Tags: the drifting isle


Chapter 14 Episode 2 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

Originally published at MeiLin Miranda. You can comment here or there.

When Adewole woke again he felt almost human. The nurses had removed the restraints around his head, and he gingerly turned toward the window and its view of the city and Lake Sherrat. In the distance floated Risenton. "I have to go back," he murmured.

"You're not going anywhere," said Siegfried Ansel from the doorway. He entered the room, put his stethoscope to his ears, and listened to the arteries in Adewole's neck. "A damn close thing, Professor," he said as he checked his patient's pulse points. "I'm still surprised you didn't bleed out before we found you. Let me help you sit up, there's a good man."

Adewole's almost-recovered voice still rubbed raw on the ear. "Why did I not?"

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Chapter 13 Part 3 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

Originally published at MeiLin Miranda. You can comment here or there.

“It's me,” said Deviatka.

Someone must go to the Guard, but he couldn’t walk—couldn’t see. “Fetch Ansel,” Adewole moaned. The room swam in dizzying, swirling patterns like odd-metal.

“What looks like odd-metal, old thing?” said Deviatka.

Adewole realized he was speaking aloud, not to himself. “Who could have done this to Buckan?” he whispered through his nausea. “When did you find him?”

“He was going through your papers. He didn’t find what he was looking for, though. Neither did I—well, I didn’t find everything I was looking for.”

The sparkling white receded enough to reveal Deviatka leaning against the now-closed door—or rather, two Deviatkas; Adewole’s vision refused to resolve. “I do not understand. He was alive?” said Adewole.

“Please don’t play the confused academic, Ollie, it makes us all look bad.”

“I am not playing.” Adewole put his hand to his head and pulled it back wet and sticky. “Karl, what have you done?”

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Chapter 13 Episode 2 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

Originally published at MeiLin Miranda. You can comment here or there.

Deviatka pressed him for the latest news on the Vatterbroch manuscript. "There is nothing to tell, truly, Karl," lied Adewole. "I am not finished with the translation, and it is as likely to be a fantasy or a religious treatise as some fantastical engineering project. I am following the manuscript's trails into related books--we have had to dig deep in the protected stacks, and even then many of the works referenced are missing. I presume they no longer exist--lost for all time, sadly."

"Sad, indeed," said Deviatka, "but can you really tell me nothing more about the manuscript? You cannot share what you have done so far?"

Just then, Wirtz buzzed in with the brandy tray, said goodnight, and left. Adewole shifted in his chair and poured himself a larger than usual glass. "Why are you so set on this, Karl?"

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Chapter 12 Episode 3 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

Originally published at MeiLin Miranda. You can comment here or there.

Alleine fell silent for so long Adewole wondered if she'd run out of ichor at last, until she began again. "But I spose Maria Kyper's dead, huh? I can't really figure it, their all bein' dead."

"I am afraid so, my dear," said Adewole, trying to keep her thoughts more cheerful for the moment. "Tell me now, what else did they sell in the marketplace, and how big was the place?"

Alleine prattled on about dresses in soft cottons and warm wools she wished she could have bought for her Mam, tin lanterns, copper pots, bright carpets from Dumastra--Cherholtz knew of far-off Dumastra but not of Jero. Always she returned to the food: sweet pickles from great big barrels, sausages wrapped in flat bread, little grilled river fish on sticks, roasted chickpeas in paper cones. "Sometimes at end of day a stallkeeper'll gives me a leftover fish or somethin', especially if it's burnt. Usually they just kick at me, but that's all right, I'm faster'n they are," she said cheerfully. "And when they don't miss, well, it's worth the askin'. Some days that's all there is to eat. I never ask the sausage man, though. Once he held out a sausage and then he took it away and fed it to his dog right in front of me. Never ast him again, the bastard. Oh, I'm sorry, Ollie, I shouldn'a said that word."

"Never mind, child, go on," he said, smiling into his notebook as he wrote.

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Chapter 12 Episode 2 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

Originally published at MeiLin Miranda. You can comment here or there.

His back to the sun's last remnant in the sky, Adewole started the long walk home. His stomach grumbled at him. He remembered the sandwiches he'd stuffed in his pockets hours ago; he put the satchel down, fished one out, and unwrapped it. "We are alone now, child," he murmured.

A muffled voice from inside the satchel said, "Was that your owl friend? I wish I could see her."

"Some day. You are being a very good girl, so quiet and calm. You must be quiet when I say so, and stay quiet until I say so. Can you do this?"

"It hurts more when we don't talk, but I'll be quiet, Ollie. Thank you for not leaving me alone," said Alleine.

"You are welcome." They spent the walk in conversation, though his voice grew hoarse; they'd talked a great deal in the Ossuary. The closer they came to the City the more often he had to shush her, until he said, "More people will be near from now on. You must stay silent."

All the way back he'd been pondering what to do. Take her home? Take her to the Library? She would be alone at night, but she would be alone at night if he were to keep her in his room; he had to sleep some time. He and Mr. Buckan were the only ones who had keys to his office, and as far as he knew Buckan stayed out. The books and translations were of little use to the librarian; the first were in Cherholtz's strange version of Old Rhendalian and the second were in the modern tongue, and Buckan understood neither.

Now Adewole had found Alleine, the translations bothered him even more. Deviatka pestered him for more information on the diagrams, and Adewole rued the day he'd shared them. He couldn't show anyone anything more, especially Karl. If his friend understood the notebook's schematics and potential, and then learned he'd discovered the Machine God's heart…

Karl was his best friend, a good man, but he was also an ambitious man. Power like the Machine God's might be irresistible, might corrupt even a man without ambition. Adewole's sole ambition was academic--to keep Alleine's trove of historical detail to himself. He wanted enough wealth to maintain his coffee and music habits, perhaps a little more--a better living situation, money for the water taxis. He might gain it through publishing his research, and perhaps he would make a lecture tour. He would enjoy lecturing to adoring crowds in Jero. In his less proud moments, he imagined his jealous former colleagues in the audience. As for anything else, he was no crusader. Curing the world's ills was beyond his wisdom, and he had enough wisdom to know it.

Eventually Adewole decided Alleine would be safest hidden for now in the Library rare book room. It locked, and she would be quite comfortable. He spent his days there anyway and some of his nights, though Wirtz had taken to winkling him out of the Library past eleven at night. When they reached the quadrangle farms, Adewole sprang up the Library stairs, strode into the rare book room and left Alleine hidden among the stacks. "Do not speak, child, and I will see you in the morning. I will come as early as I may. Yes, there is ichor here, I am taking it away right now," he said, pocketing the little reading lamp on his desk. When he got home, he would have Wirtz commandeer a standard lantern. It might cause remark, but he could chalk it up to native superstition. Risentoner superstitions had some basis in fact, and he didn't enjoy belittling them, but in this case he would make an exception.

Adewole said nothing about Alleine to Deviatka on his return; he tossed off his brandy and water and declined music, pleading a headache. A concerned Corporal Wirtz asked if he should send for Doctor Ansel, but Adewole begged off. "I am not ill. I miss my after-dinner coffee, and my breakfast coffee, and my afternoon coffee. It has been months and months. Might you ask Ambassador Weil's people if they would check on my missing trunk? It has never found its way to me from Jero, and it contained all my coffee."

"You should just ask for new--you've earned a little treat for services rendered. Someone absconded with your trunk long ago," said Deviatka.

"Undoubtedly," agreed Adewole, "but 'hope never dies in the faithful heart.'"

The next day, Adewole left bright and early, up before even the early-rising Deviatka. Poor Wirtz yawned pink from sleep as he packed lunch "with extra for breakfast and possibly tea, sir, since you leave so early and come back so late some nights."

On arriving at the rare book room, Adewole locked the door behind him, lit his new lantern, and pulled Alleine from her hiding place. She chattered like a relieved little magpie. "I'm so glad you came back, Ollie, I forgot how awful it is when you want to sleep and can't. I mean, I don't get tired, but it's so boring, and I hurt more. What are we gonna do today? Talk some more?"

"I am going to work on my translations, and ask you questions about them if I think you might be able to help me understand. You might not be able to answer them, but shall we try?"

"I'd like to help you, that'd be nice."

"All right, then." Adewole made a show of thumbing through his papers. She wouldn't want to talk about the notebook. He would work up to it, all the while feeling like a traitor. He picked up what might be a novel. Translating it made for a good palate cleanser when work on Vatterbroch's notebook became too difficult to stomach. "This book describes the marketplace in part, and I know you used to spend a good deal of time there. Can you tell me what the marketplace was like?"

"That's where Maria Kyper's stall is. You remember me tellin' you about her?"

"What did she sell?"

"Sweets, at least that's what I always liked about her place. Sweets in little paper packets. I like honey drops best. That's mostly what I got for running errands. She calls sweets 'in-promp-toos'--she says that means people buy 'em cuz they're there. Mostly she sells notions. You know, stuff for makin' dresses and hats and such--thread, needles, buttons, ribbons. I ast for a ribbon once, a red one, instead of sweets or coins. I want one to tie my hair back real bad, and then ribbons're so pretty, ain't they? I might not look so homely if I had a ribbon in my hair, or maybe I'd just watch it flutter. Anyway, Maria Kyper usually paid me no mind, but I musta ast one too many times. She boxed my ears and said never ask again."

"This was a lady you liked?" said Adewole.

"Oh she ain't no lady, Ollie, how funny you are, she's a stallkeeper. Course I like her. She's nice to me."

"She boxed your ears."

"Pfft. That ain't nothin'," said Alleine in scorn. "I had much worse than boxed ears. Stars keep me if I couldn't bear a boxed ear. No one ever boxed your ears? You never boxed your sister's ears?"

"I would have boxed the ears of anyone who hurt my sister," said Adewole, "and no one should ever have laid a hand on you in anger, either."

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

Originally published at MeiLin Miranda. You can comment here or there.

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.”

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Chapter 11 Episode 2 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

Originally published at MeiLin Miranda. You can comment here or there.

“Listen now, Alleine,” he said in the same exasperated tone his sister often drew from him, “a thousand years is a very long time, longer, I think, than you can imagine. You have been asleep. To you, it seems as if only a few days have passed. Am I right?”

“But you say that’s not so,” she said.

“It is not so.”

He could almost see her inside the iron box, chewing on the end of a non-existent braid. “Cherholtz is gone?”

“Cherholtz floats in the sky, like a big island in the ocean. The people here have forgotten it was ever called Cherholtz. They call it Risenton. This may be hard to understand,” he added, in hopes she would tell him more.

“Why would it be hard to understand? It was all I could think of. What would you do different?” she said in a plaintive wail.

Heart aching for her, Adewole reached to comfort the child, drawing back as he realized there was no way to do so. “I am sure you did the best you could. Can you tell me what you did?”

“I thought you knew. I got the city away from the Black Spring.”

“What is that?”

“For someone who’s sposed to be so smart you don’t know much,” said Alleine. “That’s where ichor comes from.”

So that’s what Diederich Enterprises uncovered, thought Adewole. “What did you do?”

“Well...it was bad,” she said, drawing out the words. “I took the city into the air, and I didn’t mean to, but I couldn’t think.”

“Did Vatterbroch tell you to do it?”

“He wanted to tell me to do a lot of stuff, but he couldn’t do the spells. He got the first ones right, so I couldn’t hurt him or not eat—if ichor was around I had to go eat it or it hurt like anything, oh, worse than being here in the heart. But he sang the last spell wrong, the one that was sposed to make me do anything he wanted. I think he killed that Chorister before she taught him how to do it right.” The words poured out, the offhand, excited rush of a child who needed to tell someone something so important it was hard to tell.

Adewole leaned forward on his perch of rubble, hands clasped and dangling between his knees, his disbelief in magic banished forever. “How did he do this? With the Bone Lyre?”

Alleine’s voice shuddered. “That’s the worst ever. That’s what hurts the most. It always hurts inside the Machine God, but when he uses the Lyre it’s like he’s...” She paused, her voice overcome. “It’s like he’s taking my bones out all over again.”

Adewole forced down a shudder of his own. “But he failed.”

“I figured if I got away from the Black Spring before he got it right, it’d be all right. At least I wouldn’t have to eat any more ichor because there wouldn’t be any ichor, and then maybe I’d die. Because being in the dark like this is awful, Ollie, but being inside the Machine God is worse. Oh, it’s so much worse, please tell me no one can put me back in it!” she sobbed.

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Chapter 11 Episode 1 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

Originally published at MeiLin Miranda. You can comment here or there.

The air clotted in Adewole’s throat; the room pulsed and swayed. When he recovered his voice, shaky and horrified, he said, “I did not mean to wake you, Alleine.”

“Then why’d you feed me?”

“How did I do that?”

“Don’t you know? The ichor. You fed me ichor. I wish you hadn’t.”

She must have absorbed the lantern’s black mercury, he thought. “I am sorry. It was accidental. I was not sure what I would find.”

“So you didn’t come for me,” said Alleine in a small voice.

Adewole wiped his face on the back of his hand. Dust from his glove smeared across his damp cheeks and eyes, and he pulled out his handkerchief to wipe away the angry grit. He sat down on a flat boulder in the rubble. “No one knew you were here, child, not for a very long time.”

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Chapter 10 Episode 3 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

Originally published at MeiLin Miranda. You can comment here or there.

As he pressed further into the cave, the keening voice in his mind grew stronger: Why do you bring it here? Did I not go far enough? Let me stop dreaming, please take it away. It played down his back like cold rain down his collar.

From the descriptions in the Vatterbroch manuscript’s coda, Adewole had expected something different than this childlike plaintiveness, threats perhaps, or boasts or even cajoling—more likely, nothing at all. The postscript said the god was dead. A kernel of truth always slept in the center of every myth, but the layers accreted over centuries were nothing but gloss and lacquer. He was certain he’d find something, but a god? No.

Faced with a fork in the chamber, he chose the lefthand side; the voice faded, a relieved tone slipping into the distress. Yes, please go away again, let me go back to sleep. Adewole backtracked to the fork’s junction and headed down the righthand side. The voice strengthened, once again pleading for him to leave. The hallway narrowed until Adewole had to turn sideways to continue on. He fought down a trapped sensation.

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Chapter 10 Episode 2 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

Originally published at MeiLin Miranda. You can comment here or there.

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.”

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