Genre: Sapphire and Steel - gen
Word Count: 2443
My thanks to sparky955 for her beta and pondhopper for her help with my Spanish. Link takes you to AO3
Christina brushed the dust from her skirt and sighed. She’d looked everywhere for her little sister and her initial annoyance was quickly becoming fear. Everyone knew that children shouldn’t be out late at night for fear of La Llorona. The shadows were lengthening and everything was turning a soft blue. </p>
“Rosa, ¿Dónde estás?” She shaded her eyes in an attempt to see into the shadows and that’s when the woman appeared, as if stepping out of thin air. She was tall and slender, her hair pale white in the twilight. “Dios mio, La Llorona,” Christina’s heart began to flop around in her chest like a wounded bird attempting to escape its killer.
She fell back a step as the woman looked in her direction. “¡Déjame!” she cried and looked frantically around. There was no one out and she knew why. La Llorona had come. She had killed and she was still looking for her hijos. While she could still exercise free will, Christina turned and ran like the devil was on her heels, for in fact she was.
All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weighs are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.
The woman took a step to follow after the child and there was a soft voice in her ear.
“Tell me a story, Sapphire.”
The request made her smile. “Why, Steel, I never took you for the storytelling type.”
“Then tell me why the child fears you so.”
“It was a very long time ago. Carlotta Dinora was a beautiful woman, but cursed with a fiery temper. Her father was weary of her ways and when a rich don suddenly appeared and offered to marry her, Carlotta’s father jumped at the chance.”
Steel started walking. “And I would venture that Carlotta was not pleased.”
“She was happy enough to be free of her father’s control, but she soon realized she’d mere exchanged one confining existence for another. Still the first few years weren’t terrible. She had two children with the don and he was by all accounts a devoted and loving father. Carlotta was happy enough for the don was absent for long periods of time. Then she found out that he had another wife in the neighboring county.”
“What did she do?”
“She drowned her children in the river to spite him. When she realized what she had done, she felt the only option was death and she committed suicide.”
“According to the Catholic Church, suicide is a sin and she was denied Heaven. She returned to Earth to search for her children, hoping that this would permit her spirit peace. And that is the story of La Llorona, the Moaner.”
Steel nodded. “Thank you, Sapphire. Now tell me why we are here.”
“According to them, children have been disappearing from this small county at an alarming rate. Thirty in the last two years, all of them vanish and all of them are supposedly victims of La Llorona, their bodies lost to the river.”
As they walked, their clothes gradually shifted from Steel’s very formal three-piece suit and Sapphire’s stylish dress to clothes more fitting to the region.
“You look nice,” Steel said suddenly and Sapphire managed a small smile. “This bothers you.”
“Children being stolen, yes. I can feel the pain and sorrow in the air.”
“Mis hijos!” The voice drifted towards them and the Elements exchanged alarmed looks.
There! She pointed. The river bank.
They ran, Steel arriving first. He paused, searching the river’s edge. On the other side of the swiftly moving water, he saw a tall woman, dressed in rags, fingers clutching at empty air. And someone else, a small child, was hiding in the reeds that lined the bank.
Without thinking, he shifted himself to the opposite bank and abruptly placed himself between the child and the woman.
“Not yours,” Steel said. The fury in the woman’s face would have been enough to deter the normal man, but Steel was far from that.
Sapphire, take the child! Both of you, go.
What about you?
I’ll handle it.
As La Llorona watched, Sapphire swept the child to safely and she turned her anger on Steel. “¡Moriras!”
“Not from your hand.” She tried to shove Steel into the water, but Steel remained unmoving. He looked down at her hands and knocked them away. “I’m harder to kill than an innocent child. I would have thought even you would comprehend that.”
With a screech, the woman winked from sight and only then did Steel remember to start breathing again. Something nagged at his consciousness, but he couldn’t put a finger on it.
I’m here, Steel.
Safe but frightened. We need to take her home.
I agree. I think La Llorona is gone for this evening. Steel rubbed the spot where the woman’s hands had touched him. It felt sensitive, which was odd. He usually only reacted to extreme heat or cold.
The child, her name was Rosa, led the couple down the dusty and heavily rutted dirt road. Overhead, stars began to appear and night insects sang.
“It would be peaceful if it wasn’t for that creature.” Steel continued to massage his chest. “Rosa, has La Llorona always been here?” The child looked at Steel, confused.
Sapphire laughed. “Let me. Rosa, ¿La Llorona siempre ha estado aquí?
“No, ella vino hace muchos años.” Rosa held up three fingers.
“Si.” She pointed. “Esta es me casa.”
A woman appeared in the doorway and she cried out, then ran to meet them, scooping up the child into her arms. “¡Mi Cariño!”
“¡Mama!” Rose hugged her mother.
“She’s fine,” Sapphire said and the woman reluctantly released the girl. “However, La Llorona was ready to carry her away.”
“La Llorona?” She sagged and Steel caught her and helped her inside to a rickety looking chair.
“Yes, I stopped her.”
“You are a hero. You have banished her.” The English was heavily accented but understandable. She turned grateful eyes to Steel, who shook his head slightly.
“No, I fear I just chased her away from a moment.”
An older girl, the one Sapphire had seen earlier, peeked out from the shadows, obviously still terrified.
“You don’t have to worry. We won’t hurt you.”
“We’ve come to rid you of La Llorona, but we need to know some more about her.”
Christina slowly and reluctantly left her sanctuary. “What do you need to know?”
“You speak English very well,” Sapphire said, kneeling before her and resting a hand on her shoulder.
“The Padre teaches us.”
“Rosa tells us that La Llorona has been coming for three years?”
“Si, yes, that is right. It was nearly five years after the Luz Brillante came. It burned the ground and the river started to rage.”
“The Bright Light?”
“And then Papa and all the men in the village, they left to find work. Our crops failed.”
“Christina, where did the Luz Brillante fall? Can you show us?”
Christina turned to her mother and spoke rapidly. Steel glanced over at Sapphire.
She is reluctant to show us. Frightened. There is something else, Steel.
I am detecting abnormal levels of Curium in Christina’s body.
“Te mostraré,” Christina mother said, rising.
“Gracias,” Sapphire said.
“Before we go, I need to talk with you,” Steel said. “Out there.” He nodded to the door.
“All right. Un momento,” she added, holding up a slender finger. She waited until they were both outside in the cool night air. “What’s wrong?”
Steel shook his head and led the way to a shadow-draped spot. “I need to you to check something.” He pulled off his shirt and Sapphire caught her breath. On his chest were two handprints in brown.
“What is that?”
“I was rather hoping you could tell me.” He closed his eyes as Sapphire rested a hand lightly upon one and immediately felt warmth radiating from the spot. He took a breath as she moved to the second bruise.
Sapphire was smiling as Steel opened his eyes. He looked at the fading imprints. “You have nothing to fear.”
“What was it?”
“Would you believe, rust?”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Something combined with your basic elements and rusted them. What makes you rust, Steel?”
“Nothing, normally.” He pulled his shirt back on and settled it in place. “Salt water, electrochemicals, sulfur oxide, noble gases—“
Sapphire interrupted him. “Noble gases?”
“Helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon, and radon,” Steel recited them from memory. It always paid to know what to stay away from.
“She touched you. Did you get any sense that she was different from you or me?”
“Not at all…” Steel trailed off, brow furrowed in thought. “In fact, she was no different that you or I.” His eyes widen with realization. “Sapphire, she wasn’t human.”
“What do you mean?”
“She was an Element, like us.”
“Those properties would indicate a banned Element. Only medium weighs can operate here.”
“Here, Sapphire, yes, but what of another dimension?”
“The river.” Steel snapped his fingers. “That must be the entrance.” He stopped then, his mouth slightly agape. “Oh, no… why didn’t I see this sooner?”
“Steel, you’re frightening me. What’s wrong?”
“Sapphire, she isn’t stealing the children… she’s harvesting them.”
“You… you must be mistaken.”
“I don’t think I am. They come here, how, I don’t know. Perhaps the fabric was already weak here and they saturate the area. The children absorb it more quickly that the adults, possibly because of close proximity. The men have gone to search for work, the women stay inside and take care of the house, but the children...”
“Are left to tend the fields.”
“When the curium reaches a certain level, they send an agent to take them back.”
“To do what?”
“I’d rather not conjecture.”
“I hope you are wrong.” Sapphire looked back at the small house, Christina’s mother in the doorway, wringing her hands.
“As do I.” He followed Sapphire’s gaze. “Are you ready?”
“Not really. What are we going to do?”
“No idea, but I’m hoping someone else will. You go ahead. I’ve got a ‘call’ to make.”
¿Cuándo llegaron las lluvias?” Sapphire asked as she followed the woman through the rutted fields and dried grass.
“Too long. Yet the river still runs rápido.”
Perhaps the river is the source of their power. Steel’s thoughts made their way to Sapphire, even though the man was nowhere in sight. She nodded.
The woman stopped, reluctant to go further. “Aqui.”
Sapphire knelt down and picked up a handful of dirt.
Sapphire’s eyes glowed for a brief moment. Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and smaller quantities of sulfur and other elements…
That’s not naturally occurring.
“Diós mio…” Christina’s mother cried and dropped to her knees, hiding her face. A white shimmering figure approached, the face nearly cadaver like in its appearance.
“Mis hijos,” it wailed.
Suddenly Steel was standing beside Sapphire, a look of determination on his dirt-smeared face.
“Drop the act, we know who and what you are,” he said.
Sapphire chimed in. “How dare you take these children? This isn’t your dimension.”
The figure hesitated, then murmured. “Our dimension is dying. We needed new receptacles.”
“These are children, not organic flasks!” Sapphire was building up a head of steam.
Steel hid his smile as he helped Christina’s mother to her feet. “Run. Lock your door and hide.” She needed no other encouragement. She was gone in a heartbeat.
“Why the children?” Sapphire persisted. “Why do you take the children?”
“The absorption level is nearly twice that of the older vessels. The older sicken too fast and then cease to exist.”
“They’re called humans. This is their planet and their dimension.
“Not for much longer.” She spread her arms. “Soon we will be strong enough to come into this dimension. Soon we will have all that we need and they will be no more.”
“I don’t think so. You contaminated the soil here, that’s true and I’m guessing this was your pilot program, a test to see what would happen. Unfortunately for you, we happened.”
La Llorona laughed. “And what are you?”
“Your worst nightmare.”
She laughed again. “I don’t think so.”
“I do. Where’s your river, La Llorona?”
“What?” She looked around at the water that had slowed to a trickle.
“Something else humans are good for. They, like beavers, are very skilled at dams.”
“You fool! How do I transport home?”
“You don’t. We’ll take you to our bosses. They love to chat with renegade elementals from other dimensions. Or you can take your chances with that.”
The sun peeked up from behind the mountain range and the first shafts of light penetrated the darkness. “No! No!” She began to writhe and scream. She fell and thrashed on the ground. Steel drew Sapphire away.
“What’s happening to her?”
“She’s Helium. Sunlight fuses it. Normally, it would take the death of a star to make the process occur, but I took a chance.”
“I diverted it up stream. It wasn’t hard.”
All that remained of La Llorona was a bubbling pile of liquid. Soon even that had evaporated in the warming rays of the sun.
“What about the people here?”
“With any luck, the levels in the children here will dissipate as they age.”
“What about the ones already gone?”
“Even if we could retrieve them, they would be facing a long and painful death from bone cancer.”
“Did we win, Steel?” Sapphire asked as he kicked dirt over the wet spot.
“It depends very much upon your perception. These people have lost many of their children, but they will live. With a little luck, the remaining ones will be able to recover and grow old. The other dimension will now follow the course set for it and wink from existence. I would say, yes, we won as much as can be reasonably said for a war.”
“Are we at war, Steel?”
“With whom and at what cost?”
“Sadly, there are always casualties in war, but we will always be here to shift the odds in their favor.
Steel smiled. She knew the answer as well as he did. Time would always be their enemy. He held out his hand and she took it. “Let us deliver the news that La Llorona is gone.”
And Time, relentless and tireless, move on, looking for its next battle.