They’re coming.

I can’t hear them, see them, or smell them, but I know.

It happens every year, on the same day. The skies grow thick with clouds, blotting out the sun before it even has the chance to rise. Darkness hangs over the city all day, and we go about our preparations in the eerie twilight of a dawn that never comes. Then, when sunset would normally approach, a blood moon rises instead. Its crimson glow pierces the cloud cover despite the depth of the roiling mass. Bathed in that bloody light, they come.

The monsters.

Not unlike us in stature or shape, but orders of magnitude more hideous. Their bodies ripple with muscle that bulges around limbs and body; as if bred and trained solely for mass. It makes our people look emaciated by comparison. And with that mass comes immense strength. A single blow is enough to smash our flimsy bodies apart. They kick down doors with powerful legs, ransacking homes and slaughtering the occupants. Their endurance is such that they continue for hours on end without respite. Their ability to survive wounds that would fell a lesser beast is legendary, and our attacks laughable at best.

Their faces vary in colour—some black as pitch, some white as ivory—with narrow, beak-like snouts. The mouth below it hides teeth that can bite, tear and chew; made for eating anything they can get their hands on. Their eyes may appear small within the sockets, but their vision is sharp. More than enough to spot a target from hundreds of metres away, even in the dark. Their hearing is similarly sharp, especially when blinded; I was once told they were able to navigate by triangulating the sounds around them. I’ve wondered at times if it was a form of echolocation. A terrifying thought.

Of course, all this is mere hearsay; I’ve never seen one of them myself. Even if I had, I’m told that I wouldn’t be able to observe those features in the first place. These monsters—they clad themselves in hellish armour crafted from steel, cloth, and the skins of helpless animals. It covers their entire bodies from head to toe. Legends say that, underneath the bloodstains, they’re patterned like their hunting grounds, making them impossible to spot. And as if it wasn’t hard enough to wound them bare, their armour shrugs off all but the sharpest of weapons.

Of particular note are their helmets, which encase their skulls in a rock-hard material. They wear no crest, those prideless bastards; every one identical as if they have no need for rank or glory. They say that inside those helmets are artefacts no one among our people can explain. What foul machinations allow these monsters to communicate at a distance without speaking? To see in darkness as if it were light? To breathe underwater or in the thickest smoke?

And how important that is for them, for their many weapons strike at any range. They carry blades not unlike ours, and are exceedingly proficient in their use. But masters of only a single method of killing they are not. They carry flasks packed with explosives, sized exactly to fit in their mighty hands. They lob them with sure aim into houses and bunkers which in an instant are blown apart by flames. But that’s not all, no sir; the flames spill from their main weapons as well. They carry these weapons with both arms, and they defy explanation. At times, they spew fire from the front like a dragon’s breath. At others, they launch those deadly flasks into the sky. At others still, they fire arrow-like projectiles faster than the eye can see—at a frequency faster than one can count—boring holes through anything that stands in their way.

Truly, these beasts are a force of pure destruction and hate, sent to us from the innermost circle of hell for the sole purpose of exterminating our kind. I know not what transgressions my ancestors committed to have this punishment laid unto us. But I spend every waking moment praying that maybe—just maybe—this time we will finally be acquitted of our sins. Every year I am proven wrong. Every year the monsters come, and another village is razed. Every year our civilisation crumbles, our numbers dwindling exponentially, only to regroup and wait for the next invasion.

Or so it has been since before my time. The truth is, this time will be the last. I am the sole remaining warrior among my people; our solitary chance at redemption in the face of evil. I know it’s futile, though. Even if, by some God-given miracle, I did slay the monsters’ forces in their entirety, there is simply not enough of us remaining to sustain a civilisation. Not enough new life will be born, and too many existing lives have died. Like it or not, this day will see our extinction. But nevertheless, I will fight to the end. I must. If not for my survival, then for my pride.

I grip the handle of my sword in my right hand, and the belt of my shield in my left. My own armour—if you can call it that—is a single blessed necklace, flimsy and bent in parts. Little more than an ornament in the face of my enemies. But I treasure it all the same; these armaments were my father’s before mine, and his father’s before his. Their lives were short, and their deaths even shorter. Cladding myself in their memory emboldens me. There is not much bravery to be had in my situation, but even this much is enough. I’m ready.

I can’t see them, hear them, or smell them, but I know.

They’re comi—CRACK.

* * *

‘Kill confirmed,’ one monster said. Its words carried instantly to all its comrades around the encampment.

Its eyes scanned the area for more targets, even as its last victim still fell to the ground. One by one, the replies came.

‘No targets.’

‘No targets.’

‘No targets.’

The monster frowned. Only one of them? They weren’t so cunning as to plan a trap with that one as bait. Where were the others? Screw the warriors, where were the medics?The commanders? But still the reports came.

‘No targets.’

This really was the end, then. The monster removed its helmet and wiped its brow. Its eyes, strikingly blue in colour, blinked as they adjusted to the now fading moonlight. Its hair, pressed flat by the helmet and caked with sweat, glimmered gold as the sunset poked its way through the thinning clouds. As if by magic, the death of one single enemy had reversed a century of shadows.

‘Smith! What are you doing?’

The monster emerged from cover to wander through the square that had once been the site of many celebrations. It was a warzone. Buildings torched, roads shattered by explosives, makeshift barricades spiked with shrapnel and debris. In the centre lay a battered sword and shield, accompanied by a simple bronze necklace atop a pile of scattered bones. Exactly one person’s worth.

‘May you finally rest in peace,’ the monster said.

‘Damnit John, are you listening?’

The monster instinctively reached for its earpiece, only to realise that was inside its helmet, still in its hand. The voice hadn’t come from there. It came from the monster standing beside it, its own hand gripping the monster’s shoulder with a firm shake.

‘Snap out of it, Private! We’re outta here, it’s time to report back to base. You fought well, son.’

It did as it was told. The monster—and its comrades—packed up their operation and headed back home. Their campaign of slaughter over, they could return to their families. Their living families. The skeletons of their fallen friends and family members would no longer rise to slay them. After a hundred years, on this 31st of October, humanity had finally triumphed over the horrors of the Skeleton War.


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