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.

    John Goodrich

Sister Mary Jebediah realized with a start that she hadn’t felt pain in hours, or perhaps even days.  She stood up, shocked. She remembered pain, agonizing pain. She had just been in a battle, fighting the minions of the Evil One. The last battle had been… She shook her head, trying to remember. She’d been trying to stop that apostate prophet Elijah, and the demonic hordes that he had allied himself with. One of them had come at her, and she remembered a tearing slash across her side as she had fired her shotgun into something unholy. With her hands, she touched the spot, but her habit was untorn and dry.

What had happened? What was wrong? Had she been knocked unconscious? She could feel that something was missing. She reached for her rosary, kissed the cross, and began the Apostle’s Creed. “Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae. Et in Iesum Christum.” The ritual gave her comfort, but feeling the beads pass from one hand into the other was strange, and only served to increase her sense of foreboding.

Where was she? What had she done? She tried to remember.

Then she found it. The memory. She was going to attack that perfidious Elijah. She was going to gather a — no she had already gathered a posse to back her up. There hadn’t been much time — according to Father Terrence, the ritual was going to happen soon. And she had to stop yt. And she’d heard that the Sioux were going to attack Gulgoleth, and she had suddenly known where the ceremony was going to take place. Not Soddum, as she’d previously thought, but Gulgoleth.

All memories. These are all memories, she realized. She had attacked. There had been a battle. She remembered Elijah and his collection of angels. But not angels, they were fallen angels —  demons who’d deluded Elijah into thinking he was summoning the Kingdom of Heaven!

She felt righteous anger and holy fire course through her. The Lord God couldn’t be summoned.  Elijah was as deluded as the Israelites who had made the Golden Calf. And hopefully as dead. Murdering a creature as beyond grace as he was surely no sin.

The clouds surrounding Mary’s memory began to gently fade. She had broken into the ceremony, she remembered…

It was fast. Too fast to remember clearly. She could recall only brief images — the furious expression on Elijah’s face when she had assaulted the ceremony. She remembered a black, hell-form that called itself Sheriff Syn. And the terrible moment as something as black as Satan’s evil heart swooped down on her, and —

No! She crossed her hands in front of her face, as if warding off the memory. She refused to accept it, but the memory played on inside her head.

— the great, black horror with claws crusted with the filth of the Pit mingled with dried blood had
swung at her, and she had known in that instant —

NO! She wouldn’t believe it! Sister Mary Jebediah, who hadn’t felt fear since she was eight, curled inwo a fetal position, weeping, refusing to believe. She held her head and choked on the helpless tears that flowed down her cheeks, welling into the corners of her mouth.

That there was no way she could have survived such a blow. She remembered the roaring pain as the claws dug deep into her neck, the worst she’d ever known. And in that agonized haze, she saw her hand chamber a shell into the shotgun and fire into the thing, even as she felt the blood pumping out of her neck and away into the wind. She remembered viewing everything from a tilt because the muscles on one side of her neck had been severed.

She released her head and stared in horror at her hands — her two good, perfectly whole hands.

She was dead. The demon had killed her.

Was this heaven?

Abruptly, Mary became aware of her surroundings. It was dark — night. She could see the stars, gleaming like jewels of Heaven above her. She looked down and discovered that she was lying on her side in a heap of filth. The garbage dump at Gulgoleth. She jumped up in surprise, and saw the body of a one-armed nun crumpled in the heap where she had been a moment before.

Her body, she realized with a start.

Unable to assign an emotion to her feelings, her eyes fixed on her corpse. How worn and vulnerable it looked. And how abused; a gaping slash in her midsection, her head pitched sideways at an awkward angle. The demon claws had nearly decapitated her. She was lucky to have gotten off that one last shot. There were other marks, undoubtedly wounds and injuries she couldn’t remember from her final battle. She was covered in blood, caked in it and the ichor of slain demons. She stooped to wipe the filth from her face, but found that she couldn’t touch her body. She clawed at the trash surrounding her, but found her incorporeal self merely passed right through everything.

Unexpectedly, something in the garbage heap moved, and she jerked away from it. A tiny tendril of green, luminous liquid flowed up from the depths of the debris. Sister Mary swatted at it, ineffectually. More of the green liquid appeared, forming viscous pools amid the rusted metal and broken wood of the waste heap. She stumbled away, repulsed by the sickening miasma of evil.

And yet, it was somehow familiar.

When she turned back, she saw that the entire heap was bright with the fluid, glowing fitfully in the night like a bank of votive candles. Swirls and eddies in its surface made the light ripple unpleasantly in the night air.

A change came once the fluid touched her still corpse. The body swelled enormously, sickeningly, and oozed over her body like an obscene lather. Then she noticed that it was flowing into the gaping wound in her dead body’s neck, into her body. She was utterly repulsed, and yet couldn’t look away.  In less than a minute, the green filth was gone, completely inside her empty shell. She raged at it, then prayed to the Archangel Michael to strike this abomination down, but nothing happened.

There was some movement at her corpse’s throat, and Mary Jebediah realized with a sinking loathing in the pit of her stomach that her sinews were knitting. Her body was being possessed, Harrowed!

She could do nothing but watch in mute horror as the blasphemous thing knit itself together, then started twitching. After a few ghastly thrashings, the demon seemed to take firm, conscious control of her body. It cranked itself up into a sitting position, then opened its eyes. The body’s head was still at an unnatural angle. But the thing possessing her corpse grasped her head firmly with both hands, and wrenched it rightways with a gruesome pop.

“Ahhh,” her corpse said with a gravelly rawness she had never heard in her own voice. “Small, but it’ll do for now. Now to find that brat.”

Powerless, the nun watched as her body stood up and shook itself, testing each limb to make sure it worked. Then it looked around, apparently getting it’s bearings. For an instant, Mary was sure that it had seen her. It looked straight at her — or through her — and the ghost of a nasty smile played on its lips. Then it turned and walked stiffly away from the dump.

Angered beyond words, and more helpless than she had ever felt, Mary could do nothing but follow.  As far as she could tell, the thing inhabiting her body was headed for Gomorra.

They came to the main road, and the Harrowed followed it, Sister Mary Jebediah trailing silently behind like a newspaper caught in the wind. They’d been walking for two hours when she heard the slow walk of a horse slowly approaching from behind them.

The corpse stopped and turned, waiting for the newcomer’s approach.

“Can I help you, sister?” came a voice. In the moonlight, Mary Jebediah could make out the wiry, degenerate features of Deputy Milo Powell.

He spit some of his chewing tobacco, and Mary Jebediah instinctively stepped away from the stream.

“Hey, boy,” the body’s gravelly voice said. “What’s your name?”

“Deputy Milo Powell. I’m headin’ for Gomorra, and you look like you might be, too.”

“Well Deputy Milo,” the Hell-thing said, its eyes frankly appraising the young man. “Care you offer a ride to a stranded nun?”

Milo was so shocked he swallowed his chaw. He choked as Mary’s corpse roared with laughter. Mary Jebediah once again threw herself at the thing that had usurped her mortal remains, but she tumbled right through it, as ineffectual as a light breeze.

“Certainly,” Milo answered. “Climb on.”

Mary made one last attempt to catch hold of the horse or keep up with it, but found that her ethereal form was limited to speeds no greater than a brisk jog. Soon, Deputy Powell’s horse left her in the dust, all alone in the middle of nowhere.

Hours passed — or days, she wasn’t sure which – before she caught sight of something new. The sun hadn’t risen or fallen, but she wasn’t above accepting anything at this point.

Sister Mary saw a light in the distance. The warm glow of a lamp or lantern. It was so warmly welcoming after her interminable wandering that she didn’t hesitate to move toward it. Approaching carefully and quietly — old habits died hard — Mary Jebediah saw the bearer of the lantern was Sandra Harris, carrying a basket over her left arm and a hooded lantern in her right. Sandra walked quietly towards the gaping mouth of a mine where a weathered sign read “Bleeding Vein”.

Sister Mary had heard of this place. It was one of the haunted mines that the Agency were planning to investigate. She’d remembered vague reports of a glowing green liquid that slithered away from the light, deep in the tunnels here. The area was deserted because the miners refused to sleep near the mine. That same fluid, she thought grimly, was probably the unholy essence that had absconded with her body.

“Robert?” Sandra called, interrupting the dead woman’s train of thought. “Robert, I know you’re in there!”

There was no answer. Silent minutes dragged by, but Sister Mary could hear nothing. Clearly, the telegraph operator was torn between actually entering the mine and remaining outside. A miasma of fear exuded from the mouth of the mine, almost visible, chilling Sister Mary’s incorporeal flesh.

“Robert?” Sandra called again, more insistently. “Robert, my love, are you there? What’s wrong?”

Faintly, something like a whimper emerged from the cave, although whether it was human or animal, Mary couldn’t tell.

“Put out the light!” A hiss snaked from the lightless gulf. Sandra fell back, obviously taken aback.

“Robert, either you come out here, or I’m coming in!” Sandra pulled a revolver from the basket at her arm, and cocked the hammer. Despite herself, Mary Jebediah was impressed, even strangely touched. The dispatcher had always struck Mary as a wallflower, but she obviously had more sand than Mary had given her credit for.

A shuffling came from the stygian blackness of the mine, but the figure hovering just inside was careful not to approach the light thrown by Harris’s lantern.

“Robert, what’s wrong?” Harris pleaded. “You’ve been out here for months — everyone thought you were dead. I thought you were dead.”

The thing that had been Robert Northop stepped into the warm light of Sadra’s lantern. Although it stood like a man, and spoke like Robert Northrop, its skin was the unnatural slate-grey color of ghost rock.

“I’m dead, Sandra,” it said simply. Mary Jebediah had never heard a voice so completely without hope.

Sandra recoiled in shock, bringing her pistol up defensively, fear and disgust plainly visible on her face. The thing that had been Northrop simply stood there, arms limp at its sides, the rejection obviously what he’d expected. But Sandra’s revulsion soon turned to sadness, and then to anger. With grim determination, she thrust the gun back into the basket.

“What happened??” She asked.

“There was a fire at Papa’s Lode,” the pathetic creature said, looking at the dust at its feet. “I had to get the miners out. But it all burned so hot that the supports went up before everyone was out, and the mine collapsed. They told me it was a couple of weeks before they dug me out, but I don’t remember any of it — just a long, cold black, and then some miners were standing over me, horrified.

“Go home, Sandra,” the wretched creature said tonelessly. “Forget about me.” It turned to return into the black hole… it’s home.

Quickly, Sandra caught up with it and grabbed its elbow, fierce determination on her face.

“Are you telling me you aren’t Robert Northrop anymore?” she demanded.

“I’ve got something else in my head now, Sandy. I’m what’s left of Northrop, but I’m not him anymore.  I—” the creature hesitated, barely able to utter the words. “I don’t have a soul,” it said in a rush, and scuttled back into the yawning blackness.

Sandra seemed to sink into herself for a moment, but moments later, that same proud determination rallied her one last time. Setting her jaw stubbornly, she took the gun from her basket again, thrusting it into the waist of her dress, and walked purposefully to the very lip of the mine. There she defiantly placed the basket onto the ground in front of the cave entrance, extinguished her lamp, and waited.

She hadn’t have to wait long. The Harrowed came hesitantly out of the cave again, drawn by some lure that Mary Jebediah couldn’t see. Slowly, reluctantly, the grey fygure was pulled toward the woman, until they were separated by only an arm’s length. The thing that had been Robert Northrop reluctantly met the woman’s eyes.

“Gingersnaps,” Sandra said softly. “You never could resist my gingersnaps.” Sandra reached out and touched Robert’s dusky cheek. Her hand came away wet with tears. “I think that there’s more of Robert Northrop left in there than you think.”

Weeping openly now, the two fell into each other’s arms, each holding the other fiercely tight. Sister Mary Jebediah stole away, feeling like an intruder in an all-too-private moment. Somehow, she was comforted by the exchange, and pondered it as she set out in a random direction. Mary had never realized the depth and strength of the telegraph operator. To look on her lover, dead and possessed, and still care for him…

Mary Jebediah was brought up short by a burst of brilliant, golden light. Before her, hovering inches above the ground, great pinions sprouting from its shoulders, was an angel. But unlike the sullied followers of the heretical Elijah, this had to be the real thing. Purity and sanctity rolled from it in waves, its facial expression calm and benevolent, caring yet sorrowful. And it saw her. It was looking right at her, regardless of her new incorporeal state.

Mary knelt before the being, filling with the awe of the faithful. Elijah’s false cherubim had never had the air of holiness to them, but this visitation felt pure and Godly.

“Sister Mary Jebediah,” its voice was low but penetrating, filled with the same lustrous light that flowed from it’s pure body. “Your journey is not yet done. You are not yet called to rest, as your path continues before you. Return to the site of the false prophet’s ceremony. You shall know what to do when you arrive.”

“How?” she asked desperately. “Why have I been chosen?” She regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth. Moses had asked the same questions.

“I am but a messenger,” the angel said, it’s tone compassionate, almost pitying. “You have been placed on this path by the ineffable will of God. It is not for me to elucidate, only to bear the message.”

Its message delivered, the angelic messenger simply raise a graceful hand, pointing the direction back to Gulgoleth. Mary bowed low to the divine messenger, reached for her rosary, and kissed the cross. What did one say to a Messenger of the Lord? She genuflected, turned toward distant Gulgoleth, and ran.

The benevolent creature waited patiently as the nun fled back toward the mesa. When she was out of sight, its golden glow faded, and the wings turned black, withered, then retreated into the creature’s back. With a shake of his head, Jolinaxas resumed the form that the people of Gomorra best recognized. In his black heart, he laughed. It was odd that the nun’s soul yet remained, but strange things did happen when the borders of realities pressed so tightly against each other. Mary might still be strong, but he didn’t give her much chance after she passed back across the veil into the Hunting Grounds. The armies of the Reckoners would tear her soul apart, just as a respite from a moment’s boredom.

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