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 52: Balance
Izzie sat on a steel bench in her cell, thinking. The tiny window in the wall afforded a limited view of the metropolis. Her whole life had been out of focus. Imagining what the Fjord could do was so incomprehensible she couldn’t grasp the full scope of it. All told, she had spent nearly all of her time avoiding the Fjord. Her beast-form had been an asset, a natural extension of her inner power, but now it was clear that it was her weakness. She was not the Council’s most powerful weapon; the Fjord was.
Izzie watched the movement of tiny vehicles below, and her anger was subdued by melancholy. Virgil could be in Mitchlum already for all she knew. She hated him for his lies. But was the anger her own? How much of it belonged to her god?
Riku peeked through the bars of the cell door. Despite the complex emotions Riku felt for Izzie, she couldn’t help but worry. Riku paused on the threshold.
“Take a look at the skyline,” Izzie said quietly. “From this high up you can see the wall.”
Riku stared with wonder out the hazy window. “When I lived in Kaminovo Village, I used to dream about the Fjord. They told stories about it. And I was thankful for it, too. It’s like a monument and, without it, I probably wouldn’t exist.”
Riku had no idea how to feel about the destruction of the old world. Even Remera was haunted by an inescapable sense of loss. The inorganic race, which had emerged from the cataclysm, now seemed like an accident.
Izzie’s face took on a stern expression. “It’s hard to say what would’ve happened if my mother hadn’t wiped out most of the population with her giant hypodermic. We are only thankful because we see history through a lens, and the ones who died to bring about our new world are forgotten.”
Riku was unable to respond.
“I’m sorry, Riku. This all happened too quickly. I’ve been apologizing a lot recently.”
Riku shuddered. Yumi tugged at her mind, but in a comforting way. Before becoming a priestess, she’d known what the consequences of the Fjord had been, but in an abstract and disconnected way. Not too long ago she’d been innocent, regarding history more as a series of myths.
It won’t last forever, the voice whispered inside her.
“A lot has changed recently,” Riku said. “Even with the threat of grotto-le and the dangers of the Cauterhaugh right outside my village, I preferred a simple life.”
“I liked it, too, Riku. But I’ve realized I can’t dwell in the past. We have to think about the future. We’re already a part of history, and we have to see it through.”
“I don’t feel I’ve done anything important,” Riku said.
It was Izzie’s turn to sigh. “You managed to stop one of the worst disasters the Council has ever faced: me. I wasn’t sure how great you’d turn out to be, but my god led me to you on that mountaintop. I definitely prefer you to Ovid.”
Riku was silent.
“I always wondered what Ovid’s purpose was. Why my mother kept him around like a servile pet. I knew he wasn’t my real brother. He despised me and... he’s really more horrible than I imagined, but Remera had him around in case I lost control.” Izzie stared into the distance pensively. “But maybe he was like you when he was young. Maybe he still had an open mind before the Council changed him.”
Confidence welled up in Riku, and her god rose to the surface, urging her on when she normally would’ve let the matter rest. “I’m nothing like Ovid. And I’m never going to be.”
Izzie frowned, and her eyes widened in astonishment. “I didn’t mean to make it sound that way. You’re a priestess now. And honestly, you’re my friend. Or were. I don’t know how you feel now. I’ll always be grateful to you. Is it just a coincidence that you have the power to stop me? Or is it the will of the gods?”
Riku was startled. Several months before, she would have thought she was dreaming to hear the High Priestess’ daughter call her a friend. After Remera opened up to her, Riku had realized that even though Izzie destroyed Kaminovo Village, she was still a victim of Remera’s meddling. It was hard to imagine anyone being able to have that kind of power, but Remera obviously did. Riku said: “Nadyr always said, ‘There is no such thing as coincidence’.”
“It would’ve been good to have you around in the beginning,” Izzie said. “You’re what Remera and Ovid could never be. If only the future weren’t already set in stone, at least as far as my fate is concerned.”
“What kind of future would you prefer?” Riku asked tentatively.
Izzie smiled. “You value life. My destructive choices have led me here, I still want to see peace in the world. I’ve always believed tomorrow doesn’t have to be as terrifying as the present. I’ve had to console too many broken families. After a while, I couldn’t feel anything anymore.”
Riku nodded, thinking of all the times Nadyr told her about yin and yang, and of the duty and devotion of the priesthood, the balance that kept the world intact.
“Virgil and Remera— my mother and father— are like two kids holding onto the ends of a rope. I’m caught between them, tangled in a tug-of-war. But one of them is going to have to let go.”
For a long moment they were silent. There were tears in Izzie’s eyes, but there was also an intense hardness to her features. “If I’d never been to the Celestial Plane, and if my mother hadn’t been the one responsible for the Fjord, and if I’d never met my god, Omi, huddled in her cave, perhaps I’d be all right with dying for my sins. It feels wrong to leave so much unresolved. Maybe there is meaning behind our coexistence with the grotto-le, as my mother prefers to think. But in the end, do we really deserve this world? Is it truly ours to do with what we please?”
Riku stepped back. Fierce emotions rose in her chest. She remembered the smoldering remains of Kaminovo Village, and the deaths Izzie had left in her wake. “You agree with Virgil, then?”
“Long ago, the god of the forest took root in him. Remera had a good reason to convince me that my father was dead, I suppose. On the other hand, I’ve never been very close to my god. The Council has always gotten in the way. I was bound to run into him sooner or later.”
“Remera said the Fjord maintains what little balance is left. Do you believe that?”
“I don’t care what my mother said. She built a new society out of lies. Why should I believe anything she says? Especially about her precious Fjord?”
Riku was stunned. After saying she wanted peace, how could Izzie not worry about the feud between her parents?
She is part of the balance. Riku’s god chided gently. “Do you really hope for peace, or do you just want to oppose your mother?”
The shock in Izzie’s face quickly changed to anger and she stood, rattling her chains. “You think it’s just to get back at her?”
“Maybe a part of it. You’re letting your anger blind you to the possibility she could be telling the truth. Virgil’s solution may be worse than hers.”
“Any truth she believes is bound to be warped.”
Riku remembered Remera’s words and a chill ran down her spine. “Izzie, what if she’s protecting you from Virgil?”
“I don’t need her protection. I don’t need her suppressants! I can fend for myself! I always have! No one ever held my hand.”
“No one ever cared for you, right?” Riku’s words surprised them both.
Izzie’s rage deflated. “Riku, I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”
“If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that listening to your emotions can lead to heartache. Telos taught me to think things out. You’re wrong to think there’s only two sides to the situation. We need to know more. We have to know if balance is possible before we gamble with so many lives.”
“You could be right. But I won’t be around to see what happens.”
Riku cringed. “You don’t know that. There’s still a trial.”
“The time has come for others to take up where I leave off.”
Riku’s heart raced. Izzie’s attitude did not sit well with her, nor did Remera’s. Without another word, Riku retreated from the hallway, and Izzie called after her.
Copyright © 2019 by L. S. Popovich