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The Way of the Hunter - A Difficult Decision (Chapter Forty-Two)

Alya Elvawiel
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Bishop gawks at the devil, thunderstruck. Alya is staring at the pit fiend with an equally dumbfounded expression.

He can not be serious…

Ignoring the blazing pain ripping through his very being, he wordlessly shakes his head, slowly and uncertainly at first, then with more resolve.

Mephasm feigns a look of abject disappointment. “What, have you changed your mind? That’s a shame…”

With a wave of his hand, the figures of Bishop’s parents and Calyx begin to blur, just as the glowing portal starts to shrink.

“Your loved ones will be very disappointed…”

Bishop watches in horror as his Pa and Ma, and Calyx, all huddled together in apparent fear, their saucer-eyed expressions disclosing their distress, slowly fade in and out, as they begin to vanish right before his eyes. He hears a heart-rending sob from his mother, and a frightened whimper from Calyx.

“Runt…” His Pa’s voice is quaking with alarm. “What’s happening to us?”

So close…he is so close to gaining everything he had ever wished for…

“Wait!” he shouts out desperately before he can stop himself. When he turns to the devil, there is an almost pleading look in his eyes.

Mephasm lowers his hand, and the three people before him, although still translucent and seemingly evanescent, have at least stopped fading away. The pit fiend eyes the ranger questioningly.

Now what?

Another bolt of pain tears through him, clenching up all the muscles in his body. He feels his fingers closing around something cold and hard, and realises that he is still gripping Calyx’s curved dagger.

Hesitantly, he glances from the jewelled knife to Mephasm, then to the portal, his parents and Calyx, before finally looking to Alya, who is still standing in stunned silence beside him.

For the chance to relive his life the way he wants, with the family and lover he thought he’d lost forever…all he has to do is sacrifice just one person…

This shouldn’t be such a difficult decision…

His gaze shifts back and forth between Alya and Calyx. They are both so different in every way: one is tall, statuesque, mysteriously alluring, the other petite, tomboyish, unpretentious, probably more cute than beautiful…

Bishop recalls how Calyx had won him over with her elegant beauty, how she had plied him with sweet words, teasing touches, sensual kisses, mind-blowing sex…but above all else, he remembers how she always made him feel special, made him feel like somebody when he is in fact a nobody. Whenever he felt sorry for himself, or resentful of how his life had turned out, she was there, showering him with affection and attention, making him feel like the most important person in the world.

When he was with her, he forgot all his troubles.

But will he ever be able to forgive her betrayal?

He turns her dagger over in his hand, inspecting the rubies, emeralds and sapphires studding its hilt, and the odd curved shape of the blade. In his mind’s eye, he sees the weapon arcing through the air, right before it embedded itself in his back.

No…he shakes his head to rid himself of the memory. It’ll be different this time…it has to be…

As if reading his mind, Calyx’s shimmering image calls out to him.

“Bishop, I love you, please come back to me. I’ll never leave you again.”

She loves me…

Hot, fiery pain rips through him once again, and he doubles over, his forehead pressed against the dusty earth, his breaths coming out in ragged gasps as his congested lungs continue to burn mercilessly. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Alya kneeling down beside him, and feels a comforting hand on his back. She seems to be saying something, but her voice sounds garbled, as if she were speaking to him underwater.

While Calyx had treated him as a lover, Alya had always treated him as anything but, although she was never abrupt or unkind to him.

Well, except when I killed her dear paladin…

Perhaps it’s one of the principles she has to stick to as a follower of the Way: never pre-judge anyone, or something along those lines…but she had always shown him kindness and patience, more so than any of her other companions, or anyone else he had ever met, for that matter.

And she most certainly shows him more kindness than he deserves.

Unlike Calyx, Alya treats him as a friend, something no one else had ever tried to be.

But she had never seemed physically attracted to him. If anything, hasn’t she always been in love with Casavir?

Perhaps that is what enraptured him about her in the first place: that despite how nice she is to him, she has only ever cared for him as an acquaintance, and has never fallen for any of his suggestive remarks or advances, nor has she ever let any of his barbed comments get under her skin. Her kindness draws him irresistibly to her, and her apparent imperviousness to his seductions, plus the fact that she seems more interested in that paladin than in him, are challenges for him.

But that’s not all, is it? From the first time he saw her, strolling into her uncle’s tavern with her group of ragtag compatriots, she seems to exude a quiet courage, never once complaining about her unchosen fate, about the heavy burden of being the Shard-Bearer. Sure, she had been frightened at times, and she openly mourned for the friends she lost, but rather than making her look weak, her occasional battles with self-doubt, fear and grief only seemed to make her return stronger. As stupid as he thinks she is for accepting all the crap and responsibility people dished at her, and as much as he disagrees with her compulsion to help those too pathetically weak to defend themselves, he cannot help but marvel at her stubbornness and conviction. Once she has made a decision, no one could talk her out of it, and there is something distinctly alluring about that.

Perhaps it is also because the hardships she had to face, leading up to the final battle against the Illefarn guardian, mirrored his own past sufferings. The loss of loved ones, the destruction of her home…but, instead of wallowing in self-pity, she had fought to regain what she lost, to try and rectify injustices, despite the overwhelming odds.

And she had succeeded in the end, hadn’t she? It had nearly cost her her life, but she had righted what seemed impossible. It sometimes made him wonder if he could have done the same, if he could have salvaged some shred of his former life, had he not been so full of self-contempt.

In being so steadfast in the face of all the adversity she encountered, she almost gave him back something he had lost a long time ago.


Yes, she almost made him believe that there could be something beyond his mangy existence, that life could be more than ambushing and torturing Luskans, repaying debts, and evading bounty hunters, that perhaps he could make a difference, not just to his own life, but to the lives of others.

Bishop feels another stab of burning pain. The blurred images of his parents and Calyx are now as intangible as a mirage in the desert.

How much longer is Mephasm willing to wait for him to make a choice?

This really shouldn’t be such a difficult decision…

After all, one of them has openly proclaimed her love for him.

The other sees him as no more than a friend, if that, and before all this crap with Garrick and the poison arrow, she was leaving him, and they would probably not see each other again.

He never had a chance with her…

Then what was it that happened between them just a few days ago?

It had all started after that stupid play-fighting session, with an innocent peck on the cheek. He recalls how he had foolishly lost control, embracing her and kissing her with unbridled fervour and hunger. He remembers his surprise when she returned his passion in kind, her hands kneading his bare chest, leaving his skin tingling with pleasure at her touch.

But then, just when it seemed like he would finally have her, she had stopped him, stayed his hand just as he was about to dip it into her trousers. Why had she done that, without giving any reason at all? It had left him feeling frustrated and unwanted. Even now, just thinking about how she had played him made his blood run hot with anger.

Could he have read her so wrong? Is she really just another manipulative vixen?

Bishop growls as a new wave of pain crashes over him, interrupting his own rambling thoughts. He is grasping Calyx’s dagger so tightly he could feel the individual gemstones imprinting themselves onto his palm.

“Take your time,” Mephasm’s cold, deep voice sounds infinitely patient. “I understand that mortals can be rather…indecisive.”

The ranger glares at the devil even as he writhes in the dirt, a haze of pain obscuring his vision now, bathing everything in a foreboding red mist. His breathing becomes increasingly laboured, as each inhalation constricts his airways and sears his lungs. His guts twist inside of him, and his heart pounds erratically, pumping fresh needles of fire through his veins with every beat. Clutching his cramping mid-section with both arms, he cries out in agony.

The pit fiend’s rumbling laughter pierces through his dense miasma of pain. “Now, I may be able to wait, but I’m not sure how much longer your body can take all that battering.”

He eyes the ranger curiously.

“You know,” Mephasm suggests, almost matter-of-factly. “You can so easily rid yourself of all this suffering. It surprises me that you hesitate at the opportunity.” He points a talon at Alya. “Could this one person really mean more to you than purging yourself of the effects of the poison, and a second chance in life, with your family and lover?”

Bishop glances at Alya, but he can hardly make her out through the cloud that has descended on his vision. All he sees is her vague outline amid a soupy red haze, as every fibre of his being screams for relief from the poison coursing relentlessly through him. He hisses again as another convulsion wracks his body, and his resolve crumbles.

The devil is right…must make it stop…

Only one way…

With an anguished snarl, he lunges at Alya blindly from his crouched position on the ground, with Calyx’s dagger levelled at the monk’s chest. He hears a startled gasp as she sidesteps him just in time. He stumbles past her, his spasming muscles making his movements jerky and uncoordinated, but the flaming agony in his blood is somehow fuelling his strength, as it triggers a primal survival instinct, one that is bent on stopping the pain, no matter what the cost.

Whirling around unsteadily, he charges at her again, and again she spins away, leaving Bishop swiping at thin air as he trips and sprawls to the ground.

“We’re counting on you, runt.”

He hears his father’s voice through the murky red veil of pain. The shimmering forms of his parents and Calyx appear anxious, as they hang on to each other.

“It’s so nice and peaceful where we are, son,” his mother says. “All that’s missing is you…”

“Come on, love…” Calyx seems to be rooting him on.

He turns back to Alya, who is looking at him mutely and uncertainly, her green eyes wide. Bishop cringes again as the red haze thickens, and he clenches his teeth against the burning pain.

He has to make it stop, he can’t take it anymore.

Either he kills her to relieve himself of the pain, or he dies trying. He doesn’t really care either way.

Just as long as this pain goes away…

He slashes the dagger at her, and Alya steps backwards. In his weakened condition and agonised frenzy, he knows he is fighting wildly, taking too long to recover in between each lunge, exposing himself easy counterattacks, especially from someone of Alya’s capability.

But the anticipated blows never come, as the monk appears hesitant to seize the many openings to take him down. After a particularly clumsy lurch, he falls to his knees at her feet, the vulnerable base of his skull practically presented to her on a silver platter, but instead of seizing the obvious striking opportunity, she merely dances out of his reach.

What is she doing? Why isn’t she trying to defend herself?

At this rate, he’s eventually going to get lucky with one of his wayward swings.

“Damn it, monk!” he snarls through gritted teeth. “Fight me!”

He sees her shaking her head vigorously from side to side, her reddish hair tossing about her shoulders.

Damn her stubbornness…

A hoarse cry escapes his lips as he rushes at her again. He sees her back-pedalling, trying to keep her distance from him, before diving out of his way. He hurtles past her, only to see the gaping chasm that Mephasm was floating over fast approaching.

His momentum is carrying him dangerously close to the sheer drop-off.

He tries to dig his heels into the ground to stop his forward motion, but his muscles are not cooperating with him. He manages to skid to a stop right at the edge of the cliff, his arms flailing as he teeters on the brink, trying to catch his balance. The ravine is so deep that the bottom is obscured in pitch blackness.

His foot slips on the shifting sands, and he feels himself falling forward into the canyon. For a split second, he feels a rush of panic, but then…

A quick death…an easy way out…no need for difficult choices…

He closes his eyes, almost welcoming his free fall into the fathomless void.

The Way of the Hunter Chapter 42 - A Difficult Decision © Alya Elvawiel

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