LORE ARCHIVE – Bestiary Series: Tumblespine

In the brambles, dressed in thorns,
No head nor tail, no tooth nor horns,
It clicks and creeps, it turns and winds,
Beware the hunting Tumblespine.

Vaska ducked under branches and twisted her way through dense undergrowth, wincing as long red scratches opened on her skin. She couldn’t hear the creature behind her, but she wasn’t going to stop until she was sure she’d lost it.

The creature hadn’t moved like anything she’d seen in her 15 years of living in Toehold, a small mining town in the foothills of Summit. It came out of nowhere, launching from the trees like a many-limbed cannonball while she was kneeling to pick mushrooms. It struck her hard, driving the wind from her, but didn’t have a chance to pin her down with its many spiny limbs before she bolted deeper into the forest.

It doesn’t feed, it doesn’t thirst,
It hates and hungers, bites and bursts,
Too many legs to grasp and grind,
Beware the hunting Tumblespine.

It reminded Vaska of that stupid game her brother Jorge used to play in the woods with his friends. The boys would gather in a clearing and one would be chosen to play the monster. The monster would wear a blindfold, wrap himself in brambles and try to “catch” the others, while Jorge read this horrible nursery rhyme from a sheet of thin, pearlescent paper he wouldn’t let anybody else look at. The game didn’t end until everyone was caught, so the monster always won.

Her parents had forbidden the game years ago, when a blindfolded boy wandered off and was mauled by a wild animal, but she had seen her brother and his friends sneaking off to play again last week. They never learned.

A root caught Vaska’s foot and she fell hard, her mouth and nostrils filling with the taste of dirt and moss. She heard a clicking sound behind her and instinctively rolled onto her back, kicking her feet upward. Her boot connected with the creature mid-air, send it careening into the trees with a loud crash. Hard bits of its purple-grey carapace shattered from its body and showered the leaves around her.

Nowhere to hide, nowhere to run,
The monster catches everyone,
With claws that clutch and limbs that bind,
Beware the hunting Tumblespine.

Vaska twisted to her feet and tore a branch from the nearest tree with a loud crack, brandishing it in the direction the creature had vanished. The forest was silent around her. Suddenly the bushes to her right began to thrash. She pivoted, keeping her guard up as she backed away.

Once, when she was 12, Vaska had crossed paths with a wolf in a forest clearing. She remembered how its eyes followed her as she backed slowly away, how it felt to be watched by a predator looking for a sign of its prey’s weakness.

This felt nothing like that. She felt no eyes on her, no challenge of her strength—just a sensation of blind terror, like the creature could materialize from anywhere at any time.

She continued backing away until she reached the edge of the forest, where the world dropped away off a sheer cliff face into churning mist below. The wind howled and shook the trees around her. She scanned the treeline for signs of movement and took a few practice swings with the branch, testing its heft.

This time the creature approached slowly and in plain view, emerging from under a bush. It was smaller than she expected. It looked like a ball of multi-hinged insect legs. Its carapace was a stony purple colour with a slight shimmer in places, as if a frost were starting to form it. It rolled forward in one continuous stepping motion of its many legs. Too many legs.

No up or down, no side to side,
No weakness in its jagged hide,
No eyes to see yet never blind,
Beware the hunting Tumblespine.

Then all at once, its legs flexed and the creature launched itself forward at Vaska. She swung hard, cracking the stick in half against its armour and sending the beast over the edge of cliff and into the mist below. The force of the impact drove her backward, and she felt her leg step out onto nothingness, casting about madly for any kind of purchase. She realized with dread certainty that she was going to fall.

Vaska looked up as she pitched backward, wondering how far she would fall, when all of a sudden a crackling sound tore the world in half and she found herself looking up at a sky of rippling purple. It look her a moment to realize she was laying on solid ground, some twenty feet from the edge of the cliff. She blinked and the purple was gone, replaced with sky once more.

Vaska stood, scarcely able to believe she was alive, and began to run home, her heart hammering in her chest.

***

Evera watched unseen from the edge of the woods as the girl ran off, unaware that the Riftkeeper had just saved her life. When Evera was alone again, she emerged and looked over the cliff to make sure the creature was gone. It was a lesser Riftspawn, something that any initiate could summon, but dangerous nonetheless.

The Riftkeeper’s guild in Summit had been hearing reports of strange creatures outside of Toehold for years, but no one had taken them seriously. After all, Riftspawn usually vanished from this world a few hours after summoning. As far as Evera knew, she was the only one who had experimented with permanently binding the creatures to Axia, and other than a few failed incantations jotted down in her notebook, she had made no progress on that front.

But then a report made its way up the mountain using the creature’s true name, “Tumblespine,” and the elder mages had sent Evera down to investigate as they did every few years when the townsfolk below grew superstitious. That was fine. Evera always used the trips to further her experiments down where the miasma was thickest.

Evera still didn’t know how the Tumblespine had been summoned, but she could at least make sure to unsummon any remaining Riftspawn in the area. She pulled out her battered notebook and read the unsummoning ritual aloud.

At some point she would have to take these notes and transcribe them in a new notebook. This one was in tatters, and every now and then she would find that one of its white, pearlescent pages had come loose in her bag–usually some junk ritual she had never quite gotten to work.

When she was done, she packed up her notebook and began to make her way back up the mountain. As her path took her past Toehold she could distantly hear children playing a game in the town square. They were too far below to make out their exact words, but the cadence seemed vaguely familiar.

She sighed. These small-town folk and their strange ways. She’d have to ask about them the next time she took a trip down the mountain.

It comes from nowhere, nowhere goes,
Of distant doors and worlds, it knows,
Not from this place, not from this time,
Beware the hunting Tumblespine.


Click here to download the new Tumblespine Foe Card to add to your EMBERWIND game today!


This week’s Archive story comes from Peter Chiykowski, co-writer of the forthcoming EMBERWIND: The Songweave Tapestry campaign. He’s the creator of the webcomics Rock Paper Cynic , Is It Canon?, and What’s George Doing Today?, the viral Twitter sensation Dad Joke Han Solo, and the postcard fiction project The Shortest Story