by Rob Vaux
Jackson couldn’t count the number of people he had killed since leaving the sheriff’s office. Lots. And not just people, either. He and his companions were fighting their way through a madhouse. Before his injury, when he had gone into hiding, Gomorra had still been fairly normal—wild, maybe, but nothing he hadn’t seen before. Things had changed. The town was a war zone reminiscent of Dante’s Hell. Main Street was on fire. Moonlight threw strange shadows and highlighted knee-deep corpses. Gunfighters and prospectors charged through the streets, battling shadows, insanity, and each other with equal ferocity.
Here and there, things gibbered out of the night—creatures of rumors in which Jack had never believed before. Something twitched behind him, and he spun, firing almost unconsciously. His companions started, then gaped as a harrowed monstrosity fell from an open doorway. Another two steps and it would have taken off Templeton’s head.
"That's one you owe me, fat boy."
Templeton glared with piggy eyes, and Jack thought for a moment that he might forget their shaky alliance. But Sheriff Hunter interposed himself between them, and the moment passed, at least temporarily.
I just wanted to be a miner, Jack thought ruefully. Where did that innocent desire go so wrong?
He watched Stoker take the lead, as the group moved resolutely toward Lord Grimely’s at the edge of town. The renegade Confederate’s eyes flashed with maniacal energy as he struck down everything in his path with his glowing saber—quite a change from his reputed calm. The ragged band of outlaws and law enforcers fought fiercely, but they weren’t a part of this nightmare realm, not like Stoker was. Demon or man, he belonged here.
Jack could hear war cries from the Sioux encampment to his left, and see the flash of what may have been spirit magic. At least we’re not fighting this alone, he thought. A mechanical rumble from some Collegium contraption echoed across the landscape, and he doubted that the Agency was down for the count. Once upon a time, they had all been at each other’s throats, squabbling over the ghost rock mines or screaming vainly of unseen enemies. While they had bickered, an Evil had stolen in, brought by ancient machinations and the crazed beliefs of a mad prophet. He still wasn’t sure they could stop it.
As they topped the rise and beheld Lord Grimely’s, they realized their enemy’s magnitude. In the center of the blasted plain, it towered over the carnage like a mountain and bellowed from razor-sharp jaws. It turned as they approached, alien eyes narrowing in recognition, and beckoned them.
A chill ran up Black Jack’s spine—the first hint of fear he had ever felt.
"What in the name of Hell is that?!" he heard Hunter gasp.
"That," Stoker grinned, "is what we’re going to kill."