The Box (Part I)

Oily black smoke from the torch floats lazily against the rock, pooling beneath the ceiling of the narrow passage and stinging the eyes of the adventurers traveling below.  The air is warm and fetid, and except for the occasional lazy gust it sits thick and almost malleable around them.
 
“We’ve got to be close now…right?”
 
Of the three companions, the first to speak is the smallest and most out of place.  He is portly, easily weighing over three stones, and only at thirty-nine inches tall he looks like he would be more comfortable sitting before a fire with a book in his hands and a warm meal on his lap.  He is wearing a dark blue tunic, over which is a fashionable, if functional, leather chestplate.  Strapped on his hip are a small jewel encrusted dagger and several small pouches.  Just below his maroon breeches, his hairy feet are naked and appear the most vulnerable of the companions.
 
“We should almost be there my friend,” answers the most formidable of the three.
 
At seventy-eight inches and over twenty stones, one would be hard pressed to stand against this warrior.  If every inch of his body weren’t covered in thick and heavily enchanted steel, you would easily notice his conditioned physique.  His armor, the full plate of the royal guard, shines even in these dark tunnels of the deep, and is a reflection of his pure heart.  Covering every inch of the rare armor are elven runes and glyphs of enchantment, some which were scribed for the very purpose which was the object of their quest.  On his left arm is a large kite shield, the herald of which is a Gryphon bearing an elven rider.  The image depicts the rider soaring in the clouds with a floating castle in the background.  Only those in the royal guard could possess the herald of the Gryphon Riders of King Altherak, High Elf Lord of the Elven Kingdoms.
 
The final member of the party, who has been standing silently out of the range of the torch’s light, silently steps from the shadows.  Unlike the others, he is slender for his sixty-two inch height, weighing only six and a half stone.  He is enshrouded in grey robes, most common to the Mystics of the Mountain, who reside far to the north, and his slender hands are wrapped around a large oaken staff which stands a head taller than he.  Hanging from the top of the staff are various feathers, a small brown pouch and two thin leather straps with animal bones tied into them.  The cowl of his robe is pulled low and only his chin is visible under the shadows it produces.
 
“We must pause here, that I may call to the Gods for protection.”  
His voice is deceptively deep for his frame, though not unpleasantly so.  It carries in it the power that he has channeled through it all of his life and is smooth and pleasing to the ear.
 
“H-how long will it take, Oramiir?,” the halfling asked nervously.  
 
“I will need the time that it takes for this hourglass to pass the sands through its portal,” he sighs softly.  
After he finishes speaking, he produces a small hourglass from his robes, holds it to his lips and whispers softly before releasing it to float just inches before him.  Behind the glass, the sands began to slowly trickle, one grain at a time, to their resting place below.  As the others make themselves comfortable, he reaches into a magical pouch, which hangs around his neck, and pulls a small leather tome from it.
 
“Fear not Joeshan, for what I must do will not disturb ‘its’ slumber before we arrive.”
 
As he began reading from the tome, chanting softly to himself and occasionally gesturing towards each of them, the warrior handed his torch to Joeshan and then lifted the visor on his helm before taking a drink from his wineskin. Like most of his elven brethren, the face is angular with high pronounced cheekbones.  Moist with sweat, his golden locks hang limply over his pointed ears, though one would have to be standing directly in front of him to notice.  His eyes are the color of life, as green as the leaves of his nation’s trees, and yet full of sadness.
 
Joeshan reaches over with his free hand and pats his arm in a gesture meant to comfort him, though to an outsider looking in would look completely ridiculous due to their height difference.  
 
“Just think…  At the end of the day, I’ll be warming my toes before my hearth and you’ll be getting scales fitted for your new armor.”
 
Elladuer nodded silently while watching the tunnel which would lead them to their destination.
 
“Tell me Joeshan; have you thought about what lies ahead?”
 
He turned to his small friend, studying the reaction to his question and waited for an answer he already knew
 
“I-I have not, other than we will go in to ‘it’s’ lair and do battle.  I know that you will stand before it while I sneak around for a silent attack.  During this time, Oramiir will be casting damage spells that will directly, as well as indirectly, help us.”
 
Elladuer nodded impatiently and waved for him to go on, but the halfling only looked at him with confusion.
 
“There is something more important at stake here than our own needs and desires my friend,” he began slowly.  As he spoke, he turned his head once again toward the direction they were travelling, but not before Joeshan noticed the profound sadness that had seemed to well up in his voice and had begun to leak from the corners of his almond shaped eyes.
 
“This day we are stepping into the lair of a proud and majestic creature that has been around longer than either of your peoples.  It has seen kingdoms rise and fall.  Beneath its crimson wings, it has felt the smoldering heat reflected from the deserts to the south.  It has glided upon the crisp, frozen air above the plains far to the north.  It has crushed villages in its youth and slain heroes with more renown than you or I.  This day, we stand before ‘Malifgorranaka the Great Flame’ and may the Gods grant us favor before it.”
 
The halfling trembled in fear, unconsciously moving closer to his bigger friend, and glanced over to the floating hourglass.  The sands still tumbled into their new location, each grain adding to the small pile quickly forming at the bottom.
 
“Not long now,” Elladuer announced softly.
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