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The Way of the Hunter - Everyone Bleeds When Cut (Chapter Eleven)

Author: 
Alya Elvawiel
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
362

Just as quickly as they had come, the githyanki now retreat, disappearing through a portal that magically springs up from the ground. The gith leader, bloody shard in hand, is the last to leave, a triumphant smirk on its ugly face. The moment it steps through the luminous portal, it appears to fold into itself, shrinking up and disappearing in a flash of light. At the same time, the holding spell on Bishop and Khelgar is broken, and Alya’s limp body drops from the air, landing in a crumpled heap on the ground.



As soon as he is mobile, Bishop rushes to where she lies, lifeless. Khelgar gets to her first, but he pushes the dwarf blindly away as he falls to his knees beside her. The rust-coloured dirt around her still form is stained a darker crimson by the lifeblood that is draining out of her. He turns her over onto her back, and his breath catches in dismay when he sees her face – it is pale as death. A trickle of blood hangs out of a corner of her mouth.



“Alya!” he screams, shaking her a little by her shoulders. A part of his frantic brain registers that this is the first time he has ever called her by name. Another part reflects on how desperate and shrill it sounds. His eyes move from her face down to her chest. The front of her tunic is completely soaked with blood. A tear in the fabric marks the exit of the shard. Whipping out his skinning knife, he cuts away at the cloth, then tentatively peels back the material to examine her wound. His heart clenches painfully at the sight. In that instant he feels as if the gith had wrenched his heart out instead.



A jagged wound gapes at him from the middle of her chest, blood welling out of it. Here and there, he sees glimpses of white bone jutting out amid all the red. In the centre of the hole, something pink and ragged is pulsating weakly, spitting out tiny fountains of blood with each feeble beat.



With a shaky hand, he feels her neck for a pulse. Is that one? It is too weak to tell. He places a finger under her nose. The faintest hint of a breath tickles his fingertip. Incredibly, she is still alive – but she’s barely clinging to life.



Where is the paladin when you need him? He thinks, his breath coming out in ragged gasps. He’s never felt so useless, holding her as her life seeps away, unable to do anything to stop it. He curses himself for his inadequacy.



“Move aside!” Khelgar’s command snaps him out of his grief. The dwarf has uncorked a bottle of healing potion and is draining the contents into her wound, the bright blue liquid mingling briefly with scarlet before it is overwhelmed by the sheer amount of blood. He opens another bottle and, tilting Alya’s head back, pours some of the medicine down her throat. Most of it dribbles back out, flowing down her chin.



Goaded into action by the dwarf’s initiative, Bishop runs to his satchel and rummages in it for any healing supplies he could find. He finds a roll of bandages and a couple of flasks of watered-down healing potions. He thrusts a hand back into the bag – and his fingers close around something soft and silky.



He pulls out the soiled strip of green satin, its magical runes gleaming. The words she said to him all those months ago in the woods near Ember echo in his mind.



“You know, that wound needs more than just a strip of cloth.”



The memory of her kindness and her cheeky smile comes flooding back. He sees her dressing his wound, her robe tattered at the edges where she had cut it. He hears her soothing, melodic voice as she teasingly told him to put his clothes back on. Then, his mind flashes to the anger and hatred in her eyes, as she holds a dagger to his throat. Finally, he sees her lying motionless, her life ebbing out of her in rivulets of red.



A wave of emotion hits him. Anger, guilt, grief, shame, sorrow, self-loathe…they all surge up inside him at the same time, until he feels he is about to burst from the upwelling. Gripping the slip of fabric in his fist, he holds it to his forehead and clamps his eyes shut, breathing heavily through clenched teeth, fighting to control his rampaging thoughts, to bury them beneath the layers of indifference and hostility that has acted as his emotional defences for so long. His eyes, his jaw and his fist hurt from being clenched so tightly. Something wet and salty stains his cheeks.



When he has regained some semblance of control, he takes a deep breath, releasing it slowly, shakily. Then, swiping at his face with the back of a glove, he gathers up the healing supplies he has found, and rushes back to Alya’s side, his jaw set in renewed determination.



* * *



“By the hells, lass, will ye please stop bleeding!” Khelgar exclaims, as he sops up more blood. Casting away the blood-saturated bandage in his hand, he grabs another one and proceeds to press it down firmly over her wound, trying to stem the red tide. How he wishes that the paladin, or the githzerai, or even the elven tree-hugger, was here right now. Seeing Alya’s pallid face distresses him. She is normally glowing with such vigour, and has the stamina of a horse. When Khelgar once marveled at her ability to trek for days without needing to rest, she attributed it to her abstinence from alcohol.



“Monks don’t drink,” she once told him, “It dulls our senses and messes up our chi.” Khelgar doesn’t even know what a ‘chi’ is, and he still cannot fathom the idea of knocking back tankards of water – water! – in a pub. Trivial as it may seem to many, it was one of the main reasons why he decided against becoming a monk of Tyr in the end, despite having completed the trials and being deemed worthy. As awed as he is by their ability to kick his behind without weapons, a dwarf cannot live without his ale…



The warm, sticky moisture on his hands tells him that she has bled through this bandage as well. As he applies another fresh one, he prays silently that her monk’s endurance will pull her through this.



“Ye’ve got to get better, lass; yer stronger than all of us put together,” he says fervently. His heart aches to see her this way. He’s always seen her as something like a little sister – well, a little sister who’s taller than him, and who could probably wipe the floor with him in a fight, but still someone he feels compelled to look out for. He’s always taken pride in being her first ever companion, before the others started joining in, before they started looking like some traveling circus – not that he minds her other companions, at least not anymore. In fact, loathe as he is to admit it, he was just about getting used to having that tiefling around.



But that’s what happens when one hangs about with Alya for a while. Never in his life has he ever met anyone so free from prejudice. She took to Neeshka practically immediately despite the demon horns and tail, and she was probably the only one who could put up with that ranger’s barbed comments for any longer than a few seconds without the urge to pound his face in.



“Everyone bleeds when cut.”



That was what she said, right? Or close enough along those lines. Supposed to mean that we are all the same underneath, no matter what we look like on the outside…or something like that. Sometimes those sayings of hers seem more like riddles than words of wisdom, like the time she tried to explain to him how a fight is not always the best solution to a problem.



“To learn how to fight, one has to first learn how not to fight.” Khelgar remembers how thoroughly confused he was when she told him that. Then she had offered to demonstrate what she meant, by challenging him to a sparring match. Khelgar smiles fondly at the memory, at the hard lesson he learnt that day. She never threw a single punch or kick throughout that fight, just dodged and side-stepped his advances, and redirecting his attacks in that frustrating way that only she knows. He would lunge at her, only to end up getting a fistful (and sometimes faceful) of dirt, as she used his own momentum to send him flying. After landing heavily on his backside a number of times, he had gotten the message, and had acknowledged that avoiding a fight is not necessarily a cowardly act. She had shown it by defeating him without landing a blow. Later, he had begged her to teach him what she knows. They have since trained and sparred together whenever they had the chance, and it is during these sessions, over an exchange of blows, that they had really bonded.



The sound of urgent footfalls makes Khelgar turn to see the ranger returning with an armload of healing supplies. Bishop kneels across from him, such that Alya lies between the two of them. “Still alive?” he asks briskly.



“Aye, she’s hanging on.” Khelgar chances a peek under the bandage he still holds pressed to Alya’s chest wound. “Bleeding seems to have slowed, thank the gods.”



“Hmph,” sneers the hunter, as he uncorks a healing potion with his teeth. “For once, your bulk is good for something other than being a human shield.” Khelgar holds his tongue, recognizing that now is not the time to be trading insults, with their leader lying there so close to death. He watches in fuming silence as Bishop unrolls a strip of cloth. The markings on it look vaguely familiar, yet foreign at the same time. Where has he seen that colour and that embroidery motif before? The extravagant piece of fabric is marred by some reddish-brown stains, and he wonders what the ranger is planning on doing with it.



With a dismissive wave, Bishop motions for Khelgar to remove the bandage, which he does carefully. Scrunching the strange material up, the ranger gently places the balled-up fabric into the open wound, then proceeds to empty the contents of a healing potion over it, allowing the intricate piece of rag to soak up the blue liquid. Khelgar is stunned to see that the exotic-looking runes on the fabric are glowing subtly. A part of him warns that nothing coming from the ranger is ever a good thing, and that perhaps he should stop this odd ritual. But those runes seem harmless enough; in fact, its soft shimmer has a calming effect even on him.



Plus, the look on the ranger’s face shows no malice as he works, just a sense of urgent determination. This surprises Khelgar; he’s only ever seen malice in those cold brown eyes.



“Hold this,” Bishop says gruffly, shoving one end of a bandage in Khelgar’s hand, as he winds the other end around Alya’s chest. With neither of them being especially skilled in healing, they have to work together to get the wound cleaned and semi-decently wrapped up. Apart from the odd barked command, Bishop says little through it all. By the time they finish, their hands are covered with blood. Alya remains unconscious, but at least she isn’t half as bloody as she was.



The two men stand over her still form as an awkward silence falls. They have been so used to having their Knight-Captain telling them what to do and relaying messages, it feels odd to have to communicate directly with each other now, and to have to make a decision without her.



“So…” Khelgar starts uncertainly, “What next?” The ranger is staring into the middle distance, a strange fire in his eyes.



“We move,” he says curtly, in a low voice. “You carry her.”



“What? Shouldn’t we stay and wait for her to heal first?”



“She can’t stay here!” Bishop snaps forcefully, “she’ll die!” and even Khelgar is taken aback by his sudden vehemence. As if regretting his outburst, the ranger looks away, and continues in an even tone, “We have to get back to our plane.” His gaze falls on Alya’s body, and Khelgar thinks he sees the ranger’s hard eyes soften slightly.



But how do we do that? Where do we go? What will we find? Khelgar’s head is filled with questions.



Why do you care, ranger?



Yet, Bishop’s words ring true. They have used up the last of their healing supplies. If they stayed on this plane, Alya wouldn’t last long. They have to get her back to Faerun if she is to stand a chance.



And they need to get there soon.



Khelgar studies the ranger warily. Bishop appears uncomfortable with his scrutiny, and refuses to look him in the eye. He is definitely hiding something, but for Alya’s sake, now is not the time for indecision.



Gingerly, he lifts her limp body, cradling her like a child. The softest hint of a breath on his neck is all the motivation he needs.



“Lead the way, ranger.”







The Way of the Hunter Chapter 11 - Everyone Bleeds When Cut © Alya Elvawiel

Migrate Wizard: 
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