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An Extract from The Last Wish

Enjoy this extract from Andrzej Sapkowski ’s The Last Wish , available now in the US from Orbit.

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THE LAST WISH

The mare flattened her ears against her skull and snorted, throwing up earth with her hooves; she didn’t want to go.  Geralt didn’t calm her with the Sign; he jumped from the saddle and threw the reins over the horse’s head.  He no longer had his old sword in its lizard-skin sheath on his back; its place was filled with a shining, beautiful weapon with a cruciform and slender, well-weighted hilt, ending in a spherical pommel made of white metal.
            This time the gate didn’t open for him.  It was already open, just as he had left it.
            He heard singing.  He didn’t understand the words; he couldn’t even identify the language.  He didn’t need to – the witcher felt and understood the very nature, the essence, of this quiet, piercing singing which flowed through the veins in a wave of nauseous, overpowering menace.
            The singing broke off abruptly, and then he saw her.
            She was clinging to the back of the dolphin in the dried-up fountain, embracing the moss-overgrown stone with her tiny hands, so pale they seemed transparent.  Beneath her storm of tangled black hair shone huge, wide-open eyes the color of anthracite.
            Geralt slowly drew closer, his step soft and springy, tracing a semi-circle from the wall and blue rosebush.  The creature glued to the dolphin’s back followed him with her eyes, turning her petite face with an expression of longing, and full of charm.  He could still hear her song, even though her tiny, pale lips were held tight and not the smallest sound emerged from them.
            The witcher halted at a distance of ten paces.  His sword, slowly drawn from its black enameled sheath, glistened and glowed above his head.
            “It’s silver,” he said.  “This blade is silver.”
            The pale little face did not flinch; the anthracite eyes did not change expression.
            “You’re so like a rusalka, “the witcher continued calmly, “that you could deceive anyone.  All the more as you’re a rare bird, black-haired one.  But horses are never mistaken.  They recognize creatures like you instinctively and perfectly.  What are you?  I think you’re a moola, or an alpor.  An ordinary vampire couldn’t come out in the sun.”
            The corners of the pale lips quivered and turned up a little.
            “Nivellen attracted you with that shape of his, didn’t he?  You evoked his dreams.  I can guess what sort of dreams they were, and I pity him.”
            The creature didn’t move.
            “You like birds,” continued the witcher.  “But that doesn’t stop you biting the necks of people of both sexes, does it?  You and Nivellen, indeed!  A beautiful couple you’d make, a monster and a vampire, rulers of a forest castle.  You’d dominate the whole area in a flash.  You, eternally thirsty for blood, and he, your guardian, a murderer at your service, a blind tool.  But first he had to become a true monster, not a human being in a monster’s mask.”
            The huge black eyes narrowed.
            “Where is he, black-haired one?  You were singing, so you’ve drunk some blood.  You’ve taken the ultimate measure, which means you haven’t managed to enslave his mind.  Am I right?”
            The black-tressed head nodded slightly, almost imperceptibility, and the corners of the mouth turned up even more.  The tiny little face took on an eerie expression.
            “No doubt you consider yourself the lady of this castle now?”
            A nod, this time clearer.
            “Are you a moola?”
            A slow shake of the head.  The hiss which reverberated through his bones could only have come from the pale, ghastly, smiling lips, although the witcher didn’t see them move.
            “Alpor?”
            Denial.
            The witcher backed away and clasped the hilt of his sword tighter.  “That means you’re-”
            The corners of the lips started to turn up higher and higher, the lips flew open…
            “A bruxa!” The witcher shouted, throwing himself towards the fountain.
            From behind the pale lips glistened white, spiky fangs.  The vampire jumped up, arched her back like a leopard and screamed.
            The wave of sound hit the witcher like a battering ram, depriving him of breath, crushing his ribs, piercing his ears and brain with thorns of pain.  Flying backwards he just managed to cross his wrists in the Sign of Heliotrope.  The spell cushioned some of his impact with the wall but even so the world grew dark and the remainder of his breath burst from his lungs in a groan.
            On the dolphin’s back, in the same circle of the dried-up fountain where a dainty girl in a white dress had just sat a moment ago, an enormous black bat flattened its glossy body, opening its long, narrow jaws wide, revealing rows of needle-like white teeth.  The membranous wings spread and flapped silently, and the creature charged at the witcher like an arrow fired from a crossbow.
            Geralt, with the metallic taste of blood in his mouth, shouted a spell and threw his hand, fingers spread in the Sign of Quen, out in front of him.  The bat, hissing, turned abruptly, then chuckled and veered up into the air before diving down vertically, straight for the nape of the witcher’s neck.  Geralt jumped aside, slashed, and missed.  The bat, smoothly, gracefully drew in a wing, circled around him and attacked anew, opening its eyeless, toothed snout wide  Geralt waited, sword always pointed in the creature’s direction.  At the last moment, he jumped – not to the side but forward, dealing a whining cut which made the air howl.
            He missed.  It was so unexpected that he lost his rhythm and dodged a fraction of a second too late.  He felt the beast’s talons tear his cheek, and a damp velvety wing slapped against his neck.  He curled up on the spot, transferred the weight of his body to his right leg and slashed backwards sharply, missing the amazingly nimble creature again.
            The bat beat its wings, soared up and glided towards the fountain.  As the crooked claws scraped against the stone casing the monstrous, slobbering snout was already blurring, morphing, disappearing, although the pale little lips which were taking its place couldn’t quite hide the murderous fangs.
            The bruxa howled piercingly, modulating her voice into a macabre tune, glared at the witcher with eyes full of hatred, and screamed again.
            The sound wave was so powerful it broke through the Sign.  Black and red circles spun in Geralt’s eyes; his temples and the crown of his head throbbed.  Through the pain drilling in his ears, he began to hear voices wailing and moaning, the sound of flute and oboe, the rustle of a gale.  The skin on his face grew numb and cold.  He fell to one knee and shook his head.
            The black bat floated toward him silently, opening its toothy jaws.  Geralt, still stunned by the scream, reacted instinctively.  He jumped up and, in a flash, matching the tempo of his movements to the speed of the monster’s flight, took three steps forward, dodged, turned a semi-circle and then, quick as a thought, delivered a two-handed blow.  The blade met with no resistance…almost no resistance.  He heard a scream, but this time it was a scream of pain, caused by the touch of silver.
            The wailing bruxa was morphing on the dolphin’s back.  On her white dress, slightly above her left breast, a red stain was visible beneath a slash no longer than a little finger.  The witcher ground his teeth – the cut, which should have sundered the beast in two, had been nothing but a scratch.
            “Shout, vampire,” he growled, wiping the blood from his cheek.  “Scream your guts out.  Lose your strength.  And then I’ll slash your pretty little head off!”
            You.  You will be the first to grow weak, Sorcerer.  I will kill you.
The bruxa’s lips didn’t move, but the witcher heard the words clearly; they resounded in his mind, echoing and reverberating like ripples of water.
            “We shall see,” he muttered through his teeth as he walked, bent over, in the direction of the fountain. 
            I will kill you.  I’ll kill you.  I’ll kill you.
“We shall see.”

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©1993 by Andrzej Sapkowski
English Translation © 2007 by Danusia Stok

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