Chapter 12 Episode 1 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles
Adewole cried helplessly for some time, until Alleine soothed, "Oh, Ollie, you must've loved her a lot. I wish I was dead and she was here."
"She is gone," said Adewole, wiping his eyes and nose on his last clean handkerchief. "Wishing changes nothing, child."
"Don't I know it. I'm still sorry for you, though."
"Thank you, my dear." He sniffled and cleared his throat until he brought himself back under control.
Alleine broke the silence. "Ollie, can I ask you something? You said you didn't know I was in here. What was you looking for?"
"Oh," he said, recollecting himself, "I have this book, a very old book, that I believe your Vatterbroch wrote. It diagrams what he did--rather, the process of making a Machine God. In the back, another man wrote about what happened to the city, and described where they put the God's 'heart.' I came to see if I could find it."
"He wrote nothing about me in the book?"
Vatterbroch had used the clinical term subject rather than the more truthful abandoned girl no one would miss. "No, nothing about you."
"He says how he did it in the book?"
"That's a bad book, then, you should burn it, Ollie," she said urgently, "but first, please--please see if there's something in it which will make the pain stop, or even let me out. I think if you let me out I'll die, but it's bad in here. It burns and itches even though I don't have anything to burn or itch, so if there isn't anything else, see if you can let me out," she begged, her voice increasingly frantic. "I'm scared someone will find me and put me back in the God. People came and took it apart, but the pieces don't rust or anything. Someone might put it back together again if they found that book, and then they could put me back in it, and that would be awful."
"No," he reassured her, his heart wrung. "I will not leave you here."
"If you find a way to let me out but I die, I promise I'll find your sister in the Star City and tell her you love her. I'll find Mam and we can take care of her till you come, too, except I hope that ain't for a long time."
Adewole fought the ball of grief in his throat. At the mention of the Star City, though, he put his elbows on his knees again and clasped his hands, once again intent. "If I find a way, I promise I will let you out." Not until she's told us everything she can of the past, whispered the rebellious scholar in the back of his mind. He dismissed it angrily. "Tell me now about the Star City. Wait, I will get my notebook and pencil."
"You don't know about the Star City? Where do the dead people in Jero go?"
"The same place all dead go, though we call it by a different name. We say our dead go to the Heavenly River--that is our Star City. Mama Chano takes the good people to Her beautiful palace on the banks to feast, but the Crocodile God snaps up the bad people and drags them to the bottom of the River." If the Great Crocodile existed, Adewole hoped even now Vatterbroch writhed in His scaly jaws, as He ripped out the evil man's bones one by one, over and over, forever.
"A crocodile? What's that? Is it a real thing?"
"Crocodiles are real. I have seen many, though not the Great Crocodile--with luck and good works, I never shall meet the Great One, or so I hope. A crocodile is an enormous lizard, bigger than a man, which lives in the rivers of warm places like Jero. They have many sharp teeth and can eat a horse in three bites, but only one of them is a god."
"My mam's in the Star City. I hope I go there, too, but I don't know if I can. I ain't been good. Maybe the Crocodile God will get me," she whispered.
"You are as good as gold," said Adewole. It was time to distract them both from their pain. "Tell me about the Star City, now." He opened his notebook, filled in the date, and began to write, squinting in the bare glow of the pink lightcrystals and the brighter red of the Machine God's heart.
The sun had sunk below the island's rim when Adewole left the Ossuary. The owl Ofira to all appearances had never left her perch; she opened her great round eyes, shook out her feathers and said, "You found something, eh, learnèd 'un? Took your time. I near left to find the soldier or t'other learnèd 'un."
"I found someone. Something." He shifted his grip on his heavy satchel's handle. "Listen, now, Ofira, you must not tell anyone we have come here."
"Your doings're your own. I tell none."
"You must promise me, tell neither feathered or unfeathered."
"I promise," she said in irritation. "Can you find your way home, though it be comin' on dark?"
"I believe so. Any notions I need to know about?"
"I get notions, you'll know. Now, I'm hungry, and I hear red voles in the brush. Can you not? I can near taste 'em." Ofira drifted off her perch, swooped in a low, looping farewell, and made her leisurely way off to find dinner.