Chapter 287: Destined Failure
It was midnight in no time. There was barely any light left in Oxenfurt. A deep silence fell upon the town, and the moon was shining down on the delta. Ripples spread across the waters as a dozen slender wooden boats rowed across the river, slowly closing in on the academy. Most of the boats were occupied. The men were armed with crossbows and curved blades. They looked cold and determined. Their trip went smoothly, and they landed on the coast outside the island.
Vlodimir got off first. He stepped into the river and looked around. About five minutes later, he swung his arm down, and a dozen of his men set up wooden ladders. They climbed over the walls and entered the academy.
Vlodimir pulled his brother up. He whispered, "Olgierd, you stay outside and keep an eye out on the boats with some of the men. Make sure we have a way out if anything goes wrong."
Olgierd tensed. "This is not what we agreed on, brother. You're staying behind."
"No. Listen to me!" Vlodimir held his shoulders and pulled Olgierd forward. He pressed his forehead against Olgierd's, staring straight into his eyes. "Don't forget how this works. You stay behind and come up with a winning strategy, while I lead the men into battle. That's how we got so far, and we're sticking to that plan. And I don't have a lover or anything. I don't have anything holding me back, so I can go all out. You don't. You have the duty of reviving our family, and you also have Iris to think about."
Vlodimir looked around. Most of their men had infiltrated the academy, and they were waiting for their orders. "Think about Iris. Only a hero like you is worthy of a gorgeous lady like her." He said enviously, "What would she do if anything were to happen to you? Do you want to see her cry her heart out every day and die from sorrow?"
Vlodimir pulled his brother down from the ladder and climbed up himself. He looked back for a moment. For some reason, Olgierd was reminded of that bizarre nightmare he had. He wavered, and he stayed back.
The academy was not as quiet as they thought it would be. A lot of the rooms were still lit, since the students were burning the midnight oil. Vlodimir was in the vanguard. He crouched and moved stealthily from one tree to another, moving through the path he was visualizing in his mind. He had combed through the academy's map dozens of times.
About thirty silhouettes were following him silently. Things went smoother than they thought. They came to a giant spruce a while later, and they saw the warehouse that was coated in camouflage paint. Vlodimir heaved a sigh of relief and laughed at himself for being too cautious. He asked his men to pry the door open with the tools they prepared.
"Boss." Punk huddled closer to him. "Your idea was great."
"You asked our man to eat more animal innards. Some of them got their night blindness cured. We only got this far thanks to your idea."
"Shut up." Vlodimir heard the chains getting broken, and he kicked Punk's behind. He had no time to chat. "Let's go. You're leading."
"Scared of the knocked-out animals, coward?"
Punk stared at the entrance. It looked like a void. The guy looked a little miffed. He cursed silently and carefully went inside.
"You, and you…" Vlodimir told two of his men to stand guard outside.
The zoo was a scary place at night. It was eerie, like the sewers. They heard chirps in the darkness, and weird trees and shrubs stood on both sides of the paths. They would rustle too, perhaps from the movements of some animals.
Punk was holding a torch up, but his arm was trembling. He kept advancing through the path carefully. Everyone moved quietly as well, looking around them cautiously. They were worried that some kind of monster would pop out from the darkness.
"It's alright. I'm safe," Punk whispered to himself. "The animals are in deep sleep because of the sedative. Even if they aren't, my brothers will beat them into submission. Melitele bless me…"
His prayer seemed to have worked, since they found their first target safely a moment later. A scaly reptile with sharp fangs, claws, and a forked tail was lying in the grass, unmoving.
"A dracolizard?" Punk gulped and tossed a stone at it, but the creature did not respond. He did the same thing three more times for safe measure, then he wiped the sweat away from his forehead. "I knew it!"
"Good job, cousin." Vlodimir patted his shoulder in encouragement. This monster in front of them was like a gold mine. He quickly told his men to move the creature onto the stretcher and take it to the entrance. "The sedative worked. We're splitting up into teams of ten. We can cover more ground that way, and make it quick. I told you all about the animals, so don't take anything worthless. Make it quick. The quickest guy is gonna get a bonus."
"Yay, you're the best, boss!" The men were delighted, and their fear was abated a little.
"But remember, if you run into anything that's not knocked out, shoot them with your tranq arrows, got it?"
After Vlodimir gave his orders, three teams split up and disappeared into the darkness. Vlodimir led his team into the northern part of the area. He could vaguely see a pond there, and it was reflecting the moonlight. Halfway through the path, one of his men stopped everyone. "I-I think I saw something moving in the grass, boss."
Everyone's heart skipped a beat. They took their tranquilizing arrows out and aimed at the darkness. Vlodimir frowned and held the hilt of his blade. "Are you sure that wasn't a false alarm?"
"I'm sure." The witness' teeth were chattering. "They were like a cat's eyes or something. Amber and greenish eyes. There!" He suddenly shouted, pointing at the grass ahead. Everyone turned their sights to it, and their torches shone on a patch of rustling napier grass. They wondered what was behind it.
They could even hear the sound of their gulps. One of the men got too nervous and pulled Gabriel's trigger suddenly, sending a bolt flying into the grass, and the rustling stopped.
A moment of silence later, they heard a meow arcing through the air. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief.
"That scared me. This is one exciting operation, boss."
"A little cat scared you? That's embarrassing." Punk shook his head and strode over to the patch of grass. He was going to teach that cat a lesson.
Vlodimir frowned. He had a feeling something was wrong. "Careful, Barrel. Don't go there! Come back! Come back, did you hear me?"
"Right away, boss." Punk stood in front of the grass and slowly turned around. What his comrades saw shocked them. A thin, vertical line appeared on the center of his face. It started from his forehead and extended down to his chin. It was like a bloody line broke his face in two. "Why are you looking at me like that?" Punk asked, curious.
"What's with my face?" He touched his forehead and felt something warm on his finger. When he took it down, he saw nothing but blood. "Blood? This is a joke, isn't it? I…" Punk started gurgling, and the line on his face broke. Blood spurted out of his wound, splattering his face. He fell backward, his eyes wide with disbelief. Even in death he couldn't believe he was killed.
"Punk!" Vlodimir shot at the grass patch with a vengeance, but something moved faster than him.
A silhouette leaped out of the grass, and they could see that it was humanoid. It was curled up, but its limbs were outstretched, looking like a puma that was hunting its prey. It leaped across the air and glided past the nearest Free Company member. A blade glinted in the air, blinding them. The blade appeared for only a moment, then it followed the silhouette into another patch of grass.
Blood spurted from the neck of that member, and something meowed. A man mocked, "Run, little mice."
"Damn you!" Vlodimir fired shots at the grass, and the other members huddled closer to him in fear, shooting as fast as they could. Someone then gasped and held a part of his body. He froze, apparently getting shot by a bolt that came out of nowhere. His vitals weren't shot, but the bolt numbed him, stopping him from moving.
"It's poisoned! Be careful!"
Another member fell, and they lost four men in mere moments, yet they didn't even see who the killer was.
"It's the mutants!" Three of the members kept Vlodimir in the center of their circles, and some charged toward the bushes. "It's a trap! Run, brothers! Boss, you need to leave!"
"And tarnish the name of the Everecs?" Vlodimir trembled with rage. His eyes turned crimson, but he was powerless to do anything.
"Honor is nothing without life. You gotta make a run for it, or it'll be too late! You need to tell the others, boss! Tell Olgierd!" Two of his men dragged him away and made a run for it, ignoring his protests. The other was left behind. He held his fear down and roared.
That was the last sound he made in his life, and it was cut short a moment later. Vlodimir managed to barely turn around. All he saw was a phantom silhouette circling around the guy they left behind. His sword danced with him seamlessly, slicing the guy up.
Battles erupted in the other regions too. Screams flew into the air, blades clashed, and some of the fighters were wounded by swords. The path they traveled when they came in seemed short enough, but now traveling that same path out felt like a lifetime. The men who dragged him out were gone. They were buying time for him to leave.
Fear finally kicked in. He ran toward the entrance like his life depended on it. He held a torch up and ran on all fours like an animal. I need to tell Olgierd about this. He's the only family I have. The brother I adore most. "He needs to marry Iris and continue the bloodline. I will not allow anything to happen to him."
He saw the entrance. Hope was inches away, and he almost cried tears of joy, but just when he thought he could escape, reality denied him. The door was locked. Vlodimir crashed into it, holding out for the hope he could still leave. He kept crashing into the door. Eventually, he was injured, but the door did not budge. It looked down at Vlodimir coldly.
When he finally lost his strength and plopped down to the ground, he realized that silence fell suddenly upon the warehouse. There was nothing but the sound of silent footsteps drawing closer. Eventually, a young witcher with two blades strapped to his back showed up.
"Vlodimir von Everec, correct?" Roy smiled genuinely. "Sorry. I wasn't gonna kill everyone. Murder within the walls of the academy isn't something I enjoy. But the Cat moved in for the kill before I could stop him, and he was stubborn about it."
Vlodimir huffed and puffed. He was looking at Roy closely, trying to see the demon who rained down destruction on them. "We underestimated you, witchers." He closed his eyes, sighing. "How much did Linus promise you?"
"What? You wanna bribe us?"
"Yes." He took a deep breath. "Just turn your back on the warehouse and let us leave. I can split the profit in half with you. Do you have any idea how much we're getting? It'll last you for years, even if you split your half with your companions."
Roy rubbed his chin, pretending to think about it seriously. "That's a tempting offer, but I refuse."
"No reason." He sneered and cast Axii on Vlodimir. "Sleep. You'll see your family again when you wake up. In the gaol."
Vlodimir's sight blurred, and he lost consciousness. Roy looked at Blake the griffin. It was on the stretcher.
Roy's eyes glinted. I only got eighty EXP from killing the small fry, but if I take Blake's life, I can get 300 EXP right away. I'll also get the Trial's mutagen and blame this on the invaders. Casualties happen in battles, after all. But the big guy has never harmed anyone, and it can't hurt me either. Should I do it? Should I kill a monster that can't even fight back?
On the other hand, Olgierd was staring at the looming walls. His gut was starting to scream at him. Something bad was happening. Olgierd was starting to sweat from anxiety, and everything before him was starting to get twisted. Eventually, he saw someone appearing in his sight. A bald, towering man appeared on the walls, staring coldly at them.
The men around him fired at the man, but he dodged most of the bolts. One of them was deflected by a yellow shield around him. "Witcher?" Olgierd knew who the man was now, and he was shocked. "So Vlodimir failed?"
The bald witcher didn't give him time to think. He leaped down from the wall and rolled on the ground, then he charged toward the boat like a human siege machine. The witcher flung his blade and smacked one of his men away easily. He then pushed his hand toward Olgierd. The air itself converged, and a powerful air current smashed into Olgierd. He lost his balance and fell into the water. He caused a little splash, but nothing more.
Letho ignored Olgierd. To him, the guy was just a regular Free Company member. He charged toward the other guys, as if they weren't terrorized enough already.
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