A mild breeze made the fallen leaves rustle, the trees were trading their lush green colored garments for red, yellow and brown. Most of the flora was making preparations for the season to come. Mushrooms started sprouting in large numbers and all kinds of hibernating creatures were making sure their winter stash was sufficient to last them through the winter that would not hold back for much longer. The forest was buzzing with activity and even the weather became more restless. It had been raining a whole lot and it made several of the small creeks overflow turning parts of the forest into a soggy swamp like environment. Most of the birds that preferred a warmer climate had already departed south and only the species that could withstand the dropping temperatures filled the forest with their songs. In the distance you could hear the hard work of a lumberjack, who was gathering firewood for the people of his settlement. This settlement had rooted in a large clearing surrounded by ancient trees and once had the purpose of being a traders outpost for fur traders. The area surrounding the settlement was rich in wildlife; including deer, rabbits, foxes and the occasional pack of wolves. Most of the men there made a living of hunting down and skinning animals to then sell them to the passing merchants, who would in turn bring other goods that were useful for the small but thriving community. That was the case until a war broke out and the roads leading up to the settlement were getting too dangerous for the merchants to travel. Most of them got caught up in skirmishes or were executed suspected of being spies for the opposing side. The settlement itself had not yet faced any troubles regarding the war because of their secluded location.
The life of the inhabitants had changed tremendously when the trade came to an end, now only very rarely a brave, and lucky, trader would come by but there was a limit on the amount of furs he could afford to take back to civilization. The settlement that was once pretty wealthy and thriving came to a standstill. They had to make the best out of what they had while keeping a close eye on the progress of the war. The hunters had the responsibility to keep an eye out for marauding bands of soldiers and deserters coming too close to the small village. They did have a wooden palisade around the village center in case of a emergency but that would hardly stop an army. Many of the villagers had already left for what they thought was a safer place to live but none of them had been heard of ever since. Since the war started the small makeshift chapel had been busier than ever and most of the villagers turned devout in hopes that God would spare them from the war and praying for the souls of those who chose to leave. The priest had to take three times as many confessions as he had since the settlement was founded and he had to call upon some of his most devout followers to assist him with his holy duties. He was getting old. He had already passed his fiftieth year and his body was starting to fail on him. He had to use a walking stick to keep his balance and his eyes had gone dark. Some disease had stricken him which had made him blind in a matter of weeks. The people in the village were sure he was going to die at that point since during his illness he had high fevers and he could not leave his bed for at least six weeks. He had already prepared a successor as best he could and he was his biggest help. They lived in the same wooden house, neighboring the chapel and he knew that soon, the old man would pass away and he would have to carry the burden of providing the holy services that God required of him and on which the people of the village had grown dependent. And little did they know, their faith would soon be the only light in their lives.
A few months later, winter had a strong grip on the lands surrounding the town. The forest had succumb to the freezing winds and snowfall, the entire forest was covered in a white blanket. Temperatures had dropped so low most of the slow flowing streams in the area had a thick layer of ice covering their clear water. The well they had dug out near the edge of town was also unusable. They had to resort to melting snow over their fireplaces. Firewood was still plentiful since the lumberjacks had been working on the supply since last winter. Most of the people in the town spent most of their days indoors and kept themselves busy with whatever tasks they could. The hunters had it the hardest. They had a hard time finding prey in the usually teeming forest. They had trouble finding any deer or wild boars at all, even the wolves that roamed these parts hadn’t been seen for a while. It was almost like all of the wildlife had vanished. The animals they did found were mostly sick or crippled and even those were sparse. There had been no word on the war either; not a single merchant had made his way into their village for a few months now. It started to worry some of the villagers, the chapel was buzzing with activity from early in the morning until late at night. The old priest and his young apprentice barely had any time to themselves. They had to reassure the people that this time of doubt would soon pass and that they would soon go back to their old lifestyle. This went on for a few more weeks, until one of the hunters came back with even more disturbing news. While out hunting he had seen that most of the trees were dying, he nearly got crushed by a rotten branch falling from a great oak, upon closer inspection he discovered that the entire tree was dead and that most of the surrounding trees were also showing signs of decay, he told them that every single tree surrounding their village for many miles was sick. The word spread quickly around town and people were starting to panic, most of them sought out the priests for an answer, though they knew little themselves. They had never heard of something like this and they had no clear explanation. They managed to put at least a bit of comfort into the villagers hearts but they remained fearful. The food stocks were almost halfway gone and they still had to go through a big chunk of winter. That night, no-one slept easy. A blizzard was laying siege upon the village and all of the wooden cabins trembled in the strong winds. The sound of the storm was deafening, the whistling of the wind along with the creaking of the wooden structures. Along with those natural sounds something else could be heard. A high pitched scream, coming from the forest edge. Only a few villagers heard it but they confused it with the wind and payed no notice, except for one of the hunters, the same hunter that had noticed the dying forest. When he looked out through the crack in his door he noticed something strange on the forest’s edge. He saw several shapes, the snow prevented him to make out any details but he was sure that the screaming came from these. Against his instincts he went outside, telling his wife to bolt the door shut behind him. She begged him not to go outside in this weather but he ignored her pleas, donned a woolen mantle and went outside, towards the shapes.