Echoes From Dust
by L. S. Popovich
|Table of Contents||Glossary|
Chapter 2: Arrival
Underfed livestock ambled in their pens, pulling up glinting spikes of needle-grass and chewing noisily. Like every creature from the Cauterhaugh, their eyes emitted a faint glow. Everyone in Kaminovo Village had blue eyes, and the agate-horned sheep were no different.
After crossing the bridge, Riku glanced over her shoulder at the dwellings congregated behind drooping tourmaline trees. She quickened her pace, shading her eyes from the glare of the reflective plain. If she hurried to the jagged mountaintop, she might glimpse a few fireworks over Mitchlum’s wall before Nadyr started looking for her. Maybe the High Priestess’ daughter would choose another child in the meantime.
It wasn’t until she scrambled through crackling iron leaves and over the first jutting bluff that a shape emerged from the base of the massive wall. She clung with polished gloves to the magnetic side of the cliff and watched the shape pass the edge of sunlight separating the two parts of the world.
She could make out a few details with her sharp eyes. It was the same unusual green vehicle from her memory, trailing dirty tails called “roots.” When she’d seen it up close once, she’d noticed intricate designs in its hull, like the stripes in jasper. At the last arrival, she’d stared at those designs and had forgotten to look at the priestess’ face.
Nadyr had said it was made from wood, which never grew in the Cauterhaugh but made up most of Mitchlum. The movement of the car fascinated her, and the little shadows it released into the air as it flew along. Considering the possibility, she was almost tempted to scamper back to the village, hoping to ride past the shadowline into Mitchlum. Fear supplanted her temptation, though, by the time she reached the peak.
The first few glints of fireworks burst against the dense backdrop of the distant city. Great splashes of fire and shimmering shapes licked the heavy smog out of the air. One after another the rockets cut through the atmosphere and left auras in their dissipating wake.
Fireworks were something she’d always loved. They were ineffective in the eternal sunlight of the Cauterhaugh, but the sun never touched Mitchlum, and she was lucky to live close enough to the shadowline to enjoy them beneath the ceiling of smoke.
For a while, the bright blooms enchanted her, and the booms cascaded into her ears until a chill wind brushed against her smooth, aluminum cheek. In the next moment, an odd smell made her turn her head. Unlike the smells of fields and cattle, it triggered no memories. She slid underneath an overhanging ledge and looked down the other side of the mountain.
Before she could decide what to do, a huge creature swam up gracefully on a blast of wind and floated before her. The creature looked like an unnatural ghost compared to all the cynths she’d encountered in the wild. It was easily bigger than Nadyr’s house and, between its curving talons and glistening teeth, it looked ready to rip through the mountain itself. Its wings were red and tattered, but each feather was razor-sharp. The forelegs were long and mobile, like its neck. It was a figure out of a nightmare.
Organic material was nonexistent in the Cauterhaugh, she knew, but it seemed to her that the wings were connected to the body by a webbing of soft, flexible tissue. Incomprehensible pipes and tubes threaded through its massive ribcage, and in the center of its serene face, bright eyes peered at her.
She trembled and backed away, but the huge thing set itself down on the uneven surface and collapsed into a shapeless unity of light and shadow. All at once, a large woman stood before her, twice as tall as Riku, with veins that glowed for a moment before the wings receded.
Riku barely recognized the priestess, like a shape from a half-forgotten dream, with features composed of the foreign organic material of Mitchlum but with familiar bits and pieces mixed in. Modifications, armor, and the strange tattoos of the priesthood covered her from shoulders to toes. She had long, powerful legs and wore a clean, gold-trimmed tunic.
The Priestess smiled kindly and reached out a hand. “Young One, come into the light. The god in me led me to this ridge. We bypassed your village and found you. Were you hiding because you’re scared to be chosen?”
Riku couldn’t answer. She only looked away in despair.
The woman’s eyes glinted patiently. The eyes were mesmerizing because they didn’t seem to be of just one color or substance but were independent living things.
“You saw me transformed into a beast a moment ago,” the woman continued. “No doubt it scared you. But don’t be afraid. The beast is an extension of my god, and my god wishes you no harm.”
“You’re the High Priestess’ daughter,” Riku stuttered and bowed, signing the symbol for reverence with her fingers. She couldn’t help but notice one of the priestess’ arms, which was artfully composed of various metals. She wondered if every organic in Mitchlum wore such modifications.
“There’s no need to be formal. I find no fault in you. The god in me is the one who chooses. That’s why I came straight here instead of going to your village. Your will is strong, and you will come to Mitchlum.”
“C-Can I say goodbye to Nadyr?” she whimpered. Oily tears polished her solid blue eyes.
“Let’s go to the village together. We’ll present you as the chosen one. Dry your tears. I’m sure Nadyr will be charmed. Is he your father?”
“No. He’s a priest and my grandfather. My parents died before I was old enough to remember...” Riku wiped her eyes with shaking hands.
“Then we shall surely speak to him. Come, child. You may call me Izzie.”
Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich