Sadja knew time was of the essence. She shared one last look with the Hunter. He nodded in her direction and came back to peer into the night, waiting for the sign of the next assault. The Vestal stood up and waited for her.
“I’m going to get some sleep,” she lied. “Lady, it’s better if you also go back to your quarters. Or your ship, or whatever place you’re staying in. The night is about to get much worse.”
“Yes,” Valeriana agreed, starting to walk downstairs.
“Don’t do anything crazy,” he muttered, and her fine ears picked it up.
“I won’t,” she whispered. Maybe more to herself than to the Hunter.
This thing wasn’t crazy. It was downright madness, but when had that stopped her before? She had escaped the clutches of Verna and now it was her turn to give back some of the help she had received.
Valeriana walked towards the main square, where her flier awaited her. She looked dejected, but she was just good at playing her part. Sadja’s nose felt the tangy scent of her apprehension, her fear. For how scary they could be as a group, Valeriana looked really frail and vulnerable. Maybe that was the reason why she had come up with this plan.
Whatever it may be, she ran back to Arguta’s home, climbed to the second floor, pulling up on the scalding pipelines even as her boots softly creaked on the bent metal, until she reached the roof and opened the hatch leading inside.
She jumped on the floor and her eyes, already used to the darkness, saw a pair of large glowing eyes turning to her.
“Fffhhoundling,” the brother inquired, his voice as thin as paper. “Yjjou uhhp?”
“We’re all getting up,” she replied coming closer and stirring him. “I have good and bad news. The good news is that I’m getting your guys back home.”
The bad news was, of course, to do so she had to ship them through a glider that would be toxic to them. As she helped pulling them up through the hatch one by one, she finished tracing bloody letters through the blankets she gave to each of them. She had used only a tiny amount of her blood, which glistened grey, and only on the hem of the blankets. She hoped the warding signs and symbols would balance out the corrosive power of her blood.
She passed the first to the daughter even as she started to cough and shiver in the clouds of holy mist. She wrapped it about her body and her shivers and coughs began to ease up. Was it working? As her glowing eyes became a little brighter and a smile peeked over her black face.
She gathered up all of them and lifted them in her arms – maybe it was because she had grown stronger over the last few months, maybe it was because they were getting thinner, but they weighed next to nothing. Trying to make sure their beautiful gossamer wings would not get damaged, she jumped down the house, bringing them to the street level. One by one, four tall and spindly figures, covered in blankets, waited for her to bring them back to safety.
“I’m sorry you had to wait so long here. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry,” she grumbled, taking the daughter by her wrist and guiding her through the snowy roads. Usually she and the Hunter made sure to walk amidst the clouds of purifying steam, but this time she had to follow the worse path possible, the nooks and crannies were pipelines were broken or out of pressure, where the failing power of the Generator flowed thinner and less certain.
Even like that, a few white plumes lingered about and the four moth-people had to pass through them, hissing as well, but in pain.
“Come on. We’re almost there. Almost there. Keep it up, you’ll see your home soon.”
They followed her, with nary a word. Sadja blushed at the amount of trust she had won from them. These people had lost everything: their humanity, their home. And yet they risked it all to help her. She felt a little stupid that only now she was starting to give back to them.
If they had a little bit of luck, it was they met nobody down the road: almost everyone was either on the ramparts or tucked into their homes.
As she spotted the glider still laying in the square, she glanced at the Temple.
Was there a figure standing on the threshold? Looking at her?
She wasn’t sure, and besides, she really did not care. Did not want to care.
Elissa had hurt her too much.
Valeriana, by contrast, waited for them, keeping the door to the glider open. The moment she saw the four figures behind her, she quickly walked up to her.
“Spirits, are you crazy? Are those Eerie?”
“No,” she denied vehemently, “these are my friends. And you’ll give them safe passage and bring me back here, or the deal is off.”
Valeriana’s fists clenched.
“I promise they will behave.”
“They better,” she hissed. “I hope they do not catch fire. The inside is all metal and engines and wires.”
“I gave them these blankets,” she said letting them come in. Oh, Spirits, there was very little room! They had to lay almost atop each other, shivering in their covers as they looked at the walls seemingly closing by against them. “It’s alright, everything will be alright,” she said soothing them. She took the daughter’s four hands into her own and rubbed them together. “We can go. Every minute they stay here it’s a minute more they suffer.”
“Feeling is mutual…” Valeriana muttered, but she did as Sadja asked. She pulled the door behind her and went to sit next to the pilot, the only place where she could still find enough space.
“What are those things, Wise Mother?”
“Friends of my charge. She wants them dropped… where exactly?”
“Give me a moment.” Sadja pulled out her knife and traced a few grey lines on her skin, creating new scars without, for the time being, cutting through her skin. She muttered the words while closing her eyes, picturing the path like a ribbon going from here through the forest, past the rivers and hills, and towards the tilled field and the house they had left so many days before.
Then she plunged the knife deep into her flesh.
Valeriana, who had been watching her (she felt the pressure of her curiosity), gasped at what she was doing. Or maybe at the color of her blood. At this point she did not really care. If she tried to take it by force, she knew how to defend herself. Plus they’d be five against one.
The single droplet of silver blood she drew from her wound raised in the air, changed shape from a sphere to a needle. It pointed north-west.
“That is our… road,” Sadja groaned, the strain of the spell already gnawing on her muscles.
The Vestal took off her mask – they shared a look. Sadja couldn’t foresee, so she didn’t really know if she was scared enough to betray her.
When Valeriana nodded, she felt a wave of relieve washing over her.
“You’ll give us directions,” she said putting back the mask on. “The further into the forest we go, the weaker my powers will be.”
The flier folded on itself, took off and then extended its silver wings once again. Inside, Sadja felt it when they went past the Hunter.
Was he looking up at her?
She had no idea.
She grimaced as another wave of dull ache ran through her arm. She had to keep it up. At least, they were going so fast snow had turned into a series of falling stars, blinking on and off against the windows.
“Are you guys alright?” She asked the group, receiving only a series of uneasy murmurs. “Well. I have something for you.” Using her other hand, she withdrew her notebook. “I can’t keep the bite of metal out, but I can at least keep out boredom. Who wants to hear the story of Goldilocks and the three Man-bears?”
Pic by kola
Author’s Notes: really happy about this chapter. Thanks for reading!