Echoes From Dust
by L. S. Popovich
In the Cauterhaugh, lifeforms and even the landscape are composed of synthesized metals, and beasts called cynths ravage the dwindling human settlements. Riku is a Mag, an inorganic human born in this harsh and unforgiving land.
Riku has grown up hearing stories about Mitchlum, a metropolis of habitable trees and the bastion of the Priesthood, which channels divine powers in defense against the encroaching cynths. Riku is chosen to undergo the sacred trials, assume a priest’s mantle and protect her homeland. Everyone has high expectations for her, but her destiny is hers to decide.
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Chapter 16: Desolation
Every time Izzie visited the Fjord, her resentment bubbled to the surface. The Council’s disregard for the villages scattered throughout the Cauterhaugh was criminal, she felt. The dejans were content to let unprepared priests deal with the increasing threats that poured out of the wilderness.
There must be an answer to the problem. More than her anger, she felt frustration, that she and her god were powerless. No matter how many grotto-le she defeated, there would still be an endless number waiting in the wings. The solution didn’t lie in training more priests. And she could be in only one place at a time. The migrant peoples crawled across the barren world, but their endless search for security was as fruitless as the windblown tinselweed’s. What would happen if she did step aside to sit in on Council meetings? Would the Cauterhaugh’s population peter out? These questions plagued her.
A vehicle would’ve made the terrain more navigable, but Izzie preferred her beast-form for longer distances. If the Council found out she transformed to fly from place to place, they’d have a meltdown, she figured. The idea of never returning to her normal shape was tempting. When the brilliant power of her god took over, she gave up her body willingly. But her duties to the Council always dragged her back to reality.
After a while, she crested a hill and spotted a loose collection of ruined buildings.
Izzie greeted an old woman as cheerfully as she could. It was hard to maintain her composure in the face of what she saw.
A tray of incense drew a jagged trail of smoke through the air. The woman swayed in front of a polished obsidian idol.
“This is not a proper shrine,” Izzie said, staring at the crude black statue.
“It is from a shrine in a cave, in a place called Kazan, where the stones release dark vapor. A priest retrieved this idol after his town was destroyed. In that place now, fires erupt from the ground. The priest entrusted us with his god’s image before he died.”
“It has been displaced,” Izzie said. “It can only invoke the god’s wrath.” She leaned toward the statue, which glowed in the light of the candles.
Not much was left of the village, and an unbreathable haze lingered in the air. The earth had been rent with deep, smoldering gouges. It was sickening to imagine how powerful the grotto-le had been.
“What happened here?” Izzie asked.
The old woman began to weep. “It’s too late...” she stumbled out of the marble pagoda and crossed the rubble strewn road.
Izzie stepped out and surveyed the slate-colored sky. Her sharp eyes saw the thin wisps of a huge grotto-le, flapping its wings in the upper atmosphere. It was headed elsewhere, and there was little chance she’d be able to catch up with it. There was no sign of a resident priest, and ominous smoke rose from cracks in the ground. The homes were toppling over minute by minute, and a trembling fear consumed the straggling townsfolk. A few mags huddled next to an open trench, from which sparks rose.
“This town doesn’t have long. I’ll send a priest to escort you to a safer area. He’ll take you into those jasper hills to the east.” She pointed. “Three days’ walk along the base of the amethyst mountains, you’ll find a large settlement.”
“Won’t you take us there now?” the old woman pleaded.
“Other colonies require my attention.”
“This is the fourth town I have lost.”
Izzie regarded her with annoyance, and followed to the edge of a ravine, glittering with rivulets of magma. “That’s where most of the folks in the village now lie.” The old woman pointed a crooked finger into the gaping crevice.
Izzie stared down in horror. A hundred bodies were heaped on the bottom, some of them melted into misshapen phalanxes. A pool of black oil burned furiously beneath it.
She thought frantically: This can’t go on...
Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich