The harvest moon hung low in the sky. Its soft, red beams barely trickled through the thick canopy, providing only occasional light to guide the lonesome avail as he barreled between the trees.

His talons ripped at the forest floor, flinging chunks of cold earth and fallen bark behind him. The oppressing darkness quashed any attempt to remain conspicuous as he bounded forward clumsily. Branches grabbed at him and snapped, tearing flesh and feathers from his already wounded body. Leaves and bushes rustled as he sped by, echoing through the trees like a whisper in a cathedral.

Blood had been shed in these woods. The avials and their allies had made their move on the shaman village to no avail. The women had found out about their attack and were ready for it. They dismantled the avail army in mere minutes, leaving behind a trail of carcasses and the thick scent of iron for the winds to carry.

Pausing to catch his breath, the last of the avail troops caught a glimpse of his sanctuary on the horizon. Red moonlight filtered through the tree line a mere hundred meters from his rest stop. Wasting no time, he made his final sprint.

Discarding caution in favor of haste, the bird became clumsy. A cluster of gnarled roots caught his talon, plunging him forward with the uncontrollable speed of his own momentum. Unable to regain his footing he crashed to the ground, a crumpled mass of feathers skidding into the clearing.

He sat up dazed and glanced at the sky, his vision still shaky from the impact with the ground.

The silhouette of a crescent blade arched high across the moon. Before he had time to let out so much as a whimper, he felt the blade puncturing his lung as it sank deep into his chest. The booted heel of his enemy pressed deep into his gut as she knelt down to retrieve her scythe.

The old sage was meditating in her candle lit room, eyes clenched in focused dedication when the girl approached.

“I can smell death on you,” croaked the old woman. “Has the situation been handled?”

The girl nodded curtly in reply.

“My heart is heavy with worry. We got lucky with those bird beasts. If the troubles plaguing Glenheim have made it this far into the forest, then surely we are in for darker times ahead,” she sighed.

“The time has come for you and your people to rise again. No longer will you bear the burden of secrecy. Whether they like it or not, Glenheim needs your dark arts.”

Standing to her feet, the frail old woman looked the young girl in the eyes.

“The path of the Reaperess has always been one plagued by scorn and suspicion, yet those chosen to walk it have, regardless, protected the way of all Shamans. Now, the whole of Glenheim is threatened, and to do nothing could be the end of us all. It is time for us to leave these woods behind. It is time for the umbral spirits of night to come forth and protect the land.”

The young Reaperess released the old woman’s hands and melded back into the gloom.

Then, slowly, the forest that had protected the village for so long shifted and began to move.