Sadja held the book with both hands, tapping with the pencil on her mouth as she tried to follow the words on the page. It was getting easier with each passing day, but most of them still eluded her mind, even though Cloria was trying to help her. Point was, while the former Augur was surely better than her at reading and writing, she did not seem to hold much of a passion for it.
She had started to teach her more out of duty and trying to lay down a bridge between them – and it had worked. Hour after hour spent with the brunette as she patiently helped her get the words right, their shape and their forms, repeating sounds and forming sentences had started to create a bond between them.
Bit by bit, with each day and each bandage she took off it was as if a new Cloria took shape, one who could in fact be her friend.
That day though the Hunter had whisked her away to talk about stuff (hunting stuff, he said, and that had been that), so she was spending her day just outside the door with the two moth-siblings.
They had spent the last two hours shoveling fresh snow, together with their parents. Each day brought new storms and if the snow covered the iron most of the protection would wear off.
Already the last few night had seen either the Hunter, Cloria or the father mounting guard as dark and hungry things tried the place’s defenses, scratching and howling and chittering in the night.
From Belacqua also came sounds. Deep tolls of huge bodies hitting the metal frame of the walls, shoots, explosions.
Was this how every person in this world had to spend each winter? No wonder they would do everything in their power to put a stop to it. Sometimes she wondered if she could gift just a little blood to the town.
A vial with a few drops and instructions on how to use them. Her heart begged her to do it.
But her mind steeled her every time she reached for the Hunter’s drawers.
One vial would lead to cheer and happiness, but also to a question: what about a second vial?
And a third?
And so on and so on. Soon enough she’d be strapped to a table and wrung dry like their clothes after laundry.
So, no blood for them.
The Hunter had promised her she’d grasp at least the basic of cruoro… cururo… blood magic before the end of Winter. With such a weapon at her disposal, she’d be able to brave the forest alone.
Sadja closed the book and drew her legs to her chest, her tail waggling on the ground.
If she still wanted to do it alone.
She looked at the two siblings chittering with each other, their tongues clicking at some inside joke.
They had been cursed with a horrible fate and still found time for joy and laughter: to spend time with her, in fact, even though their home reclaimed them.
It did feel good to be like this. It made her feel… complete. Like a piece of her she never knew was missing had been fitted right into her heart.
Maybe they could spend a couple more days like this.
She closed her eyes and tried to do as the Hunter instructed her: to reach for her breath and focus on her surroundings.
That was a part of the exercise she was having a hard time grasping: no matter how much she tried to focus on her breath, it kept eluding her.
And the Hunter had refused to sit down and help her for the past two days. Ever since she told him about her dream he had been… skittish.
Plus, he was always out there with Cloria. If he was supposed to teach her, why didn’t he actually spend time with her?
It was getting to her nerves.
Which meant she was losing her meditation.
Frowning, Sadja’s eyes fluttered open.
Now, with the Hunter and Cloria unavailable… there was no one who could help her with this.
She turned her face towards Belacqua.
Maybe there was someone.
The Hunter walked with Cloria amidst the sparse woods. They reached a small industrial wreckage on the outskirts of Belacqua, concrete ruins that long-since been sacked of every valuable, but still held a shadow of the ancient protection their manufacture gave them. He sat on a sprayed wall and regarded her fellow Venator, looking much better now that most her body wasn’t covered in bandages.
“I have seen better place to take a girl out,” she lamented.
“I am sure you have a great deal of experience with that. There’s something I must tell you. I need your expertise and I already spoke with Elissa.”
“Oh, of course you did,” she rolled her eyes. “Come on. Let’s hear this. What’s the matter Hunter? Do you need help with your fashion sense?”
“Sadja has been visited by the Queen of Thorns.”
Cloria turned just as white as he remaining gauzes.
“That’s not fucking funny,” she replied in a hiss, reaching for her bone fetishes and holding them in her hands while looking around at the line of trees.
“It is not. Which is why I am not wasting your time with jokes.” He shifted on the concrete seat and looked down at his hands. Fingers so thick and callous. Apparently strong. “Elissa is quite relaxed about the whole thing. I know you have a different opinion.”
“It’s the Wicked Fae, Hunter!” Cloria’s blue eyes widened. “How did… you checked her for spots, didn’t you? I hope you at least had the presence of mind to-”
“She’s clear. The daughter did it for me. Not a black smudge, not a mole. Nothing. She’s clear.”
“Those things can grow on the inside as well. Did you give her any machinery to hold?”
“Did you find her suddenly unable to write or read?” He quirked his eyebrow and Cloria bit her tongue.
“And her blood burns through Eerie flesh. After the first shock I am far less worried about a quick takeover. I still think it’s better if she spends as much time inside the town as she can. If the Queen decides to claim her, I cannot protect her.”
“Hunter,” Cloria shook her head, “if that thing wakes up one morning and decides to take a stroll through the country side and waltz in Belacqua, do you think the entire Order can even slow her down?”
“You tell me.”
“We’d have better luck pulling the moon down.”
“Even if it’s not the Queen herself, there are other Fae that can get aroused by her presence. Nobles from the Courts and Houses of old. I cannot risk her getting ambushed.”
“I… I think… did you bring me here to know what I think about this? Was it all about this question?”
“Well…” she opened her mouth. Hesitated. Opened it again. “The damn critter is persistent, I’ll give you that. She’s a piece o work, isn’t she? If you asked me a couple weeks ago I would have personally skewered her through the chest with an iron stake and that’d been it.”
The Hunter shifted.
“But,” Cloria replied holding up her hands, “that was weeks ago. Spirits know if she hasn’t grown on me. Old Cloria, new Cloria. I’m working on this.”
“So…” the Hunter licked his lips. “We both agree we can’t protect her alone.”
“We also agree that if you plan to bring her inside there will be questions. Lots and lots of them.”
“I know.” He fell on his back, looking up at the sky. He closed his right eye and pointed at the growing thunderheads. “But I also know we have two more nights in the hut, maybe three before the actual storms arrive.”
“Why… why don’t you talk with the Wicked Fae? She seems to listen to you?”
“Heh. She listens to me just as much the Bittersea listens to a fisherman. They can know its currents and let the ocean tolerate them. I think she’s fond of how generous I am with my blood. That’s it. I hold no sway over Her. Suggesting otherwise is madness.”
“Then we have a little conundrum on our hands.”
“Depends…” he squared her. “How do you feel about a job?”
Pic by stonneash