Patina – Chapter 39

For days, Verna’s mind had wandered back and forth from Belacqua, from her best and brightest pupil. Every time she reached for her mind, everything seemed perfectly composed. Her brilliant Sight marooned in a sea of deep-seated fears, their scars giving shape to each of her tomorrows. Those were the reins she had to put in such a lovely young woman, the pulleys and chains she had a firm grasp on. All things considered, a small price to pay. 

And yet. 

There was something going on with Elissa she couldn’t pinpoint with her usual accuracy, and it bothered her to no end, like a tooth biting on the inside of her mouth. 

Her fingers squeezed the marble parapet. From there, the mist spiraled about, hiding most of the floating city, and if she tried to see without eyes, the influence of the Queen would dull her to everything going on past the line of trees. Truly, an itch she was having a hard time scratching…

“High Seer?” Asked a younger voice, pulling part of her mind away from her worries. 

Before her stood a dark-skinned woman a few years her junior, her long black hair held together in a ponytail, her brazen mask covering the upper part of her face as it was supposed to do. She wore a white coat with silver lining. The girl bent her head as she approached her. 

“My dear. You can speak without words, you wouldn’t distract me.”

“I can,” she replied, “but I wouldn’t want to bother.”

Nonsense, Verna flashed into the girl’s mind. Never be said I don’t have time for one so gifted. She gave her underling her best smile. She liked the girl. A part of her she wasn’t really proud of liked to see herself in the talented Augur, compare their pasts and perhaps their futures, even as they disappeared in too-fine mist to really reach them. Valeriana shone with the particularities of her threads. She felt like laying on a golden field, warm sunlight reaching for your skin. When she had praised her she meant it. 

Perhaps, once she had completed her task and squeezed the Fae out of mankind’s planet, she could sit together with her once again, watch the Augur bloom into the happy woman she was supposed to be. 

Thinking of which, that might entail postponing the little lesson she planned to give to Valeriana’s old friend…

So, then again, maybe she wouldn’t get to see it.

I came to you because I’m bothered, Valeriana said, speaking both with her mind and with her fumbling fingers. 

Aren’t we all? Verna replied. She leaned back from the parapet, giving way to the other Augur. Valeriana accepted the invitation in good graces. Her warm black eyes watched the city below even as her thoughts coiled in anxiety. 

I can’t seem to reach a certain person, she admitted at last. Her shoulders slumped in her vest. She has fallen beyond my sight. 

Venatrix Cloria, Verna replied, barely managing to hold back the spite. For all their similarities as gifted, driven women aiming for the very top, she and Valeriana differed in that tiny little detail. 

No need to look into the Augur’s mind to understand the effect of those two words on her. Valeriana’s dark skin turned chocolate around her cheeks. 

Truly I can’t seem to hold my thoughts in check. The younger Augur pulled her vest closer to her chest. Or perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised one such as you can understand with such clarity.

Verna chuckled, put her hand over the girl’s shoulder, pulling her closer.

My dear! I have been a Novice as well!

I know. There’s… that mind of wheat and sunlight wavered, afraid to peer through what she clearly valued as dangerous ground. I was told of your friendship with Augur Lenora. May the Spirits rest her bones.

Verna nodded; yet inwardly chuckled at the girl’s words. No such thing would ever reach Lenora’s remains.

Indeed. There is no shame in laying bonds with each other, Valeriana. It’s what mankind did, and still does. Friendship and camaraderie helped us almost as much as fire and iron. 

A pause. Just enough time for her to mull over her words, for her mind’s defenses to relax. Then she began to slither her own threads over her mind. Verna’s thoughts grated against Valeriana’s mindscape, hissing like acid poured on bark. Each of the golden and black threads, dripping noxious oil, would leave a deep-seated scar over the unprotected mind. 

But she was a powerful Augur in her own right. A direct approach would fail

Or at the very least be so boorish. Violence was reserved for the Fae and their wretched spawn, after all. 

And yet, we are driven by something more than friendship. Friends are precious on our side and must be cherished, but we can’t rely on them to reach our goal. If you want to perfect your training past the baseline required of an average Vestal, you must understand this. Lenora was… Verna let the pause linger.

A fool?

A joke of a priestess, throwing her gift and her duty away at the first sniff of a man?

Deserving of her current predicament?

passionate, Verna decided in the end. She was a great friend, invaluable, even. She allowed me to reach for ever greater heights. 

Such as when she got moored in Belacqua, giving her time to explore the deepest reaches of the forest, the many secrets that still slumbered there, untouched by forsaken roots… secrets such as two quite remarkable young girls.

I am thankful to Lenora, believe me. And that was true. The perfect pawn at the perfect time, in the perfect place. Killing three birds with a stone. And the man she had betrayed her Order for was now wrapped neatly around her little finger. And every day I pray for her soul. But you see, I did not stop, or even slow down. I continued on my path, to ever-increasing heights. Cloria used to be a lovely Vestal. Gifted, in her own way, I’m sure.

Valeriana chuckled, shaking her head. Her eyes flew to some past memory even as her lips curled in a fond smile.

She was gifted in trouble-making, for sure. I lost count of all the times I helped her copy on a test. She blinked, suddenly shocked at her words. I… I can say that, can’t I? We are both Augurs now…

Verna laughed again, amused at her reluctance. She always managed to instill a good deal of respectful fear in her pupils.

There’s no hiding one’s kindness, my dear. But just as that, there’s no hiding one’s duty. And here her thoughts turned stern, threads slipping in Valeriana’s mind, caressing the outline of that beautiful scenery. And Cloria betrayed hers. Insofar your past bond has been of little consequence. I would be saddened to see it holding you back.

Valeriana blinked. She seemed to be struggling with conflicting ideas.

It has not… I came to you because… 

Verna’s smile was so kind. Wide. All-encompassing. 

You said it so yourself. You are worried about what your bond may spell for you in the future. Best to cut it. The sooner, the better.

It would do her a lot of good. 

I don’t know, she replied, withdrawing her mind from Verna’s. Her defenses rose, she moved her hidden gaze away. I think I have been comforted by her presence, even if she’s far away. As you said, each of us have their duty. Maybe hers was to be the best Venatrix she could… just as I aim to be the best Augur I can.

Verna clicked her tongue. 

See? That was precisely why she was concerned with Elissa’s state of mind, with all the hooks and pulleys she had sunk so deep into the redhead’s psyche for all those years. Valeriana couldn’t compare to either of them, not truly, but she was determined, trained and willful. 

Better to make sure her redhead pet did not stray from her course. 

I came to you because I wanted to ask if you can do something for her, Valeriana pleaded.

Oh, she was still here?


I know it’s asking a lot, but if I ever truly earned some favor with you, could you see through the winter curtain and locate her? She has slipped past my Sight.

I’ll try. The Heart of the Forest is beating louder than usual. 

The younger Augur bowed in front of her.

“Thank you!” She let out with her own voice. 

Mention it not, Verna replied patting her head. Now, if that was all…

Yes. For the time being, at least. I have to make more reports, but I’ll be doing that in an official remark.

A quick glance at the girl’s future confirmed it.

That you will. We shall meet again.

“Yes. Can I…” too quick to perceive her through the threads, Valeriana gave her a hug. “Thanks for everything you did for me, Teacher.” Blushing like a girl at her first night in a common bedroom, she scuttled away to her own chambers, leaving Verna alone. 

She let out a long sigh, going back to lean on the parapet.

Truly a gifted girl. She had so much to learn still…

And yet, her words had awakened a worry too troublesome to ignore. The day of reckoning was, according to every thread she had sent out, reaching ever closer. Elissa was, as far as she could tell, as much under her thumb as always. 

And sadly, she did not have a superior to ask for help.

“Here’s another lesson, my dear. When the time comes, you can only ever count on your own two eyes…”

Time to take this Fae by the horns.

Pic by PrinceYaser

Author’s Notes: This was yet another chapter I had a lot of fun writing. There’s just something about Verna’s interaction with others that’s always endearing to watch. She’s a venomous, corrupting lot and it’s always great to see it play out. Just as well, first apparition of Valeriana who’s just about one of my favorite Vestals in this story. Hopefully you shall see more of her in the future. Thanks for reading!

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