- Geralt of Rivia
- Tissaia de Vries
- Sabrina Glevissig
- Bullied and neglected, Yennefer accidentally finds a means of escape. Geralt's hunt for a so-called devil goes to hell. Ciri seeks safety in numbers.
Geralt drinks in a tavern to drown his sorrows until Jaskier, a mediocre bard, comes up to him and insists on a review of his performance. Geralt only tells him that the creatures in his song do not exist, prompting Jaskier to realize that he is a witcher, which he immediately announces. Hearing this, a farmer named Nettly pays him 100 Ducats up front to kill a "devil" stealing his grain, and Jaskier tags along.
With Geralt, Jaskier is still following him while he tries to hunt down the "devil," eventually ending up knocked out by a Sylvan named Torque, who attacks Geralt. As Geralt holds Torque down, an elf attacks him from behind and knocks him out as well.
Jaskier and Geralt awaken to find themselves bound and harassed by Toruviel, an elf who is sick. Filavandrel, king of the elves, reveals that he had the Sylvans steal food and medicine for them to help their sick and starving populace, driven out from their homes by force. This confuses Jaskier, who thought the elves graciously left the land to retire to "golden" palaces, when in actuality they were simple caves.
Geralt advises Filavandrel to move elsewhere and to rebuild if he refuses to integrate with humans, and claims not to be human, so Filavandrel lets him go. Geralt leaves his bounty with the elves in thanks, and Jaskier sings a new song he created from the experience while Geralt follows behind him.
In Vengerberg, two lovers notice Yennefer, a hunchbacked girl who tries to kindly return their flower. They attack Yennefer however, disgusted by her appearance, and she instinctively creates a portal to teleport away. This use of magic marks her, so Istredd, a man she met on the other side of her portal, creates an untraceable portal to send her back to Vengerberg. In Vengerberg, a witch named Tissaia traces and buys Yennefer from her father for four marks; less than half the price of a pig, at ten marks. Despite her mother's protestations & Yennefer's reluctance to go, Yennefer is taken unwillingly from her home and locked in a room in Aretuza. There Yennefer breaks down, missing her mother, and shatters the mirror in her room before contemplating suicide.
Yennefer eventually attempts to kill herself, requiring Tissaia's intervention to save her. Yennefer is then brought to the garden, where Tissaia demonstrates the use of magic; one can channel "chaos" to make things happen, but not without a price, as demonstrated when one initiate had her arm shriveled up in the attempt. All other initiates used a flower to power their spells, but Yennefer was unable to use magic at all. Dejected, Yennefer seeks out Istredd and introduces herself.
After several weeks in Aretuza, Yennefer has fallen far behind her peers, unable to perform simple tasks to the point that she attempts to lie to cover up her inadequacies, which Tissaia immediately identifies and berates her for. With Istredd, he helps her to read his mind, and reveals memories of cicadas and other cheerful things to her. Later, Yennefer is woken up and brought to Tor Lara to bottle lightning, which she fails to do, the lightning striking her squarely. Enraged, Yennefer launches the lightning outward, forcing Tissaia to redirect it back up into the sky. Afterward, Tissaia berates Yennefer for being at chaos' whim, rather than controlling it and herself.
Later on, Yennefer fears she will be sent home for her incompetence, away from Istredd. In response, Istredd shows her the skulls of elves beneath Aretuza, elves who originally built Aretuza, and who first taught humans how to turn chaos into magic. He explains that the humans slaughtered them in return, and gives her Feainnewedd, an herb that only grows wherever Elder Blood was spilt. Using this plant, Yennefer easily creates a portal on her first attempt, and she reveals that her real father was half-elven, the mixing of the two races resulting in her twisted spine. Istredd then kisses Yennefer, and it is later revealed that he was actually working for Stregobor, and Istredd reveals Yennefer's elven heritage to him.
While Yennefer waits for Tissaia to confirm if she will "ascend" or not, she gets impatient and decides to spy on Tissaia, where she finds Tissaia transforming her friends into eels. Tissaia prompts Yennefer to push them into the water, saying that "sometimes the best thing a flower can do for us is die". When Yennefer does so, all of Aretuza lights up with magic.
While hiding, Ciri notices a search party of soldiers calling out for her, so she takes cover behind a tree, using mud to paint her hair black. When she tries to eat some berries for food, Dara, an elf, appears and stops her from eating them due to their poison. He initially does not speak in order to hide his elven accent, but Ciri reveals that Cahir is hunting her, and has Dara douse their fire so that she will not be captured. After giving Dara one of her gloves, she joins a Cintran refugee camp when she sees it, although Dara does not follow. In the camp, Ciri is shocked to see everyone angry at their dead queen for allowing Cintra to fall. A boy named Adon meets her, and invites her to join his family briefly, who give her new shoes and let her sleep in their tent.
While Ciri sleeps in the refugee camp, the Nilfgaardians converge on the area, sending the family she was staying with into a panic. The woman who comforted Ciri the night before angrily orders her slave, Abbott, to collect her things while she was fleeing, but he finally snaps and angrily knifes her to death. While Ciri watches it happen, Dara cuts through the tent and pulls her to safety, noticing the corpse of Adon while she flees. In the woods outside the refugee camp, Ciri also discovers that Dara is an elf.