Dragon yelled at the top of his lungs. "Shields! Max Deceleration to Minimum Flight Speed!"
Dragon grabbed the stick and pulled back. The plane was diving downward, and without his normal strength, Dragon was having a hard time budging the stick. Dave started to stir and Dragon yelled for him to grab the stick and pull back. He did, and the plane was pulling its nose up before Dave even opened his eyes and realized what he was doing. He really can pilot this thing in his sleep, Dragon thought.
There was a crunch as the plane's belly scraped the butte, but as they pulled the stick back, the plane pulled away from the surface, heading upward. A first aid kit fell from above and hit Dave in the head, knocking him unconscious. Dragon desperately pulled back on the stick, keeping them angled upward.
The plane lurched again as it impacted against the butte. Dragon was losing the fight, and the plane's nose was dropping again. Luckily, the top of the butte was right above them. Dragon managed to bring the plane down on top of it and skid it to a landing. The sound of screeching metal and alarms let him know that the shields had failed.
Dragon checked Dave to make sure he was okay and then did the same for Brimstone. He got out and looked at the plane. It wasn't pretty.
The entire underside of the Vagabond looked like it had been chewed on. The engines were smoking, and there were cracks in the glass on the teleportation chamber. At the rear of the plane, the power system sparked and the interior lights went out.
Dragon pulled Dave and Brimstone out of the plane and commanded it to enter stealth mode. The plane remained visible. It took him five minutes, but Dragon realized that the landing and the shields had cost the Vagabond its power systems. It would take a while to repair them.
Dragon looked around him. They were sitting on top of a butte in the middle of a desert filled with them. He estimated that they were about forty feet up, and it felt like nearly a hundred degrees out. On the horizon, he could see buildings.
Dave got up and walked over to Dragon, rubbing his head. "Ouch. What happened?"
Dragon pointed at the plane and Dave ran over to it. He was saying nurturing things to the engine when Brimstone woke up. His first reaction was to look down at himself and laugh.
"This is new," he said to Dragon, chuckling.
"Interesting friends you have," Dragon replied.
"Totengeist is not a friend," Brimstone said, his face losing all humor. "He is a dangerous undead thing."
"What do we do now?" Dave asked. Dragon looked at Brimstone.
"I guess we go to town and wait for Totengeist to come back. If nothing else, he'll be back."
Dragon nodded. He started to climb down the side of the butte, carefully. Dave and Brimstone followed. It took them the better part of the day to get down the side without equipment. The sun was setting as they started walking towards the town.
They found a dirt road and started following that in. It was dark by the time they arrived. All the lights in town were off. But the town was unusual.
"What is this, some kind of tourist trap?" Dragon asked.
The entire town looked like something out of the old west. There was a blacksmith, a saloon, all kinds of shops with fancy lettered signs over them. But there were no street lights, no cars, and no evidence of modern society.
"Oh, no," Dragon said. "Brimstone, what kind of powers does Totengeist have?"
"He gets his powers from the Council of Beyond. They can let him do pretty near anything if it suits their purposes."
"Anything would include time travel?" Dragon asked.
"Oh, no," Brimstone echoed.
"We're in the old west?" Dave asked. Dragon and Brimstone shrugged and nodded slowly.
"Alright! I've got to do some gambling! This is great, guys! What a vacation!"
Brimstone and Dragon exchanged looks and followed Dave as he ran excitedly up the main street. He was heading towards a glow on the far end of town. When he got nearer to it, he stopped and pulled his .45 from inside his jacket.
Dragon ran up beside him and looked. Up ahead of him there was a group of ten men, dressed in black clothes and hats. There was a black man on a horse, with a noose around his neck attached to a tree. One of the men was about to slap the horse when he saw Dragon, Dave and Brimstone looking on.
"Who the hell are you?" he asked in a deep, throaty voice.
"What is this man's crime?" Dragon replied. He tried to emphasize his size, before he realized he didn't have it anymore.
"He disobeyed the law. No one out after dark. Y'all are disobeying the law as well."
The other nine men went for the guns at their sides. Dragon remembered the sword technique he had been learning and pulled his revolver out. Brimstone did the same with his, but he was just reaching for it when Dragon's cleared the holster. Dave fired once before either of them could act, but he seemed to have missed everyone.
Dragon dove to the side, pushing Dave out of the way and carrying them both behind a nearby water barrel. Brimstone went to the other side and got behind a water trough. Bullets started flying everywhere.
"Damn," Dragon said. "Dave, I can't shoot these people."
"I knew that, Dragon," Dave said. He whistled, and the horse took off. Dragon yelled for him to stop, but watched in amazement as the black man grabbed the horses reins and rode off, the loose end of the noose flapping behind him.
"You didn't think I missed, did you?" Dave asked.
Five of the men charged after the horse, leaving the other five to keep shooting.
"Nice job, Dave. But we're still in trouble."
Brimstone suddenly charged across the opening, firing his revolver as he went. He hit one of the men as he ran across, and his target screamed and fell down.
"Dragon!" Brimstone yelled, diving behind the barrel as bullets clipped it, "These are not men. They're demon-possessed, beyond hope. We can't really kill them, they're already dead."
Dave popped up and fired his .45 again, dropping one of the men. Brimstone leaned out from the side and fired as well. The remaining two ran behind the building and got on their horses, riding out to follow their friends. They had eight other horses with them. All of them were black, and Dragon saw that they had red, glowing eyes.
As they rode off into the distance, Dragon stood up and asked Brimstone, "How did you know?"
"I've been a demon for my entire life. And I've seen my fair share of possessions. It was easy to see. The bad news is, that means we're dealing with some powerful magic. I wish Mark and Cleo were here."
Dave muttered something, and Dragon looked over and saw him holding his left arm at the shoulder. There was blood on his hand. Dragon moved his hand and saw that Dave had been shot. He bandaged the wound with the first aid kit, but asked Dave, "How did they get you? Nobody ever gets you!"
"I don't know," Dave said. "I don't think I've been shot before."
Dragon walked over to one of the bodies and watched as it turned to dust. "Well, whatever's happening, we just stepped in it. And Totengeist has apparently left us all at a disadvantage."
After searching the town, they found that the Sheriff's office was boarded up. Dragon reluctantly helped Brimstone break in and they slept in the building. It looked like it hadn't been used for months. There were cobwebs everywhere, and the two jail cells had rusted locks. They took turns keeping watch while the others slept.
The sun rose on Brimstone's watch. It was gorgeous, red and orange without the tinting haze of pollution that he was used to seeing. When it had risen above the hills in the distance, he woke Dragon and Dave.
"Morning, fellas. Should we go into town and see about some breakfast?"
"How are we going to pay for it?" Dragon asked.
"We'll figure something out, Dragon. Come on, I'm hungry."
The three of them stepped out of the sheriff's office into an empty street. There were a few people up, dusting off their porches or watering their horses, getting ready to leave town. Everyone looked about nervously, and when a little girl noticed the three strangers coming out of the sheriff's office, she screamed and pointed.
Most of the townsfolk looked shamefully away, but one large man, dressed in a gray blacksmith's apron and carrying a soot-covered hammer, stepped purposefully toward them.
"Who are you?" he asked, in a gruff voice tinged with a thick southern accent.
"I'm Dan, this is Dave, and this is...um, Stone." Dragon extended his right hand. "We're new in town, and it seems you're not allowed out after dark. We'll repair the damage we did getting in."
"My name's Harlan," the big man said, scratching his red beard. "But don't worry too much about fixing the sheriff's office. Last five men who've used it are gone, and no one else has stepped up."
"Is there somewhere we could get some breakfast and you could tell us more?" Dragon asked. "We're new in town. Just rode in last night." He cast a quick glance behind him at where the Vagabond had crashed.
"Sure," Harlan answered, lowering his hammer and shaking Dragon's hand. "Let's go to Miters Saloon."
They walked in the door and sat down at a wooden table that was full of bullet holes and decorated with stains on top. There was a quiet poker game going on in one corner, and a bartender served up drinks to an attractive young waitress at the bar. She avoided looking into any man's eyes.
"Marielle!" Harlan yelled. "Bring us four whiskeys and some of that bacon we got left!"
The waitress picked up a bottle of whiskey and four brown shot glasses. She carried them over and set them down on the table gently, keeping her eyes on the floor. Her face had a certain darkness to it. She walked away without saying a word.
"The dark men frightened her pretty bad a few nights ago. And back a ways, they killed her husband-to-be, the third sheriff," Harlan said.
"Who are these dark men?" Dragon asked.
Harlan shot back his whiskey and said, "They came here about two months ago. Town was alive, then. We called it Frontiers Hope. Sheriff was a fair man, Bill Wittiker. There was talk of moving the railroad through town. One day, the first dark man came. He walked into the bar, just looking around. When he saw the star on Bill's chest, he pulled his gun and shot him dead. Tossed the star on the bar and told everyone to stay indoors at night from now on."
"Second sheriff stepped right up. Waited until that night, figuring the man would be back. Most folks were closed in their homes, just to be safe, but some of them, about fifteen, stayed up to watch what happened. Now, only one of those people is still alive, and she's pretty crazy from what she saw. All most folks know is that the sheriff screamed for about an hour, and there was nothing left the next morning."
"Eventually, we realized we couldn't fight them. They only come around at night, most of the time, and a lot of folks left the town. Some of us, well, we haven't got the money to go anywhere else. We're just doing the best we can."
Marielle came back with a plate of bacon. She put her hand out and Harlan slapped some bills into her hands. She walked away silently.
Brimstone watched her walk away. "We have to end this, Dragon. Totengeist sent us here, and I have a feeling we need to do it to get our...horse back."
Dragon nodded, and looked to Dave for confirmation. He kept looking until he found Dave seated at the gambling table, looking like the liveliest one there.
"Okay, ante up." Dave picked up his cards and his jaw dropped. Dragon walked up behind him.
"Nice poker face, Dave." Dragon looked down at the hand. There were five cards, completely unmatched. Worthless.
"Dragon," Dave whispered, "I've never seen a hand like this. I always get at least one face card, usually two."
"Dave," Dragon whispered back, "what did you ante up with?"
"Sleight of hand," Dave answered. "I figured I'd win."