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The Way of the Hunter - You Can't Run From Your Own Shadow (Chapter Three)

Alya Elvawiel
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As soon as he has stridden out of view, Bishop starts to run. The further he gets from here, the better. He negotiates the twisted tunnels of the keep by memory, his mind tormented by thoughts and visions that, try as he may, he cannot push away. Images of her, her often unkempt, auburn locks, her sloped emerald green eyes that hint at some exotic heritage, her cute upturned nose, and those lips of hers, that were once so close, close enough to kiss. Oh, how he ached to kiss those lips then, and how he still does now.

Well, it’s too, too late now, isn’t it? He’s made his decision, and there’s no turning back. He remembers with bitterness the night he saw her and Casavir up on the battlements. They were speaking, possibly flirting. He recalls his blood boiling when they moved to embrace each other, and in the light of the moon he saw their lips meet. By the time they were making their way to her room, arm in arm, he had seen enough. Sneaking out of Crossroads Keep, he had approached Garius’ camp to offer his services. At that moment, all he had wanted to do was to hurt her, cause her as much pain as she had caused him.

Well, he has done that, hasn’t he? Yet he doubts that his betrayal mattered much. Whether he had stayed on her side or not, he has a feeling that this battle against the King of Shadows would be her last – it would probably be his, too, had he stayed. Why else had he not once, but twice, offered to take her away from all this? To spirit her away into the forests, where they could lie low for a couple of years, until this whole thing blows over? But no, she’s much too righteous for that, isn’t she? A selfless, noble hero to the end. What was that stupid saying she had quoted?

“You can’t run away from your own shadow.”

One of the many silly idioms she seems to follow as a disciple of The Way. Frankly, it seems no different to all that Wendersnaven rubbish that idiot gnome bard spewed. But it still struck a chord in him. As he runs through the dim, torch-lit hallways of the fortress, he sees his shadows bouncing crazily over the walls, ceilings and floor. For a spell, he sees fleeting images reflected in them: a burning village…a crying baby…his own father, clothes burning, pleading for mercy…a flash of raven hair…a glimpse of silvery-grey eyes…a curved dagger on a downward arc…

No, he has not managed to run away from his shadows, however much he tries to convince himself that he has.

He is running down a secret passage, one he was previously shown, and he bursts through the wooden door that leads out of the fortress. Panting, he sucks in a breath of forest air, but finds it stale and unnatural. The King of Shadows’ presence is building, and he knows it is folly trying to escape through the life-sapping Mere. He has no other choice, though, seeing as the portal Garius used to get him here is currently being used to summon the King of Shadows. Besides, he doubts Garius would have been very amenable to having him use the portal after what he did. “I’m not helping you, Garius, but could you let me use your portal one last time?”

Trying his best to ignore the heaviness in the air, he trudges towards the woods. The sky is overcast and grey. In the distance, he can hear the roll of thunder. Pulling the hood of his cloak up, he ducks into the cover of a copse of trees, and starts to move swiftly and silently through the undergrowth, the dark, imposing fortress falling further and further behind him. It is not long before the path inclined upwards, and as Bishop reaches the top of the hill, he looks out across the vast expanse of the Mere of Dead Men. It is a bleak sight; the sky has started to spit down rain, and all he sees are different shades of grey everywhere – even the trees seem to have lost their colour. Eerily, no creatures could be seen or heard. Not a single rustle, no birdsong…the Vale is silent as death.

Though the climb was not overly difficult, the oppressive atmosphere had made it seem twice as hard. Bishop shrugs off his backpack, rummaging for his water canteen…and stops. From his bag, he pulls out a crumpled strip of soft satin, stained with dried blood. His thirst and fatigue, and the fact that the rain is starting to come down harder, are all forgotten, as he stares at the piece of rag, the memory associated with it flooding painfully back…

* * *

It was right after the githyanki attack on the Sunken Flagon. He was in a foul mood. Shandra had been abducted, and Duncan had called his debt due. He had no choice but to act as tracker for his niece and her companions. He did so grudgingly, not speaking with anyone as he led the way. They were passing through that village, Ember, the one whose villagers the Luskans later tried to accuse Alya of slaughtering. He had noticed that the place was suspiciously quiet, and everyone was on their guard. Sure enough, there was an ambush, and it was a difficult fight. At some point, he took a githyanki blade in his shoulder, but the party was short on healing supplies, and what little they had were predominantly spent on Qara, if not to save her life, then at least to stop her whining and complaining about the pain, and how no one rushed to help her when she got overwhelmed, that she could have easily blasted all the giths in one go had they not gotten in her way...

While the sorceress made herself the centre of everyone’s attention, he had slipped off to wash his wound in a nearby stream. She was the only one who noticed him leave, his right arm hanging limp, and had followed. She found him as he was taking off his leather armour and his underlying tunic, and she winced when she saw the gash. It was deep and ragged, very bloody, and it was obvious that he would not be able to use that arm again in a very long while.

“That’s quite a nasty nick you got there, Bishop,” she had said. From the start, she had called him by name, not just an impersonal “ranger” or “tracker” like all the others.

His mood fouler now that he was injured, he had ignored her, and started splashing water over the still-bleeding wound, gritting his teeth against the biting pain. He resented her for being the reason he was forced to be there, and he was determined not to ask for assistance of any kind from her or any of her friends.

She knelt down beside him and tried to take his arm. With a growl, he had a shoved her hands away. “I got it, monk,” he had grunted, putting as much venom and scorn into the last word as he could muster, the cold water stinging the deep cut. It still bled profusely, and he upended his backpack, strewing the contents on the ground, scrabbling clumsily for a bandage. He found a short length of cotton, and proceeded to wrap it around his shoulder with one hand and his teeth. The thin, haphazardly tied on gauze was soaked through with blood almost instantly.

All the time, she had stood there, with a mildly amused look on her face. “You know, that wound needs more than just a strip of cloth,” she suggested in an innocent voice.

“Yeah? How very observant of you,” he replied sarcastically. “And I suppose you’ve also noticed that we’re running a little short on healing supplies, too.”

“That I have.” She appeared unfazed by his hostility, and once again knelt down beside him. “But I think I can still help.”

“I don’t recall you being a cleric, half-elf.”

“And I’m not one, but…” she picks up a skinning knife that he dumped out of his pack, and started sawing at the hem of her robe.

“What are you doing?” he asked incredulously. He had previously noticed the fine craftsmanship of her monk’s robe. It was made of soft green satin, and even then he thought how well it brought out the colour of her eyes. The cut and the delicate embroidery looked like nothing he had seen before, and along the hem of the robe were sewn strange foreign characters. It was these exotic-looking symbols that she was hacking off.

“These are magical runes,” she explained, as she tore off the last bit of the strip that still clung to the rest of her robe. The strange symbols ran along the entire length of the strip, “It confers a slight regenerative power to the robe. It may take a while, but if I tied it onto your wound, it would start to heal it.”

She was partly wrong; the healing effect was almost instantaneous. By the time she had wrapped the strip around his shoulder, tying it on with a neat knot, the sharp, tugging pain had been reduced to a dull throb. He looked at her robe, the hem now ragged. Having lost the part of it that was magical, the robe was no longer protective in any way.

“Looks to me like you’ve destroyed a perfectly good robe,” he remarked, trying not to sound uneasy. That robe did not look cheap…

“Yeah?” she said, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. “How very observant of you.” He couldn’t help smiling slightly at the retort. She fingered the torn edges of the tunic and sighed. “It’s an old thing, anyway…it’s probably being put to better use this way.” She stands up, her demeanour serious now. “We need to find Shandra, and we can’t do that with a wounded tracker.” As she turns to go, she added, “Put your clothes back on, won’t you, before you catch a cold?”

* * *

Ignoring the rain that is seeping through his clothes, and taking off one of his gloves, Bishop rubs the satin between his fingers. Still soft, despite his dried blood encrusted on it. The runes on it look as foreign to him as ever. Alya said that the robe was an old thing, but it wasn’t any old robe, was it? It had meant something special to her.

So why did she ruin it? Could saving Shandra have been so important to her, that she had wanted to ensure that the only person who could lead them to her be in top condition?

Or was she actually just being nice to me?

Bishop shuts his eyes. He can still feel her fingers dancing on his skin as she deftly bandaged his arm. Once it even brushed his bare chest. At the time, he felt a perverse pleasure having a pretty girl touching him while he was topless. Now, the memory of her touch sends little shivers up and down his spine, leaving him hungry for more.

This is exactly the feeling I don’t want to have – this helpless feeling of being tied to someone.

He exhales loudly. After all that has happened with the Luskans, his village…a flash of raven hair, a glimpse of silvery-grey eyes…freedom is the most important thing in his life – it should be the most important thing in his life.

As if he has suddenly realized he is sopping wet, he looks around again from his vantage point at the top of the hill. Grey skies, grey hills, grey trees…grey all around, and they all appear to grow darker as he watches. The air seems to grow heavier. A faint rumble shakes the ground.

The King of Shadows must have arrived.

Yes, this is freedom. No one around to judge him, no one to tie him down. Is this the freedom he wants? To walk through this bleak, dreary, dead world…alone?

He stands, still gripping the satin strip, and turns around, looking back the way he came. The fortress is a small, dark silhouette at the bottom of the valley. He tries to push away the crazy idea that pops into his head, but it refuses to be ignored, and it start to call, louder and louder, until his mind is wracked by a cacophony of indecision. Amongst the chaos, the vision of the red-headed, half-elven monk shines like a beacon, but underneath it all, his nightmares still stir…

A flash of raven hair, a glimpse of silvery-grey eyes…

He clenches his eyes. “Gods damn it!” he curses, as he drives a fist into the trunk of the tree he is standing under. The resultant pain helps clear his mind a little. When he opens his eyes, he is shocked to find them wet, and it was not from the rain.

When was the last time tears came to him? Too long ago…

Gathering his chaotic thoughts, he flexes his aching fist, then, having mentally made his decision, he draws his twin swords, and runs…back the way he came.

The Way of the Hunter Chapter 3 - You Can't Run From Your Own Shadow © Alya Elvawiel

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