The Hunter pulled Sadja back. What she did was impressive, but he doubted it had been just enough to down Mastra Verna.
“You have been great,” he soothed her, passing his hands over her wound. Her skin healed and the wound closed, cruoromancy listening to his expertise as much as Sadja’s body. “Now please stay back and get some rest. You might feel a little tipsy. It’s normal. We’ll get you something to eat and…” he blinked. “Ah. I forgot. I got you more of the canned food you like. You can wolf down on it as soon as we are safe.”
Sadja’s eyes glinted excitedly, though her strength was quickly waning. She stumbled forward and he had to hold her up.
“Ah… I think… I’d like that…” she mumbled and her eyes closed. She was out cold. He laid her down on the wet ground, turning to check on Verna. Who was still prone and bleeding, but you never know. The moth-people approached her as well, holding the broken shafts of their spears. Not exactly ideal, but it would have to do in a pinch.
Sadja’s blood lance had torn Verna’s ceremonial dress and exposed her pale skin, now covered in still-spurting crimson fluid. It flew down her stomach and between her legs as she twitched. She still wore her mask, so it was hard to understand what was going on.
The father poked her with his spear and she did not move.
“Hold on,” the Hunter said, tapping on the shaft. “Let me check.”
She was still alive, after all. And still dangerous.
He expanded his senses like he did weeks before to find Sadja – he searched for her heartbeat, checking on how bad her blood loss was, and if she really was about to die. He did not really know what to do in that case… if they just left her for dead, the rest of the Order would come to know about it, and even if she acted outside of their commandments, he doubted they’d be happy to see their High Seer like that…
“Stand back!” He shouted, waving at the four moth-people. They all complied, save for the daughter, who hesitated.
There was… something wrong with her body. Her blood did not flow right. In fact, it sent a plethora of signals that did not make any sense. What did she…
“Dis… appointing,” she gurgled, standing up on one elbow. Her ripped clothes shifted and showed what was beneath them: beneath her skin pulsated wires, whirred tiny mechanisms and blinked lights. She grunted as the machines hugging her bones wriggled under her flesh, adjusting themselves, likely pumping her full of chemicals.
He should have expected something like that from her. Verna had always been deep into Eretimes technology. How could she resist experimenting with it?
Adjusting her mask on her face, she stood on both feet, panting hard and clutching with her wounded arm at the hole in her chest, which hummed with a sound that reminded him both of the glider and his lost sled.
“But not… unexpected.” She lifted a hand and her electric baton swung out in a crackling arc. “The girl comes with me.”
He did not waste any time replying. He charged at her before she could take flight once again, punching her right in the middle of her chest. She shrieked in pain and swung at him with her leash, carving yet another constellation of wounds on his chest. The moth-people took that as a hint and they skewered her with their weapons. Once again it felt like the world split in two different timelines: one where they did not hit her and one where they did.
And then they collapsed once again together. And the Hunter was pushing Verna down, and she was bleeding again from four more wounds on her side, on her neck, on her arm, on her leg. And she was cursing and shrieking at him.
So close he heard and felt and smelled the machine apparatus that kept her alive and kicking, together with the shimmer of her powers fighting against whatever force was holding them back, cancelling them out.
“Nobody does,” the Hunter hissed punching her in the head. His skin bruised against the metal mask, but he did not really care. “Nobody comes with you. Not anymore.” Another punch. Verna staggered.
The daughter and brother assaulted her and took her weapon, kicking it away. It flew into the woods and fell into the snow.
“And you stay here.” One final punch, at her solar plexus. Right where he had seen the most metal. Verna choked. The machines beneath her skin crunched and broke, shattered under the hit. She gurgled, let out a few mangled words he did not bother to try and understand, and fell back.
This time she stopped moving.
He extended his senses once again.
Yes. Still alive.
What to do? If he killed her, the entire Order would be on their tail. But if he let her live, and she recovered…
The wind picked up and passed through his sweaty, unkept hair. It came from the north. It smelled like overripe peaches.
“Right,” he said licking his lips. “Right.”
He left her there and went to check on Cloria while the daughter and brother rushed at Sadja as their parents looked over them.
The Venatrix did not look pretty. Half her face was a bloodied pulp, her arm was bent the wrong way and she sputtered blood.
“That was amazing,” he complimented her, crouching and swirling a few drops of his own blood onto her wounds. Not enough to heal her, of course, but it would stop her from dying of blood loss. They could still try and reach Belacqua…
“Heh,” she choked, spitting a tooth. “I am amashing. Tookhk uh enohough tho seeh iht.”
He smiled and picked her up, making sure to hold her in one piece.
They all gathered next to Sadja. The two moth-children held her up and looked at him for guidance.
“Well, I’m just about enough to die, and that would be the third time in a week. I’d gladly avoid that. I left our provisions a few steps back behind that tree, so how about we take them and leave before…”
He stopped. They turned as one. Verna was standing up again. Smoke swirling about her, the machinery pushed to its absolute limits, she gritted her teeth and raised both hands, pointing at them. She let out a high-pitched wail. The air sizzled like before a storm and all of them reached for their heart as a pulse pierced through them, threatening to make every blood vessel pop.
And then something whizzed through the air.
He was not sure what it might have been.
It hit Verna square between her eyes.
Her mask broke with a metal toll and the bones beneath shattered with a satisfying crunch.
She waved, took one last step and finally fell on her back.
Everything between her brows and her jaw reduced to a mangled pulp.
The machines beneath her skin whirred, hummed, and died in a shower of sparks.
Panting, the Hunter held a hand over Sadja’s chest. Her heartbeat was fine.
Cloria’s as well.
“Let’s just go.”
As one, they turned, leaving Verna’s corpse to its destiny.
Pic by The Panda