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

Harsov the Harsh (Chapter Eighteen)

Lorash and Adam were at it again. Harsov had been doing his best to let them settle matters between themselves, confident that in time they would do so. In time was the key phrase, as it seemed they disagreed on almost everything.

"Look "god learner", we are a long way now from Elmwood. We are running low on supplies, and I miss sleeping in an actual bed, the taste of wine and wine red lips. Not sure which one I miss the most! So I'm going to take a little stroll through town, with my new lady." Adam ended by patting the stock of the mahogany hued crossbow.

Lorash's eyes flashed as he replied. "Listen, "boy", you are NOT taking that bow into town! Our people have sought for Ravensfeast for nearly a century. Now that it is in our possession once more, I will not allow you to risk losing it!"

Adam sneered, "You won't allow me? You can't STOP me! I'll go where I want, when I want, with whoever I want, and there's nothing you can do about it!"

A hard smile curled Lorash's lip. "I never said YOU could not go into the town. You are NOT, however, taking that bow with you! Ravensfeast is the greatest artifact our race ever created, do you truly think the humans have forgotten that, or us?"

"Oh you would just LOVE that, wouldn't you? For me to lay down the bow and walk away so you could grab it for yourself? But you can't, can you? You need me to carry it for you! So where I go, it goes. And I am going to that city!"

Harsov stepped forward, placing himself between Lorash and Adam. In common so they could both understand him, he said, "Adam, I not know humans like you. Want to learn more of them, you teach me? I leave my sword and bow here with Lorash, he guard them. Humans not like us carry weapons through city, true?"

Adam continued to glare at Lorash for a moment, then turned to grin at Harsov. "Well, at least someone here has common sense! Yes, Harsov, you are quite correct. Any guard that saw me stroll through town holding this beauty would be sure to raise an alarm."

Holding the crossbow at arms length, Adam continued. "However, if this lovely were a smaller weapon, say the size of a dagger, I could easily conceal it. Then I could carry it with me wherever I went."

Lorash's eyes opened wide in alarm, but before he could speak a dark haze engulfed Ravensfeast. When it dissipated, Adam was holding what appeared to be a mahogany knife. "Ah, that should do the trick," Adam confidently proclaimed.

Turning to bow to Lorash, he continued, "And Poppa Worrywort here should be happy as well. As he stated, I shall indeed NOT take the bow into the city with me."

Harsov tried to hide his grin, as he turned to Lorash, switching to the elven tongue. "Don't worry. I'll keep him safe. We will be back before sunrise." Kneeling, he cradled Silvershadow's head in his arms. "You would not like where we are going, little brother. Nor would the humans welcome you with open arms. Besides, we wouldn't want to leave Lorash here all by himself, right? So you stay here, and keep him safe. I will return before morning light."

Lorash scowled blackly. "I couldn't care less if that popinjay dies. But we cannot afford to risk Ravensfeast falling back into human hands. His life, yours, even mine are nothing in comparison to it's value."

Harsov looked puzzled. "I have often wondered, if it is so valuable, why have we not simply made another? You have much knowledge and mystic ability, surely there are others like yourself. Could you not pool your knowledge and create something similar?"

Lorash shook his head in negation. "Impossible. Ravensfeast was crafted from a branch of the Mother Tree, the very first tree. It was destroyed ages ago, and this is the only surviving portion. In addition, a score of master mages worked together in unison to create it. Many died in the process. Ravensfeast is unique, and can never be duplicated."

Harsov whistled softly. "That would explain its value, alright. But if it is so powerful, and if we are likely to encounter others seeking it, would it not be wise for you to aid Adam in fully attuning it?"

Lorash's lip curled in scorn. "Aid him? An elf so perverted by humans that he thinks of himself as one of them? I would sooner die first."

Adam tapped his foot impatiently, clearly annoyed at being unable to understand the conversation. He was skilled in reading people though, and it was quite obvious from the looks Lorash was directing his way what the subject of the conversation was. "Harsov! Are you coming with me, or do you want to spend the night chatting with Poppa Worrywart there?"

Chuckling, Harsov jogged over to Adam. "We return here before light is in sky once more, yes?"

Adam grinned as he replied, "Why certainly, certainly. I just want to pick up a few supplies, and look the town over. We should be back before dawn easily. Perhaps as we go, you can teach me a little of the elven language? I would really like to be able to speak the language of my people." As well as understand that pompous ass Lorash when he starts mouthing off, Adam silently added.

Harsov nodded happily. "Yes, I do this with gladness. You teach me speak better as well, yes? Learn me about human cities? Like why they chop down trees, then use wood to build walls? Why not grow trees to make wall? Easier, better for trees and people!"

Adam stared at Harsov a moment. "GROW trees to make a wall? Maybe that would be an easy thing for forest de...*ahem* forest people to do, but magic of any sort does not come easily for most humans."

Harsov nodded in return. "This I know well. Even small magic not easy for me to do. Lorash say I hopeless, give up."

Adam scowled blackly back at the camp. "Seems to me Lorash needs to be taken down a few notches. He may know a few tricks, but then so do I." The two continued walking away, deep in conversation.

Lorash shook his head. "Strangest duo I ever saw. A human who thinks he's an elf, and an elf who thinks he's human. Surely the gods are laughing right now."

Silvershadow whined softly as he watched his brother walk away with Stink Elf. He did not like Elf Wolf either, but one thing he agreed with. Elf wolf was right to be concerned. They WERE being followed.

"Well," Lorash said, "I might as well set a few traps while I wait. I do have some ideas I've been wanting to try." With a slight frown he turned to look at Silvershadow. "Not sure why I'm talking to YOU about this. Picking up Harsov's bad habit I suppose." Reaching down he ruffled the wolf's fur.

As they walked, Harsov began teaching Adam a few words of the Elven tongue, known as Greenspeak. For elves, dryads, sprites, and other intelligent creatures with strong ties to the Earth element, it was their native speech. During their talk, Adam brought up the
Great War, and how humans and elves had once been close allies.

Harsov nodded, "True. This before the great betrayal." Adam glanced sideways at the youth. "Odd how even the elves acknowledge they betrayed the humans." Harsov came to a sudden halt. "Elves no betray humans! Humans betray them! Set fire to their forests, lead them into ambush! Few greenfolk would ever break promise to ally, and none would turn on own family, set fire to woods! Greenfolk ARE woods! Humans betray US, they seen side by side with demons and undead. Why they do this, not know." Harsov sadly shook his head.

Adam stared at Harsov in stunned silence. "That simply isn't true! Whole regiments of human soldiers were trapped in the flames, burning to death! I freely admit they are not the most intelligent of people, but they are not suicidal! It was the elves who betrayed them! That is the reason they are called forest devils, the humans decided they must be related to the demons in some way to act in so evil a fashion!"

Harsov and Adam stared at each other in dawning realization. "Demons spirit beings, can change shape," began Harsov. "Human and elven alliance powerful, drive them back. They need to change strategy quick, to win war."

Adam nodded, picking up the tale. "So, some changed to look like humans, showing themselves to the elves. Led them into ambush. Others change look like elves, show themselves to humans..."

Harsov nodded in turn. "Two races turn on each other, do more hurt than demons could ever do. Even now, both still weakened, demons no longer need fear alliance..." Adam's eyes gleamed with emotion, as he considered. "That explains everything, doesn't it? I'll have to give this some thought."

Entering the city was rather Anticlimactic. After his own aborted attempt, Harsov was anticipating a confrontation. Instead, Adam had smiled, whispering a few words to an armored guard at the gate. After dropping a few pieces of metal in his hand, the two of them had simply walked in. Humans had such odd ways.

Tapping Adam on the shoulder, he was rewarded with a snarl and a spinning strike by Adam. Harsov easily caught the punch with his own hand, chuckling as he did. "You jump good, but signal strike. We practice later if you want. Have not practiced since leave Guardians."

Adam stared at Harsov in shock. How had he moved so fast? A big man like that should have been slow and clumsy! Instead, Harsov had reacted even quicker than he had! "Oh, sure, I recognized you at the last second, and pulled my punch," Adam replied. "Still, I suppose a little light training might be helpful. So why did you tap me on the shoulder like that? You're lucky I realized it was you in time!"

Harsov smiled in return. "Have question. Why man with armor let us inside? You speak magic words? Why you give him bits of shiny metal? Guards be like birds, like shiny things?"

Adam stared nonplussed at Harsov. "Shiny metal? Those were coins. You know, money? And the words were not exactly magic. I told him if he ignored us, he could have the money."

Harsov looked puzzled. "Not sound like good guard. He let us inside place he guard just because you give him gift? And not even good gift, just few scraps of metal, not even enough to make dagger with!"

Adam shook his head. "Not just pieces of metal, my friend. MONEY. Money eases all woes, and smooths over all obstacles, if you have enough of it."

Harsov nodded thoughtfully. "Still think he bad guard. Could not enemies of town come in same way? Give stupid guard monies and he look away? This explain why guard in other town not let me in. Him want money and I no have to give him."

Adam smiled broadly. "Right on both counts, my friend. Guards are notoriously stupid, and had you given the other guard money, he would no doubt have gladly let you in."

Harsov nodded uncertainly. "You good friend, explain much. So if this "money" so important, how one get some?"

A cold gleam came into Adam's eyes. "Ah, that my friend, is the eternal question. Just stick with me, and I will show you all manner of ways to gain money. Take that merchant there, for example."

In a motion of blurring speed, Adam's hand darted out, trailing the mahogany knife. Severing the cord of the merchant's money purse, his other hand caught the falling pouch before it hit the ground, so deftly that not a single coin clinked. Slipping the pouch inside a concealed pocket of his vest, Adam turned with a smile.

"Easy, right? You see, many people, merchants in particular, often are burdened with far more money than they know what to do with. So we of the guild do what we can to aid them. We borrow money from them, which they will scarcely even miss, and in using it to purchase things, we distribute this money to others who actually need it."

Harsov nodded again. "So we do good, yes? Help others? I like do good things. Adam good learner."

Adam felt a twinge of conscience, something he thought he had stomped out long ago. This was too easy, the big oaf actually believed everything he told him. Why, if all the forest demons were this gullible, one little trip to Elmwood could make him a rich man!

Even as Adam entertained thoughts of easy wealth, a voice rang out behind him, "Hey pimp, how much for a ride on the barbarian?" His eyes blazed as he slowly turned, drawing the mahogany hued dagger. "Listen gutter crawler, and listen well. I am NOT anyone's pimp! Say that one more time, and I'll shove this thing up your ass so far, you'll be crappin' splinters for a month!"

In confusion, Harsov turned to Adam. "I good hunter, good tracker. Maybe we find this barbar... what he say, for lady to ride. She pay us monies,..." Adam interrupted with a curt gesture of negation. "Not now Harsov. I will explain later. MUCH later."

"Ha!" shouted the heavy set mercenary. "Boy, I've fought numerous battles, I'm not about to let some forest demon byblow frighten me with a wooden knife! Now put away your little toy, and answer the question for my mistress, you disgusting little pimp! How much..."

At the word "pimp", a maniacal gleam came into Adam's eyes, and a huge grin split his face. Moving faster than anything mortal had a right to, he raced forward. Even as the guard began to draw his own blade, Adam's slash opened a second mouth in the guard's throat, red and gaping. His return stroke drew a crimson line across the mercenary's belly, spilling his intestines into the dusty street.

Harsov silently resolved to himself never to call Adam a "pimp" whatever that might be. Racing up, he grabbed the leather clad elf's weapon arm. "Adam, we leave. NOW. Birds come!" Pointing up, he drew Adam's attention to the swiftly approaching cloud of ravens.

Adam gave a short bark of laughter, then shouted, "Follow me if you want to live!" He had noticed an unusual sign on a nearby building picturing a single drop of liquid and the name Dew Drop Inn. Dashing across the street, he burst through the doors and into the bustling tavern, Harsov right on his heels.

Placing one hand on a table, he vaulted over it and the patrons sitting there, to land directly in the path of the proprietor. She was a large, buxom woman, with hands the size and appearance of small sledge hammers. He glanced up into a face that might once have been attractive. Making a quick, covert gesture, Adam said, "Might this establishment have another exit, madam? Preferably underground and quickly accessible?"

The buxom madam gave Adam a hard look. "So, an it be like that, eh? Well, me pretty lad, how warm be the corpses in thy wake, an why should Mama Karns risk her neck for a pretty face?" Pausing a moment, a slow smile spread across her face as she noted Harsov. "And who be this fine, strapping lad, eh? Be he the brawn to thy beauty?"

Adam laughed aloud. "Ah, madam, he has brawn to spare, no doubt, though I am not totally lacking in that regard. As to the why, fair lady, I'll have you know I have been a respected member of the "purloined purse" for longer than you have likely been alive. Guild courtesy dictates you aid members in good standing, as I am sure you are well aware."

A hard gleam came to Mama Karns eyes as she nodded, "Aye, bucko, I know the rules. Yet ye should know there is a price involved as well."

Harsov interrupted. "Adam, lady, no time to speak. Need shelter now! Below ground? Take what you value. Any who stay, die. Leave now!" There was a battering of wings against the doors, and screams of terror and anguish from outside.

Mama Karns nodded curtly, summoning a trio of buxom beauties. "Girls, take our wayward brother and his muscle below and wait. I will be along once things are secure here." The girls nodded, and one winked slyly at Adam.

With a grimace, Harsov bent, lifting Mama Karns and securing her over one shoulder. "No time to talk! We leave now!" Adam's eyes widened in surprise. The lad was not only stronger than he had suspected, he was MUCH stronger. Aloud he said, "Ladies, my friend seems to be in a hurry, perhaps with good reason. I would suggest we not keep him waiting any longer?"

Lorash stood back and examined his work. A pit trap, some entanglements, nothing lethal. He did not wish to kill whoever, or whatever pursued them. Well, not until he extracted some information, that is. There was no doubt in his mind they were being followed.

Whatever, or whoever it was, seemed able to keep pace with them, even when he manipulated the land. This meant that not only could it move speedily, it had some means of tracking them beyond merely physical. Glancing down at his hand, Lorash considered.

It could not be tracking him, due to his heartwood ring. Adam seemed to have the same type of ring, though he could not be absolutely certain until he examined it in detail. So, it would seem whatever followed them was either tracking Harsov, or Ravensfeast.

How accurate was this tracking? Must it proceed on the same path they took, or could it travel in a straight line towards its target?
If the idiot Adam had simply done as he asked, and left Ravensfeast behind, he would have more certainty their pursuer would target this area. As it was, whether it tracked Harsov or the artifact, the result might be the same. It could totally bypass the camp, and make straight for them.

Lorash snarled, envisioning that confrontation. Two witless boys, inside a hostile human city, confronting....something. While he owed Adam nothing but grief, Harsov was another matter. Nor could he allow Ravensfeast to be taken from them. There seemed little choice in the matter. He would have to confront their pursuer himself, before it reached the city. Placing one hand on the wolf and another on a nearby tree, Lorash ground out, "Humans! Nothing but trouble..." his words faded as he and the wolf vanished.

Stepping out of the bole of a huge oak, Lorash glanced around, orienting himself. For sheer fighting ability, it might be best to confront their pursuer in wolf form. However, for versatility sake, he elected to remain in his true form. Difficult, if not downright impossible, to weave spells in animal form.

The first thing he noticed was the silence. Complete, absolute silence, as if nature itself held its breath. Even the wind seemed hushed and muted. Something very dangerous was near. That was one aspect he had already noted in their travels, the absence of woodland creatures. Silvershadow began a low, ominous growl from deep in his chest.

So, whatever it might be was close. VERY close, to garner such a reaction from the wolf. Sweeping his gaze over the surrounding landscape, Lorash worked a minor spell, allowing his eyes to register heat sources. Nothing, nothing...wait, a large moving shape...underground?

Even at the thought, a large fin like structure broke the surface. A broad, heavy skull with rows of glistening fangs swiftly followed.
For just an instant, Lorash stared nonplussed. "What in the name of all that's holy", spilled from his lips. Silvershadow's low rumbling growl erupted into a full throated snarl as he leaped forward, fangs bared. "No, you idiot wolf, stay back," shouted Lorash.

Never in his life had he seen, or even heard, of such a monstrosity. Yet it was not in his nature to be stunned for long. Pointing his staff, Lorash summoned a bolt of lightning from the clear night sky. A dazzling bolt of brilliance struck the creature directly on that broad, thick boned head. It paused for a moment, as if stunned, then accelerated its path, angling directly towards Lorash.

Lorash stared in shock. No natural creature should have been able to shrug off a lightning bolt like that, regardless of how powerful it might be. Perhaps it had been enchanted? Regardless, this was not the time for thought, but for action! Concentrating, he willed
the change. If the ground was its chosen medium... In a blink of the eye, Lorash shifted to the form of a snow owl, launching himself into the air just before the creature reached him. But what of the dire wolf? Harsov seemed to have grown quite attached to it, explaining its death would not be pleasant.

Silvershadow saw Elf wolf shift, blur before his eyes. Suddenly it was a bird! The sight aroused a strange feeling deep within him, almost a primal urge. Something about this was familiar, awakening memories long forgotten. There was something he could do, something natural, primal.

Lorash slowly circled the area, reluctant to leave. There was nothing he could do, yet simply flying away and abandoning the wolf to certain death was not in his nature. The creature below was slowly spinning in circles, glancing up. Where was the wolf? Had it suddenly developed a brain and ran away?

Abruptly another snow owl appeared, nearly colliding with Lorash. The elf was so shocked he nearly tumbled from the sky. Snow owls were not native to this region! Where had the second one come from?
The newcomer flapped crazily, rising and falling in the air. It opened its beak, and emitted a yip of distress, oddly wolf like. Silvershadow?!?!?

Burning Ash leaned back in his chair, considering what he had just viewed through the eyes of his creature. A shape changing elf, who summoned a bolt of lightning from the clear sky. Obviously a master in the elemental subclass of Air. The heartwood ring he wore proclaimed him of noble birth. Yet none of these items were of as much interest as what he wielded. A staff, but not just ANY staff. HIS staff, one he thought never to see again.

A memory surfaced, and the arch mage chose to pursue it. A memory of his youth, when he still quested, mind athirst for knowledge. He had visited a rather obscure elven tribe, in the area now known as Elmwood. The tribe was well known for a dryad of remarkable power, a master of Earth magic. A sister of the Dryad Queen, in fact. He struck a bargain with her. She would teach him all she knew of Earth magic, if in return he would "lend her his staff" in the evenings.

He had supposed she wished to examine it at her leisure. He had extracted her promise the staff would not be harmed, which she had agreed to with a smile and a throaty chuckle. Not a wordly man, he had not realized she spoke metaphoricaly, until that first evening. He still recalled with fondness those nights hidden away from the world in her bower. He had grown to truly love much as he had ever loved anyone. In truth, he had stayed on longer than needed to learn what she had to teach him. Even now, he could not say how long he might have remained with her, had she been willing.

Yet one night she had awakened suddenly, shaking and obviously terrified. He had tried to comfort her, but his touch only seemed to frighten her more. She had cast him out of her bower, and her life. In confusion, he had left his staff behind, realizing soon after he had outgrown it.

It had not seemed to matter, he crafted a new staff almost immediately. His old one had been blood tied to him, none but himself or a direct descendant could attune or wield it. As he had no offspring, nor intention of ever spawning any, it had been left behind, a memento of a foolish, abandoned dream.

Yet now it had surfaced, wielded by one who could only be his...son. A powerful mage in his own right, it would seem. What connection did this unknown spawn have to the stolen artifact Ravensfeast? That he was elven and Ravensfeast an elven artifact could not be mere coincidence. This could become interesting...

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Harsov gently deposited Madam Karns, who was breathing deeply. Adam glanced at the youth, noticing he did not seem winded. Not only strong then, but of high endurance as well. Add that to the cat like reflexes he had demonstrated earlier...this would be a dangerous opponent in a fight. He would remember that.

Aloud, Adam said, "Well ladies, we should get comfortable. We might be here awhile. Harsov, just how long do these things normally last?"

Harsov shook his head, glancing upward at the trapdoor. "Not know. Ravensfeast been gone much time. Lorash might know such a thing, him alive when greenfolk last use it."

Mama Karns smiled sadly. "Well boyo, I see now why ye be so strong. Compensation for thy lack of wits, eh? Yet surely there be other jobs for one o' thy strength than merely being muscle for the pretty boy here." The girls giggled amongst themselves as they listened.

Harsov glowered, memories of years worth of tormenting among the elves returning. One hand clenched into a fist, an unconscious reaction. He would never strike a woman, yet Adam noticed, and was quick to react.

A nasty smile flitted across Adam's features, quickly concealed. "Ah, fair lady, you have no idea. He is strong, surely. Yet his lack of proper words is not indicative of a lack of brains. The common tongue of humans is not his native speech, you see."

Mama Karns chuckled. "Ah, so you would have us believe this handsome buck was born amongst the wild wood, and raised by woodland creatures, aye? Like in the fairy stories?"

"You are closer to the truth than you realize, madam," replied Adam. "He was indeed born among the wild wood, yet he was not raised by woodland creatures, but among others native to the region. Those more manlike in shape."

"Why, surely you don't mean the forest devils," gushed the dark tressed serving wench. Her voice trembled slightly, for the forest devils were behind every bad and wicked thing which happened, everyone knew that.

Adam nodded in confirmation. "Indeed I do, lass. Born amongst them, raised as one of them. Yet now he has broken free of them, and their fel influence, to walk the world of men. A true hero, even as legends portend. Seeking wrongs to right, all in the name of his lady love."

Harsov raised one eyebrow as he listened, then snorted rudely. "I no hero. Just here to keep friend safe, learn how humans think."

Mama Karns nodded, "At least your friend tells the truth, my pretty boy. Raised by forest devils indeed!"

Harsov spoke up once more. "Not call them forest devils. Greenfolk not like such names. They fight devils, kill demons. Many die that day."

The matronly madam's eyes widened. "So you are saying that tale he spun was true? You were raised by forest dev...*ahem* greenfolk?"

Adam grinned. "Of course I spoke truth, dear lady. Why, only modesty forbids me from relating how I am widely known for my veracity...among my other talents." Concluding, he turned to wink at the serving wenches, who giggled in response.

Harsov chuckled, "Many talents, yes. Like find lost things. Giant bear in wilderness, cursed artifact lost for many, many moons. Annoy Lorash faster than me, even. Not so sure these good talents, though."

Adam stared for a moment, then burst into laughter. "Why Harsov my friend, I think you have told your first joke in Common."

Mama Karns sighed dreamily. Would that she still had her youth. Strong, handsome, intelligent, a sense of humor and an aura of mystery? This was her dream man, curse the gods for sending him to her when she was too old to take advantage of him! Sighing, she turned to Adam.

"Now, me pretty boy, let us talk payment. How long be ye plannin' to stay within the tender bosom o' me Dew Drop Inn, an how hot be the trail ye left behind?"

"Why gracious lady," replied Adam, "I would not think of departing such a nurturing environment immediately. Besides," glancing up at the odd thumping noises coming from the trapdoor, "I do not think it would be healthy for any of us to venture above right now."

Harsov speared Adam with a sharp edged look. "You make promise we return before sunup. We no can stay much longer. Leave soon."

Adam smirked as he replied, "Ah, my friend, promises are made to be broken. Surely you have learned that by now? Although at the time, I had every intention of keeping my promise to you, of course."

Harsov glowered. "I give MY word to Lorash. Keep you safe, and return by first light! MY promises NOT broken, ever! I keep word, or die trying. Have lost much...tribe, wife, father, grandfather, but my honor I keep!" With a predatory gleam in his eye, he stalked closer. "You seek to break your word? Make Harsov man without honor?"

Adam felt a thrill of danger, as he noted Harsov's battle stance. Though he felt no fear, he had no wish to fight this big lummox. Nor was he altogether certain who the victor would be, here in these confined quarters.

"I am sorry, Harsov. I meant no disrespect. I did not realize your word meant so much to you. Most men break promises as fast as they make them, unless they have good reason to do otherwise. Wait! You mentioned losing your tribe, your wife, your father...was this at the wedding ceremony you spoke of? Your wedding?"

Harsov hung his head in shame. "True words. Grandfather Brokenbranch die opening bonding gift. Father baresark, he die fighting ice demons. Elorna, my wife...she exile Lorash for summoning Lava Lord to fight ice demons. Then she exile me for speaking words to defend him. Say I at his side, I guilty too."

Adam frowned. "Your wife exiled you along with Lorash? But a normal for... *ahem* normal greenfolk could not do such a thing! She would have to be royalty, and very high ranking at that!"

Harsov nodded again. "Her mother Dryad Queen. Mother die fighting Ice Demons, so she Queen now. Most powerful dryad remaining. Ice demons surprise us, attack during bonding ceremony. Few there have weapon or armor. Lorash summon big air spirit. We ride it, slay Brambleheart with grandfather's aid. Then ride it back to battle Ice Demons. Many greenfolk, many dryads die. ALL die, if Lorash not use big magic, call Lava Lord. Him kill Ice Demon leader, yet many trees damaged, destroyed. Fire, ice both damage forest bad. So Elorna exile us both. I wander. No home. Exiled from Elmwood, unwelcome in human lands."

Adam swallowed hard, at an unexpected lump in his throat. "Man, I thought MY life was rough! Well, what you've said just confirms my own thoughts. These "Greenfolk" who raised you DESERVE the name Forest Devil!"

Harsov shook his head in negation. "They good people. Not like me, I remind them of betrayers. Those who sided with demons in the great war. The humans, who burned their forests. Dryads part of the forest, could not flee. Elven king, he die protecting his people. That when Ravensfeast disappear.

Mama Karns spoke up now. "So this "Ravensfeast" ye speak of. Might that have somewhat to do with the black birds what be swarmin' me inn above?"

Harsov opened his mouth to answer, but Adam quickly interrupted. "Of course not, madam. Everyone knows Ravensfeast was an elven bow. As you can plainly see, neither of us carries such a weapon."

Mama Karns laughed harshly. "Aye bucko, that much seems clear enough. Yet methinks it factors into this matter nonetheless. If memory serves, were there not rumors of thy guild appropriating some valuable artifact of recent date?"

Adam gave a predatory grin. "Oh aye, little sister. We of the "purloined purse" are well known for liberating objects of some value. Who knows? This elven bow might even be one of those, though I do believe our authority here on all things greenfolk mentioned the bow in question had been lost for many years, correct Harsov?"

Harsov nodded, "Many, many moons...what you say, years? But..." Adam deftly cut him off. "So there you have it madam, this current crisis obviously has nothing to do with this fabulous artifact yo
u mentioned. Now to the real meat of the issue...does your little hidey hole here have an exit somewhere other than your lovely establishment above? I do not believe it would be healthy for any of us to use that mode of egress anytime soon."

Madam Karns sighed, "Oh, aye, an ye knew it would, pretty boy. T'other end be just outside the town walls. Yet that be a secret near an dear to me an mine, an I not be revealin' it to ye this day, promises or no, bargains or no."

Harsov stood up, glancing at the trapdoor above them. "Then we fight way out. We close door behind us. You stay here, be safe."

Adam stood up, shrugging. "Well, I never wanted to live forever anyway. Live hard, die young, leave a pretty corpse, I say."

Mama Karns stared at the two of them. "Ye're both more than a little lacking in brains, so ye be. I said I could not reveal the exit to ye. But an ye were blindfolded and me lovely lasses here led ye out, ye wouldst not be knowing the way, eh? For there be secret catches, traps an the like which ye couldst not see the riddle to. Yet there still be the matter of me payment."

Adam turned, smiling crookedly, "Ah, an to be sure we owe you more than we could ever hope to repay. But alas, we have little in the way of money, barely enough to survive on ourselves..."

Harsov interrupted him. "Give them monies from merchant. That not be ours, an like you say, we do good. Take monies from merchant, he have too much. Give to nice lady, who need it to take care of three daughters."

Adam turned to give Harsov a dirty look. "One day soon you and I will have to have a long talk about money, I see." Turning back to the waiting Madam Karns, he sighed heavily. "Oh well, easy come easy go, I suppose," he groused. Opening his vest, he removed the merchants purse from the hidden pocket and tossed it to her. She smiled and nodded happily. "Pleasure doing business with you brother." Turning to a nearby shelf, she removed two blindfolds. "Luckily for you boys, we keep an ample supply on hand, to satisfy certain customers."

Lorash flew swiftly towards the little town, stopping at their campsite only briefly to snatch up Harsov's bow and sword. He might well have use of them soon. One brief moment only, then he transformed back into a snow owl once more, the weapons becoming part of his new form. Not for the first time he wondered exactly how that worked. He made a mental note to research the matter when he had time.

Silvershadow landed heavily beside him, and Lorash scowled bleakly. Now what in the nine hells was that about? He had never heard of a shape changing wolf, other than Wolweres, who could assume human or hybrid form. Never one who could transform into an owl! The wolf hopped about clumsily, still getting used to this new form. Elf wolf good teacher! Maybe he was not so bad for the pack.

Launching into the air once more, Lorash winged his way on towards the nearby town. Silvershadow swiftly followed, still clumsy but steadier in his flight. This was fun! Tossing his head back, he howled in delight.

With a spiral loop, Lorash glanced at the other "owl"...and shook his head. It now had the body of a snow owl, and the head of a wolf! Even he could not change portions of his body! Whatever else Silvershadow was, he was apparently a natural born shape changer, and becoming more adept on "the fly", so to speak.

The town was coming into sight, and Lorash saw chaos reigned in the streets. Torches waving, people shouting and screaming, guards swarming the streets. Well, it shouldn't take long to locate the two he sought. Just follow the mayhem.

He had hoped the two would have enough sense not to attract further attention. Right now, that was the last thing they needed. So of course, they had the whole town in an uproar. Humans!

Abruptly, Lorash felt a thrill of fear. Ravens! Flocks of them, diving on anything moving. Bodies littered the street, covered in blood. Neither Adam nor Harsov were visible. His snow owl form would not shield him from discovery here! With a burst of concentration, Lorash changed shape once more, this time in midair, becoming a coal black raven.

There was a joyful yip behind him as Silvershadow followed suit. He had no time now, but Lorash promised himself he would investigate THAT matter more closely at his earliest opportunity! Trust Harsov to have the only shape changing wolf ever known!

Alighting on a nearby rooftop, Lorash returned to his natural form. He must locate those two idiots, before their pursuer did. Whatever it was, it must be tracking Ravensfeast. With a bit of effort, he thought he could alter Adam's ring to shield both him and the artifact from such. For now though, he was grateful. It would allow him to locate the artifact as well. If those two idiots were alive, they would be with it. If by chance Harsov was captured or slain trying to protect Adam...well, Adam would long rue his decision to enter this squalid dung heap of a town!

Adam could tell they were ascending from the slant of the passage they walked. His outstretched arms could reach both sides of the corridor. Narrow, then, with smooth stone walls. Three times they stopped to disengage traps or trip secret levers. He memorized the number of steps to each. Professional interest, of course. Who knew when such knowledge might be of use? At last the cool night air on his face let him know they had exited.

Removing his blindfold, he gave his guide a long, slow kiss. Breaking off the embrace, he sighed. "Wish I had time to properly thank you, beautiful. Perhaps next time." She grinned lasciviously in return. "Whenever you are ready, I'll be waiting," she replied.

The other two wenches seemed reluctant to release Harsov. He removed his blindfold, and bowed slightly. "Tell your mother she good woman. Much helpful. Be careful on way home. Bad things out at night."

The ground nearby rumbled, and Adam raised one eyebrow. Glancing over at Harsov, he asked a silent question. The youth shook his head in negation.

Abruptly Lorash landed beside them, changing from avian form to his natural one in mid air. With a self satisfied yip, Silvershadow joined him, returning to wolf form. Lorash scowled blackly at the wolf, before tossing Harsov his sword. "Get ready, you're likely to need this," Lorash shouted.

"THIS is what has been chasing us," Lorash said. "It shrugged off my lightning bolt like it was a minor annoyance. I believe it is tracking Ravensfeast." Even as he spoke the creature's fin broke the surface, angling towards them.

Swallowing hard, Adam held aloft the mahogany knife. "If ever I needed you babe, I need you now! How about a spear? A nice boar spear, with a crossbar? Please?"

Harsov took a deep breath. If this creature was more than Lorash could handle alone, it was likely beyond anything he could do to harm it. Or was it? Holding the flamberge firmly in both hands, he leaped forward, shouting "Adramaloch!"

Silvershadow growled and lunged forward. The pack was together now, and his brother was in danger. This was a time for fangs to sink deep!

Lorash held his staff level, as he reached deep inside himself, summoning all his will and mystic might. Perhaps he could at least slow the beast down, give them time to flee...

Burning Ash staggered as his creature was assaulted from all sides. A boar spear plunged deep in its chest as it surfaced, somehow shearing through its armor plated hide. Raw mystic force battered it, slowing its reaction time. A blazing flamberge smote it on the head, engulfing it in flames. A half grown wolf leaped in and out, snapping as it tried to chew through the tough hide.

A single bugling cry of anguish burst from the creature, as it plowed to a stop, still half submerged below the ground. Burning Ash blinked, still half in shock. They killed it! This same creature had torn apart whole squads of soldiers, yet these three had slain it without receiving a scratch in return!

So, his "son" had found competent allies, it would seem. This might be more interesting than he had first thought. One thing was certain, he would need a more refined tool to test them next. The landshark, for all its brute power, was far too clumsy. Next time, he would be better prepared. Much better prepared.

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