Chapter 429: A Deal With the Druid
Once the servant cleaned up a guest room for the witchers, Geralt went to play with Ciri, while Roy returned to the garden. There, an old man with a big beard, an antlered helmet on his head and a wooden scepter on his back awaited him.
"You've come." He pointed at the empty seat beside him and pinched his beard. "We're alone now, so let's cut to the chase." Mousesack took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "You possess something that radiates the power of nature. If I didn't know you were a witcher, I'd have thought you were an apprentice druid."
Roy smiled. Alright. Now's the time to reap the rewards of sealing Kunguran. God, that memory still gives me chills. Instead of answering the question, Roy asked, "Mousesack, how many druids are there in the world?"
"I do not know the exact number. The number of members in every circle changes. Some return to nature, some go missing. But we have more than two hundred members left so far." Mousesack looked into Roy's eyes. Once again, he tried to see through the witcher, but once again, he failed. "Why do you ask?" He half-joked, "Are you abandoning the path of a witcher and embracing nature? No witcher has done that before, but magic is alive within you. Perhaps you have the talent to be one. I can be your mentor if you'd like."
"Thank you, but I'm just asking out of curiosity." Roy shook his head. "I'm still trying to be a proper witcher. But I'll branch out once I finish my study in this line of work." Roy paused for a moment. "I disagree with part of the druid creed. I am willing to coexist with nature, but spending my whole life learning it isn't what I want. I would not devote myself to it, nor would I allow nature to restrict me. I have other goals to chase. It will be impossible for me to reach your level of understanding when it comes to nature."
"Alright, I get it. Stop with the flattery." Mousesack looked at him. "If you're not planning to be a druid, then you'd have no use for that item, I suppose?"
"You mean this?" Roy opened his hand, revealing a beautiful crimson gemstone. Within it, a sliver of black smoke was rampaging, but try as it might, it couldn't break free of the prison that trapped it.
"Is that a… soul?" Mousesack's hand froze, and his eyes went wide with shock. For once, he lost his composure. The trapped soul felt familiar. It felt like his old friend from Skellige—Egill. But it also felt unfamiliar. "Where did you find this?"
Roy smiled and closed his hand. "Patience, Mousesack. Another question. How many Druids' Circles are left in the north?"
A frown creased Mousesack's forehead. He tried to remember, and a sigh escaped his lips. "Humanity has been developing at a blistering speed for the last few centuries. More and more animal habitats have been taken up for the sake of their development. Nature is losing ground, and forests are disappearing by the acre. Druids don’t have a lot of space to live anymore. Only six remain. One in Skellige, one in Caed Dhu, one in Bleobhoris…"
A hint of disappointment filled Roy's heart. "Is there a Druids' Circle in Velen, then?"
"Not a single druid has stepped foot in Velen for decades." Mousesack stared at the overcast sky. Rain was still falling upon them, and reminiscence filled his eyes. "But some of the veteran druids told me that a circle existed in Velen centuries ago. The members protected the woods and swamps of Velen, keeping the balance under control.
"But then a major shift happened. Nature was furious, and it poisoned the land with humanity's negative emotions. No druid could hope to live or train under that circumstance, and the circle was no more. Velen became what you call No Man's Land."
Hm, that's what Kunguran said. "Pardon me, but are all druids human? Human as in humans, dwarves, elves, and halflings." He and his companion dug out the body of something resembling a lizard back when they were doing the ritual, and Roy had to get to the bottom of this.
"Hm?" Another frown furrowed Mousesack's brows, and surprise filled his eyes. "So you know? Roy, humans aren't the only creatures with sentience. Some are naturally attuned to nature, though you witchers would call those creatures monsters. Knockers, sylvans, and even leshens. If a powerful enough druid showed them the way, they too could become druids. But the conflict between monsters and humans has worsened. Most creatures have lost themselves to their desire to kill. No longer can they merge with nature."
Roy stared at the ground in silence.
Mousesack stayed silent as well, though his gaze never left the hand that was holding the gemstone.
"Thank you for your answer." Roy pursed his lips. "This gemstone is a gift from a certain entity. The soul within belongs to one Kunguran from Velen."
"Kunguran." Mousesack took another deep breath. He muttered, "That means child of the oak in druid language."
Okay, that confirms it. "I can lend you the gemstone, but you can't take it. Do we have a deal?"
Mousesack nodded. "In the name of nature, I swear I will not take this gemstone or meddle with the soul within it unless given prior permission by Roy."
As he wished, Roy gave him the gemstone. Mousesack held it up under the sky, where lightning bolts arced across the clouds. The light of the bolts shone upon the garden, illuminating the gemstone. As if assuaged, the soul within calmed down. No longer was it agitated.
Mousesack closed his eyes.
A surge of energy washed over Roy, and the witcher held his trembling medallion. Green magical light shot out of Mousesack's antlers and his scepter. Just a whiff of it was enough to wash away all exhaustion.
The flowers in the garden bloomed under the storm thanks to the invigorating powers of the druid, glistening brightly despite the rain.
The druid seemed to have changed into a sea of trees, communicating with the soul in his hand.
Roy watched this scene in silence.
A long, long time later, everything returned to normal, and the plants bent down before the rain once more.
Mousesack opened his eyes. A hint of surprise flashed within them, and he handed the gemstone back to Roy reluctantly.
"Thank you, Roy." Mousesack nodded. "I've verified your story. Kunguran didn't lie. She's an actual member of the circle, and she's a Velen garden lizard, a species that has been extinct for centuries. The crones deceived her and destroyed her body. Her soul escaped and latched herself onto the oak of the Whispering Hillock."
Mousesack was looking at Roy, but there was no admonishment in his eyes. "And then she met you. That was the best choice you could have made under those circumstances. I can understand why you did it."
"She can't. I lied to her. She must hate my guts." Roy held the gemstone, and the sliver of black smoke started rampaging once more.
"No. She's been trapped for a long time. And there's nothing but vengeance on her mind. But she noticed you heavily injured one of the crones before you left. You avenged her, and that assuaged her spirit. She won't take revenge on you even if she leaves the gemstone."
"Is that so?" Roy was reminded of the Brewess' limb.
"On nature's name, I swear that was no lie," Mousesack answered solemnly. He then said, "Roy, should Kunguran return to the isles with me, the balance of its ecosystem would be kept under a firmer grip."
"How are you gonna deal with her?" With anticipation in his voice, Roy asked, "Can you revive her?" Not even Vivienne could revive her believers. All she could do was turn them into water spirits. Wonder if the druids have a way around it.
Mousesack said, "This involves the circle's secrets, so I'm just going to make a rough description of it. She will live her life in another form. When nature washes off her fury and rage, a new druid shall be born on the isles. Or an oak. It shall keep the balance of nature. The winds shall be our guide."
Roy's eyes shone. "You know I won't hand this over easily."
"Then state your terms. What would you want from me?" Mousesack knew this would happen. "A reward is due. Equivalent exchange is also one of nature's laws."
Roy took a deep breath and stood up. He straightened out his drenched collar and stared up at the sky, a smile curling his lips.
It had been a long time since he left Velen, and now his plan was coming to fruition. "Druids understand the power of nature deeply, and they possess incredible powers. Powers like weather control, plant growth boosting, crop boosting, animal communication, and even shapeshifting. Is that right?"
Mousesack straightened the antlers on his helmet with his right hand. "Yes. Are you proposing to learn the way of nature?"
"I told you I'm trying to be a proper witcher. I have no time to deal with any other fields." A momentary pause fell between them. "But I need a druid to help me out with plants. I need to grow a lot of rare, valuable herbs."
Mousesack's eyelid twitched.
Roy raised his voice. "I shall hand you Kunguran's soul, but in return, I'd like a druid to work with my organization for twenty years. I need them to build us a garden that contains all kinds of plants. And I'd like them to help us out with potion research."
Mousesack's face froze. "That's a bold request. You would want a child of nature, one who values freedom, to give up twenty years of their life just to slave away at your organization? Sorry, but I can't do this." He swung his fists and argued, "Every creature is a tree. Life goes on, and seasons pass, but freedom always remains invaluable."
"You misunderstand me." Roy gave Mousesack a calm smile. "I do not need the druid to work all day or be on standby. We can make a schedule. Like work hours are from nine to nine, and they can spend the remaining hours how they want. Enjoy nature, go around the city, play a round of Gwent, drink, have fun with the pets, or they can even raise some livestock."
"That is unnecessarily cruel! Not even vampires can come up with a schedule that evil, and they're bloodsuckers! One year. At most. Eight hours a day, and one day to rest and connect with nature." Right after Mousesack argued back, he shook his head. "No, by nature, I haven't even said yes!"
"Face it, Mousesack." Roy winked at the druid. The young witcher heaved a sigh of relief. "You've wavered. Now all we have to do is hash out the details. Let's talk benefits."
The druid shot Roy an angry look, but in the end, he relented and shook his head. "You've given me a hard question to answer, Roy, but we need Kunguran." He said, "I saved Geralt when he was a kid, though. Give me a better deal. He's your friend, isn't he?"
And then the witcher and the druid started a heated debate. Voices were raised, points were made, and collars were grabbed.
Half an hour later, the two of them signed a magical contract. Roy made a command, and the prison dissolved. Kunguran's soul circled the air like a happy bird before it fluttered into Mousesack's hand and turned into an acorn.
"It is done. We shall send a member who's an expert in botany to Novigrad's ballroom in a month. They shall join your brotherhood." Mousesack emphasized, "They shall work for your organization eight hours a day, six days a week. Their service will go on for five years, while you shall provide food and accommodation. You may not force them to do anything that goes against the druid's creed, including but not limited to: battle, bringing harm to plants and animals, and ruining the ecosystem. If you force them to do anything of the sort, then this contract will be voided."
Mousesack stuffed the acorn into the top of his scepter and handed the witcher a crystal. "You may contact me through this crystal should the druid break any rules. I shall teach them a lesson."
"Happy doing business with you." Roy tucked the empty gemstone into his inventory space and shook Mousesack's hand.
A sigh of relief escaped Mousesack’s lips, and a smile curled his lips. "It is done. I shall bid Eist and Calanthe goodbye, and then off to Skellige I go. Kunguran can't wait to take her first steps of freedom."
"I have a question, Mousesack." Roy was reminded of Geralt's wish. I need to help him. "Do you know a female druid who goes by the name of Visenna? She's also a wandering herbalist."
"Hmm…" Mousesack stared down at the ground and paced around the garden. Eventually, he smacked the antler on his helmet. "I saw her the last time we gathered. She's a beautiful woman. But she's pale and gaunt. Not as healthy as everyone else."
Roy listened closely.
"She is a kind soul who wanders the world, providing free treatment to nature and the poor." Mousesack stopped for a moment. "But I can sense sadness in her heart. The kind of sadness that can never be wiped away. The kind someone hides deep within them. When we connected our dreams during that gathering, the dream she presented was different from everyone else’s."
"Our dreams are filled with the songs of stones, the dance of gales, and the laughter of water. There's life and happiness within them. But hers… Her dream was empty and dark. Filled with sorrow," he said hoarsely. "Visenna has a painful past. Poor woman."
"Can you contact her?" a nervous Roy asked.
"Sorry, but she's not a citizen of the isle, nor is she a member of Caed Dhu. Druids travel the world, and it has been more than ten years since I heard from her."
"Is there no way to establish contact?"
"Why do you wish to find her, Roy?"
Roy massaged his temples. I should keep the truth a secret for now. "Visenna is the relative of a friend."
"Is that so?" Mousesack caressed his scepter and tried to come up with a way. "There is a way to establish contact. Aside from the isle and Caed Dhu, you can visit the other four circles. One is in Kovir, one in the south of Temeria, a place called Mayena, one is in the south of Sodden, a place called Loch Monduirn, and one is in Bleobheris. Find the hierophants of these circles, and you can contact Visenna through them."
"But I heard some druids despise humans." There was an unspoken plea in Roy's eyes. "Especially witchers."
Druids were protectors of nature, and monsters were an important part of the ecosystem. To some hierophants, monster hunters like witchers were destroyers of the balance.
"Very well." Mousesack pinched his beard. I see what he's trying to do. He said mysteriously, "I shall help this friend of yours in his quest to reunite with Visenna."
He handed Roy an acorn. "This is proof of Skellige Isles' circle. Show the hierophants this, and they shall help you once. And now, I bid you goodbye." Mousesack waved his hand and left the garden in a hurry.
Roy saw him off for a moment, then he turned his attention to the skies. The storm had stopped, and the black clouds were slowly disappearing. A golden ray of light pierced through the sky, shining on the land.
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