Dungeons & Dragons: The Fallbacks: Bound for Ruin
“It’s probably harmless,” Lark said.
The party surveyed the stretch of multicolored stone floor that lay between them and the pair of treasure chests situated on the opposite end of the ruined worship hall. There was no furniture remaining in the room. Shreds of rotting carpet still clung stubbornly to the floor in places, and the air smelled of mildew and smoke from the torches burning on the walls.
“That’s what we thought about the last chamber,” Tess said. She moved past Lark as he leaned against the doorframe, adjusting his busking hat and quill. His apple-red skin was covered in a thin layer of dirt and a film of salt water from the cave they’d been exploring in their search for the entrance to the lost temple of Oghma, the god of knowledge.
Standing to Tess’s right, Cazrin pushed her long dark hair out of her face and held up her staff. The purple stone at its tip hovered above two silver points and glowed with soft light to illuminate the corridor and the worship hall beyond. At the back of the party, Baldric and Anson watched for threats approaching from behind.
Tess crouched on the floor in the doorway, examining the flagstones carefully. She’d tied her shoulder-length blond hair back behind her pointed ears so it wouldn’t get in her way, and she carefully ran her fingers over the seams between the stones, searching for concealed wires or pressure plates.
“Two silver says the chest on the left is a mimic,” Baldric said. “You a betting man, Anson?”
Tess glanced back and saw the burly dwarf flash two silver coins at Anson, waggling his eyebrows as he ran his other hand through his thick black beard.
Anson studied the two chests like a man contemplating the mysteries of life. The young fighter was human like Cazrin, with short, straight dark hair and warm beige skin, but closer in build to Tess, with wide, muscled shoulders and hips. He rummaged in one of his pouches and came up with two silver coins of his own. “I’ll take that bet,” he said.
“They can’t all be mimics, can they?” Cazrin asked as they shook on the wager. “I know the last three were, but statistically speaking, surely . . .”
“All that really matters right now is that someone is keeping watch while I concentrate on disabling the deadly spike trap I’ve just found right here,” Tess said, shifting position on the floor so they could all see the outline of the pressure plate.
“There is a trap?” Lark’s tail lashed back and forth in Tess’s peripheral vision, distracting her from her work. “I’ll be damned! I had a good feeling about this floor.”
“Don’t worry, Tess,” Anson said easily. “Uggie’s on guard duty. She’s keeping a great watch back here. Aren’t you, girl?”
He gestured to the squat figure at the back of the group. Their otyugh companion was about the size and bulk of a full-grown mastiff. Based on her size and behavior, Tess guessed she was a juvenile. She had three stumpy legs and yellow jaundice spots dotting her leathery green skin. Two short, spiky tentacles flanked a single eyestalk with three eyes that flicked back and forth between Anson and Baldric, watching their every move in case they happened to drop some food on the ground. A gaping mouth opened above her barrel-like chest, exposing rows of jagged teeth that could really use a good brushing, but honestly, even Tess wasn’t brave enough to take on that job.
She hoped the time spent on these treasure chests would serve as a much-needed morale boost. It was only their first mission together as a party, but they’d been exploring the cold, dank ruins for two days now and were no closer to finding the spellbook they’d been hired to retrieve from its bowels.
It had taken some doing to find the place. The entrance to the hidden temple was located deep in a sea cave on the Sword Coast, several miles south of the city of Waterdeep. Time and tide had flooded many of the upper chambers, and Tess didn’t think she’d ever get the seaweed smell out of her hair, but it finally looked like they were getting somewhere.
“Aren’t you wizards supposed to know about these things?” Baldric said, addressing Cazrin. “Can’t you just . . . I don’t know . . . sense a mimic the way you sense magic?”
“Of course,” Cazrin said dryly. She put two fingers to her temple and furrowed her brow. “Just let me stretch my awareness into the magical Weave so I can detect the presence of all mimics in the immediate vicinity.” She hesitated. “Come to think of it, that would be a handy spell.” Quickly, she reached into the small satchel riding at her hip and pulled out a spellbook with a pair of blue stones embedded in the cover that looked like eyes. “New entry, please, Keeper.”
“Absolutely, Cazrin,” the spellbook chirped, immediately falling open in her hand, pages fluttering until it landed on a blank section. Then it floated into the air, awaiting further commands.
“Save the note-taking for later,” Tess said, just as Cazrin was about to take out her quill and ink. “If either of these chests really are mimics, we need the party wizard to be focused too.”
“Right, excellent point!”
Tess went back to her work. She quickly located a pattern to the pressure plates. As long as they walked on just the green slate stones, they should be safe to cross the floor to the treasure chests. She relayed this information to the rest of the group, and before she’d even finished speaking, Lark plunged into the room, hopping from one green stone to the next, his lute thumping against his back on his way to the closest treasure chest.
“Wait for the rest of us!” Tess called after him.
“Find out which one’s the mimic, new guy,” Baldric said. He winked when Tess shot him a look. “He’ll be fine.”
Tess sighed again and began making her way carefully across the floor, motioning for the others to stay behind her. Anson scooped Uggie up with a grunt and carried the otyugh awkwardly in his arms.
If Lark would just stick to the plan, let her check the rooms thoroughly before barreling in, it would make everyone’s life a lot easier.
“We’re in!” cried the bard triumphantly.
Tess’s head snapped up. “How is that possible?” she demanded as Lark tossed the first treasure chest’s opened lock aside and reached for the lid. “Did you even try to check that thing for traps?”
“I did everything you taught me in that chest-cracking seminar you made me sit through,” Lark said, his tail swishing back and forth smugly. Tess couldn’t fathom how he managed to make a tail look smug, but somehow, he nailed it. “Also, the lock wasn’t fastened.” He shrugged.
“Lark!” Tess cried, quickening her pace as the tiefling lifted the chest lid. “If it’s not locked, it might as well have a sign on it that reads, ‘It’s a trap, suckers!’ Just wait a minute!”
Too late. The lid creaked open and clanged loudly against the floor as Lark opened it wide and peered inside. His angular features drooped into a frown. “Empty,” he said. “Well, not quite. There’s a weird little figurine that looks like a tankard, but nothing else.” He reached into the chest and pulled out a small object, stuffing it into his shirt before Tess could get a good look. “Alas, I’ve nothing more to show for my heroic efforts—wait!” he shouted, making Tess jump. He reached both hands inside the chest, going elbows deep as he rooted around for something she couldn’t see. “I knew it!” he said, swiveling his head to beam at them. “False bottom!”
“Hold up,” Tess said, motioning the rest of the party to stop while she crouched on the floor. She’d found the spike trap’s control mechanism, cleverly concealed to look like part of the stone. Once she could disable it, the rest of them could move freely through the room.
And she could tie up Lark and throw him into Anson’s bag of holding.
As she worked, Lark yanked out the false bottom of the chest, tossing it across the room. It landed on a gray stone, and instantly a nest of sharpened spikes erupted from the floor, skewering the piece of flimsy, velvet-covered wood.
“There’s another one disabled for you, Tess,” Baldric said cheerfully.
Tess gritted her teeth and kept at it.
“What are you seeing, Lark?” Anson asked. The bard had fallen silent as he examined the inside of the chest. “Anything tasty?”
“It connects to a tunnel,” Lark said. “Delves deep into the floor and then curves away, probably into another chamber.” He leaned down, the upper half of his wiry body disappearing into the chest.
“Well?” Tess demanded. She was trying to hurry, and her fingers fumbled with the trap mechanism. “What’s in there?”