The wind had changed.
It carried the snap of gunpowder in the nose, the smear of soot in the mouth, the grit of boot-churned loam between the teeth. The new wound in the skin of White Ridge bled watchful danger into the air.
News streamed downwind.
As night fell, insects began to creep back over the sand and bravely tap, tap, tap the cooling ground with outstretched feelers. They tasted fire. They picked their way on.
Two Beasts climbed the rise slowly, side by side and silent. They placed themselves down at the base of a pillar. Their long bowed limbs went still as stone, one by one, and the darkness dissolved their shapes amid the jumble of wind-torn rock. They disappeared. They watched and listened.
The old smells of sand and bush were burnt, smeared over with mankind’s smell. The ground was squared and cut and tied in pieces by rope and flag.
Voices floated in the air, the colors of storm and stress. A dog barked. Steam of stew, kerosene fume, rattle of chain, jitter of screwcap. Tiny lights bobbed in the sand pit. Boxes, hinges. Click of locks. Click of gun.
Sky pieces they had, picked from the mountain’s scar, laid out side by side. Metal cold now but still smelling of strange heavenly fire. Glitter of edge, hum of electric lamp. Human eyes scanned the ridge and the sky, human heartbeat fluttered. Slow steps and a thumb on a holster.
A gunshot shook the air, and the bones in the chest, but without pain. A whistle far afield. Shouts. The two Beasts huffed steam into the air, and took the hint, and retreated behind the pillar.
A keening was in the wind. A warning.
The Beasts’ clever fingers twitched for the hinges, locks, twisted glittering edges, glass and iron and the metallic dust of stars. Number and fire and metal may belong to man, but star and mountain and wind did not; and bent blade, rusted pipe, smoking coal and broken bottle always fell to the right of the toughest grip willing to hold them. Let the men scrabble and count for now.
The Beasts looked over their shoulders, then melted down from the ridge and were gone. They took the news with them.
They would wait. They would not wait long.