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Monster Hunter: Witcher III

Chapter Text

The Elder’s Recess had drastic effects on the ecosystem of the New World. It was the womb of a new Elder Dragon. It was the graveyard for such beasts, so the new dragon may feed off of their energy during its development. The Elder’s Recess is a place of energy for growth, for death, and much to the Third Fleet’s delight, an abundance of monster research.

            However, the New World has been filled with a plethora of weird shit, particularly in the aforementioned Elder’s Recess. A giant, unknown beast called the Behemoth appears and starts wreaking absolute havoc, right after the Great Kulu-Ya Ku incident with the crystal. The hunters are still reeling from that fight. Of course, in the New World more weird shit continues to show up as the days go on.

            An increasing number of monster disappearances begin to alert the researchers of Astera. Of the general wildlife surrounding the base, very few of it remained. Any carnivorous large monster the hunters came across attacked with absolute desperation, emaciated.

            With Aja, the Sapphire Star, being the most capable hunter available, the Commander decided that she should accompany a research group that will stay out in the field long term. She would follow a group to -shockingly enough- the Elder’s Recess. The Sapphire Star, also known as Aja the absolute fucking beast, just shrugged at the Commander before she held up her right index finger, drew a circle next to it, eyebrows raised, “When?”

            “Two days from now,” boomed the Commander. “Get your supplies ready.”

            Ready she did. She gathered enough potions to last the journey to the Recess, seventy dung bombs, and a plethora of other (not-really) necessary goods. When the research group questioned her amount of “stuff,” as they said, Aja responded with a blunt, “If I’m not prepared, we’re dead.”

            Fair enough.

            Felix stood at her side- a little white Palico with half a tail and a spot on his cheek- translating for those who couldn’t understand sign language. He had his paws on his hips, his signature grin and eyes that never opened. He donned his favorite armor- a set that matched Aja’s Deviljho gear- which enabled his invigorating and powerful words, “My Meowster knows how to keep us safe! Everything here is absolutely necessary!” Aja matched Felix’s pose and threw a high five.

            Now- the researchers had every right to question Aja’s vast amount of travel gear. There was a chest for her armors (“Meowster needs a backup!”), one for her fifteen insect glaives, and a third for all ingredients and potions they might need on their journey.

With a few cheers and hundred mentions of be careful from Aja’s Handler, the group set off when the sun barely peeked past the sea’s edge and dusted the sky orange.

The journey itself- not too taxing- was uneventful. Felix and Aja engaged in half-silent conversation, and the researchers scribbled in their notes about any new findings to keep themselves busy. They would sometimes force the caravan to stop for the sake of inspecting some very peculiar monster dung. Aja, between her talks with Felix, kept her eyes, ears, and nose open to any approaching large monsters, which, thankfully, were sparse.

The Elder’s Recess was the start of absolute unrestrained chaos. A rather large Dodogama showed raised interest in the researcher’s collected rocks. In his endeavors, he did manage to swallow some lovely specimens of crystal, though the look on his face said that the beast regretted his choice of snack. After a quick dung pod shot, the Dodgama and the caravan carried on in their separate ways.

The Dodogama was not too terrible of an encounter, and neither was the docile Uragaan. The horrific part came when she decided to roll over the caravan, crushing two researches and destroying the rations. The animal hadn’t noticed the group of moving people, and no one blamed the lovely lady. After all, they were humanoids wandering in monster territory.

The group made camp as soon as possible. The crushed researchers thankfully survived with a few busted ribs, but they would need more rest plus some medical attention after ingesting a few potions. The group decided to head back to Astera for a new set of hopefully far more durable carts, and maybe some more durable researchers too. “The good part,” said one of the injured, “is that at least the Uragaan and the Dodogama aren’t too wildly affected."

            But, alas, luck never shined on the Sapphire Star. Ever. Early dawn, a particularly hungry Deviljho exhibiting the horrifically abnormal behaviors of a starved monster crashed into camp with the full intent of having a small, crunchy meal of a research group. They looked like a tasty snack, apparently.

            It was there that a very lost dung pod made a barrel bomb on one of the carts explode. One of the rookies missed the Deviljho’s face. Shit. Now he was hangry and spitting dragon blight.

            Aja did her absolute best at damage control. Her absolute best was currently defined as: (1) tripping over too much debris as she (2) tried to provoke the damn Spicy Pickle looking beast so the rookies could get the hell out of there. (3) Trying to help Felix while (4) trying to find her kinsect which seemed far more interested in a nearby beehive (but he finally flew to action) while also (5) trying not to die.

           

            Aja finally found herself on the Deviljho’s face, which kept him preoccupied with running into walls while the others made an escape. Some of the more experienced hunters stayed back to work on the Deviljho once he was downed, but before anything could be done, orange rimmed voids opened up and swallowed Felix, Aja, and a really, really angry Pickle.

Chapter Text

         

           Whatever swallowed the trio was kind enough to drop Aja directly in the middle of a meadow just after dusk, the Deviljho nowhere to be seen. With a lack of angry Pickles, Aja began with her first course of action: check for any immediate danger. No peril showed itself besides some very odd tracks, which only threatened with death’s stench.

            Her second course of action was her closest friend- Felix. She found the Feyline upside down in a tree, paws waving in attempt to free his leg from a branch. Aja released the poor cat from his natural bonds and insisted Felix rest on her shoulders. She preferred to keep him close; Aja didn’t know what could happen next, and unfamiliar territory kept her on high alert.

            Her third course of action was repairing a cart by snatching whatever tools lay around the wreckage. Assessing the remaining goods without shelter vibrated “bad idea,” so the intent was to gather any supplies with a semblance of usability and shuffle on to an appropriate campsite.

           A nearby cave, Felix found, was sizeable enough for a comfortable night’s rest and close enough that the shoddy cart lost a wheel right as the temporary home was discovered. The earthy scent slowed the hunter’s heartbeat as familiarity washed over her.

           Aja closed her eyes and dug her heels into the ground. Fertile earth, the distant sounds and screams of unknown creatures. This world, she felt, was different from her own. It breathed in its own sense with a hidden darkness permeating the surface and a familiar, pulsating energy running through the organisms dusting the surrounding plains.

           Outside of her senses, Felix sifted through splintered boxes to find anything useful. He purred in delight when he found a in usable condition and a lovely specimen of steak. He was fortunate his human preferred her steaks rare, contrary to the large love of well-done.

           In his honest opinion, the poor Aptonoth rolls in its grave each time its meat is made well done.

           Felix glanced at Aja and gave a curt nod. He knew she needed all the silence he could provide. Aja, he found, was not a great hunter solely because she trained with bloody fingers. Aja was a woman that knew the land to its very essence and felt its soul beneath her. Unlike some others, Aja understood the monsters she hunted, their why, their how.

           So, the Feyline set up camp and settled on the bedroll until his companion’s stomach announced its displeasure. Felix decided that if Aja were to survive, she needed to actually indulge in her physical needs.

           Like eating, which she frequently forgot.

           A gentle prod to her leg caught her attention, and Felix gestured to the wrapped food beside him. Aja grinned and snatched up the food before plopping down next to Felix. “You didn’t have to wait for me, Felix.”

           Felix grinned at his sign name, Happy, “Meals are more pawsome with a furrend!” At this response, Aja ruffled the cat’s head before handing him his share. Comfortable silence settled as they gazed outside. The sky itself seemed foreign, but still twinkled with a gentle friendliness that lulled Felix to his dreams. Aja scratched behind his ears and scooped him into her arms. She scooted to the bedroll and curled around her friend to follow in his pawprints. Despite quite the wild ride, pawt-ners in crime found comfort in each other, and no sleep was lost to worry that night.

           Sleep, however, was lost to dawn. Sunlight through the cave entrance pushed Aja to the unfortunate consciousness. She peeked outside to see any sign of edible monsters, which ended up in disappointment akin to her realization that there would be no tea. Because her favorite oolong tea was destroyed. Fuck.

Aja tickled Felix’s paw pads until he woke with a displeased “rroww??” and stretched in her place. Felix took his delicious time waking up, which Aja spent assessing the remaining usable goods in the boxes she salvaged.

            The cart beneath the chests was completely crushed, which meant the possibility of having to leave precious supplies alone in their search of civilization. While Lady Luck rarely appeared to lend a hand to the Sapphire Star, she was not cruel. She left the prime equipment available for Aja and Felix, and all the tools needed to properly care for it.

            Herbs, mushrooms, and the like were all completely destroyed. The usual supplies Aja carried on herself would have to do. She took stock. Ten herbs, ten potions, ten mega potions, check. Two max potions, one ancient potion, check! Dash juice? Super check. Nutrients? Disgusting, but check. Perfect.

           Well, not so perfect. Aja now had to be very careful with what she had. There’s no telling where the ground she plummeted into was located. While herbs and mushrooms were hardy plants, they didn’t grow everywhere, and specialized plants preferred more extreme environments. At least the remaining supplies could be carried on Aja’s back.

After one final double check and a sad goodbye to the bedrolls (Felix had failed to mention that they might smell of monster dung), the pair set off to find food, but more hopefully, civilization.

            The sun, not inhibited by clouds, accompanied long grass waving in the breeze. Aja found no signs of any recognizable large monsters, only much smaller tracks from several smaller creatures. She made sure to note the shape and size of the track in her journal, as well as any discernable scent besides a world rich with life. Aja’s scoutflies surrounded the tracks momentarily before amassing in lines to the north.

            “Meowster, have you seen anything like this?” Felix asked, sticking his face near the tracks. Aja shook her head in response.

            “There were never any tracks like these at home, or surrounding Astera, she signed, we’ll have to find some more signs of its behavior since we’re here.”

            Felix nodded, “We should probably find civilization first.” A paw on his chin and a furrowed brow followed his thoughts. At the completion of his Palico calculations, he spun in excitement, “We should use the scoutflies to track some humans! Or Wyverians! Or…”

            Aja smacked her forehead with the palm of her hand, “Scoutflies aren’t just for monsters. I can’t believe I forgot that.”

Chapter Text

Chapter III

            Geralt of Rivia has seen some shit in his lifetime. He has stumbled upon shit, had to take care of said shit, and, unlike the normal grace Witchers exuded, fell into actual monster shit. Once.

            This shit? He would have to go back and demand much more cash than initially planned before even considering looking at this beast, which he has already done, and barely escaped.

            It started with a morning about as regular as mornings came. Geralt wakes to a very lovely lady next to him, who was seduced by a sizable amount of coin. The extra pieces thrown in allowed him to stay in the room all night, as the Witcher was far too lazy to even consider walking back to the Rosemary and Thyme.

            Laziness was far gone at this point. The man slept in more ways than one and felt refreshed in ways of the same amount. Geralt did not disturb his very satisfied partner thanks to his tendency to stealth. His pants did provide a few troubles, followed by leather armor so conformed to Geralt himself they fit together like witches and burning at the stake. A worthy comparison, he mused, but a somewhat inappropriate one.

            Nights of rigorous sex demanded many calories, and Geralt nearly shook the brothel with his aggressive hunger rumblings. It was time to grab a hearty breakfast. The Rosemary and Thyme, a comfortable inn themed in theatre, provided a lovely breakfast consisting of eggs, fried tomato, and fresh squeezed orange juice. Which, in Geralt’s opinion, was preferable to vagrants occupying every possible room and making unknown grime the wallpaper.

            Thankfully, the era of trespassers has ended, giving way to a prosperous inn run by a bard who wore far too much makeup.  With no lack of comfortable seating, Geralt found himself sunk into a plush chair by the hearth. This was his favorite spot, which he would never admit, since it chased away the bits of cold that often came from the sea.

            There is, however, no rest for the wicked. A man burst in, hair wild and bloody, eyes in an equal state. The Witcher continued eating, hoping that he wasn’t noticed until he finished his breakfast. Instead of looking, he used other senses to determine the problem.

            Sluggish and weighty footsteps suggested too much running. Adrenaline was in the air, Geralt could smell it off the blood on his face. There was stumbling, a gasp or two, and several strings of curses. The Witcher finished his breakfast and finally looked.

            “Holy shit.” someone mutters under their breath. Holy shit indeed. The man had bones sticking out of his arm, and a spine bent in an awkward position. Judging by the bite mark, a large monster tried to chew him, but the process was interrupted. Scrapes on his back that show through his ripped shirt suggest he was thrown, hard. Geralt looked on. He should probably take this job.

            Geralt stood from his seat, almost sucked back by the vacuum it created from being so pillowy. “Oh thank goodness,” the victim exhales, “Please, Witcher, sir, I-I n-need your help.” Geralt raised his eyebrows at the gurgling sound in his chest. That man was not long for this world.

            “What’s in it for me?” he asks, ignoring the grumbled insults that follow.

            “My village is out in the country. We pooled everything we have. It’s going to come back, i-it came, i-i-it…” the man collapsed. Not much blood pooled on the floor, poor sap must have only gotten here on will alone. Without his victim to lead the way, or even tell him the location, Geralt was left to track where the man came from.

            A payment was made to Dandelion and off Geralt went. Tracks took him away from familiar paths, and the scent of blood and adrenaline was almost overwhelmingly fresh in the woods. When the Witcher neared the supposed area, however, there was something off. Something foreign, but familiar. It was a smell of experienced fighting. Old leather. Untamed forest. Fur. Blood, but no blood that belonged to a human being. Another Witcher.

            There were other smells too. A strange version of a cat and cleaned bones. The most harrowing part was no tracks. Geralt’s senses were bombarded with everything different than what he knew. This scent mingled with the victim’s. He’d found his prey. Caution followed his stream of consciousness, and to the ground he crouched, hidden as much as he could be beneath dappled sunlight. As he moved on, Geralt spotted large marks unusually high in the trees, and footsteps he’d never seen. His whole body could curl up into one track by itself.

            Next to the tracks were several fangs trapped in the trunk of a tree. Some, however, had been removed. He’s not the only hunter here. Geralt looks at the empty holes in the bark. They’d been scraped out by a knife. The fighter’s scent was fresh here. He’s close.

            He could hear it now, rumbling with each footstep, and smaller ones behind it…with… is that meowing? What the hell? Who brought a housecat? Seriously?

            When Geralt kept moving, he heard the small feet pause. They’re onto him. The Witcher stopped moving and instead took to looking around while the other Witcher lost his location. White fur was caught on the brambles nearby, following the tracks of the hunter’s scent. There was no pursuit between the fluffy creature and the spare Witcher himself. Companions, maybe.

            The footsteps continued on, and so did the Witcher.

            On they went, the unknowing trio. The tracks Geralt followed were unmistakably fresh, with broken fangs scraped by a knife, shed fur littered everywhere, and no footsteps. However, the trailing stopped when a tree was felled some meters away. And then there was screaming. And a lot more running. Ah fuck, the village.

            Geralt had gotten distracted with the other Witcher, now whatever beast that had broken the man’s spine back in the Rosemary and Thyme was back in the village, wreaking absolute irreparable havoc on the peasants.

            He broke into a sprint in the direction of chaos, ignoring the twigs and branches whipping into his face. The other Witcher was already there. When Geralt broke the clearing, however, he did not see what he was expecting. Granted, he had no idea what he was expecting, but it certainly was not a half-tailed cat(?) dancing on a bongo, with the other Witcher riding a…what the fuck even is that?

            Geralt of Rivia has seen some shit. But today, this shit was too much shit. A forest green beast bucked, stomped and jumped around several wooden houses, crushing them with an unfortunate amount of carelessness. The man on its back stabbed mercilessly into his flesh with a double-sided glaive on his back that matched the monster’s hide. That cat was still playing the bongo. Geralt felt empowered by the song.

            Standing too long, however, does not do a Witcher well. In the moments of trying to process what was happening, four villagers knocked past him, at least a few pieces of splintered wood smacked Geralt in the chest, and suddenly the green thing was leaping at him with its mouth open. The monster suddenly falls however, with the man standing on its head and his weapon in the monster’s skull.

            That wasn’t a man. That was a woman and a cat.

Chapter Text

            If there was one thing Aja was known for, it was serenity amongst chaos. Soon after she and Felix left in search of civilization, the hunter figured out one thing: this wasn’t where she thought she was.

            In her world, flora and fauna had similarities throughout. The hardy herbs for healing, mushrooms with numerous properties, and frequent large monsters. What she never found? War and the destruction in its wake.

            Bodies old and new were everywhere. The old ones which large black birds picked, where the yellowing bones could be seen through the skin, and the new ones where the fresh blood pooled into the dirt. Aja never saw this in her travels as a hunter, and that was her first clue.

            Her second clue was the creatures that frequented the carnage. Pale, hideous things that tore apart bodies and ate them. The gore attracted them, and they never turned down a fresher meal. It was the first thing she had to kill.

            Her final clue was not the screaming when the Deviljho came. It was not the horror when she appeared with her weapons, unknown and unusual. It was the people on the roads that tried to take her life. It was the horror when Aja took an arrow through her shoulder, and the grief when she stood over the bodies of her fellow man. She did not search the bodies as the bandits would have hers. She buried them deep beneath the soil and prayed over the graves with Felix.

            She needed a hug after that. It was her first human kill. She hoped it would be her last.

            But as the Sapphire Star, she continued on, emotions pushed aside. She now knew she was not where she was meant to be. That brought her to the moment where she stood on top of the body of an emaciated Deviljho, glaive in hand and Felix behind her. She stared down a man four inches beneath her height with cat-like eyes and white hair. Aja dared to turn her back to him and removed her weapon from the beast, and dared once to slide down the Deviljho’s snout to stand in front of the white-haired hunter.

            Aja eyed the hunter as she gave a pat to the Deviljho’s nose. His skin was loose on his body and he lacked the ripping muscle he should sport. He’d been starving, no wonder he went after a whole village. Unfortunately, Aja couldn’t let him eat everyone, and the local ecosystem wouldn’t sustain a beast of his size, according to her little research.

            “What school are you from?” the man asks, prompting Aja to look at Felix with a raised eyebrow.

            “School? What do you mean?” she signed with one hand.

            “Witcher school. Cat? Wolf? Gryphon?” How fortunate, a person that actually knows sign language.

            “What the hell is a gryphon? I’m with the research commission.”

            “What research commission?”

            “Meow,” Felix said, “We’re really in trouble. Do you think we got transported like the Behemoth, meowster?” Aja slammed her hand into her forehead.

            “It makes sense. A lot of odd creatures have been showing up around the Elder’s Recess, maybe it-”

            “Are we going to include me in this conversation, or should I leave?” The man asked. Aja squinted and Felix somehow followed suit, even though his eyes were closed.

            “Why don’t we find a good place to sit so we can talk about this… wrong world disaster.”

            “Portals brought that damn beast to us? Shit. I know a place, not too far. I had breakfast there this morning.” Aja noticed the hunter’s head tilt towards distant shuffling, and the look on his face spoke bad news.

            “I’ll pay you back in some form- I don’t think you take zenny.”

            “Considering that I don’t know what zenny is, I’ll agree.”

            “Before any more monsters come, does the area have anything that can eat the body? I hate to leave it here.”

            “We have necrophages, though I’d like to avoid them for the time being, considering you and your cat are in bad shape. An animal this size is bound to attract a horde. Pleasantries later, let’s get out of here.” He wasted no time beginning the trek. The man, apparently surprised that Aja was able to keep pace, seemed to ward off people. He definitely didn’t smell human, if her nose was accurate. She chose to ignore the ache in her shoulder and the dread that formed in her chest.

            The closer she got to the distant city, the more her stomach turned. It quite literally reeked of danger, the smell burning flesh. Aja believed there could have been a Rathalos in the area, but no signs proved the theory, especially without the ear-splitting screech.

            “Why is your weapon out? We’re going into the city. No ghouls here.”

            Aja scrunched her nose, “I can smell people burning.”

            “The city burns witches at the stake, huge witch hunt happening at the moment.” Curt. Nonchalant, as if it was normal.

            “What?” Aja stopped in her tracks, face contorted in horror, “I can’t believe you.”

            He shrugged and kept walking, “If we try to do anything, they’ll come for us next. They already hate you just for walking with me,” he noticed Aja still standing in place, “Better keep up, I’m not waiting for you.”

            Felix growled as they started following him, and noise followed from his stomach. So, when the trio finally arrived at their meeting spot, Aja wiped a bit of drool away from Felix’s mouth.  “I’ll get you some sausage.” she’d said.

            The building itself was best described as cute. The white walls with wooden supports gave off a different feel than the broken boats and villages that Aja was used to, and the interior was a different kind of cozy. In the corner sat a plush chair heavily avoided by the patrons, and the white-haired man already sunk at a table as if he owned the place.

            Granted, Aja had no idea where the fuck she landed, so she really couldn’t assume much else.

            She joined him, sitting across the table with her weapon leaned on the side. Both parties’ eyebrows raised when the wood bent underneath it. With the table dangerously caving and an obvious lack of care whether or not it broke, heaps of food arrived accompanied by too many beers.

            “Thank you for the food. I’m Aja, and this is Felix.” For the first time since her awkward landing, she smiled when her companion quietly hoarded all of the sausage links onto his own plate.

            “Geralt of Rivia, Witcher. What’s with your cat? Don’t cats walk on four legs without clothes, not speaking in puns?” he asked through a potato.

            “Felix is a Palico. What’s with your weird eyes?” Aja countered.

            “Witcher mutations. There’s a hole in your shoulder, by the way.” Geralt pointed with his fork, “Listen, if I’m going to help you out, I need information on you. I can’t trust someone that took out a…whatever that giant thing was.”

            Felix looked up from his meal and licked his lips, “That was a Deviljho. We’re meownster hunters.”

            “I got that, from where?”

            “Meowster and I are from Bherna,” Felix answered, “but we’ve been living in Astera for a while.” Aja eyed Geralt and tried to suppress her sniggering. She could feel the agitation growing, especially since he had no idea what Felix was talking about. “The moofah there make purrfect fleece!”

            Aja raised a hand, “We’ve already established that we’re not from here. You’re not going to know much about our history.” She took a sizable bite out of her food, “Let’s get to the point. The Deviljho, Felix and I are all proof that something went wrong, and now we’re in a completely different world than what we’re used to. We can probably assume that there will be other monsters hanging around here, too.”

            “That means there’ll be more monsters for us to deal with, and ones neither of us recognize.”

            “Geralt! Why don’t you introduce me to your friend,” a man took Aja’s hand and placed a kiss on it, much to her displeasure, “What’s a lovely lady like you doing here?”

            The huntress pulled her hand back and wiped it on her chest, disgust plain on her face.

            “Dandelion-” Geralt started, but the human roll of velvet continued his advance.

            Dandelion leaned into Felix’s face and grinned, “And a theatre muse! Puppetry is not something you see often, my- ow!” He was interrupted by Aja pinching his ear and tugging it, a favorite tactic of her aunt for rowdy children. It was, however, second to the sandal.

            “Sorry!” he squeaked in a sudden change of attitude. She glanced at Geralt, who shrugged in return. Aja continued with her meal, blatantly ignoring Dandelion in favor for a serving of not-quite-Aptonoth.

            “So,” Dandelion started, hand over his ear, “Geralt, how did you manage to meet a puppeteer with a weapon bigger than you are?” His eyes flicked to the duo.

            “That’s Felix, a Palico. Not a puppet,” Geralt plucked an apple from the table, “remember that man that died in your doorway this morning?”

            “You mean the one that stained my floor?” Dandelion gestured to the conveniently placed rug exactly where said man died. A snort from Aja.

            “Turns out a portal brought these two,” Geralt jerked his thumb in Aja’s direction, “and a bunch of the monsters they have in their own world to ours, something about the Elder’s recess. You should stay in the city for a while, Dandelion. She took down that beast by herself, it decimated an entire village, no houses left, not that there’s anyone left to live in them.”

            Dandelion’s eyes widened, “Holy shit.”

            “Meowster says that we have get rid of all the meownsters here,” Felix piped up, “It’ll ruin the ecosystem otherwise, and the monsters would suffer.” Aja chugged her drink. Felix sipped his milk.

            Dandelion tried imitating the complex movements of Aja’s hand, “How, exactly, do you three communicate, considering that she hasn’t said a word to any of us?”

            “Sign language,” Felix mewsed, “It’s a standard all hunters have to learn, since we have deaf and mute hunters like Meowster Aja.” The hunters eyed each other from their seats, both smirking into their drinks.

            “What, did you think she was casting spells? You know well enough magic doesn’t look like that. You’ve existed for five minutes around Yen.” Geralt placed his mug down as Dandelion stuttered, “Have two rooms available? It’s getting late.”

            “Sure, on the house for the lovely lady- what did she say to you this time?”

            “You’re on thin ice, dung bomb.”

Chapter Text

            If it weren’t for Aja, Geralt would be approximately five pounds lighter with the amount of coin he spent feeding the Hunter and her cat. Geralt found himself questioning how Aja was anywhere near human.

            Aja seemed to thoroughly enjoy flaunting her strength, which at her six-foot-six size was more than the dipshits at the Rosemary and Thyme could comprehend. Aja’s glaive rested against her bowing dinner table, though it curtsied to no monarchs. Her ears picked up on the occasional squeal of the wood and in turn gathered the attention of those who believed a woman was not a warrior.

            So, one sauntered over, clad in shining silk and velvet, prompting Aja’s nod in greeting, “Geralt, quit grabbing at your sword. What are they going to do, glare at you to death?”

            “No, seems that they want to do that to you.” He raised his cup to his mouth. Aja raised an eyebrow and turned to the men gathered around her table.

            “Greetings, my Lady. Why don’t you find cleaner company, perhaps my own?”

            Felix’s fur bristled, sensing Aja’s stress. They had seen these types before, frequently shunned by her community. Here, they held no power. Aja scrunched her nose, “Hunters clean the blood off of their weapons. Do you clean the blood off your money?” she asked, her elbows nearly knocking food from the table. Geralt translated. The silk-wrapped speaker seemed irritated.

            “With my own graceful generosity, I will ignore such rude comments,” he waved to his bodyguards, “I’d like to ask you to reconsider, dear. After all, do you know what these delightful five could do for you? Verus that… thing called a Witcher. Do you really want filth like that speaking for you?” Aja put her face in her hands and dragged her palms to her chin. She decided to honor the wealthy man with her full presence. All six and a half feet of it. For a brief moment, she saw uncertainty in her opponent’s eyes.

            “If you can lift my weapon,” Geralt’s voice sounded for her, “Then I will give you all of the attention you want. If I win, you have to give me your money. Deal?”

            A grin blackened by sugar answered her question as he held his hands out. Aja grabbed Grunge Storm and tossed it at the nobleman, causing his shoulder to pop as gravity pulled the glaive back to earth. Much to Aja’s displeasure, however, she forgot to specify what lifting her weapon meant, and how many could do it.

            Six men shook beneath the weight of a deceased Deviljho. Aja scowled at the grubby hands that tainted her weapon- she believed that they weren’t worthy to wield a monster’s remains. However, she mused to herself, a deal is a deal.

            When Aja took the weapon from the men, she noted to clean it thoroughly. She shuddered at the thought of what now stained her precious glaive. The six gathered around her with a smile on their faces. They reeked of burnt flesh.

            Down she placed the Grunge Storm and up went the silk roll by his collar. She could hear Geralt mutter into his drink, “Well deserved attention.” The five bodyguards stepped forward. One drew a sword and swung at her leg.

            It bounced off her leathers. The following punch moved the attacker more than it moved Aja. Humanity where Aja came from was naturally able to sustain a hard hit. Hunters were trained further in case they were thrown by an Elder Dragon.

            Aja’s been thrown by at least six.

            It wasn’t long before Aja stood with one foot on a pile of bodies with the silken man pleading for mercy. Geralt wasted no time in gathering the fallen’s money. Aja’s incredulous look prompted a shrug, “They shouldn’t have challenged someone who takes out the beast I saw.” She nodded and checked on the men’s pulses, all living. Aja spared a glance at kneeling figure before her. He squealed and fumbled with his money pouch.

            “T-Take it! Take it all! Just don’t hurt me!” It landed with a thunk at her feet. She snatched it up. Lovely.

            “Can we grab a room? I’d like to sleep.”

            A dismissive wave, “Sure, Dandelion will show you.”

            The steps leading to the second floor seemed to sink into the abyss as they climbed. Gone was the cheekiness, gone was the calm and confident air. Aja stepped into her given room, “Thank you.” and slammed the door behind her. She sat on the bed, dainty as can be, and looked over at Felix. His helmet was off, so was his gear. Quick little cat.

            He made himself comfortable on Aja’s lap, purring in delight as she pulls apart knots in his fur. When her movements slowed, Felix looked to find her face in her hand. Felix mrr’d at Aja’s shuddering shoulders. “Meowster?”

            Aja didn’t raise her head, “Did you feel the danger? Did you feel that sickness on them?” She sighed, “I miss the Handler. I miss the moofah. We should send a very long letter to our moms when we get home.”

            When, Felix rubbed his cheek, not if. When. He opened his eyes and grabbed Aja’s cheeks. “You aren’t bad because you defended yourself to survive. You’re just like a Deviljho! Or a cornered Khezu,” Aja looked at Felix and rubbed her eyes, “Those men in the field… you didn’t kill them because you wanted to. You did it because you were scared! You wrestled those patrons because you were afraid. And you still are. It’s okay, Meowster. We’re somewhere new, we’re pawtrified! And we just need to survive, like we always have. I don’t want to fight people, but we might have to. We’ll do it together, Meowster!”

            Aja squeezed Felix, who for the second time didn’t mind his fur being soaked. He snuggled into Aja’s chest, purring with all of his might until both found themselves asleep.

            Felix dreamed of the Jurassic Plains. He could smell the grass tinted with dew, and the nearby blue mushrooms. The rustling caught his little feline ears, and off he went in search of the source. Young Palico kits are curious, after all.

            He found a child, a little girl, hiding in the bushes. Her cheeks were rained on by her eyes. Felix licked the salty water up. Fingers clutched his raincoat, and water fell from the sky again. He curled up with the girl.

            His father’s Hunters found them hours later in a panic. They saw a young Palico, white spotted with three black patches curled in the arms of a child, fur and hair alike plastered to their skin. When the pair were carried away, for once Felix didn’t mind being soaked.

Chapter Text

            Dandelion sat across from him, paler than a noblewoman of the court. “Geralt, did you see what I saw?” Patrons left the Rosemary and Thyme; the mood became easy.

            “You mean a woman taller than I am knock out five bodyguards? Yeah.” It wasn’t often they found a non-sorceress scare the shit out of the court. Dandelion’s brow furrowed. They fell silent.

            “What was it,” Dandelion finally asked, “That stained my floor?”

            “Felix called it a Deviljho. It was like a dragon,” Geralt started, “walked on two legs. It looked sick, wasn’t all there. Aja’s armor- I think she’s killed more than one. It’s made from that beast.” The Witcher took a long drink, “We can only hope that’s the worst they have to offer.”

            “Your voice tells me that you’re worried.” Dandelion rests his elbows on the table.

            “Maybe.”

            “Ciri will be all right, Geralt. She can take care of herself.” He pulled back to grab his lute and pick at the strings.

            “I know,” Geralt sighed, “I just want to know that she’s safe. Now that there's more bullshit...” His chest tightened.

            “There’s going to be more than just this Deviljho, right?”

            Geralt stood from his seat, “I hope not,” he pointed at the unconscious pile, “I’ll toss them outside.” He slung a body over his shoulder, “Aja might have to just tag along as I look for Ciri. It’d be the best way to run into monsters.” Geralt took another by his foot and dragged him towards the door.

            “Will you be staying here tonight? Room’s on me, of course.” Dandelion rose to help his friend in taking out the garbage. In the back of his mind, he decided for the second time he wanted to stay on Aja’s good side. He witnessed something extraordinary, a feat he’d only seen Geralt accomplish in his days.

            Five men down, one too scared to go to the guard. At most, she’d be hunted by the witch burners. He wasn’t even sure that Aja would burn at the stake, she might even enjoy the pleasant warmth. “Geralt,” he started, “Do you think she’ll ever make it home?”

            Geralt threw the last body outside. His voice would have wavered if not the mutations he went through, “I have to find Ciri for my sake. I can only assume the same for her.” He pulls the front door until it the lock clicks.

            Dandelion looks at the floor. He was not a cruel man, and neither was Geralt. One of them needed to break the news to Aja: the absolute unpredictability of portals. Yes, Aja could theoretically make it home. Most likely, though, she’ll never get there. The man smiled and gestured upstairs to usher Geralt to his room. “Geralt.”

            The man stopped from shutting his door. He raised an eyebrow.

            “Take care of her. She has a great heart, don’t let her wither away in a place she wasn’t meant to be.” Geralt nods, and quietly he shut his door.

Chapter Text

            Aja woke with the sun, eyes cracking open at the first bird's song. She struggled to unravel herself from the blankets, only to find that Felix made himself comfortable on her chest. She sighed and did her best to slide Felix off of her to get comfortable. The mission a success, Aja took care to tuck Felix in. The sea always brought a chill with it in the morning.

            She winced when she turned on her side, hand flying to clutch the wound on her shoulder. Shit. She’d sustained a wound like this before, some archers had inaccurate days. Aja figured pulling out the arrowhead wasn’t the wisest decision of her life, it ripped even more skin than it did when it went in. She’d done it anyway.

            She stood to check the bag she brought with her, her last set of supplies. She rapped her knuckles on her forehead. Aja didn’t want to use what she’d keep for the field, and things could go wrong within moments. She never knew when she’d be downing four mega potions in a panic. After peeling off her armor, she stepped outside her room and took a deep breath.

            Geralt’s room was to the left. Aja took two steps in that direction and knocked. The man inside grunted, which she understood as “Enter.” simply because she intended to raid his potion stock, if he had one. Aja opened the door and gave a sheepish wave, “You have healing potions?”

            Geralt sat cross legged in the middle of his bed, back straight and hands on his knees. His eyes popped open and focused on the form in his doorway. “Yeah, I have one. Take it, I can make more. In my bag.” Aja let out a long breath and dug in the aforementioned sack. She pulled the bottle out and scrunched her nose. It was red. “I should warn you—”

            Aja chugged the potion and gagged. A shudder ran down her spine and she looked at Geralt, “This is poison. Look at me,” Aja pointed to the blackened veins in her arm, “You drink this?” She shook her head to get the horrible feeling out of her bones. At least her shoulder closed with a minimal amount of energy. She decided she would drink this potion as little as possible.

            “Like I was saying before you downed it, it’s toxic. I don’t know how it’ll treat you.” Aja held her stomach. “Don’t throw up in my room.” Geralt squinted as Aja straightened, and the woman plopped onto his bed, sleeping before her head hit the blankets.

            Geralt sighed, settling down to close his eyes. Back to meditating for him. The clarity soon alerted Geralt to approaching footsteps, sluggish in nature. He recognized it as Felix, who pattered into the room, closed the door, and snuggled next to Aja on the bed. He fell asleep too. Geralt wondered if these two knew normal social boundaries.

            When proper morning came around, a knock on the door roused the trio from their varying levels of consciousness. Geralt was the first to stand, and the cracking of his joints had Aja sigh. She patted Felix’s head and inspected her shoulder. It would need a bit of patching. At least that shit potion healed her for the most part. Processing that poison had her starving.

            Geralt pulled the door open. “Breakfast?” Dandelion said. Aja tugged her shirt off and cleaned her wound in the wash basin. The bard peeked behind Geralt, “I see you spent the morning together, considering I didn’t hear—”

            “We’ll see you downstairs.” The Witcher, knowing full and well that Aja was an adult and most likely had a few sexual encounters of her own, felt that she didn’t need to hear the rest of that sentence. Dandelion raised his hands in defeat and trotted down the stairs.

            Geralt turned to find Aja wrapping her shoulder, shirt slung around her neck. He raised an eyebrow at Felix, who stretched across the bed to the best of his ability. He began to strap on his armor. “How did a sword bounce off your leg, and yet an arrow went through your shoulder?”

            Aja soured for a moment, “I took the arrow point blank, full strength. I thought they were going to help.” As quickly as it came, the mood passed. She picked up Felix and left the room. Her joints cracked as she moved away. The door shut, and Geralt let out a breath that he’d been holding. He hoped Aja wouldn’t notice.

            Geralt learned the true extent of hunters of Aja’s caliber in the brief moments he saw her without a shirt. He hadn’t paid much attention to a bare chest. Frankly, he understood the necessity when patching an arrow wound.

            He saw nature in Aja. A force that would do what was needed, and nothing more. He noticed that her weight was muscle. Her eyes, strange as they were (he’d personally never seen husky’s eyes in a human) held nothing but care. She never held malice, even when taking down the men harassing her. He’d witnessed the care she’d taken in killing the Deviljho. She targeted vital spots, ensuring a quicker death on the poor creature. She’d looked sorrowful at the loss of life, but even Geralt knew a creature where it didn’t belong brought too much trouble.

            Honestly? He found that wildly attractive. He mused as he strapped on his swords, his type had been sorceresses named Triss and Yennifer for the better part of his life. Aja lived in his world, a world of hunting, of tracking, and she enjoyed simplicity. Or so he thought.

            The sound of plate stopped at his door, then a knock. Paws skittered to the door, “We’re heading downstairs.”

            He grumbled and continued to take his sweet ass time. True to their word, Felix and Aja were eager to get to breakfast. Down the stairs they went and laid out in front of them was a plethora of food, diverse in its content and bountiful. Aja seated herself across from Dandelion, and Felix made himself comfortable beside her.

            “You- is that gold?”

            Aja nodded and reached into her hip pouch. She grabbed graphite and paper from her journal, placed them on the table, and started stacking her plate with food. Dandelion breathed an internal sigh of relief; he didn’t just hallucinate two whole chickens going missing last night. Aja actually, truly, put down two chickens, and he watched it with his own two eyes.

            He had to see it again to believe it.

            Dandelion enjoyed his porridge topped with a sizeable topping of sausage, though he distinctly remembered having more of it. He looked down just as a white paw started dragging another piece from the bard’s bowl. Ah. He grabbed more bacon instead.

            Aja snickered and rubbed her fist in a circle on her chest. “What?” Dandelion asked.

            She wrote on her paper pad, “Sorry.”

            Dandelion chuckled, “It’s fine. Where did you get the money to have…gold armor?”

            Aja ate with her left hand and wrote with her right in a messy scrawl, “There’s an Elder Dragon called the Kulve Taroth. We were researching a female that appeared in caverns absolutely littered with gold, which she used as body armor. Something about her makes the gold incredible in combat, so we try to take samples of her horns in addition to the metal. It made excellent armor, especially if you take care of it.”

            If the bard was less observant, he’d still have seen how reverent she was of the Kulve Taroth. Dandelion tilted his head, “So, magic?”

            She shrugged, “Maybe. It wouldn’t surprise me, considering that I’m here.”

            Dandelion bounced in his seat, “I’ve never seen armor that’s so beautiful. You’d think mostly in myths!” He went on, and Aja felt her heart melt at his excitement, “Is there more armor like that? Are there more of these Elder Dragons?”

            Aja motions for him to slow down. Felix piped up, “Tons. They’re beautiful creatures and they’re extremely deadly.”

            They continued in silence until Aja found herself bored. She opted to teach Dandelion the basics of sign language. It was educational, and hopefully Dandelion would be a quick learner. He was.

            Aja wasn’t used to a quiet breakfast. Growing up, the table was both of Aja’s parents chattering without a care in the world, and Aja sneaking Moofy treats. Felix would be stealing meat left and right, with his father trying stop him. There was always excitement around Bherna, small as it was. Chores, hunters passing through, the appearance of riders. Everything was new and exciting.

            Breakfast with Dandelion was peaceful. There was no excited chatter. There was no boisterous drinking from the night workers, the chef grilling his food fresh. Just peace as the city around them came to life. Aja couldn’t help but smile, most of her quiet came in the evening on hunts. So, when it was just the two of them, she found a peace she hadn’t felt in days.

            When Geralt finally joined them, Dandelion could use basic signs in conversation. When he didn’t know a word, Aja spelled it out for him. There was a sparkle between them each time there was progress. When he sat down, Felix crawled onto his lap and Aja offered him a warm smile.

            “Are you going to wear that out?” Geralt asked, gesturing to the ornate armor Aja wore.

            “Oh! Geralt, actually, turns out that’s made from a dragon’s gold! Somehow, it’s been reinforced with dragon magic and the armor itself is very durable!” Dandelion was giddy, and Aja’s eyes softened. She remembered being that excited about the Kulve Taroth. “It’s a dragon that coats itself in gold! It’s like a fairy tale.”

            “We’re getting robbed as soon as we step out of that door.”

            “Most likely.”

Chapter Text

         

            With breakfast obliterated and bellies full, Aja told Geralt she’d grab her supplies and be set to head out. She gathered her remaining things, just enough for one unfortunate hunt, and turned to her weapons that sat against the wall.

            Aja puffed her cheeks. “Nergi?” She looked over Catastrophe’s Light.

            Felix frowned, “Until you can paw-lish the pickle stick, I’d go Lunastra.”

            Against the wall sat a sleek, blue number worthy of the Empress of Flame. The explosive quality of the Lunastra’s aura made an incredible weapon. Aja patted the weapon affectionately and hoped one day she’d find a Lunastra docile enough to touch her paw pads. A quick once over on the blades, and she was ready to go. Almost.

            At the loss of Fuzzball, Aja’s previous kinsect, she was forced to use her newest addition: True Dragon Soul. The curious little creature had not been given a name, as none seemed to suit her exuberant personality. The soul rested in a pendant that Aja slung around her neck. The pendant was a shard of unknown crystal, and the soul loved to hide in that damn rock.

            She sighed, Aja wanted to curl up in bed and wake up to her mum’s cooking. She was exhausted, expended emotionally, but when she caught Felix curled up on the floor with an easy smile, she knew she had to continue. She started her pre-work routine.

            Gentle stretching, dynamic of course, and a moment of remembrance. Remember the hunters before her. Remember who she had to go home to. Remember what’s at stake. Aja nodded at Felix, who popped to his feet with enthusiasm. They left the room, closed the door behind them, and off they went.

            Aja descended the stairs sideways and slower than most. She was not interested in blowing a hole through Dandelion’s wall, since she wanted to avoid anything similar to the absolute fury that her aunt unleashed upon the world. Felix jumped from the top of the stairs as Aja reached the bottom. The Feyline did not have the greatest aim, and instead of hitting Aja, Felix smashed into Dandelion’s chest and sent him toppling.

            “You ready to go?” Geralt stood from his seat as the bard untangled himself from Felix’s claws.

            Aja gave a thumbs up and patted her pendant and out sprung the dragon soul, flying in excited circles. “Meowster, have you figured out a name yet?” Geralt chose not to question Aja’s blue companion. If he saw a massive green beast spitting black smoke, he can deal with a tiny blue noodle flying around.

            Aja shot Dandelion a wink, “Dandy.” At her new name, Dandy twirled in the air and settled across Aja’s headpiece. She patted her various pouches, and when she found what she wanted, she pulled out a bag of definitely not stolen gold. She handed a few pieces to Dandelion, “I’m keeping my room reserved. Keep it locked, please.” She gave Dandelion time to process what she was saying.

            He took the gold, “Of course! Come back in one piece, bring souvenirs!”

Aja and Geralt shared a nod, and they were ready to leave. A brief goodbye and one questioning glance to a tiny man with a giant bird, they were off into the city. Geralt spoke, “Let’s grab some supplies, herbs and rations. I have a contract to finish up in a nearby village, then we head to—” he looked to his side. Then he looked behind him. Not even five minutes and he already lost Aja and Felix.

            Geralt figured that Aja was easy to track, considering her massive stature, golden armor, and Dandy, so he opted to get his shopping done. He grabbed extra waterskins, one for each person in the group. He purchased salted fish from a Skilege native and jerky from a talkative local, then headed off for a beard trim and a tune up to his swords.

            Aja, in the meantime, was initially distracted by an herbalist. They engaged in a conversation about botany, and as they spoke, Aja learned enough about the local plants to avoid the poisonous ones. “Here,” the herbalist handed Aja a book, “I studied from this when I was younger. No use to me now.” Upon closer inspection, it was a piece on plants and their various properties. The herbalist flushed scarlet when Aja offered a deep bow, then laughed when the curious creature curled around Aja’s head fell with an indignant squawk.

            The people of the city were far kinder than Aja had hoped. The darkness in her chest lightened.

            As she picked up Dandy, Felix spotted a merchant that presumably sold dragon hide, much to Aja’s delight. However, upon closer inspection, the guy slaughtered a few reptiles and dyed them purple. Felix then bounced off his tail when he spotted a jeweler, “Meowster, let’s get some pawsome souvenirs to send home!” Dandy purred in agreement.

            The trio pushed through the crowds of Novigrad to find a small shop nestled in the corner of a street. The interior was homely, and a bell rang when they stepped in. A dainty looking man offered a wave and welcomed them to the store, though he seemed unnerved by Dandy’s blue glow.

            Felix popped up from the other side of the counter, “Do you have something purr-fect for parents?” The man fell out of his chair.

            When he returned from the floor, he smiled, “Well, I do have a few extravagant pieces…”

            “No!” Felix bounced in his spot like a child. Aja decided to let him do the meowing. “Something with pickles!”

            She struggled to keep a straight face. Then she struggled to keep Dandy from stealing some rings. “I-I well, would a fish work?” The man asked, praying the rather exuberant cat would accept anything else. He didn’t have pickles.

            “What about flowers? What flowers do you have?”

            The conversation continued for a hearty fifteen minutes, with Felix rejecting anything remotely close to precious metals, “That’s claw-ful.” When the owner gave up and threw wooden charms in Felix’s direction, Felix yowled in delight. “These are perfect! Do you have string?”

            The man’s eyes widened, “I have leather cord?”

            “Purr-fect!” Felix rummaged through Aja’s pockets for a leftover gold piece from yesterday, then he slammed it on the counter as the jeweler strung the charms on their respective cords. Felix showed the end results to Aja, who nodded in approval.

            Felix acquired a black dahlia for Aja’s mom and a honeybee for Aja’s mum. For his father, a simple fish with a scale carved into its side. When they left the shop, Geralt was leaning against a nearby post.

            “You finally ready?” he asked. Dandy scrabbled up his side and perched herself on Geralt’s shoulders. Geralt eyed the dragon’s mouth. He’d say something later.

            “Yup.”

            Geralt decided, after thirty minutes of Aja raving about the city, that he may have to babysit one massively distractible hunter. He spent much of his time pulling her back to the intended path, and Felix was no help. The two fed off of each other’s curiosity enough that if they were to track their progress on a map, it would look like a child’s drawing of curly hair.

            Aja, completely oblivious to Geralt’s plight, spent time deflecting pickpockets and accidentally exploding a cabbage stand. She reveled in the salty air and the smell of new fruits. Near the exit of Novigrad, she startled the hell out of a group of elves. She’d snuck up behind them and stared at their feet for ten minutes until her subject turned and let out a startled yell.

            Geralt showed up moments later. He wondered if this is what raising a toddler felt like. “Listen, I won’t judge you for a foot fetish, but generally we keep that in the bedroom.” he quipped.

            “No, no, no! Do you see their feet? They’re flat footed! Wyverians don’t have flat feet!”

            Felix poked at the elf’s toes, who took a few steps back, “Meowster, they’re so radi-claw!”

            The elf swore he saw Geralt’s soul leave his body. “That….he’s an elf.”

            Aja grabbed the elf’s shoulders and Felix shot the poor man with questions.

            “What’s your name?” Aja’s stare burned into his soul.

            “Theos—”

            “How long do you live? What dragons are you descended from?” Geralt took the two and started dragging them away. Dandy hopped from head to head, chattering excitedly as Felix shouted his questions. “How old are you?!” The elf could hear him yowling out of sight.

Chapter Text

            Geralt hoped that his toddlers would grow into actual adults in the next hour or so. Their unending curiosity, while endearing, delayed him too much for his liking. His scowl made Aja rub the back of her head.

            At the start, much of the travel took them through the woods, avoiding larger groups of preying bandits. Through the bushes, there were mostly creatures that were skittish and hooved, but nowhere near as large as the herbivores that Aja had previously seen. They were called deer.

            Somewhere through their travels to Geralt’s contract, as he called it, Dandy regurgitated a pile of necklaces on the ground. Aja made heavy eye contact with the dragon. She squinted, “You win. I said no rings. You didn’t take rings.” She gave the dragon a pat on the head, “I’m proud, you little bastard.” Aja picked up the necklaces, Dandy draped herself around Aja’s shoulders, and on they continued.

             “So,” Aja cracked her neck, “what is a Witcher?”

            Geralt scrubbed his chin, “The short version is specially trained humans that went through mutations to kill monsters for a living.”

            “How did you start that path?”

            “Mother left me with the School of the Wolf.” He shrugged, “It’s been my life. Didn’t have much more of a choice.”

            Aja frowned for a brief moment and eyed Felix. He’d taken Dandy and played fetch as they walked. “Felix found me in the forest. My mothers took me in, raised me. They’d usually find me playing on captured monsters.”

            “I didn’t ask.”

            “You answer, I answer. Simple. I like to know my partners; I should think you would as well.”

            “What’s your training like, then?”

            “Strength training, tons of it. Most hunters start young, the hits we need to withstand have to be trained into us. Biology, basic botany, survival skills. You name it, we learned it. Weapons training starts later. Strength is needed to handle them; they’re made of monster parts.”

            “No mutations?”

            “What? No.” Geralt grunted in surprise.

            The rest of the walk continued with bouts of silence and short conversations. It was different from dense forests and wide deserts. No herds of Aptonoth wandered as forest shifted to plains, just small birds and excitable, furry creatures. Geralt called them wolves.

            Occasionally they passed a lone hut, separated from Novigrad’s outskirts. Villagers were, as a whole, dirty, but otherwise well. She wondered why the community didn’t help their poor. Geralt said it was because of greed, those that were wealthy held onto their money with a death grip. It was something like vanity.

            The air then changed, it was darker, heavy, and Geralt picked up a blue feather from the ground, “You smell that?”

            Aja paused, “What is it?”

            “It’s called a gryphon. Big cross between a cat and a pissed off bird.”

            Aja sniffed the air, she recognized something in that scent. She held out her arm, and Dandy flew to it immediately. She curled around Aja’s wrist, and Felix stayed close. “Felix, remember that smell. That’s our target.” The Feyline nodded.

            “Let’s talk to the villagers, secure payment. We should be out of here tomorrow.”

            “Should. Paws-itively reassuring.” Felix scratched his ear.

            “And here I thought the puns were only for kindness.”

            When they entered the village, the residents looked worse for wear. Aja noticed the way they cowered away from her group. She noted to bring back flowers. The children hid behind their mother’s legs, and as Geralt found his contract holder, Aja approached a family.

            The parents looked thin, but the kids were fine, plump even. They took a step back. Aja crouched in front of youngest, about five years old. Felix offered her a piece of salted fish. Her older sister stepped forward with curiosity, much to her mother’s dismay. Aja smiled at the girls and poked Dandy’s back.

            Dandy popped her head out and chirped. The girls giggled. The soul then spun around their heads, and with a shriek of delight the children spun with her. Felix decided to offer the fish to the parents instead, “We can hunt! You have paw-staking work to do.”

            “T-Thank you…?” the father whispered; eyes wide. He watched his daughters clamoring over Aja’s horns with Dandy dancing in the air. He never thought a Witcher would bring joy to his children, only safety. Aja offered him a smile. She noticed Geralt approaching, and gently she tugged the girls off of her head and straightened her headpiece.

            “Payment for us is about 800 gold pieces.”

            Aja straightened and called Dandy to her once more, Felix followed close behind. “Huh. I remember being paid at least triple that amount.”

            “You bothered by it?” Geralt led the way to the first sighting.

            “Not at all. They’re paying out of pocket; I usually get paid by the Guild.” Felix mewed in agreement.

            “Meowster, they looked like they were in paw-ful shape.” Felix grasped Aja’s hand.

            “Gryphons go after livestock. They’re losing their livelihood to it.”

            When they stopped in a bloody clearing, Aja needed a moment to process the carnage. There was a finger laying in the middle in addition to some bone fragments. Feathers littered the area, and blood painted the ground with Picasso in mind. Aja stepped forward and tasted the blood. Just human blood, whoever it was didn’t stand a chance. Aja tapped her scout flies. They sprang to life around her and flitted about the clearing. After their respective investigations, the group ended up following the same path.

            “What are these?” Geralt asked as they walked, “Thought you tracked using your nose.”

            “Scout flies are a luxury. I can track one thing while they track the other.”

            They continued in silence. Felix moved to all fours as Aja gathered markings and tracks. She made sure to note them. The familiar scent, however, got stronger as they closed in on their target. She scrunched her nose, it reminded her of the Coral Highlands.

            Geralt held out his hand, “Wait.” They’d found a nest, and the gryphon was poking around. It made a meal out of some of the eggs’ contents. When Geralt started to move, it was Aja’s turn to stop him. “What?”

            “Those are wyvern eggs.” An angry screech sounded from the air. The wild beating of wings made the trees dance, and a pink figure dove at the gryphon before it knew its fate. A maw snapped around the creature’s body before tearing it into pieces. “Ah, shit.” Aja drew her weapon.

            A pink Rathian stood over her nest and roared once again before zeroing in on Geralt. He took out his sword, “Tell me this isn’t normal.”

            “This is absolutely normal, and I hope you know how to deal with wyverns.” Aja clicked her tongue and shot honey at the Rathian with the end of her glaive. Felix pulled out his bongo, and Dandy charged the beast with every ounce of might she had. The drumbeat sounded through the air, and as Aja vaulted off her weapon, Geralt groaned.

            “I need to ask for more money.”