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The Way of the Hunter - A Stranger from the Past (Chapter Twenty-Seven)

Alya Elvawiel
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The flickering lights from the torches of Crossroads Keep are like tiny beacons in the gloom, beckoning invitingly to Alya as she walks down the muddy road towards them. Finally, after weeks, she is on her way back. She almost couldn’t believe that she is here now, barely a couple of miles from the keep.

Her spirit lifts a little with the possibility of seeing Bevil, and perhaps Daeghun, again. She wonders how everyone is doing: Sal, Kana, old Jacoby, the weapon smith; she has always been quite fond of the amiable old man…

A plaintive whine from behind makes her glance backwards. He stands motionless in the drizzling rain, his hood around his head, a firm hand on Karnwyr’s neck, the animal whimpering at her. His head is half-turned towards her, and she sees the liquid glint of his golden-brown wolf’s eyes, hard and emotionless, and yet flashing briefly with what looks like regret.

As the memories from the night before comes flooding back, she fights a surging desire to run to him, to feel his strong, protective arms enveloping her, to smell his musky scent mingling with the heady aroma of his leathers, to hear him breathing in her ear, to drink deeply from his lips…

She shakes her head of the graphic imagery, reminding herself of the burning fury in his eyes last night, and convincing herself that what childish reconciliations she has in mind is never to be.

I have nothing to offer him.

And Bishop is not the type to give without expecting something in return…

Her eyes start to prickle suddenly, and she turns away quickly. She is not going to let him see how much this is affecting her. Why is she feeling this way about him, anyway? It just doesn’t make sense! Hells, just a few weeks ago, she had a dagger over his throat…

Would she really have gone through with it if that styx dragon hadn’t shown up?

Her mind is whirling. She can’t think straight with him so near. She has to get away.

She needs to get to Crossroads Keep now.

Her footsteps quicken as she makes haste towards the glowing lights in the distance.

The clatter of a wooden cart and the clopping sound of a horse’s hooves stop her in mid-stride.

She turns to find a horse-drawn wagon pulling to a stop. The lone traveller, his short and stocky stature marking him as a dwarf, is looking at Bishop, who is standing at the edge of the trees, just about to vanish into the depths of the Mere. The stranger’s hood is drawn over his head, cloaking the upper half of his face in shadow, but peeking out from the darkness is bluish-grey skin and a silver beard.

A duergar…

For some reason, Karnwyr’s hackles are raised, and he growls at the newcomer.

“Bishop.” Apparently, the strange man knows the ranger. His tone is cold, dangerous. His hood falls open, revealing a bald, grey-skinned head, and an ugly scar running across his face that splits one of his eyelids in two, its pinkness contrasting with the rest of the dark dwarf’s complexion.

“Garrick,” Bishop practically spits the name. “What a pleasant surprise.”

The other man, who seems to be in his forties, snickers. “I see you haven’t changed much since I last saw you. Still know how to make an old friend feel welcome, eh?”

“You, on the other hand, have changed quite a bit,” the ranger sneers just as menacingly. “Last I saw you, you were dead.”

The dwarf’s eyes narrow dangerously at the retort. The scar on his face appears to flush, turning a deeper red.

Almost dead,” he corrects. Then, he makes a tutting sound. “You made a fundamental error, my boy. Very disappointing, considering your potential.”

“Rule number one for assassins: almost make sure your quarry is really dead,” Bishop recites, his tone mocking. “Trust me, Garrick, I’m regretting my oversight already.”

Who is this man? Alya wonders, intrigued yet concerned. Whoever he is, if Bishop had nearly killed him once before, there can be only one thing on the duergar’s mind.


“Now now, my son, don’t be too hard on yourself,” the man known as Garrick chides sarcastically. “After all, you had taken a couple of blows, so I’ll understand if you were not as…thorough, as you would have been.” Then, with a sadistic gleam in his scarred eye, he continues, “Of course, there’s also the emotional distress, after what happened with Calyx…”

Alya hears another snarl, and it takes her a while before she realises that this one had not come from Karnwyr, but from Bishop himself. She sees his blazing eyes narrowed into slits, and the muscles in his jaws clenching with barely concealed anger. Whatever Garrick meant, he has certainly touched a nerve.

“I’ve killed you once.” He threatens in a low voice. “And I can easily kill you again.” Glaring venomously at the dark dwarf, he adds, “And this time I’ll be thorough.”

The duergar laughs heartily, the sound chilling Alya to the bone.

“My dear boy, you’d be a tad naïve to think that I would come after you without a bit of…insurance.” One grey hand reaches under the waterproof sheet covering his wooden cart. His dark lips pull back in a malevolent grin. “You don’t know how long I have been waiting for this…”

Bishop reaches behind himself for his twin swords, as Karnwyr, teeth bared, readies himself to pounce.

Thunk! A throwing star embeds itself into the wood of the wagon, barely inches from the duergar’s fingers.

In an instant, both men are staring at her, as if they had not noticed her presence before that.


Garrick is the first to regain his composure after the surprise attack.

“Bishop,” he coos treacherously. “You got yourself a new girlfriend!” Unashamedly, he proceeds to appraise her with his eyes, a lascivious grin on his scarred face. Alya could almost feel him mentally undressing her, and has to suppress a sudden urge to shudder.

“Not bad, son,” the dwarf finally comments. “Not quite Calyx, but still a pretty good catch.”

Why that no-good son-of-a…

Alya hates the man already.

“Your fight’s with me, duergar,” Bishop says, as he unsheathes his blades. To her, he orders bluntly, “Go. This is none of your business.”

The dark dwarf chuckles. “My, such protectiveness. Is it safe for me to assume that you have gotten over our dear Calyx then?”

Who in the world is this Calyx he keeps talking about? Alya wonders, feeling an unexpected, illogical pang of jealousy.

Although it is plain that the other man’s words are riling the ranger, Bishop keeps his attention focused on her.

“Alya!” he shouts across the distance between them, and it occurs to her that this is the first time she has ever heard him use her name.

This must be important…

She returns his gaze with a quizzical look.

“You’re not involved. This is between the two of us. So go away!”

Normally, she would have done as he asked; as malicious and strong as that dark dwarf looks, she knows Bishop is probably capable enough of handling him alone.

But something about that cart just does not seem right. Garrick has his hand on the tarpaulin sheet again, his hand right above her throwing star, which is still stuck fast into the side of the wagon.

She cannot out a finger on it, but that cart is making her uneasy…

Plus, she is feeling an unexplainable concern for the ranger’s safety.

The only response she could muster is a dumb, stubborn shake of her head that plasters more of her dripping wet hair to her cheeks. This seems to amuse Garrick.

“At least this one’s loyal,” he remarks, sneering smugly at Bishop. “A shame she’s forcing us to involve her. Such a waste to have her killed.” He smiles that malevolent smile again. “But enough small talk, as much as I would enjoy catching up on old times.”

With that, he grabs an edge of the sheet and whips it off, sending up a shower of rainwater that had been pooling on the waterproof surface.

And Alya realises what had been bothering her about the duergar’s wagon.

The Way of the Hunter Chapter 27 - A Stranger from the Past © Alya Elvawiel

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