Welcome to Terra
The sunset is beautiful. Shades of orange, purple and crimson smear across the sky, the colors shifting and darkening as the sun dips below the treeline. The farmer glaces at it, oblivious to the beauty. Instead, all he sees is the need to hurry. The summer has been a hot, dry one and his crops aren’t doing so well. In years past, brief summer rains would wash over this region almost every day, lighting the sky in brilliant flashes followed by booming peals of thunder. He and his wife would huddle in the small farmhouse with the children as the wind beat at the roof and the thunder shook the screens over the windows, knowing that the rain meant a better harvest in a few months. But the rain hasn’t come this year.
Back then the farmer was a part of a community, surrounded by neighbors that had worked the land since the end of the Unification Wars, 50 years before. Now those neighbors were gone, driven away by. . . well by raiding Orcs, marauding magical beasts, dangerous wild animals, unpredictable weather, you name it. In the end, it all came down to fear. That’s what drove them away. Fear of what might happen if they stayed. Fear of not knowing if the next year would be even worse than this one. Everyone was afraid these days. But not him. He had been a solider in the Reichland Army, like his father before him. Even 10 years after his retirement his arm is still strong and he keeps his old army issued spear sharp and his chainmail clean. He won’t let fear drive him from his home, from the valleys he grew up in, where his met his wife, from the place his kids were born.
The farmer shakes his head. He’s daydreaming again. No time for self-indulgence. The shadows from the treeline are getting longer, the darkness creeping closer to his farmstead. Despite his bravado, he doesn’t want to be caught outside after dark.
He turns his back to the sunset and looks down to the plow in front of him. He doesn’t see the arrow leap from the treeline, float almost dreamlike in a beautiful arc across the purples and golds of the sunset, and bury itself six inches deep between his shoulder blades.
The arrow hits with the force greater than a boxer’s punch. The farmer is knocked into the brown dirt, confused. Did someone throw a rock and hit him in the back? The impact knocked his breath out, and he lies in the dirt, gasping, unable to catch it, his exhalations making tiny dusty vortexes around his nose and mouth. As he looks up he can see the flickering glow of lamplight from the windows of his farmhouse. He sees smoke curl gently from the chimney and can smell baking bread. He hears his son crying what he’s come to think of as his “I’m hungry” cry. The light is fading fast now. He can barely see anything at all it seems. His vision is blurring around the edges.
He still can’t breath for the fluid in his mouth so he spits bright red arterial blood onto the soil. Once he sees it, he understands, but for some reason the realization that he’s dying only leads to a numb, cold calm. He rolls onto his side, his gaze back towards the treeline and sees them. They’re marching lockstep in perfectly organized rows, the formation fit for a parade ground. But the soilders. . . they aren’t fit for any parade ground.
The skeletons wear haphazard pieces of rusty armor and carry broken, blunted weapons. Scraps of ragged flesh hang from them and a stench rolls in front of them, cutting through even the coppery smell of blood in the farmer’s mouth, setting off an excruciating round of coughing. They march forward, eyeless faces straight ahead, gaze never wavering. Beside them rides a skeleton on a bone horse. The horse steps in perfection unison with the soldiers beside it, it’s stride as steady as a metronome, as implacable as the once-human things it marches beside. Putrid ropes of entrails drag along the ground under it, hanging from the ribcage. The scene is eerily silent, with only the clank of rusty armor drifting on the breeze. The skeletons’ feet make almost no sound in the soft earth as they tread across the carefully tended rows of vegetables, trampling them underfoot.
Is it getting darker? His vision is a point of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Then he sees a light spring up by the treeline, like a star winking to life on the horizon. The flaming arrow streaks from the treeline and lands squarely in the roof of the small farmhouse. Now the farmer can hear more screams. His wife? His son? It’s hard to tell. Everything seems muffled. It’s hard to keep his eyes open. The puffs of his breath are barely noticeable in the dirt now. It must be getting darker. It’s nearly impossible to see. The skeletons march forward.
An hour later the farmhouse is a pile of smoking beams surrounded by three red stains on the ground. The light from the burning farmhouse dims, turning from bonfire-yellow to the weak flickering light of glowing red embers. As the moon begins to rise, the darkness closes in.