For many years, I’ve been writing different aspects of a massive, dark fantasy universe. Fantasy was my first love and continues to be a huge part of who I am. Across millenia, continents, and lives of hundreds of characters, big and small, piece-by-piece, I’ve been building this thing. Occasionally, I might post little bits of it. This is one of those bits; a short story concerning a very small, but (I think) interesting character. In the scope of these larger stories, Oggrim Ygrosse is a very small blip, but I always imagine scenes that form a sort of pre-history, or outside story. Probably to distract myself from writing the monolith I made. Anyway, I hope it’s not a bummer to read this.
“Tell me! Tell me you didn’t do it!” Hugh’s eyes were wild and his face and beard streaked with blood, hair matted to his face with salty sweat stinging a small wound above his right eye; or rather, it might, were he not too distracted glaring at his friend among the carnage. The orphanage that lie on the periphery of Merton-on-the-Hill was mostly in flames, casting a ghastly orange glow in the waxing light of the new moons. There were bodies everywhere. Oggrim said nothing, not looking at Hugh, just at the shining sword that was gripped, knuckle-white, in the mercenary’s hand.
“TELL ME THIS WASN’T YOU!” Hugh was screaming now, his whole body trembled, and tears streamed from his eyes.
“You would ask that of me?” Oggrim replied, eyes narrowed, and voice barely above a wavering whisper.
“I would. I would ask you that. Look… look! Look at all this! It’s all gone. Everything… EVERYTHING IS GONE! ALL OUR WORK!” The screaming mercenary gestured spasmodically to his left. Children’s corpses. Gaunt. Fanged. Their eyes bulged grotesquely. And their killers, bearing religious symbols and robes and armour and sickles and torches, dead as well, ended by sword slashes, claws, and teeth.
“No, Hugh.” Oggrim fixed Hugh with a steel gaze, his eyes still cold in the heat. “This was not my doing. How could I do such a thing?!”
All at once, the shrieking man of stone called Hugh lost his tension. His eyes fell, consumed by sorrow and tears. Without his ubiquitous flourish, the mercenary stuck his sword into the earth, and leaned on it, as if his legs could no longer hold him. Oggrim stepped closer, softly, offering worried eyes for his friend, his comrade-in-arms.
“I just wanted to hear you say it,” said Hugh, his voice being overcome by sharp breaths and sobbing before he gathered himself again. “I just wanted to hear you lie one last time.”
Oggrim froze, eyes glazing over as he began to rapidly analyze every moment that he had been in Hugh’s company, every conversation they had had. “Last… time?”
“You’re going to look me in the eye when you kill me,” Hugh growled, his despair turned to fury, and his voice became ragged. “You won’t hide in the shadows and bite my neck like all the rest. If there’s any shred of the Oggrim Ygrosse I know left inside the monster I see before me… you will grant me this courtesy.” A blank stare was all Hugh was afforded. “Show me the beast you are.”
Oggrim took another step closer, and another, like a child being scolded by his headmaster. And said nothing. Slowly, he removed the glove from his left hand. Neither one said a thing. Oggrim could feel the heat from the still raging fire that threatened to engulf the small estate. Or was it the heat from his friend’s eyes? Leather hit the ground as he dropped the glove and lowered his hand. A man’s hand. A man’s hand that began to change, its tendons stretched, and the nails narrowed to a razor point and elongated monstrously.
“There it is. There’s the real you.”
Hugh didn’t see the strike that killed him, it was too fast. Oggrim swung his claws up in an arc that caught his friend in the chest, cutting through his armour, and slashing into his throat. He gurgled helplessly as blood seeped through his cuirass and poured in waves out his mouth. Hugh sputtered as he dropped to his knees, but never broke eye contact with his killer until at last he fell to the ground and was silent. Oggrim Ygrosse, who had contracted vampiric hemophilia some five decades earlier, now stood in silence and looked about. He stared at his progeny, the orphans whom he had turned, and their killers, folk from the town whipped into a frenzy by Turald, the local cunning man who was killed by Hugh, not understanding why the townsfolk were attacking the orphanage he and Oggrim had been paid to protect. How did Hugh know he was a vampire? And for how long and had said nothing?
From the west, up the hill, there came a low din just audible above the spreading flames. There were torches and men and women calling out to each other. Oggrim did not tarry a moment longer. He took up Hugh’s sword, barely casting a glance at his friend’s body, lying in a black pool that caught and reflected the light from the fires, and slid it into the empty scabbard on his hip. Nearby, he found a pony belonging to one of the townsfolk and rode away from the approaching shouts. Freydenn was closer, but offered more protection, and those folks were known to be fierce fighters, and wary of strangers. If he travelled east through the night and continuously for two more days, Oggrim could reach the port and capital of Oakrun, Dellburn, and the woods would offer shelter until he reached Mistpoint, the largest and only named town on the outskirts of the capital. But it had already been a week since last he fed, and Oggrim felt it. To the north was Bitra, a small unwalled town, with a cluster of small villages surrounding it, reachable in six hours, long enough before sunrise. He spurred on his pony and rode off, the frantic yelling of the townsfolk reaching its fever pitch.
The blood of animals never quite sated the appetite. Oggrim never understood why, simply accepting it as part and parcel of his condition. Monsters were difficult game, even for one with such a gift, therefore, it fell to humanoids. Oggrim had never even seen a dwarf or an orc, come to think of it, and the one elf he met sussed him out immediately. Must be their innate magical abilities. The moss people were a mere rumour from the deep forests of the far south. Pomberro were long extinct. Men. Humans were his only viable, consistent meal. He also did not consider that some ordinary animals did not see well at all in the dark, ponies included, forgetting what ordinary eyesight was like. When the pony fell off the path, losing its footing and tumbled over the bank of the riverbed south of Bitra, he managed to leap free. Its awful cries were cut short by a guttural snorting, then silence as the night wore on. The vampire pricked up his ears to listen for potential patrols. Silence. He wiped his chin with the back of his hand as it shifted back into a man’s hand, then continued onward on foot. Not much further now.
It would be dawn soon. The tiny, nameless village on the edge of Bitra had a tiny, nameless stream running through it, forked off from a river, the name of which Oggrim had never bothered to remember, and culminated in a deep pond for washing. Washerwomen would likely be up and about soon, but they always were in groups. Too risky, Oggrim thought. Then he saw it, and nearly slapped himself for not noticing sooner; a bakery. A simple clay building with a tiled roof rather than the thatched roofs of all the surrounding homes dominated by a chimney. Separate from the others, as mandated by law to mitigate risks of a fire, and away from the doubtlessly crowded, muddy streets of Bitra, the fringes of which were visible from where Oggrim stood. He heard a sound, and held his breath, listening. It was soft, but unmistakeable. Footwraps on dirt and grass. Light steps crunching the soft earth below. Stealthily, Oggrim melted into the shadows of the early morning dark, and crept behind ramshackle huts, and at last he saw his prey. A woman in a drab green smock over an old linen dress; in her twenties, perhaps the baker’s apprentice, the vampire thought. Her dark hair was partially covered by a hastily tied bonnet and she walked unhurriedly towards the clay building with the chimney. Peering around the corner, the hunter saw no husband, father, or brother standing at the threshold of their tiny wood hovel, ensuring a safe trip through the village. But it was small. Safe. So early that no man who was not a baker would be stirring.
Those thoughts were surely a comfort to the young woman with a name that her killer never bothered to learn, and hopes and dreams to which the monster, who was now using his unnatural strength to pull her thrashing body into the darkness, paid no heed. He used his left hand to cover her mouth and simultaneously wrench her neck bare, and his right to hold her arm in a vicelike grip. Protruding fangs plunged deep into innocent flesh and clamped down with such ferocity that it tore away trachea, esophagus, vocal folds, blood, tendons, and life. She could not scream, and her body became limp immediately as the vampire drank his fill, snarling as he did so. After a moment, he released his grip on the woman, whose name was Ceolburh, which her murderer never knew, and stared up at the sky for a moment, in the euphoria that blood gave him. The killer took a deep breath, and exhaled. He was not one for courtesy, as he unceremoniously stepped over the body he left behind and continued onto Bitra.
As the sun began to rise, Oggrim smiled an evil smile. The light did not burn him. The heat was pleasant, like that which he felt in his old life. Renewed, the vampire carried on. The town was just waking now, the scent of the living, stinking populace wafted to the traveler’s nose, and he inhaled deeply. He could smell blood, likely belonging to a butchered animal down some alley or another. Doors creaked, tarpaulins fluttered, as some of the earliest risers began to leave their homes. Oggrim always preferred towns to villages and cities. A village presented too few opportunities to feed and precious little cover. As much as the vampire enjoyed his transitory existence, he preferred to settle for a time before moving on again, to the speedy exits such as the one he had performed just an hour earlier, leaving behind the baker’s corpse. Cities, however, were too secure; gate tolls, guards, militia, and sprawling cornucopia of potential victims. Atimes, Oggrim found the sheer number of options paralyzing. His aimless thoughts were interrupted by rattling and hurried footsteps, and before he knew it, Oggrim was very aware of the light of a lantern, almost useless in the new dawn, and the presence of a man behind him. He pretended not to notice.
“Hold there!” A militia man, holding a thin, bone lantern in his left fist, and an axe in his right, scrutinized the visitor intensely. He was bearded, gaunt, and wore a dirty kettle helmet and simple beige gambeson, upon which was sown the crest of Bitra. “Who are you, hey? Don’t recognize you.”
The dark stranger in lamellar armour, turned slowly to his interlocutor, regarded him for a moment, and smiled softly.
“Oggrim Ygrosse, at your service, ser,” he said, bowing slightly. “I’m a mercenary, currently employed at Merton-on-the-Hill. I’ve been sent for supplies; there was a terrible fire during the night.”
“From where?” the warden barked, no less suspicious, his eyes still narrowed beneath a furrowed brow. “Your accent; you’re a foreigner.”
“Quite so,” replied Oggrim, still smiling. “My father was Oslaf of Dimunsvargr and spent much of his time among the people of the Venlaw Marches, but his father was Osgar of Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh, well acquainted with the duke of duchess of Craic Brua.” The charming killer threw up a dramatic shrug. “I am a born wanderer, good ser.”
The warden relaxed a little, untensing his right arm, but still holding his axe. “Very well, then,” he grumbled. “Tradesmen are up the street, to your left. You’re a mite bit early for ‘em, I reckon. Main market square is just beyond that.”
“Hunbeald! Hunbeald!” the cry came up from around the corner, and another town militia came running out from behind a row of small shacks. He jerked his head around and spotted Oggrim and Hunbeald. “Excuse us, citizen. Hunbeald, come with me. Tilbert’s apprentice is dead.”
The militia glanced at Oggrim for a moment, and the vampire offered a pithy “My condolensces,” and turned away. The wardens hurried away from the town center, off to a village on the periphery of Bitra; a village whose name Oggrim never learned, to investigate another anonymous bag of meat and blood. And as they rushed, Hunbeald looked back once more down the mud street. The mercenary was gone. And now watching the wardens from the tall roof of Guthred’s inn, just for a moment, before the vampire descended into the market.
It was after dark when Hunbeald again walked the streets of Bitra on patrol. As he walked, listening to the squelching of the soft earth beneath his boots, his thoughts drifted. A farmer had discovered Ceolburh’s body behind his shack as he went to empty a waste bucket in the cesspit, and nearly dropped it on her. Poor girl. Face-down in a dark pool of her own blood, throat torn out with such ferocity. Sigbert said wolves, but Hunbeald wasn’t so sure. No wounds anywhere else, nobody had heard anything. She was young, no husband. The militia couldn’t forget the desperate, guttural screams of her mother, turned to raspy sobbing as Ceolburh was carried away to the chapel in Bitra.
“Damn shoes!” he thought as he hurriedly stepped out of a deceptively deep puddle. If only he had proper boots, not these ragged old scraps of leather. Real boots, like that mercenary had. The mercenary… Hunbeald had heard rumours of strange happenings in Merton-on-the-Hill, and now some of Lord Merton’s men were asking questions, asking about gods-know-what.
But Hunbeald, militia of Bitra, would never learn the connection, for a beast who’d remembered the militia man’s name and face, returned, stalking silently in the dark, and dragged Hunbeald kicking into the shadows. The thinned bone lantern felt to the ground, breaking. And as the oil-soaked wick’s flame was snuffed out by the mud, so too was the fire in Hunbeald’s eyes extinguished by fangs that knew only treachery and murder. As his life faded away, he was cradled like a child, and through the fog that had come to greet him in his final moments, he saw the face of a monster. Gaunt, eyes bulging grotesquely, lips curled into an evil sneer, blood spattered and spilling in thick chords. The militia was suddenly let go, and the world was enveloped in a starburst of light as his back hit the ground and saw blood drip onto boots. Those boots he had so coveted. Hunbeald saw a clawed hand reach down and the first, cold pinprick in his gaping neck wound stirred a moment of painful euphoria, and then he felt nothing, saw nothing, heard nothing.
Hunbeald’s headless body was discovered the next morning by Sigbert. His killer was long gone, and his head was never recovered. Amersvoren and Mistpoint bled to feed the vampire, before he abandoned his armour and sword, and fell in with a group of smallfolk; street urchins who hatched a plan to stow away on The Briar, a trade cog leaving Dellburn and following headed far south, before eventually crossing the Dorite Sea where it would finally dock in Banaria, before returning to Oakrun. A several-month journey. Lord Merton had sent men out looking for him, and Oggrim had seen posters offering a reward for a nameless mercenary employed at the orphanage. It was becoming too risky in the north, and he had to put distance between him and these hunters. The vampire estimated that being on the other side of the Drafenn Deepwood would work perfectly. Avalloch was a large kingdom, after all.
As much as Oggrim Ygrosse never understood the full depth of his disease, he understood two things: One; that he must feast on the blood of humans, and damn the cost. And two; when he was starved of blood, his senses sharpened, he became more aggressive, able to perceive the blood in others from a distance, and a pounding in his head arose and became unbearable until he fed again. And it seemed that after each time he fed, it sated him less, and Oggrim would seek out more victims. And the more he fed, the faster the pounding in his head returned to him. An instinct: like a mother is compelled beyond her will to care for her child, or a wight was compelled beyond its will to steal away children, so was Oggrim compelled beyond his will to spread his dark gift. The letting of his own blood and joining it with the blood of a victim was the only way to pass on this condition naturalists called vampiric hemophilia, and was the only way to keep the pounding inside his head at bay for longer.
The vampire fed again on some one-armed vagrant in Dellburn. He was drunk and smelled like cheap wine, but Oggrim drank deeply all the same. The next morning before dawn, he and the other stowaways snuck aboard The Briar and hid amongst the cargo. Their leader, a wiry man with thin grey hair named Aspallan, had intimated to the group that it would be impossible to hide completely from the crew; the cog was quite large, to be sure, but small bribes had been given to the sailors – only the captain could not know. He was not known for being a forgiving man. The route would take them to Volkerrau, before crossing the border into Craic Brua and making stops at the small ports east of Glasthule and Aghamor, and rather fittingly, Oggrim’s namesake, the city of Aughrim. Three more ports in the duchy, Drogheda, Anagaire and Enniscrone, before passing the massive Drafenn Deepwood and no docks for another week, barring good winds. At least fourteen days to the first port in Avalloch, Earrador Fortress, where the crew would take on more supplies for the rest of the journey, and where Oggrim and the others would disembark. From Earrador, it was a stone’s throw to several cities, and a veritable feeding ground for the soon-to-be blood starved vampire.
As Oggrim sat below deck, apart from the mother and father and their nattering whelp, apart from Aspallan and his three daughters, apart from the young peasants seeking a better life, he closed his eyes and tried to give into sleep. As he began to drift and his thoughts drifted to Hugh’s knowledge of his… condition, Oggrim felt a buzzing in his ears. His eyes snapped open and he looked around. The whelp had pricked his finger on a rough-hewn crate, and a drop of blood fell to the floor.