“This is the land the prophet Elarik led our forefathers to,” explained the High Priest to the serious young man from the Council for the Advancement of Science. “This land is the bosom of God that embraces us, it would never harm us. What do you believe in young man, if you do not believe in the Scriptures dictated to the Scrivening Saints?”
“I believe in observations and that nature has its cycles and processes which can be observed and expected to repeat.” The young man in his severe, practical clothing paused. “I believe that either the land does not care about people, one way or another, or if it does care and know about you then it’s trying to warn you as hard as it can of an inevitable event, like puberty, and you’re not paying attention.”
The High Priest looked at him appraisingly. “You truly are trying to look at this with an open mind, aren’t you young man? A pity you’re not one of us, you could have had quite a career in our clergy. Your last point I can take to the Synod without getting them up in arms with complaints of heresy.”
“Thank you!” The tension eased from the young man’s body. “When is the Synod meeting?”
“In a week’s time,” the High Priest smiled serenely, “just after the Landing Festival. Would you like to stay for that? All of people who can get here will come for the three days.”
The young scientist tensed again. “I don’t think you have that long,” he told the older man tightly. “The uplift is continuing at a frightening rate and this will be the epicentre.”
“A nice young man,” the High Priest commented later to his secretary, “but so serious! I really don’t think these Science people realise how much they dress like they’re in vestments.”
The trucks came in the night to the outlying farms and villages with armed and hooded men to rouse the people and load them into the trucks. The frightened country men and women were driven away in the strange vehicles, afraid of what the outlanders would do to them. The Council for the Advancement of Science was doing what it could, even if there would be Hell itself to pay afterwards.
Tomorrow was the first day of the Landing Festival and the majority of the faithful who were not already in the city by the lake were on their way. The High Priest looked out across the growing fume and asked his God to forgive him for failing his people so badly. “I need to use the public announcement system,” he told his secretary and then they both grabbed at solid furniture as another tremor shook the city. “We have to turn the pilgrims around, there might still be time for some of them to get away.”
The secretary asked, white lipped, “Should I have your carriage brought to the door, Your Holiness?”
“That’s an excellent idea,” replied the High Priest. “Have all the carriages and carts brought round. Load them up with food and water plus the pregnant housemaids and children I’m not supposed to know about. Throw in the old people from the retirees’ wing too, they can look after the babies from the orphanage.” He turned to his secretary. “They might have a chance.”
“But what about you, Your Holiness?” The secretary was terrified, the High Priest wondered if the young man would find a way to get aboard one of those carriages.
“God sent me a Prophet and I didn’t listen to him,” the High Priest said sadly. “I cannot leave until the rest of the city has been evacuated. I owe my people that.”