A forest in the fog.

He wasn’t a dancer. He was not compelled to frantic, ecstatic, possessed movement by the music of the world that so few could hear. He did not work blood magic on hearts that beat as drums; no unearthly tunes whispered past his fangs. He was a Panthera Walker, a hunter clad in leathers and furs, a shadow among shadows in the woods.

He wasn’t a dancer.

The forest was made of huge old oaks and smaller, scruffier, still-green pines. The ground was covered in rotting cones, and the hulls of nuts long since devoured, and brown needles, and dead, withered brambles; the canopy above was a mesh of thick patches of green and long, greyed fingers of bare limbs. The sky was dull and lifeless with the low-hanging clouds that bore neither snow nor rain, the sun a faint glow in the corner as it sank towards a blood-red demise.

He wasn’t a dancer, but as he walked step-step-step through that early winter wood, all he could hear was the pounding of his own heart in his chest. No wind stirred the broken foliage around him or lifted his tangled mane from his eyes, but he could hear it screaming past him all the same, frigid and moist and mockingly close.

The beasts in the forest slept the long sleep. Some would not wake, and their bodies would feed those who did. Tiny bear cubs hid beneath their mothers’ rolls of fat, and squirrels clustered together in the hearts of the grey trees for warmth and safety. The birds did not sing, not even the great winter owls who swooped, silently, to prey on those few rodents that did not take the long sleep.

He wasn’t a dancer, but as he forged past the thorns and the brush, all he could smell was the steam that rose off his own body, the musk of his fur, the metal of his blood. It was cold, even to one of the hardier Walkers like himself, and he wore little clothing to shield himself from the elements. The sheer heat radiating from his own self kept him warm. And the smell of blood was all around, dancing in intangible currents of barely-seen crimson. An aura of scarlet in a grey wood.

The streams were many and fast in the forest, cold and clean and rocky as they plunged down short hills and babbled across uneven beds to some unknown destination. Tiny, hard-scaled silver fish raced the water currents and feasted upon their kindred when the cold bested one and not the rest. They were vicious little things, difficult to entice to bite a hook and more difficult to spear. But the river hawks hunted them as the winter owls hunted the mice and rats that were still awake and about.

He wasn’t a dancer, but as he crossed one such stream, the silverfish were not fish at all but bright white points of light, zipping past in a haze of silver water that glowed with health. His eyes were glazed, he knew–he could feel how unfocused his gaze was and could not, at all, hone in on anything. Drifts of color and light passed him as though he waded through intangible fog, his own body still giving off the wisps of crimson bloodheat. The riverhawks were golden arrows as they dove for the water’s surface, heedless of his presence; the winter owls were black shadows that swept across open glades to seek their prey.

Duskbringer paused in his fog of scarlet and did not need to turn his head to see the fine lace of greens and greys around him–the scarves of living color permeated the very air around him that he breathed, soaked into the back of his skull. “I am not a dancer,” he said to the world, and he could feel the world laugh in its immeasurable silence.Deep beneath the beat of his heart, the drums of the earth and the sky began to play, and the Walker knelt and clutched his chest as the music took him.

Image Credit: Crestock Creative Photos.