Patina – Chapter 88

Sadja shifted on his back. 

He turned his face to look at her. 

“Welcome back. Feeling better?”


“We’ll get you something to eat soon enough. We just need to put some distance between us and…”

At those words she stiffened. He shifted so her weight was better distributed on his back. The father carried Cloria and the mother their provisions, with the two moth-kids guarding the rear. 

Snow had come back, as did the chittering black shapes through the trees. The Tide was slowly coming back to its usual behavior. They did not have much time to reach Belacqua, but he felt like She would give them more than enough, provided they did not waste it. 

“Is she gone?” Sadja whispered at his ear.

“I am not completely sure,” he replied. “I don’t want to give you any false hopes. But I have a feeling we will not see her for a while. Maybe a long while. That last shot, whoever of you it was, got her good.”

“Wasssshnnh’t ussh,” the mother said, sniffing the air. “How llloohong unnnhtil ssaafhe paahssage?”

“We’ll have to meet with Elissa, the Augur I told you about. Shouldn’t be long.” He shifted his eyes to Cloria, but she shrugged, grimacing at the pain that caused.

“Don’t look at mhe lhike that,” she said, sounding a bit like the moth people after her beating. They had covered her with whatever gauzes and bandages they had left. Still, she looked pretty confident. “Whoever it whas, good shot.”

“It’s over,” Sadja decided. She slumped over his shoulders, and did not speak for a while. She seemed to be deep in thought. As they followed the frozen river downstream, he let her heart speak to his back, its regular thrum telling him everything he needed to know. “It’s really over. Is it?”

“Nothing ever actually ends.” After all, Lenora was out there. She would come back for him. If he was unlucky, before the end of winter. But he would face her again and again, until they did come to an agreement. She would probably never stop haunting him. 

So be it.

At least he got to do something good with the time he had left.

“And after winter draws to a close, I want to go back for my sled. Would you like to come with me? Spring turns the woods beautiful, and I’m sure you will love it.”

“No more monsters?”

“Nothing you can’t handle.”

Her hands gripped his clothing. 

“I would like to see something new.”

“Then it’s decided.”

He watched her nod and move he gaze to the moth-girl. She couldn’t exactly smile, but the clicking sound coming from her mouth did sound reassuring. She picked up pace and put one of her black, three-fingered hands onto Sadja’s pale, five-fingered one.

And so they proceeded.

The winter watched them go, but it stood back. It pincers dulled, it reminded them of its presence just by the occasional snowflake. 

What difference a few days made. Not long before, he had walked these very woods, holding the same girl. 

There used to be a chain between them.

Now that there wasn’t, he felt like they had gotten closer. 


Wind had died down in that part of the woods.

The smoke stunted, snow froze once again in a sheet of polished glass. 

It was silent for the longest time, as shadows crept eastward and the day slowly stumbled into afternoon and into evening. 

Bit by bit, a sound rose amidst the kissing snowflakes: a raspy breathing. The last corpse, the one covered in dark blood, pieces of machinery and ripped Vestal clothing began to shift. The ancient technology that had kept its second hidden heart pumping choked back to life, kicking in a slow and painful process of healing that would, in time, bring it back to full restore. 

Verna blinked.

What a mess.

She was still too weak to reach for her mask, so all she could do was look up at the off-white sky, looking for answers.

Where did she go wrong?

There surely was a moment when she misstepped.

She’d have to be more careful this time. She might have underestimated the Hag of the Woods, after all. Without Sadja, she did not really have a chance to hurt Her. But day would come. 

Another sound. 

Soft steps on softer snow.

She tried to move her head, or what remained of it. Her healing process had given her back her eyes, but everything past her nose was still a mangled pulp of bones and ripped flesh. Her breath came in long hissing gurgles.

She couldn’t see whoever it was. 

“I moved the coin.”

But she recognized her at once. 

Elissa’s body came into her field of view. She couldn’t see past her hands, which held her broken mask. She also held a bloodied, bent coin. It was the same she had made her flip, all those years back.

And in one flash of comprehension everything fell into place.

Verna chortled. A wet, ripping sound shook her throat as she laughed. 

… clever. She thought, sending the message onto Elissa’s mind. 

Her mind felt familiar and yet… changed? 

Something was off there. 

So it was you all the time. I thought… nevermind. That actually makes me proud.

Elissa shifted. Oh, it seemed that no matter how much she tried to deny it, her hooks were still present into her best apprentice’s brain. She had fooled her. A strange pride swelled in her broken heart. 

She would make a great High Seer.

I see, I see, Verna continued. You seek now to take over. 

She had ripped her plans in two just under her eyes. Sure, she still had much to learn but…

“Nothing else?” Elissa asked. Her voice was thin. She sensed… sorrow. Pain. And a deep regret, layered in long years. “You don’t have anything else to say to me? After all this? Aren’t you angry.”

Oh, my dear. She chuckled. I thought it was the Forest. But if it’s you? Then I know I have done at least something right. You are the best apprentice I could hope for.

“Then you are wrong,” she hissed, and the venom in he voice burned fiercer than the acid in the machine components that made her heart run. “I did not come here to take over anything.”

She crouched next to her. Her pale hand reached for her chest. Gripped against the wires and the still-whirring machinery. 


And she ripped them off.

Verna shook.



Her hand let go her clothes and reached for her cheek.

It fell on the frozen ground.

Elissa held her Eretimes second heart in her hands and broke it in two.

With one last burst of sparkles, the machines inside her stopped.

Her grey eyes lost all color.

And Elissa stood up, tossing the heart away.

Trembling, she reached for the branches sprouting from her orbits. She ripped them off as well and let them fall to the ground. 

Crimson sap still dripped down her cheeks. 

“I am nothing like you.”


It’s been a long while since Elissa left Verna’s corpse in the forest.

Night has come, and with it hordes of Eerie should have reached for the crash site, eager to lick all the flesh away from the charred cadavers.

But Verna is still there.

She lays like a broken doll.

Doesn’t breath.

Doesn’t move.

But her spirit is still anchored to her bones, held there as if by invisible needles. 

I like you.

Her dazed soul freezes.

Don’t pretend to be surprised.

What can she do? Her soul is still there, is still intact. She wriggles and struggles. But it’s like a spider caught in a net of steel brambles, always curling around it. 

I admire your dedication and your focus. As I said many times. But you did overreach.

Something is there with her. She can’t see it. She can’t see Her, but she’s everywhere and every-when and-

Verna’s spirit is ripped off her bones. It zips back and forth like a fly inside a small glass jar. 

And as I give, I take.

If it could, Verna’s spirit would flee, would fight, but it has lost any ability to protest.

Her body starts to shift.

Her flesh turns blacker than the night that surrounds it, starting to decay and wrap itself over popping bones. 

Her skeleton turns inside out, exposing her ribs. 

Her skull widens into a horned mouth, her fangs metal.

It should be impossible, and the presence of the now-toxic industrial material burns and corrodes her – its – skin. But the newly-formed Eerie can only howl at the eternal pain it’s being condemned.

As its legs split into a thousand wriggling appendages and its abdomen contracts into a sphere of cursed flesh, the Queen of Thorn’s creation bends and sends one last cry at the veiled moon. 

There’s nobody to listen to it.


Elissa spotted them from afar. She has cleaned her face in the snow, until every trace of the sap has disappeared. Her clothing already dirty and ripped, but she didn’t really care. Nor did she care about the snow, the cold.

She perceived their threads. She knew they would be there.

She breaks into a mad dash and calls out to them. 


The group turns to look at her. Cloria still looks like a house fell over her, but she recognizes her with a glint in her blue eyes.

The moth-people are inconsequential, but she’s still happy to see them., They helped and for that she’ll always be grateful to them.

The Hunter puts down the tinned can of food she’s passing to the wolf-girl and raises a hand to wave at her.

“Elissa! What… did you walk all alone?”

She doesn’t reply.

It doesn’t matter.

She is there. 

Burning like a silver star, each of her threads of destiny etched forever in her mind. 

Sadja gulps down a mouthful of canned food and turns to look at her, her ears twitching at the unexpected presence.

“S-Sadja. Oh, Sadja,” Elissa grunts. Her hands hold her punctured arm. Sadja looks at her.

Her big azure eyes widen.

“Who are you?”

Pic by Chaosy

Author’s Notes: I can’t believe it. We’ve reached the end of the second arc. Now, I thought many times whether to actually leave the story here. Sadja is happy and free, the Hunter faced his demons, Cloria got off her high horse, Verna… well Verna is worse than dead, and Elissa…
Ah, yes. Elissa. I am afraid she’s not quite done. So if you would please follow me to the third arc, we will explore her and her relationship with Sadja, together with the rest of the winter in Belacqua. For the worst threat might not actually be the winter itself. At any rate, thanks for reading.


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