Even if she hadn’t been tied to the other captives, and her legs hobbled together so that she could only take short steps, 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.
“Have you ever heard of this Avourel?” whispered the shortest of the three, a woman with short, tight blonde curls.
It sounded like the short woman didn’t know who Avourel was, Torralei thought. How was that possible?
The woman behind her, a tall redhead, whispered back, “Yes. It’s the latest range in Mollywood.”
“Mollywood?” asked the blonde.
Torralei wanted to know, too.
“You know, Bollywood, but on Mars,” said the redhead.
That wasn’t particularly helpful.
“I know what Mollywood is,” said the blonde. “I meant, why would Mollywood be interested in some Krim cult?”
“I didn’t know they were on Krim,” said the redhead. “But they’ve got this thing where you go through a memory gate and you lose all knowledge of who you are, and all you feel is this complete love and total connection of the universe. You’re not allowed to say what happens, exactly, but everyone says you come back with new insights on life. People pay a ton of money to do this. All the celebrities are into it.”
“Have you been?”
“No. I’m not really part of that crowd.”
So there was a whole world beyond Lamacoln, Torralei thought. A world where most people hadn’t even heard of Avourel. A world on the other side of a memory gate. Maybe they were talking about the Holy Gate. Seraphim Heifiel did lose her memory when she went through it.
They stopped to take a break. This side of the island was steeper than where Torralei had come down, and everyone was getting tired. If it hadn’t been for the rope pulling her forward, Torralei might not have been able to keep up. On the other hand, the path was nice and wide and switched back and forth and every so often there was a spot with an overlook, with a cluster of benches, where they were occasionally allowed to rest.
“Are you a famous actor?” the short woman asked Torralei. “Or were you taken prisoner by pirates, like us?”
“I don’t know,” said Torralei. “I don’t remember anything.”
“Then you’re probably a celebrity,” said the short woman. “Does she look familiar to either of you?” she asked her friends.
“Hey, no talking!” Omael shook his spear at them. “Drink your water. We’ll be moving again in five minutes.”
The three women stared up at him defiantly.
“What are you going to do? Kill us?” asked the third woman, the one with brown hair.
“Does it really matter if they talk?” asked Ophanim. “Won’t they all be gated anyway?”
Omael grunted, but moved away from the prisoners.
Torralei hoped that the women would start talking about, but Ophanim’s words seemed to have affected the women more than the threat of violence did.
They didn’t say anything else the rest of their break. But once they were walking again, and Omael was several steps ahead of them on the path, they drew closer together and resumed their conversation. Torralei glanced back at Ophanim, then picked up her pace a little bit so she could listen in.
“I don’t want to be trapped here without my memory,” the short one whispered. “I’d rather die.”
“If we get to a high enough cliff, we should try to throw ourselves off,” said the brunette.
Torralei glanced off the side of the path. Ophanim was a few steps behind, carrying a lantern. That, and the light of the moon, showed a steep slope covered with tropical shrubbery. Jumping into it might be unpleasant, but it wouldn’t be immediately fatal.
“Or maybe we could throw ourselves into the volcano,” said the redhead, glancing up at the top of the mountain.
“No,” said the short one. “Not the volcano. I don’t want to fall into a lake of hot lava. On my list of ways to die, it’s one of my least favorite.”
“You have a list?” asked the redhead.
“I do now. I’ve been thinking about it all day. I like the idea of a sudden, unexpected whack to the head. You don’t see it coming, it’s quick, and it looked painless when the captain died.”
“The fake captain,” said the brunette.
“Right, the fake captain. I think she had the right idea. But I decided that I’d rather not drown. I think it would take too long, and be too scary.”
“I don’t want to be buried alive,” said the brunette. “Or be beheaded. And I agree with you on the volcano. It sounds very painful.”
Torralei realized that she had missed her best chance of escape. When she was down at the beach, she should have just walked into the ocean and kept going. Next time… but would there be a next time? They’d probably keep a much closer eye on her in the future. And Ophanim said that they were all going to be gated. That meant that her memory would be erased, didn’t it? She’d be a newcomer all over again.
She thought about how familiar her bunk, and her toothbrush, and everything else seemed to her. How many times had this already happened?
The short blonde looked back at Torralei. “Do you remember anything at all?” she whispered.
“The first thing I remember is coming through the Holy Gate and being welcomed by the lord god Avourel and all the angels,” said Torralei.
“Lord god!” The tall redhead shook her head. “I don’t know anything else about this guy, but I already hate him.”
“Everyone loves him,” Torralei whispered back. “He created this island, and all the beasts and plants on it. He makes feasts appear. He sees and hears everything.”
“I doubt he created this island,” said the redhead. “He’s probably just renting it.”
“How many people are there?” asked the brunette. “Besides Avourel?”
“There are the Powers,” Torralei said, glancing behind at Ophanim. “They are the only ones with weapons. Then there are the Seraphim. They’re in charge. And the rest of us are the angels.” She counted everyone up in her head. “About two dozen people, total. And the guests. But I don’t know how many guests there are. I ran away before they arrived.”
“Obviously, the guards know that it’s all fake,” said the brunette. “Does anyone else know? What about the Seraphim?”
It was all fake? Avourel was just pretending to be a god? The Powers were just pretending to worship him? Torralei thought back to how frightened Heifiel looked when the Seraphim was carried towards the gate. She’d been crying. She even peed herself. That looked real.
“No, I don’t think anyone else knows,” she whispered back. “Just the Powers.”
“So we need to get to the gate,” said the redhead.
“Where is it?” asked the brunette.
“The Holy Gate is inside the temple,” said Torralei. “But it leads to hell. It’s full of flames and demons and if you go, you will be burned for all eternity.”
“That doesn’t sound like fun,” said the blonde.
“It’s probably just another location,” said the brunette. “Or maybe the cult has a custom welcome area. Either way, there would probably be an exit of some kind in there.” She turned back towards Torralei. “When visitors come, do they usually come by ship or by gate?”
“I don’t know,” said Torralei.
“I bet its by gate,” said the blonde. “If you were a rich and famous actor, would you want to come to Krim City, then spend a week on a smelly ship, then walk up a mountain? I wouldn’t.”
“I think you’re right,” said the redhead. “I’d don’t think they’d get too many converts if they did that.”
“Or any money,” the brunette added.
“So we have to escape by the gate,” said the redhead.
“The only problem is that it’s a memory gate,” said the brunette. “If you go through it, you forget everything, right?”
“Maybe you only forget everything coming in, not going out,” said the blonde. She glanced back at Torralei. “Have you ever seen anyone go through the gate?”
“Yes,” said Torralei. She played back the scene in her mind. “The Powers picked her up. They carried her through the gate. No, they carried her half-way through the gate. Then they stopped, and then they pulled her back.”
“That’s when we’d have to make a break for it,” said the brunette. “If anybody sees a chance, take it. Run for the gate. If you’re the only one who makes it out, send help.”
“Send help where?” asked the blonde. “We don’t know where we are.” She turned her face up towards the stars for a brief moment. “I don’t know how they navigate on Krim.” She paused. “But, to be honest, I don’t know how they navigated on Earth, either.”
“Well, somebody has to know where this place is,” said the brunette. “The pirates understand how to get to Lamacoln. When I get out, if you guys are still here, I’ll tell Clinio Lind. He’ll figure something out. They’ll save you, I promise.”
“Unless they move us again,” said the blonde. “Then what will we do?”
The redhead stepped closer to them and lowered her voice further. “Then we hope that George can come through for us,” she whispered.
Torralei looked around. Who was George?