Zarah Vyas came to a stop directly in front of yet another corpse.
It was a young man this time, dressed similar to her in thick, ragged clothing. His face was frozen in a mask of mild shock and alarm, as if someone had said something insulting to him.
Considering the large hole in his torso, it seemed distinctly underwhelming.
“Same as the others?” Kihri’s voice asked from above her.
Zarah looked up to see her sister’s face, identical to her own save the scar across her mouth, poking out of the concrete of the bridge above them. Her choppy white bangs hung down towards the ground, and in the low light, her normally-translucent form was clear and solid.
“Same,” she confirmed.
Kihri made a face. “You know, one of these days we’re actually going to find another ghost, and as soon as we do, I’m fucking gone.”
Zarah tried to chuckle, but couldn’t find it in her. “No, you are not.”
“…gotta take the fun out of everything, huh. No, I guess I’m not.” Her face disappeared back through the concrete, leaving Zarah alone with the corpse.
She sighed, bending over to get a closer look. The wound was about two handspans wide, and not perfectly circular but close enough to not matter. Again, like the others. And again, strewn through the viscera, those threads of blue.
The first few times, she hadn’t touched them at all. Partially out of respect, to not taint or corrupt their providence before it could be burned, but also out of fear – if the police found her fingerprints on the bodies, she doubted her explanation would hold water. Or even be considered.
It seemed a little naive, in hindsight. Kihri had been right – if anyone had even found the bodies, there definitely hadn’t been any investigations. Her sister was bitter and cynical, but… usually right. Almost always right, she admitted to herself.
With a heavy sigh, she closed her eyes. “<Let them find their place,>” she whispered softly, bringing her hands to her face, “<and trouble not those who have found balance.>” She kissed the back of each hand softly, letting the warm breath wash over them, then reached down and slowly pulled the ruined clothing away from the wound, exposing the skin.
“Ugh,” Kihri complained as she reappeared from above, floating down fully into view, “seriously? Still?”
“<You’ve made it very clear how you feel, so many times,>” Zarah replied absently, slowly beginning to peel the corpse’s ruined clothes away from the wound, “<so why do you have to react like that every single time?>” Something caught her eye before Kihri could answer. “Hm. Look at this.” She pointed to the exposed flesh around the hole. “There is- here. No bruising…”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Kihri replied sourly, slowly flipping around to align herself with the ground, “I guess I just hope that every new pointless death will be the one to finally realise what a fucking sham everything is. Also, it’s creepy how excited you sound by that.”
Kihri groaned dramatically. “Please, for the love of god, learn to recognise when I’m busting your ass. You suck the joy out of everything.”
Zarah coughed awkwardly.
“Bu-ut,” Kihri continued, floating closer, “you’re not wrong. Even like a high-powered projectile would bruise more than that. Never seen that scaled up, but whatever that’d look like it’s probably not this.”
“<Oh, and I’m the creepy one.> Any guess?”
“…fell onto a comically large cartoon spike? Impaled by a horny land octopus?”
“What, you don’t think horny land octopus is a legitimate avenue we should be investigating?”
“<This is hardly the time or place for your sexual fantasies.>”
Kihri blinked, then barked out a surprised laugh. “You asshole! I’m supposed to be the funny one.”
“And the hawk screams its own name.”
Kihri made a face at her. “Rude.”
“Mm,” Zarah grunted, distracted. “Yes. Sorry. But… <does he look somewhat familiar to you?>”
After a second of silence, she turned to look at Kihri, and found her face scrunched up in concentration.
“Something… about large holes? Getting penetrated? Uhhh, bruising from anal sex?” She gave up, letting out a little puff of air, disappointed. “Dammit, you’ve thrown me off my groove.”
“Shame. Answer the question.”
Grumbling indecipherably, Kihri moved up closer to the face, and Zarah shuffled obligingly to the side. “Hm,” she said after a moment’s consideration, slowly beginning to orbit the head. “…yeah. Yeah, I think you’re right. I’ve definitely seen this clown before.”
“From a shelter, maybe?” Zarah suggested. “Or a kitchen. Also, please have some respect.”
“What? He’s dead, it’s not like he cares.”
“You would care.”
That shut her up. She continued rotating in silence for a few moments, then spoke. “Sorry, dead dude. Also, if you can hear me, don’t ever stick your head inside someone else’s body, cause it’s so gross and you can’t vomit anymore- Oh shit!”
“What?!” Zarah spun around frantically, but couldn’t spot anything out of the ordinary.
“I know who this schm- person is!”
She rolled her eyes. “No, I’m just fucking with you. Yes, really! He used to hang around the liquor store over on… whatever street, next to the big park with the pine trees.”
Zarah searched her memory, trying to recall anything that fit the description. “…with the big… flash-flash sign?”
“Yeah, the neon one.” Neon, right. “He worked the counter there a while back, I think, and then hung around afterwards on the corner.”
“Have… we been inside ever? I thought no.”
“Psh. Maybe you haven’t.”
“What? Why? Not like you can-”
She cut herself off, just a little too late.
“Gee, thanks,” Kihri said acerbically. “I’d almost forgotten.”
“…sorry.” Really sticking your foot in your mouth tonight, hm, Zarah? She was off-kilter, which was annoying – she thought she’d gotten used to the dead bodies by now.
“For your information,” Kihri continued, “I like to watch people. It’s entertaining.”
“It’s not spying, it’s just… watching people… who don’t know I’m there. Hm.”
“It- forget it,” Zarah said. “<I shouldn’t have->”
“Eh, you know what, I don’t actually care. Who the fuck am I going to tell, you?”
“Please do not.”
“My point exactly.” She sighed, shaking her head. “Look, anyway. I guarantee you that it’s him – I’d stake my unlife on it.”
“Hm. The others?”
Kihri considered it for a second. “Show me them again?”
Zarah pulled out her phone, and showed it to Kihri, obligingly swiping through the photos when she indicated.
“Nope,” she said once they reached the end. “I’ve got nothing. Doesn’t mean they aren’t from around there, but-”
“-it is a start,” Zarah finished with a nod. “Nice park, also”
“Ugh, you would, you fucking nerd. Do you want to go now? I can keep watch if you find a bench or something. Ooh, maybe you could sleep in one of the trees, that’d be cool.”
Zarah considered it. It’d save some travel time, but it was late and cold, and even a shitty shelter cot seemed incredibly appealing. “<Is it okay if we go back to Tavesh tonight?>” she asked instead.
Kihri groaned. “You and your stupid fleshy body. Fine, whatever. First thing in the morning, though, we’re going to the shop, then. I can’t deal with having to watch you snore and drool and waiting for you to finish pottering around in the morning.”
“Deal.” Zarah could already feel sleep threatening to encroach, now that she’d allowed the thought to enter her head, but glancing back down at the body quickly drove it away again.
She knelt, then slowly reached down and gently closed the boy’s eyes. “<May you lie light upon the world,>” she intoned softly. Then, with more feeling, ” <And- I’m sorry.>”
For once, Kihri didn’t comment. “Did you get one of the threads?” she asked instead, once Zarah had risen to her feet.
“Ah, no.” She began rooting around in her pockets. “Which pocket-”
“Left breast,” Kihri answered, cutting her off.
“Ah, thank you.” Sure enough, she found the tweezers and ziplock bags inside. She withdrew the tweezers and a single bag, then bent back down and carefully extracted one of the blue strands from the wound and placing it in the bag before sealing it. That bag went back into her pocket, but the tweezers went into their own bag, which she sealed and put in a different pocket so she would remember it later.
“All done?” Kihri asked as she zipped the pockets back up.
She nodded. “Mm. Getting cold, too.”
“Oh, poor thing. Must be so hard, not being able to feel certain things, huh? So tough.”
Zarah rolled her eyes “<Meet you there?>”
Kihri considered it for a second. “Yeah, I think so. Could use the break.” She began to float downwards, passing through the ground. “Stay safe.”
“You too.” Not like it was even possible for her to be in danger, but it was good to say it anyway.
Kihri nodded, then passed entirely from view. Zarah waited a few moments, just to be polite, then began walking.
Shortly, she emerged from underneath the bridge, grimacing as the bitterly cold wind smacked her in the face almost immediately. The night sky was clear and bright above, a deep dark blue with speckles of white here and there, and the warm orange of the cars rumbling over the bridge behind her flickered and strobed through the railings, fighting a futile war against the blue. In the distance, behind the steelworks, the city rose up, dim white lights partitioned into squares and rectangles, and beyond that, the Glasstree Mountains painted a dim silhouette, rising above it all.
It was a strangely comforting sight, and she let herself pause and take it in. After seeing the ugliest parts of the city, of her home, for so long, it was nice to occasionally find the good in it too. That broke the spell, and she resumed walking, fantasising about resting her head. It was at least another hour’s walk to the shelter, and by the time she got there, she’d be lucky to get more than a few hours of sleep before Kihri would be chomping at the bit, but it was better than nothing.
Which, if she was being honest, had been the the running theme of their life for quite a while.
The safest route back into the city was to follow the highway as it curved around the industrial district. It wasn’t the shortest route, not even close, but cutting straight through the steelworks and past the factories was just asking to get robbed, murdered, raped, or all three. Instead, she walked along the bank of the slightly-elevated highway, low enough that she wasn’t easily visible to the passing cars, but high enough for their light to spill over and let her see where she was putting her feet. The last thing she needed was some ‘good samaritan’ spotting her and pulling over. Even if they were genuine, there would be questions, ones with answers that people didn’t tend to like.
No, walking was the best choice. And it wasn’t like she wasn’t good at it – apart from occasional rides on buses or trains when she could spare the fare (and a few ones where she couldn’t), she walked everywhere. Kihri sometimes joked that she’d learn to sleep while walking, like a horse. To which, of course, Zarah would reply that horses can’t do that, and then the whole thing would devolve into an argument about whether either of them had ever seen a horse in real life and whether that mattered.
The memory lifted her mood a little, but mostly it just made her feel lonely.
A horn suddenly blared out from behind her, interrupting her thoughts, and she spun around frantically, just in time to see a small car speeding towards her.
The noise of the car and the wind made it too hard to hear properly, but Zarah could recognise a few words; none of them pleasant, all of them familiar.
Personally, she was just glad that yelling was all he’d done – she’d had coffee cups and soda cans thrown at her from cars before, batteries a few times as well. Usually, though, that only happened when-
She raised a hand to her head, and then cursed as she realised she’d forgotten to put her hood up.
Stupid, Zarah. She flipped it over her head and pulled the drawstrings tight so that the breeze wouldn’t pull it down again. Stupid.
Kihri would have reminded her. Or, at the very least, yelled at her before it became an issue. Funny, how between the two of them, the dead one was more grounded in reality.
“<So funny,>” she muttered to herself in Pashtari. “<Hilarious.>”
Kihri would’ve chastised that too-
But Kihri wasn’t there, so Zarah trudged on alone.