Derek was in the dark, with water up to his waist. Around him was an opaque blackness, all too similar to the dark of the Well Well. He could feel something eating away at his legs, and each time he shifted them new pain sprung up, forcing a grimace out of him.
“Yes! Yes! He's close now. He's going to make it! What did I tell you? And you said my faith was misplaced!” The voice was the same nervous and speedy speaking Derek heard in the Well Well, but it seemed the tiniest bit calmer.
“Dszg dzh gsv yvg ztzrm?” another voice joined the first, this one sounding a bit irritated, but speaking complete gibberish. “Rg dzh gszg sv dlfow nzpv rg zoo gsv dzb, mlg zonlhg zoo gsv dzb.”
“Don't get technical on me Gizmhozgli!” the first voice snapped back. “He's within spitting distance of the city, don't tell me he won't make it!”
“Zmw ru sv wlvh? Dszg gsvm Uzgv?”
“He will save the world,” the first voice said. “It will be a beautiful thing.”
“Hello?” Derek called into the darkness.
“Sv rh sviv!” The nonsense speaker, apparently called Gizmhozgli, cried out in alarm.
“Don't worry Gizmhozgli, his apparent presence is just a side effect of the Branding. When his mind is in extreme duress the master can contact him and give him strength and tell him of the great fate that awaits him, give him directions and such. Just before he encountered Flyman he was in a similar situation,” the voice stumbled over his words. It seemed the more words he had to say the faster he said them.
“Sv dzh izrhvw yb Gln Xldo. R mvevi gifhg srh gbkv.”
“Don't be so prejudiced Gizmhozgli, we both know that the quality of a person is not determined by his background, but by his actions, and Derek Wheeler's actions have shown him to be of good quality.”
“Who are you?” Derek called into the dark.
Suddenly a hunched over figure dressed in black rags lurched into Derek's view. He had dark skin tinted orange, with black lines tattooed in crazy patterns up and down his body. His eyes were white, pure white with only a small black pupil in the center. His fingernails were long and twisted, and his toes were too, as Derek could see because he wore no shoes. His entire body twitched with unstable nervous energy, as if he might lash out in every direction at any moment. “I...” he spoke slowly, reaching forward to touch Derek's face, “am Fate. Your Fate.” The tip of his fingernail touched Derek's skin, and then the blackness was complete.
Derek opened his eyes and stared into an angel's face. No, wait, it wasn't an angel, it was just Zoey. “You're awake!” she yelped, jumping backwards.
“Why wouldn't I be?” he said, the words ringing in his tired ears.
“You've been asleep four days,” Zoey explained. “I didn't think you'd ever wake up. The doctor said you probably wouldn't for another week, if we were lucky.”
“Wha...” Derek trailed off, still a bit disoriented.
“I need to make sure your blood pressure isn't to high,” Zoey insisted, seizing his arm and feeling his wrist. After a few moments she put his arm down. “Everything seems alright. Aside from the disease you're recovering.”
“What's happening?” Derek wondered out loud.
Zoey explained what had happened, about the truce, the doctor's terrible discovery, and Joshua's abandonment. “He left the doctor, Giba, and five other men behind, like he just didn't care about them. More cases of disease have shown up in the population. The doctor and the priests are doing the best they can, but it looks like there isn't a cure to be found.”
Derek leaded back in the bed and thought for a moment. He was actually going to die. He'd figured he was dead the moment that Cornwell got him declared a criminal, but throughout out his time on the outside something had kept him alive. Most likely it was blind luck, like his escape from the Well Well and especially the escape from the Leviathan. But now it was over, and the worst part was that he wasn't all that surprised. “Thanks for telling me,” he said, not knowing what else there was to say. Zoey left to check on the rest of the sick, who had filled up the infirmary.
It was then Derek first noticed Father Bates sitting on the bed next to him, reading. “Hey,” the priest said when Derek glanced at him. His face was heavily bandaged, so Derek couldn't get a clear view of the damage.
“Father, how do you know if you're in love?” Derek didn't know quite exactly what made him asked the question. Perhaps it was because back on the Sphere priests often gave advice, although not very original advice.
Bates was taken aback by the question. “Um... well, I'm not really sure. Depends on what kind of person you are, I guess. Why do you ask?”
“I suppose if I'm going to die, I want to get my emotions straitened out before I do. I've heard from radio stuff and propaganda how great love is, but I've never seen it in real life. Out here it hasn't even been mentioned.”
“I don't think there's a lot of need for love out here. People need to survive, and they can't afford luxuries. And love is a luxury. Not everyone who deserves it gets it, and not everyone who gets it deserves it.”
“Have you ever been in love?”
“I love God,” Bates said automaticly. “But one on one? Not really. I'd imagine that it's a wonderful feeling, the way everyone talks about it. I don't think I'll ever feel it though. I don't think I'm the kind of man people fall in love with.”
“Father...” Derek continued reluctantly. “Have you ever heard of a man called Fate? A guy who's named Fate?”
Bates thought for a moment. “Yes,” he stuttered. “I have heard of a man called Fate. When I was young there was a man in the village. I don't remember his real name, because you see he was mad, and called himself Fate. He was a beggar. Not very relevant. He disappeared nearly twenty years ago. How did you know about him?”
“What did he look like?” Derek asked, ignoring Bates's question.
“Like any beggar. Wore rags, rather dirty.”
“Did he have tattoos?”
“Tattoos? No, nobody here has tattoos,” Bates said, raising an eyebrow. “Why are you interested?”
“No reason,” Derek said, disappointed his line of inquiry had failed.
“He had a very strange scar though,” Bates continued. “Right in the center of his palm, with black veins running from it.”
Derek sat bolt upright. “Did it look like this?” He raised his palm and showed it to Bates.
Bates was struck dumb. After an eternity, he slowly spoke. “I-it l-loo-looked ex-exactly l-l-like that. What's going on? What does that mean?”
“I means we've got to get to The City with Wet Feet,” Derek said with a new, grim, determination.
“I was attacked in the woods and got stuck by a needle. I already told Zoey,” Derek said to the assembled crowd. Clooney, Zoey, Kurt, the doctor, and a few men from the village had gathered to hear his story. “The needle gave me this,” he showed them the scar. “But this is something I haven't told anyone. Ever since the attacked I've been having these weird visions. I hear voices. Sometimes it's this old voice that's really warm, but more often it's this crazy guy named Fate. And then last time there was a guy who spoke gibberish, I think his name was g-g-g...” Derek couldn't pronounce his name. “And in the Well Well that mad man told me to go to The City with Wet Feet, and he knew my name before I told it to him. That's what all the voices have said, to go to The City with Wet Feet. And now Bates has said that Fate is... or at least was, a real guy. All of that has to mean something, and before I die I would like some answers.”
Clooney furrowed his brow, “The City with Wet Feet, that could be Gonecity.”
“What?” Derek asked. He'd expected them to call him crazy, but all of them were listening intently. “You mean there really is a City with Wet Feet?”
“Before the Roar there were buildings so tall that they touched the sky,” Clooney answered, “I don't know how exactly they were built, but I know they were built well. This island is only a few hours away from the ruins of an old city that had loads of these sky-touchers. When the flood waters came most of the city was flooded, but the tops of the sky-touchers remained above sea level. We call this place Gonecity, but if you look at it differently, you could say the building's feet are wet.”
“It's real...” Derek muttered to himself, barely hearing Clooney speak. He was stunned by the revelation. He'd never really believed that the place he'd heard about in his dreams and his fleeting waking moments was real. The strange salvation promised was conceivable.
“How are we going to get to the city?” Zoey wondered. “Joshua took the ship. We have no transportation.”
“Who said you would help me?” Derek asked, thinking he missed part of the conversation. “You don't have to. None of you have to. You probably have a lot better things to do anyway.”
“But I will,” Zoey said without a second thought. “You're my friend Derek. Doesn't matter what world you're from, we've been through to much. I'll help you.”
“I'll help too,” Clooney said. “I don't know how I might, but what ever I can do will be done.”
“Hell,” the doctor said. “Me and the brothers are getting nowhere with a cure. I might as well come too. I might be of use.”
“Thanks,” Derek said, smiling and feeling extremely warm inside. “But Zoey's right. Without a ship we won't get anywhere, no matter how close Gonecity is.”
“I cun help vid dat,” Kurt answered with a smile. “I got a boat.”
It turned out that Kurt's boat was more of a large tub with oars. It was a wide and flat canoe, with very low sides for the oars to peak over. It was made not of metal, but of piles and piles of water reeds lashed together, and the oars were blunt pieces of rusty metal. The boat was set very low in the water, and looked as if it might flood given half a chance.
“We're going to cross open ocean in that?” Zoey asked. They had all assembled at the docks to watch Kurt and Clooney push the miniscule ship into the water.
“It's a bit smaller then I thought,” Derek remarked. He was using crutches, as his legs had refused to heal properly and the doctor estimated they would never heal entirely. The blisters and boils on his body still sent powerful streams of pain to his brain, but it had become a dull, throbbing kind that was easier to master.
“Ey!” Kurt shot back at their remarks, “I zailed dis boat qvadruple de diztanze ve're goving, vhen I vas yunger zen you two!”
“Really?” Zoey asked.
“Yes,” Clooney answered while Kurt set up the oars, “Kurt was a very young man when he sailed this ship out of the Scheldt. He used to be a slave there.”
“What is the Scheldt?” Derek asked out of curiosity. “It was on Joshua's map but no one's really told me what it is.”
“It's a crvap-hole,” Kurt remarked, then chuckled.
After giving Kurt a disapproving glance, Clooney answered Derek's question. “Go forty miles north of here and you'll hit a swamp. That's the Scheldt. Nobodies ever measured it but we know it's massive. Stretches for hundreds of miles. The part Kurt is from is ruled by a man called Cadry. Unpleasant fellow.”
“Ve're ready to go,” Kurt said, motioning everyone to get in. Derek hobbled onto the boat so it could instantly destabilize, almost throwing him off his feet and into the water. Zoey grabbed him just in time.
“Vule number von,” Kurt said, holding up one finger, “On da boat you do vhatever I say. Two, everyvon rovs all ze time. No breakz. Only for zleep. Tree, nothing es allowed on za boat dat could deztabilize it.”
God must have a sense of irony, for it was that moment when Giba's massive figure tore around the corner and sprinted towards the ship. “God Man! God Man! Don't leave Giba! He needs comes tou!”
“Giba! Giba stop!” Clooney yelled, raising his arms up in a universal order to cease movement. Giba skidded to a halt just before he would have slipped off the dock and landed on the boat. “You can't come on the boat Giba,” Clooney explained, “You're too heavy. It would sink.”
“Giba hear yoos gowing to da city wid wet foot. Giba wanna go too.”
“Why does everybody wanna go on this wild goose chase with me?” Derek wondered allowed.
“Giba like Derck Deeler,” Giba said, stumbling over Derek's name.
“Why!” Derek exclaimed. It was a question he'd had since everyone agreed to go. Why was everyone willing to risk their lives on some silly random quest? It was futile, it was probably nothing, it was a dream! “Why?” Derek said again. “Why does anyone want to help me? What do you have to get out of it? What could you gain? There must be something! So far every single person in my life has been using me, manipulating me, trying to get profit out of me! And then suddenly everyone is bending over backward, trying to sail across ten miles of ocean just to help me find something that might be nothing? I must be crazy! In fact, that wouldn't surprise me because from the moment I decided to be a hero I've been framed, tied up in a tree, nearly eaten by a bunch of flies, faced a cannibalistic mad man, nearly drowned by a crazy colonel, faced a giant squid monster, and infected with a deadly disease! So please, please tell me why my luck has suddenly changed and I have an arsenal of allies to call on! Please somebody tell me! It doe...”
The speech was so passionate and so spontaneous that Derek simply ran out of air and gasped like a fish out of water. Some of the air went down the wrong pipe and he got a coughing fit, which agitated his throat so much he threw up into the water. And throughout all of it everyone stared at him like he was an alien.
A long silence followed, interrupted only by Derek's hacking and coughing. Finally Zoey spoke up. “I guess it's because you're nice.” A murmur of agreement followed around the small expedition.
“I dovn't knov you dat vell,” Kurt said, “But frum vhat Zoey has told me you zeem pretty cool.”
“You have an excellent moral compass Derek,” Clooney pinched in. “You know when you've done the wrong thing. That's a skill not enough people have. And you do feel guilty for the things you do.”
“You take risks for the good of all,” the doctor said, “That's something I can get behind.”
“You da Nice Man,” Giba said, cracking a wide grin, “And if Giba can't get in da boat wid yoo, Giba will swime.”
“Huh?” Derek asked, swinging to look a Giba.
“Giba will swime,” the giant repeated calmly.
“It's ten miles through open ocean Giba,” Clooney said, “I think even a man of you're strength and endurance would have trouble with a swim like that.”
“Giba will swime.”
After a few moments of stunned silence, Kurt spoke up. “Vell if he vants to let him try. Now letz get going!”
And so the group started rowing, Kurt giving instructions, and Giba leaped into the water and struggled to keep up. And Derek felt a strange emotion well up in him. It was not joy, or pleasure, or satisfaction. It was better then any other emotion he'd ever felt. Happiness. He had friends. He had people who would help him without playing another game. He would get to the City with Wet Feet.
And The Fortune Teller could not wait for him to arrive.