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.
"Oh, no, not now!" said Adewole. "Ofira, can your people distract the autogyros? We need time. Do not put anyone in danger, but see if you can divert them." The owl flew off, calling to the other birds. As word spread, the flocks and singletons tacked to follow her. They met the aircraft just a few hundred yards away and circled in a clogging cloud. Some of the sparrows got too close. Blood and feathers sprayed as a gyro's rotors sucked them in. It sputtered but stayed aloft.
Adewole's throat constricted. "Let me show you something first." They had circled the entire island and returned to the forest near the Ossuary. Ofira flew up to meet them, two members of the parliament of owls escorting her. Just what he'd wished for.
"Learnèd 'un, do that be the summat grand the bad 'un took from you?" said the owl.
"Ofira, my dear, this is my friend Alleine. She is the one who gave the feathered 'uns thought and speech."
Ofira and her owls flew in slow circles around the Machine God. "We are born so, no one makes us so."
Adewole unfolded himself from the cargo pod. He ached all over, and not just from his injuries; the ride up from Eisenstadt had been extraordinarily rough. Even through his borrowed flight coat, gloves and hat the cold ate into his flesh, leaving his teeth chattering in the chill fall night. Inside the coat, alien to him in every way, nestled an old coilgun, another gift from the insistent Miss Goldstein who wasn't even sure it worked any more, "but better some gun than no gun."
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?"
The western road out of town ran straight and geometrical, like all the remnants of the old city. Its surface was the same as the Risenton Road splitting the island into east and west, and the Great Road ringing the island. The further Adewole got from the City, the more suspicious-looking stone foundations appeared on the cob houses alongside the road even as cobbles disappeared from the road itself, until the paving petered out into a dirt track.
Adewole kept walking. The sun crested the island’s edge at his back, though clouds and mist diffused its light. Few people shared the road today; he’d seen a bare handful of couriers and not a single barrowman. The couriers made almost no sound and came in and out of the mist most disconcertingly. “Why is no one out and about today?” said Adewole.
“First rain of the season yesterday,” said Ofira. “T’unfeathered ‘uns will be sick of that soon enow, but the first time’s allus a holiday. Nowt much out this way any road—we walk toward the Forest.”
"The Ossuary?" shuddered Peter Oster. Adewole and the young Risentoner stood beneath an overhang near the marketplace the next morning, munching on oatcakes and angler mash from a street cart. It was raining heavily for the first time this season, and most of the island was busy filling civic water caches and household cisterns. "I won' take you," he said. "Thass haunted."
"Is it still in use as a burial chamber?" said Adewole.
"Thass haunted," the young man repeated, in the slow cadence reserved world-round for children, fools and foreigners. "I…won'...take you!"
"I take it the answer is no, it is not in use any more," said the professor. "Can you recommend another guide to take me?"
Peter shook his head in exasperation. He swallowed his mouthful of oatcake, wiped crumbs from his square, stubbly chin and said, "I tell you, none go near that. You best follow folk and do the same."
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.
Peter sat down next to Deviatka to finish his sandwich. “Ask him what they eat here,” said Deviatka.
Peter shrugged at Adewole’s translated question. “Depends on what’s to hand. Ma does well with frog, rat or snake—rabbit and goat when times’re good, but most all our rabbit and goat go to the City. Most everything goes to the City.”
“And when times are bad?”
“Times’re allus bad. Thass what angler bugs’re for.”
“Ask him what an angler bug is,” said Deviatka.
The road warden and his kin asked Peter many questions in a fast patter; Adewole had trouble keeping up. The warden knew about the expedition from Dunalow already. Were they oathbreakers? Not as far as he knew, Peter said, since they hadn’t taken the oath to begin with, but yes, they did have metal flying machines as they’d heard; Peter had seen them himself. Adewole wondered how the warden had learned about them. Many couriers had passed them, but all at a fast walk not a run; none had stopped to talk, and none as far as he knew had seen the flying machines.