“There we were. The first real settlers in this part of the Shattered Isles, eager to expand into the frontier. We weren’t explorers, or Slayers, or even wayfinders, not most of us at any rate. We were just people ready to put down roots in a new place far from the politics and inter-island conflicts of the Interior. So what if that new place was a small cluster of wooden shacks and sturdy tents? Or if that place was surrounded by Behemoth-infested islands? We were going to make this new outpost our new home. And then the sun disappeared and didn’t come back.”*
— Valer Brass, first-wave Ramsgate settler (excerpted from his memoirs)*
Almost a century before Katerin Sorrel would train Slayer recruits from her home base in the frontier town of Ramsgate, the legendary explorer Captain Aulric Maas discovered the Ram. Named for its shape, which resembled a ram’s horn when viewed from above, it was the first stable island chain found in centuries. While the Interior island clusters like Ostia and Avellainia had long formed the center of what passed for civilization in the Shattered Isles, expansion was only just becoming a priority in the near-millennium since the Upheaval broke the world.
On the largest of the Ram islands, Maas established a makeshift port for his expeditionary ships. Since the big island had not been fully scouted, he ordered the hasty construction of a temporary wall around the tiny new settlement. The heavy, reinforced portal that led through this wall to the rest of the island gave the place its name: Ramsgate.
Within months, Maas had sent back word to his business partners and other allies in St. Avellaine — this outpost had the potential to become the busiest port on the frontier, and a busy port required busy people to live and work there. Settlers, in short, were needed. Needed to keep the home fires of Ramsgate burning while Maas and his expedition of discovery continued their work to map and connect the many disparate cultures of the Shattered Isles. Needed to build the infrastructure that would support an influx of even more settlers down the line. Needed to support the Slayers who could clear the big island of any Behemoths that might dwell there and the surrounding isles besides.
It was these famed “first-wave” settlers who experienced, and named, the first Dark Harvest.
“It’s really quite simple. We in Ramsgate are here, at this elevation, in the temperate region we call the Helic Risers. Far below us, the islands are fiercely cold; high above, they are hot and arid. But all of these islands are in constant motion — somewhat predictable motion, fortunately, or we cartographers would not be able to do our work. One such cluster of arid islands we know as the Ecliptic Archipelago. Why? Because every year its course passes slowly above the Ram and the two island clusters move nearly in parallel for about a week. During this time the Ecliptics block out the sun and cast Ramsgate and its surrounding islands into darkness. And that, my friend, is your ‘Dark Harvest.’”
— Cartographer Gaius Copperwheel
These early Ramsgate settlers had never experienced anything like a week-long eclipse before. There were few scholars among them to explain the mechanics of the situation, but there were farmers, and they knew what total darkness meant: nothing would grow, their crops would never even get started. And that meant their meager stores of foodstuffs would run out far sooner than expected.
That was when a miracle of sorts happened. As the moon emerged in the sky, its wan silver light caused a hardy species of squash — the humble pumpkin — to bloom and grow with startling speed. Orrery researchers would later determine this was due to aether-infused seeds previously scattered by birds interacting with the specific wavelength of moonlight illuminating the Ram island group. But to the frightened settlers it meant they had hope, for they wouldn’t starve during the darkness.
Of course, as everyone in Ramsgate now knows, the path of the Ecliptics didn’t just darken the skies over the Ram or bring forth a bumper crop of tasty squash. The extended darkness also brought with it strange combinations of aggressive Behemoths.
“To this day, we don’t entirely understand how Behemoths get from island to island, but we’d be crazy to think that once a land mass is clear of danger, it will remain clear forever. Nor do I know why they seem to team up more often during the Dark Harvest. But it has to be happening for a reason, and I’m going to find it. Eventually.”
— Dr. Shaed Priyani, head of the Orrery’s School of Behemoth Studies
Unfortunately for the early settlers, only a small contingent of Slayers had arrived with them, intending to begin the process of ensuring the island beyond the gate was clear. These brave individuals hadn’t anticipated also dealing with two or more Behemoths at a time on unfamiliar isles with courses that hadn’t yet been plotted. Overburdened and suffering losses almost immediately, the leader of the local Slayer teams — a man named Maldon Sorrel — sent out what came to be known as the First Call. With the help of an aethersmith who had been part of the first wave, Maldon Sorrel used aetheric radio to send out an urgent cry for help to any and all Slayers within range.
To the relief of Sorrel and the Ramsgate settlers, the call was answered with a vengeance. Slayers descended upon the new city by the score, undeterred by the seemingly endless night and ready to face the challenges presented by the Behemoths the locals had dubbed the “dark guardians” of the Ram. This sudden population boom required the Ramsgate docks to be built almost overnight as dozens of Slayer cloudcutters, skysloops, and windbarques arrived. With little else to feed their newly arrived saviors, the locals made do with the sudden bounty of moonlight crops, creating pumpkin pies, soups, roasts, and desserts.
After a little more than a week, the sun began to emerge from behind the Ecliptic Archipelago, and a grateful Ramsgate populace surveyed what had become of their new home in such a short time. The ramshackle temporary docks would need to be properly rebuilt. The pumpkin crops no longer grew, but left behind enough of that valuable foodstuff to supplement their stores for the rest of the year. The bizarre Behemoths that had emerged were beaten back by the massive influx of Slayers. And many of those Slayers decided to stay in Ramsgate for the time being — it was, they saw, a perfect launching point for the ongoing battle to save humanity from the mighty beasts that threatened them all.
“I remember the stories of Old Maldon my father used to tell. These days some claim he singlehandedly saved the city from failing in its first year. Or that he personally led a massive fighting force that wiped out all the Behemoths in the Ram in less than a week. But the townsfolk and the scholars don’t know what I do, because they haven’t read Maldon’s journal. I know that he was just as scared as the rest of them. When he and that old aethersmith sent out that call they expected to be dead by the time help arrived. It wasn’t a call to action, it was a terrified scream in the dark. We’re just all pretty damned lucky someone, a lot of someones, heard it and came to help.”
— Katerin Sorrel, Slayer Mentor
In the end, the Dark Harvest wasn’t simply a harrowing time for the first settlers of Ramsgate. Without the call Maldon Sorrel sent to the rest of the world Ramsgate might well have survived, but it likely wouldn’t have become the tip of the spear in the battle against the Behemoths that threaten the Shattered Isles. Newcomers may find it a strange experience, locals may almost come to blows over the best recipes for pumpkin pie and spiced ale, and Slayers may find themselves hard-pressed to keep the islands safe, but the city will always celebrate this annual week of darkness. For without the Dark Harvest, there would be no Ramsgate.