Cramped inside, cramped outside. Sadja reached for the larger pen, tracing down the last few letters on the sign in thick black lines. Her hand was steady, but painting signs while sitting on her knees for hours on end was starting to get to her.
“Is this correct?” She asked the old smith-woman who had allowed them into her already-small home.
“Why yes dear,” Arguta replied, lifting her head from a fuming mug which she held with just two fingers. “If more people were as thorough as you are, the world would be a better place.”
“I agree, though I wouldn’t put it in so many words,” Cloria replied from the corner where she was cleaning her weapons after one long morning of liquidating the remains of the Eerie from the night assault. “Let me check those signs, Sadja.”
She handed them all to them and her blue yes moved from one to the next, analyzing them. From time to time she nodded while Sadja’s heart picked up pace. Sure, Cloria did not come that often to teach her stuff anymore, not with her new job taking up so much of her time, but now that the Venatrix was completely recovered, she longed for a bit more time with the other woman. She had mellowed out and Sadja did not mind about her past anymore, not after she spent weeks trying to get over it.
“This is pretty good. Remember not to dot the i if it’s capitalized.”
“Hmhm,” she nodded. “But they are good, aren’t they?”
“Would it kill you to give the girl a compliment?” Arguta rolled her eye. “What is it, did your daddy use to beat you when you were little?”
“No, but I’m sure he’d love to talk some sense into old ladies who did not respect his daughter,” Cloria quipped, pushing the signs back onto Sadja’s hands. “These are pretty much perfect, by the way. You should be proud of yourself. How is it going with the other thing?”
“I think I’m starting to get the gist of it,” she said, happy that Cloria did seem to like her efforts. “I’ll put these with the others.”
As she stood up, trying to move through the cramped space littered with clothes, weapons, metal parts and scraps of any kind from the forge Arguta was working with, she climbed upstairs onto the small enclosure where they kept the other four people staying with them. She entered into the low and wide attic that housed the four moth-people. When they had to move into Arguta’s place, they had first to cover every surface with thick wood and spread ashes all over the place, all to counteract the presence of iron and the wider works of mankind that would end up being toxic to the four of them. Even like this, when she put the signs together with the others, she exchanged a look with the daughter, her golden eyes dim in the dark enclosure.
“How are you?” She reached for her hand.
“Thhhiiireeesshome,” she replied in a sigh. Staying here was not good for them. But it would keep them alive. And in a few months, they’d be able to leave. All of them, in fact.
“I’m sorry. Can I bring you something? Do you want me to read you another story tonight?” That was another habit she had picked up. They couldn’t read nor write, but they could listen. It also helped her to get more exercise.
“Llooohhve that,” groaned the brother from the other side of the attic, holding onto the blanket draped over his shoulders.
“I will, then! Just after I come back from my training with the Hunter!”
They nodded and came back to cuddle with their parents, laying down on the dusty wood.
As she climbed down pity welled in her heart. It just wasn’t right for the four of them to stay in this space. She hoped that could improve, but it had been two weeks since the storm and their situation had only gotten worse.
Someone rapped at the door. Arguta went to open and in stepped the Hunter, bringing with him a slash of cold and snowflakes.
“Sadja,” he called her. “Get ready. We are going out a little earlier.”
The reason was clear the moment she followed him outside of Arguta’s new shop. She strode through piled snow, reaching her knees. She had always been resistant to cold, but this cold spell had something to it that seemed to reach her bones, to chill her right to her heart. She shivered in her thick hunting clothes and tried to stop her tail from wagging under her coat. Covered to the ears in their hunting gears, they walked through a town that had changed a lot since Sadja’s first attempt at a visit… which she did not like to think about. The town hissed and sputtered from the thousand holes releasing grey smoke and ever-thinner vapor into the air. She felt the hum and thrum of the Generator running hot beneath their feet, worked to exhaustion as it tried to stave off the encroaching winter.
“It’s bad, hm?” Sadja asked. The Hunter turned to look at her and gave her a grim nod.
“Worse than it’s been in years,” he replied, and that could only mean one thing. It must not be easy for him as well.
People walked by and they shared a few greeting, though most of them were directed at the Hunter. She noticed his body language had grown more relaxed and he smelled more… natural, the usual musk from his body and sweat, without the tinge of fear she used to perceive at first.
And to their left, the hill housing the Temple cast its shadow onto the town. She raised her gaze to its entrance, almost expecting to see a redhead girl standing there.
But there was nobody, of course. Silly of her to worry about such a thing.
They passed through the walls and over the corpses of slain which had yet to be piled up together. Men and woman walked about, repairing the wall from the outside and making sure those that looked dead stayed the same.
“Today we are going a little further into the forest,” he said. “I want to check your cruoromancy.”
A little bit of excitement came back to flare into her body. She had been looking forward to train her skills, and using her blood for her own benefit was a welcome change.
On their way to the red-bleeding pines, they passed by a collapsed shack, a few wooden beams sticking out of the snow, rotting and cursed corpses laying about, though it was mostly their bones by now, the flesh already having found its new place in the belly of other Eerie.
Sadja and the Hunter stood there for a while, contemplating the mess.
“Are going inside to try and salvage more?” It reminded her of that time they went through the blasted city looking for food cans. This was less exciting and more depressing. She did not spend much time in the hut, but almost every memory she had in it was pleasant.
“On our way back,” the Hunter sighed. He pulled her into a one-armed hug and they proceeded towards the forest. “I don’t want extra weight to slow us down during the hunt.”
Pic by hiveworkshop.com