Patina – Chapter 73

Sadja gritted her teeth, holding the piece of dried meat they had given her. It smelled sickly sweet and she would have preferred to eat anything else. Even the poor vegetables from the moth-people home, or the strips of meat the Hunter had given her had been much much better. Not to mention canned food. But she had to make do, and her stomach rumbled enough to make her ignore the smell and the foul taste as she bit into it.

The men kept looking at her, training their pistols as if she could swipe them off the face of the forest with a flick of her wrist. She very much wanted to. 

“That’s better,” one of them commented. “Are you learning to behave?”

She did not reply. She had learned it was better to just ignore them. Give them a false sense of security. Like the Hunter they had tied and chained her, but all she could move at the moment was her arm, and they’d soon tie it up as well. 

“Leave her alone,” said another. She had singled him out as the chief and she resisted the urge to strain her ears in the voice’s direction. She did not want to give the slightest indication she was still listening or resisting. So that when the chance came she’d catch them all by surprise. “It’s pointless. We’re almost there by the way.” 

Sadja, who was not facing them, could only look behind at the expanse of the river slithering through the trees. It had progressively grown larger and the ice thicker. Even the trees had begun to get sparse and less grey. From time to time she caught a tuft of brown grass peeking out of the snow, another sign, she guessed, they were bringing her south. 

Her stomach rumbled even more.

She ignored it. 

“How long until we meet her? I can’t bear another day in this damn forest.”

“Tomorrow? Maybe the day after,” the boss replied. “She’s likely going to give us a lift or something. For sure she’s going to pay us handsomely!”

“That’s right. What do you want to do with your part?”

As they proceeded to discuss how they were going to use their money, sadja tuned out and tried to focus on her own body. She felt sick, tired, weary and almost hollowed-out. She couldn’t face… her… in these conditions.

And yet, she kept thinking of the happy times she had shared with the Hunter and her moth-people friends. They had been kind to her, and even the Hunter ended up warming up to her and refusing to bring her to Verna. 

And now he was dead. 

No help would come that way. 

She’d have to rely on herself once again. 

Still, the memories were sweet enough to keep her determination burning. She’d get free once more. She’d manage to find some more canned food and enjoy eating it. 

She would not disappear. 

Beyond anything else, she thought, she would not disappear. 


The Hunter pushed the knife deep into the Eerie’s cursed flesh. The thing let out a screech, followed by another as the moth-father struck its head with his spear; though crude, the head ate through the meat like butter. He withdrew the weapon and quickly dashed to cut at its wriggling limbs, while the daughter jumped on high and used her weapon to hit the exposed neck. It trashed, bent and spread black fluids all over the frozen river, scratching on the ice. 

Then it jerked back and forth. Once, twice.

And it stood still as black fumes began to exhale from its toothy mouth. 

“Not bad,” the Hunter said, pulling away his knife and starting to clean it on a patch of snowy grass. “The four of you work well.” 

The daughter and son nodded at him. Then they also began to clean their weapon, while Cloria and the mother were busy working on the replacement torches to keep other uninvited guests off. They stripped more clothing and washed it on molten snow, while Cloria used her own blood and a dash of protective holy water to make wards. 

It was not enough against large things such as the one that had ambushed them at this corner, but the smaller ones would have to sod off.

The offering for the Queen, after all, only covered he and Cloria.

As he lifted his eyes from the blade he noticed something in the distance. 

A tall shadow with branching horn and eyes like beads of glass.

We meet again, trespasser.

He chuckled.

I plan to leave in a few days. You likely won’t see me again.

A flash of anger passed over those eyes.

I am thinking not. One way or the other.

He finished cleaning his blade and set the knife back onto its place at his belt. 

If you don’t have anything else to say…

Do you think you have won, mangled ape? A sliver of anxiety crept into the thing’s voice. You… the unhappy one that’s been chasing you all this time. Do you think it dead? It will raise again and chase you until the wet pond you call a sea, yo-

He swatted off his mind-voice, pushing those ideas aside and replacing them with a shining memory of a beautiful young woman with dark hair, blushing as she laughed. 

I know she will. I shall be ready to meet her next time. And the time after that. If that’s my punishment, so be it. I am tired of running away. In his head, another picture took place. Another young woman, with large blue eyes and wolf-like ears atop her mane of crazed white hair. Her mouth curled in a tentative smile as she shared her name with him. Besides, there’s someone else I need to reach now. Sorry if I don’t waste my time in banter with every ugly thing walking out of the forest. Good day.

He turned, shook his head to raise a mental defense over the Fae’s intrusion, and though he still heard its angry shouts trying to pass through his door, he mostly managed to ignore it. 

He regarded the makeshift gang he was forced to put together by time and chance. Or maybe something else. Maybe Elissa had a hand in this as well (she could, she was surely powerful enough), but he liked to think it was mostly because everyone of them had something to do with a certain girl with a big wolf tail.

And they did work good together. At least, there was a good base he could start to work with. Plan on how to set up their roles. The daughter, for example, was quickly and a heavy-hitter, but easily distracted and prone to anger. Her brother was far more cautious, but once he had a goal, he never strayed from it. Cloria had… her blind spots, but she was still a tenacious Venatrix and more than anything else was looking for a way to pay her debt to Sadja and make up for her mistakes.

In a way, they were much alike.

He closed his eyes, focused on the blood running through his body and on his breath.

One, two, three.

He let out the breath.

Behind the door of his mind now only silence came. 

Opening his eyes again he gestured for the moth-family to meet with him. Time to work out a plan.

Pic by Sun gate


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