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The Way of the Hunter - Reunion (Chapter Sixteen)

Alya Elvawiel
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Bishop crashes through the undergrowth, not caring who or what could hear him. Woes betide any man or creature that would dare stand in his path at the moment. His mind is seething, her words of accusation burning into him like a brand.

“What have you done to him?”

It had come out so quickly, so naturally. Blame the ranger, he can’t be trusted. That’s what it said to him. In fact, that’s what most people have been saying about him all his life. Not that he has ever cared.

So why am I so mad now?

He stumbles to a stop at a pebbly riverbank. Picking up a smooth stone, he hurls it with all his might into the running water. With a loud splash, the stone disappears under a wave of ever-growing ripples.

He throws another stone, and another, grunting with exertion each time, directing his fury towards a more palpable act. After his energy is expended, he sits on a fallen log, elbows propped on his knees, and he puts his head in his hands.

Is he angry with her or with himself? It infuriates him that he doesn’t even know that. The words he had screamed at her echoes in his mind.

“What did you do to everyone, to make them willing to march to their deaths, for you?”

Including myself?

Stop it,
he tells himself, as he feels the uncontrollable tightening around his heart, the feeling he has sought to avoid all these years. The last time his heart strings had felt so stretched and taut, was with Calyx…

No! He grits his teeth, banishing the dark memories that threaten to invade his consciousness.

The last time he had allowed himself to think with his heart, it did not end well.

Just like it’s not going well now…

Would it be so hard to just walk away, right now? After all, he has done more than enough for her already; literally bringing her back from the Nine Hells...his debt to Duncan must be more than repaid.

Just walk away…

He pictures her leaning against the tree trunk, his cloak wrapped around her, her dark auburn hair tousled, making her look so much smaller, like a lost little girl. She has lost so much weight, her high cheekbones are sunken, her normal healthy glow pallid, her deep green eyes ringed with shadow. So helpless and vulnerable…

He exhales loudly as he repeats an old mantra in his head.

Those who cannot survive do not deserve to live…

It is the way of the world, isn’t it? And the only way to survive is to fight, and to rely on no one else but yourself…

He has learned that the hard way…she might as well do the same…

A long, low howl snaps his head out of his hands. He could recognise that cry anywhere.

Can it be…?

Bringing his thumb and forefinger to each corner of his mouth, he blows a high-pitched whistle. The answering call brings an involuntary smile to his face.

Moments later, a massive shadow lunges out at him from the trees, hitting him so hard that he is nearly bowled over. A muzzle full of sharp teeth hovers perilously close to his neck, before a pink tongue shoots out and starts licking him all over his face.

“Hey, boy,” he laughs, as he tries to get the grey wolf off him. He manages to pull the excited wolf away from his face long enough to ruffle its thick mane with both hands. Karnwyr is panting, his tongue lolling out, his mouth open in a huge dog grin. His coarse fur is a little matted, dried mud, leaves and twigs entwined in it, as if he had been travelling for some time without stopping to groom.

“How’d you find me?” he asks in wonder, more to himself than to the wolf, who has started to run around him in circles, leaping and bounding, making playful puppy calls. He has never seen the normally calm, silent creature do that since he was a mere cub.

He had been tailing a couple of Luskan trappers for a few days when they came across a lone wolf’s den. From his hiding place among the trees, he had watched the men cornering the female wolf, who happened to have a litter of cubs, barely old enough to run. She was the magnificent colour of black ebony, a shade so abnormal it was probably why she was shunned by other wolves. Her golden eyes blazed as she bared her fangs at the intruders. One of the men commented that he needs a fur vest for the coming winter. As the she-wolf shielded her litter, growling protectively, they took her down with arrows, being careful not to put too many holes into the prized pelt. Her cubs, all of them them grey-coated like normal wolves, scattered as soon as their mother fell, scampering away pathetically.

All except one.

Bishop had watched with interest and amusement as the little thing stood between the trappers and his mother’s body, all ten inches of him bristling, snarling in a high puppy-like voice. When one of the Luskans laughed and reached for the black she-wolf’s carcass, the cub lashed out, clamping his tiny jaws around the man’s hand. To Bishop’s admiration, he actually took a small chunk out of it.

The wolf cub received an angry kick for his troubles that sent him flying. As he lay stunned, one of the Luskans started working on the she-wolf’s carcass, while the other, still nursing his bleeding hand, strode over to the puppy, put a hard foot over his skull, and started pressing down, slowly. Instead of terrified yelps and whimpers of pain, Bishop heard the cub continue to growl viciously, as he squirmed and fought the crushing boot.

That was when Bishop put an arrow through the back of the man’s head. The second hunter fell soon after in a similar fashion.

As the ranger set to work looting the dead bodies, the cub had watched him silently, warily. When he tried to inspect the animal’s injuries, he received a nip for his efforts, not hard enough to draw blood, but enough to serve as a warning. As Bishop left the area, the cub followed from afar, limping. When he set up camp that night, he could see a pair of yellow eyes glowing in the dark, watching him. He left some scraps of food out. They were gone the next day.

For weeks, they went through the same routine, an unspoken truce between them, until the young wolf’s wounds healed by their own accord. Then, one day, Bishop was on the road when a low growl behind him makes him turn, just in time to see the wolf diving into a copse of trees. He followed, and found the juvenile creature attacking a man. His clothing marks him as a Luskan assassin, a very high level one, apparently, as he was stealthy enough that Bishop did not detect his presence. His cover blown, the assassin was dispatched quickly, but not before he managed to stick a dagger into the wolf’s shoulder. Further investigation of the man’s corpse turned up a handful of poison-tipped bolts, no doubt with Bishop’s name on them.

This time, the wolf had allowed Bishop to treat his wound, and from that day on, the beast no longer trailed behind him on his journeys, but travelled alongside him. Oh, how Duncan had balked the first time he returned to the Flagon with a wolf on his heels, sending his other customers jumping onto their tables.

Those who cannot survive do not deserve to live.

That was what drew Bishop to Karnwyr. They are both survivors. If he were forced to place his life into someone’s hands, he would place it into the wolf’s paws. Again, he remembers how the young cub had so fearlessly defended his dead mother, fighting so fiercely for a hopeless cause, even as the Luskan’s boot threatened to crush his skull.

With a stab of guilt, he recalls how he had once told Alya that their battle against the King of Shadows was a hopeless cause.

Who are you to say that she is not a survivor? A voice inside his head scolds. He thinks about all she has gone through: the githyanki attacks, the loss of her home village, the death of close friends.

If there is anyone who deserves a little help getting out from under a crushing boot, it’s her.

he concedes to himself. He would wait for her to heal up before sending her on her way, even out the odds a little before he leaves her in the woods.

Karnwyr jumps on him again for another barrage of licking. This time, he lets the wolf slobber all over his face, as he affectionately rubs its fur. He is glad to see the wolf again. The last time he saw Karnwyr, it was right after he had sabotaged the gates of Crossroads Keep. He was stepping through a portal that would take him into Garius’ lair, when he noticed that the wolf’s hackles were raised, his tail between his legs. The portal was not natural magic, and so the wolf was rightly reluctant to step into the strange light.

Not knowing what he would find in the dark fortress, nor what would happen to him, he had not wanted to force the wolf to accompany him to an uncertain fate. With that, he merely petted the grey head, and left.

And now, somehow, he has managed to track him down.

If Bishop ever had a friend, Karnwyr is as close to one as it gets.

An overly enthusiastic pounce tilts Bishop back too much, and this time he does topple over the log, with the excited wolf on top of him, his grey tail wagging. Craning his neck to one side, with Karnwyr lapping away at him with his tongue, he couldn’t help but laugh.

And then he sees her standing there, his cloak encircled around her protectively, one hand on the trunk of a tree for support. She looks at him, in his prone position, Karnwyr drooling all over his face, and her green eyes grow so wide they look like they are about to pop out of her head.


The Way of the Hunter Chapter 16 - Reunion © Alya Elvawiel

Migrate Wizard: 
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