"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!"