He was lying of course. Now, Tibi was a strictly moral man, and generally disapproved of lying. And so he eased his guilt with the knowledge that he had just saved a man’s life. The treasure-hunter would almost certainly perish in the trials ahead, unarmored and inexperienced as he was. He had the look of a Loelian. Tibi knew that most likely Baldinswa was an unlucky third, fourth or fifth son in one of their overpopulated cities, with no inheritance to claim by birthright or available apprenticeships, forced to go venturing afar for a living. Most treasure hunters shared this common past, as did most vagabonds, swindlers, settlers and thieves.
He heard more cawing in the night, and stood. The crows would never carry live food to their young, particularly not a knight clad in armor. However he was fairly sure that they would have no problem with tearing him into bite-sized strips. He moved to stamp out the fire, and it was then that the bird appeared.
It circled cautiously above for a while, and Tibi observed it coolly as it dipped closer and closer, close enough for its dark, liquid, beady eye to glint inquisitively at him against the firelight. He stared inquisitively back. It was difficult to make out the black form of the creature amidst the dark, but Tibi saw that its wingspan stretched above him and blotted out the stars with inky blackness. It spiraled lower, so low that its wingtip brushed the fire and raked tiny blazing cinders into the night. Then it was behind him, out of sight; the muted whistling of wind through feathers behind him barely reached his ears before a powerful force closed around his shoulders and ripped him from the ground.
He collided hard with the rubble behind him, and at once the monster fell upon him, pecking at his neck and armpits in an attempt to hook around his armor. He felt his skin bruise beneath metal plates. His body slid across the rubble and into a sucking bed of mud, pushed by the furious force of the giant bird. Desperately he flailed for his sword but the crow knocked his hand away with a talon, pressed his foot onto his chest and ground him into the earth. Its eyes were sharp and logical, fixed completely on him, mocking him silently. Tibi knew that this beast had much experience fighting knights. Slowly, the creature brought a huge talon to his visor and lifted it to expose Tibi’s face. Fear raged in his breast when he felt the cool breeze of the night against his face and saw the deadly curve of the thing’s beak outlined thinly in moonlight. Reasoning eluded him, slipped away before a vast torrent of primal, raw terror that felt rough against his usual sense of detachment.
I have bested you, the bird seemed to say with its beady eyes. It clacked its beak.
An otherworldly screech wracked the air as a dark blur slammed into the mocking crow. A wheezing caw fluttered into the night air and after five seconds of scratching and tearing there was silence. Tibi pulled himself from the muck and staggered near the scattered embers of the fire. The light reached only a few paces away from him, not far enough to see the corpse of the bird or whatever horror slew it. With a flourish, Tibi drew his sword from its sheath and held it out to catch the light of the embers. He did love his sword.
“Come out, beast. Have at me then.” He spoke into the ring of darkness around him. His feet were hot from standing on stray embers, but he ignored the feeling. The sound of ripping ligaments and tearing skins echoed from somewhere, as did a nauseating chewing. At Tibi’s words the noises suddenly ceased.
From the shadows a tall, lanky form ambled, and Tibi noted with some displeasure that it was a Bower demon.