The dragon continued to hover in the air before Goom, but she produced no fire. She was spellbound by the dwarf who nimbly plucked at her heartstrings.
Goom's gamble had paid off. He'd noticed the connection between the dragon and the lute when the instrument was first placed atop the mountain.
When the Ulimni had accidentally strummed the lute, the dragon had cried out from far across Fairyland.
It happened a second time when the lute rang out after being set upon the niche in the mountain. This time, Goom had noticed that the dragon's roar accompanied the lute with an eerie harmony.
He knew that the dragon heartstrings had great power, and he wondered if these events were more than a coincidence.
Between his hunch and the enduring memory of his dream from the night before, Goom was certain that he was meant to pursue the lute.
He continued fingering the glowing strings of the enchanted lute, and through an unknown power he was able to control the dragon.
It wasn't that she'd been bewitched or was being manipulated like some sort of mindless zombie, it was as if they'd become a duo. The music bound Goom to the dragon.
He was no longer independently in control of his body nor was the dragon. The notes of their individual souls had become a melody.
Goom's hands played a powerful and aggressive tune upon the lute, and the dragon turned her sights on the Ulimni. She flew down to the mountaintop.
With something akin to fear, the Ulimni dropped their torturous spells, and Murt and Dennis crashed to the stone.
The dragon lowered her head, and let out a tremendous roar that rippled their black cloaks. Deep within her body, the air coalesced into a raging fire.
Goom felt the same heat in his lungs, and his whole body steamed in the frigid mountain mist.
The Ulimni, becoming aware of the situation, dropped to a knee and pressed their fingertips against the surface of the mountain.
One by one they vanished into a wisp of smoke before the dragon could let loose her fire breath.
The final of the five Ulimni turned his head and cast his white eyes up at Goom one more time before he too vanished.
Murt and Dennis were still in a great deal of pain, and they laid on the mountaintop trying to recover and assess the damage done to their bodies.
Goom continued to play the lute, and the dragon went flying in his direction. She lowered her head and Goom climbed onto her neck and sat upon her back as if he'd done it a hundred times.
Together, they flew back down to Murt and Dennis.
"Come on!" he yelled down to them. They were wary at first, but the dragon lowered her wing in their direction and invited them to climb on.
"What is happening?" Dennis asked. It was an appropriate question but one that no one had a good answer for.
Once they were all upon the dragon's back, Goom changed his tune, and the dragon took to the skies. They flew up and up into the thickening clouds.
The ring of fire had disappeared with the Ulimni, and once again the dense fog of the Shrouded Mountains obscured the ridge of jagged peaks around them.
The ring of fire had disappeared with the Ulimni, and once again the dense fog of the Shrouded Mountains obscured the sea of jagged peaks around them. The dragon beat her mighty wings to take them higher.
Goom was comfortably sitting on the dragon's back, but Dennis and Murt were scared for their lives and grabbing at any ridge or scale they could get a hold of.
Eventually, the great gray dragon broke out of the cloud cover. They all looked down at a blanket of clouds as the unimpeded sun shone down on them and warmed their tired bodies.
It was a sight to behold, and one that only a handful of people in the history of Fairyland had ever enjoyed.
A faint tone could be heard over the gusts coming from the dragon's leathery wings.
A faint tone could be heard over the gusts coming from the dragon's leathery wings. It was Fewla signaling to them with the bull horn, but they wouldn't need her help now that they were free from the fog.
Together, they flew through the thin air, and headed out over the open meadows and slowly descended in a progression of sweeping circles.
Together, they flew through the thin air, and headed out over the open meadows and slowly descended in a progression of sweeping circles. When they were still some distance from the ground, they could see Fewla, but when she saw the falling dragon, she ran off for the cover of the forest.
Goom couldn't help but laugh even after everything he'd been through in the previous days.
The dragon landed in the meadow below the Shrouded Mountains with the gentle grace of a falling leaf. She lowered her wings and allowed Murt, Dennis, and Goom to hop down to the grass below.
Goom continued to play the lute, and he could still feel the tremendous power coursing through his veins.
He wanted to dwell in the intoxicating feeling of that power, and his mind swirled with the possibilities of how he might make use of this dangerous omnipotence. His eyes grew dark with wicked guile.
He and the dragon could overtake all of Fairyland. Aside from the Ulimni, there wasn't a soul who could challenge the might that he and the dragon possessed.
Murt had noticed the change in his brother. "Goom?"
Goom didn't respond. His fingers moved quickly across the strings, and the instrument produced a haunting melody in the key of E minor.
Again, a powerful aura surrounded Goom, but this time it took on the dark purple hue of a winter storm.
"Goom!" Murt had grabbed his brother by the shoulders, and he was shaking him. Goom was unflinching. Murt raised his arm and struck Goom across the face with a forceful backhand.
The dragon turned to face him, and she let out a wild roar that rattled his aching bones. Goom was unphased, and in his minds eye he flew across Fairyland.
He saw Ekwar, the kingdom of the Orcs, with towering spires on the cliffs overlooking the Black Sea. He saw the Kingdom of Thincorum shining on the banks of the Silver River.
He saw the rooftops of the villages of men that sprinkled the Southern Plains and the expansive herds of cattle belonging to the nomads of the Northern Desert.
And everything he saw ignited in flames.
He saw the thatched huts of the Highland Fauns in Viaria. He blinked. He saw the Fire Sprites in the Cave of Whispers and the diminutive Sand Gnomes of Lake Belvira. His eyes fluttered.
His mind drifted over his dwarvish brethren in the Gellring Foothills and the Great Oak of Kuurlok.
"Goom! Goom!" both Murt and Dennis were struggling to bring Goom back to them while the dragon continued to grow evermore restless and intimidating.
She stood upon her thick legs and raised her head toward the sky. She sent frightening roars into the air, and her silver underbelly rippled with the thunderous cries.
A long, thin scar could be seen across her chest, and it heaved with the rhythm of her pounding heart.
"Goom!" Fewla added her voice to the chorus. She grabbed Goom by the arm, but he was hotter than ember, and she recoiled her hand in pain.
"What's wrong with 'im?" she asked, screaming over the sounds of the bewitching music and the dragon's echoing roars.
"I don't know," Murt yelled back.
Goom's vision lingered above the Great Oak. He saw an acorn fall from the tree's sprawling branches, and it crashed to the ground below with a hollow clack.
The sun and moon raced through the skies as day gave way to night and night to day. Goom watched as the taproot burst free from the acorn and wriggled across the ground, searching for soil.
He watched a shoot appear that became a stalk and strained upward. Two broad leaves appeared, and they spread themselves wide reaching for sunlight in the shadow of the Great Oak.
The darkness faded from Goom's eyes, and he found himself surrounded by Murt, Dennis, and Fewla who were shouting at him with a great deal of concern. He shook his head and collected himself.
"What...what's going on?"
"What...what's going on?" "Goom?" Murt asked cautiously.
"What...what's going on?" "Goom?" Murt asked cautiously. "Murt?" Goom responded with confused indignance.
"What...what's going on?" "Goom?" Murt asked cautiously. "Murt?" Goom responded with confused indignance. "Goom!" Murt yelled happily. He gave his brother a hug and it was warm with love rather than sorcery.
Goom didn't reciprocate the hug, and he quickly forced Murt off of him.
He did want to hug his brother back, but he was still playing the magical lute, and he was focused on choosing his next moves very carefully.
He switched back to a beautiful and soothing melody, and he walked up to the great gray dragon. Murt, Dennis, and Fewla stood back, sensing the import of Goom's focused demeanor.
The anger had left the dragon's eyes and she calmly lowered her head until her snout was within Goom's reach. Goom stopped playing the lute.
A sort of wave seemed to flow through the dragon, and she lightly shook her mighty head as the hypnotic spell was lifted.
"Goom, what are you doing? Murt asked.
The dragon expelled an intimidating breath of steaming air through her nostrils, and the pupils in her eyes narrowed with realization as her senses returned.
"Keep playing Goom!" Murt yelled. He, Dennis, and Fewla were slowly backing away from Goom and the Dragon.
Goom wasn't listening. He carefully set the lute on the ground in front of the dragon and backed away with his arms spread wide in a gesture of submission.
The dragon was breathing more heavily, and the grasses of the meadow swayed in front of her snout. She looked down at the glowing heartstring of the lute.
Her claws tensed and churned up the dirt and grass beneath her. Against the backdrop of a monochromatic sky, her scaled gray tail swung back and forth like a living sword.
She opened her mouth wide, and let out a resounding roar that knocked Goom to the ground with its force and made him cover his ears in pain.
She lifted one of her hands and spread her sickle-tipped claws.
With lethal dexterity, she took the lute into her hand before rising into the pale sky and flying away back toward the Shrouded Mountains.
Some part of Goom flew away with the dragon, and he might have felt sad if it weren't for the fire that he could still feel deep within him.