Silence. It hung over everything here, a silence so thick it was suffocating, stifling. The fires had not lasted for very long, and the occasional pop of sap in timbers that had been milled and placed was the only sound to break the silence. No birds sang. No flies buzzed. It was as if the world held its breath, heart stuttering in stone chest. As if the world itself knew that the worst was yet to come, that all of this was but foreshadowing. The village stood partly destroyed, some buildings torn apart as if by a giant hand, timbers splintered and scattered in all direction, beams scorched and blackened in places. Trees, toppled, trunks snapped and shattered by some terrifying force. All through this little village, idyllic as its setting was with peaks piercing the heavens themselves as backdrop, was the destruction of some errant god. It extended to the people here, too. The mangled bodies of an elderly couple, twisted in the ruins of their shattered home. A child, dead and torn in half such that it was impossible to tell whether it was a girl or a boy. Others. Dozens. And despite this, no flies. No crows. No carrion animals of any kind, just the pervasive stench of some twisted magic that hinges about in the air, smelling like burning tin, raising the hairs in the back of the neck. If it had been on fire, if there had been screaming demons...it might have been hell on earth. As it was, it was an open grave posing a very real question: What had happened here? -- She hummed a tuneless set of bars as she walked through the woods, bare feet careless of the sharp stones kicked loose from shallow, dark soil. The sun shone in the sky, already beginning its descent towards the horizon. Mara was as happy as she could be. She had left that dark place behind, the place with all the bad memories that made the Dark One in her head stir. She did not like the Dark One. It whispered cruel things to her, always reminding her of the rod and the whip that had been liberally applied by the Master and his helpers in the dark place. The bright smile on her sweet face slipped a little as she recalled that place, and all the memories that should have remained buried there. It only took a moment for that childish happiness to return, though. The woman made her way down the steep sides of a mountain ridge, the trackless wilderness strangely silent around her. She was tall and lithe, a beautiful creature that could turn any man's head with those green eyes like polished emeralds, fiery red hair that hung past her waist in a tangled mess. She wore a shirt that was basically a shapeless sack, too large for her and dirty beside. And worn, like the trousers she wore, full of homes that showed pale flesh. She wore no weapon, not even a belt knife. And she did not wear shoes. The smell of smoke had drawn her this way out of curiosity, and the sight of buildings - many of them, and above ground - had captivated her. She had never seen a settlement before, beyond the claustrophobic passages of the dark place. Here was a thing she could explore. She still revelled in the newfound freedom she had gained. The price had been steep, and that grin became glassy, slipping once more. It was easy to shy away from uncomfortable truths. At long last, the descent came to an end. Scratches on her face and arms dribbled blood, but those minor wounds were already healing. Even had they not been, she did not appear to take any more notice if them than she did of the dead lying unburied in the streets of this little hamlet. Maranae stopped in the middle of a vast expanse of scorched grass. Some kind of festival had been underway when the catastrophe struck, for there were far more bodies here, knocked down and mangled. A tent lay in a twisted ruin; Mara looked at all the colorful finery with a perplexed expression on her face. Shattered tables lined the green, and a pole, snapped off halfway up, stood canted to one side. She could feel the violence done here, taste the raw sorcery involved in it. She didn't understand any of what it was, and could not process all the information streaming through her senses. All except for smell. The tall redhead had an acute sense of smell, more akin to animals than humans...but then, she was necessarily human, was she? There was someone here. More than one someone, but definitely one person. She sniffed at the air rather comically, if there could be any humor amid the destruction surrounding her, and then set off at an easy pace, stepping over the dead without any sense that they were more than bits of scenery. She headed towards a house, stone and plaster of a distinct cottage style marred by half the roof blown off, part of a wall crumbled. The main door was still intact, though it looked out of kilter from the rest. She looked at it, then pushed it inwards. It fell off the hinges, landing in a clattered in the entry. The scent of flesh not rotting became stronger. But the house was eerily quiet, though that really didn't matter to her. She went inside.