It was midnight in Fairyland, and a moonless night sky flooded the Forest of Wrin with darkness. Goom couldn't sleep despite his exhaustion.
He, his brother Murt, and the sell sword had been trekking through the forest for several days.
It wouldn't have taken so long, but Dennis wouldn't let them use any of his swords to cut through the underbrush, he had to sell them after all, and no one was going to buy a used sword from a man called Dennis's.
Goom didn't even know why they brought him along.
While Murt and Dennis slept, Goom reached a stumpy hand into his satchel and pulled out a bundle of glowing twine.
If you've ever seen the way an elven braid glimmers under a blood moon, then you have a pretty good idea what this glowing twine looked like.
If you've never seen that, then just imagine glowing spaghetti. But these were no ordinary neon noodles. These were dragon heartstrings, and they were worth their weight in quartz.
Goom's face was illuminated in the soft glow of the strings, and his furrowed brow betrayed his misgivings.
He knew that Murt had cast a spell of illusion over the whole camp, still, he hastily returned the heartstrings to his satchel.
The black market was dangerous, but Fairyland was inundated with college-educated elves.
Few options remained for dwarves like Goom and Murt, and they were all but forced into the wicked business.
It wasn't easy cutting the heartstrings from a living dragon it took all the magic Murt could muster, all the guts Goom could gather, and one sword begrudgingly provided by Dennis.
Witches and wizards loved dragon heartstrings. They made for the best wands, potions, and boot laces, so the witches and wizards were prepared to turn a blind eye to the illegal trade.
Murt could only wish for enough magic to wield the power of the strings, for he was but a yellow belt in the art of magic.
Goom knew that the dragon would come looking for his strings. Removing a dragon's heartstrings didn't kill it, but it did make them much less sympathetic. Bad news for a defenseless dwarf.
Goom didn't go to the magic dojo with his brother Murt, but what he lacked in magical ability, he made up for in wit, and he would need them.
The next morning Goom was giving Murt and Dennis a real dirty look while they rubbed the sleep out of their eyes.
"Ignitus logitis," Murt bellowed, and suddenly there was fire in the fire pit and a simmering pot of Gollumbian coffee. Goom helped himself.
"We should get moving. We still have half a forest in between us and our buyers," said Goom. He'd already packed his gear, but the other two-thirds of his band were slow to rise.
Still, within the hour, they were up and moving with their packs on their backs and breakfast in their bellies.
As was their routine, Murt enchanted Goom, Dennis, and himself with a cloaking spell. They could travel unseen, and though they spoke, no one could hear their voices.
That last bit was the frustrating part for Goom.
Sure, the ability to move silently was immeasurably helpful under the circumstances, but Dennis was abusing the privilege, and Goom couldn't take another minute of his singing.
"Two-score goblets of ale upon walls, two score goblets of ale! Grab you a goblet - "
"Dennis!" Goom barked. "Enough." Dennis could see that Goom was serious, so he switched over to humming the tune. Goom could deal with that.
Walking ahead of Dennis and Goom, Murt led the group through the Forest of Wrin. He stopped for a moment, and removed a large crystal from his cloak.
He held the crystal above his head, and reached it into a ray of sunlight. The crystal emitted an array of light and color, and Murt narrowed his eyes in thought.
"We're less than a day's travel from Neloth's Valley," he said, returning the crystal to his cloak. "Without rest, we can make it by dusk tonight."
"Dusk tonight it is," chimed in Goom. To this, Dennis let out an audible groan. Dwarves were built for this type of travel. They were compact and sturdy where Dennis was tall and lean.
He was constantly asking for breaks and complaining about the way his tunic was riding up.
He was dumber than a dust gnome and louder than leer jet, but the brothers agreed that he was good to have around if they needed to reach something on the top shelf.
A lifetime of smuggling gerbil pelts came in handy too.
Despite Dennis's guttural disapproval, the trio continued, but before too long, they heard a noise ahead of them at some distance.
With the enchantment veiling them, there was no point in hiding, but they did need to continue with caution.
There were mages whose powers dwarfed those of the dwarf, and if they were near enough, then the enchantment would fail. In time, they came to see the source of the sound.
The figures were silent, but the forest about their feet was not.
"Ulimni," whispered Goom. He was smart to whisper. The Ulimni were an ancient coven of warlocks. They were immortal, and their magic was older than they were.
The Ulimni didn't have any allegiances and rarely trifled in the mortal world, but everyone in Fairyland knew what they looked like because of the stories they heard in their youth.
Goom knew one thing for sure: they wouldn't take kindly to heartstring smugglers.
Dragons were not immortal, but they did live for a very long time, so it was common knowledge that the Ulimni and the dragons had become friends over the eons.
They had mutual respect for one and another, and Goom had a bag full of their pal's heartstrings.
Crack! A branch snapped behind them. Together, the trio turned around and stared at the figure before them. Goom recoiled in fear. There was a clashing of swords then silence.