"Where are you taking me?" Jane shouted as the thin gray woman—Adele—wrenched her arms with a strength Jane never would have believed. Adele didn't speak, only directed her across the muddy, uneven ground to a small plank-sided shack topped with an enormous cross. "What is this? Who are you people?"
Adele knocked gently on the door. As it swung open Jane caught the scent of woodsmoke, and, sickeningly, the faint odor of blood.
"Granddad sent her to be purified," Adele said in a voice as thin and insubstantial as the rest of her appeared to be, though the way she was silently ushered into the dim space led her to suspect the ghostliness of Adele's voice masked a strength of its own.
She blinked several times, trying to adjust as quickly as possible to the faint light inside the room. She realized there were no windows. Her stomach sank.
Maura, she thought. What's that creep doing to her? She thought briefly of the way he'd touched Maura's chin, the way Maura's eyes had slid closed as though she were under a spell. That guy's more dangerous than all the crawlers we've seen put together, she thought, just before she was suddenly grabbed by many sets of hands.
"Hey!" she cried as her unknown captors held her tightly, as they carefully but efficiently stripped her clothes off. "What the hell's going on?"
They muttered to each other, something Jane couldn't make out. She tried to struggle against them, but the hands were uniformly powerful, each holding her so tightly she could barely move.
Adele began muttering more loudly and Jane realized it wasn't just that they'd been speaking too quietly for her to understand, it was that the words they were saying didn't make sense.
Tongues. They're speaking in tongues.
"Maura!" Jane shouted, straining as hard as she could against a grip that offered no relief. "Maura!"
"She is with Granddad," one of the shadowy figures whispered ecstatically. "He is welcoming her to the flock."
Adele's gibberish grew louder, more frenzied, and the voices of the others rose to meet it. Jane realized everyone in the room was a woman.
"Is this what happened?" she cried desperately. "All your men died except this Granddad person and whatever dimwits were too dumb to try to fight in the first place, so now you're—"
She didn't finish. The cacophony was reaching a fever pitch, one of the women who had taken her clothes off fell to the floor, arching her back, clutching at her chest.
Frost, she shouted in her head. Frost, you better get your ass in here guns blazing.
She squeezed her eyes closed for a moment, hoping against hope that Frost would come bursting through the door, she didn't even care that she was naked, she didn't even care—
She didn't have time to finish the thought before the many hands lifted her, still struggling, and carried her a few steps to what looked to be a large tub.
"The Devil is here!" Adele suddenly cried, her voice huge in the small room. "The Devil is in this one, who has stolen into our sanctuary! We shall strike thee from the soul of this daughter who has come to us in a time of great struggle, we shall force out the black heart of Satan so that the pure love of the Lord may fill her ravaged vessel!"
Baptism. Great. Probably don't mention the Catholic school around these people.
She barely had time to take a breath before she was plunged fully into the tub, the air freezing in her chest as she hit the icy water. She tried to come back up for a gasping breath but realized the hands were holding her down, were pushing her under the water. She thrashed desperately, trying to find air, but the hands kept pushing her down.
She realized she had to be still, that no amount of struggling would cause them to relent, and maybe if she went limp, they'd think it was God coming in or the Devil going out or whatever it was they wanted from her. She closed her eyes and stopped moving. The hands still pushed down on her, iron pistons driving her to the bottom of the tub.
She opened her eyes.
Through the wavering, glittering water she saw several distorted faces staring down at her, heavily shadowed. The edges of her vision grew blurry. She opened her mouth, a silvery air bubble drifting lazily to the surface. Jane watched it travel up with a detached interest, everything turning soft and blank.
Maura, she thought as the world went black.
"Jane!" Maura screamed as the unknown attackers bound her tightly, carrying her off the field, away from the blackened pyre. She glanced back and saw Granddad, his face and hands lifted to the sky; she glanced at the people clustered behind the pyre, ropes around their wrists and ankles, tied together at the waist.
Like slaves. Like sacrifices.
"Jane!" she cried again. One of her captors—Maura couldn't see them very clearly, but she thought it might be a woman—reached up and knocked her hard on the head. Maura didn't lose consciousness, but the blow had served its purpose and she fell silent. The force of it had caused her vision to go slightly blurry; it seemed as though everyone here was much stronger than they seemed, though Maura reasoned it could also be that they'd endured so much hardship and had disappeared so completely into their beliefs that they were operating with a different kind of strength. She'd read about it before, cult members exhibiting superhuman abilities through the power of suggestion, and she supposed the kind of intense deprivation everyone appeared to be suffering from would lead them toward being exceptionally susceptible to the influence of a charismatic leader. And that leader, Granddad—
Daughter of darkness. Daughter of strength.
Maura felt her stomach twist as she recalled the heat of his touch on her face, the intensity of it. Obviously he had a powerful charismatic ability, and it must be so easy to lead starving people if the promised result was salvation, though Maura felt even more anxious after she'd seen the fire blazing in Granddad's eyes, the idea that he might believe wholeheartedly in his delusions, enough to burn innocent people alive to satisfy his vengeful God.
There are terrible things in the world, Maura. Things you cannot even imagine.
She gasped as the group of faceless attackers kicked open a side door to a large, dark barn and threw her unceremoniously into an empty stall. She hit her head hard against the wooden wall, feeling dizzy and nauseous as the group left as silently as they'd come, leaving her bound, terrified, helpless.
Maura breathed deeply and evenly for a few minutes, trying to orient herself.
She had to think. She had to focus. She had to get out of there, to save Jane. She wished desperately for Frost and Carmen to come bursting in through the door, but she didn't have time to wait. She worked herself to a sitting position, trying to suppress the faint sickness that still spun in her after the blows to her head.
She closed her eyes and breathed evenly until the world settled. She glanced around her, the morning light filtering in through the cracks in the barn's plank walls. She seemed to be alone, though after straining her ears for a moment she detected the faint snort of horses. She stood up carefully, slowly, not wanting to spook them and draw attention to herself.
Once she was standing, leaning against the wall of the barn, the sharp scent of manure mixing with the dull moist smell of old hay, she began pulling herself along the walls, feeling for anything she could use to sever the ropes at her wrists. She gasped sharply as she cut her palm on a broken nail and hoped—though didn't believe—it wasn't rusty. Blood dripped down her fingers as she rubbed the rope against the sharp edge, her heart pounding as she kept a close watch on the door.
Finally she felt the rope begin to split, and worked furiously until she felt it break and slide to the ground. She rubbed her wrists gingerly, careful not to get blood all over her hands. The wound wasn't deep but it cut from one end of her palm to the other, bleeding profusely, making her fingers slippery as she worked the knot at her ankles free.
Unencumbered, she peered out from the stall she'd been thrown in, holding her breath as she waited until she was sure she didn't hear anyone moving toward the barn. She edged past the empty stalls, toward the horses.
"Hello," she whispered to a thin chestnut mare. The horse backed up, alarmed, but didn't whinny at her approach. She held out her uninjured hand, allowing the horse to press its velvety muzzle against the skin of her palm. "What are we going to do?" she said softly. "Hmm?" The horse bowed its head, allowing her to scratch behind its ears. "How are we going to get out of here?"
Maura pressed her cheek to the horse's neck, closing her eyes, letting the rhythms of the animal soothe her. She hadn't been riding in years but she always felt calmed by their presence; she hoped taking this moment to allow herself to stand still would help her think.
She remembered the deer in the woods at the safehouse outside Sudbury, the way its absolute quiet had fascinated her, had made her realize there was a whole world still carrying on outside the nightmare she found herself in. She remembered the deer's enormous liquid eyes. She remembered Diana's eyes, sliding shyly away from her own.
Don't think about it.
She pressed herself more tightly against the horse's thin body; the animals didn't appear to be maltreated but she supposed it would be difficult to keep feeding horses when there clearly wasn't enough for the surviving humans to eat. She thought about Jane running up to her at the edge of the field, drenched by the sudden storm, she thought about Jane leaning in and kissing her without a word.
There are terrible things in the world, Maura, but there is so much beauty, there is so much good, there is her, you have to save her, you can't do this without her—
The horses in the barn suddenly shifted anxiously, their tails switching rapidly back and forth. Maura stood up, listening carefully. She heard faint shouting, far from the barn, and the roar of an engine.
The horses began to stomp and whinny as the shouting grew closer. It seemed to be primarily women's voices, though Maura felt a chill down her spine as she heard the sonorous bellow of Granddad, issuing commands she couldn't quite make out.
"Something is happening out there," she whispered to the horse. The mare whinnied in response, tossing its head. "Shhh," Maura murmured. "It's all right, you're safe with me."
I'll keep you safe.
She winced. The horse pressed its muzzle to her collarbone, hot breath causing her to shiver. The voices grew louder; the sound of the engine was becoming clearer.
Suddenly the horses began to pace and kick, and Maura realized they were trying to get out of the barn. She glanced at the broad, latched door making up one wall of the interior corral area.
"I don't know what's out there," she whispered sadly. "I'm sorry, I can't open the door." She kept her hand on the horse's stringy mane, trying to calm it. She was on the verge of darting out of the corral to escape the increasing restlessness of the animals when she realized the smell of smoke was much stronger than it had been a moment ago.
She looked frantically around her until she spotted a billow of smoke coming from a far corner of the barn. The voices outside were so close, were nearly upon her, and the horses were panicking as the fire rapidly began licking up the ancient wooden walls.
"Okay," she breathed as the horse began to nicker and stamp more anxiously. "I'll open the door, but you have to help me too."
She took a deep breath, uncertain if she could accomplish what she was intending to try.
You can do this, Maura. It's been years, but you can do it. You haven't forgotten how, you just haven't done it in a while.
The horse she'd been talking to followed her to the barn door, seemed to wait patiently for her to wrench the large plank up from the hooks holding it fast, held back as the other five or six horses burst into the yard, galloping hard and fast away from the fire. Maura glanced at the chestnut mare, took a deep breath, grabbed a handful of its mane, and pushed herself off the ground as hard as she could, praying she would make it.
She gasped as her leg cleared the horse's back, and swung herself as firmly as she could onto the animal. She'd ridden bareback before, had always loved the wildness of it, but she gripped the horse tightly as she squeezed her heels softly against its sides.
The horse needed no additional encouragement and bolted from the barn, nearly tossing Maura to the ground, but she bit her lip and held on.
She didn't even look where the horse was taking her, just closed her eyes and prayed. The shouts of the townspeople grew fainter behind her; she imagined the burning barn and escape of all the horses, which she supposed were essential to them for transportation and labor, would be of more pressing concern than the woman they'd tied up and meant to—what? Burn anyway?
Maura shuddered as she briefly contemplated the myriad fates Granddad and his flock could have had in store for her, though as she gripped the horse tightly she gave a silent thanks to it for saving her from whatever unimaginable end they'd envisioned.
Once she'd been riding blind for a few moments she cracked her eyes open and saw the world rushing past in a rapid green-brown blur. She eased back on the horse, its pace slowing enough to allow her to see the billowing smoke behind her, though whether from the barn or the pyre she didn't know.
Don't think about it.
Instead she thought about Jane, realized she'd left Jane behind. "Come on, girl," she said, leading the horse back around. It struggled against her for a moment until she whispered "please," then turned and headed back toward the town, shying clear of the burning barn.
Let me find her, she prayed silently, to anyone or anything that would listen. Please, I have to find her.
The blood pounding in her ears, the shouts of the townspeople, the sharp cracks of the timbers as the barn began to buckle under its own fiery weight, made her almost miss the sound of a car engine until it was almost on top of her. She glanced down, saw a dusty black sedan barreling toward her.
The car pulled up even with her, and the passenger window rolled down.
"Maura!" Carmen shouted. "Maura, we've got Jane, we have to get out of here!"
"This horse doesn't have brakes," she shouted back. "I'll try to stop her, but it's been a while."
"We'll be here," Frost called. Maura glanced in the back seat and saw Jane sprawled across it, wrapped in a dingy white sheet.
"What happened?" Maura cried.
"She's okay, just . . . stop your horse, all right? We're about to hit a dead end."
Maura looked up. The road ended abruptly in a thicket of young trees. She took a deep breath, quickly scanning back to her equestrian training. She hollowed her back, rolled up on her thighs, tugged gently at the mane. The horse came to an abrupt halt, suddenly so still she wouldn't have believed it had been galloping full-bore only moments before. "Thank you," she whispered as she slid clumsily off its back. The horse turned to look at her, blinking placidly. "Maybe you'll be happier out here," she said softly. "There's more to eat. And fewer lunatics." She ran her hand down the horse's neck, smiling at the accompanying toss of the head. "Thank you," she whispered again before running the few yards to where Frost had stopped.
She climbed into the back seat, careful not to bang into Jane who appeared to be unconscious.
"Jane?" she cried anxiously, running her hands across Jane's face. "Why is her hair wet? What happened?"
"We heard those two guys come in," Carmen said quickly. "To the house, I mean. I wanted to go in there but Barry said we had to wait until they found us or left."
"He was right," Maura said, smiling at both of them. "Thank you for rescuing us."
"Waited until they were gone then hauled ass up the mountain," Frost said as he spun the car around so it was facing west on the road out of town. "We couldn't come as soon as we wanted, but I don't figure these folks would take too kindly to us, if you know what I mean."
Maura smiled at him in the rearview mirror again. "You're very brave, thank you," she said softly. "And Jane?" She looked at Jane again, her face pale, though she seemed to be breathing steadily.
"We found her in what I guess was the church. There was a group of women holding her down in a tank."
"Purification," Maura murmured.
"They were—I think they were baptizing her."
Frost shuddered. "I think she's okay," he said. "We pulled her out, she's still breathing. Those bitches—pardon my language—" Carmen and Maura shrugged—"damn, they were strong. And we didn't know you were in that barn, or we probably wouldn't have set it on fire, so . . . sorry about that."
"It's fine," Maura said briskly. "It's over now. Thank you, Detective Frost. Thank you, Carmen. Were you able to save any of your supplies?"
"Trunk's full," Frost said. "Mostly weapons and ammunition. We grabbed your packs before we left."
"I made sure he didn't break any of your medical supplies," Carmen said.
"Thank you," Maura smiled.
"Maura?" Jane coughed weakly. "Maura, are you okay?"
"Shhh," Maura whispered, cradling her and kissing her forehead. "Everyone's okay. You're safe now. Detective Frost and Carmen came just in time."
"You should've seen it, Jane. Dr. Isles was riding bareback like hell."
"Lady Godiva," Jane muttered, coughing again.
"She wasn't the naked one this time," Carmen said, grinning.
"Aw, man," Jane moaned. "Don't you ever tell anyone, Frost."
"I'm trying to forget it as fast as I can," he said. "Trust me."
"Were you really riding bareback?" Jane asked, blinking up at Maura.
"Mm-hmm," she murmured, brushing a damp lock of hair away from Jane's face. "Like hell."
"I miss everything cool," Jane mumbled, tucking her head under Maura's chin.
"You just rest now, sweetheart," Maura whispered, kissing the top of her head. "We've still got a long way to go."
A/N: Yaaay! Everybody's okay! And the creepers got their damn town burned down! So it wasn't as awful as I was originally envisioning, probably because I just got back from like a week of camping and everything is too awesome to be horrible. But we're only like halfway through, so . . .
Also, one time I gave some writing advice about picking an image or action to work to or from, and for an object lesson, this chapter's image was Maura riding bareback like a bat out of hell. Silly? MAYBE. Care I? DO NOT.