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School of the Cat

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Chapter 1

‘Griffon! Griffon!’ Barof cried pointing upward running wildly into the village. ‘It's got som’un.’

‘What? Who?’  Thomas called. A crowd began to gather.

A burly smith stepped from his forge looking upward. An elder opened her shutters and adjusted the shawl around her neck her eyes skyward. Adults and children stopped what they were doing to see.

Sure enough an ear splitting screech sounded and the enormous monster flew overhead to the gasps and screams of scattering villagers. The enormous wingspan cast a frightening shadow over cottages and yards. Beneath it hung someone swinging a blade at its leathery underbelly where blood could clearly be seen.

‘Who is it?’

‘A young lad by looks.’ Thomas said.

‘Got balls then.’ The smithy muttered his eyes following the flash of a sword overhead.

‘I’ve had enough of this. Get Haddon.’ Thomas ordered picking up a pitchfork.

‘Steady on Tom, we don't owe any stranger anything.’

‘How do you know it's not Narlina’s lad or that merchant that came through here yesterday?’

‘He’s got two swords.’ Said the normally quiet smithy. ‘He's a witcher.’

‘By the gods!’

‘He's dun for.’

‘Not unless we use ‘im to kill the bloody thing before it takes another of our own.’ Thomas shouted rallying the crowd. Blank faces flashing fear and doubt greeted him. ‘While the griffon is tryin to kill the witcher we kill im! Easy!’ As if suddenly understanding, doubt turned to fortitude.

‘Yeh.’

‘Right.’

‘Grab som’thin’ to kill it with.’ Thomas shouted over the growing chaos.

The smithy watched them run off and heaving a mace over his enormous shoulder sighed heavily and followed.

 

Excruciating pain made her eyes see spots but she gripped the rough scaly skin of the claw with her left hand. Easing the pressure on her armour and collarbone where the griffon’s claw had picked her up.

Swinging another blow to its leg and underbelly it screeched again furiously. Moved its leg in flight away and tried to drop its sharp burden. Its claw remained caught in her flesh and the Feline armour. Gritting her teeth she let off another expletive. The attempt to find ever more gross colourful words to describe her stupidity and her predicament taking her mind off the pain long enough to notice they were losing altitude.

Shit! She had to get the blasted thing out of her shoulder before they landed without killing herself. The burning pain made it hard to see but the creature was clearly aiming for that hilltop. She had a small opportunity to act so she waited three painful breathes then dropping her beloved silver sword noting where it fell and drew out her sharpest hunting knife and slid it under the curved talon. Using her armour and leverage she shoved the short sharp blade up and through the beast’s tendons to remove the claw. Her cry of pain lost under the angry screech of the monster flying wildly and trying to rid itself of her. It took another two quick jerking attempts before the talon finally released from her flesh and armour.

Agony then relief, she was free. She felt air and controlling her fall as best she could hit the ground hard by way of tree branches and bushes, gravity pitching her forward down the slope. Sliding and rolling to break her fall as much as possible through shrubs and meadow grasses until she came to a stop. Bruised but not broken she gasped for air gathering herself. She didn’t have much time. Moving her fingers then lifting her left arm caused sharp pain over the throbbing ache but the injury could have been far worse. Now bleeding to death was her main concern and getting her sword back.

A griffon cry got her moving. Where was it?

Another screech. Getting closer.

Rolling carefully onto her hands and knees, she almost laughed at her luck that there were no other injuries. Any bruising would disappear quickly enough. The mutations she had undergone made her heal faster than most of the boys who had made it through the witcher school.

She’d been very lucky. Well, as far as dropping from a griffons claw could be. Relieved but determined she stood up cautiously checking her injuries, eyes skyward, Witcher senses focused. The arm was no longer useful to wield a weapon but it would be useful enough. Her satchel had miraculously remained over her other shoulder. She felt for the only bomb she had left, a Samum bomb and unsheathed her steel walked back up the hill. Her silver was over the other side and there wasn’t enough cover or time to get there safely. The griffon was closing in, hunting her. It screeched angrily swooping up and down the area.

Looking at the beasts wounds as it flew overhead and prepared to attack she walked calmly out into the open, swapped her blade to her weakened left hand and prepared an Aard sign.

Coming around, the griffon saw her and adjusted its descent. She planted her feet standing broadside turning her body to face it as it curved around to make its approach and waited for that perfect moment when the physics of the world worked synergistically with magic. Ignoring the horror of what flew at her, training and practice keeping her focused.

The creature screeched, talons came forward, wings changing from that glide to air beating control. The aard shoved at the monster just as its velocity reached its crucial point when it was using it to add power to its strike. Instead it was shoved awkwardly over her making it twist so its wings were fouled and velocity, momentum and mass translated into a griffon sprawled on the ground a few feet away. The bomb came next, blinding the creature so she could attack with some stealth. Sword again in her right hand, her feet took her swiftly to the monsters head. Aiming the blade into the back of its huge skull it let out a screech that was deafening. Suddenly there were humans spilling around her attacking it mindlessly as it died.

A messy death but it was done.

She staggered back a few steps before realising that she was covered in blood. It was on her armour, her face and in her hair. The warm wetness at her shoulder she knew was her own. Feeling light headed she turned to go find her sword. She needed a bath. Managing to stagger down the slope it was in her sight when she fell to her knees. A man came up to her and tried to help her but pride and a fear of him taking her away had her shrugging off his hands and muttering something.

Have to get the sword. Ignoring offers to get it later. She couldn’t lose it. Not now. She had promised.

‘Come on now son you need to go rest.’

The shouting from up the hill was dying down when a woman joined them and started ordering the man holding her up.

‘Help him up and bring him back to the cottage.’

‘Won’t leave without a sword.’

‘Thomas, go help them find the sword.’

She nearly sobbed with relief when they found it. The sword was wiped and sheathed in its rightful place on her back but she noted the man’s look of envy and the careful way he handled it. Thick hands, broad shoulders, blackened leather apron. A smithy.

After that she lost track. Pain and griffon blood mixed with perspiration was blurring her vision. The voices were hard to understand as she was lifted painfully onto her feet.

‘Do you play gwent.’

Propping up her good shoulder with his own, his stinky breath was too close making her swallow convulsively.

‘No.’ She said through gritted teeth. ‘Can't stand the game.’

‘What have you got against gwent?’

She smiled at his immediate dislike of her response.

‘I lost something… very precious…’ She breathed between bursts of pain.

‘Don’t think that should stop you playin’ gwent but I understand.’

Leaning more heavily on the man beside her she said more quietly.

‘No… don't think you do.’