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Echoes From Dust

by L. S. Popovich

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Chapter 30: Relic

The buildings of Waypoint Town were brightly decorated. Ceremonial emblems hung from archways and roofs. Day by day, monks and pilgrims burned ornamental money in reverence to their lost loved ones. Commoners traveled in groups. Some were on their way to Dust, others were fleeing or seeking respite from their travels. General sentiment was against the Council, and the Fjord was held in superstitious fear.

Izzie did her best not to provoke the villagers’ political hatred, but the fact that none of them criticized her openly was a source of annoyance. Those who had lost everything to wild grotto-le existed in a perpetual state of acceptance. To them, hardship was simply a part of life.

After constant journeying and battle and the regular rituals of the Council, Izzie’s stay in Waypoint Town was uneventful. But whenever she meditated, the god within her thrummed uncomfortably.

Virgil’s words had stirred her curiosity. He was an old man who could see the form of his god, and a monk, moreover. Izzie had limited ability to communicate directly with her own deity. Much of her life she had proceeded by vague impressions and only glimpsed the great god’s image briefly in the depths of meditation. Perhaps an inner resistance prevented her from getting in touch with the god’s deeper insights. All the same, the instincts of her god ignited her fury and allowed her to tap inhuman strength.

Feelings of reluctance and remoteness emanated from the vague shadow within her. Hours of meditation ended in frustration. The rest of the time, she explored the town in search of the relic. There were very few shops and farmers in town. Instead of cultivating their livelihood, many of the resident monks relied on itinerant traders who made rounds from one end of the Cauterhaugh to the other. It was a hard and dangerous life, collecting and transferring goods, but it was a common one.

Under a shaded gazebo, she spread out her mat and closed her eyes. Without realizing it, she slipped into a dream.

Dreams visited her rarely, at least the ones she remembered. Most often, she dreamed of battle. This time, she recognized a place from her childhood. The trip to Dust had ended in tragedy. The image of her father was an indistinguishable blur, but her mother’s youthful appearance stood out. Izzie had undergone the journey in her sleep more than once, but she had always wakened in a cold sweat before arriving at the destination. Whatever had occurred there had been too horrible for her mind to relive in its entirety, and her mother would not speak of it. One image that recurred was a beast without shape, something unimaginable, tearing people to shreds.

Izzie was bathed in sweat when she finally pulled herself out of the nightmare. When she opened her eyes, she was too distraught to notice the god before her, but the presence of Virgil’s god finally sank in. Its eyes no longer flowed with fire, but were gentle and expressive. It regarded her with gruff patience.

She started back. “You made me have that nightmare, didn’t you?” she finally whispered.

The creature began to walk away, sunlight glinting off its back. The muscles of its four limbs shifted.

“If you’re going to give me visions, can’t you at least explain what they mean?”

The god glanced back at her and continued on. Aggravated, she rose from the mat and followed it. She looked around her; there didn’t appear to be any curious onlookers. Everyone was going about their daily routine.

The god led her past the town border of crooked gypsum cypresses, tinted pale yellow by the waning sun. Within a few minutes, they were in a dense forest. The god pranced in front of her with taunting ease. Fighting through the growth was always difficult after departing the beaten path. The god had no trouble jumping, squeezing, and sliding through the mess of tangled minerals, but Izzie quickly wished she had brought her staff.

Abruptly, she scrambled into a nearly inaccessible clearing. It was barely large enough for the both of them to stand, and the canopy was so low she had to bend down. In the middle, a natural passage led underground. Overcome with interest, she paused, realizing that Virgil’s god had vanished. She only hesitated a moment before going inside.

The cramped path led steeply down. Straining her eyes, she proceeded. Pulsing light coating the sleek walls of the cavern. Her heartbeat quickened. She slid deeper on the uneven footing. Instead of widening, the walls changed texture and color; they became striated with intermingled rock and metal. Her eyes darted over the strange patterns, and she was reminded of the peculiar look of the catacombs, where organic and inorganic materials had a way of losing their definition.

She looked toward an eerily familiar radiance further down and felt her pulse respond to its rhythm.

Reaching the bottom, she was underwhelmed. The cave extended into a small hollow with nothing in it except a rusty sword hilt wedged into a crack in the wall. She entered the chamber. The bioluminescence dimmed until she could barely make out the relic. Yet, the feeling of familiarity never left her. Her heart began to race. The god in her was poised and attentive. Cautiously, she stepped toward the glowing hilt. Again, she hesitated, but her god urged her with increasing force.

Her hand shook as she reached toward the handle of the ancient sword. It only took a brush of her finger. In the moment of contact, she felt the tension within her burst. Her mind was severed from her body. The connections securing her physical and spiritual forms dangled amid vast nothingness. She felt her consciousness fade. Her ears could hear her mouth scream, but her body acted on its own. The scream became a roar and her awareness vanished.

Waypoint Town wakened in a hurry. Many had heard the sound before, but never so close to the village. It was the roar of a grotto-le.

Proceed to Chapter 31...

Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich

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