Patina – Chapter 16

The Hunter lowered his body in the freezing current. 

It was a sorrowful day a curtain of needle-thin rain scratching against his skin, turning the world into a drab corridor of mists and far-off dark shapes. The river was not any kinder. He let out a displeased hiss as he walked forward, submerging everything up to his torso. There his scarred skin still showed black patches where the stingy blood of the Eerie had stained him. 

Two days after that fateful encounter and he had yet to come out completely clean. At last he found a large enough river he should be able to wash it off completely.

He splashed some water over his body, where it covered his flesh in a veil of vapor. It was just that cold. At last he plunged himself into the frigid waters. 


He came up panting, his stomach trembling like a shaken bellow as droplets got lost in the rain. He scrubbed his skin, chanting a few words so that they may help the healing process. He wasn’t a Vestal, let alone an Augur. But if Verna could see him (and there was little doubt she could), maybe she could be there holding his hand as he made a fool out of himself. A drenched, freezing fool at that. 

His teeth started their private skittering dance – time to get out. He slowly came back towards the western bank, where the rest of his belongings awaited him. He quickly dried himself with a change of clothes, got dressed and covered himself with a raincoat. It was yet again another piece from before the war, stitched and repaired so many times he was not sure how much of the original cloth still remained, but it was good enough. 

Little by little, heat came back onto his body even as with every breath a pale puff of vapor lingered around his neck. He passed a hand over his torso, checking for any of that burning, stinging sensation that was Eerie’s blood, trying to get past his skin to get into his bloodstream and therein drink and eat and multiply. 

He found only his old, scarred flesh. 

“Thanks,” he whispered, to any and all. Letting out a relieved sigh, he straightened his gaze and looked ahead, towards the other side of the river.

There was someone waiting for him. 

Instinct made his hand twitch towards the knife, but the river was wide and deep enough. Though its water might be stinging cold, it had yet to freeze. 

“I’m sorry,” he muttered at the apparition. “Try again in a few weeks.”

The rain died down. It did not stop, but its pitter-patter turned into muted tinkle upon the running water. The volutes of mists that covered the skin of the river parted, revealing a tall figure in the leaden light. 

It stood still right ahead of him on the other side. It was covered from head to toe in a strewn coat of burnt silver, with black patches attached it it like lost scales. Whatever material it was made, it seemed to hung heavy upon his gaunt body, like a wet blanket tossed over a withered tree. Though it was showing him his back, the figure’s head looked right at him with its neck stretched like a wrung coil, its eyes keen and glass-like atop lips stitched together by bloodied string.

No need to wait, Trespasser, it hissed, its voice a gargled hiss, sprouting next to his ear. 

The Hunter winced, his hand now grasping his knife. 

Don’t bother, the figure scoffed. Your steel can nary hinder my stride, be it blade or bullet. Nay, I am here merely to observe. And relay.

He let go of his knife. Bit by bit, still trying to keep his eyes upon him as long as possible, he bowed his head.

“My respects to an emissary of the Lady of the Crimson Woods.”

The Heart of the Forest has accepted your offer, Hunter. It has pained Her heavily to see you overstep your boundaries. 

He frowned. Was this about his dealings with the Eerie and the corpses he met a few days before?

“I did not try to rescind any of Her Highness’ punishments. I would not, and I could not in a hundred years, not if I possessed the holiest of waters and the thickest of bloods.”

The figure’s throat clicked, sending a trembling ripple through the mist. The river’s water curled and wavered, sloshing around the bank. “Or is this your doing, emissary? Is your displeasure I hear, and not that of the Lady, peace be forever upon her brow?”

Under his thin clothes, his heart beat faster and faster, rushing roaring blood to his ears. If the Queen of Thorns was truly pained by his actions, he’d be choking on wood, his innards spilled all the way from here to the Bittersea. So there was a chance this was a bluff.

Your time grows short, Trespasser. Already you inspire others to come here on wheels of steel. Your protection shall run out soon enough. 

Behind him, more figures appeared. They stood still and silent, but dozens of vitreous eyes glared at him. 

“I still have a week.”

The figure’s lips curled into a venomous grin. 

Then your feet better be faster than your words.

The river’s ripples died down. A cold wind rose and thickened mist once again. Rain resumed falling. The figures disappeared one by one, leaving for last the glint of glassy eyes leering at him. 

Then the rain came back for real. He was alone.

The feeling of pressure that bit into his back relented. The Hunter fell against his sled, finding little comfort in its cold embrace. He had been a fool.

And yet, what could he do? Those displaced souls, alone and wrangled on the outskirts of the Old Country would suffer forever if he was not there to release them. 

Find the girl, rose Verna’s stern voice in his mind. 

It was likely his own thought. With that little trick the Fae had played on him, she’d be hard pressed finding her way there. Still… she was right. He was here to get his own liberation. 

He could think about others once he finished this job.

And he needed to find the girl as soon as possible. She couldn’t be far.

Cursing his unlucky stars, he stood up and mounted on the sled. He’d get some rest later.

It was only a few minutes later, driving through the thicker and thicker pines, looking at the strings of red sap starting to converge like he was approaching the centre of a spiderweb, that the Fae’s words came back.

Others to come here on wheels of steel.

They may be many things, the Fae, but they were seldom imprecise. He did not have wheels, and if that had been bothersome enough to notice, if anyone else was crazy enough to go north right at the onset of winter, that meant…

“Bloodied guts of a plagued boar,” he cursed. 

This Hunt was not just his own anymore.

Pic by DarkFang

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