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 34: The Mission
Telos waited outside when Ovid came to speak to Riku. The dejan had always impressed Telos before with his air of purpose and battle scars. Though she was gladdened by Riku’s progress, the extra attention was a source of annoyance to them both. There had been a time when Telos could impress all of her peers. Now she was simply a fixture, a foregone conclusion.
Cyona had taken Telos aside several times to discuss her stagnation. One of these days, she expected to find herself in the lowest ranks of the cloister staff. It was not an uncommon fate for an initiate, but it would never satisfy her pride. Whereas, if she became a neophyte, at least she would get to see the Cauterhaugh.
A lot had changed about Riku in a short period of time. Riku didn’t see it herself, but her bearing was entirely different. Inevitably, most mags took on a sooty, worn aspect in the gritty atmosphere of Mitchlum. Riku’s metallic skin had lost some of its gleaming whiteness, but her glowing compassion had only blossomed further.
Leaning against the smooth wooden wall, Telos brooded over her own disheartening future and looked up with detached interest when the door finally opened.
Riku approached her with an expression sullen enough to dissolve Telos’ irritation.
“There’s a powerful grotto-le destroying towns,” Riku told her. Telos noticed Riku’s trembling hands. “It’s already demolished four towns. No one’s been able to stop it.”
“Even Izzie?” Telos asked quietly, settling a hand on her friend’s shoulder. She remembered how injured the priestess had been, and how much time Riku had ended up spending with her. For Riku’s sake, she hoped Izzie hadn’t already failed to stop it.
“No.” Riku shook her head. “That dejan is Izzie’s brother. He said she left on a mission, and no one’s been able to reach her yet.” Riku’s faintly glowing sapphire eyes showed fear, pain, and determination all at once. “The Council wants us to go stop it.”
Telos stared at her in surprise. “Us?” Telos exclaimed. “They need you to pacify the grotto-le, but what can I do that already hasn’t been done?”
“Let me make this clear,” Ovid said tonelessly, emerging from the doorway. “This invitation wasn’t open to whomever you felt like bringing.”
“Ovid,” Riku responded, “I’ll do what I can to calm the creature, but I need someone alongside me. Telos is the best fighter in this cloister, and I know she’ll be able to give me the time I need to do my job.”
Ovid shrugged. “Very well. I can’t argue with your reasoning.”
Taken aback by Riku’s words and the unforeseen opportunity, Telos folded her arms and assumed a defiant look. “What if I don’t feel like going? I don’t need your pity, Riku.”
Riku’s face betrayed genuine hurt. Before she responded, Ovid laughed.
“You have gumption,” he said. “I like that. But don’t forsake a training opportunity out of spite. The gods work in many ways. Risking your life is sometimes the only way to improve your chances of survival.”
“I must be missing something,” Telos said suddenly. “Neither of us are priestesses, so we can’t see grotto-le yet. How are we supposed to fight something we can’t see?”
“This one’s a little different...” Ovid said hesitantly. “According to reports, it flickers. Everyone can see it in snatches.”
Telos squinted suspiciously. “I’ve never heard of a grotto-le like that before.”
“The High Priestess wants the body intact, for further study,” Ovid said. “These strange adaptations happen all the time, don’t they teach you that in class?”
It didn’t take long for Telos to decide there was something fishy going on, and that she would find out what it was. “Fine. Where’re we going?”
“The... beast” — Ovid paused subtly — “seems to be heading this way. It’s been moving in an arc toward the shadowline. It’s heading for a town there. It’ll be our best chance.”
“What town?” Riku asked, suddenly frantic.
“I could be wrong, but I think it’s Kaminovo.”
Telos shook her head slowly. Riku was frozen with shock. Kaminovo Village was Riku’s hometown.
Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich