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Echoes From Dust

by L. S. Popovich

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Chapter 37: Command

Riku’s mind was numb and clouded. She fought hard to keep her emotions at bay. The desolation of Kaminovo Village was burned into her memory, and the unique surroundings of the subterranean oasis did not arouse her curiosity as they once might have.

It was not until she caught sight of the grotto-le that reality came into focus. There was no doubt. She had seen it before, outside Kaminovo Village, where Izzie had first appeared to her. Izzie’s beast form had never been clearer in her mind.

The grotto-le glared down from a perch in the field of glowing stalagmites. Its low growl resonated against the walls. The creature flickered in and out of sight, reflecting the dulcet greens and eerie blues of the nearby bioluminescence. Even with wings folded, its size was impressive.

Telos watched several cynths approach from the shadows. Slowly, she turned to Ovid, who raised one hand. She guessed he was using an ability to sense the enemies in the vicinity.

Telos called Riku’s name. The beast stomped once and landed heavily in front of them. Its long tail flicked in agitation, gouging long grooves into the crumbling ruins. Though there was urgency in Telos’ voice, she remained calm and drew her short sword. The gathering legions snapped their jaws and drew closer. Their foe held its distance, constantly shuddering like a living nightmare.

Riku watched the grotto-le with dawning horror. Telos could not imagine how her friend felt. But before Telos could whisper a word of encouragement, Riku’s knees suddenly buckled; she curled into a ball and toppled onto her side.

“Riku!” Telos shouted, turning toward her. A nearby cynth lunged. With blinding speed, Izzie’s beast-form snatched the cynth by the neck with its teeth. The prey struggled briefly before being cast limply aside, like an interfering pest.

Riku let out a muffled cry that dissolved into silence. The beast charged, and nearby cynths fled. Telos slid under the grotto-le’s long arm, swinging her weapon at the bulging tendon of its leg. The sword glanced off harmlessly, but she drew the monster’s attention. Turning, it bounded through piles of rubble, kicking up clouds of dust.

The din sounded far-off to Riku, and the events before her eyes transpired through an oily film. Ovid channeled his internal powers and let out a sound almost too low to hear, which managed to addle the scattering cynths. His movements, which had seemed useless at first, warded off small swarms effectively. With hand raised, he issued unintelligible prayers and calls. Even so, Telos truly doubted whether his ability measured up to Riku’s.

Using the terrain to her advantage, Telos lured the beast into close quarters. Recklessly, it barreled through solid walls. Telos did not know how long she could keep it up, since all of her blows failed to penetrate the creature’s iron-hard hide.

Ovid defended Riku, using his abilities to sense and reroute the mindless cynths. Telos flashed through the ruins like a streak of lightning, and Riku finally noticed her friend’s movements. Her speed and dexterity were mesmerizing, but it was impossible to forget the true identity of the grotto-le; no one could match Izzie’s experience and power. But was the priestess’ mind still somewhere inside that monster?

Memories flowed unbidden into Riku’s mind. Faintly, a voice slowly grew and drowned out the sounds of battle.

“And what can you do?” They were Izzie’s words. Izzie had been the first person to believe in her and had encouraged her before Telos was fully convinced she had something to offer. The same Izzie who had chosen her, had demolished her hometown and crushed the ones she loved.

A new voice, small at first, hummed from deep within her. It cast a shadow over her pain. It was unfamiliar, yet it sank into her mind and settled there as if it had finally come home.

“So what can you do, child?” it chided. She recognized a feeling coupled with the voice, one she had never experienced with such force: rage.

“I can stop this!” Riku rose to her feet. The situation was clear. The power in the words she screamed caused every living thing within range to stop. The voice held the power of a god. And everything, even Izzie’s beast-form, was forced to listen. Ovid froze, lowered his hand, and gaped in astonishment. Telos realized that Riku had awoken to the power of her god just in time.

“Return!” Riku commanded. The word flowed out and split the silent air like a chilling gust. Cynths scrambled away in terror, instantly drained of courage. Only Izzie remained. The beast kept perfectly still. Riku watched a shred of fear enter its eyes. Then, a struggling consciousness emerged. Her single word had created an internal imbalance.

“Izzalia Argos!” Riku’s god roared. “Return!” The word carried all the weight and strength of her god. Riku howled once more, but the transformation had already begun. The grotto-le shrank in size, ceased flickering and, in a few moments, Izzie’s human body fell unconscious before them.

Proceed to Chapter 38...

Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich

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