~~ The South Wind ~~

by TJ

WRITER’S NOTES – The references to Greek Mythology used here can be found in most Encyclopedias. It was necessary for me to learn the game of poker, although it doesn’t take up much of the plot. I’m told I got it right. There is some sexual content in the narrative, but it is mostly left up to your imagination.

The Native Language used here is authentic, yet I did take small liberties with some of the translation. I must apologize for the appearance of the written words though. The standard computer keyboard does not allow for Cheyenne punctuation. My story has no true basis in reality, but the references made to Native American cultural beliefs have a basis in fact. The creatures of the Four Winds do exist!

This is an updated version of the original story. I've learned a lot about writing in the past ten months and just thought I'd make things a little easier to read. A big thanks to Nancy for re-posting the story.

My thanks to Antoinette for her friendship, guidance and patience. Thanks also, to Amy, for her enthusiasm and tenacity. And, thank you to Carrie and Marnie, for their eagerness to help.

For those readers who desire a little more detail. There is an 'Adult' version of this story available on the Blackraptor Adult Page.

RATING – R - for Language, Violence, and Implied Sexual Content. Some content may be disturbing to more sensitive readers.

SIZE: Approx. 364K


It’s five weeks after ‘Serpents' … late in May 1878.

The Magnificent Seven have been residents of Four Corners for a little more than two years now and JD Dunne has made himself more than comfortable in his new home. Nathan Jackson had lived here for some time already but now has added reasons to stay, while Josiah Sanchez has finally found the right place and the right friends, to shields him from his demons.

Yet, the contentment of these three is not shared by their fellow peacekeepers.

Chris Larabee is still troubled by the revelations of 'Obsession' and Ezra Standish is attempting to come to terms with the assumptions made by his associates in 'Serpents'. After 'LadyKillers', Buck Wilmington has been trying to figure out if being attached to these men is really worth the emotional turmoil and Vin Tanner has been dwelling heavily on words he spoke in 'Archilles'. It may have been a way to ask Mary Travis for help but the phrase conceals another secret for the naturally quiet, reserved man. – ‘I'm not the way they see me… not who they think I am’


The big gray horse stood in stark contrast to the outline of his rider.

A black duster and big floppy hat obscured the stranger’s features. No obvious clues were visible to distinguish him… or his intent. The man sat quietly contemplating the small town that had appeared in the distance.

The call of a bald eagle sounded from high above and the visitor slowly raised his head to gaze at the noble creature. His eyes narrowed and a faint smile appeared on his lips. Breathing deeply, the man glanced back at the town and patted the wolf shaped tattoo on his mount’s side. Straightening in his saddle, he sighed. "The East Wind has chosen our destination, my friend." The raspy voice spoke quietly. "The two of you will rest now… until the North Wind joins us. I must seek out those who shall make their own journeys."

The high-pitched cry of the wild bird compelled the horse and rider forward on their path… into Four Corners.

It was nearly noon in town and the little community was attending to its usual business. Nothing much seemed out of the ordinary… except perhaps, the noisy gathering at Potter's General store. The sign in the shop window announced the arrival of another shipment of stick candy and some of the younger residents had gathered out front to see what flavors were available.

Next door, Vin Tanner and John Dunne sat outside the sheriff's office. One of them at least, was watching the excitement intently. It was obvious to the sharpshooter that his younger friend could hardly contain himself.

Getting up from his chair, the kid leaned against the support beam. "Do ya have a favorite flavor, Vin?"

The tracker’s famous shy grin spread wide across his face. "Don't reckon I ever had none," he said, cocking his head.

JD looked stunned as he turned to face his fellow peacekeeper. If he'd given it half a thought, he wouldn't have uttered his next words. "You're kidding... right?"

The tracker shook his head.

Realizing how stupid the question really was, the kid glanced away. Of all The Seven, Vin was the closest to his age, yet Tanner’s early years had been so very different from his own. JD didn't know a lot of his friend’s history but from what he did know, he guessed it would be best not to ask any more dumb questions… least wise on the subject of stick candy. "Well, I'm gonna go over and see what kind Mrs. Potter got this time." The young man spoke as he headed towards the busy store.

The sharpshooter grinned, tipping his hat at his departing companion. There were days when JD earned his ‘kid’ nickname. It continually amazed the remainder of The Seven that he could muster enough fortitude and maturity to see a gun battle to its outcome.

Thankfully, things had been quiet in town lately.

Shaking his head at his young friend, Vin slowly guided his chair back to the dusty planks of the walkway. Getting to his feet, he stretched out his laziness. Yeah... JD still enjoys being a kid!

A gentle crosswind whipped past the tracker’s ear as he stepped into the sunlight. He felt his senses jump to attention and he quickly looked about town. Everything seemed to be in its rightful place but... there was something... Vin gazed north beyond the buildings and then towards the south. Damn! …Nothin'!

There wasn’t anything that bothered Tanner more than not being able to pinpoint a ‘reason why’ when he got one of ‘those' feelings. It had been nearly a week now. Something had been bothering the young man. He felt like a caged animal. Like someone was watching him... watching all of them. He took one last look north, curled his shoulders and withdrew into the jailhouse.

Glancing at the occupants of the cell, the sharpshooter cocked his head. "Bout time you let them scoundrels loose, ain't it, Josiah?" he asked, moving towards the bars.

Last night had seen a ruckus at the Standish Tavern and Ezra had been more than a little upset when the 'banisters of his Mother's establishment' had ended up in a jumbled heap at the bottom of the stairs. Needless to say, the two culprits had quickly found themselves 'incarcerated to sleeping off their evening’s consumption of alcohol'.

Getting to his feet, the preacher took the keys from the post. "I reckon it would be about that time," he replied casually. Joining the tracker at the cell, Sanchez unlocked the door. As the two cowboys gathered their hats and coats, the preacher proceeded to lecture them on the virtues of being an upstanding citizen in Four Corners. He advised them to remember his words should they choose to head back this way.

Tanner followed the three as they slowly walked into the street. He looked at the big man and smirked. "Sure am glad you're on our side, Josiah." The younger man snickered as the two delinquents quickly scurried away.

Eyeing the two cowboys to make sure they were heading for the livery, Sanchez patted his friend on the shoulder. "Me too, brother," he replied happily. As they stood watching the retreating men, Josiah noticed that the tracker’s body stance changed. The big man looked at Vin and instinctively followed his gaze north. Seeing nothing on the horizon, the preacher couldn’t help but frown. "You still having those funny feelings of yours, son?"

"Just might..."

Neither peacekeeper had noticed Buck approach them from along the walk.

"Howdy boys," Wilmington interrupted. Receiving no response from either of his friends, the ladies’ man studied them carefully. Confused by their inattention, he followed Vin and Josiah's line of sight north and strained to see. There, barely visible in the distance, was a blurred object cresting the ridge. Buck squinted his eyes again. He vaguely recognized the heat stretched image of a rider. A moment past before the rogue broke the silence. "Trouble?"

Another long minute stretched by.

Tanner’s response was barely a whisper when it came. "Not sure." He studied the hazy figure carefully. The rider was still too far away to see clearly but Vin was transfixed on the image as it slowly headed toward town.

Looking back at the sharpshooter, Josiah frowned. "Should we get the others?" he asked cautiously.

A few more seconds of silence past before the tracker answered. "Not sure," he repeated again.

Now anyone that knew Buck, even just a little bit, understood that it didn't take much to get him going. With so much tension in the air, the tracker's inconclusive answers were doing a good job on the rogue’s patience. He found himself getting more than a little irritated. He knew darn well, that Vin's instincts had saved their butts more than once. It just wasn't in the sharpshooter's nature to be unsure. It made Wilmington uneasy… and that made him mad. "Well, just what the hell are you sure of?" he asked, moving around in front of the younger man.

The tracker didn’t react to the quick movement. He simply continued his study of the approaching rider.

Tanner was too quiet for their liking and it made both Wilmington and Sanchez nervous. They exchanged anxious glances.

When the sharpshooter finally looked at Buck, his eyes twinkled and a grin formed on his lips. "Not sure," he responded, yet again.

Josiah wiped away his mischievous smirk. He could always trust in Tanner to lighten any mood, with some quick-witted response.

Slowly returning his gaze to the approaching rider, the tracker narrowed his piercing stare trying to see anything that might ease the feeling in his gut.

Buck and Josiah exchanged questioningly looks again. Alternating glances between Tanner, the visitor and each other, both men seemed doubtful of their next move.

Looking at Vin once more, Sanchez raised an eyebrow. "Best find Chris," he suggested.

Wilmington studied the preacher's expression and then nodded. "Yeah... right," he mumbled before heading off toward the Clarion.

The anniversary of Steven Travis' death was approaching and Mary was taking her son to see his grandparents. Billy had found comfort in the arms of his father's father when his nightmares had been at there worst and being with his grandfather now, proved comforting to the boy.

For the Judge and Mrs. Travis, being with their only grandson during this yearly observance made things a little easier to bear.

And, for Mary, too, the day passed easier... Having her late husband’s family together lessened the tragedy for them all.

In typical fashion, the widow had been getting ready for her trip for two days now and Chris Larabee was becoming tired of all the 'maybes' and 'what ifs'. This morning alone, Mary had second-guessed herself more times, than he could count and both of them had become frustrated with the whole idea of packing.

The gunslinger found himself staring out the kitchen window while Mrs. Travis served herself a glass of lemonade. "Sure you won't have some?" she asked again. The newspaperwoman watched as Larabee shook his head in response. She smirked. Instinctively, Mary knew he was there in body alone. His spirit left an hour ago!

The gunslinger was indeed, lost in his own world. His best friend had been on edge this past week and that alone, was more than enough reason for The Seven's leader to be lost in thought. Ah, but then there was this lovely lady that he shared time with on occasion. Maybe Mary going away for three weeks a good thing... Chris needed to reckon his feelings out on this subject, too. The blond looked back at his companion and smiled. She was definitely easy to look at. If only she didn't get on his nerves so much. The two of them seemed to keep good company together and when Billy was included, the days were even better. So, …if all of this were true, then why did he enjoy being alone so much? Frustrated, Larabee shook his head. There seemed to be only one thing the gunslinger was certain of. He knew he’d experienced enough changes in the last two years. He understood that he wasn't ready for anything new… any time soon.

Mary had almost finished her lemonade when the man spoke. "You sure you're gonna be ready for the stage in two days?" he asked, walking through the door that separated her house from the printing office.

Mrs. Travis smiled and followed him. "Just a few last minute things and I think we'll be ready."

Neither of them really believed her declaration.

Mary glanced at the wall clock. "Oh, and just where is that boy of mine anyway?" she questioned. Just the hint of motherly disgust tainted her voice. "It's past noon and he should be home for lunch." She set hands to hips to reinforce her disappointment.

"Want me to find him?" Larabee asked with a smirk. "Bet he's over at Potter's eyeing that new batch of candy she got in."

The two smiled at each other knowingly.

Billy had a sweet tooth and none of The Seven peacekeepers did anything to discourage the habit. Mary was always scolding her son for eating too much sugar but she secretly hoped the boy could enjoy his treats as long as possible.

Walking the gunslinger to the office door, the widow shielded her eyes from the sun as he opened the door. "If you'll send him home for his lunch, I'd appreciate it." She rose a taunting finger, "And don't you go buying him any of that candy either," she scolded.

They offered each other a departing smile before Chris tipped his hat and turned toward the general store.

Mrs. Travis watched the blond as he wandered away. As much as, she liked to see him coming to greet her, she soooooo liked to watch him walk away. The widow sighed and closed the door.

Chris hadn't taken more than a dozen steps when he noticed Buck approaching. The gunslinger's instincts sprang to life as he read the concerned look on Wilmington’s face. Covertly, Larabee looked around as the two peacekeepers closed in on one another. Everything seemed in order. "Buck!" he questioned, in that tone.

The tall rogue stopped beside his leader and quickly glanced toward the far off figure that appeared headed towards town.

Larabee followed his friend’s gaze then looked back at the man with a puzzled expression. "What's up?" he asked. Clearly, he was unable to ascertain why a rider that far out could have set Wilmington off.

Adjusting his hat, the ladies’ man huffed, "Might be the reason for Vin's mood all week."

The blond considered the statement for a long minute. "What he say?" he asked, still gazing at the far off stranger.

"Not sure," Buck replied.

Larabee made eye contact quickly. His expression conveyed to his friend that what he had said wasn't enough.

"All he keeps saying is he ain't sure," Buck tried to clarify.

Chris looked down the street towards the sheriff's office. He could see Vin and Josiah still standing in the street. The tracker’s unwavering stare held the gunslinger attention. Ain’t sure? …It’s not like Vin to be unsure of things… What the hell does it mean when Tanner ain’t sure of things?

Whatever it meant, the leader didn't like the feeling it left in his gut. Looking back at Buck, the gunslinger straightened his shoulder. "Get everyone together… quietly. Let’s just keep this low key… We don't want folks thinking anything's wrong until we know more. I'll get Billy for Mary and meet you at the saloon."

The ladies’ man nodded his understanding as they parted company. Maybe it wasn't gonna be another boring week after all.

A half-hour later the others were gathered around their usual table in the saloon. Buck and Nathan were busy enjoying a midday meal while JD was just finishing his. The kid scooted his plate to the center of the table and proceeded to pull a treasured stick candy from his coat pocket.

Josiah took notice of the sweet as Inez set his plate in front of him. The preacher nodded his thank you to the lovely waitress.

"I shall return at once with your meal, Senor Standish," she mentioned to Ezra before returning to the kitchen.

"At your leisure, my dear lady," the southerner called after her. "We do need to see that it is prepared as ordered."

The healer too had noticed Dunne’s sweet. He couldn’t help but shake his head. "You been savin’ all your pennies and now you’re wastin’ them on candy?"

"It ain't wasted money, Nathan," JD retorted. Taking on his best ‘Standish airs’, he cleared his throat. "I happen to enjoy a little peppermint now and then," he smiled.

The gambler raised an eyebrow at the kid’s ‘Ezra’ impression but decided it was in his best interest not to say a word. He simply cleared his throat loudly instead.

Both Wilmington and Sanchez chuckled to themselves at the antics.

The healer huffed at the distraction but kept his focus on Dunne. "Just you don't come lookin’ for me to pull your teeth when they rot in your fool face," he cautioned. Jackson had spent enough time telling the mothers about town to watch out for their young'n's teeth. He really didn't feel that he should have to give the same speech to a fellow peacekeeper.

"Let the boy be now, Nathan," Josiah piped into coolness of their discussion. "The Lord gave us cravings for a reason," he smiled broadly.

The healer watched as Sanchez filled his mouth with another helping of the beef and gravy. "You're one tah talk," he responded gruffly. "Eating all that meat all the time." Indicating the preacher’s lunch place, Jackson shook his head in disgust.

"Gentlemen… please," Standish interjected as Inez set his meal before him. "Can a man not enjoy life's simplest of pleasures without constant quarrelling of his companions?"

It was obvious from the raised eyebrows around the table that some had not understood his meaning.

Acknowledging the efforts of the pretty senorita that had just provided his lunch, Ezra looked back at the men. "A good meal should be enjoyed in quiet surroundings," he tried to clarify.

Inez smiled at the southerner’s politeness then turned her attentions to the tracker. "Are you sure you will not be in need of a meal, Senor Tanner?"

Vin spoke nicely, trying hard not to convey his uneasiness. "Don't care for no food right now, Miss Inez. Thank ya kindly."

She was still troubled by the sharpshooter’s mood but Inez knew better than to press a topic with any of The Seven. She forced a smile and excused herself to tend to other customers.

"May we assume that you are experiencing those disturbing perceptions once again, Mr. Tanner?" Standish had also taken note of the tracker's disposition.

"That's why we're here Ez..." Buck began just as their leader entered the saloon. "And here's Chris to explain what we’re gonna do now."

"Ah, yes, of course," the gambler looked displeased with Larabee’s arrival. "There’s nothing like a good lecture to accompany an equally good meal," he added, trying hard to refocus on the lunch. Ignoring the gunslinger’s glare was difficult at the best of times. If you presumed that you knew him well enough, you could guess what mood he was in. And, right now, Ezra knew that their leader was all business.

The blond looked around the saloon and saw that the usual assortment of townsfolk had gathered to talk, eat and drink. His eyes came to rest at the table where his men were sitting. One of them in particular he was anxious to talk to. As he approached, Larabee could see that the sharpshooter was lost in his own thoughts.

"Chris," Buck acknowledged, pulling out the remaining chair for his friend.

The gunslinger sat down and looked around the table. He studied his men carefully, as though judging which was prepared for what may come next. Again, his gaze fixed on Tanner. Resting his folded hands on the table, Larabee’s eyes moved to his fingers. "What’s up Vin?" he asked without raising his head.

There was a long silence.

The tracker’s reply was short when it finally came. "Not sure."

"Oh, would ya give it a rest," Wilmington spoke with annoyance as he rose from his chair. "That's all ya said for the last hour."

"Sit down, Buck," Chris commanded forcefully. Still his gaze did not move. "If Vin ain't sure... then we need to be." This time his voice was calm and serious.

Those few words drew the attention of the other five peacekeepers and the rogue sat back down.

"I need more, Vin," Larabee spoke quietly. "What exactly ain't you sure of?"

Tanner didn't know how to answer his leader. He'd tried to explain his instincts before. It just wasn’t something that you could spell out easily... especially to someone who didn’t get the strong intuitive feelings. Perhaps it would help if he had a direct question to answer.

"Is this man a threat?" the gunslinger added softly. He’d sensed his best friend’s need for something more to work with.

Vin raised his head slightly. "Don't think so... least wise not like other folks carryin’ a gun."

Larabee turned his head to look at Vin. Somewhere behind those sparkling blue eyes was a man trying to make sense of what he couldn't yet see. Their leader took one more look around the table and then began handing out orders. "Buck, I want you and Josiah to ride out around our visitor and make sure he's alone."

Two heads nodded their acknowledgment as Sanchez quickly emptied his plate.

"Nathan and JD… you two double check around the town. Make sure we know who's here and who ain't."

Mumbled responses told Chris he had been understood.

"Ezra!" The gunslinger waited until he had the gambler's attention away from his lunch. "When you're ready..." he glared, "you check the telegraph office for any new wires or messages and then head over to the jail." Larabee glanced around the table again. "I don't want this fella riding into town thinking there’s no sheriff."

"Don't got ‘a worry about that none," the tracker said quietly. He looked at his friends sedately. "This one knows we're here. He’s been watchin’..." Vin got to his feet and walked to the window. "Been watchin’ real close..."

The tension in the air could have been cut with a knife. The men all knew that the sharpshooter often gave them their first warnings when something wasn’t right. Seeing him like this was unnerving for the peacekeepers and their varying degrees of uneasiness showed as they moved out slowly to attend to the assignments.

Watching his companions slowly leave, Ezra finished his meal and wiped his face on his handkerchief. "May I presume that you and Mr. Tanner will be greeting our guest when he arrives in our fair community?" Standish asked casually.

The gunslinger was intent on watching Vin and chose not to answer the gambler's question.

Sensing he would receive no response to his query, the southerner stood up and excused himself. He exited the saloon leaving his associates to talk amongst themselves. Stopping suddenly, Standish shook his head trying to dismiss his own thoughts. Such a fine witticism, Ezra! Mr. Larabee and Mr. Tanner actually engaged in verbal conversation... never happen!

It was late afternoon and town business was drawing to a close.

Buck and Josiah rode into town at a gallop and came to a stop outside the sheriff’s office.

Chris sat with his feet up against the rail while the sharpshooter leaned against the support beam with his hat pulled down over his eyes. Vin took no notice of the riders. His eyes were closed and he was listening to the wind.

The two peacekeepers dismounted as Larabee looked at them waiting for a report.

The preacher answered his leader’s questioning eyes. "Only things out beyond town are the landscape and the creatures that the good lord put on this great earth." Josiah looked around their little community as if making sure that everything was still in its place. "I'll tend to our four legged friends," he offered as he took Buck's reins from him and headed for the livery.

The tall rogue acknowledged the older man’s gesture with a nod.

As Sanchez moved off down the street, the blond turned to his oldest friend. "How far out?"

Wilmington was about to answer…

From wherever he had gone, the tracker responded dryly. "Few minutes."

The ladies’ man laughed and glanced at the sharpshooter. "He’s right, of course." Buck sometimes wished he could see that clearly without looking. Suddenly realizing the profoundness of his thoughts, Buck frowned. Vin ain’t seeing with his eyes… he’s feeling with his gut.

The gunslinger looked at Tanner curiously. "Getting anything else?"


Chris rose from his chair and opened the jailhouse door. "Ezra... get out here!" he commanded.

His order was carried out with all due haste.

"Buck," Chris motioned the tall rogue to join them on the walk. He wanted to make a strong statement as the stranger made his way into town. Four determined sheriffs standing on guard in front of their office should do the trick… he hoped.

The three peacekeepers looked around at each other and the town they had promised to defend. All was in good order right now. Their expectations were high that it would stay that way.

Movement from Tanner refocused their wandering thoughts. "Rider coming in," the tracker said coolly. He stood up straight and moved the hat back on his head.

They all watched as the visitor rounded the corner at the north end of town. Seemingly played out in slow motion, the man’s ride down Main Street took forever.

The four peacekeepers focused on specific details as the visitor approached and then moved on by…

Chris was transfixed on the weaponry that the stranger had in his possession. A new Winchester rifle was held securely in a fancy sheath, well within the man’s reach. Twin, pearl handled colts rested on their owner's hips. And. like most of the visitor, the pistols were barely visible under a black duster. A lot of what Larabee saw reminded him of himself… and just like him too, Larabee surmised that this man had also seen a fight or two in his day.

Ezra took in the stranger's clothing. The man swayed with the gentle movement of his animal and the southerner was able to distinguish a mixture of tanned hide, fur and regular clothing from underneath the duster. The visitor's boots were high quality and his spurs glistened in the sunlight. A large floppy hat hid the stranger’s face. Standish raised an eyebrow. A good amalgamation of our own Mr. Larabee and Mr. Tanner! How curious!

Wilmington had his eye more on the horse, than its rider. It was a beautiful, big gray that moved ever so gracefully for such a large animal. The saddle that held his rider looked real expensive to the ladies’ man, yet he had noticed the man used no bit, bridles or reins. Impressive Beast. Funny… don't look like that pony's been shod neither. Strange!

The tracker busied himself carefully studying everything within his sight. Just like the 'feelings' he'd been having all week, the images he saw now made no sense either. Most things he’d encountered in life had a set path yet; he saw nothing he could recognize in this stranger. Yearning for more information, the sharpshooter closed his eyes… perhaps his heart could tell him more.

Without warning, Tanner could feel the visitor in his mind. He quickly absorbed the knowledge that the stranger survived on instincts that he had barely begun to grasp. Vin also realized that he could do little to stop the probing that was going on inside his thoughts… He winced trying to fight off the intrusion. This was a battle he wasn’t sure he could win.

The stranger continued his journey down Main Street.

From high above Four Corners, the call of a bald eagle commanded the sharpshooter’s attention. A crosswind whipped at his locks as he glanced skyward to see the circling bird. An eagle… the West Wind…

Abruptly, the tracker found himself trying to remember an old Indian legend… Quickly glancing back at the stranger and his horse, the young man took a step forward. The Four Winds together?Couldn’t be! …Could it? Tanner narrowed his gaze. He suddenly felt a desperate need to make eye contact with the... stranger… What? …What else is wrong? No, not wrong... different!

Their friend’s movement hadn’t escaped the other peacekeeper’s attention. They exchanged questioning glances, each sensing Tanner’s uneasiness, yet they were intent on providing a united front. The four sheriffs had made their display hard to miss; yet, the rider moved past the jailhouse without incident and continued down the street.

Some of the locals had noticed the show of force as well. They seemed to back away as the stranger moved through town.

Coming to a stop outside the hotel, the man dismounted and turned slowly to face the peacekeepers. He stood motionless for several long seconds before gradually raising his head to study the lawmen standing defiantly on the boardwalk.

Another long moment past in silence and then the raspy voice finally spoke, seemingly to himself. "Four?"

Unwavering in their stance, the stranger and sheriffs simply stood and stared.

The visitor studied each of the peacekeepers in turn. The fancy gentleman standing on the left held his gaze first.

This man’s secrets were closer to the surface than the rest of his companions. He tried hard to hide his fears and doubts but the stranger could read them easily. Trust, confidence and reassurance would be readily conveyed to this man.

Next to him stood a tall, handsome cowboy...

The visitor could sense strong emotions from this one. The man possessed fire but did not understand how to properly use it. His focus was on his friends and their task yet, the stranger recognized that the man could not comprehend how much he influenced his companions and in turn, cemented their bond.

The dark presence that stood beside the cowboy sent a shudder though the stranger’s mind.

This one was isolated from everybody and everything. No emotion escaped his face or his heart. The visitor understood that this one might be his greatest challenge. He hoped the dark one would reveal himself before they confronted one another.

The man’s gaze came to rest on the final member of this quartet.

He had seen inside this man long before coming here. This one had been exposed to the tribes and respected the teachings of the elders. He understood much, yet there was still room to learn. His mind was free, yet he concealed a secret deep inside. This one would not trust easily and would take time.

The stranger looked at the men again. "Four separate paths to walk…" he took in a deep pensive breath. "These journeys may take more… than I have to give." The visitor took another long, thoughtful breath before casually turning away. He carefully removed his saddlebags and rifle. Patting the horse gently, the man whispered in its ear before heading into the hotel. He never looked back.

Sitting innocently in the foyer of the Hotel, Jackson eyed the visitor as he entered the business and went to the desk.

The man set his bags down on the counter but held on tightly to the rifle.

The healer tried not to look like he was interested but it was obvious that the stranger knew he was being watched.

The man studied his environment like a seasoned veteran and only spoke when he laid two silver dollars on the counter and asked for ‘A good room at the front’.

Thaddeus Perkins shied back from the raspy voice and glanced quickly over to the only peacekeeper in view.

Nathan nodded in reassurance, trying to calm the proprietor’s anxious plea.

Seeing Jackson’s calm demeanor, Mr. Perkins signed the stranger in and handed him a key.

The visitor gathered up his saddlebags and made ready to go up the stairs.

Jackson tensed as the man hesitated. It looked as thought the shadowy figure would turn and face him.

Instead, the stranger only paused briefly before continuing on his way. He disappeared around the second floor banisters.

The healer waited a few seconds before he moved to the counter. He assured Perkins that everything was under control and checked the registry.

The ledger read -- Athena

Josiah entered the sheriff's office and looked questioningly at the others.

Buck was about to fill him in when the kid jumped up from his perch against the window. "Here comes Nathan," he called out excitedly. The moments it took the healer to join them seemed like an hour to JD and his questions spilled forth as Jackson came in. "Did ya get a look at 'im? ...Did he say anythin'?"

Wilmington pulled Dunne aside. "Slow down, kid," he coached. Now was not the time for Larabee to be loosing his cool with their youngest member.

Chris hadn't taken his eyes off Nathan and it was obvious he was waiting for a report.

Nathan could feel his leader's gaze. "No, I didn't see his face," he glanced at Dunne and answered his first question. "His voice was real quiet though. Sounds like he's got a bad throat or somethin'. Real scratchy like."

Six men were listening to what the healer had to say yet; Tanner stood by the window with his eyes closed. He hadn’t spoken a word since the rider had paraded himself down the street. And, while that wasn’t unusual for Vin, all of the men could sense the uneasiness coming from the young man.

Jackson looked at his leader. "He never let go of his rifle and paid up front with two silver dollars."

Ezra eyed the healer with interest at the information. Perhaps the visitor had other means that he wished to be relieved of.

"Asked for a room at the front of the building. Perkins gave him number four."

Five attentive men all noted that most of the town could be seen from this vantage point. The bank, the general store and the office in which they now sat, were of particular importance.

Nathan continued. "He signed the register... A. Thena" he mispronounced the signature.

Josiah sat up, perhaps recognizing the name. "You mean, Athena?" the preacher correct.

"Yeah... maybe!" Jackson shrugged his shoulders.

Larabee gazed at the oldest member of the group. "That mean somethin’ to you, Josiah?"

Sanchez frowned. He knew he'd heard the name before… but he wasn't sure of the details. "Greek, I think... God of War, maybe?"

"War?" JD blurted out.

All of the peacekeepers had the same question on their lips and an uneasy silence settled over the room.

"Your voice has a questioning tone to it, my good man," noted the gambler. "Perhaps you are not convinced that your information is accurate." Always the optimistic, Standish was trying to calm their moods before they got out of hand.

Josiah cocked his head. He considered the question and then turned for the door. "I'll check my books. I know I have the name somewhere." The preacher looked toward his leader. The blond showed no signs of objecting so Sanchez dismissed himself to investigate this name.

It was getting late and the sun was cresting the hills behind the jailhouse.

"And our next course of action?" queried the southerner.

Larabee shot him his infamous stare and Ezra licked his lips before lowering his head away from the piercing green eyes.

Chris lowered his own head and then turned to face the sharpshooter. "Vin?" He tried to bring the tracker back from where ever he had gone.

Tanner moved his head from shoulder to shoulder and wakened unto the world. Five sets of mystified eyes met his and all the tracker could do was smile. He looked at the blond and shook his head. "Don't know what tah tell ya, Chris," he spoke apprehensively.

Vin’s instincts were raw. Nothing made much sense. And, to top it all off, he had this nagging feeling in the back of his mind. He was desperately trying to remember the old story he'd heard... 'Winds of Change'… maybe? The sharpshooter knew he wasn’t ready to say anything yet.

Standish was decidedly more confused than he let on. "That is most reassuring, Mr. Tanner."

"So we just sit and wait?" the kid blurted out again.

Larabee glared at the youngest peacekeeper then looked back at the tracker.

Frustrated, Vin pursed his lips and turned to look out the window.

Wilmington glanced outside too and spotted the stranger moving back into the street. "Well, while you boys figure out what to do next. I'm just gonna tag along with our new friend here and see what he's up to." Moving to the door, the ladies’ man looked back at the others happily before departing.

Standing outside the Hotel, the stranger was still hidden from clear view by his duster and hat.

The tall rogue stopped by the bank and watched, as the man stood motionless beside his mount. Again, he appeared to be talking to the beast. Buck's keen eye suddenly observed a change in posture.

Somehow, the visitor became aware that he was being watched. He glanced over his shoulder in Wilmington's direction.

How the hell'd he know?

The exchange was brief and the stranger turned and walked south toward the livery.

The horse followed without being led… as did the ladies’ man. Buck was truly bewildered by the silent understanding this man had with the beautiful animal.

The stranger led his mount down the alleyway between the livery and the exchange. Once in the field, the elegant beast stood patiently while his owner removed the saddle and blanket. The visitor gently patted the horse down as the lone peacekeeper observed covertly.

The horse and his owner moved about gracefully and an unusual branding on the horse’s withers grabbed the rogue’s attention. He squinted, trying to get a better look and then frowned. Looks like a damn wolf! Yet, as Buck continued to watch, curiosity slowly escaped his consciousness. The stranger’s slow purposeful movements mesmerized him. He couldn’t help but be fascinated by the apparent connection the pair held with each other. Wilmington cocked his head, as the animal seemed prepared to leave. If he didn't know better, he would have sworn that the horse thanked his master before it galloped away into the meadow. Distracted by his keen observations, the ladies’ man stepped out of the shadows. "How'd you expect tah get that beast back?" the perplexed man asked aloud.

Ignoring the question, the stranger picked up the blanket and saddle.

Buck had been hoping to catch a glimpse of the visitor’s face as he turned back towards the hotel. Yet, with the setting sun behind him, his features were still hidden within shadows and clothing.

Barely glancing in Wilmington’s direction, the stranger passed by.

He hadn’t been able to distinguish any features but, for some unknown reason, the peacekeeper could have sworn that the stranger was smiling at him. Narrowing his gaze suspiciously, he followed the visitor with his eyes until he disappeared from view. The rogue scratched the back of his head and turned back towards the meadow. He was confused. It didn’t make sense. What did I just see?


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