A clang of steel and the flapping of leathery wings.
Is the only thing a normal man can hear, with the occasional sparks impacting from a sword lighting the dark. If not for the sound of iron clanging, you can hear grunts from the sword wielders as well. Glass breaking, the darkness lights up revealing the fighters and a winged beast, a Feathered Katakan, now on fire. A beast with the appearance of a bat, the bane of every countryside it finds residence in. Silver finds limbs and more of the beast's vestigial membranes are cut. One hunter fights with no swords and is in a boxing stance, arms raised, punches thrown forward. None hit directly but a force still connects with the monster as if struck. The other more traditional hunter has his sword drawn and rushes forward. The creature is big and menacing, as tall as it is wide when wings are spread, it found a very convenient home for itself to hide in and enough room to fully stretch out, inconvenient for normal knights or hunters. But these weren't normal hunters. The monster screeches at the two to no avail as its maw gets muffled. A ceramic jar thrown at its face. The distance closed, the second hunter chops off more of its limbs, deflecting talons as he cuts. Before getting knocked back into a wall.
The swordsman gets into a coughing fit after getting the wind knocked out of him, his partner takes his place and rushes forward with strikes knocking the beast back into a low ceiling. The creature tries to climb the walls to escape before another ceramic jar was thrown at it, missing it but hitting the surface the beast was climbing on. More oil. The beast slips and is on the ground again. Enflamed, the fiend turns on the two recovered hunters before turning itself invisible. The two hunters, enveloped in darkness again, wait and listen for the telltale signs of the predator.
The two hunters stand back to back and get in a ready stance for the bloodsucker, unlocking flasks from their chest and side pockets and imbibe several swallows. The one with the gauntlets throws another clay jar at the ceiling, toxic powder raining down on them and coating the air.
"Don't let it recover!"
"Ready? Close your eyes! Three steps to your right!"
The sword wielder shouts as he raises one arm above them. Feet shoulder width apart, back straight, lower back taut, core flexing to its breaking point as one arm is rising, mind conditioned to clear thoughts except for this incantation alone, ignoring the spectral weight of an ocean. Casting one of the secret arts taught to him by his guild's teachers and enveloping them both in a barrier of power. Masters can cast greater charms and hold them for hours or even days against armies. But for simple adepts, in a stressful fight against a beast that can easily kill a hundred men? Ten seconds at most. An explosion of light envelops the cavern after the second hunter throws a bomb into the air above them. The beast revealed, screams as it is blinded from the explosion and sound of rolling thunder and lightning. The first hunter has his eyes closed and charges right, counting the steps, sword raised. Remembering his training against monsters with long reach, the sword wielder begins his katas. Twisting and cleaving while dodging wild swipes from the fiend, countering and casting signs that would protect his head and harm his opponent. The best way to deal with these beasts is to close the distance and keep on cutting!
Just a few more. HRK! While both of its legs were cut, bloody stumps now, the beast catches the hunter with its wings and drags him to its face. Bloody and full of oil it moves to shriek, only to let out a wheeze with his eyes bugging out.
"Hey Stinkolnovitch! I found his twigs and berries!" Every beast's weak point. It's enough to bring an eyeroll to every fighter or knight who fight with rules and codes. Witchers don't have a code when it comes to fighting.
Lincoln with his sword in his hand still, brings his silver up to cut one claw grabbing him, then down again on the beast's skull. He falls with an "oof!" as the beast staggers back and collapses finally.
"Let's go to that cave! You said. We'll have some fun and sleep there! You said. All caves smell like copper and ammonia! You said. Why do I ever listen to you?"
"Because I'm pretty?"
"You're pretty something all right. A pretty big problem! On my backside!"
"Hey, it's not like lied! Fighting beasts are fun!"
"We don't get paid to fight every beast, Lynn." The two argue as they make their way to the beast.
"With beasts like these, we gotta cut the rest of its arms and legs, and cut off its head. Burn the rest of its body."
"I remember a little bit about kites and stuff" Lincoln recalls. The two work along, Lincoln doesn't see his partner work as diligently when dressing other animals or beasts when she tags around. Leaving the "women's work" to Lincoln. They decapitate the beast's monstrous head and place it in a bag full of salt to preserve it.
"The nails and organs too, they fetch good prices for quacks." Lynn instructs. Lincoln grimaces as Lynn digs a knife and bar on the beasts broken ribcage. All in all, they collected the head, the heart, the liver and spleen, the claws, blood, and even the intestines.
"Think there's anything else here?" Lincoln asks as he studies the cave now, bones the only decoration.
"Vampires don't keep treasure chests Linc, thing is just a Fleder. Burn the rest and let's go." Lynn marches her way out the cave, further perplexing Lincoln. She's joking one instance then serious the other, as if it wasn't her idea to drop in here. Lincoln just sighs and casts igni on the remains. He casts igni on the rest of the bones and says a little prayer for any that were human or intelligent prey. Dwarves and elves can be victims too and haunt caves and settlements. Turning to leave, he spots one thing, thought it was a piece of hide he cut, he looks down and sees it's a book. No time to read as the smoke and fire will shorten his breath, Lincoln collects the book and turns to leave. The two meet at the entrance and mount their horses, Lincoln putting the book away in his pack.
"You sure took your time. Turning into a pyromaniac, Lincoln?" Lynn smirked.
"You're one to talk, YOU have to watch out when casting if I'm in the way, you almost catch me on fire, twice!"
"Not my fault, you should invest in an amiantos gamesbon, they're fireproof!"
"You know, I was wondering why you were mixing MY vampire oils into MY blackbood jars. Seriously stop and make your own!"
The two continue to argue as they trek their way again. To the city of Novigrad!
"Papers, you got papers saying you have business here?"
Clouds cover the sky now, indicating rain is imminent. Lines formed full of trade caravans and country folk visiting family or making a new life in the city. Livestock and children making the most noise with mothers and merchants tending to them. Soldiers guarding the gates and charging tolls on the bridges into the city. Working diligently during peacetime as they do during wartime. Lincoln pulls from his pockets a scroll along with a seal.
"Passport from his royal majesty's court." The guard looks at it with a bored expression still and indicates to the woman. "And the hag?" Lynn gets ready to squawk, only for Lincoln to cut her off with a gesture. "With me as well." The guardsmen just looks down and writes in his ledger. "Any livestock, produce, goods exceeding a thousand crown?" Lincoln just tightens his grip on his horse and packs and replies. "No." The guardsmen nods his head and signals to the other guards ahead. "Good day to you then sir witcher, don't make any trouble in Novigrad, there's no work for you here. Pay the toll when you go ahead." Lincoln fishes for his money pouch and thanks the guardsmen before whistling to Lynn for the go ahead.
"Asshole! I'm not a hag!"
"Your liver hasn't finished metabolizing the potions you pilfered from me, you either need to go and piss or drink some white honey. You look like a hag about to die."
"Asshole! Why didn't you say anything!" The two argued before making their way to the square, where traffic was getting heavier to to the hustle and bustle of the citizens of the city. "We're going to need a place for the horses or else we're going to trample someone by accident." Lincoln notes as children run up to play around them and ask for sweets. "I might know a place for the horses, but not many places to sleep." Lynn scratches her cheek. "And why is that?" Lynn just laughs back nervously. "I, uh, got banned from a couple places or two?" "How you even get banned? Got into too many bar fights? Cheated at vodka drinking matches?" "A little bit, sorta?" Lincoln just pinches the bridge of his nose. "What did you do? You know how hard it is for travelling witchers?" "I, uh, got a little bit rough with a few studs is all, Kate's Port and Gildorf's banned me." Lincoln just grunts in frustration and disembarks off his horse, giving the reigns to Lynn. "Find a place for the horses then, I'm going to the port authority. Look for places where we can get supplies from, and try not to break any more studs while we're here." Lincoln stalks away.
The city of Novigrad, part of Redania but also an independent city, not to mention one of the largest seaports. Lincoln notes the weather is still cloudy but no rain, at least yet. The spray from the sea sends its chills. Ships line the port, the next one bigger or more fancy than the next one, all bearing different flags of far off lands. Sailors and porters unload cargo and merchants take inventory. Warehouses by the docks line up with open doors, and even exotic animals and beasts are heard through the din of men shouting to put away their cargo. Pubs and flophouses line next to warehouses, Lincoln and Lynn will be lucky if they can find and sleep in one instead of a stable. Children aren't an unfamiliar sight but the witcher notices more running around.
"Lots of urchins running around now, there always this many?" Lincoln inquires a quartermaster close by cataloguing his inventory. "Orphans and the like, we'll take whatever we can get for the odd jobs. Plenty of boats here need powder boys and loblollies. Better life than a mule in the cotton mills." The man replies back in a bored tone. "You know where the nearest port authority office is here?" The ashen one asks. "Look for the one with the anchor and scrambled eggs." The man points at a building with several flags and the most traffic surrounding it. "Thanks." Lincoln responds back before departing.
Always one of the busiest hubs in the city, along with the cat houses but not as fun. Unless you're a merchant or masochist. Filled with monsters feasting on the poor souls of maritime first mates and captains alike. The only kind of monsters that witchers can't simply take a contract to kill, bureaucrats. Luckily for Lincoln he had an appointment.
Lincoln could not make eye contact with the dour men lined up to enter the offices, he will not prostrate himself or apologize. Waving his passport again like it was a holy relic, soldiers working as stewards allowed the witcher to cut through and pointed to the last office for him to meet the administrator to Novigrad's navy. Office was adorned with the stereotypical naval tchotchkes, sextants and wooden globes. An anchor leaning against a wall, everything made of pine and polished brass, a small decanter of brown liquor by a wall, even a few ships in bottles. Charming and childish at the same time. Lincoln wasn't here to stay long though. His focus brought him to the man behind the wooden desk at the far end of the room. Under-Secretary of Novigrad's Navy, Secretary Borrs. The position isn't light. The man keeps a well groomed goatee, hair reaching to his collar, face pockmarked and full of wrinkles. But his red hair is graying. In his own office he wears a clean and pressed tunic, his coat hanging nearby on the wall. Papers line his desk demanding his stamps of approval. Lincoln nods before stating his business, not wanting to keep the secretary from his schedule. "Expecting mail and a package from the royal courts of Kovir. Under the name Lincolnovitch of the house of gryphon." The man behind the desk nodded and stood up, bringing a package to him. "Witcher Lincolnovitch?" Lincoln nodded back. "Got this this morning, don't tell anyone else that you're from Kovir. One thing this town hates more that ambassadors it's rich ambassadors." Lincoln takes the package and nods back. "Thank you, but I'm no diplomat. Nor do I get paid as well as one." The secretary snorts and returns to his desk. "There are no free meals in Novigrad, master witcher. If you need to book a charter home you're going to have to pay for it." Lincoln just bows and thanks the man before leaving. One package in a well locked chest, keys Lincoln keeps in his pack, and letters from the courts. Perhaps a letter from his own master, or contracts to meet another nobleman. Lincoln picks one letter dated the most recent. Breaks the wax seals, and pales after reading five seconds in.
"Why the long face Link?"
It was hours later that Lincoln ran into Lynn again, the two settled on a nearby pub for whatever was hot and cheap. A fishy porridge which the server claimed was the house specialty. "It's nothing Lynn, you find a place for the night? We can't afford to leave the city and sleep in a tent and enter the city in the morning again, unless you're paying?" Lincoln changes the subject. "N-no? Heh heh?" Lynn nervously says. "Got chased out from a few places, people still remember me here. Gildorf's, Glory Lane and The Square still ban me. Harbors too. We could try for the Farcorners."
"What about Silverton?" Lincoln inquired. "You'd have to put up a notice or check for rooms for rent in the market town boards. No inns there." Lynn acknowledged while slurping her porridge(Where's the fish?). "We could try for the Goose or Cat's Inn?" "How were you not banned from there?" Lincoln asked. "Because despite the names, there are no cats or gooses there." Lincoln only looked dumbfounded. "But, they're pretty common here, we just ran into five cats and a gang of geese-" Lynn slams her hands on the table. "I'm talking about studs Link! Professionals! Man or woman!" The other bar patrons give the party a condescending look. Lincoln can only respond with an apologetic wave. "Keep your voice down! You're going to get us banned from another bar here! You're a letch, you know that?" Lynn just leans back after finishing her stew, a fishbone sticking out of her mouth like a toothpick. "Well I got you around for that now, right Link? I'm ok wherever we go." Lynn just gives Lincoln her sauciest look. Lincoln is just reminded of old fat sailors trying their hand at flirting with harbor girls giving them the look they think will woo a girl just like Lynn is giving him now. Lincoln just ignores and deadpans back "I still prefer we stay inside the city walls, I don't want to pay a tax if we're crossing bridges and a soldier is around. How about The Grove or The Bits?" Lynn winces back. "Those places are full of panhandlers and cutpockets. You would have to pay a different kind of tax there or owe the King of Beggars a favor. Only people who want to go into hiding go there."
Lincoln just sighs in frustration. "Anyway, did you get to replenish any of our supplies?" Lynn chokes on her fishbone before spitting it out. If she ever fails as a witcher she could always be an actor. "Uhh, I found some spirits and liquor? Heh heh?" Lynn laughs nervously. "Bought some or stole some?" Lincoln's headaches returning. "Ok! First, I got you your new cloak you ordered! But I lost the list of herbs we needed, but I found some spirits and cordials!"
Lincoln, massages his temples in annoyance. "And where did you find them?"
Suddenly the doors to the pub slammed open, a high society looking woman who reeked of heavy perfume entered the establishment flanked by a couple soldiers of the temple guard, pointed at Lynn. "There officer! The hag who broke into my home, raided my kitchen and hexed my husband!" The soldiers nodded and advanced to the two sitting hunters. "Ma'am, you're coming with us for the crime of stealing and witchcraft!" Lynn just brings her hand up to knock down the soldiers with an invisible force before jumping up and dragging Lincoln with her. Lincoln throwing coins at the barkeep as they burst through the kitchen and exit through the backdoor.
"Dammit Lynn, you have money, I told you to stop stealing from people's houses! We're not bandits here!"
"It's adventuring 101 Lincoln! You don't pay for anything you can get for free!"
The two pick up their speed as they hear temple bells ringing and soldiers shouting. The sound of men in plate armor running in the distance unmistakenly. "So, The Bits, right?"
"There it is!"
The two have been running for the past hour trying to lose their captors in their pursuit. Lincoln sees a high wooden wall and a door leading into what looks like a street beyond it. They stop by the door to catch their breath. Not caring about the putrid stench of streets that don't get cleaned as often as the better neighborhoods. There is no key or doorknob on the door leading Lincoln to believe it opens from one side only.
"Do you know how to get in, Lynn? You been here before?"
"It's been a while, I'm sure noone will remember me here!" Lynn knocks on the door like a madwoman until a shout was heard over the wall.
"Hold your horses! What's the password?" A voice shouts behind the barrier.
"I got your password right here!" Lynn winds up her gauntleted fist and unleashes a blow, exploding the door and knocking the man behind it into a pile of trash. Bystanders soon gather around the poor man and windows open shouting and pointing at the intruders.
"C'mon, let's go!" Lynn rushes in leaving Lincoln even more exasperated following her lead.
"Dammit Lynn, I thought you knew of a DISCREET way to get in!"
"I don't want to owe the kingpin here any favors, Stincoln! Besides, it's more fun this way!"
"Your strategies are going to get us both killed Lynn! Why can't you think things through!"
"Coming up with strategies is for nerds!" Lynn shouts back. Now the sound of new men shouting at them to stop reaches them, they pick up their pace again as if on cue.
"Do you even know where you're going?" Lincoln shouts back at her as they're rounding street corners trying to avoid piles of trash and nearly knocking over residents crossing the alleys.
"When have I ever steered us wrong?" Lynn laughs back until they reach a dead end. A wall of concrete and brick before them. Lincoln just sighs and turns around, arms raised as he waits for their pursuers. Soon men with pitchforks enter the alley cornering the two. Threatening to gore them if they so much as raise their wrists at them. Lynn hangs her head in defeat as well. A sheepish grin adorning her tired face.
"You were saying, Lynn?"
A/N Would have published this chapter sooner but been working six days a week the past month. Special thanks to BluePerson2021 for the beta reading.