Patina – Chapter 72

The bowel-like corridors spread ever deeper, leading Verna into a forgotten treasure trove.

This did not just use to be an outpost. Her hands reached for a rusty table, over which lay small plastic toys, their paint long-since lost to mold. She lifted a rubber duck and gave it a small squeeze, but not a sound came from the animal. Her fingers admired its build, the seamless construction, the slight crease where the machines of old had imprinted a new shape to the formless material. 

Made in China, it read. 

She had read about the country. It was supposed to be on the other side of the world, and she’d probably never see it, no matter witch which pair of eyes. But it was such a rare and precious thing to hold a remnant of the Ereworld in her hands. Her heart beat fast and hard, making her giddy with curiosity. 

People used to live there. An easy assumption, given the amount of bones they met, most of them licked clean of any trace of meat. It was as if the flesh just stood up and walked away.

Not an uncommon occurrence during the Fae war. 

But there were other details. Notebooks left half-open. Abandoned meals. Pencils and mugs left on the floor, abandoned in great hurry. 

She lifted a hand and touched the wall. Through her fingers passed a jolt of decades-hold fear. Holding her rubber duck, she walked down into the next few rooms, finding more of the same. Her guard followed her. He aimed his light straight ahead, sharing no words (what kind of wisdom could he possess to share, anyway?) And focusing his instincts on any possible threat.

She did not need to cover her eyes to see that something bad had happened here – and all of a sudden. 

Her grin widened. So exciting! Her left hand brushed against her leash, coiled at her waist. But it was not time yet. Even with her powers somewhat reduced by her natural sight, she knew time would come soon enough. 

She passed the rubber duck to her companion, who put it in his backpack. As they walked down through the corridors, past the burned blast-doors and over the creaking bones strewn over the floor, she found a few more treasures. An ancient tray-computer, its clam-like shell cracking in two as she opened it. No matter. She knew it would, and she was after the wires and the soiled electronics still hanging on for dear life. After all these years, the complex mechanisms and chemical substances would have destroyed any chance for it to ever work again, even past being salvaged, but it was still exciting to pass her hand over such a powerful product of the old industrial civilization. She put it upside-down on a table and unscrewed it with a gesture of her hand, pocketing the screws. Tiny ones like those were always powerful. From the inside, she recovered the battery (which would be useful as a chemical firebomb) and the central processing unit. She held it between her fingers and put a kiss on its cold, textures surface. 

“We’ll be back soon enough,” she commented. “I promise.”

Holding onto it, she turned her head as a sound wormed its way through the dead silence. 

A hissing breath, flute-like. Like someone was trying to play an instrument by simply breathing through it. 

Her guard stepped forward, lighting the corridors ahead.

Only dust and old bones. 

Verna proceeded, crouching over of the skeletons. It was such a strange feeling, to not be able to see ahead that far. Even inside this old facility, the Forest had kept it in its spell for so long her Sight was still greatly hampered. So she only had a vague idea of what was coming. 


She should do this more often. 

The sound repeated. 

The guard moved his light to the left, where the echoes had disappeared.


Silence fell back once more, for a bit.


Verna passed her fingers over the clean bones. Too clean. She had seen something like that in a settlement, years before. Hundreds of skeletons, their flesh completely spirited away in one quick swoop. Some sort of curse, or maybe even the direct intervention of the Queen of Thorns. 

She was more than able to do something like that. Which made her frown and her grey eyes grow darker. 

To see mankind reduced to such a state, even after all they had done together. Her grip on the computer’s carcass tightened. Such an incredible accomplishment, wiped off the face of the planet because of Her.

The day of reckoning couldn’t come soon enough.

And then something dropped on her head.

She passed a finger on the spot and withdrew it black, darkened by some ink-like substance. 

The guard aimed the light on the ceiling. 

There, nested amidst the corners, lay a wriggling mass of skin and flesh, strewn with teeth and eyes, each of them surrounded by writhing tongues. It hissed and puffed from its many tongues. Pale and smooth, ti did not look like any of the Eerie she had seen before. 

It jumped down with a shriek. 

She stepped aside, always just out of its reach. Its attacks were obvious enough to See, a clear hunch where the next swing would come, so she just took her time to appreciate how such a mass could have survived all these years alone in the dark. Maybe it did go out sometimes to catch more food? But there would be traces of it in its structure. No, its flesh and skin was wholly human. So she was really looking at an actual survivor of the last days of the war. 


Sadly, she already knew she would not get much time to appreciate it. 

Her guard opened fire. 

The mass of tentacles let out a Paine shriek as bullets tore through its flesh. The normal kind of bullets, of course. She wouldn’t waste argent ones on such small fry.

Still, the beast would not appreciate. It would turn and strangle the pilot, snapping its neck like a thin dry branch. Then it would extend its feelers and start pumping dissolving fluid onto his flesh, sucking it up and making it a part of its own. As the meat dissolved and was added to its wriggling mass, it would be too focused on the act of feeding, the blessed moment of its lunch, to notice Verna take out her weapon and turn its body into a burning crisp.

As Verna blinked and came back to the present, her vision played out almost exactly as she had predicted, save for the pilot putting up a slightly longer struggle and the thing skewered the pilot’s stomach to kill him. 

A few moments later, she pushed her fingers in the still-warm flesh, smelling the burned scent. Such a fascinating specimen. This was before the Tide, so the creature’s flesh had still retained its human-like texture instead of the black, protective layers of the current Eerie. 

Most fascinating. She moved her hand and ripped off a tentacle-limb, putting everything inside the backpack still-hanging from the skeleton of her guard. 

On the one hand, it was a pity she had to sacrifice him to the beast. But watching him wriggle and scream under its touch, try to overcome her control under the pulses of his fear, his survival instinct, had been precious info to add to her usual insights. And to take a look at one of the primordial Eerie, maybe even at some of the abominations unleashed against the human population at that time… truly priceless.

Sadly, as luck was seldom on her side, this more or less concluded her visit to the abandoned catacomb. She walked outside holding the backpack, filled with as many treasures as she could get her hands on: cutlery and cans, old bullets and some bones, posters, food and even some electronics.

She came back to her glider with a big smile.
As for the loss of the pilot, the Spirits would guard its soul, or what remained of it after being digested. And she could easily make up for his loss.

With a gesture, she commanded the vehicle to lift and fly away to her rendezvous point.

Sure, it did take up a little more of her mental energy to move, but she was so close to victory she would gladly pay the price.

After all, in a few hours she’d hold Sadja in her arms again, and then everything would just go back to its proper place. 

And next year, one final spring to end all winters.

Pic by Darkfang

Author’s Notes: as always, writing Verna is a lot of fun. I tried to give this chapter a bit of a horror vibe. I hope you liked it. We’re getting closer to the end, so thanks again for writing and sticking to it.


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