Patina – Chapter 17

Were she awake, Elissa could have pushed against the veil and sent her gaze into the many possible paths, the facets of things that would be, things that were, and the thin line between them, always so fuzzy. She would have lifted her inner eyes high, higher than the treetops of the shifting towers of smoke from Belacqua’ generator. Up there where the birds flew and passed over the shrunken world of man.

She could then catch a certain string in the cosmic canopy, one made of gold and steel, forged in iron and glass and glistening with black oil. And at its end sh-

“That’s impressive,” Mastra Verna mused. Her lips turned into a smile as she coiled Elissa’s poking around her finger, playing with the girl’s unaware, stunned tendrils. They wrapped upon themselves like so many ropes, red and writhing. “She can almost reach me. That’s my girl.” 

She pulled the invisible string between her fingers.

Thought and space shrieked like a cracking pane of glass.

With a noise not heard anywhere in the waking world, Verna snapped the tendril in two.

Hundreds of paces down below, Elissa’s knotted eyebrows relaxed. Her expression grew dull. 

“We are going down,” Verna said the master pilot. No need to raise her voice. They could hear her all too well. 

The steel gull that carried her and two of her entourage turned right and began its descent, tracing lazy circles in a placid and deliberate fall.
Deep down below, the people of Belacqua stopped one by one, pointing their fingers at the incoming visitor. 

Verna’s smile turned giddy and she couldn’t hold a tiny chuckle. Heavier-than-air flight! A wonder of the ereworld! Here and now, resurrected for their awe. 

As they approached the ground the glider disappeared behind the smoke and then the white clouds of mist. But it descended without slowing down, for it knew its destination already. Verna absent-mindedly joined with the pilot’s eyes to make a tiny correction with his right wrist and the aeromobile tilted just enough to avoid a chimney. 

A little showmanship. All in good fun. 

It then touched the ground of the main square, laving behind a tail of dust.

As the frozen crowd shook off its stupor, they all walked closer, most holding their bags (it was market day) to their chest, some even reaching to their necklaces where sanctified bones and water rested. 

Her attendant, another Vestal who also wore white from head to toe, took in a long breath and her eyes went wide. Little more than a novice, she had yet to earn even the slightest of the blindfolds – no wonder just a whiff of air was about to knock her out cold. 

“Hnnh,” she coughed. “It’s strong. It’s…”

Verna turned her face towards her. 

“I’ll manage!” She sharply stated, passing a hand over her head. “Spirits, who made this water?”

She came out of the glider, stepping past the main chamber and opening her arms. 

She wouldn’t stutter.

“People of Belacqua!” She said, her voice confident, “Rejoice, for today you receive the visit of the High Seer of Venexia, Mastra Verna!

A murmur of shock rippled through the crowd as they exchanged glances. Excited people began to gather, trying to get a look past the black-haired Vestal at the tall Augur behind her.

Verna walked forward, holding her hand in a vaguely-beneficent gesture as people either fell to their knees or jumped excited, pointing their bottles of water or necklaces at her, as if that would make them more receptive to the spirits’ will. Amusing, this whole affair. 

Still, it was a nice enough town. Quaint. Her heart raced as the vibrations of the town’s generator, the beating heart hidden beneath the city pumped through every one of its pipes, spreading scalding water and releasing mist from a thousand’s thousand holes, spreading mankind’s protection against the incoming winter and the creatures that inhabited it. 

Once again, ingenuity and progress were working together to make a beautiful tapestry. So awe-inspiring. 

Her cheeks a little rosier at the close communion with the wondrous machine, she walked towards the temple. No need to ask where it was. Always the same spot, ever since she first walked uphill on the same slab-covered road, as a fifteen-years old Vestal. She, unlike her companion, had already earned her blindfold. Maybe that was when everything changed. She was  blind to the dust, focused on the inner side of things, on the myriad strings that made the world go round, on which ones to tug and which ones to cut.

Her companion just danced on the strings of her own heart.

Her smile hooked into a grin, she reached the temple. 

The few attendants, tall men whose faces were almost completely covered by a white veil, leaving only one eye, were already on their knees. They spoke no word, they gave no greet. If they knew what they were doing, they would have felt her presence the moment she stepped in the main square.

Verna walked through the marble corridors, passing over the polished floor with its glass sheen, amidst volutes of white vapor that, so close, made even her head a little dizzy. She adjusted her metal mask and passed a hand through her damp hair. She would end up with a frizzy mane once again. So much pain in life, truly.

She entered a secluded room, where a middle-aged woman stood over a sleeping redhead girl. She lay on a bed surrounded by wide, shallow canals of running water. Air was so thick with vapor that it was as if she stepped into a hot bath. 

High Seer!” The woman yelped, falling to her knees and covering her eyes. “I was not… I did not expect…”

“It wasn’t required of you,” she conceded with her sweetest voice. “Now bring me a sponge and two changes of robes. I desire to spend my time with the Augur.”

As she would do exactly as she was told, her mind already jumped to a few moments later, when, finally alone, Verna could sit down next to Elissa and start to wash her face with the sponge, making sure not to move the girl’s blindfold.

She was in many places and in many times at once: she was here on the onset of winter and she was in Venexia during the girl’s flash-brief Novitiate, and she was underground in a gas-lit bathroom, always performing the same task, always nursing the girl to health with the right amount of water and the right amount of care. 

“Nnh,” Elissa groaned at last, stirring. She did not turn her head towards her. No need. “Mastra. You have come,” she greeted her. 

“Always, for my dearest pupil.”

That sent a ripple of doubt through her mindscape – the wriggling red strings that surrounded her tensed, but Verna just passed her left hand over her forehead and the girl’s muscles relaxed, laying limp in her embrace. 

“That’s a good girl. Always pushing yourself so hard.”

Her rebuttal, her reply it was you who demanded me to tried to flutter past the caverns of her mind where it had been born, but no matter Elissa’s absurdly-powerful second sight, she had coiled the ropes of her heart too many times around her fingers for her to say anything. Or think.

Defenseless, Elissa just let her do her best to cover all of her body with her sponge and a few words of renewal. She passed it all over her skin, showing special care to the thin lines of scars that sprouted here and there. It reminded her of the marred skin on the Hunter’s chest. She would have a hard time looking for him by now. She could wait. Besides, her pawns were already on the move. 

She pulled the girl closer, passing a hand through her hair, gently, moving down to knead her neck. 

“That’s right. All better now, don’t you think?”

And she was once again in that underground bathroom, nursing a girl shivered in pain and uncertainty, whose prodigious sight was just in the process of developing. Who had seen her own future, and almost shattered like a thin crust of ice before it.

“Yes,” she gasped. “Yes. Thank you.”

“That’s my girl.” Verna set a kiss atop her head and gently let her fall on her bed. She dried her body and covered her with her new, warm clothes. She looked as frail as the day she found her, and just as brave. 

“Mastra…” another question. Always the same, truly. This one, she did not try to push back into Elissa’ mind. “Is she safe?”

Verna chuckled.

“My my, let your heavy heart rest at ease. She’s in her room, sleeping. Right at this moment. You can meet her soon.”

Elissa tried to sit up on her elbows, but she was still too tired and too weak to do anything like that. She fell back on the bed, panting. 

“I can… I can?” Her head tilted this way and that, as if following the fragments of a future she couldn’t grasp.

“Of course you can, my dear. Don’t worry. You’ll be reunited soon enough.”

She was resisting.

The – tamed – ocean just beneath the surface of Elissa’s mind bubbled like heated gas in an engine. 

“You asked me to put the Hunter on your path. And the other one. The woman.”

“And you have done such splendid work, my good girl.

That sent another tremor through her body, almost enough to break her defenses, but as always when it came to Sadja, the girl was exceedingly stubborn. 

“Is she safe?” Her hand rose to brush against Verna’s collar.

Verna’s hand played with invisible strings. She wrapped them all up around her dainty finger. And then she bit right into them. 

“Hnh!” Elissa let out a shocked gasp.

She fell on the bed, her mouth forming broken words.

“Hush now,” Verna gently caressed her cheek. “Sadja is safe. You will meet soon. Soon when? When I will deem it necessary.”

“Sdh,” she tried.

“Don’t bother.” Another kiss on her brow. Always so fierce. Her little fighter. She was so proud.

And at last, Elissa’s body fell into sleep. Her arm folded back against her chest.

Her breath evened out.

She looked so peaceful.

“Soon enough. I did not lie, my sweet sweet Elissa. Before you can know it, each of us will be back in their proper place.” She chuckled. “One big happy family.”

Pic by Golden-Drake

Author’s Note: welp, it’s not a good feeling when you have to write one of the most important chapters so far with little sleep and a tiresome day on your shoulders. It’s also funny that it’s chapter number seventeen, which is an unlucky number where I live. All things considered though I had fun enough writing it, especially because Verna is always stimulating to use as a POV, and Elissa is another character I’m really fond of.
All things considered, thanks again for reading and following. I hope the next chapters will be even better. I promise more wolf girl from now on.

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