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 45: Instability
Telos wondered if those living in the tunnels would make it out alive. The guards at the entrance left to gather reinforcements. There was no telling how many cynths they were dealing with.
Telos felt aftereffects from contact with the relic, but she was still up to the task of holding off stray beasts. Soon, several neophyte priests arrived with weapons.
Telos lost herself in the rhythm of battle. Despite Ovid’s high hopes and her graceful fighting, the relic had not bestowed any visible powers yet. She dispatched twenty small fry before a taramasa appeared. The creature was eight feet high, and its cylindrical torso was composed of rotating sections. A long-distance approach was better, she knew. One of its dozen mouths could unleash an electric tentacle at any time. She snatched a silver spear and flung it at the creature’s conical head, severing it cleanly.
Her feet splashed through oil and hacked through enemies, before several beasts broke away and scrambled up nearby buildings.
Amid the turmoil, Remera stepped out of an armored car and gave Ovid his orders. As usual, the chaotic circumstances hardly fazed her. Beneath the High Priestess’ unhurried aggravation, Telos detected a hint of forlorn resignation, as if she’d planned for this contingency.
Once the threat was under control, Ovid pulled Telos aside. Wounded guards were carted to the cloister. A sudden calm fell over the streets. Pedestrians had fled, and the normally busy neighborhood was desolate.
“We’ve got to postpone our plans,” Ovid told her.
Telos raised an eyebrow.
“Remera’s orders. Because of our experiment, the relic is unstable. The trickle of cynths getting through might widen into a steady stream. We’ll be needed here, along with backup. I was wrong to assume this venture wouldn’t impede us.”
Telos heaved a sigh. “Izzie’s not the top priority then?”
“I’m sure Remera will find her by other means...” A muscle beneath Ovid’s eye twitched, and Telos wondered if the tick was caused by his modifications or his troubled mind.
I’m not so different from Izzie, Telos thought. The future was uncertain, but there was always the promise of combat. One day her body would wear out and join the ranks of the dead. It could happen tomorrow, or she could last for a hundred years, as Izzie had. In the end, it would amount to the same thing.
Before her bitter emotions showed on her face, Telos drowned her sinking heart in rage and turned from Ovid. All she said was, “Excuse me, but I’ve got to get back to cleaning up this mess.”
* * *
“Beyond Waypoint Town we’re no longer safe,” Virgil said, handing a sword to Riku.
“Are there many towns between here and Dust?” she asked.
Uncertainty crossed his features. “It’s been a while since I made the journey, but I doubt it.”
“Most of the towns were probably wiped out by grotto-le,” Izzie said bluntly. A staff hung across her back, sheathed blades clattered at her sides.
Riku wasn’t keen on the idea of another perilous journey, but she was a priestess after all. Telos would have told her to get used to it.
The going was hard. Riku constantly brushed the blowing grit from her face. They crossed desolate mountain ranges and plains. The thin reflective spires of titanium mites jutted from the glittering landscape. Old skeletons rusted at the mouths of shallow caves, blasted out of the shining cliffs by years of hot, abrasive wind.
Full of food, their packs were heavy. The sun dimmed behind thick dust clouds. The sky was a cauldron of unstable elements.
Virgil kept the pace. Despite his apparent age, his body never showed signs of fatigue. Riku watched him, keeping one eye on Izzie too.
“What’s this place like?” Riku asked when the wind died down.
“It can’t be any worse than the wide-open Cauterhaugh.” Izzie forced a smile.
“But, don’t you remember what it was like?” Riku’s anxiety increased with each step. The persistent feeling that they had passed a point of no return haunted her, and she wondered if it was a consequence of her god’s awakening. It was strange to think that not so long ago Nadyr had foretold her being chosen, and shortly after losing him, her god had appeared.
“I don’t have much memory,” Izzie said morosely. “When you live as long as I have, you lose track of the places and people from your past.”
Riku had trouble comprehending the spans of time Izzie had in mind. In the Cauterhaugh it was always bright, and the subtle seasons were the only way to mark the passage of years. How could she know how long the world had been the way it was? Few had the wherewithal to survive the daily battles.
They continued. Virgil said little, though he reminisced occasionally about Dust, which he’d visited seldom, he said, long ago. “It’s a peculiar place,” he said. “The land is sacred, some people say, and different, like a place you see in dreams.”
Riku tried to remember dreams of distant lands. Were such dreams visions from the gods?
Virgil kicked a shard of metal into a bubbling pool of quicksilver smf watched it float languidly downstream. “Not every pilgrim comes back from Dust. Izzalia and I are exceptions. Everyone tells a different story. The experience can play tricks with memory. I suppose you could say it’s a place where memories take on new life — or die.”
“What do you mean?” Riku asked petulantly. She was terrified by walking into danger without knowing why.
“What’s that?” Izzie pointed.
“Nothing we haven’t seen before,” Virgil said.
In the distance, two trees toppled beneath giant claws. Riku stared at an enormous, many-legged grotto-le, scuttling through a quarry toward them with singular purpose.
With a grimace, Izzie slid her staff from her shoulder strap.
Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich