The idea came, when I was writing on a fan fiction for a contest at The "Witcher" Website about hmmm two years ago.
"Thank You" goes to CougarMadCat. She helped me mucking out various mistakes... such as grammar, punctuation, and words I used in a wrong context.
I still have to learn a lot when it comes to english
My story was one of the winners [link]
Unfortunately, they have changed the layout of the website, so my old link doesn't work anymore.
So I will put the story in here:
Chaining A Hawk
A low hoarse groan wheezed past Zedorik's cracked and blood crusted lips. He should have known better than trying to move. There was no place on his body that wasn't covered with bruises and wounds from the whip. His skin felt heavy, wet, and uncomfortably clammy.
An itch ailed him like a nagging fishwife but he couldn't move as both his arms were shackled above his head. Tugging at the chains binding his hands, he cursed lowly under his breath as he couldn't lift up his body with the sheer strength of his arms. His last reserves had been drained, no position he chose would bring him relief, and since they had brutally bruised his shins he couldn't even stand to let the blood revive his numb limbs. All he was capable of was resting on his knees in the yielding dirt beneath him - the only position they permitted him. If he had to remain like this, he would lose his legs soon and hopefully die from the rotting flesh poisoning his body.
The horrendous smell of filth, decay, and fecal matter as well as a stubbornly annoying tickle that crawled along his neck drove him insane. They were the only indicators that he still was alive. Dead people didn't bother about their stink. Goddess knew how many illegal refugees had found a home on his skin and were feeding on his behalf.
Footfalls from outside his room passed by, grew louder and subsided. The guards had changed shift apparently and Zedorik guessed that it was either noon or midnight. But no one came to see or torture him. Zedorik began to wonder if they had perhaps forgotten about him, or decided to let him starve to death.
Suddenly, without warning his body shook violently as a he was struck by a coughing fit. His lips cracked open and blood oozed over the already rough, crusty surface. A sharp agonizing pain ran down both his arms, and his knees complained with an equal pang. Maribor was cold and wet around this time and it didn't surprise him in a slightest that his body finally gave in. After a long yet unknown amount of time of undernourishment, dehydration, and mistreatment it was rather surprising he was still alive. His two comrades already had perished, greeted death with whimpers and pleas of mercy.
Zedorik licked across his lips, tasting old blood and dried saliva. He would rather suffer all eternity than giving in and begging for his life. He had made a mistake, let himself get caught by those foolish city guards and now had to face it like a man. He should have fought them and risked getting butchered down instead listening to his former companions and tried to escape. He was after all a known killer with a high bounty on his head.
Many years of experience should have taught him better than accepting fishy contracts that smelled of betrayal. Spitting the foul taste at the ground, Zedorik cursed his comrades and hoped their souls would never find rest. If they hadn't insisted and overruled his voice of reason, he wouldn't be in this dilemma now. Never again would he ally himself with imbeciles, never ever again!
Letting the head loll forward, his swollen eyes squinted a few times. The only light in this place crept like a cockroach through the chink of his cell-door and stopped right in front of him. Zedorik barely could see anything without his glasses, and the little he saw was more a guess of vague silhouettes.
Soon he floated between a foggy awareness and nodding off, he could only stare down at himself, pondering the wounds on his chest and legs since there wasn't anything else of interest in this disgusting pig hole. Under normal circumstances none of his wounds were serious, but they still hurt and would probably begin to fester in no time. Exhausted and sore, Zedorik 's gaze fixed at one point in front of him and patiently he waited for the sleep of exhaustion to claim him. If he was lucky, he wouldn't wake up.
Shivering, Zedorik emerged from his nightmarish slumber. Something had tugged at the edge of his still intact consciousness. The life of a murderer for hire conditioned him to be on his toes even when he was asleep. Relaxing and shutting down one's mind was a luxury no killer could afford.
Hushed voices, the footsteps of heavily armored humanoids stopped right in front of his door. Someone finally came to see him. Chuckling low under his breath, he mused what they were up to this time. Pulling his nails? Perhaps castrating him? The possibilities were endless and the more he thought about such things the more cruel they became.
The treacherous biting tickle in his lungs returned and spread. He sucked in air and held it, suppressing another coughing fit. Much to his annoyance his eyes refused to open, the eyelids were glued together by his own secretions. Being quiet for a moment, he perked up his ears and listened.
The jingling of keys was heard and then the metallic long stretched creaking of a heavy metal door being opened. Yellowish light seeped through his swollen eyelids, and judging the smell he picked up they were carrying torches.
"There he is. But don't get too close, you might catch something," said a meek voice - probably a guard. To Zedorik they sounded all the same. Sniveling, weak, and cowardly - always willing to please their masters like good puppies.
A rough baritone rang through the cell and caught Zedorik's attention at once. "So. That's the infamous Professor who kept the nobility in Redania on their toes? He doesn't look dangerous to me." The man paused, and Zedorik couldn't help but wonder what would happen next. "You! Unchain him and get him cleansed."
Zedorik remained passive, but as a cold gush of water was emptied above his head he gasped, coughed and spat. Hadn't his visitor said unchaining and then cleansing? Guards were even too addlebrained to follow orders. Another bucket of cold water ended up in his face and he had a hard time breathing. Not a very original way to kill him, he thought bitterly - and he indeed knew how to kill effectively. Damn amateurs.
"Enough you son of a bitch!" barked the newcomer. "The Grandmaster won't be pleased when you deliver him the carcass of a drowned rat."
Ignoring the profanities, Zedorik felt someone stepping next to him. For a few long seconds there was a lot metallic clicking and rattling. The iron shackles, which had kept his hands in place, were removed and his arms slumped down like overripe windfall. Gritting his teeth, he could feel every single nerve responding to the sudden return of an intact blood circulation and it took a few moments to get used to this new sensation. Bones popped into place, his limbs came back to life in waves, first with a chill, and then a slowly seeping warm sensation spread from the inside to the outside.
When they finally removed the shackles around his ankles, they gripped his arms and lifted him onto his feet. Zedorik clenched his teeth, but didn't hiss in pain as his kneecaps complained with a searing pain. He wouldn't give them the gratification of having broken his will and mind.
Finally able to open his eyes, he managed to catch a glimpse of the man who had called him a carcass of a drowned rat. His eyes weren't the best without his glasses, but he was close enough to take in the details. Shaved skull, tattoos all over the body, savage dress code, tall and bulky - the embodiment of a male meat-chunk from Zerrikania concluded Zedorik. But something was different about this one; though, he couldn't put a finger on it yet. Besides, what mattered most was what this man wanted from him.
"Might I inquire who's gracing me with his presence, because I honestly can't recall having expressed any clemency plea?" Zedorik managed to get past his swollen tongue.
Speaking with his wounded lips and dry throat was a rather daring undertaking. But somehow he had to find out what his visitor was up to, without asking for it directly.
Deep droning laughter filled the cell. "Ahh. I am glad your mind didn't rot in this hole. The Grandmaster will be pleased." Then the laughing subsided. "My name is Azar Javed and if you favor being alive you do good to remember it."
In all those years Zedorik had been a murderer he had gathered a massive knowledgebase of human nature, and now his instincts in conjunction with this experience told him to be careful with this one.
"Well then let's get past the formalities, Azar. I assume you're talking about Grandmaster Jacques De Aldersberg?" asked Zedorik rhetorically, already knowing the answer. But the Zerrikanian still hadn't revealed what was expected of him.
Azar nodded marginally, but didn't say anything of value as Zedorik noted angrily. If there was something he hated, it was being kept in the dark - literally and verbatim. He honestly began to dislike this bulky primate.
"I take my leave of you for now, Professor," Azar said, followed by an elegant motion of his hand, and turned to leave. "I expect him clean and dressed at the Grandmaster's quarters within two hours. Clothes have been provided." With those words, he touched something round attached to his chest harness and a bluish vortex of energy surged to life behind him.
Zedorik watched him vanishing inside the portal. Now he got at least one riddle solved. This Javed was a sorcerer, but what did his kind want from him? They rarely associated themselves with subjects that weren't of importance. Most interesting, he thought. He truly loathed magic users, they were all the same - meddling in affairs of others, deciding the fate of others and then behaving like hypocrites who were unable to do anything wrong when they get confronted about their actions. At least it wasn't a female, dealings with the Lodge of Sorceresses always meant even worse complications and he would rather face the gallows than those witches.
Without any warning, the two guards who still held him in place dragged him out of the cell. Zedorik's mind refused to accept this humiliation, but also his legs refused to obey. Each time he tried to walk on his own, letting his legs carry the weight of his body, a searing and paralyzing pain shot through his shins.
With a mental growl he gave up, grinding his teeth. If he should get out of this alive, he would pay those louse-ridden law enforcers a visit and kill them in return for what they had done to his legs. Relapsing into his lethargic demeanor, he mulled over everything he had heard a few moments ago.
Feeling like a human being again, Zedorik rubbed a foul smelling ointment on his abraded wrists and ankles. If it was simply luck or Azar's influence, he didn't know - but he was immensely glad to have clean bandages and salves for his oozing wounds. It would take weeks before the reminders of his imprisonment vanished. Though, what were a few scars and skin irritations when one could escape the gallows - and despite the pain, he was filled with a weird ecstasy of being free from his restraints.
Done with wrapping up his treated wounds, his eyes wandered over to the dark blue and red pile of clothes. He badly needed his glasses back. From between the folds he saw the vague, white silhouette stitched on a red square patch. Heaving a sigh, he shook his head. Zedorik needed no glasses to recognize this signature, it was the likeness of a salamander and he knew the group to which it belonged. Suddenly much became clear, and his stomach painfully lurched in sympathy with his throbbing head.
Salamandra was an organized group of criminals, and their influence was hard to ignore if one wanted to live. They dealt in drugs, removed local crime lords in order to take their places and afterwards controlling all the shady sources of gold. But he never would have believed they could openly interact with the city guards like that, especially not in Maribor.
Hissing from the pang in his shins he stood from his chair and hobbled over to the table where they had placed his new garments. On the ground, next to the table stood a pair of dark grey leather boots with red and dark blue straps for daggers and other accessories. The spurs and ornamental rivets were a little too fancy and not the slightest bit functional. All in all not exactly what he would wear, but could one be picky in a situation like this?
His nose wrinkled in disgust as he scented the stench of sweat coming from the dark brown shirt. The fabric was worn and showed various stains of unidentifiable origin. It had taken him some effort to wash off the filth and stink his skin had accumulated in the dungeon and now he was supposed to wear this on his wounded skin? Muttering angrily, he started with the underwear. Not new either, but at least clean.
Fully dressed, Zedorik looked down at himself and scowled at the sight. Had he lost so much weight? Except for the leather breeches, none of the clothes fit, he had to strap the weapon-belt tight around waist to keep the tunic from flapping. His boots were too wide around his tights and were only held in place by the straps that were actually meant to store knifes and other small blade weapons.
He really wasn't vain about his appearance, but a mirror would have been most welcome right now. Again he heaved an anguished sigh. His time as a freelance killer was probably over - they certainly had not given him the Salamandra outfit out of pure kindness.
With narrowed eyes he turned to the door. "I donned the rags you have graciously provided me, and would gladly take my leave," he said as loud as possible, hoping they heard him. Despite the water he had drunken, his voice was still low and raspy.
A key was turned, and the door opened. "Come out and keep your hands where we can see them."
Inwardly smirking, Zedorik cocked an eyebrow when he limped outside the room. Holding his hands up, he looked in the eyes of the first guard and saw with satisfaction a lot fear in them. "You have nothing to fear from me, as you can see I am carrying no weapons," he said with a snarled grin.
Three guards had found their end at his bare hands when they had tried to chain him down in his former cell. In its own crooked way it was a good memory as it harbored a little satisfaction in return for his capture. One died as Zedorik had punched the nasal bone into the young lad's cranium, another one got his larynx crushed and suffocated painfully, and the third guard died from blood loss a few nights later. Zedorik knew, because they came to him that night, whipped him half senseless and did other things to him he preferred not to think about. They probably would have killed him, if there hadn't already been a death sentence on his head.
The wooden end of a halberd got jabbed against his back and Zedorik stumbled forward. "Don't talk, move."
Quietly, he played along. There were many questions he wanted to find answers for. Salamandra had an interest in him, and so did the Grandmaster - a very odd combination to say the least. What was the reason for their interest in him? Hopefully, this mystery would unfold itself soon enough. Keeping his eyes to the ground, he didn't fight off the rough treatment to his arm and one of the guards pushed him to walk faster.
They had brought him to a richly decorated room, and told him to wait for the grandmaster. The door closed behind Zedorik and he found himself alone with tapestries, suits of armor, various shields and paintings, which plastered the wall. Zedorik squinted a few times. From where he stood, most of the details eluded him. Without his glasses he was a cripple and this knowledge filled him with scorn. Very distressing. Unfortunately he already had killed those imbeciles who had crushed his expensive spectacles, and now there was no one else to punish for it.
Waiting for his host and savior, he took the freedom to explore the room and soon found a polished steel mirror. With a low growl he took in the lanky bristle-faced reflection. Many years of military service had taught him to take care of his appearance. It always was the first impression someone made, and as a murderer for hire he had to keep up a certain reputation. Not that he expected to look like one of those conceited peacocks, but no one would respect an unkempt wood gnome, no matter what kind of weapon he wielded.
The door to this room opened, and Zedorik heard three pair of feet entering the room. Slowly he turned around, keeping his face straight. It never was a smart idea to show curiosity or unease if one wanted to walk away with a good deal. And he had the feeling that bargaining for his freedom would be essential in this meeting.
Not really surprised to see Azar Javed among them, Zedorik directed his attention at the middle aged man he thought to be the Grandmaster and politely nodded. The third man wore two swords on his back, and was clad in something dark brown, probably leather. Once more cursing his eyes for giving up on him, Zedorik waited until someone made the first move.
"Berengar, may I introduce you to the Professor," said Jaques De Aldersberg. The baritone was pleasing to the ear and carried the strength of someone who was used to give commands. "If he should decide to work with us, he will be the one who requires your insight. Now let us sit down gentlemen, we have to talk."
Zedorik nodded in return, but the man who was introduced to him as Berengar merely snorted, and headed toward the table where he sat down and lolled in his chair like someone who was terribly bored; feet on the table.
Not paying too much attention to the rudeness this fellow radiated, Zedorik chose the chair to the left side of Berengar and wordlessly sat down. Now, where he had a better view at this man, he noticed with some disgust that he was looking at a mutant - a Witcher. What kind of gathering was this - a ragtag party of killers from all branches that existed in Tymeria?
The Grandmaster quietly sat down at the head of the table, reaching for a pitcher. "Thirsty?" he asked, but everyone declined.
In fact, Zedorik was thirsty. But wine in combination with an empty and sore stomach wouldn't do him any good.
"We already have met, and it pleases me to see you also accepted my gift," said Azar, wiping Berengar's feet off the table with a violent slap against the ankles, before sitting down, " … and don't take our friend's manners personal, he's a Witcher and you know what they are like."
'You call that a gift? You could as well have given a sack - it probably would have harbored fewer parasites,' thought Zedorik, ignoring a flea or louse that inspected his armpit with its sucker.
Tilting his head, Zedorik regarded the sorcerer with sardonic amusement. "After who knows how long in this louse ridden stink-hole you call a dungeon, I would have to take a lot personal. But I assume hearing my complaints isn't the reason why the Grandmaster wanted to prolong my life."
De Aldersberg cleared his throat. "Gentlemen, this is a serious matter and I didn't arrange this meeting for the sake of idle bantering. Much is at stake and I need to make certain to have the right people at hand - professionals who know what they are doing."
"You got my attention, Grandmaster," Zedorik assured him.
Nodding, De Aldersberg put the goblet down. "The Order of the Flaming Rose and Salamandra joined forces in order to prevent a large scale catastrophe."
Zedorik slowly nodded. "A noble goal, I am certain, even if I have to add that it is a somewhat odd conjunction. But where do I fit in? I am a killer for hire, and neither a missionary nor a hero. Does this undertaking require the assassination of some important politician or royalty?"
From the corner of the eye he could see Azar smirking and Berengar cleaning his fingernails with a dagger. This was indeed the weirdest meeting he ever had experienced, and his profession as murderer for hire usually went hand in hand with odd encounters.
A low chuckle shook the blonde man. "If we can help it, no. The help we require from you has more a scientific and administrative quality." Then he bent a little forward. "Do I assume correctly that you are Zedorik Blunden, the brother of Ralf Blunden?"
"You assume correctly," Zedorik admitted hesitantly. "May I ask why this is important?"
The Grandmaster took up the goblet again, leaned back with a jovial gesture of his wrist. "Let me put it like this. You and our friend, Berengar, got a few things in common. You both have a reason to hate the Witchers." Zedorik's eyes narrowed, he didn't like the sound of this. But before he could say anything De Aldersberg resumed his explanation. "You both kill for money, Witchers took Berengar as child and turned him into one of them, a Witcher murdered your brother in Anchor many years ago. Doesn't the death of a sibling invoke the need for revenge?"
Zedorik clicked with his tongue and shook his head. "How touching. I see where this going, though it might disappoint you to hear that Ralf and I weren't close. The utmost maximum of brotherly love between the two of us merely kept us from killing each other. And I refuse being lumped together with a freak of nature. This sentimental relic of old times and I have nothing in common."Disdainfully regarding Berengar, he laced his voice with acid as he spoke the last part.
A blurred motion to his right, the pained sound of vibrating metal biting in furbished wood redirected Zedorik's attention at Berengar. The Witcher pierced him with a pair of blazing inhuman eyes, his lips parted to animalistic snarl. Through and through a freak, thought Zedorik and eyed the dagger that plunged half way in the table in front of him. What an abuse of a good blade.
The Grandmaster rubbed his forehead. "Calm down Berengar. Tearing out each other's throats won't bring us forward." For a scant second he went silent, letting the effect of what he had said sink in. "Professor, I am aware that you aren't just a simple murderer for hire. You have studied alchemy and chemistry in Oxenfurt, served successfully in the military for many years as lieutenant before you got rid of your superiors and chose the path of an infamous assassin. Quite a career, don't you think?" Their gazes locked. "We need a man like you, we need you to get into Kaer Morhen and obtain the mutagens and all their secrets these Witchers keep from us. They are our only hope to save mankind."
Swallowing hard, Zedorik stomached everything he just heard. The Grandmaster apparently had done his homework and gathered more information about him than he liked. In fact, it implied that he probably would have a hard time to elude this man. He never had spoken to anyone about his past; everyone who knew about it was dead. Having no idea how De Aldersberg had gotten his hands on all the information, Zedorik had to admit that he was impressed.
The rough sound of Azar's baritone carried a hint of impatience as he spoke. "You and I also have a few details in common, Professor. We both have sharp minds, hampered by false moral and ethics of the rabble. I have been able to unravel a few of the secrets regarding mutations and mutagens. With your help we could unlock the last remaining mysteries and use the results to create a new world order."
Ignoring the Zarrikanian's sermon, Zedorik turned his gaze to De Aldersberg."Let me summarize. You require me as troupe leader to get into Kaer Morhen, steal the mutagens and afterwards help Azar to solve the mystery and create more?" he inquired, entwining his hands into a relaxed gesture on the table. "Don't you think your Witcher here would be a better candidate for this task? They know him, he knows the place - or am I not aware of some tiny detail? Because as far as I am concerned, I prefer to work alone and not team up with a ragtag band of drug dealing bandits - don't give me that look. I am merely candid. This kind of relationship won't work out, I am afraid. I am an assassin and not a thief or errand-boy."
The Zerrikanian’s lips slanted to a snarl, but Zedorik didn't care. He was nobody’s lackey and he wouldn't become one. If that half-bald finger-wiggler required an assistant he could try to hire one of the younger alchemists. There were plenty enough hotshots who strove for scientific fame and would follow willingly.
De Alderberg's chair scratched the floor as it was pushed back. "Don't get me wrong Professor. There are only two choices for you. Join our cause, and walk as free man with many privileges. Refuse and you will return to your cell and face the gallows in a not all too distant future. What will it be?" The Grandmaster's low voice bore a subliminal threat Zedorik could hardly dismiss.
Trying not to look impressed or intimidated Zedorik began to inspect his splintered fingernails. "Let's assume I agree to your terms and join, what possibly could prevent me from eloping?" His head perked up to meet the icy gaze of De Aldersberg.
This time it was Azar who spoke. "Professor, I was under the impression that you are an intelligent man. Can't you see the logic behind what the Grandmaster offers? Don't you want to live and be a part of a new world order? Think of the opportunities. We will create a new form of warrior, stronger, faster, not hampered by emotions - made to obey."
A snorted laugh escaped Zedorik's nose. "Not that I really care, yet there is one little flaw in your plot. If I understood this correctly, our friend here wants revenge because Witchers turned him into one of them when he was a little boy and had not much to say in this matter. This revenge includes stealing the mutagens you desire, and probably killing those who get in the way. Yet, you claim to strive for a greater good and intend to create Witcher-like creatures. Mutations have to be induced during childhood, before boys enter puberty. How will what you plan to do be any different from what the Witchers do? Not that I really care, yet I would prefer to see the logic behind your actions."
"There are ways to ensure your loyalty to our cause, though I would prefer you to join us willingly and without any guile," said De Aldersberg calmly.
Zedorik yanked the dagger out of the table and hobbled straight for the polished steel mirror. "I hope you don't mind." He gestured at his face with a brief gesture, before turning his back at the three men.
He needed time to think. It was either his death or a life that would most likely end with an unnatural death, if he shouldn't prove useful. Question was, which one of these alternatives would pair with his codex? From the corner of his eyes he noticed Azar holding back the outraged Witcher. Profanities were launched across the room, along with threats and the commanding voice of Aldersberg. It was clear he wouldn't stand a chance against one of those mutated freaks, at least not as long as he still was in such a bad condition.
Rubbing the dagger across the hem of his sleeve, Zedorik made sure the blade was clean and free from any grime. With great care he began to scrape off the facial hair, feeling his former stoic demeanor return. It wouldn't be as perfect and clean as using a real razor, but it would have to do for now
"What is your answer Professor, we are waiting," drawled Azar darkly.
Carefully, tautening the skin between his nose and lips, Zedorik delicately let the blade do its work. "I have no relatives or friends you could use against me. The danger of being hunted down by one more group doesn't really impress me. I lived with this risk for countless years now. What do I gain out of this besides my life?"
A chair was pushed back, the wood grated uncomfortably across the parquet. De Aldersberg stepped next to him and Zedorik could see the deep lines around the man's eyes. "What do you want?"
Zedorik tilted his head a little to gain better access to the spot between ear, jaw and throat. "A new pair of glasses, compensation for my weapons they have confiscated and probably already flogged to some fence." Aware of the musty smell his attire gave off, he grimaced. "A clean and new set of armor of my choice, and a commanding rank will do for the meanwhile. Besides all the material benefits, I expect free access to the city and not being pestered by the authorities whenever I run tasks. And I expect not to be questioned in my methods, or being told how to proceed," the last sentence was directed at Azar.
He had no idea why he had this hunch, but it was more than obvious that he had to work with this Zerrikanian and most certainly not as an equal.
"So we agree?" asked de Aldersberg.
Shaving off the beard from the lower side of his jaw, Zedorik cocked an eyebrow at the reflection in the mirror, "Do I have a choice?"
A small smirk appeared on the Grandmaster's face. "I am afraid, you do not."
After a scant second of consideration, weighing, and mulling he sighed. His intention of never joining any group again went to hell in favor to remain alive a little while longer. Maybe he would get his chance to take revenge for this humiliation. For now he would remain a pain in the backside and follow their orders. If they phrased their commands poorly, he would take advantage of it.
"Well, you got yourself a genie then," he snarled, angry about the red skin irritations around his mouth.
As the dagger scraped off the last remaining hair from his face, a heavy hand rested on his shoulder, Zedorik's hand lost its strength to hold the dagger. Awareness of what was about to happen snapped around his mind like a vice. Damn cheating magic users!
The blade fell clanking to the ground and he followed as myriads of tiny needles which bit into his body. Gasping for air and with clenched teeth he forced back the screams, he had sworn to die with dignity. Silvery blue energy strands slithered across his body like tongues bore into his skin, nose, mouth, ears and as an unknown presence entered his mind, all dignity went to hell. Zedorik screamed and writhed on the ground like someone who experienced an epileptic seizure. Spitting curses at the Grandmaster with a high pitched voice - he continued to fight for control of his mind and body.
But he failed…
The last thing he saw was De Aldersberg's face when the blonde man bent down. "Welcome on board genie. Azar, take care of our Professor, and make sure he gets everything he requires to serve us well."
Two weeks later…
The Salamandra base beneath Wyzima wasn't quite what Zedorik had expected. The rooms were in a complete state of disarray, it was hard to tell if they just had moved in, or if it always looked this chaotic and messy around here. The rooms offered enough space for the clutter to breed. Tools, books and equipment were piled in stacks on the floor. Shelves were leaned against the wall instead of being mounted. The only place with a little order was the lab where various involuntary workers and alchemists created more of the white brain softener, fisstech.
His nose wrinkled, Zedorik turned away. They reminded him of what he had become, a thrall.
All the privileges De Aldersberg had promised to him didn't change this fact. He was an important and useful puppet, but a puppet nonetheless. If the Grandmaster should decide to cut the strings, Zedorik probably would yearn for the moment where could have chosen the rope instead.
Again and again he cursed the day they had caught him alive. Being a lackey and henchman of a lecherous drug addicted meatloaf and an elder blood bastard who saw in himself some kind of messiah was quite a strike against Zedorik's ego. At least De Alderberg was true to his word and granted him new equipment, a new and clean Salamandra outfit, new weapons and an excellent pair of glasses. Gold framed quartz crystals. Like a miracle they even had managed to get one of his old weapons back - a wrist crossbow crafted by the well known craftsman and inventor Gabriel from Verden.
Walking the hallways, he glimpsed to the right. The smell of male perspiration hung in the air, leading the way. The clanking of swords, gasps, and growls were heard. Entering the large training hall, he watched the men launching melee attacks against the training-dummies and it made him shudder. Most of them used their sword like club or farmer's tool. Sloppy moves, slow reaction, no style, bad footwork - they reminded him more of savages clubbing down a wolf or boar.
'Azar's low quality toy soldiers,' he thought, inwardly groaning. 'And I am supposed to turn them into viable fighters - could as well have requested to turn dung into gold, which would have promised more success.'
After two weeks of healing his wounds and getting back into an acceptable shape, Zedorik still felt the countless weeks of imprisonment in his bones. And watching those Salamandra recruits made it even worse. They meant hard work and a great deal of his non existing patience.
He knew from the Grandmaster that the majority had been bandits without military experience. Some were even former street muggers, thugs, farmers who had lost their lands to the crown, and hotshots who sought glory in supporting their little For The Greater Good drama.
Now he had to introduce himself to those simpletons, gaining their respect. And from past experience he knew that his appearance wasn't exactly impressing. Many mistook his intellect and rather cultivated appearance as weakness - until they tasted his blade or bolt. He doubted that Salamandra's followers would be any different.
Footfalls from behind made him pivot his head barely enough to see a bald man in typical dark blue and red uniform. "What is it this time?" asked Zedorik not waiting for whoever was behind him to address himself.
"Azar Javed wants to see you at once. He's in his chambers to the south," was the answer and the Salamandra turned on his heel to leave.
Leaving the training hall behind, Zedorik stopped at the kitchen, if one could call it that, and snatched a chunk of cheese from the table. He hadn't eaten yet and it wasn't clear when he would get some time to recover some of his lost weight.
As he passed a couple of doors he heard the crying and pleas of women, once even the sharp slap of a hand and insults. Again he inwardly shook his head. He was surrounded by primitive apes who tried posing as human beings. Hopefully none of this would rub off on him or he would jump from the next tower or perhaps hang himself.
Nearly done with his meal, he pushed aside a flimsy curtain, drawing the surprised attention of two Salamandra guards, one with a pony tail and an ugly scar across the left side of his face, the other bald like eighty percent of the rabble here. They probably had a lice problem. Before he could open his mouth, both of them had their jagged blades at his throat and glared at him with dark eyes. Arching one eyebrow he noted that some of them apparently were capable of handling a sword. Perhaps not everything was hopeless.
Raising his hands, Zedorik calmly spoke, "I am expected, would you kindly announce my presence?"
Sheathing their weapons, they stepped inside but didn't let him pass at once. "You Professor?"
Zedorik nodded, faking enthusiasm and spicing it with a sneer. "You clever. Me Professor. Me see Azar Javed. He not patient. You understand?"
The scarred man glared in return and stepped aside. "He said you would come, but be warned. He's not in a good mood."
Whispering under his breath, Zedorik passed them with an expressionless face. "Whatever…"
As he entered a larger, roundish room his eyes flitted from left to right, forth and back, but no sign of Azar whatsoever. Chests, maps, crates, a large canopy bed, paintings, and carpets gave away that this man was someone who tried to impress with his wealth and power. Zedorik wasn't impressed, though a little envious. A lot of what he saw here would bring a good amount of gold.
His gaze got caught at the center of the room. On a darkish blue carpet lay the body of a female, her red hair splayed to all sides from her head like a puddle of blood. She was naked and lying face down. Slowly he walked over to her, bent down and checked for her pulse. She was dead and as he turned her face he became aware of the terrible burn that ran down from her left cheek to her shoulder, probably to her torso as well if he had completely turned her around. But the gaping black hole in her throat kept him from doing so. He had no intention of staining his clothes with the woman's blood.
"That bitch has bitten me," explained a deep voice from somewhere behind Zedorik.
Getting back to his feet, he turned around and spoke with a gloating undertone, "Now I understand why you fancy the northern kingdoms as your home. I heard the Zerrikanian women are rather dominant when it comes to certain activities."
Azar's eyes narrowed and he walked closer, while holding a cloth against his cheek. "Fretting over a whore, Professor? If you care so much about those bitches, you are welcome to them."
Zedorik's hand came up to scratch an itch behind his ear. "Your offer is most gracious, but I am rather disinclined to getting myself involved with your prostitutes. I prefer my women willing and being capable of interacting on an intellectually higher level than your little toys."
"Suit yourself. If you aren't man enough to take what you desire, others around here gladly take over your place in this matter," Azar responded with a growl.
Sitting down at a small table with maps and lists, Zedorik allowed him one more pun before dropping the matter. "I see no reason to prove my virility by ravishing an unwilling female. Never did and never will."
It wasn't even a lie. Some women found his sophisticated demeanor and dangerous aura highly magnetic. And somehow it filled him with smug pleasure to know that this barbarian had trouble to even find a wench among the whores willing enough to warm his bed or quell his lust. But that wasn't something Zedorik wanted to concern himself with, besides that it told him more about his new partner's characteristic traits.
"Watch it Professor. The Grandmaster's protection only goes so far. Be careful not to cross the line. I might wait at the other side and snap your scrawny neck before you can open that trap of yours again," threatened Azar, taking a seat at the opposite of the table.
So much was clear. He and Azar wouldn't get along very well, they were too different, and too used to be the one in charge. This would turn out very interesting and Zedorik looked forward to dealing out more barbs and subliminal insults. They could put a leash around his neck and keep him close for their petty task and dirty work. But they couldn't chain his tongue and wit.
Folding his arms, Azar's eyes rested on a pile of dog papers."These are the lists of the subjects we want you to contact and gain for our cause."
Zedorik leaned back in his chair. "Ahh, you want me to lead the negotiations," he answered dryly. "Very interesting. I wasn't aware that my tasks involve diplomatic missions now. What comes next? Preaching the canon of the Flaming Rose? Placing myself on some pedestal and heralding the end of the world like an old fishwife?"
A low and deep laughter came from Azar's throat. "We need financial and political support. Fisstech brings in a good amount of gold, but it isn't enough. The Flaming Rose eats a great deal of the income in their effort to gain the rabble's sympathy. We require support from the highest ranks, and one could say, you and your bloated babbling in combination with some Salamandra muscles could perhaps persuade some of those high born subjects to give us the required support. The king is right now not in town and left everything in the care of his bastard. This might be our chance to gain access to the court."
"Ha! Very clever to leave that abomination in charge where she had turned Wyzima into a royal midnight buffet for years," commented Zedorik. He knew the story about the princess.
Azar scratched his beard. "She is a pampered bitch and known for her sexual exploits. No one will take her serious, yet she holds enough power to be useful to us. There might be way to gain her trust and persuade her."
Both of Zedorik's hands slapped on the table, and as he spoke his voice vibrated with ire. "Whatever the Grandmaster has done to ensure my loyalty - you can't make me bed her."
The room droned from Azar's guffaw. "No worries Professor. I already got someone more attractive in place who takes upon that part. I require your verbal skill, though you might regret your words when you see her the first time. Former striga or not, she is quite a delicious morsel."
With a huff, Zedorik withdrew his hands from the table. "Do you require anything else of me besides wasting my precious time with errands?"
"Indeed, I do. Have you taken a look at my men?" Azar asked.
Nodding, Zedorik relaxed a little. "Yes I have and it was an upsetting experience."
"May I inquire, why?" Toying with one of his fetishes, Azar arched one eyebrow.
"The majority strikes me as untrained peasants. They may be capable to kill rabid dogs or vermin. But I doubt they are of practical use against a trained humanoid foe. They would stand no chance against fully trained Witchers, especially not a fortress full of them. Not to mention the lack of sense. I do not expect them to be intelligent, but they should be capable to do exactly as I say. If you want a hard core of elite troupes you will have to offer me something more than those imbeciles. If you want an army with capable fighters, it will immensely drain your resources - I hope you are aware of this tiny yet very important detail."
"Name me what you require and you will have it. All I need to know is if you are capable to train them properly?" said Azar, sounding slightly bored now.
With a shrug, Zedorik gestured into the air. "It all depends on the amount of time and gold you're willing to provide. But I already figured that time is a resource we don't have in abundance. So, if my expertise and counsel is worth anything around here, I suggest you give me free reign and don't interfere."
"I do not care about your methods Professor, as long as you do as I say. We keep getting more recruits with each passing month and my officers have a hard time to separate the wheat from the chaff and I want you to accomplish what they have failed to do ," said Azar, taking a small silver case from the table.
Zedorik watched him with some disgust taking a finger full of the white substance and inhaling it through the nose.
'And I was wondering how a mage could be so foolish… now I have the answer and I am convinced it will be my end one day,' Zedorik thought bitterly.
"Anything else?" Zedorik asked, feeling the urge to leave. He had no desire to observe the sorcerer in his drugged state.
A lazy gesture of Azar's wrist signaled that he was free to go. "Nothing else, you can begin with your training of my men - and don't give me that look. I have my addiction under control."
Mulling over everything fate had dumped on him, Zedorik returned to the training hall. Quietly he observed the hacking and slashing Salamandra, making a mental list of the subjects he wanted to keep and those he would send out on a deadly mission. Natural selection and survival of the fittest should soon solve his dilemma. If they didn't die in battle, they would perish during his training.
He had barely begun to sort the men into groups, as a screaming woman was dragged through the training hall, spitting, kicking, and cursing. Zedorik's features darkened visibly as he watched a couple of men dropping their weapons to follow the woman. This wasn't a damn brothel here, and working under such conditions disrupted his concentration.
Quickly he stepped into their path. "Where do you think you're going? Pick up your weapons and return to your spots. "
The men laughed at him, some even gifted him with rude gestures. "Get out of the way four-eyes or you get socked. Azar might have put you in charge of our training, but you're not our nanny." The laughter became rougher.
"Disobeying a direct order? Now I have to ask. Are you aware of the consequences your actions might bring, and are also ready to accept them?" asked Zedorik calmly.
A two heads taller Salamandra in dirty breeches and bare chest approached him. "What do you want to do? Kick our balls or weasel to Azar and squeal about us not behaving?"
Zedorik ignored the towering mass of testosterone. "You're fortunate this is your first day under my command and that a majority of you apparently appear to be deranged products of incest, so I am willing to show some lenity. This is the last time I ask politely. Would you kindly stop thinking with your testicles, leave that wench where she is - and resume the training?"
"Oh. He wants to play hero. Perhaps he hopes for a discount when he rescues her?" cackled someone from the other end of the training hall. "Shut up and stuff it up your ass wise-guy."
Plenty of voices piped into the exaggerated guffaw. Herd instinct was a dangerous thing if a troupe leader couldn't control it. Exactly as he had suspected. Barbed retorts would fall on deaf ears here, and so Zedorik decided that it was about time to show those simpletons who they actually were dealing with. It would be painful but effective.
Faking defeat, he watched grinning and joking pack of Salamandra leaving the trainings hall, and fidgeted meanwhile with his left wrist.
Slowly, with measured steps he followed the same way they had taken before and stopped right in front of a room. A cacophony of cries, grunts, and laughter penetrated his mind and Zedorik couldn't help it but snarl. So much primitivism in one place was awfully anguishing. He could as well have watched a horde of monkeys during mating season, and probably found higher developed manners among them than he could witness here right now.
Someone became aware of him and laughed, "Ohh look at his face! Seems he can't stomach how things work around here."
Zedorik turned and pointed with his left hand at the man who had mocked him, but instead of a reply he sent something else on its way. Without warning, the end of a bolt protruded from between the man's eyes and the body quietly collapsed into a heap.
With a wide toothy grin, Zedorik took another bolt and began to stroke the polished stock of his crossbow. "Looks like he wasn't capable of 'stomaching' my way to deal with matters. Anyone else got witty remarks, or assumptions about my person? I am all ears. If not, I suggest you stop violating that wench and move your crab-louse infested cadavers back to the training hall."
"Azar will hear…" Another body fell to the ground with a muffled thud.
Reloading his weapon, Zedorik shrugged. "I doubt he would be interested. Next?" Silence fell over the hall like a heavy blanket, suffocating even the slightest noise. "Amazing. You apparently are capable to learn. Before anyone else feels the need to waste more of my bolts - Azar himself gave me free reign. In short. You will do as I say, and if you don't comply you will have to deal with the consequences I deem as proper punishment."
Faint steps from behind reminded him to be on his toes. It didn't matter if the person had hostile intentions or not, Zedorik knew he perform an example in front those fools. His right hand swiftly wrapped around the hilt of his sword and as he drew it out of its sheath, he let the blade whistle through the air in one fluid motion.
A headless corpse stood for a few seconds in front of him before it sagged to the ground. Pleased about the perfectly executed decollation, his gaze returned to the baffled Salamandra. They didn't move one finger as a ruffled, tear stained woman dashed past them.
"The next transgression will result in a more painful death," drawled Zedorik darkly. "You there." Pointing at the corpse he commanded the first Salamandra in front of him, "Remove that mess before someone slips on it."
Back in the training hall, no one dared to look him in the face as they picked up their weapons and waited for him to give orders. This was exactly the way how he wanted it to be. If he had to waste his time here, he would make certain that it was at least worthwhile. They would learn to fear him and the next person who tried to challenge his authority would end as target practice.
Maybe i will write a bit more, depends on how much time I have at hand.
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Since this picture is not explicitly fanart... it's MINE!