The Hunter rubbed his face, trying to see how much of himself was still there. For a given value of there.
“How can you be here?” He frowned. “And what’s happened to my body?”
“Your body is perfectly busy dying,” she replied matter-of-factly. “Which is one of the reasons why we don’t have much time. I can stall the blood loss, but the rest is up to you.”
He lowered his head.
“Then I am afraid it was all for naught. I don’t have anything else I can give. You’d be better off spending your energies on Sadja.”
She tilted her head, sizing him up.
“She told you her name. On her own. Verna did not. Don’t you think that’s enough of a reason to try again?”
“Even if it is, I am broken beyond repair. There’s nothing else I can give to Sadja, Lenora or Belacqua. I have failed in everything, Augur.”
“That’s a fair assessment,” she allowed. “Especially when it comes to my poor predecessor.”
“I was told you could help her. That’s the only reason… how did you know about Sadja?” Everything was making less and less sense.
“Help her?” Elissa gritted her teeth. “Hunter, did you ever take your time to learn what the Sere Rite even is? The reason why I told you time and time again I wouldn’t perform it, no matter how much wealth you gave the temple and the town?”
He shook his head.
“Figured as much… and Verna told you I would comply… Spirits, that woman.” She huffed and her spirit kicked on the ground, even though her naked foot passed through it like air. “The Eerie that has been haunting you for six years is beyond my capacity to fix. Beyond anyone’s capacity, in fact. Not even if the entire Order were to take it upon themselves to exorcise her, we’d be able to hold her down. The Sere Rite works by destroying the life-giving power of water in something or someone. In doing so, I’d forever lose all chance to sanctify water.” A pause. “It would also severely reduce my health and lifespan. It would suck me through the spell venom through a wound, and I’d end up a withered husk, pale and grey.”
He took a step back.
He’d just heard of the rite and was told it would be enough to kill her permanently.
And who told him?
Who told him that?
A blonde woman with her eyes forever hidden and a smile forever present.
“But… I had no idea. I’d never though it would imply that for you. If I had known…”
“You never asked,” she replied with a sneer.
And to that he had no reply.
“There’s more. An Eerie can indeed be destroyed by something like that. But this Eerie used to be an Augur – her cursed flesh still bears the signs of the holy water she could generate, hence her connection to the Heart of the Forest is twofold, for her Sight made her even more vulnerable. I myself can feel the pressure right now, Hunter. It’d be like opening up a conduit for the Queen directly into my heart. Making a Tide appear in summer, if you will.”
“Wait, so you mean there’s no… there never was saving her?”
She shook her head.
“Not this way, for sure. You and that Eerie are connected. Much more than you might think. It keeps coming back, stronger and stronger. If you want to destroy it, you can’t work with others. Or have others put their lives on the line for you.”
Ashamed, he bit his lip, turning to watch his body still bleeding on the ground. His wound seemed to be closing, but that was it. And Elissa was doing all this in order to help him.
And not just him.
He sat down on the invisible floor, taking his head between his hands.
“What about you? You said you did not just come here to scold me. Is there anything else I can do? Admitted I survive the next few minutes.”
“Did you wonder where we come from, Hunter? People like me, people like Sadja.”
“I met a family of…”
“… yes. They were taken by the Tide and turned. I suppose something like that might have happened to Sadja. Or you. But I always thought you were just a really gifted Augur. Is there anything else to that?”
She took a look at the white sky. She seemed to look past the clouds and towards the sun and beyond – the unerring stars, both the fast and the slow ones.
“I never really knew my parents. Nor did Sadja. My first memory is waking up from a cool and hard place, like a large glass cylinder. Seeing a young blonde woman looking back at me, without the mask she’d wear from then on, and her smile. I thought that was my mother. I remember her scent. I remember holding onto her shoulders. Then after me another girl did the same. She was even paler than me, and bore wolf ears and a short tail. That’s… all I remember.”
The Hunter went back with his own memory, to all those days spent out in the forest as he shoveled dirt away and Verna seemed to be looking for something. They had been following a trail of debris which she deemed to come from above.
“Verna… she once told me about the quick stars streaking the sky. They were made by the Erepeople, and during the last days of the War they tried everything to push the Queen back. She said they performed all sort of experiments in there, with the technologies they had at their disposal. Sometimes on their own people. And she said… not all those stars stay up forever.”
“It’s as good an explanation as any,” Elissa replied, waving her hand. “I can’t really go there with my Sight, and I don’t care beyond a certain point. What you must see, Hunter, is who is the person who hired you and what she did.” She began walking and the environment changed. The mist and the winter day turned into an electrically-lit corridor, full of unblinking lamps the kind of which he had only seen in Venexia. Two young girls held each other in a corner, covered only by white thin linen coats. The redhead looked up with eyes filled with fear.
“What she kept doing.”
Elissa walked on the scene changed further.
The wolf-girl, strapped to a chair, had her blood extracted as Verna watched on.
The redhead, prodded by a sharp stick, had to guess which one of the cards Verna held up in her hands.
Sadja yowled in pain.
Elissa covered her with her body.
Time and time again, the scene changed just a little, small variations like the experiments on Sadja turning into opening up her skin and folding it back down, and Elissa moving small objects with her mind.
“But it was never enough. Never enough. She’d kept hurting her, unless I did all I could to help. Unless I showed her I was more than enough for her schemes. Unless I was a good girl.”
The image froze in front of the wolfgirl abandoned in a corner. She shivered and trembled, sniffing and licking her punctured arms.
Next to her, the redhead held something shiny against her face.
It was a metal spoon.
Biting on her lip, she put it against her glistening right eye.
The Hunter held out a hand, as if he could stop the memory from repeating itself in front of his eyes.
Slowly, Elissa… present-time Elissa… reached for her blindfold.
“I suppose Lenora told you.”
About their masks, their blindfold? Yes. To hide the world so that its true essence could be revealed.
Her half-smile showed she already knew he had been told the truth.
“Of course, no Vestal ever goes to the deep end. Our masks and covers usually suffice. Not me, though.”
The younger redhead pushed.
With a sickening pop something round and squishy fell out of her orbit.
“I never really needed this,” Elissa said, revealing the stitched-over flaps of dead skin, like fleshy knots, stretching over the empty sockets where her eyes used to be.
Pic by CRAZYRUShttps://www.hiveworkshop.com/threads/btncrfalanx.93725/SIANAuthor’s Notes: and so we come to the end of another chapter I really had a fun time writing. I decided to split this conversation in two or the entire scene would grow too long. I hope you enjoyed it, and I wonder if you guessed the truth before the big reveal? After all I did give quite a few hints on what was going on. At any rate, thanks for reading and I’ll see you tomorrow for the celebration of sixty days with the blog and the 100-days-challenge.