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Echoes From Dust

by L. S. Popovich

Table of Contents   Glossary

Chapter 6: Mag

Riku sat with three others. The food was unfamiliar to her because it was not from the Cauterhaugh. One of the other girls at the table was inorganic, too. Riku peered over at her plate and compared it to her own. First, she tried a brittle crystal with bubbles in it. Her teeth ground it up, but there was no discernible flavor. The other kids laughed hysterically as she tried to swallow.

“Here, try this.” The inorganic girl forked a round globe onto her plate. Riku lifted it carefully to her mouth and bit into it. The rubber ball burst and a thick, creamy substance sprayed onto the table. Her peers exploded into a fresh round of laughter.

“Cut it out!” Telos snapped, “Voyins have the same trouble with food in the Cauterhaugh. It’s her first day.” The others instantly fell silent. Telos sat next to Riku and passed her a wooden cup of fizzing holy water. Riku choked the water down quickly, a little worried that her lungs would rust.

“So you’re from the shadowline?” a boy asked. There was a small tattoo of a tree on the front of his shaved head.

“Yeah,” Riku said. “I can see the wall of Mitchlum from my village.”

“That’s not very far out,” the boy said, unimpressed.

The inorganic girl piped in: “I’m from way out in the Cauterhaugh, where you can see the whole Fjord sticking up into the sky.”

Riku had never seen the Fjord, but she’d heard a lot about it. It jutted from the center of Mitchlum. Thick layers of smog rendered it invisible except from great distances, from where it glinted like a colossal sword cleaving the sky.

Riku nodded and asked, “What’s your name, by the way?”

“Menander,” the boy said, taking a bite out of a flat powdery object. “Which priest chose you, anyhow?” he asked with his mouth full. Riku noticed that his bulging cheek was semi-transparent, and colors sparkled in his mouth each time he chewed the strange substance.

“It was the High Priestess’ daughter, Izzalia,” Riku said.

Menander choked, and the girl next to him pounded his back. Recovering his composure, he said, “You mean Izzalia Argos brought you here herself? She didn’t send one of her neophytes?” His eyes bulged with amazement, and they all suddenly seemed very interested.

“Was she as scary as everyone says?” the girl asked Riku.

“Actually, I thought she was kind of nice.”

They grinned at one another skeptically. Only Telos remained unmoved.

“Do you think Riku met the real Izzalia?” Telos asked. “Why would the High Priestess’ daughter show her beast-form or intimidate an initiate? Wouldn’t she just act polite and make a good impression?”

The others nodded. Riku remembered the flying creature Izzie had become while she had hid on the mountaintop, but said nothing to contradict Telos’ statement.

“Beast-form?” Riku asked innocently.

“It’s her god,” Menander said excitedly. “It’s so powerful it can change her into a huge, winged thing with claws. When she’s in that form she’s unstoppable.”

“Can other priests do that too?” Riku asked meekly amid a round of sighs. Nadyr had gained various abilities from his god, like levitation, but nothing compared to Izzie’s beast-form.

“Imagine if we all could transform when we became priests!” Menander snorted.

“As if you’ll ever become one,” the inorganic girl muttered.

Menander glared at her and continued. “Izzie can do it, but she’s special. If everyone could do it, we wouldn’t have much trouble with grotto-les, let alone cynths, would we?” The gelatinous blob on the end of his knife wriggled before he took a bite.

“My grandpa Nadyr defeated a grotto-le once, but I was too young to remember,” Riku said.

Menander gave Telos a look that implied they were wasting their time explaining things to someone so simple.

Telos cleared her throat and said, “Sooner or later, every priest tests their skill against the grotto-les. Regular cynth attacks are just practice.”

“You’ll learn about different cynths in class,” Menander said, “that is, if you don’t get shredded in your first trial.”

The inorganic girl nudged him forcefully in the ribs. “Be nice,” she said. “You were new once.”

“Fair warning,” he continued snidely, “you don’t see many mags in this cafeteria, do you?”

Riku felt her cheeks burn. “Mags?”

“Inorganics,” Menander said. “Yusa, here, is an exception... Don’t they have slang in the Cauterhaugh?”

“There weren’t any organic people in my village...”

“We’re called voyin, we organics. You’re called mags, at least in Mitchlum. We’ve lost a lot of your kind recently. The cynths go straight for the shiny ones... Even if you can take more punishment than voyin, it won’t matter if they get at one of your joints, will it? And considering how hard it is to fix you people...”

“Honestly, Menander, do you have to do this every time?” Telos seethed. “Badgering people who haven’t even seen a trial doesn’t make you sound any tougher. It’s childish.”

Telos’ fist slammed next to Menander’s tray of food and caused a large bean-balloon to deflate. “I intend to give Riku a chance to prove herself,” she said.

“Why should I be friends with you, Menander, if you hate mags?” Yusa asked. “I never treat you different.”

“Sorry,” Menander said, holding out his hand. Riku shook it.

“We didn’t have nicknames or anything in the Cauterhaugh,” Riku said. “I probably seem like I don’t know anything. Hopefully, I’ll get the hang of it soon.” She smiled good-naturedly, despite her reservations about “proving herself.”

Proceed to Chapter 7...

Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich

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