Temeliel was on his hands and feet, weeding at the end of a row of potatoes when one of the Powers came over. The slightly bigger, scarier one.
“You probably don’t remember me,” the Power said in a low voice. “But I’ve got my eye on you. You’re a trouble maker.” The Power glanced behind him. The other angel, Ninlein, was at the far side of the garden. Temeliel looked back down at the baby potato plants in the bed in front of him. Sometimes, the weeds got entangled with the good plants. It was important to tease them apart, gently. He then piled the soil closer around the base of the plant in front of him. It was important to keep the lower stems completely covered. Otherwise, the potatoes will grow up to taste bitter. That was what Ninlein told him.
“Are you listening to me?” Before Temeliel could respond, the Power kicked him in the ribs and Temeliel fell over, crushing the young potato plant. Unlike the angels, who only got sandals, the Powers were heavy boots. The kick hurt.
Temeliel groaned and pushed his face up and off the plant. It didn’t look too damaged. He piled a little bit more earth around it to keep it upright.
Temeliel looked back and saw Ninlein walking over.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Nothing,” said the Power. “Just the new guy already acting up.”
“Why am I always stuck with the newbies?” Ninlein rubbed her hands against each other to wipe the dirt off. “Praise be to Avourel, but you guys are a handful. What did you do now?”
“Nothing,” said Temeliel. “I didn’t do anything at all. I’m just weeding, like you told me to.”
Omael spit on the ground. The droplets landed in the dirt next to Temeliel’s hand. “Avourel, in his infinite wisdom, may have given you a second chance and saved your soul from the fiery pits of hell,” the Power said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to trust you.”
“Avourel is all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-merciful,” said Ninlein. “I’m sure Temeliel realizes how lucky he is.” She crouched down next to him and put her hand on his shoulder. “You would be burning in eternal hellfire right now, if it wasn’t for Avourel.”
Temeliel stared down at the potato plant. The only thing he could remember was the guy in white robes saying, “It’s our little wayward angel.” And then the Power said, “They always fall for the fake exit gate.” But not matter how much he tried, he couldn’t remember anything that had come before. If he’d been burning in hell, wouldn’t he have some memory of it?
“He doesn’t realize anything at all,” said the Power.
Ninlein put her hand on Temeliel’s cheek and turned his face so that she could look him in the eye. “Do you remember?” she asked him. “Do you remember anything of what hell was like?”
Temeliel jerked back and shook his head.
“Whatever.” The Power turned and started walking away, then paused and looked back over his shoulder. “Keep an eye on him. Avourel’s got his own reasons for saving him but, in my book, the stench of brimstone isn’t washed away that easily. And don’t forget, he had to have done something bad in his old life to get sent to hell in the first place.”
Temeliel lowered his head and sniffed. He didn’t smell anything. Could other people tell that he’d just come from hell? Maybe you don’t notice your own odor, he thought. Was there a deodorant that worked on the smell of hellfire?
“It’s probably for the best,” Ninlein told him as the Power walked away. “The pain was probably unbearable. Avourel is doing you a service by clearing your mind. And if Avourel thinks you are worth saving, then I, do, too. The lord god Avourel is infallible and never makes mistakes. You’re lucky that you get a chance to redeem yourself.”
She stood up and was dusting off her hands when a bell clanged once, then a second time. She stopped and listened, but the bell didn’t ring again.
“When it rings twice, that means it’s time for meals,” she told Temeliel. “Do you want to go get some lunch?”
“No, I’m not hungry,” said Temeliel.
“Are you sure?” Ninlein asked. “Breakfast was a long time ago.”
Temeliel remembered breakfast. Thin oatmeal accompanied by nasty stares from the other angels. Maybe the Power was right, and he smelled bad. Or everyone could see just by looking at him that he was evil. Then Avourel walked in. Temeliel could feel the god’s eyes burning into his mind. Avourel, the all-seeing and all-knowing.
“I’d rather stay out here and work,” said Temeliel.
“Are you sure? You’re not just saying that because you want to avoid people?”
That was when Temeliel realized that the Power was right. He was a born liar. He didn’t want to see any of them. He especially didn’t want to see the god again. He was just making up excuses.
“I want to redeem myself through work,” he told her, then, after a pause, added, “For the glory of Avourel.”
“For the glory of Avourel,” Ninlein echoed, then glanced at the sky. “I’m really hungry, though. They have bean stew today. It’s the best.”
Temeliel remembered the stew. They had it for dinner the night before. It was the worst. Maybe it tasted better to angels who were pure of heart, instead of liars like him.
“Listen, you stay here, and I’ll send someone to check up on you,” Ninlein said. “Don’t go anywhere. The jungle is deadly and Avourel might not rescue you a second time if you end back up in hell.”
The minute she was out of sight, Temeliel heard someone hissing at him from the tree line. He stood up and walked over.
“You’re the one who came through the gate yesterday, right?” The voice belonged to a man crouched down behind a line of hedges. He was dressed like an angel, though his robe looked a little damp, but Temeliel didn’t recognize him. “I saw that other guy kicking you,” the man said. “I’m George. I’m not with the cult. Do you want us to get you out of here?”
Temeliel looked around. Nobody was watching him.
“Maybe,” he said.
“Well, why don’t you think about it.” George motioned for Temeliel to come a little closer. “If you decide to join us,” he whispered, “go to the other side of the temple, to the path behind it, then go left into the woods. Head downhill until you come to a stream, then follow the stream down to a waterfall. Wait there. We’ll come get you. Bring all the supplies you can carry, and make sure that nobody follows you. Got it?”
“Just remember, none of this is real,” said George. “They’re all lying to you. Avourel isn’t a god. All he’s got is a way to erase people’s memories so that you’ll think he’s a god. That’s it.”
“Avourel knows everything,” said Temeliel. “He knows what people are thinking.”
“No, he doesn’t,” said George. “Just try thinking something horrible at him. You’ll see. He’d just a regular guy like anyone else.” George glanced up over Temeliel’s shoulder. “I think someone’s coming,” he said. “I gotta go. Just think about it.”
George vanished into the trees and Temeliel returned to the potato bed. The plant he’d fallen on earlier seemed to be recovering well. He got a bucket of water and dampened the soil around it.
“There you are!”
Temeliel cringed. He recognized the barking voice as belonging to the Power who’d kicked him earlier. Omael. He set the bucket down and turned.
“You don’t get to be alone,” Omael said, tapping a hand against the hilt of his sword. “Not until you can prove you can be trusted.” The Power twisted his face. “Personally, I don’t think that will ever happen.”
Temeliel walked past Omael and followed the path back to the main compound, the Power close behind. Other angels were still streaming in from their respective chores.
Avourel stood outside the entrance to the main building, hands up, bestowing blessings on the angels as they walked in.
Temeliel was planning to hurry past him. but Omael pulled him to a stop. Temeliel looked down at his feet. He didn’t want to meet the god’s eyes.
“So how has Tor… I mean, Tem…” Avourel began.
“Temeliel,” said Omael.
“Right, Temeliel. How has he been today?”
“Obedient,” said Omael.
“No,” said Omael. “And he hasn’t been out of my sight all morning.”
“That’s good to hear, my child,” said Avourel.
Omael had just lied to the god. And the god didn’t notice. Temeliel glanced up at the god’s face. Avourel smiled beatifically and placed his hand on Temeliel’s head.
Omael pocked his ribs, and Temeliel bowed. But he kept his eyes on the god, and imagined stabbing him, over and over again. The god didn’t react. Was it a test? Or was Avourel not a god at all, like George said?
“What did you work on this morning?” Avourel asked.
“I planted carrots,” Temeliel lied. “For the glory of the lord god Avourel, the infinitely merciful.”
“Glory be! Glory be! Glory be!” sang an angel waiting behind them.
Avourel stepped back, seemingly satisfied. “Work will clean your soul and restore your balance,” the god said. “Go redeem yourself, my child.”
Omael poked him again and Temeliel entered the building.
In the dining room, there was an empty spot near Ninlein. Temeliel grabbed it before anybody else sat there.
“I decided I was hungry after all,” he told her.
“You need to keep your strength up,” she said. “For the glory for Avourel.”
“That’s exactly what I thought,” said Temeliel. He leaned closer to her. “Hey, I’ve got a question,” he said, in a lower voice.
“Are there any other people here besides us?”
“You mean, you and me?” She looked him, confused. “Are you having problems seeing things?”
“No, I mean, besides all of us. Other than the angels, and the Seraphim, and the Powers, and Avourel, is there anyone else here?”
“No, we’re the only people in the world,” said Ninlein. “Avourel created Lamacoln just for us. Sometimes we have visitors who come through the gate. Did someone tell you about that? But we don’t have any visitors now. When visitors come, we have feasts. But the food here is good every day, of course. I love bean stew.”
“Right, right,” he said. “I love bean stew as well.”
Ninlein didn’t notice this lie, either.
Temeliel looked around at the other angels. He still saw some of them casting glances of condemnation in his direction, but it didn’t bother him as much anymore. Nobody here knew anything.