body but it was way too small for a Log Beast, only about as big as a medium-sized dog. Still enough to tackle her to the ground and give her a sizeable collection of bruises but not really a terror of the forest. It made a sad sounding squawking noise. Its head turned and piercing yellow eyes looked at her pleadingly. Was that…? She carefully drew closer and with an outstretched paw tugged at one of the pieces of bark. It came away with a wet squelch. More pieces and leaves followed, revealing feathers and fur, all caked in mud. The last piece to go was a ring of wood that had gotten caught around the neck like a collar. In place of the fearsome beast lay a small brown Griff, obviously barely a few days old. It squirmed against the rope holding it but otherwise seemed happy to have gotten rid of its involuntarily acquired camouflage.

Drawing a snack from her pouch Vidra fed the little one and fashioned the rope into something resembling a harness while it was distracted and happily munching away. Young Griffs were usually never seen far from their parents, for one so young to be here all alone was unusual. She thought back to the traders that had reported the attack and the debris she had seen where they had lost their gear. Some of those things that she had assumed to be shards of pottery at first glance might have been egg shells now that she thought about it. Could it be that they had stolen a Griff egg and it had hatched while they passed through the forest? Did they really think a fake story about an attack would cover that up?

The youngster inquisitively bumped her with its head, obviously hoping for more treats. She absentmindedly stroked its head. No matter what had happened, that was a problem for the future. What was she supposed to do now, she could not leave it here to fend for itself – this whole debacle had shown just how bad an idea that was. It seemed friendly enough now that it was not panicking and with a few bribes in the form of fish crackers she managed to coax it to the main path and towards the village.

It was slow going and by the time they reached the edge of the forest it was almost completely dark. At least the rain had washed away some of the mud from both of them by that time – you had to stay positive after all. Continuing down the muddy path without light was not a viable option but camping out in this weather was far from ideal as well. A light a way off from the path caught Vidra´s eye. Of course! Ruthile, the village´s expert in animal husbandry lived out here at the forest edge, why did she not think of this sooner! Changing course towards the wolf´s hut, the thought of a warm fire and capable hands to take care of her new friend filled the weary warrior with new energy.

Ruthile was surprised to hear a knock at his door and almost decided it had to have been the rain pelting the roof harder than before. Curiosity got the better of him though and he was glad it did. Vidra, the town´s blacksmith and one of their best warriors was a sorry sight before him. Her clothes soaked, fur streaked with mud and obviously dead on her feet. Before he could invite her in something barrelled into his legs and only long years of practice working with animals allowed him to keep his footing. He whirled around and to his great amusement saw a Griff claiming a place before the fire with a happy little squawk. “Yeah, sorry, he does that”, Vidra said, her voice sounding tired. Ruthile laughed. “I take it is a long story? Want to tell it over a hot cup of tea?”