Patina – Chapter 97

The Hunter blazingly strode through town. He received a few looks but they sled down his figure like oil on glass. He was not in the right mood to talk. In fact, he clenched and unclenched his right hand, as if trying to pump more blood into his body. His heart rasped against its cage and at any moment he felt like he could dash off into a charge and punch through a wall of stone, so tense he was. 

Did someone call him? He did not care. He could not stop. Walking upwards to the Temple, he tossed just one look at the people at the door, their covered faces turning at him. 

“I have to talk with the Augur,” he hissed.

“Don’t you also have to wait for the day of convocation, Hunter? She said she’s busy.”

“If she did not want to see me, she’d have stopped me by now. Now step aside.”

The two men were not moved by his words.

Instead, their backs tensed and they jerked to the side.

On uneasy steps, moving like marionettes upon strings, they let him pass.

He licked his lips. Since when did she start picking up Verna’s old tricks? Anyway, he was there to talk about something else.

“Thanks,” he said to the empty air. 

She lay on the pool, naked except for her blindfold. The two women attendants who poured salts and herbs into the pool scattered into sideways entrances like mice at the sight of a cat. They shut the doors behind them and the Hunter and the Augur were left alone. 

“You seem disheveled,” she began. Her voice raspy and cracked, like a worn-out whetstone.

“I have the reasons to. Since when did you know?”

He had the feeling that if she could have blinked, she’d have. 

“I beg your pardon?”

“Don’t play dumb with me, Elissa. You must have known. Why didn’t you tell me? You said Sadja was precious to you.”

She opened her mouth. Closed it again. 

Bit by bit, she disappeared under the water, coming up straight and facing him as drops fell down her chest and rapped against the surface of the pool.

“I’d like you not to doubt that.”

“Then why…” he grimaced, feeling the tension in his body reaching almost the breaking point. His right eye pulsed and hurt, like someone was happily hammering a needle through his pupil. He groaned covering it with his hand. “Sadja had a close contact. In a dream, she says. But I don’t believe it was just a dream at all.”

“What are you talking about?” A ripple of uncertainty in her voice. 

“You should know!” He shrieked, his frayed nerves lit up at last. “You of all people!

“I…” turned her head to the side. “The Heart of the Forest?” She whispered. “She touched her?”

He had felt that. That little bite in her breath when Elissa pronounced that she. Like a black blinding flash.

“Sadja told me about this dream she had. You were there, but couldn’t see her. She could see you, but she did not…” he sighed, trying to get over his bout of anger. “She did not recognize you.”

“Then it was not a dream, it seems,” Elissa grimly replied.

“She spoke of a voice, without a body, floating around her. That voice told her she had to hold fast onto who she was, onto what she wanted. It told her she was not supposed to disappear. To remember that because it would help her. When Verna came to take her up, Sadja broke the affliction Verna placed upon her mind. By herself. Isn’t that weird.” A pause. “The same affliction you seem to experiment on your subordinates.”

“Every high-ranked Vestal knows about it,” she waved it off. “Verna used to just be more casual in its use.” She tilted her head, as if to challenge him to say it.

He did.

“Does not seem like she’s the only one.”

“It’s efficient, Hunter. I don’t have to time to tip-toe over every eggshell when the winter is gnawing at our door. I have to stay here and soak this water day and night. Do you want to take part in every vision I have about the town getting overrun?” A pause.

She’s going to say it. He knew. Just a hunch. 

Again?” She spitefully asked.

“I do not consider myself meaningful enough to sway it either way.”

She nodded.

“Then let’s stick to the topic at hand,” she grimaced. “I… I am in a foul mood, Hunter. And you bring more bad news onto the pile.”

“What do we have to do? She does not know what happened. I asked her moth-friend to check…” he trailed off as Elissa started.

“Go on.”

“… her body.” The Augur gritted her teeth. “For signs. Sometimes it’s subtle. It’s usually a patch of skin growing thick and black, like a piece of charcoal. It may start anywhere, but there are some spots where it’s likely to grow first, like in the middle of the chest. Or the bellybutton.”

“And she’s clear.”

A guess. She did not foresee. Her voice trembled too much for that. 

“She’s clear. On the outside, at least. I don’t know what might be growing inside her, but… so far I have seen no signs. She can… speak and read, just fine. She can play with machinery. Her blood is still just as dangerous to Eerie as ever.”

“Can she even be turned? Verna used to think she could kill the Queen herself.”

“I don’t want to take a risk. She’s so close to getting her life back. We’re all trying to give her a reason for hope, and I was indeed worrying we did have too good a hand: Verna is gone and the Order has yet to torch our town to the ground, we managed to save all of ours companions and we’re safe and sound.” His eye sent another painful pulse. “Ow. Almost sound.”

“Let me check.”

Elissa walked on the pool’s floor, reaching up to him. It was strange – he had seen Lenora so many times in the same situation, naked to the soles of her feet, and yet the redhead’s slender figure, while undoubtedly graceful, only filled with the same clinical detachment of a fish on the counter. Maybe it was partly Elissa playing with his perception, but for the first time he hesitated under her touch. 


“Sorry.” He opened his eye as wide as she could.

Her finger reached up to him, monitoring it like an eyestalk.

“… you stretched yourself too thin,” she said. “Intrinsic damage. I can’t heal it.”

“I thought at much,” he groaned closing his eye. “Hey, at least I’m still here in one piece. I… also have to apologize. You saved my life. Twice, in fact. It’s just that I do care about Sadja.”

“We all do.”

“About that. Did you find a way to approach her that might be better for her?”

“I was doing just that.”

Before he came in to bear more bad news, was the unsaid line. 

“I’m sure you will find a way.”

She did not answer.

He licked his lips, nervous.

“I’ll have to bring her in.”

“And where would you live? Also, people do not react well to… whatever Sadja is. Or the ragged misfits that dangle at her tail.”

“The moth-family is harmless.”

“I’m sure they are to us.”

“I have to keep her away from the forest as much as I can. Maybe the Generator…”

She shook her head, making more drops fall on her shoulders.

“The industrial underdark? That would be sending her back to her nightmares.”

Right. He kept forgetting Elissa did know her for much longer.

“It would be wise to keep it in mind,” she noted.

“I’ll try to. How’s your Sight?”

“I’m… recovering.” She cupped her brow. “Fighting Verna proved to be a strain to most of us. Now, if you don’t have any more bad news to waste my day with, I have to go back to my job and keep this town alive.”

“I understand. About Sadja…”

“I’ll see what I can do. Surely you don’t suggest me to mind-fit the Town Council and have it my way with a snap of my fingers, do you?”

“Why would I?”

“Because you seem to forget that I am not Verna.”

“No,” he conceded. “You are not. And I am sure you will keep it that way. Sorry if I doubted you for a moment.”

“Happens to the best of us,” she smirked.


Only when the Hunter was long gone, when every door was shut three times in every chance, so that not even a siege ram would be able to break it, only then did Elissa lay on her back again. 

Bit by bit, one of her trembling fingers reached for her mouth, slithered past her teeth and pressed against the rounded bruise growing onto the roof of her mouth. 

Growing from deep within her chest. She strained her windpipe, trying to get as much air as she could.

It pulsed and writhed under her touch, like a living thing, a root running up from who-knows-where, a secluded place between her lungs. Coarse and rough it felt. And if she could have seen it with her own eyes, she’d known its color as well.

A jet, charcoal black.

Pic by Darkfang

Author’s Notes: I am really happy with this chapter. I think it’s one of the better ones I posted here, ever. I hope you liked it as well. And thanks for reading.
On related news, three days to the end of the challenge.
It feels unreal.


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