The Gunslinger survives yet again, and what a macabre scene. Sometimes it is hard to know who is the puppet and who is the puppet master. The Hero travels seeking fame and fortune. In the shining heart of the Fableverse, the Hero will encounter an insidious evil, a nightmare from a cool picturesque evening in the countryside…
A warm, fall breeze blows between the rolling hills of the countryside as the Hero rides his horse down an old country road. The sun is slowly sinking across the royal blue sky, casting its golden glow across fields of amber grain. The leaves create a patchwork of brown, orange, yellow, and red in the trees that line the road. Every now and then, a gust looses a flurry of leaves, sending them swirling through the air. The same breezes pick up already fallen leaves, spinning them across the road in the dance of the autumn season. The Hero breathes in the crisp, rich fall air and marvels at the scenery around him.
Ahead in the distance, apple orchards and cornfields spread out over the upcoming hills. The rows of crops are organized in astounding preciseness, cows grazing in the valleys in-between. A farmer stands atop a ladder, picking apples with great intention, admiring each one before placing it in the basket.
The Hero urges his horse on into a trot, heading off of the main road towards the farmer. The farmer sees the Hero approaching and acknowledges him with a nod before descending his ladder, basket in hand. The farmer is wearing a straw hat with a mop of ruddy hair spilling out from under the hat, a well-kept reddish beard clings to his jawline. His eyes are brilliant emerald green, the most striking of the farmer’s features.
“Hello stranger, you look like a weary traveler” calls the farmer a wide, toothy grin spreading across his face. The timbre of his voice is crisp and warm, much like the breezes that whipped through the countryside.
“Your intuition serves you well, farmer. I’m on my way to Calowood. I’ve heard a beastly boar has terrorized the surrounding area and that neither hunter’s arrow nor bullet has felled the pig,” explains the Hero.
“You’ve heard correctly, I’ve heard many watching their fields down in that community. Many have seen the beast, nobody’s stopped him. If you’re heading to Calowood, though, you have traveled too far,” the farmer informs him, “You’ll have a good half day’s travel south-west. It’s easy to miss that side road that splits off towards Calowood. Most people take a southerly route to enjoy all that the big cities have to offer.”
“I feared as much, I was concerned when I hadn’t encountered many settlements,” admits the Hero, “So there’s no chance I could make it to Calowood before dark.”
“I’m afraid not,” replies the farmer.
The Hero sits back in his saddle. He expected to be in Calowood by now, boarding his horse and settling into a room. He would like to find a place to stay as a day’s worth of riding can be hard even on the most hardened hero.
“While I do not have a spare room in my humble cottage, I do have room in the barn. I wish I could offer better, but the walls are solid and the hay is soft. The wife has stew in the kettle and some bread in the skillet. It’s not much but it might be a comfort on what is sure to be a chilly autumn night,” offers the farmer.
The Hero, heart warmed by the generosity, graciously accepts the offer.
After a wonderful meal and equally wonderful conversation, the farmer’s wife gives the Hero a couple of thick, woolen blankets and a kerosene lamp. The Hero opens the door, heading out into the night. The moon is hanging massive in the sky with an orange tint, like one of the pumpkins ripening in the farmer’s garden. The air is chilly with a light fog, illuminated by the full moon. The farmer escorts the Hero to a pile of hay in the corner of the barn. The Hero catches a whiff of a vicious stench in the air. The Hero’s face contorts as his gag reflex is triggered. The farmer seeing the Hero’s reaction breaks into riotous laughter.
“It smells like something died,” chokes out the Hero.
“That’s just the fertilizer,” explains the farmer between fits of laughter, “All kinds of waste goes in a pit down the hill, you’ll catch a whiff every now and then. You’ll get used to it.”
Ensuring that the Hero had everything that he needed, the farmer retires for the night. The Hero, with a full stomach and a mind at ease, settles into the cozy pile of hay, turns down the kerosene lantern, and drifts peacefully to sleep.
The Hero awakes with a start. The barn is quiet, the only light coming from the full moon. The Hero sits up groggily, looking around, unsure if he was even awake. The Hero’s eyes are caught by a figure standing at the door of the barn. The silhouette stands menacingly in the doorway, backlit by glowing fog. A top hat is perched upon the figure’s head, and the wide shape of the figure suggests that the figure is wrapped in a large coat. A sinister hand sickle hangs meaningly next to the silhouette. The figure is frozen in place, its gaze on the Hero. The Hero, believing this to be a nightmare, rolls over and closes his eyes again.
A few moments of silence are broken by the muted whisper of the barn door grinding its track. The Hero’s eyes fly open and he rolls over and grabs the kerosene lamp, turning the knob and lighting the wick. The Hero turns just in time to see the monstrosity charging with sickle in hand. The Hero draws his sword to him. The sword and sickle clash, breaking the silence of the night. The sickle blade was thick and the curved hook grabbed the Hero’s sword. The Hero has to step forward to prevent losing his grip on the sword.
The Hero pushes the figure back and raises the kerosene lamp to get a look at his assailant. The light reveals a wild-eyed, mysterious figure wearing a ragged scarecrow face. The right eye of the mask is a bright red button. A clay mudslide of a beard wildly spills out from under the mask.
The maniac charges again, swinging his sickle madly, the Hero blocking and evading his swings groggily.
“You’ll make great fertilizer… yes… fertilizer for the crops and slop for the hogs,” chuckles the attacker, “I’ll harvest you, just like the wheat in the field.”
The Harvester glares, a single emerald-like eye glaring from under the mask. The Hero realizes he’s fallen into the trap of this maniacal farmer. The Hero, awake and alert now, rushes the Harvester swinging a single saber while holding the lantern in his off-hand.
The crazed Harvester’s frenzied attacks and heavy sickle were battering when the Hero was disoriented, but now that the Hero was alert, he was gaining the upper hand. The Hero had stared down his share of bandits and swordsmen in his time. The heavy sickle struggles to keep up with the Hero’s deft sword. Blocking the heavy blade was difficult but deflecting and evading the attacks were matters of technique that the Hero had spent years honing.
Technique begins to win out over sheer force, driving the Harvester back. The Harvester bumps his head on a hook block dangling from a hay-moving chain fall. The Harvester cleverly grabs the hook block and swings it at the Hero. The Hero ducks, but the hook catches on the collar of the Hero’s coat, dragging him back and causing him to drop the kerosene lamp. The lamp breaks as it hits the ground, causing flaming kerosene to ignite the hay in the barn. The flames quickly spread across the floor and begin to lick at the walls of the barn.
The Harvester grabs the chain pulling the Hero off the ground. The Harvester tries to tie the chain off, but the Hero grabs onto the chain fall and pulls himself up into the rafters, shedding his jacket. He begins to make his way across the rafters to the loft as the Harvester cuts him off, edging his way out onto the rafters.
The lower story of the barn is a raging inferno and is quickly climbing up the barn walls. The Hero stares around, realizing that the Harvester’s singular focus precludes their survival and rests solely on the Hero’s demise. The Harvester begins wildly swinging his sickle and the Hero retreats, afraid of being knocked off balance by the heavy blade. The retreat only emboldened the Harvester, like a dog being tantalized by a treat. Every stroke became wilder and wilder, swinging relentlessly at the Hero. Suddenly, one swing sends the Harvester off-balance. The Hero, seeing his chance, strikes. The Hero swipes at the sickle, freeing it of the Harvester’s grip. The Hero follows this with a slash, bringing the blade across the right side of the Harvester’s face. The Harvester cries out in agony, clutching at his right eye, falling backward from the rafter beam. The Hero watches as he falls into the inferno below.
The light of dawn slowly creeps across the rolling hills. The fog settled in the valleys begins to disperse as the sunlight chases it away. Smog does however linger on the farm as the remnants of a barn still smoke and smolder. A figure slowly and painfully drags itself across the yard, sickle in hand. Breathing his last, the Harvester stares on as the night turns to day.
Narrated by Brandon Warner