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 38: Storm
Izzie’s time in the realm of the gods was even more leisurely than her respite in Waypoint Town. Being constrained to the seemingly peaceful Celestial Plane was an exercise in discipline for her. While she had the chance, she examined the paintings on the walls of Gotenba’s hut. In them, Izzie recognized creatures of legend. She had read plenty of popular stories about elephants and whales. The creatures in the stories had died out but, judging by the paintings Gotenba had kept, he was more concerned with Omi's ancient creations than her recent prophesies.
It was difficult to dismiss her fellow human beings, but it was no easier to say their intentions had been good. Ever since Izzie could remember, she had hunted grotto-le. Much of her time had been spent defending territories that had never belonged to humans in the first place. The Council’s demanding regimen of missions kept her mind off the consequences of her mother’s actions as High Priestess, not to mention the lost memories of her childhood.
“Do you remember how it felt when Omi first awoke inside you?” Gotenba asked, possibly following her train of thought.
She tried to recall. “No, I have no memory of the event.”
Gotenba looked unsurprised. “Odd that such a defining moment in your life is absent from your recollections.”
The full meaning of his words were unclear at first, but she repeated them in her head and asked, “You said Omi awoke in me. Are you saying she was inside me already? That she didn’t enter the vessel of my body?”
Gotenba flashed a sharp-toothed grin. “Yes, the gods are there all along.”
“So priests have a god slumbering in them, waiting for the right moment to make itself known?”
“The gods are far more numerous than you think. The trees, mountains and animals in your world are just extensions and incarnations of the gods. Bodies are no exception. Your terminology leads you to revere some and fail to recognize others.”
Outside, the waves had calmed down. The sea was tranquil. Gotenba ran his hand across a polished wood pillar. “Omi designed the creatures depicted on those scrolls. They are just a sampling of her minor work. It’s a shame how many of those beasts have ceased to exist.”
Most of them were unrecognizable to Izzie, but she was sure every single one had gone extinct. The scrolls had varied in style, and portrayed many scenes from before the Fjord. She saw Golden Ages alongside Dark Ages, decorated with ancient indecipherable hieroglyphs.
She wondered if any of the other gods rivaled Omi’s power. The various intrigues and betrayals the gods enacted upon one another in stories were usually far too complex for her to puzzle out, but her mind was already burning with the knowledge she had gained.
Gotenba sat on a low bench next to his hut, observing a formation of clouds. On the shore beyond, flowers bloomed in greater variety than Izzie had ever seen before.
“Omi never stops creating,” Gotenba said. “That’s why she’s so great. Even blind, and after thousands of years, she never runs out of inspiration.”
“But will my world ever recover from the changes of the Fjord? Is Omi able to help?”
“You’d be surprised what a god can do, given time. But the natural tendency of the gods is to strive toward balance. They can survive only in opposition to human beings, who break apart the planet to live. Like the gods, human beings execute change on their environment for their own ends. The difference is that the gods invigorate with their power, and humans create a persistent decay. The more the world evolves away from the intentions of the gods, the harder it is to attain balance. The gods are reimagined and forgotten in your realm, and undergo their own struggles at home. It’s just the natural process of change.”
Izzie stared absently at a sleek bird, of a type she had never laid eyes on. She watched the stately bird dip its long beak in the water, and finally understood what Gotenba meant. The creature was in harmony with its surroundings. She glanced down at her own body. It was so easy to forget that the modifications were no longer there, because her body was functioning without the additions given to her by her mother.
The thought of returning to the other world infuriated her. The resentment she had felt toward Remera reached a crescendo, and anxious sweat broke out on her forehead. The fighting she lived for was no different from the battles of her ancestors, who had manufactured or incited war at every turn.
Gotenba playfully kicked his stubby feet over the edge of the bench, but his expression was solemn. He pointed with a finger at the far horizon. Izzie followed it and saw ominous clouds.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Rashi,” Gotenba said.
“The god of storms. Out of jealousy, Rashi blinded Omi with a bolt of lightning. For punishment, Rashi was exiled from the Celestial Plane. For a while, at least.”
Izzie processed the concept for a moment. An outcast god with a grudge against her god was more than a little concerning. “What’ll happen if she comes back?”
“For hundreds of years, Rashi has passed through other realms. In each one, great changes have undone Omi’s creations.”
“Are you saying it happened in my world too?”
“Rashi embodies chaos. She is drawn to worlds where balance has been lost. After wreaking havoc, she usually moves on to another. Omi once contained her in a mirror but, since she’s been free, even the Celestial realm is not safe from the storm.”
“What can I do to help?” Izzie asked.
“You’re no match for the gods while you’re here but, in your own world, you possess great strength.”
Izzie was silent. “But how will I know what to do?”
“In time, you shall. But soon, you will return. That relic you found was only a one-time link. It was a sword cast off from a serpent’s tail during a battle between the gods.”
“But I thought it was a relic from the time of the Ancients.”
“Time is not so important to the gods. Throughout history, your world has changed dramatically. The gods may change, but our world has not yet lost its balance. But do not worry. Next time we meet, the outlook will be different.”
“Will it be good or bad?”
Gotenba smiled wickedly. “That depends on what you do now.”
The beautiful scene around her once again faded, along with her consciousness.
Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich