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The Way of the Hunter - A Rude Awakening (Chapter Fifteen)

Alya Elvawiel
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The light filtering through her eyelids is bright, painfully bright, and it only serves to aggravate the pounding in her brain. Screwing her eyes shut, she turns her head, hoping that she is tilting it away from the source of the glare. She doesn’t know what day it is, what time it is, nor does she care. All she knows is that this cursed light is really giving her a headache.

Just moments ago she was swimming in such a comforting sea of darkness. Then, an odd glowing ball had appeared, and the shadows started to evaporate all around her, as if being burned away by the searing light, leaving her stranded, like a fish out of water, helplessly exposed to this infernal glare.

Gods, how her head hurts. It feels like Khelgar had been using her skull as an anvil. She hopes he hadn’t spiked her water with ale just to get her drunk. Not that she wouldn’t have noticed…

Is this what a hangover feels like?

Groggily, her mind tries to suggest that perhaps it is morning and she should best be waking up.

Five more minutes…she tries to curl up into a ball.


A sharp finger prods her upper arm, in the same way Daeghun used to poke her as a child when she found it difficult to get out of bed.

Irritably, she cracks one eye open, and just as quickly snaps it back shut.

OoOoh…The light is dazzling. The throbbing in her head intensifies.

Then, mercifully, the brightness is eclipsed slightly.

Thankful for whatever is responsible for the dimming of the light, she cautiously opens her eyes again. It takes a moment for them to focus, and when they do, she sees the dark silhouette of a head framed by a blue sky, the blotted out light radiating around it like an angel’s halo.

“Casavir?” she croaks, surprising herself with how raspy her voice sounded. It sounds like some rusty, old machinery that needs oiling.

“No,” the floating head snarls. The tone is harsh, derisive. Definitely not Casavir. As her eyes adjust further, the head starts to develop facial features. Short, unkempt brown hair…firm, strong jaw peppered with a shadow of stubble…lips curved downwards at the corners…a slightly dented nose, as if recently broken…eyebrows furrowed in a scowl…

The last thing that comes into focus is the eyes. Animal eyes, liquid brown with a tint of yellow, like staring into the eyes of a wolf.

Once all the features have formed, she sees the mouth curl up in a sardonic grin.

“Welcome back to the living, monk,” the mocking voice says. This time, recognition registers somewhere in her pulsating brain.

Oh, it’s you…

Familiarity breeds contempt, and all that…

The head moves closer, shifting its position above her in the process, allowing light to shine in her eyes once more. She winces. A gloved hand comes close to her face and starts moving…up…down…up…down…sending light and shadows dancing across her vision. She feels some motion sickness coming on, and tries to bat the offending hand away, but her arm refuses to budge. Annoyed, she turns her face away with a low growl. She hears a cruel snicker.

“Not much of a morning person, are you?”

She ignores him as she tries to regain full use of her mental faculties. What had she been doing to deserve such a bad headache? As the fog slowly lifts off her mind, snatches of memories begin to return. Oddly, many of them appear to revolve around savage little green men. In fact, the last thing she remembers is one such individual, a particularly nasty one, doing something to her, something unspeakably painful…

It was ripping my heart out…

In her dazed and confused state, she shoots up to a sitting position, expecting to see the githyanki still surrounding them.

Bad idea.

Two things happen at the same time: her sudden movement gives her a head rush, causing the world to tilt and spin all around her, and a sharp, hot pain seizes her chest, as if someone had impaled her with a branding iron fresh from the furnace. Clutching her front, she lets out a strangled cry as she pitches to the side.

Strong arms grab her shoulders and ease her back to a reclining position.

“What in the hells are you trying to do, get yourself killed all over again?” she hears the harsh voice reprimanding her, hands pinning her down firmly.

“Gith…” was all she manages to utter from behind the haze of pain and dizziness.

A sardonic laugh. “Do you think I’ll be sitting here lounging if those githyanki scum were still here?” As her world stops spinning and the pain in her chest fades to a duller, more perpetual ache, it suddenly dawns on her that the sky is no longer an angry crimson, but a light cornflower blue. The naturalness of the colour is probably what made it slip her notice earlier.


He confirms her half-formed thought. “Back on our own plane, finally. Thought you would pick up on that sooner or later.” The hands that were pinning her down eases off her shoulders. She tries to prop herself up on an elbow, and fails miserably. She hates how weak she feels. Gods, she can’t even lift her head.


What else did the githyanki take, her tongue? Parts of her brain?

“With the help of an old friend,” comes the mysterious reply. She waits for an elaboration but receives none. Nevertheless, the fact that they managed to leave the Outer Planes was enough to make her sag in relief. She feels him tuck a hand under her head to lift it, putting the open mouth of a canteen to her lips. Only after the first sip, when the sweet, cool water stings the parched cracks on her lips, does she realise that she is thirsty, very thirsty.

Hungrily, she tries to take deeper gulps, but he pulls the canteen away.

“Slow down there,” he says gruffly, as he sets her head back down. “Any more and you’ll be sick.” He screws the lid back on the flask and gets up. She watches him busy himself over a fire, his back to her.

As her clouded mind clears bit by bit, she attempts a longer sentence – two words long, in fact:

“How long…?”

“…had your lights been out?” his back still turned, he finishes the question for her. The ranger must be psychic. “Days, maybe even a week.”

That long? She muses. That’s the longest she’s ever been out cold. Well, she’s only been knocked unconscious twice before this. The first time was when she fell out of that huge oak tree in Retta Starling’s farm, when she was playing with Bevil. She had awoken a few minutes later with nothing more than a bump on the head and a dislocated shoulder.

The second time I passed out…

She shudders involuntarily and pushes that vision back into the darkest corners of her mind, but in doing so, she seems to have triggered a whole flood of other painful memories. The one of Casavir, and of Bishop’s treachery, hits her the hardest.

As Bishop turns around, she suddenly remembers that she is supposed to be mad with him.

“Are you happy where you are, or would you prefer to look at things above boot level?”

She clams her mouth shut, not wanting to speak further with him, not wanting any of his help. But the rising sun is now directly in her eyes, the rays hammering holes into her head. And to be frank, she is getting tired of being in a supine position.

Squinting, she gives a weak nod.

He picks her up, blanket and all, in one smooth motion. He is strong, she has to hand that to him, though in a very different way from Casavir. Where the paladin is sturdy and powerfully built, the ranger is lean but sinewy. Not scrawny, though, oh no; the muscles in his arms and chest are hard and rippling as he carries her to the shade of a tree. The sinuous flexing reminds her of a python curling itself around her – sleek, beautiful, dangerous…

She feels the bark of a tree scratch her back – her bare back?

At that moment, her makeshift blanket falls off a shoulder. She gives a little squeal as she quickly crosses her arms around her chest.

Oh, that must have sounded so dignified…

Bishop is looking at her, his wolf eyes gleaming with amusement, a sneer on his face. With one arm still across her breasts, she gropes for the blanket with the other, and quickly ducks behind it, leaving only her head showing.

“A little too late for that, girl,” he purrs, “You’ve been half-naked for days already.” As he looks at her, his expression changes, his smirk slowly turning into a frown. Something in her eyes, the way her breath suddenly catches, her horrified gape, must have told him that she is feeling something more than just plain outrage.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” he says curtly. “Bloody and pale is hardly a combination that turns me on.”

And despite the fact that this is Bishop talking, something in his tone convinces Alya that he is telling the truth, and she relaxes slightly. The ranger turns his back again, minding the fire, apparently no longer interested in a conversation, which is fine by her. Left alone for now, she surreptitiously lifts an edge of the blanket, and peeks underneath to assess her wound. It seems to have been cleaned and bandaged neatly enough. It still throbs with a dull ache, but the pain is nothing compared to what it was like before. Tentatively, she hooks a finger under the bandages and lifts it slightly. A whiff of something pungent and bitter hits her. All she sees is a mass of pasty, greenish-black mush.


“I won’t suggest you delve any deeper,” Bishop warns, as he carelessly drops a small wooden bowl down beside her, causing its contents to slosh over the edge. “Not before lunch, at least; it ain’t pretty.”

She retracts her probing digit, some of the slimy muck now clinging to it. She sniffs at it, makes a face, then, holding up her stained finger, looks at the ranger quizzically.

“Be thankful I was…well-acquainted…with a rather friendly druidess, who taught me the tricks of her trade,” he says, his words dripping with all sorts of innuendo. “Herbs are so much more easier to find in the middle of a forest than bottles of healing potions.” With that, he nudges the wooden bowl with a foot. It contains what looks to be shreds of some unidentifiable meat floating in water. “Watered-down meat drippings,” the ranger states matter-of-factly. “Doubt you’re ready for solid food yet.”

Wiping the herbal poultice off her hands, she picks the bowl up. The slightly greasy smell of the soup gives her a wave of nausea. If there was anything in her stomach to begin with, it would have gotten mixed with her lunch in the bowl. Instead, she merely gagged, and put the food back down. Bishop appears unconcerned with her rejection, and is happily tucking into what looks like a pheasant roasting over the fire. As she watches him eat, she wishes Khelgar was there; she has so many more questions she wants to ask, about what happened, how they got here…


It occurs to her that she hasn’t seen him since she woke up.

She glances around their campsite. No signs of the dwarf. Odd…where could he be?

“Bishop…” she starts reluctantly. “Where’s Khelgar?”

The back of her mind congratulates her on the longest sentence she’s said so far.

The ranger stops, a pheasant drumstick halfway to his lips. He doesn’t answer, but the slight tensing in his shoulders and the shadow that falls over his eyes speak volumes.

“No,” she whispers, as dread builds in the pit of her stomach. “What have you done to him?”

What she had really wanted to ask was: How did it happen? But apparently her brain finds it more convenient to blame the ranger.

Bishop’s shoulders appear to get even more rigid. “What did <>iI do?” he repeats, his tone measured, cold. Slowly, menacingly, he turns to face her. “What did I do? Perhaps a better question would’ve been: what did you do to him?” He steps towards her threateningly.

“What did you do to make him hurl himself into a pack of rabid hell hounds, just to throw them off your scent? In fact, what did you do to everyone, to make them willing to march to their deaths, for you?” His voice is rising, and he is gesturing with the half-eaten peasant drumstick, waving it in her face. Under any other circumstance, she would have found that more than a bit comical, but the fires behind the ranger’s eyes bear no humour in them. He has never seen him so uncontrollably angry, and much as she hates to admit it, it frightens her.

“It’s your fault they’re all dead, Alya!” He is shouting now. “Before you start throwing blame around, I suggest you take a look at yourself first!” Throwing the remains of the drumstick into the fire in disgust, he storms off into the trees.

Alya sits there alone, in mute shock, before drawing her knees up and hugging them to her chest, rocking herself slightly on her haunches.

Then she begins to weep.

The Way of the Hunter Chapter 15 - A Rude Awakening © Alya Elvawiel

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