Patina – Chapter 13

Cloria raised the spyglass to her eye, monitoring the edge of the forest. She stood atop the moving tank she rented for the occasion and the vibrations ran through her body as its tracks ate bit eagerly into the rugged terrain. She liked having a crew, showing people she could command them and lead them to victory, no matter her past nor what kind of clothing she wore, but this one was a bit too much of an expense for her.

Then again, if you got it, flaunt it, isn’t that right?

“Let’s stop right before the first trees,” she shouted in the intercom (or rather, the brazen tube that relayed her orders to the bottom crew, three men busy making this land-leviathan work). The engine revved up a bit as the slope grew, but the huge thing managed to climb it easily. It was a bit of a wonder what mankind could still do with a scavenged engine, bolts and some high-grade coronite as fuel. 

Then again, Verna herself had introduced her to the vendor, and if there was one thing Cloria clearly remembered from her days as a novice, it was the Mastra’s insane passion for anything pre-War. 

So it had to work. There was no reason to feel any apprehension, even as the red-capped trees loomed ever closer.

No apprehension, even knowing the Hunter had likely five or six days of advantage on her team. 

But they did not have a land-leviathan, and they were about to step right into the garden of the Queen of Thorns, huffing and puffing, sticking out their chest like the too-confident apes they were. 

The woods awaited her challenge. The incoming Tide had grown, and already crimson sap seeped down in rivulets, like every tree was trying to turn into a vermillion candle. 

Cloria bit her lip.

The huge machine finally stopped moving. 

Smoke rushed out of its exhausts and Cloria smelled burnt metal, so much that it mad her want to bite her tongue. 

From the deck below, one of the men opened a rusty hatch. 

“Why did we stop, Lady?”

She sneered. The young man was a new hire. He’d have to get used to it, but she did prefer to be referred as something else. 

Venatrix would do just fine,” she shot back. The man nodded. Good. As long as he wanted to keep his pay… she’d 

A quick glance at her belt to make sure she had everything she needed. All the oils, the holy water and the incense she might have needed… together with a little something else.

Whoever built, repaired or excavated this rusty shack also made the sensible thing and attached to the tank’s side a row of handlebars. She could safely step on the ground. 

Instead she jumped right ahead, a ten paces up in the air, somersaulted, holding her hands closer to her chest, and then fanning her arms out. She hit the ground on two feet, grinning. 

The new hire’s eyes widened like saucers.


More hatches opened and the total of her crew, six burly men who would do their best paving her way to success, peeked out of the still-smoking inside of the metal beast.

“Before we go in,” she started, pointing at the silent forest behind them. “Anyone getting cold feet? Second thoughts? Would prefer to share their stipend with the others and go back crying to their mommy?”

Some chuckled, those who had been in her service for longest time. Others just shook their head. 

“Are you afraid of the big bad forest? Do you fear the things that go bump in the night?”

“No!” They shouted. Those whose hatches were closest bumping their fists.

“That’s right. Are you scrambling for the protection of iron walls, and a prayer bead, and holy water, while waiting out the winter in a hole like rats? Or are you facing the darkness dead-on, lead by a true Venatrix? Are you ready?”

They clapped and shouted. Some of it (likely most of it) was for show, she knew as much. To pump up themselves however they could before facing the hungry woods and all the hungrier and darker things it had in store for them. 

Spirits, they were trespassing right on the onset of winter…

But her smile never wavered. 

“That’s it. What a fine crew of brave men. We’re going to get through this patch of mangy trees and be back before the first snow.”

“We are taking back this planet!” One of them shouted. “We’re taking it back, with iron and fire!”

“Exactly!” Cloria pointed at him, giving him her best smile. He sported a large scar beneath one eye, likely a little present from the forest. 

His enthusiasm was good the crew and her little show.

Still, what a fool.

“And we’ll do our best to find our quarry. Your reward shall be lofty and well-deserved. We just have to find some scared girl and bring her back home! What’s so hard about that?”

“Yeah!” They took out their blessed necklaces, shaking them at the woods like rattlesnakes of old. Some held carved bones, some vials of holy water, but all of them held them up as if they were the secret weapon that would be able to chase the darkness away. 

“Very good,” Cloria mused, tapping with her finger on her lips. “Now go back inside and check that everything works! We’re going to take the forest by the horns, and then I’ll treat you all to a week of whores and gambling and ale in Venexia!”

That seemed to convince them even more than any prayer. 

The crew rustled back in.

Cloria stayed there, still showing them a confident pose and her most winning smile.

Only when she was sure that they’d stay inside she approached the tank’s head, took out her blessed oils and waters and traced words and signs with it on the rusty steel. 

She made it quick. Just enough to add as much protection as she could. 

Hesitating, she regarded the three vials of purified water Verna gave her, resting against her hip. 

Maybe she should use one. Just one. 

If she just shut her eyes she could see it: the glowing blue power contained in them shone like the sun next to the wavering candles of the water she had purified herself.

“It’s not worth it,” she decided in the end. She patted the thick metal. 

This would have to do. For time being. 

She waited until the metal drank the oils and water and the signs disappeared into the tank’s wall, as if they had never been there.

And in fact they never did, she mused climbing up to the top. 

Her men would just work that much harder if they never knew they had another layer or protection. 

Pic by Darkfang

Author’s Notes: there we go, yet another short-ish chapter. I like it how it introduces certain aspects here, such as the difference between Cloria and (Mastra) Verna. I also always liked speeches, and this little moment with Cloria rousing her crew reminds me of those given by captains like Magellan or Columbus, to an ever-unsufferable crew. I surely hope Cloria never finds herself in such a pinch.

Once again, thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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