This is set in the post-apocalyptic world of Patina.
We have met Mira Secerna here before.
Mankind had declined.
From the point of view of Mira Secerna, that was a given. A reality she embodied, more than perhaps anything else and anybody else she had ever met.
With her ceramic, assembled body, her glowing eyes, and the humming of lost machinery beneath her artificial skin, she stood in the snow in defiance to the fall of Man.
The snowstorm howled all around her, wrapping her body in the travel robes that to Mira were little more than an ornament. Her sight pierced the storm and carved the outline of the destroyed settlement out of the rumbling white and the chaotic spiralling snow.
She took a step forward, reaching the destroyed palisade. They had bolted it with rusted sheets of iron, but whatever had attacked this place did not hesitate to push through even for a moment.
Air smelled like iron and white death.
Perhaps she could find something useful here. Sometimes you could stumble upon hidden treasures in the most unlikely of places.
But as she walked amidst the destroyed homes that surrounded an empty well, she met only broken wood and scattered flesh, some of it attached to its frozen bones.
What were these people doing there in the middle of winter?
Then she reached what she thought was a well, but as she came closer the thermal readings from the structure told her it was made of metal, and probably many meters deep.
An exhaust vent of some long-forgotten factory, perhaps.
Surely not a Generator pipeline. Survivors would have built a whole town around it.
Mira set her ceramic hand against the ruined, flaky and frozen steel. She perceived its sturdiness, even after more than one century of being left to the elements and the destructive influence of the forest surrounding it.
They were the same – both remnants of a world where mankind still had a part to play.
There was nothing for her here.
She turned away from the forgotten well, but she hesitated when she spotted a trail of large footprints in the snow.
They were far too large and uneven to be human. The snow still glistened a dark red. Whatever had massacred this place was still close.
Mira began to follow the trail. There would be nobody to give her any kind of reward. She was just curious, and that perhaps meant she was truly becoming like her once-creators.
And wasn’t the Vestal that had brought her back from the great sleep also curious to a fault?
If she could blush, Mira would have flushed crimson at the thought of being anything like Mastra Verna.
The trail seemed to stand out even as snow turbined around it. If she had been anywhere inclined to romantic notions of faith and coincidence, she might have thought it was calling her.
Perhaps mankind could get ensnared by such concepts. The world had been taken over by a living and hungry legend, after all. Before the Eldritch War, Fae and curses and witchcraft and monsters waiting in the shadows were relegated only to the dusty corners of mankind’s attention.
The trail led her to a cavern’s entrance.
She walked in, leaving the wind outside. Snowflakes peered into the darkness like summer ghostmoths, but soon they also disappeared. Ait warmed up quickly, reaching an eerie calmness.
Not a sound save for the noise of her boot on the pavement and not a light save for the glow of her artificial eyes. She was picking up thermals and infrared from the walls and already building a map of the place, in case she ever needed a place where to rest.
As soon as she got rid of the old tenant.
She found it in the following room. Terrain sloped and widened to a high hall surrounded by stalagmites. Her boots crunched on old, rattling bones.
The thing sat against the largest of the stalagmites, curled up like leaves at the coming of ice.
She did not pick up anything. No thermals, no movements.
The Eerie was no more.
Its cursed skin stuck to the stone like black goop. Already it was falling from the charred bones that had been its misshapen skeleton, hanging from the junctures like sails in a dead wind.
No light burned in its skull. The left half looked like a normal human skull, the right half instead had been in the process of turning into some kind of beast. Perhaps a deer or a bear.
She came closer and noticed something else.
The no-more thing was holding a smaller body against its ribcage.
The black bones had curved around it, as if to protect it.
Or eat it. At this point it was hard to say.
A male, if her readings were correct. Two years of age, perhaps a little more.
The corpse’s brown eyes looked up in a plead, but she did not read fear or pain in the frozen visage.
Mira raised a hand and placed it against the twisted skull of the dead Eerie.
The cursed bones reacted to her corrosive artificiality – a memory of a much stronger mankind, one that could have perhaps bested the forest – and thin flakes of skin began to flare up in the air. The Eerie’s corpse rattled and fell apart, dissolving before her touch and her presence.
The child’s corpse fell against the cavern’s pavement.
The thing didn’t even mess up his hair.
Mira picked the tiny corpse up and left. Behind her, the last vestiges of the Eerie’s body kept slowly burning. Soon the stones would only bear the charred print of its body, like a bad dream, half-remembered.
She brought the child back to the destroyed village.
She felt an impulse to throw it down the iron well, but something inside her stopped her.
Thus, she found a place inside one of the closest houses and dug a hole.
She set the corpse to rest into the frozen earth. As she began to cover it back with dirt and snow she couldn’t stop thinking about its arms, rising as if to meet something she couldn’t see.
An uneasy feeling pierced her chest.
She turned at once, her glowing eyes expanding her perceptors in a wide scan.
Only wind and snow and dead, broken people.
The forest shunned her just as much as it always did.
She did not want to think about it.
Mira finished her job, marking the tomb with an upturned piece of wood.
Nothing came to look at her work.
“Ridiculous,” she muttered, standing up again. She remained there for a few moments, still scanning around her.
She was perhaps the finest product of mankind’s industrial might. A relic from a world that ran on oil and lightning.
She was anathema to the forest, and she had never walked with fear between the pines.
This was not fear.
The forest could not ensnare her. She was no human.
Just a tad too curious, perhaps.
The memory of that tiny corpse holding up its hands to meet the misshapen thing looking down…
Mira shook her head and walked away. From the child, from the well that stuck out from who knows what kind of structure, from the cavern and the once-settlement.
She kept walking ahead, away from her doubts and away from her treacherous curiosity, finding her path between the crimson pines, as the wind kept howling and the snow danced its senseless static in the freezing void.
Author’s Notes: I felt like taking a short break. I really liked the inspiration behind this short story, and the role of curiosity and the temptation of the unknown.
Thanks for reading.