Live To Fight On

by mmrrph

Vin slumped into the chair and accepted the offered shot readily. He threw it back in one gulp, grimacing slightly as the liquid burned its way down.

“Something out there ain´t right.” He said softly. “Been going over by Devil´s Canyon now fer days, and each time jus´ gets weirder and weirder. All the animals have been moving outta there and haven´t come back. Not even an eagle seems willin´ ta fly over it. Hell, even Peso gets nervous when we get too close.” He shook his head and looked at the table. “Whatever it is, I got a bad feeling. And an even worse feeling that it ain´t gonna leave us alone.”

“Know what you mean Vin,” JD piped up. “That place always gave me the creeps. But it´s seemed particularly creepy lately.” He shuddered for effect before taking another drink of his milk. The seven were gathered for lunch, to hear the details of Vin´s morning patrol, go over plans for the rest of the day, and to just enjoy one another´s company. A whistle and sudden movement from Buck had all seven craning their neck out the windows to whatever had caught the rogue´s attention. Naturally, it was a woman.

She was nearly as tall as Josiah, with long easy movements that flowed through her graceful limbs. She dismounted the great black she was astride easily, coming to the beast´s head and murmuring softly. A flicker of an ear and the horse trotted off on its own toward the edge of town. The stranger turned, the long coat fluttering around her, revealing more of her person. The coat was black, the inside lined with dark blue silken fabric. It was tailored to fit her body but flared at the hips, falling until it hit the backs of her calves as she walked. A deep split up the back of the coat as was customary allowed her to ride her horse in the style they´d seen. She was wearing a simple button-up top in white linen that was tucked into a pair of black pants. A dark blue scarf was tied about her slender neck, the knot just off to the side. A twinkle of light caught on a medallion tucked under the scarf, but distance made it impossible to determine any detail about the ornament. Thick-heeled black boots encased her trim feet. Her hair had been swept neatly into the wide-brimmed black hat she wore. On her face was a pair of blue-tinted spectacles concealing her eyes. She took a moment to survey the street then headed towards the saloon, seemingly impervious to the blatant stares of interest and suspicion boring into her as she moved.

She pushed through the batwing doors into the room, removing her hat as she walked across the darkened interior. She leaned onto the bar´s gleaming surface and in low tones ordered a drink. Inez simply smiled and nodded. The woman gestured to her left indicating where the drink should be delivered before walking towards the seven´s usual table. She removed her glasses, spiriting them away in a movement that was almost unnoticeable. Her eyes were neither blue nor gray. Rather they seemed silver - bright and intense with flecks of light glinting in their depths. Her hair was in great contrast to the lightness of her skin and bright eyes. It was long but fine, falling against her back and trailing all the way past her waist, wrapped at intervals with a blue scarf that kept it in a secure column. At first the hair seemed brown, then sable, then red, and back to deep brown again depending on her position in the light. Whatever color it was it was captivating. Without preamble she addressed the group, focusing her attention and resonant voice on the seven's conman.

“Mr. Standish?” she asked the gambler.

“Indeed, at your service Madame.” Ezra grinned, his gold tooth glinting, poker face in high gear. There was something definitely familiar about the woman standing before them, and an undeniable power surrounding her. Ezra ticked through the files in his mind, trying to track down where they may have last met and if their parting had been amicable. Though I'm not quite certain who she is as yet, what I am quite certain of is I would not wish to have left her with ill feelings towards me.

"I would request a word with you please. In private." She gestured to a table in the corner of the room where Inez had just delivered a mug of steaming liquid. Ezra raised an eyebrow but did not make to follow her request.

"Madame, I am certain whatever issue you wish to speak with me about can be addressed right here." She smiled faintly, shaking her head.

"As with all things, there is the possibility for this alternative to be so. But I have already requested Senorita Rocios deliver my tea to that table there," she gestured with an elegant finger. "Besides, if my feelings were that I could indeed speak to you amongst the others I would already have done so, and not attempted to fabricate a reason for you to separate from them." She raised a brow in return. She has me there. At this point it seems more trouble to continue to argue than simply obey her request. Little harm could come to me in this situation. Ezra stood and smoothed his clothes, sweeping an arm towards the table and smiled charmingly.

"Well then, shall we?" he inquired. The woman did not answer to his charisma but instead rolled her eyes just slightly.

"How kind of you to extend the invitation," she said dryly. Nathan snorted and Buck sat back in his chair grinning, but Josiah was too concerned to simply let her walk away with Ezra in tow without having some clue as to why.

"It would be dishonest for me to remain silent and give the impression I am not worried for our brother, or suspicious of you Sister," the rich baritone voice said over Nathan's chuckle. "I would not want to lie by implication, nor let you walk over there thinking we're not going to keep a watchful eye on you." She tilted her head to the side, regarding Josiah thoughtfully.

“I have merely a few questions to ask of Mr. Standish. I mean him no harm. Of that you can be assured Mr. Sanchez. As for you´re watching me - this was something I had already deduced to be a foregone conclusion.” With that she bobbed her head once and turned from the table of peacekeepers, not looking to see if Ezra would keep with his intention of joining her. She sat and picked up the mug and sipped at the hot liquid experimentally, then took a much larger swallow before settling back in the chair, holding the ceramic vessel cradled in her lap. Ezra shrugged at the quizzical faces before him and pulled the front of his jacket so it came into proper position. He twirled on a heel and went to sit down with the stranger. After another long drink of the tea she leaned her head in towards Ezra's, and the six remaining men could hear the murmur of her tone but no distinct words. A few times Ezra´s drawl could be heard cutting in with a statement of his own, but the primary speaker was the silver-eyed woman.

The six looked at each other in question, but none was any more informed about the situation than the other. Chris finally shrugged and went back to scowling in his drink, and Buck let his attention wander from trying to read her lips to just watching them move. Vin kept his attention focused on Ezra, waiting to act in a second if he sensed any danger at all. Josiah had closed his eyes and was squeezing the bridge of his nose, his lips moving slightly as he chanted without sound. JD and Nathan shared a glance and they too shrugged and sat back in their seats to wait. Almost an hour and two more cups of tea passed before she stood from her chair and leaned onto her hands so she could look down at Ezra. Vin's hand tightened on his mare's leg but then he let it relax again. Though she was a stranger and had Ez fairly cornered, somehow he knew the gambler was in no danger from her. Like I should know her, but I couldn't tell ya the first thing 'bout her. Day's shapin' up ta be jus' like Devil's Canyon - gettin' weirder and weirder.

Ezra stood and watched the woman walk away from him, ignoring the curious, questioning glances he was getting from the six men he´d come to feel were family to him. He didn´t yet know how to explain what had just happened, who she was and what she wanted. Ezra knew he couldn't explain how he felt he knew her yet could not say how or why. Her retreating form filled him with an almost debilitating apprehension, and tremors ran through his frame. A sudden tension came over him and he felt strangely disconnected from the present, and then he was spiraling back and away from the group of men in front of him and the retreating figure of the woman who had sought him out. A vision overtook his senses and Ezra was suddenly and completely immersed.

Thick smoke of burning pitch and bodies stung his eyes and blistered his lungs with its acrid stench. He could hear the desperate and tangled cacophony of war all about him: the clashing of weaponry against armor, cries of the wounded and dying, screaming horses and their thundering hoof beats, the crackling of fire, the shouting of men and beast. He scanned the horizon searching for a specific person, squinting through the black cloud that hovered just over the rolling hillside that was once a gentle green but was now stained black and red.

“Dovan!” he screamed, his voice echoing back to him. He cursed and lifted a hand to push back the faceguard on his helmet. “Dovan!” he cried again. He spotted her figure, one arm dangling uselessly at her side, the other still spinning the blade clutched in her good hand. He felt it when she was wounded, and the last few blows were drawing her ever nearer the great precipice. He could sense her life seeping away and it terrified him. He lifted his arms and let loose a yell of pure rage. To her side he battled, thrusting aside or simply skewering anything that tried to stop his progress. By the time he reached her, the silver eyes were dimming, her lids blinking heavily. She was half-sitting, half-lying against the grassy knoll she´d taken stand on, her breath hitching and forming small bubbles of blood around her mouth. Ezra planted his sword in the ground next to her and knelt at her side, cradling her battered form close to his armored body.

“No…Dovan, no. We need you. Please…” Ezra´s words were a hoarse whisper, almost lost among the din of the chaos waging around them. His green eyes searched her face pensively, wishing for some sign the inevitable failing of her body would not occur. She smiled softly, her eyes warm, and reached up to cup his cheek under the mail hood.

“You need not to worry good Sir. Today is but one time we shall meet - our tomorrows will come again.” Ezra shook his head to deny it and bitter words poured from him.

“Must our tomorrows always dawn to such circumstances? Must we forever be bound by this wretched, cursed, damnable obligation? Could we not just once meet in grassy hills such as this, seeking only wildflowers and spring naiads rather than carrying swords and armor?” Her head fell to one side and she struggled to maintain eye contact with the distressed knight. He gripped her more fiercely to him, shaking her so the bruised head bobbed like a blossom on a broken stem. “I´ll not let you leave me. I forbid it! Do you hear me? Dovan, do you hear me?” His words started out as an angry tirade but diminished to an anguished cry. Her eyes would not reopen but she was still smiling gently, and then he felt her.

The others…they need you…more than I…heal the breach…my dearest Ezra…until our tomorrows…live to fight on

Her hand slipped from its hold around his cheek, and then there was no more. Ezra clung to her for a moment, willing the life to return so she would open those eyes and pierce him again with her gaze. “However shall live? However can I fight on?” he whispered into her unhearing ear, the trickle of a few tears squeezing past his tightly sealed lids. For a moment his utter and abject desolation threatened to overwhelm him. But then a terrible force welled up inside, borne of the injustice of seeing her fall and being powerless to stop it, powerless to stop the madness which had begun it all. With a fierce determination and boiling rage Ezra stood and covered her form with his full scarlet cloak. He pulled the sword from the hillside and took up the one she had dropped and lifted them over his head, cursing the world and the dark forces that caused him this loss. Slamming the faceguard back into place he moved with fearsome, deadly precision towards his goal, his anger like a shield of invincibility as his upper body spun in tight circles, felling everything in his path. He searched for their leader the Black Knight, the only one left who could help him now that Dovan had passed. I shall not fail you again, Dovan - or may the Devil have my soul! Dovan…

“Dovan!” Ezra spoke aloud, his own voice breaking him through the apparitions that had assailed him. The present world rushed back to him with jarring speed, and he blinked and sucked in a breath. He was shocked to find himself standing in the middle of the saloon, his six compatriots staring at him and the very alive figure of Dovan turning back to regard him. He did his best to school his features in an emotionless mask, trying not to give away his reaction to having made such a critical blunder. Not very wise to call the name of a person you have just sworn you have no knowledge or memory of. The great emotional upheaval he had just experienced was causing his whole body to shake slightly, and he had the irrational desire to run and hold her in a close embrace. He thanked the stars when he was able to remain in place.

She stood waiting for him to speak, leaving the full burden of the moment entirely on Ezra´s shoulders. He noticed a tension in the air and realized something must have occurred during his paralytic vision. He studied the scene, accessing what had happened while he was elsewhere. Two fairly drunk cowboys were swaying on their feet behind Dovan, and Chris and Buck were coiled and looked ready to strike, the other men only slightly less so. There was a definite leer on the face of one of the cowboys, and Ezra had no doubt they had made some unsavory comment about the unusual beauty before them. A bubble of anger at the prospect rose up in his throat and he worked at keeping it down. His exclamation of her name seemed to have momentarily stilled whatever action had been set into motion. The more aggressive looking of the two cowboys spoke up, spittle escaping the gaps where teeth used to be.

“No need ta´ git upset fancyman. She ain´t got nothin´ ta worry ‘bout from us.” The guileless expression he´d been trying to keep in place instead of the leer slipped and he lunged forward, grabbing at the lithe frame of the woman. Ezra heard a cry and realized it had come from him, but his warning proved unnecessary. Dovan neatly sidestepped the hurtling figure, clutching his right arm as it went by. She brought a leg up and there was a distinct ‘crack´ as forehead met knee. She let the body fall, having taken possession of the knife the cowboy had kept hidden behind him in one artful twirl. With no wasted effort she spun the blade in her hand again and shot her arm back so the sharp line was pressed taut into the neck of the cowboy still standing behind her. He tried to speak but it came out more as a strangled whimper. Dovan flipped her hand, catching the knife by the blade and used the butt end to knock the cowboy out, felling a single blow at the back of the drunkard´s head. She threw the knife so it buried itself with a dull thud into one of the pillars supporting the second floor, and gave no further attention to the harassing duo.

“I will return tomorrow,” she said, repeating the last statement she´d said to Ezra at the conclusion of their private discussion. Her silver eyes bore into him, and before he could answer she was gone. A long whistle broke the silence following her exit and JD said in a disbelieving voice,

“Jesus Ez, you know her?”

Ezra could see the slight suspicion and question on their faces when he rejoined his fellow peacekeepers at the table. Lord, how am I ever going to explain this one? Vin raised a brow but Ezra waved it away, answering the implicit question if there was trouble the tracker should be worried about.

"I believe she is, as some would phrase, someone from another lifetime. In all honesty gentleman, I cannot give comment on who she actually is, for I do not know."

"Then why'd she come looking for you?" the young sheriff pressed. "And she asked for you by name, and knew Josiah's too."

"Names ain't the hardest thing ta come by JD, especially not here, askin' about one of us." Chris' reasonable tone advised. But Ezra didn't miss the look the leader shot him, and contrary to his statement it was clear the gunslinger was wondering the same thing.

"I will admit that although I cannot recall ever having prior dealings with the lady, I also am unwilling to completely dismiss that at some time we may have crossed paths. What I can tell you gentlemen without the aid of speculation is that she has asked for me to request that all of us meet with her tomorrow, that there is a matter of great urgency she wished be addressed. For whatever reason she chose to use me as a go-between, feeling it would be the best method of approach." He shrugged artlessly. "I had the distinct impression her expectation was that I would understand her needs and be able to communicate them to you better than she could herself. Perhaps that you could trust her if I did first." Ezra left out some of the details of their discussion, and he also omitted mentioning the vision he'd had of them on that strange and distant battlefield. He wasn't entirely comfortable with what he'd seen and felt, and it left him yet unwilling to divulge those private revelations. If we all agree and speak with her tomorrow as asked, all that is necessary will be revealed anyway. Nathan shook his head and sat forward in his chair.

"Don't know Ez. Like a little more ta go on if possible. You two were talking nearly an hour over there. Don't take that long ta ask if the seven of us would be willin' ta speak with her." He opened his hands in a gesture of question. Ezra searched for an adequate response but was allowed reprieve when Josiah countered.

"Brother Ezra would tell us all that was important to know, and that seems all there is to know at present is that the fair lady would like a word with us. I say we grant it. She hardly seemed threatening," he looked at the still unconscious forms of the cowboys on the saloon floor and amended, "at least to us. And going through Ezra for formal permission is better treatment than we get from most." His words brought a smile to their faces as they all recalled the different ways they'd been accosted in the past years of being peacekeepers in Four Corners. Buck nodded in agreement.

"Worst that can happen is we have lunch time taken up with whatever she wants rather than doin' what we usually do. And you never know, she could have a real good reason," the ladies man said, his eyes dancing.

"Don't seem hardly fair you having a say there Buck," JD said with a grin. When his friend looked at him in question JD's smile grew. "Heck, we all know you'd say 'yes' to any pretty lady. You've never needed a good reason to do so before now. So it kinda makes your vote moot if you ask me." Buck scowled and knocked JD's hat off his head and said in a huff,

"Well I didn't." His scowl deepened and then was focused on Ezra. Buck pointed and accused, "You're becoming a bad influence. I can tell. No way that word...ah...'moot' came outta anybody but you." Ezra just grinned at the lanky rogue. He was in no way put out by the implied insult.

"Mr. Wilmington, you should be thrilled your young protégé is improving himself in every way possible. One never knows what skill may be needed at a given time," he winked, gold tooth flashing. Buck scoffed and threw up his hands, then made to knock the just-retrieved hat from JD's head. JD neatly evaded the swatting hands but managed to fall from his chair instead, Buck diving down after him, having lost his balance after finding no target for his weighted movement. The others suffered the wrestling match that ensued for a little while until Chris' voice broke through, stilling the rough housing momentarily.

"We'll all be here anyway, may as well see what the lady has to say. Afternoon boys." With that the blonde stood and nodded at each in the group, rolling his eyes as the two on the floor picked up where they left off. He turned on a heel and exited the saloon. Josiah clapped Nathan on the shoulder,

"Come Brother Nathan. I'm in need of another pair of hands for this afternoon's chore." Nathan shook his head, and they could be heard arguing as if performing a familiar routine. Which seemed most logical -repairing the uneven stairs in the less than reliable method Josiah had been trusting, or just fixing it outright like Nathan had suggested. It was an ongoing argument that was likely to not have an end in the foreseeable future. Vin watched them leave with a half- smile, then slid his chair closer to Ezra.

"Everythin' really okay Ez?" the tracker asked, his tone low and mildly concerned. "Ya didn't look so good there after ya'll had yer little talk. Go so far as ta say ya looked right peaked." The blue eyes raked up and down Ezra's person, as if searching for remaining signs of the gamblers distress and Ezra worked to remain impassive under the scrutiny. Trust him not to miss a thing...

"I cannot honestly say what it was that bothered me at that moment," Ezra said, excluding details rather than lie to Vin. He truly did not know what the vision meant, what the images may have been a portent of. "I was admittingly caught quite off guard by her arrival and asking to speak with me. I suppose that is sufficient reason for me to have been, ah, adversely affected." Vin narrowed his blue eyes and studied the conman for a long, silent moment, and Ezra feared he would press the issue. Do not come and ask me outright, Vin...I would really rather not discuss this. Not here, not now. He breathed an internal sigh of relief when the sharpshooter nodded his head once, apparently satisfied.

"Iffen ya think of somethin' that needs talkin' over, I'll be around." Vin patted Ezra on the shoulder then stood and went off to attend to his own affairs. Ezra lifted his glass and stared into the amber liquid he'd barely drunk, swirling it so the light glinted in different colors. Just as her hair...her hair...Dovan´s...Dovan...who are you? If anyone was paying enough attention to the gambler, they would have seen the faraway look that came over his expression, and the fact that he didn't take one sip of the drink he held, but rather sat in quiet contemplation for many long hours after.

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“Thank you for speaking with me. I will come right to the point." Dovan pinned them with her intense silver gaze, each man feeling she was looking at them specifically, though it would be impossible for her to do so. "I need your assistance for a battle, and I will be honest with you and say the odds will be desperate." Buck grinned and said on a chuckle,

"Hell, with us it seems the worse the odds get the better our luck. Shoot, we do jus' fine when odds are a little less than favorable.” She pursed her lips and shook her head very slightly.

"I am aware of your exploits - your reputation has come to far precede you. I have no doubt you are all capable of handling yourselves in a fight, but let me make things perfectly clear Mr. Wilmington. When compared to what I will be asking you confront, the seven of you against forty men will be a distant and happy memory. You may at some point beg that you be blessed with less than favorable odds." Buck sat back in his chair, all sign of the easy grin wiped from his face. Her words brought a noticeable stillness to the group until Chris roused himself to answer,

“Don´t exactly have the luxury of all of us taking off ta help ya for an indefinite time. Have responsibilities to this town and its people,” he said firmly. "And if this battle you're talking about is as 'desperate' as you say, I think it's only fair we have a little time ta decide if we're willing ta give our lives to a near stranger for a cause we ain't even been told about." Even as he spoke the words they rang false in his ears. He was certain he shouldn't turn her down outright, something niggling at him in warning to pay exacting attention to her before making a decision. Before she had begun to explain herself to them, Chris had been on the verge of waving a hand to dismiss her attempts to sway them and simply agree, an odd sensation in his gut telling him he was bound to her and this quest. She had arrived at lunch time as promised, coming into the saloon and sitting down with the seven with an ease that most people did not have around them. Inez came straight over with a pot of tea and Dovan smiled and thanked her quietly in Spanish, obviously complementing the tea and service if Inez´s reaction was anything to go by. She had sipped her way through a mug of the fragrant liquid, allowing the men to finish their meals before explaining in brief why she had come looking for them.

“I can assure you compensation the likes of which you cannot imagine, and my hope is we will not be gone so long your absence from the town will become detrimental,” she answered, her voice measured. "If you agree, I will explain to you fully the matter at hand, but until then I cannot divulge the nature of what I am seeking. I am reluctant to leave you in this ignorance, but please understand I am impelled to do such for the safety of all concerned." Vin turned to her and studied the almost serene face, thinking she was becoming irritated with them even though it would be nearly impossible to tell. She had explained there was an evil foe that was too great for her alone to face, but believed with their help it could be conquered. She was also most insistent it was not something that any of them could afford to ignore. Vin was thinking about it being some rancher or dirty sheriff somewhere and thought her words a little strange in describing the situation, but didn´t doubt her sincerity or the truth at the heart of her appeal. She opened her mouth and words came out but suddenly Vin couldn´t hear them, as instead they were replaced by sounds that had seemed to filter in from the back of his mind. He watched with fascination as the saloon dropped away around her and was replaced by a square room built of gray stones covered in green mold. The room was very dark, the ensconced torches scattered about barely penetrating the dimness around them.

“I would not to have sought you out were my needs not dire, were you not the only hope that I or this world had. I cannot impel you to act, nor can I make your decisions for you, but I implore you to at least give heed to my plea. Listen to that which echoes in your spirit, and if that which is there only answers emptiness then you may deny me what I ask. If the truth of what I say is what you hear, you will be unable to turn from me.” Vin watched as Chris leaned forward over the table to say something, and was bemused by the sight of their leader in blackened armor and a long black cloak. He reached out to stroke the dully glinting metal when a hand on his leg brought him careening back to the present. He looked to his right and the source of the hand. Ezra´s brow was furrowed in question, and Vin flushed a little at having been caught daydreaming. Wasn´t a damn daydream. Too real fer that, felt like I was there, wherever there was. He made a very small negative gesture and let a little warmth into his eyes to reassure the worried gambler. Ezra looked like he was going to comment but was interrupted by Dovan's rising to stand.

"I respect your request for time to consider what I have presented Mr. Larabee. But as I have explained we will have scant time with which to prepare, and prepare you must if indeed you agree. All that I ask is you truly consider my words. If after your careful reflection you cannot help me, I will understand and bother you no more. You must agree with what you feel in your heart, not with what you know in your mind.” Chris rubbed a thumb across his bottom lip, and he almost told her they were in no matter the cost or circumstance, but he clamped down on the response and just nodded silently instead.

“We´ll need ta discuss things, think about it some. Come back tomorrow and we´ll give you our decision.” She accepted this with her usual grace and made a neat bow saying to them all,

“Tomorrow then, gentleman.” With a nod of her head she was gone. Vin blinked a few times, looking for her and then cursed in amazement that she had seemed to just disappear. The batwing doors of the saloon weren´t even moving. Chris stood as well and announced,

“I´ve gotta get ta the jail. I meant what I said, we should all discuss this and think about if we´re willing ta agree, if we need more information, anything at all. Let´s get together later and we can decide.” The leader waited for them to acknowledge his words and then he stalked off for the jail, his head bowed and mind obviously on the problem before them. Buck, JD, and Nathan all stood and stretched, each saying where it was they were expected to be before saying goodbye and heading off. Josiah was turned slightly away from the table, a faraway look on his face and a distance reflected in his eyes. Vin and Ezra exchanged a look and Vin shrugged. Ezra cleared his throat.

“Mr. Sanchez, is there something on your mind? Other than the obvious, of course.” Ezra tried to keep his voice in the same neutral tones he always used, but a slight tremor escaped despite his efforts. Josiah turned back to them.

“Did you see her pendant Brother?” he asked, baritone voice quiet. Ezra nodded, as did Vin. They had both made it a point to learn that detail of her person. Ezra had felt a wave of nausea wash over him when he´d at last divined the pattern, but had tamped the reaction down and hid it completely behind his cool façade. Josiah fished into his coat pocket and pulled out an object on a leather cord. He studied it for a moment, letting it rest in his large hand before setting it almost reverently before the two men left at the table. Vin´s eyes grew wide and Ezra swallowed rapidly, the nausea having returned.

Josiah had produced a mirror image of the medallion that had been tied about Dovan´s neck, the flat blue disk with a seven-point black star at its center, where her´s had been a black disc splintered by a blue star. He let them reflect for a moment before his deep voice explained,

“Had this as long as I can remember, one of the few things I have always carried with me. I can´t even tell you where I got it, but it was something that I recall having close to me even as a child. There was a power about it, a certain aura it gives off I´ve always felt from it. I have held onto it all these years, almost in anticipation of a time when its meaning and use would be revealed to me. I think Brothers,” he said, the resonant tone deepening just slightly, “that time has come.”

“Well then Mr. Sanchez, it is a revelation that will be beneficial to us both,” Ezra said, turning his own hand over to show a similar talisman clutched in his grip. Josiah´s brows shot up and Vin leaned in closer but neither commented. It was a seven-point star carved from a single piece of onyx, with a blue turquoise ring embedded at its middle, the center of the ring being a cutout circle. “This is something I do remember getting. I won it in a poker game the first year I had set out on my own. It was something of no real value, not being conventional jewelry and thereby easily pawned, but I could not refuse it all the same. After I won it I tucked it away in my vest pocket and have kept it with me ever since. I had always thought perhaps I would need it for an emergency to stay in the running during a game somewhere, but never quite allowed myself to offer it as currency. I am beginning to understand a small part of why.” Josiah smiled, nodding as Ezra spoke. The two men turned to Vin expectantly and were not disappointed. He had wriggled up in his chair and shoved a hand deep into a pants pocket, and when attention was focused on him he laid a token on the tabletop.

"Ain't quite like you guy's, but figure it's too similar not ta be related," the soft drawl explained. Vin's emblem was a turquoise coin with a star shaped cutout in the middle, the outer rim having been wrapped by blackened silver. Josiah held it up and examined it before passing it to Ezra. The gambler still had his in hand and he lined them up, laying one over the other until he could snap his smaller star into the cutout in Vin's. It was a seamless fit. "It was given ta me by the chief of the Kiowa tribe when I stayed with 'em. Said it spoke ta my medicine." Josiah looked around the table and grinned.

"Wonder what the others' look like," he said, stroking his stubbled chin thoughtfully. The southern voice intoned,

"Whatever may or may not be in their possession, I daresay this will make a most persuasive argument for at least giving further consideration to Dovan's request."

"Don't think it'll take much Ez," Vin answered. "Chris was about ta agree there at the end, I could tell. Don't quite know what stopped him. Probably jus' too ornery ta come right out and accept, but he was mighty tempted, that's fer sure." Ezra regarded the interlocked tokens for a minute before popping his loose and handing the disc back to the tracker with a smile. Josiah stood a clapped them each on the shoulder, saying something about trying out a new method for leveling the stairs he had thought up. Ezra very easily hid his smile and Vin ducked his head so it was concealed under the brim of his hat. Time I return the favor to our alert tracker. Ezra sidled closer to Vin and asked,

"Everything alright with you Mr. Tanner? I should say I would go so far as to suggest you looked right peaked there at the end of our discussion with our fair visitor." Vin rolled his eyes and sighed.

"I'm fine Ez, nothin' ta worry about. Jus' tired of being inside fer so long I guess." Ezra studied him intently. Aw Ez... don't push it, not right now. Can't figure out how ta tell ya jus' yet I was having some strange pictures visiting me from the past. To his relief the probing green eyes softened and Ezra nodded his acceptance of Vin's reason. He stood and stretched just a little and smiled at the sharpshooter.

"I will too take my leave then Mr. Tanner, but please bare in mind I am available should anything come up that necessitates a discussion." He made a curt nod and smiled, gold tooth flashing. Vin tried growling in annoyance but it sounded suspiciously more like a chuckle than a huff. He watched Ezra exit the batwing doors then sprung to his feet.

"Wait up Ez. I'll go with ya."


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