Professor Quentin had run out of patience. He drew a deep breath, and then with an almighty roar he expelled an enormous fireball from his jaws. His eyes glowed red as the jet of fire rushed forth, a river of flame licking the air inches above the heads of the bewildered humans. For them the sky appeared to have turned crimson and they felt the searing heat on their cheeks. Several humans wondered why they had even bothered to come out of their huts that morning and rather wished that they had stayed in bed.
The huge flames curled and crackled, before fading away just as quickly as they had appeared.
There was silence.
The awed humans glanced at each other with expressions of surprise and fear. They had not expected their enemy to be capable of such might. Even Manfred stood rooted to the spot, a look of utter surprise painted across his face. Who would have thought that gentle old Professor Quentin, the aging academic, would be capable of such a performance?
The Professor politely cleared his throat and folded his arms, while small pieces of white ash drifted downwards around him, like a tiny snowstorm. He glared at the humans and drew his breath to spout another flame.
The humans understood what was meant and wisely decided to flee, scattering across the lush meadow. They ran towards the wooded slopes on the far side, leaving a warren of flattened pathways through the long grass.
“There,” said Professor Quentin, dusting off his hands. “That should ward them off for a little while, though I’m sure they’ll be back. Pesky things, these humans.”
Manfred was speechless.
A short while later, when Manfred had managed to regain his composure, the pair decided to take a stroll through the now calm meadow. They were curious to know what lay in the valleys beneath, and whether there were any signs of civilisation. They steered clear of the thick woods into which the humans had disappeared, and made certain to stay within view of the dimensional tear, a swirling mass that hovered a few feet above the surface of the meadow with the bottom half of the travel platform sticking through.
A stream cut through the meadow, gurgling down from the glacier high above them on the rocky mountaintop. It cut through the soft earth in twists and turns, with steep sandy banks on the outside of each bend. It was wide and deep, yet clear as crystal. Every pebble at the bottom was visibly glinting in the sunlight and long weeds danced in the rushing current. The banks were thick with bulrushes and purple irises, swaying in the cool mountain breeze.
Professor Quentin took a deep breath in the clean air, observing the stream before him.
“We have to be careful. It may look beautiful but we have to remember that this is an alternate dimension. Anything could happen. That stream could be full of acid rather than water.”
“I see,” replied Manfred, suspiciously eyeing the stream.
“Just make sure you watch your step.”
“Of course. Obviously you’d have to be pretty stupid to fall in here. I mean ... oooooof!”
There was a tremendous kerplunk and splash as Manfred tripped over the root that his foot had become entangled with, performed the least graceful somersault ever seen in the history of existence, and tumbled head first into the deepest part of the stream.
He quickly emerged from the liquid, gasping, and scrambled up the sandy bank.
“Oh! I’m burning! The acid - it’s terrible! I’m going to die!”
“Well now, let’s just ...”
“Oooh, what a way to go! Have my scales fallen out yet? Tell them I died bravely!”
“Yes it’s just that ...”
“Tell Hazel I love her, and Charlie can have my collection of rocks shaped like vegetables.”
Professor Quentin cupped his hands and submerged them in the stream, while Manfred lay prostrate and wailing. He sniffed the fluid between his paws, before tentatively taking a small sip, and then a larger gulp.
“Burned alive in acid water ... I can feel it ... so cold ... so cooold!” continued Manfred.
“I suppose the water is rather nippy,” replied Proefessor Quentin, taking another gulp. “Pure and fresh, just as I thought.”
“Ohhh fresh acid, that’s even worse! Will the end be quick? How long do I have? Minutes?”
“Rather longer than that. This appears to be pure water.”
There was a pause.
“So I’m not going to die?”
“Not from this water, no.”
“Thank goodness for that.”
“You’ve got more of a chance of death by hypochondria.”
“Hypochondria, what’s that? It sounds serious!” said Manfred, his temporary relief now overcome with something new to worry about.
“Oh it is very serious,” chuckled the Professor, “but it won’t hurt you.”
“That’s good,” mumbled Manfred, although he was still rather concerned by this hypochondria that seemed to have infected him.
He was about to ask more when the pair were interrupted by a low flying object that whistled past their heads.