Gary Wayne sat at the table, leaning forward with his arms folded, staring at the two men sitting across from him. Josiah and Vin stared at him, trying to hide any doubts they had about his story. Other people milled around the hotel lobby around them; some stared, but some had become tired of the endless attention this man was getting from reporters and curious strangers from other towns... and now these two gun-toting cowboys from 4 Corners.

"What did these men look like?" Josiah asked.

"Indians," Wayne said.

Josiah and Vin exchanged glances. If all of this man's answers were going to be this vague, this trip would have to be labeled useless.

"Can you describe them in a little more detail?" Josiah pressed.

The man thought for a second and said, "They were huge, huge men with long, dark hair and feathers on their heads. And they roared and whooped like banshees or something. And their clothes were torn, and they had bows and arrows."

Again, Josiah and Vin exchanged glances.

"What you described don't need to be ghosts, like you say they are," Vin replied.

"But they had death in their eyes and they were flying through the trees." He said this with a hushed eeriness usually reserved for ghost stories around a campfire.

After a short pause, Josiah continued. "But you couldn't see their faces?" The interviewee was silent. "Could you describe their clothes one more time?"

Wayne sighed, starting to get tired of this. Others had come, looking for a good story, and he had always been willing to provide it. But these two guys were too probing. They didn't want to know how he felt, just what the assailants looked like. "I wasn't paying attention to their clothes -- they were just torn-up sheets or leather or somethin', I don't know." Then he leaned forward and stared even more intently into Vin and Josiah's eyes. "Look, I didn't believe in the curse on the treasure, at first. But the spirits were watching us. It happened just like legend says. A band of spirits descended on us with their arrows and their fire. We musta been getting close." Then he leaned back in his chair again to study their reaction.

Once again, Vin and Josiah exchanged contemplative glances. When they still didn't appear convinced, Wayne added, "They shouted in stilted English - 'Stay away from our treasure or die.'"

Josiah and Vin were mounted on their horses and heading back to 4 Corners, unsure of what insight this interview actually provided them with. The preacher said, "It wasn't them. The Ute people don't tend to be more'n about 5 feet tall. But he's got one thing right -- the tribe wouldn't be too pleased if fortune seekers trampled their sacred grounds and took away a piece of their heritage."

Vin looked surprised at his friend. "You don't think they'd really resort to this, do ya?"

Josiah shook his head. "No conventional member of the tribe would. But every society has its loose cannon. Maybe he had something to do with it." Then they continued home at a gallop.

Ezra was laying some clothes on his bed for packing on the trek. His mother was sitting proudly on his bed, too, soaking in this picture of him. It was the biggest smile he'd seen on her since she got here.

"Ezra, darlin', this'll be just like old times..." she began.

"Mother, don't say a word. I might recover my senses and opt to remain excluded from this... wild goose chase after all," he said curtly, barely even looking up at her. "Your avarice never ceases to amaze me."

"Honey, there's nothin' iniquitous about this enterprise. There're no losers -- everybody wins. Honestly, I don't understand why you're bein' such a sourpuss."

Ezra paused his packing and shot a dirty look directly at her. "Maybe it's the fact that every time you show up with some... innocent undertaking, it turns out to be a brew of trouble worthy of Pandora herself."

She immediately laughed with just a little too much glee at his observation. "You're still bitter as ale about the saloon, aren't you?"

"This isn't about me, mother -- we're talking about you!"

"All right... let's talk about me." She crossed her arms and looked him dead in the eye.

He blinked at her, not knowing how to respond. Then with effort, he said, "Well, do you trust these men? Do you know what you're dealing yourself into? Do they?"

His mother's eyes brightened with humor. "You're genuinely worried! You don't believe in ghosts, do you?" she teased.

"No, I -- ghosts, accidents, carelessness -- it's all the same to them!"

"Well, son," Maude started with enthusiasm as she stood from the bed and came to his side, "that's exactly why we need you, and why you need to know what I know about them. Now, first, there's Thornton himself. He has a... romantic notion of the west. High ideals, the good guys always win, and the handsome cowboy wins the fair maiden's affections. He doesn't believe in ghosts. He thinks this is all a game."

"He sounds like a potentially dangerous concoction." He continued his packing.

"That he is. But then there's Avery Zest, the journalist from The Boston Inkwell. A very straight arrow, makes astute observations. Look out for him. He's looking forward to an incredible adventure -- that kind of drama sells papers." Ezra nodded his understanding. Maude continued, "And Jimmy James is Jacobs' personal toady. He's only here because he comes in a package deal with his boss."

"Sounds to me like these people don't require hired guns as much as a good head examination. I take it they don't carry their own personal firearms?" he asked as he paused his packing again.

"Well, they did purchase some just for the purpose of this expedition."

Ezra's eyes almost glazed over at the thought of a gun in the hands of a clueless writer. Then he promptly turned and walked to his closet and returned to the bedside with his rifle, a box of ammunition, and an uneasy expression on his face.

Josiah and Vin finally arrived back in town as evening was becoming night. They entered the saloon where they expected to find Chris. And they were correct. Chris, Buck, JD, Nathan, and Ezra were sitting around a table with cards and drinks. As the two riders sauntered to the table, Chris looked up expectantly.

"Chris, we gotta ride to the Ute village," informed Vin.

"I thought you didn't think they were behind all this," Buck said.

"Maybe not..." Josiah said, "but I heard of a member of their tribe named Jim Dogface. He also

goes by Indian Jones. In homage to what he emulates. The white man." The others around the table exchanged looks of bewilderment at the name. "He's an outcast of sorts... doesn't necessarily see things the way the rest of the tribe does, and he tends to have his own way of doin' things, too. If anyone in the tribe has anything to do with the disappearance of those men, I'd say it was him. We're gonna try and talk to him if we can."

"That's if we can find 'im," Vin added. "Don't think he lives in the village."

"You reckon you could use some help?" Chris offered.

"Help is good," Josiah nodded.

Chris nodded, and that was all they needed, to know that he would be joining them.

"In that case, you can count me in," Nathan said.

"Well, seein's that the three of us are gonna be fendin' off wild beasts for the new gold diggers, I guess we might just see you boys out there," Buck said with a mischievous grin.

"The tribe won't be too pleased about that. I still don't know how you guys got mixed up in all this," Vin said, shaking his head.

"Josiah! Just the man I was looking for!" boomed The Voice, filled with love and honey.

When Josiah looked up, his breath almost caught in his throat. He had been hoping to spend some time with Mrs. Standish since her arrival, but his duties came first. Suddenly, it dawned on him that this woman -- this enchanting woman -- was a disrespectful gold digger. Albeit an immensely charming one, but still. However, she didn't care if she actually found the treasure or not; she was simply providing a service for someone who did. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

Josiah nodded in her direction with a tip of his hat. With as much elegance as he could muster under the strained circumstances, he said, "Yes, ma'am?"

Ezra took a cynical sip from his beer. He already knew what she wanted.

"Josiah, dear, I understand that you are an authority on matters concerning various Indian religions and legends," Maude said with extreme enthusiasm.

"Yes, ma'am," Josiah confirmed.

"Wonderful!" she exclaimed and took him by the arm. "Shall we... have a little privacy so that we may discuss it? All the excitement about the legend has developed in me a great interest in the subject, and I am an eager student."

Josiah first looked to the others, who seemed to shrug. Then he looked back at her and off they marched.

Later that evening, the saloon was empty except for the party of 8 soon-to-be-explorers at the table in front of the bar and Mary taking notes on the side. A map was spread out on the table top. Thornton Jacobs had a note pad in front of him and a pencil jabbing at something he had previously written. Everyone listened intently as he spoke.

"The first riddle says, 'Tread carefully north of the triple peaks triangle.'" The writer looked up to catch everyone's expressions. He was greeted with looks of confusion and sideways glances at people sitting beside them. Maude, Ezra, JD, Buck, Avery, Billy, and Faron McAllister looked back at their leader for the rest. He continued, "The second riddle says, 'Follow the blinding sun,' and the last one is, 'The Chief surrounds himself with his loved ones.'" He looked up again to the others.

"What do you think?" Avery said to the newcomers. "We've had a chance to think on these already, and we figure that the first one, about the triple peaks, means the treasure will be in an area where the mountain peaks form the corners of a triangle. We've located such a formation here. Is that right?" he asked, pointing to a spot on the map.

Ezra looked unimpressed. "That's where the first band of treasure seekers met their purportedly tumultuous end."

"Well, yes," Avery admitted, "wouldn't that be a logical starting place?"

"It is likely they were in the correct vicinity or they most likely would not have been attacked the way they were," Thornton said.

"Now, any ideas what the other clues might mean?" Maude asked.

"What was the second one?" Buck asked. "Somethin' about the blinding sun?" Thornton nodded. "Maybe that means it's out in the open, or on a mountain top, or by a lake. Different ways the sun can be blinding."

"Good," their leader said, "that's something we thought of as well."

"Or it only comes out in daylight," JD joked.

"Maybe it's on the sun," Ezra added sarcastically.

"No, that would be 'follow the burning sun.'"

Thornton noisily cleared his throat. "Well, that said, I think we need to take a closer look at the land before we can fully solve the riddles. Agreed?"

The bleary-eyed group affirmed this as soon as he asked the question and immediately rose uniformly from the table.

The next morning, everyone was loading up their horses for their respective trips out of town. One to go hunting for hidden treasure. The other to find out what happened to those who tried before and failed. The easterners fastened their saddlebags on their horses, while Maude had assistants load her luggage and supplies onto her luxury covered wagon -- the only one in the expedition. She had changed her clothing. No longer was she wearing her fancy, frilly purple dress. Instead, she wore a fancy, frilly purple riding coat and matching trousers and hat. Everyone in the expedition bubbled over with enthusiasm, except for the younger Standish. Even Buck and JD had at least some spring in their step as they prepared to go.

As JD added his water canteen to his saddlebag, he briefly wondered if they themselves would be needing protection from angry spirits. Then Casey came calling. "JD!" She was wearing her usual hat, shirt, vest, and trousers in various shades of brown, and carrying a filled saddlebag of her own. Her horse was parked beside his.

"Casey, come to say goodbye to the brave gunslingers?" JD asked as he patted his horse.

"No," she chortled tauntingly, "I'm going with you!"

JD chuckled right back at her. "You're comin' with us? No, no, no, Casey, we're bein' hired to protect these folks from... whatever. This ain't a joyride."

"I ain't expectin' no joyride. I can ride and shoot as good as anybody, and besides, I think it'd be nicer for y'all if this trip had a woman's touch." She tossed back her head with playful abandon.

"Casey, I think you are touched."

The anger from the insult burned in her eyes as she shot him a dirty look. She stiffened and stomped her foot on the ground. "I'll show you, JD Dunne! Thornton said he'd be more'n happy if I came!" Then she stomped away.

"Thornton? He... y-you call him Thornton?" JD shouted after her with a slight color of jealousy.

Meanwhile, Chris, Vin, Josiah, and Nathan were loading up their mounts as well. They saddled-up in unison and pulled their horses onto the crowded street. Then they turned to look at the other departing team. To their mild surprise, they saw Ezra hastily maneuvering his way toward them with a folded piece of paper in hand. The gambler stopped at Chris' side.

"Mr. Larabee, before you all depart, I think it'd be wise that you were made aware of our itinerary." With these words, Ezra presented the paper he held to Chris, who took it and promptly unfolded it to take a look. It was a hand-drawn map of their corner of the country with their planned route shown by a dotted line. "We, unfortunately, are uncertain at the moment as to our exact final destination. Just that we'll be near these mountains. Suffice it to say we're still trying to solve the riddles of the great American Sphinx that are purported to lead us to the bounty."

Chris pocketed the map and nodded to Ezra. "We'll be somewhere thereabouts, too, 'cept closer. If we need to, we'll find you." There was a short pause in which no one spoke, but everyone seemed to anticipate that someone else would or should. Chris and Ezra both let out a light sigh. Then Chris said, "Wish I could say good luck."

The gambler understood his meaning. "Well,... with Maude's involvement, this can't be a prudent endeavor."

"Don't wind up like those Philly boys."

"I don't plan to, sir," Ezra replied with a tip of his hat. Then he tipped his hat to the others, spun on his heel, and strode toward his horse down the street. He knew that he lacked the approval of Josiah and Vin, and he seemed to have earned Chris' disrespect as well. However, he couldn't blame them -- he himself felt uneasy about the crusade. But their reasons for disapproval somehow seemed more... just. But he was concerned for his mother's safety, and JD's and Buck's, too. That must count for something. He felt no guilt at not caring what happened to the rest of the expedition. They would probably just bring calamity upon themselves, anyway.

Then he was suddenly filled with a concern of a different kind. He was not looking forward to sleeping on the ground and subsisting on wilderness provisions... and he certainly could not imagine his mother trying to live in such conditions... hmmm... maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.

Chris couldn't help but look after the gambler a while after he left. The fact that he drew a map just to give to them reflected a certain lack of confidence that was unlike him. He pondered this only a short while before turning to the others who would be riding with him.

Vin sighed, "There oughta be more respect, y'know, for the beliefs of the native tribes."

"Amen to that, brother," Josiah said with a nod.

The 4 horsemen of 4 Corners spurred on their horses and rode off toward the Indian village. They all were uncertain as to whether they would be greeted with hospitality or hostility. Again, the white man was pillaging their land, and now the white man was coming to ask for their assistance in incriminating one of them.

Maude was already sitting in the driver's seat of her customized carriage with comfortable seating and room in the back for the expeditioners' supplies. She watched Ezra mount his horse. "Now, what was that about, darlin'?" she asked him.

"Nothing you need concern yourself with, mother," he said as he pulled his red coattails out from under himself in the saddle.

Thornton Jacobs cleared his throat and rode to a spot that instantly became "the front." All eyes turned to him as he raised his hand for attention. Mary, her son Billy, and a crowd of other townspeople were also gathered around to see off the troupe that helped put 4Corners on the map. The author spoke with a great amount of dramatic overtones. "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming out today, and to those of you joining me on this quest for a legend, my sincere gratitude and appreciation! We are about to embark on the greatest adventure most of us have ever had the opportunity to experience. This day will be remembered in history for years to come -- and WE are a part of it! -- No -- we ARE it! We are the reasons for this exalted day!"

Members of his audience, including most of those in the expedition itself, enthusiastically applauded on cue. Setting his foreboding feelings aside for a moment, Ezra found himself chuckling and clapping softly along. Buck, JD, and Casey grinned and exchanged amused looks.

"And so, we set forth on a voyage, not only for ourselves, but also for those we love, and write the pages of history for all! Goodbye, good people of 4Corners and neighboring towns! We will return when we are victorious!" He then waved to the audience with a flourish and turned his horse to lead the team out. As they rode out, they could hear the final cheers of support fade behind them.

The expedition had been riding for quite some time now, and the sheer excitement of it all had not evaporated for the easterners. This was not the first time they had ridden in this part of the country, since they had to ride part of the way to 4Corners in the first place, but this was the first time that they were truly on their own. Thornton looked all around himself, soaking up the atmosphere, which was not difficult, for the dust gravitated onto everyone and everything effortlessly. Avery Zest made copious mental notes of the surroundings and his compatriots -- all for an accurate article for his newspaper... with a few embellishments here and there.

Ezra also made mental notes. So far, his mother's descriptions appeared to be correct, but he had to wonder if there was more that she was not telling him. He rode up alongside of his mother's carriage. "So, mother, how are you holding up against the onslaught of dust in the atmosphere?" he asked with a sarcastic smirk. Her carriage appeared to protect her from the elements fairly well.

"Ezra, if I invited you to ride in here with me, I'd have to invite everyone, and that would just be impossible, wouldn't it?"

Her son produced a conceited chuckle. "Is that what you think I'm asking?"

"Well, if not, then what?" she asked defiantly.

"Nothing, except how do you plan to weather the coarse path you have laid before yourself." His smirk was arrogant and full of mischief.

"Believe me, I'll manage," she declared with a smile to match his.

This remark only caused Ezra to grin even more. He looked slyly at her, then at Casey, who rode at the other side of the group. He repeated this a few more times before it began to irritate Maude. She finally asked, "Ezra, what ARE you looking at?"

"Just trying to ascertain which one of you ladies Mr. Jacobs will choose to be his next damsel in distress." He smiled wickedly, then he nudged his horse to trot to the side where Buck was riding.

At the front of the group rode Thornton. JD took the opportunity to chat with their fearless leader. The young gunslinger rode up right beside him.

"Mr. Jacobs... or can I call you Thornton?" JD began.

"'Thornton' is fine, my boy. Treat me no differently than anyone else while we're out here," he smiled graciously.

JD smiled, too. Somehow, he now felt included in an exclusive circle of people entrusted by the famed author, and for some reason, that gave him a certain amount of satisfaction. He took a quick glance back at Casey, who rode with Buck and Ezra. Then he looked back to the writer and saw a misinformed city-slicker who could use a few pointers on what the frontier was really like.

Thornton took a deep breath and let it out with a satisfied sigh. "Ahh, isn't it wonderful? The big endless sky, the clear air, the wind bustling among the trees and through your hair! The air is electrified with excitement and anticipation! It's as if the land understands our purpose!"

JD's smile was smug. "Well, yeah, I guess a guy from the city could be real impressed by all this. But it's all old hat to me."

"You're from the city, too, I gather from your attire," Thornton said.

"The city?" JD shook his head. "Don't even know the city no more. Nope. THIS is MY life. So... your first time in these parts?"

"Why, yes, it is."

"Well, you'll be glad to know, in this rough neck of the woods, I'm the best rider and the fastest guns around!"

"Are you?" Thornton was mildly surprised and amused.

"Yes, sir, and I think there's a few things about survivin' out here that an ol' greenhorn like you could learn from an experienced gunslinger like me."

Thornton chuckled. The joke escaped JD and the smile was wiped clean from his face by the insult. The writer noticed JD's change of expression and apologized. "I'm sorry, I'm just unaccustomed to someone so young talking to me with such confidence and daring."

JD pulled away from the man by nudging his horse sideways. "Well, I guess that's somethin' you'll just have to get used to." Then he tipped his hat seriously and dropped back to join his friends. Thornton just laughed and took another deep breath.

Chris, Vin, Josiah, and Nathan neared the Ute village on their horses. As they approached the edge of the village towards the bottom of the rocky cliffs, Vin said, "Don't suppose anyone here remembers us, do ya?"

Then a deep voice called out, "STOP!"

The four horsemen did as the voice asked and instantly began to look around them for the source of the voice. "Who's there?" Vin called out.

Then natives sprung out from among the trees with a variety of weapons, all aimed at the four, completely surrounding them.



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