More than anything, Elissa feared the old cities.
She had to pass through them if she wanted to keep to the fastest route. The threads she pulled threatened to wriggle out of her grasp at any moment and the exact placement and time of Verna’s rendezvous with Cloria’s old crew was still fuzzy. Somewhat up in the air. She knew the general direction, but every moment made it harder to pinpoint it.
And there was also the matter of the Eerie following them.
Another thing they taught them during Novitiate: the forest was bad enough, but the overrun cities were worse than anything else, short of the Old Country itself. It was there that the majority of the weird flesh rested in uneasy sleep.
Thus, after wasting a bit of time to allow her porters to sleep and eat and relieve themselves (as they were not automatons and she had to keep them in good conditions), they had to pass through one of those skeletal suburbs.
She proceeded with caution, tying together as many strings as could, to the point she had to tampon her nose running blood once more – pressing thoughts pulled on every direction upon her ripping psyche. If she managed to place enough tiles in her favor to win this, nothing would stop her from getting some well-reserved rest. And knowing she had done everything she could… to help her, to save Sadja from Verna’s grasp.
Well, that was her own generator, so to say. The same kind that kept the engines of Belacqua running kept her mind from unravelling itself into a thousand’s thousand unrelated thoughts.
So she lead her porters through the blasted city. Behind every door lay the potential for a tide of teeth and eyes and eager claws, so she had to be quiet. She cast as many wards as she could, to the point they almost did not leave any footprints in the fresh snow, to the point their smell was the same as ice, to the point that, when they passed right besides an Eerie feasting on the bodies of a pack of timberwolves, they did not rise its suspicion.
Its huge black eyes peered through its glass-like cranium, the black flesh giving way to seemingly glass-like meat, pulsating with black ichor and twisting muscles, but they passed.
As they left the last of the blasted homes behind themselves, Elissa could go back to breath more evenly. She released most of the wards and she let the world go back into her perception, even when her head hit one of the palanquin’ supporting beams.
“Ow,” she groaned kneading the side of her head.
Growing so weak so soon?
But she couldn’t afford the luxury of sleep. The moment she lost consciousness, her porters’ minds would start to go back to themselves and while it would probably take them a few hours, it would either leave them stranded and insensible as Eerie munched happily on their uncaring bodies, or they would just go back to being self-aware, self-determined people and would likely have a few questions.
Either chance was unacceptable.
So she pumped herself full of self-produced chemicals, directing each breath, each beat of her heart in the right direction, wasting as little energy as possible. Managing her body and spirit with utmost perfection, so that she wouldn’t fall to dehydration, to cold, to lack of sleep. So that she couldn’t, at least for the next few days.
It was an ever-thinning blade this one she was running over.
As her hands gripped on her clothes and a few drops of blood fell once more down her lips, she gritted her teeth and renewed her efforts.
It did not matter what it took from her.
They’d get past the forest.
They’d get past this.
And together, yes, together (Sadja and Elissa, together), they’d manage this.
You can make it, she repeated to herself. With every breath.
Every each of her porters’ steps running up her spine.
Every sway of the palanquin.
Every chitter and groan and gurgle and half-remembered word following her.
And most of all, with every beat of her tiring heart.
The tiny thorn in her palm felt ever heavier.
Just wait. She was going to be there. She wouldn’t make the mistakes of the past. Not this time. And nobody would be able to stop her.
I’ll be there. I’ll be there for you.
And not the Queen of Thorns.
Carving his way through a wall of black, biting flesh was a good waste of calories. Calories and time. The Hunter was very well aware of this, and yet he couldn’t stop smiling.
Next to her, gagging on a few drops of ichor, Cloria spat on the floor of the building, covered in moss and now in still-shaking entrails.
“What’s the big plan,” she asked, waving her arms at the ring of smaller and larger Eerie they had to cut down to size. “Isn’t this yet another detour? I though we were on a tight schedule!”
“We most certainly are,” he panted, running his elbow over his mouth to clean it. For a given value of cleaning it. But this was good training, above all. Cloria was unscathed, not even a scratch on her. A good sign. As for him, the moment he understood what lay below that isolated roof, he had jumped at the opportunity. Their multi-armed friends would forgive them once he showed them what they looted.
“Then explain this! Explain what in the Spirits’ name you are looking for!”
“You told me about the wonders of the past, about what we used to have back in the day. Weapons, vehicles. I prefer this, by the way.”
Still grinning from ear to ear, he pushed past a fallen shelf to reveal the incredible treasure they had to cut through a meter of cursed meat for: piles upon piles of small metal cylinders.
“What the…” Cloria picked up one of them. “You had me eat through Eerie flesh for canned food?”
“Hey, someone I know is a big fan.” He began to pick up some more. “Besides, I’m sure our moth friends are going to love them as well. These have only expired seventy years ago… they’re practically as good as new.”
Rolling her eyes, Cloria began to help him.
Verna led her aircraft over the river’s curve. From up on high, she could see the shoreline running silver to the south, and the edge of the world of Man.
She was a bit early.
As she was wont to do.
But that only gave her more time to savor her victory.
Soon enough, the trio of people Cloria had gathered would come out of the trees, carrying their most precious of loads. Sadja would be taken back into the family, as things were supposed to do.
On their way back, she might as well pay a visit to Elissa back in Belacqua.
She had been such a good girl all this time.
She had earned her reward.
“One big happy family,” she muttered, drawing the same picture of three figures holding hands. “And not a moment too soon.”
Pic by Juice_FAuthor’s Notes: another chapter I enjoyed writing. And finally it seems like all the threads are coming to an end. I can’t wait to write the next few chapters and put the second part to a close. I hope you will like what’s in store for these characters! Thanks for reading.