For 2022, I’ve been wanting to write more ‘creature features’ and generally improve my short story writing. My partner got me a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for my birthday so I came up with the idea of writing a story every week based on a different creature from that – All There in the (Monster) Manual. Hope you enjoy!
This Week’s Inspiration: Yeti
Sailors and traders have searched for years for a fabled passage through the frozen north. After two years stuck fast in ice on such a mission, Captain William Blarvey and his crew have been forced to abandon their ship and make for a nearby settlement. But the fields of ice and snow hold dangers and mysteries they have failed to anticipate.
Note: This story takes place in the same continuity as The Birth of Cities. Wooster is a city in the same vein of Yoruga, without that context this story is likely to be slightly confusing.
Selected excerpts from the diary of Captain William Blarvey of the HMS Heavyheart exploration ship.
13th of Fen, 561 WF
With great sadness, I have been forced to take leave of my Command, the HMS Heavyheart, and her sister ship the HMS Wren, and abandon our Quest to find the northern passage. For the past two Winters, as well as alleged Springs and Summers, they have been stuck fast in thick pack ice. We could hear the ice tearing apart the wooden planks at night, piece by piece by piece. I have left my original diary aboard the Ship in case it is discovered although copies of it and the Ship’s Log are nestled among our supplies.
Our Only Hope is to make it across the frozen wastes and pack ice between Here and Hower Island. The settlement there should see us through the Winter and put us back in contact with our City of Wooster. To that end, we have loaded two longboats full of tools and supplies. All the crew take turns pulling them on sleds, except for those too sick or injured.
The Journey will be treacherous, with storms, creatures, and our inability to refresh our supplies. I try to keep my Spirits high in front of the men. Privately, I am concerned whether any of us will make it.
22nd of Fen, 561 WF
Endless Cold takes its toll, out here in the wastes. It takes its toll in Fingers and Toes. Flesh turns necrotic, black and hard, before it has to be removed. Despite our best efforts to identify and leave behind the affected supplies, the same issue with our foodstuffs that we experienced aboard the Heavyheart continues to plague us now. Due to improper cannery, a Fourth of our supplies present as spoiled when opened.
Two of the sickest crew members have died since we took to the Ice. Crew worry continuously over animals such as Bears and Direwolves but it is the constant, grinding demands of the cold and toil that I fear will be the worst of it.
1st of Aut, 561 WF
We have made contact with a group of Natives friendly to Outsiders such as we. It is not lost on me that this should occur on the same day as the Luck Festival, back on Wooster. Perhaps our Fortunes have indeed changed. These Natives have generously shared their water and meat with us, and helped to aid our sick.
In spite of the long stretches of sunlessness here in the North, and lack of ready foodstuffs, the Natives are nut-brown and fleshy in appearance. They wear the pelts of native animals close to the skin to stay warm, and broad, flat shoes to help them walk on the snow. Although they live on Land, they are nomadic like us. Besides their Homes, which they carry on sleds, they build huts fit for half a dozen people from blocks carved from the ice.
Direwolves, grey, white, or dark in colour, are used to draw the Natives’ more permanent structures and storehouses on sleds. Their heads are as large as the Natives’ ice huts. Their bodies are much larger than our longboats. Their pups, the size of a Hunting Dog at birth, are reared by hand and used for hunting from an early age. Loyally, the adults protect the Natives from other Threats and pull their homes and storehouses on sleds
We rest with them in their camp tonight. I am hoping to trade with them for more supplies before we move on to Hower Island.
4th of Aut, 561 WF
We have traded with the Natives, although we have little to interest them. They give freely of what they are in Surplus of, which is largely Meat and Pelts. They happily accept some of our iron tools that they see of use, but reject trinkets. While the Natives appear to live happily, life on the wastes is harsh and does not reward avarice for objects which are unnecessary for straightforward survival.
The Natives have tried to dissuade us from continuing our journey across the passage to Hower Island. Crossing the Open Ice without wolves they believe is too dangerous. Storms also create a coming threat in the area.
In addition to their warnings, the Natives have shared their Legends of a creature they say roams the frozen North, of which we have no record. They call it the Saumen Kar, but some of the Crew have taken to calling the Abominable Snowman. It is the shape of a man but covered in pure white fur with grey hands and face. Built on the scale of city-turtles or the great sauropods. It never emerges during clear weather but in thick fog Saumen Kar can be seen squatting over settlements, studying them, drinking in the Thoughts and Feelings, and Dreams of the Inhabitants. Superstition, of course. Perhaps invented to compete with Outsiders and their tales of the magnificent creatures such as Wooster who we live upon. Still, I have done my best to thank them for their Prayers and Blessings that Saumen Kar watch over us.
14th of Aut, 561 WF
We leave land to cross the Open Ice of the frozen passage to Hower Island. Ahead of us lays a vast sameness. Even in the wastes, on land there are hills, crags of black rock that jut through the snow, and forests of black trees that may bloom rarely but do bloom come the Thaw. On the Open Ice, there is none of that. Only the crags and gullies created by the pack ice grinding together under unimaginable pressures.
In spite of the arduous hauling of the longboats, the crew are still in higher spirits and greater Health thanks to the reintroduction of some fresh food in their Diet, thanks to the Native peoples. Since taking our leave of their Tribe several days ago, we’ve seen no sign of any other Peoples nor wildlife.
16th of Aut, 561 WF
Ensconced in hulls of wood and iron, I realise now as much as I thought I appreciated the Dangers of the wastes I had underestimated them severely. Six more members of my crew are Dead. We have regrouped and managed to salvage the longboats and most of our supplies. For Now, we have set the tents on a thin, rocky stretch amidst the frozen Ice of the passage.
An Icebreaker Seal set upon us this morning. We had encountered the Beasts before but rarely, with the protection of the ships. They resemble the more common Leopard Seal but are vastly larger. Almost as long as one of our ships, covered in walls of thick blubber and with teeth as long as sabres. The axe-shaped wedge of bone on its brow is designed for hewing through thick sections of ice. Without warning, it broke through a patch between us. Savagely, it set upon the crew. Our flintlocks did nothing against its blubber. With the tools available to us we could do nothing except be Slaughtered, as if we were Mice with sticks against a Wolf. We ran in all directions and were only fortunate that it did not follow.
For Now, we have set up our tents and are doing what we can for the injured. Many fear what will happen if we set out on the Open Ice again.
22nd of Aut, 561 WF
While we are free from the Open Ice we have been beset by Storm and further delayed. Winds frequently threaten, and occasionally succeed in ripping down the supports of our tents. Ropes have been set up around camp but crew are forbidden from travelling alone. Conditions are a complete Whiteout. As the walls of snow blanket all vision, one cannot see more than a few paces in front of one’s self.
Canned supplies and Rum are low. Hopes remain high that we can make contact with the settlement of Hower Island soon.
27th of Aut, 561 WF
Whiteout Conditions remain as the Storm continues to test us. Every Morning and sometimes Evenings we have to dig out the entrances to our tents and the paths between them. Two more crew have Succumbed to injuries sustained in the Icebreaker Seal attack, while two others have disappeared entirely.
Crew have reported mirages in the Storm, and I too have witnessed these for Myself. We have experienced this phenomena frequently over the past two years while the ships remained trapped, and it has been reported in the past by other sailors, but I have never seen it appear so strongly. Wind will move a certain way and crew will see a Vision of Home as if Wooster has come to us, seeing the city’s grand head and shell and skyline. Sometimes the mirages will appear as castles or other settlements, some have reported seeing the Natives passing close by with their Direwolves and sleds.
But more and more frequently, crew members have reported a Giant Figure strolling through the snow. All of these are only mirages but some crew swear they have felt the weight of his presence, either passing by or holding over the camp. Some believe this is Saumen Kar, the Legend the Natives spoke to us of. I have tried to tamp down on any talk about this Saumen Kar which is beginning to border on religious hysteria. Besides the sightings in the snow, otherwise rational members of the crew are reporting Visions or appearances of this figure in Dreams.
2nd of Oot, 562 WF (Estimated)
The Storm has made it almost impossible to track the days. I believe the New Year on Wooster has come and gone sometime in the past two nights. Outside the tents, conditions have been almost total Whiteout for almost Two Weeks.
During a brief abatement, we ventured out to see if we could find any sign of those crew who had disappeared. We believed they might have lost touch of the lines while moving around camp, lost direction, and wandered into the snow to die. Instead of their bodies, however, we came across a monstrous footprint. It had the same form as a Human Foot but was around the length of one of our longboats in width and around three times as long. It had not yet been too obscured by snow.
We have taken measurements but have been forced to retreat to the camp again in the face of another Stormfront. News of the footprint has caused a great stir among the remaining crew.
3rd of Oot, 562 WF (Estimated)
Conditions have degraded considerably over the last day. Three more members of crew have disappeared along with the last of our Rum and a number of supplies. The Storm has continued, more fierce than ever. Discipline is barely holding us together. The remaining crew are divided into two camps, both of whom are absolute on the existence of Saumen Kar. One half believe the creature means to do us Ill, the other believes its intentions are benevolent. I am unsure as to which side I belong, I am merely trying to Maintain Order. But I cannot deny the realities. Visions persist during eddies in the Storm of vast limbs. Of a huge, hunched, shaggy shape hovering over the camp like a curious man bent over a hole in the Ice. They have an undeniable weight to them that the Mirages lack. As impossibly silent as the Figure appears, one can sense vibrations in the snow.
If only the Storm would abate, I believe the settlement on Hower Island to be only a few days walk from here with the bare minimum of our supplies. But we are at the Storm’s mercy for now. And at the mercy of this creature, whatever its intentions might be.
4th of Oot, 562 WF
HE IS SMILING ON US. WE ARE SAVED. WE ARE SAVED.
This diary and other notes were found in the remains of a camp on the far side of Hower Island by the island’s settlers during the Spring thaw. While in disarray, the camp appeared intact. However, no sign of Captain William Blarvey or his remaining crew were found in or around the camp. The remains of the HMS Heavyheart and HMS Wren also remained undiscovered.
Sean: As mentioned at the beginning of the story, this one connects back to the world first seen in The Birth of Cities, although the location, characters and style are unrelated. Wooster is intended to be another city-turtle, and home to a considerable naval power. Let’s say, if Yoruga represented a province of Spain during the Age of Sail then Wooster would be a part of England.
The main shtick of this world, which I’ve been referring to in my own notes as Land of Giants, is people living in symbiosis with some giant animals in order to avoid the danger of other, much unfriendlier giants, such as the city-turtles or dire wolves. If you’re enjoying them so far there is another story coming up again in this world although in another location – following the scorpion nomads of the Great Sandy Wastes. I’m pretty excited by that one personally!
Keep your eyes on my website for that story, and of course other weekly ones in the All in the (Monster) Manual series, and for more updates you can find me on Facebook and Twitter.
Next Week’s Inspiration: Minotaur