Disclaimer: If I owned them, I would runaway with em and never be seen again. CBS and Co. have the rights and don't want to share. No profit has been made from having fun writing about them.
Story: Vin is called, to take a trip through hell and needs Chris and the rest of the seven to pull him back.
Notes: Story is based on a Native American legend. All mistakes are mine alone
The young man's head trashed on the pillow, smooth brow furrowed, bare chest glistening with perspiration, eyes frantically darting under the closed eyelids.
"See " he mumbled in his sleep. "Seeahtkoh "
His slightly parted lips let the name slip past them repeatedly. A name, that the young warrior wouldn't remember upon wakening.
The forest was quiet, as he made his way silently among the trees, the late afternoon sun filtering through the leaves. He stopped as his keen eyes caught sight of something on the ground. He crouched down and reached out brushing his long fingers over the dirt. He frowned in thought. That print sure didn't belong to any creature he knew of.
A scream echoed through the plants and he shot to his feet, looking all around for its source.
Another bone-chilling cry. He spun around and saw it. A massive shape was lingering at the edge of the clearing. He could not see any of it except the huge dimensions. The figure was so dark, it seemed to be made of shadow. It stood there for a moment, then turned and disappeared through the thick plants.
He made to follow it, but to his horror, he found that he couldn't move. Then the screaming came again, and this time it seemed there were thousands of voices crying out in pain, anger, and fear.
Voices that filled his chest, his ears, and filled the air. Unable to hang on any longer, he opened his jaws and added his own voice to the faceless cry.
For the fourth night on end, Vin woke up screaming. Sitting upright, he took his face in shaking hands trying to get his breathing under control and to calm his racing heart.
"Lord!" What was that dream, that nightmare, that He refused to think of the word vision. He had not had a vision in a long time, and he sure as hell was not dying to repeat the experience. Even though his head denied it, his heart knew better.
Still visibly shaken, the tracker shrugged into his shirt and coat and climbed out of his wagon, to walk restlessly through the silent streets in the pre-dawn's light.
Usually in tune with the Spirits, this time there seemed to be something he was missing.
Whatever it was calling to him, he knew, it was important.
If he didn't figure it out soon, the others would start to notice that his inner peace had deserted him, in exchange for a wild inner torment invoked by that soul-wrenching scream.
As he stared at the morning sun rising over the mountains, he knew that what he was seeking, he would not find here. It was time to leave. His decision was made.
Tanner had no way of knowing that that decision would lead him on a path through hell, one he could not return from alone.
Chris was sitting in front of the jail as Tanner rode in from morning patrol. He watched as Vin dismounted and took his usual stance, leaning next to him. When he locked eyes with the Texan, he knew what was coming.
"Things are quiet out there, thought I'd head out for a few days."
Chris only nodded, he had been expecting this. Something was eatin' at Vin and damned if he knew what. It was something that had the tracker withdrawing even from him.
"Want some company?"
"Nah, need some time to myself, thought I'd leave today, and before you say it, I know that look cowboy,' m fine, jist need some space alone. Be gone two maybe three days, you won't even have time to miss me."
As Vin straightened to leave, he waited to hear those three words he knew were coming.
"Watch your back."
He smiled as he led Peso to the livery
Chris was worried. Hell, lately worrying about that ornery Texan was a full-time job. He had better be back by Friday and be his usual pain-in the ass self. Or else! Vin just needed a few days alone to sort out what was troubling him. Chris was confident it was nothing earth shattering.
Chris was wrong.
+ + + + + + +
As the Texan walked into the livery to retrieve the packs he had prepared earlier, a cold chill assaulted him and he started to shiver. Seeing J.D. coming from the back stall, he tried to hide his discomfort by tending to Peso.
Noticing the packs, J.D.'s curiosity went into action. "Taking a trip Vin?"
"Free time great! Maybe I can go and you can teach me more about tracking."
"Not this time, kid."
Disappointed, he moved toward the door, turned to say "Sure Vin, maybe next time," but something didn't feel right.
Vin always took time to talk to him and hardly ever called him kid, knowing he hated being treated like one.
As he left, J.D. had a bad feeling. He had walked about halfway down the street before deciding to go back and find out what was wrong.In the livery, Vin was on his knees. Lightning was flashing in his head and a soul-twisting bellow of rage roared in his ears. Time cease to exist and he could not move. He could see the figure of something or someone in the shadows and felt an overwhelming sadness engulf him. A violent tremor shot through his body and then it was over.
Shaking he reached for the stirrup to pull himself up. Damn it, not now, not here...I...Aww, hell, his head hurt.
He recovered his footing and tried to right himself against Peso. As he did, J.D. came back through the door, seeing Vin pale and unsteady, he raced to the tracker's side.
"Vin! What happened? I heard you yelling from outside."
After a few moments of hesitation, the Texan said the first thing that came to mind.
"YOU fell! YOU! Vin, YOU don't just fall. You're more sure-footed than a mountain goat!
Are you hurt? Sick? Should I get Nathan? You need Chris? Are you bleeding? You break anything?"
J.D.'s rambling gave him enough time to somewhat gain control.
"J.D.! J.D.! Stop it, 'm fine. Listen to me, 'm fine, kay?"
"But Vin .."
"No buts, I said I was okay and I am! I jist let that ornery mule push me too close to the wall and I fell."
Peso gave him a hard look that said, "You'll be sorry you blamed me."
"If you're sure, I guess it's just you were yelling like you were in pain and when I saw you I thought I was scared, Vin."
I'm glad it wasn't more than a run-in with Peso. Are you sure, you should be riding?
He received a blue-eyed glare as an answer.
"Geeze, I was just asking."
They walked out together. As Vin mounted up, he turned to J.D. and, softening his words, said, "Thanks for bein' concerned, J.D., when I get back we'll work on those tracking lessons."
As the tracker rode off, his head still throbbing, he wondered why he didn't recall yelling. What else did he not remember?
As J.D. watched Vin leave he forgot to ask him what "Seeahtkoh" meant.
+ + + + + + +
After Vin was out of sight, J.D. turned and headed for the saloon. Just as he started to enter Chris almost ran him over.
"Chris, you ok?"
"What, yeah I'm fine."
"You sure? You don't look so good."
"Said I was, didn't I!"
"It's just, well you look kinda sick."
A low growl was all he heard in return.
Vin knew he was in trouble. That attack in the livery came on too quickly and in broad daylight!
"Just what the hell was going on?"
He knew he had to find out and fast. Instinct told him to head northwest, so he left the main trail and headed out. Peso was as peeved as his rider. Vin would have to make peace with the stubborn horse soon or this would be a very uncomfortable trip. The tracker set a brisk pace and kept moving.
As evening fell, he reluctantly found a place to camp. As soon as his feet hit the ground, he turned to remove the saddle and soothe Peso's bruised ego. As he brushed him down, he started to speak softly.
"I know you are a little unhappy with me right now.'
"OK, a lot unhappy! Ya got to understand, m not sure about what is going on, but I do know it's gonna get worse before it gets better. And you and me, that's all we got, so we need each other." The Texan explained.
"How about it?"
Peso started to nuzzle Vin's shoulder to let him know he was forgiven, for now.
After he ate, Vin decided that even though he did not want to sleep, he needed to. As sleep drew him in, he felt the air turn colder.The forest was still. Not one sound could be heard, as he silently advanced, then he saw it. A huge figure crouched by a clump of trees. Covered by dense, dark brown hair, yet as a long arm reached to uproot a bush, muscles could be seen below the hairy coat. Shots rang out quickly, followed by shouting and a scream that surely was born in hell. Men stumbled through the forest to retrieve their horses and the scream continued consuming the entire area. All the pain, anger, and fear in the world combined, to form the rage released in that one sound.
Vin shot up from his bedroll, his heart was racing, hands shaking, with a terror that reached to his soul. Unable to stand, he sat until his breathing was under control and the shaking ceased. His mind was trying to unravel what he had "seen."
The Texan had learned while he lived with the Indians, many things.
They taught him to track and hunt any prey. He also learned how listening to the Spirits that live in all things gave you knowledge and to respect the power they held. Observing the world around him, taught the young warrior how to move in harmony with all things. He gained knowledge not found in books, but in the lessons of survival. What they were before was revealed through the Elders and their stories of Spirits, great warriors, and legendary visions
Yes he had visions, too.
One, when he was fifteen or sixteen years old, showed him the heartbreaking slaughter of his Indian family at the hands of the horse soldiers. That one reared its ugly head in nightmares, sometimes.
Later, alone for many years, he had a vision of two eagles coming together side by side. A few weeks later, he met Chris and found a brother, alone no longer.
Now realization of what the young man saw was taking hold "Seeahtkoh" he knew of the legend of course, most tribes did. It was something he hoped, no believed, he would never see.
"What had they done?"
As the young warrior sat in the darkness, he could not stop the tears than silently slid down his face.
+ + + + + + +
When the sun began to peek over the horizon, Vin was ready to move on, then without warning, he felt eyes watching him, as he turned the tracker realized he was not alone.
Not ten feet away stood two braves and they did not look pleased.
One brave stepped forward and said, "He comes."
Vin only nodded. Beyond the two braves, he counted at least eight more warriors. He cursed himself for letting them sneak up on him.
The brave started speaking again, the tracker understood every word.
Three day past the Shaman shared with them his vision about the "Evil One". One of the Seeahtkoh tribe, it often stood over seven feet, having a hairy body like the bear, but it was not an animal. It stood on two feet, with the ability to grasp with hands, like a human, but it was not a human. It could kill, as easily as to breathe, and supposedly possessed the magical ability to simply vanish at will. It also was said, to have some type of power to hypnotize its prey. It was very intelligent and thought harmless if left alone.
However, once many generations ago, one was killed by another tribe, in return the "Evil One" had turned loose a reign of terror and destruction on the land. Animals were slaughtered and Indian women and children disappeared never to be seen again. Entire branches of the killer's tribe were killed save one, left only to deliver a message.
Leave us alone!
After that, the Indians respected the territory of the Seeahtkoh and would do nothing to anger the Spirit of the "Evil One." Now man has injured one and once again, he was coming to extract his revenge. He will not stop until it is done.
The "Evil One" was coming!
The hunting party had been sent out to find this creature, hopefully to stop it before it was too late.
"We told to find you. You come."
Vin realized they fully expected him to join their hunt, but his gut told him to track alone.
Yes, he was afraid, only a fool is without fear, in the face of danger. Long ago, he learned there was no shame in admitting this emotion. Fear sharpens your senses and increases adrenaline. Controlled fear makes a man more alert and cautious.
He knew what he had to do.
"No, I go alone"
For a moment, he saw in the warrior's eyes a flash of anger, then surprise, just as quickly it was replaced with acceptance.
The warrior nodded, turned, and walked away.
For now at least, Vin knew he was right to go on alone. He had left the warriors about two hours past, when Peso began to balk at continuing in this direction.
Cautiously, the tracker slid to the ground looking for any sign that might tell him why.
Leading his reluctant horse, he found what he was looking for quickly. Scattered animal skins were everywhere. Signs, of a recent assault, were evident. Ahead of him was a small ravine, with the recent rains a few inches of water still ran through it.
At the bottom, there was what appeared to be a dead animal. Scattered around were some very strange tracks, none like he had seen before. Leaving Peso securely tied, he headed down the side for a closer look. There in the shallow water were the remains of not an animal, but a man. The only recognizable part was the torso torn and bloody.
Vin had the feeling he had just step one foot into hell.The chill came first and then he saw it. The trapper was ripped off his horse by one hairy arm, his neck snapped like a twig. The creature then wrenched the right arm from its socket and threw it into the trees, the left arm followed it. His head was torn from his body and splattered into the nearest boulder, the legs twisted off and propelled into the air like spears. The creature stood erect and measured more than eight feet from the ground. With a spine-chilling bellow of rage, he lifted the torso and threw it into the ravine. Then it disappeared.
It took the tracker over two hours to retrieve the scattered body parts and attempt to bury what he found. When he finished his strength was spent and his stomach rebelling.
"Why in the hell did he have 'watch' the devastation this vile creature fed on?"
All he wanted to do was rest, but not here! The weary Texan made his way back to Peso and moved on, several miles down the trail he found the dead man's horse his neck had been broken.
Peso needed no encouragement to get them both the hell out of there.
+ + + + + + +
By nightfall, Vin was ready to drop just about anywhere. He found a clearing near a stream and made camp, he considered eating, but his stomach rolled at just the thought.
Peso was still on edge, so he put him closer in than normal. After what he had experienced today, real sleep was not an option. With his back against a tree, he tried to get comfortable, to at least rest his body.
Trying to understand what he had "seen," it looked as if he was getting more questions than answers and he was getting damn tired of it!
His thoughts turned to home. No way would he want the others at risk out here. But what he wouldn't give to be there just for a few minutes. As he dozed into a light sleep, one though rose above the others.
"What would Chris say when he wasn't back in three days?"
+ + + + + + +
Many miles away Chris was having a restless night. Concern over Vin, made sleep hard to come by. When he did, shadow images danced in his head . Large animals chased the gunslinger in his nightmares. The missing Texan was on his mind constantly.
Larabee was feeling things he did not understand and had more questions than answers.
"Dammit Vin, what did you get yourself into?"
+ + + + + + +
Neither Vin nor Peso had a restful night, but thankfully, it was almost over. The sun was still an hour away, when they were moving again. Nearing a small settlement, he started to encounter a few people. Usually he steered clear of any civilization, but today he had a need to see people and seek some answers.
Riding down the main street, he spotted the livery and went straight to it. Peso deserved some grain and a good rub down.
As he approached, the blacksmith met him at the entrance.
"Afternoon, what can I do for you?"
"Be here a couple of hours and wanted to grain my horse."
"I'll take him for you."
"No offence, I'll do it, he can be a bit ornery."
"Same charge either way."
Soon Peso was settled and the Texan was on his way to the saloon. Taking a place at the end of the bar so he could observe the entire room, he ordered a beer. Vin found listening got more information than asking.
There was a lot of conversation in the room, but it all seemed to be about the same thing. Seems there has been a rash of missing animals and torn down fences lately. People were starting to worry about the strange things going on. Bits of discussion started to get louder.
"I heard the Wilson's lost three head of cattle and two pigs."
"The Johnson's woke up and found a horse missin' and a big hole busted through the back of their barn."
"Something's got all the animals spooked around here."
Fear could be heard in some of the voices, fear of the unknown. Vin had heard enough, he downed the last of his beer, and started to leave, just as a man ran shouting into the saloon.
"Did ya hear? Clint Rollin just came into town, his oldest kid is missin!"
Vin felt needles of ice travel down his spine. It wasn't coming, it was already here!
Vin started to think about the last few days, the nightmares, the torment, the warriors words came back to him women and children disappear animals slaughtered revenge.
Then for the first time in days, the confusion in his mind was lifting. Vin "saw" clearly, what the Spirits were revealing to him. The time for questioning why had passed. Now he knew only one path lay before him and with a stubborn resolve, Tanner was ready to hunt.
The Tracker was back on the trail within the hour, searching for any sign that would led him to his prey. His only intention now was to chase the thing down and send it straight back to hell.
+ + + + + + +
The tracks were getting easier to follow, before they had been damn hard to find, now they were in plain sight. Tanner was getting an uneasy feeling about this. It was almost as if the thing wanted him to get closer.
It was getting late and soon he would be forced to stop. With no moon, even the tracker couldn't keep on in the dark. He recalled a cave, not to far from here. If he could get there soon enough, it would be the best place to hold up. The Texan urged Peso to move a little faster.
The sun was just about gone by the time he got there. Quickly, he gathered some wood and started a fire. The cave had only one way in and was big enough to include Peso. Vin made sure he had enough wood to keep the fire going all-night. He was still ill at ease about the latest turn of events.
He was sure Peso would alert him if anything were out there, so after he ate, Tanner settled in to get some much needed sleep.Morning was still hours away, when the assault started with an angry roar, boulders the size of horse's heads were being propelled through the trees, the Seeahtkoh was on a rampage! Screams of pain and terror combined, were heard far and wide. The men stood to face their attacker, but would not defend themselves, for some reason. One by one they fell. The stench of death hung in the air. Vin saw it all, from start the finish.
Tanner bolted awake and forced himself into action. Quickly he broke camp, saddled Peso and led him out into the night. He knew about where they were camped and if he hurried, he could make it by dawn. The Texan hoped he still had time to deliver a warning before disaster struck.
The Tracker made good time and reached his destination, just as dawn was breaking. Aiming to make his presence known, quietly, he dismounted and walked toward the camp.
What he saw took his breath away and almost brought him to is knees.
Before him were the results of a rage born of the devil, pieces of bodies lay everywhere, bones exposed, heads missing, limbs torn away. The ground was painted red from their blood. The horses that could not escape lay in death among them. Nothing had been spared the swipe of spiteful devastation.
"How could one creature do this against ten brave warriors?"
"How could one Texas Tracker stop it?"
+ + + + + + +
Chris sat at the corner table alone. Black did not begin to describe his mood today, even Buck was keeping his distance.
The last few days had been hell for the gunslinger, lack of sleep, headaches, and an overall feeling of sadness and fear had plagued him for days. Tanner had been gone four of those days, a gut feeling told him he was not yet on his way home. Added together, well things were bound to explode sooner rather than later.
Across the saloon sat the other peacekeepers, unusually quiet. The last few days had been hard on them too. Hell, anytime Chris was like this, they paid for it. This time was worse than any they could remember.
"Nathan, has Chris said anything about being sick?"
"Josiah, I tried three times to check on him and the last time he threatened to lock me up, if I came near him again."
J.D. laughed "At least he didn't growl at you."
"Growl, J.D, I've known Chris a long time and growling is easy to deal with, at least he didn't take a shot at you," Buck joined in.
"Buck! All I did was ask him if he was ok and he growled at me. You gotta talk to him."
"Hell no! Do I look crazy to you?" Buck snapped.
"Gentlemen, this is getting us nowhere. May I inquire if any of you are knowledgeable about the actives of our resident tracker?" query Ezra
"If your asking if we know where he is no," Nathan answered for all of them.
"It has been my observation that our leader has been particularly preoccupied since our Mr. Tanner departed. Perhaps all is not well, are any of you privileged to the reason for his leave taking?" The gambler persevered.
"Hell Ez, you know Vin, he don't need a reason to get away from town, any reason will do," Buck counted.
"Brother Vin needs time alone sometimes to reflect," Josiah threw in.
"Sometimes when Vins feeling poorly he takes off and holds up somewhere to heal, thinks I don't know it," Nathan added.
Listening to everyone discuss why Vin left had JD deep in thought, about that day in the livery. Wondering now, if he should have pushed for more answers.
Suddenly the doors to the saloon burst open allowing three men to enter. They were rough looking, dirty, smelly and huge. Trappers, usually that meant trouble. However, they seemed to be arguing with each other. Something about missing the shot of a lifetime, losing a prize pelt that would have netted a large price. The more they drank, the louder they got.
"I telling you we kilt it and shouda gone back!" Dirty yelled.
"I'm telling YOU it wern't dead and no way I was going back. Didn't you hear it? Sounded like the wailin' of damned souls callin' outta hell. I never want to hear anythang like that ever again," Smelly was yelling now.
Dirty fired back "It twas jist a big bear, you afeared of a big bear?"
"Big bear, my ass! That wern't no bear! It was the devil, that's what it was and it ain't dead!" Smelly thought he had the last word.
Huge decided not, "You two idiots have any idea what people would pay to see something like that! That wern't no bear it was something like we ain't never seen and now, thanks to you two, it'll jist go off and die someplace."
The sound of a bottle shattering got everyone's attention. A black thundercloud, named Chris Larabee, descended on the trio.
Grabbing Smelly by the throat, he growled at the others, "Shut up! "
Larabee continued "Are you saying, you shot an animal that size and didn't kill it? Do you have any idea what a wounded animal is capable of doing before it dies?"
Dirty got brave and started after the thundercloud Big mistake...before he made one move, he found a gun in his face.
Huge thought about helping his idiot friends, but five guns pointed in his direction changed his mind fast.
"I asked you a question," The thundercloud spoke.
Smelly attempted to answer, but the hand around his throat made it difficult.
"It er...I uh"
Dirty decided to answer for him, "The thang was dead, no call to git all upset over it."
Chris released his hold on Smelly and asks him. "How did it make noise if it was dead?'
Smelly never hesitated in his answer, "It wern't dead and it screamed louder than anything I ever heard."
Dirty started to argue, but one glare from Chris and he decided not to.
Pushing Smelly in a chair, Chris ordered him to start at the beginning and tell the whole story he did.
Four of them had set out to hunt and trap. Things had been going well and they were feeling good. Then about a week ago, northwest of here, they had found a strange footprint. Track like that belonged to something really big. It was nothing like any of them had seen before. Judging from the size and depth of it, the animal had to be at least seven hundred pounds. If it had not been for the width and the space between the toes, they would have sworn it was human.
Then they split up and tried to find it, After a while, Dirty and Smelly got really close and then they saw it crouched down, near some thick brush. "We were gonna catch it and then it turned and stood up. That thang were almost seven foot tall! Well, forgit catchin it, we jist started shootin." He took a deep breath and continued.
"Then that thang let loosen a scream so loud it made my ears hurt, sounded like it was a coming right outta hell. Wern't no way I was stayin' there, we ran til we catched our horses and rode like hell outta there." Just talking about it had him shaking.
"Three of us kept ridin' our other partner went back to git it. Ain't seen em since. " After that, they had been arguing about their actions non-stop.
When the trapper was finished, Chris told J.D. to lock up all three. J.D. wisely did so, without question.
Chris pushed the doors open and walked outside.
Staring into the distance, he had but one thought. Somewhere, out there, was a wounded devil of a creature and his overdue brother. He "knew" Vin was in trouble."
"Where are you, brother?"
J.D. was concerned, after locking the trappers in the jail, their story kept repeating in his mind.
Surely, they had exaggerated the facts about what happened. Who could really believe they have seen tracks that size? What did they say sixteen inches in length, shaped like a human foot, but with only four toes? Did they really expect them to believe a wild hairy beast, almost seven feet tall, walking on two legs, was running around, out in the forest and nobody noticed before?
When they shot it, the sounds they heard, well any wounded animal would make some kind of sound, but screams released from the depths of hell, deafening enough to upset their hearing for hours?
"Wasn't possible, was it?"
When he thought of the cry of a wounded animal, his thoughts flashed to the livery and Vin. Thinking back, the yell, he heard, could have been more like a cry of pain, and what was that name, he shouted, Seeahtkoh?
Josiah found J.D. still sitting at his desk an hour later.
"J.D., they giving you any trouble?"
"What? Them nah.
"You okay son, you look like a man with a lot on his mind?"
"Just wondering what Chris wants us to do with em, that's all. I mean, they ain't really broke any law, that I know of."
"Brother Larabee just wants them out of his sight for a while, that's enough reason for now."
Josiah hesitated then spoke "Anything else bothering you, J.D.?"
J.D. thought about not answering, he didn't want to betray Vin's trust, but if he told, would he be doing that? Damn it all, he was too worried not to.
"Josiah, do you know what Seeahtkoh means?"
Josiah felt a chill run down his back and for a moment was at a loss for words. "Seeahtkoh" he had had not heard that name for a long time.
Recovering his voice, he spoke quietly, "Where did you heard about Seeahtkoh?"
J.D. had seen the look on Josiah's face and now he was more than worried. He decided to tell him everything, starting with that day in the livery, to what he was thinking a few minutes ago.
When he was finished the preacher said nothing for a few minutes, then as if making a decision, he turned to J.D. and said "Son, you and I need to take a trip to see Kojay."
+ + + + + + +
Vin knew he had to move quickly and had no choice, but to leave the noble warriors as he found them, his only comfort was in knowing their spirits had crossed over. Asking their forgiveness, he rode away. The only thing he could do for them would be to track their killer
The trail was easy to pick up, for the creature was moving quickly and not trying to hide. It was headed back the direction Vin had just traveled. The undergrowth in this part of the forest was thick and difficult to move through on horseback. Speed was not an option, with low limbs and fallen trees having to be avoided. Vin and Peso both were battered by slapping branches. Splinters were incurred from broken limbs, clothes and skin were not safe from thorny brushes, all in all a miserable experience.
Haste was not really necessary, it seemed. When the tracker started to get close the creature would speed up, when he fell behind the thing would slow down. Like some kind of game. Finally, they made their way through the worst of it. The creature was still headed southeast and leaving a broad trail.
Along the way, the tracker found fresh kill. It didn't seem to matter what it was, if it crossed the path of this devil, it was destroyed. Judging from the tracks he had seen, this thing was well over eight hundred fifty pounds and with signs of broken tree branches, had to be well over eight feet tall.
Suddenly the trail stopped, cautiously Vin slipped to the ground, searching for any trace of the creature, he found none. Turning back to Peso, he spoke out loud.
"Dammit! How does something that big disappear into thin air?"
Frustrated, Tanner started to backtrack, reading the tracks, trying to find what he had missed and after fifteen minutes, realization hit. Son of a Bitch! He had done exactly what that thing wanted him to do. Following the trail had been easy because he was being set up! Vin was pissed that he almost fell for it, he had allowed this thing to lead him around in circles. No more!
This thing was not acting on instinct like an animal, but planning an attack as a man would. It was setting up to wait for the Texan and catch him off guard. Well it was doomed to fail, because nothing on this earth could defeat a stubborn, thoroughly pissed off Texan, by the name of Vin Tanner. It was time to make his plan.
Tanner changed direction and made a wide circle around the back trail not allowing any place for an ambush. He could have sworn he heard an agitated snarl, somewhere in the distance.
"Yep, it felt good to be back in the control!'
They left by noon. Josiah has refused to tell J.D. anything. The trip to the reservation would take less than two hours, most of it in silence. J.D. was about to bust with unanswered questions, but the preacher said little. All he would tell him is that Kojay would have his answers.
When they arrived, Chanu greeted them.
"We have expected you."
J.D. was surprised "How did you know we were coming?"
Chanu just smiled and said, "come with me"
Josiah and J.D. followed him up the hill, where Kojay waited for them.
Before they could say hello, the old Chief started to speak.
"Sit and let me tell you about Seeahtkoh."
J.D. immediately sat down in amazement, for once unable to think of any response. Josiah quietly joined him.
For the next thirty minutes, they listened as Kojay told the story of the Seeahtkoh and the destruction brought on by "The Evil One."
"The Spirits have sent help to destroy Seeahtkoh, which is why you are here."
J.D. was confused, he was sorry about what the "Evil One" had done, but, we came here to find out about Vin, didn't we? Doesn't he understand, that is why we came?
"We're here because we are worried about our friend!" he shouted.
Josiah placed his hand on J.D.'s shoulder to calm him.
Kojay continues, "All things are connected, your friend was called by the Spirits, to meet this evil, and you have been called here to help your friend."
When the sun next rises, you must go. My son, Chanu will be ready to go with you, may the Spirits walk with you."
Josiah spoke" Thank you, Kojay, we go to tell our brothers."
The trip back to Four Corners was made in record time, both men lost in their own thoughts. Neither looking forward to the reaction their story was sure to set off.
+ + + + + + +
J.D. and Josiah had disappeared about noon, leaving Chris at the jail alone with the trapper trio, who had continued to argue with one another until he took out his gun .
Larabee really wanted to shoot somebody, anybody, he wasn't particular. Worry over Vin and his own sleepless night, had him ready to fly in a rage.
Nathan was at the clinic, Ezra was staying out of sight, and Buck, who knew where the hell Buck was. He was their leader, shouldn't he know where they are?
"Dammit, didn't any of them stay put anymore?"
Chris' annoyance built with every step the wayward pair made in his direction. The man in black spared nothing of the lethal fire in his eyes as the kid and the preacher met up with him.
"Where the hell did you two sneak off to? You left three prisoners alone and just disappeared." Chris was seething now, " I'd like to know just what was so damned important!' He requested in a low lethal tone.
J.D. started to answer. But the word Chris' was a dry squeak and he was interrupted by the preacher.
"Calm down. Chris, I can explain," Josiah requested.
Icy green eyes turned the preacher's way as Chris pulled his gun and fired three shots..
Three shots! That was the signal for trouble.
A half dressed Buck was the first to arrive, followed quickly by Ezra and Nathan. They all met at the jail.
Buck was the first to speak, "What the hell is going on?"
Nathan was next, "Which one of you is hurt?"
Ezra just couldn't help himself, "May I dare inquire as to the urgency of our presence?"
Chris just glared at them all.
J.D. spoke up. "We need to tell you something important, and well hell, Josiah, you tell em." Josiah gave J.D. a side glance, that said thanks a lot and started to speak.
"I need to tell you boys a story."
Groans came from three directions, until Larabee shut them up with one look.
Josiah started again, "It started the day Vin left." He now had everyone's full attention. He spoke the next forty minutes telling them everything, no one dared to interrupt.
Ezra was the first to recover his voice. "Your information, while interesting, seems absent in legitimacy."
"You saying it ain't legal Ez?" JD questioned
"He saying, it a load of hooey," Buck came back with a snort.
"Buck, I heard it with my own ears, every word," JD persisted.
"Josiah, what do you think?" Nathan asked
The Indians believe it, and I have to respect their beliefs."
Nathan tried again, "Yeah, but do you believe it?
"I don't disbelieve it." The preacher was evasive.
"Vin believes it." Chris spoke for the first time, in almost an hour.
"I'll meet Chanu at first light, Nathan it might be good if you were along, too." Larabee had already decided.
Nathan nodded, already thinking about what supplies he would need to pack.
"Now wait a minute Chris, I'm going with you," Buck insisted
Josiah and I got all the information, we have to go," J.D. was quick to point out.
Giving way to his concerns, Ezra dropped the formality and simply said, "Vin may need all of us."
Larabee studied each man before he spoke, "I'll wire the Judge and let him know we'll be gone for a while."
"Already making a list Chris," the healer was already writing.
"Buck, find two or three men to cover things in town while we're gone."
"What about the prisoners?" Buck was curious about Chris' plans for them.
"I don't care it they rot in there, damn it! But hell, I guess, find someone to feed them once in a while." snapped Chris.
"On it, Pard."
"Josiah, you and J.D. get supplies together, enough for a least a week.
"Consider it done."
"And what do you require of me honorable leader?"
"Ez, if what Kojay says is true, we are going to require some high caliber guns and ammunition. Find me some and whatever else you think we might need."
With a tip of his hat, Ezra drawled, "At your service, suh."
For the first time in days, Chris was hopeful. Thanks to Kojay they had an idea of what Vin was doing. The trappers information gave them a place to start looking. He wasn't sure he believed everything Josiah had told them, but a lot more was making sense now than a few hours ago.
The gunslinger realized, he must have been feeling what Vin was experiencing. As he prepared for the coming trip, he sent the Texan a message.
"Hang on, brother we're on our way."
Vin explored the area before stopping for the night. He found several well used game trails, but no trace of the creature.
Settling down after he ate, he began to sorts through the days events, wondering just what was out there. Animal or human, which was it? A human mind trapped in an animal body? Was it a man left alone in the wilderness too long, with no contact with anything but animals? Could it truly be a Spirit possessing magical powers?
Whatever it is, the thing at least thought like a man. It did not just react to being hunted, looking for an escape, but thought of ways to distract the hunter. The attacks, although violent had purpose, not for food, but revenge for the supposed wrong of being shot. Not knowing how badly it was injured, the tracker could not count on it to be fatal.
One thing for sure, Tanner had trailed enough men and animals to know any injury made it dangerous.
Vin knew the thing was aware of him tracking it. Hell, it could be out there now plotting its next move.
Alone, his options were limited, he couldn't herd it, or surround it, he was gonna have to meet the thing head on, with one gun.
Got used to having the guys around Tanner, let yourself get spoiled. The tracker couldn't help but think it would be nice to have a few guns covering his back.
Trying to get a sense of his prey was getting him nowhere and it was hard to work out, if you didn't know what the fuck it was!
Peso nudged his shoulder.
"Sorry mule, almost forget ya were there."
Peso was more than just a horse, he and Vin were partners. They had been through a lot together and were more kindred souls, than horse and owner. No one could own either of them. Both wild spirits, a little on the stubborn side, they understood each other.
"Ya did good today, rough as it got, you didn't give out on me. I've been thinkin' about that thing out there, too."
Peso nudged a little harder.
"Stop it and listen to me, you ornery animal, m gonna do my damnest to kill the son of a bitch, but there is a good chance it might get me first. I want ya to use your smarts and stay the hell away from it, don't want ya to end up with no broke neck, ya got it."
Peso tossed his head as if to answer.
"Anyway if you gotta run, do it! Don't worry bout me, now move it, m gonna sleep, let me know if ya hear anything."
As sleep started to claim the tracker, he heard a familiar voice.
"Hang on brother we're on our way."
+ + + + + + + +
He had been asleep only a short while, when he heard a branch snap.
Instantly the Texan was wide awake, mare's leg in hand moving away from the fire. He reached Peso at a run, slapping him on the rump shouting, "Go!"
Vin rolled into a crouched position, gun ready and listened.
Everything blended together in the darkness. He heard a rustle in the bushes, but saw nothing. Again from the other direction came a small hissing noise.
Movement in the shadows got his attention, as something flew past him. It was only his quick reaction that saved an impact with his head.
Another flying object hit him in the shoulder. Realizing what it was, had him momentarily surprised. The damn thing was trying to spear him with tree limbs! Not a fatal hit, but son of a bitch that hurt!
The tracker wanted to take a shot, but in the dark of night, he was having trouble finding a target.
Another flying tree limb passed his position. Silence settled in and nothing moved for the next fifteen minutes. He waited.
Vin had almost decided that whatever it was, had left.
Then suddenly a huge black blur came straight at him from across the camp. He got off two shots before being slammed backwards into a very large tree.
As a wave of darkness descended around him, he heard a soul shattering bellow of pain, and then, nothing...
The sun was making its way into the morning sky and below Mother Earth was slowly beginning to wake. The six riders quietly rode out of town own their way to meet Chanu by the old rock creek bridge. The Indian warrior way waiting for them when they arrived. He moved closer and nodded his head, acknowledging to the leader of the peacekeepers that he was ready to follow.
" Thought we would start where the trappers first saw the tracks and have you take the lead from there." Chris noted and Chanu nodded "Okay, let's ride,"
+ + + + + + +
"I have to quit getting myself into this kind of shit," Tanner mumbled, as consciousness began to come back Whoever had bought the last round of drinks, was a dead man.
He figured he must be experiencing the hangover from hell. If he could just stop the hammer that was pounding inside his head, he might be able to move.
As awareness slowly returned, the tracker found that there was no part of his battered body, which escaped the pain he was feeling.
"What the fuck is going on?"
Confusion was changing to recollection, and while struggling to rise to a sitting position, he began to remember bits and pieces of the night before.
Tree limbs flying through the air, an eight foot black blur coming at him, gunshots and then screaming
Vin tried to get up, he had to know.. .Damn, but it hurt to move, so he remained still for a few moments and began to assess his injuries How badly was he injuries? Pain?
"Gaaawwd .He moaned when he moved and waves of pain and nauseas exploded within him. "Good Lord! Slower Vin, there that's better."
The dizzy man's fingers moved again to the burning pain in his side. He hissed and jammed his eyes closed when expert fingers felt fractures in his chest. There was at least one rib broken, the others bruised. He tried to get more comfortable or find a way to breathe without fire in his chest. The pain in his shoulder told him it was bruised good. Finally he managed to sit up and the twin flames in his head and back told him he'd been slammed good into the tree behind him.
After a few minutes he tried to move one limb at a time. His arms were hurting, but not broken. Checking further he discovered sticky moisture oozing down one leg blood.
Past his own injuries he had to know about his horse. Looking around he saw no sign of Peso, worse no dead black blur either. The Texan thought about his situation. He was injured, alone, on foot in the middle of nowhere, with a crazed creature trying to kill him.
After looking over his options, Vin decided he was in very deep shit.
How long he sat there, he wasn't sure but he knew he had to do something.
"Git a grip." Great Tanner, now you're talking to yourself. "Okay, how much can I move?" Slowly Vin did test his range of movement. He knew what he had to do and knew it would not be easy. He was able to reach some things he would need to treat his injuries, now if he could force himself to do it.
"Dammit Vin just do it!" Anger was his best friend right now stir up some adrenaline, enough to get started. "Come on Tanner! Git busy," Once he managed to painfully get to his feet, he had to lean on that tree until ground stopped moving. When it did he was able to find his canteen and saddlebags. Then he began the excruciating process of putting himself back together.
Ripping up his extra shirt, he used it to bind his ribs and make a sling, to relieve the pressure on his left shoulder. Resting between each treatment helped a little, but not much. Finally with some mud and crushed herbs, the tracker made a poultice for the gash on his leg and bound the wound. Reaching for one of the damn tree limbs he determined it would work for a makeshift crutch. The back would have to wait and the pain from the bruises and headache would be managed, the best he could, with healing plant and herbs found in the area.
Vin cursed the men who started this rampage. Why couldn't people learn every living creature had its place in this world, predators and prey alike?
Yes, he had killed, to survive, but never without reason, or simply because he had the power to do so.
Now, the balance of nature had been disrupted and many would die. This Seeahtkoh, of course, had to be destroyed, it had gone too far.
"How many more would die?"
His injures told him, that if infection set in, the creature had probably already cost him any chance to survive out here. But not yet, if he was gonna die, that bastard was going with him.
After a few hours of rest and with difficulty he had no choice but to continue. The Tracker gathered what supplies he could carry and using his "crutch" for balance, he made the decision to try for higher ground. Finding a blood trail leading away from the campsite meant he at least hit the damn thing. Maybe he'd get lucky and it would bleed to death. As he forced his wounded body to go, the Texan prayed Peso was alive and half the way home by now. Before leaving the area his final thought was for Chris.
"Cowboy, if youre on your way, now would be a good time to hurry."
Larabee had pushed hard for hours and showed no sign of slowing down. Buck was getting concerned and decided he had to say something. Catching up to his old friend, he shouted for him to stop a minute. "Chris, the horses are getting tired and need to rest. To tell you the truth, we all could use a break. We can't help Vin if we drop from exhaustion, trying to get to him."
Hearing the words, Chris was torn between his urgent need to get to Vin and the genuine concern in his old friend's voice. "We'll stop for an hour, no more." That was the most he was willing to offer.
Five of the group sat together eating jerky and biscuits. Chanu went to scout ahead and their leader sat off alone.
J.D .was curious, "Buck, you really think that creature has magical powers and can just disappear anytime it wants to?
"What I think kid, is that creature as you call it, is no more than a big bear. I know you believe all that legend stuff, but it just ain't so."
"If you think it's just a bear, why are you here? Don't you think Vin knows how to track a bear without our help? Why did Ez get enough firepower to take on an army? Huh, Buck?'
"Now hold on kid, first I know Vin is a great tracker, hell, the greatest, and I trust his instincts. I also know, he told Chris, he would be back two days ago. Now you and I both have to agree, that if he told Chris he would be back, he would be here, unless something was wrong. More than that Chris needs us to go, for his own peace of mind, ours too."
"Indeed Mr. Dunn that is correct, when Mr. Larabee requested the firepower as you call it, he was concern for the well-being of our Mr. Tanner. Bear or legend, it doesn't matter, what is important, is he feels more confident having it." Ezra supplied.
"They're right J.D., what it is, don't mean a thing. Finding Vin safe is what we want to do." Nathan tossed in.
Josiah listened to them all, before adding his thoughts.
"Believe or not believe, we all have that choice, regardless we have a misplaced brother somewhere out here and we need to find him, for all our sakes."
They all nodded agreement.
Chris "knew" time was running out, something had changed and Vin was hurting, he felt his pain. They had to keep moving, he just hoped they could get to him in time. Leading Pony, he turned to the others.
They had been riding only a short time when Chanu came toward them.
Chris hurried to meet him, "You found something didn't you?"
Chanu lead them to a crude grave covered with animal skins.
"Other animals will not touch this place, signs show your tracker was here. He continued, "Come, see tracks."
Chanu showed them sign that Vin had been there and the other larger tracks he found.
"Damn." was all Buck could say, as he saw the size of the imprints.
J.D. moved closer, using the lessons Vin had taught him, he examined the tracks and concluded that the trappers were almost right. Judging by the distance between them, who or whatever made these tracks had to be very tall. The depth of the track told him the approximate weight was maybe even eight hundred pounds. Bigger than the trappers had described. The length of the toes and the way the weight was distributed told him it probably was an animal, but the overall appearance looked more human.
Piecing together the signs, they concluded that the fourth trapper was dead and most likely Tanner had been the one to find and bury him.
Chanu told them the tracks belong to a Seeahtkoh, going by the size, a male, other signs indicated it to be over eight feet. It looked as if a brutal fight to the death had taken place here. He explained that no others animals would come near this place because of the scent of the creature.
Nothing they found showed that the Seeahtkoh was injured, and its tracks just disappeared. Vin's, however, were easy to read, he had no reason to hide them.
Chris said nothing as he climbed on his horse and started riding, wanting to get as far as possible before nightfall. The rest followed, each lost in their thoughts.
Nathan was hoping they would not need the supplies he brought. Knowing that if they found this thing the chances were he might not have enough. J.D. was now convinced that the legend was more true than not and was not sure he really wanted to see this Seeahtkoh up close.
Buck was thinking about how sure he had been that none of this stuff could be real. Now he was having doubts. Ezra was more fearful than he would admit. Vin was not only a friend, but also the brother he never had. Even the smallest chance that they might fail in finding him was too much. Josiah prayed for guidance and their brother's safety.
After a few miles, they found the remains of the trapper's dead horse. The sense of urgency was getting stronger with them all. The connection that he and Vin shared was still working, but getting weaker, by the minute, Chris urged Pony to move a little faster.
"Tanner you better damn well be in alive when we find you"