The forest was dark. A foot of snow crunched under Al'Sharir's feet. His brown destrier trodded behind him, the bridle clinking softly in the still night. His torch threw flickers of light and shadow all around him. It illuminated half his face, his one remaining eye gleaming darkly. His eye was the color of obsidian, a trait from his mother's side of the family; the wild folk of the god mountains. The destrier whinnied, tugging a little on its reins. "A horse must be quiet now, hm?," he whispered to the horse, using the common tongue of the north. He stroked the horse's muzzle, whispering soothingly. "Forest of dark, we are in. A man has reasons of fearing this," he muttered. "But a horse must be calm now." The destrier seemed to calm. He patted its flank, feeling the strong heartbeat beneath. "Come," he whispered and urged it forward. The night was starless, thick clouds covering the night sky. Al'Sharir walked on, his breath steaming.
A few hours later, he came upon a clearing in the forest. He pushed his way through the pine needles and looked around. The clearing was about 15 meters across and, as far as he could tell, a perfect circle. He didn't like it. A queer feeling settled in his stomach. The forest was dark and still. The horse whinnied again, louder this time, and it made him jump. He laughed, voice shaking slightly. "A horse scares a master. Eager to exit a forest, hm?" he muttered as he patted it again. It was cold to the touch. He turned back, took a deep breath, the cold air stinging his lungs, and stepped into the clearing.
Nothing happened. He took another step. Still nothing happened. He started picking up pace, striding across the gleaming plain of snow. His cloak, red and tattered, caught on something, the clasp digging painfully into his throat. He grumbled and turned around, looking for whatever had caught it. What he saw made him freeze in place. A hand black as night protruded from the snow, grasping the hem of his cloak. He cried out, lurching backwards, away from the hand. It did not release its grip, so he tore off the clasp, letting the cloak fall to the ground. The hand began sinking into the ground, pulling the cloak with it. Within moments, both it and the hand had disappeared. Panicking, he sought to mount his horse, only to find that it was nowhere to be seen. He look at the tracks. Horse prints led into the clearing. But they did not lead out. He heard the sound of something moving through snow. He heard it all around him. He raised his torch, peering into the dark. A hand of ice clutched at his heart. Black creatures surrounded him. Tall, obsidian creatures that stood on two legs like a man. But they were anything but human. Their arms almost reached the ground, and they had no mouths. Their eyes were like stars, points of cold light in an otherwise featureless face. Al'Sharir screamed as the dark creatures surged forward, silent as shadows.