Peace was such a strange thing. At every moment, Sadja felt her body twitch with the urge to run, to hide, to find some place deep and dark to take refuge.
She was used to experiments, then running through the cursed wilderness, monsters biting down her arms and fighting for her life against the woman who had written most of it.
Now she lay on a bed surrounded by empty tin cans.
She would say not to a full belly, mind you.
But there was a strange feeling growing in her heart. It pushed and pulled, sawing her between two opposites. It felt like a rope slowly getting frayed at the edges.
“What’s this,” she moaned, holding up her hands and checking them out. She had her nails cleaned and trimmed and they looked fine, besides the spiderweb of scars starting to appear over her alabaster skin, looking like someone drew silver pearls all over her flesh. “I feel like being everywhere at once.”
A female figure stepped in. Or it might be better to say wobbled in. She held a crutch in both arms and bandages hung from ever arm, her torso and half of her head. Only a few tufts of black hair peeked out of the gauzes.
“It’s boredom,” Cloria explained leaning back on the wall. “Besides, I hoped the Hunter would be here. I can’t See for shit. That wood-cursed Augur shines like a second sun.”
“Uhmf,” Sadja huffed, turning the other way.
“Heh,” the disgraced Venatrix chuckled. “Still mad at me.”
“Wonder why,” Sadja replied, crossing her arms over her chest. “The Hunter is not here. You can go away.”
“You know he did the same thing as I did.”
“Not the same!” Sadja turned and glared at her, in the hope she’d get scared enough to leave. Instead the Venatrix just rolled her eyes and came to sit next to her on the bed, making the empty cans wobble.
“Who told you you could sit down here?”
“This isn’t even your bed.”
“Well… I’m the one laying on it!”
“Listen… we all do fucked-up stuff, alright? I left the Order because I knew I would never be someone there, and because my only friend wanted…” she bit her lip. “Why am I telling this to a girl with freaking wolf ears on her head…? It doesn’t make any sense. But yeah, she wanted something I couldn’t give her. I felt like I would have to. You know, she always did everything for me. And I do mean everything. Ever had anyone like that?”
Sadja thought about it. Sure, the Hunter did help her in the end, but… in the end. And before that, Verna only did things to get something from her.
She shook her head.
“Well, most of the time, it’s great. But then she started to… you know. You can feel it when something shifts and you can’t follow someone anymore.”
“I don’t know anything about that. You’re weird.”
“Well at least I don’t have furry ears.”
Sadja scowled at her once more. What did she want with her ears?
She shut herself in an angry silence, while Cloria sighed and tried again.
“We started on the wrong foot. Spirits, I’m not good at this! I got six men killed because I don’t how to deal with… with words and getting things done, do you understand? I tried to do something at least, I got every other bone in my body broken, it would be nice to get a little ‘thank-you!’”
She huffed, clutching her chest. It seemed that last outburst had taken a lot out of her.
And she did help distract and even wound Verna, during the last battle.
“See?” Cloria cringed, taking sharp breaths. “I’m not good at this. I came to check on the Hunter to see if he could do… something with his blood magic, but he’s out there chasing tail once again.”
Sadja blinked and looked at her rear.
“Not that kind of tail. I swear, the man has a thing for Augurs. Whatever. Sorry if I wasted your time, wolf-girl.”
She made to stand up.
“The Hunter did something different,” Sadja said, gripping the sheets. “He set me free at the worst moment for him. He knew I could escape. I would. I almost did. So you can’t compare the two things. He let me go, he wanted to set me free. And you ruined that.”
Cloria’s body fell back on the creaking bed.
“… I know,” she whispered.
“And you shot him straight in the chest.”
“… seemed like the best option there.”
“… what did you come here for? Actually?”
Cloria clicked her tongue.
“I’m hurting. That Augur of his feels too special to use her real arts on me or some other crap, and I have only begun to heal. It stopped internal bleeding, but my body is a mess. I hoped he could help me.”
“Can he do that?” Sadja frowned and looked down at her hands. “Can blood magic heal?”
“It’s not easy. I only know the most basic stuff, things you pick from being a Venatrix, but he’s had far better teachers.” She chuckled, followed by a cough that rattled her chest. “Why do you think we call him the Hunter?”
Sadja balled her fists.
“I’m happy you’re hurting. I won’t say otherwise, and I don’t like you. If it weren’t for you, I could probably already be somewhere out there.”
“But you did come back to help. Even if it was just to feel better about yourself or some other thing I don’t care about. You did distract Verna. You did wound her.”
“Hey, your blood lance was ten times better than mine.”
“Doesn’t matter. We’re not friends, and maybe never will. But I can settle on that. You helped.”
Cloria sucked on the inside of her mouth, then yowled when some hidden bone of hers snapped.
“Crap. Well… you know what, kid? I do agree. Let’s settle on that.” She frowned beneath the gauzes as some other dumb idea crossed her mind. Spirits, how annoying was this woman? “Wait. How old are you exactly?”
“I… don’t know.”
The Venatrix chuckled awkwardly.
“What do you mean you don’t know? Everybody knows.”
“Well, I don’t! I was taken out of the capsule when I was little, I had no idea! My tail was only half as long back then and I was maybe half as tall.”
“The capsule… now that’s curious. Hey, wolf-girl. Open your mouth.”
“… no.” Sadja covered her lips with her hands.
“I’m serious. It’s for a good cause. I can tell how old you are.”
That made her drop her stance.
“Not to the day, but… listen it’s just easier if you show me. Open your mouth.”
Hesitating, Sadja did as she was told.
Cloria leaned in, checking her dentures. She wriggled her finger beneath her tongue and lifted it, squinting at her teeth.
“Heh, I can’t count it down to the week, but you’re certainly well past puberty. I’d say nineteen summers. Maybe twenty. You’re only a few years younger than me.”
Sadja ruminated on the info. Nineteen… maybe twenty? Then how young was she when Verna took her in? How much of her life did she steal from her?
“You’re much bigger though,” Sadja pointed out.
“Heh, comes with the job and a good diet.” She made to flex her arm, but yowled in pain. “Owowow. Still hurting. Bad habits. Need to rest…” her eyes moved to the wall. A section of the Hunter’s huts was filled with books. “Do you mind if I wait for him here? I might read something to pass the time, so I don’t disturb you.”
“Yes. I mean… uh…” Cloria shook her head, stood up with a grimace and reached for the nearest shelf, taking out a thick volume. It was covered with lines and scribbles she did not understand, but also with wonderfully-detailed drawings of mushrooms, plants and small animals. “You don’t know how to read?”
Verna never bothered.
For the first time, Cloria’s smiled was completely genuine.
Pic by BLaze KrazeAuthor’s Notes: really liked this chapter. I am getting used to writing interactions between Cloria and Sadja, but I hope you liked it. At any rate, thanks for reading.