The Hunter shut the door and looked at the redhead as she stood silently, clenching and unclenching her right hand.
“That was a bit uncalled for.”
“She shot at you with a pistol and you get angry at me for a little bit of teasing?”
“I already cleared things out with Cloria.”
She whipped her head at him and he felt invisible tendrils poke at his mind; by instinct, he raised his defenses, trying to think of anything else, picturing a wall in his brain that would deflect the incoming assault, but Elissa’s thread passed through them like they were made of air.
“A punch?” She chuckled. “Are you satisfied with that? Besides, she was making fun of Sadja. That’s where I draw the line.”
“She did not seem bothered.” The Hunter blinked as he felt the tendrils withdraw. “It was you who barked at Cloria like a whipped dog. Besides… can you stop doing that? I would appreciate if you left my thoughts alone.”
She let herself fall on the closest chair. The room was much smaller than the other one, little more than a closet where he kept dried herbs, inks and chalk and other provisions for the Hunt.
“I apologize,” Elissa huffed after a bit, holding her face in both hands. “I’m not good with people. I’m not… she… oh, Hunter, I just can’t deal with it anymore.”
“It’s not your fault.” He walked closer and set a hand over her shoulder, crouching to be level with her face, scrunched up in pain. Her shoulders rattled as she was shaken by sob after dry sob. “Sometimes things just don’t work out.”
“I can feel how little she thinks of me,” she howled. “She doesn’t even remember… it’s all clean, Hunter! Gone! Tabula rasa.”
“I don’t know. How could I? It wouldn’t make sense, she always kept the two of us together, closed in that horrible pit underground. It wouldn’t make sense… there was always logic to her tyranny. This is just cruel and senseless.”
“You are scaring her,” he said. Elissa jolted at those words. “I’m sorry to be so blunt. But it is what it is. She does not know you, I only spoke about you once or twice. I thought she would recognize you once she met you.”
“… that was. That was the plan…”
“But maybe she just needs time. She’s still going to need days to adjust to her new life. Weeks, maybe. In the meantime winter will only get direr and the entire town needs you much more than it needs Sadja. Or myself.”
One more bout of profound sadness and anger oozed from Elissa’s silent form. It spiraled out in a burst of emotion that he linked to his own worse moments. Laying prone on the bloodied ground as Lenora was taken over by the Tide. Watching Old Man Salix…
“Sorry. Sorry.” Elissa took a few heavy breaths and contained herself. The memories came back to her mind alone. The Hunter pinched his nose, and maybe took it up as a chance to dry off a few tears.
“You’re worrying me, Elissa. You came here to spend the night with us, but it was clearly just to talk to Sadja. And yet you stay in your corner like a salt statue and say nothing until Cloria sets you off. How do you think she’s going to react?”
“And you should know better. You can see these kind of interactions, you can see how it ends.”
“That doesn’t mean…”
“You have to take a grip.”
“I know!” She hissed. The room rattled with unseen force, like a localized earthquake. “I know all that, Hunter. I just can’t help it! I spent all my life trying to help her, to protect her. And now she doesn’t even recognize me anymore! We used to spend all our time together, in the darkness of that laboratory. Why can’t she remember me? It’s beyond cruel.”
“It is,” he agreed, “but you can’t take it out on Sadja. Or Cloria. Or even yourself. Sometimes things do not work out.”
“You are thinking to equal this with your failure to help Lenora, but it’s not the same thing.”
He closed his eyes.
“I told you I’m not good with people. And I’m just being honest. No mind-reading here. They are completely unrelated things.”
“Then what should I… is there anything I can even do?” She fanned out her arms. “I feel so impotent. It was all for nothing.”
“Sometimes you take upon a Hunt because it’s what puts food on your table and clothes around your shoulders. Sometimes you do it because there’s a part of you that won’t shut up until you have. You helped us get her free from Verna. Come spring, she’ll finally be completely able to decide her destiny. Isn’t that something to be proud of?”
Elissa sniffed. Slowly, she nodded, but he knew her heart wasn’t wholly into it.
“You can decide, here and now, how your relationship is going to evolve. If you keep her so close, suffocating her just as she’s about to find her renewed freedom and lick her wounds, how do you think she’ll react? She’ll hate you. You don’t need you Sight to understand that.”
“It’s painful enough without me living it, thank you,” she hissed.
“Then tell me I am wrong. Use that third eye and find me a future where what I am saying does not make sense!”
Elissa gritted her teeth.
“There are none. I know that. I know, but… letting go…”
“… is the hardest thing. It’s part of the reason why you are different from Verna.”
That was his secret firebomb, kept in store just for this moment. He did not feel her tendrils explore his mind, and her face did widen in stupor when he took it out, so maybe she had really stopped looking into his thoughts.
“Don’t turn into her next handler, and she might go back to you. Both Cloria and I and even the moth-people did something to hurt her: these are wounds that will take time to heal. I myself can’t reconcile what I knew of Verna for the last ten years with what I found out in the last ten days. But you just helped her. As far as she knows, out of the goodness of your heart. If you stop stifling her, she’s bound to come to you. You know the odds better than me.”
Elissa hesitated. She released her clenched hand and nodded.
“I don’t know the odds,” she replied. “I don’t ever want to know them.”
Pic by OgeRfaCes