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A Harvest of Horror

It was a dark and quiet night when a black star fell from the night sky and crashed into the home of an elderman. Awakened by the thunderous breaking of rooftiles and timbers, the elderman leapt out of bed to see what had happened. There, on the floor, was a charred black rock no wider than the length of a footprint oozing a sticky goo. The ooze slowly started to spread upon the floor and that is when the elderman made a terrible mistake.   The elderman gathered up the rock and took it out into the woods at the edge of the village where he buried it while his wife scrubbed up the ooze left on the floor. She placed a rug over the odd dark stain the ooze had left despite her best efforts to clean them away. With the Great Harvest beginning that morning, there was no time to have the roof properly repaired so the elderman clamored up onto the roof and quickly covered the hole. It was these simple, sensible acts that brought doom to Rookery Hollow.   As was the custom, the elderman's wife brought wonderful wildberry jam and cream cake rolls every day that was praised by everyone. They had a strange and unknown flavor to them that lingered long in the delighted memories of the last good days before doom descended. It was at this time that I arrived in Rookery Hollow.
— Krostifur Perk's journal Page 10
Something evil came to Rookery Hollow. Something with no name and no fear. Something that was a tireless hunger. It squirmed its way into the lives of the villagers, yet no one knew what it was or where it dwelled. As I sat within the local alehouse, the village madman came in screaming. "There's wickedness in the woods!" but everyone just laughed and ignored him. Sadly, so did I.   A couple days later, peculiar things began to happen. The village cleric locked herself in her chapel with no reason given. People began changing in ways their families could not explain. These people began to waste away a noticable bit everyday until, when they died, they were little more than a hollow shell of skin on bone. Not until I saw such a death, did I start to talk to, and follow, the village madman.   He babbled on and took me all over the village before he led me into the woods, taking care to hide from the afflicted villagers. We eventually came to a strange purple barked vine thick as a tree and holding a dozen dark purple gourds the size of coffins. One of the afflicted wandered over to a gourd where a very thin vine uncoiled and reached out and touched the poor villager. With a contented smile on his face, the poor man withered before our eyes then got up and staggered away. As the horror of witnessing such a thing waned within me, I drew my rapier and charged the gourd. I never made it as one of those horrible thin vines suddenly touched me and my mind was no longer my own.   I don't know what happened from then until the madman was standing over me as I lay on the ground. He was covered with a purple oozing sap and every gourd was smashed and the vine chopped into pieces. Gnarled purple roots twisted with fresh dirt near a newly churned up hole in the ground. When I asked him what had happened, he held out pieces of a strange black and hollow rock. "Never bury a fallen black star. Smash it," was all he ever said.
— Krostifur Perk's journal Page 11
The Great Harvest is the last harvest of the season. Men work together at each other's farms, plots, and orchards to bring in the last of the bounty. Women cooked and brewed teas to fortify the men during the rush of getting in the last harvest. Girls were left to tend to the younger children by running games and races. The older boys not yet big enough to work the harvest with the men hauled water and firewood. It was the busiest time of the year, as it was a race to get in all they could from plantings that ripened so near to the first frosts of the coming winter that would ruin them. There was no time for the making of repairs ... even patching a roof was put off until after the Great Harvest, though a quick bit of thatch or canvas to keep out most of the rain was done.
It is a tradition for the prominent women of a village during the Great Harvest to bring something special to serve during the hectic days of harvesting. Fancy jams, gravies, sauces, breads, and desserts were the things most often brought, and how well they were received by the rest of the village was a matter of deep pride to these prominent women.   Bards, especially those young and not yet reknowned enough to have secured a patron as was Krostifur Perk, try to find a place to earn a winter's stay with their talents. Villages are always willing to put up a bard who listens to their stories and shares their songs as well as bringing them new tales and songs to see them through the winter.   As long as a mad person was harmless, they were cared for by village folk, though that care often came with ridicule. Harming one was a great sin unless there was very good reason to do so, as madness was considered a godly punishment mortals were not meant to interfere with. Sometimes, their madness can prove to be a salvation, and they become a hero.
It is not only tradition to break a fallen black star, but a law to bring the pieces to the reigning lord of the land. Those who do so are praised and rewarded as heroes for stopping a harvest of horror before it could be planted.

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Cover image: Garzio the Tome by Noupload

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