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."