Chapter 382: Anonymous Tips
It was a sleepy winter afternoon in Gildorf, the land of the wealthy in Novigrad. Gildorf was decked out with every kind of amenity and resplendent house, making it one of the best districts in the city after the business district.
Gorgon Inn stood beside the rowdy marketplace, and there were three groups of people standing silently in a triangle formation. On one side stood a group of dwarves equipped with warhammers and axes. Standing in the lead was a proud dwarf with a Mohican hairstyle and a butcher knife hanging around his belt—Cleaver. Standing beside him was a bald man in a hooded cape.
The two of them seemed to be allies, and the bald man was fiddling with the gold ring hanging on his index finger as he stared at the opposition in silence.
Before him sat three burly, powerful witchers and a man in a long, purple robe. "Francis, Bedlam, thank you for joining us in these uncertain times."
"What do you want, Orloff Byrd?" Cleaver spat. "Spit it out. I don't have time to waste on people I don't like."
Auckes and Serrit were surprised. Cleaver's attitude underwent a drastic change compared to the last time they met. At the very least, he was still polite back in the underground ring, though only on the surface. This time, however, they could almost feel his enmity overflow.
Bedlam looked around him. The unkempt beggars hiding under the bridge, the alleyway entrance, and some quiet corner looked back at him. Even the gentle king of the Putrid Grove was starting to lash out at the witchers, unlike his usual self. "I know Cleaver's temper leaves a lot to be desired, but at least he's no hypocrite. The Collector, witchers, I have a question. Are you as genuine as Cleaver here can be? Or is the ballroom nothing but a mask for your true intentions?"
"I don't think I've crossed either of you, have I?" The Collector was confused. "And the witchers didn't break the treaty either. Why do you take such a hostile stance against us? There must be some misunderstanding we can settle."
"You know what you did." Cleaver pinched his beard and scoffed at the witchers. "I am no saint, but I don't kill innocents however I like. I have a creed I would never break. There are some things you should never do. If any of my men tried to dabble in forbidden dealings, I would have chopped them up and fed them to the dogs."
Bedlam shook his head, a sigh escaping his lips. "I am no saint either, but I am no animal. There are things I mustn't do, or I will wind up in hell when I die."
"Wait, what are you talking about?" Letho rubbed the top of his head again. "We've done nothing but run the orphanage and take in homeless children. Is that what this is? Is this about the orphanage?"
"So you confess!" Cleaver snorted.
"And? What do you propose?" Serrit mocked, "Leave them to their fates? Do nothing or we're condemned to hell? Please, we're doing charity here. There is no need to twist our actions to fit your narrative."
The dwarf sat up straighter and scraped his knife. With a voice as hoarse as rocks grinding against one another, he said, "The children have lost their homes and parents. Fate has already tormented them enough. Why did you subject them to even more pain, witchers?"
Bedlam stopped fiddling with his ring. "We know witchers abduct children of innocent citizens through the machinations of the Law of Surprise. Unlike the lies told by the ballroom's actors, we know witchers take those children to a remote place and subject them to inhumane mutations. Your goal is to turn them into abominations who have viper eyes and monstrous bodies. And the test subjects have to go through hell only to end up as mutants. And I know only three out of ten children survive the mutation. Witchers, I know you didn't establish the orphanage out of the kindness of your hearts. You're trying to create more mutants like you."
The Vipers exchanged a look. They knew the gang lords were privy to what they were doing, yet they didn't think what they did was wrong. But who told them about the Trial's success rate? Not everyone is privy to that.
"And yet that is still not enough for you." Cleaver shot Gawain a nasty look. "You roped the Collector—a mad scientist who's also a fan of human experimentation—into your experiments. You turned him into your sponsor and protector while he tortures the children even more. Don't even deny your crimes, Orloff. You didn't clean them up as much as you thought. The innocents who died by your hands can fill up a whole bathhouse. And we've also heard of your bloody exhibit. It's why you changed how you view the witchers so quickly. You love human experimentation, while the witchers are experts in the subject of mutation."
The witchers and Gawain finally realized where the misunderstanding stemmed from. Bedlam and Cleaver had a point. As they didn't know better, they would think a pervert like Orloff would work together with the witchers—falsely infamous for child kidnapping—to experiment on orphans.
"Pardon me, but allow me to ask you a question. Who told you about this?" Serrit asked. "Is it a senator called Sebastian?"
The witchers noticed the gang lords' confusion. It was apparent the name was unfamiliar to them.
"We don't know any senators here. An anonymous letter came our way and told us of your evil plans." Cleaver shook his head. "And anyone who's not blind knows what you're doing, or at least they have a good guess about it. And you called this meeting just in time. Bedlam and I are going to retract the peace treaty!" the dwarf shouted. His brethren exhaled heavily, ready to fight if a battle broke out. "And from now on, you're forbidden from taking any poor orphans off the streets of Novigrad. Humans, part-elves, half-elves, or even dwarves. Break that rule and I'll show you what my little friend can do." Cleaver took a step forward, and his brethren followed.
"I see you would like to be reunited with the late Alonso, Cleaver." Letho smiled.
Cleaver froze up like he was strangled. Then he took a step back, the color on his face slowly fading away.
"Now can you hand over the letters so I can refute every point it makes?"
"It's not with me!" Cleaver's hair was swaying sadly.
"Let's get back on topic. How far along have you gone in your experiment?" Bedlam asked. "How many children are left? How many are alive?"
"They're all alive." Serrit raised his head up, a smile hanging on his lips. He wasn't even mad at the question. All he did was brush it off.
"Don't bullshit me." Bedlam arched his eyebrows.
"Oh, it's not bullshit. The little tykes are alive and well," Auckes retorted. "And they're doing a lot better than the kids working under you, the orphans the church took in, or the kids sold to Skellige."
Bedlam froze as well.
"I don't think you'll believe us with no proof." Letho suggested, "Rather than coming up with preposterous, uncorroborated crimes for us, why don't you pay a visit to the orphanage yourself? Ask the children if the perverted witchers and Orloff have tortured them in the least. Or if we've experimented on them."
"Fat chance." Cleaver shook his head. "You just want to lure us into a trap so you can take us all out."
"You may bring a few more associates if that will make you feel more secure," Orloff suggested. "We don't mind. Oh, don't tell me the gang lords of Novigrad are scared of a small group of witchers?"
"As if! If you pull any tricks, I'll drag you down if that's the last thing I do!"
At the same time, a young boy was standing outside the Eternal Fire's headquarters on the Temple Island. He looked around and, when the priestess in white wasn't looking, slipped a letter into the donations box. He then bowed at the Eternal Fire and made his departure as if he hadn't done anything.
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