A sudden breeze blew down the dusty dirt path. The forest echoed a forlorn song the wind played as it rustled leaves and whistled through root and branch.
The dark eyes of the hunter pierced the road ahead. A hot breath of late summer blew his dark cloak about him as he scanned the distance, searching road, rock, root, and leaf. He saw everything, yet nothing. A frown crossed the pale features of the mounted man.
The hunter dismounted from the black horse that had carried him thus far into the forest. He moved forward, his hand on the beast’s mane informing that it should remain still. The pair shared a momentary glance.
A black, wide-brimmed hat covered the hunter’s head. Hair black as midnight flowed from underneath it, cascading down his shoulders in a torrent of thick locks. His doublet, breeches and cloak were made of a thick, black material that seemed to shimmer, as though he disturbed some dark pool whenever he moved. Black boots made of the hide of some unknown creature covered his feet and ankles, travelling halfway up his leg. Black gloves and thick, dark vambraces covered his hands and arms. Shadowy runes flashed upon his wrists when the sun’s rays struck them.
The hunter knelt, one knee barely hovering above the dirt road. Dust swirled, avoiding him as it whirled away in the wind. Dark eyes searched the road, looking both ways into the forest. Another moment of scanning the horizon passed, as the hunter sought his quarry. He turned, moving to stand beside the companion that had brought him thus far through hills and mountains, rain and snow, rivers and forests, in search of his prize.
“Gone again, my old friend.” The voice of the hunter was mysterious. His tone was low, yet high, and carried great authority. He sounded youthful, though he was far older than anyone who saw him ever suspected. His dark eyes turned again to the distance. The hunter’s face betrayed an air of sadness as he looked to the horizon one last time.
“Well, at the least we know where it’s going. Alas, the ruin it shall leave in its wake, as ever. I am sorry.”
The black horse struck the road with a great hoof. The hunter turned and quickly mounted his old friend.
“Always a word of wisdom when most I need one. Aye, perhaps you are right. On then, you are correct far more often than I.”
The hunter allowed a faint hint of a smile to cross his countenance as horse and rider bolted forward. The black mare reached an amazing speed in just a few short steps. Suddenly, they were gone, as sudden as a summer storm upon the sea. Only the wind and the trees ever bore witness to the dark hunter’s presence.
A red sun was setting when the searchers arrived at the small village. Barely that, the gathering of homes was little more than a collection of ramshackle houses. A rusted anvil sat upon an oaken stump in front of one these derelict abodes, the only testament to a craft the pair could see.
The village seemed abandoned. Broken doors swung on rusted hinges, decrying the lack of humanity. The sun’s crimson rays cast the hovel in an eerie blood-red glow. The hunter never felt fear, but the sight of the empty village left him slightly troubled. His quarry had most certainly come this way.
“More troublemakers, I see. Well, get on with your business and be off. I’ve quite a mess to clean up. Left me by the last ruffian.”
The figure turned to face his accuser, an elderly woman in a dirty brown, rough-spun dress. The hunter smiled slightly at the old woman’s remark.
“No trouble from us, dear lady.”
It suddenly occurred to the hunter that the woman regarding him with the cool stare had not fled, from him or it, his quarry. Emotions rarely crossed the stony face of the hunter, but the old woman might have sensed his confusion.
“The other one scared everyone off, ‘cept me. Only ‘cause I don’t scare any more. Been alive too long to fear Mr. Death. Or Mrs. Death, as it happens.”
An eyebrow raised on the hunter’s normally expressionless face.
“Interesting.” The hunter said to no one in particular.
“And the rest?” This question he directed at the old woman with his eyes.
“Gone, fled ‘afore her. They took one look and ran like they’s on fire. And here you are. What’s it about?”
The hunter considered his answer carefully.
“It is about the destiny of your world, young lady.”