Hallowed Blue Bloods from back east...  An ancient family looking fer a new start...  A buncha freaks and lunatics if you ask me.  The Whateley family showed up in the dead o' night and promptly started scarin' the pants outta the whole town.  They got huckster powers like you've never seen.  I've seen them do things with a simple deck o' cards that'd freeze yer blood.  They got somethin' planned fer Gomorra, and you can bet yer spurs it ain't good.

Patrick Kapera

November 1, 1878
St. Martin’s Church

“Is it true?” Nicodemus asked, his face displaying a curious intensity Terrance could only guess was fear. “Has the Last Kingdom arrived?”

“I’m afraid it has,” Father Terrance said, his voice low. He wanted to keep the news from the weak and wounded within the church as long as possible. Still, with the vigorous reinforcement of the windows and doors, and the appearance of so many more (most of whom were not hurt, but simply looking for a place to weather the coming storm), he assumed that most of them had already figured the truth out.

“How long do we have? Before the storm comes?”

“Not long,” a figure from the shadows said, his voice worn and shallow. “Hours, maybe less.”

“Running Bear!” Terrance exclaimed. “But… you died.”

“I died,” Little Running Bear answered, “and yet I live. Things are different in the spirit realm. We, the protectors of the Tree of Life, are bound in service forever.”

“You have word from the spirit realm?” Nicodemus questioned. “About the Last Kingdom?”

Little Running Bear nodded. “And more. The Dim Eyes have conquered the Brights and taken the base and lower boughs of the Tree. They’re collecting spirits to be used as soldiers during the final hours – as harvesters.”

“Harvesters?” Terrance asked. “Of what?”

“You. All of you. Every living being in Gomorra. The Last Kingdom is not your domain, but a staging ground for the ultimate evil they can manifest here on Earth. They hope to establish a stronghold forever here in the realm of man. To do that, they have to wipe you out – every one of you – by the time the storm passes. This will be their one and only goal through the night.”

Terrance nodded. “I suspected as much. Is there anything we can do to help you? The spirits?”

“That’s why I’ve come. There is a relic. Its name is ageless, but Father Juan knew it as the Gift of the Thunderbird. Juan knew some of the dangers that were coming to Gomorra, but not when or how. With our help, he found the Gift, but he was seized before he could get it to you. Now it rests in a secret place in the Mission. You must recover it. It’s your only hope for survival.”

“Can you show us?” Terrance asked.

Bear nodded, noting, “Bring only those you can spare. The Mission is very close to the edge of the storm.”

“Nicodemus,” Terrance asked, “will you come?”

The huckster smiled at the unintentional insult. “I think not. Besides, I believe I might be of more help elsewhere.” He turned to Little Bear and added, “I think I may be able to contact the prisoners at the base of the Tree.”

Little Bear’s face brightened. “Truly? Incredible…”

The gleam in Nicodemus’ eyes was positively malicious. “Come with me, Bear. I have a mirror to show you…”

The Mission House was cold, uninviting. It had remained empty since the Navarro brothers’ deaths, a place of sorrow and anger now. The dusk twilight cast an orange shadow over the pueblo structure, making the mud and stone look like running blood.

Max Baine led Walter Ponds, Robert Northrop and Sandra Harris toward the building. Though he’d requested that the latter two remain back at St. Martin’s, where they might be safe, they had demanded to come with the group. “The world’s at stake here, Max. You gonna refuse a couple more hands?” was all they’d say.

“Little Bear said that the Gift was hidden beneath the altar, where Juan was attacked by the demon,” Max worked through a plan of attack out loud. “But he also said that the Angels likely knew where it was, and were coming to get it. As much as I hate to say it, I think we should split up and enter from both sides.”

“Agreed,” Walter said. “Robert and I will take the north side. Sandra, you’re with Max.”

Both parties ducked low and approached the Mission House. The building was quiet and their footfalls were unavoidably sharp. Walter and Robert entered the northern door carefully, mindful of anyone who might be lying in wait, but found no one. When they arrived in the central room, they found Max and Sandra facing them across the way. “Anything?” Walter hissed, louder than he would have liked.

Sandra shook her head as Max stepped carefully up onto the raised platform where the altar stood.  He ducked down and started feeling around its base, looking for the swiveling compartment that Little Bear told them about. He found it as the others joined him on the platform. Reaching into the compartment, he found something wrapped in a dirty saddle blanket. Unfolding the blanket, the item was revealed to be a bull’s skull, the horns long and warped.

“This must be what Bear was talking about,” Max said, a little confused.

“Must be,” Sandra repeated. “Let’s go.”

“Wait,” Robert said, suddenly very attentive to their surroundings. “I hear something…”

The next moment, a woman in simple travel clothes swung down from the rafters, kicking Robert off his feet and into the Mission’s back wall. Keeping with her momentum, she whipped around 180 degrees and landed on the rafters above, then ducked sideways and ran several feet to the right.

Walter opened fire on her, the bullets dancing through the rafters but missing by several feet. “She’s fast,” he said, pulling a second gun and walking closer. When he was within twenty feet, he opened fire again, this time with both sidearms. The woman darted around the rafters until he cornered her at the far end of the Mission, then dove forward, arcing over his angle of fire and landing behind him. She kicked backward, sending him into the wall, dazing him. Then she turned and ran straight for the others, pulling and throwing knives toward them to cover her approach.

She arrived without being hit by Robert’s fire or Sandra’s, and kicked off the Mission’s wall to bring both down with outstretched arms. As Walter rose across the room, rubbing his head, she approached Max, holding her hand out. “The Gift. Give it to me,” she said with a voice far too sweet for her profession.

Behind her, another of the Angels quietly stepped in from outside, hoping his hands up to ensure that Max didn’t mention his arrival. Enrique Alonso – Max remembered his name and face from a meeting with Father Terrance weeks ago. He was from the Order of St. George – a traitor in the ranks of the Angels. With a powerful strike to the back of the head, Alonso brought the woman down, then reached out his hand in greeting. “Sorry I couldn’t be here sooner. I only found out that Leila was sent to recover this ‘Gift’ earlier today.”

“More than obliged,” Max replied.

Walter joined them as Robert and Sandra rose, working the pain of their wounds out. “Can we leave now?”

“Let’s,” Max answered, two seconds before the Mission House’s front doors shattered inward and one of the Sioux sailed backward into the pews.

“That’s Eagle Rock,” Walter said, straining to see what had attacked him. He didn’t have to wait long; a moment later, an Angel – one of the true angels – appeared in the doorway.

“That’s not Eagle Rock,” Alonso warned. “Not anymore.”

The Sioux chief rose to his feet and faced the angel, blood and gristle dripping from his tomahawk. They charged, colliding with a fury that shook the building, and wrestled for a long moment. Then Eagle Rock, gaining some leverage, threw the angel to the ground, raised his axe, and buried it in the seraph’s head. When his eyes rose, they were filled with rage, the bloodlust that consumed the Dims.

“Run!” Walter screamed, pushing everyone toward the door.

The group stumbled out into a dark plain, the twilight having fled far to the west. A strong wind had kicked up and threatened to turn into a gale, and there was a thick, nauseating smell in the air.

“It’s starting,” Alonso said, staring to the north.

“God, no!” Walter cried, observing the chaos back in Gomorra.

From their vantage point somewhat higher than the town, they could see the storm touching the junkyard and the closest buildings. Screams and the sounds of fighting rose from the parts of town that were already lost. Nothing but darkness could be seen there.

Worst of all, though, was the impossibly large metal zeppelin hovering over the town, biplanes spewing forth from its lowest level. Biplanes which had attacked while they were gone – and sent the residents of Gomorra fleeing into the night – into the hungry maws of the harvesters of the Last Kingdom…

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