Somewhere outside of Velen….
Ciri came to a firm stance before stepping past the sodden edges of Crookback Bog. There was a definitive, however alternating, perimeter of solid ground and marshy peat that separated the bog from the rest of desolated Velen. A time before, Ciri had accidentally come here and though most of the threats were disposed of, one still remained. However, today was not an accident. She was waiting for someone.
The days leading up she’d spent a number of long nights and early morning devising a plan to infiltrate the bog and rid the world of its last Crone. She never voiced her intentions, but when it came to Geralt, he had a way of reading her better than anyone else.
There would be only one reason he would return there without her.
Luckily, she didn’t have to wait long to find out.
Straight ahead, sloshing through the muck and mire, was Geralt. Behind him, lead by her reins was his black mare, Roach. Ciri’s own horse was grazing nearby. A noxious gas enveloped the expansive bog, and she wished to avoid it at all cost, for Kelpie’s sake. The White Wolf and his mount didn’t seem to mind.
“I could have done it myself.” Her voice carried loudly over the mucky mounds of dead vegetations, wild grass, and dense foliage. A startled flock of pheasants burst out of hiding amidst underbrush nearby as she spoke. It was morning, and the sun was peeking over the horizon now, changing the morning dew into amber jewels and brightening the grey fog into a golden shroud. She crossed her arms stiffly and glowered as the witcher drew near.
“I know,” Geralt sighed. “That’s what I was trying to keep from happening.”
The closer he got, the less Ciri was able to hold her ire. Geralt’s presence had a way around her frustration and discontent, being fully capable of disarming her most emotive episodes. He was a sense of home and safety, no matter where they were. Perhaps because she’d known him since she was a child.
Stern and unwavering, Geralt had forged Ciri from a runaway princess into a deadly woman and then talented witcher. With an equally powerful sorceress and deadly witcher at her sides, Ciri was well-versed in combative magic and swordsmanship, cultivating the formidable witcheress she was now.
By the time Geralt stood before Ciri, her scowl had melted away leaving her bright green eyes round with curiosity. She was too piqued to see what he held in his hand, but she had an idea.
Again, he didn’t keep her waiting.
The White Wolf opened his hand, palm up; along it rested a medallion, Uncle Vesemir’s wolf bauble. His Destiny, his Ciri, beamed brightly, utterly rivaling the morning shine with her smile before taking it carefully into her grasp. He helped her fastening it around her neck.
“It appeared the Crone didn’t want to part with it,” he stated. “Imagine that?”
They shared a smile before Ciri threw herself into his arms, embracing him.
“Thank you,” she breathed into his collar. With Vesemir’s medallion around her neck and Geralt in her arms, her heart was full. “This means so much to me.”
It was still very early when they headed to the nearest town for breakfast. Ciri predicted to herself the village would still be tucked in their beds when they arrived. They rode quietly, listening to the clop of their horse's gait, the insects chur, and birdsong. Their pommels glittered against the refracted dawn while they rode west with the sun warming their backs.
“What’s our plans for today?” Ciri asked, leaning forward to pat Kelpie against her inky mane.
Geralt always liked it when she included him in her plans. The faint tug at the corner of his lips attested to that.
“I thought we could check the notice boards,” he said, “Go from there.”
She nodded, pleased that he was willing to partake in some swordplay and witcher-work as a pair.
As Ciri suspected, they ate breakfast in a sleepy tavern, played several rounds of Gwent and, after Geralt’s third time losing, decided to pay for their victuals and peruse the notice board.
“There’s a spirit plaguing some woods nearby. Could be worth looking into.” Geralt pulled the parchment off the board with a jerk. “Sounds easy enough.”
It sounded too easy.
Ciri yawned, crossed her arms and cocked her hip out, murmuring, “Follow the crows, destroy the totems, wait for the leshen to show.”
She’d heard it all and wanted something different. Where were the rarer monsters? The Hymns, Djinns, and Dragons? Ones she’d never seen before? Perhaps something with cunning tactics and clever strategery was out there, waiting for her to find it.
“Any coin is good coin,” he responded, scanning the document for the name of the one who scribed it.
She rolled her shoulders and looked off into the maturing dawn tiresomely. “Is it too soon to take a nap?”
“A nap?” he snorted. “Since when are you a napper?”
“Since right now,” she grumbled, feeling the fatigue weigh down her eyelids and tighten her neck.
The town was awfully dull, and she imagined the meandering about, no-sense-of-urgency exuded was the reason she was so tired. Not only that, Geralt had snuck off sometime during the night before, prompting her to track him down until she realized his heading--toward Crookback Bog. She had yet to sleep since and considering Geralt rarely did himself only pushed her to keep up. But now it was taking a toll, especially after all the boiled oats she scarfed down and chased with apple juice. A full belly and an absent mind on top of a lack of sleep. Indeed, a nap sounded divine.
“Fine, I’ll take care of it then.” Geralt said, spying the subtle bruises beneath her green eyes. “You look like you need some rest.”
Ciri found a nice shady grove and settled at the foot of a large oak. Someone had carved the initials ‘ R & L’ in the bark some time ago. The edges were now smooth and through the scarred markings, green moss gathered. She plopped down in a cozy space between two gnarled roots, draped her cloak across to protect her from the filtered sun gleaming through the treetops, and stretched out. The sunshine bleeding through the canopy danced across the forest floor with the breeze. The birds sang. A finch twittered and churred furiously, darting at a stoic crow too close to her nest. Her eyes drooped as she listened to nature’s quiet lullaby.
This is nice, she thought with a faint smile. The epitome of perfect.
Her and Geralt, traveling as a pair. Though Witchers typically worked alone and she had every intention to head out on the Path by herself, one mention to Geralt that she might prefer some company was all it took. He was tired of being alone and certainly didn’t mind spending more time with her.
Her smile grew. The patterns of sunlight danced along her legs crossed comfortably at the ankles. Head pillowed by her arm, while the other draped across her midsection, she hummed a tune.
After the Wild Hunt had been stopped and Eredin slain, hardly a challenging adventure had presented itself. She hated to think the pinnacle of her Path as a witcher was during her most trying times; fleeing, evading, and fearing. It wasn’t until after the defeat of the White Frost did she truly feel she’d become a witcher.
In short, she was craving a new campaign; one with more challenge, more danger. Something different and profound with fire and explosions, antiheroes, and magic she’d never seen before.
The small finch dove and pecked at the blackbird who couldn’t be more bothered.
Which one am I? she thought. The finch or the crow?
Was she content to sit idle and wait for the danger to come? Or was she Cirilla, the White Wolf's daughter, who went out and sought her own adventure, no matter the risks?
Everyone knew that answer.
A hazardous idea quietly took seed, growing like a stubborn weed the longer she thought about. Spurred with spontaneity, Ciri sat up wide awake.
I can go anywhere, she thought. I won’t take long. Just to stretch my legs and see something new.
Before reason set in and deterred her, Ciri closed her eyes and focused. The darkness crept in, coddling her like a lover before swallowing her senses in velvet-soft blackness. For a moment, she just remained there in the pressing silence. A time before, such luxury would have been a fatal mistake. Every time she used her powers, the Wild Hunt knew her location.
Now, she could afford such a respite. They were dead. All of them and she was now free to do what she wanted.
In the quiet abyss of time travel, there was a flicker. Ciri saw it at the corner of her eye immediately. Initially, she was startled. Was the Hunt back for her? No. This was different. Just a glint of light in the featureless pitch; a pinpoint of red in a sea of black.
Impossible, she stared at the black spot where the flickering star was. This was the first time she'd seen anything in the abyss.
It flashed again.
She raced after it.
When Ciri reemerged, there was a belch of heat and flames; an explosion that drummed her ears as it roared past her, brushing her with its scorch and hungry flames. It slammed into the structure behind her with a brilliant flare where the flames blew out, charring the brick and incinerating a sparse patch of shrubs.
Before she could gain her bearings, another object came flying at her face. This time it wasn't a hurling fireball.
She drew steel before the ethereal green mist of her teleportation had even dispersed, drove her sword up, deflecting the flung weapon off to the side. As it careened through the air, flashing the glint of the sun before landing in a soft clatter, Ciri realized it was a sword.
"What in ass is this?" a muffled voice said from the side of her.
Ciri turned, taking in as much of her surroundings as permissible. She stood between a boy and a smoldering pile of oddly looking junk. The voice, a man, rose up from the other side of the charred carcass and shouted. "Did anyone just see that?"
The trees were gone, she noticed. Most of them, at least. And the buildings were too tall and broad with a geometry that was all wrong, and with so many windows and wires stretching between wooden posts. Something roared high in the air, horribly high where more alien facades jutted like iron giants. The refracted sun glared off their silver, blue, and black bodies while pale leviathan screamed on before disappearing into the clouds.
"Tell me someone saw that?" the muffled voice came again.
If he had a face, Ciri assumed it was the red and black visage with white eyes, but by his muffled voice, it very well could be just a mask. She hoped. A pair of swords crisscrossed his back but he didn't appear to be a witcher, nor did he possess his medallion. Hers had yet to stop vibrating since her arrival.
If she could see his eyes, perhaps that would confirm her suspicions.
The rest of him, much like his face, was black and red and featured harnesses strapped to his thighs. Whatever those harnesses held were beyond her scope of knowledge.
What is this place? Where did that little star take me?
Regret on tides of confusion crowded her like the people surrounding all side. The closest being a plump boy who seemed more frightened to see her than Ciri was at being in such a place at all. There was so much to absorb and understand.
"Put down your weapon!" several men shouted at her, arms extended while gripping something small and black in their hands. All pointed directly at Ciri's face and chest, and at the kid. However confusing her situation seemed, she didn't think it was ending well.
I can just leave. she thought, preparing to step back into the darkness of time travel. The boy behind her whimpered, reminding her she'd just deflected a sword for him. She had to do something. She couldn't abandon him when he was just a kid, surrounded by guards and men would double swords.
I can't leave, she realized. This boy needs me.
She looked back over her shoulder, "What year is it?"
The boy's hands were glowing red like hot coals. Sweat-sheened and flustered, his pudgy face was ruddy under a tousled mop of black hair. He looked frantic. She was closer to him than anyone else and it appeared to remain that way.
He's just a kid.
"Stay back!" he screamed until his voice broke. "Stay back or I'll kill you!"
Ciri lowered her guard and looked at him askance, muttering, "That's not a way to speak to someone who just saved your life."
"Time out!" Crossed-Swords shouted, clambering over the burning heap of junk. He tripped in the process and dumped onto the buckled stone below.
Ciri stepped back and regarded the man contemptuously. Cleary, he wasn't a witcher.
His head jerked up and, through narrowed slitted white orbs, somehow glared at her. "Don't give me that look."
Ciri gave him that look.
"Why are you trying to hurt the kid?" she countered, adjusting her stance to face him. "Who are you?"
"Who am I?" he scoffed, picking himself up from the ground and dusting off dirt and debris. "I'm trying to mitigate a situation right now, and you're only making it worse."
He tried to step past her for the boy, but she stomped his toes with the heel of her boot and shouldered him back with casual practice. He bounced off the impact into a graceless pratfall with an audible oof.
"I've seen you more times on the ground than your own two feet," she remarked derisively, smirking. Ciri heard a giggle behind her. The younger lad lowered his smoldering hands which slowly lost their molten gleam.
"That's it!" Crossed-Swords spat, sitting up. "You wanna dance?"
Ciri's green eyes flashed, bringing up her sword.
"I do, in fact."
"Fine then, let's dance!"
He rolled back onto his shoulders, wrenched suddenly, and landed lithely on his feet in a single, swift motion.
I can do that, she scoffed even though she'd never tried. Perhaps not in these tall boots.
"And since you have two swords," he muttered, stomping away to retrieve his discarded weapon while unsheathing the other.
"Now." He popped his neck and rotated his shoulders to loosen them, "Ladies first."
In her mind's eye, she was back on the broken battlements of Kaer Morhen, under a bright winter's sun. Lambert was before her, arousing her frustration with snarky remarks and undermining her performance as indicative of his nature of training.
Ciri's lips twisted maliciously. She clutched her hilt with both hands, body positioned into a posed attack and, with a sharp cry, lunged. She struck quickly and viciously, holding nothing back. Their blades clashed and steel sang and hissed like snakes. They danced, pirouetted with half-turns, leaps, and ripostes. Each was parried and several times the man nearly landed a blow himself. But Ciri was far too quick.
"Where!" he yelled between deflections that rang out piercingly while trying to maintain a positive footing, "Did you learn all this?!"
Ciri disappeared into a green smoke, re-appeared from behind, and booted the man in his red and black rear.
Swords fell forward into a tuck and roll, landing back on his feet without a disruption in his defense.
"Sweet Jesus!" he whipped around and leaned away just as her sword swept across, barely missing his throat.
The witcheress' presence had drawn a crowd now.
Keeping a trained eye on the boy, she continued to push her attacker away with fast, unrelenting strikes, feigning when she needed to and parrying when he advanced with both of his swords. She could see all the guards closing in on the boy who, like the others, was starstruck.
Swords spun around, twirling his blades in a single arc expertly before charging again. He swung across in blindingly quick successions. Ciri was also impressed until she dropped to a knee and swung her sword outward. The tip of her blade sliced across his thigh, severing his femoral artery.
Blood sprayed across her face and chest horrifically. She sprang back, sputtering. Her intention had not meant to kill him, just roughen him up.
Swords glanced down, watching the spewing blood slow to a dribble down his leg, clot, and heal.
"That," he heaved a breath. "Was almost my dick."
Panting heavily, Ciri saw the pink color of his flesh through the slit. He truly was a man beneath a full body suit. How he was able to breathe or move through such tight clothing was a mystery.
More importantly, he can't die. A cut that should have bled him out in minutes was now nothing more than a tear in fabric and blood stains on his inner leg.
I don't understand. Ciri stared at the site then at his featureless face. Is he a vampire? Can no one die in this world?
A shrill wail disrupted her fascination, causing both Swords and Ciri to look. Guards had closed in, using the stunning swordbearers as a distraction and now apprehended the kid. They were fashioning a collar around his neck. He began to scream.
"I said time out!" Sheathing his weapons, Swords took off towards the guards, throwing his arms up in an exasperated gesture.
Ciri evaporated into an emerald mist, making it to the boy before the man with the crossed swords.
A shimmering green fissure of time and space split open, revealing the sharp edges of a blade before the rest of the woman emerged mid-cut. She cleaved the arm off one black guard, coming fully from the portal, punched a second in the mouth with her pommel before a third clocked her in the back of her head.
Perhaps Swords was right;
I am making it worse.
Ciri learns their names; Russell and Deadpool. Cable breaks into the Icebox.
When Ciri woke, she expected to be sheltered beneath the shade of a great oak and cushioned by a bed of moss amidst birdsong. She expected for it to have been only a vivid dream and nothing more.
It was not a dream, and she was not beneath an oak's shadow. And it turned out to be much, much more.
Wrenched awake, she sat up, wildly clutching the device wrapped around her neck and scrambling for her weapons. The back of her skull throbbed but, more importantly, her swords were gone. Everything was gone. Even her clothes, replaced by a long sleeved, acrid-smelling pantsuit the color of basilisk venom or pestilent warts on a grave hag.
She looked around.
Four glass walls encased her. Holes drilled through the panes provided for ventilation. She was surrounded by hard edges, biting cold steel, and discomfort. Foreign, all the same. And there were many more cells lining the walls. As far as her enclosure went, she was alone whereas the other cells had at least two prisoners. Catwalks connected each cell and grated stairs connected the lower and upper levels with guards patrolling the upper and bottom perimeters and everything in between. Some of the occupants she spied were huge and towering in stature, almost as tall as the Aen Elle, but broader framed and seemingly more rabid. Others were as small as dwarves and halflings with sharp teeth and round ears. There were some with blue skin and bright red hair, scales and split tongues. The rest looked as harmless and rather unassuming as any human. But she could be wrong. More men had wronged her than monsters.
This must be a mistake, she told herself.
Ciri didn't allow cold panic to overcome her. She took a clearing breath, closed her eyes, and focused.
I'll leave this place, this time and its world. I'll return to Geralt.
A low rumbling drummed against her ears. She concentrated harder. It grew.
The comforting black, where was it?
Ciri refused to give up and focused until she trembled.
It wouldn't answer her, wouldn't come when she called, and it always answered her, even at times she didn't want it to.
"You're wasting your time," a young voice from her right said. Ciri's eyes snapped open and then narrowed.
The cell next to her, much like her own, encased the boy she dueled for and someone new and horribly disfigured by burns. They both wore bright yellow suits like Ciri, like everyone, in fact.
"Where am I?" she skipped the introductions and pressed her hands to the glass wall.
"The Icebox," the boy replied. "An isolated prison for rogue mutants."
"Prison? Rogue mutants? " she scoffed incredulously, although her chest suddenly felt tight. "I fear there's been a mistake!"
"I'm sorry I got you into this mess," he frowned.
Ciri crossed her arms tightly and nearly turned away. Instead, she held fast. It wasn't the kid's fault. It was her's. She intervened even when she hardly had a clue what was transpiring. She saw a kid in need of help, and she responded as appropriately as she could.
"It's not your fault," she muttered, staring off across the catwalks to the other prisoners. "It's mine."
Again, Ciri attempted removing her collar until the adjustable brackets chipped her nails and pinched her fingers. Frustrated, she swore harshly and paced her confines.
"He's right. That collar," coughed the burned man, "Won't let you use your powers so you can stop trying."
Ciri spat angrily, then paused. She recognized that voice. It was a now distinct, less snarky, and unmuffled. When she looked back, he was still looking at her. They regarded each other for a brief moment before she turned away and plopped down on the edge of her uncomfortable cot.
His face wasn't what she expected. Having seen enough witchers, sorcerers and the like with their scars, disfigured features and mutilations―even having an ugly scar herself―she didn't flinch. But that didn't mean his condition went unnoticed. Not only badly burned, but he had been recently beaten and left bruised and bloody, then tossed back into his cell.
Ciri sniffed. It smelled strange here, and the people were loud and clamorous like Skellig war parties, only sober, unarmed, and trapped in a glass box. How far forward did she travel?
That damn light, she internally fumed. I shouldn't have followed it.
But what was it doing all alone in the darkness?
"My names Russell," the boy's introduction pulled her from her thoughts. "This is my friend Deadpool, or Wade."
She looked over her shoulder and eyed the boy and the man. Deadpool. Not the oddest name ever heard.
"I'm Ciri," she smiled, omitting all the monikers she accumulated over time. "Nice to meet you."
After a few hours, Ciri stopped listening to Russell and Deadpool go back and forth. The man was dying, somehow. Having sliced his femoral artery open with her sword, then witness it stitch itself back together, how was it he was dying now?
Her hand drifted up to touch her collar. Despite their warnings, she tried teleporting again and, to her dismay, couldn't. Ciri stretched out on her cot and tried to sleep.
Sleep came in and went in short minute-long sessions. At some point, she missed lunch or dinner; she wasn't sure what time it was here or if they even partook in such activities. Either way, a tray of food awaited her when she woke. It contained an apple, two pieces of bread filled with mysterious contents; brittle, pale discs that smelled like nothing but tasted like pure salt and a cup of some brown, viscous goo.
Prying the top off, she stuck her finger in the brown substance and warily touched her tongue to it. Sweet and delicious. She recognized the spoon and knife, which caused such a wave of relief, she laughed under her breath. Taking the spoon, she ate the mysterious brown stuff until the cup was clean. It was tasty, whatever it was. Then she bit into her apple and pushed the rest aside.
Although she was more interested in breaking out of the clink, she hadn't eaten since her morning with Geralt and even then, wasn't very hungry. Still, she went through the motions so that at least something was in her stomach.
"How was your nap?" Russell's voice carried over. When she looked at him, there was a fascination in his dark eyes. It was the same look she gave Geralt as a child when she first met a witcher. Unfortunately, Ciri was not in the mood for small talk and just about told him so when everything went black.
For a fleeting moment, the sudden impenetrable pitch and surprised silence had Ciri believing she'd finally teleported, but that was short lived when a long howl filled the space. Like wolves themselves, more prisoners followed in chilling emissions, howling though there was no moon in sight.
The strange orbs of lights hanging by fixtures strung from the ceiling simply lost their blinding glow, plummeting the compound into total darkness. The prisoners howled on, riled by the temporary blindness before there was a loud, hollow knock and a rotating red glare took over. Shadows chased across the catwalks, fleeing the menacing glow, followed by a sharp, long whooping report―an alarm. She pressed her hands to her ears and glanced towards Russell's cell.
Through the thickened shadows, several blackguards were moving quickly, crawling down the catwalks like spiders, and spreading out on the bottom floor.
I need my swords.
She felt antsy and cornered, like a caged animal mad with the will to survive. I need to get back to my time, my world. Her hand drifted up, seeking solace in the medallion hung around her neck, but it was gone. Her heart throbbed against her ribcage.
Panic was on the rise.
A thunderous blast shook the entire structure. On the bottom floor, another explosion blew shards of glass and guards across the room. A fire broke out in its place. The red light flashed and rotated, heightening the turmoil unfurling with its menacing glare. Ciri had felt this sense of bedlam before. The screams, the explosions, and belches of flame.
Black wings; a bird of prey; columns of fire. Cintra. Aflame. Black Ones, flooding the gates of Cintra like shadows.
Then the door to her glass cell yawned open.
She froze, unsure whether it was a play on her eyes, a trick of the sort. Prisoners across the catwalks sprang out from their confinement and raced down from the upper levels, accosting the unsuspecting guards below. She stepped out just as the bottom floor erupted in short, concussing blasts and more explosions. Men screamed and shouted orders, darting about and hunkering down behind overturned tables. There were more variables than just the blackguards and loose prisoners, she felt.
Who was responsible for the sudden explosions?
"Ciri!" Russell called in his strange accent as if he grew up from the Bits in Novigrad. "Ciri, help us!"
She ran to them, finding their door still closed.
"I don't know what to do!" Indeed, she hadn't a clue. The devices, the levels of machinery, and gadgets were beyond her. If not for gravity, she wouldn't know up from down. She slapped the surface, leaving a handprint, then tried shouldering the glass haphazardly.
Without her interference, their cell slid open, and the two hurried out.
Deadpool paused before her, wheezing. "Your collars flashing?"
Russell grabbed her hand, and they were off.
As soon as they raced down the catwalk, an explosion blasted from behind, destroying a stretch of catwalk and several glass compartments. Shards rained down upon them, ushered by a belch of heat and sound. Chaos reigned.
"That was our cell," Deadpool said, stumbling while he scoured the bottom floor. "What did I do to piss off a grumpy, older fucker with a winter soldier arm?"
Ciri couldn't decipher the last portion of his statement even if she wanted to. Right now, she wanted to get Russell out of the Icebox and so did she.
As Deadpool led the way, sparks spewed, and fragments of metal ricocheted off hard black surfaces. She couldn't search for the man in question without being blinded or flinching from flying debris. Another explosion rocked the catwalks, nearly dumping the trio over the railing. Russell clung to Ciri, who clung to the iron handguards.
"Get away from me kid!" Deadpool shouted, pushing Russell back.
Ciri tightened her hold on boy's hand and pulled him towards her. Another blast and bursts of sparks rained down like embers. Ahead a mixture of guards and prisoners crowded the narrow pathway while they continued to hurry across the prison. The only way was forward with Deadpool, and it appeared to the entire party that whatever was beneath them causing such a ruckus was after Wade.
Her neck still stung from the sparks, prompting her to reach up and adjust her collar. It burned her. Ciri snatched her hand back with a hiss. At the same time, a flash of movement swept past her legs.
A silent shadow vaulted up, swinging lithely over the railing, and cutting off their exit via the catwalks.
Ciri sucked in a sharp breath.
Standing before them was a man and machine. His eyes were unmatching, dark in one and a glaring red light in the other. He looked past her, straight for the boy. Betraying his age, his hair was also ashen-colored like Ciri, albeit cut short on the sides and slicked back on the top. A cloak draped over his shoulders. Ciri dragged her eyes down, absorbing every detail of the threat before her. The weapon, gripped by a muscular arm, smoked.
Russell held onto her tightly, restoring her courage like a source. She forced herself to tear her gaze apart from the weapon to stare into the man's eyes. If not for the distinct differences in physiognomy, the eye alone made her think back to Vilgefortz during her short stay at Castle Stygga.
"Hello, Russell," the man said coldly, ignoring Ciri altogether. He took a step forward. So did Ciri, sidestepping until she stood between him and Russell.
"Move aside, woman." the man growled, flashing her with the sharp light of his red mechanical eye. "I'm here for the boy and no one else."
Ciri blinked, distracted by the crimson glint. She recognized it, that tiny red spark; the crimson star in the black impenetrable abyss. For that was precisely where she'd seen it.
"It's you," Ciri breathed. How?
The man scowled at her, twisting his mouth into a disdainful frown.
Ciri punched him in the mouth, hard. Pain shot up her forearm and rattled her elbow as if she'd hit a brick wall.
The rugged man took the blow without flinching. Then he swung his bulky weapon around and took aim. Deadpool charged immediately, flying past her and ramming into the man, driving the barrel upward. Quick, deafening bursts of light erupted with a roar that tore into the roof. Dust and pieces of ceiling rained down. Ciri jerked Russell back and stepped in front of him, shielding him with her body, as she did, the hot metal stung significantly, distracting her. It popped and the pain vanished.
Throwing her arm up to protect them from the fall chunks of rock, Ciri pushed Russell back with her body. Her collar shifted around her neck, loosened, and fell.
A sudden surge overcame her, flooding her senses until she was faint and dizzy. Holding onto the railing to keep her from collapsing, she touched her neck, catching the last glimpse of her collar before it disappeared into a sea of scrambling blackguards and fleeing prisoners, snuffing the blinking red and green light Deadpool had mentioned earlier.
A cold chill rolled down her shoulder blades, converged, and walked down her spine.
Her Elder Blood sang.
"Ciri!" the boy called, gripping her arm and tugging. "We need to go!"
That's right, she remembered. I can't leave Russell.
Shaking off the vertigo, Ciri stood up. Ahead, the men fought relentlessly. Deadpool tried to keep up, losing his balance several times and falling. He didn't have the strength to maintain a proper fight against this man, who was now driving Deadpool's face into the railing until bright blood painted the surface. Deadpool managed to slip out of the hold and knock back the bulky weapon. It crashed onto the hard grates beneath their feet, only to lift up from the ground and fly across the room, slamming into the man's back. He grabbed it and drove the butt into Deadpool's face, stunning him.
He pivoted, faced them, and took aim at Ciri
She turned, throwing her arms around Russell and squeezing him tight. The abyss screamed for her, rushing in from all sides.
A single shot blew from the barrel of his weapon but all that was left of Ciri and Russell was a fading wisp of sparkling green mist.
Ciri attempts to escape the Icebox, but Russell requests they first rescue Deadpool.
Cable stepped back, staring at the space once occupied by Russell and the female prisoner. He twisted around, scanning the catwalks and utilizing his advanced ocular to separate the guards from the prisoners. At his feet moaned Deadpool, groaning and coughing up blood. Cable looked down and, after another scan, poor news on was on the horizon for Wade Wilson. Fortunately, Cable was not the Reaper for Deadpool; he was here for Russell.
Cable stepped over the dying man in smooth stride, still searching for where his target and his time-traveling protector had vanished.
Suddenly, his tracer locked onto something, diving leftward and illuminating the heat signal of two bodies down below. One was significantly lower in temperature, taller, and unmistakably female. He found them.
Cable stepped up to the railing and peered down.
There, on the bottom floor, the pale-haired woman emerged with Russell in her embrace; a lioness and her cub. They scrambled for their bearings just as a pair of guards charged forward.
He gave himself a moment to watch and to allow his tracer to lock onto the target in case they vanished on him a second time, but also to see if the guards could take care of them without Cable intervening.
Russell's protector was quick, moving lithely and sure-footed like a jungle cat. What surprised him the most was her effortless ability to transcend time and space. When Cable stepped into the abyss, there was a bone-shattering pain. The vibrations of the feat were too overbearing for an average human body to withstand. If not for the techno-organic infection reinforcing his anatomy, separating the matter for time-travel often resulted in a collapse of all the molecules attempting to manipulate it. But there she was, dancing with space, altering time, it's infinite width and depth of such matter. And it yielded willingly; as eager and obedient as a lover, the continuum opened to her and surrendered like a weak, pious man praying to his goddess.
Deadpool groaned, then cried out when Cable turned and stepped on his shattered arm as he strode past. The guards were failing even to catch her and hold her still. Like children chasing a butterfly.
A portion of catwalk had sheared off and now acted as a ramp into the lower level where Russell and his time traveler were.
Skipping the stairs, Cable slung his weapon across his back and slid down the ramp.
The first one lunged, rearing a baton back for a hard swing. The two others flanked, creating a perimeter around Ciri with Russell pressing into her back.
She blinked, leaving a trail of bright jade in her wake, leaving Russell in harm's way only for a moment as the first guard swung down. But before anything could touch the kid, Ciri was back with hands shooting out of the abyss in smoky tendrils of green light, snatching the straps of first guard backplates and jerking him into the darkness, where she left him. Reemerging, she kicked the second guard in the groin, dropped her elbow against his crown, then disappeared.
More guards haphazardly and futilely attempted to catch Ciri. Turning this way and that, they grasped at the air while their target weaved in and out of existence. Even Russell had difficulty keeping a trained on her until he lost her completely. He panicked at once and yelled. She was in the folds of two dimensions, making it easy for her to hear his cry and slip out.
Coming up from behind, she grabbed Russell's hand and started running towards the first door she saw.
"I must find my swords," she yelled over her shoulder, rushing through the corridors. "A witcher never parts with her swords!"
The kid could hardly keep up and gasped terribly, "A what?!"
As they fled down through the empty hall, making several turns until the din from the main compound faded into the background, and grew not only quieter but darker. The red warning lights still glowed, provided a dark and arduous path to navigate. Each wash of its glare overcame Ciri and Russell briefly before blinding darkness swallowed them whole.
Just the two of them, Ciri hesitated to a quick walk so Russell could catch his breath. There was moaning in the darkness, distinct in such quiet chaos. She squeezed Russell's soft hand and strained her ears as she turned the next corner.
A wounded blackguard was dragging himself across the floor halfway down the corridor leaving a trail of black blood when they came upon him.
Her green eyes flashed violently, kicking him at the shoulder. He fell back against the floor with a startled cry.
"The contraband room," she barked, looming over him. A strand of ashen hair fell in front of her face; she blew it away. "Where is it?"
"Don't hurt me!" he whimpered pathetically. "I don't know!"
"Bollocks!" she spat, kneeling before him. She snatched him up by his collar and focused. Her emerald eyes blazed as she pushed into his thoughts. "Where. Is. It?"
He broke immediately, telling them in explicit detail the way to her swords, medallion, and garb. He provided a master code they would need, then passed out from pain just as dark blood trickled from his nose.
They were off again, dodging guards and devices in a world utterly alien to Ciri.
What an adventure! soared her heart, but she was still quite scared to be fair. What would any courage be without a little fear?
When they found the room, it was Russell who punched in the code. Ciri watched, fascinated by the tiny red light flash green and the tones chirping when he pressed the keys. Entering, she scoured the inventory at once, coming upon her things and undressed quickly and without once thinking of Russell' previous exposure to women. In her place and time, boys of his age were already married with children or serving the armies.
He was so quiet; she turned her head as she strapped her scabbards onto her back and stuffed her boots on to make sure he was still there.
His features were tensed, wounded even.
"You ready?" she asked, tightly fastening the last of her buckles with a quick jerk.
"What happened to you?" he breathed, his pudgy hands flexing at his side. If not for his collar, she knew they would glow. "Who did this to you? Who gave you that scar on your face? And all the others? Who hurt you?" Ciri opened her mouth to respond, but he cut her off.
"I'll kill them!" he trembled. "I'll kill all of them! I'll burn them down!"
She paused and considered what good that sort of information could provide. One glance and she could see the trust and determination in Russell's brown eyes. He was passionate, yes. Possessed a temper; so did Ciri. But in all, he was a sweet kid, and no one could fault him for that. So why were so many people after him?
"His name was Skellen," she replied coolly, keeping her voice steady, "But he was also known as Tawny Owl. Do not worry about him; there's no need. As for the others, I forgot their names." But that was a lie. "Let's go, Russell."
She slipped her gloves on, stretching her fingers before taking his hand. "We need to find a way out of here." Touching the wolf medallion resting on her chest, she felt herself again. Yes, very much like herself.
How he interpreted in her words must have assured him, for his composure returned, and he beamed up at her.
"You look so cool," Russell smiled sheepishly.
Ciri smiled back effortlessly. She liked the kid.
"Thanks, I feel rather cool, too." Whatever that meant.
They marched down the corridor, stepping over the incapacitated guard and retracing their steps as best as they could in the confusing shadows and the misleading maze of corridors.
"We need to find Deadpool," he muttered at her back as she checked several doors; most were locked, and others were too secure to shoulder through.
"No, Russell," she stated evenly. "We need to get out of here."
"Can't you just teleport us out of here?"
That question always arose. Except for Geralt, who hated all methods and modes of teleportation.
"It's not that simple," she said and kept moving.
"How so?" he followed closely, double checking all the doors and windows she'd already checked.
"It's a lot safer to be familiar with the place."
"Then take us back to the cell block."
She paused and looked at him.
"You're my friend, Ciri." he sighed. "Right?"
The washing red glare played a stop-motion of pity across his face.
"Of course," she didn't miss a beat.
"If Deadpool were here instead of you, I would ask him the same thing."
"Deadpool and I are very different people," she frowned.
"Perhaps. But I would convince him. Please, Ciri. He's my friend, too."
She sighed, abandoning her efforts to pull him close.
The red strobe washed over them, then the shadows collapsed. When the light made its rotation back around, they were gone.
Returning to the lower floors of the compound, they followed the dull blasts and slew of curses bouncing off the walls. It was with these shouts and pained grunts that lead them into a large drainage pipe. Deadpool and the time traveler were grappling in earnest.
Directly behind Wade, denoting the end of the tunnel, was a large window of white light, proceeded by a fan. A cold breeze blew into the tunnel, washing over Ciri as they came to pause at the blown entrance.
Though she was here and in the now, her mind began to drift to somewhere afar and long past.
The man reared his metallic fist back and drove it straight into Deadpool's midsection. He fell back as if he'd been clotheslined, landing supine and cracking his head against the floor.
"Help him!" Russell cried, grabbing at her sleeve.
Snapped free, Ciri snarled, unsheathed her steel sword, then teleported.
She landed in front of the time traveler as he drove his leg up, catching her unguarded midsection. A hard impact slammed into her, doubled her over and disrupted her advancement.
Flakes of snow swirled around her feet, taking her back to the frozen peaks of Undvik; to the frigid winds that whipped and swirled around Tor Gvalch'ca's far reaches; to its sharp spires lost into the churning black sky.
Behind her the Wild Hunt, before her the White Frost.
They're dead, she told herself, trying to breathe as a fist of pain clawed its way up from her stomach to her chest. I stopped the endless winter. I killed the wraiths.
Time stopped. Her hearted hammered.
The whispering snowflakes that danced and caressed her boots and calves stilled, but the fear remained, threatening to suck her back into that perilous battle between wraiths and prophecies. Nothing else existed but Ciri and the gyres of snow. What if in this time and space, the Wild Hunt still remained? What if in this dimensional rift was a world just like hers? What if the Wild Hunt was still coming? Should she run?
They can't take me. They cannot use me. I will not be their sow to breed and torture.
Ciri looked up at the end of the tunnel. Russell was frozen mid-scream, foot raised to rush them. She couldn't see Deadpool, not without turning and expose her back in the process. She lifted her eyes, towards her assailant. The time traveler lowered his, and not slowly but utterly unfazed by her seize of the continuum. The sharp red star was gone, only green eyes looked back at her. Pained and determined met her gaze. There was even grief and loss staring back at her. He looked much older but carried much of his age in his eyes.
He's here, she realized with shock, He's here in the fissure with me. Now.
He's just like me.
Time collapsed and tumbled, returning to its linear balance with a cathartic and deafening resonance.
She used the momentum and the pain to fall forward, throwing her arms around the man's waist. His hands came down, gripping her shirt and back. A pulse of shimmering green mist exploded, slamming into the walls with such force, they cracked and trembled.
The blast shoved Russell and Deadpool away. The kid fell back. Deadpool was thrown into the fan, which shattered, and both fell into the blindingly white light Ciri fled from.
When the mist winked out, both ashen-haired fighters were gone.