Valeriana, current Augur of Dorsoduro, never liked it when a communal meeting was scheduled. It was always for the worse reasons, and there were at least two she could count. The threads she sent onto possible futures all buzzing into a bad situation for all of them. The first reason was the most cruel winter in ten years, and the second was the disappearance of Mastra Verna, High Seer of the Order.
She paced back and forth in her apartment, situated in one of the few surviving pre-War buildings of Venexia. The stone tiles on the floor were actually original. People had walked and stayed in this room for upwards of thirteen centuries, but she could found no solace from the lingering psychic energy oozing from the stones. Whatever strength it might have animated the protectors of the ancient Republic when they had found themselves sieged by the Forest and recognized their strength was, as always, in the sea that embraced them, it seemed they had left none for her.
She bit onto her dark finger, her teeth trying to find purchase onto her skin. And on top of all this, no words of or from Cloria. Was she even still alive? She had disappeared from her Sight weeks ago, and the one person she had dared asking for help had shared the same fate.
A tingling sensation spread over her mind as the meeting was announced, dozens of Vestals connecting their minds over the threads, their voices quavering and distorted by distance, difference in individual powers, and the grip of Winter.
This year the Heart of the Forest beat louder than most. Who knew what the Wicked Fae was plotting in Her black heart? For sure, nothing good.
Sighing, Valeriana left only as much control to her motor functions to strip her off her clothing and submerge herself onto her personal pool of holy water. As she was surrounded by wisps of vapor, her mind cleared and the connections with the others began to get better.
They appeared as smoky figures, in and out of focus, sitting on chairs in a round white room, its ceiling disappearing into the same grey and featureless sky she was used to.
The meeting is adjourned, said an elderly Augur holding onto her curved staff. She wore the usual white robes of the Order, but hers were lined in all black. Augur of San Polo, Revera Visentin was the oldest and thus the one allowed to act as Mistress of Ceremonies, even if Valeriana technically outranked her. The eye is tired and the heart is weary, Augur Revera continued, her mind-voice creaking and buzzing through the winter’s interference. And foul are news coming from the woods. It’s been two weeks since any one of us has been able to trace down Mastra Verna. It has been foreseen no one of us would be able to bring significant updates on the matter at this meeting.
Valeriana’s body let out a tired breath. They were all worn out. Ten days of extended strain, trying to reach for the slightest sign of Verna’s mind-trail had left the entire Order with barely enough strength to perform their duties. With the Tide rapping at their doors, they were in a dangerous double-bind that left them little way out, and even less way to forecast the means to optimize an exit.
None does, Valeriana said, spreading her voice through the meeting. The High Seer was last Seen on the outskirts of Belacqua, flying on her personal aircraft. Neither she nor the people she was with, nor the glider, have been located since then. She’s slipped past every one of us, and so close to the Old Country that lingering too much onto it would… invite the Heart to look back.
A shared shiver rippled through the assembly of Augurs, especially those Vestals who did not know Verna that well or did not have enough time and energy to be informed on the current situation. The feedback was a tide of fear, uncertainty and despair spreading through the mindscape like ink spilling in water.
Nevertheless, Augur Revera inquired, this is an unprecedented situation, one which requires commitment of every resource we have. A mute agreement rolled through every white-clad figure even as their contours shifted and scrambled through the Winter’s presence. Hence-
For a few minutes the Assembly glitched in and out, replaced by a fuzzy cloud of howling voices. Dark trees bleeding sap from their needle-like leaves appeared at the outskirts on her vision and black figurines moved just beyond sight.
Valeriana’s hands clenched and she leaned back, trying to connect back to the others.
She hated these kind of meetings. They were always on a tight schedule. Sooner or later, someone or something would take notice. It seemed they did not have much time at all.
She scrambled to go back to the Assembly. When she did, a good part of the seats were empty.
Order, called out Augur Revera, shouting onto the rapidly-darkening room. Keep your Sight focused. You sit behind walls of iron and curtains of holy water, the Forest cannot reach you!
They could have believed her words, but the loss of Mastra Verna, whom nobody had predicted, had turned the inner and outer Council into a bunch of headless chickens.
Heed me, Augurs! Valeriana’s smoky figure stepped away from her chair, projecting her mental strength through the Assembly, or what remained of it as roots and branches began to appear through the tiles, breaking columns and bending tiles. Holding back the Tide is our first duty. We shall now focus on protecting those in our care. Every decision usually coming from the High Seer will be taken by the Inner Council. And now for the other matter. As for Mastra Verna, I shall go to Belacqua, the place where she was last seen. There I shall find ways to-
The mind-palace disappeared. In its place rose a smoky darkness, chittering and creaking noises, half-voices gnawing on curses, and spindly arms with too many fingers appearing out of the night to grasp at her.
And behind all them, she felt a Will pressing against her, a Mind as wide and as dark as the Bittersea, against which she was falling at the speed of sound, a fly in a dripping web oozing hunger.
Valeriana screamed as she broke the surface of the water. She pulled off her mask and her black eyes regarded her surroundings as she drew her legs to her chest. She panted hard, lolling back and forth in the bathroom. She was safe. She was in her bathroom. She was in Venexia.
The Queen of Thorns could not reach her here.
Even if she almost did.
And she couldn’t foresee it.
She couldn’t do anything.
Trembling, she stood up and went to dry herself.
She was not that confident about her choice anymore.
But at least, she’d meet with Elissa in Belacqua. If there was someone who would move mountains to bring Verna back, was the prodigiously-gifted Augur of Belacqua.
Pic by Palaslayer