Summer still carried winter’s wounds.
Adagio sighed, looking at the damaged barricades surrounding the banks, most of them still hanging drunken to the side, broken pieces of woods laying all around. He sat back in the boat as the morning kept rolling by around him, staining the clouds with their golden and pink shades.
The Floodlands would wake up to a new day and hope nothing had changed, that they were still safe. They would marvel at the genius of their forefathers and believe that the Wicked Fae’s influence could not reach for them.
As the boat proceeded downstream, they passed by the corpse of a large Eerie. As if to dispel those fantasies, it lay in a patch of crimson and white grass that they had yet to clean. Pieces of meat still hung from its cursed and charred bones, displaying a skeleton that had too many limbs and too many mouths to be anything close to human. But in its empty sockets Adagio recognizes the shape of human eyes, their hungry light destroyed by iron and fire and salt during last winter’s assault.
It had been left there, most likely, because his workers believed it would be a bad omen to remove it.
“I will have to ask a few questions around,” he sighed, signing himself.
Unlike many other people in the new world, Adagio still held onto the faith of his forefathers. The Ereworld that had produced it had long-since been destroyed or swallowed by the Forest, whichever was worse. Even his name came from a musical term, his mother explained to him once. She had not seen the fall, but her grandmother did, and she used to be an Opera singer.
Sometimes he wondered what he might have become in a world without the Wicked Fae.
He wrung his fingers, nervous. This meeting was an admission of defeat already, and he wanted to get over with it sooner than later.
They left the Eerie to its slow dissolution and the boat met the rest of the channels, throwing themselves with glee onto the Inner Sea.
The day was clear so he could see in the distance the buildings of submerged cities. He couldn’t fell actual nostalgia or sorrow for something he had not directly known, but his mother did show him a few books from the Eretimes displaying the treasures of art thar were now forever gone beneath the salty waves. Letting the sea come in had been the only solution to halt the incoming tide.
A choice with no real chance of victory, so similar to the one he was about to take.
His foreman raised an arm as he spotted a larger vessel coming closer. It was a few hundred fathoms away, but Adagio clearly saw the red and gold insignia of Venexia and the most holy Order of Vestals.
The two vessels approached each other. His foreman tooted the steam horn and the other boat (almost a ship, actually) responded in kind, though its own horn sounded more like a hum and was more melodious and more pleasant to the ear.
Adagio stood and walked towards the edge of the deck. There, waiting for him already, stood three women.
The two to the sides were young, clear-faced and only one of them wore a blindfold. They wore the grey robes of Novices and did not inspire any confidence in him. In the centre instead stood a shorter figure, her dark skin contrasting with the shining white robes, lined black and gold as it would be expected from one of her rank.
She wore a filigree silver mask that covered the upper half of her face. Her lips curved in a smile as she welcomed him even before he had the time to.
Vestals and their tricks.
“A pleasure to meet you, Adagio of Chiarasponda.” She bowed slightly and the other two in tow.
“Pleasure is all mine to receive you,” he replied in kind, bowing. But not one inch lower. He had to show he had a spine, even though this woman could probably snap it with a thought. “High Seer Valeriana.”
“We received your request with joy. And we agreed to this meeting with a light heart,” the priestess said. “Now, please. Explain how we can help you?”
Adagio did not like this. She knew why he had asked her for this meeting, and she in fact might as well know how this was going to play through, thanks to her second Sight. He felt like a fly dancing for the amusement of a spider.
How did his faith feature into this? He felt the weight of his cross on his chest, burning clearly.
“The reasons for your visit you can see from here.” He pointed at the closest banks near the channels. The occasional Eerie corpse still sprouted from between the ruins. They had a lot of cleaning up to do, and God Almighty, it was already July.
Winter would be here soon.
“The Forest is expanding,” she nodded. “The last pulse, a few years ago, was strong. That winter… we all remember how harsh it was.”
Adagio hunch she was not telling all of he knew about it, but he knew that expression. The face of someone who had experienced grievous losses in that foul winter. He was not the only one, then.
“You are asking for one of our own to take residence in Chiarasponda,” the Vestal stated. “We can arrange to this, even though the lack of a Generator and the large distance from Venexia does make it somewhat of a challenge. But we do answer when help is requested.”
“That would be our request, yes.” Adagio’s shoulders slumped. She had got it right the first time, which was far from surprising. Allowing a Vestal or an Augur to set up shop in his town would cause an uproar. The witches from the North had often given reasons for distrust. “There would be conditions, though. She would not reside in a temple, and you would not be given leeway to proselytise. We care about our traditions.”
He cared about God.
“These are acceptable terms. We do not try to convert the unwilling. All is as it has been.”
“The shape of these words is not the shape of reality. Your record is not one of peaceful protectors, Augur.”
At that, the woman’s welcoming visage darkened.
“I am not my predecessor. We are trying to do better.”
He pursed his lips. Honeyed words, he was sure, but…
He turned to take a glance at the corpses of Eerie slowly going bad in the July heat.
For decades they had enjoyed the protection of the Inner Sea.
Now, things had changed.
He could only hope this to be the will of God. He could not grasp the design.
Neither could this woman. Or her entire Order.
“We are trying to do the same,” he agreed. “We have a deal then.”
Author’s Notes: I felt like writing a quick character study. Thanks for reading.