The argus is an enormous two-headed dog built of thick bone and dense muscle. A predatory pack animal, the argus exists in a variety of breeds found throughout the wilds of western Immoren. The most successful subspecies of these two-headed canines are the common argus, the winter argus and the argus moonhound.
Argus are compact and muscular, weighing anywhere from five hundred to eight hundred pounds. A mature wild argus stands about four feet at the shoulder and can measure nearly seven feet from rump to snout, while the domesticated breeds are typically about three feet at the shoulder and weigh three hundred to four hundred pounds.
The most notable and oft-misunderstood physical characteristic of the argus is its unusual two-headed body structure, a fascinating and unique peculiarity of the species. It has been observed that each of an argus’ heads can exhibit distinct personality traits. This gives credence to the idea that the argus is effectively a twin animal within a single body. If such is the case, however, the two animals exist in such perfect synchronicity that the idea of a dominant head is irrelevant. Even among newborn pups there has never been an observable struggle for dominance between the animals’ disparate minds. Though it might have two slightly divergent personalities, the argus functions in every way as a single entity. Its two brains communicate so flawlessly and at such an intrinsic level that any communication occurs instantaneously. It is for precisely this reason that the argus is virtually impossible to surprise - at least one of the two heads is aware of anything that happens at any given time within its vicinity.
In the rare instances that an argus has been observed to suffer head trauma severe enough to kill one head but localised enough to leave the other intact, the animal has never survived for long. Likewise, argus born with abnormalities to a head do not survive infancy.
A short, thick pelt of fur regulates the argus' temperature, allowing it to live comfortably in a wide range as well as to blend into its surroundings better. Argus possess remarkable stamina and can stalk or harry prey across long stretches before attacking. The bite of an argus is powerful enough to shatter a bone as thick as an ox’s thighbone; the bones of men provide little resistance.
A powerful neck supports each head, and pulling them in opposition allows an argus to strip the flesh off creatures as resilient as trolls. The twin heads of an argus can also combine their individual barks to produce an unsettling blast that addles the mind and stills the flesh. Victims are slowed, even paralysed, by this terrible sound, providing a pack of argus with the opportunity to tear a victim to shreds.
Argus are most commonly found in dense forests like the Gnarls, the Thornwood, and the Blackroot Wood, all of which contain ample game for them to hunt. Some tough mountain breeds are found in places like the Dragonspine Peaks and the Wyrmwall Mountains, where they hunt game such as large mountain goats. Packs range across territories between one hundred and three hundred square miles, and they fiercely protect this area against incursion. The territory doubles in size shortly after mating season, so the pack can bring in extra food for weaned pups still too young to hunt. As young dogs grow, they are brought along on the pack’s hunts. Injured prey are left for juveniles to finish off, which teaches the young animals how to kill.
Most argus packs select or build a den in early spring, before the first pups are born. These dens range from natural caverns in mountainous regions to burrows dug into the side of a hill. The den is fiercely defended by mothers until the pups are able to fend for themselves.
Argus are opportunistic hunters, attacking anything they do not consider a threat. Individually an argus avoids larger and more dangerous beasts, like trolls and satyrs, but a pack of argus can drive away even the most formidable adversaries. Such packs have demonstrated cunning group tactics; often half the pack will drive or lure potential prey into the waiting jaws of packmates.
The eyes of an argus are always in motion, scanning its surroundings for sources of danger or potential quarry. This behaviour, coupled with the ability literally to look in two directions at once, makes them virtually impossible to approach unnoticed.
Argus usually live in packs of four to six led by a dominant couple. Dominance is determined between males in savage bouts of combat, with the loser driven out of a pack’s territory. Solitary males will be driven away by their former pack mates if encountered. Forced to shadow the fringes of the pack’s territory, they are extremely dangerous and likely to attack anything they encounter. Unable to rely on a pack to help acquire food, lone argus are usually on the brink of starvation.
Short vocalisations allow the animals to coordinate during a hunt, letting the pack overwhelm a target from many sides with precise timing. When a pack attacks larger prey, the lead dog typically grabs hold of the target’s limbs, thereby granting the rest of the pack access to its unprotected underbelly.
An argus can track prey in even the harshest conditions by following its scent. A pack of argus that catches a creature’s scent can stalk it for miles before attacking.
Smaller argus breeds are tamed in northern Khador to serve as guard dogs and war hounds. Domesticated argus have been known to recognise individual humans and can create lasting bonds, retaining familiarity with an accepted master over an extended period of time. Trained from the time they are pups, these tame argus are fiercely loyal to their masters. While smaller and more receptive to commands than their wild counterparts, domesticated argus are nonetheless tough and vicious creatures whose killing instincts have been methodically preserved.
Along with its intelligence has come a natural defiance toward the will of men, and argus of all breeds have proven exceedingly difficult to train. After the first two or three months, captive argus become progressively more stubborn as they mature. Adult argus are virtually untrainable; however, they are sometimes captured and carefully maintained as breeding stock.
Most argus breeds have been trained as fighting stock, either as guards or to be employed in fighting pits. Though they retain their aggression and killer instincts, they can bond to some humans whom they consider pack mates. They remain dangerous, however, as they do not always recognise fragility of their human masters. Even the best-trained argus are only used in a few roles, primarily for war or protection. They have no capacity to perform the more general work tasks in which regular canines excel, such as herding.
Argus have long been bred among the rural clans and barbarians of northern Khador, and captive-bred argus pups are sometimes found within wealthy Khadoran households. They are still prohibitively expensive and difficult to upkeep, making them less appealing than regular canines to most buyers, but the Khadoran military has sometimes employed them alongside regular war dogs. Military argus are selected for size and strength in addition to receptivity to training, making them among the largest of the domesticated variants, although still smaller on average than the wild argus. Domesticated argus long ago lost their ability to perform the doppler bark, likely a deliberate breeding choice due to the inherent dangers of such an ability. Misguided attempts to reintroduce this ability have generally resulted in fatalities after stunned handlers lost control of the beasts.
The blackclads of the Circle Orboros have spent centuries breeding and training the common argus for battle and protection. The common argus is among the most widely employed beasts in the Circle’s arsenal. The breed of argus used by the druids is far larger and more vicious than the tame Khadoran breed. These argus are quite strong and able to withstand considerable punishment. They pack a surprising punch for its size, but are especially valued for the power of their paralysing bark.
For hundreds of years, the blackclads have assumed the role of custodians in developing argus. The druids have subtly directed their breeding, protected their natural domains, and prepared them for battle. This process is not domestication by any means; the druids seek to preserve the natural ferocity of the breeds in their care. Instead, they focus on developing these creatures into useful weapons and acclimating them to the presence of druids and allies.
Warlocks rely upon the fast reflexes of their argus, who stand ready to spring instantly on any who harm their pack. This pack instinct is irrepressible, and the deep bonding that occurs between a pup and a druid means that an argus will eagerly sacrifice its life to protect its master. Argus are surprisingly intelligent, and druids with enough expertise and patience can train their argus to understand complex orders.