Chapter 344: Shadows of the Past, Long Obsession
Gales howled across the plains among the mountains, and snow covered the witchers' cloaks as they rode to the ancient fortress west of Kaer Morhen. Once there, they were greeted by a circular building reminiscent of a coliseum.
Grass and bushes populated the place since the last time anyone stepped in there, a barren plaza standing in the center of it all.
"Remember this place, Eskel? We were trained here before." Geralt had a trip down memory lane.
"Yeah. Went on for a few years before we took our Trials." Eskel went down that lane with Geralt, and he looked at his mentor. "Vesemir would keep chasing us here and make us practice our swordplay from dawn to dusk. Our arses and arms would end up swollen, and our backs sore. We helped each other with the salve, remember?"
Eskel paused for a moment, and a smile curled his lips. "Your arse is round and firm, Geralt. Even more so when you're in tight pants."
"Is that complaining I hear?" Vesemir pinched his mustache. "If I hadn't trained you that way, you'd have been drowner lunch by now. And you're the best students I've taught."
"Hey, wait. What about me? How come I never got to train here?" Lambert raised his head defiantly and screeched, "You only let me jump around the stakes in that narrow yard! You took my childhood away, Vesemir!"
"Ah, this place is as run-down as everywhere else. There's nothing to see here. And I wasn't as young as I was when you came. Couldn't muster the energy to go back and forth just to tutor you." Vesemir shook his head. "Besides, Geralt and Eskel trained you. That should have been enough."
"Look alive, people!" Letho shouted.
Some 'old friends' showed up in balls of green light, and out came wraiths.
"There are wraiths here?" A surprised Auckes said, "And you guys didn't notice them?"
"There used to be no wraiths here." Geralt unsheathed his silver sword. "They probably popped out of the void. Midwinter just passed, and mana is still plentiful in the air."
Eskel swung his sword at the wraiths in front of him. "I think they're invaders. Something is tethering them to this place. Must be something to do with our old friends."
The witchers pounced at their enemies, and a big battle broke out again after more than seven decades of silence and loneliness. The sound of metal broke through the air, and ghostly screams tore through the battlefield.
The battle lasted for ten whole seconds, and Roy was already picking up the loot. Alright. That's five more piles of specter dust. Now I have all the components for the summoning circle.
'Level 7 Witcher (4000/5000).'
The witchers started exploring the place.
A third skeleton was found hidden among the grass and snow. This one was Varin, the blacksmith and sword instructor who was also Vesemir's colleague. They found the last diagram underneath his body and uncovered a page of his chipped diary.
The entry talked about what happened on that fateful day. Varin was about to make a powerful silver sword with the guidance of this diagram, but the mob started attacking before he could even start up his furnace.
He joined the defense team and defended the keep with his comrades, but alas, he died. The sorcerers met their demise without seeing any reinforcements either.
Vesemir hunkered down and grabbed his comrade's remains with a piece of cloth. The sorcerers and Varin shouldn't rest in the wilds. Kaer Morhen was their home, and that should be their final resting place.
A somber feeling tinted the air, and Vesemir aged years in an instant. Seeing the remains of three comrades in one day was a harrowing experience.
Kaer Morhen was invaded, and only a handful of Wolves were left. Two hundred years went by, but Vesemir failed to bring Kaer Morhen's glory back. Instead, he witnessed its horrible decline. I let these people down. Guilt made his face tremble, and the Wolves were grasped by a slight sadness.
"Job's not done, people." Roy held his trembling pendant. "We still haven't found the thing that tethered those wraiths to this place. There's mana around here. I bet it's nearby."
The witchers went back to work and searched the place, but they couldn't find anything.
In the end, Vesemir posited a guess. Their pendants were trembling, but they couldn't see where the mana was coming from, and their witcher senses were showing nothing. He said this invisible mana came from the dead's obsession. For some reason, that obsession was rooted in this place and never left. They had to make that obsession corporeal through a ritual and find out how to deal with it.
Vesemir made a magical circle out of infused dust at the place they felt mana vibrate the strongest. A moment of waiting later, two black, translucent silhouettes appeared in the circle.
The silhouettes were vague. All they could see was a bald witcher with two swords strapped to his back and a scrawny little boy.
The silhouettes were blinking and playing out a scene like a recording. There was only one line, but it felt like the silhouettes were talking to them. "You're holding a sword, not a whisk! Swing it with your wrists, not your elbow! Again!"
And the image disappeared. The powder had blackened into a soot-like color and lost its magic.
"Impossible…" Vesemir's lips were trembling. He couldn't believe he just saw an old friend of his. "Varin?"
"You mean this sliver of obsession dates back to two hundred years ago?" Lambert was incredulous. How the hell did this thing stay around for two hundred years? What kinda obsession is it?
"Yes, that was either Varin or his apprentice."
And that wasn't the only image they found. Another one was hidden behind a battered shack, and Varin's image was still chiding his young apprentice. "You halted your training without my permission. Get back up and continue! Bleeding is not an excuse to stop! Pull that bandage down and keep training! You're not getting any chance to heal until I say you've passed your training!"
"Wow, he was a lot stricter than Vesemir. At least he would let us bandage our wounds." Lambert shook his head and muttered, "Weird. It's been decades, but I still can remember how Vesemir yelled at me."
Everyone fell into unanimous silence. Every witcher there had undergone harsh training from their mentors. It was a painful experience, but looking back, they were memories they cherished.
"This is reality, people," Geralt commented. "Happiness doesn't last. The only thing you remember is pain."
They found a third image on the walls.
"War horns?" The witcher’s silhouette shouted, "Something's wrong! Hide and wait for me! I know you've trained with real swords, but your skills and strength are awful! Now hide behind that boulder and don't make a sound!"
"Hey, I don't know if you've noticed this, but Varin's the only one who's talking. What about the kid?" Serrit said, "He's never said a word. What is he, mute?"
"No." Letho looked at the corner of the city walls and saw the skeletal remains of a child. "He's the source of this obsession. He never forgot about his mentor's teachings."
Not even after two hundred years.
The witchers fell into a stupor again. Just like the apprentice, they were trained in these walls and lived in the keep for decades. The ones who left the deepest impression weren't their lovers, friends, or even enemies, but the mentors who trained them harshly when they were kids.
The Law of Surprise bound witchers to their apprentices in a bond beyond time and death.
Geralt held the apprentice's remains up, and fury flashed in his eyes. Even two hundred years later, the witcher could still see the wounds on the bones. Judging from the condition of the remains, the apprentice was just a regular human who hadn't taken the Trial, but the invaders didn't spare him.
"The child's soul lingers still within these walls. His obsession is tethering those wraiths to this place," Geralt said. "He still remembers his mentor's teachings long after his death."
"I think his biggest regret was never gaining Varin's recognition and becoming a true witcher," Eskel said. "We'll give him a proper burial once we return to Kaer Morhen and equip him with two weapons. It's tradition. He has to rest in peace for this obsession to depart."
Roy scanned the Wolves and smiled. The younger ones weren't recognizing the witcher trade anymore, especially Geralt and Eskel. They were reluctant to pass it down, but Roy purposefully guided them here to witness a soul that still calls himself a witcher long after his death. That should tug on some heartstrings. Or at least I hope so. And we've got the full set of diagrams. They should be convinced of my premonition powers now. Maybe I can convince them to join the brotherhood after we return to the keep. I'll tell them what the premonition tells me about it.
They left the Bastion holding four skeletal remains. As they made their way back to Kaer Morhen, flames of sorrow and fury welled up within the witchers' souls.
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