Chapter 380: Gawain’s Suggestion
Underground Laboratory, Temple Island.
On the laboratory theater was a lean, slender man in thin clothes curled up like a fetus. He was clutching his belly, shivering and chattering. The trembling undulated across his body, starting from his belly. It ebbed and flowed like waves, crashing against even the man's fingertips and every strand of hair on his body.
Beads of sweat trickled down the man's cheeks, drenching the operating theater. His face was contorted in agony, and his eyes were closed. He was clenching his teeth so hard, they could be crushed at any moment. His gums, like his skin, were red, as if they had been dipped in boiling water.
The veins under his skin wriggled and writhed like catfish stuck in the mud. Standing beside the operating theater was a gorgeous lady in a black silk dress. With one hand, she patted his back, and with the other, she touched his forehead.
Her beautiful eyes were clear, iridescent blue, but her lustrous crimson lips were pursed. There was worry and reluctance lurking in her eyes. The plan was for Roy to handle Fear all by himself, but Lytta's heart went out for him. The lad was in agony.
"I'll try to relieve some of the pain."
"No, you will not!" The lad regained a sliver of his sanity and tried his hardest to turn around. A hint of resolve flashed in his golden eyes, and he gave Lytta a look of reassurance. He extended his scorching, trembling hand and held Lytta's hand tightly. "Trust me. I can deal with this."
Roy did not like this hell one bit, but he had to go through it. The virus had to destroy his immune system if he wished to become the perfect vessel for the Manticore's Trial, and yet his powerful body was proving to be a burden in this hurdle. This was just the first of three viruses. Everyone's putting in all they have. I can't fail them.
Roy's cheeks were almost distorted from the suffering he was going through. Sweat poured forth from the skin like water spurting through a fountain. His muscles were wriggling and writhing like earthworms digging through the soil, while sweat and tears trickled down the corner of his eyes.
Yet the young witcher held on. He clenched his teeth and concentrated on his character sheet only to find his HP nearing zero. Activate! And with that, Roy regained fifty-one points of HP.
A cool sensation traveled from his head through his body, and it finally coursed into his veins. The pain was no longer unbearable, and he could turn around comfortably. Gurgles escaped his lips, and his eyes rolled back into his head. Then it seemed like a current of electricity ran from his head to his toe.
He grinned at the sorceress, as if the virus failed to affect him at all. "The brothers will take care of the kids. I'll handle the mutation."
A certain manor, Novigrad's land of the rich.
Gawain was in a purple silk robe that day. He was having tea in the drawing room as he awaited his weekly sword practice to begin. He was no swordsman, but Gawain took pleasure in the exercise. But more importantly, if he had the witchers around him, then no longer would he have to fear the church.
Someone knocked on the door, and in came a bald, burly man. "Good afternoon, Gawain."
"Hello, Letho. Shall we begin?" Gawain stood up, all ready to go. He spun around with some difficulty and raised his hand up as if he were holding a blade. Then he moved his palm and forearm forward in a weak attempt at the ox stance. "My men can't wait to learn some new moves. Like the Angel's March you told us before."
"Sorry, but I have to let them down today." Letho sat down behind the desk, while Gawain poured some tea and listened to what Letho had to say.
"We found a little pest roaming in the alder woods."
Five minutes later, the Collector was no longer smiling. He was leaning on his spinning chair. "Nimnar's bounty hunter is kidnapping the orphans on someone's orders?" He massaged his temples. "Sorry, but I've never seen that bounty hunter before, nor do I have any recollection regarding a pudgy man with reddish-brown hair. But this isn't a total disaster. The employer isn't a powerful noble, and he doesn't hold much power." Gawain said, "I didn't join those gatherings for nothing. The employer isn't the leader or deputy of any guild. I've memorized all the faces of everyone in upper society thanks to Orloff's memories and my own experiences."
"What about the church?" Letho asked.
"The church is a looming giant. It has branches and believers all over the world. Novigrad is where its headquarters is located. The hierarch is helming the church. He's been spending more time claiming political control than worrying about the welfare of his people. He has no time for a few witchers, not when he's expanding the church into other cities. And Chappelle, the man who has been on my tail for years, is under my watch. Yet he exhibits no bizarre behavior.
"The orphanage hasn't infringed on their rights either, and we've been taking great care to never step out of line. There is no reason for the church to come after us. Even if they want to, they need incriminating evidence before they can do anything. Even if they're coming after us, they'd have sent soldiers equipped with swords and dimeritium cuffs, not some random bounty hunter from out of town."
Letho nodded. Gawain came to the same conclusion they did.
"But there's another possibility: the town hall. Some no-name bastard is probably behind this," Gawain guessed. "They probably abhor the fact that witchers are involved in an orphanage. You should know that a large majority of the ruling class are racists. I'll keep an eye out for that man the next time they call for a meeting. There are about a hundred council members, and I can't remember all of them."
"Thank you, Gawain." Letho paused. "Another question. Is it possible that the other gang lords are involved in this?"
"It's been a month or so since Cleaver last contacted me. And Francis is acting really suspiciously lately." Gawain pushed his chair back and trudged to the windowsill. He put his hands on the sill and answered, "I've received troubling news. Over the last couple of weeks, the number of beggars on my turf increased by a quarter, but it makes no sense. Beggars usually dip in numbers when winter comes."
"I noticed that on my way here. They are on high alert and always looking out for something," Letho quipped. "I see Bedlam is trying to keep an eye on us as well. It's possible that one of those two sent the bounty hunter after the children."
Letho sighed. If possible, he would rather not break the peace treaty they worked so hard to get. "Gawain, assuming that either Bedlam or Cleaver is behind this attempted kidnapping, what do you suggest we do?"
"No impetuous move, that's what. I know your team is capable enough to get rid of a couple of regular men. In fact, I have no doubt you can destroy most of their men without breaking a single sweat and ruin their gangs. But there will be hell to pay."
Gawain knocked on the window, and resignation filled his eyes. "If you do that, you'll be breaking the law a second time. And this time, all hell will break loose. We'll be public enemy number one. The church, the town hall, the associations… All of them will come after us."
"We can't do anything reckless." Gawain sighed. "You're our trump cards. Something to intimidate our enemies, to keep them in check. We cannot ask you to fight all the battles. That's usually done with skirmishes and negotiations. I'll arrange a meeting with Bedlam and Cleaver. We'll talk and find out what their plans are. Then we'll settle our differences," he suggested. "If they did send that bounty hunter after the children, they will pay for scaring the kids. This act of brash bravado will not go unpunished."
"Is the captive still alive?"
Letho shrugged. "We're using him as bait."
"I see. If you can find out who the employer is, we'll have more chips on our side during the negotiation. I'll dispatch a team of fifty to guard the orphanage and the children. Do not worry about their food and lodging. I'll deal with that."
A sneer curled Gawain's lips. "If someone tries to invade our turf and hurt the children, lethal force is permissible."
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