Rough noises in the dark forced Minty to open his eyes. The torch was surprisingly still sputtering feebly, but any moment it would go out. He silently cursed himself for not learning the light cantrip. He grew up in the city. He never needed to produce his own light for anything! And now he was stuck in a dark cave, totally reliant on the few torches he had brought in his pack. If he got out of this alive, he was never leaving the well-lit security of the city again.
He started to move, to grab the torch and give it new life, but his infinitesimal shift caused searing pain to shoot through his shoulder. Right. That. With what little strength he had left, Minty closed his eyes and sang a quiet lullaby, casting a spell of healing. He felt the muscles and skin close themselves up, the pain dulling significantly as the wound healed.
He sat a moment longer, rolling his shoulder and rubbing out the ache that remained. It was a good spell. He felt almost back to normal. He leaned forward, propping himself up on his hands and knees. The damp air tickled his shoulder as he reached for the torch, and he cast a quick mending cantrip on his armor. The leather obediently stitched itself neatly together again. Now there was a cantrip worth knowing.
Minty picked up the torch and stood himself up, gazing down at the litter of bones and wood on the ground. Now that the torch was upright, its flame grew stronger and he could see more clearly. The remains of the skeleton lay flung about, its scimitar gleaming in the torchlight. And there, scattered in dismal pieces, was his beloved dulcimer.
Minty knelt, the gloom around him forgotten. He picked the instrument up by its neck, only a piece of it intact. The strings were broken, the bouts shattered. It had been a lovely instrument, carved by an old friend. The scroll was in the shape of a nautilus shell.
There was more scraping and scuffling in the dark, and Minty whipped around, his grip tightening on the torch. He had almost forgotten what had caused him to run headlong into the skeleton in the first place. He peered into the darkness, easing the dulcimer’s scroll into his pocket and reaching for his shortsword. Luckily, with him standing, it was much easier to access this time.
Having adjusted more to the darkness, he could see a shape sniffing and snuffling along the tunnel where he had entered. It was a small creature, no more than a few feet in height, and it seemed to be crawling along on all fours. It was still too far away for Minty to be able to make out its features, but its head seemed to be…pointy.
Minty found himself unable to decide what to do. As the creature approached, he contemplated his options. He could stand and confront the creature, whatever it was, and now that he was fully healed and had his shortsword drawn, he felt more confident in his capability to fight. But he was in uncharted territory, and who knew what powers or abilities this thing had. It could spit venom for all he knew.
He could also simply continue on his quest. The thing hadn’t attacked him while he was down, and it wasn’t rushing him now. It was possible it had no interest in him whatsoever. Minty was just disinclined to turn his back on anything that might suddenly decide to come after him.
Neither option was great.
Before he could even decide, the thing was upon him. Minty cursed under his breath. He was always terrible at quick decisions, and too often choices were made for him. Minty took a step back, gazing down at what appeared to be a…
Badger. A badger? It was definitely a badger, Minty thought, although he had never seen one in real life, and he always imagined them to be a little smaller. At least it appeared to be alive. The animal was striped in gray and black, white bands glowing eerily across its face. It was moving slowly through the tunnel, stopping every now and then to stick its nose deeply into the soil.
As Minty tightened his grip on his sword, the badger stopped and raised its head, looking directly at him. Its small eyes were not dark as the bard expected, but milky white, and he realized the animal was blind.
But there was something about the way it was looking at him that made Minty uneasy. He saw its nose twitch as it sniffed the air, clearly recognizing there was something here that didn’t belong. Minty would have happily left in a hurry, except now there was a badger between him and the exit, and, as much as he hated to admit it, he did kind of want to find the treasure for the Elf.
Would it be totally crazy to ask the badger for directions? It was clearly intelligent, and although Minty had no idea whether or not it spoke Common, he cleared his throat.