The Hunter looked nervously at the sky, following the trace of the sun as it climbed down towards the horizon, pulling shadows gaunt and tight.
“More water this way!” He shouted, reaching for the next container, but they were completely out of vials. What was Elissa doing? They were supposed to have more than this! “We were supposed to be prepared!” He groaned, slapping his palms against the crate, making the three or four bottles remaining tinkle uselessly against themselves.
Sadja looked at him, a dismayed look making her blue eyes grow darker.
“I can try to see if they have more,” she offered, pulling out the last bottles and handling them to the nearby citizen. “Or maybe if there’s some… trouble at the Temple,” she tried, biting her lip.
“It doesn’t matter,” he groaned, pulling back from the crate.
He had worked tirelessly for years trying to pay for his mistakes, for his inability to defend the town right when he was most needed.
And even if the last few months had allowed him to start looking at his past under a new light, the clear, freezing air biting against his skin reminded him he’d been a fool – there was no escaping this. He could blame them as much as he wanted, for their lack of foresight (the Generator could and would fail again, if it did once!) But…
“You are scaring me,” Sadja whispered, gently touching his elbow. Her ears flopped down against her head. “I would like to do more. I know how it feels to be powerless.”
“It’s not your fault,” he replied automatically – but that wasn’t what she was talking about, was it?
He drew in a long breath and sighed, sitting on the closest empty stool. The line of people waiting for water distribution moved on to the next checkpoint. Around the two of them, the city was bustling with activity, even more so than the time the wall had been breached: they were turning the entire outer ring into a spiked, armed barricade. People ran back and forth, moving their valuables towards the back of town. Another line moved buckets of scalding water out of the Temple, but no matter how much they could try to wring out of Elissa… it would never be enough.
“I know it’s not my fault,” she said, pulling his shirt and making their eyes level. “You don’t want to disappear. That’s what you should be thinking about. It was what helped me with Verna! Now it’s your turn to remember it, understand?”
He blinked. For a moment, he saw another gaze in those blue eyes, and something prickled on his cheeks.
What a girl. She had faced against the worst Vestal to ever live, and she had managed to come out unscathed. Maybe he should start to really learn to get over himself.
“Yes,” he said patting her head as she pouted. Her white hair, no matter how disheveled, felt soft and warm under his palm. “I’ll try to remember that.”
“You better! Because I want to spend my spring on a beach in the Bittersea.”
“No you don’t,” he rebutted, feeling something more akin to mirth bubbling up in his chest again, “unless that body of yours is also immune to sudden rusting.”
“One environmental hazard at a time,” she chuckled.
“Listen to you! What happened to the girl who didn’t even speak her name?”
“She read a lot of books!” Sadja chuckled. He pulled her in a hug, for the first time since he had known her trying to find some comfort in her presence rather than just trying to give it to her.
Her lithe, denser body felt warm even through his thick clothes and armor and he ran his fingers through her hair.
“She has grown a lot, then.” He pulled back and set a kiss on her forehead. Sadja’s cheeks turned a deep gray.
“Y-Yes, uhm… don’t we still have something more important to talk about than me?”
“We do.” He stood up and regarded the defenses that they had spent most of morning and a good chunk of the afternoon setting up. At least it seemed that they had haphazardly put out a half-baked plan on how to reduce Eerie infiltration while the engineers and Trefiumi refugees worked on restoring the Generator to a shadow of its former self. “We have to give them time. Word is they are trying to find out ways to restart the fire chamber, or the core… I am not an expert. It might take hours. If we are very lucky. Meanwhile, the Tide will be here shortly.”
“Will it be bad?” Sadja gritted her teeth.
“Remember that night you used the Eerie’s teeth to escape? On that hill, while I had to set up defenses and trying to fight them off on my own?”
“This is going to be much worse.”
Sadja frowned. Her gaze ran to her arm and she began to pull up her sleeve.
“How useful do you think this is going to be,” she asked in a whisper.
“You can do amazing things, but it would be like trying to set a lake on fire. You better save what you have if you see some big Eerie or to protect yourself. In case things go bad.”
“Wait. What do you mean to protect myself? We are getting through this, aren’t we? I told you, you don’t want to disappear.”
“And I surely don’t. But beyond the pep talk, there’s little a single man can do to set back the storm.” He winced as clawed memories scratched at the back of his mind. “You were not there.”
“I am here now! We are going to make it! No matter how bad it is, everyone here wants to survive. And we have to do our best. I want to keep seeing Cloria and Arguta and you… and, well, maybe even the weird Augur girl!”
“Very generous coming from you,” he mused.
“Whatever! So if I can help I am going to.”
He turned back to take a look at the defenses. Yes, at a first glance they were good enough.
But maybe they could still fix a thing or two.
Glancing at the sun, he estimated they still had at least two hours before night set in.
Maybe enough time to set a trap.
He could make himself more useful than this – facing the night would mean to step back into the hungry blackness that had devoured him all those years ago.
But if he closed his eyes, he could see a stubborn silver light calling onto him, holding his hand and telling him to never let go.
To never give up.
Pic by Nightmare