CHAPTER 1 By Michelle F. and Kailin M.
The wild plains of Redania were filled with monsters, and corpse eaters as Geralt of Rivia travelled to the city. Jaskier, his long-time friend and ally had opened a cabaret in the city. A tavern once called the Rosemary and Thyme had transformed into the lavish theatre known as the Chameleon. It has been one year since the theatre opened and Geralt headed to the anniversary show — a grand performance to make up for the cancellation of the opening night. Priscilla, Jaskier long-time girlfriend and the fellow bard had recovered from her injuries and even though the assailant who attacked her was never found she was ready to perform. Geralt had hoped Ciri would make it in time for the show at weeks end, but since she became a full-fledged witcher herself, she would frequently run off on her own. Geralt was starting to worry since she should have arrived by now, the Wild Hunt was gone, but powerful monsters remained, and the political order was getting heated again. Geralt constantly reminded of the dangers on the road after fighting off an ancient forest spirit whose head was currently strapped to his saddle. The bloody antlers were catching the attention of the guards while he crosses the gate into the main strip. Roach trudged up to a three-story theatre house draped in red. A group of performers out front were singing and dancing to greet them. "Toss a coin to your witcher." They started singing, and Geralt let out a long exasperated sigh as he manoeuvred Roach up to the watering trove. Once he dismounted Geralt felt the strain of his injuries which cause a limp in his gait as he walked up to the doors tired from little sleep. The joyous tune of his song making him smile despite his best efforts to conceal it.
"Welcome back, Geralt!"
"Nice to see you, a witcher."
"Have you come to the show!?" Their voices called for his attention.
Inside the theatre, on the second floor, Jaskier glanced out the window hearing the commotion outside and spotted his comrade. "Geralt's here!" he cheered, "The letter said he would be here two days ago." Jaskier excitedly rushed down the stairs and out the door his arms open in welcome. "Geralt, you made it!" he exclaimed, "Good to see you, Jaskier." Geralt replied as he came in for a hug. "Part of me was expecting you not to show up, but the rest of me knew you would not be able to resist… oh my lord, what is that smell?" Jaskier attempted to pull Geralt into a hug but stopped just short as he noticed not only the foul stench but also his tired eyes. Geralt's arm flinched when Jaskier touched him, fresh injuries which stained his armour red. "I'm fine." Geralt said to quell Jaskier worried expression. "Come follow me, let us find you a place to sit and relax. You must be hungry, and I have plenty of delights to fill the empty belly of a hero who has come home." Jaskier excitedly lead Geralt into the Chameleon, "Tell me where you have been what have you seen where did you go? I want to know all!"
"Well, recently I travelled to Skellig. Took up a few monster contracts including a Leshen that had made its territory near a small village, the elders believed it to be a god protecting them, but it would hunt and kill those who tried scavenging in the forest. One of the elders wanted me to perform a ritual to please it, but the rest of the townsfolk paid me to kill it." Geralt started his story as they walked into the theatre decorated with tasteful paintings and elegant art. Jaskier was dodging around tables even though his nose was down in a book. Pictures of the mummers, lord and ladies of note and show posters lining the walls along with a few coats of arms. A banquet of food set out as the many patrons picked from the buffet as they drank merrily together. "This place is amazing." Geralt motioned impressed with what a high-class establishment Jaskier owned. Jaskier however, was distracted by Geralt story while scribbling down notes before being snapped out of it. "Isn't it?" Jaskier beamed with a flourish of his pillowed sleeve proudly." I'm excited about the show I have been working on it for months!" Jaskier exclaimed and showed Geralt his notes as he fixed a tilted frame on the wall. "It has been a while since I heard one of your… stories." Geralt said in his monotone voice looking at the inventory list in Jaskier's book along with story ideas in the bottom corner. They went to the back and sat at a private table.
"Alas, not everyone thinks my stories are so great." Jaskier sighed and offered Geralt a seat sitting directly across from him with interlaced fingers, pensively looking at his notebook. "What works better? If a frog is a prince, would he be wearing a crown or wearing a cape?" Jaskier asked while a barmaid served them a round of ales. Geralt quickly picked his up and chugged it in one long swig. "Why do you ask?" Geralt suspiciously asked with a belch as the bard pondered. "Just curious, minor play details listen, I know you're tired, but I have one, teensy, tiny, little favour to ask. It's to help the show," Jaskier pleaded. "I just sat down." Geralt said as he thumped the glass onto the table. His face twisted with annoyance but Jaskier innocently eyed Geralt. The Witcher bites his cheek, "ugh, What is it?," he sighed in defeat and crossed his arms on the table.
"Don't tell me you're in trouble again? Is this another bandit heist to swindle another rich lady?" Geralt asked a little sarcastically as he took Jaskier's ale this time and sipped it. He was getting the hiccups from drinking too quickly each jolt, making him wince in pain. "Much worse," Jaskier exclaimed. He leaned forward getting closer to Geralt. "A new King came to town and then completed slaughtered my dream with a bad review! I wasn't paying him much mind when he arrived six months ago, but his opinions seem to be detracting patrons from the district entirely. Madam Irina is struggling to fill the seats because of his crass, thuggish, bullying antics."
Jaskier's voice was a low whispered hiss as he spoke. "I feel if you were to have a word with him, he might change his tune. If the great Geralt of Rivia could maybe 'persuade' him into giving me another chance?" Jaskier said full of bravado. "That's it?" Geralt asked, curious when the twist was going to come. "You just want me to talk to some snub nose King who insulted you?" Geralt tried to hold his breath now since the hiccups were getting worse and he didn't want to look like a pansy who couldn't handle his drink because of a broken rib. "He said my work was boring and derivative. It's affecting my business and my sanity! W-wait wait Geralt are you alright?" A concerned look crossed Jaskier's face as he noticed Geralt holding his breath. He flagged down the barmaid. "Can you get him some water please?" Jaskier called out as Geralt held his clenched fist in front of his mouth and cleared his throat, clearly embarrassed that Jaskier noticed. "Thanks, it's nothing just a couple new scars," he said with his eyes cast down and sipped the water that the barmaid quickly brought over.
"Have you tried writing something the King would like?" Geralt asked but stared at Jaskier's over-expressive face now stunned with horror. "I—- I— hmph!" he fumed, a slight blush crossing his checks "How dare you to assume I have not tried. The man is an unreasonable Buffon." Jaskier glared. "Please Geralt, I need your help, he's a complete monster." Jaskier ranted as Geralt raised an eyebrow. "I'm not joking, he is!" Jaskier said rather loudly before looking around at the witcher hunters who were currently chatting with Zoltan. "I think he is a vampire," Jaskier stated in a whisper.
"Don't be unreasonable! Less you see how gossip is the poison that spews from your mouth. You can't just go around accusing people of vampirism in the middle of the city of Novigrad. Do you know how many witch hunters are out there looking for a reason to kill someone?" Geralt got rather mean, as much as Jaskier's antics could get out of hand. Vampirism was a serious matter, but there was a look in Jaskier eye that Geralt could read to be true. The brunette's pleading eyes were wide like a dog begging for attention. Geralt huffed and covered his face by combing his fingers through his hair. A small blush of his own, he willed away before his pale skin betrayed him to show emotion. "What do you want me to do?" Geralt asked, knowing there was no sense of debating the matter.
"I assume you have a plan? Does this King Lucifer seem like a man who has found a seat of authority over you? What's his deal? You know I have grown wiser to the antics of politics. I have been introduced to him the more powerful faces in town, including the big four." Geralt said, rather proudly. Jaskier furrowed his brow, "Ever since Whoreson Junior went missing the criminal empire had been all a buzz when the Great La'Croix family moved to town. They say he is King of a faraway land escaping monsters that ravaged their home. Lucifer is rich, and I want to invite him to the show. The big four are no more since Lucifer has been winning hearts everywhere he goes. All I need is one more chance to impress him, to be on his good side as I sing his praises while Redania takes Nilfgaard. I can't go alone either… as I said, the man is a monster. It wouldn't be safe! The wolves and bats are enough to hint it's a dangerous place and you taught me to steer clear of that shit." Jaskier stopped the mid-story to see the grim expression on Geralt's face." Truth be told I did tried to go through inviting Lucifer on my own but could never bring myself to reach the estate out of the sheer fear he was going to eat me or worse dismiss my talents to my face this time, but if your with me. I know he won't refuse."
"So send him a paper invite? Why do we have to go to him in person if he is this dangerous?" Geralt asked, if Lucifer was a vampire, Geralt needed to investigate. "I've tried, I think he has some sort of alliance with King Radovid in the efforts against Emperor Emhyr. He's proud, secluded and off the grid with a fleet of his own. Such a common invitation would insult him further, He needs to know I care about his opinion and respect. Lucifer is still a King even though he isn't at home." Jaskier sighed, feeling a little defeated. "If what you say is fact and not some overblown fiction, you shouldn't even go over there. Give me an invitation, and I'll go alone. Where is the estate?" Geralt asked and pulled out his map and spread it out on the table so Jaskier could point it out. Geralt loudly yawning as Jaskier circled a mountain on the coast with a pencil.
The booze made Geralt tired, and the fresh wounds from his last fight had barely healed, and he reeked of seaweed and rotten fish. "Don't be silly, I'm coming, and that's final plus this should be a trip for the morning. You need a bath first," Jaskier stated and took a few strands of Geralt's dirty, white hair between his fingers and made a face. "Thanks, I hadn't noticed." Geralt said with a comedic sneer. "Maybe a nap too," Jaskier added when Geralt glared back at his cheeky smile. "You will be rested, fed and presentable to deliver the invitation as well as a sample what fortune's favour has granted me." Jaskier popped a few grapes in his mouth as he winked. "I don't need a nap!" Geralt said but was betrayed when another yawn hit him, so he punched the table knocking the candelabra over. Geralt quickly snapping his fingers making all the flames extinguish as the candles broke and scattered about on the floor. "Dammit fine! Where's the bath!?" he asked, causing a bit of scene. It was out of character, but it had been a long time since they were together. For some reason, the conversation was revolving around diplomacy and bureaucracy when usually Jaskier wanted to know more about Geralt's adventures. Geralt waited for Jaskier to stand and lead the way to the upper floors but they sat there for a quiet moment as Jaskier studied him. "You're a bit more boorish than normal, are you sure everything is okay or am I not allowed to ask?" Jaskier crossed his arms waiting for an apology. "It's nothing. I'm just sore." Geralt finished his ale with a chug and fell back into his chair like a grumpy bear. "Nothing? Knocking a flower pot over is nothing. It seems like you uprooted an entire tree." Jaskier commented making the same face as the life-size portrait behind him. Geralt finally noticing the audacious mural of Jaskier wearing pumpkin pants while slaying a dragon. He then stood up abruptly making the glasses on the table shudder before he peeled open a gash in his armour. There was more than one wound Jaskier was made aware of as Geralt's armour had been sundered. "Ooof, and you won this fight, right?" Jaskier shuddered at the sight. "Against the Leshen, yes." Geralt said and exited the table and headed upstairs not waiting anymore.
Up the stairs, Geralt entered a beautiful hallway decorated with masks and drapery which lead to a spacious suite with couches and a hookah. The inn rooms transformed into cabaret stage where musicians sat around playing songs rehearsing and reciting poetry. It was a marvel to behold at how much had changed in a year.
"When am I going to get my solo?"
A group of dancers waved and shouted to get their attention. Geralt recognized some of them and motioned back sheepishly. Jaskier was stumbling over a couch out of place. "Oi! Get this place cleaned up my Guests are arriving and this place looks like a nekkers nest. Maybe when you can prove you are more than children, you will get a chance at a solo." Jaskier let out an exasperated sigh.
Once at the top level, Geralt spotted Pricilla sitting in the bedroom with the door open. Her beautiful voice was humming songs while her back to them. Jaskier picked up his pace and brought Geralt to their bathroom, a spacious place with stone and tiled floors with a rather elaborate tub sitting under a draped window. The same red and brown colour scheme in the towels and a gold candelabra which Geralt lite with his magic. "Oh, thank you!" Jaskier exclaimed. "Not going to lie, this is such a nice house." Geralt crossed his arms and looked around the room. "Do you like it?" Jaskier asked with a proud smirk before busied himself to get the water prepared. Geralt took his time to investigate the stonework and tapestries in the room. Jaskier hummed a tune and shoved some fragrant soaps into the Witcher's hands. "Now get undressed and wash, you smell like you've spent the night in a bucket of fish heads!" Jaskier tuts wagging his finger as he prepares a towel. Geralt fumbled with all the loose knick-knacks Jaskier handed him and set them down, one of the delicate vials of lavender oil falling off the chair which Geralt caught it mid-air. "Okay, okay!" Geralt said as he removed his elegant swords from his back. Once free of the restrictive leather armour Geralt stretched out before peeling off his black cotton tunic. The wounds had closed, but the raw skin still healing and tender. Jaskier darted around the room in distraction, so Geralt snuck upon him. Now able to silently creep in his bare feet until he was right behind Jaskier, who didn't notice him peeking over his shoulder into the drawer.
"Do you have enough towels?" Geralt asked his lips right next to Jaskier's ear. "Ge—Geralt!" Jaskier shrieked, jumping a little. The bard startled, as he spun around with towels in hand to face with Geralt and his lack of clothing. Jaskier should have expected this, but he was still surprised by it as he scanned the hunky man in front of him. Geralt's broad, muscular chest scruffy with hair and scarred with residual dried blood. He was getting an up-close and personal look at some nasty looking wounds that were still trying to heal. Jaskier tried not to stare at Geralt even though he had seen him naked before. This time, his body was riddled with scars so many he could not count. The fresh scabs on his chest looked like something had crawled into Geralt's skin and back out again near his ribcage and neck. Geralt followed Jaskier gaze to the wound and he covered it with his arm. "You know I've missed you, right?" Geralt asked before briskly walking away to the tub to start unbuckling his dagger belt. Geralt looking over his shoulder as he put his dagger down and caught Jaskier's eye while he was removing his pants. Jaskier could feel the heat in his cheeks as he met Geralt's gaze, but he could not look away. "I missed you, too. Things have not been nearly as interesting without you around," he said, trying to sound calm but ultimately failing. Jaskier was drifting his gaze away and fixating on Geralt's back muscles as he climbed into the tub completely naked. The entire time Geralt had not looked away from Jaskier and sunk into the cloudy water to hide. "Mandarine and Rose petals? You're spoiling me."
Geralt said. "You must want to impress this, Vampire?" Geralt question as Jaskier started to get flustered. "I want his approval. Lucifer has too much influence." He huffed, "I'm also the one that has to smell you this week so of course, I would rather you smell of roses than monster guts." "Why do you care so much about how I smell?" Geralt said as he held his breath and ducked under the water entirely. He was scrubbing his face and hair while aggressively splashing about in the tub, making a mess. Jaskier watched on in horror. "No! Just no!" He grabbed a bottle of shampoo from the side of the tub and poured some into his hand.
"Stop, stop," he commanded and stood behind Geralt and took ahold of his hair, "You're hurt. Let me help." Jaskier sighed and started lathering up Geralt's hair. "Hey!" Before he could fight, Jaskier's fingers were already entangled in his ashen locks massaging his scalp. "You don't have to do that." Geralt said and leaned into his hands. The soft sigh from his chest one of pleasure as Jaskier's nimble fingers relaxed him almost immediately. The content smile on his face, Jaskier noticed while washing his hair lovingly. An awkward silence between them for a beat.
"Can I ask you something?" Geralt blurted out to break the silence. "How are things with you and Pricilla? Everything you had hoped from a settled-down life?" Geralt asked, getting rather personal. Jaskier thought for a moment about Geralt's question. "We've been alright… Having Priscilla back from the hospital has been a joy, but her range has changed, she's more of an alto now. I've had to rewrite a few songs for her," Jaskier said as he started rinsing the stubborn blood and dirt away to reveal the pure ashy white colour of Geralt's hair. "Yennefer and I… well… I broke things off. For good this time. Other than that Ciri's doing great as a Witcher, A born naturally, I can barely keep up with her. She took down a gryphon on her own." Geralt sounded glad, but it was always hard to gleam his mood. Especially with how quickly he changed topic away from Yennefer. The revelation of Geralt relationship with Yennefer and how it was all over quickly skipped before Jaskier could respond. His fingers had stopped moving as he lost himself, but almost as soon as he finished, Jaskier started again. The silence of the moment beginning to get awkward. "Ciri is a good kid. I miss her every day… I am sorry to hear about you and Yennefer," he commented.
The way Geralt slumped his shoulders and fiddled with the rose petals in the water, crushing them in his fingers one by one. It was clear Geralt wanted to talk more, he usually likes the silence, but the awkward pause was excruciating. Geralt pulled his head away from Jaskier. "It's fine, you know I think I can handle the rest of this myself," he said, realizing the tension in the air. "You must have some sort of business to handle downstairs." Geralt said trying not to look at his friend. "Things downstairs can wait a moment. You aren't telling me something. I thought you were in love with Yennefer." Jaskier pressed.
"I'm sorry I told you it would be a blessing to have you taken off my hands." Geralt blurted out rather loudly as if he was arguing. Jaskier's face fell as he rinsed his hands. That memory has been pushed away for many years, but the pain of heartbreak was still fresh. He would be more upset if Geralt weren't bringing it up to apologize, but it didn't make the conversation hurt any less. "I guess that's as close to an apology I'd ever get from you…" Jaskier's voice was quiet. Geralt went redder than a burnt pig in the sun, and he spun around in the tub to face Jaskier. "I am so sorry! That's not how I wanted to say that!" He panicked and stood up to meet him.
Then immediately sat back down, forgetting he was naked. "No! Fuck! Shit!" He cursed and slapped the water with a fist splashing recklessly. "I appreciate healthy conversation between friends, but I am going to need a moment," Jaskier said with a blank expression since he couldn't face Geralt. The nudity had nothing to do with it. "Finish cleaning up. I'll be down the hall," Jaskier left the room, leaving Geralt alone in the tub.
Geralt submerged himself in the water, hoping a drowner would come and finish him off finally in this moment of dread. He screamed under the surface and came back up out of breath. Clean enough he jumped out of the tub, leaving the fish stank behind. He approached the clothes Jaskier brought out for him, then looked back to his beaten but still high-quality armour and stared for a moment. Geralt picked up his swords, donned his helmet and went out the door. "A vampire's castle is no place for you." Geralt whispered to himself before taking off down the stairs and left the Chameleon. Before Geralt could reach the stable, Zoltan stopped him at the door.
"Geralt old pal! It's so good to see you it's been nearly a year hasn't it?" Zoltan asked, going in for a pat on the back, before Geralt could reach Roach. Another figure appeared in the doorway, Priscilla who donned sour look on her face. "Geralt of Rivia, you would leave as quickly as you arrive and not even say hello to me?" She asked. The sour look on her face dropped to reveal a smile.
Geralt looked between the two of them in panic, the immediate entourage of people trying to get his attention right when he wanted to disappear. "Somethings come up I need to leave," he quickly said as he broke away from Zoltan. "But ye just got here." Zoltan looked to Pricilla with a curious look. "What happened?" he asked. "Jaskier found me a contract; it's urgent." Geralt blurted out aggressively, hoping they would take the hint and go away. Pricilla looked confused about what had happened and hurried back inside to find Jaskier upstairs alone in his room — sitting slumped over in his music chair with his lute propped against the wall out of reach. "What's going on? Geralt just left in a hurry without even saying hello. Said you gave him some sort of contract? Can't he just come here to relax once in a while?" Pricilla questioned Jaskier, who seemed unresponsive as he stared at his boots. "Jaskier? Did something happen?" She asked, putting her arm around his shoulder. Jaskier looked up at Pricilla. "He ran off without me?" Jaskier sighed and stood up, "That idiot. I'll be back shortly." Jaskier said, giving Pricilla a gentle kiss on the forehead and without grabbing his lute headed out. He wasn't going to let the Witcher face the vampire on his own, especially after that conversation.