Alternate Universe "Immortal 7"
The summer sun was harsh and unrelenting, sucking the moisture and life out of everything it touched. The bright flowers and lush grass that had been the hallmarks of spring had long since withered and died under the sun's unwavering presence. The earth baked under the daily onslaught, cracking and splitting as though the very ground had been seared by the heat. Even rattlesnakes sought out refuge from the intense glare of the noon day sun, curling up under the minimal shade provided by hardy desert scrub brush and sage.
Waves of heat could be seen rising in the distance making the horizon flicker and dance. Periodically a dust devil would appear, moving without rhyme or reason, flinging dirt and sand into the air in momentary abandon. But most of the time the air hung still and heavy, as though even it lacked the energy to move.
"Your friends are already dead," Clint Harris stated with obvious glee, before he hawked and spit off to the side. "No one survives being staked out in this sun for more than two days. No one." He grinned evilly, teeth stained from years of tobacco use.
"I am aware of that," Ezra stated calmly, keeping his expression carefully neutral. His fair skin should be burned and blistered wherever his clothing failed to conceal it from the sun's blinding glare yet it remained unblemished.
Green eyes regarded Harris coolly. The other man suppressed a shiver, clearly smart enough to see his own demise in that unwavering gaze. Ezra wondered if he mentally cursed his brothers even though they were already dead. Their bodies were already beginning to bloat in the heat, flies gathering to feast on the bounty. Ezra had killed them without remorse, taking care to ensure one remained alive to tell him what he needed to know.
He knew they hadn't expected him to be able to track them across the desert. Dressing like a dandy had fooled more than one person into thinking he was too soft, to unskilled and inept to survive in the harsh clime of the New Mexico Territory. Ezra snorted mentally. He'd weathered far worse than what the Harris brothers could even imagine. This desert was not nearly as demanding to traverse as the Gobi had been. And he wasn't on foot this time.
"You will show me where you left them to die." It was not an order. The soft southern accentuated voice made it a statement of fact.
"Go to hell," Harris snarled in a show of bravado.
"All in due time." Ezra's lips curled in smile as cold as ice before he lashed out with a razor sharp knife to score a long cut down Harris' right arm. The cut went all the way to the bone, running from shoulder to elbow and bled freely.
Harris pulled away with a cry of surprise and pain. With his hands bound behind him, he struggled to maintain his balance, and failed. He glared up at Ezra.
"And then some," Ezra agreed easily, unfazed by the insult as he crouched down to put himself at eye level. "Now then .shall we proceed?"
"You're just going to kill me anyway." Harris raised his chin in blatant defiance. "Why the hell should I help you?"
"There are many ways to die," Ezra observed, his voice casual, almost conversational as though they were talking about nothing more significant than the shifting sand beneath them. He drew something in the sand with the tip of the knife blade making sure Harris kept his attention focused on the weapon. "I can make it slow. Very slow."
Harris stifled a shiver, and Ezra knew he'd heard the promise contained within that statement. Ezra smirked internally when Harris tried to bargain. "You won't find them without me."
"I found you and your merry band of misfits," Ezra countered, voice still unnervingly even, no emotion showing on his face. It had taken him far longer than he would have liked but he had found them.
"Finding my associates will be easier with your assistance. And I prefer to do things the easy way." He raised an eyebrow, giving Harris a pointed look clearly hinting at what else 'the easy way' might include.
"A bullet in the brain swift and painless .or I flay you alive torturously slow and painful," Ezra stated, holding up his hands as though balancing something on a scale. Sun reflected off the blade he held. He angled it so that it blinded Harris. "Choice is yours."
Harris swallowed hard. "You w-w-w-ouldn't do t-t-that."
"I have before." Ezra shrugged carelessly, his tone dispassionate. From the way Harris paled, Ezra knew the truth of that statement had come through clearly. He hadn't enjoyed it, but Ezra had done it. And he could do it again if he had to.
Harris pointed off in the distance with his chin. "Day's ride to the south. There's a dry wash where some homesteaders tried to make a go of it."
He grinned, dark beady eyes taking a nasty glow. "There's a fire ant mound near by. Stirred it up good after we staked them down," Harris laughed snidely. "Serves them right for killing our little brother Mike."
Mike Harris was a vicious animal that should have been put down a long time ago in Ezra's opinion. He had raped and killed three women that they knew of before being stupid enough to call out Chris Larabee.
"Larabee and his long haired friend won't be going down a blaze of glory," Clint Harris cackled. "More like they'll just dry up and blow away."
Ezra's eyes narrowed before he lashed out again with the speed of a striking snake. He cut Harris' left arm the same way he had the right. Harris howled and scrambled away, putting his back against a boulder so hot it likely burned his skin through his shirt. Ezra stood up, following leisurely.
Harris struggled to get to his feet. Ezra pulled out his Remington, and pointed it at Harris' head. He made a show of aiming before he neatly lowered the gun and shot Harris in the gut.
Harris gasped, doubling over as he fell to his knees. He raised his head, panting. Beady eyes looked accusingly at Ezra. "You said"
"I lied." Ezra tilted his head to one side. "But then, so did you." He cocked the gun. "Shall we try again?"
"Not telling you anything," Harris ground out, still defiant.
Ezra nodded once. "Suit yourself." He holstered the gun and then stepped over to one of fallen brothers. He cleaned his knife on the dead man's shirt before sheathing it. He then proceeded to where Chaucer had stood patiently waiting near by, tail flicking lazily at flies.
"You're just going to leave me here?" Harris called out, incredulous. "Like this?"
"Yes." Ezra tightened the cinch without turning to look at him.
Without a horse, no water and gut shot, Harris would die; it was only a question of how long it would take. It could take a gut shot victim more than a day to die, sometimes as much as a week. But in this heat, without any medical care, Ezra was betting it would take a lot less. Ezra saw Harris swallow hard as he came to the same conclusion.
Ezra looked up, seeing the vultures were already starting to circle. They never took long to find their next meal. He never cursed them or harbored any fear; vultures were just filling the roll they'd been assigned.
Ezra cast a glance of his shoulder at Harris. "If by some chance you manage to free your hands, I think you'll find at least one gun with ammunition to meet your needs. One bullet should suffice." He raised two fingers to the brim of his hat. "Otherwise," Ezra shrugged one shoulder dismissively, "I expect the carrion feeders may well start consuming you before you've breathed your last."
Harris shuddered, clearly disturbed by the thought of being eaten alive. "Wait," he croaked, halting Ezra's move to mount. The gambler didn't turn around.
"You can't just"
"I can. And I will," Ezra stated unequivocally, turning enough to regard Harris with steady green eyes. "Unless you tell me the truth."
He could almost feel the other man make his choice. "We left them staked out just west of here." Harris gasped as pain lanced through him again.
Ezra knew first hand getting gut hot hurt like hell. He wasn't at all sorry to have made the other man suffer. For what he did to Vin and Chris, Clint Harris was lucky that so far this was all Ezra had done.
"Little more than .five miles or so." Harris looked up to grin at Ezra. "Bit about the wash and the ants was the truth."
Ezra nodded curtly. "I suspected as much." He pulled his gun again and shot Harris in the head, right between the eyes.
He mounted Chaucer, before nudging him over to where Sable and Peso waited. The bridle reins weren't long enough to dally around his saddle horn and allow the horses to space themselves comfortably, so Ezra used a bit of rope he'd found earlier when he bound the Clint Harris. He secured both mounts before heading out. He had already scattered the Harris brothers' horses. Ezra hoped they would be able to find water but at the moment they weren't his concern.
Ezra headed west. He knew Vin and Chris were dead, but they wouldn't stay dead forever. Ezra simply hoped to find them in time to prevent them from dieing more than once. He knew first hand that dieing and reviving repeatedly was extremely painful and could test the limits of one's sanity. He hoped to save them from that.
He scanned the ground for any sign, smiling when after a mile he caught sight of a few tracks. He was headed in the right direction at least. He kept Chaucer at a walk. There was no point in killing the gelding.
Ezra angled Chaucer a little to the North when he found a few more faint tracks to follow. He kept an eye out for any obvious landmarks the Harris brothers might have used to navigate in this wasteland. Other than the all too distant mountains there was nothing outstanding to make note of. Ezra sighed. He really hated the desert.
He smiled tightly when he felt Vin's quickening. It was weak, but it was definitely there. He had to be within two miles of his friends. That was the approximate limit of his range, although Ezra had been working on how to expand it further.
Ordinarily, Vin's quickening would have rung in Ezra's mind, clean and clear in perfect pitch, but it now sounded flat and muffled. Having sparred aggressively with Vin in the past, to the point where he'd actually killed the long-haired Immortal, Ezra recognized the sound as Vin's quickening when he was reviving.
He hoped to hear Chris as well, but there was nothing. Every immortal healed at a slightly different pace, and Chris wasn't quite as fast as the others when it came to recovery time. So it was possible he had not yet revived.
Nathan was the fastest of their group, with JD a close second. Ezra didn't lag far behind them. His skin had tingled all day as it healed from sunburn nearly as fast as it occurred. He'd never tanned and never would.
Ezra urged Chaucer into a trot. Cresting the rise of a small hill, Ezra spotted the wash Harris had referred to. The remnants of a small cabin, little more than a few rough hewn logs, were nearby. The skeletons of a few stunted trees suggested there might once have been more moisture nearby but it had long since disappeared.
As he spotted his friends, Ezra cursed quietly in a language never widely spoken on the North American continent. They were staked out, spread eagled, torsos striped bare to the biting touch of the sun. He tied the horses in what little shade the dead trees could provide before moving swiftly to cut Vin and Chris lose. Ezra kept a careful eye on the ant mound, pleased to see the insects had apparently not been as keen on attacking as the Harris clan had intended.
"Ez?" Vin's voice was a barely recognizable harsh whisper, calling out to him as Ezra knelt down. "That you?"
"It's me, my friend. I'm here." Ezra raised Vin's head so that he could drink from a canteen he'd commandeered from one of the Harris brothers. Dead men wouldn't need the water.
Vin's lips should have been cracked and split but they weren't. His skin was as unblemished as Ezra's, nearly as smooth as a newborn babe's. Even though the obvious damage had healed, Ezra knew true recovery would take a little more time, rest and nourishment.
Ezra tried not to look too closely at Chris when he'd cut him free. He didn't want to see just how much damage had been done; damage that would linger until the other immortal revived. Knowing he would recover did not lessen the sense of loss Ezra felt at seeing Chris so still, the void he felt at not feeling the distinctive intensity of his quickening.
Ezra only allowed Vin a few sips before pulling the canteen away. "Easy, now," he soothed when Vin made a desperate grab for it. "Just wait a few moments."
Vin nodded, blue eyes betraying an exhaustion Ezra was all too familiar with. "Chris"
"Has not revived yet." Ezra glanced toward Chris, trying not to wince at the nearly purple color of his skin and the way it had blistered and cracked.
Vin flinched and looked away from where Chris lay. Immortals didn't scar after their first death, at least not physically, but Ezra knew this experience would leave a mark just the same. He mentally cursed the Harris brothers again, savagely glad he'd killed them all.
"Bastards ambushed us." Vin struggled to sit up. Ezra helped him knowing his friend would want to regain some semblance of control.
"I know." Ezra offered the canteen to Vin again. "They will trouble no one else ever again."
Vin blinked, raising his eyebrows but he didn't ask any questions. He took several sips of water before handing the canteen back to Ezra. He sighed. "My whole body hurts."
"How many times did you expire?"
"The word is die, Ez," Vin snorted. He frowned. "Twice I think."
Ezra nodded. "A little soreness is to be expected then."
Vin rolled his eyes and tried to get to his feet. Ezrra laid a hand on his shoulder. "I think it might be best if you just rested for a moment, Mr. Tanner."
"I'll see to him." Ezra patted Vin's shoulder, forcing the canteen on him again as he got to his feet to approach Chris.
He could feel a faint flicker of Chris' burgeoning quickening as the immortal began to revive. Electrical charges danced over Chris' skin as the damage from the sun healed. Ezra marveled, wondering if his own recoveries happened the same way.
Chris gasped. He sat up and immediately tried to get to his feet, only managing to get to his hands and knees, breathing in harsh pants. Ezra waited, knowing better than to approach Chris until he was more awake and aware.
"Buck?" Like Vin, Chris' voice was raspy. Ezra had expected him to call for his oldest friend first. He usually did.
Chris turned his head, blue-gray eyes clearing slightly. "Ezra."
Ezra tipped his head, approaching slowly to crouch down in front of Chris. He offered him another canteen. He didn't both trying to marshal Chris' intake the way he had Vin's. The gunslinger was too apt to lash out at him and Ezra was in no mood to fight with him.
Chris choked when he tried to guzzle the water before he regained control of himself and began to sip it. He glared at Ezra. "Shut up."
Ezra arched an eyebrow, smiling slightly. He got up and walked over to the horses. He rummaged through Vin's saddlebags and then Chris' to find spare shirts for them.
Vin had made it to his feet and met him half way shrugging into his shirt, movements stiff and slow but gaining fluidity. "Thanks, Ez."
Ezra touched two fingers to the brim of his hat. He knew Vin was thanking him for more than just his shirt. "My pleasure, Mr. Tanner."
Together they headed back to Chris. Ezra offered him the shirt. Chris fumbled with it for a moment, but managed to get it on, leaving the buttons undone.
"You are most welcome, Mr. Larabee."
"You get those bastards?"
Ezra was not surprised that would be Chris' first question. "Each and every one."
"Good." He shook his head, running a hand through his hair. "The others know?"
"I sent a telegram to Josiah telling him we'd be delayed." Ezra shrugged one shoulder. He was still amazed that communication over such vast distances could happen so quickly and easily, but he wasn't entirely sure he trusted such things completely. "I did not say why or for how long."
Chris nodded. "Good enough."
"Don't suppose there's somewhere .more comfortable we could rest up?" Vin asked, still sipping from the canteen.
Ezra looked toward the horse and the scant shade they stood in. "I'm afraid this is all the comfort the desert has to offer." The closest spring Ezra knew of was at least a day's ride. And the nearest town wasn't any closer.
Chris seconded that curse. He wobbled slightly, but made it to his feet without help before limping over to sit on the logs. "No point in punishing the horses. We'll wait here until the sun sets."
Ezra had already expected as much. Traveling at night had its own hazards but those were minor compared to trying to brave the sun. They could make it probably but the horses might not.
"How much water we got?" Vin asked, a faint groan escaping as he took a seat not far from Chris.
"Two canteens for each of us, not counting the ones you are currently using." Ezra pointed to those that still hung from their saddles. "And one for each of the horses."
It wasn't really as much as they should have, but it would see them through. Ezra found a spot in the shade, settling in to wait for the sun to set. He closed his eyes for a moment, tracking internally the renewed harmony that sang within now that Vin and Chris were once more alive. The song was missing the full chorus the others provided, but it was far better than the pained silence that had come before.
Ezra opened his eyes, studying his friends. They'd seen worse and lived to tell the tale. Some day they might tell this one too, but he doubted it. It had been more than four centuries since he'd walked out of the Gobi desert and Ezra had yet to talk to anyone about it.
One doesn't tell stories about surviving the desert, it's an experience one endures and tries to forget, Ezra mused silently. He tipped his hat to shade his eyes as much as possible, determinedly ignoring the fact that he still remembered every excruciating detail of that ordeal. It would be night soon enough.
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