The Days Long Gone – Post-Apocalyptic Short Story, 2/4

This is set in the Patina universe. Happy reading.

They followed the smoke trail. Talia’s heart beat faster and faster.

The source of the smoke appeared behind another curve in the woods – right when the horses started shaking their tails and whining, nervous.

“Another settlement destroyed,” said Arodias under his breath.

The road curved left, but the smoke came from a chunk of burnt ruins, etched on the side of a low hill. It had been built on a smart location, a few steps above ground level, blessed with chunks of granite and slabs of rock to hide its core from any snipers coming from the road and slightly-separated from the rest of the hill – whoever built it probably felt like they could get an early-warning to the presence of any approaching Eerie.

The smoke twisted and turned. Even through her helmet, Talia breathed air tasting like cinders, with a whiff of that too-sweet, rust-like smell that was typical of the Eerie. Not a bandit skirmish, then.

“Want to still check it out? Anything of value is probably contaminated or burnt. Or stolen.”

“You never know.”
“That’s right,” he chuckled.” You never know.”

By now the horses were getting really nervous, so he stopped them for a while and had them munch on some dullweed to make them less responsive to the eerie’s odour. Once they had calmed down, they proceeded towards the remains of the settlement. Talia coughed inside her helmet.

“Everything alright?”
“Yes. It’s just… the smell. It’s a bit too strong.”

“Charred flesh often is,” he mused, bringing the chariot upwards. The old settlers had built a small paved road that went from ground level up to the palisade protecting the outpost.

It had once been intertwined with wooden spikes, but they were not little more than coal, creaking softly under the horses’ hooves. At one point, below where the shadows of the charred walls lingered, they met half-melted barbed wire.

“Let’s walk,” Arodias said jumping down from the chariot.

Talia put on her leather protection – a dark brown vest and shell protection for her junctures. Her pistol was cold and hard in her hand. The horses protested seeing them abandoning them, but Arodias patted them on the head and they seemed to understand.

They stopped complaining and stood by, close to a broken shaft that once might have been a lamp-post. Stepping over the uneven wire, they reached the gate: it had been pockmarked with small bullet holes that trailed soft golden light from the dying day. It leaned to its right like it was getting a nap. It wasn’t hard to slip through.

“What a waste,” Talia commented. The outpost had been quite small, most likely little more than a small trading hub on the road to Trefiumi, or probably a refuge for whatever farmers and shepherd remained in this area, risking contagion from the Eerie to let their sheep graze a little bit further. The result being she was getting chocked by the burnt, too-sweet smell even through the respirator.

This little trip was going to cost them an entire filter.

Even though she proceeded through the ruins with her usual caution, hunched over and always checking behind every corner, it was clear that whoever cleaned this place up had done a thorough job. Small pearls of molten glass hung from the windows like neglected necklaces. Cinder and wood creaked under her feet, while Arodias drew no noise from his steps. But then again he was an expert. He raised his hand to signal her to stop advancing. She quickly joined him on his side of the road.

“Look at that,” he whispered, pointing at a place that must have been the main building. It hung open and shattered like an egg burst for too much pressure. Judging from the shape of the broken palisade and still-standing parts of wood surrounding it, the explosion must have been caused by too much heat applied in too little time. She frowned at the sight. This was advanced weaponry. Probably white phosphorous, balefire or some other ereworld devilry. Or maybe…


Bent amidst the rubble there was something other than remains of wood or iron. A long line of black bones lay in the cinder, so twisted by the heat that they had seemed part of the environment at first. She followed the trail until they connected to an open ribcage, halfway through the destroyed walls. It had probably been trying to get out when they had blasted it up. Connected charges, most likely.

“I think that settles it,” Arodias muttered through his filter, leaving the corner to slowly walk over to the front of the misshapen skeleton. Talia followed him, making sure nothing crept up on them. Fire was usually the best defense against these things, but… she remembered the small eerie they found hidden by the collapsed wall last winter. She really thought it was dead.

It surely was now, anyway.

A part of her wanted to jump ahead and cover Arodias, but another was scared that if she did, or she made too much noise, the thing hanging from the wall would rustle and stand up and…

“It’s dead,” Arodias commented hitting it with the back of its rifle. Bones snapped and the upper part of its skull rolled out on the ground, stopping at her feet. The bones showed three eyes sockets – two on the sides and a larger one on front. Four rows of teeth connected slight below the center. This thing had probably been merged out of two smaller Eerie. Must have slipped into a conjunction pool or something sneaky like that. She kicked it off, cleaning the tip of her boot on the ash.

“They must have taken everything that was not nailed,” Talia muttered as she reached Arodias’ side. The eerie’s body judged them silently, its lower maw split in two, showing pointed teeth. Just the head was as large as Arodias’ torso.

“They likely did not,” he said kicking away a few broken planks. Beneath there was tattered remains of clothes, some cutlery and tools. The metal had been bent out of

shape. Not by heat – it was more like it had been trying to twist itself into tiny branches and from the branches sprouted teeth like flowers. Talia had seen a similar mushroom once. “This area has been completely taken over.”

“Yes,” she agreed, as if to cover her previous wrong assumption. “I… I see no pure iron, though.”

“Then they did take the nails,” he chuckled patting a wall with his gloved hand, raising a small cloud of cinder. “The rest is too rusty to be useful.”

“Nothing for us here.”

“Maybe not for us…” Arodias crouched on the cinder. He took off his glove and Talia hissed through her teeth. But he did not seem bothered by the risk of infection, or probably he trusted the liquidators had done a good enough job. He traced a few deep lines in the ash, forming a circle and then bisecting it two times, drawing a cross inside it. “Peace beupon the departed. May they find safe passage and plenty of room in the unseen halls.”

Talia shifted her weight from one foot to the other, uncomfortable. She did not believe in the old gods, and the new ones were hardly any better. A shadow seemed to hung over his shoulders. She had seen it many times while they scavenged, but this time it looked heavier and more cumbersome, like a load accumulated through years.

“Nobody took the time to bless the poor souls,” he said shaking his head. He stood up. “That’s all I can do. Let’s go back on the road. It’s almost evening.”

“I’ll have to update my maps.” Talia tossed one last glance at the deformed eerie skull. It looked back at her with endless hunger still swirling inside his empty sockets.

She hurried behind her mentor.

At least, for some reason, air seemed to taste a little better.

Author’s Notes: Thanks for reading. I really like writing Talia. I hope I can go back to work more on this character in the future.


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