It was different from the first time, when she had launched herself over the waterfall, into the unknown. She hit branches, wet sap splashing against her face, over her body, sticking to her tail and ears. Her back scraped against a pine’s bark and then snow rose to embrace her fall. She stumbled, rolled, fell on her face.
Sadja’s ears tingled.
The only thing she could hear was her blood, the thump of her heart. Everything else reduced to a ringing. What had happened?
She remembered trying to bit down onto Verna’s flesh, give her a piece of her mind by taking off a chunk of her meat, and then she had been pushed away and then… that purple light.
She could still see it, sparking yellow flashes behind her eyelids. Yellow flashes and little else. Even the feeling of the cold snow against her skin was alien and dull.
What had happened… some sort of lighting? No, it was far too strong. And Verna had to turn and face it on her own, which probably meant… an attack of some kind?
Sadja rolled on her back, trying to get more breathing room. She opened her eyes a sliver, and sunlight bit into them like needles.
“Yhnnn,” she yelped, covering her orbits with her hands. Where was she? On the ground, it seemed.
Her body hurt all over. Besides the strain from fighting Verna’s intrusion now she also had to face these new wounds.
Never a moment of respite.
But she had to stand up.
Had to try. Make use of this moment.
Try to escape.
If she was lucky…
And then she did stood up.
But not by herself.
The same invisible force as before.
Sadja opened one eye, and bit by bit she managed to see what was happening.
Her surroundings had turned into a smoking crater, pieces of metal stuck onto trees and peeking from patches of melting snow. The largest one the entire half of the flier, lay on its side, a molten hole inside it still smoldering with steam.
Verna stood with her arms raised, one hand coiled in a cruel grip, the same holding her up from the snow. Her mask still covered her face, but her clothes were soiled and half-burnt, as was a large swath of red skin all over the exposed side of her body, looking as if someone had tried to cut her in two with a white-hot knife.
But she had survived.
“Who dares?” She hissed, looking around.
From amidst the wreckage, a few arms stuck out. The rest of the crew, who hadn’t been so lucky in avoiding their fate. Were they willing servants, or collared slaves just like she used to be? Sadja hoped they enjoyed their last moments in freedom.
Speaking of which.
She started to move against the grip, though she was aching so bad she could barely lift her arm.
“I expected our meeting to be a tad different,” said a male voice.
Sadja opened both eyes as her heart jumped into her throat.
It couldn’t be. She had said he was dead!
But, Spirits, she should know it by now! Verna always lied.
And there, standing against all odds, against all plans and like a thorn in the side of every forecast and prediction, a fly slipping past the carefully-spun of an old patient spider, stood the Hunter. A bit worse for wear than the last time, his clothes singed and with deep bags under his eyes, but alive.
“Hello again, Sadja,” he said with a smile. “We are here to give you back your freedom.”
“Lovely sentiment,” Verna replied with a sneer. Standing amidst the columns of smoke and melting snow, she looked, as always, awfully confident. And yet there was something in her pose, a stiffness in her voice, a hint of uncertainty. Like a first fracture in a pane of glass.
She did not foresee this!
She was blind just like they all were! For the first time in her life, she had been taken by surprise.
How this could be, Sadja had no idea. Her brainpower was best expended trying to get out of this invisible grip, but no matter how much she started to (weakly) struggle, Verna’s powers remained as strong as ever.
“Sentiments usually don’t take planes out of the sky. Or gliders. Whatever that amazing piece of techs used to be. Sorry for ruining your toys, Verna. It’s kinda become a habit as of late.” The Hunter unsheathed his knife, pointed it at the Augur. His face was dark, and stern, but there was a hint of sadness that Sadja was not sure Verna deserved. “I considered you a friend. I still hope we can go back to it, in time. Let Sadja go. Stop trying to put her in a cage. Do the same for Elissa, and we will let you walk out of here without a scratch. I promise you on my blood.”
Verna shook. It took Sadja a moment to understand she was laughing.
“Oh, I see, I see. You now seek to betray me. You and the savage moth-kin of the woods, you and that failure and traitor of a Vestal. Show yourself, Cloria!” She shouted. “Do you think I did not foresee this, you worms? I knew you would turn against me the moment I saw you… Hunter. The moment you asked for my help to put your dirty hands all over that second-rate novice in Belacqua! Tell me, how is the fruit of love? Has it been bitter enough for these past six years?”
He sighed. Her attempt to rile him up fallen on deaf ears.
“I would appreciate if you left Lenora out of this. I will deal with her in my own way.”
“Sure! Cutting and slashing and beating her into powder, until you hope she will stop haunting you? She will never! And if you lay your hand on me, I shall make sure you never know rest, or respite, or warmth again.” She arched her back and pointed her finger at the skies. “Your blood and your spirits are paltry thing before my Sight.”
The Hunter grinned. Pointed at the smoking fragments.
“Was getting blown up by one of your own weapons part of that plan, Verna? Don’t talk to me like I’m one of your sisters. I did not come here to lick your fingers.” A pause. He grabbed the hem of his coat. “Last chance before we start putting our words upon our blades.”
Verna laughed again. She shook like a tree under a blast of wind.
“Blades! Every strike has already been decided. Every outcome already known! Every swing will fall, every step will stumble. But so be it, solve things your way, Hunter” She licked her lips. “Violence is, after all, the last refuge of desperate people.”
“Hang in there, girl,” he said to Sadja. “A certain Augur is about to learn it’s not just me trying to break your chains.”
“One or one thousand, every blade of grass bows to the sickle!” Verna held out both arms. Sadja was pushed against a tree and the branches bent around her, trapping her in a cage of wood and needles that bit into her already-abused skin. Verna flicked her wrist and a long staff appeared in her hand. It crackled and split into a long snake, spitting electricity and hissing with sparkles. “Let’s see you dance your last, Hunter. For old times’ sake.”
Pulled at his coat and took it off, revealing his torso dripping with blood. Lines of glistening color glowed like molten iron on his wrinkly skin, reaching into his arms.
“One last dance between friends.”
Pic by abcAuthor’s Notes: another chapter I’m really happy with. Special thanks to a friend of mine who kindly pointed out purple’s complementary color is yellow, not orange; thus, Sadja’s eyes would flash yellow after a purple flash. Also, must point out I truly enjoy the moments the villain starts to crack. Yet, Verna has shown to be a formidable opponent. Now that the final battle seemingly approaches, I really hope everything goes well for the Hunter and his friends. As always, thanks for reading.