Patina – Chapter 168

How does one pack lightly?

For Sadja, it was more a matter to things to let go than things she had to remember to bring with her. That was one of the reasons for her impromptu visit to the Temple. At this hour of the night, on top of that. 

At any rate, it was beautiful to see the town recover like that. New buildings were already being filled with people and through the haze of steam she could see the glistening lights of hearths and lamps casting their rings of brightness.

It had been a week since the last time it snowed and for tomorrow the forecast (for the first time in decades one made just by looking up at the sky instead of consulting their Augur) spoke of rain. The first rain. 

Sadja’s tail waggled at the thought. She hadn’t seen rain in a long while, but she remembered not liking it very much back then. 

When she was still on the run, rain meant getting wet and gross and her tail all sticky (and she’d smell like wet dog for days). But now rain meant the nightmare had finally, finally over.

Once again. Another reason for this visit.

Things to carry, and things to let go.

After the marriage and Valeriana’s departure, the visits continued. If possible, they grew even more frequent, with the entire population of Belacqua coming together to stand close to their Vestal. She had even caught a few people from Trefiumi taking their pilgrimage, maybe shaking their head on their way out (such silly superstition!) – but even if Elissa has seemingly slipped into an unending coma, they still paid respect.

At this time of the night, the Temple was covered with candles and oil lamps. Rather than using the old electrical light, they had set up flowers (now that they grew in abundance they could use them!) and candles all over, giving the place a far more welcoming and less-austere air than before. 

And laying there on a raised dais, Elissa waited for her. 

The weeks after she burned herself up had not been kind to her skin. The scabs had fallen off almost completely, but the result was she was covered from head to toe in that polished, almost wet-looking skin that made her look like a smooth bead. Off-pink and in places even whitish, it gave her an unnatural color that made her look way off. 

Sadja’s ears drooped. Here she was, standing alone in the room with the Augur who had given her life for her, and all she could think about was how ugly she looked. 

She sat next to her body and took her hand in hers. 

They had set a veil over her eyes, so that she couldn’t see the empty orbits. Everyone just assumed she had lost them in the fire. 

Only a few people in town by now knew the truth. 

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be a better friend,” she said with a strained voice. Sadja felt like she had swallowed a sharp bone and it got stuck in her throat. “Or a friend at all,” she whispered. 

The bone went down a bit. It was still there, but at least now she felt like she could breathe. 

“I don’t know if you can hear me. I am going to leave in a few days. I don’t know if I will want to return.” She moved her head up to her arm and brushed against the pink expanse of her cranium. 

She remembered when she used to have that beautiful red mane of hers.

Another thing that got lost in the fire. 

“There are things I am going to bring with me when I leave.” She bit her lip. “Fortunato. My good memories with Cloria. The fun I had that night with my moth friends and even that one time you helped me with reading.” A pause. She was almost there.

She had this knot in her chest that she felt like she could finally get rid of.

“But there are certain things I want to leave behind and never, ever, pick up again. I want to let go of-“

She closed her eyes. Shuddered. She withdrew her hands from the Augur and rubbed them on her arms, feeling the dozens of tiny scars still pockmarking her skin from the years of experiments. 

“I want to let go of Verna. Of being a laboratory pig.” Another of the expressions she had picked up from her months of studying. “That time you showed me those memories, it… it wounded me. I got scared, but it was your fault. Why did you have to show me that? To show me that you gouged your eyes out! That’s beyond sick. I didn’t know what to do. I still don’t.”

She took a long breath, rubbing her eyes to clean any stray tear. 

“I’m sorry if I raised a wall between the two of us, but I had just regained my freedom, and I will never allow anything to take it away from me. That, or Fortunato. We’re going on a journey together, and Spirits willing, I will never see another Augur again.”

At the end, as if caught by a guilty impulse, she put her hand over Elissa’s once more. 

“But I can’t forget what you did for me. And how you are right now. I’m sorry for what happened to you. I tried to come here as often as I could… and it pains to see you like this. I hope Valeriana finds a way to heal you, perhaps even restore your eyes. I mean, you are not the only powerful Augur on Earth, are you?” She chuckled. 

Empty words, and she knew it without the gift of Sight. 

Something heavy and hooked at the base of her stomach told her that Elissa would never get over this. 

“So I came here to say goodbye. We are going to leave shortly: Spring is already here, and after the first rain we will have an amazing feast to celebrate Spring and the end of this winter. I don’t think I’ll come back to Belacqua. Too many bad memories. I don’t think Fortunato will, either. So I wanted to take a bit of time with you, before I go. To tell you this.”

The Augur did not reply.

If Sadja hoped she could cause some miraculous healing with her words and a bit of hand-holding, it seemed nothing more than a pretty delusion. 

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be your friend.” She put a light kiss on her hands, feeling her glass-like skin beneath her lips. “I hope you do get better,” she said.

Did she mean that?

That way she could come to look for her. 

She knew the Augur’s obsession for her did not know ends.

She had felt it.

And Sadja felt shame a part of her was glad she had been reduced to impotence, even if it was such a horrible thought to have and she was certainly not proud of it.

Relieved, maybe.

Because one day she’d hug Fortunato on the beach together, and they would watch the tall ships throw nets in the salty summer sea, and the forest and the power of the Queen of Thorns would then seem like faded nightmares to her, and she’d turn to share a kiss with him and she’d know, once and for all, that she had left it all behind for good. 

And there was no place for Augurs in that future.

Nor did she want to ever share even a bit of it with someone who would only remind her of what she was desperately trying to cast away. 

“I hope you feel well soon,” she mumbled.

Anything else she could say?

She felt a lot lighter. That bone had settled in her stomach, still sharp, but it was gone now.

She had no more words to tell.

Everything else would be just a lie.

She nodded, took one last glance at her inert form and then Sadja left the Temple, a spring to her step as soon as her naked feet fled from cold marble to life-bringing grass.

She began to run.

Night running, away from chains, forever.

Pic by Marcos DAB

Author’s Notes: This might just be my saddest chapter yet. It’s hard to say goodbye, and it’s even harder when so many conflicting emotions are involved. I loved to slowly move Sadja away from the stereotype of the cute wolf girl who needs help and into a full-fledged person, with her strengths and also with her own (by now quite evident) flaws. It has been a wonderful journey. I still can’t believe it’s about to end. Thanks for reading.


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