Through a gap in the boarded-up window, Jebediah Whateley watched his home burn. The surviving remnants of his clan had taken refuge within the building formerly known as Nasty Doc's. Even in the chill Gomorra night, the abandoned structure was an oven, and the room's stifling air reeked of week-old blood and worse. Wilhemina had carried out some of her most cruel plans here, and Jebediah's throat caught when he remembered her.
The madness of the night had vanished into the darkness; Knicknevin - for whose coming the Whateley family had labored so long and hard - was defeated, their beautiful house torched by ignorant fools. Jebediah focused an eye into a seam between the window frame and the boarded-up window, watching the inferno consuming Whateley Manor.
"It's all gone," he said, just above a whisper. Treasures more than four hundred years old had perished in the fire - arcane knowledge and artifacts older than the discovery of the New World. But worse, the inferno had claimed family. Studious Mordecai was lost, along with his beloved library, overwhelmed by smoke and confusion. Francis vanished after one of the Rangers cast a powerful hex at him.
'Touched' cousins Enoch and Malrog fought to keep interlopers away from the house, but the Coalition assaulted the family with everything they had, and both now lay dead on the field of battle.
Jebediah hung his head low, considering the family's losses, remembering those who had fallen. Too many dead; how could the family ever recover? Most of the family's survivors managed to escape to this questionable redoubt. Tzipporah stood guard on the door, her lustrous black hair singed in places, but the hand on her Peacemaker was steady. Saul, exhausted and battered, slept soundly, his earlier manic energy drained from him, now a prophet without a god. Basil limped back and forth in the confined space, dragging his damaged left foot, nursing the terrible wounds he had endured in the mansion's attic. At least tiny Lucifer had been spared the fire and carnage, stowed safely and anonymously among the orphans.
Dolores sat rocking in the dust at Tzipporah's feet, her precious moppet clutched tightly to her breast. "There's rosemary. That's for remembrance," she said to the small bundle of rags, her voice barely a whisper. "Pray, love, remember."
"Don't want to go back to Wasatch," Tzipporah murmured sulkily. "No fun in Deseret."
"Nothing else to do," Jebediah said in a desolate, forlorn voice, and turned to his nephew. In the feeble light, he could scarcely make out Basil's wounds and injuries, but it was probably better that way. Basil's hair was gone, and his face was a twisted ruin, blasted by intense heat and sorcerous backlash.
Of Nicodemus, there had been no sign. Jebediah hoped that Nicodemus had come to no harm. Although he had often scolded his nephew for being such a wastrel, he now recognized the secret pleasure he gained from seeing one of the family walk like a prince among average men. His own generation had lived in secrecy and hiding, in New Orleans, Deseret, and distant Vermont.
But now Jebediah's hopes for Nicodemus, Tzipporah, and little Lucifer - that they would be able to walk the rutted streets of Gomorra as the servants of a god on earth - had literally gone up in smoke. "What else can we do without Wilhemina?
Where are we without or Lord and Master? We must return to the desert." The last word was barely a whisper.
"Blasphemy," Basil spoke in a slow, strangled whisper, his smoke-roughened voice all but unrecognizably thick with pain. "The family has come too far to be run out of town now."
Jebediah looked at his nephew with pity. "Everything is gone, Basil. Everything. We have no books, no house, no allies, no money. We don't even know if Nicodemus is alive."
"We still own our mines," Basil's halting voice countered from the darkness.
"They're registered at the surveyor's office - to you, in fact. And their precious laws say that they can't take them away from us. It remains unlikely that our workers are going to unionize or desert."
"Lord Knicknevin built us up from nothing - everything we are we owe to Him," Jebediah returned, the fire of his loyalty heating his words. "Without our Lord, we are nothing."
"We're nothing except free." Basil rasped, his defiance of Jebediah slow but inexorable. "Knicknevin built something that outlasted his own time on Earth. He may be gone, but that doesn't mean that we have no reason to live. You can go back to Deseret if you like - go to Vermont, or Louisiana, even Wales if it suits you - but I'm staying." Basil gestured with the ruined stump of his right hand, "nobody does this to me and walks away."
Stymied, Jebediah went back to his hopeless vigil at the window. The streets were clear now, the terror of Stoker's rampage over. The looters and other vermin were still afraid to wander outside, especially near the burning wreckage of the Whateley Mansion and Lord Grimely's. At least the family could take some cold comfort in that.
For a time, only the distant roar of consuming flames was heard, interrupted occasionally by one of the occupants of the tiny building. Dolores crooned in a whisper, hugging her rag doll close.
"She is dead and gone, lady," Dolores rambled, "she is dead and gone; at her head the dead-brown turf, at her heels a stone."
The peaceful quiet was broken by the sound of furtive footsteps outside. They approached slowly, but inevitably, heading toward the locked and bolted front door of Nasty Doc's. In a flurry of silent activity, the family prepared to defend themselves. Tzipporah and Jebediah filled their hands with guns. The walls were gently caressed by the eerie, shifting glow of magic still at Basil's command.
Soon, a timid scratch was heard at the locked and bolted door, followed by a metallic double-click as Tzipporah drew back the hammer of her Peacemaker. The family held their breath, and the scratching came again, this time more insistent.
All eyes nervously rested upon Tzipporah's wiry arm and the enormous pistol held steady on the door. Everyone knew that the door would be little match for the Peacemaker's punch, but a shot in the still night could rouse sleeping Gomorra, and bring the family's enemies down upon them.
As silently as possible, Jebediah slipped a key into the well-oiled lock and turned, springing it with a slight "chuk." Tzipporah stood unmoving, facing the door, ready to kill. Her raven hair and black dress merged with the interior darkness, and only her bare arms and face were visible. Basil stood next to her, his good hand glowing with seething, scarcely restrained energies, his hoarse whisper a hiss in the blackness, forming words that were neither English nor Latin. Jebediah nudged the deadbolt out of position with his left hand, his right holding the gun across his body. He might not be Blackjack, but family was at stake here, and he'd be damned if he didn't do everything he could to ensure their survival.
If the unknown presence outside knew what was going on, it didn't let on, or try to force the door open. It stood, ominously quiet, even as Jebediah silently lifted the latch. Finally, after a further, unbearable moment of silence, he jerked the door open. Pushed by Basil's spell, the figure was violently thrown into the hot, reeking depths of Nasty Doc's, as Jebediah slammed the door behind them. Tzipporah's gun tracked the impossibly scrawny figure as it sprawled at their feet. Nebuchadnezzar.
Mordecai's minion lay amidst the contents of a frayed bag it had been carrying - several moldy tomes, the words on their spines glimmering in the red firelight spilling through the cracks in the walls. Basil's gave a travesty of a grin, making out the word "Hoyle's" embossed in gold along one spine, and Pembroke's Analysis on the scarred leather binding of another. A third was too bulky to be anything other than the treasured Badb Nemain, borne out of Wales as the family fled Cromwell's persecution more than two hundred years ago.
The abomination's breathing was ragged, even for a being with its limited lung capacity, and its skin was purple in patches, as if severely bruised by some horrible weight - or a severe beating.
"What happened, little one?" Dolores ran her fingertips gently along the edges of the wounds, concern deeply drawn across her features. Basil knelt beside them both, twisting the horrific ruin of his head toward the creature, suddenly very attentive.
Nebuchadnezzar twitched in her arms, one eye hopelessly mangled. It managed to whisper a few strangled words into Basil's remaining ear before slipping into unconsciousness. The painter turned his twisted visage to the rest of the family - Jebediah in particular - fear and confusion playing across his ruined face.
"The Bible," he rasped. "Someone bushwhacked him and stole the Family Bible!"