The Fifth Horseman
A Magnficent 7 - Highlander - Wild Wild West Crossover
by Terrance K. Harrington
Part V: Thunderhead
Chris rode into town like the proverbial bat out of hell, and headed straight for the Saloon. Ezra and Artie stopped their tale-spinning as he crashed through the door. All eyes turned upon Ezra as Chris relayed what transpired over the last few days.
Buck was the first to speak afterward, aiming his comments at the two Secret Servicemen: "How did you two know that the Dark Riders were in our area? And how come you haven’t said anything before now?"
Jim West replied, "We didn’t know."
Ezra added, "It may be that you are under a false impression, Mr. Wilmington. I contacted Mr. Gordon, first. It was not the reverse."
Buck began, "But..."
Standish shrugged, "The telegram was essentially their response to my query. They came when I was certain they might be needed."
West: "And, so. We finally get to the point... Where are the Riders, and what threat do they actually pose?"
Josiah flashed a toothy grin, "You have to like a direct fellow."
Ezra gazed off into a world only he could see, "The Riders’ main camp is about two-and-a-half days’ sojourn southwest of Four Corners. They number about 273 armed men, at this moment, but are expecting reinforcements within the next two days... probably coming from the Pacific Northwest. They have been steadily training for the past five months, and are now ready to begin ‘live’ exercises. I suspect their first sortie shall be an attack on Millington, followed closely by an assault on our fair community. At full strength, they shall number in the neighborhood of 420 soldiers."
JD sputtered a mild profanity, which earned him a smack in the back of the head from Buck, who, in his turn, used a stronger expletive. When JD looked tempted to return the favor, Buck muttered lowly, "Don’t even think it."
Chris looked perplexed, a sight that was not at all pleasing, "How the Hell do you know all that, Ezra?"
Ezra sipped some whiskey, and turned to face Chris. "There occurs no commerce in this region that I am not aware of, Mr. Larabee. All commodities, even information, have value. I make it a point to know all that I can about potential customers... and potential adversaries. I came upon knowledge concerning the Dark Riders a few weeks ago. When I ascertained the risk posed by these blackguards, I immediately contacted Mr. Gordon and his rather edgy colleague."
West was mentally calculating the risk, himself. "420 men do pose a threat in this sparsely populated area... but they shouldn’t last long against the Army. Did you consider contacting them, instead of us?"
Standish smiled sadly at West, "Indeed, I did, Mr. West. There is, as we speak, a regiment proceeding toward the main camp. I would think they should be within striking distance within a few hours."
West looked puzzled, "Then why...?"
Standish never let him finish his statement. "I contacted them to warn against such a foolhardy endeavor, Mr. West. Apparently, they had been appraised of the danger, but chose to ignore the consequences."
West frowned, "I don’t understand. A couple of hundred men, even well trained, aren’t going to be much of a match against a full regiment..."
Standish once more interrupted West, "Under ordinary circumstances, Mr. West, I’d agree. However, the Dark Riders are in possession of some very sophisticated and unconventional weaponry. I fear that many widows will be made this day..."
The sun breathed its unbearable heat upon the blood-soaked valley. The last echoing remnant of the slaughter faded into the summer’s air. In the valley proper, men and horses lay dying, never once having seen the enemy that so effectively obliterated them.
In standard columns, they had entered the green vale, the steady cadence of hooves pounding out a familiar beat. Death came whistling, the only warning the group received before the Reaper tore into their midst. Only after the first few impacts did the distant hammers of big guns become evident, and, by that time, it was much, much too late. The ordinance was far from typical, generating a hellish flower of shrapnel that shaved all flora and fauna down over three feet high, within a radius of 40 feet per blast. The spacing and accuracy of the salvos were evident in the economy of destruction, a fact the colonel leading the targeted unit may have admired were he not on the receiving end. From the time Drakeson’s artillery was given the signal to fire until the last shell collided with earth, all of twelve seconds past. Twelve seconds were all it took to reduce a regiment of decorated warriors into dust.
Vin could do nothing but watch helplessly through his spyglass, being too far away to warn the horse soldiers before the killing commenced...
The woman had no idea why she had veered from her intended path, but the farmhouse she sought was just over the next hill. Just as she suspected, Mr. Pascal sat on his front stoop, tinkering with some gadget or another. He once told her that Ben Franklin gave a name to his malady: laziness. Because he did not wish to work hard, he found ways to make his work easier. At the very least, he kept himself busy in his loneliness. He did look up, however, when he heard her approach.
"Ah, my dear! I see you are enjoying the weather, this fine day. Will you stop for a while, to give your horse a rest, however?"
"I can’t, Mr. Pascal. I’m headed for Four Corners, but I wanted to warn you before I continued."
"Warn me, child? About what, pray tell?"
She relayed all she could remember about the attack on her family’s farm, the Dark Riders (Pascal’s expression only changed when he heard this name), and the encounter with the three men who rescued her... or, at least interfered with her pursuers long enough for her to flee.
"You performed admirably by coming here, Sarah, as you should have done. It is well that you have informed me. However, there is an adjustment that must be made before you venture further, to prevent an untimely slip from occurring..."
Sarah’s brows creased at Pascal’s strange words, but she dismounted when Pascal asked her to, and entered his farmhouse. She sat where he requested, and watched the strange man intently as he gathered a few items from his shelves. She barely noticed when he sprayed a fine mist in her face, however. Her eyes closed briefly, but snapped open when he called her name. There was a strange, emotionless expression on her face.
Pascal shook his head slowly, irritated that her conditioning had not taken hold as he had planned. It proved wise that he had given her explicit instructions to return if the exercise had failed. Had she continued on to Four Corners, she may well have tipped off Pascal’s intended target with erratic behavior, as she diverged further and further from her carefully scripted actions.
She made no obvious movement as he proceeded to reinforce his earlier efforts.
"Listen closely, Sarah... it is important that you make Four Corners by nightfall. When you get to town..." Pascal spelled out his intended program. Sarah was to seek out a certain man, and when she found him, she was to wait until he was distracted. At that time, she was to draw a hidden weapon, and strike him down. She was to then turn the weapon upon herself, and finish her assignment. During the entire synopsis, Sarah McFadden never as much as flinched, even when her "instructor" spoke cavalierly about her death. All she would remember upon leaving was that the kindly Mr. Pascal had given her food and drink before sending her on to town, to warn them of the pending attack of the Dark Riders.
After she rode out of sight, Drakeson stepped out of the hallway.
"How long have you been waiting there?" Pascal asked.
"Long enough to know your treatments aren’t taking effect, Doctor. I do not understand your insistence upon this questionable approach. There are more efficient methods."
The man who Sarah knew as Pascal smiled broadly at Drakeson. "It doesn’t matter, in the long run, if this case works as planned. I’ll simply perfect the method, later. You’d be surprised at how lucrative assassination is becoming. Besides, have I failed you yet?"
Drakeson had to admit he was pleased thus far. In fact, he was delighted to report that the good Doctor’s targeting system and specially designed cannons and shells were a rousing success. And, of course, he had no complaint whatsoever with the stupefying drugs he now had at his disposal.
"Yes, the art of war is about to take a giant leap forward, I should think. Of course, the best is yet to come. After we’ve finished field testing our armament, it shall be time to think of bigger things. Like Washington, perhaps. Or London. Whatever your heart desires. Today, Millington will fall. Then, within a week, we shall have Four Corners."
"And my revenge!" Drakeson shouted.
"Ah, no, my good Prince Vlad. Your revenge will come long before then. That is, after all, why we came to this miserable part of the world... to kill the only two men in fifty centuries to completely humiliate you, n’est pas? And, as luck would have it, Gordon arrived in Four Corners yesterday, placing the two back together again."
"And you aren’t thinking revenge yourself, are you?" the Dragon’s Son laughed, darkly.
"Of course, my ‘lord’. I think of little else. James West’s head will make a fine addition to my collection, and one long overdue. By morning’s light, we shall have our vengeance, Prince Vlad. Miguelito Loveless swears it..."Part 6
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