Patina – Chapter 139

Sadja blinked and tried to stand up, but something kept her laying down. As she recovered her senses, she found out she was laying on a makeshift bed, the mattress dirty and full of holes, likely salvaged from someone’s home. She wasn’t the only one. Groaning, she tried to stand up again, and only managed to lay on her side, panting softly at the exertion. 

From the noises and the laments – and the acrid smell of fear and blood – reaching her, her mind connected the dots. She was in the medical bay, or what might pass for it, a series of tent laid out in the furnace district, protected by barricades and the last few warm pipelines, heating stem through the blasting ovens. For the first time since that morning, the air was protected by the faint haze of holy water, but she knew it wouldn’t be enough to rebuke the Tide, not if they came all at once. 

There had been no end to them. Now she understood Hunter’s fear, how badly he had been affected by what happened to him and through which kind of torment he had passed. Or at least, she understood it a little better. 

The acrid smell of blood and medicine tickled her nose and she did not like it at all – it reminded her too much about her imprisonment at Verna’s hands. Looking down, she saw no wounds on her body and while her head was still a bit woozy, she felt like she could stand up. The medics were worried with worse patients, anyway. 

“I’m leaving,” she croaked, but not one of the nurses or doctors or helpers or soldiers heeded her. She picked up the rest of her clothes and went to look for Hunter.
Where was he anyway? She remembered as he held her up against his back, but little else. She walked through the corridors carved by huge black furnaces and rows upon rows of tents and beds, where writhing, wounded people looked at her without seeing her. White and light, she passed through them like a phantom. 

“Hunter,” she whispered, but no answer came. Her heart caught in her throat – was he doing something stupid, like trying to hold back the Tide on his own? “Hunter.”

No reply. 

She dashed forward, her heart beating in her chest and her breath hitching. Sadja stumbled against someone, lost her footing and fell on the frozen ground.

“Sorry,” she said standing up again. The person she hit was a middle-aged man with a bald head. She recognized him as one of the Augur’s friends from the feast. He just nodded and walked away, holding something close to his chest.

Then her nose picked up something different from blood, fear and soot. At a nearby table, a group of people shared bread and soup. Hunter was not among them, but she decided, her growling stomach demanding at least as much, that she’d take a little break. And then she might learn a thing or two about the time of night – and how much they still had left. 


Elissa did not find the engineers on the first level, so she kept walking down. With each step, the oppressive presence of the industrial material bit into her flesh – what might have been comforting, even inspiring now felt like squeezing through a hungry maw, scratching her skin with its frozen teeth. She winced, but kept going. No matter what had happened to her body – to her nature? – she still had to help however she could. That was what she was supposed to do, no matter what… if there was even just a chance to save Sadja from the madness out there.

She walked and, even through the haze of discomfort, she still marveled at the technology on display here. Each curve and corridor and hallway had been excavated deep underground, and they bore the signs of a people who had decided not to disappear quietly into the night. 

In a way, it was so similar to what both she and Sadja did throughout their whole lives, fight and rage against forces beyond their strength. 

She held her hands close to her chest as she felt the freezing-heat feeling from the metal reach further into her flesh. She used to feel the same unease walking out in the forest, but now she was the alien one, the other that had been twisted by a Will beyond time and memory. 

Elissa bit her lip. She did not want to go down that line of thoughts. 

She proceeded, trying to keep her mind empty. It wasn’t easy – flashes of Sadja and her own body walking on the snow, approaching Verna’s laying form, feeling the branches sprouting from her own orbits kept appearing in her mind – but at last she heard echoes of tools and voices coming from deep down below. 

She reached a hole and began to descend a narrow staircase. How much of the Generator was over their heads right now? She had no idea, but the thought of more of the huge machine failing and crushing her body like a pea made shivers run down her back. It wasn’t likely, the Threads did not seem to shiver and make her fear the thing would collapse at any moment, but… it wasn’t a pleasant thought, among many other unpleasant thoughts.

Reaching the end of the stairs, she followed after the gas light coming from the end of another tunnel. This place was dirtier and it looked far older than the rest of the machine. Its walls were covered in ancient scriptures, etched so thin it looked more akin to jewelry than industry. And bending over a patch of that scripture, she found three engineers and Arguta.

“Did you find anything?”

The four turned to look at her – the golden glow of the lamp bathed her form and a gasp hissed through them. 

“By the rust, girl…” Arguta mumbled. “Your eyes…”

“Oh, that.” She frowned. It was a ghastly sight, she supposed. “Never mind. It’s an old wound. I can deal with it just fine,” and she showed so by walking up to them. “Now. Any news?”

Arguta hesitated, then passed a hand over her tired eyes. 

“Maybe something. There is a way to restart the core, but it requires a significant amount of energy. It’s an emergency procedure that needs a catalyst and we have no way to contain the reaction. Furthermore… with the counterweight out of balance, it’s impossible to keep it self-sustaining.”

“The counterweight was the one which caused this whole mess,” Elissa said, without even formulating it as a question. “It’s that huge metal pillar, isn’t it?”

“Yes. When the Generator is working, it’s held up by radiative pressure. If it fails, it shuts down – a preventive measure to avoid a runaway reaction.”

“Runaway reaction?”

“The core might blow up.”

“I suppose whoever built it did not factor in the Tide.”

Arguta blinked.

“Wasn’t the Tide always there? I thought…”

“It’s an old story, and I don’t have much time to explain it.” Elissa kneaded her orbits. It was a stretch. It was one thing to shift the Hunter into possible futures. A slab of metal did not have the same entanglement potential to draw as many Threads with it, but its size… and the downward effects on the town… would make it a tad more difficult than moving a bunch of rocks. “Where is this counterweight anyway?”

Pic by PrinceYaser


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