Patina – Chapter 177

Valeriana had only found the town thanks to her powers, honed through years of experience as the High Seer. She crouched next to the window of the metal flyer as it approached the spot.

“Is this the right place?” Asked the pilot, and she nodded.

“Cannot be otherwise.”

She sensed his doubt, the tension tightening his mind – it would have been so easy to pull it just a little and shut his inane questions. 

But she had tried to distance herself from her old tutor. Sometimes she could even believe she had managed to do so. 

As they began to descend, the flyer withdrawing its wings like a shiny paper crane. She hadn’t been on one of these rickety shacks for a while – and as she looked at her reflection in the mirror, she noticed once again the deep lines of worry running down her skin, making it look like the dark bark of some wizened tree, bent by too many storms. 

Her curly hair already ran with silver – just like that wolf-girl she had seen for the last time too long ago. 

The left wing creaked in pain, curled as if under some overwhelming pressure. Black and white brambles sprouted out of it.

Valeriana snapped out of it and extended her Threads to extend the metal against the poisonous will that was trying to bend it out of shape. She lost her footing as the flyer tilted and began to quickly fall instead of descending. 


“Wise Mother, do something!”

Valeriana shut her eyes behind her mask. She wasn’t the young Augur of Dorsoduro anymore. 

She would find a way out of this – stepping inside her inner world, she already saw it swallowed by a thicket of encroaching brambles, murmuring obscenities, buzzing at the edge of her mind. 

You are not welcome here.

“Figured as much!” Valeriana extended her arms – she pushed against the will with all the strength she could muster. A trickle of blood ran down to her lip. The wing extended limp, and they managed to catch a favorable wind she had pulled from a favorable future to let them glide their way towards the outskirts of the one-city. They hit a few treetops, cutting through their needle crowns, and at last impacted against the ground, the hit making her fall against the wall.

“Not my best landing,” she groaned, standing up. She put her silver mask back against her face and went to help the pilot. He had hit his head, but nothing would come out of it. The Threads did not worry about his wellbeing as much as his mood.

That much she could deal with. 

“Are you alright?” She still asked.

It was the little things, she had discovered in time. Tiny little lies to make her appear as if she did not know. 

“I think I’m fine,” he replied, standing up groggily. “What in the name of steam was that?” He signed himself and a part of her remembered Cloria and her superstitions.

“Should it be something to concern you? Beyond your pay grade, at any rate?” She asked with an amused grin. He gulped.

“I suppose it doesn’t.”

“Very good. Stay here. I will have to deal with it myself.”

“W-Wise Mother? Are you leaving?” His eyes looked past the window at the thicket of trees. “Who knows kind of monsters are lurking there just beyond the roots!”

“I have to go into the town,” she replied with a sigh. “Are you really sure you want to come with me?”

He hesitated, gasped and shook his head.

“Then stay here. The bottles of holy water would keep you safe even if this was the dead of winter, and we haven’t had a bad one in years.”

“As you say, Wise Mother,” he replied with a bow, quickly scuttling to the storage room to pick up as many bottles as he could. The sight pulled her lips in a smile, at the very least.

“I shall be back in a bit. Before dark, at any rate,” she said picking up a couple bottles herself.

She walked out of the tilted flyer without awaiting for an answer. 

Once outside, she smelled the pungent aroma of trees, and the feeling like she was being watched. She shook her head and poured holy water all over the brambles that had sprung as if out of nowhere – they hissed, shrieked with human voices and caught fire. The flames white and the smoke crimson. 

“I am not defenseless,” she said seemingly to nobody and no one. “I just want to talk.”

Why talk when you already know all the answers? Seems like a waste of time.

“I have learned my share of things about how useful a good waste of time can be,” she smirked.

No reply came. 

She walked towards the crown of overgrown brambles and vegetation that had once been Belacqua. 

She did not bring with her any water. A gesture of goodwill, as one could say. 

With each step Valeriana felt the growing impulse to pull her robes closer. So far from the floating city and the safety of her water, her rituals and her furnaces and her engines, she felt like a tiny candle in a fell wind. But no matter how much she would dance hither and tither, she’d kept burning. 

With any luck.

The Threads were already growing frayed at the ends with each step. 

But it was far too late to stop – and maybe it had always been.

A strange turn of phrase for an Augur?

Maybe not. Maybe the real Sight was to accept that they may look upon unfathomable vistas, but do little to actually grasp them. 

Here in the forest everything they ever accomplished looked like nothing more than an exercise in futility. 

She reached the walls she had seen before, and the tall opening that had once been the breach Cloria told her about.

She had a vision of her blue eyes and her black hair – her big smile as a Novice whenever she helped her cheat on a test – and her heart stirred. She bit her lip and kept walking. She passed under the wound in the walls and entered the renewed space.
It looked like a crater overgrown with all sort of weird trees and plants – thick flowers that smelled like meat, and bone-white trunks and leaves that shone red already – and many figures that creaked back and forth, humanoid in shape but carved, or maybe made of brambles and bark and curled leaves. 

They did not speak, but hissed and chittered in flute-like sound, similar to the wind moving between a tight creek. Their heads swung back and forth and so did their limbs, carrying a mockery of mankind’s tools: here one brought a pouch to another, there a few walked towards some thing distributing slices of moss that might have looked like bread.

Each of them moved in a jittery, hesitating manner that made her thing of puppets on a show of hidden strings. 

She shivered, and walked through them like a white ferret through the fresh snow. 

Nobody, no thing, seemed to even notice her.

The town had been reconstructed to a mockery of what it used to be. She remembered a street similar to this one when she brought Cloria and her friends to lunch all that time before. The pipelines and the grates that would have spread holy water now rows upon rows of thick roots. The houses carved from hollowed-out trunks. 

It reminded her of the Nativity Scene some old-believers still made in Venexia at the time of the turn of winter: a pantomime painted by someone who had never been through the scene it tried to depict.

She walked past a crossroad and she met with the place that had once housed the Temple.

The town’s Generator lay split in two, the metal bent beyond any hope of recognition or salvation by brambles that had somehow cut through it like needles would fabric. The Temple which used to stand just above it now a faint collection of collapsed marble through the verdigris that had eaten through it.

And sitting on a throne of brambles, the two of them. 

She did expect one – but not the other.

But wait, Cloria did tell her something about the Augur’s… fascination for the wolfgirl, didn’t she?

What was her name again?

The wolfgirl lay sleeping. She wore a thin linen robe lined with black and green that reached up to her naked calves. She wore no shoes and her white mane surrounded her head like a halo. She was breathing softly and seemed to have a dark shadow of sorrow on her brow. 

The thing held her in its embrace.

If it had once been human, it seemed to have long-discarded that notion. Thin filaments of bough came out of its head, forming a small flowerbed of white and red blooms. The rest of its body was black, charred in places, stained by something she did not recognize, maybe spoiled fruit or moss or dirt, and its one hand rested on the girl’s lap.

Its mouth curled in distate and distrust.

In its orbits two tiny golden flames like candles lay. 

Valeriana, to her amazement, felt a bout of bitter laugh rush through her throat and spill past her curled lips.

“Everything in this town is a mockery. And you plat the part of the Wicked Fae.”

There were no depictions of the Heart of the Forest. But in her nightmares, Valeriana had often seem something that resembled the figure now sitting ahead of her. 

Do not speak so loud,” it hissed. Its remaining hand rose to the hole that might pass for a mouth and put a finger to it. “She is having her afternoon rest.

Valeriana perceived the threat behind those words and slowly nodded.

She was walking on a very, very thin line. 

But she would walk it until the end.

So. To what do I owe your visit? I do not know. Exchanging one type of Sight for another always has its drawbacks.

Valeriana balled her fists. 

The image of Cloria danced once again behind her mask. 

“I have but one question,” she exhaled. The mockery of a town chittered and creaked and skittered around her. She opened her arms to encompass it all. “Why?”

Pic by ThePanda

Author’s Notes: long chapters making a comeback? I suppose for these last few ones I am really taking a leisurely pace. I enjoyed writing about an older Valeriana. I hope you liked it as well. Thanks for reading.


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