A welcoming breeze swept through the pine forest of Groundcherry, not too warm or too cold. Perfect for the retreating winter, whose snowfall had already melted away and a sign of the spring to come. The healthy trees rose dozens of feet into the air, letting just enough of the comfortable early morning sunlight to slip through the cracks and pleasantly shine down. The migrating bird species already began their reclamation, singing cheerfully in every possible direction. The predators who could threaten or kill man were elsewhere, giving off the impression of a vast but safe forest.
Geralt knew better than to believe that. He'd spent most of his life traversing through such places, living there, sleeping, eating, and hunting. He knew full well of the dangers man, monster, and mother nature alike could prepare for any poor unsuspecting fool willing to lower his guard. In this case, it was a monster keeping him tense. Taking in his surroundings, examining their most minute details. Such as torn branches, stamped over grass, claw or boot prints, and most tellingly of all in this instance: droplets of blood. All of which were present in abundance.
Though, the Katakan had little reason to mask the trail back to its lair when one took account of all the facts. The nearby village of Zrinski, home to just under one hundred people, was not only situated along the northernmost edge of the former kingdom of Sodden and the Groundcherry forest but also very close to a long-abandoned mine of the same name. According to the village's alderman, the Zrinki Mine was built over a century past. For the first twenty years of its existence, it served as a lucrative source of iron deposits. That was when the village came very close to growing into a key trading post. Until the deposits ran out and with it, most interest in Groundcherry forest.
Occasionally, some entrepreneurs seeking to rekindle the mine would arrive, boast of having a surefire means of letting the iron run again only to quit weeks into the endeavor and never to return. The Nilfgaardians were, as far as the village people knew, the last force to attempt this and quickly realized there was naught to be found in the mine and promptly left the Zrinski people alone.
Yet as Geralt walked on foot, having already left Roche behind in the village lest the Katakan tries something to it, the closer he came to the entrance of the mine, the more he knew it recently acquired some other residence along with the vampire. Alongside the occasional claw marks standing prominently out, tracks belonging to people were present as well. A score of grown men wearing boots of varying quality and one of whom probably had a hole judging by how malformed his tracks were in contrast to his comrades.
These tracks were far older than the Katakan's, more worn out by time and exposure to the elements. According to the alderman, none from the village bothered to go to the mine. Venture far enough only to hunt game. Even when disaster and tragedy struck them, Geralt had arrived quickly by happenstance before any angry and foolish search party mob went into the forest to find the culprit.
The boot tracks in-question did not reach the village or come from it. Instead, they came from the direction of the mine, southeast of the only residence for miles and miles. Judging by the lack of horse hooves or cart tracks, Geralt doubted they were merchants. There were no women or children present with the party, he would've spotted their trails already. If Dandelion were present, the Witcher would no doubt hear of some extravagant, implausible, and vaguely amusing explanation to their identity.
Geralt guessed they were brigands, most likely fleeing from the Yaruga down south and whatever punishment the Nilfgaardian's were ready to impose upon them. And it mattered little anyway, for they were most assuredly dead. The scant but prominent droplets of blood, which went to the same place the boot prints came to and from left little room to interpret this band of strangers' fate differently. Katakan's, particularly long slumbering and recently awoken one's weren't about to pass over a meal. Even if their preference, in this case, skewed younger.
Like the gaping maw of a lumbering beast, the Zrinski Mine came to the view, the small clearing which once surrounded its entrance mostly reclaimed by nature with lumps of thick, healthy-looking grass scattered about it. The path connecting it to the village proper was barely identifiable, the remnants of its iron gate hung loosely to the side, croaking miserably from its rusted hinges left and right in the breeze.
It was also the spot where Geralt found the largest puddle of blood thus far. Just fifteen feet from the entrance, the substance most definitely came from a grown man, no child was abducted from the village. No child could bleed such an amount. From the crushed grass, finger-like trails clawed into the ground, the Witcher guessed one of the party managed to flee from the mine only for the Katakan to attack him from behind and drag him kicking and screaming back into its depths.
Geralt ascertained the sun's position and was pleased to see it was not yet noon. He had time to prepare still and promptly went about doing so. First, he rechecked the Moon Dust bombs hanging off his leather belt, within reach at all times, and capable of removing the vampire's invisibility. He didn't have any bombs to neutralize its regenerative properties or oil for his Cat School blade to carve its flesh away. However, the midday sun was fast approaching its zenith. Even a vampire hiding away in the depths of the Earth was weakened.
The blade itself would serve him well, as it had already. Hatori had outdone himself with the steel and silver sword pair, calling it a parting gift once Geralt and Ciri set out on the Path almost a year ago. For two weeks, the swordsmith poured all of his knowledge and skill into the blades, and for any warrior, nevermind a Witcher, they were an achievement. Strong enough to weather a strike from a sledgehammer yet light and perfectly balanced, they both cleaved through flesh, hide and armor with next to no resistance. Their already potent cutting power was intensified by a series of Dwarven runes that glowed and dimly pulsated when Geralt took hold of them.
Next was his crossbow, capable of firing two shots before reloading and with a series of specially ordered, silver-tipped bolts also crafted by Hatori. The projectiles were capable of going in and out of a smaller monster with relative ease. A Katakan was made of sturdier stuff, which did not work to its advantage. The bolts would doubtlessly remain inside whatever body part Geralt fired them into, and the vampire would have to claw its own flesh to pieces just to remove them. Still, given the speed of his prey, reloading it wouldn't be possible. It was fortunate then that Geralt also had some silver, throwing daggers on hand.
Then came the more unpleasant part of his preparation: the Black Blood. Unlike many others, this one did not serve to enhance a Witcher's existing abilities. It was made to ensure that if a blood-sucking fiend won the battle, their next meal would be the last, poisoning them so severely death was certain.
Geralt had no intention of dying, of course, but he wasn't about to let this monstrosity terrorize the people of Zrinski any more than it already did. Perhaps it was finally getting Ciri and Yennefer back, though they were separated again for now, which made him empathize with the plight of the parents. The distraught mothers and wrathful fathers who went to sleep, thinking their sons and daughters were safe only to find them pale, cold, and drained of their blood the following morning.
Yes, he would enjoy killing this particular monster. If he couldn't accomplish that, get some satisfaction of making the bastard choke on his leftovers. The Black Blood left a sour, nauseating taste in his mouth. The effects of the second potion, the Blizzard, were far more potent. Though it tasted sweeter, it also left Geralt dazed for a few moments as though someone punched him hard across the face.
A steady series of deep, controlled breaths did away with the sensation, his heartbeat slowing down almost as much as his sensory perception did. All about, the world seemed to almost halt before his very eyes. The rustling of a single grass taking ages worth of time to sway in the wind, the shadows cast by the overhead sun freezing in place. To fight against a blindingly swift creature like the Katakan, with claws capable of carving through even the finest of armors in a single swipe, there was no better potion for a Witcher.
The Cat potion was the last he drank, dilating his pupils to such a degree his eyes resembled nothing but thick, black sockets. The world around Geralt changed again, becoming a grating, overly bright pestilence on his eyesight. Until he entered the cave that was, one hand wielding the silver blade and the other pulsating with the faintest of magical energy, ready to expel an Igni at a moment's notice.
Stepping into the cave with measured, quiet steps, Geralt took a moment to enjoy the welcoming pitch blackness inside and began his downward trek to the Katakan's lair. The unmistakable claw marks left behind by the poor sods it slaughtered were proof it was. All about, through the minutes upon minutes spent in the darkness, Geralt spotted bits of fresh, human flesh littering the ground. Weapons of decent enough craft lying abandoned on the floor, along with digging equipment which was not rotten from decades of abandonment and disuse.
Evidently, the bandits came for the cave, perhaps hoping to find some leftover means of earning coin. And if that didn't work, put the village to the sword. Fate had other plans for them. The settlement of Zrinski rarely saw anything worse than a bear or wolf pack come near it, so the Katakan was not an ever-present threat but a recent arrival. Or more likely, the beast arrived long ago. The new arrivals disturbed its lair, thus sealing their fate and of several children.
Their disturbance must have been quite egregious indeed. Katakan's do not mutilate their victims, preferring to target specific spots in the body and are even known to frequently let their weakened victims live. More than likely the men dug their way into the vampire's lair and began prodding around its inevitable treasure trove, laughing like idiots, grabbing any coin, jewel, or other trinkets to bolster their pockets. In so doing delivering a deadly insult to its owner.
Katakan's greed and love for all things shiny rivaled their desire for blood. Once, during his early years, Geralt managed to gain the upper hand against his first by slicing off its beard, adorned with countless jiggling, blindingly dazzling rubes, sapphires, and expensive earrings. The vampire was so stunned it let its guard down and in so doing, lost its head moments after.
The brief reminiscing of days gone halted the instant Geralt's eyes spotted something just fifteen feet ahead. The mine's ceiling gradually shrunk, and he resorted to moving in a half-crouch because of it. It didn't matter, because soon enough his available room to maneuver would grow substantially. On the other side of a freshly dug hole at the tail end of the mine, was an Elven ruin.
Even squinting from a distance, Geralt recognized the stonework inside. Still looking strong and sturdy, defiant to the encroachment of nature as it was to man's centuries ago. Pillars, standing and broken, stood out prominently against the floor, as it did the chests of riches collected by the Katakan before it went into hibernation. Much of the loot was, annoyingly, scattered about the ground. What caught Geralt's attention the most was at the center of the lair: a portal.
Or rather, a construction about what must've been the place for a portal. He'd seen enough of those during the trip across worlds with Avalla'ach to spot one right away. The chance of it turning on was relatively small, Ciri already performed a smaller, second Conjunction in her bid to disperse the White Frost. Even so, just being close to a remotely possible spot for a portal to appear got on Geralt's nerves worse than a broken tooth.
Putting his distaste aside, he carefully and slowly crouched down, passing under the recently formed hole and felt his mood substantially improve when not so much as a single pebble resounded through the seemingly empty room. What betrayed the Katakan's location wasn't sound or poor concealment from the creature. It was the faintest but distinct odor of blood coming from the ceiling.
Peering upward, his free hand reaching for the crossbow attached to his left side belt, Geralt squinted and spotted the creature sleeping amongst a slew of man-sized stalactites adorning the ceiling by the dozens if not hundreds. It did not so much as move the faintest muscle, nor did it let out a single sound. But as it was so often the case, the beast's nature betrayed it.
Geralt would have to act swiftly. If he aimed true and the beast's instincts were too slow, a single bolt through its head could end the fight in a moment. And so he prepared to do just that. Slowly, agonizingly, the Witcher took the crossbow off his belt and gently pressed against the trigger. His knees were bent, his sword hand clutching the hilt and ready to attack.
With the distinct thump, the crossbows mechanisms cut through the silence. The bolt flew through the air and for a moment, it seemed as though the fight was already done. A fraction of an instant before the bolt fired, a pair of black, predatory eyes snapped open and the Katakan tried to flee. Unsuccessfully. The bolt didn't pierce its head, but there was an unmistakable crunching sound of steel piercing metal and the blood-freezing chill of a monster renowned for feeding on it.
The beast landed about twenty feet north of Geralt, the impact reverberating through the ground and sending chests worth of gold and other riches to scatter about all over the place. While it was busy trying to claw out the bolt, Geralt was already on the move, anticipating its landing spot and slashing at it with a swift, overhead blow.
The Katakan abandoned its attempt of ridding itself of the bolt and darted to left. Another deafening screech came from it as it tried clawing at Geralt instead, hitting nothing but air when the Witcher leaped gracefully to the side and opened fire before his feet even touched the ground again. It missed, hitting some far off wall while the Katakan's body shimmered then vanished into nothingness.
Geralt dropped the crossbow, the Katakan would disembowel him before he could get another bolt ready anyhow. Instead, he took his sword with both hands and kept to one place. His blade moving in constant, circular motions, a constant steady swirl of motion ready to divert itself in whatever direction the Witcher needed it to.
Not that he didn't know where the beast was. The Katakan's blood stood out most prominently against that of men and children, and since he hadn't heard any more flesh being rent or a bolt clanking against the floor, Geralt knew it was choosing to suffer the pain in silence. There, over to the western side of the room, where the portal construct stood between them.
The Witcher decided not to let the beast know what he knew. Instead, he did something sure to anger it. With a few furtive steps to his right, Geralt spotted a golden goblet adorned with sparkling white jewels and other stones. It was fit for any king or queen. It was probably worth more than the last three dozen contracts he'd taken up combined.
Without hesitation, Geralt's foot stomped on the goblet and though his foot already hurt, the gold bent with a satisfying, metallic whine. The Katakan was on him almost immediately and this time, the Witcher saw its claws flash mere inches from his face as he leaped backward. His arms moved on pure instinct and struck back, rewarding him with a clash across the Katakan's right abdomen.
It yelled again, unquestionably feeling the searing of silver carving it and the oil acting as the cherry on top, as Dandelion was fond of saying. Geralt pressed his advantage, delivering two more cuts, one to its knee and another cutting off its smallest claw. Then he purposefully stopped and diverted all his energies into a pirouette, avoiding a returning claw strike which would've carved his chest into two pieces, at least.
He tried to use the momentum to perhaps cut into the back of the Katakan's neck but the beast leaped forward, avoiding death for the time being. They circled one another for a few, tense heartbeats, the vampire too wounded or bloody furious to bother turning invisible again and the Witcher, glaring back with his black pits for eyes and smiling nastily.
That was when it happened. When the tense silence was broken not by the snarl of the beast or the blow of a mutant, but by the activation of a portal. One connecting this place to who knew where or what and the vampire wasted not a moment going for it. With a dramatic series of leaps betraying how much strength the monster still possessed, it went for it.
And as was so frequently the case, Geralt's mind told him to let it go, that there was no knowing what awaited either of them on the other side. A wasteland where they would burn or freeze in moments, a strange alien world as the ones Ciri spoke to him off where both would be even less welcome than the world they called home. And as was so frequently the case, Geralt did not let it go.
With a snarl from the very deepest recess' of his throat that he would come to regret the morning after, if he lived that long, the Witcher leaped as well and drove his blade right through the Katakan's chest, his other hand gripping tightly to its left horn. For a moment, the two stood there, on the precipice of the portal and Geralt almost thought he'd stopped the disaster. Until the vampire lurched forward, then he felt the distinct, horrifying nothingness of every portal crossing.
Then, there was the suffocation of water, of being deep, deep underwater in what was likely some lake or sea. Neither Geralt nor the Katakan was prepared for it, the two of them awkwardly shouting and swaying left, right and then spinning in circles like some mad, drunk Dwarves tumbling in the middle of a tavern brawl. Every so often, Geralt's eyes caught sight of the portal and it's remaining active gave him hope. Hope that if he killed the beast quickly, he could still make it back home from wherever the Hell he was then.
Until the swaying Katakan, even less used to swimming than Geralt was, swung its powerful claws and in a single motion, carved the portal construct clean in two. Before Geralt could curse it or even better, make the child-murdering scum pay, the discharge of destabilized magical energy exploded merely a handful of feet away, propelling them upward in another dizzying spin.
Despite his arms already aching from the exertion and wanting to let go, Geralt managed to hold on to the vampire even as their spinning grew worse and worse. Somehow, in this calamity of madness and drowning, the Witcher removed a silver blade from his belt and wildly, like a man completely lost of his senses, began stabbing the Katakan. Over, and over again in and eventually through the throat.
In its last moments, the vampire managed to reach the surface of the water, letting out a pained, gurgling screech which prematurely ended when Geralt's own snarl overtook it and the knife removed the monsters head. It floated on the surface, almost comically bobbing up and down against the light swaying waves of the darkening pool of blood and water about it.
Geralt ignored it for the time being, instead, letting his body go limb and rest against the Katakan's body, using it as a disgusting raft of flesh and bone. The battle frenzy took a while to abate, leaving him already feeling tired and beaten when he was quite certain there was nary a scratch on him. Though, a flesh wound was preferable to what was already clear.
It wasn't simply the fact Geralt and his contract ended up in the middle of the ocean, at night when it was midday before. It wasn't merely that Geralt spun the corpse about and spotted a massive city off in the distance, the likes of which he'd never seen before with a monstrous fortress of a dozen towers looming over it atop a nearby hill. No, the detail that told the Witcher he'd gone somewhere very far away came from the stars.
He couldn't recognize a single constellation.
A single curse came out of him, quiet and snarling. Then it was accompanied by a score, then two scores of others. Each louder and more blasphemous than the last. It wasn't until his throat became sore that Geralt finally stopped and let some good sense dictate his next course of action. Well, good sense and a desire to vent his frustrations in another way: by removing every useful thing the Katakan had to offer him then setting the bastards leftovers on fire.
A/N: And with that, begins another Witcher x ASOIAF crossover. Not so much of the latter this time but rest assured, there'll be no shortage of it in the chapters to come. As always, I hoped you enjoyed reading my fic and apologize for any issues you might've spotted. English isn't my native language.