The monastery was everything that Bates said it was, and plenty more. It had deep and natural colors to it, unlike the artificial world of Targa. The moment she saw it Zoey got the feeling that everything would be ok, that they were safe here.
As the Bright Side pulled up along side the dock however, something seemed off. “This is strange,” Bates said. “Usually men from the village are working down here...” then his face lit up. “Well regardless, we're home!”
“I fail to see who the 'we' is Father,” Joshua said, annoyed. “Anyway, we drop you, Clooney and Zoey off, we get paid and we leave and never see you again. Got it?”
“Right,” Bates said. “How much do we owe you?”
Joshua took a moment to add it up in his head. “Twenty thousand.”
“Twenty...” Bates trailed off, shocked by the exorbitant price. “How could we possibly owe that much?”
“Well lets see...” Joshua said smugly. “It's five-thousand for Clooney, five-thousand for Zoey, five-thousand for you, and an extra five-thousand for nearly getting me and my crew killed... twice.”
“Well...um...right,” Bates stammered. “That much won't be available in the village. You'll have to come up to the monastery with us.”
Joshua sighed. “Fine. I'll even help carry good old unconscious Clooney up there with ya.”
The ramp was lowered down onto the dock and Bates and Joshua hauled Clooney's body down. Zoey didn't even look back at the ship as she came down. She had no reason too. Nothing but gilt and cruelty back on that ship, she told herself. And Derek. She forced the thought out of her mind. Derek was a captive. He may already be dead, and even if he wasn't there was little that she could do to save him. Telling herself it was logical to forget him didn't make it easier. Bates was a good man though, and Clooney was too. Maybe they could figure out a way to save Derek.
The moment they entered the village they knew something was not right. It was a pleasant enough looking place, with thatched roofs and stone walls. It actually seemed quite homely. But there were several hundred people living there, and not a single person came out to greet them. There were no children playing in the street. There was not a single living person in sight. But as they walked through town, Zoey could feel eyes on her, staring from every window and corner. She got the feeling that she'd gotten as her and Derek had walked into the Well Well. Walking into a trap.
They had gotten all the way to the town square before they were challenged. A dozen or so farmers with assorted weapons were waiting for them there. They looked absolutely terrified. The priest leading them was a tall man who's eyes were specially adapted for looking down on people, and he was older then Clooney or Bates.
“Frank!” Bates shouted in greeting. “I've got Clooney back! And another unfortunate for us to help! Where is everyone? What's going on?”
The priest Bates had called Frank didn't move muscle. There were several moments of agonizing silence before he slowly ordered, “Seize them.”
“What!” Bates screamed as the militia advanced on them. “What do you mean? What's going on? You can't do this!”
“You ain't takin' me!” Joshua yelled, wiping his rifle off his shoulder. “Don't any of you move another muscle, or your brains will be on the ground!” As he said this, dozens of other militia appeared from every entrance into the square. It took a moment for Joshua to realize how outnumbered he was.
“Put down your gun,” Frank said.
“Ok, sure, I'm in no mood to die,” Joshua obeyed, placing his gun on the ground and kicking it away. “So what happens now?”
“Take them. Remember to be quiet,” Frank ordered, ignoring Joshua.
Joshua immediately screamed at the top of his lungs when Frank said “quiet.” A few seconds later, the militia were on them, and all was blackness.
When Zoey awoke she was very aware of something digging into her wrists. She looked behind her and felt the marks slowly being carved into her wrists by tight rope binding. She looked around and suddenly felt dizzy.
She was in a barn, that much was obvious. Hay littered the floor and the stench of dung lingered in the air. But it must have been serving as a makeshift prison, as a dozen other people were also tied up all over the place. And strangely, they all had their heads covered by brown bags, the type you would use for gathering grain in. They seemed to be unconscious.
“You're awake,” a soft but strained voice came from under one of the hoods. Zoey looked over and saw it came from a strong seeming black man in one of the corners. He wore a farmers clothes “Most don't wake up from a hit like that so quickly. Good for you. Means the agony will be more drawn out for you.”
“What happened, what's going on?” Zoey asked. “How long have I been unconscious.”
“You've been out for maybe an hour. The rest you don't wanna know,” the man said. “It'll only make it worse.”
“I've got to know whats happening!”
“Fine,” the man said. “There are more depressing ways to spend you last hours.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, you'll see,” the man began. “A few weeks ago, people started getting sick. They got these sticky red spots all over their body. Smelled pretty good actually. But the spots burn like fire. They wear down a person until they die because of the pain. I was one of the first to get infected. You might not be able to tell because I'm black. Then again if you could see my face it would be obvious. These spots slowly beat you, and drive you crazy before you die. I tried to kill my wife and kid before they brought me up here. None of the priests in the monastery could fix it, despite all their tools and knowledge. But then Father Connel figured out who he thought was really responsible. The Devil. And his servants, your kind.”
“My kind?” Zoey asked.
“White Fleet people. You worship the Devil.”
“No we don't! We don't worship anyone,” Zoey said proudly. “We're atheist!”
“I don't care what you worship or don't. But as far as I'm concerned everybody worships somebody, either God or the Devil, even if they don't call 'em that. Anyway, so he gets together a militia and takes all the infected up here to be kept until they die and their bodies are burned. But then he says that this one White Fleet guy that came here is to be burned alive as a heretic. But some people don't like that. He was a pretty innocent kid as far as I could tell, and a lot of people said the same. But then Father Connel made this big speech about how anyone who tried to defend him were servants of the Devil and would be burned alive just like he was gonna be. Four people still tried to defend him. Didn't go so well for them. So people are gathering up wood to burn him, and-”
“Wait a second!” Zoey interrupted. “This White Fleet guy... was his name George?”
“Yeah,” the man said. “How'd you know?”
Zoey couldn't believe it. George was on the island. Or maybe he had been burned alive. The thought made her stomach shift.
“So, while we're doing this, about two days ago, more heretics come. These ones are better armed, but there aren't so many of them. We take 'em easily. Connel says they must be here to rescue the other one, so we get them ready to burn. But there are no trees on this island, only fields, so wood is hard to come by. So eventually Connel said God told him that only the first heretic has to be burned. So one of the others was thrown up here to get sick and die. I figure that's why they threw you in here. The other Connel ordered to be held in the Monastary.”
“But where are Bates and Clooney?” Zoey asked, and as an afterthought added, “and Joshua?”
“Bates and Clooney?” the man said, his surprise evident. “I though they were dead! Everybody thought they were dead!”
“Well, sorry to disappoint you but they aren't.”
“No! That's a good thing! Clooney's a great man, and Bates is... a good scientist.”
“Well then why were we attacked when we entered the village?”
“I don't know. Look why do you even care? We're all dead anyway.”
“No we're not!” Zoey insisted. “There has to be a cure!”
“There isn't any cure!” the man shouted back. “Besides, you're never getting out of this place. They keep guards all around at all times.”
“I don't know! I have a bag over my head just like you!”
The statement caught Zoey off guard. “I don't have a bag over my head.”
“No! I can get out of here. I just need to think...” she trailed off as she looked for something to cut the rope with. There was nothing. Just straw on the floor and the wooden horse stall next to her. Wood! She turned and kicked the bottom of the stall, right at the gap between the bottom and the floor. As she kicked, she kept talking with the man. “How long does the disease take to kill?”
“About a week? Why?”
“Those people who came to rescue George only came two days ago, so they're probably still alive. So they might have the strength to help me.” As she finished the bottom board of the stall snapped and splinters flew everywhere. None of them were large enough, however.
“What are you doing?” the man asked.
“Escaping,” was Zoey's one word answer. She began hitting the second to bottom board of the stall, and after a few moments of exertion it broke too. One of the splinters was large enough, but it flew to far away. Zoey was about to begin on the third board when distant gunshots rang through the barn. “What was that?”
“I dunno. Probably more heretics,” the man responded.
Zoey thought back. Joshua had screamed just before they were knocked out. Maybe that had alerted the crew to the danger. “I think it's my ship!” she said excitedly. She started pounding away at the third board.
“How many crew do you have?”
“Maybe... a hundred. Why?” she said, gritting her teeth to add more force to the next kick.
The man laughed. “You're outnumbered at least four to one. If you think you're getting rescued you can think again. Besides, you'll have got the disease by now. You're dead either way.”
“Oh shut up,” Zoey said, just as the third board broke. Finally, a large enough splinter fell near her, and she nudged it over to her hands with her nose. Once it was in her hand she very carefully began to cut away at the rope. After a few minutes, and a slight cut on her wrist, Zoey was free. She went over to the doorway and carefully listened. She heard nothing. Sound refused to travel through the heavy wood.
“Well at least I don't have to worry about noise,” she said to herself.
“Hey, if you're loose, I wouldn't mind if you took this damn bag off my head,” the man spoke up. Zoey saw no harm in doing so and lightly took the bag off his head.
It was quite horrible. His dark face had a bunch of bright red boils all over it, and many of them were bleeding freely, creating a mask of red blood. It was as if he had been attacked by a bee swarm with giant bee's. It looked exceptionally painful.
Zoey drew back a breath. “That's so horrible. How long have you had it?”
“A week now,” the man said. “Hurts more every day.”
“What's your name?” Zoey surprised herself by asking.
“Cameron,” the man said. “Glad you finally asked.”
Zoey's mind turned from Cameron to the other people in the barn. She started going around, pulling off their bags. Some of them woke up when she did from what must have been bad dreams. All of them had flaming red welts all over their faces, and all of them were covered in blood. About the ninth person that she saw woke up when she did.
“The City with Wet Feet!” he shouted, dazed and surprised. Zoey bit back a scream. Laying on the floor in front of her, his face covered in blood, was Derek Wheeler.