Chapter 11 Episode 1 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles
The air clotted in Adewole’s throat; the room pulsed and swayed. When he recovered his voice, shaky and horrified, he said, “I did not mean to wake you, Alleine.”
“Then why’d you feed me?”
“How did I do that?”
“Don’t you know? The ichor. You fed me ichor. I wish you hadn’t.”
She must have absorbed the lantern’s black mercury, he thought. “I am sorry. It was accidental. I was not sure what I would find.”
“So you didn’t come for me,” said Alleine in a small voice.
Adewole wiped his face on the back of his hand. Dust from his glove smeared across his damp cheeks and eyes, and he pulled out his handkerchief to wipe away the angry grit. He sat down on a flat boulder in the rubble. “No one knew you were here, child, not for a very long time.”
The girl’s voice fell silent for so long Adewole thought she’d fallen asleep—he rather hoped she had—and he started when she spoke again. “Where am I? I can’t see, though it’s sorta like seeing when I reach out. It’s like I can see you if I touch you.” The red mist crested the lid of the box and formed a tentative, questing finger. “But I dunno what I’m reaching out with. Does that make sense?”
“None of this makes sense,” he muttered. He rubbed at his aching temples. “Where are you—you are in the Ossuary. Or rather, the box containing you is in the Ossuary.”
“The Ossuary? That’s haunted!”
“Little one,” Adewole laughed through the lump in his throat, “you are the one who haunts it.”
“You won’t leave me here alone, though, will you? I won’t go back to sleep for a while, and it’s scary.”
“Do you sleep at all?”
“If I fall asleep it’s because I’m out of ichor. Otherwise, I’m awake all the time.”
What was he to do? The academic in him rebelled against disturbing such a site—a thousand years of history! He should document it first. But the brother in him could not leave a frightened child in pain, in the dark, in a place she believed to be haunted. “I suppose I will just have to take you with me. May I look inside the box, Alleine? I will not get hurt, will I?”
“Of course you can. I won’t hurt you.”
Adewole approached the pedestal. His fingers crept inside the iron box, ready to withdraw at a moment’s notice, until they closed around a cube-shaped object about the size of a grapefruit. He raised it out of the box. The red mist he thought of as Alleine’s life force floated inside the glassy cube. This was the heart of the Machine God.
A finger of mist rose from it. Instinct jerked his hands away from his body. “Is it all right if I look at you now? I don’t think you can hurt me. I just want to know what you look like. It don’t hurt—I don’t think. If it does, I’ll stop. Is that all right?” He murmured his assent. More mist left the cube in a long, pulsing red rope. Starting at his head, it patted his hair, his face, his shoulders, just as a child’s hand might. When it finished at his feet, it withdrew again. “You’re real tall, sir.”
“So I have been told,” he smiled.
“I like your face, it’s a kind one. What’s your name? Will you tell me?”
“I am called Oladel Adewole.”
“That’s a funny name. Olladle? Adwolay?”
“I am from a far-away place called Jero. Have you heard of it?”
“No-o-o...Could I call you something else? I suppose I could just call you Master.”
A base thought whispered, She is a primary historical source like no other; let her call you Master, and keep her testimony for yourself. It will make your career. He beat it down, and said, “You are no one’s servant, Alleine, especially mine. I had a sister once, about your age. She used to call me Ollie. Call me that.”
“Ollie. That’s funny, too, but I like it.”
Adewole fancied there was almost a smile in her voice. “Are you feeling better, then?”
The smile disappeared. “It allus hurts, though it’s better when we talk. Don’t stop talking, Ollie.”
Adewole had to tell the child what had happened to her. More to his self-interest, said his inner scholar, she might then tell him first- hand what happened to the city. “Shall I tell you a story, then?” he said at last. “Perhaps you can help me tell it.”
“I don’ remember many stories,” said Alleine. “My mam used to tell me stories, but it’s been a while.”
“I think you may know parts of this one.”
“This is about Master’s Machine God, isn’t it?” she said, her voice rising. “I hate that story. That’s a scary story.”
“It might be a scary story, indeed, I am sure it is, but I think it is one we need to tell one another. You may tell me your part, and I will tell you what happened after. Will you trust me?” A long, stubborn pause: he’d pushed too far, too soon. “All right, then, I will tell you one thing about what happened after. It is a thing you need to know.”
“What’s that?” she said in a voice reminding him of his sister dragging her sullen toe across the floor.
“A very long time has passed since you went to sleep.”
“You said that. How long?” she said, curiosity awakened.
“A thousand years.”
Silence again. “How long is that? Is Maria Kyper’s stall gone?”
“Child, everything is gone. There is no easy way to tell you this. Everyone you have ever known is dead.”
“Maria Kyper’s dead? That makes me really sad. I really liked her. She sold ribbons and buttons and such. I used to do jobs for her before Master Vatterbroch, run errands and such. I wish she’d kept me. She was nice,” said Alleine. “How did Maria Kyper die?”
If Maria Kyper hadn’t died in the Rising, she’d died of starvation, disease or worse in its aftermath, thought Adewole. “I do not know exactly how, but no one lives a thousand years. Everyone who ever spoke your language is dead—that is how long it has been.”
“You can speak it.”
“I am unusual. I study languages, even the ones no one speaks any more. It is my job—I am a professor, a sort of scholar—a learnèd man,” he said, thinking of the owls.
“Why would you want to learn a language no one speaks any more?”