I was torn from a web a dreams that night by the howl of a beast. I lit the small lantern I had requisitioned from the university and, drawing a cloak around my shoulders, stepped from my tent. My companions had done the same. They blinked owlishly, one brandishing a cooking pot as a weapon in front of him. At this sight we heard low laughter from the embers of the fire and I saw, outlined in that half-light, the watchful form of Dermond. When asked what creature had made the noise he laughed again and then spoke a folk word unfamiliar to my ears. Geistbera.

We pressed him for more information and he told us a handful of tales of the creatures. According to Dermond they are not altogether unlike the bears brought to town by the carnival or those killed in the bear-baitings on feast days. They are larger than their brown cousins of the forest, covered in fur dark as the evening sky, and they peer at you from the shadows with bright orange-red eyes. My companions seemed alarmed to know such a creature was close by but Dermond assured us they were no worse than anything else in the forest.

“And” the guide went on, “if your courage falters now I shudder to think how ye shall fare when we reach the cave.” With these words he returned to tending the fire and I returned to bed.