Valeriana fumed. She walked downhill one furious step after another, with Cloria striding behind her.
“Speaking like that to a superior,” she heard her hiss. “How dare she? Just because she’s the High Seer’s pupil? I’ll have her removed from office starting Spring, if she doesn’t tell me where Verna is!”
“Wait!” Cloria finally took her by the wrist, making her stop. “She might not feel well. The winter has taken a toll on all of us. You can try again tomorrow… maybe?”
“She’s not going to tell me,” she replied shaking her head. Slowly, she took off her mask, her dark eyes looking for comfort in Cloria’s face. Her anger ebbed like a flame choked by a thick black smoke. “Didn’t you feel it?”
Cloria shook her head. She had expected things to go in a completely different way. Sure, the young Augur was moody, but she had shown time and time again to have their backs. She saved the Hunter and dealt the final blow to Verna. There was no reason for her to antagonize Valeriana so much, and yet…
“I couldn’t reach her mind,” her old friend revealed with a scowl. “It’s like she’s not even there. I don’t know why, it’s not something they teach you in the Novitiate. And if she’s powerful enough to lock me out completely, how come her holy water is so thin and weak? It doesn’t make sense…” she withdrew from Cloria and began to walk downhill once again, but this time she seemed more worried than angry. “I couldn’t See anything past her. It’s like all he threads are hanging dead in the water.”
“Must be the Old Country,” Cloria comforted her, reaching for her shoulder. “You just came here from Venexia, and you have all these responsibilities on yours shoulders. It’s understandable to make mistakes.”
“You comforting me? It’s a welcome change,” she replied with a smirk, like a blade of sunlight covered at once by clouds. “But yes, I’m bothered. Greatly so. She’s lying, or at least she’s omitting the truth. She knows where Verna is, and is not going to tell unless I crack her mind open… which I doubt I’d be able to do.”
“Uhm. So, what now?”
“I’ll have to report to the Council. I hoped this would solve itself easily enough… oh, Spirits.”
“Why do you care so much about finding Verna, anyway? The Order survived well enough without her for generations. Sure, she…” Cloria caught her tongue about to say was, but she corrected herself just in time, “is a powerful Vestal, but you have scores of them.”
“It’s not just about that. She’s… right above me in the hierarchy. Who do you think the Council will favor as High Seer if she’s not found or declared dead?”
Cloria’s heart skipped a beat.
“You. High Seer. Oh… now I see why you want her found so bad.”
“I’m not ready for this role. I’m not a tenth of the Augur Verna is, my powers are much more limited, and my heat is not in it! I’d do a lousy job, I can’t be thrown into this, and I have a feeling they’ll choose me. I may not have had a clear vision… but I just know.”
“I would like to know how to help you,” Cloria whispered, pulling her back into a comforting hug. “If I knew were Verna was, I’d tell you right away.”
Again, not a lie. She was banking on the fact Valeriana would not read her mind, because she had already shown how lousy she was at keeping off external probing.
How sick that it was their friendship protecting her, just when she was betraying it.
“I know you would,” Valeriana replied, and Cloria’s heart ached a little more. “But Elissa is the one who’s holding information, and I need to have her talk. Her… or someone else.” A pause, as she tried to control herself. “See? I don’t have the kind of temper that makes for a good High Seer. Verna would have been able to deal with her apprentice much better than me. I am not cut for this kind of job… can you stay with me a little more?”
Cloria gulped as her hands reached for her waist. She was not trying some trick on her, was she? Besides…
“I can do a little more, but I’ll have to go on patrol next hour. The afternoon is growing dark and we can’t have any Eerie slipping through the cracks.”
“What if I forecast whether you are going to find any? This way you can decide what to do.”
“Valeriana… it’s my duty. It’s my responsibility to my team and to my friends.”
The Augur sighed.
“Look at that. Cloria the troublemaker, all grown up. What happened to you?”
She almost died twice and betrayed the very woman Valeriana was looking for.
“Oh, you know. Life experience.”
“You’ll have to tell me. When you visit me in Venexia next summer. I want to know everything about it.”
“I promise I will,” she said patting Valeriana’s dark hands. They withdrew from her waist.
“I’ll have to keep looking for clues. Say, can you tell me where that man is living? The one called Hunter.”
Sadja had finished her homework. She had made copies of district orders and checked them for spell mistakes, even as her muscles still ached from her recent hunt training.
She had taken her time, as what expected her before dinner was at least two more hours of helping Arguta fill the furnaces with coal and spare metal. She wasn’t looking forward to getting her tail all black with soot.
At least the mysterious woman who had come visit Cloria was gone. She had a really bad track record with Vestals, she chuckled, setting aside the copies and producing a new book. Maybe she had time to keep copying her next bedtime story for her moth-kin friends. As winter knocked right on their door they had started to feel a little better, but there was very little she could do for them. At least, tomorrow she’d be a little stronger. Perhaps she’d be able to-
“Excuse me,” said a voice she would have preferred not to hear anymore. She lifted her head from the table to see the dark-skinned Augur look at her. For once, with her own eyes. “I’d still have a couple questions if you don’t mind.”
Pic by hiveworkshop.com