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The Ground Gives Way

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Geralt had been on hundreds of hunts, far too many to count. Most were unremarkable. There was a monster problem and Geralt dealt with it, coming out unscathed most of the time. Then there were the ones that had gone sideways. Perhaps the people who hired him hadn’t told him everything or simply didn’t know, or maybe it was that Geralt himself hadn’t prepared well enough beforehand, not checking he had enough potions, or his blade was dulled. No matter the cause, it usually meant Geralt sustained some serious injuries, barely making it out alive.

This was one of those hunts, and the blame lay entirely with himself.

He and Jaskier had only intended to pass through the small village, maybe buy a few things from the market, spend the night with a roof over their heads. Almost immediately the locals recognised the famous White Wolf and practically begged for his help. A monster had been terrorising them for the past few weeks, killing anyone who entered the forest. The people were suffering and despite their offered reward being little more than pennies, Geralt agreed to help. He wouldn’t take these people’s money anyway, they clearly needed it more.

He had gone into the forest, followed by the bard of course, to see if he could find out what this monster was. No one who had seen it had lived so no one knew what it looked like. He came across some tracks leading further into the trees and away from the village. He had told Jaskier to go back and wait with Roach then, but of course he didn’t listen. “How do you expect me to write ballads about your great deeds when you refuse to tell me any of the details?” he had said, gesticulating wildly as though to emphasise his point. They argued back and forth for a while until Geralt finally conceded. From what the villagers had said, the monster was nocturnal so there probably wasn’t much danger with the sun still up. He had followed the tracks until he came across a clearing with a cliff on the opposite side. That wasn’t what caught his attention however.

Several ghouls lay dead around the clearing. Blood had soaked into the ground, staining it a dull black. Cautiously Geralt made his way to the nearest body. The ghouls couldn’t have been dead for more than a day. Kneeling beside the nearest one, he examined the wounds that had killed it. Deep gashes had split its stomach, spilling its blood and guts to t he ground. Another monster must have done this.

“G-Geralt,” he heard Jaskier stammer from somewhere behind him. Snapping his head around, he saw a chort standing at the treeline, staring them down.

“Jaskier, stay behind me,” he growled as he drew his silver sword. Normally he would have Jaskier wait a safe distance away from a chort but sending him into the tree now would only make him an easy target, the chort more likely to chase after easy prey than stay and fight a witcher.

Jaskier did as he was told and quickly moved behind Geralt. The chort stared them down a moment longer before lowering its head and charging. Geralt waited until the last moment before grabbing Jaskier’s arm and dodging to the side of the monster, dragging the bard with him. Jaskier stumbled, almost tripping over. If it wasn’t for the tight grip on his arm, he would’ve ended up lying on top of a ghoul corpse.

Geralt let him go once he was upright, charging at the chort which had barrelled straight into a tree, knocking it down. He got a few decent hits in before having to retreat. It swiped a massive paw at the witcher, but he rolled to avoid it. Jaskier was where he left him, clearly unsure whether it would be safer to try and run or wait for Geralt’s instruction. Geralt ran toward him, knowing the chort would charge again. He pushed him into a run to get more distance between them and the monster. Unfortunately, this led them away from the relative safety of the trees and closer to the edge of the cliff.

The chort charged, Geralt dived out of the way, pulling Jaskier with him. They were closer to the edge than Geralt was comfortable with, but they had nowhere to go. The chort had rounded on them and was now backing them up against the drop.

“Geralt, now would be a great time to do something,” Jaskier hissed in his ear from his position behind him. Geralt didn’t know what to do. He hadn’t prepared for a chort. He had no potions or even his crossbow, only his silver sword. The monster was massive, towering over them as it approached. He couldn’t attack it from the front, not unless he wanted to get tossed off the side of the cliff and leave Jaskier defenceless.

The chort was close now, and that’s when he felt the ground beneath them shift. It wasn’t much at first but suddenly the dirt beneath their feet collapsed. They were in freefall for a moment before colliding with the steep rocky slope. Geralt tried to protect his head with his arms but found it difficult while still trying to keep his grip on his sword.

After what felt like an eternity, he finally came to a stop. He felt remarkably alright, if a little banged up and dizzy. He quickly scanned their new surroundings. He and Jaskier had landed at the bottom of a deep ravine, maybe fifty feet below where the chort now stood. It roared before disappearing and Geralt just knew it would come for them.

Jaskier lay a few feet away in front of him. He was facing him but had his eyes closed. For a sickening moment Geralt though he might be dead. His fears lessened once he saw the bard draw breath. Geralt tried to push himself up to go to him but found his right arm was stuck. In fact, most of his lower body was trapped as well, buried under the fallen rocks. He tried to manoeuvre himself into a position where he might be able to push some of the rocks free, but he was trapped on his front with nowhere to go.

He turned his attention back to Jaskier. The bard didn’t seem to be trapped like Geralt was, lying mostly on top of the fallen rocks. It was difficult to tell from his position, but he seemed relatively unharmed, save for the gash on his forehead that was trickling blood over his face.

“Jaskier,” he called. There was no response, so he tried again, louder this time. “Jaskier wake up!” Still nothing. “Please, Jaskier, wake up,” he begged.

Defeated, he lay his head back down, keeping his senses alert for any sign of danger. He hoped the chort couldn’t find a way down to them. If it came back now, they were as good as dead. Geralt wouldn’t be able to fight it off again, unable to stop it from killing Jaskier. Then he had no doubt he would be next.

He slipped into an almost meditative state, waiting either for Jaskier to wake up or the chort to return. He prayed it was the former. He lay there for what felt like hours until he heard something. His eyes shot open. It was only Jaskier finally coming to, attempting to curl into himself further.

“Jaskier,” he breathed, feeling overwhelmed with relief. They weren’t out of the woods yet, however. He still needed the bard to help him get free. “Jaskier, open your eyes for me,” the witcher said, keeping his voice calm.

“Geralt?” he asked, cracking one eye open to squint at him. “Why does my head hurt?”

“What do you remember?” Jaskier was silent for longer than Geralt was comfortable with, obviously not having a clue what had happened. “There was a chort. It chased us off the cliff. "You hit your head and I’m trapped,” he explained calmly. It would do no good to have Jaskier begin to panic but he needed the bard to get him free.

“Are you hurt?” Jaskier asked as he pushed himself to sit upright. Geralt noticed there was a slight slurring of his words.

“I’m fine. I can’t get up though. I need you to try and shift some of these rocks if you can.”

Jaskier nodded his head slightly and immediately regretted the movement, burying his head in his hands as though he was trying to block out the world. He stayed like that for a while until Geralt caught his attention again by calling his name.

“Jaskier, tell me how you feel.”

“Dizzy, like I’m going to throw up. My head hurts Geralt.”

“I know, but the sooner I can get up, the sooner we can get you some help.”

“Why can’t you get up?”

Oh no, Geralt thought to himself. This was bad. Jaskier must have his head really hard if he couldn’t remember only five minutes ago. Geralt tried to supress the rising fear in his gut. It would do them no good right now. Hopefully it was only temporary. If his brain had been permanently damaged, Geralt would never be able to forgive himself.

“Jaskier, look at me,” he said gently. He waited for Jaskier to finally lift his head up from his hands. He had smeared blood over his face from the cut on his forehead and it made a gruesome sight. Still, he was following Geralt’s instructions and didn’t seem to be hurt anywhere else. “I need you to come over here.”

Jaskier did as he was told, shakily getting to his feet before stumbling his way over. “You’re stuck,” he said upon finally taking in Geralt’s situation.

“Yes, and I need you to get me free. Can you do that?”

Jaskier only gave a hum of affirmation before beginning to shift the rock piled on top of the witcher. After a few minutes he was finally able to pull his right arm free. Jaskier made surprisingly quick work of clearing the rubble keeping his legs in place and soon Geralt was able to move freely.

Of course, that would also be the moment the chort finally showed up. It came through the trees, snarling as it locked eyes with its prey. “Stay here,” he growled at Jaskier who was now sitting on the ground and breathing hard. He grabbed his silver sword from where it had fallen to the ground and moved away from Jaskier, hoping it would follow him away from the bard.

His plan worked and the chort charged at him, placing Jaskier out of immediate danger. It was clear his previous strikes had hindered it significantly. Its sides were covered in black ichor and its movements were much slower, making it easy to dodge. With a few well-placed hits, the monster went down with a resounding thud. He drove his sword through its head just for good measure. One could never be too careful with monsters like these.

Now that the chort was gone, his attention immediately returned to Jaskier. He had remained far enough away from the fight that Geralt was sure he hadn’t sustained any more injuries but looking to where he had left him revealed he was now lying on his back, seemingly unconscious yet again.

Geralt sheathed his sword as he rushed to the bard. He checked his pulse which seemed normal, if a little fast. He then looked over the wound on his head, still bleeding sluggishly. It didn’t look too bad, despite the amount of blood everywhere. He knew all to well how much head injuries bled. There didn’t seem to be any more injuries on the bard’s body, so he carefully picked him up and began walking back along the base of the cliff the way the chort had come. Hopefully there would be a path or something he could use to get back up.

“Jaskier, wake up,” he said as he walked, shaking the bard. His eyes cracked open for a moment before slipping closed again. “Come on Jaskier. I need you to wake up.”

“’m ‘wake.”

“Stay with me Jaskier. No don’t close your eyes again,” he said when Jaskier began to slip back under.

“Why?”

“Just keep talking, alright.”

Geralt managed to get Jaskier to keep talking, mostly by asking him questions. His worry only grew as his words were increasingly slurred and often incoherent. As long as he was making noise, he was awake.

He moved at a brisk pace, wanting to get Jaskier back to the village as soon as possible. He kept the cliff on his left side, following the rocky wall as it gradually lowered. At last he came across a path leading back up. It was a difficult climb with the bard in his arms, but he made it.

It didn’t take long from there for him to reach the village. He was spotted by the fearful residents before he even set foot within, already being ushered by a young man toward what was apparently the healer’s house.

The healer turned out to be the young man’s father who ordered Geralt to lay Jaskier down on a low cot. The man examined Jaskier’s head wound, or at least tried to. Jaskier was being incredibly unhelpful and Geralt was almost tempted to pin him down. Instead he kept asking questions about things he already knew, hoping to distract him. It seemed to work and the healer was finally able to look at the cut, cleaning away the blood before stitching and bandaging it. Geralt tried to hand over a few coins for his services but the man refused.

“Is the monster dead?”

“Yes.”

“Then that is all the payment I need. Thank you witcher.”

Geralt gave him a small nod before turning back to the bard who was dazedly staring at the wall. “Will he be alright?”

“I can’t say yet. I’d like him to stay here so I can keep an eye on him. I’ll be able to tell you more tomorrow. We just need to keep him awake. You’re more than welcome to stay here for the night.”

The man moved past him and began working on something near the back of the room. Geralt look the opportunity to sit by Jaskier’s side. The bard had begun to close his eyes again.

“Hey, keep your eyes open.”

“I’m tired, Geralt,” he whined.

“I know but it’s not safe for you to sleep.”

That seemed to make him more alert. “Is there a monster?”

“No, the monster’s gone but you have a concussion. You need to stay awake.”

“Did you kill it?”

“Yes.”

“Can you tell me about it?”

Geralt began telling him about the hunt, trying to remind Jaskier of today’s events. It didn’t seem to work but he achieved the goal of keeping him awake, answering all his questions, even when he repeated himself. He moved on to other hunts, ones Jaskier hadn’t heard about for one reason or another. The bard seemed to be enraptured by Geralt’s stories, even when he asked the witcher to repeat the same bit three times. He made several promises to turn whatever story he happened to be telling at the time in to a ballad. Geralt knew he would forget about his promise in a matter of minutes but it settled something in him to see the bard act so much like his usual self.