This is set in the Patina universe. Happy reading.
When a hand touched her forehead, she blinked her eyes open. It must have been… she did not know how many hours. Air was crisper and the blanket of stars above shone with usual haze of summer nights.
“Your turn,” Arodias whispered. She could faintly make out the outline of his face, his one shining like a lonesome star. He handed her the rifle and fell against a rock, drawing the blanket up his thick body, though it could only cover his chest and a little bit of his shoulders. It was a strange and amusing sight, this tall man trying to fit into a small square blanket. Maybe she could but him a larger one at the fair.
Yes, she thought with a smile, she would do that. Least she could do for the can of beans and… for everything really. She moved a tuft of hair away from her face – she periodically had them cut, though they tended to grow uneven on the front so they seldom fell over her eyes.
She sat in front of the largest hole through the barricade, listening to the sound of the night. She had trained her ears, so the rustling of leaves was clear and omnipresent. A sheer cry of a bird, far-away. The flutter of a bat, as they would often come out to feed by summer.
No other sounds, no strange smells, luckily Maybe the night would pass without accidents. The cleaners must have scared off any small eeries that lay around, and the big ones… they would sleep until the first snow, if luck helped them.
She peered through the hole, ready to fit the rifle’s barrel inside. Though the night was somewhat clear for summer standard and half a moon shone above, there was little do be seen besides the low cover of trees and the darkness that loomed behind them. This close to the shore of the woods, plants were still somewhat benign. The dark, bent forms they took in the abandoned towns filled her mind and she shivered.
There had been this tree… thing she had seen from afar during their last raid through Bibiana’s remains. At first she had thought it just another plant, if a bit strangelooking, with the way its branches seemed to try and fit through a large block-type apartment building, the kind that the erepeople were fond of peppering their cities with. She had turned her gaze around – never stick too much to a single spot, one of the first rules she had learned – but when she came back to gaze at it, the plant had disappeared without a sound, nor a trace it had ever been there.
She was sure it had not been any kind of hallucination. She did not feel feverish, she had eaten well and was not in any need of water. Also she had her helmet on, and spores or infection would consume her mind much faster than waste their times having her imagining skittering trees.
For a few weeks she had slept away from roots and branches – even had a nightmare when they would slowly choke her, needle-like leaves cutting through her skin to lap at her blood.
So far nothing had happened. And reading through a salvaged medicine tome from the ereworld she had learned that sometimes stress or anxiety could play tricks on her brain, so maybe she had just imagined it.
It also meant she could not fully trust her mind, which was not a pleasant thought. Therefore she made sure to look at their surrounding with twice the care she would have employed a few years before. Few hunters and scavengers reached old age, and Arodias was the oldest she had met so far. If she learned half his tricks, she’d be a happy girl.
The wind brought a soft sound.
Not the kind of creaking footsteps eerie usually made, nor their wheezing breath or munched-over words. It was like cloth brushing against cloth, shifting fabric against grass.
Her heart started to beat faster.
Once again? Damn.
She kept looking, just to make sure. A few moments later through the edge of the woods, a few hundred steps down the road, a tall figure stepped out of the foliage. It was covered in a dark grey mantle, which showed just a hint of long fingers. Its face was hidden by a grey-metal mask. Maybe silver. It was fashioned like a weeping face of a woman – empty eye sockets behind which only void peered into the night, darker than black.
Talia withdrew her gaze. She shut her eyes and turned away from the crack, holding onto her rifle for dear life.
Come, the voice said. The soft, inviting voice from the wood. Come, please.
It sounded just like a caring mother, a doting sister who had been looking for her for years. If she only put down a few planks and walked out in the night she could enjoy that warm embrace she had always wanted. She could almost feel it. The warm feeling of being held. Of being finally safe.
Finally home. She would put her head on its chest and weep hot tears. She would be at peace, she would stop to care about her face, about hunger and shelter and finding resources… she could breathe without a helmet, always and forever.
“Get out of my head,” she hissed.
Oh, the forest was clever. It knew all her weak points by now.
Please. “Shut up.” Talia.
“I said shut up.” She covered her ears with her hands, panting hard. The voice was bothersome, but some of the danger would be in trying to block it out altogether. Something less crafty but with more tooth and claw could slither in through her stupor and bash its way in if she was
too bothered by this. “I hate you.” I beg you.
It really sounded dejected. Betrayed even. Something in her heart broke every time she did not listen to it, every time she turned her head, and that was the worst part. It managed to make her feel like she was in the wrong for not throwing head-first into whatever exquisite horror awaited her past the soothing voice.
She peered out of the holes – the noises of the forest were half-covered by the echoes of her booming heart.
The tall figure had disappeared.
She was not fooled – it would come back, when she least expected it, when she weas least prepared, but for the time being she maybe could get some tiny respite.
Arodias turned in his sleep, murmuring some strange words under his mouth, in a language she did not understand. He did that sometimes.
Her grip around the rifle tightened. No matter what, she would not disappoint him.
“I really fucking hate the Fae,” she muttered.
She kept vigil.
Author’s Notes: Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this little piece with Talia and the introduction of the Winter Court. I hope I can write something else with this character once again, soon enough. I will see you tomorrow.