Patina – Chapter 128

By this point, Elissa was getting used to the peace and quiet. In fact, even as her powers of Sight were getting weaker and weaker, something that as a Vestal should have left her in a panic, she started to enjoy feeling the Threads’ finally letting go. 

If she focused, or if she needed to take a look into the future for something important, like how Sadja would be feeling that evening, she could still use them. But they did not come to her like a raging flood anymore – it was more like a trickle.

She was really not Verna’s prodigy anymore.
The thought made her chuckle. She had decided to have breakfast alone, sitting on a table on the first floor, looking down at the Furnace district – as with every morning, Sadja would wake up and get to her chores. She liked to think she’d be more relaxed and happier than she had been for the longest time. 

She was still happy, and even if she was not happy with her or due to her, she was still happy and that was more than enough for her. 

Was it?
She decided it was. 

And if the wind carried a bemused whisper telling her it was not, she’d ignore it.

Besides, the after effects of her brush with the Queen of Thorns seemed to be complete. She was left with blackened nails and a nasty growth on the roof of her mouth, but that was pretty much it. As far she was concerned, she did not look any different from Elissa as she had always been.
She kept the water flowing, and that seemed to be everything these people carried about. 

She reached for the loaf of bread (what she couldn’t cook, she asked people to bring to the Temple, leaving it outside her door) and took a bite. 

Far from the fancy breakfasts she used to enjoy as a Novice, but it would be most sufficient. 

As for the rest, she really had no need for attendants or guards – she had ruled they’d be far more useful to the wounded town than to her and as far as she knew they had been doing their job as nurses, liquidators or guards. 

The town, in fact, did not really need her. 

Maybe it would always need an Augur, but not her.

So why not just waste it all away like the sap on trees? As long as she produced what it was asked of her, nobody would notice.

But Elissa did notice the sound of footsteps climbing to the Temple’s terrace.

Peace and quiet and losing her Threads did come with the occasional disadvantage – having to lean on her other senses more often… and getting the occasional surprise. Being caught flat-footed was a new experience and not one she could say she enjoyed much. 

But this one at least she recognized.

She had followed the echoes of her heart all the way to the Hunter when she rushed to save him, when she… lost herself amidst the trees for the first time. When she was forced to rip herself apart. 

Not a good memory. 

“The Temple is closed,” she groaned, taking another bite from her loaf. She waved her hand off. “No blessings, no forecasting. And most of all, no bothering a poor girl.”

“I am here for neither of those,” the old woman – what was her name again? Arguta – croaked, pulling up a chair next to her table and sitting down as if she owned the place, or was one of the high-ranking Augurs like Valeriana. “You should be able to tell.”

“My mind is taken up by other things,” she replied, tapping her nails on the table. Wait, she could see those.

She withdrew her hands and crossed her arms over her chest.

“Not very important ones, it seems. This place is a mess. Aren’t you supposed to have helpers or something?”

Now this hag was really getting on her nerves. How was she supposed to mope in peace with someone like her nagging her? She should have her thrown down the parapet… if she could muster the strength to do so. 

I should move the coin. 

But that was among the things she really wanted to leave behind, wasn’t it?

“I don’t need them. I am doing so well alone. I was, until you decided to interrupt me.”

“Hmhm, because looking down at the town with a sad frown, looking like something a cat spit out is doing well.”

“What’s a cat?”

“Old saying. Nevermind. I am here to share these,” she said opening up a large bag and putting down a weirdly thick bottle together with two cups and… were those sweets?

Her stomach growled, betraying her stern composure. She hadn’t had sweets in… a long while.

The woman opened up the bottle and a plume of steam (not the kind she made) filled the air.
“What’s that?”

“Thermos. A nice invention from the Eretimes. This is not original of course… but the design is. Built it myself.”

“Fascinating,” she drily replied even as Arguta filled her cup with a bronze, sweet-smelling liquid.

“This is our first actual meeting, so I had to take a guess. I hope you like fennel and honey.”

She sniffed and, grimacing, put it to her lips. It tasted… really good. A perfect blend between sweet and sour.

“And cookies.”

“You also making these?” She tried, but she was losing this fight.

“I am a woman of many talents. When you learn how to set up a fire, why not share in all its uses?”

She took a bite. Like the tea, it was well-balanced and crunchy, a delight for her belly, used to little more than bread and tears. 

“It’s… sufficiently edible.”

“Sure it is,” she snickered. “You Vestals and your big words.”

“Wait, isn’t this the second time we meet?”

“It’s the first one I came here myself, without being forcibly removed from my workshop and asked to lay down in a stupid pool of scalding water.”

“It was an emergency. And I did not make you lay down on the pool.”

“Psh. Not much difference. Now, girl. I don’t really get the fascination these people have with you and your weird powers. As far as I am concerned, mankind has fought back with steel and fire,” she said, and Elissa stiffened. She spoke a lot like Verna. “And I see you are opposed to that. Heh. Your Augurs are all the same.”

“I don’t,” she replied in a heated whisper. She adjusted the blindfold over the scarred tissue of her empty orbits, feeling the familiar ache settle down deep into them. “To each their own. But I do not really care for the old ways. I had… bad experiences with them.”

The woman squared her. If she could find wisdom from that, Elissa did not really care. 

She took another bite from her cookie. At least these were good. And maybe worth it. 

But the old hag must surely want something in return. Nobody was kind without an ulterior motive.

“As you said, to each their own. I’d like to gnaw at my elbows each night because we are forced to hide behind your walls. But there is something I wanted to talk you about. I was sent by the town and they believed I was the best for this kind of job.” She let out another snicker. “Me, of all people. Could you believe that?”

“I can.” As always, string attached. 

It would never change. 

“The thing is… and I don’t really know how to say this…”

Oh, let her guess, she thought biting down on another cookie. The Generator breaking down? The water quota non meeting their needs? Or maybe they wanted her to do something else?

“Everyone is really worried about you, girl.”

Elissa froze.
Half of a biscuit fell from her mouth.


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