Dark Offering

Chapter 1

The sun glimmered on the metallic spires of the colony, starting its slow rise into the sky. Jarl glanced up briefly, but the splendor of the scene was lost on him. The days were short this time of year, though they were starting to get longer, but tonight, nightfall would hold no danger. Normally, the darkness unleashed the hidden creatures of the night who devoured any humans foolish enough to wander about. For a brief time in the spring, however, the creatures were docile. It was as though the planet were trying to apologize for its harshness, and it was a glimpse of what life could be like if the planet would only accept humans into its ecosystem.

It wasn’t the humans’ fault that the planet rejected them, Jarl thought bitterly. When human colonists had first found the planet, they had thought it a second Earth. They had left their home planet seeking a place to grow without making the mistakes that had led to the destruction of original Earth, and they thought they had found it here. And the truth wasn’t apparent for some time, because at first the native creatures stayed away. So the colonists broke their landing ship into components to build their housing, and soon the ability to leave the surface was lost. It was then that they realized the planet was just waiting to strike.

Jarl sighed. This sweet peace in the spring held so much promise. The original colonists had thought it would always be like this, but now, people knew better. In a few short days, the nights would once again hold terror as anything with human consciousness became warped by nightmares that led humans straight into the mouths of the creatures outside.

He was headed into the wilderness for the annual harvest which took advantage of the planet’s brief peace. There were plants deep in the woods of Ylse that provided the perfect nutritional balance for humans and remained fresh for years, and because it was so difficult growing anything in the protected colony where humans were trapped, they were a vital supplement to the colony’s diet. This was the only time of year when it was safe enough to travel into the woods to gather them, and he had been doing it for three years now. The old timers said they sometimes ran into the creatures of the planet during these harvests, but Jarl never had. The planet left him alone, as it left all humans alone during this single moment in the spring.

It had to do with the moon, Jarl knew. Something about how it neutralized the waves that filtered into human consciousness. He wasn’t sure, but he was grateful. He hefted his empty bags and adjusted his mask. It was said that once a creature saw your face, they could haunt your dreams until you willingly went to your death as the siren’s wail of the planet’s odd emanations manipulated your desires.

By the time the sun sank, the colony was out of sight and he was surrounded by the woods. There were no humans within miles of him and he shivered in fear. Even though he knew he was safe, it was unnerving being outside of the colony’s protection as it grew dark and the sun slipped below the treeline.

Every time he did this, he was amazed at the silence of the night. Normally, there was a low hum that translated into nightmares. When the nightmares were too strong, they manifested into action as the person tried to leave the colony and go to their death. Guards were stationed at every exit to protect people, but there were still casualties almost every night. On Earth, nightmares were passive, he knew. They were frightening, but couldn’t kill you. He envied the original colonists their innocence, and he envied the people of original Earth for the ability to sleep without fear. He had heard it was even possible to sleep without nightmares, though the concept was utterly alien to him. Even when he slept during the day, there were nightmares. They just weren’t strong enough to kill.

When his legs started to tire, he came to a stop. It was nearly pitch black but he could see clearly with his night vision goggles that sat above his mask. The silence was unnerving as he considered resting. It was important to get to the plants quickly and return before the planet roared back to life, but he would need to rest eventually. He had five days to get there and back, and while he needed to rush, he shouldn’t push himself past his limits. He looked around. This was a good place to rest. The trees were a little farther apart and the undergrowth formed a protective barrier where he could sleep. Yes, he would take a rest here. He knelt in the hollow on the ground and heard a sound behind him.

Jarl drew in a sharp breath and whirled, whipping up his gun even though he knew the weapon wouldn’t help him against most creatures that came out at night. The power of the moon helped them heal too quickly. Only in the daylight could they be killed, and they had long ago learned that and hid when the sunlight’s rays weakened them.

There was nothing. Nothing behind him, only the trees. He ought to be able to see any heat nearby but nothing was showing up. He scanned the area completely. Maybe he had misheard it, or maybe it was just a natural sound of the woods that was exaggerated in the silence of the spring night.

He cautiously knelt on the ground and looked around again, and then lay down. He curled up protectively and fell into sleep, his mind swirling into nightmares of sharp teeth piercing his veins and wispy shapes draining him of life. A peaceful sleep, compared to most, and when he awoke he felt rested. It was still dark as he got to his feet and looked around. The sun was about to rise and he needed to keep going. Four days left.

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