A little trick Sadja learned was that if you kept quiet and let people talk as if you were not there, eventually they’d talk about interesting topics. Now, that’s not to say she was completely asocial: look at her, she was helping. Covered from head to toe in grease streaks, crouched on a scalding pipeline as she was taking care of the pressure gouge, pulling a lever to hiss a shrieking bout of steam whenever the little hand moved past yellow.
She just did not feel like mingling too much. Cloria might be a social butterfly (it was another of the literary expressions she had recently learned), happy to spend all her time with her new colleagues (as news would have it, she had yet to get them all killed, so she was making great strides), but opening up with these people who wouldn’t stop looking at her tail an ears and might just be out for her blood still took more of an effort she was willing to make.
So, she listened.
The two workers down with her in the bowels of the town, below dozens of meters of steel and rock and soil and creaking pressurized water running through the Generator’s arteries, seemed to be more unhappy than her moth-friends whenever Arguta began to forge a new set of metal tools. They whispered half-hidden words, and at first they spoke directly into each other’s ear, trying to cover it up. But the wolf-girl seemed so lost into her job, looking at the little hand wriggling between faded green and pale yellow, that they soon began to grow careless.
“It’s all going tits-up,” the first groaned, twisting a cog as Sadja felt the pressure change. Their skin glistened in the electrical light of Belacqua’s depths, even more so because their protective clothing demanded gloves, chest covering and heavy boots. It made them look like ghostly ice sculptures that still refused to completely melt. “Pressure is going down in ever district.”
“Spirits will provide,” said the other, as Sadja resisted the urge to turn her ears in his direction.
“Spirits! So far they provided only more corpses. And we have less food than the day before, and less bullets, and less bandages.”
“Such is life. Are you here only to complain or is there anything else you wan to do? I can have you assigned to liquidator squads if you prefer.”
“With the crazy foreigner? Please.”
The other snickered.
“Yeah, I’ve heard she’s not bad in the sack though.”
Sadja frowned. Did they put her in a sack? Maybe Cloria was making les progress than she thought.
“Whatever. The pressure is falling everywhere, and with all these new refugees and…” he flicked a glance at Sadja, who pretended she did not see that.
Oh, look at that, the little hand had just reached yellow.
She pulled the lever and another jet of steam hissed into the underdark.
The little hand withdrew fully into the green.
There. She was a helpful little refugee, doing everything asked of her. Nothing to see here.
“Yeah. The Generator is failing, my doomsayer friend. It has been on a downward spiral ever since… oh, let me think: the last Fae war? I sure hope someone kept the receipt,” he snickered.
Receipt was not a word Sadja had encountered yet. She would have to look that one up. But if the Generator was breaking down, where would they go? The holy clouds of steam were barely enough to hold the Eerie off during the day. She and the Hunter would probably resist for a little longer in the forest, but what of the rest of the town?
She might not be rubbing elbows (another expression she had just picked up) with all of them but the old lady she brought fresh bread every morning was nice enough to her, and she had even seen her ears and tail.
“Joke all you want, but I am out of here as soon as Spring returns. And it’s not just the Generator. Didn’t you see it?”
“The holy water,” he whispered, putting out a small clear vial full to the brim with it. “It doesn’t feel right anymore. And I have heard that for the past month Eerie and other monsters are running through the clouds unscathed! It’s like we’re back to having some third-rate Augur! Or maybe someone’s been smuggling all the good water out to Venexia…”
“Yes, because there’s a hidden pipeline running all the way to the coast, isn’t there? Probably built by giants.” A pause. “But I have to give you that. The water is not… is not the same anymore.”
“See? That’s what I’m talking about. And have you seen her highness the Augur for the past month? She’s disappeared! If you ask me…”
“Now, let’s keep that big mouth shut, won’t we?” He interrupted him covering his lips with his glove. “I know something weird is going on, but spreading suspicions about the Augur will curse you. Or worse. I don’t want to wake up and see my balls have fallen off. I am still in use of them, unlike you.”
This one, Sadja did understand and she blushed a deep silver. She focused back on the gouge, which had been steadily climbing back to yellow. She did not understand how the Generator could be losing pressure if pressure was mounting all the time in this node, but she wasn’t an engineer either.
And also… what were they talking about? It did not make sense. She had seen Elissa’s mindscape, even though she still believed those memories were fake, and she had been the one to save the Hunter and protect them all. Everyone she knew talked about the redhead Vestal as a prodigy.
Surely her holy water would be the best around?
She’d have to tell the Hunter about it. As of late, even with how busy he was, he always had time for her – even just to listen to her reading and gently correct her, or just to train her in the arts of the Hunt. He’d surely be interested in this.
Pursing her lips, Sadja pulled the lever and released more steam.
When the clouds dissipated, the two workers had gone back to their silent job of checking valves and gears.
And between them, the pipelines kept groaning and moaning.
Pic by The_SilentAuthor’s Notes: short chapter but I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, especially Sadja’s little comments. We’re moving on to the final part of the story. I hope you’ll keep enjoying the tale until the end, as all the threads are now coming together. I sure hope Elissa doesn’t end up doing something crazy. Thanks for reading and your ongoing support, it really means a lot to me.