It had been several hours since he took off walking from last night's camp. Vin had started talking to himself, if for no other reason, just to stay awake.
"Just put one foot in front of the other Tanner, don't think about the explosion happin' inside your head or the knives stickin' into your side."
The Texan made a few more yards and found an area surrounded by some big boulders. A little stream of water fell from higher in the rock wall that covered one side. This was what he had been looking for, a place to stop for the night.
Two or three times today, he had heard a wailing in the distance. Vin was not in the mood to feel very compassionate about the creatures suffering. "Hope that son of bitch hurts as much as I do." he mumbled
The tracker then set about getting settled in and protected the best he could. He filled his canteen with water and made a place to put his aching body. Leaning against the rock wall was painful for his back, but he knew if he lay down, he might not be able to get up. Making a fire was not an option, he just did not have the strength to gather any wood.
With his gun within reach, he pulled out a piece of birch mushroom2 to chew on. This tasted as bad as one of Nathan's teas, but would help with the pain. Soon total exhaustion pulled the Texan into the blackness of sleep.Chris and the others were peacefully settled in for the night when all hell broke loose. A tortured scream tore into the night. A big black blur was ripping into the camp destroying everything in sight. There was blood everywhere, horses running, guns firing, and it kept on coming!
Vin woke up screaming, "Chrisssssssssssssss! Noooooooo!," feeling a terror in his soul like he had never known. He had to get a message to his brother, tell him to stay away. He tried to connect with Chris.
"Go home Chris, it's too late for me, save yourself." Then he passed out.
+ + + + + + + +
Chris wanted to push on, but was finally convinced to stop when Buck pointed out they could completely miss finding Vin in the dark.
Chanu found them a place to set up camp for the night and brought in several rabbits for supper. The meal was good, but no one was really hungry. After finding the tracks earlier and seeing for themselves evidence of the brutal fight, they were all uneasy about what might lay ahead. Vin's absence was deeply felt by them all. Very few words were spoken, only what was necessary to prepare for the night
For Chris, it was especially painful because he could almost "feel" the tracker slipping away. Standing up, he spoke for the first time since they had stopped. "I'll take first watch. Ezra, relieve me in about four hours, Josiah you finish the night and we leave before dawn." Then he turned and walked away.
Around the campfire not one word was spoken, as they all tried to sleep.
It was during Ezra's watch that it started. Quietly waking the others, he told them he had heard something out there in the woods. Armed, they listened and waited. There it was again, something was definitely out there and getting closer. The noise of branches snapping and leaves rustling was getting louder and closer by the minute. Whatever it was, it was not trying to sneak up on them quietly. In fact, it was making enough noise to wake the dead.
Suddenly, out of the darkness it ran into the camp
As they waited for the noisy beast to appear, six guns, aimed in the direction of the intruder, were ready to fire. Suddenly Chris was screaming.
"Don't Shoot,! Don't Shoot!"
They were all in shock at the sight that stood before them. There standing in the middle of camp, looking as if he had run through hell, was Vin's horse. Regrettably he was alone, giving no sign as to the fate of his partner. Peso was covered with bloody scratches and mud, but no saddle. Chris approached him slowly, speaking quietly.
"Easy now, easy boy, it's okay, you're among friends."
As he gently stroked the neck of the frightened animal Peso started to calm down.
Ezra recovered first, "Good Lord! That animals looks likes he has been roaming out here for days."
"Shut the hell up, we don't know that! Maybe Vin turned him loose for some reason. You know, sent him home so he could track on foot, or a storm hit, or I don't know! Just because he's here don't mean Vin is ," he couldn't continue." Buck reacted emotionally.
Ezra, realizing what his statement implied, was quick to back off. "Of course, you are entirely right. I am sure Mr. Tanner is fine. Probably cursing the mule headed animal for forcing him to walk. We shall hear him complain about this for weeks."
"I'm sorry for yellin' at you Ez, I just reacted like I always do." Buck was much quieter.
Nathan and Josiah had been silent during this exchange, but J.D., wasn't listening. He took a brush and some water and headed to help Chris. "Maybe since he is calming down we can clean him up some," he suggested.
Chris responded with a nod. Making sure Peso would behave for J.D., he went to Nathan and asked if he would tend to the horse's wounds. Turning to the others, he began to issue orders." It will be daylight soon, Chanu see if you can pick up the trail. Buck, you and Ezra break camp, we'll be moving out in twenty minutes." As they, left he turned to Josiah.
"Preacher, you seem to be on better terms will God than I am, so please start praying."
"What makes you think, Chris, that I wasn't doing that already?"
Chris would never admit it to he others, but seeing that horse come in alone, in bad shape, had him scared. He could feel nothing from Vin, absolutely nothing."Vin, I don't know where you are, but I promise, I won't stop until I find you. No matter how long it takes. You better damn well listen to me Tanner! Don't give up!"
Everyone worked quickly on the preparation to leave, within a short time they were ready to go. Chris took the lead, ready to follow in the direction Chanu had gone, he had only one thing to say.
"Boys, we have a Tanner to find let's, get to it!
+ + + + + + +
Miles away Vin awakened with a jolt. He heard Larabee, but why did he sound so angry? " Damn it, Larabee, go home!"
Remembering the horror of his nightmare, he somehow found the strength to move. No way, would he let that thing attack Chris. He would get to it to it first, if it killed him!
"Who are you kiddin' Tanner? The thing has you damned near dead now."
Tending to his injuries was painful, but Vin made himself endure it with one thing on his mind. He had to find a way to defeat this creature before his brothers got hurt. That's what they were, his brothers maybe not by blood, but certainly by choice. He would trade his life for any one of theirs, in a heartbeat. Again he started a conversation with himself.
"So, Tanner, what now?"
"I get moving, that's what!"
Vin knew where he wanted to go, if his body would just cooperate, and help him get there. The cave he had stayed in before was a only few miles away and would be the best place to make a stand, he started out. Tanner knew he had to keep moving forward. His chest was on fire, with each step breathing became more difficult. Fever was starting to take hold of his wounded body, but he was not ready to give up. Not yet.
After walking, or in Vin's case limping, for a couple of hours the tracker notice a strong smell coming from a pile of rocks. The way they were positioned, they looked as if someone had purposely arranged them . Fighting the nausea making threats to appear, he moved, for a closer look.
What he saw, convinced him, evil did exist. Here was proof that the devil creature would not stop, until it was dead. There before him was the reason, hell had been turned loose and the Spirits were in mourning. As nausea won out and he started to painfully release the contents of his stomach, he sent Chris another message.
"Get out while you can, Cowboy! Stay the hell away from here!"
The Magnificent Seven.
Just the whisper of the names the gunslinger, tracker, ladies' man, gambler, preacher, healer and the kid, sent many running in fear. Others sought them out, looking to make a reputation.
Made famous by dime store novels, the peacekeepers of Four Corners held a reputation for being dangerous men. Their varied backgrounds gave them a wide range of experiences. Not one could or should be considered weak.
They did not feel so magnificent right now.
The trail had been fairly easy to follow, Vin had not been trying to hide his destination. They had been riding hard thinking only of finding the Texan as quickly as possible. Nothing prepared them for the macabre scene they rode into.
Time had not yet erased the evidence of the massacre. The warrior's remains still lay in the open, decomposing in the heat. The smell of death was overpowering and the brutality of the attack could still be felt.. They found signs that Vin had been there, after the massacre.
Ezra, barley made it off his horse before, his knees weak and stomach churning, made it to the bushes, heaving nonstop until he collapsed. J.D. was pale and trembling, gagging trying not to lose his last meal. Nathan was enraged and feeling helpless clenching his fist while his eyes filled with tears. Buck was silently screaming the curses his body was to shocked to voice.
Josiah had seen the results of evil before, many times. It was not something you ever got use to. When he first heard the word Seeahtkoh, he wanted to forget the stories he had heard, so many years ago. He had not truly believed what he had been told. Yet a seed of doubt had persisted, now he no longer doubted. Evil had definitely been here.
Chris was struggling with the fear that threatened to overpower him. Separating from the others, his thoughts were on a blue eyed Texan still out there, alone. The man he called brother, a man who felt a kinship with the Indians, having once lived among them. Through his eyes, Chris had rediscovered a world he thought was lost forever. The younger man had reclaimed his soul from a very dark place, and Larabee had found a life he did not know he needed or wanted. Discovering the remains of the braves, Chris felt pain, both his own and Vin's, silently fearing he may be to late to help the Texan.
An hour later, after burying the remains and when the last of Josiah's prayers were made to the Great Spirits, they continued their quest. Each battling to control their emotions and fears for their lost brother.
Peso suddenly became very agitated, balking at any forward movement, refusing to go on. Other than Vin, the only person the ornery horse would even half way listen to was Larabee. When even he was unable to settle the horse, Chris made a decision based on nothing more than instinct .Giving the stubborn horse the lead, the gunslinger followed. Peso knew where he had last been with Vin and wasted no time getting there. Had Chris not "listened" to his gut feeling, they would have wasted another full day in the wrong direction. When Peso stopped, first Chris then J.D. riding second dismounted quickly. The young sheriff. turned and shouted to the others.
"Hey! over here it's Vin's stuff "
Reaching the disrupted campsite, however did nothing, to ease their minds about the tracker's safety. They found Vin's saddle and some supplies but no sign of their missing friend. Nathan squatting next to the abandoned saddle felt the remains of the campfire, revealing only cold ashes. From across the campsite, near a big tree, Chris yelled.
The healer ran to his friends side and was met with a question ."Is this what I think it is?"
Examining the area the healer turned to Chris with worried eyes and confirmed his fears. "It's blood not too long ago."
Buck came over a lay a hand on his old friends shoulder and said, "He's not here..no dead body he's alive, Chris."
Chanu found one blood trail leading away from camp. The other area had Nathan on the ground looking for clues. With his jaw set and brow furrowed, Chris was getting impatient.. ."Well?"
"Looks like Vin got hurt and tried to patch himself up over here." Getting up and speaking directly to Chris the healer continued "Near as I can tell he sat by this tree and made some kind of poultice. I can't tell how bad he was hurt but the herbs on the ground here are used to fight infection. The mud would be to used to control bleeding in some type of wound."
Trying to reassure his friend Buck reasoned. "That boy is smart, knew enough to use the poultice and herds to help himself stay alive."
Chris was not listening. "How much blood did he lose, Nathan?"
"Don't know Chris, not a lot on the ground."
"What is it you're not saying?
Nathan hesitated, "This tree has more blood on it than the ground. See this area with the bark missing, with all the blood on it? My guess is Vin's carrying pieces of this tree around in his body."
"Won't know that until we find him ,Chris"
"Then, let's find him, damn it!"
It did not take long to find the direction the tracker had taken. Chris took the lead and with each mile they made, his fears grew. His keen eyes read the signs the tracker left, seeing a trail that was too sloppy for Vin to be only slightly injured. He had to be in a lot of trouble. Anguished screams in the distance sent chills through them all .
"Jesus!" Buck Shivered.
"What the hell was that?" J.D. swallowed his fear as the agonizing screams continued.
"Hell is the appropriate place of call, I'd wager," added Ezra
"We had best find our injured brother before that creature does," the preacher noted with a grim face.
+ + + + + + +
"Dammit! Think tanner" Vin knew he would not reach the cave and couldn't stay in the open, there had to be somewhere he could wait. The tracker in him knew it would come back here, in fact, this was the only place he was sure to get a chance at the thing. He also knew he would last only long enough for one try.
He was in pain, his broken ribs felt like hot jagged knives stabbing his body with each breath. The fever consuming him had sweat sticking to him like a second skin. With blurred vision and the last of his strength ebbing, soon he would not even be able to lift his gun, much less fire it. Then he found what he was looking for. About thirty yards ahead there was the perfect spot to hold up, now if he could just get over there.
It seemed to take forever before he reached his goal. By that time his fever ridden body had collapsed and it was difficult to keep his blurry eyes on the path he knew the thing would take. Settled in to wait, he wasn't sure which would come first, death or the creature, either way he was ready. Mustering all the volume he could given his injuries, the tracker yelled out a challenge.
"Time's up, bastard!"
Burning pain and weakness galloped through the tracker's body. The fever took over his mind. Visions and voices merged, making reality unclear. Bone chilling screams mixed with a familiar voice, telling him to hang on. Images came to him, pieces of bodies, bones and blood. The Texan saw her dead body, surrounded by the gifts he had brought, to ease his torment. The image changed, now he saw Chris, alone and grieving for his lost family. Finally, laying in death, his own adopted family killed by the white soldiers.
Vin was screaming now, "Chris, stay away!"
The shadows were moving, the warriors were coming. They were talking to him, but he could not understand them. Mournful screams were getting louder and coming closer and closer. There it was, in the darkness, coming for him. Vin managed to raise his gun and began to fire until he was out of bullets.
+ + + + + + +
Three hours of wearisome searching had brought six men here, facing a wall of rocks. Suddenly they heard gunfire somewhere close.
"It came from over there!" Ezra shouted
"I heard it, Ez!" Buck yelled.
Driven by fear, Chris was already running in the direction of the shots. They others were not far behind. In a matter of minutes, the leader was there. He almost didn't see the Texan slumped in the hollow of the rocks. When he did, he felt the breath leave his body as his heart froze with fear.
"Vin!" A frantic Larabee was now shouting. "Nathan, over here and hurry!
Nathan was there before the last word left his mouth, "Chris ease over and let me see."
"Nathan, is he ?"Chris couldn't finish.
"He's alive, Chris that's all I can tell you right now. "Shouting to the others, the healer issued orders like a general on a battlefield. "Ezra, I need water and a lot of it. Buck, J.D., gather some wood and get a fire going. Josiah, I'm going to need your help."
With their minds on their injured brother, they each started carrying out their assignments.
Larabee was sitting on the ground holding Vin, while Nathan examined him. Nothing on God's green earth would get the gunslinger to move. Josiah looked for something to support Chris. Sliding a saddle behind his back seemed to work, giving him a more comfortable position.
The first assessment of Vin's condition did nothing to ease Nathan's concerns. He was unconscious, had a raging fever and was having trouble breathing.
"We need to get his clothes off, so I can check for other injuries."
Josiah and Chris worked together to undress him as carefully as possible. When they did Nathan did not like what he found. The leg wound was infected, bruises covered his body and he had two broken ribs. Shifting him on his side, he got his first look at Vin's back and was sickened to find so much bark imbedded under the skin. Looking at Chris he said, "First thing we need to do is get all the wounds cleaned out and try to bring his fever down. Then we'll worry about the rest."
A very anxious blond asked, "He will be alright, won't he, Nathan? "
The look of pain, in the older man's eyes had him wanting to lie to his friend and tell him yes. Instead, he chose to avoid a direct answer.
"I'll know more once we get him cleaned up."
Buck brought heated water and Nathan started to work. Chris began speaking to Vin, determined to make him hear his voice.
"Stay with me Vin, if you leave I'll just follow your ornery, stubborn ass and drag you back!" The Texan did not answer.
Chanu stood off to the side watching and would wait for the opportunity to talk to Larabee. Kojay had told him what would happen after they found the missing man. It was not over, but for now, things were as they should be.
Nathan worked through the night cleaning Vin's wounds and trying to cool him down. He spent hours removing the imbedded bark from his back. Bending over for so long, made it difficult to stand and Josiah aided him to his feet. Six sets of eyes watched and waited for him to speak.
"I would rather have him in my clinic, but we can't move him yet. I tended to his wounds the best I could out here and he seems to be breathing a little better. I am concerned about infection and the fever, but for now we will have to wait and see. When he wakes up maybe I can tell you more."
J.D., his voice filled with fear asked, "When will that be?"
"I don't know, I'm not even sure why he isn't waking some now. Vin has barely moved since we found him." Ezra handed him a cup of coffee, nodding his thanks, Nathan sat down to rest.
Buck had known Chris far too long not to know how much pain he was feeling. He knew the bond between the gunslinger and the Texan ran deep, one hurt the other said ouch. The mustached man, if able, would do anything to take away that pain but all he could do now was to try to make his old friend take a much needed break. Approaching him he started, "Chris, you need to rest, too."
"Damn it, Chris! I know you haven't moved all night and you can't help Vin if you drop from exhaustion!"
"NO! Buck No! End of discussion.
There was a slight chill to the night and the stars were bright in a clear sky. Staring into the campfire Larabee took in the life all around him. The sound of a hoot owl in the distance and crickets chirping seemed so natural. Feeling the heat radiating from the injured man he was holding brought back him back to reality. Fear for Vin washed over him like a rainstorm. He needed the younger man to wake up, soon.
Vin was not aware of his surroundings. He was somewhere trapped in a vision that would not release him.The warriors had come for him and lifted him into the clouds. Before him were the ancient elders of the tribe, past on years ago. One by one they each showed him scenes. He saw the Seeahtkoh, shot by the trappers. He witnessed again, the death of the man he found. The attack on the warriors was repeated, as well as the abduction of the child. He was able to see Josiah and J.D. with Kojay. All the while hearing the Spirits cry for the losses. Scenes played again, showing all the death and destruction caused by this Seeahtkoh. Then he saw the discovery he made beyond the rocks.
Finally, they showed him six of the most beautiful horses he had ever seen. The one in front looked familiar, Vin was not sure why.
The oldest of the ancient ones spoke, "Before you, you, see six horses, each different, yet all the same. They are each strong, but together have strength enough to reach across the sun and the moon. When the six join the seventh, they may never know defeat. Young warrior, you have done well and it is almost time. However, before you go forward your "twin soul" must have all revealed to him. You will need him with you to finish your task. His belief will give you a pathway back. However, if he chooses not to believe, you will stay here protected by the Spirits."
Buck had been watching for exhaustion to take over his old friend. First chance he had, he would make Larabee listen to him. When he saw the blond start to nod off he made his move. Chris heard his boot snap a twig and his head came up, angry.
"Damn it, Buck you heard Nathan, he should be waking up and I need to be here when he does."
"Chris, I'm just saying one of us can be with him hell, he's our family too."
He got no further before Chanu interrupted." If he is to awaken, you must come with me."
Chris' voice turned deadly. "What do you mean if he is to awaken?
"You must come with me," the Indian repeated
Before Chris could react, Ezra intervened, "Chris, I would be happy to stay with Vin, while you investigate this latest development. I assure you, I will protect him with my life and summon you immediately if there are any changes. Nathan, if needed will only be three feet away." Chris looked down at the tracker he held on to. Looking up he locked eyes with Ezra and nodded once. Changing places with Chris took some doing. Vin, was unable to lay on his back, so they laid him on his stomach, using he gambler, as a cushion. Chris then motioned for Buck and Josiah to go with him.
Chanu led them to the rock pile Vin had found. Before allowing them to see what was there he spoke, "Kojay sent with me a message, to be given after your tracker was found."
Buck started to interrupt, but Josiah stopped him, simply stating
"Buck, Let's hear him out."
Speaking to them all, but directing his comments to Josiah, the Indian continued. "When my father told you of the Seeahtkoh, he told you all things are connected. Your brother was called by the Spirits to meet the evil one and you were to seek help in finding him. The trappers were directed to you to set you in the right direction. They were the ones that put it all into motion by killing the Seeahtkoh. I was to help you find your tracker and reveal to you the rest."
The three peacekeepers looked at one another, not sure they were ready for more. Uneasy, but knowing they had no choice, they turned back to Chanu for him to continue.
"You felt your brother's emotions as he traveled on his journey, the brave turned to Larabee. "You are needed for him to complete it. Only you can understand the loss that has caused so much death and destruction. You must believe what I am telling you. If you cannot or will not your brother's journey will end here."
Chris did not hesitate, "Whatever it takes."
Chanu moved aside for them to get a look at what lay beyond the rock. They were all speechless. Chris felt his knees weaken and stomach turn. Josiah looked away quickly. Buck caught up in mixed emotions was not sure if he should curse or cry.
There lay the dead Seeahtkoh raised up by rocks. Arranged around it were dead animals, pieces of human bodies and wrapped in leaves, the missing child from the settlement. Apparently they were offerings to the dead creature.
"What the hell is still out there?" Chris rasped. Chanu's reply turned his blood cold.
Buck's shaky legs could not support his body He sat on the
ground hoping to keep the content of his stomach from escaping. Josiah began to silently pray for the family of the dead child, and for an end to this nightmare of discoveries.
Chanu explained to the others how balance would be restored,
"The trappers killed the female Seeahtkoh, sending the male into a rage of grief. His only thought is to seek revenge for the death of his family. He will not stop until the guilty pay for their deed or he is destroyed. Your tracker is a brave young warrior, the Spirits sought him for this journey because he understands the ways of nature. He will not take pleasure in just killing this creature, but mourn the loss of a living thing. The young one knows that all things of power move in a circle. The Spirits know as well, that he has a twin soul that has walked this path of grief and would comprehend this loss. "
Chris felt a cold chill, remembering how he felt when Sarah and Adam were killed. The guilt and bitterness that followed him into the depths of hell. Feeling the need for someone to pay for their murders became a driving force in everything he did.
Chanu continued, "That is why you, Chris Larabee, are here. The young warrior needs your help to finish this quest. The Spirits send you this message, Twin souls can destroy the one, when the seven are reunited.' You will answer the Spirits?"
Chris again, did not hesitate in answering, "Vin pulled my soul out of hell and healed it, I can do no less for him. I will answer the Spirits."
The warrior nodded. "I will return to my people, my tasks is finished. Chris conveyed his thanks to the warrior and sent a message of his own. "Tell the Chief we are in his debt and if ever he needs our help, we will be there."
Josiah walked with Chanu to his horse, adding his own blessing,
"May the Spirits ride with you." Watching the warrior ride away the preacher had the feeling that the Spirits were also here with the seven of them.
Walking back into camp, Chris was alarmed to see Nathan jump up and rush to Vin's side.
"What wrong, Nathan?" Receiving no answer Chris began to run, reaching Vin just before Josiah and Buck. Blue eyes met green and he heard a weak whisper," Told you to go home."
Relief spread over the blond's face and a smile began to take shape, "Since when do I take orders from you, Tanner?"
+ + + + + + +
Nathan was amazed, Vin was not only awake and alert, his fever was gone. He would still be in pain from the bruising and broken ribs, but all signs of infection had disappeared. The healer had no explanation for his sudden recovery.
Chris did not question how, he knew the Spirits were responsible for the return of his brother. For the gunslinger there was no need for further explanations. Vin understood as well, that the two of them would finish this journey together The others however, wanted to know what was going on.
Chris started with Chanu's explanation of events leading up to their finding Vin. Josiah continued with the revelation that there we not one, but two Seeahtkoh involved. Buck reluctantly described what they had seen, beyond the rocks. Chris finished with the request he had agreed to honor. The weary Texan stayed silent during the explanations.
Shock held them momentarily, then they all tried to talk at once.
Chris held up his hand for quiet.
"I know how hard it is to believe everything you heard. It was for us, too. Once you take it all in, it becomes very simple. We just have to remember, none of us are alone in this world and that sooner or later all things, good and bad, are connected."
Josiah and Vin shared a smile that came with Chris' full realization of what had transpired.
The seven peacekeepers started to form a plan. Together they would find a way to stop this creature and end this nightmare. Buck and Josiah wanted to tend to the most unpleasant task first. They left camp to retrieve the body of the child. They could not get him home just now, but they could see that he had a decent burial.
J.D. and Nathan joined Chris and Vin. Together they came to the conclusion that as soon as the creature that Vin called the black blur was healed enough, it would be back with a vengeance. They feared it would eventually head for Four Corners, after the other trappers, endangering the town. That they could not allow to happen.
It really did not matter anymore if it was animal or human.
Understanding the motive behind the destruction was not enough. It was a killer and had to be stopped. Chris and the others were discussing how when Ezra entered the conversation.
"Mister Larabee, remember when you instructed me to acquire some high caliber rifles and whatever else I thought we might need?"
"Well, I thought these might come in handy." as he pulled out with a smile two dozen sticks of dynamite.
"They just might at that, Ez." A Texas drawl answered him.
It was late afternoon and Nathan was spooning broth into Vin"s mouth as he watched the others discuss a plan. In fact they had been talking about it for hours. Circling the campfire enjoy their meal, none seemed to be in a hurry.
"They're stalling' cause of me," a raspy voice whispered.
"Now Vin you know you need to rest and get your strength back," reasoned Nathan.
"Don't want no more broth, jist want to git this over with."
"Vin Tanner you listen to me, your family is concerned about you. You are not going to stop us from trying to protect you. Give us the satisfaction of knowing you are strong enough to finish this! The healers' voice level rose with every word.
A few moments later a sigh escaped the blue eyed Texan. "Well, you gonna give me that broth or talk all day?"
Later J.D. sat with the tracker awhile, reassuring himself that the Texan was okay. The young sheriff needed to know that Vin did not feel betrayed that he had shared the information gained in the livery, so many days ago. With hesitation he started to explain "Vin I told Josiah about what happened.. ." The tracker never let him finish. The weight that he had been carrying lifted from his heart with his friend's response. Three words ."Ya did right." That was all J.D. needed to hear.
Each of the others took turns sitting with the injured man. They all felt a need to just be near their friend, to convince themselves his sudden recovery was real. The fear of what was to come was real, but the satisfaction of knowing the Texan would still be with them was worth facing whatever was out there. Together they would not fail.
The decision had been made sometime during the day, to stay here for the night. Their plan would be set in motion the next day. By early evening they were convinced Vin really was back with them. He had started complaining. Ezra received the first snip.
" Ez, I don't need no more broth. I want some real food!"
"Nathan assures me this is good for you."
"Ain't no baby and I feel fine!"
Ezra got no further than a polite "Vin.." before the tracker was trying to get up. The gambler looked around for reinforcements. Seeing the problem, Chris thought now would be a good opportunity to spend time with the Texan. He approached the two and glared at the younger man. "Tanner lay down and behave or I'll throw out this coffee."
Blue eyes flashed as Vin reached for the cup and again settled back.
The southerner rose to leave giving the gunslinger his seat. Silence was shared by the remaining two men They stayed quiet for sometime, finally Vin was the first to speak.
"Thanks for taking care of Peso, thought I'd lost him."
"If it wasn't for that horse, we might have lost you." Chris answered.
The tracker needed to know and looking the older man in the eye asked, "Why did you come, when I told you not to?
"Not coming was never an option Vin, and it's a good thing I didn't listen or you might not be here. Besides, if I understand right, this is something we have to do together. That black blur may be after you, but now he has both of us to face. Hell, all seven of us!"
"Yeah, it's just," Vin hesitated, "Aww hell, Chris everyone of those visions I've been havin' has turned out to be real. All except one."
"Which one, Vin?"
"The one where ya'll die."
"All right Tanner you have my full attention." Chris ordered, "start talking."
" I saw ya'll all sleeping and then heard this awful screaming. Everybody jumped up and there were gunshots and more screams. Nothing stopped this thing and it kept coming tearing up everything and everybody in the camp. Then ...it grabbed you and was tearing you apart " Vin had to stop and steady his voice before continuing , "I woke up ...never had anything scare me that bad ..terror reached into my soul and jist took hold and wouldn't let go. I knew you had to be warned or you were all gonna die. That's why I kept tellin' you to stay away."
Chris thought about it for a long time before he said anything. "Vin in that vision, you weren't with us. Chanu told me that twin souls can defeat the one, when the seven are reunited.' We're all together, now and we are going to stay together until this is finished. That "vision" cannot happen now that we are all here."
"You're probably right. But in case your not, it wouldn't hurt to take some extra precautions tonight and leave me my gun."
"As good as done brother, now get your sorry Texas ass to sleep, you're making me old worrying about you."
"Larabee, you were old long before you met me."
"Shut up, Tanner."
Chris could hear a soft chuckle as he stepped away to light a cheroot. Gazing around the camp he thought about this group of drifters. How did they become more than that? When had they all become brothers? Lord, it felt good to have his" family" together again. Speaking in a low whisper, he wondered, "When did you get so soft, Larabee?"
Chris doubled the watch and everyone arranged their blankets in a protective circle around their injured brother. Nothing was getting close to Vin without going through the rest of them first. They settled in for the long night ahead.
+ + + + + + +
Early the next morning the quiet was shattered by several loud explosions, nearby.
"Damn, just got rid of one headache and now Ezra's trying to give me another one," complained Vin.
"Old Ez does like to blow things up.' Buck couldn't resist saying as he walked into camp. "How you feeling this morning, Vin?"
"Like I've been slammed into a tree and broke my ribs, Buck."
"Damn, but I missed your smart ass."
Vin had a comeback ready, but before he could make it, screams of rage were heard in the distance. The screams lasted for a long time and suddenly it was quiet again. Disturbing as that sound was, it was expected. Not long after that Ezra was seen, hastily making his way back into camp.
With a twinkle in his eyes the Texan couldn't hold back his amusement, " Reckon you made him mad, Ez, sounds like your name just went on his revenge list. With that red coat of yours, you'd make an easy target."
The Southerner bristled at the comment, "I assure you, Mr. Tanner, I believe all our names are now on that list."
+ + + + + + +
Pouring a cup of coffee, Chris was thinking about all that needed to be accomplished today. Walking toward the others he was ready to set their plan in motion. "Everyone, listen up."
"Ezra assures me the place, that held the Seeahtkoh and her offerings is now buried under a few tons of boulders. After all that dynamite he used, I don't doubt it. From the screamin' I heard it sounds like the black blur is pretty well healed and angry. We have to assume he won't wait long to come after us. We will be moving the camp to a place Vin told me about."
"There's a cave not far from here I was headin' to. It will be easy to defend and big enough for all of us. Won't take us long to get there." The tracker was eager to get moving.
"Chris, I'm not convinced Vin is ready to get on a horse and ride even a short distance." Nathan was concerned.
"He can ride with me," proclaimed Chris.
"I can ride! Don't talk about me like m not here." Vin snapped
"Fine! You fool! When one of those ribs punctures your insides don't expect me to be able to help you, "groused Nathan.
Vin growled out a stream of curses in Comanche.
Nathan glared at the young warrior. "I heard that, VIN!"
Josiah turned to Chris and grinned "Sounds like normal to me."
"Enough Vin! You WILL ride with me! Nathan we don't have time to wait.! Are we clear?" Chris intervened. Tanner just glared at his brothers.
Buck and J.D. could not hold in the laughter, Ezra soon followed.
"Just turn that glare off Vin, some of us have work to do," Chris continued, "Boys, time's running out. We need to get a move on it. I want everything in place before nightfall."
Everyone was serious and quickly got busy breaking camp. Each one of them had reservations about meeting this thing up close. Regardless of their fears they intended to be prepared for anything. No way in hell would they let their guard down until this was over and they were all safe.
They knew the "beast" would not wait long to retaliate.
The day was still young when they reached the cave. The change of camp had not done a lot to improve Vin's earlier mood. The first thing Chris wanted to do was to get Vin settled and insist the tracker rest.
"Don't need to rest, Larabee!" snapped the Texan. He was tired of waiting with nothing to do. " Need to pull my share and help."
Sensing that a battle was brewing he decided to stop it before it started. It was plain to see Vin was tired even if he would not admit it. Shaking his head and sending a glare to his young friend, Chris made it clear that getting up was not an option. Before the young man could argue further. The cowboy played his trump card, "I gave my word to Chanu, help me keep it."
Vin knew what Chris was doing. He was reminding him of what was at stake for all of them. Larabee had put his word or the line and he was giving the blond a hard time. Maybe the best he could do now would be to give into his body's request to stop for a while. There would be enough fighting when the blur showed up and he needed to be strong to protect the others. With a nod of the Texan's head the disagreement was finished.
This gave Vin time to think. He had been slow to admit how much he needed them to be with him, especially Chris. Their presence brought a strength that he could feel physically and spiritually. The currents of change swirled around him. Soon, very soon, all would be back in balance. He was saddened by the sacrifices that had been made to get here. He realized now, why the warriors had not defended themselves. They believed their deaths would be enough to satisfy the Seeahtkoh's need for revenge, saving others from more sorrow.
Would the family of the child, from the settlement see the nobility of their actions? Would they even care?
He was unsure if he possessed the strength to acknowledge the nobility of the warrior actions, if he were in their place. Fear of losing one or more of his brothers lingered in his mind. He vowed that he would do everything possible to see that all six retuned home safely.
Then his thoughts came back to the beginning. That magnificent creature, one of how many left, he didn't know, shot and killed because it was different. Dead only because men feared the unknown. The men who wrought this evil should be the ones waiting for this blast from hell not his family!
Vin gave in to his body's need to rest drifted off to sleep.
+ + + + + + +
Many miles away in Four Corners three men slept in the town's jail. Nightmares invaded their slumber.The cries came from everywhere, spine chilling screams released from the depths of hell. The sky darkened as the clouds parted and ten ghostly looking warriors came riding down on black horses.
They came with bloodlust in their eyes, weapons raised to kill! The men thrashed wildly in their sleep feeling hands reach inside their bodies to rip them apart. The shouts to stop were silenced as their throats were crushed and necks were broken. Bones were shattered as bodies slammed into the iron bars of the jail cell. As their souls left the lifeless bodies they were captured and thrown into the ground. Hell was waiting for them. This was a nightmare they would not return from.
When the caretakers opened the jail, to take the trappers their supper, it was too late. The prisoners had finally gone crazy and killed each other. No one would mourn the loss. This circle was complete.
+ + + + + + +
"Vin." Chris shook the tracker's arm. "It's time to get up and eat."
"Leave me be," he mumbled.
"Tanner! Get up!"
"Damn Larabee, you don't have to yell!"
"Hate to interrupt your beauty sleep, but the food's ready and it's getting late," Chris chuckled.
Vin was fully awake now, not believing he had slept so soundly. The fact that he did, showed how much he trusted his friends. "You think the black blur will come tonight Cowboy?" The Texan was focused now on the coming confrontation.
"It better come tonight or I owe Ezra ten bucks," the older man grinned.
"Think I'd jist as soon pay Ez, myself than face that thing now," the concerned the tracker replied..
"Vin, we're all together now. I know it will all turn out fine." Noting his uneasiness, Chris laid his hand on the younger man's shoulder to reassure him.
"Hope you're right, Chris," Vin answered as Nathan approached. He knew what the healer was thinking "'m fine Doc ready t'go."
"Glad to hear that the a day of sleep helped." Nathan could see the difference in the tracker's eyes and knew he was well rested. "How about some real food?"
"Hell yeah!" a famished tracker answered.
Did I hear something about food?" Buck joined them. "Save some for me." As Buck filled his plate he gave Chris a rundown on what had been accomplished. "We got all the barriers up just like you wanted. Should be able to slow that thing down ."He took a few bites before continuing, "We're ready."
Chris stepped back from the rest and surveyed the camp. Ezra and Josiah were busy checking all the weapons. J.D. was making sure the horses were secure and out of harm's way. His eyes drifted back to the fire. Yes these men were family, his family and he was ready to do battle to keep them safe.
He would not have long to wait
The clear skies of yesterday had given way to dark angry clouds. The evening held the promise of rain. The gloomy weather matched the mood of seven tense men, settled in to wait for the confrontation to come. They knew once it started all tension would be sweep away replaced with a single resolve to be the victor in this battle. Buck and Ezra drew the first watch, as they moved to a preplanned position they heard Chris say what they had expected to hear.
"Watch your back."
While Nathan and J.D. slept, Josiah stationed himself at the entrance of the cave. Chris and Vin grasped forearms and with their handshake and a nod to one another said they were ready.
Three hours later all hell broke loose.
An inhuman roar of rage brought them all to their feet. The sound was expected, but still made chills race down their spines. Then each quickly moved to their own positions. From his viewpoint above the cave, Ezra saw it first. Beyond the first barrier it's stood to full height, looming in the shadows of the trees. Speaking his thoughts out loud, his shout of "Good Lord in heaven!" was heard by all. The words were barely out of his mouth when a boulder the size of a large calf, landed no more than five feet from the front of the cave's entrance. Several more quickly followed. When the gambler looked back to the shadow it was gone.
A few minutes of silence ensued before another spine chilling scream was heard from the opposite direction. A tree limb hurled though the air impacted with Buck's head. He didn't even see it coming. Unable to reach the rogue without being exposed they had no choice but to wait.
"Buck's been hit," the preacher shouted. Breaking cover J.D. reacted without thinking and ran toward his friend.
Chris was shouting for him to stop, but J.D. never heard a word as a large rock connected with his chest bringing him down. A huge black shadow rushed to grab its injured prey. The blur intended to claim its prize. A spray of rifle fire turned the shadow away just as it reached for J.D.
"Josiah, get the kid," Vin yelled as her ran to cover them. The sharpshooter began firing.. Chris' gun sounded next to him.
Josiah ran, dodging hurled rocks and flying tree limbs, reaching J.D. and dragging him inside the cave. Nathan immediately was at the younger man's side checking his injuries. Josiah placed himself in a location to provide protection for them. Buck lay still, silent and unreachable.
"Ezra stay where you are. Keep shooting at it!" instructed Chris
"Easier said than done," the gambler mumbled in a whisper. The thing moved so fast, it was first on one side and then the other, in a flash.
Vin and Chris found shelter behind a large boulder. The promised rain started to fall making it even harder to find a target. Screams of agony that now filled the air sounded like the wailing of all the souls trapped in hell. The black shadow kept moving closer all the while throwing projectiles through the air.
Four rifles continued to fire with no results. The shadow steadily moved closer, it's features began to take shape, revealing something that was not animal or human. Gunfire continued having little effect on this creature.
Remembering the message sent by the Spirits, the tracker and the man in black made a decision based on their faith in each other. Together they stood up to face this thing head on. They had advanced within eight feet of the Seeahtkoh when suddenly it stopped. They were close enough to smell the beast and see its eyes, full of anger grief and moisture. Standing to its full height, it waited.
Raising their guns in sync, they fired as one. Both shots entered the creature's head. As it fell, the screaming ceased and an eerie silence fell.
It seemed that time stopped. In the wet darkness other shadows began to emerge, moving slowly toward the fallen creature. Josiah and Ezra raised their guns, determined to protect their brothers. A hand signal from Chris stopped them.
Three "shadows" came forward and knelt beside the Seeahtkoh, lifting their dead, as howls of mourning filled the air. Turning to meet eyes with Chris and Vin, the leader of the three seemed to nod in acceptance.. The men could physically feel the circle closing. Then all the shadows simply vanished
After a few moments time started again. Balance had been restored.
At once everyone started to move. Ezra quickly reached their injured brother ."He alive!" exclaimed a thankful southerner. Josiah joined him to help move the ladies' man next to the young sheriff.
"Put him down easy." ordered Nathan as he started his examination. The healer was relieved to find a strong pulse.
Chris ran to them with Vin right on his heels.
"How are they? the gunslinger was the first to speak.
Nathan raised his hand in a stop motion and said, "Hold on, Chris, J.D. had the breath knocked out of him, but has no broken bones, just a really nasty bruise on his chest. He'll be okay in a few days."
"He's alive, that limb hit him in the head. He unconscious and his color's not good but his breathing is fine. We'll just have to watch for him to wake up
Chris nodded to answer Nathan's assessments.
."Ez, you all right?" Vin noticed a shaken Ezra sitting alone
"Mr. Tanner, I'm" he started to say fine, but instead faltered. "What in the hell just happened?"
"I don't know if I can explain it all, Ez, but I can tell you things have been set right. I can feel it," the weary tracker replied.
"Vin you look like hell, sit down before you fall down!" Nathan ordered. Surprisingly the Texan did as he was told. After the adrenaline rush of battle was gone he was feeling as bad as the healer said he looked.
"Ezra you, too. I don't need you to fall out either. "Once the healer had all his patients down he was issuing orders. Chris keep that fire going and Josiah I need some herb tea brewing. No one would be leaving any time soon. Within the hour the healer had them all resting comfortably.
Josiah took the opportunity to give his own explanation of events. " The Indians believe all powerful things are connected in a circle. The sun, the moon , the earth the seasons and the years. Inside that circle is a balance that must be maintained. When an event causes a wrong it must measured and retribution comes from higher power. The Indians believe that Spirits seek to set things right. We might not understand it all but we do know Vin, Chris and the rest of us, all had a part in this reckoning. As to how it happened, let's just say, what is...is and leave it at that."
+ + + + + + +
It was the morning of the second day before Nathan would agree that his patients could make the trip home. "If we go slow and take rest stops they should all be okay." Nathan assured their leader." I figure it will take about four days."
Chris nodded and then looked at Buck "You gonna make it stud?
"Heads still hurts but I'm good to go." Buck had been awake for almost twenty-four hours and was more than ready to leave this place.
Chris took a last look around still in awe of what had transpired here. The older man turned his eyes to Vin and asked. "You ready to go home?"
Chapter 21 - Conclusion
Two weeks later
They sky was a brilliant blue and a light wind was blowing; it was a beautiful morning . Nathan stood on the porch of his clinic and thought about how normal things seemed .It had taken them four days to get home and they all had to needed time to heal. He had released his charges with the warning to take it easy. The healer knew his warning would be disregarded, but felt better saying it. Shaking his head he reflected on his ornery patients. They could certainly get him riled, but he was also grateful his family was healthy again.
By silent agreement, no one ever talked about what had happened out there. If they had nightmares, they keep it to themselves. They were not even surprised or sorry to hear that the trappers had killed each other.
Buck immediately had some catching up to do with the ladies. The rogue would not dwell on unpleasant memories. Ezra found a few willing participates for a marathon card game, finding a way to balance his world. At least he knew what to expect from a deck of card. Josiah felt there was a lot more knowledge he could gain from the Indians. He was planning to spend a lot of time at the village learning from Kojay.
J.D. had not forgotten Vin's promise of more tracking lessons. At least once a day the young sheriff reminded the Texan. He knew Vin saw the world differently than the rest of the seven and wanted to learn whatever the sharpshooter would share. Vin had always known there was more to this life than what could be seen or felt . Some things you just had to accept. Having visions was one of those things. He did however learn he didn't have to make every journey alone.
+ + + + + + +
That evening found the saloon busy and Chris sitting quietly watching his brothers around the table. He had to smile when he thought about how they had worked their way into his life. "Larabee, they crawled inside your heart and you never saw it coming."
"Buck you are so full of it," huffed J.D.
"I just said a hat like that ought to be against the law," laughed Buck.
"That's it! The man has to be cheating." Nathan said he threw down his cards.
"Mr. Jackson. I assure you I do not cheat!" stated Ezra.
"Never Ez?" questions Josiah.
"Never suh ..at least not with friends ..or family," the southerner amended with a slight grin.
Just then the doors of the saloon open and Tanner ambled in. After grabbing a beer at the bar he approached the table and straddled the chair next to Larabee.
"Vin, you ever consider a stop a the bath house after patrol?" Buck said as he leaned back in his chair and grinned even wider.
"Indeed Mr. Tanner it would seem the former inhabitants of that coat never vacated," the gambler stated and continued. "You do know appearances are everything."
"Could not agree with you more Ez. You know between Vin and his coat and the kid and that awful hat I'd say these young'ns have a thing or two to learn." Buck grinned.
"Indeed Mr. Wilmington. Perhaps our young brothers would be willing to learn from those of us with more style and sophistication," added Ezra.
Vin leaned his own chair back and just before pulling his hat forward winked at J.D. The young sheriff was not slow to pick up the direction of the tracker's thoughts.
"Think I'll get another beer how bout you Vin?" J.D. got up to move to the bar as the tracker nodded his answer.
Chris saw the exchange and decided to sit back and enjoy the entertainment to come.
"You know Vin, you could learn a lot from guys like and me and Ez. I could give you some pointers about the ladies and this southerner could teach you about style," the ladies' man offered as he leaned further back.
"Style is my middle name," said the gambler as he brushed the sleeve of his green jacket and flashed a smile.
Nathan snorted and the preacher laughed both shifting their chairs slightly. J.D. was on his way back balancing four full glasses of beer. Three things happened at once. Vin's boot caught the leg of the rouges chair. Ezra tried to stop Buck from falling back and never noticed J.D." trip" and lose his grip on the four glasses .Buck and Ezra both ended up on the floor drenched in beer. The room filled with laughter and curses.
"Vin, beer just does something for the color green don't it?" J.D. questioned innocently.
"Yep.' The Texan tried to hide his smile as he heard a southern drawl of, "Ahhh .hell!"
Chris took in the scene before him and thought about his family.
"Things were as they should be."
Through history reference to large hairy beast were made by different names:
- Mountain Devil
- Seeahtik also spelled Seeathkoh plus other variations
- Wild Man
- Big Foot
- Plus many more
Native American legends made references to it by over forty different names.
I chose one, Seeathkoh, read the legend, and put our seven into the mix.
For anyone interested in more information about other Native American Legends on this subject my source1 has many more stories.
The legend exists, but my story is fiction and no profit has been made with this information.
1Clallam Indians tell of Eight-Foot Seeahtiks Who Killed Game
by Hypnotism, -Existence Kept Secret by Other Tribes
1Information on the Seeahtik tribe was gained from an article dated July 24 1924 Seattle Times and Website Bigfoot Encounters, ref: Native American legends.
2Birch mushrooms, also called Chaga, was known to have medicinal qualities that would help lessen pain and help control fever.
Source: Handbook of Native American Herbs by Alma R. Hutchens