A full moon had risen over the desert bathing everything with its pale glow. Ezra was still riding close to Chris keeping watch in case he needed help. Vin was still sleeping contentedly on Chris' shoulder. Ezra could see that the tracker's weight was starting to bother Chris because he kept shifting to get comfortable. Ezra was going to suggest a halt when JD cried out.
"Over to the left," he pointed. "Could that be what Vin was talking about?"
Off in the distance there was a darker shadow against the night sky. Chris wasn't sure, but he was reluctant to wake Vin.
"I believe you should wake our sleeping friend," commented Ezra. "so he can confirm if that is the aforementioned geologic formation"
"Damn, Ezra, there you go with them $10 words again," laughed Buck.
Chris touched Vin on the back where he wasn't sunburned and gently prodded him until he stirred.
"Come on, cowboy, wake up," Chris called. Chris could feel Vin getting lighter as began to wake up.
"Damn, how long was I out?" asked a disoriented Vin.
"Long enough, Brother Vin," said Josiah. "Is that the rock formation you mentioned?"
Vin looked to the horizon and could see a silhouette. He then glanced up at the stars to get his bearings. He instinctively reached to the saddle bag for his spyglass and hissed in pain as the borrowed clothing brushed against his skin.
"What do you need, Vin?" asked Chris in concern as he held onto the tracker.
"My spyglass" answered Vin. They all looked at each other in concern.
"Mr. Tanner," began Ezra, "the bank robbers have it, remember"
"Damn!" swore Vin. "Sorry I must be wool gathering. I need a compass to be sure it's the right one."
Ezra pulled one from his pocket and handed it to Vin, who took it with a shaking hand. Ezra looked up to see that Chris had noticed but he said nothing. They all watched as Vin tried to take a heading. His hand was shaking too much for the needle to stay in one place. Chris gently grabbed the trackers hand to steady it. He didn't take the compass from Vin. He didn't want the tracker to think he was coddling him, even though he wanted to. Chris was surprised at this feeling, which he thought had died along with Sarah and Adam. Vin looked at the compass then up at the stars.
"That's it," Vin finally replied as he handed the compass back to Ezra. "Should take us another hour to get to it."
Chris nudged his horse forward and the others followed behind. About 40 minutes later, the rocks loomed above them.
"Give me the reins, Chris. It will be easier then explaining where to go," said Vin. Chris handed him the reins and Vin clucked the horse forward directly towards a rock wall. Chris was about to take the reins back when he saw a break. Vin steered the horse for it and he and Chris disappeared from view.
"How the heck?" asked a confused JD. The others couldn't see the opening from their position. As they got closer, Buck laughed.
"And here I thought Vin had pulled a magic trick on us."
Once they were passed the opening a trail could be seen. Vin followed the trail as it wound its way further into the rocks. It finally came to an end at a clearing surrounded by sheer cliffs. At the center was a spring with stunted trees around it. Vin steered the horse to the spring and pulled him up. The others pulled up their mounts and dismounted. Vin was about to get off when Chris stopped him.
"Hold up, Vin," said Chris. "Let me get off first."
Chris jumped down and stood next to the horse to steady Vin as he dismounted. When Vin's feet hit the ground, his legs buckled, and he grabbed for the saddle. Chris instinctively grabbed Vin's arms but realized it was the wrong thing to do when he cried out. Chris let go and stood close by while Vin leaned on the horse trying to get his breath. Chris looked around and saw the others were trying to pretend nothing was wrong. They knew Vin didn't like to be fussed over. Buck and JD were removing the tack from some of the horses while Josiah gathered wood for a fire. Ezra had remained close by slapping the dust from his pants and trying hard not to watch Vin, who finally pushed away from the horse. Chris gently took his arm and started walking to where Josiah was starting the fire. Buck and JD had spread out the bedrolls and Chris settled Vin on one. Vin sat in front of the fire and tried to get comfortable. He pulled up his sleeves and Chris could see that the blood had soaked threw the bandages on his wrists. He didn't say anything because they didn't have any more bandages. Ezra had taken his and Chris' horse and removed the tack and picketed them with the others.
"Vin how did you find this place?" asked a curious JD.
"The Indians always knew about it," answered Vin. "I learned from them."
"Well, shoot," smiled Buck. "You sure surprised me when you and Chris disappeared before our eyes."
"Yes, that was a most interesting optical illusion," commented Ezra.
"I was just as startled when my guide disappeared the first time I came here," Vin said.
"How much further is The Hole?" asked Chris.
"I reckon another three hours," answered Vin shivering.
"Are you alright?" asked Chris in concern.
"I'm fine," Vin answered, "Just cold is all."
"If we only have three hours more to travel," began Ezra. "I do believe I will take a nap."
"We'll stay for a couple of hours, then move on" said Chris.
Ezra spread his blankets on the other side of Vin and lay down. The others decided Ezra had the right idea. Chris said he would take the first watch. Buck offered to take the watch after Chris. Chris watched as Vin painfully lay down on his right side facing the fire. Chris could see he was asleep after only a few minutes. He was about to get up to throw a blanket over the tracker when Ezra beat him to it. Chris just shook his head as he watched Ezra settle himself with his back next To Vin. Chris just couldn't figure the gambler out sometimes. If he wasn't trying to get the others to buy into his latest scheme he was relieving so poor sucker of his money at poker. Chris was surprised that Ezra had picked Vin as the one to latch on to. Granted Vin was the easiest going of all the seven and got along with everyone. He just never suspected that Ezra would care for the tracker since they were complete opposites. Chris went to check the horses then came back to the fire and settled down to his watch. Buck took over the watch from Chris and the two hours passed quickly. He got up to wake Chris.
"Hey, pard," Buck said shaking Chris. "Time to go." Chris came instantly awake and gave Buck a dirty look.
"You're kidding right?" snarled Chris
" 'Fraid not," Buck said with smile as he moved to wake the others.
Once everyone was awake, Josiah and JD saddled the horses. Buck put out the fire, while Ezra and Chris rolled the blankets. Chris kept an eye on Vin, and he could see the tracker was hurting. He moved very slowly so that the shirt and pants wouldn't rub on his skin.
"So, who does Vin double up with this time?" asked JD.
"He goes with me," said Chris.
"Don't be foolish Chris!" exclaimed Buck "Your horse will never make it."
"And I dare say that you will be too tired when we meet these malcontents," pointed out Ezra. "Mr. Tanner can ride with me."
"He'll ride with me," disagreed Chris.
"Chris I know why you're pushing yourself," said Buck. "None of this is your fault." Chris gave Buck a deadly stare, but said nothing.
"I'll ride with Ezra," stated Vin. "He's right Chris, you'll be too tired when we meet the bank robbers if I ride with you."
"Fine," Chris said in a steely voice. "Lets ride."
Chris gathered up his bedroll and headed for his horse. JD grabbed his and Ezra's and tied them behind the saddle. Chris watched as Ezra helped Vin over to his horse. The tracker looked terrible. His sunburned face looked painful and there were dark circles under his eyes. Josiah walked over and helped Vin into the saddle, while Buck held the horse's reins. Chris watched as Vin mounted and he could see the pained expression on the tracker's face. Once Vin was settled Ezra mounted behind him and Buck went to hand the reins to Ezra when Vin took them. The gambler said nothing and let the tracker have his way. Once they were all mounted, Vin tapped the horse with his heel and moved out. He headed in a different direction then they had entered. Chris followed closely behind Ezra's horse just in case his help was needed. Chris heard Vin mumble something to Ezra, but couldn't make out the words. Ezra laughed and reached into his pocket and handed Vin the compass. Chris looked behind him to check on the others. Buck was directly behind him followed by JD. Josiah was bringing up the rear. The trail finally came out to the desert again, and Vin moved away from the rock wall and stopped. Chris came along side and watched as Vin took a reading on the compass. Chris noticed that his hand wasn't shaking as badly. JD looked back towards the rocks and was surprised to see that there was no trace of the opening.
"That is just weird," replied JD. Josiah tuned to look and smiled.
"One of God's practical jokes," commented Josiah.
"So, pard, which way now?" asked Buck.
"We go straight west from here," began Vin. "Just before the desert ends you will see another rock formation. That's The Hole."
"Damn, Vin!" exclaimed Chris. "If they have a look out on top of those rocks they'll see us coming for miles."
"They won't," said Vin with a smile. "The walls are impossible to climb. You're just going to have to trust me."
"How do we get inside?" asked JD.
"The main way in is on the opposite side," explained Vin. "But I know a back way."
Vin tapped the horse and they headed west. Chris was riding next to Vin when he noticed the bounty hunter nodding off. Chris was about to say something to Ezra when he noticed he had everything under control. Ezra took the reins from Vin and pulled the tracker back against his chest. At first he resisted, but Ezra wouldn't let go and he relaxed against him and slept. They'd been riding for two hours when off in the distance a dark outline appeared along the horizon. Chris had taken the lead and looked back to check on the others. Buck and JD were directly behind him, with Josiah following. Ezra and Vin brought up the rear. Chris could see that Vin was awake and talking with Ezra. They were too far back for Chris to hear what they said, but he suspected that Ezra was telling one of his wild tales because Vin kept flashing that quick smile of his. Chris faced forward and rode towards the shadow.
"Ezra, can I borrow one of your guns?" asked Vin.
"And what do you plan on doing with it, Mr.Tanner?" Ezra asked.
"I plan on helping catch the bank robbers," stated Vin.
"I do believe, Mr Larabee, will have a say in the matter," Ezra pointed out.
"I can handle Chris."
"Would you care to place a wager on that, Mr. Tanner?" asked Ezra smiling.