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Xenolith, Page 19

A. Sparrow

  Chapter 13: Greymore

  The four retraced their steps downriver, Seor at their head, taking a much more leisurely pace than their headlong race to meet the relay stone. They padded through forest and scrub until they peered in from the perimeter of the abandoned complex of brick and glass, behind the metal fence.

  Seor’s stomach churned at the sight of the Urep’o structures. Protocol forbade interactions with Ur and its residents as intrusive as the sort she planned to engage. Her impatience and feeble leadership had gotten them into this situation. It disgusted Seor to the core. Like the others, she had been anxious as the others to return to Sesei. She hoped to hear news from Piliar of Dima’s fate. But she never should have allowed her band to cross an uncharted convergence.

  “Someone should have taken the stone while we were still in the shop,” said Ren. “We wouldn’t have had to come back here.”

  “I can’t believe we left it behind,” said Vul. “Why didn’t someone grab it?”

  “I tried,” said Canu. “Just couldn’t find it amidst all those other rocks.”

  “It should have been obvious” said Ren. “You take the coldest.”

  “Enough,” said Seor. “If you want to blame someone, blame me. In the confusion, I panicked. I thought we would be trapped and miss the relay.”

  A plain but alien little bird landed on the barbed wire above their heads, chittered at them, and fluttered off.

  “What’s done is done,” said Vul, seizing the bottom of the fence and hauling the unanchored mesh out of the ground.

  “We have some time,” said Seor. “Let’s make things right.”

  They squeezed under the fence and made for the closest building, at the end of one of two rows of brick buildings separated by a wide lane leading to the main road, about two hundred meters down.

  Ren peeked in through a crack in the window. “Looks empty,” she said. Sets of large bay doors were firmly chained to iron loops, but Vul succeeded in smashing open a smaller door with the dull side of his axe.

  Inside they found a chaos of disemboweled and broken machines caked with a black paste of lubricant and metal shavings. Empty wooden spindles were stacked and scattered. Tangles and bits of brass wire littered the floor. It carried an evil smell, and its windows were opaque with grime. Seor explored a spartan stairway that led up to a large, empty and open loft, with hip to ceiling windows, largely transparent, and which offered a view down the lane and up the river.

  “What is this place?” said Canu.

  “It’s for work,” said Ren. “Some kind of workshop.”

  “Where are the workers?” said Vul.

  “Long gone. That’s all that matters,” said Seor. “We’ll use it as a base.”

  Since they were about to go about the streets, Seor appraised her comrades’ looks from the perspective of an Urep’o. They looked dirty, unfed but most conspicuously, their attire was in tatters after months of traipsing through the backwoods of Gi. Abrasions and frays and blotches of indelible silt added natural textures and patterns that gave them the look of gnarled tree bark or lichened boulders, but only exacerbated their divergence from the residents of Ur.

  “First order of business, we need clothing,” said Seor. “Let’s disperse and meet back here. One hour at most. Be discrete. We want no trouble with the Urep’o.”