The flickering torch light illuminated an immense sandstone edifice set into the back wall of the cavern. Lifeless stone braziers flanked a short flight of wide steps that lead up to a pair of tall, looming doors. A carving of a standing bear filled them from top to bottom with the seam bisecting the imposing creature.
Behr held the torch aloft as he and Dust paused in awe of this most unexpected discovery. Dust was the first to recover himself and with a certain professional acumen, he began to slowly pace his way towards the steps. His large cat eyes swept the floor before him prior to each cautious footfall.
“Wait there, will you,” said Dust keeping his eyes fixed on the chamber floor.
Behr cocked his head and squinted in the dark at his vigilant companion. “What are you- Oh! Do you really think it’s trapped?”
“You don’t happen to see any handles on those doors, do you?” Dust asked in a neutral, almost professorial, tone. He did not bother lifting his gaze but instead continued his patient approach. “I rather think you don’t because there aren’t any which is generally an indication that whoever built this place didn’t want just anyone opening those doors. Thus, to answer your question, yes, I am expecting a trap or ward of some kind.”
Behr watched with some curiosity as his tabaxi friend methodically worked his way across the rocky floor, pausing here and there to closely examine a loose stone or crack along his path. When Dust reached the steps, he crouched down and examined each minutely, careful to avoid touching anything until he seemed satisfied as to absence of hidden hazards. The process was so numbingly slow that Behr imagined simply watching the events could be used as an effective sedative. He blinked and stifled a yawn.
Yet, after a span, Dust had reached the sandstone door. He ran first his sharp emerald eyes and then the sensitive pads of his fingers over the seams and engravings. Finally, seemingly content, he turned to wave Behr forward.
Quickly by comparison and with far less care than Dust, Behr approached his companion meeting him to stand in front of the still firmly sealed double door. Dust was trying, unsuccessfully to gain purchase on the edge of the left-hand slab by working his fingers into the seam. However, his grip had repeatedly slipped causing him to mutter words in a language Behr neither recognized nor spoke but which the ranger guessed quite correctly to be a string of profanity.
“Damn. I should have brought my pack. My prybar is in there,” said Dust in the common tongue with a contemplative countenance. He massaged his paw and flexed his fingers as he spoke working the cramping out of those finely tuned instruments.
“I could run back and get it for you,” answered Behr without looking away from the door. Though truly the door was of little interest to him. He was staring behind the door, through it, to whatever the sandstone hid beyond. The delicious mystery of it all rolled over him and a cold excitement began to well up from within. He shivered with it as if dipped in a glacial spring. Behr made no move to leave.
“Perhaps. Let me try something else first,” said Dust. He pulled a dagger from his belt and began working it into the narrow seam.
Behr lifted the torch higher, running his eyes and fingers over the intricate carving. The standing bear was shaped with exquisite detail right down to the delicate lines of its grainy fur. Even the eyes held a certain nobility to them, and Behr could not help but feel a note of reverence.
“What do think it is?” He asked his voice far away.
Dust continued to work the dagger deeper into the seam. “A tomb of some kind, I expect. Little but the ‘honored dead’ inspires people to put so much time and effort into something they intend to bury.”
“A tomb for who?”
“Couldn’t say, really. Someone important, at least mildly so,” said Dust. He paused from his work for only the briefest moment to stare up at the carved bear face. “I’d hazard a chieftain or priest. Maybe part of some barbarian tribe or perhaps a bear cult of some kind. That is why we’re cracking the old girl open after all – to see what’s inside. There. Give me a hand, will you.”
The dagger had finally slipped beneath one half of the door. The two of them heaved on the dagger with all their might until the slab popped free with a sucking hiss. Dust withdrew his dagger and gave it a disdainful glance. The blade had warped in the effort and now had a distinct kink where it had pivoted on the edge of the stone. At least it isn’t my only one. With an annoyed sigh, Dust worked it back into its sheath with some effort.
He gripped the sandstone slab and pulled with both paws. Without the force of the vacuum behind it, it swung with surprising grace despite its bulk. Once the gap was wide enough, Dust poked his head in. His tufted ears twitched as his customarily critical gaze swept the ancient floor.
He dropped to a crouch to better examine an insignificant joint between the mortared stones just inside the door. A satisfied smile spread all the way to his whiskers as his tail flicked pleasurably. “Ah, and there we have it,” Dust said pointing at what appeared to Behr to be a non-descript joint in an equally non-descript floor.
Behr leaned over and spilled the torchlight onto the stone. He squinted his eyes and tried to see what had inspired Dust’s gratified purr. “I’m sorry but I don’t see anything.”
“Then allow me to educate you, my friend. Do you see how the mortar has pulled ever so slightly away from the stones just there?” asked Dust. He gestured delicately with a single extended claw.
“There’s a flaw. So what? The place has to be a hundred years old,” replied Behr.
“Ah but look around you. Do you see this imperfection anywhere else?” asked Dust. His voice was gentle, and his tone was guiding. And if Behr had cared to look, he would have seen that his feline friend looked every bit the part of the cat who had got the cream.
Instead, Behr lifted the torch to expand his gaze across the rest of the flagstones. The gloom was difficult for his human vision to penetrate in the pale light. Even so, the rest of the floor looked to be the picture of perfect craftsmanship. Not a single flaw in any joint could be seen and he reported as much.
“Exactly. By itself, that tiny flaw means nothing but in context, it is a warning. One that we would be foolish not to heed,” said Dust slipping back into a more professorial tone.
“I’m impressed,” said Behr with genuine respect. “How did you spot that?”
“I noticed it because I was looking for such an imperfection. Honestly, I’m surprised that you weren’t,” said Dust with a distracted air. His attention had already returned to his minute examinations. “Were you not in the constabulary back in Wind Runner?”
“I was but only briefly during my service in the Wind Runner Marines. I spent most of my time in the scouting corps hunting wererat smugglers and fending off gnoll raids in the outlying villages,” said Behr. “The traps we were worried about tended to be a bit more obvious than peeling grout.”
Dust murmured acknowledgement and then took a long sidestep into the tomb’s antechamber avoiding the trapped stonework. He stepped farther into the room and waved Behr to follow. The space was wide and rectangular with a stone door fit with cast iron hardware set into the center of each of the sandstone walls to the left and right. Straight ahead an imperious looking brown bear statue scowled down at them. Small ruby eyes flashed from their settings deep in the sockets of the rocky beast’s face. After a quick appraisal, Dust again drew his dagger and skillfully popped the rubies from their settings, depositing them in a convenient pouch on his belt.
Behr tightened his grip on his shortsword as he cast a wary eye around the darkened chamber. The space was coated in a yet undisturbed layer of dust and festooned with cobwebs that now fluttered as the stale air was exchanged. From somewhere beyond the room he could hear the intermittent echo of dripping water. A familiar sense of unease gripped him as he followed Dust’s path around the trapped threshold.
He trailed Dust to the left door as the tabaxi set to work examining the portal with typical care. As his friend worked, Behr’s eyes were tugged up to the high arch of the chamber ceiling by the raised hairs on the back of his neck. His skin crawled with a sensation like a thousand arachnid legs scuttling on his bare flesh. Behr shuddered and swallowed the tightening knot in his gut. It’s only your imagination. Yet his sweat remained cold and he was unable to shake the feeling that something was lurking among the web clotted shadows.
Satisfied there were no other unseen hazards, Dust pushed the stone door open. Despite its age and weight, it swung smoothly and noiselessly inward revealing a cool, lightless corridor. The pair carefully worked their way down the passage with Dust in the lead. His tail and sharpened eyes twitched eagerly for the slightest clue. Behr followed with guarded steps.
Matted cobwebs coated the ceiling with a few thick tendrils venturing down the walls far enough to crest the rounded tops of the alcoves which lined both sides of the passage. Savage looking warrior statues stood in each. Their impassive stares washed over the rogue and ranger as they passed. Each of their muscled, terracotta frames stood proudly, still holding their moldering wooden shields and rusting spears like a long-forgotten honor guard.
After many dragging minutes, they reached the far end of the passage which turned to the right revealing another long corridor. Only one niche interrupted the smooth progression of the stone walls here. As the pair ventured closer, another standing bear statue came into view from within the alcove. This one was larger than the first. It towered above them at easily a dozen feet tall and was carved from a single block of flawless obsidian. Necklaces of animal teeth and talons were draped over its neck and shoulders in thick layers. At its feet, rusted daggers lay amid a myriad of guttered, lifeless candle stumps.
Dust crouched and lifted a dagger to examine it. Though time had treated it harshly, the rusted blade had been of fine craftsmanship. He examined a few of the others and concluded each was of similar quality. Offerings like one might leave at a shrine. Dust was turning one of the better-preserved daggers over in his hand when a sharp hiss from Behr brought his attention back from his musings. He lifted his emerald eyes to find the obsidian bear’s head had tilted downward to stare at him, fixing the cat with an offended gaze. Dust froze and then carefully replaced the ancient blade where he had found it. In a whirl, Behr dropped the torch and unslung his shield. He widened his stance and held his shortsword at the ready. Every muscle in his body tensed for action and then the obsidian bear began to speak.
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.