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when the way is dark

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chapter one

 

Geralt watched as Dettlaff’s fallen form twitched, bleeding limbs seething on the earth, stitching themselves back together. He moved forward in a near-stumble, silver blade held at his side with aching swordarm, to separate Dettlaff further. He’d barely managed to fell him the first time, and if the vampire got up again, chances were he'd lose. He took a halting step closer, but stopped when a pale, clawed hand landed on shoulder.

“Don’t,” Regis said, and his voice was hoarse. “I will handle it.” The injured vampire stepped before Geralt, towards Dettlaff’s writhing, sundered form with a slightly unsteady gait.

“Regis,” Geralt started, and any other words he might have said dried up in his mouth. Dettlaff had just murdered hundreds, tried to rend him in two, and still his instincts said wait. He'd never ask it, would never want Regis to do this. He moved, almost unconsciously, to Regis's side--

Go,” Regis growled suddenly, shoving at Geralt’s shoulder, but not with the strength or anger Geralt knew him capable of. Beneath the beast still vibrating in the vampire’s voice, there was heartbreak, and Geralt went still. A beat, and he considered listening: contemplated walking away and leaving Regis to the murder of his friend and kin. The easy choice. Definitely the safest.

But the sound of Regis’s voice made up Geralt’s mind almost immediately.

“No,” he said, and Regis quickly turned to him, face twisting in grief and anger.

“Do not make this any more difficult than it must be, Geralt,” Regis said, voice low, raw, on the edge of a deep, resigned suffering. Geralt heard it, and realized he hated it. This couldn't happen, he wouldn't let it slide. Not like this, not to Regis.

“Not going anywhere. Not gonna let you kill him, Regis. He’s your friend.”

“I must,” Regis whispered. The mask of anger from before had dissolved completely. His proud shoulders were slumped, dragged down by what Geralt could only call despair. “He is responsible for so many innocent deaths. He- he is my friend, but he must be stopped. I cannot stand by and watch him kill again, even if it hurts me to act as I should.”

Geralt met Regis’s eyes. They shone like obsidian in the moonlight. He did not know if higher vampires could cry-- had never seen one brought close to tears before-- but he imagined that there was no greater expression of anguish for vampires than the look in Regis’s eyes, now. The sight yawned wretchedly in Geralt's gut.

His gaze flickered once to the slowly healing body at their feet, and Geralt resisted a sigh. Shit. He was really going to do this. He looked back at Regis, whose head was turned towards Dettlaff with his eyes closed, as if he could not stand to see his friend there. Or worse, imagine doing what he had resolved to do. Likely, behind his eyelids, Regis was envisioning just that.

Geralt knew that turmoil. Resolution to do the greater good, even when it damned everything else.

Shit. Yeah, he was really going to do this. “Could..." Geralt began, voice fading a bit when Regis's eyes opened and meet his, black stones shining in the night. He swallowed, eyes dropping to Dettlaff's body, and fought the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. He was going to get so much shit for this. "Could you convince him, maybe? To stop his vendetta, if you had the time? Could you keep him away from Toussaint?”

Regis blinked at him, the pain on his face sliding into confusion.  “I- I’m not entirely certain-”

“Regis. You got to him the first time. Could you try again?” Geralt asked, leadingly, meeting his gaze. Regis’s eyes widened.

“But the duchess,” Regis said, and his face was already lifting in a hope that cast aside any of Geralt’s lingering reservations.

“Can be convinced that the problem’s been dealt with. I’ll tell them Dettlaff’s dead, and leave everything else out of it. The duchy doesn’t know anything about higher vampires except what I’ve told them. Can easily tell them the death of one leaves no trace to speak of.” He looked at Dettlaff, whose once halved form had now joined almost completely together. “Take him, quickly. Contact me whenever you have him under control.”

“Geralt,” Regis said, voice thick. His friend was staring at him in disbelief. Geralt didn't know entirely how to feel about that. “Why? He- he is-”

“Your friend,” Geralt interrupted. “Asked you once whose side you’d choose...if it came down to me or him. Said you’d stand with me. Well. This is me returning the favor.” Geralt’s mouth twitched in the ghost of a smile. “Not a hard choice, to be honest. Can’t imagine the Duchess brewing mandrake hooch half as good as yours.”

Regis blinked at him, expression briefly, perilously vulnerable. He moved forward so quickly an untrained man would have startled, drawing close to clasp the witcher’s shoulder in a strong embrace too swift to reciprocate. “Thank you, Geralt,” he whispered, gratitude drawing his voice breathy.

And in a blink of an eye, he was gone in a wisp of midnight fog, leaving Geralt standing alone in the empty field, staring at the black blood-stained grass where Dettlaff lay moments before.