Blood Moon Rising Preview – De Annulos Mysteries

This preview is for the upcoming Pine Box Expansion, Blood Moon Rising, arriving in stores October 10, 2016! Ask your local game store about it today!

De Annulos Mysteriis
By Brett Satkowiak

deannulosmysteriis_card“It’s one of three volumes,” Valeria explained, pointing to the tome that lay open on the sheriff’s desk. “This is the first one, and each is over three hundred years old. Hawley had us buy it off a collector in Virginia. She said she had the others, but at the time, we thought it a waste. It took me months to begin a translation and I had to start anew several times because Kahler intermingled at least four different languages. I mean most of it’s gibberish, just the ravings of a lunatic. But now that we’ve seen –” She winced slightly at the memory. “– what we’ve seen … I’m sure of it. It’s all about the Fourth Ring. This book predicted this. I don’t know how, but it did, and –”

“And the other two predict something else,” Abram finished. “Hawley said this wasn’t over. He said there was more, which is why we have to go.”

Wendy stood across from him, arms folded, brow furrowed as she processed all of this. “I get it. But why’s it have to be you?” Wendy asked.

“ ‘Cause I don’t know of anyone else,” Abram shook his head. “We were the only ones who heard Ivor’s words. Whoever these people are — this ‘Fourth Ring’ — someone needs to stop them, and for all we know, we’re the only ones who even know they exist.”

“But what about us?”

“You’ll be alright. I don’t think we could ask for better timing. Pasteur’s cure is slow, but it’s working. And whatever’s left of the circus has made for the hills.”

“And Sloane?”

“From what Lucy told us, I don’t think we need to worry about her for a while. And by the time she comes back … you’ll be ready.” He extended his hand, in which laid a silver star with the word “Sheriff” emblazoned across it.

“I told you before, Abram. I won’t wear that badge.”

“I know. But you’re the best person to find someone who will.”

Wendy sighed, taking the star from his hand. “I really can’t talk you out of this, can I?”

“When Hawley died, he said that more would be coming. He said they wouldn’t stop. Valeria’s book seems to know something about them. Whoever this Kahler fellow is, he saw this coming, all of it. And if we can find those other books, maybe we can get ahead of them. It’s the best way to keep Gomorra safe.”

“Prescott’s outside with the wagon,” Valeria said, closing the book and packing up the remainder of her things. “We should be going.”

“Go ahead,” he said. “I’ll be right out.” Abram turned back to Wendy and sighed. “Look, I can’t explain it, but there’s more to it.” He reached down and wrung the handle of the sword hanging at his side. “I have to do this, Wendy. Whoever this Fourth Ring is … I have to stop them. Standing there in front of Hawley, seeing that twisted grin, hearing that name, I knew … this is why I was brought to Gomorra.”

Wendy grimaced. “Damn it, I hate bein’ right.” She reached out and pulled Abram in close, squeezing him tight. “You hurry back.”

Abram returned the hug. He released her and smiled, squeezing her arms with his hands. “I will,” he said. And with that, he turned and walked out of the Gomorra Sheriff’s Office.

Dice City Crossroads



When I first designed Dice City, my goal was to create a game where you would change the faces of your dice. To make the game less fiddly (and also able to be produced at a reasonable cost) I ended up “simulating” that through the players’ boards. On the board, the various slots were now creating a grid of sorts. However, since each row was a separate die, there were no “relation” between the various rows. Each one was independent of the rest – it didn’t “care” what the other dice did. That meant that although there were many abilities that were row-related (as in “do something based on what else you have built in the same row”) there was no column-related ones. After all, the columns weren’t “representing” anything. The rows were your dice. Your columns? Nothing.

But that is about to change!

With Crossroads, I decided to go into that territory and start playing a little bit more with the spatial aspect of the players’ boards. After all, there was already a grid in front of the players. Why not take advantage of that? The trick however, was not to swim in the same waters I had swam before. It was very tempting to just use the “same” abilities that were already row-related and make them look at columns this time, but I wanted them to be different. Moreover, there were other things to consider as well. Rows have 6 spaces – columns have 5. This immediately made the math slightly different. One other important change was that in a row, you (normally) have only one of the locations get activated each turn. When talking about columns though, you may have multiple dice in the same one. All these differences were opening up new design space that I was eager to use.

What was very important was to give each card type a good column-related ability that helps with its strategy. The economic card had to be able to produce resources, the Military one should generate more Army, the Cultural location had to be VP related and the Civic one should manipulate your dice somehow. Many ideas were tried and in the end the abilities that were kept, were really fresh and allowed for interesting gameplay. In fact, we even had 2 Civic cards made since we liked so much the way they were interacting with the rest of the board.

Apart from the columns there was something else that I wanted to explore further: Gold. “All That Glitters” introduced the gold commodity and had some locations that were taking advantage of it. There was potential for more though, and we quickly came to the conclusion that we should include some new gold-related cards in this set as well. Once again though the key was to create something different and not just more of the same. In “All That Glitters” the abilities were quite straightforward. Most of the cards directly converted gold to one of the other resources. This time, some more radical ideas were tried. Bank for example allows you to “store” gold on it and cash it later in the game for a LOT of resources. The Conservatory spreads Victory Point tokens in your city while the Treasury does something unique in the game. 

In the end, those new abilities not only introduced new things to the game, they opened up new strategies as well. Combined with the column-related cards, very cool combos emerged and play-testers were now exploring more and more options during the game.

The expansion was completed by putting some more “regular” abilities in each card type, helping you towards the various strategies. The funny thing is that when you start to work on a game, there are times you struggle to find enough interesting abilities. After a while though, more and more ideas rush through you and you try to find space to fit them all! The final count for Crossroads was 16 different locations (4 in each type). The rest of the new ideas, would have to wait for the next expansion, and the royal decree that would announce them…

All in all this expansion is going to add a lot of variety in your games, giving you exciting new things to try out!

I hope you all enjoy it.

Vangelis Bagiartakis

Dice City All That Glitters


You probably know how the saying goes: “All that glitters… is not gold”. Well, in this case, the opposite is true! All that glitters is the first expansion for Dice City and it introduces… GOLD!

When sitting down to design Dice City’s first expansion, I wanted to introduce new things to the game. One of the early thoughts I had was the use of gold. It would be a “wild” resource (you would be able to use it in place of any other resource) but it would also allow you to do other things with it as well.

The first thing that such a new resource required, was a way to get it. In other words, a “Harvest” location that would always be available for players to buy. What better name than “Goldmine” for it? To differentiate it from the other Harvest locations, its cost was set at 3 resources – one of each type. Appropriate, since gold could be used as any of those resources after all.

Trying to come up with different and interesting uses of gold for new cards’ abilities, ended up being harder than it initially seemed. The main problem was the “difficulty” in getting the gold. Since it wasn’t available in any way in your initial board, you had to a) build a Goldmine, b) land on it in order to get Gold and c) land on the location that made use of it. On one hand, that made such locations more difficult to be of good use. On the other hand, it allowed us to put more powerful abilities on them that rewarded the players who went through all this trouble. The best thing though, was that they allowed for different strategies to exist. You could focus your entire game on getting Gold and using it effectively or you could even ignore it altogether. The option was there and even if 2 players were going for the same overral plan (i.e. get many Trade Ships or attack the most Bandits), they could approach it quite differently.

Apart from balancing the cards to make going for Gold worthwhile, it soon became apparent that a few more changes needed to be made. The first one was that Gold could not be considered a resource. Due to its scarcity it was much more powerful than wood, stone and iron. Thus, it wouldn’t be fair to be able to “manipulate it” as if it was one of those resources (like getting more through a Storehouse or a Marketplace). Similarly, the Goldmine could not be a Harvest location since that would also create problems (like its interaction with Merchant Guild for example or with some of the new cards). The other change that was made had to do with the quantity of Gold. To prevent the game from going on for too long due to some of the Gold strategies, it was decided to limit the number of available tokens in the game. Gold was now finite and if many people were using it, it would run out after a point. In addition, running out would trigger the end of the game as well.

Not only did this solve the issue we had, it also made the game more dynamic. Players now needed to pay attention to what their opponents were doing. If you were going for gold, you had to make sure you got it quickly (but not overdoing it). If you weren’t going for a strategy involving gold, you needed to keep in mind the quantity left or risk seeing the game end unexpectedly. In other words, it had an impact in the game no matter how it was used, which was exactly what we wanted.

Besides gold, All that Glitters introduces many other exciting locations as well, with each of them allowing for interesting new strategies to be followed. Warehouse for example makes it easier to pursue that 20-VP Trade Ship. Armory allows a player with many resources to convert them to Army strength. The Library allows a Cultural strategy to shine while the Hospital makes deactivations not “hurt” as much.

In the end, we were very happy with how the expansion turned out to play. All that Glitters brings with it fun combinations to try, new paths to follow and changes in how you need to approach things!

All in all, a… golden expansion! 🙂

Vangelis Bagiartakis

Blood Moon Rising Preview – The Caretaker

This preview is for the upcoming Pine Box Expansion, Blood Moon Rising, arriving in stores October 10, 2016! Ask your local game store about it today!

The Caretaker
by David Orange

Theo Boyer-Whateley wiped his lips. The white linen napkin contrasted with the floral swirls of his paisley shirt. He gave a contented sigh. “Once again, cousin, your menu choices are both creative and delicious.”

“You’re welcome, as always. But know tonight was a most special dinner,” said Nicodemus Whateley.

“Do tell.”

Nicodemus looked wistfully around the room. “It is time for us to leave.”

“Why on earth would we do that?” Agitated, Theo ran his fingers through his hair.

“Not much of a town anymore. If ever there was.” Nicodemus gave a rueful laugh. “Certainly not my town.”

“Wait a minute. You’re not only mayor of Gomorra, California — duly appointed at that — but you’re also head of the most powerful wizard family this side of Wichita or at least the Rockies.” Theo locked his fingers behind his head before resuming his animated brushing. “And that ritual of yours took care of those blighted like nobody’s business.”

“Gomorra once served our family’s ambitions, but not anymore.”

“But, but,” Theo sputtered in confusion.

“It is time for us to go. Whateley Isle awaits us and what remains of our family.”

“But the Estate holds fantastic energies and fearsome powers. You can’t just leave the manor unattended.”

Nicodemus feigned offense with a gasp. “I would never dream of doing such a thing.” He threw one final bite into his mouth before wiping his mouth and throwing the napkin to his plate. With a follow me gesture, Nicodemus led the way out of the room and up the stairway. After walking down the hallway, he stopped and opened a door.

Theo followed his cousin inside as his eyes widened in shock and admiration. “A child? What darkness are you conjuring that you would start robbing cradles again?”

Nicodemus laughed. “No, this one is our blood. I conjured him for a purpose. Just as this house hides great secrets, so this small boy possesses ample power to ward off any who seek to destroy or defile the Estate.”

Was that green light, almost fire-like emitting from the baby’s eyes? Theo blinked, and the light vanished, if he had even seen it at all.

Theo felt a hand on his shoulder. “It is time to leave.”

thecaretaker_cardNicodemus reached a hand into the cradle, caressing the child’s face with his index finger. “You know, I’m really gonna miss this place. Take care of it for the family, won’t you, child?” The baby gurgled and waved his stubby little arms as the two men departed, each to their rooms. They met at the bottom of the stairway.

Nicodemus opened the entryway closet and lifted out his carpetbag and a purple duster.

“You have been planning this for a while.”

“Ever since you showed up in Gomorra, Theo. My stewardship was never for Gomorra, but always about the Whateley legacy. It took you coming here to remind me of that.”

With that, Nicodemus led his cousin out the door and into the moonless night. A baby cooed, and as Theo turned to look back at the Estate, he caught a flash of green from the upstairs window. Perhaps it was just the rustling of the wind along with a trick of the light. A low rumble, felt more than heard, shook the ground beneath them. Or …

Blood Moon Rising Preview – Moving Forward

This preview is for the upcoming Pine Box Expansion, Blood Moon Rising, arriving in stores October 10, 2016! Ask your local game store about it today!

Moving Forward
By Jon Del Arroz

A knock sounded at the door of the president’s office of the Morgan Mining Company, de facto headquarters of all Morgan operations after last week’s chilling events. Despite frightening most of Gomorra’s residents, Lula Morgan would always remember it fondly as the time she took control.

Allying with Ivor Hawley had been unfortunate, but monster as he may have been, he sure did produce results. She smiled to herself, smoothing down the sides of her floral-patterned dress. “Come in,” she said.

“The fact that you can maintain that attitude after what’s happened to this town is disgusting,” came a familiar voice – albeit a bit raspier than she was used to hearing it.

“Lillian,” Lula said. She stiffened behind her desk. “If you’ve come to try to take the company back, I’m afraid you’ll be sorely disappointed. The contract you signed gave half the company to me, which would put us in deadlock save for a couple of matters in the fine print. I assure you not even your lawyers can help you wiggle out of this one.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Lillian Morgan stepped through the door. She looked gaunt, steadying herself with a cane. How these last weeks had aged her, even with Pasteur’s cure working through her system. She waved Lula off. “No, almost meeting my maker has given me some insight into just how cursed this town really is. I’ve danced closer to the devil than you’ll ever know, Lula. Getting the company back? No, that’s not why I’m here.”

Lula wanted to challenge her, to slap the woman as she’d come so close to on any number of occasions. But she was a businesswoman now. She had an image to maintain, and that’s what was important. Instead, Lula raised an eyebrow. “Then what does bring you here?”

movingforward_card“I’m leaving this god-forsaken place. I’ve already signed the papers for the sale.  You can have the damn company. I have enough wealth from that and a number of stores that you can’t touch to start over.” Lillian shook her head. “Though I may go try to find Max. I did enjoy working with him … one of the few honest types.”

“Sheriff’s office thought anything but that.”

“There is more than one side to every story, Lula. I’d think you’d have learned that by now.” Lillian raised her free hand, coughing lightly into her perfumed handkerchief.  “No, you win.”

Lula opened her mouth to reply but Lillian cut her off.

The elder Morgan stepped forward, meeting Lula’s eyes. “I won’t waste your time saying anything pleasant, and don’t for a minute think that me a fool that I don’t know what you did to me. You’ll get yours one day, girl, especially if you’re fool enough to follow after me. That’s one thing Gomorra’s good for … making sure everyone here gets their due.”

Lillian spat on Lula’s freshly varnished desk.

Lula gasped. “Why I never –”

“Save it,” Lillian said. She turned, moving with her cane back toward the door. “There’s more to running a company than posturing as well. If you actually listen to someone else for once, you might actually survive the coming days.” With that, Lillian closed the door behind her, leaving Lula to her own devices.

The office was so quiet. So many of her workers had fallen to the illness that had decimated Gomorra. But this was her company now, with no one left to challenge her. Soon enough it would be her town.

Lula pulled out a handkerchief to wipe the spit from the desk, sparing a glance for a large stack of paperwork before her. She would have to find someone else to look that over. She couldn’t trifle with petty tasks like that. But what would she do next? How would she run the company in earnest?

The truth was, Tallulah Morgan had no idea.

Echoes – The Showstopper Fiction

Check out the newest Saddlebag Expansion, The Showstopper, available now! Ask your local game store about it today!

By Ross Fisher-Davis

There was an eerie quiet that held sway over the town below. The smoke from the explosions was still rising, the dust still settling, but silence more or less reigned in Gomorra. Jonah Essex stood on a rocky outcrop overlooking the town, and tried to ignore the unease in his belly. No matter what happened in town that night, for him it was nothing but disappointment.

Jonah turned back to his little camp and took a seat. His old horse was grazing lazily, and on the ground next to him, the burden.

It didn’t look like much now, just a bundle of leather lying in the dust. It wasn’t right to see it like that, stripped of its place, its glory. But such deals with darkness demanded that things get a bit dirty. Jonah laughed in spite of himself and remembered what he’d come up here to do.

“I guess we’re all dealing with devils today eh mate?” Jonah asked his horse, who continued to chew peacefully. He settled himself to the ground, tugging the dog eared deck of playing cards from his jacket and shuffling them absently. He watched the echoes of smoke trail into the sky across the desert.

“Bet them indians’ll think there’s a right good party going on with a signal like that.” Jonah smirked at his own joke and started dealing himself a game. His horse shuffled her hooves and gave a nervous neigh.

“Oh shut up, it wasn’t that bad.”

The horse gave a whinny, eyes rolling wildly in their sockets, panicked.

“What the hell,” Jonah coughed, and he managed to get his pistol into his hand as the shadow fell over him.

Mario Crane stood over Jonah, his gaunt frame blotting out the sun.

Jonah cocked the pistol, the sound echoing lightly across the rocks. “Crane.” He whispered up the sallow faced man who stared down at him.

“Essex.” Crane’s pistol was in his hand, cocked and ready. They stared at each other.

“Not very nice way to greet an old friend, Crane.” Jonah nodded. Crane gave an almost imperceptible shrug of his gaunt shoulders.

“By all rights I shoulda shot you down already, Essex. Lying, murderous piece of dirt.”

“Doesn’t sound like you, though, does it?” Jonah gave a toothy grin. “Shooting people in the back is for folk like me, innit?”

Crane slowly lowered his pistol, slipping it soundlessly into his holster. “Cut the talk, Jonah. Why’d you bring me up here?”

Jonah hesitantly uncocked the hammer with a shaky thumb and flipped his pistol back into his holster. With a nod, he made a gesture towards the smoking ruin that was Gomorra far below. “There’s our town, Crane.”

“Who made it out alive?” Mario asked, stepping forward near to Jonah. The proximity of the man made Jonah’s skin prickle in anticipation.

“Too early to tell. Lot of dead though … circus took the town for a fine old show.”

“Where is she?” Crane asked, looking off towards the town, his eyes narrowed.

“Dunno. Still down there somewhere. Made things her problem and ain’t been seen since. I did find that though.” Jonah nodded to the burden, lying silently beside him.

“What is it, really?” Mario asked.

“I don’t have a clue, Crane. Like anything in this town, it ain’t what it seems though. It’s power. It’s the right to lead. It’s guns that go like the Devil himself picked up a couple shooters. You seen it.”

“I sure have.” Mario nodded. He raised a hand to his chest, on reflex.

“ … and I want you to have it.”

Mario Crane stared down at the holster, and spoke without looking up. “You call me up here to do me a favor? You got a crummy sense of humor Essex, don’t doubt it.”

Jonah spread his arms wide. “Look, it may be hell on Earth, but I like this town. All the smoke and soot in the air reminds me of London. And it’s ours, mate, make no mistake. The wreckage down there belongs to the gang now, seein’ as there ain’t much left to stop us. I’m gonna hang about to claim it. We just need a leader.”

Mario worked his jaw, a placeholder reaction for a man who no longer drew breath, before spitting on the ground between them.

Jonah shrugged and kept going. “Every leader of the gang has worn it. Comes with bestin’ the best. It takes real guts.”

“I want nothing to do with you, Jonah. I’m not a part of your little gang. You’re killers and thieves, the lot of you. And you’re lucky as hell I didn’t kill you weeks ago. Contact me again and I can’t promise the same luck’ll hold.” Mario turned to leave. “If Sloane’s really gone, then I’ll give you the same warning I gave her. Leave Gomorra and keep a low profile … because if I hear the name again, I’ll end the person answering to it.”

“Wait!” Jonah snatched up the holster and ran to face Mario again. Jonah lifted it slowly to him, with reverence. “I meant it, Crane. It’s a true prize, worthy of the man who got the drop on Sloane.” Mario extended a hand for the holster, but Jonah pulled it back. “But it comes with a deal, though, don’t it?”

“I’m not gonna play games here Jonah.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it. You’re the one that stood up to her; so you should be the one to take it. You want an end to the thievery, the killings? You got it. I’ll back you up to the others, and they’ll fall in line. You give the orders. You’ll be in control. You got the power to make it happen … the power of Sloane.”

“And what’s the catch?”

Jonah gave a low shrug, a gesture of simplicity, almost an apology. “You got to use it to kill her. Get your revenge, and take her gang. She’s got to go, Crane.” Jonah swept his arm towards the town. “Look what happened without you … without us. We pick up the pieces, and you can steer Gomorra any direction you like.”

Mario stared down at the belt in Jonah’s hand, then back up into the Brit’s eyes. Jonah raised an eyebrow. “So are you in, or do I have to find another dead man?”

After a moment, Mario inclined his head in the slightest nod, and held out his hand for the holster. “So what do I do? How does it work?”

“This isn’t the west end; no song and dance needed. It’s just a holster, mate. Put it on.”

Jonah relinquished the item to Mario’s waiting hand. It felt like nothing at first, just a simple holster. He caressed the dark leather, running his fingers across the black stitching. No carvings, no detail, no glimmer or flash of magic.

“What’re you waiting for mate? Try it on for size. See how it fits.” Jonah said, taking a step back from Crane.

Mario took the holster in both hands and fastened it about his hips. He exhaled. That’s when the sensation came. There was something there, deep within him. Something tangible that he could feel as soon as the leather was tightened about him. The reassuring weight of the empty holster hanging at his hip seem to give him an awareness he’d never experienced before. Mario’s mouth cracked in an uncharacteristic grin. He quickly became aware of it and banished it from his face.

Jonah looked on in silence, smiling.

Mario could hear that sniggering voice in the back of his head, the same one that haunted his dreams whenever his mind reached for sleep, and knew it was time to silence it for good. “Enough,” he whispered. But the voice grew louder. The sneering, laughing croon of the manitou that haunted Mario Crane began echoing in his head, loud enough it hurt. Mario’s face once again twisted into a grin, a horrible rictus leer that tore at the edges his mouth. “Enough!” Mario coughed through his own teeth, unable to control his hands as they twisted and jerked at his sides, caressing the leather of the holster.

The voice in Mario’s head had become a roaring beast, reaching a shattering crescendo. He felt himself falling away, felt his own senses being crushed. His vision began to blur, his ears blocked with laughter, and the scratches of claws tore at the fabric of his own mind.

Jonah staggered back another step, watching the undoing of Mario Crane with rapt attention.

Then suddenly … silence.

The thing that wore Crane like a suit jerked its neck to face Jonah so hard and fast he heard bones grind. It was still grinning that awful smile as it opened Crane’s mouth to speak in a grating mockery of the dead man’s voice. “Thank you, Jonah. Fits like a glove.”

Exeunt Omnes – The Showstopper Fiction

Check out the newest Saddlebag Expansion, The Showstopper, available now! Ask your local game store about it today!

Exeunt Omnes
By Ross Fisher-Davis and Brett Satkowiak

The sword on Abram’s hip was heavy. For some time now, it had weighed on him. Heavier than the gun in his holster, heavier than the weight of his impossible charge, heavier than the crushing regrets of his past. He ran his hand to the hilt and gripped it firmly. The weight was reassuring. The weight was his righteous force to bear. He steeled himself to swing Evanor against his enemies one last time.

The streets of Gomorra had begun to empty a bit. People were either running, hiding, or already dead. The taste of panic still lit the air, and the Fourth Ring’s explosions had colored the sky with a looming miasma of red sand and dust. Down every street there were screams. Abram wanted to run to his people, to protect them from the horrors the circus had unleashed, but he gripped the hilt of Evanor tighter, and strode on. The remaining deputies had to be trusted to help the townspeople, but the head of the beast had to be severed before the jaws would stop snapping. Abram and the souls that strode at his side towards an otherwise empty clearing near the town center were coming for Ivor Hawley.

When Abram had come to Gomorra, he hadn’t pictured it like this. He’d seen a border town, terrors in the past. Renewing, rebuilding. Not walking through streets lit with Hell, with men and women, crazy and criminal alike, to face the forces of darkness that gripped Gomorra in a chokehold.

At his side were the good ones, the ones who’d stepped up to take Gomorra back. Wendy had been here since the start, rifle in her steady hands and determination on her face. Old Prescott Utter, looking like something that blew in with the tumbleweeds, but still here, and still fighting. Pancho and Kingsford, a wanted outlaw and a stranger wanted outlaw. The irony almost made Abram want to smile. He didn’t know if they were doing this for the town, or just hoping for some kind of pardon. Abram liked to think he saw the best in people. Muttering to herself and wringing her hands furthest from Abram was Valeria Batten, a previous servant of the Fourth Ring and their conduit for information. It was this scholarly woman, one lens in her fine spectacles shattered, who had given them what they needed to move on Ivor … a move that had cost them dearly.

Behind them all, frantically twisting a screw in a tiny little weapon that looked more like a child’s toy, was the Frenchman. When Abram had met Pasteur, he’d seemed normal enough compared to the others who worked for Morgan’s science. Now that Abram was relying on that science for salvation, he seemed mad as any of them. Abram’s arm still ached from where Louis had injected the cocktail that would, if promises held, protect them all from Ivor’s apocalyptic contagion.

Louis was cursing at himself in French as he fussed with the little weapon and the even smaller vial within that held their hopes. No bullets, no sword had cut through the monster that Ivor had become, but Pasteur claimed he could undo the ringmaster with bottles and chemicals.

Abram felt the ugly truth rising again. To face the monster with untested science? Took a lot of faith. “Please Lord, let him be right,” he whispered to himself as they walked. “Please let us be right.” His grip firm upon the hilt of his heavy sword, Abram began another prayer as they walked. “Because he is my right hand, I shall not be shaken …”

* * *

Drew held a hand out and frantically motioned for Tyler and Jack to quiet down. He leaned to peer out of the horse paddock they had been setting up all night.

“It’s here,” he whispered to the others. “The goblin’s here, I swear it.”

There was a crash up ahead, something big. Jack and Tyler looked at each other warily, their faces ruddy with the smoke in the air.

“That ain’t no goblin, Drew. That sounds like a monster. We gotta get outta here!” Tyler was wringing his little hands like he’d seen Ms. Jenks do when she examined his homework.

Drew turned on them, a child, his tiny slingshot gripped tightly in his hand. “And go where? Back to the orphanage? Or the church bell, where the others are hidin’? No, we chased this thing down, we’re gonna trap it and get it. This is our goblin. Then they’ll see what the Jackalope gang can do.”

“Way better than a kung-fu gang,” Jack said between coughs.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Now let’s go over the plan!” Drew stepped back into the paddock. He gestured at the net they’d strung up between the rickety doors facing the town. “So when Jack runs in here, he’ll jump over the net and lead the goblin right into it. And then …”

Jack raised a hand. “Why’s it gotta be me as the bait?”

“ ‘Cause you’re the fastest, Jack.”

“Nuh uh, you’re the fastest, Drew. You always telling that story about outrunnin’ that dust devil coming back from the general store. So why’s it gotta be me?”

“ ‘Cause I’m the leader and I say so, that’s why. So after you jump the net, and the goblin gets all stuck up in it, Tyler up there.” He pointed to a canvas sack, hanging precariously from the rafters, bulging with shapes. “He lets loose the big bag, it lands on the goblin’s head and wham! We got ourselves a goblin!”

Tyler examined the net and the bag suspiciously. “What if …,” he started. “I mean … you really think this is gonna work Drew?”

“You gotta have faith Ty. We’ve been plannin’ this for weeks now. What can go wrong?” Drew winked.

* * *

Abram drew his pistol and aimed up into the dusty haze before him. Shadows dwelt there, figures thrashing, fighting … grisly yells and cries, sounds of a clash. Wendy readied her rifle in stoic silence.

Each one of them stood with caught breath, waiting for the enemy to emerge from the dust. A clown, blood spattered down the front of his motley, stumbled into view, a fire poker held in one hand. He tripped, fell, and landed splayed out in the dirt, a tomahawk buried in his back.

The figures that emerged from the dust were no Fourth Ring. Abram motioned for his allies to lower their weapons.

“Who goes there?!” he called out.

The first figures were unremarkable men, a bearded soldier reloading a shotgun, a grim set to his eyes, and a Indian woman in plains dress who seemed to be wrapped in a gentle breeze despite the dust around them. The man who walked between them, however, stood so tall it seemed for a moment a trick of the eye.

“Abram,” Wendy said, shock in her voice. “It’s the Chief. That’s Stephen Seven-Eagles.”

“Why do they call him that?” Maria asked.

“Maybe he eats that many for breakfast,” snorted Pancho.

Abram hushed them and stepped forward.

“Chief Seven-Eagles?” he said, warily. The Chief continued to approach until he stood a mere foot from Abram, his massive chest bare and crossed with war paint and spilled blood. From around his head, a corona of feathers stood tall, each one decorated with words for ferocity, for power, for blood.

“Sheriff Grothe?” Stephen replied, a voice like rumbling thunder. “You still live.”

“For the moment.”

Stephen looked left, then right, then back to Abram. “Your town is broken.”

“It’s my town now, huh?” Abram raised an eyebrow.

“Your responsibility to fix it, man of God. That is your burden.” Stephen pointed at the hilt of Evanor.

“It is that. Just so happens my friends and I here are on our way to crush Ivor Hawley into the dirt.”

Stephen nodded gravely. “The Crooked Grin. They say he can’t be killed.”

Abram opened his mouth to speak, when he was interrupted by a rush of enthusiasm from Pasteur. “He can most certainly be killed, Monsieur Oiseau. Here, here is his downfall.” Pasteur produced the pistol, a large glass syringe loaded mounted onto its back containing a strange, green liquid. Stephen didn’t look convinced.

“It’s true,” said Valeria, her quiet voice scratchy with smoke. “His power is in his blood, in the infection. This counter-pathogen fights back.”

“Your science cannot bring down a devil,” Stephen said, looking at the little weapon. Pasteur positively beamed.

“Science can do anything,” he said as he pointed to the sharp point of the needle at the muzzle of his device. “This science will unmake his magic. I stake my life on it.”

Stephen’s face was devoid of emotion. He looked to Abram, and to the sword on his hip again. “And you, man of God?”

Abram nodded, “I don’t have a lot of choices these days.”

“If this little dart can unwork the Crooked Grin, then I will see it pierces his black heart myself.”

“Thought it was my town.” Abram smiled.

“Your town is a part of the land, and my people protect the land, Sheriff. The wolf walks one step at a time.” He extended a hand, and Abram gladly took it.

* * *

Ivor Hawley peered deep into the eyes of Shizeng Lu. The young Chinese man was grasping futilely at his throat while one of Ivor’s clawed hands slowly crushed the life from him, breath by choking breath. The smell of burning wafted past Ivor’s nostrils; his yellow eyes glimmered at the euphoric sensation it brought him.

“Nothing to say?” Hawley said. “How disappointing.” With a crunch, he snapped the labor organizer’s neck and tossed him aside in a heap, flicking blood from the tips of his claws. He raised his foot off the chest of T’ou Chi Chow, and he gave a heaving gasp. In the other wicked hand, Ivor still gripped his cane, bringing it down hard on the ground next to the outlaw’s head. Half of his face was covered in blood, stemming from a deep wound hidden in his hairline. He was gripping his chest where Ivor had been standing and grimacing in pain.

“Your turn then, you happy fool. Answer honestly, and I’ll let you go.” Ivor leaned in, his rictus grin splitting his already monstrous face in half like a leering puppet. A mouth filled with needle sharp teeth yawned down at him. He extended a claw and touched it tenderly to Chow’s lips. “You claim to stand for the poor, the dirty, huddled masses brought low by men of privilege. And here I am, razing it all for the sake of my family of dirty, huddled masses, and you dare to stand in my way. Why fight me? You could take your family and leave, enjoying the light of the flames from a distance.”

Chow wrenched his face away, spitting blood and dirt to the side before staring back at the ringmaster. No fear in his eyes, he smirked back at the demonic visage and strained out the words, “Where’s the fun in that?”

Ivor’s grin grew a bit smaller at the defiant words, and yet he seemed to find a thrill in them at the same time. “Indeed. I daresay I haven’t had this much fun in years.” He reached his claws around Chow’s throat and prepared to lift.

“Hawley!” The call echoed across the clearing.

Ivor looked up, eyes shining. “Sheriff?” Ivor muttered to himself, curious. He forgot about Chow for the moment and rose to his full height, positioning both hands atop the cane in front of him.

Abram Grothe, sword gripped in his fist, approached the ringmaster.

“Jackson, Sue,” Stephen Seven-Eagles said to his fellow tribesmen, gesturing toward Pasteur, the vial gun gripped tightly to his chest. “Whatever it takes, you get this man close as he needs.”

A silence seemed to blow over the town square. Ivor running his sickly yellow eyes over the assembled posse … lawmen and outlaws, Natives and foreigners, traitors and muckety-mucks. “Is this it?” Ivor snorted, mockingly. “The ragged few too stupid to run? You underestimated me once, Abram.”

Chow, seeing the ringmaster’s attention diverted, reached out to his side to grab his revolver from the dust, firing up into Hawley’s back in a flash. The Ringmaster made to reach for him, but the outlaw was up on his feet and running, gripping his chest as he did.

“Ooh,” Hawley sneered. “Shooting people in the back? That’s unbecoming even for an outlaw, wouldn’t you say, Abram?”

Abram stepped forward, raising the blade of Evanor and pointing it at Hawley’s grotesque figure. “I think it’s you who’ve underestimated us, Ivor. Win or lose, this ends here tonight.”

“It seems perhaps I have underestimated you. You are an entertainer after all. By all means then, Sheriff.” Ivor spread his hands wide, and flicked his cane in a perfect overarm arc, his coattails flapping. “It’s SHOWTIME!”

* * *

Tyxarglenak smelled blood. The screams pushed him to higher and higher heights of rage and glee as he stormed through the high street, knocking a carriage into a storefront with a smash. He felt an impact in his back, and turned to see a goggled man in a leather apron holding a smoking pistol with rotating barrels extended before him. Specks fired again, a bullet taking off a chunk of the demon’s ear. Tyx lashed out, claws shredding the air. The orb embedded in his chest surged with energy. Tyx came forward like a storm so fast that the deputy lost his footing, and stumbled. Claws gripped at the inventor’s leg before he had time to hit the ground, and with one smooth motion Tyx flung the man full force into the wall of the nearest building, his crumpled body hanging through the splintered boards.

Smash. Tyx liked it. Turning, Tyx saw another little creature for him to smash, standing in the road up ahead. The tiny figure was staring, mouth agape, before turning to sprint away towards the open doors of a large building. Tyx grinned with joy, and followed.

“It’snotagoblinit’snotagoblin!” screamed Jack as he sprinted into the paddock and promptly tripped over the net, sending him sprawling headfirst into a pile of hay.

Drew peered out from behind his spot at the back and stood in shock as he saw the monstrosity chasing Jack smash through the paddock doors like they were paper.

A few shreds of its tiny outfit still hung from the scales on its back, and a green ball the size of his head was pulsing and glowing in its chest. Jaws that looked wider than Drew was tall were spitting and lashing. It stepped through the net and the trap tore from the wall immediately.

Drew steeled himself. No matter how big it was, it was still the same little goblin that had been lurking around Gomorra and eating up all the lemonheads. “Tyler now!” he yelled, pointing with his most dramatic finger.

Tyler was balanced precariously above, and reached to pull the drawstring supporting the bag. It flopped onto Tyx with a sound like a bird flying into the orphanage window and fell to the ground in a heap. Tyx looked up and swatted, smashing away a chunk of timber and sending Tyler swinging loose over the paddock, hanging desperately to a rafter. Tyx reached out and tugged Jack from the hay bale, squirming and squealing in Tyx’s massive deformed grasp. At the same time, both boys let out a screech for help.

Drew was biting his lip so hard he could taste blood. He dug in the little ammo pouch for anything and fumbled to load it up in his slingshot. It was the little chunk of ghost rock he’d found in the ruins of that creepy old manor on the edge of town … the luckiest thing he owned. He pulled back the string and took aim.

* * *

Ivor moved like lightning, nearly impossible to hit and practically impervious on the rare occasion that his foes could connect. Whatever evil force fueled him had made him stronger than anything Gomorra had seen in a long time. He was just as adept with his twisted body as he was with spellcraft, leaving the heroic lot at a loss.

A dark blast from Maria Kingsford’s pistol slammed into Hawley’s shoulder just as he dodged a swipe from Abram’s sword. In an effort to right himself, the ringmaster lashed out with a fist, connecting with Abram’s jaw and sending the sheriff to the ground for a moment. “You have power, girl,” he laughed at Maria. “But any good entertainer knows that it’s all about the effect.”

Ivor struck the tip of his cane in the dirt at his feet, causing a dark trail of shadow to wind its way through the dust toward her then through her legs. She turned to follow it, only to see it rise up before her in the form of a pale man wrapped in the same shadow like tendrils, materializing as snake-shaped tattoos on his arm. His face was void of feature or expression as he raised his arms toward her. The ink peeled up from his arms, taking the shape of snake-like whips that reached out to hold her fast. She screamed as one wrenched her wrist back, causing her to drop her pistol.

Across the square, Pancho Castillo was battling a pair of blighted citizens when he heard the scream. He turned to see her struggling in the tattooed man’s grip, maintaining just enough distance to keep the two inky snake heads before her away as they repeatedly snapped at her face. Pancho clocked one of the rabid attackers, a man, across the temple with his pistol grip, hoping he could reach Maria in time. But when he turned, the other, a woman covered in scaly boils and pus, moved in between them, lunging forward at the Mexican outlaw with an unholy fury.

But before he could even think of a counter, a shot rang out, Pancho feeling the force of the bullet cut the air in front of him as the woman fell to one side in a heap. Pancho looked quickly to the source, only to see the smiling face of T’ou Chi Chow, smoking barrel in one hand, the other holding him upright against a sidewalk’s awning post.

Pancho communicated his gratitude with a quick nod as he tore off at a run toward Maria.

* * *

Abram swung Evanor up wildly just as Ivor was turning his attention back to the fallen sheriff, catching him off-guard and pushing him back. He fought with renewed fervor as the sword in his hand seemed to hunger for his battle even more than he did. It gave Abram strength beyond his own mortal frame, filled him with a light that could only come from above. And through it all, Abram had the strange sensation that he’d been here before.

But Ivor was faster still. The ringmaster swung his cane down toward Abram with incredible force as Abram instinctively raised his blade to block it. He braced himself for the impact that he was sure would push him back down once more, leaving him open for another blow. But as the cane struck his sword, he remained firm, hearing instead the sound of splitting wood as the dark shaft splintered and shattered instead. Abram looked up to see Ivor’s face. For a brief moment, surprise marred the ringmaster’s demonic visage before an angry sneer replaced it. He kicked up into Abram’s wrist, causing the sheriff to cry out in pain and release Evanor to the dirt. Then with equal speed, he reached down to snatch the sheriff by the throat and lifted him up into the air, the dark boots kicking a few inches off the ground as the sheriff tried to pull Ivor’s hand away with his own.

“This back and forth bores me, Abram,” Ivor said, his yellow eyes flaring. “I think we’d all enjoy this a lot more if you would join the rest of us on the stage.” He began to laugh as he drew his strength, focusing his dark energy into the hand that gripped Abram’s throat. Black veins became visible on Abram’s skin, and he began to choke and gag in contrast to Ivor’s twisted giggling. However, he burning sensation on his skin and the dark veins began to subside just as quickly as it had come, and Abram found himself able to breathe clearly once more.

Ivor stopped laughing abruptly as he realized his spell was having no effect, a look of mild panic emerging within his yellow eyes. “What?!” he screeched.

“Sorry, Ivor,” Abram choked. “Looks like laughter isn’t the best medicine after all.”

“That’s not possible!” Suddenly Ivor was sent reeling as he was hammered with the blast of a shotgun from one side, forcing him to release Abram once more, coughing and spitting. The ringmaster staggered a bit, before yet another fiery blast impacted him, shredding the front of his overcoat and sending him back a few more steps. He looked up briefly to see the grizzled form of Prescott Utter, advancing steadily. The old man tossed the empty shotgun to the ground and drew his sidearm, quickly fanning to hammer twice to hit Hawley again, pressing him back a bit more. Three more quick movements across the top of the firearm sent three more bullets to keep Ivor on the defensive.

“You’d better believe it, Hawley,” he growled. “Your plague ain’t welcome in Gomorra anymore.” He raised his pistol and aimed to fire his last shot right between Ivor’s eyes, but the bullet never made it. Ivor threw his hand out toward it with incredible speed, deflecting it back at Prescott as it slammed into his leg, causing him to crumple to the ground.

Ivor regained his composure amid the chaos surrounding him. The Mexican and the tempest were still wrestling with his tattooed servant. The deputy, the scientist, and the burly fellow stood on an overturned stagecoach, desperately warding off a group of his blighted children trying to reach them. The Indian was nowhere to be seen, but Ivor knew he was nearby, occupied by another of his creations. The body of the plainswoman lay in a pool of her own blood, a deep slash splitting her abdomen.

“That bullet was meant for the heart,” Ivor mused, clicking his tongue. “I sense a power more my style. Come out, come out, wherever you are … Ms. Batten.”

* * *

“Damn it,” Wendy growled, swinging her rifle once more to swipe away the outreached hand of one of Hawley’s patients. “We’ve got to get off this stage!”

“Couldn’t agree more,” Jackson said as he kicked another square in the jaw. He could see that the bone was broken from the blow, but it didn’t seem to slow the attacker down one bit.

One of the blighted, in their frenzy, managed to get a foothold on one of the ropes secured to the roof, giving her just enough height to snatch the back of Pasteur’s jacket. He let out a gasp in surprise as he lost his balance and began to topple backwards. Wendy turned in shock, watching and reaching out helplessly in slow motion as their great hope vanished over the edge.

As she moved toward to edge to follow after him, Wendy jumped back just in time to see the diseased interloper miss her as she flew over the stage with enough force to propel her onto the awning over the General Store sidewalk. She clamored back to her feet to see another of the blighted thrown by the neck of his soiled gown across the street by a large mechanical hand.

Michael “The Badger” Dodge had once been the surest bet in Salt Lake’s underground pit fights. He’d come a long way since then, but being here in the town square now sure came close to bringing him back there. He was a man possessed, swinging and punching through the crowd of blighted townspeople like the dogs they used to sic on him in the ring. Within moments, the pack intent on ripping the three atop the stagecoach apart had been cleared, the final one wrestling against his grip. “It’s safe,” he called to them. “Get down while you can!”

The three shuffled down, taking a moment to reload once safely on the ground again.

“Thanks,” Wendy breathed. “If you’re not busy, we could use your help.”

“If it means putting an end to whatever this is,” he said, motioning to the captive man held at the end of his hissing arm. “I’m in.” He offered one final twist of his massive arm, silencing the blighted once and for all.

* * *

The darkness in the alley was overwhelming, darker than it seemed it should be, even in the late hours. Sections of the town were burning, casting reddish light all around, but not there. So Stephen Seven-Eagles moved cautiously through the darkness, tomahawk in one hand, dagger in the other. The creature that claimed Sue’s life was here somewhere, and he couldn’t allow it to jeopardize their mission any further.

There was movement in the shadow to his right, causing him to spin and strike out with his blade, hitting nothing. Another movement behind him drove him around again, with a downward stroke of his tomahawk, connecting once more with only shadow. A raspy hiss, not completely unlike laughter swirled around him in the darkness. He swirled once more toward the sound.

“Whoa!” T’ou Chi Chow called out, hands raised before him, one holding a pistol with the side proclaiming “Property is Theft” clearly facing the Stephen. “I come in peace!”

“Chow!” the chief spat. “I could guess what brings the God of Bandits to a dark alley at night –”

“You’d be wrong,” the bandit said, turning his gun hand back to a raised position, ready for action. His empty hand returned to his chest as he winced in pain. “Seems fair to say we’ve all got business with Hawley tonight.”

“No smirk? Perhaps pain is the path to maturity for you?”

“No, I wanted to. It’s just that something in this alley smells awful. It’s not you, is it?”

The chief groaned. “No, I’m afraid that is our prey. Yet I’m starting to suspect that by coming into this place, that may be our role.” He resumed the hunt, stepping lightly and turning as he progress through the alley.

The laughing rasp echoed around them again, causing them to spin momentarily toward each other. Suddenly Chow reached out his pistol, pointing it straight at the chief. Stephen stood frozen, grimacing at himself for trusting the bandit, even for a moment. However, what he did not see was the clawed hand reaching out of the shadows behind him. But Chow did. He stared intently into the darkness, waiting for a better target than a single hand, when he found it. The darkness split to reveal a mouthful of gleaming white teeth, reminiscent of Ivor Hawley’s signature grin. With but a minor twitch, the bandit shifted his aim and fired, sending the chief reeling to his side. There was a shriek of pain in the darkness as the grin and clawed hand quickly evaporated into the shadows once more.

“You could have killed me!” Stephen yelled. He stuck his dagger in a nearby crate, then lifted a finger up to his left ear and brought it back down to reveal a drop of crimson blood.

“Bah!” Chow scoffed. “There’s no fun in the easy shots. Besides, if I waited for you to move, it would have disappeared again. Chow walked toward their would-be attacker, only to find his bullet lodged in the wall, covered in black ichor. “I think it’s moving through the shadows.”

Stephen rose to his feet once more. “Then we shall take them away.” He reached to his belt and yanked on an item held there, breaking the tether securing it to him. It appeared to be a rattle by the sound, made from a pair of dried turtle shells. He held it up to his lips as he closed his eyes and began to let out a low drone from deep in his chest. He started to shake the rattle, its crackle merging with the drone. Slowly, the sound seemed to become visible as a bright white mist emerging from the small opening between the two shells. The mist began to swirl and twist, coalescing into the form of a silvery-white owl fluttering its wings to hover in front of the chief. “Great owl, join us in our hunt. Seek out our prey that it may hide no more.”

The spirit blinked for a brief moment, before turning and flying to the top of the alleyway. Suddenly the alley was bathed in light, eliminating any trace of darkness within the space. Chow shielded his eyes from the light at first. After the initial shock wore off, he lowered his arm to see the creature that stalked them standing opposite them. It looked like a man, completely enveloped in shadow, the only darkness left to be seen. Its hands were fashioned into scaly claws, yellow eyes and toothy grin the only contrast to the darkness that formed it. Chow raised his pistol in a flash, firing straight at the grin that mocked them. Even without the shadows to traverse, the creature moved through the alley with inhuman speed toward them, leaping from wall to wall, over barrels and refuse piles. T’ou Chi Chow had proven himself to be one of the better gun hands in Gomorra on more than one occasion, and yet every shot he fired seemed a hair too late until the barrels clicked dry, just before the creature was on them, leaping toward him with extended claws, forcing him to the ground and causing the pain in his chest from Ivor’s wound to rise up in him once more.

But the creature didn’t stay for a killing blow, turning instead on the chief, who was ready. Stephen blocked the first swipe with the handle of his tomahawk, fury raging in his eyes as he brought his other fist across to connect with the thing’s jaw. After the initial recoil, the thing’s head turned back toward him, the same grin fixed securely across its face. Before it could strike again, Chow had leapt on its back, wrapping his arms around its throat and pulling the thing backward away from Stephen.

“You won’t get a better view, Chief,” he managed to get out amidst the creature’s struggles.

Taking the opportunity, Chief Stephen Seven-Eagles raised his tomahawk high with both hands. As he reached the apex of his swing, the glowing owl spirit landed on the axe’s head, bursting and enveloping it with its light as Stephen buried into the thing’s chest. The light seemed to permeate it’s body, erupting from various points as it roared in final defiance. In another breath, the light and the creature of shadow had dissolved as the night recaptured the alley.

Chow slunk back against the wall, wincing in pain once more.

“Sue’s spirit thanks you,” Stephen said, retrieving his blade from the crate. “It’s Hawley’s turn now.”

“Knock yourself out,” Chow breathed. “You don’t need me stealing any more of your thunder tonight.”

Stephen looked once more at the bandit’s face. “Then I thank you as well.” With that, he turned back toward the town square and the sounds of battle.

* * *

Pancho scrambled backward, barely moving out of range of the inky viper’s fangs as they snapped toward his face. Maria continued to wrestle with the snakes that held her fast, and the tattooed man stood between then, surrounded by a black mist filled with the serpents that wound their way off of his arms.

Pancho looked over to see Maria’s pistol lying in the dust of the street. As he pondered a move, the snakes seemed to anticipate his plan, swaying to the side to block him. He took a deep breath and took a few steps back, steeling himself toward this new idea. He sprinted the short distance before dropping into a slide, scraping through the dirt to grab the pistol. He felt a sharp sting across his arm as he moved, rising on the other side, pointing it straight at the tattooed man’s face from over Maria’s shoulder.

“Duck, amiga!” Pancho yelled. He pulled the trigger … but nothing happened. He swore as he lowered it to examine it. “How do you work this thing?”

Maria shrieked as another snake snapped at her, grazing her cheek. “It’s not the weapon, Pancho,” she cried. “I am!” The darkness around them seem to thicken suddenly, drawn toward Maria’s eyes. She strained to control the energy while keeping her attacker at bay as it began to course down her arms to her hands. Her grunts and groans suddenly became a scream that cut the night as her hands began to pulse with black force. Pancho looked on as faint traces of smoke appeared above them and the smell of burning flesh filled his senses. She continued to scream in an effort to contain the energy, wrestling to move her hands closer together as she did. The expression on the tattooed man’s serpentine face shifted to reveal the worry as her hands grew closer still. In a flash, her hands slammed together as the energy shot forward from her and into the chest of her assailant, driving him backward. The black lightning continued to pour from her hands and into the tattooed man as her screams continued to pour from her mouth. The power seemed to intensify for one final moment before the tattooed man collapsed in front of her in a charred heap and she fell to the ground, staring at her hands.

Pancho ran to catch her as her knees gave out on her, looking on in horror at her hands, which rested in her lap covered with smoldering burns and blisters.

“Querida,” he gasped.

“Don’t worry about me,” she said in between sobs, clearly in a great deal of pain. “I’ll survive this; I have before. But not if we don’t stop Hawley.”

Pancho shook his head in silent admiration of her strength. Then he rose to his feet once more, dusted off his clothes, redrew his own pistol, and ran to rejoin the fight.

* * *

Remembering Willa Mae’s story about David and that giant fellow, Drew raised the slingshot, aimed carefully at a spot between the beast’s eyes. Tyxarglenak stared back for a moment before drawing in breath to unleash a massive roar in Drew’s direction in defiance. The sudden wall of sound took the young boy by surprise, causing him to take a step backward unconsciously. He heel caught on a rope at his feet, as he tumbled backward, sending the black stone wildly high of its target.

The chunk of ghost rock flew from Drew’s slingshot into the rafters, ricocheting off a beam and angling back down to strike the green orb in Tyxarglenak’s chest with a sound not unlike the dinner bell at the orphanage and leaving a shining crack across its marble-like sheen. The monster’s roar was cut short, causing him to release Jack, who fell to the ground. Tyler swung himself down into the hay bales and ducked for cover.

There was a rumble, quiet at first, but only at first. It grew to a deep thunder that seemed to move through the spaces between the air. The demon twitched, squinting and frowning with a pained expression on his massive face. The orb began to shudder and crack. The boys looked on, stunned with disbelief, as it bulged outward.

“Look out!” Tyler yelled. He’d just hit the dirt as the orb burst, not into shards, but into light. The blazing green fire brought with it a creature unlike anything they’d ever seen. If Tyxarglenak had scared them before, it looked like a puppy compared to winged horror that emerged from the orb, beetle black and gleaming with eerie green light. Clawed hands reached for Tyxarglenak’s throat, causing him to let out a screech of terror as the creature from within the orb roared in triumph.

The boys clamped hands over their ears, and squeezed their eyes shut, still seeing the blazing green light that was consuming their foe. There was a sound, a great whoosh like a dam bursting, a blaze of light, and then silence.

Drew cracked open an eye to see if the world had ended, but there was nothing but the remains of the barn, quiet and still. The ground was scorched black where Tyxarglenak had stood, their failed sack of stones lying motionless beside it.

Then he saw it.

Drew shuffled over to blow on the steaming orb as it lay in the dirt. The cracks had gone, its smooth surface whole once more. He leaned in a little closer, peering into the swirling mists within. Just for a moment, he swore he could see the goblin again, tiny face yelling in mute rage, before the green mists swirled again.

Jack and Tyler came up behind him.

“You think it’s gone?” Jack asked.

“It’s gotta be,” Tyler said. “You saw that thing that was after ‘im. No way the little guy got away from that.” Tyler slapped a hand on Drew’s back. “You did it! You nailed ‘im good. That’s gotta be the most amazing shot I ever seen! Wait’ll the others hear about this!”

“They’re not gonna believe us.”

“Well then we’ll just have to prove it to ‘em,” said Drew as he leaned down to pick up the glowing sphere, and the trio headed home.

* * *

Valeria emerged from a nearby doorway and into the middle of the street, holding an old book before her, her open hand, surrounded by a soft purple glow, raised as a shield before her.

“Ah, the traitor,” Ivor drawled.

“At least I’m not a murderer,” she spat back at him.

“You must be talking about Dr. Slavin. I’m afraid he brought that upon himself, my dear. His lust for power far outweighed his capacity for it. You and he were rightly partnered it seems, what with your propensity for it as well. It’s only fitting you share his fate.” A single ghostly playing card materialized in his hand for a moment before a quick wave sent it flying forward in a bolt of light toward her. It splashed against the purple glow, as Valeria stood her ground.

“That’s borrowed power, girly. It won’t hold against me forever.” He repeated the movement, this time with a hand of five cards, whipping them forward, one after another with increasing intensity. Each one shattered against Valeria’s barrier, but each one also pushed her back more and more, visibly weakening her.

“It doesn’t have to,” she said, a look of defiant triumph on her face.

Ivor turned just in time to see Stephen Seven-Eagles spin his tomahawk overhead in a frenzied blur, just barely missing his shoulder. Ivor backstepped only to find Abram up and on him again as well, swinging his sword with renewed purpose. The three men swirled around each other, striking and blocking in a whirlwind of blades and magical bursts. Suddenly, Ivor threw his arm out with concussive force, catching the chief squarely in the chest and sending him tumbling backward, falling unconscious in the dirt. Abram attempted to gain the advantage, but without the need to deal with an additional attacker, the ringmaster ducked and dodged with inhuman speed, laughing and mocking the sheriff with each attempt.

Suddenly, a large mechanical hand managed to snatch hold of the back of Ivor’s coat, raising him up into the air. The demonic entertainer began looking around him frantically, wondering for a moment what was going on as he kicked his feet under him. The Badger held him fast, pulling his pistol with his other hand, to take the final shot. But before he could get the chance, Ivor raised his arms and dropped out of his coat to the ground, turning immediately to face Michael Dodge.

“No!” Abram cried as he watched Ivor thrust his hand up and grab the Badger’s throat, the black tendrils snaking up through his veins as he coughed and sputtered, reeling back away from the ringmaster. Abram renewed his attack with increased fervor, hoping that if Ivor could be defeated, perhaps there would still be hope for Michael, even though deep in his soul, he was convinced otherwise.

Wendy, Louis, and Jackson ran to Dodge, who was now writhing on the ground. Louis could see the telltale symptoms of Ivor’s plague rapidly taking over, as what had taken weeks to develop before now accelerated to mere moments.

Wendy and Jackson kneeled next to him, trying to hold him still. “Do something!” Wendy cried, looking up at Pasteur in anger and desperation.

“I – I cannot,” the scientist said. “I used all of my supply to protect us. This vial …” he clutched the injection gun in his hands. “ … is all that’s left and we need it for Hawley. I’m sorry, but there is nothing I can do for him.”

Wendy thought for a moment, realizing what she must do as she reached for the rifle that lay in the ground by her side. Suddenly, a series of angry hisses erupted from Michael’s arm just before it flung toward the sky, throwing Wendy back off of him. He reached over to swipe at Jackson, who pulled himself back, scrambling for his own weapon as Michael hurried to his feet. The man who had rescued them was gone, replaced with a slavering madman, covered head to toe with scaly boils, some of them already bursting with pus and blood.

Jackson Trouble squared his body off against The Badger, ready for the inevitable attack. Michael swung with his fist erratically, Jackson easily ducking and dodging each swipe. Michael lunged forward, giving Jackson an opening to move in close, burying his bowie knife deep into Michael’s thigh. Under normal circumstances, it would have dropped him instantly. However, Michael was now fueled by a rage that was without end, as he instead pulled back his arm to grab Jackson by the back of the head and lift him into the air, his mechanical fist wrapped around a mass of red hair. Before even Jackson could see what was coming, Michael slammed down hard on the ground, the steam-driven appendage burying Jackson’s head under six inches of dirt. His body lay limp as Michael withdrew the bloody hand and turned in a mad rage toward Wendy.

Wendy made a move for her rifle, skittering toward it as fast as she could. But Michael moved with a thunderous downward strike of his arm, smashing the weapon just as Wendy pulled her hand back away from it. She looked up and threw herself backward just as Michael brought the hand down once more, right where she had been a moment before. Wendy scrambled backward again, barely dodging the arm as Michael began to scream in anger and frustration, which seemed to spur him on even more.

Dodge lifted the arm to drop it on Wendy once more when a shot rang out in the night air. The head of the once great fighter now a blighted madman snapped to the side, as his body followed with it, slamming to the ground. As Wendy stared at the fallen body in shock, Pancho strode up alongside her, extending a hand to her as a wisp of smoke drifted from the barrel of the pistol raised in his other one.

“It’s done,” the outlaw said to Wendy. “Get up, it’s Ivor’s turn.”

The two of them ran to Pasteur, standing at the edge of the battle, hoping an opportunity would present itself.

“We’ve got to get to him,” Wendy said. “Now or this will all have been for nothing!”

Pasteur nodded slowly, as he took his first step into the square where Abram and Ivor were continuing their duel. The three slowly gained speed as they walked closer and closer; soon they were all in a silent charge, ready to throw everything they had at the ringmaster.

But Ivor was too fast. Abram was sent reeling with a heavy blow. Hawley spun quickly, lashing out with a pair of magic blasts, throwing Wendy and Pancho to the dirt. With only the aged scientist coming toward him, Ivor straightened quickly and swung across with his black fist, catching Louis fully in the face. The frenchman fell back, blood spraying from his nose. He instinctively pulled his hands to his face to catch the blood, dropping the injection weapon to the ground.

Valeria came forward next, a blast of energy from her outstretched hand knocking the ringmaster in the gut and doubling him over.

“Children’s tricks!” Ivor snarled, opening one of his clawed hand and shooting out a screaming blast of dark energy back at her. This time, it was Abram’s turn to be faster as he threw himself between Hawley and Valeria, swinging Evanor mightily and deflecting the blast into  the building behind them. The building erupted in an explosion, pushing the two of them to the ground.

Without warning, Ivor was sent reeling too, a piece of shrapnel from the blast having embedded itself in his left eye. He stumbled through the disorientation, a mixture of pain-filled cries and mad laughter flowing from his mouth.

Abram looked around him as he strained to his feet, at the fallen dead, at the desperate fight barely holding in his allies, and then at Evanor. Ivor was regaining his footing, blood pouring down his face from the wound.

One chance.

Abram rushed forward with a full battle cry, thrusting Evanor’s point through the stomach of the ringmaster and up into his heart.

The lawman pastor and the demonic ringmaster came face to face for a moment, Ivor’s yellow teeth bared into Abram’s face.

“What now, Sheriff?” he choked out, laughing. “You can’t defeat me … and your precious town is already lost. What can you possibly have left?” Ivor’s claws were scrambling toward Abram’s body, grabbing at his throat.

Abram stared back, keeping his grip on Evanor tight. “Faith, Ivor,” Abram whispered, and smiled, his gaze sweeping over the ringmaster’s shoulder as Stephen Seven-Eagles leapt forward, bringing the gleaming needle of Pasteur’s syringe gun down with all his might. The weapon pierced the ringmaster’s flesh at the apex of his bony spine.

Ivor screeched, lurching back from Abram, twisting his arms to try and reach the weapon that protruded from his back emptying its contents into him. His jaw snapped irregularly, a coarse barking noise coughing from between his teeth. Eerie green veins were throbbing up his throat, a map of the seeking, surging counter-pathogen that was undoing the ringmaster. He reached forward, snatching for Abram’s throat, but his claw closed on nothing. He tried again, and realized his vision was blurring, seeing double as the six of them came to stand around him in these final moments.

He gave a laugh, a horrid barking giggle that squelched in the back of his throat. “You think this is over, Abram?” he choked out. “Even if Gomorra can … somehow limp away from what I’ve done … the Fourth Ring will not rest until it is a wasteland. This was but an opening act … after all … the show … must … go … on.”

Hawley slid off of Evanor’s blade and crashed to the ground, his face locked in a bloody rictus grin, leering at the assembled men and women of Gomorra who had undone him.

The Showstopper Fiction – Satiating the Darkness

Check out the newest Saddlebag Expansion, The Showstopper, available now! Ask your local game store about it today!

Satiating the Darkness
By KC Grifant

Nathan Graves and Warren Shane were stocking up on supplies at the general store when all hell broke lose.

It started with a series of vibrations, followed by a deep boom from outside. While Warren was sliding over coins to the cashier, Nathan glanced through the store’s open door just in time to see a woman streak by, screaming. Two more townspeople raced past a second later.

Being in the protection business, Nathan was used to keeping calm in strange situations but something about their unabashed terror made his blood run cold.

“Warren,” Nathan hissed, one hand hovering near his holstered Colt. “Something’s going down.”

Warren turned his ever-gruff gaze toward Nathan and scratched his goatee. “Something’s always going down in Gomorra.” He heaved their purchase, a box brimming with tobacco and dried meat, under an arm.

“No, really,” Nathan insisted before the sound of gunfire shredded the air along with another boom.

They had worked together long enough to know what the other was going to do without talking. They left their purchase on the counter and ran outside.

The air was eerily still as dust floated through the late afternoon light. It was too quiet. Nathan whirled around to see both their Appaloosas missing. Warren aired his lungs with a string of curses. Around the corner appeared four townsfolk, nearing in an odd but rapid lumber.  One man with a bowler hat darted forward—faster than natural—and grabbed Nathan by the shirt collar.

“Better watch yourself, partner,” Nathan said, shifting into a stance to throw the man off. He didn’t have to look to know that Warren would have his six shooter pointed at the offender in an instant.

The man was about as stout and wide as Nathan, but his face—there was something wrong with it—scales and boils crusted over heavy jowls and the smell emanating off of him was worse than a decaying wolf. This wasn’t a drunkard or thief, Nathan realized. The man snarled and his eyes were utterly uncomprehending except for one emotion: rage … a mindless, senseless rage.

But then, the man did something Nathan had never seen in all his years of work; he opened his mouth and tried to bite Nathan in the face. Warren shouted and clicked off his safety as Nathan wrenched away. Another townsfolk, a frail-looking older woman, moved with that same unnatural speed to smash a brick into Warren’s shooting arm.

“Holy hell!” Warren spat and gave the old woman a solid kick as she slurred barely comprehensible obscenities.

Nathan drew his revolver faster than lightning and was about to fire off a warning when a shot blasted through the air, but it wasn’t from him. Their attackers scurried away as Warren and Nathan turned to see the source of the shot.

A gigantic machine in the shape of a horse rumbled as bullets fired from brass cylinders on either of its side. Blazing eyes and steam pouring from its artificial nostrils would have made the beast a forbidding sight, but Nathan knew the mechanical horse’s rider, a woman with short cropped hair whom they had had previous dealings with around town. “Jen,” he murmured, and gave a wave of thanks as she passed. She waved back, her brow furrowed in concentration, before firing down the street. One of the townsfolk screeched in pain.

Behind the mechanical horse, a boy ran fast as his chubby legs would carry him, hauling a sack of strange-looking guns.

“Luke! What in all tarnation was that?” Warren pushed his black leather hat to peer at the kid.

“Better get out or get ready,” Luke puffed as he ran by. “Everyone’s crazier than rabid raccoons. No good’ll come of it.” Just as quickly, he, Jen and the mechanical horse vanished around the corner. Clouds piled in, sending a chill through the air and blocking what was left of the sunlight.

“Gomorra’s been an offbeat place, but this is outright bizarre,” Nathan said as the two began to hustle in the direction of their digs. Whatever they were dealing with they would need more ammo.

Warren sighed, the type of sigh that meant he was more distressed than he let on. “Undead?” They had heard stories, from an old town in the middle of nowhere years ago.

“No, not dead. Infected,” Nathan mused. “Biblically, from the looks of it. Blighted even. They’re worse n’a feverish drunk. We can’t kill em if they don’t know what they’re doin.”

“We can’t get infected neither,” Warren said, pushing up his checkered sleeves to examine a large welt. “Let’s arm up and figure out what to do.”

They turned the corner to cut across town square when Nathan heard the noise from beside him. It was a raspy, wicked sound. A sound that shouldn’t exist on this earth.

Nathan spun in what felt like slow motion, lifting up his gun before it snapped out of his hand with a hiss. His Colt skidded across the dust and he looked up to see the perpetrator. A clown, if that’s what she was, grinned at him, perched from the awning of the General Store. A red stain marked her mouth and eyes, bright against powder white cheeks. The snake that had nipped Nathan spiraled back up her wrist.

“Hello boys.” Several snakes wrapping around her hissed as she spoke. One snake shifted around her neck, where a gaping wound burned as coal-red as her eyes.

And on the street, dozens upon dozens of the infected moved on the street beyond, coalescing like a swarm of hornets.

The two men looked at each other without a word to convey their thoughts. Run.

They darted down the opposite road. Any cowboy worth a lick knew that sometimes you had to back up and regroup rather than waste ammo when the odds were stacked too high.

Nathan glanced back—it wasn’t dozens now but maybe near a hundred of the moaning, angry infected townsfolk that followed.

“Warren, this ain’t good, we gotta bar up somewhere!” Nathan scanned for an entrance they could duck into and barricade while they figured out what the hell to do. He sidestepped one of the infected who popped out of an alleyway, her scaled hands reaching for him.

Warren shouted, “Ten o’clock!”

In unison they cut hard to the left, toward the looming Town Hall, where the clock had just struck, ringing over the snarls of the townsfolk rising up behind them.

Three figures clustered at a side door to Town Hall and Nathan thought for a moment that they were infected until he saw the familiar face of Mayor Nicodemus Whateley, snapping at his right-hand man, “Get this door open now, Rafi.” Next to him, a face vaguely similar to the Mayor’s, though younger, glared at them.

“Heck of a day, isn’t it?” the Mayor drawled as they approached and the infected descended.

* * *

Nicodemus had been having a fine day in fact, until late that afternoon at some silly ribbon-cutting ceremony when an explosion had knocked him clear off his feet. Once the dust settled, he saw something curious: scarred and boiled hands, arms, and bodies, climbing out of a hole where the blast had originated.

From there, the evening had descended into general chaos as these “Blighted,” barely human, attacked the uninfected. Nicodemus loved a bit of chaos as much as anyone could, but he preferred his own particular brand. This was an unexpected and destructive problem, and it didn’t take long for him to recognize the Blighted as no ordinary infection. These must have been Hawley’s doing … or something else.

Nicodemus had grabbed his newly arrived cousin, Theo, and Rafi and headed immediately to the Town Hall. They’d be safe there until they figured out what to do.

But now here they were, doors locked and the fool Rafi fumbling with the keys when two of Morgan’s regulators stumbled upon them, Warren and Nathan … or Nathan and Warren, Nicodemus never cared enough to bother figuring it out. They both looked clear-eyed and focused and could potentially help hold off the horde. “We’ll be safe in my office,” Nicodemus said to them over the howls of the Blighted.

“It’s jammed,” Rafi said in frustration. The two cowboys set to smashing their shoulders against the enormous wooden door, but to no avail.

“What do you think they want, Nic?” Theo asked as the crowd quickly approached. Nicodemus scanned their faces: they were drooling, gasping and coughing, but unnaturally fast and full of fury.

“Who cares,” one of the cowboys—Nathan—said. A woman’s manic, echoing laughs from far off seemed to summon even more of the Blighted.

Theo looked nervous as he turned back to the building. “The door’s no good. Can we get through the window?” He wiped matted black hair from his forehead before a crusted arm closed around his shoulder. One of the infected must have been nearby and beaten the pack to them. Nicodemus reached for his magical deck of cards but Warren was faster, pulling a derringer from his back belt and firing the small but potent gun into the man’s head, sending the Blighted crashing to the ground.

The clown woman hollered with a voice that sounded like a hundred snakes hissing at once. “Freddy! Get the mayor!”

Freddy, a lumbering monstrosity with one red eye and one white beneath a flop of bile-colored hair, made his way through the sea of infected. In one hand Freddy held a 6-foot long, colorful hammer, like the kind used to “test your strength” in the circus’s games.

“What in holy hell is that?” Warren yelped.

Nicodemus quickly summoned up the power in him, preparing to use his cards to sway and bade back the Blighted and potentially even turn them onto the demonic clown Freddy, when something jolted him from the side. The monster had tossed out a device that looked like an enlarged replica of Freddy’s own deformed head. The detached head nipped at Nicodemus, forcing him to loosen his grip. His magical cards, flashing in the waning sunlight, went flying into the dirt.


Yellow crooked teeth flashed as Freddy grinned and raised his hammer. He laughed, a screeching, high-pitched cackle that seemed to split Nicodemus’s eardrums.

“A little help,” Nicodemus yelled. Rafi stirred out of his shocked stupor and fired off his pistol at the abomination with a shout.

Freddy leapt away and more Blighted piled in. Nathan and Warren broke through one of the tall, arched Town Hall windows a few feet away and quickly hoisted Theo through, followed by Nicodemus.

“Watch out!” Warren yelled. Nicodemus turned to see Freddy jump back into the fray and smash his hammer across Rafi’s hand, sending the pistol soaring. Two Blighted sank their teeth into Rafi, who screamed and struggled violently before slumping to the ground.

“Grab him,” Nic commanded. He didn’t have any heartfelt love for Rafi but the man had proven useful at times, and may still. Nathan and Warren kicked away the biting Blighted and dragged Rafi, half-unconscious, through the window.

“Avi!” Freddy shouted from outside, his voice like rusted nails scraping against iron. “Your prey is escaping.”

Nicodemus bristled—he was no one’s prey—but didn’t have time to get offended. The Blighted were stomping over each other to pile in through the window.

“Upstairs,” Nicodemus yelled as the four of them dragged Rafi along and ran up the spiral staircase and to the end of the hall, some of the more spirited Blighted hot on their trail.

They piled into the office, Nathan and Warren dropping Rafi to the ground and slamming the door shut. The door strained, near ready to burst with the pressure from the other side. Warren and Nathan slid Nicodemus’s enormous wooden desk to reinforce the entrance.

“It ain’t gonna hold long,” Warren said. “We’re as good as curd-chewin’ cows waiting for the slaughterhouse in here.”

Theo propped Rafi against the wall. Rafi’s eyes were shut, his face was pale and his lips quivered, while his face took on a shade of green. “He’s infected,” Theo said, his voice nearly pitched to a panic.

“It reeks in here,” Rafi whispered. Nicodemus and Theo exchanged looks. His office might have been dusty but there was nothing pungent as far as Nicodemus could tell. Still Rafi frowned, rubbing his nose. “Smells disgusting.” A blind, mindless fury crept into Rafi’s eyes before he blinked it away to look blearily at them.

“Damn it,” Nathan said. “He’ll be like one o’ them before long!” Behind them, the desk screeched against the wood floor an inch or two and Nathan and Warren threw themselves against it, digging in their heels to push it back into place.

Nicodemus wracked his mind. He had to do something, and fast. “I have an idea.” His eyes fell on the iron box on his shelf, which housed some of his most prized, though mysterious, possessions. He had been trying to decipher the magic of Tlaloc’s Furies, the elusive obsidian daggers that had recently come into his hands for the last few weeks. He ran to them now, pulling down the box.

As he did so, something caught his eye at the window. A figure, walking down the street. It was the circus ringleader, Ivor Hawley, but not the man in his normal form. Rather, he had the same purplish, hellish glow as did Avi and Freddy. As Ivor turned to look up at the window, Nicodemus saw something far more demonic than human in his face. At first, it reminded him of a distant relation, but hatred stole that memory away.

Ivor smiled a wide grin but with a gaze as chilling and calculating as any Nicodemus had seen. Ivor locked eyes with Nicodemus and slowly took off his hat, bowed in greeting, or perhaps, a kind of checkmate, before continuing down the street.

Nicodemus clenched his hands on the box in anger, furious at the idea that two-bit showman would claim his town from under him. “Can’t worry about him now,” Nicodemus muttered, turning back to the box. If he could figure out these daggers, and quickly, he might be able to get out of this predicament and turn the tide.

He threw open the box, and looked at the four stone daggers, their power singing to his very blood. He flattened the accompanying ancient scroll and scanned its depictions of blood sacrifices with the daggers. The knives thirsted for blood, that much was clear. Maybe they could thirst for something else as well. It was a crazy idea, but it might work.

Nicodemus cast his hand over the ancient weapons, letting their magic course through his blood in its familiar darkness. He grabbed the ashtray from a nearby sitting table and slammed it on the table in front of him, emptying it on the floor. “Just a taste,” he whispered, drawing one of the blades across his open palm and letting it drink of his Whateley blood. Across the room Theo’s head snapped up, eyes round as saucers, his own blood sensing the magic too. The blades seemed to speak to Nicodemus, waking up fully from their long slumber. “Know your master,” Nicodemus said. He waved his net of magic around the daggers, instructing them to seek a new target.

The barred door shifted again as Shane and Graves threw themselves against it once more. “Whatever blasphemy you’re committin’ over there, commit it faster!” Nathan called over his shoulder. “This door won’t hold for long.”

“Now my pets, see if this will do,” Nicodemus whispered to them and picked up one of the knives. It seemed to tremble in its hand, taut and excited, thirsty.

Not blood, Nicodemus told it. The sickness. I will show you.

Nicodemus knelt down to Rafi, whose eyes fluttered opened. His skin was already pocked with boils. He was almost gone, the fast-moving infection filling up every pore.

“Help me,” Rafi breathed.

“Sorry Rafi. I only have one final need of your services.” Nicodemus held his servant by the shoulder and stuck the dagger squarely into Rafi’s heart.

The others shouted around him but Nicodemus ignored them, focusing through his magical haze to nudge the Fury to grasp onto the infection, drinking up the green haze.

Rafi’s eyes widened, slowly comprehending through the film of sickness. He tried to speak and coughed blood instead. His eyes turned clear for a moment, before growing dull as his life drained out of him.

The others gaped around Nicodemus but he was distracted by the sensation of the Fury in his hand. It neatly sapped up Rafi’s infection in a clear green glow, satiated for a moment but ready for more. His spell had worked.

“Have you gone mad?” Warren shouted from the doorway. “He hadn’t turned yet!”

“An unfortunate but necessary casualty,” Nicodemus said, yanking the dagger out of Rafi’s corpse. “These blades hunger for blood, but now they will drink up the infection. It is our only defense.”

In the box behind him, the other three Furies hummed, ready and eager. Nicodemus passed one to his cousin and the other two to the cowboys, who stared at them reluctantly in their hands.

Nicodemus stepped over Rafi’s body, blinking the green haze out of his vision. “Open the door. We don’t have to hide anymore.”

* * *

The horde burst inward to meet the four of them as they opened the door’s latch. Warren and Nathan led the charge.

Warren experimented with the first Blighted he encountered, a young man with burst boils dripping along his forehead. Warren stabbed the dagger into the boy’s leg. The weapon flared and vibrated like it wanted to burst out of his hand. The boy yelled, not the snarl of mindless fury, but a shout of pain, and fell to the ground. As the others pressed forth, stabbing at the horde, Warren peered at the kid’s face, which wasn’t contorted in rage anymore. Rather, he stared blankly at the ceiling, gripping his wounded leg, even when Warren snapped his fingers. The boy’s skin and face were clear, the infection gone, but his mind seemed to go with it.

“Try not to kill ‘em,” Warren said, sidling up alongside of Nathan. “All you gotta do is draw blood.”

“I’m trying, but it’s not easy,” Nathan said as he jabbed his Fury into a shrieking man’s arm. On the other side of him, Nicodemus and Theo were slicing and dicing without the same restraint, but effective nonetheless. The magic of the Furies carried them forward in a blur of green.

The four of them carved their way through the horde until they burst outside. Where the bullets barely fazed the Blighted, the Furies worked like a hot knife through butter, taking them down left and right. The clowns had vanished just as quickly as they had appeared.

“Quite a thing, ain’t it,” Nathan said, catching his breath as they had a small respite standing among the fallen townsfolk, a mix of stunned wounded and the dead. Nicodemus and Theo picked their way toward the two, gesturing to the south where the sounds of screams seemed loudest amidst the glow of flames.

“Something I’ll remember as long as I live,” Warren said, glancing down at the dagger in his hand. He would never forget the strange smile on Nicodemus face when he had plunged the knife into Rafi. Warren didn’t trust him, but he didn’t want him on his bad side either. Something about the man indicated he’d be a powerful ally. Or enemy.

But for now, they had a town to save.