A few days later and Fortunato found himself at a table under a makeshift tent. Sitting next to him were Sadja, so close their thighs brushed against each other, and to the left Cloria.
Opposite to them, seated the new High Seer.
Unlike the other few times when her flier had touched ground in the main square, she had landed in one of the blasted districts, in a spot where most if not all of the debris had been taken out.
Sadja fidgeted, uneasy in the presence of a Vestal, even if she had known her before.
Valeriana looked striking in her new clothing. She bore the white of the finest linen, her robes covering her body from her neck to her boots, a stark contrast to her chocolate skin that highlighted her slender form and her beauty, if already she seemed to cower beneath an unseen load. She had cut her hair and they gave her a more regal look, shoulder-length, just enough to frame her face.
The High Seer brushed her fingers against her silver mask. She seemed about to take it off, but in the end she let it go.
“I can’t even imagine what kind of night you passed,” she began, tilting her head to encompass the entirety of the destruction around them. “The Order will do whatever it is possible to make sure the town is restored.”
“Looks like we are doing a good job ourself,” Sadja muttered.
Fortunato cupped her hands with his own and the wolf-girl’s shoulders relented.
She did not like the woman, more because of what and who she represented than anything else. But there were other matters he needed to discuss.
“There’s something else I would like to talk to you about.”
The Vestal turned her face towards him. He could feel an echo of her tendrils exploring the place, curious about the past histories of the place. She said she couldn’t even imagine, but she surely could See. The fact she did not pry spoke volumes to the difference between her temperament and that of her predecessor.
Even now, she patiently waited for him to explain even though she already knew what words he was about to say.
“I want to personally cut my ties with the Order. I used to think I was Verna’s friend, and I was a fool. She has fooled us all. If it wasn’t for Sadja here, she’d got whatever she wanted.”
The Augur nodded.
“Indeed. You nevertheless have our thanks. We do not know what kind of madness pushed her to go directly against the Heart of the Forest, but we did our best to dismantle the entire operation. Your blood is safe, Sadja.”
She let out a light sigh.
“Now and forever? I mean, the truth is out anyway and it’s not like people like you can keep secrets.”
Valeriana’s lips curled in a smile.
“Your greatest assurance is the Queen herself,” she said and Cloria started, signing herself.
“A-Am I the only one who still has a shred of decency in this company?”
“We have almost met Her. Or one of Her powerful emissaries, during our last Council-wide meeting. It was one of the events that spurred us into actions. We will not touch your blood, Sadja. It belongs in the past, and that’s where we will lay it to rest. Erepeople technology and machinations were not enough to stave the Forest off… we do not desire to get back to the same situation.”
“Do you even listen to yourself?” Cloria mumbled. “You stuffy pretender.”
“That’s better,” Sadja replied with a faint smile, taking the conversation back on topic. “So, what about Elissa then? Will you be able to help her?”
Valeriana reached for her mask and this time she did take it off. They all saw her tired eyes, the deep circles beneath them – her face looked gaunt and almost hollow, like some sort of deep sorrow had taken root inside her and was eating her from the inside out.
“Bring me to her.”
The crowd parted. It was the middle of the day and they all turned to look the new High Seer, recognizable by her countenance and the gold and black trim in her white robes. Valeriana smiled and held up her hands in a blessing gesture, nodding at times when one of the townspeople met with her gaze. Even the engineers bowed their heads at her coming.
“Can you please leave us alone?” She asked when she reached her bed.
She had been brought to the main room, on a makeshift wooden floor that had covered the old pool. She couldn’t make more holy water and they were running out of it, but it seemed like its healing power had reached a limit.
Elissa the Vestal lay there covered in one of her usual robes, the argent and black lines identifying her an Augur. Someone had put a strip of white silk over her eyes, so that she actually looked, from afar, like the Augur that used to take so much care of her people, before the cursed winter descended upon them all.
Cloria and the man called Hunter helped to take care of the crowd, while Sadja sat next to her on the creaking wood. She brushed her fingers over the crowns of flowers surrounding her – offerings of bread, cinder, incense and salt in rings.
She remembered a confident, almost arrogant young Augur – she remembered her terrible power, the Threads rearing their heads around her like one of the terrifying monsters of Erepeople mythos, like a Medusa ready to strike.
The poor thing washed over by fire, her skin an unhealthy pink, smooth as marble and shiny as oil, her head devoid of any hair was a featureless hole in the fabric of possible futures.
Valeriana’s head swam. She had Seen it, she knew what happened to the poor girl and what she did. Restoring a Generator by herself- and living! Though reduced to such a state.
She had sacrificed everything.
It was both a tragedy and an immense cause for joy that Verna’s pupil had been reduced like that, while also showing a care that had always, now they had realized, been foreign to the heart of the previous High Seer.
Such an incredible girl.
Valeriana sat on her knees next to her and set her palm against the forehead of the comatose girl.
She licked her lips as she called upon herself the Threads and the air around her began to ripple and weave.
Verna might have once praised her skills, but in all truth she did not feel like she was anything special.
But if she managed to restore Elissa to some sort of life – then maybe she would.
Pic by hiveworkshop.com
Author’s Notes: it’s nice to insert Valeriana in the story, even so late and close to the resolution. But it’s a good character and I’m proud of her min-arc. Thanks for reading.