"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."