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.

Damn.

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.

2016 Sheriff Season has BEGUN!

Howdy pardners!

It’s time to slap leather once more in an effort to win one of the coveted Doomtown: Reloaded Sheriff Badges. These limited, regional competitions are taking place all over the world through the end of the year as players face off in the ultimate showdown.

Make sure you check the event schedule to find out when and where you’ll have your chance to make your mark on the story of Gomorra, and get signed up TODAY!

The Showstopper Preview – Showboating

This preview is for the next Saddlebag Expansion, The Showstopper, arriving in stores August 29, 2016! Ask your local game store about it today!

Showboating
By Paul Durant and Brett Satkowiak

The sky was choked out by thick, oily black smoke, highlighted in brilliant orange by rising flame. All around were the wails of burning Ghost Rock and the incoherent gibbering of the blighted as they rampaged hither and yon. The town’s living were now holed up in the safest places they could find, hoping for a miracle to save them before they were claimed by the infected or the flames.

Even Nicodemus Whateley was hoping for divine intervention. Ivor could see it in the man’s haggard, desperate face gazing down at him from the second-story window of the mayor’s office as the blighted worked to tear down the door keeping them from him. Although Ivor doubted that slimy warlock was praying to the same God as everyone else, the answer would be the same.

“Well, he was right,” Ivor thought. “We certainly did bump into each other again.” He paused to smile at Whateley, removing his top hat and bowing low, as if accepting the thunderous applause of an unseen audience. He rose again to wave his hands  dramatically at the burning carnage all around, displaying his handiwork, demanding another look at the chaos. He returned to stare at Nicodemus again, asking in his head, “Isn’t it wonderful?”

“The best monster with the best family won,” the monstrous ringmaster thought as he flourished his top hat back onto his head. He turned his back to the mayor, satisfied that the army of infected would get to him in time.

showboating_card“It was fun for a spell, pulling the wool down over these fools,” he thought as he surveyed the scene once more. “But this feels much more like home. As a matter of fact, it reminds me of a song …” He spun his cane, grabbed it with both hands, and began to bob back and forth to the beat.

“At home, sweet home! back to the dear old home! …”

Andrew Burton screamed in vain as three of the Blighted caught up with him, dragging him to the ground, clawing at his face and arms while screaming incoherently.

“… To find it bright and cheerful; Why did I wish to roam? …”

Pearly’s Palace erupted into a fireball the moment the flames reached the basement moonshine stash. Pearly and Genesee Gina tried to tear apart the barricades they erected and escape, but the smoke would overwhelm them.

“… The wand’rer thinks of those he loves, but tho’ dear friends must part …”

Two rough mining folk ran as fast as they could past Ivor. He casually hooked the foot of one with his cane, sending him crashing to the ground as he grabbed the other by the throat and lifted him high. The victim began to cough and choke as black veins spread from the place where Ivor’s hand touched his skin, transforming him into one of the rabid, blighted figures in a few moments before dropping him and watching with glee as he ripped his fallen friend apart in a frenzy. No escape.

“ ‘There’s a silver lining to ev’ry cloud,’ in the hope of a wand’rer’s heart.”

The Showstopper Preview – Aetheric Shockwave Inducer

This preview is for the next Saddlebag Expansion, The Showstopper, arriving in stores August 29, 2016! Ask your local game store about it today!

Aetheric Shockwave Inducer
By David Orange

aethericshockwaveinducer_cardSnick-CLICK. Elander Boldman ratcheted the lever back as he prepared to obliterate a barrel placed at the far end of Morgan Research Institute’s courtyard. Luke, the errand boy, scrambled for cover.

Elander glanced down at Luke cowering behind a storage bin. “S’best you stay there for now. I’m nearly done with my new Aetheric Shockwave Inducer,” said Elander. He continued adding and adjusting components.

“Aethe– WHAT?” asked Luke.

“Aetheric – means purified gases. The ghost rock in this chamber expands, concentrating the pressure of the aether. In turn that forces out …”

“Gotta run, Mr. Specks needs this auto-revolver, pronto,” said Luke as he quickly grabbed the weapon and ran. The door ricocheted against the wall and stopped ajar.

Intent on both his monologue and continued assembly, Elander failed to notice Luke’s exit. “…the aether. Or at least tries to. I’ve blocked off the chamber, so it has no place to go. The energy builds up and then disperses as a wave of energy, stunning all in its path. Easy peasy, right?” Elander turned to find that he was alone. “Where did that boy get to? Just when I need him to deliver this to Shane and Graves, he up and disappears on me.”

Through the open door, Elander heard panicked screams of Gomorra’s townsfolk fleeing the Fourth Ring and their blighted minions. He turned and stepped outside with the prototype weapon still in his hands.

He and the blighted saw each other at the same time. Elander shouldered the gun and, after a quick adjustment, squeezed the trigger. The blighted paused for a moment, sniffing at the air between he and Elander.

Only a faint noise emanated from the inducer. Again Elander fired, and once again the gun emitted a weak sputter, but a blast of air sufficed to spin the blighted sideways as he stepped forward. The enraged blighted whirled back around and charged toward him.

Elander dodged the blighted’s charge and half ran and half scrambled towards the town square, where he heard the staccato chatter of William Specks’s auto-revolver holding an advancing mob of abominations at bay.

Beauman called out to Elander. “Duck!” Elander obeyed as a fusilade of bullets slammed into the assailant’s flesh. He looked up to see William motioning him towards the town square. “Over here Elander. Whatever you got I sure could use, starting with activating the force field.”

“Force field? I thought YOU signed that out. No matter, that’s why I made the Aetheric Shockwave Inducer.”

“What’s it do again?”

“Well, the ghost rock expands, concentrating the pressure … You know what, how about I just demonstrate.” Once again, the gun sputtered and gurgled. Elander twirled a dial and recocked the lever. Nothing. Elander peered into the ghost rock chamber. “Jammed again.” He looked around and found nothing useful.

“Elander, we don’t have time for testing. That thing has to work now.” Drew resumed firing at the massed abominations.

Once again Elander scoured the ground for something, anything to use to lever the ghost rock into the firing chamber. Holding the weapon in his left hand, he unfastened and withdrew his belt with the right. Bracing the gun on the ground, Elander took the belt’s prong and inserted it into the chamber, nudging the ghost rock pellet forward. He repeated the priming routine and raised the gun to his shoulder. This time, the gun emitted a throaty roar over the unmistakable howl of igniting ghost rock. Rumbling shook the area as air shimmered and rippled towards the blighted, knocking down the mob’s first wave. Elander kept his finger on the trigger. Specks had to cover his ears, but watched in astonishment as wave after wave of the blighted fell writhing to the ground. Eventually the twitching ceased. The area was still.

“That … that is what an Aetheric Shockwave Inducer does,” said Elander Boldman.

The Showstopper Preview – Pancho Castillo EXP

This preview is for the next Saddlebag Expansion, The Showstopper, arriving in stores August 29, 2016! Ask your local game store about it today!

The Last Ride
By Ross Fisher-Davis

panchocastilloexp_cardPancho Castillo’s stolen horse reared as he let off another shot into the frenzy of motion around him. There was blood on his boots, and in his hair. Blood belonging to enemies, blood belonging to friends.

Bringing his mount under control, Pancho swore aloud. Sloane was lost somewhere in the mayhem. His horse gave another nervous whinny as a group of terrified townsfolk ran by, pursued by one of the wretched creatures that were swarming through the town like locusts. Dressed in the rotten clothes of the Sanatorium, the man snarled and spat as it tore after its prey.

Pancho leaned aside in his saddle and pistol whipped the thing across the back of its scarred head, sending it tumbling to the dirt in a heap. He looked back over his shoulder, searching. Ulysses had been right behind him, but the chaos had separated him as well. Pancho cursed and dug his heels in, spurring his horse on through hell.

A great crash came from nearby, and the entire building to Pancho’s left shook as a gigantic figure, grotesque with bulging muscle, smashed through the doorway with brute strength and rumbled off into the crowd. The Fourth Ring was throwing everything they had at Gomorra. He rode alone through a burning nightmare of clowns and fear and made a mental note to save his luckiest bullet for Hawley’s grinning face.

A youth in blue on horseback almost rode into him, and stopped long enough to catch his breath.

“What in blazes is going on kid?” Pancho called to him. The young man stared for a moment, his eyes wide with shock, but steeled himself in his saddle.

“Everyone with a gun and guts to use it is meeting at the sheriff’s office. We’re gonna take the town back.”

Pancho snorted, “Good luck, kid.”

The boy looked like he was about to pass out, but rode on anyway. Pancho was watching him go when there was a blaze of blue light up ahead, illuminating the smoke from a burning building and setting a group of the slavering sickened ablaze.

“Kingsford,” Pancho muttered to himself. Not everyone was lost, at least.

Maria Kingsford was standing in her stirrups, a blazing pistol in her right hand and flames blasting from the palm of her left.

“Maria, whole town’s gone to hell! We gotta do something!” he yelled to her as he rode up, trampling a clown holding a pitchfork.

“Where’s Sloane?” Maria roared. Her body was surging with power and Pancho could almost feel her voice on his face when she spoke.

“People are dying, amiga. We gotta help them. The Fourth Ring is tearing the town apart!”

“Where’s Sloane?!” Maria repeated, her face deadly serious.

Pancho aimed and shot down a lanky trapeze artist running at him with a butcher’s knife. “Sloane can take care of herself. These people can’t.” The fire in Maria’s eyes dimmed slightly. The ground shook as another hole to Hawley’s hell below the Earth opened up somewhere across town. “Help me, Maria. We can help stop this.”

“You got an army in the dust back there Castillo?” Maria frowned.

Pancho looked down the long burning road to the Sheriff’s office, “Maybe I do.”

The Showstopper Preview – Speaks-with-Earth

This preview is for the next Saddlebag Expansion, The Showstopper, arriving in stores August 29, 2016! Ask your local game store about it today!

Speaks-with-Earth
By KC Grifant

Bloodcurdling.

That was the only way to describe the screams that tore through the dusty air of Gomorra. They unnerved even the most resolute warrior, the kind that erupted from someone who had glimpsed a living nightmare.

speakswithearth_cardSpeaks-with-Earth and four others ran, quiet as shadows, to huddle behind the bunkhouse on the edge of town.

“Here.” The shaman knelt and shook out wooden blocks and pebbles from his knapsack. The smell of copper floated to them on the late-afternoon air.

“Better quicken your pace,” said Sarah Meoquanee, squinting from behind her warrior paint. She seemed like she was holding herself back from running as fast as she could toward those screams. “We gotta get out there.”

“Good idea, I’ll send her to scout,” whispered Three-Eyed Hawk. Her eyes flared the red of sunset and the enormous raven on her shoulder lifted its head, its eyes the same scarlet.

“We don’t have time for this,” Gene North Star added, tall and grim-faced as he stood watch at the corner. Another screech ripped through the air from some streets away and the intricate tattoos that covered his thick arms glowed for an instant.

Sarah shook her head and placed her hand on the tomahawk hanging from her belt. “Hold, brother. I agree, but we are few. Without his guidance, our work would be wasted.”

“I need dirt,” Speaks-with-Earth muttered, looking up at Smiling Frog. Frog rolled his eyes before kneeling down to help shovel dirt with his hands into small piles around the blocks.

“This better work,” he grumbled, an old bruise shining above his eye.

Speaks-with-Earth focused his attention to coax natural energy from the ground and into his blocks. A sensation of space and shapes formed and unrolled like a map in his mind. His hands, led by the energy, moved the last of the blocks into their right place, like pieces in a puzzle.

“What’s he doing?” someone asked but he ignored it.The world of men was sometimes as hard for spirits to glimpse as their world was to us; the slightest lapse in concentration from him and their map would collapse into confusion.

The energy tendrils—a vivid green that only he could see—clustered onto his makeshift map and showed him the sights that the spirits now relayed to him. He could see Chief Stephen moving rapidly across the map, on his own mission. Throughout the town, some folks struggled, others fled and a handful — Gomorra’s peacekeepers — fought valiantly. The blighted overran town square, but the spirits could sense further bubbles where evil readied to rupture.

His eyes flew open.

“Gene, Hawk, go to the steepled church … there are children there,” Speaks-with-Earth commanded. “Sarah and Frog, to the bank where a center of this wickedness lies. Fast as you can.”

With that, his companions dashed off, Sarah and Gene shouting a warrior’s cries, Hawk calling to her animals, and Frog brandishing his club high.

The winds carry you quickly, Speaks-with-Earth thought and slumped against the building, waiting to regain his strength as the screams rose further.

A Grand Entrance Fiction – The Alignment

Check out the newest Saddlebag Expansion, A Grand Entrance, available now! Ask your local game store about it today!

The Alignment
By Paul Durant, Jon Del Arroz, and Brett Satkowiak

Lucy Clover leaned against one of the thick ropes that supported the tent to take some weight off of her ankle. It throbbed with pain, with no time to recover from her injury at the circus. Her daddy always said that there were times that a person had to fight through pain, no matter how hard it may be. That advice echoed in her head now. Breathe in, breathe out.

Kra-koom!

An explosion echoed through the town, followed shortly after by another, then another. Then came the screams. Lucy briefly looked back toward the circus tent. What was going on?

Lucy had hoped to regroup with the sheriff and the others, but in this town, it was always one emergency to the next. Someone had to respond. From where she stood, the closest explosion came from the north end of town, just a few blocks away, so that’s where she moved first, running as fast as she could with her wounds.

All around her, people on the street called out, “What’s going on?”

“Get off the streets!” she yelled back. “Stay inside until we figure out what’s happened!”

But Lucy didn’t get that opportunity. She turned a corner to see the orphanage, isolated and vulnerable in the middle of the grassy earth that surrounded it. A woman stood on the porch in a grey dress, her frazzled, salt and pepper hair up in a bun. Willa Mae MacGowan, who ran the orphanage, guarded the front door, with a number of children peeking out from behind her.

Lucy limped over to them. “Are the children OK, Willa Mae?” Lucy said.

“They’re understandably frightened,” she replied. “Just like everyone else.”

Lucy looked down at the eyes peering around the old woman’s legs, then glanced around the front of the building to the rest of the small faces in the windows. Amid the rising sound of the chaos in other parts of town, a sing-song voice rose as it came toward them down the street.

“Meat and souls, meat and souls. O’er to the orphanage we go!” The voice belonged to Karl Odett, who oversaw the Sanatorium just a few blocks north. He marched forward, acting like like an orchestra conductor, as he moved toward the orphanage.

The hairs on Lucy’s neck rose with the goosebumps that came at the sight, but that was nothing compared to the creatures that surrounded him.

A dozen or so patients from the Sanatorium, wearing stained gowns and little else, followed Karl, entranced by the movements of his song. They appeared transfixed, moving forward with little mind of their own. Some of them drooled and growled, as if desperate for something to sink their plague-ridden teeth into. Behind them rode an old wagon, driven by a few of Odett’s orderlies and carrying at least a dozen more of the diseased patients.

“Get in and stay there!” Lucy shouted back to Willa Mae.

“Of course, but Deputy Clover, what about you?”

“I’ll give you time to move the kids upstairs,” Lucy said with all the fake confidence she could muster. She drew both of her six-shooters, aiming at the blighted surrounding Karl.

She had no chance of making it out of here alive. There were far too many of them, and she couldn’t take them all down. But dammit, someone had to try to save the children. “Daddy, if you’re out there listenin’ … I could sure use a little help about now.”

The young deputy steeled herself as the carriage came to a halt at the end of the walk. Odett continued humming as he turned toward her, bidding his diseased servants to follow. He sneered wickedly as he advanced, daring Lucy to her only two choices … stand and fight or turn and run, certain of the personal entertainment he’d find in either.

Unsure of just how many bullets she had left after the fight at the circus, Lucy took aim at Odett and fired, watching in shock as he brushed the bullet aside in a flash of light and continued his approach with renewed frenzy in his eyes. Not to be undone yet, Lucy spread her arms to point at two of the blighted ones on either side of Odett and pulled the triggers, managing to hit them both, as they crumpled and fell. Her new targets identified, she planted her feet on the walk, making herself the wall to go through if they wanted to harm anyone inside.

But she soon realized the weakness of that wall as her left pistol clicked dry after downing another of the patients, each of them beginning to snarl and lash out dramatically as if only barely restrained by an invisible wall of Odett’s making. Her right pistol soon followed suit, taking down two more. Odett smiled as he noticed the faint resignation in her eyes with the realization of her fate just before he dropped his hands to allow the rabid patients to surge forward.

As Lucy prepared for her final moments, she only had a moment to consider the new expression of confusion on Odett’s face as he looked over her shoulder before the sound of an explosion instinctively sent her diving for the ground. She rolled and turned to see something possibly more surprising than anything else that day … another woman, tall and strong stood at the edge of the walk. Her dirty blond hair loosely framed her steely gaze as she held firm to a double-barreled shotgun, the end of which still smoked gently in the evening light.

The second barrel erupted, ripping through another set of the Sanatorium’s residents, including Odett himself. With the expression usually reserved for discovering stepped-in horse manure, Sloane looked down to see him still alive, holding some of his white guts in with one arm. He looked up briefly and began inching himself back to his feet and toward the carriage before she could pull her backup weapon, leaving a trail of black ichor on the walk.

“Take cover!” shouted his dark, throaty voice. “With that thing on her hip, she’ll burn through the whole lot o’ ya!”

Sloane was less concerned with the suspicions that arose from seeing Odett’s innards than the fact that he knew something about the holster that helped her in battle. She handed the empty weapon to off to Jake, the young boy behind her, who quickly carried it inside as instructed before pulling out one of her pistols and setting to work. One after another, she dropped the blighted that charged toward the orphanage.

A couple of them broke off to approach Lucy, still on the ground as she struggled to fend them off. A quick whip of her pistol butt slammed into a temple, dropping the diseased man cold. The other, a woman, lashed out with her hands, clawing at Lucy’s clothes and desperately trying to reach her throat. Lucy managed to keep her strength enough to wrestle herself back onto her feet. A knee to the woman’s side followed up with a blow to the back of the woman’s head sent her to the ground in stillness as well. She turned to see Sloane standing the ground she’d first set out to defend.

As quick as lightning, Sloane’s other pistol was in her hand, pointed straight at Lucy’s chest. “We gonna have a problem, Deputy?” she said coldly without even looking in her direction.

“I think we both got bigger problems than bounties today, Sloane,” Lucy said, her exhaustion becoming evident in her speech. “Let’s get inside before they decide to regroup.” She leapt onto the porch and through the orphanage’s front door. As she did so, Sloane hissed through her teeth and twitched for a moment, but whatever it was passed as quickly as it came as she  put away the second pistol and turned to follow, kicking the door shut behind them.

Odett staggered back toward the wagon, gesturing wildly at the orderlies. “The BACK, you idiots! Cover the back door! Everyone in there either leaves in our wagon or a coffin!” He saw one of them take a step out, and hastily added “Roll the wagon with you! Don’t get caught in the open!”

Sloane glanced out the back window, but it was too exposed out there, there’d be no way they could get to safety.

“We’ll need to barricade that d–,” Sloane began, before she was interrupted. Before she was even aware of what was going on, a slender hand had grabbed one wrist and twisted it into an awkward position that held her fast. She tried to draw the second pistol again, but quickly found that hand restrained as well in a swirl of silver hair as she found herself held fast from behind, yet she never lost grip on the weapon in her hand. A heavily accented voice, now positioned between Sloane’s back and the wall, whispered tensely, “Why are you here?”

“Lay offa her!” Lucy cried as she lunged forward. The silver-haired woman pushed off from the wall, spinning Sloane around and pressing her face up against the wood as she brought her leg to connect with Lucy’s midsection, sending her reeling to the floor.

Sloane, seething through her current position, managed to get out, “We’re trying to save these kids from those things outside!” There was a tense pause between the three of them for a moment as they all considered their situation, after which, Sloane was slowly released to turn back around and face the newcomer, a Chinese woman with long silver hair.

Sloane straightened her vest and Lucy got to her feet again, repeating the woman’s question, “Why are you here?”

“I come for Benji,” she said, pointing to a black boy in ruddy clothing in the corner of the room with a group of other children, including Jake who was desperately trying to remember how to reload Sloane’s shotgun. “He say he need help with other children, but when I hear explosions and see the wagon coming, I come in from upstairs window.”

“SEE?” the boy popped up, stepping away from the group slightly to point at her. “I tol’ y’all I was in a Kung Fu gang! Now will y’all believe me?!”

Ignoring the boy, Sloane took another look outside to see the men slowly moving the wagon around the yard to the back of the building as the a few of the wounded blighted men and women slowly crawled toward the home.

“We need to shore up the backdoor,” she said. “I think Willa Mae had some boards and tools in the kitchen.”

“I’ll get ‘em,” Lucy said, running down the hall to the room in back. “Willa Mae!” Lucy had entered the room to find the old woman sprawled out on the floor, surrounded by wooden slats, a hammer, and scattered nails. “Sloane, you murderous –!”

“I didn’t kill her!” Sloane turned away from the window to yell back down the hall. “She got hit by the back door when I came in and just fell there. Now shore up that door!”

Suddenly, the window behind her erupted in a flurry of glass and linen curtains as an arm, mottled with pus-oozing scabs had grabbed her around the neck. She struggled for a moment before the silver-haired woman leaped into action, pulling the arm back from Sloane, pushing the outlaw to the side, and delivering a blow to the throat of the invader with a crack, all in one swift movement.

Sloane rubbed her throat with her open hand and uttered a terse, “Thanks … Miss…?”

“Chen Xui Yin,” the Chinese woman replied.

“Well Chen,” she said as she cautiously resumed her watch out the window. “I counted five of them still mobile, but the wagons still hold more — let’s call it a dozen to be safe, plus Odett and his cronies.” Xui Yin could swear she heard a clicking noise as Sloane calculated things in her head. “They’ll try to split our attention and run our supplies dry so they can move in for the kill, so make every bullet you have count.”

“You certain about that?” shouted Lucy from the other room.

“If they’re smart, yes. Rushing the place is too risky without any cover coming in or out. As long as we’re smarter and stay patient, we have the upper hand. Wait for them to make a move.”

* * *

And wait they did, the sun had disappeared a while ago. Sloane stood guard in the front, watching through the linen curtain. Lucy was still trying to assemble her wits and work through the pain in her leg, sitting in the kitchen with the scattergun pointed straight at the back door. Xui Yin stood in a shadowy corner of one of the upstairs bedrooms, silent in meditation, yet at the same time, alert as a hawk. Willa Mae did what she could to keep the children quiet in the cellar as they waited. Thankfully, the cool darkness there prevented whatever frightened cries couldn’t be suppressed from reaching out to their attackers.

Occasionally, they could hear Odett shouting more orders to his men as he kept the blighted patients at bay until the right time. They heard creaking wood and prying nails as the sides of the wagons were taken apart. Still the women waited. Before they knew it, there were two trains advancing at the front and the rear, each holding a makeshift wooden palisade over their heads and front to shield them from fire. Still they waited. As they reached the doors, the infected minions began to batter down the front and rear doors in unison from beneath their shield.

They acted.

Lucy stood and moved to the door, pressing the shotgun right up against the door before emptying both barrels into the wood, blasting away the door and knocking back the mob behind it. Then she dropped the empty weapon, grabbed her own revolver, and began removing the remaining boards that held the door fast.

In the confusion at the rear door, Xui Yin leapt from the second story, falling through the back palisade like a meteor, landing with a spray of wooden chunks in the middle of a very confused group. Chanting “jiuchi-dingpa!” under her breath, her whole body became a cyclone of fists and pain, fracturing ribs, shattering knees, puncturing the mottled white flesh of the blighted with her chi-guided strikes. Within moments, a number of groaning bodies and other silent ones lay in a heap at her feet.

At the front, Sloane counted out the time between strikes. Then after a heavy strike, she kicked the bar off of the door, and allowed it to swing open with no resistance, sending the attackers inward, off guard. Her gun slid from its holster like it had been greased, and with one sweep of her arm, the invaders’ hearts had been blown from their chests, showering the wall in sprays of deep red. She kicked the rear corpse out of the doorway before slamming and barring the door once more and resuming her watch.

“Back door’s open!” shouted Lucy.

“I’ve got the front!” Sloane shouted back. “Get them out!”

Outside, Karl Odett swore a blue streak and ran off back to the streets away from the battle. As they had planned, Xui Yin Chen began her task of escorting the children to safety, beckoning the first group to her: three boys named Tyler, Jack, and Drew. She took their hands and led them toward the central part of town, where there would be safety and they could get help.

But they would find neither help nor safety. Now that Xui Yin was in the town proper, she saw why no help came to the orphanage in the first place; the town was being overrun by blighted, ravenous madmen, and had started to burn in several places.

Cursing in Chinese, she grabbed the kids in her arms, leapt to the rooftop of the First Baptist Church, and pushed the three of them into the belltower. “Okay!” she barked, trying to sound chipper. “Plan changed. You wait here and stay quiet. Wait for grown-ups to come, and ring the bell if you in trouble. Okay?”

The three boys nodded solemnly. Tyler made sure his shirt was covering the slingshot in his back pocket. None of them planned on following her orders. They knew who was responsible for this, and they were going to stop that little goblin come Hell or high water.

Satisfied, Xui Yin turned back to survey the carnage. She had no idea where anyone might be holding out in town amidst the flames and screams, or if the other Bandits would arrive to help, so it only made sense to return to the orphanage and continue the rescue. The diseased were running amok everywhere else. But they hadn’t gone out to — no, now that she looked, some of them were making their way to the orphanage. That loathsome slug Odett wasn’t fleeing the battle; he was calling in reinforcements.

Xui Yin bounded from rooftop to rooftop back to where Odett was leading them back to the orphanage. With the same motion, she leapt off a roof and into a nearby tree before landing, foot first, on Odett’s back. She felt his spine cracking under the impact like peanut brittle, but he had only staggered, not fallen. Whatever inhuman thing he was, she needed to make sure he stayed down. Before he could even cry out in alarm or pain, she grabbed him by the chin and wrenched his head almost all the way around, leaving his body to fall in a heap on the dirt.

As Xui Yin rose, she turned slowly to the mob of blighted men and women that he’d summoned. Without Odett keeping them focused and at bay, they began to sniff the air, becoming more and more agitated as they turned toward her … and beyond her to the orphanage. “That can’t be good,” she thought as she began her run back to the building.

* * *

“Hey Clover,” Sloane called from the front window. “Chen’s back, and she’s bringing company.”

“Thank God,” Lucy sighed as she opened the cellar to call forth the next group of kids. “I knew someone would come to help eventually.”

“No, you don’t get it.”

Lucy closed the door once more and headed to the window, cursing at what she saw. At least another dozen shrieking, raving men and women, lost to the plague, advanced on them in a horde behind Xui Yin.

“Well, there’s one way to run us out of bullets.”

The two women moved out of the way as Xui Yin dove through the broken front window ahead of her pursuers. She rolled briefly across the floor, then sprang upwards in the same movement to stand ready for battle.

“No,” Sloane cried. “The back is still open. Me and the girl will hold them here. Get the kids out.”

Xui Yin seemed to hesitate, but her own battle instincts came to the same conclusion that escape was the best choice. She bowed briefly in respect to their sacrifice and quickly moved to help the kids out of the cellar and into the night air.

Sloane positioned herself in front of the open window and fired on the mob. Her aim was true as ever, as one after another fell. But there were simply too many of them, and they registered no fear as their fellows were killed in front of them; they trampled over the bodies with the same rabid determination, hell bent on reaching those inside the house. After Sloane had emptied the cylinders of two revolvers, the horde was upon them, clamoring recklessly through the windows, battering their bodies against the doors. They howled, whooped, shrieked, and growled, as if none of them had any idea what they were doing, driven only by a desire to tear the healthy ones limb from limb.

The first of the blighted to make it through a window received a blast from Lucy’s shotgun, as Sloane quickly reloaded. The young deputy quickly moved to the next window, the only one still intact, and emptied the other barrel before the invader could smash his way through, sending his body careening over the railing and into the yard. The first frenzied face to fill the space caught the brunt of the shotgun’s handle as Sloane moved back to her position in front of the windows.

It was a shooting gallery, with the outlaw moving faster than the eye could see from target to target, firing deadly shots with each movement as the slumping bodies filled the window frames. Catching sight of the weakening door hinges, Lucy moved behind to help bar the door, but she would be too late. The front door ruptured under the weight of three blighted individuals. Lucy cracked one across the face with the scattergun again, but two could only manage to hold it up to shield her as the other two leapt upon her, pinning her to the floor.

Sloane dispatched one the last face in the window, then spun and saw Lucy on the floor. BLAM! One of the attackers fell to the other side of her. BLAM! The other fell still, as Lucy managed to push the body off of her. She scampered back away from the doorway and slumped against the wall.

Lucy looked back up to see Sloane still standing with one pistol aimed at the empty doorway, the other trained on her. The deputy’s eyes went wide as she realized what was happening. “What are you doing?” she gasped. “After all this, why now?!” At first, Sloane’s face appeared to mirror the same madness as the blighted they fought, but as the tense moment continued on, Lucy noticed a single tear roll down Sloane’s cheek, recasting the expression as one of intense desperation.

Sloane grimaced as tears began streaming down her face, her hands shaking. Something was welling up inside her, the same thing that urged her on in the fight against Dave Montreal, the same thing that made her twitch every time she’d had a chance to kill but hesitated. The power within the holster, the one Jonah had given to her, now held her fast, forcing her aim at Lucy Clover’s heart. The seething bloodlust she felt at the death of Lawrence, the burning hatred that spurred on to murder the sheriff while her men struggled, now raged in her again, with no justification.

“I’m … not … doing … it!” Sloane choked. Lucy slammed her eyes shut, as did Sloane … right before she fired.

Lucy cracked one eye open to see dust rising from the hole in the floorboard next to her, realizing in shock that she wasn’t dead. Sloane’s finger squeezed the trigger again and again, but only dry clicks came forth. She seemed to struggle for a moment more before dropping both guns to the floor in a great release. In that brief glimpse of freedom, she reached down to her waist, ripped the belt and holster off in disgust, and threw it into a corner.

Sloane panted in exhaustion, as she dropped to her knees. Her eyes rose to meet Lucy’s and the two women exchanged some level of unspoken understanding. But the moment wouldn’t last as a new group of blighted surged past the barrier of their own dead, and the horde was upon them once more.

Guildhall Fantasy Update #18

The Psion

The Psion is a lot of fun to use in game. The Psion allows you to take a number of cards equal to the number of Psions you have in play from one of your opponent’s chapters and put those cards in your Guildhall and then put the same number of cards from the deck into your opponent’s Guildhall. Early game this means that your Psion is swapping out one chapter for a random mess of stuff, but later game when players have more and more stuff on the table, this means you are taking big chunks of another players chapter and some of those replacement cards that duplicate other cards in their Guildhall. This provides some nice tactical advantages that you can probably see.

Visually, the Psion is our long tall brooding goth kid. He has chosen the raven as his totem, obviously because Poe was his favorite author in high school. Posed with the Professor X finger on the temple, you can tell this guy is out to mess with your mind and make you forget who you are.

Guildhall Fantasy: Fellowship is on sale now and I am just going to assume given all my begging and calls to action you have already purchased it because you are a good person. Guildhall Fantasy: Alliance, which is a complete stand alone game of its own, goes on sale this month and makes a great companion Fellowship. The more Guildhall you own, the more you can mix together and the better time you have!

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