The Guardian


This is in response to the May challenge by Michelle, hope you enjoy the story.

It is just after midnight in the town of Four Corners, the only activity at this hour taking place is a final hand of poker. Ezra Standish the resident gambler and one of the seven men hired to protect the town, places his hand down. The gambler's opponent a young ranch hand hisses in frustration as he loses another round. Ezra looks at the young man’s disappointment.

“Sorry, Matthew, but I believe this is my win.”

The young man looks at the gambler, shaking his head in disbelief. He was sure that he had the upper hand this time.

“Ezra, one of these days you’re going to have to show me how you do that?”

The con man looks innocently at his friend, “do what?”

“Oh, you know what you son of a gun,” smiling at his friend. “I’ll be leaving tomorrow morning, so I’ll see you back in a month. I want a rematch.”

Ezra shows his exasperation at the man’s gluten for punishment. “As always Matthew I am only too happy to oblige.” Smiling, showing his gold pre-molar and dimple, Ezra’s trademark.

As he watches his friend leave the saloon, he is happy to finally sit back and relax. It has been over two months since the werewolf incident and all is quiet once again. He looked over at the counter and saw Inez cleaning up. Ezra was about to get up and walk over to assist when three strangers walked in. One was a rather tall bulky man, the other about the same height but slender well built. The third is a dark hair beauty, olive complexion much like the two gentlemen that came in with her, smaller in height, curvaceous with dark eyes to match her hair.

The two men went straight for the counter and ordered two drinks, he watch them for any signs of trouble. The young beauty walks over in his direction.

“Good evening sir.” Her beautiful accent matches her looks.

The con man smiles at her, his green eyes watching her very closely, “good evening dear lady. What brings such an intriguing beauty like yourself to our humble town?”

She smiles back at the alluring green eyes carefully examining every part of her body. “My name is Esmeralda, my brothers and I are merely passing through. As you can see though they are both thirsty.”

Ezra looks at her two brothers, “my name is Ezra Standish,” he takes her hand kissing it another trademark of the man.

She blushes, takes his hand and turns it looking at his palm. Standish realizes the kind of people they are, gypsies. He has met their kind before; in fact, he remembers one time when the con man dressed as one, when he ran off and joined a circus. It was one of those times when his mother left him with a relative that mistreated him.

Ezra dress painted his skin darker and even masked his southern drawl to fool the patrons who visited the circus and wished their fortunes read. He could not believe how easy it was to fool these people. He used his ability to read them and ascertain what they were looking for with general questions, their body language and expression told him all he needed to know. He read the cards and they seemed amaze at the young boy’s accurate assumption and told them about their pass, present and future.

Ezra attributed his skill to his mothers teaching and to the gullibility of the ignorant people who sought him out. He had stay with the circus until the owner decided to take a cut of his earnings. The con man decided it was time to leave. He was only fifteen years old and already proficient on how to take care of himself. He was on his own for about a year after that.

Then the civil war broke out and he joined the confederate army to avoid the law who was after him. Ezra hid behind the uniform and used it to help slaves escape, Nathan would never believe this but those he helped were forever grateful to the young dimple face man with green eyes. He did it because it was the right thing to do and he used his cunning abilities to good use for once.

The gypsy woman looked at his palm and began to read it. “I see that your life has been in shadow, you have seen much hardship but in the faces of others. You have led two lives…” Ezra pulled his hand away not wanting to hear more.

“Thank you dear lady for your kind gesture but I can assure you that it is quite unnecessary.” He stood up took the ladies hand, “good evening,” and kissed it. Ezra left for his room above the saloon. He was tired and knew he’d have to get up the next day for patrol around the town. It was his turn and not about to let Chris down.

Esmeralda watched as the gambler left and smiled a wicked smile. She stood and walked over to her brothers. Inez had poured them a second glass of whiskey each. She looked to the senorita, “the gentleman in the red jacket, I wish to buy him a drink. What does he prefer?”

Inez eyed her carefully and answered her, “brandy.”

“Would you take him a glass with my apologies?” Asked the mysterious woman.

Inez pulled out a bottle of brandy and a glass and poured the drink, suddenly the woman waved her hand in front of the bar maid stopping her, and then the gypsy emptied a small container into the brandy and mixed it. Then she waved her hand again, for a moment Inez almost spilled the drink and then steady herself. “I would be happy too.” When all three left the spirited senorita made her way to the gamblers room.

* * * * * * *

Ezra had taken his red jacket off and hung it. Then sat at his desk about to start a letter to his mother when a knock at the door interrupted. He walked over and opened to find Inez with a tray; and on it a glass of brandy, he smiled at her.

“Do what do I owe the honor?” He looked at her quizzically.

She smiled at his confusion, “the young lady you met a moment ago, sends her apologies.” He looked over her shoulders. “She and her friends have already left.”

He shrugged, “well no reason to waste a good glass of brandy,” he lifted the glass, “to your health dear lady,” and drank the whole content in one gulp. He could feel the smooth drink go down his throat; he could also feel the warmth and the smooth taste. He smiled and returned the empty glass to Inez. “Goodnight dear lady.”

Inez took the glass, “goodnight senor.” She walked back down and finish closing for the night. It was the middle of the week and usually the regular crowd turned in early.

Ezra had decided that he would turn in early as well and start a letter to his mother tomorrow. He undressed taking his guns from his hip, shoulder and derringer. Removing his vest, shirt and pants not to mention boots and socks took out his silk pants for sleep. He would have worn his silk shirt but the nights were warm and preferred just the pants. He yawn once and took the covers off the bed laid down took comfort in his feather bed smiling and fell asleep.

* * * * * * *

After an hour since Ezra fell asleep, the whole town was quiet, only the outside firelights surrounding the town could be seen. Also, above the hotel another light could be seen as well. Matthew was still up packing his gear for tomorrows departure. He looked out his window. He was about to get into bed when movement from the alley of the saloon caught his eyes.

* * * * * * *

The three strangers went up the stairs to the saloon through the side, broke the doorknob and entered. They made their way threw the hall stood in front of the gamblers door. The bigger man again broke the knob and this time entered Ezra’s room. Careful not to wake any of the other guests they uncovered the sleeping form. Lifting him gently, he lay limp in the arms of the giant man, the drug taking its affect.

The three made their way back outside and towards their wagon. Matthew had at that moment spied them exiting the alleyway carry someone. He ran down the stairs of the hotel the clerk was not in the front.

He didn’t have time to look for him and continued outside. He also didn’t have time to put he’s boots on or jacket, only grabbing his gun and approached the strangers. He recognized the limp form in the big man’s arms.

With gun drawn he voiced his protest, “hold it.” The woman turn around; “put my friend down.” With a wave of her hand she froze the man just like she had Inez only a moment ago. Her other brother the slender well built brother approached the man while in the trance put an arm around Matthew’s neck and broke it. His body slumped in the brother’s grasp; he pulled him up onto the edge of the wagon, Ezra all ready secure aboard the wagon. All three climb onto the wagon and moved on. Once at the edge of town the slender brother lifted the body of Matthew and threw him into the bushes, hopefully no one would find him until long after they were gone.

The wagon and its occupants rode off; the town was quiet, no one knew what happen, all were still asleep. The gambler one of the protectors was gone from his home without a sound. Gone into the dark night.

* * * * * * *

Early morning found a lone rider coming into town. Vin Tanner, tracker former bounty hunter and now wanted man entered Four Corners. He had been out of town for almost two weeks. He enjoyed his solitude but after a time he long for the companionship of his new found family. During these moments he’d come home. As he was riding in he noticed a small glint along the rode. Reining his horse, he waited a moment then dismounted. Walking over he saw a body. He pulled his saw-off mares leg looking around the area. When sure it was safe he relaxed and approached the body. Turning it over he recognized the man. He wasn’t sure of the man’s name Vin never really met him but knew he often came to play poker with Ezra.

Suddenly, Vin had a bad feeling. He knew Ezra would take the man’s death to heart. The gambler didn’t make friends easily so it always hurt him more then he’d lent on. Vin dragged the body towards his horse. Steadying Peso he lifted the man onto his horse’s saddle. The tracker continued the ride into Four Corners on foot.

* * * * * * *

He could still smell the fire even though it had been at least a day since it happened and as he reached the remains of the house, he found the bodies. Chris Larabee saw the bodies of his wife and son; he didn’t even recognize them. They lay there motionless and charred. He could not move or utter a sound. He felt numb, as though his life had just drain from his body and that was all that remained. He was trashing and tossing his body sweating, Chris woke from the nightmare breathing hard.

He couldn’t understand why he was having those nightmares again. Adam, his son was very much alive. He got up from bed and rushed to his son’s room. Opening the door and he looked in. He smiled at the small form still asleep.

Chris walked in and sat on the bed. Placing a hand on the boys forehead and again smiled. He was home again, back in his life ‘why in hell was he having the nightmares again?’ He thought to him self.

Chris went back to his room and washed from his face the sweat. He continued to wash and shave. Shortly thereafter, he began breakfast hoping the sweet smell would wake Adam up.

* * * * * * *

Nathan woke from a sweet peaceful dream. He looked to his right and saw the sleeping form of Rain. He had stayed the night in the Indian Village. Nathan’s second home. He had been spending a lot of time here. With the town he helped protect quiet and no serious injuries incurred, this gave him the opportunity to spend his free time here.

He leaned over and kissed Rain; she slowly opened her eyes and looked at Nathan with a sleepy smile on her face. This brought a smile to Nathan as well. He kissed her again sensing his desire she turned to him and kissed him on the lips. They had just completed love last night but she had no trouble complying with his desire as she also began to feel the same. You could hear them laughing and then quiet. The soft moaning sounds of their passion could be felt in the early hours of the village.

* * * * * * *

JD got up early too. The duties of sheriff always hung over his head. He was walking over to his office when he spotted Vin coming in. He smiled at first, until he saw the body drape across his horse. JD’s face turns stern, he maybe young but the others had taught him about the seriousness of life in the west. This was one of those times.

Looking at the tracker and then the body, “Vin. What happen?”

“Don’t know JD, found him at the edge of town. Think Ezra might know him.”

The young sheriff walked up to the body took hold of the hair and made him self look at the face, he gasp. “It’s Matthew!” He looked over to Vin, “he came in two days ago, been spending time with Ezra, think they had a game of poker last night.

Just then you could hear a door open, both men looked in that direction found Buck giving a final kiss to the young lady he’d spent the night with. JD shook his head a smile evident, Vin showing no emotion only thought to him self ‘that man never rests’.

Buck said his goodbye turned to see two of his friends watching him from across the main road. He was about to smile when he noticed the body. He walked over, “morning boys, what’s going on?”

“Buck, its Matt that ranch hand who comes to play poker with Ezra.” The kids face was full of sadness, Buck thought, ‘this was not good.’

The ladies man looked over to the tracker, “did you see Ezra on patrol?”

“Nope,” replies Vin then looking at the young sheriff, “JD why don’t you take a look in the livery see if his horse is still there. I’ll take the body over to Charlie’s.”

JD nodded. Buck and Vin took the body over to the undertakers. Both were quiet, they carried the body to the back of the building knowing that part of the building was always open just for these types of situations.

JD waited outside returning from the livery, when he saw both reach the front of the building he spoke, “Ezra’s horse is still there, he must have forgotten to get up early.”

“Well we best go and wake him.” All three walked over to the saloon and turned to the alley.

The town sheriff had the responsibility of making sure all the buildings at night were locked, which made him the keeper of the spare keys. As they approached the stairs to the back door of the saloon, he pulled them out he was about to use them when he notice the door was slightly ajar. From below the building you wouldn’t notice but close up you couldn’t help but notice.

He pushed the door open the others noticed too. All three pulled their guns out; Buck pulled the kid back and went in first, cautiously surveying for any movement. They slowly walked through the hallway and reached the gambler’s door only to find it open. Buck looked at his friends and knew what they were feeling he felt it too. They went in hoping to find the man with the bright red jacket and an assortment of other colors was in his bed, but he wasn’t.

But they noticed that it was slept in. Vin noticed the red jacket neatly hung on its hook. JD noticed his pants draped on his chair. Buck noticed both his shoulder and hip holster on his dresser. They all looked at each other without a word. Then Buck reached across the bed under the pillow and found the derringer. He couldn’t keep it in any more.

“What the hells going on?”

“Every things here but no Ezra,” Vin didn’t like this first his friend is found dead now the gamblers disappeared.

JD broke the silence this time. “Maybe he couldn’t sleep and went to see Josiah?” The kid looked at his two friends with some hope.

Buck smiled, “right Kid, lets go see.” All three practically running over to the church where the ex-preacher lived.

* * * * * * *

Adam woke to the smell of bacon and eggs and smiled. He got up and washed his face like his father taught him. And after dressing he walked out to the kitchen. His father had built this house after living in Four Corners a few months. He had told Vin that he was not settling but rather wanted a place to get some peace and quiet. That had change when Adam had miraculously re-entered his life. Now it had become a home and with help from the others even Ezra who never took part in menial labor had also help. They built an additional room for Adam.

“Morning Pa.” Smiling while tucking his shirt.

Chris looked up at his approaching son, smiling in return. He was smiling a lot since Adam’s return. “Morning son. You up for some breakfast.”

“Yes sir!” He didn’t have to be asked twice. As he sat down in the kitchen, which Mary Travis had given them as well as some additional furniture from her old homestead; they weren’t being used since her husband’s death and she wanted them to be of use again. Chris at first tried to refuse her generous offer, but the look on her face changed his mind. He accepted with thanks but only on the condition that if she needed any help with the newspaper she wouldn’t hesitate to ask him. She agreed.

They ate at first quietly then Adam looked at his father, “Pa?” Chris looked up, “we heading into town today?”

He smiled, “if you like, you have plans today?”

“Yes, Mrs. Travis said Billy and me can help deliver the paper this morning.”

“Well then you best hurry, or you’ll miss out.”

Adam hurriedly finished breakfast, putting a smile on Chris Larabee.

* * * * * * *

Back in Four Corners Mary Travis was up getting the paper ready for printing, her son Billy also up finishing breakfast.

Outside three gunfighters were making their way towards the Church.

Josiah already up as well was extinguishing the candles surrounding the altar. He heard sounds at the entrance and turned to find three friends. “Well, good morning brothers.” He said with a grin. However, something told him trouble was not far behind.

Buck answered, “morning Josiah.” He quickly looked around but didn’t see the card shark. “You seen Ezra this morning?”

“Why no, I would not think he’d be up this early.” Then he remembered he had patrol. “On second thought I believe he has patrol this morning.”

JD replied this time, “his horse is still in the livery and he’s not in his room.”

Vin continued, “his clothes and guns are also in his room, but no Ezra.”

Josiah began to worry, “has Chris come into town yet?”

“No,” answered Vin.

By the look on their faces Josiah knew they were holding something back. “Something else happened?”

“When Vin came in this morning he found the body of Matthew, that young man who often plays poker with Ezra. We think he was the last to see him.” Buck was having trouble hiding his concern.

“And now Ezra’s gone missing.” All three nodded their heads; Josiah could see their worried faces. “All right, Chris should be coming in shortly and I know what he’d want, JD you and Buck head back to the saloon and wake Inez see if she noticed anything strange happen last night. Vin and I will head to the Clarion see if Mary saw anything she’d be up all ready.”

They all headed towards their destination hoping to find some information. As Vin and Josiah approached the paper, “Josiah, what about Nathan you think he might be at the clinic?”

“Nah, Nathan’s at the Indian Village, he’s been there since yesterday. Since it’s been quiet he’s spending time with Rain and her people.” Vin just quietly nodded his head.

As all four gunmen received what little information they could get from the two ladies, outside of town they saw their dark clad leader ride in.

* * * * * * *

Several hours outside of town, headed east towards the canyons of the Arizona desert rode a signal wagon. Its occupants included three siblings, two men and a woman, plus a sleeping man. They rode in silence. The woman and younger brother in the back with the gambler while the older bulky brother riding the team ahead.

The two youngest were looking at the sleeping form, marveling at the firmness of his chest as it rose and fell with the rhythmic sounds of a peaceful slumber. They smiled to each other. Both had partaken in the sins of the flesh with male and female partners.

These were erotic desires of the flesh.

Usually both siblings shared their partners sometimes watching one another sometimes participating. They were usually attracted to the same type of man or woman. They were very much attracted to the sleeping gambler.

When Esmeralda first saw the gambler she wanted him, his eyes captivated her. When she touched his hand it was so soft. But it had a firmness and strong grip. She marveled at what she saw on the lines of his palm. He would be in deed a prize for their mistress. Although, it would be a shame that both would not be able to savor in his touch, at the moment all they could do was watch him. Both the wrists of the gambler were securely tied, in case the card sharp woke without their knowledge and then try to escape.

The larger bulky brother was different from his family. He was more reserve but when he did take his pleasure it usually ended in violence. After taking part in the sins of the flesh he'd kill the participant. With no regret, to him it was just part of the ritual in his mind.

* * * * * * *

At the Indian Village, Nathan was getting ready to leave back to town. Rain walked over to him and embraced him. “I love you.”

Nathan smiled at her. “I love you too.” Giving her a gentle kiss, “I’ll be back at the end of the week to check on you.” She nodded her head without a word. He mounted his horse leaned down and gave her another kiss. She smiled at him as he rode back to the place he called home.

* * * * * * *

As Chris rode into town, right away he knew something was wrong. He saw four of his friends up. The rest of the town was also slowly waking up. Adam rode in front of his father he looked at his father’s face and saw the concern.

“Is something wrong, Pa?”

Chris smiled at him hoping to ease him. “I’m not sure son.” He looked at him again. “You go over to Mary’s and help her out, I can see she’s already up and getting the paper out.”

Chris lowered Adam off his horse and he quickly made his way to the Clarion waving to his father. The gunslinger smiled again. He turned his attention back to his friends. He stopped in front of them and got off his horse. “Morning boys, something wrong?”

Vin not one to mince words answered, “Ezra’s missing.”

He looked at them without a word, waiting for them to continue.

Buck spoke next. “Inez said that last night three strangers came into the saloon. One of them spoke to Ezra, she wasn’t sure what the woman said. But then Ezra left for his room. Inez said that the woman offered a drink with an apology. Next thing, this morning Vin found a body. Matthew, a friend of Ezra, you know that young ranch hand who comes into town to play poker with him. After that we find Ezra is missing. His clothes are still in his room, as well as, his guns including the derringer. Whatever happen he was taken without a fight. Don’t know how that happen and that’s all we know.”

Chris looked at Buck. “Does she know how they came?”

He nodded his head, “said they came in a wagon.”

Looking at Vin, “did you find any tracks outside of town?”

Vin smiled at Chris, “more than that I saw tracks near the body, didn’t think they were related, but they are headed east of here towards the canyons.”

Just then they all turned to see Nathan riding into town. He knew something was up. They quickly filled him in. Chris had them gather what supplies they’d need and met in front of the Clarion ten minutes later.

“Now Adam, I want you to mind Mary while I’m gone.” His son nodded and Chris hugged him mounted his horse and all six gunfighters rode east hoping their gambling friend was all right.

* * * * * * *

It was already early afternoon, when the sly con man began to wake. His handsome features grimace slightly when he tried opening his eyes only to see the brilliant light of day hit him with full force. The gambler was feeling groggy and confused. He opened his eyes again; bringing into focus the woman he met last night and wondered what she was doing in his room. That thought quickly left him as he noticed taking in his surroundings that he was not in his room, but in a wagon and it was moving.

His throat was dry and the woman quickly gave him a drink of water that he accepted. Then he found his voice, “what the hell is going on? Where am I?”

“All in good time Mr. Standish, just lay back and relax.” The gambler then noticed that both his wrists were tied above his head. This was not good.

He looked again at the dark hair beauty, this time with annoyance. “What is the meaning of this?” As he motioned to his wrists, “Why have you taken me? I demand some answers?” He was pulling on the ropes that were binding him.

“Now, now Mr. Standish. You will hurt yourself, please try to relax.”

He was really getting angry now, “dear lady, I will not relax until you explain yourself.”

“Very well Mr. Standish, please drink some more water as I know your throat must still be dry.” He did what he was told and welcomed the tepid water. He waited for an explanation. She smiled at him and began to tell him a story as the wagon still continued east towards the canyons. “Many years ago when you were but a child your father Aaron Standish, promised you to our mistress, the demon-goddess, Alandra.

Ezra with his typical expression raised his eyebrows and started to laugh. “My good woman, I do not wish to burst your bubble, but are you insane?”

“Hardly Mr. Standish, you will be meeting your intended late this evening.”

This took Ezra’s smile away, he put on his poker face and asked, “dear lady, I do not wish to alarm you, but I require a moment to relieve myself. Could you please stop the wagon before I am force to embarrass myself.”

She looked over at her brother he nodded his head. “Of course, Mr. Standish I would not wish to inconvenience you.” She looked to her older brother, “Gaspar, please stop the wagon as Mr. Standish requires a private moment.”

The big burly man halted the horses. Climbed down the wagon and made his way to the back. Opening the latch with the help of his brother they untied and pulled him out. The gambler realized all he had on was his night pants. At least the day was warm; both brothers helped carry him into the bushes with out completely untying his wrists. When they were far enough from the road they released him.

Ezra looked at both men and smiled, “I hope you gentlemen will do me the curtsey of averting your eyes. I would like to retain some dignity on this rather awkward situation.” Both brothers looked at one another and turned their backs to the gambler. He then relieved himself. But just as he finished he saw a large branch, he quickly picked it up and hit the bigger of his two captors.

Gaspar, the larger bulky man turnaround to face the gambler, he was not happy. Ezra could tell that the blow hardly had any effect on the man. He showed his most sincere smile he could muster. “I am terribly sorry, I don’t know what has transpired;” slowly putting down the branch all the while smiling showing his dimples and gold tooth.

This brought smiles to both brothers; the younger of the two spoke, “not to worry Mr. Standish, as we need you alive.” This bit of information did not sit well with the gambler. “Be so kind as to follow us back to the wagon.”

Ezra looked around and tried to make a hastily escape, but Gaspar grabbed his neck and stopped him from going any further. The gambler tried to wiggle him self-away, but the big man had a firm hold. Then he embraced the angry con man into a bear hug and all three returned to the wagon.

Esmeralda saw them approach and could not hide her smile at the scene in front of her. “Don’t tell me he was foolish enough to try and escape?”

“I am afraid so, dear sister.” Replied the more slender man.

“Gaspar, why don’t you put Mr. Standish back in the wagon.” She looked to her other brother. “Please, Julian make sure you securely tie back his wrists.”

Ezra was trying his best to get away from all three. But for some reason he was beginning to tire. ‘What is going on here a few minutes ago I was wide awake now I feel exhausted,’ he thought to himself.

Esmeralda saw the weariness show on his face. “Are you tiring, Mr. Standish?”

Ezra looked at the woman as he began to loose the battle against her brother’s efforts to secure him to the wagon. “There was something in the water, wasn’t there.”

It was more of a statement then a question, but she answered anyway. “Yes there was. It is a sleeping potion. In water it does not affect the person quite as raptly as in alcohol, but work it does.”

Ezra realized what she meant, “the brandy.” The dark hair beauty smiled and nodded her head. “Why?” He was beginning to grow very sleepy and he began to loose his focus on all three. He was trying to stay awake hoping to escape. Then he thought that even if he was successful he knew he wouldn’t get very far. He’d collapse any way. Things were not looking good for him; he was in serious trouble. He began to think about his friends and wondered if they knew he was missing. And even if they did would they know where to look for him?

Esmeralda merely said, “I told you Mr. Standish, you were promised to our mistress and we are bound to her. Therefore, we must give you to her.”

Sleep began to take its affect on the gambler his last thoughts suddenly were of Marisol, the woman he had fallen in love with over nine months ago. He some how felt she would have protected him from these duplicities. He longed for her as he gently fell sound asleep once again. All three smiled as they made the gambler comfortable and then continued on their journey.

* * * * * * *

The six protectors of Four Corners were already four hours outside of town. Vin had determined that the people responsible for Ezra’s disappearance had at least a six-hour head start on them. Even if they rode there horses hard they’d have to rest them, their query would still be ahead.

They all rode in silence; Chris wondered what was going on. Why’d they take him, from the description, they surmise the woman and two men were gypsies. Maybe they knew Ezra, wanted him to come on a con with them and he refused. So, they decided to take him by force.

Whatever, the reason all Chris could think of was if they so much as hurt the gambler these people would feel his wrath. The gambler had become more than a friend, he was or rather is his family. Brother to Sarah, Chris’ late wife, by some miracle their paths had cross and a connection was revealed to both men. Ezra had never known that he had a sister. Chris only knew that Sarah was adopted and she knew nothing more about her real family.

Then another miracle had happen since finding Ezra and that was the return of his son Adam. Chris attributed this to the fact that the gambler had come into his life. Ezra of course, thought it was mere coincidence; he still was not use to being a Good Samaritan. So, this brought both men closer together as a family.

It was already late afternoon when they came upon the trail where Ezra had them stop. Vin dismounted and searched the area looking at the tracks for information. He followed the gambler’s tracks then Vin smiled when he realized why they stopped. He noticed that Ezra tried to escape but realized he didn’t get far.

Looking up at his friends Vin related the news, “looks like they stopped here for a few minutes and then continued on. Doesn’t appear that they plan on stopping ahead. This happened at least four hours ago, which means we’re catching up. Also looks like Ezra tried to get away but wasn’t successful.” He could see Chris’ anger growing no doubt he’s wondering if they hurt him. “Chris? He’s okay they didn’t hurt him. Looks like he’s a bit unsteady.”

Nathan looked at the tracker, “that could be why we didn’t find any signs of a struggle.”

Chris turn to Nathan for an explanation, “what do you mean?”

The healer without looking merely answers, “he could be drugged.”

Chris swore. The ex-bounty hunter remounted, “their still headed to the canyon east of here. If I’m right, they’re going to Devil’s Canyon.

“You sure about that Vin?” The ex-preacher was not too happy about which canyon they are headed for.

Chris and Buck didn’t like the sound of the preachers concern, JD stayed in the background listening to the conversation and got a sick feeling at the pit of his stomach telling him he wasn’t going to like the out come any better.

The dark clad gunslinger rode over, “why is the canyon important Josiah?”

The ex-preacher looked at his leader and friend, “that particular canyon is very old, there used to be ancient people who practice human sacrifices.” He looked at his friends for a reaction; there was nothing but dread, concern and fear in their eyes.

“What makes you think that’s why they took Ezra?” Chris was hoping the ex-preacher was wrong.

“During my time with the Legacy, they gathered a lot of information about different rituals. I found some of those rituals existed hear in these very canyons. Even the Indian’s around these parts don’t go near Devil’s Canyon. What I don’t understand is why they took Ezra, he doesn’t meet the profile.”

“What you’ mean Josiah?” Finally the kid couldn’t hold back, his concern welling up for the gambler.

“Well most of these sacrifices would require the individual to be pure.” They all looked at the preacher not sure what he meant. “He’d have to be a virgin.” JD’s eyes grew big, ‘no way the gambler was a virgin’ he thought to himself. The others had similar thoughts.

“Josiah? You think Ezra might be a…” Chris couldn’t say the word, most men never admit to ever being a virgin.

“I don’t know Chris, unlike most men telling about their exploits.” He looked specifically to the self proclaim ladies man. “Ezra prided himself a gentlemen and would never damage a woman’s reputation. The only women that we’ve met were Marisol, Catherine and Li Pong and he never said what happen.” The preacher looked ahead lost in thought; “if they believe he is, then I would say he’s in great danger.”

There was no other thought after Josiah’s explanation. Chris didn’t have to say another word, he just clucked his horse forward and the rest followed each step becoming faster, with only one goal to save the gambler at any cost.

* * * * * * *

During this same time back in Four Corners the afternoon stage arrived. Mary Travis who was watching over Adam Larabee and her own son Billy was on her way to the telegraph office to send a wire to Judge Travis when she recognize one of the passengers disembarking from the stage.

“Maude!” Mary was surprise to see her arriving, as Ezra made no mention that she would be in town.

She was helped by one of the stagehands and heard Mary’s call, “why Mary, it’s so good to see you.” Both women embrace kissing each other on the cheek.

“What are you doing in town?” Mary said with a smile.

“Well I’m here to surprise my son, since his birthday will be in a few days; I wanted to be here for this one.”

“Ezra’s birthday? I had no idea. Well I’m sure he will be please.”

Maude looked at the stage handlers unloading her luggage and became apprehensive, “be careful with that, that is genuine French leather.” Shaking her head, why Ezra enjoys this sleepy backwater town is beyond her. She return her attention to Mary, “I’m sorry my dear, but unless you watch these people they’ll ruin valuable valises every time.”

Mary chuckled, “that’s all right Maude, I’ll walk you over to the hotel.”

“Thank you Mary, is my son up?” Maude knows her son abhors early mornings.

“Well actually, all the boys are out of town on business. But Mr. Larabee assured me that they would return in a couple of days.” Mary didn’t want to tell her that Ezra might have been taken by force, because no one knew for sure what happen. “If you like perhaps we could meet for dinner later this evening and talk about a party for your son.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea, I’ll freshen up and meet you around six this evening for dinner.” Mary left her at the hotel and walked back to the telegraph.

* * * * * * *

It was well after dark. The wagon with the gypsies and the sleeping gambler reached the entrance to Devil’s Canyon. There was a trail leading up to the summit where the ritual would be performed. This path took years to be carved out. The followers of the she-demon created the pathway for easy access to the top of the canyon. Now that journey where it would normally take hours only takes about an hour to reach.

The wagon stopped and the two in the back untied the con man and they gently pulled him out. Gaspar the larger brother took Ezra and tossed him effortless over his shoulders. Esmeralda with a lit lantern led the others up the mountain. The giant followed, as did the younger man Julian. The wagon and horses left behind.

* * * * * * *

The others were catching up. But they knew that by the time they reached the summit of the canyon it would be pass midnight. Vin had been thinking about the canyon and remembered about a hidden entranceway to the top, which should save them time. He recalled being told by a Cheyenne Indian about the trail.

* * * * * * *

When they reached the summit, Ezra had begun to awaken. He was still slung over the giant man called Gaspar when his eyes were opening. The gambler tried wiggling but the big man merely took a firmer hold of his body. Ezra stopped struggling as he realized he could not get away from these people.

On opening his eyes, he could make out the trail and wondered where they were. He tried talking but no sound came out. He began to think of his friends and thought that he would never see them again. Ezra began to worry about Chris and then Vin, he thought about that dam'able bounty on his head and the men responsible for the death of his sister and thinking he would not be their to help on either situation. He cursed himself for being in this mess and hoped the others would forgive him.

When they reached the top there were other people already present. You could hear chanting as they approached, quickly entering an open cavern they laid Ezra onto a cold marble slab. He tried to get up but hands were place on his chest, arms and legs. The struggle ended when a familiar voice came across his fuzzy mind. He opened his eyes again only to turn his head to face the man he once called father.

The man looked down onto his son’s face and smiled. “It is good to see you again Ezra.” The gambler could not believe his eyes, it can’t be. His mother told him he had died. What is more amazing is that his father still looked the same. He hasn’t aged; the only reason Ezra recognized him is because of the photograph with all three in it. He wants to say something but his mouth is dry. The man motions to his followers and one of them brings water, Ezra slowly drinks when finished he looks at his father.

“I don’t…understand, Mother said you died?” Barely getting those words out. The man Ezra called ‘Father’ years ago leans onto the cold slab, as he continues to smile at his son. It is not a good smile.

“That dear boy is exactly what I’d hoped your Mother would have told you.” This can’t be happening thought Ezra as he started to thrash about. “Now son just relax we won’t hurt you so stay calm.”

“Stay calm! I have not seen you in twenty-five years, I have been sequester and brought here against my will for some mistress and you want me to be calm.” He starts struggling as more hands hold him down. His father pushes his chest down and stares at Ezra with such intensity he stops moving, “why, Father? Why have you brought me here?”

“As my colleagues must have explained to you. You are to be brought forth to our goddess Alandra as a sacrifice.” The gambler's face showed nothing but confusion at his father’s words. On seeing this, the man called Aaron Standish grin. He motioned to the others to prepare the boy for the ritual.

Four women made their way to the fore front. One of them removed Ezra’s final apparel, as this happened the gambler groan, they were not going to leave any of his dignity in tact. He again struggled from the hands still holding him, but to no avail. Gaspar the giant gypsy grabbed the gambler and held him in a tight bear hug guiding him over to a large barrel, which was filled with warm water. He was placed inside, and then the four women also were put in as well. Ezra looked at the ladies none to happy with the situation, he thought though that Buck would think this amusing.

He was again saddened, as he thought that he would not see his friends again. When the women saw him relax they approached him and began to bathe him. He didn’t struggle, he felt drain of all his emotions. The gambler groan again when he felt the ladies touch his private parts, he moved away from them, but Gaspar was their and stopped him, the giant held the con man’s arms over the barrel while the women continued to clean every area of his body. Ezra could feel tears wanting to fall out. He wasn’t sure why he felt this way. He wondered if they drugged him with something else as he wasn’t feeling sleepy this time, but he still felt strange.

After the women were finish-bathing Ezra, he was pulled out of the barrel. Others came and toweled dried him. Then he was quickly brought back to the marble slab and turned on his stomach. They laid him for a while, then he felt hands again on his person and tensed as he felt warm liquid rubbed on his body, he knew it was some sort of oil as it felt smooth and had that oily feel. All he could do was close his eyes and shiver; this felt familiar to him. When they finished he was turned on his back, and again he felt the warm liquid rubbed on his body. His eyes remained closed, as he didn’t want to look at the people who were touching him. He just stayed quiet and still, because he also knew that his father would also be watching and didn’t want to look at him.

As they continued to rub the oil onto his body he let his mind wonder, this all seemed like a distant memory. He remembered walking in the woods with his father, then many strange people surrounding him chanting words he didn’t understand. Then they cut him on his hip he still bore the mark even today. He recalled his father was there too. Saying something about giving him away but could not understand why his father didn’t want him anymore. Everything that was happening now was helping him remember those lost days he experience as a small boy.

When it was all over and the hands removed he continues to lie there unmoving. Esmeralda was watching him so she called to him. “Ezra you can open your eyes now! They’re finish.” This made the gambler unconsciously open his eyes and embarrass that she would be looking at his naked body along with the others. When she noticed the look on his face she grin, which made Ezra even more self conscience of the situation and all he could do was turn his head away.

Then Julian and Gaspar reached over and took hold of the gamblers arms, pulling him up right. They sat him up but he still would not look at any one, he just hung his head down. He stayed like that for about thirty minutes; the others who were still there were putting on their robes.

Ezra would still not look at any one but he notice that Gaspar was the only one who remained close to him. Ezra just sighed at this, as he was still naked and starting to feel the cool breeze entering the cavern. Once the others were ready Julian came over and with his big brothers help they cloth Ezra with a white robe, the gambler did not struggle but made no effort to help them either. When the two finished dressing the less than happy gambler they stood him up. Gaspar put on his robe and Ezra notice that the colors of their robes are red. They guided the still emotionless Ezra to the opening of the cave and as they reached the entrance the gambler noticed five men and women dressed in black robes. He just stared at them as the others pushed him forward.

The ten people in front were in a circle as the others approached they made way and an altar was revealed. Ezra tried to extricate himself from their hold, but he was held tightly as he was lifted upon the stone slab. He sat there waiting to be guided. He looked at his father again, his dark eyes looking back at him. Julian walked to the other side and waited for his brother to lay the gambler down. The giant did just that and both men took the shackles that were embedded in the stone and strapped Ezra’s wrists and did the same to his ankles. Ezra either didn’t see or feel what just happen or both. The gambler just looked straight up into the night sky. Then Ezra’s father moved towards his son placing his hand on Ezra’s cheek and moved him to look at his face. Aaron smiled at his son; to Ezra it almost looked sincere and gentle so he smiled back. His father leans down and kisses his forehead in a fatherly manner. He then whispered to his son…“It will soon be over son.”

All Ezra could say, “father I’m scared.” It was a soft child like response.

“I know; it will soon be over, just relax son.” Aaron knew that the effects of the drug were helping Ezra remembered what happen to him as a child, he was experiencing it all over.

Ezra nodded and looked up at the sky this time he notice the moon, for some reason he hadn’t seen it before. He didn’t know how he could have missed it; it was so big. With his right hand he tried to touch it then notice that it was tied down, he then began to struggle, ‘what the hell was going on’, he thought. He looked over to his father and saw that he and the others were looking up and slightly to the left and then his father cried out.

With hands above his shoulders Aaron Standish called out into the night sky, “behold Alandra our Goddess approaches.”

* * * * * * *

Mary and Maude were both seating in the town’s only restaurant having a late lunch. They were discussing plans for Ezra’s up coming birthday. Just then Billy and Adam came in chasing one another, as Billy ran behind his mother for protection, both children laughing.

“Billy! What on earth?” Mary smiling while trying to sound up set. “Come on you two settle down.”

“Ah, Ma we’re just having fun.” Billy replied with disappointment evident in his voice.

“Now you two mind your manners.” They both settled and Mary looked over to Maude, “Billy you remember Mrs. Standish.” He nodded with bashfulness, as Mary continued. “Maude I’d like you to meet our newest resident Adam Larabee.”

Maude was surprise, ‘Larabee’; she thought her son had written about the men he kept company and mention that Chris Larabee lost his son. “Well now, it’s a pleasure to meet you young man.”

Adam was delighted, that same southern accent and the name Standish with enthusiasm he embraced the new arrival and shouted, “Grandma!”

Maude gave a quizzical look of astonishment. “Now see here young man, what’s this about?”

The boy’s smile grew, “well your Ezra’s Ma.” She nodded, as Adam continued. “Ezra’s my Uncle, that makes you my Grandma. Doesn’t it?”

Maude gave Mary a puzzled look, “I’m sure you must be mistaken, I am much too young to be a grandmother.”

This brought a smile to the boy, “and very pretty.” He simply stated bringing a smile to Maude’s face.

“Boys why don’t you two go back to the Clarion, I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Mary watched as both boys nodded their heads and ran out of the restaurant still chasing one another. “Maude, has Ezra written to you lately?”

“Well to tell you the truth that’s another reason why I came. I haven’t received a letter from him in over three months.” She bowed her head; “I’ve been worried.” She looked to Mary for understanding. Mary nodded.

“A lot has happened since your last visit. A few months ago a woman who knew Mr. Tanner visited us, we were happy to meet her especially being a friend of Vin. But she wasn’t the same person Vin remembered. She actually came to kill Mr. Larabee and your son.”

“I don’t understand; why would this woman wish to kill Ezra?” Maude didn’t like the fact that this may have to do with his new life as a lawman.

Mary looked at the gambler’s mother hoping to ease her worry, but knew that there was no way to do it. She couldn’t lie to her so she continued with what she did know. “I only know what was said, but from what I heard, that woman Ms. Monroe, found it interesting that Ezra had found Chris.” Maude could only look at Mary with puzzlement. “Turns out that Sarah, Chris’ wife is or rather was Ezra’s half-sister.” There she said it, but wasn’t expecting the reaction she got.

Maude stood up stifling a gasp, “Oh Lord.” She walked out of the restaurant hoping to get some air. Mary ran after her.

“What is it Maude, what’s wrong?” The woman no one thought could show any kind of emotion under her professional poker face, so Mary was surprise to see tears streaming down her face. She guided her to a chair outside the saloon, which stood next to the building they just left. “Here Maude sit down, tell me what’s wrong?”

“Mr. Larabee’s wife was my daughter?” Now this Mary surely did not expect.

“No, Ezra never knew he had a sister, we assumed they both just had the same father.” Hoping that Maude was just confused for a moment receiving a shock.

But she shook her head. “I knew it, they lied to me.” She placed both her hands on her face as she continued to cry.

“Maude what are you saying, you knew about her, why didn’t Ezra know he had a sister.” She tried to get answers from Maude. She cared a great deal for Chris and now that Ezra had become a part of his family she cared for him as well. Mary was confused and wanted answers. “Please Maude what’s going on?”

Maude turned her head to look at Mary tears still filled her eyes. “Ezra’s father, his real father not the man I married who gave Ezra his name, but his real father abandoned us.” She composed herself and continued. “I fell hopelessly in love with him, when I told him I was pregnant he was happy and for the first six months he stayed with me. Then he received an urgent message which took him away, he said upon his return we would be married.”

Pausing for a moment, she sighed. “But, something must have happen because he never came back. Later when it was my time; I went into labor there were some complications and the Doctor's anesthetized me. I was oblivious of my surroundings, then Ezra was born I could hear his cries and I smiled at the thought of my child, but then I heard another cry too.” She looked at Mary her eyes full of anguish, “they told me I only had one child, but I heard two, they lied to me. But I could never understand why. Why, why would they lie to me? They said that sometimes the anesthetic could have adverse effects. That I was imagining another child.” Looking at Mary, the proprieties then took her in her arms and Maude cried again at the thought that she never had the opportunity to know her daughter.

* * * * * * *

The others had finally reached the entrance to the canyon. Vin searched for the trail, which the Indian had told him about. Once he found it he made his way back to his horse.

“All right boys listen up.” He said pulling out his rope. “I’m going to tie this around my waist each of you hold on to; if I move the rope to my right, I want you to hug the left side and if I move to the left you hug the right side. Every one understands?”

“Sure Vin we get you.” Was the ladies mans replied.

“Okay, its dark up there so lets be careful.” The tracker wanted to make sure everyone knew the seriousness of the situation.

They all proceeded along the path Vin moving the rope one side to the other. It was evident to the others the trackers uncanny ability to see in the dark. By the time they reach the top of the canyon, they notice the light up ahead. Crouching as they neared the ledge and looking over what they saw put a knot in the pit of their stomachs. There seem to be some sort of ceremony and Ezra was right in the middle of it. Fourteen people were counted plus the gambler all dress in different color robes. Josiah was now very worried for there young friend. They could hear the chanting then it stop. A voice was heard announcing the arrival of someone, then up above something was coming from the dark sky. The moon all of a sudden became brighter.

* * * * * * *

After the announcement of the Demon-Goddess Alandra, Aaron Standish offered his hand to the approaching form. As it came nearer, from above the canyon unknown to those below a young man with a bowler hat gasp as he made out the features of the dark figure. Alandra gave the appearance of a woman, the breasts were noticeable but the rest of her was hard to put into words.

The chest and torso were human, while the legs and feet looked like some ancient animal long since dead and forgotten. The arms also looked human except for the hands and fingers, which was claw like. The face was diffidently not human; it had red eyes visible, a long narrow jaw with fangs slightly extended on the lips or what pass as lips. The demon's hair was dark and long braided on the back. Yet these people who worship the creature marveled as it descended.

As Alandra floated down it looked perplexed at the gambler. Ezra saw the creature looking at him and his stomach lurched. He’d hope he wasn’t going to be dinner for this monster. The Mistress as she was often referred to springs towards her offering and her form changes to take on the appearance of a black jaguar. It slowly made its way up to the gambler sniffing and growling as it approached.

It then laid itself on top of Ezra, the tail of the beast twisting back and forth. It began to roll on him placing its scent on the struggling gambler. Then it started sniffing his neck and bit down blood trickling along his side. From up above Chris saw what the creature was doing and abruptly stood up anger evident on his face. The others quickly pulled him down. Vin surveyed the area looking for a way down, finding it, he one motion to the others to follow.

Ezra had his eyes shut, he could feel the pain then the blood flowing from his neck and thought he would be sick right before his death. Then slowly the pain subsided, as did the flow of blood. He opens his eyes to see a beautiful woman looking right into his eyes. Her eyes are as dark as her hair, he was so close to the woman that he notice he could not see his own reflection in her eyes. This made him shiver. Ezra had never felt this helpless before, chained and at the mercy of the whims of this creature.

Alandra placed her lips on Ezra’s struggling mouth and kissed him. He felt her tongue enter without waiting for an invitation. She lifted his head slightly above the table; the gambler trying to push her but still finding him self chained. He tried wiggling away from her with no success. Ezra gave in to the kiss trying very hard to breath through his nose. When she finally released him he gasp for air, while the goddess laughed outright at the gambler.

Alandra’s now human fingers reverted back to claws and with them she struck at the chains binding Ezra. He tried moving from her but his ankles were still shackled. He waited to see what she planned to do next. With her claw she press Ezra back down and cut him superficially at the crook of his neck as she slowly began ripping his robe while cutting him across his chest down to his waist stopping at his belly button.

Ezra swallowed as he felt the claw move through his chest down threw his body. Alandra then bend down exposing the firm body of the gambler and starting from the belly button up to the neck, licking the blood and sealing the wound with her tongue. He moan; feeling the rasping texture of her tongue make it’s way across his body. With his now free hands he pushes her away from him put she shrugs them off, holding them down while once again she places her mouth on to his lips kissing him hard.

He begins to feel lightheaded, while feeling drain and helpless. He wishes that if she plans to kill him to be done with. Then she lifts him his arms dangling on his sides. He can’t seem to be able to fight her, as she continues to kiss him. He can feel her tongue on his its as if she is choking the life out of him. She releases him and Ezra falls back onto the table again gasping for air feeling weak from lack of breath.

She begins moving further down, finding his sensitive member and with her hand fondling it causing the gambler to again moan. Just then the weight of the demon seems to have vanish.

Ezra moves his head to see what happen and then notices the demon fighting for her life against Esmeralda. He is surprise, if she had no intention of sacrificing him to the demon why bring him in the first place? Or maybe this was part of the ritual. He wasn’t sure and watched, he did however, noticed the reaction of the other participates and they too were surprise.

* * * * * * *

Esmeralda pulled the she-demon away from Ezra, she had seen enough and would not allow the gambler to suffer any more indignity. Her brothers made to pull her off their Goddess, but just then she was able to fling the creature at them toppling not only her brothers but also Aaron Standish. Standish was the only one who managed to get up the other two were left unconscious.

* * * * * * *

The six gunslingers, that by this time made they’re way down to the plateau used the on suing battle between these two women to take the other participants unawares. Josiah, Buck, Nathan and JD handled the ten robe men and women while Vin and Chris approached the enthrall gambler.

Chris turned in front of Ezra distracting him from the battle. “Ezra?” Once the gambler turned to the illustrious leader he smiled, dimples showing with a daze look on his jade eyes. “Ezra, you with me?” Chris wasn’t sure if the gambler recognized him. Then two shots were heard releasing the gambler’s ankles. Chris slowly pulled the gambler off the table. “Come on we’re getting you out of here.”

“Chris, it is good of you to come to my rescue.” While shivering, as the night was getting chilly. Chris noticed and took off his poncho and placed it on the con man. Ezra looked at the poncho and smiled, “how do I look?”

Chris realized that Nathan was right about their friend being drugged, so he answered. “As Josiah would say, you look down right handsome.” Smiling back at Ezra. The gambler chuckled and hugged Chris for loaning him the poncho. To the gambler it was more than just to keep him warm but a gesture of kindness no one had ever given him.

As this was taking place everyone failed to notice that the battle between both ladies was over? And a claw like hand was placed on the dark-clad gunslinger’s shoulder, the she-demon then threw him across the air where he hit hard against the side of the canyon and fell near the mouth of the cave.

Ezra could not believe what he had just witness he screamed, “Noooo.” He struggled from the creature but she held him firm until he managed to kick her hard startling Alandra, there by releasing her hold. He ran to his friend’s side. “Chris! Get up! We must leave this place quickly. Please, Chris get up.” No movement came from the fallen comrade.

Vin saw the creature throw Chris clear across the air and watched helplessly as he fell to the ground. The others heard when Ezra screamed and witnessed the gunslinger hit the wall and fall.

Alandra made her way towards her gift and watched him with a smile on her face as he tried desperately to awaken his fallen comrade. She then took hold of the gambler pulling him up towards her dangling a few inches off the ground. “You belong to me boy, no one can take you from me. Do you understand?”

Ezra struggled from her grip; “I belong only to my self. Let go of me.” Growled the gambler.

Aaron came over to his son, “Ezra, listen to her, you are her gift. Tell these men to leave now and no one else will be hurt.”

Ezra was getting angry, “why am I her gift, what did you promise her?”

“Ezra listen to me and calm down.” Once the gambler was calm, Alandra released her hold. “You have remain pure, so that you can experience ecstasy at the hands of a goddess. You are special son, you should be honored.”

Ezra looked at him not believing what he was saying. Then he started to laugh. “I’m afraid you are too late, for I have all ready experience bliss, at the hands of another.”

His father now looked at the gambler, “that son is impossible, no mortal woman would be able to take part in any pleasures of the flesh with you.”

“You are correct in that assumption Father for it was no mortal woman which took my purity, but an Avenging Angel.” Ezra could see their looks of disbelief and smiled.

The goddess Alandra turned to Standish, “you have failed me I can sense he speaks the truth.” With a scream, “you have betrayed me…”

“No, mistress I had no idea, the curse was secured. How could I have foreseen him crossing paths with an immortal; how could anyone.” He fell to his knees, “please forgive me, spare my life. I have always been faithful.” He pleaded. The gambler watched Aaron Standish groveling for his own life. How could he have ever loved this man or ever call him father.

“You have failed me Standish, the penalty is death.” Aaron Standish looked on in horror as the she-demon Alandra lifted her claw like hands and effortlessly cut across his throat. He tried to hold his neck from bleeding but to no avail. His blood gushes out and quickly slumps to his death, the punishment for betrayal fulfilled.

Ezra watches in horror the death of his father; Alandra then turns her attention back to the gambler, looking at him in mock amusement. “And now boy; I shall deal with you.” She prepares to hit Ezra with the same thought of treachery for the loss of purity behind her decision.

Suddenly another hand grasps the she-demons claw preventing her to strike the gambler. Alandra turns to see who would dare stop her wraith. She gasps as she looks upon the gunslinger's countenance; ‘he still lives’?

Chris Larabee who had been flung across fifty feet now poses a threat to the demon. “I believe Ezra told you that he belongs to another,” replied the gunslinger with an echoing sound to his voice. He proceeds to turn the demon and with his right hand clenches his fist releasing a punch that sends the demon hurling over one hundred and fifty feet. The only reason she didn’t travel further is that a rather large tree is on the same path with its branch catching the goddess and impaling her, her back hitting all the way to the bark of the tree.

Chris raises his eyebrows and smirks, ‘that had to hurt’ he thought to himself. Ezra can’t believe that his friend is still alive much less strong enough to send a creature clear across the canyon’s rim. The gambler places his hands on the gunslinger making sure he’s not dreaming and that Chris is really in one piece.

“Your alive. I was sure she’d struck you dead. But here you stand still in one piece. How?”

The gunslinger turns to face the young gambler, smiles and takes Ezra’s chin to face him, “that’s because I’m not who you think?”

Ezra looked up at his friend his smile changed to confusion. Then he noticed the eyes, the cold blue steely eyes were gone and replaced with warm light brown colored eyes. Then the gambler gasp and realized who he was actually looking at, “Marisol!” He couldn’t believe it she was here, then the look of astonishment was gone and concern was replaced, “where’s Chris? What’s happen to him?”

“Take it easy Ezra, he’s here with me, but at the moment he’s unconscious.” Stated Marisol.

“I don’t understand; how could you both be sharing the same body?” Ezra was feeling very confused, and the drug given to him earlier was not helping.

“Ezra look at me,” she lifted his chin again realizing how vulnerable, alone and scared he must be feeling. “I entered Chris’ body before he hit the wall, but because I entered so quickly I rendered him unconscious. But he is all right; we’re sharing the same body for the moment.

“Are you sure? Chris is all right?” Ezra was feeling the effects of the drug it was getting to a point were he felt numb.

“Yes, Ezra he is all right.” Marisol looked at her one time lover and marveled at his beauty and she longed to be in his arms. She still held his chin both looking at each other’s eyes. Smiling to reassure the gambler that all was well with his friend.

Marisol wiped the tears that fell from the gambler and took him into her arms comforting him. She sang the Mexican lullaby that she once sang to him and Ezra began to relax and then he looked up into her eyes and realized it was she.

With tear filled eyes he spoke, “do you have any idea how much I’ve missed you?”

She smiled at him again and brush back his hair, “I have missed you just as much Ezra.”

* * * * * * *

Buck and the others saw the demon kill a man and then they saw Chris get up and hit the demon sending her sailing across the temple and now all they could hear is the demons wails as she tries to free her self from her temporary prison. They again turn to see what happens next.

The others were watching not sure what was going on. They too thought that Chris was killed when they all saw him flung across and then hit the side of the canyon. But now he stood next to Ezra. Although; they could not hear what was said, their body language told them that Chris was comforting Ezra.

* * * * * * *

Marisol licked her lips moistening them encouraging the gambler to take the next step. Ezra looked at her and knew what she wanted, but the lips that looked enticing belonged to Chris. She smiled again, knowing why he was hesitant. Marisol decided to make the move and bend her face to the gambler she stopped, to see if he’d back away but he didn’t. She then continued, her lips touched his and Ezra closed his eyes not thinking of anything except for the only woman he’s ever loved and made love too.

When both became comfortable, the kiss was deepen, the embrace more sensual. The others were also watching what was happening and could not believe that Chris Larabee was kissing Ezra Standish. Even Buck who has known Chris over ten years would never have image him ever kissing any man much less Ezra. But there they were, and what a kiss it was. They could tell it was a full body kiss, Buck remembered seeing Chris kiss Sarah just like that and it always amazed him how she’d never seem to get enough of those kisses.

All five gunfighters looked in astonishment at their two friend’s display of affection. Not believing their eyes.

* * * * * * *

Ezra pushed back the image of Chris and he could only see Marisol. They were back in his room making mad passionate love feeling their bodies respond to each touch. This is true ecstasy he never wanted to let her go again.

Marisol had taken the gambler’s soul away from their current surrounding and transported him to a familiar and happier place. She could feel their bodies respond and was overjoyed to be able to hold Ezra again like this. She knew though that this would have to end.

Marisol released Ezra from the embraced and looked into he’s green alluring eyes, she smiled at him. He returned the smile showing his dimples and gold tooth and slowly began to close his eyes, exhaustion finally taking him to a comforting peaceful sleeping place.

Ezra fell onto her shoulder as he closed his eyes and then she lifted the gambler in her arms. Looking over to where his friends were located and ran towards them.

She looked directly at the ex-preacher, “Josiah. I need you to take Ezra out of this place immediately.”

The first thing Josiah noticed was the echoing voice' coming from their leader the dark clad gunslinger. Something was not right. The voice wasn’t menacing but rather had urgency behind the sound. “Who are you?” Asked the preacher knowing full well it was not Chris’ voice coming from his mouth.

Marisol smiled at the preacher with Chris’ lips. “It’s me Josiah, Marisol.”

All five men looked at each other not knowing what to say. They were all stun. “How is that possible what’s become of Chris?” Josiah was hoping for an explanation and hopefully it would mean their leader would somehow be okay.

“I don’t have time to explain, the she demon will eventually release herself from her imprisonment.” They all looked over where Alandra was screaming trying to release the hold she was on. “Please gentlemen, you need to leave this place now and take Ezra out of hear.”

The urgency was there, “why? And where’s Chris, is he alright?” Buck replied with the same type of urgency.

“Yes, Chris is find. But now I need you to get Ezra and the others out of here now.” She turned her attention back to the demon and knew time was running out. “Please Buck, go!”

Buck grabbed JD and shouted to Nathan to grab hold of Vin. Josiah already had Ezra and all six made their way back down through the path they had travel from.

As she watched her friends leave, her attention returned to the demon. It had finally pulled itself off the branch, which imprison her.

The dark clad gunslinger stood between her and Ezra. Alandra let loose an unholy scream as she saw her prey escape. Marisol faced her opponent and the battle resume between both immortals.

* * * * * * *

The six gunslingers made there way down the slop carefully, relying on Vin’s uncanny ability to see in the dark.

They could hear above them the battle that raged and hoped that Chris would come out of this in one piece. Each said a silent prayer for their brother and Marisol, while whisking away the sleeping gambler.

* * * * * * *

Evening had descended in Four Corners, over at the Clarion, Mary Travis had convinced Maude Standish to stay with her. Mary didn’t want Maude alone in the state of worry over her son’s disappearance, she had finally told her what happen to Ezra.

Maude awoke and saw Mary watching over her. She realized she was in Mary’s bed. “Mary?” The proprietress looked at her. “I have so much to tell my son, the reasons why I left him with other families, what I found out about his adopted father, and about his real father. I just pray I have that chance.”

“Don’t worry, Chris and the others will find him,” she smiled and sounded very confident. She also prayed she wasn’t wrong.

* * * * * * *

On top of the plateau Marisol in the guise of Chris Larabee or rather in his body, was battling the demon-goddess Alandra. She defiantly was hell bent on destroying the gunslinger. She had no idea though that who she was battling was an avenging angel.

Screams of anger could be heard from those of her followers still alive. They watched in horror their mistress battle a dark clad man. All were wondering how a mortal man was strong enough to hold against a demon.

Neither demon nor angel seem to be giving way, each held their own struggle. But something had to give. Marisol sense that Ezra and his friends where now safe. It was time to take the upper hand. She hit Alandra using the bent up anger that seem to reside within the heart of Chris Larabee. Using both Chris’ and her own might they manage to knock the demon-goddess enough for Marisol to call upon her full power.

Looking up to the darken sky, she reached out imploring to the heavens. There upon the clouds she felt the electrical charge, the thunder could be heard building, the clouds began to part and a charge of lighting dash through and entered the body of Chris Larabee. Just then, Alandra looked up and saw the charge finally realizing why she could not defeat this man.

The lighting hit the frail human body of Larabee, but the full impact of the strike was absorbed by Marisol soul/spirit. Through her, Marisol release the light from the chest of Chris Larabee, the light exited and quickly entered the body of Alandra. At first nothing happened, the demon sneer, she stood and an evil smile played on her face. That was short lived and she began to feel strange. The light quickly began to literally explode from within her body outward. Light could be seen by her follower’s flow through out her body and then her body exploded what seem in slow motion. It was their one moment and then gone.

No one uttered a word, and then the ground began to move. The altar crumbled and was swallowed by the mountain itself. Those left on top the plateau began to scream in sheer terror, scrambling everywhere not sure where to turn. Marisol saw this and yelled at them to follow her, they tried but the shaking began to topple some of them off the cliff. Marisol tried to help them, but there own fears would not allow them to accept her help. She had to leave giving keeping her promise of getting Chris to safety.

The side of the mountain, which was the only entrance or exit from the plateau, was falling apart as fast as Marisol was able to climb down. She jump down to the next level using Chris’ long lanky legs to reach the bottom, looking up she could see the large boulders tumbling down, avoiding as best she could from becoming crush by the monster flying projectiles.

As she reached the bottom, she quickly looked up seeing a rather large mountainside toppling over her, the large shadow could be seen with the rising dawn appearing. Marisol made a mad dash for the entrance still visible and as the mountain crumbled the impact of the fall sent her flying nearly 30 feet in the air. She crashed using a tuck and tumble approach to avoid any injuries to the body of her human host.

* * * * * * *

Vin led his friends down the cliff, they could hear above the battle that raged. The tracker hoped it would not be the last he’d see of his friend. Josiah still carrying a sleeping gambler rushes to the wagon that had originally brought his friend. After laying him in the wagon Nathan checks him satisfied he was very much in one piece.

“How is he Nathan,” asked the ex-preacher.

With a smile on his face, “sleeping like a baby.” Giving them a moment of respite.

“Do yaw think Chris will be alright?” Vin asked.

Josiah walked over to the tracker placing a strong arm on his shoulder, “Marisol said she’d make sure he’d be alright.” Looking at him, “he’ll make it Vin.” The tracker smiled glad to feel the reassurance of the preacher.

Buck looked up and sighed, he’d hope the ex-preacher was right and his long time friend was in deed all right. They gathered the horses, and waited.

* * * * * * *

The five men stared in shock when they felt the earth move and then the entrance to the canyon exploded. Buck, JD and Vin grabbed the reins of their horses, spooked by the rumble, which everyone had felt. They all turn looking at the entrance hopping their friend had some how managed to survive.

When the dust finally settled a lone man came out of the dark mist. His tall slender form the only feature visible, Buck smiled he’d recognize the silhouette of his best friend. With his arm extended, “glad to see you made it.”

With a wicked smile that the countenance of Chris Larabee could only produce, “on behalf of Chris and myself; I’m glad to see you also.” Looking behind Buck, “how’s Ezra?”

He could hear the echoing voices and knew Marisol was still there, “sound asleep,” replied the jovial man.

She walked over to the wagon and peer inside, “he can sleep through anything…” smiling at the only man she’d ever loved. Looking to the ex-preacher who she knew held Ezra in a special place of his heart, which she knew neither man, would ever acknowledge, spoke to him. “Josiah. I need you to give this to Ezra,” from thin air appeared a small box, “this is a very special gift that only Ezra can open. It belonged to his father; Maude is waiting in Four Corners as we speak. She doesn’t know all the story of Ezra’s real father, but the box will be able to answer any question he may have.” The preacher looked at her taking the box, “Josiah, your young friend is very special, but he has a very important decision to make that will change his life, when the time comes he will need you and the others to help him.”

Josiah looked puzzled, “what kind of decision, I don’t understand?”

“I am not the one to explain, this is Ezra’s choice. You must be there for him.” They all looked at her not fully understanding what important decision their gambler friend will have to make. “I must go now,” looking at him one more time. “I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again, will you tell him, he will always be in my heart.”

The giant man smiled, “he is very lucky to have some one like you who cares for him, I will tell him.” Kissing Josiah on the cheek, she back away releasing her hold on the dark clad gunslinger.

Buck and Vin notice their friend waver a bit, and each took an arm to steady the gunslinger. “You okay pard’,” asked Buck.

“I think so, what the hell happen, where’s Ezra?” It felt like he was just coming out of a deep sleep.

“Ezra’s find, but you need to rest.” The healer answered. “Why don’t you boys lead him to the back of the wagon with Ezra.”

“Sure Nathan,” Vin answered.

But the leader had other ideas, “now hold it, I want answers. What happen?”

“Now Chris, you always told us we should always listen to Nathan when he gives us medical advise. And Nathan say’s for you to rest.” Looking at Buck the gunslinger narrowed his eyes, realizing he was out number. Reluctantly, he pushed himself in and laid down, exhaustion took him into an embrace and was sound asleep in a matter of moments. Bringing a grin to his long time friend. “He must have been really tired, that’s the first time I’ve ever won an argument.” Relief in his voice, “what say we head back home?”

* * * * * * *

They had decided to travel all day; it was pre-dawn when they headed out from what was left of the canyon. They wouldn’t arrive 'til later that evening, but they didn’t mind after the events that happen entering Four Corners is what they were looking forward too.

The End??? At least for now...

Want to learn more about Marisol click on Avenging Angel. If you wish to know about Adam's return you can find it in Miranda Starr.

Avenging Angel
Miranda Starr