Crossfire

Distraction and Loss in Kansas
The Journal of Father Eric Brooks

September 3, 1875

Following the events of my last entry, we were indeed set upon by unsavory types. From what we could gather after, they were agents of the Mormon blasphemers, intent on preventing Miss Veila from reaching Salt Lake City.

In the meantime, both the Ranger and the reporter have taken their leave of us. Their journeys simply took them down a different road than ours. We continued through Kansas in relative peace, until one day when a storm came bearing down upon us. The storm was very intense, and others in the group reported seeing or feeling something “strange” in the atmosphere. We took refuge in a nearby barn. “Refuge” being a relative term, as it turns out.

The barn was abandoned, and looked about three days from falling down of it’s own accord. After stabling the horses, and securing the doors from the wind and rain, we set about exploring our temporary home.

In the back room we found three graves. As soon as we were settled, I set myself to giving these unknown men their last rites. Suddenly, I found myself to be… not myself.

I was in the same room, but there were three men with me, all in Confederate uniforms, and all preparing their weapons. Upon examining myself, I found that I too was in uniform. The men repeatedly addressed me as Marks, and it was obvious they weren’t too fond of me. Not knowing what else to do, I played along with this vision, until I came out of whatever trance I had found myself in.

Near-panicked, I left the back room to join the others in the main barn. Ever since Oxford, Danika has developed a habit of drawing a salt-circle when she feels threatened. It seems to calm her, and at that point I was willing to take what comfort I could get. I joined her in drawing the circle, but some unseen force kept marring the line before we could complete it.

Eventually, fatigue overtook the three adults in the group, and we fell unconscious. In my dream, I found myself back in the story of Private Marks. I was to learn later that Miss Veila and Mister Marconi would experience the same dream, though from the perspectives of the other two privates.

The Lieutenant insisted that we go out in the storm – he wanted to get the payroll wagon back from those damned, double-crossing redskins. I didn’t think it was the best idea, but the LT had gotten us through some pretty bad situations in the years since our unit formed, so I followed his orders.

Back in the barn, Danika and Pookie found themselves entertaining an enigmatic Indian fellow, who seemed to know more about the overall situation with both the storm, and our shared dream.

We saddled up, and Consecas was able to find their trail pretty quick. After hours of hard riding, we found the village. Dornan took up a sharpshooter position on the ridge, and the rest of us headed in under cover to try and take back the wagon.
We were able to eliminate a few warriors before we were discovered. In the ensuing fight, Consecas was gravely injured. As I hauled him out of the camp, he was fading in and out of consciousness.

I was to find out later that, as Consecas went under, back in the barn Mister Marconi would wake up. Danika and the Indian were worried that it wasn’t necessarily Marconi who woke up, and sent him back to sleep with the judicious application of a frying pan to the head.

As we were retreating, the savages took down the LT. Dornan and me got back to the horses, threw Consecas over one of the saddles, and rode hellbent for leather back to the barn. When we made it back, we finally had time to check out his injuries. It looked bad, but neither of us were medics. We calmed our nerves with the LT’s stash of bourbon – he didn’t need it anymore – and tried to do what we could.

We all woke from the dream just as the Indian warriors broke into the barn, and presumably slaughtered the three Privates. Though initially Marconi appeared to have injuries mirroring those of Consecas, they quickly faded to nothing.

As we came back to reality, the Indian explained to us that he was a survivor of that massacre. That the entire village had perished in the storm, and the spirits – both theirs and the soldiers’ – were using the storm to reenact the battle. He claimed the situation was steadily worsening, and there could be catastrophic results if nothing was done about it.

Further exploration of the barn also revealed inscriptions on the back of the barn, near the three graves. It seems that Private Consecas survived to bury his companions. What became of him after, we don’t currently know.

The next day, we began exploring the area. Danika found a small settlement a couple hours’ ride away, though they were not particularly welcoming. Two boys followed her back to the barn, and the three got into a scrap. As a group, we rode out to return the children to their parents. They were cautious but slightly more friendly when they learned we were simply traveling through the area. The leader of the clan was a man named Corvin, and we made arrangements to return the next day to stock up our water. In addition, I agreed to take confession and lead a Mass for the families.

When we arrived the next day, everything started out rather well. Mister Marconi set to filling water barrels, Miss Veila was taken up by the ladies of the farm, and Danika left to play with the girls. Confession from a group of people is rather boring – nobody wants to do anything bad, because pretty soon everyone is going to find out. After finishing with confessions, I returned to the yard to find Marconi leading a demonstration of one of his may inventions.

Suddenly, there was a great commotion. A fight had broken out between the farm children and Danika. The boys who she had fought with the day before didn’t take kindly to losing to a girl, and wanted payback. Greatly outnumbered, Danika called on Pookie to help her out. Being part wolf, Pookie reacted the only way he knew how. When the dust settled, three children were dead, and the farmers killed the animal.

How we left that farm alive, I still don’t know. I can only thank Divine Providence for staying the hands of Corvin and his men. They agreed to let us leave, so long as we left. We immediately returned to the barn to gather our belongings.

As Miss Veila, Danika and myself were breaking camp, Mister Marconi went outside to load the wagon. After a few minutes, we followed out to see what had become of him, but he was nowhere to be seen. We eventually found indications of a struggle and a trail. Not wanting Corvin to think we were returning, we finished packing and set out in pursuit. After several days, we were forced to abandon the wagon in order to maintain the chase. We eventually caught up with his kidnappers far to the south-west, at a pass leading into the mountains.

Having been pinned down by an ambush, we were eventually able to learn that Marconi had been taken by the Confederate government. They were, shall I say, interested in some of his inventions, and decided to offer him a job – whether he wanted it or not. Though it pains me still, we were forced to leave our friend behind. Of the three of us remaining, the only one likely to mount even a meager assault is eleven years old. I can only hope that we can rescue, or at least make contact with, Mister Marconi at some future date.

Returning to the nearest town, we discovered that we had given chase nearly to Santa Fe. We decided our next step would be to turn north to Denver, in hopes of finding passage to Salt Lake City. We acquired enough provisions for a three week ride, and Miss Veila sent a telegraph ahead of us, arranging for money from her late uncle’s estate to be waiting for us upon our arrival.

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Salt Lake Bound!
The Journal of Father Eric Brooks

August 16, 1875

Miss Veila has received word that an uncle in Salt Lake City had passed, leaving a significant portion of his estate to her. In order to begin our journey West, we returned to Jackson, our original party now reduced to Miss Mirta Veila, Mr Antonio Marconi, the child Danika, and myself. Leaving Oxford, we were also joined by a Mr Stephan Deepneau, an inquisitive – if rather abrasive – fellow with an interest in the… unusual.

Upon arriving in Jackson and securing lodging for the night, my companions went about their usual business. Given the excitement the last time we passed through Jackson, we were going to keep a low profile for the night. It appeared to be a quiet evening for once – which I should know, by now, just means there’s something we’re going to have to deal with in the morning.

As it turns out, Miss Danika’s description of “low profile” involves buying lockpicks, for which she was arrested. After confiscating the child’s personal armory – which I can only assume took up most of the night – the sheriff’s deputies released her into Miss Mirta’s custody, along with her assortment of knives (of which, I can only assume Miss Veila claimed ownership). In the morning, it was left to Mr Marconi to retrieve her firearm collection. The story being they are research for a design he’s working on of a quick-draw Derringer holster. Given the lukewarm (at best) reception Marconi has received as an Italian, I thought it best to accompany him, in order to smooth the way.

As we approached the sheriff’s office, we were greeted by a man dressed – apparently – as a Texas Ranger, but with a heavy Russian accent. After addressing us both by name, and several claims of “our best interests” he invited himself to accompany us on our journeys. Eventually, he introduced himself as Ranger Victor Edwards, but refuses to give any indication as to his motives, or true intentions for our party.

I can’t help but be concerned this is somehow involved with the unpleasantness in Mexico that took the life of Ranger Lockwood. Though at this point, it’s merely a baseless suspicion, it’s too much of a coincidence for this man, who seems to know more about us than he’s willing to divulge about himself, to simply fall across our path. He also seems to be a rather hot-headed man, one who is perfectly willing to shoot first and ask questions… maybe. This could simply be a matter of a poor first impression – when I declined to bless his twin pistols, he turned one of them on me. That sort of thing leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth.

Upon retrieving Marconi’s property, we return to our lodging and prepare to cross the Mississippi. The crossing occurs with almost no incident, aside from a panicked horse somewhere in the line behind us – Railroad workers put the beast down and cleared the lane in short order, to keep traffic moving smoothly. Some urchins on the Arkansas side of the river also attempted to relieve our wagon of some supplies, but Mister Deepneau’s sharp eyes spotted them before they were able to make off with anything.

The remainder of the day was spent on the trail, and we made camp alongside a wagon train which we caught up just before dusk. They were gracious enough to allow us to share a campground, but made it perfectly clear we were not welcome among them for the evening.

August 17, 1875

Upon daybreak, we broke camp and headed out – our decision was to leave early, to avoid delays from being behind the caravan all day. Shortly before we left Jackson, Danika informed me there were some men in town searching for Miss Veila, and she informed us that afternoon that they were now on our back-trail.

Gradually Mr Edwards fell back from our group, to better assess our follower’s intention. The rest of us continued on, making camp in an abandoned farmstead for the night. As we were setting up camp, we heard gunfire from along the trail. Mr Deepneau and myself rushed to the scene on horseback, to find Ranger Edwards lying on the ground with a gunshot wound in his belly. As I was doing what I could to stop the bleeding and save the man, Danika arrived – accompanied by the beast Pookie. The dog, upon smelling blood, immediately attempted to eat what he thought was food. Fortunately, Mr Deepneau was able to wrestle him off before any further damage was done.

Then began the strangest thing I have yet seen that child do – she muttered something almost prayerlike under her breath, cleaning and passing her hands over the wound for a few moments. Then she reached into the wound itself, and extracted the bullet. Once that was done, the wound sealed itself, leaving not so much as a scar to show the Ranger had been shot.

Mr Deepneau – who seems to have an eye for the strange – immediately began questioning what had just happened. Not understanding myself (and still largely flabbergasted), I attempted to defer the question until we got our companion back to camp and made him comfortable.

When Edwards regain consciousness, his questions were much along the same lines as Mr Deepneau’s – though with much more force. Both of them seemed to direct their questioning at me, despite my assertion that I was just as much “in the dark” about what had happened as they. Is it possible the child was able to work a miracle?

After much discussion – in the guise of a loud, forceful debate between myself and the Ranger – we were able to get some kind of story of what happened to Victor. It seems he confronted our followers and, when he asked their interest in our group, they drew on him and opened fire.

He claims he only drew in self-defense, but given his brash, fast-acting nature I can’t help wonder if we’re getting the full story from him.

From the description he gave – of the men’s full, neatly-trimmed beards and the cross-and-star badge their leader was wearing – I believe them to be Dananites: “lawmen” sent out by Deseret‘s blasphemous church. I’m very worried that they would venture this far East in search of Miss Veila – if LDS attack dogs are already after us this far from Salt Lake City, what kind of reception can we expect when we finally arrive there?

Once cooler heads than the Ranger’s (and, to my great shame, mine) prevailed, the rest of the evening passed relatively without incident. Though the child continues to suffer from horrible nightmares, which kept several of us awake throughout the night. I understand that Mr Marconi is attempting to apply his alchemical talents towards finding a means to quiet the girl’s sleep – an act of mercy not only to to Danika, but anyone she travels with.

August 18, 1875

For well over a week now, we have traveled largely without incident. We recently passed through Wichita – bypassing the Coyote Confederation entirely – and are roughly following the Black River rail line through the disputed territories.

Late this afternoon, we encountered the remains of a still-burning wagon train. Based on Mr Deepneau’s findings, it appears this was the scene of a minor skirmish between some Confederate sympathizers bringing supplies East for the war effort, and some Yankee raiders hell-bent on preventing just that. It appears the Yankees won this particular battle, as horses were slaughtered and one of the wagons set ablaze.

We spent the rest of the day ministering to the fallen. While we didn’t have time to properly bury these poor souls (scavengers – not to mention Pookie – saw to that), I was able to at least perform last rites. Once this was done, we set to burning the bodies using the remains of the wagons – Confederate or Yankee, these men will arrive to God together. Once the bodies started burning however, the stench… overwhelmed me completely. I was barely able to keep upright, much less help perform this final service. My lunch, sadly, was left on the prairie.

It is now just after midnight. We’ve made camp a little way upwind of the afternoon’s activities, and Mr Deepneau has just woken me for my turn at watch. Just before dark, he spotted a figure on the horizon. Unfortunately, the sun prevented him from making out any useful details, other than that someone was there.

Things are very quiet now. Aside from the wind, there’s barely anything mov- What was that? There is something out in the tall grass. Someone’s found us! I must wake the others!

Lord, Grant me strength!

Your Humble (if somewhat overwhelmed) servant
- Fr. Eric Brooks

August 18, 1875 – Addendum

Forgive me Father, for I don’t think the others will anytime soon. Though I swear before you that I heard something out in the tall grass, when I woke everyone else there was nothing to be found but the wind. After my mistake was uncovered, Ranger Edwards relieved me of the remainder of my watch. I’ll do my best to get to sleep, but I don’t think it will be soon in coming.

Your (truly) Humbled servant
- Fr. Brooks

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