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The Way of the Hunter - Shocking Discoveries (Chapter Seventeen)

Author: 
Alya Elvawiel
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
372

She watches dumbly as he pushes the wolf off himself and scrambles quickly to his feet. He glares at her, and she could see the consternation in his eyes. The wolf, wanting to play some more, jumps up on its hind legs, and plants its front paws on his chest, tail wagging. Bishop shoves it roughly away.



Playtime is over.



“What are you doing here?” he demands, trying to sound angry, but she detects his visible discomfiture at being caught out of character. Was she hallucinating? Had Bishop actually been laughing?



“I…” she starts, but the scene has thrown her. She had been rehearsing an apology as she tracked him to the riverbank, finally settling on one that she thought sounded contrite enough without seeming like admitting defeat. One of those I’m-sorry-for-what-I-said-but-I-still-don’t-trust-you apologies. But when she saw the normally surly ranger rolling about on the grass with a huge wolf, like a boy with a pet dog, as if they did not have a care in the world…by the way, where did the wolf come from? How did it find them?



Well, there goes the carefully prepared speech.



What was it again? I remember it was quite clever and diplomatic…



His arms crossed, Bishop raises an eyebrow expectantly, waiting, his eyes boring into her.



Oh, to hells with it…



“Sorry,” she mumbles.



There, that wasn’t so bad. Nice and vague, could even just be an apology for catching him in a compromising posi–



Now both eyebrows are up, and his head cocks slightly. “Sorry for…?” his expression seems to say, forcing her to elaborate. All traces of laughter gone, Bishop is, well, Bishop, again.



Damn him.



“…for what I said earlier,” she finishes quietly, reluctantly, and instead of looking at him, she stares at the wolf beside him.



“Hmph,” the ranger grunts, as he brushes past her, the wolf at his heels.



“Hmph”? She thinks. That’s it?? Well, what was she really expecting from him, anyway?



“No, Alya, I’m sorry for yelling at you like that. What I said was unfair to you and I didn’t mean it…” would have been nice.



She turns to look at Bishop, who has already walked partway up the trail towards camp. As if it were an afterthought, he turns back to her and says, “You shouldn’t be up and about so soon. You’ll keel over.”



“I’m fine.” That, from someone leaning against a tree trunk for support. She looks at the rippling stream. “I’d like to take a bath, actually. I stink.”



He snorts disdainfully. “You’re about as steady now as Khelgar after a barrel of ale.” She winces at his off-handed remark about her lost friend. “After surviving the Nine Hells, it would be a shame if you ended up drowned in a brook.” Snapping his fingers at the wolf, he jerks a thumb at her. In response, the beast starts padding toward her. Uncertainly, she takes a stumbling step back.



“Take him with you,” he says, “he’ll drag you out if you fall in.” Before Alya even has a chance to protest, he is gone.



Warily, she eyes the impressive-looking grey wolf now sitting patiently beside her. It returns her stare, and she couldn’t help but marvel at how Bishop’s eyes look so much like the animal’s. Sometimes, she thinks the ranger is more beast than human.



As she takes a tentative step forward, the wolf runs ahead. Leading the way, it lopes down towards the river, turning every so often to watch her following unsteadily behind, grabbing every tree she passes to help her balance.



It isn’t long before she runs out of trees.



There is still a good few yards to the river, and her world is still swaying to the rhythm of her pounding head, but Alya is determined to make it there on her own. Taking slow, shuffling steps, she waddles her way closer, while the wolf sits and observes patiently near the water.



The terrain under her feet changes from grass and dirt to pebbles as she nears the stream, which lies at the bottom of a gentle incline. Suddenly, she feels the small stones give way beneath her. Arms flailing, she lands heavily on her bottom and slides a couple of feet down the bank.



Ow…she rubs her sore bum while simultaneously extracting the pebbles lodged into it. My pride hurts…



At least it’s gotten her closer to the river…



She tries to stand, but the impact has further jarred her brain. She can’t seem to get any traction from the shifting pebbles. Cursing under her breath, she starts to push herself forward, sliding slowly along the pebbly shore on hands, feet and butt, the cloak that was wrapped around her now hanging loose as it trails behind her.



So much for dignity…I’m glad Bishop’s not here…



A cold nose nudges her bare shoulder, then the wolf squirms its head under her hand until her arm rests around the animal’s shoulders. It looks at her again with its eerily intelligent eyes.



It’s not like she has never directly interacted with the wolf before; through their travels, there has been the odd pat on the head or scratch behind the ear, but they were always rather civil affairs, as if the creature were too polite to protest her advances.



And now she’s relying on it to stay on her feet.



I feel like such an invalid…



The wolf doesn’t seem to notice her weight as she uses its back as leverage to stand herself up again. Being a mere five feet tall, she is short enough that she doesn’t need to bend at the waist to hold on to the wolf. Leaning on the wolf’s firm, strong shoulders for support, she finally makes it to the edge of the river, and then, gathering up the cloak so that it doesn’t get wet, she lets the wolf help her wade into the crystal clear waters.



Finding a cluster of raised boulders, she leaves the cloak neatly folded on a rock while she sits on another, her feet dangling ankle deep in the current. She stays there a while, her eyes closed, letting the gurgling waters wash away the tightness in her muscles and the soreness in her head. Then, scooping a handful of water, she splashes her face, savouring the cool, clean pureness.



Something soft lands on her lap. A piece of rag. Covering herself protectively, she whirls to find Bishop standing right at the water’s edge.



“Use that to scrub yourself,” he says, hardly looking at her, as he disappears again towards the direction of the camp. “Oh, and don’t get your bandages wet.” Gods, she hates how he can sneak up on her so easily.



She waits a few minutes, and when she is sure the ranger isn’t coming back again, she starts to undo the laces on her trousers. She has the waistband down to her hips before she stops. The wolf continues to gaze at her intently.



“You’re…” and instantly she feels silly for talking to an animal. “You’re going to look away, right?”



In response, the wolf sits down, just out of reach of the lapping waves, its magnificent amber eyes not leaving her.



With an awkward shrug, she pulls her pants all the way down.



***



From his vantage point in the shadows of the trees, he watches as she starts to untie her cords on her trousers. When she hesitates before pulling them off, looking uncertainly at the wolf, he has to suppress a chuckle. But when it becomes obvious that the breeches are definitely about to come off, he turns away and trudges back towards camp.



It’s not like he’s never spied on her bathing before. Hells, he’s seen all their female companions in the nude: the tree-hugger, the farm girl, that annoying sorceress brat, even that icy-cold keep lieutenant, Kana. He must admit that the goat-girl had a nice pert ass attached to that tail…



He’s ogled at Alya naked in a stream a couple of times at the beginning of their travels, and he’s definitely liked what he saw. But since then, he’s felt oddly uncomfortable spying on her that way. As he got to know her, it’s as if he feels that she deserves better than to be a mere object of perverse entertainment.



What a time to develop some stupid self-righteous notion of morality.



In his hidden niche, he had observed as she stumbled from tree to tree as she made her way to the river. His heart had given a piteous tug when he saw her fall, and it took all his willpower to keep him from running over to help her, especially when she started dragging herself forward the way she did, after having trouble getting back up. He is glad he got Karnwyr to accompany her.



Such stubbornness. Most people would have given up on the idea of a bath. Plus, if she had moped around camp and acted pitiful enough, he probably would have caved in and brought her a washing basin anyway.



Tossing a piece of kindling into the fire, Bishop smirks. That’s about the only thing they both have in common: they don’t like asking for help.



The rustle of grass tells Bishop that she is done with her wash, and is on her way back to camp. Her movements sound slow, erratic. All her exertions today must have really tired her out. He listens as she shuffles up the path…



…another rustle tells him that she has veered off it.



Guess her brain’s still not fully back in gear yet, Bishop sighs as he starts moving toward the sound of her footfalls, intent on guiding her back to camp before she gets herself lost.



Suddenly, he hears her stop moving.



And Bishop realises which path she may have accidentally taken.



He finds her standing in a clearing, one hand leaning against Karnwyr for support, her eyes fixed on the scene before her.



The charred hollow shells of what could once have been houses jut out of the ground like jagged black teeth. The crumbling structures of wood and stone are arranged in a rough circle, and in its centre stands an old collapsed well. Although the forest appears to have reclaimed most of the area – the ruins are overgrown with mosses and plants – the smell of ashes still hangs in the air like a constant grim reminder of what transpired here.



It is the burnt remains of an entire village.



“Bishop,” she asks him now. “What is this place?”



The flash of hesitation in his eyes tells her all she needs to know.



The Way of the Hunter Chapter 17 - Shocking Discoveries © Alya Elvawiel

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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