Shivers: Terror in the Trees
The osyat sat hard down into his chair before the roaring fireplace. His wife clacked wooden tools in the kitchen of the log cabin while cradling their smallest fry, soft cries coming from her as she watched her mother cook. A spit with several fish upon it rested above the fire, the fruit of the husband’s labor. The first snow had fallen the week prior, and the lake the small homestead resided beside had already frozen over. Cutting an ice-hole in the bitter cold awaiting the smallest of bites on his line had exhausted the osyat, and he was thankful for the warm fire the osyaba had provided. Outside, a blizzard began to howl, the soft tapping of flakes against the walls.
Suddenly the husband was rushed by their other fry, a strong osyat who was growing just up very well. Launching himself into his father’s lap, a soft oof came from his new cushion. The osyat smiled as his fry launched into a detailed description of his “awesome” day.
After the delicious meal, the family split for bed. The fry went to their own room, while the two parents made their way to their shared cot. Dreams fell upon them easily, as the tapping continued on their walls.
They were awoken by a crash and the terrifying scream of their oldest fry. The osyat grabbed his spear from the wall, rushing to the room. The wall separating their children from the storm had been torn apart, snow swirling in the empty room.
The father did a double-take, yes, the fry were gone, whisked away into the storm by whatever had knocked down the wall. He turned to his wife.
“I’m going after them. I need you to go to the Glens if I don’t come back by morning. It’s not safe here. Get help.” The osyat grabbed her, holding her tight against his chest, pressing his forehead to hers. “I love you.”
She looked into his worried eyes, “Be safe, get them home.” Ducking her head and pressing it back into his she whispered, “I love you, too.”
Releasing her, the osyat threw on his overcoat, strapped on his boots, and set out into the curtain of white.
The osyaba waited, praying to the spirits that they would return.
As the sun broke through the lessening storm, there were no osyatao to be seen. Her lips curled in a worried grimace as the osyaba readied her supplies, keeping any sound to a minimum as to not attract the monster that had taken her family.
Fionnaghal Glens, the toisiche (chieftess) of the Glens clan, stood on the porch of her cabin. She stretched her arms to the sky, ridding herself of the ache her sleep had laid upon her. Rays of sunlight lit the reflective landscape, forcing her to blink rapidly to adjust her eyes. The storm the night prior had seemed strange, howling more than usual. She was certain that the shamans would cite it as some omen or the like.
The sun had been up for quite some time, and Fionn chastised herself for the indulgence. Her clan had begun their jobs hours prior and she was setting a terrible example. However, it seemed as though she was perfectly on time, as the alarm bell was sounded by one of the palisade guards. Absolutely fantastic. The sarcastic thought passed through her mind as she rushed back to her cabin to grab her weapons. Straight to work it is.
The osyaba sat in her cabin, a mug of hot tea in her hands as she warmed by the fire. The guards had allowed her in, sounding the alarm for the shamans and the toisiche to get the rest she needed. Quickly herding her to Fionn’s cabin, her teeth had finally stopped chattering long enough to answer questions.
“I am Brónach Llywelynw of the Llywelynw homestead. Our cabin was attacked in the night.” Her eyes became filled with tears but she soldiered on.
“Something broke down the wall and took the fry, and my husband went after them. They didn’t… They didn’t come back. He said to get help from you...” The osyaba looked at them helplessly as she trailed off.
“Please… I don’t know what to do.”
Silence reigned for several moments before Fionnaghal spoke. “Stay here and rest, I and my advisors will discuss how we can help you and your family.” She smiled gently at Brónach, waving most of the gathered listeners into another room.
“I want to send an expedition,” she began, “I want to see what happened for myself.”
The others looked doubtful. “It was probably just a bear or cat, nothing we need concern ourselves over.”
“When is the last time you heard of such an animal breaking down the walls of cabins?” Fionnaghal took a deep breath. “I.. have a theory. When I was younger, I went on a hunting trip with my father, as you well know.” It was a rite of passage for the Glens for the art of hunting to be passed down directly through the family. “While I was out there, I saw something. It was no animal, not in the least. My father had gone on ahead, letting me explore the trail for myself, looking for tracks of smaller game, while he reset his snares.”
Fionn swallowed the lump in her throat. “I thought I found something. Some fur on the end of a branch, a trace of the animal. Thinking I knew better and that I could impress my pa with a ‘real’ beast. Depressions in the snow indicated tracks, so I followed. Off the trail I went, further and further into the underbrush. Soon, the tracks just disappeared, leaving me in the forest without my quarry. Suddenly, I didn’t know better. I was afraid, I was alone. I turned and ran, following the trail from which I had come. A swish and thunk sounded behind me, I glanced back and saw a spear where I had stood moments before.” Fionnaghal paused, the memory too vivid in her mind’s eye.
“In that second I looked back, I saw an osyatao clad in black furs staring at me from the tree above. I will never forget their eyes. The hate, hunger, and bloodlust… I ran. I ran as fast as I could until I slammed into my father’s arms. I did not speak of it, for I was a child, and who would believe me?”
Again the room was quiet as her advisors absorbed the information. One broke the silence, “are you suggesting that this attack was organized by osyatao?”
Fionn shook her head, “not just osyatao. The remnants of the McKays, or some other cult that’s taken after them.”
Several advisors scoffed with one outright laughing, “that is a fairy tale. You cannot be serious.”
The toisiche stared them down until they quieted. “I’m dead serious. I want this investigated, and it will be. I want this beast, osyatao or not, hunted down and killed. I will lead the mission, and if the osyaba is willing she will guide us.” Muttering broke out at her statement of leadership but none opposed her.
“I will gather volunteers. We leave at dawn.”
Eight osyats and two osyaba bustled around the sleds, loading up supplies and weaponry. Perhaps the most unique thing was the scorpion sitting upon its own sled. It was a large mounted crossbow stolen from one of the Basiluzzite ships that had attempted a raid on their village. The osyatao had found it invaluable for bringing down larger beasts with thicker hides.
Brónach watched the activity with eager anticipation. When the toisiche had asked her to guide them, making it clear in no uncertain terms that she had no obligation, she had jumped at the opportunity. She had to see if they, against all odds, had survived. And if they hadn’t… She needed revenge.
Fionn left the group, making her way to their observing guide. “There are only some small things left to strap down, but we’ll be ready in the morning,” she squeezed Brónach’s shoulder reassuringly, “we’ll find them.”
Brónach nodded, keeping her eyes on the others who were beginning to break up, four or so remaining to tie down any loose supplies. As Fionn turned to leave, the osyaba spoke.
“Teach me the spear.”
The toisiche turned, looking deep into Brónach’s striking eyes. Without hesitation, she answered, “I will. Come, there is still some light left.”
When Fionn’s mother had passed, she had pleaded with her father to teach her to fight, so badly was the desire for revenge. He had refused, and when her chance came it was snatched away. Now, with Brónach in her position, she couldn’t refuse.
She took a moment to choose the spear. She had several of course, as weapons were a mark of a family’s strength, passed down through the generations. Fionnaghal’s own was made of bone-steel. She settled on a rarity, a bronze headed haft that one of her ancestors had used to avenge a fallen daughter. Bronze and steel among the osyatao was a valuable commodity, as the forging process was generally considered too costly and time-consuming. Copper and raw iron worked well enough for their spears and daggers.
They trained long into the night, even as the light faded. Brónach was by no means skilled, but against an animal, she was deft enough. Fionn, at last, called their session to a close, bidding the lonely osyaba a good night while she returned to her cabin.
Again the storm arose in the night, its keening wind a low moan as winter raked its icy claws across the logs of the cabins. The osyatao’s sleep was troubled, as more than the gusts of the blizzard seemed to be screaming in the dark.
Fionnaghal and the others rose, brushing off the several inches that had gathered over the sleds in the night. The two supply sleds were soon ready, while the one that mounted the scorpion had its tarp more carefully cleared. Their massive black and white wolf-dogs were hitched three to a sled, more than enough to carry the eleven osyatao and their load. They set off as the snow increased.
The cold was biting, gnawing at any exposed flesh left uncovered by their thick furs. Between the muffling cloth of the scarves that protected their faces and the absorbing snowflakes that came down in clumps around them, the conversation was limited. All that could be heard was the panting of the canines, paws crunching in the white powder, and the hiss of the sleds as they glided through the curtains of snow.
They traveled through the narrow trees, Brónach confident in their path. Whenever Fionnaghal looked to her for guidance, the osyaba would raise a woolen mitten in the correct direction. Landmarks such as twisted trees, warped stumps, and snow-covered boulders marked their trail towards the cabin.
When the structure finally came into sight, the day had mostly passed. The cabin had nearly been covered by the banks of snow, streaming in through the broken wall. Brónach did not hesitate, leaping off of the sled and running to the sagging building, searching for any sign that her husband or children had returned.
The Glens osyatao stopped their sleds, all but Fionn offloading the supplies, preparing the tents, and unharnessing the wolf-dogs. The toisiche collected Brónach’s spear, forgotten by the desperate mother. Fionn followed, keeping an eye on her while trying to provide a comforting presence.
After tearing through the powder, the frantic search came to a close. Brónach knelt in the ruins of her home. No wails came, no cries of grief, just the solemn sound of silence. Fionn approached, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“We’ll search the woods. Don’t give up hope yet.” The words felt empty, even to Fionn. With the constant downpour of the storm, it was unlikely they would find anything, especially if they were taken by an animal as the mother had said. Or an osyatao, Fionnaghal thought.
Brónach nodded, seeming to either ignore or not hear Fionnaghal’s misgivings. She stood on trembling legs but grasped the proffered spear. Her visage was grimaced in fierce determination, a spark still burned in her grieving eyes.
Fionn nodded once more, glancing back at the others. They had unloaded most of the first sled, but the remaining camp could be set up at nightfall.
She called out, “I need two to stay, the rest will make camp. We’re searching for the family.” The others nodded, quickly assigning roles as they gathered around the two osyaba. “Where did your husband go Brónach?”
Brónach pointed west, which sent a cold finger trailing down Fionn’s spine. They weren’t far from the Shivering Spire where the original legend had taken place. “We’ll travel together, I don’t want us separated in this snow, especially while we’re hunting large and dangerous prey.”
With grunts and nods of agreement, Fionn turned, gesturing towards Brónach to lead them into the woods.
The silence was unnerving. It was usually like this in winter, the animals are hidden in their warm burrows away from the deadly touch of Typhon, the storm god, with only the sound of the snowflakes hitting their clothing and the soft crunch of snow under their feet. Even then, there should have been some chirps of birds and rustling of rodents beneath the layers of flakes. But there was nothing.
They stayed as silent as they could, helped by the absorption of the curtains of snow. For minutes they walked, Fionn and the others growing ever tenser. When Brónach broke from their group and ran into the thicket of trees, Fionnaghal nearly screamed. They rushed after her, only to find Brónach kneeling before the bones of what could only be her husband and children. They had been picked clean, what blood could be seen in the fallen snow was very little, as though whatever had devoured the family hadn’t wanted to waste a single drop.
Fionn jumped this time when Brónach let out a soul-crushing wail. The grieving widow had thrown her head back, screaming her grief into the infinite white void. Her face was contorted in pain, her eyes darting back and forth, desperately searching the sky for answers. The storm did not answer. She could not shed tears, for the osyatao cannot cry, but still, her wails came ragged as her breathing stuttered and her lungs gasped for air.
The others stood where they were, allowing Brónach to grieve. When at last her sobs began to subside, Fionn caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye. A pale shape darted between the trees, roughly the size of an osyatao. She shouted to the group, and they quickly rushed to Brónach. Picking up her spear, Fionnaghal thrust it into Brónach’s hand.
“Something’s in the trees, might be the thing that did this, be prepared.”
The forest resumed its unnerving silence, only broken by Brónach’s subsiding sniffles as she knelt on the ground. Suddenly a shape launched at them from above. Its pale scales and bipedal form marked it as an osyatao, but like none Fionn had ever seen. It landed upon one of the hunters, begin to tear the osyaba to shreds. The others quickly thrust their copper and iron spears into the beast, but it barely flinched, turning and swiping another across the throat, tearing it out. It screamed, a mockery of the cries the widow had made so previously. It was osyatao, but not. Fionn couldn’t understand the monster before her.
“Move!” she commanded.
The two guards who had stayed at the semi-erected camp were startled from their mundane watch by the shouts of the retreating osyatao.
“Go! Get the sleds ready!”
The two rushed to the wolf-dogs, hitching them to the sled even as they began to whine and growl. The shouting from the group continued, but now an unearthly shriek dominated their ears. The canines cowered, their tails between their legs, seconds from fleeing. Splitting the animals four and five between two of the sleds, one they had already emptied of supplies and the one that mounted the scorpion, they opted for speed and power, abandoning the third loaded sled. Finished with their preparations for escape, they jumped to the scorpion, loading a bolt as the osyatao finally came into view.
Fionnaghal grabbed the back of Brónach’s furs, jerking her back to her feet. “Move!” she commanded as the beast tore into another osyat, “Our weapons do nothing, run!”
None of the survivors needed to be told twice. They ran through the gently falling fat flakes, desperately slipping and sliding. At last, the oysat’s pained cries silenced, and they knew it was only a matter of time.
Fionn began yelling, hoping the guards would hear, “Go! Get the sleds ready!”
The others joined her, hollering through the woods when the monster leaped from the trees to the left releasing a piercing howl. The osyat fell to its claws, his surprised shriek cut off with a gurgle. His death swift, the others abandoned him, seeking to save those lives that could still be saved.
They broke the edge of the trees, the sleds their salvation. Suddenly, Fionn was pulled down, the beast grasping one of her legs. Desperately, she stabbed at the monstrous thing with her spear, at last getting a clear look at the beast. Its head was that of the Northern Osyatao, but the muzzle had been elongated. The lips were ragged, raw, and bleeding, having been chewed off in its terrible hunger for flesh. Its limbs had been stretched, the skin seemingly plastered to its muscles, bones, and sinews. Somehow, this incredibly strong monster, even with all the flesh it had consumed, was emaciated. Its tail was missing, a jagged stump in its place, another victim to the beast’s hunger. The eyes held a ravenous hunger that made Fionnaghal shiver, bringing her back to the woods with the osyat she saw as a child. The beast swept away her spear and brought its claws up to deliver a finishing blow.
The sudden whistle and meaty thwack of the scorpion’s bold hitting home rang out across the clearing, the abomination thrown from the toisiche, the shaft impaling it through its chest into a nearby tree. The monster shrieked, struggling to free itself.
Brónach grabbed Fionn this time, hauling her to the nearest sled, the one with the scorpion. The two osyatao manning the turret had reloaded, loosing again into the beast, pinning it once more to the trunk.
“Get us out of here! We can’t kill it!” she shouted to the two osyats, but Brónach had already reached the front of the sled.
“Yip yip!” she ordered the wolf-dogs, who were more than eager to obey. Racing from the clearing back in the direction of the Glens village, the other sled following behind.
As the creature faded from sight, Fionn saw it fall limp against the tree before it raised its arms into the air and howled.
The howling did not stop, piercing their ears like knives and leaving the wolf-dogs a whimpering mess as they stumbled over the snow. After several minutes it at last dissipated, replaced by a different kind of howling. While the snow earlier had reduced visibility in the size of its flakes, this sudden blizzard was an entirely different kind of beast. The hail that came against them now was blinding, cutting into any exposed parts of their skin and leaving freezing burns. The wind keened and whistled around them, deafening them to all noise. Their desperate sprint towards freedom slowed to a crawl as the wolf-dogs struggled against the storm. Soon, even the sled behind them was hidden by the sheet of falling ice.
The shouts and screams of the sled behind them were muffled, but it seemed the shrieks of the beast range clear through the cacophony of wind. It was clear that it had escaped the bolts. The terrified howls of the wolf-dogs attached to the sled drove their own onwards, even as they were silenced. Of the eleven who had set out to kill the monster, only four remained.
They continued, the two osyats swiveling the scorpion, desperately searching the white infinitude. Nothing but the keening greeted them. Eventually, they assumed the beast had left them to tear and feed upon its massive meal.
The wolf-dogs scrambled through the snow, but even their wide paws struggled on the fresh snow, the shards of ice cutting into the pads of their paws like razor blades. Soon, a trail of pink ran behind the sled. Fionn winced in sympathy, but the wolf-dogs did not slow, their determination and fear driving them onward.
The white eventually faded to gray, then pitch black as the unseen sun fell below the mountains. The cold seeped through their furs and mittens, their toes beginning to go tingly and numb from frostbite. They rotated, one guiding the still bleeding wolf-dogs while the others shoved their freezing fingers into their armpits to warm them with their cores. They did not speak, saving their breath, for breathing the cold air stung their lungs like wasps. The wolf-dogs had it the worst with their panting and bloody extremities, but still they continued.
The scorpion snapped, the strain of the temperature on the bow making it rigid and fragile. They pushed the ruined weapon off the sled, abandoning it to the blizzard. The dogs seemed to appreciate the loss in weight, but the osyatao only became more paranoid, searching everywhere for the dead eyes of the monster.
They stayed awake through the night, the wolf-dogs gradually slowing their pace. When at last the sickening black gave way to gray, the to white, hope began to return to the survivors. It was then that the wolf-dogs halted, staring at the giant shadow before them.
Fionnaghal stared aghast at the beast. When she had first seen it, it stood barely taller than an osyatao. But now it stood another half as high, as emaciated as it had been. Its meal had made it grow but had not sated its hunger. As it stared at them, Fionn worked her way along the ling of five dogs, freeing them from their harnesses. The wolf-dogs bolted into the forest, fleeing the beast that had decimated four of their kin. The monster did not indicate that it had seen them go, its eyes locked on its prey.
Fionn retreated to the other three. The hopelessness of the situation threatened to overwhelm her, but she steeled her nerves. These ones needed her help, now.
“We split up, sprint into the forest, and get to the village. We warn them. The shamans will surely have something to drive off this foul offspring of the gods. Our weapons cannot kill it, if we stick together, we die together. Apart, one might make it through.” The two osyats looked resigned and determined, making peace with their fate. Brónach looked as terrified as she felt but firmly nodded.
Fionnaghal breathed deeply, feeling the grip of winter in her lungs. “Walk into the trees. Do not run until it has figured out we are fleeing, I think it believes it has us trapped.” With that, Fionn turned, walking from the path they had been following into the forest.
It did not take long for the scream of the monster to echo through the howling wind. Beginning her mad dash, Fionn listened to the crashing footsteps through the wailing wind as it drew closer. Ducking around a tree, she began to pray as it sprinted past. Soon its footsteps halted, and it began to double back, slower this time. Fionn believed herself lost to the beast when a sudden shout rang out from her left. One of the two osyats was waving his arms, attracting the monster. He locked eyes with Fionn before running through the blizzard as the screeching abomination chased after.
His loyalty and sacrifice will be remembered, Fionnaghal promised herself as she resumed her sprint.
It was by sheer luck she came upon Brónach, who was huffing and puffing her exhaustion. A short yelp came from her lips when she saw Fionn, but she cut it off. “He’s dead.”
Fionn nodded. “They will be remembered and honored, but first, we must return to remember them.”
Brónach nodded, the two stumbling through the storm. Their feet had gone completely numb, as had the tips of their snouts. Their fingers had begun to tingle, but their time keeping them warm had paid off enough for them to retain mobility. The snow continued to swirl around them, but through the flakes Fionn could see the soft glow of the lanterns that lit the gate of the palisade.
“There!” she cried, they could only be thirty or so feet away. It was then she was slammed to the side as something supernaturally strong crashed into her.
Her breath was knocked out of her and several ribs were broken or bruised, she stared painfully up at the monster. A sudden cry rang out as Brónach launched herself at the beast, driving her bronze spear up from below its rib cage and into its lungs and throat. Tearing itself away from Fionn it collapsed and began scuttling towards its assailant, hacking and coughing dark blood.
“Go!” Brónach yelled as she drew a hunting knife, “Get to the village!”
Fionn turned to the palisade, piteously dragging herself towards the wooden stakes as the alarm bell was rung. Behind her, she could hear the beast’s choking gurgle as Brónach stabbed and slashed at its crippled form. Soon, however, the sound of the spear shaft splintering echoed. Regaining its mobility, the monster caught her, and her scream of pain and defiance was short.
Her heart broke as she looked back, the beast letting Brónach’s broken body fall from its claws. The spearhead was lodged near its heart, the bronze hissing and burning against the supernatural healing. It hacked, its breathing halved, as it locked its murderous voids of eyes onto hers.
An unorganized force of warriors poured from the gate, ready to face the creature. But now, injured and requiring healing in the face of so many, it retreated, uttering one last sputtering howl of rage before disappearing back into the swirling wind.
The warriors reached Fionn as her vision faded to black.
The village mourned its fallen, those corpses they could retrieve burned in their blue fires, freeing their souls from the earth. The beast had gotten to the others first, and the sorrow ran deep through the community.
The shamans had gathered and named the beast. They had refused to speak it, saying that it would give it power. Instead, they used ephithets such as, “Devourer and Ravener.” The shamans had written the true name, and the bark it had been scrawled on was passed among the assembled village.
Fionn shuddered. It was the name given to the McKays, though it had never stuck, as they were osyatao, just regular osyatao, and hadn’t needed the name of a monster. Now, as she sat hunched in a chair on the porch of her cabin, she imagined could almost see it in the trees, its eyes glaring back at her.
Brónach’s death had not been in vain, she had seen the power of the bronze. The shamans had scoffed, believing that no weaponry could harm the being that was the manifestation of the worst of sentient nature, twisted by the wicked hand of Typhon.
She glared back at the imaginary eyes, Brónach and the other fallen would not lie unavenged. Next we meet, we’ll see if bone-steel can’t put you down permanently.