Elissa knew someone would come. Did she expect the Seer of Dorsoduro, effectively the second-highest member of the entire Order, to knock on her door? Maybe not.
Ever since… she had come back, she thought clenching her fist as if to feel a tiny thorn still embedded in her palm, and especially after she dealt the final blow to Verna, she had felt a shift in her ability to See. Her senses had become dulled, and there was a deep-seated ache in her heart at every time, but especially when dealing with machines, with everything that had been built by Man’s hand.
Reading for a long time now made her feel dizzy. And touching the old metal of the Generator had pained her.
She was losing her grip.
It had slowed down as of late, and She told her it wouldn’t pick up again. Unless called upon for help, of course.
But she did not need the aid of the Queen of Thorns to deal with Valeriana.
They would find the Temple barren, devoid of most her servants. They would find her laying in her pool, like a good, dutiful Vestal, taking care of her people’s protection, turning the water she lay in holy and protective.
And thus the two women found her.
Cloria was uneasy – she could almost taste how upset she was, setting foot in the same place she should have been banished forever from. It was different from before: she had always been able to perceive people’s emotions, like watching colors on a different spectrum, similar to the after-images she used to get back when she still had eyes. But now it was more like she could taste them, sniff them, feel them under her palm.
Cloria’s fear was throbbing, smooth and oily, it felt like a tiny heart beating under her palm, and Elissa knew that if she just held it in her hands for a while, and maybe gave it a squeeze or two, Cloria would have felt much better.
It would have been so easy.
Easier than it had ever been.
As for the other… Valeriana was a more than capable Augur, and the corona of her powers was still clearly visible, the threads growing agitated around her, fraying in unstable patterns as she advanced, holding her hands behind her back. But she had to peel just beneath the surface to find a bubbling ocean of fear, longing, betrayal and hope, each of them gnawing at the ropes binding her heart.
She was a tiny bit harder to reach than the other, but she could have just lifted her hand and pierced right through her heart, and all her truth would have been laid bare.
As she lay there in the water, she felt a black ripple run through her chest.
Was this how it was going to be from now on?
I don’t need any help, she thought. Her tongue pushed against the dark growth hanging from the roof of her mouth.
It had stopped spreading.
“Welcome,” she said at last, standing up. Water droplets fell from her naked body as Cloria’s eyes avoided to look at her directly.
“Thanks,” she replied. “Have you met Valeriana? She’s here bec-”
“She wants to know where Mastra Verna is,” she interrupted her.
“So much for loving you,” Valeriana replied with a tilt of her head.
“Well, we did manage to get in…”
Easy enough when there was nobody outside.
“Perhaps I was mistaken?” Valeriana said taking a step forward, almost reaching the edge of the pool. She extended a hand and a few ribbons of steam coiled up around her arm. “I was not impressed by the quality of this holy water. Everybody praises it, but it seems average to me. And yet, here you are, already knowing why I am here.”
“It’s not a hard conclusion to reach,” Elissa said, knowing she was antagonizing her. Knowing that she had to make her turn away, not attract the Order’s attention.
But what could she do? These were the same people who kissed the dirt Verna stepped on, and licked her fingers while she and Sadja were locked down underground and did not move a muscle to help them, not even when Verna’s net cast over the eyes of the Council had been broken.
And this woman dared to show herself and demand anything out of her.
She did not really care for Cloria, but in that moment she really empathized with her choice to leave the Order.
“Then you might as well tell me where our High Seer is.”
“You mistake me for one of those eyes in the sky from the Eretimes. How did Verna call them? Satellites. I am not made of steel and glass and I cannot pierce through this fog more than you can. I do not know where Verna is.”
Which was the truth. She did not really care about her ultimate fate. She had a hunch it was going to be painful enough, and had left the finer details to the Wicked Fae. She seemed to have a knack for that kind of thing.
“You are her pupil. How come you do not keep a link with her? How come you cannot perceive her? She… she has filled the Council with so many stories about your incredible powers. Why can’t you use them now?”
A few months prior, this kind of conversation would have turned her into an emotional wreck. Now she did not really care… not anymore.
Even if every single Vestal gathered in Belacqua and started questioning her, what would they find? That she had been the one to kill their High Seer? Alright. What could they do to her then? Her heart had already been wrenched out of her chest when Sadja had rebuked her, time and time and time again.
“Please,” Valeriana said, extending a hand by the pool’s edge. “At least give us a hint. Let me know where you last saw her, or where do you think she went. We cannot resist this winter without her.”
“Then the Order is in a worse shape than I feared,” she replied, icily. “The last time I saw her was thirteen weeks ago. She went to visit here with her glider. She helped me recover from a bad feedback I had received – straining my Vision, and she left. That’s all I know.”
Valeriana withdrew her hand, defeated.
“I know there’s something you aren’t telling me,” she hissed. “And I will find out what it is.”
“Feel free to chase after loose ends,” she shrugged again, sliding back into the scalding water. “It’s past my care anyway.”
“She cared about you, at least,” Valeriana said.
Elissa’s heart jumped.
She gritted her teeth.
“Your visit is over.”
“Are you trying to expel your superior from sacred ground?”
“There is no trying,” she replied. A low rumble rose from the depths. Steam coalesced in a myriad thin needles of water, pointed at the Augur.
“We’re leaving. Good afternoon, Elissa.” Cloria took her companion by the wrist and pulled her away. The high-ranking Vestal hesitated, but then shook her head and followed her outside.
The moment they were out of the Temple, Elissa let go.
The crystals exploded into mist.
She cupped her mouth with her palm and when she came back she found it stained red.
It was a thicker, darker sort of red than she was used to.
“Worth the effort,” she muttered, laying down in the hot water.
Pic by Darkfang