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(Arizona Territory, 1880)

Picking their way down the canyon in the noonday sun, Fallon kept looking back as Derek slumped more and more forward in his saddle. He’s not doing good, she thought with a tight feeling in her chest. The air grew cooler as a breeze, heavy with the smell of moisture, blew up from the south. Suddenly, dark, threatening storm clouds, which seemed miles away just half an hour ago, sat on top of them. If it rains, at least they’ll lose our trail might help.

Lightning flashed and thunder rolled as Fallon heard Derek groan, turning again only to see him slowly roll off his saddle and onto the ground. “Derek!” she yelled, jumping down. Reaching him, she turned over the semi-conscious man, slapping his face rapidly, trying to wake him. “Stay with me, mister. Its not time to go home.”

Hearing her voice seemed to orient him, “I’s don’t feels good.”

She looked around quickly and saw some big rocks on a knoll to their left that might provide shelter and protection. Fear welled up in her heart as their options dwindled. I have to get him moved while he’s still conscious, he’s too heavy to drag and the horse can’t get up there. “Derek….Derek,” slapping his cheek gently again.

“Yes, Miss Fallon, that’s you?”

“You have to help me, its only a short way; we need to shelter from the comin’ storm. I can’t move you myself.”

His mind seemed to fight its way back to consciousness as he nodded and struggled up, his right arm around her slim shoulders, which steadied him. Slowly but surely, they made the short walk up to the rocks together.

~~

Dic fully regretted coming on the posse now, as the others galloped off. Deputy Kade was just being fool hardy. Coming along had seemed like a good idea at the time, a quick buck and a help to Amos, but if someone got killed, he’d feel terrible. Up in the sky above, the darkest clouds he’d ever seen lowered at him, strange violet lightning flashing in different places, like nature herself was angry. In all his days, Dic had never seen the like.

Riding his donkey hard, he caught up to the posse about half an hour later, just as, rifles in hand, Kade and the others began making their way up the slope on foot, after the deputy sheriff had spotted a woman near the rocks up ahead.

Kade said to the others, “She seems alone; maybe the black man left her to fend for herself.” The posse fanned out and approached slowly and cautious, as silent as possible, until Amos stepped on a dry stick – crack! Instantly, a rifle fired, and Amos’s hat flew off his head. “Down!” Deputy Kade yelled. Dic judged the distance between them and the shooter; it must have been 200 yards, maybe more. Either that old timer Amos was lucky as a four-leaf clover, or that marksman up there wasn’t trying to kill them…just yet. Then, it started raining.

~~

Fallon watched Derek shoot, the smoke from his Winchester bursting again and again out of the muzzle as the bullets flew. She could see he was having trouble focusing, forcing his eyes wide then squinting hard.

“Miss Fallon, hands me my spy glass.” Rummaging through his saddle bag, she found it wrapped in an old cloth. As he extended it she heard him count, “One, two…” then after a minute, “three, four, five. Good they’s all there.” She could hear them shoot back once in a while, but at this distance, every shot went wide, some not hitting the rocks they were hold up in at all.

Derek shifted his gaze down the mountain. “Damn. Cavalry’s comin’, too. I’s figured as much.”

Thunder – as much thunder as she’d ever heard anywhere on the plains – pealed again and again through the heavens. Lightning struck the ground and dark sheets of rain fell beyond them, like gossamer curtains. Derek peered through his glass, saying, “That ain’t right.”

“What?” Fallon asked.

“The rain, its fallin’ on thems, but stops justs like a wall 100 yards out from us.”

“That’s strange.” Fallon said. “Why doesn’t it come our way?”

Suddenly, Derek dropped the glass and backed away exclaiming, “What in tarnation!”

“Derek? What did you see?”

“I – I know’s her…from Lakota…those wings. . .” Confusion, surprise, and fear all mixed together in his face at once. Fallon picked up the spyglass and looked. There, walking up the hill toward them was a woman, dressed in a funny top hat and strange clothes, a saddle bag thrown over her right shoulder.

Derek, pushing Fallon aside, steadied his arms on the rock, sighting his rifle. “I don’t know what that is, but I don’t aims to finds out.”

But inside, deep in her belly, Fallon felt comforted, like a warm hug. Putting her hand on his shoulder, she said, “Please, Derek, don’t shoot her. I think she’s the one Lozen was talkin’ about.”

Derek, finger on the trigger said, “That ain’t no bird! And it ain’t natural.”

Softly, Fallon said with growing confidence, “She’s here to help us, I feel it.”

She also felt the muscles in his arm relax a bit, seeing his finger removing itself from the trigger, though he didn’t move his rifle. The lady walked steadily up the hill, closing the distance easily, then climbed up over the rocks. She was beautiful, with long blond hair which curled at the ends, locks laced with shimmering blue and red streaks threaded like fine embroidery.

The woman, smiling easily with kind eyes, said, “Hi, you must be Fallon. They said you’re a sweetheart. I like you.” Then the strange lady looked over to Derek, struggling to sit up, and said with compassion, “You’re Derek. I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. But we’ll fix that.”

Sitting down on a nearby rock, she opened her saddle bag. “I brought sandwiches, I thought you’d be hungry. They’re corned beef, my favorite, hope you like them.” Fallon took one hesitantly, bringing it up to her nose, sniffing the wrapper. It smelled delicious.

“Go ahead, they’re really good,” the lady reassured her. “I get them from this little kosher deli on 32nd Street.”

Famished, Fallon unwrapped hers and started eating greedily. It tasted like heaven, involuntary, “mmmm, this is so good,” slipping out between bites.

The blond woman handed a sandwich to Derek also, but the big man just stared, not knowing what to make of the stranger in the top hat. “Well, maybe later.” She shrugged, “I’ll save it for you. You’re in pretty bad shape.” Fallon saw the woman stare hard at him, then comment, “We’ve met before, haven’t we? I’m trying to place you, but. . . .” She crossed her arms, thumb on cheek, tapping her chin with her left forefinger. “Oh yes, I was on the river and you looked at me and my friend. Yes, that’s where I know you from! Hm, that’s been, well…well for me anyway, over 30 years ago… funny how these things work.”

“Who are you?” Fallon asked, eating the last bite of her corned beef sandwich.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Brenzel. I’m a Seraph Hunter. I’ve come to help you out.” Smiling, she asked, “Wanna get out of here?”

Fallon’s eyes widened as she nodded slowly, while Derek still stared in disbelief.

Finally, Derek managed to blurt, “You wings, where theys be?”

Scrunching her face, Brenzel said, “Oh, I don’t have them yet, don’t know why, they say they will come soon enough, I just have to ‘believe in myself’. . . whatever that means. How’d you know? Well, no matter, time’s of the essence. I don’t want your friends to drown.”

Fallon listened in amazement as Brenzel quickly explained three rules, then presented them with two brown hats. One a fashionable bonnet, with a green bow and ribbon on the back and the other like a cavalry hat. However, each had a clock embedded in the side and something like eyeglasses strapped up front. Fallon took hers and put it on, while Derek still hesitated.

Finally, Brenzel asked again, “Do you agree?”

Fallon put her new bonnet on her head, and a feeling of well-being filled her from head to toe. She smiled broadly, eyes wide, then looked at Derek who was touching his own hat.

“What do you thinks, Miss Fallon?” he asked.

Smiling at her protector, then glancing at Brenzel, after a moment’s reflection, she said, “Well, Derek, when you pray for a miracle, I think you have to accept the answer. This is a strange one, and it isn’t what I expected, but it is a miracle, so I think we should say yes.”

Accepting the hat, Derek put it on, then said, “I’s agrees.” Instantly, Fallon saw him relax and breathe deeply. His whole body seemed to unstress as he sat up, looking strong and confident again. He stood up tall, adjusting his hat, saying, “I’s feels better.”

Fallon came over, took his hand and said, “You are the bravest man I’ve ever laid eyes on.”

“Good, then it’s settled.” Brenzel threw her saddle bag back over her shoulder. “It’s time to go,” she said as she pressed a blue feather into Fallon’s hand, then gave one to Derek. The feather caused a thrill to run down Fallon’s back, like it was something she was always meant to have. “When I say so, take the feather and put it in the hat band like so.” Brenzel demonstrated.

Turning to the clouds and the wall of rain, eyes to the sky, she said, “Thank you, Guanyin.” Before them all, a brilliant rainbow appeared in the clouds between them and the deluge below. Turning around again, she told the bewildered couple, “Okay, place your feathers.” Then, taking both their hands in hers, she smiled, “This is going to feel… a little different.”

~~

All of a sudden, the rain simply stopped. So did the lightning, and the thunder rolled off into the distance. Everyone, except Gloria, who was tucked safely in Shirley’s saddle bag, was soaked to the bone, cold, and scared out of their wits. Though the lightning had been licking the ground around them, not one bolt struck anyone. Dic’s ears were ringing, but it dissipated quickly as he stood, looking at the others shivering in the beams of sunlight that quickly pierced their way through the vanishing clouds.

Dic heard the young man, Dale, say, “I’m sorry, I’m going home to my sweetheart, this is more than I bargained for.”

Shirley, holding the saddle bag with Gloria tucked dryly said, “I’m goin’ too, I don’t want Gloria to catch cold.”

Dic looked at the bedraggled Amos, who grunted, “I need a drink.”

For once, Dic had nothing to say about anything. Like a small town boy suddenly in the big city, everything felt different and new. He simply pointed to Kade then in the direction of Tombstone, mounting his mule. Overhead, Dic welcomed hot sun which dried out their little posse on their way back. A couple miles behind him, as if an artist painted it, the whole desert bloomed.

SEOIB.