The men approached the gate with stealth and caution, guns at the ready. Silver stars hung on their shirts, guns stood ready in their hands. The grim, set faces spoke to the severity of their task, a task they seemed determined to carry out. It took them time to tear down the wrought iron blocking them from their goal, but it had been accomplished with uncanny silence. Now, they stood ready to strike.
The woman in the lead pushed past the gates, gesturing to her cohorts for quiet. They drew their pistols silently and stole into the wide swath of ground before the Whateley mansion. Katie Karl couldn't help but smile as her men moved forward; a better group of Rangers she couldn't find. Zeke Beuchamp, the Rangers' scout and front-man, crouched in front of her, waiting for their arrival. His knife dug divots in the ground as he eyed the darkened estate before them.
"Sioux bodies," he gestured at the ground. Several Indians lay crumpled near the porch, the remains of Little Running Bear's War Party. Inbred kooks or no, the Whateleys wouldn't go quietly. Katie's eyes hardened.
"Shoot to kill. No talk, no questions." The Rangers nodded.
They fanned out before the porch, moving to block any exits from escape. The gabled house loomed before them like a pagan idol, its shutters closed, its entrance dark. No one noticed Nicodemus, or the hulking form of his cousins, until a distant lightning flash illuminated the porch.
"Uninvited guests again," he grinned. "That's twice in two days. I wonder what we've done to get so popular."
The gunfire was immediate and absolute. Eziekiel Whateley snapped backward as a bullet shattered his windpipe, while his cousin Moses dived behind the crooked doorway for protection. Glass shattered and wood splintered around them, groaning in protest at the barrage. None of the lead struck Nicodemus however. He stood unmoving as the bullets flew around him, marking who fired and who stood back. When the first hail died down, he stepped calmly off the porch. A fanned circle of cards appeared in his hands, glowing with an inhuman light. Katie snarled and took aim at his head.
"Now is that any way to treat your hosts?" he asked conversationally.
The wall to his right exploded outward. The Rangers barely has time to register it before the cause was upon them. The creature towered above their heads, a mass of wormy tentacles and bulging eyestalks. Pouring out of the house in a writhing mass, it zeroed in on the gunmen and leapt toward them with an inhuman shriek. A huge face lurked beneath its tendrils; a face not unlike Nicodemus's.
Have you met my cousin Enoch?" Nic asked. "A more degenerate family branch to be sure. But he still has his charms."
The monster engulfed the nearest two Rangers, pulling them into its form. They screamed in horror and fired indiscriminately at it, to no noticeable effect. Behind it, a second abomination emerged, this one a strange fanged toad. Leaping over its companion, it landed squarely on the shoulders of another Ranger, who squirmed madly out of its way. Nicodemus laughed.
Without blinking Katie turned and fanned her pistol at the cackling huckster. Nicodemus responded by hurling the fanned cards back at her. Each card flew with unhesitating accuracy, intercepting the bullets in midair. They exploded in a flash of green light, as cacophony of unholy energy in the air between the combatants.
"Nice try," Nic snickered. "Now it's my turn."
The suit was in his fingers in a flash - the Jack of Spades. He threw it towards the head Ranger as she pulled a second gun, watching it fly towards her faster than anyone could have imagined. The visage inside it seemed to grow as it flew, pulling away from the card to become all too real. Its face twisted into an insect-like maw, its crudely sketched swords becoming razor-sharp steel. The beast grew to huge proportions midair - large enough to hide it creator behind it. Katie's eyes widened and she dodged aside, hitting the dirt while the card-thing flew above her. She struck the turf at an odd angle and could feel the wind get sucked out of her chest. Struggling to breathe, she turned to see what had become of Nicodemus's creation.
Before it could move, a hail of gunfire caught its attention. Danny Hamilton charged the thing from the side, oblivious to the obvious dangers it represented. As the bullets struck it, it shuddered in pain. The flesh beneath the wound seemed strange, artificial, like the cardboard it had sprung from. Despite the injuries, however, it seemed unperturbed. It launched itself at Danny before he could reload; he never blinked. Dropping his pistol, he produced a huge Bowie knife and jabbed it straight into the creature's maw. Bellowing in pain, it thrust itself down the length of the blade, tearing chunks of its head as it did so. It buried its fangs into Hamilton's neck, severing the jugular and sending blood spraying. Even as the Ranger screamed, he kept twisting the knife, until he had all but tore the beast's head from its shoulders. The two collapsed in a dying embrace, locked together and struggling to the end.
Katie pulled herself to her feet and looked around. Within moments, the assault had disintegrated into a massacre. The two monstrosities tore through the Rangers like wet paper, while Hamilton's dying gurgles intermingled with the card-beast on top of him. Other Rangers tried to fight back - at the creatures, at Nicomdemus, at the house itself - but to no avail. Bobo Leveux's flashing voodoo magic seemed to be having some effect, but he was alone amidst the gunfighters. Even his partner could not be saved; Zeke's body lay amid Enoch's tentacles in bloody, twitching scraps. The few Rangers left alive would not remain so for long.
"Get back!" she yelled, trying vainly to be heard above the din. Her guns lay silent on the muddy turf, and as she stooped to pick them up, she saw Enoch's writhing bulk fall towards her. Plucking her pistol up, she knew she could do nothing to stop it. She cocked the hammer and resolved to go down as hard as she could.
Then he was there. He stood in the center of the raging storm and howled with the fury of hell. J.P. Coleman interposed himself between the combatants, matching Enoch's relentless horror with an infernal mark of his own. Enoch stopped, its tentacles writhing uncertainly as it regarded the Harrowed sheriff. A pair of scorpions skittered out of his boots, while his eyes regarded the creature unblinkingly. Something behind them - something unlike the man they belonged to - flashed a darkened stare.
Katie made good use of the pause. The gun blazed in her hand, spitting lead in an unerring line. This was no panicked scattershot; this was a deadeye aim from one of the best sharpshooters in Texas. Katie's bullets struck the Whateley face, and splattered comfortingly red blood across it's features. One blue eye ruptured, the other stung in pain at the blinding red spray. It shrieked again and Katie could hear genuine pain in its voice for the first time. She pressed forward for another attack, unaware of the fact that combat had ceased. Enoch snarled and turned towards her, the glee gone from its inhumanly human face. She shook her head and snarled, de Then, yet again, her fatalistic plans unraveled Coleman's clammy hands caught her coat and dragged her away from the slaughterhouse. She kicked and screamed as her gun discharged harmlessly above her. But the sheriff's inhuman strength held her fast, carrying her back to safety.
"It's over," he hissed, his grating voice cutting through the noise. "They've won."
"No!" she howled. "NOOOOO!!!" Her cries went unheard, her protests ignored. With the thrashing Ranger still in his arms, Coleman retreated, a smattering of survivors fleeing before him. Nicodemus's laughter chased them all the way back to Gomorra.
Two figures watched the carnage silently, hidden in the shadows far away. They saw the gibbering things Wilhelmina had unleashed, heard the screams of strong men as they were pulled apart. The tall one stared impassively at the sight while his companion gaped with unbelieving eyes. The white bandage on his shoulder contrasted sharply with the black clothing that comprised his ensemble. Occasionally, he scratched at it, as if the wound beneath had not quite healed. At last, as the howls died down and the inhuman creatures capered silently among the remains, the one looked up at the other.
"All right. I'm convinced," Black Jack said. "What do I have to do?"
Austin Stoker grinned. "Bury the hatchet. And pray Nate Hunter's willing to do the same."