Patina – Chapter 155

I did not know where I was, she explained. Her voice was just as melodious as the last time he had heard I and his heart throbbed at holding her once again, so close. She did not smell like anything. Perhaps just a bit like old cinders, the kind you forget in the dark corners. I did not know what to do.

“It’s alright,” he replied putting a kiss against her skin. Again, no taste. 

Not much remained. 

I have- this thing- is the town safe?

“It is, and now it will be. Your successor has been incredible.”

Blessed be Spirits.

“I ought to come here sooner. I made a six-years-long mistake. I’m truly sorry.”

Stop making this all about yourself. Her hand caressed his cheek. It is not. I was careless and I paid the price for it. And what about you, love? Are you free now? Are you happy?

“If I am lucky I will be able to eat through a straw by tomorrow morning.”

She laughed and that was the most precious sound in the world. 

I can see that. And I can see something else. Her eyes flashed coy for a moment. A wife can’t expect her husband to be faithful to her cinders forever, can she?

He did not reply at once, focusing on the beats of his heart and the lead sky thrumming crimson as more lightning shot through the ceiling. 

“It just happened,” he confessed at once. “I did not plan to.”

When do you ever plan anything? Anything that works anyway.

He felt a knot coil around his chest. Did he really want to spend these moments with her like this? He was supposed to say more, to do more.

But as the last few months had tried to drill into his blocky head, he would not be able to. And more importantly, it would be enough. 

The wolf-girl. Is she a good girl? Is she steadfast? Brave? Can she deal with herself?

“Yes,” he nodded at once. “She’s very brave.”

Then she’s worthy of you. 

“I thought…”

She rolled her eyes and put a finger on his lips. 

Nothing good ever comes out of you thinking. I never wanted you to be unhappy because of me, love. I wanted you to grow past my shadow. I’m glad you managed to do so.

“Thank you,” he whispered, holding her closer. “I kept your journals. For a while.”

Around them, another thunder. Deeper this time. The ceiling flashed red once more, and with a rumbling roar, the farthest reaches of the ceiling began to crumble into nothingness, disappearing like a piece of paper into ash.

I want you to keep going. Run free and get out of here. I’ll always be thankful for the time we spent together but it’s time to let go.

“… yes.”

Thank you for coming back to me. One last time. 

She tilted her head and brushed a kiss with lips of clay. His body seized at the contact and his eyes bristled – there it was, the texture of her soft lips on his own, and her body, and her hair, and her eyes and her voice and there was a part of him that did not want to let her go, that would move mountains to hold her like this forever-

At least he now knew better. 

The black advanced. For the first time, it was a pleasant, comfortable nothingness, the peace of oblivion. The Order believed every soul fell in with the Spirits, but he had seen what would happen to-

Worry not. My bond is broken.

He blinked away the tears. 

“The Queen has released you?”

She shook her head and gripped her fingers around his hand to put a kiss on it. 

You did.

“I-I see.”

You don’t really, because you’re a block-head. But in time you will understand. In part you already did. 

“I reached out for you. I came closer. I accepted…”

See? Wasn’t so hard. 

She kissed him again. 

They remained like that, his breaths falling against her skin, and Lenora moving her fingers over his chest and through his hair. 

It felt different from Sadja – and Spirits, now he was going back think about her? – but it felt right, at least right enough for a finale. 

The last echoes of the crumbling ceiling, the ground made of bodies, the tower – they all disappeared in nothingness.

When they departed, they were floating in darkness. And bit by bit, that darkness began to eat up at her clothes.

He winced. There was no coming back from that.

I’m glad I did not hurt anyone. I have to thank you for that. 

“I had to kill you. Seven times.”

You always knew I was a tough girl. A pause. I wouldn’t have changed a thing, you know. The black crept up to her knees now. He did not have much time.
Never had. 

I would do it all over: finding you, falling in love, getting married beneath the nose of the Order.

“I love you. I don’t know wh…”

She kissed him a third and final time.
As she did, her body lost weight. He ended up embracing a torso, then a pair of shoulders, then a head. 

You will know. That’s what matters. There’s always a longer way to go.

“Alright,” he gritted his teeth. “I’ll try.”

That’s my husband. I love you. And no matter how far we are, that’s something true. That will never change. You were given a second chance. Enjoy it to the fullest. 

“I will. For you.”

For yourself, as well. We will meet again. Until then…

One last touch of those lips.

My love.

And then he was alone in the dark. 

He listened to his breaths careening through his throat, leaning forward.

“Goodbye,” he choked. 

At least he had been able to say that. It was just like she had said. There’s always a longer way to go.

“I’m ready,” he Sid standing up. “Thank you.”

Do not thank me yet, said the Will that he just knew had been there all the time. 

“After all you did? The Generator, Elissa, saving Sadja and now this?”

I just allowed you not to pay in advance, she explained. 

Before he had time to think about those words, the world shrieked like crunching glass.

And then he was outside.


Sadja lay on the gravel when the monster began to smoke and waver. 

Rivulets of melted flesh began to fall on the ground. One by one, the limbs and the volumes of thick cursed flesh lost their shape and turned into a widening puddle.

Last, the stalk with the body of the woman caught fire and disappeared in a puff of cinders.

And beneath it all something moved. 

Sadja gasped as Hunter pulled away a curtain of leathery flesh and reappeared. Sticky and shocked and dirty, but alive.

Hunter,” she groaned.

He smiled and picked her up, softly stroking her hair.

“Hunter! Hunter! Hunter!”

“I’m glad to see you again,” he muttered, glancing at her tail waggling softly. He lifted his eyes to the night. The stars were still there, even through the rapidly-advancing clouds of holy vapor. 

Things were beginning to change for the better. 

They had nothing to fear from Winter, at least for that year.

He knew as much. Did not remember clearly what happened after he said goodbye to Lenora, but he had a feeling like that part of the nightmare was behind them. 

And he also remembered what she had told him. 

There’s always a longer way to go.

He smiled, putting Sadja’s hand over his short, brown hair. His hazelnut eyes sparked with affection as her palm brushed against the thicket of his barely-there beard, passing over his crooked nose and touching his thin lips. 

“Fortunato,” he whispered at last. “My name is Fortunato.”

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Author’s Notes: Another of the scenes I had planned since the start. Some of you might recognize why I named the Hunter’s wife Lenora. As for the rest, we finally have a description! And a name. About the name, I have a brief story to tell you.

When I was five years old, we moved. In our new neighborhood I met with a very old man, a very kind one – he was always eager to share a few words while I was out there playing in the garden behind our new home and in time we struck a friendship.

Over time, as I grew up, I saw him turn frailer and weaker, but he always had a smile to share and always wanted to spend a few minutes talking. I’d like to say I was always eager to hear him as he was me, but that was not true. Awkwardness and perhaps some kind of irrational fear to be seen by him stopped me from truly savoring those moments.

One day he disappeared. I couldn’t say goodbye.

I gave much thought about the name I would give the Hunter once we reached this moment – until I learned that there used to be the custom to name certain kids saved by a house fire just like that: Fortunato.

I think it’s fitting. For more than one reason.

Thanks for reading.


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