AUROCHS LORE

The great beast lumbered slowly through the forest. Hungry and weary, he hurt from the bottom of his hooves - cracked and broken from running over jagged rocks - to the tips of his chipped, twisted horns. The wind rustled his tattered hide and sank into his bones. Tree branches that once offered him luscious green leaves to nibble upon were now barren. Day after day he wandered, searching in vain for a way to make the gnawing in his belly stop, and dodging the man-beasts that tried to prey upon him.

Some yards away, a small rag-tag group of weary adventurers were following the faint sound of crunching leaves and snapping twigs. The hunger was all-consuming. For a time it had clawed at their stomachs with jagged edges and unrelenting pressure. In time, it evolved into a grinding ache, and that was when the fear truly found its root in their beleaguered group. Not long after, the first of them died - whether from dehydration or sickness or simply starvation they couldn’t be sure. There were sure to be more deaths to follow.

Still, the little motley group pressed on, war at their back and the impending winter before them.

They took to picking through the damp leaf litter for grubs and chewing on low-hanging branches. The sparse insects did little to sate their hunger, and the bare twigs made them retch. Beaten down and half-mad, all they could do was to keep moving. Surely, their luck would turn soon.

And turn it did when the group found themselves at the edge of a small, gloomy clearing and spotted the source of the sounds they’d been trailing. For a moment, each of them stared in disbelief, thinking it must be a fever-dream and that no one else amongst them could see the thing. Pippit, the once-feisty Guinecean Knight who had long-since lost his spunk, tapped the back of Haltom’s leg. Haltom peered down at him, giving a quick nod of acknowledgement. The old Cleric didn’t know how much fight he had left in him, but he owed it to Pippit and Gernos to try. All-Father willing, the aurochs’ massive body could feed them for a long while and give them hides for warmth, at least until they regained some of their strength.

Armed with only the most rudimentary tools - small knives, rocks and slings, one rusted short sword pulled from a long-dead corpse - the group leaped in unison. The aurochs, in its own hunger-deprived state, was startled and confused. It snorted, sweeping its massive head in an arc. This was indeed a battle to the death, the odds stacked equally against every one of them. The sound was chaos. Screams of bloodlust mixed with the dull thump of weapons striking flesh and the desperate grunts of a beast determined to survive.

When the commotion finally stopped, the aurochs was left battered and gasping, surrounded by the broken bodies of the Cleric, Knight, and Druid that had fought so valiantly to bring it down. The animal took one quivering step, crimson rivers from the countless cuts in his hide seeping through its shaggy coat, before it succumbed and collapsed among the remains.

It was an ironic treasure trove of food that would be left to the maggots and the birds. That was, until moments later when two figures slipped out of the shadows of the trees into the clearing. The first, a lithe Half-Elf Assassin, pulled up short and raised a hand to stop his companion. Stock still, he surveyed the scene for a beat. The air carried the acrid smell of failed magic and drying blood.

Certain that whatever threat had caused this carnage was passed, the Assassin pulled a long, serrated blade from a sheath hidden in his tall boots. Over his shoulder, he muttered to the Minotaur behind him, "Fetch the pack pig while I start on this." He lifted the leg on one of the tattered human corpses, cut away the clothing, and began sawing. The Minotaur grunted in disapproval. Looking up from his bloody work, the Assassin snapped, "Not a word of this to the others. Meat is meat, and they'll be glad to have it with winter bearing down upon us."

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