Maybe it really had something to do with Sadja’s mood and personal growth, but ever since she risked traveling through the night forest to guide her moth-friends home, the Hunter had seen sadja much happier. In the following days the storm did lift up a bit, allowing for moments when patches of blue sky could peek through the thick skin of the clouds.
Then the wolf-girl would stand up from her work, be it doing her literature classes, writing down new boards, repairing pipelines or carrying groceries, and she’d look up at the sun, a smile gracing her platinum lips.
One day closer to freedom, it seemed.
And maybe he had overreacted when he had worried so much about the Queen of Thorns influencing her. Despite saying she met Her, or someone like Her, in that dream, the Heart of the Forest had yet to show any significant influence on the wolf-girl.
Not even when she hunted close to him, dealing with encroaching Eerie that might threaten the town or slip unseen through the crack, he ever felt any lingering presence.
Maybe it had only been just a dream.
He had mused about telling her to ask Elissa for help, but whatever had happened between the two girls still seemed to bother her greatly, and he had left the topic alone.
Besides, these days they were spending much more time together – with Cloria having to deal with her own job and apparently her newly-formed relationship, and Arguta who wasn’t of much company beyond talking about steel and fires – and he always found her a little more hopeful.
She woke up early in the morning to deal with her chores and made sure their refuge was always tidy and air-tight against night currents – diligently followed him on their hunting forays and she never seemed to lose her focus. After a rocky start, Sadja’s Cruoromancy was coming to her like a second nature. Or a third, considering where she came from.
He was getting proud of her. She had started to look at her blood like something she could make use of, a precious treasure that would help her during her travels and not an instrument of torture.
And to think he would have sold her to Verna less than three months before.
He still felt a little sting of shame at the thought: back then he was so stubborn he had put all his hopes into the Sere Rite, without even stopping for a moment to ask about it.
Sure, he could ascribe much of it to Verna… but not all. S
Some was on him.
With each new smile Sadja cracked, he liked to believe he was slowly paying his debt.
These days, in the desolated Temple, Elissa liked to walk to the first floor and look down from the upper parapet. It gave her a great view of the town, ironic for someone like her to choose such a spot, but it was also an inconspicuous position where she could try to find Sadja without being too obvious.
Even that morning, after about two weeks of that routine, she sighed, pushing back her damp hair. She did not care for the cold, or for the thermal shock of getting out of the pool wearing just her thin white Vestal robe. As of late cold and heat did bother her less and less.
She pulled her hand out of her glove and flexed her fingers – her bones snapped back into place and she admired her nails, growing thicker and blacker with each day. This was one of the last changes and the one that had proceeded the slowest of all.
She’d likely be able to hide it for the whole winter – she wore gloves due to the cold, and it was easy to hide her hands while in the pool.
The citizens who came to refill their holy water would seldom find her there anyway – she’s pour a few drops of her thick, darkly vermillion blood onto the water and pronounce the holy words, as it had been taught her.
As it was expected.
People still came to look for her even if her holy water had lost much of its ancient potency. They still came to try to talk, or maybe plead. She never stayed long enough to check, even though a small part of her wanted to remain there and check out.
But what would it matter? It wasn’t like they could give Sadja back to her.
The girl had decided not to have anything to do with her anymore, and she couldn’t force her to change her mind.
She couldn’t, she decided, clenching her teeth and brushing off the icky tendrils from her last conversation with the Queen of Thorns. She had suggested not to waste time anymore and seize wha she wanted: well, wasn’t this what she wanted?
She pushed her Sight down towards the furnace district – Sadja stopped to look up at the sky as a tiny patch of blue opened in the white coat. She smiled, her tail waggling behind her.
Elissa smiled in response.
She was perfectly happy looking at her from afar. She did not have to be a part of her life to be happy, after all.
That was the truth. As long as she kept repeating it to herself, ever day and every sleepless night, biting onto her dirty sheets and abandoning herself to the heat of the pool, ignoring the whispers that went to look for her when she least welcomed them, speaking of how she could realize her desires, how she was wasting her time and her life like this, how she’d be able to make Sadja hers if only she rose to the occasion… as long as she did all that and she held up the mask of the dutiful, harmless Vestal who had definitely not felt the touch of the sleeping blight that gnawed at the roots of the trees and made them cry tears of blood and get pregnant with malicious cursed bones… as long as she pretended to be the same old Elissa as always… she could still watch her from afar.
And as long as she pretended the winter would last forever, it would be enough.
Pic by hiveworkshop.com