A lone woman stands outside in the cold evening, her voice clear and sonorous as a melody flows from her lips. Above her, a full moon hangs almost forlornly in the night sky, obscured partly by clouds. The sound of lapping water can be heard. Next to her the lake is an inky black, reflecting the moon's rays in a gentle ripple. Far beyond the water, a town can be seen among the rocky outcrops.

A huge cedar tree reaches out its craggy braches over the lake. A few stray leaves hang on, desperate not to be swept away onto the cold winter landscape. A sudden breeze rustles the branches, and the woman looks up breathing in the scents eddying around her.

It is so cold the woman's breath can be seen as she exhales on the next note. Seemingly unconcerned by the frosty weather, she continues her slow progress towards something she spotted in the snow. As if by planning, she reaches the object as her song reaches its conclusion. The object is a doll, discarded haphazardly in the snow. The woman reaches down to scoop it up, brushing off a few stray snowflakes. She's aware of someone behind her, but seemingly unconcerned she continues to finger the doll.

A voice breaks through the silence of the winter night, gruff and low. "Nice tune. Been a while since I've heard it last."

The woman glances up upon hearing the voice, but doesn't turn around. Her expression is curious rather than fearful.

"Folk have forgotten it," she replies, dropping the doll, which is once again discarded in the snow, destined to never to find a home.

Most women, out at night, alone, when encountering a male in a land filled with unsavoury characters, would feel afraid. But she is not most women. Drawing in a breath, she lets it out slowly as she turns around, knowing who awaits her.

_/_I_/_

Winter has settled over the landscape, bringing with it a cold which makes its way inside your body and coils around your insides. Folk have retreated indoors, safe besides their fires, bellies full, and sound asleep. Few dare venture outside during the evenings. Fear has kept people inside, their doors locked tight. That fear had spread through the community. Too many of their number have been taken, killed. Enough to warrant calling in an expert. A Witcher. Some were against it. Most were not. Detested and feared a Witcher may be, but they serve their purpose.

So it was that Geralt of Rivia, the famed White Wolf, finds himself out on a cold evening, hunting the contract he had accepted. A woman's voice floats to him as he approaches the barn, ethereal and beautiful. He hesitates, turning his head to identify the sound. He inches closer and stops. No, he is not mistaken. There is indeed a woman singing.

Geralt makes his way around the barn, drawing his silver sword. He waits patiently near the barn's fence for the woman to complete her melody. He's under no illusion that she isn't aware of his presence. He isn't able to see her face, her back is to him. Her hair is a deep auburn colour, tied up in an intricate knot. A light blue cloak clings to her shoulders, nowhere near warm enough for a night like this. Not that it would bother her. She wouldn't be able to feel the biting chill.

He watches warily as she reaches down to grab something from the ground. He tenses as she picks it up. His sharp eyesight picks out a doll of some kind and he relaxes marginally.

"Nice tune. Been a while since I heard it last."

He speaks the truth. Knowing poets and having heard countless ballads, her version is sung well.

The woman cocks her head and answers, back still to him. "Folk have forgotten it."

She speaks the truth as well. It has been decades since he's heard it, surprised he remembers the words so well.

"Got other things on their mind."

This was said almost absently as he scans the area. Geralt did not believe he was hunting just one creature. His gaze travels back to the woman and he watches as she reaches up to loosen the back of her hair. It cascades in waves down her back, surprising long.

Finally, she turns around. "Things like me?" she asks, a small smile tugging at her lips.

The creature parading as a human is beautiful. She has small features, a light smattering of freckles across her cheeks, and pale flawless skin. Most people would be mistaken for believing she was human. If you looked into her eyes, you would know better. Something predatory lurked there, an ancient knowledge which humans just didn't possess.

Geralt sighs, almost like he regrets the business of having to kill her. "They paid me for you."

The woman seems unfazed by this announcement. She gives him a small indulgent smile, before shrugging off the cloak. An amused sound escapes her as she begins undoing the winter dress she wore underneath the cloak.

"In times past, no amount of coin could convince a Witcher to take this contract."

The woman's tone was at first merely condescending, but the more she spoke, the more a deeper inhuman tenor flows through her words. The last few words she speaks almost slither out of her mouth, certain syllables hissing for dramatic effect. It is the first time since their encounter that she had dropped her human fa├žade, giving Geralt a glimpse of the true creature underneath. A creature he was familiar with; a higher vampire.

"Times have changed," he responds, his own voice hardening in answer to the subtle threat.

Small white snowflakes float between them as they stare at each other across the clearing. Geralt can see that the woman's dress has been undone, from her neck to midway below her rib cage. Creamy, pale flesh appears almost translucent in the moonlight.

Neither makes a move, both affecting a deceivingly relaxed stance. It is all for show. One of them will have to make the first move. It won't be the Witcher.

She peels off the dress, almost seductively, before her entire being seems to disappear. The dress seemed to be suspended in the air for a moment. The sleeves held behind in an amusing parody, before the dress drops to the ground, uninhabited. A willowy streak shoots past him; banging the fence and crashing open the barn door.

Geralt turns quickly, barely able to follow the streak's progression. He walks towards the barn, opening the fence which creaks forebodingly. Reaching behind him Geralt grabs a potion from his pouch. The stopper is ripped off with his teeth and spat out on the ground. He is unable to prevent a slight curling to his lip. What came next was never pleasant. With a slight grimace he upends the contents.

Almost immediately the liquid begins to work. Geralt throws his head back, hissing as the potion snakes its way through his body. He knew what was happening, what someone would see if they were to witnesses this process. His veins would be standing out on his neck; the potion would be working its way through each capillary, changing his body chemistry. It was agonizing. Luckily it didn't last long, his mutations allowing for a quick assimilation.

Geralt felt his eyes change. Witchers, while already having excellent eyesight, found that even they had difficulty seeing in pitch black. So the Cat Potion was created specifically to aid vision. The concoction allowed his kind to pursue monsters into their lairs, supplementing vision enough to pick up additional wavelengths of light. To prevent blinding, a Witcher's pupils would narrow to accommodate bright light. Geralt felt this narrowing, and while unpleasant, his eyesight immediately sharpened.

A sharp pain causes Geralt to bend over slightly, hand coming around to settle on his stomach. Head forward, a small drop of blood drops out of his nose onto the ground. Geralt watches the drop's progression as it spatters on the floor sizzling slightly. This is a good sign, the potion is working. He'd added extra to the concoction. A safety measure he wasn't sure he'd need, but had prepared specifically for this contract.

Without warning his body ceases cramping. Shrugging off the residual aftereffects, Great grips the hilt of his sword and pushes open the barn door. It creaks slightly; the chains which had been hung on the front wobble precariously. The barn, which moments ago would have been completely shrouded in shadow, now takes on a lighter but slightly grimy appearance.

Despite this Geralt sees no sign of the vampire. It wasn't unexpected. Threatened, she had rendered herself transparent, a neat trick which would count heavily in her favour. However, the Witcher had a remedy for this as well.

Geralt hesitates in the entrance, his gaze roaming over the barn's interior. He moves slowly towards the left, sticking close to the small wooden fence. It provides cover for his back while he identifies the creature's whereabouts. The barn is surprisingly neat and smells strongly of hay. It's a pleasant but not overpowering smell.

Moonlight filters in through the cracks in the roof, casting eerie shadows. The wolf's head medallion begins to rattle around on his chest, signifying the presence of a monster. Geralt ignores it. He knows exactly where the creature is now. However, he's made sure his eyes never settle on one place, not wanting to give the vampire an idea that he's spotted her. Reaching behind he unclips a bomb, takes a few more steps and launches it up into the right hand corner of the barn roof.

A shower of silver particles explodes upon impact. Covering his eyes, Geralt allows the particles to filter down. A low growl begins, gaining in volume as the vampire jumps from the rafters. Lowering his arm, Geralt sees with satisfaction that the vampire is now visible. Silver particles now cling to its skin. While still not completely visible, enough of the bomb's effects have reached it for Geralt to actually see the creature enough to fight it.

The creature snarls at him. Geralt waits no longer. Bringing his sword up he swings it at the vampire, who catches the blade neatly on her forearm. Changing stances, Geralt brings the sword back and then slices through the air where the creature's body had just been. In an incredible acrobatic feat the vampire bends backwards so that the sword passes a mere breath from her face.

Again and again Geralt strikes, his sword clanging loudly against the vampire's rock hard skin. To the casual observer, the Witcher's movements might have been mistaken for a deadly dance. And much like a dance, his strength, fluidity and grace are beautiful to watch. But it's not a dance; it's a deadly parley with a deadly opponent. His movements are instinctual, honed over decades and enhanced by continual training. His body is built for these battles.

Geralt's focus is total, his footwork precise. The vampire's elongated claws flashed past his face suddenly. Quick as a snake, his arm shoots out, his fist connecting with the creature's throat. The creature stumbles back, a surprised gurgle escaping.

The vampire reacts far quicker than he anticipated, darting forward under his defences. Geralt jerks back in surprise as the creature appears in front of him suddenly. No longer translucent her form is now that of a true vampire. From a beautiful young woman she has transformed. Now her skin has tightened to look like leather stretched over human skin, her eyes are milky, and rows of sharp teeth contort her mouth. She snarls in his face, and he feels her putrid breath brush his hair. Before he can muster any kind of defence, the vampire slides her sharp claws into his side.

Pain explodes in his abdomen as her razor-sharp talons tear effortlessly through his armour to pierce his flesh. She curls them inside his body, tearing as much as she can. A gasp escapes as pain shoots through his body. His wants to hunch over, protect himself from further damage. But this would be a fatal mistake. Instead, Geralt grabs the creature by the throat, lifts her up and slams her onto the ground below.

Dust billows up from where her body impacts; a measure of the force Geralt uses. Before the creature can react, his silver sword pierces her heart. Adrenaline is now coursing through his veins, making him breathe far harder than normal.

A roaring sound starts up in his ears as he stumbles away from the dead vampire. His hand automatically clamps onto his injured side. He can feel the blood spilling from the wound. Geralt senses movement behind him and turns. Surprise bubbles its way to the surface as he sees a cart hurtling towards him. With barely enough time he makes the hand gesture which produces the Quen sign to create a protective shield.

A shimmery yellow field develops around him mere moments before the cart crashes expansively against it. While protected from damage, the force in which the cart is thrown still manages to be felt though the shield. It takes energy to maintain the signs, energy he can't spare, so as soon as the cart crashes to the ground, he drops the barrier.

The other vampire shrieks her displeasure at her companion's death and comes at him in a blur. She's still in her translucent form so is difficult to follow. Unable to get his sword up in time, Geralt attempts to punch at her face. His injured side protests his movements, but he ignores the pain. The vampire manages to knock the sword from his hand, and he watches helplessly as it bounces along the ground, clanging to a stop too far away.

Unable to move away quick enough, the vampire rakes her claws over his cheek. Turning away, instinctively protecting his face when he feels the searing pain across his cheek, Geralt cannot see the vampire's next move. In a rage, the vampire shoves him roughly against a nearby post. He grunts painfully as his ribcage takes the full force of this impact. Farm tools tied to the post are crushed and he hears a cracking sound, unable to discern whether it's the tools breaking or his ribs.

Before Geralt can recover, the vampire grabs his armour and roughly drags him from the post and slams him into the ground, much like he did her companion not moments ago. Holding in a groan, Geralt tries to ignore his protesting body. His armour is now sticking to his side, coated in an alarming amount of blood. His cheek burns from the deep scratches inflicted by the creature's claws. Geralt knows he needs to end this encounter quickly. He's losing too much blood. Dizziness is already swirling around the edges of his mind.

Geralt gets up slowly, stumbles slightly. He glances around, unable to see the creature. A slither of alarm works its way up his spine. The creature hasn't disappeared, she's out there somewhere. A small breeze at his back is the only warning he gets. The creature is suddenly upon him, one hand gripping the neck of his armour to pull it down, the other clamps painfully on his head. Geralt struggles slightly before his head is yanked to the side. The vampire's teeth sink painfully into his neck.

Geralt is unable to prevent a strangled moan from escaping his lips as he hears the sound of his own blood being sucked into the creature's mouth. He scrambles for purchase on anything he can find, trying desperately to tear at the creature's hair. Without warning the creature releases his neck, but not before she makes sure her teeth rip away flesh.

His body falls abruptly to the ground; the vampire has vanished from his back. Pain spikes as he lands unsupported on his injured side. He feels like every nerve ending is on fire. Clutching his neck, blood spills onto his gloved hand. The vampire is standing in front of him, her sinewy skin littered with silver particles.

A victorious look passes over her face as she stands over him. She screeches her apparent victory at him, the sound reverberating throughout the barn. Blood drips from her razor sharp teeth onto her lips. His blood. The vampire stalks forward, her face contorted into a grotesque smile while triumph burns in the creatures eyes.

Still holding his neck, Geralt shifts back warily, wondering if his safety measure will kick in. The vampire takes a few steps towards him before stopping, confusion flashing across her face. A slow smile spreads over his face as he watches the veins near the creature's mouth turn a treacherous black colour and spread quickly up her face.

Confusion turns into a kind of horrified knowledge as the creature jerks and convulses. Before the encounter he'd digested Black Blood, a potion which makes his blood toxic to vampires. The vampire was too busy contorting in obvious pain to pay much attention to him. Geralt manages to get to his feet, albeit rather stiffly. The creature glances up suddenly, bares her teeth and screeches her disapproval at him. Making the Aard sign, Geralt sends a strong telekinetic blast towards the vampire.

The creature is thrown back to crash into a support beam. Geralt takes this opportunity to shuffle over and grab the silver sword. Black spots have begun to dance around the edge of his vision. Geralt takes a deep breath and struggles forward, his body aflame.

Geralt shifts to the side as the vampire makes a clumsy attempt to slash her claws at him. The silver sword slices down mercilessly, cutting though muscle and sinew. The leathery arm of the vampire falls to the floor, making an odd plopping sound. Geralt capitalizes on the vampire's sudden shock at seeing her arm being cut off, to slash his sword against her chest. A red welt opens up before her body is sent spiralling sideways from the momentum of his sword.

Geralt stumbles backwards, pain spiking in his injured side. He sheathes his sword as the vampire attempts to crawl backwards. Her missing limb makes this task difficult. She scrambles to get a purchase on anything, the grain she fell into swirling around her.

The creature eventually finds a way to turn around and scuttle across the floor. She moves fast, faster than any human could even with all four appendages. The barn door is open, the distance closing. She's outside the barn before a crossbow bolt pierces her back.

It wasn't his best shot. He was aiming for her heart, but overcome but nausea, his vision blurs briefly, making causing the miscalculation. The creature screams and arches her back. She stumbles, tries to right herself but to no avail. Geralt's second shot is true. The bolt pierces just under the breast, shredding her heart.

Still inside the barn, Geralt drops the crossbow. His energy is fading fast, and he finds he just doesn't quite seem to have the strength to reach around and settle the weapon back into its holster on his back. His steps are heavy, almost dragging.

Outside, the deciduous trees appear stark against the lonely landscape. It's a landscape built for death. The creature struggling on the ground does not disappoint. Her death is near. A breeze sweeps through, rustling the branches so that they appear to almost reach for the creature in her last moments of life.

A woman now lies on the ground, arm missing and no longer able to hold her other form. Her remaining arm is stretched out in front of her, seemingly a last plea for life. Taking a hook from his belt, the Witcher intends to claim his prize. But a few steps more and he realises he'd overestimated his strength.

An unpleasant coppery taste works its way up his throat. He's actually blacking out in brief flashes now. His consciousness is playing hide and seek with his mind. His sight blurs briefly before he's forced to he's knees. He lands hard, jarring his limbs as he reaches out both hands to steady himself. In one corner of his mind, Geralt is concerned with the amount of blood he coughs up. But worrying takes energy, which is in short supply.

His body collapses next to the creature. The pain, which had plagued his senses, now dulls slightly as he loses his grip on consciousness. His eyes fight to stay open, but darkness soon descends, relentless in its pursuit for another soul.

_/_I_/_

The barn, which had seemed so foreboding the night before, now stands sentinel over the land. Dawn approaches. Tendrils of sunlight creep over the landscape. The night is reluctant to give way to a new day, clinging to shadows.

Two figures lie next to each other. One is quite obviously dead. It's a human looking husk with grotesque black holes where the eyes had once been. Grey flaky skin is all that is left of whatever had inhabited the body in life. The other figure you'd be forgiven for believing him dead. Pale, almost deathly white skin could be seen, along with deep scratches on his face and neck from a recent battle. But dead he is not.

Gasping awake suddenly, golden yellow eyes open, flickering around the clearing which is bathed in buttery sunshine. Stiffness pervades Geralt's limbs, the result of a night spent unconscious in a cold clearing. He's a little surprised to be alive. He glances to his left, at the creature he had killed the night before.

It's not the best sight to wake up to. Blank, hollow eyes stare almost accusingly at him. The Black Blood potion the vampire unknowingly ingested has burnt away the creature's mouth, leaving a gaping hole in which surprisingly human teeth can be seen. The lustrous red hair the creature had is now limp and strands catch on the creature's burnt skin.

Geralt got up slowly, his body a dull ache, but nothing he hadn't experienced before. Collecting the crossbow he discarded the night before in the barn, he walks back over to the dead vampire. He eyes the corpse. Never one for sentimentality, he nevertheless wonders what would have happened if he hadn't woken up. The life of a Witcher was lonely, and solitary by nature Geralt likes to think there are those who would miss him. Shrugging off those thoughts he reaches down and slices the head off. His trophy, his kill, his proof.

Roach, his bay mare waits patiently where he's hobbled her. She lifts her head, still chewing grass and gives a neigh in greeting. Geralt strokes the animal's flank before climbing into the saddle. The wound in his side pulls slightly, but it's healed enough. As have his other injuries. After all, what's another few scars to add to the collection?

Geralt clicks his tongue and the horse obeys his command, cantering away from the farm. A flock of birds take flight, like a maelstrom with wings. The sound of thousands of feather's flapping together can be heard as Geralt sets off. His reward is ready to be collected, the proof of his kill hanging grotesquely on the side of his saddle. Geralt urges his horse into a run; eager to reach Novigrad, standing stark and proud in the distance.

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