The day started early in Metoche. Koinonian Sunesis interns stood in the cool air at dawn in the Trading Square at the west end of the market. Flatbed trucks appeared and tradespeople unloaded crates and boxes full of produce, setting them for display on shelves and tables. None of the interns knew what they were supposed to be doing, and they looked as lost as they felt. Huddling in the center of the square, they tried not to get in the way while waiting for someone to tell them what to do. As it was, it did not appear that anyone even noticed they were there.
There were two areas of business in Metoche, one being the semicircle of stationary shops which serviced a range of needs from tailoring to photo printing. There were specialty shops such as confectionaries and barbers. There were shops where art supplies and novelty gifts could be obtained, custom shoes fitted, and literature exchanged. There was the Koinonian Press office where the island news was issued monthly and where Aunt Demi and her fellow Koinonian authors prepared their works for distribution. There was a shop for nearly everything, but it was the Trading Square where most of the action took place.
The Square opened at dawn and closed when the traders decided to go home. Farmers brought in their produce: fresh eggs, ripe vegetables from their greenhouses, milk, and herbs. When the ships were in there was fresh fish on ice. Homemade sweets wrapped in paper, baked goods, and handmade gifts created from colorful beads or carved from wood. Artists set up their newest works to exchange them for household items or food. The Square was a place of business but mainly a place to socialize and for the citizens to distribute their contributions.
It was customary that the first through the trading stalls each morning were the staff sent from Erotao Sanctuary and Iasis Manor. Iasis had patients who needed provision, as did Erotao’s deacons who spent their time focused in prayer and service to the community. They were the first to be clothed, fed, and provided for. They had nothing to trade in return, but their work was of great importance and needed to be first priority to the Koinonians.
When the deacons and healers arrived with their trucks to transport the goods, the interns were given their first job. Every tradesperson manning their booths and tables handed off crates, barrels, and bags of items for the interns to load into the back of the trucks. A myriad of voices rang out in a sort of organized chaos which everyone seemed to understand.
“Bundle of parsley?”
“Two, if you’ve got ‘em.”
“How many eggs?”
“Ten dozen. I need a runner for the general store!”
A list was shoved into one of the intern’s hands and she was sent off to the nearby shop to retrieve all the items as fast as she could.
“Frannie’s on her way with the chickens, Dolores.”
“Yah, thank you. Those chickens plucked?”
“Already on ice.”
“Bless you. Onions?”
“Just two, thank you…”
On and on it went until the Sanctuary and the Manor had everything they needed.
Declan sat down heavily on a sealed bag of flour with a grunt. “That was a rush, wasn’t it?”
Andre agreed, but remained on his feet. He was exhausted enough without the quick momentum of the Trading Square. Not so much from the early morning, but from the fact that he had never gone to bed. Kylan Kirkeby had given him too much to think about for sleep.
“Agabus,” Declan pulled Andre back from his weary reverie. “We’re being called.”
“This way interns!” Elder Kerr, the Head of Commerce waved for them to join him beneath the overhanging awning of the Trading Square storage shed, a squat square structure with graying siding, wood shingles, and dusty windows. A large sliding door stood open revealing the cluster of unused crates, wheelbarrows, stools, and shade umbrellas free for anyone to use. An orange tabby sat in the opening like a pleasant-faced guard with whiskers twitching at the mix of smells trailing from many of the trading tables.
“Welcome to your first day in Commerce!” Kerr was excited to have them. “I don’t mind saying that I believe it to be the most diverse of the four departments of service which contribute to our way of life here on Koinonia. I like to think of it as the soul of our great country, for reasons I think are obvious, eh?” He raised his bushy eyebrows as his beard twitched in an agreeable grin. “Come, let’s take a walk.”
The class of interns followed the elder through the lines of booths and tables into the center of the market in the direction of the Alleluia House. “This is undoubtedly one of the most familiar departments to many of you. You all have at one time or another accompanied your parents or been sent to trade within the market. Your time spent here this summer will show you the ins and outs of Metoche and all its shops and services. You will get your hands dirty helping with the many tasks we have to accomplish here every day. You may even discover new talents you never knew you possessed which is the purpose of your Sunesis.” Kerr clasped his hands before his expansive belly held in by a bright yellow buttoned vest over matching suspenders.
“You have already gotten a taste of the work ethic here in Metoche with this morning’s exercise in the Square. Now I will send you to the doors of the shops to request supply lists. Each shop will provide you a cart which you may use to retrieve the items on the list and return them to where they are needed. Once everyone is taken care of, you may find me for your next instructions,” Kerr advised. “I encourage you to take your time in each shop familiarizing yourself with the staff and business conducted there. It is your job to ask questions and get a hands-on knowledge of every aspect of the market. Spread out!” He waved his hands over his shoulders toward the semi-circle of shops behind him. “Get going, the morning is running fast!”
Declan headed straight for the bakery with the hopes that a supply list would come with a pastry. Jora passed Andre a smile and moved to the opposite side of the Circle with a group of her friends to seek lists at the florist, barber, and gift shops.
“Walk with me to the bistro?” AJ Eckard waited for Andre. Svana joined them on her way to Linens, the delicate textiles distributor.
“If each one of these shops has a long list it will take more than the morning to deliver it all,” AJ commented.
“What do they do when they don’t have interns to run their errands?” Svana wanted to know.
“I think I would like Elder Kerr’s job.” AJ glanced back and watched the director of commerce make his rounds between the trading stalls, shaking hands and chuckling in his robust vocals as the Square began to fill with patrons and socializers. “He gets to know everybody and everything that goes on around here.”
“And if there’s a problem on the market,” Andre pointed out, “it’s his job to fix it.”
“True,” AJ shrugged, “but how often does that happen?”
“I don’t know why anyone would choose to be an elder,” Svana gave her opinion. “Who wants that sort of responsibility? Sorry, Agabus,” she patted Andre’s arm sympathetically.
“I’m not an elder,” he pointed out. “I can’t even be nominated. You can have the job,” he told AJ gratefully.
“I guess you’re destined to be an educator, as Agbus?” Eckard asked. “Like your father and grandfather?”
“I don’t have to be,” Andre shrugged. “No one has ever said so. It makes sense, I guess, for a prophet to teach. I don’t know if that’s what I’m good at yet. I’ve never tried.”
“Sure you have,” Svana said. “You share your knowledge all the time. What else could you possibly be good at?” she teased. “Except for maybe healing. You and Jora could run Iasis someday. Two love birds curing the island’s ailments one sappy expression at a time.”
Andre kindly returned the sentiment by shoving her through the open door of Linens to be rid of her. “I don’t know,” he confided in AJ with a frown. “I don’t feel led to either of those.”
“What do you want?” AJ asked as they neared the bistro’s open front doors.
“I think I want to travel.”
“Travel? That sounds like a problem, Agabus.” Eckard led the way into the quiet café and walked up to the counter. “How does that work?”
“I’m still trying to figure that out. Need anything from the market, Louie?” Andre addressed the compact little chef holding a cleaver in the middle of his pristine kitchen.
“Oui, il y a la liste.” He pointed the cleaver to a piece of paper near a display jar of macaroons on the counter.
Andre picked it up and read the list written in messy French script, committing it to memory in a glance and nodding his thanks. “We’ll be back in a bit. Do you have a cart?”
“Dans le dos.”
“Merci.” Andre led the way down a back hall to a door at the rear of the bistro. They found the cart beneath an awning beside a row of recycling bins. Pushing the five-foot-by-two-foot, six-wheeled cart around the side of the building, they returned to the market circle and back to the Square for what they needed. They met Declan on their way where he sat on the end of a similar cart with his legs crossed, polishing off a pastry covered in confectioner’s sugar.
“Nice to see ya,” he spoke around a mouthful. “This cart is unruly, help a man out.”
AJ obliged, pushing the cart with Declan still on it to the Square while Andre pushed the other. They parked in a line of carts near the trade supply shed and joined their class to cross off as many items on their lists as they could. Not everything was available. Supplies did not always meet the demand and a few orders would have to wait until the next day or even a week before they could be filled.
The requested items were not all produce. Andre and the other interns spent their morning crossing the market several times over to retrieve goods and materials from neighboring shops to deliver to others. The bakery needed salt from the general store, the general store needed paper from the office supply, the office supply needed mouse traps for their warehouse…and it went on and on. The interns saved the workers a trip to get these things themselves and the interns got an in-depth look at how each shop was run. As Elder Kerr requested, they took what time they could to ask questions, get to know staff, and help out wherever they were needed. By noon Andre felt as if his brain was overflowing with new information and his body ached from pushing, lifting, and carrying several tons of supplies all over the market.
“Who knew it took so much to run a small island of twelve thousand people?” he grunted and sank gratefully into a chair at an open table at the bistro. Once released for noon meal, the interns joined the hungry crowd at Louie’s for a quick bite before they were expected at the Agoge Center for their afternoon instructional.
“And to think,” Declan added, “Commerce is the easy Sunesis.”
“Who says?” Easton Wolf piped up from a neighboring table. “I’ll bet Produce won’t be much of a challenge.”
“Maybe for you farmers,” Declan responded as Louie’s culinary partner appeared from behind the counter with trays loaded with food and a broad, beaming smile.
“Watch yer’selves now,” drawled the Texas born bar-b-que master of fifty plus years. The competent chef had a name but not many remembered what it was. Most people just called him Brisket on account of his fabulous original recipes. Where Louie managed most areas of the kitchen, Brisket was in charge of the smoker and spent most of his time mingling with the diners. There were no menus at the bistro; Brisket ordered what he thought a hungry customer would want. No one ever complained because the man was never wrong.
“I know you were thinkin’ of these shrimp tacos.” He deposited a perfectly arranged plate of delicious food in front of Maddie MacCaskill sitting across from Easton. “I got that Stromboli you were dreaming about last nigh’, Dre.”
“Perfect.” Andre accepted it gratefully and dug in.
“How was y’alls’ first mornin’ out there?” Brisket wanted to know.
Several interns nodded with mouths too busy chewing to respond promptly. “Exhausting,” Declan didn’t mind talking through a mouthful of Louie’s fine pasta. “But the perks are superb.”
Bistro laughed along with the interns, emptying his trays and making sure everyone was taken care of. “Alright you folks enjoy, and let me know if you be needing anything.”
“Thanks, Brisket!” several of them replied in unison.
“I’m going to get fat eating here every day,” Andre commented.
“Layers are beauty, my friend.” AJ grinned and sank his teeth into a large bite of veggie pizza with a hearty appetite.
“I’m going to miss this next year,” Declan lamented.
“The rest of the world has restaurants, Dec,” Andre pointed out. “Some pretty fabulous ones too, I’ve heard.”
“I don’t care,” he said. “Nothin’ beats this. It’s not possible.”
The Agoge Center had a special wing reserved for interns. Tucked back on the east end of the university grounds, reached by a long hallway of windows overlooking a courtyard with a view of the sea through breaks in the trees, it was a quiet place for them to study without being disturbed. Inside was a main discussion room with comfortable seating and a stone hearth to congregate around when the weather was cool. Branching rooms contained a small kitchenette, a pair of restrooms, and a library complete with computer lab for research purposes.
Elder Ackers was head of the education department, and he met the interns in their suite with new access passwords for each of them. “These permit you to search the internet database in greater detail than you previously were allowed. Where once you received possibly two or three minimal sources for, let’s say a search on United States politics, now you will have access to thousands of resources with unlimited information. This is a freedom which comes with a warning. Not everything you find will be fact and the information is of the world and comes from it. Arm yourself, search cautiously, and hold one another accountable. It is against the rules to use the computer lab alone. Two or more of you must be in there during a research session. Disregard this rule and you will lose your internet privileges and be issued three hours of service at Iasis. Understood?”
There was a chorus of compliance and each intern stepped forward to receive their password. Andre read his and committed it to memory, crumpling up the paper and tossing it in the wastebasket near the door. Several others did the same, while some stuck them in their pockets until they were certain they wouldn’t need the reminder any longer.
“Do not leave those lying around where anyone could pick them up!” Ackers called out a warning amid the bustle of interns moving to find seats on the many couches and chairs. The windows stood wide open in the warm June afternoon and a delicious breeze moved off the ocean. Andre sank into a leather-cushioned armchair and rubbed his eyes. He was going to find it difficult to focus on the discussion despite his interest in what Ackers had to say.
“Quiet down all.” Ackers took his place on a high stool set up before the fireplace where everyone could see him. The elder was one of the youngest in the council with a thin, clean shaven face, wiry physique, and a thinning head of dark hair. He was not altogether humorless, but a scholar who often appeared to have a lot on his mind.
“Your job as students is over,” Ackers made clear. “Your further instruction is not so much a time of learning but of discovering and conclusion. By definition, Sunesis is a joining together of knowledge and understanding. We will be taking the information you already possess and digging beneath the layers, expounding on your limited knowledge of the earth and preparing you to function within it.”
He gave an overview of some of the topics they would be discussing in detail over the next year: world politics, cultures, and religion. “Not just facts,” Ackers made clear. “You know dates and names, now you must know the cause and effect. We will study the human psychosis which leads us to the decisions we make.”
Their first project was to become familiar with their new informational freedom. “All of you derived from somewhere. If you were born a citizen of Koinonia then your parents or grandparents were not. Your assignment is to get to know your heritage in finite detail. Dig into your ancestors’ homeland’s history, celebrations, traditions, and wars. Your findings will be discussed among your peers in the future weeks.”
They began with prayer before Ackers dismissed them to their work. The elder petitioned for oversight and protection for the interns while they opened their minds to new ways of thinking. When the prayer was completed, Andre looked up and noticed Shamira standing guard beside the door of the information library.
Ackers sent them off to work, and the interns dispersed among the shelves of books and tables of computers within the library. It was not like their previous experience with lessons where quiet study was the rule and chatter was discouraged. Ackers wanted them to discuss their findings freely mid-research. The room buzzed with interesting discoveries over culture and disbelief over seemingly obvious mistakes world governments were prone to committing throughout history.
“The cost of living is so high in Norway,” Svana mentioned humorously, “that a lot of them drive across the Swedish border to buy food.”
“The Irish enjoy their daily radio broadcast of the obituaries,” Declan read from a website of little known Irish facts. “How’s that for informative?”
“The obituaries?” Jora asked.
“The obits,” Declan nodded. “Death lists over tea and biscuits.”
Andre began his search in Cuba where his mother’s family was from. Much of the information was familiar to him. What he hadn’t learned from his mother he had seen in visions while in battle with Evil. There were many countries whose past Andre had been given glimpses of while fighting for souls. Everyone came from somewhere, leaving painful memories of their homeland behind them.
Andre didn’t spend much time studying his grandfather Alexander’s birthplace either. Dr. Dietrich had been born in Brazil but raised in the United States. Searching for Minneapolis, Minnesota, Andre familiarized himself with the city where his grandfather attended school and studied theology. There was a never-ending supply of information on the US, but he had a difficult time concentrating. His research only made him think about what Kylan had said about his year abroad. Scanning the available files on the computer, Andre discovered the records for the previous Therapons.
“Do we have permission to view these?” he asked Ackers.
The elder walked over and peered at the screen. “Certainly,” he nodded. “You will be blocked from opening the file if it were off limits. There isn’t much you can’t access any longer, Agabus.”
“Thank you, sir.” Andre returned to his search and began clicking on entries of missionary year reviews. It was a requirement of the reentry processes to give a detailed description of their travels during their acclimation on Kaluma. Andre scanned through a few old records, going back to the years when his mother and father went. He didn’t have time to read everything but he noticed a pattern of admitted headaches, sickness, depression, and cases of homesickness which were fairly common. What he did not find was any other instances of physical possession like May Beth George experienced. Andre read May Beth’s entry from start to finish, looking for any clue to why it happened to her.
May Beth George
I had thought about not going on my Therapon, and now I wish that I had not. My mother said I must go, that is the Koinonian way, but I was scared to leave the island. Lots of my friends were scared too, but also excited. The trip started out fine. We saw lots of beautiful places and so many people. I did not like flying in an airplane and felt rather sick. The work we did was hard and exhausting. Some of the people we helped were grateful, but a lot seemed not to care that we were there and were hard to understand. They made me nervous. On the island of Guam I felt more at home. It was nice to be surrounded by water with fewer people than on the main continents. I wanted to not have to work and just find a quiet place to sit by the water and relax, but there wasn’t much time. We were always moving. The other missionaries were mean. They laughed a lot among themselves and said things I don’t think were right. They made me angry and, when I told them, they only laughed more. After that I didn’t want to talk to them, only to myself. My thoughts were sad, but they were mine and no one laughed when I kept them to myself. I got sick in Mexico and don’t remember much. That was the start of the sickness in everybody. I wanted very much to go home. I cried many times at night without really knowing why. The rest house we stayed at in the mountains was nice, but I still didn’t feel well. My thoughts wouldn’t leave me alone. I just wanted to die sometimes. I thought it would get better when we got back to Kaluma, but I need to get home to the island. I want my mother and my little brother. I think I will be completely healed when I get home. The Kaluma healers are helpful, but it is not home here, and that is what I want. Home.
Andre read it through twice more before closing the file and staring at the computer in deep thought. Pushing back his chair, he abruptly left the room without explanation. “Shamira,” he spoke to the Panoplia and directed her to follow him to the nearest door leading into the courtyard where Shamira gave him her full attention.
“I think we’ve got a problem,” Andre said. “Is there any way at all that one of Abaddon’s Daimons could be hiding on this island without you knowing?”
The Panoplia thought about it carefully to grasp his full meaning before speaking. “It is impossible,” she said. “The only place we cannot go is within Evil’s lair. Theos has ordained that only Abaddon himself may enter that lair and pass between the cave and the altar when called.”
“But what if His ordainment has changed?” Andre asked.
“Theos’s promises do not change.” Shamira seemed to not understand the concept he spoke of.
Andre paced away from the spirit a few steps, his mind running at full speed. “These people have become so afraid of the world that they’re weak. May Beth was an easy target, and I don’t think that Daimon ever actually left her. Not for the rest of the trip anyway,” Andre stopped and looked at Shamira. “Too many things happened for it to all be a coincidence. Evil got Costa out of the way, me out of the way…” He broke off in the struggle to understand all of the details. “But I didn’t see anything. Not in May Beth or any of the missionaries. They were clean when I got to them.”
“And we saw nothing,” Shamira reminded him. “We scoured the entire island and have been watching the cave every moment since. There is no place for a Daimon to hide.”
“—But the lair,” Andre corrected her. “A Daimon could hide in the lair if it got in. What if we missed it in the rain and fog? We were focused on saving Costa and getting to the pier. Did anyone stay behind by the cave after we left it?”
Shamira’s face remained expressionless, and Andre received his answer from that. Emitting a growl of frustration, he sat down on a nearby stone bench in agitation.
“We do not know for certain anything got in. If one of the humans was carrying a Daimon to the island the spirit of chaos could have been left across the water,” Shamira considered the situation logically. “We cannot go in and search for something in the cave, even if one did find its way in.”
“You can’t,” Andre looked up.
Shamira’s glittering eyes registered his meaning. “Do not be rash, Agabus.”
“Someone’s got to,” he argued. “What are you going to do, stand guard every minute without knowing if something’s even down there?”
“You believe that there is, that is good enough an excuse for us to watch.”
“I never said that,” he snapped. “I just want to be sure. Something is going on, and I won’t let Abaddon get what he wants. I don’t care if Theos gave him permission to try.”
“Then let me first pass along a request through Malachi. He will go and see what our King wishes for you to do. He sent us to lead you to Costa in the abyss. He has not given any such word again.”
Andre nodded and had to accept this. It wouldn’t do any good to make a move without the blessing of Theos anyway.
“Raisel,” Shamira spoke into the air and summoned her companion who appeared instantaneously within the courtyard. “Take my place,” she beseeched her. “I must speak with Malachi.” Shamira disappeared, and Raisel followed Andre back inside to stand by the library door while the interns finished their research.
Andre avoided the library and slipped into the cool kitchen to find something to drink. His mouth was dry, and he was too worked up to concentrate on any more studies that day. He did not relish the thought of going back down in the cave. The thought of confronting Abaddon in his lair again with the possibility of coming up against a Daimon caused his stomach to clench. He would need to notify the elders if he did go. He had no idea of what he would do if he even found one down there, or what he would do if Evil’s minion attempted to clamp itself to him. It was a risk, but one Andre was willing to take to know for sure. If Theos willed it, he would go.
Andre checked the fridge and found cold bottled water. Removing one, he turned back to the open door and found Shamira standing there. “Malachi knows your request. He has gone to present it to Theos and will find you with His answer when he receives it.”
“Thank you,” Andre responded. Shamira nodded and slipped out to resume her post.
Andre opened his bottle and took a long drink, mentally preparing himself for whatever that answer might be.
By the end of the first week of Sunesis, Andre had not heard from Malachi. The Panoplia had grown weary of his inquiries and would no longer respond to any questions involving the Messenger. Andre also felt drained and was tired of interning in Commerce. After only five days, he was bored with the Trading Square and Metoche Market in general. There was nothing interesting in maintaining silk worm farms or assisting the lace workers as they created fine fabrics desired all over the world. Stocking shelves at Winston’s General and washing dishes at the bistro wasn’t the prophet’s idea of an enlightening experience either. The instructional discussions during the afternoon at Agoge were always informative, but Andre simply could not keep his mind off of May Beth George’s possession experience.
He had printed off copies of each missionary review from the recent Therapon so he could study them in greater detail outside of the library’s hours of operation. He spent many late evenings in the intern wing reading through the reviews over and over while Lavi sat in an armchair nearby heating the tip of his spear in the flames of the gas fire on the hearth.
“Anything new this time around?” he asked sardonically with a lazy turn of the spear shaft.
The prophet and the warrior had become comfortable insulting one another the more time they shared company. Andre didn’t bother replying, merely shooting him an unappreciative glare over his line of papers spread out on a low table. He sat slumped at the edge of a sofa facing the fire with his head in his hands and his hair standing on end from the numerous times he passed his fingers through it in agitation. “She didn’t even remember it happening,” he grumbled. “If she did, she lied and didn’t write it down.”
“You know she didn’t,” Lavi said. “She blocked out the whole thing.”
“And she completely overreacted about the other girls’ attitude towards her. Unless everyone else was lying,” Andre weighed the options, picking up a review written by Sophie Nair, Bobby Nair’s sister. Like the rest of the reviews from the female missionaries, she mentioned the strange night in Mexico and wrote about May Beth’s odd behavior.
She cried often since we left Kaluma. Kept to herself mostly and didn’t seem to like any of us. We tried to include her in everything we did, tried to joke with her and get her to laugh, but she seemed so depressed and homesick…
None of the reviews were clear on when May Beth’s depression hit full stride. Andre couldn’t figure out for certain when one of Abaddon’s league of Daimons became attached to her.
“What does it matter?” Lavi read his mind. “What does the timing have to do with anything?”
Andre dropped his hands in exasperation, tossing the review page back on the table. “How can you not care about this?”
“I am not worried about this,” Lavi corrected. “There is no Daimon roaming this island, and as long as you humans request Theos’s protection, we won’t allow one to break in. I don’t care if one wormed its way down the putrid serpent hole. Frankly, I hope one did. That’s one less vermin we have to keep an eye on out here.” He pointed languidly out the window in the general direction of the outside world.
Andre hadn’t thought about it that way. It was reassuring, but he wasn’t about to admit that to Lavi. He didn’t have to, the Warrior already knew and, sensing that he had won that argument, he gloated just a little by sticking the hot, pointed end of his spear alarmingly close to Andre’s face.
Brushing it impatiently aside, Andre accidently knocked the spear into his papers and singed a small hole through a paragraph. “Thanks for that,” he grumbled and smothered the ember before it took hold and destroyed the whole page.
“You need to put those away and focus on preparing for your own Therapon,” Lavi told him.
“That’s what I’m doing,” Andre argued. “How did we let this happen? Why wasn’t May Beth prepared? There’s no law against opting out. Why didn’t her mother know that? People have been excused from Therapon for not being ready.” He shared Kylan Kirkeby’s concerns over the island’s ability to prepare their young adults for the world. Was it a Koinonian failure, or were the preparations really not enough anymore like Andre had guessed? “What if this happens to one of the missionaries out there now? What if it happens to us next year?” he asked. “What if…” He voiced what was really worrying him. “What if a Daimon is down there, and when I leave—”
“We will still be here,” Lavi cut him off. “This island has never gone without protection or a prophet before. We have been given no message that it should change.”
“We’ve been given no message at all. Where is—?”
Lavi disappeared before Andre managed to finish the question. Grabbing several pieces of paper, Andre crumpled them in his frustration and chucked the whole mess at the chair the Panoplia had vacated. “Thanks a lot.”