Echoes From Dust
by L. S. Popovich
|Table of Contents||Glossary|
Chapter 3: Mitchlum
After saying farewell to Nadyr and the other villagers, shedding a few tears, and petting one or two sheep, Riku stepped into the waiting car. Its interior was like creamy white porcelain, with soft hide seats. The vehicle expanded as it took in air and contracted slightly when it expelled exhaust. The driver was taller and much softer than the inorganic men of the Cauterhaugh.
Izzie sat next to Riku. Her long, dark hair flowed through the air until she shaped it into a ball with her fingers and secured it in a neat clump on the back of her neck.
Riku stared through the transparent skin of the window at the rich landscape zipping by. The car hardly made a sound as it skirted over the ground. She wondered how it flew without magnetism.
“Is it really always dark in Mitchlum?” Riku asked.
“Since it’s always daytime here, it’s always night in Mitchlum,” Izzie said. “At first it’ll be strange for you to leave the Cauterhaugh. But you’ve lived near the shadowline all your life. Another world was always within your view. Now’s the time to venture out and meet your destiny.”
“Will you be with me all the time?” Riku sank into the cushion, feeling its sleek, seamless cheek against her back.
“I won’t be with you for long, Young One. The High Priestess requires many things of me. And there are thousands of other villages in the Cauterhaugh. It’s only because you’re near the shadowline that I happened upon yours. But now that we’ve found you, there won’t be another arrival in your town for quite some time.”
“You mustn’t be shy,” Izzie continued. “A new life awaits. Embrace the strange. In time it’ll become familiar. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about the struggle of becoming a priestess. But being chosen is a profound blessing. Our only salvation.”
Riku sighed. The High Priestess’ daughter spoke exactly like Nadyr. She wondered if she’d talk like that when she grew up, as if something inside her had changed.
Soon the great wall of Mitchlum loomed in the sky. From one moment to the next, the world outside her window darkened. Fuzzy lightning crawled through the sky beyond the curtain of smog. For a moment she was scared, but she glanced at Izzie’s smiling face and felt reassured.
The car passed through lanes of grumbling trucks and endless crowds of people. There were more passersby than Riku could count. They were made of muscle, bone and other things she couldn’t remember the names of. Everything moved differently than in the Cauterhaugh, as if the night-time community was all one big machine. Everyone walked with a purpose, but she couldn’t imagine where most of them were going. Curious, Riku pressed her face against the window, which stretched against her sharp nose and left a pleasant feeling when she drew her face away.
The car pulled into an underground passage. The three of them stepped onto gravel under harsh natural fluorescence, and huge vines reached unexpectedly from the ceiling to grapple the car, lifting it high into a cubbyhole for storage. Riku watched in wonder. How clever the organic buildings of Mitchlum are, she thought.
“It’s a long walk to the cloister,” Izzie said, stretching. “No cars are allowed near it. My driver, Archie, will walk you there. I must attend to other matters.”
“You’re leaving already!” Riku said, on the verge of tears.
“Don’t worry,” Izzie said. “You won’t feel lonely after you’re introduced to the other students.”
The man called Archie led her by the hand through a twisting corridor that shuddered and flexed as if the weight of their steps were pressing upon the belly of a living thing. Riku coughed after taking her first breath of Mitchlum air. Her lungs creaked and grated together within her breast, and she wept a little because she missed the brightness of the Cauterhaugh.
Archie pulled her up a steep staircase that wound around a massive structure, strutted with crooked branches, reaching all the way into the gray clouds and crowned with splendid foliage. The stairs jutted precariously from the side of the round building and spiraled up the trunk. Her stomach knotted when she looked down at the winking lights of idling vehicles and the scurrying hordes of people below. The lights in the receding streets were like frantic, blinking stars in contrast to the stationary stars frozen above the roiling film of smog.
“In darkness you sometimes find life,” Archie said.
“What?” Riku asked, looking up at him.
“In olden times, trees like these needed light to grow.” He patted the wall of the colossal building. “But when the city was swallowed by darkness, life found a way to flourish in it. Of course, we have to paint the leaves green now, otherwise the whole city would be ghostly white.” He chuckled.
Surely no one could ever build something this big, she thought, but the fact of its growth was still surprising. Then she remembered how big the Fjord was supposed to be, reaching from Earth to Heaven, and it had been made by human hands...
The horizon was cluttered with green stalks and topped by bushy clusters of cloud-piercing leaves, rustling in the strong wind. With rasping breaths she begged Archie to rest. She sat on a step, and he patted her back with a massive hand. They were high enough that she could just see over the top of the wall to the magnificent brightness of the Cauterhaugh beyond, where small townships dotted the matte, pale-yellow landscape.
Archie smiled. She noticed he had only one gold tooth. “Would you like me to sing you a song?” he asked. His striped jacket brushed against her. It was made of a material that shone even in the low light of Mitchlum.
“What song?” she sniffled. And he began to sing with a voice as lovely as a bird’s.
From the Fjord one day
We merrily came
With heads full of dreams
And hearts beating gold.
From the Fjord one day
We merrily came.
The heavens spilt wonders,
And grotto-le rose
From ancient slumbers
In Earth’s inner hold,
Where the moon once dwelt.
Now all that remains
Is a moonlit tower.
But with a new name
We’ll go one day
To the Fjord,
One day to the Fjord.
The pleasant tickling of Archie’s words soothed Riku, and she wondered what incredible future lay before her. Gaining strength from his joy, she followed him up the treacherous steps, feeling the great world of Mitchlum all around her like one endless, living creature. She had never dreamt of anything so vibrant.
Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich