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  1. Phoenix Envy: Omega Calendar

  2. Harsov the Harsh (Chapter Twenty Two)

  3. Phoenix Envy: Kirisuto-Kyouto Hulett

  4. Phoenix Envy - Seasons Metal

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

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 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 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". The archmage grunted in satisfaction as Lorash leapt forward. The boy might act disinterested in the fate of his companions, but in truth he cared deeply. Good to know, should he have need of future persuasion. After all, the lad WAS his son, it would be a pity if he had to kill him before he even got to know him.

In a shower of sparks the portal activated, transporting them outside. A bit ostentatious perhaps, but he seldom had the opportuniuty these day to show off in front of an appreciative audience. He grinned as he noticed Lorash concentrating, committing the spell to memory. Suddenly his stomach lurched as he felt powerful magic impact his transport spell. Now what?

Lorash staggered and nearly fell as the world around him faded in and out of sight. Swallowing hard, he forced nausea down. "Is this commmon," he managed to ground out. "Because you really don't need to impress me."

Burning Ash gritted his teeth as he fought for control of the spell. If he lost control, there was no telling where it might deposit them. It could be leagues away in any direction. Including up or down. The thought of appearing at the center of the world did not reassure him. In the air, he could levitate them safely down, but if they were transported deep underground? Sweat beaded his forehead at the thought.

"Hold on," he shouted to Lorash. "This might be a little bumpy!" His son cocked one eyebrow cynically. "Hold on to what," he shouted back.

A sickening lurch, a mad kaleidoscope of color, and the transport spell spit them out...3 feet in the air. Tumbling to the ground, Lorash and Burning Ash quickly regained their feet, shaken but unharmed.

An odd sight greeted them. A huge cyclops was crouched down, talking animatedly with Harsov, while Adam preened nearby. They caught the end of his conversation; "Could there be any doubt? Anything my dear 'cousin' can do, I can at least equal, if not surpass."

Grog grunted appreciatively. "Leg all better now. Splinters all gone too. Grog not try smoosh little man no more."

The arch mage turned to Lorash with a questioning glance. His son shrugged in reply. "Knowing those two, there is absolutely no way of knowing what just happened. Believe me, you really don't want to know anyway."

Burning Ash hesitated, then said "Nothing seems to be badly damaged, despite all the bellowing and crashing we heard. Yet that does not explain the magical interference with my transport spell. It would take adept level magic, at the very least, to cause such disruption. Why, we could been slain or badly injured!"

Lorash sighed, "And you called ME a wild mage? My esteemed father, you have no idea. I might not have received formal tutelage. However, I have spent decades studying my abilities, and considering applications thereof. This "ragamuffin"...Here Lorash gestured vaguely at Adam "has skulked and lurked among humans, picking through rubbish for morsels, then tossing them about willy nilly, without care of the consequence."

Adam glared at Lorash, as he spit out "Some of us had to learn how to "pick through the rubbish" just to survive! Not all of us were born into royalty, with a famous archmage for sire and dryad queen for mother! Some of us didn't have the luxury of spending decades studying magic, when we had neither father nor mother to aid or guide, and the only home we knew was a thieves' den!"

Lorash turned to his father disdainfully. "See what I've had to deal with? A complete lack of manners. At least Harsov here was taught proper decorum, for all of his being born human."

Burning Ash spared a quick glance at the lad mentioned, and caught the fire in his eyes, quickly suppressed. That showed discipline, and perhaps budding wisdom. Though seemingly the least remarkable of the three travelers, the archmage thought underestimating him could be a serious mistake.

Regretfully he tabled that thought for future reference. There were higher priorities here. "I do not care what exactly transpired here. No permanent damage seems to have been done. What DOES concern me is understanding what magic interfered with my transport spell? I can allow and adjust for most any type of magic, but I must be aware of its origin and composition! So tell me! Which of you worked magic just now, and what was the spell?"

Silvershadow began a deep, ominous growl. He did not like this one. Not a good pack member. He could feel the anger in his voice, and how he tried to take leadership of the pack. "Back down, or I will put you in your place", he snarled.

Harsov placed a hand on the young dire wolf, feeling the raised hackles. This could get ugly in a hurry, he thought. Silvershadow was poised to attack, and there was no doubt in his mind what the outcome of that would be. But if Burning Ash hurt the wolf, then archmage or not, he would regret it.

Placing one hand on the hilt of his sword, Harsov barked "Back off old man! You might be able to talk like that to Lorash, he's your son. And this is your land, but we are NOT your servants, and will not be spoken to as if we were!"

Adam's eyes widened, as he gripped the crossbow stock. Harsov chose the strangest times to speak up! Automatically his eyes roved the area, searching for hiding spots, escape routes, anything that Lomight aid him in whatever happened next. Warily he eyed Lorash. If this dissolved into a fight, which side would he take?

A smile of amusement tilted Lorash's lips as he listened. It would be instructional to see how his 'father' chose to handle this.

Burning Ash turned his gaze on the human lad. "You are not my servants, boy, but you ARE my guests. As you acknowledge, this IS my land, and I have a right to know what transpires on it. Continue to oppose me on this, and you will not like what follows."

Harsov met the archmage's gaze squarely, making no attempt to avoid it. "You have a right to question, but not to demand. Should you attempt to enforce such demands, YOU might not like what follows."

Burning Ash arched his eyebrows in surprise. He had half expected some such response from the one called Adam, but not the human lad. Was it simple bravado or was the boy truly ignorant of what an archmage could do? Silently he noted the hand resting on sword hilt Exactly what abilities did this weapon possess? And on which side would his son Lorash throw his weight, should he choose to intervene at all?

"I have long lived alone boy," Burning Ash replied. "Perhaps it has made me a bit more brusque than I intended. Yet one way or the other, I will have the answer to my question. It would be easier on all involved if that answer is supplied willingly.'

Grog rolled his eyes as he glanced from one speaker to the other. Uh oh, he thought to himself. This not good.

Adam cursed softly but fluently to himself. Run/hide/fight sequences shifted rapidly through his mind. Ravensfeast flowed from one form to another in response. From crossbow to rapier to dagger and back again it shifted.

Into the tension packed silence, a voice interjected, "Before this moves past the point of no return, "Father", you might wish to employ a bit of "sweet reason".

Without taking his eyes off the rebellious human youth, Burning Ash replied, "Please elucidate further, "son". If you have some means of resolving this little disagreement, before I am forced to chastise your companions...?"

"I believe I have, "Father". First of all, you are certain the magical interference came from this spot?"

"Without a doubt," replied Burning Ash. "The very air still reeks of magic."

Lorash nodded thoughtfully. "So, of the group gathered here. some can immediately be eliminated. We know this "unknown magic" did not originate from either of us, for instance. Likewise, I am guessing your guardian giant here is not endowed with adept level magic. The wolf, for all of its unusual shape changing ability, is still in essence, just a wolf. It has not exhibited any other sort of magical ability, and it likely would have done so by now, if it in fact possessed such."

Pausing theatrically, Lorash continued. That leaves Harsov, Adam, and their two respective weapons. The human lad can be eliminated immediately. Believe me father, I have never seen a LESS magically gifted person in my life. His blade does have certain flame based abilities, but nothing I would categorize as "adept level". That really only leaves two possibilities. The little guttersnipe of an elf, and the artifact he is fumbling with."

Adam snapped a hate filled glance at Lorash, before addressing Burning Ash. "Fine, alright, you got me. There was a little altercation between the giant here and myself. In the process, it got wounded rather badly. Harsov wanted to heal it, and asked if I could do that. Never tried healing magic before, but I figured what the hell, magic is magic, you know? So I just used what I knew to cobble something together, and gave it a shot. Guess it worked, cause the big galoot is all healed up now, and no harm was done, like you said. So is everything alright now? Can everyone just settle down and go back to whatever you were doing before you popped out here and started hassling us?"

Silently, Adam told himself there was no way he was going to involve Ravensfeast in this discussion. The less any archmage, especially THIS one, knew about its abilities, the better. Hell, even HE didn't know what it could do. Regardless, Ravensfeast belonged to him now, and there was no way he would allow some power hungry archmage to take it away for study or observation. Even as he thought this, a warm voice whipered in his mind, "Aww, that is so sweet."

Burning Ash stood slack jawed, listening, a look of outrage twisting his features. "Magic is magic," he spit out. "What kind of fools talk is that? Even the most novice mage knows better! There are at least half a dozen schools of magic, and at least that many classes within each! Healing magic is a subclass of Terra magic, which is itself a class of Elemental magic! Casting an untried, NEW spell that you had cobbled together from bits and pieces was extremely dangerous! The amount of magical energy you invested in that, if you had erred in the phrasing even slightly, could have had catastrophic consequences on everyone and everything around you!"

Adam shrugged in response. "It worked, didn't it? No harm done. The giant is all better, you guys are fine. I don't see the problem." The same warm voice whispered in his mind, "I was crafting spells before this upstart's seed was even planted. And he thinks to lecture me on the ways of magic?"

"Are you an idiot boy, or do you truly not understand what just transpired here? This is EXACTLY the reason wild mages are not permitted! Those possessing little magical affinity, mere dabblers in the Art, pose more danger to themselves than aught else. Generally, they are a mere nuisance. Yet those truly gifted, such as my son and perhaps yourself as well, pose a massive threat to everyone and everything around them! They are chaotic and unpredictable! Having magical energy and a desire to accomplish something is only a small part of the finished product. A necessary one, to be sure, but still merely the beginning! One must have knowledge, practice, and above all else, discipline!"

Adam shrugged, "Seems to me like I did fine without all that. Maybe all that practice and discipline stuff is fine for archmages like you, sitting up in your tower, isolated from everything. But those of us out in the real world don't have time for all the mumbo jumbo. We have to think on our feet, and react instantly to constantly changing situations! If you truly believed what you spouted, you'd be training me along with my "cousin" there. But things have never been easy for me, why should this be any different?"

Lorash drawled, "You know, he does have a point father. Anyone gifted with enough innate ability to manipulate the Art as he just did, the temptation to influence his surroundings through magic would be nearly irresistible. Furthermore, if he truly IS the heir, your normal means of dealing with Wild Mages is simply out of the question. So why not lecture and teach us both at the same time? After all, you've already seen what happens when he is left alone and unsupervised."

Burning Ash scowled darkly, then the expression drained from his features, left lurking only in his eyes. "Very well boy, I will accept you as apprentice mage. The two of you should count yourselves most fortunate. It is almost unheard of for a novice mage to be tutored by an archmage. Fortunately for me, instructing two students takes little more time and effort than one."

Adam blinked rapidly. "You actually ARE going to teach me? Doesn't that take years of dedication? No way am I going to sit around some musty mage tower pouring over books and mumbling incantations!"

The carefully banked and hooded anger in his eyes flared once more as Burning Ash exploded. "Did you think this was optional boy? Wild Mages, especially those demonstrating such abilities, are not allowed to roam free! Either you accept my gracious offer this instant, or I slay you where you stand! Choose now!"

A moment Adam hesitated, while Burning Ash began to glow a sullen red. Tiny flames flickered around his eyes, and Lorash grasped his staff tightly. He had interceded as far as he could. No way he was going to directly defy his father over this twisted, perverted fop of an elf. If he did not have enough sense to accept this offer, one that most novice mages would give half their life for, then he was an idiot and deserving of death.

Abruptly Adam shrugged, "Eh, sure, why not? Might be fun to see my "cuz" get taken down a notch or two by his daddy. Who knows? I might even learn a thing or two myself."

Lorash exhaled slowly. That had been a near thing, and his father had shown extraordinary patience, if even a fraction of the tales about him were true. Which brought up the question...why?

Harsov shifted uncomfortably. "Well, if the excitement here is over, we still need fresh meat. Shadow and I will resume our interrupted hunt. I will return by nightfall."

"See that you do," replied Lorash. "We can spare a day here, while father gathers whatever he wishes to take, and perhaps gives the ragamuffin here some rudimentary instructions." Catching Burning Ash's eye, he continued, "One day only, and then we MUST return to Elmwood."


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