Patina – Chapter 38

The Hunter stood up, pushing the Eerie corpses aside. The night was licking its wounds as the wall of silver flames and smoke spread around, eating through the assailers and their cursed flesh. From downhill rose a choir of shrieks, calls, mangled words spoken by misshapen mouths. The smell of charred bones touched his nostrils and he grimaced. 

The girl. Where was she? And what had happened? Some sort of spell?

But short of the entire Order of Vestals dropping in from their fortress in Venexia, nobody could have cast such a thing. And he strongly doubted his old, scrawny butt was worth their time. 

No, it was something else. It was…

He stumbled forward on the snow. Diamond powder and cinders danced with each other, coating the snow in a foreign layer of grey soot. 

The girl lay a few paces ahead. She had barely managed to get past the line of fires. He went past it with no regrets, even if doing so would mean breaking the protection, but by now he had bigger things on his hands. As his boot went past the imaginary circle of burning timber and blood, a soft creak whispered against his ear and his rebuking spell was broken. 

Looking down at the scores of Eerie running into the woods, carrying with them silver flames riding them like crazed, bloodthirsty raiders, he doubted they’d reassemble quickly enough. No sign of the smiling Fae either. It must have cut its losses and scrambled for the protection of the woods. Judging from here, it seemed the silver fire only caught on the mangled flesh of Eerie, Fae and beast. The woods were untouched. 

He grimaced. After all, hoping for such a quick turnaround in the fate of mankind was a little too much even for an undying optimist such as he. 

The girl lay on her side. Her blue eyes fixed upon her wounds. Blood spilled from a row of bite holes where the Eerie had decided to get an easy snack. Her already-pale skin streaked silver with her mercurial life fluids made something inside him twist. He reached her and picked her up even as she tried to push him away, but her strength was clearly leaving her. Her ears lay flat at the sides of her head, her tail a forgotten appendage. 

The Hunter threw his coat over her and carried her back to the closest bonfire, away from the corpse of the huge Eerie she had used to get free. He shook his head. He had seemingly underestimated her once more. 

“And look where that brought us…” he scoffed. He laid her close to the fire and went to gather his gear. 

The fires, the weird kind, those that burned an unnatural color, disappeared through the forest like so many embers rolling down a slope. Branch and root ate them. All that remained was the smell of their burnt flesh and a bad feeling in his stomach even as night’s wind picked up a bit, carrying off the cinders. He tossed a look at the large Eerie. Its head was slowly going up in smoke.

“Spirits,” he whispered, picking up bandages, clean cloths and as much holy water as he could, “no wonder Verna wants you so bad.”

Coming back, he panicked a little when he saw her chest laying still.

“Hey. Hey, girl. Don’t you dare.” He opened the coat, lay his hands over her chest. Her heartbeat was still going, as was her breath, but she was dangerously close. The shock from the bite, the fear… this was partly his fault as well. 

For maybe the first time since he had caught her, the Hunter actually looked at the wolf-girl. She lay in the fallout of her own silver inferno, her blue eyes getting glassy, her hair messy, her skin almost see-through. Her wounds, scars and dozens of pockmarks clearly visible.

He put down his rifle, opened the bullet chamber and took out the last two bullets with Elissa’s holy water. He broke both of them and poured the few precious drops of holy water in his palm. What was he supposed to do with those? He wasn’t an Augur. He had his own ways to tend to wounds, but that had to do with the old kind of blood, the red and useless one, the one that could do little more than spill out and lay dead on the ground, not this sorcerous fluid. 

What would Lenora do?

His mind went back to the happy times, before that treacherous winter, so much like this one, when he lay in her arms and she took care of his wounds. The scratches, the bites, the gashes. She passed her wondrous fingers all over his skin, murmuring words he did not understand, nor tried to – he was too afraid of his unkind hands to touch such a pristine crystal ball. 

He was the Hunter. His hands were good at killing and little else. 

Gritting his teeth and praying all the Spirits, muttering their thirty-thousand names under his breath, he crouched over the girl and began to spread the holy water over her wounds. 

She let out a hiss of pain – good, she was still aware. 

“Stay with me,” he said. “Stay with me, girl.” 

She shook her head, as if to try and refuse his words, to push him away. To scatter him like the wind did with cinders. But he was much less worthy of a mote of ash, and the wind would not go down to his level.

Thus, all he could do was to pass Elissa’s water over her wounds. 

And then, when he ran out of it, open up the canisters of less-precious, commercial-grade water, the ones that he had bought in Venexia and Patavi, the ones coming from Tergesti and the other cities bathing their toes in the Bittersea. 

He held a hand over her chest, checking her heartbeat, and he ran out of one day’s worth of holy water, then three, then a week. 

And then he plunged the usual knife deep into his side, drawing his useless, primitive kind of blood, and he drew crimson words all over her body, each syllable a hook into her soul, to keep it tied to her body, a prayer to unknown, forgotten gods. 

“Don’t let her go,” he hissed. “Heart of the Forest, if you have ever smiled upon us, do so now.”

Blasphemy, to invoke the Queen of Thorns. But at this point he did not care. She had given him a slap on the wrist with his little trick back at the collapsed bridge, and especially after all that happened to Lenora she owed him one.

Above, the stars kept their careless dance.

From time to time, he looked up, holding onto the girl’s hand. Streaks of the same silver light that had coursed through the forest ran over the sky. The fast stars, man-made, ceaselessly blinking down at the forsaken earth and the world that had slipped out of mankind’s grasp so long ago.

They also did not offer him any solace. 


And far away, another kind of ears, another kind of eyes perceived the blistering agony of the Eerie tide. 

The body that had once belonged to a woman swung on the stalk that kept it mid-air. It sniffed the wind – and it felt something new, something unexpected. Fear and pain unlike anything before. 

“… ooohve?” It growled.
He was close. 

Whatever was happening, he was involved in it. One more reason to move faster.

But there was something else as well. Something that did not sit well with the black thing leaving a trail of bitten corpses and upturned trees in its wake. 

Something… argent.

Pic by The_Silent

Author’s Note: I really like this chapter, for some reason. I like some of the images and I like how we can start to imagine a more positive relationship between the Hunter and the hunted ones. Now, if only some other complication wouldn’t stick its neck from the corner… I’m sure nothing like that will happen. Thanks for reading!

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