Harsov the Harsh (Chapter Twenty Two)
Burning Ash scowled darkly. "I understand your impatience to return to Elmwood, son. Being away from the forest, your friends and family for the first time must be terribly disorienting. But you MUST complete your training! Discipline, discipline, discipline! A mage as powerful as you are cannot afford to simply use the talent as a tool, or worse yet, a weapon! It would be akin to handing a razor sharp dagger to a toddler and telling them to run along and play!"
Lorash snarled in return, "You understand NOTHING. Do you truly think me some weak willed fool, who cannot stand separation from the forest? Have you heard not a single word I have said? Brokenbranch warned me he sensed great evil from Elorna. That she had been possessed somehow. You know Elorna? My sister? Your daughter? The Dryad Queen of Elmwood? Do you have any idea what might happen with a demon possessing her? Of course you don't! And neither do I! I MUST return to Elmwood immediately, THAT is what I "must" do!"
The archmage restrained himself, though it took an effort. His son was far too much like him, in all the worst ways. Willful, headstrong, stubborn, and totally convinced he was correct. "Look boy," he began, "Even if what you say is right, what do you know of this "Brokenbranch" person? He could not be the hero you portray him as. I spent several seasons in Elmwood, and never heard of such a person. Perhaps he is just telling you these things for his own purposes. Many of these so called "shamans" are just charlatans, preying on the superstitions of others. Even if his intentions are pure and honest, he might well be mistaken. What are the chances of your sister being "possessed" so soon after a major demonic attack which, by your own account, was thwarted? If you rush off now, after barely beginning your training, you might well do more harm than good."
Lorash stared in amazement at his father. "Brokenbanch a "charlatan"? Seriously? I do not think you would say such things if he were here. Indeed, as he has not returned to tell me what happened when he confronted Elorna, I fear the worst. Even one as powerful as he can be defeated, which is why he came to warn me in the first place. To remain behind as he has, after Brambleheart slew him with her magical trap, shows you the level of honor and commitment he has."
Burning Ash glared at Lorash in frustration. "You say the man is dead, then you say he visited you. Which is it? How do you even know the message you received was from this "heroic shaman"? Perhaps he was one of the demons all along, hiding among the elves in preparation for this invasion you spoke of!"
Lorash laughed aloud, further infuriating his father. "Ironwood a demon? Ah, father, you DO have a sense of humor after all!"
Burning Ash blinked rapidly. "Ironwood? Now that's a name I haven't heard in some time! How does king Heartseeker's right hand factor into this?"
Lorash smiled grimly. "Ah, so you DO know the man. Ironwood IS Brokenbranch. He took the name after losing his wife, one of the many whose body was never recovered. He became a shaman, vowing to find her spirit, wherever it might roam. His love for his bonded was legendary. He sought her for a century, spending weeks, even months traveling the spirit realm. It was through his efforts, and mother's of course, that Brambleheart was caged to begin with. Yet with his death her prison ruptured, and she was free to wreak her evil once more."
Burning Ash slumped into his chair. "I see. So Ironwood warned you Elorna had been possessed, and he was going to confront her? And you did not aid him in this because...?"
"Because I was fulfilling my vow to mother that I travel to see YOU," finished Lorash.
"And when you said Elorna was bonded to the youth out there with the magic blade, and said his grandfather was a great hero of the people..."
Lorash nodded, "Yes, his grandfather is Ironwood. His father was half elven, like his mother, Whisperwillow."
Burning Ash took a deep breath, "Both his parents are of elven blood, yet he was born human? When I said you and your fellow travelers were an interesting lot, I was not exaggerating, was I?"
Lorash laughed aloud, "Oh hardly, father. The other lad is quite possibly the son of Heartseeker, and rightful heir. He has already bonded with Ravensfeast, though it is not fully attuned as yet. Then there is Harsov's pet dire wolf, which appears to be a natural born shapechanger, though I have never heard of such a thing among the animal kingdom."
A speculative look crossed the face of Burning Ash as he replied, "Perhaps dire wolf is not the creature's natural form? Where did you first encounter it?"
Lorash shook his head in negation. "HAS to be a dire wolf. We found it as a pup, inside a dire wolf den. It showed no signs of shape shifting until recently. Could the awakened but unattuned artifact be "leaking" magical energy? Might that have warped the creature somehow?"
The archmage smiled slightly. "You have a keen mind, son. Who knows the full range of the artifact's abilities? Any lore which might exist on it would be in elven hands. Yet another reason for us to return to Elmwood, eh? Very well son, you present compelling, persuasive arguments for your case. But afterwards, IMMEDIATELY afterwards, you must complete your training. That is not optional, or open to discussion."
Harsov crouched low, waiting patiently. Adam had gone hunting, leaving him behind. Wanted to redeem himself, he had said. His wounded pride over the cave bear incident still smarted painfully. He was acknowledged among the Purloined Purse as one of the stealthiest, and most daring, of their number. Yet that was in civilized settings, not an overgrown wilderness. It would take time to adjust to the new surroundings, but Adam was determined to master it. Harsov had offered to take his friend hunting, and instruct him. Adam had refused, insisting he was quite capable of hunting solo.
He WAS interested to see what type of game his young friend would select. Something tasty, he hoped. Idly he wondered what type of creatures dwelt around an archmage's tower. He had not long to wonder.
An earth shattering roar split the silence of the desert night, and the ground shook as a titanic creature lurched into view. Harsov's eyes widened in surprise at the sight. It was massive, as large as three tall man, each standing on the shoulders of the one below. It wielded a huge stone club in one gnarled paw, and a filthy fur garment covered its lower half.
Silvershadow growled, while Adam dodged behind boulders, turning to fire crossbow bolts occasionally. Blinking twice, Harsov shouted, "You want us to eat THAT?"
Adam glanced up at the shout, clearly excited by the danger. "Just shoot it, or cut it...do something!" he replied.
The giant looked up, fixing its single eye on Harsov. "Human," it ground out. "Me HATES humans!" Bending down, it wrenched a barrel cactus from the ground with two fingers, hurling it at the youth.
Rolling out of the way, Harsov gained his feet with bow drawn. Among elves, he was considered an indifferent archer at best. Sinking two arrows to the fletching in the creatures paunch of a belly, he shifted targets and placed two more in the arm wielding the club.
"Hah!" shouted the deep bass voice. "Little human think to hurt Grog with sharp sticks! Grog hurt you!" An overhand swing brought the club hurtling down, as Harsov dove behind a boulder.
Adam readied himself. Time to show what he could really do. Lorash wasn't the only one who could cast a showy spell. He had picked up a few tricks himself. Harov's distraction bought him the time he needed.
Concentrating fiercely, he began chanting the words of the spell. His hand clenched on the small patch of black silk he had withdrawn from his belt pouch. Finishing, he gestured imperiously at the giant, grunting in satisfaction as the spell component vanished from his hand.
"Hey, who turn off the sun?" boomed the giant. Glancing quickly up, Harov saw the creature's head was encased in darkness. Tossing his heartwood bow to the side, he drew his flamberge. Circling behind the huge creature, he gripped the hilt in both hands. In a powerful chopping motion he sliced deeply into the massive leg before him, just above the heel.
The giant gave a tremendous bellow of pain and rage as the blade sliced through its hamstring. The ground shook and reverberated as the massive form crashed to the ground, raising a huge cloud of dust as rocks and cacti were sent flying in all directions.
Adam whistled softly. He had thought to distract the giant with his darkness spell long enough for them to escape. Crippling it had not been his intent. Still, no need for Harsov to know that.
Aloud he shouted, "Ha, you read my mind, exactly what I intended! Now finish it off and let's be on our way before some other monstrosity appears!"
Harsov stared at the fallen giant, writhing and bellowing in pain. "There is no need to kill it. It no longer poses a threat. I regret having to cripple it, but had I not, it would likely have slain one of us."
Walking in front of the giant, Harsov knelt slowly. "I am sorry I was forced to hurt you, giant one. Your great might left me no choice."
The huge figure ceased its bellows, fixing one huge eye upon Harsov. "You not like other humans. I sorry I try to smoosh you. But magic man set Grog here as guard. Grog never had job before. Grog LIKE smoosh humans, they squish, go splat! Now Grog lose job, maybe life too. Magic man be angry Grog fail."
"Maybe we can help," replied Harsov. "Hey Adam, do you know any healing spells? Think we can patch up our big buddy here?"
Adam's jaw dropped. "Wha...patch him up? Are you crazy? He was just trying to kill us! What makes you think he wouldn't do a better job the second time around? Besides, my spells are more focused on stealth, misdirection, and damage, not healing!"
Harsov shrugged, "He was just doing his duty. Better guard than the one at the town gate, don't you think? Besides, how was he supposed to know we were guests of Burning Ash?" Turning to Grog, he said, "You didn't know, am I right? That we were guests of the "magic man"?"
Grog shook his massive head worriedly. "Grog not know! Would not attack friends of magic man! Me ask little man (here he gestured upwards at Adam) who he be, why he here. Him stick Grog with sharp splinter!"
Harsov noted several crossbow bolts piercing the giant's arms. "I see," he replied. "That was not very nice of him, was it?"
"Not very nice?!!?!" Adam exploded. "That big oaf smashed his stone club down, shattering a boulder as big as me, then bellowed something at me while my ears were still ringing! I had no idea what he was saying, but it certainly didn't sound friendly!"
"See, there you have it," Harsov said to Grog. "It was all one big mistake, yours AND ours. So can we just put this behind us? Maybe our other friend, Lorash can fix you up. He knows a lot more magic than Adam here."
"Hey," spluttered Adam. "I never said I COULDN'T help him, just that it wasn't my normal type of magic. Anything that pompous ass Lorash can do, I can do better!"
Almost immediately, Adam regretted the words. He had never even attempted healing magic, and had no idea how to do it. On the other hand, he HAD said the words, and was not about to back down. Well, maybe he could cobble something together from what he DID know.
The creature was obviously of "earthy" origin. Granted, he knew little to no earth magic. BUT, Ravensfeast was supposed to be infused with it. So maybe in conjunction with IT, he could whip something up. The more he thought about it, the more confident he became. Of course he could do this!
Holding the crossbow before him, Adam cautiously approached the crippled giant. Concentrating, he thought furiously. "Babe, I could really use your help. I know nothing of healing magic, but my friend Harsov wants me to heal this wounded giant. Is there anything you can do?"
A gentle yet powerful voice caressed his mind. "You would aid one who sought to slay you? You have a noble and heart, and are worthy of my aid. Touch me to the wound."
Adam staggered and nearly fell as Ravensfeast spoke to him. It really WAS alive, and intelligent as well! Not only that, it had the sexiest voice he had ever "heard"! "Yeah, ok, sure," he mumbled out loud.
Even as he approached, his mind was churning rapidly. It would not do to make this obvious. Kneeling down, he scooped up a handful of sand. Sprinkling the sand, he chanted "By the power of earth and sand, heal this giant by my hand. Spirit of wood, lend strength to this spell, make the fallen whole and well!" Reaching out, he touched the stock of the crossbow to the bloody wound, then somersaulted backwards to land in a crouch, ready for whatever might follow.
Burning Ash suddenly jerked, as a tremendous crash sounded nearby, followed by a thunderous bellow. Spinning to stare at Lorash, he shouted, "What in the nine hells is going on out there!"
Lorash shrugged. "Now how should I know that? With those two running loose and unsupervised, there is absolutely no predicting. The last time I let the two of them out of my sight, they turned a small town upside down! Clouds of ravens were swarming the citizens, that damn wolf was popping in and out of forms, and then some weird creature that swam through the earth like it was water surfaced and attacked!"
"It sounds as if they have activated one of my defenses," Burning Ash cried. "We had best hurry, before they are seriously injured."
"Or something is," replied Lorash. "Either of those two alone is a handful. Put them both together and it's sheer mayhem. Toss in Ravensfeast, a magic sword, and a shape changing dire wolf, and something bad is sure to happen."
A wave of his hand summoned a fiery portal. "Quickly, let us make haste," Burning Ash shouted. Silently, the archmage added, "before you bring up any questions about the "weird creature swimming through the earth".
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