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Echoes From Dust

by L. S. Popovich

Table of Contents   Glossary

Chapter 8: Wormoros

On the day of Riku’s first trial, the mag named Yusa and two boys named Arbit-mon and Far-fortell led her onto the field. Riku was surprised to see patches of silver needle-grass and smooth hills of magnetite. From what she could tell, the arena resembled her part of the Cauterhaugh. She recognized the colors and materials she’d known since birth, just as much a part of her home as her body, down to the tiny geodic flaws in her porcelain covering. But this hardly reassured her. Her hands began to tremble before she set foot in the arena.

Yusa appeared calm and confident. The boys weren’t nervous either, but Riku’s breath came in quick, panicky gasps.

“Quit breathing so loud,” Arbit-mon whispered. “I’m listening for the cynth.”

“Mags always breathe loudly,” Yusa said. “It’s just the way we are.”

“Shut up, both of you!” Far-fortell said. A large, crooked scar ran across his angry face, skirting both eyes and ending at his chin. A single spiked trail of platinum-colored hair stood out from his skull.

“There it is. What a joke,” laughed Arbit-mon. Riku jumped. Thirty meters away she could see the bulbous head of a wormoros, a common and familiar cynth, emerging from a pile of loose gravel. “This is going to be stupidly easy,” Arbit-mon said.

The long creature flowed out continuously, its wet plastic sacs of oil spreading every second. The three others ran toward it. Riku found her feet bolted to the spot. Yusa looked over her shoulder at her and scoffed.

What happens if they do everything? Riku wondered. Will I get in trouble? She could make out Telos’ distinct shape in the viewing seats behind the high window. Telos was sitting on the bottom row. Riku’s mind raced. She’d never done anything like this before.

Her allies stabbed the wormoros with sharp feldspar sticks. It writhed and screeched, flopping about helplessly. Maybe it was all the time she’d spent with livestock, but Riku felt sorry for it, and didn’t understand the cruelty of destroying wild animals who attacked only when they were frightened. She identified with it, abstractly, as they gouged it in a frenzy.

Tears ran down her cheeks.

A moment later, she noticed a rustling in the foliage nearby. One of the hills slid slowly forward. Something like it had once appeared in Kaminovo Village. Nadyr had snuck up with an ebony axe and smashed it to pieces. The memory frightened her because of the way he’d reacted. He’d given it no chance to threaten the village. “Don’t move a muscle,” he’d said. “It feels your footsteps under the surface and can suck you right under.”

“Help!” she cried, pointing to the unassuming bronze mound inching toward her.

The others were having too much fun. She yelled several times, but they paid little attention to her cries amid the squeals of the wormoros.

Her stomach boiled with anxiety, and she couldn’t decide if it was better to run or stay perfectly motionless. The giant worm continued to uncoil out of the ground, like an endless, harmless toy.

The hollow shell of the creature in front of her flipped open, and a thousand deadly spines protruded. She screamed in terror, so loud that the others stopped dead. Immediately, they left the wormoros where it lay, bleeding a river of black petroleum, and sprinted to the rescue.

The creature reared up, concealing its spiny back, and then turned toward them. For a brief moment, she thought about dashing in the other direction but remembered Nadyr’s warning.

“What is that thing?” Far-fortell cried.

“The wormoros was just a distraction,” Yusa said. “I’ve never seen it before,”.

Riku felt paralyzed but glanced up to the stands at Telos, who was standing and waving her arms. Her words didn’t make it past the window, but Riku thought she understood.

It was already too late. The creature stopped in the shadow of a hill. Its shell was almost indistinguishable from the surrounding boulders. All three of them leapt at once, pounding the shell with chunks of marble and granite. Arbit-mon lunged forward and tried to lever it over with a curved silver branch. But when he got close, the ground under his feet turned to dust, and he sank to his knees. Thrusting the rod out, it clanged harmlessly against the hull. The others paused in bafflement. Then Arbit-mon screamed in excruciating pain. Bubbles rose up the flesh of Arbit-mon’s legs, bursting into turquoise star patterns. The others tried to dig him out. Riku managed to run closer.

When they dragged him from the frothing mud, his legs were nothing more than limp rags. The creature tilted again, shaking out of its sandy bed, stood up on stubby multi-segmented legs, and extended antenna-like eyes at them.

Riku noticed a fan-shaped disc of razor-sharp crystal jutting from a ledge. She called to Yusa and pointed. With a swift kick Yusa detached the crystal and slashed at the creature’s thin legs. It fell into a crouch. She pried up its shell plates and carved into it deeply, until it stopped squirming beneath her.

Panting, Yusa walked past Riku, casting an icy look of hatred, and then helped Far-fortell drag Arbit-mon to the descending platform at the edge of the field.

Deeply mortified, Riku broke into fresh tears and followed.

Proceed to Chapter 9...

Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich

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