"Look, I see town!" Lydia exclaimed and burst forward with the last of her energy, but Clive grabbed her by the arm and held her back.

"There's no town. You're seeing things."

She looked back at him, then to the mirage town, then to him again. The hope on her face faded quick as it had come.

Clive handed her his water skin, which held only a few drops, and Lydia emptied it of its meager contents.

"We have to keep going," Clive said, already beginning to move again.

Lydia followed him, staring at the now vacant spot of desert where her town had been. In front of her she saw Clive stumble over his feet, and to see him, an unwavering pillar, so weak made her wonder how much longer they could last. She continued to avidly watch for anything that wasn't sand or sky, but the wasteland just kept looping around. The same scene repeated over and over again.

It was no more than a distant dot when she first saw it, but Lydia was sure it existed outside of her starved mind. A look over at Clive assured her she was not the only one who saw it, whatever it was. The thing moved diagonally beside them, headed roughly in the same direction they were.

"What is it?" Lydia asked, reaching out and grasping Clive by the arm.

He stared pensively into the distance, following the shape with his eyes, "I can't say for sure. It's moving. That much I can see clearly."

"I'm going to run for it," She told Clive, "It might be our only chance."

She found his hand and gave it a squeeze. His overgrown nails dug into her skin.

"I'll be right behind you," He said and tacked on the simplest of smiles.

Lydia drew reluctantly away from him then turned and began to sprint towards the steadily growing dot. She zigzagged as she went, stumbling back and forth constantly. Her legs demanded to be given a rest, but she ignored everything in pursuit of the thing she could now make out as a wagon. She saw the wheels turning over, churning up dust, and two creatures lugging it along. They looked like horses, but with an overabundance of fur spilling down their sides and a pair of sharp, spiraling horns jutting from their heads.

She had to catch up to them, and knowing her survival counted on it, she began moving quicker than she ever thought herself capable of. If she and Clive were meant to live, this was the miracle fate had sent along for them.

"Hey!" She shouted out hoarsely and began waving her hands about frantically, still running forward like a drunkard. The cart slowed down, then stopped.

"Settle, settle!" The driver struck the creatures pulling the cart to cease their restless whinnying, and, after a few more moments of stamping their hooves, they did.

"Being driven crazy by the heat," The driver suddenly explained, the tanned canvas of his face peeling back into a wide grin that contrasted greatly with the whiteness of his teeth. There was something very exotic about him, in his dark features and heavy accent, and Lydia wondered once again if it were merely her mind dreaming up this fantasy.

Yet the smell of the man, a mixture of some rich spice and his own sweat, and the beasts pulling the cart seemed to assure her of the reality of the moment.

The man stared at her with a fierce sort of intensity, his already narrow eyes squinting up even further, "You look like the walking dead," He said, and that strange, almost unsettling smile returned.

Until now, Lydia had been silent. The run had sucked every last ounce of energy from her body, and although words formed in her head, she could not seem to get them to come out. She just stood there, shoveling in deep breaths as she held the side of the covered wagon to keep her balance. Then, just as she thought she might be able to speak, the dark man's attentions were drawn elsewhere. She followed his gaze to find Clive approaching slowly, but steadily.

"Good day friend," The man said, "You are with the lovely lady I s'pose?"

Clive nodded, by now having planted himself at Lydia's side, "To you too, and yes." He eyed the large cart.

"I am headed to Harland. Can I offer you a ride?"

"Oh, yes!" Lydia spoke at long last, and her face brightened, "We're running on fumes, sir. If not for you, we might have not made it through another day."

"I assure you, miss, the gods do not let beautiful women such as yourself perish so easily."

Lydia felt her cheeks burn faintly at his words, "Thank you."

"What's in there?" Clive had his finger stretched toward the wagon, and the man turned in his seat and looked back at it.

"Very precious cargo, my friend." The beasts were stirring, anxious to move again, and the man whipped at their leathery backs again to still them, "Come. There is plenty of room here in the front."

He held his hand out, offering it to Lydia, and she allowed him to pull her up into the front of the wagon. She took a seat on the wooden bench. As much as she was grateful for the man's kindness, there was something about him that made her feel uneasy, and she sat on the opposite end of the bench from him. She could feel his eyes were on her, but she didn't look over to confirm it—she didn't want to be trapped in that strange gaze of his. Instead, she swept her head in the other direction, but Clive was no longer there. She felt panicked for a brief moment before he reappeared, coming around the side of the wagon, and climbed up with her. He took the seat in the middle of the bench, and Lydia was grateful that he was in between her and the man.

"Where did you go?" She asked, lowering her voice.

"Nowhere," He replied without looking at her. Lydia let her head rest against the rough wood of the cart, and she brushed as much of the sand out of her hair that she could.

"We are ready, yes?" The man inquired, leaning forward and peering over so that he could see Lydia. She tried to shrink back further, away from sight, but she could not.

Clive provided the answer by supplying a simple nod and, thankfully, the man moved back again so that Lydia could no longer see him. He snapped the reigns and the beasts began to move again at once, jerking forward so quickly that it caused all three of the passengers to rock forward and then back. Lydia felt it worse, as her head tipped forward and then slammed back against the wood, leaving a knot there.

"Are you okay?" Clive was looking at her with his usual stern expression, but she could see a trace of concern in his grizzled features.

"Yes, I'm fine," She said and reached out for Clive's hand, "I know you looked inside the wagon. That's where you were."

Clive's face hardened at once, "Lydia, not now. Town first, questions later."

She dropped the subject at once, though felt suddenly very curious as to what was in the large, covered cart they pulled behind them. But Clive had always delivered them from every tough situation, and she would, as always, trust him now.

"You visit Harland before my friends?" The driver asked as he once again arched over so he could see not only Clive, but Lydia as well, and he flashed his pearly-white smile again. Lydia thought there was no sincerity behind it.

"No, we have never been out this far west before," Clive answered, "Though I have heard of the name before, I believe."

"Ah, yes. You're in for a treat, you are. Harland is a wonderful place. You may never want to leave, my friends." He lashed out at the creatures again, shouting for them to go faster.

"Those are Kullbacks, correct?" Clive said, pointing at the beasts.

The man nodded his head dramatically up and down, "Yes, yes! You know much! They provide Harland with much assistance. Traveling, farming—well, what little farming there is to be done."

From behind them came a noise, similar to the sound of someone sneezing, and Lydia turned her head slowly around and stared at the solid, wood wall that made up the front of the cart.

"What was that?" She looked to Clive, wondering if he knew the answer. She thought he did.

"What was what my friend?" The driver screwed his face up into a perplexed expression, but just like his smile, Lydia knew it was an act.

"The heat is making you hear things, Lydia." Clive looked over at her and gave her the same expression as he had before, the one that told her to be careful of what she said. She knew that the driver was not one to be trusted, that was not hard to see, but Clive had to have seen something more. She bit her lip and let her head tilt back again, her eyes focusing on the cloudless sky.

"Yeah, I guess so."

Her answer seemed to satisfy Clive, and he too leaned back against the cart. His shoulder was against her and she took the chance to lean on him, abandoning her wooden perch and propping her head instead on him.

In no time, Lydia found herself succumbing to sleep, and she saw no reason to fight it. Until they reached town, there was nothing for her to do—and anything that came up, Clive could and would deal with. So, she drifted off, and the steady hoof beats of the Kullbacks, the oppressive heat, and the strange smell of the man and his wagon faded away.

It was nearing evening when she awoke. She could tell by the fiery sun that poked only halfway above the horizon and by the orange sky around it that turned a soft yellow, then purple. She sat up and squinted her eyes ahead. The town of Harland was not far off at all, and Lydia could see the torches at its entrance already lit, waiting for their arrival.

It would be wonderful to have a bed to sleep in, real food to eat, and a nice, long bath to get her really, truly clean. She smiled at the thought and nuzzled back into Clive's side. The heat of day had expired, and the night's chill had settled in instead.

"Here we are, my friends." The driver broke the silence. In the rapid oncoming of twilight, his dark skin had begun to blend in with the backdrop of the sky, and when he smiled, his flawless teeth were more striking than ever.

None of them spoke further as they rolled slowly to the city, and only when they were at the gates did anyone speak further, and it was only the driver speaking to a man at the entrance. He shared the driver's dark complexion, and the two of them spoke in tones too low to hear, at least for Lydia's ears. She saw the other man's eyes dart towards her now and then, bouncing back and forth from the driver to her, and she wondered if everyone in this city shared that same ability to make her nerves stand on end. When the little palaver was through, both men turned to her and Clive.

"Harland welcomes you, my friends," The new man said, and he smiled just as Lydia had expected him to.

"We require a place to sleep for the night," Clive told them, all business.

"Yes, yes. Of course, my friends. We shall take care of you." The driver exclaimed as the other man, some sort of guard, trotted over and began opening the gate to the city.

Lydia felt like they were being ushered into some sort of prison, and although she should have been happy to have been delivered from the harsh desert into the comforts of civilization, she could not help feeling the strange desire to run back the way they had come. The wagon rolled into the city and the gates came crashing shut behind them, and any thoughts of fleeing, thoughts that seemed by every means crazy, were put to rest.

The driver pulled the cart off the road and down beside a small structure, a stable it seemed. He hopped off, and Clive followed. Lydia was the last to leave, and she hesitantly accepted the driver's help in climbing down from the wagon. His touch, for some reason, made her want to take that bath all the more—to wash of his presence even before all the sand and dirt.

"Follow me. I will take you to the inn." The driver started back towards the road, and the two travelers followed him. The road they stumbled back onto ran the entire length of the town and, from what Lydia could tell, was the only one in the entire vicinity of Harland. Flanking it on both sides, from start to finish, were buildings packed tightly together with almost no room in between one structure and the next.

"It's a quaint, little place," Lydia said, trying to sound at least a little friendly, even if, just like the driver, she was putting on an act.

"Yes, It is. Quaint. That's a good word to describe our town."

Torches similar to those found on the outside gate were lining the street, illuminating their way. Aside from the three of them there were no other people on the street, and as Lydia looked around her she noticed nearly all of the lights inside the buildings were out.

"The people here must go to sleep very early."

"Yes. Long days of work make everyone very tired." The driver said, but she thought there was more to it. She thought she saw shadows moving behind the windows, people moving about in the darkened interiors, but she couldn't be sure. Clive was also looking intently and was even quieter than usual.

"Here we are. The Inn." The driver climbed up a short set of steps onto the porch of the two-story building. Beneath him, the boards squeaked and seemed to threaten to break at any moment. Above the porch, suspended by a length of chain, was a sign that read ' The Harland Sleep'.

Clive and Lydia joined the driver on the porch, and Clive held out his hand to the man. The two shook, then Clive pulled his hand back and stuffed it into his pocket.

"Thank you for your help. We are very grateful," Clive said, "Is there anything we can do to repay you?"

"Oh, no. It was my pleasure, my friends. You sleep well, and mayhap I will see you before you depart…" He arched over into a crude bow before backing away, down the stairs and into the street, "Have a blessed night, my friends!" He shouted to them and then jogged off down the street, out of sight.

Lydia turned to Clive and looked up into his face, "I don't like him at all." She expressed what had been on her mind all day, and it felt good to get it out, "He gave me… I don't know. Awful vibes."

"Let's get our room before we talk, Lydia," Clive told her. He pushed the door to the inn open, and it hissed in protest. Lydia stood there for a moment, feeling a bit glum because of Clive's attitude, before she followed him inside. At the desk, a short steady woman was leaning over and scratching at a piece of paper with her pen. She looked up at them, peering out from clumps of greasy black hair.

"Welcome. What can I do you for?" She asked, though she returned her attention to the paper even before she was done speaking.

"We need a room," Clive said.

She stopped what she was doing long enough to grab a key and toss it to him, "You can pay when you leave. Have a good night."

Lydia tried to get a glimpse of what was on the paper, but before she could Clive had made his way to the stairs and, not wanting to be left alone with the woman (or anyone from the town) she ran to join him and they walked up the stairs together. When Lydia threw a quick glance back down, the woman was gone.

Upstairs, they walked down the narrow hallway, lined with small candles and pictures of strange faces, until they were at the very end. Clive slipped the key into the lock and the door swung inwards. The room was very small and contained only a bed, a dresser, and a single chair, but it was more luxury than either of them had seen for weeks.

Lydia shut the door behind them and then sat down on the foot of the bed. She held her hands palm-up in her lap and stared down at them, noticing for the first time all the little wrinkles creasing her skin.

"This town isn't safe."

She looked up at Clive who had his eyes locked on her, and her brows knitted together in question.

"You were right to feel uneasy about that man," He continued, "He wasn't carrying just any ordinary cargo."

"What was it, Clive? What did you see?" Lydia's face had grown pale as all the anxieties she had felt before came rushing back, this time seeming more real than they had before.

"Women… chained together. Bound and gagged."

Now, Lydia's mouth dropped, "What in the world…"

Clive lowered himself beside her on the bed. He arched over, elbows propped on his knees, and looked over at Lydia, "The way he looked at you—I saw it to. I'm not sure what he had those women for, but I believe he's targeted you…"

"Then we have to leave!" She gripped Clive's thigh and squeezed down tightly, "Oh Clive, we should never have come." The moisture building up in the corner of her eyes suddenly began to spill over, forming tears, "I know you wanted to bring closure to what Varkas started… but this isn't worth it. This town and the desert—there's nowhere we can find any peace. I don't know how much longer I can go on like this…"

Clive placed his hand over hers, "Lydia, I never asked you to come with me. And when you insisted you wanted to come, I warned you—I warned you of the dangers, that I would not always be the caring man you know, and most importantly, that I would not be returning home until I found Varkas."

"I know," Lydia said, followed by another round of sobs, "And I've endured it… I have. But back there in the desert, I began to feel myself—no, both of us—coming apart. We started off strong, Clive. But you've grown more and more distant, and everyday I feel—I feel like I'm losing a little bit more of you." She thought of the gun, The Eversor, that was cradled at Clive's side. If he never used all of the bullets, everything would be okay, but if he fired that last, precious bullet—at least, that's what he had told her. She could see something shifting in him though—a hollowness gradually eating away at the great blue depths of his eyes. Had he told her everything about that black bargain he had made with Michael? She guessed not.

"Lydia, you have to stop this. Even if we could turn back, it's no use reliving the past."

She took in a deep breath, and her teeth chattered as she did, "I'm sorry. I think—I just need a long, hot bath. To get my mind back on track." She slipped away from him, standing up, and walked to the bathroom door.

"I'm going to walk outside for a moment, but I won't go far," Clive said from behind her, just as she closed the door. Lydia got down on her knees and turned on the heat beneath the tub before she began pumping the water in. Her arms were tired, but she managed to fill the bath with water. Then, she sat herself on the edge and waited. Her mind wandered, and when her head cleared the bathroom was filled with balmy steam. She slipped her petite body out of her clothes—once a vibrant red in color, now faded rags—and stepped into the water. She pulled back at first, finding the heat unbearable, but slowly she adjusted herself until she had lowered her entire bony frame down. She pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her chin atop them.

She felt clean for the first time in as long as she could remember, and the warmth of the water seemed to wash away more than just the sweat and grime from her, but so much more. When Clive returned, she wanted to assure him again that she would be strong for him and then she wanted him to make love to her—it would be almost like they were home, in their own bed. She found herself smiling, rediscovering that hope that she had, for a time, abandoned.

Yes, Clive would have his revenge and then throw that cursed weapon away and forget that black bargain he had made with that maddened hermit, Michael, who had powered Clive's will with a way. She remembered how she had sat outside diligently as he had asked her to, blind to whatever went on behind those closed doors. All she knew was that Clive went in full of despair and emerged with a reclaimed resolve. At the time she had been too happy to ask questions. It had happened so fast—they had left their home and plunged recklessly into the desert. She began to ask questions, but Clive told her to trust him. She did.

Then came that night, when she had nearly been killed.

Lydia awoke to find a cold hand clamped down over her mouth and the sallow face of a strange woman hovering over her.

"Shh," The voice instructed, "Don't scream No need to worry."

She kept her composure and did her best to tuck away her emotions. She eyeballed the room, gradually recalling the tavern they had stopped in, which housed several rooms for rent on the second floor. They had purchased one for the night, just two days out from the start of their journey into madness. This woman, who had somehow dragged Lydia from their room and into another without rousing Clive, (a feat in and of itself) was the same that had served them drinks and prepared their rooms for them. So charming before, now she raised Lydia's flesh with the sickly warm breathe that splashed across her face in rhythmic spurts.

"Now, just stay still and this will all fly by oh so quick."

"What's going on?" Lydia felt she had the right to know at least as much.

The woman tightened the bonds around Lydia's wrists and ankles, wrenching them tighter.

"Ouch. What the hell. Maam, what are you doing?" Those fears she had packed up and shipped off had been returned to sender.

"It's not personal, dear. I thought you and your husband were delightful—best guests we've seen in a long time. Most people are so rude these days. Can't blame them I suppose, what with the shape of the world." She shook her head, "But you see, dear, the boss pays me to do whatever he bids. Whether it be serving the guests drinks, fluffing their pillows, or most importantly preparing his meals. That's where you come in."

Lydia felt suddenly ill, "My God. You're going to eat me?"

"Oh no, of course not!" The woman chuckled, "But he is."

The struggling that followed—the desperate attempt to wriggle free from the rope that cut into her flesh—was fruitless and ended only in Lydia weaker than she was before, sweaty and defeated.

"He says he's going to enjoy this meal especially. Says you're different—and you know what I mean by that, don't you dear?" The old crone winked at her.

"I don't understand."

"Your soul is different. It's not like the rest of the retch staining the planet. Don't play dumb, granny here sees a lot more than you might think."

Lydia looked away from her captor and down at her bare feet that Clive would often tickle with playful kisses.

"A different soul…" She repeated to herself.

"The boss says that by enjoying you, he can finally find peace. You see he has a special soul too, and if he has another—why don't you agree that something marvelous might happen? That's what he thinks at least. That god will recognize such a beautiful spirit and return." The woman paused to smile and take hold of Lydia's hands, "Wouldn't that be wonderful? Don't you want that?"

"God abandoned this planet to die." The voice of Clive came from the stairs—snapping both women's heads in his direction, "But I won't abandon my girl."

He fired a bullet from the old pistol he had inherited from his father through the woman's mouth. It made it's own exit out the back of her head. He rushed down, skipping half the stairs, and began untying Lydia.

"Clive, what's going on?"

"When I woke up I was tied in a back room, but I made quick work of the poor knots and even quicker the lard-ass they had guarding me."

"They wanted to eat me."

"I know."

Lydia was finally free of the ropes and shook out her sore limbs. She stood up and hugged Clive, "My hero. Now let's go."

"Wait," Clive grabbed hold of her wrist, "The man who engineered this still lives, and I can't allow that. I have to kill him."

"You don't have to do anything," She reminded him, but seeing the determination in his face, recanted, "Ok fine. I guess you're right. He can't be allowed to continue luring in innocents and—you know. Snacking on them."

"Let's put an end to this then."

"Yes. Let's go get him."

But he came to them, in the form of a shotgun blast through the double doors of the kitchen. They swung inwards and one broke from its hinges and smashed to the floor. On the other side stood a lanky man, nothing but skin and bones, wearing only his underwear. His chest was sunken down in the middle and the only thing bonier than his bowed chicken legs was the grossly defined ribs, like that of a malnourished child. A few thin wisps of blonde hair still clung to his head like a fresh corpse still in the early stages of decay. How this cannibal was a near-skeleton and not some obese monster handicapped by his own weight was a mystery to both Lydia and Clive, but they had no time to think about it, as another round from his gun went rocketing through the room, right in between the two of them. The jumped I different directions to avoid the bullet, Clive ducking behind the bar and Lydia crashing into a small tower of stacked up chairs.

The wraith of a man cackled as he loaded the gun for another round.

"Ya shoulda jus' let old Gabby do ya in. Woulda been a hellah lot less painful for the both of ya."

"Clive sprung from his hiding place and let a few shots of his pistol off, but they hit only air as the man ducked out of the way.

"I jus' want the pretty soul of yer lady. I need it to restore mah faith. Don't yah wanna help me in that? Or would yah rather be a selfish little prick?"

"Who are you?" Clive asked.

"Call me Bartholomew. My human body is dyin' yah see? I need to unite with another soul real quick-like, 'fore it's too late." He took aim and shot a hole through the center of one of the tables, missing Lydia by only inches. She scurried away anyway behind another set of tables and chairs further back.

"You're a demon, aren't you?" Clive stood up and faced Bartholomew directly. He was calm and fearless even standing in the open, the shotgun aimed at him and his pistol at the other.

"And you are a right ignorant fool, calling me such an ugly name. Demon—there's no such a thing. There's no time to explain though. I'm sure your pretty friend would be happy to tell you jus' how ignorant you are, mister, but I'm afraid she's gonna have to be leavin' this hellhole behind tonight. Isn't that right sweetheart?"

"No, it's you whose leaving this place for hell." Clive squeezed off a few rounds, each one hitting its mark. Bartholomew reacted with a shot of his own, but Clive threw himself out of the bullet's path, or almost out of it. It grazed his arm, drawing blood, but did most of its damage to an antique clock on the far wall, shattering the casing and stopping time forever.

Bartholomew looked dazed, but far from wounded and definitely not dead.

Knowing the only way to end this, Clive drew the Eversor and cocked it. Peering down the barrel he could see that he had five shots left.

"Clive, no!" Lydia cried, "Save it please!"

It was too late. There were four bullets left now—the fifth lodged somewhere in Bartholomew's heart, if he had one. He looked the same dead as alive. Once a walking skeleton, the only difference now was his inability to ever move again.

Lydia crawled out from her makeshift fortress and examined the scene. She watched Clive put away the gun and decided not to say anything on the matter. He was a big boy. He knew better than her the consequences.

"What did he mean Lydia, that you would be happy to tell me what he meant?" When Clive was confused, he got this look that Lydia found adorable. There was something so innocent and boyish about him sometimes. However, right now she wasn't smiling at him like she usually did when he donned his perplexed expression.

"I don't know, Clive. He was crazy. Nothing he said made any sense." She walked toward the door, "Let's just please go. I can't sleep here tonight."

They both walked out of the tavern in silence, leaving behind the death, destruction, and mysteries of the Speranza Tavern and Inn.

Lydia drifted slowly back from her memories and into the now lukewarm water of the tub. At least this town, while creepy, was not like that last one they had encountered.

Outside, she heard someone moving.

"Clive? Come in here for a minute." She suddenly thought of just pulling him into the tub with her, clothes and all. She grinned at the thought.

The doorknob turned, squeaking like everything else in the town seemed to, and Lydia leaned over the side of the tub, cradling her head in her crossed arms.

"You coming in or not?"

When the door burst open, it was not Clive standing there, but two men, either the same or identical to the ones they had met before. Without thinking, Lydia stood up. Naked, she tried to jump from the water, but as soon as her feet met with the floor she slipped and fell. Her head hit the wooden floor with a sickening thud, and she saw little, black spots dancing around the room—and then, above her, the men hovered for a moment before she felt them picking her up, dragging her out the door, through a doorway she had not remembered being there before, and out the back of the inn, into the pitch-black of night.