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  1. Harsov the Harsh {Chapter Fourteen}

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

Harsov the Harsh {Chapter Fourteen}

For a time, Harsov wandered the land, avoiding areas of obvious habitation. Exiled by the only family he had ever known, rejected by those whose race he shared. His tracking and hunting skill increased almost daily, as did his ability to hide and conceal both himself and his campsite. He ate well enough, as did his dire wolf companion, who was nearing full growth.

Still, the ache within did not dissipate. His loneliness and sense of isolation festered and grew. He remembered the numerous times Elorna had expressed her love for him, recalled her tender touch and the dreams they had shared together. Yet on their wedding day she had reviled and rejected him, casting him out of the forest to survive in whatever manner he could. Shame ate away at his heart, knowing himself to surely be one of the ugliest, most despicable creatures to ever trod ground. He had no goal, no destination, nothing to live for. Only inborn stubbornness and the faint hope that somewhere, somehow, his situation might alter for the better kept him alive.

He wandered the land, always in the shadows. Never entering elven forests, yet often within sight. The bond between himself and the dire wolf, who he named Silvershadow, grew deeper until they were as brothers. Hunting in tandem, Harsov tracking by sight and Silvershadow by scent, few quarry eluded them. So matters might have continued for years, had not fate ruled otherwise.

One day Harsov set up camp on the open plains, perhaps half a day's travel from the forest from which he was exiled. Though it pained him to admit it, he still loved Elorna. The memory of their bonding day haunted him. The promises made, the love shared, the blessing bestowed. He clung to that blessing now. The vine which bound them together, blossoming to give proof their love was real... Such a thing could not be faked! Yet if Elorna loved him, why had she cast him out?

As he pondered these thoughts, one arm resting lightly on Silvershadow, he felt the hackles rise on the great wolf's neck as a low growl rumbled forth. "Steady boy," he whispered, loosening his sword in its sheath before nocking an arrow to his bow. Silently he crouched behind scrub brush, drawing Silvershadow down with him. They had hunted together long enough for Harsov to know whatever approached was not something to be lightly ignored. Perhaps a large body of men, or some predator prowling these plains. Yet he had never seen either of these things elicit this type of response from the wolf. His skin began to tingle, the air itself felt alive and vibrant, as if in anticipation of...what? His whispered words of reassurance for Silvershadow were as much for his own benefit as the wolf's. Another person might have fled the area, yet to Harsov the idea simply did not occur. Instead, he simply crouched behind the brush, and waited.

Lorash was quickly becoming annoyed. He was by nature a solitary figure, as much by choice as circumstance. Yet this moon priestess seemed obsessed with being near him at all times. At first, he had been flattered, perhaps preening a bit at the attention. He had thought her constant desire to be near him was due to her years of isolation. Now he was beginning to wonder if it was simply an aspect of her personality.

In the beginning, he had welcomed the company. After all, this was a most unusual place and she had much knowledge of it. In addition, he was intrigued with the idea of time being an element one could control. He had asked many questions concerning this, receiving only vague answers in reply.

Nor was he pleased with the thought of confinement within the area of the enchanted woods. He had first thought it a simple matter, that merely by exercising his power as a priest of Sylvannus he could step into one of the nearby trees, and step out of one miles away, as was his wont. Shilandra had chuckled softly when he was unable to do so. "Silly, you cannot bypass the safeguards on this realm so easily! We are out of phase with the flow of the time stream here. When I cast my web of time upon those disruptive influences you noticed before, it had a side effect upon these entire woods. Time has effectively halted for them, and the ripple effect spread throughout these woods."

Lorash had been shocked at the thought. "So time here for you and I, for example, is affected in what way?" Smiling, Shilandra had replied, "Oh, it varies. Sometimes it passes more swiftly, other times less so, in comparison to the flow of time outside our boundaries. Don't worry though, for us the effect is imperceptible, or nearly so. Not that it truly matters, for elven lifespan is incredibly long, and we are together." Sighing contentedly as she nestled up against him, she concluded, "Together forever, just as I always dreamed. You truly are my perfect mate."

It was at that moment Lorash realized the woman was mad. Granted, he had enjoyed his dalliance with her, but that was all it was. He would never be content to be trapped in such a small domain, with a clinging nympho as his constant companion. "Perfect mate" indeed! The only reason he had remained this long was he simply was not sure how to escape. According to what she had said earlier, passage could only be effected during a night of the full moon. Pondering the matter in the rare moments of solitude he had, he had begun to doubt the truth of this. Granted, her power might be strongest at such times. His own abilities, however, were not so constrained.

Occasionally, when she was distracted, such as during a bit of dalliance, he would reach out with his mystic senses to examine this "web of time" she had wrought. It did seem somehow entwined with the very fabric of these enchanted woods. Unraveling it would be a slow, tedious project. He had begun to do so, but the anxiety he felt at her constant presence and non stop professions of "undying love" were goading him to recklessness. He needed to leave, he needed space to think, he needed OUT!

The thought was father to the deed. As Shilandra slept, Lorash wandered to the edge of the enchanted woods, near the spot he had first entered. Gathering the fraying end of the "time web" spell he had been unraveling in whatever few moments of freedom he had, he gave a hard tug. There was considerable resistance, as he had suspected there would be. Yet his need was great, and would brook no resistance.

Grinding his teeth from the strain, he reached out, ripping and tearing at the cords binding the spell. Pouring all of his nascent power into the unmaking, he expended all his mystical might in one mighty effort. "Let me OUT," he ground out between clenched teeth.

Shilandra sat up suddenly, jolted awake by a massive disturbance in the magical web of time around her. What was happening? Quickly turning to Lorash, she found the pallet beside her to be empty. Awareness suddenly flared in her. HE was responsible for this! Suspicions ran rampant in her mind. Was this his plan all along? To distract her, toying with her emotions, then abandon her to be with some elven trollop? Well, she would soon put an end to that idea!

Fuming, Shillandra threw on a silvery robe and grabbed her opal tipped staff. Lorash had seemed overly interested in the elves captured within her web of time. Perhaps he had even recognized them! A former lover, even! Well he was hers now, and she would never surrender him to another! She staggered, as a partial tear was ripped in the web of time spell. Such power! Yet if he truly was the son of THAT one it was to be expected. Still she felt a thrill of pride in his raw, primal power. He truly was her ideal mate!

Topping a low rise, she saw the frozen tableau spread before her...but wait, was that a faint movement? No doubt Lorash himself, standing in the center of the spell. Logical, it would be the simplest place to unwind the web. Well, she would end this now. Staggering again as the spell shredded further, she corrected herself. MUST end this now. Lorash wasn't simply unwinding the spell, he was ripping it into pieces! The resulting time eddies and swirls spreading out would create havoc, as well as revealing her sanctuary to even a casual observer.

Lorash groaned aloud, the strain was enormous. Yet he felt he was making progress. If only he had a focus for his magical energies. He badly missed his shattered staff. Unconsciously his hand strayed to the shattered pieces stored in his cloak. He had gone too far to stop now, even if he wanted to. The spell held him, even as he held it. He must destroy it, or be destroyed by it.

In agony, Lorash clutched the shattered pieces of the staff, as a drowning man clutches a lifeline hurled to him. Sheer, raw power was not the pressing need. He needed a focus, a tool to channel his power through. He had to have it, or be consumed by the vast energy he was manipulating! But something was wrong, it was TOO powerful, too primal and raw. Like a sculptor trying to carve with a headsman's ax! Unconsciously yearning, aching for completeness, his hands moved of their own accord, reassembling the shattered staff; wielding it together with bursts of raw energy.

Again Shilandra saw a stirring among the figures ahead, and felt a thrill of fear. It was not Lorash she saw, but those imbeciles trapped in her web of time! With the shredding of the spell, they were regaining mobility! Yet if Lorash was not here, where was he? He must be found, he must be stopped, the magic imbued within the spell was too powerful, too volatile to tear and shred in this fashion!

Harsov began a slow, measured retreat, pulling the snarling dire wolf with him. Sparks of light were bubbling out of a rent in the air, and a blurring haziness pulsed in and out of existence. He knew next to nothing of magic, yet even so he could sense the wrongness. He had heard of such things, when a caster lost control of the magic he wielded, mispronouncing a word or gesturing incorrectly. Sometimes the result was an unremarkable fizzling out of the spell. At other times...well, the Shrieking Sands were an example of such a thing. Being at the center of a happening like that might not be the course of wisdom.

Slowly the rent widened, and through the dazzling arcs of energy Harsov could see a manlike form and...a forest? What was happening here? The form seemed to be in agony, as a raw primal scream of agony tore through him. Magic or no, the mage clearly needed help.

Harsov's reaction was nearly instantaneous. The hoarse scream of agony still hung on the air as he darted forward. He was a child, chasing after Snaptwig who had stolen his favorite toy. He was pursued by the massive Warriors of Wood, and must reach Elorna in time to warn her. He was racing to the side of his fallen father, bursting through the ice demons separating them. It was a mad kaleidoscopic race through time and memories, yet he did not falter.

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