First it was dark, then there was a light, so bright that it hurt the eyes, and voices sing out in the distance. “Come, come, come…”
One step. Then another. The ground becomes uneven. Slabs of stone, stretching out ahead. Then people. Singing, wearing light tan robes. “Come, come, come…”
In the center, a white robe. White beard. White crystal crown glittering in the light from above.
All around, bright white stone walls rise up and up and up, ending with jagged edges at the top. Like a crown. And the sun shines down. It is bright. So bright that eyes hurt.
“Come, come, come…”
Another step forward and a stumble. Hands jerk forward to catch the fall but scrape on the rock. It hurts. And knees hurt.
“Get up, my child!” The white robe steps forward. “Rise!”
There are beads of blood forming on the palms of the hands. It tastes salty.
“I said rise! And stop licking yourself. You’re not a cat.”
“Rise, rise, rise…”
One of the tan robes steps forward to help.
“I am Avourel, the lord thy god,” the white robe says. “Welcome to the land of Lamacoln.” Avourel spreads his arms. “I have created everything that you see. These walls, I have created. The sun, I have created. The Seraphim, I have created them as well.”
“That’s us, that’s us, that’s us,” the tan robes sing.
“I have created all the angels.” Avourel turns. There are more robes, dark brown. They are all kneeling down, heads bowed. Avourel turns back. “You are one of my angels. I hereby name you… Torralei. I have created the clouds and the wind, the sea and the shore, the trees and the grasses. Everything you see, everything you think, everything you feel comes from me. I see all, I hear all, I know all.”
“Hear and obey, hear and obey, hear and obey,” the Seraphim sing.
“I brought you into existence, and I can cast you back into non-being,” says Avourel. He claps once, loudly. “Heifiel, Elnaril, take…”
“Torralei,” one of the tan robes whispers.
“Take Torralei to the cloiser and show her her bed and fill her in on how things work around here.”
“Hear and obey, hear and obey, hear and obey.” Two of the singers on the far end step forward.
Avourel claps again. “Okay folks, we’re done here. Back to work. I said, back to work.”
The brown robes at the back get up and file away. There’s an opening in the stone wall.
The Seraphim switch to a different song. “Praise be to Avourel, the only god in the world, the greatest god, the other gods aren’t even worth mentioning compared to Avourel. Praise be, praise be, praise be. Glory be to Avourel, who the is the smartest and the handsomest god, all people swoon when they see him. Glory be, glory be, glory be…” The sound of the song fades as the Seraphim leave, following the brown-robed angels out through the opening.
“Okay, so I’m Heifiel,” says one of the tan robes. “That’s Elnaril. Elanril, grab her other elbow so she doesn’t fall down again. Now step forward.”
Walking is easier now with their support.
“It takes a few minutes to get used to it,” says Heifiel. “You’ll be running around soon enough.”
“Except don’t run,” says Elnaril.
“Right,” says Heifiel. “Avourel, the sacred god of Lamacoln, doesn’t like it when we run. If he see you, he makes you stop and get down on your knees and sing prayers.”
“He sees everything everywhere,” says Elnaril. “But he only minds if you run while he’s right there.”
“He also doesn’t like yelling,” says Heifiel. “Don’t yell around him.”
“And don’t eat the golden apples that grow on the sacred tree.”
“If you eat the apples, you will be punished.”
“You will be whipped. Apples are only for the Seraphim.”
“Yeah, we get apples, and you don’t.”
“Unless you eat the apples while nobody sees you,” says Elnaril.
The sun is even brighter outside. The air is fragrant. The stone slabs continue into a circular plaza. There are trees in a circle around it, covered in bright flowers and another tree in the very center. There are golden apples on the tree.
Passing under it, Elnaril reaches up, grabs one of the apples, and bites into it. “Mmmm. This is the best tasting thing.” Juice runs down his chin.
“You only say that because they’re forbidden to the rest of the angels,” says Heifiel. “Personally, I find them a little tart.”
Elnaril looks around. “Don’t say that out loud.”
The other angels and Seraphim are all gone. The plaza is empty.
“Why? Nobody’s here to hear me.”
Elnaril points up. “He sees all. He hears all.”
“Yeah, but he doesn’t do squat unless he’s actually in earshot,” says Heifiel.
“The god Avourel acts in mysterious ways,” says Elnaril.
“Mysterious ways my ass,” says Heifiel. “Anyway, let’s show the noob her bed and cubby and put her to work.”
There is a rocky path that leads away between the trees.
“Your first few days, you’ll be working in the chicken farm,” says Heifiel. “Cleaning up chicken manure. Gathering eggs. That kind of thing.”
“We grow all our own food,” says Elanril. “The god Avourel can create anything, but he likes us to keep busy.”
“He says it’s good for our moral character.”
“You’ll learn soon enough.”
They turn down a side path. There are more flowering trees all around, and low beds of flowers line the sides of the path. Large, colorful butterflies flutter among them. There are birds singing in the trees.
“It’s nice here, isn’t it?” says Elanril. “It’s the nicest place in the world.”
“At least, that’s what the sacred god Avourel tells us, and he is never wrong,” says Heifiel. “All other places are much, much worse.”
“And also, they don’t exist, because Lamacoln is the only place,” adds Elanril.
“Yeah, if you hear Avourel talking about how much worse other places are, don’t ask him about those other places.”
“If you do, you’ll get whipped.”
“In fact, if you ever notice Avourel contradicting himself, or making a mistake, you shouldn’t point it out or comment about it in any way, ever,” says Heifiel. “Avourel doesn’t like being corrected.”
“The most heavenly and divine god Avourel never makes mistakes,” says Elanril. “But he does test us. He is a playful god who likes to keep us on our toes.”
Heifiel rolled her eyes. “Right, right. It’s not a mistake, it’s a test.”
“Okay, here we are,” says Elanrin. The trees open up and there’s a stone building with narrow slits for windows.
“Careful going up the steps,” says Heifiel. “The angels sleep in the back.”
It’s darker inside and chilly. The hallway leads to a main gathering room with several heavy wooden tables. On the other side of the room, the hall gets narrower, and Heifiel walks ahead.
“That was the dining room. We eat all our meals there. Here’s the chapel, for morning and evening services. You’ll have to learn all the songs. You’ll start tonight, after we settle you in. Here’s the bathroom. We only have one for the whole building, so you want to make sure you get up early, otherwise you’ll have to wait in a long line.”
“The celestial and immortal mystical god Avourel doesn’t like it when we wet ourselves,” says Elanrin.
“Maybe the celestial and immortal mystical god Avourel could create us a second bathroom, then people wouldn’t be wetting themselves.”
“The blessed and transcendent god Avourel is above such petty concerns,” says Elanrin.
Heifiel pushes open a door. “Anywhere, here’s your room. You’ll be sharing it with five other angels.”
There are three beds on each side of the room, each one barely wide enough to hold a person, with a small shelf next to it. Heifiel points to the last bed on the right. “That’s yours, Torry.”
Torralei steps forward and sat down on the scratchy blanket. The bed feels familiar.
“It used to belong to Alosrin,” says Elanrin. “He disobeyed the pure and numinous god Avourel and was destroyed. You can keep his stuff, or throw it out. It doesn’t matter.”
Torralei looks over at the shelf. There’s a folded brown robe there, and a stack of white linen underclothes.
“He was a little taller than you,” says Heifiel. “But they should still fit. You’ll be issued new clothes, but it’s always nice to have spares. In case, say, you wet yourself while waiting for the bathroom.” She lowers her voice. “If you really have to go, and the line is too long, you can always go outside. Just make sure that nobody sees you.”
“The divine, paradisiacal god Avourel sees all…”
“Yeah, yeah,” says Heifiel. “Sees all, knows all. We get it. I’m just saying, he only complains about things if you do them right in front of him.”
“That’s the kind of talk that got Alosrin destroyed,” says Elanrin.
The blanket is rough and painful to the palms. The pillow is flat and welcoming. There’s a familiar smell in the room, then the sound of steps in the hallway.
“We’re going to head out now,” says Heifiel. “We’ll just leave you here to get used to existing. Welcome to your new life and all that.”
“It will be glorious,” says Elanrin. “You will experience the ultimate ecstasy in the service of the highest and mightiest…”
“If you keep your head down, your mouth shut, and do what you’re told,” says Heifiel. “If not…” She drags her finger across her neck. “Otherwise, this place is paradise.”