Hooves clopped on hard-packed dirt as a stranger made his way into the town of Dry Creek. He was tall and broad, with sharp cheekbones, sun-leathered skin, and flint-hard eyes. He wore a hickory longbow slung over his shoulder and his ammo in a quiver across his back.
Townsfolk on the main street skittered away when they saw him coming, ducking into shops and homes, slamming doors, bolting locks.
He drew up in front of the Boot Hall Tavern.
A man with a badge eased out. “’Fraid you’ll have to move on, Hoss. ’Less you want to be strung up. Your kind’s not welcome here.”
“You know what I want, lawman,” said the stranger.
“Reckon I do. Don’t mean you’ll get it.” The lawman put a hand on his double-action crossbow. The stranger looked around and spotted men with bows and crossbows around every corner. “I guess ya want to do this the hard way,” said the stranger. “Bring ’em to the wall in two hours’ time, or my boys will tear up this town. There won’t be a stone left standing.”
As the stranger turned and clopped back out of town, the lawman’s jaw tightened.
Two hours later, the lawman slowly approached the stone wall that marked the town’s territory. He had his crossbow in hand and behind him, hidden among the standing rocks, were his men and their horses. Beyond the stone wall stood the stranger, alone, bow in hand. But the lawman knew that Hoss could have dozens of his men sitting behind the wall, waiting for a signal to attack. “You bring ’em?” said the stranger.
The lawman nodded slowly. “How do I know your boys won’t tear up our town if I give you what you want?”
“You have my word.”
The lawman laughed. “What good’s the word of a centaur?”
The stranger shifted his weight on his hooves. “There’s a lot of folk here today that don’t need to die. What do you say you and I finish this?”
The lawman liked his chances. He was the fastest draw in the territory. He’d put down more outlaws than any other lawman alive. Still, a centaur took some killin’.
“’Less you don’t care about your men,” said the stranger, loud enough for the men to hear. The lawman narrowed his eyes. The last thing he needed was a bloodbath.
He lifted his crossbow pointing it at his opponent. “Have it your way.” The centaur did the same. Their grips tightened.
Then the lawman called, “Draw!”
The lawman’s hand flicked to the quiver of bolts on his back and slung a bolt into his crossbow. He pulled the trigger a fraction of a second later, but the centaur was faster. An arrow thudded into the lawman’s chest and he flew backwards to the ground.
“Now release them!” growled the centaur to the hiding men. “We won’t let you string them up just for crossing the border.”
Two young centaurs, bruised but otherwise unharmed, hurried toward the wall on unstable colts legs.
“Pa,” they cried as the stranger helped them over the wall.
“Run!” said Pa, and the three centaurs bolted away from the wall, hooves flying. “Where are all your men?” said one of the youngsters, glancing back at the wall. “I was bluffing,” said Pa, knocking another arrow. “I don’t have any men. Now run!”
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