Patina – Chapter 99

Sadja had never entered the town proper. But she did pick up clues. Putting on a light cloak to hide most of her more… peculiar features, she slipped past the line of iron rods on the fresh snow. It was a clear mornings after yet another night of groans and laments outside the protected circle and she sniffed the smell of burnt flesh from the corpses of Eerie hanging on the wire. As she got closer to the town’s entrance, she noticed many larger ones laying about as the townspeople started to pick them up and take them away. 

It was not unlike what they did at the Hunter’s hut, but the scale… so many people hanging out together under the huge metal arch as they chatted and moved back and forth sent a bit of a shiver down her spine. She had never been in this kind of environment before. She had never seen so many people in the same spot. It made her feel like they’d turn to look at her, at any moment, and they’d be amazed and maybe angry at her presence…

Instead, they all went on with their business even when she tip-toed past the guards. It was as if they didn’t even notice her. Maybe she’d really got this camouflage thing down, or maybe… maybe it was just dumb luck.

She went past the door onto the open streets of the town, passing by the leaning houses, their grey roofs and the rows upon rows of metal tubes laying about, spreading waves of warm vapour that tickled her nose.

More people went by, some of them carrying tools, beams of wood and metal panes to repair the walls after the night assault. Many other carried food… delicious food judging from how her nose responded. 

But she was on a mission, and it wouldn’t do to get distracted. In fact, she did not even know how to pay them for their food. This much she had picked up. People did expect to get paid for favors or good, and what could she do? The only valuable thing she had was her blood, and she had already decided against it.

That was why she more or less ran through the town, aiming for the hill and the temple that rested on it. On her way she noticed another, forgotten house at its base and for some reason she felt drawn to it for a moment. 

Then she blinked and proceeded upwards, as fast as she could with the weight of her notes on her backpack and the many smells of the town, sweet and sour, the din and tin of people and machinery, mixing up in a heady cacophony.

The forest was much more dangerous, but it surely was much quieter. 

As she peeked past a milestone to the temple, it seemed to loom over her like a large white mouth. A couple people wearing a white veil on their face (what was it with Vestals and face coverings, really?) stood at the entrance. She’d have to get past them. Maybe she’d get once again lucky and they’d just let her pass?

She walked to the entrance and coughed, clearing her voice.

“Uh…” off to a great start. “I mean… is this place open? I’d like to meet a certain person.”

The two gave her a slight bow and pointed their open hand at the entrance, moving with perfect synchronicity. 


“Thanks,” Sadja replied between her gritted teeth and walked inside.

If the city was bathed in vapor, the temple was soaked in it. Her boots almost slipped on the floor, but thankfully someone had the presence of mind to cover it in thousands of wrinkly tiles, so she still had good purchase. She was also leaving a lot of muddy footprints inside. She cringed at what she was doing, this was the cleanest place she’d ever been in, even more than the laboratories back when she used to be under Verna’s sway. 

Behind her, servants came out of unseen corners, already cleaning after her steps.

“T-Thanks,” she said, proceeding further. She was not even sure where to go – she did not know these people but apparently they did know her, or so it seemed. 

She reached what looked like the main room, a large square hall almost completely filled with a shallow pool. And sitting at a table just behind the entrance was a redhead girl, wearing a white, gold-trimmed dress that covered everything down to her naked feet. She was blindfolded, but she turned her head the moment Sadja went past the entrance and gave her a smile. 

“H-Hello,” Sadja tried, waving her hand. Her ears twitched under her cape. There was something about this girl that disquieted her. Maybe it was because she had seen her in the dream, and in the forest, before. Maybe it was because she always came off so forceful, shaken by the fact she did not remember her. 

But, really, she didn’t. She had seen her for the first time as a lingering shadow in the forest, and that had been it. 

“Hello, Sadja,” was the reply. The girl hesitated, as if she wanted to say something else, but she didn’t. 

She felt a bit embarrassed now, her cheeks growing a little grayer.

“I… were you waiting for me?”

“In fact I was.”

“Ah, yes. Vestals. Seeing the future. I forgot about that…”

“It was still a very nice surprise. To see you coming here. I suppose there’s something you want to ask me about.”

Sadja scratched her chin. 

“Wait. If you know, why ask me?”

“I prefer to hear it from you. Besides, it’s better this way. It leaves you more freedom,” she explained with a sheepish smile. 

“Oh! I like that. Thanks. Yes, I came here because I wanted some help with something. Ooof, can I take this off? It’s really hot in here.”

The redhead nodded. 

“Thanks. I mean do disrespect. This place is beautiful. Ah, that’s better.” She unhook her cape and remained with her linen vest and her boots. Not sure if she should keep them on. Or not. Maybe she should ask the Vestal, but then again she might look into her mind and see what she was wondering about. Which made it all the more embarrassing. 

Oh, this was so hard!

“It’s… a little complicated…” she mused under her breath. 

“Just behave normally,” the other said. “I won’t look into your mind if you don’t allow me to.”

She reached for her forehead, instinctively.

“You won’t?”

A smile. It was so different from Verna’s sickle-like grin. It was hesitant, wavering and fragile, showing just a hint of teeth. 

“I promise.”

“Oh. That’s better then.” Sadja dropped her hands and reached for her backpack. “I know you’re probably busy and all, but I wanted to ask you for a few… reading lessons.” Her silvery blush came back with a vengeance. “I like lessons with Cloria, but she’s been growing distant and I feel like there’s much more I could learn. I don’t really have much time, I’m supposed to leave come Spring. Uh… you probably know that.”

The girl’s right hand trembled, but it was just a moment. She cupped it with the other. 

“I am not sure. Predicting events so far in the future gets difficult. The farthest they are the muddiest.”

“Oh! That makes sense. So… if you have time. And if I am not bothering you… could you please help me with it?” She showed her the notes and reading books she had pilfered from the Hunter’s home. 

The girl beamed, the smile creasing her pale face.

“I don’t think I will be bothered at all.”

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Author’s Notes: well, it’s been a while since we have seen these two together. Probably years. At any rate, we’re also one chapter away from the completion of the challenge. Thanks for reading. I will see you all tomorrow.


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