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Chapter 17 Episode 2 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

Siegfried Ansel kept Adewole well into November before he was allowed to return to Mrs. Trudge's lodgings. That teapot-shaped lady welcomed him back with tears and tea cakes before she left him in his old rooms. Deviatka's personal effects had been brought down from Risenton, and Blessing had directed Mrs. Trudge to pack up the dead man's belongings and send them to his family. The guitar remained; Mrs. Trudge said it belonged to Adewole now, his family didn't want it. He picked it up, plucked a few chords and put it down. Too soon for music, too soon for anything stringed, too soon for anything of Deviatka's. The man he knew hadn't existed. Nothing about his friend had been real, not even the friendship, but when Major Berger cleared him to return to Risenton, Adewole took the guitar along.

Hildy Goldstein herself ferried him up late that same day. They had to wade through onlookers, well-wishers, journalists and the curious, and were forced to pose for pictures. "I don't like it either, Ollie, but it's easier to just get it over with," said the weary Hildy, by now a veteran of mob attention. The flashpots poofed, the crowd cheered; the inventor and the professor escaped before questions could be asked.

They landed at East Camp, where Adewole discovered Hildy was tinkering with a tiny, black mercury-fueled autocarriage--almost a powered wheelbarrow. "I'm trying to develop a lighter, less high-powered autocarriage specifically for Inselmond," she said. "Black mercury engines make it a lot easier than traditional steam-powered ones, but so far I have to bring the engines up and assemble the autocarriages here with what's to hand--which isn't much. Some day I'll develop a gyro with enough torque to lift the raw materials and equipment I need, but not now." Peter Oster put him in the passenger seat, and in much less time than it would have taken to walk, Adewole stood once again at the converted stable's door.

On its roof, a familiar outline blocked the already-darkening sky; it swooped down on silent wings to land on a fence post beside him. "Heard you was coming back, learnèd 'un," said Ofira the owl.

"My dear, dear friend," he exclaimed, holding out his hand. Ofira stared down at it, then back up at his face; he withdrew his hand, wondering what he'd expected her to do. "How is the hunting?"

"Hunting is good," she screeched, raising her head on her neck and fluttering her wings. "Thass allus good for me."

"I am glad to hear it." He paused, unsure what he wanted from her. "Ofira, you strike me as a bird of good sense."

"More sense than you, sure."

"Very likely," he smiled, then seized on the question. "Do you think I should stay on Risenton? Can I do any good here?"

Ofira ruffled her feathers in a shrug. "Makes no difference to feathered 'uns, though we like you. T'unfeathered 'uns, thass different."

"How so?"

"T'others from Dunalow bring change. You bring memory. Owls like memory. That serves us well--that serves t'unfeathered 'uns well, too, though they don't allus know it."

"I 'bring memory?' People on Risenton had memory before I came."

"Not the memory in the books. You bring that."

Imogen Lumburgher shared the same opinion when he went to see her in the morning. "I don't trust anyone from Dunalow in that Library but you. Ambassador Weil has plied me with wools and silks, tea and jam and I don't know what-all. I took what she offered, and I won't budge all the same," the Councilwoman all but cackled.

Adewole grimaced and rubbed at the scar on his throat; as Doctor Ansel had predicted, the scar had formed a distinct ridge. Adewole remained indifferent to his appearance, but the reminder of his friend's betrayal still rankled. "I will not be the only one who can read those books in time."

"Who is to teach those who would read the books? Not I, nor any of the translators and so-called scholars we've seen thus far," said the old woman. "You gave us back the island's ancient name. We once were Cherholtz. We are now Risenton. Who knows what we will be in a hundred, even twenty, years. It's all changing so very quickly." Councilwoman Lumburgher let her eyes rest on the bookcases lining the sitting room. "My family handed down the last thousand years of history, but you can unlock what came before. If we're to face the future, we need to know where we came from, what our true place once was in the world, so we might have some hope of reclaiming it. You wish to tell me something unpleasant, Professor. You are clever, but not as clever as you think. Your thoughts are as plain as an angler bug at midnight."

"I do not know if Risenton's culture can survive contact with the wider world, regardless what I find in the books, and if I find things of value in them, the University of Eisenstadt will lay claim to them. They would fund this proposed Chair."

"The Mueller Foundation funds the Chair."

"How do you know that?" he said, leaning forward, elbows on knees.

"Matilda Mueller, the Foundation's president, paid me a visit by radio," said the Councilwoman, her mouth pulled up in a smug knot. "She wanted my opinion on future scholarship in the Library. I said I could only allow you, and those acceptable to you, inside. She agreed. In other words, I created your position."

"But the money goes to the University of Eisenstadt--"

"As executor of the Foundation's intent, which is to support you. By the rules of the Chair's funding, your scholarship's benefits accrue to Risenton first, Eisenstadt second."

"So if I do not take this position, no one takes it, and no one is allowed inside the Library?"

"Correct."

Adewole laughed, shaking his head. "You cannot maintain such a position forever, ma'am."

The old woman's stained, crooked teeth gleamed in the ichor lamps' glow. "You might be surprised."

He considered. "Perhaps not. Listen now, Councilwoman. There is one thing you might do for me. It would decide me in your favor. There are many ghosts here for me, as you might imagine. This one thing will help me lay them to rest," he said.

It snowed heavily that winter on Risenton. When it thawed in the spring, the Council repaved the road leading to the Ossuary. At its end now stood an ancient black pillar, moved to the spot from deep inside the old burial chamber. On this day in Mai, the first anniversary of Hildegard Goldstein's historic flight to Inselmond, Professor Oladel Adewole knelt before it. Perched near him on a rock outcropping, a tawny owl blinked her great amber eyes as Adewole affixed a brass plaque to the pillar once holding the Machine God's heart. "What says the writing?" asked Ofira.

The plaque bore an inscription in both modern Rhendalian and the Risenton dialect. Adewole read it aloud:

ALLEINE
A child of Cherholtz
Here was imprisoned
Inside the Machine God
Magic and Metal and Spirit No More
This we swear

"I hold with that," said Ofira. She opened and closed her beak a few times. "You bring t'unfeathered 'uns memory, learnèd 'un, just as owls do for theirs."

"Truthfully, my friend," said Adewole, standing up straight, "I do this for myself alone."

"Same in the end."

Adewole looked around the rocky rise. It hadn't taken much to persuade the locals to fill in the Ossuary's entrances, though the presence haunting it since time immemorial had vanished. He took a silk ribbon from his pocket, a ribbon as bright a red as Alleine's spirit had been, threaded through his sister's pink and yellow good luck bead. He tied it round the pillar, turned, and started the long walk back to the Library. He looked back once to see the ribbon fluttering in the spring breeze. It would fade in time.

THE END

You've reached the end; if you enjoyed this book, please support me and help keep me writing. Purchase a book, either here or at Amazon. Links to all stores carrying DIC books are here and at The Drifting Isle Chronicles page, where you can also find more information on other authors' books in the series. You can also just send a couple of dollars to me via the PayPal link below. Ofira (and that Adewole guy) will return in my next Drifting Isle book, working title Songbird.

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