Lydia was not aware of much, and the world around her seemed distant, like a vague dream. She felt the damp chill of air upon her naked body, and the strange warmth of the men's hands gripping her arms and legs, and one upon her bare ass, squeezing at it shamelessly. They carried her quickly down behind the row of buildings until they ducked inside one, the largest structure in the town, and the darkness was replaced by the dim, red glow of the places interior. It was not the glow of firelight, but strange lamps that burned a fiery red that reminded Lydia of blood. She was dumped carelessly onto a sofa, the material of which felt very soft to her skin. Had she not been so confused and afraid, now that she was becoming aware of everything again, she might have found it comfortable.

"I knew she would be perfect the moment I laid eyes upon her." It was one of the men speaking. The driver, she thought. His greedy eyes had been focused on her the entire ride, and she realized that she had felt so nervous because he had not just been looking at her, but analyzing her—sizing her up. For what, she didn't know, but Lydia had a feeling she would find out soon enough.

No, this town was not like the last one. It was worse.

"She is quite a beauty. Much better than many of them." The other man, the guard, said.

"Oh, much better indeed, my friend! She makes the bunch I brought in today look like a herd of Kullbacks!"

Both men laughed and took seats across from her, each plopping down in an oversized chair covered in that same, rich fabric as the sofa. Lydia tried to keep her eyes from the men, hoping to fool them into thinking she was still unconscious.

"Look at her—" She heard one of the men exclaim, his voice low and needy, "I'd like to get a piece of that, yes I would. Look at those breasts—perfect. And her thighs. My, my, my."

"Well, I suggest you stop thinking about it, my friend," The driver said, "Because she is for him alone—"

"We should have taken her for ourselves. He has enough as it is."

"And if he found out, we would pay with our lives. I don't think so, my friend."

"But she would be such a good lay. She's given me a bigger hard-on than my wife has in years."

They laughed again, and Lydia felt her stomach tightening. She thought she would throw up anytime now from the mixture of being so nervous and so disgusted with their pig-like behavior.

"Can't we just touch a little?" Even with her eyes squeezed shut, Lydia could feel the man staring at her hungrily.

"No." The driver, while still a monster in her mind, was at least keeping the man's lust tamed and his greedy, sweaty hands off of her. But his motives were far from pure, stemming only from his fear of whoever it was that they both seemed to be in allegiance with.

When footsteps clapped against the aged floorboards, Lydia desperately wanted to open her eyes—to see if it was her salvation approaching, or her doom. But she restrained herself and just listened as the rhythmic drumming of the steps ceased and a low, sour voice boomed through the tiny room.

"He wants to see the lady now…"

There was no response, only a brief shuffling and then cold fingertips curling around her, digging into her pale skin. The one man took the opportunity to get a good feel of her, and his hands roamed her body with restless vigor. She wanted to reach out and slap it away, but she feared the consequences, and with three men surrounding her—a defenseless, naked woman—she could think of nothing to do, but wait and hope Clive would come.

"Where are her clothes?" The third man, with the thunderous voice, asked.

"We found her in the bath, all alone. Her friend had left her, as luck would have had it." There was a sense of glee in the driver's voice, "She has been out cold ever since. Fell and gave her head a good knocking on the floor, my friend."

Lydia felt herself being carried along up a flight of stairs, and even with her eyes still closed she could feel the intensity of those devilish red lights. The men spoke no further, and she was glad for that, but the man carrying her continued his grope-fest.

"Give her to me."

The man holding Lydia instantly put an end to his exploration of her body, and handed her over to the big man, whose stature was outmatched only barely by his voice. Lydia could tell this from the massiveness of his hands and the steely arms that curled beneath her. He even held her with a single arm as he pushed open the large, double doors with the other and began to move once again. With her head turned back, she chanced a peek and saw the driver and the other man watching her, one with a strange, melancholy look on his face and the latter with that same greedy desire. But the big man took her away from them and those harsh red lights and into a room blanketed in almost total darkness, save for rows of candles placed sporadically around, like little twinkling stars in a velvet sky.

Just as the couch she had lain on had been so deceptively comforting, the room had a sense of peaceful calm about it, but one she could not appreciate. There was nothing except pure fear burning inside her, mingling rapidly with that strong urge to just run away. Scattered amongst the flickering flames were the lifeless bodies of women—all naked, just like Lydia, and skulking about in pools of their own blood. Some of them stared up at her with eyes as empty as the place where a demon's soul should belong, and others were turned away, as if ashamed.

Now, joining the cacophony of emotions within Lydia was overwhelming pity.

"Here she is, my greatness."

Lydia felt herself lowered down, down—slowly placed on the ground, atop a mound of soft cushions. The thought of fleeing came and then went, and with its departure, she felt hope abandon her as well. The big man's heavy footsteps retreated until he was gone, the doors slamming shut behind him and leaving her alone with whatever called this room home.

"A fine specimen, indeed… oh, how wonderful."

Chills shot through Lydia's body at the snake-like tone that seemed to be not behind or in front of her, but all around at once, like an eerie wind ripping through the boughs of a black forest. Whatever warmth the candles gave out was lost to her in that moment as she listened to the voice that, as of yet, had no face.

"W-what do you want?" Lydia surprised herself by speaking, even though she had meant to sound strong and unafraid and had instead come across as a babbling wreck.

"Why, isn't that obvious? I want you, sweet child. And you will give yourself to me willingly, I hope. No need to struggle—this can be a brief moment of absolute sweetness if you let it. For both of us."

A form blacker than the very darkness of the room swam forward through the shadows, and Lydia instinctively scooted backwards in a vain attempt to keep her distance from her captor. But the man with the voice of a serpent lurched out from his hiding place and revealed his entire hulking self to Lydia. Nude from sole to crown, he stood with his arms crossed over one another. His body was a shrine to hair, except on his head—that was shiny and bald. His posture was rigid, like the thing between his legs, and even though Lydia could see he was a mere man, his hazy gray eyes still reminded her of a slithering, venomous snake. She was no less afraid of him now than she had been before. If only she could be strong, like Clive, she thought—but instead, she was weak and defenseless and at the total mercy of the man that inched steadily closer to her with a growing look of desire gleaming in his narrowed eyes.

"Nothing to be afraid of," He said as he crouched down, assuming the position of a toad, and drug his tongue in a full-circle around his wet lips, "Unless you're afraid of death, that is."

"Get away!" Lydia screeched.

He crawled forward, his hairy figure giving him the look of some savage beast making a dash for its prey, and he grabbed one of Lydia's legs. She shook, tried to kick him away, but his hold on her was iron-firm, and before she knew it he was climbing on top of her. His body poured out sweat and Lydia felt every wet hair on his body brushing against her, like a wet mop. She was frozen, and he was getting his way.

His head jerked upwards though at the sound that startled the silence of the room. He still held Lydia pinned beneath him, each of his colossal hands bracing her arms to the floor, but his attention was focused elsewhere. The next sound was much closer and much different. This time it was the splintering of the wooden doors that divided the serpent's room from the outside. The man's weight was suddenly lifted from Lydia as he rose to his feet in a supernatural speed, but just as soon as he was up, he was flung backwards by the impact of a bullet.

Lydia sat up and looked back. Her eyes adjusted to the red light shining into the room, and she made out the shadowy silhouette of a man.


She scrambled up, but fell over on her face again in her frenzied excitement. But Clive was already there before she had time to try and get up on her own again, and he picked her up off the floor, scooping her into his arms. Without a moment's hesitation, he was running back out of the room with her, into the sea of red. But somehow the eeriness of it was gone now for Lydia—because she had him with her.

"I knew you would come," Lydia said as they descended the stairs and came back to the lounge that she had first been brought to, and now where the bodies of the driver and the other man were, slouched over the two chairs they had sat in so prudishly before.

"I should never have left you, not even for those few moments."

Clive kicked open the door to the outside, and they rushed from the evil place into the bitter-cold night. But it was refreshing. Lydia inhaled it deeply, too overjoyed to notice the cold stinging her bare flesh.

"You didn't use the Eversor… did you?" Lydia said, her heart pounding at the thought.

"Of course not," Clive said, and Lydia thought the very idea had been foolish in the first place, "They weren't demons—went down easy with plain old lead bullets."

"Oh Clive, I thought I was going to—"

"No matter, but we have to leave this town now. Perhaps there is no harm left here, but I won't chance it."

They had reached the inn again, two figures standing in the deserted street of a town that seemed to have sold its soul. From behind every window those shadows crept, watching and waiting.

"There's an entrance around back," Lydia said, now standing on her own, "They used it when they grabbed me. Let's use it—I don't want to see that creepy woman again. I just want to get in and right back out."

Clive didn't need to say anything, and a simple nod sufficed, as it usually did. They both slipped in between the narrow space that divided the inn from some other unmarked building, and it was such a narrow squeeze that Lydia could feel the rough wooden sides rubbing against her, threatening to deposit a myriad of splinters into her skin. They made it out, with Lydia's body splinter free, and instantly began feeling around the back for the door. It was easy enough to find, unmarked but not well hidden.

Up the dark stairs and through a door that, from the outside, posed as a wall, the pair stumbled into their room.

"I only have one change of clothes—and it's the shirt that was ripped. I'll need to buy something new as soon as we find the next decent town," Lydia said anxiously as she slipped quickly into her clothes, "And that was my last pair of underwear they took." She pulled a pair of faded, dusty denim trousers on, with nothing underneath.

"We'll worry about that when we have to," Clive replied.

"Yeah, yeah. One day at a time." She looked up at him as she finished buttoning her shirt, a filthy rag with a large rip across her stomach area, "I'm ready. Let's get out of here."

A little smile visited Clive, "Amen."

She picked up her few belongings and walked to Clive. Though they were both in a hurry to be gone, Lydia took a moment to rest her head on his shoulder. His arms fell around her, crushing her body into his, and without warning she was crying.

"I thought it was the end… for me. For you, too. I thought my dreams were coming true—that Varkas would have its way after all."

She felt Clive's hand weaving through her hair, in and out, "My will is greater than this—neither of our paths were meant to end here. I felt that, even when I came running back here and found you missing. I knew it would be okay."

Lydia pulled her head back so that she could look into her husband's eyes, "Well you have far more faith and courage than I do. Maybe I should find a way home in the next town," She said, "I'm nothing but a burden I feel."

"You're my support, Lydia. When I wake up and find myself forgetting what it is I'm supposed to be doing, I look at you and remember—"

"So then, we'll finish this together. It's decided now. No more doubts."

Clive extended his hand out and brushed it against her face, "No more doubts."

Lydia took a deep intake of breath, her shoulders rising and falling dramatically as she did, "Then let's get the hell out of here for real."

Words cast aside in favor of action, they took hold of each other's hands and left the inn through the secret doorway. The night seemed even darker somehow as they resurfaced into it. Clive led Lydia along, wedged between the backs of the buildings and the town's wall. They ran, hand in hand, until the wall was not only to their side, but in front of them as well.

Slipping into the small slit between the last building and the wall, they found their way back to the street, and there at the end was a break in the wall and an exit from the nightmare. The gates were wide-open now, iron arms stretched outwards, and beyond them the city gave way to desert.

"I've never been so happy to see so much nothingness," Lydia said.

She pulled free from Clive and walked forward, across the line that divided civilization from wasteland. A sort of dizzy feeling took her over as she took the final step outside of the town, and she closed her eyes for a moment to stop the world from spinning.

"That was weird," She said, rubbing the top of her head, but when she opened her eyes she was not staring out at the endless, rolling dunes of the desert. Instead she stood at the entrance to the town, and far away at the other end, standing like a little toy soldier, she could see Clive.

Confused and almost panicking, she whirled around and stared back out of the open gates into the stretch of land they had ridden in on earlier.

Then, from out of thin air, Clive appeared. Lydia opened her mouth to scream, but caught herself in time, and it came out as no more than a muffled squeak.

"Clive, what's going on?" She glanced back over her shoulder, but the other end of the street was empty now. And why shouldn't it be? Clive was here with her now, somehow.

"There's some powerful sorcery at work," He said.

Lydia had begun to bite her nails, already jagged with only the last little trace of a bright red that had once coated them.

"It's like a loop… if we go back through this way, we'll come back out down there… but how? I've never even heard of anything like this…"

"Demons," Was all Clive said.

Lydia snapped her attention toward him and she noted the rapidly growing seriousness of his features. She could tell he was thinking hard, trying to understand this for himself. Whenever he looked like this, Lydia became troubled. It meant that he was worried, too.

"What do we do?" She asked. Lydia was falling back into that frenzied state of panic, all sensibility escaping from her. She already knew Clive had no answer, but she asked anyway. Of course he just shook his head and continued falling further away into the depths of himself, and Lydia didn't bother to speak any more. She stood at his side and threw her head in every direction. Nothing moved. The illusion of peace was almost convincing, except that when Lydia stretched her hand out across the town's edge, it was sucked into some unseen void. She imagined that if she could be at the other end of the street at the same time, she would see half an arm floating in midair, like some dazzling magician's trick.

"I should have known there was more to this than met the eye," Clive did away with the unsaid covenant of silence that had settled in, "The strange happenings here must not be the work of just some dirty scoundrel. It's a demons doing."

Lydia gave him her full attention, "Then that means…"

"We have to find it and kill it if we want to leave."

That cry that had attempted to form earlier finally found life in Lydia.

"No, Clive! That means you have to use it again. That's one more bullet gone… and only two left. You can't!"

"There's no other choice, Lydia It's either that or we rot here, and I'm not willing to settle for that."

"I guess…" Lydia folded her hands together, as if she was about to pray, "I trust you. I know you probably think otherwise, but I do. And—" Lydia saw Clive's eyes widen, and before she could say another word he had leapt forward and pushed her to the side. She toppled over instantly and rolled through the dirt, kicking up a cloud of it around her. All this happened in a hazy instant, and she lay there for a moment with her head spinning before she was able to pick herself up. When she did rise to her feet again and had coughed up some of the dust coating her throat and pushed her hair back out from her eyes, she saw Clive standing in the shadow of the large, hairy beast of a man that had nearly killed her.

Her eyes now adjusted to the darkness, she could see him again clearer than she had ever desired to. He was no longer fully naked, but his chest was still bare and wedged in the very center of it was the bullet that Clive had put there. No blood poured from him, and from the way he stood there, so tall and menacing, it seemed unlikely he felt any pain from it.

"Lydia, stay back," Clive said, backing a few paces away himself, putting a little distance between him and the demon.

That laughter that Lydia had hoped to never hear again spilled sloppily out from the possessed vessel. It raised a hand up to its chest and pulled the piece of lead out, like popping a cork out from a bottle. The hole that the bullet had occupied remained for only a brief second before sealing itself up, erasing all evidence of any wound. The demon brought the bullet up and examined it. It laughed again as it threw the useless shell carelessly over its shoulder.

"Fools, thinking you could wash your hands of me so easily."

The demon's voice brought back the dark memory to Lydia of it sliding on top of her and promising her death, just like all those other poor women. She felt like a coward, pressed up against the wall and shaking like a frightened child. She wished that for once she could find the courage to stand by Clive not only in the good times, but the bad as well. Yet what could she do? Without the Eversor, she would be useless. However, just standing there watching was near unbearable.

"Your grip over this town is strong. What awful name do you go by?" Clive stood very still and calm. He had not even drawn his guns, both still waiting patiently at his side.

"Kimba, and best you remember it since it's the last you'll ever hear," He bellowed in an amused sort of way, "You stole both my food and pleasure for the evening, gunslinger. Do you have anything to say for your rude behavior?"

Clive said nothing, and Lydia watched him closely. She waited for him to act—to blow the foul thing back into the waiting arms of hell, but he remained unnaturally still.

"Kill him," Lydia murmured in a low tone only she could hear. It pained her to say the words—she didn't want to have to kill. They had no choice now, trapped inside this town by the deranged Kimba. It had to be done, and she would have to deal with death once again.

"So you're rude, foolish, and stubborn. What a combination," The demon seemed to be having fun with this, relishing each awful moment like chocolate rolled across a deprived tongue. He dragged his arm across his chin, wiping away the drool that had begun dribbling down. Lydia was afraid. Her eyes snapped back and forth from Clive to Kimba. The night was muted, and it seemed every corner of the desert had sucked in one collective breath and now waited, frozen in time, for something—anything—to happen. Lydia was part of the chorus of restless silence as she stared down the barrel of her and Clive's future. She hoped with every ounce of her being that it would not explode here, a million scattered pieces of unfulfilled dreams consumed by the voracious appetite of the harsh wasteland. This town, even with its deception of peace and stability, was just as barren of hope as the sands that stretched far away in all directions.

"So, you have nothing to say? Nothing at all?" Kimba asked, "Not even some parting words for the pretty lady?"

"Yes, I would like to ask yo a question. Do you know the name Varkas?"

Kimba narrowed his gaze, "You think you're in the position to ask me questions? What a waste of your last few breaths, cowboy."

"Do you or don't you?" Clive persisted.

"Hah, I admire your persistence. But it won't save you."

Clive shuffled the dirt with his boot and made a sort of clucking sound with his tongue.

"Then I have no use for you," he said.

Clive slowly drew his gun. This time it was not the rusty antique he had used to plow down Lydia's captors, but The Eversor. As he raised it, its deadly gaze directed towards the demon, Kimba made no move to defend himself.

"Oh my, cowboy. I'm so scared!" Kimba brought his hands to his mouth and began to chew on his yellow nails. He was mocking Clive. There was no fear to be found in his stony features, only subdued pleasure.

"You're far too arrogant, demon. So much so that you fail even to recognize one of the slayers of your kind." Clive waggled the gun a bit. It was his turn to taunt.

"You speak, but know nothing." Kimba glared at Clive with crazed, bloodshot eyes, "You humans cannot slay God's attendants. This is our world, not yours. Ours."

"Stop spilling lies from your deceitful tongue. It is you who knows nothing and you who will pay for the evil you have brought to this world."

Lydia had bravely taken a few meager steps forward, but she looked just as much the lost child as ever. If Clive and that damned instrument of revenge couldn't put a stake through the demon's calloused black heart, surely she would not live to see morning's light either.

When Kimba let out a wicked guffaw, Lydia retreated back against the wall like a rabbit peering cautiously from its hole, only to be driven back inside by the sudden boom of a hunter's rifle.

Clive stretched his arm out to its capacity and tightened his grip on the weapon. His finger hooked around the trigger, but did not pull it. Not yet.

"Then you won't mind if I test it out on you?" Clive asked, almost politely. Lydia knew there was nothing polite about it—it was just his subdued manner, that had grown even more evident since this journey had begun.

"Be my guest, cowboy. I'll just spit it out like I did the last bullet. But feel free to waste your ammunition," He cracked his jagged knuckles, sounding like branches being ripped from a tree, "It's not like you're going to need any after this. Dead men don't need guns."

Lydia felt sure the moment was drawing near. She felt foolish for doubting Clive, for mistaking his lack of action as uncertainty. Now she knew he had been building Kimba up, inflating the demon's ego like a balloon rapidly filling with hot air. But even a balloon can have too much of a good thing. A greedy balloon does not float; it pops.

"Well?" Kimba had his hands on his hips and his foot tapped impatiently against the dirt.

"Oh. I wasn't aware you were in such a hurry to die."

Clive squeezed one eye shut and used the other to aim. His finger put more pressure on the trigger.

Suddenly, the solid wall of stone that was the demon Kimba began to crack, to let seep through the water that it had held so vigilantly at bay.

Before he had time to truly act on his sudden fear that truth lay in Clive's words, there was an eruption of sound. The night exhaled its long held breath and came crashing inwards on itself, like shelves collapsing one after the other on top of each other until nothing but splintered wood and dust remain.

In that moment, when all of nature seemed to teeter on the brink of everything and nothing, the bullet found its target. A hole burned through the demon's chest, burrowing madly through tough skin and into the dark interior where the mask of humanity revealed its true self. The tortured soul inside let out a horrific scream, and Lydia joined in. She fell to her knees and cradled her head within her hands.

Kimba's eyes that had captured a sort of constant mirth had grown wide and they were trying hard to escape the confines of his skull. He looked defeated. He was defeated.

"You… you can't… it's not possible…"

Clive stared the dying man down, no sympathy in his face.

"You deserved this."

A fountain of blood gurgled up from Kimba's throat and pooled on the ground around him. Clive didn't wait around to watch the spectacle, but moved to Lydia, who was still curled up on the ground and shaking.

Her man stood over her, "He's gone. It's alright now."

She looked slowly up to him, "I hate this…"

"I know. But it is necessary," he assured her. "We should be able to leave now. Take my hand, Lydia, and let's go."

She looked up at him, into eyes so familiar and strange at the same time, and gave him her shaking hand. He pulled her back to her feet with the ease of a giant lifting a feather. She could see the slain demon better now, body still twitching in remembrance of its life.

"Where do we go now?" She asked.

Clive set his sights outward to the distant horizon, black and full of mystery.

"We continue the search. There's nothing left here."

"Clive we could search the world up, down, backwards, and sideways and never find him. It's all so random." Lydia leaned her forehead against Clives broad chest, wrapping an arm around him and hooking her hand on the back belt-loop of his pants. "I told you i'm coming with you wherever you go. I'm not doubting again. It's just I wonder if you'll ever find what you're looking for."

"I don't know. But I have to keep trying. I can't explain it, the fire that burns in me. I just know I have to search...and the searching is made bearable by your constant presence."

Lydia smiled. In his few, unpolished words, he had said what the most eloquent of speakers couldn't. He needed her and that was enough.

"Okay then. Come what may." She unlatched herself from him, finding his hand again with hers.

They walked together to the stable where the horses were kept. Clive grabbed two of them and hooked them up to the wagon sitting out front, identical to the one they had ridden in on earlier.

"Sleep in the wagon while I drive," he told Lydia.

He climbed onto the front and peeked around the side to make sure Lydia was safely inside. He gave each horse a quick whip, to which each let ou a startled cry before their legs got into the action as well, starting forward and pulling their new owners with them.

Lydia watched from the back as they neared the town gates, halfway expecting the strange magic to still be in place. But they passed through, out of the town and back into their second home.