Going back to welding made him feel weird.
He was still somewhat good at it – Arguta did spend a good month teaching him, back when Old Man Salix was still a good head taller than him, and it was still as relaxing as ever.
In a way, it reminded him of cruoromancy, just with fire and iron. He was etching lines between panels that were not supposed to stick together, and link them by a marriage of flame and smoke and concentrated will. He did the same thing, just with his own blood.
The act by itself was relaxing. But hanging from a rope twenty meters from the ground, repairing Belacqua’s walls before another night of attacks? That was the uneasy feeling.
He’d told himself he would never be able to watch the townspeople in the eye. Not after what he couldn’t prevent. Not after his failure and Lenora’s… fall.
He had covered his face with shame and went on to walk the earth, occasionally coming back, but he only ever crossed the doors to speak with Elissa, and always trying not to meet the gazes of the others.
But… from here he could see his hut.
And there, laying on a bed, probably in a food coma from eating too much canned food, lay a certain wolf-girl, with all her silly desires for freedom and friendship.
He turned the flame off and blinked as the aftereffects of its blaze played with his eye. His right one still pulsed sometimes. He had strained himself… Spirits, he had died.
And the hardest thing he did was to walk to the closest repairman and ask him if he needed a hand with anything.
It had felt like having his insides pulled out and ripped off one by one.
The man had just blinked, shrugged and given him the tools of the trade.
On wobbly legs, feeling like the world had just stopped making sense, the Hunter had reached his working position and set himself to work.
As he waited for the metal to cool down and keep welding in another spot, he looked around at the plethora of people working on the walls, taking away the Eerie corpses, cleaning out the roads and the pits, guarding the river and making sure its waters still bathed the city in mist.
An island protected by holy vapor. Sometimes, when weather turned really cold, a white fog lay down like a blanket, and the only spot visible was the temple and the hilltop behind it. It looked like it was floating on clouds, like some city of legend, or the floating fortresses of Eretimes.
It always reminded him of Lenora. How alone she had seemed while she used to be the Augur here, and how, when Elissa supplanted her, that bittersweet memory quickly turned sour.
It was a place beyond any reach, where an Augur with powers before unseen staunchly refused to
Provide him with the absolution he needed.
Then he stepped into the forest, and everything began to change.
He blinked at the intrusion. Used to it by now, but it still was a bit surprising the ease with which Elissa just allowed herself in the doors of his mind. She passed right through his defenses like sun through a polished window.
Augur. Is it urgent? I was having a nice moment here.
You already know the answer. I wish to talk to you. Please meet me.
He sighed and put the blowtorch away, pulling on the rope asking to be pulled up back on the ramparts.
At the Temple?
He couldn’t resist. He brought back his spare cape before asking to be left in, and he covered his face and shoulders with it. People still noticed him, a few even waved at him, but he refused to say anything in return. He just nodded and kept walking, feeling like someone was sawing his heart in two.
He had failed these people. He had failed them twice, when he couldn’t repel the Tide, when he couldn’t bring peace to Lenora
That they didn’t run after him with torches and pitchforks was astounding to him.
And yet, they did not seem to mind his presence.
Not even when he reached the Temple (which was, weirdly enough, two guards short) and went past it, reaching for the summit of the hill where Elissa waited for him.
She wore new clothes and looked pretty enough in the cool air, her hair shining copper in the morning light. At another time, she might have turned more than one young man’s head with her slender and aristocratic looks. Before she cut out her own eyes.
“No need to insert me in your fantasies,” she quipped.
“Then stop looking in.”
“Ever imagined how it is?” She huffed, holding her legs closer to her chest. It reminded him of Sadja, doing it with her legs instead of her tail. “Knowing what any other person is thinking? Knowing what they are most likely to do?”
“I have had… a few conversation about it.” He sat next to her and watched as she pursed her lips.
“… that, you did. You want to talk about Verna.”
“Do you really need to flex your muscles, Augur? I have watched you in action. I owe you my life, likely twice. Is it necessary? Just tell me what you wanted to talk about.”
“No. It’s just. It’s…” she blushed, her fingers coiling on her palms. “I know what I can do. I know it now even better than before. It’s… hard to hold it all in.”
“Hey,” he said setting a hand on her shoulder. “You are not in that stuffy pool room anymore. You set foot outside and we are both enjoying a peaceful winter day. Spirits know we won’t get many more of these.”
“No,” she replied biting her nail. When did she start doing that? “We shall not.”
He allowed her to take a breath. Elissa lulled back and forth. She seemed shaken, but he knew better than to prod her more than he just did.
“The other Vestals are going to ask questions,” she muttered after a while. “They might send a few of their own here.”
“What would they do to you? I mean, you can mind-meld and show them what Verna did. And at any rate, is there even an Augur who can hold you down?”
“It’s not like that!” She pressed her hands at the side of her head. “I don’t want to fight them! I just want… I just…” she trailed off.
“What happened in the forest affected us all. I for one know well we need time to elaborate something like this. You are stronger and younger than me. I’m sure you’ll grow back stronger.”
“Grow?” She started.
“Yes. As a person.”
“As a person. Yes.” She was all jittery.
“Is there anything else you wanted to tell me?”
“I…” she opened her mouth. Closed it. Opened it again and only a weak whine came out.
“As I said, take your time. I’ll be right here next to you.”
He shifted his weight and closed his eyes, focusing on his breath and his blood. Elissa sitting next to him felt like a blast furnace of emotional energy, bursting and collapsing in a thousand-thousand patterns.
He tried to accept it. These days wouldn’t be easy for any of them.
But he had to try, even if he doubted he could do much to help the Augur. She had just killed, or at least helped to kill, her master and teacher. And if the part of her memories she had chosen to share were anything to go by, even something akin to a mother.
Both she and Sadja were dealing with what they had done.
He felt like he could get ripped apart by these two.
But, hey. He had survived this far. Just like welding, maybe he could help to mend some pieces together.
A smile painted on his lips, he reached for Elissa’s hand and cupped it with his own.
The Augur, the girl, accepted it as she fell forward, letting out a tired, stretched wail.
What a loathsome thing, to cry without tears.
Pic by Eagle XI