She was still ensnared. Her ankle still tinkled softly as she and her captor slumbered through the southern part of the blasted city. Now that they had found a place where to rest, he had spent hours chanting in some language she did not understand, drawing a circle of blood around the corner where they had set up a small camp with a tiny fire.
She had watched him work, until in the end, evidently pleased with himself, poured some clear liquid over his wounds (was that the holy water he talked so much about?) and sat next to her.
“You do seem to know a lot about blood,” she tried. She did not like him. Not one bit. But she was trying to make him understand that Verna was not a good person, and that bringing her back to her was not a good deed, no matter what he might think.
So far, little progress. But it was the best she could, unless she suddenly found a way to cut through the thick clasp and chain.
“I had good teachers,” he replied with a strange look in his eyes. Not unlike the one he got when he talked about that woman, the woman who had written the diaries. “But I did not learn as much as I need. Most of it is just practice.”
Her eyes wandered over his chest, where layer upon layer of cicatrized skin peeked over the hem of his clothes. He surely knew how to cut himself.
“I can see that. Is there any meaning to it?” Maybe if he got to talk about blood she could make him understand they did not really need her for that stupid war, whatever it might have been.
“The outward spikes point to misdirection. Fae and Eerie alike are more likely to choose another path, as long as they do not know we are here. That means few lights and very little noise,” he hushed.
“An Eerie like the one that…” she extended her arm.
“That was a nasty one,” he smirked. “Quite small, though. The one you used to break your ropes… that was a bit more impressive, don’t you think? Metal won’t let go so easily, though. Please try not to hurt yourself.”
“What do you care,” she sniffed, waggling her tail, annoyed. “You’re Verna’s loyal dog, just that. You’re gonna get rid of me soon enough.”
“That’s an interesting turn on words.” He paused, leaned down to check on the blood lines once again. “Thinking back to it, maybe I should add another layer for the Venator who’s looking for us.” He scratched his scab open, without even wincing, and came back to his work.
She watched him pour his blood in pattern, drops pitter-patting on the dusty floor.
“I know it’s not an easy situation. For either of us.” He drew on the lines with his left index finger, tracing more arcane signs she couldn’t understand. Most looked like hooks, thorns, angles or mangled letters. “But you are here, awake, healed and with a full belly. I could keep knocking you out each time.”
“That’s so kind of you!” She seethed.
“I understand your viewpoint. And yet…” he let more blood pour, slowly drawing another whole arc of signs past the ones he had already dropped. “I can’t see Verna hurting you. I can’t see the point in doing so either.”
“If you did not want to, you’d just let me go free.”
He frowned, as if in thought.
“Let me finish. Never leave a spell halfway through.” He let more of his crimson blood flow and as he completed the new circle, she wondered whether he felt like she did when they took the fluid from her veins.
And who taught him that? It couldn’t have been Verna. She did not need anything like that, she just turned her head one way or the other. At most she waved her hand. A flick of her wrist was enough to make things fly or… or worse. She still felt her hooked fingers streaking through her mind, knotting her thoughts into a frayed net. At least, since she had come into the forest she had felt much clearer.
What would happen when they… when they’d meet again?
A ripple of fear went through her body and her ears stood up stiff. She had to play her cards before that moment.
“Now it’s over,” he announced, coming back to his spot next to her. He took a few gulps from a canteen and opened one of the cans, eating with his hands. “Need to replenish my blood. Meat is almost over. Need to save that for the important times.”
“You don’t talk much, do you?” She tilted her head, looking at him as if through a different angle.
He froze, finger in his mouth.
“You’re good.” Putting the can away, he squared her and he moved his hand to rest on the clasp keeping her ankle in its prison. “What if I let you go?”
Her heart blazed into a thunderous race. What did… was he serious? She looked back at him with wide eyes.
“I could do it. We have known each other for a while now. You have behaved well. If I let you go, will you promise you won’t try to escape?”
That did not make any sense! She was asking him to let her go precisely because she wanted to just bolt through the forest and never see him again! What was the point in that?
“I…” her lips trembled. She could fool him. Tell a lie and the moment he turned his back, she’d go into a mad dash through the city and then the forest and then… she had no idea. But she’d find a way.
She already did.
Even though her foster family sold her to him.
And a monster almost had her for a snack.
And the winter had only just begun.
Her legs trembled.
“As I thought. I would like to take off that chain, believe me. I would like you to understand that what awaits is… well, it can’t be worse than dying alone in the forest. You really seem to have Verna for what she did… but she did care enough about you to send me your way. And some other Venator as well.”
“I don’t understand it,” she wailed, pulling her tail against her chest. “Are you playing with me? Do you like it? Makes you feel strong and brave?” Her eyes stung. What was he saying? It did not make any sense… she just felt so bad and scared and alone.
“Keep your voice down… I’m just presenting you with facts.” He bit the side of his lip. “Lenora would be better at this… but my point is, I can’t let you go, because you’d just get away. And when you do, I’ll have to catch you again.”
She sniffed. Maybe she could ran fast enough…
“Spirits, if I even manage to get you before the Eerie do. We are almost out of holy water. You said you want to be free. I assure you don’t want to be dead. Or worse. The forest can do much, much worse, believe me.”
She did not reply. She scooted farther away from him, hiding her body in the corner, next to the tiny fire.
“If you promise you won’t escape, I can let you free. It would be easier to reach the sea that way.”
“And then you’d leave me with Verna.”
“But you’d be alive to see that moment. And maybe you can talk it out with her.”
“There’s no talking with her.”
“There wasn’t with me, either.”
She sniffed and let out a low growl. Whatever. He was just playing with her and making her feel confused and scared. Just like Verna did. He just had to actually speak.
“If you can behave, I can let you free. If you promise you won’t run away.”
No reply. It was just a cruel joke.
“Think about it,” he said, and turned away to tend to the fire.
Pic by LifeguardLeroy
Author’s Notes: another chapter I enjoyed writing. I like how they play out against each other. I hope this peace can last for a little more. Thanks for reading.