Mira sometimes envied those who could sleep.
She could close her glowing eyes and try to isolate herself from the world; she would shut down some of her peripherals and try to only think inwards. At least, that seemed to be the way people did it.
But that was pretty much it – and it was just another way to spend more time with her own thoughts. Not the best company.
So she tried to avoid it – even though it might feel nice from time to time to just shut your eyes and blink into the future.
Her companion turned, rustling over the bed of grass. He blinked and sat on his elbow, looking at the sky as it turned from the velvet purple of late night into pale morning indigo.
“Welcome back,” Mira said in her modulated voice. The man passed a hand over his face and nodded, even though he did not seem that keen to rouse from his slumber.
“Not the best night. Any trouble?”
“Luckily none. The Tide is still a long way coming anyway.”
“Helps to check.”
“It surely does. Speaking of which, do you want to check the bodies now?”
“Maybe it’s for the better. At least I don’t risk puking my breakfast out.”
That was a thing. Sometimes it was the smell, sometimes it was the sight. She did not puke – she did not even eat, not in the normal sense – but she suggested it made sense, on an evolutionary perspective. It made sure that biological organisms recognized what was good and bad for them.
Her companion picked up his things, rolling them into his backpack, and she did the same, leading him into the pine forest. The trunks were still free from the red sap and the needles still green. It might have looked like a harmless woodland, maybe just as much as they used to be back in the days before the Fae war.
Mira’s boots creaked over the fallen needles and the soft grass.
A few steps ahead she picked up a faint wail, echo of a sorrowful lament coming from up in the trees. Her companion only tilted his head up a good hundreds steps later.
“They are still alive,” he muttered.
“It was not built to kill them.”
“It would be better if they could,” he grimaced, licking his lips. “We are trying everything, but it’s not like we can afford to have a Vestal settle in town.”
“Carry holy water in one hand, chains in the other.”
“You seem to get it. Bad experiences with the Order?”
Mira thought about a certain blonde Vestal she was trying to put her hands on. She could still feel Verna’s presence all over her insides, whirring with the desire to take the Augur’s neck between her palms and just-
“…something like that.”
As they walked, the echoes of the wails rose in volume. They were getting closer. The man, instead of looking up to see where they are from, kept glancing at her.
She was sort of used to it, but there was a veneer of inquisitiveness to his gaze that made her peripherals bristle.
“Why staying with me for the night, anyway? You could have gone back to town.”
“Ah,” he whispered, scratching his cheek. “I might have been a tad too obvious.”
“Maybe not that much. I just have keen eyes and a lot of time to use them.”
“I was just curious. We have legends of your kind from the time before, you know. My grandfather served in the War.”
She quirked an eyebrow.
“He left some memories. I read them for the first time when I was five. He spoke of wonders the kind of which we can only imagine.” He looked up at the sky where the last few stars were going away. “We were taught the fast stars were the souls of the departed. Turns out they are spheres of metals with dead people inside.”
Mira nodded. According to the strips of conversation she caught from Verna, the Augur believed not all of those were dead.
But it was beside the point, at that moment.
“I have never seen one of your kind,” he said, trying to bring the topic up.
She was not that keen on discussing it, though.
“Neither have I. Now look.” She pointed at a tall pine a few steps ahead and what hung from its branches killed the line o conversation about metal people, alive or otherwise.
There was something stuck on the tree. It wriggled and panted and whined and growled in a bramble of misshapen limbs, bent bones and stretched skin that was softly smoking – thin trails of crimson floating up in the air.
“You secured them with rope?”
“And wooden stakes,” she said pointing at the spots where they stuck out of the Eerie’s body.
“Why not iron? Would have been safer.”
“And it might have compromised the results.”
“Ah. That makes sense, yes.”
“Now wait here. I’ll bring them down.”
He chose a nearby spot, pulling out a thin steel barb and coiling it around his chest – quite the meager mean of protection, she guessed, but then again if these people lived behind thick walls and were served by a consistent flow of holy water, they wouldn’t have recruited her.
She reached the first branch, three meters above the ground, with a soft tap even as the wood creaked under her weight.
She jumped again and again, swinging on the tree until she reached the Eerie.
“This one seems well-cooked,” she stated. With a few precise movements, she unhooked the thing from the trunk just about enough for gravity to do its job.
The mismatched bundle of charred skin and bones fell upon the ground.
It never stopped wailing, though.
She did the same with the others. She had chosen to separate them, just in case putting them all together interfered with the effects. After a bit of work, the space between the roots was covered with a plethora of Eerie, each of them gargling on screams that must have been words, once.
Some of their features, in the shape of a growing skull there, a pair of hands, bulbous eyes growing out of a shoulder, were still recognizable as human.
“It feels weird,” the man said, holding onto the steel wire. “I hate those things. They killed many, and they come out of the forest every Winter. And yet now that they lay there… how long do you think they were stuck like that?”
“Who can say?” Mira replied, leaning towards one as it feebly snapped at her with its chelicera. “Some might even go all the way back to the War. You usually meet older ones up north, though.”
She regarded them with a clinical eye. Every Eerie was in pain, wriggling from the smoking wounds embedded in their cursed flesh, but a few were clearly in a worse shape. One to the left, in particular, almost did not move, only catching in raspy and faint breaths. Its body ravaged by blisters and smoking cracks that had turned its already-cursed skin into little more than compressed cinders.
“I’d say that one,” the man pointed there.
Mira reached for the open wound inside it. And withdrew with a soft creaking sound a forged pyramid, covered with writings and letters.
“The pyramid,” she chuckled. “Makes sense.”
“It’s the simplest of the solids. It carries the most potential as an engineering practice, and it’s the farthest from a shape that could be just made by nature out of sheer chance.”
“The most artificial one.”
“If you want to put it like that.” As if to prove her point, Mira brushed her fingers against a spot on the Eerie that and been insofar spared. The thing let out a sudden wail as the flesh carbonated under her touch, flaking off in white cinders.
It would not catch fire, like a Vestal would cause. But it was incapacitating enough.
“This is your best design,” she stood up and walked back to him, handling him the triangle.
“I see. Again, wouldn’t it be better to just kill them?”
“These things still remember,” she said tilting her greased head. “I have seen in the north. They know where a place is actively resisting them, and they do not forget. You want to become so bitter a morsel they leave you alone, not a challenge.”
“Is that how it works up there?”
“We have worse things to worry about than the Eerie,” she replied with a smile.
He nodded, retracing back his steps from where the bunch of flailing limbs remained.
“I will pick up the rest of the solids and meet you in town for the payment.”
“I wouldn’t mind waiting, really.”
She came back to work. And as the man watched her pick up the forged solids from the bunch of agonizing Eerie, she found that, in the end, she might not mind his attention so much.