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 42: Pilgrimage
Virgil led Izzi and Riku into his dojo. Tea was served. Several mags in bright clothing were painting the walls and columns. Work was continuing nonstop in Waypoint Town. Virgil wore a heavy skin tunic, with decorative glass beads strung over the flaps. The garb was eccentric rather than venerable and, though he was clearly the community leader, his manner was relaxed, not taciturn.
“I trust you’re feeling whole again?” Virgil asked Riku, touching her repaired arm with practiced fingers.
“Yes. Thank you,” Riku said. The pain was slowly subsiding. “Is Izzie’s arm okay, too?”
Without protesting, Izzie extended her bandaged arm. When Virgil removed the cloth, he betrayed no surprise. He studied the seamless transition between flesh and metal, his lack of reaction made Riku wonder if he’d already examined her. “I wouldn’t worry about it,” he said casually. Izzie was speechless.
“What happens now?” Riku directed the question to Izzie.
Izzie sat formally, with hands clasped in front of her and a look of perfect composure on her face. “Remera must be after us. Besides worrying what I’ll do next, she’ll want to punish me for what I’ve done. So, we can’t stay here long.”
“We?” Riku said, adding an edge to her voice. Waypoint was the most comfortable place they’d been in the Cauterhaugh, and they weren’t going to find another town like it. The purpose of their journey, Riku had thought, was to heal their wounds, but was it possible Izzie was running away from the Council?
“Maybe a pilgrimage would do us good,” Izzie said.
“A what?” Riku asked with incredulity.
“I take it you don’t know much about pilgrimages, Riku,” Virgil said, breaking the tension. He poured another cup of tea. “While you were recovering, Izzie filled me in on everything. Where you’re from, your talents, and what happened on your last mission. You’ve been busy. Such is the life of a priest, not that I can talk. A pilgrimage is usually the answer: when you’re lost, let your god lead you. Luckily this place is out of the way, but it’s not impenetrable.” He smiled.
Riku looked at him quizzically. “But I thought you were a priest, too, since you have a beast-form—”
“I’m a monk. I didn’t need a cloister to unleash my inner god.”
The statement confused Riku. The way her own god had come down to her, everything she had been told at the cloister, contradicted what he said.
Virgil smiled. “Monks learn to communicate with gods the old-fashioned way, and we’re not taught that gods pick and choose. I wouldn’t be going over this with you if Izzie hadn’t already discovered the truth.”
“What do you mean?” Riku asked, waiting for Izzie to explain.
“There are things I don’t know about myself. Missing memories. And I found out what I believed about the past was wrong. On top of that, I may not be able to trust my beast-form at the moment.”
Riku felt anger stir in her. “I’m still in the dark here, like when you first dropped me off at the cloister.”
Izzie did not respond.
“Ovid did it, too,” Riku said. “He didn’t even tell us you were the grotto-le we were trying to stop.”
Her anger abated when Izzie flashed her a look of quiet remorse.
“Don’t compare me to him. To anyone in my family. Ever.”
Riku’s arm ached because she had been clenching her fist.
Virgil extended a placating hand. “There’s much for you both to learn,” Virgil said. “That’s why I’ve advised Izzie to take you on a pilgrimage. Because you deserve to experience the truth yourself.”
Riku remained silent, fuming. Perhaps it was too much to process, or the thought of going on a journey with Izzie filled her with doubt. A rift separated them now. Was she only there to keep Izzie in check in case her beast-form ran rampant? Who else could pacify that monster?
“We’ve prayed to the gods for direction, and now I think it’s time to go to Dust,” Izzie said.
Riku stared in disbelief.
“For most people, Dust is a legend,” Virgil began. “A No Man’s Land between the daylight of the Cauterhaugh and the midnight of Mitchlum; a twilight plane where people seek answers to their questions. Whether it is the salvation denied them in life, or a gentle respite from their pain, many find it in Dust.”
“I can’t make you go,” Izzie interjected, getting up to leave.
“But I can’t go back to the cloister,” Riku said uncertainly, “Right?”
Izzie turned to the door and shrugged.
“Plenty of Cauterhaugh towns could be saved by your unique skills, and the Council would find you useful. That is, if you trust them. The Council’s influence does not extend everywhere, as Virgil will attest.”
Virgil smiled with an unreadable look in his eye.
“But if I go to Dust, then what?” Riku asked.
“Only the gods can foretell the future,” Virgil said. “It’s not an easy journey. I’ve agreed to accompany you, at least part of the way.”
“But why do you need me?” Riku was at a loss, and felt unsure of the future, more so than ever before.
“Even if you don’t realize it yet, Riku, you have a part to play,” Virgil said. “Dust is a sacred place. Some believe lost memories gather there. And lost souls too. I have a feeling there’s something waiting for you there.” Riku’s heart skipped a beat. Does he know about Nadyr’s death? Has Izzie told him?
Virgil interjected, “I think you both need to recover first. It’s hard for bone to mend or metal to harden when they’re constantly in use.” Riku’s mind drifted back to the battles she had faced. The tranquil face of the monk waited for her questions, but she could think of none.
“When you’ve regained your strength, your pilgrimage awaits. Izzie needs you. I know she’s a little intimidating, but she’s been through a great deal, and I fear for what her own memory will reveal to her. If you can find the strength to help her, I ask you to try.”
With a noncommittal sigh, Riku quickly finished her tea and left to be alone with her thoughts.
Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich