It was a clear midnight. Rays of moonlight reflected off of the big drops of sweat rolling down Lorelei’s face. Her shoulders rose and fell rapidly as she panted and rested the head of her hammer on the stony dirt ground. One of her small hands came up to wipe some of the sweat away from her face, a hand that she quickly wiped on her dress after the fact.
She let out a sigh, took a look at her hands, and slowly touched the tender calluses that had started to form. Stone was difficult to work with, she thought with a groan before completely dropping her hammer and squatting down to pick up two of the better shaped boulder shards. She flipped them and observed them closely and nodded to herself only after she was satisfied with them.
Finally, she sat down cross legged on the ground and started to strike the bigger shard with the smaller one. It would be a long time before she had anything workable, but she knew that patience was one of the biggest parts of life as a tinkerer, and stone tools weren’t known for being fast to make.
Little by little, strike by strike, the true shape of her new tool began to reveal itself. She didn’t even let the sudden scent of smoke disturb her work, reacting to it by quickly donning on her gas-filtering visor.
“What are you crafting?” Core-Verdin’s voice came over shoulder, the moon glinting off the metallic scars that carved the left side of her face. Her words came with tiny puffs of smoke.
Lorelei stopped striking the stone shard and turned towards Verdin, the only features of her face that were visible behind her dark blue visor being her glowing golden irises. She knew this because she could see her own reflection in the visor.
“I-I’m making a hammaxe. I need to use it instead of W-White’s hammer, since I don’t wanna waste my metal tools when I finally get outta h-here.”
“You could use our tools if you like.” Verdin crouched next to Lorelei, examining her handiwork. “Just don’t grind any metal flakes and start inhaling them, not that I think even that would do anything.”
Lorelei chuckled and dropped the two shards of stone.
“Ok! I-I hate stone anyway. I’ve cut my hands like five times y’know! Not f-fun.” She said and stretched, her tail swishing behind her contentedly as she stood up. “I-I need an axe, a hammer, a knife, a c-chisel maybe… Lots of pointy things!”
“We’ll be shaping stone soon, so we just had some of those made, actually.” Verdin furrowed her brow. “Say Lorelei.” Her lisp was ever-present. “I have a question.”
The girl perked up “Yeah? W-What is it?”
“I noticed you have a bit of a stutter,” Core-Verdin said. “Have you thought about removing it?”
“Uh..” Lorelei deflated a little and twiddled her thumbs, thankful that her visor was there to cover her grimace and blush. “Y-Yep… I can’t h-help it though. ”
“All it takes is exercise, and I think I might have a form of speech exercise that could help you strengthen your words.” Verdin stood up and looked down at the young girl. “Interested?”
“W-What?! You do?” Lorelei pumped her fists in the air and nodded, “L-Let’s do it! I like e-exercise!”
“Great!” Veldin brought her hands together. “You’ll be running messages between the soldiers and bringing equipment to those who need it. In return, you’ll have a lot of exposure talking with us and using your words — also you can use our tools and other equipment as you wish.”
“Yes! A mission for me!” Lorelei jumped over to Veldin’s side and stiffened her body, “A-Awaiting orders. Beep.”
“Follow me to the others,” Veldin smirked before setting off, Lorelei having to practically jog to keep up. The recusant flickered her eyes down to Lorelei for a moment. “You used to fight the drones, yeah?”
“I-I tinkered with them. The others did t-the smashing.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Um, so… W-White, Gray, Black and Brown w-would leave the butcher’s every couple d-days or so. Y’know, to look for food or water or other things w-we needed. Sometimes they’d c-come across drone squads which they’d have to t-take out immediately. They had to destroy them fast because if they were given e-enough time to transmit thoughts back to the Boss, h-he’d send one of the Primes to us and then… Yeah…”
“Anyway, every f-few days they’d return with uh… Piles! Piles of scrap! And tell me to sort through it. I got a lot of burns and cuts b-by doing it, but I found out about the Cores, and managed to build and maintain the Astawhacker too from Core shards. ” Lorelei looked at Veldin’s face briefly, then explained herself better. “I-It was a pointy mace kinda thing. You pierce a Neuron’s outer shell with it a-and press the trigger, and it makes the juice running through the drones go stale. It was pretty cool.”
Verdin bit her finger as she thought. “Interesting. A noticeable weakness for sure. vWhat other damages are they susceptible to?”
“Umm… Dunno. C-Crushing? Maybe blunt weapons? They’re made of metal, so… They’re very tough, y’know. They shoot little pellets that can go through normal metal, too… So W-White’s suit had plates of undergrounder materials sewn into it.”
“Ha!” Verdin made a mocking face. “I won’t have to worry about that as much, I think, but regardless — the welders are making chest plates for us. Core-Orphi is especially skilled in welding, too.”
Looking over at Lorelei, Verdin gave a half smile, to which Lorelei responded with a hidden grin of her own. “Thank you for your information, I think you’ll be a valued member of the team.”
Already a square perimeter of stones marked Orphi and her brother’s workshop off from the rest of the fortress. Of course it was only separate in theory, but Orphi had already taken to it, only using the spot where the entrance will eventually be to enter and exit the marked space — a habit which Lorelei seemed intent on avoiding.
Orphi was currently standing over a blackmetal bench, tongue bit between her black teeth as she concentrated. She had her mask on, so no part of her was visible, as she often wore when Lorelei was around — her anxiety about infection a bit greater than Verdin’s. Even so, she had no issue with the small suited up little catgirl watching her work — so long as no welding was going on.
“What are y-you doing now, Orphi?” Lorelei asked, standing on the tips of her toes to look at what Core-Orphi was tinkering with on her workbench.
“Something to help with precise cutting for fabrics and cloth,” Orphi explained as she held up a small single edged blade fitted with a curling handle and a small hole punched where the blade met the handle. “I’m going to connect this knife with another opposite blade using a metal peg, so when you press both handles in, it creates a shearing motion as the two blades rub against each other.” Lorelei’s tail swished curiously as she listened.
“Scissors?” The girl asked with a subtle tilt of her head.
“O-Orphi-cutters,” the inventor quickly said. “But I do like the sound of scissors.” She looked down at her work.
“I bet Core-Verdin can’t even say scissors.”
“Lorelei.” Cosi-Dern’s voice came from behind. Turning, the two tinkerers were presented with the blank mask of the commander, with Naulty behind him. He folded his arms. “I was hoping we could do your debriefing.”
Lorelei’s ears flicked a couple times before she nodded. “Sure! What’s a d-debriefing?”
“It’s when you report on your duties and explain everything you learned,” the Cosi explained. “You lived in Astalon for the first part of your life; it would help us immensely if you could recount it…”
A short bout of snickering came from behind Lorelei’s visor, followed by the girl skipping up to Dern’s side and looking up at him excitedly. “You wanna know? I’ll tell you e-everything. Everything! S-so the earliest thing I remember is the smell of s-smoke and burning tuna…”
Lorelei is flint knapping throughout the night trying to craft herself some backup tools, when Core-Verdin shows up and talks to her, eventually telling her that she can use the Recusant’s tools and also offering her a mission as a messenger for the Keltran Recusant. Ssme time later, a fully suited up Lorelei’s watching Orphi while she’es doing some welding, only for Cosi-Dern to approach and prompt her to recount her entire life, which Lorelei does with pleasure.
No vigour spent.