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Echoes From Dust

by L. S. Popovich

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Chapter 17: Scars

Traveling through the Cauterhaugh, Izzie rarely found time to sleep.

The grotto-le were always on her mind. Where did they all come from? What drove them into the path of civilization instead of the wide-open plane? These were the questions she wished Remera would answer. But her mother’s research never touched the heart of the problem and served only to illustrate the ineffective measures of the Council.

It took only two or three encounters for Izzie’s body to wear out. When she couldn’t make it back to Mitchlum on her own, neophytes arrived in a vehicle to cart her back. That was all they were good for in the end.

How long have I been at it? Izzie wondered. Voyin priests didn’t typically go on pilgrimages, since the climate of the Cauterhaugh was better suited to the inorganic bodies of mags. More often, they were employed in the cloisters of Mitchlum or the administrative levels of the Fjord.

Mag priests, on the other hand, left the cloisters to go wayfaring until they came upon a struggling village. There were times Izzie considered her life a pilgrimage. But no matter where she arrived, time after time, she was still in the midst of her journey. Restlessness prevented her from settling for long. She followed the command of the Council, or if that failed, the will of her god.

Though hers was the god of fire, she was no longer excited by the endless battles of the untameable Cauterhaugh. When she wasn’t chasing monstrosities, her mind hearkened back to a quieter time in her life. Most if the time it came up blank. Her troubled childhood, her mother had once explained, had worn away her precious early memories. All that remained was the duty of the priesthood and the presence of the god. If there hadn’t been a huge wall in her mind, blocking out the memories of her life before the trials, she believed she might have found solace.

Her god had always cleared a path in front of her. The dejan taught that true priests exemplify aspects of certain gods. Other people believed human beings were counter-agents to the gods. Many blasphemous beliefs existed in the Cauterhaugh, and no matter how hard the Council tried, its influence could never reach everyone.

Sometimes, when she looked at her reflection, she saw the vessel that she was and had trouble finding herself inside the image. The dark eyes, steady but soft, like clouded crystal, showed very little emotion. Her modified features were expertly assimilated. Over the years, she’d honed the use of her artificial arm until it was simply an extension of her body.

A neophyte priestess who dressed her wounds and polished her modifications had once remarked about her scarred body. “I’m always amazed,” she’d said, massaging Izzie’s shoulder with supple hands. The shoulder was pitted and crosshatched with layer upon layer of scars, as craggy as soil that had been furrowed and plowed for many seasons. The woman lathered on a mixture of ointments, covering her whole, blistered back, and sighed. “So many scars. It’s a shame.”

“Would you please be quiet?” Izzie had said harshly.

“A thousand apologies, my lady,” the woman had replied meekly.

When her flexible artificial arm was removed, her teeth were always on edge. If she had to wait for her wounds to heal, she felt anxious. Though her body was always tired and strained, her spirit never faltered. The god in her was like an eternal flame. When her shattered limbs hung uselessly at her sides, she would often go on fighting.

“Remera could always erase those scars for you, you know,” Ovid told her once. Every time he appeared, there was some brand-new aspect to his person, a shiny modification that stood out garishly.

“Erase my scars?” Izzie asked suspiciously. “I’d rather carry them proudly.”

Uncomfortable under her disdainful stare, Ovid only shrugged.

Practicing her breathing technique allowed Izzie to clear her mind of discord. One of the core teachings of the priesthood was communing with one’s inner god. When she summoned the presence to her mind, just as in the heat of battle, the awareness of her body dissolved completely.

With her eyes closed, she visualized the astral plane, where she was nothing more than a floating orb. The magnificent god emerged into view, great wings folded, claws gripping the edge of a precipitous peak above a valley of dense shadows and drifting dust.

Proceed to Chapter 18...

Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich

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