Regis cast a significant glance at Geralt. "As things stand, the die is cast. High time we set off for Tesham Mutna. My head's spinning already, and you're starting to smell quite tasty." He turned around and headed for the exit from his temporary lair.
Geralt blinked and followed Regis up the stairs, muttering under his breath, "And you're starting to scare me..." He was not looking forward to the prospect of a long walk with a vampire who had just drunk raven’s blood to whet his bloodthirst and taken sangurium to sharpen his sense of smell.
They emerged above ground. The cool night breeze brushed their faces. Geralt could hear Regis getting a nice, deep breath of the fresh air mingled with the earthy scent of the cemetery.
"I'd appreciate it if you could stay downwind of me," Regis called out, not turning his head as he strode off through the cemetery towards the main road.
Narrowing his eyes, Geralt stepped off to the other side of Regis, still trailing behind him. "Can't get ahead of you. You need to lead the way."
"Well, then,” Regis said with a shrug, “I'll appreciate your bouquet instead..."
This was getting awkward, Geralt thought. "So, this Tesham Mutna," he began, wishing to change the subject.
"It's amazing how different you smell from how you normally do," continued Regis, as if he hadn't heard Geralt.
Geralt threw up his hands and rolled his eyes behind Regis's back. "Really? What do I normally smell like?"
Regis hemmed and hawed. "Nothing great, as you can imagine. What does a witcher smell like after killing monsters all day, before he takes a bath?"
Geralt snorted. “Uh-huh. And what do I smell like now?"
"Mm..." Regis took another deep sniff. "Imagine a beverage that combines the refreshing thirst-quenching properties of a cold beer, strong on the barley, and the satiating homemade wholesomeness of chicken soup simmered on the stove all day."
"I don't want to be a beverage," Geralt blurted out in spite of himself.
"You won't be, don't worry," said Regis airily. "There are other, tastier, smells, of course..."
"Some people smell like fine wine."
"That sounds better than being chicken barley soup. Why can't I smell like fine wine?"
"Because you don't drink fine wine as much as you drink beer, though I’m sure that’s changed since you’ve come to Toussaint."
"So, humans, we kind of, uh, take on the flavors of our marinade?"
"A little, yes. But your essence is somehow that of chicken."
"Hey. Why can't I smell like wolf? Or bear?"
"Why do you want to smell like something else? I think you smell perfectly appealing just the way you are."
"I feel stupid knowing that I smell like chicken soup to you."
"You don't smell like chicken soup. Oh, forget the word ‘tasty’; think ‘soothing,’ ‘comforting.’ You smell like the way a good chicken soup goes down on a chilly day when you're a little sick - just a little sick, not so sick as to feel absolutely wretched - and you're huddled under the covers, and someone gives you the chicken soup in a cute little bowl with a hand-carved wooden spoon to match..."
"Again, it's not a bad way to smell."
"All right, what smells bad to you, then? Does anyone smell off-putting to you?"
"Certainly. I'm sorry to say that people who take fisstech smell like feline urine, regardless of what their underlying scent is."
"That's their marinade. Any underlying scents you don't like?"
"I was never too fond of children." Regis stumbled against a tree root as they got on the main road, and he caught Geralt's eye briefly. There was a discomfiting, unfamiliar flush to his cheeks. "That sounds bad, I know, but I mean just their smell. Children qua children are fine. But they smell like lemonade on a hot day, which isn't exactly to my taste."
"Why... why not?" Geralt couldn't believe he was asking Regis why children didn't smell tasty to him. Then again, this conversation itself was surreal. He was walking with a vampire to a vampire landmark so that Geralt could taunt him with more blood but not let him drink it so that said vampire could get agitated and transform into a dangerous monster. Restrained, of course. And said vampire apparently had a pleasant buzz going already.
"You know how when you drink something saturated with sugar, it leaves you feeling thirstier than before you drank it? Also, it makes your fingers and mouth sticky, and everything you touch gets sticky, and you're perspiring, so it's all doubly sticky..."
"Okay, Regis, got the point. You like chicken soup, hate lemonade. You like fine wine... hate cat piss."
"Quite." Regis giggled. "And you are quite the laconic wit."
"What'd I say that was funny?"
"Oh, everything. Do you know what smell I like the best?"
"You know what, Regis?" Geralt said, folding his arms as he walked along the road. “I don’t really want to know.”
There was a lull in the conversation as the two continued walking briskly towards their destination. “I don’t want to know,” Regis finally echoed meditatively. “In general,” he pronounced after another slight pause, “those are the saddest words one can utter. Love of knowledge is salutary—”
“I’d philosophize with you,” Geralt said irritably, “but I’m not in the mood tonight.”
“I’m not in the mood tonight,” Regis echoed mournfully. “Now those are the saddest words one can hear—”
“Regis,” Geralt hissed, “enough.”
Regis finally stopped and turned around to look at Geralt. Geralt, who had been stomping along with his head down, nearly bumped into him. Geralt stopped short and noted, to his surprise, that he himself was all tense in the shoulders. He consciously relaxed them and drew himself up to his full height. He came nose to formidable nose with Regis.
“Well,” Regis said softly, backing off a little and not quite meeting Geralt’s gaze, “I seem to have gone too far in trying to lighten the mood. Forgive my levity. It was quite… inappropriate. For the circumstances.” He backed off a few more steps. And then shifted to a position that Geralt noted was conspicuously upwind of himself. “For what it’s worth, I’m trying to control myself,” Regis added in a somewhat tense whisper.
Geralt shook his head. “Forget it. Let’s keep going. The longer we delay… come on.” He went on ahead of Regis, trusting that the vampire would tell him if they went off course. Now he couldn’t see Regis, but he couldn’t get rid of a niggling feeling of discomfort deep in his gut.
“Be careful,” Geralt murmured suddenly. “Not for my sake, but for your own. Beware, Regis.” He grimaced, thinking of the last time Regis had broken his long abstinence from blood.
“Beware? I didn’t come here to beware!” the vampire had shouted as he flung himself at Vilgefortz.
The next thing Geralt knew, his friend was enveloped in flames… screaming… then reduced to nothing more than a smear on a pillar.
“You’re the one who should beware.” Regis’s voice floated to him from somewhere behind him. “You’ll be fighting off a lot of monsters. I’ll be safe in a cage this time.”
“I’ll take care, if only because… if I die there,” Geralt paused as he realized what he was about to say, “you won’t have anyone to let you out of that cage for a long, long time.” Geralt wiped his nose on his sleeve and turned around. Regis was off in the distance, his eyes shining with their vampiric sheen under the moonlight. “Let’s go back, Regis,” Geralt uttered hoarsely. “We’ll find Dettlaff another way. Can’t afford this going wrong for you. It’s not worth it.”
They faced each other once again and looked at each other—in the eyes this time.
“All you endured up to Stygga—it was worth it to find your Cirilla,” Regis said in an utterly sober voice. “You, of all people, can’t tell me what’s not worth doing.”
Geralt took a deep, calming breath and sighed. “Couldn’t tell you back then,” he said with a begrudging smile, “and certainly can’t tell you now.”
Regis inclined his head gratefully. Geralt nodded. Having reached an unspoken understanding, they went on their way.
Suddenly, Geralt heard a long-drawn-out, appreciative sniff behind his back.
“I’m glad you smell the way you do,” Regis said thoughtfully. “And I’ll tell you why,” he hurried to add, noting Geralt’s involuntary flinch, “so as to avoid perturbing you further with awkward conversation. A bit of soothing comfort, my chicken-soup-witcher, is very good to have before embarking on a task devoid of all comfort.”
“I don’t doubt it one bit,” Geralt said. “Just… if we get out of this unscathed, don’t call me ‘chicken soup’ anymore, all right?”
“Ah well. All right,” Regis reluctantly agreed. “Anything else?
“Yes,” Geralt said. “Never, ever call me ‘tasty’ again.”