Cloria opened her eye.
Then the other.
She felt like the Gian Eerie from before had munched on her body and spat it out. Her right wrist especially hurt. Groaning, she tried to stand up but found out she couldn’t.
She looked down at the ropes holding her to the rock.
Seemed like her life had not improved by much.
“Verna once told me about an Erepeople story,” a male voice said nearby. Sitting against another rock on the frozen riverbed lay the Hunter. “But I don’t think it’s appropriate to call you a ‘sleeping beauty’.”
She let out a sigh and let her head fall against the rocks.
“Where are we?” She asked in a croaky whisper.
“Down the river to the blasted plains. Half a day’s journey from where I found you bloodied and betrayed.”
“You can say that. Rub it in.”
The Hunter stood up and walked up to her.
He survived her shot. And at once Cloria realized that the same guy she had just left for dead was coming closer and closer.
But even if her chafed instincts tried to push her to stand up and try to escape, her heart was not in it.
She had failed beyond any salvation. She did not really care anymore. He had probably only saved her to taunt her for a while, rub in how superior. Venator he was to her. Even with Verna’s backing, she had only managed to make a fool out of herself.
He crouched next to her and pointed his finger at her chest.
“I have seen what you did. Your Order would not be happy at all.”
What was he talking about?
Ah, yes. Her scars.
The blood spell.
“Your cruoromancy is still a bit rough around the edges. You have to take better care of your geometries or you are going to kill yourself.”
“Keep taunting,” she said, looking away. “I don’t really care.”
“You cared enough to bite into your wrist to protect yourself from the Eerie,” he retorted. “I am sure deep down you don’t really want to wake up a cursed corpse.”
He began to unbutton his chest, showing the weird terrain of his scarred skin.
“I have a proposition for you.”
“I was in the wrong accepting this Hunt, though at the start I did not understand that. Now I want to get the wolfgirl back. She doesn’t deserve what’s going to happen to her.”
“Big deal,” she tried to shrug but the ropes bound her. “Verna is going to put her into her cupboard or something, maybe get a bit of scolding. Is that worth losing your soul over?”
“I can make you see. Elissa of Belacqua used her her own arts to show me, but I can only do so with a blood spell. You still owe me. Help me get the girl back and I’ll consider it even.”
“Hunter… we’re lost in the middle of the Tide, tired and broken and armless and you speak of getting that girl back from Mastra Verna?” She let out a weak cackle. “Save me your fantasies. I couldn’t do my job with the best help I could find. I’m a joke of a woman, and failed in everything. Valeriana was right about me. I should have just stayed a Vestal, covered my eyes and spent my days purifying water in some backdrop town long behind the border. I would have caused less damage.”
The Hunter took her chin and tilted her head so that their gazes met.
“I was in the same position as you just yesterday. A girl was kidnapped because of my weakness, and another has reached through the entire forest to tell me to stop laying on my butt and do something about it. Damage can be healed. You are not a failure as a Venatrix. Maybe just as one of Verna’s pawns.”
She bit her lip.
“What… what did you mean you are going to make me see?”
He smiled, put his knife to his chest and drew a small cut, swooping up a drop of blood.
“Old man Salix used to know every blood spell ever wrought by the mind of Man. He has taught me a few. Words can lie, but not the crimson fluid.”
She groaned and closed her eyes.
Or you could just show me in mind-speak. I was a lousy Vestal, but this is pretty basic and you are extremely close to me. I think I had just about enough of blood for today.
She heard the Hunter chuckle and button up his blouse.
Then he put his head against her own and their minds touched each other.
And as the flood of memories entered her inner eye, she braced herself for what she was about to see.
Elissa did not throw the thorn away. She held it in her palm, gripping it hard enough to break her skin and make her crimson blood spill.
The… encounter had shaken her worse than she believed.
Your body is perfectly busy dying.
She did not feel ill at all. She had her health checked twice since the… dream, or whatever it might have been, and she was perfectly fine. A bit tired and stressed out, of course, but nothing besides that.
Maybe she had just pushed her Sight too far. She had been warned, back when she was a Novice, to never set her inner eyes onto the forest past the first day of snow. For no matter how far it might go, there was Another whose mind was far more powerful than her own.
And Verna wanted to fight that thing.
She shuddered even in the scalding water as it covered everything past her naked shoulders; lifting her hand she looked at the crimson thorn sitting in her palm. She had this in her throat when she was brought back.
The memories of the dream still haunted her. Being able to see once more, with her own eyes, catching the colors and the shapes, without having to make them out of the endless threads wriggling about.
And the Wicked Fae had promised her another gift, in exchange for what she would take away.
Beyond everything, just lies. She ought not to give them ear nor mind. Sadja did not forget about her. Would not forget about her. How could she, when Elissa had been there for her always, when she had gouged out her eyes for her, to keep her safe? When she was risking life and limb, putting her very soul at stake just to see her smile again?
No, the words of the Queen of Thorns were just poison and bile.
And yet, she did not let go of the tiny, harmless thorn.
Laying there in the hot water amidst clouds of vapor, she held it in her fingers as she tried to push her fears away.
Pic by hive workshop.com