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The Way of the Hunter - The Ambush (Chapter Nine)

Alya Elvawiel
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“What is it this time?” Khelgar yawns, trying to wake up. “Tanar’ri? Baatezu? Dragons? Pixies?”

“I don’t know,” Alya replies. “I just hear them, and it seems like they’re all around us.”

“Wait here,” Bishop commands, as he cautiously peers out from under their rocky shelter. At a glance, nothing seems out of the ordinary; the same bleak, barren landscape as they’ve been seeing all this time stares starkly back at Bishop. But hark, what do my ears here? He thinks, as his well-trained hearing picks out the near-silent, yet distinct sound of padded footfalls. Judging by the time between each step, it seems like whatever it is, it’s trying to sneak up on them. Another rustle, this time behind them. Alya is right, there is more than one. Bishop is mildly impressed; she’d make a half-decent hunter.

He hears a low whisper. Was that a murmur in a foreign tongue? Are their ambushers communicating? These are relatively civilized creatures then. But something about that hoarse, cackly utterance makes Bishop uneasy. It is unlike anything he’s heard from all the other beasts they have encountered here. So far, he’s heard all manners of screeching, hissing, roaring, all of which were completely new to his ears.

But this, it sounds vaguely familiar, and it bothers him that he can’t put a finger on it.

“Follow me,” he says in a hushed tone, as he leads Alya and Khelgar out from under the rock. He figures they would have a better chance fighting their would-be attackers in the open rather than backed in a corner. “Be on your guard.”

No sooner have they emerged from the shadow of the rocky ledge, than they hear a rough, guttural sound, possibly a shouted command. Out jump their pursuers from behind boulders and outcrops of rock. There are at least a dozen of them. Snarling, they surround the three adventurers.

And Bishop remembers exactly where he has heard their calls before.

The night Alya first brought Shandra to the Sunken Flagon. He remembers how he had leered at the two attractive women when they entered. That night, the inn came under attack, and the farm girl was kidnapped. Their assailants made the exact same noises.

“Githyanki!?” Khelgar blurts out in disbelief as they step out from the shadows. “What in the hells are they doing here?”

“Oh, no…” Alya lets out an annoyed sigh. She draws the Sword of Gith. It gives off a vibrant glow, its shimmering hues illuminating her in a radius of light. As if knowing its rightful owners are near, the blade hums and pulsates with some unknown energy.

Kalach-Cha…” Murmurs of the word spread among the gith like ripples on the surface of a pond. They ready their weapons in their clawed, bony hands, with what could be earnest anticipation on their yellow, taut-skinned faces.

“Persistent bastards, aren’t they?” Bishop comments, unsheathing his twin blades. Khelgar, appearing wide awake now, has his battle axe raised. The pack of githyanki are circling them menacingly, making clicking and grunting noises, forcing the three of them to stand with their backs to each other. Despite their perilous situation, Bishop is acutely aware of Alya’s uncommonly close proximity. They stand back to back, and he can feel the warmth emanating off her body, her hair brushing the nape of his neck, her entire lithe frame pressing up against him. And is that her hip he feels pushing against his?

The gith are closing in, their blades raised. Bishop is about to charge when he feels Alya’s shoulders rise and fall in frustration. “Oh, for the love of the gods…” he hears her swear, then he feels her stepping forward, her back falling away from his. He chances a glance over his shoulder. She has the Sword of Gith laid across her hands, the hilt in one palm, the tip of the blade in the other. Crouching down, she places the blade on the ground and gets back up. Then she nudges the Sword with her foot, pushing it to the feet of one of the githyanki.

“You want it?” he hears her say. “Then take it! We don’t need it anymore, and we don’t want anymore bloodshed!” The nearest gith bends quickly to pick up the Sword. At its touch, the blade explodes into a rainbow of colour. Yellow eyes gleaming with glee, the gith rejoins its comrades. Then, the circle begins to tighten again.

“Uhm…Alya…” Khelgar begins. “I think they’re still comin’...”

Fenced in by the ever encroaching wall of githyanki, Bishop again feels Alya’s body pressed against his, her shoulder muscles tensed. “What is wrong with you people?” she asks, and he could hear the desperation in her voice. “You’ve got what you came here for. What more do you want from us?”

“I believe, Kalach-Cha, that you know the answer to that.” The wall parted briefly, and a tall gith, clearly the leader of the pack, steps into the circle. Its voice is deep and croaky. Its long limbs are sinewy and powerful-looking, and the skin on its face is pulled so tight against its skull, its lips are pulled back in a perpetual sneer, revealing its sharp fangs. In its walk, Bishop sees the arrogant swagger of a seasoned warrior who has seen, and won, many battles.

“I must commend you for your victory against the King of Shadows,” it says patronizingly. “Thanks to you, we felt it safe once again to return to your plane and to resume our hunt.” Its already parted lips widen in what could be a smile. “But you have proven quite troublesome to track down, Kalach-Cha. We never thought to seek you here in the Outer Planes.”

“Look,” Alya says evenly, her hands help up, palms forward. “You have your sword back now, and we are not looking for a fight. Please, take it and leave us be.”

“And so we will, Kalach-Cha,” the gith hisses. “As soon as we have the final piece.”

“But that’s the whole sword! We don’t have anymore–“ Alya stops in mid-sentence as realization dawns on her. The gith is eyeing her with a predatory look.

“Oh, no no no no no…” Bishop tuts menacingly, shaking his head. “Don’t even think about it.”

“It’s just one shard!” Khelgar exclaims incredulously.

“Yes, just one small shard, nothing worth risking your compatriots’ lives over.” It glances meaningfully at Bishop and Khelgar. The ranger can feel Alya stiffen. “And don’t worry yourself about how you’re going to extract it. Leave that problem to me.”

An angry roar comes from somewhere behind Bishop. Khelgar steps closer to the githyanki army, his axe raised. “Ye’ll need to get by me first before ye can lay a hand on her!”

The gith leader looks at Khelgar and shakes his head. He almost seems sad. “A minor inconvenience.” He disappears again behind the wall of githyanki. They hear a barked command, and suddenly the circle closes as the gith charge them.

Bishop swings his twin swords, parrying the first wave of blows. He tries to slip in for a counter-attack, but is instantly driven back. He hears Khelgar’s war cry as his axe clashes loudly with some gith blades. Alya has managed to sidestep an attack, throwing her assailant to the ground. They fight back to back, covering each other’s rear, almost as if they were one single defensive entity.

One of the ranger’s swords hits home, driven swiftly into a gith stomach. He retracts it just as quickly, pressing on with his attack. A scimitar comes flying at his head. He blocks it, but the force of the impact knocks him backwards, eliciting an involuntary gasp. The horde of githyanki is advancing relentlessly. He could see Khelgar swinging wildly out of the corner of his eye, a freshly decapitated head rolling on the ground. It seems as if the githyanki are stronger here in the Outer Planes than they were when he encountered them around Neverwinter.

A movement at the edge of his vision makes him turn. Alya is preoccupied with a couple of gith, and another is trying to sneak up beside her, dagger held low, aimed at the base of her spine. He tries to shout a warning, but she has moved further away, advancing into the fray, and doesn’t hear him over the sound of screams and crashing metal.

Digging one of his swords into the ground, Bishop grabs a throwing dagger with his free hand and flicks it. It seems to take an eternity for the blade to cover the distance between himself and Alya, before finally thudding into the side of the gith’s neck, just before it plants its dagger into her back. Whirling around, she turns just in time to see the githyanki drop, gurgling, to the ground. For a split second, across a dead body, their eyes meet. Her face is unreadable. With a curt nod, she turns her attention back to the melee, as does he. More giths are falling, and the tide appears to be turning. Bishop feels a rush of triumph. Somewhere to his left, Khelgar is hollering. “They’ve got their tails between their legs! Push on!”

Eyeing a striking opportunity, Bishop springs forward –

Or at least tries to.

What in the hells –? He tries to move again, to lift his arms, but he has lost control of his own body. His muscles refuse to cooperate. It’s as if he’s been turned to stone. From the flabbergasted curses coming from Khelgar, he assumes that the dwarf, too, is caught in the same spell. He can see Alya from the corner of his eye, also apparently immobilized.

A figure appears before her. The leader of the gith.

“I have no time for this nonsense,” he says, sounding mildly annoyed. “I shall just take what I’m here for and leave.” It raises a hand casually, and Alya levitates off the ground.

Damn these gith and their holding spells…Bishop has never felt so helpless in all his life, as he watches, paralysed, while the gith holds Alya in the air, seemingly probing her for the shard. Suddenly, Alya gasps in pain, and the gith smirks.

“Ah,” he says, “So that’s where you hide it.” Alya’s delicate features are contorted, and she grits her teeth. What is it doing to her? Bishop struggles to move, but to his dismay his muscles hardly twitch. He doesn’t like that evil glint in the gith’s eyes.

Please stop hurting her…

“You carry a heavy burden in your heart,” remarks the githyanki. “Allow me to relieve you of it.” With a flourish, he forms a claw with his outstretched hand. Immediately Alya cries out, her chest jutting toward the gith, as if an invisible hand has grabbed the front of her tunic and is pulling her toward the githyanki. The gith brings its clawed hand back towards itself, and what happens next will haunt Bishop’s nightmares forever.

There is a sickening ripping sound, like that of tearing leather. Alya’s scream of agony is abruptly cut short. Then, excruciatingly slowly, a silver shard emerges from the centre of her chest, glowing brilliantly despite being covered in blood. Her blood. It stays there, one half sticking out, crimson spurting out of the wound it created, as if reluctant to leave her body after all these years. Finally, it shoots out of the jagged hole in her chest, trailing a red comet tail, and flies straight into the gith’s waiting hand.

Bishop hears a terrible wail of pure anguish, loud and long, that resonates deep in his heart.

Then he realizes that he was the one screaming.

The Way of the Hunter Chapter 9 - The Ambush © Alya Elvawiel

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