The sun had all but set and the red in the skies had nearly soaked into the black of the night. And as in heaven, so on earth as anything red of ex-Sheriff Benson had soaked into the dirt. With the steam tank idling and vomiting clouds, the three marshals somberly stood over the corpse.
“Ze Sheriff’s been dead for nearly two hours,” pronnounced Hans Octavius Wilhem after examining the body. “The cause is obviously the slash at the throat. Something sharp but not surgical and inflicted by someone of prodigious strength.”
“Like, say, by a berserk Injun,” Jack Lightning declared in a voice cold as the desert evening.
“Tracks lead to town,” Kane said, already heading for the steam truck. The other two marshals were not long in following.
There was a loud grinding of gears and the steam tank lurched forward as the coals were furiously shovelled and stoked. The town of Ascension was not far but enough time had already been wasted.
Pulling into the town, the three marshals got out onto the street where already there were a number of citizens closing up for the night, hoping to put away a whiskey or two before getting home. Not wanting to raise alarm, the marshals moved in closer to plan.
“Ve split up,” Wilhem whispered.
“Agreed. Start looking at the nice and rich places. Important people,” Jack suggested.
Kane was already scouting for places on Ascension’s rooftops, having tracked the Indian as far as he could. Likely the marshal’s quarry was travelling that way and it would serve as a good place for a lookout. The tallest structure was the Blacksmith’s foundry but needing something that would support the Mountain Man’s frame, the three story tall Etheric Delights would do the job.
“I’ll check it out from there,” Kane said, thumbing at the whorehouse.
“Allow me,” Wilhem said, already having introduced himself to the proprietor, Wilhemina Ether. Kane shrugged and decided that Brasshorn’s saloon would work just as well. Jack Lightning decided to scout the Ignit-Inn, which was starting its evening trade.
“If you find him, signal vith this,” Wilhem said producing three airhorns. Kane immediately decided to test his and an ear-splitting howl filled the town.
“What in tarnation was that?” A broad and tanned giant emerged from the Blacksmith’s foundry and marched toward the group.
“Marshal business,” Lightning declared.
“Wilhem, having examined much of the town’s mechanical stores the previous day, had also made the acquaintence of Ascension’s resident Blacksmith, Max Volker, and offered a further explanation about what peril lay in store for the townsfolk.
“I’d best get the foundry locked up then,” Max said over his shoulder while looking about, expecting a tomahawk.
With no further delays, despite Kane wanting to use the airhorn again, the marshals split up. Kane barged right through Brasshorn’s saloon, not even pausing when asking Jack Brasshorn how to get to the roof.
“Up them stairs,” the world-weary bartender replied.
Meanwhile Wilhem deployed a powerful searchlight from his fantastic armour and shined it around Etheric Delights, an action that did not endear the German Marshal to the occupants inside and resulted in Madam Ether confronting him with a shotgun.
“You didn’t strike me as a Peeping Tom, marshal,” she said once learning who was responsible.
“I’m not, but I’m searching for someone verse,” Wilhem replied and quietly he explained the situation again.
“Annie, get your guns!” was all Madam Ether offered by way of farewell as she quickly returned to the whorehouse, barring the door behind her.
Jack Lightning burst through the double-doors of the Ignit-Inn as Buckshot Buchannan was serving up the evening’s fare.
“Seen anything suspicious?”
“No ma’am,” Buckshot said as Lightning looked about. It was then that there was a chorus of whinneying screams coming from the stables. Lightning was already running out the door, guns ready, and dived into the stables, coming to her feet from a roll and right into the path of a stampeding herd of horses with eyes as red as blood.
Reflexes honed by, the marshal instantly flung herself upward, locking her legs around the rafters of the stable as the horses charged beneath her, reducing the anything in their path to pieces. There were six and they were storming into town, but there were still four left in the stable who hadn’t kicked their way outside. One of the beasts still remaining was Jack Lightning’s trusted steed, Thunder.
Outside, Wilhem had decided that one of town’s neighbouring plateaus would make a good vantage point for scoutning and was readying his iron-formed conveyance when the pained cries and stampeding hooves reached his ears. Seeing the red frenzy in their eyes, he abandoned the tank and intead got out the fire extinguisher, it’s chemical foam having been an effective salve against this madness. And then he looked to his left as Brasshorn Saloon’s doors swung open and Wendel Kane marched out, rolling up his sleeves as he strode right into the path of the horses’s onslaught.
Two of the crazed beasts went wide and skirted around Kane but four of the herd charged straight at him, certain to crush him into the dust until the mountain man swung out with a vicious right hook right into the lead horse, taking it in the head and sending it crashing to the ground.
Jack Lightning danced across the rafters of the stable as Thunder’s bionic leg was turning anything in reach to pulp and kindling. Trusting in her skill and the bond forged since Thunder was naught but a foal, the marshal dropped down from the ceiling and landed bareback as the frenzied bucking had destroyed the last restraint holding him in place. The horse howled and bucked but Lightning clamped her thighs down on her mount’s flanks and whispered soothing words into his ears, desperately trying to calm her friend down before something happened they’d both regret.
The two remaining horses were intercepted by Octavius Wilhem who, safe within his armour, sprayed the fire extinguisher across both beasts. The cold foam splashed both beasts in the face, blinding them both and stopping them in their tracks. Wilhem clanked toward Kane who, in a display of herculean might, was blocking the iron-shod hoofs from two maddened horses, having decked another. But unfortunately for the marshals, horses weren’t the only beasts susceptible to the red root of the Indian Savage.
Twitchy and ready to bolt from underneath her, Thunder struggled to hold onto some semblance of calm while Jack stroked his tight and corded neck. It was only the gossamer reminder of the one who had raised and trained him that prevented him from throwing Jack Lightning off and pulverising her. Jack knew it wouldn’t take much for that bond to be snapped in a storm of fear and ferocity. Which was right about the time that Kane’s animal companion, Smokey the bear, lumbered into the stable and, with eyes crimson, let loose a terrifying roar.
What happened next, happened fast.
Smokey charged into the buildng.
The remaining berserk horses kicked their way free and tore out of the stable, one slashed from throat to flank by the bear as the galloped past.
Lightning, knowing that Thunder couldn’t be stopped, settled for aiming her steed instead at one of the weaker points of the stable’s structure, managing to grab a spool of rope before horse and rider plowed through one of the stable’s walls, bypassing Smokey entirely.
Wilhem and Kane, hearing Smokey’s roar and the charge of another stampede glanced at each other for an instant.
“Go! I’ve got this,” Wilhem said, spraying another horse with fire retardant foam. Kane didn’t even nod, he just ran for the stable.
Lightning and Thunder, unharmed from busting a new door in the stable, wheeled around the Ignit-Inn and chased down one of the remaining horses. Jack swung the lariet and let fly, the loop of rope whistling through the air before landing around one of the horses and, in a display of equestrian skill that left the citizens of Ascension flabbergasted, rode Thunder around one of the iron-forged gas lamp posts – securing it fast – and taking