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 44: Truth
Telos paced the room like a restless animal. The busy light of Mitchlum reflected off the cloud cover and passed through the high, small window. A fist-sized dent in the wall gleamed. It was another reminder of her foolish behavior. Everything from her knuckles to her back ached from the battle with Izzie, and her frustration had not subsided.
Telos knew the Council would try to find a use for her. Ovid provided all the information Remera had needed once he was revived. In the end, the only thing she cared about now was getting back to Mitchlum: not to the cloister, but to the labyrinthine metropolis, where she could disappear and make her own way.
Sleep eluded her, and the hours dragged. A bar of bluish light from the dully glowing city slanted across the far wall. The plate of food on the side table was untouched. When she finally fell asleep, vague terrors woke her with a start.
A while later, the door to her holding cell swung open. Ovid stood in the doorframe, expressionless. Every last one of his augmentations had been replaced, judging by how he gleamed. With cold eyes he looked her up and down. “Aside from a few scrapes you seem to be whole.”
“I’ve had worse.”
“Yes, I know. In all those trials you like to mention. Still, to single-handedly hold off my sister, without breaking a bone—”
Telos sighed. “Her arm was disabled.”
“I’ve seen what she’s capable of with only one arm. Needless to say, sending you back to the cloister wouldn’t be wise, not that you could learn anymore there at this point.”
“What do you plan to do with me, then?”
“After Izzie’s reaction in the sick bay, there’s a shortage of volunteers to go after her. It’s safe to assume she’s forfeited her membership with the Council. At the very least, we have to keep her from a repeat performance.”
Telos stood up, stretched, and said, “Well, I don’t have anything else to do.”
Ovid narrowed his eyes. “Priestess or not, your abilities are valuable. Wherever you end up after this, I’m sure you’ll be able to survive.”
Telos grinned. “Izzie and I have some unfinished business.”
“Before we go, let me fill you in. Knowledge is our greatest weapon. We believe she lost control of her beast-form when she came into contact with a relic. What I mean by that—”
“I know what a relic is. But why did it do that to her?”
“When two vessels of the gods come together — whether they are human bodies or relics — the results are often unpredictable.”
“It’s hard to imagine stopping her beast-form again without Riku.”
“That’s true, but Izzie took Riku with her. Maybe with that specific purpose in mind. It’s too soon to know.”
Telos stared at the long hallway behind the dejan and said, “Where do we start? Is it back to the Cauterhaugh?”
“Actually, it’s Mitchlum. There’s something there I’d like to show you first.”
Telos sighed and followed him.
* * *
Under the shadowy sky of Mitchlum, Telos breathed easier. The cold regularity of the Fjord and the bleak, unpredictable Cauterhaugh had made poor impressions on her.
Ovid conducted her through familiar streets, into an underground passage that transitioned into a vast network, which snaked underneath the metropolis. It was a refuge to the homeless and a hunting ground for wild kirins.
In the back of her mind she’d always wondered if the Council believed everyone was so innocent. Hadn’t the Fjord almost destroyed the world? Hadn’t they formed their organization out of the people responsible? Was Mitchlum really natural in any sense of the word?
Ovid led her under the dripping ceiling, treading the path seemingly without thought, as if he’d memorized it long ago. Glowing spores lit their way, spread over the walls like florescent nodules of spiny moss. Kirins crouched in shadows, content to observe from a distance, sensing the threat she and Ovid posed.
To break up the monotonous quiet of their echoing footsteps, Telos asked, “How about telling me what we’re doing here?”
“There’s a relic under Mitchlum. Riku knew about it, and it helped focus her skill.”
Telos thought about the statement. “Why aren’t we headed straight to Izzie?”
“Remera is gathering forces, and since we’re going to be part of the advanced scouting party, we’ve got to be prepared.”
“You think this relic can help me defeat her?”
“It might serve our purposes. The only way to know for sure is to see what effect it has on you.”
A trickle of excitement rushed through Telos. Was this relic another way to become a vessel for a god? “So you’re confident I’ll become a priestess?” she asked.
Ovid paused, stared at her with surprise and hesitation. “To be perfectly honest, at your level, it hardly matters.”
Telos knew how easy it was to veil secrets with praise. She pressed on: “So why hasn’t it happened yet?”
“Being a priest or priestess means carrying a title, and a rather burdensome one. Your god works within you whether you know it or not.”
“So the gods are in us from the start?” It was a thing she had long suspected but been unable to prove. Most battles required little thought anymore. What she considered instinct could very well have been her god.
Ovid sighed. “There’s no use hiding it now. The Council maintains misinformation to create hierarchies. It’s not so easy to train effective leaders, or to train oneself to channel the power of the gods. A life-threatening situation makes a god protect its host, and the trials force latent gods into action.”
They continued on.
Telos was about to ask another question, but the air hummed with the raucous noise of cynths, teeming in a pit beneath the dangling roots of Mitchlum’s buildings. A bright net hung over the masses of wild, thrashing monsters, which pressed and strained against it with snapping claws. Telos’ first impression was that such a feeble web of light couldn’t hold the beasts for long, but then it dawned on her it must have been there for a long time, for Mitchlum’s entire history.
“Where’s the relic?” Telos asked.
“Down the slope, out of sight.”
Without waiting for his instructions, she ambled down the musty bank and landed in a dried up riverbed. The only light came from the relic’s mysterious net.
“Be careful,” Ovid warned. He slid down the crumbling sandstone and adjusted his augmented eyes to the darkness.
Quickly, she found it inside a glass enclosure, on a marble pedestal.
“Don’t touch it yet!” Ovid commanded, hurrying to catch up.
It was a piece of jewelry, dirty, ancient, and otherworldly. “You brought me here to use the relic, and now you’re hesitating? Does the Council ever make up its mind?”
“I ask you to wait, because it’s a big risk. The last priest who touched it was separated permanently from his body. He sacrificed his life to place the relic under the glass.”
“If I’m connected to a god at all, it’s subconscious. Will it even have an effect on me?”
Ovid glanced nervously at the glowing net and the solid wall of beasts behind it.
“Be very careful not to disrupt the energy field,” he said. “Don’t move it too quickly.”
Without further ado, she lifted the glass cover, and her face was bathed in the faint glow of the necklace. She lifted it gingerly and watched the sizzling net quiver.
Ovid cried, “Wait!”
Telos felt a surge of power flow into her. It was pure strength combined with searing pain. She placed it over her neck. The agony radiated through every part of her.
“Put it back!” he yelled.
The net flickered, and several cynths slid under it. Trembling, she grasped the relic with her fist, and the net of blaring energy grew thicker and constricted around the howling creatures, compressing them into a solid mound of crushed synthetic shards. Oil seeped through the interstices as an avalanche of metals glowed and formed beneath the pressure of the energy.
Telos’ hands went numb, and the pain became unbearable. The net blared again, sending thousands of sparks cascading off the dense pile of cynth scraps. It grew in brightness and finally exploded, before dissipating completely. Waiting ranks of beasts cautiously advanced atop their smoldering brethren.
Hot air wafted over them, and Telos heard only a ringing in her ears. Ovid snatched the relic from her and placed it back on the pedestal. It took a moment to gain her footing again.
The net glowed erratically, misshapen and weaker than before. It wavered every few seconds, allowing stray cynths to break through. Hordes poured in from the tunnel beyond. Ovid tugged at her arm and pulled her up the slope, back into the relatively well-lit corridor.
“What about the net?” she yelled over her deafened ears.
“It’s powered down temporarily!” he screamed back. “I think you stole some of its power. We have to get out of here!”
Together they ran and didn’t stop to see how many cynths were crawling after them.
Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich