The fire in the grate crackled dully in the background as Lambert raised the bottle of vodka to his lips and drank. He winced as it burned its way down his throat. It was harsh shit—near undrinkable, bordering on poisonous for a human.
Lambert wasn’t exactly human, though.
The contract had gone poorly. Much more poorly than usual. The size and ferocity of the basilisk he’d been hired to kill had caught him off guard. The thing must have been hunting around the village where the notice had been posted for decades; it was as big as a house and hit harder than a shaelmaar. Lambert worked his fingers down his sides, grimacing, and counted three—no, four—broken ribs. He took another draught of the vodka and swished it around his mouth before spitting it into the empty bowl in front of him that had once contained rabbit stew. It came back viscous and bloody.
He was beginning to regret arguing with Keira. Well, that wasn’t completely true. He’d meant every damn word of what he’d said. But he was beginning to regret storming off at the end. Things had been comfortable in Nazair. Comfortable was the last fucking word he’d have used to describe this ramshackle hut that passed for a tavern in the east of what was now Nilfgaardian Temeria. The wind howled outside and the cracked panes of the windows rattled in their frames.
“Oi, what’re you doin’ here, cat-eyes?” a drunken voice slurred. Lambert looked up to see a red-faced man stumbling toward his table. “We don’t like your kind ‘round here.”
Lambert groaned. He wasn’t in any shape for a fight right now. “Get lost,” he growled, drawing the sign of Axii.
The man stumbled and rubbed his head as if he’d just been hit with a mallet, and then wandered off in the opposite direction. Lambert sighed and took another draught of his vodka. He had a splitting headache coming on, and the low roar of raucous conversation that filled the tavern certainly wasn’t helping.
At a table nearby, a man slapped the waitress’s ass hard and made her drop the tray of tankards she’d been carrying with a crash. His friends roared with laughter.
“Fuck this,” Lambert muttered to himself, draining his drink.
“Come now,” a jovial voice said from somewhere behind him. “Surely it isn’t all bad.”
Lambert stiffened, his hand twitching toward the hilt of his sword.
“I can assure you that you won’t be needing that,” the man continued, clapping Lambert on the shoulder and sliding into the seat across from him.
Lambert narrowed his eyes, sizing up the newcomer. He was of average height, with thinning hair cropped close to his skull and a scattering of rough stubble. His threadbare yellow jerkin and blue leggings marked him as a peasant, but his eyes betrayed cunning that sent a chill down Lambert’s spine. The man leaned back in his seat idly, with an expression on his face that made him look very much like a cat who had just caught an especially plump mouse.
“Who the fuck are you?” Lambert was still considering drawing his blade. There was something about the man that deeply unsettled him.
“Ah, how rude of me.” The man made a mock bow from his seated position. “Allow me to introduce myself. Gaunter O’Dimm, at your service.”
“Doesn’t answer my question. Who are you?” Lambert squinted at the man, trying to read something, anything, from his expression. People didn’t go out of their way to strike up a conversation with him. They were usually more than happy to pay the witcher for his services and send him hastily on his way. He didn’t exactly do much to endear himself to the common folk.
“A merchant, of sorts. Some have called me Master Mirror, others The Man of Glass. Gaunter O’Dimm will do nicely though, I think.” He glanced at Lambert’s hand and made a long-suffering expression. “Please do forgo the theatrics. I can assure you I’ve not come here to kill you.”
“Be a damn fool if you had,” Lambert spat back. “What do you want from me?”
“The question is not what I want from you, Lambert. The question is: what do you want from me?”
The hairs on the back of Lambert’s neck stood up. “How the fuck do you know my name?”
O’Dimm chuckled. “I’m not omniscient, but I know quite a lot. And I’ve only ever heard tell of one witcher who wears two medallions round his neck.”
Aiden’s medallion nestled close to Lambert’s heart suddenly felt as if it were made of lead. “What could you possibly have that I want?”
“Allow me to explain.” O’Dimm leaned in, clearly quite at ease despite his proximity to Lambert’s murderous glare. “I am, indeed, a merchant of sorts. My specialty lies in granting certain requests. Things that are difficult to achieve for most men. One might say that I can make dreams come true.”
Lambert narrowed his eyes, sizing O’Dimm up. He shook his head. “I don’t want anything from you.”
“Nonsense.” O’Dimm smiled widely. “I can accomplish things most would consider impossible. Surely there’s something you want, in that bruised and broken heart of yours. Is there really nothing you regret? No one in all your years that you miss?”
Lambert clenched his jaw.
“Don’t you wish to see him again?” O’Dimm cajoled, waving his hand and conjuring a cloud of smoke that morphed and twisted to take on the shape of Aiden’s face.
Pain shot like a bolt through Lambert’s chest. “How—”
“A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart,” O’Dimm replied with the air of one quoting a great philosopher. He smiled. It didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“Fuck off.” Lambert drained his mug and dug in his pocket for a few coins. He tossed them down on the table and gathered up his belongings.
“No matter.” O’Dimm shrugged. “Should you change your mind, my offer stands. Opportunities like these come by but once in many lifetimes, Lambert. You’d do well not to pass it up.”
Lambert bristled. “Listen, asshole. I’m leaving. If you follow me, I”ll kill you. That’s a promise.”
O’Dimm threw back his head and laughed. “That would be very entertaining indeed.” He rose and bowed once more. “I’ll not trouble you further. If you do decide that you’d like to take me up on my offer, simply speak my name at a crossroads when the moon is high. I’ll find you.” He took a few steps toward the exit, paused, and looked back over his shoulder. “Don’t take too long.”
The merchant whistled to himself as he walked off into the night; a mournful, almost menacing tune that made the hairs on the back of Lambert’s neck stand on end. It was only after he’d vanished into the darkness and a wall of noise hit Lambert that he realized the tavern had fallen completely silent.