The Fifth Horseman
A Magnficent 7 - Highlander - Wild Wild West Crossover

by Terrance K. Harrington

Part VIII: Fire In the Air

As quickly as could they could, the townspeople of Four Corners gathered belongings and headed east... it was the only choice they had, considering the news from Millington that arrived by shot-up rider. A fast striking force had hit their sister town, miles to the southwest, early in the morning. Several riders attempted to escape, but only this one soul managed the task, a hapless Phaedippas, who gasped not "Victory!" to awaiting Athens after the Persians were routed at Marathon, but who whispered: "we are lost..." to the fearful inhabitants of this western town. Contrasted then, as joyful Phaedippas departed life having accomplished his run, so too did the rider die, with a look of intense despair in his glazing eyes. He would not see his family again on this side of life’s boundary.

"The key," West said as the people continued to flee from the anticipated horde, "is protecting the people. We shouldn’t give a damn about the town proper."

Gordon, Standish, Larabee and Sanchez tended to agree. JD was simply itching for a fight.

West continued, "I think that we should make a token defense of Four Corners, itself, but, as long as none of their troops advance on the fleeing townsfolk, I’d say let ‘em have the place."

"I’d also strongly recommend not being killed, gentlemen, as dead men make poor defenders, in general," Ezra quipped.

"Sounds like a good plan to me," Buck huffed.

Josiah Sanchez was not completely convinced, however.

"Listen to me," he muttered, "we don’t have the numbers to slow down an entire army. Wouldn’t it be better to fall back, protecting the backs of our citizens?"

It was Gordon who answered, shaking his head slowly, "Mr. Sanchez, we know we can’t hold Four Corners. What we want to do is make taking the town worthwhile. If we abandon it too easily, the Dark Riders may have orders to push on. We need them to stay in town, at least one day."

"That’s right," West said, "Our only serious fighting will be done once any number of their units attempt to move eastward of the town limits..."

"And," Ezra added, "we have a surprise for those foolish enough to try..."

Few things bothered Drakeson these days, but the memories of years gone by occasionally tormented him. Though he survived his last encounter with those two fools, he still bore scars on his body from that last battle.

Sandstone had been a mockery. He sent a modest force to take the town, after his plans had been discovered. Yet, he never expected his troops to be completely defeated. It appeared his newfound enemies were more resourceful, and determined, than he had originally imagined. However, Sandstone no longer held his interest. He could not chance that these irritants might persuade the Union... or even the dying Confederacy... that he and his army posed a threat, as yet. He was hardly ready for that kind of action. Instead, he had telegraph lines cut for miles around, and had the few Army outposts in the region obliterated. With the war waning in the east, it was unlikely that Washington would spare troops not yet committed to battle for anything short of another rebellion. He intended to rid himself of these pests, then return swiftly to the task of building his forces. It was his intention to be ready when the Civil War ended, to claim the west coast as his territory, and use a show of force, if necessary, to dissuade Washington from moving against him, until he could solidify his hold. He reasoned that, with a nation already tired of conflict, he would have decades of unopposed opportunity before Washington once more became a viable threat to his plans.

Imagine his surprise, when a small band of persistent gadflies thwarted his every move. His actions always seemed to be anticipated, and that Southern agent and his Yankee friend continuously found novel ways to annoy him... like blowing up the Danning Bridge, with his train crossing it... like pouring kerosene into the river, alighting it as his troops tried to pass over... like blowing up four of his ammunition warehouses...

The most painful memory stemmed back to the summer of 1865, when he lead his troops in pursuit of those damnable asses into Jackson’s Pass. He had no idea that this was exactly what the two wanted, that they had planted explosives on both sides of the cliffs. He cursed their very existence as tons of rock covered him and his men.

It took days for him to dig himself out of the rubble. The experience was most excruciating, and he swore that one day, he would find them... or their descendants... and make them pay most dearly for this insult. If he had his way, their deaths would be slow and very, very painful.

As it were, he had to return to the Balkans, to fetch his fifth generation of warriors. Sadly, he had other plans for them, originally, but they were needed for his American campaign. It had been his plans to enter through Canada, dropping down into the northwestern territories, and prepare his war plans at that point. However, his ideas changed when he met Loveless.

Vlad nearly had the diminutive genius flayed alive when he was first approached by Miguelito, but Dr. Loveless’ ideas appealed to him. Loveless sought a particular type of man to share his notions with, one who was open to new forms of warfare. He had researched Drakeson well, revealing the depth of his knowledge by revealing Vlad for who he was. However, it was his working models of war machines that the Dragon’s Son found so intriguing. It did not take too long... nor too many lives.. to build the first set of prototypes. Within months, Drakeson and Loveless had their people ready for field tests.

Another, more devious plan, also unfolded favorably. Miguelito Loveless had a nasty penchant toward deception. He developed a "training" program for spies and assassins... usually unwitting. By the creative use of drug dependency and a form of hypnosis, Loveless was able to create agents so convincing, even they weren’t aware of their own agenda. Loveless created entire personae for his "elite team"... however, there was one critical drawback. For one or two missions, these agents were quite acceptable in their performance. Yet, the continued "reprogramming" created undesirable side-effects in one of these human "tools", usually in the form of some catastrophic psychosis. At the point that such mental and emotional collapse was eminent, Dr. Loveless generally programmed his living weapon for suicide. Such was the case with Sarah McFadden.

All had proceeded according to plan, until his mobile artillery unit failed to report in on time. A rider sent to investigate found the site completely destroyed. Vlad had the dawning suspicion that his gadflies had somehow found one last way to annoy him, but spies still located them in town. It was always possible that McLeod had somehow managed the feat, since he was nowhere to be found, but there was no way of knowing for certain. Unfortunately, Miss McFadden also failed in her task.. she didn’t even have the decency to end her own worthless life... so Gordon and his Southern compatriot still breathed to harass him once more!

He entered his war room, to find an angry little man switching off his "telecommunicating" device.

"Fools! Every last one of them fools!" he spat.

"Problems, Miguelito?" Vlad asked, mildly.

"Our workers are inefficiently motivated to finish tasks on time. As it now stands, the war wagons will not be ready for tomorrow’s assault."

"Punishments can be stepped up. A public execution or two might help," Drakeson offered.

Loveless turned tired eyes to the tyrant. "Dead workers are useless workers, Prince Vlad. Unless you wish your troops to finish building my devices themselves, we cannot spare even one example."

Drakeson merely shrugged. It was no concern of his, although he would have loved witnessing Loveless’ toys in action. There would be time.

"Fortunately, the airships are ready, and our advance forces will be in place to cut off the retreat."

"Good. I will enjoy watching Gordon and..."

"Standish. It was foolish of me to assume the other was his actual name..."

"...Standish die. It would please me to slay them by my own hands, but I prefer to use them in my service. If for no other purpose than bayonet practice. No matter. Soon, I will have them. Soon, they will exist only in my dreams..."

Vin returned to Duncan’s hiding place, thinking the man asleep until he sat up quickly, if silently.

"I still don’t understand why you won’t help me scout Drakeson’s camp. You’re easily one of the best trackers I’ve met."

McLeod shook his head, "I told you before. Drakeson and I can... feel... each other if we’re close enough. I’d give both of us away to that bastard if I go. Once he is gone, I will help you, but not until then."

"What are you, McLeod?" Vin asked for what seemed the hundredth time.

"Just a man, Mr. Tanner. Just a man... who’s going to kill Walter Drakeson, if it’s the last thing I do."

Sarah heard the voices, telling her things, making her do things she did not will to do. She remembered things. Horrible things. And, she did them. She did them because she could not disobey the voices. In her dream, she remembered the convent, where she was in training. She remembered the little man who invaded with his vile cohorts. Who picked her from among the sisters for her natural beauty. Who, for his perverse pleasure, reshaped her life as he pleased, as a farm hand, as a schoolmarm, as a saloon girl... mostly so she could spy for him, but sometimes so she would kill. He told her, in those muffled nightmares, that she had been his "best" subject, that she’d be famous one day. Then, the drugs required higher doses to keep her in line. The "training" ceased to hold, and her false lives began unraveling faster than a cheap carpet. That was when he used her to train the Prince’s troops in tracking and capture, in interrogation and terror. And, one day, when her mind was wound tighter than she could bear any longer, he ordered her to kill a man, then to end her own life. She did not wish to do it. She longed to seek this man’s help, for, any enemy of the little man had to be a friend. In her flickering dream state, she remembered the man. She remembered firing at him, at missing, and at darkness. She fought to awaken herself, but the darkness continued to engulf her. Still, she fought...

Josiah shook his head slowly when Gordon asked if there had been any change.

"She’s been tossing and turning for an hour, now. She keeps muttering stuff. Mostly nonsense. But..."

West entered the bedroom, followed by Ezra.

"Yes, Mr. Sanchez?" Gordon prodded.

"She keeps saying these names. I don’t recognize them, though."

"What names are those?" West asked.

"Mickle-something... sounds like Loveless..."

Artie nearly fell, but a dark expression swept over Jim’s face. He growled, "Miguelito Loveless. It figures he’d be involved in this, somehow."

"And, another name I didn’t recognize. Someone named ‘Drak-kew-la’. What kind of name is that?"

Artemus droned flatly in a professorial tone: "Derived from "Draco", it is a central European name. Means ‘son of the dragon’."

The Preacher Man smiled at Ezra, "Sometimes, he’s as bad as you."

Before Ezra could reply, a strange droning sound filled the air. JD came bursting into the room like a madman.

"Come quick!" he said, breathlessly.

Out in the center of the now mostly deserted town, Buck, Chris and Nathan had stopped what they were doing, and were looking into the sky. Ezra, Josiah, West and Artemus joined them. In the air, moving overhead, were a set of cigar shaped objects floating by. West pulled out a spyglass and looked more closely.

"I’ll be damned," is all he could say.

Gordon amended the thought, "Looks like Loveless has been a busy boy."

Buck just shook his head, "What the living hell are those?"

Before anyone else could speak, objects came out of the sides of the aircraft, fell a short distance, then floated toward the far side of town. West was astonished at the sight that greeted him on closer inspection.

"Gentlemen, we have trouble..."

Part 9

Send Terry a wire!

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