Chapter 10 Episode 1 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles
"The Ossuary?" shuddered Peter Oster. Adewole and the young Risentoner stood beneath an overhang near the marketplace the next morning, munching on oatcakes and angler mash from a street cart. It was raining heavily for the first time this season, and most of the island was busy filling civic water caches and household cisterns. "I won' take you," he said. "Thass haunted."
"Is it still in use as a burial chamber?" said Adewole.
"Thass haunted," the young man repeated, in the slow cadence reserved world-round for children, fools and foreigners. "I…won'...take you!"
"I take it the answer is no, it is not in use any more," said the professor. "Can you recommend another guide to take me?"
Peter shook his head in exasperation. He swallowed his mouthful of oatcake, wiped crumbs from his square, stubbly chin and said, "I tell you, none go near that. You best follow folk and do the same."
He would not. Adewole walked that night outside the Library, among the geometric vegetable plots in the former University quadrangle, and waited for the beat of wings he knew he'd feel before he'd hear. Ofira swooped down and perched on a fence post, her feathers gray and black in the night. "Out again, learnèd 'un? I tell you stay home, you come out. D'you think owls know nowt?" Ofira chided. Perhaps he should have named her after his mother instead of his sister, he reflected.
"I came to talk to you," said Adewole. "I brought you a beetle." He reached into a pocket, pulled out a wadded handkerchief and opened it; on his palm sat an angler bug, the "lantern" on its antenna tip shining and ready to lure unwary bugs to their doom and its satisfaction.
Ofira ruffled her feathers and snatched it from his hand. She swallowed it whole, its light the last thing to disappear. "Weren't all that hungry, could've found 'un myself, but I won' turn down an easy meal."
"Listen now, Ofira, I have a favor to ask you," said Adewole. The bird said nothing; she closed her eyes and, for all the world knew, fell asleep. Adewole pressed on. "Can you come to me in the day tomorrow? I need a guide."
She opened one round, amber eye. "Where to?"
Ofira opened both eyes and tilted her head down against her right shoulder. "Thass haunted."
"So Peter Oster says, but surely such stories do not bother you? You are an owl. You can outfly any spirit."
"A learnèd 'un can't."
"No, but I am not afraid," he lied. "Will you come to me tomorrow, and take me where I need to go?"
"What is there?" said the bird.
Adewole paused. "I am not sure, but I must look for it anyway."
Ofira blinked slowly. "Owls get notions, learnèd 'un, but I've a notion you'll go alone, do I say no. Sun-up tomorrow."
Deviatka and Wirtz still slept when Adewole wrapped his only drab-colored kikoi round his shoulders, shrugged on his oilskin overcoat and hat, tucked a small lantern in one pocket and two sandwiches in the other, and made his way to the University in the early dawn. Fall's chill now edged the nights and early mornings; though technically it was still summer, warmth retreated earlier on the island. A woman and a girl gathered breakfast vegetables from the quadrangle beds. They unbent and cheerfully hailed him; by this point he was used to his celebrity, and he returned their greetings. The thin, older woman took a purple-tinged carrot from her trug basket, washed it in the brimming rainwater irrigation barrel, and pulled out a knife to cut its green top. Dull, iridescent patterns swirled across the knife blade, like oils on the surface of a fine cup of coffee, or a fast-moving thundercloud.
Adewole stopped her hand. "Please, may I see your knife?"
"T'was my gran's, and her gran's, and her gran's," grinned the woman as she handed it over. She shrugged at the girl, who looked like a younger version of herself. "It'll be hers when I'm gone."
"Oh, gran, don't say such," murmured the pleased girl.
Adewole turned the knife over and over in his hand; it resembled a bird's wing feather, a strong, delicate curve. Both sides were sharp. "I have never seen this patterning aside from drawings--no, I think I've seen it once." The Chain of Office Councilman Eichel wore, he realized.
"Odd-metal's not something you see every day," said the proud woman.
"'Odd metal?' Is that what this patterning is called, or is this just an unusual piece of metal by itself?" said Adewole.
"Nay, thass what kind of metal that is. Do they not have odd-metal Dunalow?" said the woman. At the shake of his head, she nudged her granddaughter. "Well! Thass one thing we have they don't."
"That never goes dull," added the girl, "and that won' be melted down a'tall."
A chill ran down Adewole's back. Vatterbroch's manuscript called the machine god's parts "metal eternal." He reluctantly handed back the knife in exchange for the proffered carrot. "Is there much odd-metal on Risenton?"
"Here and there," said the old woman, "but not in great amounts. Fathers pass that to sons, mothers to daughters, and not everyone has a piece as we do to pass down. Mostly the rich--and the stubborn." Here she nudged the girl again, who rolled her cheerful eyes for her grandmother.
Adewole took his leave and walked toward the Library, munching the reddish-purple carrot thoughtfully. It was tougher than the sweet carrots found in Jero and Eisenstadt, but more flavorful, as rich as its coloring. Perhaps they stored better; the growing season here must be short, he thought.
Ofira glided down to land on the worn Library steps. "Still foolish, learnèd 'un?"
"Still foolish, my friend. Let us go."