Cloria had always loved getting shit-faced. It was one of the perks of her job and her skills: as a woman in charge, one trained in both the unseen arts and the blood ones, she was rarely vulnerable or taken by surprise.
Except for that time they threw her down a cliff, that is.
But that was past her!
Right now, her muscles ached, her stomach grumbled, and her legs felt like moving pillars of sand. In short, it was the perfect moment to sit down at a table with her newfound friends and drink everything they could. A well-deserved break from their demanding job.
“Come here, you,” Bernardo said, scooting over on the plank and allowing her to sit in the center, right at the most honored spot. “You deserved it. You are a natural with thing.”
“Oh, you’re just saying that to every girl with a flamethrower,” she cooed. Bernardo chuckled. He was tall, dark and quite broad, especially around the shoulders. Maybe this stop in Belacqua wouldn’t be so bad, all things considered. If they all survived, that was.
But she was feeling truly free, for the first time in her life. She still had debt to repay, and helping Sadja get better at reading and writing was one way; another would be to help the Hunter’s hometown.
If she found herself a roughly-handsome man to have some fun with in the long dark nights, all the better.
As they waited for the field kitchen to give them their goop, the group of liquidators began to share ale and stories and chatter. Cloria relaxed as Marina, the only other girl in their group, recalled how she had killed a boar in her first year of training. She was full of shit, but it was entertaining and nobody demanded truth to be shared at that table, at least not during lunch.
Not after they spent hours upon hours killing and maiming and burning endless swaths of twitching bones and chittering teeth.
“Tall tale,” she muttered as Marina banged her fist on the table, demanding to be taken seriously even as the number of tusks on the boar grew with each recounting. “How about you and I find a place to share our own stories?” She brushed her side against Bernardo, who gave her a grin and coiled one of her dirty, oily strands of black hair around his glove.
“I know where we can make new ones,” he whispered, pouring her a little more beer. She cackled. He was her kind of guy.
Picking up her glass, she lifted her eyes from the table as she spotted the Hunter and Sadja approaching her. She waved at them, but that was only because her hand was quicker than her eyes.
Sadja had a murderous look in her eyes and the Hunter’s scowl was almost as deep as that time she had seen him face against Verna. What could…
Cloria’s glass fell on the table and spilled beer all around.
“Watch out!” Bernardo said, trying to keep the liquid from spilling over her clothes, but she was a thousand miles away from him and from Belacqua.
She was a scared Novice once again. Looking at the only face that stood out from the crowd just as much as she did, the only one whom she had considered a friend for all the time she spent in the Order.
Her lips grew drier than the flickering snow as the young woman next to the Hunter took off her mask. She had the same eyes. The same black, gentle eyes that regarded her with…
With something she couldn’t deal with.
She stumbled back, and on her weak legs, on an empty stomach, all she managed to do was to lose her balance and fall against the ground, head-first.
“Ow,” she groaned. Not a great start.
“Are you alright?” Bernardo picked her up and she allowed his hand to rest on her shoulder more than it would have seemed proper, even as those black eyes filled with a sheen of sadness.
“She is,” Valeriana said. “She’s made of stern stuff.”
“What are you doing here?” Her eyes moved to Sadja, and how uneasy she seemed before Valeriana. She better deal with her soon or the wolf-girl would be shooting silver arrows soon enough. She must be here for Verna. No other reason. In fact, they should have expected a representative of the Order sooner than later, but… why her of all people?
“You know why. Your Sight might be abysmal, but your brain does work fine,” she replied giving her the same smirk as when Cloria suggested raiding the Novitiate pastry in the dead of night.
“Spirits, I’m glad you still keep such a high opinion of me. Guys, I’m sorry, but I think I’ll have to sit this one out.” She untangled herself from her group, squeezing Bernardo’s hand when his eyes rose to ask for an explanation. “Old friend. I’ll be back after lunch. Look after my flamethrower while I’m away.”
He hesitated, looking at Valeriana and the scowl still present on the Hunter’s face.
But he nodded.
Valeriana’s eyes followed her hand as she untangled it from his and she walked up to her once-superior and her oldest and at a time only friend in the world.
She stood there, squaring her off with her jaw set.
Then she attacked. A flash-quick jab at her throat.
Valeriana lifted her hand and intercepted it, quietly moving to the side. She followed with a kick, but the woman in white, stuffy clothes avoided it with the grace of a ballerina.
“I know your movements before you make them. We’ve been over this,” she said with a grin.
“Also over this,” Cloria punched her and she parred it with her right hand, followed by another kick, which she also parred… but also left the Vestal in a precarious balancing position. Cloria turned on herself and pulled her in a twisting lock, too fast for her to react. She pushed Valeriana against a lamp-post and twisted her hand behind her back. “You can predict all you want, but you can’t act to save your butt.” She flicked her ear and let her go. “It’s just our way to say hello,” she explained to Sadja who looked at them with a quizzical look. “She’s harmless! Completely different from Verna.”
“I see you are still the same amount of dumb muscle,” Valeriana groaned, kneading her wrist.
“Not my fault if all you do is swimming in that pool of yours.” She was about to add something, but her stomach growled even harder. “So… how about we have lunch together? Your treat, of course.”
The Augur rolled her eyes and took the chance to put on her metal mask, going back to her more formal demeanor.
“Of course. It’s not all pleasure, though.” Valeriana moved her head to address the Hunter and Sadja. “Care to join us?”
Pic by DarkfangAuthor’s Notes: ever since I began Patina, the relationship between Cloria and Valeriana has been one of the highlight of her character to me. I’m really happy to finally show a little more of it. I hope you liked it. At any rate, thanks for reading!