Chapter 442: Development
Fallen leaves draped the streets of Novigrad in yellow, and shimmering sunlight shone upon the buildings that stood tall in the city. It was not yet afternoon, but already there were a few tables occupied by customers in the ballroom. Upon the stage, a play named “An Unexpected Journey” was shown.
"So the south's invasion is all but certain now. Cintra is in danger." Gawain twirled his mustache. "We need to make haste. Take this opportunity to make some money."
"I agree." Serrit nodded. He grumbled to Roy, "Our finances are in dire straits. Most of our profits come from the apothecary shop and this ballroom. We have made more money lately, but that only amounts to twenty-six hundred crowns per month."
He shook his head and sighed. "Expenses are sky high. We have more than thirty people in the orphanage, and the meals we provide are far better than what most families can afford. The kids can really eat, and we are even bigger eaters than them. Food alone costs six hundred crowns per month, and miscellaneous costs run up to a hundred. Alchemy and blacksmithing require five hundred in total, but that's not our biggest expenditure. Kalkstein and Lytta require at least two thousand crowns per month for their research. If we run out of supplies, Kalkstein might stop working. And that's not including the new decoction Letho and Kiyan are developing.
"On top of that, the one-time portals Lytta makes don't come cheap. Two hundred per portal. The permanent portal that links to the lake lab costs two thousand. All paid for by us. She's already working for free thanks to your services. We can't ask her to fork over the costs for these items. That's all for now. So now you know how much we spend."
Roy was aghast. Not even the light could make him look happy. It had been a while since he managed finances. Before he knew it, the brotherhood was already spending a lot of the money they had.
A hint of worry flashed in Serrit's eyes. "The orphanage's expansion is done. We will be taking in all the orphans who are living in the church in two days. All thirty of them. By then, we will have fifty kids in the orphanage. More than double in number, but I'd bet my last crown the costs will not just double. We're going to spend even more money than ever."
"How much do we have saved?" Roy heaved a sigh and wiped the sweat from his hands.
"For now? Enough. We started out with twenty grand. Then you brought back ten grand from Vizima, and Geralt made twenty grand in Cintra. A part of it is already spent, so we have about forty-five grand. About the cost of a big business."
"Don't worry too much, witchers." Gawain caressed his hair and smiled. "I'll cover the costs for the new orphanage wing."
"I know you wouldn't let those children down, Gawain!" Serrit's face lit up. He shook hands with the doppler, and Roy gave Gawain a look of gratitude as well.
"Alright, now let's get back to this money making business." Chappelle rubbed his fingers together, his eyes glinting with the dark light of wariness. "May Eternal Fire shine on the path of the victims of war. Naturally, we can't hoard essential war resources like some other merchants."
Everyone nodded. Some lines shouldn’t be crossed.
"So we'll need to run a simple business." Serrit said, "We'll buy Cintra's local products in bulk. Cintran spirit and some Skellige spices that can only be bought in a Cintran market, for example. After Cintra's destruction, a lot of northerners will start to miss it. These local products will be the best way to relive their memories in Cintra. It's going to be a big hit. Even if Cintra does manage to rebuild itself from its ashes, things will change. And the stock we will have will be authentic Cintran products. High sentimental value."
"I have a suggestion," Roy interjected. He looked at the actors on the stage, who were clasping arms and dancing happily. Igsena was there as well. Roy had told her about Coen's decision to stay back in Beauclair.
Dandelion was arguing quietly with Priscilla at the edge of the stage. The bard was trying to explain himself, bowing at Priscilla sometimes. He looked just like a man who got caught cheating by his wife.
The witchers didn't sell him out. He probably let something slip by accident.
Priscilla's arms were crossed, and her head was raised high. She turned away from Dandelion, the look on her face dark. And she occasionally muttered something under her breath.
Roy noticed what she was saying. It was along the lines of 'You cheater,' 'You lying bastard,' 'Uncouth,' and 'I'm going to find myself a lover too'.
Goddammit, Dandelion. You had one job. I told you not to cheat on her, but you just had to learn your lesson the hard way. He sighed. "Cintra's coat-of-arms is three lions over a blue background. What’s the cost of the paint needed to recreate that coat-of-arms?"
"It’s cheap. Not much demand for them." Gawain's eyes shone, and a business plan hatched in his mind. His cheeks blushed as excitement filled his heart. "We can get the best prices if we buy them now. Once the war breaks out, the northerners are going to make a lot of Cintran flags as a sign of solidarity. The prices of those colors are going to skyrocket. Three to five times, in fact. And we're doing this for justice. It’s not against our creed."
"Alright, so we have ourselves a business plan." Serrit slammed his fist on the table and huddled closer to the dopplers, his eyes gleaming. "Now let's talk investment ratio. But to be honest, the brotherhood isn't as rich as the church or the gang. We can't provide that much money, so can we pay in labor instead?"
The dopplers exchanged a look.
"It's all thanks to you that we managed to eradicate Novigrad's human trafficking problem. And my men need their training. We accept your terms."
Flames of the brazier shone on the alchemy workstation in the underground lab. Racks containing bags of dried herbs, mutagens, and monster organs stood along the wall.
A hunched figure stood before the bookshelves, going through books like “Mutation”, “Secrets of Mutation”, and “Demons in the Blood”. All books from the underwater lab.
A beautiful silhouette stood before the workstation, fixing up the broken heart of the gargoyle. Flames from the burner sizzled, and green liquid in the beakers bubbled.
The figure before the bookshelves started breathing heavily. Eventually, Kalkstein slammed the book down and held what little hair he had. "Genius. Pure genius." He was astonished. "These records are perfect references since we can't conduct human experiments. These mutagens and their negative reactions just gave me a lot of ideas. Now I can partially change the Trial and remove the negative mutations from it. We just saved at least ten years of time."
Kalkstein was shivering, not unlike a patient who was having an episode of fits. Even his beady eyes and dark circles were trembling. "My brain feels like it's connected to a power source. Inspiration just won't stop coming. Manticore Trial, Viper Trial… By the elements, I have at least four ways to improve the Trials. Three months. I'm sure I can create a safe and reliable Trial in three months. Yes, it's not as potent as the original formula, but at least it's safe," Kalkstein promised.
Delight filled Lytta's eyes. Finally. After so long.
"Oh, and who might this Tomas Moreau be? Can you introduce me to him?"
"Sorry, but he's been dead for a century at least. All you can do is pay tribute." Lytta put the gargoyle's heart down and shook her head.
"Oh, how unfair fate can be!" Kalkstein shook his head in sorrow. It almost felt like he was mourning his family.
"What do you think of this second mutation idea? Can you improvise it to the point of possibly replacing the Trial?"
Kalkstein cocked his eyebrow and shot her chest a look of ire. "Did your chest get all the nutrients that's supposed to go to your brain, woman? How in the elements' name did you come up with that idea anyway? Think about it. You're asking me to create a new Trial, and the risks outweigh the reward!"
Lytta narrowed her eyes, enmity shining within them. She said icily, "Kalkstein, I might respect you, but that doesn't mean you get to insult me how you want. That's your last warning. One more disrespectful comment, and—"
"Alright, fine. Roy's totally under your spell, and I don't wanna lose his help, so that's it. I won't give up. I'm going to make something out of this." Kalkstein took a deep breath and gave her an apologetic smile, though there wasn't an ounce of true apology in that smile. "Sorry, Lytta. I'm a straightforward man, especially during research. I'm prone to opening friendly fire. Just ignore what I said."
Lytta looked a little calmed down after that.
"Now, back on track. The Trial's improvement and my research of the higher vampire has eaten up too much of my time. I don't have enough time to spend on a third project. Here's an idea. The second mutation only works on witchers who have passed their Trial. We'll take some mutated pale widow eggs every few months, and once we have enough witchers who have gone through their second mutation, we'll start research."
Kalkstein rubbed his hands in a crass way. "Now let's begin, Lytta. Stay the night and we can work on the first improvement idea."
Lytta pursed her lips and shook her head.
"Lytta, is something wrong with your head? If you wish to work with me, at least show some professionalism."
Lytta clenched her teeth, but then an idea hit her. Her fury melted, and she mocked, "Fine, but just this once. Staying up the whole night isn't good for ladies. I'm not an uncharismatic man like you, nor am I forever alone. I have a sense of fashion and class, unlike you. There's a reason you've been single for nearly two hundred years, you know."
That hit Kalkstein where it hurt. For once, his face fell. Delighted, Lytta patted her cheeks and put on a pair of white gloves.
Back at the House of Gawain, a sparring session was going on under a tree. The witchers held the hilts of their blades and unsheathed them at the same time. Both of them took one step forward and a step to the side. Sounds of metal swinging around filled the air as the witchers swung their blades.
Felix leapt ahead like a silver spear. His blade approached Letho's shoulder, almost touching his magical shield. But before Felix could break his shield, Letho flicked his wrist, and his blade formed a semicircle in the air.
Metal clashed, and sparks flew. A pair of silhouettes pounced at each other for a moment and broke off, only to launch another attack. In one single moment, the fighters had clashed more than a dozen times.
And then Letho swatted Felix's blade away with his. He held Felix's blade down with his crossguard and tried to push his blade toward Felix's throat.
That didn't escape Felix. He put his back into his wrist and spun his blade around Letho's, but Letho kept his blade close to Felix's. The swords kept spinning in the air, and sparks flew everywhere.
The witchers' eyes met, and they moved at the same time. They spun, moved horizontally, and changed directions. They moved as fast as phantoms, and all the apprentices could only see were two silhouettes changing positions on the battlefield as they performed a bizarre dance.
Eventually, the sparring slowed. Felix's wrist buckled. No longer could he defend against the power that was pushing him back. His blade flew out of his hand and embedded itself in the tree's trunk.
He rolled around, but Letho quickly shoved his hand onto the ground, and a dull thud tore through the air. The kids froze, their eyes going wide. Gryphon had been observing, and it hooted and flapped its wings.
A visible air current undulated around Letho and shot across the battlefield like the impact of a detonated bomb. Dust flew into the air, and everything in a five-yard radius was affected by the shockwave.
That included Felix. Even though he managed to dodge Letho's blade, the Aard shockwave got to him. He felt his back rumble, and then Quen shattered.
The witcher fell sideways, and then he felt metal touch the nape of his neck.
When the dust finally settled, Letho was seen holding his blade against Felix's neck.
The kids cheered.
"Letho won!" Monti chuckled.
"Was that Aard?" Acamuthorm asked.
"Looks different than Carl's Aard, though," Lloyd added.
"Whoa, Carl's mentor lost." Charname shot Carl a look.
Shaken, Carl stared at the ground. To him, Felix was an unbeatable man.
Felix pulled his blade out of the three and swung it around before sheathing it. He didn't look miffed from the defeat. Instead, he crossed his arms and looked at Letho.
"What did you do in Toussaint? Your speed and strength improved by a lot." Felix was a great swordsman, but even his skills paled in comparison to absolute strength and speed. "And your Sign is different now. Did you read the Book of Shadows and get it mutated?"
Vesemir was in the smithy as usual, and he let go of the Griffin gear diagram. Geralt put his chalk down, Auckes let his hoe go, and Kiyan put his alchemical tools down. All of them looked at the battlefield and listened closely to what Letho had to say.
"This is all thanks to the second mutation." Letho cracked his neck. "I thought it was just a simple strengthening process. Never thought it would change Aard as well. It's not only a single-direction shockwave. Now it travels in a circle around me. You saw how it went. It's great for surprise attacks or getting out of a pinch. Roy called it Aard Bonepiercer. And I think something else inside me changed, but I still have no idea what."
Felix nodded. He was a little envious. "We have no talent in the elements. Can't master any mutated Signs, so this is another way to gain that kind of power. Looks like I have to make a trip to Toussaint."
"Talk to Auckes. Second mutation components don't come easy. He's already got the next slot. Lambert and Aiden are waiting too. You gotta convince them first."
Felix scoffed and wore his sunglasses. "I'll fight them for a slot."
Letho and Felix chatted as they returned to the stakes and sat down with the children. The kids started asking them about the mutated Sign and things about their Trial.
Letho looked to the other side of the fence. Three new wooden houses stood there. Through the open door, he could see the bedroom within it. It was clean and filled with clothes, blankets, and mattresses.
For once, the girls in the classroom turned their attention away from their studies and stared at the new houses in anticipation.
"Are you ready, kids? Your new friends will be here in two days."
"Can we move in to the new house then?" Monti asked shyly.
"And why do you want to do that?" Felix asked coolly.
"Ah, we just wanna stay with the new guys," Carl said. He thought his friend was being too sheepish. He grabbed Felix's hand and swung his arm, but then he let it go when he realized Felix was looking at him like he was a young girl trying to persuade her father to do her a favor. "And um… we wanna make some new friends. Living in the same space makes it easier to make new friends."
"Yeah. Can we do it, please? We wanna move in with them." The kids put their hands in a praying position and gave the witchers puppy pouts.
"Yeah right. You just wanna show off your bottle of drowner teeth." Letho saw through the boys, and they puckered their lips. "But you can move in." And he grinned. "As long as you dance during the orientation. In skirts."
"No way we're doing that!"
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