Chapter 11 Episode 3 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

Adewole wondered what Councilwoman Lumburgher would think of such an apology. “Those people are dead now, but their descendants live. I would tell them if you tell me. I want to tell your story, Alleine. Telling your story would be the culmination—the most important thing I have ever done, or will do. Will you tell me, since you could not tell them?”

“I already told you what happened,” she said.

“But I need to know more. I need to know everything—what the city was like, what your life was like, what Vatterbroch did. You will be helping everyone immensely if you do. You mentioned someone named Birdie. Was she another Machine God like you?”

“I’m not a Machine God,” said Alleine, her voice angry; the red light within the cube flared and subsided. “I was just inside one. Birdie wasn’t in one like that. She was in a different kind of one.”

Adewole mopped his brow with a clean handkerchief. He was not prone to sweating, but now he grew clammy, damp and miserable even in the dry Ossuary air. “Was she another little girl like you?”

“No, she was a bird, that’s why I called her Birdie,” Alleine said patiently. “She said she’d been a pigeon before. Or, she didn’t know the word pigeon. She showed me a picture in my head of a bird like her.”

“So birds spoke then,” said Adewole.

“Everyone knows birds can’t talk. Well, except for Birdie, and she couldn’t, until I helped her.”

“How did you help her?”

“Before Master put me in here he did what he did to me with a bird first. He said she was a proof of...proof of...”

“Proof of concept?”

“Yes,” she said, pleased. “That’s what he called it. He didn’t make a Bone Lyre, though. I think he knew he’da killed Birdie before he could finish it. I wish I’d died then...” Her voice faltered. “I thought Birdie was a broken toy when I first came to the workshop. She never moved right, she just sorta lay on one side and scrabbled her feet in the air every once in a while.”

A thought came to him: the gardeners’ odd-metal knife was shaped like a feather. “Tell me, now, was she made of metal like the Machine God’s body? Gray, with swirled patterns upon it?”

“Just like the Machine God, uh-huh. Master said he’d worked out a way to make the metal so you couldn’t break it, and that’s why it looked like that.”

“I might have found part of Birdie. I will see if I can show it to you some time. So you said you helped her.”

“Not until he put me in this heart here—that’s what he called it. When I was still me, I couldn’t help anyone. But when he put me in here...I don’t think he knew it, and I sure never told him,” she whispered, “but I could do stuff once I got in here. Magic.”

Here was his chance. “Alleine, can you do magic now?”

“I dunno. Should I try something? Tell me something to do, something where I won’t hurt anyone."

Adewole’s eyes rested on a faintly sparkling rock the size of an an- gler bug. “There is a—” What was her word for lightcrystal? He hazarded a guess. “A rock of light, just to your left, by the wall. Can you feel it?”

“You mean a sun crystal?” A red mist tendril crept along the wall until it found the lightcrystal. “What now?”

“Lift it.” The lightcrystal trembled and slowly, painfully rose six inches into the air. “Now, can you bring it to me?”

The crystal teetered through the air, just clearing the floor, until it hit a rock; the red mist dissolved, and the crystal dropped into the dirt. “Nope. I haven’t eaten enough, I think maybe. Please don’t feed me,” she pleaded, “I don’t want to do magic any more. Bad things happen.”

Adewole blew out a long, relieved breath. “No, you do not need to do magic any more. Tell me what you did before, how you helped Birdie.”

“Well, once I was in the heart, I could hear Birdie. She cried all the time, it was so hard to listen to—well, birds don’t cry, but do you know what I mean? It was a feeling like crying. I have it too, but hers was worse. She didn’t know what happened, she was on’y a bird. She couldn’t figure out how to work the metal bird body, and it scared her. I just sorta felt all that, like pictures in my head except I didn’t have one...it’s hard to explain. I scared her, I think she thought she was trapped and I was gonna hurt her. I tried to tell her what happened, but she couldn’t understand me. So-o-o, I made it so she could.”

“Did you use a spell?” said Adewole.

“I just thought real hard.” Creating sentience with a thought—Ad- ewole almost broke out in astonished, frightened laughter. “Anyway,” Alleine resumed, “after that I told her what happened, and we figured out how to work the metal bird thing together. Once she could fly, I opened a window where Master wouldn’t notice—just like I tried to move the sun crystal—and she got out. Master never knew, or if he did, he didn’t care. She come back and tell me all kinds of things going on. I guess it was a bad year for food, because she come back and said the other birds told her they was hungry.”

“You said birds could not talk.”

Alleine paused. “I just figured she talked to them in bird talk. Anyway, she said times was bad. I said, what do they want to eat, and she said, most birds like bugs. So there was a little fisher beetle nearby. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it. I just thought hard and it grew bigger, and then I thought about there always being lots of them. Birdie told me later there was lots of ‘em after that all over the place, and the birds was happy. It made me feel better. It still hurt, but I felt better.”

“Let me tell you something now, child,” said Adewole, trying to contain his excitement, “you may not have meant to, but you made all the birds in Cherholtz like Birdie.”

“All of them?”

“All of them. Some remained behind on the ground when the city rose. Little sparrows beg me for biscuit crumbs when I sit in cafes. The talking birds are spreading, too. They have just begun to reach Jero, which is not very fun for us because we Jerians like to eat birds.”

“Oh, I do too. When I can get it, I like chicken a lot. Or I did.”

“We will not be able to eat chickens soon in Jero, the chicks are beginning to talk.”

“Oh dear,” said Alleine. “That’s not what I meant to do at all.”

Adewole smiled in spite of himself. "I have a talking bird friend. She is an owl, named Ofira."

"An owl?" she said, happy excitement in her voice for the first time. "Can I meet her?"

"Perhaps. I shall see what I can do."

"That's a pretty name, Ofira. I never heard it before."

"It was my sister's," said Adewole, sobering all too quickly.

"The one my age?"

"Yes."

"What's she like?"

"She was…" He cleared his throat and tried again. "She was a bright, happy girl. She loved oranges with her coffee. I would bring her pretty little trinkets--see," he said, pulling out his watch and forgetting Alleine had no eyes, "this little pink and yellow bead, our mother gave it to her before she died, but Ofira insisted on braiding it into my hair. She said it was good luck." Tears stung and burned in his eyes, and he blinked hard. "She was full of business, loved to pull little pranks but she was never cruel. She loved birds--and the river. She used to walk me to the University along the river some days--and dancing. She loved to dance. Her braids would twirl just like her skirts…"

"But she doesn't do that now?" prompted Alleine.

"She is dead." Adewole had not truly cried for his sister in months; he could not afford it. Now, in the near-dark with this trapped little girl-spirit, the tears poured down his dirt-streaked face, and a sob broke straight from his heart into the silent chamber. "She is dead."

Comments

Cheez-It's picture

hmm. In The Kaiser Affair, Bettina says that sparrows can only talk to other birds and not to people. You mention talking sparrows a few times. I can't remember if Black Mercury said one way or the other.

I'm guessing you have the right of it, since TKA only had it as a throwaway comment whereas you use it as a minor plot point. Still, I wondered if you guys had noticed that you'd treated them differently from each other.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

Sparrows can only talk a bit--basics like warnings and begging; they're not great conversationalists by any means, and that's what Bettina means.

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