The sounds of combat echoed from below the mesa. The Ide were apparently holding their own despite their disadvantage in weapons; the roar of musketry was interspersed with the snap from more modern repeaters. Virginia felt sick to her stomach at the thought of her friends, Ranger and Ide alike, killing each other.

But there were more important things to think about. The ceremony had to be almost complete; there were only minutes–seconds, perhaps–to make it to Jake and the Ide elders.

Virginia dipped a hand into her pocket and retrieved a second cylinder for the 1858. With practiced fingers she swapped it out for the smoking and depleted one in her parents’ Remington.

Even from behind the crumbling mudbrick wall, Virginia could hear Strasser’s footsteps and spurs. “Show yourself, you plain and cowardly little girl,” the Ranger cried. “I’ll have our business finished before I deal with Jake.”

Taking a deep breath, Virgina cocked her revolver and rolled out of cover. Strasser was perhaps twenty or twenty-five yards away at the end of a manmade gulch formed by the pueblos.

“You look ridiculous,” Strasser laughed. Despite the adobe dust that caked her, she still presented an elegant and refined silhouette and her Lightning was heavy in hand. “Look at you, the idiotic seed of a wormy old tree, still playing at being her parents. That ridiculous antique’s so big on you it’s a wonder you can get your hands around the grip.”

“I am Virginia MacNeil, daughter of Prosperity Rangers. It doesn’t matter what shooting iron’s in my hand so long as my heart is true.”

Strasser laughed again. “You’ve been reading too many fairy tales, girl. But no matter. I’ll show you a taste of the real world before I take care of that traitor and his Ide confederates above.”

“No more talk,” Virginia growled. “Make your move, you snake.”

They were both silent for a minute, guns in hand but lowered as a bitter wind from below brought with it the sounds of battle.

Revolvers flashed to the firing position. Smirking, Strasser had her Colt lightning leveled and ready first, and squeezed the trigger. To her surprise, there was nothing but a dry snap as the double-action trigger failed. Cursing, she pulled back the hammer for a single-action shot just as Virginia’s finger tightened around the heavy and stubborn trigger of the Remington.