"What in the many Hells was that?" Harold asked.
"Just that, or so it sounds," the human Harald said.
The wail came again and was joined by another voice. The wolves across the field added a chorus of yips and yowls then wailed as well. From beyond the steading's walls the pack joined in, then a metal gong began to sound.
"That buggers it," the halfling said, "time for us to be gone."
The ghostly wails increased and two misty forms, they glowed a pale silver like trapped moonlight, drifted across the hill from their right.
"That doesn't look good," Harold said, then the halfing turned and ran down the way he'd come. The ranger Harald paused and scattered a generous portion of his pepper bag across their path, then followed after his halfling friend.
* * *
Halfway up the hill's southern slope seven human-sized shapes lay in wait for their scouts to return. The eerie call from above sent a stir through each, one standing up, another straining forward, each clutching at a weapon, some item of power or symbol of their faith.
"Gytha!" Talberth stood and grabbed the cleric's arm.
She pulled the wizard's hand away and turned with a fury in her eyes.
Talberth drew back, but in an instant regained his commanding demeanor. "Gytha. Hold! We need to stay together not go rushing ahead alone."
A wild look left her face and she bowed her head. "My apologies," she said.
Then another wail reached them, and then a wild chorus of yowls and barks and a clanging metal gong rang out.
"Prepare yourselves!" Telenstil called out. "Talberth, you remember that spell of fire I taught you some time ago, I hope."
"Yes master Telenstil. I know it well," Talberth said and pulled a stinking brown and yellow pea-sized ball from a pocket at his belt.
* * *
Nosnra had not slept. When the dogs began to howl and the warning alarm sounded he was awake and dressed, sitting upon the edge of his bed and staring at the wall. A lethargy had come over him, so unlike his nature, but these evil times had drained him and neither sleep, which would not come, or drink, of which he'd had too much, could fill him with his accustomed vitality.
* * *
Harald gave up any attempts at stealth and ran down the hill as fast as his long legs could carry him. He soon over took his halfling friend and as he went by, reached down, and lifted him by Harold's hooded cape.
"Hey! What the..." Harold yelled, his legs kicking madly in the air. "Lemme go you lummox."
"Ha!" laughed Harald. "You're too slow. You owe me for this."
"Oh, don't worry. I'll make sure to pay you back," the halfling said, then let loose a torrent of curses and swears.
* * *
"What is that!" Talberth cried. He drew back his hand and prepared to cast his spell.
"Hold!" Telenstil commanded, "It is our scouts. They are returning."
A single large shape came hurtling down the hill and close behind two misty clouds drifted by, but with purpose and direction. They seemed unrushed but gained upon the retreating form.
"Gytha, Henri," Telenstil called them forward. "Those shapes, they have a giant's form, some spirits of their dead. They seem to have awoken them."
"They are those who fell to our hand," Henri said, his voice an even unoerthly tone. "They have not seen the light. I will set them to rest or cast them into the outer dark." He threw back his obscuring cape revealing his white shimmering robe beneath and on his face, a golden mask with eyes of clear diamond, their facets sparkling with a rainbow glow.
Harald, holding the halfling thief, came leaping down the hill and skidded past. Then Henri stepped out and faced the ghostly mist. He raised both arms and as he did the sun appeared to rise. Its light blazed from his mask. Most was blocked by his own body, but still the others in the group had to turn away or hold an arm or shield before their eyes. Talberth had a bare glimpse of Henri's body, his skin translucent red, his skeleton dark within. A wail, mournful and despairing poured out, and then fell away as if it dropped slowly down into some well or pit, another cry, but this one harsh and defiant still. It went on, then drew off too, but did not fade entirely.
Talberth blinked a red and purple blob away that haunted him eyes shut or open wide. Henri stood, but slumped, his arms fallen to his sides. It was night once more upon the slope.
"I could not save them," Henri said with sadness in his voice. "One is gone, cast out into the dark, the other resists but had to flee the true God's light."
"You did well," said Telenstil then suddenly caught sight of giants, dark against the starry sky, just cresting the hill and coming down toward them. "Talberth, prepare to cast your fire spell!"
The sound of howling, unnoticed while the wraith-like forms approached, came to them now, and then it changed. There were sharp yips of pain, and loud cursing giant voices.
"They've trailed too close," Harald panted; his breath short after his hurly burly run.
The halfling laughed. "Your 'magic' pepper is a potent artifact."
"What is this?" Talberth inquired, always eager for knowledge of his craft.
"Just good black peppercorn, ground rough, the same you'd use upon your dinner meat," Harald explained.
"It's not stopping our giant friends," Gytha called them back to their approaching foes.
A half-dozen giants had begun a quick descent. They knew this hill, every inch, no gopher hole or gully, would take them by surprise. They made quick time and, with a stride no human could ever match, ate away the distance between themselves and the runts they'd come to kill.