Cloria pulled out her knife, slashing at the hooked appendages of the Eerie. She withdrew from the barricades just in time to avoid the dead claws ripping off her armor. She grimaced at the loss of her flamethrower, but when it exploded, casting a yellow flash and sending burning pieces of cursed skin all over, she thought it was a good send-off.
As she ran through the streets, helped by the covering fire behind her, she found out her weapon had had it better than many others, laying stricken on the field, entrails wrangled around their broken limbs. She threw a few firebombs at them, trying to at least salvage their flesh from the eternal torment of being turned into an Eerie, but she could only help the few she saw.
There had been a time when she thought the Hunter foolish for risking his time and resources by releasing the spirits he found on his way, while they were hunting Sadja and the world still made a modicum of sense.
“Come on! Cloria! Come on!” Bernardo shouted at her from the barricades, holding out his hand even between the shooting barrels and the growing chaos.
Now she did understand.
“Come on!” Shouted the others. Marina shot from her rifle and the bullets wheezed past her – something big stumbled behind her barely missing her calves and a shiver ran down her back.
These people were counting on her. They put their trust in her.
And as he took Bernardo’s hand and he whisked her up the barricades, just as covering fire sent the wave of black flesh after her careening back into the nearest trench, he pulled her up in a tight embrace.
“It’s alright, it’s alright,” he whispered to her ear. “You’re safe now.”
“Yes,” she replied, taking in his scent, the smiles and looks of Marina and Belacqua’s townspeople, even in the face of the end of the world. “Yes. I know.”
She and Hunter got into a rhythm.
They would run from barricade to barricade, help with the covering fire, shoot bloodied needles into the fray, and try to hit the most dangerous targets, or the most insidious. Between the screams, the blasts of the guns and the fear and hope blooming like opposite flowers on the battlefield as each unguarded home was destroyed by the advance of the Eerie and the single Fae guiding them, she was starting to develop a strange ringing between her ears.
Growing tired. Her arms weary and tense, her back killing her.
And she was losing blood.
Even if during their pauses they ate a bit of meat and drank a lot, there was a limit to how much they could use. She studied Hunter for help without asking him directly: the way he always waited for the right moment, surveying the enemy. The way he always kept his eyes on the Fae, making sure it redirected its fury at him, the way he never lost a beat, even bloodied, bruised and worn out as he was.
Until he hesitated a fraction of a moment longer, and her instincts flared at her – she jumped off from the upper barricade and pushed him away, as a lashing tentacle cut air just above him. Sadja shot a pellet of her blood at the thing and it caught fire, taking with itself a couple others creeping up behind it.
“That was close,” he muttered, crouching away into cover.
“You tell me!” She hissed at him. “You need to rest. You need to recover…”
He opened his mouth.
But then he looked down at his battered body, losing fluid, barely held up together by gauzes.
“This reminds me of when I started changing your bandages. Remember that?”
“In the forest,” she said, holding onto his hands. “Of course I do.”
“I did ask you to behave and to consider things… ah, that hurts,” he winced as he took a breath too deep, “… consider your situation as a whole. Yes, I should do that.” A chuckle escaped his lips. “It’s weird, spending the end of the world here with you.”
“Hunter…” she tried.
“That’s not even my name.” He kneaded his right eye – it was red and swollen once again.
“I never told you,” he winced again. “I think a bit of respite is in order.” He stood up, holding onto his side.
“Are you wounded?”
“Not more than usual,” he joked. “It’s just the night that’s taking its toll.”
She helped him get away from the barricade. The smell of gunpowder and the screams and explosions dimmed a bit as they reached the ever-thicker hospital area, around the Furnace District. She had left it… just how many hours before? She wouldn’t know.
Her muscles ached so much every movement was like pulling teeth. Hunter’s gait leaned now right and now left, but they managed to reach a bench where to draw a breath, surrounded by the groans of the wounded and the silence of the dead.
“It’s not going to get any better soon,” he hushed, kneading his bad eye. “Maybe at all.”
“We will make it.”
“You surely could,” he said glancing at her. “You still have enough blood and energies for a sortie. No need to-“
“I think we already talked about that.” Her ears stood up in anger. “I am not leaving!” She pushed her finger against his chest. “And you can’t make me!”
“I am not going to,” he replied in a drawn-out sigh, putting his hand over her own. “But hope is such a dangerous thing. It sucks you in, and it never lets go. I followed a fool’s hope for six years, trying to give some respite to my wife. I made a lot of mistakes chasing that dream.”
“It wasn’t a mistake.” She pursed her lips, shaking her head and making her white, dirty hair wave. “It wasn’t a mistake! You learned what’s important about the Sere Rite, and how it wasn’t worth it in the end. You let me go! Remember that? You did!”
“Hard to forget,” he chuckled.
“And after that we defeated Verna. You, and me, and Cloria.”
“Yes, her as well! But I don’t want to talk about her now, I want to talk about you!”
“Alright,” he mused, pulling her in close. She pushed her teared-up face against his chest and he passed his fingers through her hair. “What do you want to talk about?”
“I want to talk about what we will do when this horrible night is over.”
“Get a shower,” he chuckled.
“Yes. A long long shower. And something to eat. Do we still have some of that canned food?”
“I think a few. Saved them up for a special day.”
“Surviving this is going to count like a special day, isn’t it?”
“The most special,” he huffed. “It’s so much worse than the last time.”
“I’m sorry,” she groaned, entwining her fingers with his own. “I-“
“It’s gone,” he assured her. “I have made my peace with that.”
She did not say anything. She had a hunch that thing was still out there, and he’d still have to kill her again and again and again, until-
“We will make it,” she assured. Not sure if him, or her or both.
“More up to Elissa than us, at this point.”
“What’s the Augur doing?”
“Trying to restart the Generator. Cloria told me as much. We all depend on her.”
It was a weird feeling to think about it like that. In the end, she couldn’t do much even with her so-called awesome blood.
In the end it all went back to the Vestals. As it seemingly always did.
“Let’s hope she does a good job, then.”
“Oh, she will. She’s doing it for you, after all.”
Pic by hiveworkshop.com
Author’s Notes: It feels a bit weird to reach this point. But I like how the relationship between the Hunter and Sadja is blooming. I hope you are enjoying the story and thanks for reading (and keeping up with it)!