Patina – Chapter 111

The Hunter settled his hunting rifle on his right shoulder and kneaded his aching eye. Setting up guard wasn’t the kind of job he was the best at anymore, but they had corralled him into doing it again, and truth to be told, it was indeed a welcome change from hour after hour of wall repairing, Eerie cleaning and pipeline management. He still smelled like grease and gasoline from the other day when he had to go into the bowels of the Generator’s knots to weld a pipe back into working order.

But now what mattered was he was up there on a sturdy section of the walls, looking at the forest for signs of trouble. He hummed a tune, thinking back to many similar evenings, about ten years before, when he used to sit here doing his duty, waiting for the cover of darkness when his wife would slither out of her duties and her robes alike and find him. 

Somewhere, ice creaked.

Weird thing how memory of bad times is painful, and memory of good times was also painful. 

At any rate, the sunset on the snowy forest was still astoundingly beautiful, making all the different whites lit with flaming hues from the dying sun. Up above the fast stars were already blinking through the violet sky. Who knew if there were more like Sadja, or more like Elissa, sleeping above far from all this madness. He hoped they could sleep forever, or at least until peace with the forest could be achieved.

If ever. 

The wind brought the scent of pines and the light hint of overripe peaches from the Old Country. From time to time, the treetops bent on the opposite direction of the wind. He’d aim the ironsight at the spot, but the trees always came back into their usual position. 

Whatever was moving those plants was still hesitating to go against the town, protected as it was by its walls of iron and steamy holy water.

They just had to last about two more months – the worst and darkest part of winter – but then they’d be free. And he’d personally escort Sadja out. He wondered how many of the townspeople would be unhappy to see her go. 

Between her chores and trying to help as much as she could, she was rapidly making a name for herself as a cute, eager hand. 

Speaking of hands, a pair of slender ones were about to reach for his eyes.

He smirked.

“Not bad.”

“Awww,” Sadja pouted, dropping her hands just when she was about to cover his eyes and go ‘surprise!’ or some other sappy game. “When did you get it was me?” She sat next to him, crossing her arms on her slight chest as her tail waggled around on the wall. She still got her winter clothing on, but she had taken off her cape, likely to move more stealthily. He had perceived her breathing the moment she reached the top of the walls, and the soft creaking of ice beneath her steps, but he did not want to bruise her ego. She was getting better. He’d have to ask her to try again, barefoot this time. She had always had an uncanny ability to move on ice and snow drawing almost no noise. 

“Your breathing. The ice,” he explained. She huffed, a tuft of white clouds lingering around her slender neck. 

“Next time I’ll try it without these stupid things,” she waved her feet. 

“Make sure not to get a cold.”

“At this point I think I simply can’t get one,” she mused, her blue eyes taking in the sunset light. She rubbed her hands together, but it wasn’t the cold. In fact, the light silver hue on her pale cheeks spoke of embarrassment rather than cold, but he wouldn’t breach the subject if she didn’t want to. Next time he had pushed her to do something like that, she or Elissa, the results had been less than stellar… he’d keep his mouth shout.

But so did Sadja, even when she set her head against his shoulder.

A gentle warmth settled in his chest at the gesture. To think less than two months before he was advancing through the forest with this girl tied up on his shoulders. 

He shifted the rifle back on the other side to leave her more room. Who knew when he would be able to recover everything? In the end, he had lost almost all his possessions: his sled, his weapons, even his home. He had nothing to show he was a most-renown Venator. And his most influential patron and the woman who used to believe his friend was dead. 

But Sadja looking into the horizon next to him, a soft smile to grace her lips as she seemingly thought about her progress, both in and outside of the Hunt, meant he could more or less forget about anything else.

For years he had slaved himself off to an empty promise, a vain hope to patch over his past mistakes by dragging people into the Sere Rite to have others pay for the hole inside his chest. 

And now… he did feel better. Not completely whole, he still had not filled it completely, but with the wolf-girl growing to appreciate and work for her freedom? He could feel like he had finally set his foot on the right path.

Below, he caught view of Cloria on her evening patrol, walking outside the walls for one last check-up before the fall of darkness. She walked in formation with the other liquidators, holding her flamethrower with both hands. Her voice reached his ears distorted and far-off when she spoke to them, but she did seem content enough, addressing them by their name, and asking for their help when she did not seem what to do. 

She also seemed to have reached a good place. No doubt, come Spring she’d skitter off somewhere else, to a port city to the Bittersea or at any rate trying to make herself scarce. The Order would likely want to have a word or two with her about Verna’s disappearance and while he did not really care, she seemed like a more vulnerable target, as a former Vestal.

But that still seemed to be such a long way off.

The only one he had yet to meet again was Elissa – the Vestal shut herself off in the Temple. He had understood and she Sadja did have a falling out (admitted such a thing could even happen given how little the wolf-girl seemed to remember about her), but it wasn’t his place to pry. Elissa would come around: she was a responsible young woman and her Sight protected her from most mishaps and mistakes.

For the time being, they were happy, and thriving even as the winter rattled its teeth all around them. Sadja let out another soft hum, pushing slightly onto his chest. He picked up his cape and draped it around them, so that only her head stuck out.

And then she took his hand and set it between her ears.

He knew what she wanted.

A grin splitting his lips, he began his scratching duty.

Pic by The_Silent


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