“I’m sorry,” she said after she blinked awake in her new body, Casper’s figure becoming clear in her vision.
“He fretted over her, his brow creased with concern. “I’m sorry,” he managed. His eyes were swimming.
“Hey,” she gripped his elbow and said firmly, “you got us out.”
He nodded half-heartedly.
Camille took a few minutes to sit up and take in her surroundings. She always felt a bit erased after the transfers, and it took some time for her mind to catch up. She broke the silence.
“Where did you take us this time?”
He almost smiled. “Wellington.”
“New Zealand?” she mused. “So close to Australia.”
“Don’t tell the Kiwis that,” he chuckled. “No big spiders in New Zealand.”
“I suppose I can live with that. What made you pick it?”
He beamed then, leaving behind the anxiety from before. She admired his ability to wipe the slate with ease. “Frodo Baggins.”
“We really need to update our references,” she said, getting to her feet. “Maybe in this lifeline we can spend more time watching Netflix.” They were in a small hotel room. The walls were brown and a squashy, mustard-yellow couch sat in the corner beside a off-white mini fridge. “Any booze in there?” she inquired, swinging the fragile door to reveal an empty interior. She shook her head in disgust.
“Shame,” Casper agreed. “Shall we go out?”
She was afraid to ask, but it would be worse if she didn’t. “Are you sure they didn’t trace us?”
He paused uncertainly, then fixed his face into smooth assurance. “Of course not.”
Her next question was soft, barely more than a whisper. “What about the people in the lodge?”
Casper’s gaze hardened. “My family will resurrect them. It will be like nothing happened. Like we were never there.”
Like we were never there. Camille ran a hand through her tangled hair. Casper was her only tie to reality. Any acquaintances she made rarely developed into friendships. She was withdrawn from social relationships, knowing that at any moment they might have to flee. Or worse, Casper’s family would raze the earth around them with fire and ash. They would never stop until their crowned prince was returned safely to their plane.
He seemed to read her thoughts again. “This time, we’ll be here for a while. Years, Camille. I–” he was going to say ‘I promise’ but stopped himself. They both knew he couldn’t promise that, no matter how powerful he might be. Their pursuers could always stumble upon their trail. “I just want you to settle in,” he explained. “No holding back.”
Camille dragged him into a hug, weighing her arms over his shoulders as she looked at him intently. “I told you, all I need is you.”
He seemed unconvinced, but nodded. She kissed his nose. “Let’s go out. We can find an apartment tomorrow.”
“Something nice,” he suggested. “Money is no object.”
“What an odd saying,” she commented.
“You’re an odd saying.”
“That’s helpful, thanks.”
They walked along the harbour as the blue waters sparkled in the dying sunlight. The wind soon gusted at unbearable levels, and Camille had been forced to tie her hair back before it could get any more tangled. Laughing, they entered the first coffee shop they could find, pulling strands of hair from their eyes. Casper ordered two lattes and they slid into a booth. Camille played with the rim of her paper cup as she glanced around the plain interior. “I want to go to school,” she said finally.
Casper said immediately, “that’s a great idea!”
She slipped her phone out of her pocket. “I want to do this,” she added. “Really do this. Like you said. Let’s just make it happen. If we have to leave, then fine. I’ll pick up my schooling at the next place. But… I think you’re right. I think I need to decide that every place we go to, we could stay forever. Even if that ends up not being true.”
Casper grabbed her hand and squeezed it. “This is why I love you,” he said warmly.
“Prince Casper,” she hummed, “you’re embarrassing me.”
Six months passed, and Camille and Casper lived in complete bliss. Well, as near to it as they could come. They found a quaint two-bedroom apartment. Casper was hired to work in IT. Camille went to university. They made friends. They spent every Saturday night playing board games with Josh and Annalise. They learned how to play tennis. Tennis, of all things. Their lives were normal. Their lies were believable. The crown prince, true to his word, kept them hidden from the celestials that hunted them.
He kept them safe for eight years.
“Cosmology is the study of the origin of the universe” she explained, adjusting the clear-framed glasses perched on the end of her nose. “Throughout history, various cultures have searched for the meaning of life. Human beings are wired for meaning-making. Over time, civilizations have created and destroyed gods.” She clicked the remote, flipping to her next slide. “Religion and spirituality have many purposes. Today we’re going to discuss how religion can be used for control. For example: the promise of an afterlife. Can anyone tell me how an organized religion might use the promise of life-after-death as a means of control?”
There was an awkward pause of clearing throats and shuffling papers in the two-hundred plus auditorium. A young woman near the front of the class raised her hand tentatively. Camille gave her a nod. “Um,” the woman stared at her, “if you tell people they go to a bad place if they’re bad, or a good place if they’re good, they’re bound to behave.” A few people sniggered at the simplistic answer, but Camille gave her an encouraging smile. The student continued, “it’s like grounding your kid versus giving them candy.”
“That’s certainly one way to look at it,” Camille said approvingly. “What’s one way spiritual leaders in history have kept their populace in line?”
“Keeping their followers uneducated,” a boy said loudly from the back.
“Exactly. The less opportunity you give people to find their own answers, the more wont they are to trust you. To obey you. To die for their beliefs.”
“Religion isn’t all bad,” objected a red-haired boy, straightening in his seat indignantly.
“Of course not,” Camille agreed. “In fact, religion and spirituality have also done a lot of good for our world. We’re going to talk about all of that in my class.” She promised. “We will leave no stone unturned.” She flipped to the next slide. “Now, let’s dive into the Roman Empire,” she began, hurtling into the lecture with fervor.