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The Way of the Hunter - A Deal with the Devil (Chapter Forty-One)

Author: 
Alya Elvawiel
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
444

The wolf whimpers. He is very anxious. The master is thrashing again, as if in the throes of some excruciating pain, but the creature can see nothing wrong with him. He licks the man’s face in the hope of calming him down, or waking him up. To his dismay, the master’s skin feels burning hot on the wolf’s tongue.



The one thing that worries the wolf most is the fact that the master seems to have been asleep for too, too long. No amount of nudging or whining had stirred him from his fitful slumber.



Karnwyr’s mother had fallen asleep for a long time, too, and had never woken up.



The wolf is afraid that the same may happen to his master.



The man’s back arches, and the wolf hears the master’s breathing quicken. That ever-present smell of sadness around the man is now combined with an even more troubling scent.



Fear.



Please wake up, the wolf pleads fretfully, prodding the master with his muzzle. Why are you so hot? Are you ill? Where does it hurt?



Why are you scared?




Karnwyr yelps plaintively, catching the attention of the person working nearby, the elder-looking one with long white hair growing from around his mouth. The man is unfamiliar to the wolf, but the creature senses that he is trying to help the master, and the aura of calmness the stranger exudes is reassuring.



The old man approaches, one hand holding onto the long piece of wood he always seems to have with him, the other cradling a vessel of some form, with something burning inside it. The purplish smoke it produces has a strong, bitter smell, and the wolf snorts, making a face. He remains at a distance as the man places the smoky vessel under the master’s nose. The last time the strange man had done this, the master had stopped writhing, at least for a while. The wolf’s tail wags slightly, hopefully.



But this time the master continues to struggle against some invisible force, even after he had inhaled every trace of smoke. His hands are clenched into fists, so tightly that the knuckles have turned white. The wolf can only watch helplessly as the master tosses his head from side to side, his eyes clamped shut, his teeth grinding together.



Karnwyr sees the white-haired man frowning. What could it mean?



The wolf is horrified when the man merely shakes his head sadly, and hobbles off, leaving his master still convulsing violently.



Karnwyr yaps. Where are you going? Aren’t you going to do anything?



But the man ignores him, turning his back and returning to whatever it is he is working on.



After a few more desperate yips, the wolf gives up. The strange man is either unable or unwilling to help.



Perhaps that woman the master travels with could do something…



It doesn’t take long for the wolf to pick up her distinctive scent: soft and earthy, sweet yet tangy, with that odd tint of fear. Karnwyr follows her smell, the trail leading him deeper into the cave. Scampering through a short tunnel, he comes to a small chamber, and finds the woman asleep on the floor.



Rushing to her side, Karnwyr emits shrill puppy barks to try and wake her up. Pulling the covers off her, he nudges her with his nose, and licks her hand.



But like the master, she doesn’t respond, his disturbance eliciting only a faint twitch as she turns away from the wolf.



Not you as well! The wolf whined frantically. What could be wrong with them?



Thoroughly confused and distressed, Karnwyr sits on his haunches and starts to howl.



* * *



Bishop suddenly finds himself in a strange but disturbingly familiar place. The desolate landscape is almost entirely flat, punctuated occasionally by some rocky outcrops. The sky is an ominous red, and so too is the dusty earth. A huge, gaping chasm lies to one side of him, so wide that he cannot see the opposite side, and so deep that the bottom disappears into complete darkness.



Where in the name of the gods…?



Then it hits him.



He is back in Baator.



The Nine Hells…



How did he get here? The last thing he remembers is Alya bending over him, trying to treat his arrow wound. Since then, all he had been experiencing was one nightmare after another, as his mind relived every single harrowing memory he had ever tried to suppress.



This has got to be another dream.



He looks down to find himself topless and barefooted, dressed only in his trousers, a bandage over his right collar bone. He vaguely recalls that Alya had cut through his clothing to get to his wound.



Well, she owes me a new set of clothes…



“Bishop?”



He whirls around at the sound of his name, surprised that anyone else is here in this deserted wasteland, and even more surprised when he recognises the soft, tinkling voice.



“Alya??”



She is staring at him, looking just as bemused as he. Her expression when she saw him seems to be a mixture of confusion, and perhaps relief, or gladness.



For a brief moment, he considered bridging the distance between them and holding her close. It seems like ages since he last saw her.



But he is stopped by a flash of burning pain surging through his body, one so intense that it feels as if the blood in his veins had suddenly turned into molten lava. His chest constricts in response to the searing sensation, and the entry wound on his collar bone feels as if a white-hot poker had been stabbed into it.



With a strangled cry, he doubles over, clutching at his arrow wound, and falls to his knees. His breathing comes out short and ragged, as his lungs begin to burn with each inhalation. As if from afar, he can hear Alya calling out to him, and her footsteps as she rushes towards him.



“Hello, Bishop. Hello, Alya.”



That voice…deep, calm and chilling…where had he heard it before?



Alya had stopped a few feet away from him, and is staring in the direction of the cliff.



He turns his head to find Mephasm hovering above the sheer drop-off.



“What in the Hells…”



His exclamation of surprise is cut short by another wave of hot agony.



To his consternation, he hears the devil emit a rumbling chuckle.



“Not a pleasant sensation, is it?” the baatezu is saying. “Your enemy must really dislike you to use a poison as powerful as this.”



Bishop would have shot back a scathing reply, if he were not in so much pain that he is practically writhing on the ground. He growls through his clenched teeth as his face contorts in agony.



“Yes,” the pit fiend remarks, seemingly unfazed by his suffering. “A very potent poison, red dragon’s blood. It takes its time, but it’s thorough. Symptoms include a high fever, convulsions, coma…” His tone is measured, like a sage reciting some scholarly facts. Then, almost casually, he adds, “Oh, and the feeling that someone is cooking you alive and eating you, from the inside out.” He regards Bishop with unconcealed amusement, red eyes gleaming, his lips parted in an inhuman looking smile.



“Death will be a welcome release.”



If Bishop could move, and if the devil weren’t levitating over a bottomless pit, he would have attacked him then and there. But as it is, he merely hisses as he is gripped by another round of stabbing pain. The feel of Alya’s soft hands on him, although pleasant and unexpected, does nothing to quell the raging fire in his veins.



“Why are you doing this to him?” He hears her demand, as she kneels over him.



Mephasm’s blue eyebrows shoot up in a mock show of aggrievement.



“Why, I have done nothing, my dear,” the pit fiend replies, sounding mildly shocked by her accusation. “I am merely stating my…observations.”



“W-what are you talking about?” Alya’s eyes narrow warily.



The pit fiend grins, revealing a row of white, pointed teeth. “You see, we devils can be rather…inquisitive,” he explains. “And my particular area of curiosity concerns the matter of what you mortals call…emotions.”



He begins to drift slowly in a circle, his hands clasped behind his back, as if he were pacing in thin air whilst contemplating. “What are these emotions? What is fear, hate, sadness, love…? Why do mortals subject themselves to these…feelings, when they can cloud one’s judgment, resulting in rash decisions and actions? And why do these feelings evoke such powerful reactions?” He stops moving, his gaze alternating between Alya and Bishop. “Is this susceptibility to emotions just another one of the many flaws that make mortals inferior to us?



“And then there are some who seek to hide their true feelings from others, by concealing them behind false ones, erecting wall upon wall of conflicting sentiments, until they themselves can no longer distinguish the real emotions from the fakes.” Mephasm eyes Bishop intently, and despite being wracked by terrible pain, the ranger gets the disquieting feeling that the baatezu is delving deep into his soul, and inspecting his very private thoughts.



“From the day I saw you here at the edge of this very cliff, your emotions, Bishop, have really piqued my interest. Never have I seen such a complex mesh of feelings. It aroused my curiosity so much, that I sought to understand it. So, I decided to follow your movements, to observe you, for a while.” The devil smiles again. “You may be pleased to hear that I have not been disappointed.”



Bishop glares at the pit fiend, feeling strangely violated. Had the devil been watching him all this time? How did he do that? What had he seen? What does he know?



His train of thought is interrupted by a particularly intense stab of pain, one that cramps up his chest, causing his muscles to spasm uncontrollably. This time he does cry out, his back arched, his fingers digging into the dirt.



Mephasm’s grave voice penetrates his cloud of pain. “Ah, looks like the poison’s full effects is being realised. By this time, the dragon’s blood would have spread through your entire system. You should be feeling as if your heart, lungs and guts are being twisted into knots, before being wrenched out of your body.” The expression on the devil’s face is almost pitiful, and it enflames Bishop even more. “I am afraid you will be suffering like this for another couple of days at least before death finally claims you.”



“What do you want from me, demon?” he manages to growl through gritted teeth, his entire body shaking with the effort. His hands are balled so tightly into fists that his nails are digging into his own palms.



The baatezu’s evil grin widens. “Believe it or not, mortal, I have been so entertained while observing you, that I am willing to offer you some…assistance.”



“Assistance?” Alya interjects, her tone cagey. “Why would you do that?” she asks, echoing Bishop’s own reservations. She eyes the devil suspiciously. “What’s the catch?”



Mephasm shakes his head, clucking his tongue. “Such mistrust. And after I have helped you on several previous occasions as well…have I ever asked for anything unreasonable in return for any of my services rendered?”



Both Bishop and Alya are silent as they eye the devil cautiously. While it is true that Mephasm has helped them numerous times, against Zeeaire, in Ammon Jerro’s haven, and most recently, by transporting them back to their plane, something about the pit fiend tells them that he has an ulterior motive.



Mephasm sighs theatrically. “Fine, I do have my reason for offering my help,” he admits, his glowing red eyes twinkling with mirth. “Consider it a…behavioural experiment, something to satisfy my curiosity.”



He glances at Bishop’s convulsing form. “I am intrigued by what I’ve seen of you these past few days. So many different feelings, each one contradicting another…your mind is such a chaos of warring sentiments. And each layer of emotion I tried to peel away only revealed another underlying layer.” He snickers. “You almost remind me of an onion, but with onions, they are completely made of layers, with nothing in the centre. The question I am wondering is: if I were to remove all the layers from you, would there be anything left?” Cocking his head, he scrutinises the ranger, as if examining some test specimen. “Would you, too, be empty deep inside?”



Bishop would have laughed derisively at the ridiculous analogy, but he feels oddly affected by Mephasm’s words. With another grunt of pain, he looks away.



“What would you say, Bishop, if I offered you not just relief from your current suffering, but also a chance to alleviate past torments?”



The ranger’s head snaps back towards Mephasm, who seems quite smug that he had gotten Bishop’s attention.



“Yes, I can see that my proposal interests you. Would you like to hear more?”



The sensible part of his brain is buzzing with alarm, warning him that the baatezu cannot be trusted, that no good would ever come from a deal with a devil.



But reason and logic at the moment are being drowned out by the tortuous pain wracking his entire body. He convulses in the throes of another torrent of searing anguish, one that appears to have clamped his insides in a red-hot vice, and filled his lungs with brimstone.



Anything to stop the pain…



As if reading his thoughts, the devil nods. “Excellent. Give me a moment.” He floats closer to them, and draws a circle in the air, his finger trailing a line of blue-green magic. The disc begins to fill out with a rainbow of colours, swirling and dancing in the centre until an image appears.



Bishop stares in disbelief at the familiar wood and stone houses, all characteristically clustered around a well.



Redfallows Watch.



But it is intact, not burnt to the ground.



The baatezu is speaking again.



“Have you ever wished, mortal, that you could turn back time? To right a past wrong? Ever had things you wished you had never done, and some things you wish you had done?” Mephasm’s eyes narrow as he once again studies the ranger with his penetrative gaze. “It seems to me that regret and resentment are two very strong emotions within you.”



“Runt?”



Bishop’s blood runs cold at the sound of the distinctive booming voice, as his Pa emerges from the shimmering portal. The huge, broad-shouldered man looks at him tenderly before a smile spreads across his bearded face.



“Heh, look at how you’ve grown.” His father’s words send a chill down the ranger’s spine.



Before his shocked mind could formulate a coherent response, another figure steps out from the portal, a slight woman, her mahogany hair pinned up in a bun, who daintily approaches his Pa and threads her arm through one of his.



The last time Bishop had seen her, she was lying dead in a pool of her own blood, gutted like a fish, her body violated…



“Ma…?” His own voice cracks as a flood of old memories come rushing back.



The woman’s kind eyes are shining. “Son, we’ve missed you so much.”



Don’t be fooled…it’s a trick…



Despite the burning hot pain shooting through his body, Bishop shuffles backwards, away from his parents. His heart is aching terribly, but it is a different sort of pain, not one caused by the poison’s effects.



“What foul magic is this?” he demands, glaring at the baatezu.



The devil sniggered humorously. “Foul? That’s not a very nice thing to call your dear parents, is it?” Almost lovingly, he caresses the pulsing orb of light, his touch causing the image of the village to distort slightly, as if it were a rippling reflection in a pond. “I suppose I can understand your...reservations. After all, not every mortal has much knowledge of the Temporal Plane.”



“The Temporal…?” Bishop hears Alya blurt out, a look of dread and recognition on her face. Until then, he has almost forgotten that she was present.



“Ah, yes, you know of it vaguely, do you not?” Mephasm regards the monk approvingly before turning his attention back to Bishop. “The Temporal Plane is basically a plane of existence where time can be…manipulated. Past events can be replayed, even changed. Future events can be foretold, and avoided if one so wishes…it is also where one could find what you mortals call parallel worlds.”



“Love…”



Bishop freezes, almost afraid to glance behind him. For years, that breathy, teasing voice had only ever haunted his dreams. It has been so long since he’s actually heard it.



“C-Calyx…?”



When he finally looks, she is every bit as breathtaking as he remembers her: tall and slender, curvaceous with a narrow waist and rounded hips. He drinks in the sight of her pronounced features, her smooth porcelain complexion, her full red lips. Her thick mane of jet black hair falls carelessly and seductively around her shoulders, and those piercing silvery eyes, the same one that had so captivated him all those years before, are now gazing at him, looking somewhat softer than he has ever seen them.



It can’t be her…



Speechlessly, he watches as she approaches him, her hips swaying slightly, alluringly. He half-expects her to fade, or shimmer, or disappear, at any moment, betraying her for the illusion or figment of imagination that she is.



But her form remains solid and clear even as she kneels down beside him, and he once again smells the heady aroma of spring blossoms as her long hair tickles his face. The excruciating pain gripping his body appears to lift momentarily when she bends down, cradling his face in her hands, her touch sending shivers up and down his spine. She leans towards him, and their lips meet in a soft, lingering kiss, one that brings a surge of memories rushing to the fore: the recollection of her flawless, naked form straddling him, her lustrous black hair cascading down her back, her hips undulating as they coupled feverishly…



The kiss is broken all too soon. Calyx caresses his cheeks for a while longer, a loving smile on her face.



“I’ve missed you so much, love,” she whispers, as she runs a tapering finger over his bottom lip, eliciting an involuntary shudder from him.



With that, she stands back up, and walks over to join his Ma and Pa near the glowing portal. Bishop makes a move to get to his feet, to run after her.



And the burning pain that appeared to have been alleviated by Calyx’s touch returns with a vengeance, the searing sensation more intense than before, rendering his limbs weak and buckling his knees. With an anguished groan, he again slumps to the ground, clutching at his constricted chest.



The blue devil hovers closer, his bluish lips turned up in an amused smirk. “Consider that a taster of what could be, if certain conditions are met.”



“Conditions?” Alya’s voice is angry as she interrupts the pit fiend. She looks bewildered by everything that is going on. “You mentioned nothing about conditions! You said you would help him!”



“I said this is going to be an experiment…” Mephasm corrects her in a patronising tone. “In the name of research, I am going to give him a choice.”



He turns back to Bishop.



“As you probably have found out, and in a rather pleasant way, I might add, these people before you are not illusions. They are real, and they exist in a parallel world, one where certain…” He pauses, as if trying to find the right word. “Traumatic events have never happened.”



The baatezu falls silent as he regards the ranger again in his stony, scrutinising way. Bishop is assailed by yet another barrage of agony, this one tightening his airways, causing him to cough and choke, the spasms further stoking the flames in his lungs.



“This is when it really starts to hurt,” the pit fiend comments casually. “When your system tries to fight the poison, wreaking more havoc in the process. But not to worry,” his demonic eyes glow with anticipation. “Make the right choice, and your pain will be gone.”



“Tell me…” Bishop rasps, his jaw clenched so tightly that the pulsing veins in his neck stand out prominently. “What I have to do.” He curses himself for sounding so desperate, for feeling so completely helpless. Above all, he curses himself for actually being tempted by the devil’s offer, after having convinced himself so many times before that he no longer cares about what had transpired in the past.



I still don’t care about the past…he tells himself. I just want the pain to stop…



Slowly and deliberately, Mephasm rubs his clawed hands together in apparent glee.



“Listen carefully then, mortal,” he instructs, his fingers pressed together to form a steeple. “Consider this a test. If you pass it, all this…” He sweeps a hand towards his parents, Calyx, and the shimmering image of Redfallows Watch. “Will be yours. I will remove the poison from your system, thereby ending your suffering, and I will allow you to pass through the portal, to start your life afresh in a parallel existence, one where the sacking of your village, your kidnapping, and the murder of your mother, had never taken place. You will then be able to relive your life the way you want it.”



Bishop gazes longingly at his Ma and Pa, and at Calyx. His parents are holding on to each other, while Calyx has her hands clasped nervously to her chest. All three of them are looking back at him with hopeful expressions.



All his life, he had imagined what could have been, had he never been taken from his parents, had he grown up in Redfallows Watch, living a normal peasant’s life, with no bloodshed, no killing, no bounty on his head...



Now, he no longer has to content himself with merely imagining the possibilities.



He has the chance to actually experience them.



And Calyx…beautiful Calyx…how different could it have been between them had he not been Garrick’s lackey? Had she not been a Luskan assassin? Under any other circumstance, would she have truly loved him, like he had loved her?



He believes he now sees the answer in the liquid depths of her silver eyes.



“And what if he fails the test?” Alya’s apprehensive voice rings out, bringing him back to the present. She is standing over him protectively, her muscles tense, poised for a fight.



Mephasm’s answer is frank. “Then he would simply die from the poison – slowly.” The devil glances almost sympathetically at Bishop. “And he will never know what might have been…”



The baatezu’s reply is enough to help Bishop make up his mind, but another tide of agonising pain slamming into him confirms his decision.



“I’ll do it!” he gasps, as the pain causes him to curl up into a ball, the dusty dirt sticking to his bare skin.



The devil laughs, his deep voice rumbling like distant thunder. “Such strong feelings,” he marvels, his red eyes glowing. “And I have not even set you the task yet.” Mephasm drifts even closer, until he is just a few feet away. Defensively, Alya interposes herself between the pit fiend and Bishop, but the baatezu ignores the monk, and speaks directly to Bishop.



“Very well, mortal, I have but one question for you before I set your task.” His infernal eyes narrow menacingly.



“What would you be willing to do for this second chance in life?”



Bishop barely hesitates, the blinding pain wracking his body spurring him on.



“Anything…”



He stares up at the pit fiend resolutely. For a moment, Mephasm appears lost in thought, as he contemplates Bishop’s answer. The devil absently scratches his wrinkly chin with the talon on one finger.



“Interesting…” he muses, a slight smile playing across his blue lips. “Now let us see if what you say is true.” He snaps his bony fingers, and disappears. In the blink of an eye, Bishop finds that the devil had retreated to his original position, hovering above the deep canyon.



How did he…?



That’s when he realises that the fingers that were clutching at his chest are now weighted down with something. Glancing down, he finds a dagger gripped in his hand. Its blade is curved exotically, its hilt encrusted with jewels. It is a knife that has hounded his nightmares for years, and he recognises it instantly.



Calyx’s dagger…



Thoroughly confused, he glares questioningly at the pit fiend. Mephasm has an unsettling look of enjoyment on his lined face.



“You said you would do anything for that second chance,” he says ominously. “Well, now’s your time to prove it.”



Casually, he nods towards Alya, who is still standing beside Bishop.



“Kill her.”



The Way of the Hunter Chapter 41 - A Deal with the Devil © Alya Elvawiel

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