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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, eating an apple.
The smell was awful. Temeliel breathed through his mouth to avoid the worst of it and tried not to think of minute particles floating through the air and landing inside his mouth. That’s what smells were, weren’t they? Small particles carried by the air.
Next time, he thought, he’d find a way to make a cloth mask.
If there was a next time.
Elyon grumbled as he watched. The angel was annoyed that he was having to miss out on rest and took it out on Temeliel.
“I can’t believe I’m stuck babysitting a hellfire reject,” Elyon said, then spit out an apple seed.
But Temeliel could believe it. Elyon had been one of angels grumbling about the upcoming feast and the Powers must have heard him.
“You stink,” said Elyon. “Work faster. I don’t want to spend any more time with you than I have to.”
“It would go twice as fast if you helped,” said Temeliel.
Elyon took a couple of steps back. “I’m not getting anywhere near you,” he said. “You probably brought an infection back from hell.”
Temeliel slowed down his shoveling. His hands were starting to hurt. He’d have blisters soon enough. Then he stopped to take a break and stepped away from the cart. Elyon yelled at him and threatened to get the Powers until Temeliel went back to work.
“If Avourel was so all-powerful, why do we need to do this, anyway?” he asked. “Why didn’t he build a sewer system?”
“Shut up,” said Elyon.
“All it would take is a few pipes,” Temeliel said. “I could build it.” And he realized that he could. They need a water tank or reservoir up hill from the compound. Maybe rig a waterwheel in the stream to pump the water. He could build flush toilets, he thought. It could be a fun project.
“If Avourel, in his infinite wisdom, wanted to have pipes, he would already have pipes,” said Elyon. “He has his reasons for everything he does.” He chewed on the apple. “Maybe to allow corrupt souls like yours to redeem themselves through work. Yeah, I bet that’s it.”
“I still think…” Temeliel began.
“I’m telling the Powers what you said,” said Elyon. “They will cut your tongue out.”
Temeliel shut up. He’d bring the topic up again tomorrow. Once Avourel and the Powers heard his ideas, they might let him build the sewer system. That was a way he could redeem himself. It was a better option then escaping to the woods with George. At least the compound had food and shelter. George looked to be in pretty bad shape, like he’d been barely surviving in the wilderness for days.
He filled up the cart and closed and latched the hatch to the cesspit. Elyon walked past him, throwing the apple core into the cart, and led the way. A full moon was just starting to rise over the treetops, but as they entered the path to the fields the moonlight was blocked by the treetops. Elyon held his lantern higher to light the way and told Temeliel to hurry up.
“The cart is heavy,” Temeliel said. “And it’s hard to get it over the stones.” Temeliel had to push down on the handles, and balance the cart on its two wheels while pushing it forward. The cart also had two handles on the front end. “You could help pull the cart,” he told Elyon. “It would go faster.”
Elyon glanced back and twisted his face in disgust. Instead of coming back to help he sped up, putting more distance between himself and the smell emanating from the cart.
As they left the main area of the compound, the ground started to slope down and now Temeliel’s challenge was to keep the cart from getting away from him. If it did, it would probably roll forward, then tip over and spill everything and he’d have to clean it up. He thought about doing it anyway and making a huge mess. But Elyon would probably call the Powers and he’d be punished.
They walked downhill until they reached the field then kept going to the manure pits. This was where the human waste and kitchen scraps were turned into fertilizer for the fields. The pits were covered by heavy wax-cloth tarps, probably to keep nutrients from being leached away by the rain. Elyon pointed to the far corner. Temeliel pushed the cart in that direction, then peeled back the tarp and started shoveling.
Elyon stepped further away and watched as Temeliel unloaded the cart. Then they went back to the compound for another load. At least the cart was empty now. Temeliel would have hated to push a fully loaded cart uphill.
Omael met them as they were circling to the back of the building and asked Elyon for a report.
“He keeps slacking off,” said Elyon. “And talking blasphemy.”
Temeliel stopped and leaned against the cart.
“It’s just that…” he began, but Omael cut him off with a wave of his hand.
“Continue,” Omael told Elyon.
“He thinks Avourel made mistakes when he created the world,” said Elyon.
“Is that true?” Omael asked Temeliel, his hand on the hilt of his sword.
Temeliel shrank back. “No, no, not that,” he said. “It’s just that if we built a water reservoir — I could build one, you know — we could have a sewer system.”
Omael glowered, but Temeliel pressed on. “It would reduce the smell. Be more hygienic. We could use water power…”
Omael stepped closer and Temeliel stopped talking.
“I see what you mean,” Omael told Elyon. “I’ll tell Avourel. We should have time for a ceremony before the visitors arrive tomorrow.”
“What kind of ceremony?” asked Elyon.
“To cut out his tongue.” Omael started walking away, then paused. “I suggest that you don’t listen to the sacrilege,” he told Elyon. “Avourel will get the corruption out of him, even if we have to whip him every single day. But don’t let it spread to you.”
Elyon stepped back.
“This will help.” Omael reached to around to his back for the whip that had been coiled and hooked to his belt at the small of his back and handed it to Elyon. “If he talks or if he shirks away from his work, you know what to do.” He paused and looked Elyon in the eye. “This is for his own good,” he added. “We’re driving the evil out of him.”
Elyon hefted the whip in his hand, then unrolled it and snapped it out. “I’ll be vigilant,” he said.
For the next hour, while Temeliel loaded up another cart load, Elyon practiced with the whip, first against the side of the building, then against the trees on the other side of the short expanse of grass behind the path. Then he came back and started aiming for the cart and, whenever Temeliel slowed down, against him.
It didn’t hurt much at first, then, as Elyon got better, the whip started to sting more and more until finally one stroke caused Temeliel to cry out with pain and fall to the ground.
“I can’t keep working if you keep whipping me,” he said. “What will the Powers say then?”
Elyon backed up and went back to whipping the side of the building until he got tired, then he sat down and just watched Temeliel work.
On the third round, Elyon sat against the building and napped, waking up every couple of minutes to check that Temeliel was still shoveling, then snapped the whip in the air next to him when they walked down to the fields.
On the fourth trip, he ordered Temeliel to go ahead of him. “You know the way,” he told him. “I’ll be watching you.” Then Elyon waited half-way up the path for Temeliel to unload and come back.
On the fifth trip, Elyon stayed at the top of the path. “If you take too long, I’ll come down and get you and you’ll be in a world of hurt,” Elyon said, then sat down in the grass next to a tree, the lantern on the ground next to him.
Temeliel headed down the path, then looked back at the angel. Elyon was asleep and snoring. This was his chance to escape. He considered leaving the cart and running, but George said they needed supplies.
Temeliel considered what kind of supplies wilderness survival could require. Food was the obvious one, but he didn’t want to go back up, past Elyon, and risk waking him up. But there a garden shed by the fields and it was full of tools, tools that could mean the difference between life and death. He quickly dumped the contents of the cart and wheeled it over to the shed. He already had a shovel, but there were also axes in there, and some pry bars for getting heavy rocks out of the soil. He left the rakes, but grabbed a scythe, and a pruning saw, and the heavy shears, as well as several buckets. Those could come in handy, not just for carrying stuff but for cooking in.
He was holding a long-handled axe in his hand and closing the shed door when he heard a yell behind him.
“What are you doing in there?” It was Elyon. Temeliel heart the snap of the whip near his face when he turned around, keeping the axe behind him.
“There was something wrong with the shovel,” he said. “I was getting another one.”
Elyon transferred the whip to his left handle so he could poke at Temeliel with his other one. “I didn’t tell you to do that,” said Elyon, his finger in Temeliel’s face. “You’re going to pay for that.” He glanced down into the cart. “Hey, why are you taking…”
He didn’t get to finish the sentence. Temeliel swung the axe from behind him and into the side of Elyon’s head and the angel dropped to ground, blood pouring out.
Temeliel looked around. Did anyone hear? He couldn’t tell. He opened the garden shed door and was about to drag Elyon’s body inside when he realized that the angel was still alive.
If he left him, Elyon could crawl out, get help, raise an alarm. He needed to kill him. Temeliel raised his axe again, but couldn’t do it. Not deliberately, not like this. Before, he’d acted on instinct. The axe hadn’t even hit Elyon’s head at the right angle. There was hardly any blood. Didn’t head wounds usually bleed a lot?
Temeliel didn’t want to spend any more time with Elyon than he had to. But he also didn’t want to leave him behind to tell the Powers what happened. He raised the axe again, then sighed and dropped it into the cart. It clanged against the shovels and Temelion had a flash of panic. Did anyone hear it? He looked around, then dragged Elyon’s body to the cart and shoved it in. The man’s legs hung out. He tried to fold them into the cart but they wouldn’t fit. He looked into the shed and found a tarp big enough to cover the body, then weighed it down with a couple of shovels. He closed the shed door behind him and looked around. Now what?