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„The Broken Lark’s illusionary singing”

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Jaskier’s siting in an old tavern at the end of its bar. It’s been almost two months (48 days, 6 hours and 23 minutes, but who's counting? ) since the Mountain Incident and everything is going to shit. Not only did his best friend and lo- muse tell him he's responsible for all his life's misfortunes, but the guilt of also lying to hi- the Witcher for nearly two decades burns through the last pieces of his heart. He, of course told some of his secrets, like how his real name is Julian and such other unimportant bits, but not the big ones. Not how he in reality is a viscount. How he’s pretty sure his father’s side of the family isn’t fully human, but really that's just gossip. He has no special bit in his body and he worked hard to achive his fame. How deep he had fallen for the White Wolf, and broke a little bit more every time he thrown him aside to be with that gods-awful witch. But who could blame him, she’s everything the bard’s not. And supposedly they are tied with a wish. A FUCKING WISH! How can one mortal beat that?

 

Of course he would tell me to go away. Who would want a deceitful fly as a companion. He probably thinks all our interactions were used for my songs. WHICH IS NOT TRUE! Oh, how stupid I was to think I could be more...
The gentle smiles he had shown me from time to time... They were just for me... Or so I though. Apparently my judge of character was oh so fucking wrong. Apparently I only shovel shit at the gorgeous, handsomely musc- NOPE! Not going in that direction thoughts! Not tonight and not again! Another sip of ale, yes, that’s what I need since I still have enough coin to buy it.

 

The bard has been fighting such intrusions in his mind ever since he descended from the last place he saw Geralt. But fate would not let him drown his sorrows in ale in peace. Cintra has fallen just barely 2 weeks ago. The gossip has already spread far and wide. Impressive feat since the Nilfgaardian army supposedly left no one alive in their wake. They say they are searching for something. And Jaskier already knows that it’s not something, but someONE. The princess Cirilla more specifically. He remembers her from when from pure curiosity 5 ( or was it 6?) years ago when he left south to play at her birthday celebration. From what he could remember she looked as if she really was Geralt’s child. Not of surprise but of blood. Her mannerisms reminded everybody who knew the Witcher personally of the White Wolf, but feared to tell since Calanthe was always listening. And the looks. The ashen hair, and eyes that also shined like gems. Emeralds instead of ambers and gold.

 

He knows he should rush back and search for her, but that may lead him back to Geralt, since the words on the wind whisper he’s the one she’s hiding with. Oh, gods he hopes it’s true. He hopes they ran away to the Witcher’s keep and are safe and sound. And a family. Oh how he wishes to be a part of it. To be at Geralt’s side as an equal and cherished husband raising Ciri and hiding from the world in their own little bubble... This is really getting too much for his poor heart.

 

I need another mug of ale... or wine. Melitele, why they don’t have wine?

 

- EY!!! BARKEEP!! Bring me another ale, good man!- shouts Jaskier, already putting the coins on the wooden surface of the bar in front of him.
- I hear ya, bardling. No need to shout.- responded the nervous and tired owner of the tavern, looking to the men in his peripheral vision.

 

From the corner of the Tavern a group of 3 soldiers with a sun emblem on their chests and backs sat in awe. They found a way to get not only promoted, but also to get the crazy witch they have been stuck with off their backs. The Witcher’s Bard. Who else can know where the mutant is hiding? Nobody. They just have to wait to ambush him when he’ll be leaving. Then the songbird will sing and tell them where to find the princess. They get up slowly and left to plan their ambush.

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Geralt is 100 percent done with fate and destiny and the whole world. He’s currently siting under a tree near the Brokilon forest. He’s just found Ciri, who’s laying next to him and they have been avoiding Nilfgaard ever since. They’re low on supplies and still need to get two very important people before they try to trek to Kaer Morthen. Yennefer to help with Ciri’s magic that’s simmering just under her skin. And Geralt’s heart: his songbird Jaskier that he hurt and needs to make sure is safe during the war. It's been nearly 2 months since then but he still is in pain for that encounter. He needs Jaskier with him in the keep, preferably, but first he needs to apologise. He knows what he did and said was wrong, but strong emotions are so hard for him to comprehend. Not to mention actually reacting to them in a healthy manner. He's a witcher for Gods' sake! He souldn't have emotions. He didn’t want to lose Jaskier too early because of his life on The Path, and certainly doesn’t want him to lose his life in a war now! It’s no place for a bard. Especially his bard. But he needs to rest first. He hears Jaskier voice telling him so: “You need to rest first Geralt, or you won’t be able to save anybody, darling” in a voice barely hiding the emotions underneath. He doesn’t know if Jaskier loves him, but nobody cared for him like that since... ever. He even doesn’t treat himself that way. And how he misses it.

 

It’s going to be hard to find him now. The sorceress is easy. They are bound by his misplaced wish so they can feel where the other is when they focus. But the bard? He has no way to locate him on his own. He needs to first find Yen and beg her to locate the person she seemingly hates. And it’s going to be a difficult conversation since he also joined that list a few weeks back. On that fucking mountain. He now fucking hates dragons and mountains that are not the ones where the Wolf's keep is.

 

His internal brooding almost nudges Ciri out of sleep, so he stops thinking in the future and focuses on now. They need supplies. Not only food, but also clothing and a place to heal enough to reach Keer Morthen. From starvation and running he’s lost some of his mass and his fighting attempts reflect this. He can’t be weak. If not for himself then for his child sleeping next to his lap. Shit, he doesn’t even know when he started thinking of her as his daughter. Something he was designed NOT to be able to have.
Fuck...

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Jaskier’s stumbling out of the tavern and spills out into the street. It’s a small village, barely big enough for a tavern in the shadows of a bigger city, but he was able to find a farmer that allowed to sleep in his barn after an exchange of a few coins. They are the last things he has really. He left his lute and some other belonging when he hastily left the top of the Cursed Mountain and hadn’t noticed until it was too late to go back. Ehh... damn these things anyway. He doesn’t need reminders of his former muse. He has enough coin from his emergency stash that he can survive and travel further north. He can even earn money without his beautiful lute. HA! Take that fucking Valdo fucking Marx!

 

Barely holding himself up he doesn’t notice the 3 soldiers surrounding him until it’s too late.
- Gentlemen! What can I hep yu this evenninnnng.. ? – he asks them, sluring few words
- We know who you are, bardling. Your that mutant’s bitch that follows him everywhere. And now you’re going to come with us and tell where he’s hiding- sneers the one in front of him.
- I have no idea who aer yu talking abut. Am juss a simple bart as yu sait. Evenn if I WASS traveilin with him he leffft me. So takee thhat, even he didnn want mee... – Replies Jaskier, almost crying, but holding it in. No need to show him how weak he really is.
- Oh, but I think you can tell us where he’ll be hiding. After all you travelled with him for what? 20 years? You must know where the mutant hides to lick his wound like the dog he is!- Says the one on his left. Chuckling at his own joke. Jaskier’s anger flares up within him. HOW DARE THEY!
But before he even manages to connect his fist the third soldier grabs him from behind and muffles his screams with his hand. They drag him behind a corner into darkness where they use one of their sheathed swords to connect it with the bard’s temple. He goes out like a light.

 

They take him under the cover of night to their camp made inside the ruins of an old bastion near Maribor where their witch is waiting for scouts to return with information about the Witcher’s whereabouts. When they get there and tell her who they brough along her wicked smile is the creepiest thing they ever seen. Yes, the mage Antira, under Fringilla Vigo's command will have a lot of work on her hands in the dungeons in the next few days and will bring herself higher in the order of mages of Nilfhgaard. She’ll be the one who tells her superior where the mutant is heading with the princess. Even if she has to curse and kill for it.

Chapter Text

When Jaskier started to float up into consciousness he realized few things.

One: he must have been knocked out for a long while because he doesn’t feel tipsy or hangover whatsoever.

Two: He’s bound to a table that reminds him of a one a medic might use when examining a patient. But... His wrists, arms, ankles and thighs have been surrounded by thick rope and tied to it. While his head, shoulders, stomach and calves had the same treatment with sturdy, but worn out looking black leather strips directly connected to the table. He lays there stiff and in a straight line like a board, with barely any give.

This starts up his brain activity into overdrive.

Where is he?
What happened?
Why is he bound to a table in a middle of a room reeking of... wait... IS THAT BLOOD?!

Panic quickly envelops his mind and he tries to scream for help, only to notice things three and four:

Three: He has been gaged with a part of his dirty teal doublet Ewww...

Four: And he’s in a room underground, made of uneven, stone bricks and which is filled with a large amount of items that look like torture devices he has seen during his travels and many other he doesn’t recognise. And doesn't want to know how they are used.

Adding to the atmosphere are also present everywhere bottles full of concoctions or monster (?) body parts floating in thick liquids.

Also it’s very dirty in here, and dust floats freely around the room.

Yep, this is how I’m gonna die. Tortured for Gods know how long and then slowly killed for... who knows what. I demand to know what is my crime first!

Then he sees the sun emblem on the piece of armour hanged on the heavy and sturdy looking wooden door.
The Great Sun.
Which means Nilfgaard.
Which means that emperor Emhyr var Emreis has him in his grasp and at his mercy. Or his subordinates in the army in this case.
Which means he’s not here as a criminal, but an information source about Ciri’s whereabout...

Damn it!

This is bad. Really bad!

His recollections of the moments just before his forced nap slowly trickle back into his brain. The huge amount of ale he consumed, his shouting and gathering of attention when he should have been silent and hiding, the three soldiers that ambushed him when he left.

And now this... lovely. Just. Lovely

His internal panic is stopped dead in its tracks when the door opens and two figures walk in.
One: a big, strong looking soldier without most of his armour, in plain, common clothes. He looks very tired. Possibly anxious? Jaskier wouldn’t know at first the source of such anxiety but then he looks to the next person that have entered the chamber.

It’s a woman that looks so out of place that there’s only one explanation as to who she is and what she is doing here.

A witch.

And she’s probably the leader of this group of soldiers.

She’s taller than most women Jaskier has seen, with such symmetrical beauty it’s obviously fake and of magical origin. Her brown eyes look at him with something akin to... joy?

Oh great, a sadistic mage. Such an original combination.

Her lips and hair as red as they can be. The dress she wears, long and deep crimson coloured, follows her movements barely making any sound on the floor. All of her looks too like royalty next to the rugged soldier and dirty chamber.

Well dungeon more accurately, now that Jaskier knows what is in it and can guess how these instruments are used and on whom.

The soldier stands next to the door, blocking the path of escape (really as if Jaskier had any chance of freeing himself from these numerous binds) and seemingly putting himself as far from the mage as possible. While she just coos and moves closer to the bard’s head:

- Oh hello little bardling! You’ve finally woken up. Honestly I was too tired of waiting for your body to heal itself of the alcohol you wasted your coin on, so I helped you with a little bit of chaos. – she whispered in a cruel imitation of a mother soothing her child.

- GmHHMH!! OHUHM! – Jaskier tried to scream through the gag.

- Oh, stop this now. I know how you love to sing, so let’s make a deal, shall we? I will take away this scrap of rags you call clothing and in exchange you will tell me where your mutant is with the princess. OK? Ok. – She repeated while already untying the gag around the bard’s head.

Now, we all know that Jaskier’s survival instincts are lacking so he choses that moment to unleash his fury at the mage. In a style and tone he is sure works with their kind. It worked with the hag called Yennefer, didn’t it?

- Well, you see I don’t know any mutants. The only person good natured enough to help a princess that I know is the White Wolf – he said with a smirk that slowly fell from his face when the Antira’s face became full of disgust and anger. She quickly raises her hand to his neck and starts to apply pressure.

- Ohh really?... The little songbird wants to play smart? Fine then. I will entertain you this once. We’ll see for how long you’ll try to act like the stain on society you are. Angus, start the fire for the brands, will you?- she spits the sentences covered in venom. They freeze Jaskier’s blood on the spot.

- Well, pretty lady there’s no ne..- he tries to defend himself in a raspy voice. But the mage has heard enough. The bird won’t speak now. He’s too strong in the mind. She needs to shatter it just right for him to spill his secrets. She replaces his gag and moves to a corner in the dimly lit room.

- But of course, of course, you are a bard so you must be a good actor. So why won’t you play the role of a quiet mouse for now. I’ll need you to be shrieking later.- she throws over her shoulder from where she’s working on her next step. The soldier, Angus apparently, has already readied the fire to heat up the brands of the Great Sun in it’s flames.

They’ll glow orange in no time.

- Angus, what do you think is better? Partial skinning or shallow lacerations covered in salt ?- she asks like this is an everyday situation. Who knows, maybe for her, it is.

- I think t-the la-lacerations hurt less initially an-and give him better chance of survival, my lady- lady Antira...- the soldier says meekly and stuttering , not looking up from his shoes which suddenly became very interesting.

- Hmmm.... good reasoning my assistant. Skinning it is. For this little birdie we are going all out. He reacts very well to my chaos so healing and hurting him over and over will be child’s play.- she scoffs at the look of terror both men throw at her.

She goes back to her work.

The soldier lowers his head while Jaskier tries to kill her with his stare.

But that is only on the outside. In his mind he curses every god he know and every secret he forced Geralt to tell him. And also the methods they will use to try and get them out of him.

Oh merciful Melitele, have mercy! Fucking fuck fan-fuck-tastic shit! They are going to use me to get to Geralt! OK Jaskier think what would the terrifying Witcher do in this situation? Brake the bindings with his strength. But I, as a meek bard don’t have any! Especially after running solely on ale! Magic! Do I know any mag- oh who am I kidding I can’t rescue myself. I’m not Yennefer of Vengerberg. I’m just a stupid viscount turned bard without any fighting skills. I mean I guess I had my basic fencing classes in Oxenfurt, but that was years ago! Even my damned father couldn’t pass me the family’s supposed supernatural abilities. I’m just a useless human! Calm, yes calm down Jaskier this is not the place nor time. They can’t know how you feel. It will give them too much satisfaction already.

While thinking in his head a mile a second the bard doesn’t notice the witch’s grin as she looks at her new chew toy.

Her specialty in chaos lays in the senses so she enchanted her own just after completing her training. She can smell every bit of fear, panic and confusion the bard oozes from his body. Such delicious combination. She leaves her newest creation for a while to start her play. Moving out of bard’s sight she takes the branding iron, now hot and softly glowing, and levitates it as to not burn herself. At the sight of that her subordinate almost pisses himself. Then she looks him in the eye and she whispers to him:

- If you’re so scared go outside and wait. I can play with our bard myself. Just remember to bring me my supplies and be at attention all the time, clear darling?- she sweetly remarks. The soldier Angus flees the scene that’s about to unfold. He knows the witch's methods and they aren't pretty.

- So when were we my birdie? Ahh yes.... It’s time for you to try and scream like a banshee.- she laughs as she presses the iron to the bard’s chest. Burning his clothing and skin.

- MHHYHMMMGHHHHG!!! MNGHHMMMMM!!! – Jaskeir tries to scream but is powerless to do anything else. His mind repeats the same though: better me then Geralt or Ciri; please may they be safe.
The sorceress puts away the rod of metal, a fresh wound in the shape of a sun now lays asymmetrically on the bard’s skin next to his right nipple. It was almost burned off. The blood burnt into even richer crimson then her dress.

- Oh, such beautiful song my birdie! I’ll make you sing some more for me! Hahahha! – she cackles and continues her work.

The newest project forgotten in the moment on the worktable a few feet away.

Jaskier’s screams can be heard for at least next few hours aboveground, in between his torture; only when the witch tries to force him to answer her question. Usually after a beat of silence the singing of the bard can be heard and the cycle of screams, question, song repeats. Some soldiers look at each other with pity for the bard. If he could just tell them everything they would just kill him quickly. But no, he must ruin their peaceful tournament of Gwent with his screaming and singing.

The witch doesn’t leave the dungeons for more time than necessary.

Chapter Text

-Ciri, we have to go. – a gentle voice wakes the former princess from sleep.

-Geralt? What's happening? Are we being attacked? It’s still dark...- she tries to ask through a yawn. They don’t usually travel during the night, only when they are close to being found but she can feel that today’s a little different.

-We have to go to the city.- the witcher replies with the least amount of words possible spoken. Even if it’s a lot more than his classic “hmm...”.

Only one person can distinguish between all of them with clarity. And now he needs to get up and going before his mind spirals onto itself with that topic again. Before he even has a chance to find the brittle human and protect him.

-Because?...- Ciri questions, her mind still between sleep and waking.

-Supplies. And I'm sure we’re going to meet one of the people I told you about in Brudge. –
he explains already throwing their bedrolls and packs onto Roach’s and random stallion’s backs.

They found it near a destroyed battlefield. It’s not the most trained thing, but a horse is a horse and they needed it to carry what they had. And Roach of course is trusted with the Witcher’s most precious possessions.

His swords when not in need. Thou that rarely happens now. His armour pieces, alchemical tools and ingredients, sharpening whetstones and the most precious bundle of all.

Jaskier’s pack and lute, still carried in it’s case.

Geralt found them during the morning after he exploded onto the man that always stood by his side. For a moment it gave him hope he was still there, but then he noticed that the bard’s satchel with his money and most of other things were taken.

Just enough to be caried on bard’s own shoulders.

He left the things that he had acquired indirectly or directly thanks to Geralt. The most obvious being the lute, but other’s were also present.

A silver dagger with some resemblance of decoration. Garalt’s first real gift after one of his winters in the keep. The design rugged and uneven, barely recognisable. Jaskier of course teased him at first, but soon they came to an agreement that he just had to try to decorate it for the bard to even try to use it.

It sparked a tradition of sorts between them.

Whenever they separated for longer periods of time, one or the other would unintentionally have something the other might appreciate more, or could use in their trade.

No real feelings attached to the brand new and sharp hunting knives the bard would miraculously find at the bottom of his pack.

No real meaning behind the scented oils that clogged the Witcher’s nose, but the musician loved to use. In small doses thank the gods.

They meant nothing, really. At the time they weren’t friends even. And that’s why most of these that supposedly belonged to the bard, but were given by the witcher are again in his possession.

He stares at them a little too long. Ciri looking at him with understanding in her eyes. He told her most of the important parts of his story. Those she didn’t know from the Jaskier’s ballads at least. She knows mostly what happened that day on the mountain, and is certain she figured out the parts her new father figure didn’t want to talk about.

-I’m ready, let’s go- she says softly, bringing Geralt back to reality after they pack everything and take care of their morning routines.

-Hmmm... – such a classical answer. And yet it somehow brings comfort to the girl.

Soon they will be crossing the gates of the city named Brudge where they’ll meet Yennefer and try to restock and get ready for their journey further, while hiding in the shadows of the town.

They are oblivious to the happenings that at their point in time were dragging on more than a few days.

The prisoner dragged from one of the neighbouring villages changed forever in the ruins of a forgotten bastion on the other side of the settlement.

A little more than two hours on foot if one were to hurry.

But soon even them won’t be able to ignore it for long. The consequences of the things set there in motion were only getting started. After a new source of information about Ciri was found and drained a new horror has awakened.

Because before they will get a chance to set foot in the city and finish their business a new danger and adventure will already be on its way.

Terrible and powerful. A tale fit for a bard’s ballad full of death and destiny, heroics and heartbreak. Curses and creepy hummings.

Chapter Text

The time has lost its meaning.

The bard only knows that another wave of pain washes over his body. It’s been sliced, burnt, twisted and broken time and time again. Sometimes with the gag in his mouth or hanging loosely around his throat. Each time he bites through it a new one is made from his shrinking and damaged and filthy clothes that barely hang onto his body. The witch changed his restraints into heavy metal cuffs so he may not only sing, but dance for her as well. They bite into his skin that now isn’t always being healed. Just like his throat, now made sore and swollen. His singing nothing more than a few raspy whispers while screams weak and shaky. The witch did not find his singing heroic ballads about Geralt as amusing as he.

- Ohh... again songbird? I’ve just started to pour the acid.- the wicked sorceress coos at the physically broken man. She was holding a beaker with a strong acid and was pouring it into wounds made by her rusty and painfully dull dagger.
She healed him over a few dozen times in the two days in her care. In reality this was no longer serving any purpose other than her amusement.

Her magnum opus, a curse gifted to her from the court sorceress of Nilfgaard, the great witch Fringilla that she has infused with her own talents is finishing brewing through its final stage in the corner.

The Continent haven’t seen such monstrosity during any part of its long history.

She learned quickly that the bard had a very resilient mind and loyal soul so the literal approach of breaking him wouldn’t work.

But the curse she has prepared?

It can drive even the most resilient mad. Even a mutant as strong as the White Wolf wouldn’t be capable of resisting its power for too long. At least that’s her theory.
While interrogating the bard she can squeeze in a little bit of experimentation after all. Just as her mentor says: “if you can do multiple things with one act, why should you limit yourself? “

And also she’s curious as to what the result of her new self-evolving curse will be. Well not hers but Fringilla’s, although she’s the one who added her own twists. The mage can’t wait to be able to finally test it. It's the first of it's kind because it has the ability to gain more power over time and change its parts. So it has to be controlled as to not allow it to gain more power than its caster is capable of controlling.

So now, since it’s time, she casts a quick spell to stop the acid from burrowing further into the red, yellow and black flesh of her plaything and steps over to the potion.

- Hmmm... yes. Finally, it’s done.- she inspects her creation in deep thought. The black abyss swirlling in front of her eyes.

- I’ve waited over a day for it to finish brewing, you know birdie? You should honestly be honoured to be treated with the most powerful curse ever created. – she smirked at the still seemingly defiant look in the bard’s eyes.

-Fuu...ckkk... y-youu...- rasp the abused vocal chords from hours of screaming, singing and throwing curses at the witch, and actually throwing up.

-No, I don’t think so.- she responds smugly while bringing the finished concoction closer to the bard’s mouth. The catalyst of the curse.

He immediately starts to try to thrash and move away, but his body is too abused to be of any help.

Made pink and raw from constantly skinning and growing anew when the old one was sliced off by various methods.

The cuts and welts always painful, but not leaving their marks for too long. Every single one healed after he gets too close to the death’s door. To his only possible salvation, really. He doesn’t get to keep any damage that would kill him. Only the ones that discomfort him and pose no danger of killing him before he tells them what they want to know.

If he remembers correctly she broke different bones in his body with hammers and stones around 20 times, pulled both his finger- and toe- nails out fully at least twice.
Pierced his body more times that he can count. With various blades and instruments of torture of course.
And every single time she would use her chaos to either force his body to regenerate, using up all of his storage of any tissue or fat not needed for him to live, slowly turning his body into a living skeleton. Or forcing the blood and skin, flesh and bone back into their original positions and stitching them together with literal magic.

Then she would ask a different version of questions that summarised meant:

“Where the fuck is your disgusting mutant with the former princes of Cintra? Tell me now where are they hiding you stupid witcher bitch.”

The sorceress clearly has some issues with everybody that even just is associated with witchers in any positive light.

Unfortunately no part of his body was left untouched. Yes, even his privates, but thankfully the sorceress seems disgusted with his male parts and rarely interacted with them. Thank Melitele for at least a bit of her mercy.

But none of that matter now when the bottle is thrusted into his mouth. Hitting his teeth painfully on the way in.
He tries to stop the liquid from getting into his throat, but the delicate looking fingers block his nose and his body reacts for him.
He takes a gulp hoping its air, but only takes the potion into his mouth.

And then another one.

And another.

And another, until the bottle is empty.

While this is happening the woman praises him for letting the “medicine” in. Jaskier tastes death and evil on his tongue. It burns and hurts while slowly the thick concoction makes way into his stomach. It settles as if it was lead at the bottom of his gut.

The sorceress moves in front of him and smirks.

-This isn’t the last you will see of me, my birdie.- and with that said very ominously she starts saying the incantation, casting the curse proper. Her eyes turn obsidian black and her face is split with a wicked grin.

To Jaskier’s ears it sounds like nothing on this plane should be able to say it. He catches( or at least thinks he hears) a few words: curse (no surprises there), his something, dreams turned, until time of something, close eyes, and many other he can’t distinguish from her hellish speech.

And then when it seems it has ended his whole body feels like it’s on fire. The concoction that made his stomach its temporary home quickly gets absorbed and is spread out into his body through his veins, now becoming black lines dancing on his body.

Suffering runs alongside them.

The bard’s mind incapable of anything more than screaming in agony doesn’t notice the sudden and quite subtle changes to his mind.

His throat gives up and he now knows he won’t sing for a long while.

He thinks he hears his teeth click together and muscles twitch, convulsing on the table, his body accommodating the curses vessel as it now carves into him its new home.

And as fast as it began, just as fast it seemingly ended.

The witch isn’t in the room with him.

He tries to organise the chaos and pain in his head to make sense of what just happened.

And where is his captor? What the hell did her parting statement mean?

And then through the door bursts into the room the white haired Witcher. The once sturdy and iron-reinforced wooden door lays in splinters all over the dungeon’s room.

Chapter Text

Jaskier’s pain doused brain has to gather its wits just for another second or two to realize who he is seeing but Geralt (what is he doing here?!) is already walking towards him.

- Jaskier, fuck. what the hell did you do?! I told you if you ever need to run to come to my safe place!- he basically shouts while cutting and crushing the many binding holding the now very confused bard with his... precious; use only for monsters silver sword... The very same one the bard even after two decades of traveling together wasn't allowed to touch without a serious reason.

huh weird...

But the musician’s brain catches up to what is happening. And so after pulling his gag out of his mouth he hoarsely accuses:

- Wha.. whe.. ho... what do you mean safe place? Like a safe house? – he barely is able to try to ask questions.

Or at least he thinks he should be struggling at least a little bit to string words together? Especially after his last “performance”.

Curious...I don’t feel as if my throat was filled with broken glass… How long have I been left alone to heal this much?

- To the place I feel safe in, where do you think Jaskier? I must have told you about it.- The witcher accuses him with clearly visible emotion. Rage mostly, but with other things just under as if he can’t decide what to show.

Wait, since when does he show any emotion at all so freely?

Wait.. does Geralt even have a place where he would feel secure? Where he would stop basically half-sleeping and without his swords arm’s length away?...
I don’t believe it a tiny bit. Even in the keep he says he keeps an ear out for his brothers and their “terrible tries at joking around” as he once told me in front of our campfire when I bugged him to tell about his brothers.
He even was more stoic for the next three days, telling me how he should be more careful to “not let me know more about himself”.
I mean fair, thanks to that the mage even with infinite amounts of torture couldn’t tear any too important information out of him.
And his unwillingness to hurt Geralt indirectly certainly helped in the process of resisting her.

But in the present the bard, as expected is very confused. One moment he’s feeling the worst pain he felt in his entire life and now he’s sitting on top of the very table he was tortured in, without a trace of the witch A...An... Ani... whatever!

Curses! I can’t even remember her name! What’s wrong with my head?

And his once long ago muse and best friend is staring at him and waiting for his answer.
Why he’s been abducted and why he hasn’t gone... somewhere?

He’s so confused.

And why does his throat feel less horrible? It should be burning and bleeding every time he tries to speak.

- What do you mean, you oaf? You’ve never told me anything about such a place. You didn’t even want to tell me for the first decade about where you spend your winters, you b..- the bard tries to remind the other how secretive he was during the first few years of their relationship, but isn’t even allowed to insult him further. Geralt interrupts him just after he spoke the part about where he mentioned the keep.

- Ohh really, do tell me: where do I spend the winters, my birdie? – The witcher asks with a smirk.

Most unfortunately not with me… You didn’t even ever invite me! And what is this question right now!? As if I, your past companion of 22 years hasn’t been just freed by you from a torturous grasp of a witc....

wait birdie?

Geralt never calls me birdie.

- Geralt are you all there in the head? You barge in and save me; thank you once again for that; but then yell at me for being abducted and now want me to remind you where you live for winter? For all the time I have known you, you sure don’t act like yo-you...- the realization slowly creeps and pounces at the bard, pushing air out of his lungs and stopping his rambling short.

He jumps, painfully reminding him of the state he’s in, from the table and takes a step back. He lounges for the silver dagger the witch used to cut him a few times to test “if he was receptive to silver like a monster; maybe you have some interesting relatives bardling! Who knows!”.

Of course it didn’t hurt him more or less. Honestly the rugged iron blade gave him more pain than the sharp silver one. Jaskier now holds the same blade high and demands the person in front of him for some answers:

- Who are you? A doppler? Some other beast? What do you want?-– he says with fake confidence.

My Geralt isn’t so emotional when it comes to me.
He thinks bitterly.

He sent me away on that mountain while blaming me for all the wrong and misery in his life. When I only wanted to bring the opposite with me by his side. The real Geralt probably still thinks of me in that way strongly. Otherwise his poor copy wouldn’t be here trying to get me. The real Geralt would first make sure I’m okay before yelling at me. Or at least I hope he would. I don’t know anymore. I apparently wasn’t even his friend. Just a nuisance.

- What are you talking about, bard? I’ve travelled with you for over two decades. I’m your friend, aren’t I?- the imposter only digs his grave deeper with that statement.

- Ok, now I know you’re no..- the bard isn’t even allowed to finish when three soldiers pour from the broken door and quickly throw themselves at the witcher.

He fights poorly compared to all the times Jaskier has seen him fight. No advanced stances, no graceful swings of a blade. He doesn’t even manage to cut one soldier down!

What is happening? He acts as if surprised.

But that’s impossible his enhanced senses should have warned him before they even got here. The “witcher” of course quickly loses his ground and the battle, and soon he has a sword sticking out of his back and with horrible gurgling sounds says his last words:
- why did you not listen...?- referring probably to the information Jaskier was supposed to have about where he wanted the bard to go.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In a town called Brudge, in a manor looking worse for wear,

sits a very tired sorceress who thinks life is so unfair.

Yennefer is currently eating her last portion of magically enhancement soup. She used too many herbs to count for it to taste any good.

She doesn’t care.

This is the best she can do in her situation. Sitting (hiding) in a glamoured and warded (with last of her chaos) manor she has to recover from the shitshow that was Sodden. Barely a week ago.

Yes, she defeated the army and saved some of her friends.

Well, more acquaintances maybe. Not everyone earned her trust to be called anything more. And yet none did she trust as much as she did Merigold. The medic of the sorceresses' was the only one that when she talked with she didn't want to pull out her hair.

But that doesn’t matter now. She’s beat and ready to recover her strength.

She gets up and checks everything once again.
The fire is already nothing more than embers. Every charm and ward is strong and holding. Her chaos has already started flowing with the help of the soup.
Her eyes are covered with a white bandage around her head that keeps the worst of stimulation away. Yennefer had to heal them herself after the battle and subsequent injury. As such they can be too sensitive to stand and her vision is still blurry.

She’s no Triss after all.

After making sure everything’s in the right place for the last time she traces the walls to guide her steps and goes into the bedroom.

The bed isn’t too bad, but Yenna doesn’t have enough power to worry about such things that she can’t change. A few days on it won’t break her back after all.

She unbuttons her gown and slips into a simple and comfortable sleeping dress. Nobody here to impress or prove one’s worth or hide weaknesses at least.

She’s alone.Like most of her miserable life.

The sorceress drinks the specially made potion to put her into a comalike state.

Only somebody messing with her wards or her body physically will wake her up.

And really, she needs her "beauty sleep".

On shaking legs she gets under the covers and lays to sleep. The potion is already working wonderfully.

But before she goes completely under she tugs at the bond.

It feels weaker, but still binds her with the Witcher.

Good, I haven’t lost him to Nilfgaard yet.

After she heals she thinks it will do them good to try and find and then protect the princess.
Gods know Geralt will need her help with the child.

Chapter Text

Jaskier only can look with wide eyes and mouth agape. How the hell did they take down a seemingly healthy witcher?! And what the hell does Geralt mean? What place?

- Because you didn... HMGh! HMmm...?- He tries to respond that he knows no such place, only to be stopped from speaking by a... gag? Didn’t Geralt just cut it? And the restraints broken a second ago now hold him down. Again?! What is happening? Was he hallucinating or dreaming?

No, it’s impossible. He reasons.

The witch didn’t allow him even a nap without torture, unless he was recovering more than few minutes from his almost fatal wounds and was firmly unconscious. During these times he didn’t even know what she was doing, being in a healing trance of sorts and all that.

(But one can guess she would go outside and wait for him to recover while doing her duties as the leader of the troop of soldiers she was there to help. They were supposed to listen to people above and travel onward but the witch argued about her “work” with the bard. She came out on top and they listen to her. To prepare them to march to Vizima for an attack on the city is now only her objective when she is bored of what she’s been already doing. They were only waiting for the bard to spill and to kill him after. )

Probably.

The door suddenly opens again, without shattering and this time a much quieter Geralt walks in.

Well this one is talking just like the one he remembers. That is to say, doesn’t talk at all. He silently and quite elegantly glides to the table and uses a key Jaskier has seen previously only on the witch’s hip. When mocking him of course with “freedom’s so close you can grasp is, dearie. Oh wait you can’t. You’re chained to me!”.

Gods Jaskier hates that monster masquerading as a witch. But since Geralt is in possession of said key he can be sure she has met a gruesome end by the hand of the witcher.

When the gag is once again cut and out of his mouth the bard more slowly than in his dream(?) raises up an more slowly and tests his vocal capabilities.

- Hello… G-Geralt, nice meeting you here. Thank you for once again saving my shit shovelling arse. If you’ll let me I’m going to get out of here, raid some dead soldiers and be on my merry way, opposite to yours. Sounds good? – he ends his quick monologue to find out if the White Wolf is still mad at him for the mountain incident. Since he is confident this is the real Geralt and still doesn’t know what their relationship is, or what feeling the monster hunter harbours for him.

To his surprise Geralt doesn’t even hum. Just looks at the now free bard and… blocks the door.

Huh…

-Um, Geralt? You know if you want me to grant you that wish you need to first let me go right?
Are you even listening to me?- the bard questions, silently both cursing the witcher’s inability to say what is he thinking and thanking Melitele, for all in all Geralt looks quite healthy. Almost too healthy. One might think that a mercenary reliant on getting coin from LIVING people won’t be able to eat as much fats and rich enough meals to fill their frames so well as the specimen in front of him. Especially during a bloody war.

The witcher is still blocking the door.

-Geralt please, penny for your thoughts? You know that since the mountain I didn’t have practice in interpreting your miniscule twitches and I lost the ability to understand you without words.- he tells the man to finish this conversation. This is getting kind of awkward.

-Hello? Earth to the witcher~- sing-songing innocently he doesn’t notice the unnatural shifting of light and whooshes of air.

-Why would I let you go away?- and OKEY this is not what Jaskier expected when being rescued, once again, only after 3 da… wait for how long was he tortured again? No windows or news of the outside world did some trick on his sense of time.

But back to the marble statue standing in the doorframe. That is at the moment basically accusing him of trying to get out of his way, just like HE wanted!

-Because you told me to go, don’t you remember?!- while accusing his ex-muse the bard swings his arms dramatically, although they seem very heavy to lift.

-You spoke to me the most at once in the whole time I knew you if I remember correctly. Such beautiful metaphor too. I hoped my talents would rub on you but not in such way. YOU are the one who pushed me away and made me let go in the first place!- the bard ends his emotional speech with his finger poking the witcher’s chest.

That full and healthy looking marvel of the world… Especially good looking since there’s supposedly a war out there. A war in which he’s supposed to be hunted and with a child in his care… Running…

While on that topic where is she?

Jaskier waits a few good minutes but the brute doesn’t even move a muscle. If Jaskier didn’t know better he would have thought that the witcher’s dead or a very realistic statue. After a few more heartbeats he can’t be bothered to wait for an apology, so he asks what is on his mind.

-Ok, fine witcher. I don’t care for your reasons or whatever. I do must ask you thou: where is the princess you are supposedly hiding from the emperor?- while asking Jaskier tries to imitate the witcher’s iconic eyebrow lift.

-The cub of Cintra?- the said witcher asks as if he didn’t know what the bard was talking about.

-YES, GERALT! That one, remember? Your child of surprise, that you blamed on me?!- the bard is in such fury he doesn’t even think about the inconsistencies in the witcher’s behaviour. Or what information he’s giving away.

-Interesting…- Geralt says and reaches for one of his sword. Jaskier doesn’t have time to notice which while he takes a hurried step back. Getting that feeling of déjà vu he doesn’t react fast enough to dodge the strike and his left lung is pierced through by one of Geralt’s swords.

And it’s not the one he was fantasising during their travels. Oh no, not that one. This one is made of metal that cruelly stops air from getting into his lungs. Blood starts to pool in his throat and mouth instead. With horror written on his sunken face he asks:
-What… *cough* the hell.. Geralt…- with disbelief for such action from his friend Jaskier can’t comprehend what is happening.

Again, nothing makes sense anymore.

The witcher just stands there as darkness envelopes the dying bard. No emotion on his stone-like face. The bard falls to the floor.

Well at least I won’t be tortured anymore.

The bard thinks while seemingly dying and as his mind drifts slowly away those are his last “conscious” thoughts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Five days later from that point in time, on the edge of sunrise two cloaked figures on horseback ride into the city of Brudge.

Nobody knows who they are and do not care as those left alive after their surrender try to set up morning shop.

Geralt cautiously dismounts and takes Roach’s rains in his hand. They first need to at least tie the horses from where they can quickly ride out of the settlement if the Nilfgaard left some soldiers to control the leftover population. He can’t risk getting caught because of a slow exit from a stable.

Not with so many precious things and people close.
(Oh sweet irony; how he doesn’t realise how true his statement is)

After finding a suitable place for their horses the witcher and princess reluctantly split to do their prediscussed tasks.

Ciri goes to the waking market for most of their needed rations and then to find suitable clothing for travel. She will of course be cautious with their coin and to not be spotted. She’s going to finish her task successfully.

People don’t even bat an eye at her, too focused on their griefs and tragedies. And spreading news and gossip naturally. She learns this way about the happenings around the city. The news disturb her greatly, and as such she tries to gather more information by looking for a notice board and eavesdropping on tired merchants and clients.

While the former princess is hopping from one stall to the next Geralt focuses on his wish- induced bond with Yennefer. He worries for her after hearing the rumours from the battle on the Sodden hill. They say of a witch that singlehandedly almost destroyed the Nilfgaard’s forces. And he knows only one woman strong enough to pull that trick. (Ciri not included; she’s still his child)

His other proof is the feeling of their connection itself. It changes based on how alive, well or emotional they are. If Geralt or Yennefer are seriously hurt the connection weakens, getting ready to snap when one of them dies. And now it’s not too week but still not at full power.
He follows it through many winding streets and stops to look at the building he feels it coming from.

An old and ruined mansion with braced and barred door and windows.

But he knows better thanks to his training and vibrating medallion on his neck. One trick most mages learn early and use often is hiding their bases in plain sight with illusion magic.

And he can feel it enveloping the building wholly.

She must be in there and probably already has sensed him.

He looks up from within his hood and observes his surroundings.

Unless the vines on the house or the mud on the road are spies he can see that nobody is looking at what he’s doing. He takes a few steps on the small stone stairs to the blocked door and pushes.

His hand goes through the illusion and he can feel the real one opening.

Once again checking what’s around him he ducks into the house and closes the doors behind him.

The place is a little bit dirty, but it doesn’t make too much of a difference. He notes the used kitchen and weird smelling bowl laying on the table. The room he walked in is basically a common room with three doors on each wall not counting the one he just went through and an archway between the kitchen and the room, branching out to other parts of the mansion. The door to the kitchen is wide open, the one on the left is slightly crooked. He can both see and smell herbs, old books and magic through it. But the one on the right is closed fully. And even after an attempt was made to hide smells in this house he can smell her scent.

Lilac and gooseberries.

That’s probably the room she usually sleeps in and is now.

He takes a step towards it and smells the other parts of what makes up a person’s scent. Emotions hidden in hormones, sweat and other things. For every other witcher they don’t smell like anything. But Geralt isn’t normal even for the witchery standard. He can distinguish between them and label most with good enough accuracy.

He focuses on what he can smell and tries his luck at interpreting the emotional aroma coming from under the closed doors. Some part smells like hurt and exhaustion but the main ones are anger, disappointment and sorrow.

And since Geralt had to learn that not everything he smells on people is so easy to interpret he doesn’t even try to figure out what could have made the sorceress feel that concoction of feelings.

Before opening the door he knocks and waits with his hand on the knob.

A sigh and very tired and week “Come in, witcher” is his answer. So he doesn’t hesitate and steps into the room.

A worn out, frail looking Yennefer in comfortable and white sleeping clothes under a few blankets and a bandage around her eyes welcomes him.

Chapter Text

Eskel is just walking into a village on a crossroad between Rinbe and Vizima. He’s been on a hunt for Geralt for a few weeks now. All thanks to a mysterious letter sent by a familiar sounding viscount or whatnot. He got it thanks to a smart bird that carefully landed then at the head of Scorpion during his travel, seemingly not scared of the scarred witcher and his black horse.

The letter reads:

Dear Eskel,

If you have obtained this letter that means the pigeon I have acquired is as smart as advertised by the seller and found you even in travel.
Honestly I don’t know how the mages enchant them to be able to do that but I’m not complaining.

I’m writing because of your brother Geralt. I have some suspicions that he may get himself in danger after our untimely separation.
Last I seen him we were returning from the very south of Blue Mountains from a failure of a hunt.
I think he went to Cintra and since he’s not allowed there by royal order I fear he may get imprisoned or even worse.

So I ask that you go and help him come to his senses or if it’s too late help him escape. I wish I could but I fear I might cause more damage than help.

Yours truly,
Julian Alfred Pankratz, the Viscount de Lettenhove, Geralt’s dearest friend acquaintance

After shaking off the shock of finding out that his brother had more “acquaintances” than he knew about Eskel quickly changed his course and went in the pointed direction.

He knew of the reason why Geralt was not allowed in Cintra and of that’s because of the same reason why he would suddenly go there.

But that was when he got the letter and now it’s a completely different kind of chaos.

Cintra’s gone and with it the princess and any trace of his brother. He’s still heading south but if he doesn’t find a mage in Vizima that can help him located Geralt he’ll have to postpone his search. Winter was slowly crawling upon them and he needed to get ready to be back in the keep before the first frost. With being away south this much it would take a lot of time to go back. And he needed to return with supplies.

So yeah, not too fortunate circumstances.

He opens the door of the tavern and almost all conversation ceases to exist.

Before he can try to hide his scars and appearance or ask any of them any information about the Nilfgaard or his brother the barkeep sighs and says:
-Another one? What is it with you, witchers? A special kind of hunt when war is fought? I’ve got no more rooms left, so if you want to stay you mutants have to share.- The man barely keeps his clear hatred out of his speech.

At the mention of an another witcher Eskel scans the room once again.

And then he spots Lambert with a grin holding out an ale in greeting from one of the more secluded and darkened corners. Eskel simply lifts one of his eyebrows first at his brat of a brother and then at the barkeep:
-One ale for me, and don’t worry; there won’t be trouble.- he tries to reassure the man.

-There better not be. – the owner responds under his nose, tring to not let the witchers hear. They both do. Crystal clear. – Of course witcher.
With that settled Eskel joins his brother.

-Let me guess why you’re here.- he says instead of a greeting

-Ohhh… be my guest~ - Lambert responds smugly and sips his beverage.

-A letter from a viscount about Geralt going to Cintra.

-Aye- Without any fanfare Lambert places the parchment on the table. His is a lot smaller and not as pristine as the one Eskel received.

It reads:

Hello Lambert,

Go to Cintra after your idiot of a brooding brother before he hurts himself further and help him.
By force if only necessary.

His frie Julian, viscount de Lettenhove

Looking at the writing it is clear that this one was written under the influence of alcohol.

Eskel smirks and pulls out his own, decorated and more proper letter. Lambert simply takes it, lifts his eyebrow and skims over the contents.

-Well, whoever this “Julian” is, Geralt must have told him about us at least a little bit for him to tailor the messages so well. – he said barely holding in his amusement and trying to hide his worry about both the stranger and Geralt.

-Mhmm… So what was your plan?- Eskel asks trying to find out if it was beneficial at all to try and travel together. Since the war is going further north two wolf witchers might not be the best idea or sight to behold.

-Vizima, find mage, locate the idiot and get the fuck back to the keep.- Lambert as polite as ever echoes his brother’s plan.

-Ok, then we will do this…- they start to iron out the details of the plan to find Geralt and all other possibilities and then go to sleep.

The next day they leave in the direction of Vizima in search of one Triss Merigold.
Rumours say she’s helping the young mages and non-humans run away before the army gets there. They hope to catch her before she leaves.

Chapter Text

-Hello Yennefer...- Geralt says nothing more as a greeting.

He does not know with what he should start or if he should already be on his knees and begging for forgiveness.

-Geralt, as stoic as ever I hear. What makes you wake me up from my beauty sleep in a manor I cloaked with charms specifically to get some peace?- she turns her head looking straight at him, even when he moves further and around the room.

What happened to her eyes? He thinks and closes the distance between himself and the bed. A very comfortable, but not luxurious bed. One that Yennefer would usually turn into a better one when sleeping anywhere and had energy to do it.

This, combined with his previous clues tell him that she’s certainly the one who cast the biggest flames during the battle. And her injury and overall state is now more than well justified. Most who would even dare cast such enormous wall of flame would have died on the spot. Not Yennefer. She probably walked with a victorious grin far enough to a city and used last of her strength to start the healing process.

Never showing weakness to anyone.

So as to not tire her more he gets straight to the point, reading himself for one of his longer speeches in his almost century long life that Ciri had to help him compose when certain feeling got too complicated. She is no Jaskier, but her input was greatly appreciated by the witcher.

-Yennefer I came here for many reasons. The one I think you are going to be most interested in is that I came to apologise to you. – he starts and notices that change in the mage’s expression. He continues without letting her say a word. He needs to tell it in one go. Otherwise he won’t be able to say any of it partially knowing her reaction.

-I’m sorry for my behaviour on the dragon hunt. I still don’t think I made a mistake by wishing you to live, but I did realise I should have worded it better, especially when dealing with a djinn. As a witcher I should have known better. I shouldn’t have taken your choice about that away. Forgive me...

You must understand that I didn’t mean most of what I said that day on the mountain. I still can’t figure out why I did what I did but it wasn’t right of me. And I know that you still have feeling for me, and that they aren’t your own. They were probably mostly if not fully created by the djinn. And so I’m giving you back most of the choice on what our relationship will be. But I must tell you that I already decided for myself partially and because of that we can’t go back to being romantic partners. It was- is not healthy for us to be together as love- as something we weren’t meant to, but I want- I ask you to tell me what is your stance on this, please...- he stops his apology here not knowing if it’s enough.

The sorceress doesn’t react instantly, but her scent changes. It’s softer when she answers.

-Well how long have you been creating such masterful speech? Did your bard help you?- not being able to see the witcher’s reaction Yennefer doubles down on her defensive note.

-Where is he? I need to review his work, three words or less as he likes to say, hmmm…? Where is your bard Geralt?- after finally trying to once again use her chaos to visualise her surroundings she doesn’t feel anybody else but the white haired man and is a little bit startled.

I guess the bard leant some tack and allowed Geralt to speak on his own this time.

 

-~~~~-

 

The bard drifts in pleasant void.
There’s nothing to hurt him.
Only the darkness.
And something is there with him.
Watching.

Observing his mind.

Reaching out to him and…

 

Then Jaskier wakes with a jump, as if from a terrrible nightmare and is stopped instantly by his restraints.

What the hell?! Why do I feel so fucking terrified? I’ve been tortured enough to have at least some peace in sleep, right?
I can’t even remember them clearly… What’s the point brain? To bring me even more misery? Yes, thank you. I didn’t have enough from that sadistic bitch.

Jaskier doesn’t have the luxury of arguing with his brain any longer because the door Is thrown open and an angry; no furious Geralt stomps into the chamber. This can only end badly for the bard.

-What the fuck are you doing here?! – the man bellows at the bound bard. After few tense heartbeats he steps closer and practically spits into the musician’s face.

-I asked you a question! Why do I have to see your shit-shovelling face again?!

Jaskier confused and alarmed tries to wriggle out of the man’s angered expression and whimpers when the restraints bite further into his limbs. He usually wouldn’t try to get away from Geralt, even with the potions in the witcher’s system, but this anger didn’t seem like it was leaving the man with any shred of intelligence left.

The next moment Jaskier is being held up by his neck in the air. The chains clatter onto the floor. Somehow Geralt took care of them while in his furious stupor.

-Ger.. * wheeze* pleees…. I can’t bre-athe… - the musician pushed the words out of his constricted throat.

-TELL ME!- the witcher throws him into a corner.

Coughing Jaskier uses the wall as a crouch and rises to his feet. He manoeuvres in a way so the table is between them before he answers.

- It’s not my fault I was kidnapped and you saved me. Again...

It’s not the greatest response but what can you do. Being tortured for so long and after waking to such a scene does decrease one’s ability to think clearly.

Something bad, really bad to have strung the witcher so tight, like a lute string barely holding on and on the edge of snaping.

-Please Geralt, what happened ?

-What happened? You tell me! I thought I was only destroying a Nilfgaardian soldier’s camp not saving a worthless bard!- the witcher stomps around the room, not bothered about anything else but the bard and his rage.

- Destroying? Wh- why- what?! Geralt? You wouldn’t kill without a good reason…- Jaskier says thinking about all the enemies Geralt chose to spare simply because he could avoid bloodshed. Anything to not let people have any examples of him being a “butcher” is the reason why, in his opinion. He’s still keeping a hand on the cold bricks of the dungeon for balance. But they don’t seem cold… at all.

- Well with the war and everything one does change how they act, do they not?- in the meantime the man answers sarcastically.

-Umm… yeah, yeah it does… Geralt, dear heart can you feel the wall? – Engrossed in the weird sensation of both touching and not feeling the stone Jaskier returns to his old way of talking to Geralt. It of course doesn’t escape the other entities in the “room”.

-“Dear heart”?! When the fuck did I allow you to talk to me like that?!- he bellows as if he didn’t spend at least 20 years hearing it almost every time they were traveling together.

- Since the first real heart to heart we had? Don’t you remember?- still focused on the wall Jaskier answers truthfully and without any malice toward the man.

Even if just a few seconds ago he was screaming at him. There’s no need to be angry at him. That’s how Geralt sometimes is and Jaskier is never cross with him for too long anyway.

- Why would I need to remember you?- slightly colder and like grovel the witcher asks the question

Yeah, why would you remember your companion of 22 years, the bard that changed publics opinion about you and tried to help in the most horrible moments in your life? Yeah, no big deal at all.

This wall is not right. Maybe the mage did something to it…

While ignoring the man Jaskier doesn’t see his hand once again coming to his throat. He feels it only after he is manhandled to look the witcher in the golden and slit cat eyes, taking his hand of the stone with the same movement.

-STOP GROPING THE WALL AND FOCUS ON ME!- Geralt howls mere inches away from the bard’s face.

- All right, all right no need to destroy my hearing and your voice too! Geez… What was your question?- Jaskier tries to step away but is remined that his neck is being held and ready to be wrung if Geralt decides that it is what he wants to do.

Like in the nightmare with his sword… Ohhh… I remember that now; thanks brain!
-FOR FUCK’S SAKE JASKIER!! When did our relationship turn romantic for you to call me that?!- Geralt asks such a not-Geralt question, but Jakiser is too tired and broken to care, while his mind is focused on the stone behind him and the nightmare that woke him up.

So he let’s something he never thought pass his lips:

-Well you should remember at least that it didn’t, not without trying from my side but… you know; you never even acknowledged my feeling, and all that.- and as Jaskier ends the sentence the realization of what he just admitted makes his eyes almost pop out of his skull and takes his focus away from the wall for a second.

-Wait, on the other hand forget that! We never were partners, there were no feelings. Just like the presents, remember? No feeling about them either! Please stop staring at me…- Jaskier doesn’t even have the choice to look away as that too smart witchery brain realises what he just said.

-You love… me? me?....- Geralt says it as if the mere idea of love was foreign to him.

Especially one directed at him.
The greatest mystery of the universe.

His grasp on Jaskier’s throat loosens a bit. Anger seeps out of his body and is replaced by shock and disbelief. But not for the reasons Jaskier suspects.

- Well I did try to make my devotion more obvious on that mountain, but you, of course, preferred to run after that witch: Yennefer. Honestly I don’t know what you see in her except the obvious situation in your magical case… - Tring to clear the air between them Jaskier tries to explain his feeling still trying to figure out why he doesn’t feel the wall behind him as he should.

Maybe he is more injured than he thought. At the same time his heart is beating crazy in his chest. Could this be the time his feeling are known and judged?

There’s no better time as being rescued.

He thinks with hope and longing and a little bit of melancholy.
Or is it despair.

- This is just getting more and more interesting, birdie… - Geralt’s lips turn into a grin too similar for the bard to not feel at least a little bit alarmed. Believing this “Geralt” to be real (and being tricked once again) such expression sends all kinds of wrong signals saying that what he’s seeing is very wrong.

The name used for his person, the now partially remembered nightmare, the furious and too chaotic Geralt, the not-a-wall wall…

This is too much for his brain.

One second he’s being tortured and the second he is trying to repair his and witcher’s relationship while just being woken up from a horrible nightmare in which the very same person stabbed him.

Who wouldn’t start losing their sanity in his place?

The next heartbeat, even before he can try to panic outside of his mind the world is engulfed in darkness for a split second and then he blinks his eyes and can once again see the celling of the dungeon.

From the laying position on the table… With body feeling just like before he had to drink the witche’s potion and AGAIN strapped to the table.

At the same time the recollection about the three weird visions? hallucinations? comes back into his mind.

-My, my, my… I haven’t thought that a weak bardling such as you was capable of resisting the curse for more than one scenario, but resisting three? My, you are an overachiever, birdie!- The sorceress is standing just as he last saw her now near the door and looking a little bit worse for wear.

Jaskier feels kind of proud that he was capable of noticing that something was wrong so strongly that the illusions had to fade away and that he forced the curse to try three times.
Giving his best smirk to the mage he is reminded fully of the state of his body. And isn’t it nice?

While under the effects of the many layered spells of the curse he couldn’t feel the pain radiating from every part of it. There are now no regions on or in where he doesn’t feel some kind of pain.

All the courtesy of the vile potion he was made to drink he can guess.

-Well I had my fun, for now. And seriously bard? Falling in love with that mutant? When people learn of your disgusting tastes in partners they ought to execute you for bestiality! Ahh ahahaha! – the witch almost doubles over from her laughter.

Jaskier’s blood runs cold at the hag’s admission that she was the one controlling the Geralt puppet and because he, like a fool he was called so many times gave her precious information only because she looked or acted like his belo- muse from once upon a time.
He must not let Geralt’s other secrets out of his mouth unless he is so sure that the witcher in question is real. And that he can make him say or guess the information by himself.

Yes, that’s a good plan. Especially since he has the knowledge that he’s under a course.

-Ohhh… whew…! That was a good one! Now, I have an important guest, but I still need the information where your crush is hiding. So I’ll leave you alone with the curse for a bit until you crack enough to give me what I want. See you soon bardling!- the witch taunts the bard and turns to walk out of the chamber. But she stops with her hand on the door and turns her head with an evil smirk.

-Ohh! And one more thing I can tell! You know what’s the best part?- Antira asks and looks with glee at the bard’s lifted eyebrow saying: “Oh yeah, do tell bitch”.

-I made a few adjustments and not only you won’t remember that you are cursed or previous visions while you’re under, but also they will evolve without needing my input! Just all the secrets you will tell it yourself! Isn’t this curse beautiful? Well bye for now, birdie~- and she finally leaves the room and Jaskier has a minute or two of panicking and trying to come up with a plan before the void swallows him again and the cycle of nightmares can continue and evolve. While at the same time something unexpected evolves with his suffering alongside the visions, unknown even to the witch who cast this awful spell.

-~~~~~~-



The witch resurfaces to the outside world and is met with the sight of her soldier reading for departure and swapping stories with the others that just arrived. She herself goes over to her enchanted tent and sees her old friend and colleague: Amara von Belhaven. She’s above her in the military and court rankings but they stayed friends despite the circumstance. They chose to share part of their names after all.

The fearsome duo of Antira von Belhaven and Amara von Belhaven are the two most bloodthirsty of the court of Nilfgaard. Although you wouldn’t know it by looking at the former. In contrast to her “sister” Amara wears her characteristic dull and emerald-like dress slightly ruffed on the edges. Her brunet hair nicely brings out her eyes that now notice the other sorceress coming into the tent and sparkle with excitement.

-You’re back, so I can presume the bard is nicely taken care of? – Amara asks with such a soft voice one might try and use it as a pillow.

-Ohh… and you don’t know half of it sister.- Antira answers fully knowing the real sorceress in green and starts to tell her about what she leant and what they are going to do.
After ending their more “serious” discussion about their two troops and the war they catch up on the court drama and what they want to do with the bard when he finally breaks and is of no use for them.

-Well you did tell me he looks good while being tortured, so why not turn him into a living show? We do need more entertainment on this long and boring journey. Honestly If you didn’t stop to torture the lad I would march with my boys all the way to Vizima without anything interesting happening. – Amara says describing her idea of what to do later.

-Honestly, not a bad idea… Let him be a show of power for the locals to fear Nilfgaard. Clever sister, very clever! – She answers and raises her goblet of red wine to the sorceress laying on the opposite loveseat.

They do not even spare a thought that the bard might not react as they planned.
Because a few days later one will be traveling on to their intended destination while the other will be dead.

Killed by the bard that at the moment is being plagued by a curse, a dark entity, and his own confused and cracking mind.

Chapter Text

Geralt’s first reaction is to scoff at her comment but he quickly lowers his protective walls and sighs instead. Yen’s still a friend at least it seems. But she doesn’t know what she’s doing with her comments. About the metaphorical sword she sinks into his heart and twists with her response.

-He’s not with me. I had a similar… conversation on the mountain with him and after that…- the witcher can’t stand the sorceress’s expression, even with the blindfold around her head and looks to the ground between his legs.

- I haven’t heard from him since.

Ohh.. That’s unexpected…

-That’s also the other reason why we sough you out.- he final admits after a heartbeat.

- Wait “we”? Than who are you traveling with? – the mage seemingly ignores Geralt’s explanation.

-Yes, we. Ciri is with me and we are traveling somewhere to lay low for a while.

Yennefer looks shocked at the information and takes a second to steady her reaction.

-Huh… And I’m supposed to go and hide with you and the princess? Just like that?- she is honestly surprised with how different Geralt’s approach seems to be now.

Maybe that’s because they are really talking, not shouting or tearing clothes off each other. Maybe it’s the presence of the princess in his care. Or lack of somebody. But she won’t let him drag her wherever he likes just because she’s weak at the moment and would benefit from having a friend close by. Or a more stable residence.

-I’m not in shape to teleport us anywhere. Honestly I barely had enough energy to save myself. You have any horses with you, or were you dragging the princess and having her walk on foot?

More confident in this conversation and his plans Geralt tries to reassure her.

- I can see that. And no, we’ve been traveling on horseback for a time and you can ride with Ciri or we’ll find another abandoned horse. With the war going on it won’t be too difficult. But even now if you can travel we first have to try to cast a location spell on Jaskier. Only after we find him we travel north. That his my plan anyway.

-Ah… so you really have no idea where the bard has run off to?- asking with clear curiosity Yennefer wants to figure out who they can also take with them. A medic sorceress perhaps.

-Hmm..- is the only answer she gets on the subject. Neither a positive or negative answer to her, but to a certain bard it would clearly classify as the “No, I do not know that” type of hum.

-Alright Geralt.- the sorceress deflates a little.- Honestly every time you talk sincerely for more than few minutes you flip a person’s world on it’s head, don’t you? I’ll need more time to think about, well us and the whole Nilfgaard situation, but I am willing to go with you somewhere I would be safe. Are you opposed to telling me where we are going? Oh, and can we take someone other then your bard with us?- feeling that their conversation is ending Yennefer gets up and goes around the room looking through her packs and enchanted boxes and getting ready for the day.

-If we happen upon somebody I can trust with our secrets than yes. But before we go to the keep we need to at least make sure Jaskier is safe. Nilfgaard will probably try to use him to get to me.
And we need to find if there are any soldiers nearby. If the town is relatively safe I see no problem in letting ourselves to rest for a few days.

Trying to digest all of the information the mage silently goes around the room changing into her classical black dress. Seeing her struggle with some of the ties on her back Geralt offers his help. Reluctantly she accepts and they go out to fetch the horses and Ciri. There’s a small stable around the manor and it can fit the two horses properly without being a death-trap if they are to be discovered.
With their cloaks and hoods nobody even bats an eye at the pair or at least get a look at their identities. Yennefer’s enchantment to make people not notice her cast onto the item certainly helps in that regard.

When they reach Roach and the other stallion Ciri is already there and looks quite agitated and twitchy. When they reach her she doesn’t ask about the woman with a bandage around her eyes but says something she deems very important. Even more important than introducing herself and all that first meetings nonsense.

-I’ve heard some gossip in the market. – she hurriedly whispers.

-What gossip child? It must be good to make you forget your manners, princess. – Yennefer has already put her “powerful and regal sorceress” persona on, even to face the little Ciri.

-I know who you are Lady Yennefer and I’m sorry to be blunt, but I’ve heard about Nilfgaard’s soldiers near here.

Geralt visibly stiffens where he’s standing next to Roach, ready to take her to the manor.

-Hm...?- he hums as a question hoping it’s nothing they need to worry about.

-There was a small group of them situated in an abandoned bastion just out of town.

-Was?- the sorceress pushes the topic along before Geralt can have a heart attack with all those dramatic pauses in the princesses’ explanation. Not that witchers can get them, but with what has been happening for a while and the situation she isn’t so sure.

-They have been cursed yesterday and their mage was killed.- Ciri tells them with slight fear and worry in her voice.

Her guardians do not look amused or happy at the information at all. Even if it means that they are safe and do not need to worry about being spotted for a few days. Putting a curse on a group of people and killing a mage in one hit takes a lot of power after all.

And with great power comes great danger.

-~~~~-

Jaskier is pulled into the void time and time again.

Every illusion only confuses him further and tries to scramble his mind.

Its goal is to break him and get information about his precious witcher after all.

There is a pattern one might find if they weren’t forgetting the previous visions every time they wake like the musician.

The bard will wake restrained in the dungeon and have a fluctuating amount of time to think for himself about his situation. When he gets too close to figuring something out or stops his train of thought or thinks about Geralt the man himself will appear in the room.

Sometimes destructively, sometimes sneakily, usually alone, with various emotions or lack thereof and reactions to seeing the bard.

The main scenarios in combination are that Geralt is:
-angry
-silent
-confused

Or since the curse knows about the bard’s feelings
-flirtatious

All of the situations always at some level confuse the bard and he finds some inaccuracy with the witcher’s actions or speech, but it is becoming rarer as this goes on since the entity is learning from it’s previous attempts. He falls into his mind’s creations.

He unknowingly has conversations with himself and newly born curse that has one goal. Make him spill the witcher’s secrets by using living nightmares as his method.

They usually talk and Jaskier unknowingly gives a slither of information away and both trusts and thinks that the Geralt in front of him is real.

The illusions disappear when either Jaskier gets too confused to let anything slip; has suspicions et cetera or when the curse doesn’t have more things to show the bard and the illusions start to break apart. Like with the wrong sensation of stone. The curse learns from the bard and some of his most surface memories about how the world should feel and perfects its creations.

Thanks to that the illusions get better and better with each iteration and fool the bard further. He even gets to “leave” the dungeon and see the outside. Sometimes it’s a peaceful ruin of a bastion, sometimes a bloody battleground left after the witcher supposedly fought to get to Jaskier.

But he doesn’t get to go very far because it always end violently and the horrors of the scenes wake him into another nightmare.

Geralt being killed, or killing Jaskier are usually the main scene endings.

Of course it’s not always just the two of them.

Sometimes Yennefer joins the rescue and angers the musician or degrades him. Other times Antira makes a visit and is the one to first torture the witcher and kill him easily after.

And through the course of the day unknown to the bard the curse learns. A lot.

And not only about the witcher’s whereabouts, no.

It learns almost everything about what makes the bard tick. His ambitions, his past, hopes, and fears.

And it uses them masterfully.

Which ends with a scene that transpires as such.

 

Jaskier is standing with Geralt just outside of the ruins.

Jaskier had a little too much time to gather his thoughts at the beginning and is suspecting that not all is what it seems, but instead of ending the vision like the curse was made to do it broke its conditioning and had decided to experiment.

This time Geralt was almost the same as the bard remembers him being. He’s just a tiny bit more… kind? towards him. He doesn’t mention their last goodbyes but doesn’t look as if he forgot about it either. He patched Jaskier up and is leading him to a camp he made and is supposedly also bringing him to Ciri. But just like in all other cases since Jaskier only knows the little girl her form is blurry and vague. She’s supposed to be older but neither he, the curse or the witch seen how the current princess looks.

Jaskier feels safe even if he’s a little suspicious. He’s tired and just wants to go back to being the White Wolf’s traveling companion.

It looks like a few weeks have passed since the last time he was conscious since the trees have some brown and gold colouring on their leaves.

Every single factor and previous illusions combine into the event.

Each vision has slowly been breaking the bard down.

The flirting and “truthful” emotional conversations making him trust the witcher the most and only strengthening his love.

And breaking down his boundaries when it comes to seeking comfort from the white haired man.

Each time the curse has been getting more and more access to his memories and improving its mind infecting abilities. If it makes the bard think about a topic with its illusions it can simply prod his brain for more information.

As mentioned the entity born from the curse has been evolving with the bards suffering.

Each grotesque ending and scenes have corrupted and cracked the fragile poetic mind.

Jaskier just wants some safety and warmth, is that so much to ask for?

That’s why after a few seconds of silently walking on the dirt road through the forest he asks his beloved. Even though he didn’t yet confess how he truly feels.

-Umm… Geralt, dear heart, I do not fail to notice that the seasons are changing a little too frosty for my liking. And I though since everything that happened to me; and you and Ciri of course, would you be angry if I asked to winter with you and your brothers...?

This of course gets the “witcher’s” attention.

-You don’t want to winter in Oxenfurt?- he asks gruffly the bard and looks at him as if he grew a second head.

-Yeah… I don’t feel safe enough to be on my own for the season. Is that possibly a yes?- he can’t keep hope from seeping into his wavering voice. His throat and body now also hurt, just like in reality after the curse figured out that it was one of the most damning evidence for its visions to be considered fake.

-You do know where I winter, right?- After getting some scraps of description from the bard the curse was able to speculate that it wasn’t the most comfortable place.

-Yeah, yeah. You still sit through the winter in your cold and broken keep north if I remember.- Jaskier tries to bring some nonchalance to the conversation while feeling his anxiety spike. His head feels as if someone was trying to drill into it.

-You even remember where it is, lark?- Even the correct nicknames were learnt by the curse.

-It’s in Keadwen, Blue Mountains, or somewhere else if you li…!- the bard is interrupted when the presence he always felt during his nightmares suddenly increased and started to crush him.
The world spins and his head is splitting.

What is happening to me? Why does it hurt so much…? What….

Keep of the Witcher’s
White Wolf’s hiding place
His destination for winter

ITS LOCATION

REMEMBER!

 

A dark voice screams in his mind.

Jaskier is forced to remember everything he knows about Kear Morhen. From the first time Geralt mentioned it on their travels to the more detailed descriptions told by a campfire.

 

Suddenly everything has disappeared. The curse now finished with it’s goal returns the bard’s memories of his torture at the same time.

Jaskier tries to scream from the pain of seeing and reliving them at the same time with such intensity.

But he can’t. In the void no one hears you scream.
He now knows what he has done.

He betrayed Geralt
He told where he is going to hide with Ciri…

HE betrayed Geralt…

HeBETRAYED GERALT!

 

HE BETRAYED HIS BELOVED WHITE WOLF!!!

 

He put him and the princess in danger…

And every other witcher still living there…

 

What has he done…?

 

And that realisation and his guilt is his breaking point.

 

The lark is siting in its gilded cage defeated and broken.
No cheerful song shall leave its lungs until… never. Probably.

The Void looks at him with interest and gathers all it has learnt to tell its mistress about.
But if it is correct, it’s not its last time with the bard.

Chapter Text

The sorceress after being notified of the bard’s slip up went to his torture chamber and now looks at him from the door with glee.

Her friend Amara is standing next to her with a neutral if not happy expression.

Both move closer and Antira raises her hands to connect her mind with the bard’s to siphon information out of him through the curse.

-So what did you find out?- while asking the question the other sorceress circles the thrashing bard. His expression of complete anguish and defiance, still present after all he went through was a beautiful sight to her.

-I have the place the mutant is taking the princess. – With a wicked smile Antira is pulling the most important information out of the bard. This process is what makes him hurt at the moment.

Her sister gasps with the shared news.

-Should we inform the other troop leaders? We don’t want to give too much information right?- Amara tries to influence her sister and force her to make a mistake with their mentor.

-No, no my foolish sister. We need to share the news so no one can take credit for my work. And if I wait to share we could lose an opportunity to capture the princess.- Fully knowing what her sister tries to do Antira quickly disapproves of her notion.

-Ahh.. yes, you always were the smarter one. Shall I and my men take off to Vizima then? If I’m really luck I could trip upon the mutant. So tell me where is he heading?- Hoping to get a little further than her peers she hopes to get the information as fast as possible.

-Well I’ll be sending it out in just a minute so no reason to keep it to myself. Well here it is…- Antira has finished pulling the information out of her little experiment. The bard is laying boneless and barely makes a sound. He quite honestly looks dead, but her superior senses hear his slow heartbeat and his uneven breathing.

- The mutant is going… north. He’s heading to Keadwen. To the almost top of the Blue Mountains. He usually stops for resources in Ard Carraigh, but that’s only when he would split from the bard. If what he told the little birdie is true he goes further until he’s near Aedd Gynvael and then there’s a primitively hidden track through the mountains. He has to get there before true winter sets in otherwise he is blocked from getting into the keep. There are supposedly other mutants wintering with him.- She ends her description suspecting her sister doesn’t need every detail about the place.

-So wait, after all that time and their rumoured “friendship” the bard has never wintered with his wolf?- now genuinely curious and bored with the war Amara hopes for some interesting tale. The rumours did say that the bard and mutant had more intimate relationship than they showed. Especially fuelled from peoples’ reports about how the musician was acting around the witcher. Almost everyone on the continent heard about the butcher and his companion; the famous bard from Oxenfurt that “tamed” the beast.

-And I would gladly tell you more, but we don’t have the luxury of time. You need to go catch up with the rest towards Vizima. What I can tell with only the bare minimum pulled out of him is that they had an argument barely months before we had our attack on Cintra. It looks like the “white wolf” is as of a loner as the animal he is described as. – she doesn’t even try to hide her disgust while using the witcher’s moniker.

-Yes, yes of course. I won’t be staying an hour longer in such case. Are you still going to make an example out of him? - Amara knows when to step down and get out of the way of someone with a personal vendetta. Pity. She really hoped she could at least see the bard’s final moments. While cradling his head in her arms she can’t fail but notice that without his wounds he would be quite a nice catch.

-Well no other use for him now. The only thing that can break the curse as strong as Lady Fringilla’s combined with my power is love as strong as the one considered by the stupid farmers as “true love”. No normal and mortal man can feel as deeply unfortunately. Even if he is a poet. Useless bunch of pricks they are. Literally. – the sorceress can’t help but make her distaste of men known.

-Ohh… that is kind of sad… What will you do to him now?- being done with her sister’s hatred towards such useful servants and tools Amara brushes the bard’s hair away from his face and watches as he whimpers pitifully in his unconscious state. Oh how wonderful he must have looked thrashing in real pain…

-Ehh… I think leaving him as a chained scarecrow for crows to feed off in front of the nearest city gates will do. I don’t want to waste my time with him not that he’s useless. – saying such thing so casually Antira motions her sister to stop with her grooming and to get out of the room.

While she does as instructed the torturer stays and starts to bring the bard back into the land of the living.

He weakly opens his eyes and immediately tears pour out of them. He visibly shakes due to his emotional, mental AND physical state.

Certain that the bard won’t try to even attempt to escape the sorceress loosens; not removes she’s not that overconfident or stupid; his restraints so he can look at her with all his “fury”. That is he’s barley holding his head above the table and giving her the stink eye.

-Well now that I know what I wanted there’s no further use for you my birdie, let’s get you set up for your last performance.~ – Antira takes out the gag hoping the bard will completely ruin his voice by trying to talk back at her, or scream his frustrations.

Jaskier remembering in what state he is in doesn’t even try to lift his head or look at the monster in the room any longer.

The only thing he can think about is: “I betrayed him…”, over and over again.

All illusions and scenes the curse forced upon him cost his mind too much.

Over the course of the day, that felt like months in the bard’s head, Jaskier whenever he remember why he was being tortured promised himself something for just a second or two before being forced to forget all over again.

He would not tell them anything important about Geralt. Not only for his love’s safety, but also Ciri’s. And now after doing just that and being powerless to stop the witch his mind has given up on keeping his sanity and being together.

The spiral of guilt and trauma turns and turns like a broken waterwheel, only hypnotising him further. He doesn’t care about his body or wellbeing now. How can he? He did something unforgivable… to the only person he tried to stay close to… His one constant love alongside music.

His muse that powered his passion. The brooding witcher that was considered a butcher who turned out to be the most precious, honourable and simply best person he has ever met.

Without Geralt singing in taverns to keep himself fed was hard. And now? After singlehandedly being responsible for his secrets; that he was supposed to keep to his grave; being spilled?

How can I dare to sing anything now?

No music is left in my being.

No rhythm and no motivation.

No inspiration.

No muse…

Not any more…

It stabbed me and I him on the mountain and he died in my mind today.

All thanks to me.

A powerless and foolish Jaskier.

There’s no passion or life in me left.

A husk of a bard.

A husk of a viscount.

A husk of a man...

A cured and broken creature, now laying useless on a table in some dungeon.

Who can live with this?

I just want this to end.. .

Jaskier being locked inside his mind doesn’t register his body being moved aboveground.

Soldiers that are moving out to travel with Amara look in horror at the scars and wounds displayed on the bard’s skin. While the sorceress herself barley glances for a minute with a hand hiding her delighted expression. They leave the camp as to not waste any more time.

Antira levitates Jaskier’s body further towards her tent, but not without making sure all of her soldiers get a look at him also. One of which, Angus with mouth agape stares and silently prays for the bard. He would have done something if this was a mere mortal as his torturer, but he isn’t strong or stupid enough to try and fight a sorceress.

The bard levitates as if he was a long forgotten messiah of one of the gods worshipped on the continent. His once beautiful and colourful clothing barley hangs on his skeletal frame, dyed crimson and black from blood and dirt.

It’s cut and in slithers and hides no bruise or wound nor scar on his body. If one were to look into his eyes on his turned to the side face they would find them open, but void of emotion or life.
Finally thinking her tools had seen enough Antira takes her plaything into her tent.

She shackles him on his shacking legs to a wooden pilar in the middle that supports the whole structure. With his face pointed to the exit she hopes it makes him realise how close his escape is.

But Jaskier doesn’t plan on running.

He gave up. And that is that.

 

-~~~~-


 

-Who would do this; any rogue mages in Brudge?- Geralt directs the question to Yennefer, but before she can answer Ciri interrupts.

-They say that some horrid monster did it. The mayor put up a contract to break the curse or kill the creature for anyone interested. I went and got it already. Here, we might even get some coin before we take care of this and travel without problems.- she finishes with getting a piece of parchment from one of her bags strapped to the stallion.

Geralt quickly reads through it and frowns. He never heard of such creature before. Non match the more than usual detailed description of their abilities. “creepy hummings and forcing nature to sing in rhythm while their victims scream” is not a usual set of skills a normal monster would have.

Not succubus, sirens or any other type of known to him humanoids use song to torture or curse. Most songs when used by monsters are to lure and disarm not actively attack. Either he’s forgetting something from the books Vesemir made him learn by heart as a young boy or this is not something he has learnt about.

This possibility meaning that a mage got too creative with their “work” again or a new species, or rather a subspecies of a monster was born. And neither is a good kind of discovery, especially during a war and trying to safe people and run away.

-Well, no matter what we still need to get the horses relocated and my stuff onto their backs if we want to run or investigate. – Yennefer always calm and collected offers her own two cents to the discussion.

-No! It’s the perfect opportunity for us to get not only money but information. – Ciri exclaims louder with an expression that looks as if she is doubting the intelligence of the “adults” around her.

-What do you mean, princess? – not being easily discouraged Yen asks while walking next to the stallion Ciri is leading. Geralt just behind them, probably rethinking his life choices at this point.

-Well it’s obvious isn’t it? You and Geralt go and investigate; no matter what you find you tell the one who will pay that nothing can be done for the soldiers and collect the money for the contract.
We don’t waste resources on the enemy, can gather information about a new danger and possibly if we can avoid or defeat it. And money as a bonus! If some people recognise Geralt we can send you to do it yourself, or later sneak Geralt in so he can also collect evidence. During a war information is key isn’t it? And by looking not only at the soldiers but also their now abandoned camp we may be able to gather info where other troops are going and then avoid them easier.

-Huh… you do have some intelligence, unlike most other nobles I know. Honestly I don’t see any too big problems with your plan. Geralt, what do you think of your charge’s idea?- delighted that the girl has some brain to go with her still child-like looks Yen hopes to have another woman friend to simply talk to in the near future. And without the danger of them stabbing her in the back.

-Horses and equipment check first. – not wanting to add anything more Geralt pointedly closes his mouth with a click and a snarl.

- Alright, alright. No need to bark at your host Geralt.- Yennefer subtly reminds him who is letting them stay in her mansion. Well not hers but the one she found and warded… oh semantics!

They arrive at the mansion and quickly put the horses at the stable. They take the packs inside and Geralt stays for a while to take care of the animals. They need them in good condition to be able to ride to Kear Morhen before the first frost hits. And with possible detours to find Jaskier first.

After regrouping in the kitchen they set up a simple, but hearty and simple meal while talking what to do from now on.

First, they decide that yes; it is a good idea to try and get money from the mayor for their needed supplies.

Second, they will try to find out as much as possible about what happened. Whatever did it sounds like the type of danger that follows witchers and magic users.

Third, Yennefer needs to either take some chaos bubbling inside of Ciri to replenish her own supply or wait and let it recover on its own. With their situation at hand they all decide that the first option not only helps her be more ready to face the journey, but also will help Ciri control her power.

A few minutes later Yennefer simply puts her hands on Ciri’s and guides her through the process. Geralt of course watches from the side to make sure everything is going as expected. With a simple spell Yen is looking a lot less exhausted and uses the new wave of chaos inside her to further heal her eyes.

Taking off the bandage she notes that strong light still will probably pain her and her vision is STILL blurry, but it’s a lot better and she doesn’t need to protect her eyeballs anymore. Or waste her strength on visualising her surroundings.

After they eat Ciri is left in the warded mansion and is tasked with collecting supplies from Yennefer’s temporary workroom to cast a location spell on Jaskier. Since they don’t have anything that has a strong enough pull to him they have to get creative with one of the things he left with Geralt.

By leaving them behind he symbolically severed his connection to them and they won’t pinpoint his location on their own. It would be better to find something he lost and is searching for or, in best case scenario, a hair or something other from his body is found.

Then that would point them directly in his direction and tell how far they are from him. Which would give them a specific location instead of a wide area to search.

Chapter Text

The bard is once again floating in the void. But this time he knows what this is, and since the curse’s goal has been fulfilled no new illusions colour the space.

Unfocused Jaskier has this unsettling feeling of being watched. Just like before he made the biggest mistake of his life just; was it hours or merely minutes? ago. He tries to reach out into the darkness.

-Hmm.. Ohh!... You are initiating contact. Curious…- a deep and monstrous voice answers his attempts. If Jaskier gave a fuck he would probably be scared.

-What are you? Another hallucination?- seeing as all this is happening in his mind Jaskier doesn’t even open his mouth, just lets his question drift out of his head into the darkness along with his lack of any attitude.

-No, no… I’m- well I guess I’m the entity that simultaneously is and isn’t your curse. You can call me Void if you want.- The… Void answers him with its weird voice, yet sounding so childlike in a sense?

-Not a bad name to call oneself, I chose Jaskier.- not being surprised at this point that there is an entity living in his head the bard tries to start a civil conversation.

-Yes, thank you! Yours also has a nice ring to it. Jaskier… Jaskier! Jaskier? Jaskier~~- the Void repeats the name with various voices and emotions.

Allowing this new creature to drift alongside him Jaskier lets it be. Only when the atmosphere of the void, however that is possible changes into something that makes his hair stand on wit’s end does he try to decipher what it is saying.

-… you could even make a deal with me and get some… revenge~~ - Void whispers into his ear seductively. If it did that a few days ago Jaskier would have probably jumped and shrieked from the top of his lungs. Now he simply forces his irises to look in the voices direction, not even trying to turn his head.

-What do you want?- this is honestly insulting. Thinking he wouldn’t find it strange that his torturer wouldn’t try to cause him more pain.

-Well, you see I was made as a curse. They dubbed me Thee Curse of Nightmares. But after fulfilling my role of cracking your psyche and pulling information out of you my mistress will leave me alone… I’m going to get very bored if I let you be chained for any longer. I mean do you hear her? She wants to make you a scarecrow and let you die! Unacceptable! I’ll die with you! The most sophisticated curse on the continent allowed to simply perish. No, that won’t do! – Void ends almost screeching into his head.

-Ok, ok I can hear so be quiet for a second. And tell me if I’m wrong but: you’re giving me a choice to get revenge on YOUR mistress?- Not buying what the entity is saying for a moment Jaskier has stopped caring what he is telling anymore.

-Well… you don’t have a choice in reality. I’ll just take over your body and spread more chaos! ~~ I found out that I do quite enjoy manipulating humans and breaking your kind.~~ Now I just want to do it on a bigger scale. – With the bard distracted Void has already started to seep back into the material world to start his fun.

-Yeah, whatever… This body is of no use so good luck.

-And maybe I’ll be even able to meet your witcher and have some fun with him too!~~- Void comments without any worry, but that won’t be the case for long.

-You… want to do what?...- Jaskier can’t believe what he is hearing. If that fucker thinks it can…

-Oh you know: the same what I did to you. It was most entertaining.- Void uses its abilities to have the darkness back off a little bit and show the bard the visualization of his psyche.

-Like hell… I’ll let you do any- WHoah ! – Jaskier is about to tell the curse where he can shove it when from the darkness an item flouts out.

A beautiful gilded bird cage of huge proportions gets closer to him. Interested Jaskier focuses on its details. There is something bird-shaped trapped in it, but it isn’t any type of avian creature the bard recognises. It’s made of parchment… with music notes and whole scores twisted to look like larks and other singing birds. All looking sad and broken like the bard feels.

Throughout the bars and inside of the item many branches with leaves twist in circles, also golden and should add further feeling of the birds being trapped, but they look like they give comfort to the sitting notes.

Happy with its distraction Void continues to weave his spell outside.

And the play begins.

Void would release something that would amuse the bard for longer periods of time and answer his many questions, while working on the outside.

-What are these things?- is the first thing Jaskier asks.

-These represent you, in a sense. More accurately the aspects of your soul and mind since they are the things the material plane doesn’t easily show. The bird cage is my addition thou. The birdies inside belong to you. They are your songs and were very annoying. – Void happily replies, delighted by having more time to play with the bard. Now that it knows him better than his own mother manipulating him is as easy as pie.

Through the void many things float out and into Jaskier’s vision. A shattered mirror, a broken sword, a familiar and broken elven lute that almost makes him feel something, a wolf carving he once made in Oxenfurt that is splintered, but still looking good if he may say so, and many, many others that he can’t thing how fit into being representations of his being.

If what’s Void telling him is true, that is. Who knows what the entities goal is. But Jaskier does not care. He’s still thinking if he could have done anything differently to stop himself from being so stupid and endangering Geralt. Still finally peacefully drifting…

The Void keeps up the flow of the conversation one-sided. It tries to convince the bard to join his cause and work together.

-Come on Jaskier~ I know you want to get your revenge~ Your just human, I mean you didn’t refuse to believe in my visions for too long. So come now and be my partner in crime~. – The entity delights in its attempts to scramble the bard’s mind further.

With such declaration Jaskier thinks he figured the Void out. It must another hallucination! Whatever it will has to be fake! Why would it do anything else! And know without him forgetting every time Jaskier can reject this false reality and try to break out.

Suddenly Jaskier is partially thrown into his physical and aching body. He’s chained up in some tent and the torturer sorceress is heard thumbling around behind the pole.

-OK, wasn’t that fun bard? Now let’s get to work and spread the chaos! How about we start with her… You must want to take revenge don’t you?- Void purrs pleased with itself for doing such an amazing job. With its limited knowledge of magic from his creation it came up with a spell to further help with his ambitions. Now it only needs the witch to come closer and let it take from her with the help of the bard’s body.

-What?... I don’t know if you noticed but I can’t do anything. I’m not fit physically to even hold myself or have any magical talents to hurt the witch!- Jaskier really can’t believe the Void can do anything more than talk in his head.

-Oh don’t worry I’ll help you with that~~…- entity purrs in his head and starts act one.

-~~~~~~-

Yennefer was voted to talk with the mayor. Logic being that a woman would be more successful in getting information out of him and unlike Geralt won’t have the problem of being recognised as one of the people Nilfgaard is actively searching for. Of course the encounter happens as they predicted.

-Yes my Lady, the soldiers have been transferred to our temporary hospital ward. If you want to examine their condition you are more than welcome.- the slightly rounded and older man answered most of her questions with enthusiasm. Now knowing a little about why the troop of soldiers remained put in the ruins of a bastion and who their leader was Yennefer is thanking the mayor for allowing her to look around and after he leaves helps Geralt get inside the tent of the ward unnoticed.

There lay almost 30 soldiers with their armour and weapons taken off and put aside. They all look as if they were sleeping with an occasional twitch or whimper informing the duo that they are having nightmares. There was one bed hidden with curtains that she took note of. She suspects it’s the witch’s leader of the group. The one that is supposed to be dead.

-Seriously, a sleeping curse? Whoever the caster was had to have a liking for the older fairy tales. I mean would we need to hind their true loves to wake them up? – Yennefer finds their predicament quite amusing at first glance. She didn’t forget that the amount of power surrounding her is quite intense for such curse. Usually a mage wouldn’t bother with making it so powerful if it was a simple sleeping curse. One of the most basic ones and one that could be broken with anything ranging from dumping into the afflicted to a lover’s passionate kiss. Or if they really want to go all out they can create their own curse breaking method, but never on this scale and power behind it.

It doesn’t make sense. Any taught and resourceful mage would use a curse that effects the group, not the individual person each. Doing it in this way either means the caster was a novice or had too much chaos to burn.

Or worst case scenario both at one. It’s never good to have a loose inexperienced and too powerful mage running around. Unlike Ciri they probably aren’t an almost pure child wanting only good to fall upon mankind.

Case in point the body laying behind the curtain.

It resembles more a corpse that is halfway decomposed than a fresh one. Once beautiful hair and skin damaged and cut. Wounds look fresh and as if applied at the same time.

Yennefer waves her hands above the body to figure out what happened to it. And what limited information she can gather without burning herself out is… disturbing.

Geralt after joining in on the fun at the same time has finished his own investigation. More focused on possible monsters responsible or any similarities to any he knows. Unfortunately most of what he finds is consistent more with a mage or a truly talented humanoid that had suddenly evolved the ability to control chaos in the human way.

After making his rounds he stands behind Yen and looks over her shoulder at the body. The wounds are ones he recognises quickly.

Torture. And not the simple kind no. There’s a burnt brand of a sun showing from under her dress, variously sized scars from pointy objects inserted into the flesh. Other scars from blades, acid and gods know what else. A truly thorough “interrogation”.

But why would anybody do this to the leader? If they were capable of causing such damage simultaneously a mind reading spell would be a child’s play for the mage.
-Any theory why go to such lengths?- Geralt asks Yennefer that is finishing with her spell.

-Geralt, this more serious than we thought.- With no evident emotion in her voice the sorceress delivers the news. The witcher knows that when she gets like this it’s one of the very rare times she’s either afraid of something or has no idea what is happening.

-Meaning?- he asks gruffly for further details.

-This sorceress here had a very... interesting cause of death. – Geralt arches an eyebrow in question.

-She has suffocated when her airways were closed due to her being laid incorrectly… On the wagon that carried her and the soldiers from the camp. Unlike them she couldn’t move to be able to breathe and here is the result. She was alive when they found her. Just unresponsive.- Yennefer is visibly weakened after trying to find out as much as possible, but in her state and just after healing her eyes she’s once again drained. If she goes further she might pass out.

-So whoever did this “theoretically” didn’t kill anybody? Huzzah… - with an ocean of sarcasm Geralt starts to wonder what is the reason for this. Surely it wasn’t random? He looks over to the soldiers.

-That’s not all, there’s more to this mystery.- Yen’s comment makes him turn back towards her and the dead sorceress.

-All, and I do mean all, of her magic was drained.- the information confused Geralt.

-Don’t you mean her chaos?

-No, that’s what is interesting. If it was just her chaos she would also be put under the curse and it would recharge when she is sleeping. But it’s not only her chaos that was stolen. Both her capacity for gathering large amounts of it and most of her knowledge about magic were taken with it. To do such a thing was theorised only possible by monsters and other creatures with much more natural connection to chaos; djinns for example. Which makes no sense since both the curse and method it was applied with are of human origin. – she takes a pause in her explanation and stares at the men laying in the beds. None of it makes sense to her.

-The state she’s in as you guessed is also magical. It feels as if all of the caster’s injuries were transferred onto her. As revenge perhaps. Which means that the culprit was the one being tortured by them. Well, her more probably. – ending her description and speculations Yen’s face looks very sullen.

-So in other words we have no idea what has done this or anything else for why.Fucking perfect. – Geralt as always so descriptive with his conversations already knows where they need to go next.

-Let’s not waste more time. They were cursed in the ruins, so more of the magical footprint is there. You coming?- the witcher is already walking out of the ward.

-Yea, give me a second…

The method, type, amount, and sorceress’ body… they all have no clear connection to each other or to a concreate culprit... – mumbling the last sentence Yen follows Geralt to the abandoned Nilfgaardian camp.

When they arrive it’s clear somebody, probably the locals, have already plundered most of it. But one thing they couldn’t physically steal stayed strong in this place.
The magic left by the spells used to curse the camp’s previous inhabitants.

Geralt’s wolf medallion is almost vibrating off his chest while Yen can feel the chaos of the place caress her skin with leftover power summoned here not too long ago.

This is not good.

Such mark is left only when great magic is used, akin to a birth of a new mage or sorceress, maybe during the trial of grasses that create the witchers through mutations. And only if the person being changed was already magically inclined.

And the camp Geralt and the sorceress now stand in has such thing imprinted on it with very strong chaos.

Chapter Text

That evening Antira has gotten ready for bed after organising her useless band of wannabe knights to be ready to march just after dawn. In her eyes the bard barely moved or even reacted to his new position. While it did amuse her at the time it would terrify her if she knew what was happening in his mind and what conversation he was having.

With her last task of spreading information about the mutants whereabouts complete she feels proud of herself. Her teacher praised her resolve and outcome, but at the same time scolded her to slowing down her soldiers.

Oh, well; one can’t have everything now, can they? She disables the magical communication device.

Suddenly as she sits on her cot she feels an urge to see and try to smell any more of that beautiful perfume of true agony and despair from the bard. She takes a step towards him. And then another and the next. With each one she can sense her chaos being drained, but can’t stop herself.

She needs to look into the bard’s eyes.

When she takes her final step and turns to face him she’s so weak she actually kneels. And looks up to meet the chained bard’s face.

With eyes Void.

Not void of emotion like last time, but just Void. Black, even the sclera and iris is black.

She stares at the darkness and it stares back. She can’t do anything but await his judgement.

Finally Jaskier’s shackles open and he falls with his hands reaching for her throat.
She doesn’t stop him.

He squeezes it tight until no air can pass through.
She doesn’t stop him.

Inside her head she screams and is terrified, but none of her enchanted senses can make any sense out of this situation.
She can’t stop it.

Jaskier looks at her with his Void eyes and after a few exhausting heartbeats… he lets her go.

But not without taking all her power and knowledge with him, which forces her to go into a comatose state.

The witch goes down like a ragdoll and with open eyes full of fear sees as the bard lifts his hands to feed on her body. Most scars and wounds transfer to her.

Black lines, the same ones she saw when casting the curse dance on his skin which fills with tissues and meat again. The sorceress is now the one left looking like a skeleton.

The void veins concentrate and concentrate until they converge just below Jaskier’s Adam’s apple. They form a shape she’s familiar with when she tried to teach herself how to play a flute at the palace. The clef. The thing that starts the song and all other beats and notes follow only after it is written.

She can’t do anything.

But watch as the bard visibly shakes of something and his eyes turn back to normal for a brief second. They were still apathetic but some semblance of will and life peaked through.

The sorceress falls unconscious when the bard starts to panic internally and his eyes once again turn black.

-~~~~~~-

-What do you think you are doing?- Jaskier asks the entity with more emotion, deducing that it is setting up another hallucination to torture him as its only source of entertainment.

- What I told you I would do!~~ Time to make the other men also pay for their ignorance and sloth while you were being tortured, don’t you think?!- Void is giddy with the possibility of making humankind suffer in the real world as opposite to hurting only one.

- No, you won’t…- The bard has had enough. The witch took his body apart again and again; then he was manipulated supposedly by the very same thing now trying the used trick again! This is just a complete repetition of a story… of a chorus… like a rhythm… like he used to do as a bard.

The very thing Geralt brought out of him when he was near. Every song that he crafted if only inspired by the witcher became a success. Even that god damned heartbreak fuelled drunken scraps of a song!

The songbirds in the golden cage raise their little heads to attention.

Jaskier has had enough. HE was the artist responsible for changing the continents opinions for gods’ sake! He won’t let a stupid voice create illusions that trap him here! If he isn’t allowed to go back to the real world anymore, then the last thing he will create is the vision he will live the rest of his life in!

The cage starts to come alive with movement.

-And what are you going to do, bardling? Stop me?! Ehehhehee~~ You said it yourself: you’re useless compared to me!- Void can’t stop being amused! The prey is actually trying to fight his influence!

-I may not be as strong as Geralt or powerful like Yennefer, but…. I did survive 22 years traveling with a stubborn, emotionally constipated, golden hearted, mountain of a man! – Jaskier finally feels some will to live come back to him. If this is his last vision to experience in his life then he’s going to make sure it is fitting for writing at least 5 ballads!

Void controlling the bard’s body twitches a little. That small fry is getting on his nerves and destroying its mood. So he goes back to the mindscape and shows up as a copy of the White Wolf.

-You will sit back and enjoy the chaos with me, Jaskier~~- he whispers warmly while reaching out a hand to cares the bard’s cheek.

Suddenly the musician backs away and stares at it with all his emotion.

- Don’t touch me with his hands… do not steal his image… Do you knOW HOW LONG I HAVE WORKED TO FIX IT FOR HIM!!!- All the emotions that the bard suppressed during his torture finally make an appearance. The void, startled drops its illusion and seemingly leaves the bard. It became too dangerous to agitate him. If Jaskier connects a tiny bit more to his love for the witcher Void will lose control over him. That damned true love, making the entities’ job so much harder. Why did the gods make it the universal “destroy triger” for all curses?

-Hey! Get back here!- Jaskier is so not done with Void trying to force him to live a horrible illusion again.

-Oh shut up! – Void shouts with Geralt’s booming voice.

-I have torture and a curse to inflict upon these idiots.- Void grumbles hoping the now more alive bard won’t try and take back control.

-Oh, you must have never met me if you’re ordering me to shut up!- Jaskier happy with a distraction from the state he found his life to be in uses the new found strength to do exactly what the Void feared: take control.

It’s my head, so it’s my rules, damn it!

Unknown to him he only feels so strong now because of the chaos and energy taken from Antira and his heritage that stayed hidden until the witch has cursed him.

Now with such strong emotions and desperation it was starting to bloom. Just like the previously closed buds on the cage. While at the same time the parchment birds start to flap their wings. Getting ready to break the Void’s cage.

Jaskier focuses all his attention on controlling his “imaginary body” and for the first time fully looks onto the world with his new self. There’s something ruff on and in his neck and throat, and he feels too healthy for it to be reality but it’s better than suffering because of the illusions.

The Void’s words are cut off when this happens and its crushed with the bards consciousness in the physical body. He needs to stop the bard from getting more control over the power the body now possesses or this will end badly.

-Stop this! This is my play to sing, not yours! You refused my offer!

-Oh no mister, now you won’t do anything to me anymore. I’m taking back the wheel!- Jaskier says confident in his grip over this new illusion. Seeing the many tents surrounding him he gets an idea from the entities ramblings. All these casters seem to really like their curses, so why not indulge in his fantasy? Torture the torturer for a change. And what’s better than taking their fun?

He’s going to create the perfect world with his music. A world in which no more tragedy shall fall upon him.

“Yess, yess feel the anger! And when you slip I’ll be ready to consume you at last!” Void thinks that this will end well for it.

The songbirds are getting rambunctious and the plants circling the cage’s bars start to twist and bend the metal.

Jaskier takes a deep breath with his clear lungs (HA, another sigh it’s an illusion, his lungs and throat are broken!) and tries to start a song with which he could curse these men.

But the Void is constantly rambling in his head and keeping him off rhythm.

How am I supposed to concentrate?! UGH.. I never had this problem with Geralt…

Now what I used to do when I was training in Oxenfurt to be a bard?... I’ll need a conductor’s baton, it always helped me with my lute practice when the teacher would swing it about… well now my voice will be my instrument.

Ohh!… And what do we have here?

Jaskier walks on his healthy legs (HA! More lies) and picks up an interesting thing. It’s the silver dagger the witch pierced him with once. He didn’t notice it at the time, but the handle actually has a buttercup engraved on its end. Such beautiful coincidence! The dagger would actually be a good replacement for a baton. It’s blade is unusually rounded; used more for stabbing than cutting or slashing.

With the correct hold it will do nicely.

Jaskier walks back to the tents entrance and starts swinging the blade in rhythm. The physical item much easier to keep in concreated motion than untouchable voice.

-What are you doing?! It’s my job!- Void is honestly offended. He wanted to curse them! It won’t stand.

With a final calming exhale Jaskier starts to sing his very own, first curse, while in his head Void is keeping the pecking paper birds in the cage.

The bard’s voice fills the night and spreads toward the near villages and city. There are more than enough people listening, but only the soldiers will feel his music’s effects. And his wrath…

 

Tala ta taa~
tala ta taa~
Sleep Nilfgaard’s soldiers
don’t notice my song.

Just let the sleep,
take you a-way,
into the land of…

-the night-mares.
DON’T LET THEM REST!!! Make them suffer like you did!
Do not listen to this song, scream and shout all night long!

Void frustrated with the bard’s antics tries to take things into his grasp. The soldiers outside whether they were asleep or awake start to scream, just like Jaskier did few days prior. It’s a much more beautiful song for Void than anything composed by any other musician.

-No!! You will not have power over me anymore! This is my hallucination and my story! Fuck off you spilled blob of ink!- Jaskier forces his mind to fight over the ownership of his body.

And surprisingly he wins with his fury and continues the original intention of the spell. The silver dagger swaying in three fourths rhythm.

The only thing he vows to never lose. The rhythm given to him by Geralt as his eternal muse.

The birds start to peck at the darkness surrounding the cage and it’s starting to swing from whatever it is suspended in the void.

Rest my dear’s enemies
do not go after him.
Or the princess for that ma-tter~

-Suffer unholily and face my anger, I will make sure you die.
You just have to sink deeper and let me in charge.
I promise to keep the witcher in good company.~~-
Void counterattacks the bard’s mental hit and once again forces the men to scream.

That is the last offence to the bard. The Void’s curse doesn’t even rhyme! That won’t do. The one of many things Geralt taught him is that when a song is supposed to be memorable it must be catchy and true. And that’s double for rhyming: at least some needs to be present.

Jaskier remembers his love for his witcher and tired of pretending and hiding it he fully embraces it. It’s his dream and so he shall feel and do whatever he wants!

With such conviction the cage breaks and the songbirds fly out, multiplying and overwhelming the entity that spent too much time in the bard’s head than making sure its plan is without flaws. It screeches and thrashes, but finally with one last push the yellow eyes of a certain “ wolf” open in the dark space and illuminate the mindscape in golden light. With life and meaning once again, provided by Jaskier’s dearest muse. The birds dive and attack the curse with true love for the White Wolf. The buds that were blossoming grow, and grow creating a beautiful garden full of warmth and greenery. Just like before Jaskier’s torture began.

Void tries to fight back but fails and is thrown out into the catalyst still lingering in the bards throat from the potion. The catalyst that right now Jaskier is coughing up and vomiting onto the ground as to not suffocate. He pushes his hand into his mouth and pulls out a spiky black ball. It scraped his throat on the way out. When it hits the grass, it dissolves with one last weak cry for revenge.

Jaskier doesn’t realise it but at that moment he freed himself from the curse and was reborn a new man.

With a little bit of a sore throat again, but free to do what he wants.

He now thinks that the world he sees is another illusion waiting to be broken. So he also lets go of his ambitions and continues the curse. The clef left on his skin menacingly glows with new power stolen from the witch and reinforced with his own that laid dormant for such a long time.

You have served,
under the black sun,~
now you won’t,
wake for anyone~

That is my magic and my command,~
You will lis-ten to me, till the end.

With this curse fin-ished,
I bid you adieu,
now let me take some,
things off of you ~

And with the curse set he trails through the packs and gathers food and clothes and whatever else he wants and goes towards Vizima with a cheshire grin. He has more witches to hunt before they try to hurt his love.

And since this is his hallucination he will make sure the story and ending is up to his standards. Starting with the Nilfgaard’s forces and Ciri. He will take care of her for Geralt and destroy his enemies. It’s the least he can do in this narrative without stepping on the witcher’s toes again and respecting his wish on that mountain.

He’s pretty sure that if he sees Geralt again the illusion will break and the cycle will continue anew. But that’s fine! He pined without seeing his love for so long, what is the rest of his life in a vision in comparison!

With one last shriek or howl he leaves the camp, at the same time breaking every magical device and instrument left behind. And alerting the closest city to the camp and what has transpired tonight.

He merrily skips on the dirty path and starts his journey north, while unbeknown to him his beloved is just behind him following and searching with Ciri and soon also with Yen.

 

-~~~~-

 

-This is worse than I imagined…- Yennefer goes around the camp’s area looking and feeling for the magic’s currents and follows them.

She finds their origin in the tent that looks like it belonged to the sorceress leader. There are chains dangling from the support beam and black vomit that reeks of death is found in the entrance. It’s unnaturally shaped like a perfect circle too, as if something dissolved.

Geralt following his enhanced sense of smell comes to an underground chamber filled with odour of fear, anger and usual aftereffects of torture. And something he hoped he wouldn’t have to smell with his nostrils again.

Jaskier’s spilled blood… in large quantities. If he wasn’t treated for such injuries he must have already bled to death. Every instrument of torture is stained with his bard’s blood.

Geralt rushes outside to try and follow its smell but is surprised to notice that it ends in the tent that Yennefer is investigating. As if this is where Jaskier’s bleeding either stopped or he was at the end of the line. Usually during the hunt the witcher would find a body on either end of a blood trail, but here he sees none. And he doesn’t know if he should be happy or worried.

-They had him. – Geralt tells Yen in the threshold and catches her attention.

-They had who, Geralt? – absentminded and trying to understand the magic whirling in such small place Yennefer barely looks at the witcher. The chaos left behind is making her head hurt again when she tries to untangle it.

-Jaskier- The white haired man answers quickly and starts to also investigate the tent with vigour.

- WHAT?! How do you know that? Did you find his bo-… - Fearing the worst case scenario that usually happens to the prisoners following capture by nilfgaard the sorcerers thinks she will need to plan a funeral.

- Underground torture chamber. He was there and his scent stops here. What did you find?

-Well… I may have a theory what have happened here. – Yen stands and points to the black vomit.

- This is a catalyst that was used to apply a curse. If it didn’t reek so strongly I suspect you would be able to smell Jaskier’s scent in it. Like the blood in the chamber. From what I have gathered two curses were cast here and at least one powerful spell.

- And what does it have to do with him? – Geralt is on the verge of going mad and getting Ciri just to rush out onto the road with Roach in search of Jaskier.

-Well… it is more a guess than real investigation since my chaos is spent and I can’t find out more, so here’s what I gathered:

The first curse was placed on your bard with the catalyst when he was being tortured.- Yennefer starts with her first suspicion.

-Checks out. Even more chaos is left in the torture room.- Geralt hasn’t stopped looking for any hidden portals or trapdoors where Jaskier could have been hidden and missed. A broken magical communication device is something he did note as something interesting.

- So that means they were torturing him for information. I bet the curse had to do something with his mind.

- They did use him to try and get to me…- Geralt after finishing his search and finding nothing mumbles under his breath.

- And then… I have no real idea. It’s confusing because the bard doesn’t have any magical abilities or a magical lineage, does he?

-No…- Geralt is hanging his head low. He is the reason his bard is tortured. Again. Fuck his life, is he really such a bad person to deserve such fate?

-Then I have no further idea what might have happened… I’m sorry, Geralt I want to do- - Yennefer is starting to feel so bad for her ex-lover. All this is happening without real reason. Only because bad people want to do bad things to the ones he loves… When she tries to tell that she could do more, but is out of chaos the witcher interrupts her.

-No Yennefer, you did what you can. Let’s go back to Ciri… His scent and the chaos trail both go north from here, towards Vizima. If tomorrow morning you are good to travel we’re leaving after him. – Geralt is nauseous with the smell of death, rotten magic, dried blood and tragedy. He needs to get away, so he starts to walk out of the camp. With his cloak and hood he goes to the manor, Yennefer following him closely because of her worries.

They don’t talk the whole way there and when Ciri meets them in the manor thay explain to her the bare minimum.

Chapter Text

-You mean that… they have Jaskier?...- Ciri asks the first thing after Yen and Geralt arrived in the late afternoon to the mansion and explained most of what they found. She does so with tears in her eyes.

No, they can’t have Jaskier with them; he doesn’t deserve it! He taught me so many things about the world and shown so much kindness. He was the one who sang for me in the royal gardens and showed me how to braid my hair so it holds when I was running and playing in the palace. He played the part in formal situations but didn’t care I was a “Princess” and he was supposed to be “under me“. He treated me like a child when everybody treated me like a doll. For being my friend and confidant he doesn’t deserve such fate… He was mischievous and a troublemaker as my grandma called him, but he doesn’t deserve it!

-They had…- Geralt unable to cope with his own raging and colliding emotions doesn’t know how to comfort his daughter without breaking down himself.
And explaining to her what they found does not help in that regard.

-So where is he now?... – with both hope and dread the young girl asks about her favourite tutor.

Please not dead, please not dead, please, please pleasepleaseplease…

Yennefer breaks the commentary running in her head and places a comforting hand on the girl’s shoulder.

-His tracks point towards Vizima. We’ll be traveling there tomorrow at dawn sweetheart, so come now. Time for bed.- Yen gently takes her hand and leads to one of the many bedrooms.

Not forgetting about Geralt she spares a look at him from the stairs leading up and sees he is not in a good state. When he lifts his empty eyes to meet hers she silently asks with her expression what he needs. Him walking back into the common room is enough of an answer for her.

With Yen and Ciri getting ready for the night Geralt kneels next to the fireplace in the common room and tries to meditate and calm himself. They ate their fill when they arrived back from the outskirts, but he still feels his guts up to his throat. What he witnessed the aftermath of and smelt at that campsite wasn’t pretty or good for his mental state. And he wants to be stable not only to help Ciri, but to quickly find Jaskier and help him.

Please, my bard… Be safe for me.

And with that thought on his mind he starts to drift fully with plans of their reunion when he finds his heart again and fixes, or at least apologises for the biggest mistake in his life.

He dreams of waking up with his bard on his chest burrowed in furs in Kear Morhen after a pleasant night, full of soft touches. The early sunlight gently flowing over Jaskier’s locks and young face. Temptation impersonated.

Locking such fantasies before they get out of control and turn into misery when he wakes, Geralt finally, after weeks of constant vigilance fully allows himself to… just be and rest. Not sleep, because Ciri could still wake up with a nightmare. And he needs to wake and help her when that happens.

Fortunately for our trio the night goes without anymore events and they get a good night’s rest.

-~~~~~~-

Jaskier is following along the beaten road going the way other wenches of Nilfgaard went. Hoping to stop their troublesome meddling. It is starting to darken, so he takes one of the many meals he took off the soldiers. He’s careful as to not prick himself on the dagger he took from the wench. It’s also stashed in his pack he has casually tied on his hip.

And since it’s his illusion he made it lighter to carry by putting a larger space inside in one of his pouches. Ahhhh.. what the mind of an artist can create.

He walks through the treeline and finds a suitable tree for his needs.

Still thinking he’s in some hallucination the bard doesn’t realise he is actually using chaos and harmony in tandem to “fix the illusion up to his likings”. That it's reality he’s changing into what he sees as better and that he’s using his until now locked magic and the chaos stolen from Antira.

He has already grown a few flowers (buttercups, a wild rose and a few wolfsbanes; he’s hilarious isn’t he? Such a poetic genius), scared off an aggressive fox and healed a fallen bird’s wing just because.
All thanks to the power of his mind’s control over the curse’s illusions, of course.

He feels a little bit more tired after each “fix”, but if he remembers correctly this is one of the longest false realities he experienced. And largest too! Not only does his body not ache (you’re getting sloppy Void… or you wench), the world around goes on and on without looping or breaking. That whole “void thing” must have been the witch’s tries of improvement of the curse. And it did work, if he says so himself. Everything feels as real as it did the last few times, but now he knows. All of this is just a trick! Hahahahha !!! They won’t get anything else out of him. No sir-e!

With a wide smile and a full stomach Jaskier wills a tree to pick him up and cradle his body in the air. He lays with his back on the leaves and looks at the night sky getting more and more full of stars.
He wonders if the illusion would also change their positions if he stayed here for long enough.

Oh well, he’s going to be forced to live a different lie sooner or later, so who cares! He will have some fun before that happens.

While falling asleep and remembering all that happened through the day of travel and night before Jaskier doesn’t realise that he is no longer fully human. Or that his abilities he summed up as “illusion manipulation” were very similar to the one’s that belonged to creatures forgotten and theorised to be only of legend in university. Fae: fairies, pixies and whatnot, that instead of using chaos like most of the humanoids used “harmony”; described as nature’s forces to cast spells. Creatures Jaskier only read about in the libraries of Oxenfurt’s University and found partial inspiration for his first few poems and songs.

And he also doesn’t care that he now bears a mark of a clef on his neck that pulses with magical chaos from the witch he drained. Which makes him even more powerful while he wanders through the world in delirium and unchecked mental state.

Able to control nature with his inherited powers and limited chaos for other tricks that he stole Jaskier became a type of force capable of doing anything he desired. Only limitation being his mind, understanding of the world and amount of raw magic he had at his disposal. Unfortunately one of these wasn’t… cooperating at the moment. While the other too were also lacking, so his limitless power might be more theoretical, but still possible.

He’s no longer a weak bard following a witcher and hating a sorceress from afar. Now he was a fae of music and rhythm, that also acquired the ability to steal witches’ chaos thanks to the curses meddling with his body and mind. His songs now will have more effect than simple inspiration or mood lifting properties. With his voice, right attitude and understanding of his power Jaskier’s dreams could become reality if he wished.

Even thou we all know that Jaskier won’t take the easy way out. He likes a challenge and if you don’t believe him, remember: he spent 22 years running after a stubborn witcher just to have a chance at being his friend. So he won’t do things without earning them first. He’s too good of a person to do that and hey! it’s fantasy so why not be the best version of oneself for the time being? He can always start to rape and murder later when he’s bored, but now his only targets are the wenches of Nilfgaard and his beloved’s enemies.

Not to mention that he’s a lover not a fighter. Too much blood and guts make him want to vomit.

But still after all that is said and done, what he desired most while living in his “illusion” is for Geralt and Ciri to live happy lives. Preferably with him.

But since their appearance would probably break the illusion he isn’t too keen on finding them. Better to help these illusionary versions indirectly. And who knows, maybe when they finally kill him in the real world he will be free for the last and final time and see Geralt in the afterlife after one of the beasts he sang about would finish his beloved. If that happens he is for certain going to wait with open arms.

For now he’s going to sleep.

-~~~~~~-

The next day at the crack ass of dawn all three special visitors of the abandoned manor pack their combined bags onto their two horses. Thankfully Yennefer has some enchanted bags with her so most of her stock and supplies weigh nothing and look even less full. Maybe later when they find another abandoned steed she will have her own horse, but at the time the sorceress is satisfied with riding behind the princess. Talking about nothing to both pass the time and take their minds off the closest and most hurtful topics.

-So what did you call this horse? With Geralt in charge I guess… Roach Junior? – Yennefer teases the stoic man riding in front of them. Ciri is in unusually high spirits.

At least on the surface. The hectic schedule and travel help her in not fully digesting everything but she supposes that is for the better. She can’t become an obstacle during their mission, can she?
-Umm… well we didn’t name him yet. Geralt said that then I would attached and then sad when it gets hurt…- Ciri answers with empty energy.

-Well I certainly can’t just call him the horse or the stallion the whole time. It can get confusing. So what did you want to call him? – Yennefer doesn’t know it but with this line of questioning she was digging up a previous conversation between the princess and Geralt.

A conversation about what would Jaskier name the horse since he would be the poet of the group if he was with them. Ciri had a suggestion, but Geralt at the time still confused in his new role and so very defensive stopped the topic. He ended it with banning talks about Jaskier all together for only when they were both up to it and telling Ciri to not name the horse.

The riding princess thinks if it’s alright if she tell the story and looks at Geralt for support. When she glances at his back his head is slightly turned and he gives a sharp nod. He knows what she is asking about with her look.

-Well, when we got it we discussed it a little bit… Mainly what would Jaskier name the horse, with him being the artist and all that, but the discussion ended… heated and was dropped… - Ciri uncertain of what to say further shuts her lips with a click of her teeth. Yen mentally beats herself for asking the question and bringing the mood down…

Well she can’t back down now, can she?

-And what did you two decide?

-I think that Jaskier would name him Pegasus… Geralt said that was the most probable option.- Ciri timidly answers the witch’s question.

-Mhmmm… - Geralt answers and backs up the story in his own way.

- Well I thinks it fits him nicely.- Yennefer hoping to try again to lighten the mood goes onto another topic.

Not long after Geralt notices that his medallion is slightly moving. Focusing his senses on the road he finds a buttercup and a wolfsbane flowers twisted together on the side of the road.

He quickly gets off Roach and inspects them. Turns out it’s no coincidence that the flower Jaskier named himself after in a different language and the one he chose for Geralt one night after talking on wine are here.

On the road where Jaskier supposedly travelled on. And only to prove him right and give him hope the witcher can smell a light perfume of his bard on the flowers. It’s different than usual, but he sums it up to the weird circumstances they found themselves in. He picks the flowers and shows them to Yennefer still sitting on the newly-named Pegasus.

-Can you get anything from them?- Geralt asks with a low tone.

-Hmmm… let me just…- Yennefer takes them from witcher’s grasp and inspects them with everything she can. The magic that surrounds them does feel the same as the one left in the camp.
-If my chaos is correct these were created by the same magic that cursed the soldiers back in Brudge. If it’s your bard or something else I can’t tell you yet. It’s too small of a sample.- the sorceress lets Ciri take a look and feel of the twisted flowers and she gives them back to Geralt. He then puts them on the inside of his breastplate. Close to his heart.

-Whatever it is we know Jaskier is probably with it.- the white haired man gets back on Roach and the trio continue their journey. He can’t fanthom his bard being anything other than a cute human musician, so for him the only explanation of this is that he’s either kidnapped by the newcomer or went with it willingly after it saved him. He hopes it’s the latter, because if it’s not then the one who cursed the soldiers and caused such mayhem is… his lark. And that’s something he can’t thinks about right now. He needs more evidence.

They travel on towards Vizima.

Towards the White Wolf's Dear Heart.

Chapter Text

For the next few days of walking Jaskier couldn’t catch up to Amara and her soldiers quickly enough. In the meantime his delusions only grew further and his personality slowly turned back to how he was before the “mountain incident”. Even if it is reluctantly and due to his broken mental state stuck in denial.

As such he decides to return to old habits. This is his ideal version of the world after all. He even started to compose a new song.

Nothing in here really matters so he decides to sing about what he has on his mind ever since he left the camp: his love for Geralt that just doesn’t quit. Isn’t that an interesting topic? it somehow makes him feel less alone in delusion.

Honestly it’s not even that surprising; it is the thing that let him break the curse and unleash his hidden fae heritage. Without him knowing and understanding anything about it no less.

And so he walks near some fields, working folk and their village but decides to ignore all of it. He has enough food to last him longer on his journey and these people aren’t real anyway.

He sings his new creation to pass the time.

It’s not his most technically advanced one or deep with meaning, but it does bring him hollow and temporary joy and through it his magic blesses the golden fields around him.

He starts quietly and calmly with appropriate gestures to further describe his feelings. His voice being his only instrument right now after all that happened (not counting the dagger-baton as an instrument!):

 

As sly as a fox, as strong as an ox
As fast as a hare, as brave as a bear
As free as a bird, as neat as a word
As quiet as a mouse, as big as a house

 

And then he raises the volume and pushes the chorus out of his lungs with power.

The clef on his neck and his cauliflower-like blue eyes shine with his magical prowess and accidental blessing brought by his mad and forced performance.

 

All~~ My Witcher is, All~~ My Witcher is, oh oh oh
All~~ My Witcher is, is everything

 

He lowers his voice again, but the villagers have already sensed something coming down the road near where they are working. They decide to ignore a clearly mad man’s singing and go back to work a little further, letting him pass. But a little girl, not older than 9 summers is closer to Jaskier and gets enveloped in his singing due to her lack of fear of strangers and need for something new and interesting.

 

As kind as a wolf, as sharp as a tooth
As deep as a bite, as dark as the night
As sweet as a song, as right as a wrong
As long as a road, as loud as a toad

 

He speeds up thinking about the numerous “what ifs”, the possible versions of his life with Geralt. Versions that would be possible if he wasn’t a coward and confessed before he got stuck in the illusionary world. Before the dragon hunt destroyed his chances, or even before Yennefer became a fixed point in Geralt’s life. Damn it all…

 

As pretty as a picture hanging from a fixture
Strong like a family, strong as I wanna be
Bright as day, as light as play
As hard as nails, as grand as a whale

All~~ my love is oh oh oh, All~~ my love is wo-oh oh
All~~ my love is ohhh, is everything

Everything at once!!!

Everything I have, ohhh…~~

Everything I want!...

 

Jaskier starts to twirl on the road and bouncing from one wheat field to another on the opposite side of the path and repeats the chorus a few times.

He looks like a poor reincarnation of a god of harvest. Only thing missing is an outfit different than the rags he took from the camp.

And at least one golden artefact, then he’s set. Otherwise he already has the aesthetic, blessings and attitude in his disposal.

His singing gets gentler once again as he returns to walking on the road; like a normal person; passing outside of the village by a good distance. It’s going further towards Vizima; the city that’s soon going to be under attack. He looks at a corpse of a farmer clearly killed by the Nilfgaardians laid on a wagon waiting for other corpses to join and be buried later. He ignores it all and continues his song.

 

As warm as the sun, as silly as fun
As cool as a tree, as scary as the sea
As hot as fire, cold as ice
Sweet as sugar and everything nice

As old as time, as straight as a vine
As royal as a king, as buzzed as a bee
As stealthy as a tiger, smooth as a glider
Pure as a melody, hot as I want to be

 

Ending his song he puts more emotion into it. Unknowingly freeing a stronger than average spell onto his surroundings. This time; to create a contrast in his repertoire; a different spell. Of good fortune and simple joy. And the little girl that was hiding and listening to him sing gets hit with most of his temporary blessings.

 

All~~ I wanna be, wo- o- oh, All~~ I wanna be, wo- oh oh
All~~ I wanna be is ne-ear him;
Love partner in all...

 

He tries to go on but the girl, moved by the performance stumbles onto the road. She didn’t hear everything because he changed the volume of his singing so much but she heard enough.
She quickly runs up to the singing man and asks:

-Umm.. excuse me! Who is the song about?- She can’t believe such song could be written and performed without a special someone in mind.

-Hmmm…? Oh, hello little illusion! – Jaskier slows his walking, but doesn’t stop and looks at the imaginary girl.

She’s cute and reminds him of Cirilla…
And that doesn’t squeeze my heart, no it does not... shut it Void!

He thinks imagining a snickering voice in his head reminding him of his mistakes.

-Well my beloved of course!- Jaskier’s a little bit off-putting facial expression and appearance scares the girl just a touch.

Experiencing herself the horror of war and the marching soldiers just a few days ago she thinks she can put the two and two together. Thinking of the reason for the singer’s state is that his beloved is not around anymore.

-Ohh... i-is he d-dead?- in true childlike fashion she stutters the question out.

-He might as well be…- he says thinking how this is a hallucination and that he can’t ever see Geralt or it breaks. How in the real world the witcher doesn’t even want to do anything with him.

Jaskier’s answer stuns the girl. She stops in her tracks with a tilted head and a very… expressive face of confusion. While the bard leaves her to walk further down the road without her.

The girl never expecting such an answer decides that the man is too mysterious for his own good and goes back home.

That evening she will notice that a few lucky things happened to her family and that life, even during a war has some joyful moments. Her family is happy for her to find some joy in their circumstances unlike them and the rest of the village.

The bard is once again going through a forest and is cutting with his baton/dagger a picture in a large oak’s bark he choose to lean on for a break while setting down for the night.

Forgoing the fire, since in this illusion he doesn’t need to worry about such things, he carves a miniature image of the wolf medallion he always saw dangling form his love’s neck. After getting ready to sleep he grows some moss to lay on and goes to the dreamy lands.

He may not predict it but tomorrow he is going to meet with Amara’s group and have another confrontation with a Nilfgaardian sorceress.

What’s going to happen is just a second verse of this ballad of adventure.

 

-~~~~~~-


 

After another day of travel the Pack consisting of Ciri, Geralt and Yennefer rides through a village surrounded with golden wheat fields and smaller green ones with vegetables. When they ride next to a peasant girl working in a field next to the road both Yennefer and Geralt notice the chaos that surrounds her. Yen with her own, while Geralt with his trembling medallion.

They both get down from their horses and as casually as they can try to not frighten the girl Yennefer asks:

-Hello, little one. Have you seen a bard come near your village with a… companion not too long ago?- Tring to feel gentler than she is Yen’s smile is small and forced, while Geralt a few feet away hears the conversation and watches if any of the men working on the fields recognise and wish them any harm. Ciri is still hidden in her cloak, sitting on Pegasus.

-Ummm… I’m not supposed to talk with weird people again. I’m s-sorry.- The girl starts to turn away, but Ciri choses this moment to dismount and show her face. She’s slightly crouching to hide herself from famers working.

Geralt also takes note that it’s not just the girl emitting magic but a part of the field does as well. Just barley as if it was gently caressed with a spell, judging by how it looks and smells apart from the rest of the field. It’s both a little healthier and prettier.

-Wait! Hey, I’m… Fiona and these are my…aunt and dad. We’re looking for my… uncle!- Ciri lies through her teeth. Yen is raising an unimpressed eyebrow with “what are you doing?” as an intended message they are to convey.

Thankfully the girl trusts another young child better than the scary adults and doesn’t run away.

-Well I’m not supposed to tell…- the little and frightened girl looks quickly between Yen and Geralt. Ciri seeing this takes her hand and goes to hide in the wheat field. Geralt of course with his enhanced hearing can still listen to their conversation.

-Ok, now they aren’t listening. So did a singing man walk through this village with a companion or something?- Impatient the young princess forgoes all pleasantries.

-Well, there was that one weird and mad man singing, but he didn’t look like a bard. And he didn’t have any companions.- the girl thankfully doesn’t have the best sense of survival or one that is supposed to be common, so she recounts all that she remembers truthfully.

-What did he look like?

-Well, he had brown, warm hair almost to his shoulders. Very dirty, just like his clothes. They were plain and ripped in some places. What else… he looked really scary and his eyes were blue and mad!- Girl excitedly tells Ciri everything she needs to be partially confident in identifying this “singer” as Jaskier.

-Ok, thank you. We have to be going now, but can you not mention us to any other outsider that asks? – Ciri tells the girl already knowing that if others say the right questions she won’t hesitate to sell them out.

-Ok! Bye then!- the girl goes back to hiding/ working in the wheat fields.

The princess goes back to her guardians and knowing that Geralt heard everything only repeats the conversation to Yen while they are already riding on Pegasus after Jaskier.

When they camp for the night Geralt finds a wolf carving in one of the oak trees and smells the faintest trace of his bard. They were getting closer to meeting him after all this time.
He can’t wait when they catch up to him, presuming he doesn’t have a horse or companion with him as the girl said.

Just a little bit longer, a trip to the keep and Geralt will be able to finally attempt to relax. His constantly tensed muscles ready to act whenever have already started to make themselves known.

Letting Ciri sleep on an unnatural moss bed, that from Geralt can smell the faintest perfume of Jaskier and the weird and new magic, he thinks and talks in whispers with Yen about what they know. Their theories what might have happened to his bard distilled into such: he, because he’s human, had to be saved by a creature, person or entity that can do all that weird magic and keep them safe. Even if the girl's testimony says differently.

Jaskier clearly charmed his saviour, evident in all the magically created things they found that only the musician would make. Example: the twisted flowers and the moss bed Ciri is currently occupying.
The Companion has to be untrained hence they’re probably some kind of a humanoid or monster capable of such magic. The only hole in this theory being that Geralt living and learning about monsters and other nasty things for almost the last century has never heard about anything like that.

This notion prompts Yennefer to think if the bard really is a simple human after all.

Both Geralt’s skills and Yen’s abilities didn’t always allow them to identify things that are magical in nature. Either because they were too intelligent and hid themselves or so weak that they didn’t notice until their power awakened.

The witcher firmly repeats that Jaskier has to be human and not a mage or creature. He walked with him for 22 years. He can’t describe himself as the bard’s friend if he didn’t notice such thing during all that time. For Gods’ sake, he even noticed the different moles on his bard’s body that appeared over the years and where they are. He knows what Jaskier likes and hates.

But… Yennefer has a point he doesn’t know everything. Like what real relationship the bard had with his family. What he wanted to achieve apart from traveling and singing. Why he stayed all this time with the Butcher of Blaviken…

Sufficiently annoyed with the many unanswered questions about Jaskier’s situation at the moment Geralt goes to meditate under the same tree the wolf symbol was carved into.

Yennefer also thinking over all the evidence they collected and her own experiences with the bard theorises what really happened until sleep also takes her away.

Tomorrow they wake and travel onward without fuss.

Chapter Text

Eskel and Lambert have been traveling for three days together and find this experience quite… different compared to their other times traveling the Path.

The witcher kind wasn’t made to work in pairs so they have no idea what to do with each other.

Do they have to talk non-stop?

Is it alright if they act like in the keep?

Who gets the watch during the night? Who sets up the camp and who packs it up?

Is it weird for Lambert to ride on Scorpion behind Eskel or not?

They have no idea.

How the fuck did Geralt of all of the witchers I know travel with a bloody human bard of all things?
When we find him I’m so forcing him into talking about his everyday travels with the man.
Fuck all the stories of slaying wyverns. I want to know how he didn’t kill him when they were working together.
For 22 years! What the fuck?! How did they do this shit!?

And other combinations are the main thoughts occupying Lambert's brain.

Eskel has the same ideas and very similar, but more cultured thoughts running through his head.

When they meet up with Geralt he’s also going to have a chat with him. And if they meet the bard at the same time he’s going to praise the man both as a saint for putting up with the worst of his brother and as a mad quack for the same thing instead of running away to the luxurious court life.

They don’t answer these questions all the way to Vizima. Every day was getting less and less awkward, but still not as good as traveling alone. Every few days they would have an argument and one or the other sulked for the next 24 hours.

And it's not that they aren't great friends, they're the closest thing to brothers other than the real thing! They lived together in the keep with Vesemir and Geralt for almost a century. There should be no awkward feeling between them.

But that's just in the keep. Away from the world, it's customs and stares.

Every village they went through the people working in the fields eyed them wearily. Those selling food looked suspicious of them.

One witcher was barely tolerated in most and two was just begging for them to start talking behind their backs and insulting them when they thought they couldn’t hear.

Although in the last decade or two some places started being nicer to them, all thanks to some weird bard writing imagined ballads about them. A complete weirdo if you were to ask them. At least they had something to tease their brother about during the winter since his companion is also a bard. In the beginning they thought that he was the one responsible but when they told Geralt he just huffed and left. And with him that equals hysterical laughter so their theory must have been pretty out there to make him feel that way.

In the end they gained new respect for their brother and his companion for traveling for so long together. They barely tolerated each other when both were doing the same amount of work and tried to keep their distance and silence.

How Geralt didn’t murder an annoying bard human just after he started walking with him they don’t know. He couldn’t be as useful to have around as another person capable of going hand In hand with a witcher, right?

When they stand with the city’s gate in view they would have been traveling together for almost a week and a half. And their questions left unanswered.

The festival that was planned in the market square is going to be seemingly ruined for all in a day or two, but a different type of show will play out in its place. The music is certainly going to be amazing.

Chapter Text

Triss is walking around Vizima with her hood up; covering her red locks and pale skin. She has spent most of her free time after Sodden Hill getting mages and other non-humans out of the area before Nilfgaard shows up.

Her friends will not survive when the armies with their anti-human and anti-magic-that-is-against-us agendas finally arrive and conquer the city. There’s no doubt about it.

Casting illusions and other spells to help with the process has left her exhausted. But she won’t stop now. She has a mission to accomplish and trauma to suppress.

Thinking about all the sisters she lost during the battle… No she can’t think about Yennefer now. She will save the magical community of Vizima in her honour instead. Then maybe she will allow herself to hide in an abandoned cottage in some mountains.

She ducks her head and swiftly moves into an alleyway leading to one of her associates. King Foltest might not care what happens to the non-human population of his capital city when Nilfgaard attacks but that won’t stop Triss. She knows the king was sitting in his palace for the last three weeks trying to come up with a strategy to save himself.

When she arrives at her destination the medic sorceress is happy to see the elven (and still glamoured) family of the local tailor and librarian. They are in the middle of finishing packing all of their most important belongings in their cart. When the man sees her approach he immediately stops and greets her with a tight smile while the woman is carefully rearranging her books.

-Lady Triss, you’re just in time. We’re leaving as soon as possible and weren’t certain if we should wait or If w-… - the very stressed elf didn’t know what to do with his hands.

- Calm down Ennal, I wouldn’t let you leave without checking your glamours. Now let me have a look.- Triss tries to make the tailor relax.

-Yes, of course… Here; we gathered them up beforehand. – he hands over the five little trinkets hosting the enchantments. Their forms ripple a bit, especially on their ears and faces, but the illusion still holds strong. A good sign for Triss, since she won’t have to recharge them as much.

And so she piles her chaos into the charms and gives them back to the family. Ennal in exchange gives her a small satchel with coin and an unexpected package.

-And what’s this? We only agreed on coin…- Triss furrows her brows not understanding why they would give her anything more. She opens the package and sees a beautiful vest in autumn colours that looks as royal as one might get. And under it she finds an old looking tome of fairy tales that looks ready to turn into dust with the lightest touch.

- Well, we know that the situation is… bad and you might want to get out of here as fast as you can, so… to lighten the time you have to spend locked in this city we want to give you this little something in thanks. I hope you don’t mind?...- The elf has already returned to packing and is calling the three children to get settled on the cart with their mother.

- Wow, I don’t know what to say… thank you. They will surely help with the everyday boredom. – with the cheeky reply the sorceress and tailor quickly bring an end to their conversation.
As Triss watches the family leave the city in danger she spares a glance at the palace. She knows that the king and his citizens have a month maximum if not less for the army to arrive.
And yet the king decided to organise a festival to distract the people from it. Even if everyone already knows that Nilfgaard is coming.

Oh, well… some music before the end won’t hurt.

And with that thought the sorceress goes on to help another poor soul escape this dreadful city and country. Some people like her don’t stop until they drop.

As such she has another big surprise when arriving late in the day at her temporary residence. She finds two witchers on her doorstep. Both wearing the medallion of a wolf and both she has heard about from a mutual friend or two.

Lambert and Eskel are just happy to be closer to finding their brother. The sooner they get everything settled the sooner they can go back to the keep and wait out the war.

-I suppose you gentlemen are looking for some assistance of the magical variety?- Tired, but intrigued Triss opens the door and gestures for the men to get in.

-Well my brother’s a prick, but I wanted to know if you were gracious enough to cast a location spell for us.- Eskel desperately trying to keep half his face in a shadow gets straight to the point.

-Hey! Talk for yourself! I’m a perfect nobleman. A true one, not like those fucking cowards hiding in their castles. – Lambert trying to defend his honour only proves Eskel right. Triss lifts a corner of her lips in a smirk as her only reaction. She looks at the bigger but kinder witcher and answers his request.

-Well, as long as you have something to use as a focus I’ll be glad to help. Otherwise a location spell without one would be too draining for me at the moment. You know constantly saving elven asses. – At that Lambert simply chuckles and leans on the nearby wall. He pulls out an elegant carving clearly made by someone other than the wolf Triss was described by Yennefer. It’s a wooden lark.

-Here. It’s one of his secret “precious trinkets” given to our brother by some confused women trying to woo him. His traveling companion supposedly made him keep those to tease him for whatever reason. Thanks to that same bastard these poor ladies even try to do this shit. Or that’s what Geralt is saying. – clearly happy with sharing an “embarrassing secret” of his brother under the pretence of locating him Lambert lifts an eyebrow in challenge for his present brother to object. He likes this friend of Geralt’s, she isn’t like most other sorceresses. She seems kinder.

Eskel does not comment how they actually, just for such emergencies, have their own little things they once agreed on being their location type spell focuses.

Like the piece of Lambert’s shattered dagger from his youth or a page from Eskel’s favourite book, Geralt gave the three surviving wolf witchers a piece of a random object that most strongly focused chaos on his location. In his case, at least at that time that was a part of his self-made bestiary. It was an object his person was strongly enough connected to. But even Lambert noticed that the trinkets he started collecting over the last decade were even better. So in secret before the youngest wolf left for the Path some years ago in spring he took (stole) one of them. Eskel did the same, but his brothers don’t need to know about that.

Triss took the carving and admired it for a second. It looked like it was professionally made but there were some parts that showed it was made by an amateur. A skilled, but not experienced one at least.
After she gathered all she needed for the spell and her chaos caressed the wooden lark she was surprised that actually two people left strong enough emotions imbedded in it to be able to track them. One light and sparkling, the other darker, but still reacting in a similar way.

If she didn’t know better who these people were she might dare to say that this was a gift exchanged by lovers. But apparently its just a stupid gal’s attempt at seducing the White Wolf. Quite humorous in any other situation.

The lark floats for a second in her palm and a drop of light emerges. It lands on the splayed out map on the table near Maribor.

-Huh… he’s closer than we thought… good. Can you tell where he is heading? – always amazed in the presence of magic Eskel’s face lights up with the news.

-A second…- Triss visibly concentrates on the spell, and with her eyes closed wills the trinket to tell her what her witcher friend is doing.

-Can she really do that?- in the meantime Lambert can’t comprehend what mages can and cannot do with chaos.

-Yes, I can. And you’re in luck. He’s very clearly and predictably traveling in our direction.- Finished with the spell and not needing the carving she gives it back to Lambert. He gently thows it in the air few times, thinking before saying:

- So we can just wait for the bastard. Great, sorry Eskel but I had enough travel, what do you say? There’s enough contracts in the city to keep us occupied and fed. – Done with the awkward existence on the Path with someone else Lambert begs with his eyes to not go forth and meet up with their brother.

Eskel takes the bait, also not wanting to go further south to only immediately go back.

-Sure, it’s what a week till he gets here? No need to actually run after him.- thinking they’re finished Eskel raises from his chair and goes for the door.

-Wait, if the two of you are staying would it be trouble if you helped me?- Triss has also risen and put her palms on the table over the map. If she has two witchers helping her she will be able to save even more people.

-What’s your offer? – the brat Lambert nonschalantly puts him feet on the very same table.

-If you help me with getting magical people away from Vizima and Nilfgaard I will allow you to take residence in here, and help with whatever you need for the hunts. When Geralt arrives I suspect the army will be on his toes so then I will go with you and also travel north. Deal?- Knowing that Eskel is the one she needs answer from she look straight at him.

-Well…. I don’t see why not.- knowing that if he refuses Lambert will stab him the witcher agrees with the sorceress’s conditions.

-Perfect. Here, this is going to be great.- Satisfied Triss gives them a tour of the house and the next morning they figure out the next steps in their plans.

Such beautiful friendship will come in handy by the end of the week since Fringilla is going to be approaching the city. And they will have 4 important people to save. Or try to at least...

Chapter Text

The bard we all know and love is standing on a very nice cliff overlooking a Nilfgaardian camp. After walking for a little less than a week he finally caught up with Amara and her soldiers. For men with heavy armour the bastards could move quickly.

It didn’t help Jaskier’s case that he walked leisurely and had many other small distractions on the way, but the fact still remains.

They have set their temporary camp close to a random hunter village with a herbalist as its most recognisable and “luxurious” feature. Probably another community scared into submission by the enemy judging by the looks on residents’ faces.

Jaskier notes during his stakeout that Amara seems very keen on making the men do everything for her. And isn’t that amusing to watch.

Currently she’s laying on a sort of picnic blanket and is charming the soldiers into feeding her some of their rations and generally being lowly servants instead of looking and acting like real soldiers marching out for war and bloodshed.

Amara is clearly a witch that prefers being pampered and giving out orders than actually doing anything else or Gods forbit some real work. That’s probably why she can’t sense Jaskier’s magic as he observes them a few meters above. She probably manipulates them into sleeping with her during the night too. That’s the type of a sorceress she is, the bard can basically smell it!

This is so easy! She’s so focused on the pleasures of the illusionary world that my presence doesn’t even alarm her. HA! Stupid hag. Time for my revenge, you lie filled sweetness.

I wonder if I’ll feel better after her destruction since it’s only an illusion… Oh well, can’t hurt to try!

And with that decided Jaskier pulls out his silver baton to focus his thoughts for the show once again. Ever since he stumbled onto his enemies some dark voice was interrupting his creative process.

Shut up Void, u useless blob of snot!

Jaskier roared at his mind’s trickery thinking that he wasn’t alone in his head.

In a calm and slow rhythm he starts to put all the Nilfgaardians under the same curse he used in Brudge. The literally same song and dance. He suspects there will be no resistance and feels a little... disappointed. He walks around the cliff face and gets into the camp proper.

So in the middle of his performance his eyes fill with glee when Amara doesn’t seem to be going down. Unlike the rest of the men currently laying on the ground she’s standing tall; just a hand on her temple as if she had a migraine.

Good, otherwise his victory might feel boring in the ballad he’ll create after all of this imaginary nonsense is done.

The sorceress quickly glances at her servants and sees them falling down onto their faces with sleep. Letting out her chaos she quickly finds the source of her irritation. Amara is honestly shocked.
It’s the bard her sister was torturing few days ago, but he looks as healthy as ever… and gained some abilities that shouldn’t be possible. That might be a problem if her chaos isn’t lying to her.
Sensing power radiating off the musician she stands up with her hands up in a defensive position. She hears him sing but resists such a basic curse thrown at her. Pushing her own spell into the web of chaos Jaskier has to stop his approach and take a step back while gasping from the backlash.

-You really thought defeating a sorceress is going to be as easy as making few men fall asleep? A brilliant joke! Let me show you what an experienced sorceress can do. – with that said she gathers her magic and wills the roots and stalks of flora near Jaskier to do her bidding in binding the musician. She has more tricks up her sleeve but this should be enough to stop the bard.

Jaskier after stopping his rhythm for a second gathers his wits and starts to thrash in the numerous stalks and other things trying to capture him. He scoffs at the attempt. In this world he’s the one calling the shots. Not to mention that he already experimented with flora during his walk. Its his fantasy and here nothing can hurt him anymore.

- Using chaos to manipulate flora, such originality!- Jaskier comments about the sorceress’s spell.

- But you know what’s better than reshaping something you found? Creating things of your own! – with that sentenced ended Jaskier uses a faster tempo with the same notes but doesn’t sing. He glances at the pathetic imitations of nature around him and focuses on growing new plants at the witch’s feet with his hummings. The silver baton almost glows with his power.

- What THE-!! – Amara can’t believe what her chaos and eyes are telling her. The bard is using a very ancient kind of magic AND her sister’s chaos that she could recognise anywhere to do the same as she wanted. But better. And also worse for her.

At first only thorny vines climb onto Amara’s green dress but as each inch of her body is covered she loses her ability to move. Jaskier still twirling his baton around smugly walks out of her pathetic attempt at a bind and glides closer to the witch. With elegant swing of his hips he circles his pray and thinks about what to do.

- Leave creating things for the artists, okey deary? – With a demented grin that clearly shows off his teeth Jaskier places his hand on the woman’s forehead and imagines her power. His fangs became a little bit pointier since he left their captivity - notes the witch.

Her chaos floating inside, practically begs for him to take it in this state of an illusion. So he visualises taking it and he does. Almost like a drug it lights his body up. It reminds him of the first time Void fed on Antira, but now it is so much better! He can feel it so clearly.

The sorceress with eyes wide starts to choke on her scream as she feels all of her hard earned power leave her body. With tears in her eyes she observes as the clef glowing on the bard’s neck grows its first black line resembling a stave*. It kind of looks like a very tight necklace, but is actually a mark on the human’s skin.

*(stave [or staff] notation of music; the five parallel lines indicating pitch; the lines are professionally called bars and the spaces between them measures; the more you know~)

The chaos of the two sisters runs through Jaskier giving him a momentary illusion of being undefeatable. Untouchable…

Strong enough to just for a second believe he’s worthy of starting a search for his wolf.

Of walking up to him, grabbing him by that sexy armour’s collar and kissing him with all his passion…

Of being happy with him, because that’s what they deserve…

But it can’t happen…

Because this is false. Because this world in which he has any power and no fears is just a hallucination. In reality the bard Jaskier is laying broken and unresponsive in a camp near Brudge.

Already broken and useless... So not much different compared to what he was when he was walking- no stalking a witcher. They weren’t walking hand in hand, he was just shovelling more problems onto his cru… obsession and making his life more difficult.

Amara horrified croaks out and temporally brakes his spiral:

- So what do you want to do now bardling? You got your revenge and power... – not understanding the mental state the musician is in the witch has no clue what is the meaning of such transformation. The face she wanted to see in beautiful pain was now inches in front of her and glaring with madness in its eyes at her. Trapped in a cocoon of thorny stems that paralysed her body.

- Well don’t you worry your little head about that!~~ I still have other hags to eliminate and what happens next only the fates will know. As for you… you’re right I need to change my repertoire a little.- happy to find a distraction and to have ended another bitch-witch of Nilfgaard Jaskier once again takes his silver dagger in hand and forgets about his worries. They’ll be ended soon enough when he wakes in another illusion. He can feel it…

He swings the baton as if it was a magic wand and happily whistling makes the stems blossom into scarlet roses. The body of Amara sags and cuts itself on the many thorns that he also grew and her eyes close with a quick exhale.

She was right: that sleeping curse was sooo~~ basic. No flare, no beauty, so…. not Jaskier-like. So he modified it with elements he read about in the fairy tail of “the Sleeping Beauty”. And isn’t that a mesmerizing sight to behold.

Many unconscious, and now forever sleeping soldiers were spread out throughout their camp while in the middle of it all a considerably large rose bush was suspending their leader and letting her blood drip on the ground in slow rhythm, just after it carved crimson lines in her green dress.

Hmph… unlike Antira, Amara had some sense of style and fashion… and what the hell am I wearing?

Horrified to finally notice the clothes- no these weren’t even clothes, on his body he punctured first his shirt than pants and every other piece of cloth he had.

Once brown, tattered and dirty rags turned into an imitation of one of his favourite sky-blue doublets and comfortable trousers. The smallclothes turned into silks and nicely hugged him in all the right places. The bag he carried with him also was transformed into one of these decorated purses he had seen in court hanging from a ladies’ shoulder. Everything matched perfectly and beautifully.

Proud of his work Jaskier continuous his walk to Vizima, mentally crossing out Amara from his hitlist of hags to kill. His body feels stronger and the air around him more charged. He doesn’t know why but he feels powerful. Even in the fantasy he created that can be taken from him in any moment.

He’s so happy he learnt about every other royal court on the continent. At least now he knows who he still has to eliminate to stop the marching troops and be the fantastically fake saviour of his White Wolf.

Two witches down, four remaining pillars of Nilfgaard’s army left to go!

With a feral grin and twitchy hands the Humming Bard of Curses goes further, closer to his goal.

-~~~~~~-

Geralt, his charge and Yennefer were riding after Jaskier for a week now and excluding the small trinkets and things popping along the road or the enchanted girl they travelled without any larger surprises or findings.

So they had to stop dead in their tracks and jaws good as dropped, when they saw another cursed troop of Nilfgaardian soldiers and their leading mage in a field of bloodied blooming roses.
They did suspect that if Jaskier and his maybe; maybe-not existing companion crossed paths with the soldiers of the black sun that there might be a battle, but not another curse as strong as this. So soon and with such scale; this was getting on Geralt’s nerves. This shouldn’t be possible for any mortal being.

So much chaos normally couldn’t be wielded by one person without some shenanigans in play. But this had stolen other’s power. They have to get these and other mysteries solved or so help him; he’s going to go bald with all this worry in his gut for his bard.

The adults dismount and start looking around the camp, ignoring the obvious and clear things for now.

Just like before the villagers took almost all of the things edible and useful for them. Geralt did find thou a few things that made his medallion move slightly. These were the remains of a xenovox and by its looks was broken at the same time as the one they found in Brudge. Now knowing that the sorceresses lost their normal means of communication Geralt feels a little bit better that they won’t be able to spread information about their whereabout so quickly.

Yennefer lets her chaos out and follows the lines and strands of magic shaped by human hands. The whole camp, just like before is covered with the same weird combination of spells but lacks the sickening remains of great tragedy or pain. Compared with the previous curse of sleep this one is much more elegant and harmonised. The caster, whoever they are, is getting better at doing magic.
When they are finished with their separate rounds around the campsite and Ciri has finished taking care of the horses they move together to inspect the central piece of this artwork. The sorceress encased in beautiful crimson roses that almost scream at them with chaos.

These plants make Geralt’s wolf medallion shake and his frown deepen. The witch has no noticeable injuries with the exception of a red spot on her forehead. After looking at her body over and over the witcher feels agitated and angry at himself.

If Yennefer wasn’t present he wouldn’t be able to tell what the hell is going on or what happened to the mage. Over the course of his life he has never seen a curse so… beautiful and yet so not invasive. And this in turn only further contradicts his theory that Jaskier is traveling with a saviour. Only he would create such thing… a pretty curse, only Jaskier and his wonderful heart of a child.

But that comes with its own set of problems. Is it really possible that his precious, fragile Jaskier actually escaped alone from the armie’s clutches and is the cause of all of this? If yes then what happened to him, and if no then what happened to the bard; is he even safe?

The fresher scent at least tells him they are traveling in the right direction and catching up to his bard.

While our dear White Wolf has another internal crisis Yennefer allows her chaos to further gather information for her.

Thanks to the somewhat relaxing week of travel most of her reservoir is finally half full after the stunt she pulled on the Sodden Hill. She interprets the currents of magic present and summarises for her partner in crim- er… investigation.

-Well Geralt, whoever cast these curses is the same person. The mark of their magic is the same: both humanoid chaos and natural forces working in tandem to do whatever the caster wanted. – she has already stood up and is circling the bush as if it was her pray and she a hawk.

-Hmm…- still irritated the witcher leaves his comment at that.

-Both sorceresses were drained of both their knowledge about magic and chaos. Although this isn’t magically hurt, just cursed into this position. And the red mark on her forehead is the place the creature stole all her power. – Yennefer is unsettled by her own findings. Losing all your power you worked hard for and sacrificed parts of oneself is something she believes she wouldn’t wish on any of her enemies. Not while knowing what the sorceresses of Aretuza had to lose to become what they are.

- The most worrisome is the way the creature cast the curse. Geralt, it’s getting both stronger and more adept at its uses. If this escalates further when we meet whatever is doing this we won’t stand a chance. It already has 2 sorceresses’ power collected. Not to mention its own. If we continue to look for Jaskier and encounter it we should hope its friendly.- not wanting to stay any longer in this place and look at the miserable figure Yennefer ends her commentary and goes around the camp gathering useful for them things.

Geralt is still looking at the rose bushes and bitterly accepted the possibility that the one theory he didn’t want to voice was becoming more and more probable.

-I think the girl didn’t lie or didn’t notice Jaskier’s companion… I think he’s responsible for all of these curses…- not looking at Yen but knowing she heard the witcher glances at Ciri and her shocked expression.

Shit! she didn’t hear all of our theories in the night.

- What?! Why would Jaskier do that? He’s the nicest person I know… he must have a reason…- distracted by the bomb the adults have thrown her way Ciri trips over a root of a rose bush and scraps her knee and hand.

-Ouch… - in the next heartbeat Geralt is, of course by her side looking at the “grave wounds”. Thankfully there’s no big rocks or dirt logged in the skin so a little bit of water and clean cloth should do.

-Hmm…- telling everything everyone needs to know Geralt takes Ciri with him over to the horses and takes care of her wounds.

Yennefer packs what they found as useful into one of her very own enchanted bags and they go on to Malibor after Jaskier.

This time after dinner all three of them discuss what might have happened to Jaskier.

Geralt can feel it; he's getting closer to the truth.

Chapter Text

Jaskier is so happy to have been living in this illusion for so long.

He’s well fed; allowed to be as loud and annoying as he wants.

Nobody can hurt him. Physically or emotionally.

He doesn’t have to deal with dumb villagers and their reactions to his singing or his witcher.

He doesn’t really tire, can will anything to happen.

He can do whatever he wants,

but the one thing he wants the most…

He can’t have a real and fulfilling relationship with his White Wolf… all because their meeting will break this vision. And he doesn’t want to end it prematurely, oh no! He’s happily skipping along the path to Malibor with another witch of Nilfgaard on his radar.

Trefolia is said to be one of the more “proper” sorceresses of the empire. Usually dealing with nobles and their petty squabbles one might suspect she’s a pushover, but supposedly she has some spunk. He didn’t graduate under Fringilla to be one of the most feared mages by the nobility’s accounts for nothing. The lady can be a force of nature.

After her it’s just Petunia; the cruel seductress of Nilfgaard and Azalea; the right hand of Fringilla Vigo that most men down south know and fear. Overall Fringilla’s students are ones of the most powerful, each different and still terrifyingly efficient at serving the emperor’s whims.

He arrives just at the break of dawn when the merchants are setting up their wares for sale. His feet dance from stall to another, while his hands examine various trinkets, jewels and tasty treats. The smell of freshly bakes cakes with honey catches his attention immediately.

With a grin on his face Jaskier happily pays with his stolen coin from previous encounters with the enemy and goes around tasting many pleasures the illusionary city has to offer him. This is the state of reality he is in, so why not indulge?

He bites into the food without any emotion.

While the sweet tasting pastries coat his tongue the ex-performer (only for the lack of an instrument) sits on a bench in the main market. He thinks of what his goal is beyond the now active “kill the witches” quest. This is only temporary and its no guarantee he will remember any of this.

And yet this is for sure the longest time he was allowed to spend in one vision. He wants to have something to do, unless he wants to have constant life crisis.

There’s no Geralt to drag him somewhere to heal after he’s saved, because he’s out of the dungeon already. And healthy as a bonus thanks to the Void. “I swear it’s still here laughing at my stupidity” thinks Jaskier finishing his meal.

No Yennefer to laugh at him for all his mistakes or blurry Ciri to guilt trip him for what he has done.

While walking by a brothel he starts a conversation with one of the ladies, complementing her on the flowers she has set on the windowsill. They’re a beautiful set of red roses, and if she’s to be believed are the very ones they use for the bedrooms.

They talk for what feels hours about the different meanings flowers can have. Since it’s common practice to name yourself after a change in profession or status, they sometimes choose them to match their personality not only the looks. And so the bard learns that Antirrhinum flower can mean deception and the Amaranthus hopelessness, among other more boring things like Love and Devotion roses typically represent. He thinks he will remember this topic for his next few ballads.

There is no thing as too much metaphor in a song if you ask him. And its something new and interesting. Or at least something to remember from his past in Oxenfurt.

And yet he feels bored and empty.

After having a good enough day in the city Jaskier is ready to depart when he catches the sight of one Nilfgaardian soldier. And then spots the second. And then the third. This in turn leads to some deeper thinking.

Well didn’t they spring up like mushrooms after rain… Wonder why they’re here, must have a camp outside the city gates. Which means another witch is in the vicinity. I had enough rest to grow bored once again, I hope she will be a fun challenge~.

The bard follows his pray into the camping grounds set just outside the city walls. There’s few tents set up, three of which clearly belong to “noble” generals and a sorceress. Standing just outside the area he can’t see too well where his target could be sitting, but it’s no concern for now.

He focuses on lowering his chaotic energies, calming him mind. On hiding his presence. Jaskier waits for nightfall while scouting out the camps with over a hundred men in attendance at all times. By the looks of it a fifth went into the city to relax for the night. The rest is sitting and protecting the nobles filling inside this treat left for the musician. This is so typical and boring.

When the cover of the night is firmly in place the bard goes to spy on the unsuspecting victims. He wants some excitement so he won’t curse them out of the gate. Jaskier’s body twitches with unused power and he wants to test it in combat, just like his Wolf did during the hunts. With a mad grin he descends.

In the central grand tent he finds two older generals discussing their next plans of attack and travel. Thinking nothing of it Jaskier changes his position to try and see more only to be startled by a voice behind him.

-And what do you think you’re doing?- the silky smooth words coming out of none other than Trefolia’s lips make him shiver. With temporary fear the musician doesn’t even try to talk.

He remembers the city folk talking about their new neighbours. Lady Trefolia despises nonsense. And so the other men in her charge. If Jaskier wants to keep his tongue he should stay quiet for now. But he wants some excitement. This is his fantasy and he desires entertainment. But no this is too soon! The act one- stealthy bard is still running its course.

-Lady Trefolia? Is everything alright in there? – a deep voice of one of the generals distracts the mage for just a second. Enough for Jaskier to sprint in the other direction. Unfortunately the many, many other men also present in the camp swiftly block his way.

- We have somebody trying to be a spy.- she answers the man with louder than needed voice- Who are you? – With controlled tone Trefolia walks closer to the bard in her simple cyan dress and looks over him judgingly with honey coloured eyes. The rest of the soldiers have already surrounded Jaskier and so he choses to face the sorceress head on.

- Well, my Lady, I’m just a traveling bard. No need to worry yourself ove- before he gets a chance to finish the mage cuts him off.

-Oh yes, my bad. There are so many bards without an instrument and crouching just outside our tents that I get confused. Cut the crap. Who really are you? Judging by the clothes at least a merchant and at worst a local noble. – With squinted eyes, not only because of the dark Trefolia has already started investigating the intruder.

Jaskier confident in the illusion as ever does not fold under her gaze.

-Who I am does not matter. But what does is that if we are to fight one on one I might let you live after I curse you.- fuelled by the now two different sorceresses’ chaos and his own taste for theatrics the bard offers the challenge without a note of fear or humour. This in turn only makes all soldiers laugh at him, while the challenged mage snickers into her hand.

Jaskier curses internally for his panicked thinking and feels the sweat that has started to roll down his back. If he just was more stealthy! But then again: he wanted a challenge. What’s better than having to fight all your enemies on the outside, open and at once?

-Hilarious little one! And what makes you think you can fight me? Do you know who I am?- with rejuvenated spirits and in dire need of entertainment Trefolia stands confidently with her hands on her hips. Her expression the very same one found on every smug and cocky person ever; the smirk is pulling her right cheek up.

-I recognise you, but I have just learnt of you when I was cursing your sisters. But, well, I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t care for their situations. – Reading himself Jaskier reaches for his enchanted purse/ satchel and is ready to attack. His comment stops the men’s actions and makes the mage’s eyebrows lift. He’ll take it as a small victory.

-You… what? You were the one? Are you kidding? How a little thing like you is able to jest about such a thing?- perplexed and suspicious the mage recounts the last time she spoke with either Antira or Amara.- I sense no chaos in you; for you to do anything magical. For such obvious lies you are going to be executed. Soldiers, get him and hang out of my sight. – Annoyed with the remainder of the sudden disappearance the witch turns on her heel to walk straight back into the tent, thinking the pest has been delt with.

- Don’t you dare touch me!...- Jaskier triumphantly raises his revealed silver blade, pointing it at the now approaching men. They only sneer in annoyance. They have strength in numbers, training and weapons; who this noble thinks he is?

- Aww, cute dagger. But accept the consequences and give up. We all want to sleep. And now we have to hang you for your stupidity. – the soldiers are coming closer and closer in, limiting the space available for the bard. Taking his air from him and reading rope for his bindings. Flashes of that horrid dungeon slither through the cracks of his psyche and plunge the musician in fear.

-NO! – with a booming shout Jaskier lets his magic back out and forces all approaching to take a few steps back; maybe a few stager a little. The effect is the same as if he used some weak aard. This gets the sorceress’s attention.

-What the hell?! – angered and intrigued she sends out her chaos to analysis the human in more depth, while in her hands zaps of lightning start to be visible. All the men that weren’t already wielding a weapon try to grab something near them.

Finally allowing for his person to be recognised Trefolia senses the chaos storming inside the bard. It’s nothing she has seen before in her life or even studied about. None of what she is witness to is logical. With her own magic she conjures a lighting bolt to fly from her hands into the musician.

AUGH! That hurt!” he screams as a response and twirls his baton to make sure the fight stays between Jaskier and her. With a sombre tempo a barrier of solid light is formed in the middle of the camp and the approaching soldiers are left outside the bubble. After he’s done only he and the witch are inside and both ready to fight. She with her power, he with his music.

-You weren’t kidding when you said you wanted to challenge me. Fine! Show me what you’ve got worm!- Trefolia releases another set of electricity in the bard’s direction.

Jaskier barely dodges and lifts his blade to aim at some abandoned swords in the camp. With a reverberating note sung as if he was in an opera he wills them to fly at his target.

She in turn redirects them easily and summons more lightning. The clouds above; thanks to the dramatics of mother nature, combine and cover almost all of the sky. Between the grey spaces moonlight shines through.

Jaskier disappointed that his attack didn’t work sings a short verse to the roots hidden in the ground. They rise up a this request and try to immobilise the witch.

She counters his chaos with her own and quickly dispels his attempt again.

With neither trying to comment on the situation or underestimating their opponent the battle carries on in silence. Only when Jaskier tries for another tactic is any speech heard at all.

Their grunts and spells fly through the air.

Neither giving up.

Jaskier is only merrier to finally have a challenge. The barrier he created zaps some of his energy constantly and Trefolia’s attacks keep him o his toes.

The campgrounds are damaged with scorch marks, some holes and sliced ground.

When Jaskier uses nature, the witch kills it.

When he uses steel, she redirects it.

When he tries to cast anything directly she blocks without any signs of exhaustion.

And so their battle goes on. The men outside the barrier have mostly given up on taking it down. Ready to interfere when their leader presumably wins they watch the spectacle. The distance between the two always constant.

The bard’s voice steady, they carry on with their dance. He’s certain he will win.

 

-~~~~~~-


 

While having to ride a horse for another week wasn’t the biggest comfort it did allow for Geralt to try and relax a bit.

With Yennefer and Ciri next to him, and Roach under he feels better. And he needs it for what they’re about to do. Malibor is a big enough city to be important in this war. And it being in a direct route from Nilfgaard to Vizima’s capital probably raises the probability of it being attacked and overtaken.

The citizens are probably already under the influence of one of the sorceresses and won’t hesitate to sell them out.

So while riding closer to the city’s gates Geralt is surprised to realise that the scent of his bard is fresh on these empty night streets. Only few people working in the night and taverns are things they need to avoid but otherwise he can still trace Jaskier’s smell in the putrid stench of the city.

-He’s been here today. – He says to Yennefer when dismounting in the main market place. Jaskier must have spent some time here, judging by the amount of scent that still lingers.

-Jaskier’s been here? Well aren’t we lucky; maybe he hasn’t been captured again. You must have seen the soldier outside the taverns- the city is taken. – The sorceress whispers back from atop her horse, with Ciri in front.

-He’s close, Yenn. He is so close…- Looking around for the direction Jaskier has gone in Geralt almost goes in circles.

He searches for a few minutes in which both Yennefer and Ciri dismount and look out for trouble. In that moment they hear, or more accurately feel a screamed “No”.

Ciri not having mastered the chaos insider her or having the mutations of a witcher can only look at their faces when they simultaneously look in the direction of the northern gate.

-Was that what I think it was?..- Yennefer asks not believing her own body. The scream had similar effect to one of Cirilla’s but its nature had the same characteristic they have encountered on their hunt.
Geralt not only felt his medallion move slightly from the power emanating from the other side of the city, but actually heard his bard scream. His instincts in turned also demanded that he runs and saves his bellowed.

-It’s Jaskier’s voice. Yennefer you are going with me. Ciri take Pegasus and be ready to run if something happens. – Geralt instructs his child, while already reading himself for slaughter and putting most important survival things onto Pegasus from Roach.

-What? No, I want to help, we don- the princess is already trying to go and help her friend even if she doesn’t know of the full danger. Before her protests can be heard Yennefer intersects.

-We need you to be safe. The army is looking for you, and we both can defend ourselves. You have barely a week of training in the evenings. – with no space for any buts and ifs she takes Roach and with Geralt go in the direction of the scream. After riding for a few than more minutes while avoiding the soldiers they finally can see the exit from the city. Geralt is already running on the ground with a sword ready to battle they reach the northern gate.

The whole time they were getting closer and closer, the chaos filing the air grow stronger and stronger. The weight of the events transpiring just on the other side could be felt inside the city. They feel a strong something being cast just as they are about to approach.

Ciri not discouraged sneakily follows them a few paces behind, hiding in the shadows. She can also feel that something is not right.

When the duo pushes through the gate they see something they didn’t want to believe.

A field that used to be a camping ground filled with stone statues.

Ground splintered and burned, soldiers twisted and stuck in running poses and scent of chaos thick and sickening.

And in the middle of it all, in a clearing, void of anything except a lone statue of a kneeling sorceress stands the person they have been running after all along.

Jaskier, roughened up and panting, holding a dagger in his hand and twirling it in the air. His face turned in the opposite direction still clearly pointed to the sky in triumph. And he’s laughing.

Not the type of a laugh Geralt heard when sometimes he jested with his bard, no.

This one was mad, and creepy and did not belong in Jaskier’s mouth.

With terror making his legs and arms feel like lead Geralt runs in the direction of the sound.

He stands on the edge of the clearing, dizzy with all the emotions clogging his head.

He’s found him.

But what kind of a victory is this.

When he softly calls out to his bard: “Jaskier…” the scent of victory, satisfaction and joy that was pouring from the musician fade away instantaneously.

And when he turns around and sees Geralt’s face the witcher can smell the one thing he wished he wouldn’t on his bard. Not because of him.

Fear, terror and paranoia hit him like a punch to his gut and he can barely stand.

Jaskier’s face full of shock contorts in disgust and anger.

He faintly starts to say something which gets cut off. Then as Geralt can see his eyes, his beautiful blue eyes look behind him and widen even more he doesn’t expect what happens next.

The bard inhales with anger and with a bloodcurdling volume screeches: “NO!!!” and does something very impulsive.

Before Geralt can feel Yennefer trying to run to him and protect them with her chaos the witcher is laying on the ground unconscious, along with the sorceress who has been pushed away and trying to stand up.

He doesn’t see the furious expression on his bard’s face as he raises his dagger and aims it at Geralt’s chest.

Chapter Text

One, two, three- Jaskier’s feet move in rhythm on the ground. His own spells made of song weave in the air and fight against the witch’s.

They have been fighting for a few minutes and like any other song he memorised in his carrier the pattern is evident to him and he plays her like a true master of his craft. Whatever the sorceress tries to throw at him, he counters and slowly, but surely he is wearing her down to her demise.

Without putting a curse on her from the beginning and secretly which might he add, which is even more impressive! The once useless bard now can stand ground against one of the most fearsome people on the continent. If Yennefer could have a look at him now! She would cover in fear and see that he has some worth after all…

The soldiers on the other side of the barrier have grown only more restless and anticipate the end of the battle. Their fate is going to be decided by whomever wins it after all. And yet they are too full of themselves and conditioned to believe in the witch to accept any other possibility than her winning.

Trefolia’s strength is waning while Jaskier is just getting started. Scorched earth and gloomy night are the stage on which the bard takes his first “real” victory in battle.

No need for sneak attacks, Void taking over or dumb luck. This one is all his and nothing will take that away!

With a last victorious note sung Jaskier brings the witch to her knees. Her hands worthlessly trying to cast one last spell to defend herself.

Without any preamble he walks up to her and absorbs her power, leaving the witch in shock.

-I told you I would win!~ - with a demented joy the bard turns the lady into a statue with a few well crafted lines of a song. He mentions turning the lady with a stone expression into a true woman of stone. And other clever metaphors which only power his spell further. The wave of his magic is felt all around.

When his gaze is turned onto the soldiers and the barrier is lowered instead of fighting they run. Or at least try to. Before any can escape they all suffer the same fate as their leader. Frozen as statues they are forever stuck as proof that the bard is the most dangerous person on the continent.

Jaskier has done it.

He won.

HE WON!

The pathetic stalker that needed to be constantly saved defeated, without sneaky tactics a high member of Nilfgaardian magical society.

He is invincible.

He’s the lord of this reality and the party is just starting.

With a new line drawn on his neck the musician is laughing at the stars. He has always aimed at them and now he will become the sun! Nothing else can take this away from him.

His power has no limits and his imagination and story are bottomless!

 

And of course that’s when the one person who can destroy this reality shows up to torment him.

“Jaskier?...”, said in such delicate manner in a voice he knows too well his name breaks his sense of victory and reality.

Geralt.
Geralt is here.
Geralt is here to end this illusion.

To take away his power.

To once again make him a useless shit-shoveler.

But Jaskier won’t stand for this.

He turns and screams. No more.

Not noticing anything else in his tunnel vison he incapacities the witcher without any trouble. Anything other than his heartbeat or his running thoughts are ignored.

He doesn’t notice Yennefer on the side-lines. Or anything else. He doesn’t see the effect he has on his surroundings.

With burning panic, mania and anger he raises his silver blade.

He aims it at Geralt’s chest…

..
.
And falls on his knees next to his beloved with tears in his eyes. They fall onto Geralt’s face from his cheeks as he is hovering over the body.

The dagger is shakingly held a few inches above the heart.

One push, one well aimed stab and any danger of going back into the sad, sad reality waiting for him is gone. He can do this. He can move on and indulge in fantasy.

But…

He can’t…

 

The reason why he was tortured is laying defenceless and awaiting his judgement, and yet it’s the very same reason he is doing THIS instead of any other fantasy he can live in this illusion. Broken sobs are heard throughout the camp.

Oh, Geralt… my dear heart, my brave wolf… how I wish this power I have was real…

He takes the blade away from the flesh of the imaginary witcher.

But it’s just a fake story, written by a madman. Goodbye, my love… may we never met again here, only in reality or death… Farewell…

He tries to kiss the witcher’s forehead but even that proves too much for him and his stupid bleeding heart.

Realizing that he won’t hurt even a copy of his witcher nor indulge in a romantic fantasy he panics and feels the need to run away. To not be near anything that can break this world he crafted in his mind.

With these last thoughts running through his head he raises to his feet and searches for a horse. Anything to get him away.

The body of his witcher is laying motionlessly on the cracked battlefield. The same ground on which he has felt such excitement a few minutes ago. He gathers his things (the dagger and enchanted bag) and mounts his new ride to get away.

With a slow tempo of the hooves on the ground he leaves Malibor and doesn’t look back.

He doesn’t see what he has left behind or who goes after him.

 

-~~~~~~-


 

Yennefer is both terrified and amazed.

The man that is kneeling next to Geralt with a dagger to his heart is one of the most powerful magical entities she has ever met. And she even met him in the past!

She can’t comprehend how he got such power in such a short amount of time, but one thing is for certain: this is not the same bard she thought of as idiotic from few months back.

He easily broke through her shield as if it was wet paper and casted so many powerful curses in the last few weeks that she might have thought they were a product of a group, not an individual.

When he gets away from the witcher’s body she slowly makes her way over to him. Thankfully he is breathing deeply and no curse has been placed on his person.

With a shaky exhale and a look to where the bard is doing… something she uses the last of her chaos to speed up Geralt’s healing process. Thankfully it doesn’t seem he’s seriously hurt, just unconscious.

And honestly who wouldn’t be. The amount of raw power and emotion she felt in that blast was terrifying, matching hers on the Sodden Hill, but in a much more confined space. She startles when she feels another source of chaos approach them in the night.

It’s Ciri and Roach, and she’s looking at Jaskier with hope, confusion and sadness on her face.

When she gets to the sorceress and the witcher she quickly dismounts and looks at her adoptive father.

-Is he?... what happened?! – the girl can’t even let these words out of her mouth.

-No, he’s alive and well… just unconscious.- tired Yennefer offers no more explanation.

-And what about… Jaskier? What did- wha- what is he doing?- confused as to what the musician is doing away from them and Geralt she looks at the bard. He seems out of reality and by the way his body is tensed, extremely emotional and panicked.

-I… I don’t know what happened to him… See these statues? He cursed the camp and their witch. Again… I don’t think he’s going with us to the keep, that’s for sure. – numb for the moment from what has happened Yennefer can’t put her thoughts at the moment into anything logical. Her hands tremble while she works and avoids bringing attention to them.

- But!... but we can’t leave him! We are so close! – the princess is quickly looking from the laying witcher to the sorceress crouching next to him and working her magic to the bard that is insistent on leaving them for good and not acknowledging reality.

UGHhh!… why do adults have to be so stupid! They are so close to having Jaskier traveling with them and going to the keep.

Then they can be safe and happy together, but Noo!!...

She lost her family already, destiny won’t let her get another happy one.

Well, she’s going to have fight with destiny it seems.

-I’m going after him- with him. – determined to once again be happy and with an alive family Ciri once again changes which horse caries what. She makes sure Jaskier’s lute and presents are going with her, alongside needed resources, while the rest of things stays with her guardians. She wants to save her friend.

-WHAT! Ciri you can’t!...- once again glancing at the dangerous musician just few feet away that is currently reading a horse Yennefer can’t believe what she is hearing. This child is going to be the death of her. She wants to go with the clearly unstable bard, and what? Convince him to go to the place where his pain lives? Looking at the destruction around her just from his reaction after glancing at Geralt she shivers thinking about what he can do if he was forced to stay with someone he now hates so much.

-I can and I will. Jaskier is my friend and I know he isn’t like this normally. When he calms down I can talk to him and he can explain. I must help him, he helped me so much… I just want us to be happy… - Ciri holds in her unshed tears and mounts Roach. With a determined look they start to go after Jaskier.

-Ciri don’t- umpf! – not noticing how much she drained herself once again Yennefer stumbles onto the ground with blurry vision. Her legs refuse to support her weight.

-Don’t worry he won’t hurt me! I’ll try to make him go slowly so you can catch up.- Ciri rides after Jaskier, yet keeping her distance. The emotions are probably too high for a conversation so she will wait for when he makes camp.

Furious Yennefer can only barely see the girl riding into the dark forest after the bard and go back to waking up Geralt. He’s going to be furious for what has happened after he wakes up… Ohh well, problem for the future her. Damned humans and their need for drama.

For now she drags the witcher into one of the tents in the centre of camp and waits for him to wake up, while taking care of herself also.

When Geralt wakes a few hours after dawn she fills him on what has happened.

He at first doesn’t say anything, just gets out of the tent and walks up to a statue.

And with an animalistic shout uses his fist to punch the head cleanly off. With bloodied knuckles and newfound drive he and Yennefer go (again) after Jaskier.

With a whirlwind in his mind and creating a new plan to win over Jaskier they ride in silence.

Geralt wants answers. Then if he gets them might he accept going back to Kear Morhen without his songbird. Otherwise he is going to purse him until he is ceratin he's safe and sane.

 

-~~~~~~-


 

After what feels like a few minutes but is really more like an hour Jaskier stops the horse he is riding and goes to a forest clearing to rest for the night.

The stealth mission and battle worn him out in some capacity, but the real blow to his energy was the appearance of the illusionary Geralt.

While cleaning up after eating another meal from his enchanted bag Jaskier is almost asleep, until a figure walks into the clearing.

The girl almost looks like the Cintran princess he visited, but a little bit more grown up. And he can see her clearly, huh… they must have captured her then… All thanks to his betrayal…

Too tired to care at the moment he tries to ignore her, but the girl has other plans for the evening.

She walks up to him with clear hope in her eyes and shakingly asks:

-Jaskier… what happened to you? – her whispered question has to wait a few heartbeats for an answer.

- A lot, I think…- is the only one she gets, before the speaker throws his head back on the ground with a dull thud and falls asleep.

After tending to Roach and taking care of her needs Ciri lays out her bedroll next to the sleeping form of Jaskier and also goes to sleep.

She hopes she can fix the situation in the morning, but for now everybody is too exhausted.

If only she knew in what state they found the bard in or what it meant for her and his relationship.

Chapter Text

Jaskier wakes with a dull headache just behind his eyes.

It seems that using so much magic at once and focusing on casting spells makes one feel worse than just cursing people. Well, noted…

Shielding his eyes from the rising sun he takes a few more seconds to rest.

With newfound energy from gods’ know where he stands up and stretches. While soothing his body with few exercises his less panicked brain finally understands what happened last night.

And Melitele’s tits did a lot happen.

He fought Trefolia of Nilfgaard.

And won in spectacular fashion.

And then the world of illusion delt him its own blow.

He met Geralt once again.

And instead of letting him control the narrative of the hallucination he caused him to drop… dead? asleep? and tried to stab him… his heart…

And yet he couldn’t. Either this means he’s a coward or that he still has too much feeling for the stubborn oaf than he can control.

With a sigh and quick rub of his hands on his face he turns to the hor-... horses?

He doesn’t remember taking twooo- oh gods! He remembers! The illusionary Ciri went after him!

Turning to finally acknowledge the girl sleeping on the forest floor Jaskier ponders what he should do with her.

She is an illusion that he usually met just before the fantasy was broken, but then again: only Geralt’s actions pushed him from one nightmare into the next. Like either killing himself or him, getting too far from the camp or simply doing something that was too out of character for him. So no danger from her, yet.

But wait…

If that’s the case then I wonder why the curse didn’t continue the cycle when he and I met? His reaction was one I was not expecting when we would meet again…

But the circumstance is different; I’m no longer being rescued. And this situation is too unusual for me to say if he was being authentic…

Pondering his options the bard jumps when another voice breaks through his thoughts.

-Jaskier? Are you ok now? – Ciri’s morning voice layered with worry and her strong gaze halt all of the musician’s brain functions. She doesn’t look fuzzy anymore. And since the illusion feeds on his and Antira’s memories the witch must have met the present Ciri during her capture…

She looks so real…. And I allowed for her to be captured by the enemy…

Guilt takes centre stage and Jaskier allows himself for some cathartic self-indulgence. He hugs the girl with all his might.

Twin pairs of fresh tears fall from both sets of emerald and sapphire eyes as they hold onto each other. One asking for forgiveness for his supposed betrayal, other trying to see if the other has regained his senses.

After few minutes they disentangle and dry their tears. It’s Ciri who breaks the silence.

-Jaskier, are you alright? What did they do to you? – she pleads for an answer with her eyes.

-I..I… you already know what happened little illusion, don’t make me relive that. – hardening his expression he guides them in the direction of the horses.

-Wha- what are you talking about? What illusion, Jaskier it’s me, remember?- “ the girl you sang to on her birthdays, got into trouble with me? Talked about my problems? Not the princess that you were supposed to bow to? We promised to always be honest, didn’t we?” is left unsaid. Dread planted its seed in the girl’s soul. Was her friend too deeply traumatised for full mental capacity? Did he forget her or does he simply not recognise her? She does not know who she is talking to now. Because for sure this is not the Jaskier she remembers. Her Jaskier was like the sun and summer breeze. Hot, full of energy and light.

- Yeah I remember that promise… - The bard is mounting the stolen horse with a solemn expression and Ciri mirrors his movements with Roach. The second time he went and visited the little girl and they had some time for themselves they had run off to the royal gardens.

They talked and talked, the curious mind of a child making sure no silence could find its place between them. And Jaskier was just as happy to answers anything Ciri asked. He would be there for her instead of Geralt, until he realises his mistake. A pleasant memory, that was relived every year since the musician had to stop visiting his favourite royal.

During one of these visits the little princess was very angry at her parents because they wouldn’t tell her about the witcher who was rumoured to be her destiny.

Only Jaskier in song and poetic writing gave her any concreate information about this mysterious figure. And so when he met her in the gardens the first thing she asked of him after explaining herself is to always be honest with her, and she in return will be honest with him.

The Lion Cub Princess and the Witcher’s Bard – the chaotic summer duo of Cintra has solidified their friendship that day which would last until their dying days.

-Then please tell me your story Jaskier… Just like in the summers. Please… - Ciri isn’t above begging him at this point. They ride side to side; Roach eyeing the other horse.

Sighing deeply Jaskier turns to the girl for a moment. No pain in talking to an illusion is there? “Fine, but I’ll make it a better story. Reality, I recently found out, is disappointing” Jaskier answered looking at the girl only with his eyes; head straight.

And so they rode north with a little slower than average gait while Jaskier retold the many visions he had while under the active effects of his curse. Ciri can’t believe what she is hearing, but not wanting to push the bard away she says nothing of interest. And doesn’t understand how he got trapped in the enemy’s clutches. No drunken story for this princess.

She doesn’t either push for more real information about what happened afterward, since any notion that tries to prove Jaskier that he’s not living a fake life is ignored by the bard.

And so they travel, Ciri always making sure that the horses don’t go too fast. She did promise to slow down their travel to allow for Geralt and Yennefer to catch up. Allowing the witcher to talk with his bard is one of her underlining reasons for going after Jaskier.

The everyday routine quickly was established unlike many other trips Ciri took part in. Wake up an hour or so after dawn, take care of horses and food. Ciri always slowing them down. Not like Jaskier has an appointment to keep, so he lets her.

Then they get on their honourable steeds and ride until they tire in the early afternoon. All the while Jaskier is weaving the tales that he remembers from his nightmares. Not caring about censorship the princess learns too many things about life in that short amount of time. And gets more and more worried. The longer she lets her friend talk, the less he seems like himself. Digging further into his imagined reality and traumatized mind.

After a usually pleasant break they ride some more and then finally dismount an hour before sunset and set up proper camp, since Ciri needs some survival standards met.

During these evenings is when she starts to unravel Jaskier’s thought process and his problems. She offers explanations for the things that the bard can now do, for what he has seen. They aren’t too on the nose in the beginning, but slowly the musician starts to entertain the idea. Even if every time she tries to breach the subject they stay silent for at least half an hour afterwards and often just go to sleep. Making him believe he’s once again living in the real world is the goal that Ciri is going for.

It’s been 3 days since they left Malibor behind them and of such travels when another bad thing happens to them.

Another mage, who really had more luck than brain sets off a series of events that ultimately destroy both the psyche of one Julian Alfred Pankratz and all remaining high ranking witches of Nilfgaard, including herself.

So close to Vizima and so close to the rest of the Wolves and the medic sorceress. And the danger of Nilfgaard’s forces.

Chapter Text

Jaskier and Ciri are in the process of laying down to rest in the evening of yet another gruelling day of travel. Even thou it’s supposed to be getting colder the weather has a heat streak making them a little more fatigued than usual. But additionally slowing them down even further, which Ciri hopes will allow for Geralt and Yennefer to catch up if not tomorrow than at least a day before they arrive in Vizima. The girl chooses to forget that the witcher and sorceress will also be slowed down thanks to the weather.

After once again arguing and talking about the bard’s mental situation he’s starting to finally put back the broken pieces of his psyche. The princess has started to plan her attacks more like precise sabre stabs rather than savage club smashes. She points out all of the contradictions and plot holes and overall problems with Jaskier’s theory that all of this is an illusion. And…

The amount of time he’s in one “illusion” is staggering, compared to all the other times.

The different circumstance of him leaving the dungeon are weird and unusual.

He’s new found power and the continuing events of the war that he couldn’t possibly imagine aren’t anything he would come up with.

The Geralt’s and Yennefer’s reactions and Ciri’s presence do make sense, but at the same time don’t.

Almost everything starts to slowly make some sense, Ciri’s arguments are logical and all of his rebuttals she can counter perfectly but…

If this is THE reality in which he always lived and in which a few months ago he was just a bard stalking a witcher than what the hell did really happen to him?!

He knows of no way in which a normal man might be turned into such monstrosity in terms of power. And from what Ciri has reported his magic isn’t based on chaos and human control of it, but something more akin to the djinn’s power and nature’s balance. He’s read some fantastical tales from the universities’ library about such story, but that was just that: a fairy tale!

He sits next to the fire and sleeping Ciri, thinking and thinking, once again starting from the beginning and trying the stich the true story of his escape together.

All this thinking is only exchanging one problem for another; further confusing the bard and pushing him into a spiral of his own making. The child is now “safely asleep” while he thinks some more.
So much so that he doesn’t feel or notice the spell that is being casted onto his person and his companion laying few feet away.

 

-~~~~~~-


 

Petunia of Belhaven didn’t want to go to war, but if that’s what her superior Lady Fringilla wants than that’s what she will do. And will try to be the most effective out of her sisters to rise in rank after its over; just as a bonus.

A few days ago Antira has sent a message to all traveling sorceresses of Nilfgaard that she found out the destination of the Cintran princess’s guardian and hers as consequence.

Deed possible thanks to talking of one of his friends. She immediately knew she meant torture instead of any other type of interrogation and slightly winced in the comfort of her private tent. Her sisters can be cruel and stubborn at times, too much for their own goods.

And its also a pity: she did enjoy the songs the Witcher’s Bard has created over the years. Being the one to always travel throughout the continent for her lady she heard his creations all the time and grew to anticipate his new ballads. Even if it was with a bit of nonchalance. His works were simply the least irritating. Well, she guesses no new tunes will leave his mind any time soon.

It was a little bit unsettling as the time went on and more of her sisters stopped answering her tries to communicate. Oh well, she has better things to worry about, like ordering the men under her charge to effectively get ready to siege and control the capital city of Vizima.

So imagine her, and her soldiers’ surprise when one evening when they were two or three days of marching away from it to merge with the main force attacking and her teacher when they saw smoke of a campsite not too far away. The sorceress sensed two magically powerful entities. Both she felt from a good distance away since neither masked their magical presence. As such she took four of her strongest and asked them to help her with some scouting. Hiding her power, unlike her pray she and the men swiftly got closer and closer until she could see who they were.

What she didn’t think she would find was the very same bard that was supposed to be dead in a dungeon and the princess they were after. Thinking it was her lucky evening Petunia couldn’t help but smirk as she imagined what that meant for her status in the ranks.

She quietly and quickly ordered her men to surround the duo and started to prepare a combination of spells. A little bit of paralysis, mind and body control with chaos draining abilities resulted in a perfect spell for capturing opponents. Not knowing the full extent of her opponents power she didn’t think of a possibility that one of them could break out of her chaos.

And so motioning to her much more aware men she signals their assault.

The body of the laying princess barely moved while the sitting bard slumps in his seat and his head falls limp.

 

-~~~~~~-


 

Jaskier is startled out of his mind loop when he feels, or rather stops feeling his body and losses his control over it. But unlike the time Void took over there’s no other conscience to pilot it and his head along with his vision fall to his chest. His hand limp in his lap, legs relaxed.

Ciri being asleep doesn’t notice too much, but as more commotion is heard she wakes to only realise she can’t get up or fully open her eyes.

As Jaskier confused doesn’t know what is happening the men and Petunia walk into the clearing housing their campsite.

-Take the bard and tie him up. If he is who I think he is we’ll have a very important source of information and he a lot to explain. Do be gentle with the princess; the emperor wants her healthy and whole for whatever reason. – The witch commands her underlings like a true general.

“Hnugh…” is the only sound Jaskier can make to protest to what is happening.

-Check their bags and get the horses. We might as well take everything. – The sorceress is already going back to their own camp. The soldiers giddily tie up not only the helpless bard, but also the seemingly unconscious princess.

Oh, that stupid bitch… she has doomed her soldiers by doing that!

Chapter Text

When the group of kidnapers arrives at the troop’s camp the rest of the men curiously come over to watch as the witch ties some bard and the Cintran princess to a nearby tree. All with some sort of shock showing on their faces. Whispers spread out into the evening air.

Both figures seemingly drunk or unconscious look pathetic in their eyes and as such some of them chuckle at their new prisoners, while the rest goes back to their tasks; seemingly unbothered. The four soldiers who went with the witch were appointed as the “wardens” of the duo. Their tasks as a result don’t happen too far away from the bard and princess and one of them is left to always watch.

Petunia goes around the camp supervising the many different happenings that need to be done to effectively run a troop of soldiers and after a little bit more than an hour she returns to her catch.

She first looks at the bard and tries to make sense of what she is or rather was feeling from him. Thankfully for Jaskier this newfound situation made him reel in his power on instinct, like curling into himself to make him a smaller threat and the witch can’t sense too much from him. Unable to deduce what the hell is this man she focuses on the princess, who’s eyes are now open, but still droopy.

Jaskier sees what is happening around and his thoughts are spiralling inside his head. The veil separating the worlds of illusion and reality is the thinnest it has ever been at this moment.

Are their captors real or are they the final straw that will break his illusion?

Was Ciri lying or telling the truth about chaos and his condition?

Should he even search for it or stay in ignorant bliss?

What the hell are they going to do to them?!

And what was already done to his body… he can’t feel a thing, which is not good. He can’t fight in such state.

And being unable to speak; more importantly sing has put him at a huge disadvantage. If he doesn’t realise the witch’s hold over him soon he won’t be able to escape uninjured.

Why, why, why?... why do these things happen to me?! First in Posada, than not even a week later another ambush by some bandits and so on and so forth. I think I should have a reward for being captured so many times and still living to sing the tales! And not all of them due to one strong witcher if I may add! I can be slippery when I want to be!

Ok, Jaskier once again: what do you do to escape? Brute strength? Nope, can’t move my body. Slight of hand- same reason… That only leaves my… “powers”… that won’t listen to me right now. Great…

Wanting to sigh deeply the bard realises where his only hope and chance of escape lies. And he’s not confident they can work.

Few days ago Ciri just before going to sleep asked him what he was using to cast such powerful magic and not feel like death. At first he simply shrugged and said that as long he can imagine it in his illusions he can do it. His evidence being all the things he did just few weeks ago and lack of any consequences.

Ciri wasn’t satisfied with that answer. With her limited new knowledge from Yennefer and some scraps from the royal library she understood the basics of human magic. And what Jaskier was telling her about sounded like something completely different.

And so she repeated what she heard from Yen to Jaskier and the theories of why he became so powerful. He didn’t voice it at the time, but it made him very uncomfortable.

Now his actions in light of the new perspective would have consequences. Not isolated fantasy of a bard, but real events with a body count. Jaskier doesn’t want to be a murderer on such scale… He’s a poet, not a fighter… right?

That was always the deal.

And wouldn’t it be ironic? The power he fought he had due to his own creativity in reality was a side effect of a twisted curse and fuelled by his mistakes and crimes. If Ciri’s version of the situation is true than he has truly become a monster. One that Geralt should slay the first chance he gets… So why was he so heartbroken when he saw him outside Melibor… what Jaskier doesn’t see?

That night and the ones following weren’t filled with sleep for the troubled bard, but with countless questions and what if’s. Each worse and more convoluted than the last. Jaskier couldn’t do but shiver when he slowly started to see what he has done in a different light.

And as a result his faith in himself partially lowered his song, still trying, won’t break out of Petunia’s spells just yet. A catalyst is needed, just like with Void. Jaskier’s insecurity in his ability to actually cast real spells, like a witch or anything other mentally shackled his gifts.

Now with his body laying defencelessly Jaskier can only listen and see what is happening around them. One of their “wardens”, with a much more dishevelled appearance than his peers has been looking at the young girl with a different and disgusting hunger in his eyes for a while now.

The war made the release of his perversions much easier in the wild. Escaping unnoticed from camp and going to a terrified, nearby village the soldier made sure to not let the little peasant girls run away after he was done with them. And since nobody in the troop wanted to know what he was really doing (most still had suspicions) the man’s predatory instincts weren’t called out. Until today.

When Petunia arrived near the man and two prisoners she immediately saw the corrupted and unhidden gaze the soldier was directing at the helpless princess. Thinking that his actions would be the biggest threat to the girl’s wellbeing, and thus her reward she glared at the soldier until he understood the message. And just so she was understood she said:

-As a warden you’re meant to protect and secure the prisoners, not devour the merchandise. She is untouchable. Or do you want the emperor to castrate you after he hears of your disobedience? – the witch always looking out for herself doesn’t even mention the damage Ciri would suffer personally, as if she wasn’t sitting a few feet away from them. Listening to the nausea-inducing dialog happening in front of her.

- I didn’t do anything. And would you blame me? She’s in the ripe age for taking. - the idiotic soldier doesn’t even try to deny the accusations. Just slightly changes the topic. – You witches like those best, don’t you? For your experiments and “training”- the soldier gestures the quotes in the air, looking smug and at the same time nervous about the sorceresses reaction.

- Remember who you’re talking to, soldier. – Irritated with the lack of respect from the man and his overall disgusting attitude the witch suspects that she can’t leave the girl alone for the night. And that there’s enough space in her tent to lay the girl. With all her body and soul unprotected.

The man was right in that regard: the girl is in perfect state to be manipulated. As a nice bonus it will allow her to mind control the future key figure in Nilfgaardian politics. The almost teenager will give her enough leverage to control the tides of fate. A spell here and there won’t give her plans away, while she can groom the princess into her own pawn.

-Now stop speaking and carry the girl. The cot in my tent will do much better for her than tree bark. – Petunia orders her subordinate and observes as he reaches for the girl while rolling his eyes. Of course the witch would “logically” keep the girl for herself. She’s too high class to be allowed to be touched by “mere men”. What a joke. Won’t stop him from feeling the girl a little bit thou.
And with such predatory glances from both the perverted and evil man and the wicked witch they try to take Ciri away.

While their whole conversation was going on, unknown to them both prisoners were listening. Since the witch didn’t think to knock them out fully- just their bodies, they were able to experience the horror of their situation fully. If Jaskier could he would be at least gaging at their exchange. Not to mention the gut wrenching terror the subject of their dialogue was experiencing. Ciri is thrown over the soldier’s shoulder like a sack of potatoes. He keeps his hand squarely on her private back area.

And for a moment with her head upside down and face slack of any emotion the princess sheds a tear looking at her last hope. The bard is also seemingly sitting with his back to the tree emotionless and unresponsive. In reality a verse of curses and shouts of rebellion are echoing in his mind. Their eyes connect for a split second and through the windows to their souls the connected anguish spills out.

No, no no nonononono. Give her BACK, she did nothing, not Ciri, not her. Oh, gods please no, not that. They are going to torture her and gods know what else. Oh, Melitele save her!!!

Jaskier, help… I’m scared… please… save me…

It was the first time Ciri felt so helpless and uncertain of her immediate future. Not during the burning of Cintra or her escape to Geralt. This moment, the lack of any power on her side or allies reminded her that she’s still basically just a child in this world.

The soldier, the princess and the witch as last go in the direction of Petunia’s tent, outside Jaskier’s vision. The last thing he sees is the hag swiping away with her disgusting finger the tear that left Ciri’s eye. Locked inside his body the bard has remembered the first few hours in Antira’s care. But unlike last time it wasn’t him who could be hurt. And this though terrified him even more.

Forcing his body to just move, DAMN IT! his determination was able to weaken the spells and turn his head and lay it on his shoulder. Feeling hopeless he suddenly remembers a religious note that supposedly helps those in an hour of need. One of his more religious relatives always sang or hummed it when they were visiting. It must have been one of his aunts. A bunch of bullshit if you were to ask him before all this. But now?...

His mouth twitches as he tries to use his confusing and supposed magic to save the girl that was one of the best gifts he got from the White Wolf. Thinking up his own verses and meaning he starts to sing the religious tune . His voice barely a rasp from his lips that he even can’t hear. (song: Hellfire from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”; lyrics changed for the story)

My dear Melitele,
You know I was a righteous man,
Of my ballads I was justly proud.
My dear Melitele,
You know I'm so much purer than,
The common, vulgar, creepy, sinning men.

His upper lip twitches barely, trying to imitate Geralt’s growl.

Then tell me, my Lady,
Why I see her standing there,
Why her lingering touch scorches my soul.
I feel her, I see her,
The fire caught in her raven hair,
Is blazing in me out of all control.

Amidst all the light from lamps and campfires set around the troops ground a small spark, akin to a small ember flouting from a campfire, flies out of the motionless bard’s mouth and lights the dry grass by his feet. He’s able to whisper the next part of the song.

Like fire,
Hellfire,
This fire in my voice.

The fire, that the bard started, just like a snake slithers to his intended target.

This burning
Displeasure
Is turning me to song.

It's not my fault,
I'm not to blame,
It is the creepy hag,
The witch who sent this flame.

Petunia notices the change in chaos around her a little too late. Both her dress and soldier’s pants catch on fire. Ciri due to the man’s struggle lands on the grass covered ground.

It's not my fault,
If in Gods’ plan,
They made the devil so much
Stronger than a man.
Protect me, My Lady,
Don't let this siren cast her spell !
Don't let her fire sear girl’s flesh and bone !

The flames turn blue and cut the path between the witch and Ciri. The spell the witch has cast on the duo now is broken as the flames kiss her pale skin. Jaskier is now truly singing the religious song, yet still supported by the tree. He rises and finishes his song.

Destroy Petunia !!
And let me take her powers from hell !!!
Destroy Nilfgaard !!
And let them taste the fires as well !!!

With the screech of a banshee Jaskier’s command is thrown to the wind and it flies at his enemies.

Now alerted that something is happening they have no time to react as fire birds and blue flaming serpents descend onto them. Immediately engulfed in flames they scream and try to put out the hellfire, but it does not listen.

Petunia, stupefied in a moment of crisis, like all the other times she was caught unprepared doesn’t even think to use chaos to put the flames out. When her skin boils off her flesh her power leaves her dead husk and goes straight to the bard. The third stave appears on his neck and only solidifies his power further.

Jaskier makes sure that Roach and the other horse as well as most of their things are left unburn. But other than that? He let’s the hell loose. Pillars of blue flame travel from tree to tree, soldier to soldier; cooking the unfortunate ones in their armour.

The princess, protected from the blue flames wakes from the spell and instantly starts looking out for her friend. The first thing she notices is predictably the strange colour of the flames and the presence of powerful chaos.

The musician casually is strolling around the now burning forest and orders the flames to do his bidding. Any man still trying to attack him is instantly burned alive and no one is allowed to escape. With his shout he pushes the trees and they fall on the set up tents effectively destroying any possibility of survivors. With a confident step he goes on.

After a while a normal fire emerges from the burning structures. Everything has turned to chaos. And Jaskier is making a clear path for the princess to escape. He’s no witcher, or a trained mage. If he were they wouldn’t be captured. If this is reality than he can’t keep the princess safe, if it’s fantasy than her presence makes him loose control, which he can’t let happen. He needs to send Ciri back to the people that can protect her. She proved it to him herself: he’s mad, completely unreliable. His creepy and broken Cheshire smile is back on his face, reminiscent of his first escape from Nilfgaards clutches.

With his order to not hurt the princess makes the blue element back off from wherever she’s standing, while the normal one still poses a danger to the girl. And more of it starts to spread as the time of night goes on.

Ciri confused cries out for Jaskier: “JASKIER!!!”, her scream just for a moment pushes the flames in the opposite direction to her and allows for better vision. For a second she sees him. The bard is purposely making the dancing fire cut between them with his song; keeps them separate.

-Jaskier?... Where are you going?! We need to go ge- - before the princess can finish her though Jaskire’s voice carries over the noise of fire crackling and trees falling.

-No Ciri. There’s no WE, just YOU. Take Roach and whatever you can salvage and ride back to your guardian. With me there’s only misery waiting for you. Please Ciri, little cub, listen to me and gO AWAY! – With the shout he unconsciously pushes the girl’s mind to do as he begs. The girl looks for the mentioned things to salvage and sees a tragedy in making. Some bags that were filled with provisions are lost to the fire; even if they’re the minority, thankfully. And the more important ones are unscathed near the horses, which themselves are panicking with the exception of Roach, as for her it’s a normal event. Standing in a forest fire?- normal Tuesday for a witcher’s horse.

But it’s the lute’s case she worries about. It has been tossed in the struggle when the men started running around and now it lays open next to the fire, while the elven lute itself is burning and glowing.
With a pitiful twang the first silver string breaks, soon followed by its siblings. The princess dashes with all her might and gathers as much as she can carry. Touching the lute burns her hands just for a second, but she holds onto it and pulls the instrument out of the fire. Miraculously the wooden body is the same as it was before the elements tried to destroy it.

Not having time to worry about its secrets the girl unties Roach and through the whole time curses the adults in her life. A dramatic bunch. Lovely but sometimes too dramatic for their own good.
Getting on Roach Ciri reasons that she needs backup. And there’s only one person who can save Jaskier from himself. And so she gets ready to gallop to Geralt and says, nay screams her parting words to the bard: “Wait for us in Vizima! Jaskier, you’re my dearest friend and I need you to go with us! Please! WE CAN HELP EACHOTHER!!!”

Through the cracks of wood burning, people screaming and flames dancing Jaskier barely makes out the message and looks into the emerald eyes sitting on the brown mare. He avoids them and turns his head to the side. Ciri, uncertain if the musician will wait for them turns Roach and goes. And so there was no princess in the campsite anymore.

Only a stunned broken bard standing in the middle of it all, trying to reign in all the sudden sorrow he feels. He repeats that it’s for the better, but he knows he’s lying to himself.

As an unspecified amount of time later Jaskier deems that its enough of the forest’s destruction. He stops repeating the song’s chorus and the blue flames die out. The yellow and orange ones stay, but worrying about them spreading Jaskier forces them to do the same as their sapphire brethren.

Looking around the camp he locates his bag and the horse he stole from Malibor. He makes sure everything important is strapped to his person, not the horse. The provisions and other things are safely stored in the still enchanted bag, which now feels a little bit smaller than when he was certain in his perception of the world. Making nothing of it the bard mounts the horse and with gentle proding tells it to go forth. He looks one last time behind himself. The road where he made Ciri flee and the path to his supposed salvation… family...

He turns the horse towards Vizima.

With regret in his soul the bard keeps the pace slow and head low. He rethinks the words said to him by the princess. Not only the parting ones, but also every conversation they had in the last few days. With the fire stopped behind him the musician rides through the night in the direction of Vizima’s outskirts. When the sun is barely over the horizon he gets down off the horse and walks alongside it with a more leisure step.

He cleans himself with some water from a stolen waterskin and absentmindedly fixes his clothing with magic. Feeling as if a hole was opened in his chest he sees the capital city on the horizon.

No sound of advertised festival can be herd when he gets closer. Just another fire and chaos of a city being sieged. Jaskier has arrived at Vizima just as Fringilla’s army starts its assault. He thinks if he should go around the city to avoid problems, but the fire of hatred burns too bright in his chest. He’s going to win or die in flames of glory. He unbinds the horse from its various riding equipment and lets it go into the wild.

Jaskier walks into the city proper with shaken determination to destroy Nilfgaard’s forces and the two left witches in his illusion. Or if it’s the real world - die trying.

He’s just a bard in that reality after all and won’t be able to win. The magical power he wields only a flickering figment of his imagination.

He has no proof to skew the scale in one or other direction and with hands shaking he crosses the gate into an area of chaos and destruction.

Chapter Text

The Witcher and sorceress have left Maribor in less than desirable states. Fuelled by emotion and worry they rode on Pegasus almost constantly. Both tired and irritable they preferred to travel in silence waiting until the more magically gifted of the two will feel a second magical connection other than her magical bond with the silently fuming man. The monster hunter’s face and all other muscles are once again tensed and ready to act for any possibility.

They have been traveling for a few days now and hope that everything must be going ok since Ciri isn’t seemingly left alone or hurt and abandoned.

When Yennefer finally feels a slither of Ciri’s chaos she is immediately informing Geralt about this and they are at first relieved. But the feeling doesn’t last for long. Terror fills its space because they also see a forest fire in the same general direction. Surely she’s not in danger or burning in it. She can easily escape the flames of death. For certain…

The witcher urges the horse to go just a little bit faster with a well-aimed boot kick and shout.

Pegasus exhausted from their nearly constant ride is ready to collapse any second. Thankfully he doesn’t have to rush into the fire all the way. All present see a small rider escape from the forest in their direction and with relief on their faces they can see who it is. Clearly it’s the one the witch felt from afar and the person they were running after.

Geralt quickly dismounts and runs over to Roach and pulls Ciri down into his arms. The girl is crying and whispering something unintelligible. He’s too emotional inside and grateful that she’s alright outside to care right now. Yennefer releases the breath she held since Maribor. Every since they left she and Geralt fell into an uncomfortable silence. The witcher angry at the situation and partially at the sorceress to let Ciri go didn’t want to explode like on the mountain.

But unlike that time he held in his rage, something he was doing for weeks now and allowed for Yennefer to defend herself. And does agree that leaving him alone and confused surrounded by stone statues without anyone to ground him would be a much worse outcome for him personally. That way he at least knew what happened after he was knocked out.

Geralt rises and glances over his mare’s form looking for any injuries from the fire. He notices how she’s perfectly healthy and by looking at the forest also surprisingly sees the fire receding. Suspicious of its origin and supposed magical traits he decides to ignore it for now. Ciri will probably tell them when she’s ready.

Able to finally try to relax a little he hastily decides to make camp a little away from the forest line in an open field. He’s kind of glad to notice that most of the things Ciri took are either with her or supposedly eaten if they were rations. The witcher also sees the shapes that tell him that Jaskier’s belongings, like the lute are also present.

As the sorceress and wither ready their temporary base the still crying and shaking princess is placed on one of their bedrolls near the fire. A pot of some soup is simmering next to her. The sound and smell ground her from the consequences of being abducted in sleep and having to experience what she felt an hour or so ago.

When all the chores that needed doing are finished and the meal eaten the moon is three fourths done with its tonight’s travel through the night sky. Ciri doesn’t want to sleep, afraid of the nightmares that await her in the land behind the veil of dreaming. With Geralt sharpening his already too sharp blades on her right and Yennefer reading some book on her left she finally gathers her wits to tell them what happened.

- I caught up with Jaskier…- The girl quietly starts the conversation. Both of her present guardians still for a second, stopping their respective time killers. After a second neither really comments or asks for more information, seemingly returning to their activities, but in reality listening with their whole beings. Geralt unable to worry during this time asks:

- Did he… hurt?... you?- Not knowing how to ask a dozen questions at the same time (how he looked like?, what was his state? was Jaskier aggressive? was the forest fire his fault? why were you crying? where is the bard now?). Unfortunately for his poor nerves the question isn’t answered for a few heartbeats.

- He scared me… not once did he hurt… but I don’t know if I will see him again… - Ciri’s bottom lip slightly trembles, struggling not to let tears fall. Yennefer stops trying to look as if she’s reading and hugs the girl with one arm to her side, hoping to bring comfort.

- We… we travelled, and were a pretty good duo… and I tried to make him see reason. When we would have a break I would ask questions and tell him that this is reality and Jaskier… he….. I think I only achieved in confusing him… he thinks, or though that what he is doing and living through now is some sort of illusion… - the girl’s speech speeds up and grows more desperate the more she talks.

- That he’s struck with some curse and can’t let Geralt near him, because than the hallucinations reset and he’s back in the dungeon, and then saved or killed and over and over again and he doesn’t… he doesn’t know what’s real! – Ciri clings to Yen’s black travel dress and lets out a sob.

- And he treats it all as a story he can rewrite and, and… I wanted to help him!!.... but I couldn’t!… - the girl is once again bawling her eyes out. The sudden change in direction and shift in tone of their travel has deeply affected her. Yennefer was slowly rubbing circles on her back and combing her fingers through the ashen hair. Both the sorceress and Geralt were wondering what happened in the forest tonight to cause their split.

Ciri went on to describe her few days of travel with Jaskier in more detail. How she tried to convince him to go with them and that this, what they were experiencing is in fact reality, piece by piece. Building the foundation from the ground up for his mind to be able to reset. Her guardians were listening with rabid attention and were constructing the timeline of events and Jaskier’s reactions in their minds.

By remembering the good part of their rides Ciri calmed down a little, but tensed up again when she reached tonight’s event. Geralt and Yen never tried to push her to talk faster or with more detail. They knew they needed to let her tell the story in her own pace. Still, they gave some words of encouragement.

-And then… some Nilfgaardian sorceress caught us in our sleep… I think. When I was woken we were already captured and defenceless… and they were… bad people. The soldier that was supposed to watch over us clearly… had a tendency.. to… get with local girls… young ones… - Ciri can’t look into the eyes that stare at her and hides her head in the black dress of the sorcerers. Fury ignites in both sets of eyes and as quickly dies out. By remembering the fire they saw the witcher and mage can deduce the fate of the human filth. Both “satisfied” and comforted by the fact that nothing explicit happened to the princess.

- And I thought that when the witch wanted to take me to her tent that the same would be done to me, but Jaskier… I don’t know how, but he broke out of the spell that was keeping us paralysed and started to sing… I remember the melody from our court priest, but the words… he changed them and caused the fire… And then in the chaos he ordered me to run away and to leave him and I couldn’t disobey… The lute’s strings were damaged in the fire and somehow I wasn’t burnt and then… and then I shouted to Jaskier and told him to wait in Vizima,… but I don’t think he’s going to wait for us… - The girl has ended reliving the night’s events and shyly looks up into the amber eyes of her new father figure.

- I’m sorry Geralt… I let Jaskier go… - even without his witcher senses Geralt could taste the guilt and sorrow and sadness pouring out of his ward. Not being talented in talking about his own inner struggles and emotions he opens his arms for the girl to climb into as a sigh of forgiveness and comfort. Ciri basically throws herself at the white-haired man and clings to him. He murmurs in her ear.

- You did nothing wrong. Don’t worry. We WILL catch up to him again. – Geralt pushes her dishevelled hair out of her eyes and smudges the tears off with his thumb. The princess exhausted is slowly lulled into sleep in the witcher’s arms as the sorceress rearranges their sleeping rolls and cleans up the camp. With one deep sigh she lets her body sag into the embrace of her guardian.

They go to sleep. The adults hugging the almost teenage girl between them, silently through their eyes they swore to once again find Jaskier and properly help him from his dire situation between them. Three powerful individuals surely can help another one, can’t they?

-~~*~~-


The trio wakes in heavy silence and efficiently packs up the camp and rides in the direction of the city to the north. Ciri closes her eyes shut when they go through the charred part of the forest and burned bodies of her, too recent for their liking, captors. Yennefer though gets off Pegasus and while Roach slowly goes on with Geralt and the girl she collects mainly the coin and some magical things that survived. And quickly analyses the magic left in the air.

This only makes dread trickle into her stomach as she finds it more chaotic. Not as in “uses more chaos” or “unorganised”, but in the sense that the chaos itself feels… wrong. Uncontrollable and too wild to be safe. She has no opportunity to share her finding with her companion without the princess overhearing.

It’s before noon when they see Vizima clearly and within reach, stopping their tired horses from the constant quick rides. And this allows them to see in more detail the state of the city. More importantly the fact that it’s being attacked by the Nilfgaardian army.

Without proof if Jaskier went any other way, but into the epicentre of anger and hatred they ready their weapons and minds for battle. They aren’t leaving the city without their bard. If they have to spill some blood of their enemies in the meantime- so be it.

Chapter Text

The other trio consisting of the medic sorceress Triss, and the wolf witchers named Lambert and Eskel wake up in the same house they lived in since the duo arrived in Vizima. While waiting for Geralt to finally arrive (still hoping he does before the Nilfgaardian army) they were able to help around 38 families that needed additional support in either relocating or getting ready to defend their homes.

And all in all they had a nice time together. Triss and Eskel bonded over books and teasing Lambert about Aiden when he let it slip that yes, he can cooperate with others and put the mentioned cat witcher as an example. In retaliation for the other two teasing him he had at least pranked them twice each. A nice way to brighten up the mood from their waiting and serious work.

The only woman in the building would usually get up first and leave to check on their own supplies and escape routes. In case they would need to wait for the white haired witcher while the army attacks they plan to ride out under an illusion and meet him and his other companions in the middle, before they reach Vizima or stumble across an army. Then a quick portal to lose all other participants and the party would be safe, away from the city’s borders and away from any soldier.

A few minutes after her the two brothers would wake up and ready a breakfast for them all for when she quickly returns. They decided to at least help in some way around the house since they are in some capacity abusing the sorceress’s hospitality. Triss at first said that she could cook herself, but she stopped talking about it when she tasted Eskel’s rabbit stew and other dishes he and Lambert served for breakfast and dinner every other day.

In retrospect such cooperation between these parties was very beneficial for everybody. Most of the monsters plaguing the city has been dealt with by the brothers while most of the magical community of Vizima is taken care off before the chaos starts.

Tomorrow the festival is supposed to happen in the main market square. All three know it’s a poor try at calming down the civilians. Especially since at the same time as the preparations for the festival took place around the city more and more guards and security was being concentrated on the southern side. Everyone was not talking about the situation, but at the same time everybody was waiting to see the Nilfgaardian army on the horizon any day now. The many people rushing in the streets sweating in anticipation.

Both the “hidden” preparation for war and forced preparations for the festival effectively took the minds of the common citizens off the looming threat and worries. What is better than a random festival organized by the big man himself? Nothing! And not talking about the supposed giant Nilfgaardian army marching here in secret is just a nice bonus.

Since it’s such a special day the routine of the trio is broken. Eskel and Lambert are going to one of the cities stables were they left Scorpion and another recently bought horse they planed to use to travel to Kear Morhen after Geralt arrives. They need to get some of their equipment over to the horses and ready them for the journey. Usually Triss would go in that direction, but their equipment is heavy and she needs to finish something in the opposite part of the city. The money from their work is very well spent as the time of their departure inches closer.

The wind whispers of the army to be soon attacking the city. And there’s no argument left to not listen to the news.

Additionally the medic sorceress has once again cast the location spell on the little carving in their possession yesterday and found out that Geralt is very close to the city. As such she readies all of her most important belonging and other things for travel in the morning. She isn’t as talented in this department as Yennefer but still she is able to pack more things in the bags and packs she has than their volume would suggest to be possible.

As according to plan she leaves the house with one of her more precious bags and checks the glamour she put onto the building. She still wants to use this property after all the dust settles. And old habits die hard, she guesses. Triss goes to the south side of the city.

At that time Eskel and Lambert are done with reading the horses for escape. Which is quite fortunate due to the sudden change of plan they are about to experience. Thinking that the army was bigger and as such would need more time to arrive nobody would think that a smaller than predicted troop of soldiers would start the assault with two mages on the front on this day.

Hence the air itself in the whole city changes as alarms of an attacking army are heard throughout Vizima. The peaceful, but tense morning is exchanged for a day full of surprises and uncertainty. The forces lead by Fringilla are almost ready to get inside the city walls. The two brothers look at each other and nod in understanding. Get Triss and look for Geralt; pray that he isn’t shackled somewhere on the behind of the marching troops as a trophy; and get ready to escape.

Will they be able to get to Geralt if that’s the case? Is he the reason why the army is arriving so much sooner than expected? What shall Triss do now?

At first the alarm makes the medic stop in her tracks. But then she turns on her heel and starts to run in the direction of the stables. The more time passes the more war makes itself known in the streets and she needs to join the wolf witchers sooner than later. She needs them and they her if they want their plan to work. And she needs to know where their target and main enemy are.

Triss ducks into a small alleyway and pulls out a more detailed map of the city. Unlike the specific location spell she cast to find Geralt she now takes a bit of chaos left in the carving and some silver powder into her hand.

Quickly murmuring the incantation small electrical sparks fly as the fine dust rearranges on the parchment. She’s happy to see that the white-haired witcher’s dot of light is more than enough behind the Nilfgaardian army and that only two concentrations of silver are present on the Vizima’s border.

This probably means that she and her allies have to just worry about Fringilla and one of her students. By using this method of chaos scanning she is now able to see additional information that honestly perplexes her for a minute.

There are three additional piles of silver , other than her own, that indicate magic users. Two of them next to Geralt’s dot so she theorises that they belong to her dear confidant Yennefer and the magically gifted princess of Cintra.

She allows for hope and joy to show on her face for a moment until she sees the biggest circle of the fine silver dust between the two groups of dots. With confusion and anxiety she measures its size by eye and concludes that whatever or whoever is traveling to Vizima just behind the army and in front of Geralt’s party is more powerful than the other five chaos users combined.

Letting out a shaky breath and without any idea what that might mean she blows the powder off the map and runs out of the alleyway.

When she gets to one of the main streets guards that were left in the other parts of the city are rushing to help their brothers in arms south. With their direction opposite to the sorceress Triss has to be careful where she stands.

After a few minutes of manoeuvring on horseback in such chaos Eskel finally spots the redhead in the crowd and shouts to his brother to follow him. Triss is more than relieved to see that her partners in crime were able to get the horses ready and out of the stable even if it means that moving with them can become a problem in tighter passages. She hops on behind Eskel and leans back to yell at Lambert comfortably without deafening the rider in front of her.

-I have bad news and good news. – a little bit winded from unexpected running she informs the brothers.

-The good ones? – Eskel asks first and is scouting the situation ahead.

-Geralt and two chaos users, probably Yennefer and Ciri are way behind the army, but not by much. If they hurry they might bump into the soldiers from behind if they are not careful. Second only two sorceresses are present with the Nilfgaardians. – she takes a second to steady her nerves.

-And the bad ones?- Lambert asks with his usual confidence perfectly hiding his worry.

-There’s another magical; and I have to guess, being, that is more powerful than all other sorceresses near Vizima combined. I don’t know what or maybe who that might be, but it feels like it’s separate from Nilfgaard. – Triss mentally searches in her mental library for a creature that would show with such big amount of chaos showing on the map. The only conclusion she comes up with is that is has to be more than one mage, but their marks of silver would be asymmetrical and loopy and not a perfect circle as if more than one person was standing in the same spot.

-Great… - responds Eskel with monotone in his voice as he himself tries to understand what the sorceress told them. He turns to look at the duo.

- We can’t waste Triss’s power on opening a portal to get Geralt, we need it to get out of here. We have to try and sneak around until the army charges into the city and starts to pillage. Then we slip out and intersect Geralt’s path.- it’s not the best plan, but it is based on what they discussed beforehand.

-Unless the powerful thing behind the army gets to us first, or Nilfgaard forces us to fight to get out. – Lambert as helpful as ever with a clear mind points out the possible problems they might face.

- So be it. I’m ready to change the scenery, don’t you two too?- Triss tries to fill the witchers with an optimistic outlook. She knows it probably won’t work on them, but her own mind appreciates the sentiment. And that’s enough for her.

- You heard the lady.- smirking Eskel sighs his brother to follow as he turns Scorpion south. That’s when they hear probably one of the main gates bursting open and the start of the clash of steel against steel. With one last nod they hope to find an opportunity to get Geralt and escape.

With the suddenly crowded streets and arrival of the armed forces they aren’t able to even leave the city’s borders. Trying for over an hour to move and find the white wolf they tire themselves out and kill more than a few soldiers in the meantime.

Before they waste more energy on their original plan Triss suddenly feels a clash of chaos somewhere in the city and concludes that they are too late. Geralt’s party must already be in the city and fighting Fringilla.

She is wrong in her theory, but when she will remember this moment in the future she will be glad to have decided to get her and the witchers to move in the direction of the main market square. Because even though that first wave of chaos wasn’t due to Yennefer and Fringilla fighting the second one was and it was happening squarely there.

Chapter Text

Understanding that time wasn’t on their side Geralt and Yennefer have the horses gallop confidently into the busted open southern gate. When they enter bloodied ground and decorations welcome them and a few of the last entering soldiers are seen as they start to fully spread into the city like a disease.

-Do you remember our plan?- The witcher asks with resolve in his voice. The girl in front of him turns and nods sharply. The woman on his right does the same. "Good. " without another comment the adults dismount the horses. Yen gives Pegasus’ reins over to Ciri for her to take care of him. They need to be on their feet to fight and with the princess on a horse she has better chances to escape if things get dire.

Everyone has determination in their eyes as Geralt unsheathes his steel sword with a satisfying shiiiiing of metal and Yennefer materialises a fireball in her hand with a whoosh.
They discussed their plan on their way here and are confident it will work if no big surprises await them here. Their priority number one: find Jaskier and take him with them. Then escape. Preferably without having to drain themselves of all their energy before all ends.

Trying to sneak around the twisting streets and foul smelling corners and dead bodies the witcher takes care of most of the soldiers. Yennefer being their way out of here and the compass to Jaskier is ordered to save her chaos for Fringilla or somehow incapacitating Jaskier. Which was proven to be possible in the forest, but ineffective.

She trails his powerful leftover aura and worries that it has become less harmonised. If Jaskier is to continue to gather more strength without stabilizing himself first things are going to get messy.

That’s the number one reason why crazy and dangerous witches and warlocks exist and roam the Continent. They get more and more power too quickly and it consumes them. And somehow the bard was able to resist the pull of much more chaos than the average would be capable. This has made Yennefer see him in a little bit different light.

Making sure that their bond is still taut between them the sorceress indicates in which direction she feels Jaskier. Not wanting to lose the trail they have to follow his footsteps quite closely. Each turn and sway has to be noted by the mage which makes their journey a lot longer than desired.

Geralt has to constantly fight off the leftover scraps of the army and sweat is gathering on his forehead. He pushes forward with grace and precision. He had it worse during some hunts after all, he can take it. Or so he tells himself and to his companions when they look at him.

His mind has been hazy since Jaskier forced him unconscious and the constant anxiety, anger and desperation keep his head underwater. A moment of clarity when they reunited with Ciri didn’t last for long and the familiar dance of battle drags his already abused body.

With it his mental capacity also suffers. He doesn’t know how he’s going to convince Jaskier to go with them or if it’s the best action but he can’t think of an alternative. The hidden emotions take over his mind as he kills another fool trying to kill him or injure one of his companions.

Honestly he just wants all of this to be over, but until they are safe in Kear Morhen he won’t let his guard down. He has to push harder to avoid a repeat of what happened in Malibor. The man on the outside truly looks like a killing machine. Even without potions to blacken his eyes his gaze strikes fear to those who see it as the last thing in their lives.

If only he had been more present in the moment to understand what they were doing when they were stepping into the main market square.

It’s filled with destroyed pieces of wood, dirty cobblestones and broken stands. In the corner of his catlike eyes he can distinguish some broken instruments, reminding him of the broken lute riding on Roach’s flank. It’s clear that this was meant to be the centre of the festivities.

It’s basically the middle of the city and many unseen cowering peasants are hiding in few places. Their rabbit like heartbeats the only sigh that they are here thanks to his witcher hearing. The stench of blood, piss and bile has already drenched the place as is the norm during an attack on a city.

Yennefer too focused on her task has also forgotten to look where she is leading them. She only shakes out of it when she sees a literal wall of soldiers coming their way with a very proud Fringilla walking in the front. The woman’s brown dress is pristinely clean in contrast to somewhat clean dark garment the sorceress has. It’s all due to the constant riding. And they have clearly dealt with the rest of the guards from Vizima.

She has too little time to get all of them to safety, but she has time to alarm Geralt of the situation.

-Geralt! We have a problem! Ciri run!- she shouts and turns to join the witcher as he pulls out his sword from a new corpse lying on the market. Hearing the warning he has enough time to curse and run in front of Roach with Yen by his side. He quickly scans other exits from the market and realises that they are fucked.

The soldiers have had to split up here as more and more of them can be seen marching in their direction from different exits. The city is probably already taken over and they are meeting here to gather up and storm the castle.

He is such a fool. He has lead all of them to an early grave. He needs to force Yennefer to run with Ciri and portal away while he kills the only person capable of going after them.

He also mentally apologises to Ciri and Jaskier because they won’t be able to get to he bard on time.

They are trapped too tightly.

And in this moment Fringilla Vigo can’t believe her eyes and her luck as she sees who appeared in the city she was destroying. Taking in the sight of a bloodied and dirty mutt and a disgrace of a sorceress she quickly puts all the pieces together and grins as she realises that the girl siting on the brown horse has to be the one they have secretly been searching for all this time.

-My, oh my… What did I do to deserve such a gift. Soldiers stop!- the hag’s order applies to all men that were marching into the market. Pegasus and Roach nervously back up to the middle with Ciri’s guidance while Geralt and Yennefer calculate their best plan.

The Nilfgaardian leader has a grin on her face as she and the duo understand the same thing at the same time. Unless a miracle happens there is no way that all three people will be left alive after the soldiers overtake them. Fringilla focuses on the sorceress that moved fate during the battle of the Sodden Hill.

-What the hell made you act like such a fool, Yen? You must have known what you were sighing up for when you entered the city with the mutant… - The raven witch has no comeback to voice as she gathers the chaos in the air and glances at her partner. They can do this.

-But let it be known that I’m a generous woman. Give me the princess, Yennefer of Vengerberg and I’ll spare your life and give a swift end to the dog next to you. I’ll even let you chose how you will serve the emperor from a preapproved list after you’re defeated. – The hag walks forward a few steps, not stupid enough to increase the danger. Just enough to distinguish herself from the crowd of men behind her. The white smile she shows has predator, smug and a bitch written all over it.

-And if I refuse? – not liking how their enemy is talking Yennefer tries to be as compact as possible with her dialogue.

-You die too, of course. In much bigger pain than a swift slash of a sword too. – Fringilla readies her chaos in her palm as she raises her hand on level with her chest. The soldiers now lining every edge of the previous market place turned festival stage tense up, ready to strike. Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri share one last look.

They know what is going to happen next.

-So… Do we have a deal then? – the black haired and green eyed sorceress focuses solely on the other woman. Refusing to acknowledge the witcher as a threat. It allows him to prepare to defend their backs.

-Fuck you, you’re just an emperor’s lapdog.– Yennefer shows her clear disgust at the person standing in front of her.

-Elegant as ever. – Fringilla’s face slightly grimaces.- Soldiers!... Get the girl! – with that single order all hell breaks loose. Shouts can be heard echoing from the buildings as the first wave of soldiers attacks and Vigo casts her first spell.

It misses due to Yen’s influence and Geralt has already killed 2 men trying to get to Ciri. The girl has lost control over Pegasus and his reins and now he is in full panic trying to get out of there.
The witcher and sorceress orbit Roach to protect the princess while trying to move to one of the streets; carving a way as they fight. If they just slip past they might be able to escape. If destiny allows they even might catch Jaskier by chance.

Of course destiny and fate are cruel sisters that do not let them go that easily. Yennefer and Fringilla are locked in a fierce battle of chaos, while Geralt fights at least 2 men at the same time. Ciri unintentionally supports them with her own powers but without focus it gives them no edge in the conflict. Nor any knowledge that she is doing anything other than telling of larger groups of soldiers attacking at once.

They were able to slightly move from the centre of the market when they started to slow down due to exhaustion. White Wolf’s armour had more cuts and slashes and his skin was slowly dyed with blood both from his enemies and his own wounds. Thankfully most from the enemies.

Yennefer was slowly losing her fight as not only did she have to focus on Fringilla she had to also push away some soldiers of her own. Her chaos that she was recovering throughout their journey was quickly being drained. As if she had a lot of it in the first place.

If they were to lose; which miserably was getting more and more probable; she would be able to only portal Ciri and Roach away. Not even too far for her to be safe the girl would be alone and defenceless and her two guardians dead by the hands of the hag of Nilfgaard.

The overmentioned princess from her better seeing position on the back of the horse also tried to help in the battle. She threw few daggers with precision and if the men didn’t fall outright they were easier to take care of for the adults. She wanted to do something but her training was too short and the stakes too high.

Thanks to her relative peace and focus on observation of the situation she could feel better the current of magic that was singing in the air. The city itself seemed irritated and angry. That wasn’t right… Ciri though for a second: where did she feel something similar?

The soldiers around them were slowly closing in. The two more active fighters on her side were clearly panting from exhaustion and sharply focused on their task of protection her. When they get out of here (and it’s a when not if, the girl promises to the world) she is going to make sure that their lives are the best as they can be. And is going to prove that saving her was worth the struggles and effort.

The same with Jaskier. She will make it clear that what they are doing is right even after they gain the perception from the future. And deal with the consequences.

Fringilla and Yennefer lock in a desperate tug of war, or more accurately push of war. Slamming their magic against their enemy they produce another shock of chaos to travel through the air. The raven sorceress seems to barely be able to force a stalemate. Their chaos spills in tangent and forces some of the soldiers to move away.

At the same time 5 soldiers dive to attack the famous White Wolf as he dodges their swings and decapitates two of them. One gets a lucky hit that luckily only damages his armour further. They start to believe that this is it. With no allays they will have to send Ciri away alone and terrified.

But then as if fate was playing with their emotions there are some additional shouts coming from one of the bigger streets. Additional smell of ozone flies into Geralt’s nostrils and familiar scents also start to float in the air. Ciri from her advantage point sees something that she might call a miracle.

A group of three people: a sorceress and two big warriors that remind her of her adoptive father, arrive at the scene. They start to kill Nilfgaardian soldiers in earnest as the two horses they brought with them join the almost forgotten and scared Pegasus on the edge of the fight. Without any preamble the two men join Geralt in his struggles and fortify the wall that separates Ciri from danger. The redhaired woman joins Yennefer with some message and helps with the magical stalemate. It seems like they know each other at least partially and the princess’s shoulders drop a tiny amount.
It looks like they aren’t alone after all. Now they just have to win. And get Jaskier preferably. He’s the reason why they decided to get into the city in the first place. It would be nice to succeed in their mission.

Fringilla looks at the new arrivals and is not impressed. If Azaela joins her their days are still numbered. “Where is that greedy girl?!” she thinks in her head. Being much more rested she has no problem with deflecting against two sorceresses.

More and more men join her in the fight on her side and more and more disorder joins them also. New opportunities and windows of weakness become available on both sides.

They don’t know it yet, but even if the situation looks bleak for our heroes and heroines the battle is not yet finished and a twist of fate will make them feel alive with the sound of music.

Chapter Text

Before any more fighting can be done let’s go back to the moment when Jaskier walks into the den of monsters that Vizima has turned into.

The bard walks into the city a few minutes after Nilfgaard was able to destroy the main gate and flood the streets with its soldiers. There are bodies and blood laying everywhere and the gore of the scene before him clashes with the fun, brightly coloured flags and posters advertising tomorrow’s planed festival. He sees that a merry band of musicians was supposed to sing and play on the main square for the whole night for people to enjoy. Now they are probably screaming their last notes on this plane of existence.

The men are killing left and right as Jaskier blends with the shadows and hides. He doesn’t want to waste his time with useless soldiers. He doesn’t justify his reasoning, knowing that it’s either his lack of confidence in his ability to defeat all of them or newfound arrogance- thinking they are beneath him to even matter.

Nilfgaard isn’t suspecting that a beast has entered behind them and is ready to kill their sorceresses. Nor that after another few minutes (due to Jaskier slow walk Geralt and company could catch up) the goal of their attack would be walking into the city as well and will get trapped in the middle of the forces returning to the centre of the city to reorganise their final push to win the city. All of the things that will happen in the next hour or so are really just a sequence of unfortunate events. For the empire at least.

The now more than ever mentally cracked musician is forcing with difficulty his powers to find Fringilla or the other lady- her right hand woman – Azalea. Due to his mind once again being confused they aren’t working as he wants them to. He instead of a specific target feels three sorceresses and is too angry at the world to think logically what that means. He goes to the nearest one and hopes he recognises the person to kill her justly or isn’t met with empty space.

Using thin alleyways to avoid unnecessary soldiers he is quick to find his prey. She’s a young looking woman with curled blond hair that flows freely over her brown cloak that hides the teal dress hidden within. The poor student of Vigo seeing Jaskier dressed in a beautiful and now flashy red apparel mistakes him for a wealthy merchant that tries to hide from them. So she is the one to start the conversation with quite the opening:

-Well, well, well if you think you can escape the Nilfgaardian army think again merchant. Don’t cause trouble and point me where your wealth is located. – the witch might be loyal to Fringilla but gold will always be in her second place of worship. She has her hand raised ready to strike with a confident pose.

-And why would I do that? I have no money to give you? – Jaskier tired of the attitudes of sorceresses says the lie with the most unemotional delivery as he can. The added tilt of his head as if the woman might be mad only makes Azalea angrier.

-Don’t lie to me! How would you afford to dress like that if you weren’t rich?- the clear frustration on the woman’s face is priceless.- Don’t try to rewrite reality with me; only the great sorceresses of Nilfgaard would be capable. And you are just a lousy man trying to deceive me. – She points a well-manicured nail at his chest.- Now where is the gold little merchant?– The woman stroking her own horn is too blinded by her greed to notice or even check that the man standing in front of her has more than enough power to destroy any witch. But her choice of words in an odd turn of events sparks some interest in the bard.

-Rewrite reality? Can you really do that or is it just another hyperbole mages like to use?- Jaskier is interested in what the illusion will say. Or maybe the real woman? After Ciri talking about the subject for so long he doesn’t know anymore. Again. Which only irritates him more.

Before this whole fiasco he was a confident musician traveling all around the continent and taking life by its horns. Nothing was too impossible for him and his witchery companion. If only he was with him now, what would he say or do? Walking straight into danger isn’t something his beloved would have done. He always had a good plan when hunting.

-Hahaha!...- the woman chuckles humourlessly, as if she was unable to comprehend that someone might challenge her words.- Of course we can. You’re not very wise, are you?- she puts her hand on her hip.- Any mage worth their salt can reshape reality into whatever version they want. It’s the whole idea of using chaos. To make any vision you have into the reality you live in. – she exclaims proudly puffing out her chest. The hand she was pointing at Jaskier was now used to comb through her hair.

The last sentence strikes new fire and inspiration in the bard’s soul.

To make any vision you have into the reality you live in.

Isn’t that a little too narcissistic? Anyone in some capacity can change the world. There’s no need for magic to do something meaningful. A skilled gardener can turn a mudded patch of land into a beautiful garden without it or trying too hard. Hell, he has changed his reality already when he went on being a bard instead of a viscount.

His ballads and storytelling were slowly changing the image the common people had about witchers. They aren’t worshiped (yet) or generally liked but were more accepted and that’s much better than active hate. As he went on traveling with Geralt the less he heard about people trying to wiggle out of paying the White Wolf for a job well done.

To make any vision you have into the reality you live in.

But Jaskier isn’t a normal bard now, or before really… He was always setting the rules of his life and even before he was kidnapped and tortured nobody could tell him otherwise. He was the one writing the story, not only when he had all the power like at the beginning of this weird journey. He was the person setting trends and was always being true to his person.

With the exception of his feeling about his witcher but as the wiser professors say: an outliner only proves the rule. And that has also changed. He now thrives with the knowledge that he loves the White Wolf instead of getting flustered and bottling up his feelings. Jaskier has become the ship, captain and wind of this fantasy.

To make ANY vision you have into the reality YOU LIVE IN!

So why the fuck should he be having such problems with making this, clearly his fantasy into reality!

The witch might be a bitch but this statement rings true for him. This is his present vision and his story. With the power he has here he can just use his mind to accept this reality as his own.
The place where he is powerful can become his home. The place where Geralt breathed his name like a melody can be real. He just has to choose it.

Gods damn the witch that might still be torturing him inside his head if that’s the truth. He’s going to enjoy this instead of getting stronger migraines. And if it’s reality just as Ciri has tried to prove than he doesn’t have to wonder how he got the power. He has it and he will use it as he wishes. Then he can stop being a whinny and dramatic ass and finally be of use to his beloved. Or even stop doubting his place in the world. He is the Witcher’s Bard named Jaskier, previous Julian Pankratz, the next Viscount de Lettenhove and now a powerful enough person to push against what the world thrusts upon him.

He will finish his guest and bring his dream to life. His song and music shall change the world more firmly. Starting with the second to last victim he has planned.

With a maniac grin the musician moves his body and eyes quickly and in bursts of movement to look at the filthy alleyway they stand in and by making a full turn he looks back at the witch. He sees it in a new light. This shall be his new dimension. He is laughing under his breath and his chest is rapidly getting lower and higher as his laughter moves through his body.

-You know what, witch? You’re right.- he finally stares at the woman.- I can make this into the world I want. Starting with erasing YOU! – The bard cackles as he reaches for his silver dagger and lunges at the woman. She, not suspecting that he might be a danger startles for a second too late. The blade sinks into her heart through her corset and she coughs blood onto the musicians face. He is almost hugging the witch. With his hands presses into her chest and rest of his body pushing her to the nearest wall.

-You… will… pay…- Azalea tries to summon her chaos but instead of aiding her it slips out into the bard’s body. She sags a little as last slithers of her power and knowledge transfer to Jaskier. A relatively mediocre wave of power slips during this event. He removes the blade from her body and leaves her to bleed out onto the dirt. He feels the most certain and clear minded that he has ever been after being abducted.

He feels the witch’s chaos run along his veins through his arm and to his neck. There it creates the fourth line connected with the rest in the pattern that has been set at the beginning of this journey.
But unlike during the previous takings of magic the line isn’t black. As it appears it is drawn in white and as it connects with the clef and the rest of its siblings all turn white, as if infected from the new addition.

With a calm and collected mind Jaskier is finally able to analyse what the hell happened with Void during the first time he took a witch’s power. He flashes back in his memories.

He remembers the hunger that was emanating from the new-born type of curse. He feels the bird-songs still fly about in his head. And the gaze of a pair of wolf amber eyes that watches over his garden. Protecting it.

The musician at last understands the curse and gift he got during that night and knows what he will do now. One skilled sorceress can summon and barely control a djinn to change reality with a wish. He has more than enough chaos to wish for anything. But not yet.

He feels the lines pulse on his neck. Jaskier hears their message and plea. The unfinished musical notation needs to be completed before he writes down any new notes. Notes that will need to be written so his vision may take shape.

He has the last part almost ready to sacrifice, but he suddenly remembers the many stories he read and was told when a wrong wish said to a djinn spelled doom instead of salvation.

His own father has taught him during peaceful evenings the rules people made to interact with such creatures, specifically fae of all others. Do not give them your true name; do not anger them; do not be a rude guest or conversationist with them; overall be cunning at all times. And since they also sometimes grant wishes the rules of doing just that have also been told to him.

Jaskier doesn’t exactly know why he remembers his father’s tales of all things at the moment, but by living with such power for almost a month at this point he flows with what it shows him. He will finish the ritual that has been started with his curse. The bard will have a happy ever after just like all the beloved fairy tales told throughout the Continent.

Whatever happens Julian Alfred Pankratz will reunite with his love and the rest of his friends. Yennefer can join too for all he cares if that is what Geralt and Ciri will wish. He always though while traveling that he will die alone and without family by his side since he abandoned his. But now he knows that the White Wolf and the Cintran Princess are his new family and he won’t let anything bad happen to them ever again. His heart was beating with his love for them long enough.

With a shaky exhale Jaskier allows his magic to guide his fingers in a hummed spell and he effortlessly locates his beloved. Frowning a little he bids the chaos and harmony that clash within his body to investigate further and his heart stops for a beat when he hears and feels what is happening in the market square.

The musician can taste the smugness rolling of Fringilla and he won’t have that. With a hint of anger on his face he steadies himself.

His life, his story, his victory.

He will have what he wants and has the means to do so. Fringilla Vigo is no problem for him and her defeat will be his greatest show to date.

With a grin he uses his magic to once again blend with the shadows and starts to move quickly to his destination.

He sees the chaos of battle and feels his unconscious whisper something in his ear. There are more friendly people he can recognise fighting alongside his beloved and Yennefer. There is dust and dirt flying everywhere for some reason and he can’t see clearly.

Fringilla shouts something as the air clears and all fighting for Ciri gather together, closer to her as if checking if she is still there. Soldiers retreat the tiniest bit. The hag is holding Geralt by his white hair with a hand pulsating with chaos at his neck.

Jaskier doesn’t hear whatever she is saying next and rushes in to take over the centre stage in time. How dare that hag! This victory of his will go down in history, he’ll make sure of it.

Chapter Text

The medic and two witchers fight through a few more lines of men to see Geralt fighting the soldiers singlehandedly and looking very worse for wear while Yennefer deflects Fringilla’s attacks alongside him.

Without any need for orders the wolfs join their brother in the melee fight as the second friendly sorceress rushes to Yen’s side to help with Fringilla’s blasts. They are also thanking the Gods, because between the two powerful warriors on a brown mare sits a girl looking out for them from her advantage point.

That’s why she’s first to see them approaching and alarms her guardians. The White Wolf and Sorceress of Vengerberg in turn thank the goddess that somehow some familiar faces are surprisingly here to help them in time of need.

-Need some help, oh powerful sorceress of the Sodden Hill? – Triss even in such horrible situation can’t stop her smile from forming on her face. She has to call Yen something in a cheeky fashion or she might start crying due to seeing her alive and (kind of) well. And reminding herself of the power of the woman next to her seems like a good idea. She uses her chaos to dispel Fringilla’s attack.

-Shut it. We need to get out of their grasp and find somebody in the city. He used to be a bard, and now is very powerful and confused. And dangerous. – Yennefer quickly explains just loud enough so only the medic hears her words. She dodges Fringilla’s attack and with Triss they throw one of their own. The sorceress in black continues:

-Then we pull all the chaos we will have left and portal as far as we can go. With you we might be able to do that easier with another sorceress.- Yennefer didn’t notice in the chaos of the battle that her friend (which she is very much more than happy to see, and she is not sure why) didn’t arrive alone to help. And more people and more horses means more chaos needed to transport them safely.

-Well, about that portal being easier to cast. Do you think we will be able to transport 3 men, 1 girl, 4 horses and us safely and far enough when we use our remaining strength to wi-iiN!!- The redhead shrieks as a soldier tries to swing his sword into her arm. Before she shocks him Lambert is already removing his steel sword from the man’s back. “Watch out for the crazier ones” is thrown over his shoulder as he continues to fight to free a passage away from the market square.

Geralt stares for just a second at his newly arrived brothers helping him, which costs him a small slice into his shoulder. One pirouette later the offender is on the dirt dead next to the others.
As the fight continues the amount of bodies loitering the market increases but the group has been surrounded and had to create a circle protecting the princess. Pegasus has also run away in the meantime and only Roach still stands in the middle. The two other horses also kick and run on the outer ring of the fight. Nilfgaardian soldiers seem to be endless. And Fringilla starts to suspect that her student won’t be joining her. The burst of chaos she felt a second before must have been the girl’s last dying spell. Useless brat!

The three witchers and two sorceresses are starting to tire out. Their formation is still somewhat standing but Fringilla starts to back off from the frontlines at cast her spells at a distance as her men attack directly.

She summons the dirt and dust at their feet to float in the air as a cover.

She ducks unnoticed in the direction of the mutant. She feels him before she sees the man, but it’s no matter.

Using chaos Fringilla casts another spell to drain the remnants of Geralt’s energy and will to fight.

The witcher disoriented by the shouts and dust suddenly feels even heavier, weighed down by another wave of exhaustion. His medallion shakes even harder on his chest plate.

Then a magical pulse makes him take a knee to the ground and he uses his sword as a crutch to not fall on his face.

Before he can realise what is happening a cold hand grabs a handful of his dirty white hair and forces his head upwards to the sky. He tries to reach it and break the person’s fingers but Geralt can also feel who got him and what is held too close to his throat.

Fringilla’s hand pulses with evil intent to decapitate the mutant as she grins at him by her feet.

She takes a breath and using her chaos ends the spell that created the dust screen and makes sure everyone can hear her in the noise.

-Everyone stop, or the White Wolf loses his head!!!- her order and warning is hear crystal clear as the dust settles and reveals Geralt kneeling and wincing as the hag forces him to back away in a crouched shuffle from the group and Ciri with Fringilla panting and smiling in triumph.

All others can do nothing but stare. The witcher’s sword is pushed away with another push of chaos and is left defenceless. Purple light emanates from Vigo’s hand at his neck and highlights a line on it where if she was to cast the spell Geralt’s head would be separated from his body.

-Give… me… the princess…. Yennefer!- she bellows at the (in her eyes) pathetic group of mutants and disgraces that do not know what to do. They know that if any of them moves the White Wolf will be no more.

Even her own soldiers back away from her shouting and the horses quiet down to not be noticed. Everything is quiet, too quiet for a few heartbeats in the market.

Seeing as no one is getting the girl to her Fringilla clenches her teeth and through them hisses out her comment.

-Fine then! He dies and then the next and the next! I WILL GET THE GIRL! – she announces proudly and raises her hand. If she is allowed to lower it all the way to Geralt’s neck his fate is sealed.

In the few seconds the actions of one Fringilla Vigo would be completed almost everyone that was standing near Ciri has sprung to save their friend and/or brother. Unfortunately they all know they aren’t fast enough to do anything that might help. And as a result jump with terror on their faces.

It would take one second for the hag to lower her hand and a little bit more for any of their reactions to reach the duo due to the distance.

When the witcher’s fate seems sealed and the world quiets down around them Geralt hears something that forces his eyes wide open.

Something he thought he would have to seemingly hate (in good humour of course) for the remainder of his carrier.

A reminder of the bard that he saved in Posada and attached himself to help him with his reputation as thanks.

The very same bard they are searching for and the very same man he grow fond of.

 

Get

your

hands off

MY WITCHER,

oh hag from Nilfgaard,
oh hag from Nilfgaard, whoa-oh!!!

(In rhythm of “Toss a coin to your witcher’s” - lyrics)

 

With a noise akin to a battle cry Jaskier’s voice, chaos and harmony force Fringilla to fly backwards away from the White Wolf along with all the other soldiers. She tries to keep her balance after being pushed good 20 feet away from the witcher across the empty marketplace. And almost fails to do so.

Even the allies have to take a step back due to the sheer amount of power being realised. Everyone gathered looks in the direction the near alleyway and sees the newcomer entering the soon-to-be his new stage.

Walking with the confidence of a dragon and gaze as deadly as a wraith the bard is glaring at everyone on Nilfgaard’s side. He turns his head left and right as if admiring the views of the market plaza and remains of the central stage that had been set up for the festival.

Seeing that everybody he cares about is still alive and breathing he wal- no he sashays to his beloved, who is still kneeing on the ground and panting from the magically caused exhaustion.

When he reaches Geralt, Jaskier takes his chin in his fingers and lifts it up.

He gazes into the most mesmerising amber eyes he has seen in his life, before or after this moment, and cups the cheek with great care and devotion pouring out of him.

Everyone, Nilfgaard and not stands stunned for the moment in awe or confusion or both due to the arrival of somebody that was able to stop Fringilla in her tracks along with the battle in mere seconds.

Yennefer and Ciri are also paralysed since they weren’t expecting to see Jaskier help them right now. Or with such stable seeming appearance and aura. Another puzzle from the bard.

Due to the chaos of battle they simply haven’t noticed the power walking in their direction.

Everything focuses on the man dressed in magnificent red doublet; some tight leather pants and on his next move.

-Missed me?- he asks softly his other half. Jaskier the Witcher’s Bard, Viscount de Lettenhove and Cintra’s favourite royal singer is back in action!

-Jaskier…- is the reply that melts his heart. His name as if a prayer said by the only worshiper he needs. Geralt sees his chance and finally says what he wanted to shout at Jaskier since he descended the dragon mountains; feeling like he is fighting the whole world to say the next two words due to the exhaustion caused by all of his energy being drained:

- I’m sorry…- he looks into the sapphire eyes and begs with his own amber ones to be understood and forgiven. To be allowed another chance at being Jaskier’s friend at least.

The bard didn’t even need to see the sorrow hidden behind them. He forgave when he turned his back to descend the mountain all these weeks ago.

A small stray tear goes down to his fingers that still hold his beloved’s face. He wipes it away and nods as a sight that he accepts the apology. They still need to talk things out but now is barely the moment.

He offers his hand and the witcher takes it and gets up to stagger once and have to stand supported by his heart. They are finally together. And all is well… almost.

-Who.. The FUCK… are YOU?!!!- The now enraged hag targets her question at the new participant of the battle. She feels his power but is in too deep to run away or ask more… intelligent questions.

- Julian Alfred Pankratz, more commonly known as Jaskier, the Witcher’s Bard. It’s a displeasure to meet you, Fringilla Vigo, hag of Nilfgaard. – the musician answers with true confidence. He glances at the people still protecting the princess and sees that his lute, without it’s strings is still present among the faces of people he remembers or is now deducing the identities of.

He sees the wolf brothers’ faces filling with understanding as they connect the person who sent them letters to go get Geralt with the bard that was traveling with their brother for so long and that they heard so much about.

And he notices Ciri’s exhale that rids her of worry and doubt about his choice to remain, and he sees Triss’s smirk at Yen who still has a little bit of suspicion and surprise on hers. With a little bit of a gaping mouth, which he takes as the highest reward. Just after being reunited no doubt.

He looks back quickly at the hag and adds as if a footnote, still holding onto Geralt:

-Oh, and I’m the one who killed or cursed your students and is now going to kill you.- With his usual smile Jaskier’s hastily spoken message is definitely received as very creepy by all in attendance.
Fringilla is not impressed thou and glares daggers at them all.

The bard using body language and literal pushing urges his beloved to join the rest. He hesitates but Jaskier whispers: “Go rest with them, I’ve got this.” into his ear.

Geralt doesn’t understand or want to do so, and as such Jaskier pushes him in the right direction and turns his back on the confused and worried witcher. He has to be supported by Eskel to not fall again.

The musician gets ready for the greatest show in his life.

Fringilla Vigo not wanting to be seen as weak and not believing her ears scoffs at the “reveal”.

-And I’m supposed to believe that? Even if, I’m stronger than my students and I- - the hag tries to keep her composure. And is failing dramatically.

- AnD I wOn’T bE AblE to DefEaTe YoU!~ Blah blah blah, shut up!~ - Jaskier interrupts her mockingly.

He feels the instruments broken and tossed around the area beginning to answer his call. He doesn’t need curses made from chaos or spells weaved from anything other than his talent. Music and poetry were his main weapons before and shall also be now, during his battle.

– You and I do not see eye to eye on that opinion sadly. But let me tell you this: you are not leaving this city alive and we are getting out of here alive and well. Capiche? – He clears his throat in rising scales, ending his message like a child.

His white tattoo glows on his neck.

Fringilla shouts with anger and thrusts a fireball his way. With a sharp hum Jaskier redirects it into the surrounding soldiers. They move back even further.

A broken violin twitches in a corner to only be heard by the witchers in attendance.

The bard lifts an eyebrow mockingly.

He tuts at the spell and pulls out his dagger, holding it like a baton.

The hag scoffs at that thinking that the man in front of her doesn’t even know how to wield a weapon.

She tries for another attack with lightning but it is also rendered useless with just the flick of Jaskier’s wrist.

Dust and debris fly off from where the electricity hits the ground.

A harp pitifully pangs under some rubble, some soldier close to it reacts by jumping from surprise.

Yennefer relaxes from her tensed ready position. She knows that nothing they will try to do now can change the outcome. The beast before her clearly has a plan and is stable enough to complete it. Yet still conscious of their surroundings and dangers she starts to watch the show.

The rest of the group feeling the change in energy and power follow suite. Still ready to fight at any second undoubtedly, but they too observe the fall of Fringilla Vigo.

Geralt watches ready to help in some improbable case Jaskier will need his help. Anything to help and be redeemed.

Ciri is just happy to see the bard and her friend again after a such dramatic split.

Unimpressed with the hag Jaskier sings the solfege (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-di-do) in a deeper tone and looks at his lute.

Two pieces of a flute wiggle from their position- stuck in the ground and pointing to the sky.

Vigo attacks thinking that she found an opportunity and is angered when her spell is blocked by the newly casted solfege barrier. Jaskier hums, asking the instrument of his choice to come to him.

The elven lute unties itself from Roach’s flank and swiftly flies over to her master levitating in the air at a hands reach.

A busted hurdy-gurdy is uncovered on his right. The handle tries to rotate but is jammed in place.

Jaskier in turn looks at his baton one last time with an odd look before rhyming in a whisper:

 

Double, double, toil and trouble,
fire burn and silver bubble.
cool the new form with a look,
the new strings made pure and good.

(Witches’ chanting - Macbeth)

 

The metal liquefies in his hand; the whole dagger destroyed in a blink of an eye. He takes the product in his fingers and as if clawing at his instrument new and perfectly made strings of silver attach to the lute.

They are perfectly tuned for his performance.

Yet he doesn’t take it in hand knowing that he needs the manoeuvrability to orchestrate the arriving instrumental orchestra.

Looking at the group of people he will soon be able to call family he finally faces his last obstacle.

Fringilla is pissed and looks more like a caged animal pacing back and forth on the other side of the barrier.

She doesn’t understand how or why the man is stopping her but it’s no matter. Vigo always wins. For the emperor and herself.

Jaskier clears his throat to get everyone’s attention.

-I have never played this song before so please be gentle with your comments. This is something I call: “The fall of the hag”- With a predatory grin The Musician moves his hands as if he was a conductor on a grand stage.

Nothing seems to happen for a heartbeat, but then a screech of a violin is heard as it flies over to join the lute. They start to circle the bard as the once broken instrument is also repaired, and stray notes fill the space.

They position themselves in front of Jaskier, between him; his group and the hag.

Then a horseshoe shaped brass thingy slings itself into the mix like a sling from a crossbow used for a hunt. A beautiful harp releases few pretty notes in the next moment in its place. Some pattern is starting to be heard as the instruments tune themselves, urged by their master.

The soldiers, the hag and even people behind Jaskier are getting more and more confused. With one exception.

Ciri suddenly remembers the one time Jaskier was asked to conduct the royal orchestra for one of his visits and starts to fidget in anticipation. It was one of the bast sounding concerts she has heard in her life.

And this is going to be good just as good or even better.

Finally at the same time the flute and hurdy-gurdy unbury from the ground and with the last of stray notes are fixed and join the others.

Five musical instruments in total float around Jaskier, begging to start the concert. It is a little bit strange group of tools but they will work well enough.

-Harmonise my lovelies.- Jaskier asks them. With the guide of his voice they repeat the notes flawlessly until a harmonious melody is heard. Surprisingly sounds that don’t belong to any of the instruments present can be heard, as if a whole army of them was present instead.

-Let the music begin!- Jaskier releases the music that was boiling inside of him from the moment of his birth. Mastered by his years at the university in Oxenfurt and later at many taverns and market squares. And only strengthened by him finding his life’s muse. A thing of legend.

A quick, yet serious music fills the air and the whole city of Vizima. The Witcher’s Bard’s concert has begun.

Toss a coin to your Witcher, Her Sweet Kiss, The Stars Above The Path, The Ballad Of The Lion Club Of Cintra, The Eternal Fire and You Think You're Safe somehow are sung and played at the same time in a great cacophony.

At first.

The first wave of the lyrics pushes a huge amount of chaos and power in all directions from the bard.

As if a scream similar to one of Ciri’s or Pevetta’s at her betrothal feast it shatters the barrier he himself created and throws his enemies back.

Fringilla has thrown her hands in front of herself to protect her person, but the rest of her men aren’t as lucky.

Sounds of braking bones, skulls and spines are covered by the chaotic music.

One song overpowers it’s siblings for a few seconds and voices of the witches that Jaskier cursed or killed can be heard singing along. Each has its song, but The Toss is still sung by the bard at this time.

The song on top changes first at random, but then everything becomes more organised.

Instead of a battle for dominance the music seamlessly transforms from one into the other.

They find their rhythm.

Vigo fully understanding now that she is severely outclassed and does not know what to do decides to cast a more powerful and hopefully effective spell. She starts her chanting once again:

-Elementa et vires naturae meum videte vocationem et auxilium meum est propositum. (The elements and forces of nature heed my call and aid my goal.) Eleme… - suddenly all music stops alongside her speech. A gasp leaving her lungs with something else alongside it.

A widely grinning Jaskier stands in the centre watched by all present. His murderous gaze lingering on his prize.

Or prizes actually.

A wisp of light crawls out of Fringilla’s throat illuminating it from the inside.

It gets out of the moist cavern and flies over to the one who will be using it now.

With it she can feel the pain of having her chaos leave her body but is unable to scream her anguish. Her face contorted in agony.

The bard extends his hand and beacons the light to him. The voice of the witch now belongs to him, and him alone.

Just like the power she wielded few minutes ago trying to use it to kill his beloved.

-Sorry dear hag, but no interrupting the concert’s intro.- With a predatory look he observes it for a second absorbing most of the power. He tosses it up, up and higher until it flickers and a ghostly apparition of Vigo appears in the sky.

As his head angles upwards the ones who are watching him instead of the ball of light see as the final white line appears on his neck.

The ritual is finished, and it’s going to be the time to reap his rewards.

-But I needed a choir, so thank you for volunteering.- the other witches he defeated now can be seen floating in a colourful line. From an angry red to a gloomy violet they make a good stand-in for a rainbow he muses.

Each floats to an instrument.

Antira gets the “honour” of handling the lute.

Amara floats sitting with the harp in her lap.

Trefolia has the flute glued to her lips as Petunia is seated with the violin.

Azalea has the “pleasure” of operating the hurdy-gurdy.

And Vigo’s image is left without an additional tool as her stolen voice will have to do.

They circle the bard with their backs pointing at him with blank faces. Fringilla is kneeling on the ground outside the circle with the whole group of his friends inside, safe and protected.

The soldiers mostly laying or groaning unconscious or dead.

With a move of his wrist and arm new melodies with addition of lyrics fill the air.

 

I see a little silhouetto of a hag,
Begins Jaskier.

Scaramouch, Scaramouch, will you do the Fandango?!
Vigo’s voice answers.

 

Thunderbolts and lightning, very, very frightening you!
The rest of the hags that can sing join in.

 

Malitele, Malitele
Malitele, Malitele
Malitele, Figaro – magnificooo!!!

The bard screams at the sky, while controlling the music with his hand movements.

You’re just a poor bitch nobody loves you.
A hand pointing directly at the kneeling Fringilla.

She's just a poor bitch from Nilfgaard county,
Spare her hers life from this monstrosity!

Antira begs pathetically.

Easy come, easy go, will I let you go?
Bismillah! No, I will not let you go!

Is the bard’s response.

(Let her go!) Bismillah! I will not let you go
(Let her go) (Never) let you go (Let her go) Ah!
No, no, no, no, no, no!

The argument passes from witch to the next as Jaskier spins and points at each only to deny the request.

Oh Malitele, Malitele, Malitele, let us go.
The gaze dreamy directed at his family.

Beelzebub has a devil put aside for you, for you,
For youuUUU!!!

The music picks up as he points a finger at the physical Vigo.

So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye!
So you think you can torture and leave me to die!
Oh, you hag! Can't do this to me, you hag,
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta there!!

The tattoo on Jaskier’s neck changes to match the situation.

Notes that are sung and played appear and travel around only to disappear on the other end. He closes his eyes and lets the creation consume him.

Vigo chokes on her own foaming spit as the last note is played.

Then without a stop the harmonic chaos of numerous songs being played at once is heard. All were written by Jaskier and all fill the space.

Wind and magic swirl and create a tornado that makes the man untouchable. The only group left standing around Roach has to shield their eyes and faces and brace from the forces.

-Jaskier!...- only Geralt has the instinct to call out in such bizarre situation. The people around him stunned can only watch in an array of emotions as each witch dissolves and the fogs of their apparitions swirl with the air or join on Jaskier’s back. They spread out in four directions shaped like some kind of insect wings.

Then the musician’s eyes open to reveal a brilliant blue colour radiating from inside them as he looks at the source of the voice that called out.

Something is not right.

And they can’t do anything but watch.

Chapter Text

Jaskier’s eyes lock onto Geralt’s with their empty gaze. The music and colours dance in the air as the group of lone wolves is left alone; as a unit after the first act of his performance. No Nilfgaardian soldier or witch left to oppose them. Just him and his talent…

Only the musician remains as the sole source of discomfort and possible danger. His head turned to the side like a bird or a curious cat moves separate from his body. Slow and heavy rotations compared to the twitchy and seizure-like bursts of energy to his limbs clad in a red ensemble, only made more beautiful thanks to the shimmering lightshow present on his back.

Wide and narrow arcs of his hands have turns imitating previous gestures that controlled the sounds of the floating instruments. They in turn now circle the man instead, and it more looks like they are the ones pulling Jaskier’s strings; not the other way around.

The arms and legs try to dance but they go too far in the desired directions and have to snap back into more comfortable positions only to change the layout abruptly again. Otherwise the appendages would dislocate from their joints and bring pain that would end the performance. Which doesn’t look too comfortable or artistic.

The bard once again seems to be in his own world; this time fully of his making. A grin and expression very well known to the White Wolf. He has seen it in almost all situations, across different periods of their relationship. The face of inspiration, triumph and confidence is plastered on his beloved’s face.

It was present when they were walking away from Posada and while leaving Paveta’s betrothal feast.

What usually followed was either an another great piece of music or a very heartfelt talk with his bard. Sometimes he would say something so poetic and well meant that it changed the witcher’s views a little. Or Geralt would open up in turn and a radiant smile would grace his bard’s lips.

They grew closer together thanks to that smile and the Witcher wants it to always be present on Jaskier’s face. To become so in tune with his bard to never need for any other expression to be present when they gaze at each other.

But the one that can be seen now is forced, that is clear even to the now struggling to stand White Wolf. His vision is getting a little bit hazy as the music twirling around them doesn’t stop. A constant buzz and murmur no longer giving comfort or joy.

The three wolf medallions are constantly vibrating and their movement only becomes stronger.

The three ladies present can more easily physically feel the charged magic in the air. Jaskier is charging something which no one has seen, experienced, or read about.

It a weird phenomenon for the 5 seasoned professionals that deal with the weird, magical and supernatural to not at least have a grasp of what might be happening right now. A secret held so close in the dark that only a select group would have any idea.

They feel as if the battle has drained them and from them. From all of their leftover energy and now they can’t do anything to stop the spectacle.

Eskel and Lambert try to hold up Geralt but they are ready to collapse any second. Yennefer and Triss stand on their own but clutch their arms as if freezing cold enveloped the area. Tight fists wrapped around their arms to stop the shaking from the sheer strain of standing up. And fear.

The only one seemingly fine is Ciri, who sits on top of Roach and has a mesmerized look in her eyes. What Jaskier did was very impressive and amazing to watch. But now, not so much.

The music changes tune and pushes the power outside of the circle that it created. Up and up the colours swirl and a resulting tornado of power and musical notes takes centre stage. With the creator in the storm’s eye it picks up some dust and rumble from the ground and throws it from place to place.

This is too much for our heroes and they all use their arms to cover their faces. Geralt is let onto his knees only to be supported on his just returned blade and look through his fingers at Jaskier’s shenanigans.

With the last of their strength they try to bring the bard back from his trance.

Geralt’s shout of “Jaskier!” comes first and doesn’t even make the man look at him again. Next goes Ciri with the same result.

Lambert tries too, with a curse and a threat but the musician is not listening.

Nor does Eskel’s plea or Yen’s demand make any progress.

Jaskier is under a trance so strong that it needs to play it’s course first for anything to change. In the meantime the tornado of sound makes more and more things fly.

With hair pushed in all directions, a grin so wide and eyes glowing with so much power the Bard reaps the consequence of finishing the ritual.

Evolving into something he wasn’t originally meant to be, but yet still caried the possibility of becoming from his childhood and peculiar parentage. The rumours were somewhat true in this regard about his family.

The tattoo’s bars grow and spread onto the higher and lover areas of his neck; slowly. Each filled with new notes, new notions and ideas for another songs.

But from Jaskier’s perspective things are very different and much weirder and yet… familiar.

 

-~~~***~~~-

 

A white void resembling the previous darkness is filled with sensation as his birds of music fly through the sky. The garden that he now remembers to be the one from his childhood afternoons is surprisingly filled with wildflowers, instead of carefully selected and more grand specimens. No tiger lilies or red roses greet him as he appears from thin air.

In a bed of especially soft looking varieties of what most would call weeds a white wolf sleeps, which only brings joy and warmth to the bard. It’s his protector that banished The Void from this place at his time of need. The representation of his muse and beloved.

Then just as the garden ends in the white space a door can be seen. It has not been here before and Jaskier has an intense need to go into the room behind it. He quickly runs up to the door in question and turns the handle.

He does not know what is happening, but his mind and body are running on instinct. He has to do what needs to be done. What runs through his veins with his blood, however dormant it was previously helps him decide.

A very familiar and comfy looking study comes into his view as he opens the heavy and heavily decorated, mahogany door.

Bookshelves after bookshelves are filled in the limited space making it quite cramped for a study, but that is the preferred way in which its usual occupant preferred it to function.

Rows after rows of books and scrolls; manuscripts and leaflets; ink quills and ink wells, ink stamps and wax seals; all grand looking and well organised with a touch of chaos for flavour fill the space with an interesting aroma that only brings more comfort to Jaskier.

In the only corner not complete overrun by literature; partially and just enough, a comfortable and plush armchair sits with a small table on the side.

Wax drippings from countless candles that sat on top showing how much reading was done in this specific place at night. A beige odourless wax light stands in the only place where it will fit among the residue, a circular indent showing where its predecessors also stood. The candle now still as natural light from a small curved window from above shines golden on the scene.

A lean and familiar figure sits in the armchair, nose buried in a book.

His clothes the best quality silk of all that can be obtained in the area. They colour the man in the shade of the sky as many different sewn on details glimmer in the light and show off his well earned wealth. The colours of his family which the bard once wore with pride. Skin fair and brown hair can be seen in addition to his focused blue eyes.

Jaskier comes closer to the viscount now known to most as the wise ruler of the Lettenhove county: Folke the Genius Minded. The one whose predecessors were the people who stabilised the region, a tradition still carried out by him to this day. Without him it can become quite hectic and barbaric.

To the musician simply known as: papa.

Or Dad.

Or daddy mischief when he was younger and his parental figure used the fact as an excuse to be a little bit more relaxed with his duties. Usually in the form of fun-for-all tricks on his own staff and family.

Honestly until there was more or less serious business to attend to the man was just as much a child as was Jaskier when they still played together with the rest of his closest family.

He takes another step and the soft creak of the floorboards announces his arrival and presence. Folke raises his head in alarm, but it morphs into simple confusion as he sees the guest.

-Julian?... what… are you doing here?? – he squints his eyes and rolls his head to the side, trying to figure out something. - And how did… why are you… Oh no…- The man with few wrinkles on his forehead and light crow’s feet rises from his chair. Or more accurately jumps from it, as if struck by lightning; eyebrows lifted to the heavens.

He lands precisely in front of Jaskier and his expression relaxes a little after he touches his son’s arm.

-Phew… still alive, thank the Goddess.- he lowers his head for a second to steady his nerves and looks up at our bard with a pointedly raised eyebrow.

- So sonny… mind telling me how the this is happening, hmmm?... It’s not that I’m not glad to see you after our last… talk, buuuuuutt from what I was lead to believe you were not, let’s say… connected to our families magic. Like at all. – Folke’s eyeballs almost leave his eye sockets as he speaks and the gentle touch turns a little more stronger grip. The same expression he had when Jaskier didn’t want to tell the whole truth after some accident. And his father wanted to know all the details to either laugh or fit the punishment better.

A little mad looking from Jaskier’s perspective at the moment, but who’s he to judge.

Also this explains like nothing to him.

-Umm… what do you mean dad?... I thought that this is happening in my head… Because I was… what was I?... Oh right the concert! – The bard tries to understand the situation as best as he can. His head and mind a little slow at the moment. Remembering the last actions while still conscious he still can’t phantom why he is now seeing his father.

An older looking father but most certainly his judging by his actions and mannerisms.

-The concert? I heard you were successful but what does it have with you finding your ancestral calling an- OWW! – Folke shakes his hand from his son’s arm and shakes his head.

– Right, the explanations should have been said years ago. What is that you wish for Julian? What is your desire? Your wish? – He asks looking straight into Jaskier’s eyes.

-Wha? Dad, what the hell? This is such a weird dream… - he can’t believe his ears or eyes. Did he fell unconscious after defeating Fringilla? What wish, is his father a djinn or something?

The man in question grasps his own hand with a hiss. A static energy can be seen collecting on his skin. He looks sombre and as if he was regretting his past life choices.

-I’m sorry Julian, but there is NO TIME. You must desire something, anything. Just say it and the magic of this universe through me will make it happen. Please, I’m literally in pain due to the power that is being given to me. – He says through gritted teeth just like when he had a really bad flu and wanted to be strong for his children. He goes up and down on his toes with his lips sucked inside. A very curious expression, the legacy of the family.

Whatever I want? Huh… Why not. I already wanted to use the power to change the world, so what’s the difference. Thinks Jaskier, not knowing that this is THE Wish he thought he was getting for completing the ritual and his evolution.

-Ok, Dad… Whatever you say. This is one of the weirdest things I experienced, I swear.- Jaskier mutters under his breath and leans closer to his hunched over father due to his painfully looking arm. Close to his ear so he may listen fully without the bard having to say his desire too loud.

-Ooo, Julian. This is no dream. When you go back you will understand.- Folke says with the authority and confidence of someone with a lot of experience. If only he knew the whole story of how this is happening. What emotions would show on his face then.

– When you wake and the wish takes its effect visit me and your mother, alright? We will be able to explain more then. – He places a kiss to Jaskier’s temple. – What is your wish, oh mature son of mine? – He asks with an air of finality and sadness. He has no guarantee that he will see his son again.

Jaskier exhales and whispers it with slight stuttering, only to be surprised when his dad chuckles after he finishes and says: “But this is real Julian. This moment and whatever is happening outside our heads. No need for me to try to make something real when it already is. What else do you wish for my child?”. This Jaskier did not suspect at all.

He guesses that Ciri was telling the truth.

He has to think of another wish on the spot. And so without time to think about his next request he tells it in a more rushed tone. This time he and his father separate and a wide smile appears before him.

-I knew you would pass the test. As the sacred tradition dictates: What’s your wish is my command- may it happen and be done! – Folke shouts into the universe and claps his hands above his head. A wave of magic erupts from them after they meet in the middle.

Sparkling dust erupts from his fingertips and falls onto him. His appearance changes as the silver particles land on his person.

Longer and pointier ears, younger face and different statue are wrapped in more naturalistic looking clothing. Vines and leaves pattern the fabric and on his father’s back sprout 4 insectoid wings. They look like they belong to a giant dragonfly, and shimmer in the light.

With eyes filled with a light similar to Jaskier’s own he looks down one last time at his son. Full of unshed tears he speaks his final words before the reality around them disappears.

-I’m proud of you Julian. The Maestro of Music. – With a bright smile he disappears. The bard feels the ground dissolving from under his feet and before he knows it he is falling.

He sees a tear fly out of his eye as he goes down and wonders what this all meant.

Jaskier has so many questions, but they have to wait a while. He has some unfinished business in the waking world apparently.

 

-~~~***~~~-

 

The tornado grows and grows proportional to the tattoos spreading on Jaskier’s skin. Nobody standing stands straight up, but at an angle; fighting against the wind.

No other sound can be made so loud as to overpower the music. When there is no more place for the bars and notes to spread a beam of light shots into the sky and all sound ceases. “What’s your wish is my command- may it happen and be done!”- can be heard as from within the tower of power 12 orbs come out leaving a trail of sparkling powder after them.

The first three go in the direction of still terrified Scorpion, Pegasus and the third unnamed horse that ran away in the chaos of battle.

With amazement and awe on their faces the group sees as they calm down and the next second some jerk with surprise as when the orbs touch the horses they disappear and only some floating and glowing white musical notes are left.

Now weary of the things they use the wind to their advantage to get further away from the incoming orbs. Unfortunately it seems that they are also influenced by the air currents and they speed up at them. First to touch one of them is Lambert with his sword and both disappear.

Eskel while looking with grief and shock gets orbed from the back. Triss and Yennefer try to throw their chaos to make the things go away, but they don’t listen and first Triss then Yen follow with the same fate. The White Wolf feels their wish induced bond shatter and now knows that the orbs are killing whoever they touch. He just lost his brothers and his sorceress friends… He thinks he might laugh at how easy they went down.

Geralt is left in shock as he sees two glowing spheres make Ciri and Roach disappear next. His heart and mind can’t take it and he falls to the ground, legs swept up due to the strong force of the wind. Due to this his orb misses and he has the displeasure of witnessing as one of the last ones goes back to Jaskier.

He is also kneeling on the ground; the tornado finally slowing down. The tattoos gradually break off from his skin and dissolve into thin air. The glow from his eyes vanishes. The witcher devastated reaches out to the last person he cares about that was left. Then he sees as Jaskier is also taken care of by the orbs.

He almost breaks what the mutations have done to his body and starts to cry. Exhausted and in denial that all of his family is dead he lets the last sphere to fall onto his chest, his arm still outstretched.

This is it- how he dies. Killed by his beloved after he saved them all.

If only he knew that he saved them in more ways than one. Yet he lets the darkness take him.

 

-~~~***~~~-

 

In some very nice clearing near the main beaten dirt road leading to Aedd Gynvael, near some town the air shifts. The area full of luscious grass and beautiful greenery suddenly is charged with magic. The water in the nearby stream stills its flow and the trees refuse to sway in the wind.

Buttercups start to pop out of the ground en masse. Each perfect and beautifully coloured. Then the space above starts to crackle and for a second to split in two.

First out of nowhere three spooked horses appear and they immediately calm down and start to munch on the delicious flowers and grass. As if nothing happened.

Next a swish of a sword can be heard as Lambert also materialises.

Then Eskel with a stunned expression and just after him Triss and Yennefer, braced for a big impact and surrounded by chaos. A second later Roach arrives with Ciri on top.

After another heartbeat and confused glares and spinning in circles the last pair arrives.

Jaskier is teleported still kneeling but when he is physical again he falls to the side. In the direction where Geralt also happens to appear and they both are laying unconscious. One due to fulfilling his wish, the other due to the sheer terror and heartbreak he felt just before.

Yennefer has just enough time to notice and panic that she can’t feel her bond with Geralt when he makes a sound as if he was sleeping, alive. Then Lambert breaks the silence.

-What the fuck did you feed this bard? – he asks with both surprise and respect on his face. It’s enough to disperse the tension and to shock the rest into motion.

Triss and Yen quickly scan their surroundings with their chaos as Lambert and Eskel do the same with their senses and training. When they all come back to the centre they collapse on the ground, backs to trees surrounding them and sigh together the biggest sigh of relief in history.

Even the horses seen to agree. When Ciri dismounts Roach she sees that her father and Jaskier are still laying on the ground, unlike the rest which used trees for support. All have closed their eyes to just be for a minute and nobody comments how the pair on the ground positioned themselves to reach out to the other.

They have to reorganise and make camp soon, before the night settles, but after what they have seen they deserve a little break.

Especially the two who are now sleeping peacefully in the middle of the clearing, surrounded by yellow buttercups and their friends and family.

Chapter Text

The sun slowly starts to end its daily travel in the sky. This prompts almost everybody that was getting down from the battle high into making a quite sizable camp. Ciri has been observing everyone ever since they escaped the pillaged city.

Yet first things first: the injuries sustained need to be addressed, before they may become a problem. Triss being the most experienced gathers her supplies and first goes to work on the one witcher who is still unconscious.

Ciri is immediately by her side.

-Ummm…. hi? I’m Ciri, can I help?- she asks eagerly. Triss turns in her direction and almost melts on sight. Even with the dirt and exhaustion present on the girl’s face she was one of the most cutes and purest almost-teenager she has seen.

-If you know some things about dealing with wounds than yes: I will appreciate the help.- the medic quickly answered.

-Ok, I’ll do everything I can lady…- Ciri lets the obvious to hang in the air.

- Ah Yes! Sorry I forgot with all the excitement. I’m Triss, a friend of both Geralt and Yennefer. The two witchers that arrived with me are Eskel and Lambert. They’re Geralt’s brothers from the wolf school.– She explained carelessly pointing to the two men in question. First to Lambert then Eskel. Which is why for now the princess registers that Eskel is Lambert and vice versa.

After the pleasantries are exchanged they get to work. The girl is wordlessly helping by unbuckling the convoluted armour and cleaning the dirt and blood of the White Wolf. Even thou she can still be seen as young the princess has seen and helped with enough of this bodily fluid to not be too grossed out. Her worry and want to be helpful probably also helps her from becoming an obstacle instead of a helper.

They stitch what needs to be stitched together and bandage all what is left. Thankfully none get heavily saturated by crimson.

She then follows the medic to Jaskier when their first part is done and Geralt looks more like his given title due to the amount of white cloth that mainly cover his torso and arms.

While they are working on the musician Lambert gets up to rummage through his own potions supply after he treats his own wounds and gives his brothers a dose of Swallow and Kiss each, while also drinking one each of the two concoctions himself. Eskel is also done with his treatment.

They may be relatively safe and in good condition, but after seeing the amount of wounds Geralt has suffered he knows that the man in question will beat them up if he is the only one given the boost to their already superior regeneration. And he needs them if they want him to be at full power when they start to move again. The wounds he will be now healing aren’t only from the battle in Vizima, but also all the other ones before. And they will need to go soon.

Eskel knowing the same thing takes his doses with a stone set face, keeping Geralt’s head steady when his other brother pours the liquids. They don’t have to trick his body into accepting the medicine.

Even in unconscious state his instinct and training show allow for easier care by swallowing his salvation due to his mind recognising the help. By the miniscule twitch and frown they know that the White Wolf is all right- just needs some rest. Like all of them, but given the circumstances he deserves to be the first to recover fully and without interruption, especially since they now have that luxury.

Triss and Ciri, shoulder to shoulder check on the other unconscious patient while Yennefer follows behind and steals some of the bandages and herbs for her own treatment. The women say nothing but the needed information and speculation to what has happened. And what they are sensing from the sleeping bard.

Since none are rested and too worn out by the battle they decide to wait for now. Triss has a solid intuition that they will soon wake on their own.

And so they go to fetch their tents from the enchanted packs and bags, alongside some of their rations.

Pegasus and the other unnamed horse are quite annoyed that their lazy existence was interrupted and that they were still in their full gear. All horses were irritated by that.

-Shhh… shhhh… I know, we’re sorry. You’ll soon also rest without the leather. Eskel, could you and your brother take care of the horses, while we work on the supper and organising the medical supplies? – Triss asks with a kind and not too loud voice.

-I can do it. Geralt taught me how to on Roach.- Ciri intersects before the witcher's answer can be heard. She also doesn’t wait for the permission and starts to unbuckle the mentioned horse from her riding gear. When she reaches the packs and blades Eskel still comes over to help.

-Geralt would bash my head if I let you injure yourself by handling witcher weapons and concoctions.- he says with a dry chuckle. The girl shows real promise for becoming a strong willed person. -Otherwise you’re capable enough for the task, despite the age and status.- Eskel adds just to see how the princess would react at the complement. He himself tries to hide his scars by changing the angle of his face.

Ciri frowns at the comment but doesn’t dwell. She will ask for clarifications and start deeper conversation when they will be safe and at the end of their journey. Able to relax.

So after a few heartbeats she simply nods and reaches for the brushes to help with the horses’ coats.

Lambert also rouses from sleep and helps with the other three animals that also want to be out of the riding gear. With the two helpers they steadily finish their task.

While the trio bonds by exchanging tips about horse brushing or simple fact of sharing a task the two sorceresses ready the tents and the simple cooking station and campfire with a combination of chaos and manual labour.

Somehow they feel as if their magic had a longer time to rest than the other parts of their bodies. Afterall the situation is very unusual. They have never seen or read about a such different form of going between places.

Their kind of magic favours using portals and leaving the body intact. Mostly. But forcing it to move and change position in its own is a very dangerous feat for a mage weaving the chaotic forces. The slightest mistake and you can lose an arm. Literally. This means that either Jaskier got VERY lucky or the magic he used wasn’t that similar.

Triss also fails not to notice how the nature around them has changed. Even if the trees are still mostly green, the shade and the stage of development means that the travel from Vizima to wherever they are took more time than expected. First golden colour can be noticed to be peaking through.

By the temperature of the wind and general botanical trends Triss has to assume that the end of summer and beginning of autumn and of the first frost is slowly making its way to the northern terrains.
She shares the observation the thesis with her cooking help- Yennefer who is cutting the potatoes into the thick vegetable soup with some jerky. Simple, hearty and tasty with the right herbs combination.

When most tasks that needed immediate attention were finished the group sat around the cooking pot that was slowly simmering on the warm embers of the campfire. A few minutes ago Lambert begrudgingly went to get more fresh water from the nearest stream and everyone had their waterskins refiled. Jaskier and Geralt were moved to lay on their respective bedrolls. When he returned Ciri perked up:

-Sooo… what do we do now? We can’t just sit around and wait for Jaskier and Geralt to wake.- she says with a worried expresion.- There’s a town nearby and we need more resources for a such big group of people.- the analytical and organising part of the girl’s mind is as sharp as ever. The adults are impressed. – Eskel, how ready is the keep for so many people? – She looks at Lambert. Who tries to hide a snort and shakes his head.

- Wrong brother. I’m Lambert.- He answers with a smirk. He knows that Triss introduced them and that she pointed to the wrong brother when telling their names. He waited with the responce since then. Because he's a brat and an ass.

-Ohh… sorry, my mistake…- Ciri is now the tiniest shade redder on her cheeks. The rest of the adults try very hard not to laugh or giggle. The emotional mess that is the result of so suddenly going from “fighting for your life” to “sitting calmly by a campfire” shakes them a little in different directions; in other words they are kind of loopy and high on adrenaline and other hormones. With her head slightly down to hide her grimace for the mistake she turns to Eskel truly and repeats the question.

This time the right brother answers. The keep is usually capable of accommodating the four last wolf witchers and sometimes the wondering ones from other groups if they need shelter and are accepted, or invited. This is all thanks to Vesemir and his constant work on the ground all year round. But with twice the amount of people that will want to winter with them he might need a warning in advance and they need to gather the needed supplies and means of transporting them to the keep.

He explains this to the group with some additional info from Lambert from time to time. Like how it gets unbearably cold in some parts in the middle of winter and how almost one third of the whole keep is unusable due to lack of hands to help with cleaning it up and fixing it. Only the parts that they need for their work were even considered to be on the list of things to repair.

The three listening ponder on the situation and realise that they will have quite a big renovation project on their hands. Yennefer wonders if they will react positively to her new idea of letting her; with their permission to turn the abandoned and broken husk of its former glory into a new stronghold where the shunned and powerful, and trusted could spend some seasons.

Keira and Mousesack are some of the people that might be allowed such a privilege and stronger bonds between them would mean easier dealings in the future. She knows of them and would like to have them as possible allies in the future.

And it would make it a possible meeting point of powerful people that don’t belong to one nation or place. Those who walk the path of life seemingly alone and away from normal society, but don’t necessarily have to be a witcher to get inside. Yen hopes that they will see her point; but to be safe she will wait for an opportune time to have such a discussion.

They talk and talk some more, plan their next moves and mark what each would need to get for the winter and additionally what they would like to have to spend the time in the keep.

Triss hearing that Vesemir has some fertile ground for a garden that he tried to start hopes she will be allowed to grow her own herbs and magical plants. (nobody wants to point out that such a project would need more time than one winter and possibly spring; meaning that she considers staying for a longer time).

Yennefer starts to sprinkle the seeds of her idea by mentioning how the keep will look more like a shelter for the hunted with all of them present. The specific words do not elude Eskel, but do make Lambert snort at the notion.

The brothers start to understand the new sorceress and the princess as they talk throughout the day. They eat the soup, leaving enough for the ones still sleeping and spend the rest of the time organising. Abandoned tools and things are put in place, resources counted and everything else noted.

Ciri after the serious talk about resources and travel dissolves becomes more of a listener than an active talker.

 

-~~~~***~~~~-

 

By the time dusk starts to pain the sky Geralt slowly comes alive. His first words are gruff and quiet, and make all the people present turn their attention in his direction; the topic of the talk forgotten.

-What happened?... – He clears his throat and starts to rise from his bedroll. The wounds get pulled and sting with some pain, but he forces trough. He leaves the tent he was placed in, ignoring Jaskier on purpose, otherwise he might break on the inside. With a hand on his stomach he walks over to the group and reaches for Ciri. She hugs him with all her might and with watery eyes. He returns the gesture with one arm, the other still around himself.

The others watch the scene with new wave of calmness and determination.

-Welcome back to the world of the living, Wolf.- comments Lambert with a smirk that hides his true happiness.

-Hmm…- the witcher replies with a “I know you too well to be fooled” face and sits on one of the logs that were carried from the forest to sit on. He smells the soup and emotions in the air. The herbs that heal the rest of the group and his beloved, behind his back. He can’t look because he doesn’t want to see, but to be unable to hold and talk alone. So he doesn’t comment and ignores the meaningful gazes from the others.

-The soup edible?- he asks instead. Ciri giggles to his left.

-Well, I’m no Eskel but Yennefer and I did try our best. Isn’t that right? – answers Triss already pouring Geralt a big bowl to eat, aiming the question at nobody. When she gives it over Geralt heats it up with a controlled Igni and without using a spoon chugs the meal in a few gulps without spilling it on himself.

They didn’t answer his question about what happened, but he can let it slide for now. They are alive. They seem to be safe, Jaskier is with them and they are allowed to recover. He feels lighter already, even with a full stomach.

Chapter Text

They talk and talk, until Ciri’s yawning almost becomes a constant state of her face; mouth parted wide and eyes drooping. Her head keeps falling to one side. Yennefer sternly, yet kindly urges her to start her evening rituals and to go to sleep; to get ready for the next day. As such they leave with Triss for the stream to have a quick wash before it’s too dark for them to see and use the privacy to change from the tattered and dirty clothes into something more respectable.

The witchers meanwhile check the tents: if they won’t topple in the night when a strong gust of wind passes, how much space they have inside and if the ground is flat and devoid of sharp debris or insects; to allow for as comfortable rest as possible. Only then they place the bedrolls in the spaces.

The girls have one for themselves while two wolves will sleep with Jaskier in the other one The third shall keep guard in the night. They divide the rest of the soup between them since Jaskier didn’t wake and it won’t be good for consumption tomorrow. (Geralt slightly worries at that but before Triss disappears for the night she catches his gaze and reassures him that Jaskier is very much ok and simply needs to sleep to allow the body, mind and soul to rest and heal. One missed meal won’t kill him, especially after a such big display of power and the body won’t have to focus its resources on digestion.)
Then they stash away the pot and cooking tools, not in the packs but a little bit away from the fire. They will need them in the morning after all and after being washed the utensils and bowls need to dry.

They also choose who will stay awake this night.

They might be far from Vizima and Nilfgaard (apparently) but other dangers of the natural world still lurk in the shadows. And nobody wants to wake up to a bloody surprise.

The embers of the fire cast light in just the right way for it to be comfortable for people in the tents to fall asleep while giving some appreciated heat and better sight to Lambert (who lost in rock-paper-scissors for the guard position tonight) and later to Eskel, who decided that he will wake earlier to allow his brother for some sleep. They both agree that Geralt will not be stopping his rest in the night to only sit alone with his thoughts and with some grumbling he accepts their offer/ demand.

When all is settled Geralt gently lifts Jaskier up from his bedroll next to the fire and carries him in a princess hold to the tent. Eskel takes the bard’s roll and places it in the furthest part of the space- he and Geralt will need to exit it earlier than him according to Triss’ observations. Nobody dares to comment on The White Wolf’s gentle and longing expression when he gently lays Jaskier down and tucks him in for the night.

After that everyone but Lambert goes to sleep.

He stays awake, watches the surroundings and makes sure that there’s enough wood in the morning for breakfast and cooking, and enough water from the stream to fill their waterskins. When the night tasks are done he sits on a log and starts to mindlessly carve something into another log or a piece of bark only to destroy it in the last few cuts; the remains used as kindling in the future. He’s not interested in making something coherent like Geralt, but in the simple act of splitting wood to past the time. (and release the still present tension from the battle that ended too suddenly.)

Then when the night is a little more than halfway done and his eyes only wish to close, he ducks into the tent and nudges Eskel awake. They change places and Lambert falls asleep instantly, while his brother prepares the ingredients for breakfast, making as little noise as possible.

The second part of the night passes without incident.

-~~~~***~~~~-

When Ciri opens her eyes she stays in her bedroll wanting to lay in the comfy warmth a little longer. She and all the others deserve to sleep in on this day, she thinks to herself to justify her decision.

That is until the mouth-watering smells reach her nose and she slowly lifts her head to get a better sniff. She notices that she is the last of her tent to wake as she disentangles herself from the material around her and goes outside.

When she lifts the flap of the tent her olfactory sense is hit with another wave of deliciousness and sees almost everybody, sans Jaskier and Lambert peacefully walking around their temporary camp (Yenn and Geralt) or siting patiently and watching the food cook (Eskel with slightly tired eyes and Triss).

She joins the latter group and sees that some eggs, some kind of a sausage and toast is being fried on their two travel pans. Some little glass jars are laying off to the side full of herbs and other fats. They are probably the reason for the wonderful aroma. Her stomach gurgles a little, loudly announcing her presence further.

Triss giggles a little and says good morning, others following her lead. The princess sits next to her and asks when the food will be ready. Eskel says that long enough for her to do her morning hygiene rituals and so Ciri does.

She returns shortly after not wanting to miss the time when the food will be the best. She hopes that Jaskier will miraculously join them for breakfast, but yesterday she saw what state his in. It’s going to be a good sign if he wakes fully today.

While all of them start to eat Lambert crawls out of the tent and grumpily eats his share without even saying an audible sound.

The girl decides that this is the moment to ask about today’s schedule. With a bouncy leg due to the still high alert from the battle she awaits her response from the adults. Even if she was present in the evening; she was tired and didn’t listen, give her a break.

She- no they, have to act quickly in the end, right? Surviving without a home means constant awareness and precise action, if what she observed from the previous months is true. One reckless moment or move and you’re going down, kidnapped or with your family dead. And that’s something she doesn’t wish to experience again. Ever.

-Well… Geralt, Yennefer and Lambert are going supply shopping in the town as we discussed yesterday. As for the rest of us… I guess we can take it slow today and wait. – with a shrug of her shoulders Triss tells Ciri. The girl furrows her brows into the middle of the forehead giving wrinkles to her frown.

-Shouldn’t we all go? You know, to go once and carry more? – She asks bewildered.

-Well, I don’t know what you experienced in life but having 3 witchers and 2 sorceresses in one small town isn’t a normal occurrence. In other words people would be wary and avoid us. And we need to buy many things along the way. – Yennefer answers out of nowhere; suddenly on Ciri’s right side.

“Mhhmm…” is all Geralt has to add to the conversation from further away as he readies Roach for their trip.

-So why does Lambert also go? – The princess counters their logic.

-Because we plan on basically emptying all of our pouches on non-perishable and fresh food, a cart and the things needed for it to be driven by a horse, few clothes and additional equipment and to see if there is a contract for a witcher to earn some of the money we will spent.- the man in question replies in one breath and a smirk.

-And since none of us are made of money and we didn’t have time to pillage the Nilfgaardian army before the good coin was taken we have to save as much as possible for the rest of the journey.- Lamb says with an air of finality. But to Ciri it acts as a reminder.

She swiftly runs to Jaskier’s enchanted pack and starts rummaging in it. After a few heartbeats and a look exchanged by the adults she triumphally exclaims: ”Ahaa!” and turns the cloth upside down with one hand still inside. When gravity starts its work coin after coin spill out onto the grass.

Ciri shakes the pack a few times; few stray golden coins fall out until there’s nothing more. Instead there is a quite sizable pile of metal that would be enough to set one young man for life with few well placed investments.

-The reason why is that Jaskier got there before us. – The princess explains to the stunned adults around her.

-Ok… Than we don’t have to endanger ourselves on hunts till Kear Morhen… Great. – Lambert’s face is seemingly stuck in awe. – Do you think your bard will let us borrow some? – he directs the taunt at Geralt, but it’s Eskel that answers:

- I don’t think he’s going to notice, unless you plan to buy the whole town. – The breathless comment pulls out a chuckle from everyone around. Geralt hangs his head and shakes it. White hair follows in brilliant waves as he takes it in hand and out off his face.

Wordlessly he walks over to the golden pile and analyses it.

-We have enough for our today’s trip, but it is useful information. Good job Ciri. – He messes up the girl’s hair. – Now clean it up so we won’t lose any. – Ciri pouts with a proud expression and does just that as the trio leaves camp.

Triss finds her own set of tools and readies herself for a day of relaxation when she hears some sound coming from the men’s tent. Eskel’s head also lifts from whatever he was doing and they both go over to check.

What they find is an adorable sight.

Jaskier laying on his stomach one leg twisted with the covers, the other bent at the knee and standing straight into the sky. His arms spread like clock hands on hours 12 and 4. Face buried into his bedroll muffles whatever he is trying to say.

He slowly turns it and rasps out:

-Water, please, Melitele’s tits, I’m thirsty. – the bard says dazed. Eskel snorts in good humour and goes to catch one of their waterskins. When he returns Triss has helped Jaskier into a better drinking position: sitting with his head supported by her hands, instead of a dead starfish.

When he sees the water in the witcher’s hands he lifts his hands and makes a grabbing motion, like a toddler. Clearly still between dream and living he has no impulse control or greater thinking capabilities.

Eskel crouches next to Jaskier and lifts the opened waterskin to his lips. The bard takes small sips at first and then gulps a good part of the container down his throat. Surprisingly none gets on his clothes, that are still beautiful and red just like the first time he summoned them.

-Ohhh… heaven. Thank you darling. – The musician exclaims when he had his fill. Eskel caught off guard chokes a little on his own spit and if he could he would be red as a tomato. Nobody calls him darling, or ever has called him something so nice.

The only indication that the word influenced the man so strongly is the pink coloration of the very tip of his ears, unnoticeable to everyone but somebody with their gaze locked onto them from 3 inches away. “He must have thought that I’m Geralt” he says to himself as an explanation. While Eskel has a little meltdown Jaskier continues:

-And you lovely lady have hands like a… sexy goose. So soft, just like its feathers.- With a drunk smile the bard pushes himself to roll onto his bedroll again. Triss also snorts and lifts an eyebrow in Eskel’s direction saying: “Is he for real?”. The witcher just shrugs and moves his hair so his scar is concealed once more, enough embarrassment for him.

Ciri has decided that this is the moment to appear in the crowded tent.

-Jaskier? Are you awake? – She asks shyly and gently. The man himself pushes upwards on his hands and looks at her over his shoulder.

-Ciri! Oh my little marvel cub! How are you?! – he almost shouts with enthusiasm. The princess lights up from the response and tackles him into a hug. They get thrown on the ground, Ciri laying on top, hugging with iron grips and laughing. When the excitement slows down Jaskier’s stomach, just like the girl’s this morning, gurgles and he asks sheepishly and with a little bit slurred words:

-Is there some breakfast for me? – his smile spreads to the other adults. A second later his eyes widen and he throws his hand in Eskel’s direction.

-Oh, right sorry, where are my manners. I’m Jaskier and you gorgeous people? – He says to Triss and Eskel but has eye contact only with the witcher.

They shake hands and introduce themselves:

-Eskel of the Wolf, Geralt’s brother.- he says proudly. The bard smiles as their hands connect and exclaims: “He told me… somethings about you”.

-Triss Merigold, ex-court sorceress and one mean medic. – the mage also shakes Jaskier’s hand. “A sorceress on our side I hope! What other tales do you have?” the musician asks with curiosity.

The woman walks out of the tent and tells over her shoulder:

-Many interesting ones, but they are best told with breakfast I think.- And Jaskier tries to follow only to stager and almost fall only to be caught by Eskel.

-Oh… thank u. And I fully agreed with the lady. Ciri you coming? – the girl basically skips after them. This is going to be a good day.

She sees Jaskier again near falling on his face while trying to sit on a log, almost losing his breakfast in the process. Ok, weird and with drunk-but-not Jaskier, but still great.

Chapter Text

Throughout the day nothing too important happens at the camp.

Jaskier, due to still being basically drained has moments of drunken consciousness, or simply sleeps away the day. Ciri is more than ecstatic that he is somewhat walking and talking after so little time for recovery. This amount of sane(er) interaction makes her hope ignite that the worst is behind them.

Eskel is pleasantly surprised that the bard is actually nice to talk and sit with, even with the lingering effects of healing and lessened intelligence. He has not once asked about his scars and always calls him with some type of a sweetened nickname. It confuses the witcher if the actions and words are genuine or the result of the healing „soup” Triss has forced down the musician’s throat. He returns to sharpening his and his brother’s blades and tries not to focus on the many different emotions that the bard brings out in him.

The lady in question checks on Jaskier from time to time but mostly organises her own stuff alongside Yenn’s in the enchanted packs and bags, makes a more detailed list of how good their equipment is and who is carrying what, and etc; the other stuff that is useful but not needed too much at the moment. She finds her patient easy to work with and with Ciri’s help they efficiently speed up his chaos regeneration. After she is all done Triss goes to gather some herbs and takes a, somewhat reluctant to leave Jaskier’s side, Ciri to teach her some of her craft.

The musician has once again placed his bedroll next to the previous fire and lounges around like a cat. At least one person is with him or near at all times. And the amount of time he spends aware is slowly increasing as the day passes. He does almost nothing but listen to Triss’ doctor orders, talk poetry and art with Eskel and simply beams with joy when he sits with Ciri and talks about nothing too important or on any one topic. But as the time passes he also wants to do something more productive. He eyes the lute but precise coordination is not in his favour in the moment.

So when the time comes to cook dinner he helps as much as he can and while waiting for the meat to finish roasting (Eskel hunted a deer for them) Jaskier again falls asleep. You can’t really blame him. Having 6 times the amount of chaos of one witch being ripped out of you to fulfil your wish takes a toll on the body and soul.

And so he doesn’t get to witness the trio returning from town. Nor the reaction of one witcher to the news that he now has moments of, somewhat, clarity and is able to interact again with the world.

 

-~~~~***~~~~-


 

Geralt, Yennefer and Lambert arrive at the town border a good chunk of time after the merchants and sellers opened their stalls and shops.

The somewhat colourful cloths and fruit alongside small barrels of salt for pickling, or fur for heavier coats give them confirmation about what the sorceresses were talking about. It really looks like they weren’t only teleported instantly, but somehow their bodies and minds were partially frozen while time moved around them.

The trio splits to fulfil their previously planned tasks.

Lambert takes a reluctant Roach and goes to the more produce and farming equipment related stalls and asks about for a cart for travel, suited to be pulled by one horse, yet also big enough to fit the many things that won’t fit in enchanted bags they want to bring to Kear Morhen. He has to talk to 3 different families of farmers before he is successful, but the thing he buys is of good enough make and durable for the journey.

There are 3 people present in the stall: a younger and healthy looking farmer, an older grandpa supervising the trade, probably his father, and a heavily bosomed woman that was talking with one of the female customers that came for food and gossip, that probably was the young man’s wife.

Lambert talks price a little and after the coins jump hands he and the farmer change the horses pulling the cart. Roach might not be his horse and as such the witcher might have had to avoid a bite, but overall she allowed him to secure the cart, that later they will attach to the still unnamed younger stallion. He didn’t even have to pay double or triple the normal amount. About which he asks after making the purchase.

-Well, ya see mister Witcher my family decided to spread the good fortune that has fallen on our land. – the elder man present during the negotiation and exchange of coin says in response, heavy unidentified accent and age clear in his speech. As well as in his slouched posture, supported by his cane as he watches his son move a sack of potatoes from the now sold cart into the stall proper.

- Ya see we all thought that in few weeks’ time, we would have to run away from the Nilfgaardian men. But dear Melitele, ya see, somehow destroyed most of their army. And now they are no more powerful than the others and have to play defence ya see, mister witcher. – he says with a cheerful grin and heavy wrinkles on his old face. The son rolls his eyes, having probably heard the tale many times and wanting to focus on the smaller problems in their own lives.

- Really?.. And what else do you know? – Lambert asks with a smirk fastening the belt on Roach’s belly.

-We are simple folk, ya see mister witcher, but I have heard that some great beast have been sent from the pits of underworld to punish them for their slaughter. Of the innocent people ya see. – The grandpa stokes his grey beard in deep thought. The woman having overheard his comment excuses herself from her friend and comes over just to smack him on the head lightly.

-Don’t listen to ma pa. He got more ridiculous as he got older. – The offended ”hey!” seemingly didn’t even reach her ears. “Ahh… so son-in-law and daughter, instead of the other way around” thinks Lambert with amusement. The people now think that he, his brothers and some bard (a powerful one, but still) were one devil that stopped the army.

– From what I’ve heard it was a Cintran warlock that wanted revenge and killed himself in the process. – She lowers herself over the stall, moving her hand to her lips as if sharing a secret.

Others say that even the princess was in the middle of that whole debacle and that the white wolf supposedly was there too. Some say to save, others to slaughter. I think he was sent to help the girl, personally it makes more sense. – She straightens herself then.

– But I don’t fully believe any of these stories. Nobody who experienced what happened there supposedly survived. So these are, what you might call, only wife-tales.- And with that she returns to her previous conversation with her friend.

After that they stop the conversation as the witcher mounts the horse and goes back having finished his singular task. Lambert can’t wait to tell the others about these speculations. He goes with Roach to the town gate to wait for others.

 

-~~~~***~~~~-


 

In the meantime Yennefer and Geralt were moving from stall to stall and from one shop to another to fill the gaps in their equipment and resources. The white wolf takes advantage of his supernatural physical strength while the sorceress takes care of most of the talking and trading.

The main thing they need to buy being the sheer amount of food that couldn’t be hunted or gathered on the Path. Breads, rolls, and other starchy goodness has to be bought with the long journey in mind. Any vegetable and fruit just on the edge of unripe so it matures during the travel and herbs in bigger amounts. Potatoes were one of the main things they were getting. Geralt had a whole bag slung over his back while carrying three whole, medium sized, top-open crates of other produce. They wanted to mainly hunt meat on the road.

Yennefer was holding onto the other things, like small traveling necessities that they lost or used up, herbs and plants for both the potions and spells she wanted to cast with Triss. Oils of different kinds and fats for swords and leather. They even went to the blacksmith to buy a small amount of metals to repair the witchers’ swords.

The sorceress had most of it in her enchanted purse, so it looked like she was carrying almost nothing except the things that wouldn’t fit. They used all of the space they had possible. The only things that was visible on her was the fabric and cloth they were just getting to repair most of their clothing. Some colourful options bought specifically to be used in Ciri’s dresses and now present, due to travel: pants. The list they had prepared is mostly finished when the merchant they were talking with mentioned what happened in Vizima.

Somehow the topic of if they too were traveling due to the Nilfgaard situation came after that and the sorceress couldn’t stop herself. When Yennefer asked for more specific description a loud discussion between the people was started.

- Some people coming from there say that the whole army was marching onto the rest of the northern countries.- says a blue clad seller of textiles, bringing the attention of the other sellers. The nearest neighbours being a woman selling handcrafted trinkets and tools from their left and an older butcher on the right. The semicircle of wooden stalls was lining up the side of the only market in town and even a patron sitting outside the tavern on a bench raised his head to look in their direction as the voices rose higher.

-But a few days ago different news reach our doors. The people trading outside their borders brought tales that to the capital of Temeria only half of the Nilfgaardian army arrived. And that after destroying the city something happened that killed all of them in one swoop and the king was saved. – the man was now wildly using his hands to explain the story and to express his emotions, while raising his voice. The woman that was cleaning one of her necklaces stopped her work and turned to face the talking trio.

-Lies, your telling lies Gemini. It wasn’t just a “what” that killed them. It was a beast from hell! The divine punishment for their slaughter of innocence! – The cross siting on her sternum swinged from left to right as she spiralled, one second facing Geralt and Yennefer the other the crowd, as if making a speech. A broche showing the emblem of Eternal Fire withered and used more as decoration than a symbol is also present on her shirt. – A beast that destroyed with only its roars, and destroyed the wicked that deserved it. – She announces with a confident and snarky grin. Some people glare at her, some go past without looking. The older man on the opposite side loudly chuckles.

-Who’s telling lies now, Angela? The different merchants said nothing of that sort. – He faces the group with a fatherly smile that turns into a smirk.

-If you want the real story, lady sorceress and mister witcher you should talk to that fellow. – He points to the drunk man near the tavern entrance with his thumb. The duo raise a collective eyebrow at his words, since there is no distinct thing telling their identities. Geralt’s swords are hidden on his belt under his cloak, while Yenn’s dress is fully engulfed, showing only her hands and face. Maybe its their aura, or the man’s experience that he knows, who can tell for certain.

-He was there when it happened and now is drinking the experience away.- The grandpa says with some sorrow in his voice. - Ain’t it right sonny?- he directs in the man’s direction.

The man in question stands up and with some struggle walks up to the older man’s stall a few feet away and leans on it.

-It ’as a *hic* massaclee and the weirdetest thinggg… I have efer experience’ *hic*.- he raises a waterskin to his lips. The smell of alcohol emanating from it is detectable even to Yennefer. She shares a look with Geralt. After taking few gulps he continues:

-The army swept thro’ the city and overwhelmemed uss even with haf of them. But then in the main market some fight *hic* broke ‘ut. I didn’t see what was hape-happening. *hic* I hid among the rupple hoping they leafe me alone. *hic* What falue a traveling woker was to them?- he has another gulp of liquid courage and a glassy sheen covers his eyes; he’s reliving the experience.

- And then, *burp* hear me out, in the middle of all the friking fighting some noble, I think arrives. I don’t know I saw very little from between the gaps, BUT his voice and manne-manafrismsms *hic* fit. He singlehandly deveats what wa’ left of the army and *hic* for some FUCKING reason starts to sing and play a.. a… something, and then like a song, but not? There were too many voices at once and THEN!! then for some godsforsaken reason in the middle of the street a storm and hurricall win’ appeared! And after that… nothin’. The man dissolved into thin *hic* air after killing everybody. I think he alssso killed himself from guilt… because what *hic* he had done… could be done only by a momster...-

(-It was a massacre and the weirdest thing I have ever experienced.

-The army swept through the city and overwhelmed us even with half of them. But then in the main market some fight broke out. I didn’t see what was happening. I hid among the rubble hoping they leave me alone, what value a traveling worker was to them?-

- And then, hear me out, in the middle of all the fighting some noble I think arrives. I don’t know I saw very little from between the gaps, but his voice and mannerisms fit. He singlehandedly defeats what was left of the army and for some fucking reason starts to sing and play a.. a… something like a song, but not? There were too many voices at once and THEN!! then for some godsforsaken reason in the middle of the street a storm and hurricanelike wind appeared! And after that… nothing. The man dissolved into thin air after killing everybody. I think he also killed himself from guilt… because what he had done… could be done only by a monster...)

There is silence after his monologue.

- I need to lay down.- The drunk now spent from telling the story sits with his back placed on the old man’s stall. A few bandages can be seen poking out of his sleeves and pantlegs.

-What do you think?- asks the cloth seller.

-Interesting story, but nothing more without evidence, or sober mind.- answers Yennefer with a cold gaze and a warning in her tone.

-Mhhmmm…- Geralt support her wholeheartedly, but inside he is spiralling with dangerous thoughts. Is this what the outside world only knows about what happened? If so he can’t let Jaskier know about this public opinion. Not only is he (painfully rightly in some sense) painted as a murderer, but also a monster. Just like Geralt is…

After that they go back to the gate and see Lambert leaning on the wooden support with Roach with the cart munching on grass.

-You won’t believe what I heard!… – he starts, but Yennefer interrupts.

-The people also gossip in the market. We know… - she says sombrely and looks at Geralt that his pilling his part of the bought things onto the cart. It’s quite sizable, only 1/ 4 of it’s space is taken up by the supplies. If one were to comfortably lay with others on it, 2 or 3 would fit comfortably. After he is finished he rolls his shoulders with a pop and strokes Roaches snout. Then he pins Lambert with a stare and says:

-Nobody tell Jaskier when he wakes. He will hate himself if he knows this early.- The deeper messages don’t escape either Yen or Lamb. They sharply nod their head in grim understanding and go back to camp.

Chapter Text

The trio quickly gets back to camp. Lambert persuades Geralt into releasing Roach from the many belts that allowed her to carry their newly bought supplies in the new cart. He does it only to not have to worry about avoiding the beast’s bites aimed at his person. They also arrive just in time for a delicious dinner which is served by Eskel to Triss and Ciri, while Jaskier is sleeping next to them, limbs chaotically arranged all over the place.

When he is finished with his horse the White Wolf takes one look at his bard’s weird sleeping position and arranges the man just how he likes to slumber: on his left side, hand under his cheek, one leg higher and bent at the knee, the other straight, the blanket up to his belly. Everyone gives him a “look” but they don’t dare to say anything when Geralt frowns at them, as if what he just did was normal for traveling companions to know such things.

He asks why is his bard out of the tent.

The all newly arrived get the news that the bard is quickly healing and getting more and more conscious. Even if he is kind of drunk in the process. Lambert and Yennefer are delighted and internally can’t wait to talk with the little chaos bringer, while Geralt starts to… panic. Just a little bit.

It was a little too soon for his liking for the musician to be able to talk to him again.

The last time he tried to do so fully capable of having a conversation he was incapacitated on sight. The second to last he almost destroyed their relationship completely. The few seconds they had face to face during the battle didn’t count in his opinion since he was more of an animal than human; with his mind far from a place where he could try to mend what he broke. Geralt wanted more time to sort out his many and complicated (for him) feelings and expectations that will now come with Jaskier being here. Not only with him but the rest.

The White Wolf might be more solidified in his romantic feelings for the bard now, and yet not ready to have that conversation with the man... Fully. What he wants from Jaskier; if he is even allowed to want something from the man after being the cause of all the horrible things that happened to him in the last few months; is something he doesn't know the bard will accept. Or just the simple thing called forgiveness. He remembers his lark saying that he forgave during the battle, but does he mean it fully or will his true feelings linger like poison? Getting more potent with every passing day and every of Geralt’s mistakes, until it will be Jaskier’s turn to blow up on the witcher in revenge. There are too many possibilities.

And having a similar conversation about his feelings about the musician, with Yennefer of all people, when they appeared here was taxing enough.

 

-~~~~***~~~~-


 

In the evening of the first night they spent in the meadow, after Ciri was led to bed Yennefer asked him to talk in private. When they went a little upstream away from prying ears the sorceress finally started to speak:

-I can’t feel you anymore.- she said, getting to the point swiftly, while holding a small wisp of light to see the path. Her face of discomfort was outlined in golden borders of light emanated by her chaos.

-What do you mean Yennefer?- asks for more details the confused witcher.

-You must have noticed too. The bond that was created from your wish- it’s gone.- Yennefer looks into the everchanging shapes draped over the water in the dark.

-What?... But how…- Geralt tries to feel the thing that she is talking about.

And, lo and behold, he can’t. There is no longer a thread connecting their souls… or hearts. After looking at the woman once again his true feelings ring clearer than before.

He no longer feels erotic or romantic impulses towards the woman in front of him. No want to tear the clothes of her body and enjoy the taste of earthy pleasures. Now there’s no desire, she’s just… a… friend. A very good friend.

-It’s gone…- he whispers massaging his sternum, right above his heart. – And you’re still alive… - he adds remembering the primary reason for the wish in the first place. A wish that shackled their lives together, whispered in the pressure of the moment. A blessing with a cursed, unforeseen consequence.

-Yes…And the confusing feeling with it.- Yennefer once again dares to look at her ex-lover. She honestly is embarrassed to think this, but… she doesn’t even know if without the wish she would consider such a relation with him. She hopes the witcher also lost all of the romantic feeling towards her.

-I no longer feel the…. pull towards you Geralt.- She is clutching her hand near her collarbone, the fabric in her hand. She needs to tell and make him understand. If he still loves her she can’t reciprocate now…

– You’re… just a friend to me now. I’m sor..- before she can finish the word the witcher interrupts.

-The feelings are mutual Yenn.- His deep voice carries some resemblance of satisfaction. A smile ghosts over his lips. His desire towards Jaskier was increased and more focused. And his own mind has stopped playing tricks on his heart. He loves his bard fully and is finally able to realise his actions as what they were.

He loves Jaskier and he can’t be more glad.

-So… cheers to being friends?- the sorceress asks with a little bit of hesitation. Now her arms limp by her sides, a hand circling the opposite forearm. Head lowered and lips tight. This is her showing her vulnerability, her showing that she is anxious to hear Geralt’s response.

-The best ones.- answers Geralt. And yet his curiosity is not satisfied. – But what broke it without killing you? Last time you researched you said it was impossible.- The brows on his face were creating a v shape on his forehead.

-I have a suspicion that Jaskier’s little concert had something to do with it. – Yennefer returns to her more usual confident pose, hands on her hips and leaning to a side. Her own light bobbing up and down with slow movements.

- But I will need more information to be sure. From I have gathered from examining myself I’m still perfectly safe. And so is he even after all the things he has done. And from looking at you it’s the same thing too.- She raises her head in confidence. – And honestly? It might have not been with my consent; again, but I don’t regret the result or the method. – She twirls her black hair and turns to the direction of the camp.

-But I will look into it after we arrive and I find free time to do so, do not worry. – And just like that she tries to walk past the stunned witcher that still has a hand on his heart. But she hears him say a little quieter:

-Do your emotions for other… people… feel clearer too?- Geralt keeps his back in her direction. And now that she thinks more about it…

-Yes, I feel more confident in deciding who I love, and who I only like. – She surprisingly can’t wait to start the next chapter of her love life with the medic sitting in their camp. Now that she has realised what the feelings she had were it seems so obvious. Her eyes glint mischievously in the dark as she turns to face the witcher fully once again.

-Have you, Geralt of Rivia, one of the most emotionally repressed people I know, already realised that you have feelings for another? – she only hopes that the witcher realised what his bard was trying to tell him all those years and will now finally reciprocate the feelings.

-Yes…- is the only thing that leaves Geralt’s mouth.

-Are those feelings, perhaps for… a certain bard that is going to travel with us and we risked our lives saving?- The White Wolf’s back visibly tenses and his head raises in alarm; still looking away. Yennefer can’t see his face, only the white hair, but she can’t suppress her joy seeing the reaction.

-Is it so clear already?- asks the witcher softly.

- As clear as his feelings for you. – And with that mysterious message the sorceress takes her leave.

And poor Geralt is left alone to think over what she meant later in the tent later. Remembering and reliving some prominent memories from his travels with Jaskier Geralt can see sighs of… something but is yet still unsure if that is enough when he wakes the next day.

 

-~~~~***~~~~-


 

And now, since Jaskier was waking up and he had no speech prepared to confess and explain, there was little he could to but one thing… Something that he learnt from Jaskier over the years working together: avoid the issue.

Geralt throws himself onto more tasks that aren’t needed but “force” him to leave the immediate vicinity of Jaskier, like going hunting (“but we already have a deer…” laments Eskel at his back) and gathering additional herbs, wood or water (“we took care of these things…” Grumble Ciri, Triss and Lambert when the white wolf uses that as an excuse).

He can’t be around when his bard wakes, or he might want to talk about them, and Geralt is.

Not.

Ready!

And so Geralt is the only one that didn’t see Jaskier wake during the afternoon or evening. He doesn’t see or hear how Lambert and the bard bond over some original filthy jokes or the poetic beauty of destruction caused by bombs.

Nor does he witness the epic battle of comments and playful insults his bard and Yennefer commenced when he woke in her vicinity. “I see your crow’s feet are getting deeper, bardling. – And I see you are still a bitch Yennefer, how is your crow’s nest on your head? Still standing? – Like you after one tankard of ale. – Oh my, Yenna! I didn’t know your hair could stand so straight! Don’t you wash it in your cauldron?” and so on and so on. There was no clear winner.

Maybe the rest that could experience the spectacle were the real winners but the stomach-aches they got from trying to not laugh half the time somewhat spoiled the victory.

But what were the results of Geralt’s actions?

He is blindsided when in the morning of them setting out for the journey to Kear Morhen Jaskier is up and awake and helping to take the camp down.

The musician is somewhat upbeat, but Geralt sees the true tiredness in his eyes. He looks like he befriended everybody yesterday. He laughs when Eskel mentions something he said while “under the influence of healing”. His brother seems almost timid trying to converse with his bard and Jaskier in turn only smiles and speaks further pleasantries. Triss and Yennefer are friendly with him and even Lambert doesn’t seem like such a prick. Ciri almost shines like the sun in the man’s presence. But the witcher knows that Jaskier is still troubled by something.

Geralt stays out of the way when they pack, quickly avoiding the bard’s eyes when they look in his direction from time to time. He readies Roach and gives the reins to Ciri so he can walk behind everyone, thinking that his bard, like most of the time they travelled, will lead the group with lute in hand and song on his lips. With the added bonus that he won’t have to talk to or see Geralt too close.

The three other horses will go after Roach. First Scorpion than Pegasus and the last one with the cart and supplies; the newly named Dancer. Called as such by Jaskier (naturally) due to his reactions during the battle in Vizima. Triss and Yennefer will share the cart while Lambert and Eskel will rotate walking alongside Dancer and Scorpion respectively and riding them throughout the day. Jaskier will either ride with Pegasus or walk and play on his lute.

Or that is what Geralt thought!

What really happened is that when everyone was ready to leave and Ciri lead them on Roach Jaskier stayed close to Geralt and asked Triss to hold onto Pegasus for a while. He called out to the princess and said:

-You all start riding slowly. We will catch up swiftly!- the girl looked confused for a second and them understanding bleed onto her face. She nodded firmly and left with everybody.

The bard could see that they stopped just on the edge of the forest, a little way away. He shook his head fondly while Geralt was having a mini heart attack. Why was Jaskier separating them from the group?! He wants to talk doesn’t he? Fuck… he’s going to want to talk…

-Ridiculous bunch…- The man in question turns to Geralt.

-Can we go a little further away and talk… privately? – it was the question the witcher was dreading the most. Caught completely unprepared he only could nod his head.

Jaskier mimicked his movement with lips pressed together and passed him, walking deeper into the forest, in the direction of the river.

This is it… The next few minutes will be the last ones in which I can pretend it will end happily… Bitterly thought The White Wolf.

In the next few minutes my Heart will blame me for all his suffering and tell me he wishes to never see me again and will leave while screaming at me…

Oh, how in that moment Geralt was utterly and completely…

 

wrong
?

 

Well some blaming and heartbreak will take place.

But it won't end in total disaster either...