Abarsis scooted closer to the fire, clutching the furs draped over his shoulders. His hunched body, surprisingly chubby for an elf, shivered sporadically, clearly discomfited by the winter chill. Whispering a brief propitiation to the Sister of Cold Nights, the hooded elf peered through breath-fogged air at his fellow travelers at the campground, all of whom seemed to be handling the cold better than he was.
On Abarsis’s left sat Lousak, a reserved but friendly warden from the Graystorm druid grove. The human’s long graying hair was tucked under the heavy shield he wore on his back, and the hide armor underneath was bedecked with primitive-looking fetishes. His gloved hands idly caressed the heavy wooden warhammer, etched in fey script, that lay across his knees. His breath fogged the air in front of his heavily bearded face as he replied to the friendly gibes of the dragonborn sitting across the fire from him.
Krivaxus the dragonborn was the dynamic center of the group, bringing a warmth of camaraderie to the campfire that even the chilly night could not dampen. The ardent’s priestly garb peeked out from the suit of chainmail draped over it, and the chains of the strange double flail draped casually across his shoulders clanked with his every expressive movement.
Abarsis betrayed a peculiar ambivalence when his gaze came to rest on Belgos, the lithe drow lounging across the campfire from him. His eyes narrowed in unthinking suspicion, but the dark elf seemed oblivious to Abarsis as he watched the warden and the ardent chat. Seemingly entirely unaffected by the cold, Belgos played with his twin daggers, making them dance in the cold air as they reflected flashes of firelight from their pristine blades.
In the lee of a nearby dense copse of trees, what appeared to be a traveling noblewoman and her escort of a half-dozen well-armed men had similarly camped by a roaring fire. While most of the guards proceeded to set up a perimeter and scout the surrounding area for potential threats, one of the more gregarious ones approached the fire by which the party huddled. An affable human named Garand, he spoke animatedly with the other travelers around the fire.
The genial conversation was interrupted by a guttural roar that shattered the quiet of the night, quickly followed by a terribly brief scream. Every head on a swivel, the campmates cast about for sudden movements. Abarsis stood quickly, drawing his ancient falchion and stamping his feet to rid them of numbing cold, followed shortly by the warden and the ardent. Belgos silently slipped into the shadows of the deep brush, his wicked looking crossbow cocked and at the ready.
Garand hailed another guard, and together they disappeared into the underbrush away from the road. After the sound of their movements fade, there was a tense moment of silence while Abarsis, Lousak, and Krivaxus glanced uneasily around. The roar issued forth again, closer this time, and longer, almost drowning out the anguished cries of injured men. The thundering crash of something very big lumbering through the forest crackled through the air, and Abarsis no longer noticed the cold.
A patter of fleeing footsteps from the darkened wood resolved into the panting, stumbling figure of Garand, blood sheeting from the ruins of his chainmailed torso, spattering the snowy furrow in his wake. “Run! RUN!” he gasped, collapsing in a heap at the edge of the firelight. As Lousak crouched by Garand’s side, the roar shook the air again. A hulking shaggy figure, six feet tall at the withers, burst out of the woods into the nearby copse, shattering the sedan chair resting near the fire. The slender woman within silently catapulted from the wreckage like so much jetsam, and landed with an ominous crunching thud.
The ravening beast, chuffing, reared up on its hind legs, standing easily a dozen feet tall. It shook itself, and a cloud of blood, feathers, and fur wafted in the air around it. A dagger fell to the ground, dislodged from its body. Its attention focused on the men around the other campfire, and it hurled a rage-filled roar at the sky before hurling itself toward them. A crossbow bolt from out of nowhere greeted its frenzied charge, and the battle was joined.