The Fifth Horseman
A Magnficent 7 - Highlander - Wild Wild West Crossover
by Terrance K. Harrington
Part IX: Storm’s End
Jim West awoke with a splitting headache, only to find himself in a cage. And, his reaction was much like McLeod’s had been, earlier. He liked it, not at all. Looking around in the dim light, he noticed Chris Larabee, Buck Wilmington, and Josiah Sanchez had been thrown in, as well. He admitted to himself, quietly, that he was impressed with these men. They had a job to do back in town, and they comported themselves with courage and honor. And, evidently, the foursome had been successful... it looked as though Standish, Jackson, Dunne and Artie had gotten the McFadden woman out of harm’s way when all hell broke loose.
A voice behind him, from outside the cage, startled him. "Ah, what a pleasure it is to see Special Agent James T. West, once more." He turned slowly to face the speaker, who was quite amused to see West this way.
"I can’t say it’s a pleasure seeing you, again, Loveless. You’d have done the world a favor that last time, if you’d just gone ahead and died."
The dwarfish genius came out of the shadows. He was fairly well dressed, in his middle age, now. His hairline had receded somewhat, but he still had the dark, curly locks West remembered from times past.
"Come now, West," Miguelito laughed, "You’d be unemployed within a week without me to keep you occupied. After all, why should the Secret Service maintain such a man as you, only to harass common criminals? Hmm?"
"What do you want, you undersized lunatic?" West growled as he tried to reach Loveless through the bars.
Loveless backed away, instinctively, and the smile left his face. "To watch you die, West. I do hope you’ll oblige me, this once." He turned to walk away, stopped, then faced West once more. "Of course, feel free to put on a show for my new friends, if you wish. Just die at the conclusion." He then left...
Miguelito Loveless’ heritage was sketchy, at best. His known history only carried back to his early manhood, when, despite his short stature, he impressed the professorship at the Ecole’ Polytechnique enough to gain entrance to that august body of learning. However, when fellow students stole several pieces of his research... and, in one case, a professor ‘confiscated’ his work... the dark and brooding genius turned to sinister plans of revenge. Virtually blackmailed into releasing an impressive piece of work he’d finished on new energy sources, along with working models of a new type of engine, to the favored son of a Marquis temporarily studying at the school, he deliberately tampered with the fuel and engine before they were demonstrated. Miguelito was gone long before the resulting explosion killed his tormentors, three of his professors, and the Marquis’ heir. With a price on his head and hatred in his heart, Miguelito Loveless escaped to America, where he hoped to finally reap the benefits of his brilliance. Unfortunately, crime was more appealing than honest endeavor, and Loveless became the nation’s top security risk shortly after the Civil War. His actions spurred President Grant to make Loveless’ capture... or death... the Secret Service’s number one priority. Grant’s two best men, James T. West and Artemus Gordon, were assigned this on-going task. They succeeded in foiling most of Loveless’ plots, but they only captured him once. He escaped, however, and had been on the run ever since.
It was back in Europe that he decided to find an ally. His diligence paid off
when he discovered Drakeson, a man whose ambitions were as great as his own...
and one who held an exploitable secret. They had proven to be a great team,
thus far. Oh, he annoyed Vlad from time to time, but he succeeded in pointing
out that Vlad would live long to enjoy the fruits of Loveless’ work. Loveless
simply wanted to enjoy those fruits, now! It had been settled that the two would
share power at present... once Miguelito was dead, the Dark Prince would have
Nathan found Gordon and Ezra, and asked them to come inside. The cave they were hiding in lacked the creature comforts of the Saloon and Inn, but was better than the six by six by three hole in the ground each would have been destined for, had they been caught. Sarah McFadden was now awake, and was asking questions. Nathan thought Ezra and Artie would be able to answer them.
JD remained on-sentry, for the time being.
Artemus Gordon did not like the impromptu plan that West had conceived while watching their only clear exit being cut off by "sky soldiers", who used some type of single-man, fixed-wing cloth and frame gliders to sail to earth on the far side of town. With troops now converging on Four Corners from both ends, the original plan had to be scrapped. West’s instincts, normally very sound, told him that Miss McFadden was the key to winning this fight, and that some had to protect her, at all costs. West, Buck, Josiah and Chris decided to take the fight to the bad guys, while the rest tended to Sarah’s escape. Those fleeing Four Corners heard the explosions and gunfire emanating from the town, as its defenders valiantly held the invaders’ attention. Many of the traps and surprises meant for the Dark Riders after the town was deserted were brought into play during its furious defense.
However, the fight did not last for more than a half-hour. Those who were sworn to protect Sarah McFadden could only hope their friends survived.
In the here and now, new hope awoke with Sarah, who looked extremely embarrassed to see Ezra. She explained, hastily, that she did not want to act as she did, that she was coerced to do so. However, always the gentleman, Ezra assured her that he did not take the action personally. His charming demeanor disarmed her fears, and she relaxed.
The three spoke at length about Sarah’s abduction from the convent she was studying at, at her "training" under Loveless’ tutelage, and of her missions. She was a very intelligent woman, impressing Gordon and Standish with her strong memory and command of logic and scientific principles.
"In order to be a more perfect spy, I had to be knowledgeable on a variety of topics," she offered. I was schooled intensely for many months before my ‘conditioning’ was put to use."
Ezra held her right hand softly, as he listened. It saddened him that Loveless would take such an innocent and twist her the way he did. She would recover, in time, but she would have to reconcile herself with her past actions, intended or not. The gambler did not envy her the months... perhaps even years... ahead.
Gordon interjected on one topic, "Miss McFadden, I hate to ask this, but I was wondering if you might know something... anything... that would help us stop these madmen. If there’s anything about their encampment, their weapons, schedules... anything... we could use, we’d be most appreciative."
Sarah was silent for several moments, as she bit her upper lip in thought. Finally, she sighed: "I’ll help you, Mr. Gordon, of course. But, you’ll have to take me with you."
As Ezra and Artemus vehemently protested, she raised her voice, edging it with hardened steel: "You’ll need me, gentlemen. You don’t know the fastest ways to get there, the best places to hide, the surest ways to avoid lookouts. I do. You don’t know where the ammunition or other supplies are stored. I do. And, you don’t know the passwords and codes they employ. I do. I also know the one thing that might hold promise for your plans..."
She told them. As their eyes broadened at the prospects, they grudgingly agreed that having her along might prove most helpful.
"Well, then, if we are to make our best time, we need to leave right away..." she said.
Vin nearly exploded with rage as he saw the large cage being unloaded from the airship. Through his spyglass, he saw three of his friends, and a man he’d never seen before, being carried to a storehouse in the steel prison.
McLeod firmly grasped his shoulder, however. "They are still alive, Mr. Tanner. That means there is still hope. But, you’ll cost them everything if you go charging down this hill. This changes nothing. The scheme we hatched will still work, but we’ll have to move a little sooner than planned, that’s all."
"Didn’t figure a man who can’t die to be a coward," Vin challenged, but Duncan didn’t rise to it.
"I can die, Mr. Tanner, and, for the plan to work, I’ll have to
die. There’s no other way..."
At morning’s light, Drakeson’s troops we assembled at the small arena they had constructed. Vlad and Loveless were in positions of honor, as befitting royalty. When they sat, the troops sat, a dark audience for dark entertainment.
In the center of the pit, Buck Wilmington stood defiantly. He had a nasty cut healing on his forehead, a cut he had earned from a rifle butt after throwing an enemy off the Saloon’s balcony. He was a real mean son-of-a-bitch in a fight, and he caused casualties as Four Corners was taken. Like the others, he had discipline to thank for being alive; however... Drakeson had ordered the capture of all left in the town. He intended to use survivors for training his soldiers. After all, what better way to improve than to fight skilled warriors?
A young, strong looking man entered the arena to face Buck. He walked around the cowboy a couple of times, then stopped in front of him. When he spoke, he had a thick accent. "You look like you hit like woman," the Dark Rider sniffed.
Buck grinned, "I’ve been told I hit like my Momma."
The young man stepped toward Buck, intending a wrestling move against him. However, Buck’s hands snaked up, one catching the young man in the gut, and the other following up on his jaw. It was a sound heard even over the murmuring. The younger male fell forward, biting dust. Buck laughed at him.
"Course, you understand, my Momma hit like a lumberjack."
Two guards came to take Buck away, but not before he made an obscene gesture at the ones seated in the shade.
Chris was matched against a wiry, fast looking lad who landed several punches
in quick succession. However, as anyone who met Chris could attest, this sort
of cat-and-mouse fighting only pissed the man off. He had to be dragged off
the young soldier, as he sat on his chest, with a wad of hair in one hand, and
beating the stuffing out of him with the other...
Sarah, good to her word, demonstrated a unique shortcut that used an underground stream. This path cut a good day and a half off their journey, and finally, the group arrived near the main camp. Sarah advised caution, at this point, however. There were only two or three ways into the encampment that would not draw immediate attention, and she aimed them at one. Ezra, Nathan and JD got quite a surprise when Vin and a stranger met them near the wall.
"Land’s sake!" Nathan softly exclaimed, "I’ve never been so happy to see a soul!"
Ezra asked, just as softly, "How did y’all find us?"
McLeod answered, with a grin, "We’re trackers. We spotted this area
as a good way in a day or two ago, and when we saw you were headed this way,
we decided to join you..."
Josiah had a tougher time with his opponent, a bear of a man who tried to crush Sanchez in his arms. Effective head butts, and a very ungentlemanly grab and twist gave the Preacher an advantage, and, by applying additional pressure to an already sensitive area, Josiah simply watched as the man passed out from pain. Sanchez ached in his ribs, but would not have traded places with his opponent for the world. When he was returned to the cage, in view of the proceedings, West exclaimed with a laugh, "Remind me not to pick a fight with this fellow."
Vin pulled Ezra aside and told him of McLeod’s plan of attack, fully expecting Standish to be as astonished by the tale as he was. What a shock when Ezra’s sole reply was: "Do as he asks, Mr. Tanner. He has his reasons."
"Didn’t you hear what I just said, Ezra?"
"My hearing has not faded, Mr. Tanner. Not to worry, however. I’m
aware of Mr. McLeod’s kind. Mr. Gordon and I fought against Drakeson years
ago. Like Mr. McLeod, he is rather difficult to dispatch. Do what he asks, then
do one other thing..."
West’s opponent was from the Far East, a practitioner in one of several esoteric fighting styles common to the region. Jim smiled inwardly... Loveless probably warned Drakeson about West’s own expertise. James West, desiring to be at his best in service to his country, sought out every piece of instruction that he thought would make him a better man... a better warrior. Included in his training was education in both Japanese and Chinese styles of combat. West was one of the first American’s to combine hard and soft, linear and circular systems to form his own unique style. Had Duncan been able to see the match, he would’ve appreciated the dance of destruction he would’ve witnessed.
The Indonesian soldier came at West with a weaving double stick attack, borrowed from the Philippines. The best defense against a hard blow is not to be there when it arrives. West moved like air, softly, economically, avoiding the sticks time and time again. Every now and then, he deflected a blow rather than dodged it, and, in one faked opening, created a target with a side step, upon which he pivoted and planted a solid kick in the man’s ribs. Of course, he paid a price when the man caught his shin with a backstroke. West limped, but he knew the blow wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. The man whipped one stick into a downward diagonal blow, intending to catch West across the left temple. However, Jim caught the arm, spun on his left foot, and in a classical piston action, executed a perfect hip throw. Holding on his opponent’s arm, he locked the elbow, forcing him to drop the weapon. Then, hopping onto the other hand, he dropped his knee into the man’s abdomen, forcing his torso upward, and planted a hard palm strike, upward, into the man’s nose. At the very least, he had disoriented the man by breaking it. His opponent was finished.
Loveless cursed softly, but Drakeson was caught up in bloodlust. He didn’t care who won or lost, but appreciated skill. He considered it a tragic waste to eliminate men such as these for no reason. But, ah! The arena... the arena was where men had always been able to prove their worth. It was the only contribution Rome made to his training regimen. He had lost a few men in this manner, but the ones who survived were always hardier. His best warriors defeated Roman centurions because of such education, and he had bested the Saracen on one glorious day because of it. Drakeson ordered all four men to be placed in the arena, now.
"My soldiers!" He shouted, "Witness worthy opponents! Learn
from them, as they die, this day, for they shall be your teachers. They shall
fight, until they can fight no more. Then, as honored enemies, they shall be
put to the sword!" Drakeson motioned for several of his Riders to enter
the pit, and they slowly progressed on the four. Buck whistled softly, "This
is gonna be a long day..."
Vin cursed under his breath every step of the way, but managed to carry his burden well. Once he got to the airships, he lowered his load. Moving more gently than was needed, he removed the knife from McLeod’s chest (he refused to stab the man, prompting Duncan to do it himself), then waited for him to gasp for air... not really expecting it, but not shocked when it happened.
He was glad that Ezra and Artemus had kept JD, Nathan and Sarah busy with other
things. It was hard enough for him to believe what was happening... he didn’t
think he’d ever be able to convince anyone else that Duncan could magically
return to life, almost at will. Once McLeod became more lucent, he moved on
toward the mines. Sarah told him that help would be there. McLeod gasped one
short statement before Vin left: "Hurry! He knows..."
Even Rome, at its height, would have been hard pressed to match the spectacle in Vlad’s arena. Four glorious combatants matched against his finest soldiers. It was a wonder to behold!
Josiah Sanchez was a reluctant warrior, who fought defensively, but with tremendous strength and courage. James West was fluid motion, air and water, but suddenly turned hard as stone, as another opponent fell. Buck Wilmington was all fists and rawhide, a man who loved a good fight almost as much as a woman’s warm softness... Almost, but it would have been a stretch to say he enjoyed fighting as much... and then, there was Chris, who was... well, Chris. There was something mad and animal in him when he fought, as if demons had to emerge any time he balled up his hands. He’d tear into one antagonist, get pulled off, then turn on the one(s) who pulled him off. Drakeson was so caught up in the fight that he almost missed the Quickening... that gut-punching sensation that an Immortal always felt in close proximity of another.
He rose from his seat, looking around wildly. Loveless became alarmed.
"What is it? You’re spooking your people," Miguelito said. "You’re spooking me."
"Another... here. But, how?" was all Vlad could say.
Gun shots went off in the center of the pit, as Dark Riders scattered from the four... scattered, except for one who stood nearby. Drakeson focused on the scene, and became enraged.
"I said no firearms in this fight! Who dares disobey me?"
The Rider turned in Drakeson’s direction, and flashed a familiar smile. One gold tooth caught the sun, and Drakeson nearly fell from recognition.
"You..." was all he could manage.
Ezra took a step forward, and made a mocking bow. "Greetings, Mr. Drakeson. I’m sorry about the revolvers, but you know I’m not one for rules."
Loveless stared intently at Standish: "That’s him?"
Ezra bowed at Miguelito, and continued: "You must be the infamous Dr. Loveless. I had heard rumors of your lack of stature, but I could not resist the temptation to see for myself. And, yes, you are indeed in dire need of inches..."
Loveless scowled at Drakeson, "You’re right. He is irritating."
Vlad ignored him, focusing on Ezra. "It was foolish of you to come here, Standish, or whatever you call yourself. You could have lived a while longer. Now, you have only made me a happy man."
"I would not be terribly pleased, just yet, Mr. Drakeson. I have not interrupted your festivities to bring you cheer."
Drakeson stood at his full height, as if he could cower Ezra in this manner.
"You once told me my fortune. Today, I return the favor. Today, you die..." He nodded at guards positioned around the outskirts of the arena.
Ezra merely smiled, "I think not..."Part 10
Send Terry a wire!
Back to Dust Trails