Elissa came back to watch the sleeping wolf-girl on her throne of brambles. Her simple robes covered her lean and fit body, the soft curves of her legs and her breasts, towards the gentle slope of her neck and her beautiful sleeping face. She felt a great swell of sorrow rise from the hollow where her stomach used to be.
She walked up to her and brushed her wooden fingers through her white hair, feeling the texture of her triangle ears.
Even after all this time it felt like a dream to have her here like this, right where she had always wanted her to.
She was sleeping-
She was not smiling-
And Elissa knew why, but it would be enough. It would be enough, she decided.
And her decisions would be what mattered.
Always had been.
No matter what any dumb Augur or High Seer or whatever she might be now came to tell her.
I did as it is my right.
“It is time to wake up,” she whispered close to her ears as she gently pulled on her shoulder.
Sadja groaned, her eyelids fluttered, revealing a pair of dull grey eyes. Behind the veil covering her irises there could maybe be seen a faint sheen of blue, but it was misted over, like a gem cocooned in a spiderweb.
She stood up on the throne, kneading her sleepy face. She looked up at her, and grey eyes met the candle-lights that burned in her orbits.
“How long did I sleep?” She asked, in a drawn-out voice, as if stretched over too far a distance.
“Long enough. Come?” She held out her hand. Sadja gave it a puzzled look.
I did good. I did good. This is my right. She is happy here, she is safe.
At last she took it and the caress of her skin over her bark was like the kiss of a feather.
“Good evening,” she gently corrected her.
Sadja did not make reply.
Keeping her hand in the single one she still retained, Elissa guided her past the throne, down the dais and through the streets of the verdigris town.
She raised a pale hand to wave at the one who was busy at the heat-less forge, hitting pieces of wood against each other.
“Good morning,” she shouted at the bramble figure, which turned and waved its branch-like arms back, and then saluted with a pleased bow, only to go back at its ceaseless work.
“She is a good friend. Your friend, also.” Sadja turned to look at her. “Why don’t you say hi?”
“Good evening,” Elissa said weakly.
The bramble figure did not reply to her greeting.
“Maybe she’s tired,” Sadja observed.
They walked hand in hand through the streets. As Sadja walked by, each of the figures greeted her with ample gestures and bows and chattering that made it sound like welcoming laughters.
And behind them, other figures skittered about, throwing rocks and wads of dirt and spoiled fruit at Elissa, who took it all in stride, as if nothing was happening.
This sort of thing (this sort of nothing) had been going on for a long while, after all.
I’m used to it. It does not bother me.
Sadja chattered and laughed and ate the fresh fruits the forest provided and seemed to be completely and perfectly content.
“The nice lady of the water mill says she is having roast for dinner,” she informed her as they reached the outskirts of the town. The old walls that she remembered being covered with pipelines and exhaust ports and grates now unrecognizable, a bastion of overgrown moss and red leaves and white branches – a seed of Old Country. “Can you imagine that? Roast! How long has it been since I have had roast? It has been…” her dull eyes flashed with some kind of azure clarity. She stopped walking and the peach she had been eating slipped through her fingers. She reached for her forehead as her tail drooped. “It has been… I don’t… I don’t remember how-”
This again. And so soon.
Elissa walked behind her, reaching for her eyes with her hand. She gently cupped them and it looked like quick roots taking over a marble statue.
“We had mutton the other day,” she whispered to her ear. Sadja shivered, as the words drip-dropped through her ear and into her sponge-like brain, as each of them was full of the Will that made trees grow. No hard at all, making memories grow as well. “We always do, whenever you wish to. This is a garden for you. Everything here is for you and as you desire. You have everything you may ever want. Why even leave?”
“… ev- even… leave?” Sadja parroted the last two words.
As she retracted her hand her eyes came back to their usual vitreous silver.
All of her was polished silver.
Her skin, her hair.
“I know,” she said with a faint smile like someone hooked the corners of her mouth and pulled, “we had mutton the other day. It was good.” A pause. “Yes. It was good.” She turned to look at her.
Sadja leaned back and forth. She blinked a couple times.
“Good evening,” Elissa replied with unwavering patience.
“Yes.” She looked past the walls to the forest beyond. “I want to go see my friends.”
“We can go. See your friends.” She held out a hand and Sadja’s mile grew fonder, less-mechanical.
Does not matter.
The ground swallowed them up and they travelled through the stones and the kind earth bowing at their passage – a page bowing to the signet of her superior – and they reappeared on a wide opening, where two creatures similar to deers but with blooming flowers growing out of their horns grazed peacefully. A third, a small fawn, just a few steps behind them.
The trio looked up at their arrival – hesitated.
“I shall leave you to them,” Elissa said, taking a few steps back, towards the edge of the forest.
As soon as she had left the animals rushed to Sadja, who ran to meet them. And she laughed and cooed and petted them and for a time watching her so happy was enough.
Even though the hollowness inside her gnawed at her.
Why isn’t she like this with you too?
Maybe she knew the answer, but it was an angry beat full of spokes and burning and searing cold – so she did not touch it. She kicked it downstairs into the nethermost parts of her mind, and it would stay there. Until the next time.
Elissa stood there like a dark sculpture, watching the four figures of the moth-kin, the daughter and brother and father and mother all coming out to greet Sadja with great smiles and chittering and excited voices.
A few golden gazes like lamps passed over her, brushing like a wave the rocky shore – but she gave them no heed. She was beyond their scorn.
Sadja walked inside.
And Elissa remained out, listening to the chatter.
And the laughter.
And the shared bread.
And the touching and hugging and dancing and everything and-
She curled herself into a self-inflicted hug. Her bough-like fingers drawing deep marks onto her creaking bark, past the stains left there by the spoiled fruits and the mud.
She looked up at the sky.
It was growing dark.
Elissa stayed there for hours, watching it turn from a velvety purple to a inky black, following the streaks of the slow stars as they passed by, unerring, and wondering how many like her were still up there, how many would one day fall to the earth, and how long it would be until the sky would grow still like it had been in the days past.
She must had seen it.
Why don’t you talk to me?
But there came no answer. The sky and the trees and the land all mute.
And at last she grew weary of waiting for Sadja.
“We are going back. Playtime is over,” she whispered.
She listened and a dark pleasure at last bloomed inside her breast as the rustle inside the house ceased. Out come Sadja, carrying a large basket full to the brim with fruits and greens and other produces of the moth-kin silly little vegetable patch.
“Thank you! Thank you! Isn’t it too much? I don’t want to be a bother,” she told the moth family, to which they replied with all sort of reassurances.
She is never a bother.
Elissa left the edge of the forest and slithered like a shadow uphill, to wrap her arms around Sadja’s waist and to pierce with her candlelight gaze the golden bloom of the moth-kin.
“Goodnight! It was great having you!” Sadja waved with her hand – the pockmarks had never truly faded from her arm, had that? Just like her scars from the brief period she had practiced the Hunter’s foul arts – and the four came back to their home nested inside the woods.
If she could dream yet, Elissa would dream of a great wave of thirsty bone-white bough and crimson-tipped leaves sprouting from underground, drinking every ounce of life from this family of parasites, sipping at the time she had with Sadja.
She hated them and she hated how lively her eyes were and how sharp and relieved her smile was.
All the things she couldn’t have.
“What a day! We danced and chatted and the mother told me about this patch of greens that they are trying to grow! And they even gave me this!” She picked up a can of preserved food from the basket. “They told me it was my favourite! I can’t really remember that bu-”
Elissa grasped her and pulled her into a kiss, stealing her breath, stealing her voice: she felt her soft and thick lips against the creased wound of her mouth and she gently nipped at them, drawing a confused yelp from the wolf-girl. But her arms around her face were like the vines holding together the feet of the hills and she did not escape.
She wouldn’t want to.
From the ground, a white stalk of contorted wood sprouted and wrapped around the can of food. As it did the vile metal of industrial production burned right through its bark, but it did not matter. It withdrew into the ground and the can disappeared with it.
Better not to run any useless risks.
She detached from her kiss.
Sadja looked at her with a slight frown over her face.
Elissa smiled, creaking her mouth into a crooked curve.
“It is time for bed. Come.”
“I want to look at the stars,” she weakly protested, holding onto her basket, already forgetting her can of food. “I have seen some that are really fast and quick, and leave blazing trails in their wake!”
“Another night,” she stated. Holding onto her, they slipped back underground and then sprouted right in front of her throne. Elissa picked her up and poured her over the seat.
Sadja’s eyes looked up to her, still dull and still grey.
“Can we do it again?” She asked.
The hollowness inside her pulsated and she leaned forward, but her pale hand reached up for her chest and stopped her.
“Not that. Going outside. I want to see the forest.”
“The forest is a dangerous place.” It wasn’t an outright no, but the pain from being refused burned a hole even through the emptiness beneath her bark.
From the dark, something wet and spoiled hit her back. It oozed down to her left hip and a chorus of sardonic laughter got lost through the roots.
“I suppose we will see. Time for bed now.”
She hesitated, but in the end did as she was told.
She always did.
Elissa watched her drowse until her breath became even and the faint crease on her brow smoothed out.
“You have everything you might ever want here,” she whispered against her forehead. “You know I will protect you, don’t you? You must know that.”
She must know.
“You have such beautiful eyes.”
She was sleeping already.
And Elissa sighed. She turned back to the mock of a town grown like a stilted tumor over what had once been the city appointed to a young blind Augur.
She hugged herself with both arms and one hand and disappeared beneath the ground.
She needed to stay by herself for a while.
It would do her good.
Pic by Pyritie
Author’s Notes: second-last chapter. It has been an unwritten rule that no single piece would get over 2000 words, but for this chapter, and perhaps the next one, I was compelled to make an exception. It has been a blast writing Patina, all in all. Coming here every day to play with these characters. I hope you liked the story. We’re about to close the book for good. So thanks for reading, especially if you read since the start.