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The Way of the Hunter - Awaiting the King (Chapter Four)

Alya Elvawiel
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“Watch out!”

Alya dives out of the way of another fireball, rolling on the ground a little before jumping back up. She reaches Sand’s side and tosses him the healing potion. Gratefully, the wizard swigs it down, and relief starts to show on his face as he continues exchanging magic with Qara. All the other minions and shadows lie dead, their bodies scattered about the room. The only ones left are Garius himself…and Qara.

Khelgar is battling the Reaver, his face splattered with blood, little of which is his own. Grobnar’s Construct swings away at Garius, with the bard not far behind, singing songs of encouragement. Elanee is assisting by tossing a few summoned creatures into the fray. Casavir is tending to a gaping wound in Zhajeve’s side, and Ammon lies wounded, conscious but unable to move, watching helplessly. Poor Neeshka, the binding spell apparently too strong, has passed out from some unknowable pain.

Just then, a bolt of lightning shoots from Qara’s fingertips. It hits the ground at Sand’s feet, and the elf curses as he loses his spell, his concentration broken. Alya sees Qara forming another fireball aimed at Sand, now momentarily vulnerable, utter glee in her eyes.

She runs at Qara, praying she would get there before the sorceress could unleash her fireball. In the girl’s hands, it is growing bigger and brighter than she has ever seen before. She’s making this one count…Alya is not going to get to Qara in time, unless…

With a great leap, she covers the last few yards between herself and Qara in the air faster than she could have done on the ground. She sticks out a foot, and her entire weight and momentum crashes into Qara’s side. As the sorceress falls, the glowing orb she was conjuring floats momentarily in mid-air, then dissipates harmlessly with a sizzle.

Alya lands on all fours, and in one swift motion, catches Qara’s head between her legs before the sorceress could try and get up. “Let go of me!” she shrieks, struggling uselessly, then she actually starts chanting again, lying down, her palms blazing.

“Qara!” Alya yells. “Don’t do this, please!”

“She’s calling forth a firestorm, Alya! Stop her!” Sand stands there helplessly, unable to cast any spell that would not hit Alya as well.

“Qara!” she tries again, praying she could reach the girl. They are not exactly close friends, but they have been together for months now. She used to trust Qara with her life, always certain that she would always be well-covered in a fight by Qara’s spells, and never once had she ever complained that some of her fire attacks got a little too close for comfort, singeing hair and eyebrows.

There has been too many deaths as it is, she thought, and I have been the cause for most of them. I don’t want to be responsible for your death as well.


Qara keeps chanting, her hands now holding a miniature inferno.

“Alya!” Sand’s voice is urgent. The heat emanating off of Qara is growing, becoming almost unbearable, and the girl herself starts to radiate with some arcane light. “Do something!” Gritting her teeth, Alya shuts her eyes, takes a deep breath, and scissors her legs, quickly and fluidly.

Crack! One of the most sickening sounds in the world. As she releases Qara, the girl’s body falls limply onto the ground, her neck snapped, her head tilted at an impossible angle, her blue-grey eyes locked in a surprised stare. Whatever fiery spell she was conjuring disappears in a puff of smoke.

Alya sits beside her body, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, Qara…” she whispers.

“Erm, girl, as much as I would like to join you in your minute of silence for our fallen ‘comrade’,” Sand’s last word drips with sarcasm, “we have more pressing matters at hand.”

As if on cue, a blast of supernatural energy from Garius sends Khelgar and the Construct flying backwards. Khelgar hits a stone wall with a grunt, and the blade golem nearly flattens Grobnar.

With one final, remorseful look at Qara’s lifeless body, Alya joins Sand, and rushes across the room. She helps Khelgar back to his feet. “By the hells!” he sputters, shaking her off before throwing himself back into the melee. As Sand starts to recite a spell, standing at a safe distance away, she enters the fray.

* * *

Khelgar’s axe finally hits home, embedding itself in Garius’ neck. With a sickening gurgle, the Shadow Reaver falls to his knees…and finally dies. They have had to fight Garius so many times, she almost doesn’t believe he is really dead. Only when his body crumbles into black wisps of shadow does she finally let out a sigh of relief.

The barriers disappear suddenly, and the portal starts glowing ominously.

“Know that the King of Shadows will be here soon,” Zhjaeve says, still clutching her wounded side. “We must be ready to meet him.”

Casavir and Elanee set to work reviving their fallen comrades, and Alya helps as best she could with her rudimentary skills with a healing kit. Her mind wanders as she works. The time is finally here. This is the culmination of everything we’ve been fighting for. Surprisingly, she neither feels dread nor fear, at least not anymore. She’s had many previous opportunities to doubt herself, and now that they have come this far, all she feels is acceptance of her fate.

She remembers the questions tumbling through her head the first time she learned of her destiny, when they encountered the githyanki that held Shandra captive. By some foul magic, Zeeaire had seized her, leaving her suspended in thin air, as she extracted all the shards in Alya’s possession. She remembers the sharp pain in her chest, as if the gith was trying to tear her heart out as well. The brief, perturbed look on Zeeaire’s face showed that she was not expecting that to have happened, either.

“You have a shard…inside of you.”

Those were the words that sealed her fate. Yes, all that she had been through up till then, she had treated as a long errand Daeghun has sent her on. But at that moment, the realization of the implications hit her harder than any weapon ever had. In the days following Shandra’s rescue, she had sat in her room in the Sunken Flagon, speaking to no one, turning the same thoughts over and over again in her head. Why didn’t Daeghun tell me? What does this all mean?

Why me??

Then Sir Nevalle came, bearing news of the massacre at Ember. She was accused of the crime, and Luskan wants her dead. It was all just too much. She ran.

Yes, she ran. Out of Neverwinter and into the nearby woods, not stopping until she felt that her lungs would burst if she didn’t pause for air. But that is what she does whenever she feels like her problems are becoming too big, too difficult. Ever since a child, she has done that, pretending to run away from her troubles, only to come back after the exertion and clear air have cleared her thoughts, and she realizes that the only way to deal with her problems is to face it. After all, you can’t run away from your own shadows.

When she ran off that time, her companions had tracked her down with the help of the newest addition to her company, Bishop. They found her sitting on a stump beside a stream, her knees hugged tightly against her chest. Casavir, Khelgar, Elanee, Neeshka, Grobnar…they had surrounded her, consoled her, promised her that she would not be alone in her journey. She was nearly moved to tears. She allowed them to take her home.

Then there was Shandra. Dear Shandra, who came to her the night she was meant to spend alone in the Solace Glade, part of some silly rite to become a squire, a noble of Neverwinter, in such that she would at least get a fair trial. “All my troubles seem so small compared to yours,” she had said. “If you can bear your burden so well, I can definitely bear mind.”

She had laughed. “Does this look like I’m taking it well?”

“Better than anyone else would in your position.” Shandra took her hand. “You are so, so strong, and I wish I had just half of the strength you have. If anyone can pull through this, it’s you.”

That was a shock coming from someone she hardly knew at the time, someone whose farm and livelihood she was partly responsible of destroying beyond repair. Why would people have so much faith in me, when I have so little in myself? And it was then that she remembered the words of her mentor:

“It is the spectator that sees everything the clearest, not the ones involved.”

And sweet, innocent Shandra was just that, a spectator, who had watched her do great things, things she herself thought nothing of, because she was too immersed in her own self-pity. She saw things clearer then than she has ever seen, and she accepted her destiny.

Until the Luskan assassins attacked them, they had spent the rest of the night like a pair of teenaged girls, huddled around a fire, gossiping and laughing like good friends.

And then, in her grandfather’s Haven, Shandra had embraced her own destiny willingly, so that Alya would survive to fulfill hers.

Dear, dear Shandra, you had as much strength in you as I, if not more.

A humming sound from the portal snaps Alya back to the present. Rays of light shoot out, and the ground beneath her starts to shudder.

It is time.

Before she knows it, she is surrounded by her allies. Their expressions are grim.

“Go,” she tells them, “It’s not too late. You don’t have to fight my battle.”

Everyone understands what she really means. You don’t have to die for me.

“Have you forgotten, little one, that I hold one of the Rituals of Purification we need?” says Ammon. “I’m in this as deep as you are.”

“Know that I have not come this far just to walk away now,” adds Zhjaeve. Her side wound appears to have mostly healed.

“What are ye saying, lass?” Khelgar asks incredulously. “This’ll probably be the best fight I’ll ever have a chance to throw meself into! Don’t think ye can keep me from that!”

“Don’t be foolish, girl,” Sand admonishes. “Duncan’ll have my head if I don’t at least try to bring you back in one piece.”

Alya feels a brush on her shoulder. She turns to find Neeshka stealing a dagger out of her backpack. Her binding seems to have been dispelled by Garius’ death. “I may no longer be bound to this fortress, but I am bound to you,” she says solemnly, then, with a naughty wink, “you’re not getting rid of me that easily.”

“My place is no longer within the Mere,” Elanee chimes in, “for I no longer know it. Now, my place is with you.”

“Even if I could run off now,” Grobnar begins in his logical way, “I wouldn’t stand a chance getting through the Mere in the state that it is at the moment. That life-sapping magic would get to me in no time!”

Casavir is the last to speak. He clutches her hand in his, and his gaze is as piercing as it was that night on the battlements. Alya’s heart does an involuntary flip.

“I do hope that you know by now, my lady, that my heart, and my life, is yours. I cannot walk away.”

And so one by one, they choose to stay. Alya doesn’t know whether to rejoice in their true friendship and loyalty, or to grieve for them.

She doesn’t have time to decide. A deafening roar and a blinding flash fill the chamber. Alya is nearly knocked off her feet as the ground lurches. As the glare fades, the darkness seem to become more oppressive. As their eyes adjust, a figure materializes in front of the portal.

The King of Shadows has arrived.

The Way of the Hunter Chapter 4 - Awaiting the King © Alya Elvawiel

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