Elissa’s first steps with her new body felt like learning how to walk all over again. She shifted and stumbled on longer legs than she was used to – and for the first time in years she used her actual eyes to see. She could see she could see-
She could see the wolfgirl standing there with a look of dread upon her gorgeous face, her blue eyes open in dismay.
The Hunter was choking next to her. How awfully close these two had become in her absence, scheming and plotting behind her back, even if she had tried her darn best to give them both a chance of life.
But this was an occasion for joy, not sorrow. Sadja would be hers.
She would understand.
Her hand creaked like old pages of a book as she raised it, brushing against her cheek.
And she felt her white skin beneath her own, and she saw those eyes fall into pinpricks of fear and disgust – why did she always have to look upon her that way? Why? Why? Even after everything she had done for her-
But she would learn, Elissa calmed herself down.
She would learn.
“Why,” Sadja mouthed, her trembling hand moving to point at the twisted figure that had once been the old smith. “S-She came here every day to bring you tea and to stay with you! She waited for you all the time! Why did you that to her, to all of us? I don’t understand you! You- you destroy our world and rebuild it and destroy it again! Why! Give her back! Give everything back!” She screamed, her voice growing hoarse with each syllable.
“I do regret it,” she lied. “But I care only for you,” and that was the whole truth. Her mouth opened to reveal a smile that was like looking down int he ravine between sharp rocks. “And now at last I am here reborn. For you.”
“No,” she sputtered, taking a step back. Another.
Away from her grasp.
She scratched her arm.
Silver blood trickled out of it and she formed a glistening bow out of it, pointing it straight at her heart.
“No, you will not touch me and you will not touch him! Bring them all back!”
She wouldn’t shoot.
Her hands shivered like a lamb before slaughter. Like the withered grass waiting for the storm.
“I cannot. I have performed the Sere Rite. There is not turning it back.”
Cloria was barely standing. She swayed left and right, trying to pull up the people she had come to love.
“Stand…” she choked. Her insides were hollowing out. All the water was leaving this place. Syphoned to the twisted wound that Elissa had cast upon this place.
Why would she do something so terrible?
“Bernardo… Marina… let’s go… to the Furnace District. We can find more survivors there.”
Where was she? She had to find more people.
These silly townies who had accepted her, given her a chance to redeem herself, she had to pick them up and-
And bring them out of the doomed town.
It was so hard to walk.
But she had to.
Did she lose Marina amidst the crowd?
“Bern… Bernardo?” She called.
Only the rising mist and fog and flowing cinder that covered her sight.
She turned to look, even if her eyes stung. Was her heart still beating?
Her feeble powers of Vestal might have helped her a bit.
Or maybe it was her training with Hunter.
“Hunter!” She went, her mind giving out one feeble burst of panic against the incoming dullness. “Where are you?”
Where was the wolfgirl she had tried so hard to catch?
What a shame, that one.
But she did right in the end, didn’t she?
She had helped how she could.
Cloria stumbled and fell. Against a wall, most likely.
She had a vision of laying amidst a forest, but the forest was made of bodies, twisted and broken into misshapen knots, their desiccated flesh breaking up in flakes.
Blinking (it was getting hard to blink) she recognized a few coming out of her greyed-out skin.
What was happening?
A tall figure stepped out of the shadows.
She wore long robes made out of the finest wool, red and golden and white. While her skin looked like tree bark and was black as night. Small branches sprouted from the back of her head to form a mockery of a queenly crown. And in her sockets burned twin candle-flames.
“I remember you. You were not always good to me, but you did what you could.”
She did what she could.
For the town.
For her friends.
And lover – where was Bernardo? His absence made her feel like a stake had pierced her heart and she was bleeding all the crimson she could. Not now that she had finally found a warm pair of arms to come home to.
She did not run when she had faced the former head of her Order.
She did not run when the town had been overrun.
She would not run now.
Cloria stood up on legs that chafed like chalk. She reached for her knife, for a weapon, but she found only a white dress, covered with what looked like cinder.
The figure – she would not think of her as Elissa, Elissa used to be a brave kid who had saved them all, this couldn’t be this… thing! – opened its mouth again.
“I can give you a place in the world that’s about to come. I can pull strings – not unlike you do or I used to – you can be with those who you love again.”
Cloria gave her a scornful grin. She tried to spit, but all she could do was retch.
She reached for her powers – the Threads hung bare and knotted so close to the thing, but she could reach out in one last effort, she could-
“Give them back, you wretched thing,” she muttered.
The thing shook her head.
Took a step back.
She disappeared in the fog.
Cloria stumbled after her.
“Give them back!”
Give her town back. And her people, and her friends and her wolf-girl, and her lover an-
Cloria’s naked foot touched grass.
She looked down.
There was was, dressed in a white garb that was affixed to her waist by a leather belt. She had a bow set against her shoulders. A vast verdant valley appeared before her.
Where was she? What was-
A few figures came in, waving their arms and calling out to her.
“G-Guys? Hunter? Ber-Bernardo?”
What was she running away from? She ran down the hill, laughing like someone who wakes up from a bad dream and can feel the wind and the sun again, and knows that it’s still Spring outside. There they were: Marina and the Hunter and that grumpy Arguta, and Sadja standing alone with a smile, and behind them-
“Valeriana! You have come too!” She hugged her friend, feeling her curly hair tickle her skin. “Of course I’m surprised to see you! I didn’t think… ah, but nevermind! What matters is that we are all here together!”
She held hands, her left with Bernardo and her right one with Valeriana, and together, one by one laughing and chatting and just being grateful to be alive and hearty, they walked down the hill.
Pic by hiveworkshop.com
Author’s Notes: well, if this wasn’t another depressing chapter. It’s hard to say goodbye to Cloria (it feels weird to know this is the last time I tag her).
In truth – she was always supposed to die, even in the earliest versions of the story, back when she used to be a red-headed warrior who wanted nothing more than to get some respect for her skills. In truth, I wanted to have her die in battle, doing some ultimate sacrifice, but I believe that she has already shown what she’s capable of, and having her die scared and in pain did not really sit well with me.
Hence, the ending you have just read. She was fun to write, though maybe not as fun as Fortunato, Sadja, Elissa or Verna. May she know she did all she could, and her act of courage was worthy of the best of Vestals and the best of Venators.
I’m going to miss her.
Thanks for reading.