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The Way of the Hunter - A New World (Chapter Seven)

Alya Elvawiel
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It feels like they have been spinning forever in some weightless vortex. The portal must have been very close to complete destruction. Just when Bishop thinks that they may be stuck in this whirlpool limbo forever, they are thrown rather carelessly onto solid ground.

Bishop is the first to get up, brushing himself off. Khelgar lies in the dirt, groaning about their rather turbulent ride. “Ooh…I think I’m going to be sick…”

Ignoring the dwarf, the ranger surveys their new surroundings. It looks like they could be in some sort of desert; the landscape is dusty with rock outcroppings. The sky glows an unnatural blood red, yet he cannot see the sun. He sniffs the air. The smell is unpleasant, unfamiliar…

“Ranger, where are we?” Khelgar asks, getting unsteadily to his feet.

“I…don’t know…” he admits reluctantly.

Alya is on her knees, her expression dazed. The expression on her tear-streaked face, so lost and confused, chips away at Bishop’s heart. She has barely uttered a sound since they stepped through the portal.

Incredibly, Bishop feels a surge of jealousy. The way she looked at the paladin, the way she cradled him in her arms…such tenderness and love…hells, how could he compete?

If it had been me lying there dying…would she have done the same?

At that moment, Alya’s blank, staring eyes focuses on him, and in their fire he sees the answer to his question.

Hatred, pure hatred, burns in her emerald eyes. “You…” she hisses, her eyes narrowing. Before he can react, she springs at him, fists pounding. “You bastard!” she screams, as she pummels him. “You filthy, cowardly bastard!”

He tries to grab her wrists, to stay her hands, but her monk’s training is sound, and the punches – and elbows, ouch – keep coming. He backs off under the barrage, and a well-placed kick in the gut sends him stumbling to the ground, the wind knocked out of him.

She is on him in a heartbeat, straddling him, fists flying. He raises his arms to protect himself, but her punches still find a way through. A muffled crack and a sharp pain tell him that she may have broken his nose.

For a split second, the bombardment stops. Bishop chances a peek. Through his hazy vision, he sees her unsheathe the dagger he keeps strapped across his chest, the same one he had just used to end Casavir’s life. Specks of drying blood still cling to the blade. With both hands, she raises the knife, the tip pointed towards his throat.

</i>How ironic,</i> he thinks. The woman of my dreams is sitting astride me, panting heavily – but not quite in the way I would have preferred…

Slowly, Bishop lowers his arms, spreading his hands. The steely look in his eyes issues a challenge.

She is breathing heavily from her exertion. “You’re going to pay for what you did to Casavir, you traitor.”

“What I did, monk, is put him out of his misery.” he rasps. He tastes the coppery tang of his own blood on his lips.

Alya shakes her head, tears flowing anew. “No,” she sobs, gripping the hilt of the knife so tightly he could see her knuckles growing white. “No,” she says again, her voice taking on a hard edge. “You killed him, in cold blood. And I’m going to slit your throat, like you slit his...”

“If that’s what you want…” Bishop holds his arms by his side, leaving his chest unprotected. He tilts his head back to expose his neck. “Go on, do it,” he says casually. He needs to see if she would. How wrong can he be about her feelings for him? Is he really willing to wager his life for the truth?

Yes. I need to know…

She seems surprised that he is daring her. She hesitates, the dagger still held high, but the blade wavers slightly.

Bishop’s heart is thundering. “What, isn’t this what you want?” he challenges.

He could see her mentally steeling herself. “I never should have trusted you…”

“Go on then!” he goads, the sound of his own pulse resounding like war drums in his head.

“…how could you, you self-serving Luskan bastard…”

“Come on!” He is shouting furiously now. “Kill me!”

With a deep breath, Alya closes her eyes, raises the dagger, and plunges it down towards his throat. Bishop shuts his eyes…

Only to hear an inhuman screech, and it appears to be coming closer.

He snaps his eyes open, and in his prone position, lying face up on the ground and looking over Alya’s shoulder, he sees a flash of red diving down from the sky, and it is big.

“Watch out!” Khelgar yells, pulling Alya off Bishop, giving him just enough time to roll out of the way as the screaming creature swoops over them, gouging a chunk of earth out of where he was lying.

Bishop jumps to his feet, his hand already reaching for an arrow in his quiver. What is that thing? Red and scaly, with huge leathery wings, it has a long and sinuous body, like a dragon, with dagger-like claws and razor-sharp teeth. Its eyes are yellow slits with black, bottomless pupils. It hangs in the air for a moment, its great wings beating, before sweeping down for another attack.

Bishop lets an arrow fly. The creature shrieks in pain as the arrow hits its arm, but it keeps on coming.

Khelgar swings his battleaxe at it, but the monster flits easily out of reach. It lunges at him, and he tries striking at it again, but again it dodges, then drops back in, knocking the dwarf over.

“Stand still, yer wretch!” Khelgar is getting increasingly frustrated. Bishop looses another arrow, catching the creature in its wing. With a cry, it appears to pitch as it tries to maintain its flight.

“Hit its wings!” Alya shouts, as she reaches for her throwing stars. As the monster dives towards her, she whirls away, at the same time unleashing a couple of stars on its wings. One last arrow from Bishop, and the beast falters, landing heavily on the ground, its wings damaged and useless. Khelgar rushes forth, tearing at the creature with his axe. Its screams are shrill and terrible as the dwarf hacks it to death.

Warily, Bishop nudges the dead creature with his foot. “Anyone care to tell me what this thing is?”

Khelgar is brushing red scales off himself. “Whatever it is, I hope we don’t run into any more of them.”

“It’s…a styx dragon,” Alya says incredulously. “I’ve…heard about them, read about them…but…”

“But what?” Bishop asks impatiently. He wipes some blood off his face with the back of his hand. His nose hurt. Definitely broken.

Alya’s brows are furrowed. She seems to have momentarily forgotten her fight with Bishop. “They…they’re Outer Plane creatures…”

The implication dawns on them. The weird, alien landscape. The dragon. The fact that the King of Shadows was summoned extraplanarly.

“Great…” Bishop says mirthlessly. He pinches the bridge of his nose and tilts his head backwards to try and stem his nosebleed. “What do we do now?”

Silence. Nobody says a word.

“So…we’re stuck here?” He tries to sound irritated, despite the dread building in the pit of his stomach. In such unfamiliar terrain, they are the prey for whatever stalks these wastelands.

“It may be possible to try and find another portal,” Alya suggests.

The ranger snorts. Only moments ago, she was ready to die beside the paladin, and now her will to survive kicks in? “And how do we go about doing that?” he asks.

“I don’t know…”

“So we just wander through this gods-forsaken place, asking any demons we bump into if they would kindly show us the way to the nearest portal?”

“What is the alternative? To just sit here and rot?” Alya shoots back vehemently. “Unless you have a better idea, ranger, I suggest you hold that tongue of yours.”

Ranger. She practically spat that word. The first time she’s ever called him that. Bishop feels oddly hurt. Normally, he wouldn’t let anyone talk to him in that manner. This time, however, he holds up his hands in mock surrender. “You’re the boss – lead on.”

“Alya, lass,” Khelgar intercedes. “We’re not going to be traveling with him, are we?” He hooks a thumb in Bishop’s direction.

“In case you forgot, dwarf,” Bishop’s voice is low, threatening. “I saved your sorry hides back at the fortress. Besides,” he tries to sound more confident than he is, “even if this isn’t woodland, a tracker could still come in handy.”

Alya glares at him, apparently weighing up her options. She positively hates him now, doesn’t she? Not that he can blame her…

She steps briskly pass Bishop. “As much as I hate to admit it, we’ll need all the help we can get. Let’s go.” With a brief glance over her shoulder, she adds, “Worse come to worst, he could make decent demon fodder.”


“I don’t like this, lass, but ye have a point there.” Khelgar runs past him to catch up with Alya, stopping long enough to give Bishop a grim warning. “Try anything funny, ranger, and I’ll hack ye in two.”

Still nursing his sore nose, Bishop brings up the rear, skulking, feeling like an unwanted stray pathetically following people who are barely tolerant of his presence. He watches her, striding briskly, never once turning back to see if he is following.

He recalls their earlier tussle – or rather, his earlier beating. He can’t deny that he probably deserved what he got. In his mind’s eye, he sees the glint of the blade meant for his jugular. If that dragon had not chosen that moment to attack them, would she actually have gone through with it? He pictures the dagger on its downward arc. Was that really aimed at his throat?

Involuntarily, the vision reminds him of an older memory. A curved dagger, in another’s hand, and that time it did find its mark…

He shakes his head, trying to will the thoughts away. His broken nose is not the only thing hurting at the moment. He looks again at Alya. She is walking, head bent, shoulders stooped, slightly shaking, as if she is crying. He sees the dwarf beside her, a consoling hand on her arm. Neither seem to acknowledge his presence.

This is going to be a long journey…

The Way of the Hunter Chapter 7 - A New World © Alya Elvawiel

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