December 23, 1875
When we last left our heroes, they were cornered at the compound of the Church of the Holy Flame. Kate, Errie, and Doc were tied up and bagged. After being tossed into what smelled like a horse stable, Kate was able to eventually wriggle free of her bonds. As she worked to cut her friends loose, the members of the church led by the nefarious gunslinger Edgar DuChamp returned to the barn with the town sheriff and his deputies. Kate tried her best to get free, but was overwhelmed and the trespassers were turned over to the law and transported back to Derry’s Ford to spend the night in the hoosegow.
Once in the cells, the sheriff and his deputies weren’t overly amused by the posse’s banter and shut them up with gags. After a few hours of the lawmen playin’ cards , the deputies went home while the sheriff took a nightcap and kicked his feet up on his desk with his scatter gun close by. The posse drifted off to sleep, still manacled, but a welcome change from the numbing ropes of the Church of the Holy Flame.
Suddenly each awoke in a cold sweat to the sound of creaking footsteps. The sheriff snored lazily as three dark shapes slid into the room. Before they could even cry out, a shotgun blast ripped into the sheriff. As their hearts exploded in their chests, they each readied themselves for what was surely death.
Somehow, a strange shared nightmare had fallen upon them and they woke in their cells. Sweat soaked their clothing and their hearts pounded, but everything was as it been when the deputies left. The lantern burned low and steadily on the desk. The sheriff stirred only slightly and resumed the rhythmic snoring that had been going for hours. Kate rolled over and tossed off the nightmare. She’d been through worse than a bad dream. Still spooked, Errie and Doc decided to trade watches for the rest of the night. Doc turned in while Errie stayed up.
Errie paced in his cell for a few minutes, but the cot started to look inviting. He took a seat and leaned back, he could keep awake for a few more hours and just count the bars. Sooner than he expected though he was sawin’ logs with the rest of the posse.
Errie snapped awake when he heard them though. This time it was no dream. Dark shapes moved outside past the windows. The door creaked open and in they came. Errie pleaded with them to turn away. The men’s faces were full of fear as one picked up the scattergun off the desk with a trembling hand. As he set the scattergun down and reached for the sheriff’s pistola, Sheriff Turner snapped awake and drew it in a flash.
The men jumped as the sheriff rose slowly from his seat, anger in his voice and calm resolve on his face. “Back down” he said. The men backed up slowly staring down the barrel of the sheriff’s six shooter. They were shaking like leaves as they backed up, but suddenly one flinched and a shotgun blast tore into the sheriff’s chest! Errie cried out in surprise. The sheriff reeled and fell to the floor. The three would-be assassins froze. Confusion and bewilderment on their faces they looked at each other in terror. Their expressions said it all. “What had they done?” The sheriff tossed his six shooter to Errie and slid the scattergun to Kate.
Errie opened fire on the assassins as Kate stretched to reach the scattergun. Doc stayed low as the gunmen tried to finish off the sheriff and put the posse in a early grave. Kate blasted her cell doors with the scattergun and dove for cover next to the sheriff. Errie passed the gun to Doc as the assassins bullets bounced off the bars sending sparks flying. The sheriff retrieved a back up pistol and laid down some cover fire right as Doc put some lead between the eyes of one of the gunmen.
Her hands still bound, Kate searched for shells for the scattergun while Sheriff Turner kept the two remaining gunmen pinned down. The sheriff tossed Kate a box of shells and with a quick top off she put down the second gunmen with a double tap to the gut. The third assassin’s courage quickly fled with the death his two compadres, and he ran into the night. Fleeing the jailhouse as fast as his legs could carry him, a runnin’ gunbattle ensued in the streets of Derry’s Ford as the posse chased after him. Doc was barely able to keep the sheriff alive as Errie and Kate gave chase.
The posse finally brought him down outside the town, but as they dragged him back, the deputies arrived and surrounded the posse. Their hand forced, the posse surrendered and faced trial for escape and the attempted murder of the sheriff. Though they contested the charges, they were brought before the judge the following morning. The case was strong as there was significant evidence that the three gunmen had attempted to break out the posse and together had murdered the sheriff, who had died in the night of his wounds.
December 24, 1875
The next morning the deputies presented the case and since no one in the town knew the assassins, it was a fair assumption that they had come to rescue the posse. The surviving third member of the gunmen stood silent, not even entering a plea along with the posse. The posse’s defense rested solely on the town sawbones testifying that the aid given to the sheriff in his last hours was given by someone on the jailhouse, whether it was one of the posse or one of the gunmen. That perplexing fact was rebutted by the deputies saying that even though the sheriff had been patched up, he had first been blasted and the posse had been freed. Maybe he came around and begged for help and the posse took pity on him, but it still didn’t explain the “jail break” or the sudden appearance of the posse only days before.
Their prior charges of trespassing and assault at the Church of the Holy Flame’s compound tainted their good intentions and they stood before the judge for sentencing. As the judge passed the guilty verdict and sentenced them to hang at dusk, a voice spoke up. The drunken priest spoke out that he had information vital to the case. An uproar ensued in the church as the priest approached the pulpit. After speaking privately with the priest, the judge remanded the sentence in light of new evidence and released the posse from all charges with instruction to release them outside the town.
Suspicious but grateful to have their necks unstretched, they headed back to the compound to investigate. Finding it empty and a fresh trail leading into the mountains, they looked clues as to where the congregation might’ve gone. Doc found a lock on the basement door outside the main house and blew it off with his six gun. Kate and Errie came runnin’ to the sound and they delved into the basement.
Once inside, they found three altars with the dissected remains of three feral dogs. As Errie took photos for his article and Doc looked around for clues, an ear twitched. The bones rattled and shook as the undead canines rose and attacked. Errie dropped his camera and ran from the basement as the hounds tore at his flesh. Doc stood white as a sheet as the beasts charged and sunk deep into his flesh. Kate calmly drew her dual six guns and blasted the dogs back to the hell they came from, she’d seen worse in the world than a few mangy undead curs. Once outside, Errie and Doc caught their breath and wondered aloud as to what could’ve spawned those creatures.
As they did so, the drunken priest, Father Owlsley rode up. After some calm and surprisingly sober words from him, they came to know the terrible tale of the true origin of the Church of the Holy Flame. Fifty years ago, the leader of the congregation was known as Emily Wright, not Cynthia Carstairs as she is now. She led her flock to the wilderness, Father Owlsley’s brother included. He watched in horror as the congregation turned on each other slaughtering themselves in a macabre display while Emily Wright cackle around them. Father Owlsley crawled into a bottle and tried to forget the horror he’d seen.
Eventually he’d turned to the faith and had spent the past forty years shepherding the resident’s of Derry’s Ford. When Cynthia Carstairs and the Church of the Holy Flame appeared outside the city two years ago, he couldn’t escape the horror of his memories and he crawled back into the bottle. Now he said he was determined to not let the same thing happen again. He planned to follow the trail to where he was sure the ritual would happen again and this time he was going to stop it.
The posse agreed to stop the menace and set off with old priest. After trackin’ the wagon train til long past nightfall, they stopped and made camp. Three of the Holy Flame members attacked them in the night, but they were able to send them to hell with prejudice. Father Owlsley healed them with his faith and let them know that their mission had divine purpose. Bolstered, the posse moved onward with renewed vigor.
December 25, 1875
As they approached the site of the ritual, the sky churned with ominous clouds. Lightning burst from the sky causing an avalanche to bar their way, but they were undeterred and approached the ritual on foot.
Up against the rock face, the entire congregation swayed and danced in one frightful display. Each one, from small child to old man, held a bladed weapon. The dance turned savage as they suddenly turned on one another! The barbaric display only excited the sorceress and her grim body guard, Edgar DuChamp, as they stood above on a natural outcropping. As the posse crept into position, suddenly Father Owlsley ran towards the fray screaming that he wouldn’t let it happen again. As he fought through the crowd, the sorceress hurled spells and the veteran gunfighter started slingin’ lead at the posse.
Their resolve only bolstered by the urgency of the situation, Kate charged the altar with Father Owlsley as Errie and Doc tried to pick off the vile enchantress. Church members killed each other in bloody carnage as the bullets flew over them. As Kate charged up the altar, DuChamp met her at the top. They turned their weapons on each other, but DuChamp got the best of her and fanned shot after shot into her chest as she fell.
Father Owlsley charged after him as he retreated, but the old priest proved too slow for the younger man. DuChamp emptied his pistol into the priest, emotionless. The priest tumbled from the altar and lay sprawled mere feet from the sickening carnage now at a fever pitch around the bonfire.
The sorceress hammered Doc with gouts of flame from her hands as he attempted to get a clean shot on her. He finally succumbed to the blasts after she sent them again and again.
DuChamp and Errie traded shots as the ritual completed with the death of the last member. The fire consumed the corpses as it grew into a massive conflagration. Errie fled when he saw the impossible. Though she was shot in the head and chest several times, with the completion of the ritual she was miraculously healed and turned her fierce gaze towards him. Fearing for his life and knowing he could do no more good alone, Errie fled. He didn’t stop to look back.
Doc awoke hours later. The embers still smoldered against the rock face, but it wasn’t just the mound of red hot bones that made the landscape appear fierce. The cacti twisted into the shapes of gnarled hands, the rocks became ghastly skulls, the shadows danced on the walls, and swirling black clouds brought black lightning shrieking down onto the scorched earth. As he surveyed the scene, he came upon the bodies of Kate and the priest. Hurriedly he gathered her up and fled.
As he approached Derry’s Ford, the light illuminated the morning sky. The town was ablaze and from afar the shapes burning figures could be seen walking the streets. Doc and Errie had the same idea to head back to Denver and met along the trail. An old friend met up with them and shared the ride as they headed back to the big city to face Irving Backlund.
Kate was buried along the trail and they parted ways with their friend as they rode hard for Denver. Back in the city, Mr. Backlund was furious with the news and warned Doc to never return.
With Kate gone and the town of Derry’s Ford seemingly wiped out, where will the posse turn?