Patina – Chapter 106

As snow piled up, so did changes. For the next few days, the Hunter’s hut was home to a flurry of activity, most of which was spent in silence. It was as if everyone had their own thoughts and worries to exorcise.

The moth-people’s chattering died to a few murmurs as the helped clean out the meter or so of snow that kept piling outside the hut; they, and especially the daughter, kept chatting with Sadja, since she had come back from her town stint looking shocked and bawling her eyes out, but besides that they were considering their situation. They might have waited too long to come back home. As winter proceeded, the snow storms and cold would only get worse. Their chances to reach their home unscathed diminished every day, but they couldn’t exactly spend four months in the town, could they? They’d be hunted down, and besides that the presence of all that technology was toxic to them. 

They spent hours talking with each other, but a solution did not present itself. 

Thus, they found what little solace they could in knowing they still had their wolf-girl as their companion. 

The Hunter himself had to think about his conversations, and in the days that followed he did start to interact a bit with the people of Belacqua. First change was to stop wearing his cape everywhere, showing his face even inside the town walls; the second was to deal with someone to find a house inside the town where they’d be more protected, and with the recent influx of immigrants from Trefiumi, it proved harder than he thought. 

But with each hour spent welding, repairing the walls, pushing out corpses and checking on pipeline pressure, he began to feel like maybe, just maybe, he could mingle with these people without the weight of his past. Not everyone reacted to him as warmly as the constable, but he might just start learning where and how to pull for favors. 

As this came to pass and each day brought shining-white skies and flurry snow, he also took the time to guide Sadja through the woods. They had grown more treacherous, but she had grown more skilled.

In fact, she displayed a newfound desire to leave the town behind, though, as far as he could see, that did not mean she was displeased in any way with him or Cloria and especially the moth-people.

But when he asked her if anything was wrong, she shook her head as if in pain and pretended everything was alright. 

He figured out it had something to do with Elissa and he took time to visit her, but each time he tried to walk up to the Temple, he found his feet wavering and, after stumbling for a step or two, he’d be back at the bottom of the hill, never finding his way up.

For the time being, she really did not want to meet him. 

So he shook his head and stopped trying. If there was a way to make her come around, he couldn’t see it. He decided to write her a letter, but each time he put pen to paper his mind grew dizzy and unfocused and he’d forget all about what he wanted to say. 

She really did not want to meet him, not even through written words on a piece of paper. 

So he let it go. He still hoped she’d get over it, though knowing how important Sadja was to her…

But this was a matter between the two girls. He couldn’t interfere, not past a certain point.

At any rate, Sadja was getting good at the hunting business. She was still green as far as training was concerned, but took to it with natural talent and especially devotion. 

More than one night he had to enter his old study room to turn off the gas lamps as the wolf-girl fell asleep on tomes upon tomes of reading and writing exercises, next to drawing practices for cruoromancy glyphs. 

The first time he handed her his knife and she pressed it to her arm, drawing a small cut and lifting a single drop of perfectly-round argent blood into the air his heart swelled with pride. She had beamed and her wolf ears flipped this way and that with absolute bliss. 

She was getting ready. It was a long road, but she was setting her feet on it with confidence. 

As for Cloria, she did not spend many nights in the hut anymore, but she did check on Sadja’s progress with reading and writing, leaving her more complex sentences to coil her head on. She visited less often, having to deal with early-mornings cleaning. It was heavy duty, as some of the Eerie might still be alive by that time of the day, but she loved her new flamethrower so much she did not seem to mind the aching, the remaining bandages or the risk of beheading.

One by one, the strings of the people surrounding the Hunter were all falling into place. He was slowly finding a way to move Sadja inside the town, her friends were still there, she was learning cruoromancy. The one thing that worried him was Elissa and her stone-cold silence, but he could do little to oppose her if she really wanted to shut him off her life. 

He hoped she’d get over it soon, and maybe they could find another way to interact. As days passed, Sadja also began to come out of her wounded shelter, going back to smiling and to her usual chipper, curious self. 

It would soon be time to bring her out to an actual hunt, facing an actual opponent. She’d find the confidence to trust in her own skills even more, and from there on, he’d be a little more relaxed to let her run away on her own when time came. 

Winter might bash and howl out of the door and rasp against the windows each night, and so did the misshapen things that slumbered about in the night, but as Sadja came to bed in the common room, cuddling between him and the moth-people, he’d find that they were doing their best to keep it away. 

And things might have continued going well. But then the storm came. 

And that was when this entire situation began to actually fall apart.

Pic by The Panda


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