I swung my staff at the mottled brown lizard, hitting it in the thick armored plating just behind its neck. The lizard glanced at me, growling deeply in its throat, and Kuto-Lulu stepped in with a quick combo punch to the exposed side of its head.
The lizard fell, the venom it had been collecting in its mouth dribbling out into a noxious purple puddle.
"That was close," said Kuto-Lulu, a shrill giggle escaping him. "Another few seconds and he would have sprayed that poison all over you."
"The fact didn't escape me," I said, in considerably less humor than my companion.
As it turns out, lizards could be plenty dangerous. Between the sharp teeth, armor plating, poison and fire breath, it was no wonder these skins sold for so much.
"Can we skin this one, at least?" I asked, squatting down for a moment to catch my breath. We found out the hard way that the lizard's skin was incredibly difficult to remove in one piece, and the leather workers weren't very anxious to spend their money on torn skins.
"I'll see what I can do," came the rumbling reply from Garrick. He was a large man of few words, but he was an excellent tracker and the only one of our group who could reliably skin these things.
We had met up with Garrick by the main city gates, and had set off in a south-west direction. After about an hour of hiking, we ended up in a large ravine, with small flocks of lizards dotting the sides and bottom.
As we quickly learned, the hardest part was luring a solitary lizard away from the pack. If the group was watching, they would respond as one and charge us all together. This wasn't a desirable outcome, so the hunting was taking a little longer than planned.
Adding to the general fun was that Garrick wasn't able to use his sword, or his arrows, as skins slashed to pieces generally don't sell. He was down to using a staff, not unlike mine. Kuto-Lulu just used his fists, of course.
"This one's good," Garrick rumbled, holding up a bloody lizard skin. "That brings our total up to...fourteen."
Not a bad total, but it had taken us most of the evening to get there. It was going to be a long night.
"Are we going to camp out here?" I asked, looking to Kuto-Lulu and Garrick. I had no problem camping in the wilds, but if we were going to make it back to Bastok, we should have been on the move already.
"Aye, it's likely," replied Garrick, with one of his rare smiles. "We'll pull back in the shadow of that outcrop," he said, pointing to the north, "and make camp. Then tomorrow, we can try for more skins."
I nodded, saying, "Sounds like a plan. Why don't we try for another few before pulling back? I see plenty of lizards across the way." I shifted my staff, dropping into a battle stance.
"Aye," said Garrick, doing the same.
Kuto-Lulu nodded his head, and crept up to the nearest lizard, several dozen yards away. We found the best way to make this work was for a single person to provoke one, and then run back to the group, normally dragging the lizard along for the ride. Safely away from the rest of the flock, it could be dispatched easily.
Kuto-Lulu lined up his shot, and pelted a good-sized rock at a large lizard who had wandered away from the rest of the group. It whirled around, and charged the Taru, who was busy running back to us as fast as his little legs could carry him.
"Oy! Over here!" shouted Garrick, swinging his staff at the charging lizard. It connected with one of its powerful hind legs, sending the beast sprawling into the midst of our group. We set in relentlessly, not giving the beast a chance to even get up.
It looked like the end of the poor beast, when it managed to raise its head, a thin wisp of smoke trailing from one nostril.
"Look out-" was all I could get out before the fireball exploded in the middle of our group. I had been trying to throw myself backwards, so I was spared the brunt of the flames, but Garrick and Kuto-Lulu were both caught off-guard. I was sure the lizard was incinerated, but that was the least of my concerns at that moment.
Kuto-Lulu and Garrick we both thrown to the ground, their clothes and armor smoldering. I picked myself up from where I had fallen, patting out my tunic to be sure I wasn't still burning myself. I could hear Garrick groaning faintly, which gave him secondary importance in my mind.
I rushed over to Kuto-Lulu, who was lying unmoving on the ground. His hardened leather cuirass was smoking, and I pat it down quickly with my hand and sleeve. He was breathing regularly, but was obviously unconscious.
"Damn," I swore under my breath, preparing to cure him. I placed my hands on his, pushing a little more power into him. "Cure," I whispered, willing his wounds to close. I felt the power flow from me, but his eyes remained closed.
"Cure," I repeated emphatically, putting even more energy into it. His breathing strengthened a bit more, but his eyes still didn't open. I decided to give Garrick some attention before I completely depleted my energy reserves.
I made my way over to Garrick, who had managed to pull himself into a sitting position, and was weakly patting at the smoldering spot on his own cuirass. He didn't look great, but at least he was still conscious. I raised my hands toward him, but he shook his head.
"See to the Taru," he grunted, before breaking into a short coughing fit. "Looks like he got the worst of it."
I nodded and made my way back to where Kuto-Lulu lay, his eyes still closed. I raised my hands, starting to feel the weariness from repeated healing.
"Cure," I repeated, putting even more energy behind my will. At last, Kuto-Lulu's eyes flickered open, and a low groan escaped his lips.
"What..happened?" he managed to get out, before he broke into a coughing fit as well. "Did we get him?"
"Lie still," I instructed, doing a quick visual inspection of Kuto-Lulu's body. He didn't appear to be bleeding, and he had at least stopped smoking. "We almost had him, and then he decided to explode on us. We're all extremely lucky," I concluded, twisting my mouth into a wry smile.
"Did we get the skin?" asked Kuto-Lulu, attempting a smile of his own.
"Aye, we'll get it," came the response from Garrick, who had apparently moved over to the lizard corpse. "These beasties are resistant to fire," he added, chuckling gruffly. Up to that point, I don't think I'd heard him laugh.
"I think it's about time to pull back and make camp," I said. "We shouldn't push our luck, especially with the light starting to fade. I lowered my body into a crouch once more, placing my hands on the prone Taru.
"Cure," I intoned, intent on getting Kuto-Lulu back on his feet. As I released the curative energy, I put a little more will behind it, wanting to be able to get moving toward the safety of camp.
Suddenly, the world faded to grey scale. I stumbled backward from my crouch, completely losing my balance as the light faded from the world.
"Aspen?" I heard, seemingly from miles away, as everything faded to black.