The auto-gyro started up, Carter McCormick taking the wheel, joined by Zachariah in the seats above, the rest of the posse taking shelter in the basket below. Just before they took off, they were surprised to see Jackie Wells running in, beaten balck and blue with tattered clothes and no gun. She explained she was fleeing Stone, and knew this is where the group would have headed, pleading with the group for a firearm to fend him off.
The gyro took to the air, no sign of persuit, and Jackie relaxed and turned to face the posse, confirming who had the heart (Zachariah) and that the group were still headed to the Devil’s Tower. As she asked, Annie entered into a trance and holding the pistol stone once held tried to enter into his mind. The gun gave off just enough energy to allow her to connect with his mind, and soon she was looking out of his eyes… and into her own face.
Jackie snarled, and her face melted away to reveal her as none other than Stone. Ned drew and fired into Stone’s shoulder, but the undead gunslinger shrugged off the bullet and lept up to the cockpit, diving forward to grasp at Zachariah. At that very moment, either the whiskey took effect or his piloting was living up to it’s boasts, but Carter pulled the Gyro to one side and Stone went flying over the side, landing below with a crunch.
The autogyro flew on as fast as possible away from that scene and turned towards Denver, Zachariah hoping to find time to rest and plan there next move there. An uneventful trip across the Utah salt flats and Rocky mountains saw the party land next to Denver by the evening, Carter leaving the group to get rest and relaxation “McCormick” style, which seemed to consist of whiskey and wenches.
Zachariah was keen to get to the Agency, to see what assistance they might be, but until they opened, the posse first had to rest. The posse shared rooms, except for Li Fu who seemed to opt for a hammer and nails as his bedfellows, securing the room from… everything. Annie left them to camp near the edge of town, needing to spend some time it close ritual with the nature spirits to reconnect, seeking their guidance on what the grouop should do next with the Heart of Darkness, which they had long led her to seek out. She regained her closeness to the hunting grounds, but also found someone else a lot closer, as soft boot padding awoke her.
Stone’s gun clicked as he pointed it toward the sneaking Shaman who was trying to outflank him. A round left the chamber and smashed into her leg, leaving her prone and badly bleeding. “Hey Darlin’. Now tell me where the heart is. I’d hate to waste more ammo on your other soft, brittle leg” Stone’s hoarse voice intoned, pulling back the hammer for another shot. Annie cried that she didn’t have it, but knew the posse intended to take it to the Pilkerton’s the next day. This bought her enough time to get to her feet.
“Why thanks you, but if you don’t have it, then it seems I gotta waste another good bullet” Stone said grimly, breaking a half-smile. Annie closed her eyes in prayer, but not to any divinity, but to nature and the prairie grass around them, which rose and crawled all over Stone’s body in an instant, holding him long enough for Annie to make her getaway. She limped through town and into the Saloon, reaching the rest of the posse just in time to realise she’d been setup. Stone could have outran a limping target, but instead used her to find the heart itself.
A scattergun shot from the hotel owner, convinced as to the evil intent of the approaching man by Annie slowed Stone down, but it was a shot that the man paid for with this life. This bought enough time for the posse to break out the Saloon, Li Fu’s staggering form leading Stone after them. Busting into a livery, the group grabbed four horses, Zachariah throwing down sufficient money to cover there cost. Stone followed behind, taking a little longer to calm a horse against his unnatural presence. He left no money behind for his equine acquisition.
The group rode hard, heading back West into the Rocky mountains. They saw Stone in the valley below, riding after them, sniffing the air and turning toward there trail. Somehow he was still tracking them, but how ? And how was he always getting drawn to Annie ? A solemn thought crossed her mind that maybe she should ride away separately, as whilst she was near the gem, she was endangering it. The posse discussed a plan of splitting up the horses, Annie drawing his on a long chase whilst they looped back to Denver, when a nearby voice suggested a new plan – your money and guns or your life.
Ten outlaws sprung from the nearby rocks, pistols and rifles aimed at the group. The posse dismounted and tried to plead that behind them came a greater danger, but the outlaws laughed and cocked pistols. Just then, some small rocks slid and fell on one side of the valley – unseen by most. Had Stone already caught up with them ? Zachariah, oblivious to this, felt for his pouch of golden dollars – without them he could survive, but to lose his guns would guarantee his death. He had still not recovered from the gunshot wounds he’d sustained on the train with Stone, and was in no shape to fight. Nor was Annie, who was still hurting from her leg wound. However Annie had no guns, so keen to survive this one encounter too many, reached to throw over her wallet… and grasped the neat stitching on the edge of Stone’s wallet, still in her pouch.
A hope came over her that this possession of Stone’s could be why he always came for her. Perhaps Stone had no link to her, but simply to his wallet ?! She threw the item over with a hopeful heart. But the rest of the posse had no interest in disarming themselves and dashed for cover or the nearest man to punch in Li Fu’s case. The numbers did not look good, but these greenhorns might still fall to the posse experienced hands. Li Fu struggled to summon forth Chi energy, but finally in came and gave him the protection to run along one valley side, striking the pistoleros with shaolin strikes. Ned took to his rifle, and after three bad shots finally had some luck when a stray bullet from the outlaws gunned down his target for him. Zachariah meanwhile dived prone behind a rock, and fired shotgun rounds and then pistol shots at the foes surrounding him, but failed to take anyone down initially. With Annie taking cover behind a rock to nurse her wounds, things looked bad for the posse, although none had et sustained a hit from the novice gunslingers.
Just then the sliding rocks from earlier became more numerous, and two of the outlaws on the opposite valley side fell down, one choking, the other screaming “TICKS !”. Over a half-dozen Prairie Ticks came burrowing out of the soil and lept down the side, looking to hook open the mouths of there victims and to crawl within, to lay their deadly eggs.
The gun battle dissolved into a panic for survival, as the gunslingers ran for the unattended horses, the posse following close behind. Annie grabbed a mount first, followed close by Li Fu. Ned had to gun down the man on his mount before riding to catch them all up. Zachariah could not move as fast, and the lead outlaw quickly leapt for his mount, falling when a pistol shot from Zachariah grazed the inexperienced horseman.
Zachariah, now at the back of the group, mounted up, but the ticks had closed in fast, having already overwhelmed 3-4 of the outlaws in between them. Seeing the lead outlaw back on his feet, gun drawn, Zachariah called for him to get on the horse and he’d get them both away from the abominable ticks, unsure of whether he truly meant it. The outlaw believed these charmed words though and lept aboard the horse, shooting back at the trio of approaching ticks.
One tick lept, grazing the side of Zachariah’s boot, another tried to jump closer but was crushed under the horse’s hoof. The last came close to the outlaws face though, slicing into his neck with it’s small but deadly sharp claws. The cut was deep and deadly accurate, slashing the jugular and spraying a fountain of blood out as the tick burrowed it’s way into the windpipe, the slack body of the mercifully dead outlaw falling from Zachariah’s mount as he rode into the distance.
A final rifle round almost unmounted Ned as it sliced off his horses flank, but thankfully the brief times he’d spent in the saddle allowed him to cling onto the rearing mount and continue to ride away with the rest of the posse, leaving two stranded outlaws to shoot down the remaining few ticks. They surmised the battle had gone well for the remaining duo, as the shots became less frantic and soon were individual bangs every minute – mercy shots to the poor hosts who would soon give birth to more ticks, a procedure that would be far more traumatic and painful, and certainly just as deadly as a single bullet to skull.
Annie hoped the wallet she had thrown the outlaws was indeed to totem that had drawn Stone to her, and that tonight the final duo of outlaws would realise there survival was only a temporary reprieve. And that the posse might finally have some chance of losing Stone for a little while, at least long enough to recuperate energies or gather thoughts on where to head next…