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 25: Homecoming
It was already time to visit Kaminovo Village. Riku felt the exhilaration of returning to the world she’d known, seeing it with new eyes. Emotion washed through her as she watched the landscape blur by through the car window. In spite of her happiness, part of her worried.
It hadn’t been easy to get permission to visit her hometown for the anniversary of her parents’ death. She suspected it had only been approved because she was quickly gaining a reputation. She’d written several times to alert Nadyr of her progress, but his simple responses made light of the months that had been so significant for her.
When she was dropped off in the center of town, her worries abated. About fifty mags lived in the small village, and they were all there to welcome her back. A few remarked that she looked older, and everyone congratulated her on bringing such honor to the village. “One day you’ll be visiting us as a priestess,” a former neighbor said.
The unexpected throng nearly overwhelmed her with questions, and it took time to realize Nadyr was not among the crowd. She wore a smile on her face when they asked about her trials and told her about the special dishes they’d prepared for her.
After a few minutes, she slipped away to find Nadyr. Her home had changed little. Where before the edge of the grazing land had represented the edge of the known world, now it looked very humble indeed. Somehow, this comforted her more than the enthusiastic villagers. Even if she ventured very far away, home was always waiting for her. Finally, she found Nadyr hovering over his meditation stone.
“Hello, grandfather,” she said, bowing formally.
Somewhat sadly, he smiled. “You wonder why I’ve been so hard to contact, right?”
She waited for him to continue.
“I’m sorry, Riku, but you had to realize you could do this on your own. You’ve always been a little timid. I thought if you realized how much you could do, nothing could stop you. I’m very proud of you, my dear.”
She gave way to tears and interrupted his stance with a hug.
The feast was spirited and nostalgic. Each neighbor brought out their best recipes, and despite the mournful anniversary, Riku’s mood was cheerful. After trying to adapt to Mitchlum’s food, she had to fight her tears again when she tasted some of her old favorites.
The festivities went on for hours, and she quickly found herself easing back into her old, carefree mindset. There were stories, music and dances, and she was asked to recount her experiences. She found time to play with the other children and remembered the freedoms she’d enjoyed on the farm before becoming an initiate.
She slept well but, when she awoke, her heart was somber. The whole village headed to the site of the battle from years before, where her parents had lost their lives. The grotto-le had left scars upon the land, and a few ruins still lingered under blankets of dust. Many headstones of the fallen lay there, as well as the small shrine to Nadyr’s god. Nadyr led the procession, and Riku followed directly behind him. Gingerly, she placed her gift at the base of her parents’ headstone and lit the incense.
Methodically, Nadyr said some quiet words in front of the other families. Placing a gentle hand on her shoulder, he knelt by her. “I’m sorry you couldn’t grow up with them, Riku. My son would have marveled at what you’ve already accomplished.”
Emotion welled up inside her, then ebbed away. She stood looking down at the shining needle-grass. There was no memory of her parents to fall back on. She hadn’t been able to speak yet when the grotto-le attacked. But she prayed for them all the same. “I hope they’re proud,” she said when she’d finished.
“Child, when you come into your own, I think you may very well have the power to change this world.” His words settled heavily on her, and she was a little surprised when he laughed. “But perhaps that’s too much to think about now. You still have much to learn.” She gave him a hug before joining the final procession.
* * *
The night before Riku’s visit came to an end, a vehicle arrived at Kaminovo Village. The first person Riku recognized was Archie the driver, and then Izzie emerged from the back seat. Burying the urge to greet the priestess joyfully, she stopped at the serious expression on Izzie’s face.
“Riku, I’m sorry to interrupt you like this,” Izzie said, approaching. “I just wanted to say goodbye before I left.”
Riku inched closer, unsure what to think or feel. “What do you mean? Your arm’s still healing.”
Nothing would change Izzie’s mind, she knew from the cold nod she received in response. Sighing, she cast her eyes down.
Izzie knelt and gently raised Riku’s chin. “I know I’m still recovering, but I need to go. My injury only reminds me how much this land needs me. With or without the Council’s approval, I can’t sit by while more people are hurt and more villages destroyed. The gods are leading me toward that goal. But while I’m gone, I need you to protect everyone for me. With your ability, I know you can do it.” She smiled sadly and Riku could no longer resist the urge to hug her mentor.
Riku sniffled quietly until Nadyr’s voice caused her to step back. “What an unexpected surprise, your grace. What brings you here?”
Izzie stood and bowed. “I’m sorry. I was just passing through and wanted to bid your granddaughter farewell. She and I have grown close.”
Riku blushed. She gazed up at Izzie, and the priestess said, “What?”
Nadyr laughed and looked down at Riku with pride. “Though the folk in my village do not often travel past its borders, we hear stories. I’ve always been proud of my granddaughter. But I know I have you to thank for watching over her. So thank you, master priestess, for all you’ve done.” It was Izzie’s turn to blush. “At least stay for a meal. There’s another feast planned for tonight.”
“I’d love to, but I must make haste.” Izzie bowed.
“Let us at least give you a little food for the road. I have a feeling your journey will be a long one. Take care to return. We all need a devoted protector in these times.”
Izzie nodded, unsure what to say. Nadyr simply reached out a hand, and they exchanged ceremonial gestures of farewell.
“I guess a short meal wouldn’t hurt...” Izzie said, lingering with sudden indecision.
Nadyr laughed and led her and Archie inside. The villagers welcomed her warmly. Izzie didn’t stay long, but the memory of the time she had spent accompanied her the rest of her way.
Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich