Eirne the herb woman moved erratically along the edge of the meadow, her body old and bent. Rheumy eyes peered ahead as she probed the ground with a crooked walking stick. Her gnarled legs moved slowly and she stumbled, often over even the simplest undulations. Eirne was tired and her old bones ached to rest. She had been out most of the day searching for food; fruit, roots, sometimes even weeds and grass, anything to sustain her. The old woman stopped and peered about short sighted, sighing in hopeless frustration. She had been on her own now for almost three weeks, at least she thought it might be three weeks but wasn’t sure anymore. Her mental faculties weren’t as coherent as they used to be. But, three weeks was a life time for someone of her age to have to subsist her own. Eirne swayed, momentarily resting, gathering her energy to push on. She began to get anxious; the sun was hovering just above the trees. She needed to return to her rustic camp before the light failed where she would sink into an exhausted sleep. Movement at night was just too confusing and terrifying. She peered skyward, having to use her hand to shield her weak eyes against the strong light. Shuffling her haversack containing the precious herbs, further around onto her bony back, she moved it out of the way so it wouldn’t tangle her legs. She gathered the tattered threadbare amorphous dress about her body trying to stay warm.
The chaotic ambience of the forest no longer frightened her. The first few nights were blurred; just memories of sounds and sights that constantly confused and terrified her, even some of the larger birds, owls, hawks and their like no longer even caused her to look sideways.
She was fortunate that at the time of the attack, she was out with her small helpers. Whenever the old herb woman went out to collect the various medicines, children from the village accompanied her. However, that fateful day they had raced ahead laughing and shouting to each other. That carefree innocence quickly turned into screams of fear. Eirne ‘raced’ forward as fast as her knobby kneed legs would go. It was a simple gopher hole on the small hill that defeated her. She crashed to the ground stunned, unable to get up. She lay for hours listening to the village’s death throes; its people either dying or carried off. She could even hear the pathetic screams of some of the younger women as the raiders took their brutal pleasure. When Eirne managed to get to her hands and knees, she slowly crawled to a burnt lodge where she tried to pull herself up. The supports were still hot and she blistered the thin parchment skin on her arthritic hands before she was able to totter away.
Her body sufficiently rested, even though her mind was slipping away again, she was disturbed by the memories that haunted her sleep and tormented by the long lonely days Eirne resolutely moved on.
Suddenly she staggered; frightened by an unexpected booming that came from the sky. She looked up, fighting to stay on her feeble legs as a wave of rushing air crashed into her. She whimpered out loud as a silver oblong object trailing smoke and a long contrail of fire, screamed downward. Eirne cried out fearfully, holding her ears and stared in stunned thrall as the object hurtled directly at her. She tried to follow the entity as it shrieked overhead. However, before she could turn her ancient limbs, or twist her worn head topped by shaggy, matted hair, the object had already long passed.
Abruptly the ground under her arthritic feet rumbled and she flailed about wildly as the very earth shook as a loud explosion overwhelmed her senses. She looked in dumbfounded dismay as smoke billowed up beyond the trees near the lake. Already water and dirt along with the debris from the torn and devastated woodlands began to lazily fall back to earth.
Her healing instincts for the preservation of life were still strong in the old woman and she awkwardly bent down to recover her staff she had dropped in her fright. Eirne tottered toward the billowing smoke determined to be of help.
Even though the actual distance to the lake was barely a half mile, it took Eirne almost an hour to get there. When she finally arrived, the poor woman was breathing so badly she had to pause, resting on a convenient log, the remains of a torn splintered tree. As she wheezed between her missing teeth the herb woman could see a metal object half covered by the lake water. Smoke and steam made the wreck difficult to see, and the fallen debris and metal wreckage posed a hazardous threat to her well being. She could see bubbles frothing from around the sunken part of whatever the thing was. She pushed off and slowly approached, realizing that there was some kind of window in small frames set around the front. Even as she watched, it sank a bit lower, and water gurgled gleefully in through the shattered holes.
She could feel intense heat still radiating off the frame and as she moved closer, she raised her hand instinctively to shield her face. In the haze before her, the herb woman could see a section of the silver body with a massive hole in it. For the first time since she had set off to help, she considered her own mortality. There was a very good chance that she could die in the next few minutes. However, she had lived a good seventy summers; she thought that was her age. She had lost track a long time ago. Eirne had five children, and between them, twelve grandchildren. As far as she knew, they were all dead. Strangely, the afterlife didn’t hold much fear for her. Eirne had been taught the beliefs she clung to by her mother, and in turn, passed on her faith to her children that when a person died they would all be together for eternity.
She resolutely headed toward the massive rent, eager to put her mortality to the test. Who knew, there might still be someone alive in there. It would give her great comfort to be able to make a difference. After all, she had been too old and feeble to help the villagers. Even though she knew that in all likelihood she would have been defiled and killed, it was still painful without her family about her. She paused for a second. Yes, she should have been with the others.
Suddenly, a woman began to scream. The sound of someone in distress galvanized her into immediate action. She ‘hurried’ forward, seemingly years younger in her eagerness to help save someone, anyone to make up for her tardiness.
Eirne stepped warily into the gaping hole, her sandaled feet echoing on metal flooring. The surface was tilted and she reached out to support herself. The metal was cold and the herb woman coughed harshly in the acrid smoke that filtered through the hallway. She passed a number of doors as she shuffled cautiously forward. She could hear a pained whimper further along the corridor. Eirne coughed again and wiped her streaming eyes on the edge of her frayed sleeve. She could see a room that allowed the light to stream in. As she stepped into the area, water from the shattered screen lapped at her feet. Eirne stopped, staring at the two seats in front of her. Rows of little windows and colored glass were arranged in front of the pair of upright seats. She moved quickly, water eddying about her ankles. Sucking in her breath fearfully, she saw what looked to be a crumpled set of clothing and armor lying scattered across the cushions.
“Help!” the feeble voice rasped.
Eirne turned to see another seat along the back wall; a woman slumped over, her body held upright by a harness. She was dressed in black armor, the chest plate covering her stomach and breasts, leaving a deep v that let her cleavage show. A moveable piece looked to be able to drop over her groin when she stood. Her legs and arms were covered in some kind of greaves. Her whole body was covered by a fine mesh-like black material that seemed to act as a kind of padding between the armor and her skin. Eirne hurried to the survivor. Her skin had a reddish tint to it and her hair was a deep fiery red. The herb woman squatted awkwardly before her and gently lifted her chin. The eyes were totally alien to her. The normal white she should see were a pale orange and the pupils a light red with a purple iris. Eirne paused, not sure if she wanted to help. The wreck lurched forward and the old herb woman staggered against the front seats, crying out as the metal frame bit into her brittle bones. The water from the lake splashed against the strange woman’s legs. She let out a terrified scream of anguish, her strangely hypnotic eyes wide and staring in her agony. She became aware of Eirne huddled in the water against the seats, her lips moved but the agonizing pain effectively muted her.
Eirne felt mortified that she would even think of not helping, so she splashed over to the injured woman. She peered at the strange harness and fumbled with the buckles. The woman in black feebly attempted to help. From her meager efforts, Eirne was quick to comprehend the concept and ‘swiftly’ undid the supporting harness. The old woman braced herself for the sudden weight, but to her surprise the woman was quite light. The water washed about the pair, passing their knees. They sloshed their way to the exit and as they tumbled onto dry land, Eirne’s adrenalin driven strength gave out and they collapsed to the ground. The hard unyielding surface, blasted to smooth polish caused the old woman to bump her head on impact and without uttering even a sigh, she blacked out. The abrupt fall while bad for Eirne, was devastating for the woman in the black armor. She shrieked in excruciating pain and then, she too passed out.
The night was getting cold and Eirne huddled near the fire, gratefully spreading her fingers eager for the warmth. She looked at her patient lying on a bed of leaves and covered in the herb woman’s blanket. The healer shook her head; she couldn’t understand what was happening. The injured woman didn’t seem to have any life threatening wounds, but she was nevertheless dying. When Eirne regained consciousness, the wreck had vanished into the lake. She wondered for a brief time if there had been anyone else on board. She shook her head again and shuffled back to the bed. The mystery woman didn’t look well; her legs were badly blistered and dreadfully burnt.
What she thought was a layer under the armor was in fact some kind of surcoat; it formed a crude skirt with the sides cut high, right up to the thin leather belt at her hips. The symbols on the front of the black cloth were unknown to her.
The poor thing whimpered in restless sleep and her face and chest had begun to blister. Gently the herb woman wrung out the small cloth and dampened the sleeping woman’s face and chest, trying to bring down her terribly high temperature. Eirne knew from past experience that if a patient’s body stayed too hot, it affected the mind somehow and more often than not, the victim died. However, in this case, everything she did seemed to make the poor thing’s condition worse. All her training was useless here and if something didn’t happen soon, the woman lying beside her, clinging so tenuously to life, would be dead in the morning. She sponged the feverish face again. When the wet cloth touched her, the woman moaned and whimpered in her sleep. Eirne looked at the rag in wonder, what if there was something in the lake that she was allergic to. Earlier, Eirne had tried to get some water down her throat, but that had ended disastrously as well. The herb woman leaned forward and listened to her harsh labored breathing. She sat back frowning. When a sick or wounded person developed that rattle in their chest, it was time to dig the grave. But her instincts wouldn’t let her give up and Eirne dug out her small wine skin, almost empty after all this time. She gently poured wine onto another cloth and squeezed some into the dying girl’s parched mouth.
Eirne jumped, startled as the woman’s eyes fluttered open.
“Thank the gods; I don’t know how to help you. Tell me what you need,” she whispered urgently, leaning forward.
Her head rolled back and forth, she struggled to answer and then she spotted the fire nearby. She stopped moving and looked pointedly at the flames dancing merrily, oblivious to all the misery around. Eirne looked at her and then, in the direction she was fixated on.
“I don’t know what you’re telling me.” Eirne said anxiously.
The sick woman groaned and tried to talk, she looked wide eyed at the fire.
“Are you cold?” The herb woman asked quickly.
The other’s head sagged back and she closed her eyes sighing. Eirne tottered to her feet and laboriously began to pull the makeshift bed to the warmth. As they came closer the woman stopped squirming in such pain.
“Burn me.” The words were barely heard.
“What?” yelped Eirne in surprise. “I can’t do that, you’re delirious.”
She shook her head viciously. “Burn me, please. It is the only way.”
Eirne knelt beside her, physically spent from moving her bed. All her knowledge useless, the woman was dying and maybe it was her tradition for them to cremate the body, so Eirne nodded and settled back to await the inevitable. She jumped violently when the woman’s hand shot out and grabbed her frail arm in a death like grip.
“Burn me! Now!” she hissed urgently.
Startled into activity she jumped as quickly as she could and then stared at the woman at her feet. In the end she shrugged and grabbed the blanket, pulling the woman bodily into the fire.
The reaction Eirne expected never occurred, there was no screams of agony, quickly followed by the sickening stench of cooked flesh. As the fire greedily consumed the dying woman, her face relaxed into a smile. Quickly it raced along her body and Eirne was forced to step back as the woman arched her back and moaned. The sound wasn’t one of hurt, more one lovers would make in their erotic conclusion. The black armor clad body seemed to shimmer and then gradually faded. Instead of a scorched corpse, her body began to glow and soon the human shape turned almost translucent and the herb woman could see her patient laying there, her body now made of flame. She slowly stood and Eirne stumbled back fearfully. She could still see the same outline; the fire hair blew in a breeze of its own making. Eirne was totally unprepared for what she saw and could only gawk at her in astonishment. The woman was nude; her full breasted body was formed of fire that emanated from within her very being.
Her flickering form moved forward. Her arms out to the sides, her head slightly back and her legs together, she literally floated, inches from the ground. Eirne could only stare in wonder as the fire being glided gently to her. The fire woman opened her eyes and Eirne could see the orange and purple eyes looking at her serenely. The herb woman was so close that the flames lightly ran up and down her dried withered husk. And what surprised Eirne more than anything was that the flames didn’t burn her, it was more of a gentle caress, like a lover’s touch.
“Thank you.” The voice, like the gentle exploring flames was peace personified.
“Yo…you’re…welcome. I think.” Eirne replied hesitantly. “Who…what are you?”
“My name is Orafraties; I am a Solar.” She looked at the human woman’s confusion. “My race lives in the deepest part of space in a planet of fire. We travel the cold depths of space in specially designed ships so our life essence is able to survive. The crash on your planet took the life of my crew when our ship fell into the water.”
Suddenly insight burst in on Eirne, the water was like acid to the Solar. No wonder her skin blistered and burned.
Orafraties nodded as if sensing what Eirne was thinking. “My two friend’s life essence was extinguished due to the prolonged immersion in the liquid we crashed into. I must thank you for your help; I wouldn’t have survived if it hadn’t been for you.”
Eirne cried, tears ran freely down her lined and weather face. “I almost killed you with my ignorance.” She dropped creakingly to her stiff knees. “I am so sorry.”
The Solar lightly touched down and she appeared to be standing on her own two feet. What astounded Eirne was that the heat of her body didn’t even mark the ground or wither the weeds and grass.
“Do not be harsh on yourself. Our kind has never met before and you had no way of knowing the ultimate weakness of our race. I sense that I have caused you pain, you do not move freely and seem sickly.”
Eirne grimaced. “It is not you that is the reason for my condition. I am old. My body will soon be ready for the afterlife. But in the meantime it is something all of our kind has to endure after a number of years have passed.”
The Solar reached out for Eirne. “I can help make that passing easier. Take my hand; this is a gift that is rarely given to one outside our race. Take my blessing with you as my thanks.”
The herb woman looked fearfully at the flaming hand, but then, she looked into the gentle all-knowing eyes of this wondrous creature. Without a second thought Eirne ‘swiftly’ reached up and took Orafraties’s hand. Eirne gasped expecting to feel some pain, but instead there was only relief. Her bent and aching bones, the tired joints and her weathered skin all ceased to be a problem. Instead, she felt an overflowing sensation of love and wellbeing. Orafraties reached out and took Eirne’s other hand and they clasped them together, intertwined as lovers will do.
Light flared from the Solar and Eirne felt the sensation of lightness and a sense of losing her identity. The fire eagerly consumed her and her body began to shimmer and fade as the black armored woman had only minutes earlier. As she lost bodily form, Eirne took the essence of fire; she and the Solar merged together, their forms highlighted by the conflagration around them. Gradually, the two shapes merged and soon there was one glorious woman standing there, her head thrown back in almost orgasmic pleasure, her hands behind her body, fingers splayed, hair billowing from the heat generated in her fiery hair.
The two bodies now as one lifted higher and soon reached for the sun. The Solar and Human danced in the sky as flashes of flame streaked across the heavens. They raced apart and in a screaming conclusion, they hurtled back together and as the two burning nova’s collided, a tremendous burst of light flared hotly in the dim afternoon, the radius expanding outward to literally cover miles of the evening sky, then with a whoosh, the corona of expanding fire and light collapsed back in on itself and with a twinkle, they were gone. After the brilliant display that put nature to shame, the steadily encroaching night gently covered everything, enfolding protectively about the two forms sleeping in the clearing beside the campfire, near the gentle lapping water of the placid lake.