Chapter 9 Episode 2 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles
Adewole walked back to his quarters, thinking on gods. Gods of chaos and destruction might do something like throw a city into the sky, but they always paired with gods of order and creation. Often they were two aspects of the same deity. Gods sometimes died in the various holy stories and myths, but humans never killed them. Only gods might kill gods. Risenton's creation myth was one of a kind.
As for Vatterbroch's notebook, destroying it was out of the question. A primary document, written near the Rising? Just out of the question. He must protect it from Lumburgher, and anyone else who might be superstitious enough to consider it dangerous.
Ofira the owl swooped down feet first to land on a marker by the University's empty gate; Adewole had been so lost in thought he jumped in surprise. She clacked her beak. "Out late, learnèd 'un."
Adewole stroked her feathered head. "You too. I thought you were the kind of owl who hunted in the day."
"I am the kind of owl that do as she please," answered Ofira, "and I hunt in the day but now and again."
"What do you please to do this evening?"
The owl's round amber eyes focused on his. "Follow you."
"Unfeathered 'uns should not be out this late alone. Scratch the back o' my neck that I can't reach."
Adewole did as she demanded, smiling in genuine pleasure at her concern. He'd grown quite fond of his owl companion in the weeks he'd been on Risenton, a shock considering how much the north's sentient birds bothered him. The taste of adeesah ghosted across his tongue, though it had been months now since he'd savored it. "Ofira, how do you feel about eating birds?"
"Depends on the bird."
"How do you mean?"
Ofira blinked long, inwardly calculating. "Starlings are stupid, and do my clutch need fed, I feed it. No clutch right now, sent 'em off last week."
Birds eating other birds wasn't quite what he'd meant, but Adewole let it pass. "So the starlings are safe."
"The starlings are safe," agreed the owl, "but I wonder do you be safe."
Adewole stopped rubbing Ofira's neck. "What do you mean?"
Ofira ruffled her feathers, an owl shrug. "Owls get notions."
What could possibly threaten him? He was an academic--an academic without much standing, though Risenton society looked upon him as something miraculous. His height and dark brown skin were magical enough, but his ability to read the old books put him somewhere in the wizard category. No one would want to do him harm based on that, surely? Councilwoman Lumburgher would be watching him, but not right this minute--he'd just left her. Who among the Eisenstadters would care? Were muggers and footpads hidden in the shadows? "Can you tell me more?"
"No," said Ofira, "but my fledglings are flown, and you are here. So I watch you now. Owls get notions."
"So you said," murmured Adewole. He hurried back to his lodgings. The owl hovered near, her wings sweeping low and slow. Adewole considered; she must be moody over her fledglings' departure. He bade her goodnight and went inside.
He found Deviatka plucking an old song on his guitar. "What kept you out so late?" said the engineer, putting the instrument aside. "Let me guess, a clever Old Rhendalian pun you can't quite translate and maintain its original sense."
Adewole gave his friend an affectionate glance as he shucked his coat. "That is a dilemma known to keep me up at night, but not this time."
"Have you been working on that book with the illustrated machine diagrams in it?" said Deviatka.
"It absorbs me much as the Choir absorbs you," he admitted. "Are you convinced now they use magic?"
"After today? I think I might," said Deviatka. "I traded a little ichor--the black mercury--for a further demonstration of their abilities. One of them had made a new pendant, the first one in centuries, they said, and I think I told you they need ichor to work. Choirmaster Chandler sang the 'angry song' without a pendant, and I swear it was the exact same one he sang before with the same intensity, but I didn't feel a thing. Then he sang with the new pendant--again, nothing. And then he put the ichor in it…I got so angry I knocked over my chair. I didn't believe in magic. I don't believe in gods, but then, neither do the Risentoners, and look what the Choir can do."
Adewole thought of the fearless Imogen Lumburgher, brought to hysteria's brink at the mere mention of gods. "Oh, they believe in a god all right, and they are terrified of it. The Councilwoman told me today a god tried to kill them so they killed it before it could succeed. She swore this god threw the island into the sky, and no god will ever be allowed to come here again."
"How can you have belief in magic without gods?"
"It is true, no atheist culture has legends of past magic, at least legends looked on as more than silly fairy tales," said Adewole. "It is one of the main differences between Jerian folklore and recent Rhendalian folklore--we have folk tales of magic and magical beings many still believe to be true, even though no one has ever seen it. You do not have these tales--yours are all based on morals and aphorisms. We believe in the gods. You do not." He chewed on his lip in thought. "Risenton is an oddity. It believes in magic but not in the active presence of gods. From what I have read, before this terrible 'god' or whatever it was appeared, Risenton believed magic filled the city, right then, not in some mythical past. And there is a connection with ichor. Have you found any black mercury on the island, Deviatka?"
"No, and we've looked. Whatever's here is all in the Choir's Duets."
Adewole stopped at the mention of Duets and remembered. "Karl, how did you get in to see the Choirmaster? He is not allowing any Eisenstadter in to Melody Hall--he turned me away just this afternoon."
"Oh!" said Deviatka. "Not today. I meant…was it yesterday? Before Poole stole the Duet. Anyway, you were speaking of magic."
"There was a great deal of it once," said Adewole, warming to the subject, "if I can believe the Vatterbroch manuscript."
Deviatka leaned across the sheet music scattered on the table. "Can you tell me more about what's in the manuscript? Without your translations, I'll never know what this machine does."
"You must swear to me you will not repeat it," Adewole said with reluctance. "I do not want the Risentoners to be alarmed, Karl."
"I swear. I double-swear if this is something Blessing can steal. Why would it alarm the locals?"
"It breaks the Oath--combining metal and magic, that is what the Oath is about. When a Risentoner reaches thirteen, he swears never to combine magic and metal, and then never to speak of it again. This manuscript may be the source of the taboo."
Deviatka kept unblinking eyes on him. "Tell me what it says."
"If I am reading this correctly, it describes a machine which can house a consciousness. The consciousness is obtained and bound to the machine with--with spells."
He'd expected Deviatka to show some sign of disbelief, a clack of the tongue, a turning away in disgust, but instead the engineer nodded. "Go on."
"That is all. I mean, there are diagrams for building the machine--you have seen these--and there are spells to bind the consciousness to the thing, though I have not translated them all. Nor have I discerned what the consciousness is or where it comes from, whether spells create it out of thin air or whether it is an existing one--a god, a man, I do not know."
Deviatka bounced his fist on the table. "But was it ever made?"
"I do not know yet." Not entirely true; according to his notes, Vatterbroch had built the Bone Lyre, but the less said about that grisly thing the better. Adewole sat back in his chair and rubbed his palms against his head; he must shave his hair off, or he would have to have it braided soon. Or he might buy a bigger hat. Perhaps Wirtz could serve as barber. Wirtz made sure he ate, after all. Adewole finished his thought. "I will tell you what I suspect, Karl. This machine god is the god Imogen Lumburgher told me they killed at the time of the Rising."
"You think it was made, then, and performed the Rising," exclaimed Deviatka.
"The Rising? I do not know if I can go that far. I must finish the translation before I know more, and even then I will most likely not have an answer. Whether it is myth or reality, I may never know." Adewole retrieved his bansu and thumbed through the sheet music. "Now let me push all this out of my head before it bursts. What are we playing?"