The sun set past the hills and calm befell the isle. Twilight’s solemnity settled in stark contrast to the landscape’s severity: sheer rock cliffs towering above the gnashing waves, forests and caves where even day was night to mask the horrors of the world, and the jagged form of mountains which stabbed at the sky like shards of broken glass. This was the island of Adru, a rugged speck in the heart of the eastern archipelago, and to the woman there was nowhere like it: the Empire most beautiful. It was home.
Her cottage had been built at the far end of the village, nestled in the trees at the edge of the Darkwood. The front door was ajar and the air cut a chilling edge from the fireplace. From where she crouched she could see the stables, the path to the rest of her little loch-side community, the uniformity of the pine trees standing still in the breathless eve.
Looking down, beheld her eyes a scene of different beauty. The ice white skin of a sky elf stained red by blood, slender fingers clutching the ornate jade handle of a dagger, and a dead body, brazen in its nakedness, three deep knife wounds amidst a maelstrom of torn flesh. She had stayed like this for long enough to lose the feeling of the hilt in her hand, yet still the dead man’s eyes — stained by corrupted magic a faintly luminous yellow — stared back at her. His death had done naught to quell the life within, and they looked up at her with the same resolute hatred they had held as she plunged the blade into his chest. Until she pressed shut his eyelids, a sickly amber glow lit the scene.
She felt in her bones, the Empire was not long for this world, though of what would replace it even she had no foresight. Images pricked her mind: The Hunt once more sought the Grimoire, chasing whispers closer than ever before, and if that book were found a fate far worse would befall the world. From the Last Isle to the Dragonlands, the dark could spread in a heartbeat, and it would be the last of the Empire. Even the watchers would be unable to stop it.
She wondered what role she had to play in the events to come—a corrupted mage was no omen but neither was it a happy development. She was alive but her heart lacked the jubilation of victory. The woman did not know to which gods to pray, but she folded her blood-caked hands and offered her thoughts freely, hoping one of them was listening.
Beyond the window, the pearlescent mane of a unicorn glimmered dimly in the twilight. The night sky faded darker. Morning was a long way off.