Goom struggled to keep his head above water as he was carried in the swift current.
On the far bank of the river, a good distance from the end of the chase, Goom was coughing up water. He'd never felt so unthirsty in his life.
He crawled toward the cover of the forest before him and collapsed with exhaustion. He knew he had to keep moving, but he gave himself these few precious moments to recover.
Not only was he still likely being pursued by the elven wardens, but he'd also been out from the Cave of Whispers for a full day,
and the likelihood of the dragon perceiving her heartstrings was growing stronger by the moment.
He sputtered out the dirtiest dwarven curses he knew between his coughs as he stood and balanced himself against a tree.
Taking the lute from his back, he inspected it. It was waterlogged, but otherwise undamaged, and the strings were still taught. They were not glowing yet.
He put his hands to the strings and felt for their power. He could use a little magic now, and the thought of his brother flashed through his head before he forced it away.
With the precious time he had, he disrobed and started a fire to dry out his clothes.
It took some time, but it was better than shivering in the autumn air, and he didn't want to come down with a bout of the Hag's Sniffles.
He redressed in his dry clothes and changed the bandage on his forearm, tightening the length of cloth with his teeth and opposite hand.
He continued on his journey, and eventually a bit of luck finally came his way as he rounded a bend and saw the shores of Lake Belvira through the trees.
From there, he could make his way through The Rift and into Neloth's Valley where Sil-kuru the Persistent awaited his delivery - assuming that Sil-kuru hadn't lost faith and begun his hunt of the dwarf.
A bit of sun made its way through the canopy and warmed him.
He came across nothing but a few squirrels and a small herd of elk as he walked along the lake while making sure to remain hidden by the thinning forest.
A lonely trout jumped through the air and splashed back into the lake near a solitary island a short distance from the shore. Goom thought of his friend Dennis.
A lonely trout jumped through the air and splashed back into the lake near a solitary island a short distance from the shore. Goom thought of his friend Dennis. He'd give anything to have the chance to badger the irksome sell sword at this moment.
As he walked, his shadow slowly moved from his left side to his right. He'd made it to the opposite end of the lake. The Rift lay ahead.
The forest gave way to stone and barren terrain, and he'd have to exchange the cover of trees for the cover of growing cliffs and rocky outcroppings as he descended into the canyon.
A family of Pebble Shrews scurried across his path, and he stomped at them to hasten their travel. Big things love doing that to smaller things.
A memory about Cave Ogres came to mind, and he apologized to the shrews.
If he didn't keep his wits about him, he might run into one of these Stone Ogres who could smush him like a blueberry in a rockslide.
He'd have to keep an eye out for those too - rockslides, not blueberries.
Just then, he heard a clattering of rocks and jumped to attention. He forced his way into a nearby crevice in the golden rock face that towered over him. He grabbed the dagger at his hip.
Slowly, he eased around the edge of the crevice to check for Stone Ogres or whatever had caused the rock slide.
It may have been nothing more than a mountain goat high up in the cliffs, but Goom wasn't counting on it given his string of recent bad luck.
And wouldn't you know it? More bad luck was on the way for Goom.
When he peered around the edge of his hiding spot, he saw five figures cloaked in black.
"Gods be damned! Mahrcut!" he whispered to himself.
He was surprised that Mahrcut and his fake-Ulimni-phony-minstrels-heartstring-stealing band of scoundrels had all escaped the wrath of the dragon.
He was surprised that Mahrcut and his fake-Ulimni-phony-minstrels-heartstring-stealing band of scoundrels had all escaped the wrath of the dragon. The last time he saw them, they were running for their lives as the forest around them burned in a blaze of dragon fire.
Though they weren't as dangerous as a solitary Stone Ogre, Goom still couldn't expect to fight them off, and he knew that they'd have a bone to pick after losing their stolen bounty and nearly their lives. He remained hidden in the crevice.
Suddenly, the pebbles and stone fragments at his feet began to tremble.
Earthquake? He looked to the walls around him, but it seemed as though the growing vibration was concentrated on him alone.
It made its way into his body, beginning in his heart and extending into his extremities. His blood ran cold.
His muscles tensed up and became paralyzed as if he were being frozen from the inside out. The grip of an unembodied hand seized him by the throat, and his breath was gone.
His dagger clattered to the ground. Filled with terror, his eyes darted around as he tried to figure out what was happening to him.
His feet left the ground, and he floated out from the crevice like some kind of hexed fudgesicle - only he was filled with dread rather than fudge. He was a dreadsicle.
Unable to turn his head, he floated out into the open. The force that possessed him slowly turned him round.
He saw the same cloaked figures, and the one nearest to him had its hand raised and fingers spread wide.
Their faces were still shrouded in darkness beneath the hoods of their cloaks, but Goom didn't need to see their faces to know who they were.
The lute floated off of his back and through the air into the thin, skeletal hands of a second Ulimni.
He knew that his end was near, and he could feel his body begin to collapse beneath an invisible gravity. It was as if he were a scrap of parchment being balled up before it was discarded.
His mind cried out with the pain that his voice couldn't speak.
At the moment when he thought he could stand it no longer, one of the Ulimni set his hand upon the shoulder of the sorcerer who was torturing Goom with his ancient craft.
The feeling of being crush left his body, but he was still immobile. Together, the Ulimni lowered their hoods to reveal their grim form.
The faces he looked into weren't quite skeletons but they weren't quite men either. Their pale skin clung tight to their faces, and mystic runes adorned their cheeks and foreheads.
Their white eyes were sunken and emotionless, but Goom thought he could sense a smile about their jaws. He knew that they'd save him for the dragon.