Incredibly, Sadja couldn’t sleep. Maybe she didn’t really want to – she’d miss the amazing feeling of an actual bed. To anyone else, her current station would have not seemed anything special: she lay on a wide mattress, covered in three layers of thick blankets, but that was it. The fabric was coarse and they smelled like dust and old skin. This was, after all, the Hunter’s hut.
She breathed in and out, trying to process everything that had happened over the past few days, especially this weirdly comfortable feeling. The thick blankets pushed down on her like a warm embrace. She got an actual shower (with hot water!) and she rinsed weeks of dirt, sweat and dried blood. Laying on her side because her tail was too big to just sleep on her back, she held it against her chest, caressing it with with trembling hands.
She looked down at her arms. The pockmarks from years of experiments would not disappear and now next to them were the signs drew by the Hunter when she summoned the bow to shoot at Verna. A series of verses and signs in a language she did not understand, but that her heart did, at least in that moment.
They felt coarse and unkind under her touch, but as long as she finally got rid of her…
They’d never share another moment. For all of the fantasies she might have entertained when she let go of the silver arrow, of Verna able to hug her one last time, for real, without her grin lighting up her face, she did put that behind herself.
It was over.
Her eyes wandered over to the Hunter, his chest moving up and down on the floor, laying next to her. He had given her the entirety of the bed, even though it was large enough to contain two people.
Maybe he wanted to give her space.
Then again, this might have been the same bed he used to share with his wife. That poor, twisted and cursed thing.
He had given his all to allow her a taste of freedom, together with the others.
Her family of moth-friends.
And even Cloria, though she was still had to completely warm up to the woman.
But she did change her mind about the Hunter, so she might as well give her a second chance as well… with time.
It was a welcome change to have people you could count on.
The only one she couldn’t really understand was the redhead priestess. The Hunter said she ought to trust her, but she just did seem a little… weird. Might just be a Vestal thing, though.
Sadja took a long breath, savoring the warmth and pressure of the blankets. Outside, the forest loomed dark and dangerous as ever. Large things moved from tree to tree, but the protective circle etched around the hut always made them look the other way.
For the first time in a thousand thousand days, she felt safe.
A place she could call home?
Maybe. Not like she planned to always stay here.
But for the time being… it was nice.
It would be nicer if she always managed to catch some sleep. Hr mind kept wandering to those few hours after they faced Verna.
She sighed and closed her eyes, allowing her brain to just do its thing. If she cut it a bit of slack, she might get the rest she deserved.
Sadja did not remember exactly when she came to. She shifted from awareness to sleep and back again a few times. She held fast onto the Hunter’s back as he carried her away; they ran downstream on the frozen river. Sometimes she caught an Eerie or some other kind of figure (the Fae, was that how they were called?) Looking at them from the woods. They did not attack, though.
At least it gave a little more time to rest. And in those moments when she did wake up, deal with what happened. Her arm pulsated, a dull ache spreading all the way to her shoulder.
And it wasn’t the only part of her body that felt the battle’s aftermath.
After a while, as night fell, she felt something weird in her chest.
Like something, far away, had been broken for good.
She ascribed it to yet another weird feeling and she just let her head bob against the Hunter’s shoulders.
Sleep followed; when she opened her eyes once again she lay on a blanket, looking up at the sky. The night had cleared and she saw both the fast and the slow stars blinking down at her.
“Fffounddlig’ss awhaake,” chirped the brother, leaning over her and blocking the night sky.
“Hey,” sadja croaked. Her throat was parched and her head pounded. She looked at her arm, bandaged and covered once again. She looked for the Hunter, who met her gaze and smiled from the other side of the camp.
As one, the daughter, brother and the Hunter took her in an embrace. Her nose picked up their scents, the difference between human skin and Eerie flesh, the faint smell of iron coming from the Hunter, but by now they had all become familiar. And welcomed.
She hugged them back, holding up her arm to pull the daughter closer. She chirped at her attention and rubbed her furry cheek against her shoulder.
“Fhounnnddliinng shaafe now.”
“It’s over,” the Hunter declared.
The pressure was gone.
Whatever spell that horrible woman had placed on her mind had all but disappeared.
Sadja pulled her friends against her, finding comfort in their bodies, their closeness. The rough, carved skin of the Hunter and the fuzziness of the moth-people. They had made it.
“For what’s worth I’m happy too,” croaked Cloria from the side, where the father was dealing with her bandages. She looked more or less like she used to when she escaped for the first time, only half her body visible under the gauzes. “You’ll excuse me if I don’t stand up for a group hug, though. I feel as fragile as dry paper.”
“We’ll save a spot for you,” the Hunter declared. He chuckled and ruffled Sadja’s hair. “Now who wants some canned food?”
Pic by hiveworkshop.comAuthor’s Notes: another of those bridge chapters. I am not especially proud of it, but then again I spent the night with zero sleep so I’m not exactly top form. Thanks for reading.