Perhaps the ease with which I learned to kill in the name of the crown has not dimmed these last few years.
The sun had not quite risen when I was woken by the Indian, who, with barely a word of explanation, hared off into the pre-dawn gloom. I waited at the doorway of the carriage we had sheltered in, and was just able to pick out the sound of cries for help over the wind.
I woke the two women who had been most help yesterday, thinking that the Indian may need help if this was some trick of the bandits, but while I watched the injured and more fragile members of our party, the two ladies found the Indian, and a survivor.
With so many injured, and little enough provisions, I took it upon myself to thin our numbers while the more delicate were buzzing around the survivor. God help me, but I killed those two men most injured, and I guess I feel more guilty about not feeling guilty, than I do about my hand in their deaths, if that makes any sense. Killing is easy; it seems the choice to stop is the hardest part.
It was while I was at my distasteful task that the widow was approached by Laura. The softly spoken Mrs Chapman was tense about something, that I could tell, and when she told me the story she in turn had heard, I could only agree. With limited supplies and (now slightly fewer) injured in our ranks, Laura wanted us to hunt down some wild beast. It was preposterous.
Until, during a heated debate between the three women (Miss Maltster siding with Chapman, and our Indian friend remaining quiet) I realised that Laura was an Agent of the Union, and that the creature she wanted us to hunt was no natural beast. She described how her fellow agents had fallen at its hands, and that it would hunt us over the snow like animals until we, or it, was killed.
Foolishly I imagined it as some human killer, some unhinged individual that the Agency had captured and were transporting. But, after some fisticuffs amongst the women (not at all helped by the Agent’s lies), I agreed that I would try and track this beast. It took some persuasion, but the two ladies and the Indian agreed to come with me, and to be honest I can’t think of anyone out here I’d rather have watching my back. The two women were the only people to keep their heads in the original attack, and the Indian helped a group of strangers when he had been offered nothing in return. Some might have asked the Agent to accompany them, but I think Mrs Chapman is close to the truth when she says Laura is a coward, and though I returned the gatling pistol to her, I wouldn’t want her to decide we were ‘too’ close to the truth.
Although her promise of $500 apiece was awfully tempting.
After that, things got strange, quick. I tracked the prints from the baggage car to a clearing in the mountains. There was a cave in cliff, and disturbed earth all around. It was as I approached such a patch of earth, that a hand burst from the ground, followed, naturally, by the rest of one of the train crew.
I could believe that they were with the bandits, but when one of my companions shot the belly from the corpse, a strange insect like creature revealed itself. In the firestorm we brought down on the other corpses we cut them down, although one, the body of a stranger, I killed with a blow from my brass knuckles. It was a lucky hit, killing the insect within, and further ruining my coat. The Agency must have a hell of a cleaning bill.
Exploration of the cave revealed the Agency’s creature, a bigger insect that attacked Miss Maltster. Together we managed to pry it off the girl, and I shot it to pieces.
The girl was hard to console though, it seemed the creature had implanted her with a grub from its sting. Chapman cut it out of her side, and I flicked the grotesque little thing onto a pyre I had made for the bodies.
It’s time to set out back down the rail, we have about twenty miles to cover. Then I have to get out to Salt Lake City, scare up some information on this miracle cure. I would ask the Agent about their science, but I don’t want to owe them anything. I’d rather they didn’t know I existed.
I might have to get another shotgun too. God knows where I’m going to keep it though…