Underneath Triss’ hands, her brother is dying.
Adrevar is gasping for breath, clutching at the wound on his chest, gushing crimson, the wound that their father had inflicted in his alcohol-induced rage. Triss flutters around him, frantic and desperate as she presses a balled-up piece of cloth to the wound, hoping to stem the bleeding even a little.
“Please,” she begs, pleading for Adrevar to be okay, pleading for him to be healed, to recover and go back to being the bright, joyous brother she knows instead of this pale boy gasping in pain. Seeing his face contort and twist, feeling how he shakes and convulses under her hands, Triss prays to any and all deities out there, a mantra of pleasebeokaypleasebeokaypleasebeokay murmuring in her mind.
Something sharp and warm crackles in the air. Adrevar’s wound starts to close.
Triss’ hands are glowing, and she trembles, staring at them, not quite sure what’s happening but something is happening. She’s doing something, so she continues her mantra, heart in her throat.
“You’ll be okay, Adrevar,” she gasps, pleading to someone, anyone, that this will continue working, watching at the wound closes up a little more. “Please, please -”
Adrevar lets out a pained cry, a piercing sound that jolts Triss out of her concentration, and - no, no, the glow has faded from her hands and the wound is bleeding once more, leaching Adrevar’s face of colour. Triss tries desperately to summon that light back, tries to beg for that previous miracle to happen again, please, please - but nothing happens. She can do nothing but watch as life drains out of her brother’s body, leaving his eyes blank and lifeless, his form limp and stained crimson on the floor.
She cries the entire night, never leaving Adrevar’s side, even as his blood dries on her hands and the stench becomes unbearable. She cries, wondering if her glowing hands had been nothing more than a hallucination, nothing more than a trick of her mind - and gods, if that had been real, why hadn’t she been able to help her brother, why couldn’t she have saved him?
She doesn’t leave her brother, and the next day, a tall, stern woman comes to the door of her house, and Triss is taken to Aretuza, tears still running down her cheeks, grief and regret heavy in her heart.
She is told that she has the potential within her to be a sorceress, and she will be trained to master the chaos within her - a few years at the Academy, gaining control of that potential until she’s finally fit for the Ascension.
“The… Ascension?” Triss asks, and that tall, stern woman - Tissaia - smiles thinly at her.
“The final step to becoming a sorceress,” Tissaia explains, and Triss thinks about the mages she’s heard about in tales and stories, seated at the sides of kings and queens, impossibly beautiful, the world at their fingertips. “You will be immortal. You will be powerful. And you will be remade.”
It sounds ideal, everything Triss could ever want - beauty, power, immortality - but the scars on her back ache, her father’s furious words echo in her mind, and she knows that nothing in the world comes without a cost.
“And the price?”
“You’re a smart one, aren’t you?” Tissaia muses, glancing at her appraisingly. “Yes, there is a price. You will not be able to bear children. And your bond with your soulmate - it will be broken.”
She turns and strides away, leaving Triss staring at her back.
Losing her ability to bear children and losing her soulmate - she’s heard stories, stories about mages being without a soul, and Triss grows cold at the thought of never finding the other half of her soul, never knowing who she is bound to, forever unable to start a life with them. But she thinks of her dead brother, healed slightly by her chaos before dropping dead again, and she thinks of all the people she could help if she were to Ascend, all the lives she could save.
She will never be able to have children. She will never find her soulmate. But if she can help people, if she can save little girls like her from having to watch their brothers die in front of their eyes - perhaps that will be enough.
Triss is making her way towards the potions room when she first passes Yennefer of Vengerberg.
She’s heard the whispers. The stubborn, headstrong initiate, a few years older than Triss, with a twisted spine and a crooked jaw and bright violet eyes, and Triss watches as she strides past, chin held high and eyes fixed on her destination, books tucked under her arm.
Something in her heart grows warm.
The next time she passes by Yennefer, Triss is curled up in a corner with a heavy tome in her lap, illuminated by the faint glow of the nearby torch.
Yennefer doesn’t see her, doesn’t sense her presence as she starts pulling books from shelves, flipping through them vigorously, gaze determined like she’s on a mission, like there’s something she will achieve. Triss watches her, watches the fierce determination in those bright eyes as Yennefer finally grins in triumph at finding what she’s looking for, heading out without a single glance towards Triss.
Triss catches glimpses of her all the time - a flurry of skirts at the end of a hallway, a flash of violet in the corners of the library, a whisper of chaos in the opulent rooms of Aretuza, a giggle and the sound of kissing as Istredd pulls her around a corner, and Triss finds herself acutely aware of Yennefer’s presence each time, even when she tries to focus on her magic and spells and potions.
Yennefer should just be another student at Aretuza. She should be no different from Sabrina and Fringilla, no different from all the other girls, and yet Triss’ eyes are drawn towards her every time she strides into a room, a stubborn tilt to her jaw and a fierce fire in her eyes, practically vibrating with the chaos that resides within her, a gravity to her that makes Triss want to come closer, closer.
But she never does. Instead she watches this fierce, violet-eyed mage-to-be from a distance, resisting the way warmth curls within her every time Yennefer crosses her path. Yennefer never notices her, even as Triss feels an inexplicable urge to gravitate towards her, so Triss watches her, bright and fierce, from afar, until she Ascends and leaves Aretuza.
“We’ll be working on nature magic today,” Tissaia announces, leading Triss and her fellow initiates through a walkway, stone arches on the side, until they emerge in a courtyard with a tall yew tree standing proudly in its center, stretching towards the sky. “To assist you, I have brought in some of our recent graduates to help you get in touch with your chaos.”
A woman strides out from the other side of the courtyard - Triss recognises that elegant posture, those steely eyes, as Fringilla stands next to the tree. Following behind her is Sabrina, and behind Sabrina -
Triss barely recognises Yennefer when she emerges. Gone is the curved spine, gone is the crooked jaw; instead, Yennefer stands tall and proud, resplendent and elegant in a tight dress tailored perfectly to her body, the kohl around her eyes making the violet stand out, and Triss’ breath is stolen away.
So this is what the Ascension does.
“This tree takes up all the nutrients within the ground, robbing all other plants of their chance to grow,” Tissaia explains, and Triss feels it, feels the way the towering tree takes and takes all the life stored within the soil. “Your challenge is to battle against that, and grow something. Fringilla, Sabrina, and Yennefer will watch you and provide guidance when you struggle. Remember - there is a give and a take.”
Tissaia nods at them to start, and Triss heads to the other side of the courtyard, all while feeling for the life underneath her feet. The tree seems to be taking everything from the soil, and Triss senses how so many other plants have tried and failed to grow, feels the way the tree’s roots steal away all life before anything else can take it.
She kneels, pressing her hand to the soil, and concentrates, gathering the remaining life force underneath her fingertips, wrestling it from the grasp of the tree. Chaos hums around her, and Triss thinks of life, thinks of healing, thinks of something bright and vibrant and lively, and pulls.
A sunflower bursts from the ground, yellow petals unfurling to greet the sun. Tissaia gives her a nod of approval before turning back to the other initiates, and Triss smiles, triumphant, glowing with pride that she managed it on her first try.
“You’re good with nature magic,” someone comments, and Triss twists around to see Yennefer looking down at her, extending a hand in an offer to help her up. “I don’t think anyone managed this on their first try in my group.”
“I…” Triss trails off when she grasps Yennefer’s hand, when their eyes meet, and something in her heart sings, tugging her towards Yennefer, a glowing warmth in her chest, a feeling of home. Yennefer hauls her to her feet, and Triss can’t look away from her, Yennefer’s touch sending warmth thrumming through her veins.
She’s never felt like this before, but -
In that moment, Triss knows.
“I - thank you,” Triss murmurs, giddy and breathless, as her soul dances and sings before settling contentedly, and gods, she has never felt this way before, never felt this glowing warmth and this feeling that she’s home. Yennefer lets go of her hand, and part of Triss grows cold at the loss of contact, wanting desperately to feel that gentle touch once more.
“Good job,” Yennefer says, dipping her head before turning away, walking towards the other initiates. Triss watches her go, a sinking feeling in her chest the further away Yennefer gets.
The revelation of a soulbond comes at different points for soulmates, Triss knows, and it shouldn’t be surprising that Yennefer hasn’t felt it yet - after all, Triss has been unwittingly drawn to Yennefer for years, while Yennefer has never once looked her way, but surely Yennefer should have felt something, surely she shouldn’t have been able to walk away from Triss just like that -
The realisation crashes over Triss as she watches Yennefer’s back, no longer hunched, her spine no longer twisted, and icy dread coils in her stomach.
And the price?
Your bond with your soulmate - it will be broken.
At Triss’ feet, the sunflower wilts.
Oh, Triss thinks bleakly, caught in the clutches of despair. Of course.
Yennefer has gone through the Ascension. Her soulbond has been broken.
Triss is too late.
She hadn’t thought it would be like this. She hadn’t thought that she would ever meet her soulmate, not after what Tissaia had told her upon her arrival to Aretuza. She hadn’t thought that, even after the Ascension, the other side of the bond would still remain intact.
She hadn’t thought that her soulmate would be another sorceress.
It explains that inexplicable tug that Triss has always felt towards Yennefer, even before Yennefer had ever looked her way or said a word to her. It explains how drawn Triss is to her, how her day always becomes a little brighter and how she’s able to push through grueling training after she sees Yennefer smile.
Destiny had given her this, only to take it away. It will fully be taken away again when it is time for her to Ascend, to shed her mortality and her imperfections, to cleave her soul in two for good.
If Destiny does exist, it truly is cruel.
Yennefer won’t ever know. And she likely won’t believe Triss if she ever told her, but - well, she wants to get to know Yennefer better. They won’t be soulmates, not after Triss’ Ascension, but she wants to get to know the person who Destiny has bound to her then taken away from her. Triss wants to get to know her, not simply because they are soulmates and because Triss is drawn inexplicably to her, but because there seems to be depths to Yennefer that lurk behind her perfect facade, depths that Triss wants to know.
She wants to know more about the girl with determined violet eyes and chaos in her veins, wants to befriend Yennefer, who seems like someone Triss genuinely wants to know better, soulmates aside, so she inches over to Yennefer when Tissaia dismisses them, hesitant and hopeful.
“Hey, uh,” Triss stutters, pinned in place by Yennefer’s eyes. “You, uh, said I’m good at nature magic?”
Yennefer inclines her head, curiosity flitting across her expression. “I did.”
“I was wondering -” Triss swallows, not quite sure what she’s doing, not quite sure what she wants to do, but forges on - “If you could help me and guide me a little? To really develop it? Tissaia speaks highly of you, and she’s -”
“She’s not always that helpful,” Yennefer agrees, starting to look thoughtful, and Triss’ heart pounds. “Well, I’m happy to help. I don’t know how much use I might be, since I’m merely two years older than you are, but I will try.”
Triss blinks, unable to believe that - it worked, and Yennefer agreed, and she rushes to say, “Thank you so much, I’m really -”
“It’s no problem at all.” Yennefer waves her hand, smiling at her, and Triss is struck by how young she looks, a reminder that Yennefer is barely older than she is, practically the same age when taking into account how long mages live. “Besides, if I teach you magic that Tissaia doesn’t bother to teach you, it’ll be funny to watch her get mad.”
A mischievous smile curls at the edge of her lips, and Triss can’t help but grin back, cherishing the warmth that blossoms in her heart, knowing that the warmth will be gone soon, once she finally Ascends, even if Yennefer doesn’t feel it in return.
And so they grow close, Yennefer portalling in from Aedirn every few weeks to help Triss with her magic. Tissaia is her teacher, but Yennefer has more insight into the learning process, and Triss finds herself progressing far faster than she had before.
At first, Yennefer is wary of her, unwilling to let her get too close, holding her at arm’s length, but Triss sees the occasionally vulnerability behind the impeccable mask Yennefer puts up, a vulnerability that makes Triss desperate to know her better, to get to the core of who Yennefer is, and slowly, gradually, Yennefer warms up to her.
Over time, Yennefer becomes a friend, not just Triss’ soulmate, not just someone she wants to get to know better - she becomes a close friend, a confidant, someone who Triss trusts.
They curl up together in one corner of the library, and Triss whispers to Yennefer about her father’s alcoholic rages and the scars on her back, while Yennefer talks about her family, how they had thrown her away. In Aretuza’s garden, as Triss coaxes life from the ground under Yennefer’s watchful eye, Yennefer tells her about the insecurity she felt about her disabilities, and Triss pulls her into a comforting embrace, murmuring into Yennefer’s hair about how she was lovely, even back then. In the potions rooms, Triss’ voice breaks as she recalls her brother’s death, her failure to save him, and Yennefer tucks her close.
Each time, the bond between them - the bond that only Triss can feel now - thrums and dances and sings, and Triss cherishes every moment, fully aware how soon it will be taken from her. Her friendship with Yennefer is more than the bond - Triss has never had anyone she trusts so implicitly, so deeply, spilling her secrets (all but one) and admitting to things she’s hidden for years. She knows that it’s the same for Yennefer, this trust that can only come with a friendship that runs true and deep.
There’s a small part of her that falls a little in love with Yennefer, with the kindness hiding behind her sharp smiles and the sincerity of her laughter, with the way determination glints fiercely in her eyes as she goes after what she wants, with the gentle way she holds Triss in her arms.
But Triss can’t - she won’t - tell Yennefer. She’s heard enough about Yennefer’s childhood to know how deeply affected she is by it, how it has made her close herself off from the rest of the world, unable to believe that she can be loved. Even with Triss, there are times Yennefer shuts her out, times when Triss can tell that Yennefer doesn’t quite believe that Triss cares for her.
Coupled with the fact that Triss is yet to tell Yennefer about the bond between them, not knowing how Yennefer will react, not knowing if Yennefer would even want to know that she’s bound to Triss of all people, Triss doesn’t dare tell Yennefer about their bond, or that blossoming feeling in the depths of her heart. Triss values their friendship more than anything - it’s unlike any friendship she’s had before, and she is unwilling to ruin that, unwilling to break that building trust between them.
As the friendship between Triss and Yennefer develops and strengthens, Triss’ Ascension looms closer. Yennefer whispers words of reassurance in her ear, telling her that she’ll be fine, that she’ll come out on the other side exactly the person she wants to be, and Triss nods and smiles and tucks her secret deep into her heart, even as dread grows and festers with each passing day - dread that her soulbond will be gone, that she will lose this little piece of Yennefer within her, that she will lose the way her soul dances and how warmth sings through her veins.
She won’t lose Yennefer. But she will lose that part of her soul that feels at home around Yennefer, and Triss dreads it.
She goes through the Ascension. Her body is remade in flames, burning away her imperfections, all but the scars on her back, a reminder of her human family, of the violence of her father, of the brother she never managed to save. She emerges powerful and beautiful and immortal, chaos held in the palm of her hands, her gown swirling around her as she approaches the king of Temeria, who greets her with a slimy smile and a kiss to the back of her hand.
Triss has everything she could ever want. She’s on top of the world. But the flames - they had burned away her soulbond, reduced it to nothing more than ashes, and where a small ember of light had burned, there’s something missing now, something hollow and aching even as she pastes on a sweet smile for the king of Temeria, something that twists and aches in a distant way.
Yennefer had been part of her soul, once. But no longer. The Ascension had taken that from her, leaving her with hollowness and a gaping absence, and Triss wonders if all sorceresses feel the same way, if they all feel like they’ve - like they’ve lost something, something that remains forever out of reach.
Looking at her fellow sorceresses, bright, charming grins on their faces, happiness buzzing in their minds, nothing like the drifting absence that Triss feels, perhaps they don’t feel it, that hollow ache. Perhaps Triss only feels it because she has known what it’s like to have a soulmate, to feel that warmth, that feeling of being home - she has known that feeling, and now, she has lost it, while the others have never known that feeling at all, and - well.
It is impossible for one to know what they’ve lost if they have never had it in the first place.
Triss is jealous of them for a moment, jealous that they can revel in their power and grace, in their beauty and immortality, without knowing the feeling of losing part of their soul. But at least - at least Triss got the chance to experience it, brief as it was, the chance to know that glorious warmth, that bone-deep contentedness, something that her fellow sorceresses never got to feel, and will never get the chance to do so.
Losing her soulbond, losing that part of her soul that links her to Yennefer - it’s not as agonisingly all-pervasive as she thought it would be, not something that leaves her unbearably empty. There is something hollow in her, something that gives a distant ache when she thinks of it, but Triss goes through her life without thinking about it or feeling it. It’s only when she lies in bed alone that she registers that absence, that lack of warmth and home, and it’s those nights when she cries to herself for the loss.
She hasn’t lost Yennefer, of course. Not long after Triss’ Ascension, Yennefer visits her in Temeria, pulling her into a crushing hug, and Triss clings to her tightly, burying her face into Yennefer’s shoulder and breathing in that familiar scent, relishing in the heat of Yennefer’s body against hers.
Yennefer is still here. And yet, there’s something missing - Triss’ soul no longer dances when Yennefer is around, and it no longer sings when Yennefer smiles at her. She still feels more content around Yennefer than anyone else, still feels the warmth of home, but it’s not the same, nothing like that soul-deep awareness that Yennefer is here with her, and Triss mourns the lost bond, mourns the absence of Yennefer in her soul.
Still - Yennefer is by her side, the best friend Triss could ever ask for, and with that, Triss is content.
Sometimes, Triss wonders if Yennefer knows, if she notices the furtive glances Triss sends her way, if she notices the way Triss’ heart speeds up when they cuddle a little too close - but then Triss is reminded of Yenenfer’s desperate search to be important to someone. Even though Triss loves her with everything she has, she realises that Yennefer mustn’t know how deeply important she is to Triss.
Triss stays by her side through the decades, and they meet up frequently, spending time together. Triss stays by Yennefer’s side even when she leaves the Brotherhood, and Yennefer sneaks into Temeria every once in a while, where they spend days in town, enjoying the bustle of human life, a refreshing break from their duties.
Triss’ life doesn’t revolve around Yennefer, of course - she finds fulfilment in using her magic to help, to heal, assisting those who seek her out - but the best days are when they can spend time together and forget that people have expectations of them, when they have each other. These are the days Triss cherishes, looking back on them with a fond smile, a reminder of who she has by her side.
The decades are long, sometimes grueling, but they stay together, a pillar of support for the other, their trust never wavering. One day, rumours start up around Yennefer; the violet-eyed sorceress who is in search of a cure that would allow her to bear children, who is willing to pay any price, who has tried multiple dangerous methods, who is still searching for the cure, and Triss worries.
What is Yennefer doing?
Triss follows the rumours until she tracks Yennefer down somewhere in Redania, walking out of a seedy-looking building, and as much as Triss wants to greet her in their customary hug, she’s too worried and confused to do so, instead pulling Yennefer into an empty street.
“Triss, what -”
“Yen,” Triss says, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I heard the rumours. What are you doing?”
Yennefer’s eyes skip to the side. “I don’t know what you -”
“Yen,” Triss pleads, worry thick in her voice, and Yennefer sighs.
“I want the choice,” Yennefer tells her, the fierce determination that Triss had fallen in love with burning bright in her eyes. Triss doesn’t have to ask what choice she means - she knows full well what Yennefer is talking about, and for a brief moment, the fire of the Ascension burns through her veins, the absence of her soulbond aching distantly. “It was taken from me, I didn’t think - I didn’t... I want to take that choice back.”
“Alright,” Triss agrees softly, ignoring the way her heart squeezes. Yennefer wants to be able to choose - and there’s no way Triss can ever tell her about their broken bond now, not when there isn’t a choice involved in a soulbond, not when soulmates are something dictated by destiny. If Yennefer ever finds out, she might hate Triss for keeping this a secret, but if Yennefer wants her agency, then she’s better off not knowing. “But stay safe, you hear me? I’ve heard that you’ve been going after cures that could be dangerous, and - I’m worried, Yen, stay safe?”
“I will,” Yennefer promises, tugging Triss into the circle of her arms, and Triss relaxes against her, letting the worry of the past weeks melt away, happy now that she’s in Yennefer’s company once again.
Triss is in the middle of advising a few lords when something in her cleaves in two.
She collapses to the ground, clutching at her chest, biting her lip bloody to stop herself from crying out at the unbearable pain. The lords gather around her, clamouring in worry, but Triss pays them no heed, pushing through the pain to make a shaky portal back to her room before she falls to her knees once again.
What is happening -
Triss uses her chaos to probe at her body, seeking out where she might have been injured, but finds nothing - her body is perfectly healthy, as it always is, but gods, she’s in so much pain, like something is tearing her open from the inside, like something is clawing at her heart, and the pain builds and builds until she feels like she’s being ripped apart, and she screams -
And all at once, the pain dies away, like it was never there, and Triss pants, both hands braced on the floor as she retches dryly, body trembling.
What was that?
She lifts shaking hands to press against her chest, where the pain had primarily been, focusing her chaos and searching for something, for the cause of whatever that had been, but finds nothing but her healthy, beating heart, steady and sure. There should be something - that couldn’t have happened for no reason, so why is there nothing for her to find?
There’s nothing. Triss has gotten used to the distant ache, the drifting absence of her soulbond with Yennefer - but now it’s gone. There’s nothing, not even a dull ache, not even a feeling of something hollow, something missing, simply - nothing.
It’s with bitter, heavy dread that Triss realises her soulbond has been broken - for good, this time. She’d thought - all the sorceresses of Aretuza had thought - that the Ascension removed the soulbond, but now, with this nothingness in her soul, Triss realises that the Ascension had never removed her soulbond, merely damaged it to the point that it appeared to be gone.
The soulbond between her and Yennefer had still existed - those hollow aches must have been the remnants of the bond tying them together - and because none of the other sorceresses had ever met their soulmate before the Ascension, none of them realised that the Ascension had never truly broken the bond.
But Triss knows now. She knows the feeling of a soulbond truly being broken. It’s not a feeling of loss, of an absence, of something hollow and aching. There is simply nothing. It would almost be empty - except there’s nothing to feel empty about, nothing that would imply an absence or a loss, just nothing.
There’s nothing, but somehow, it hurts far more than when the Ascension had damaged their bond. Triss can’t feel anything in her soul, and she knows that she used to feel something - decades ago, her soul had danced and sung with warmth. Even after the Ascension, her soul had still reached out to Yennefer, creating something hollow within her, but there’s nothing now, nothing to indicate that Yennefer had ever held a place in her soul.
And that, more than anything, hurts the most.
Triss doesn’t even realise that she’s crying until she stumbles to her feet and notices that her clothes are damp with tears. She rubs furiously at her eyes, hating this utter nothingness that pervades her being, hating how much it hurts.
This must have been Yennefer’s doing, Triss thinks dimly, curling up on her bed, her body still trembling. Somehow, in search of her agency, in search of regaining her ability to bear children, Yennefer must have broken their soulbond as well, truly reclaiming her agency and choice, leaving Triss with… this.
She can’t blame Yennefer - in fact, it’s all she wants, for Yennefer to reclaim her agency, to get a choice back, and Yennefer couldn’t have known what it would do to Triss, not when Triss has never told her. But it still hurts, the way her soul has just been cleaved in two, and Triss grasps at the distant memories when her soul used to sing and dance and glow with warmth when Yennefer was around, the memories hazy from the wear of time.
It’s not something Triss will ever get back now. The bond has well and truly been broken, and Triss mourns the loss, spending the rest of the day locked in her chambers, unable to bring herself to move with the nothingness weighing her down.
The next day, she stares at the opulent door of her room and she can’t - she can’t do this anymore. She sends off a message to the Brotherhood, and bids farewell to Foltest, ruffling Adda’s hair before she leaves.
Travelling is - different. It’s been decades since Triss has lived rough, and being on the road is rather different from what she’s used to, but she adapts well enough, travelling from town to town, stopping for a few weeks as she offers her services as a healer. It’s gratifying work, being able to heal injuries in human settlements, watching them smile when they realise that their wounds are gone and they are whole, growing warm at the way parents brighten when their children are healed.
It’s repetitive work, but it brings her a glow of satisfaction every time someone leaves her healthy and healed, and it helps distract her from that perpetual nothingness that now has a permanent place within her. Helping and healing gives a sense of fulfilment, more so than she had ever felt working for the throne of Temeria. This is why she chose to Ascend, why she wanted to be a sorceress.
So she keeps travelling. She hadn’t expected to run into anyone she knows - but then she meets surprised violet eyes in the middle of a busy tavern, and on instinct, Triss leaps to embrace Yennefer, forgetting the pain of the past months.
“Triss?” Yennefer exclaims, grinning brightly. “Wait, why aren’t you in Temeria?”
“I wanted to travel for a bit,” Triss explains, trying not to let her mood dampen at the reminder of why exactly she’s travelling. Yennefer’s touch is warm, as it always is, but where some part of Triss’ soul would usually react, there’s nothing. “I’ve been -”
“Yen?” A deep voice rumbles, a voice that Triss recognises from years ago, and she peeks over Yennefer’s shoulder to see familiar white hair and golden eyes.
“Geralt?” Triss gasps, surprised. She hadn’t expected to see him again, not after what happened to Adda, but he clearly knows Yennefer, and if the way Yennefer smiles at him is any indication, they know each other, and -
“You know each other?” Yennefer asks, but her eyes have drifted to Geralt, taking a step away from Triss, and - oh gods, Triss recognises that, recognises the way they seem to gravitate towards each other, recognises it from decades ago, from that inexplicable pull towards Yennefer when they had both been nothing more than students at Aretuza.
“I was in Temeria for a contract,” Geralt explains, eyes fond as he glances down at Yennefer, and in that moment, Triss thinks that she knows why her soul had cleaved in two a few months ago, why there’s nothing in her soul now.
Yennefer has never been hers. Her closest friend, her most trusted confidant, but nothing more, and Triss has always known this. But to see Yennefer before her, clearly drawn to Geralt in the same way Triss had been drawn to her so long ago - to see this while her soul feels nothing - it’s excruciating, and Triss doesn’t think she can take it, so she chokes out a quick farewell and a flimsy excuse, heading for the door -
“Stay for a while? I’ve missed you,” Yennefer murmurs, and Triss has never been good at turning Yennefer down, never been good at resisting her when she says I’ve missed you with such affection. She knows that Yennefer cares for her, knows that Yennefer loves her, but she also knows that Yennefer doesn’t love her in the same way as she loves Yennefer. The nothingness in her soul is a visceral reminder of that.
She’s introduced to Geralt’s bard - Jaskier, he proclaims brightly, something pinched in his eyes as he looks at Geralt, and Triss thinks that she understands - and spends the next days watching Yennefer and Geralt gravitate towards each other, unable to ignore the gnawing nothingness as she so clearly sees the bond between them, her heart aching for something she doesn’t have.
It’s a relief to finally leave, to throw herself back into her travels and forget about how she’s no longer bonded to Yennefer, how Yennefer must have chosen who she truly wanted as a soulmate - because why else would Yennefer have a soulbond with Geralt, if she hadn’t finally found a way to reclaim her agency and choose her soulmate?
Yennefer is too powerful and too stubborn for it to be anything but her choice, and Triss is happy for her, she really is. She loves Yennefer, and to see Yennefer get what she’s always wanted - her agency, her choice - it’s all that Triss wants for her.
And yet, it hurts - to know that her love isn’t enough for Yennefer, to know that Yennefer will never be hers.
There’s nothing in her soul, and her heart, weak and wanting, aches.
And then - Sodden.
Triss travels to Sodden with other mages in tow, Yennefer by her side. Yennefer looks weary, more worn and tired than the last time Triss had seen her - with Geralt, their bond shining bright and clear - and Triss wants to ask after her, wants to fold her in her arms until the weariness disappears from Yennefer’s eyes, but they have a battle to prepare for, so Triss focuses on gathering her chaos.
She can talk to Yennefer once they win.
The battle is long and hard, and the stench of death hangs in the air. Triss prays that Yennefer is safe and throws herself into the fray, strangling Nilfgaardians with thorny vines and tripping them with roots for archers to shoot, until she’s forced back to hold the gate. She pulls on the last dregs of her chaos to prevent the soldiers from getting through, remembers the lessons Tissaia had given her, remembers Yennefer’s guidance, and grits her teeth, feeling power drain out of her, and she needs to hold the gate, she can’t let them pass -
Fire erupts in her chest, and the Nilfgaardians break through, and chaos erupts, smoke filling the air -
There’s only pain, the sounds of fighting and screaming echoing around her, but she feels only pain, her chaos nearly depleted and her chest on fire, she’s burning - like the Ascension, but this is different, this is real, and she can’t heal herself, can’t summon the chaos necessary to soothe her wound. At some point, the sounds of fighting die down, and someone is cradling her head in their lap. Yennefer’s voice echoes in her head, begging for help, begging for anyone, and Triss tries to get to her feet - Yennefer needs help, she needs to help -
The person is telling her to lie back down to heal, but Triss staggers to her feet, her chest screaming in pain, and she blinks the spots from her eyes to be met with smoke in the air and bodies littering the ground. Yennefer has gone silent in her head, and fuck, Triss needs to find her, to help her.
And then -
Fire - Yennefer.
She can hear someone calling after her, but she ignores them, focusing on placing one foot in front of another as she stumbles towards the source of the fire. Chaos hangs heavy in the air, and there’s so much of it, so much raw chaos. What has Yennefer done?
It’s painful, and she’s on the verge of falling over, but she reminds herself - Yennefer, Yennefer, Yennefer. The chaos grows stronger, grows thicker, and Triss tries to speed up, falling to her knees for a moment before forcing herself to her feet, groaning in pain.
The flames stop pouring out, and somewhere ahead, as Triss squints through the black spots in her vision, a body lies prone on the ground.
“Yen,” Triss rasps, but Yennefer doesn’t move, and Triss forces herself to take a few more steps until she drops to her knees beside Yennefer, panting hard. Yennefer’s eyes are closed, her fingertips smouldering and smoking, her heartbeat weak and her breathing shallow, her skin scalding to the touch. There’s a wound over her stomach, and Triss needs to do something.
Please, she begs silently, trying to drag up the remnants of her chaos. There’s barely any left, and she only manages to lower Yennefer’s temperature slightly before her magic sputters out. Grunting, she pulls within her, pulls desperately at her reserves, pleading pleasebeokaypleasebeokaypleasebeokay -
The wound closes slightly before Triss’ magic runs out once again, and - no. She will not fail Yennefer the way she had failed Adrevar. She couldn’t save Adrevar, but she is a sorceress now, and she will save Yennefer. Pleasepleasepleaseplease, she murmurs under her breath as she presses her hands to the charred earth, where almost all life has burned away, where all the plants have died.
There is a give and a take, Tissaia’s voice echoes in her mind, and Triss thinks of that yew tree, thinks of dragging life from the soil. With everything she has, with all that she has left, she pulls, pulls life from the soil as far as she can reach, and presses her hands to Yennefer’s chest with a gasp, channelling all that life into her, wringing herself of every last drop of chaos she has left as she drains herself of energy, her vision growing dark.
Yennefer’s skin cools, her heartbeat becoming steady once more. Her wound closes, and Triss thinks she hears someone speaking before she falls unconscious.
A voice, soft and familiar, drags Triss up into the waking world.
“Triss,” Yennefer gasps, leaping to her feet, and Triss blinks blearily at her, recognising the room they’re in as one of Yennefer’s safehouses.
“Yen,” she greets, her voice barely a whisper. “We - did we win?”
“We did,” Yennefer confirms, smile glowing before it dims. “But you… Triss, you spent all your chaos trying to save me, you -”
“I would’ve done it again.” There’s no doubt about that. Yennefer is her closest friend, the person who means the most to her, and Triss would give her life for Yennefer’s. “I know you would’ve done the same thing if it were me.”
“Yes, but…” Yennefer sighs, taking Triss’ hands in her own. “Both of us - but you especially - are completely drained. We both need to regain our strength, and I don’t know how long that will take.”
“We can regain our strength together, then,” Triss whispers, and Yennefer’s gaze grows fond.
“Together,” Yennefer agrees with that sweet smile Triss had first fallen for, and for once, Triss forgets about the pit of nothingness within her as she basks in that smile.
It takes Triss days before she’s able to get out of bed. All through that time, Yennefer remains by her side, bringing her food, keeping her company. It’s been so long since they’ve been able to do this, to spend weeks recovering together without worrying about the outside world or the Brotherhood, and Triss cherishes every moment, even though, sometimes, she wakes in the middle of the night with Yennefer’s arms around her, that nothingness in her soul suddenly all-encompassing and utterly painful.
Even with that nothingness haunting her, Triss can’t help but enjoy Yennefer’s company, falling back into a familiar dynamic as they talk for ages, or lapse into a comfortable silence, curled up against each other, or work through spells together as they regain their chaos, laughing at their disastrous failed attempts.
But Triss burns with curiosity, and one day, she can’t help but ask.
“How’s Geralt?” Triss asks tentatively, and Yennefer’s face twists.
“Far away from me, hopefully,” she spits, anger contorting her lovely face, and Triss turns to face her.
“He bound us together,” Yennefer spits, and Triss reels back. She’d thought that bond had been Yennefer’s choice. “There was a djinn, and he didn’t mean it, but he created a soulbond between us.”
So not her choice, but rather, Geralt taking her choice, after she fought for so long to regain her agency, and anger flares within Triss. She knows how much Yennefer wants to reclaim her agency, how much she wants to be loved for who she is - and Geralt creating that bond had gone against all that.
“Can we break it?” she inquires, rubbing a hand over Yennefer’s back in comfort.
“I’ve been researching.” Yennefer sounds so tired, the anger deflating into resignation, and it hurts Triss to see Yennefer like this. “But…”
“I’ll help,” Triss offers, even as part of her rebels against it, not wanting Yennefer to experience that awful feeling of her soul being cleaved in two. “We’ve regained enough chaos to break the curse together.”
Leaning forward, Yennefer rests their foreheads together, and Triss’ heart pounds faster.
“Thank you,” Yennefer murmurs, and Triss closes her eyes, longing in her heart.
It takes weeks of research, reading countless tomes and spellbooks and trying out different spells and potions, frustration from Yennefer when cure after cure fails, but finally - finally, they manage it, and Triss holds Yennefer as she screams, her heart breaking as she watches Yennefer go through what she had gone through years ago.
But when Yennefer stops screaming, there’s a light in her eyes that hasn’t been there since Sodden, and Triss is grateful that Yennefer has this choice, at least, even if she can’t get her womb back. The days that pass are brighter, filled with joy and laughter, and Triss revels in them, distracting herself from that nothingness in her soul.
For a moment, she lets herself be happy, Yennefer by her side, and maybe - maybe she can live with the nothingness. Maybe she can get better.
Then Geralt shows up, the princess of Cintra in tow, asking for Yennefer’s help, and Yennefer glares at him before tugging Triss into an empty room.
“I’m furious at him, still,” Yennefer admits, voice hushed. “But even without the bond, he still means a lot to me, and his child surprise…”
Triss doesn’t cry. She’s had too much practice hiding what she feels to cry, so she makes herself smile gently at Yennefer, every bit the supportive best friend.
“Do you want to?” She knows Yennefer’s desire to be loved. Triss loves her deeply, but Yennefer must want more - to be important to someone, to have a family. Geralt and Ciri will give her that, and Triss loves Yennefer too much to begrudge her this chance.
“I… do,” Yennefer confesses, and Triss places a gentle hand on her arm, guiding her towards where Geralt and Ciri are waiting.
“Then go with them.”
Suddenly, Yennefer envelopes her in a crushing hug, and Triss melts into it, savouring the sweetness of it, the bitterness.
“Thank you, Triss,” Yennefer whispers in her ear before letting go, striding towards Geralt and Ciri - and they truly look good together, like a family. There’s still resentment when Yennefer looks at Geralt, but Triss sees the potential there, sees the way Geralt and Yennefer and Ciri could become family, and her chest aches and aches, and her soul - it calls out for Yennefer, but once again, there is nothing.
“Anytime, Yen,” Triss calls out as they leave, watching them step through a portal with pain and longing in her heart.
She turns away, tears finally stinging her eyes, and still, there is nothing - nothing in her soul.