Oto and Ata Forager look around the Island that had been their home for the first sixteen years of their lives. And though they’ve spent their seventeenth year in the Outside, there is still something pleasantly familiar about the Island, even if it does have a new name.
A small village of tents stands at the edge of the beach, but that is not the village they and the rest of the Rogers and Company seek.
Together, Oto, Ata, and the others march further inland, past a pond, through a forest, and to a wall built up of upright logs. They round it until they come to a door in the wall. Near the door is a metal cube used as a jail, which may or may not contain the one known as Dodo and Despair- not that either Oto or Ata cared enough to check. However, unlike the last time they visited the Island, several other buildings stand outside the wall. Wooden buildings.
“They’re expanding,” Ata says.
Oto nods, both excited for his friends and regretful for his forest. Then he knocks on the Forager’s door.
“Who knocks?” a familiar voice on the other side of the door asks.
“Same person who knocked the last time I was here,” Oto answers.
The door swings open, and Popo, Oto’s best friend on the Island, grins at him.
“About time you showed up,” Popo says. Then he pulls both Oto and Ata into a bear hug.
“Careful,” Joseph warns, “that’s my fiancé you have your arms around.”
“Really?” Popo asks, releasing Ata. “Congratulations! And I suppose Holly is your promised now, Oto?”
Holly glares at Oto. “Not yet.”
“You’re both too young anyway,” Richard mumbles.
“Speaking of promised, did the Shining Hope cure Emma’s promised?” Popo asks. “Where is she anyway?”
“Chris is cured,” Oto assures. “He and Emma are at a fancy Outside education thing.”
“Oh,” Popo says. “Poor them.”
Oto nods. “Now, you’ve met most of my group, but not all of them. This is Richard’s wife Neva; Gerald’s wife Donna; their mama Ruth; and Chris’ papa Walter.”
“Welcome to the Island,” Popo greets. “Or should I say, Emma Isle. I’m Popo, head forager since Oto deserted us.”
“Nice to meet you,” Gerald answers. “We’re here to visit and offer any assistance you may require.”
Popo nods. “Thank you. Also, thank you for the books you sent us- the Bibles.”
Mr. Williams nods in return. “It was the least we could do after all the help you gave us in finding the cure for my son- to help you see the cure for your souls.”
“So, where would it be best for us to stay?” Joseph asks quickly. “Because- no offense- but I don’t think we’ll all fit on your roof. And I don’t even want to sleep on the roof.”
“Of course not,” Popo agrees. “We have a, uh, hotel now.”
“You do?” Ata asks.
“Where was that when we were on the Island?!” Chase demands.
“Or, more importantly,” Joseph says, “when I was here.”
“We’ve had it for three seasons,” Popo answers. “Not long after you left with the Shining Hope, the Prime Minister of England visited us.”
Both Oto and Ata shrug. The Prime Minister’s coming comes as no surprise.
“Really?!” Mary-Ann cries. “She’s like the queen, right?”
Ruth smiles and ruffles Mary-Ann’s hair. “Uh, something like that. I remember hearing about it on the news.”
“What news?” Popo asks. “Never mind. Anyway, she helped us convert the Masters’ three mansions into more useful buildings. One we made into a hotel, another into a museum/library, and the third into a town hall.”
Donna raises an eyebrow. “That was very helpful of her.”
Popo shrugs. “She’s on her way to visit us again, actually. She seems to enjoy our Island.”
“Who doesn’t?” Ata asks.
“Emily,” Neva and Richard answer in unison.
Holly laughs. “Ironic since it’s named after her.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Joseph orders. “The Prime Minister of England is coming here in a matter of days?”
Popo nods. “Is there something wrong with that?”
“No,” Joseph answers. “But aren’t you even a little excited at the prospect. Any of you?”
The Rogers and Walter all nod. Holly just shrugs.
And Oto and Ata ignore him in favor of finding their friends in the village.