Bad Moon over Rock Hollow - Part 6

A Magnificent Seven - Round Robin Story
by Flah7, J Brooks, NotTasha, Sablecain, Tipper, Violette

here we go with the final part. We hope you enjoy

47) "Desert" - Sablecain

Chris was staring at the hole above, straining to hear what was going on, when suddenly the entire cave rumbled once more and, with a gush of water, Sheriff Deeds came barreling down through the dirt and mud.

"What's happening?" Buck tried to ask as a waterfall formed in the center of cave, but there was an ominous roar.

There was no time to answer. Even as Deeds struggled to find his footing in the deepening water, loose coins and loot that'd he'd hoarded for years, a new wave of water and mud rained down from above.

Josiah grabbed Ezra as Chris reached for Buck, but the water was too much. More of the ceiling fell in on them and the fake treasure, bringing the screaming trio of Vin, JD and Nathan and a donkey with it.

The tidal wave picked them all up, tumbling and tossing them in a massive rush through tunnels forced open by the power of the surge.

Gasping, they all fought for air as the current hurled them about. They brushed the sides of the tunnel, picking up more dirt and mud until what was once a watery mix was now a thick, massive wave of mud and debris.

Chris held on to Buck's belt.

Josiah kept his arms tight around Ezra and the ax imbedded in the southerner.

Vin kicked wildly with one good leg and clutched at his side.

Nathan grabbed onto the donkey as it floated past, knocking off the Rhode Island Red that had once again found its back.

JD doggy-paddled to keep his head above the gunk.

It ended as suddenly as it had begun, the flood turned mudslide pushing them up and spitting them forcefully into the desert onto a pile of sludge, well outside of the town of Rock Hollow.

Ezra blinked up at the blooming ocotillo waving in the damp breeze above him as groans and curses sounded from the others trying to untangle themselves from the muck. "What just happened here?"

48) "Sword Fight" - Violette

Nathan brushed the mud from his face and carefully extracted himself from the debris. He surveyed the muck-covered bodies lying around him with dismay. They were all half-buried in mud and debris. Bit of faux gold and jewels sparkled in the fading daylight. A donkey staggered in a drunken path along the edges of the mud pile. A disgruntled-looking chicken flapped its wings and squawked as it tried to free its feathers of the accumulated mud.

"All this mess for a bunch of fake treasure," Nathan groused, brushing a few phony coins off of his pants along with wet clots of dirt. Starting for the nearest body - who he finally recognized as Buck, once he cleared away enough muck to see his face - he started checking for new injuries.

The chorus of moans and groans was disrupted by a yell as Sheriff Deeds leaped to his feet, waving his sword in front of him. "Ye scurvy buggers!" he growled. "Steal my treasure, will ye? I'll show you." He homed in once again on Vin, who scrabbled at the ground, looking for a weapon.

His reactions slowed by the sticky, clinging mud and debris, Vin rolled aside, cursing as the sword sliced toward his head. "Crap!" he shouted, as another large clump of hair fell victim to the blade. "Could use a little help here, guys!"

"Damnit," Chris growled. "What does it take to put that bastard down?" With his one good arm, he started digging his legs out of the mud.

"Nathan!" Josiah called, as he carefully cleared the mess from around the wound in Ezra's side. "Ezra needs help."

Nathan was torn between defending Vin from the mad swordsman and taking care of his other injured comrades. Before he could make up his mind, Buck pushed himself to his feet and headed for Vin.

"Toss me that sword, Josiah," Buck called, swaying slightly as he tried to focus on the would-be pirate.

Vin ducked again as a swipe of the sword liberated yet another lock of hair.

Josiah did as requested, throwing him the gaudy bejewelled sword that Ezra had so admired, but Buck fumbled the catch, dropping the sword in the mud. Squinting hard, Buck pawed at the ground until he found the sword. He raised it just in time to deflect a blow from Deed's cutlass.

"Ye can't best me with the blade, ye landlubbin' bastard," Deeds taunted.

"We'll see about that," Buck said, slicing the air in front of him with the flashy sword.

"Buck?" JD called weakly from underneath a pile of detritus.

"Stay there, JD," Buck answered. "I'll take care of this crackpot."

"Can you even see straight?" Chris asked as he pulled one foot free of the mud with a wet, squelching sound.

"Straight enough," Buck said, lunging crookedly toward Deeds.

"Vin?" Chris turned his attention to the downed tracker. "You all right?"

Vin glanced briefly at Chris before turning to gaze forlornly at the clumps of hair clutched in his hand. "My hair."

"What?"

"Bastard cut off my hair," Vin moaned, clutching the tangled locks to his chest.

Giving a disgusted sigh, Chris went back to digging in the mud. His other his leg was still buried under the thick muck.

While the sword fight intensified, Nathan stumbled his way toward Josiah and Ezra. He grimaced at the sight of the axe imbedded in the southerner. "Damn, Ezra. You sure know how to get into a fix."

"My sword," Ezra said with a pout. "He took my sword." He looked up at Nathan beseechingly. "It had rubies on it. Pretty, pretty rubies..." Ezra's head lolled to the side. "Look, it's ocotillo. Ocotillo!" He giggled for a moment before his face went slack and consciousness deserted him.

"Aw hell." Nathan cursed and started searching the area for any kind of medical supplies while the swords clanged in the background.

49) "War of the Worlds" - J Brooks

Buck took an awkward swipe at the sheriff and overbalanced, sprawling flat just as the other swordsman's counter-thrust whistled through the air where his neck had been.

Scrambling backward, Buck hauled himself upright again, swaying slightly as he fought to keep the world in focus. His head ached and he was bruised head to toe from being tossed around dark tunnels by rushing water. The day was stretching toward sunset and the air was already taking on a chill that bit through his soaking wet clothes.

Shaking off his discomfort, Buck hefted the sword, grunting at the godawful weight of the thing and how it pulled at his hurt arm. He brought the ungainly weapon up again to block another brutal swing from Deeds.

The weapons met with a dull clunk and Buck's eyes widened as the would-be pirate's heavy cutlass bit deeply into the soft golden metal of his own gaudy weapon. For a moment, the two swordsmen froze, staring at each other, with their weapons improbably locked together.

Sensing his chance, Buck tightened his grip on his sword and threw his weight backward. The move caught the sheriff off-balance and he lost his hold on his sword. Buck tumbled backward with both swords - and promptly crashed into Chris, who had finally freed himself from the mud and was rushing to the rescue. The two lawmen tumbled back into the sticky mud.

The entangled swords flew out of Buck's hands. From somewhere behind them, JD let out a startled yelp.

"JD?" Buck called out, shoving Chris's elbow out of his face. His head throbbed in pain, blood pounding in his temples so hard it felt like it was shaking the ground beneath him.

Before JD could reply, Deeds was looming over the two sprawled lawmen, a crazed glint in his eye and a huge rock hoisted high overhead.

"Yarrrr-" Deeds began, and then froze, as a low rumbling noise filled the air around them.

Buck felt hands latch onto him and haul him back. Vaguely, he was aware that Josiah had him under the armpits and was dragging him away from the rock-wielding bandit while Nathan helped Chris to his feet.

Deeds ignored them, pivoting to face the new threat. His jaw dropped. The rock slipped through his slack fingers.

And a moment later, an enormously fat hog barreled into his midsection, sending him flying.

The rumble turned into the low thunder of dozens of hooves striking the ground. Cows, donkeys, a goat and a few squawking chickens stampeded by. The waterlogged donkey from the tunnel let out a delighted hee-haw and trotted off to join the livestock as they continued on their way. The bedraggled Rhode Island Red let out a triumphant crow from its perch on the donkey's hindquarters. It, and the rest of the stampede, vanished slowly into the sunset in a cloud of dust. The occasional moo floated back to them on the wind.

Slowly, the lawmen shook off the shock and looked around, checking on each other.

Vin had thrown himself over Ezra, who was curled motionless on the ground, the bandages around his midsection now soaked thoroughly crimson. Nathan helped Chris back to his feet and rushed to the gambler's side.

Larabee limped over to study the prone form of Deeds, who sprawled face-down in the muck with a line of hog hoof prints tracked across his back. Chris gave the flattened sheriff-bandit-pirate an unsympathetic prod with his boot.

"Yarrrrrrrggh..." Deeds gargled into the dust. Chris shook his head. Deeds was down, but not out.

Buck shrugged off Josiah's hands and staggered over to JD, who was sitting sprawled on the ground with the interlocked swords vibrating in the ground between his legs, narrowly missing anything vital.

"Promise me," JD squeaked, scooting back from his near-gelding. "Promise me you're never gonna pick up a sword again."

Buck let out a breath and leaned against the swords. "Kid, that's a prom-" And with that, the two swords broke apart and Buck tumbled to the ground again.

From his new vantage point, he studied Ezra's golden sword with the one eye that wasn't pressed into the mud.

"Y'know," he said, reaching out to poke the dented sword that lay inches from his nose. "I think this here sword might actually be made of gold."

He poked the sword again, watching the gold glint in the deep cut the cutlass had left in the blade. The rubies on the hilt glittered in the golden light of the setting sun.

Larabee crouched by his side and hefted the sword experimentally with his good arm, grunting at the unexpected weight. Gingerly, he raised the thing and bit down, hard, on the tip of the blade. He pulled back and studied the tooth marks he'd left on the soft metal.

"Gold," he confirmed with a frown.

JD let out a small laugh. "Ezra's gonna be real happy to hear that," he said, glancing nervously over to where Nathan was working on the gambler.

Larabee turned the sword, his frown deepening. "Don't make no sense," he said, studying the beautiful, impractical thing. "Why is this made of solid gold when the other crap in that tunnel was made out of lead?"

"Because," a voice rang out behind him. "We hadn't gotten around to stealing it and replacing it with a lead copy. Yet."

777777777777777

Vin's disgusted groan rang out through the evening air.

Pandora let out an affronted sniff. Three women stood shoulder to shoulder, studying them over the barrel of their guns.

"You're welcome for the stampede, by the way," Lily Wild said with a wry smile. "You think it's easy keeping that many animals running long enough to save you from getting your brains bashed in? It's not."

She cocked the shotgun and gestured toward the sword. "We'll be taking that now."

There was an explosive sneeze as Mary stepped away from her sister's side and pulled the sword out of Larabee's unresisting grip.

Pandora strolled over to Deed's sprawled form and gave him a brisk pat on the shoulder. "Up and at 'em, Papa," she said.

Deeds coughed and rolled onto his back to study the darkening sky with a martyred expression. "Ye know I hate livestock, girls. Fit fer nothin' but salt pork and jerky for long sea voyages."

"There, there," Pandora crooned, throwing the sheriff's arm over her shoulder and hauling him to his feet. She steered him toward an overloaded wagon and ox team waiting not far away. "We're going to a place where you won't have to worry about bullets or stampedes ever again."

Larabee took a menacing step forward, glaring hard at Lily Wild. "What are you planning to do with him?" he demanded. He'd already seen her gun one man down today.

Lily quirked a small smile at him. "We're taking him east with us. We have enough money now to settle somewhere nice. Maybe a little cottage near the ocean."

Deeds brightened, looking remarkably chipper for a man who'd been shot twice, nearly drowned and then trampled by a pig. "The sea?" he called out, hobbling faster as he made his way to the wagon. "Yo ho ho!"

Mary tucked the golden sword under her arm and hurried after him, giving one last longing look back at Vin and Nathan. "We'll get you a little boat, Papa," she called out to him.

"Yarr, a galleon to ply the seven seas!" Deeds crowed, clambering aboard the wagon.

"Maybe a dingy," Pandora hedged, helping Mary into the wagon and climbing up after her.

Larabee turned to study Lily. "You expect us to just let you ride off with your stolen gold?"

Lily sighed and glanced back at the impatient trio in the wagon.

"Look," she said. "My brother, his crooked partner and half the other 'upstanding citizens' of this fine town have been plundering the bandit gold for years. Ever since Uncle Red's mind started to go and he started melting the payroll gold into doubloons and such."

Buck let out a chuckle, still sprawled on the ground. "How'd they get past the dogs?"

"And the spears that come shooting out of the war?" Nathan called out.

"And the trap doors in the floor?" JD chimed in.

Lily shook her head. "Who do you think put the traps in there in the first place? A town full of thieves, trying to stop the other thieves from stealing all the gold before they could. I think they were hoping to kill the Red Bandit, but the man has more lives than a cat. As long as the thieves replaced what they sold with lead replicas, Sheriff Deeds never seemed to mind."

"So you ladies just figured you'd take your share while you could?" Josiah asked. He stepped casually up to Chris's side. Larabee felt the cold steel of the pistol the preacher pressed against his hip. He shifted a hand and took hold of the gun.

Lily tossed her head. "Can you blame us? We had to get out of that terrible town."

"What about your brother?" Larabee asked.

"The doctor tells me he'll live," she said.

"'Til they hang him for shooting the deputy," Chris said dryly.

"The 'deputy' was Deeds' old second-in-command. He was a ruthless killer with a price on his head. If anything, my brother stands to collect a $500 bounty."

Larabee tightened his grip on the gun and waited.

Lily backed slowly toward the wagon, keeping her weapon trained on them.

"Don't follow us," she said, half an order, half a plea.

Pandora clucked at the ox team and the wagon lurched slowly away through the gathering twilight. Sheriff Deeds' voice rang out from somewhere under the wagon's canvas roof, belting out an off-color sea shanty.

Larabee watched for a moment, and then passed the gun back to Josiah.

"You're going to let them go?" Josiah asked, not sounding surprised. He moved away to start a fire so Nathan would have light enough to work. JD helped Buck to his feet and guided the unsteady man toward the healer.

Larabee turned his back on the wagon tracks and turned to study his battered, bedraggled men.

"Not our town. Not our problem," he said.

Somewhere in the darkness, Nathan sneezed.

"Thought you never got sick, Nathan?" Buck said.

"Shut up, Buck."

50) "Overnight Camping" - NotTasha

Ezra awoke, feeling hot and tired and sore and entirely uncomfortable. Annoyed, he blinked at the star-filled sky above, remembering that it had been raining. Funny, that. "Shouldn't it be raining?" he said with great clarity.

Josiah's face suddenly hovered over his. "Ezra?" he called. His face was taut for a moment, and then it relaxed into an open big-toothed grin. "Thank the Lord."

"What is going on?" Ezra asked. "The last thing I remember"

But he was cut off as Sanchez clamped a huge hand clamped over his forehead. Josiah frowned. "Fever," he muttered, "That explains it. Best keep Nathan from him until it breaks. No sense giving him a cold on top of all this." Then he patted Ezra's face in a most familiar way. "It doesn't seem to be too bad though," Josiah went on, "Hopefully he'll pull out of it soon."

Ezra had neither the strength, nor the inclination to push him away. He felt drawn out, utterly tired, and strangely detached. Besides, the hand at his cheek felt cool and somewhat comforting.

"How you feelin', son?" Josiah asked, sounding so concerned it hurt Ezra to think about it.

Ezra tried to form a barbed retort, but JD spoke up instead, "He awake?"

"Nearly," Josiah answered.

"I'm quite awake and have all my faculties," Ezra growled, which made JD laugh.

"Yeah," the kid said cheerfully, "Not really there yet. But it's good to see you awake, Ezra."

Ezra tried to glare at him, but even that was difficult. His head still hurt fiercely from that drubbing of the previous day. His shoulder scolded him non-stop, reminding him that he was meant for easier activities. He was sore and bruised and scraped and scratched and torn and GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY!

A new agony assaulted him and he tried to curl up against the pain in his side. He was being ripped apart! Damn it! Damn it! He sucked in air through his teeth as he struggled to get away from the hurt. This is what comes of cataloguing your pains! Hell! Damnation! Son-of-a

Suddenly, Josiah and JD were on him, trying to calm him, and then Larabee, Buck, Vin and Nathan swam into his hazy, pain-reddened view. He hardly heard them through the buzz in his ears and the swimming world around him, but after a monumental amount of time, the pain evened out and he was on his back again, staring up at the stars.

He panted as the others settled near him. Josiah stretched out his leg with a groan. Vin eased himself down daintily. Everyone, with perhaps the exception of JD, seemed rather done-in. They were talking, but the buzz still filled his head, fading slowly. His vision cleared until the stars became sharp again.

"Was raining earlier," Ezra restated when he was able. "It was raining a lot."

"What did he say?" Buck asked someone.

"Said it was raining," Vin translated. "Stopped a while ago, Ez."

"No moon," Ezra added, because the stars were so bright.

"Was up earlier," Vin told him. "Gone down about the same time as the sun."

"Strange," Ezra commented.

"The moon in daylight never bodes well," Josiah told him, helping him sit up to take a drink from a canteen. "At least he's talking clearer," he said to the others.

To avoid looking at Josiah, Ezra turned toward at Vin when the canteen was drawn back. The tracker was trying to find a comfortable position beside him, and was obviously in some pain. Standish was about to ask after his health, when his gaze caught curiously on Vin's head. What the

Great chunks of hair seemed to be missing from Tanner, leaving him looking like a half- plucked chicken. A little burst of laughter escaped him, which only made him wince and moan and hunch against Josiah.

"Ezra?" Josiah asked, carefully holding the gambler against him. "What's wrong?"

Standish lifted one weary hand and pawed at what was left of the greasy locks on Tanner's half-scalped pate.

Startled, Vin scuttled away, and put a protective hand over what was left. "No need to make it worse," he grumbled as he tried to finger the damaged coiffure into some semblance of 'scruffy'. Tanner glanced to the others, looking hunted and forlorn.

But Ezra's attention had already wandered, and his gaze fixed on a chubby donkey that pulled at the grass near a tree. A chicken nested on its back, clucking quietly to itself as it brooded. A bull was bawling and romping outside of their little circle, idling near a small mob of cows that didn't seem to inclined to run away. A large hog wallowed in the mud, acting as a hurdle for the bovines to leap in their lusty chase. Not far from Chris, peaceful- looking big dog rolled on its back and exposed its belly. And a large tan-and-white goat chewed on what might have once been his jacket.

Usually, that would have been tantamount to murder in Ezra's book of grievances, but he was too tired to pay the creature much mind. And besides, the jacket was already ruined.

A quick glance at his comrades revealed that most were bandaged and bruised in some way or another. What the hell?

All around them was destruction - busted boards, a sword sunk into the ground, swollen ruined baskets and boxes, tossed nails, blown out lamps, an empty whisky bottle and whatnot. Their group appeared to be on the only bit of dry land in the vicinity. The ruin surrounding them was impressive.

Much of their muddied clothing was hung nearby, beside a cheerful fire, drying. His gaze fell on the flames and he was transfixed by the warmth and the movement for a moment or two. It wasn't until something touched his face that he realized that Larabee was calling his name.

"You all right?" Larabee asked seriously.

"What happened?" Ezra breathed out.

The six men sat back and seemed to ponder that question.

"Dynamite," Buck finally stated. "Explosions. Buildings going 'boom!'"

"Gunfire," Chris added.

"Sword fight," Nathan included.

"Fire and flood," JD interjected.

"Rain and hail and thunder and lightnin' and one hell of a tornado," Vin put in, shaking his head.

"Don't forget the earthquake," Josiah stated. "Hard to forget that. It was all a little like Judgment Day coming." And then added quietly, "And the bad moon."

"Stampede, more than one of 'em," Chris added.

"Sickness," Nathan sneezed.

"Wannabee pirates and crooked lawyers and fake lawmen and testy dressmakers and one crazy son-of-a-bitch with too much dynamite and not enough sense," Buck said. "And a wronged woman."

"Underground caves too," JD stated.

"Big dogs," Larabee said, and at the words the black dog rolled off its back and sat up, looking lovingly toward Larabee.

"And traps!" Buck pronounced.

"Lots of traps," Nathan said, dolefully rubbing at a spot on his back.

"It was one hell of a time," Buck said with a wink and a big grin. "One hell of a time!"

Ezra looked at them as if they were all crazy, and settled his head back on the ground, trying to wrap his mind around it all. The scenes that flashed before his eyes were preposterous. It was if the events had been cobbled together from half a dozen different storytellers. Insane. And he closed his eyes for a moment, remembering.

"The crazy man," Ezra said softly. "Was shooting at you?" and he fixed his gaze on Larabee.

"Yeah," Larabee replied.

"Why?"

Chris said nothing, holding Ezra's gaze as if he wished the southerner would give up and fall asleep.

Not liking that response, Ezra persisted, "I would like to know why the man was gunning for you, and getting me in the mix instead," Ezra told him. He brought a hand to his sore shoulder. "I think I deserve that much."

Chris sighed. "Long story," he said.

So Buck explained, "Bastard beat his wife. Chris got her out of that situation a while ago. Wild wasn't happy about it. Came looking."

Ezra blinked as he absorbed this information. "He still breathing?" he asked.

They all waited until Chris explained, "His wife blew his head off."

Ezra nodded, and said, "Good." The head dipped as weariness tugged at him, and the men around him settled, ready to return to sleep themselves until Ezra's head shot up as he finally drew forth the most important part of the puzzle.

"Gold! Coins and goblets and swords and jewels and ah hell." His hopeful expression fell, remembering more. "All of it lead and worth nothing."

"Most all of it," Buck commented, and then lifted a jeweled ax that had a nasty looking spike at one end.

Ezra shuddered a little at the sight of it, but couldn't explain why. His mouth dry, it took a moment for Ezra to find his voice. "It's all fake," he sighed. "Not worth the time it took to construct."

Buck took the axe closer to the firelight, where it glittered as prettily as the ghastly device could. "This one ain't lead," he said. "Too heavy. Metal's too soft. There here is gold, hoss."

As tired and as hurt as he was, the notion gave Ezra strength, and he sat up a little in spite of the pull at his stomach. "Gold?" The word had an innocent quality to it, like a child asking if angels really existed.

"You sit back down," Josiah ordered, patting him hard enough on the chest to push him back to the ground. "Don't get Nathan riled up, because he's going to want to get back over here and fix you, and we don't need him sneezing on you and getting you sick."

"I'm not sick!" Nathan said nasally, and then sneezed loudly. "I don't get colds."

"Gold?" Ezra repeated, in the same hushed tone.

"Figure we can share it out," Buck said. "'Less of course we can figure out where it came from originally."

That idea made Ezra frown, but his lips turned up a little at the corners as he remembered the weight of the coins he'd heaped in his pockets. Not everything in that cave was lead, of that he was almost certain. He'd smelled gold the moment he'd entered the place, and his nose was rarely wrong.

Since the others seemed preoccupied with other things, he fingered one coin in his trouser pocket. Gold. It had to be!

He glanced over to Vin who was hunched away from the group, pulling coins from his pockets as well, and a few other trifles. If those pieces were gold as well, it would only take a hand or two of poker, and there'd be a switch of ownership.

If Ezra played on the sympathy and the guilt of the others, that axe would be his in no time, and his smile grew more serene.

"Let's get some sleep," Chris said. "Looks like it's nearly daylight. We'd best make use of what night we have left." The black dog slunk to his side, thumping his tail and curling up next to Larabee with a contented sigh.

"I'm just glad to be out of Rock Hollow," JD stated. "I ain't never been in a place as crazy as that! Still, do you really think we shouldn't go back and take care of things? I mean, they're thieves and murderers and such. We should do what's right and get them to justice."

The men put up a shout of disgust, and Ezra closed his eyes as he reached into his pocket and fingered the coins. Gold - he was sure of it.

And somewhere, in the distance, a serious of explosions sounded as the last of the fire reached the last of the explosives in Rock Hollow. Those that cared looked up to see the glow of orange in the distance.

Ezra, the cows, the bull, the goat, the donkey, the Rhode Island Red and the big black dog just went on with what they were doing. They were happy, after all.

THE END

Thanks again for all your comments. We had a lot of fun writing this story.