* * *
"I'm not ready to go home," the last drunk said as they were closing up some hours later.
"You don't have to go home but you can't stay here," Bowen said.
"My wife is gonna yell at me "¦ for drinking," the man said.
"You don't have to go home," Dunspar said.
"Can I sleep under a table?" the man said.
"You don't have a ruby?" Dr. Weisswald asked him.
He looked at her.
"You have beautiful eyes," he said, his voice slurred.
Gemma grabbed him by the arm and led him to the door.
"Oh no!" he said. "Don't make me go! I like it here so much! It's so good!"
She gave him a little push out the door and he stumbled onto the porch. She closed the door and was getting ready to lock it when she heard a cry from outside. She locked the door, not even wanting to look. Then she heard something moving on the porch. A grinding noise came from the door near the floor.
Bowen was sweeping the floor and Dunspar was reading. Jacali and Dr. Weisswald talked to Ophelia.
"Did you hear that?" Gemma said.
"Hear what?" Dunspar said.
Gemma readied her knives and cracked the door. She saw that one of the horrible things from the mine was outside. Half of the drunk man was gone. From the waist down, he was just a skeleton. The start of a hole was in the base of the door and she slammed the door closed and backed away. Something crashed against it.
"What is it?" Dr. Weisswald said.
Bowen went for his pack and Jacali pulled her bow from her back.
"It's "¦ it's those things from the cave!" Gemma said.
"Oh, so we should leave!" Jacali said.
Dunspar ran for the bar. Dr. Weisswald ran to one of the oil lamps on the wall. They were glass and had just been filled by Lily. Bowen pulled out the lantern from his pack while Gemma went for one of the lamps on the wall as well.
Ophelia leapt up from the table and ran for the back door. Then a grinding noise started there as well. Bowen ran to Lily's room in the back
"What is going on?" Lily cried out.
She came down the stairs where she had been filling the lamps on the walls of the balcony above.
The front door was creaking as a great pressure was placed against it.
When Bowen reached Lily's room, he knocked.
"Hey Dallas!" he called out. "Dallas!"
There was no answer.
"Okay, so, we need to get out of here!" Jacali said. "Top balcony? That sounds like a good idea to me!"
"Don't go upstairs!" Gemma said. "Don't you know anything? We need to get fire and kill these things!"
"And burn the place down?" Jacali said. "Your sister's saloon!"
Jacali and Ophelia ran for the stairs. When the serpent person reached Jacali she stopped her.
"They're looking for the rubies!" she said. "Where are the rubies!?!"
"If I knew, Ophelia, I would have already thrown the rubies away and given them to them!"Jacali said.
Ophelia hissed at the woman.
Lily looked around, confused. Dunspar ran to Lily's room as Bowen jammed his pickaxe into the door frame to try to lever the door open.
"What is going on?" Lily said.
She reached under her skirt and pulled out a little derringer, cocking it.
"That won't work," Dr. Weisswald said.
"What is going on?" Lily said.
"They're creatures!" Gemma said. "They're creatures that are coming for these gems that they need. No time to explain! We need to hurry."
"I've got to get Dallas!" Lily said.
* * *
Under the combined efforts of Dunspar and Bowen, the door to Lily's room crashed open. They saw Dallas climbing out of the window.
"Dallas, give me the rubies!" Bowen yelled.
Bowen noticed Lily had a little safe in her room. It was open and looked empty.
"Dallas!" he shouted. "They're gonna chase ya!"
"No they won't!" Dallas said. "Have fun!"
* * *
In the back of the saloon, a hole broke in the bottom of the door perhaps two inches wide. In through it flowed the black slimy mass of one of the things they had seen in the temple in the desert. Lily stopped when she saw it and backed away. Gemma grabbed her arm and pulled her further away. Lily shot the thing and they saw the bullet strike it and pass through but the wound instantly closed.
Jacali and Ophelia ran up the steps and headed for the front of the building. Below them, Dr. Weisswald flung her lamp at the floor near the bar. The lamp shattered and the kerosene within ignited, filling the hall in the back with flames between the back door and the saloon.
* * *
In Lily's room, the Dunspar and Bowen glanced towards the sound of the sudden flames and saw something horrible and black and oozing move past the broken door of Lily's room, flowing like some obscene and terrible river of tar. Bowen fainted on the spot, collapsing to the ground. The thing seemed to be stopped near the door.
* * *
Out in the saloon, Weisswald ran up the stairs after the others, grabbing another lamp as she went by.
In the saloon, the fire was spreading quickly. Gemma looked around for the nearest window and then pulled Lily towards it.
* * *
"Evacuate the building!" Dunspar yelled.
He grabbed Bowen by the arms and pulled him to the window, shoving him outside, and following him. He saw Dallas running towards Main Street.
* * *
Upstairs, Jacali knew there were other guests. She started knocking on doors and yelling "Fire! Get out!"
One door flew open as she knocked. A bear of a man stood there in his long underwear.
"What?" he said, obviously confused.
"Fire!" Jacali said.
"What!?!" he said.
She could smell the whiskey on his breath.
"Fire!" she yelled at him. "Get out!"
The next door was answered by a well dressed little man.
"Have you found the Crescent?" the man asked.
She noticed he held his hands like claws.
"What is going on?" he said.
"No, I haven't found the Crescent!" Jacali said. "I've been too busy with all this other stuff! And the fire!"
Ophelia ignored the man and ran past towards their room at the front of the building.
"Why are you here now!?!" Jacali said.
"Oh dear," the man said. "To check up on things."
"You should have been here five days earlier!" Jacali said. "Five days! If your job is to watch things, you're so bad at it!"
Ophelia reached the door to their room and flung it open, running in.
"It took you long enough!" Jacali shouted at the man.
* * *
"Someone's burning "¦ someone's burning my place," Lily said vaguely.
"I'm so sorry but we need to get out," Gemma said.
The grinding at the front door stopped as another of the things started flowing into the saloon from the front of the building. It kept coming and coming and coming, the top of it flowing upwards to tower near the ceiling of the saloon. Gemma felt like it was looking at her. She continued to pull Lily towards the door.
* * *
Dunspar pulled Bowen towards the middle of the street. He didn't see where Dallas went.
* * *
Weisswald reached the top of the steps and saw Jacali yelling at a man standing there in a suit.
"You remember when I showed up at this town and I didn't know where to go!?!" the native shouted. "That was the time!"
She grabbed the man by his lapels and shook him.
"Is this violence necessary?" he said.
"I'm very upset right now!" she said. "There's fire in the building! There's things trying to kill me!"
A large fat man stumbled out of the next room.
"God damn it, injun!" he shouted. "There's a fire!"
"That's what I said!" Jacali said.
"What the hell is that!?!" the big man said, pointing down into the saloon below. "There's some big black rag down there or something!"
"Jacali, calm down!" Dr. Weisswald said. She turned to the little man in the suit. "Do you know how to fight these things?"
"Fire," the man said. "Strong acid would be helpful. Otherwise they are indestructible."
"Well, the building is on fire!" Jacali said.
"So, currently, I think our best plan is to abandon the building through "¦" Jacali said.
She pointed at the open door to her room.
"Very well," the man said. "I shall abandon."
"No!" Jacali said.
The man blinked and then looked around.
"Where am I?" he said.
"You idiot!" Jacali yelled in his face.
"What's going on?"
"Oh my God, I hate you Yithians!"
"There's fire!" Dr. Weisswald yelled at the man. "Get out!"
The man let out a startled shout and followed them.
* * *
Gemma reached the window with Lily who was looking towards the back of the building. The fire was spreading quickly. The other horror behind the flames moved back and forth as if wanting to get by but not wanting to get burned.
The one in the front turned away from Gemma and oozed over to the stage, sliding along the floor, moving over itself and knocking tables and chairs aside. It smashed easily through the front of the stage and slid into the structure, disappearing underneath it.
Gemma opened the window and shoved Lily out.
"But "¦ where's Dallas?" Lily said.
"Run!" Gemma said. "Just run!"
"My hotel!" Lily said.
"I know!" Gemma said. "I'm so sorry. Please!"
She hugged her sister.
"Run!" she said again.
"No!" Lily said, grabbing her hand. "I'm not leaving you!"
"No! No! You've got to get out of here! This is not your problem!"
"You too! You too!"
"No! I'm not leaving you! C'mon! We can both escape! Let's go!"
The stage shook and rattled behind Gemma.
* * *
Dunspar pulled Bowen across the street and tried to wake him without luck.
* * *
Jacali hustled the man towards the front of the building and they heard the pounding of feet behind them. The huge mountain of a man was running after them as fast as he could and screaming "Why didn't these injuns tell us there's a fire!" The smoke was starting to get thick as they ran to the room and found the windows there already thrown open. Ophelia was on the balcony on the front of the building, looking for a way down.
* * *
"I love you," Gemma said.
She flung down the sash and locked the catch.
"No!" Lily cried outside.
She banged on the glass.
Gemma turned and ran for the stairs. She saw the fire was spreading and the things behind the flames was still looking for a way into the room.
Why did it not kill me? she thought as she glanced at the shaking stage.
She ran up to the balcony on the second floor and noticed some of the room doors were open, including the room Jacali and Dr. Weisswald shared with Ophelia.
"Jacali! Dr. Weisswald!" she called.
* * *
Dunspar dragged Bowen to the closed blacksmith shop and leaned the man against the side of the building. He noticed the livery stable doors were wide open and didn't see any sign of his quarry. He ran into the livery stable as Dallas flung open the back doors of the place and climbed onto a horse.
* * *
Ophelia, Jacali, and Dr. Weisswald climbed down from the balcony with only a little trouble. They thought they heard yelling coming from somewhere inside.
* * *
Gemma looked into the two open hotel rooms but no one was in either. She turned and looked over the balcony to the ground floor below when something smashed up out of the stage. The horrible formless spawn came out of the hole like a fountain of tar, the top of it level with the Gemma's face in moments. She again felt like she was being observed and measured. In two pseudopods, one like a mangled hand and the other like a tentacle covered in smaller tentacles were two very large rubies.
The horror seemed to look into her very soul and she blinked but stood firm.
For a moment, she thought it was going to attack her and then it seemed to collapse upon itself and sloshed down to the ground where it moved towards the front of the saloon. She heard movement from the back and then, aside from the roar of the fire, the saloon was quiet.
* * *
As Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia climbed down from the balcony outside, the doors of the saloon shuddered and the horrible formless spawn spewed out onto the porch and splattered into the street. Ophelia turned and ran away. Dr. Weisswald looked up at the glass lamp she had put down on the balcony above, unable to climb down without using both hands.
"Do we get the horses?" Jacali said.
"Yeah," Dr. Weisswald said.
Dr. Weisswald ran towards the photographer's shop, yelling "Fire!" as the two men above let out a shout as they saw the horrible thing. Jacali ran towards the livery stable in a curve to try to stay away from the thing and started yelling "Fire!" when she heard Dr. Weisswald yelling it.
* * *
Gemma, seeing the things were gone, ran to one of the room and grabbed the sheets and blankets from one of the beds, then ran downstairs trying to smother the flames on the stairs. She started to make slow progress.
* * *
Otto, in his cell, heard shouts of "Fire!" There was no one else in the jail and Marshal Bishop hadn't even left the deputy to watch him. He could hear the shouts of "Fire!" from other parts of the town as the word was spread. He desperately looked out of his window but could not see smoke or fire.
* * *
Dallas was on the horse and saw Dunspar enter the stable. He drew his pistol and pointed it at the man.
"Mr. Dunspar, thank you so much for all you taught me," he said. "But I can't have you following me."
He fired at Dunspar but missed the man.
"God damn it," he said. "That's what you should've taught me, teacher man."
Dunspar ducked into a nearby stall and hid. The horses were all disturbed by the close gunfire.
"No hard feelings, Teach!" Dallas said. "Thanks!"
He kicked his horse into movement and rode out of the back of the livery.
* * *
Bowen shook his head and looked around. He didn't know how he had gotten to the street but was mighty glad to be there. He blinked several times. The last thing he remembered was being in Lily's room, looking in the safe and then "¦ he didn't want to remember the thing he'd seen in the doorway.
"No hard feelings, Teach!" he heard Dallas Avery said. "Thanks!"
"You will never get away, Dallas!" he shouted.
He stumbled to his feet and headed back for the Gilded Lily. He saw Lily outside trying to open a window, going from window to window trying to get into the building. He could see flickering light of fire from within and heard shouts of "Fire!" nearby.
* * *
The call of "Fire!" was going up all around town as Jacali sprinted towards the livery and realized the horrible creature had already caught up to her and was pacing her about five feet to her left. Instead of curving towards the livery, she bore to the right, hoping to get away from the thing, which just continued forward down main street and soon disappeared into the darkness.
She heard a gunshot and spooked horses somewhere.
Dr. Weisswald had seen the thing go right by Jacali as if she wasn't there. She saw it held two huge rubies, one in each appendage. She stopped running and called to Jacali.
"Hey, I'm alive!" Jacali said.
"I noticed!" Dr. Weisswald said.
They heard Dunspar yell Jacali's name from the livery stables. She and Dr. Weisswald ran to the livery stables.
* * *
Gemma thought the fire on the stairs was under control and she started trying to smother the fire in the hallway where it had started. It was continuing to spread behind the bar. She fought it desperately. Then she heard something crashing against the front door over and over again. It burst open and the marshal rushed in, bucket of water in hand. Other citizens of the town had buckets of sand or water, wet blankets or cloth, and whatever they could use to fight the fire. Charles Farnsworth, the owner of the Empire Hotel, was there with a bucket of sand and ran in to help. Bowen was with them.
Lily grabbed and hugged Gemma.
"I'm sorry!" Gemma said, tears in her eyes. "I'm sorry I left you."
"I love you!" Lily said to her, hugging her.
Then she went around to the lamps, blew them out, and removed them, in case the fire spread to the walls.
Gemma saw the four boys who had vandalized the place were all there, each of them with a bucket of water and a soaking-wet broom. It was like the whole town was there to help fight the fire. Even Buck Hatch was there.
* * *
Jacali and Dr. Weisswald ran into the livery stable to find Dunspar in there, saddling a horse when they arrived. He was having some trouble with the cinch.
"Dunspar!" Jacali said. "What's going on?"
"Dallas went that way!" Dunspar said. "He stole from Lily!"
Dr. Weisswald ran to Shy Anne and climbed up. Jacali ran to a bale of hay and jumped onto Nalin, sliding right over the top of the horse and falling into the stall on the other side. She leapt up. Neither of the others noticed so she jumped up onto the horse and rode out of the stall and into the corral. She saw the gate was open. The moon was waning but nearly full.
She looked around and spotted a rider following the rail line ahead and riding hard. She kicked Nalin into motion and gave chase. Dr. Weisswald burst out of the stable behind her.
* * *
Inside the stable, Dunspar found the saddle almost sliding off the horse and realized it was not cinched up tightly enough. When he went to cinch it, he found it snug. It took him a few moments to realize the horse was blowing up its belly when he tried to cinch it. It took him a minute to get the timing right so that he attach the saddle correctly.
* * *
Jacali and Dr. Weisswald rode hard after Dallas Avery. At first, Weisswald pulled ahead significantly but Jacali soon caught up, even though Shy Anne was the fastest horse in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Both of them were closing the distance with Dallas. Over the course of about a half hour, they had pulled to within 30 yards of the man. Dallas never looked back.
While Jacali pulled out her bow and an arrow, aiming at the man, Dr. Weisswald pushed Shy Anne to catch up. Jacali let fly with her arrow and it struck Dallas in the right shoulder as Dr. Weisswald nearly caught up to him. Dallas slumped forward and fell from the horse, crashing to the ground and laying still.
Dr. Weisswald chased down his horse as Jacali rode up and dismounted. She found Dallas on the ground in a crumpled heap, barely breathing. She tried to administer first aid but then the man gasped and breathed his last. Dr. Weisswald rode back with the horse. They put him on the back of the horse and headed back to town.
* * *
Everyone who could lift a bucket or slap a broom fought the fire at the Gilded Lily. Lily ran some people upstairs, where she had pumps in the two bath rooms to get more water on the fire and soak the front of the building.
Though the entire town fought the fire, a good portion of the back of the Gilded Lily was destroyed, including Lily's room and the storage room, as well as the three rooms in the back upstairs. However, the building was not a total loss and the rooms towards the front were intact.
Structurally, the building was still intact but it would cost money to make repairs.
* * *
The fire was out and people returned to their lives, for the most part, on the morning of Saturday, August 21, 1875. Dallas' body was returned, as was the horse he stole. Money was found in his pocket that matched the money Lily had in the safe from her profits from the evening before.
* * *
Otto was released from jail that day as the La Forge who worked with R.H. Macy was still in New York. The telegrams being sent by Charles Allen were going to a fake business in the city, obviously an accomplice. The dead man was identified as "Charming" Charles Allen, wanted dead or alive. He had been a part of John Valentine's gang and was wanted for many numerous and sundry crimes including fraud, rape, theft, assault, grifting, and the like. Otto would be receiving the $1,000 reward for his death once it was wired to Devil's Gulch.
The money in the room would be returned to the town "investors" though a portion of it was missing and everyone assumed that was what Allen had used to buy materials for the courthouse. Said materials were found to be substandard and the entire project, backed by a grifter and a criminal, was dropped by everyone in town.
Bowen had counted the money he had snatched from Allen's room and found himself $332 richer.
Lily was devastated by the destruction of her saloon and Dallas' betrayal. She was happy Gemma wasn't hurt though and figured she would use canvas and tents to cover the back of the saloon until she could afford to repair is correctly. She had borrowed $1,000 to buy stocks but that money was returned and she gave it back to the bank immediately.
* * *
Dunspar again tried to give Lily the $400.
"No," she said.
"Once a year for one week, for the rest of my life, I'm coming here and staying," he said smugly.
"No," she said.
She was too proud to take his money. She told him she didn't need the help of a man. She said she trusted a man and he turned out to be a grifter.
She refused the money. She told him he could pay her for the room when he came there every year.
* * *
Otto pulled Gemma aside.
"Gemma, how did you survive that "¦ you were dead "¦ when I left "¦ but you were fine when we came back "¦" Otto said. "What happened?"
"Oh!" she said. "I've been meaning to talk to you about that."
She wanted to tell all of them what happened and she gathered the others. Though the saloon was damaged, it was under repair and was still running nightly. People in town were bringing her food as a form of condolences as well.
"There's something I wanted to tell you all about my "¦ experience," Gemma said. "I-I said I believe I saw the face of God. And she was a woman. And "¦ I don't know how. I don't know "¦ why "¦ but she told me to have faith and to trust "¦ and the Crescent appeared beside me."
"She told me "¦ she told me it would heal me "¦ and I "¦ had nothing left to lose," she went on. "My life was "¦ before my eyes "¦ it was on the line. She told me "¦ to take "¦ one of these spikes "¦ out of the side of it and, you know, I've "¦ we've all been told "¦ touching it is terrible. Terrible things happen."
"You turn to ash," Dunspar said.
"I took one of the spikes as she asked me to do," Gemma went on. "And she told me to touch it to my wounds. And "¦ they were healed. And-and that's how I survived miraculously. And you were there."
"You did not see a god," Ophelia said curtly. "That statue in that temple? That was a god."
"Then what did I see? Can you explain it?"
"What did this "¦ female primate "¦ look like?"
"She was a woman with long hair, a cowboy hat. She was god to me."
"What color hair? What color was her skin?"
Gemma told her what the woman had looked like. Otto recognized the description.
"Gemma, I saw that person!" he said. "In town!"
"You "¦" Gemma said.
"She was the gypsy! She was the gypsy outside of town! I went by the first day to ask her about the scar!"
Gemma looked at him.
"She saved me," Gemma said. "I don't know how to explain it or put it. I don't know how or why or "¦ I have a belief in God, but "¦ she-she is God to me."
"I'm glad," Otto said.
"Where can I find her?"Gemma asked.
They all went to the edge of town and found a fire pit that was long burned out. The vardo and the girl were both gone. Otto found tracks from the vardo entering the road and heading east.
* * *
Later, Otto took Gemma aside again.
"I got a thousand-dollar bounty for your father," he said. "Do you want half of it?"
She looked at him.
"Why wouldâ”€" she said.
"Because you're the one that got stabbed?" he said.
"No," she said. "Please."
"I don't want anything connected with my father."
"Then I'll keep it."
"You deserve all of it."
Otto asked if her sister wanted it but she reiterated that he deserved all of it and, if her sister found out where the money came from, she wouldn't take it. Otto decided to keep the money for himself.
* * *
Bowen returned to the Whiskey Mine that afternoon and detonated several sticks of dynamite within, sealing it off, hopefully forever.
* * *
On the 3:00 train that same day, a blonde woman came to Devil's Gulch. Gemma, Dunspar, and Otto recognized her as Matilda Terwilliger, the beautiful blonde daughter of Professor Marion Terwilliger. She carried a rifle on her should and wore rugged traveling clothes.
"You told me you were coming to someplace called Devil's Gulch," she told them. "I had to come find you. My father's been kidnapped."