Sadja had her eyes closed and the world spoke in rhythmic whispers. Her body lay against a tree, a grey wizened pine that had seen too many winters to remember the time before the war. She felt its roots trying to find purchase in the frozen soil, beneath the snow and tiny pillars of sap that kept dripping, liquid even as the rest of the world around it grew rock-solid in the embrace of the dark season.
And beneath still she felt the layers of poisoned water and rusting beams of steel, the forgotten vestiges of the ancient industrial civilization.
She projected her feelings outside of her body, trying to take into her surroundings. Her mind tried to pull her back onto the present time, her doubts (was she doing this correctly?) her fears (what did looking into Elissa’s memories actually mean for her?) but after weeks of training she knew she just had to take those doubts in and let them pass through her, over her, leaving behind her unchanged will and focus.
She reaffirmed her intentions and took in the whiffs of cold air, the hints of burnt skin carried by them as the Eerie wandered about, not close enough to be a threat, but ever-present, and she tried to pinpoint them to a specific area, where the foul smell was clearer.
It seemed to come from about a hundred meters south-west, near to a small group of trees. Its hunger and malice lingered in the air like noxious fumes.
Still trying to make as little noise as possible, she stood up, her ears tensing in the direction of the Eerie, and she began to walk towards it, trying to keep in mind her surroundings.
With her eyes closed her instinct would have been to freeze in feat, or open them just in case – wasn’t there’s a crack in front of her, or another beast, or a hiding Eerie somewhere beneath the snow that just waited for a warm snack like her to come closer? – and they may be, but their hunger, their cursed flesh, their intent would give them away.
She set her bow against her shoulder and sent her sensations to explore her position closer to the other one. It did not move. It had stayed there all this time, which meant it was busy with another prey, or it was waiting for an ambush of its own.
Eerie did not sleep, after all.
Sadja cocked the bow against her shoulder, set one of her arrows upon it and drew the string taut, her eyes still closed.
She did not let go.
The presence of the Eerie was still clear, clearer than it had been.
She just had to make sure she had open, clean air between her and her prey.
And her perception didn’t tell her anything about her. Besides the old tree, the others appeared as smoky, dull stumps in her perception, which she couldn’t really get the details of.
She frowned, frustration growing taut in her heart. She was supposed to be over this: she had learned how to move her perceptions about, why did she keep losing herself into the phantom pain brought by her visit into another mindscape, one made out of dark arches and a ceaseless ceiling, one that showed her memories she did not recognize, together with a girl who demanded to be taken at face value as a missing piece of her life…
“Hnh,” she huffed, trying to go back to the present time, pulling her mind back into the current fight.
But the moment had passed. The Eerie had moved. She tried to relocate it, only to hear something creak on the snow, sniffing the air as a mix of a growl and lament tore silence apart.
“Tch,” she clicked her tongue, opening her eyes and pointing her arrow at the beast using her old full-fledged eyes. The Eerie was smaller than she had expected, showing human-like skin stretched over six stick-thin legs, each of them ending in an open hand. Its head, upside down, looked at her with a wide grin and a stretchy tongue licking the back of its head, from which ribbons of smoke came out like the parody of a mane.
Its burning eyes set into her blue ones and it roared, making the needles about her shake.
She pulled the arrow back and cut her thumb with its sharp head, spilling a drop of her silver blood upon it.
The Eerie roared again and charged at her, rising plumes of fresh snow behind itself.
The bow twang and the arrow whipped through the air. It seemed it would hit its shoulder, but it ducked at the last moment and it just grazed its cursed skin, leaving a silver streak in its blackened flesh.
The thing still felt the rising white flames coming from its shoulder. It bellowed out in pain, but its fury and anger kept it on its course. It brushed its body against a lingering tree and kept charging at her.
Sadja cocked another arrow, dripping its head in more of her blood.
She let go and this time it hit it right below its torso – she smiled but it died on her lips as the thing kept charging even as more flames rose about its body. Its tongue lolled out and its jaws stretched.
She reached for her knife.
And then something dark and heavy jumped out of the trees, hitting the thing and making it stumbled. The two rolled on the snow, the smaller figure sitting on the Eerie’s chest and rising a long knife, glistening with red blood.
It plunged it in three rapid hits onto the thing’s flesh. At first it roared in anger and pain, then yowled in distress, and at last it moaned in despair.
It fell on its side, not moving anymore even as the white flames crackled against the melting snow.
The Hunter stood up from the shriveling beast.
“That was a close one,” he said turning to look at her.
“Sorry…” Sadja’s ears flopped. She wrung her hands on her bow. “I lost concentration right at the end… it was too far for me I think.”
“I meant you almost made it,” he mused, flapping his cape to shake off the blood and flames that licked at its edge. “You have made good progress, but need to stay focused for a little more. It’s good. Just not good enough to go into the forest by yourself.”
“Definitely not good enough, then,” she pouted.
“Come on,” he said setting an arm around her shoulders, “let’s get that finger bandaged. Then we can take out time to eat something together and you can tell me about your experience.”
The smile came back on her face. She remembered the first times he was giving her bandages and gauzes, and now he was helping her build up he freedom. Her tail waggled happily as she followed him. Plus, there would be more canned food.
“And after that we can revise your meditation.”
“I knew it! There’s always a catch with you!” She groaned.
The Hunter chuckled.
Pic by D.eeAuthor’s Note: I think taking a few days off Patina did good to me. Now I am a little more eager to bring this story to its conclusion. At any rate, I hope you’re still having fun reading it. As always, thank you for your enduring support.