As the moon rose high over them, blacking out the mountains on the horizon and splattering the sky with stars that lit the sand, Bennet and his companions set up camp. They did not speak much, only heating up their food and then going to sleep. It seemed like forever ago to Bennet since he had had a good meal at a table, a roof over his head, reading a book by the firelight. He hadn't really read a book in the year since Vera died, although now he wished he had. He had taken more to drinking after work and his poker games and falling asleep, only going out from his room to check on the money-press before passing out into the next day. All was strange to him, now, being out in the open desert with a wanderer and an Apache for company. If Vera could see him now.
And then, he slept.
His sleep was mostly dreamless. The one dream he remembered was walking home from the bar and sitting in front of the fire, reading a book, and this made him smile an unseen grin in his sleep. Somewhere in the night, a coyote found a small animal and tore it to pieces on the plain, leaving nothing of it more than a red stain and some fur.
In the morning, the three rose and packed their things, saddled their horses and rode on.
"Did you sleep alright?" Lester asked.
"Fine as ever," Bennet spat on the ground. "And yerself?"
The Apache nodded solemnly.
Lester leaned in close to Bennet, "He ain't much of a morning person."
"That makes two of us."
Lester leaned back and laughed and Bennet stared out towards the purple-orange of the rising sun, a faint smile on his lips for a reason he couldn't recall.
It didn't take long for the fine sand to start being cratered with rocks and spiked shrubs. A thundering could be heard not too far off. Kuruk raised his hand sharply and they stayed their horses, silent. The Apache searched the horizon and saw, not too far to the north-east, a group of riders kicking up dust and heading for them.
"What is it?" Lester asked.
"Riders," Kuruk said. "Indians."
"I do not know."
"We'd best hide us somewheres," Bennet said. "Because I don't intend to find out what kind a injuns they are by just standin' here like a target."
"I can not disagree with you."
They turned their horses away from the riders and kicked them at speed, heading for the big rock. Not too far off was a large boulder atop a tower of rocks which would do for cover and anyhow it was the only place around to hide, the rocky hills still being some miles off. When they reached the rocks they lashed their horses to it and steadied them, taking out and prepping their rifles and pistols, hiding the niches of the stony structure.
And then they waited, the only sound echoing from anywhere was the thunder of the riders on their horses. It wasn't too long before they heard the war cries, too. Savage wails into the sky.
"Sioux," Kuruk said. "I think. Killers."
Lester hammered back both of his pistols, let out a small curse and said a quiet prayer. Bennet leaned over into a small gap in the rock and poked through his rifle barrel. He could see them clearly, now. There were maybe a dozen of them, riding hard, painted faces and bodies, blood dried to their hands and mouth and horses. Scalps bounced at their hips, hanging from buffalo-tail belts. Most were shirtless but some had on scraps that were once the fine linens of rich men or the dusted vests of workers. Necklaces of teeth and ears hung around their necks. Though he couldn't see their eyes, he knew there would be fire in them. He stared down the sight for some time until he had his breathing right and he fired off a shot, the crack echoing into the desert nothingness. For a moment, he thought he'd missed, but then the lead Sioux's shoulder lurched back and he fell from his horse, trampled under the hooves of the many at his back. One of the riders turned back and headed away from the battle as fast as he could.
"You get one?" Lester asked.
"I did," Bennet began reloading. "But there's more. One's headin' back, likely for more."
"How far is that?"
Bennet figured for a moment.
"About three hundred yards," he said finally. "Give or take."
"Jesus. Hell of a shot."
"Yes I am."
Bennet lined up the sights again and fired off into the crowd. Another's head snapped back sickeningly and flung him from his horse, red mist lingering for a moment before disappearing. But the riders were much closer, now - within one hundred yards.
"Best you start shootin'," Bennet said. "Lest they come upon us only two down."
Lester turned around the edge of the rocks and fired off all twelve of his chambers. He hit six men, some twice and them falling over, but others riding despite their injuries, their fiery eyes clearly visible now in the full day's light.
Kuruk leaned over the rocks and took aim slowly, more carefully like Bennet, but the Sioux were only fifty yards away and he had to let the shot off sooner, striking a horse in the eye and taking it down. It fell atop its rider and slowed some others, but they were still six in number when they finally came around the rocks and swung viciously with axes and clubs at the three huddled men. Shooting close range with a rifle was useless, Bennet knew, so he took out his six-shooter and fired wildly at the men in front of him, blood raining on him from some unseen dying thing nearby him. The remaining injuns lept down from their horses and ran at the men, swinging at them and the men had to return blows. It was only five versus three now and Kuruk was handling two men easily, knocking back and dodging blows. Two more landed at Bennet who dispatched one with a shot to the gut and took to the other with his fists.
The Sioux swung wildly with his axe, slamming it, thudding, into the sand and rocks. Soon he had Bennet pinned and was smashing at his face with the butt of the axe, catching Bennet's nose and unleashing a torrent of blood over them both. Bennet's right hand struggled outward, looking for something to use as a weapon, while his left kept the warrior at bay, fending off attacks. His hand found a rock and he brough it up, swinging in a wide arc, catching the injun in the temple and spraying his blood on the rocks. The body slumped to the ground and Bennet pulled away from him. He saw that the injun wasn't dead but only stunned, his eyed blank and rolling about his head, jerking about with failed movements. Bennet brough the rock down again and the man was still.
A struggle for a fallen pistol led Lester to shoot the man atop him in the shoulder and chest, having taken a severe beating around his face and large cuts on his chest. Kuruk had also been cut on the chest and back, but had killed his two attackers with a violent fury and went about scalping them.
"What are you going to do with those?" Bennet asked, spitting blood onto the rocks and wiping some from his nose onto his sleeve.
"Sell them," Kuruk said. "Fifty cents per scalp."
"People pay top dollar for injun scalps," Lester sat up against the rocks. "Mostly so's they know that the roaming bands is at least part dead."
Bennet nodded as he took this on and they all searched the bodies for valuables.
"Come on," Bennet said after a time. "Let's get out of here."
"We should lash the horses we can round up," Lester said. "They'd sell too at market where we're going."
Bennet agreed and they set about chasing down and roping the horses into a chain. Once they had, they moved off again towards the town over the rocky hills.