Shivers: Legend of the McKays
Among the clans of the osyatao, none is more reviled than that of the Mckay clan. Long ago, during the Winter Without Sun, the Finnini and McKay clans met at the base of the Shivering Spire, a mountain known for its avalanches. The two were nomads, uncommon among the osyatao but not unusual. When the leaves of the aspens and willows fell, they followed the roaming herds of moose. The Finnini had tracked a herd to below the Spire where the McKays had been staking out a second herd. The two clans brought their wagons and carts together, where they met and celebrated.
When the winter began, it was thought strange by the elders. The world had become a misty twilight at the first sign of snow. The sun had disappeared behind the gray undulating clouds, snowflakes floating softly to the ground. Weeks into winter, the snow had yet to build up in drifts of more than a few inches. Now, as the twilight faded into obsidian night, the Finninis and McKays prepared for their mutual hunt in the morning.
In the darkness, spirits stole among the camp. They slipped between exhausted guards, slithering into the wagons of the clan that had forgotten to feed their fires. Then the clouds fell upon the land.
The clans woke in meters of snow. Their wagons were buried up to their wheels, claimed by the powder. The hunters, undaunted by the storm, ventured out to find the herds. The blinding sheets of white absorbed the sound of their crunching footsteps and made it nigh impossible to see even the trees a few feet from them. Behind the hunters, their prints were filled by the still falling snow. As the wind began to pick up, they resigned to returning to the camps before they became lost to the blizzard. Even with their group, two hunters did not return, swallowed by the ivory abyss in momentary distraction. Their muffled yells could not be heard, and any thought of searching for their comrades was quashed by the dropping temperature. The snow had been cold yes, but wet enough to melt against the skin. The flakes that blew against their faces and eyes now were shards of knives, searing into their flesh.
The hunting party arrived back at the camps, battered and empty-handed. There would be no venison to hold them through this storm.
Awaiting their hunters’ return, the McKays and the Finninis had attempted to prepare a raging bonfire to roast the great beasts. Even with all their efforts, they could not get the fire to catch, nor could they relight the smaller fires the McKays had allowed to go out in the night. One by one, the sparks of the Finninis were buried under the snow.
Retreating to their wagons, the osyatao bundled up in their furs, some lighting their own fires beneath the protection of their roofs. Most prayed for the spirits of Talos to save them from the storm. Some McKays, aided by whispers in their ears, scoffed, believing the spirits of sun and good weather had abandoned them. Still the snow fell, and some were forced to collect their wooden spades and shovel to keep the top halves of their wagons from becoming part of the drifts. Against the biting wind that piled the snow against the walls, it was a lost cause. The largest wagons began to house the families of the smaller ones, the fires within warming their frigid limbs. As visibility became worse, ropes were tied to stakes between the carts. Still, three families could not be found, presumed lost to the storm.
The hunters at last returned, finding their draft oxen huddled together for warmth. Their eyes were wild, their noses flaring. They, like the hunters, had found their senses deprived of stimulation, their sense of smell lost to the frozen water. The scouring wind and razors of snow ripped at their hides. The hunters abandoned them to their fate, heading to their clans’ respective wagons to cower from the storm.
Days passed and still the blizzard did not let up. The oxen had frozen, stuck to one another even in death. The clans attempted to harvest the apparent feast, but so cold was the flesh that picks were required to break the meat off. Soon, the mass of bodies was buried, becoming yet another drift in the wasteland. Feet of snow separated the clans from the bounty, and harvesting it became more impossible by the day.
The snow had slowly been winning the war against the desperate shoveling around the wagons. An avalanche rumbled down the slope of the Shivering Spire, the only natural sound to be heard since the wind began to howl, destroying two of the Finnini carts. Six families were lost. One by one, carts were abandoned, forcing the families to move closer together. The press of the bodies kept them warm, but tensions and stress were the cost. As the weeks wore on, their rations at last began to suffer. The first clan to run out were the Finninis.
They came to the McKays, begging for any scrap of their dried jerky. The McKays refused, listening to the whispers that they had come to rely on. They forced the Finninis back into the storm, where they wailed into the silent, violent, wind. Returning to their wagons, they found one had been lost to the snow, their shovelers halting their work to beg. Reduced to the two remaining carts, they began to make a plan to get help. Five of the hunters, the strongest among them, would attempt to journey through the wrath of snow to the Glens clan to the east. Several mountains stood between them and the village, but as the McKays refused to help, it was their last hope. The remaining hunters would venture out for any kind of food.
So it was that the rescue party departed for the village, bidding farewell to their loved ones with promises of return. The hunters took the ropes they had tied to the stakes, attaching them to their waists as they ventured out into the blizzard. Those left behind foraged what they could, saving the last morsels of the rations for the children, turning to salvaging the leather canvas roofs of those abandoned carts they could still reach. They tore it into strips, boiling it into a kind of jerky, before desperately chewing on the toughened hide and drinking the sickening broth. The hunters returned, having seen nothing. They joined those who stayed in their meager meal.
Another week passed. The McKays remained in their wagons, ignoring the missing rope that once connected them to the Finninis. Their rations were holding, if decreasing. There was no need to interact with the beggars, they would survive. The Finninis began to starve in earnest, the elders shooing away the leather soup to the mouths of the children. Five elders passed, their bodies placed near the foot of the mountain. The hunters continued their fruitless task.
Until it bore fruit.
A frozen moose carcass. They had stumbled on it while on their standard route through the swirling snow. The calf was emaciated, appearing to have separated from the warmth of its herd and succumbed to the cold and starvation. It was a terrible death, but a miracle for the trapped osyatao. The hunters gave their thanks to Vouno before attempting to drag the calf home. Unlike the oxen, she hadn’t frozen to her fellows or the surrounding snow. Even the weakened hunters were able to tie their ropes to her stiff haunches and haul her back to the wagons. There wasn’t much meat on the calf’s bones, but it was enough to keep them fed for another two weeks before they’d have to resort back to the leather, this time from the relatively fresh calf.
It was a month before the McKays came crawling back. Their rations at last had run out, so they went to the Finninis, as some shovelers had seen them bringing in the moose calf. The Finninis told them that the calf’s meat had run out a week prior, and that they owed them nothing. The McKays had refused to aid them, so why should the Finninis aid their clan now? The McKays returned to their wagons with empty stomachs and rage in their heads. Thoughts of the Finninis feasting on the venison of a fully grown moose were whispered into their minds. They refused to demean themselves to the leather soup the Finninis had fed upon, for they were far superior. A couple of days passed and their toisiche, Neachdainn McKay, called his clan together. “It is a matter of life and death,” he raved, “it’s either us, or them.”
They attacked the wagons, ravaging the clan inside. The Finninis lay massacred, their blood staining the floors. Some of the McKays had died in the brawl, but the others did not care. They tore the wagons apart in their search for the moose as the whispers in their heads chanted, “hunger, starving, hunger.”
They only found the bones of the calf.
It is unknown how long it took for the atrocity to take place. Whether they waited hours or days matters not. The horror the rescue party felt when they came upon the wagons cannot be imagined.
The five hunters sent to the Glens village found it almost impossible to traverse the ivory wasteland. It was only after taking large strips of bark and attaching them to the bottom of their feet were they able to cover the top of the snow. Week after week they walked, chewing the pine needles they could salvage from the now low-hanging branches. Once, they were attacked by an iontári, a great cat that hunted the peaks. It was desperate to assail a group so large, emaciated as it was. It killed one of their number before the others reacted and retalliated with their spears. They ate the meat raw, as it was hopeless to attempt lighting a fire. They mourned the loss of their friend though they knew no time could be wasted, leaving him to be buried by the snow as they butchered the iontári. He was naught by another drift in the waste when they finished.
Carrying on, the meat of the great cat kept their energy up, even as it froze. Mountainous pass after pass they crossed until at last, they arrived at the gates of the village. The snow had buried the respectable palisade that defended the cabins, allowing the four hunters to step over. They were welcomed with amazement and given food and rest and warmth. They could not speak for how stiff their lips had become until days had passed. It was then they begged that the Glens send relief, for the Finninis would not last the winter. The toisiche refused, indicating that in this storm, they would not be able to transport any kind of food to the trapped clans. The hunters understood, instead extracting a promise to go as soon as the blizzard let up. They could do nothing but wait.
When at last the snow subsided, still the clouds did not lift. But the wind had lost its bite and the temperature had warmed, so the toisiche of the Glens blessed the rescue expedition to the Shivering Spire. Sixteen Glens osyats accompanied the Finnini hunters. Their sleds were pulled by large wolves, faster than any oxen. Despite being laden with supplies, they made good time. The four hunters led the way, showing the passes they had taken. When they came upon the wagon camps, the lack of smoke rising from the carts told them what they had feared.
They were too late.
The main wagons of both clans were near buried in the snow. As the Glens relief team began to stake a camp of their own, the four hunters of the Finnini clan began to dig. Once the camp came to completion, the other osyatao joined them.
The snow gave way to roof-hole the carts had to allow smoke out of the confined space. A rotting, fetid scent hit their noses. Three of the hunters turned away, beginning to wail their grief. The fourth began to rip at the hole, trying to make it wider. The Glens osyatao pulled him away, even as some went to trade their spades for axes. Chopping at the frozen wood, the horrific innards were revealed. Bones were scattered across the floor, some scarred with teeth marks, others looking as though they had been picked clean with knives.
The hunter who had desperately attempted to tear into the cart broke from the Glens who had been holding him back. He dropped to the floor, running to the other rooms that made up the large wagon. A rope was lowered and the other osyatao entered, picking their way through the mass of bones and shredded clothes. Some skeletons were relatively intact, while others had been scattered in seemingless abandon. All had been picked clean.
They found the Finnini osyat huddled over the bones of a small child, cradling the skull in his arms, weeping silently. They collected the bones and that of his wife, identified by her shredded clothing, leading him out of the chamber of death.
The other bodies were collected, placed in wooden crates that once carried the life-saving supplies. While the disorganization of many of the bones meant that returning to their original owners was far from likely, the Glens did their best to match them. The boxes were distributed to each member, some with two or three. Those that were family were given to the four survivors of the massacre. As some of the Glens began to build a large bonfire in the center of their circle of tents and sleds, the others began to grind the bones to sand. Late into the night, once all the bodies were crumbled, they began their final rites.
Copper dust, a metal revered by the Northern Osyatao, was mixed with the powdered bones. Then, the osyatao began to toss handfuls of the mixture into the fire, causing bursts of blue and bright orange in the yellow flames. Stories of the family and friends they had lost came from the grief-ridden throats of the last Finninis, the joys and lives they had shared. The Northern Osyatao generally would celebrate the lives of the passed in their deaths, but the nature of the Finnini’s passing kept the mood solemn.
In addition to the Finninis, several McKays had been found in a similar state in the wagon. Scattered, stripped of flesh, indentifiable only by their clan’s scraps of black furs. They too were given their last rites, though their stories were unknown, so they burned silently in the crackles and pops of the flames. It was assumed that when the Glens uncovered their wagons in the morning, a similar fate would have met the McKays.
Half a dozen guards were posted around the slowly dying fire as the rest prepared for sleep. Excessive as it seemed, the Glens were taking no chances that the beasts that murdered the Fininnis would not attack them. Even the storm seemed to be willing to give them some respite, the snow still refusing to return. The night passed peacefully by.
It was as the landscape began to lighten beneath the swirling gray clouds that the alarm was raised. One of the guards on the last shift before dawn had disappeared, the others seeing nothing. They had assumed he was simply leaning against a tree or bush, surely he would have sounded some alarm if there had been a threat. Searching the surrounding area revealed footprints that indicated he had been approached from the front by something, or someone, wearing boots. Blood and a large depression gave the impression the newcomer had done something to the guard, knocking him out or worse. Why the guard had allowed something to come so close, they could not tell. A smooth path showed the direction the body had been dragged, up the steep slopes of the Shivering Spire.
The rescue party immediately split, a group of eight setting out to find their friend or at least recover his body. The remaining twelve including the four Finninis set to work excavating the wagons of the McKays.
Following the trail left behind by the limp body of the guard was not encouraging to the Glens. Blood periodically stained the snow and no signs of struggle could be seen. As they passed through a narrow ravine, the osyatao gripped their leather bound shields closely, their copper headed spears ready at the slightest sign of movement. Some readied their bows, the sharpened bone of the arrowheads glistening in the low light.
They crept quickly but quietly, their snowshoes keeping them from sinking into the crunching snow. Time was of the essence, but so was stealth. Whatever or whoever had taken their friend was intelligent enough to wear boots. Their resolve hardened further and they continued up the peak.
Back at the camp, the osyatao had uncovered the wagons of the McKays. Expecting the same carnage as the Finnini clan, they were surprised to find them in pristine condition. There were no bones, no bodies, no blood. It seemed as though the McKays had simply evaporated. It was then one of the Fininnis began to howl in utter rage. When the others asked what was wrong, he explained that he believed the McKays had murdered and eaten his clan, then fled into the night. When it was pointed out how outlandish, unnatural, and unthinkable for an osyatao, let alone an entire clan, to commit such an act, he gestured to the footprints the other eight had followed. Bootprints… If it was an osyatao, a McKay, perhaps the guard had thought them no threat when they approached, raising no alarm.
Panic seized the other eleven. If the hunter was right, the rescuers were in terrible danger. They all were. The Finnini hunters immediately volunteered to go warn and reinforce the search party, in no small part due to the possibility of revenge. Two Glens osyats volunteered to go with them, leaving six to ready the sleds for immediate transport to leave this cursed place. The half dozen reinforcements charged up the trail, leaving stealth to the wind. If the bootprints were osyatao, they already knew they were coming.
The search party halted at a ridge. Winding through the snow-hidden rocks and boulders of the mountain, they had little hope for the survival of their friend now. But, across the gulch before them, they could see a cave. It was set into the side of one of the many sheer cliff faces that dotted the Shivering Spire. The trail lead there.
A debate broke out among them, whether to investigate immediately or to wait to see if what was inside would come out. Due to the concern that their friend may yet still be alive, it was decided that they should go inside.
They began their approach, ducking behind the banks of snow. The archers positioned themselves in range of the cave mouth, ready to provide fire for the warriors. The three warriors crept ever closer to the ebony abyss, even the large eyes of the osyatao unable to penetrate the darkness. At last, they entered. One of the archers advanced forward, to shoot down the shadowed throat of the cave if need be. Sudden shouting and screaming echoed, panic enveloping the archers. Clashing of metal rang out as one of the warriors raced from the cave, shouting to run as an arrow struck him in the back, fortunately being halted by his thick furs before it could do serious damage. The archer loosed his own arrow down the cave, catching a glimpse of movement, before following the warrior’s command. They fell back to the ridge as from the mouth of the cave poured the McKays.
Charging across the gulch, the McKays screamed as they brandished clubs of bone among their spears and shields. Several stood at the entrance, loosing arrows at the remaining Glens. No words were in their screams, instead dominated by animalistic howls. The hunters fired at the horde, but fruitless were their attempts. The McKays ignored the pain of the barbed points, but for the osyaba that was struck in the neck. She fell to the ground, blood gushing from her wound. Some of the McKays turned from their rush to osyaba, dragging her dying body back into the cave, where her gurgles were quickly silenced.
The Glens turned and ran, slipping down the slope they had painstakingly crawled up earlier. Their assailants continued after, some tripping and becoming trampled by their fellows.
In their reckless descent, the Shivering Spire lived up to its reputation. Two of the archers were caught as the snow gave way, the avalanche carrying them down to their doom. The others prayed their suffering would end quickly on a rock or tree, so that they would not drown for hours packed in an icy tomb. The McKays cared not, their eagerness to catch the Glens unrelenting.
When the fleeing osyatao reached the ravine they had walked through with so much caution, the warrior turned to face the horde, urging the remaining archers onward, that they should warn the camp. The one who had approached the cave refused, loosing arrow after arrow into the McKays. Continuing on, the last two raced out of the ravine, coming face to face with their reinforcements.
Seeing the panic and fright upon their faces as they gasped, “McKays,” the four Finninis rushed up the ravine. They would not wait, they did not care. The need to avenge their loved ones was too great. The other two Glens began to follow them when one of the archers grabbed one’s arm. “Hopeless.”
The four darted down along the trail, the echoes of combat behind them. The roar of the Glens and Finninis against the tide of howlng McKays reached even the ears of those still in the camp below. And with that last, monumentous straw, the Shivering Spire gave way. Ice broke from its moorings, thundering down the peak. The mass of snow and trees and stones crashed upon the ravine as the four Glens reached the sleds. With cries to go, the wolves took off, whining and whimpering at the yells and screams and crashing of landbound thunder that echoed off the mountain side. Soon, the sleds could only hear rumbling, then nothing as the avalanche ran out of steam, covering the remains of the once camp of the Finninis, McKays, and Glens.
The sleds pulled into the village, the wolves and their handlers exhausted. They had traveled with barely a stop, escaping that cursed land with as much speed as they could. After days of rest, they recounted their stories, the tragedy of the Finninis, the monstrosity of the McKays, and the bravery of those who had sacrificed their lives. After the snow finally gave way to slush and then to flowers, the Glens sent a warband to scour the Shivering Spire. They found no sign of life. The horde that had pursued the search party was found at the base of the ravine. The warband buried their corpses beneath the ground, so they would never join their ancestors, cursed to remain tied to their mortal remains. The bodies of the last Finninis and Glens were recovered and given their final rites, though the two who had been swept away in the avalanche were never found. The warriors who had been ambushed in the cave were thought to be among the piles of bones the McKays had left behind. That they had been stripped of their flesh and devoured showed the Glens that not all the McKays had been swept away by the raging torrent of snow. But with no lead to pursue, there was nothing that could be done. The warband returned empty-handed.
In the years following, many clans experienced mysterious disappearances, most prevalently in their children. When the parent lost vigilance over their child, or someone strayed too far from their camp, they would only be ever found as a pile of stripped clean bones, if they were ever found at all.
The story spread from the Glens clan to the others, and the McKays became legendary. It was exaggerated, twisted, strayed from the truth the tale had once held. Slowly, the legend became myth, the disappearances attributed to wolves or bears or cats. The McKays became a bump in the night to keep children in line. By the time Fionnaghal became the Toisiche of the Glens clan, the McKays were simply fantasy.