Patina – Chapter 110

They ate beneath a slab of rock sticking out of the snow. Dry vines and splotches of faded paint covered its surface, creating patterns of alternating colors that attracted Sadja’s attention even as she sat down to pry her canned food open and enjoy decades-old delicacies. 

“Is there a way to make these anew?” She asked tapping her fork against the can. 

“Anew?” The Hunter mused, putting his own into the backpack and taking out a few strips of salted meat. Was he saving it for her? “Your vocabulary is growing.”

“Uh… I try,” she replied with a sheepish look. It was mostly thanks to the books Arguta managed to get her, and the few she was trying to get as payment in town as she completed her chores. Most of the others were still buried beneath the ruins of the Hunter’s hut, and it would be months before they could try and salvage what was remained. By then, she guessed most of them would have been ruined by dust and melting snow. It pained her to think about so much that was lost.

Which made her wonder if this was how mankind felt all day, every day. Walking amidst the ruins of their past civilization, when they used to rule the world and do with it as they pleased, before the Queen of Thorns rose to steal their dominion and spread the forest. 

Maybe she was starting to understand Verna a little more… which was not something she was looking forward to exploring. Still, it made her feel weird. 

At least she’d have more canned food before they ran all out.

“To answer your question… yes, but it’s really expensive. I think there’s only one facility that makes it and it’s in Marghera, on the shores of the Bittersea. Maybe you can go there once you earn a bit of money.”

“I am right now,” she replied, eating a little more. She’d gotten used to all kinds of new foods in these last few weeks, especially freshly-cooked ones, but these things were still her favorite. There was something about them that just sent her tongue into a sing-song every time she opened one. “I am helping with what I can: repairing pipelines, delivering food… I don’t get paid much though,” she pouted. 

“I used to think the same thing,” he replied. “Back when I was your age, or even younger.”

“It’s not like you’re that older, are you?”

“Cloria told me she thinks you’re about nineteen?”

“I don’t know. I was never measured back… back then,” she hesitated. “I try to think about it as little as possible.”

“I see. If she’s right, I’m not that much older, that’s for sure. But I still got at least ten years over you. So you get to listen to me rambling like an old man.”

She stuck her tongue at him and he laughed. 

“It’s good to have you here,” he said patting her head. “Free, and growing, at last.”

“Sometimes I don’t really believe it. It feels like it’s all a dream, and I’ll wake up in chain one again.”

“I don’t think it will happen,” he replied. “Sometimes I think the forest is out there to put us before our failures. You faced yours and came back stronger for it.”

“Yes…” she frowned, thinking back to what had happened at the Temple. But that was silly. She did not run away from the past, but from whatever  Elissa was doing that had her scared and confused. If that was actually her past she’d have remembered it and she couldn’t have run away from it, would she?



“Yes…” she smiled, agreeing with him in the end. “I think you’re right.”


Valeriana shivered in the foul weather. It wasn’t due to the snow – she was covered head to toe in her winter clothes, a fluffy white jacket that kept the frigid temperatures somewhat at bay – but due to what she was about to do. Cloria had ventured into the forest during the Tide and hadn’t come back. Nor did the head of their Order. And she wasn’t Verna, she couldn’t just ignore the winter with a flick of her mind. The High Seer was on a completely different level compared to any other Vestal save for the one in Belacqua, and she felt really small and stupid, trying to fit in her shoes. Even if she was still just Augur of Dorsoduro, and she’d likely was too young and inexperienced to be High Seer, she felt like the entire Council had taken her decision to go look for Verna as appointing herself herald to all their worries. Which she really did not want. 

“As far as I can See,” she cried out in the roaring wind to the other Vestal standing next to her, which shook her head when she did not understand her fully.

She clicked her tongue. Switching to mind-speak when the Forest had almost reached them just a few days prior was the kind of risk she did not feel confident enough to take, so she just shouted harder. Didn’t people used to do it like this after all?

“I said! That as far! As I can See! I’ll be able! To get back! In three days! At most!”

Her deputy nodded and they moved back as the glider descended onto the square. It was smaller and thicker than Verna’s, and built for moving heavy equipment between the floating city and the harbor towns along the Bittersea. The fact she was about to step inside a glorified flying crane did not rub her the right way. 

But she did try looking into the future, and she had Seen that Belacqua held at least some of her answers, though she knew that hoping to find Verna there safe and sound, cozying up to a fireplace next to her prized pupil was a little too much to hope for. 

“Take care!” Valeriana shouted at the other Vestal, setting up her metal mask on her eyes as she stepped onboard. The inside protected her from the wind and the roaring snow, but it smelled like grease, oil and dust. The cleanest place where to sit was a stool in one corner. She dusted it off with her hand and sat down, groaning.
“Can we go, Wise Mother?” Asked the pilot, giving her a look from his seat.

“Yes. We can go.” 

And as the glider took lift and the lights of the floating city, the place that had taken her in and made her great, disappeared beneath her, Valeriana couldn’t do anything else than put her head against the window and take a look at the stormy sea, growing ever darker as she left the only safe harbor she had ever known.

Pic by Narandza


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