Elissa walked alone beneath the stars.
At first, she believed she had chosen this place at random, but between the dark shadows of the trees she picked up the outline of a long-abandoned machine, and though she had never seen it before, she know what it was.
The Hunter’s sled had seen better times. The overgrowth of the forest did not dare to reach for it, with its mechanical, industrial contents, and the halo of Mannish technology that kept the roots at bay. It reminded her of the old Anchor where she found him all those years before.
Feeling nostalgic, she reached for the machine, even though her hand started to blister and smoke at the touch with the death-cold metal and the sleeping engines.
Nevertheless, rain, hail and rust had been at their job and the sled now appeared like it was going to fall apart at the seams. The seat had been eaten by bugs and the chrome finish all but a memory.
Curious, Elissa reached for a compartment to the side, guided by a hunch. Since the Threads had abandoned her, she hadn’t been able to see into the future anymore, but sometimes she retained her gut feeling, even if her guts were a hollow, screaming void.
She found thick notebooks inside. Some had been destroyed by the rains, but other still maintained readable handwriting.
She picked one up and her one hand brushed through the pages, following the elegant writing of the second-last Augur of Belacqua.
She knew they must mean something, but the jumbled signs did not carry it over for her: among the consequences of her new life in the Old Country, she had lost the ability to make sense of Mannish inventions. Writing and reading were two of those.
She knew these were letters and letters formed up words, and words got collected in books – but she might as well known the number of craters on the moon.
The Hunter had told Sadja they would come back for his sled.
And now look at it: a piece of rust and ruined metal, bound to decay into the soft ground until nothing of it remained, all the while the forest around it would grow ever thicker and strong, strong, strong.
She let the notebook slip through her fingers.
It fell on the damp leaves with nary a sound, and to her it might have sounds like a victory.
Wasn’t this a victory?
I also know that’s the only way out you still have.
The treacherous Vestal’s voice reverberated through her mind.
“There is no way out. There is no out,” she gurgled against the emptiness of the surrounding trees.
No answer came.
It had not come for many long years.
She was perfectly fine with that.
She had everything she had ever wanted, right in the palm of her hand.
Sadja would learn. She would change.
Any time now.
“She will come around. All is complete. She will. She has to-” the girl who had been an Augur, the girl who had been a human, the girl who had been lost in a floating station groaned, reaching a cliff.
From there she could see the night spreading its wings far – she could perceive the roots entangled through the damp soil, reaching out to form a web from the shores to the heart of the Old Country, even though that Heart had not replied to her prayers since she had taken Sadja in.
“I did good. Didn’t I, my friend?” She whispered into the night, a fluttering question that splintered and died the moment it left her lips.
Of course she did.
Sadja loved her.
Not yet, she didn’t know it yet, but she would know.
She had done everything right. Everything according to her want.
And she had become so much more than Verna’s little apprentice. Look at her now!
Look at her-
She moved her gaze to her remaining hand, flexing the fingers and they creaked with the rustle of twisted bough.
“I am not like Verna,” she said.
Elissa reached the edge of the cliff. Below, a bed of sharp rocks covered the bottom of the valley.
She leaned back.
The only way out.
“She’s happy with me. I made her happy! I made her mine. Mine.”
Who was she trying to talk to?
No answer would come.
It never did.
“I did good,” she repeated.
Slowly, she leaned forward, like an old and weary tree, bowing to the coming wind and the weight of its naked trunk.
I’m not like Verna,she thought as she covered her eyes and relaxed her hollowed-out body.
I’m so much worse.
The woodcarver lifted his grey gaze from the plier. His one grey eye – the other covered by a dark triangle of leather – look at the leaves of the surrounding forest. Already it was the onset of another winter and the leaves were starting to ooze a deep crimson.
“Dada,” came the uncertain voice of a child. He let go of his work and turned to meet a little boy who walked on uncertain steps, carrying a piece of wood he had seen laying around.
“Look who’s there,” he said, picking him up. His hands let go of the wood which fell on his desk and grasped at his beard, which evidently found so much more interesting, playing with the streaks of grey already growing through the brown. “I told you not to come into Papa’s workshop. Where’s your mom?”
“Mom oushide,” he replied, falling with his head against his chest.
The woodcarver smiled and put a kiss on his forehead. He still couldn’t believe how lucky he was.
Walking out of their small home, he found his wife tending to the orchard, looking through the tired leaves if she could still find any figs.
“It is not worth it,” he said pulling her in a hug as their kid reached for her.
“Why not?” She asked, a flash of curiosity in her green eyes. “There might still be a few good ones.”
“Not this late into the autumn. I just know.”
She smirked, but accepted it.
He had no idea where these flashes came from.
Sometimes he’d get a glimpse of some obscure knowledge, but it quickly faded like a half-remembered dream, washed over by more pressing matters.
To be frank, he would prefer it they left him alone: he had his good share of troubles already. No need to worry about why he had lost his right eye, or why his torso was covered with thousands upon thousands of old scars.
He had seen wiser man than he fall prey to a curiosity that poisoned the mind and made them take wrong decisions. He was a pious man: he was thankful for his share of holy water and hallowed bones, he said his prayers and hoped the Wicked Fae would leave them alone. There wasn’t much more he could do.
Besides, he was not only responsible for himself.
His smile came back as his hand brushed against his wife’s swollen belly.
The new one would come out soon: she’d be a child of Winter, which already would prove challenging enough.
But he wasn’t alone – and that was all that mattered.
“Have you finished with the new piece?”
“Hm? Not yet,” he replied, thinking back to his woodwork. “I’d need more wood.”
“At least we’re not going to run out any time soon,” she said pointing to the line of trees. Past the orchard, the banks of the little brook, and the meadows.
“It’s not that kind of wood,” he lied. “I will have to ask for a shipment. Come on now, let’s go back inside, there’s a storm coming.”
He guided them towards their house, but gave one last one-eyed glance at the looming shapes of the forest behind them.
It wasn’t just the Winter, it wasn’t just the hungry things that came out with the snow. Every time he went there, he felt a blind and all-encompassing fear bite right into his heart.
A lesson that wouldn’t need repeating.
For, through all the mists of his addled memory, one thing stood out stark, as if carved into indomitable stone.
You don’t go into the Forest.
Patina – A Faepocalypse Webnovel
Pic by Stanakin
Author’s Note: It doesn’t seem real. I have written each and every day for 198 days. Most importantly, what came out was a coherent story and one I greatly enjoyed writing, one that surprised me time and time again with how lively it was. I loved all the characters and I especially liked writing Sadja, the Hunter, Elissa and Verna. It’s going to be hard to let them go. I might add one last omake with Sadja and The Hunter before moving on to further projects.
This site came out first as a hub for my writing – I did not spend many efforts in advertising and yet I feel like I managed to reach at least some readers, for which I am extremely grateful. I especially want to extend my thanks to DirtyScifiBuddha, who always put their like at the end of my updates. Thank you very much. Your support was a light when every other light seemed to go dark.
Where now? I will be publishing this story again, this time on a web novel aggregator site like ScribbleHub or Royal Road, and from then on I will likely revise it further and publish it in three novels. It’s going to take me a few months, so please stay tuned.
For my next trick, I think we are going to visit some Witches…
But in the meantime: thanks for reading.