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  1. Phoenix Envy: Quandary

  2. Harsov the Harsh (Chapter Eighteen)

  3. RT - The Stars Don't Shine As Bright Anymore.

  4. Harsov the Harsh (Chapter Seventeen)

  5. Falling


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


Harsov the Harsh (Chapter Eighteen)

Adam and Lorash were arguing...again. Harsov had given up on interfering. He would not always be there to separate them, and the two would have to resolve their issues in time regardless. In time would be the key phrase, as they seemed to disagree on almost everything.

"Look Lorash, don't you think you're being more than a little paranoid about entering cities? We're miles away from Elmwood now, and for all we know no one is even looking for us! Our supplies are getting low, and I for one miss sleeping in a real bed! Not to mention little things like bathing, enjoying a good wine and some female companionship for the night!"

Lorash frowned thoughtfully. "I never said YOU could not go into a town, or leave in general. Just leave Ravensfeast behind. We cannot risk losing it again. Furthermore, I was NOT wrong. We are being tracked even as we speak. Ravensfeast is the greatest artifact our people ever created. Do not think for a moment that humans are unaware or have forgotten that. It is likely at some point we will have to make a stand against whoever or whatever is pursuing us. I would prefer to choose the site."

Adam laughed derisively. "Oh, you would just love that, wouldn't you? My leaving the bow behind for you to snatch and take off with! Well you can forget it! Where I go, the bow goes. Besides, you couldn't handle it anyway, remember? I can just picture the impression I'll make, strolling into town with this little beauty." Adam lovingly patted the stock of the crossbow.

Raising one eyebrow, Lorash looked directly into Adam's eyes. "YOU might go into town boy, but that bow will not. Don't think for a moment I will allow you to risk losing it now."

Adam's temper flared. "You won't allow? You can't stop me "god learner"! I go where I want, when I want, anytime I want! Your cheap magic tricks won't stop me this time! I'm ready for them!"

Harsov shook his head. He had tried warning Adam, even speaking with him in private about Lorash's abilities. Obviously he his words had not made much impression on him. Thus far Elorna's brother had shown remarkable restraint, but there was a point he could not be pushed beyond, and Adam was perilously close.

Deciding it was time to defuse things a bit, Harsov stepped up. "Tell you what, Adam. I go with you, leave my bow too. Besides, it not good thinking to walk about city holding weapons, no? Would not guards be angry at us? And Lorash is right, Ravensfeast mean too much to Greenfolk to risk losing it. You know much of human ways, I know little. You show me town?"

Adam continued to glare at Lorash for a moment, then turned to smile at Harsov. "Well at least you have some sense! Yes, you're right, we are strangers here, and walking around the town holding weapons would not be advisable. Hmm...I wonder."

Holding the crossbow at arms length, Adam said, "I sure would hate to leave this beauty behind. If only it were dagger size, I could easily take it with me." Lorash's eyes widened in sudden alarm, but before he could say a word, the crossbow seemed to blur. The next moment Adam was holding a beautifully carved mahogany knife.

"That should handle things well enough," Adam pronounced. "A non threatening weapon, so the guards will not be alarmed." He bowed gracefully towards Lorash, and continued, "And Poppa Worrywart here is right as well. I indeed will NOT bring a bow with me."

Harsov struggled to hide his smile. "I not have magic weapon," he said in common. "Lorash, I leave bow and sword with you. I know they safe here. We be back before sun in sky." Turning to Silvershadow, Harsov bent over to place his arms around the wolf's neck. Changing to elven, he said, "You, little brother, must stay here. A wolf your size would frighten the townspeople even more than our carrying weapons. Besides, we wouldn't want to leave Lorash all alone." Ruffling the wolf's fur, he stood up. Still in elven, he said, "Don't worry Lorash, I'll keep him and Ravensfeast safe. We will return soon."

Lorash snorted ruefully. "I don't care in the slightest what happens to HIM. Losing Ravensfeast now would be a great tragedy though. Take care, humans are...unpredictable. They will not see you as one of them. Either of you. Nor was I exaggerating the danger. We ARE being followed, I can sense it."

Harsov nodded again. "Before sunrise we will return." Turning to Adam, he said, "We be back before light is in sky once more, yes?"

Adam smiled broadly, "Why certainly, certainly. I am just tired of traipsing through the wilderness with Mother Hen there. Ah, I can almost taste the wine now...not to mention the ladies' kisses. Not sure which one I miss most!"

Lorash shook his head in disgust as he turned away. "Fool boy! Come along wolf, let's prepare a little surprise for whoever is following us."

Silvershadow glanced askance at Harsov, then turned to follow Lorash. His brother wanted him to remain here, so he would. He did not trust Elf-wolf, nor Stink-Elf. He did not like splitting up the pack this close to Monkey lands. One thing he knew, though. Lorash was right. They were being followed.

Harsov turned to Adam. "We go now. Dark comes soon, we have little time. I not know human city ways, you teach me?"

Adam grinned. "Sure, just stick with me. I will teach you to speak better common too. Maybe while I do you can teach me a few elven words as well. I should be able to speak my own language, right? Plus, I don't trust that arrogant priest. It would be nice to understand him when he starts jabbering away.'

Harsov nodded happily. "Yes, that good thought. I learn you, you learn me. Like why humans eat grubs? Why chop down trees, then make wall with them? Why not grow trees to make wall? Easier, better for trees and people."

Adam cocked one eyebrow cynically. "Grow trees to make a wall? Maybe the forest de...*ahem* GREENFOLK could do such things, but such magic does not come easily to humans. In fact, magic of ANY sort does not come easily to most humans."

Harsov sighed heavily. "This I know well. Even Lorash not learn me much. Only small magic, and much hard to do."

The two walked away, conversing animatedly. Adam felt a measure of true pride, for his knowledge was not being used to exploit someone, or take advantage of a situation. In fact, he was gaining very little of any tangible benefit. Yet it was not lost on him that the youth had often come to his defense against Lorash, when he had little if anything to gain from it. Perhaps this was what it was like to have a friend?

Harsov too enjoyed talking with an elf who was not insulting him, like the youths he grew up with, or critiquing and criticizing him like Lorash and the Guardians. Someone he could relax and really talk to, without having to weigh every word before speaking it.

As they walked, Harsov began instructing Adam on how to "feel" the land. How to open his senses, and merge with his surroundings. "Give you strength when running. Let you know when danger nearby. Help you hide from enemies. All elves know these things. You should know too. Come natural to you, you see. I human, learn after much struggle. My mother's father Brokenbranch teach."

Adam's eyebrows rose. Your "grandfather" Brokenbranch? That sounds like a for...*ahem* Green Folk name."

Harsov smiled proudly. "That right. Brokenbranch great shaman and hero of Greenfolk. Fought in Great War. His name Ironwood then. Change after losing wife in battle. Chose name Brokenbranch."

Adam was clearly shocked. "Your grandfather was Ironwood? But you're human, not elven, or even half elven!"

Harsov nodded sadly. "Adam speak true. My grandfather bond with human woman. So my mother half elven, Whisper Willow. She bond with half elven man, like her. So I born, human. Great disappointment to tribe and family. Not elf, like grandfather. Not even half elf, like parents. Human, like cursed ones who betrayed the Greenfolk." As he ended this brief story, Harsov hung his head in shame.

Adam whistled softly. "Wow, that must have been rough. A little like my own story. I'm elven, obviously, though I have cursed my heritage since I was a small child. Never knew my father, guess he must have abandoned us before I was born. My mother sold me to the thieves guild when I was very young, I barely remember her. At least THEY don't judge a person on race. Human, elf, dwarf, half demon...it doesn't matter to them, so long as you abide by their rules and do the job you're given."

Harsov nodded slowly. "You mother, she must have great reason to leave you. Greenfolk treasure their children. Have few, each one of great value to tribe. Maybe she fear your father, think to hide you from him? Would be very hard for any of greenfolk to survive in human city, so close to Great Betrayal."

Adam smiled sadly. "I never really thought of it that way. I wish I could sit down now, and talk to her. Ask her why she did what she did. Kinda funny even elves acknowledge how they betrayed the humans in the war."

Harsov stopped abruptly. "Elves not betray humans. Humans were allies, greenfolk NEVER betray allies. Humans called demons, joined with them against greenfolk. Slew many, many. Some tribes all dead. Forests burned to ground. Think that is why you not missed. So many die, too many to count! One woman and child missing, must be counted among dead. Overlooked. If tribe had known mother and child alone in human city, would have sent rescue, bring you back to tribe. Children more worth than any riches, especially when so many dead. Tribe weak, weak after war."

It was Adam's turn to be shocked. "That isn't true! It was the elves who called the demons! Why, that's the whole reason humans call them Forest Demons! Figure they must have a blood relationship with the demons to betray us! Why, they even set fire to their own forests, many soldiers were caught in the blaze and died screaming! Whole armies were wiped out, so the humans withdrew into their cities, placing a ban on entering deep woods!"

Both youths stared at each other. Harsov said, "Elves say humans betrayed them, sided with demons. Humans say Greenfolk betrayed THEM, sided with demons. One thing I tell you true, no elf would ever set fire to the woods. They ARE the woods. Greenfolk closely related to dryads, spirits of the trees who take elven form. Burning woods would slaughter their own kin. NO elf, even most evil, do such a thing. Only demon I know of be Brambleheart. She imprisoned since the War, until Lorash and I slew her...with Grandfather's help."

Adam's eyes glowed. "So, humans blame the elves. Elves blame the humans. Both suffered greatly, and continue to suffer even now. Who would profit from such a thing?"

Harsov's eyes widened. "Demons! Demons can change form, appear to be other than they are. Some demons change to look like elves, show themselves to humans. Others change to look like humans, show themselves to elves...."

Adam nodded in agreement. "And so the alliance, which was a threat to demonkind, was split asunder. Now, instead of working together, humans and elves distrust one another, and slay each other on sight. In one fell swoop, both their enemies were greatly weakened, and became much less of a threat. But wait...did you say Lorash and you slew Brambleheart? I thought she was just a scary story to frighten children with!"

Harsov shook his head in negation. "No story, very real. Plenty scary though. She dead now. Lorash use big air elemental, rip at her spirit. Grandfather great shaman, his spirit fight her in combat. I use sword, chop chop on body when she try to reform. She dead now, I hear her scream.

Yet she cause much harm before she die. Call father, him Ice demon. Him bring army of other ice demons. Attack tribe. Catch tribe when weak...they at bonding ceremony. No weapons, no armor. Lorash and I, ride air elemental back. Big fight! Look like all elves die. Then Lorash summon Lava Lord! Him HATE ice demons! Even bigger fight. Many, many die. Many demons, many elves, many dryads. Father die too. Him what Lorash call bear sark...whatever that mean. Kill many ice demons before him fall."

Adam stared at Harsov. "So you are telling me Lorash summoned a huge air elemental, and rode it? Then he called up a Lava Lord?!?! Why didn't you warn me about him? He could have killed me!"

Harsov laughed. "DID warn you. Told you Lorash have much magic, him could easily kill you. You not listen, too angry. Not worry though. You have Ravensfeast, which Lorash not able to pick up. Him not kill you till him know how to use it."

Adam scowled. This would take some adjusting. He had assumed Lorash was some charlatan minor mage, pretending to be more than he was. In actuality, it would seem he had downplayed his abilities, and was perhaps a master mage. Perhaps even greater. A master mage Geomancer could have summoned a Lava Lord, perhaps. But not a "huge" air elemental, nor had he forgotten the powerful air spirit Lorash had summoned. Who could forget her? She was absolutely beautiful!

Regardless, it was apparent Lorash had considerable control over both air and earth elements, perhaps even mastery of both. Certainly not a person to trifle with.

Yet even so, he owed him. And even a master mage could not be on guard at all times. Such as when he was asleep. Normally, such a person would have all manner of guards set up. Yet traveling in the wilderness? That might be an all together different matter. That would bear investigating. A slow grin spread across his lips as Adam considered the matter.

Lorash pondered. Whoever, whatever was tracking them must be drawing near, if it was indeed focusing on them and not Ravensfeast. As he contemplated the matter, another thought intruded. Both he and Adam wore heartwood rings, and could not be tracked magically. Therefore, either they were being physically tracked, or their pursuers were tracking Ravensfeast. Either was a possibility. This day should supply the answer.

If the former were true, he would have a few surprises prepared. If the latter...well, he hoped the lads had enough sense not to engage their pursuer in combat alone, without weapons. Yet playing the scenario out in his mind, he seriously doubted that would be the youths' reaction. Especially that hotheaded idiot Adam. So, his course of action was clear. Set the traps he had planned, then move in close to the city, to provide whatever aid was needed if and when their unknown pursuers caught up to Harsov and Adam.

Grinning, Lorash began implementing his plan. There was much a priest of Sylvanus could do in a wilderness setting. And he had a few ideas in mind he had been wanting to try. He had been reluctant to try them against his own people. Whoever, whatever was trailing was likely not of the greenfolk. This left all his options open.

Silvershadow watched Lorash's preparations closely. A good thought, this "trap". Whatever followed them must by now be aware of their numbers, and have some idea of their abilities. That it continued to follow them meant it had no fear of them. Now they would have some knowledge of IT'S abilities.

After laying his initial trap, and warding the area to alert him of anything approaching, Lorash considered. All well and good so far, yet he was not in the mood to wait. Now that he no longer need concern himself with the safety of others, he could afford to investigate this matter more closely.

Thus far all he had to go on was an uneasy feeling, and the lack of woodland creatures on their travels. As if something was frightening the natural fauna of the area. He glanced briefly at Silvershadow.

Apparently, the wolf's bond with Harsov was strong enough it had remained with them rather than flee the area. Which brought up another key point. Animal senses were keener than human or even elven. So long as the wolf remained near him, he would have a bit of advance warning when their pursuer was close.

Granted, he could assume animal form himself, but he would feel more comfortable confronting their unknown pursuer in his natural form. Shrugging, he turned to Silvershadow. "What about it, boy? You ready to seek out whatever is following us?"

Silvershadow stretched, then leaped up to yip in excitement. About time someone took this serious. At least Elfwolf made sense. You didn't see HIM wanting to take a stroll through Monkeytown.

Lorash smiled, patting the dire wolf on the head. "Good boy," he smilingly said. "Let's move a little closer." Placing one hand on a nearby tree, and the other on the wolf, he vanished.

The entrance to the city had been rather anticlimactic, Harsov thought. After his own aborted attempt, he had thought it would be quite the struggle. Instead, Adam had smiled knowingly at the guards, handed them a couple pieces of metal, and they had been allowed to enter. Very strange. He was still curious about one thing. Turning, he said, "Adam, what is "dandy"?"

Adam smiled in return, as he said, "A dandy is a well dressed individual with money and good manners. Often, that is all they are. I, however, am much, MUCH more."

Harsov nodded, still wearing a puzzled expression. "So, what is "money", and how you get some?"

Adam laughed out loud. "Ah, that is the eternal question my friend. But not to fret, I am quite adept at "getting money". Just stick with me and I will teach you all manner of ways to acquire money."

Harsov shrugged his shoulders. "Adam know human ways. Him teach, I learn. Adam teach Harsov to be dandy too?"

Adam laughed out loud. "That might be beyond even my considerable abilities my friend. But I will do what I can." Harsov smiled warmly. Friend. Adam had named him friend. All his life he had longed for a true friend. Now, in the most unlikely of places, he had found one.

Almost without thinking, Adam's hand snaked out, and the mahogany knife severed a moneypurse from a passing merchant. His free hand deftly caught the falling purse in midair, without even a jingle of rattling coins. "That, my friend, was your first lesson. Many people have too much money for their own good. Merchants in particular have this problem. As concerned citizens, it is our humble duty to relieve them of this burden. We then take a portion of said monies, and distribute them to others, so all benefit."

Harsov nodded slowly. "Merchants weak, yes? Unable to carry monies? It seems not so heavy. You say we do good? Help others, yes?"

Adam smiled comfortingly. "That's right. You would be surprised how much of a burden money can be. We are performing a service for the community. We pass on money from the merchants to others within the town, who then use the money to purchase goods from the merchants."

As Harsov was digesting this, a nearby voice interrupted his thoughts. "Hey pimp, my mistress wants to know how much for a ride on the barbarian?" The youth stood there puzzled, as Adam snarled back.

"I am no pimp, you ill bred dog! Say that one more time and I'll stick my knife so far up your ass you'll be crappin' splinters for a month!" Adam's eyes fairly glowed as he drew the mahogany knife, and a smile of anticipation spread across his lips.

"Adam, what be "barbar.." what he say? Why his mistress want one to ride? Maybe we go catch one, make monies like you say?"

Adam shook his head in negation. "Not now, Harsov. I will explain later. Much later."

"Better put that twig away boy, before I take it away from you. And learn who to threaten, I've been in battle many times. No half grown little pimp with a carved wooden knife is gonna frighten me." The big bulky man who had first addressed them sneered.

Lightning would seem slow compared to Adam's reaction. In a flash he hurled himself at the guard. In a movement too fast for the eye to follow, the knife licked out, and his opponent seemed to sprout a second mouth below the first, red and gaping. As the guard's hand flew up, vainly attempting to staunch the flow of his life's blood. Adam's return swing opened his belly, as horrible gasping noises came from the guard's severed windpipe.

Harsov made a mental note never to call Adam a "pimp", whatever that might be. He began to move even as the sky darkened. Grabbing Adam by one arm, he shouted, "Inside! Birds come!"

The tavern's clientele glanced up in mild interest at the two new arrivals. Placing one hand on a table, Adam vaulted over it to land facing an elderly matron. She might once have been pretty, it was difficult to tell beneath the heavy layers of makeup she wore.

"Quickly madam, death follows close on our heels," Adam exclaimed. "Lead us to your most secure exit, and bring along any whose life you value!" He concluded with an odd hand gesture.

The woman so addressed was large in all ways, towering well over Adam, nearly matching Harsov in height. Hands the size of small mallets hung at the end of big, beefy arms. A brightly dyed gown struggled vainly to contain her massive girth. Two eyes smeared liberally with kohl sparkled with intelligence, belying her appearance.

"Ah, is it so, my boyo? Well, it wouldn't be the first time Death sought to wrap me in his clammy embrace, but Momma Karns ain't in any hurry to entertain that particular client! Follow me, then. Girls!" With a wave, she summoned a trio of attractive women in overly revealing outfits to her.

"Our wayward brother here claims we should seek sanctuary below. This ol' bod be not as spry as in younger years, else I would gladly entertain he and his big "friend" here." Hungrily she ran her eyes over Harsov's huge frame. "Take them both to sanctuary, and remain there until I fetch ya!"

The little group turned to go, but Harsov halted them with one hand. "Madam, you not fight what comes. Death to stay and try. You brave, this I see. No use against strong magic. You come too, or die here."

Momma Karns stared at the youth, the hard lines etched in her face easing slightly. "Ah boyo, ye make me wish I were still a young lass. An ye be right, no amount of courage be worth spit again' magic. Very well, me lassies, lead on an ol' Momma Karns will follow as best she may."

Adam shook his head as the attractive young women led the way. He enjoyed the view, of course, but wondered about Harsov. He seemed more interested in the overage matron than the young ladies. He would have to have a serious talk with the lad when time permitted. No telling what sort of perversions he had picked up, living among the forest demons.

Lorash tensed as he and the wolf stepped out of a large oak. He could feel the wolf's fur standing on end, and hear a low growl. "Hush, boy," he commanded. No use alerting whatever the creature, or creatures, were to their nearness.

Stillness blanketed the land, as if every living creature held it's breath. It must be nearby, Lorash thought. It travels fast indeed, I intended to give myself time to set up a trap.

The ground beneath him began to tremble, and Lorash glanced down. The creature must be monstrously huge to make the land shake beneath its tread. Abruptly something resembling a fin burst from the ground, followed closely by a massive snout sporting gleaming fangs.

Lorash sprang backward in shock. "What in the nine hells is THAT," he exclaimed. Silvershadow snarled, preparing to leap. "No, you crazy wolf, get away from that thing," Lorash shouted. At his shout, the creature's path veered sharply, orienting on him.

Pointing his staff, Lorash summoned a shaft of lightning from the clear sky, impacting directly on the creature's head. It slowed slightly, then increased it's pace. "Well, I got its attention at least," he groused.

Closing his eyes, Lorash concentrated fiercely. In an instant a snowy owl hovered where he had stood a moment before. Whatever this thing was, he did not want to engage it hand to hand. Not until he knew its capabilities, and hopefully, its weakness. What to do about the wolf, though? Maybe he could lead it away, and allow Harsov's pet to escape? Come to think of it, where WAS the wolf?

Silvershadow saw elfwolf's form blur, then become a bird. The sight triggered something deep within him, almost a primordial urge. Elf/owl/wolf was smart. Their enemy was on the ground, even below the ground. It was big and strong. Being above the ground would be better.

Another owl wobbled through the air near him, and Lorash blinked in confusion. Another owl? They were not even native to this area, and why was it flying so oddly? The owl opened it's beak, and yipped in delight.
Lorash nearly fell from the sky! That sounded like the wolf! By the sacred grove itself, what was happening? Regardless, he needed to regroup, consider these new developments.

With a hoot of annoyance he flapped away. It was imperative now that he rejoin the other two. If this creature truly was tracking Ravensfeast somehow, they were in deadly danger. Not to mention what might happen if this thing surfaced inside a human city pursuing them. It was imperative they maintain a low profile, and attract a minimum of attention from magical sources, particularly in populated areas.

Silvershadow followed close behind Lorash, learning the capabilities of this new form "on the fly", as it were. This was fun, he could not wait to show his brother this new trick. Elf/owl/wolf seemed impressed as well.

Burning Ash pondered what he had just learned. Watching through the eyes of his minion, he had seen the elf. It intrigued him. First, it was holding an old staff of his. That it was able to use the item was evident by the lightning it wielded through it. Secondly, this elven mage was capable of changing form, and wore the robes of a priest of Sylvannus.

So...an elven priest mage of Sylvannus, and one able to wield a staff formerly attuned to him. One unable to track, due to that annoying heartwood ring he wore. He must be of noble birth. It could mean only one thing. He had a son, who like himself wielded true magic. This was a new wrinkle he had not foreseen.

Devoting himself to the study of magic, he had never had time nor inclination to sire an offspring. Certainly not to raise one. Yet here one was, drawing nearer to him daily. One of noble birth, and wielding a least a portion of his own abilities. This had unsettling possibilities.

His attention had been attracted by the activation of Ravensfeast. So long as the elves were without their arch talisman, there was no danger of their uniting, and forming a credible threat to his employers. Yet if Ravensfeast were in the possession of an offspring of his, with strong ties to the elven people, they were a legitimate force to be reckoned with.

Unbidden, images of Llewelyn appeared in his mind's eye, just as he last saw her over a century ago. Beautiful, witty,and mysterious, she had stolen his heart the moment he met her. She was the only woman he had ever met who attracted him as strongly as magic. For her, he might have been willing to lay aside his research and quest for power...yet fate had willed otherwise.

What a woman! Her mastery of Geomancy had been impressive, she had taught him much. Yet though that was his original reason for seeking
her out, it was not the reason he had remained by her side through the seasons. Time had flown by magically swift, and he might have been content living out the brief life of a mortal, so long as she was near.

With an effort he forced the memories from him. So this lad was his offspring. Her offspring. None other could have wielded his old staff. Only one of his bloodline could have attuned it, and he had made certain no such person existed. Quite certain. Until now.

Despite his resolve, he felt the rise of curiosity. The lad obviously possessed a portion of his mystic might. Like himself, the youth showed an affinity for the elemental class, though apparently more attuned to Aeromancy than Pyromancy like himself. Interesting. No doubt his mother had taught him at least the basics of Geomancy as well.

Burning Ash tapped his staff idly on the ground as he considered. Very well, what harm could it do? He would allow this man-child to continue approaching.

Why not? He was no threat, and the closer he came on his own, the less distance to be traveled in the end. When he retrieved the artifact for his employers. When he drained the life from his "son". It would be so satisfying to gaze into those eyes, the eyes so like the mother's, before he slew him.

Mama Karns halted the little party. "Now me boyos, 'tis past time ye spilled the dark to Mama Karns. What trouble has ye aroused here, in our quaint little city? From the big 'un's statement, tis obvious ye raised the ire of some mage, aye? Just how powerful be he, and why should Mama Karns risk her establishment to keep ye safe?"

Adam stepped forward, preening a bit. "First, you should keep us safe as simple professional courtesy. I am a dues paying member of the "purloined purse", as you well know, and have been for nigh on a century. Besides that, my young friend was likely quite accurate. If you had not led us to safety here, there is a decent chance we would all be dead now."

Adam paused a moment to glance over at Harsov. "That is correct, yes? The flame wall you erected last time was the blade's doing, not your own, I would surmise?"

Harsov returned a puzzled stare. "Sir Mise? Who is Sir Mise? Blade given to Harsov as present by Lava Lord for aid in battle. I not know this "Sir Mise" you speak of."

The girls gathered smiled, and Mama Karns chuckled out loud. "Ah, worry not sweetums. Not everyone can be glib of tongue like your elven friend here. You may not have brains, but the rest of you more than makes up for that." Hungrily her eyes roamed over Harsov's lean, athletic frame.

Adam grinned as well, but hastily interceded when he saw the deep frown on his friends face, and the glimmer of bubbling anger. "Now, now ladies, my friend may not speak well yet, but that is only because this is not his native tongue. He was not raised among humans, you see."

Mama Karns chuckled, "Oh, sure, sure. The wild beasts of the forest raised the poor dear, no doubt. Just like in the fairy stories."

Adam's grin spread. Laying his arms around the shoulders of two of the girls, he continued. "Ah, no, of course not! His own background is far more mysterious and eldritch than simple wildlife. He grew into this fine strapping young hero among the forest devils, nurtured on magic and demonic energies alone. Now he has finally broken free of their grasp, loosed to roam the wide world. Alas, he knows little of the customs of his own people, and only a smattering of their tongue. Thus he wanders the land, his noble heart leading him to champion the cause of the poor and downtrodden."

One of the girls turned to Harsov. "Gosh, is that true? Will you tell us your story?" Reaching out she placed one slender hand on his bulging bicep.

Harsov looked down at the girl in puzzlement. "I not know fancy words
like Adam. But Greenfolk not like name "forest devil". They fight, kill devils."

Mama Karns eyes widened. "Are you saying this fancy pants elf speaks true? That ye lived 'mongst the Forest de... *ahem* What e'er they call themselves. The forest people?"

Adam turned his lips up in a mild sneer. "Did I not just now say so? Only modesty prevents me from relaying how I am widely known for my veracity, among a great many other virtues. Virtues which I would be delighted to share with you young ladies..."

Harsov interrupted, "Adam, we no have time. We promise Lorash to return from city by rise of sun. How we get past birds outside?"

A slow grin spread across Adam's features as he replied, "Ah, my young friend, one thing you simply must learn. There is ALWAYS time for...." the young thief's words were suddenly drowned out by the strident cry of ravens mingled with screams of terror.

As Lorash winged his way back towards the small human settlement, he considered. No need to change form, it would likely be far easier for an owl to enter undetected than an elf. He hoped it would not be too difficult to find the pair. Though he was certain he had a lead on whatever that massive creature was, it had appeared swift, and was unlikely to be deterred by any obstacle it might encounter.

He felt a sudden nip at his tailfeathers, and jerked in alarm. He was under attack! Executing a near perfect barrel roll, he prepared to lash out with his talons...to see a strange composite being. It had the wings and body of an owl, but the head of a wolf, proportionate to the body. Silvershadow yipped delightedly. Fun game!




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