So far, Sadja had been used to hear welcome more than goodbye.
The only one she had been keen on had been saying goodbye to Verna and every day she was more grateful the horrible woman was out of her life, even if she regretted what could have been if she had been… well a little more like Valeriana. Or maybe even like Elissa, even though she did not like the redhead Vestal at all.
But now, for the first time, saying goodbye was an actual thing, and very close. So close that it speared right through her heart as the glider landed next to the snow-covered home.
Sadja winced and closed her fist. The grey lines covering her arm stopped pulsating and the silvery needle created from her blood remembered it was nothing more than blood, dripping onto her skin and then onto the metal floor.
“Don’t touch it,” she hissed as the brother looked at it, curious. “Also, I think we’re finally here.”
The flight had taken less than she feared (or hoped). It would be many months before she could meet these four again.
She stood up, helped by Valeriana who had left her spot next to the pilot and the bloodloss, together with how weary she was from sustaining the spell for so long, made her weak in the knees.
She grimaced at the thought of Hunter holding up the spell to find her for days – no wonder he was slowly losing the use of his right eye.
But now he understood him a little better – doing such things for the people he loved. Even if his wife was now a monster. She pulled them out of the glider, holding them up as they walked out in the snow. The Vestal was the only one to leave footprints.
“Is it safe?” She asked in a worried whisper, holding her hands against her head. “Spirits… it’s… so loud. It’s like there’s a thousand horrible voices in the air, gnawing at each other.”
Sadja sniffed. She closed her eyes and focused her senses, extending them. The soft smell of pine trees, the tangy hint of red sap, the dampness of snow, the sweat and relief of her moth-friends. And beyond the circles of trees, chittering teeth, slowly picking up on the disturbance of the glider; and curious claws, always eager to tear flesh apart from flesh.
“There’s something. But they are not close,” she stated. Couldn’t completely be sure. She wasn’t nearly as skilled as Hunter in this. They did not have much time, really.
She held the daughter up against her body as they reached the door. From behind came the deer-things she remembered, for some reason completely unscathed. She thought the Eerie would have eaten them, but they looked as fine as the day she had first met them.
The mother walked up to them, holding the two in a hug as they rubbed their antlers against her shoulders. The father set his hand on the door and it snapped open, as if it had been waiting for nobody but him.
And the inside – the inside was pristine. She had expected to see piles of snow from broken windows, perhaps even an Eerie that had slithered in and was about to give them a bloody surprise. But the house felt as warm and cozy as always. To top it all, a fire was already crackling in the hearth. It smelled like smoke and a pile of raisin cookies waited for them on the table.
“What’s this?” Valeriana hissed, hesitating on the threshold. She reached for her mask and pressed it against her face. “This is the Wick…”
“Shhh,” Sadja replied, hushing her. Why looking a gifted horse in the mouth? That was another of the literary expressions she had picked up recently.
It might have been the Queen of Thorns, yes.
And She might take away from them just as much as She was willing to give.
But Sadja did not really care.
The four of them entered their home; Sadja’s eyes looked at the door and then the window from where she had escaped all those months prior.
A great bundle of sadness took place in her heart. It would be a long time before she set her eyes again on those golden eyes and those gossamer wings.
“Thank you for taking me in,” she said drawing them in one final, multi-limbed hug.
From some place far-off in her perception, she felt the Eerie beginning to close in on the house. She closed her eyes and focused on the sensation. The eight pair of hands, their fluttering chests, their breaths, the daughter and brother’s whispering and chittering something in that strange language of their she had never been able to understand. “Thanks for giving me food. Thanks for coming back for me. Thanks for everything you did for me. I’ll never forget you. And I’ll come back to visit you come spring, when this horrible horrible winter is behind us.”
“Wheee’lll mhiiss yhhourr shhhtorihhies,” the daughter muttered.
“I’ll come and tell you more,” she replied, fighting against her tears. “And I’ll be much better at it! Just wait and see!”
From the threshold, Valeriana urged her.
“I have a very bad feeling. Something is coming, wolf-girl. We have to go back to the glider.”
“I have to go,” she said. Bit by bit, she withdrew, untangling from the embrace. She passed her hands over their cheeks.
“Wheee’ll miiihss yhhou, fffhhoundhhling,” the father said in his lower chitter. The brother was shaking. The mother kissed the tip of her fingers.
“We’ll see each other again!” She shouted.
“Sadja!” Valeriana called her.
One last look.
The family of four, gazing back at her with those glowing eyes of theirs. Holding up their hands as they gave her one final wave.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
And then took three steps back, and she was back again in the cold.
The door shut against her face.
Valeriana pulled her back just as something hungry and heavy came rushing in from the darkness beyond the trees. Limbs and mouths dangled from a worm-like body and its hungry shriek tore the silence apart.
Sadja scratched her arm. She aimed a droplet of blood at the thing and shot at it.
It hit the thing in the abdomen and with a burst of light and air her blood ate through its cursed flesh like fire through dried leaves.
Valeriana stopped and turned to watch, the flames licking at the contours of her metal mask.
“There will be more!” Sadja pulled her in a dash, reaching for the glider that was already starting to rev up its engines. They jumped in and the door shut down as the Eerie stumbled into the snow and died its painful death. She looked down at the house – four figures gathered at the window, peering through the glass.
She waved her hand and then the glider took off, disappearing past the line of trees.
Sadja fell against the same spot the family had been huddled up together. She could still smell them.
“It’s over,” she said. “At least this part.” There was a hole in her heart that she had ripped off of her own volition. She put her palm against it, trying to feel if it would heal.
“Indeed,” Valeriana said, sitting down next to her. She took down her mask. “What was that? I have seen fire bombs, but the holy fire only comes from sanctified water. What are you?”
Sadja’s ears flickered – she was trying to have a moment here!
But then she turned to the woman and looked her square in the eyes.
“I’m not really certain. But I’m something Verna really much wanted to put her hands on.”
A flash went off in Valeriana’s black eyes.
“Wait,” she pleaded. “Wanted?”
“Yes,” Sadja confirmed, nodding gravely. “Wanted.”
Pic by FhelZoneAuthor’s Notes: a hard chapter to write. Emotionally so. We are truly starting to approach the final endgame, and I am really proud of Sadja’s growth. In the following weeks we’ll see how all these threads will be pulled together. I told you a long time ago that this story was not guaranteed to have a happy ending. Please bear that in mind. At any rate, thanks for reading.