Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Salt Pit; Part Five

 "You've taken a real beating, my friend," Lily says, squatting next to Huthgar and placing her hand upon his shoulder. "Between that 'cape' creature and the lizard, you've had a heck of a day."

"Ah need a ale," the dwarf breathed.

"Can you continue?" the Wizard asked. "Or do you need rest?"

"Ack, no," the dwarf replied. "Ah can go on."

"I'll take the lead," offered Samuel. "Perhaps if we drop a torch down there, it will provide enough light for me."

"Unnecessary," Erlik informed the Fighter. "I have a spell I've been saving for this. When you're ready, I'll cast it."

"Huthgar, sure you're ready?" Samuel asked.

"Aye, lad," Huthgar replied. "Ah jus need'd ta catch ma breath."

Erlik nodded and moved to the ledge. "Illuminatus sphericus flotaetum." Four glowing balls of light appeared in the air in front of the Wizard. They began to move down the shaft. "The bottom's only about ten feet down. I'm only going to move them about ten feet forward; don't want to lose sight of them." He stood to the side, so that Samuel might access the ladder.

Samuel paused next to Erlik. "Why couldn't you do this when that 'flappy thing' put us in darkness?" The shaft and lower tunnel were bathed in light.

"This spell is not powerful enough to dispel magical darkness," Erlik replied. "It also isn't going to last for very long, so I suggest you get moving . . . before you find yourself in darkness again."

Samuel stepped onto the ladder and started down. "It's still holding," he called out. He sniffed. "Something smells down here!"

About two feet from the bottom, he let go of the ladder and dropped to the ground. He swung his shield to the front -- it was held across his back by means of a shoulder strap -- and slung it onto his left arm, immediately drawing his sword afterwards.

"Looks like the tunnel descends sharply for another ten feet, then levels out!" he shouts up.

Lily stood net to Erlik. "Damn! Just how deep is this place?"

"I think we're there," Erlik replied. "You should get down there quickly, before my spell ends and Samuel finds himself confronting whatever this thing is in the dark. The creature's sure to have the advantage over him under such circumstances."

"Ah be right b'hind ye lass," Huthgar told her.

"Right," Lily breathed, then stepped onto the ladder. Reaching the bottom, she moved to just behind Samuel. "Anything yet?"

"No," the fighter replied. "Nothin'. I'm not moving forward 'til everyone's here."

"You're not going to hear me complain, big boy," Lily agreed. "Mister Mysterious says those lights of his will be going out soon." She gave a curt nod. "We'll wait for him to get here with his lantern." She held hers up higher, over the Fighter's shoulder.

"Riiight," breathed Samuel.

"Oof!" This burst of air announced the arrival of Huthgar. "Damn!"

"What's the matter?" Lily asked excitedly, turning her head to look at the dwarf.

"Id jus 'curred ta me," Huthgar replied, looking up. "We got's ta clumb up outta 'dis t'ing."

"Damn!" Samuel swore.

"What!?" Lily gasped, quickly turning her attention back to the Fighter.

"He's right," Samuel said. The Fighter and Cleric began chuckling.

"Damn you two!" Lily slapped Samuel on the back of the head. "Now is not the time for . . ." Lily grabbed her throat and began to gag.

"By the gods!" cried Samuel as he gasped for air. "What is that horrid stench?"

"Id be tha beastie!" cried Huthgar, raising his axe. "Git duwn har Wizard!"

"Anemoi gustus!" Erlik's voice rang out from behind the companions. A stiff breeze came blowing down the tunnel and into the cavern beyond, carrying the atrocious reek with it.

Lily leaned against the cavern wall, coughing and throwing up, clearly helpless for the moment.

"Damn, that was bad," acknowledged Samuel, shaking his head and snorting.

"Ain' n'ver smelt nothin' like it a'fore," agreed Huthgar. "Wha could smell tha bad?"

"Our friend," Erlik told them. "And judging by the intensity of the odor . . . there's more than one of them."

"Mor'n one o' wha?" asked the dwarf.

"That," Erlik replied, pointing down the passageway.

Charging up the tunnel -- slowed slightly by the ascent -- came what appeared to be a reptilian creature that looked somewhat humanoid. It was a little shorter than a human and spindly, but with muscular arms and walking -- or running in this case --  erect on its squat legs, trailing a long, slender tail. Its head was lizardlike and crowned with a frill that extended from the forehead to the base of the neck. Its eyes were black and beady, but seemed to glow in the darkness. Its maw was opened wide, displaying sharp and jagged teeth. The creature hissed loudly as it charged.

It raised its arm and then shot it forward. A javelin whizzed past Samuel's head and nearly impaled the Wizard, tearing the sleeve of his robe. Another javelin could be clearly seen in the creature's clawed hand.

"Keep an eye out for a second one!" called Erlik, raising his right hand and preparing another spell. He held his lantern high with his left hand.

Lily remained incapacitated against the wall of the tunnel, falling to a sitting position, although she managed to bring her lantern to bare on the unfolding scene.

Huthgar quickly moved to stand beside Samuel. "Tha's it, lil beastie! Hurra ta taste ma steel!" He raised his axe ready to meet the charge. "Together lad!"

Samuel braced his feet, leaning forward, ready to meet the charge with his sword extended before him. "I'm with you!"

 At that moment, Erlik's Dancing Lights spell ended and the lanterns' flickering light showed only the horrid face as it rushed upon them.

Friday, 7 August 2015

The Salt Pit; Part Four

"Aye, 'tis c'lapsed!" cried Huthgar.

"As Paco said it would be," offered Lily.

"Continue downward!" shouted Samuel.

"Aye!" Huthgar shouted agreement. "Nothin' here 'cept a rotten hide!"

The dwarf continued his descent. Thus far, the simple ladder had held up remarkably well, though not without creaking and groaning and such other protestations as wood can give under a fairly heavy load.

Ten feet from the bottom of the shaft, Huthgar reached the next tunnel.

"Ah be here!" he shouted up. "Nae any tr'uble! C'mon duwn!" The dwarf stepped into the tunnel, taking his war hammer from its resting place -- upon his back -- and making ready, awaiting the arrival of his companions.

Lily quickly descended and joined Huthgar, her lantern lighting the way. "Seems to go a little ways."

"Twelf, ma'be fiftin feet," Huthgar said. "Thae's a drop 'bout 'dare."

Erlik arrived with his lantern, closely followed by Samuel. "Shall we?" the Wizard asked.

Huthgar moved forward and soon reached a slight dip. As his companions joined him, their lanterns revealed a thick, soupy gray water which filled the cavern. A very narrow beach -- of a sort -- lined the pool at their end.

"Look!" Samuel pointed to their right.

Some ten feet away was a lizard. The lizard was fairly large as lizards go -- about the size of a terrier -- perhaps a foot tall at its back and weighing maybe twenty-five pounds. It had a bullet-shaped head sporting a large pair of horns that swept back from the sides like spiky ears. A similar structure was evident on the tip of its tail. Its skin went from a pale gray on its belly to a pale blue along its sides, turning into a dark blue on its back, intermingled with black markings along its back and tail.

The lizard began making clicking sounds and the skin on everyone's arms started tingling, their hairs standing on end.

"That's called a Shocker Lizard, my friends," Erlik explained. "And what you're feeling is the electrical current it's generating."

"I take it that it doesn't like us," breathed Lily.

"That would be a fair assessment," Erlik agreed. "It's warning us away; we're disturbing it."

"Well, Paco wants his mine back," said Samuel. "And -- though it may not be much -- he's paying us. Can we leave this thing here?"

"No, not really," Erlik replied. "They're capable of stunning a foe from five feet away. If there are two of them, well, they could kill a man from as much as twenty feet away. So . . . no, we can't leave it here." Erlik looked around. "Anybody see another one of these things?"

Everyone began scanning the area, while keeping an eye on the lizard in front of them.

"Nae, canna say ah do," said Huthgar. "Whar do ya t'ink it come from?"

"Well, we passed a marshy area on the way here," Erlik answered. "That's the type . . . look out!"

The lizard suddenly dashed forward to within range, raised its head and tail, then let go with a buzzing sound. A bluish glow seemed to emanate from it, striking Huthgar and Samuel, running along their armor.

Samuel threw his head back. "Aieeeee!"

Huthgar seemed to double over. "Argh!"

Erlik's hand shot forward. "Nok!"

Two bluish balls of scintillating light streaked from his outstretched hand, slamming into the lizard and tossing it backwards. Momentarily stunned, it lay upon the ground, twitching.

Without speaking Lily hurled her dagger at the reptile, but it buried its point harmlessly into the ground, close to the lizard. "Damn!" she cursed as she dropped her lantern and drew two throwing daggers.

The moment passed and the lizard was up on its feet, ready to do battle.

"Ack, no ya doon't!" cried Huthgar, recovering and swinging his war hammer with two hands, burying the head deep into the soft ground near the water.

The bluish lizard scrambled over the hammer's head and up the handle.

"Damn it's quick!" shouted Samuel, striking at the creature with the flat of his blade, in order to avoid harming Huthgar or his hammer. The lizard appeared to give a little "yip" as the blade of Samuel's sword struck its tail.

Again a bluish burst seemed to emanate from the reptile and again Samuel's and Huthgar's chain armor acted as a conduit for the electrical charge. Man and dwarf cried out together and fell upon their hands and knees.

Erlik's hand stabbed at the creature once more. "Nok!"

Once again two scintillating bluish balls of light streaked out and stuck the creature full on. Slammed backwards once more, the lizard fell upon the ground, twitched once, then lay still.

"That should finish it," observed Erlik. "Damn thing cost me two spells."

Lily moved to recover her thrown dagger. "Judging by the way it felled Sam and 'Gar, it's a damn good thing you had the spells to spend!"

"Oh, those little bastards can be plenty dangerous, alright," Erlik agreed. "Let's just be glad there weren't two of them in here." He looked around, a pensive expression on his face. "A colony of them would be even worse."

"Aye, ye nae hav' ta be tellin' me twice," admitted the dwarf, staggering to his feet.

"Damn, that hurt," Samuel rasped as he also rose from the ground. "I don't know how much more of that I could have taken."

"The charged centered on the two of you, delivering its full impact," Erlik explained. "It's your armor; metal attracts electricity.  In a way, that was good. Had I been incapacitated by the lizard's attack . . ." he shrugged. "It might have even finished us off."

"Think this is what was attacking Paco's house?" asked Samuel.

Erlik shook his head. "No. You saw the claw marks; too high up for this thing. Plus, Ralph would have made one heck of a meal for so small a creature. Perhaps if we had discovered a colony of them, that might have explained the . . . consumption of Ralph, but it still wouldn't have explained the claw marks on the cabin."

"We need ta examin' 'dis cavern," suggested Huthgar. "Make sure nae mor' o' the buggers be in here." He leaned the handle of his hammer against the wall. "Firs' tho', I need to be asking' Faeter Moradin fer some healin' fer the two o' us."

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The Salt Pit; Part Three

"Aye, thar be t'ree hoss shoes he'r," Huthgar called.

"Paco says he's still pulling salt out of that mine," Erlik called back. "We need to make sure it hasn't become inhabited."

With so short a distance, Lily soon reached Huthgar's side. "This tunnel seems to slope upward," she called, looking up at the Wizard.

"We're on our way," Erlik replied.

Soon, he and Samuel were standing with their companions. "Well, let's get this tunnel cleared and move on. It'll be getting dark soon," the Fighter suggested.

"Hmph," Lily snorted. "You two are the ones who wanted to search through a ton of, of . . . monster poop, looking for non-existent emeralds."

"Hey, if we're going to be slaying monsters and putting ourselves at risk, then I'd like a little more reward than just two bags of salt," Samuel insisted.

"Aye!" Huthgar agreed. "Tha lil' gem be wor'h couple hunerd silver pieces!"

"Exactly!" Samuel nearly shouted. "Can't pass up a haul like that!"

"Ha! There was no evidence that there was more than one gem!" Lily retorted.  "We wasted . . . hey! What happened to the lanterns?"

"Ah cannae see!" cried Huthgar.

The tunnel was suddenly thrown into darkness.

"It's not the lanterns," Erlik answered. "I can just see mine, if I hold it up to my face. This is a magical darkness. Beware!"

"Wha be causin' it?" asked Huthgar.

"Really?" Erlik countered. "From a Dwarf? Can you not think of several creatures of the underground that could do such a thing?"

"Drow!" cried Huthgar.

Though no one could see the action, the Wizard buried his face in his palm. "Doh! If it were Drow, we'd already have been set upon!" he decreed. "Heaven's mercy. If it were Drow they wouldn't have scratched at Paco's door . . . they'd have burned the house down."

"Aye, tha be da truth of it," Huthgar admitted. "Mus' be some utter beastie."

"So . . . what do we do?" asked Samuel.

"We continue on," said Lily. "Whatever this thing is, it moved in during Paco's absence, or else he'd know about it."

"True enough," agreed Erlik. "Whatever it turns out to be, we can't leave it in here. Huthgar, surely you have a sense -- a feeling -- for the tunnel?"

"Aye laddie, tha ah do," the Dwarf replied.

"Alright then, everyone take hold of the person in front of them; belt, shirt, whatever," Erlik directed the group. "Huthgar, push forward. Paco said there was a cavern area at the end of this tunnel; take us there."

With everyone taking a grip on the person in front of them, the companions pushed forward. It wasn't long before the floor leveled out.

"Ah ken sense a op'n space befoe . . . Argh!" the Dwarf screamed.

"Eiyee!" Lily's scream followed Huthgar's. "Some kind of . . . blanket . . . thing, just fell over Huthgar!"

"Blanket?" repeated Erlik, puzzled.

"Erlik! Do something about this darkness!" demanded Samuel.

"I can't!" the Wizard informed the Fighter. "I don't have a spell powerful enough for that."

Huthgar's muffled cries could be heard through the constricting material.

"This thing is smothering him!" cried Lily. "Help me!"

Samuel and Erlik made their way forward, running their hands along the walls. First finding Lily, they then proceed to locate Huthgar and the thing grappling him.

"This thing feels . . . leathery," said Samuel.

"That's because it's a beast, an animal," Erlik informed them. "Judging by the tendrils hanging off the bottom of it and the fact that it created this darkness, I'd judge it to be a Darkmantle."

 "Is that the thing that pretends to be a stalactite?" asked Lily.

"Only one of several," Erlik replied. "This thing is going to try and smother Huthgar; squeeze him to death. We've got to get it off of him."

"I'll stab it!" cried Samuel, the sound of a blade being drawn reaching Erlik's ears.

"No!" the Wizard cried. "The beast isn't that thick, you dolt! You'll stab Huthgar too!"

At Erlik's words, Huthgar's cries grew louder.

"Put your blade away and wrestle it!" demanded Lily.

"I was just trying to help!" Samuel peevishly replied. The sound of his blade slamming back into its sheath could be heard.

"Grab a hold of it and don't let go," said Erlik.  "Otherwise it'll flitter off into the darkness and attack us at another time."

Together -- with Huthgar pushing from inside -- the three pulled the creature off of their friend.

"Drag it down onto the floor!" Erlik instructed.

The creature struggled against their grip -- almost escaping -- but down it came, finally pinned  beneath several bodies.

"Eww!" Lily cried. "I just stuck my finger into something . . . icky."

"Probably one of it's eyes," said Erlik. "Take your dagger and start stabbing it there, while the rest of us hold it down . . . and try not to hit anyone's hand."

Unseen, Samuel jerked his hand away at Erlik's words. The creature surged upwards, nearly breaking free.

"Don't let go of it!" the Wizard cried.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

The Salt Pit; Part Two

"Looks deep," Samuel observed, leaning over the pit entrance.

"Nae, 'tis no mor'n fitty feet duwn," Huthgar replied.

"Oh, well, in that case we can just jump," said Erlik.

"Ha!" barked the Dwarf, slapping the Wizard on the back and nearly knocking him into the open hole. "Nice 'un, laddie! Jump!" Huthgar laughed heartily, then sobered. "Nae, 'tis too fer . . . mor's tha pity." He sighed. "Ah ken see tha bot'um tho'."

"Good, you can go first," offered Lily. "Paco says the first tunnel's about twelve feet down. I think I can just see it." She pointed to a dark spot. "Seems to be a, what, an indention? Just there."

"Aye, thae be tha op'nin'," agreed Huthgar. "A'll go duwn thar and light a torch fer tha rest o' ya."

"Be careful," cautioned the heavy Fighter. "That ladder doesn't look all that strong."

"Paco did say they use a makeshift crane for hauling the sacks of salt out." Erlik looked around, then pointed. "Probably that thing." He pointed at a contraption off to the side. "Given that he and Ralph didn't wear heavy armor when they mined the salt . . ." He shrugged.

The Dwarf stuffed a torch into his belt. "Right, careful as ah go," he acknowledged, stepping onto the ladder.

The Dwarf cautiously made his way down the ladder to the entrance of the first tunnel. "Thae be a bracket here!" he called up. Shoving the torch into the sconce, he lit it.

"There's the light," observed the Wizard. "You should go next," he said, looking at the Rogue. "In case our uninvited guest has taken precautions against intruders?"

"Traps; right." With that, Lily hopped onto the ladder and quickly made her way down.

"You next," said Samuel. "If the ladder's going to break, it will do so under my weight. Best you already be down there."

"Yes," breathed Erlik. "All of us trapped together. Well, that's one way to go." The Wizard stepped onto the ladder and was soon joined with the others.

In a few moments, Samuel joined them. "Well, the ladder held together."

The tunnel was just wide enough for two people to stand next to each other and perhaps twenty feet long. Roots grew down, out of the ceiling, which was just high enough for the six foot tall Samuel to stand erect, with a couple of inches to spare.

"Here be tha s'plies Paco told of," said Huthgar.

"Ugh!" Lily croaked. "And here's the foot."

Erlik bent down and looked closely at the appendage. "Yes, yes, these are teeth marks." He pointed to the ragged flesh at the end of the appendage, which had been severed just about half way up the calf. "This was bitten off."

"Nice, the monster thinks we're dinner," breathed Samuel. "What else is new?"

Erlik looked at Lily. "I say we push these two down the shaft and let the monster eat them." He shrugged. "It'll die of indigestion."

Lily smiled at the red robed man. "Considering  how long it's been since either of them have bathed . . . you're probably right."

Samuel chuckled. "True enough. Of course, if Huthgar and I throw you two down there . . . it'll soon die of starvation!"

"Ha! Well said, lad!" The Dwarf agreed. "Ye both be needin' mor meat on yer bones."

The Wizard sighed. "Regrettably, neither choice is an option. I'm afraid we're just going to have to go down there and kill it the old fashion way."

"An wha' way be that?" asked Huthgar.

"Magic and muscle," the Wizard replied. "Now grab the rope and light the lanterns."

*  *  *  *

"By the gods!" cried Lily, quickly covering her mouth with her hand, eyes wide in horror. "What is that smell?"

"If I had to guess? I'd say that." Erlik pointed, his voice muffled by the sleeve of his robe, which covered the lower part of his face.

"What is it?" asked Samuel, his nose all wrinkled up against the foulness.

"If I had to guess, I said . . . droppings," Erlik replied. "I think we've found our friend's latrine."

"Ack! Ah n'ver smelt ena'thin so horrid in me life!" Huthgar claimed.

Erlik leaned in close, peering intensely. "Yes, definitely droppings." Looking about, he located the remains of a broken pick. Using the broken end of the handle, he prodded the foul stuff.

"What are you doing?" asked Samuel.

"Ack! Wizards!" scoffed Huthgar. "Thae alus be pokin' inta nasty stuff!"

"An interesting diet our friend has," observed Erlik, ignoring Huthgar's comment. "Unless I am greatly mistaken, there are parts of a Gelatinous Cube in here."

"A Gelatinous Cube?" asked Lily, incredulous. "What on Oerth eats Gelatinous Cubes?"

"Our friend, here . . . apparently," Erlik replied, continuing his examination. "Well, that rules out the possibility of those two giving it indigestion."

"I'd say so," Lily agreed.

"And what's this?" Erlik shoved a small clump of feces to the side and, putting the pick handle down, reached into his robes, pulling out a pair of tweezers. A sparkle of green glinted in the lantern light. He took hold of it with his tweezers and brought it fully into the light.

"Interesting," he breathed. "It would seem our friend below also eats emeralds."

"Emeralds?" Samuel nearly shouted, hurriedly bending over the Wizard's shoulder and nearly pushing him to the ground. "There's emeralds in the scat?"

"Would you mind trying not to shove me into the stuff?" Erlik demanded, shrugging his shoulders and trying to shake Samuel off of him.

"Oh! Sorry!" Samuel contritely replied, backing away from the squatting Wizard.

"I found one emerald," Erlik answered. "Whether or not there are more of them, I cannot say. Shall we poke through all of this?" He waved his hand, indicating the numerous piles of feces.

Huthgar and Samuel looked at each other, then scrambled to find their own sticks.

Lily shook her head. "Disgusting!"