Patina – Chapter 23

The glider approached the ground, falling in a lazy circle. Unlike the last time, it did not fly over a celebrating crowd. 

There were still screams, though. 

“What’s this pathetic mess?” Verna shook her head, looking down through the chamber’s window at the surrounded soldiers, a few dozen people massed together behind a curtain a iron and crackling fire, their rifles pointing outwards at the encroaching mass of black limbs and toothy grins. “I’m going down.”

“M-My Lady? It’s dangerous!” The newcomer Vestal, the same who escorted her in Belacqua, looked at her with wide eyes and fearful words yet unspoken right on the edge of her lips. 

Behind her mask she rolled her eyes. Not that this blind failure of a seer could perceive her. 

Why was she supposed to carry her around? Her mind, always spreading in a thousand directions at once, recomposed, leaving for a moment her doubts about Elissa’s state of mind. 

Ah, yes. The Council in Venexia, and their decision to saddle her with such an incompetent load. Playing politics, as always. 

If such things weren’t as inconsequential as the number of snowflake in a storm, she could have given her more mind. 

“How many of those have you seen?” She pointed down (really, she had to babysit her) at the crawling mass of Eerie, the screams, the hills of slain. 

She gulped.

“A couple.”

Of which one was in a book, Verna guessed simply by the mere presence of her nearby memories.  She didn’t mean to pry, but they might as well be pretty paintings in a glasshouse.

“That’s not bad,” she mocked, “I burned my first Eerie when I was twelve.” The look of shock on Lenora’s face still warmed her heart many years later. “So of course it’s dangerous. I’m the most dangerous thing you’ll encounter outside the Old Country.”

She left it at that, withdrawing her mind from the girl and her pointless emotions, carrying tendrils of orders to the pilot, who carried the metal flier further down, completing the circle. 

Leave us on the edge. I’ll deal with them, she relayed. 

The pilot complied. 

Another of the crew stepped in, carrying what looked like a walking cane with strange, edged decorations carved in a spiral pattern. 

“Thank you,” she said with a smile. “Can you please take these as well? I wouldn’t like to get them dirty.”

She unhooked the straps on her shoulders and took off her white robes, stepping out of the falling clothes and giving them to him. 

Mastra?!” Said a distant voice. 

Ah, yes, the Novice was still there with them. Getting all antsy over some skin? Where did she sleep at the Monastery, in a confinement cell? She chuckled – for all her faults, the girl did manage to amuse her even as she kept mostly out of her awareness.

Ah, but now the glider touched ground, the vibration of its belly against the icy ground reaching deep into her bones. She was about to get some action. Taking the cane in both hands, Verna grinned.

She opened the door and stepped out onto the creaking brine. The sea of eyes and deformed teeth slowed down, stopped. They turned their attention from the siege, form the tasty morsels of flesh just hidden behind the curtain of metal and iron towards this naked blonde woman who had come out of the weird grey bird, wielding only her smile. 

Verna’s heart beat so fast.

In moments like these she really couldn’t hold it against Cloria. Though the little tramp would sooner or later get what she deserved for leaving the Order, she had a point. The rush with every breath was enough to make her heart feverish in excitement. 

The horde of Eerie stood still. 

She lifted her cane up in the air and pressed a switch at its bottom. 

All things considered, she did not just admire Erepeople for their tech, so far removed from nowadays fumbling in the dark. They had the right ideas. They just lacked the determination to put them into practice. 

The cane unfurled, turning into a hissing serpent of iron and brass, crackling with blue and purple energy. Her very own leash. 

The mass of Eerie rushed at her.
Verna laughed and threw herself into the fray. 

Her mind was often removed from the task at hand. Most of her movements, her words, her actions, came out of reflex and habit – after all most people thought the very same, no need to waste any effort on her part. But this…

Oh, the shearing of blades as they ate through carapace, gangly meat, unseen organs, bent bones. Oh, the stench of spilled black ooze, covering her with every splash, until her hair were a mess of dark fluids. Oh, the pleasure from every scream, from, every ounce of fear! Each lightning crackle as the restored weapon unleashed its tremendous power upon the enemies it had been built to destroy. 

A thousand feral hearts, learning that not all of mankind was made out of cravenly rats hiding behind walls of holy water!

Her hand rose and cupped a large Eerie’s snout. Gripped it. Crushed the bones of its horrible face one by one, each snapping sound like a lover’s kiss upon her neck. Beneath her mask her cheeks turned all red, like a blushing Novice at her first shared night.

She chuckled, tossing the corpse away. It flew in a steep arch and plunged amidst the wall of monsters. 

The Eerie let out a series of piercing cries and they began to turn tail, disappearing into the apparent cover of trees. She caught a few with her thunder leash, but only a few. 

She stood panting in the middle of a circle of corpses, Dripping blood from head to toe, the only still-white part of her body her sickle smile. 

Take care of the rest

Hundreds of paces away, the pilot flicked a few switches and all over the glider bloomed muzzles like it had opened a myriad of angry eyes. They dispensed water-enriched bullets onto the fleeting mass, leaving many screaming and burning on the ground. 

As her glider completed her job, she sashayed towards the group of soldiers, who were looking at her with stunned looks behind the metal cover. 

“At ease, men,” she chuckled. “Take care of your wounded.” She licked her palm. Ah, nothing like the taste of panicked Eerie. “I’ll judge your performance at a later time.”

And the collective shiver passing through the soldiers was the most delicious one yet.

***

And once that later time came, it found Mastra Verna in the midst of an underground hallway, walking with a tall bald man wearing a thick leather coat and silver insignia of a winged lion.

“That outside was a sorry display of utter incompetence,” she hissed. “I enjoyed the diversion, but what good are you if you have to wait for me to come and help you out?”

“The scouting party was taken by surprise, my Lady,” he tried to justify himself. At the very least, he was giving her the truth. “They did not have the tools to face such an ambush. They would have killed and eaten to the last men, were it not for your intervention.”

She replayed the events in her own mind. Coming back from the edge of the woods, they had been attacked by the horde of Eerie, not expecting anything like that to come out of the Old Country so soon. It wasn’t even winter. 

“As much as I’d like to, I can’t think for all of you. The Tide is going to be extremely dire this year. From now on, apply every protocol as if it was the middle of January.” Her eyes bore holes into the man’s face. “Now…” What was his name again? So many useless flavors for the same meat… “…Rezzano. I hope you at least have some good news.”

“W-We do. Please come this way. We have gotten the specimen you requested.”

He lead her through the endless corridors of the underground facility. She appreciated the cleanliness, though it was a far more spartan environment than the one she had tried to raise Sadja into.

She was out there. She had a vague idea enough of where, but after a certain point even her Sight started to blur. As much as she tried, she was still no match for the Queen of Thorns. 

Where was her wolfgirl now? Still running? She was still alive, of course. But it could take long enough for her to come back home. Would she come back home?

Of course.

No doubts. 

She had seen all there was to see.

Her body followed Rezzano through the facility as her mind wandered; it took an elevator and passed through blast doors, it stepped over protective circles and over scalding pipes thumping with pressurized holy water. 

At last they stopped ahead of a door etched with holy simbols. Two Vestals stood by mounting guard, repeating endless litanies, tracing patterns with oils all over the iron-wrought door. This as well was from the industrial age. And once they entered the containment room, it soon showed why it had been custom-made that way: thousand upon thousands of hands etched all over the wall showed their palm to the creature chained to the ceiling. In each of them Verna felt the same pulsating energy of high-magnitude repulsion spells. 

Rezzano stopped a few paces behind, leaving her room. She walked until she was just level with the creature held up in chains. 

It might have looked like a man, at a first glance. But his skin had a reddish, almost rust-like color. His long black hair fell to his shoulders and in his grey eyes shone a light of utter despise. His forehead disappeared in a tall set of deer-like horns, darker than his hair, among which still danced pale flames. 

What brings one of you mangy apes here?

Its voice seemingly came from all directions as once, speaking inside Verna’s brain, next to her ears, humming through her chest.

You probably think that was tremendously scary, she replied in her own mind-speak. Her voice ran over his protest like a river of black oil, submerging it in an ocean of slick, industrial tar, glistening gold and black. Don’t bother. I’m just here to test a little something out.

She put a hand inside her mouth and detached a tiny capsule that might have passed for a molar. She lifted it for the Fae’s grey eyes to see. A minuscule thing, carved out of glass – not larger than Verna’s toenail, really. 

In it sloshed a silver liquid. Too clear to be mercury.

My kind has spent the last hundred years dancing at the tune of that ‘heart of the forest’ of yours, my dear friend.

Peering into the mind of a Fae was like being submerged in a sea of eyes and hands – they pressed against her invasion, scratched at her, bit into her mind-thread, but all they did was to show how right she was, and how afraid her little test-subject was.

She untapped the vial.

She’d miss this sample, but as soon as the Hunter completed his job there would be oh-so-much more.

I have just the thing to make that heart stand still.

Pic by Anachron

Author’s Notes: I love writing villains. There’s just something about the unrestricted actions of such characters that always draw me in – someone like Verna is especially tasty to write about, and I wanted to show a little bit of what’s happening behind the scenes and why Sadja is so important. I hope you liked the scene, as limited in scope as it was. Thank you for reading and see you tomorrow, with (hopefully) more Sadja!

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