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Echoes From Dust

by L. S. Popovich

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Chapter 33: Gotenba

Izzie was astounded by the beauty of the Celestial Plane. The folk art she had seen that depicted ancient times paled by comparison. Lush trees spotted the mountains, the tops of which were capped with snow. Moonlight touched the slopes gently and flowed until it dissolved in the dense canopies of trees. Immense birds and butterflies traversed the gentle wind above their heads. A salty breeze danced over gleaming white sands and tickled hills of tall grass.

Gotenba led her over the plain, away from Omi’s cave.

The moon of the celestial realm fascinated Izzie. Its soft glow possessed a soothing familiarity. It was only fitting that, in the gods’ world, the moon remained untouched. Back in her world, the moon had been yet another casualty of the Fjord.

One of the few memories Izzie possessed from her childhood was the story of the construction of the Fjord. Something like the Fjord could have been built only on the moon. When it was launched to Earth, the faithful lunar companion was sacrificed, and the planet was changed forever.

The imp beside her chatted idly. Izzie could not help but sense a subtle peril in the air. Disappointment also lingered in her mind. Omi had acted indifferently to her sudden presence. Then again, the will of the gods was often a mystery, and she imagined she didn’t measure up in terms of importance in this place.

Gotenba asked her many questions and spoke of many things she knew nothing about. If one thing was clear about him, it was that he liked to talk. “So tell me, Izzalia, how did you find your way here?”

Izzie realized all at once that the imp had intuited her name, had plucked it out of her mind, since she’d never told it to him. “I touched a relic of the old world, and I ended up here.” She judged it was too soon to tell him that her beast-form had taken over her earthly body and was probably wreaking havoc.

“Tell me,” Gotenba said, “what did this relic look like?”

“Well. It was a weapon. The base of a sword.”

“Hmm. You should follow me, I have a few weapons in my collection.”

The grass swayed gently under her feet. The ground was soft and pleasant compared to the rough, unyielding land of Cauterhaugh.

“I hope you don’t mind if I keep you company while you’re here,” he said. “Some of the lesser gods may not take kindly to you.”

Lesser gods? Izzie had always believed the gods were equals among each other.

“Hopefully you don’t find it rude that I’m asking you this,” he continued, “but can you fly?”

Izzie instinctively knew she could not transform into her beast-form in the realm of the gods, so she shook her head.

“Hmm. In the interest of time, I suggest we take a ride on Kojiki, to my domicile.”

“What’s Kojiki?”

Gotenba smiled, then put two tiny fingers between his sharp teeth and let out a piercing whistle. A series of icicles plummeted into a chasm during the resounding call. Soon, a massive, serpentine creature with four wings attached to the elbows of its long arms arose and floated over. It settled on the ground expectantly, and Gotenba hopped upon its back.

“Climb on,” Gotenba said.

Cautiously, Izzie sat on the glinting back. “How do you command the gods like this?” Izzie asked in astonishment.

“This god has no mind of its own, like the animals in your world.”

It took Izzie a moment to realize he meant the cynths and livestock that populated the Cauterhaugh. ‘Animal’ was one of those outdated terms.

Crossing the river and the dark, splendid forest took time. To her surprise, the horizon was empty, an endless expanse of blue. So much water! Islands were prevalent in old legends, but, to a modern inhabitant of Earth, they were like castles in the sky. Izzie realized that the gods lived on islands, and that their world was mostly holy water, at least as far as she could tell.

Kojiki landed roughly on a small, unimpressive rock that had a light fur of grass on its pinnacle. The diminutive isle was assaulted by large waves on every side.

Gotenba hopped off and waved his hand until Izzie stood beside him. The creature called Kojiki fluttered back into the sky, and drifted over the dark waters to its dwelling in the forest.

Gotenba continued confidently toward a comically small house perched on the edge of a cliff. Incredibly, each time Izzie took a step the island jostled from her weight. It seemed to be unstably balanced on a point.

To pass through the door of Gotenba’s house, she had to crouch, and the appearance of its interior confirmed her suspicions. The island was not on level ground, it swayed in accordance to the motion of the tide. The strange-looking furniture slid across the room with the impact of every wave.

“You live here?” she asked incredulously. Nausea crept into her stomach, caused by the constant motion.

“I know it’s nothing fancy,” he replied, sitting on a miniature stool in front of the roaring fireplace.

Where did that fire come from? The hearth had burst into flames when they’d entered, as if the house itself were alive.

“Take a seat,” Gotenba said, indicating a straw mat in front of the fire.

“I have many questions,” she said eagerly.

Gotenba held up a square-shaped hand to stop her. “Not before tea.” From a box behind a screen, he produced a complete tea set and began an elaborate ceremony of rearranging and whisking.

The procedure seemed absurdly long, but Izzie was mesmerized by the controlled motion of his child-like hands and the alluring fragrance of green tea. After the aura of reverence had dissipated, Izzie thought it appropriate to ask, “Can you tell me how this world is connected to my own?”

“Your world is small compared to the realm of the gods,” Gotenba said mysteriously. “They have their ways and means of interacting with your people, but in the grand scheme of things, most of the gods aren’t too concerned with your culture.”

Izzie was taken aback. “But we spend our whole lives seeking to draw their notice, working to please them.”

Gotenba laughed. It was a shrill laugh, like a foreign musical instrument. “I cannot speak for all of them, but some of the gods regard the world of men with open contempt!”

Izzie frowned. It was not what she wanted to hear.

Gotenba continued, “The gods first must try and get along with one another, before they can get along with human beings. They like to see you try to fix problems on your own, you know.”

Izzie thought deeply about his casual words, then decided to proceed in another direction. “Tell me about this world. How did it come to be?”

Gotenba took a loud sip of steaming tea. “That scroll on the wall behind you,” he said. Izzie turned to look at the elaborate painting between two rows of hanging scimitars. It showed a long spire, as thin as a hair, with an end dipped into the sea, looking like a simpler model of the Fjord from another time.

“That needle,” he went on, “was used by the first gods to create the world. The gods have since multiplied and created histories of their own, but after dipping the needle into the pure sea and swinging it across the sky, the drops fell from the tip, and the first islands appeared where they landed. These islands have remained much the same since the beginning of time.”

Izzie thought about the simple story. “What you’re saying contradicts what my people believe. We believe that the gods came from our world and ruled over us in ancient times. Once everything changed form, the gods left our world. And they only come back to our bodies if we prove worthy vessels.”

Gotenba frowned. “How would you feel if you made a world, and the very beings you created changed everything? When mortals pretend to be gods, the gods simply laugh!”

“Then tell me, why do they send the grotto-le? Is it to rid the world of people, so they can start over?”

“There’s still much for you to learn. The grotto-le are outcasts, nightmares, demons. They go by many names, but they’re things that have always existed and must always exist, in one form or another.”

Izzie had always been told that grotto-le were spawned from the infected earth, like the cynths, and through a mysterious natural process, gained power and shrewdness.

“What can I do, Gotenba?” she asked, arching her neck to stare directly into his eyes. “My world is in trouble. What can we do to appease these demons?”

He smiled again and brushed his dark green lips with his pointy tongue. “The gods are not as easily impressed as you think. Why don’t you work on persuading your own people? If you all lived in harmony with the world, perhaps you might stand a chance.”

Izzie sat up straighter. “How much do you know about my work there?”

“I look upon your world with curiosity and regret sometimes, when I’ve nothing better to do. You must admit, it’s definitely a unique landscape, not without a certain... ungodly... beauty.”

Izzie looked around the sparsely furnished room. On all four walls there were scroll depictions of different worlds. The walls were crowded with histories and ancient-looking weapons. Something told her Gotenba was more influential than he was letting on.

“Gotenba, why am I here?”

He let out a long sigh. “For now, you need rest. There is still time to change, Izzalia, and the road to change is a winding one.”

Proceed to Chapter 34...

Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich

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