To be frank, Cloria did not feel ready for a job at all.
Making amends was one thing: the wolfgirl was a fast learner and cute to be around (and when she was dry, she did smell kind of good), but all she wanted was to lick her wounds and proceed to decide whether she should save for an early retirement after the mess of the last few months. Nobody would take her seriously anymore after what she pulled. Her career as a Venatrix had just been dealt a strong blow, and it would be a long time before she felt like slitting any more Eerie throats.
That was Cloria’s plan.
It was a good plan.
It contemplated her getting wasted and as far as way from her responsibilities as she could: in fact, scratch that. It was the perfect plan.
Were it not for the Hunter, dragging her kicking and screaming into Belacqua.
“I don’t want to meet anyone! I want to relax on your couch with a pint and a good book! I’m getting too old for this by the way!”
“Stop spouting this nonsense,” he chided her, pulling her under the archway that gave into Belacqua proper. It did seem a well-protected place: sturdy walls, powerful mist (the holy water’s potency was making her head spin even just a few breaths in), and the best Augur this side of the Alps (as Elissa had been called ever since she completed her flash-quick Novitiate). They surely did not need a bruised dropout like her, did they?
“Here, let’s ask the constable.” The Hunter waved at the man who was talking with a group of guards, armed to the teeth with rifles and firebombs. One of them even held a well-polished flamespewer on his back, the kind of which could be used to clean a large amount of areas from Eerie influence. She’d like to try one of those babies. Her heart cried for the loss of the Ereworld weapons in the vault the Hunter had shown her. All that money, gone to waste. “Hey, good man.”
Cloria, even grumbling and looking like a kid about to face her first dentistry appointment, picked up on the weird tone in the Hunter’s voice. It was as if he did not want to be there any more than she did. Another detail that pissed her off. Why drag her here if he was not going to even give her some help?
“Ah, this is a colleague. You might have heard of her. Cloria the Venatrix.”
The din and tin of people repairing the wall grew to an overwhelming cacophony as silence stretched between them. Maybe if a whiff of mist passed her way she could hide behind it and disappear.
“Never had the pleasure,” the constable said.
“Well, she’s famous in the south. Big on the shores of the Bittersea. This and that happened and she’s stranded in Belacqua for the time being. She’d like to get a job for the winter.”
“Hey, I never…”
“She’s great with Eerie and hunting, and she even knows a thing or two about our more advanced arts.”
“Did you train her?”
“Then how can you…”
“I can vouch for her quality. She’s been with me in the forest for the past few weeks. I can vouch for her. I mean, I know my words do not carry much weight here anymore…”
“Whatever you say, man. But if she’s good for you, she’s good for me. This way milady.”
“Thanks. And I was also asking…” he choked on his breath, but pulled through, even if he looked down at his boots all the time, “… could you give some kind of job to me as well? Like the other day with the wall repairing stuff. I need to ask for… a favor further down the line.”
“There’s always something to do. Heh, not very chivalrous of you to give the hardest job to the girl.”
“She can deal with it. Right?”
She blushed furiously, her cheeks prickled by a thousand invisible needles.
“Eh. Uh. Ih.” One the one hand, she was furious at what he had just tied her to. She wanted her couch and her self-pity. On the other hand, the Hunter did vouch for her.
She had shot him in the chest.
And now he was vouching for her.
Sure, in the meantime she had been hammered to the ground by Verna’s powers and broke every bone in her body, but…
Nobody else ever did.
Not like that.
“I can… I can try to deal with it. No hard stuff right off the bat, though, please. I am still cranky. See? I’m covered in bandages.”
“No worries. We can get you acquainted with one of these,” he said pointing at the flame-spitter. The man carrying it on his back passed it to her and she marveled at its weight and condition. It wasn’t one of the newer, scavenged models. This was… original. Wartime equipment. Here in Belacqua? Ah, but they did sit on a huge Generator, after all. Maybe Erepeople used this beauty to roast cockroaches or something.
“Ohhhh… that’s one big thick flamer,” she grumbled passing her hands all over her new toy “Mama loves you already.”
The constable and the Hunter shared a look, but he shrugged again.
“Whatever. I suppose she can start with cleanup duty.”
“Hey! If I have to burn corpses at least let me have a mask! Hey!” Cloria, whisked away by the other guards, disappeared amidst the throng and the wriggling mists.
“And that one’s taken care of. Now… what about you?” He turned to regard the Hunter, giving him a once-over.
He clenched his fist. What about him? He had failed these people. The first time they assigned him to wall duty, but that was probably a fluke. He’d have to pay for his failure, for depriving them of their beloved Augur, for giving her a fate worse than death…
“How about… you go on a walk with me, son?” He smirked.
Pic by kolaAuthor’s Notes: a fun chapter to write. I like Cloria’s role as the story’s punching bag. Besides that, I plan to keep writing Patina until the end, but from now on I might start to write and publish some other stories from time to time while I wait for it to finish. I’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, thanks for reading.