Jaskier cracked his eyes open at the sound of the door to his cell opening. The hinges shrieked, causing him to flinch, even after all this time. He mustered the energy to push himself upright, despite the ache in his arms. He refused to show the Nilfgaardians that they had broken him.
The commander stood over him, looking down at his pitiful form. Jaskier maintained eye contact, knowing it would only earn him a slap for his defiance. No punishment came however and Jaskier had a sinking feeling something awful was about to happen.
“My superiors have decided you’re no use to us,” the commander said casually as though he were discussing the weather. “You are to be sent elsewhere where you can be of some use to us.”
Jaskier’s mind was sluggish from lack of food and sleep, taking a moment to process his words. He was getting out of here. Perhaps now he could try and find a way to escape. The commander must have seen a flicker of hope cross his face as he gave a cruel laugh. “I wouldn’t get your hopes up, bardling. Where you’re going, you’ll wish you were back here.”
Jaskier’s stomach dropped. What could possibly be worse than this horrific dungeon where he had been tortured for days on end? A soldier entered the cell then, grabbing the chain that kept his hands bound and yanking him forward. Jaskier only just managed to get his feet under himself as he was yanked out of the cell.
His whole body hurt, his limbs weak. Keeping up with the fast pace the soldier set was difficult, but he had to or else he would simply be dragged across the stone floor. It wasn’t like it would be hard with how little he weighed these days.
After stumbling along for several minutes, they finally emerged outside. Jaskier was almost blinded by the bright sun. When was the last time he had been outside? Weeks? Months? He had lost count after a while when they had realised he’d been counting the days based on when he received his meagre rations and changed the routine.
After a giving his eyes a moment to let his eyes adjust he managed to blink them open. They were in a courtyard, surrounded by Nilfgaardians. Jaskier looked up at the sky and for a brief moment, he felt like he could breathe.
The feeling was short lived when a rough sack was pulled over his head and he was shoved onto the back of a cart. He tried to wriggle free but he was no match for the soldier and only ended up winding himself. He felt the chain on his hands being secured to something on the cart. What did they expect him to do, jump off the moving cart and run away while bound and blindfolded? He could hear at least two guards get in the cart with him, one sitting next to him, the other opposite.
Soon the cart jolted into motion and so began their journey. All things considered it was one of the more pleasant days Jaskier had experienced since being captured. He could feel the sun warming his chilled skin. The sounds of birds singing and the breeze rustling through the trees went some way to calming the knot of anxiety in his chest.
Where were they taking him that was so terrible? He knew Nilfgaard used slaves as part of their workforce but that wasn’t too bad. At least he would get to be outside and would get fed regularly, even if it wasn’t much. He doubted that was his fate however. The commander had implied something much worse.
He tried not to let his thoughts spiral out of control, focussing on the sounds of the forest. It may very well be the last time he got this chance.
The sky had grown dark behind the sack covering his head by the time the cart finally came to a stop. The chain around his wrists was freed from it’s tether and he was hauled out of the cart. His legs were uncooperative after being still for so long so he ended up being half-dragged between the two soldiers into wherever he was being taken.
He didn’t have to wonder for much longer. He was taken down a flight of stairs and thrown unceremoniously to the ground. He heard the clang of a door being shut and locked behind him. Now free of the soldiers, he pulled the sack off his head. He was in another cell, not too dissimilar from the one he had just left. Nothing too surprising there.
With a sigh, he sat up against one of the walls, stretching his cramped legs out in front of him. He couldn’t see much of his cell, the only source of light coming through the small window in the door. The walls were made of rough stone and the floor was covered in a later of dust, partially obscuring the dried blood staining the stone. It was clear no one had been kept in here for some time.
Jaskier was exhausted but reluctant to sleep. He had no idea what was about to happen to him. Someone could come for him at any moment and he hated to be caught unaware. He sat there for maybe an hour until he finally had to give in to his body’s demands for rest. He lay down with his back against the wall. At least no one could sneak up from behind that way.
Light streamed into the cell, waking Jaskier from his uneasy sleep. He couldn’t tell what time it was or how long he had been there, only that he was being dragged to his feet by two men. They didn’t look like Nilfgaardian soldiers, not wearing the usual armour. Instead they wore plain black robes. Mages perhaps? But they lacked the distinctive aloofness that many mages possessed. Maybe they simply worked for one?
Jaskier got his answer soon enough when he was taken to a room with a large table in the centre. Shelves of books and potions lines the walls. A man stood at the far side of the table, hands behind his back as he watched Jaskier being brought in. He circled the table, looking Jaskier up and down as though he was appraising his worth at a market. It made Jaskier’s skin crawl. “So, this is the only one they sent.” the man said to no one in particular. “Pity, I was hoping for something a little sturdier. Still, it may work.”
“And what exactly do you need me for?” Jaskier asked, his voice rough, barely more than a croak. It had been days since he last spoke.
“Silence,” he said. With a wave of his hand, Jaskier felt a sudden pressure around his chest, not enough to suffocate but it stopped him from drawing enough breath to speak. After a moment it faded, but the threat was clear.
The man had moved back to the other end of the table by now. “Put him there,” he gestured to the table. The men holding him did as instructed. Jaskier tried to fight against them but they were far too strong. They managed to wrestle him onto the table and that was when Jaskier finally noticed the metal cuffs bolted to the wood. First his wrists were secured, followed by his ankles.
He couldn’t turn his head enough to see what the man was doing behind him. His heart felt like it was about to beat out of his chest. He struggled against the cuffs keeping him in place but only succeeded in drawing blood where the metal bit into his skin. The man came back into view, holding a dark blue potion in one hand.
With a flick of his head, he ordered one of his henchmen over to the other side of Jaskier to try to prise his mouth open. Jaskier clamped his teeth shut but the man held his nose. He only managed to hold his breath for a few seconds before he was forced to open his mouth to breathe. The man took the opportunity to pour the foul liquid into his mouth before the other man clamped his hand over it, forcing him to swallow or choke.
Jaskier swallowed it, retching at its foul taste. It felt like it was burning his insides and tried to breathe through the pain. He barely had a moment before the man in charge began chanting in elder, confirming his suspicion of a mage being involved. He couldn’t catch the words being spoken but soon the burning in his stomach began to spread through his body.
His nerves felt like they were on fire, every small touch pure agony. The rough wood of the table on his back became a thousand needles burying themselves into his skin, the bite of the metal cuffs became white hot daggers. He couldn’t help but scream as his whole body felt like it was burning.
Jaskier had no idea how long he was kept in that room. The days blurred together. He only had a few snatches of lucidity in between. The only thing he knew was that surely he must be dying. There was no way he could survive much more of this. He wanted to beg the mage to stop but his throat was raw from screaming.
He lost count of how many times the vile blue potion had been poured down his throat. He had tried everything to resist, holding his breath until he passed out, biting the henchmen that tried to open his jaw, spitting the potion out. Every time he only delayed the inevitable and ended up screaming as the spell took hold.
Eventually he was dumped back in the cell from before. Never had he been so grateful to be locked away. The mage had either grown bored of his little experiment or he had succeeded, though Jaskier still didn’t know what the goal was. He just wanted to sleep.
Jaskier woke to the familiar darkness of his cell. He was a little more lucid now, not that he particularly wanted to be. He longed for the blissful unawareness of sleep. His body ached from all the thrashing he had been doing. His previous wounds had reopened several times, soaking him in his own blood. He smelt foul but he really couldn’t bring himself to care. The only relief came from the knowledge that, at least for now, he didn’t have to endure the pure torture of his body being set on fire from the inside out, however brief it may be.
He lay in the dark, waiting for sleep to claim him again. That didn’t happen. Instead a dim orange light appeared behind the cell door before he heard the bolt sliding out of place. The door swung open and in stepped one of the henchmen. Jaskier shied away, curling further in on himself.
The man made no move to grab him, instead setting down a bowl of what smelt like soup before leaving again. Jaskier didn’t move for several minutes, fearful the man would return. When he didn’t, he finally uncurled and half-dragged himself over to the bowl. It was filled with watery looking soup but Jaskier couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten, let alone something warm.
He greedily ate half of it, drinking it straight from the bowl before remembering he should probably slow down. The last thing he wanted was to throw up. The soup didn’t taste of much but he was so far past caring. He was just glad to have something to eat.
This was how the next few days seemed to go, not that Jaskier could be certain of the passage of time. Someone would bring him food and water what felt like twice a day and the rest of the time Jaskier spent either asleep or simply sitting in the dark. After a while, his throat felt okay enough that he risked humming for a while, just to chase away the silence. He couldn’t manage for long, but it was something.
At no point did the mage return and Jaskier was left to wonder what was going on. Why were they suddenly leaving him alone? Were they only allowing him to regain some strength before going back to the horrible potions? The thought alone sent his heart racing. He tried to take a few steadying breaths but found the room suddenly devoid of air.
He gasped uselessly, burying his head between his knees while he tried to simply remember how to breathe. It took several minutes but eventually he managed a short breath of just a few seconds. Eventually he steadied himself. Distantly he thought he could hear thunder.
The mage came for him the next day. Jaskier pressed himself back against the wall as he stepped inside. “I’m surprised you’re still alive. I’ve had men here easily twice as strong as you. All have died. And yet here you still are.” He was right in front of Jaskier now, crouching down so he could look at him. He was still nothing more than his little experiment, not even a person, but he seemed to be pleased with the result, whatever that was.
He dragged his eyes over Jaskier, poking at his wounds. Jaskier was frozen, letting the mage move his limbs around to inspect his body. “Healing well,” he muttered to himself. Jaskier wasn’t so sure about that. The cuts in his skin had only scabbed over a few days ago, despite being at least a week old. They had been inflicted in the last place he’d been in as part of the soldiers’ “persuasion” techniques.
“I think we’re ready for stage two,” the mage said eventually, standing up. His words sent ice through Jaskier’s veins. What did he mean stage two? Were there going to be more potions? Gods no, he couldn’t do it again. He knew it would be the death of him.
Instead of leaving the cell, the mage shut the door. With a snap of his fingers, the cell was filled with light as the previously hidden sconces were lit. He now stood at the wall opposite Jaskier, a look of intense focus on his face. Jaskier was still too scared to move, pinned by the mage’s gaze.
The mage said something in elder, gesturing toward Jaskier. Suddenly he felt the most incredible pain shoot up his spine. He fell to the side, arching his back to try and get away from it. He cried out, far past the point of caring whether it made him seem weak. It vanished just as suddenly as it had come but before he had a chance to even breath, the mage spoke again.
Over and over the mage inflicted pain on him. Sometimes it felt like being stabbed, others like he was on fire. No matter what the sensation, he couldn’t help but cry out from the pain. He was vaguely aware of a strange feeling growing in his chest. It felt odd at first but it kept building with every spell the mage threw at him until he felt like was about to burst.
He was lying on the ground, panting hard now. The mage was mid-way through reciting the next curse when Jaskier felt the thing in his chest snap. With a sudden rush of energy, he pushed himself upright, a snarl in his throat. Just as the mage cast his spell, Jaskier shouted. He wasn’t sure what he said but suddenly the room was bathed in a faint blue light and the walls shook. They were plunged into near darkness as the sconces went out with the force of it.
No pain came. The mage’s curse never reached him. Instead the mage himself was now writhing on the floor. Had Jaskier just deflected the curse? But how, he didn’t have magic. He noticed the faint light still lingered, coming from somewhere within the cell. Looking around, trying to find the source, he eventually caught sight of his hand. Blue light moved beneath his skin, tracing the paths of his blood vessels. It was a strange thing to behold but Jaskier was oddly calm about it as he watched it pulse across the back of his hand.
He heard the rumble of thunder somewhere above him. It was closer than it had been the day before. A storm must have been approaching. The mage had recovered at this point, getting back to his feet, albeit rather stiffly. His face was twisted with anger as he stared down Jaskier. “How dare you attack me!” he roared.
Jaskier may have flinched from his words before. Now he felt hard resolve within himself. Whatever the mage had done to him had something to do with chaos, and Jaskier wanted to find out exactly what he could do. Still feeling like he’d had a boost in energy, he managed to pull himself to his feet with the support of the wall. The mage only stood and watched, disgust on his face.
“I shall return tomorrow. We will see what exactly it is you can do then,” the mage said, taking a step toward the door.
“No.” The single word caused the mage to falter for a moment.
“You don’t get to tell me what to do. I’m in charge here,” he snarled.
Jaskier felt the thing in his chest building once more. The mage took another step toward the door. “No,” he said again, more forcefully this time. There was the crackle of static in the air and thunder rumbled above their heads, closer still. The light beneath his skin brightened, illuminating the room further and filling him with a strange buzz.
The mage didn’t stop, reaching for the door handle. Jaskier felt driven by the pressure in his chest, throwing out his arm in the direction of the door. Sparks arched from the handle to the mage’s hand. He cried out, drawing his hand to his chest before looking at his singed flesh. Pure rage took over his features. The mage flung another curse at him but Jaskier deflected it, following the urge of the chaos in his veins.
The ground shook as lightning struck. The mage stumbled but Jaskier was unaffected. The door had been blown off it’s hinges and the mage took the opportunity to escape. Jaskier stalked after him. He would end the mage if he could, prevent him from conducting any more experiments on him, or anyone else.
Jaskier followed the stairs to the ground level. There were several Nilfgaardian soldiers waiting for him, swords drawn and blocking the only way out of the passageway. With a shout, Jaskier commanded the energy within him to arc out, striking the men. The stench of burnt flesh filled his nose but he couldn’t quite bring himself to care. He had suffered so much and for so long at the hands of these people. He had finally been given an escape and by the gods was he going to use it.
The windows had shattered with he force of his chaos. Outside a storm was raging, the wind whipping at the trees, lightning illuminating the sky accompanied by a clap of thunder. Jaskier continued on.
He found the way out to a courtyard. The sky was dark as black clouds swirled overhead, driving rain reducing visibility even further. Jaskier relished the feeling of the cold water on his skin, closing his eyes and tilting his head back. There was shouting in front of him. Opening his eyes again, he was met with a wall of bodies, a mix of what looked to be Nilfgaardian soldiers and mages blocking his exit. The mage who had done this to him was among them, standing up front.
“Stop this at once or you shall not leave this place alive,” he shouted, fighting to be heard above the storm. Jaskier remained motionless as lightning struck the roof behind him. He knew by now the blue glow under his skin had taken over, he could feel the static jumping across his skin, small arcs of electricity jumping between his fingers.
An arrow was loosed, catching him off-guard. It buried itself in his shoulder, causing him to stumble back. He looked at it, feeling oddly detached. He could feel the pain but it was nothing when compared to what he had endured. It was just enough to send him over the edge though.
Jaskier felt himself fading as his newfound power took over. He tried to hold it back, suddenly scared he was losing control. It was no use, the power built within him until it ripped free. His vision whited out, the only sound was that of thunder echoing endlessly around his skull.
He was vaguely aware of his body collapsing to the floor, finally having pushed himself too far. He felt the now familiar pull of unconsciousness, dragging him under. His vision cleared as he lay on the ground, too exhausted to move. He couldn’t see any sign of the Nilfgaardians. Or the courtyard.
Only the storm remained.