Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 12

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 12

To the west the rushing river disappeared as Engenulf had promised. Once more it was a mild stream, a bare trickle that two good steps would pass through.

Nosnra swore and shook a fist at the stars, some night flying flock of birds went by, he would have tossed a stone or spear at them, so mad was he, if he'd had such at hand.

"Come," he called to Gosfrith and the wolves, Ursoth growled and bowled one playfully aside, but Nosnra gave his bear a swat and told his pet to let the wolves do their work. "Engenulf, can you cast ahead? I do not trust our scouts or wolves to find these villains' trail. That stream, it seemed real to me and to the wolves as well. What other tricks do they have in store?"

"I could not even guess, my Thegn," said Engenulf, "but yes I have a spell that may help and a spirit yet at my command, if need be."

* * *

Harald caught a glimmer from the wall. He'd brought an axe to replace his lost claymore, his claidheamohmor in his father's tongue, but he missed the great blade dearly. High above the mantle, held within the horns of a giant stag, was a sword that shown with edges razor keen and a blade like polished silver. It drew him forward like a beckoning maiden on a summer's night. He paced to it across the carpeted floor and stood looking up with worshipful eyes. The axe he laid aside by the hearth and wrestled a chair that would have sat five men beneath the mantle's edge.

Telenstil had sent the two scouts out, and with them their halfling thief, skilled beyond any here in finding ways through unfamiliar halls and chambers. Gytha, Henri, Ivo, all were nearby and Talberth too, but where had their ranger gotten to, he wondered.

A scraping sound turned all their heads, their scouts already yards away froze along a wall, Talberth held a magic wand that needed just a word to cast a bolt of lightning out. Telenstil stayed his own hands and rushed over to the ranger to put a stop to his strange and noisy actions.

Harald stood upon a chair and reached up to grab at the lowest antler that held the wondrous sword. Below him Telenstil reached out and pulled his trouser leg.

"What are you doing? Harald are you bespelled?" Telenstil asked with some alarm.

"I'm fine. This sword, have you ever seen its like?" Harald asked but would not have believed that any blade could match the one just beyond his grasp.

"Harald..." Telenstil began, but stopped, speechless as the grey-haired giant of a man teetered on the edge of the huge chair, like a child reaching for a cookie jar placed high upon a shelf. The antlers were firmly set into the wooden wall. Harald pulled himself upon the mantle and stood before the sword. It lay unsheathed, resting upon the yellowing antler horns. He touched it reverently with two hands and read the words carved upon its quillon block. "Miming." it said in old-fashioned runes, and turning it over saw, "Weland made me," etched on the reverse.

He pulled it from the bracket of horns and as he did a vibrant challenge rang out. The antlers before him came alive then jabbed out and knocked him from the shelf. Telenstil, standing below, saw the ranger fall and jumped aside, quick as only an elf could be, graceful as he rolled and came back to his feet.

Harald fell back and hit the ground, he twisted and landed in a shoulder roll, still clutching the ancient claidheamohmor, but grunted in pain from his hard fall, and bleeding from a half dozen stabs, the horns now dripped red with Harald's blood. They moved from their place above the mantle and sat atop a spectral stag, a monster of countless tines. It walked from a spirit realm that opened into the trophy hall. The stag stood taller than any horse, its coat was a translucent red but its horns were solid and sharp, it coughed out a challenge and proudly stepped further into the room.

Against the eastern wall were set the heads of many foes, each had been stuffed and mounted by a master's hand, they bore a living scream or look of fear or defiant shout, but held a spark of life. This spark was roused into a flame, each head began to scream and shout, some for mercy, most in myriad tongues that cursed the giant chief, but in their roaring discord they served Nosnra well and sent out an alarm that roused the giants in their beds or at their posts within the steading's walls.

* * *

Engenulf carved a circle in the oerth and drew a line from north to south then east to west. He took a pouch from his belt and jangled it in his hand unopened.

"The bones?" asked Nosnra.

"Yes, my father will help me find the way," Engenulf replied. He reached into the bag and pulled out the polished fingerbones of his father, Engulfen. Each had a symbol carved along its length then stained black with soot from a funeral pyre. The witan tossed them down and stared hard at what they had to say. A sweat broke out across his brow; Engenulf gave a moan and fell to his knees. A mist rose from each bone and coalesced above the magic circle, a head formed of swirling white. Two dark pits were its eyes, a skull with wispy beard and hair blown back by a spectral wind.

"Engulfen, my father, my kindred, waken from thy rest. Engulfen!" he cried. "Engulfen as you guided me in life, guide me now!"

The skull of mist opened wide its jaws and screamed, no voice could be heard, no throat to form the words, but silently. The face was swept away and in its place a hand began to shape itself. The carved bones upon the ground did rise and match themselves to the ghostly hand, and then the mist was gone. Engenulf did not hesitate; he snatched the bones from the thin air and grimaced at their touch. Each sharp-ended digit sank in and pierced the witan's hand. His blood ran across the bones till the black-etched runes shown bright red.

"This way!" Engenulf shouted and his hand, held in a skeletal clasp, pointed toward the south and east.

"Hurry, this spell will last, but only as long as I have the blood to keep it fed." 


"Henri!" Talberth yelled above the din, "Can you make them stop that screaming!"

"I see their spirits," Henri said, "Those I cannot save I will cast out."

The priest strode forward and held up a disc of silver white. "By the symbol of my faith, by the God of blinding light!" he called, "I bring you the One True Way! Follow it or be banished from my sight!"

The heads upon the wall began to wail and as the priest said his last words some began to melt. They flowed like wax set above a flame, and their wailing became a final scream. Rows of fleshless skulls lined the wall, but some had burst and others burned like torches, licking at the frames which held them upon the timber wall.

The giant stag had stepped back at the priest's approach, but when he'd finished, it remained. In a smooth graceful bound it leapt to him and lashed out with its ghostly hooves. Henri was knocked back and off his feet, he rolled across the floor.

Harald felt a flush of shame to be the cause, but the sword he held quickly took such thoughts away. "Miming," he said aloud to himself, "I claim thee as my own." A flood of strength rushed through him. He felt the pain of his fall and stiffness of age all wash away.

* * *

Two of the giant guards walked across the inner field. The wolves had gone with the chief and most of the clan as well. A misty rain began to fall and both guards pulled up their hoods and wrapped their cloaks around them tight. Breme had set a fire near the center of the yard. It hissed and smoked as the damp rain fought against the blaze. Both walked toward its warmth, kept outside for duty's sake, they'd rather have been asleep in bed.

"What was that?" asked one.

"Nothing," the other murmured a reply, reaching out to warm his hands.

"You must be deaf. Listen!" A chorus of muffled screams drifted across the yard and blended with the crackling noise of the open blaze.

"Oh hells, that's the chief's hall. Raise the alarm!"

"Nosnra will skin us!" the giant shouted back.

The door to the outer barracks, a three room building unattached to the main hall in the north-east corner of the yard, burst open. Breme, an aging giant warrior came out. He gave a wide yawn, lifting his arms over his head and stretching his back. It took him a moment to react to the shouts and then he gave a start.

"What...what is going on!" he yelled.

"The chief's hall," a giant guard yelled back, "those heads of his have set to screaming!"

Breme ran over, passed the fire and continued toward the northern door which lead into the main building and down to the chief's trophy hall.

"I can't hear anything now," said Breme.

The two guards looked at each other then one spoke up.

"Well they were, just a minute ago,"

"They've stopped," said the other guard.

Breme looked from one to the other trying to decide if he believed them. "Come on then. We will go and see," he decided.

* * *

Inside the hall the stag was causing havoc. It passed through chair and table like a mist. The weapons of the scouts did not even touch the beast, but its horns and hooves had drawn blood from both. Edouard reeled back, his forehead bleeding, grazed by a jabbing horn. He had ducked back just in time or he would have lost an eye. His brother had been kicked aside and nearly trampled, but Gytha had pulled him free.

The red-haired cleric waved a cudgel at the beast, "By the Saint's mighty hand I call his wrath upon you," she cried and flung her cudgel toward its head. The wood shimmered as it flew and seemed to expand till it was of giant size. It struck the stag a good solid blow across the head and made it rear up and stagger to the side. It nearly lost its footing and dazedly weaved its ghostly shape through a table top.

Talberth had put his wand away. He slid it up his sleeve then called up a spell he thought would wound the beast. "Zimee-ari-kno," he said with force behind his words. He flung out his hands as if to toss away a stone and five streaking darts of glowing blue raced toward the stag. They struck its insubstantial side and left gaping holes along its blood-red coat.

A sweeping blade sliced across the stag. It wheeled, but dragged a wounded leg, then was struck again. Harald swung his new-found sword and with its ensorceled blade carved broad gashes through its ghostly hide. The stag lashed out, then bent its head and thrust a dozen pointed tines into the ranger's face. Harald brought his claymore down and sent a clattering of severed horns falling to the ground.

Gytha motioned with her hands and, several feet away, the giant cudgel smashed down and cracked against both solid bone and translucent skull. The stag lifted its broken head and gave one final coughing moan, then shriveled like paper set to flame. The horns fell with a crash and shattered on the floor; they broke apart, brittle as if they had been made of ice. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 11

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 11

"Another failed attempt," Talberth complained, shaking his head in disgust.

"No!" Telenstil exclaimed with surprising vehemence. "I expected something of the sort. Again we return unscathed and this last attempt was just a prelude." He looked about at the gathered company. "Have you all rested enough from this night's excitement?"

"I don't believe it," said Talberth.

"You mean for us to go out again?" asked Gytha. She smiled, "Good, good, the iron is hot. Let us strike!"

"Yes, they are running about looking for us," said the old ranger. "If we can avoid their search parties then the steading itself should be undermanned."

"Under-gianted you mean," Harold said brightly, but his attempt at humor earned him only some sour looks. "But how are we going to get past these patrols?"

"With master Ivo's help and mine, if need be, and with the guidance of our good ranger, Harald," said Telenstil.

"Oh, not more magic spells!" moaned the halfling Harold. "This big clod nearly squashed me flat with those invisible size-twelves of his."

"That is a problem with invisibility," master Ivo said seriously. "I have never been able to teach the spell the difference between friend and foe, but it would certainly be a useful addition to its effects. Do not worry. I have other spells at my command. We will arrive at the steading unseen."

* * *

The night was lit by a river of fire. Nosnra had summoned forth the most trustworthy of his orcish slaves and each now carried a burning torch. Hundreds of orcs marched down the southern slope of the giant's hill. Between them went the most skilled of the giant scouts searching for each track and print left behind by their puny attackers. At the bottom of the hill, a narrow valley between their own and the southerly lower hills, Nosnra waited with the steading's wolf pack, a small band of his clansmen and his witan Engenulf.

"What foul enchantment is this?" Nosnra asked.

"It's the work of dwarves," Engenulf explained. "The wizened, hillish kind that call themselves gnomes."

"I've heard their name before," said Nosnra with a nod of his head.

"This is not real, but it fools the mind. It is done with great power. The effort to dispel it would be just as great or greater." Engenulf declared.

"The trail leads through the stream we need to pass, and this flood seems real enough to me," Nosnra said. "You must dispel it and quick. They flee, and they've cost us three more dead."

"It cannot go far either upstream or down. The stream is not flooding, we can bypass this and circle around," answered Engenulf.

"Alright. Gosfrith!" Nosnra yelled and the wolf master came running.

"My Thegn," Gosfrith spoke up.

"Take the pack north but have someone take six of the wolves south. Engenulf says that the stream will be clear to the south and the north. We will circle round."

Gosfrith eyed the crashing water, but nodded his head and did as he was told.

* * *

"We will circle round the hill," Telenstil explained. "And we will come from the north where they have no watchtower set." \

"Good," said Talberth. "I do not like leaving here when they are searching for us. What if they spot our trail?"

"I have an idea. An item which was created as an amusement for an emperor's child, ages past. It will come in very handy for us now," Telenstil took a small chest from his pack and with some reverence opened it for all to see. Inside, a ball of milky white, like some monstrous pearl, rested upon a cloth of red silk. He took the ball from its wooden case and as he did it appeared to grow so that what had been an apple's size took two hands to hold. He bent and breathed a word upon its surface, "Xsurjere!" he said and the ball began to glow. Telenstil pulled his hands away, and the ball, glowing white, remained floating in the air. "Now, reach over and put your hand on the orb. Harald, how about you?"

"I've had as much magic as I can stand for one night," the ranger said and backed away.

Gytha laughed, "Why Harald, you are as timid as a mouse. I would never have imagined."

Harald blushed but said nothing and made no sign that he would heed Telenstil's request.

"Here," Gytha said. "I'll do it," she reached out and put her hand to the glowing ball. "It tingles!" she laughed. Gytha did not notice as her feet slowly rose from the ground till she stood only upon the air.

"Harald, take Gytha's hand." said Telenstil. The ranger just shook his head.

"Oh you big baby," said the halfling. He reached up and grabbed the cleric's hand.

"Hey!" he cried, as his feet left the ground. "I'm flying!"

"A remarkable toy," Talberth said. "But what use can we make of it?"

"Talberth," Telenstil chided his former apprentice. "Why I am surprised that you do not see with this toy, and this," he held up his hand, a silver ring with a small white pearl was on one long finger. "We will leave no trail. In fact our feet need not touch the ground at all."

Outside the cave the nine who'd come to challenge Nosnra's might stood round the small glowing ball. Gytha placed her hand on one side, Henri on the other. Each member of the company held hands in two rows of four with Telenstil at the center, each floating row in line with his outstretched arms.

"Xsurjere-sublem!" Telenstil said. The company began to rise, quick but sure. "Do not let go!" he warned. "Kon-istare!" Telenstil stopped them far above the ground. "Vol-atel!" he cried and swiftly they took wing and sailed like a strange flock of geese, a great V across the night sky.

They swung out to the east and then turned north passing dark wooded hills below. The halfling, Harold, floated on the elven wizard's left. He held tight to the ranger's hand and let out loud "Whoop's!" and cries of glee as they flew through the air. Below, and further to his left, he saw a wavering line of fire, and then the steading, a wooden hall of monstrous size, as if a small town had been roofed over and enclosed with a massive wall of giant trees. They quickly passed it by, then turned, a slow wide arc that brought them round to face the steadings northern side. 

The roof came up and landed on their feet. Harold gave a laugh, happy to be safe with something solid beneath his legs once more. "Shhh!" hissed the ranger with a finger to his lips. The halfling grinned and stuck out his tongue but made sure no other sounds escaped his mouth.

Telenstil said, "Kon-fisere," and the glowing ball went out and leaf-like drifted down. At his touch it shrank, dwindled to a pearl the twin of that set upon his ring. He scooped it up and dropped it in a small silk bag and placed it in his pouch. With a soundless gesture he opened wide his arms then placed a hand before his mouth.

The cleric Gytha gave a nod, understanding what he meant. "Let the Saint's power be felt," she quietly prayed. "Grace me with your power. Let a holy silence fall upon this place," a beatific glow shown from Gytha's eyes. She clapped both hands together, but no sound rang out. She laughed, always happy when the Saint heard her prayers and granted her bequests. 


There seemed to be an endless supply of pockets in Telenstil's dark, wizard's robe. He had no sooner put away the now shrunken orb in one pocket than he reached into another and pulled out a flat glass flask. Soundlessly he unscrewed the cap and with great care poured out a viscous green jell across a square of roof. From yet another pocket he removed a small leather case, inside was a crystal rod flat on one end and with a scalloped spoon on the other. He spread the jell till it was even, a single layer in a four foot square. The rod he set aside then drew out a tinder box, set flint to steel and set a twig aflame. This he touched to the jell. It hissed and smoked and turned to grey and spread out. Suddenly the square of roof was gone, a grey powdered ash rained down onto the floor below.

Edouard and Derue stepped up, they had come prepared. A coiled length of rope in hand, they tied one end round a jutting beam at the roofs eastern edge then dangled it down the gaping hole. They played it out as if in a pantomime, cautious not to make a sound below the holy Saint of Gytha's faith had silenced the roof above.

Edouard saw the rope's end reach the ground and looked below into a huge and furnished hall; he shook his head and tapped on the elven wizard's arm. Telenstil nodded then looked down himself and grimaced at what he saw. He drew out an ivory tube and pulled from it a small rolled map, then glanced down into the room again. His shoulders shrugged and he motioned for Edouard to descend, but with both hands he gestured for the scout to take great care.

Several torches burned along the walls and in a fireplace big enough to roast a horse, a bed of glowing embers cast a hazy light. The rope lay across a giant table, wide and round and tall, like some stage that actors could use to give a play.

Edouard moved the rope aside so that it would reach the floor, seven or eight feet more below the table's edge. Before he dropped further down he gave the rope a tug and held it still so that his brother Derue could make a quick and safe descent.

Telenstil touched down, he'd followed close behind his two scouts, unwilling to let them face alone what might appear. He looked around the hall and silently cursed the one-time merchant, lately slave to giants, who'd drawn this useless map. The light was dim, but this was no kitchen's larder as he'd been told, instead they stood within the chief's own trophy hall, the gruesome heads upon the eastern wall said as much. Monstrous chairs and tables were scattered about, across the western wall were a row of giant shields, each painted in great detail and crafted as a wedding gift. The giant maidens would take their betrothal year and paint them with what love and care they felt for their future mates. Telenstil knew well the ways of his foes.

Henri descended last. He heard his heart beat once again halfway down. It had been an effort to restrain his desire to dispel the pagan's spell, but the true God blessed this work so he set his distaste aside and accepted the harlot's magic tricks. The Holy end justified the use of such godless blind creatures as these.

All nine stood beneath the giant table, not even Harald needed to stoop to fit, they looked like children playing dress up and make believe.

"Master Telenstil," Talberth began, "What is our plan? This is not where we were supposed to be."

"Obviously my friend," Telenstil said unhappily. "It is a lucky plan which survives intact beyond the first few steps, but yes, we have gone far astray. First we must hide our entrance and our rope. Talberth, please assist our master gnome to ascend." He then asked Ivo, "If you will be so kind, please take the rope and make the roof appear once more to be as it was before we came."

"A simple thing," Ivo replied. "Talberth, if you will."

Talberth took out a length of leather strap and with flick of his wrist tossed it toward the roof, "Oki-Var-os," he said and the strap vanished in the air. He pointed to the gnome and said "Epe-no," and Ivo rose slowly to the roof.

Ivo placed the rope atop the roof and quickly cast a minor spell, the gaping hole became wooden beams once more, but as he stood above the chief's trophy hall he felt fresh drops of rain. His illusion would not hide the leak, still, better to have it appear solid than as a great star-filled gap, he thought.

Ivo dropped back down but floated near the ceiling top. He waved a hand to show he was ready to descend.

"Ca-to." Talberth pointed again and Ivo wafted to the floor.

"It begins to rain up above. That will fool the eye," he told them all, indicating the now whole roof, "but it will not keep the water out."

"It will do," said Telenstil, then holding out their map, "I do not know if we can trust any of this map, but at a guess it has simply been drawn backwards, right is left and left is right."

"Or it may all be wrong," said Talberth.

"Even so. But if it is right to any small degree, then that way," said Telenstil pointing north, "should take us to Nosnra's private chamber and the giant chief's map that I have come to see." 

Project - Languages of Oerthly Magic - Dancing Lights

Languages of Oerthly Magic - Dancing Lights

5). Dancing Lights

Amedian - Kukeza Taa (Ku-Ke-Za Ta)

Bakluni (Ancient) - Dae Ezeklar (Da Es-Ek-La-Re)

Drow - Tenklo Fe'K (Te-No-Klo Fe-Ek)

Dwarven - Daenda Lys (Da-En-Da Lis)

Elven - Daenzin Valoe (Da-En-Sin Va-Lo)

Flan - Zo'lza Damaeza (Zo-El-Ze Da-Ma-Za)

Fruz - Daenda Loez (Da-En-Da Loz)

Giantish - Tazenda Leeta (Ta-Zen-Da Le-Te)

Gnomish - Daenda Leaten (Da-En-Da Le-Ten)

Oeridian - Tanzuesek Ogny (Tan-Zu-Is-Ik Og-Ne)

Olman -Nataam Veakkukae (Na-Ta-Am Ve-Ak-Ku-Ka)

Suel - Korum Luminar (Ko-Ram Lu-Me-Nar)

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 10

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 10

Harald ran. He hated to abandon the fight and especially his sword, but the slope now swarmed with wolves and behind them would come the giant clan. The magic spell that Ivo cast did not seem to work, he could see himself as plain as the starlight allowed. In any case he trusted more to his woodsman's skill than any wizard's spell.

"Hey!" a voice yelled out from nowhere, and suddenly his halfling friend appeared.

"What in the...? Oh just great," Harold said now visible to the ranger's eye.

"Hey don't leave me here, the spell's worn off. Hey!"

"I'm right here," said Harald.

"I can't see you. The spell still works for you," replied the halfling.

"What, no, I'm not invisible," the ranger seemed bewildered.

"You big ninny! You're not invisible to yourself, just to everyone else." Harold explained. "Enough talk, pick me up and run. My legs are too short to outpace those wolves."

"You're right," the ranger reached down and lifted the halfling to his shoulder. "Hang on. This is an uneven path." The big man began to trot and once assured that the halfling would not fall off began to run as fast as his legs would go.

"How did you break Ivo's spell," he asked.

"Simple, you nearly stepped on me and suddenly I didn't want to be invisible anymore," Harold gasped, his voice broken by the ranger's jarring pace.

* * *

Ansgar saw the patrol rush out. The wolves let loose a fearful whine at the hill's edge and would go no further. The curses and shouts of several voices reached him from across the field, and though the dawn was still far off, the sun appeared to rise, due south. A light shown forth brighter than noonday, but blazing low beneath the hill's sloping edge. A tremor ran through the wood beneath his hand, the walls themselves recoiled, then a mournful wail went on and on and faded fast and disappeared. A second wail joined the first, defiant and filled with wrath. Its sound cheered Ansgar and filled him with a nameless pride. When this light died, it lived for but a moment's time, a purple flame still burned upon his smarting eyes. He cleared them, red with sleep and bruised by blinding light. Beyond the field another fire burned; an expanding ball of flame.

"Hugolin... HUGOLIN!" Ansgar yelled above the din. "HUGOLIN! THAT'S ENOUGH!" he turned and had to grab Hugolin's arm. A painful silence rang in all their ears. The alarm's echo still sounded though Hugolin dropped the hammer to the floor.

"WHAT!" he yelled and Ansgar heard it as through a wad of cloth, muffled and unclear.

* * *

Master Ivo lagged behind the others. He could run, gnomes were tough as dwarves, but had legs just as short. He did not waste his breath or strain his heart with running. Instead he stopped beside a gentle stream, after crossing its slow flowing course, and stood upon the bank. From his belt he took a leaf rolled into a ball. It held a small white stone and a broken piece of twig. He formed a picture in his mind and spoke a silent magic word, then, with a quick gesture, flung leaf and stone and twig across to the farther side. The picture in his mind came to life. The stream swelled and stretched into a wide torrent, foaming white. Stones and trees tumbled among its crashing waves and rolled downstream. Smiling, pleased with his craft, he made his way back to the hidden lair at his own slow pace.

* * *

Burrfoot was the fastest, though Heavyfur was packleader. Tonight the feeders had overridden the order of the pack and urged them on as quick as they could run and still pick out the trail. He'd heard the spirit yowl and then the howls from his brothers on patrol. Something had happened beyond the field. They'd just been set loose, the yard and their dens were behind them and they ran toward the sound of their brothers' cries. What were they saying? They yipped with pain, someone yowled out, "My nose, my nose." Now he heard the cry taken up by several voices. Burrfoot ran on but snuffled a bit, wondering what had bitten at his packmates and if his own nose would be safe.

A half-dozen wolves rubbed at their muzzles with furry paws and sneezed between their yowls. As Burrfoot neared his brothers they called to him and warned of some foul scent that bit and burnt and left them scent-blind. "Go round!" they called, "Go left," cried some, "Go right," the rest howled at him. And as they yowled a light came flashing from beyond the hill. The spirits wailed again and the entire pack joined in. Some feeder's spirit cried forth and then was gone then another spirit gave voice.

As Burrfoot raised his head and cried to the starry sky a ghostly hand gently ruffled his fur and passed away. The pack had reached him at the edge of field and hill. They'd stopped to howl the feeder spirit into the night, and from below, where the southern slope ran down to lower fields, a chorus of screams rang out and the smell of scorched flesh, burnt hair and cloth reached up to Burrfoot's nose.

A whip snapped nearby and Burrfoot cringed. The feeder-painbringer shouted and urged them on and cracked his whip again. Despite his fear Burrfoot leapt down the slope, his brothers close behind. Ahead, he caught a sharp, painful scent and veered aside, then raced on. The burning smell reached his nose. A feeder lay before him, dead and smoldering, burnt through like the meat they ate. Two more lay moaning and beating at their clothes, but Burrfoot passed them by. He smelled blood and the scent of opened bowels, a deadly wound, but the feeder lived and groaned, then lashed out blind with pain. Another body, Burrfoot leapt and cleared it with a graceful bound.

Beyond the body he stopped. Nothing moved. No prey was in sight. He sniffed, careful at first, testing for the stinging smell. He grinned and bared his fangs. Humans, yes; He'd smelled their like before. 

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."