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 43: Forgiveness
Izzie was used to nightmares. The journey from the Fjord had pushed her to exhaustion. In Waypoint Town, her sleep was sporadic and troubled. Pitching in with reconstruction of the town took her mind off her plight, but the villagers kept their distance.
The prevailing mood of the town was undeniable: she would not be welcome for long. But where else could she go? She did not want to think about what would happen if she returned to the Council. It all depended on how long she could keep her beast-form in check.
Riku soon made a full recovery and even helped with the town repairs. She and Izzie didn’t speak to one another often, though they shared a room. Occasionally, Izzie awoke to find Riku thrashing in the midst of a nightmare.
Was she dreaming of the monster Izzie had been? Denying it was pointless. Even if her human spirit had visited the Celestial Plane, she was guilty in the eyes of those who’d suffered from her actions.
Virgil intercepted her on the bridge during one of her walks. She was lost in thought, gazing into the quicksilver stream. He smiled, but she was too weary for pleasantries. “We should leave soon,” he said.
“You and I will go alone,” Izzie said. “Riku has a life to live.”
“She should come, too. I think the two of you can help one another.”
She considered for a second before asking gruffly, “How?”
“The truth is a good goal. She needs it more than closure.”
“Truth won’t give her new friends and family.”
“Truth is a path to follow. The gods shine a pathway into the forest of our lives, but we still wander around in darkness.”
Izzie sighed, unable to bring herself to argue. The way he smiled grated on her.
“Izzie, nothing can bring back the dead, but we can honor them. We shouldn’t spend our lives trying to outrun hurtful memories.”
She began walking across the bridge. Virgil paused uncertainly, then turned back to town. On the other side of the river was a rippling shelf of mountains. Izzie cast her eyes to the vertical striations of color in the cliffs. The peaks were clear as ice and blended with impure crystalline forms where the mountains widened. Riku was a vague shape wandering along the fringe of onyx hills bordering the greater Cauterhaugh. From a distance the still-unchristened priestess appeared tiny, with her glinting sleeves flapping in the wind.
When Izzie approached, Riku was kneeling at an altar under a cloud of incense. After an extended silence, Riku said in a quiet voice, “On the anniversary of my parents’ death, I’ve always gone to their graves. But that ritual is part of my old life.”
“Riku, I’m sorry. I know your situation is my fault. I’d understand if you prefer to try your luck with the Council instead coming to Dust with me.”
“Before I make my decision, I think I should ask you.” She glanced up at Izzie. “Was it the beast who killed Nadyr? Or was it you?”
Nausea spread through Izzie’s abdomen. She clenched her muscles to stop from trembling. When she spoke, it was in a dejected tone. “I have to take responsibility for what happened. If that means I must be hated, so be it.”
Riku turned, her eyes flickered with intensity. “What happened, Izzie? I asked Ovid, but all he said was you were under investigation. I need to know, what made you do it?”
Izzie squirmed under Riku’s gaze. Would telling her about the Celestial Plane change anything? Izzie didn’t understand the experience herself. She sighed and sat on the ledge with her back turned.
“The truth is, I’m still trying to figure it out. I came here to find out why the grotto-le were getting more aggressive. But instead of finding out where the beasts come from, I became one myself. It made me realize I never knew what I was in the first place.” A tear slid down her cheek. It had been so long since she’d cried she didn’t realize it was happening. “I don’t know what to do, Riku, except move forward. That’s all I’ve ever done. I’ve never been able to hold onto anything. You’re lucky you have memories to cherish.”
She was surprised when Riku sat beside her. “How did you lose your memories?”
Izzie took a deep breath. “When I was a child my mother was setting up the cloister. I was one of the first students. There weren’t very many of us. The Fjord had changed the whole world. There was chaos everywhere. The people left were scattered all over the Cauterhaugh. Nothing from the old world remained outside of Mitchlum, and we didn’t know much about the grotto-le yet.
“My parents took me to Dust, because the Fjord’s effect had been disrupted there, or so the rumors went. When we got there, my father was killed. My mother, Ovid and I barely escaped. All I remember after that is the priesthood. I don’t know how we got all the way back or anything about what happened there. I don’t even remember my father.
“Ovid remained close to Remera, while she and I always fought. Over the years, the Council fashioned the society you know today. It must be, I don’t know, a hundred years since my amnesia. Remera and Ovid stubbornly refuse to bring up my past.”
Riku stared in silence. It had never occurred to her how incredibly long Izzie had been a fighting machine, the instrument of the Council. And the High Priestess had kept her past locked away. It made sense that Izzie was fed up.
“Virgil says Dust is where some people regain their memories. According to his philosophy, memory is just another element from the land of the gods, like water and fire. Memories are lost or recaptured, never created or destroyed. They’re like souls, which belong only to the gods.”
Izzie clenched her fist, and it creaked like old leather tightening. “Dust may hold the answers I seek, even if I won’t like what I learn. If I find my father’s spirit there, I’ll ask his forgiveness. For forgetting him.”
Riku let out a heavy sigh. “Asking for forgiveness doesn’t change anything.”
Izzie hung her head.
“Whenever I did something wrong,” Riku continued, “Nadyr always said I shouldn’t ask for forgiveness, I should earn it.”
Izzie looked up, stunned. She met Riku’s steady gaze. This wasn’t the timid little girl she’d found in Kaminovo village any longer.
“I’ll go. But, not because you want me to or because you’re forgiven,” Riku said. “It could be my god telling me to, but I feel I should go on the pilgrimage because of the stories they tell about Dust. Who knows, if the spirits really go there, we might both meet the family members we’ve lost.”
Standing, Riku descended to Waypoint Town, which nestled under the shadow of the imposing cliffs. Izzie sat still for a long time and allowed a few tears to fall.
Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich