Five stalwart and diverse individuals have hired on to help guard a caravan on the Trade Road from Balic to Tyr. Cavafy and Kol, half-brothers with a unique tie; Zeethra, a halfling with a strong bond to the natural world and a pragmatic approach to her provisions; Thod, born into slavery and the Arena, with his mind and body honed by years of both victory and defeat; Drake, a human warrior whose power comes from his connection to the world around him.
They are finally nearing the end of their journey, a day and a half out from Tyr. The caravan stops for the night and Jacob, the caravan boss, is a rangey human respected for his dedication to his job and known for his proficiency as a guide in earlier times. He assigns the five to watch the lead wagons. Shortly after full dark, the five begin to hear a strange whistling sound, moving from place to place in the desert. After a time and with help from light summoned from somewhere by Cavafy, they are able to make out a figure. Pale and gaunt, wearing tattered black clothing, he radiates eeriness.
Cavafy tosses him a water skin, offering a drink but asking for him to move on afterwards. The gaunt man catches the water, takes a drink, and tosses it back with a ragged laugh. He is wearing an obsidian ring on each hand. After a period of cryptic conversation, the man turns his back and begins to walk away.
Suddenly, from the vicinity of the campfire, screaming is heard. The group crosses the line of the wagons and sees merchants and drivers fleeing from a number of bony, tortoise-plated creatures, known variously as boneclaws or baazrag. Four small and two larger creatures are harrying the civilians, jaws snapping. The family of one of the merchants, his wife and three children, are screaming off to one side and Kol quickly moves to protect them.