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The Way of the Hunter - Family Reunion (Chapter Thirty-Nine)

Author: 
Alya Elvawiel
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
409

The fire surrounds the village within minutes, and spreads rapidly thanks to the trail of starter fuel Bishop had first doused along the boundaries. He has left only a small gap in the ring of flames, just enough for himself to escape through.



He saunters through the village, a longsword in hand, as the blaze closes in, and the sounds of terrified screams fill the evening air. He sees some villagers running around, others frozen in place, and even more huddled together crying. Many of them are faces he remembers from years past, but not one appears to recognise the ranger as they rush about in a panic, salvaging valuables, seeking an escape route, or just grouped together, helplessly awaiting their imminent doom…



Pathetic weaklings…even now they’re incapable of saving their own hides…



Those who cannot survive do not deserve to live…




He ignores the throng of stampeding, hysterical villagers as he walks past familiar landmarks, homing in on a dilapidated looking house beside the communal well. As he approaches it, he sees the flames advancing on the wood and stone structure, licking hungrily at the eaves of the roof. He could feel the heat from the fire from where he is standing, as he scans the surrounding area.



Someone runs out of the burning house, clutching a small satchel. The man screeches to a stop in front of Bishop.



“Hello…Pa,” greets the ranger.



His hair may have started to go grey at the temples, his hulking shoulders may now be stooped, and his face may be deeply lined with age, but there is no mistaking the hulking giant of a man.



“Bishop?” the man whispers incredulously, his expression a mixture of recognition, disbelief and hope. After another moment of staring, the big man’s face breaks out in a wide grin. “Runt? You’re back!” He steps forward, arms outstretched. “Heh, look at how you’ve grown!”



For a split second, Bishop is tempted to run into his Pa’s arms, like he had done everyday as a child when his father came home from work. Those massive arms used to be what comforted him when things went wrong.



Perhaps they could still make everything all right again...



Biting down on the inside of his cheek, he fights the urge by reminding himself of how the man had done nothing the night of his abduction, the night Ma died.



“Stand back, old man,” he says coldly, forcing his voice to remain level as he holds his blade up to his father’s chest.



The man’s eyes widen in confusion, his smile frozen in place but twitching uncertainly. “R-runt…what – what’re you doing?” He catches the look of hurt in the big man’s face.



A hand gently caresses his shoulder as someone walks up behind him. He catches a flash of raven hair illuminated by the light of the fires.



“Calyx?” Bishop says, surprised. He was supposed to be doing this by himself. The others are only there as observers. “What are you doing here?”



With a smile, she leans her head over his shoulder, and brushes her lips lightly along his jaw.



“Just here to give you some moral support,” she purrs. Then she eyes the man before them critically.



“So this is your ‘father’.” Her voice has taken on a harder edge. “The coward who let his wife die and who couldn’t even save his own son.”



Bishop says nothing as he continues to glare at the old man, his Pa whom he has not seen in more than ten years. He wonders what the past decade could have been like, had he been able to grow up here, with his family, with his father. They could have gone on fishing trips together, gone hunting together, worked the fields together…and Ma could always be waiting for them at home, ready with a nice hot meal…



The past ten years could have been so different.



They are also ten years that he will now never have the chance to experience.



And all because Pa…



The old man is looking back at him pleadingly, his eyes shining as realisation dawns on him.



“Y-you’re not one of them raiders, are you, runt? You can’t be…”



Bishop cannot bring himself to look at the disappointment on his Pa’s face. Instead, he focuses his attention lower down, his eyes settling on the bundle in his father’s arms.



Calyx’s hand squeezes his shoulder.



“Now’s your chance, love. He’s been the reason you’ve suffered so much.” The grip on his shoulder tightens. “Make him pay for what he did to you.” The harsh tone that Calyx’s voice has taken is not one he has heard before.



His blade wavers as his throat constricts, his mind battling with conflicting emotions. He is angry at his Pa, for sure. He resents him for his cowardice, for having been so weak and pathetic…



But can he bring himself to kill his own father?



The older man clutches his bag in front of himself protectively.



“Son…” His voice quivers as he speaks. “I’m so sorry for what happened. I was too weak…I’ve been living in guilt since…please…forgive me…” There is a shimmer in the man’s eyes as he looks at the ranger.



He fights to steady his sword arm, taking deep breaths to maintain his composure. He refuses to try and reply, afraid that his voice would betray his discordant feelings. His eyes prickle suspiciously, and he puts the irritation down to the smoky air.



“Look at him,” Calyx snorts in derision. “He’s begging for mercy. How pathetic.”



She eyes Bishop expectantly.

“What are you waiting for? Put the pitiful wretch out of his misery.”



Bishop didn’t think it was possible for his father’s eyes to grow any larger.



“Runt…I – I…” He stumbles over his words in his haste to get them out. “I’ve never forgotten about you…I always hoped you were still alive…w-we all did…”



He’s never forgotten about me…



Everything around him seems to grow louder as the chaos in his mind rages: the roar and crackle of the fire as it continues to eat its way closer to them, the ululating screams of terror-stricken villagers, the increased thundering of his own pulse…all these noises meld together, creating a cacophony so loud and disturbing that it drowns out all logical thought.



Calyx’s urgent voice pierces through the tumultuous racket.



“He’s trying to talk his way out. Don’t let him.”



Almost as an afterthought, she adds, “That will make you look weak.”



He grips his faltering blade with both hands, and bites down on his lower lip to stop it from trembling, so hard that he draws blood, and he tastes his own bitterness on his tongue.



“My son…” his father is saying. “We’ve been searching for you for so long…”



His weapon drops slightly, as does his jaw.



He was searching for me?



“He’s lying! Don’t listen to him!” Calyx’s voice is more impatient now as she hisses.



“Kill him.”



His inner turmoil becomes almost unbearable, the noises around him overwhelming. He covers an ear with his free hand, trying to drown out the chaotic din.



But the disturbing noises are all inside his head.



“Listen to me, son…” he thinks he hears his father saying. Has the man taken a step forward? Bishop cannot be sure in his state.



“Kill him!” Calyx snaps again, her voice rising.



With one hand still pressed to his ear, Bishop jerks his head from side to side, partly to show refusal, and partly to try and clear his jumbled thoughts.



Too much noise, can’t think…



“I can show you…” The old man reaches down, moving to open his satchel.



“Kill him!”



Something finally snaps.



With a frustrated cry, he lashes out blindly with his sword. It hits something, slashing straight through it without much resistance. He feels a splash of warm and sticky liquid on his face, and opens his eyes. His father stands before him with a bewildered expression, one hand still clutching his satchel tightly



Bishop can only gawk dumbly at the jagged gash running directly across the man’s neck, and at the torrent of blood gushing out from it, running down the front of his father’s chest like some macabre waterfall.



He stares blankly at his longsword, at the drops of red dripping off the tip. He wipes his own face with his hand, and it comes away streaked in crimson.



With a watery gurgle, the older man drops to his knees, a hand to his throat, as if trying to staunch the flow of claret pouring out of him. Spurts of his lifeblood shoot out from between his fingers as he crumples to the ground.



The ranger continues to gape stupidly at the scene before him, his mind still struggling to comprehend what he had done.



Calyx strides over to the fallen man, her hands clasped casually behind her back, and bends over him, examining him as one would an item in a shop’s display.



Seemingly satisfied, she returns to Bishop’s side, and kisses him on the side of his face not covered in gore.



“Well done, love,” she praises him, although her voice lacks any trace of emotion. “Finish off here and we’ll all meet you later.”



Speechlessly, he watches as she saunters off, disappearing behind a curtain of smoke.



A reedy whistling noise diverts his attention back to his father. With small, unsteady steps, he warily approaches the sprawled form on the ground, until he is standing right over the older man. His father is lying on his back, blood welling up from the gaping wound in his neck and pooling on the grass around him. His chest is heaving, his body desperately struggling to draw breath through his severed windpipe.



It is the air rushing out through the hole in his neck that is making the whistling noise he hears.



A long forgotten image flashes through Bishop’s mind. Garrick, mounted on his coal black horse, a silver rapier in his hand. He sees the blade slicing into old Janus’ neck, sending up a shower of blood, and he hears the man’s dying gasps as his life ebbed out of him.



Then he realises that the dying gasps are actually coming from his father.



He clamps his eyes shut. Not only has he become the man he hates so much, he has surpassed him; at least Garrick had slain someone he didn’t know.



Bishop killed his own father.



The older man’s wide eyes appear to focus on him, gazing up at him accusingly as the blood continues to flow. His father’s expression is sad, pained, and he thinks he also sees a tinge of disappointment.



And pity.



“Are you happy now?” he blurts out before he can stop himself, and before he knows it, he begins to shout uncontrollably.



“Look at me, Pa!” he screams, holding his hands up to his sides. “Look at what I’ve become!” His voice is filled with guilt and self-loathing as he directs his hatred for himself at his father. “Look at what you did to me!” His eyes dart around briefly, as if only just noticing the blazing inferno surrounding them. “Look at what you made me do!”



The horror of everything he had just done finally hits him like a pile of bricks. Tears threaten at the corners of his eyes, and he blinks them back. His voice cracks as he whispers.



“This is all your fault.”



His father is still staring up at him, his lips moving wordlessly. Is he trying to tell him something?



He notices the small bag, still gripped tightly in the man’s hand, now slick with blood. He vaguely recalls that his father was reaching into the pouch when…



“I can show you…”



Despite himself, he crouches down and pries the bag out of the dying man’s hand. Ignoring the stickiness of the pouch, he investigates its contents.



He is more than a little surprised to find a substantial amount of coin and what looks like a stack of documents inside.



Where did the old man get all the money from? There is more there than his family had ever had at any one time. And why is he salvaging bits of paper?



Curious, he pulls out the parchments, smudging them with his bloody fingerprints. On closer inspection, they are letters and contracts between his Pa and a certain group of people – mercenaries, hired by his father, by what he can tell from the contracts. Their job is apparently to hunt down two people, and judging by the more recent correspondences, the adventurers are closing in on their mark. He finds a briefing with a description of each target.



His blood runs cold when he reads it.



Duergar…bald…bearded…red eyes…apparently Luskan…eliminate at all costs…



Human boy...would be eighteen years of age by now…dark brown hair…light brown eyes, almost golden in colour…retrieve and return…




He cannot read further. His hands are trembling too much, his eyes are misting up, and his throat is constricting in such a way that he is finding it hard to breathe. He hears his father’s haunting words:



“We’ve been searching for you for so long…”



His breath coming out in ragged gasps, he looks back at his father.



The old man has stopped wheezing. His eyes gaze emptily at the sky as an ominous rattling reverberates in his unmoving chest.



PA…!!



Dropping the bag and the papers, he throws himself on the old man, shaking his lifeless body violently, praying that he would at least see that his son has finally understood.



But the man’s eyes are glazed over, and his head flops limply with every shake. Even the bleeding from his wound has slowed to a trickle.



“No…”



An inhuman wail bubbles up in his throat as he grabs the dead man by the shoulders and pulls the body to himself in a fierce embrace, oblivious to the blood and gore seeping into his clothing and his hair. Rocking on his knees, he keens loudly and mournfully as he clings to his father like a drowning man, the familiar earthy scent of his Pa now all but overwhelmed by the sharp tang of coppery blood.





The Way of the Hunter Chapter 39 - Family Reunion © Alya Elvawiel

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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