Tomb and Tome: Part 8

Grit, dirt, and a small amount of cat hair filled Behr’s mouth.  He coughed and spat and tried to get his arms and legs to move.  His body ached from where the blast had knocked him hard against the sandstone blocks of the corridor’s wall.  Blinking, the world eventually moved into focus to reveal Ava standing over him.  Her face was twisted into a frantic scream.  She sounded so very far away as if only the impression of her voice had carried on a distant wind.  Much too far away to hear.  She was shaking him now, roughly with both hands.  Her voice grew closer and closer until finally its volume matched her screeching features.

“Get your ass up!  We’ve got to get out of here!”  Ava shouted.  She released him as he nodded blurry agreement.  As Behr collected his senses, she passed her fingers over a cold torch and breathed arcane words into the dead wood.  In her hands, hot crackling fire sprung to life at the torch’s head, washing her in an amber light.  The glow deepened her autumnal complexion and made her golden eyes flash.

A deep rumbling formed a baseline under Ava’s voice and the hallway began to tremble like a pot about to come to a violent boil.  Veils of dust and sand had begun to fall from widening cracks in the ceiling.  Behr lifted himself to his feet to see the shattered remains of the terracotta barbarians splayed across the floor of the throne room from which he just narrowly escaped.  The tremors seemed stronger in there as the columns teetered at troubling angles and large stones fell from the ceiling with increasing frequency.  Rivers of sand and soil poured through the widening gaps and within moments the throne itself was buried.

It’s caving in! Behr realized with a cold feeling in his stomach.

Through the falling sand, the warm, violet glow of Caeldrim’s dark hands still shone as he whispered a soft hymn and gently laid them upon Dust and then himself.  When he was finished, their wounds had closed without even a scar.  Caeldrim helped Dust to his feet, briskly but still looking inappropriately serene.  Dust’s features twisted into something short of a snarl as he took in the situation around them and visibly came to the same conclusion as both Ava and Behr.

The tremors intensified into a quake and the flag stones began roll like waves.  Sand and rock fell like rain and hail.  The four adventurers set off at a run back down the corridors that had led them into this place and towards the cave in which they had taken shelter only hours before.

Wildly, the corridor warped, rose, and fell with the power of the quakes tossing the group like small boats on a stormy sea.  A stone peeled away from the floor, catching Caeldrim’s boot and throwing him to the ground with a grunt.  Dust and Behr scrambled back across the growing debris field towards their friend.  Squinting and stooping to keep the falling sand from their eyes, they gripped Caeldrim under both arms and hoisted him to his feet.

Another violent shake ripped through the corridor causing Ava, marked by the torchlight, to bob and bounce ahead of them.  She danced out of the way as a column of sand poured from a sudden gap in the ceiling and nearly doused the torch.  A loud crack like a bone snapping cut through the din followed by a shrill scream as the ceiling caved in above Ava. 

Caeldrim, Behr, and Dust clawed their way towards the rubble, hearts pounding in their throats.  Through the dust, only a pile of rock that filled the space where Ava had once stood could be seen.  It obstructed more than half of the corridor.  Breathless, Caeldrim dove atop the pile.  Eyes wet with wild panic, he dug his hands into the stone and earth, wildly shoveling away great handfuls before the others reached him.  The dirt flew frenzied in all directions and clung to the streaming tears that ran down his ebony cheeks leaving pale gray lines of dust from the rim of his eyes to the point of his chin.  The world bucked and kicked around him but Caeldrim had no care left for the danger.

Two sets of strong hands grappled at him, trying to pull him away from the rubble.  They shoved him and tried to push him farther down the corridor towards the exit and the promise of safety.  He struggled away, clawing and kicking and fighting to cling to Ava’s rocky tomb.  Urgent, desperate voices spoke to him, shouted at him but he had no ears for their words.  A distraught strength filled him, and he dug deeper, down to his elbows in the stone and soil, despite impeding hands.

“By all the gods, stop playing in the dirt and come the fuck on!”

His head snapped up to find Ava standing at the far end of the corridor, feverishly waving her arms at them.  Caeldrim stared at her incredulously as though was she an apparition in the night until the goading hands of Dust and Behr propelled him onto his feet and over the earthen pile that was not Ava’s grave. 

By then the corridor had lost nearly all recognition of its former self and was rapidly deforming into a narrow irregular tunnel.  Sandstone rock tumbled in all around them and forced the group to swerve and dodge all the way down the passage.  Literal tons of sandy soil poured in from behind, sealing the retreat and nipping at their heels.  Nearly bent in half, Ava, Behr, Caeldrim, and Dust scrambled their way through the remaining run and out into the entry way.  There the quakes had toppled over the bear statue and broken it into four distinct pieces.  Its head, lopped off at the shoulders, had slid all the way to rest in the center of the open stone doorway such that they leapt over it in their mad dash out of the crumbling crypt. 

They flung themselves down panting onto the reassuringly still cavern floor and listened in the dark to the cacophony as the tomb collapsed into itself.  After the last rock had fallen and the air hung motionless again, they still laid quietly in a circle staring up into the constellation of stalactites, listening to their breath and dripping cave water.  Behr was the first break their silent meditations.

“What was that thing?  That creature in the dust cloud.”

“A mephit of some kind, I think,” said Ava.  Her voice was soft and creamy again with a heavy dollop of exhaustion mixed in.

“And what may I ask is a mephit, exactly?”  It was Dust who asked the question this time.

“Some kind of elemental imp, apparently,” answered Caeldrim in a matter of fact tone that ended in deep yawn.

“Well it certainly added some excitement,” said Behr.  He was smiling to himself in the dark.  It was the sort of smile that little boys wear after they have survived a particularly frightening dare.  He slipped into that smile easily and it rested comfortably on him like soft leather boots broken in by a lifetime of use.

“Yes, some excitement indeed,” said Dust.  His thoughts trailed away from the mephit and found their way into his pocket.  He reached down and extracted the rusted iron flask within.  He held it up in front of his face, running the pads of this paws along its pocked sides.  He tingled when he touched it as though a very faint but palpable vibration emanated from within.  There in the dark, and not for the last time, he lay stroking it and wondering what was held inside.

“Where did the mephit come from anyway?” asked Behr after a long pause.  Now that he had settled back into the quiet satisfaction of being alive and in one piece, his mind had become free to wander back through the experience with a more detached interest.

“We summoned it.” Caeldrim’s voice sounded dreamy and it trailed off at the end.

Behr chewed on the fat of the statement for a moment before deciding that it was unsatisfying.  He asked, “and why did you summon it?”

“The spell was in a book I just purchased, and I wanted to try it out.”  Ava answered with a sigh.  Though her voice was still smooth as butter it carried enough tang to imply that Behr should stop bothering her with stupid questions and let her sleep, please and thank you.

Behr made a noncommittal hum and then laid quietly, ruminating on the recklessness of his colleagues.  He thought for a moment to comment on the danger that Ava’s experiment had put them in but then remembered that he had already been in quite a lot of danger of his own making before the mephit had intervened.  In the end, Behr decided it was probably best to just let this one go.  With that final solid reflection, his thoughts melted into the stuff of dreams and he fell asleep right there on the cavern floor.

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.

Tomb and Tome: Part 7

With a sound like a biting crack forming all at once in a slab of ice, a jagged beam of white-blue shot from Ava’s extended finger.  All the heat drained from the air. The arcane words hung as a tiny white puff.  The resulting beam slammed into its target forming a patina of frost over the construct’s terracotta flesh.  Small fissures formed on the earthenware man as the ice penetrated into pores and his advance slowed visibly.  Ava turned and sprinted away, flying passed Caeldrim as she did.

Once she was beyond him, the armored cleric turned and again presented his holy symbol.  The sun flashed like an all-seeing eye and Caeldrim called out a prayer.  A familiar swirling pillar of dawn’s golden radiance erupted from the ceiling and roared into another pottery barbarian.  The blinding flames hit so hot and so fast that Caeldrim’s short pale hair fluttered in the gust of the attack.  Singed and smoking, the warrior maintained his single-minded progression undaunted. 

Caeldrim spun around and set off at a clattering sprint passed Ava who fired off her ray of frost again.  When she had released her spell, she turned and ran a few dozen feet passed Caeldrim who again called down the wrath of Lathander before rushing off once more.  In this fashion, the pair leap frogged their way down the corridor harrying their aggressors, firing off spell after spell with some hits, some misses, and no casualties.  All the while, they could feel their lead gradually slipping away like sand through an hourglass.

Ava felt as though they had been running for years when, finally, she rounded a corner and skittered to a halt.  Ahead in the dark, the upturned corpse of a man-sized wolf spider lay inert across the hallway.  Its shaggy legs curled in towards its belly like an enlarged reflection of a deceased garden spider.  A short distance beyond the carcass, an archway stood open in the bare sandstone of the corridor wall.  Directly across from it, the likeness of a bear carved from obsidian loomed from a shallow alcove.  A faint flicker of fire light from the inside the archway caught in the ridges of the glass-like stone. 

Ava skirted the wall and crept tentatively towards the archway.  Somewhere behind her, a whoosh of divine flame mingled with Caeldrim’s forceful prayer.  She inched forward through the gloom clinging to the nooks and crannies like a talisman against harm.  As she neared the bear, the clash of steel and the crash of pottery drifted out from the archway.  Here and there, they were punctuated by a half-growled grunt or a violent hiss.  Ava slinked across the width of the corridor to the very edge of the archway.  Her back pressed up against the cool sandstone blocks as she shuffled the last few inches into place.  She craned her head until one golden eye and a curling ebony horn crested the edge and peered into the chamber beyond.  Her eye widened. The boys.

Behr and Dust were nearly back to back now amid a sea of pottery shards.  Their steps were tightly spaced and creeping, doggedly winning inches towards the bottleneck of the hall.  There the overwhelming numbers of the terracotta horde would become more of a pressing wave than a drowning flood. 

We aren’t moving fast enough, Behr thought.  The barbarians pressed their advance with a patience that he found disconcerting.  Even in the cool of this underground vault, rivulets of sweat were running down his face forcing him to blink away the stinging salt.  Yet the warriors he faced had lost none of their animal sharpness.  They moved in silent concert.  The main body of the horde pressed Behr and Dust just enough to keep them on the backfoot but never so much as to force them into flight.  Meanwhile, their flanks bled around to the rear and were ever so slowly closing in to trap the pair.

A sharp snap sounded, and all the heat vanished from behind Behr.  He parried a spear thrust with his sword and blocked another with his shield before taking a half step back.  Pivoting on the balls of his booted feet, he turned towards this new threat but found only a rimed scattering of terracotta splinters littering the floor among patches of hoarfrost.

Ava stood in the doorway, the condensation from her breath still hanging in the air. Her golden eyes were wide and shone with an unearthly light.  She called to them.  “Let’s get the hells out of here!”

A radiant light of the purest white gold flared somewhere behind her, spilling brilliance across the stone walls of the hallway and casting Ava into silhouette.  “Now, please!” added Caeldrim’s voice with more than some urgency.

Dust too would have seen Ava’s shapely figure cast enchantingly in the glow of the magical light.  The breath might even have caught in his chest for that long moment, as it had for Behr.  That, however, was unlikely for two reasons.  For the first, Dust did not see much beauty in furless beings and for the second, he was looking in completely the other direction. 

Even among the growing threat of evisceration from a veritable forest of rusty spears, a movement among the ceiling’s matted cobwebs had caught his eye.  The spun sheets of ancient gossamer rippled like curtains in the wind and then a plume of something grey and silty flew out.  It made quick, stunted runs before changing direction, seemly at random.  As it neared, its thin bat-like wings, overlong boney limbs, and cruel face resolved themselves from the cloud.  It darted behind the line of warriors – who were too resolute on their prey to be concerned with paltry things like dust devils – and then came to rest on the back of the throne.  After a moment of exaggerated contemplation, the creature scuttled face first down the moldering bones of the august monarch until it reached the bear-headed horn.

Its long knobby fingers waggled in anticipation as the elemental extended them towards the horn gripping it where the bell tapered to the mouthpiece.  The mephit pulled but the vuvuzela was stuck, still gripped tightly by the haggard hand after countless centuries.  It tugged again but the trumpet still would not free itself.  Finally, the little dust monster gripped the mouthpiece with both spindly hands, set its horned heels squarely against a thigh bone and strained with all its might until the trumpet popped free and both creature and horn tumbled into the skeleton’s lap.  With a look of the most wonderous triumph, it put the vuvuzela to its dry lips and blew hard.

Curiosity drained from Dust’s feline features leaving a ring of horror around his eyes.  From somewhere behind him, he dimly heard Ava’s voice and then Caeldrim’s.  He did not register what they said.  There was no time for that.  Instead he spun around, grabbed Behr by the collar and hurled the pair of them with all the force he could muster towards Ava and the exit.

Meanwhile, the world exploded around them.

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.

Tomb and Tome: Part 6

A deep hall stretched out before Behr and Dust.  Two arcades supported by thick square columns flanked the doorway and ran the length of the hall.  Between each of the columns, centered under the apex of the arch, a warrior, crafted from terracotta clay, held an ancient spear aloft in a rigid salute.  Tangled cobwebs shrouded each and robbed them of any illusion of life that fine craftsmanship may have lent them. 

The arcades created a nave of sorts that terminated in a simple dais. There rested an oversized sandstone throne.  It was draped with the desiccated remnants of animal skins upon which slumped an emaciated cadaver in a rusted iron crown.  Like the corridor from which Behr and Dust had entered, webs clung to the ceiling in matted sheets running down the columns to form something like muslin curtains in the arches. 

Dust padded down the nave pausing at the dais.  He took a deep breath and released a long, controlled exhale which rippled ever so slightly with his excitement.  Mustn’t rush.  A thing worth doing is worth doing right.  Pausing long enough to conduct a quick but reasonably thorough inspection, Dust nimbly sprung up the short steps to stand before the throne. 

Bits of petrified flesh clung to the long bones of the skeleton.  The sheer size of the throne may have made the corpse appear small from the door, but this man was enormous.  Dust guessed that he would have been seven feet tall had he been standing.  Upon a halo of parchment-like flesh, rested a crown of rusting iron above a thick sloped brow and wide eye sockets, now clotted with webs and silt.  A greataxe was propped against the armrest so that the leather wrapped knob rested only inches from the stout bones of the skeleton’s hand.  Yet instead of laying free and ready, that hand enveloped a crudely wrought iron flask.  In the other hand, the once-king clutched a more regal looking vuvuzela sculpted from the horn of some great beast.  Much of the carving that covered it was obscured with ages of grime but even through the layer of years, the roaring head of a bear was still visible at the trumpet’s bell.

Meanwhile, Behr strayed between the columns.  Holding his torch to the cobwebs, he burnt his way through their mists and into the pooled shadow of the aisles beyond the nave.  The air was arid almost chalk dry and great plumes of dust wafted up from the flag stones with every step farther from the room’s central channel formed by the colonnade. 

At the side wall stood a second row of warrior statues.  Behr wiped away the cobwebs and dust from the face of one and found himself staring into a terracotta visage of such exquisite detail that even pores had been cast into its cheeks.  Behr sidled over to the next and wiped its face clean as well.  This one too had a wealth of detail.  Behr marveled at the skill it took to make one eye appear sharp and alert while the other seemed milky and dead with only clay as a medium.  A long, jagged scar ran across the nose of the next statue and Behr felt as though he could almost see the haunted look in the warrior’s eyes. 

Magnificent.  That was the word for it and with it, Behr’s mind was cast unbidden to the days of his youth when that word had last drifted into his thoughts with such reverence.  He had been a boy then, grown enough to think himself a man but still a child at heart.  A school trip had taken him to an art museum where they had been introduced to the greats of the impressionist movement.  There he had met the barmaid of Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.  She was on loan from London to the Smithsonian and he had gazed deeply into her world.  Only a moment had passed but it had been an hour to the others when his teacher had come and tugged him gently away to the rest of the class.  The memory made Behr ache.  But that had been Washington, home, and home was very far away.  Or perhaps it was very long ago.  He had not quite figured out which.

Behr jerked himself back from the past and set his attention back onto the statues.  He took a step back to hold all three in his view.  Each is completely unique.  He cast his gaze to the left and right turning his body as he did to bring the crackling ring of torchlight closer.  The blaze of the flame was like a beacon in the gloom pushing back the dark all around him.  Yet, these terracotta barbarians extended all along the wall to the very edge of the light.  Behr walked the length of them, stopping periodically to inspect one of the warriors, before turning at the far corner of the room.  He strode across the width of the space, his brazen footfalls echoing.  On arriving at the far wall, he saw exactly what he had expected to see, had hoped to see: another unbroken line of terracotta warriors.

The academic in Dust would have found the warriors fascinating, if not beautiful.  However, a different fascination had manifested in his emerald eyes.  The great cat crotched low so that his face was level with the femurs of the kingly corpse.  Dust filled his chest and blew his namesake off the ancient hands and examined their boney contents. 

The vuvuzela was exceptionally ornate, flowing with finely detailed engraving.  With the grime removed, it did not appear to have suffered at all from laying uncared for in this buried vault.  Not a speck of tarnish blemished its surface and, to look at it, one might have mistaken it for freshly polished or even newly made.  Indeed, its gold still glittered whenever it caught an errant strand of torchlight. 

The iron flask did not.  It was a dull thing with flecks of rust, a dried-out cork stopper topped with more lifeless iron, and a chain that connected it securely to the body of the flask.  All in all, it looked like a thing one might buy off a junk peddler for no more than a silver schooner.  This of course made it irresistibly interesting to Dust.  Now then, what could be so important about this horrid little thing that a king should cling to it even in death?  Dust purred a deep, rumbling satisfied purr knowing the answer to his own question.  Then without a second thought, he snatched up the flask and shoved it into his pocket. 

Not more than a moment later, a grey cloud darted in from the hallway.  Heralded by a dry leathery flapping, it looked like puff of dust, but it moved like a hummingbird dashing staccato distances before abruptly pausing, hovering a moment, and then sharply changing direction for another clipped flight.  As its erratic path brought it closer, features began to resolve themselves from the grey plume. 

Frantic bat-like wings supported a body that was little more than stretched boney limbs linked by a distended belly and capped by an overlarge, angular head.  A long sharp nose hung prominently over a sinister grin that ran literally from ear to ear.  It paused for a moment in the center of the

chamber for two or three heart beats, and then shot straight up toward the high vault of the ceiling.

As if on cue, a grating sound like great millstone rumbled through the air and streamers of silt rained down from above.  A shout from Dust alerted Behr just in time for him to make a spinning dodge to the right.  He narrowly avoided the rusted spear tip thrust at him from the pox-scarred terracotta warrior that he had been examining when the dust mephit had made its appearance.  Behr tossed his torch to the side and drew his sword and shield in a seamless series.  What had been a rigid, artificial thing now brandished spear and shield with deadly fluidity.  It padded in a wide arc trying to circle Behr like a panther might and moving with just as much strength and grace. 

Behr retreated past the arcade and into the comforting light of the nave.  He moved with slow deliberate steps keeping his eyes on the stalking warrior and his shield between them.  Even as he tread beyond the line of warriors saluting between the columns, they as well as the others had begun to pull free of their cobwebs.  There must be dozens of them.  Fuck.  This is going to hurt.

In a burst of blurring speed, Dust cleared the distance from the throne to Behr’s side.  His own short sword drawn and one of his daggers gripped in the other paw.  He squeezed the hilt of the dagger and felt a twinge of pain in his shoulder from the spider’s bite.  “I do believe we have worn out our welcome,” he said to Behr in a low, controlled tone.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Behr growled through gritted teeth never taking his eyes off the methodically advancing line of spears.  There was something almost predatory in their movement, more like wolves than the bear icons they wore.  Their glazed eyes even held that same neutral look of professional predators that called for death out of hunger instead of malice.  Semantics.  The why won’t matter when we’re dead.

“If you insist: the ones from the opposite wall are advancing as well,” said Dust.  Behr could almost hear the morbid smirk his companion was wearing from the lilting tone of the cat’s voice. 

The pock marked warrior made a slow, prodding jab with his spear.  Behr batted it away and stepped back towards the exit.  The rest of the terracotta pack was subtly gaining speed, the edges of their line bending to encircle the two adventurers before they could arrive at the door.  The crafty little bastard!  It’s trying to slow us down while the others block us in.  The thought came to Behr in time with a second exploratory jab.  Behr batted this one as before but, instead of continuing his retreat, he lunged forward just as the flat of his sword struck the spear shaft.  His momentum carried him inside his opponent’s defenses and passed the edge of its wooden shield.  The sword point found home and bore into the chest of the earthenware man running him through with a crack.  The warrior opened its mouth to scream or shout, but nothing escaped.  Instead, it simply shattered like a dropped pot.

There was a breath, a sudden silent drawing of air as before the sky darkens, and the heaven pour forth a mighty storm.  Then the clouds burst.  A mighty, unnatural wail like the screaming of thousands of crystal goblets erupted from the pack.  The terracotta barbarians surged forward and fell with all their might upon Behr and Dust. 

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.

Tomb and Tome: Part 5

Caeldrim let out a long, slow whistle. 

“Not what I was expecting,” murmured Ava.  The pair were standing in front of a sandstone edifice carved into the native rock of an expansive cavern and staring slack jawed up at its the ursin sigil on the tomb doors.  The doors stood ajar splitting the bear down the middle with a channel of shadow.

“It must have gone inside,” said Caeldrim hesitatingly.  His voice carried a sense of awe nearing reverence and his eyes had not yet left the crypt’s surprising grandeur.

“Must have,” Ava replied and then, after a pause, she added, “do you think this is where the boys went too?”

This thought sobered Caeldrim and a knot of guilt slid tight on his gut.  In all the commotion, he had completely forgotten about Behr and Dust.  How could I do that?

“All the more reason to follow,” said Caeldrim.  He straightened and blinked away the innocent wonder to reveal something sterner beneath.  A resolute line settled into his jaw as he marched forward, the sandy floor crunching under his boots.

At the threshold, Caeldrim peered into the darkness his eyes adapting easily and passing over the dusty floors, cobwebbed corners, and towering bear statue.  He soaked in the subtle shades of grey with narrowed, hunting eyes before he pushed the slab aside and stepped into the ancient chamber.


There was an infinitesimal drop and the near noiseless metallic sound of a pressure plate triggering.  Caeldrim breathed a slow pained exhale and screwed his eyes tight in frustration.

“Now you’ve done it,” sighed Ava rolling her eyes.

Caeldrim glared at her from over his shoulder.  The young cleric opened his mouth to speak but Ava hushed him with a single manicured finger pressed to his lips.  Ava held her breath and leaned forward, listening with all her body for the phantom of a sound that she thought she had heard.

First, there was a scraping noise like a large pot being dragged along a stone floor that was so faint and distant that she might not have heard it at all.  Then a heavy clink, followed by a second, and then a third and then more.  Slowly they resolved into a rasping shuffle and then steps before finally becoming a pounding gate growing louder with each passing second.  Ava looked wildly between the two doors that lead deeper into the tomb.  The sound seemed to come from both simultaneously.  It reverberated through the room, rattling into confused echoes and dislodging streamers of hoary dust.

From the left door, four figures emerged out of the gloom.  Their forms were bulky, thick with hard, rounded muscle.  As the shadows melted away, the ruddy tan of terracotta pottery shone from where flesh should have been.  Their earthen build was obscured by hide armor and they gripped wicked looking spears with shields rusting around metal edges.  Free of the confines of the hallway, they leveled their weapons on Ava and began to spread with slow careful steps like a pack of wolves moving into position before a kill.

Hastily, Ava lifted her hands, thumbs linked, and fingers splayed wide.  Her eyes flared a radiant gold and she called out an invocation in a booming infernal voice.  A broad cone of flame burst from her fingertips washing over the circling warriors.

The two on either side leapt away from the jet with surprising agility, catching only the edge of the incinerating heat.  The two in the middle were not so quick.  Their bodies blistered and cracked like a clay road baked in the torrid summer sun.  They shattered leaving only a pile of fragments spilling out from empty armor.

Ava let out a triumphant hoot as she looked from the jumbles of clay chips to the two remaining.  Tendrils of smoke curled off their still smoldering armor and scorch marks blemished their arms and faces.  They did not shout or scream or roar or growl.  Their faces registered neither loss nor woe nor anger but instead remained lethally impassive.  Ava’s exuberance faded somewhat, and chill wriggled down her spine.

“Hate to cast shade on your light, but we’re not out of this yet!”  Caeldrim shouted his voice echoing off the stone.

Ava stole a backwards glance just in time to see Caeldrim, his divine amulet in hand, call down a pillar of swirling golden flame from on high.  It enveloped one of the barbarians in a light so pure that at it might have been ecstasy incarnate.  Only the singed, grim face of the earthenware warrior revealed the agony of the golden flames.  The construct advanced, a cape of smoke trailing from its back as orange embers sluffed off the wood of its shield to dance in the air like fireflies.

The tiefling returned her attention just in time to narrowly avoid a vicious spear thrust from the left.  The second warrior circled to flank and stabbed at her with a low, savage strike.  It anticipated where she would need to move in order to avoid his companion’s attack and aimed its thrust toward the space.  The tactic worked and the cruel spear head found buttery flesh, tearing a vicious gash into Ava’s side.  She screamed and doubled over, gripping the wound.  Taking a step back, she shook her head hard as if to rattle the pain free of her mind and began a second spell.

Meanwhile, Caeldrim danced and whirled to avoid being pinned in by his own gang of assailants.  The first strike landed squarely on his shield with the force of a hammer, driving him a step and a half backwards.  There, another spear thrust awaited him but mercifully glanced off his armor as Caeldrim spun to the side to regain his footing. 

He anticipated the third strike which missed him outright but the fourth drove home.  The rusted edge gouged his thigh leaving a bright streak of blood in its wake.  Caeldrim growled an oath through gritted teeth and then with a desperate roar swung his mace in an upward arc catching the burned barbarian under the chin.  Its head shattered like a plate dropped on the kitchen floor.  The headless terracotta warrior sunk to its knees and then collapsed flatly to the flagstones.  Its body smashed into thousands of tiny shards.

Behind Caeldrim, a pink glow swaddled Ava for but a breath before dissipating.  Again, the warriors jabbed at her with the pitiless coordination of professional predators.  However, with a flash, their weapons were repelled.  Each thrust drove true but struck a barrier that blinked into existence just before the moment of impact.  For that fraction of a second, neon spectral armor shimmered around Ava before dissolving into invisibility once more.

Brutal corroded blades rained down on Caeldrim, his flesh shielded only by his own mundane armor.  Yet, the cleric of the Morning Lord danced like embers on the wind around the storm of thrusts and slashes.  Still it was nearly all he could do to defend against the assault and the young half-drow knew with a growing cold certainty that he would not be able to hold out much longer.

A mote of flame sparked from nothing in Ava’s upturned hand.  An even brighter fire raging behind her eyes, she pitched the ball and it blazed through the air following an unnatural serpentine path.  With a flash, the mote struck one of the barbarians, blowing a hole through the unliving thing’s chest as a rock through a window.  Also like a broken window, the clay creation collapsed into tinkling splinters.

“This way!”  Ava shouted at Caeldrim and then set off at a sprint.  With each step, her side flared in searing pain.  Wincing, she shoved a hand into her shoulder bag and fished around for a extraordinarily long time.  Finally, her fingers closed on a small glass vial as long as her palm was wide.  The vial contained a throbbing crimson liquid that lent a soothing warmth to the glass.  She thumbed off the cork stopper and gulped down the thick liquid like a shot.  Within seconds, the wound on her side began to stitch itself together and the pain faded completely.  A relief like sinking into a hot bath after a long journey swept over her face. 

She paused for only the shadow of a moment before Caeldrim gripped her by the collar and tugged her back into a run.  She and he fled down the cobweb crusted corridor, passed the empty alcoves, and into the gloom beyond.  Pounding earthen footfalls thundered behind them as the remaining terracotta warriors took up the hunt.

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.

Tomb and Tome: Part 4

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.

Tomb and Tome: Part 3

“Wake up!”

Ava’s golden eyes fluttered open to Caeldrim standing over her shaking her violently.  She was sprawled out on the hard cavern floor.  Groggily, she sat up and wiped a thin tendril of drool from the corner of her mouth with the back of her hand.  “What happened?”

“It’s escaped, Ava,” said Caeldrim hoisting his mace and shield.

Ava shot a sudden, frantic look around the chamber and was filled with a surge of relief when she found her spell book laying only a short way off.  The ring of charcoal runes was smudged and distorted near where she had been laying as though a careless hand had wiped it away.  The wizard climbed to her feet groaning, snatching up her spell book and shoulder bag from the ground as she did.

“I can see that.  But why was I asleep?” she asked with a growl.

“Right after you completed the summoning, the creature exhaled a plume of glittering dust at us.  You went down and, when I tried to catch you, it flew off,” said Caeldrim.  “Hurry up!  It’s heading deeper into the cave.” 

The pair set off at a jog and slipped in the deep gloom of the cavern beyond.  In the ponderous dark, their conversation faltered and fell into a silence broken only by the sounds of dripping water echoing from somewhere deeper in the caverns. 

“Why didn’t you fall asleep too,” asked Ava after some minutes.  Her whisper sounded sharp, almost violent, as it punctured the heavy silence.

Caeldrim turned his head to look at her over his shoulder.  “A gift from my mother,” said the half-elf cryptically.  He struggled in vain to hide the smile spreading across his lips.

Ava opened her mouth to reply but was stifled by a finger from Caeldrim who was pointing towards the far end where the tunnel forked into two paths.  A small cloud of dust hung in the air there.  A pair of wings stuck out from the dust.  They were bat-like, long, and slender.  As it turned, seemingly unsure which way to go, a cruel angular face emerged from the cloud.  Its eyes hung in shadows, but a sharp, blade-like noise jutted out from above a pointed chin and wicked grin.  Coming to a decision, the elemental turned and, with a sound like sailcloth snapping in a strong wind, it flew off down the right-hand passage. 

With as much speed as they could afford, the pair crept forward towards the fork pausing only briefly before following to the right.  Peering around the next bend they could see the tunnel ahead had collapsed into a pile of rubble blocking off the mephit’s escape.  The sinister looking creature flapped around the stones muttering to itself in a guttural tongue as it searched the fallen rocks for some crevice large enough to slip through. 

Caeldrim visibly tightened as he coiled to spring forward, but he was stopped by Ava’s hand on his shoulder.  The tiefling shook her head, her loose auburn bun swaying as she did.  With two fingers, she made a creeping motion to which Caeldrim shook his head violently.  He made a quick, jabbing gesture with his gloved fist towards the creature.  Resolutely, Ava shook her head again and once more made the creeping gesture with her fingers.  This time she followed it by joining her thumbs and spreading her fingers out into a wide fan.  She tilted her head slightly and looked directly at Caeldrim imploringly.  The half-drow mulled for a moment and then gave a short, blunt nod. 

With painstaking steps, the pair inched forward.  The damp cave sand shifted under foot.  When they were nearly a dozen feet away, Ava and Caeldrim paused and crouched.

“Now!”  They burst forward.  Ava lifted her hands joining them at the thumbs with fingers spread toward the grinning elemental.  The pulsing magical energy pooling in her fingertips built into a tingling sensation as the incantation formed on her lips.  But before she could speak the words, the creature dragged its boney fingers across a patch of yellow mold and a blast of jaundice spores erupted engulfing both Ava and Caeldrim.  The two darted back out of the cloud and fell to their hands and knees hacking and coughing up the poisonous mold.

The mephit flew over them, through the cloud, and back the way they came with a gleeful squeal.

Ava hawked and spat an amber globule onto the rocky earth.  “How did the runes get smudged?” she asked between deep gasping breaths.

“What are you talking about?” asked Caeldrim wiping vomit from his lips with the back of his hand.

“The rune circle,” said Ava.  “The one meant to hold the mephit.  How did it get smudged?”  She was sitting up now, breathing hard and propping herself against the cool wall of the cavern tunnel.  With effort she turned to look at Caeldrim.  She would have seen he was decidedly green in complexion if she had been able to discern such a color in the gloom.  However, in the shades of gray that her darkvision revealed, she only saw him looking tired and hollow as he tried to avoid getting the former contents of his stomach on his boots.

“I don’t know maybe I smudged it when I tried to keep you from hitting your head when you passed out.  Maybe you brushed it when you got up.  Why does it matter?” replied Caeldrim gulping down breaths of cavern air.  He wasn’t looking at Ava, but not out of guilt.  His stomach was knotted and tight and did not permit much motion in its present condition.  Despite the coolness of the cave, he felt flushed and queasy.  His gut somersaulted once more indicating it would tolerate no more delays.  He staggered over to a convenient bulge in the wall and, steadying himself with one hand and using the other to hold back his chainmail and amulet, he leaned far forward.  Forcefully, he emptied the contents of his stomach onto the rocks. 

“The runes create a summoning circle which contains the summoned creature and protects the caster so long as they are intact,” said Ava politely looking anywhere other than at the heaving cleric.  “It shouldn’t have been able to harm us so long as the runes were intact.  So, when they were smudged that must have allowed the mephit to escape.  That’s why I want to know.  How did they get smudged?”

“I have no idea,” said Caeldrim with a cough.  He spat the acrid taste of bile from his mouth.

“Maybe someone smudged them by accident when they were putting the incense around,” said Ava looking up at the ceiling with a contrived air of innocence.  Her fingers delicately swirled a lock of auburn hair that had fallen down from behind one of her curled, ram-like horns.

Caeldrim slowly rotated his head toward Ava with a look that practically growled.  “You think this is my fault?”

“I’m just saying that if you did mess up the runes on accident, I won’t be mad.”

“Mad?  At me?”  Caeldrim scoffed, pulling himself upright with a hand on the wall.  “I should be furious with you!  You’re the one who talked me into going along with this stupid plan to try out a shady spell from some random street vendor.  And you think the problem is me?  No, Avarice, I did not smudge your precious runes.”

Ava exhaled visibly and then pulled her knees to her chin.  “I guess it really was a pretty shitty spell, wasn’t it?”

Caeldrim sighed and shuffled over to her.  He eased himself to the ground next to her and she tilted her head to rest on his shoulder.  They sat quietly for a while listening to the sounds of dripping water as their innards began to settle.  Finally, Caeldrim broke the silence.

“Honestly, what did you think was going to happen when you cast that spell?”  He said.

“I was hoping for a fire kitten,” said Ava with a naive seriousness.

“You’re an idiot,” said Caeldrim trying not to chuckle.

“Yeah, but you’re an idiot’s best friend,” said Ava.  She shoved her shoulder into him playfully.  “So, what does that make you?”

“You’re right; I am the worst,” said Caeldrim with a laugh and he wrapped an arm around her.

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.

Tomb and Tome: Part 2

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.

Tomb and Tome: Part 1

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.