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.
Omael handed Torralei over to Heifiel. “Take this one to the box. There will be a punishment ceremony after breakfast. We’ll feed the other three to the demons.”
“Who are they?” Heifiel asked.
“Enemies of Avourel,” said Ophanim then stopped talking with Omael glowered at him.
“You don’t need to know who they are,” said Omael. “Or where they came from. The lord god Avourel isn’t going to be happy to hear that you’re asking questions.”
“I just thought…” Heifiel began.
“If you keep thinking, you’ll end up in the box with this one.” Ophalim hit Torralei on the back of the head with the flat of his sword, even though Torralei hadn’t even said anything. Torralei stumbled forward into Heifiel. It was hard for her to keep her balance with her arms tied behind her back.
Beyond the gate, through the trees, Torralei could see the bulk of Avourel’s temple. The two Powers, Elnaril, and the three strangers headed up the path in that direction. Heifiel took Torralei down a different other branch, a wider one it by torches.
“Where are we going?” Torralei asked her.
“You heard them. You’re going to the box.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“What are you talking about?” Heifiel jerked Torralei around to look her in the face. “You had a job to do yesterday. We had visitors coming. But you were lazy and ran away. The Powers had to spend time looking for you.” She shook her head. “You disappointed Avourel, the infinitely kind and merciful from whom all blessings flow.”
“He’s not really a god,” said Torralei. “That’s what those other women said. He’s just some crazy guy with a memory gate.”
“They came on a ship,” said Torralei. “Have you ever seen a ship before?”
“No,” said Heifiel. “But…”
“Then how do you know what a ship is?” said Torralei.
Heifiel didn’t say anything.
“This whole place is fake,” said Torralei. “The gate goes back to the real world.”
“Now I know that you are lying,” said Heifiel. “The first thing I remember is the flames. It was only for a moment, but I remember the heat on my face.”
“It must have been a trick, an illusion of some kind,” said Torralei. “You should have heard those women talk. There’s a whole world out there. And nobody has even heard of Avourel. He’s nothing.”
“Shush,” Heifiel hissed. “You’ll get me in trouble again.”
The path led around the table to the plaza at the front entrance. Off to the side, on the ground and in the shadows cast by torchlight, there was a wooden board about the size of a door.
Heifiel needed two hands to raise it. It was hinged on one side and there was a metal grate under it.
Torralei took the opportunity to stumble away, but she stumbled because of the chain between her ankles and fell. Without being able to use her hands to catch herself she landed face first on the cobblestones. The painful shock to her face froze her for a moment then she groaned and rolled over to her side. Her mouth filled with blood. Her front teeth were loose, and she thought she might have broken her nose because she could no longer breathe through it. She groaned and tried to sit up, but couldn’t get the leverage and each move sent a bolt of pain through her nose and jaw.
“Get back here,” Heifiel said.
Then she must have seen that Torralei was struggling and came over and pulled her up, wrenching Torralei’s shoulders. Blood poured down her chin onto her shirt. It was going to be hard to get the stains out, she thought. She tilted her head back to try to stop the nosebleed and stumbled again when Heifiel pulled her forward.
Heifiel caught her before she fell.
Torralei tried to twist away, but Heifiel caught her arms and marched her back to the hole. Tears of pain streamed down her face, mixing with the blood. In the pre-dawn dark
“You won’t be there long,” the Seraphim told her.
“Why are you doing this?” Torralei forced the words out through the pain. Her voice sounded strange to her. “You don’t have to obey them. You can run.”
“Like you did?” aske Heifiel. “You really have been corrupted by evil. Avourel has granted us a paradise to live in, and you spit on it like an ungrateful child.”
She shoved Torralei forward.
Torralei lost her balance again and fell forward through the hole. She screamed as she fell but was able to twist around so that when she hit the ground five feet below she landed on her side, not her face.
It was pitch dark inside the hole, and the floor was dirt. She pushed herself up, leaned against the rough wooden planks that were the hole’s walls, and peered up at Heifiel’s face. Reflected in the light of the torches at the temple entrance, she looked ghoulish.
“How do you know what a child is?” Torralei asked her. “Have you ever seen one?”
“I’m not listening to your lies.” Heifiel wrestled the grate back into place.
“I’m just asking you questions.” Torralei pushed herself up against the wall but her head met the iron bars before she could stand up all the way. “Think about it. None of this makes any sense. Since when is skipping chores punishable by torture and death? Arourel is just some creepy dude with a god complex? And do you know what Omael wanted me to do? Why do you think I ran away? He…”
But before Torralei could say anything more, the heavy wooden lid slammed down and she was completely in the dark.
“Wait! Come back!” She didn’t know if Heifiel could still hear her. She pushed up with her head, but the grate didn’t budge even the slightest bit. There were cracks in the wooden lid above it letting in just the slightest bit of light. Torralei tried to peer up through it but could see nothing.
She slid back down to the ground.
This must be what being buried alive was like. At least, if there was light, air was probably coming in as well. She wouldn’t suffocate to death. Was that a good thing, or a bad thing?
She waited in the dark and silence for hours. The blood on her face dried. She tried to wipe it off on her shoulder but couldn’t raise her shoulders enough to reach.
The pain eventually eased and she slept fitfully until she was woken by voices up above and the hatch opened.
Torralei squinted against the light and looked up. Avourel’s face looked down on her through the iron bars, flanked by the two Powers.
“My wayward child.” Avourel shook his head. “I’m not upset. I’m just disappointed.” He straightened up and looked away. “Come see! This is what evil looks like.” He moved back.
Torralei pushed herself up slightly against the wall so that she could see better then sank back down again when an angel looked down at her and spit. She turned away as every angel in Avourelpolis took their turn to glared down at her. Some spit. Some called her names. One threw a clod of dirt at her head.
“That’s enough,” said Avourel. “Get her out of there.” He stepped back and a couple of angels knelt down and moved the grate out of the way. Then Omael jumped down into the hole next to Torralei and puller her up all the way to her feet. She could see a half-circle of angels a few feet away from her, the temple looming over them.
“What happened to her face?” one of the angels whispered from the back of the crowd.
“She did it to herself,” said Heifiel.
Avourel tsked. “Evading responsibilities. Bearing false witness against the Powers. And now harming the body that only my grace has provided her. Truly, her heart and mind have become corrupted by evil.”
The angels stepped back, hissing.
Ophanim bent down and grabbed Toralei by her shoulders. Onael lifted her up by her hips and Torralei found herself sitting on the edge of the box. She kicked out and was able to hit Omael in the jaw before she was pulled away.
Ophanim wrenched her around by her arms as Omael climbed out of the box behind her.
“Now, now,” said Avourel. “No need for violence.” He wasn’t looking at her. Torralei glanced behind her and saw Omael, red with anger, rubbing his jaw. “She’ll be burning in hell soon enough.”
“Not soon enough,” Omael snapped, then caught himself. “You are a most kind and merciful god. Your forbearance is more than that worm deserves. Glory and adoration to the high and mighty Avourel.”
“Glory and adoration! Glory and adoration!” the angels sang.
“He’s not real,” Torralei mumbled, then repeated, more loudly, “It’s all a fake. None of this is real.”
Ophanim slapped her across the face and she screamed in pain.
“None of that,” said Avourel. “Nobody is going to fall for her lies.” He glanced back at the box and a couple of angels rushed to put the grate back in place and lower the hatch over it. Avourel nodded, satisfied. “Now, let’s send her off to hell.”
He walked through the crowd of angels, which parted before him, then glanced back. “I have a surprise for you. I’ve decided to give you three more brethren. Hamalar, can you prepare new places for them?”
“Is Torralei coming back, or should I reassign her cot?” Hamalar asked.
Avourel looked at Torralei and rubbed his chin. “Hmmm. Decisions, decisions!” He looked around at the angels. “What say you? Does Torralei deserve a second chance, or should she burn in hell for all eternity?”
“Burn in hell, burn in hell!” the other angels yelled and Torralei shrank back until Ophanim wrenched her arms and she yelped in pain.
“Hell it is,” said Avourel. “You can give away her cot,” he told Hamalar. “You know what? Make it four new brethren, instead of three.” He motioned for Hamalar to go.
“But I’ll miss the ceremony,” she said. Avourel’s face turned icy for a second as he glared at her.
“I mean, I hear and obey, glory to Avourel in the highest,” Hamalar said quickly. “Praise and glory!”
“Praise and glory! Praise and glory!” the other angels sang as Hamalar backed away then turned and ran towards the cloisters.
“Right then.” Avourel rubbed his hands together then turned towards the temple.
Torralei dug her feet into the ground as Ophanim pushed her forward. She stumbled and was about to fall when he caught her by the arms, wrenching them again. She screamed and some of the angels look back at her, but didn’t stop. Instead, they followed Avourel towards the temple.
Torralei stopped struggling. Ophanim grabbed her under one arm and Omael took the other and they dragged Torralei after the others.