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The Way of the Hunter - Company (Chapter Eight)

Alya Elvawiel
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With the absence of sunrise and sunset, they have no way of telling how long they have been wandering, scurrying from one rocky outcrop to another to keep from being detected by the creatures of this alien realm. They have been spotted a few times, and the battle has always been intense, their attackers always strange and terrible. Their supply of food, water and medicine are starting to run low, and they could find nothing here that they would dare try to eat or drink. Alya is fast losing hope that they would ever find their way back to their own plane.

She sits beside Khelgar as they rest in the shelter of an overhanging rock formation, the dwarf snoring so noisily she worries that some passing demon would hear him. The ranger is somewhere, on first watch, no doubt familiarizing himself as best he could with their surroundings. She is glad that he is not there to share the cramped space with them. She wouldn’t be able to stand having him so near.

She thinks back to that awful moment in the fortress, amid the crashing rocks, when Bishop had so calmly pulled Casavir’s head back by his hair, and then slit his throat. He had done it with all the emotion of someone slaughtering a pig or a cow. How could someone be so cold?

The memory makes her blood boil and her eyes prickle, but no tears come this time. She had cried so much through the first day and night (though they were never sure when one starts and the other ends), she probably has no more tears left to shed. Khelgar has been a solid rock all this time; always there, always sympathetic, and more than once, he had volunteered to rough the ranger up on her behalf. She had been tempted to take him up on his offer, but Bishop had looked so pitiful as he nursed his broken nose – and a black eye – alone, that despite how much she hated him at the moment, she thought they should at least wait till he has recovered from his earlier encounter with her.

Khelgar gives an especially loud snort and rolls over. She smiles, immensely glad for the dwarf’s company. The thought of being stuck in this wasteland with just the ranger makes her skin crawl.

As if on cue, Bishop slips under the rock. “Still up?”

Alya says nothing, but just fixes him with a cold glare. The swelling on his eye has largely subsided, and apart from a slight dent where she broke it, his nose looks like it has pretty much healed.

“Your watch,” he says, oblivious to the daggers she is staring at him. He flops down on the ground beside her, pulls his hood up, and puts his hands behind his head.

Irritably, Alya moves away from him. She gets up, and tiptoeing over Khelgar’s sleeping frame, steps out from under the cover of the rock. She glances around cautiously, making sure there were no demons about, then, nimbly, she bounders up the side of the rock. From the top, she gains a better vantage point for her sentry duty.

Alya sits down cross-legged at the top of the rock. She unsheathes the Sword of Gith, absent-mindedly turning it over in her hands. Before they fought the King of Shadows, the blade had always radiated a surreal light, shifting colours between blue, green and lilac, and it seemed to hum with a life of its own. Ever since that battle, however, the Sword has lost its gentle glow. Now it looks like any old, unspectacular blade, the crack lines where the shards were reformed standing out like fractures on a broken vase.

Alya surveys the land. The same rust-coloured earth and blood-red sky they have been seeing all this time. The clouds overhead are a dark orange. She looks towards the horizon. Apart from more rocky outgrowths, nothing breaks the flatness of this world – no buildings, no trees, no mountains…

Is a change of scenery a bit too much to ask? she thinks, as another worrying thought nags at her mind.

Where are Ammon, Elanee and Neeshka? They had gone through the portal just a few minutes before herself, Bishop and Khelgar. Yet there is no sign of them anywhere here. The portal, though, was also used to transport Torio and Lorne from Luskan to the fortress. It was probably also how Bishop managed to get from Crossroads Keep to Garius’ side so quickly after his betrayal during the siege. She could only guess at how many other possible destinations there could be from that one portal, considering Garius’ network of spies and minions leading up to the final battle. And when she damaged it with the Sword of Gith, it could have caused it to channel its energies randomly…

Whatever place they have stepped into, Alya reckons – and prays – that it cannot be worse than the Outer Planes.

A soft flicker of light makes her glance down. The Sword has begun to shimmer, first weakly, then stronger.

Odd, she thinks, frowning. Carefully sheathing the luminous blade to avoid attracting attention to herself like a shining beacon, she scans the landscape, wary and on her guard…

* * *

Bishop hears the soft sound of her climbing up the wall of the rock. In his mind’s eye, he sees her scaling it effortlessly, with a cat’s grace. He marvels silently at her dexterity. He has secretly seen her in training a number of times, as she practiced on some invisible foe. He had been mesmerized by her fluid movements, slow and flowing one minute, lightning quick the next, like some sort of deadly dance. Once, he had glimpsed her amidst an intense battle, out of the corner of his eye, as she moved effortlessly about, weaving, dodging, ducking, striking. He was so hypnotized by her, it was only thanks to a well-placed lightning spell from Sand that he wasn’t beheaded by a berserker orc.

Such elegance, and yet so deadly…

He sniffs, still unable to breathe perfectly through his nose. Yes, he has experienced firsthand what damage she could do with her bare hands, that many would not be able to do with a weapon. He didn’t fight back, though with the way she pounced on him, he doubts he could have had much chance anyway.

Rubbing the bridge of his still-sore nose reminds him again of her wrath; those flurry of fists, moving so fast they were a blur, each punch landing squarely. She was not holding anything back, was she? Alya was furious.

And so she should be. He doubts she would ever understand that he did not take pleasure in killing the paladin. There is no fun in it when the quarry is begging for death’s embrace anyway. Plus, he knew just how much it could affect her and the way she thinks of him. But in that split second, when it seems like none of them would make it out alive, with boulders crashing down on all sides of them, he could think of no other way to move her stubborn hide.

And now, the way she looks at him just eats him up inside. She hasn’t spoken a word to him since the day they arrived in this hellhole. But he doesn’t regret doing what he did. No, he would have done anything to save her from that crumbling fortress. But her hatred for him now is so clear, he wishes she had just plunged that dagger into him the other day.

When was the last time you cared about what someone else thinks of you?

A rustle from above tells him that she is moving about. He steals a glance at the dwarf. Sleeping like a log.

What would she think if he tries to speak with her now? Just go out there, join her on top of the rock, and talk to her?

Great idea. And what would you say?

That he loves her. That he hates himself for being unable to admit that to her, or to himself. That he is sorry. That if he could, he would have swapped places with the paladin, if it would have guaranteed her safety and happiness.

Bishop snorted to himself. That would be rich. Oh yeah, she will take that well, won’t she? “Sorry I killed your lover. Can I take his place?”

More rustling up above, then a soft plop as she jumps down from the rock. “Bishop?” she says, as she pops her head under the ledge, her eyes wide, sparkling like emeralds in the dim light. For the first time in a long while, there is no contempt in her eyes.

He is taken by surprise. She’s talking to me now? He sits up, and he could almost feel a childish grin forming, when she just as quickly ran to wake the sleeping dwarf. “Both of you, get up!” Khelgar starts with a loud snort.

Feeling deflated and foolish, Bishop manages a sheepish “Something you need?” It was then that he recognizes the look in her eyes. Urgency.

“We have company,” she whispers.

The Way of the Hunter Chapter 8 - Company © Alya Elvawiel

Migrate Wizard: 
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