Goom, Murt, and Dennis found a boulder to shield them from the blaze, but Fewla was not so lucky.
While the dragon reloaded her fire breath, Goom picked up Fewla.
The trio-plus-one made their way deeper into the Cave of Whispers before another tsunami of fire could flood the subterranean passage.
When they'd made it deep enough, they laid Fewla down. Her pulse was weak, and it was apparent that she'd lost consciousness - the result of extreme pain and shock.
They could taste the steam of burning hair coming from her goat legs which were now much meltier than they'd been moments before.
Murt, who'd been reunited with his magical accoutrements, quickly mixed a medicinal salve, and they spread it over Fewla's crippled legs.
Even with magical first-aid, her life was now in the hands, paws, fins, and flippers of the eclectic gods of Fairyland.
It seemed as though her voice would soon be added to the chorus of whispers that flowed through the caves.
To the untrained ear, the whispers may have been mistaken for natural air currents and shifting earth.
To the trained ear, they were both benevolent guidance and malicious deceit - the din of spirits both old and new. Either way, the sounds were scary as hell.
And without their guide, the smugglers would have to blindly navigate the caverns while the whispers stiffened the hairs on the backs of their necks.
After tending to Fewla, Murt took out his magical crystal, but it was useless without sunlight to illuminate its hidden knowledge. It really appeared as though the trio was shit out of luck.
They could wait until the dragon left the cave's mouth, but Goom figured that she'd return as soon as she sensed the movement of her heartstrings.
The only option was to brave the caves and pray that they could escape the range of her perception.
The Cave of Whispers was an expansive labyrinth that traversed the entirety of Fairyland in all directions.
It would have made for an ideal public transportation system had it not been for the dead ends, traps, and the mythic beasts: the Vaerkuna.
Truth be told, the Vaerkuna were perhaps nothing but a legend.
For eons, the lost souls of the Cave of Whispers were said to have been sacrificed to the Vaerkuna, but every once in a great while, a survivor would emerge from the caves blind, dumb...
...and deaf so that the Vaerkuna might keep their secrets to themselves.
Or maybe they were nothing but a Fairyland tale, and the survivors had simply lost their senses in the dark, echoing solitude of the caves.
If you knew the caves, or if you knew how to listen to the whispers, it was entirely possible to pass through them without issue.
Goom threw Fewla over his shoulder, Murt strained his ear to the whispers, and Dennis shouted words like "hello," "echo," and "boobs" to see how well they echoed.
"Dennis! Please stop. You're making things terribly difficult," Murt yelled. His echoes agreed.
As their eyes adjusted to the darkness of the cave, so too did their ears.
And although Murt was only doing magic at a fourth-grade level, he was finding it easier to discern the content of the whispers.
The trouble was that they didn't even know where they were going, yet they were relying on whispers to get them there.
Try as he might, it wasn't too long before Murt decided that the whispers had no skill for navigation. Now, they were lost, and Murt was pretty sure that the whispers were snickering about it.
"What do you mean lost?" Goom asked. He knew what the word meant, but he was perplexed by the context.
"We. Are. Lost." Murt responded with a similar degree of frustration in his baritone voice. "I never said I could get us through the caves. I never said I spoke whisper.
I never even wanted anything to do with your damn heartstrings! You brought me into this mess because you need a magician to clean up after all your errors and missteps."
"Oh, here we go! Mr. Wizard, up on his high tower looking down on the common folk!" Goom responded with mockery in his voice.
"What else is new? Big brother Murt, so wise and so perfect, if only his idiot brother wasn't around to mess everything up. Is that right?"
"Yeah that is right, Goom," Murt fired back. They were getting louder and more animated. Their voices boomed off the walls and ceiling of the cave. Even the whispers stopped to listen.
"I could be anywhere right now. I could be enchanting blades for prophesied heroes. I could be saving princesses from-"
"Oh yeah yellow belt. That's what you think you'd be doing? We've got a lute full of the finest heartstrings a smuggler could steal.
Any wizard or witch would pay a fortune for the magic in these strings, and you can't do a damn thing with them. You'd be lucky to book a hobbit's birthday party."
"And I'd still be better off than I am with you!"
"Guys..." Dennis tried to interject, but he would need to try at least two more times before he was acknowledged.
"And what's stopping you?" Goom asked his brother.
"You're stopping me! You Goom." Murt's face was red with anger, but his eyes were wet and glassy. "If it wasn't for me, where would you be? If mom knew what-"
"What Goom? Don't talk about mom? Don't bring up the fact that you couldn't do the one thing she asked for?"
"Guys..." Dennis tried to steal their attention for the second time. No luck.
Murt continued, "All she wanted was for both her sons to make an honest living.
She wanted us to be better than her, better than dad, better than all the dwarves back in the Gellring Foothills, and look at you. Look at us."
Goom's eyes were downcast. He knew that Murt was right. Their mother would be ashamed to see him now.
Of course, he couldn't admit it to Murt because that's not how a man of any race or species operates. He redoubled his anger instead.
"And what give you the right to judge me?" Goom was screaming now. "You didn't have to leave the magic dojo. I didn't beg you to come, and I never asked you to look out for me.
And I never needed it. I'd be just as fine without you, and twice as rich! I'm not ashamed to be a smuggler. It's not the life mom would have wished for, but it was good enough for dad."
"How can you even say that? 'It was good enough for dad?' Are you daft? It killed him, Goom!"
"Guys!" Dennis bellowed over the brothers.
Finally, both the brothers, with their moist cheeks and rapid breaths, turned to hear what sort of very-important insight Dennis had to add to the conversation. "Do you hear that?"
They paused and quieted their breathing. From all around them, it seemed, they heard the sounds of rhythmic crunching and sliding rocks.
It was as if a giant, mythical beast were closing in on them, and here they were, shouting on its doorstep.