Sadja’s head still pounded. She repeated in her mind the different signs and mouthed the sounds even as she pressed the iron bars deep into the ground. Two days after Verna’s defeat and her apparent death (oh, Spirits, please let her rest three meters under in the cursed soil!) and she was already, bit by bit, moving on.
Ahead of her, the daughter of the moth-family chirped as she pushed the bar deeper than she could, in one go.
Other things stayed the same.
“I don’t get it,” Sadja muttered, looking at her. “She makes it look so easy.”
“They had stronger muscles in their shoulders and their arms,” said the Hunter from the position behind her, pushing down another bar into the ground. “Plus, they have double the amount.”
“I can see that…” Sadja looked at her pale arms. They had gained some definition and lost the thin layer of fat that she used to have at the facility, but she was still a far cry from the rest of her friends.
“Try to do it this way,” he said, coming up to her and guiding her hands on the shaft. “Twist it, push it down in a circle.” Sadja’s tail twitched at the close contact, but she did try to keep her breath even and do as he said.
Pushing down at an angle was already easier, and bit by bit, the rod did seep into the ground.
“It’s working!” She squealed. Weak arms or not, she could be just as much of helps as the others!
The Hunter laughed. It was brief, but its sound rolled through her chest.
He let go of the shaft and her hands and took a step back, shaking her head.
“Sorry. Ah…” he sighed. “Sometimes I get… memories. You sounded… nevermind. Keep going, you’re doing great!”
For some reason, he picked up another set of bars and went to plant them on a further row, a few paces away from her.
There was something weird in his gaze: rigid like a glass needle.
Sadja made to open her mouth, but chittering stopped her.
The daughter tossed her a look and waved one of her black hands, as if to say: don’t think too much about it.
And she did try to do as she said.
But it bothered her.
It was just a laughter.
She did not get it.
She kept thinking about it for the rest of the afternoon, as the white clouds parted to bathe the hut and the surrounding lands in a few blades of light, only to shut again like the door to a greedy man’s home.
As they finished setting up the iron bars, it was time to drag rope between them, in a specific pattern as the Hunter instructed. She was out in a team with the daughter and tried to push away the strange thoughts she’d been having.
“Thanks for staying here,” she said passing her the hollow bones they had to guide the rope through.
“I’tsshh ohhhr plesshhure,” she replied brushing a hand over her cheek. “Ahhnd duuhuty. Whhe did nhot do ghood the firshht thime.”
Sadja pursed her lips. She did feel betrayed at first… but all that was in the past.
“What matters is that you came back. That’s all that…” her voice trailed off.
In the distance, a new figure was approaching.
“It’s that weird girl again,” Sadja cringed, holding onto the rope. She couldn’t see her, could she? But she likely had the same powers as Verna, so she could. Maybe even read right into her heart. It always made her so… uncomfortable. It was like she knew her, but she did not remember the redhead at all. She had never seen her before, save for the few times she had glimpsed at her ghost passing through the forest.
And that time in the dream with the kind voice that had helped her.
But meeting her in person was a completely different thing.
The daughter sniffed the air as the Augur walked towards them, hesitating with each step.
“Elissa?” The Hunter went to greet her, and she did turn her head at him, but Sadja still felt at the center of her attention. “What are you doing here? It’s going to be evening soon.”
“Of course. And it will be a quieter night than most. I thought I would be spending it here.” A quick bite on her lips, her head turning towards her. Sadja hid behind the daughter’s filigree bulk, under the cover of her wings.
“If you say so,” the Hunter scratched the side of his head. “I’m happy you’re joining in, though. Did you think about what we talked about?”
“I… did.” She balled her right fist, as if trying to hold onto something that wasn’t there anymore.
“Well done. Now, would you like to help us? We were about to finish laying down tonight’s defenses.”
Elissa followed him, and she did not look at her anymore. But for the rest of the afternoon, Sadja felt her gaze upon her neck.
They took refuge inside about one hour before sundown, as the world grew grey. Sadja’s eyes began to turn reflective as light diminished and by dinner time, her irises glistened gold.
“That looks so intriguing,” Cloria clicked her tongue, pointing her fork at her. She was still covered in bandages from head to toe, but she seemed to have regained some of her spunk. “Hey kid, we’ll have to determine what kind of creature you are, in the end. I’d say Fae-touched or something, but you touched iron just fine.” She grunted as the Father and Mother, who had been knocked out cold by the generous dinner, shifted over her body. “Ow. If you didn’t feel so warm and fuzzy I’d get angry.”
“If this is the kind of things you like to talk about,” quipped Elissa, cutting into the conversation like a swing of the Hunter’s knife, “I’m not surprised nobody cried when you left the Order.”
Silence crept in like a bout of snow.
“I don’t think it’s even that important,” the Hunter said, putting down his bowl. “Though Cloria is just making small talk and we should understand what that means.” He looked at the strange redhead and she hesitated, looking down. Her right hand curled once again.
“I was just…”
“Hey, I’m used to it,” Cloria waved her hand. “I had three years of being looked down to, it’s not like it’s big news to me. Keep doing your thing, I don’t care.”
“I don’t think I care either,” Sadja said at last, looking at the Hunter. “What I am only brought me trouble. I’ll try to understand who I am. Sounds like a better idea.”
Cloria pumped her fist up in the air and yowled in pain, making the two moth-people groan.
“Ow. But yes, well-said. Hey, Sadja, quick: what’s the letter that looks like an inverted ‘a’ without the bar?”
Sadja scrunched up her face, thinking.
“That’s right! See? She’s going to read all your stuff Hunter, better hide your sappy old love letters.”
At that, Sadja’s ears twitched. She did not really want to stumble upon something left to him by his wife.
It would be… personal.
“I might start doing that right now,” he said. “Elissa, would you mind giving me a hand?”
The Augur started, as if she had been deep in thought until that moment.
“Ah. Yes.” She put down her own bowl and followed him in the next room.
The Hunter shut the door behind them.
Sadja sighed and fell agains the daughter’s fuzzy body. She was also in food-induced slumber, and her four arms twitched and closed around her chest.
“It’s weird, isn’t it?” Cloria chuckled, nodding at the door. “It’s always the same with that kind of people.”
“I don’t know what to think,” Sadja whispered.
“Hey, I used to have this friend. She did mean well, but we did not always see eye-to-eye. I mean, for a Vestal. You get me.”
“Where is she now?”
“Oh, she’s Augur of Dorsoduro or something. She went up in the world, for sure. What I mean… that girl saved our butts out there. I’m not exactly privy to every detail, but it seems like she cares. Cares about you especially. Cut her some slack.”
“I don’t even know why.”
Pic by CRAZYRUSSIANAuthor’s Notes: I’m not completely satisfied with this chapter, but I at least like the way Elissa is presented here. Oh boy, one more week and the crazy 100-days-challenge is over. I can’t feel my fingertips. At any rate, thanks for reading.