The morning light shattered in a thousand shards through Elissa’s mind, sending her careening back on naked feet. She stumbled left, right and finally hit the walls to her room, slowly sliding until her body, shaken by raspy breaths, rest on naked legs on the cold marble.
She grit her teeth as the images flooded her mind, merrily eating through Verna’s painting, cutting through the knots she had put in her brain, the memories she had tried to patch together, the lies, lies, lies.
“Sadja,” she babbled, her hand reaching for her nose, where a steady crimson line already touched her upper lip. Iron touched her tastebuds, fighting against the burning feeling coming up from her stomach. Laying there in a puddle of her own fluids, Elissa could do nothing but see.
The girl with the wolf tail and ears lay next to a fireplace. She held onto her tail and cried tears of fear, as she shuddered.
The images kept assaulting her brain, no matter what she could have done, there was no stopping them, no holding them down – they pushed through, the link between them pulling as much pain and sorrow as it could from the dark well where it had been simmering for years.
Then the picture changed, and she was running through the woods, panic beating into her chest like a crazed bird. Elissa shook with every step, her fingers curling with each breath. A small part of her mind still tried to resist, or at last to give a semblance of order, to the images overwhelming her. Why now? Because Sadja was in pain. Why her? You know why. And it was just a tiny part of her mind, unable to withstand the onslaught.
And she was there. In the woods, amidst the grey pines, the sacs of red sap, the smell of sweet peaches, the presence of the Old Country that immediately pressed through her Sight even through the immense distance.
But everything she cared about was the girl running through the woods. A black notebook hit her in the back, she stumbled – strained her ankle and Elissa bit her lip as the same pain echoed through her body – and fell. She tried to rise, only for her pursuer to finally reach her.
She had expected, hoped even, for it to be a beast, or some crazed survivor of the Tide the kind of which still roamed the woods, or an Eerie. Something she could fight against.
But it was none of these: it was simply a man, clad in his leather coat, his right eye dripping blood, swollen and red. His body covered in the black good that was the cursed blood of Eerie, he grabbed Sadja and pushed against the base of her neck. Elissa felt dizzy as the world began to wobble – she held her breath to a standstill as the wolf-girl’s blue eyes closed and she fell limp between his arms.
Present time rushed in.
Elissa lay on the floor. Something sticky flooded her mouth. Something that tasted like iron.
She spat it out and rust-colored droplets stained the marble floor.
She had escaped. She ran away, in the forest, alone.
She did not even try to find you, said a vengeful voice in her heart. But she rebuked it. It was not the time to think about this. She was in pain, fearful. She would have done the same.
And that was why Mastra Verna asked her to make her meet with the Hunter. And the Venatrix called Cloria. She had almost reached the same truth, once, but Mastra Verna came into her quarters when she was still half-comatose and played with her mind at its most vulnerable.
Betrayal surged in her chest even as she lay stunned on the floor.
She had made a promise! Sadja would be safe. And happy, one day.
But if she had escaped… and she had sent the Hunter of all people after her…
Every little piece was starting to fit into place, and she did not like the complete picture.
Stand up. She needs you.
Bit by bit, Elissa sat on her knees, panting hard. She put her finger against her nose – it was still running blood, but she felt it less swollen than before. She was coming back. And that meant Mastra Verna would perceive she had a relapse.
One problem at a time. Sadja comes first.
Now, let’s think. Thinking was what she did best, after all. She born for this.
Elissa pulled herself up. Her white vest, ruined. She limped towards the bathroom, where she took off all her clothes and jumped into the already-heated pool, leaving the soft embrace of water to clean her body off. Tiny streams of blood got lost into the water like wriggling snakes.
The High Seer… as it was a little easier to call her that way now that her mind was trying to slowly come back into one piece… had asked her to put the Hunter on her path. There she’d bribed him. Elissa frowned at the thought of what she must have promised him, the same thing she had always denied the Hunter: the Sere Rite.
The fact she had just given it to him, without even asking her, without even mentioning it…
She balled her fists underwater. It had never been enough with her. Never been just about enough… no matter everything she did, everything she gave… she’d only just be squeezed more and more and more.
And now Sadja was going to come home. In the same underground bunker she had escaped once. The same underground bunker Elissa had believed she was being treated well, not… not… poked through as she had always been!
The past six years had been all for nothing.
Not unless she did something fast.
Very fast. The High Seer would be there soon.
Elissa slowly let out a breath. Bubble broke on the surface as her body sunk bit by bit into the scalding water, until not even the tip of her red hair remained. And there, in the womb-like depths of the holy water pool, she grit her teeth and expanded her awareness, sent out tendrils fast and wide, crossing past her chambers, the temple, Belacqua’s streets and its iron walls, the encroaching woods… searching, searching. The world bisected into fault-lines like through out-of-focus glasses, branching certainties into possibilities, and possibilities into doubts, and doubts into rarefied clouds of chances – searching for the set of actions that could lead the future into the most favorable path.
Deep beneath the waters, Elissa, Augur of Belacqua, did what she did best and began to See.
Pic by KelThuzad
Author’s Note: another hard chapter. Sometimes I feel like I only actually know two or three words and I keep reusing them for everything. Shame on me for not eating Thesaurus with my cabbages when I was a kid. All things considered, it has been a blisteringly loathsome day (and the latest news about nuclear holocaust surely makes it all the much easier to sit down and write about the apocalypse! Fun!) but we’re still here, still doing this. If luck serves us, I will be able to write the next chapter and draw to a close the first arc of Patina. Thanks to all those who are reading. I hope this story provided you with some good times.