Shortly after Wynefrede was in the woods, running away from the compound, she heard the bell ring behind her and froze in panic. Then she slowly turned around and dropped to the ground and crawled behind the nearest tree and waited for the ringing to stop. Was this a signal for the cult members to assemble in order to chase after her?
The cart was lighter with just the tools and Elyon’s body in it, but Temeliel didn’t think he could push it through the jungle. The path back led up to the compound, where he could easily be spotted. He didn’t want to think about what would happen to him if the Powers found him with Elyon unconscious and bleeding in the cart.
The toilets were on the back side of the building. It was normally dark at night, but Temeliel had a small lantern hanging from his cart. Another hung in the small doorway, about waist high, that opened into the building’s cesspit. Temeliel’s job was to use a long-handled shovel to scoop the waste out then pile it into a two-wheeled wooden cart. An angel named Elyon supervised from a few feet away.
“Why does everyone hate me so much?” Temeliel asked Ninlein. “I haven’t done anything.” But as soon as he said it, Temeliel realized that this wasn’t true. He had done bad things. They were just things that nobody knew about. He had talked to a stranger, and was considering conspiring with them to leave the compound. He had lied directly to the lord god Avourel’s face. He had listened to the stranger — George — when he’d told him that Avourel wasn’t a god at all, but a faker.
“You know, if we’d skipped the sailing trip, we’d be home by now,” said George. “Last night would have been the last Royal Season event.” The four Singleton were sitting on the bank of the stream, eating stolen bread. The day before, they’d given up on the idea of heading down to the coast when they got too hungry.
The Royal Season had managed to convince the Krim Chamber of Commerce to lend them the Storm Bug, a man-of-war with gunports set low in ship’s broadsides. The Chamber had probably added up how much money the Royal Season had spent on Krim over the past few months and calculated the odds of them coming back if their clients were never recovered.
Port Royal was adorable. Unlike Krim City. Here, residents seemed to have pride in their town. Port Royal was cheerful and spotless, the air was fresh and fragrant, and everyone smiled when they saw her. Matilda hated it. It was almost as though nobody realized all the different ways she could kill them.
What if the three women from the ship were wrong? What if the gate did lead to an eternal hell? Maybe the women themselves were demons sent to corrupt them. Maybe there were rival gods. Torralei remembered the look on Heifiel’s face as she herself had been dragged towards the gate. Heifiel was a Seraphim. She was close to Avourel. If there were any secrets about the gate, Heifiel would know them, wouldn’t she?
The first signs of light were just starting to appear in the sky ahead when they got to the top of the mountain. The road approached Avourelpolis from a different direction and there was a large gate that Torralei had never seen before. It was as tall as two people, heavily ornate. Two Seraphim, Heifiel and Elnaril, were waiting for them and swung the gate open when the Powers approached with the four prisoners.
“I don’t think you’re going to need me for this,” Matilda said before Chambrs starting telling the story of how Elea Carlyle got her hands on the list of Royal Season participants. “It sounds boring, and I’ve got a lead on some gun runners I want to follow up on. Besides, I already got everything I needed.” Chambrs jerked her damaged hands off the table and hid them on her lap. Matilda started to push her chair away from the table when she saw Quimby approaching with a full tray. “On the other hand, you never know, I might learn something.”
Even if she hadn’t been tied to the other captives, Torralei wouldn’t have run. She was too tired from her attempted escape, and too dejected to find out that she was on an island and that there was nobody she could turn to for help. But also, she was finding out a lot of interesting things from the new prisoners.