The Isle of Skald, 18 June

Samstag, 18. Brachting

My dear friend and companion Dr. Crane,

I write this last, short letter in sharp defiance of despair, yet in utter disbelief of my own survival, such as it is. I have come to the point where I no longer can distinguish whether I have persevered against great adversity or merely been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, like a bumbling fool. At times I perceive myself as mindless and aimless, like a blind man tottering into a busy city road yet somehow managing not to be trampled.

It is not me who should have survived. Why am I still here?

No! After what I have seen—what we both have seen—I know better than to give myself into the darkness; something inside me steels my nerves and heightens my senses, and allows me to use the Ability that has been restored to me to at least keep the Rexley device out of the hands of our enemies. That alone is what sustains my will to remain alive, though all others are dead—those poor souls!—and what pushes me to take my next breath, while our grand expedition lies in tatters and ruin. Yet, Crane, if you ever see this letter, which I am assuming is my last, please know that as I write this I expect to meet the same fate as my courageous countrymen, and part of me seeks death. Now, I do constant battle with my own mind to set one foot in front of the other.

I write this not knowing if it will be found by Alia or Alona after the fracas and trauma of the last three weeks on Skald. I have taken some pains to hide it where we last left the flight suit, neatly packed, in the bunker that we once visited on the southern region of the island. I am distressed to think that my darling Alia may already have visited the island in search of me, her emotions dire and her heart breaking. I can only hope that she sees this letter, and an additional one just for her, that I have left here in this mouldy bunker. Nevertheless, that this last communication never reaches your eyes, or hers, is insufficient reason not to pen it.

Yet, for all of this and more, that is exactly why I have hidden the Rexley Device with this letter. I will be found soon. I will be found if I attempt to leave the island, and very possibly if I stay. I—we all!—cannot suffer the Rexley Device to be found on my person. They have dark blood and they have taken our supply of its antidote. Bennington died to prevent the Device from falling into the hands of Brown and his network. Getting the Device off this island and into your hands is my only recourse now. I have no inkling of where you may be of even if you are alive, but my last action shall be to do as I thought best to thwart the intentions of our enemies.

I was surprised to find that the Brown-clone had left my log-book behind; it was rather sloppy work on his (its?) part to say the very least, and I can only explain it by saying that its methodologies matched your discoveries at Caerdarn, a dying Segismund left behind to tell his story, or serve as a warning, for reasons yet beyond the both of us. It may be that Brown and his minions are more desperate than they want to show, as I do not think them so stupid as to have had no intention behind leaving me alive. Perhaps I was simply their next Segismund: they left me, poisoned with their transformation venom, a last bitter measure of the torture that they inflicted upon my companions and I over these last ten days of hell.

That said, I was able to effect the agency of my own return to this bunker, having had knowledge beforehand of the cave system underneath the Skald mountain. Even though I experienced the twists of the caverns mostly from Bennington’s eyes—and even though she and I had been unconscious at the point of our capture—I was able to recall that the passages that led out to the surface were those that MacTallan had found, the ones that had etchings of the ur-Samekh runes. I finally found them after a day of searching, quenching my thirst in the same freshwater stream where we had once made camp. I find it poignant that by following the runes I was conveyed out of certain death once again, but in a much different way.

I also find it poignant that it was Bennington’s foresight to have used the bright blood on me back at Thornskye, simultaneously erasing my Ability but, unbeknownst to her, also inoculating me against further transformations. The Brown-clone that tortured us could not have known that I had been a recipient of bright blood. As for Bennington and MacTallan, they were killed outright in ways that I cannot bear to recount here. This was after we had already suffered the deaths of Tollard, Thorpe, and our brave squadron of young recruits fighting the hordes of wererats of which the Brown-clone had taken command.

As for that, if you ever come to read this, you should also know of the horrors that befell the people of Skald. After our arrival here on the Jagdschloss, the team had but two days to learn that the rat-people that Bennington had transformed back to humanity with the Rexley Device made a valiant stand against those who remained the feral shadows of who they once were. These groups moved to the southern part of the island to find immediate food and shelter, under the leadership of a resourceful man who they called Fynewever, taken to Skald some years before by Society scientists. A quarter-mile from this bunker, in fact, is the smouldering remains of the tent-camp where the five hundred or so humans clung to survival for four months.

One detail that I am sure you must have surmised by now is that they now have MacTallan’s original map. This, I believe, was one of their two chief aims in arriving on Skald through the conveyance line to capture us; the other being the taking of the Device, which had been secretly stored by Bennington, and whose location was divulged to me upon her death in the caves: she had left the Device with Fynewever at the camp, who hid it among medical equipment taken from the bunker and left in their makeshift infirmary. I found it among the ashes, quite undamaged. In commanding the rat-things to ravage the camp, the Brown-clone had never thought to pick through the burned remains, assuming principally that Bennington had the Device on her person. For similar reasons, I seek to ensure that if I am found, I do not make this mistake.

Finally—as I push my mind to write out every possible detail that I can that will somehow help you—I found my log-book among my scattered clothes and personal effects that the Brown-clone and its assistants left behind near the conveyance chamber on Skald. It was clear to me that our items had been searched thoroughly, and this is what leads me to conclude that the map had been taken, as MacTallan had it on him when the three of us were captured. The log-book had been left discarded as well, but when I opened the book, I found that the letter that I had last written had been torn out, along with an extra page. I will tell you now that this was a letter that I had intended to send back with one of our intrepid flyers to Sanders on Garnsey. Among my words of praise for his assistance and of news that the Gallians had destroyed Greysham, I had written him a warning that LaGrande’s addendum to your last letter to me seemed to indicate that he was walking into a trap, and to commit whatever resources to his rescue. I am sure that with your predicament at the conveyance chamber at Mont-Bré—as described by LaGrande to me—you do not as yet know that LaGrande may already be the next in Brown’s long line of unfortunate victims. Yet, in all of this, I cannot figure why the Brown-clone took my letter out of my log-book and what was done with it—surely, I had no known way of getting the letter to you, even if it had found you or done some good when it arrived.

I have decided to attempt to use the Jagdschloss as my exit from the island, since I do not know how to pronounce syllables in ur-Samekh, but my experience onboard the submersible has at least allowed me to observe the workings of the pilot’s throttle. Still, I am not entirely sure of my next move, except to write the attached letter to my love, should she find it. I will tell her something in that letter that I also tell you now, Crane: do not worry about me; I may already be dead.

Save yourself.



The Isle of Skald, 25 May

Thingstag, 24. Elter

Dear Professor Sanders,

Let me open this letter to you by saying that I should have liked to have made your acquaintance under very different circumstances and with a nobler aim than the one that motivates me today. In another time, however—or in another world, perhaps—you and I might never have had cause to correspond or contact one another. And more’s the pity: for good Dr. Crane has shared with me your steadfast alliance and goodwill at several different points, through the usurpation of your blissfully remote island, its dramatic reclamation, and now through the recent discoveries of the “Ashkurian conveyance chambers,” as Dr. LaGrande wrote to me recently. I must thank you principally for the support and friendship you have shown him, and congratulate you on the leadership you have shown at many points through difficult times.

It is LaGrande’s addendum to Crane’s last letter to me that had me sick with worry, at least until the Gallian battleship turned up off the Albionese coast some two weeks ago. It is with this news that I turn to you in this letter, hoping you at least might be free and able to assist in some way: the expeditionary force led by our gallant Captain Thorpe finds itself here in dire straits. I do not know what has happened to Dr. Crane since the 18th of May, it seems LaGrande has walked into the tentacles of a trap, and the town of Greysham has been reduced to ash under the punishing cannons of Gallian warships. What’s more, we (Thorpe, Bennington, MacTallan, Tollard, and ten trained but young soldiers under our charge, along with myself) find ourselves on the shores of the Isle of Skald, having made a frantic but (apparently) invisible escape in a steam-powered Saxonian submersible. We now find ourselves bound by a mission we never wished to undertake, brought to an island where we wished never to return and, according to most maps, never existed. We arrived here on a ship that we thought had sunk, led by a captain we had taken for dead.

I have enjoyed in past letters Crane’s description of his companions, not least for the color that each of them bring to the experiences he has relayed, and certainly with appreciation for their contributions to the success of his part of our shared mission. I feel I owe you at least something similar, if not as detailed—but there simply is not the time. For efficient context I will say that the names I have listed above, and mine, belong to those who we view as the leaders of our part of the mission, and at least one of them you will know well: Dr. Charlotte Bennington, formerly of your very College. I do not know how a mention of her will turn your mood as you read this letter, but I can put in, at least, that any hidden, personal agenda she had upon starting the expedition aligned to Society goals has been thoroughly erased with the new calling of rescuing the changed people of Skald and bringing them back to Albion, or what civilized parts remain. I hope you do not count it as impertinent on my part if I imagine much the same is true of you.

Captain Louis Thorpe is our leader in matters of security, exploration, and, if needed, combat—he has an Ability which has manifested itself by altering his appearance and agility to something approximating a walking snake-man. As for Professor Hugh MacTallan, he is an academician from the lost university of Thornskye in Caledonia, and our expert in the ancient origins of the phenomena which wreathe our current troubles. Finally, we are joined by Captain Frederick Tollard, formerly of the New Columbian Navy. His presence on the island is the most ironic, as we found him as a rat-man some three months ago on this same damnable island; we changed him back into human form in part by scientific breakthroughs made at your Elizabeth College and he has assisted us since—at first begrudgingly, and now wholeheartedly.

As for myself, I do not know the breadth or depth at which Dr. Crane has described me to you, but I must assume that you at least know some of the history of our expedition, how we parted ways, and what discoveries we made in the meantime, including the acquaintance of Rachel, the enigmatic figure from the world’s forgotten past who may well be the lynchpin upon which all our troubles turn, and from which our future fortunes stem. I have never made her acquaintance but nevertheless feel as if I know her, both from Crane’s letters and from the fact that it is by her blood that I was reunited with my body and Tollard was brought back to human form again.

I can assume, in addition, that you know the contents of Crane’s letter as of the 14th of May, and LaGrande’s addendum on the 18th. You may not, however, know that LaGrande had it in mind to see one Dr. Amory Brown, or you may be only vaguely aware of this; in the addendum to Crane’s letter, LaGrande had it in mind to find a meeting with Brown in the town of Les Rives.

– – –

Thonarstag, 26. Elter

(With apologies for having run out of space on the log-book pages upon which I write this, I will continue here.)

I am, of course, not sure how much you know of Brown’s work, his influence upon the alliance between the Society and the New Columbian High Command, or the critical discoveries he made in the wake of the finds at Essen after the Blood War. At the risk of assuming too much security between us, it is important that LaGrande meet with Brown and share what he and Crane know; if you have any resources at your command, I advise you to put them toward ensuring the success of that meeting, of at all possible or practicable. I will say that the interference of the Gallian military would have a deleterious effect, or at least a delay, upon Brown’s unraveling of the mysteries of the conveyance chambers, and you may consider giving Brown safe—or at least secret—harbor at the College for any further research that may come out his most recent successes in traveling upon them.

That the Gallians have shelled the peaceful town of Greysham meant to us that they were looking for something, and when they found it, they were bent on its destruction; I can only surmise that they received incorrect information that our expedition found whatever that was and had it in our midst. They were not, of course, counting that we had the use of a Saxonian Haischiff; they also must have known something about the black storms that plague the sea lanes between Albion and the Continent, since we have seen no sign of them since we landed at Skald. However, their outright murder of the people of Gresyham ought to give you clue enough not to assist them in anything they ask for should they remain on Garnsey. In a sad way I suppose I am glad to hear that the research halls of Elizabeth College had been ruined under the madman Robards, since it means the Gallians ought to leave you relatively in peace.

One item in particular that I know would assist Brown in the last stages of his research is a map that our MacTallan made for Crane. It describes the locations of the conveyance chambers and their interlinking qualities; it had been compiled by MacTallan over many years of research and now serves as a guide, if you will, to the many destinations that can be accessed through these mystical corridors. I would ask MacTallan to make a new copy here, but sadly, our copy was lost in our chaotic exodus out of Greysham when the Gallians opened fire. While MacTallan is confident that he can activate the runes of the chamber on Skald to get us home, his only hope in reconstructing the map is to return to Thornskye and hope that he can still locate the same notes of Von Neumann’s that assisted him in creating the first map. Thus, if you are in possession of the map that was given to Crane, or its copy—perhaps for safe-keeping, for example—I urge you to make two copies: one for me, here, that Alia can transport, and another that you can send forthwith to Les Rives.

I would be inclined to write more to you but we are intent to move out the next morning, and of course we do not wish to delay Alia any further. It is my hope that Alia can steer well clear of Gallian warships as she passes over the sea. My duties here have made it impossible to give her the fare-well that I should like; when she arrives, please remind her that she is my dear love, and if anything were to happen to her, I would consider the world ended for good.

With high flags,


Greysham, 4 May

Dear Crane,

To say that I felt relief when your bundled letter was handed to me would do little to convey the emotion that filled my heart. It was both a shock and a deliverance, all at once, from the worry and concern that worked its way through our bones. Inwardly, we became a shabby and changeling few, with a flagging spirit that haunted our breaths in greater measure each passing day—indeed, we were affected by the delay in correspondence to a degree that none of us had anticipated. As Bennington aptly pointed out some days ago over our weekly meal and meeting, it was the spectre of the unknown that had gripped us. Had you had written to report sudden disaster, bitter defeat, or a gnawing frustration, we might have taken some tiny solace in the simple fact that you were still alive and, despite whatever bad straits in which you found yourself, unhurt.

MacTallan has had the most to say of late regarding what you reported regarding your experience with the conveyance lines. I think you may find that the greater part of his reflections match some of the sensations that you must have had upon entering what he calls the “aetherial state.” What you describe, for example, as the “heightened perception” of your companions stemming from the activation of your Ability, is in fact also a facet of the phantom world into which one sidesteps along these mystical pathways. One thing MacTallan asked me to include in this letter is this: if your Ability were activated along the conveyance line, its effects, taken in combination with the already disorienting and disembodied nature of travel by these otherworldly mechanisms, might have well accounted for a loss of control, especially to someone using the lines for a first time.

“Intentionality,” he repeated to me, as I stared blankly for a moment at his waxed moustache.

I must have seemed as I did once to Mlle Tourno and Master Urquart: a dull student, his mind in the clouds, fixed on some far-off luxury instead of the lesson at hand. “Eh?” was all I could manage, training my eyes again on him.

“Ben, that was the difference. I wanted to get us back to somewhere I knew was home. We were escaping and I had—well it was all a dreadful panic, I suppose. Here was your inert body, then there was Bennington turning those creatures back into their former selves—it was unlike anything I had ever seen before.”

“Yet—I saw you through Bennington’s eyes. You read those runes like an expert.”

A sudden hardness overtook his face and his eyes shone. His jaw shifted, and I could see that a desperate emotion had taken him for a second. “I had the knife—I had it at him.”

Now finally comprehending, I took a deep breath and set my hand gently upon the table. “You would never have used it, Professor.”

He gave a small, almost defeated nod: and I prepared myself for information that, secretly, I forgave MacTallan for not providing before now. The motives that drove this man forward, I began to see, were something more than simply academic. I recalled our little conversation on the hills overlooking the Cairns that evening in early October.

“I wanted to be home. More than anything. That’s essentially the only difference. The runes are basically the same anywhere, I’d wager.”

I narrowed my eyes at him, studying him, now putting logical points in my mind into a new configuration. “You never found your wife and child,” I ventured, with all the gentleness I could muster.

He collapsed into a nearby easy chair and shook his head, casting his eyes downwards. I paused, looking out the window of the second-floor study in the mansion that used to be Bledsoe’s.

“And Penelope?” I asked. “She wasn’t among the dead at The Waterford School, was she?”

At this I could not push for more, as shimmering tears fell from the man’s eyes, onto his beard and lap. I got up from my chair and draped my arm around him, holding him as he trembled and shook.

When he had composed himself somewhat, Bennington arrived at the door. I needed say nothing: she, standing there, had surveyed us for several seconds, not knowing whether to return another time or join us as a further comfort. I am glad to say that the compassionate nature of our doctor is joined in equal measure with her professionalism, as she strode over and took the young man’s hand in hers.

As he unfolded his tale to the both of us, it became apparent that MacTallan’s hunger to study the scorched lines, the environs of the Cairns, and other features of the land was done in a potentially dangerous but unfortunately vain attempt to uncover more clues as to the whereabouts of his family in as much as it was an academic curiosity. Driven by his vexing loss and the mysterious disappearances of whole villages and towns in Thornskye’s vicinity and parts to the north, MacTallan became convinced that his family had been taken, and not killed. Given that the deans of his own university had known that their campus was the site of some kind of ancient power, he formed the theory that this site was somehow responsible for their disappearance. Being a student of VonNeumann, he had already been led down the corridor—so to speak—of a belief in a people, or a race, whose very language had a mysticism, a form of communication that shaped and defined reality even as it described it, a specialized speech far removed from the quotidian and charged with something from the very stars.

“I think my family are on Skald,” he said, drawing careful breaths as I brought him tea.

Bennington shifted in her chair. “Tell us why you think that, Professor.”

“I—I don’t quite have proof. I sort of, well—I feel it.”

“Then our efforts here are not in vain. In a month’s time, my good man, look what we have built. Camp Greysham is very nearly ready.”

“But what if our travel from the Cairns turns out like Crane’s? What if we lose our way?”

Bennington knelt beside the man. “We will find your family and bring many more families home, as well. When you read the runes you uncovered at the Cairns, let your desire to see them again guide you.”

He nodded, accepting what we had to say at least as a temporary balm. Bennington called for Thorpe and Tollard to join us at the familiar table in Bledsoe’s former dining-room, which had been converted into a work-space for planning and conversation among us, it main feature bestrewn now with various pencil-drawn construction plans and documents of inventories. We are now collectively known as the Town Council, having hastily adopted a set of by-laws that are modeled on public works committees—a kind of consensus-driven governing body that thriving towns before the Incident would have convened. Our first act three weeks ago as a governing body was to appoint faithful Parsons as the Town Supervisor; our second act was to organize a group of able-bodied young men and women as the Town Watch, under direct command of Parsons, whose first official report to us as Supervisor was delivered a week ago.

Given this, and knowing that this letter will reach you—finding you either at a Gallian-occupied Garnsey or the northern coast of Gallia proper—I feel I can provide you with some more detail regarding our preparations for our crossing attempt, which will take place sometime within the week. Thanks to your letter, we now know the Gallians may be moving north along the coast; while we are caught somewhere between a nebulous uncertainty and a hope of some aid, our overriding motivation is to make the crossing before any interference occurs, for good or for ill. If the Gallians come and assume control of the town, the five of us have decided to move on using the conveyance line, leaving Parsons and Hollins here. For their part, they have already decided to submit themselves to their command should they assert it—they have seen a belly full already of death and destruction and welcome an organizing force, even if a foreign one. Few have forgotten that the Albionese and the Gallians were enemies at the outset of the Blood War, only to become allies during the twilight months of that horrible conflict. They hope, then, that the same spirit of reconciliation that swept the two nations following the death of Marshal Vanaise holds true now.

Enough of national politics; few of us here have time to become overly concerned with that now. Besides news of the government of the town itself, the completion of three hundred and ten habitable apartments between the various empty buildings of the northern section of the town, and the fact that the Jagdschloss had been towed safely back into the Greysham harbor some days ago, I can share with you that earlier this past month, a week-long search was conducted by MacTallan, Hollins, and his assistants, aided further by Thorpe. Unfortunately, their mission to canvas some twenty square miles of the land surrounding the town has turned up no evidence of the bodies of the original men under Thorpe’s command, even with the maps that MacTallan and I created some months ago to assist in the progress. This had cast Thorpe in a dark mood for quite some time, understandably, and some days ago he agreed to hold a brief memorial service for the dead men, speaking remembrances of their bravery on our long road. Following this, the Council received news of a group of strong youths from the town—aged sixteen through twenty-two—who volunteered to act as our new armed escort, knowing we might well need one soon for the crossing. This act of selfless bravery by this untrained but stalwart team of men and women, I think, lifted Thorpe’s spirits considerably. As I write this, I can hear out of an open window the rifles firing in a drill out on the proving yards next to the mansion.

Speaking quickly of Thorpe—and while I still have a few minutes as Alona finishes up a meal before take-off—I ought to speak to your points that you made very poignantly in the letter that at last arrived here some three days ago. Thorpe had delayed his response to Bennington’s offer to administer the bright blood and thus hopefully reverse his transformation, citing a rationale that his changed body would aid in the search efforts for his men. Indeed it had, to a degree, as Thorpe’s considerable celerity as a reptilian humanoid allowed him to cover considerable ground in advance of MacTallan’s survey group and cut trails through the woods and up the cliffs. When the group had returned, Bennington again entreated Thorpe that he consider returning to human form—but Thorpe finally declined her offer. In fact I had shared with him your exact words: that your Ability had saved your life. As he explained it to Bennington and I, this was also true for him; he feels, also, that with his Abilities, he may yet save the lives of others in the future. With the impending crossing to Skald in our minds, we could only nod our heads in assent.

Again, I must mention that the fact that I can hand Alona this letter now and it will make its way back to you is a thought that fills me with elation. I am doubly grateful for this, as I am sure that the next of my letters will have news of our rescue attempt, and consequently whether or not we have been successful in using the conveyance line once again. Until then, may this letter find you in somewhat safer and more comfortable conditions.

Our most warm thoughts to you and your companions,


Greysham, 5 April

My good Dr. Crane,

In one of your more recent letters, you encouraged me to reflect upon the quiet good fortune that visits both of our present conditions: namely, that neither of us are in destitute state of affairs, that we are relatively free from harm, horror, or hunger, and that we have, generally speaking, a wide latitude to decide at least our proximal fates and immediate directions.

Taking that to heart, and with Thorpe and his loyal lieutenant back among us, I have encouraged my fellow expedition leaders to take some well-earned leisure time for the purposes of personal reflection and, for lack of a better term, sanity. I will tell you what endeavors in which the others have immersed themselves a little later on, but before I do, I will hasten to add a note here that other folk here in Greysham have been far from idle. In fact, critical preparations are being made as we speak that may bring to an end at least one small portion of this nightmare.

However, first this: it delighted me to re-read some of the correspondence that had been exchanged between us—now that it is safely back in my hands. I am very glad I saved it all, and over the coming weeks I have resolved to re-copy it into a new journal-book (with the additional benefit of thoughtfully organizing it before I do so).

In particular I enjoyed that, during some of the darkest times of our expeditions to date, we took pains to remind each other of happier times at Big School. Do not worry, my dear friend, I am not deluded to think that only bright times lay ahead. But in reviewing these snippets of life gone past, it occurred to me that, in writing about them, we equipped each other with the hope that we may see again happier moments within a more normal and ordered world.

In one letter you reminded me of Mlle Tourno, our finishing teacher, who among her varied interests brought with her a great love of poetry. Not all of her pupils received her passion for verse: likewise myself, a stubborn and rather blockheaded boy, was quite immune to it. Or so I must have thought at the time, insulated as I was by my forbidden penny-dreadfuls and silly boasts with the other lads. Late last night, however, one of her favorite poems came to my mind, authored by Quentille, “the Pauper’s Poet,” late in the last century. This is one that she instructed us to recite, and as you will recall, we had to deliver it with the clearest diction lest we return to the beginning to start anew:

A thing unlook’d-for is a thing unfound
Until Fortune plies its trade
Then it declares its reason sound:
That it never was unmade.

Setting out maps with borders guessed
Did little for the rain
Every choice is turned-to on the test
When visions proven vain.

A path untrod is another world
A dream, perchance asleep
Then why should we fly flags unfurled
If only walls we keep?

Let’s slake our unswerving soldier’s tread,
Sang the muscle to the nerve:
We perceive a horizon’s road ahead,
But cannot see the curve.

Perhaps you remember more of it than I do. The mere fact that I can remember anything at all that has nothing to do with rat-men, or H-boats, or strange islands, or ancient beings, is a source of some astonishment for me. Indeed, it may also simply be the product of the current oasis of time that sees more preparation and anticipation than it does escape, combat, exploration, or travel.

The thing I feel compelled to tell you about is the status of Thorpe, as well as what activities Bennington, MacTallan, and Tollard have been busying themselves with. Now that I have made it this far with my letter, I think it best to first set out for you the information that we have uncovered following our interrogation of James Bledsoe, former mayor of Greysham—or, more accurately, his thorough and abject intimidation at the hands of our serpent-bodied captain with whom we have been recently reunited.

It was no small triumph of coincidence that allowed our transformed Captain to occupy the self-same room as Bledsoe for the duration of the questioning. Bledsoe, who was as shocked and terrified to look into his slit-like eyes as you might imagine, could scarcely speak for the first half-hour and after that only did so in a whisper. I attended the scene, with my journal and MacTallan’s pistol at the ready. Half-way through the ordeal it occurred to me how absurd it was to be keeping a weapon, since Bledsoe was quite immobilized from both the ropes and his own terror.

In addition to information relating to Bledsoe, what came from the exchange informed me a bit more of who Captain Louis Thorpe is (or was). Because of Thorpe’s previous membership in the group, he was in the prime position to determine the veracity of Bledsoe’s story and the orders he had received before our accidental arrival in his town some six months ago. In other words, because of their previous association, Bledsoe could not lie to Thorpe.

Bledsoe, as it happens, was a satellite within the same network of spies and military operatives who recovered the Essen finds and took them back to New Columbia for further study and analysis, under the watchful presence of the Society—who, as you conveyed to me from Van Dyke in an earlier letter, were meant to be co-observers. The short-lived alliance between the NCHC and the Society, while ostensibly formed for mutual benefit, now seems little more than a show in favor of an already tenuous transoceanic peace. The Essen finds tipped the balance of power far in favor of the New Columbians, whose guardianship of the beings that you named, as well as the attendant artifacts, was recognized almost immediately as a source of power well beyond modern weaponry.

The Society, far more loyal to its native Albion than it was those who it saw as clumsy hacks and foreign interlopers, made gradual but invisible moves to protect itself, summoning its ranks of far-flung but knowledgeable experts. This, I gather, would have been sometime after Rachel was transferred to Elizabeth College, as the alliance must have still held its integrity at that point. But with the experimentations on the body of En-ra back in New Columbia moving forward, as well the procedures on Rachel simultaneously progressing on Garnsey under the itinerant visitation of Brown, something snapped the alliance and fractured it into splinter groups.

That, from what Bledsoe confessed, was the confirmation of the existence of the Rexley Device on Skald. When we began our expedition in the wake of the cataclysm, and even afterwards when we were divided after the Incident, we carried several personalities with us who had come already with their private agendas. No longer a cooperative, each competing group had set someone among us to monitor the direction of the expedition and intervene if we had gotten too close to the objective that the other group desired.

I do not know exactly how your group managed to avoid this infighting after the Incident, but I recognize that confronting Brown—who is, de facto, the agent provocateur of the group that means to exploit the Essen finds for its own ends—is enough of a daunting task in its own right. One explanation is that, as it fell out during the interrogation, Smythe and Dodgson were two agents tasked with intervening should your group encounter the Rexley Device, but of course those two died well before my group learned of the object’s existence, and consequently you remained blissfully ignorant of their orders.

I can tell you that obviously Stratham and Thompson/Throckmorton were in this camp, as well as Gujparat, as I learned. But so was Thorpe. As for our captain, a shift occurred at the Cairns for the man, who recognized the power and potential of the Rexley Device to cure the benighted land and populace of Albion, and I daresay a more benevolent ambition overtook his senses that day. I think you can agree that his actions since that day have demonstrated good reason why we ought to trust him now.

As for his counterpart Robards, who knows? What you have narrated to me of his corruption and eventual defeat is a strange tale, but it does not indicate whether or not he had been involved in an earlier New Columbian/Society cooperative venture, or its fallout. Perhaps Thompson’s granting of a telesma to him was an effort to bring him into some clandestine fold—eventually thwarted, of course, by your own Rachel.

As for Bennington, I suspect she had been given orders to obtain the Rexley Device and bring it back to Elizabeth College. I do admit it is now on my mind to simply ask, and hold an overt and frank conversation with her. For some reason, I am loathe to do this, and Thorpe has not suggested it. Perhaps neither of us really need to hear her say what we already either know or suspect, and we both recognize that in the wake of this and other information—as well as in view of our joint, immediate, and arguably nobler cause of assisting the poor wretches who remain on Skald—there is no benefit to be gained in the asking.

Now turning to Tollard. It fell out during the questioning that it was from the former captain of the Sigsbee who Bledsoe had received his latest orders, although that was well over a year and a half ago. It is important to see Bledsoe in his true light: a sniveling and passive fixture of local government, at one time a council member of a little port town but appointed mayor in the days of fear and confusion that followed the cataclysm. With no military training and no moral grounding on which to fix a point of courage, Bledsoe had been brought into Tollard’s confidence with promises of financial gain after exploration of Skald, if the use of the port at Greysham was granted.

Of course, this leg of the Sigsbee’s journey was never made, owing to the disaster at Yarmouth; but Tollard, half-crazed as he already was (and perhaps already half-transformed at this point) made it on his own to Greysham, and from there, somehow, to Skald. Once there, of course, Tollard completed his mission, and the Rexley Device was his—but without a crew or any way to contact the outside world (including his superiors), Tollard’s descent into insanity was made complete, and he found a home (and a following) among his altered brethren. Bledsoe’s decision to allow Thompson to stow away on the Jagdschloss, as we understand it now, was a logical but ill-informed extension of his standing orders to assist a long-absent Tollard. What Bledsoe did not know, consequently, was Thompson’s intention to sabotage the boat, even at the loss of Gates, who was a known ally to Bledsoe. Bledsoe had believed that Thompson was going to kill or otherwise neutralize Thorpe, who had strayed off-mission.

As a further complication, Bledsoe believed that myself, as well as Bennington and MacTallan, were Society operatives seeking to gain control of Rexley before Gates and Thompson. This was reinforced by Thompson’s stories of Thorpe’s betrayal, and, secondarily, Stratham’s death. What is apparent to me is that, whoever the members are from either splinter group, both groups are convinced that the possession of the Rexley Device in the hands of the other group spells yet more doom for the world than was originally brought from the cataclysm, and suicidal risks are taken but for the prevention of that outcome. Yet, ironically, no one outside our group (myself, Bennington, MacTallan, Tollard, and Thorpe), and now you and whatever associates you decide to inform, know that not only has the Rexley Device been recovered, but we have it in our possession—along with an ample supply of “bright blood” that has been proven to reverse the effects of transformation and blight.

Thorpe knows, now, because only this morning, Bennington informed him of her intention to reverse his alterations and return him to his human state using the device. I use the words “informed him of her intention” more to convey that sort of physician’s comfort that I am sure you reflected in your travels, delivering babies and healing wounds among the unchanged villages along the Albionese coast last year. What I really mean is that Bennington informed Thorpe of Tollard’s own reclamation toward humanity (and civility) through the mechanism of the Device, which introduces the bright blood as a catalyst toward re-stabilizing the chaotic superstrata in the blood of a transformed individual. At this, the simple soldier was stultified, and replied that he would think about the matter. Perhaps he wishes to make more use of his Abilities now that they have saved his life and assisted in the takeover of the town from its corrupted leader. It is, of course, Thorpe’s own decision; but I have prevailed upon him that if he were to assume human form again, he might be able to better organize, train, and lead other able-bodied men from Greysham to assist in future missions.

One detail that remains in the dark is how Gates was able to gain copies of the men who were formerly under Thorpe’s command. On this Bledsoe appears to know nothing, and did not assist; nor did he recognize that anything was changed in the men during those days in November when they submitted to training for the piloting of the H-boat. Similarly, Bledsoe knows nothing of the whereabouts of the men, and on this score I personally consoled a visibly upset Thorpe (even for a snake-man) later in our private chambers at the Downborough Arms. A thought occurred to me that Thorpe may want to keep his Abilities for the time being in order to seek out his lost charges. After all, over the months we traveled together, I observed that he was nothing if not loyal to his men.

The existence of mooring equipment at Caeradarn for the Jagdschloss (or an H-boat like it) may be a further underscoring of the story that at one time the two powers had in fact cooperated and had pledged both men and materiel to a shared mission—if indeed we accept that the converted Saxonian H-boat was a Society contraption and that it was provided to the New Columbians for their use. This mission, I suspect, may have been an early expedition to Skald, which would consequently explain the existence of the Society bunker there that we encountered. Of this I cannot be certain; Thorpe had not questioned Bledsoe about this because my dear Alia had arrived with your latest letter after our visit with our prisoner. After reading the letter to our command group, Thorpe suggested that given Bledsoe’s previous responses, it was unlikely that he was privileged enough to know about the Caeradarn base. With Caeradarn now devoid of that Brown scum, however, it may be advantageous to us to attempt to recharge the H-boat with enough power to limp it there for repairs. With all of the other activities that are currently underway here, however, this may not happen for some time.

Ah, the leisure activities of our group—I had half a mind to close this letter but then I recalled that I had promised you some more narrative on that score. Besides her interest in returning Thorpe to a human condition, Bennington has spent the two weeks setting up and resupplying the town infirmary. This is, of course, because she knows that as the main physician here in the little town of fishermen and farmers, she will oversee the impending influx of Skald refugees needing medical attention, and there will need to be a way that post-transformation convalescence can be made private. Rachel’s latest donation of blood will go a long way in this, and you have Bennington’s thanks. She already has plans to extract a serum from the new supply of blood that can be used to inoculate people against unexpected transformation. We know that the good people here will not understand at first what we are attempting to do and why, save that we are hoping to help people who have endured a most horrific experience and life, and for that reason she has enlisted Tollard to recruit an additional stock of assistants, nurses, and guardsmen who can now staff what we affectionately call “Camp Greysham.” This walled-off portion of the town, with Bledsoe’s expansive house as its central building, will serve as a halfway-point between an intake of new refugees and their release into the populace.

As for MacTallan, he has been spending considerable time surveying the countryside around Greysham, not unlike when we first found him (although I reminded him that there are no longer stalwart Blood War veterans around to save him if he takes another poor footing along a cliff). He has a pair of bright-eyed assistants now, young gentlemen from a nearby farm, and has also made an informal lieutenant of Hollins, the insightful engineer who was instrumental in the repair of the Jagdschloss. The four of them have just returned from a venture to the Cairns, confirming it as a site of conveyance from Skald. This is most fortunate, since only the H-boat can safely make a crossing to the island because of the interposing storms; but it is damaged, has very little room for passengers, and is out of power, currently sitting dark off the coast some miles to the south. We now can organize the plan for MacTallan to energize the runes at the Cairns so that a party can be sent to find human survivors.

This plan, mind you, will most likely take several more weeks to come into full effect, should it even succeed. While we know that lives are at stake and we must try, we still have no idea what we will find when we use the mystical portal to Skald. Indeed, some of us have been there, and of course Tollard remains our best guide, having once been its rat-king; but whatever humans we find who have survived there may be fighting for their lives against those who remained rat-men in the wake of our escape. We have no idea of their true numbers, although Tollard put the original population of that cursed island at around ten thousand; and even if we were able to effect a relatively safe, systematic, and successful migration of humans from the island, we would still need a way to de-transform the remaining rat-men at large. A further complication, MacTallan tells me, is that although many groups of wererats had used the Skald-Thornskye conveyance line, he does not know the volume of living beings that may cross at any one time. At Thornskye, for example, we did not know how many of the ten thousand were able to assault the university tower.

That said, Crane, it also occurs to me writing this that we never found out how the wererats were even able to operate the Skald-Thornskye portal.

Upon reviewing these last few paragraphs, the activities I have laid out here no longer sound like leisure activities, but the tasks and endeavors of a crew still very much intent on working toward a rescue of Skald’s inhabitants, if not reclaiming some sense of civility, purpose, and friendship here amid a world that has gone so dark of late. What we are fortunate for, as I am sure Alia can confirm when she delivers this message to you, is that the storms that had so frequently battered the coasts of this land have seemed to lessen these last months. Far off at the horizon, where the blue-black meets the sky, we can still see them; and Tollard’s telescope confirms their swirling, menacing arms. But for now they remain at a distance, and we have begun to sense a resurgence of confidence among the townsfolk that their tempest-plagued days are at a close.

Finally, do tell me all you can of your “test run” using the conveyance lines and the map of their focal points; MacTallan believes your experience will inform his preparations. He feels the Cairns are “nearing an active state” but also has reported that the lines in the forest that he had mapped out some months ago have shifted in a way that he is not familiar with. It will very much help to know if you have been successful, and what factors led to your ability to use the conveyance lines with confidence, and whether or not your copy of the map is accurate. Alia has intimated to me some worry that should you become lost somehow, she and her sister will not be able to find you.

Be well and be safe, my friend.


Greysham, 24 March

Dear Crane,

Before your eyes pass over this latest letter from me, I am sure that you will have already pored over MacTallan’s map. If all has gone well and Alona has made yet another successful run between Greysham and your location, then you have been handed a waterproof packet, in which has been placed carefully folded piece of nautical chart paper, next to this letter. This represents a clean copy of MacTallan’s best efforts to concatenate, organize, and confirm the known “active locations” of “paraclysmic activity.”

As I shared the details of your last three letters now with Bennington and MacTallan, it has become clear to us that we laughably powerless humans have become embroiled in an ancient struggle for power well beyond our ken, especially given the news and manner of Rachel’s departure, over and above the vexingly slippery Dr. Brown. Even Tollard seems now to recognize the hot fire with which he played, like an ignorant but fascinated child in the glow of sheer energy; he had not understood the half of his danger, and was thrice-blessed that it did not destroy him altogether. Quite half-crazed in the state that he had been when we found him, he was simply a product of the pull of this antediluvian power—and with his mind and humanity fully reclaimed now, he has become rather useful.

It was Tollard, you see, who first put into words the code that we had been receiving each of the five nights after Alia’s last flight out. It took us until the third evening for any of us to recognize that, around the same time each night, we would see dancing lights out in the water, faint like a distant star and lost to anything but the very periphery of our vision. A black storm had swept up the sea out on the horizon after the third night, but by then we had been sure of what we all had seen at different times, with Parsons corroborating our reports. On the fifth night, we were ready with Bledsoe’s telescope, trained out with a low-powered lens toward the east along the line of the dark water.

And there it was: blink-blink-blink. I wrote furiously in the log-book as Tollard called out the letters, translating from international military code. R-E-N-D-E-Z-V-O-U-S-C-O-A-S-T-1-1-0.

“Ship in distress?” Bennington asked from behind me.

“Not if they want a rendezvous,” Tollard replied, his eye still fixed out onto the water.

A bolt of inspiration hit me. I closed the cover of the log-book, its golden letters blazing. “I think I know who it is, and where they want to meet us.”

Tollard looked up from the telescope. My idea seemed to leap from my mind straight into Bennington’s.

“Only one other person in this part of the world would know 1-1-0 means the Cairns.”

“Then draw a parallel from that point out to the coast,” she said, picking up from my thought.

Tollard struggled to contain his confusion. “Who’s sending that message?”

Bennington and I smiled at each other, oblivious to Tollard. “Can you signal him in the affirmative?”

Tollard brought up the kerosene lantern that I had carried out to the rooftop where we had set up the telescope. Holding it aloft, he swung it upward and downward in wide strokes, looking not unlike an acolyte with a censer on a chain. After a short pause, three long, deliberate flashes came as a response from the dark mist.

Parsons was quite put out, not understanding quite why we had roused him from his sleep at his house—but we thought better of simply leaving, and not a one of us felt comfortable with staying behind in this urgency. In addition, it crossed our minds that venturing outside of town in the wee hours of the night was something generally regarded as unsafe, so informing Parsons of our intention to do exactly that seemed a necessary formality.

Dawn had just broken as we arrived on the chalk cliff, some twenty miles south of town. Bennington, MacTallan, and I scanned the water with a sense of uneasy anticipation mixed with a nebulous disbelief while Tollard started a signal fire, having located some dry brush along the cliff’s edge and some crooked sticks from among the grasses. Once we had been situated for an hour or two, our disbelief converted to an abject and undeniable reality: the Jagdschloss surfaced before our eyes, the copper housing of its Sehrohr jutting first over the water, followed by the sweep of its gray-steel conning tower.

“Impossible,” I breathed, my words swallowed by the wind.

As I write this now, we are joined around the ashes of our little fire, our coats pulled tightly around us in the chill air, facing the shocking figure of a man whose features have now been quite perfectly blended with a reptile. Thorpe wears no clothes now, and has little need of them: while he retains two legs and two arms, the remainder of his hairless body is covered in a skein of glistening scales, pattered green and red and copper-gold. His head has flattened, presenting the sleek aspect of a snake; his smallish black eyes have now migrated to the sides of his skull, with slits that alternately dilate and narrow as he turns his head. Where his jaw and chin once outlined his strong face, he now has a slightly elongated snout with a slit for a mouth, and speaks with an unmistakable hiss—although his voice is still very much his own as I remember it. Behind him follows a tail, protruding from his lower back and reaching easily down to the ground. As he spoke his tale to us, the tail swished to and fro, independently tapping out its own restless rhythm on the ground.

I captured what he said into the log-book after we welcomed him ashore—he jumped from the hatch and effortlessly swam the short distance in the cold water to reach us. Rather than to attempt to re-produce the ensuing dialogue between the five of us, I have copied what I recorded below.

“I had to find a way to separate you three from Gates. He had already brainwashed the men somehow. I was afraid that once we reached Skald, there was no way I was going to be able to protect you. Arasaku, Laray, Bell—all of them were already under his power. I don’t know if he had the same kind of power that Crane told you about with Robards, but I came to see that Kilcannon was the only one I could trust. Kilcannon and I had already planned a fake sabotage and a ruse to make it look like we had sunk. We figured that if we could get you three safely away from the boat and headed toward the island, it would give Kilcannon and I the time we needed to confront Gates and take our men back; once we had the ship, we would let Bledsoe think the boat was sunk. However, when Thompson showed up on board, it was perfect—we could blame him, get you off the boat, and take it over. But we had to move fast.”

“Gates wasn’t any fisherman—he was another NC spy, just like Thompson. He knew all about the H-boat and had been looking for it for several months already. When he found it, he and Bledsoe knew they had to have some way of including our men while still having control of it. What it was originally intended for—I have no idea. Gates is under our guard now, back on the ship. We gag him, partially in case his voice is somehow the source of his power, and partially because we do not want to hear his pathetic sniveling.”

“After I jettisoned your lifeboat, I took command of the ship from Gates, knocking him unconscious. The men all slumped forward in their chairs. I shouted for the lads to wake up, and tossed them about, but we were in mid-climb. After a few minutes Kilcannon was able to remember how to level the boat out and take the helm. But the men seemed dead, or at least in a deep sleep. Kilcannon shouted from the engine room that O’Doole and Bell looked the same way. Later, we saw that the two engine-room men had both been shot in the chest, and to us they seemed as if they had struggled before the end.”

“At that point, I ordered Kilcannon to gather up and eject some oil drums, spare parts, tools, and other non-essential items out from the starboard torpedo tube. We also figured that you would need some food and basic medical supplies, so we sent what we could find out of the tube, too—keeping enough for ourselves, or course.”

“In the port torpedo tube we had already loaded up a torpedo on a timer fuse. Kilcannon shot it out, and it worked perfectly. It detonated away from the ship, but amid our debris field. It rocked us fiercely, however, and we lost most of our power.”

“When we were able, Kilcannon and I went back to look at the men in the control cabin. The men had been awake the entire journey, of course, but Kilcannon and I had noticed that they seemed only able to hear Gates’ voice. In fact, I recall them acting somewhat strangely during the last day of tests—taking orders from him and not interacting with others—but as we had assigned them to Gates, we thought nothing of it at that point.”

“This is when we became convinced that these weren’t our men. Something about them looked odd, altered, as if they were being played by others in a costumed disguise. Kilcannon said he thought they had been sort of copied, like people constructed out of the features of others, but lacking their own true identities. For all of our efforts, we could not get a single one of them to wake up, and as the initial hours passed after jettisoning your life-pod, their skin went gray and ashen, as if rapidly dying. Kilcannon and I took turns pushing them into torpedo tubes and out into the water. But O’Doole and Bell, we gave them proper burials on the island.”

“Over the next week, we set to work repairing the real damage that Thompson had done to the engine screw motor. We finally got the motor to work again, but we had to set it at a lower speed to avoid further damage. With our food getting low, we knew that there wasn’t much time to find you on Skald. We got to the island, but you three were well on your way to the interior—our week spent in repairs without our engineers set us too far back. We found the concrete bunker and eventually tracked you to the cave you had stayed in; we knew it was you because we found the log-book there. But you had already vanished.”

“We had to backtrack south to the beach-head because of the wererat activity—it was just too dangerous for us to stay and try to figure out what happened to you. That strange island. While we were on the island, my transformation seemed to accelerate—look at me now. I am a snake-man, and from accidental discovery I found that I can change the color of my scales to blend in with my surroundings.”

“That’s how I got the log-book to your desk, in fact. In the week that followed our arrival—and then departure—Kilcannon and I went back to the Albionese coast, piloting the ship as best as we could with only three at the helm. We forced Gates to help us steer, dive, and surface, and he knew better than to resist us. It seemed to Kilcannon and I as if he had given up on some kind of mission that he’d had. Anyway, we put the ship up the shore a way from Greysham, and I swam ashore with the book. My skin helped me slip into the town undetected, and my only idea to signal to you that we were still alive was to put the log-book where I knew you had kept Crane’s letters, and where you had instructed the flyers to look for a letter if you were gone. I had hoped, anyway, that if you were alive and were to someday return to Greysham, you would find the log-book again.”

“Over the last few weeks, I had been able to make a few swimming journeys ashore. Going into town at night as the human chameleon that I apparently am, I was able to bring back food for Kilcannon and I, as well as our prisoner. However, something changed this last week, and I could sense it. I took a chance that Bledsoe was dead or at least no longer in power by signaling you off-shore. I am just glad it finally worked. The H-boat is now completely out of power with this last journey to the rendezvous point.”

Thorpe has now been caught up with the story from our end—our time on Skald, my temporary disembodiment, the discovery of Tollard and the Rexley Device, the use of the conveyance line, the “bright blood” and our time at Thornskye, our escape from the same, our arrival back in Greysham, and our arrest of Bledsoe. I explained to Thorpe that Bennington, MacTallan, and I act, at least in the interim, as the “council of leaders” for the little town—but in no wise do we harbor political ambitions. Rather, our current push is to find a way to rescue the human population of Skald and to convert its remaining wererat groups (if any did not make the crossing to the Albion mainland) into humans somehow.

Bennington has not yet offered to Thorpe the possibility of reversing his transformation with a droplet of blood, but I can sense in her that the gears are turning, so to speak. We have far less laboratory equipment than we did at Thornskye, and at any rate, we do not have the blood with us; it is locked up in a steel safe back at the Arms. But now we look forward to a morning’s journey back to the town, where we can put this letter and the map in Alona’s hands and set to planning a way to helping the people on Skald. The map, I hope, might also lead to an eventual re-unification of our two expedition teams at some point when our missions seem complete.

One final detail comes to mind as I close this letter, once more concerning the map. MacTallan used the largest sheet of chart paper we could find here in the town, and it also happened to be blank—we took it, among other useful things, from Bledsoe’s stock in his library. It seemed a small triumph in a way; there were many things in his guarded house that suggested that he had lived off the fat of his townsfolk for months. This is no small surprise to me, as I have seen the weakest of men profit from disaster: and not just this one, but the time after the Blood War, to be certain, as well as in the wake of the Novgorod Famine when we were boys.

I must confess—writing with no small show of emotion now—that a descendent of one of those men, I foolishly followed in those footsteps. You know that my father’s fortunes expanded with the shipments made to the Argyars and the Mondravians to those impoverished countries; as I assumed more of the operations of his business in my young adulthood, I began to see exactly how these fortunes had grown. He claimed expensive and risky ventures, but in fact he had exacted high profits from communities both dependent on the goods he sold while being insulated from all other competitors through bribes and back-room deals.

Although I pour out my thoughts here for you, I will of course thank you for your discretion in keeping these words private. Indeed, Crane, I financed this expedition many months ago, when we set out to determine the devastation that blighted our fair country, but I had made my own deals, calculating my own fortunes. I once had the thought that should we find something valuable from among the ruins of our once-proud cities and towns—say, for example, Society technology or some kind of new metal—then the expedition could be said to be worth the pains we took to launch it, and I would find a way to convert our discoveries to coin.

I no longer care about monetary gain, or living the comfortable existence as a wealthy gentleman. That life now seems half a world away, a faded set of impulses and cares built upon the shallow vanities of a forgotten time. I know have seen the real; I have known fear; I have found courage; and I have seen the greatness in others, a nobility that cannot be bought or sold.

I blame the reunion with Thorpe, the heady promise of returning to Skald, and my pangs of missing Alia for my sentimentality today. I had better simply end it here, and wish you Deus’ speed in your search for both Rachel and Brown. Where the one is, my gut tells me, so will be the other.




Greysham, 14 March

Dear Crane,

They say the greatest treasures come in the tiniest of packages, and that the most profound of miracles reveal themselves after the most mundane of disguises. In this instance, you can imagine my welcome astonishment at finding your letters of 26 February and 9 March, tucked quite well inside the desk at my room at the Downborough Arms, like a child’s hidden Yuletide-present. Yet more to my surprise, there was an additional gift—if gift is indeed what I can call it.

Accompanying your letters was a thin volume with a grey cover, letters stamped out on the front in embossed gold: TAGEBUCH HAISCHIFF JAGDSCHLOß.

Not yet believing, yet drinking in the texture and slight weight of the little book in my hands, I opened it. Missing were the pages that would have held the left-facing entry for November 30 to December 7 on the right side. These would have been the pages that I extracted from the log-book and wrapped up with the additional chart paper, which I had found somewhere amid the washed-up wreckage of the submersible.

Tollard, Bennington, MacTallan and I are now sitting at a familiar table in the tavern at the Downborough Arms. Alia is resting from her latest journey in the bed in my familiar room here. I cannot tell you what joy it was to see the smiling face of my love again, our eyes wet from sheer relief at simply seeing each other alive. I will spare you further details of our meeting, as I feel that these would only ring hollow, since the information I have for you must needs take priority over selfishness and indulgence. But at least know, my friend, that I am alive and well, and so are the other three, and we can even say that we have safety and health—for now.

Tonight, my three companions and I are looking over the detritus of a well-enjoyed meal and the dregs of wine staining our glasses. For all of these restful distractions, I can still not quite fathom how this little book in front of me can be real, and if it is, how it should come into my possession once again. Its plain, quiet greeting there in the false bottom of the desk shook me quite to my core. Of all of the incredible occurrences that have happened to this tempest-toss’d band, the log-book’s unceremonious appearance is like a shard of abject unreality that cuts into a ribbon of remarkable yet otherwise explainable events.

I last had the log-book on the shores of Skald, and from there my memory fails. I must have had it when we first found the warm cavern, our hold for many days—but as I was then turned into a disembodied ghost, I confess a dutiful inventory of our possessions was not foremost on my mind. I might have assumed that the log-book had been put in with MacTallan’s chest of discovered Von Neumann works, but then it would have been brought with us to Thornskye. In any case, during our harrowing escape from Thornskye, all that MacTallan was able to save, sadly, was one particular precious volume and his map of conveyance lines.

Our escape. Almost one week ago.

We awoke to the terrible scratching at the safety door, as well as the cacophony of shrieks and gibbering far below in the courtyard. We convened in the common meeting room. Horror was etched deeply into MacTallan’s face, while I noted with some puzzlement the serenity on Tollard’s.

“Well, we knew they would return,” Bennington whispered, as the candles flickered in the gloom. “We just wait them out.”

MacTallan rose for a moment, pacing, moving to the window and then back again. I sensed that his mental energies were directed simultaneously at controlling his own panic while trying desperately to make sense of the situation at hand.

“But not like this,” MacTallan responded, finally sitting down. “Yes, they overran the Uni, a while ago. But they never gather in these numbers without a purpose.”

“What do you mean?” I remember asking. “Crane reported dozens at Sandown, for example.”

“Their raids were always at random, and usually motivated by food. Innesmere itself was pillaged over several weeks, and it was finally fully destroyed only after the Obelisk took its toll. The wererats came to Thornskye after finding that there wasn’t anything more at Innesmere but the dead. Even then, they never showed up in large numbers like this.”

“So we give them food.”

“They don’t want food,” Tollard suddenly interjected.

“What do you mean, man? MacTallan just said—”

“They want me.

We stared at Tollard. The din of what must have been thousands of rat-creatures filled the air far below, having redoubled its strength from when we awoke. He stared back at us, and at that moment I recognized that he was quite entirely in possession of his faculties now.

“They know there hasn’t been any food here for some time. You heard the professor yourself—that’s the only explanation for why we have been relatively unmolested here for the last month now. If there was something worth taking here, they would have done so by now.”

“How do you know they want—you?” I ventured.

“The sounds you hear outside aren’t from the same rat-men that ravaged Thornskye, Innesmere, or any of the ones that Crane’s expedition faced,” he continued. “They are my—people. From the island.”

The three of us listening searched each other’s expressions, finding an alien sense of plausibility in his words.

“They’ve come for revenge on me. They want me to answer for turning them into what they are.”

“Are you truly responsible?” I asked, instinctively.

“That doesn’t matter right now,” MacTallan reminded us. “They’ve obviously found a way to use the portal.”

Bennington snapped, a sudden fury taking her. “We should have been using the bloody thing this entire time to help those poor wretches! We should have been going back—”

Tollard shot back: “With what weapons? Rexley? Do you know how to power it? Have you fixed it?”

“Don’t pretend this isn’t all your fault. To think we nursed you back to health!”

I raised my arms and MacTallan stepped forward. Bennington and Tollard glared at each other with eyes of ice.

“This argument profits us nothing,” I finally suggested, “unless we can agree on a plan that includes going back to Skald to at least rescue the ones that Bennington transformed back into humans, if not save them all.”

“Are you serious?” MacTallan asked, incredulous. Bennington nodded her head and stood up in support.

“Quite. It’s the only thing right now that makes any kind of sense,” I responded.

We took several deep breaths in contemplation of my proposal. Finally, Tollard spoke again, his voice shaking.

“No. I must go to them and face my punishment. I must deliver myself up. It is my fault for having gone against orders. Perhaps I can be a distraction while the three of you leave somehow.”

He stood up and I interposed myself between him and the door.

“If you go out there, you do your ‘people’ no good,” I said.

His eyes focused on me. “This is my fault,” he choked, faintly.

“Then pay your penance with service as you once did. We’re going to need you, Captain. We’re going to need you when we finally get back to that bloody island and figure out a way to get those people to safety before they starve or get torn to shreds by the ones that weren’t transformed.”

This seemed to strike a chord with the man, who paused for a moment before sitting back down. The scratching and screeching we could hear from beyond the doorway became more desperate.

“We need a way out,” Bennington called, now spurred to action, as she dashed into a chamber to gather up the Rexley Device as well as whatever equipment could be carried easily.

I looked at MacTallan.

“The lines.”


“The one the rat-men are sitting on top of is the only one around for miles,” he explained. “But there is another, not too far from here. If—if we can get to Greysham again.”

“The Cairns,” I said, suddenly understanding.

The young professor nodded.

“So that’s why he’d insisted to head there. And why you were looking for it—”

“I didn’t have a clue what was really there until these past few weeks. Until I had a chance to study my mentor’s maps. I was working on a hunch, but apparently Stratham had access to more than I ever knew.”

I looked over at the pile of books. “You can’t take all of Von Neumann’s work with you this time,” I said, shaking my head.

“I won’t need to,” MacTallan replied. “I’ve been able to piece together a fairly accurate map from the several that I found. The map, my notebook, and one or two additional volumes—that should be what I need.”

“Gentlemen, there’s no time for this,” Bennington interrupted, exasperated. “We should be looking for an escape route now.

“Not to worry,” MacTallan said, suddenly a picture of calm. “Tollard, get up from that chair.”

With MacTallan’s directions, the three of us removed the massive conference table from its position in the center of the room, setting it aside with its chairs. I pulled away the expensive-looking rug to reveal a metal door set quite solidly into the stonework floor. Locating the key again on its strap around his neck, he set it into a recessed hole at the side of the door. It took Tollard and I assisting him to swing it open, its hinges creaking at the rust. Below, a stone stairway revealed itself to us and a cold draft wafted upwards. The air from below seemed stale but dry.

“Tunnels,” MacTallan explained. “Back in the days of the Blood War, emergency escapes like this were built into many buildings.”

“How do we know the wererats aren’t down there to greet us?” Bennington asked.

“If the rat-men were down there, we would have known by now,” MacTallan offered.

She peered down into the murky darkness of the stairway.

“The stairs are worked into the eastern wall of the main building and they bypass the cellar entirely. They connect up with a tunnel system deep below ground. If I’m right, we’ll find an exit to a road well outside of campus.”

“I’m not seeing any other options,” I finally said, standing up to gather up what I could from the supplies.

“Grab that lantern and help with whatever the doctor needs,” MacTallan instructed Tollard. “I’ll get my things.”

We fled, taking with us whatever we could carry in both of our hands and on our backs. The long stairway turned once and finally ended in a stout wooden door, which opened up onto a dusty stone corridor. For three miles, this passageway carried us, angling slightly to one direction and then another. An incline downwards and another little stairs took us deeper underground at one point; towards the end of the corridor three ponderous sets of stairs were necessary to return us to surface level. We finally exited from a little grotto, an open mouth of earth folded into a hillock in the middle of an expanse of forest. When we groped our way outside, dawn was breaking.

“This road will lead us toward Greysham. It’ll be a good day’s travel, and into the early evening. If we’re lucky, we can reach the town by nightfall and avoid the wererats.”

We approached the town, our relief flooding through us, quickening our pace and breathing hope into our hearts. We were greeted by good Parsons at the city gates, who of course recognized everyone except for Tollard. Giving us the equivalent to a heroes’ welcome, we were ushered swiftly back to the Downborough Arms with happy cheers and a crowd that followed us.

Confronting the coward Bledsoe was relatively easy, and it is one of the few times I have ever found myself with the desire to kill another man. I held back, of course, but the pistol that MacTallan had brought with him from the safe-room at Thornskye felt suddenly heavy in my hands and begged to be unleashed upon the man. After what I had seen, and after the danger he had put us in, I wanted him to pay. I wanted to convert him into an example in front of his town.

He seemed surprised, of course, to see us as we burst into the tavern at the Arms—but more mortified, in the way someone would look upon seeing a dead acquaintance come back to life to greet them. He stood up and Tollard quickly tackled him. Before his aides could come to his rescue, I pulled out the pistol, and backed them off. Seeing the confusion caused by those heralded as returned heroes confronting the town’s leadership, Parsons thought better of interfering, instead agreeing to accompany us to Bledsoe’s house. We interrogated the man there, most likely in the same room where Bledsoe must have kept Thompson out of sight after secretly releasing him from the wine cellar, the day before he boarded the Jagdschloss in secret.

Bledsoe confessed to collusion with the spy, having become convinced of Thompson’s mission to destroy Skald, and if that were impossible, at least sinking the Saxonian boat so that no one would gain access to the Rexley Device. Our unexpected reappearance was impossible to explain, since news of the wreck of the Jagdschloss had apparently reached the ears of the townsfolk; and the weak-willed Bledsoe at least opted not to introduce further lies. Neither Thompson nor Bledsoe had been aware of Tollard’s presence on the island, from what we gathered, and Bledsoe did not seem to recognize the former boat captain in our midst. Bledsoe’s motive for assisting Thompson, however, was the most chilling: when we questioned him, Bledsoe mentioned “Cambrian gold” and the “promise of seeing his wife again.” We left Bledsoe under Parsons’ overwatch, who is taking our orders, at least for now. I am thankful that he at least was able to quickly see to truth of this and give us his allegiance after the confession of his former mayor. Parsons is now acting as de facto mayor until an election is held.

Thankfully, it wasn’t until well after we left Bledsoe’s house that MacTallan noted that while he had taken a pistol with him from Thornskye, he had not taken any ammunition.

In the morning, I will let my beloved take flight again, and I will re-read your two letters in more careful detail than I have been able to these last few days. The story of your capture, the re-awakening of your Ability, the disappearance of Brown himself, and the last words of the Admiral, are all stories that I wish to relate to MacTallan and Bennington in order to bring forward their careful consideration. As for Tollard, we consider him joined in our mission now, but not quite in our full confidence. For that reason I am loathe to read your letters aloud or bring them into areas where we meet. I have also not disclosed to Tollard the death of Segismund, and I wish to withhold that until a more appropriate time. I think there is more that Tollard can tell us yet, and I have a vague impression that knowledge of Segismund’s death may change his motives somehow.

Please know that I have been most appreciative of your forbearance for my interruption in my part of the correspondence, and I will write again as soon as we here have decided on the next course of action. This will likely will be to muster a group of ships that can be used to transport whatever human survivors that we can find alive still on Skald to safety here in Greysham. For her part, Bennington favors the use of the Rexley Device and the “bright blood” to continue a de-transformation of rat-men, but I do not have the capacity to contemplate this at the present moment. I will say, however, that we have begun to discuss plans such as these and the role that MacTallan’s map of portals might play. Should you decide to hunt down that abomination Brown, MacTallan has already set to work on a copy of the map for your use. It is not complete yet, but expect it in a future missive from me.


Thornskye, 9 February

Dear Crane,

My first impulse in beginning this letter is to offer some meek apology for my scrawled hand that writes—nay, carves—these letters, as they have the appearance of a school-boy who has only begun to shape the forms of the alphabet. However, in the first few lines, two truths are self-evident. The first is that I write by my own hand, having recently been reunited with my body. The second is that there is no guarantee that these poor words will even reach your eye—except by Sharma’s marksmanship, and some buoy of fate that sees to it that your spirit and body continue to remain one.

Bennington succeeded in her efforts; it was not until after I had awoken that she had described her plan as “a long shot.” This is not to say that I would have protested or stopped her if she had made that known to me. I did not know just how dangerous her theory was prior to my somatic re-introduction; there are many rooms to the mansions of our minds, and respecting Bennington as a woman of science, I cheerfully confined myself to the guest’s quarters, already richly appointed with memory and a desire to bring order from the chaos that the Society has caused.

As for my awakening in my body, it was like being born an infant once again. I have spent the last few days learning to walk, to speak, to eat, and to use my hands. Since I had not spent a considerable amount of time outside of my body (a matter of weeks), I may have perhaps avoided a complete disconnection with it. As you had the intuition to see, with every passing moment I spent outside my body, the risk of not being able to return increased in like measure. A few more weeks, Bennington thinks, and I would not have had a physical vessel to which to return.

Bennington effected this return, in fact, with a solution made from the a few droplets of the blood in one of the vials (which fortunately we recovered from that desperate scene back at Skald along with MacTallan’s books and documents). The secure rooms in which we have secluded ourselves at Thornskye have enough rudimentary laboratory and kitchen equipment that Bennington felt confident enough to at least put her theory to the test. By introducing the blood taken from the Elizabeth College vials in some sort of stabilizing medium (such as a simple saline solution) into my body, she reasoned, it would cancel my Ability, the equivalent to a de-metamorphosis in my case. To assist in my consciousness accurately locating and re-animating my body, she also created a powerful sleeping agent for herself, so that her mind’s activity would not interfere with the transfer process. MacTallan watched over us as we slept, some fourteen long (and perhaps much needed) hours. As I was told after I woke up, Tollard also maintained an aloof, but interested, vigil.

Fortunately the re-learning process has been a matter of days thus far and considerable progress has been made, hence the words you see here. I might have written sooner but today was the first point at which I felt I could manage a draft of anything I had to tell you; and, with things quite uncertain at your end, I took more time to gather information from Tollard in an attempt to assist you to the maximum extent. The most notable change for me now, of course, is my Ability: I can no longer reach out with my thoughts to scan memories, ward or no ward, and to be blunt, I am glad for this.

In the meantime, as my fingers remember their dexterity with the pen, I can at least tell you what information Tollard has brought forward these last few days, unsolicited and quite forthcoming. It was at least a week before he produced any communication toward any of us; and when he did, it concerned only his basic human (or, recently re-humanized) needs. What astonished me, however, is that Bennington never doubted that he would remain with us in the secure areas of Thornskye, and we needed little oversight of him. Bennington’s demeanor, in fact, was more of a concerned physician than an enemy or a one-time captive. To assuage both my warnings and MacTallan’s disquiet, she explained to us that she believed that Tollard’s curiosity regarding the blood in the vials would win out over whatever inimical feelings he had toward us following his permanent de-transformation. In addition, she offered the logic that Tollard knew better than anyone that he would no longer be safe out in the wide world to face his former, now estranged, minions.

I will share the gist of Tollard’s information that he has told us, but with my apologies you will allow me to paraphrase, as my hand is not nimble enough to record dictation; but more to the point, while he does not escape, he is not always lucid. Would I were a young man back in Urquart’s class, Crane—you recall that he had us copy whole passages from Panthopheles and Demostio in the original classical Hellenic—would that this pen flew across the page and have captured more authentically Tollard’s utterances. Still, many of these utterances sounded, following the Bard, “all Hellenic to me.” In some cases, I can call them ravings; but Bennington has also been able to synthesize a sedative from the materials found here, so fortunately we have a solution on-hand for the occasional times Tollard experiences attacks of dementia.

It seems your theory may have some weight: indeed, the Society and the New Columbians were working together, or at least a cell of the one and a command group of the other. It is not yet clear if the whole of the two organizations were represented by the actions of the core group of operatives, or if one or both groups had gone “rogue” from its leadership. What does seem to emerge, however, is that after the Essen dig, the New Columbian High Command saw fit to act on some information that was received at the time of the dig, and Segismund had commissioned Tollard to captain a ship to explore the isle of Skald. That ship was meant to be a joint venture by the NCHC and the Society, and in fact on that boat there was at least one Society operative. This may connect now with your conversations with Van Dyke and the confrontation at Mont-Bré.

From Tollard’s point of view, Campbell was not only oblivious about the mission, but he had been deliberately lied to, perhaps for his own protection. From this I cannot deduce much about his father-in-law’s motive except to surmise that Segismund may have had another step in the plan at Yarmouth, and because of the devastation or disruption that was found there, was never able to complete that step; Tollard had made a mention of “additional orders” but I confess that was uttered at a time when he was being sedated. It now logically follows that when Tollard succumbed to the Incident, he made his way somehow to Skald. Changed as he was, a remnant of his humanity remained to drive him that goal. And that goal, it seems, was recovery of the Rexley Device. What vexes me now is how the scuttling of the Woodmere fits into this, much less its very presence on the Cambrian coast. Was it hastening to oversee the next step in the “additional orders,” or was it there as a stop-gap after original plans went awry?

It seems now that there was a race: even though the mission of the NCS Sigsbee had originally been a joint venture to recover the Rexley Device, there was a faction within the Society that had become intent on reaching it before the Sigsbee mission, and the NCHC now had a competitor in its former ally. Perhaps enough mistrust had been sown between the two organizations, exacerbated by the Incident, the horrid transformations of the population of Albion, and the appearance of the strange sites of supernatural power. The possibility of an acrimonious rivalry that emerged from the smoldering ashes of a cooperative, but abortive, effort between the two organizations seems reinforced by two factors: one, that Thompson, working as a spy for NCHC, had secondary orders to destroy the isle of Skald (somehow) if the Sigsbee mission had failed; two, Thorpe’s awareness of Thompson at the outset of our venture, his subsequent disassociation from Thompson (which was revealed to me that evening at Greysham), and his final elimination of Thompson onboard the Jagdschloss, at the apparently unnecessary sacrifice of Gates and his crew. Of course, the missive to you from Thompson himself, a copy of which I remain grateful to you for sending, cements all of this.

Another piece of information here that does not fit with any other thread—yet seems immediately relevant somehow—is that in the Daguerro-graph recovered from Stratham’s items, Segismund is not wearing the uniform of an NCHC officer. Is it possible that late in his career—after a retirement from the military that was meant only as a gambit—he turned secretly against the NCHC and used his position of admiral to leverage opposition, or at least subversion, of the Sigsbee mission? If this is true, what did he know and when did he know it—but alas, to learn those secrets is ostensibly your aim, and from what the simple but stalwart Jacobs reports, you currently have larger problems to resolve.

Next, I have reason to believe that Rachel is not the only—perhaps being is a general enough term—that was disinterred at Essen. Tollard’s fitful ramblings gave rise to something he called “dark blood,” and it did not seem that he was referring to what you sent in the vials. A theory that Bennington and I have is that it was this “dark blood” that had at one time powered the Rexley Device, and the device at that point was then employed as a weapon—bestowing a curse of lycanthropy. This, of course, explains nothing of how Tollard was changed into his half-rat form—although in a format not matching his underlings—unless the Rexley Device had been used on him; but I think it more plausible that he suffered a transformation at Yarmouth, not unlike Graustein and Thorpe, but of a different sort. At any rate, it could account for why Tollard thought that the blood in the vial would power the Device in like fashion as it had before; but this blood, as evidenced by the de-transformations of the ratfolk and my later recovery, has been proven to possess different supernatural properties. The connection I see here is that if this “dark blood” existed, it must have powered the Device, but have come from someone or something with a nature similar to Rachel’s and equal in power. I shudder to think that Brown may have a connection with this somehow.

One last item that I want to relay before I must stop and rest my shaking hand: I have not been able to get out of my mind the “click” I heard—we all heard—as the rat-Tollard fitted the vial of the blood into the Device. It seemed to have been made for the fitting, which, in my opinion, means a Society intervention. It is sufficiently intriguing to me that Bennington knew enough about the Device to know that the strange contraption that accompanied it was not part of Sir Edmund Rexley’s original design. But the additional steam-powered assemblies and the fittings that allowed for the vials to be inserted struck me as similar in intention and character as the diving-apparatus that had been affixed onto the Jagdschloss. The fact that the vials you recovered from Elizabeth College seemed already fitted to supply the converted Device is not insignificant, I daresay. I wonder now if someone at the College had intended to recover the Rexley Device and use it for good purposes—post Bennington’s tenure, of course, as she had no recognition of the containers themselves, although she did recognize the contents. If the theory about the “race” I described above holds true, then this would appear to be another piece in the puzzle that fits.

I hope that these stray bits of information, thoughts, and theories, if they fall under your living eyes, at least gives you something to ruminate about while you are detained at Caeradarn, and may make a connection that is useful somehow. In the meantime I will relate to Bennington what good Jacobs says about assimilation and ask if she has any clues from her research, and in like manner we will consult with MacTallan, who is as inaccessible as Tollard is, but for different reasons—he has immersed himself once again into the chest of Von Neumann documents and writings like a man obsessed.

I very much hope that I will receive a letter—from you or one of your company—that will tell of better fortunes for you and for the crew of the Sigsbee. Until then, we continue to wait, research, and listen.

May Deus protect you, my friend,


The Isle of Skald, 21 December

Dear Crane,

Exactly a fortnight has passed since I sent away the little sections from the log-book, and Alia has been with us four days of that time. Would that she could have left earlier: but yours was the caution as to exactly why she was detained until now.

We three certainly welcomed her latest landing, arriving upon the same little strip of land she found after she located our life-pod among the wreckage of the Jagdschloss. Soon after she left the first time, we were able to improve upon the strip by clearing the bulk of its brush, and we erected a makeshift beacon from some of that wreckage which had washed upon our beach over the next two days. Thus, she had little difficulty in finding us a few days ago.

When she landed, we asked immediate questions about the state of affairs in Greysham; but she had never been there, of course fearing that had she landed, she would have been detained by Bledsoe. Your letter reinforced the abject truth that, all things equal, our heroine Alia ought not to have attempted the crossing directly from Garnsey. Upon her arrival I was quickly able to ascertain for myself that a direct air crossing to Skald from your island—especially from its southern tip where Carteret is situated—depletes all but a sliver of the aero’s charge from its onboard amberite piles. At first, Alia had avoided my questions on the matter.

I would have scolded Alia for putting herself—and the greater mission at large—at considerable risk for making the crossing. At this time, I could not bring myself to do so for several reasons. A pragmatic rationale, of course, sprung to mind: that now that she is here, I thought, there is no use to calling her attention to the obvious. However, the true reason I said nothing is, I must confess, also the reason I have the most difficulty in admitting; and while my heart is glad that such happiness can still be felt in the midst of such stark hopelessness, it is a happiness I have neither earned nor deserve.

Yet if this letter still reaches you, it is because of two fortunate developments on this island—even if, in this world, almost every fortune we find seems to be at the sad expense of another. First of all, a large portion of supplies and debris has washed up on the southern beach-head of Skald, near where we had first guided our little life-pod and set up a simple camp. As a result, we have some supply of food and equipment, most notably items that were either buoyant or encased in watertight crates, such as our medical supplies.

Along with the debris that washed up on shore was a small section of the fuselage of the H-boat: this was one that contained part of an amberite pile, as it had been a section of the diving apparatus. Bennington won the laurels for technical know-how in this case, Crane—I am useless with tools and contraptions, as is MacTallan. This morning (after some failed attempts over the last few days) our brilliant doctor managed to finally find a way to transfer the charge from this piece of debris to the aero. We sighed in collective relief and celebrated with a round of tinned peaches.

Quite unfortunately, useful parts and food were not all that washed ashore from the ill-fated vessel. The last of the bodies was recovered five days ago, having come in at various points along the southern coast of the island over about a week’s time. Bennington and I identified, in order of arrival, Arasaku, Kilcannon, Laray, Gates, and finally Wright: thus, the entire crew of the forward control cabin. No other bodies—not Thompson, not Bell, not O’Doole, and most conspicuously not Thorpe—were recovered. MacTallan’s theory is that the Jagdschloss broke apart after Thompson’s sabotage did its damage, and that the forward cabin may have been able to trap more air than the aft areas, allowing it to rise and eventually spill its contents toward the surface of the water. This still does not explain why the bodies were not eaten by the sea-creature we espied out the porthole: yet they were whole bodies, pale from the salt water but otherwise unspoiled, and we were able to put them to rest in graves along the shore and say a few words of peace.

A second development is more startling and one that, we believe, has given us some new measure of purpose and guidance on our mysterious island. About a week ago I found an edifice here on Skald. It is a low, square building made of brick and mortar whose metal door had fallen off after having been thoroughly rusted from exposure to the wind and the rain. It looked not unlike the “pill-boxes” that the Gallian soldiers had built along their eastern front during the Blood War to resist the advancing Saxonian armies. At any rate, I encountered this building at a time when MacTallan and I had decided to institute the same two-person mapping system that we had employed when we studied the strange interlocking patterns in the trees north of the Cairns. During one particular long arc from his position (these bursitis-plagued knees be damned) I came upon this building, looking quite out of place, as I am sure you can imagine. Desiring safety and recognizing the value of having all three of us together, the three of us returned the next morning for a closer inspection.

Inside, we found a Society contraption, in good working order: a one-person winged suit capable of sustaining level and stable flight for six hours.

I say that it is a Society contraption for three reasons. First, Bennington immediately identified the technology used to achieve flight as similar to the aero’s, with a propeller design that mimics that of that aero. Second, its power system seems to use the same types of amberite piles found in both the aero and the diving apparatus from the H-boat. Third, Alia confirmed that just as the aero pushes against natural gravitational forces with its apparatus that seems to emit charged air particles—what Bennington calls a repulsor—this flight suit has six such devices, in smaller scale than the aero’s, extending from the chassis and surrounding the pilot during flight.

The entire suit can be collapsed into two large, rectangular, black metal chests, which is how we found it, and each of these two chests had a built-in padlock. I am sure that you have already guessed that it was Thompson’s key that opened these padlocks, to my chagrin. I say chagrin because while I am glad that we made the discovery and that I possessed the key to open these chests, it is simply that I had imagined the key as being necessary to open some hidden chamber that kept the Rexley device. As it stands now, we are on Skald with somewhat less general direction and sense of where to find the device as we were before, and even that seemed a fool’s hope.

Thus for most of yesterday morning and the afternoon, Alia assisted our mapping and exploration efforts greatly by ascending into the beautiful bright sky like a bird taken to wing; and like a bird, she seemed to know her way with the suit as if born to it—this fact is hardly surprising given her training and extensive experience with flight. After her reconnaissance efforts had concluded with the eventual depletion of the energy charge, we learned a great deal more about Skald in the meantime, including its mountainous region to the north of the island. After Alia leaves, we will likely head toward this higher ground, in the hopes that we will find fresh water there at the very least.

Before I move from the topic of the little bunker, I ought to make careful mention of the other items we recovered from it, and what the condition of the interior was in the first place. It had looked as if it had once held many more items that we had found, but it had been ransacked. We concluded this because had the door simply been removed at the force of the elements (certainly one of the touch-downs of the black storms could have done this), little damage other than wetness from rain would have befallen the contents; however, as it was, it looked as if materials and items were not only picked through, but many were removed entirely, as entire dust-shadows of items no longer there dotted the interior. Why the cases containing the flyer suit were not removed, we cannot say. We found nothing of value among the scant broken debris that littered the floor.

I have not yet mentioned the third case, smaller than the other two but matching in design, which held books and notes. MacTallan was at once awed and overjoyed at this treasure, and in observing him since our find, I believe it has restored some measure of lost hope that he may have carried since the world changed, especially in the wake of the subsequent over-run of the university at Thornskye by the twisted, changeling rat-men. He has only had a little time to investigate these items fully, but apparently three large books were contained within the third chest, with a bundle of accompanying loose documents and maps, held together with a red twine. The first of these books, quite coincidentally, is an early draft of a Von Neumann work. I believe it summoned most of MacTallan’s self-control not to openly weep at the sight of finding a key piece of original research from his mentor, here in the most desolate of surroundings, and at a time when any clue that can shine light upon our quest is most sorely needed.

Bennington and I resolved to allow MacTallan to review and organize the books and documents while Alia flew a number of short sorties first along the coast, then venturing into the interior as far as she dared, until eventually, as I have mentioned above, the contraption could yield no more service. During this time I was able to scout out a little way ahead and cut a trail north, building on the efforts MacTallan and I put in after our landing. Bennington has been very curious as to the physical properties of the vials of liquid (she has not settled upon calling it “blood” but seems to accept that as a proximate word in the interim by laymen such as MacTallan and myself). Without more sophisticated laboratory equipment, she cannot perform the necessary tests on the contents of the vials, but she recognizes the syringe as part of a larger device that may have been mounted upon a machine of some sort; according to her, it has not been designed to hold in the hand, but rather to accept, and then transfer, a larger volume of liquid for precise insertion into a subject. (I cringe writing that, Crane, but Bennington assures me that we all must uphold a scientific mind about such things.)

With the discovery of the bunker, however, Bennington has forwarded the theory that the Society made a landing on Skald some time ago, and that, if this shadowy agency built a structure for storage, it is possible that either other buildings remain to be found, or that there had been at one point an intention to return, or both. A Society landing must have been relatively recent, however. Aided by one of the maps that had been included in the third crate as well as a few of its supporting documents, MacTallan has now come to a crucial conclusion, representing an important but vexingly absent and elusive piece of his years of research—something that has now been put into place.

This island, MacTallan has concluded, does not appear on any nautical or historical maps before seven years ago.

With this, my friend, although multiple pages might not make a difference to Alia’s aero, the lateness of the hour with which she will make her return compels me to end my account here and send her on her way, hopeful that she can make the retour back to Carteret and avoid the next onslaught of storms. I wish her all speed, and for you, good fortune in your now inevitable conflict with Robards. We eagerly await news of the impending trouble but simultaneously do not expect another visit soon by Alia, given both the unrest there as well as the ongoing peril of these lengthy flights.


The Isle of Skald, 7 December

Thingstag, 30. Elfmonat

MacTallan has passed this log-book onto me today, with the mutual agreement that I should fill its pages with as many details as I can during the upcoming journey. Upon handing it over, he made warm compliments toward myself as the chronicler of the expedition and praised my ability to let no detail go unobserved. Whereas I have seen the importance of keeping excellent records of everything we see and experience in this changed world, I am sure that I perform a mediocre service at best—but at any rate, I will use this nautical log-book during the journey to make what notes I can. Since I have run out of paper taken from The Waterford School, I will happily exercise this option, but make somewhat shorter notes while at sea. I will endeavor to capture the workings of the ship, details of how we navigate the voyage, and how the men fare in a strange and cramped environment.

– – –

Wodenstag, 1. Jahrende

December 1 and the weather has become no colder than it would be in mid-autumn. At least the lack of cold serves us in that it does not impede preparations for the testing of the Jagdschloss later this week, and as a further blessing, the last six days have been free of black storms.

Bennington and I expect to complete the work on the manual by tomorrow, in time for us to have a complete working copy aboard—although I should note that the most relevant parts have already become Gates’ abbreviated course for the men in the basics of piloting. Since Hollins has a young family and cannot be convinced to serve on-board as engineer, Gates will also be using the manual to train some of the men to service the engine—to the extent that two days’ study will allow.

Thorpe and Bledsoe have cooperated well in the acquisition of supplies for the journey, and we will have as much as we can take on waiting for us to load after we complete our tests.

– – –

Thonarstag, 2. Jahrende

Gates has ordered a day of on-board drills and walk-throughs for the men, complete with meals taken on board and confinement to their quarters for the evening, apparently to acclimate them to the experience of serving on a vessel such as the Jagdschloss. This leaves those of us still at the Downborough Arms a last quiet day of completing the translations on the manual, studying MacTallan’s maps and charts, and rest.

After supper Bledsoe related the news that Thompson was found dead earlier this afternoon by a fisherman who had strayed south along the coast in search of a catch. According to the man’s testimony to Bledsoe, he spotted a small boat out in the water, adrift, about a half-mile from the coast. In it, was the body of Thompson, sprawled out on the floor of the little craft. His face was pale and his body slack, and when the fisherman took him up onto his boat, it seemed to him as if he had been poisoned. Not knowing what to do, he brought the body back to town, where Bledsoe identified the dead man.

I wished then that Bledsoe had thought to at least alert Thorpe, or Bennington—but then again, with all of the business of the preparations for the crossing to Skald, I do not know what either of them would have spared the time to do, except to order that Thompson’s corpse be buried. This is what Bledsoe ordered upon seeing the man: and so that chapter is now completely ended.

After supper, Bennington offered that a practice among some Society operatives is to wear pendants which, when broken in half, would produce a hidden caplet of poison. In case they were discovered or compromised, suicide was ordered instead of the risk of revealing information under interrogation or torture. Perhaps this is what Thompson decided, finding no hope in striking out from the town into the bleak landscape beyond, and no ability to return.

– – –

Frigstag, 3. Jahrende

Gates and full crew completed day of successful tests. Diving ring apparatus appears fully functional; Greenley and Hollins congratulated. Single-screw steam engine seems fully operable, no problems reported. First test dive to 55 feet successful, followed by test dive to 120 feet at 6 arc-minutes per hour. This is as per Bennington’s translation of Knoten, about one and one-sixth mile per hour—thus our maximum speed is approximately 7 forward miles per hour.

All chambers on board have been inspected, with the maximum scrutiny possible, including the engine room, the storage and ballast chambers, the control cabin, crew quarters, and ready room. The ship has a small galley with a gas burner, a WC, with fresh water supplied though clever use of cooling condensed vapor along steam exhaust tubes. We also have two round pods attached to the hull that appear to be covered, windowless lifeboats, accessible via watertight hatches.

MacTallan estimates arrival at Skald, assuming linear movement at constant speed and time allotted for course corrections, in thirty-six hours’ time.

– – –

Samstag, 4. Jahrende

Last of the preparations and tests. Bennington has completed the last of her medical inspections on the men and confirms full health after both dives.

Bennington shared with me that after translating the technical manual, she concluded H-boat is of Society design, sold to the Saxonian Empire at outset of the War. Society inventors created steam-engine apparatus for diving. This conveys the water from inside the ballast-tanks into the condensation chamber by vibrating coils. Coils focus electrical power from the ship’s “amberite piles.” Water inside chamber then separates into vapors that allow the ship to rise or descend.

Irony of being conveyed in recaptured, repaired Society invention to recover lost, arcane weapon secretly sought by Society not lost on me.

Received Crane’s latest letter late in the evening from Alona. Too much excitement now; will read it after we have cast off.

– – –

Sonnentag, 5. Jahrende

Cast-off ceremony in early morning, with cheers and well-wishes of the entire port town. Bledsoe speech generous but not particularly inspirational. Gates and Thorpe generally confident, no errors on cast-off, ship’s engines sound strong. Total loaded cargo: three weeks’ food, medical supplies, clothing, and small equipment for exploration. Some weapons—Thorpe advises ammunition locked up separately from weapons, and Kilcannon at the watch with the key. Greysham coal reserves of 5 tons will be consumed during the journey, serving meantime as additional ballast.

Men remember past weeks of training well. High morale at sea thus far. Gates seems confident in men. Duty officers are as follows: Kilcannon as under-captain, discipline over men, general watch. Arasaku: Pilot-at-helm, follows Gates’ commands for rudder. Laray: Depth-officer, controls mechanisms for what we now call the “diving apparatus,” watches depth gauge. Wright: Co-pilot, follows Gates’ commands for forward velocity. O’Doole and Bell: Engineers, detect breakdowns, ensure correct operation of engines, make at-sea repairs.

Engines powered all through day and into evening at full speed, depth 30 feet. We have no awareness of waves, storms, or currents while submerged. All is quiet except for the rhythmic churning of the engine screw-shaft. Water-vapor air causes wet surfaces and some difficulty writing in book, but otherwise we are generally comfortable.

– – –

Montag, 6. Jahrende

Time is imperceptible in our wet metal tube. Awoke sometime the next morning after fitful sleep. Gates and MacTallan had already conferred: we have stayed relatively on course and now should find ourselves well into the Eastern Sea.

Some hours passed with no word from Gates, but otherwise quiet. Reviewed nautical map after short meal with rationed water. Alerted in ready chamber by strange noise echoing throughout. Low, thumping sound, each new noise punctuated by several seconds of silence. Men nervous—some heard similar sounds at front of ship, others heard in midsection, then as far back as engine room.

Sudden lurch to side—men thrown about, myself tossed against bulkhead. A cry came from Bennington in the ready chambers, and out the small porthole there we saw something moving in the deep. A long, reptilian tail swished suddenly against the porthole and the H-boat shuddered again, booming with the sound of the creature’s attack. Gates ordered a hasty surface and the diving apparatus engaged, allowing us a sudden burst of speed. I recalled Crane’s description of the sea creature during the passage to Machlou. Can only imagine that this was one of its cousins. Unlike the wooden boat, however, our iron hull stayed whole.

Gates ordered craft to remain just under the surface of the water, at a stop. We dared not to breathe for an hour. Thumping sound began to recede and then a cold silence. The air in the cabin had chilled to a frost and we shivered from both fear and cold.

Bennington mentioned seeing a tubular cupola mechanism in the manual to aid in viewing above surface, but had not labeled it, having found no word for it. Gates located this Sehrohr and operated it through a twinned eye-piece tube that descended from the ceiling of the vessel. Shocking scene: Gates described terrible force winds and heavy rains, sheets of water, descending from low, boiling clouds. Peaks of sea rose up to meet the clouds, as if being conducted through invisible funnels. Streaks of sparks, ball lightning, meeting furiously amidst the sky and the surface water. How glad we were then to be protected—and how lucky Crane must have been not to have been swept up by them.

Bennington then viewed the Sehrohr device. For a moment I saw her tremble—I caught her as she fell back in shock, mute, unsteady. “It cannot be,” I heard her gasp, and I helped her to a ready bunk. “I see energies in the storm.” Me, confused, struggling to settle my own disquiet: “Have you seen these—energies—before?” At this Bennington nodded, her eyes transfixed. Our immediate situation rushed to the fore of my mind; I whispered, “Are we in danger?” Bennington shook her head, but I was not sure if this was a response or an attempt to drive away the images that haunted her. I appointed Kilcannon to attend her, and rejoined Gates and the remainder of the crew in the control cabin.

Gates demanded an explanation, and seeing that I was unwilling or unable to provide one, concluded that we were not safe at the surface, either. “Deep dive, lads,” he called out, eyes still on me. “Hundred and forty feet or we scrape the bottom.” We looked at Thorpe. “Gates is captain here,” he said, “and we have already been badly delayed by all of this.” He then left to check on our doctor.

A whine and a shudder—diving apparatus engaged again, this time at its maximum capacity. Vaguely aware of forward movement but plane of descent steep enough to cause unattached objects to dislodge or roll. Men held on to seats and handles as ship plummeted downward into deep. Tiefenmesser reading indicated maximum depth; Gates ordered stop on apparatus.

[Log entry remains unfinished, account continues on separate page]

Crane, at this point I was unable to complete this log book entry to its fullest because of what happened after I had left the control room. I wrote this last portion to you from the shores of Skald, on chart-paper that you find wrapped around these log-book entries.

There in the silence and gloom we heard creaking as H-boat struggled to withstand crushing forces; having retreated to the ready quarters after several minutes of observing the men listening intently to the eerie sounds of the utter depths, I found a small gas lantern and penned the last few paragraphs of the log entry.

Just then, the H-boat shook violently and I thought in an instant that Gates had doomed us—but instead it was the engine screw from the rear cabin. Smoke floated slowly out from underneath the recessed door, and I could make out O’Doole screaming from behind it. The muffled but unmistakable report from a pistol shot then followed, and I feared the worst, paralyzed at my chair. I heard Thorpe sprint from his quarters, and as I steeled myself to peer astern into the long corridor, I saw Thorpe tear the iron bulkhead door from its very joints.

The hungry glow of hot flames beyond greeted our captain. Another shot rang out: but our snake-man dodged it in a blur—like a bolt, I tell you—and the bullet careened into a nearby pipe, causing an angry jet of steam to pour into the hold. I could see very little from the smoke and the steam, but Kilcannon sailed past me, shielding his eyes but intent on assisting his leader. I caught the general motions of a struggle and I heard another shot, and then a shout and a painful cry from a man whose voice I recognized—but whose presence was incomprehensible to me.

Kilcannon emerged first, and motioned to me to enter the galley. Finally remembering myself amidst the shock and urgency of the scene, I made out the outline of a water-bucket under a shelf. Passing Kilcannon the bucket, he retreated back behind the wall of vapor, and the light from the flames subsided. Then, out from the smoke marched Thorpe—dragging a sputtering Thompson, head firmly looped by a mighty arm-hold, stumbling behind Thorpe like a street urchin subdued by an angry constable.

I gasped, at the time not comprehending Bledsoe’s treachery, which is now obvious to me.

“He’s sabotaged the engines.”

For a moment all I could do was stare at Thompson in disbelief.

“What are you going to do?” I asked, recognizing a look in Thorpe’s reptilian eyes that I had seen once before.

Thorpe passed me with Thompson now going limp under his grip, and looked back for a moment. “What I ought to have done back at the Cairns.”


I had no choice but to follow Thorpe. As we both approached the control room, Gates appeared, eyes wide from the excitement, questions ready on his lips. Like myself, however, all that the seaman could do is watch Thorpe march the re-captured spy to the hatch at the side of the vessel.

Bennington and MacTallan exited the crew quarters, joining me there in the corridor as I breathlessly watched what Thorpe would do next.

“He’ll never survive at this depth,” observed Bennington. In her voice I heard a cold calculation—not a careful warning.

“That’s the idea.”

Thorpe turned and pulled a lever, and we heard the loud whoosh of the first of the lifeboats detach from the craft.

Gates stepped in. “What in Deus’ name, man—”

Thorpe stopped him with a glare.

He then turned the hatch wheel: his arm wrenched the wheel with a mighty strain as he maintained his hold on the now-unconscious Thompson. The hatch opened to the small crawlspace beyond, and Thorpe bundled the man inward. We could see him collapse in a heap as Thorpe replaced the hatch, sealing it watertight by turning the wheel in the opposite direction.

“For good, this time.” Another pull on the lever, and Thompson was sucked out into the murky void.

Just then the H-boat shuddered again, and from all around we heard an agonizing creak. Bolts and valves burst from above and near us as the pressure from the pipes overcame the metal that contained it, spewing water and steam.

“We can’t move forward, Captain, but we can still surface!” shouted Thorpe in the chaos.

Gates rushed back into the control chamber. “He’s right! Diving apparatus to full reverse—TAKE US UP, immediately!”

Instinctively, we all grasped the nearest safe handle and braced ourselves. The nose of the H-boat began to rise slowly, the hull groaning again as the apparatus answered its helm.

“Not you three.”

Somehow finding footing against the rise, Thorpe crossed the corridor and turned the hatch wheel leading to the other lifeboat.

“Get in.”

Bennington, MacTallan, and I looked at each other. What was Thorpe proposing?

Bennington looked at Thorpe. “We’ll make it,” she offered.

“No, we won’t. You know this as well as I, Doctor. There’s no time for argument.”

Thinking quickly, I grabbed my pencil, the log-book and the lantern from the ready room. MacTallan and Bennington hurried into the hatchway as quickly as they could, and Thorpe’s arm ushered me in to join them.

“One more thing, Rackham,” Thorpe said from behind me.


He held out the key on its leather strap—the one that he had taken from Thompson back at the Cairns. “You might need this.”

Beyond we found the shell-like lifeboat, a little submersible into itself; MacTallan closed a second hatch, and then the little lifeboat door, and sealed us in. A few more seconds and we felt a powerful thrust outward, like a bullet leaving a rifle.

From somewhere in the deep behind and below us we sensed a dull, sickening thump, and felt a strange bob in the water that disoriented us in our windowless pod. In the dim glow of the gas lantern, I noted the same expression of dread and horror etched on the faces of my compatriots that must have appeared on mine.

Perhaps an hour passed and we sensed a change in the air inside our boat. We soon heard the pelt of water droplets echoing on the hull: so with a kick, I dislodged the door, detaching it fully to reveal a sunrise horizon, the new sun dappling the waves. Some moments later and we three were able to climb out of the craft and onto its wide, flat roof, providing us with the scene of a wide, forested island looming not far to the east, and the wreckage of the H-boat bobbing up from the dark waves behind us. We now count it destroyed completely; the Jagdschloss has been lost with all hands.

You are able to read this and the log entries I have attached, in sum, because again our miraculous flyers have triumphed again: it is Alia this time who spotted us, having flown low along the water when she saw the glint of the debris and oil from the Jagdschloss fanning out on the water’s surface in the morning sun. We met her on the shores of the island, which she has confirmed from her own maps as Skald, after she was able to locate a suitable clearing on which to make a satisfactory but bumpy landing.

I had tucked your latest letter into the log-book and thus I was able to read it; I am glad to note that back in Greysham I had left the copies of all of my notes, and our correspondence, locked up in my desk at the Arms. I can only hope that these documents are not already taken by the traitor Bledsoe—who, as I see it clearly now, lied to me to conceal Thompson’s presence onboard the H-boat in order to sabotage it. I can only wonder what the spy offered to Bledsoe as a bribe that would be valuable enough to become an accessory to the deaths of so many fine men. In the meantime, since Alia knows well how to access the false bottom of the writing-desk, I have asked her to stop there first and secure my documents. She is clever, and I am confident that she will find a way not to arouse Bledsoe’s suspicions.

We are now only three, no food, no water, no equipment save what I took in our last moments aboard the submarine. I am sure that you will send supplies with our next flyer’s return trip—but until then, MacTallan, Bennington, and I will forage and sleep under the stars, taking refuge from the storms in whatever meager shelter we can manage to build from the trees. Our first hope is fresh water; there is higher ground on the northern part of the island, and perhaps there we might find a little stream.

And we have a key—a key to an unknown door with secrets more invisible than the door itself.

I can only wish that you fare better than we have of late, Crane, in your next adventures with Campbell and his crew, especially now that you are free of Robards. May fortune continue to smile upon you and find its way—somehow—back to us.


Greysham, 27 November

My Dear Crane,

First permit me a few idle words of congratulations, mixed thoroughly with relief that the real ward had not been surrendered to Robards. Lower sixth at Everwood cemented for me, at least, that you are a man who eschews adulation, prizing more the inherent good of wisdom common to all—to this day, I still recall your impromptu speech about “standing on the shoulders of giants” when Ames had bestowed upon you the year’s award for excellence in the sciences. I had hoped, accordingly, you saw wisdom in our act to send you the artifact; but yours was the truer cleverness, now that Robards thinks he is in possession of the ward, and will (hopefully) not pursue recovery of the lost, but true, one.

I can say that from your descriptions of what had transpired on Garnsey over the last few months, we knew we were taking a chance in sending you this important artifact. I confess that if our trust and faith in our flyers was not as unshakeable as it is, we may have thought better of it. Even then, we understood the present danger of sending the ward into that nest of vipers, as MacTallan called it. (I did not get the sense that Thorpe appreciated the snake reference, but he at least agreed that, among the members of our expedition, you were the best handler for the object.)

As for your prison break (Bennington’s term, said with a friendly smirk) and your subsequent plans to rendezvous with Van Dyke and the others, we say bravo—at this, Thorpe has encouraged me to write that he advises you put your trust in them, regardless of Van Dyke’s past, or that of the others. From your details we have all painted an understanding that you four are united by a common cause and that experiences shared together have created an interdependency. More than ever, we feel this among ourselves as well.

I can also now safely and freely retract the words of false support I personally gave for New Albion, and also rescind the description of the people of Greysham as cheering the “new nation.” No one here truly recognizes Robards’ hegemony or the founding of a new Government; in Bledsoe’s words, “we would rather have no Albion than a false one from afar.”

At any rate, before I give you an update on our progress in outfitting the Jagdschloss for our journey to Skald, I wanted to briefly address something you touched upon in your last letter. You mentioned the word “curse” to describe Robards’ evident inability to see perspective when surrounded by sycophants. I wonder if our Abilities hold hidden disadvantages related to their essential natures, and whether some key is thus held therein. Thorpe seems to possess a superhuman celerity and exceptional sight, but an alarming countenance; I can read memories but only at the cost of crippling migraines; and Robards has his impressive demagoguery but a counterbalancing lack of perception. Bennington, however, seemed to have experienced no Ability, but only the curse of night terrors, which have since disappeared since the Obelisk in the Caledonian highlands—but perhaps she had an Ability, too, which was never really brought to light.

I will move past the more trivial ramblings now, my friend, and report several pieces of more important news and forward progress. We have endured several bad storms here on the coast—the dark funnels have touched down far off on the sea’s horizon at least once daily, bringing with them wind, a gray rain, and mist—but nonetheless the repair work on the H-boat has progressed. In fact we are now in a phase of testing the boat to determine the efficiency of its engines and the rudder’s response to the helm, which is the plan before we make a test of its diving tube apparatus that I described in my last letter. We have been successful in these tests, because, although the storms cause quite a disturbance on the surface of the water, the H-boat travels just underneath the surface, quite indifferent to the rolling waves.

I have several examples to relate to you to illustrate the diligence with which our men, working with Bledsoe’s engineer, have employed in readying this marvel of nautical technology; but before I do, I should first say that Thorpe and I have recently learned the importance of asking the right questions of the right people. You might recall that in my last letter I mentioned a fisherman named Gates, the one who had first sighted the half-scuttled Jagdschloss far off the coast of Albion. As it turns out, after some easy questions asked among his associates, we learned that Gates had served the Albionese navy during the Blood War, on a steamship destroyer in the Third Fleet.

Since Thorpe knew the man was proficient in piloting his own craft, we quickly found that few drinks from Bledsoe’s private stock of liqueurs was all that was needed for Thorpe and I to convince him to recall his training and pilot our H-boat. A reluctant agreement was otherwise smoothed by the promise of payment by me upon safe return, something I spared no time in offering, as well as the argument that Thorpe effected upon him as a former military man himself, appealing to Gates’ one-time service as a permanent calling to aid his countrymen in their endeavors to secure peace for Albion. I will confess, at the point that Thorpe intoned his message of courage, I could not be sure if it was the gin, or Thorpe’s intimidating visage, that finally won the man over.

Turning to the repairs on the H-boat itself, this is indeed a bright spot of hope. Two weeks ago, Greenley, a cantankerous old tinkerer impressed into service by Bledsoe upon Gates’ recovery of the submersible, had already proclaimed the steam-tubes on the outside of the hull “irreparable,” after having spent some time investigating them before our return from the Cairns. But lo, his assistant—a younger man by the name of Hollins, I believe—discovered that the copper of the tubing channels could be replaced using ducts from several of the wood-burning stoves that were common in the town, and in fact, many of the pipes fit exactly, despite a commonly-held (and otherwise correct) belief that the measurement systems employed between Saxonia and Albion are incompatible. Hollins recognized this from close inspection of the joins between ruptured tubes, which had been left undamaged in the scuttling attempt of the ship. While the repair work is not complete on the diving tubes—thus the reason we have not yet conducted tests on the depths that the H-boat can reach—it is widely hoped now that these repairs can be made and tested over the next week. If so, Gates and the crew plan to complete a full test in seven days, with an eye toward leaving for Skald in early December with the addition of supplies and the passengers (namely, Bennington, MacTallan, and myself).

The next challenge was overcome by Bennington and I, pooling our collective knowledge of the Saxonian language to interpret the myriad dials, gauges, plaques, and signs aboard the Jagdschloss. For three days, as Greenley and his men worked, she and I took an inventory of all of the nautical terms we could find aboard the craft; this included a small log book and technical manual for the engines, which we found in what appeared to be a command quarters. The log book and the manual had been missed upon the investigation that was originally made when the fishermen had recovered the ship, but when we asked Bledsoe to consider providing the ship to us for our expedition, Thorpe had ordered a more complete inspection of the vessel.

With a simple Saxonian dictionary in hand recovered from the Greysham library, then, we found that we could create a sort of rudimentary Albionese glossary of sorts, for the purpose of guiding the men that Gates would eventually train in their work of operating the vessel. Critical words such as Tiefenmesser (depth gauge), Geschwindigkeit (velocity), Voll and Halb (ahead full or half, as they relate to the throttle, in combination with the words Fahrt Voraus), and Wasserdruck (water pressure) are now well known to Gates and the crew, making their piloting of the craft not only possible, but efficient. Bennington and I are next setting ourselves to translate as much as we can of the engine manual, with the understanding that if something goes wrong, diagrams and technical explanations in Saxonian will be worthless to an Albionese-speaking crew.

Ah, the crew—I surmise that at this point you must have recognized that Gates cannot pilot this complex machine himself, and at several points I have already mentioned them. We have been pleased to see the progress that Thorpe’s men (Kilcannon, Arasaku, Wright, O’Doole, Laray, and Bell) are all in the stages of becoming successfully converted to sailors. At least Laray and Kilcannon have some sailing experience, and all of them are used to taking orders to learn new things, especially in a military atmosphere. Thorpe has done well in this, perceiving the need for a nervous Gates to be able to direct the men with confidence, and for the time being Thorpe has told the men that they are to take orders from Gates as they train for their roles onboard. In this way, Gates is now seen as the “boat captain” and Thorpe the “land captain,” as Gates certainly wants nothing to do with our expedition once we disembark on Skald, and will wait onboard until he hears further from us. Greenley is too old to serve as an able engineer, but I am told by Thorpe that his assistant may take the reins as the chief officer overseeing the operation of the engines.

Finally, MacTallan has not been idle himself. Thorpe passed him the log book, which incorporated a small fold-out nautical map of the Köningsee, which we Albionese know as the Eastern Sea. From an old and outdated atlas in Bledsoe’s office and some more clues provided in sketches in the book, MacTallan was able to call up his cartography talents to create for us a larger, folding map of the Eastern Sea coasts, including Albion, Caledonia, Saxonia, and parts of the Bjondersland. On the map, he has plotted the location of Skald from what we know of Thompson’s documents, and has made some calculations and estimates of distance, extrapolating from the scale noted on the little log-book map. Using this, he reports confidence in employing a mathematical algorithm to plot travel at sea, given a near-constant rate of Geschwindigkeit and assumedly straight-line travel. We joke that he is now the ship’s navigator—but indeed he is the closest we have to one.

Bennington has mentioned to me that when we are able to confirm the success of the ring-like diving apparatus attached to the Jagdschloss, she would like to test the effects of the water pressure on the men and ensure their safety during the voyage. In my mind, she has nothing but support from me—and of course it means my safety as well, as one of its future passengers. More to the point, however, it underscores her renewed commitment to Thorpe’s leadership and the successful direction of this mission, to the disregard of her orders from the Society, whatever they might have been. Working closely with her on the translation of the manuals has also given me a new perspective on her value to the team, beyond yet what it was before.

One final, perhaps minor, detail. The spy Thompson was reported as having escaped from his prison cell some two nights ago. Bledsoe had immediately brought it to Thorpe’s attention, apologizing for the makeshift cell in which he had placed Thompson. I thought of your description of the granary on Garnsey, which had never been meant to be used as a prison, and how there had been locks on both sides of the door, &c.—in our case here Thompson had been placed in an old, unused wine cellar (devoid of its comforting drink, of course), and one of Bledsoe’s servants had been placed overwatch of its door. Apparently Thompson had found a way to bend the metal of the door hinges over the course of many days, finally breaking them with a kick at a point where he could hear that Bledsoe’s man was temporarily away, at a short meal or relieving himself, perhaps. We still do not know from Bledsoe’s man exactly when Thompson had made his escape, as it was some time yet before the man made the discovery of the broken hinges and the corresponding absence of our New Columbian spy, since Thompson had the time to replace the hinges on their moorings well enough to obfuscate his escape. The only other clue to Thompson’s whereabouts was a farmer who reported that he saw a man steal one of his horses late at night, galloping off toward the south; we learned this yesterday.

For my part, I say good riddance to the man, and let him trouble us no further; we now have the information that we need and the resources whereby to pursue it. The only final note I have to make to you is the strange weather, by which I mean more the climate and not these damnably oppressive storms. Here is it late November and the air has not turned colder. I do not expect snows at Yuletide, certainly, since the world has turned on-end, but yet another mark of this altered nature is the lack of seasons. I can only hope for more clues in the weeks and months to come, but I do not expect to see the world return to what it once was anytime soon.

I hope that by when I send you the next update, it will be from Skald, having set up an aero beacon there. I do not know if we will be able to find a natural place for our flyers to set down; but if we need to, we will take extra time to fashion a landing-place there, as it continues to be vital to our efforts to maintain regular communication. Similarly, I hope for you that you can make contact with your compatriots again in Carteret, and with Campbell, and that your ability to communicate with me continues unrestricted. Until then, we remain steadfast, healthy, and in good spirits here.

With wishes for good fortune, as always,