The Vaerkuna gathered itself and grabbed the wilted faun with one of its giant clawed hands before letting out a half-hearted roar and retreating from the cave.
"Murt? Murt?" Dennis was holding his head and shaking Murt by his collar with his other hand. Murt's eyes spun with confusion but he slapped Dennis's hand away.
He beat his hands against his ears, and dug into them with his fingertips. It was no use. He'd been deafened by the Vaerkuna's roar.
While Dennis was tending to Murt, Goom was reflecting on his inaction. In a moment when his brother needed him most, he failed.
On top of that, he couldn't protect Fewla who was now probably half way through the Vaerkuna's large intestine. His face was stoic, but his internal strife set wrinkles into his broad forehead. Maybe Murt was right.
If it hadn't been for that high-pitched screeching, the Vaerkuna may have killed them all.
Goom shook off his existential dread for the moment, and tried to figure out where the sound had come from. It didn't take him long to find the Fire Sprites - they were glowing after all.
The Fire Sprites were a race of magical creatures somewhere between a bat, a fairy, and a child's stuffed bear. They were adorable.
Only slightly less legendary than the Vaerkuna, the Fire Sprites lived only in the Cave of Whispers.
If they were seen by mortal eyes, it was typically only in the form of a furtive glow in the distance.
They used echolocation like a bat, but they could communicate with other Fire Sprites by means of flashes of light emitted from a small organ located near their throats.
They were sometimes called Bearded Sprites because of this organ.
Goom found it very peculiar that they'd not only encountered and survived the Vaerkuna, but also that they had the Fire Sprites to thank for their deliverance.
What were the odds of running into two mythical creatures in a matter of minutes? It was like they'd shot a single arrow and hit two bullseyes.
Goom's curiosity was soon answered when the Glow of Fire Sprites flew down from their high perch and landed at his feet.
One even landed on his shoulder, and it was very interested in the lute strapped to Goom's back. It was the heartstrings and their magic that had attracted the sprites.
"You want this?" Goom asked. By this point, both Dennis and Murt had rejoined Goom. Murt gave his brother a cross look, but Goom didn't see it. He was too fixated on the Fire Sprites.
Murt set his anger aside. Trying to continue the argument would be an exercise in futility. Murt hated exercise anyway. Even if he could hear Goom, Murt wouldn't listen.
Goom removed the lute from his back, and set it on the stone floor. The sprites, five in total, circled around it.
They were so cute hopping around with their little claws tucked close to their breasts and their wings hanging like cloaks.
They were flashing like crazy and emitting quick, sharp cries of excitement.
Their wide eyes darted around every which way as if they were too shy to make eye contact, but Goom could tell they were patiently waiting for an offering.
It was a small price to pay for three saved lives even if it came at the expense of one life.
With care, Goom unstrung one of the heartstrings from the lute, but before he handed it over, he had a thought cross his mind. He wondered if they couldn't save Fewla after all, and he wondered if the sprites might be able to help.
"If I give you this, can you take us to the Vaerkuna?" he asked.
"What?!" Dennis asked with shocked confusion.
"What the hell is going on?" Murt asked much louder than was necessary.
Bewildered and a little irritated, Dennis continued, "Why would we ever want to find the Vaerkuna?"
"First of all, we have no way to get out of these caves without Fewla, and second of all, she helped us one-and-a-half times, and we owe it to her," Goom answered.
Maybe he was speaking honestly, or maybe it was all crazy talk from a dwarf who was seeking redemption. Actually, it was definitely the redemption thing.
"Okay. First of all, we don't even know if she's alive. Second of all, we don't even know if she knows how to navigate the caves. Third of all, it's a stupid plan, and these guys aren't going to be able to help us anyway," Dennis responded.
"Sure they can. Can you help us find our friend?" he asked the Fire Sprites.
Each of the five sprites illuminated its light, and Goom took that as a yes.
He handed over the heartstring, and the Fire Sprites were on it like a dust on a bread machine. They gobbled up the string in a matter of seconds.
It might have been terrifying had they not been so damn cute to begin with.
"Can someone write me a note or something? Maybe mime it to me?" Murt complained. "This is all very confusing."
With their bellies full of magic, the Fire Sprites took to the air.
They each found a perch near the ceiling, and they spaced themselves out like a string of glowing lamps that led down a tunnel to their left. They were showing Goom the way.
"Oh, good. They're showing us how to get out of this miserable place," Murt said as he followed his brother toward the tunnel. Dennis sighed, but he followed as well.