Sadja marveled at the expanse of flowers. She walked barefoot on the tickling blades of grass, enjoying how they felt under her soles.
“And you say it’s like this every year?” She exclaimed, her hands coming up to cup her cheeks. She couldn’t believe it. This must be some kind of trick, for sure. She couldn’t really believe nature could just do this each time, out of the kindness of its heart.
“Every and each year,” Fortunato replied, smiling from a few steps behind. He carried the large canister where they had put their flowers for the Rite of Spring. Sadja and the other girls would soon make crowns out of them to share with the entire town, a work that would require days, even considering the losses they had sustained during the night the Generator failed.
“But this is the first one I look upon it like this.” He reached up to her and embraced her, pulling her into a hug. “Every other time it was a relief, taking a breather from the misery and fear of winter, but knowing I had to look for and kill Lenora’s Eerie over and over wasn’t pretty. I feel so lucky I managed to let go.”
“That’s what she deserved.”
“That’s what we all do,” he mused, looking down onto her blue eyes. “So, any plan for the night and the dance? I sure hope there’s not other dashing Venator from the coast that shows up at the last moment to sweep you off your feet.”
“Oh you know, there might be a few. I have met this guy: he tried to kidnap me once, but came to his senses and turned out he’s not really too bad, so I was thinking of going to the Rite with him.”
“Must be a lucky Venator then,” he chuckled, scratching the nape of her neck.
“Mmmh, yes, needed that,” Sadja sighed, putting the flowers with the others and sitting down on the grass.
“That’s my line.” He reached for her shoulders and put his forehead against her neck. “I owe you much.”
“W-We both do,” she replied blushing a deep grey.
She was tempted to push him away, but in all actuality, there was no need.
She enjoyed the hug anyway. The surroundings of Belacqua, the forest that wasn’t scary anymore, the whole world lit up with new colors and sweet smells and sounds and not an Eerie in sight.
Fortunato found her on the first floor of the Temple. She had a mug of tea she shared with the other engineers and blacksmiths from Trefiumi. Between the fall of their settlement and the assault to Belacqua, it was a very small group. Perhaps twelve people, most of them elder.
His right eye liked to play tricks on him as of late, he wouldn’t have known.
“Look who shows up,” Arguta said perking up from her game. They were divided in groups of four, playing with cards. At a first glance, his smith friend did seem to have the winning hand. “Care for a sip of tea? Or perhaps want to partake in sharing some stories?”
“I hoped I could talk to you for a bit,” he said, taking a seat nearby.
“Hmm. You’’l have to wait for me to win this, though.”
He nodded and looked at the people enjoying their time. The Temple’s terrace had been cleaned and fitted with tables and braziers. He had never seen it so crowded before.
He remembered an austere place where people would come to beg for help and a little bit of water. This now seemed a spot where old friends like to meet up, waiting for one of them to come back.
Beneath them, Elissa still slept.
He doubts he’d be able to see her wake up before he left.
Arguta let out a tired sigh as she lost the hand at the very last moment. She cursed under her breath and followed him to the far side of the terrace, where they could spend a bit of time alone.
“Word is you are going to leave soon,” she mumbled.
“A couple days. I want Sadja to experience the Rite of Spring first.”
“Hmm. Good idea. So what brings you here? I’m not going to fit your gear once again, you have no money to pay me with this time.”
“No, I wasn’t going to ask anything like that. I think I’m going to wait a bit before coming back to the profession. Take a few weeks offs to spend with Sadja in the forest. And besides, I only wanted to say thank you. The rifle and knife you fixed saved our lives more than once.”
“Could you expect anything less?” She made a show of crooking her eyebrow, but he knew deep down she was extremely pleased.
“So what are you going to do? Will you go back to Trefiumi?”
“Trefiumi is a ruin. It’s a bad place to come back to, even in Spring. We thought about staying here, at least for a bit.”
“You of all people – living here with superstitious people and water-holers?”
“Save me the sarcasm, Hunter. I don’t like it either. But this place still needs more repairs, and besides who’s going to take care of the furnaces and the Generator if I leave? These idiots would blow themselves up at the first occasion.”
Just another way to say she did not want to leave Elissa alone as long as she was in that state.
“I get it. You know, that’s a relief! When I go back to business, I’ll be able to finally find a smith who doesn’t rip me off.”
“Yeah, so you’ll just leave it to the Eerie to rip you apart!” She replied, cackling.
He joined in.
Cloria found him at Arguta’s home, coming down from the attic, where he had cleaned it off from the remainders of the moth-people stay. They had been fairly clean, but wanted to make sure there was no egg waiting for them in the corners.
“Word is you’re leaving,” she muttered, leaning on the kitchen’s doorframe.
She rolled her eyes.
“Listen, Hunter… we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye…”
“We surely don’t now,” he interrupted her, smirking as he pointed at his right eye, growing paler by the day. He was having trouble telling letters apart now if he closed his left.
“Spirits, you had the whole floor laughing. You are impossible! What does she even see in you?”
“That’s one question I often ask myself as well.”
When Cloria did not reply, standing there shaking her head, he turned to invite her in for a hug.
She bit her lip and welcomed the gesture, rushing in to embrace him.
“I’m going to miss you two so much,” she whispered against his collarbone. “Especially her. She’s a clever little girl.”
“That’s right.” He thought back to the night she manipulated Valeriana into bringing her friends home safe and sound. Clever girl indeed.
“You’ll visit, won’t you?”
“Of course we will! We’re mostly going to stay away for a couple weeks. We’ll go back to gather a few more things and then we’ll leave for the coast.”
“Ah, yes. Taking you famous sled back. You never shut up about it.”
“It’s a good sled.”
“Better than my own transport for sure,” she laughed and he thought about the tank that got destroyed.
Spirits, it seemed like ages ago.
“I’m still sorry about the shot.”
“We already got even.”
“Hmmm.” She pursed her lips. “Well. If you ever need help around here, just make sure to send me a message,” she said tapping the side of her head.
“I have decided to try and apply myself for a change,” she blushed. “I can’t leave our Augur to do all the job.”
“No,” he laughed pulling her close once again, “I suppose not.”
Pic by hiveworkshop.com
Author’s Notes: as we come to the very last few chapters, the dreadful ending lingers. It’s just a few steps away. I hope you’ll like it. Thanks for reading.