“Go forth then, and seek ye the Oracle,” said the Automaton, belching smoke and flame. “For only in what remains of the natural world may ye find an answer that be not of cogs and wheels, soot and steam.”

“Where might I find this Oracle?” asked the Supplicant. “For I know only of the great city and its environs, and naught of the natural world but what I have seen in manicured parks and picture books.”

“Go thee many leagues hence in the direction of the setting sun,” replied the Automaton. “Cut ye through the City of Foundries, the Great Crater where ores be strip-mined, and the Desperate Warrens where rats and man live in equal desperation and squalor. Climb ye the Great Wall which shuts off the world of man and his creations from aught which remains of the world of the Deist and his works.”

“And then?” pressed the Supplicant. “And then?”

“Find ye a golden bough which keepeth its hue in summer as in winter,” came the answer in hissing and whistling, clanging and rattling. “Atop that bough wilt thou find an owl of purest white hue, being of two heads. That is the form which the Oracle doth choose to appear to those who would seek it.”

“And then?” cried the Supplicant, almost mad with anticipation. “And then?”

“Ask thine question of it, bearing first the offering of a small creature as repast and a token of thine respect. But be warned: for one head of the Oracle doth always speak the prophetic truth, whilst the other doth always speak its opposite and seek to mislead and waylay, to confuse and corrupt.”

“How shall I know which is which?”

“That,” said the Automaton, “is the final test. They who be worthy of the Orcale’s gift will puzzle out the truth; they who be unworthy will be led astray. I can speak no more to thee, for this be aught that I know.”

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As she’d been told, Millie followed the silken thread into the center of the maze, where an old cabin lay. It had been wracked by the elements, leaning sideways and with barely a few flecks of paint remaining, but she wormed her way inside regardless.

It was nearly dusk, leaving the interior nothing but long shadows and dust. A table was the only piece of furniture still standing, and a deeply lined sheet of parchment lay upon it. Just as the instructions had said, Millie folded it, moving the parchment along creases that had been worked countless times before.

She laid the resulting origami owl atop the table.

“You have observed the ritual properly,” the owl said in a voice that was at once the rustling of dead leaves and the rending of old books. “Ask your question.”

Millie took a deep breath. “How do I bring him back?”

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