Patina – Chapter 76

“This was supposed to only be for emergencies,” the Hunter mused, pointing at a seemingly-featureless spot on the ground. They had cleaned it off from snow and all five of them looked at him with a question in their eyes. “I suppose this is what you call an emergency, face down the chief of the Vestals Order. Heh… I wonder if there’s a bit of poetic justice in this.”

“I hate you and your theatrics,” Cloria commented, shifting her weight from one leg to the other. “The girl is still out of reach, how can an empty patch of grass help us?”

“The grass can’t do much,” he said stepping forward. He slashed his arm and let blood drop in a pattern, creating a wavy sigil that curled upon itself. 

As he completed it, the ground shifted and soil withdrew from the center, showing an aperture, its sharp edges betraying its industrial nature. An empty mouth filling with snowflakes, leading onto the underdark.

“Alright, you made your point,” Cloria shook her head and lit up a torch.

The daughter, always eager to explore, sniffed the entrance and recoiled.

“Shhhhmells ffhoull,” she said gnawing at her face. All four of them retracted from the entrance, shivering. 

“Right. Wait for us outside, we’ll be back shortly.”

“Don’t look at me like that. I know nothing about this!” Cloria protested when they moved their gazes at her. She huffed and followed the Hunter underground.

“She could readily see in the dark,” he said as they descended. After the first few steps where the iron and concrete still showed some passage of time, the surface soon turned pristine. It was a narrow corridor, barely high enough for him. She supposed the moth-people would have had a harder time coming here anyway, even if industrial leftovers did not hurt their flesh. 

“The girl?” Cloria asked, lifting the smoking torch. Were those screens? It looked little more than a hiding hole, but it still held some valuables, it seemed. And as they passed through the mouth of a door…

“Spirits,” she croaked.

“The girl, yes.” The Hunter ignored her shock and crouched in front of the pile of assault rifles, covered by a thin layer of plastic. Air smelled aseptic and unnatural, speaking of the former dominion of Man over the planet. And the Heart of the Forest allowed such a place to exist?

“Wait, is this all… all weapons?”

“Not all of them. There’s also all kinds of supplies. Don’t get too excited, most of it is useless.”

“These would still sell for a pretty price on the black market,” Cloria whistled brushing her fingers against the rifles. “Ohhh my babies. You look pretty.”

“On the outside, yes… but their components are rusty, hollowed out or molten. No matter how long certain weapons were made to last…”

“Then what are we looking for here?”

He let out a chuckle that echoed through the bunker. 

“You see, I used to find a lot of these places around the forest. Especially close to the river and the old lines of defense.”

“You found this place?”

“I mostly removed the dirt. Back when Lenora first became Augur in Belacqua, she did not come alone. I was more than happy to follow her friend in the forest. She told me a thing or two about her and I had the pleasure to break my back shoveling away dirt. It was a partnership.”

Cloria blinked, the gears behind her eyes connecting the dots. Her mouth opened in shock.

“You and Verna…?”

“We go way back. It’s a terrible thing, to annihilate a friend. Oh, here it is.” He crouched and picked up a long tube, connected to a metal mass on one of its ends. “The rest is useless, as I said. But I remembered about this piece her, and I thought it deserved a quick look.”

“What’s that, some sort of cannon? It looks like a cannon.”

“It’s something like that. Normally this would be nothing more than an expensive doorstopper, but you know the way she is… her mind is grinding gears, nuts and bolts and dripping oil and gold. Mastra Verna has the knowledge of the old world running through her fingertips. Like people used to be before the Tide. The way you said.”

Cloria shivered, remembering the few times she had brushed against the High Seer’s mindscape and the effects it had on her psyche. She had felt like sitting next to one of those fabled machines of old, the kind that could think and move by itself, devouring all in pursue of some higher, automated and ceaseless goal. 

“That’s the reason why,” he winked giving a hard pat to the metal tube, “I am quite confident this thing here is still working. You see, she spent half a day repairing it by herself.”


Elissa had to push through. Her palanquin swayed under the fading strength of her porters, while she had to coat her face in holy water every minute or so. The strain of trying to pull Verna’s mind away from the net of illusions and delusions she had cast at her feet was getting to her, each cell in her brain firing off its personal and unique flash of pain. 

She dried the drop of blood running down her nose. 

She had to do it. And she knew what to do. She had Seen this path, and the various branches and all the interconnections that would spill disaster, since that time in the bath, when she had broken free of Verna’s conditioning and cut through her knots.

Casting a web of semblance around every single occurrence so that even Verna’s mind would not doubt had been the challenge of her life. And if pushing through the forest to heal the Hunter had ripped her mindscape in two, this effort was ten times more punishing. 

But she held fast.


But enough. 

Gritting her teeth, a tiny clawed thought wormed its way through her mind: was she able to do this just because the Queen of Thorns… She… had brought her back from the brink, just a few days before?

Was she still the same Elissa?

Was she still Elissa, period?

Nonsense. She shook her head to chase off such useless worries.

She would soon face her greatest adversary, the same that had pulled the strings of her life ever since she came out of her capsule.

Even if all she had asked of her was just a genuine smile.

A pat on the head with no strings attached.

If she still had her eyes, she supposed they’d be full of tears by now.

But she did not have time for that.

She’s face Verna.

Elissa’s left hand took a tiny pouch she had tied to her belt. It had been with her often during her years as a Novice, but she had pushed it away from memory ever since she had become Augur. 

Now, she thought using it once more would be fit for the occasion.

She took out its contents. 

A worn silver coin.

“I’m going to land it on the side I want this time,” she promised.

Pic by hive

Author’s Notes: what can I say? I love it when something like this happens, small details coalesce into something larger. Verna’s old hobby might just come back to bite her in the ass. Surely the threads are about to come together as well. Thank you for reading. I hope we can reach the ends of part two soon enough. And then it’s onwards to the final part!


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