A flash of lightning froze the wild swaying of the jeffrey pines painting them in a purple white light before a roll of thunder washed the black night over the wilderness once more. Behr, Ava, Dust, and Caeldrim found themselves drenched to the skin and standing in the mouth of a sheltered cave. All four were a pitiful sight but Dust looked the worst of the quartet with his fur dripping and matted. He held his arms away from his body with a miserable expression pasted across his feline features.
As Caeldrim led their mule and cart into the cavern and out of the howling wind, Ava pulled a bundle of dry wood from underneath the canvas tarpaulin. Once she had stacked the split wood into a low pyramid, she passed her hand over the structure and murmured arcane words. With a woosh, flame sprang from the logs filling the chamber with a delicious warmth.
The group bathed for a long while in the radiating heat, soaking up the soothing crackle and pop of the wood. They would have roasted the pair of rabbits Behr had caught earlier in the day, but the cave ran deeper than they could see, and he was leery of what the succulent aroma might draw out of the darkness.
Behr leaned against the wall near the entrance while he laboriously chewed an unsatisfying mouthful of a brick-like biscuit. The back of the cave narrowed to a tunnel and twisted into darkness. He stared at the gloom and it stared back at him, mute, offering no hint of its secrets. He could barely bring himself to blink as his feeble human eyes tried to bore into the abyss beyond. The darkness beckoned, a blank enigma that tugged at him like the tide and whispered silent threats.
An autumnal orange hand thrust a tin cup in front of his face and Behr blinked breaking his stare. His gaze shifted and refocused on Ava’s face awash in the firelight. She arched one eyebrow and gestured with a glance of her golden eyes down to the cup she offered Behr. “Do you want a cup?” The tiefling repeated. “Are you okay? You’re looking kind of out of it.”
Behr accepted the proffered cup and raised the steaming drink to his lips. A blend of tea and honey was followed by an unexpected bite of spiced rum causing Behr to swallow hard and Ava to smirk. “I’m fine. Just wondering what else might be living in this cave,” he said with a small cough. “Did you spike the tea?”
“I thought everyone could use a proper warming up,” said Ava. She lifted her chin as she spoke causing the fire light to catch the mischievous glint in her eye. It matched the curl at the corner of her full lips.
“And we appreciate your efforts,” purred Dust from across the fire lifting his own cup into a salute. He was looking considerably drier and more comfortable if a bit fluffier than usual. A dreamy grin spread itself across his features and he inhaled deeply of the woody, toasted air. “I too was only just wondering what could be hidden down in that dark. One never knows what will glitter in a place like that until one sheds a little light. Any manner of lost wonders could be hiding just around that bend. Wouldn’t you agree, Cael?” There was a manic flash in his emerald eyes as he shot his glance towards the Lathanderian cleric.
“More likely a bear or mountain cat,” replied Caeldrim drily over his shoulder as he was already up tending to their mule.
“You mean other than our own bear and mountain cat?” quipped Ava looking rather pleased with herself.
Caeldrim sighed and rolled his eyes. “We probably should take a look, though. We’re likely to be stuck in this cave all night and ‘no goodness hides from the light’, after all.”
The proverb triggered an exasperated groan from Ava. “Axiom of stodgy clerics and little boys who are afraid of the dark. Which of those are you again?”
Behr pushed himself up and slung his shield over his back. “Okay then. If you two are done flirting, I’m going to go check out the rest of this cave and make sure we won’t end up brutally murdered in our sleep.”
“Yes, I rather think I’ll join you,” said Dust. Then, with an appraising glance at Ava and Caeldrim, he added, “I’ve seen this show before.”
Behr held a torch aloft with his left-hand peering into the cave beyond. It wound deeper into the mountain side than he would have expected. The twisting passageway continued descending into darkness well beyond the flickering, yellow torch light. His wet boots squelched on the sandy stone floor as he followed the natural corridor, right hand holding his drawn shortsword. His steps were as slow and deliberate as his search. Carefully, he examined the raw stone walls for unnatural cracks or tool marks, anything to hint at some threat that was only waiting for them to lay down and sleep the storm away.
Dust padded along slightly behind and more closely to the wall. His paws fell so quietly that even Behr nearly forgot about his companion’s presence. The tabaxi seemed more at home in the deep shadows than did his human companion. His feline eyes were nearly as sharp in the dark as in the light and the deep shadows offered him more protection. Still, if they did find anything living in this cave, it was likely as comfortable in the gloom as Dust and the tabaxi did not need remind himself that the dark could hide a threat just as easily.
“Gods, I thought they would never leave,” said Ava. She rooted around in her seemingly bottomless bag before triumphantly producing a small, aged tome. It was bound in dull, water-stained leather and stuffed with stiff yellowed pages. Ava held it reverentially, her golden eyes wide with anticipation.
Caeldrim squatted down next to her with a darkened look on his face. “You’re not seriously going through with this, are you?”
Ava shot him a side-eye. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Well for starters you have no idea what a spell like that will actually do, assuming it works,” said Caeldrim.
“I know exactly what it will do; it’ll summon an elemental spirit. A cute and tiny one!” Ava squealed crushing the book to her chest. “And then I’m going to name it Loki and keep it as a familiar.”
Her last words came with the haughtiness of a pugnacious and self-assured child.
“That’s what the peddler said it would do but you have no way of knowing if he was being truthful,” said Caeldrim with a condescending patience practiced by professors and mastered by priests. “You of all people should know better than to take a stranger’s word on something like that, Avarice.”
Ava’s expression turned to daggers. “Don’t get all preachy with me, Caeldrim. Do you really believe I’m that big of an idiot? Think about it. I bought this book off a junk vendor in Sea Wall, the grimiest district of Wind Runner, for two gold sails. And you think what? That the hunched old vagabond with the rickety cart was really some archmage in disguise who gets his rocks off by selling powerful, expensive magic for oars on the sail?”
“I think he didn’t know what he had. That he figured he was conning you out of a few sails for some worthless paper, but he was wrong. I’m no wizard but I know magic when I see it and there is magic in that book.”
“No shit, Cael. What do you take me for? Of course, he didn’t know what he had. But I do. I am, after all, a wizard and, as you were so kind to remind me, a onetime swindler which means that I not only know magic when I see it but I also recognize opportunity.”
“Ava, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-“ Caeldrim began to stammer.
“It’s fine. Really, it’s okay,” said Ava, softening a little. She let out a tired sigh. “The point is even a grubby old wanker like him would have known if he had something as powerful as true summoning magic in his hands. He would have felt the power the moment he touched it. And if he had sensed it, no way he would have sold it for so little. So, the only logical conclusion is that the spell is a weak one and well within the abilities of two experienced casters such as ourselves.” Ava shot Caeldrim her best-friends-forever smile knowing full well that he was still feeling guilty for bringing up her unsavory past. Like fish in a barrel, she thought as Caeldrim nodded his agreement.
Probably a crag cat, at worst. Behr said to himself again and again as the long seconds crept by, but it was no use. His years as one of Wind Runner Landing’s marine scouts had instilled him with a mostly healthy paranoia. Too many times he had seen smugglers, who seemed to favor caverns like this, spring from a cleverly concealed passage to ambush a lone marine caught unaware. Paranoia aside, an animal had been more likely but as the passage continued to wind down into the mountain, he found no tracks, no spore, no bones, nothing to indicate that anything lived here. It was clean of signs of life. Too clean. Every muscle in his body tensed for action as he stepped deeper into the silent gloom.
The passage forked ahead, and the pair paused briefly. Silently, Behr turned to face Dust, his features awash in the torch light that repelled the grasping shadows. Dust’s own eyes gleamed emerald from the dark as he stepped to the very edge of the light. Without a sound, the duo debated. Left or right? There was a great deal of head wagging and bobbing, shaking and tossing before Behr emerged victorious. They set off down the right-hand tunnel.
The right path continued only a short way, snaking first west and then south before arriving at a dead end. A mound of jumbled rocks and dirt choked the passageway until it was blocked completely. The torch light gleamed off the wet cavern walls as a steady trickle of water ran down from the ceiling in wide swaths. Patches of slick yellow slime coated the stone where the water ran and smelled faintly of earthy decaying things like a log rotting in the forest.
Otherwise, the tunnel was empty. If anything predatory had ever lived in this dead end, it denned here no longer. Behr looked back at Dust. With a shrug, the two retraced their steps and began following the other path.
After an age, the tunnel ended in another collapse. Behr cast his torch light around the natural corridor looking for signs that the rest of the cavern had been made unstable. There were, however, no signs of instability to be found. Instead, he discovered an open fissure that, while tight, formed a natural archway into an expansive chamber beyond.
Behr stepped to the opening and shone his light into the darkness. The air smelled stale like an old trunk long forgotten and only recently opened. At first, the torch’s glow fell on nothing but a hard rock floor dotted with thin patches of sand. Yet as Behr leaned in, wide cavern walls formed from rainbow bands of sedimentary rock spilled into view at the fringe of the torchlight. They formed a wide bowl that wrapped around to meet at the far end. There, barely visible at the rim of the yellow light, was a short set of rock stairs cut from the cavern wall.
Ava and Caeldrim cleared a space on the cave floor around the fire. With tome in hand, Ava fished a stick of charcoal out of her pocket and began scrawling out the indicated runes in a circle around the glowing embers. Occasionally peering at the tome over Ava’s shoulder, Caeldrim set to work laying out cones of incense at five points on the circle of runes. Once in place, he lit each and stepped outside of the circle to wait for Ava. Lazy tendrils of smoke curled up towards the ceiling flooding the air with the soporific aroma of frankincense.
Once she had finished the necessary runes, Ava tucked the stick of charcoal behind one of her horns and retreated from the circle taking a place next to Caeldrim. She read through the incantation a few times to herself, quietly practicing the pronunciation of some of the more esoteric words. Once all was ready, she took a step forward to the very edge of the circle and began to speak.
Her voice echoed off the cavern walls with each forceful guttural syllable. The smoldering campfire flared to life casting long, feral shadows. As the spell gained momentum, the flames grew into a swirling column dragging the air into a spiraling wind. Ash and embers were swept up into the tempest and sent dancing all around them like fairy lights.
Ava’s voice grew more commanding and the words flew from her lips in a pounding barrage. Her eyes flashed with prismatic light and the flames followed suit, cycling with the colors of the rainbow as they spun wildly towards the cavern ceiling. The mule brayed, closed his eyes, and turning his snout away from the blinding light while Caeldrim looked on, bathing his dark flesh in the towering light as his short, nearly white hair picked up the everchanging hues.
Just as the flames were reaching a fever pitch, the pyre was suddenly sucked down to the coals. The wind slowed, pulling the suspended ash into a cloud just above the campfire. A moment later, there was a noise like a loud pop and, where the ash cloud had been, now fluttered a grotesque looking creature made entirely of dust.
“Holy shit. It worked.”
Tomb and Tome is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.