The figure walked across the barren wasteland, his sandals crunching against the cold, sleet-covered ground. They made the sound of dry bones grinding together, the only sound except for the slight sigh of the wind. He moved slowly, steadily onward, head turning left and right to take in the land. Blasted hills occasionally rose above the frozen wastes, adding stark variety to a lifeless land. Gray clouds swirled slowly above him, threatening with another bout of freezing rain or stinging hail. He looked up once or twice, watching the lightning play across their undersides. Strangely, the thunder reached him at only a whisper. Silence held the land, the silence of death. Only the crunching of his footsteps broke the still air.
The wind suddenly whipped up, grabbing at him with icy fingers, seeking to suck the warmth from his thinly-clad body. He paid it no heed, gave it no mind, and it gradually whipped onward, keening mournfully across the icy waste. It had no power over him.
He held in his right hand a staff, carved of ebony. Taller than him by over a foot, it made soft thump sounds with each strike against the ground. The staff was polished to a high sheen from use, and in this land of deathly cold, it felt warm to his touch, as if it had not quite given up the life it held before.
At one point he paused in his trek, scanning slowly left and right. Everywhere he looked he saw desolation. Blasted lands covered in ice; a few frozen, twisted trees; even the lichens had died, turned into crumbling dust and now covered over in an icy veil. He reached down and grabbed up a handful of the frozen dirt, letting the cold grains sift slowly through his hand. The ground gave off the stench of putrid decay, of something long dead and rotting.
The wind whipped by again, sending the ice and dirt flying through the air to sting exposed skin. He ignored this too, listening instead to the soft whispering of the wind in his ears. It whispered of fear and darkness, of things half-seen in the shadows, of terrors only hinted at and thus twice as terrifying. But most of all, it whispered of death. His death. The land itself was against him, its icy clutches straining to add one more casualty to its growing list.
He sighed, and let the last of the cold earth fall down. The land hungered for blood with a lust that could never be satiated.
If it were just the land that hungered, it would all be so much easier.
He shook his head, and continued walking. The air twisted around him, and his foot touched down upon a moist layer of leaf litter.
The rain forest teemed with life. Sounds echoed from within it's green-fogged depths. The warbles and screeches from birds, the incessant drone of insects, and the quiet, whispering rustle of wind in the treetops. He continued walking forward, not even pausing. This ground also gave off the smell of decay, but instead of the putrid, rotting decay of death, it was the rich, musty decay of life. The leaf litter crunched softly as he walked, a few fungal spores rising with each footfall.
His slow, patient walking never paused. He just continued forward, never moving to go around a clump of underbrush or cut through a tangle of vines. Oddly enough, not a single plant snagged his robe, nor even a single solitary leaf brushed against his face. He passed through snarled walls of foliage without touching a stem, yet left no mark of his passage save the footprints. The plants almost seemed to twist out of his way as he passed.
Finally, he came across a clearing. A tree had fallen here sometime in the recent past, opening up a hole in the forest canopy and letting precious sunlight trickle down into the normally gloomy depths. Already a dozen saplings raced upwards to claim the precious resource. Within a few years, the gap would be closed again, and the forest bottom plunged back into darkness.
But until then, life flourished.
Many of the floor plants, waiting for just such an opportunity, had pushed outward in a profusion of greenery. The entire clearing was covered in a foot-high green carpet of leaves and stems, capped off with a living rainbow of flowers. The air hung thick with their perfume, the sweet smells almost overpowering in the hot, humid air.
A single blue butterfly flitted in the light, darting from bloom to bloom to suck at the sweet nectar within. Its iridescent wings glimmered in the bright sunshine, shifting through an entire spectrum of cyans and turquoise, changing as fast as the eye could follow.
The figure stepped out into the clearing, managing to walk through the thick vegetation without crushing a single stem underfoot. There always seemed to be a small opening in the underbrush for him to place his sandals, though after his passing there was never any evidence of a break at all. A handful of silent steps brought him besides a particularly rich-looking patch of flowers, above which the little insect fluttered merrily.
He watched it flit through the flowers for a moment, then slowly held out a single finger. He waited, silent, unmoving. He could wait for hours if need be, but he would not need to. After sipping from a fiery red blossom, the butterfly flapped up and floated over the blooms in seemingly random movements, until it found a nice solid perch to rest on.
He lifted his finger up, careful not to disturb the glittering insect. It stretched its wings slowly up and down, as if preparing to lift off at any moment. He brought it up to eye level and stared at it with his two dark, empty black sockets, letting it catch its rest. It would need it.
After a few moments, he lifted his finger slightly higher and gently blew. The butterfly, startled by the sudden rush of air, jumped off his finger and took to the sky, flying upward and away from the flower patch, up to the blue sky beyond. He watched it go, watched the handful of pollen grains drop from its fur and float slowly to the ground, watched a few blue scales flake off its wings and drift through the air. Most of all he watched the miniscule air currents formed with every flap of its wings. The swirling eddies spiraled outward in ripples of smaller and smaller intensity, creating invisible microcurrents of air that spread like ripples in a pond.
He sighed. It was not enough, but it was a start.
The eyeless figure turned and started walking away. Halfway back to the forest proper, the air twisted, and he was gone.