“Wind is changing.” These were the words spoken throughout the various redoubts from the depths of the forest to the shorelines, no matter how deep into the Bittersea one could find them. Though Eerie attacks did not cease save for a specific part of the woods, and cold lingered like the cold breath of Papa Ice himself, the skies were clear and the roads bereft of hungry things that gnawed on their own hunger in the dark.
What a weird season, everyone thought. People turned to their Vestals for counsel: was it safe to go out again? Could they hope Foran early break from the endless cycle of terrible winters? Was this a sign the times were really about to change for the first time since the Tide (and this time arguably for the better)?
The Vestals, who might have been able to see in the future but were just as much confused about it as every one else, mostly gave vague answers and moved their hands in vaguely-approving gestures. Then they shut themselves into their chambers and tried to saddle their problems onto someone else (that never-changing solution).
Truth being, the last few months had been the most turbulent ones for the Order since its founding, with their former High Seer lost and (as far as they could understand) dead or worse, her secret projects revealed, and a mute understanding that Verna’s ideas came that close to throwing them all onto the Bittersea.
The hidden laboratories were sacked and their priceless technology brought to Venexia and to other major settlements to the south, where they could be useful. Useful to purify water or help growing crops, and hopefully the Heart of the Forest would look the other way.
On top of that, the Order was still rattled by the strange occurrences of the last few weeks and even though mind-speak was now deemed relatively safe, most of them had returned to good old-fashioned letters for the time being. And most of those letters spoke about the terrifying events that happened in Belacqua.
One of those explained it all in graphic details.
Valeriana, new High Seer of the Order and currently holder of the bigger headache this side of the Alps, sighed as she read Cloria’s letter for what might have been the fifth… or sixth time. She had lost count.
“I swear that place is cursed,” she muttered. “We lose Verna, and then we lose Elissa. I hope a suitable candidate shows up soon enough…” she lamented, putting her face in her hands. At least, Cloria survived and she seemed to be hale and hearty. Maybe a little too much, a vicious voice suggested, given how happily she threw herself into the arms of the first burly man he found.
Nevertheless, she had asked for her help, maybe not recognizing that she couldn’t exactly leave whenever she wanted. She was not her predecessor; she couldn’t just come and go.
Still, she’d have to make the Council understand the gravity of the situation. And if they didn’t – she was ready to pull rank.
She wouldn’t last as High Seer for long, she was feeling it in her bones. Her job was to take the fall and cushion her successor, free her from the shadow of Mastra Verna and her obsession with fighting the Queen of Thorns.
Valeriana bit her tongue at the name that passed through her mind.
“Getting slippery in my old age,” she chuckled. She picked up a metal box from the closest drawer. It had been welded shut. She opened her palm and the steel liquefied, letting a tiny vial pass through. It was filled to the brim with a strange silver liquid. Too thick to be painted water, too light to be mercury.
She had ordered the destruction of Sadja’s blood, but had kept that minuscule thing for herself.
It would serve as a reminder.
She would go down in history as an unloved High Seer. But she’d play her part.
And now her part required her to go back to Belacqua once again.
“Wind is changing,” she said, walking over to the balcony. The floating city welcomed her with its usual sights: busy streets and people who went by ignoring what had almost happened.
What a hard job to keep it like that.
Sadja spotted it first: a thin purple flower breaking through the snow. The sight was enough to make her smile; she walked away from her group and crouched down on the creaking snow, admiring the small thing and its courage, poking past the heavy blanket to embrace the sun.
It did make for a comforting sight. She turned to look at Fortunato, or Hunter as most the people of Belacqua still knew him, talking with the rest of the gatherers as they compared their bounties. Maybe it was the lack of Eerie and Fae as of late, but they had managed to catch a lot of bunnies and winter birds in their traps. They’d keep their bellies full.
It helped, as sorrowful as it was to admit so, that they now had less people to keep fed…
But they would make it.
Sadja’s ears perked up as she perceived a breeze hit from the south. It wasn’t the harsh wind she had been used to up until then: it was a gentle caress that spoke of salty water and vast shores, or gentle grass bowing to summer’s heat and long walks in the peace and safety of a world far from the Forest.
In a few weeks, they’d leave.
She was happy for Fortunato, really: though he was still a bit stiff when speaking with others, he had started to take better care of his clothes his hair, and he looked a lot better put-together. He had also cut his beard. She believed it was another way to say good bye to Lenora.
“Wind is changing,” she said, standing up and waving goodbye to the flower. More like it would soon come out.
The snowy fields outside the town were still littered with decaying Eerie corpses, but the Liquidators and Cloria in particular were being thorough in cleaning them up and allowing the land to heal. And from inside the town came the echoes of many laborious hands at work, the din and tin of tools and saws and hammers busy rebuilding it.
There were places to go past the sorrows.
Marriages to celebrate.
And the great feast of Spring to look forward to.
She had decided they’d leave after that.
By then, Cloria’s Augur friend would surely have come and helped Elissa.
Everything would find its happy place.
Sadja smiled and waved at Fortunato as he turned to look at her.
She was sure of it.
Pic by hiveworkshop.com
Author’s Notes: I always liked the image of the flower growing out of the blanket of snow and I wanted to use it here as well. Thanks for reading.