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These miniature bits are out now! Order your dungeon clutter here: Also on Etsy. The ceramics and household wares are priced at €6 per each kit upon release, while the dessicated corpse comes in at €3,8. Cast in whitemetal by Griffin Moulds JJP.
Dust whirled in the stale air as footsteps rang down the winding cave tunnels. Tap. Tap. Tap. They were careful steps, yet fired with a haste born out of panic and despair. Pale mice and blind lizards scuttled away under rocks and hid in crags as the heavy darkness that had been their entire world flared up with a ruddy light. Torches crackled and sizzled, several of them bobbing their way forward in a row. The moving torchlight gasped and cast pivoting shadows from stalactites and stalagmites alike, painting the dripping cavern walls with shifting shadows like a mouth full of fangs... or prison bars.
They could not get out. Treading the way back home had revealed an exit collapsed by a massive rockfall, or perhaps felled by sabotage. They could not tell which ill stalked them; misfortune or malevolence. The former was enough to doom them. The latter haunted their every waking moment and rendered their dreams into nightmares. But if someone truly was stalking them and setting them up, they had not caught a glimpse of the would-be murderer.
As if slaying that Cockatrice had been a misdeed! As if snapping the necks of its young brood had been a mistake! As if ending the suffering of its sick yet roosting mate had been a crime! As if taking their precious eggs had been a sin!
No more would those sharp avian eyes turn men and beasts to stone. No more! They had done the right thing, and entered the jaws of hell undauntingly. They had packed up and wandered the subterranean maze for what must have been days, and they had dared death a dozen times over only to get to the monster. And then they had entered the lair, like true heroes, and their leader's silvern shield had shone brilliantly in the orange torchlight as he swung his sword and hacked the foul devil down! Such glory they had reaped! Such glory...
The brave adventurers had packed up well with torches and rags soaked in olive oil, and for this sake their flaming light would outlast their water. And their food. And their sanity. The jaws of hell had closed around them.
Already their supplies had been wolfed down, and already they had cracked open the beheaded trophy's skull to devour its brain and facial muscles. And worst of all, they could not even retrace their steps back to the Cockatrice lair where decaying corpses still lay strewn on the rocky floor. They could not find it again, no matter how hard they tried. They could have sworn the caverns had changed course. And they would soon fight each other for mortal flesh unless some sustenance could be found, for intact Cockatrice eggs could buy you a fief.
They could see it in each others' eyes. They could see it clearly. Their greed would outlast their honour and comradeship. Tense silence reigned in their once so jovial company, and they watched each other from out of the corners of their eyes, as if searching for the gleam of the dagger about to strike from behind.
Suddenly, the lead adventurer shouted out for the first time in hours, or maybe days. She had found vessels! Pots and sacks, baskets and flasks. A stash of supplies! Someone's hidden store. Just like that, they were all saved from hunger. Laughter bubbled up out of parched throats, and their hands clapped each other's backs. That dreaded starvation would not get them, oh no! With so many pounds of grain and wine they would refresh their steps and find a way out, even if it took weeks more. Such branching caverns surely could not have only one exit.
"At it, lads! Raid the pantry!" the forward scout cheered, and they rushed to her side, opening lids and pulling out corks. A few signs of mice, and smaller critters still, were evident, but no major plague of vermin. The foodstuff smelled fresh enough. Some estate-owner or farming clan would lose their winter reserves, but luck was tough and so were they. They would not let this chance pass!
And so the intrepid adventurers guzzled down unwatered wine and chewed wheat biscuits and raw grain to sate their worst hunger pangs, looking at each other with joy and refound hope in their eyes. The gods willed it! They would not starve!
Nay, they would not starve. Some filled sacks and bags with foodstuff, and refilled empty bottles in their backpacks. One started crushing grain with pestle and mortar to mix with wine and herbs. Others continued the simple feast, until their grasping hands reached the false wooden bottoms that lay rather deep beneath the top layer of grain in the baskets and sacks. Bewildered, they dug up the wooden lids, and found salted meat beneath. No, not meat. Flesh. There were still fingers and ears left in the salty red mass. Someone's dead eye stared back at them.
Gasps and and the sound of vomiting echoed in the low cavern. It was then that they discovered the corpse. A dessicated cadaver from some run-away Goblin slave. Strange to find him dead here, so close to the food store... Stray grain was still visible around the corpse. And why would some farmer dare to store his supplies in a Cockatrice cave? They stared at the dried-out husk of the Goblin corpse.
First then did the pain and convulsions begin. Their visions swam, and they toppled on weak knees, growling about poison. Groaning and cries whimpered away as throats swelled and lungs heaved for less and less air. Fingers clawed desperately on wet rock, and bodies flung themselves frantically about on the hard cavern floor, flailing in animal terror and agony.
And first then did they receive an answer to the question that had been gnawing at the back of their minds for so long:
Yes. It was not misfortune, but malice.
For someone was out to get them.