“For the glory of Avourel?” Torralei repeated. “If Avourel wanted me to sing he should have given me perfect pitch. Maybe he doesn’t want me to sing. Have you thought of that?”
“Silence!” said Omael. “Your impiety is breaking Avourel’s heart. You are his child and your entire existence is entirely a consequence of his grace. You would defy his Power?”
“Seriously, dude?” Torralei stood up and wiped the dirt from her knees. Omael could go screw himself.
“You have to kneel,” the Power said. “The lord god Avourel commands it!”
“Listen,” she said, staring him in the eye. “If you wanted a blow job, you should have just asked for it. This…” she spread her arms. “What the hell is this? I’m out of here.” She turned to walk away.
“Where are you going? I demand you stop!’
“I’m going back to peel the rest of the potatoes,” she said. “If you need me, I’ll be in the kitchen. There’s unexpected visitors coming, you know.”
She didn’t look back, and he didn’t follow. Maybe he didn’t want to raise a stink with the visitors on their way. But she did wonder what the punishment for her act of defiance was going to be when the feast was over.
How did an all-knowing, all-seeing god have unexpected visitors?
Why did a supposedly loving, generous god make them eat gruel every day while visitors got mangoes?
She looked around at the trees she was walking through. If any of them were mango trees, it wasn’t the right season for the fruit.
If Avourel was all-knowing, he should have known how many visitors were coming. And where were the visitors coming from, anyway? It must be from somewhere beyond Avourel’s reach. Which meant that there was another place out there somewhere. A place where Avourel wasn’t god.
She stepped up her pace and saw the temple plaza up ahead. She veered to the left, cut across the path that led down to the river, and set off at an angle that would take her away from the main compound. Occasionally, she would catch sight of the water down and to her left.
Water flowed downhill, didn’t it? Downhill was civilization. She didn’t know what civilization was, but she had a feeling that Avourel wasn’t it.
The overgrowth became denser as she got further away. That meant that people didn’t usually come this far, she thought. She had to stop several times and backtrack to get around thickets that were too dense to walk through, trying to keep the river to her left.
There was a path along the river. She’d seen it when helping with the laundry. It would have been easier to take it. But if they came after her, that’s probably the way they would go.
But as the jungle got denser and thornier, she started to have doubts. If she’d taken the path, she’d be a lot further along now. Occasionally, she’d have to cross a stream that was heading down to join the river below. She’d stop and drink, hoping that she wouldn’t pick up a tropical parasite from the water.
She continued on for hours, fighting her way through the tropical forest until finally the trees started to thin out again and the air changed. Instead of the cloying, sweet smell of rotting vegetation and flowers, she caught the tang of brine, salt, seaweed, and fish.
By the time she was out from under the cover of the forest canopy, it was nearly sunset. The ground was now sandier and rockier and the vegetation was now mostly low shrubs and palm trees. And, up ahead, she caught glimpses of blue on the horizon. The going was easier now and, despite being tired, she sped up her pace.
She made it down to the shore before it got completely dark. She stood on the beach, the sun setting on the horizon and looked around. There were no signs of civilization. With a view this good, there should have been at least a hotel or two, she thought.
She’d go right in, demand to talk to someone in charge of security… and what then? The answer was almost on the tip of her tongue but she couldn’t think of it. She’d do something. Ask for someone. And someone would come.
Which way now?
To her left was the mouth of the river, where the water flowed into a small lagoon.
She stood on the shore, undecided. She could almost make out a structure on the far side of the lagoon. Maybe a lighthouse, or an outbuilding of some kind. There could be a tropical resort on the other side.
They’d have a dinner buffet, she thought. Seafood. Maybe a live band. She could sit on a little table looking out over an ocean and order a sweet tropical drink with a little paper umbrella in it.
She was about to head in that direction when she heard voices and dropped down to the ground.
She peered out from behind a rock and saw two people walk down a path along the shore, holding up lit torches. As they got closer, she recognized them. Omael, one of the Powers, was accompanied by Elnaril, one of the seraphim. Both were carrying swords.
She crouched down.
The two men walked all the way down to the ocean, where they could look out over the shore line. They were looking away from her, and probably couldn’t see far, anyway, with the torchlight ruining their night vision.
She crawled carefully towards them, taking her time to make as little noise as possible. Hopefully, the sound of the waves crashing into the shore would cover up any rustles she produced.
“She could have a broken leg somewhere in the jungle up there.” Elnaril pointed up into the jungle. “Or she could be on the other side of the island already.”
“We should split up,” said Omael. “You go look for her up there and I’ll walk along the shore.” He walked closer to the water’s edge.
“You want me to go up into the jungle?” Elnaril said. He turned around and stared up the hill. He was almost looking straight at where Torralei was hiding, and she slowly eased slowly down closer to the ground. “In the dark?”
She couldn’t hear what Omael said in response.
“She could have swum out into the ocean already and drowned,” Elnaril called back down to Omael. “Or been eaten by sharks.”
Omael grunted something.
“You were the last to see her,” said Elnaril. “Did she say anything about where she was going?”
Omael shrugged and walked a little further away down the shore.
“She has nearly a day’s head start on us,” said Elnaril and walked down to join him.
They both walked away and Torralei couldn’t hear what they were saying anymore, but she could see that they were arguing.
Eventually, they turned around and went back towards the lagoon, then took the path back towards the river’s mouth. Even when she could no longer see them, she could see the flicker of the torches as they walked back along the jungle path by the river.
She waited for about an hour but they didn’t come back and she decided to take advantage of the moonlight while the moon was still out. She stayed away from the water line, making her way from rock to rock and shrub to shrub until she was far enough away that she couldn’t see the mouth of the river any more.
The forest to her right rose higher and edged closer to the water. She continued walking, now by moonlight, occasionally having to step into the sea to get around heavy growth that reached all the way down to the water’s edge.
She worried about being visible from a distance but maybe they wouldn’t see her in the moonlight.
At one point, she had to wade far out into the water to get around a steep cliff. Once on the other side, she breathed a bit easier. Nobody would be able to see her because the cliff was now behind her, blocking the view.
The beach was now wider and shallower and the forest moved further and further inland. She could now see the mountain to her right. That must be where she had come down from, she thought. The central, tallest mountain, had a plume of smoke coming out from it.
A volcano wasn’t a good sign, she thought. She didn’t know exactly why, but the sight of it filled her with foreboding and, despite the warm tropical night, she felt a cold sweat on her back.
She rounded another curve and saw a lagoon in front of her. For a second, she had a moment of panic. Had she walked around the entire island? But she couldn’t have. She could still see the volcano, and it hadn’t been visible before. And this lagoon was much larger than the first one.
And there was something else that was different about it. Oh yeah, the ships.
As she got closer, she started to make out details. These were old-fashioned sailing ships, not modern yachts. So, maybe tourists out for a cruise. They might have a doctor on board.
Why would she need a doctor? She had scratches all over her arms and legs, but that wasn’t it. There was a reason, but she couldn’t think of it.
If only she could remember.
The ships were anchored deep within the lagoon and Torralei worked her way over, stepping again into the water where she needed to go around tangled thickets or rocky ledges.
Soon she was close enough to make out people walking on the ships’ decks and she could smell smoke. Cooking smoke. Her stomach rumbled again. She hadn’t had anything to eat since the day before. They probably had food on board.
When she was as close to the ship as she could get without actually swimming into the lagoon itself, she stared waving her arms and yelling.
Then the wind changed and the flag hanging on the ship’s mast fluttered into view. She could barely make it out in the moonlight, so she waded out into the water, staring at it.
The sailors on board spotted her and yelled something back, then started lowering a rowboat. She waved back, staring up at the ship, when the flag fluttered again and the moon’s light hit it just right so that she could make out the skull and bones.