Patina – Chapter 105

As Winter swung its white veils all over the plains, rolling down from the Old Country and onto the remains of the world of men, the floating city of Venexia traced its route back and forth between the ports of the Bittersea, collecting survivors from the direst Tide in recent memory. Desperate people hung onto the city’s railing and barges, hoping for shelter or at the very least safe passage south, where the influence of the Queen of Thorns seemed to grow less dire. 

Perhaps it was like that, perhaps it was not. 

What mattered was to live and fight another day. Few among those who ran from beast, Eerie and Fae could have contemplated the thought that this world used to belong to them. That their industrial civilization could shape and change it on its whim. 

Looking up, they watched the fast stars streaking through the night sky and thought them the trails of their ancestors, or the voice of the Spirits, or some other figment of the imagination, far from the remains of glass and steel and engines where that same civilization had found some of its highest peaks. 

And if Elissa and the Hunter were right, and the two of them were actually daughters of that forgotten past, fallen onto the earth only to be rescued by a Verna just graduated from her Novitiate, then what was happening inside Elissa’s mind was a reunion beyond all time and hope.

Sadja’s skin prickled, watching more and more memories play out. With each of them she felt the unpleasant cold in her chest grow stronger, spreading onto her shoulders and her arms, down into her stomach where her bowels turned into wriggling knots. 

Watching Verna the first time had been somewhat cathartic, knowing she could face the woman’s phantom and stay in one piece. And Elissa had revealed herself to be far more understanding than she had given her credit for.

And yet… she had hoped something would click in her mind and she’d be able to set every tassel together, complete the mosaic and finally recognize the redhead girl who had seemingly been with her for all the years they had spent as Verna’s prisoners.

But with every memory, she also relived what she’d been put through. Her skin ached with the ghost pain of needles greedily drinking from her blood, of strange paste spread over her skin, machines bleeping into the darkness, monitoring her breathing or heartbeat or whatever it might have been, an endless chain of abuse and nightmare upon nightmare. 

Each memory carved a new hole into her heart. 

But she was supposed to keep watching, wasn’t she? After all, this was supposed to make sense. Elissa’s theory did make sense. 

She had forgotten all this because Verna had made her forget all this.
So it wasn’t her fault. 

It wasn’t her fault, but… but she was starting to wonder why she kept doing this. 

She did not recognize Elissa in any of the memories she showed her. In fact, the more she tried to remember, the more her past mixed together in one angry buzzing painful mess, like scrambled pieces of glass and steel, cutting through her mind with unending glee.

Her hand twitched. She could put an end to this at any moment. 

She still had her lifeline. 

Maybe just one more memory. Just one, and she’d get her supposed friendship back. Wasn’t it what she was supposed to do? After all Elissa had been so nice to her. Maybe she really owed it to her to be nice in return…

“Something’s wrong,” the Augur said, turning her head back and forth from the memory (the two of them laying in a corner as Sadja read a book to her… but wasn’t she supposed to be illiterate?) and her. “You’re in pain.”

“I… I’m fine,” Sadja lied, trying to put on a brave face. She really did not know what to do – each breath was teeth biting into her chest, deeper than the Eerie’s jaw clenching on her arm, back in the forest.

“The memories may be full of sorrow, but it’s not just that. It’s a different kind of pain. Did Verna put some kind of lock on your mind? I could lift it. Or…” She froze, seemingly having realized something. 

As she did, the mindscape rumbled. The unseen lights wavered, scattering their shadows everywhere. The arches displaying Elissa’s past cracked and from between them a new swirling vortex of sound appeared. 

Verna stood up, watching Sadja’s younger self as she lay on a bed, dripping her blood onto a sac. Elissa was there as well.

She stumbled forward. Her white dress streaked with crimson.

“Teacher,” she croaked, her voice reduced to a hiss. “I did it. I did it. You won’t need to put her through so many tests anymore.”

Helplessly watching, Sadja saw as her older self began to stir, opening her eyes bit by bit. 

Verna turned. For the first time since she had seen her die, her expression showed a hint of awe. 

“I’m impressed,” she replied, beckoning her closer. The Elissa of the past obeyed. Her steps squelching on the steel floor. 

“No no no,” Sadja groaned, watching her younger version finally opening her eyes. 

“Sadja?” The bloodied Elissa called, putting a hand over the bed’s rail. “I did it. You’ll be safe from now on. It’s a promise. She’ll be safe, won’t she?” She pleaded, looking up at her teacher.

No, not looking, Sadja realized with a whimper.

She fell on her knees, shaken by a thousand knives going off at the same time in her brain as memories flocked to her head like a murder of crows, shrieking and biting and clawing at her – there was something beneath, but she didn’t… she didn’t want to see, she wasn’t supposed to see, she wasn’t supposed to know

“Oh, she will,” Verna replied, setting her hand on the redhead’s stained shoulder. “She will, forever.”

And the girl’s bloodied lips opened in a shuddering smile, and younger Sadja’s eyes widened and looked at the – strips of skin hanging like loose curtains over her empty orbits – and her lips opened in a mute scream and she heaved and cried and couldn’t say anything, couldn’t say anything, just look at what Elissa did, what she did, what she did and what she did for her because she couldn’t do anything else she had been forced to she couldn’t do anything different and oh the pain it felt like unseen hands ripping off her skin of her thoughts and revealing the writhing worms beneath and younger, bloodied Elissa swooning on her crimson legs, showing off the result an-

Sadja’s right hand curled against the invisible fingers with the strength of a pincer.

The world shrieked like crunching ice. 

Sadja felt like falling forward.

She started, holding onto the first thing she found. 

The table.

The books, their notes.

The room. 

In the Temple.

She had been brought back.

“It wasn’t Verna,” Elissa murmured. Their hands were still connected.

“I don’t know what you are talking about!” Sadja freed herself, quicker than if she had touched a hot stove. “I need to go. I’m sorry. I’m sorry!” She yanked her sack and put everything back onto it, not caring if she spilled ink and it stained the pages. Her mind was stained and blackened already. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she repeated as she put the sack on and ran off holding onto her boots, not turning for even one final look at the girl that had given her a door onto her mind. 


Elissa lay motionless on her chair. She contemplated her hands, without actually perceiving their presence. A stake had been driven through her heart. 

It wasn’t Verna. 

Oh, you hoped it was going to be so easy, didn’t you? You’re such a fool.

“It wasn’t her.” It wasn’t her former teacher who had scrubbed Sadja’s head clean of every memory. It wasn’t her who had put the mental blocks there, so deep and so thick that even just brushing against them had sent the wolf-girl into a blind panic. 

If it was, she could have healed her. Repaired the damage. Just like she did with her own memories.

But now she couldn’t.

Elissa’s tongue explored the upper roof of her mouth, where that black and aching thing had grown to remind her of her communion with the forest, her betrayal of her Order and everything she stood for, all to help the same girl she had just shoved into another nightmare.

She couldn’t.

During her brief period as a Novice, Elissa had stumbled upon a book depicting some of the weird traditions of the Ereworld. Among others, she had stumbled upon the craft of folding paper to create figurines, animals, flowers. She had been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of that effort. She who could live in the present, the past and the future, had seen how beautifully fragile those structures were. More transient than spiderwebs. 

And now she had just crushed through one of those folded figurines.

And she could not absolutely nothing about it.

Because it had no been Verna who had folded Sadja’s memories onto a comfortably-dull shape, one that allowed her not to think of her past and what she had seen when Elissa had walked up to her, showing her destroyed eyes.

In the end, it’s all your fault. Once again. As always.

It had been Sadja herself.

Pic by Narandza

Author’s Notes: another really hard chapter to write, and might be one of the most depressing yet. I hope I still managed to convey one of the most important turning points of the story. At any rate, from now we’re getting close to the entire tale’s endgame. I hope you’ll keep reading until the end. Thank you.


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