This is set in the Patina universe. Happy reading.
They set up camp shortly after. Ironically, the destroyed outpost would have given them shelter enough, and usually eeries did not come back to the places they had just recently infected.
But someone else could come – maybe the same liquidators. Talia was not keen to find herself on the wrong end of a flamespitter, so when they found a small ticket of stones growing out of the low hillside, they stopped the chariot right there and got to work.
They took out the foldable planks and started to apply them to the rocks, making sure to leave enough space for air to pass through and allow Arodias to aim his rifle through the cracks. To keep them from bulging inner beams were put between each pair, creating something similar to a nest of iron-reinforced wood that would keep off the eeries, at least ward them away with the cold bite of the grey metal.
Sunset rose like a thief, stealing what remained of the gold and red in the light and giving back the dark glow of growing twilight. The Horses sat close to each other, tied to a rock. Talia and he shared a light dinner of strips of salted meat, dried fruit, leftover from their winter provisions and a rare delicacy.
Arodias let out a wide smile showing her a rusted can of food.
“You had this?” Talia exclaimed, touching the surface with the reverence of a true believer. Erepeople were great at conserving this stuff. What would it be? Those magic capsules leftover from the ancient world contained all sort of incredible manicarets. It was probably worthy as much as all her remaining pencils.
“I have it saved up for a special occasion,” he said cutting it open with his knife. The blade elicited a satisfying chunk as it bit into the can. “And we deserve something nice after our visit.”
Talia bit the side of her mouth, thinking back to the burned outpost. She was not a believer, but in times like these there was a little pang of guilt in her breast at the thought of those poor sods who were ambushed by the eerie. Or who had died beforehand from contagion. Sometimes the worst eeries came from within.
All her thoughts were swept away by the sweet aroma coming out of the can. A few drips of fluid landed on the top and she quickly scooped them up with a finger. It was thick and tasted like beans, actual ones from the eretimes, not their wrinkled-up cousins they grew nowadays.
Arodias finished opening the can and poured its contents in two plates – giving her the largest amount.
“Are you going to eat just that?”
“I never really liked these things, whenever I find them,” he mused sticking his fork in one grey bean. He munched on them tentatively. “Still good, I think. They taste just like the first can I found, fifty years ago.”
“Thank you!” She took a bean and brought it to her mouth. It had a spongy texture and sweet taste, maybe a little staler than it could have been in its heyday, but it was leagues better than any bean she had ever tasted. At least as far as canned vegetables went, the erepeople knew what they were doing. Much better than with their roads. Each morsel was a blessing, so she made sure to enjoy them. She drank the juice, which tasted like a soup, coming directly from the world before. If heated, it probably would have been even better, but the destroyed outpost had made them even more cautious than usual and they had decided against lighting a fire. Better to let those things be attracted by some other imprudent traveler.
Talia finished her soup and licked the plate clean, not leaving a single speck of canned goodness out of it. Then she cleaned the can as well, before giving it back to Arodias. Even like that, it was a precious source of aluminum and it would fetch a good price at the fair. She patted her belly, satisfied.
“Thanks. I thought we would have to wait next winter to taste another one of those.”
“I believed it would be worth it. Get some rest now. I’ll wake you up for your turn in a while.”
She nodded and lay down on the grass, against the bulging roots. By that time, she had spent so many years together with Arodias that she could fall asleep upside down – the few nights they rented a bed she had to lay down on the floor to catch some sleep. There was just something about mattresses, the way they seemed to suck her in, how they squeaked and creaked. Any sound like that made her alert and sent her heart into a frenzy, thinking of what could go bumping in the night. Those nights had been little more than jumping from one island of sleep to the next, waking up in a dizzy, her hand already trained in a fist to grasp a pistol that was not there.
City people. Go figure.
Also, this way she could sleep without putting her mask on. She detached the leather straps that held it against her skin – the cool twilight air prickled against the parts of her face that still have any sensibility, while three thick rows going from her forehead to her chin did not feel anything at all. Not the wind, not the cool dampness of approaching night. She passed her fingers over her face – they seemed to disappear when they touched the old wounds and only her fingertips registered the too-smooth skin they were caressing, the cavity that must have had once been her nose, the curled snarl her lips had been permanently stuck into.
But for some reason wearing her mask was even worse. The forest hated her and would eat her just like it did with any other human, but it would do so earnestly.
Arodias shifted his weight – she heard him cock his rifle’s safety. They were covered for the night. She pulled her blanket on and, her hand close to her own firearm, embraced the lull of sleep.
Author’s Notes: Thanks for reading. I enjoyed the detail with the bean. She’s just so precious, I hope you are liking her as well.