Seeing the future did not save you from surprises, Verna knew that very well.
And as Spirits would have it, they were usually the worst kind of surprises.
She sighed, passing her hand over her face, brushing against the hem of her metal mask. Rezzano stood next to her, pulling his coat tight on his freezing body even as she walked back and forth against the edge of the forest, clad in her usual Vestal garments.
“I don’t want to waste any more time looking for a reasonable excuse for your failures,” she stated, crossing her arms behind her back. A snarl twisted her lips and she grabbed the rifle held by one of the soldiers standing next to them. As if she needed anything like an escort. Insulting.
Without even looking, she aimed the weapon at the Fae tied with steel, industrial-strength ropes to the metal posts at a few paces away and took a shot.
A bang and a wavering echo – the Fae let out a pained groan as its left leg exploded in a puff of golden ichor, a groan that soon turned into a hiss and then a high-pitched scream when silver flames rose to eat away at its flesh, leaving only black bones exposed. It wriggled against the metal wires, managing only to prolong its agony.
“So you better explain it to me, Rezzano.” She finished, pushing the rifle back onto the guard’s arms.
The Fae kept screaming as boiling drops of its flesh dripped on the snow-covered ground.
“I hope you would appreciate our successes, High Seer,” he tried, his feeble voice already grating on her ears. He pointed at the rifles held by their (his) bodyguards. “We managed to produce working bullets. Moving from holy water to Argent has not been easy. We have to rework the entire production line, there have been shipping delays. With this winter…”
“You were warned!” She gritted her teeth, frustration getting the best of her manners. A good chunk of her mind was busy with other kind of worries, such as what was happening with Elissa, where the Hunter was… where her sweet, sweet wolf-girl was. And here she could let the High Seer’s cool demeanor slip off. If Rezzano did not like it, he was free to find himself another job. She owned the entire facility, after all. “I personally told you last summer: this is going to be the worse yet. I told you to fill the warehouses, import machinery from the stained coast, renew the labour force, clean the furnaces. You don’t have even have excuses, Rezzano. Don’t try to tire my ears with nonsense.”
She pointed at the line of rifles.
“That’s all you can show me at the start of winter, and it’s a dozen rifles with a hundred bullets? It’s not one third of our production goal. And now I have to fix yet another mess…”
“What can we do? Argent is exceedingly hard to refine, and we already have a few lab accidents because the substance is just too capricious. I have had two researchers going up in flames like that bloke over there,” he waved in the direction of the Fae, now little more than half his body, the rest a melting good still burning silver, “and we had weeks of setbacks. You ask for the impossible, High Seer.”
“I ask for what might be easily achievable by a team of competent, motivated people.” She turned to look at him. And she seemed to tower over him even as slender and apparently frail as she was. “Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I should just give a trim to every unnecessary thought in that smooth brain of yours.” She lifted a hand and Rezzano groaned as she put her hooks deep into his mind, peeking at the various strands and knots of his personality, his memories, his decisions and desires and needs. So confused, so troubled. Just a few pulls here and there and she’d have a nice happy marionette like her pilots.
Too bad it was so much harder to put it all back together the moment she turned her head to focus on different matters.
But Rezzano did not need to know that. In his eyes flashed panic.
“N-No,” he groaned. “We are doing our best…”
“I will provide you with more samples.” The half of her mind lost looking for Sadja bristled in frustration. She had managed to get a few glimpses, and she knew, she just knew that the threads she had cast would end up taking the shape she had foretold, one way or another. But she’d have to wait. And with more time in between, the chances the Queen of Thorns would throw sand in her gears grew and grew. How many days before they brought her wolf-girl back? “And you will work night and day to provide me with enough bullets to fuel our spring crusade. This is our very last winter.” She withdrew her hooks and Rezzano sputtered, kneading his forehead as if he could patch its integrity back together, blinking through painful echoes of her intrusion. “We’ll find the Heart of the Forest and make it stop. We finally have a chance to kill the Queen of Thorns, to turn back the Tide, to retake our planet for mankind… and you give me…” she snarled, “… setbacks.”
She shook her head, advancing towards the pile of steaming goo that had once been the captured Fae. She scooped up a bit and sniffed it. It smelled like rancid flesh and burnt wood.
“I have dreamed of this day for sixteen years,” she mused. Since before she became a Vestal, she had one vision, one dream, one goal. To be the one to put the planet back on tracks. She had pulled all the threads she could to turn that vision into a reality. Becoming High Seer. Implanting her puppet in Belacqua. Throwing Lenora into the trash. All of it. Every single step, for the very moment she’d pull the trigger on the crowned figure in the woods, her crimson skin consumed by flames, pain going off in her shining eyes. “We are getting closer. But close is not enough.”
She cleaned her fingers on the snow.
Then she fell on one knee and drew a figure on the snow, followed by two more.
A tall priestess in the center. Holding hands with two shorter women. One also had a flowing white dress. And the other visible wolf ears and tail.
All three were smiling.
Pic by ~Nightmare
Author’s Notes: in case of doubt, break Verna in. I always love to write something from her POV and she has saved me many times from a creative drought. I hope you are enjoying the story as more of these threads come together. Thanks for reading.