Brindle stumbled out of the portal, his battle-axe ready in his hands. “H’rak K’thum!” he shouted out, lifting the weapon over his head as he roared the traditional Dwarven battle cry.
Ariven next emerged from the portal, his long Elven fingers still splayed out, glowing with energy as he maintained the breach. “Is it safe, dwarf?” he called out, his focus remaining on the portal.
“Yeah, looks that way,” Brindle grunted, lowering his axe as he looked in both directions down the corridor. “Strange smell, though. Alchemical. Where have you brought us, wizard?”
Ariven shrugged, waiting for Lucien Lightfingers, their human rogue, to tumble through the portal before finally releasing the gathered magical energies lacing through his fingers. “The artifact we seek calls out to me through need,” he said. “This is the fastest path, if not the most direct. My familiar should be around here somewhere, searching for our next step.”
“Familiar,” Lucien snorted. “Like you’ve got any control over that drake, Ariven.”
The elf drew himself up stiffly, looking down his long nose at his human colleague. No one could do dismissive and arrogant like an elf. “He’s under full control, thank you very much. Besides, rogue, you wouldn’t understand the complexities of true magic-”
“Yeah, whatever.” Lucien rolled his eyes at Brindle. “Look, let’s just scout this place and find the next portal location so we can get on with our quest – and get paid at the end.”
“I saw you roll your eyes,” Ariven said sulkily as they started down the corridor. “Don’t think that I saw that. Nothing goes without an elf’s observation.”
Lucien started to open his mouth, but apparently thought better of it. “Just keep feeling around for the portal,” he snapped.
They came around a corner – and heard a feminine shriek. From behind a counter, a woman in cloth pants and a shirt of matching turquoise jumped up, her eyes wide as she pointed a wavering finger at Brindle.
“You can’t bring weapons in here, sir!” she cried out, her voice shaking a little as she took in the dwarf’s rich red beard and mustache, the armor plates attached to his stout frame. “This is a hospital!”
Brindle wrinkled his bulbous nose. “A hospital?” He glanced back at Lucien and Ariven. “That some sort of magical place?”
Ariven started to shrug, but then remembered that he was trying to be all-knowing. He put on his best snooty expression instead, letting Lucien take the question.
“Nah,” Lucien said. “It’s a big place with lots of healers, where they work on sick patients. There’s a couple of them in the big cities, where lots of people turn up ill.” He grinned, producing a dagger from his sleeve and twirling it on a fingertip. “They fix up stab wounds, for example.”
The woman’s wide eyes landed on the dagger. She opened her mouth, but apparently decided better, and sprinted away.
“Well, that’s unhelpful,” Ariven said sourly, watching her go. “She could have at least answered some questions for us.”
“Maybe your long nose scared her off-” Lucien cut off mid-sentence, as he heard a rustling noise. He instantly dropped into a crouch, blades flashing into his fingers as if pulled from the very air. “Wait, hear that?”
A second later, the rustling sounds were joined by several loud beeps. Ariven extended his fingers in the direction – and then started. “My familiar!” he whispered urgently. “He might be in danger, about to be killed by the enemy!”
“On it,” Brindle growled. He lifted his massive axe again, charging around the corner. Both his companions followed on his heels.
They skidded to a stop, staring at the machine that now confronted them. “What is this?” Brindle exclaimed, slowing down and lifting one gauntleted finger to tap on the sheet of glass.
On the other side, Ariven’s drake blinked stupidly back at them, crammed into the tight space on the other side of the glass. Its tail twitched, knocking several rustling bags out of their racks and down into an empty area at the bottom of the machine.
Lucien pushed on the flap at the bottom of the machine that read “PUSH”, pulling out one of the bags. “Snacks of some sort,” he remarked, sniffing the contents of the bag, then popping one into his mouth. “Crunchy.”
“Velenir!” Ariven hissed at the drake. “How did you get yourself stuck in there?”
The drake hissed sadly – and then burped.
“Stand back,” Brindle grunted, lifting the axe. “I’ll get him out.”
But before he could swing, the elf darted forward, putting himself between the dwarf’s axe and the machine. “Wait!” he cried. “You might hurt him!”
Brindle sighed, but looked over at Lucien. “Okay,” the human said, fighting the urge to roll his eyes again. “Can you call him out?”
“He is a great red drake, albeit juvenile, but not one to obey the commands of lowly mortals-”
“So no, then.” Lucien turned back to the machine, frowning. He tapped the glass, and then reached into his pouch. “Fortunately, this glass doesn’t appear reinforced.”
Ariven watched anxiously as the rogue traced across the glass with a sharp stone attached to a metal apparatus. The rogue next lifted his dagger, giving the glass a sharp rap with the pommel. It neatly fell apart into evenly sized pieces, the largest of which Lucien deftly snagged out of the air.
“Easy as breaking into a noble’s house through a window,” he said, pleased despite himself as the drake emerged from inside the machine. “Now, can we get going?”
Ariven scooped up the drake, giving it a squeeze as it wriggled and hissed in protest. “Oh, Velenir,” he sighed. “You must be more careful!”
Brindle grunted loudly. “Hey, around the corner up here,” he called back to the others. “Glowing thing in the air. Portal?”
“Yes, I sense it’s nearby.” Ariven reluctantly released his familiar, moving forward to open the next portal. “Let us get away from this place before another of these horrible machines attempts again to devour my drake.”
Lucien groaned, although he lingered for a second to pull several more small bags from inside the machine. He tossed one of the crunchy bits to the drake, who deftly snapped it out of the air. “I know why you went in there,” he sighed.
“Lucien! The portal is open! Come, I cannot maintain the flow of etheric energies forever!”
“Stuck-up pompous ass,” the rogue muttered to the drake, who hissed in agreement. He raised his voice. “Coming!”
A second later, a bright flash around the corner announced the closing of the portal.