Patina – Chapter 113

Sadja had followed the Hunter on a series of days of training, outside in the snowy woods. She got her first few killings, though it was mostly small-fry, tiny critter Eerie that wouldn’t be able to threaten the town. All in all, after she told him about the failing generator and the worries about holy water losing its potency, the issue kind of slipped her mind. 

It was only a week later, huddled on the attic as she held the book in her arms and read to her moth friends, that she realized how awfully naive she had been about it all.

Creaking noises and roars filtered through the padded walls. Even past the concrete, steel and reinforced wood that helped her friends live in the tight space, she heard the echoes of the wall under attack. 

She thought the mist clouds were fine. She did not feel any difference in them. Maybe she couldn’t. She wasn’t really used to this kind of thing. 

“A-And the Hare decided to take a… rest…” she read from the picture book, her pale finger following the words. The daughter lifted her tired eyes and draped one of her thin arms around her  chest, pulling her in for an embrace. “… and the Turtle…” she stopped reading, letting the book fall on the floor with a dull thud

“Issssh ffhhine,” she said with a raspy voice. Under the dancing candlelight, Sadja saw her wings hung limp from her back. The black hair covering her body hung limp and sticky. 

“We have to get you guys out of here,” she said between gritted teeth.

“Thooo muuuch vapphour,” reminded her the Mother, trying to smile at her children and at Sadja. “It’hhs ouhhr teshht.”

The irony. It was too thin for the monsters, apparently, but thick enough by now the moth-people would have a much harder time passing through the city. 

“No, it’s not supposed to be like this. I will talk with Hunter, we’ll find a way to get you something better, w-”

Another rumble shook the earth. It passed through them like a small earthquake and Sadja turned in its direction. Did something just fall off? Was the Hunter safe?

She was tempted to get outside. Help, if she could. She looked at the hatch, and the stern eyes of Arguta met hers.

She shook her head, sitting cross-legged on the hatch. She embraced a double-barred rifle.

“Nobody enters, nobody leaves. Not until the dawn, kid. You don’t know what might be coming up tonight. It’s just like in Trefiumi…” she said and a darker shade than the night itself passed over her wrinkly face. “This Winter is worse than everyone hoped.” She reached for her neck and for a moment Sadja thought she’d play with the necklace of holy water and bones like most people of Belacqua, but instead she put down a small box and exchanged the bullets in the rifle with those in the box. “Incendiaries,” she explained with a wink. “A special blend, pre-War. I still have a few lefts, and this might be the night to use them. And even if the wall fails, this is not Belacqua’s first breach… now go on with the story. I really want to know what happens to that stupid hare.”

Sadja pursed her lips. The four moth-people nodded, pulling her closer in a creaky embrace.

She nodded and went back to reading, even as the wind carried screams and noises to almost cover her words. 


Elissa lay on the dried floor of her pool, looking up with her blind gaze. A few whiffs of vapor still lingered, but she did not really register them. She just had a hunch about a visit from the Order, but seriously, who cared?

Just another way to show how much of a failure you are.

She pulled her tongue against the roof of her mouth, where the black growth had stopped growing for the past few days. It seemed to have stabilized. Whatever it was, her Sight seemed to have taken a hit ever since she came back from the Forest. She couldn’t just write it off as a tired spell or the shock of dealing with Verna. 

Or Sadja. 

It wasn’t right, but what in life ever was. Look at her. A child of the stars, dug out of the mud and taken as a prisoner, trained as a Vestal against the Queen of Thorns, and now bearing the scars of Her touch.

And all she did, from popping her eyes out to killing the only person she tried to, in a hushed whisper in the darkest of nights when she curled on herself lonely and scared, call mother, was to protect the girl with the fuzzy white hair and the bluest eyes. Who did not want to have anything to do with her. 

She knew about the Generator. Its touch now rebuked her, but she had felt its failing heart. And as for her holy water, it was failing as well.

Townspeople’s fault, after all. They should have learned not to put their life in the hands of a Vestal. Even more so after the first time. 

Serves them right. 

It pains me to see you in such a state.

Elissa chuckled.

“You again?” Why didn’t She leave her alone? 

“Again” implies there are moments when I am not there. I am truly sorry for you loss. I did try to warn you, but I suppose certain flames must be touched first-hand.

“I’m sure you’re an expert about that.”

I have loved too, child. I still do, even if the objects of my affections are dust in the wind. Now, is there anything I can help you with? 

“A bit of silence might be nice. I can’t even See is the wall is going to be breached tonight or not. If it is, I would like to be devoured in peace.”

Devoured by what? Child, you are now part of the Forest, if only slightly. The Old Country sleeps inside you, both in life and wisdom.

That sent a frozen wave through her body. 

I suppose you already knew as much. The lost ones will not even scrape your skin. You have much more to fear from your fellow man than from me. Ever.

Elissa laughed. A hollow sound that echoed across the empty room. For She was not actually there, and yet it was as if she had walked those halls forever. She felt a warm hand playing with her locks, but she jerked her head away. 

“That’s just the best. Now she’ll probably harm me with her blood! I lost it, I lost it all! And I was such a fool.” She bit her lip and balled her fists as her body was shaken by dry sobs. “And now all I can do is wait for the end.”

I do not really understand you. You have shown such steely resolve. Yet now you waver?

“Waver,” she cackled. “Sadja hates me. And I cannot force her to face her past. It would destroy her. I do not want to cause her pain. Ever. I wanted her to never feel pain! Never cry again! And look where that left me.”

That touch again. This time, she did not recoil.

My dear Elissa. Is that not the inkling of wisdom you are looking for? You claim you gave it all and yet that is not remotely true. I told you already: do not lie to yourself.

Elissa took a long time to reply. She played those words in her mind, again and again. 

What did She mean?

She already did give Sadja everything: her devotion, her love, her sight, the life of the woman who had imprisoned her. What else could she give?

She didn’t have anything else!


Her tongue hit the roof of her mouth, where the black blotch had grown. And stopped.

For now.

Allow me to show you.

Pic by Maxwell


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