The Hunter watched the two go, the Vestal and the Venatrix. Cloria was a few centimeters shorter and walked at a relaxed pace, while their visitor seemed still a bit stiff even with her aura of authority. She was a far cry from the late High Seer, though.
“You did very well,” he said patting Sadja’s head.
“Did I? I just thought very hard about that dessert. Did that did the trick?”
“So it seems. We were helped by Cloria, and of course with the Tide so high her powers were greatly diminished. But you did very good.”
“Thanks!” She beamed and rubbed her forehead against his palm, asking for more pets.
“My hands get tired pretty quickly these days. You can have your scratches, but we’re going to go on a hunt session after this.”
“But we just ate!” Sadja pouted. “Can’t we wait a little? We’ve been working so hard for so long.”
“Get used to it. You’ll have to work thrice as hard when you leave.”
“Fine…” she pouted, took the Hunter’s hand and pressed it against her nape of her neck.
Cloria resisted the urge to walk closer to her. Biting her lip, she realized they had fallen back into their old habit, synchronizing their steps. Each time Valeriana put down her foot, she did as well – just like they did when they tip-toed out of the dormitory to sneak into the pantry and steal that night’s bounty.
“Memories are such dangerous things,” she said and on her dark face her lips curled.
“You said you wouldn’t read my mind.”
“There is no need when I can see your face so well.”
Cloria clicked her tongue. Did she have to be reminded of every single reason she left the Order?
“How do you manage to see through that by the way? I never had to wear one. I never even put on a blindfold.”
“It helps, actually. Should I repeat you the lesson about the possible futures and how to identify them?”
“I forgot pretty much everything about it,” she replied pulling up her sleeve. “I go by another school, nowadays.” She showed her the wound she had cut to cast the blood arrow at Verna.
“A true Venatrix, hm?”
Cloria pulled down the sleeve and kept pace with her as they walked through the barricades. People turned to glance at the Vestal and – which surprised her a little – waving at her. She responded to each greeting with a smile and a nod. She hadn’t even done anything particularly famous in this city yet, she was just on the liquidator squad, but she felt like on the boardwalk of Margaria, showing off her Eerie bones and a long winter of hunt.
It was a little weird. But it did feel nice. Sadja must be feeling the same…
“I don’t know about that,” Cloria whispered, crossing her arms over her armored chest. “I have done some… questionable choices, you’d call them.”
Valeriana stopped, turned back and brushed her fingers against her shoulder.
When Cloria winced, but did not withdraw, she set her full hand atop her right shoulder.
“The night you left I was devastated. I had foreseen it, of course.”
“And you did nothing to stop me,” Cloria bit her lip. “I guess Verna did allow it. I don’t think I ever interested her too much. You were the good student, after all, not the burden.”
“I had no idea what would be the best choice in the end. I couldn’t see past the first few days, I was just a Novice.”
“Yeah, a Novice with better Sight than some of our teachers.”
“It did not do me any favors. That only made me receive the strictest training. Verna put me through the grinder.”
“And yet you are coming here to look for her.”
“She’s the head of the Order…”
“It did not do us any favors,” she echoed.
“Cloria, I asked her to help me find you. I always kept an eye on you, for all these years…”
Cloria’s cheeks flushed.
“Not in that sense. Though… I did miss that time.”
“You are the Vestal,” she replied, icily. “You have the chastity vow. You did take that choice.”
Next to them, a pipeline hissed a jet of steam.
“I am really afraid,” Valeriana whispered, her voice as thin as black ice. “I can’t See well anymore. I am used to our powers waving during Winter, but this year it’s like I have a thick black veil cast over my eyes at every step. I don’t want you to stay here, so close to the Forest.” Her hand moved down her arm and reached her own. “Come back with me. I have the worst feeling about you staying here. The Wicked Fae has singled out this place, and the holy mist is so thin, so weak. I don’t want to see you dead, or worse, come Spring.”
“Do you have a pelt for me in your room?”
“I am not that kind of person anymore,” she replied closing her eyes. “I have stopped running away. I will stay here, where is my place. I can finally do some good, with my blood, my hands and the burning fuel in my flamethrower. More than I could anywhere else. Please understand.”
“I only want to protect you,” Valeriana hissed, coming closer in her last desperate attempt.
“You did not stop me then,” she replied brushing a finger against her black hair. “You will not stop me now.”
Valeriana’s hands trembled against her skin. She let them there, stroking her skin softly like she did during so many sleepless nights.
“You have shit foresight,” she chuckled through gritted teeth. She withdrew her hands and adjusted her mask. “How come you always guess correctly with me?”
“I know you. I have no need for anything else.” She opened her arms and pulled her oldest friend in an embrace. Some tense knot inside her heart finally let go. She hand’s hugged this woman in eight years. They still fell right into each other’s arms like the very first day, when they had decided to take take the world by themselves. “I appreciate your help. But my place is here.”
“I still think you have to leave the city. Every thread I see coming from the walls, from the pipelines, from the Temple tells the same story: you are all in grave danger.”
“I can deal with danger. How about we meet again this Spring,” she said rubbing her hand against her back – a gesture knew would calm her down, “so I can laugh in your face and tell you how wrong you were?”
“I sure hope I will.”
“Deal. You’ll have to pay, though. I’m broke.”
Valeriana fell in a fit of cackles. She withdrew again, rubbing her cheeks below her mask.
“You, broke? You were always going on about how rich you’d get with this Venator business.”
“Hey, I used to be rich! Hunting Eerie pays well, unlike going in for pelt like some other Venator I know.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“You better. I’ll pay for you the year after that. I’m good at what I do.” She brushed her cheek with her hand, pretending not to notice how damp it was. “It’s good to see you again.”
“I missed you.”
“I know.” She moved her gaze past her and towards the Temple. “Do you want me to go with you inside?”
“I’d appreciate that. If they let you in.”
“Pfft. Elissa loves me.”
Pic by Darkfang