The house had been little more than a charred husk in the distance, a column of smoke rising into the sky, illuminated by a few smaller fires still burning. He couldn't hear any indication that anyone was still around, either having perished or fled.
Roach was exactly where he had left her. She stamped her hooves in irritation at being abandoned and seemingly forgotten for so long as he approached. “I’m sorry girl,” he said, petting her neck, even as she headbutted him. “I promise you’ll get plenty of apples next time we’re in a market.
Geralt gave her a once over to make sure she hadn’t been harmed while she had been left, feeling incredibly guilty that she had been in her tack for so long. Thankfully she appeared to be fine, if a little restless and irritated. He walked her further into the woods, away from the direction of smoke back to where he had stashed their saddlebags. He carried what he could manage on his own back before loading the rest onto Roach, not wanting to overburden her. Finally he turned them back around and headed back to Jaskier.
They returned to the clearing just as the sun was rising above the horizon, bathing the trees in golden light. Jaskier was curled up, still fast asleep. In the light of day, Geralt could now see where blood had dried on his sides and legs, dull and rusty against the shiny crimson of his scales. His front in particular was covered in it but he couldn’t be sure how much of it was actually Jaskier’s. Still, his wounds had scabbed over and seemed mostly superficial.
The mare was unbothered by the great big dragon sleeping in the clearing. Geralt assumed she recognised Jaskier’s scent, tainted with blood as it was. She allowed him to lead him to the edge of the clearing where he unloaded their belongings and finally freed her of her tack. He checked her over for sores again before brushing her down and providing her with some oats.
She finally settled down just as Jaskier woke, opening his large cornflower blue eyes with a yawn. He stretched in a way that reminded Geralt of a cat, luxuriating in the movement. “Morning.”
“Morning.” His voice sounded more like it usually did in his head, the growling quality from the previous night having disappeared. “I see Roach is back with us.”
“She’s a bit pissed off at me for leaving her,” he said, looking back at the mare who was still happily munching away at her oats.
“Can’t say I blame her. I take it she was unharmed?” Geralt nodded. “Good. I’d hate to think my mistake hurt her.”
“The whole ‘trying to steal back the ring’ thing. It was my idea and we got caught because of it.”
“There weren’t exactly many options.”
“No, but we should have thought it through more at least. It was a stupid idea to begin with.”
Geralt shook his head. “It’s in the past. We got out and Roach is fine. No point dwelling on what ifs.”
Jaskier made a rumbling sound in his chest, an imitation of one of Geralt’s signature ‘hmm’s.
Geralt turned back to their pile of belongings. The packs had seemed untouched but he wanted to check that nothing had been taken nonetheless, though it was much more likely someone would have stolen Roach first. Sure enough, everything was where it had been left. Some of the food had started to go mouldy so that was immediately discarded, but they still had enough rations to make it back to Yennefer if Geralt hunted for extra meat.
“Geralt…” Jaskier said, strangely hesitant. “What are we going to do about the pendant?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the spell is damaged. I can maintain it for a while but there’s no way I can hold it until we get back to Yennefer. I don't think I'll be able to travel on the road like this either.”
Fuck, Geralt had forgotten about that. “Is there nothing you can do?”
Jaskier shook his head. “The chain was a part of the glamour. It was probably designed to work as a whole. I think, when it broke, it must have damaged the spell. I think it only works at all now because of the magic I sank into it just before it broke.”
Geralt pulled the pendant put of his pocked, rubbing his thumb over the stone in the centre. Now that it was light, he could see spidering cracks in the stone, fractured but still there.
“Fuck. It's too risky for you on the road," he said shaking his head. "We have no idea how many men escaped, if any. The village could already know there's a dragon around and news travel fast." He looked up from the broken pendant. "You’ll have to go to Yen by yourself. You can probably get there in a day or so at the speed you can fly.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll be fine, Jaskier. I do travel by myself you know.”
“But won’t people be looking for you?”
“Doubt it. If anyone did get away, they'll be focussed on finding you, not me. And if they were after me, I can handle a few men with swords looking for some misplaced glory."
Jaskier was quiet for a moment. “Do you really think they’ll come for me?” he asked. “I know dragons are hunted for their- our parts.”
“Like I said, I doubt anyone survived to tell the tale. This is just in case. Better to make sure there are no accidental sightings and keep your existence nothing more than deranged ramblings of a man who escaped a fire."
The conversation seemed to be over so Geralt turned back to their packs, searching for something to tie around the pendant. It wouldn’t fix it but at least it would be easier for Jaskier to hold. Eventually he pulled out a length of leather cord. It was thin enough to thread through the pendant, forming a big enough loop for Jaskier to easily grasp. One he was sure the knot wouldn’t slip, he held it out for the dragon to take.
“Here, you should get going. I’ll meet you back at Yennefer’s.”
“I’ll see you there, wolf.” Looping the cord around one of his talons, he took the pendant before turning and launching himself into the sky. Geralt had to brace himself against the rush of air as he climbed into the sky. He watched him go until he was little more than a speck. He felt strangely alone once Jaskier’s presence in is mind receded.
“Looks like it’s just us then girl,” he said, turning to Roach. The mare only huffed at him.
Jaskier climbed higher and higher into the sky. He didn’t think he would ever get used to this. The pure freedom he felt as the wind rushed beneath his wings. Despite this only being the third time he had taken to the sky, he felt as though this was where he belonged. Any fears he had about falling out of the sky vanished as he let his instincts take over.
He’d never been this high up, or at least not that he could remember. He looked down, watching as the trees blended together into one big mass of green, zipping by beneath him. He felt himself making an involuntary rumbling in his chest, much like a cat purring.
He climbed high enough that to any people who may see him below, he would appear as only a speck in the sky, no bigger than a bird. It was cold this high up and the air was thin but with the sun warming his back he was unbothered.
He flew all day, only stopping briefly around midday when his hunger finally drove him to the ground. After tracking down a deer and satisfying his hunger, he was back in the sky.
He reached the town shortly before the sun began to set. He was still too high up to be spotted from the ground in the dimming light. He cast his gaze around the area, trying to find somewhere far enough away that no one would notice him before he could shift. He didn’t want to be too far away since he would have to hold the glamour himself and he didn’t know how long he could manage that for.
There was a clearing in the trees a couple of miles away. Any closer and he’d have to land in someone’s field and that would hardly do. He just hoped he had enough magic left in him to make it to Yen.
Feet on the ground, he gathered the frayed threads of Yen’s broken spell and poured his remaining energy into it. He willed it together, patching it up as best he could, and he felt himself shift. It was an immense drain, causing his knees to give out under him. He had to kneel in the grass for a minute, catching his breath and steeling himself for the trek back to town.
“Come on Jask,” he muttered to himself, ignoring the trembling in his body. “You can do this.”
He pushed himself up from the ground on shaking arms, pendant still clasped tightly in his fist. He glanced down at himself, finding his clothes were torn and bloody. His front was stained with ash. His wounds had scabbed over but pulled painfully where the fabric had gotten stuck to him. It was nothing major, much like it had been in his draconic form. He probably looked frightful but there was nothing he could do.
He took a second to orient himself in the right direction before taking the first few steps into the trees.
The first mile or so was difficult. He developed a pounding headache that was steadily growing worse and the trembling in his limbs hadn’t lessened any. He was sweating but could feel himself growing cold, his extremities becoming numb and bloodless as he continued to pour energy he didn’t have into the glamour.
The sun had disappeared from the sky when he finally came across the first building. The lights from the town the only thing guiding him, a beacon in the night leading to his salvation. He stumbled onward, forcing himself to put one foot in front of the other.
He knew he had used too much chaos. He was at his limit but pushed on regardless. His vision beegan to waver, making it difficult to avoid tripping up on already uncoordinated legs. The ground was unsteady beneath him but he couldn’t tell if it was because he could barely walk straight or because of the pounding headache behind his eyes throwing him off-balance.
He passed a couple on a late-night stroll as he made it through what he assumed was the centre of town. He heard the woman gasp, turning to her lover to whisper something. He ignored them, trying to carry on. The buildings all blurred together and without the sun he had no idea which direction he needed to go. He was lost.
He half-fell against a nearby wall, bracing himself against it as he tried to clear his mind. He tried to take a steadying breath but it was ragged, catching in the back of his throat and causing him to cough. “Are you alright?” he heard a man’s voice ask him. He looked up and just about recognised him as the man from the couple.
“Mmph,” was the only reply he could come up with.
The man looked back to the woman for a moment, saying something to her that Jaskier couldn’t quite catch. He tried to push off the wall but nearly fell face first into the cobbles instead. A pair of arms wrapped around him, catching him at the last second.
“Are you sick? I can take you to the healer.”
Jaskier shook his head, internally cursing when it made the world spin. “Mage. Need Yennefer.”
The couple exchanged a look between them. “Please,” he said, the word little more than a breath.
“Alright. It’s not far,” the man said eventually. He slung Jaskier’s arm over his shoulders and dragged him to his feet. Jaskier tried to help as much as he could, forcing his legs to cooperate.
He was running out of time. He could tell he was going to pass out soon and then it would be over. There was no way people were going to miss a great big red dragon suddenly appearing in the middle of town.
Jaskier couldn’t remember the journey up to Yennefer’s house, only coming back to himself when the door swung open to reveal a rather pissed off Yennefer. “What do you-” the words died as soon as she saw Jaskier. “Shit. Leave him with me, you can go,” she said, waving a hand at the couple as she took Jaskier from them.
“What happened to you bard?” she asked, placing a hand on his cold and clammy face.
“Spell broke,” he wheezed, finally opening his hand to reveal the cracked glamour.
“Fuck. How are you even human right now?” She took the glamour from him with one hand to examine it, the other wrapped around his back to keep him upright. The small pained sound he made as he lost contact with it didn't escape her.
“Barely… holding on.”
“Let’s get you inside, you can shift there.”
“No.” He tried to struggle against her, but it was useless. “Won't fit. Need to get away.”
He had to close his eyes as the vertigo threatened to overwhelm him. He felt Yen move beside him but didn’t feel himself being moved.
“Go, now,” she ordered. Cracking an eye open he saw she had opened a portal. “It’s safe. Go!” She shoved him, causing him to stumble forward through the portal. He fell though, tripping up on his way and falling onto gravel.
The portal closed behind him, severing his already tenuous link with the glamour and forcing him to shift. He released the chaos, feeling it snap back at him like a bowstring, tight and painful. He didn’t have the energy to get up.
He cast his gaze around his surroundings. He was surrounded by rock, only broken up by what appeared to be a cliff edge, looking out over the mountains. No humans seemed to be around. He was safe.
Closing his eyes, he slipped into unconsciousness, too exhausted to do anything but let himself rest.