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.
|Table of Contents||Glossary|
Chapter 21: Faith
Izzie tumbled through the iron branches of a tree and felt one of her ribs crack, but hardly staggered when she stood back up. The grotto-le crouched atop a promontory. It reared up and pounded its chest with a flat claw. Inhaling painfully, Izzie deftly sidestepped its next charge.
“My Lady!” a neophyte called.
Izzie held out a trembling hand, letting him know to keep his distance. If she couldn’t handle it, there was nothing anyone else could do. Typically, the fight would’ve been over quickly, but the grotto-le attacked with blinding speed. Her focus wavered, and she’d had difficulty maintaining her beast-form. Since her talk with Remera, her curiosity about the grotto-le had only grown. The encounters were no longer simple affairs.
A loud roar brought her back to the fight, and she ducked under a hurtling tree just in time. Mustering her determination, she darted for the staff she’d dropped. Her fingers grasped the finely carved petrified wood. Before her blow could connect, her sight exploded into a field of stars and she found herself skidding across the forest floor. While she managed to hold onto her weapon this time, blood flowed from her bottom lip.
The beast roared and showboated, toppling one tree after another, giving her just enough time to get to her knees. She tried again to channel the god, but her strength flowed out, replaced by bitter weariness, and for once, a lump of dread. Gritting her teeth, she pulled the sash from her waist and wrapped her organic arm. The sash was woven of strong, bright red material, but it offered meager protection. The beast regarded her, stalking in slow circles. Its smooth joints creaked and its sharp titanium fangs gleamed.
The beast lunged for her raised arm, and she caught the fangs in an upward sweep, and swung her legs around its throat. Screaming in pain, she channeled the strength of the god in one burst. With one solid thrust she jammed the staff from the side, puncturing both of the creature’s eyes. It jerked and groaned. She listened to the shuddering mechanisms of its simple brain creak to a stop.
Ripping her arm loose, she spat a wad of blood onto a bright yellow stump. She wiped warm petroleum from her face with her modified arm. Her other arm hung uselessly at her side, little more than dangling shreds of muscle and bright fabric.
Silently, she breathed a sigh of relief. For a moment, she’d thought her god would let her die, but it was another test of faith, she decided. Her work was done, and she was alive.
Now that her god had stirred, the lust for battle still raged. A group of neophytes ran to her, but she waved them away. Though fear and confusion played across their faces, they dared not disobey. She wanted to give herself time to wrestle with the fire god.
The god pulsed like a second heartbeat. Slowly, it pushed its way into her mind, eclipsing her pain and dizziness... All she could do was breathe heavily and keep herself rooted to the spot.
Then something was behind her. Her god retreated once again.
A strong, stifling wind billowed and she inhaled a gritty, sulfurous powder. Not only was she completely drained, but she was frozen by a fearful awareness that she was not alone. Could it be another grotto-le?
Before she turned around, the thing silently circled into her line of sight and sat.
It was too small to be a grotto-le, she thought, but it was like no cynth or kirin she’d ever seen. It waited silently, watching her, dazzlingly strange with its mysterious eyes and green stripes. Most unusual of all, it was covered in fine hairs, thicker than the spotty hides of kirin, but uniformly smooth in shape. The lean muscle underneath was apparent, and its long, triangular face gazed not with fear or anger but with understanding. The proud, fierce eyes burned with white-hot light. The fact that it did not attack made her question its purpose even more. For several seconds, its stare unsettled her.
A neophyte ventured toward it a single step, and the thing turned its head and issued a low, ominous growl, like the promise of a coming storm. In the next instant, her god seemed to send a strong current through her, and for a moment she felt rage again. The creature cast one last glance before loping into the forest. She followed it with her eyes, marveling at the grace with which its feet barely touched the striated seams of metal in the hills. Where it had been, the footprints had liquefied, softened and steamed, and a few seconds later, organic moss sprouted from them.
She collapsed, and the neophytes converged to aid her. In her mind, she could still see the thing that had watched her fight. She watched the mysterious creature change, saw its legs unfold, saw the fire in its eyes run up its elongating face until they were arching horns of flame. It blinked once before gazing toward a distant mountain, past the vast and impassable forests of the Cauterhaugh, and then it simply dissolved into the sunlight.
“My Lady!” Their voices sounded far off. “I think she’s in shock.”
“We need to get her back at once for purification and repair.”
“Did you see that?” she asked quickly, talking through a mouth full of blood.
“Yes, you were terrific, my Lady, but right now we need to get you back to Mitchlum,” a neophyte said.
She lost consciousness while she was being lifted, and vague questions buzzed through her mind. She had only been sure of one thing: the strange new being had wanted her to follow it to the mountain.
Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich