The idol spoke in a gravel voice that boomed down the long corridor splintering the silence like so much glass. So aggressive was the statue’s commanding presence that the very stone trembled and the cobwebs above rippled. Dislodged dust fell like snow.
Behr’s muscles tightened and he broke his gaze away from the idol long enough to make a hasty scan of the darkness that bled in around them. He did not like the way the webs waved. Yet, he could spare no time for his suspicions as Dust’s rapt attention and his own gut tugged him back to hear the idol’s words.
The bear said,
“Offer up to me your gifts of valor.
For I stand upon judgement’s seat.
Show no belly of a yellow pallor,
To open halls where warriors greet.”
When it had finished, the obsidian head slowly lifted to its original, imperious position and the corridor grew quiet once more. Behr and Dust stood still, listening for some sign or warning from the grasping gloom. A long moment passed filled only by the hiss of the burning torch.
“Most curious,” said Dust rising to his feet and brushing off his trousers.
“What do you think it means?” asked Behr, attention absent from his voice. His eyes again scanned the hall as the hairs rose on the back of his neck. Even if he could not see it, he could sense something lurking in the darkness. Every so often, a minor movement would catch the corner of his eye and he could swear one of the rope-like strands of ancient web had shifted in an unnatural way. Behr stepped closer to Dust turning his back to the statue and widening his stance. As he rotated, he kept his eyes on the ceiling. His grip tightened on his sword.
“Well, all that seems fairly obvious,” said Dust scratching the fur on his face with a clawed hand. The other arm was braced across his chest so that the left hand was tucked just under the elbow of the right. He leaned back and stared up at the obsidian beast. “We are meant to provide tokens of our valor. If our offerings are accepted, a hidden passage will be revealed which will lead to some sort of warriors’ hall. It’s a sort of vetting to judge our worthiness. The real question though is what was so important that it required this kind of evaluation? Fascinating really.”
“Yes, that’s all very interesting,” cut in Behr. “But can we hurry this up? I’m starting to get the feeling we aren’t alone here.”
Dust, however, did not seem to be listening as he mulled on the riddle, speaking fragments of it to himself in slow, murmured tones. After a moment, he stooped back down, picked up one of the daggers, and retrieved one of his own from its sheath. He turned the two over in his paw, comparing their quality. “I wonder…”
What he was wondering, Dust never had time to say. A sudden rustling of dried cobwebs was all the warning given before a hulking spider, the size of a man, pounced upon him. The bristly hairs of the arachnid stood on end as it reared and slammed a dagger length fang into Dust. A yowl erupted from the cat and his emerald eyes bulged in agony.
Behr charged forward. Keeping his wooden shield braced tightly against his body, he crashed into the spider knocking the venomous fangs away from Dust. Simultaneously, he jabbed with his shortsword. The beast let out a feral hiss as the blade bit into its abdomen. Its shaggy legs padded backwards off Dust and away from the sting of Behr’s sword.
It surged again but this time at Behr. The ranger had expected the blitz, however, and he nimbly side stepped to the right slashing in a strong but ultimately unsuccessful arc.
As the spider scuttled up the corridor wall to come round again, Dust regained his feet. He looked bloodless and pale from the seeping puncture wounds just above his collar bone, but his speed had not left him. In a blur, he drew a dagger from his belt and hurled it towards the wolf spider. With unexpected agility, the woolly arachnid vaulted to the side. There was no need for the dodge. The dagger flew wide and Dust swore with the realization he had thrown his bent blade.
Again, the spider bounded forward barreling into Behr and forcing him onto his back. It pressed down on him, thrashing with dripping fangs. But the shield held firm as Behr pushed back with all his adrenaline fueled might. He pulled his left leg up to his chest to reinforce the bottom edge with his knee. The beast reared. Its front two legs lifted off the ground and then plunged down with sledgehammer force towards Behr’s neck. With desperate effort, Behr twisted his body around and made a savage thrust with his sword. The tip pierced the arachnid’s exoskeleton like a popping blister and was driven into its gooey innards all the way to the hilt by the force of the creature’s own momentum. The creature sputtered and went still.
The weight of the beast slumped onto Behr uninhibited, squeezing the air from his lungs with a long, painful sigh. He gritted his teeth and pushed hard, rolling the carcass off with a sloppy thud. Sweating and coated in grime, he flicked the tip of the shortsword to remove much of the pus-like ichor that coated it. Then he turned back to Dust.
The Tabaxi was standing but blood stained his linen tunic. His emerald eyes had lost some of their luster. His head hung slightly under the weight of a sheepish expression. “Apologies, I wasn’t much help. Pulled the wrong dagger. Damned bad luck, you know.”
“No problem,” said Behr panting. “Are you okay? You took a pretty serious hit.” He reached out to better examine Dust’s wound.
Dust stepped back out of Behr’s reach reflexively. “I’m quite alright or, at least, I’m close enough to alright that it makes little difference,” he said.
“You sure? Spider bites can be nasty things.”
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” said Dust. Behr raised an eyebrow. “But I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to have Cael look at it – when we are through here.”
“You don’t want to go back?” asked Behr trying to hide the excitement in his voice. He felt a little ashamed wanting to press forward after what had happed to Dust, but curiosity had seized him the moment they saw the door to this tomb. It compelled him. It called to him like a voice in the pit of his soul and seized him like a fever dream. Even in the weak light of Dust’s eyes, Behr could see his friend was gripped by the same dangerous need. For good or ill, there would be no turning back, not for the likes of them.
“Not in the least! Besides, it appears as though we have our ‘gift of valor’”, said Dust pointing to the spider’s carcass. He drew another dagger, adroitly flipping it around in his hand before offering it handle first to Behr. “Would you like to do the honors?”
Behr took the proffered dagger in his gloved hand and turned to the woolly carcass. A flow of unwholesome, ivory ichor leaked from the sword wound forming a repugnant pool around the dead thing. It smelled like a plague house. Behr stared at the corpse for a long moment, absentmindedly weighing the heft of the small blade.
Now that the thrill of combat had left him, a shiver of revulsion squirmed down his spine at the very thought of touching the hairy corpse. I hate spiders. With a deep breath and a long exhale, he took a decisive step forward and set to work. A retch caught in his throat as the blade popped through the exoskeleton and into the slimy innards with a squish.
After a few minutes work, Behr stepped back from the lifeless thing and over to the ursin shrine. There he laid the severed fang of the great wolf spider, still slick with venom and ichor, among the rusted daggers and guttered candles. Dust waited nearby holding the torch and preventing the grasping fingers of the gloom from enveloping them.
The torchlight danced in the bear’s obsidian eyes as a seam opened in the wall behind Behr and Dust. The air rumbled with the sound of grinding rock and they turned to watch a section of wall part into a large arched doorway. Beyond the arch, torches protruding from mounted sconces sputtered to life, one after the other, revealing a long hall lined on either side with square stone columns. Between each stood a terracotta statue. The statues were crafted in the form of a musclebound barbarian warrior brandishing a shield and raising a spear to the sky in a sort of militaristic salute.
“’Where warriors greet.’ Looks like we’ve found the hall,” said Dust as the two of them stepped over the threshold and into the chamber beyond.
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.