Read all previous installments here.
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. He considered dousing the lantern to make it harder for pursuers to find it. But then he couldn’t see where he was going. The lantern still had plenty of oil in it but if he snuffed out the flame, he would have no way to light it again. He decided to leave it lit. It would be hard to see through all the trees, anyway.
The path continued down, past the fields, to the manure pits and beyond. He went that way and eventually the path came to a stream. Every step took him further away from where George told him to go, so this must be a different stream than the one that George told him about, unless it curved around to the other side of the mountain. He looked back at the direction he had come in. He didn’t have a choice. He couldn’t go back through the compound. And it would be too difficult to push the cart uphill anyway with Elyon in it.
So Temeliel stayed on the path, heading downstream until he heard a hiss, barely audible over the sound of the cart wheels on the roots, rocks and dirt of the path. He stopped and looked around.
“Turn off the light.” The whisper came from somewhere in the trees. Temeliel squinted but couldn’t see anything in the dark.
“Turn it off before someone sees you.” The whisper was a bit louder and more insistent.
Temeliel pulled the lantern off its hook, opened the top and blew on the flame until it sputtered and died then put the latern into the cart on top of the tarp and waited for his eyes to adjust.
He soon realized that there had been enough moonlight trickling down through the treetops to see by but while he could now make out the path and the stream, he still couldn’t see who had hissed at him. He stepped away from the cart to look into the trees.
“Wait,” said the voice. “I want to see if anyone’s been following you.”
Temeliel stepped back and waited in silence. He could hear the murmur of the water, and the gentle whisper of a breeze through the trees. But there were no sounds of pursuit.
Then there was a groan from the cart. Elyon was waking up.
“What was that?”
Temeliel recognized the voice now.
“George, is that you?”
“Yeah, it’s me.” George stepped out from behind a clump of trees, climbed over some roots and fought his way through a tangle of ferns. “What’s going on?”
Temeliel pulled back the tarp. “I had some problems getting away,” he said. “This is one of the angels. He was guarding me.”
Elyon groaned again and lifted his hand towards his head. Temeliel picked up the axe.
“Why did you bring him with you?”
“I couldn’t leave him behind to raise an alarm,” said Temeliel. “I couldn’t just kill him, but I’m worried that I might have hit him too hard. He might have permanent brain damage.”
“Don’t worry about that,” said George. “Keeping him alive is a good idea. If he dies, he might tell Avourel what happened.”
“How can he do that if he’s dead?”
“I’ll tell you later. Meanwhile help me get this off.” George started pulling Elyon’s shirt off of him. “We can tear it into strips and tied him up.”
“I’ve got shears,” said Temeliel. “And a scythe.”
“Excellent.” George looked out at the trees. “Margarett! I think it’s safe. Can you come out and help us?”
A minute later a short woman with tight blonde curls crawled out through the ferns, then stood up and dusted herself off.
“This is Margarett,” George said. “Margaret, you know Torralei.”
“I’m not Torralei,” said Temeliel.
“You used to be,” said George. “At least, I’m pretty sure you used to be.”
“I’m glad you escaped,” said Margarett. “We were worried about you.”
“What do we do now?” asked Temeliel.
“Now we tied up our prisoner and head cross-country,” said George. “Didn’t I tell you to go the other way?”
“I couldn’t,” said Temeliel. “The Powers were there, watching.”
“I was following you,” said George. “I didn’t see anybody else. I think they were all asleep. Well, no point in worrying about it now.”
They ripped Elyon’s robe into long strips and used them to tie his hands and feet.
“Should we gag him?” Telemeliel asked.
“Not unless he starts making noise,” said George. “I don’t want him to choke and die by accident.”
The three of them were able to get the cart off the path into the trees and they started walking, first straight into the woods, then slightly uphill. Finally, George led them to an animal trail and the going became slightly easier. Still, it was nearly dawn before they came to the other stream and met up with the rest of George’s group.
Temeliel was dismayed to find out that their refuge was a small dug-out area in the bank of the stream, hidden behind heavy undergrowth.
George woke up the two women who were sleeping there, huddled together under some blankets, and introduced Temeliel as Torralei again.
Benedicta was thrilled to find the tools. “This is really going to help,” she said. “We can survive for month.”
“Oh, my god, I don’t want to be here for months,” said the other woman, who Temeliel was told was Wynefrede. “If we’re still here in a week, I’ll throw myself off a cliff.”
“It’s not so bad,” said Benedicta. “Actually, I think it’s kind of fun. It’s like an adventure.”
“We have a camp started down near the coast,” said Wynefrede. “We’ll be able to see any ships coming, but are also near the stream so we have fresh water.”
Benedicta passed around a loaf of bread and they ate while George filled them all in on what he saw at the compound, Margarett occasionally chiming in with her own observations.
Then Temeliel told them about the feast day and the visitors.
“I’m going to stay here,” George decided. “The rest of you should go down to the camp. I’ll spy on the visitors and steal some more food.”
“I’ll come with you,” said Wynefrede.
“It’s too risky,” said George.
“I know where the camp is,” said Wynefrede. “You’ll have a hard time finding it without me. Plus, it’s always good to have someone watch your back. It’s my turn now.”
Benedicta rolled up one of the blankets and hit it back under the bank, then put the rest into the cart on top of Elyon along with the rest of their bread.
“Before you go,” George said, “Does anyone want to jump off the waterfall now? You’ll probably die quick. Maybe.” He turned to Temeliel. “If we die, we go back to the grid’s entry area. We’ll have our user interfaces back, can return to our real lives.” He paused. “It might not work for you, though, because you came through a different gate. You might just be returned a private entrance just for the cult. You should still be able to leave from there, though. Do you remember anything at all about how you got here?”
Temeliel shook his head. “The first thing I remember is seeing Avourel,” he said. “And then the Powers.” He paused. “One of the Powers said something about a fake exit gate.”
“What does that mean?” asked George.
“Maybe the gate in the temple is not an exit gate but goes to a different part of the world, like I was saying,” said Margarett. “Maybe it leads into the volcano.”
“That means that there’s another exit gate somewhere,” said Wynefrede. “We should check the volcano,” she told George. “Maybe the real exit gate is there.”
“In that case, I’m glad I’m not coming with you,” said Margarett. “I’m not going anywhere near a volcano.”
“Do you know what happens when you die?” George asked Temeliel.
Temeliel shook his head.
“Maybe he does.” Margarett pointed at their hostage.
Benedicta immediately slapped Elyon and, when that wasn’t enough to wake him up, grabbed one of the stolen buckets, filled it with icy cold stream water, and dumped it on Elyon’s head.
The angel woke up sputtering and George slapped his hand over Elyon’s mouth. “Before you start screaming,” George said, “I’ve got some things to tell you.” He held up the shears that they’d used to cut up the angel’s robe. “You’re too far away for anyone from your cult to hear you. But your screaming will annoy us, and we’ll start cutting off body parts. Do you understand?”
The angel nodded and George moved his hand. Elyon immediately screamed. George slapped his hand back against the angel’s face, and the women looked around, panicked.
“Don’t worry about it,” said George. “We can’t even hear their bell from here. That means they can’t hear us. This guy can scream all he wants. But I promised that he’d lose a finger, so…” He let go again and pushed Elyon over on his side as the angel shook his head.
“I promise I’ll be quiet,” Elyon whispered. “Just let me go. The lord god Avourel needs me today.”
“Right. We heard about the feast. But they’ll have to make do without you.” George paused. “But we’ll let you go if you answer some questions for us.”
“We will?” asked Wynefrede.
“Sure, why not,” said George. “We’ll take him upstream and let him go. By the time he leads anyone back you’ll all be long gone to other side of the island where our ship is. If they try to find us, our army of flying, fire-breathing dragons will kill them all.”
“Your dragons are no match for Avourel, the mightiest of the mighty, the holiest of the holy,” said Elyon.
“Yeah, well, but our god… our god Zeus is. Right?” George glanced over at the women, who all nodded.
“Zeus can throw lightning bolts,” said Benedicta. “He’d wipe the ground with your god.”
“And he can turn into a swan,” said Margarett. The others looked at her. “What? Swans are vicious.” She crossed her arms. “One attacked me once when I was a kid.”
“Right,” said George. “And Zeus has friends. Thor. And, umm… Iron Man.”
Temeliel thought that those god names were familiar. His memory of them almost within reach, like a word just on the tip of the tongue. Was George telling the truth? Were all those gods waiting for them? He looked down at Elyon. The angel looked scared.
“Avourel is the one and only god,” Elyon said, but there was doubt in his voice.
“Well, you can ask Avourel when you see him,” said George. “Or, better yet, ask Zeus himself. It might give him a chuckle before he destroys you with a lightning bolt.” George paused. “Did you ever see anyone in your cult die?”
“Ailduin died, but I didn’t seem him get killed,” said Elyon.
“He’s one of the Powers,” said Temeliel.
“Heifiel murdered him,” said Elyon. “But Avourel brought him back.”
“How long did it take?” asked George. “How long was he gone before he was back?”
“I don’t know,” said Elyon. “Maybe… half an hour?”
George glanced at the women with him. “So they don’t go back to Krim City when they die. Otherwise it would have taken him days to get back here.”
“Maybe there’s something about the island,” said Margarett. “Maybe we stay here even when we die.” She visibly shivered.
“Well, that’s not great news at all.” George turned back to Elyon. “How did the dead guy come back?”
“Avourel brought him back in through the holy gate,” said Elyon. “He rescued him from the burning pits of hell.”
“How exactly?” asked George. “Did he use a control device of some kind?”
Elyon shook his head. “Avourel is all powerful,” he said. “He can will anything he wants.”
“Well, that’s not very useful,” said George. “Is there another gate anywhere? Maybe in the volcano?”
“No,” said Elyon.
“Are you sure?” asked George. “Have you ever been there?”
“In the volcano? No. Why would I go into a volcano?”
“There’s a path up to it,” Temeliel said. “Behind the temple.” He paused. “I don’t remember ever seeing it, or going there. But I know it’s there.”
“That’s must be the road that we came in on,” said Benedicta. “It continued on past the temple, up the mountain. It probably goes all the way up to the volcano. We’ll need to go there and check what’s there.”
“But not today,” said Margarett. “We can do that later.” She stood up. “Let get going before everyone is up and looking for us.”
“They’re not going to look for you,” said Temeliel. “I heard them talking yesterday. Avourel and the Powers don’t want the angels to know that there’s anyone else on Lamacoln.”
“That means that they’ll probably wipe Elyon’s memory to make sure he doesn’t talk,” said George. “That’s good. That means he won’t be able to tell anyone about Zeus and about all our flying, fire-breathing dragons, right? It’ll be a surprise.” He turned away from Elyon and winked at them. “They’ll go to the other side of the island to look for us and fall right into our trap.”
“What should we do with him?” Benedicta glanced down at Elyon. “Are we going to let him go? Take him with us?”
“We can throw him down the waterfall,” said George. “That way, we can see if it kills you instantly or not. And we can also watch how Avourel brings people back from the dead.”
Margarett shook her head. “I don’t think I could kill him,” she said. “I know it’s just a game, but it feels so real.”
“Well, I can,” said George. “Help us get him down to the waterfall. Then the rest of you can head off and I’ll throw him down. I’ve killed people in games before, lots of times. Never in a place this realistic, but still. I mean, he’ll be okay. Better than if we kept him alive and suffering while his wound got infected, right?”
“I’ll help you,” Wynefrede said. “I want to see how quick it is.”
“What about you?” George turned to Telemeliel.
“I’ll go with them,” Temeliel said, nodding at Benedicta and Margarett. “I don’t want to watch.” All he wanted was to get some rest.