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“… Right, that’s done. Geralt, I’m all yours.”

He stood and the Witcher brought the sword up against his throat, as quick as lightning.

“Move away,” he snapped at Milva. Regis didn’t twitch, even though the point of the sword was pressing gently against his neck. The archer held her breath, seeing the barber-surgeon’s eyes glowing in the dark with a strange, cat-like light.

“Go on,” Regis said calmly. “Thrust it in.” 

- Andrzej Sapkowski (translated by David French), Baptism of Fire, page 218

 

* 

 

They hadn't planned on venturing to Fen Carn at first. It was necessity that had brought them there, the witcher Geralt and his company. They were tired, injured, and hungry beyond all measure, and in desperate need of a rest to stop and reevaluate where their road should now take them. And the closer they approached the silent mist-covered plains, the quicker it became clear that they would not find the respite they so desperately sought.

Yet fate, as it turned out, had seemed to shine most fortuitously upon the ragtag group that stumbled onto the barrows that night; the horses snorted and nickered peacefully as they bowed their heads and feasted upon the grass by the rocks, and the sound of laughter shrilled clearly from inside the walls of the cottage that was nestled neatly in the clearing by the graveyard. The moon had steadily risen and deigned to peek its silvery head above the thick clouds that coursed across the sky, and the resulting glow upon the barren landscape was one that could almost be considered eerie in that otherwise silent place. But this was paid no mind, for the warmth and the cheer in that small cabin was enough to alleviate any further worries those weary travellers may have had in mind.

The barber-surgeon was a remarkably mysterious character, one who had indeed inspired many a feeling of wariness and distrust among those gathered when they had first met him hiding amongst the graves of Fen Carn. Dressed in black sweeping robes and carrying a satchel slung round his waist, it was difficult not to look at the man and feel taken aback – especially by the paleness of his skin and his striking grey hair that hung loosely past his shoulders.

It was clear, though, that he was truthful in his words and noble in his intentions, for though he sensed their distrust and saw the weapons they carried, he did not falter in his offer of hospitality and instead freely offered up his cabin to them for the night. Such an offer was greatly welcomed, and it wasn't lost on Geralt how the alluring sight of freshly distilled moonshine in those lodgings was eagerly eyed off by his weary friends.

So it was that mandrake hooch was imbibed, and Geralt found himself caught up in the whirlwind of conversation that followed; tongues loosened under the alcohol, and in those few hours he learned that Emiel Regis was a man sharp of mind and wit, and made for a fascinating conversation partner as he sat back, smiled through pursed lips, and listened to the poet Dandelion avidly recount their journeys since leaving the forests of Brokilon.

Geralt had had reservations about the man at first. He still did, but he couldn't deny that over the course of the lengthy discussion that followed, he appreciated how the man would listen attentively and ask questions that, though curious in nature, were not invasive. He was observant, too. He'd seen how Geralt had avoided speaking at length on any number of the topics covered, and so he was quick to steer the conversation away from any talk of Ciri. Dandelion had been visibly put out at being denied the opportunity to speak further on that subject, that much was clear to see, but Geralt was left intrigued. Intrigued and grudgingly thankful for the tact the barber-surgeon displayed whenever he addressed him and smiled. 

As the night went on, Geralt felt the warmth of the spirit settle in his belly and his throat tingled with the pleasant burn of good, strong booze. It became a little easier then to enjoy the night. It was good to finally have this chance to relax, and what's more to learn a little more about the company he'd been travelling with the past few weeks. As more tales were swapped, the sweetness of the alcohol caressed his tongue and he smacked his lips and drank again from the flask that was passed back to him; this time Dandelion had spilt a trail along the side of the earthen mug as he sluggishly thrust it out to his friend. Geralt cast him a withering glare, one that was completely ignored by the poet whose cheeks had turned a reddened hue with the onset of drunkenness, and the witcher sighed as he settled himself back further by the wall he was leaning against. He winced and swore under his breath at the fresh stab of raw pain in his knee as he shifted again.

He felt eyes on him and he turned to see Regis gazing at him, concern clear in his black eyes. Geralt – or rather Dandelion – had told him earlier how he had received those injuries to his leg, courtesy of Vilgefortz, and it was remarkable how Regis had seemingly already gathered as much just from one single glance at the witcher and a brief comment about the way he'd been favouring his left leg over the course of the evening. He was correct in his assessment that the wound was magical in nature, just as he demonstrated remarkable understanding of the way the dryads of Brokilon had mended as much of the flesh as they were able to whilst Geralt had taken refuge there. Geralt had been impressed, visibly so, and when he saw the fleeting glow of pride in the man’s eyes at the witcher’s praise of his observations, Geralt found he had taken a certain liking to him. His intelligence was admirable, and there was a keen understanding in his dark gaze as if he carried a century’s worth of knowledge inside his head – perhaps even more. He certainly looked the part of an aged wanderer, a scholar, a lonely drifter tucked far away in the solitary corners of society. Geralt knew that life well and respected it, and he made no attempts to hide the budding feeling of kinship that grew alongside the pleasant haze of alcohol in his head. 

It certainly made Regis more delightful to talk to than Dandelion when he was half-slurred and half-asleep over a bottle of mandrake, that was for certain. Geralt watched Milva nudge the bard sharply in the elbow when he’d nodded his head, almost on the verge of slumping over, and Geralt couldn’t hold back the smirk on his lips when Dandelion jumped and almost knocked the mug to the ground in his hurry to pass the archer her fill.

All the while those eyes continued to fix on him.

“Are you well?”

Geralt could hear the hesitance in the man’s voice and he grunted as he turned his head to gaze once more at the barber-surgeon, who was seated across from him on one of the spare wooden chairs that had been moved by the fireplace when they had first entered his humble lodgings. The others – Zoltan, Milva, Percival and Dandelion – were by now so far gone in their various stages of intoxication that neither needed to worry about keeping their voices low; again something that Geralt was thankful for that night.

He drew his arms over his chest, crossing them as he leant further back against the wall.

“Been better.” He wasn't up for discussing it right now. He'd already asked Regis earlier on if he could spare him anything to help deal with the pain. Regis had looked solemn and admitted that he could not – because what Geralt wanted to treat hadn't so much been the pain associated with his leg, but rather the pain of an altogether different kind of injury. That injury, Geralt knew, was the metaphorical kind; he'd been thinking too much lately, and he wanted it to stop. Ever since Thanedd his head had been hurting under the weight of the thoughts and regrets and anger he'd had plaguing him. Geralt had only wanted to drink that night, and that was all. It still intrigued him how Regis had been so quick to pick up on that – and how he'd passed Geralt the flask first before giving it to anyone else.   

Regis smiled faintly. 

“I don't doubt it. Sadly, alcohol – though a blissful reprieve to begin with – cannot soothe all the aches. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

Geralt arched a brow, his interest piqued.

“Speaking from personal experience? Don’t look the type to me.”

“Of a sort, yes. You would be surprised,” the barber-surgeon answered, and Geralt noted another pursed smile stretching across his thin lips. He studied him a moment, merely eyeing the man as he sat and waited expectantly for a reply from the witcher, his black eyes calm and focused and his pale face warm and rose hued from the light of the fireplace behind him. His hair shrouded his cheeks, making his gaunt appearance seem healthier, fuller. Geralt shrugged.

“At this point I don’t think anything’d surprise me anymore.”

Regis cocked his head, affixing the witcher with a curious gaze.     

“Interesting…”

“How?”

“You are a witcher, are you not? I was under the assumption that one must be prepared to expect the unexpected in any event whilst travelling on the Path.”

The corner of Geralt’s lip twitched upwards and he grabbed the flask of mandrake that was sluggishly handed to him by Zoltan, the dwarf yawning and muttering something incoherently as he did so.

“True. But given that everything’s gone downhill tonight, I don’t think I’d have to worry about that anymore. No offence, Emiel Regis – you’re a damn good host, but drinking booze in a cabin in a graveyard with a complete stranger was the last thing on my mind this evening. So no. I wouldn't be surprised. That quota's already been filled for the night.”

He did not expect the slight parting of the man’s lips, Regis’ smile widening ever so faintly. His eyes crinkled at the corners, crow’s feet cutting into his pale skin which accentuated his wizened features.

“Then I shall do my best to not appear as such a complete stranger by the night's end,” the barber-surgeon chuckled. “And please, simply ‘Regis’ is adequate enough.”

Geralt took a swig of mandrake, nodded, and threw the near-empty flask to Percival, who caught it with surprising agility. 

It was with a light heart that Geralt then took a seat in the chair he was standing next to, something he had been avoiding doing all night with the twinge in his knee up until that moment. The booze had finally dulled the pain enough for him to ignore it, and he found himself even bothering to listen to Dandelion’s inane slurred prattling for once.

As it was, he could already feel the seductive pull of sleep, his eyes battling against the effort to stay sharp, stay focused. He fell silent as the conversations continued, Geralt only barely paying attention to the questions Regis was asking his friends about their journeys and the paths they would attempt to take to reach Nilfgaard. Despite the fatigue that loomed ever closer upon him and enshrouded him in its warm hold, Geralt was equally pleased to see that the man was well-versed in matters of the current state of the war in the nearby territories, having been exposed to such knowledge first-hand from the patients he treated in the nearby village of Dillingen.

There came a time, however, when the alcohol had at last caught up to him, and Geralt needed to excuse himself from the gathered company to see to some needs of a more private nature; he was quickly stopped by Dandelion who had stumbled upwards on unsteady feet as soon as he saw the witcher walk away.

“Geralt? Where’re you going?”

Geralt eyed him stiffly.

“Out.”

Dandelion blinked, and it was clear he was having trouble focusing on him. Geralt sighed.

“Let me piss in peace, Dandelion. Grab Milva if you need someone to babysit you while I’m gone.” It took a moment for his words to register in the inebriated bard’s mind, but he was pleased to see the truly affronted look on Dandelion’s face after he’d at last worked his head around the gruff warning the witcher had given him.

“Fine.” He slumped back against the floor. Without waiting for a further answer and without giving anyone else any further opportunity to question him, Geralt reached out, pulled on the door handle and left.

 

*

 

The air was bitterly cold as he ambled out into the night, and Geralt felt the frigid chill slam into his body with full force. He could hear the horses snorting and stamping their hooves upon the ground by the makeshift stables, and as he passed Roach he soothed his restless mare with a quick pat to the neck.

He sighed in satisfaction when he found a secluded spot in the copse of trees to relieve himself, and it was then that as he prepared to make his way back he stopped by the edge of the woods that this small, unassuming cottage bordered.

The night was quiet. Perhaps too quiet. The silence was deafening now that he focused on it, free from the noisome air of the cabin and the thick herbal smell that permeated each and every brick and wall from Regis’ various concoctions and remedies. He felt the icy bite of the air refresh his weary limbs, rejuvenate his mind and sharpen his senses to a fine point. He groaned softly, running a hand through his hair and using the time afforded him to rest against the nearby fence, leaning his arms over the wooden railings as he gazed upon the stillness of the fields before him.

The moonlight glinted off the mounds of the barrows in the near distance, headstones and uneven hillocks casting ominous shadows upon the deadened, dry grass that grew there. It was comforting in a way – unlike so many other places of the like he had encountered on his many years on the Path, he saw that the graves remained untouched. It was clear that something kept the necrophages away. He didn’t know who or what it was, but he was thankful at the chance to lay his sword down. Not even a whisper of a howl in the night could be heard above the slow cawing of ravens in the treetops.

He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, tasting the earthen scent of the grass upon his tongue as his lungs swelled and his booze-addled thoughts righted themselves. It had been twelve days since he had set out from Brokilon, the pain in his leg having proven an effective indicator of each day that passed. The pain seemed to only worsen each morning, and with it, Geralt’s thoughts grew increasingly darker: it had been twelve days since he had set off to find Ciri and bring her back from Nilfgaard.

He shook his head, sighing.

He didn’t let the anger claim him, nor the rising desperation strangle him until he couldn’t breathe. He’d had plenty of time for that already, and he’d made sure to vent out each and every stab of rage and frustration that tore at him with each monster he slaughtered as they traversed the wild, rugged no man’s land that had since comprised their journey out of the dryads’ forest. Milva and Dandelion had recently taken it upon themselves to make comment many a time that they needn’t worry about running into any soldiers along the way – Geralt’s sword had slain more lives in twelve days than there were people in either the Nilfgaardian or Northern Realms’ armies. He hadn’t received the joke well, and his foul mood had lasted until this very evening.

He swallowed and he felt a dryness on his tongue. He wondered if any of that mandrake was left to slake his thirst, but knowing the others, there wouldn’t be. With a wry chuckle he found himself thinking back to Regis’ earlier words: “I’m not certain that you’re treating the right illness. I’d also like to remind you that one should treat causes, not symptoms.”

He smiled then, his lips pulling tightly together the more his thirst raged.

He had to disagree with the barber-surgeon, despite his well-meaning intentions. He understood the concern, of course he did, but sometimes a good bottle of something stiff was all that was needed to lose himself in his head and cloud his thoughts, of which he’d had far too many as of late. If he could stop that roar in his brain, that incessant cascade of annoyance and desperation at the world and Ciri’s plight, then for five minutes he would gladly drown himself in spirits to ease the headache that built up behind his eyes.

Inwardly he wondered at what Vesemir would have to say to him right now if he saw him dulling his senses in such a meaningless, frivolous way. He was a witcher, the old man would chide, not a common dockworker who lived by the bottle for lack of anything else worth living for. He also wondered what Vesemir would have to say if Geralt informed him that oftentimes alcohol was the only thing that worked, because gods knew he'd tried almost everything else. 

Geralt shifted where he stood, his eyes darkening.

“Damn it,” he muttered under his breath. I have to get out of here.

He would be moving at first light. Too much time had been spent idling here as it was – if he kept up at this pace he wouldn’t reach Nilfgaard’s towers until the next year, at the turn of spring at the very least. He ground his teeth.

The headache was coming back.

“What I’d give to have a damned break right about now.”

“I believe I can help you with that.”

Geralt’s head snapped up and he turned, finding himself facing the barber-surgeon who had silently approached. So silently, in fact, that even Geralt hadn't picked up on his footsteps. He eyed the man warily, darting his eyes first from the expectant expression upon his pale face, and then to the shack behind him in the near distance which was illuminated by the candles lit at the windowsills. From where he was standing he could only barely hear the others conversing drunkenly, otherwise altogether unaware of the absence of both the witcher and their host.

Movement caught Geralt’s eye and he glanced down, seeing a small bottle held in Regis’ long-fingered grasp. He felt the dryness on his tongue again and arched a brow.

“It’s only water, I’m afraid,” Regis announced, offering an amused smile as he extended the bottle to Geralt, who took it after a moment with an audible grunt of thanks. “I daresay you need it.”

“I'm not an alcoholic,” Geralt retorted, throwing his head back as he downed one large swig after another of the cold, fresh water. He groaned, glad to feel the thirst quenched if only for a small while.

He saw Regis draw up beside him, the barber-surgeon joining the witcher in leaning upon the gate’s railing. That same smile continued to pull at his lips.

“I never said you were. However, I think I should bring it to your attention that your companions have cleared out my distillate rather admirably.” 

Geralt scoffed, taking another swig of water and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Not surprising.” He looked at Regis again, his eyes narrowing in thought. He then held the bottle out, offering it to the man. “Here. If you don’t drink your own booze, you may as well drink your own damn water.”

The barber-surgeon chuckled, taking the bottle and lifting it in a mock toast to the witcher before raising it to his lips and drinking his fill. As he did so, Geralt lapsed into momentary silence again, turning to the side to better observe his newfound acquaintance.

A curious man indeed, there was something about him that Geralt could not place. He appeared by all intents and purposes to be who he claimed: a surgeon who valued his privacy and worked in the village, and who returned at night to this cabin where he gathered fresh supplies for his salves and medicines. But despite all this, there was something that still gave Geralt pause, something that still made him feel as if he should weigh his options should the worst come to worst. He'd lived long enough to know that he should never take anything – or anyone – at face value. 

He knew that Regis was well aware of his being watched, and to his credit he did not falter under Geralt’s scrutinising stare. Instead Geralt was of the impression that the man was simply waiting, as if certain that sooner or later the witcher would ask him something that the barber-surgeon had been fearing, or hoping to avoid.

It spiked Geralt’s interest, but he was not so easily fooled; as he had been told time and time again throughout his youth, a witcher must always allow the opportunity to come to him. One never survived long on the Path by acting with haste, or without first gathering all the facts. So that is what he would do. And if it appeared that he had been wrong, then he would swallow his pride and apologise. Geralt almost smiled again; he really did have far too much to drink that night, it seemed.

The barber-surgeon lowered the flask from his lips, and in the faint glow from the moonlight above Geralt saw Regis’ profile momentarily hidden from view as a gentle gust of wind stirred the air, brushing his hair past his cheeks.

“Any reason why you’re out here?”

Regis turned his head, arching a brow at Geralt’s sudden inquiry.

“Am I not allowed to be? I seem to recall owning this property.”

Geralt’s lips quirked. Regis passed the bottle back to Geralt, who took it and drained off another pull of it.

“Didn’t mean it like that.”

Regis smiled.

“I'm aware. Forgive me, I couldn’t help myself.” He turned back to face the barrows and the rolling hills before them, visibly pausing a moment as if gathering his thoughts. “I wanted to speak with you, Geralt – if you don’t mind my doing so, of course. It’s difficult to maintain a steady conversation with people who's words have become slurred to almost complete incomprehension.” He looked at the witcher from the corner of his eye, his lips twitching. “And as you are no doubt well aware by now, I do so love to talk.”

Geralt stared at him, feeling a wider smirk threaten to tug on his lips. He fought against it, however, and nodded curtly.

“I noticed. Well then, barber-surgeon, care to tell me why you bother to live out here? Why you really bother to live out in the middle of a graveyard? Or why you’re suddenly so dead set on becoming involved with our affairs and offering us your hospitality? I don’t mean to pry but you’re a smart guy, Regis. I feel like you’d understand my caution.”

Regis was silent a moment, an unreadable expression crossing his eyes at the cool tone of Geralt’s words. He tapped a hand idly against the railing of the gate he leant against, his sharp nails scratching into the chipped woodwork. His lips pursed again. 

“Three very good questions,” he said at length. “Why indeed?”

“Wouldn’t be asking if I knew.”

The barber-surgeon uttered a short laugh.

“I live here, Geralt, because it suits me. I sense that you have trouble believing me when I say it's because of my valued privacy, but that is the exact reason why – nothing more, nothing less. I only wish it could be for something more exciting, but I've had my fair share of excitement in the past when I lived closer to settlements and other villages. Alas, those are minor details of my youth and of a time which I care not to discuss any further at present.”

Geralt straightened himself and leant his back against the gate.  

“Just for privacy? Really? I can understand wanting some peace and quiet, but there’s not many I know of who’d choose to retire to a barrow for it.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Not unless they’re hiding something.” He eyed the man coolly.

Regis, again to his credit, remained unperturbed. But Geralt knew that Regis did not miss the insinuation in his words; the barber-surgeon nodded, taking back the bottle passed to him and using the few moments granted to him as he drank again to carefully gauge his reply.

“Everyone hides something, witcher. It’s human nature, is it not?” His black eyes centred in on Geralt’s, studying his golden irises which reflected faintly in the darkness. Geralt smiled.

“It’s nature. Doesn’t have to be human.”

“I shall keep that in mind.”

Geralt’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully and he ran his eyes once more over the man standing before him. His curiosity was tugging at him now, threatening to eat him whole. There was more to this man than his humble appearance and well-crafted words. Much more. Out of instinct, he focused on the weight of his medallion that sat round his neck, glinting in the moonlight where it hung over the straps and buckles of his leather jacket. Nothing. Not a tremble, not a single sign that hinted at anything out of the ordinary.

If this man was a doppler, he would know. If this man was a sorcerer, he would know. If he was anything other than what he claimed, he would know.

But he didn’t.

And this was what fascinated him.

“Still haven’t answered my other question,” Geralt said after a moment. “Why’re you helping us?”

Regis nodded, as if more to himself than Geralt – like the witcher’s question was exactly what he had been expecting to hear next.

“Because it is the right thing to do.”

Geralt blinked, momentarily taken aback.

“What?”

Regis sighed and turned to face him fully, strands of grey locks again brushing past his cheeks and hiding his face in shadow.

“Your story is an interesting one. Hearing your friends’ recounts tonight… I realised that there is simply far more to this war than I had at first ever imagined. Listening to my patients and the refugees in Dillingen, I could not even begin to comprehend the sheer extent of the carnage that sweeps the land. But now at last I know. The roads are no longer safe. This very region upon which we stand is no longer safe. You have a caravan of women and children with you, and the journey you're on will be fraught with unimaginable dangers. I feel that my assistance would be needed here now more than ever – forgive me for saying so, but I don't see anyone among you who is better equipped to deal with illness and infection.”

“A fair point,” Geralt said quietly. “I’m surprised they’ve lasted this long already.”

“You see? We do not live in a world fit for those who cannot defend themselves. It is the cruellest reality, and one that we must work to change. Therefore, I will bring my supplies with me and offer my services on your travels. I wish to accompany you when you venture forth on the morrow.”

Geralt was quiet for a long time, running the barber-surgeon’s words over in his mind. All the while he watched him, searching those black eyes for any trace, any hint of doubt, any kind of sign that his words were untrue and his intentions were false. He found none of that, but what he did find was a determination that burned from deep within. He recognised the look immediately: it was the same determination that drove him ever onwards on the Path, the same dogged need to move forwards against all odds, against all ridicule and against the constant threat of death that danced with him intimately at every corner. And it was the same determination that kept him going even now, when Ciri was out of reach and another land away.

He smiled so faintly that his lips barely moved.

His medallion continued to lay unmoving at his breast.

Maybe I was wrong.

He saw Regis’ eyes drop down to that fashioned wolf’s head hanging from his neck, as if he somehow knew the source of Geralt’s current train of thought. The man regarded it carefully, pensively. Then he continued.

“And if I can also offer any aid in your search for your Cirilla, or for Yennefer, then it would be the very least I could do.”

Geralt blinked. He'd not expected that, either. 

“You mean to tell me that you, a stranger, and a surgeon at that, would willingly walk into danger to help me find two women who don't mean a damn thing to you?” His voice rose at the end of his sentence, incredulity gripping him in its hold. He shook his head. “Is everyone I meet insane?”

Regis smiled his pursed lipped smile.

“Not everyone,” he said quietly. “I can assure you of that.”

“I beg to differ,” Geralt growled. “Do you even know what you’re asking? No offence, but you don’t look like you’ve trained with a sword a day in your life. Stay here, barber-surgeon. Or stay with the women and children who need you to keep them clean and healthy. I’m not sending anyone out on a death wish.”

“That is inspiringly admirable of you, Geralt,” Regis answered softly. “And whilst I cannot speak for the others of your company, I can say that I'm indeed touched by the need for you to reinstate the importance of safety at all costs both to myself and to the others. I've never wielded a sword in my life, that much is true, and though I despise conflict in all forms I'm not entirely without the capabilities of defending myself should the need arise.”

“I would like to remind you,” he then continued after a moment when Geralt opened his mouth to retort – and here, his eyes sharpened, giving Geralt pause, “that appearances can indeed be deceiving. So do not assume to know me, witcher. If you are so curious about who I am, you need only ask.”

Geralt felt his breath suck sharply out of his lungs. He ran a palm across his face and exhaled through his fingers and swore under his breath, feeling a great displeasure settle over him. He was suddenly reminded of Yennefer’s uncannily aggravating ability to read his thoughts, and for one horrible, gut-wrenching minute he thought that perhaps she wasn’t the only one who was able to do so after all.

Before he could think on it further, his thoughts were waylaid by the slow understanding smile that tugged at the barber-surgeon’s lips. Ah. So he wasn't a mind reader. He was just too damn smart for his own good. Geralt respected that. Grudgingly. 

“It's in my nature to be observant, Geralt. I would not have lasted so long living here otherwise.” 

The tension built tighter in Geralt’s muscles as he gazed with distrusting eyes at the man.

“Yeah… starting to see that, now.”

Regis chuckled – a soft sound that was almost soothing in its warmth as it rumbled from his chest.

“I say we propose a trade.”

“What're you talking about?”

Regis held up a hand, silently indicating for Geralt to stay his place. When he looked again at the witcher, his expression was serious.

“Information for information. You wish to know about me, as you so rightly should. And I would very much like to sate my curiosity about you.”

“Why?” Geralt felt himself grow increasingly agitated; if there was one thing he loathed, it was cryptic comments and words and intentions that made no sense. So far Emiel Regis had been guilty of all three this night. He straightened himself up again, drawing up to his full height which he noted was not much taller than Regis’ own.

They held each other’s gazes, the two of them. It was Regis who broke the silence.

“One might call it a professional curiosity. But the truth, I must admit, is by far the easier to explain. Quite simply it is because you fascinate me.”

Geralt barked a short, gruff laugh.

“Gonna have to do much better than that,” he snarled. Regis shook his head, sighing and looking defeated. It made him appear frail, weakened in the moonlight that continued to illuminate the plains around them. Geralt found himself pausing again.

“I've heard of witchers and their lives on the Path. I've read stories and overhead tales of mutated men drawing swords and spells and slaying monsters for a paltry sum of coin which barely lasts them until the next village inn. They save villagers in need and work tirelessly in the face of death to do what is right by those who shun them the very moment their backs are turned, cursing them and all their ilk until the world dies around them.” Regis lifted his head, his eyes locking on Geralt’s once more. But this time, the look was different – and what Geralt saw in that gaze was something that he had never expected to see.

It was sympathy. Sympathy and an understanding that was so profound, so intense, that for a moment the witcher forgot his ire and simply stared.

“Your friends spoke highly of you and the weight you carry. What you do... it's a truly admirable goal, worthy of respect where it is not given. And so I find myself wondering if we're perhaps not as different as we might think, you and I,” Regis whispered.

Geralt nodded, letting the barber-surgeon’s words echo in his head. He scoffed.

“Nice to know. I was starting to feel lonely,” he sneered, yet his words had no real heat to them. Regis sighed again, shaking his head.

“I was being serious.”

“So was I. If you think you can somehow relate to me and everything I’ve been through, congratulations. But don’t go expecting me to cry and tell you my life story just because you’ve found someone to connect to. Everyone has something to hide – you said it yourself.”

Regis smiled thinly, nodding as if to himself. Seeing that he was not going to get any further response than that, Geralt turned, preparing to walk back to the cabin. The night air was chilling him to the bone and he wanted nothing more than to sleep. Their entire conversation had troubled him and tugged at something he'd rather not feel. 

He had not taken more than five steps before he was stopped by the sudden call behind him.

“Now what could Geralt of Rivia prefer to keep to himself?”

Geralt smiled, his lips stretching into an ugly sneer as he cast a glance back over his shoulder.

“A lot of things, Regis. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll find out one day.”

Regis smiled softly when Geralt retreated, his form slowly fading into the shadow of the night as he strode towards the lone cottage nestled by the trees. Whether Geralt was aware of it or not, his eyes had told Regis a thousand things that his lips could not say. The barber-surgeon lowered his gaze, turning to glance once more upon the open fields and the rolling hillocks of the barrows. When he spoke again, he knew that Geralt could hear his whisper as it carried on the fresh gust of wind. 

“I look forward to it.”