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 51: Trust
Riku was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the Fjord when she was conducted into it. After being questioned, she was asked to speak at one of the Council sessions. She told the simple facts about her pilgrimage, leaving out the part Virgil had played. The first thing she noticed was the stoic ferocity with which the High Priestess downplayed Izzie’s crimes.
“Izzalia Argos’ life has involved continuous rehabilitation,” Remera said, as if a lifetime of fighting had turned Izzie into a machine. Her arguments were both stunning and confusing to witness, but Riku continued to act like a neutral victim.
She felt a vague tug from her god, Yumi, reminding her that Virgil was still at large. Remera served to guide the interrogations and debates, reminding the dejan to keep the questions relevant.
Riku only managed to catch Telos in the corridor once, but the conversation had gone poorly. “You don’t need my help anymore, Riku. You have your god, and I have a job to do.”
After Riku had said her piece to the Council, she sat on the balcony of the Fjord looking up at a patch of empty sky through the smoggy clouds. The city sprawled below her, and she was comforted by the fact that from such a height it was impossible to see the details on the surface. At a distance, Mitchlum looked fertile and crowded, but its outer aspect took on a tinge of artificiality when she compared it to her memories of Dust.
Perhaps it was Yumi’s doing, but Riku ached to catch a glimpse of the vanished sea in that slim portion of sky. She was waiting for a confrontation but did not know from what direction it would come. Would Virgil appear in Mitchlum as he had promised? Would Izzie find a way to escape? More importantly, would Riku be able to stop either of them from wielding the Fjord’s devastating power?
“Wish you could have seen the whole sky filled with stars.”
A voice startled Riku, and she sprang to her feet. The High Priestess passed by almost silently on the smooth stone walkway. Before she could finish the ceremonial greeting, Remera waved it away. “When it’s just us, you can dispense with the formalities.”
Fatigue showed on Remera’s face in the dim light, making her look older. She still doesn’t look her age, thought Riku. The minute wrinkles beneath Remera’s controlled expression were barely discernible.
“It’s a shame you’ll never see the Milky Way behind the smog, or the moon rising over the ocean, for that matter. Both were breathtaking.”
Riku’s glimpse of the Celestial Plane at Dust, though brief, was still vivid. “I’ve heard stories about those things,” she said cautiously.
“You’ve never seen the darkness slowly disperse as the sun breaks over the horizon.” Remera’s sharp eyes glittered. “You’ll never see the first ray of sunlight stretch over the mountains after a long night. The Fjord saved us, you know that, but the cost was high. It fulfilled our greatest ambition — to live free of disease, and natural disasters, without fear of early death — but the world will never be perfect.
“You see, if the Fjord had transformed the planet completely, then it would’ve robbed us of the last vestige of our past and destroyed our connection with the gods. The sacrifice was necessary. New generations often lose sight of that. But that’s why we have such respect for the gods, because they represent our history, which we must never forget.”
“What about the ocean?” Riku asked, picking out the stars her eyes could find between the clouds. To her, the endless expanse of water she’d seen had been the most impressive part of her pilgrimage.
Remera regarded her with suspicion. “The old world was made up of many different elements, both good and bad, mighty and tame. But beauty still exists in the Cauterhaugh, and even in Mitchlum, though it’s a simpler, cleaner beauty.”
“I’ve heard about disease and wars, but my god feels what’s missing. Once I became a priestess, I understood sacrifice better. Like the grotto-le: they didn’t exist before the Fjord.”
Remera waved her hand. “You didn’t enter the priesthood in the usual way. Your understanding of history is no better than the typical initiate’s, though you’re endowed with uncommon powers. In time, the scope of history will become clear.”
A foreign, uncomfortable longing invaded Riku’s thoughts. She wondered if Nadyr would have preferred to grow old and die of disease, rather than suffer from the consequences of the Fjord. She felt unsettled, knowing that the world had been remade and could be altered in the future. She wondered what state of affairs had led to such drastic measures in the past.
“We did what we could for your village,” Remera muttered. “The rites and purifications were completed. You mustn’t put all the blame on Izzie, Riku. Her actions were random, and the result of my failures. I’m eternally sorry for what you suffered due to my mistakes.”
Caught off guard, Riku let the words sink in. “The Cauterhaugh wouldn’t exist without the Fjord. Were you really the one who built it?”
“I was a part of the project. Someone had to do something. The results were more complicated than we’d expected. But we’re still here, on this planet, making the most of what we have.”
The sense of longing returned, and Riku mulled over her words. The whole race of mags would not have arisen without the Fjord. If she had been born a voyin, like Telos, in a normal world, would she still be the same person? Was there any guarantee that humanity would always survive in one form or another?
Riku’s mind returned to what Virgil had told Izzie, and fear took root in her heart. Virgil and Gotenba wanted to reactivate the Fjord. Remera said the Fjord had only partially modified the land, that a small connection with the gods was maintained. Dust was only one component of the outcome. If the process was taken to its final stage, would the world return to its natural state? Would the Cauterhaugh disappear forever?
“What do you think would happen?” Riku asked slowly. “I mean, if the Fjord was used again.”
“Used again? What makes you think it can be?”
Riku merely shrugged.
“It could go one of two ways: either all organic or all Cauterhaugh.”
“So what are you going to do?” Riku asked, trembling slightly, “With Izzie, that is.” Changing the subject seemed the safest option.
“Another work in progress,” Remera answered ambiguously.
After a brief pause, the High Priestess laid a hand on Riku’s shoulder. Riku was amazed at this gesture from a figurehead who usually kept her distance, but she noticed the utter ordinariness of Remera’s hand. It was a perfect hand of flesh and bone. Something only a god could create, free of modification, pure and healthy. It disturbed her to think how long Remera had held onto that hand when people of Riku’s age, like Telos, sported artificial fingers and limbs.
“You’re a product of my creation,” Remera said quietly. “The Fjord is the only balance we have. Izzie opposes me now, but her rebellious attitude has been corrected before. You forget how long I’ve been doing this. You needn’t worry about your kind, either. You lost your village, but you still have a full life ahead of you. And the same Fjord that dreamed you up will sustain this planet.”
“The same Fjord that destroyed the old cities and wilderness? That undid everything the gods made?” Riku shook her head. Her words were full of emotion, and she could feel her god’s voice supporting her own.
“The planet has undergone similar changes again and again. Before people existed, it changed form in cycles. But instead of leaving it to the gods, we made the change this time. And it was a large sacrifice.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
“Izzie trusts you. She doesn’t trust me anymore, to put it plainly. She blames me for destroying her memories. But it was necessary. Her body has always been too powerful for her mind to control. You could say I had to keep her balanced, too. No matter what I do, she’ll always harbor resentment toward me. Losing her memories was the only way she could live a relatively normal life.”
Riku was surprised at the emotion the High Priestess betrayed with her words and remembered that she was still a mother. “Are you planning to have me take Izzie’s place?”
Remera frowned. “Even Ovid failed at restraining Izzie and the grotto-le. I wouldn’t ask the same of you, at least not at this stage. But perhaps Ovid’s heart wasn’t in it. I have great faith in you, but I understand if you hate me, too, because of what has happened.”
Riku was at a loss. She wished she could be alone to think things out. She debated how to proceed. Could her words influence anyone as important as the High Priestess?
“Izzie is a key component of the balance,” Remera said, “and we need to win her back to our side. The Council is made up of a bunch of politicians. Izzie’s the only one who knows how to punch.” Remera’s smile seemed out of place. Riku turned away irritably.
“You’ve got a part to play, Riku. An integral one. Come to me if you have more questions. I know we can accomplish a lot together. Trust in the gods.”
Remera began to walk away.
A buzzing sensation filled Riku’s head. It was her god, screaming something out to her.
“Yumi,” Riku said suddenly.
Remera paused, turned back slowly. “What was that you said?”
“My god is Yumi. God of the ocean.”
“You remember more about the realm of the gods than you let on. Why are you bringing it up now?”
“You said ‘trust in the gods’. Virgil always said the same thing. But it seems the only ones who take the gods literally are Izzie and he.”
“What did Virgil tell you?” The blood drained from Remera’s face. Even during the cross-examination, Riku had been careful to avoid mentioning the man who had sired Izzalia. And the effect was noticeable in Remera’s expression.
Riku didn’t have time to explain what she knew of the man, since the High Priestess had hastily darted back into the corridor.
Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich