The full moon glinted off Simon’s guns as he crouched behind a rock. Simon felt his heart fiercely pumping as he reloaded. Seven left.
They’d aimed to kill him in the canyon, whoever they were. That was normal. There were lots of highwaymen on the roads. What was worrying was that they were trying to kill him in particular.
There were several reasons this was odd. For the first, not many people would tangle with a Marshal if they didn’t have to. Simon wasn’t by any means the most dangerous of the Marshals, but he was still more than the average bandit could handle. For the second, no one should have known he was there.
He finished reloading, and looked back over the rock. The edge of the canyon was behind him, protecting him from the back. Luckily, they hadn’t put anyone on the far side. He let off ten shots, and ducked down again as several more shots rang around him.
He listened, in a way that had nothing to do with his ears, to the bullets. This was one of the things that made him the GunMarshal. Trick bullets were just toys, fancy hand and eye just tools. Simon Heller could hear the hidden voices of the instruments of war. He heard his own weapons most clearly, but any weapon had a story to tell him.
The bullets that ricocheted off the rock around him told him the highwaymen were looking to kill the GunMarshal. The bullets sang his name as they sought him out. They’d kill him if they could, because that’s what they were fired to do. They also told him that there were only three men left standing. He’d gotten four more of the bastards.
Two bullets left in his gun. That was important, in case they were counting shots. If they were listening, they would have heard five shots. If they were listening well, they’d know there had been twice that, one shot hidden in the ring of another. Either way, they’d know he had bullets left. That would hopefully keep them from rushing him.
He wondered absently if they’d try to bug out or parlay. It would be the sensible thing to do, and if they were bandits, they’d realize they didn’t have the numbers to take him.
He heard footsteps charging him. Not sensible, but he’d had a feeling they wouldn’t be. He waited, and then raised his gun just as the man rounded the stone. The man’s brains sprayed out the back of his head, and his gun fell to the ground, unfired. Simon didn’t touch it.
Simon finished reloading one gun, and then began to reload the other. No hurry.
There was a scream, and six shots marked time on the rock and the ground beside it. This was interesting. One of the men had just used up all of his bullets. Heller could feel the empty barrels of the man’s gun, and there was nothing left to feed it. Was this a ruse to get him into the other man’s sights?
He decided to risk a look around the boulder again. He saw the man who’d fired himself dry. He was standing up and cursing. He was almost daring Simon to kill him.
The other man was nowhere in sight. Simon could feel him in the distance, but he couldn’t get a fix on where he was. He ducked down before the man could get a good aim on his.
Simon sighed. The two men were either about to attack or try to escape. Either way, he knew he had to make a move fast.
He swung out from behind the rock. The man who’d emptied ran at him, holding his gun by the barrel to use as a club. Simon shot him in the knee, and paid him no more mind. Where was the other?
There were fifteen dead men with the one wounded. Simon frowned. He’d only killed fourteen.
Then he had to keep from laughing. The man was playing possum. He just had to figure out which body was still alive. Aside from the one writhing around clutching its knee, of course.
They were mostly human, with a four-armed bandit, a couple of dwarves, and three furry bodies. The living bandit felt human through his guns, so that made nine bodies to choose from. That made things easier.
Methodically, keeping all nine in his field of vision, he began to shoot each body in turn. On the third shot, one of the bodies jumped up, lifting up a rifle. Simon shot the man three times.
Satisfied, he walked to the man he’d wounded. The man was still clutching the injured limb, and glaring up at him with red-rimmed eyes.
“I’ll kill you, kill you dead, dead for the buzzards, buzzard-bait. Spirit’s gonna take you, spirit’s gonna take your soul.”
“That’s hardly polite,” Simon said. “Why, we’ve hardly been introduced, you and I.”
The man tried to spit on Simon’s face, but could only manage to hit the front of his shirt.
Simon pulled out his handkerchief and cleaned himself up. “So, tell me about this spirit of yours. That what sent you boys after me?”
“You’re the devil, but I won’t yield, I won’t yield to the temptation! Spirit save me! Spirit save me!” The man stank of death and hashish, like a scruffy Assassin. But he didn’t sound like any Assassin Simon had ever met.
“No one here but you and me, friend,” Simon said. “You might as well talk.”
“No!” the man screamed, and something was moving under his shirt. "No, spirit, I will not yield, I am strong, spirit save me! Oh god, lead me not…"
The man began to sob, and then went into convulsions. Simon stopped just out of the man’s reach. He recognized the signs. It was too late. A moment later, the man gave a final twitch, and then was still. A red scorpion crawled out of the man's sleeve and scuttled away. Simon kept his distance.
“Dammit,” Simon said. This had to be related to Ruther and the dough-child. He wanted some answers, and the man wasn’t in any shape now to answer them.
Fortunately, Simon knew someone who might be able to do something about that, and she owed him a favor. It was a little out of the way to Denner’s Ferry, but the more information he had, the better.
He looted the other men’s bodies, careful of their pouches. Aside from scorpions, he found some money, some tobacco and hashish, and fifteen coins, made of gold. They were old, and an eagle could just barely be made out on one side. On the other side of each coin, someone had rubbed out the original design, and scratched a rough semblance of a face. He pocketed these. Their guns he didn’t bother touching. Guns don’t remember far, and there would be no answers there.
They had a few horses, and some honest, flesh-and-blood mules. He piped the horses to his own, and then tied the mules behind. He put the involuntary suicide onto one of the free horses, and then started off again, this time a bit further north.