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  1. Harsov the Harsh (Chapter Nineteen)-In Progress

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The Stone Throwers:
A Man-Hunt For Vietnam War Draft Evaders

Harsov the Harsh (Chapter Nineteen)-In Progress

Brokenbranch slowly drifted nearer. He felt the miasma of evil which tainted the very air. There was something...familiar about it. He knew Elorna, of course. He remembered her well from the bonding ceremony. Her aura was there, but covered somehow, tainted. He had the mental picture of someone infested with a hideous parasite.

Mentally, he cursed. Of course, a parasite! A spiritual parasite, some sort of possession! Yet what could have been powerful enough, or insidious enough, to possess such a powerful Dryad? He must get closer, learn more. Perhaps he could cleanse her, purge her of this infestation he sensed.

Yet he was a seasoned warrior, as well as shaman. He could sense not only the evil, but the power. There was no guarantee, especially in his disembodied condition, that he would be the victor in this struggle. Contingencies should be arranged. With a mental sigh he retreated. He must contact Lorash. Of those who yet resided in this realm, he was the only one with sufficient power and knowledge to deal with this threat, should it be greater than his own ability could handle.

In spirit form, physical distances were meaningless. In a flash he floated above the Sylvannus priest, noting Harsov and another elf he did not recognize nearby. Gently he reached out, laying his hand on his friend.

Lorash spun around, glancing up, then relaxed. "Ah Brokenbranch, good to see you old friend," he said. "Harsov and I have been wondering how you fared, and what was keeping you. It has been months since the battle against the ice demons, and we were concerned."

Brokenbranch gave a brief nod. "And you had a right to be, my friend. I have much news to share with you, some more urgent than others. I will be brief, for I am needed elsewhere. First, my wife is alive! She is in Elmwood, and had been frozen in some sort of timestop spell. She and a few others are with Bladesong and our daughter now."

Lorash stood stunned. "But, you said you had found her spirt when last we saw you? How could she be alive after all these years...wait, did you say timestop? I met a Moon Priestess a days journey from Elmwood, who had so enchanted her section of the forest. We had a...disagreement, and the spell was shattered. Had I known your wife was one of those imprisoned there..."

Brokenbranch shook his head, "Not your fault, my friend. Had I known she was so close, I could have rescued her years ago. Perhaps if I had spent more time on the mundane physical plane, rather than scouring the spiritual one, many things might have been far better. I place no blame on anyone other than myself. Yet that, joyous news though it is, affects only a few. The other news I bear relates to you personally, and my daughter's son, and all of Elmwood."

Pausing just a moment, Brokenbranch continued. "It concerns your sister Elorna, Harsov's bonded. I sense a great evil from her, as if some hideous presence cloaked her. I heard the two of you were exiled from Elmwood by her. Can you tell me why? Do you have any clue of who, or what, might be influencing her?"

Lorash's mouth dropped open as he stood stunned. "Elorna is possessed? We were fighting an entire army of ice demons, including Brambleheart's father. Demons are spirit beings, as you are well aware, I'm sure. Yet it would take a powerful spirit indeed to take over my willful sister. Damn! I should have suspected something when she exiled Harsov and I from the forest. It was totally unlike her, yet I thought the shock of losing our mother, and so many of her sisters..."

Lorash shook his head in frustration as he stalked back and forth. "I should have known, should have suspected. If I had confronted her then, perhaps..."

"Perhaps we would both be dead," said Harsov. "Sorry Lorash, when I saw you talking to the air and walking back and forth, I became curious. Unfortunately I am only hearing your side of the conversatin, but it was enough. You ARE speaking of Elorna, I am guessing?"

Lorash gave a lopsided grin. "Sorry lad, I should have included you in the conversation as well. Yes, I was speaking with your grandfather here. He says he can sense some sort of evil presence from, or around, Elorna."

Harsov nodded slowly, glancing back towards Elmwood. "She needs me. I must go to her, try to free her..."

Lorash shook his head in negation. "Your words do you honor my friend, but you would be powerless against whatever this is. Ironwood has the best chance among us, and even he is uncertain what he is facing. That is why he is here, to warn us in case he fails." Turning to glance upward, Lorash smiled grimly. "That IS why you are here, is it not, my old friend?"

Brokenbranch returned the smile with one just as grim. "Indeed my friend, that is precisely right. Without a corporeal form to tie my spirit to this plane of existence, my abilities are limited here. The fact that she exiled both of you leads me to believe whatever is influencing or controlling her wanted those closest to Elorna out of the way. It must plan on interacting in some way with the tribe, and wanted no interference. This argues intelligent design, not merely some cursed item."

Lorash nodded. "Sound reasoning. When the Lava Lord and Gorgorab the Ice Demon Prince clashed, the ice demon disappeared. We thought him destroyed, or banished. Yet perhaps he merely took shelter in Elorna's form."

Adam had drifted over, unable to understand the conversation, and obviously annoyed. "What are the two of you going on about, and why do you keep glancing up in the air? What's so interesting?"

Brokenbranch's eyes widened, and he bowed reverently. "My lord," he husked, dropping to one knee. "Can it be? Lorash, why did you not tell me you had found the heir to the throne?"

Lorash's eyes widened in shock, followed quickly by a scowl. "Impossible. There is no heir. My aunt's child died with her. This guttersnipe was sold to a thieves guild, raised among humans. Why, he cannot even understand our language!"

Brokenbranch shook his head in negation. "The queen was heavy with child when the battle began, all knew that. All those with her that day died, save for one old retainer, who was never found. I tell you old friend, THIS is that child. Why, by blood he is your own..."

"Don't SAY it," Lorash spit out. "He is no relation to me! The fact that he bears Ravensfeast is the only thing which has kept him alive this long. He is reckless, headstrong, boastful..."

Brokenbranch smiled kindly, "All the things YOU were at his age? You may rail against the truth all you wish, my friend, yet in the end it speaks louder than all your vain protests. Wait, did you say Ravensfeast? He bears the sacred symbol of kings? And still you deny him?"

While the two spoke, Harsov was translating Lorash's words to Adam. "Heir?" Adam ejaculated. "Heir to what? And this invisible spirit is saying I am related to that blustering bag of wind Lorash?"

Harsov nodded. "That how you have elven ring of nobility. Your mother be Lorash's mother's sister. The last true dryad queen. But, that would mean Ravensfeast yours by right! You not steal it, you reclaimed what was yours by right!"

A thoughtful look crossed Adam's countenance. "Didn't steal? But..." the thoughtful look transformed to one of outrage. "All that we went through to get this, and it was already mine? That would mean...THEY stole it from me?!?! Oh, there will be payback for this!"

Harsov chuckled in response. "Lorash not happy with Grandfather telling him you heir, and related to him. He not happy at all."

A slow smile crept across Adams face. "Oh, I bet he isn't! So if this is true, Lorash is my cousin?" Adam doubled over in laughter. "Oh, this is rich! I'm going to have fun with this!"

Harsov joined in the laughter, then put his hand on Adam's shoulder. "This mean you no longer man without family. You have family, Lorash. Me as well. I bonded to Elorna, Lorash's sister and cousin to you, like he is. We all three family together."

Adam glanced away to hide the sudden tear in his eye. "That...had not occurred to me. You are a true friend, Harsov. Perhaps in time, we could all go to Elmwood together? You could maybe introduce me to others there?"

Harsov sadly shook his head in negation. "No can do, my friend. Lorash and I, we both in exile. But MUST go to Elmwood. You noble... rightful ruler! Ravensfeast prove that! Our people NEED you!"

Adam scowled in return. "Well, they can just go on needing me. They have ignored me this long, now I will ignore them. They exile my only real friend, they had best hope I DO ignore them. If I go there, it will not be a happy reunion, I assure you! Adam Belladonna might not have much to be proud of, but he does NOT abandon friends. Granted, I've never really HAD a friend before...but that doesn't matter!"

Harsov smiled in return. "You like me. I not have friend either, before I meet you. You good friend. You ever need help, you ask. I help. Always."

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