There had been a time when Cloria swore she would never make use of certain rituals.
She was an enlightened, highly-educated and trained Venatrix. Even though people showed more respect to the girls in white much more than they would her, she had never looked back on her decision to leave the Order and take her own path.
She wasn’t going back on her decision now.
Nor was she a good Venatrix only when she was knee-deep in resources, surrounded by allies and mercenaries, protected by the best equipment a post-industrial nation could get her.
She just wished putting her finger knuckle-deep in Eerie tar did not feel so disgusting.
“O land,” she whispered, spreading the sticky goo all over the tank’s inner wall. “O bountiful earth. Heed our call.” Cloria spread the tar over the wall as evenly as she could, all the while she felt the glare of the men piloting the tank down the slope, racing to find the Hunter before the Tide found them.
She held out a hand.
One by one, the men pierced their wrists and let a few drops of blood, mixing their fluids together with the tar.
Was this really the only way? Venators used a different kind of… abilities from those she had been trained with, those she had been raised to think of as the only way to fight for mankind’s future. The blood polling in the middle of her palm felt warm and sticky and alien, as if it remembered very well it wasn’t supposed to be there. Or maybe it was just the vibrations from the metal beast.
She wasn’t sure anymore.
“O Spirits,” she said as she finished collecting their blood and poured it in a small bowl, mixed with the Eerie tar. “You now know us by our hearts.”
And as for the hard part…
Cloria cringed, hesitating.
But she had to do it. She had to show these men she could protect them, even if it mean spitting over everything they had ever taught her. Valeriana was not there to help her with tests anymore. She was on her own, threading on black ice.
She began to unrobe. Taking off her clothes, the thin mailcoat beneath, the sash holding back her small breasts, feeling the gaze of the men on each centimeter of her naked skin as her abs shivered, making her stomach pulsate with apprehension. What did they see? A renegade priestess? A self-assured Venatrix? A young woman exposing herself? She had never felt so vulnerable. But she had to to do it here, before them… show them what she was made of.
She gritted her teeth and picked up the knife.
She put it against her chest. The blade was cold. She wondered if it would gladly drink her blood.
“O Spirits,” she huffed, chafing each breath against her gritted teeth, “recognize our hearts, and know they are true.”
The blade bit onto her skin. She was used to the pain – scratches and bites and bullet holes – her flesh knew them all. But this… she was drawing something over her skin as she guided the blade in a circle, cutting through her skin and spewing crimson all over it, gasping with each jerking movement. Drawing a round sign, a completion. She was showing herself as whole. Using her own blood as ink.
He mind wavered to the times when she had seen the Hunter’s skin – as rough as tree bark with all those scars etched onto it. Years, decades of blood rituals, performed with little respect for how the world was supposed to work, spitting on the face of Vestals everywhere. And this was the same guy Elissa allowed in the temple and Mastra Verna spent time with?
She remembered being blind with rage.
Only after a few years, when the forest had chewed on her bones for a bit and she understood what she was dealing with every time her feet creaked over the grey, crimson-spattered land like an intruder, she had decided to let go of her pride.
“Recognize… our hearts,” she pleaded, choking on her own bile. It felt… it was like trying to tie a knot with her Sight, as little of it as she possessed. Trying to connect past and future into a flat circle, but using her own essence instead. She felt nauseous. She was giving birth and being devoured at the same time.
She closed the circle. Strands of red covered her shivering stomach. She put the bowl against her belly button and let her blood mix with theirs and the dross of black goo from the Eerie. They did not dare speak, but their eyes judged her. She was a Venatrix. A Vestal. She was Cloria. She was their leader. She would protect them, no matter what. She, alone, would hold back the Tide.
As the cup filled and her life fluid left her body, she closed her eyes.
“Now deem us worthy. Conceal us from the heart of the forest. May the Queen of Thorns stay her hand!”
The blood bubbled, boiled. Ribbons of smoke left the bowl and Cloria whimpered as she smelled her own blood, her fear and pain. The smoke rose around her, wavered.
It turned grey, then white. The dross she had collected from the Eerie bristled into foul-smelling fumes, leaving the bowl. Only blood remained, clearly divided in two circles: an inner one with her own darker blood and the outer one with that of her crew. As the liquid stopped fuming, the tar she had spread all over the walls seeped into the metal, like she had done with the sacred oils and waters back when they had set foot in the cursed forest. This time though the steel bent, popped and lost color, as if a white rust was eating through it.
“It’s working,” Cloria hissed. “Drink up, quick!” She lifted the bowl and handled it to the closest of her crew. “One sip each. Make it last.”
They did as she told them. She fell on her knees in the middle of the circle of men, having given her blood, listening as it pitter-pattered on the floor.
“O spirits,” she groaned. “Thanks.”
She fumbled to look for something to cover herself with and one of them gave her a towel. She pressed it against her wounds, wincing.
But the towel did not drink it. Shaking her head, Cloria looked at the cloth.
It was clean.
Her wounds were clean as well. The only sign of them a thin white line running in a circle all over her body.
“See?” She asked, not sure if she was talking to her crew or to the spirits, or memories of her past self. Or the Hunter. “I did it. They accepted it.”
“What’s gonna change?” Asked the Orzono. “Are we safe?”
“As safe as we can be,” she reached for her clothes and quickly covered herself. She did not want to show them anything else. Nor did she explain what she had actually done. But the spirits would now wave their net around their vehicle, protect them from the Tide. For a while, at least.
But as she passed her hands over her torso, feeling the scar even beneath her clothes, Cloria couldn’t stifle a small sigh of satisfaction. She made it. And even if the protection would not last long – her victory, her accomplishment… that would.
Pic by PrinceYaserAuthor’s Note: this is another of those updates that leaves a bad feeling in my mouth. It might also be the fact I’ve been feeling sick, likely a cold, but I feel like I could have explained things a lot better. I hope I can improve in the future. Still, I really like to show Cloria’s troubles so I hope you still had fun with our Venatrix. Next time we go back to the Hunter. Thanks for reading.