Marissa, Trajan, and Etjar – Cave Blinder

I created the cave blinder after being inspired by a thread on Dragonsfoot. If I recall correctly, the author needed a low-level monster for an Underdark campaign, and this one flowed out of my word processor. The text for this pastiche flowed almost as easily, and this was published in Footprints.



Jake was sick and tired of Bisonbit. The young priest had been quizzing him for more than forty minutes about the reign of Hazzat the First, a merchant autocrat who briefly ruled Kerr seventy years before in between the Selkan and Wandsor monarchies. “Pay attention Jake! You have an exam tomorrow and you have not memorized your lessons!” At age twelve it was near impossible to care about someone who was executed sixty years before he was born.

Jake sighed, but before he could retort a black shadow fell across the boy and the teenager. Both spun to face the source of the shadow: a huge, bulky figure with a misshapen head that loomed over them.

Both recoiled in shock, but Jake quickly recognized the woman, an old friend of his grandparents. She was very tall and had a humped back, and wore a large floppy hat and a long cloak, even in the warmth of summer. Jake immediately volunteered to escort her to his grandparents’ home. Bisonbit started to protest, but gave it up. “I’m going with you. We have more to prepare you for tomorrow’s exam!” Jake sighed, but enjoyed the reprieve.

They chatted lightly as they walked the short distance, mostly the woman asking the youngsters about their recent days. Bisonbit noticed that she left no opening for questioning her. Knowing that she wasn’t human, the surprisingly perceptive young man considered this was a normal tactic to keep the attention off her.

They found Trajan in his garden, on his knees weeding. A big smile creased his aged face as he creakily straightened up. He led the way into the house where his wife was making bread. The visitor immediately divested herself of the hat and cloak, displaying small horns on her forehead and bat-like wings on her back. She was on the slender side but the cloak that hid her wings made her look humped back. Neither of the youngsters showed any surprise; they knew what she was. If it didn’t bother Trajan or his wife, it didn’t bother them.

“What brings you through Kerr?” the old man asked.

“Iā€™m on a commission to capture a cave blinder, and I know you”, meaning both Trajan and his wife, “have faced them before.”

The old couple locked gazes, trading an unfathomable stare. Looking back at his visitor the old soldier replied, “Yes … a nasty piece of work they are …”

Trajan looked around. The tunnels were rough, varying from five to thirty feet wide, with a ceiling anything from three feet ranging up to more than forty feet. Mostly they could walk and had room to swing a sword, but both he and his right-hand partner Etjar also carried a short sword, really a long knife, handy for the tight places. Trajan favored a hand-and-a-half bastard sword, but it required room to swing. Etjar’s long sword was shorter and lighter, but it, too, was not a weapon for tight places. Both kept their short swords loose in their sheaths.

Something tracked them.

This area was rotten with tunnels, many far too small for the chain mail clad men to climb through, although their charge, the sage Petteri could easily manage most of them. Even the dwarven brothers, wide and bulky as their shoulders were, could fit through amazingly small spaces. Marissa, the slight wizard, a foot shorter than Trajan ā€“ she could fit through a lot of the spaces, although she was more likely to get stuck than the non-humans. Trajan visualized her trapped in a tight tunnel. As much as he disliked the bitch, that was nothing he’d wish on her or anyone.

Trajan led, watching up and down and side-to-side. Etjar followed ten feet behind him, with the sage another ten feet behind him. Marissa and the dwarf brothers brought up the rear. The soldier did not trust that they watched the back well, but there were two of them between Marissa and anything that hit from the rear. As much as they disliked each other, he’d never put the small woman in harm’s way.

Trajan glanced back at Etjar ā€“ both knew something was shadowing them. Too many years of adventuring in bad places for their instincts to be wrong. He looked farther back at the wizard; from the way she scanned around her, she knew too. But the dwarves and the gnome? No clue.

The tunnel constricted ahead, certainly wide enough for his armored figure, but tight for swinging a sword. Sheathing the bastard sword, he drew the smaller weapon. Nothing appeared unusual, but old soldiers become old soldiers by not taking unnecessary chances. After twenty feet, the tunnel widened out again. Etjar caught up with him and both looked back at the gnome and woman coming through.

Snick! That slight sound of claw on stone spun both men around in time to see a lithe figure drop off the wall almost in front of them. Trajan brought his sword up to fend off a tentacle when the sun stabbed through his eyes into his brain. Somewhere in the distance his mind registered a scream.

He covered his eyes and blinked repeatedly. The brightness faded and he could see, sort of. The creature was no longer in front of them. Spinning he took count. Etjar, gnome, dwarf, dwarf … something was wrong.

His paralyzed mind took an extra beat, then another to realize Marissa was gone. Her staff lay on the stone floor.

One of the dwarves picked himself off the stone floor. Both were farther back and had not been as badly blinded, recovering faster than the humans. “That thing grabbed the woman and knocked me over. It ran that way carrying her,” he jabbered, pointing over his shoulder the way they had come.

Trajan’s mind froze in horror but his body moved of its own volition, bowling the dwarves over again as he plowed through them in pursuit of Marissa. The thing was obviously strong, but still a hundred-twenty pound woman wasn’t easy to carry, especially if she was struggling. His mind avoided the possibility that she was already dead.

Having no place to go but back down the tunnel, he charged, bouncing off the walls once or twice in the narrow area until he got his stride. The thing was fleet, but he barely caught sight of it in the light of the flickering torch he carried. Redoubling his pursuit he bellowed a hoarse, incoherent roar that caused the thing to slow and turn its head back, flaring its ears.

It looked sort of human, the way an orc looks sort of human, except this thing had dark green, rough looking skin, and had a long tentacle protruding from the middle of its upper back. The face was less human ā€“ it had a normal looking nose and a wide mouth filled with fangs, but there were no eyes, just skin where eye sockets should have been. Bat-like ears framed the face. The tentacle pointed back at him and he could see a clear bulb at the end. Instinct made the soldier clamp his eyes shut, but the bright light penetrated his eye lids, stabbing into his brain again.

The difference? This time he was prepared. He threw himself forward at the thing, sword high as he didn’t trust himself to not stab the woman in his blind rush.

The shock of crashing into the thing jarred his short sword from his hand. He heard it skitter across the fairly smooth stone floor. Eyes still clamped shut he found its head with his left hand, and slammed his mailed fist into whatever was between his hand and opposing fist.

The thing squealed a high pitched scream, matched by his own screaming fit. As he drew back for another strike a cable wrapped around his chest and flung him away. Another squeal punctured his darkness and as he rolled to a stop he realized he had a piece of the thing’s ear in his left hand. “Bet that hurts,” he thought muzzily. Struggling to his feet he saw the thing bolt into the darkness.

Marissa lay on the floor where it dropped her, her open, blank eyes staring upward. Moaning in horror Trajan scrambled across the floor to her body. She had a ragged bite on one shoulder; it oozed blood from a matched pair of puncture wounds. He ripped her blouse open and planted an ear on her chest, listening for her heart.

The pounding in his ears made it hard to hear so he carefully swallowed and relaxed. Her strong heart beat pulsed in his ear. He felt more than heard the dwarves go thundering past him. He also felt Etjar approach. Trajan looked up at his friend, and belatedly thought to cover Marissa’s naked chest with her ripped blouse. He gently patted her face and chafed her hands, trying to rouse her. Distantly he realized his cheeks were wet but didn’t know why.

Petteri spoke, “She will be ok. The bite is poisonous, but it’s a light paralytic. In another five or ten minutes she will rouse. The sightless cave blinder lives up to its name, it blinds its foes with a burst of light, bites and paralyzes a victim small enough to carry, and takes the prey back to a lair for its meal. If you had not given chase so quickly she would already be partially consumed, although probably not yet dead.”

Squeals, shouts, and howls echoed down the tunnel. The sounds continued for a minute or so, then abruptly ceased. A dragging sound grew louder.

As the dwarves entered the torchlight Marissa blinked her eyes and focused. A moment later Trajan helped her sit up.

The body was humanoid, but certainly not human. It looked far less deadly in a dead heap than it did as a predator attacking from darkness. One of the dwarves stripped off his surcoat, it was wet and shredded. He swore in dwarven. Within knowing the language all knew he was swearing.

The gnome explained, “Ahh, the cave blinder can spit a stream of its digestive acid. Good that you were hit on the chest, rather than the eyes. If it was your eyes we would be hard pressed to save your sight.” The dwarf blinked and didn’t reply, but he stopped swearing.

Etjar asked, “What is it?”

“As I said, it’s a cave blinder, a normally solitary beast that hunts Darkworld for prey. It usually attacks lone travelers, but will attack a group if it thinks it can take its prey and escape.”

Marissa realized her blouse gaped open and rounded on Trajan. “You stupid fool! Just waiting until I was down to put you grubby hands on me!” Trajan looked aghast at the accusation. The others all stared in shock.

She started to yell more but Petteri cut her off, “Stupid human woman!” He spat on the stone, as strong an oath a gnome could make. “If he a step slower you would now be enjoying the pleasure of being eaten alive! These beasts do not kill their prey before consuming them!”

“Not understanding the poison, he feared for your life.” In lower tones, he continued, “Be thankful not angry, your life you owe him.” Swallowing to make his point he finished, “More than your life.” With that he turned away.

Etjar hoped the pair would settle their long-running differences, but there was no hope of that. Scalded by her accusation, Trajan snarled something unintelligible at her and stalked off. She snarled back at him and weakly rummaged in her pack for an untorn blouse.

“Petteri said cave blinders are normally solitary, but they do mate every few years, producing a litter of usually three or four young. The parents stay together for about eight months, then the male wanders off. The female drives the cubs away at about one year of age.”

“And the young are dangerous?”

“According to the dwarves the young tend to be ravenous, so they may be more dangerous, killing more frequently. Grown dwarves are too heavy for them to carry easily, but they will kill lone travelers. Of course, any place in Darkworld is not a place to be by yourself.”

Changing subjects, the alu-demon slyly said, “So … did you like what you found in Marissa’s blouse?”

Trajan turned red. Jake marveled. He had never seen his grandfather embarrassed by anything. The old man coughed, looked at his wife, and coughed again. “It wasn’t like that at all …”

1 Response

  1. January 12, 2022

    […] This monster was originally published in Footprints, and the short fiction that was published along with this description is here. […]

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