This could not be! Burrfoot could not believe his senses. This was the place of cool-drinking, but now it roared at him and spat. His ears heard the rushing water, he smelled the scent of silt pulled from a riverbed, tasted the wet mist, felt the rumble of boulders and mighty tress carried along, tumbling over and over.
First to arrive, suddenly, the great wolf felt alone. Burrfoot backed away with his tail between his legs. Then at a safe distance he howled out his distress and called for the pack.
* * *
"Curses," Talberth swore and kicked at a stone. "We didn't even make it to the walls."
"How many have returned?"
"All but our thief and ranger... and Ivo," Talberth replied.
"Someone comes!" Edouard cried from the cavern's mouth. "It's our thief. He's floating along like a big fat bee."
"What!?" Talberth exclaimed. "This I have to see."
Outside the cave, a tall man's height above the ground, came their halfling thief and friend. He seemed to fly, but in the most strange and awkward way. He'd bound forward a good few feet, then shake, jarred up and down, then fly again.
"That is bizarre," Talberth turned his head to look back at the others.
Telenstil just laughed, "Both our scouts return. Now where is our good master gnome."
At the cavern's entrance the halfing stopped and levitated to the ground. He grabbed his stomach and groaned then with careful steps, so as not to jar his aching sides, he entered in.
"ohhh!" Harold cried, "Misery, misery, he's shaken me up inside."
"Listen to him complain," a spectral voice declared.
"Harald is that you?" Talberth asked. "Why don't you appear?"
"I don't know how," the voice complained.
The halfing gave a laugh then grimaced at the pain from his bruised sides.
* * *
Ivo walked along the trail weaving small spells as he went. He created nine shadows that always had their backs to those who watched and placed them on a patch of rock far off the path. If any approached them they would seem to slip away and run off toward the south. Then with a disc of bronze in one hand and an iron rod in his other he cast a spell upon the trail and where the bronze and iron metal touched they liquefied and formed a pool. It glowed and gave off a sharp metallic smell and then was gone, absorbed into the dirt and rock, but waiting for the next passerby to step within its sphere.
Time was passing and his companions would be worried, he cast just two more spells to hide and misdirect their foes, then he hurried on, walking fast for home.
* * *
"Where can he be?" Gytha asked the elven mage.
"He is safe. Ivo is a master of his craft," said Telenstil. "Do not worry. I have seen him disappear for days, then on his return explain away his absence as idle curiosity."
"He wouldn't go for days?"
"Oh, no, not when on a campaign such as this, no," Telenstil reassured her. "I mean to say that our gnomish friend follows his own course and council. He is a greater mage than I, though his craft is less direct."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Master Ivo weaves spells of light and dark. They fool the eye and confuse the mind, and sometimes are real. His is the way of illusion. Mine... well I am a journeymen to all the magic crafts."
"And master of none?" Gytha laughed and did not believe Telenstil's modest words.
"A fledging master of one or two," Telenstil laughed as well, "The benefits of great age. I knew master Ivo's grandsire when he was young," and as he talked the gnome in question appeared before their eyes.
"How long have you been back?" Gytha asked with glee then frowned to scold the grey-haired gnome. "That's rude, listening in on what we've said."