I sleep, and in my dreams, I am a grain of sand. In the heat of day, I am blasted by the sun and wind. In the dead of night, I am encased in an orb of frost. All around me are other grains of sand. I am pressed up against them, swirling on the wind. But I’m alone, carried on the wind over dunes and off the edges of plateaus. Below, I recognize Lobo’s mountain. I watch our horses galloping along the winding path between the dunes like golden sails. As a speck of sand I pass through the bustling streets of Las Pistolas, the people taking cover as the storm I ride gathers strength. I pass over the homestead of my youth, still on fire after all these years. I watch as a hooded old man kicks in the blackened door and rushes in. On the wind, I scream out and am blown farther into the desert. I pass through the iron gates of the orphanage, now tarnished and bent. The windows of the dormitory and church and schoolhouse are empty and the roofs caved in. I come to the edge of Sand, my home for so many years. And then the wind dies down and the sun comes out and bakes the sand to glass, encasing the town in a perfect, lonely sphere. I melt and come apart, until there is no empty space between the desert and myself, until there is no difference between where I had been and where I am going.
I drift back into consciousness on the wind, carrying me out of the desert, back into my body. My head is on fire. The pain transcends pain.
“She’s awake,” someone says.
And another voice answers, “Thank goodness for that.”
I open my eyes. I’m in a bed. The ceiling spins and I shut my eyes quickly. The door opens and footsteps traipse across the creaky floorboards.
“Good morning, Cub.” I open my eyes. Lobo sits beside my bed, his scarred lips forming a small smile.
“I was having a nightmare.”
“It’s over now.” And then it all comes back to me. Them cutting off my finger. The shootout in the pump station. And—
“I’m sorry, Cub.”
I try to lift myself out of bed, but my strength gives way.
“Not yet. You lost a lot of blood.”
“Where are we?”
“Cass’s hideout. It’s been five days. We weren’t sure if you were going to make it.”
“Now you rest. That’s all you have to worry about.”
“But what about the gunslingers? What about Nikko and Cloak?”
“They’ll be looking for us, to be sure. For now, let them look.”
“Will they find us?”
“Eventually. Nikko knows of this place. He’s been here. But it might take him some time to suss out that it’s here where we’ve chosen to hide. And he’ll have his hands full for a little while.”
“Because of the water.”
“Not just that,” he says. “There’s something you should understand: Nikko is a powerful man in Las Pistolas. But he’s not powerful everywhere.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know what kind of impression he gave you, but he’s not in charge of the gunslingers. Sure, he’s the boss down here. But he answers to gunslingers in the Northland, across the border. They’re going to want answers as to why the water has stopped flowing. They’re going to want to know how one young woman and a few old-timers managed to gum up the works so bad. And they’re going to want to know where his loyalty lies—with you or them.
“There’s more dissent among the gunslingers than you might think. Hard to wrangle people who are used to living on their lonesome, who only banded together anyway to kill the likes of Cass and me. Now that we’re all but gone, what now? Why stay together? Look at Hartright—guess she showed ’em.”
“So what are you trying to say?”
“I’m trying to say that between you and Cloak and the gunslingers, if it comes down to choosing sides, I’m not so sure Nikko picks them over you.”
“And he means,” Cass says from the doorway, “that the other night we all made a much more powerful enemy than Nikko.”
They leave so I can rest. All I want to do is sleep, but I can’t stop thinking about Hartright. I was so young when I lost my parents, too young to remember much of anything beyond a few scattered moments. What I’ve learned from losing Hartright, someone I didn’t understand until it was too late, is that when it comes to those you love, death and separation weigh heavier, hurt more, the older you are. When you’re young, there’s the feeling that whomever you’ve lost could someday return. Because lost implies that whoever’s gone can be found. But when you’re older, death means forever.
When I wake next it’s daylight, but I’m not sure if I’ve been...