Patina – Chapter 30

Verna’s body played with a remnant of an ancient motor, while her mind was split in three. On the present moment, she was sitting in her quarters in Venexia, looking out of the richly-decorated window onto the city, its red roofs and paved squares hidden by the swift clouds of steam and vaporized holy water. Between the engines, the hundreds of priestess taking residence there, and the salty sea encroaching the floating city, the ancient dwelling was a imperishable fortress against the continuous advance of the Fae, and it made her feel more at home. 

Like how the world was supposed to be. 

Sometimes, for a glimpse of a moment, she could spin her mind down through the streets and the canals as districts floated close to each other, and get a picture of how the planet ought to have looked before mankind’s ill-gotten peace with the Queen of Thorns.

More of a ceasefire, if you asked her. 

Her lips curled in a smile even as her fingers twisted the wheels and pulleys of the old machine she was playing with. Now she had everything she needed to turn that ceasefire once again into open war.

The second third of her mind went back to a few days prior, standing in the containment chamber where she had taken her time to show the captured specimen everything she could do with the substance she had extracted and refined from Sadja.
She was once more looking down at the agonizing pile of burnt, smoking flesh that used to be a Morgaunt of the House of Autumn; it was a moment of such delicious triumph that she’d been playing it over and over with her Sight, reliving it time and time again. After all, she’d spent sixteen years of her life working for the privilege to be the one to set the world back on the right path. Once they got rid of the pulsating heart of the problem, humanity would be able to rebuild, and rebuild fast.

The entire cursed forest lay at their doorstep. Lots of wood to kickstart the engines of progress back into full gear.

But even if most of her felt giddy at the prospect, still the last third of her Sight was lingering on Belacqua, watching it from above like an oily, glassy eye in the sky. There had never been a time when she believed Sadja truly tamed, and even if just a few of the threads she followed had shown how her little ace in the hole might find the courage to throw off her shackles and escape, she had taken her precautions from day zero – setting the Hunter on her tail, and Cloria on his tail. That man’s heart had always been far too soft for someone with such a hard skin. Lenora had been far too good for him, and if she did not foresee that his talent would soon come in handy, she’d have outed their bond at the first chance she got. 

But as always she’d been patient – and look where that got her: the best Venator she could ask for, licking her fingers like an obedient dog, all for the promise of the Rite that would finally lift off his shoulders the weight of his guilt. 

She scoffed.

Such a ridiculous notion.

Speaking of which…

Verna leaned back in her chair, the only noise in her room the rhythmic tick and tock of the many clocks and mechanisms she surrounded herself with, and the creak of the ancient engine she was rebuilding without giving it a look, using neither of her Sights. 

As always, there always was just a tiny bit of a problem when you sat nearly at the top of the Augur hierarchy on the southern side of the Alps… the only person who was most powerful than you. 

Sadja she could control. She had always been putty in her hands, and even this little joke of an attempted escape would soon be over. She’d excise it from her mind and it would be as if it had never happened. Everything would be back to its proper place… save for the tiniest little thread she had to spend so much brainpower to keep in line. 

She pushed her mind downwards, towards the streets of Belacqua – unlike the last time she had to move past some resistance, like trying to swim through goo. The Tide had begun, and her Sight was already dulled by the encroaching winter. But she could reach the Temple easily, and through it, the redhead girl sitting in her own quarters. 

Elissa was reading. She passed her finger over the etched letters, following the indentations and turning them into words – she had always been such a diligent learner, eager to impress her and earn her trust. Not for herself, of course. 

That was the way to keep her under her thumb. Elissa might have been the most gifted Augur to ever live, but her weaknesses were spread about, soft and naked, and Verna knew where and how to stroke them just right. 

The girl lifted her head from the book. A old habit, to look down at the page while she read with her fingers, but one deeply ingrained. Their minds touched and she recoiled out of respect. And some more engrained habits she had spent years etching onto her brain.

 High Seer, she greeted her. I did not expect your visit so soon. Is everything alright?

Verna chuckled.

Why should I need a reason to check on my favorite pupil? Are you feeling well? Did you have any other accident?

She shook her head.

No. I am a little tired, though. Preparations for the winter are coming to an end and the Tide has been sighted at three days of march from here. Snow is falling. It’s going to be a harsh and long winter and I keep wondering if I made enough holy water for everyone. 

Verna brushed a tendril of her presence against her cheek.

How considerate. I’m sure Sadja will be delighted to know how much effort you put in your job.

A test. Press against the ice to see if it shrieks.

I hope so, her pupil replied with a smile. I miss her. 

That you do, my dear. Verna’s invisible feelers uncorked her skull, taking a deep look into her brain, checking to see if everything was in place. 

Weirdly enough, it seemed as is it was. The memories she knitted were all at their place, hooks pulling Elissa’s insecurities tight just enough to keep her on her toes, respectful and useful, but not enough to rip through her emotive state like it happened a few days before. 

In fact, it was a bit too perfect. 

She had expected some degradation, even more so if the girl had been under stress as she said. 

She was almost completely certain everything was going just as planned. 

She did not reach her station in life by piling up on ‘almost’ though. 

You make sure to get some rest, my lovely apprentice, she told her, tying up a few more tendrils onto the knots she had already fitted her brain with. Just like a spider when the corner of her web starts to vibrate, she’d come to get a look. Sadly, she could not do much more right now, with the distance, the Tide and the spreading power of the Wicked Fae to hold her back. 

But if Elissa tried to tamper with her generous attempt to make her live a pleasant lie… well, Belacqua was just at an hour’s flight from there. She’d fix everything soon enough. 

I was just about to get to bed, the redhead informed her. She shut the book and curtsied to the empty air. If I can be excused, High Seer? Unless there’s anything I can help you with?

Verna chuckled. She was a source of many headaches, but she knew how to be cute. 

Not this evening. You can go rest. Her tendril brushed once more against her cheek and she withdrew back into her body. 

The engine she’d been playing with was once more complete. That also added to her good humor. If she could build one of those without even looking at it, there was little doubt she still got in it in her. 

Everything would work out just fine. 

Pic by Darkfang

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