outline by Patrick Kapera
Thursday, August 8th, 1878 - 11:45 a.m.
Five days to Doomsday
Sandra Harris looked up as the bell over the Dispatch Office door tinkled gently. Her visitor was not expected today, or any day, for that matter.
Jebediah Whateley moved to the counter, took off his stovepipe hat, sat it on the counter, and silently wrote a precise message on a telegraph slip. He didnt speak when he looked up and handed it to Sandra; he didnt even clear his throat. He merely glared at her and held the slip level without a word.
The dispatch operator refused to be intimidated. With a final flourish of her pen, she completed her invoice and approached the counter. "How can I help you, Mr. Whateley?" her pleasant voice wavered, only slightly.
"This is a dispatch office, Miss Harris, is it not?" the cadaverous man replied. "I have a dispatch for you to deliver."
"I think I can manage that," Sandra returned, matching Jebediahs sarcasm as she took his slip and payment.
Exact change, she noted. Good. She had no desire to keep the Whateley here any longer than necessary.
Jebediah silently turned to leave, then frowned and squinted up at the ceiling. For a moment, Sandra wondered at this, but then she heard it, too. The fluttering of wings. She could make the sound out through the ceiling.
Pushing through the desks door and moving to the window, Sandra noticed that the sky outside was overcast, and that shadows fluttered over the ground, irregular and quick.
Sandra had some difficulty making out the silhouettes overhead, backlit by the bright noonday sun. But they seemed to be men... with wings. Huge white wings that fairly glistened in the sun. Heading north.
"Even in Gomorra, theres something you dont see every day," Harris muttered under her breath.
To her surprise, Jebediah Whateley saw fit to respond to her. "Indeed not, Miss Harris, indeed not. I believe that you should shortly be expecting a sizable increase in business. Please see to it that my telegraph goes out to New Orleans before the rush."
Donning his hat, Jebediah silently left the dispatch office. Harris looked down at the telegram slip in her hand. It looked to be in some kind of code: a Latin derivative, perhaps.
Max Baine would want to know what it said. And there were others as well that might be interested. Nothing prevented her from selling the information twice, if it wasnt critical to Sweetrock affairs.
Returning to her desk, Sandra industriously went about her work
Friday, August 9, 1878 - 10:08 p.m.
Four days to Doomsday
"I appreciate your efforts, Sandra," Max said. Harris fought down a blush; few men other than Robert impressed her, but Baine had a certain way with people - men and women alike.
"Im sorry for the delay, Max. But the Whateleys are tricky, and their Arabic variant threw me."
"Thats quite all right," The Sweetrock leader examined the telegram copy. "This is only a confirmation. There are other, more immediate, matters at hand. Which reminds me... Walter?"
The hired gun stepped forward. "No word on Miller yet. Jane and Kerry are out looking for him with a few of the men. They havent been able to find Childes or Duvalier, either."
"Thieves, the three of them," Max grumbled. "And our lawyers? Any word on the Gulgoleth situation?"
Walter shrugged. "No luck there, either. Grimmes lawyers are damn good; if we let things stand, theyll take the site in court, and Elijah will move in by the end of the month. Looks like were going to need the Siouxs help after all."
"A pity that Applegate couldnt get here earlier," Max sighed. "How much help do you think the Sioux are going to be? From what you said earlier..."
"They seem to have their own problems, certainly. But Walks-in-Footprints assures me that the Sioux need to keep Gulgoleth out of Elijahs hands as much as we do. Im just as worried about this as you are. If this goes down with half as much bloodshed as we expect "
"I know, I know, Walter... Heres the way well play it. Rope in Jane and Kerry, and as many others as we can spare. Well deal with Miller and Duvalier later. Put Dr. Branson on alert and make sure weve got enough supplies set aside to handle the wounded. Then link up with the Sioux scouts and head in. Its time we nipped this in the bud - if its not already too late."
Turning back to the dispatcher, Max asked, "You have anything else for me?"
"Like Jebediah said, traffic is picking up. Ill let you know what I hear, but all I can say right now is that it looks bad. All the outfits got runners bringing stuff in here, but theyre using new codes every time. Ill do my best to crack the ones I can, but "
"That will have to do, then. Lets go, people."
Friday - 4:37 p.m.
Screams of agony decorated the laboratory-warehouse.
Internally, the manitou that ran herd on Jacynth Ambroses organic shell reveled in the destruction. But appearances must be maintained. It ran a hand over a nearby bank of controls, and a strange gun - mounted on mechanical legs rather then any sort of carriage - lurched out of a corner, tracking the rampaging robot.
Recently rebuilt, SUZY-309 was stronger than the technicians reports had led Ambrose to believe. Snatching up another of her re-creators, Suzy cut off his scream and his head with a single savage motion. All the while, a bizarre sound akin to gurgling laughter issued forth from the raging automaton.
Lab-coated assistants ran for cover as Jacynths Soul Cannon locked on and fired. SUZY gave out a scream that was almost human, and Jacynth focused on the sound. She had never determined if rumors that the construct had a soul were true, but it certainly reacted as if it did - as if it were feeling pain from the blast
Another beam of light cut into SUZYs flank from the other side of the warehouse. Jacynth spared a glimpse for the sharpshooter, a white-clad scientist with a shock of blonde hair, firing a huge hand weapon from atop the remodeled Death Bus.
The combined fire drove SUZY into a frenzy, pushing her back into the warehouse wall, which partially collapsed on top of her. Rising from the rubble, she seemed to take stock of her situation for a moment, hovering in place, still.
Perhaps her systems are recouping from the damage, Jacynth considered, just before the automaton whirled around and crashed through the warehouse wall, fleeing into the wilderness beyond.
Zarkov dropped to the ground with the agility of a man half his age, and strode over to the Hellstromme representative. "Why in the name of Sam Hill did you order SUZY reactivated?"
Jacynth glared at the impertinent man. "Because the Gulgoleth matter is important," she snarled.
"Maybe to Hellstromme, but thats his lookout, not ours."
"You work for Hellstromme now, Zarkov. You would do well to remember that. These toys of yours..." she swept her hand across the warehouse, pausing meaningfully on the two-story Entropy Projector, "...are expensive, and as long as Dari... Dr. Hellstromme is paying your bills, you would be wise to respect his authority."
"If hes so free with his money, why hasnt he funded any of the new projects? Instead, we have to rebuild the Bus, and SUZY " Zarkovs voice trailed off for a moment as he choked down his rage. How dare they put SUZY through this again? "Maybe that project in your private lab might be of some help in taking the site," he suggested.
Jacynths gaze remained level with Zarkovs own. "My personal investigations are dedicated to... ethereal research, which will be of little use to us here. Times short, Zarkov. Youll have to take Gulgoleth with what we have."
Zarkov sighed. "Ill need 30 men..."
"What?!? Twenty men, with nothing but out-of-date equipment and this experimental junk of yours? I dont care how important Gulgoleth is, thats not enough!"
"It will have to do." The demon within Ambrose loosed the foreboding look upon Jacynths face and calmed her voice into a low, feminine tone. "Erik Dr. Hellstromme is counting on you. If the Iron Dragon were to get a rail line through the site..."
Zarkov snapped back. "Kang wants that site?" Jacynth smiled inwardly as she noticed Zarkovs hackles rise. "The Rats will not have that site, madam. You have my word on that. Forty-eight hours, and well be ready to hold Gulgoleth come Hell or high water."
"Then Ill leave you to your plans." The demon-puppet placed a comforting hand on Zarkovs shoulder, and said, "Youre making the right choice, Erik. Dr. Hellstromme will look favorably on your efforts."
Zarkov softened at the touch, and with a final nod, returned to his work; Hellstromme had designed the Ambrose body well.
Success! the manitou crowed internally. Though it had little concern for Hellstromme and his agenda, a certain amount of interest had to be feigned. Otherwise, its plans would be discovered far, far too soon
Friday - 7:51 p.m.
"A nice piece of work, that," Coleman admitted, somewhat admiringly. "Though I figured youd have to kill those two hired guns of Grimmes to get the Bible."
The contempt was clear on Mad Wolf Stridings face. "Much as someone should have done with you?" the Sioux shaman growled.
J.P. chose not to take offense at Mad Wolfs comment. These days he found it best if he didnt get riled at folks who offended him. Otherwise, the results tended to be... bloody. Katie had managed to endear herself to the Sioux by returning Josephs body, and since Colemans return, Dex had warned him to be... "diplomatic".
"Maybe so," Coleman replied casually. "Im just here observing for the Rangers. But I cant help but wonder You folks must have had some help. Or maybe it was just the sun in my eyes playing tricks ?"
"You whites know so little of the world around you," Mad Wolf Striding sneered. "So unlike us. Even after the Sioux die, our spirits battle on, without the need for demons and bargains. Our power is pure "
"...and youre as strong as ten men?" Coleman finished sardonically. "Which of your buddies drew the short straw in the Hereafter?"
"Little Running Bear, dead man. His spirit aided us against Elijahs men, and now we have the Bible."
Coleman sneered. "Score one for the good guys." So much for diplomacy, he added.
If Mad Wolf took offense at the comment, he didnt honor it with a response... or he considered Coleman unworthy of one.
"So what are your plans now?" Coleman continued, after a moment of silence.
"We head for Gulgoleth. Sweetrock is already with us. Are you?" Mad Wolfs expression clearly belied his preference on the matter.
Apparently hes not too good at this diplomacy stuff either, Coleman noted. "Ill get back to you. Patterson thinks the rail barons plan to take it, but that might not be enough to get him involved. Anything you want me to tell him?"
"Elijah has no interest in your iron horses. Gulgoleth is a seat of power. Even without the Bible, the Mad One has many resources. Perhaps enough to take the site. Perhaps not."
"Sure, whatever," mumbled Coleman, turning to leave. He was done with this; if Dexter and Patterson thought it was important, theyd join. If not, then the others could face Elijah alone. It made no difference to him anymore.
Saturday, August 10, 1878 - 1:03 a.m.
Three days to Doomsday
Elijah turned as Alonso entered the mesas central chamber, followed closely by Cain and Abel. The latter two were disheveled, and stumbled forward, their condition all too familiar to the Prophet. "Tell me you have not failed again."
Judiciously, Cain stepped back, letting Abel take the lead. The larger Angel tugged vaguely at one ear and had the good sense to look sheepish. "We were attacked by the Sioux. They took the Bible." He winced in anticipation of Elijahs angry reply, and most likely a hail of blows or worse.
But instead, Elijah laughed. "Beautiful! The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways, His wonders to behold!"
Abel looked to Cain, confused, and the smaller man shrugged. "Begging your pardon, Brother Elijah, but wasnt the Bible rather... important to your plans?" Certainly, the Prophet had led Abels employer Grimme to believe that the volume was important, and the Reverend probably had his own plans for it as well.
"It was a work of vast evil," Elijah explained to the shocked soldiers, "written by craftsmen of the Devil! A necessary tool, to be sure, but one I loathed to use. If it has been taken from us, then it is the Lords Will as I believed all along."
Abel looked no less puzzled, but this was the case with many topics, even long after they were ably explained. It was up to Cain to pursue the issue. "So the ritual can proceed without it?"
"Per the Lords Will," Elijah intoned. "Is that not right, Enrique?"
"Yes indeed, Brother Elijah," Alonso answered. "Within days, victory will be yours. Brothers Cain and Abel are weary from their labors, my Prophet. Perhaps some rest "
"You are correct as always, Brother Enrique. Cain! Abel! You may retire to the temporary quarters below to prepare. I will need both of you at my side when inspiration comes."
As the two Lost Angels withdrew, Elijah turned to Alonso. "Your time has come, Enrique." Elijah paused for a moment, and Alonsos stomach clenched. "Complete the errands we discussed earlier. Prepare Sister Megan and the other runners. When you return, we shall be ready. The Last Kingdom is upon us."
With that, Elijah returned to his work, spread out across the table before him, and Enrique withdrew quietly from the room. Given the burden Elijah had saddled him with, Alonso had only a few minutes to prepare a message for Father Terrance.
Saturday - 11:14 p.m.
"So where the hell is Blackjack, anyway?" Rhett snarled.
"Hes got business elsewhere, Rhett." Garret looked up lazily from checking his gun. "Like it said in the telegram."
"I dont like it. Whyd Jackie pick me to deal with those Injuns?"
"Jackies got a weird sense of humor," Rose pointed out. "Pickin you as the diplomat and all. Probably just figured youd been around town a little longer then me or Andy And its not like theyre going to listen to Skunky "
Caufield didnt seem particularly satisfied by that explanation, but rather than pursue the matter, he began pacing back and forth about the cavern, between the slumbering bodies of ragtag outlaws. Most of the men were trying to get some shuteye before the assault on Gulgoleth, and while theyd learned to ignore Skunkys staccato snoring and obscene stench, Caufield wasnt sure theyd appreciate it if an argument woke them up.
"What about Rachel?" asked Caufield. "I kinda doubt shes gonna to stay out of things."
Garret held up part of his rifle, checking for traces of dust. Satisfied, he slipped it back into place. "Dont you fret about her now, Rhett. Shell stay out of it if she knows whats good for her. Lets go over the plan one more time."
Caufield scowled. "Simple enough. We head north for Gulgoleth, runnin alongside the Sioux and the Rangers. Two parties: me with Skunky, Darren, and half the men: you two and Wendigo leadin the rest. We shoot anythin weird that aint an Injun or Confederacy. And if we see Elijah, we take him down first thing."
"Good enough," Garret nodded. "And if we get separated?"
"I get my men back to the hideout, or into Gomorra if any of them need healin. I get word to that Wise Cloud fella bout the situation if I get back first: otherwise, youll take care of it."
"Sounds like a plan. Suggest you get some sleep, Rhett. Gonna be a long couple of days." With that, Andrew leaned back against the rock wall, closed his eyes, and was out like a light.
"Still dont like it " Caufield grumbled. But like Garret said, it might be a long time before he could get any rest again. He settled down, but still, sleep was a long time coming.
Sunday, August 11, 1878 - 4:31 a.m.
Two days to Doomsday
Quon Lins long braided hair flapped in the wind as he perched neatly within the cave mouth. He had discovered this small niche on the eastern edge of Gulgoleths central mesa during his first reconnaissance. From here, he could see most of the eastern exits out of the Gulgoleth valley. If anyone tried to slip out this way, hed see them. The other exits were covered by the various outfits the Sioux had recruited - all except the north, which was too far away for convenient access to anything.
The Maze Rat redirected his attention as he heard a brief fluttering noise. Squinting through the moons glare, he thought he saw a figure flying through the air above him, recently emerged from an entrance higher up on the mesa cliff side. The figure circled about and headed north.
Quon Lin wasnt surprised to see a man fly: it was no less believable then anything else hed seen as a member of the Spiritual Society. But the unexpected presence of aerial warriors made his task much more difficult - and threatened the Siouxs ground-based assault of the area. Was it worth leaving his post to warn them?
Lin weighed the options for a moment, then prepared to leave, only pausing when he heard a pebble dribble down the cliff side above. Instinctively, he brought the sickle in his right hand up and around, preparing to meet the new threat head on.
A piercing wail preceded a stream of thick green ichor, sprayed down onto the cave mouth, inches away from Quon Lins hunched form. Glancing up, the martial artist caught sight of an abomination, clinging to the mesa wall - a large scorpion-like creature with an orange, scale-like hide.
Wall Crawler! Lin cursed. But what is it doing so far from the channels?
Pivoting across the ledge on the ball of one foot, Quon Lin narrowly avoided the creatures long tail as it slammed down beside him. The Wall Crawler withdrew its tail for another strike, but Lin lashed out again, severing the tip.
The creature was wounded, but not mortally, and was mere moments from pouncing onto the ledge and ripping Lin apart. Left with no other alternative, he released his grip on the rock face and dropped into the darkness.
Time seemed to slow as Quon Lin summoned his chi. The mesa wall drifted idly past him, allowing him more then enough time to twist into the proper posture. Energy welled in his legs, the world fell away, and he landed on the ground as lightly as a snowflake.
Time sped back into sync and lightning crashed above, revealing the Wall Crawler descending towards him. Lin would have to find a less occupied vantage point next time. Turning, he ran south for the Spiritual Societys headquarters.
Sunday - 6:26 a.m.
"Forward, men!" Sykes shouted.
The Lieutenant Colonel glanced at his soldiers with pride as they moved forward towards the mesa, knowing that Patterson and his Confederate forces lurked somewhere up ahead, and mentally revised his battle plan. Williams and his elite squad would provide cover fire and eliminate any special nuisances, distracting Elijahs forces long enough for the remainder of the Union troops to close on the central mesa.
Ultimately, though, Sykes attention was focused on Patterson. The Union would never fall to untrained civilians on the field of battle. The real threat would be Confederate, and Sykes was well prepared to deal with them. One way or another, by sunset tomorrow, the mesa would be theirs.
It was only when he heard the first screams up ahead, and the unearthly wailing, that Frederick Sykes began to wonder if he was wrong.
Fifty yards to the left, Ripley Scone glanced at his leader. "I dare say, that does sound rather painful."
Cort sighed. "Sykes is a big boy. He had to learn sometime what hes facing in Gomorra. Weve got our own assignment, and if we fail there may be nothing left for Sykes to fight for."
The Agency commander gestured the rest of his team forward, towards the mesa.
Sunday - 1:03 p.m.
"I dont like it, William." Wise Cloud glanced nervously over the gathering tribes. There were many of them, but it was his experience that his people operated best as an army of individuals, not a sea of chaotic regimen. "We are not meant to fight like this."
Iron Horse shrugged. "Eagle Rock and Walks-in-Footprints are in rare agreement. Gulgoleth poses too great a danger. I understand your concerns about the Tree, but no one agrees that the Dim Eyes attack on it has weakened us."
Disappointed, Wise Cloud asked, "Not even you?"
Billy Iron Horse considered the elder shaman for a moment, then shrugged. "Not even I. The Dims are a wound, true, one which continues to bleed. But we must trust to Raven Smiles and the others to protect the Tree. And I also believe that Elijahs control of this mesa is a threat just as dangerous, and far more pressing."
"I am not arguing against the need for this assault, but without the Tree, we can protect nothing! Cant you feel our spirits weakening? Our ancestors voices growing faint?"
For a moment, Billy Iron Horse considered the shamans words, then visibly shook off his doubts. "Eagle Rock leads us, and I trust his judgement. Besides, Little Running Bear now watches over me, as you well know. Bear lives in the Spirit World now, regardless of his presence here, and he would warn us of any pending danger from the roots of the Tree. He has power now, and vision. He healed me, when you and Singing Feather could do nothing."
"Do not become overconfident, William. Bears spirit protects us all, but without the Tree, even he can do little. And the Tree is much weakened since he brought you back "
"Enough!" exclaimed Iron Horse. "Eagle Rock leads us, and Walks-in-Footprints has committed our people to help Sweetrock remove Elijah from Gulgoleth. That is our path, my friend, and it is enough."
Wise Cloud said no more, for in truth Eagle Rock had spoken, and few would move against him.
Still, he was concerned. Very concerned
Monday, August 12, 1878 - 8:12 a.m.
One day to Doomsday
Buster Madison strolled along the boardwalk, absently whistling to himself. It had been a rough night at the Casino Morongo; seemed all the gamblers on their way to Soddum had stopped in Gomorra along the way. More than one fight had broken out, and Buster felt obliged to report to the Sheriff on the collateral damage. A little "civic service" couldnt hurt a talented man of the felt, and he might be able to eliminate some competition to boot.
Arriving at the sheriffs office, Buster frowned. The deputies usual early-morning chatter over coffee was absent. This wasnt the hustlers first visit to the sheriffs office - voluntarily or otherwise - and he could set his watch by Radcliffe and Montreal ragging each other over a morning cup of java.
Cautiously, Buster tried the door. It was unlocked, which wasnt unusual; Hunter had kept up Colemans "open-door policy", figuring it was good for public relations. There wasnt much of anything inside worth stealing, except for Colemans badge mounted on the wall. And even the Whateleys werent fool enough to swipe that.
Madison didnt carry a gun, figuring there were enough gunslingers in town that one more wouldnt make a difference, so he tread lightly as he entered the office and glanced around.
Deserted, he noted. The cells were empty as well. No surprise there. The worst of the rabble are probably all whooping it up out at Soddum. Godforsaken place. I wouldnt be caught dead there.
A note was pinned to one wall, where Hunter and his men usually left messages for each other. Stepping closer, Buster could make out Jessie Freemonts cribbed handwriting:
The Snitch came by earlier and warned me that something big is going down at Gulgoleth. Everyone else is still out hunting Templeton. But someone has to look into this. I am already on my way. If any of you get this message, follow as soon as you can.
P.S. Radcliffes in charge while Im gone. Jesse - make sure theres a town left to come back to.
Jessie - 6:45
Buster frowned. That doesnt sound good He was a city man, born and bred. But he had heard enough whispers about the Gulgoleth wilderness to know it wasnt a place he would visit any time soon. Elijahs folks were out there in great numbers.
And his palms still itched from his last encounter with the Lost Angels...
Leaving the note undisturbed, Buster turned quietly around and left the way he came.
* * * * *
Scowling, Jessie Freemont assessed the situation. The Law Dogs were undermanned and outgunned, by the look of things. Nate, Olson, and Montreal were back in town, Powell and Flatbush were God knows where, and he couldnt trust newbies like Beenz and Cooper with something this important. Radcliffe was a good man, for a performer, but he was going to have to man the shop.
For a moment Jessie considered simply withdrawing and letting the various outfits shoot it out. But Nate Hunter had given him a chance and with it his trust. Jessie wasnt about to let the sheriff down, no matter how strange he was acting recently.
"The men are ready, Jessie," Wendy said, returning with a crowd of newly appointed deputies. "From what I can tell, the Union troops skirmished with something weird yesterday, and spent last night recouping. They think the Confederacy was responsible. But the loners out on the plains say Pattersons men are miles away, and have problems of their own." She paused for a moment, apparently thinking the same thing as Freemont. "This is only marginally within our jurisdiction, Jessie. No one will think less of you if we leave the armies and the rest to duke it out without us."
"To hell with that, Wendy," Freemont snarled. "Ive had a belly full of the Confederacy and the Union, marching in here like theyre the law o this land. Last I checked, Gomorra answers to itself and to California, and everyone else can go to hell. Were the Law around here, and I mean to make sure they understand that."
"Im with you - you know that," Wendy reassured him. "So long as you know what were getting into. The Whateleys, Elijahs men "
Jessie patted her shoulder sympathetically. "Thats part of it, too. Maybe Sheriff Hunter cant prove it, but Nicodemus Whateley killed your father. I know it in my gut, and its a score the law can settle here, today."
"Not in cold blood, Jesse. You know that dad wouldnt have wanted it that way."
"Only if thats what it takes, Wendy. Only if thats what it takes."
Monday - 9:46 a.m.
"Where is it?!?" the demon within Jacynth screamed. Lab technicians scrambled for cover and a few even considered fleeing the building, to take their chances with the chaos outside to avoid her wrath. "Jacynth" shoved her way through desks covered with blueprints, raging through piles of partially assembled devices, but there was no trace of the weapon she was looking for. Reaching out, she casually grabbed one man by the neck and hauled him up close to her face. "Where is it?" she screamed at him.
Elmo Schaccis eyes were wide with loosely concealed panic. "Wheres what??"
"The pump gun, you idiot! Tell me where it is! Did Zarkov take it?"
"Ummm no. I dont think so. I thought I saw Miss Franklin with it earlier "
"That !" Jacynth screamed, throwing the hapless delivery boy away from her with a single fluid motion. Schacci slammed into a bank of equipment, then scurried away before she could get to him again.
Jacynth paced back and forth irritably, considering the situation. Hellstromme be damned! Catering to his whims to preserve her "cover" could only go on for so long before she snapped. While Zarkov and the better-armed members of the Collegium were at Gulgoleth, the Whateleys had launched an unexpected assault on Gomorra. She would need the pump gun to defend herself it they reached the Observatory. Though its booster cells were still experimental, it was still the most powerful weapon left at the Collegium base.
With a near-inhuman growl, Jacynth returned to her private lab. It looked as if she would have to activate the Captivator sooner then expected. It was best not to anger her fellow manitous in Gomorra so early, but this was an emergency. If Jacynth didnt protect herself now, she wouldnt live to feel the manitous wrath later.
* * * * *
Susan Franklin stalked the streets of Gomorra. This section of town was strangely quiet. Apparently the Whateleys zombie armies had already moved on.
Maybe theyre mobilizing at Elephant Hill, she reasoned.
Regardless, Susan intended to see this matter to an end. The Gomorra Collegium had sat by far too long while first one side and then another picked them off like flies. First the Maze Rats, then the Whateleys and their ectoplasmic summoning. Pierre, Whale, Lawrence, and all the others they would be avenged. She would have preferred this to happen another way - she was a scientist, not a fighter but sometimes you just had to take a stand!
Shed already destroyed two packs of Class III ambulatory corpses with the pump gun, and sent the townsfolk shed rescued to St. Martins where Father Terrance was accepting survivors of the fighting in town. Though she had little use for religion herself - shed thoroughly mapped the heavens years ago - she was sure the refugees would find the place welcome relief. She knew that the Southern preacher would take care of them, and defend them with his own life if need be.
Elephant Hill was close, so Susan carefully approached to see if the Whateleys had moved back in. They seemed to be using it as a staging area periodically these days, no doubt for the abundance of fresh cadavers to add to their ranks.
A light drizzle started, matching her foul mood. Good. That will provide excellent cover.
Susan slowed as she approached Elephant Hill. There was movement upon the cemeterys central hill. Ducking behind a nearby corner, she peered cautiously toward the motion and tried to make out the invaders. Strange figures cavorted and danced in the graveyard, amidst corpses standing upright and motionless. Genetic mutations of some sort, by the look of them, clad in mockingly cheerful garments. Susan recognized a few of them from the circus outside of town. Members of the "Troupe," no doubt. Franklin wasnt aware the carnival freaks were working with the Whateleys, but somehow it didnt surprise her.
Suddenly all the twisted mutations came to an abrupt halt as two women emerged from one of the mausoleums. One was a gunslinger by the look of her, though Susan didnt recognize her. Maybe shed seen the woman about town once or twice in the company of the Blackjacks
The other was Chinese, and wore wholly inappropriate white undergarments. Franklin held a pair of magnifying spectacles to her eyes, and could just discern a bright flush to the womans cheeks. If she was an ambulatory corpse, she was at least Class II, and maybe even Class I. She seemed sluggish, almost dazed, as if newly awakened - or newly reanimated.
The women spoke back and forth for a moment. Susan had never mastered the art of reading lips, and was unable to make out their words. In a moment, the Asian woman turned away and scanned the area, as if trying to find something, or someone.
There was a rustling of wings overhead, and Franklin glanced up to witness the first Class I mutation she had ever seen in Gomorra. A human male, with a broad pair of wings. Such experimentation was banned by the Collegium, of course (though she had her own dark suspicions about exactly what Klippstein was up to in his laboratory). But as far as she was concerned, only the Whateleys occult sciences were capable of creating such a creature.
What was it doing here? Occult propaganda? Misdirection? A common citizen might mistake the being for an angel of God and panic, but Susan had never been superstitious. Maybe this was one of Elijahs reputed "lost angels."
The winged man landed next to the gunfighter and they shared a few words. Franklin considered the situation carefully. The Whateleys, she would have gladly gone up against on her own. But if they were allied with the Blackjacks, the Lost Angels, and the mysterious Troupe, that was far more than she - or perhaps even the whole of the Collegium - were ready to tackle.
Zarkov must be informed! This is far more important than petty vengeance
At a sudden noise behind her, Susan spun to face a group of Class III alchemically-animated corpses. She triggered the pump gun, and a burst of electrostatic energy blew the head of the lead figure clean off. It toppled to the ground, but the others behind it surged forward
Monday - 10:24 a.m.
Whatcha doin, Charlie... This is suicide, the former bartender thought to himself as he approached the tent. He had vowed never to cross paths with the Troupe again, but here he was, sneaking through the Devils Playground under cover of rain. Coming here during broad daylight would have been suicidal but then again, it was scarcely less obvious - and potentially far more deadly - at night.
Charlie Landers had scores to settle. But first, he had to take back what was his. Unfortunately, he didnt have a clue how to go about it.
Thats typical. This is just where you were ten years ago - younger, but just as stupid.
Scratchs deal was tempting then, but Charlie had since had a decade to look back and regret, and now he was ready to close the bargain - on his own terms. He wasnt a total idiot: hed waited until most of the Troupe crawled, slid, and slithered through the streets of Gomorra, heading towards Elephant Hill to meet the Whateleys. They never went anywhere without Esmerelda, and without her to psychically watch over the carnival, the former bartender had at least a passable chance of sneaking in unnoticed.
Cassandra had provided a plan of the Troupes current configuration. The place had changed more then once since Charlie had been here, which didnt surprise him. The one thing you could always count on was that the Troupe was always changing.
According to Cassandras map, Esmereldas tent was on the other flank of the sideshow. With luck, he would be in and out long before she returned from whatever battle she and the Whateleys were fighting. As for Scratch who knew where he was? Landers had seen him about town more then once since the Troupe had returned, and he knew that the man - was he really a man? - took many disguises - or were they forms?. He couldnt count on Scratch to be gone any more than he could count on getting out of this situation alive.
Those are the risks when you deal with the Devil
Charlie ventured straight through the sideshow tent, slipping past the flap and into the dark, humid interior. The first thing that hit him was the stench; Charlie gagged at the reek of vomit, unwashed human flesh, sulfur, formaldehyde, and other substances he had never been able to pin down. It seemed different than he remembered, and yet somehow part of it remained the same, even after all these years. The Troupe usually tidied up for public shows, but there werent any scheduled for some time, especially with the weirdness of late.
Then the sights hit him: a few feebly flickering oil lanterns illuminated the Troupes prize exhibits at least, the ones currently useless to them on the field of battle. Slugs of flesh floated in glass jars of preservatives, stuffed creatures stood poised in eternal tableaus of torment But Charlie saw through the illusion; the slugs were not preserved, merely drugged, and the exhibits werent entirely dead, and not quite stuffed. A casual viewer might have dismissed the creatures flickering eyes as a trick of the light, or the work of an expert craftsman, but Charlies sanity was not so well protected.
Shuddering, he kept his eyes to the twisted path leading through the Sideshow and out the other side. He stumbled forward, unaware of the two figures who followed quietly behind him. Never one to ignore the lessons of the past, Scratch had not committed all his minions to the fray
Monday, August 12th, 1878 - 10:59 a.m.
One day to Doomsday
"Mr. Rose, its that time. Inform the men that we move now."
William Rose gestured the other Blackjacks in their group forward, then whistled over to Caufield and his group on their flank. Wendigo Garrison still looked doubtful about the whole thing, but he wasnt about to argue with Andrew Garret. Not unless he wanted to make an abrupt and permanent visit to Boot Hill.
Leaving his horse with the others, Andrew lead his group of men through the light drizzle. He knew that many of the men beside him were unsure about allying with the Sioux and assaulting Gulgoleth, but he also knew how many times Black Jack had saved his life, how much he owed the outlaw. If Jackie wanted Gulgoleth out of Elijahs hands, then that was exactly what he was going to get.
Besides, there was no better place to be for a robber than ground zero of a fight. Someone was going to fall, and Andrew would be there to collect their belongings
Garrets reverie was interrupted by screams and a burst of gunfire, somewhere up ahead. He instinctively ducked for cover, then glanced over the rocks to check on everyone else. The rest of the Blackjacks had gone to ground as well, but two of them were occupied. Garrison and Rose were near the front, firing at
What the hell is that thing? Garret wondered. Hed heard the stories, of course, of strange things that happened in Gomorra: fu masters who could catch bullets, scientists who flew through the air with rockets strapped to their backs, and a towering demon that had strode the land one dark and twisted night. But he was new to the area, and didnt lay much stock in wives tales of demons and black magic. He wasnt at all prepared for what was advancing on the Blackjacks position now.
A crack of lightning illuminated the twisted, skeletally gaunt figure in the lead, dressed in brown robes. A hood hid its face, which was just fine as far as Andrew was concerned: he didnt care to see whatever passed for flesh and bone beneath. The figure held a weird long-barreled gun in both hands, and was spraying some kind of energy out of it like water from a hose. It advanced steadily, seeming unconcerned about the hail of bullets that the outlaws were pumping into it.
Behind the creature, acting as point man, were a horde of men dressed in red robes, wielding rifles and other "mundane" weapons. They look more like a cult than an army, Garret thought to himself as he brought his gun to bear.
Suddenly, Rose ran from cover and threw himself over the rock protecting Andrew, his duster swirling. "What the Hell are they, Will?" Andrew shouted at him over the din of gunfire.
"Elijahs men! The two in front are called Cain and Abel!"
"And that thing in the lead?"
Rose tried to get a bead on the advancing enemy, but a burst of energy drove him back down again before he could snap off a shot. "Truth to tell, Andy, I dont know!" he snarled, brushing dust out of his eyes. "Ive heard rumors You ever hear about somethin called a Hangin Judge?"
"Hellfire and damnation!" Garrett swore, popping up and pulling off a shot. The slug slammed into the figures chest, but other than a billow of dust, it seemed to have no effect. Ducking back behind cover, he tried to fight down his panic. He had heard of the Hangin Judges, and he knew that you did not want to be an outlaw when one came callin.
"My sentiments exactly," Rose snapped back, busy reloading. There was a sudden motion behind him, and he whipped out a knife as Garret drew a bead over his shoulder.
A black man was approaching over the rocks from the south. He wore a greasy black-leather slicker against the inclement weather, and fired a shotgun over the rocks every few moments, pumping and rechambering wildly. Diving down beside the Jacks, a cock-eyed grin on his face, he practically blurted, "Greetings, gents! Sorry to drop in on you, but it looked like you needed my help!"
Funny man. Just what Garret needed. "Who the Hell are you?"
"Names Hastings. Texas Ranger. Looks like you folks have found the party."
"Ya think?" Rose yelled back, resheathing his knife and returning to loading his rifle.
"Scouts reported that Elijahs men were headed this way. Can you hold them?"
Rose paused for a second, listening for a break in the opposing gunfire. He popped up and fired two shots, surveyed the situation for a second, then dropped back behind cover. "Weve lost six men already, Andy! Looks like Skunky took a hit. Maybe Darren as well. Elijahs menll be on us in a minute. Maybe two."
"That answer your question, Mr. Hastings?" Garret sniped.
"Well enough. Id suggest you drop back. Maybe you and your survivors link up with us to the south, we can stop them before they get to Gomorra.
Rose didnt look too happy about any of this, but Andrew would have been surprised if he had: the Confederacy had several warrants out in Williams name. But those warrants were issued a long ways away and there were more immediate concerns right now.
"Order them to fall back, Will," Garret instructed. "Tell them to follow Hastings here. Well make our stand " he glanced over at the Ranger.
"A quarter mile south and a little to the east."
Rose paused, but Garret didnt have time to coddle him. "Do it!" he shouted, then returned to Hastings and the plan.
Monday - 11:02 a.m.
Gus Gallagher circled his autogyro high above the battlefield. A low bank of fog had rolled in off the Maze, providing him some additional cover to the east, but he didnt care to use it. This was the kind of thing he lived for. Besides, the rain would wash the fog away soon enough; better that Gus not rely on it to get him through.
Cort had sent him up here to give the Agency a birds eye view of the fighting, and to verify reports that the opposition had some kind of aerial support as well. So far, Gus hadnt spotted any opposing autogyros, though he did find Pattersons Confederate troops, advancing west of Gulgoleth. Hed also thought hed spotted the Rangers southeast of the mesa. No doubt they were operating separately of the Southern armed forces. They probably werent even informed about each others positions. Bad news, Gus worried.
The rain restricted both forces artillery. A good thing for everyone, Gus figured. Itll be hard enough to fight the Angels without a hail of explosives all around.
Something caught Gallaghers eye off to the east, a movement through a gap in the fog. He shoved the controls down and his autogyro screamed into a power dive. There! Three figures, by the look of them, heading south for Gomorra. Two men and a woman, and one of the former a walkin dead. The other man was curiously dressed: wearing only a loincloth with a pouch at his side, his skin covered head to toe in tattoos.
Gus didnt recognize any of them, but they were marching out of enemy territory, so he drew his gun and loosed a couple of rounds at them. They ducked for cover and the tattooed man fired back, but they only seemed to be worried about defending themselves. Which meant
There was an enormous crash and the sound of rent metal as something slammed into the autogyros flank. Gus turned as best he could in his restraint harness to see a skinny leather-clad man, clinging to the side of his vehicle, a pair of broad wings protruding from his back. Guess the rumors are true, Gus noted as the winged soldier drove a flaming sword into the engine of the craft.
"Alastor sends you to Hell!" the man yelled, releasing himself. He plummeted down for twenty feet, then spread his wings and, after a brief dip, glided back toward the injured vehicle. Behind him, a horde of other winged figures approached.
Gus tried to feed more fuel to the engines, but it was no good. The autogyros rotors sputtered out, and it started to fall. Gus tried to dead-stick the craft to the ground, scanning the area for a place that wasnt rocky or unstable. He managed to coast the craft most of the way down, but a rock outcropping sent the autogyro off its landing gear and spinning wildly across the ground. The force of the impact threw Gallagher clear of the gyro just as it burst into a fireball and sent dust and rocks up all around him.
Rolling over, Gus looked up to see the host of angels? passing overhead.
How can we hold the line against that? For a moment, his hopes dropped.
"What do we have here?" a woman cooed behind him. Gus turned, wincing in pain as his broken rib made its presence known, to see a pale, attractive woman approaching him - the one hed glimpsed from overhead. Behind her, the two men, covering her approach. The tattooed man wielded an odd pistol: weird science, by the look of it.
Despite his circumstances, a wave of desire for the woman washed over the downed pilot. Some kind of witch, apparently. He checked his weapons; the gun had been thrown well clear in the crash, and the tattooed man would kill him before he could use his knife.
"Finish him, Lillith," the Harrowed creature whined. "Or let me. Im hunnngggryy "
The woman considered for a moment, then nodded. "Ill leave him to your tender mercies, Moloch. We must be about our business. Otherwise I would enjoy myself at some length, I think."
Gus didnt know whether to be flattered or revolted at the womans morbid compliment, and it didnt look like hed have time to think on it. "Moloch" staggered forward, drool and ichor welling in his mouth. Gus closed his eyes, waiting for the end, only to hear a sudden crash, and the sound of metal impacting flesh.
"I think not!" a welcome voice cried out. Gallagher opened his eyes to see the robust man known only as the Crucible standing over Lilliths Harrowed underling. Before the other two could react, he pulled back and threw his enormous hammer, straight and true, into the tattooed mans hand. The weird science pistol exploded and the tattooed man fell backward, grabbing his sizzling, broken hand and shrieking in pain.
Moloch was already staggering to his feet as the Crucible grasped Gus by the arm and easily hoisted him up. The pilots gratitude far exceeded his need to scream at the awful pain roaring through his chest as the Crucible boomed, "Get back to Williams and the others. Warn them."
With a shove, the Crucible sent Gallagher on his way, then loosed a tremendous battle cry and turned to grab Moloch in a vice-like bear hug. The zombie seemed unimpressed, returning the Agency mans grapple, and the two warriors fell into a death grip, arms locked about one anothers throats.
Gus ran, ignoring the screaming agony across his torso, and headed south. The Crucible watched him go, the warmth and tingling of asphyxiation already rushing up his neck. He knew that he could not destroy the abomination in his grip, but he also knew that his death would give Gallagher the time he needed to get out of the area - back to the Agencys field outpost, where he could make a difference.
Monday - 11:48 a.m.
Jordan Caldwell paced nervously. She didnt care for being out in the open, much less in a cemetery. Anyone could spot her: Rachel, the outlaws still loyal to Jackson, the Law Dogs, anyone. The Collegium schoolteacher had apparently escaped, though the surviving zombies had indicated that she might have been mortally wounded in the fight.
Jebediah had commanded that she wait here. Caldwell doubted that the Whateleys would be happy with the offensive so far, even if a quarter of Gomorra lay in ruins. But she also knew that the fighting at Gulgoleth would last at least another day. Twenty-four hours. That was a long time - more than enough to wrest control of a town full of simpletons
"Greetings, sister," a voice addressed her. Caldwells rifle was already out, and she brought it up in surprise at the sound, toward three figures whod entered the graveyard. None of the newcomers - a pale, wispy woman, a much-degenerated walking corpse, and a pale man painted with tattoos over every inch of his body - were known to her, though the latter two looked to have been in a brutal fight recently.
"You are the Whateleys representative?" the woman continued.
"Im standing in the middle of a graveyard, surrounded by undead, circus freaks, and a vampire. You figure it out, sister."
The tattooed man stepped forward. "I am Gnosis, and the vampire is the one we have come to talk to."
"Im in charge of this little posse," snarled Caldwell. "You talk to me, or " She paused. The mans tattoos moved, each shape seemingly snarling and snapping at her. Jordans own origins were steeped in black magic, but this man was something else altogether.
"Go ahead," she spat, stepping aside and gesturing to Meizhu. "Shes all yours."
Gnosis nodded once in feigned gratitude, then stepped over to the vampire. Meizhu looked up, dimly at first. "What do you ask of me?" she finally whispered.
"The battle at Gulgoleth goes well. Elijah commands that you lead the undead in an assault on the Sweetrock offices." Gnosis paused for a moment, wincing at a sudden stabbing pain, then continued, "Now is the time to eliminate all that might arise against him in Gomorra."
"We have already driven the townsfolk before us," Meizhu pointed out absently.
"Not enough. Sweetrock and the towns others defenders must fall. You must strike now. Jebediah and the other Whateleys will be here momentarily, as will our own forces from above after they have scouted the town. Sweetrocks agents have joined forces with the Sioux and the Collegium returning from the field, and the hosts of the Lord say they are " Gnosis faltered again for a moment, " are gathered near the power plant."
"And the Agency?" asked Meizhu, showing some interest in events for the first time.
"Far from here," Gnosis sneered. "You neednt worry about them. But damnation! What bothers me so?"
"What is it?" Caldwell demanded, stepping forward again.
A sudden spasm of pain bent Gnosis over. He held his head in his hands as if to contain some overwhelming pain. "Technology all technology I am sensitive to it. And the spirits as well. When the two merge someone is playing a dangerous game."
Gnosis kneeled for a moment in the graveyard dirt, mustering some inner resource, then looked up. "The Collegium," he whispered. "An experiment."
"Elijah says they are unimportant now, that we are to focus on Sweetrock and the Sioux."
"Things have changed," hissed Gnosis. "One of the scientists has bound a powerful spirit with technology. We must find whoever dares to create such an atrocity without our leave, and destroy them!"
"Then well need reinforcements," Jordan observed. "The Sioux, Sweetrock, and the Collegium. This wasnt the plan."
"Then reinforcements you shall have!" Jebediah Whateleys voice bellowed across the tombstones. A small mob of undead and twisted animal-creatures followed him through the gates of the graveyard, approaching the unholy summit.
Caldwell looked the Whateley patriarch over. "About time!" she quipped.
Jebediah chuckled, a truly frightening sound. He seemed in unusually good spirits, a state that Jordan had never experienced during their short acquaintance. "Let us spread out throughout the town, and finish what you have started if youre ready, of course."
At Caldwells nod, the army of abominations swung ponderously around and flooded back into the streets of town, Jordan and the Lost Angels right on their heels. As the crowd shambled away, no one noticed the door of the graveyards largest mausoleum swing open, or the many shadowy figures that shambled out.
Monday - 12:44 p.m.
Sandra Harris threw down the pencil and paper with an air of finality. "There! That should do it!"
Outside, the sounds of battle had grown louder, but she couldnt abandon her post. Not yet. Max had asked her to keep the lines of communication open as long as possible, and she was determined to do so. Besides, this was her dispatch office, and the fighters in the streets would have to pry it from her ice-cold fingers.
Sandra grabbed her satchel, then froze as she caught sight of two figures standing in the doorway: Melissa Thomas and a weary-looking older man, curiously stout, with a shock of white hair and a well-oiled raincoat.
But it couldnt be Melissa. She was
"Why, Miss Sandra Harris, as I live and breath so to speak," Thomas chuckled, stepping into the office.
Sandras heart skipped a beat, and she remained silent. Thomas took another few steps forward and continued the conversation without her. "Mr. Brash and myself thought we would pay you a little visit see how business was doing. Youve been somewhat of a nuisance, you see: helping to end the fighting. Thats something Im afraid I just cant abide."
"Neither can we," another woman interrupted. Melissa turned leisurely, but the man at her side remained motionless, staring straight ahead at nothing. In the doorway were a pale, attractive woman dressed in gray robes and a twisted undead mockery of a man.
"Lillith," Thomas hissed. "Why, its been centuries "
"More on your side of the fence than mine, I think."
Moloch sidled into the room and wavered. He seemed eager enough to attack, but watched his mistress carefully for the cue to go into action.
"You cant be here by coincidence, Melissa. What do you want in Gomorra?"
"The same as you, dear Lillith, though perhaps for different reasons."
"Our time draws near, Melissa. The Last Kingdom is at hand. Im sure even you dont want to be around when the ritual is complete."
Sandra moved quietly, carefully towards the back door. The only one of them even remotely looking in her direction was Brash, and Harris wasnt sure he was aware of anything anymore.
"On the contrary, actually," Melissa said. "Theyre going to win eventually anyway. We both know that. Best that I have a front-row seat for the storm."
"What do you think, life-stealer? That theyll just give you all these delicious fruits after theyve gone to all the trouble to fatten them up?"
Melissa smiled. "I have to admit. Theyve done a fine job here. I dont think Ive seen so many people so utterly consumed with blind acceptance before. They dont even blink as your kind move in and take over. So ripe So unsuspecting "
"Youve been helping them." Lilliths shock was clear through her words.
"Im a little busy at the moment, love, and I really must be going. But let me offer you this little morsel," Melissa smiled, patting Brash on the shoulder gently, "as a memento of the old times. A reminder of the fun we had as the world burned."
Sandra ducked out the door just as the fighting began. Moloch lunging forward, and Brash brought one fist up, gripping a lit stick of dynamite. A huge explosion followed, ripping through the Dispatch Office and the neighboring stores, throwing her clear of the building and into unconsciousness.
Monday - 12:46 p.m.
Painfully, Sandra opened her eyes, blinking away the rainwater. A man was looming over her, one that she recognized.
"In the flesh, kinda. Cort sends his regards." Gus observed the smoldering ruins of the buildings not twenty feet away. "I didnt know blowing up the Dispatch Office was part of the plan."
"It wasnt," Sandra groaned, rising to her feet and dusting herself off.
The office - her office - was nothing but a pile of scorched, shattered wooden rubble now. "You brought the old girl out of mothballs," Sandra said, looking over to Gus backup autogyro, its rotors still turning.
"Ran into a bit of trouble myself," Gus said. "Ill tell you about it on the way. My orders are to get you out to the Colorado - assuming thats still part of the plan."
"It is. Lets get the hell out of here."
Harris paused at the sound of shifting rubble, turning to the ruins of her office. A figure slowly pushed itself free of the debris. A woman, dressed in a blue dress of the Northern style
"Go!" Sandra shouted, shoving Gus towards the gyro. It took only seconds for Gus to help Sandra onto the autogyro, leaving her to strap herself in as he rounded the other side and took the pilots seat. And seconds more to rise up into the air.
Harris ears were ringing. A concussion, perhaps. Then she remembered. "We have to find Zarkov!" she shouted over the rotors. "He has something I need!"
Shrugging, Gus pulled the autogyro into a banking turn. Below them, Melissa Thomas rose and brushed splinters from her blue dress. "Another time, darlings!" she called cheerily to the autogyro, then sauntered away, toward Town Square.
Normally, the odds of spotting any one person in such carnage would be astronomical. But when Erik Zarkov was about he tended to be obvious. Gus simply looked for the area of greatest devastation, figuring Zarkov would be right in the middle of things.
Spiraling outwards, it took them only a couple of minutes to spot the biggest battle in town. Almost a hundred figures skirmished near the power plant: Indians, gunfighters, scientists, undead, and the winged men Gus had seen earlier.
"There!" Harris shouted, pointing to port. Zarkov rocketed up from the battleground and picked angels off with a sparkling electrical gun.
Gus pitched the autogyro off to the left, looking for a clear spot amidst the sky-combat. Zarkov spotted them and blew a hole in the opposing forces, then soared in their direction. A second later, a mechanical winged demon came flying down towards them. Erik zigged left and as the creature passed underneath him, he kicked down, hard. Disoriented, it spiraled down towards the chaos below.
"Follow us!" Sandra yelled through the fighting, who gripped the safety straps as Gallagher swung back hard to starboard. A large bird, nearly the size of a great eagle, flew by, soaring up from the plant and heading towards Gulgoleth. For a second it caught Sandras eye and she could have sworn that it winked at her, but the next moment it vanished into the rain.
Monday - 12:57 p.m.
Coleman had to admit: Mad Wolf Striding was good.
The warrior, backed by the other Sioux who had committed to the Gulgoleth assault, had carved an impressive path of destruction through the opposing forces west of the mesa. Unfortunately, it appeared that the Sioux were running out of steam, leaving J.P., Bobo, Rex, and the remaining Texas Rangers to pick up the slack.
Without warning, a bolt of fire lanced down out of the sky from one of the hovering angels and slashed through Mad Wolf. The Sioux warrior hunched over without a sound. Coleman darted over to his side, firing wildly to keep the angels away. He was only somewhat successful, dimly aware of a few bullets plugging into his lifeless flesh, but he ignored them, focusing on Mad Wolfs injuries.
"Bobo! Over here!" J.P. screamed, noticing Mad Wolfs comrade Seeking Fury as he cut a path to his fellow Sioux.
With a last flourish of cards, Bobo downed a great gray wolf and reached the former sheriffs side. "You be callin, boss?"
Seeking Fury shoved the huckster aside and knelt over his comrade, running his hands hesitantly over the mans seeping wounds. Coleman was no expert with Injun magic, but even he could see something was wrong.
"The spirits abandon us," Fury spoke. "The Tree grows weak."
"Will he live?" J.P. asked. He could care less about the warrior, but their numbers were already stretched thin. As soon as the strongest of them started falling, it was all over.
"Yes," Fury replied. "But he will not rise. Not today."
"Damn! Bobo, looks like its time for Dexs plan." Both of the Rangers knelt over Mad Wolf. "Its time for the Bible, Sioux! We use it now, or we all go down."
Struggling to remain conscious, Mad Wolf shook his head. "Its cursed. Use it, and were damned "
Coleman snarled, "Damned if we do, damned if we dont." Then he shoved Seeking Fury aside, dug in the fighters pouch, and grabbed the Bible. Even his long-dead fingers could sense the books cover crawl, suckling his fingertips like a newborn babe. The skittering of the manitou through his decaying shell were as strong as he had ever felt them, and he felt a welling hunger unlike anything he had ever experienced. Then the moment passed, and he tossed the Bible to Bobo. "Do it!" he shouted.
The Cajun huckster snatched the book out of the air and thumbed quickly through the crisp pages until he found the right one. Coleman was still too intoxicated by the appetites of the manitou within him and Seeking Fury was busy with Mad Wolf, or they might have questioned how LeVeux knew which page contained the proper spell. As it was, however, the huckster was left unmolested, and began to chant in a language that made everyones ears ring and the wounded warrior moan in pain.
A moment later, the chanting somehow rang out across the field of battle and everyone froze. Angels, undead, Indians, and Rangers all paused as Bobo swelled with raw, dark power. The only motion in the area was a tremendous bird soaring towards them from the south, a hawk, though larger than Coleman had ever seen.
The hawk dipped toward to the ground and shifted, landing as a vibrant Sioux woman of incredible youth and beauty. She immediately moved towards Bobo, but Coleman stepped in the way.
"You have no idea what youre doing!" Strikes a Hawk shouted into his face.
"So Ive heard," Coleman muttered, holding her back. For the first time, the woman saw his taut yellow features and smelled his dry, molding flesh, and went for her knife. But before she could swipe at him, the surrounding area was rocked by an enormous, silent explosion. A visible shock wave of energy passed through the combatants and across the plains. Strikes a Hawk, and other Sioux all over the battlefield, clutched their eyes and ears, and collapsed to the ground.
Turning, Coleman saw the wave of light taper off in the distance as the brunt of its force washed towards Gulgoleth. Angels and undead fell before it, or retreated from the ungodly energies. Bobo was kneeling on the ground, the Bible still open before him, its pages riffling past of their own accord. A second later, the cover slammed shut and a crack of thunder rolled away from it.
Like a crack of Doom.
J.P. whistled admiringly just before a new wave of gunfire rang out. To the south, Coleman saw Jessie Freemont leading a mixed force of Law Dogs and townsfolk. Deputies, he assumed. "Up and at em!" Coleman commanded. "Tend to your wounded as quick as you can, and get moving. Weve got reinforcements! Lets use em!"
The fighting had started up again to the north as well, and Coleman could make out cries of triumph among the Confederate troops assaulting the mesa. Bobos spell had apparently weakened the enemy forces there as well. He found it hard to smile just yet, though; he knew that they were still quite a ways from beating Elijah back.
A shuffling sound drew his attention to Bobos drained form again, where Strikes a Hawk, now recovered and back to hawk form, soared up into the air, the Bible clutched in her talons.
Good riddance to bad rubbish Coleman thought, returning to the battle.
Monday - 6:18 p.m.
This jog is rather refreshing, Quon Lin thought, knowing that he wouldnt have been able to keep up with his prey if she had kept her horse at a full gallop. Fortunately for him, though, it seemed her need for stealth prevented her from running her roan full out.
Quon was stationed at his new vantage post when he witnessed the Lost Angels departure from the mesa. His orders were straightforward: intercept anyone who left Gulgoleth alone or in small numbers: Intercept, interrogate, and kill. Mind that you get it in the right order! Po Yu had cackled.
Unfortunately, Lin had been unable to close with the female rider before she reached Gomorra. Perhaps, if fortune was with him, she was headed to her co-conspirators, or would reveal part of Elijahs plan.
"There he is!" someone shouted.
Hed been so intent on his prey that hed failed to notice the men stumble onto him. There were ten of them, led by a tall blonde man wearing the badge of sheriff.
Hunter? Quon Lin wondered. The scout had stayed out of town while the Rats retreated to Shan Fan, tending to Lord Kangs operations and the Spiritual Societys affairs elsewhere in the Valley. Hed never met Nate Hunter, but the man before him now bore little resemblance to his description. The Sheriff carried a double-barreled shotgun and wore a two-gun holster, with bandoleers of ammo looped over his shoulders. His eyes burned with fury, reflecting the sporadic fires throughout town, and his teeth were bared in a feral snarl, a challenge.
"Arrest him!" Hunter snarled, and the men behind him surged forward. Quon dimly noted that several of them had loops of rope, and that none of them looked like they cared to give him a fair trial.
Too many to fight, and his cover was too important to risk. Reaching into his belt pouch, Lin tossed a small clay sphere in front of the mob. As it exploded in a burst of smoke, Quon Lin turned, ran to the next corner, and
stopped dead. Looming before him was a huge man-shaped figure, carved from metal. Its mock-face leered down at him and two enormous pincers clutched at his arms.
Lin smoothly ducked the attack and dodged between the automatons legs. Behind him, bullets ricocheted off the robots metal hide.
"Hes with the Collegium!" Hunter shouted to the others. "And hes got one of those hellish creations with him. Take it down, boys!"
Distracted, the robot charged forward toward the noisier targets, and Quon Lin counted his blessings. Now to find the woman again
Monday - 11:21 p.m.
"Impressive," Sandra acknowledged, looking over Zarkovs remote relay console.
"Why, yes," he blushed, "it is, I suppose. Perhaps if it works here, we can consider using it on a more permanent basis "
Sandra glanced around the old wooden shack, left behind by the former miners of the Colorado Lode, and considered the possibilities. It was hardly as comfortable or - convenient - as the Dispatch Office, but then, beggars couldnt be choosers.
"So why were you fighting amongst yourselves, anyway?" Sandra asked.
"Hmmm?" Zarkov mumbled, soldering a connection.
"That flying robot. It came after you. I figured it was one of yours "
"No, that wasnt one of ours, as far as I know. Its not that we in the Collegium dont have our little internal squabbles, but some of our enemies are starting to use technology nearly as advanced as ou ah ha! Thats got it!"
Sandra looked warily at the jury-rigged connection of wires, tubes, and a half dozen parts shed never seen before. "Perhaps you should start it up and transmit the first message ." she mumbled.
"Thee of little faith " Zarkov chastised, toggling a few switches and dials. "Lets see Mr. Ponds of Sweetrock has one of our relay consoles. Where did I put that microphone ?"
"Latin. I believe Oswald coined the phrase before his injury," Zarkov answered, picking up an odd, cylindrical device and holding it up to his mouth. "Its function is simple enough. Press down this button, speak into the mesh end, and your voice should be transmitted directly to Mr. Ponds. Switch the transmission frequency on this dial here, and you can reach any of the other relay consoles we have out there."
Putting deed to word, Erik flipped the power on. There was a huge burst of sparks, and he hastily cut the energy flow. "Drat! Well, back to the drawing board "
Sandra sighed. It was going to be a long night
Tuesday, August 13, 1878 - 4:03 a.m.
"I cant thank you enough for your help, Mr. Williams."
"Dont mention it, Jessie," Cort replied, wearily. "And I mean it. My superiors would be very unhappy if it were to get out that I was helping out."
Freemont shrugged. "Whatever you say."
It had been a long night. Cort, Nelson, and Armstrong had worked alongside Freemont and his Law Dogs, trying to contain the situation at Gulgoleth. Gus had managed to get Harris and Zarkov to the Colorado Lode, where they reestablished communication, and Williams had managed to get in contact with Sister Mary, Benjamin, Delilah, Desmond, and the remaining Agency operatives in town.
The in-town team had stayed out of the way as much as possible, covertly eliminating supernatural threats as they could. Armstrong and Nelson had remained out in the field, and Cort decided that was about as much overt support as the Agency could supply. Sykes would have to clean up on his own from there. Whether the colonel obtained Gulgoleth for Union Blue or not was less important than containing information about the attack as far as Cort was concerned.
It had been surprisingly easy thus far. The townsfolk seemed all too eager to accept any explanation the Agency cooked up for them. Almost like they wanted to accept it. He hadnt noticed it until now, but Cort was pretty sure that the Agencys job in Gomorra had been getting easier ever since the Knicknevin disaster last year. Something was wrong here, but he couldnt put his finger on it yet.
But just as soon as this little mess is handled, he pledged to himself, Ill get to the figure it out.
"So whats the word from Gomorra, Mr. Williams?" Jessie asked.
Williams paused for a moment as they slogged through the mud toward base camp. What was the story again ? "According to all reports, the Collegium were a big help at first. But then they pulled back toward the power plan, where a gas leak drove most of the town nuts. Confusion set in, and then that automaton of theirs showed up "
Freemont seemed all too willing to buy it. Cort couldnt blame him, of course; the Collegium had a fairly bad reputation in town, and most folks were willing to believe the worst about mad scientists in general. The outfit had a few good men, but as far as Williams was concerned, anyone willing to work with Darius Hellstromme deserved what they got. Maybe he could protect Zarkov, who was out of town with Harris through most of the fighting. Or even recruit him. The Agency could always use a field-scientist
Gomorra loomed up ahead. The rain had died down by now, which was probably why the fires were burning so bright.
"What the hell?" Freemont exclaimed.
Even from this distance they could hear shouts, yells, and the sound of breaking glass as a mob swept through the town.
Tuesday - 6:35 a.m.
"Wheres Zarkov?" Jacynth demanded.
Alice Chamberlain shrugged. "He disappeared with that Gallagher fellow sometime yesterday."
"Disappeared?" Jacynth asked, a little more tersely than Alice was willing to put up with after the night shed had.
"Look!" Chamberlain yelled back at her. "We were pretty busy out at Gulgoleth, and then you call us back here to protect the power plant and SUZY escapes again. Then Sheriff Hunter and his good ol boys start shootin at us Its a wonder we managed to pull through it at all!"
"Where is the automaton?" Jacynth asked, ignoring Chamberlains outburst. A human might have wasted time wading into a fight with an underling, but she didnt see the need right now. Alice - and especially her feelings - were insignificant to Hellstrommes plans. And Ambrose had already vented her rage at Elmo earlier: she didnt feel the need to do so again.
"In a containment zone at the far end of the base," Alice said, somewhat confused by the attachés response. "After we captured her during her unscheduled tour of the asylum, the techs thought it would be a good idea to restrain her until Zarkov returned. I must say, your little addition was quite effective in bringing her down."
"The cyber-demon was rather effective, wasnt it," boasted Jacynth smugly.
Alice eyed her suspiciously. "And quite the surprise, too, dear. Still not quite up to snuff, though. I thought I caught a glimpse of rebellion in its eyes. Perhaps a lobotomy "
"I dont think that will be necessary, Miss Chamberlain. As you were." Jacynth strolled toward the containment platform where SUZY was being held. Next time, she thought, my command of the Whateleys servitor demon wont be interrupted before it can finish the job. Next time that Armitage rebels, it will be at the cost of my enemies lives.
SUZYs hulking form was strapped to a magnetic plate, which held her in place as the technicians crawled about, performing a mechanical diagnosis of her systems.
"How is the analysis progressing, Dr. Hardstrom?" Jacynth asked the lead, white-clad technician.
The scientist glared up over his mask. "A sloppy, sloppy piece of work. No wonder youve been having problems with it. Wherever did you acquire this brain?"
"Lycanthropic Subject 2A," Alice retorted sharply. "You have read the files, havent you?"
"What I could find of them. Im rather shocked at the lack of professionalism Ive seen here since we arrived from Deseret."
"I dont think we need to chastise our fellow scientists over this just now," cooed Jacynth reassuringly. "Can you get the unit back on-line? Will she be controllable?"
"I believe so. Better, stronger, faster as usual. If were finished ?" Hardstrom returned to tinkering with SUZYs internal connections, all of which ran into the mass of gray matter at the center of the units chest.
If Hardstrom could stabilize the connections and bring the Lycanthropic Cerebral Unit under complete control, Jacynth could "borrow" his research and apply it to her cyber-demon. Perhaps she might even send it against Nicodemus Whateley.
Wouldnt that be grand, she mused, resisting a smile. Given what I understood of their relationship, the creature probably wouldnt even resist.
Tuesday - 6:51 a.m.
"Were not defeated yet!" Elijah screamed. "This is a tactical retreat, nothing more."
Enrique Alonso could only assume that the Mad Prophet had finally lived fully up to his nickname. True, the Host had initially been triumphant. But as far as Enrique could tell, Elijah had been foolish to waste them in the assault on Gomorra. Divided, those defending Gulgoleth were driven back by the mysterious wave of magic the attackers had unleashed.
Elijah had few reinforcements left. Mallory, Lillith, Moloch, Gnosis all were still gone, sent away on various missions. Perdition, Alastor, and Haborym had retreated within the mesa with the surviving Host, leaving only Winters, Owens, and Regen to guard the Prophet. They, and Enrique himself.
But the Prophet remained confident. What does he have up his sleeve? Alonso wondered.
As if in answer, Elijah shouted, "Come!", and stalked off into a side passage, not waiting for Alonso to follow. The Brothers chased after him, and Enrique and Winters trailed behind. For several minutes they descended ever deeper into the bowels of the earth, finally emerging within a huge chamber flooded with green luminescence. The opposite wall was nothing but a great ruin, the remnants of an enormous, tortured angel chiseled into the stone. From the look of it, the place was once a mausoleum or tomb, or perhaps a temple of some kind.
"Behold! Sabtabiels Remains!" Elijah screamed triumphantly. "The portal to the Last Kingdom!"
Madre de dios! Enrique prayed silently. Hed heard the name, but always figured that the first of the Fallen was merely a legend. Of course - until recently, the Fallen themselves were assumed to be legends.
This changed things. Alonso had to get word of this out to the Rangers - and to the Order of St. George. They had to be warned of the danger - of what the Last Kingdom was - or all their efforts would be for nothing.
"Do you need me for the ritual, Brother Elijah?" he asked, swallowing hard.
The bearded maniac spun on him, his eyes blazing with triumph - and concern. "What? You would leave, now, at the moment of our greatest triumph?"
"Why why, no, Brother Elijah. But these remains are obviously important. I must go above, and secure the entrances. If the blasphemers were to gain entry at this critical moment "
Elijah nodded, a smile creeping across his face. "As always, you speak wisdom, Brother Enrique. I do let my passion for Gods work overwhelm me at times. Sister Mercy and the Brothers will be sufficient for the ritual. Go! Tell Alastor and the others to man the ramparts, and ensure that no one gains entrance before the ritual is complete."
Enrique nodded and started to withdraw, as Elijah continued. "But return with all haste, my son. For soon, the entire Gomorra Valley shall bear witness to the most glorious sight since Creation itself."
Thats what Im afraid of, Alonso thought as he stole away. When he was out of sight of the Prophet, his quick gait became an open run. Thats what Im afraid of.
Tuesday - 7:15 a.m.
Walter Ponds fired off a last volley of gunfire, and could only breathe a sigh of relief when the skeletal figure atop the horse turned to ride away, taking its surviving walkin dead with it.
He glanced around, taking in the devastation around the Sweetrock offices for the first time. Corpses, many killed for a second time, were scattered everywhere. Men, wolves, bats, dogs, horses, and some creatures that Ponds couldnt name (and hoped never to see again) blanketed the landscape. Near the end, he and his men had fired indiscriminately, surrounded as they were by not only the Whateley forces, but also an unexpected street mob.
Exhausted, Ponds leaned against the doorsill, then noticed the Sioux reinforcements getting ready to leave. He tipped his hat to their leader, the sprightly young woman named Singing Feather. "My thanks for your assistance, maam. We couldnt have held them off without you."
"I hope that dividing our forces did not ultimately result in Elijahs victory," she answered. "We managed to hold the Tree, and near the end we were able to call upon its power. But it is still weak, and in the future "
Ponds didnt know how to respond. All this talk of a spiritual place and a great Tree of Life was beyond him. He was just happy that, for the most part, Sweetrock had survived this latest storm. Of course, if Max didnt find Clell Miller and his traitorous operation soon, it wouldnt matter.
"I go now to join with the rest of the Sioux," Singing Feather called to him. "We have to use the power of the spirits while they still answer to us, and it is time the Whateleys and their new allies are stopped once and for all." Tugging the reigns of her mount, she swung about and joined the war party leaving Gomorra.
It never ends, does it? Ponds wondered rhetorically.
Kerry and Jane approached, and Walter gestured them into his small office. "Has anything changed since your last report, Kerry?"
"Nope," the gunfighter replied, lighting up a cigarillo. "We held the power plant through the night. Davidsons over there now watching the place with a few of our men. The rest are scattered throughout town, cleaning up. Hunters gone nuts, near as I can tell, but we managed to hold him off and it looks like hes taking most of his ire out on the Collegium."
"That leaves Gulgoleth." Ponds summed it up.
"Looks like we control the town through default," Arizona Jane chipped in. "Unless Hunter somehow gets his act together."
"I suspect mayorship is a burden Mr. Baine doesnt want right now," Walter replied, as an older, balding man entered the office.
"You ladies know Father Terrance, I believe." Walter waved them to each other in lieu of introductions. "Hes been tending to the sick and injured over at St. Martins, but thanks to just a minute." Ponds stepped over to an elaborate electrical console and flipped a few switches. Getting no response, he went on. "As I was saying, thanks to the Rangers, and Sandra and Zarkovs efforts out at the Colorado, hes also managed to keep us up-to-date on events out in the field."
"The situation is still not favorable," Terrance intoned. "Our infiltrator reports that Elijah prepares for some great ritual. Whether he means to empower his troops once more, or summon a greater power to strike directly, we do not know. The report from our man was unexpectedly cut short."
Kerry sighed wearily. "Great. Wheres this ritual takin place?"
"Deep beneath Gulgoleth itself," the priest replied.
"Well, thats it, then," Arizona Jane concluded. "From what Ive heard, the Prophets drawn all of his surviving forces in there, and the place is a veritable fortress! Theres no way we can take it!"
Walter chuckled. "Dont worry, little lady. We have a plan "
Tuesday - 8:11 a.m.
Rhett Caufield cursed. Darren was ranting and raving, and slowing them down. They were separated from Garret and the others during the Angels initial push, and now they were cut off from the rest of their forces, out in the middle of nowhere, with wounded no less.
"Howre you doin, Skunky?" he asked the older man, who stumbled along beside the others.
"Wells as can be expected," the squatter huffed, favoring his left side. "Hows Titus doin?"
Hearing his name, Darren started screaming, "No! Not in there! Its death! Death, I tell you! Monsters, monsters everywhere!"
"What the hell ?" Rhett jerked backward.
"I think hes still talkin about Soddum, Rhett."
Their destination: the closest place where they could get some food and medical help. Caufield had heard about Soddum, but didnt know anyone whod actually been there. Most Gomorra folk wouldnt go near the place for love or money. It supposedly got a lot of out-of-town visitors, though. Buster once told him that it was a gamblers paradise; most who visited came back flush with money. Then again, Madison also talked about how the losers never came back to tell their tales
Skunky wasnt going to make it much farther without aid, and Soddum was it. Regardless of its reputation, the new boomtown was his best hope to make it out of this alive.
Soddum was just there. One second you were walking through the wilderness, the next, the outskirts of town just sprang up around you. As the Blackjacks stumbled into town limits, Rhett glanced back over his shoulder, checking the path theyd taken.
Coulda sworn that town was still half a mile away, he marveled.
Rhett was also surprised by how peaceful the town was. They were only a couple of miles from Gulgoleth, but the place seemed to have avoided the devastation surrounding the mesa. Its quiet, white houses were well built and beautiful, like something you might see out East, and the rain was already drying all around the area.
Skunky was just as struck by the bizarre sight. "Dont think were goin to find a doc here, Rhett," he muttered nervously.
"Dont have a choice, Skunky. Lets get movin in and see what "
"Stop right there!"
A man, wearing a cowboy outfit that was just a bit too clean. His shirt was pressed and bright, and his chaps nearly gleamed in the morning sun. He had a neatly trimmed goatee, bright blue eyes, and a smirk that would have given the Devil pause. He was accompanied by a woman wearing a broad brown duster, her face painted white and surrounded by flowing red hair. She had a huge revolver in hand and was pointing it directly toward the ragged group of outlaws.
It took a moment for Rhett to notice their badges - a sheriffs tin on the woman and a deputys on the man.
"What I believe we have here, Sheriff Syn, are some trespassers," the Deputy continued.
"Youre not welcome in Soddum," the sheriff said to the Blackjacks. "Turn back the way you came."
"Weve got a wounded man here, sheriff," Rhett pointed out. "And Id understand that many gamblers have come here. You suddenly closed for business?"
"Under normal circumstances, youd be more then welcome. But unless youd care to gamble with your friends lives "
Darren Titus suddenly bolted upright and screamed, "Charlie! Charlie, is that you?"
What the Hell? Rhett wondered. Why is Darren suddenly babbling about Landers Or was he talking about Flatbush?
"Id suggest you be moving along. Preparations are underway for a town celebration, and youre not invited. Deputy Tophet, please escort them back to the city limits."
The deputy stepped forward, tapping his fingers suggestively on his gun butt. Out of options, Rhett swung around and led the others away.
"We cant leave," Darren hissed. "Theyre here. All of them! Charlie, Eddie, Spike, Juan Theyre all trapped here. They cant leave. Neither can we "
"What the Hell are you on about, Titus?" Rhett asked, gripping the Indian by the shoulders.
"Careful, Rhett," Skunky said. "He aint been right since that weird explosion that brought down all the angels."
Im beginning to wonder if hes the only one of us who is right, Rhett commented to himself.
Hearing a noise, Rhett turned back towards Soddum. Two figures stumbled toward town, a man and a woman. Both looked like theyd been at the center of a pretty bad explosion, and the man was damn near unconscious, draped over his companion like so much cordwood. The two passed the outlaws and were greeted openly by Soddum law enforcement, who helped them in toward the towns interior.
None of my business, Rhett thought. Gotta get Skunky to a doctor before he bleeds to death.
Tuesday - 8:58 a.m.
"Move it, you idiot!" Donovan snarled. "Weve only got a couple of minutes before they come back."
"Shaddup your own self," Sam Horowitz whispered back irritably. As far as he was concerned, Sweetrock wasnt paying him enough to take Vances garbage.
The Blackjack went back to stringing the demolition charges. He took great care not to touch the rock that made up the walls of the ruins. Horowitz had brushed against it earlier, and that was enough. He could have sworn that it felt like well, skin, soft and fleshy and pulsing. He didnt want to know if hed been imagining things, he just wanted to be done with this and to get the Hell out of the mesa.
"Gotcha!" Sam snarled, pushing in the last wire. "Move it, Donovan! What are you doing? Could you be any slower?"
Vance sighed. "Everyones a critic." With a final flourish he finished off his own pack of explosive charges and pulled back from the cliff face. "Now I suggest we retire. Our timers are synchronized, and weve got until ten oclock to reach safety."
"Amen to that!" Horowitz agreed, heading toward the tunnel leading to the surface. "The faster we get out of here, the better."
Not twenty yards into their ascent, the demolitionists heard footsteps up ahead. Without a word, they ducked into a side tunnel as six people walked past them and toward the ruins.
"The time of our ultimate power on Earth approaches. One hour, no more, and we shall rule the earth in the Lords name!" Elijahs booming tones were easy to recognize.
"And the Whateleys plan to be there to collect whats theirs," a woman in a skin-tight black dress and designer holster said.
"Of course, my pretty," Elijah answered. "Your brood will be most pleased with the Last Kingdom, Im sure."
Their conversation faded into the distance as the crowd moved out of earshot, into the central chamber at the center of the mesa. Horowitz glanced silently at Donovan, whose expression was enough. Without another word, they broke into a run up the tunnel and away from the lair.
Tuesday - 9:27 a.m.
"This is a mistake, Jebediah," Nicodemus pointed out for the fourth time.
"Silence! Ive tolerated your insubordination for the last time, nephew. Ill see the heads of those benighted redskins on poles, every damned one of them, if we have to march into Hell itself. Besides, once we hold the power plant, we hold the town."
Nicodemus shrugged, and went back to flipping through his deck of cards. Now wasnt the time to challenge Jebediahs power. Not yet
Nic had never been convinced that Elijah was anything more than insane. Not that he was worried about working with the mentally ill. Some of his best friends were crazy. Speaking of which
Armitage? Where are you? Nicodemus wasnt sure whether to be relieved or nervous that the voice in his head (the newest one, anyway) had died away. Was the manitou on some special mission, or had the chaos that engulfed Gomorra finally destroyed it? Nicodemus would have welcomed the latter, but suspected the former.
"Strike! Now!" Jebediah screamed suddenly. His followers, and the Lost Angels remaining in town, were struck dumb for a second, but then slowly lurched into motion.
In the morning light, something soared overhead - a twisted, bloated figure of pale green. It struck down, straight as an arrow, at Jordan Caldwell. Screaming, she unleashed a volley of bullets into it, but it was undeterred, and slammed into her, driving her into the ground. Nicodemus, stunned, watched as the attacking ghost yanked Caldwells spirit from her body and tore her ethereal form apart.
"Oh, thats not good." Nicodemus muttered. Squinting, he was just able make out the true form of the spirit that had attacked Caldwell. "Cousin Malrog?"
The spirit-being looked up. Yes, it was definitely Malrog Whateley. Through the blank stare, he could almost see a glimmer of recognition. Instinctively, Nicodemus summoned a hex to mind as the spirit threw itself forward at him
and was blasted into a thousand slithering pieces of mist as a bolt of energy slammed into it from ahead. Glancing to his left, Nicodemus saw the tattooed freak, Gnosis, the barrel of his gizmo-gun smoking and leaking a pale yellow liquid onto the ground. The Whateley scion tossed off a mocking salute of thanks, then paused as a white nebulous mass formed behind the Lost Angel.
Seeing the look on Nicodemus face, Gnosis spun to find another spirit glaring down at him, its eyes sharing the same dull Whateley stare. The new spirit swept out at Gnosis with a gaseous tentacle, sending him flying across the street, then swept up a half-dozen Angels and sucked them slowly but inevitably into its mass.
Et tu, Enoch? Nicodemus pondered. He could now see other Whateley spirits rising about them. Dear departed Ezekiel staggered through the ranks of the Angels, striking them down one by one. Moses stalked their ranks as well, crushing them and leaving behind their broken remains.
Then, behind the spirits, Nic caught sight of a flesh-and-blood Indian, his eyes burning with infernal fire. Then another, and another, until there were more than he could count.
"How!?!" Jebediah screamed, "Where did those thrice-damned Sioux get this kind of power?"
Nicodemus wasnt sure that this power was entirely Sioux. The shards of both Caldwells and Malrogs spirits drifted up into the air, then flowed northeast as if carried by a strong ethereal wind.
Toward Gulgoleth, he noted.
Other wisps emerged from the dead and dying, and were swept up into the current as well, as Nicodemus finally realized what was happening. Nice work, Elijah, he commended. Let us kill each other off, then claim our spirits as your own. But how did you do it?
Now, the real question: Did Nic care? Tzipporah was already inside the Mad Prophets Lair, and could be contacted easily enough. She might even be able to kill Elijah before his minions shredded her where she stood. But ultimately, would it matter? And even if it did, was it a foregone conclusion that Elijahs plan would result in the total devastation that Jebediah wanted so badly?
I believe Ill let this one ride, he decided, turning to leave. Death held no terror for him, but dying to be part of a spirit battery for a religious zealot was not on his agenda.
"Where are you going?" one of the Lost Angels screamed at him. "Stand and fight, Whateley, or Ill kill you myself!"
"Mallory, isnt it?" Nicodemus asked off-handedly. "I believe this is for you." A card spun off the top of his deck of its own volition, cutting through the air and into her throat. The impact threw her back and off her horse. She landed, hard, on the bloodied earth, her spirit already rising into the ethereal stream.
That had to hurt, chuckled Nicodemus. Tipping his bowler to her raging spirit, he stepped over the body and headed for Gulgoleth. The time of Elijahs "Last Kingdom" must be close, and maybe he could reach it in time to see the fireworks.
Tuesday - 9:51 a.m.
"The time to strike is now, Brigadier-General," Kerry insisted. "Father Terrance says that we cant wait any longer."
Patterson observed the gunfighter carefully. "You also said the explosives will go off at the top of the hour. Why not let the blast do the job? We keep them bottled up, and the explosion brings the mesa down around them."
Arizona Jane practically stamped her feet in frustration. "We dont know that the explosives will even dent those ruins. Besides, Elijahs followers might already have found them. We cant take the risk."
Killer Kerry nodded her agreement. "Shes right. The Union forces were hit the hardest, a couple days ago, and you wouldnt work with them anyway "
"Quite right, madam!"
" our men are holding the town, and the Sheriffs men are restraining the looters. The Collegium are working for themselves now, or so Im told, and the Sioux are busy with Elijahs remaining followers in Gomorra. That leaves you."
Patterson considered her words, but his thoughts were interrupted as an unearthly howling flowed through the air. "Whaaatt?!?" he exclaimed, glancing up as a ghostly white stream of energy drifted through the air, from Gomorra toward Gulgoleth.
"Hellfire and damnation!" he bellowed. "Ladies, thats enough for me. Sergeant Slade! Front and center!"
The Sweetrock women stepped aside as the Harrowed underling staggered forward. "Looks like he bought it," Jane whispered to her companion.
"Quite a while ago, too," drawled Kerry. "Uh oh!"
"What do you mean, uh ?" Jane asked, turning to follow Kerrys line of sight. "Oh Uh-oh."
An army of the dead marched north from Gomorra, some clad in the tattered remains of Confederate uniforms, most in common street clothes. Jane thought shed seen some of them walking the streets of Gomorra over the last year or so before the undertakers had hauled them off to Elephant Hill.
"Ah. My reinforcements have arrived. Excellent!" Patterson exclaimed triumphantly. "Ladies, Id suggest you step back. This is mans work."
Slade raised a bugle to his lips and tried to suck in a breath of wind. He only partially succeeded, as more air hissed out of the gaping holes in his chest than into the horn. Still, the signal went out loud enough to be heard across the field, and the lurching corpses fell into ranks behind Pattersons human commanders.
"Hes just as crazy as they say he is," Kerry said.
Jane looked as nervous as Kerry had ever seen her. Who knows? Maybe crazys just what we need right now, she thought.
Tuesday - 9:58 a.m.
Enrique never planned to leave Elijahs lair alive: the mission was suicidal from the start. His duty was to the Church, and he had accepted it gladly. But he intended for his death to mean something.
Elijah was consumed with the ritual at the moment, leaving his personal safety to Cain and Abel, who never left his side. Sister Mercy also remained nearby, and the sultry Whateley gunslinger kept a respectable distance, watching the spectacle in silence.
Elijah looked up, out of the hollow mesa and into the morning sky. "Lord God Almighty," he rasped, raising his hands into the air, "give your power unto me!" As if on cue, a white column of energy pierced the sky and engulfed him. Everyone in the room knew to expect a display of power, but this image was stunning, and they withdrew from the searing energy, even though it gave off no heat. Cain and Abel fell prostrate on the floor, their arms outstretched in reverence to the power of their Lord, though Alonso knew that this display had nothing to do with the Divine.
The Prophet chanted in some language that even Enrique, for all his schooling, didnt recognize, then suddenly paused. "SISTER MERCY!" he cried out. "ATTEND ME!"
The Lost Angel stepped forward. "Brother! What can I do in this, your moment of transcendence?"
Elijah smiled proudly upon her. "YOU CAN DIE!" With a casual motion, he reached forward, thrusting his hand into her chest. There was no mark, no sign of ripping or tearing: Elijahs hand simply passed through the skin and yanked back with a grisly ripping noise. His fist throbbed and Alonso, only now working through his shock, realized that he had torn the womans heart clear from her chest!
For a silent, impossible moment, Winters stared into her leaders eyes, then crumpled slowly to the ground.
"BROTHER ENRIQUE! ATTEND ME!"
The silence in the room was palpable, and Alonso knew that his time had come. If he were to make his mark, it would have to be now. Reaching into his robes, he clasped the pistol hed smuggled into the lair and
fell backward as the entire mesa was rocked to its very foundations.
Artillery fire, Alonso noted. Father Terrance to the rescue!
Tzipporah, sensing things were falling apart, ran for the entrance and disappeared up the tunnel. Cain and Abel rose, only to be knocked to their feet again as Elijahs precious "Sabtabiels Remains" exploded outward into the heart of the mesa.
Perhaps today isnt such a good day to die after all, thought Enrique, as Cain and Abel dove forward, into the pillar of white light surrounding Elijah. There was a flash, and they were gone, vanished. Elijah himself was fading, as if he was slowly winking out of existence, and Enrique thought he saw the Prophet glance knowingly in his direction.
I suppose, if its the only option, he thought, diving after the Angels. As he hit the white light, he felt a shock of intense pain and then nothing, absolute numbness, as he was lifted up and away from the fireball that consumed the mesas center. One second, Sister Mercys body lay on the ritual site, torn and bloodied, and the next it was reduced to so much ash and blown away, rolled into the fierce blast.
Alonso felt himself lifted up, his body now completely weightless. Am I dead, he wondered. Is this
Glancing up, he saw Elijah, Cain, and Abel. More to the point, he saw through them as they rose through the devastation, rocks harmlessly passing through them and fire licking harmlessly at their transparent images.
"Do not fear, my son," Elijah said to Alonso. The Prophets voice was uncharacteristically soothing and warm. "We are at the cusp of a new world "
"But," Enrique asked, more with his mind than his voice, "the ritual failed."
Elijah smiled. "Far from it, Enrique. You are very nearly ready to understand the truth. Very nearly, and yet a lifetime away "
Torn between survival and duty, Enrique did as he was asked, and found that the horrors of the real world paled to those in the one beyond. His silent, spiritual cries tore through the heavens
Tuesday - 10:00 a.m.
The horde of Angels came soaring out of the mesa entrances, descending onto the approaching horde of walkin dead. Patterson, in the lead, parried the thrust of a flaming sword and stabbed beneath it, causing the blonde "angel" who struck at him to backpedal furiously before collapsing into his kin.
"Men or angels, kill them all!" Patterson screamed, and the undead surged forward, grabbing at anything foolish enough to pass within their reach. Artillery shells flew through the air overhead, impacting on the mesa walls. The best placed attacks garnered minor avalanches, which rolled off the cliff side and clouded the battlefield, shrouding the warriors in a haze of brown.
Moments later, the scene was shaken by a huge explosion from within the mesa. Everyone on the field - dead, living and angelic alike - froze in their tracks as huge gouts of flame shot from every entrance into the central Gulgoleth mesa. Fallen who were close to the mounds cavern mouths were lost in the blast, incinerated where they flew. Rocks and debris rained down onto the final battleground, crushing angel and soldier alike.
Patterson wheeled his horse around and kicked it to a gallop, yanking the reins hard to avoid a massive boulder rolling off the mesa foundation. He watched the skies above him, searching for an angel moving with purpose. When he found one, he followed it, ordering neighboring troops to follow, and picked up the pace to keep up with it. As he suspected, the creature rode through an opening in the debris, then soared up and out of sight.
Buggers have their uses, he mused grimly.
The Brigadier-General wheeled his horse around just as the mesa let forth a final, lingering groan and collapsed inward, caving in upon itself. More rock and debris flew out, killing the survivors too bold or too stupid to steer clear of the area.
It took nearly a minute, but when it was over, Gulgoleth was a pile of rubble on the field.
Tuesday - 11:03 a.m.
From his temporary command post, Patterson surveyed the smoldering ruin of Gulgoleth with dismay. He had sustained massive casualties among his undead soldiers, who, for the most part, were too slow to make it out in time. Not that he missed them personally, but without their support, the Confederacy was vastly outnumbered by the other forces in Gomorra.
So much for military conquest, he concluded.
Sergeant Slade was missing in action, but the man was a survivor. The Brigadier-General had a team searching for him now, though he was half inclined to believe the man would make his own way home. His adjutant would be back at his side shortly, of that Patterson had no doubt.
Dexter Simpson had been in contact via the gadget that Zarkov and Miss Harris had built, vouching the Rangers complete support, but Patterson was sure that the covert operatives were against him. Especially now that they knew of his "secret weapon", he was sure hed made another enemy.
Sighing, Patterson turned away from the battlefield.
Only one thing left to do, he noted.
"Ladies," he said, mustering what little Southern charm he could as he approached the Sweetrock gunfighters, "Miss Kerry, Miss Jane. My apologies. I hope you can understand how heavily this defeat weighs on my soul."
"Not a defeat," Kerry corrected him. "Elijah is dead, buried under tons of rock. The Lost Angels have scattered. And, unless I miss my guess, youre the hero of the hour - with a little help from us frontier folks, that is."
"Perhaps. But you must understand that from my perspective, and more importantly, that of my superiors, this whole campaign has been a loss. Whats left for Dixie Rails to occupy? Several tons of unstable rubble thatll be burning for years. Weve neither the manpower nor the resources to salvage anything of use from this."
"True. But Union Blue wont get it. Neither will Hellstromme, Kang, or Devlin."
"Well, there is that, isnt there?" Patterson admitted. "In any case, ladies, I must take my leave. My thanks for your assistance, and tender my regards to Mr. Baine. I shall look forward to meeting him when things have settled down."
With that, Patterson tugged at his uniform, climbed atop his horse, and began the ride back to Gomorra.
"Well, that went about as well as could be expected," commented Jane.
"Yep. Sweetrock holds most of Gomorra, weve got the resources close at hand to salvage Gulgoleth without much outside help, and were still on good terms with the Sioux."
"You really think thats the last well see of Elijah?"
"I hope so, Jane. But this is the second time weve had this conversation, now isnt it?"
Epilogue - Tomorrow
Megan Mallory woke with a start, bolting up to a sitting position in the clutching mist. The ground felt clammy beneath her palms, and she recoiled from the oddly slick surface she was resting on. Instinctively pulling herself into a fetal position, she rocked back and forth, her eyes adjusting to the sudden darkness around her.
Where am I, she wondered. The last thing I remember
Her hand flew to her throat and she swallowed, just to check, then pulled her hand back in horror, not believing what she felt there.
Its not possible.
"Are you alright?"
Mallory jumped at the unexpected voice in the freakish wilderness, reaching for her gun and twirling on its source, only to come face to face with a little girl of perhaps nine, dressed in a soiled white dress and matching bonnet.
"Thats not gonna work," the child giggled.
What the Hell is a little girl doing in a place like this? she wondered, re-holstering her weapon. "Whats your name?"
"They call me Lily."
"Alright, Lily," Megan said, as calmly as she could manage. "Where are we?"
"You dont know?"
"I just arrived. Im a little dazed."
"Were in Heaven."
Megan tried to blink away her confusion. "What?"
"All good souls go to Heaven," Lily chimed, laughing and dancing through some twisted childhood sing-along. "My uncle told me so."
"Your uncle? Whos your uncle?"
Lily stopped and stared blankly at Megan again. "The Prophet Elijah."
"Oh, God," Mallory sighed.
"Precisely," came a second voice through the mist.
"Whos there?" Mallory called, her hand back on her pistol, just in case.
Too slowly, a figure crept through the mist, a man in his fifties wearing suspenders and a short-brimmed, miners hat. He looked harmless enough, but Megan could make out more silhouettes just behind him, approaching her, so she kept her hand where it was.
"My names John," the newcomer said, offering his hand in greeting. When he spotted her stance and the position of her hand, he added, "Were all friends here."
"You afraid, John?" Megan smiled. Maybe it will do some good after all
The miner laughed. "No, of course not."
"None of us are afraid here," another man said, exiting the mist, a robust figure with an attractive shock of platinum blonde hair.
"Not anymore," another voice continued, this one female and known to Mallory.
"Mercy? Is that you?" the gunfighter called into the mist.
"None other," the Angel responded, stepping into sight. It was her - Sister Mercy Winters - but her chest was splayed open, a gaping hole where her heart should be.
"Oh God! What happened?" Megan gasped.
"I was chosen," Winters answered. "As were you."
"I wasnt chosen! I was murdered! By that demon-huckster, Nicodemus!"
"Regardless, youre home now. And our being here means that the first step has been taken."
"First steps? Toward what?"
"Look around you," John said. "Cant you see? It has begun."
"What?" Mallory asked, noting that the mist was falling back from the small circle to reveal more and more of the surrounding landscape - and ring after ring of the dead. Elijahs Deadly Sins and his guardian pets, Flim and Flam, an albino Collegium chemist, a ritually scarred African warrior, a hulking, drooling gunslinger with a red and white poka-dot scarf, missing the backside of his skull
There are hundreds of them, Megans shocked mind registered. Maybe thousands
The mist was consciously withdrawing now, exposing the local terrain, a vast, gnarled bog - and the base of something that extended well out of sight above, a towering tree which looked to be hundreds of feet across and decaying from the roots. On the boughs above, she could hear voices, whispering cries on the wind, and raging, angry replies.
And she could see lights, waning on the upper branches, dancing around shadows and tricks of the light. In a moment, one of the lights fell, fading as it approaching the roots, its voice singled out and shrieking in terror for a brief moment, then silent as another figure appeared on the twisted plain below.
"Every time one of them dies, or anyone in the Gomorra Valley dies, we grow stronger," John said, holding his hands up to the gathering throngs on the plain. "Soon, there will be too many of us, and too few of them, and we will spill out into their world."
Megan, too stunned for words, stood frozen with horror, even as the numbness of death took her a second time.
"The end is here," John finished. "The Last Kingdom has arrived."