A flash of pale green light cut through the void of space, and with one step, Ciri left Sodden and found herself in Toussaint.
“Easy,” she said, patting Zephyr’s neck. It was simply habit to soothe her now. Her brave black mare boldly strode through portals, teleported across the Continent, and outran fiends without flinching.
She’d been in Sodden for two long and unpleasant weeks. The Path was difficult, the peasantry suspicious, and the monsters vicious, but this was the life she’d chosen, the one she’d wanted. Her most recent contract saw her ridding a village cemetery of a grave hag that was preying on its children at night. Now thirty crowns richer and in desperate need of a good meal and her own bed, all she wanted was to spend the week in Corvo Bianco with her adoptive parents.
She rode up the cobblestone path, tilting her face toward the warm, late April sun. Besides, she thought with a sudden smile, It’s nearly Belleteyn. Ciri couldn’t remember the last time they’d all been together for the holiday, and for the birthday she shared with Lady Yennefer. Truthfully, she wasn’t sure they ever had.
Geralt’s mare, Roach, greeted her with a soft nicker when she reached the stables. Ciri dismounted from Zephyr’s back and rubbed Roach’s velvety nose over the stall.
“Hello, sweet girl,” she said. “Have you been looking out for Geralt for me?”
She reached for the door of the next stall over and stepped back abruptly as a large black head swung over the door to peer at her.
Ciri checked the third stall, and the fourth. Occupied, and by familiar horses. Excitement rose in her chest. She unsaddled Zephyr hastily, leading her into the empty fifth stall to brush her down. She dropped off the saddle and bridle in the tack room and rushed into the villa, grinning.
“Geralt, Geralt, don’t be silly,” Keira Metz said as she flew through the door. “We never got your invitation. This is simply stop number – what was it, Lambert?”
“Three,” Lambert said.
“Three,” Keira continued. “We’re here for the wine.”
Eskel, leaning against the wall and looking very amused, was the first to spot Ciri. “Kid!” he greeted her. “Get over here.” He swept her up in a tight bear hug, the rivets of his armor digging into her chest. “Good job not getting killed on the Path.”
“Yeah, nice work, kid,” Lambert said. He raised a glass of wine in her direction.
“Ciri!” Keira said cheerily. “You’re looking very alive.”
“Don’t tell anyone,” she said. “I’d like to keep it that way.”
She traded Eskel's arms for Geralt's and sank into her father's hug, brief but heartfelt.
“You have a scratch,” Geralt said, gesturing to her collarbone.
“The grave hag didn’t let me off without a souvenir,” Ciri said.
“Good work,” Lambert said. “Taking over for the old man. What have you been fighting these days, Wolf? Crows and vine rot?”
Geralt plucked the wine glass from Lambert’s hand. “Among other things.”
“Where’s Lady Yennefer?” Ciri asked.
“In the alchemy laboratory with Triss,” Geralt said. “She’ll be glad to see you.” He handed her Lambert’s stolen glass of wine. “Why don’t you bring her something to drink?”
“Wolf, you bastard –”
Laughing, Ciri slipped back out the door and went down to the wine cellar beneath the steps, walking past the stacks of barrels and crates of bottles to the little laboratory in the back. She could hear two voices, one low and melodic, the other higher and younger-sounding.
“I’m home,” she announced, and the owner of the melodic voice whirled around to hug her tightly.
“Ciri, darling,” Lady Yennefer of Vengerberg said fondly. She pulled back and peered at her face. “You look tired. And this cut is filthy.”
“I’m fine, Mother,” she said. Lady Yennefer’s violet eyes softened at the address.
“Of course you are,” Yennefer said. “How could you be otherwise?”
Ciri pulled away reluctantly and offered a hug to Triss as well, who gladly accepted. “Little sis,” she said, smiling. “How’s the Path treating you?”
“Oh, you know,” Ciri said. “If it’s not drowners and ghouls, it’s katakans and chorts. The food is terrible, the pay is lousy, and the clients are usually ungrateful.”
“Second thoughts?” Triss asked.
“Not for a moment,” she said.
Triss shook her head. “You could have been empress, you know.”
“Of Nilfgaard?” Ciri shuddered. “No thank you.”
“Leave her be, Triss,” Yennefer said. “Ciri knows her own mind. Tell us; what news is there from Tankred’s court?”
“Petty politics and scheming, as usual," Triss said. "Word from Nilfgaard is that Philippa finally managed to push Fringilla to the margins and grab a position as Emhyr’s magical advisor."
Yennefer raised an eyebrow at that. “Philippa had better watch that she doesn’t overreach herself.”
“I’d be more worried about Fringilla, myself,” Triss said. “She can be spiteful when she’s slighted.”
“Nilfgaard’s court is a pit of vipers,” Ciri said. “No, Triss, I have no regrets. I’m better off with the ghouls.”
She considered the half-full glass of wine in her hand. No, she'd best not give Lambert's secondhand wine to Yennefer. She took a sip instead. Oh, that was lovely. “Was there word of me?” she asked.
“No,” Triss assured her. “Everyone still thinks you’re dead.”
“Good,” Ciri said firmly.
Yennefer beckoned her to the table of alchemical books and reagents. “I’ve a birthday present for you,” she said. “Here.”
She picked up a necklace made of fine silver links, a pendant of deep blue agate hanging from the center. Within its depths, a spell swirled. “Alzur’s Thunder,” she said, reaching around Ciri’s neck to secure the necklace in place. “It will recharge, but slowly, so use it only when you truly need it.”
“I promise,” Ciri said, touching the pendant gently. It fit perfectly within the hollow of her throat, right above her wolf’s head medallion. Secretly, she was impressed by Lady Yennefer’s mastery of such a difficult spell. “But – I haven’t anything to give you.”
“Ciri,” Yennefer said, placing her hands on Ciri’s shoulders. “My little ugly one. You have grown to be a beautiful, capable, accomplished young woman. There were times I never thought we’d have this day. Your gift to me is my pride in you.”
She felt her cheeks heat. “Mother….”
“Hush. It’s the truth.”
Triss cleared her throat quietly. “Your gift is in my bags.”
“Thank you, Triss,” Ciri said. “Shall we return to the others?”
“If we must,” Yennefer said. “Lambert is bound to be insufferable.”
“Actually, he might be worse,” Ciri said, and held up the wine glass. “Geralt gave me his wine.”
They exited the cool, dim cellar, laughing, and walked into daylight.
Dandelion and Priscilla arrived an hour later, riding like the hounds of the Wild Hunt pursued them. Dandelion had a scarf wrapped around his head like a heavy balaclava. It did absolutely nothing to conceal his identity, however, as his ostentatious pink and silver-threaded doublet still shone brightly beneath the sun, and his lute bounced along on his back as he rode.
“You could have told me there was still a warrant out for my arrest in Toussaint,” he said as soon as the door shut behind him.
“There’s still a price on your head, Dandelion,” Geralt said. “That hasn’t changed in years.”
“See, this is why I just write songs about royalty,” Priscilla said, nodding sagely. “It never pays to sleep with them.”
“Ah, no matter,” Dandelion said, shedding his scarf. “Anarietta will forget all about me as soon as I leave.”
“Or she’ll have you up on the executioner’s block again,” Geralt said.
“You’re such a pessimist,” Dandelion dismissed. He looked around and beamed. “Triss, Yennefer, lovely as always. Ciri, so good to see you.”
“We’ve been writing up a storm these past few years,” Priscilla said. “About you, too, Ciri.”
A shiver of unease wormed down Ciri’s spine. “Please tell me you haven’t been playing the one about me in public.”
“What kind of gauche jongleurs do you take us for?” Dandelion asked. “We’d never breach your confidence like that.”
“Besides, it deserves a grand debut,” Priscilla added. “Here, on Belleteyn, at the party!”
Ciri didn’t know quite how to feel about being the subject of one of “Master Dandelion’s” ballads. His dedication to chronicling the deeds of her adoptive father was bad enough, and she needed to keep a low profile if she wanted to avoid the eyes of Emhyr and his spymasters.
She put it from her mind and joined Eskel and Lambert in Geralt’s study, where they were examining the swords on the wall. One in particular, an old Redanian saber, had caught their attention.
“Know this one’s history?” Eskel asked.
She did, in fact. She’d heard the whole miserable tale several visits ago. Geralt had spoken long into the night, and they’d polished off two whole bottles of wine between the two of them before the story wound to a close.
“It was a gift from a Redanian noble,” Ciri said. “Geralt faced down a demon to save his life, and the nobleman gave him his sword in thanks.”
Ciri had drunkenly offered her opinions on Geralt’s reckless heroism that night, and on how undeserving Olgierd von Everec was of his help.
“You didn’t see him afterward, Ciri,” Geralt had said. “The curse broke something in him. I think he’ll be putting himself back together for a long time.”
“That’s quality steel,” Lambert said. “He must have been pretty grateful to part with that.”
“He’d better have been,” Ciri muttered.
Laughter rang out in the dining room, and the sound of aimless strumming filled the air.
“Lutes go missing all the time,” Eskel said. “If you don’t like the new song.”
“Bards go missing, too,” Lambert said.
“You’re both terrible,” Ciri said, and smiled. “Thank you.”
“Go check upstairs,” Eskel said. “We went in with Geralt on a gift for you. It’s not right, you running around fighting monsters in just a shirt.”
“You’re giving the School of the Wolf a bad reputation, kid,” Lambert said. “You need armor.”
“Thank you," she said again and left them behind to dart up the stairs to her bedroom.
There, at the foot of her bed, stood an armored dummy dressed in a smaller, slimmer version of Geralt’s Wolf School armor. Steel reinforced boots, wool and leather trousers, a leather-backed chainmail jacket over a studded leather jerkin, and sturdy leather gauntlets, all in shades of black and red. Was this why Yennefer had insisted on getting her measured for a new dress the last time she’d been here? How long had they been planning this?
Ciri looked at it, tempted, but the laughter from downstairs rang out again and she turned back to rejoin the festivities. It would keep until tomorrow.
She thanked Geralt fervently when she returned to the dining room. He just smiled slightly. “Anything to make the Path easier for you.”
She settled in beside him to listen to one of Dandelion and Priscilla’s new ballads – thankfully, not the one about her. It had a rolling, dangerous rhythm, and Ciri was quickly enraptured as they sang about the recent war. And, naturally, about Geralt’s part in it.
The song came to an end, Dandelion and Priscilla proffering flourishing bows, and the assembled guests applauded enthusiastically.
Then, as the applause tapered off, there was a knock at the door.
Geralt’s smile faded, and he stood from the table. “Be right back.”
He slipped out the door, leaving it open ajar behind him. Ciri followed, standing at the crack and looking out to see who could have caused that reaction.
The man at the door was tall, and he stood in shadow. She could see only that he wore very fine embroidered Redanian robes and a jeweled livery collar around his neck.
“I got your invitation,” he said to Geralt. “How did you find me?”
“Yen scried for you in the reflection of your saber,” Geralt said, and the man chuckled.
“That’s the second time that sword’s turned on me. Can you not let me be, Witcher? A man might wish to wallow in peace.”
“You were going to turn over a new leaf, lead a different life,” Geralt said. “From what Yen told me, you were holed up at an inn in Rivia, drinking.”
“I’ve a right to pickle my leaf before I turn it,” the man said. Geralt scoffed, and he said more seriously, “Everywhere I look, I see old ghosts haunting me. I thought, perhaps a drink or two might make the regrets fade some. Perhaps I got a bit carried away.”
“Everywhere you look? Have you tried leaving?”
“Where to? I’ve no love for Nilfgaard, humans aren’t welcome in Dol Blathanna, I detest Ofier, and Zerrikania is too strange.”
“And the Northern countries?” Geralt asked.
“I may as well drink poison,” the man said, “For Redania will kill me by inches with all the memories she holds. Nay, not Redania, nor her neighbors. They are all tainted by association.”
“Toussaint, then,” Geralt said impatiently. “Stay. Just for a few days.”
“Is this sympathy for the devil, Witcher?”
"We’ve met the devil, Olgierd,” Geralt said. “You’re not him.”
The man stepped from the shadows, and the fading sun struck his bright red hair, setting it aflame atop his head. Ciri stared at him unashamedly. This was Olgierd von Everec? The man with the heart of stone? The cold yet chivalrous ataman of a company of Redanian raiders? She just...didn’t see it.
Oh, certainly, he was red-haired and terribly handsome, with such scars that made Geralt look like he’d lived a comparatively safe and sheltered life. But the meticulously groomed beard was unkempt, the sides of his shaved head were covered in several days’ worth of stubble, and he had deep circles beneath his blue-green eyes.
Why? Why save this man, who had done so much damage to so many lives? And now Olgierd von Everec was squandering that gift.
She retreated back into the dining room, to the warmth of friends and family. She didn’t know what Geralt was thinking, inviting Olgierd to Belleteyn, but she didn’t like it and she certainly didn’t have to like him.
Try as she might – and she did try – she found herself very unwillingly liking Olgierd von Everec over the next few days. She’d been fully prepared to find him lacking. To her dismay, he instead proved himself a quiet, introspective man with an air of melancholy that never seemed to fully lift. He had a wry and occasionally biting sense of humor, was cultured, educated, and eloquent, and possessed a lovely singing voice.
The last had been discovered when Lambert had wrested Dandelion’s lute from him and initiated an impromptu game of keep-away. For several minutes, the poor lute flew from hand to hand, traveling above Dandelion’s head as the Witchers threw it about. Then it landed in Olgierd’s lap, and he strummed the strings with hands that knew what they were doing.
“You play?” Lambert asked, immediately abandoning the game. “Do you know anything that isn’t sappy?”
“Or isn’t about the White Wolf?” Eskel added.
Even Dandelion looked intrigued. “You do have a certain proficiency with the instrument. Tell me, do you know any traditional Redanian ballads? I’m Redanian myself, you know, though I prefer my own compositions.”
“No ballads!” Lambert interjected.
Olgierd thought a moment, then strummed the instrument playfully.
“A soldier walked along the pathway between the hedges there,
And came across a maiden bearing some pierogi.
“Oh have you, have you, have you, oh have you, have you heard –
And came upon a maiden, bearing some pierogi.
“Oh my maiden most fine, do you know of my dreams?
That I do so love you, and pierogi with cheese.
“Oh have you, have you, have you, oh have you, have you heard –
“That he does so love her and pierogi with cheese.”
He sang the entire silly song all the way to its ridiculous end, sending everyone into fits of laughter. He gently handed the lute back to Dandelion.
“My thanks,” he said, a small smile on his face. “I haven’t played in years. Not since my brother died.”
Out of guilt, Ciri wondered, or a lack of interest?
“Then you should start again,” Dandelion insisted. “No musician should squander their gift. That would be a true travesty. I’ll tell you what. We’ll go into Beauclair together and pick up a lute for you, hmm?”
“What, with you in your balaclava?” Lambert asked.
“On second thought, maybe Priscilla should go with you,” Dandelion said.
“That would be appreciated,” Olgierd said. His small smile faded, but the look in his eyes was soft and slightly pained. “I’d like to get my hands on a lute again.”
“Excellent!” Dandelion cheered. He strummed a few chords on his lute, and nodded to Ciri. “Your turn to sing, Ciri. What’ll it be?”
“The Three Maids of Vicovaro,” Lambert suggested with a smirk.
Eskel laughed. “Ploughing a Troll!”
“You’re both terrible!”
The moment that perhaps killed her dislike of Olgierd von Everec came the night of Belleteyn itself. Ciri had dressed for the occasion in a deep blue gown, with Triss’ gift of a jeweled silver comb pulling her hair back. The ladies wore fine dresses, and the men washed up and forewent armor. Olgierd finally took a razor and scissors to his head and beard, shaving off the stubble and trimming his whiskers back into order.
Wine and conversation flowed in equal measure. Hardly a minute passed without someone bursting into laughter. Geralt’s cook had put on a spread fit for kings, and Corvo Bianco’s own Sepremento wine had graced the table. At one end of the table, the sorceresses had their heads together, arguing some arcane point – or was it comparing lovers? At the other, the Witchers talked shop, Lambert offering advice on a better dimeritium bomb and Eskel giving tips on how to fight certain monsters that all but required the potions she couldn’t drink.
In the center, Dandelion and Priscilla held court, somehow managing to eat, drink, and perform all at once. They’d played “Wolven Storm” to applause from most and to good-natured jeers from Lambert, and then they’d begun their new repertoire.
Ciri looked about. Olgierd had slipped from the table amidst the revelry. Concerned, and a bit irritated that she felt concerned, she made quiet excuses and went out the door to find him as Priscilla and Dandelion struck up their next tune.
She found him sitting on the porch beside the door, looking up at the stars. The sounds from within the house were muted, but she could still hear snatches of music.
His eyes cut to her briefly and then looked skyward again. “Ciri.”
She started. “What?”
“The question that’s been burning at you since I arrived. Ask. I’ll not bite your head off for curiosity.”
Ciri hesitated. There were so many questions she had for him. In the end, though, it came down to just one.
“Do you regret it? Any of it?”
Air escaped him in a long, breathy laugh. “Do I regret it? Oh, my dear. I am a man drowning in regret. But regrets won’t bring anyone back to life, now, will they?”
“No,” Ciri said. “They won’t.”
From within the house, she heard the faint sound of Priscilla singing.
“Time and space on the frailest veil,
Frozen cold in the static.”
“Why did you come?” she asked.
“Your father wasn’t done saving me, apparently,” he said. “Not that I’m not appreciative. Toussaint is almost another world.”
“It certainly has its own rhythm," Ciri said.
Olgierd chuckled. “Still not far enough, but it will do for now.”
“What will you do next?” Ciri asked.
“I might look into abandoned properties in the area,” he said. “Put my feet up and stay a while. Geralt mentioned there was a bandit problem. Perhaps a former ataman of a pack of glorified bandits might be of use ridding the duchy of its infestation.”
“Through space and time I swirl,
The lady of the worlds,
Don’t hold me down.”
“I know the area,” Ciri found herself saying unexpectedly. “If you need someone to show you around, I can do it.”
Olgierd looked genuinely surprised by the offer. “That’s kind of you. My thanks.”
“It’s nothing,” Ciri dismissed. “Triss wants to look at elven ruins. We can do both at the same time.”
Olgierd nodded and reached for the dagger in his belt. Ciri took an instinctive half step back, but he merely pulled it loose, scabbard and all, and held it out to her. "Happy birthday," he said.
She took it from his scarred hands and examined it. The scabbard was beautifully decorated with scrolling silver filigree, a match for the short crossguard, which had a single pink sapphire embedded in the center. The hilt was wrapped in rich, dark brown leather. She unsheathed it to reveal a curved, mirror-bright blade with a single edge.
“A trinket from my days of misadventure,” Olgierd said with a small, self-deprecating smile. “May it serve you well on the Path.”
A dagger like this was no mere trinket, but she didn’t challenge him on the fiction. It would indeed serve her well.
“Thank you,” she said quietly.
“The shimmer of white skies,
I spin to and fro
A flicker of wild eyes
Gifts I can’t control.”
“Will you come back in?” she asked.
“No,” he said. “I fear I’m not fit for company at the moment. Give my apologies to Geralt, will you? I’ll stay out here with the stars.”
Suddenly feeling like she was intruding, she retreated to the house, dagger clutched in her hands.
Eskel rode on to Brugge the morning after Belleteyn. Priscilla and Dandelion waited until nightfall to make their departure, Dandelion hidden under his heavy scarf once more. Lambert and Keira relocated to an inn in the heart of Beauclair, declaring that they were on holiday and not to be disturbed. With only Triss and Olgierd left as house guests, Corvo Bianco fell back into its regular rhythms, and Ciri rode out with them daily.
They’d thoroughly explored the southern part of the duchy over the past two days, finding an abandoned home that was perhaps a bit too thoroughly abandoned for Olgierd, and several promising ruins for Triss. Today, they searched the eastern side.
Ciri glanced behind her at her companions. It was interesting, she thought, how appearances both deceived and told the truth. Triss, in her high-necked linen shirt and leather doublet, flowing dark red hair unbound, appeared a fresh-faced young woman of no more than twenty rather than a dangerous sorceress in her late fifties, an advisor to kings, and the successful former leader of Novigrad’s mage underground during the pogrom a few years prior. Olgierd, heavily scarred and dressed in traditional Redanian finery, had a dangerous, rakish look, but the calm, slightly wistful air about him held no such aura. Unlike Triss, Olgierd wore his past and present on his face, on his body. For him, there was no hiding it.
Triss spurred her spirited blue roan closer to Ciri. “We’ve been all over the eastern part of the duchy, and there are hardly any elven ruins. Should we call it a day and head back to the villa?”
“It’s barely mid-afternoon,” Ciri protested. “Besides, we’re out here looking at real estate for Olgierd as well.”
Olgierd’s massive liver chestnut gelding nudged his nose between their two horses. “The hunting cottage in the Caroberta woods we rode by yesterday looked attractive,” he said, and smiled at the flat, unamused look Triss shot him.
“It was infested with barghests.”
“All houses come with their own challenges.”
“I hadn’t realized your standards were so low,” Triss said. “Should we go back to Fort Ussar and the slyzard nests?”
“Despite that generous offer, I must decline,” Olgierd said. “My needs, few though they are, still can’t be met without a roof, four walls, and a door.”
“Then we press on,” Ciri said. “Ruins for Triss, a home for Olgierd.”
She gently steered Zephyr right at the intersection, directing her toward the abandoned Casteldaccia estate. Triss and Olgierd followed at her heels.
“You’re Redanian,” Triss said to Olgierd as they walked along under the warm May sun.
“What gave it away?” Olgierd asked. “Was it the accent? It can’t have been the robe.”
Triss laughed and continued, “I just meant to say, I understand the urge to leave Redania behind. You’d have to pay me a fortune to return to Novigrad.”
“If the Church of the Eternal Fire and its witch hunters were to all keel over and die of apoplexy, I doubt many tears would be shed,” Olgierd said. “The damage they did will be felt for years to come.”
“How did you avoid the purges?” Triss asked. “A Redanian, a mage – you should have been in the thick of it.”
“Ah, but my interest in the Art is largely theoretical, while my ability to swing a saber and lead a company of cutthroats is not,” Olgierd countered. “So long as the ataman of the Redanian Free Company pointed his blade at the Temerians or Nilfgaardians and did nothing too obviously magical, I and my people were left to our own unsavory devices.”
Triss looked upon Olgierd with new eyes, sharp and assessing, cataloging his many visible scars and the way he sat in his saddle like he’d been born in it. “You led a raider group?”
Olgierd scratched the deep and curving scar on the side of his skull. “Every noble family has its foibles. I hear some collect spoons or Witcher relics. The von Everecs were raiders, financed by the crown to harry the borders.”
From what Ciri heard, the Free Company did its harrying within Redania’s borders, too, but it was Olgierd’s story, not hers.
Ciri could see the questions dancing in Triss’ cornflower blue eyes, but all she said was, “Geralt meets interesting people.”
“That he does, my dear,” Olgierd said. He pulled lightly on his gelding’s reins, urging him to halt. “This is Casteldaccia, I take it?”
The “this” in question was an abandoned estate ringed in bristling sharpened stakes. Geralt had driven bandits out twice now, and it seemed like the lesson had finally stuck.
“Yes, this is it,” Ciri said. “Come on. We’ll have to break down doors to have a look about.”
“How’s your Aard these days?” Triss asked.
“Lousy. Did Lady Yennefer ever tell you of the time she was teaching me Aard, and I accidentally blew up a shed instead of knocking a bottle of wine into her hands?”
Triss laughed. “I’m afraid that story made the rounds a few times.”
“Well, there you have it,” Ciri said, leading the way through the open archway. “Unless it’s teleportation, I’m completely useless when it comes to magic.”
They led the horses to a hitching post outside the main house and tied them securely in place before going off to check the door.
“We can always kick it down and blame it on the bandits,” Ciri said, eyeing the handle. From the looks of it, the bandits had tried and failed to break in earlier.
“That’s the spirit,” Olgierd said. “There’s nothing like wanton destruction of someone else’s property in pursuit of lost knowledge.”
Ciri and Triss both whipped around to glare at him only to find him chuckling, hands raised. “There’s no need to damage the door further; I have lock picks.”
He went back to his horse to rummage through the saddlebags, and Triss leaned over to ask Ciri quietly, “How exactly did Geralt meet him?”
“He saved him from a demon of some sort,” Ciri said, deliberately vague. “It was apparently quite difficult.”
“Here we are,” Olgierd said, returning to their side with lock picks in hand. “Now, let’s see about this door.”
It was the work of no more than a minute before the tumblers fell into place, but Olgierd still had to give the door a hard shove to open it thanks to the damage from the bandits. “Well now, isn’t this different?”
There were sheets draped over all the furniture, and dust rose in the air in cloudy plumes as they entered. But the interesting thing – the unusual thing – was the giant, inactive portal against the wall of the dining room right as they entered.
“There’s your elven ruin, Triss,” Ciri said. She walked to its base and looked up at the decorative, twining branches framing the portal. It was big enough to ride a horse through. She looked back at the front door, considering.
“Here’s the power crystal,” Triss said, placing the fallen gem back in its holder. “Aenye,” she intoned, and flames shot from her hand to envelop the crystal.
The portal lit up instantly, a cold blue shot through with an eerie green light.
“Where do you suppose it goes?” Triss asked. “I don’t want us teleporting into a drowner nest by accident.”
“It could go anywhere on the Continent,” Olgierd said. “We may avoid a drowner nest only to land in Hierarch Hemmelfart’s private bath.”
Ciri snickered. “I’ll take the drowners, thanks. But you know, it could go elsewhere.”
A spark came into Olgierd’s blue-green eyes. “Beyond the Continent?”
She nodded. “Beyond this world, even.”
“Right, I’ll unload the horses – unless you think we’ll need them,” he said. He gave the doorway the same considering look Ciri had. “Miss Merigold, how is your Aard?”
“We can’t just go!” Triss protested. “Anything could be on the other side. We need to go back to Corvo Bianco and tell Geralt and Yenna first.”
The humming of the portal increased in pitch slightly, and they all turned to see something small fly out in a gentle arc and land at Ciri’s feet.
“Is that a scroll?” Triss asked as Ciri picked it up and unfurled it.
“No, it’s a letter – listen. ‘To whoever receives this, greetings from House Trevelyan of the Free Marches. With luck, we have reached a trustworthy mage on the Continent. Our situation is dire. Templars, an arm of the Chantry, hunt free mages across Ferelden and Orlais. We have mages here in our estate in Ostwick seeking shelter, but at any moment our ability to offer them succor may be ripped away. We seek the aid of the sorcerers and sorceresses of the Continent. Is it safe to send over our mages? Yours in faith, Lord Declan Trevelyan of Ostwick.’”
The wall to the side of the door exploded outward, and Ciri looked up to see fierce resolve written across Triss’ face. “Let’s get the horses.”
She looked to Olgierd. The spark in his eyes was burning brightly, and for the first time since she'd met him, he seemed truly engaged in the world. "How is it that the people on the other side of the portal, in this other world, know our language?” he asked. “It seems unlikely.”
Ciri shrugged. “From the sound of it, this Lord Trevelyan has prior knowledge of the Continent. But I’ve never had trouble understanding people in other worlds. It may be a function of the magic of the portals.”
“Fascinating,” he murmured, and with a last look at the portal, followed Triss out the blown-out hole in the wall to gather his horse.
Ciri took a moment to look around the dining room for something to write with. The fireplace hadn’t been lit for years, but there were still soft lumps of charcoal within it, and she took a piece and wrote on the back of Lord Trevelyan’s letter, “We’re coming through to discuss this in person. We’ll be there shortly. Yours, C. & co.”
She rolled the letter up tightly and threw it back through the portal, then joined her companions by the hitching post. Triss was looking through her saddlebags, frowning, and Olgierd was stroking his gelding’s neck looking quite unconcerned.
“If we get trapped there I only have enough food for a day,” Triss announced, turning away from her saddlebags. “And I don’t have a blanket or a change of clothing.”
“I wouldn’t worry too much,” Ciri said. “It sounds like we’ll be traveling straight to a nobleman’s estate. And if things go wrong, I never leave home with less than a week’s worth of food and two changes of clothing. You’re welcome to borrow a shirt.”
“Aside from a few items in your parents’ villa and my gold in the bank, all I own is with me now,” Olgierd said. “I’m ready for whatever awaits us.”
“Then let’s be off. It sounded urgent.” Ciri untied Zephyr from the hitching post and swung up onto her back, guiding her gently with rein and nudging knees through the blasted out wall and around the covered furniture to stand in front of the humming portal.
Zephyr stood calm in front of the eerie gate, well used to Ciri's unorthodox method of travel. Behind her, Triss and Olgierd's horses snorted and shifted in agitation.
“I’ll go first,” Ciri said. “Triss, I’ll take the lead in dealing with Lord Trevelyan until we meet the mages. You’ve never been to another world before. Let me assess its similarities and differences, its dangers.”
“So long as the mages get our help,” Triss agreed.
Ciri looked over her shoulder to see Olgierd lay a hand on his saber hilt and nod to Triss reassuringly.
“If the problem is political, we’ll be cunning,” Olgierd said. “If it’s violent, we’ll use fire and force. At the very least, we can take their mages and run.”
“Between the three of us, I doubt there’s anything we can’t handle,” Ciri added.
Triss squared her shoulders and nodded. “Right.”
Ciri lightly dug her heels into Zephyr’s sides, and her brave little mare stepped forward through the humming, glowing portal into another world.
The song Olgierd sings is "Pierogi and Cheese," a Ukrainian folk song. The song Priscilla sings at Belleteyn is "Lady of Worlds," a Witcher tribute song by Miracle of Sound. Look them up on YouTube. They're amazing.
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