Empire's shadows linger long after the last pyre has fallen to ash.

It is well known, to those of a certain disposition, that the ruins of the old watchtowers are attended still by the ghosts of the soldiers who gave their lives to the belief that a piece of land—a pile of rock—would protect their fellows from some distant enemy, uncaring of the internal foes that starved their supply lines and drained their spirits. It is also known that a brick haunted by the spirit of a watchman brings good fortune to a house built with it as a cornerstone, ghosts not being particularly good at recognizing the ways the world changes around them.

Beneath the sea, in those sunken forests where once the blood carnival was celebrated and the cancer-thrones were raised (or so we are told, true records from that time being forbidden to all but the wisest sages), undying corpses still moan in torment as salt water forces its way through their emptied veins. From them come the winter storms, and the autumn's salt miasma, and from their clumsy couplings are birthed the traitor-crabs and sharktoothed foundlings which every fisherman knows to throw back unharmed. The sea is full of sins, not all of them its own.

The old ghouls are long since dead, their impenetrable skins peeled and pinned and their meat plucked out to feed their desperate executioners. Even their marrow was taken, and not a single drop was allowed to fall upon the stony earth, for things like them do not easily die—and so too were the bodies of all those who filled their stomachs with that meat denied to the earth, and their sickly children, and the few misshapen things which emerged to play at being a third generation of their doomed lines. No tree grew from soil that their hands touched, and no flower was ever allowed to spread its roots into dirt wetted by their spit.

But someone always has to whisper, don't they? And rumors can't help but spread, so everyone knows (or thinks that they know, which is worse) about a valley in the high ramshorns where the mountains' glossy jade shells are cracked and broken, where snow never falls and no icy river dares to cascade down from untamed cliff to polished basin; a place that everyone hopes isn't real even though they know in their heart that it must be. You can't keep things locked away forever, we all know that, we know that better than Empire ever did, and that's a horrifying thing to carry with you even when you know that hope waits buried beneath it all.

Something always gets out, and death doesn't give second chances to those things that spurn her touch.

And that's all as may be, but the sun is warm and the day is bright, and each year there are fewer traitor-crabs fouling the nets and grafting their horrible inventions onto sunken pots, and the whispers in the old dead cities get quieter each time a brave hunter crushes another skull with their silvered hammer, and if the curses that still linger grow more concentrated with age and disuse then so too does the knowledge of how to defuse them.

A century ago thaumaturges couldn't imagine how to grow an Empire bloodline in an eelworm's precious few drops of blood, and now anyone venturing into a known ruin carries some with them to ward off any unexpected remnants. A mere ten years ago we still feared the wail-wind, but now its heart is pinned to a dead volcano's wall and its breath is powerless. Another decade on and who can say what we'll understand, what feats we might accomplish?

Someday progress will wash it all away, and all we'll remember is that history's arc was inevitable.