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Echoes From Dust

by L. S. Popovich

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Chapter 18: The Bazaar

Riku lost count of the trials. Once her fears were mitigated by her newfound ability, the other initiates gained confidence in her, and strategy became central to her thoughts. Once she’d learned of her power, she began to believe in the possibility of being chosen by a god.

Every day she watched trials with Telos, and discussed different ways one might survive in the hostile Cauterhaugh. She imitated one cynth call after another, and the essential qualities of her voice were distilled through practice. Each time she faced a cynth, new curiosity blossomed within her. She threw herself into her studies with more zeal. The more she read, the more knowledge she found missing from her head. Before entering the cloister, her conception of the world had been childish and limited to what she could see from the top of the nearest hill. Slowly, her experiences solidified into an embryo of confidence.

The trials kept her so busy that she didn’t miss Nadyr most of the time. Occasionally, she stargazed on the verandah and wondered how he was getting along. A few letters from him arrived, and though there was nothing unexpected in them, they were still a comfort.

By and by, she graduated to more advanced classes. In her free time, she and Telos were granted leave to explore outside the cloister. One of their favorite haunts was the river Ij, and the downtown markets. In every market in Mitchlum, mags and voyin mingled in a perpetual congestion of bodies, jostling through narrow lanes amid the clanging bells of itinerant salesmen.

Riku and Telos explored and bought trifles with the coins they received for doing chores in the cloister. When there was so much work to do in the compound — mopping floors and dumping out trash bins — a few hours wandering through the streets rejuvenated them.

Telos warned her that the same rules applied, whether they were in the cloister or in the city proper. In fact, any trouble they got into outside would be punished more severely when they returned. Therefore, they were on their best behavior, browsing the bookstalls and purchasing sweets.

By the river Ij they sat on a weedy hillock and watched the skiffs chug by, thrusting through the grayish water. In the deep river bottom, huge shadows played. They were wild kirins, swollen aquatic creatures that occasionally flashed a fin or tail above the surface.

Riku picked up a fallen leaf. Old husks of abandoned buildings swayed in the breeze. They would teeter for years until they finally toppled. She examined the texture of the leaf, which had flaked off and tried to scurry toward the river, where millions of flashing chips of Mitchlum paint and oily leaves flowed by in a glassy soup. Its texture was fine and smooth against her finger, malleable and fascinating. The trees in the Cauterhaugh had been so solid, and their leaves so brittle. She imagined that a cluster of the soft organic leaves, sewn together, would make a fine shirt.

Telos laughed when Riku explained her idea. “I’d ask you to tell me more about the Cauterhaugh,” Telos said, “but I’m determined to see it for myself.”

“You’ve really never gone outside Mitchlum?” Riku asked, jabbing the stem of a fungus jutting from the mossy ground.

“One day, they’ll have to let me out of this metropolis,” Telos said. “I’ll prove I can handle the grotto-le. Even now, the Cauterhaugh doesn’t scare me.”

“They’re just making sure you’re ready.”

Telos cast her eyes to the smoke-colored sky. There were many kids in the cloister — the ones well on their way to becoming priests — who’d gone on missions and excursions into the Cauterhaugh. Some never returned.

“Reconnaissance never ends,” Telos said. “They send out teams to survey the wilderness, to find treasures hidden in the ruins of the wasteland, and there is always peril. An endless number of monsters. They devour everything in their path, whatever humans throw at them...”

Riku smiled. So many times she’d had her own romantic notions about the mysterious world. It was heartening to hear Telos express similar sentiments.

Proceed to Chapter 19...

Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich

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