Spoilers for Episode 3 of Witcher School.
Note: I started writing this post right after the episode back in October… and then I got busy. And then I sort of forgot about it. And then I couldn’t be arsed to proof-read it. My point is, please pretend this was published nearly a year ago, so I don’t have to rewrite my introduction.
It’s that time of year: Time for another Witcher School write-up! And guess what? You’re getting two this autumn, because I will soon be leaving for Poland again. Hopefully I will have recovered both physically and mentally before then. Especially mentally, because I’m going to be playing a different character and I’ll need to let go of all of Stella’s issues, otherwise Eydis will end up stabbing bards for no reason whatsoever.
I’m telling you, you can’t trust the bastards.
This post is about Season 4 Episode 3. If you want to read my account of Episode 2, you can find it here.
Before I start the main post, I got a little bit of backstory you’ll need to understand my character’s issues in this episode:
- Because of a deal with a certain mirror merchant, Stella is now terrified of bards. Stella herself was not aware of this fact at the beginning of the episode.
- Another player has been sending me letters from his character to Stella. They’re signed, but Stella didn’t recognize the name.
Once again, I was playing Stella of Nilfgaard, senior adept of the School of the Cat.
Stella spent most of her 7 years as a witcher suffering from failing mutagens, which almost led to her death in Episode 2. Due to the reveal of Meinard’s pet mutants, she began to wonder whether the mutagenist was really the best solution to her troubles. In the end, she found her ‘salvation’ in the form of the mirror merchant Gaunter O’Dimm. After making a deal with him, her mutations turned perfect, and while she knows there must be a price for her to pay – the brand on her face reminds her – she has chosen to enjoy her new life for now.
Be aware that she was desperate, not stupid.
Now that she is fully in control of her abilities, she has become more ambitious and intends to rise through the ranks of the witchers. Unfornately for her, that means she needs the support of her fellow witchers, and she has never before cared to form relationships with the witchers of the Wolf School (most of whom distrusts her intensely).
After the events of Episode 2, Stella received orders from Grand Master Astrid and went with a group of Cats to Brokilon to retrieve the mysterious elf Maeveen, the first elf she had ever known to wear a witcher’s medallion.
This was Season 4 Episode 3, and took place from 30th September to 3rd October 2021.
Once again I’ll skip over the workshops and setting, but if this is your first time reading about Witcher School, you can read my very first WS post to get a lot more details about the practical side of the game.
This time around, the utter beauty of Moszna Castle was marred by construction work, and I won’t claim it didn’t hurt the immersion, but we made it work. The scaffolding might have been hard to explain away, but we can always just blame the state of the fountain on Master Algir setting off bombs every five minutes…
Let’s talk about the game, shall we?
Invasion of the Cats
Kaer Tiele, once again the setting for our game, is the home of the Witcher School of the Wolf. As a Cat, I had gotten used to being an outsider, with only a few witchers from my own school around.
This was all about to change. The Wolves wouldn’t even know what hit them.
As I had left Kaer Tiele to go on Cat business between episodes, I was returning with the delegation from Kaer Marter, led by the infamous Grand Master Astrid, undisputed matriarch of the Cat School. With her, she brought several Cat masters, the elf Maeveen, the steward Hugo, and all the pre-Trial adepts from Kaer Marter.
There were a lot of Cats. I hesitate to say this, but I think there might have been too many Cats.
I fell in with Adrian, my fellow senior Cat adept and favorite murder buddy, as we walked from the forest towards Kaer Tiele. The rest of the original Cat delegation to Kaer Tiele – Halvar and Einar – had stayed behind at the Wolves’ castle and were waiting when we arrived at the courtyard. Grand Master Astrid greeted Lile, the Grand Master of Kaer Tiele, and they explained that their two schools were doing an exchange to learn from each other.
(This would have shown great spirit of cooperation, if Astrid hadn’t told the Cats out in the forest that she expected us all to see how much better the Cats did things after staying a short while at the Wolf School…)
Part of the exchange involved that every pre-Trial adept was free to choose which of the two schools they would join in the end. This seemed to me like a bad deal, since the Wolf School hadn’t managed to acquire a single new adept, ultimately meaning that they were the only ones to gain from this. But Stella trusts completely in Astrid’s judgment, so she wasn’t about to say this aloud.
For one thing, she wasn’t stupid enough to do so.
With all the Cats now lined up, it was time to bring out… the owls.
Yes, even when I travel halfway across Europe, I can’t escape them. And there were two of them! However, only one of them came close to being as crazy as the one in my home, since that owl was the sorcereress Philippa Eilhart trapped in her owl form. The other one was merely a lovely barn owl that had been rescued along with Lady Philippa. From my interaction with it a few days later, I would say it wasn’t evil at all.
What a novel experience.
Friendly Blue Stripes and Elves with Grudges
Owlified sorceresses aside, the return to Kaer Tiele went surprisingly peacefully. Halvar came up to Stella to ask her about her trip, then soon started talking about spoons and got punched. Nothing much had changed there. Our group, the Ashes, looked vastly different from the last time we were together, though. For one thing, our beloved tea-drinking tutor, the grumpy old Skelliger Master Gunhild, had dropped off the map while out on the Path, so instead we got put under the charge of the cheerful Master Dagna. Personally, I suspect Master Gunhild was able to divine the future from those tea leaves of hers, and got out while she could, because the tutor was not the only thing to change in our group. We had also gained so many new pre-Trial adepts that the Cats far outnumbered the Wolves, and considering Gunhild’s feelings towards Stella, this could very well be her own personal nightmare.
(Danai, Gunhild’s real life counterpart, had written a message to our group before the game when she realized she couldn’t make it, and the post script was just “NO CAT SHENANIGANS!” I must remember to send her this post.)
But in spite of her tutor’s strong distrust, Stella quickly began to miss old Master Gunhild dearly. Because while Master Dagna is very likable and has a lot of great stories to share, Master Gunhild would never have allowed Halvar to keep going on about spoons during a team meeting. And she would most definitely not have encouraged him. It is my belief that Gunhild would have had him gagged and left in the corner after the second spoon comment, and that’s why Stella will always be a little fond of the Skelliger, even if the tutor accuses her of plotting murder every time she hasn’t seen her in five minutes.
Now… Let’s move on to the part where Stella is plotting murder.
It started quite innocently, with me hanging out in the tavern with Elze – member of the Ashes and convert to the Cat School – when a Blue Stripe we hadn’t seen before approached us. This was Leo, an older Blue Stripe lieutenant that had just arrived, and clearly he had yet to be told a few facts about the older Cats.
Leo said, “Hello. Can I ask you a question?”
Stella went, “I didn’t do it.”
Elze loyally added, “That’s right, she didn’t do it.”
Leo, at this point already very confused, asked what exactly it was I didn’t do, and Stella took some time to wrap her head around the fact that a Blue Stripe was talking to her without accusing her of anything. As it turns out, this was the beginning of a beautiful, fake friendship.
After the initial confusion had died down, Leo started asking a long line of polite questions, at first inquiring mostly about witchers and how they differed from normal humans. He was being very friendly and a pleasure to talk with.
Obviously, Stella knew he was up to something. She just wasn’t sure what.
He went on to ask about the ‘woman that had arrived with the Cats’ and pointed towards Maeveen, who was standing a bit away from us in the tavern. Stella said, “Oh, the elf? I actually don’t know much about her myself”, to which Leo said he hadn’t realized she was an elf. Stella – who has a lot of bad personality traits, but racism most definitely not being one of them – immediately went on the offensive, knowing how Blue Stripes usually feel about elves (and what they do with them). She asked Leo, rather pointedly, if Maeveen being an elf was a problem, and Leo said that he hoped not, but that all the elves he had met were bandits. Stella pointed out that all the bandits she had met had been human, and Cat and Blue Stripe proceeded to have a longer conversation where Leo politely listened to Stella’s arguments in favor of everyone having the capacity to be homicidal maniacs, not just the ones with pointed ears.
It was also at this point that another Blue Stripe came up to us and Leo introduced him to Stella. The Stripe claimed to already know her, but Stella did not remember ever having talked with this ‘Olli’. After he had left, Leo let slip that Olli also went by the nickname ‘Butcher’, almost making Stella choke on her drink, considering that was the name signed on a couple of incredibly creepy letters she had received over the past months. However, this was a problem for later.
After Leo excused himself with the promise to think about what she had said, Stella was pulled aside by one of the new pre-Trial Cat School adepts – Yngvar – who had seen her talking to the Blue Stripe. He told her he had been talking to the elf Maeveen, and since Stella was a Cat, he felt he could share the details of what she told him with her. You see, Maeveen and Leo had a history, that history mainly revolving around Leo hunting down and killing Maeveen’s brother, then cutting Maeveen’s ear off before she was able to get away.
Didn’t know she was an elf, my ass…
I told the adept that I would take care of it, and smiled at Leo as I passed him on my way through the tavern. I requested a word with Maeveen after she finished the conversation she was engaged in, then led the elf into the privacy of a dark corridor where I told her the details of my conversation with Leo, how he had clearly been trying to manipulate me, and if Maeveen wanted him ‘dealt with’.
The elf graciously told Stella that all she truly wanted was an elven necklace Leo had taken from her as he was cutting her ear off, but she also said that as long as she didn’t have to be involved, she wouldn’t care if anything happened to the Stripe in the process of receiving the necklace. I believe her words were “Accidents happen”, and this was when Stella realized that she and the elf would get on like a house on fire.
There might be no survivors.
Murder Plots and Unfortunate Bards
Likely sensing that his expertise was needed, Adrian happened to walk by just as I finished my conversation with Maeveen. All I needed to do was tap him on the shoulder and tell him we had something we needed to discuss, and he knew Stella well enough to show up a short while later with Yorick – another senior Cat that had returned to Kaer Tiele after a year’s absence – and whisk us both off to a more private location for a little chat.
After we had locked ourselves in a darkly lit room, Stella quickly summarized her conversation with Leo, her promise to Maeveen, and her own problems with this Butcher person. I will skip quickly over the rest of the conversation, since it was mainly just half an hour or more of us discussing various ways to kill and/or frame or blackmail Blue Stripes.
That’s pretty much all we older Cats talk about when we’re by ourselves.
Before we closed the meeting, with the intent of taking the night to think over possible murder plans, I handed Adrian the letters from Butcher, so he could read them later. He had already readily agreed to help Stella kill the man, but I’d like him to know exactly why I felt I needed to do something about my newfound stalker.
I’m not going to add the text of the letters to this post, but I think this scene the next day where Dagna heard about the letters and asked Adrian about them summarizes them nicely:
Dagna: “Are they love letters or death threats?”*1
Adrian: “I’m honestly not sure.”
Back to the night in question, the three of us left to return to the tavern. Since three Cats sneaking off alone would be seen as rather suspicious, Adrian decided that the official story was that we were just having sex. That’s pretty much the most innocent thing people will believe we’re involved in.
Stella and Adrian settled down at a table in the tavern, and spent the next few hours being entertained by Adrian’s bad attempts at doing Tarot readings. It was all nice and peaceful for a while.
Then Severin the Bard walked past.
It had already happened once earlier that day, when Stella passed him in the corridor. Back then, she merely sneered at him to back off, to which the confused bard yelled after her that he hadn’t done anything.
This time around, Stella was sitting in a chair with her sword in her lap, with escape not being the easiest option. So when the bard passed her chair, most likely just to go get something to drink, she stood up with her sword in hand and told him to get away from her. Adrian put an arm around Stella and waved the confused and outraged bard away, and eventually Stella settled back in her chair tensely.
The second time Severin passed by the table, Stella’s sword was pointed at his throat, and who knows what would have happened if Adrian hadn’t kept her back, while saying to Severin, “Back away, mate. She will eat you.”
It’s a good thing Adrian just rolls with these things, because nobody – not even Stella – knew in-game what the hell was going on here. But things were about spiral rather out of control. So stay tuned!
(No, that was not a bard pun. Leave me alone.)
Stupid Injuries and Bizarre Punishments
A new day dawned. Due to me traveling from Denmark to Poland on the same day the game began, I had been up for 25 hours straight when I went to bed the previous night, and had then spent the night in that weird stage between sleep and wakefulness. Safe to say that I was NOT feeling too great in the morning, so I decided to partake in the time-honored Witcher School tradition of skipping morning warm-up and sneaking into breakfast later.
After forcing down some eggs and bacon I was feeling slightly more human, but I was glad my first lesson of the day was Archery with Master Aaron, so that I would get to stand still and just shoot stuff for an hour or so. Nothing particularly interesting happened during that lesson, so let’s skip ahead to Fencing with Master Edwin.
Now, I don’t have a good track record with fencing classes. Not only do I really suck at fighting with a sword, but I also always manage to injure myself.
Good news! This time someone else injured me.
And it was marginally less embarrassing than the Acorn Incident. But that’s not to say that Stella’s pride didn’t get even more bruised than her injured leg, because it was still a truly stupid and strange way to get put out of commission. The story goes that after we had gone through all the fencing training Master Edwin had planned for us, he brought us to the archery range and volunteered us to help the archery class with some target practice. Basically, we were given a LARP sword and then we just had to try to deflect as we were being shot with safety arrows.
Now, you’re not actually supposed to be able to get injured by non-defective safety arrows… but I guess I’m just that good at what I do.
You see, the very first arrow hit me on the upper part of my inner thigh. That’s not the most sensitive area, but for some reason, it caused a burst of pain that had me limping off the range and needing Master Edwin’s help to sit down in the grass. Edwin’s theory is that I made some kind of moment that stretched out the muscle in my thigh at the exact moment it was hit, causing the impact to cause far more pain than it should have.
Despite my reassurances that the pain was already fading, Master Edwin ordered me to stay put and made the guy who shot me – who kept apologizing profusely for something that was in no way his fault – get me something to drink even though I wasn’t feeling sick or anything.
As the pain had faded into numbness by the time the lesson was over, I was allowed to stand up again, but Edwin told me to go see the medic. At the time, I thought this was rather unnecessary, since I was just dealing with a bit of inflammation, but I did as I was told and Elze helped me down to the basement to get my leg looked at. The medic examined me, put some anti-inflammatory gel on my leg and told me to take it easy and come back to see her in a few hours. So I went back upstairs (there are waaay too many stairs in order to get to the medic room) and joined the pre-lunch gathering in the courtyard.
I wasn’t in any pain at this moment, but I quickly found out that standing still made my leg stiffen up rapidly, so after the first couple of announcements, I was left with only one functional leg. And, of course, this was when Severin the Bard stood up in front of the assembled witchers and adressed Grand Master Astrid to tell her that one of her adepts had held a sword to his throat, completely unprovoked.
It could have been such a marvelous scene. Because Stella, who’s utterly loyal to the Grand Master who won her in a card game and saved her from bandits, would have walked forward with her head held high when Astrid began shouting for the guilty party to show themselves, and accepted her punishment with stoic dignity.
There was nothing dignified about me limping slowly through the crowd and grabbing on to the stone lion by the steps to steady myself, while Edwin and Dagna – the only ones that knew I wasn’t roleplaying my injury – leaped forward to whisper to Astrid, who then coldly told me I didn’t have to ascend the steps.
The Grand Master asked for no explanations – not that Stella could have given any – and said that if Stella couldn’t handle having a sword, then she would now lose the right to carry one. She then told me to hand Severin my sword, which – due to Stella still being terrified of the bard – was done by me almost throwing the sword at his face while I stumbled away and told him to keep away from me.
Astrid then told Severin that he could choose whatever punishment Stella had to undergo in order to earn back her sword and Severin said that she would do good to put herself in his shoes. He wanted Stella to learn how to perform and sing in front of everyone, and then he would decide if she had done well enough.
I don’t remember my exact thoughts at that moment, but I’m guessing they were something along the lines of:
“I’m going to punch O’Dimm in the face when I see him again…”
Being an Invalid for an Afternoon
I would like to reiterate that I was not in pain at this time. I was just trying to rest my leg as per the medic’s order, but I didn’t have the heart to refuse when Jade offered me her walking stick, even though it made me appear far more injured than I actually was, because I didn’t know how to use the damn thing, which made my limping even more pronounced.
I pulled Master Dagna aside for an off-game chat, not so much because of my injury, but because I felt I needed to explain the whole “bard situation” to her and maybe get some help coming up with ideas for doing Severin’s challenge. I’ll admit to having a fear of singing in front of others, but I have overwon many of my small phobias at Witcher School, so I wasn’t too concerned about this. It was, however, a very tricky thing to do when my character couldn’t stand to be near Severin at all, so in my mind the situation called for a slight bit of meta-gaming.
Master Dagna promised to think of ways I could do it, and then walked with me to the dining hall for lunch, where I had a person on each side of me insisting on helping me down the stairs – there’s literally three steps down to the dining hall… – and I had to resist the urge to whack them with my borrowed walking stick because of their overwhelming niceness and consideration.
Jokes aside, I just want to say that everyone were being so super nice and helpful to me. And even though most of it really wasn’t necessary, I was so touched that I couldn’t get back into character as proud and aloof Stella all day, because I just wanted to thank people.
After lunch, I went upstairs – fortunately, my room was only one floor up – to rest a bit before Monster Knowledge class with Master Ylia. However, I had mistaken the time for the class – thinking it started at 15.00, and not at 14.30 – so I was already late for meeting up with the master when I limped downstairs at 14.50. At this point, my leg had started to actually hurt, because my short rest had made it stiffen up so much that every step made the muscle twang. I couldn’t locate my class with a quick look at the grounds outside, so I decided to look in the tavern in the hopes that they had started the class inside and hadn’t left for the forest yet.
That’s when I ran into Astrid.
Now, after watching Edwin and Dagna rush to tell her about my injury in the courtyard, I was convinced that Astrid’s off-game counterpart knew I wasn’t just roleplaying my bad leg. I had fully expected her to yell at me – it’s Astrid, after all – but when she shouted at me to go outside and look for my class – meaning I would have to walk all the way to the forest and then search aimlessly on a leg that was now rather painful – it all became a bit much for me. Because in that moment, I thought that even the NPCs who knew about my injury weren’t going to take it into consideration and play in a way that wouldn’t force me to opt out of the game completely for a while – like if Astrid had shouted at me to go clean all the cesspits, or something else which is a really sucky punishment in-game, but which I wouldn’t physically have to do – so I just went outside to the off-game side of the castle, sat down on the pavement and was just totally miserable for a while.
(Note: I later found out that Astrid really did think my injury was only in-game, so she absolutely wasn’t being inconsiderate on purpose.)
I managed to stumble upstairs to my room, where apparently a whole host of people had been looking for me, since I quickly had Halvar, Master Dagna and the medic there to check up on me. Regretfully, I had to admit to myself that it was probably for the best if I skipped the last part of Monster Knowledge, as well as Signs with Master Dirk. Especially if I wanted to partake in the hunts that night.
So I spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening resting in my room, with the occasional walk up and down the corridor to prevent my leg from stiffening up. Luckily, this technique did wonders, because I was so friggin bored. Daniel AKA Halvar was incredibly nice and brought dinner to my room, so I wouldn’t have to walk up and down the stairs, as well as stand around in the courtyard waiting for our group to be called inside.
I always feel bad for all the times I punched him – before and after – in-game.
De-Owlification and Night Hunt
All of this meant that I was feeling well enough to join the hunts later in the evening, although I asked to be the torch bearer (meaning I wouldn’t be involved in any of the fighting) just to be on the safe side, because even though I could walk, I didn’t want to risk accidentally doing a wrong twist and making everything worse again.
Just to prove to everyone that I really was doing alright, I went with the group escorting the sorceress Lady Coral when she went to do the ritual to turn Philippa Eilhart from an owl back into a human.
There were lights, there was strange-colored smoke, there were hallucinating sorceresses, and then finally, there was Philippa Eilhart, human, but with feathers still covering her face.
There was no screaming this time around, so I assume everything went according to plan.
The night hunt was fairly straightforward as well. I carried my torch – and did my best to not light any trees or people on fire – and watched my fellow Ashes get attacked by monsters. We met an Alghoul, my old friend Pebbles the Earth Elemental, and… some Nekkers? Drowners? I actually don’t remember. But I think it was Nekkers.
All in all, it was probably the most peaceful night hunt I’ve been on. No important plot scenes, and hardly any injuries. I didn’t even get a chance to push the Blue Stripe who had gone with us in front of any monsters!
A Signs Master and a Godling with a Crossbow
I did the responsible thing and went to bed right after getting back from the hunt, so there isn’t really much more to say about that night. The next morning I once again skipped morning warm-up – my leg was doing a lot better, but push-ups and squats at 7.30 in morning is not worth risking anything over – got breakfast and got ready for classes. At the sound of the horn, we all gathered in the courtyard.
I don’t really recall any important announcements, but I think Grand Master Astrid was yelling at people who weren’t me. Then Master Dirk stumbled backwards out the castle door with a crossbow bolt in his chest and dropped dead.
You know, the usual.
I don’t believe I mentioned the Godling, but there had been a Godling around the castle for the last couple of days. Lovely gal, really, but it seems nobody ever told her about crossbow safety. The poor thing was horrified at what she had done, but claimed it was an accident. The masters took her away and we were all told to go to our classes, as if our Signs master hadn’t just died in front of us.
Life goes on.
Well, not for Dirk, I suppose…
Leshens and Water Bearers
On that depressing note, we started the day’s lessons. The Ashes’ first class was Hunting with Master Justus, a wandering master from the School of the Griffin. He told us there was a Leshen in the forest, one which other adepts thought they had killed the day before. But as it turned out, this was no ordinary Leshen, but an Ancient one, meaning that it would keep returning every time it was killed.
It had likely marked someone in the castle and Justus sent us off to talk to people in order to find out who it was.
We approached Hugo, steward of Kaer Marter and acting steward of Kaer Tiele, since that’s a job that requires you to know about everything going on in the castle. All the Cats knew Hugo was a vain man and the Ashes made sure to flatter his ego while we asked him questions about the people at the school. Obviously, Hugo knew what we were doing – and loved every second of it – and decided to push it as far as he could by telling us he had always wanted his portrait drawn. This is how this hunting lesson ended up with us gathered around a Hugo posing with his nose in the air, while Elze did her very best to draw him in a way that would ensure the serving staff wouldn’t get instructed to leave nasty things in our dinner.
But it must have done the trick, because Hugo casually remarked that we might want to pay attention to the people bringing us water. We all turned around to see a smiling servant woman holding up a jug and asking us if we required any water.
Leaving Hugo to enjoy his new portrait, we began questioning the lovely little woman – if I remember correctly, her name was Lily – about the strange mark on her hand, making sure to pretend we didn’t know what it was. Lily herself told us that it had just appeared, but that it didn’t hurt, so she hadn’t thought too much about it. We all thanked her for the water and headed back to Master Justus, who was waiting for us at the edge of the forest. We told him what we had learned and he said we would deal with it later. For now, he wanted to show us what we were dealing with.
Justus took us into the forest, and I had to tell him that I was not allowed to carry a sword, which he told me he already knew. When we got closer to the place the Leshen was staying, he offered me a sword anyway, and I stared at him for a while before finally saying firmly that I would follow Astrid’s orders. Justus took back the sword, told me I had passed the test, then commented to Master Elinor, who had joined us, that she could tell the Grand Master that she had a loyal witcher.
And Stella did refuse the sword out of loyalty, sure… but even if she had hated Astrid passionately, she would still have been too terrified of her to disobey her.
Facing an Ancient Leshen without a sword was a far less scary prospect. Justus sent us up against the monster in groups of 4, not to kill it, but simply to learn about fighting a Leshen. Without a sword, all I could do was to cast a few Aard signs to distract it while my group tried to hit it, but at least I didn’t end up with an enchanted tree vine to the face.
In the end, we picked up our wounded, and Justus and Elinor followed us back to the edge of the forest where Justus told us a few more things about hunting monsters.
Then he, Elinor, and I believe Master Aaron, suddenly attacked all of us. Of course, none of us were prepared for it, and that turned out to be the final lesson of the hunting class:
Don’t let down your guard, just because the monster is dealt with.
Potions and Punishments
Our next class was Alchemy, and I was rather disappointed to see that it would be taught by Master Meinard. Not that Master Meinard doesn’t teach interesting things, but Master Algir is the one who specializes in bombs… and I wanted to blow shit up.
Alas, fate would not have it so.
Alchemy went with some potion theory and brewing, in which I made a rather pale-colored Swallow potion together with a couple of our pre-Trial adepts, before Master Meinard took us down into the crypt below the alchemy lab. There, he made us meditate before taking a Cat potion – it’s as dark as Meinard’s soul down there – so we could see just enough to dissect some weird-looking pieces of monster meat. Why that had to be done in complete darkness, I will never know, but I have never seen Meinard happier than while watching us cut things open.
It was very disconcerting.
It was also during the alchemy lesson that Meinard took us outside and lined us up to watch as the Godling was brought forward. Even Stella, callous as she can be, thought the following display was rather barbaric. It was made even more barbaric because the Wolf masters claimed they were being civilized.
Accident or not, the Godling had killed a master of the school, and Stella would have agreed it needed to be killed. However, the decision had instead been to cut away the creature’s connection with magic. I’m not entirely sure how that’s supposed to prevent her from shooting people with crossbows, but I’m not about to argue with people who believe themselves to be righteous.
We all had to watch as one of the masters picked up a branding iron from a fire and burned a witcher sign into the crying Godling’s back.
Oh, so civilized.
Deciding that Adrian was Replaced by a Doppler
Surprisingly, lunch went by without anyone dying. However, later I met Leo down in the make-up room where he had to get a giant bruise done, because sweet and compassionate Master Ylia had punched him in the face for talking shit about Dirk.
It was glorious, and I wish I had seen it.
Reluctantly, I decided to skip my next class, which was Fencing with Master Fineas. My leg was feeling alright, but I didn’t want to take any chances, so I spent the time walking around aimlessly and stopping by the class occasionally to observe. At one point, I was sitting innocently on a bench, doing some cloak repairs, when a couple of Blue Stripes settled down on the bench a couple meters away. They were talking among themselves when Adrian showed up and approached them. I wasn’t paying much attention until I heard the following words leave Adrian’s mouth:
“I have a non-violent solution for you.”
This is where I finally looked up in shock and had to get involved in the conversation. “What did you just say…?”
Even the Blue Stripes agreed that we were clearly dealing with a Doppler and not the real Adrian. It didn’t make things better when he proudly showed what rune Maeveen had decided he had the strongest affinity with, because telling Adrian that he is closely connected with a rune symbolizing ‘fertility’ is bound to go wrong. As proven by the following conversation where Stella pointed out that Adrian was sterile, to which Adrian cheerfully argued that this was not the case and that he might just father countless children.
He even suggested that he could start his own “School of Adrian’s Offspring”. Fortunately, even Doppler Adrian agreed that this was unlikely to end well.
I made my escape and went back to see how the Ashes’ fencing lesson was progressing. Spotting the Godling sitting in the grass nearby, I went over and sat down next to her, then proceeded to have a rather awkward conversation with the creature that had thrice been branded with witcher signs and cut off from everything that made her who she was. And since Stella isn’t exactly great at comforting people, all she had to say was,
“Yeah, I agree. They should have just killed you.”
If Season 6 comes around, I swear I’ll play a sympathetic character, because all I wanted was to give the poor thing a hug (and then maybe maim the people who thought that magical lobotomy was better than a quick execution).
Depressed Godling is depressing, so I’m just going to add a happy photo of her braiding Master Fineas’s hair before the whole ‘crossbow’-affair.
As our last lesson of the game, we had a new subject: Ancient Runes. This was taught by my new favorite elf, Maeveen. The Ashes went to the courtyard to wait for her, and she soon arrived in a furious huff. She stormed past us, barking something along the lines of “Move it!” and then headed towards the lawn without looking back. The rest of the group hesitated, wondering if we should give the angry elf some space, but Stella had no such concerns and went after her, plopping down next to her on the lawn with the words,
“Do you want me to kill someone for you? I still don’t have a sword, but I’m sure I can figure something out.”
Maeveen declined the offer, with a few comments that made me think I knew what had caused her anger.
Astrid had forbidden her from undergoing the Trial of the Grasses, something the elf desperately wanted to do.
Maeveen looked around and asked where the rest of my group was (only two of us were there). I pointed towards the people huddled by the edge of the lawn, telling her they were scared.
It was rather nice being the only one not getting punished for once.
Once Maeveen had taken her anger out on her tardy students, she told us about the various powerful runes, what human mages said they meant, and what they actually meant. After that, she helped each of us divine our heart rune (I think that was what she called it, but I’ve taken too long to write this post to remember half of these things). Stella’s rune turned out to be Dagaz, symbolizing balance. Since Stella had discussed her strange problem with bards with the elf, Maeveen mused that a bit of balance would indeed do her good.
It would probably also have done some good for the bard that stormed up to Master Edwin – who was teaching the fencing class across the lawn – and cut her own throat in front of him, while the stalkerish Blue Stripe Butcher desperately tried to stop her, and then got attacked by Edwin for his troubles.
Maeveen just rolled her eyes and finished going over her rune theory. This elf had no time for human drama.
As if we hadn’t just finished watching a highly dramatic suicide, our teacher took the Ashes into the forest to gather ingredients for making a runestone. Mine ended up being a rather horrible lump of clay, so when she dismissed us and told us to put our rune somewhere safe, I discreetly deposited it under a bush near the courtyard.
That bush is still keeping it safe, I’m sure.
The Part Where I’m a Horrible Person
I know fellow players who read this will protest that Stella is a horrible person all the time… but that’s all conjecture.
There were a lot of witnesses to this scene. And she almost felt a little bad about it.
It’s time to deal with the leshen.
I fell into step with Master Elinor as she led the volunteers towards the forest. Leo saw us and approached to ask if he could tag along. Stella inwardly cheered at the Blue Stripe setting himself up so perfectly for an accident, but Elinor inadvertently foiled her murder plans as she barked at Leo that this was “witcher business”.
You’re no fun after you went back to being a Wolf, Elinor…
Soon we passed by Lily the water fetcher standing nearby, and Elinor nodded towards her and told us this was our chance. Stella was the one to stride forward and put a friendly arm around Lily’s shoulders, telling her how we were heading into the forest to deal with some things, and how we could really use some water while we were doing so. Lily, still absolutely lovely, agreed readily, pleased to be of assistance. And so we headed into the forest.
Even when Elinor stopped the group and started telling us about the person the leshen had marked and how we couldn’t kill it until that person was dealt with, Lily never suspected a thing. And by the time Elinor addressed her directly and told her she was the problem, Stella was already standing ready to grab her when realization dawned.
You feel like a real heel when you’re holding an innocent, crying woman to keep her from escaping while she’s being told how she either needs to die or abandon her home and her family to live out her life far, far away, never to return. But Stella really isn’t the kind of person to let compassion get in the way of dealing with a dangerous monster, so her only display of kindness was to tell the woman struggling in her arms that she could always choose the option of leaving Kaer Tiele. She even promised her that no one would do anything to her if she left of her volition, even if she personally wasn’t entirely sure Elinor wouldn’t have her killed before she was out of range.
Adrian’s act of kindness was to give her a purse of gold and then telling her to fuck off.
Cat diplomacy, people.
In the end, Lily chose to run. And Elinor let her, watching her disappear down the trail, before finally scoffing. “A defenseless woman with a lot of gold travelling alone. That’s a brilliant plan,” she said, before leading us to the leshen. As I was still without a weapon, I stood back while a group went forward to kill the damn thing for good.
Singing, Drinking and Fisstech
You will have noticed that I haven’t mentioned my punishment from Severin since he set the terms earlier in the episode, but I assure you it hadn’t been forgotten, least of all by the Ashes, who had all decided to get involved. In fact, while I had been laid up with my bad leg, they had been busy turning our group of witchers into a makeshift band. With surprising enthusiasm, I might add. One of our newbies, Lennart, had borrowed Severin’s lute and had been practicing, and – of course – Halvar had decided he would be doing spoon percussion. Some were even trying to write a song for the occasion, but since no one could come up with a rhyme for “Severin”, I suggested we just do “The Drunken Witcher” instead.
Nobody said this had to be elegant.
And this leads us to the last night. Since Stella wasn’t actually able to approach Severin to agree on a time for the performance, we had no idea when we were going to be singing, but since we were all just waiting around for the Trial of the Grasses to start, we did a bit of practicing in the courtyard. I actually overcame my phobia of singing in front of people enough to teach the lyrics of The Drunken Witcher to those who had not yet spent countless evenings in Kaer Tiele’s tavern, and I would end up singing it for the rest of the time spent waiting outside. Eventually, however, it became time for the new adepts to leave for the Trials. As the responsible masters got their groups ready, I somehow ended up standing with Gedymin and a few of the older Ashes. Gedymin, who had been uncommonly cheery all episode, offered to share his everlasting stash of Fisstech, and Stella readily agreed, thinking it couldn’t possibly make her upcoming performance any worse. After the white powder had been consumed, she even got Gedymin to agree to sing with the Ashes later, which would have been an absolutely glorious sight.
With little else to do while we waited for the adepts to either return alive or their corpses getting carried out of the lab, we adjourned to the tavern. And for some reason, I found it incredibly easy to roleplay being absolutely off my rocker on drugs, and it was quite fun getting to play a Stella who was less aloof towards the Wolves, just because she was high as fuck. I ended up sitting with Jade and Ortho from the Ashes for most of the evening. Elze also joined us eventually, and she and Stella went off for a private “conversation” at one point, but they had both had a couple of rough days, so who can blame them?
Later, Elze went off to talk with other people, and her empty chair was filled by Master Elinor. Somehow we ended up talking about my problem with Butcher, and both Ortho and Elinor expressed concern for Stella’s wellbeing, considering the track record of the women Butcher had been obsessed with.
(See the part about the bard slitting her own throat. And she was just the latest in a line of unfortunate women.)
It’s kind of sweet that they were worried about Stella, even though they knew she was 100% going to gut Butcher and leave him in a drowner nest before ever considering taking her own life. And I’m fairly sure she told them something of the kind.
I’m not sure, but it might also have been somewhere around this time that Stella was told about Maeveen’s death. According to the rumors, she had gotten some adepts to perform the Trial on her and she had – obviously – died during the attempt. It was outrageously stupid, but Stella took solace in the fact that the elf died while trying to take control of her own life.
If she hadn’t been both high and drunk, she might have questioned the story a bit more…
The night went on. Elinor was making a lot of jokes on Grand Master Astrid’s behalf, but Stella let them slide, because even when you’re utterly loyal to your Grandmaster, you feel like people she once had stabbed to death have the right to talk a bit of smack about her.
Plus, it gave the beautiful interaction when Ortho told Elinor that Astrid was right behind her, to which Elinor scoffed and said she didn’t give a shit, only to look behind her and going, “Oh, she’s actually right behind me.”
The Kaer Tiele Massacre
Another fitting heading for this part would be “‘ARE YOU F@$!ING KIDDING ME?!'”
Once all the surviving adepts had returned from the Trials, we were called outside where our grand masters had some announcements to make. What were those announcements about? I absolutely do not remember, because of what happened next.
Flashing lights interrupted Astrid or Lile or whoever was speaking at the time, and a booming voice sounded from the balcony of the tower overlooking the courtyard. The man on the balcony introduced himself as Gildarts Pran, a man we had only heard mentioned in passing as the new sorcerer advisor to the king. He then went on to speak about how we witchers needed to be eradicated. You know, your typical villain monologue.
I’ll be honest with you: In the moment, I didn’t actually recognize the voice. If I had, Stella would probably have yelled a few choice words before the sorcerer cast a spell and all hell broke loose as every single witcher master suddenly started attacking the adepts assembled in the yard.
Some of the more collected adepts managed to fight back. The unprepared were cut down. Stella, still unarmed and high on fisstech, took a blow to the stomach from Master Eckhardt, and decided the best cause of action was to drop to the ground and let the people with swords deal with this particular mess. Laying on the ground, holding on to a similarly downed Elze, we watched as the mind-controlled NPCs battled the player characters.
And then the call came that ended the game. Talk about cliffhangers, huh?
Before we venture on to the next section of the post, I’ll tell you what everyone but me noticed about Gildarts’ first appearance:
It wasn’t his first appearance at all. It was Severin the F@$!ING Bard.
The Afterparty (or: Everyone Blames Stella)
Despite my obliviousness during the battle itself, it was very quickly made clear to me that Gildarts’ true identity was very significant for my character. I have never had that many people approach me at a Witcher School afterparty to ask me questions and/or blame me for not murdering the bard everyone had blamed for trying to kill during the game. The first person who raised the issue asked me “How does it feel to know you could have ended the season four episodes early?”, referring to the fact that I almost killed the main villain of the game without even knowing who he was. Even the guy who played Severin/Gildarts came up to me and told me,
“You’re like the guy who held a loaded gun to Hitler’s head and didn’t pull the trigger.”
After the fourth or fifth time, I just started deflecting the blame on to Adrian, who had held Stella back. If I’m going down, I’m taking someone with me.
I also ran into the guy who played Leo, whom I gave a hug while I told him woefully about how I didn’t get to kill him. He looked at me and put on an astonished face.
“Why did you want to kill me?! I thought we were friends!”
All part of the game, dear Leo. All part of the game.
I eventually caught up with all the people I needed to, and after I had eradicated half of the snack table and began losing my voice from deflecting accusations, I eventually called it a night.
And I suppose that’s it. I’m now left with a character with a cartload-full of issues and more than a few personal vendettas against extremely powerful characters.
I dare say next episode will be interesting.
*1 Even after knowing Stella for only a day, Master Dagna realized those were probably the only kinds of letters Stella would receive.
Photos by Margielski Fotografia and Piotr Müller