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 27: Resting Place
The deeper Izzie traveled into the Cauterhaugh, the scarcer the settlements became. Inorganic jungle intruded upon ill-defined roads and, in places, the foliage melded into huge mountains of slowly cooling metal. Footprints of massive grotto-le scarred the landscape. Expansive herds of cynths traversed the open plains freely. Her injured arm became more flexible with the passing days, though the pain lingered. Whenever she needed to, she stopped for food and rest, before transforming and flying on.
Every so often, she passed the campground of a wandering priest, and sometimes there was a skeleton or two left behind. She ventured further than the Council had ever asked her to go, but she no longer cared what they thought. The only one she felt beholden to was her god, and it wanted her out here.
Her exhaustive search of the maps in the archives had led her to suspect her destination was uncharted. Finally, she made it to an unknown village nestled in the shadow of a large mountain. The town was set against a quicksilver lake at the base of a volcanic ridge. Her keen eyes picked out people moving among the shiny tin buildings. At the edge of the cliffs was a high gate, with tall pillars of bronze, and an avenue of trees with thick jade boles and leaves of scintillating manganese.
The first person she spoke to pointed reluctantly to the village elder, letting her know at once that her presence didn’t constitute a special occasion. Expecting a priest, she came upon a cloaked man instead, a voyin, with long trails of hair. She couldn’t believe a voyin could survive long enough to travel so far unaided in the Cauterhaugh.
“You’re a priestess,” the man said, peering at her curiously. He was frighteningly tall. One of his eyes was missing, but a long curtain of black hair hid the scars from view most of the time. His skin was heavily tanned and callused. “Members of the priesthood rarely come here.”
“May the light shine in you,” Izzie said gruffly. “This town’s pretty unique. I can’t say I’ve been to one like it before.” Though something about the man seemed familiar, Izzie turned to survey the ornate houses, grouped around the central pagoda and the wide street composed of a rich mineral mosaic. Passing townsfolk stopped and whispered.
“This is where traveling outcasts come who wish to make the treacherous journey to the land of Dust. A haven, safe from the eyes of the Council, and protected by a powerful relic.”
Izzie considered for a moment, and then said, “Aren’t you concerned that I’ve stumbled onto your sanctuary? The land of Dust is a forbidden wasteland, said to be too dangerous for human beings. Only hopeless madmen venture there, seeking their own deaths.”
“That is the picture of Dust the world has accepted, but it’s not the truth.”
“Then you have been there?” Izzie asked.
“I have. I’m the guide. The god in me knows the way.”
“The god in you? But you have none of the tattoos or modifications of a priest. How could a god have found you?”
“If you believe the gods are so blind that they cannot see past the false brands, then you have a skewed impression of their power. I’m a monk, and I’ve received no training from a cloister. My experience was forged in the greater crucible of the Cauterhaugh.”
Izzie squinted at the man critically. The so-called monk operated outside the influence of the Council; that much was clear.
Several warriors had assembled behind Izzie’s back, but she only shrugged. “I trust my god has led me here for a reason. But I don’t think it’s in line with the Council’s plans.”
The man smiled. “If you’re intimate with the Council, then the people here won’t take an immediate liking to you.”
“I’ve always disagreed with them, but I belong to the line of the High Priestess.” The man scrutinized her with sudden interest.
“Then you are Izzalia Argos. Your reputation precedes you. Join me in my dojo where we can talk without the blazing sun weighing upon our eyes.”
The man stood. Even Izzie had to look up to see his eyes, and she saw that his clothes were peculiar, composed of rare composite skins and the thick scales of beasts. There were no artificial components to his body, and deep wrinkles emerged upon his skin beneath a coating of fine, white hairs.
Izzie followed him past the wary spectators into a large, squat building with sharp, sloping roofs. The man slid the slate door ajar, turned, and said, “You may call me Virgil.” He extended a hand as rough as pumice stone, and she shook it firmly.
Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich