They knew not where they were going, but they knew what they were leaving behind.
For hours, they traveled through the underground labyrinth.
They tried their best to move in a constant direction, and when they could, they would take tunnels with an incline that they hoped would lead them above ground eventually.
It was a discouraging time, like when you're on a long road trip with your family and your phone dies.
Goom walked at the back of the group, and he left behind him a trail of Vaerkuna blood that dripped from his boots.
"I'm so hungry!" Dennis cried.
"We're all hungry!" Goom responded. Murt was in fact hungry, but he was still deaf, so he didn't get involved in the conversation.
They'd only been able to eat a couple of rats that Goom slapped to death. Murt roasted the rodents over a blue flame emanating from his wand. They tasted like chicken.
It was a shame that the chickens in Fairyland were rat flavored.
Dennis's stomach growled loudly beneath his tunic. The sound reverberated around them. "Okay! I'm just going to say it. I know I'm not the only one thinking it."
"What are you talking about Dennis?" Murt asked.
"Here we are starving, right? And here's Murt with forty pounds of goat shanks slung across his back."
"Dennis! You can't mean that," Goom shot back.
"We don't even know if she's going to live. Even if she does, she's not going to be using those legs again. Look at what the dragon did to them.
" He gestured to Fewla's legs that tenderly bounced with Murt's continuous footsteps. "Look at them. They look delicious!"
"We are not eating Fewla!" Goom yelled. Murt sensed the commotion, and turned around to try to figure out what was going on.
"I'm not going to eat her. I'm just going to have a bite of those legs!" Dennis grabbed for Fewla, and Murt backed away from the crazed man.
Murt could see the wild, hungry look in his eye, and he held Dennis off with one hand while Goom tried to pull him away from the ailing faun.
They scuffled for several moments until Murt suddenly stopped and backed away. His mouth was agape, and he pointed down the tunnel past Dennis and Goom. They turned to look.
Down the tunnel some way were two glowing eyes that snaked along the rock floor.
The trio turned and ran, but their progress was slow because they were all stricken with hunger pangs, and Murt was weighed down by Fewla.
Goom was still at the rear of the group when the Vaerkuna blood on his boots caused him to slip and fall. He looked back, and the eyes drew ever nearer.
He crab-walked away as fast as he could, but he was too slow, and soon the eyes were upon him.
"Nooooo!" Goom screamed. He closed his eyes in fear.
The beast latched onto his boot, but Goom didn't feel any teeth sink into his dwarfy toes. When he opened his eyes, he saw two Fire Sprites perched on his boots.
They were happily chomping away at the globs of Vaerkuna blood. Their peaceful glow illuminated their purple-stained cheeks.
"Goom, no!" Murt was screaming and running to his brother's aid. He laughed a hearty dwarf laugh when he saw the sprites.
Dennis was a bit farther behind, but eventually he made his way back to the brothers.
"Look Dennis, it's just a couple of Fire Sprites," Murt said.
But Dennis wasn't listening, he still had a feverish look in his eyes, and he was licking his chomps in a way that made the Fire Sprite feel very uncomfortable.
It would have made anyone feel uncomfortable. Chomp licking has that effect on people.
With a desperate grab, he took one of the Fire Sprite into his shaking hand. He pulled the creature toward his drooling mouth.
The helpless banana-sized sprite squeaked like freshly-cobbled boots. Nearer and nearer the sprite was drawn toward his chomping mandible until it was only inches away.
"Oh, I can't do it," he said with exasperation. "It's too damn cute." Dennis apologized to the Fire Sprite and set it down. The Fire Sprite squeaked away like a freed banana.
Murt bent down toward his brother's boots and tried to get a better look at the feasting sprites.
He was surprised at first until he thought back to the moment when the first five sprites had feasted on the heartstring that Goom had gifted to them. At that moment he had an epiphany.
He gently set Fewla down, and took his pack from Goom who been carrying it for him. He took out his spell book and flipped to the appendix.
He scanned the page and rifled through the book until he found what he was looking for. He held the book open, and showed it to his brother and Murt.
It was an entry for the magical properties of Vaerkuna blood!
"What does it say?" Goom asked Murt. Murt didn't hear him.
Neither Dennis nor Goom could make out the ancient runes that covered the page, and from the look on Murt's face, he was having his own struggles.
After studying it for some time, he shooed the Fire Sprites away from Goom's boots and collected a dollop of blood.
To the dollop he added an assortment of magical ingredients which he mixed into a gooey potion. Dennis's mouth was watering again, but the potion wasn't for eating.
Carefully, Murt collected a coin-sized blob of the potion. He held it close to his eyes and inspected it. He sniffed it, and then he added another dash of moserary herb.
He inspected it again with his eyes, then his nose, then his ears?
"What does it sound like?" Dennis asked. Murt didn't hear him.
With his eyes held tight in uncertainty, Murt forced the glob of potion into his right ear.
He let out a wild shriek, and shook his head around like an owl would if you asked it if it was a sparrow.
"I can hear!" he said at last. The potion had worked.
"Murt! Brother!" Goom said. "It's good to have you back.
" He was genuine when he said it, but he couldn't help the look of shame that snuck into his eyes as he remembered that Murt's deafness was partially his fault in the first place.
"It's good to be back," Murt said. He gave his brother a slap on the back. It was a slap that signaled that he accepted Goom's unspoken apology.
Maybe his deafness had been Goom's fault in a way, but it was also Goom's plan in the Vaerkuna lair that had remedied his deafness in the end.
Soon, Murt turned his attention to Fewla. He had been surprised that the potion worked well enough for his shattered ear drums, and he didn't know how it would work on her crippled legs.
He spread the mixture over the entirety of the burn. Then he waited.
He checked his book and found an incantation that he recited with his hands raised over Fewla's body.
Dennis was giving Goom a sidelong look, and Goom couldn't tell if he was worried about Fewla or just hungry.
Suddenly, the rise and fall of Fewla's chest became a little more pronounced. Murt felt her wrist, and the strength of her pulse was returning as well.
After another few minutes, her eyes were fluttering. Another few minutes and she was speaking.
"Aye boys. What did ye do ta piss off that dragon?" she asked with a smile on her face.
They let Fewla rest for some time, but the potion worked quickly, and soon she was on her feet and walking around. She tested out the strength of her legs.
She'd have to skip her tap-dancing lesson this week, but she was strong enough to walk.
The trio filled her in on all the events that had taken place in the caves,
and she filled them in on her youth as a messenger through the caves between the distant clans of fauns across Fairyland.
All fauns were naturally skilled in navigation, but her skill was second to none. Within an hour or so, they'd made it to fresh air.
"'Ere we are, fellas," she said, taking the last few steps up from the cave.
"And just where is here?" Goom asked. For all he, Murt, and Dennis knew, they might have been back in the Gellring Foothills where their journey had begun.
"Well this 'ere be the town o' Kuurlok."
"Kuurlok?" Goom echoed. He looked over his shoulder to his brother. He tightened his jaw, and his eyes were dark with anger. His brother stared back at him like a reflection in a murky pond.
A cool wind tossed the leaves in the space between them.
"Oh shit" Dennis said.