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 32: Dejans
Remera knew the Council would call an emergency session. It had been no trouble to track Izzie’s movements before, thanks to the technology in her daughter’s robotic implants. She was accustomed to watching over Izzie in the privacy of her inner sanctum, but when Izzie moved beyond the range of the transmitters, Remera had reason to worry.
She opened the doors to the forum and felt stifled by her heavy ceremonial garbs. All the dejans were present. She bowed and signed to everyone in turn with tedious customary acknowledgements and, finally, sat in a sleek hide chair. The voyin faces before her were grim, jowly, and lined with suspicion.
One of them rose to address the gathering. “Sorry to call a session on such short notice, but a serious matter has arisen.” He looked directly at the High Priestess before continuing.
“We all know Izzalia Argos has done great work for the Council. That is why it pains me to relate to you that her humanity has been overpowered by her god.”
The room erupted into chatter. “Overpowered?” Janus blurted anxiously. “What does that mean?”
Remera remained stoically calm on the surface but glanced at Ovid, who sat to her left. “Izzalia has always been a symbol of hope to the people of the Cauterhaugh and Mitchlum alike. However, a grotto-le matching the description of her beast-form has decimated three towns east of the Ugetsu plains. Groups of priests have been briefed and are awaiting dispatch. None of them know the true identity of the one they are hunting. All that remains is final approval.”
Murmurs broke out, and a timid voice piped up from the back of the room. “How could she turn into a grotto-le? It’s unprecedented—”
Another dejan cleared his throat. “The true extent of her powers has always been unknown.”
“The priests don’t stand a chance,” someone muttered.
The replies were drowned in a cacophony of discussion. Remera sighed loudly, then stood.
At once the chatter ceased. “I’ll start with you, Ovid.” She turned to her adopted son, who was the second-highest ranking among them. “Ovid, go to the cloister immediately and retrieve a young initiate named Rikaku. Her abilities will prove invaluable here.
“Ceres” — another priest stood to attention — “meet with Helis, Ares and Janus at Mitchlum Gate to reconnoiter with the chief’s forces. Instead of chasing the grotto-le, they will first evacuate the towns in its path. Remember, Izzie’s arm was badly damaged. It is doubtful that the beast can fly.”
The dejans knew better than to contradict the High Priestess’s orders, and immediately moved to begin carrying them out.
“Don’t provoke the grotto-le, but do what is necessary.”
Each dejan saluted her on the way out. She glanced at Ovid, whose face was burning with either determination or rage.
The dejan who had broken the news to the Council frowned. “What do you plan to do with that initiate? The one from the cloister.”
“You’ve done a good job, Janus, but let me handle it from here. I know Izzie better than anyone.”
“Is it really her?” Ceres asked. “How can we be sure?”
“Even if it’s not Izzie, we still have to respond,” Remera replied. “And for once, we can’t send Izzie to take it out.”
The rest returned to their posts. Many of them hadn’t fought for most of their lives, and even though they would be doing little more than commanding forces, their general air of doomed dejection was clear.
Blood pounded in Remera’s ears. When she was finally alone, she charged to her inner sanctum. Pacing among the scattered debris of her dissection table, she paused. After one or two meditative breaths, she clutched the edge of the heavy wooden table and overturned it with a resounding crash. Dozens of delicate instruments shattered against the wall. A few seconds later, Ovid burst through the door.
Remera managed to speak in an even voice: “What happened, Ovid?”
He crossed his arms and leaned against the stone wall. “Weren’t you supposed to be watching her, too? The tracking device, not to mention that divine mirror—”
“The mirror has slowly faded over the years, until I can barely rely on it.”
He smiled bitterly. “I knew she would go to Waypoint Town. You should’ve snatched that troublesome relic for your collection long ago. My guess is that it is the cause of our predicament.”
“You need to help me fix this.”
Ovid’s annoyance increased. “I don’t think your suppressants will be enough. If anyone can put up a fight, it’s me. But this isn’t like last time.”
“Which is why you’ll be working with the initiate, who shares your ability. Together, you should be able to stop her.”
Ovid frowned distastefully. “And while you try to handle this gently, how many more villages will be flattened? Considering how close she came to killing me last time, I’m in favor of... not taking any chances.”
“I’m not going to abandon her. I’m to blame for it all, so I’m not going to make her responsible. Go and bring your sister back. Don’t try to argue your way out of it.”
That word sister, always rang falsely in his ears. Ovid’s jaw worked as if he were chewing on something unpleasant.
“Fine. I’ll do it. But some things are going to change after this. That much is clear. They didn’t hesitate to call her a grotto-le, nor did you. They cast aside all your carefully ingrained teachings.”
Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich