Harsov the Harsh (Chapter Fifteen)
Shilandra's lips twisted in a grimace as she came within sight of the rent Lorash had torn. Moonlight bubbled and leaked from the
slowly spreading spot, as the complex spell unraveled. Through
the gaping hole she could see Lorash and what appeared to be a
human lad, and a large wolf!
The lad was oddly garbed for a human, though in truth she had scarcely kept up with fashions of the day. Still, she thought it unlikely the current style would be bark armor. The wolf was very large, though she had seen larger. Still, there was something most peculiar about it. And that sword the boy held...it appeared normal enough, though of superior craftsmanship. Yet something about it tugged at her senses, urging her to look closer. Doubtless some minor magical charm had been wrought upon it. Small wonder, if Lorash were connected.
Her love was holding erect a staff which fairly hummed with power, yet she would swear he had not held such an item when he entered her woods. She would have sensed such a talisman immediately. Where then had he acquired it? Certainly the human lad was no mage, why there was hardly a spark of mage talent within him! Although that sword...irritated she wrenched her attention back to Lorash and the rent he had made. That was what mattered here, not some minor enchantment on a simple sword, however well crafted it might be.
What was that gorgeous man doing? He was already out, so why point his staff at the rent? He was...trying to repair it? But repairing the rent was far harder than creating the web itself, and he did not have the skill or expertise. His power she no longer questioned, but raw power alone could not be used to repair so delicate a construct.
The fact that he would even consider doing so, after all he had endured to break the spell, proved he had a good heart. Perhaps between the two of them, it could be done! Yet if it were to have any hope of success, they must work in unison. Her heart skipped a beat as she thought of merging her powers with his. This was no time for such thoughts... suddenly she stumbled, as a form crashed into her!
Humans and elves glared at one another. Something very odd had just happened. When they had clashed, the battlefield had been lit by the light of the full moon. Yet suddenly, in an instant, the moon had become a mere sliver. And the crazed moon priestess, where had she gone?
She had screeched at them to leave "her" forest. Did she not understand what was at stake here? Then suddenly the moon had
flared blindly bright...and now she was gone and the moon was but a sliver in the sky.
Adriana stepped forward. Though human, she fought beside the elves. Her husband Ironwood was a mighty hero of the greenfolk, and she had come to love them as well. "Look upward in the night sky, see how the moon has diminished. Why, even the stars themselves seem altered! It seems something very odd has happened here..something neither of our forces planned or initiated. I suggest we cease hostilities, at least for the moment, until we know what has transpired here. We can always resume the fight again, should we so decide."
Gnarlfang glared suspiciously at her, but nodded slowly. "I do not trust you for an instant, turncoat, but you speak truth in that regard at least. Something very strange has happened, and it would be wise to discover exactly what has transpired. Your deaths can wait that long, I suppose."
Hostilities could not be so easily abandoned, of course. More than one human shot a venomous look at elf, and more than one elf returned it with a silent promise of death to come. Grudingly, the two sides backed away from each other.
"There is a strange light that direction," Adriana said, pointing. "I suggest we investigate that."
"You do that treehugger," returned Gnarlfang. "I and my men will investigate those buildings yonder. Perhaps we'll find a few elves to torture, to amuse ourselves while we wait to kill you!"
Starseeker's voice shook with restrained passion as he spoke to Adriana. "You had no right to call a truce with those animals! Who knows what atrocities they will commit now? We could have slain them all!" "And how many of us would have died in the doing," she returned. "We must discover what has transpired. Have you not noticed the strange positions of the stars? This was powerful magic, and not of human origin. I'm guessing that moon witch had something to do with it! Moon worshippers are notoriously capricious! Why look at that constellation! Months must have passed while we stood frozen there!"
Starseeker nervously glanced at the sky, terrified by what he saw. Not months, but years, many years, had passed if he read the stars right. What had transpired around them? Had the humans and their demon allies been driven back, or had the elves and the forests which gave them birth been burnt to ash?
Gnarlfang watched the elves depart warily. Something had happened, but judging from the actions of the forest fiends, they were as surprised as he. That left only one party he could think of. The moon priestess who had commanded them to depart, just before the sky went crazy. That she was not an ally seemed clear, yet it was also true she had not harmed them. Such power as she had displayed could be turned to their advantage. She might prove reluctant, but he and his men were VERY good at persuasion. The trick would be to find her before the tree huggers did.
Quickly Gnarlfang sent out 5 parties of 3 scouts each, scattering them in all directions. He did not neglect to send one party after the elves. That party had slightly different instructions. "If the elves find this moon priestess, kill her before they can persuade her to join forces with them."
Dividing his forces in this way left him with barely a score remaining, but fully half of them were demons or hybrids. He felt sure they could handle twice their number in forest devils. Still, it would be wise not to underestimate them. After all, this was their type of terrain, at least for now. That too could be altered. Grinning, he recalled the other directions he had given his scouts. It was time to level the field, and these cursed woods as well.
Starseeker was the first to notice. Halting abruptly, he motioned for the war band to pause as well. Scanning the horizon, he suddenly jerked as if stung. "Fire", he hissed, pointing at the horizon. "I knew we should have finished those foul creatures while we had the chance!"
Adriana shook her head. "This makes no sense! Why would they set fire to a forest they themselves are in, before even determining the current situation?"
Pathfinder spoke up, "Since when did humans or demons make sense? Begging your pardon, Little Flower. Sometimes I forget they are your people."
Adriana shook her head sadly. "No people of mine could do such a thing. I may be of their race by circumstance, but in my heart and soul you and I are kindred."
Starseeker nooded in acceptance of this truth. "That you are, little sister. Your deeds have proven that. But now we have a hard choice to make. Do we continue to seek out what has transpired here, or do we go to protect these woods? I see the sign of more than one fire..."
Adriana sighed in exasperation. "Can there be any doubt? We must protect the forest, and all who dwell within. This will mean dividing our forces, as was no doubt intended. So hasten, but also take great care. They will be expecting us, so beware!"
Starseeker smiled tightly. "If the humans and their pet demons are so eager to meet death, who are we to deny them?" The warband quickly split into three equal portions, with Adriana, Starseeker, and Pathfinder each leading a group.
Gobbleguts growled hungrily as he saw the moon priestess running. He had not been given specific instructions on what to do with her, but it seemed obvious enough. She was clearly an elf, and certainly not friendly. Not sure what she had done to them, but something had happened. His muscles felt stiff and sore, and even worse, he was famished! Growling hungrily, he raced after the delectable little tidbit. Elfmeat was delicious!
Adriana and her band broke into a small clearing, and she stopped in amazement at what she saw. A strange, jagged portal, glowing and bubbling with moonlight. The moon priestess, racing towards it. One of the horrible demons, quickly overhauling her, wielding a saw toothed obsidian sword. And through the portal...a grassland vista, with an elf, a human in elven armor and...a wolf? Too much to make sense of immediately. One thing was certain, the hideous jackal faced demon must not slay the priestess. There were far too many questions only she could answer.
Pointing at the demon, Adriana turned to her warparty. "Loose!" she shouted. In one smooth movement, a dozen bows were drawn, and a dozen arrows took flight.
Harsov shot a quick glance at Lorash as he saw a massive jackalheaded demon charging their direction. "well, I can see why you were in a hurry to leave."
Lorash shook his head slowly. "The demon wasn't what I was running from. The crazy lady it's chasing is what I was running from. If that demon had half the sense the gods gave a gopher, it would be running the opposite way."
Even as he spoke, there was a flurry of action. The jackal headed demon leaped for the moon priestess, obsidian sword raised to slash. A dozen barbed arrows arced down, burying themselves deeply in demonic flesh.
In an instant the portal was choked with hurtling, hacking, cursing forms. Shilandra trying to force her way through to Lorash, the mortal wounded demon hacking and snapping at her, and half a dozen elves stabbing and grasping at the demon, trying to pull it off.
Lorash paused, looking at Harsov. Harsov looked questioningly at lorash. With a curt nod, Lorash shouted, "RUN!" Transforming into a wolf, he spun on his heels and leaped away, reaching top speed in an instant.
Harsov backed away, hauling Silvershadow with him. Crouching down, he stared the wolf in the eyes. "Run boy. Just as fast as you can. Meet you at our last camp."
Oddly enough, the wolf seemed to understand. Whining softly, it nosed Harsov once, then raced away.
Harsov took a deep breath, acknowledging in his mind that Lorash's words, and his own, were the voice of wisdom. On the other hand, he had never lain claim to that particular attribute. What he did possess was a fair amount of courage, and a curiousity that knew no limits. He simply could not leave without knowing more of what was transpiring here.
A quick leap forward and he struck, the flamberge slicing down to sever the jackal head in one blow. Smoke curled from the wound as the headless body fell, half in and half out of the portal. Shilandra fell also, jammed in the moonlit rent by the demon's massive body.
Harsov's eyes widened in wonder as he saw one of the elves which had been battling the demon was not an elf at all, but a human, dressed in elven garb. "You...you're like me! Are your parents half elven as well?"
Adriana's eyes widened at the words, noting the lad spoke the elven tongue fluently. "Both your parents are half elves? That's wonderful! But let us talk elsewhere...but wait, have you seen my mate Ironwood?"
As the elves milled around the portal, dragging the demon's body off the moon priestess, there was a sudden roar as more figures charged out of the woods towards them. Instinctively Harsov reached out, grasping the arm of the human woman, and pulling. "Through here," he shouted.
Shilandra had endured enough. Her love leaving, the web of time spell stretched and torn, demons, humans, and elves cavorting and romping through her pristine woods. One of them even having the temerity to bodily attack her! This ended here and now! Struggling to her feet, she held aloft her staff, and shouted "Goddess of the moon, aid your priestess! Rid your land of this blight!"
Moonlight speared downward, illuminating the priestess and the portal. Tendrils of ghostly light wrapped around the elves, hurling them through the portal. Harsov was bowled over by the hurtling forms, losing his hold on Adriana's wrist.
Scrambling to his feet, the youth saw the ragged portal swiftly mend, then disappear. "Ummm....alright." Shrugging his shoulders, Harsov turned to confront the elves. "So were you being held prisoner in that strange land? Lorash said the crazy lady with the staff was what he was running from...."
Adriana slowly climbed to her feet, glancing curiously at Harsov. "Well, I suppose we WERE being held prisoner, after a fashion. You mentioned Lorash? What is that young scamp up to? He was always one for hijinks. For that matter, if you know Lorash, surely you know Ironwood. Is he all right?"
Harsov chuckled, "Lorash and hijinks? I can't imagine the two together. He is the premier priest of Silvannus in the area, and very stuffy as well. As to Ironwood...I think grandfather used to go by that name, but since losing his wife in the Great Burning, he has gone by the name Brokenbranch."
One of the elves stepped forward, eyes widened at Harsov's words. "GRANDFATHER? You say Ironwood is your grandfather? Then your mother would have to be..."
"Whisperwillow", replied Harsov. "Yes. She and father were bonded years ago. He too is of tainted blood. I grew up within the tribe, though never accepted, especially by Oakdaughter and her son Snaptwig. After the ice demon invasion, Brambleheart being slain,
and all the destruction, Lorash and I were exiled from the forest by the new dryad queen, Elorna."
Adriana gasped audibly. "Whisperwillow is your mother? She is my daughter! That would mean you are my...grandson." Tears trickled down her face as she stepped closer. "So many years have passed, so much has happened. And you say my love, Ironwood...changed his name to Brokenbranch?"
Harsov nodded slowly, "So he did. They say he spent many years searching the spirit plane for his missing wife. He became a great shaman, and leader of the Guardians. But I do not understand. After I summoned him to aid us against Brambleheart, he said he had found you on the spirit plane at last, that you had been held prisoner within the soul gem Lorash shattered. Yet if that was so, how could you be here now? Unless..." Slowly, Harsov backed away, raising the flamberge to a guard position.
The elves responded by drawing their bows. "How can we believe anything this human says," queried one. "Just because he knows a few names and wears trashy elven armor? Drop that weapon, boy, before we make you drop it!"
A grim smile played across his lips as Harsov replied, "So, nothing changes. Neither elf nor human accepts me. And if you think I am foolish enough to drop my weapon and trust your words, then YOU are the fools!"
Yet the elves clearly outnumbered him, and he knew well how accurate their arrows could be. Holding his sword in guard position, he realized how futile a defense it was against such skill. Suddenly a memory surfaced. The fire lord's "gift" to him. "ADRAMALACH!" he shouted. Instantly a fiery wall appeared between himself and the elves.
The elves fell back in confusion, and Harsov sprinted away. He did not know how long the wall of fire would last, or if the elves would pursue him. One thing he did know...he had no chance against so many skilled foes.
The forest was their home, and likely they would not remain long away from it. Which brought up another question. How would the elves of his tribe welcome back these long gone members, if indeed they truly were just now returning from The Great Burning?
Adriana gazed wonderingly through the flames at the youth racing away from them. How had he summoned a wall of fire with a single word? Could he truly be the son of Whisperwillow; her grandson? Could so much time have passed while they stood frozen by the moon priestess? In the distance behind her, she could see a forest...the forest of her people. She would seek her answers there.
So ends Chapter 15 of Harsov