Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Smuggler's Inn; Part One

Lily sighed heavily. "This really is the hind end of nowhere, isn't it?"

The companions continued their journey to the northeast, their horses plodding along at a steady pace. They were traveling a dirt road, which ran under a canopy of trees. The weather was good, mostly sunny, though it was beginning to grow colder. It had been three days since they left Paco and his salt mine. The village Paco had pointed them too hadn't been much, but they had been informed there of a larger town further along the road and the friends were headed for it.

Erlik shrugged. "Depends; There are villages and hamlets about, even some towns. You've seen the map."

"Perhaps, but they're not New Harbor, are they?" Lily asked longingly.

"Missing the 'big city,' are you?" queried Erlik.

It was the rogue's turn to shrug. "I miss the hustle and bustle. I'd go crazy living in a village like that last one."

"An' da ale!" Huthgar chimed in. "Sum o' da stuff tha' be servin' tis nay fit fer any self respectin' dwarf."

"Not much choice in brews, that's for sure," agreed Samuel. "It's really bad when you consider that drinking is the only thing to do in some of these places."

"Well, except for further research in its libraries, New Harbor was played out, for me anyway," said Erlik. "That's why I felt the need to travel." He waved his hand, indicating the country before them. "Out there is all that remains of the once great Valardeem Empire. Many of its cities are covered over now, buried and forgotten, but there are still riches and ancient knowledge to be found . . . by those willing to look."

Samuel nodded. "So you said, why do you think I'm here."

"Aye!" agreed the dwarf. "Twern't fer ya gud looks tha' I cum 'long."

Lily laughed. "Thank Dalt for small kindnesses." She looked at the wizard. "Still, I expected, well . . . more." She pointed ahead. "If there was once a great empire out here . . . where is it?" She shrugged in perplexity.

"The Frozen Steppes now cover much of it," Erlik informed her. "The Great Forest covers still more. Any ruins we find out on the steppes, are likely to be remnants of the old empire and will be worth exploring. We may even find a few such as we traverse the forest."

"Aiyee!" Huthgar's pony stumbled and the dwarf desperately clung to his saddle horn. "Blast'd beastie! Ye'll be da death o' me yet!"

Lily chuckled. "Dwarves are terrible riders."

"Twer dwarves meant ta ride, we'd nae be havin' legs!" Huthgar replied.

"Still, you think they'd be some more obvious signs of this empire," Samuel interjected, ignoring Huthgar's plight. "Especially if it was as big as you say."

"Nature reclaims the land must faster than you might think," Erlik informed the fighter. "And it's been centuries since the Valardeem Empire fell."

"So, what happened to it?" the fighter pressed.

"The same thing that happens to every human kingdom; war, famine, pestilence, the weather," Erlik replied.

"The weather?" Samuel asked, incredulous. "You mean rain . . . snow?"

"Certainly," Erlik shrugged. "You don't think the Frozen Steppes were always frozen, do you? Who would attempt to build an empire in such a land? The weather patterns changed; the climate grew colder and inhospitable. People live where they can obtain food. When the weather changed in these lands, food production dropped and people were forced to leave the area . . . or starve."

"That's where the 'famine' part comes in," observed Lily.

Erlik nodded. "Yes."

"So, where did they go?" Samuel asked.

"South, to warmer climes, naturally," answered Erlik. "Where do you think Bethmoora and the other southern cities come from?"

"Bethmoora be par' o' dis empire ya speak of?" asked Huthgar.

The wizard shrugged. "Can't rightly say, but Bethmoora's been around for some seven hundred years, maybe longer. I'm sure that much of its early population stems from the empire's people fleeing south."

"I imagine you'll be exploring the libraries of Bethmoora for information," Lily said.

Erlik looked at her. "Perhaps, though I have no particular intention of being obvious about it."

"What's the secret?" asked Samuel.

"Secret? There's no secret," Erlik told him. "But about one hundred years ago a battle took place in the city between powerful factions of mages vying for control of the place. The city suffered considerable damage and many people lost their lives. These days, magic users are carefully watched and mistrusted. Needless to say, I don't plan on announcing my presence."

"Whoa!" Samuel threw up his hand as he halted his horse. "Hold up. There's a trail leading off into the forest here." He pointed. Turning in his saddle to look at Erlik, he asked. "Shall we take a look?"

"Does the trail look used?" the wizard asked.

"Nope," came the reply. "It looks like it's not been used in many a year . . . but it's there, nonetheless."

Erlik moved  his horse forward. "It's unlikely to be something from the old empire; the forest would have reclaimed it long ago." He shrugged again. "Still, it might be worth investigating."

"Den wha ar' we waitin' fer?" asked Huthgar. "Les 'vestigate."

Erlik looked from the dwarf to the fighter, then nodded. "By all means, let's investigate."

Samuel lead the way through the trees and onto the pathway.

"I hope there's something worthwhile in there," said Lily. "It would be nice if this started turning into a more profitable venture." She urged her horse forward, following the others unto the unused path.

The trail meandered through the forest for a couple of miles, then abruptly ended . . . at a cliff. Samuel dismounted and the others followed suit. The fighter studied the ground along the edge of the cliff and pointed.

Down below the companions could see a lake with what appeared to be two docks on opposite sides. Some kind of building appeared to be built into the cliff on one side, while a trail lead off into a canyon on the other.

"There seems to have been a trail leading down from here . . . once upon a time," Samuel informed his friends. "But it's long gone. Whatever that building is, it seems you can only access it by boat." He pointed. "That trail leading off; that's the only way to get to it."

"Well, whatever it is, it isn't ancient and -- judging from the smoke rising up -- it isn't abandoned," noted Erlik

"Looks like all we can do is go back to the main road and see if we can find that trail further along," offered Lily.

"Aye, 'dat 'bout sums 'er up," agreed Huthgar.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Introducing Helen Hollick

Recently, I've come into contact with Ms Helen Hollick, the most recent Reader of my blog. Naturally, I googled her.

It turns out that Ms Hollick is the author of numerous published novels. Needless to say I was flattered that she should choose to peruse my humble writings. She has just released the fifth volume of her Pirate Code series, starring Captain Jesamiah Acorne and his ship, the Sea Witch. It's a mixture of realism fiction with elements of fantasy, as is evidenced by a ghost, a witch and . . . the Nightman.

Having just discovered this, I have yet to read the books myself, but I did start hunting them up on Amazon and other locations. They seem to be quite popular and the blurbs are excellent. I'm now determined to get the books.

I've also added her blog -- Let Us Talk of Many Things -- to my list of favorites. You can find it over in the right hand column. Please give her blog a perusal and -- if seventeenth century high seas hi-jinks are your thing -- I suggest you check out her books.

She also has her own webpage -- Welcome to Helen Hollick's World of Books -- where you can find all of her publications; well into the teens now. Well, I count eighteen covers, at any rate.

So, that's my "discovery" for this week. Ms Hollick has been kind enough to chat with me and I'm finding her delightful and I know you will too. Giving her a "shout out" is something I just had to do.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Another 'Zine

My friend, Christian, of Destination Unknown fame, started a new one page Zine some months back, which I seem to have missed the beginning of. I need to make up for that and so I'm shamelessly giving him a plug.

Christian also created a new blog called The Tolling of the Great BlackBell, where he post short video vignettes about the zine. He's on a Planescape kick at the moment, though he also does other things; like Baldur's Gate.

He's also got a mad composer running around the streets of Seattle at present, loosing demon summoning music upon unsuspecting musicians . . . bastard. The poor souls are lost forever . . . maybe.

Christian's a good guy with a love for the game, so give his new blog a quick look, won't you? Thanks guys!

Tuesday, 12 July 2016


Occasionally I get critiqued for my improper use of Capitalization.

First, let me say thank you to everyone who does so, it really is nice to know that you're paying that much attention to my stories. However, you should know that I am aware of this point, but . . . I do it for a reason.

As with this last installment of "The Salt Pit," there are, at times, long periods between my posts. I capitalize words like "Fighter" and "Dwarf" specifically to remind my readers of the Character Class of each character, as well as their particular race. The length of time between the posting of parts five and six is also the reason I made sure to include the illustrations of each character as well. I am aware that, in a few months, this post will be forgotten and people will begin pointing out this "error" once more. I really don't mind. I just wanted to get this out there.

"The Salt Pit" is a suggested adventure from my friend Tim Shorts, of Gothridge Manor, taken from the first issue of his e-zine "The Manor." Our intrepid heroes will continue their journeys in the adventure laid out in "The Manor" #2. Hey, credit where credit is due. I started this story for Tim and his lovely wife, Ivy, who has her own blog; The Happy Whisk. The woman likes to cook, what can I say?

The mention of the city of "Bethmoora" is a nod to my good friend, Sergeant First Class Matt Jackson -- thanks ever so much for your service Matt! -- whose blog can be found here. Matt has started his own gaming world called "Ecalpon" and Bethmoora is a major city of that world. Hope I'm not giving too much away, but again . . . credit where credit is due. 

I do have my own world, in which I write and game, and I also enjoy writing stories for the World of Greyhawk, the world that introduced me to gaming. These stories are presently posted elsewhere and are being saved on my webpage, found here, for those who are interested. The page is hosted by my friend Denis Tetreault, the creator of the city of Melkot, for the World of Greyhawk. His webpage is "Maldin's Greyhawk," where Denis floats some interesting ideas. 

One day, perhaps with the onset of better vision, I'll get around to finishing my novel. We'll see. I have been suffering from some blurry vision, thanks to my diabetes, and have been receiving injections into my eyeball, so my reading and writing have been "hit and miss" lately. I apologize for that.

The blurry is still there, but the eyesight is getting better, so I'll try and get back to it.

Thanks for sticking around, your patience is always appreciated.

Monday, 11 July 2016

The Salt Pit; Part Six

The slimy reptile slammed into Samuel's shield with enough force to make the warrior take a step back. The creature's javelin stabbed at the Fighter from over his shield, nearly hitting him in the face.

"Ha! Ya be mon, critter!" shouted Huthgar, as he took a step forward, intent on hacking the beast in half with his axe. "Argh!" Huthgar's swing was interrupted by a stabbing pain. Looking down, he could see another javelin piercing his leg, passing clean through. He grabbed for it with his left hand.

"I told you there was more than one!" Erlik cried, stabbing his hand forward. "Nok!" Two blue, scintillating balls of light streaked towards the second creature, striking it squarely in the chest. The cast of its second javelin was broken up, as it grabbed at its torso in pain. "Running out of spells!" The Wizard shouted, as a reminder.

Lily seemed to recover herself and staggered to her feet. Drawing one of her daggers, she cast it. "Ha!" The dagger handle struck the creature and glanced harmlessly away. "Damn!" The Rogue reached for another.

Samuel tried chopping at the reptile with his sword, but it was pressing the Fighter too closely for accurate swinging and he opted to stab at it instead. "My sword is too long for such close in work!" he grunted.

The lizard-like creature clung to Samuel's shield with one claw, while stabbing its javelin over the top with the other.

"Umph!" The Cleric grunted as he snapped off the javelin piercing his leg, then, taking a fresh hold of his axe, he swung it with all his might into the back of the reptile. "Ahh!" Huthgar sighed with satisfaction as the blade of his axe sank into the creature's back, nearly slicing it in two.

Another javelin stuck the wall near Lily. "Don't . . ." she coughed, ". . . forget the . . ." she coughed again ". . . other one."

"That's not going to happen!" Samuel shouted. Free of his attacker, he charged down the tunnel in the dim light.

"Wait!" cried Erlik. "Idiot!" he breathed, as he took up his staff and followed after the Fighter.

"We bes' hobble afta' 'em, lass," Huthgar suggested.

"Yes, we'd better," Lily replied, offering her shoulder to the dwarf.

*   *   *   *

The creature was down on one knee, still in obvious pain from Erlik's attack. Samuel charged headlong and slammed into the smaller creature with his shield. It fell over backwards, tumbling head over heals upon the ground. Before it could recover, Samuel plunged his sword into it, pinning it to the ground. "Die, you damn, filthy beast!"

The beast struggled briefly, squirming upon the blade, then it hissed and lay still.

Erlik caught up, his lantern swinging wildly from his sprint, casting light eerily about the cavern. "That was stupid," he said. "We've no idea how many there are." He moved his lantern about, peering into the darkness, but all he could see were the walls of the cavern.

"I don't care how many of them there are," snarled Samuel.

The Wizard nodded in the darkness. "Yes, that's your problem," he softly replied.

"What do you mean?" The Fighter demanded, swinging about to face the wizard.

"I mean, it's going to get you killed," Erlik replied. "I just hope it doesn't get me killed too."

Lily and Huthgar came hobbling up together. "What are you arguing about now?" the Rogue asked.

"The same thing we always argue about," Erlik replied, jerking his thumb at Samuel. "His recklessness."

"Doh! Somebody give this guy a tissue already, will you?" pleaded Samuel.

"He's not wrong," Lily replied. "That 'berserker' thing you do is going to get you in trouble . . . one of these days."

"Let it go, lad," Huthgar said, looking at Samuel. "Tha' no be Fighters. Tha' no understand."

Samuel opened his mouth to reply, then shut it and shrugged. "Whatever."

"Lily, let's shine some light around this place and make sure there aren't any other surprises, shall we?" suggested Erlik.

"Right." Recovering her breath now, the Rogue moved about the cavern looking for any breaches in the walls. "Looks like a dead end," she reported.

Erlik nodded agreement. "Yes, it does." He looked at the others. "Paco will need to close off that other tunnel. The water's leaking in here from somewhere and each of the creatures we've encountered can easily use that access point to regain entry into the mine."

"Well, best get back up top and tell him then," said Samuel.

"Ack!" Huthgar grunted.

"What now?" asked Lily casting her gaze about the darkness.

"I told ya we'd be needin' to clumb back up tha' damn ladder!" the cleric cursed.

 "Don't forget to gather up your daggers," Erlik reminded the Rogue.

*   *   *   *

Once up top, the companions informed Paco of the situation.

"So you'd best close that tunnel off," Erlik advised. "Otherwise, you're going to have more trouble."

"Then it is safe?" Paco asked. "I can return to working in the mine?"

"As safe as it ever was," nodded Samuel.

"Long as ya close off da utter tunnel," added Huthgar.

Paco threw up his arms and smiled. "Ah! I thank you, my friends! Thank you!" He waved them towards the cottage. "Come! You eat and spend the night, yes? Tomorrow you can continue on your way with your salt! Come! My wife, she prepared a ham for you! A large ham!"

Samuel and Huthgar started for the cabin, smiling and laughing; Huthgar limping upon his wounded leg.

"A large ham is all the reward those two require," Lily whispered to Erlik.

The Wizard chuckled and nodded in agreement.

The Rogue slipped her arm into the Wizard's. "So, any idea what you're going to do with your share of the salt?"

"I think we'd better decide where we're going to sell it, first," Erlik replied. "It just seems to work better if you turn the salt into silver . . . before trying to spend it. The market around here isn't going to be as good as someplace without a salt mine." 

Lily nodded. "Any ideas?"

"I'm thinking we might wait until we reach Bethmoora," Erlik replied.

Lily nodded. "Yes, always thinking." She looked at the Wizard. "That's why I keep you around."

Erlik turned his head abruptly and looked at the woman. Seeing the twinkle in her eye, he chuckled again.

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."