JD spurred his horse faster, desperate to keep up with Chris and Buck as the three men sped through the dusty hills in the afternoon sun. Close on their heels, five angry-looking horsemen pounded across the desert after them, firing their guns and screaming curses in Spanish. Just ahead of him, JD saw Buck glance quickly over his shoulder, then yell to Chris, "They're closin' in!"
Chris shot a look backwards, then abruptly veered his horse off the path and into the low, scrubby land around it. Buck followed, and JD scrambled his horse after them, blinking the sand out of his eyes as he struggled to catch his breath.
Still shouting fiercely, the horsemen were still close behind, but when JD risked a peek back he saw that they were not the expert horsemen he and his friends were; they were having to slow down to navigate the rocky soil, and were falling back.
"We're losin' `em!" he yelped cheerfully, but when Chris looked back at him, his expression was still dark.
"We're gonna kill our horses at this pace!" Chris yelled, then as they came to a wide clearing he pointed to the crumbling remains of a sodbuster's cabin and rode toward it like lightning, Buck and JD close behind.
Swiftly throwing themselves out of their saddles, the three gunslingers rushed into the makeshift shelter, which was really only one wall, a corner, and half of the adjoining wall; tall weeds occupied the rest of the space.
"Damn, Chris," Buck said as he hunkered down against the wall and loaded his rifle, "You certainly know how to piss off the wrong kinds of people."
Chris took a place beneath the only window, a mere hollow square in the sod wall. As he checked his gun he threw Buck a look and said, "I gave Jiminez a chance to come quietly. Ain't my fault he didn't take it."
"Well, whoever his second in command is," Buck commented as he snapped the rifle shut, "He's as ornery as Jiminez ever was."
JD jammed himself in the corner, next to Chris, and pulling both Colts out peeked out the window as the horsemen appeared through the brush. They were moving slowly now, and all three gunslingers saw the leader, a scowling, muscular man with thick black hair and a mustache. His arms were bare, and tattooed down their entire length with horizontal stripes. Next to him was a shorter man, with twin scars running down both cheeks.
JD's jaw dropped. "That scarred fella, I heard of him. That's Peso Jim. Who's the other one?"
Chris and Buck were both staring at the man intently as Chris answered, "Enrico Juarez, the Black Cat."
"Shit," Buck said in a low voice, and looked at Chris, at his dusty clothes and tired eyes. "You up for a fight?"
"Don't think we got a choice," Chris returned, and gave JD a look that the younger man couldn't quite figure out. "Keep an eye on JD."
JD pursed his lips in aggravation. "How many times do I gotta tell you guys, I can take care of myself."
"Now, don't get your feathers up," Buck said as Chris stood and holstered his gun.
JD looked at him, stunned. "Chris, what are you - "
Buck put a silencing hand on JD's arm as the rest of Juarez' men came into view. JD tensed, but amazingly their guns were holstered too, their manner almost subdued.
Terribly confused, JD leaned toward Buck and asked, "Buck, what's - " At that moment Juarez stood up in his saddle and boomed, "Larabee, come out of there and finish this."
Incredibly, Chris walked out into the open, right in the line of fire, and JD stared at him, then at Buck, who made a shushing noise and tightened his grip on JD's arm.
"What do you want?" Chris asked calmly, the desert wind tugging at his duster.
Juarez laughed, and the men behind him echoed his laughter. "You know what I want, Larabee. You killed my boss, and now I am boss. Actually, you did me a favor, so I suppose I should say thank you."
Chris shook his head. "This ain't the place for a fight."
"Why not? It isn't holy ground, that I know of. We're alone out here."
Chris looked toward the sod house, saw JD's round eyes peeking from above the weed-overgrown windowsill. "The boy doesn't know."
Juarez gave Chris a cross look. "So what? You shy?"
Chris put his head down for a moment, then looked back toward the house, at Buck. Buck nodded, and JD felt the grip on his arm tighten just a little.
Chris squinted at Juarez. "Whenever you're done talking, I'm ready."
Juarez grinned, and swung himself onto the ground. As JD watched, the muscular man reached behind his saddle - and pulled out a long, two-handed sword.
"What the hell is that?!" JD hissed, almost jumping to his feet. Only Buck's restraining hand was keeping him pinned down, and now the gunslinger put both hands out and thrust JD back down into the weeds.
"Just hush now, JD," Buck said in a tight voice, and added as Chris walked closer to that dangerous circle of horsemen, "I'll explain it to you later."
JD shook Buck's hands away and stared out the window, unable to believe what he was seeing. This was the West, for pete's sake, and here was this guy facing Chris Larabee down with a broadsword. And Chris was just walking out there, without his guns, like he was used to this. It didn't make sense.
Juarez held his sword up and grinned. "I've been looking forward to this for a long time."
Chris came to a stop, regarded his adversary coolly, then looked around at the other horsemen, who were still mounted and watching him with cold, angry eyes.
Finally he looked at Juarez again. "No dirty tricks."
Juarez cocked his head and smiled disarmingly. "Who, me? You're the one I want, Larabee. I'll let the other one go. For now, anyway."
Chris smiled humorlessly. "You so sure you're gonna win?"
Juarez gave his sword a fancy little flip and said, "I always win. Where do you think I got these stripes? Every time I take a head, I add a stripe. And today I take yours."
Chris reached into his duster. "That's what you think."
Behind the wall, JD blinked and turned to Buck, "Did he say take a hea - "
JD froze; just behind Buck, who was watching Chris and Juarez, stood another of the horsemen, arcing a large sword back in both hands to swing it at Buck's neck -
"LOOK OUT!" JD screamed, and blasted both Colts in the swordsman's direction. The swordsman crumpled over, but another came right behind him, and another, and one of them was Peso Jim. Buck was swearing, turning around to face their attackers, hauling up his rifle, and as JD emptied his Colts at Peso Jim he opened his mouth to ask why they all had swords when something hot and painful slammed into his chest and he fell back gasping into the tall weeds.
Outside, Chris shot a menacing look at Juarez and pulled a long, wicked-looking sword out of his black duster. "Now I'd call that a dirty trick."
Juarez hoisted his sword and smiled. "Don't tell me you've never thought of paying a mortal to take someone's head. They never feel it coming, you see."
Chris shook his head in disgust. "You bastard."
Juarez smiled again. "Why, thank you." And lunged at Chris with all his strength.
God, I'm shot, JD realized as he lay among the tall weeds. He tried to breathe and couldn't, looked up and saw the back of Buck's white jacket as his friend fired his rifle at the advancing gunmen, who seemed to be moving in slow motion. Everything seemed to be slowing down, getting heavier, darker. JD put one hand to his chest and touched a warm stickiness, felt thick liquid running through his fingers, and knew with a sudden pang that he was dying.
Buck, he thought, and tried to speak, but no air was coming, and with a tremendous effort JD raised his left hand and clawed feebly at the back of Buck's jacket; his trembling fingers grabbed a bit of the fabric, and he tugged at it desperately.
Buck looked over, then down, and in the gathering darkness JD saw his eyes widen in alarm.
"Shit!" JD heard Buck say, but it was very faint, and JD found he no longer had the strength to keep his eyes open. Keeping his hand on Buck's jacket, JD closed his eyes and tried to speak again, but managed only a strangled gasp.
"God damn," he heard Buck exclaim, fainter still, and from somewhere JD realized he could hear the clang of steel meeting steel, but he had no idea where it was coming from. He felt Buck raise his head, put something under it, something soft, and then Buck started talking, close and low.
"Just take it easy there, JD," Buck was saying, and he said more, but JD could hardly hear him. Everything hurt, and then it didn't, and JD began to feel light, like he was falling away from the earth. No, he thought, I don't want to go yet, and panicking he reached out for something, anything, to stop the fall.
Somebody grabbed JD's hands, held them, and he could still hear Buck's voice, soothing, comforting, but he couldn't make out the words anymore, and from somewhere very far away he thought he heard a loud boom, like a thunderclap, then another. Then he started falling again, very fast, and he gripped Buck's hands very hard for the briefest of moments - - and then was gone.
Chris wiped the sweat from his brow as he surveyed Juarez' decapitated body. Then his steely blue eyes travelled up to the retreating backs of the horsemen, who had taken rapid flight once their leader had fallen. No stomach for a fight, Chris thought in disgust, and walked toward the sod house.
"Any problems?" Chris asked as he sheathed his sword and stepped around the four dead men lying in the tall grass. Then he looked up. Buck was kneeling in the weeds, under the window, his jacket and hat off, one arm around JD's shoulders, his face solemn. A huge red stain was still spreading on the front of JD's checkered vest and white shirt. Chris hurried to JD's side and kneeled down. "Is he dead?"
Buck looked at him and nodded sadly.
Chris sighed and pushed his hat back on his head, then sat back on his heels, gave Buck a heavy look and said,"Damn."
Josiah checked his pocketwatch as he sat at the poker table with Nathan and Vin.
"Two o'clock," he said in a low rumble, looking out at the dark streets. It was well past the middle of the night, and the bar was deserted, except for the three men sitting at the table. It was almost eerily quiet.
"Gettin' late." Vin said as he hoisted his beer.
"Or early," Josiah commented as he studied the cards he held, "Dependin' on your point of view."
The other men smiled at Josiah's humor. Then they all traded looks of recognition, and all heads turned toward the saloon doors. Ezra wandered in, dabbing at his cut lip with a handkerchief and smoothing his hair.
"Evenin' Ezra," Nathan said amiably, waving his cigar at the gambler. "Rough night?"
Ezra shook his head as he took a seat and checked his fingernails. "Next time I meet a lovely senorita in an alley, kindly remind me to check her petticoats before escorting her to my room."
"Dang, Ezra," Vin remarked in surprise, "I thought you tried not to take the heads of the fairer sex."
"You misunderstand me, " Ezra said wryly as he pulled out his brandy flask, "She turned out to be a cleverly disguised senor ."
The men looked at each other and laughed, but Ezra just made a sour face as he took a pull from the flask.
"Where did you fight?" Josiah asked as he studied his cards.
"Behind the livery." Ezra answered, and winced as the brandy touched his cut lip. "You know, gentlemen, keeping our little enterprise here a secret is becoming more difficult by the day. I wonder how many times people are going to believe heat lightning and freak electrical storms."
Josiah nodded, but said, "The deception is necessary. Whatever it takes to keep this town safe."
"Yes, well," Ezra cast an anxious look around the empty bar. "This town would likely have us committed to the Yuma Insane Asylum if they knew we were immortals keeping the peace by separating the miscreants' heads from their loathsome bodies."
"A prophet is never accepted in his own country." Josiah observed.
"Speaking of profits," Ezra waved one manicured hand. "Deal me in."
At that moment the saloon doors swung open again and Chris walked in. Looking around to make sure the saloon was empty, he sauntered over to the table and sat down heavily, taking off his hat. Nathan leaned forward and peered at his friend. "You OK, Chris?"
Chris ran a hand through his hand, slumped tiredly and shook his head. "We got Jiminez, but his men came after us."
Vin peered at Chris intently and said, "That ain't all, is it?"
"No," Chris sighed deeply. "JD was killed."
The men sat up and looked at each other, shock and worry on their faces. Nathan asked, "Was it bad?"
Chris shrugged. "It's never good. Gunshot, right in the heart."
"Wish I'd been there to help the boy out," Josiah said sadly. "The first time is the hardest."
Nathan nodded, adding. "You don't know you're comin' back."
Ezra picked up the deck of cards, kept his eyes on them as he shuffled them and asked, "Where is the boy now?"
"With Buck," Chris reached across the table, grabbed the bottle of Red-Eye Vin had been drinking from. "I thought it would be best if everybody just thought they spent an extra day on the trail. He'll explain everything to JD when he wakes up."
Vin nodded. "Be pretty hard to explain complete healin' from a bullet to the heart."
There was a small pause, and Chris took a long drink.
"That's it, then." Josiah said somberly. "We're all Immortals now."
"Yep." Chris said simply, and traded a look with Vin, who smiled in his odd little way and lifted his beer mug.
"Now the fun begins." Vin said, and drained the glass.
JD awoke with a startled gasp.
He looked around; it was nightime, and he was outside, in a small clearing, next to a campfire. Breathing hard, he sat up and ran one hand through his hair.
A dream. He'd had this very strange dream. This very strange, very vivid dream.
JD put a hand to his chest. No wound - it was definitely a dream, but he also noticed his shirt and vest were gone. Looking around, he saw his clothes sitting in a little pile a short distance away.
Hearing a clanking sound, JD looked up and saw Buck, some distance away, cleaning out a cooking pot in a nearby creek. He frowned; weren't they chasing after some Mexican bandit? What were they doing camping in the middle of the desert? Where was Chris?
Oh well. JD leaned forward and picked up his shirt, deciding he'd ask Buck after he'd gotten dressed. Shaking his white shirt out of the pile of clothes, JD started to put it on - and let out a loud yell.
"Great God Almighty!" Buck yelped as he jumped to his feet and spun around, gun drawn. In the firelight he saw JD, sitting up, his shaking hands clutching the white shirt with the monstrous bloodstain on the front, his face as white as the full moon.
Buck holstered his gun and slowly crept toward JD, who was staring at the shirt and trembling from head to toe.
"Now, take it easy, son," Buck soothed as he came close and knelt down. "You had a pretty bad shock, I bet."
"Puh - puh - " JD stammered, his eyes riveted to the ragged hole, the deep brown stains. Suddenly he jammed the shirt together in his fists and gazed at Buck with huge, frightened eyes, "I didn't dream it, Buck! I'm dead, ain't I? And you are too?"
"Uh, no." Buck said, and kneeled down on the ground, stroking his mustache.
"What do you mean, no?! Look at this!" JD spread the shirt out again, "They shot me right through the heart! Oh, my God - " JD dropped the shirt and ran both hands through his thick black hair, "Maybe I'm going crazy..."
"No, son, you're fine," Buck said quietly as he edged a little closer to JD. "And you're not dead. Not anymore."
"What?!" JD looked at Buck with anguished, confused eyes. "Buck - "
"Now hush," Buck laid a hand on JD's arm. "There's things going on here, JD, things you don't know about, but now it's time to give you the facts, and Chris thought you'd probably take `em easier from me than him."
JD's eyes widened. "I wasn't dreaming about somebody fighting Chris with a sword? And you too?"
"No," Buck said after a pause, "Ya see, kid, Chris and me, we're..." he paused, scratched his head, thought for a moment.
"You're what? Bullfighters?"
Buck blinked. "Bullfighters?"
"Well, sure." JD's eyes brightened; this made sense. "I've seen pictures, bullfighters use those big long swords like Juarez had."
Buck didn't move, just looked at his young friend, then finally sighed. "God damn, I need a drink." And stood up.
"You're not bullfighters?" JD said, a little disappointed that his brilliant guess had been wrong. "Wait - what's this got to do with my shirt?"
Buck took a long pull from the whiskey bottle he had sitting by a nearby rock, then said, "Just hold your horses there, junior, and I'll get to it." He sighed again, a bigger sigh this time, then started again, "You done some readin', right?"
"You ever read stories about folks that don't die? No matter what happens to `em?"
JD thought a moment. "You mean like the Greek heroes? Sure, my momma told me stories about `em when I was a kid. Like Achilles?"
"Yeah, that's right," Buck took another swig, then said, "Well, me and Chris, we're like that."
JD hunkered down for a moment in thought. Then he looked at Buck, with the most puzzled look Buck thought he'd ever seen on a human face. "You're Greek?" JD said in a small voice.
Buck took another, huge swig, then said, "No, son, we're not Greek. We're immortal. And now, so are you."
JD blinked, blinked again, then started laughing, then laughed harder. Finally he gasped, "Dang, Buck, is this some kind of joke?"
Buck shook his head. "Nope, for once I'm dead serious."
Still laughing, JD got up, shaking his head as he took the bloodstained shirt in his hand. "Naw, you can't get me this time. It was a pretty good joke, Buck, I almost forgive you for ruining my shirt."
Buck stepped in front of JD and laid his hands on the boy's shoulders. "JD. listen to me, I ain't foolin' you. What's goin' on is real important, and you got to know about it or you are goin' to wind up dead."
"Dead?" JD snickered. "How? Didn't you just say I'm immortal?"
"They can still kill you," Buck said earnestly, "If they get close enough to cut off your head."
JD laughed again, and pulled away from Buck's grasp. Balling the reddened shirt in his hands as he walked toward the creek, JD said, "I gotta admit, Buck, you almost had me. How long did it take you and Chris to plan all this?"
Behind him, JD heard Buck suck in his breath, then say in a tight voice, "Kid, don't move."
Annoyed, JD turned around, puzzled at the sudden worry in Buck's tone. "Huh?"
Buck was looking around, scanning the rocks and trees, reaching into his jacket. "Just sit tight. Better yet, come on over here. We got company."
"Buck, is this another - "
Suddenly a dark form shot out of the bushes and knocked JD to the ground. Too startled to scream, JD found himself looking up at the scarred face of Peso Jim. Peso Jim, who he knew was dead and who was now arcing a very large, very sharp sword over his head.
JD stared at the sword, couldn't move, thought: I am going crazy, he's dead, I killed him, but - but - and the sword was flashing down, and JD crossed his arms over his head in panic. Then he felt a rush of air go over him and heard a loud thud. Looking up, he saw Buck and Peso Jim wrestling on the ground, and after a few punches Buck reared back and smacked Peso Jim across the face, then out of nowhere he had a sword in his hand, and before JD could think to look away Buck neatly cut off Peso Jim's head.
For a moment, there was a heavy silence, punctuated only by Buck's labored breathing and the loud thumping of JD's racing heart. Stunned and sickened, JD started to scramble to his feet, but before he had gotten halfway up something else happened, and he stopped.
The air around JD seemed to come alive, crackling and whirling around him in great white arcs. Bolts of lightning shot from the sky, striking the ground, Buck's sword, then Buck himself, and the gunfighter writhed under the intensity of the blasts.
"Buck!" JD cried, rushing forward, certain that whatever was happening, Buck was maybe being killed, and he had to try and stop it.
The air was jumping, shifting, and a huge bolt threw Buck to the ground, where he looked up and saw JD hovering close.
"Stay back, kid," Buck gasped, his face white and blue in the unnatural light. "I'm all right, it'll be over pretty quick now."
JD backed up a step, thoughtlessly drew his gun, ran one hand through his hair and shook his head against what he was seeing. It was insane, all of it, the sword, the headless man, the lightning bolts arcing and careening through his friend's limp body, it didn't make sense, but it was real, it was happening, and JD stood there watching it all and suddenly he felt a sense of heavy, portentous dread.
After what seemed like an eternity, the air seemed to clear, and Buck, exhausted, sweating, dug the point of his sword into the ground and used it to haul himself to his feet. Slowly, nervously, JD tiptoed closer, and peered into Buck's face.
Panting, Buck looked at JD and smiled tiredly. "Kid," He said between gasps, "We really gotta have that talk."
Numbly, JD slowly nodded, and the two men went to sit down.
Mary Travis yawned as she walked through the dark newspaper office in the early morning gloom. Coming to the door, she unlocked it and swung the door open, squinting as she did so against the bright early morning sunlight.
Stepping into the chill air, the young widow looked up and down the street. There were few people out so early in the day, yet Mary turned her head toward the livery just in time to see five mounted horsemen slowly trotting her way.
"Mrs. Travis." Chris said politely as he halted his great black horse and tugged at his hat.
"Good morning, Mr. Larabee." Mary's eyes were bright with a newshunter's curiosity as she scanned the group. "Early morning ride?"
Chris nodded, glanced back at the rest of the group. He looked back at Mary, saw the notebook in her hand. "You got a story?"
Mary lifted the notebook, nodded her head. "Someone told me there was another strange lightning strike near the livery last night. I thought I'd better check it. You were just there, did you see anything unusual?"
Chris leaned back in his saddle, stared at Mary for a moment with piercing eyes, then shook his head. "No, ma'am. Nothin' I haven't seen before."
Mary looked disappointed, but gathered up her skirts anyway. "Well, I think I'll check it out anyway. Have a safe trip."
Several heads nodded in her direction, and the five men watched Mary make her resolute way to the stables.
Chris glanced at his friends, noticed Ezra's eyes following Mary worriedly.
"The bloodhounds are out." Ezra said with a trace of anxiety.
"Not our problem yet." Chris said, and pulled on the reins in his hands. "Come on."
And with that, the five horsemen trotted out of the town.
"So let me get this straight..."
JD and Buck were riding slowly through the dawn-tinged sagebrush, walking a lazy path in the foothills that surrounded Four Corners. "Everybody else in our group is immortal." JD said, in a tone that suggested he was still having trouble with the concept.
"Yep." Buck nodded, trying not to smile as he thought of how he'd reacted when he became immortal, just like JD, all confusion and denial.
"And you've been immortal for how long?"
"Well, that's hard to say," Buck admitted as he swayed gently in his saddle, "They didn't have calendars when it happened to me and Chris. `Bout five, six hundred years, give or take."
JD laughed, but Buck could tell he was no longer treating this as a joke. Which was a good thing, Buck thought grimly; he'd had too many friends become immortal, then become dead scarce days later, because they didn't take it seriously.
Not again, Buck decided, and looked at JD with an expression that made the younger man regard him oddly and ask, "Buck? You OK?"
"Sure, kid." Buck assured him, and smiled to prove it. "Now don't forget what I told you. That feelin' you been gettin' means there's another one of us about. Now it might be me, or Chris, or one of the others - "
" - but I should never assume and always be prepared." JD repeated the rote and rolled his eyes. "I know, Buck, you been sayin' it over and over since last night."
"Well, it's real important." Buck stressed as his horse maneuvered its way around a large rock. "You're a target now. We got to get you trained quick, before some no-account Immortal comes along and takes you out."
"Aw, I can take `em." JD said confidently, taking out one of his Colts and spinning it on his finger.
"No, you can't." Buck said, a little too sharply.
"Sure I can. Why, next to Chris I'm - "
"Dammit, boy, stop it!"
JD started at the sudden fierceness in Buck's tone, halted his horse to look at his friend in surprise. Buck's face was angry, stern, but a little frightened too, and for a moment JD thought of the look on his momma's face one time when as a boy he had gotten out onto the roof of the mansion and she had to lean out of a window and coax him back. Anger, and fear, but mostly fear, the paralyzing fear of being unable to prevent a tragedy.
That look was on Buck's face right now.
"Now you best hush your crowin' and listen to me," Buck said in low tones, "What's happened to you, to all of us, ain't a game, and it ain't for showin' off. There's Immortals right now comin' into town lookin' to finish you off, you know why?"
JD rattled his head no, his eyes wide.
"Cause they know two things about you that'll make their job real easy: you can't swordfight for shit. And you're too damn cocky."
JD opened his mouth, stammered for a second, closed it again.
"Hell," Buck leaned back in his saddle and surveyed the beautiful morning sky. "By the time we get back to town there'll be nineteen centuries' worth of bad news watchin' us from every window, just waitin' to take you out."
JD stammered again, numbly slipped his Colt back into its holster. When Buck looked at his young friend again, JD's eyes were huge with trepidation.
After a moment JD said in a tiny, scared voice, "What am I gonna do, Buck?"
Buck smiled, a little; he hated to frighten JD, but he'd learned the hard way that if you didn't, somebody paid for it. "Don't get all bothered, kid. Chris and me'll make sure you don't take any unnecessary chances till you know your stuff."
"Chris? You think Chris would train me?" JD sounded awed.
"He's the best." Buck said proudly as he gently urged his horse forward again. "He trained me, you know, and I ain't no slouch neither."
JD nodded, but Buck could tell he was still worried. After a moment's pause JD said, "Buck?"
"What if somebody comes after me before I'm ready? Like when we get back to town?"
They topped a low rise, and in the morning sun Buck saw five horsemen riding toward them, huge plumes of dust billowing in their wake, and Buck smiled as he felt the familiar surge of recognition as they drew closer. He turned to JD, and saw the mixture of amazement and apprehension on the youth's face as he looked at the men he thought he had known, but up till now really hadn't. He's living his storybooks, Buck thought, and gave JD a jaunty grin.
"That's why you got friends, kid. We'll always watch your back."
Softly nudging their mounts, Buck and JD rode out to join Chris, Vin, Nathan, Josiah, and Ezra.
"Mornin' boys." Chris said with a smile.
"Howdy, Chris." Buck replied happily.
Chris' eyes turned to JD, who was looking around as if he'd never seen these men before. "JD? You all right?"
"Yeah..." JD stammered, sounding anything but sure. "It's just - just a lot to get used to, I guess."
JD looked down, embarrassed at his obvious discomfort. As the others exchanged sympathetic looks, Josiah eased his horse over to the boy and said softly, "Don't worry, son."
JD lifted his head and gulped, then noticed the twinkle in Josiah's eyes as the older man smiled.
"It's just the first few hundred years. After that, it's a piece of cake."
Buck laughed with the others, and after a moment JD smiled too, and was still smiling as the other men guided their horses to form a circle around him, and together the Immortal Seven rode back to Four Corners, as thunder rumbled in the distant mountains.