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The Way of the Hunter - The Observer (Chapter Thirty-Seven)

Alya Elvawiel
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Alya helps her master move Bishop into the cave that serves as the old man’s home. Despite his stooped and frail appearance, her sifu is still able to bear half the ranger’s weight with apparent ease.

They put him gently down on a pile of furs, and Alya steps aside as her master kneels down beside the ranger, and removes the cloak that was wrapped around his body. He runs his bony fingers along the bandaged area around his collarbone.

“Is this where the poison entered?” he asks. His tone is crisp and urgent while still managing to sound patient and kind.

“It is,” she answers, as she watches him peel back the dressing to inspect the wound.

“The wound is old,” the old man remarks, as he prods at the scab lightly with a finger. “When did this happen?”

“Five days ago,” she answers, as she squats down beside him.

Her master eyes her with an inquiring expression. “That is a long time. You travelled far to get here, then.” He turns his attention back to Bishop. “Was there no closer place to summon help?”

She sighs. “There were some…complications, sifu,” she explains vaguely.

Her master nods as he looks at her understandingly. “Maybe you can elaborate later, when we have the time.” He gestures to the two deep purple bruises on Bishop’s chest. “Did you do these?”

“I did, sifu.”

He studies the contusions appreciatively. “You have done well. Those pressure points are probably what have been keeping him alive.”

Alya bows. “That and everything else I tried.”

She hugs herself tightly, and observes in anxious silence as her master busies himself with a thorough examination of the ranger: checking his pulse, pulling his eyelids back to inspect his pupils, opening his mouth to scan his tongue.

Finally, the old man straightens up, and sits back on his heels.

“Interesting,” he muses, as he runs a hand thoughtfully through his white beard. “It is a strong poison indeed, but it acts slowly, with the purpose of intense suffering before death claims the victim. Whoever administered it must be cruel indeed.”

Alya shudders at the diagnosis, and at the memory of the malevolent duergar. “Yes, he was very cruel.”

Slowly, the old man picks himself up. “I have some herbs to help alleviate the symptoms, at least temporarily. I cannot do much else until I identify this mysterious poison.” He looks at Alya to find her covering her mouth to stifle a yawn.

“You are tired, child,” he states. “You need to rest.”

Alya shakes her head. “I want to help,” she insists, glancing again at Bishop’s still body.

The old man places a hand gently on her arm. “You have already done much more than can be expected. Go. Rest. I will take care of your friend.”

Reluctantly, she allows her master to usher her to the back of the cave. It is dim and cool here, and she feels a sense of nostalgia at the familiar sight of the bookshelves, stacked with all the scrolls she used to read.

As she unrolls her sleeping bag, she finally realises the extent of her fatigue: every muscle in her body feels cramped and stiff, her head feels congested, and there is a dull thudding in her temples.

Perhaps a short rest is a good idea…

She is asleep as soon as her head touches the pillow.

* * *

The observer finds himself in another dream. It is a clear, bright morning. Throngs of people are crowding in on him on all sides, and they all appear to be waiting for something. The air is buzzing with nervous excitement as they all gaze expectantly at the empty arena before them.

He glances around and spots some familiar faces, all of them looking just as anxious as everybody else. The dwarven fighter is wringing his hands nervously; the female tiefling’s tail is twitching with anticipation; the elven mage stands stock still, his face impassive, but his complexion is paler than usual, and his hands are clutched so tightly behind his back his knuckles are turning white.

And then there is the paladin, his hands clasped together, his lips moving slightly as he mutters a silent prayer, his intense blue eyes fixed on the stadium before him.

Finally, he sees the ranger, standing some distance away from his companions, his arms crossed in front of him as he calmly surveys the scene around him. The observer finds himself invariably drawn to the man, and as the sound of drumbeats begins to reverberate through the amphitheatre, signalling the start of something important, the observer feels a sudden quickening of his pulse.

Then he looks back at the ranger, and catches the imperceptible acceleration of the man’s breathing, as his chest starts to rise and fall faster.

So he is feeling the ranger’s emotions…

Curiously, he pushes through the crowd to get closer to the man, just as he sees two figures walking onto the arena floor from different ends of the coliseum. One is a hulking monster of a man, bald, heavily built, and armed with a lethal-looking falchion. The other person could not look less similar: petite and unarmoured, she is instead dressed in a basic monk’s robe, a simple wooden staff in one hand. The observer recognises her as the red-headed half-elf from the previous dream.

Clever girl, he hears in his head, before realising that they are the ranger’s thoughts. Using a staff to improve your reach.

The two people in the ring are now face to face, apparently sizing each other up. An announcement echoes through the stadium, eliciting a chorus of cheers as the two combatants are introduced. When the fighters have retreated to their respective ends of the arena, walls of flames shoot out in front of both entrances into the ring, effectively sealing both combatants in and blocking their escape.

The ranger draws in a long breath and releases it slowly as the fight begins.

The large man charges headlong at the woman, his weapon held high. Deftly, the girl spins away right at the last moment, swatting the man in the back with her pole as he trundles past. Growling, the man whirls around, his blade slashing the air, and the monk parries his blow with her staff.

That’s it, keep that up…

The observer glances at the ranger beside him. At some point, he had removed an arrow from his quiver, and is now stroking the feathers on the end of the shaft, his eyes fixed on the battle, seemingly oblivious to the shouts and applause around him.

The observer turns his attention back to the fight. The big man is running at the woman again, but this time, as if anticipating her dodge, he swerves suddenly, bringing his falchion with him, forcing the monk to dive out of the way of the swinging blade. She rolls as she lands, ending up in a crouched position. Before the girl could stand up again, he is looming over her, his blade tracing a downward arc towards her head.

Instinctively, the monk brings up her staff to protect herself. With a loud snap, his powerful cleave chops the stick clean in half.


The ranger appears to catch his breath, as his grip tightens ever so slightly around the arrow shaft.

Seizing his advantage, the man attacks again. The woman tumbles out of his way, still clutching both ends of her broken staff. As she jumps to her feet, she twirls them about in her hands, wielding them as if they were twin swords. Neatly, she deflects a thrust with a stick, and hits out with the other, catching the man across the neck. Grunting in surprise, the big man stumbles backwards, and the monk follows, piling on the pressure as she strikes at him repeatedly with her twin staffs, while simultaneously ducking the man’s wild swings as he tries to defend himself. Each one of her blinding flurry of blows is aimed with deadly precision to cause maximal damage, cracking skull, knuckles, kneecaps, ribs…

Finally, with a swipe behind his knees, she fells the large man. With one foot on the hand gripping the falchion, she levels the splintered end of a stick at the man’s neck.

Finish him off…

But as the observer watches, the monk merely stays standing over the fallen man. Her lips move, as if she is speaking to him.

No! he hears the ranger scream internally in frustration. Don’t go soft on him just because he’s a fellow Harbourman!

He sees the big man glaring up at the woman. Suddenly, he grabs her ankle with his free hand, and with a snarl of rage, flings her bodily across the arena. He sees the monk try to break her fall, but she lands heavily and awkwardly, sending one of her sticks clattering away from her.

“Stupid girl!”

This time the ranger mutters it aloud, his fist closing tightly around the shaft of the arrow in his hand.

The huge man is on her in a heartbeat, gripping his falchion in both meaty hands. She barely tumbles away in time, before the mighty sword digs itself deep into the dirt where she was lying a split second before.

Scrambling to her feet, she dances towards the far end of the arena, out of her opponent’s reach.

Don’t be too proud to use your ranged weapons…

The big man hurtles towards her like a raging bull, lurching slightly because of a fractured kneecap. Again, she evades him and sprints across the ring. Fumbling in her pouch, she produces her throwing stars, and starts flicking them one by one at her advancing adversary. The observer watches as each of the missiles pierces into the man’s flesh, until the front of his chest is studded with protruding stars.

But the huge man appears to have gone into some sort of barbarian rage. His face, all the way up to his bald head, is a bright, angry red, and he appears not to even notice it when the throwing stars hit him. Instead, he rushes towards the woman, screaming in frenzy, waving his falchion like a madman. She tries to avoid him again, but the big man is surprisingly quick on his feet, as he turns with her, swinging his sword in a wide arc.

A collective gasp escapes the crowd of spectators as the man’s blade is driven into the woman’s side.

“No!” the ranger utters through clenched teeth, flinching, as the monk utters a strangled cry of pain. She staggers backwards, clutching her side, crimson blood oozing out between her fingers and dribbling onto the sand at her feet. The observer could feel the ranger’s heart pounding, and his jaw is clamped so tightly he could see the man’s veins pulsing in his neck.

Sensing the woman’s vulnerability, her opponent charges at her with renewed vigour. With one hand still pressed against her bleeding wound, she parries his attacks as best she can with her remaining stick, but the big man continues to bear down on her, a crazed look on his battered face as he relentlessly backs the monk into the wall. All the while, the woman is trailing a track of blood, as the sticky red liquid continues to pour from the gash in her side.

How much blood is in a human’s body? The observer finds himself wondering. Ten pints? How much has she lost already?

As if in answer to his silent question, the monk sways unsteadily on her feet. From the way her shoulders are rising and falling, he can see that her breathing is becoming increasingly laboured due to the combination of exertion and blood loss. Her opponent continues to hack at her mercilessly, each swing chipping bits off her stick, as she frantically tries to block his powerful attacks.

Move! You’re getting cornered! The ranger’s pulse is thundering in the observer’s head, almost drowning out the shouts and screams from the rest of the spectators.

Too late, the woman finds herself backed against the wall. With a savage cry, the man lunges at her. She manages to deflect his falchion, but not the roundhouse punch he throws immediately afterwards. His massive fist catches the side of her head, knocking her off her feet and into the wall.

Alya! No!

As the woman crumples to the ground, the ranger’s entire body tenses with a sharp intake of breath. The observer feels the man’s heart clench painfully, all the while rattling noisily against his ribcage. His throat is dry, and there is an ominous pounding in his head.

Roaring triumphantly, the huge man limps towards the woman’s listless form, his falchion at the ready. Dazed by the force of the blow, the monk lies there, unable to move.

“Get up…” the ranger hisses. The observer catches him glancing down briefly at the arrow in his hand. He could almost see the man’s mind weighing up the risks.

Everyone’s attention is on the two combatants on the field. No one would notice if he fired the arrow, would they? And what are the consequences of doing that? Would the fight be annulled? Postponed? Or would he save her from Lorne only to send her to the gallows for the unfair assistance she got?

And if he got caught, would he be executed alongside her?

The big man is towering over the monk now, an evil glint in his eye. The woman rolls herself onto her back, and appears to wince in pain, her eyes still barely open.

His mind racing as fast as his heart, the ranger unslings his longbow, and notches his arrow in it, his fingers trembling.

Holding the falchion in both his beefy hands, the man raises the blade over his shoulder, preparing to swing it downwards at the woman’s neck.

By the gods, woman, if you don’t move now, I swear I will do it…

The ranger’s fingers twitches nervously, as he prepares to pull his bowstring back…

Just then the big man howls in pain and lowers his falchion. For a moment, everyone seems as confused as the observer.

Then he sees it: the monk, still lying on her back, clutches one half of her broken staff.

The sharp, splintered end has been impaled in her opponent’s foot.

The big man stares dumbly at his foot for a moment before bellowing loudly with rage. He raises his blade again, but this time the monk tumbles away, leaving only a bloody stain on the sand where she was lying. The man tries to follow, but yelps again. The stake is rammed in so hard that it has gone through his foot, and is embedded into the ground, effectively pinning the man in place.

The woman pops up behind her opponent. Grabbing his shoulders, she tugs sharply while bringing her knee up swiftly at the same time. With one foot stuck in place, the big man loses his balance and starts to fall backwards.

The base of his neck connects with the monk’s rapidly rising knee with a sickening crunch.

For a moment, time seems to stand still, as the two fighters remain frozen in position. There is a hushed silence all around the stadium. The observer feels a building pressure in his lungs, and realises that the ranger is holding his breath.

Finally, the monk steps back, breathing heavily, and the big man collapses, lifeless, his head flopping about loosely, his spine severed at the neck.

The amphitheatre erupts in a cacophony of cheers and applause as the woman sinks to her knees. The ranger, ignoring the celebrations around him, is already pushing his way towards the centre of the ring. Clearing the barriers in a single bound, he enters the arena and starts to run towards the woman, her other companions and the observer following not far behind. He reaches her in time to catch her as she lurches forward, and holds her in his arms for what seems a split second longer than necessary, before laying her down gently on her back. Her eyes flutter open briefly, and the observer could see the ranger riffling through possible things to say in his mind. After rejecting “don’t die on me”, “hang in there” and “you’ve done it”, he finally settles on:

“You took some stupid risks there, you know that?”

The woman merely smiles weakly at him, and the observer could feel the ranger’s heart clench again at the sight of her blood on his hands, with even more pooling on the ground around them.

Just then, her other companions arrive. The tall paladin runs up and roughly pushes the ranger away before bending over the monk. The man’s face darkens with a scowl, and the observer senses that, under any other circumstance, such rudeness would not have been tolerated. In fact, it would probably have earned the other man a dagger in the back. But he also senses that the ranger is feeling completely powerless to help the monk, and so he merely crosses his arms and stands aside. The elven druidess is now alongside the paladin, as they both set to work tending the woman’s wounds.

“Can’t you two work faster?” the ranger snaps impatiently as he watches, praying that no one notices his uncharacteristic anxiety.

No one, that is, except the observer.

How very, very interesting…the observer thinks with a chuckle.

With that, Mephasm slowly melts into the crowd of spectators as he leaves Bishop’s dream.

The Way of the Hunter Chapter 37 - The Observer © Alya Elvawiel

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