Patina – Chapter 114

The Hunter gritted his teeth. He stumbled, finding purchase on a bent segment of wall. How long had it been since he had some sleep?

Decent sleep at the very least?

He couldn’t recall. He was rapidly approaching the same levels of exhaustion as during the last part of Sadja’s kidnapping, and he was not half the man he used to be, Vestal resurrection or not.

“Ah, Spirits,” he groaned, cupping his right eye as it sent yet another spike of pain directly onto his skull. He dropped the pipes and they clanged and rolled on the ground.

“Hey, Hunter!” A fellow worker reached him, pulling an arm around his shoulders. Unlike him, he was covered in bandages, bleeding from his sides and half his face was horribly swollen, but he seemed to hold it together a little better. How ironic. “Take some rest, fairy bones! I have seen you up there on the wall yesterday and I really don’t understand how you’re still alive. Get a break. Hey! Someone bring this one to the infirmary. Failing that, to the kitchen.”

“I can… help,” he choked, but a couple women in white pulled him away from the breach and onto the makeshift field hospital, walking amidst the groans of the wounded, the silence of the dead, and the dread of the living. He turned to see if he could find the worker, make him revoke his order. “Hey…” he croaked on chapped lips. But the only thing he saw was the immensity of the broken wall, hanging on its side like a drunken door, leaving a ten-paces gap where the Eerie would bleed through at the first whiff of night. 

“You did all you could,” the woman said. He turned to tell her it wasn’t nearly as true as she imagined, only to find here eyes were covered by a white blindfold, even if most of her clothes were by now stained by soot and dust and blood.

She was an attendant at the Temple. What was she doing here?

“But… you…” ah, he couldn’t even form a sentence. His head throbbed worse than the turbines of the failing Generator. He felt it through his boots, the hum and thrum of the town’s hidden heart falling into an uneven rhythm. It had been stretched too far. Between the surplus of people and the weeks of unending storm, as even now snow mounted higher and higher, something must have finally snapped. At least it hadn’t been an utter collapse, like… the last time. 

But the town had been almost breached. 

And no matter how hard he fought, he really couldn’t do anything to change the course of events. 

He walked like in a dream as the attendant pulled him inside the camp hospital, where the cries were higher and the smell of blood and worse punctured his nostrils. She made him sit on a stool and gave him a hot infusion, which he drank without thinking twice. 

At least it warmed his stomach for a bit, only to remind him he had dined on air and sweat for… he did not even know how many hours. 

Falling back against the closest lamp-post, he sat on the stool and did as it was required of him, eating black bread and a foul-tasting soup. If this was all they had to give the patients in the field hospital, the situation was worse than he hoped. 

And all those empty jars of holy water… they were quickly running out, it seemed.

Looking back to the gash in the wall, he saw that some patchwork had already begun, trying to close the wound with pipelines, beams of wood and iron, but it wouldn’t be enough to repel a serious assault.

And there was something else.

He was not a Vestal. He couldn’t really feel the intensity of holy water at a glance. He knew some was more powerful than others. So, he wasn’t exactly sure. But the mist trailing about seemed thinner and weaker than it had been in years. 

That sent a deep shiver run down his spine. For if the Queen of Thorns had already contacted Sadja (and thankfully nothing had insofar come out of it), then that mean She was keeping her gaze really focused on the town. Was this the balancing act to help them get rid of Verna? But then why kill them all… or worse?

Few things made sense on a human viewpoint as opposed to the Wicked Fae’s own special brand of wisdom, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t find a reason why she should turn against them this quick and this hard. 

And unlike the last six years, he couldn’t even deceive himself it had been all his fault, not anymore. 

Since Sadja came into his life, he had decided to let down his own walls – and now, instead of lying dead beneath the ruins of his hut, he was sharing in a soup as a Temple attendant medicated him, amidst people who had it far worse than he did, people who would probably not see the night, let alone tomorrow. 

Just like the connective tissue of the wall wouldn’t be repaired by just one beam, or by just one’s efforts, he couldn’t blame it all on his failure. 

In fact, he did all he could, to the point of exhaustion. He fought harder than he did in years for the town. 

All that because he knew the girl he wanted to set free once and for all waited for him in her attic. 

And that was, he decided as the soup settled at last in his stomach, another mistake. If the town had fallen that night, Sadja would have likely met her end like a rat in a hole, unable to fight until the end or protect those she loved.

He gripped the bowl of soup until his knuckles turned white. Things couldn’t go on like this. 

He’d have to talk with Sadja.

He really couldn’t hide her anymore. 

But first…

“Thanks for the meal,” he said putting the empty bowl back on the nearest table. He stood up, wincing as a thousand pains and aches came back to his clearer mind. “But now I have to find someone.”

“Hunter? You are wounded. You have to rest!”

“I promise I will,” he replied. “But first I have to talk with someone. Have you seen Cloria, the new liquidator?”

Pic by The Panda


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