The Harvest of the Voices
Seven yelps of fright—
one for every night.
Seven mothers weeping
come the week of reaping.
The hooded figure called themself one of the The Sister’s Regulars. And after eating greedily from a loaf of bread set before them, after gulping without any semblance of dignity at a goblet of the kingdom’s finest ale, the traveler lowered the cowl of their drink-stained cloak and smiled. They picked crumbs from their beard as they spoke.
“I come from the shores of The River Without End,” they said. “I have traveled across the desert at the edge of everything to be here. I have marched through The Free Cities of Nunya. I have sailed in and out of weeks and almost over a year,” they said, “to bring you a message most vital.”
“And yet,” said a member of the council, his voice booming throughout the chamber, “you preface this so-called ‘vital’ message with words that aren’t your own.”
“From where do they crib?” asked another councilor.
“Sendak,” said the first, and he smiled a satisfied grin as the hooded figure went pink with shame. “This person uses words from Sendak as if they were their own.”
“I speak the language of popular culture,” said the figure. “It is my native tongue.”
The first councilor rolled his eyes, then waved a hand at the figure to get on with it. “Get on with it,” he said.
”I have come to tell you,” said the hooded figure, “the Tale of the Seven Voices, and to implore you to begin the quest for the next seven.”
And this was how Eden’s annual Harvest of the Voices began.
The story the hooded figure related to the Council of Five that day was an unaltered version of the legend as it was first recorded on the piece of parchment The Barkeep keeps hanging inside The Strumpet’s Sister: it takes seven voices singing in unison across the River Without End to reboot the universe, end the purgatory of life in Eden, and to get things back to “normal.”
Most residents of Eden during The Fourth Age were survivors of a Calamity that ended reality as they knew it. Many, therefore, were extraordinarily anxious to get back to the way things were before. And that desire played a huge part in how the ritual called The Harvest of the Voices developed.
It’s worth noting that the members of the Council at the establishment of the ritual were universally childless, and that several of them viewed children conceived during this hellish interregnum between realities as abominations anyway. So that might help to explain why, since the disastrous results of the First Harvest, all of the of the voices reaped have been kids.
Even when the entirety of Eden knows that to be chosen for this “honor” means certain death.
But why is that? Read on to find out.
In the lead-up to each year’s harvest, a singing competition was held in each of the five lands of Eden. Every child post-puberty and pre-adulthood was compelled to participate, and to give it their all. Intentional “bombing” of the audition was discouraged by holding a loved one of the child at gunpoint for the duration of the performance.
The governing body of each land selected seven children from amongst their populace, according to criteria they established themselves (without any interference from the other members of the Council of Five). These seven children from each land—a total of thirty-five kids—were then shepherded by their mothers to a second and final competition in The Garden.
At this point, the Council of Five picked seven of the thirty-five to serve as that year’s Seven Voices. This was when the Week of Reaping began.
Each of the seven nights leading up to Halloween, one child was stolen from their room in the middle of the night. On Halloween, the seven children—dressed in costumes reminiscent of the heroes of their parents’ lost reality—were sent on their way toward the River Without End with a great deal of pomp and circumstance.
Every year, their departure was celebrated as the year that the mission might finally succeed.
Every year, the kids disappeared somewhere along the way and were presumed dead.
Every year, the Council of Five tried again.