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The Way of the Hunter - Through Another Portal (Chapter Fourteen)

Author: 
Alya Elvawiel
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
367

The wind stirs the high grass, whistling a low, mournful dirge. The chirping of crickets and the croaking of bullfrogs join in a sweet, melancholy symphony that pierces the otherwise still night air. Something rustles in the trees, something unseen, but not unsmelled, by the shadowy figure illuminated by the light of the nearly full moon, as it skulks silently through the grass. Its well-trained nose detects the scent of guano, confirming the identity of the tree-dweller as a bat.



A breeze blows through the grey wolf’s thick coarse fur as it lifts its muzzle to the wind, sniffing the air, its golden eyes shining with a hidden intelligence. It has been wandering since the day the human it knows as its master had left it, stepping through a strange sphere of light. The unnatural brilliance of the pulsing orb had made its hackles rise. Somehow, it had reminded the wolf of that dark shadow that was growing over the land, the one that made the dread in its belly escape in a puppy-like whimper. With its tail tucked between its legs, it had hesitated to accompany its master into the enveloping brightness. Strangely, the master had not commanded it to follow like he normally does, but rather, with a wistful scratch behind its ear, he had stepped into the light – and vanished.



The sun had risen and set numerous times since he had disappeared, and the wolf had been roaming since, constantly trying to pick up the scent of its master – the smell of musk and forest pines, with a faint bittersweet tinge of sadness – somehow the master always seems sad, even when he doesn’t show it. The scary shadow looming over the trees had faded in time, encouraging the wolf to brave the deeper parts of the swampy woods. But the wolf had failed to detect even the slightest whiff of its human master.



Until tonight.



Earlier, the wolf’s senses had been prickling. Something was in the air, not a scent, but rather a feeling. The atmosphere practically crackled with it, and in was this unexplained energy that has drawn the wolf, guiding it here to this glade. The odours around this place are familiar; the wolf has been here before, a long, long time ago.



The charge in the air grows stronger, and the wolf’s hairs stand on end. A flash in the horizon makes it flinch instinctively. It was not lightning, that much the beast knows.



And suddenly, there it was – musk, pine, sorrow. A faint but distinct odour.



It has picked up the master’s scent.



Quickly yet silently, the wolf melts back into shadows, following the trail, one that appears to be leading towards the direction of that strange burst of light.



* * *



Mephasm closes the portal as soon as the two mortals have plunged rather gracelessly into it. The hell hound that had pounced after them now finds itself sailing through where the shining gateway once was, but what is now thin air, before tumbling to its doom in the chasm below, its long, drawn out howl of terror bouncing repeatedly off the canyon walls.



The pit fiend turns his attention back to the one remaining mortal on this plane. The shield dwarf is still beset by the ravenous pack of fiery hounds. Still swinging his weapon madly, the dwarf screams as he buries his axe into the neck of one of the beasts. He is covered in blood, a mixture of his and those he has slain. Having sampled the taste of dwarven blood, though, the remaining hell hounds are in a crazed frenzy, snarling, gnashing, tearing. And yet, despite the bleak odds, the dwarf fights on, seemingly oblivious to his own wounds. This greatly interests the baatezu.



Oh, how he has been entertained today. He must admit, even he was surprised to find that half-elf here in Baator, although he did mention, the last time he had seen her in the Material Plane, that they would meet again. Still, he hadn’t expected to encounter her here, in the Nine Hells itself. He wonders at the mortals’ journey to arrive here.



The actions of mortal men amuse and intrigue him so. It never ceases to amaze him what they would do in a desperate situation. It is interesting that, with some, their first response to an imminent doom is to save themselves at the expense of another mortal. Others, though, would throw away their own meagre lives if it meant another would survive.



Such an odd thing to do.



A yelp of pain from the mass of writhing bodies. The dwarf has claimed another victim. He is impressed; the little thing is strong for a mortal.



He remembers that human female – what was her name? Shandra Jerro, that was it – who had bled herself dry to free him and the other baatezu and tanar’ri from their summoning circles, all for saving the lives of her companions, her “friends”, as she referred to them.



Their lives are short and insignificant as it is. What could make one mortal sacrifice itself to save another?



And then there was that human, all ready to throw himself to the hounds, had Mephasm not stepped in first. Yet the devil felt as he assessed the mortal that he was torn between self-preservation and saving the life of the half-elf. As the pit fiend dug deeper into his psyche, he discovers that the human conceals many strange feelings, feelings unfamiliar to the baatezu, and he senses that the mortal is tormented by the conflict between some of these emotions, many of which seem oddly centred on the wounded half-elf he carried. It seems to Mephasm that the human is practically bursting at the seams with emotion, yet he has built so many walls of lies around himself, that he himself could no longer distinguish the truths from the untruths. A battle within one’s own head? Such a fascinating notion. The human would be such a compelling specimen to observe.



Yes, he will be keeping an eye on him.



Apparently bored now, the baatezu melts into the surrounding air, just as the battling dwarf disappears under an overwhelming crush of blood-crazed hell hounds. All that can be heard in the still, stuffy atmosphere of this bleak plane, are the hungry growls of the hounds, accompanied by the sound of ripping and tearing.



* * *



The portal spits them out unceremoniously before vanishing in a blaze of energy. Landing in a heap of tangled arms and legs, Bishop promises himself that this was the last time he would step through another gods-damned magic portal.



Still breathless from his earlier exertion, the heat and stench of the hell hound still in his nose, and with his guts reeling from their head-spinning interplanar ride, Bishop lies where he landed for a moment, eyes shut, concentrating on taking deep breaths, on filling his lungs with much-needed air. Something refreshingly cool, fuzzy, and comfortingly familiar brushes against his face, and he recognises its moist, earthy scent.



Grass.



With that single, monosyllabic word, he opens his eyes, looking around him.



Trees.



Another brilliant observation. He moves to a sitting position, and glances up.



Moon. Stars. Night.



Three words that time. He is surpassing himself.



Very good, Bishop. It is reassuring to see that you have retained your sharp wit and considerable mental capacity.



An immense tidal wave of relief crashes over him, as he allows himself to fall backwards, sinking into the soft green carpet beneath him. The cool grass is a welcome familiarity after the horrors of the Outer Planes. As he instinctively re-attunes himself to his surroundings, he hears the cries of crickets and bullfrogs. Funny how he had always relegated them into the background noise of the forest. Until the suffocating silence they had to endure in Baator, he had never really appreciated those soothing rhythms. The sky above him is black, not that malevolent red he thought he would be seeing for the rest of his days. Tiny pin-points of light puncture the darkness like diamonds strewn on a black velvet cloth. The moon, not quite full, glows gently, the Tears of Selune drifting lazily beside it.



“We’re back,” he sighs to no one in particular, his head nestled in the grass.



A soft exhalation of breath makes him angle his head to the side. He had lain down right beside Alya, their feet pointed in opposite directions, resulting in an upside-down view. From this distance, he could see every feature on her delicate face, count every eyelash, every faint freckle on her nose. Her eyes are closed, her lips slightly parted.



Close enough to –



Stop it.




Jumping up, he places two fingers on her neck. Her pulse, though still weak, is now regular, and he can see her breasts rise and fall with deep, level breaths. That Mephasm guy was right; the atmosphere in the Nine Hells had been impeding her recovery. Now that they are back in their own plane, it is like the metal chains that were constricting her chest have been broken; her face looks much more peaceful, the frown of pain between her eyebrows faded.



Must find some healing supplies, he thinks, as he stands up, surveying their surroundings, trying to get his bearings. They seem to have been deposited in some clearing. The woods before him are dark and quiet. His trained eyes make out landmarks in the moonlight other people would have overlooked. The layout of the trees, the marks on some of their barks, the odd rotting stump…



His brow wrinkles in a frown. He has been here before.



Tilting his head, he sniffs the air. The swampy, slightly smoky scent is again familiar.



Horribly familiar.



Certain of what he would see, but still dreading visual confirmation, he slowly turns around.



You. Must. Be. Kidding. Me.



Mephasm’s words as he summoned the gateway flashes back in his mind.



“I have connected the portal to somewhere I sense you have a strong affinity to.”



He smirks, shaking his head. That blue devil has a sense of humour.



At least Bishop knows exactly where they are.



He looks down at Alya’s unconscious form. She almost looks as if she could just be sleeping. Suddenly, Bishop almost misses Khelgar. At least with him around, one of them could carry Alya while the other acted as protector. Without the dwarf, or someone else, it would be madness stumbling through the forest with an armload of half-elf, unable to reach for his weapons.



They would have to stay put until she heals.



As he sets to work gathering firewood for the night, he appraises his surroundings again.



This would make for a very interesting conversation when she wakes.



The Way of the Hunter Chapter 14 - Through Another Portal © Alya Elvawiel

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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