Greysham, 13 November

Dear Crane,

The news of New Albion has swept the town like a wild fire, consuming all whom it touches with a profound hope, a feeling that has been sorely absent for far too long. That the isle of Garnsey could, despite the horror and destruction of the recent time, birthed a new seat of power and renewed purpose, is a monument to the unfailing nature of the human spirit. Around here, backs have stiffened, eyes have brightened, and glasses have been raised. All hail New Albion, our maidenland, a bastion of courage, shining like a star through the darkest of nights.

I should mention that your name is wreathed in grateful adoration among the town council here; the information that you have conveyed to me, and thus onto Bledsoe and the others, is now seen as a vital link between the town of Greysham and the outside world. I have explained the situation in full, specifically regarding the elevation of the great Robards to position of Steward; his consolidation and leadership over the good Brotherhood; and the struggle against the small bands of partisans and resistors. Here, there is a powerful desire to aid the Steward, and Bledsoe has confided in me that there have been several militant members of the town who wish to travel to New Albion to fight on the Steward’s behalf. Would that the town could spare fishermen and their boats as transport!

Speaking of boats, while I will endeavor to keep this letter relatively short, I ought to relate to you a rather surprising and fortunate turn of events. Apparently, Bledsoe has procured a submersible for our team to command for our journey to the Isle of Skald.

Several weeks before our arrival in Greysham, it seems, a fishing trawler several nautical miles from port became lost in one of the storm squalls that plague the coast. As its dark funnel touched the sea, it swept the boat away, in a manner not unlike your descriptions of the Channel crossing.

Its captain, a simple fisherman named Gates, found himself some hundred miles south-east of Greysham and in no sight of the coast. Without maps to help him navigate back toward the coast, he naturally did whatever seaman worth his salt would do in the same situation—orient his craft always keeping the rising sun at his aft and the setting sun at the fore, heading west in the hopes of making landfall before his fresh water ran out.

Instead of land, however, Gates came upon a bowsprit sticking up over the black, churning waves. This was the tip of the Jagdschloss, a Saxonian submersible that had been, according to Bledsoe, converted into a military ship towards the end of the Blood War. As far as Bledsoe’s Encyclopaedia Albionensis could tell us (a handy tome!), the Saxonian Kaiser had ordered several of these experimental Haischiffe built in a last-ditch effort to turn the tide of the disastrous naval campaigns which ultimately resulted in Albionese victory at sea. Most of the H-boats, as our Sea-lads called them, never saw action.

When a half-dead Gates found shore, he followed it north, and returned to Greysham with word of his encounter. From there, Bledsoe was able to organize three trawlers to find the H-boat and tow it back to the port town. From the way Bledsoe described it to Thorpe, Bennington, and myself one evening over gin, he had hoped only for salvage and parts.

As he soon learned, this one seemed to have been launched relatively recently, and showed several indications of new upgrades and improved machinery on board. In fact, one particular modification seems to be designed especially for deep explorations, as a steam chamber has been converted to an extra chamber to filter and collect cold condensation. This allows the craft to sink quickly and with improved resistance to water pressure, since the chambers are situated as articulated tubes that ring the aft segment of the ship, pushing with extra force against the outside strain of the hull.

Alas, several of these tubes had ruptured, causing the boat to drift listlessly from whatever port it had originated; but the air trapped inside the craft itself counteracted its otherwise complete descent from the bottom, causing it to bob like a cork along the surface of the sea.

When the fishermen returned to Greysham with their peculiar quarry, it was decided that the H-boat would be taken to a covered dry dock north of the town, where it today awaits use. As soon as enough water could be drained from its valves and hatches, Bledsoe’s men were able to peer inside. Instead of waterlogged corpses, they found no crew whatsoever—and no maps, travel logs, or documents could be located on the ship. This caused Bledsoe and his town council to conclude that the H-boat may have been readied for an expedition at one point, but before it was set into use, it had been scuttled—but whoever attempted to scuttle the ship did not account for the amount of air trapped inside the cabin chambers.

Greysham’s best engineers and mechanics spent considerable time attempting to repair it, but as Bledsoe confessed to us, at one point or another he felt he could spend no more time on the find, since resources were already in short supply and his men were otherwise employed with trying to find ready sources of food to feed the townsfolk.

When Thorpe had begun to make cautious inquiries about passage to the Isle of Skald, it took Bledsoe only a matter of an hour to summon our team and inform us about the Jagdschloss (in this we left MacTallan out of the consultations, since his attentions have necessarily turned to the matter of obtaining whatever maps of Skald and the nearby coast are available).

Now, we wait for word from Bledsoe’s engineer Greenley, whose new orders, as of over a week ago now, are to set to working order the steam-tubes that had been damaged in the attempted scuttling of the craft. If we can make a successful test of the repairs, the four of us believe that we can take the existing troupe as well as a half-dozen or so new recruits with us to the Isle of Skald, and traverse the distance in half the time and without fear of interposing dark storms. If the test fails, then we shall have to configure another method of transport; fishing trawlers are only good for six hours at maximum, and many of them have been lost at sea due to the sudden storms.

One complication that we are confronted with is the simple fact that, unlike the Sigsbee, the Jagdschloss cannot mount a mooring tower for aeros, making it impossible that either of our two gallant flyers will be able to meet us when we are out to sea. Perhaps, if you can communicate word back to us before we set off, you might ask your friends among the Brotherhood or at the College for an idea that might allow us to make a sea rendezvous with one of the aeros. Failing that, we will have to hope that MacTallan’s maps—if he can find any of use—can be copied for Alia and Alona so that one of them can meet us when we reach the Isle.

If I can write again before we set off, I will. If I cannot, it means that Bledsoe’s engineer has been more successful than expected and we have already embarked on our mission. Indeed, if we can get this contraption seaworthy and in working order, Crane, then the idea of heading south after we complete this next leg of our expedition to join you and your loyal compatriots in New Albion may well come to joyous fruition.

Until then, please convey to Robards that we pledge our allegiance to the new country and set sail under its banners!

With greetings and regards,


Greysham, 1 November

Dear Crane,

Fortune has smiled upon our expedition—finally, I might add—and my first relief is that I will be able to abandon writing in code. I trust that you have a system whereby the agents of the now-powerful Robards do not have occasion to copy our correspondence before sending, and I am doubly glad that we can confide in both of our lion-hearted flyers to the extent that we can. For my part, anyway, I have quite a bit of detail to relate, so forgive if this particular letter seems over-long. I opted for sparing no detail since I had to do exactly that in three of my last four missives.

When I wrote you the coded message two weeks ago, the aero was about to leave again, and I knew I needed to set something down about our current situation, at least to leave a record of our last efforts should our plans go awry, if nothing else. At that dark time, we had brought Bennington back to full health, and she, MacTallan, Thorpe, and I were in league to somehow confront Thompson. With fresh clues regarding the Rexley Device and Stratham’s rather disturbing death, we knew that the time had come to subdue the spy—at the time, we simply had no plan, which I attempted to hint at. I now can explain with greater specifics the events that had transpired at the time I wrote you last, and what has happened since.

I regret that in past letters I had labeled Thorpe a fool (recall my impatience with him during the exploration of the Ravine). While I certainly stand by my assessment of the man as brash, I am glad that at least he is an ally. It was Thorpe who was instrumental in Bennington’s recovery, in exposing Stratham’s treachery, and finally, in confronting Thompson, who now sits in a constabulary prison in the town of Greysham, waiting for our eventual return from the very place to where he had orders to proceed.

I think, then, to spell out clearly the events of the last two weeks, I ought to write more in a chronologically-logical fashion—starting at a point just after my strange conversation with Thorpe in my room at the Downborough Arms—or I will get ahead of myself and leave out details that you may otherwise make use of.

You will recall, first, that I had reported (in code) that some weeks ago Bennington’s mind had gone blank. To be more precise, she had begun to slip into a peculiar catatonic state just around the time that we had left Greysham for the Cairns. I had originally thought that her condition was due to a return of the night terrors that had plagued her in the weeks before our arrival at the Obelisk, since at first her loss of will manifested itself only in a distracted and forgetful demeanor—quite different behavior, I will note, than the headstrong Society doctor that joined us when we set out.

Looking back ay my own notes, I see that I had made mention of a “more alert” Bennington after the trouble at the Obelisk, and indeed, as memory serves me, it did seem that between the time we escaped the loch but before we reached Greysham, she seemed more lucid, somewhat more personable, and able to perform her tasks more efficiently—for example, caring for a shaken MacTallan after his rescue from the cliff by our two stalwart soldiers.

I had not seen Bennington during the time that MacTallan and I were away surveying the curious patterns of dead wood and scorch marks in the woodland areas west of Greysham. According to what Thorpe has explained to me now, during that time—which coincided with his efforts to find the last of the needed resupply items and organize the men for a march to the Cairns—he had noted on several occasions Stratham and Bennington consulting, in hushed tones, often late at night.

It was during a span of three or four evenings that Thorpe, to my compliments, decided to exercise his own Ability. Apparently, his lizard-like transformations have had two beneficial effects, even while his appearance may be startling. First, Thorpe seems to have some limited control over the coloration of his scales. (He has not submitted to Bennington yet for a full analysis—and indeed there has been no time for this—but he reports that the scales now cover his entire torso and have begun to progress down his legs and arms.) Secondly, his body has developed what might be called a tympanic membrane, on each side of his neck, just behind his jaw—a secondary auditory system, perhaps, commensurate with his herpetological alterations.

It was this sound-sensitive “second ear” system that aided Thorpe to learn that the whispered words that passed from Stratham to Bennington were not Albionese but an ancient-sounding and guttural language—which MacTallan was later to deduce were syllables in ur-Samekh. Watching them over these evenings as covertly as he dared, he began to notice that Bennington never spoke back to Stratham; from what he described, it must have appeared as if some kind of worm-tongued advisor was gradually sapping the will from an increasingly powerless victim. As you can imagine, this alarmed Thorpe greatly, but he dared not oppose Stratham outright just yet, recalling the intense scene at the Obelisk.

Thorpe hastened to share this with MacTallan and I upon our rendezvous, which I attempted to explain in my most recent ciphered message. He had made the point that while Stratham had used words in this antediluvian language to help us withstand the power of an activated Obelisk, none of us had never asked the man how he had learned them or what other words he knew. Thus, none of us had anticipated the extent to which Stratham had learned ur-Samekh—nor how he had learned it.

As I noted to you in an earlier coded message, I attempted to read Stratham’s thoughts one evening in Greysham, only to find his mind stirred, sort of disordered, a blur of memory and thought. That was the night before I sensed the ward blocking out my attempt to peer into the mind of our spy Thompson. After that, I did not have the strength to attempt my Ability for a while.

At any rate, I could only conclude from this, and from what was confirmed to me upon successfully reading Bennington’s memories, that Stratham’s influence over her had begun much earlier than when Thorpe observed it, perhaps as early as the time we reached Greysham. I confess I had been so accustomed to her mental impairment (especially after the horrors of Innesmere) that I had simply assumed she had slipped into it again. I now can only guess at Stratham’s motivations for using whatever Ability manifested in him after the Obelisk, and, even more worrisome, what he may have learned from her surrendered mind. I was able to snap Bennington out of her trance, certainly, but I had no way of knowing what transferred from Bennington to Stratham, other than my own inkling that it may have had to do with her research at Elizabeth College.

In addition, what I had not expected was the part that I was going to play in Bennington’s rehabilitation. In my last message to you, I mentioned that when I was with MacTallan in the forest north of the Cairns, I noticed that my migraines had subsided. During our travel from the Obelisk and to Greysham, and during our time in Greysham, my headaches were awful enough that I did not want to attempt my Ability but for the direst of need. When MacTallan and I made our rendezvous with Thorpe, my migraines had returned, to my dismay and confusion.

The next evening after our return, Kilcannon approached Thompson (who was still called Throckmorton among the group) with a plan for a structured and long-term exploration of the Cairns, to begin the next day. Earlier that same day, Thorpe had ordered all of the men to patrol a perimeter so that entering the mapped stone formations would be safer. Thorpe, his lieutenant, and the five soldiers had not been idle while waiting for MacTallan and I to return: they had diligently mapped and sketched out the entire area, from elevated vantage points, during the time while MacTallan and I were doing much the same thing to our expanse of wilderness.

I have not had the occasion to ask him quite yet, but I have a suspicion that Thorpe cleverly engineered a rationale by which Kilcannon would enlist Thompson’s help in beginning the investigation of the Cairns as a vanguard; he already seemed overly eager to scout the location, no doubt because of his orders to “make contact” with someone—or something—at “Rexley.” Including Thompson in the efforts to map the area had played perfectly into our cunning captain’s hands. I desperately wished to use my Ability to scan the memories of our spy, but of course this had been impossible since my failure to do so at Greysham, now knowing he was wearing a ward. The entire time, Thorpe had been in position not only to receive extensive knowledge of the area in the valley, but also to plan which pairs of men entered the Cairns where and when.

Over our simple meal of beans and coffee that evening, MacTallan and I had been reviewing the maps and sketches we made of the patterns we found in the woodlands to the north, and we had dutifully included our captain in our discussion by the firelight. Holding up one of our simple maps for a moment, the light shone through the cold-pressed paper that MacTallan has supplied me with when we left Greysham. Thorpe recognized it in a flash: the arrangements of concentric swirling lines, along key vertices and forks, almost perfectly matched the positions of the larger conical cairns in the low valley below us. Superimposing one of Thorpe’s map atop one of MacTallan’s confirmed this.

An idea occurred to me just then. It struck me that by the next morning, I would be nowhere near the now-known bearer of the ward—and up until then, I had been in his company for almost the entire expedition. Over the week prior, the distance that had been put (at least temporarily) between myself and the object must have caused a corresponding absence of effect over my mind. MacTallan offered that my relief from the aches might also have had something to do with the patterns of lines; in his words, I may have been within a “dampening field” of some kind in the wilderness. If either of those theories were true, I whispered to my compatriots, then perhaps I could use my Ability to hear the words that Stratham used to gain sway over Bennington—by clairaudience into her very memories.

I was loathe to try it the next morning, I must admit; I had fully expected my eyes to water from the pain and convulse from agony as I allowed my thoughts to drift back, immersing myself in the cacophonous backdrop of sound I heard at every moment. Kilcannon was privately ordered to keep a sharp eye on his scouting partner Thompson and after breakfast the men left, in pairs, for three “entry points” identified on the new maps. Thorpe himself chose a fourth entry point accompanied by a dangerously eager Stratham. This was a shrewd strategy, I instantly thought, by our captain, who was gambling on two things: first, that Stratham would find something before the others would, relying upon some hidden knowledge that he had and which Thompson did not; and second, believing in MacTallan’s “dampening” theory, hoping it would cancel Stratham’s Ability (if we ought to call it that), should Stratham turn on him at some point.

I tell you, as soon as Kilcannon and Thompson entered the outermost border of the Cairns, not only did I find instant relief, but also I was able to immediately control the sound that echoed in my ears. Summoning the wave of noise to me and submitting to its power, I could first hear MacTallan next to me, asking himself how I came to develop this Ability in wonderment as he watched. I caught a few memories of his studies at Thornskye, cataloguing ancient texts that spoke of “divine transformations” as both gifts—and plagues—that had worked their ways into local mythologies. Remembering myself and my purpose, I moved closer to Bennington, sitting perfectly still in her tent. Without Stratham immediately in her vicinity, we noted later, she had been rendered incapable of independent movement unless specifically directed. He must have thrown caution to the wind upon hearing the plans to investigate the Cairns, derelicting his usually close overwatch of Bennington in favor of pursuing a goal that we deduced later must have had to do with the Rexley Device.

At any rate, merging with Bennington’s mind and listening to her memories was even easier than I had predicted, given the absence of a nearby ward. Indeed, the first attempt he made at controlling her was during the two days we descended from the highland crags towards the coast. In one particular memory, he inserted an ur-Samekh syllable cleverly into everyday Albionese, in a feigned request that she examine a bruise on his arm; in another memory, he had been more forthright, saying something audible yet unintelligible to her as he stood over her sleeping form early one morning. Once, a pretended morning greeting outside her Downborough Arms room became the vehicle for a string of three whispered sounds, whereupon she recalled fainting, thankfully stumbling back onto her bed before passing unconscious. He must have cast this spell over her gradually, conditioning her to accept his commands.

At one point somewhere during the time we spent at Greysham, her memories become only shifting clouds of truncated and fragmented images, momentary scenes of blurred faces, of vague emotions that range from sudden but powerless alarm to blissful tranquility. I felt as if I were a silent and captive observer of a dumb-show that had been directed by someone working from a theater script whose pages had been scrambled.

In an earlier letter to you—months ago now—I had mentioned a point when I ended my use of laudanum and used my Ability willingly. At that time, apart from the headaches, the effect of reading another person’s memory was not unlike reading a book in dream-scape: I recognized the presence of text but could not fully understand it. This time, it was very different. Although many of Bennington’s memories were suppressed—or completely addled—after she left Greysham, the shapes, sounds, and tones of what Stratham whispered to her in ur-Samekh are etched now in my mind.

I cannot write them out here, and even as I consider doing so, my pen shakes almost uncontrollably in my hand. Crane, all I can say is that they are not a thing that can be learned by anyone who does not already know how to utter them, and that leaves a great deal more questions about Stratham than it answers. We never knew any of this before we left for our expedition: Stratham had been present outside the chamber of the glowing stone at Highmark, and I shudder to think now of what he knew, how he knew it, and what he had intended then.

As I remained in silent concentration next to her, I endeavored to focus on memories of her training at Elizabeth College, of her experimentation, of the first time she found, and catalogued, what she presented as “energized blood.” I saw your Sanders there among the academicians to whom she displayed the vials of blood taken from volunteers and—well, others less fortunate. Apparently, Bennington had completed the first of her series of medical journals describing particular transformations among the local populace—dating back years now—that all had similar features, most notably a union of animal features with human ones.

It was a final memory that I serendipitously tripped upon, one that apparently pulled such a strong memory from her that her mind retured to her. Reading this thus far, you may have expected her colleagues at Elizabeth College to praise her research into the “superstrata” of certain types of human blood, which Bennington theorizes to be uniquely capable of carrying supernatural energy sources. Instead, I can tell you, they roundly rejected it, practically laughing her out of the College; Sanders himself (if he is the same man that you describe) was singularly responsible for her demotion and loss of teaching privileges.

At this, Bennington began to rouse and wake. Not wanting her to feel my eye cast upon her mind—and also, not wanting to make an outward show of my Ability to a woman whose allegiance was, at least at that time, still firmly with the Society—I broke off mental contact, my heart beating quickly but my thoughts clear. I looked at Bennington, and from the first exchanges with her over the dying campfire, it was obvious to us that she had returned to a lucid state, asking (understandable) questions about where we were and what we were doing there.

Four days passed without word from any of the scouting parties, and during that time, MacTallan and I were able to nurse an exhausted Bennington back to a semblance of full health of both body and mind. I did not reveal back to her what I saw in her memories, save only that my readings of how Stratham conditioned her gave me the insight I needed to jolt her out of his hold over her, which as you know now upon reading this, was a half-truth.

It was Thorpe and Stratham who returned a full day ahead of the others, and this fact, besides the fact that Stratham had been knocked unconscious, bound with rope, and hoisted over Thorpe’s shoulder, took us quite by surprise. With a mighty heave, Thorpe laid Stratham out onto the ground. As the three of us stood up in alarm—Bennington quickly assuming guardianship over a badly bruised Stratham—Thorpe unslung his pack and revealed a key. It was heavy, iron and pock-marked with rust, but it was undeniably a key, attached to a torn thong of leather.

“Took this off him when he tried to use that voice on me,” Thorpe explained, unceremoniously, finding a place where he could collapse in exhaustion next to us. “I had to wait until the fool found a way into the caverns.” Without more discussion, we added a cloth gag to Stratham’s restraints. I don’t mind telling you that we allowed Bennington to perform the duty of applying the gag.

We didn’t have time to ask Thorpe how the altercation between he and Stratham had begun, or even—as I immediately suspected—whether it was a case for Thorpe simply to find the right moment to attack the man at some logical point during their explorations, since he already knew what he was capable of, and would need to catch him by surprise. As of the writing of this letter, Thorpe has only mentioned that Stratham had uttered no more than a single low sound before Thorpe’s fist knocked the man unconscious. Perhaps a viper’s speed is another gift that had been bestowed on the half-man, half-lizard Thorpe.

It was then that I noticed a sharp headache returning to me, and it took considerable concentration to block out the hundreds of voices again. Acting on a hunch, I opened Stratham’s shirt.

“I already took it,” I heard Thorpe say, and motioned to his pack on the ground.

Inside was a carven stone on a silver chain, its obverse marked with fine swirling patterns behind the sharper, angular cuts of what could only be ur-Samekh runes; its reverse bore a circular, wavy relief, like the shell of a nautilus. At that point, I believed that Stratham had carried a ward as well as Thompson; it was later that I learned that it was Thompson’s.

“He’s looking for the Rexley Device,” said MacTallan, his gaze fixed on the relic. Something in his eyes told me that the naturally inquisitive mind that this scholar possessed had just made a vital connection. “He thinks it is here.”

At this I looked at the man in surprise, and I could not help but to notice Bennington adopt a similar expression. I feigned an unknowing expression. “Explain.”

It occurred to me at that precise moment that I never breathed the word Rexley to MacTallan, and if I had, we might have had further clues before Thorpe organized the systemic search of the Cairns; I confess I was still building trust in him as time went on. But whatever questions any of us could have possibly had in either MacTallan’s credentials as a researcher of history or as a trustworthy companion, I can say, are gone now.

Apparently, and according to MacTallan, the Rexley Device is a weapon, as I conveyed to you in my coded letter. It was created over two hundred years ago by one Sir Edmund Rexley, an Albionese student of alchemy and physics, to focus “aetherial energies” during “cosmological events.” It was then that I decided it best to reveal the theory to MacTallan that you put forth in your letter of 13 October, and our scholar seemed to immediately follow the logic of it, noting the three reasons that I endeavored to signal to you in my coded message.

We now hunt this Rexley Device—it was not in fact at the Cairns—but lest I get ahead of myself, I will tell you next about Stratham’s death, our capture of Thompson, and what our next steps are. I will be somewhat more brief, as I am told that Alona is due for a takeoff later this morning, and does not wish to be delayed, citing the storms that approach.

I shudder to think about the light in Thorpe’s slit-like eyes when his attention turned toward the helpless Stratham. We have no real reason not to trust him, Crane, and we need him on this mission for his multitude of skills, leadership ability, and knowledge, even if his transformation is unsightly. But there is no other word that I know that can describe what he intended for Stratham—other than “murder.” I wonder if he already had decided that Stratham had to die when he and I had that conversation in my hotel room.

Even Bennington protested it and stood over the bound man when Thorpe got up from his reclining position on the ground and removed a large hunting knife from his pack. MacTallan and I stepped away momentarily, eyes transfixed on the blade. “You know he has to die. He has too much power. You all have seen it.”

Bennington shook her head. “But there is still authority—still fair trial. We can bring him to Bledsoe—”

“I agree,” I heard myself say. “Crane wonders whether the Government still exists in his letters. Where he is, there are men assuming power as we speak. But that does not justify the killing of an unarmed enemy.”

“Unarmed? This man needs no weapons to be dangerous.”

“We have him bound and gagged,” I replied.

“He cannot remain this way forever. Bennington—you decide, then. Do you want him alive so that he can do again what he did to you?”

At this, Bennington seemed to cry quietly and she bowed her head, and turned it slowly from side to side, as if absolving herself from the guilt of what she was about to allow. When our doctor stepped away from Stratham, we knew what choice she had made.

“For Deus’ sake, man, use a gun and make it quick,” called MacTallan, from behind me.

“And risk the sound echoing across the valley?”

A pause.

“Do not worry, good Professor, it will be quick.”

Finally, MacTallan folded his arms, and we all averted our eyes from the scene—but instead of the sounds of killing, we looked again and saw Thorpe backing away from the cot where Stratham lay. Instead of Stratham, there was a paper-white corpse that was rapidly desiccating and dissolving into a fine white ash—exactly like those poor devils Elberts and Graustein at the loch, and many of the folk of Innesmere.

The next morning, we buried Stratham, and the six soldiers returned, right on schedule. By afternoon they had all assembled, were fed, and rested; and more details were shared between the various sets of maps. Thompson had inquired about Stratham. Thorpe thought better of lying to our known spy and told a mostly-accurate story of how Stratham mysteriously died the evening before, having been transformed upon return from the Cairns. The rest of the soldiers appeared worried by this but asked no questions. Thompson, for his part, said nothing.

As for my mention of Campbell, the evidence we gathered was from Stratham’s belongings, which we had looked through before the soldiers returned. To our surprise, he had copies of several military documents mentioning the navy man, his commission and several sets of orders for the Sigsbee, and even a Daguerro-graph of himself and a certain Admiral A. Segismund (as per the reverse inscription). Since you have dealings with Campbell, I am enclosing all of these documents, and the Daguerro-graph. Note that the admiral does not wear a N.C. uniform, and that one document in particular seems to discipline him for not following orders. I will let you make your own inquiries, when and where you should want to.

It was at this point, you see, that I wrote you the most recent coded message as we in the hills of eastern Caledonia. Alona had landed at our makeshift beacon just as the soldiers were returning, having failed to find the beacon the night before (and to be frank I am glad she was spared the horror of what occurred at camp). In my last letter, I would have liked to have set down all of the details that I included here, but Thompson was present at the camp, and I opted for openly writing fake news of our progress to mask what I knew I needed to convey to you.

At this point I have taken a short break from this long account and bargained with Alona for an extra hour as the men finish inventorying supplies from the aero. You must thank Robards, or the Brotherhood, or whomever, as we have needed clothes, ammunition, and food—exactly what she brings us today. Alona has agreed to sit for a meal, and then will leave back to Garnsey.

The full exploration of the Cairns in fact took somewhat less than a fortnight—in fact, a little over a week in total. We arrived back in Greysham a few days ago, allowing us a period of rest before Alona, in good time as usual, arrived here with your letter and the supplies. Included with this letter, besides the documents we found among Stratham’s belongings, are copies of the maps of the Cairns site, including many of the larger cavern structures, for your review. As you can see, even many of the caverns have a distinct concentric pattern to them, whose meaning is not fully known yet.

When we returned to Greysham, we arranged for Bledsoe to put Thompson in custody. You will recall that my fake news of October mentioned that Arasaku had recruited some new members for our team back at the town. There was a partial truth in this, in that I knew our Bledsoe was doing exactly that while we were away at the Cairns. With the aid of these new men, we surrounded a confused Thompson at the Downborough Arms after supper, charging him with treason. In a display of good leadership, Thorpe had convinced us of the wisdom of not ordering any of the soldiers that had been with us these three months to participate in the confrontation of Thompson, in case one or more of them had developed loyalties to the man for whatever reason. Thompson, for his part, recognized that resistance would be useless, and went with Bledsoe peacefully.

One unexpected detail in all of this is that when Thorpe strode forward to take his ward away, he sheepishly admitted that it had been lost somewhere at the Cairns. Thorpe said nothing, of course, about how we had found the artifact on Stratham; it remains a mystery to us, however, how Stratham had it when he and Thorpe had returned first from the scouting of the Cairns. All Thorpe knows is that he tore it from the man’s neck when he knocked Stratham unconscious.

I must also commend Thorpe for putting his trust in Bledsoe as a source of local authority in the matter of Thompson’s custody, and that, despite rumors of a collapsed Government and a forever-changed Albion, our humanity and love of justice endures.

Later that evening, Thorpe shared with MacTallan, Bennington, and I how he had known Thompson was a spy for New Columbia; Thorpe had learned this from an anonymous letter that had been included with his expedition notebooks. At first he lent the message no credence, but kept it anyway, not showing anyone—something that, to be sure, at least Bennington and I scolded him about, as this knowledge may have impacted our mission.

I acknowledged, however, that I had known about Thompson from the telegram I found sewn into his clothing, and in Thorpe’s defense, I related the conversation to MacTallan and Bennington that Thorpe and I had in Greysham on the eve of my departure with MacTallan into the woodlands to the west.

Thorpe then asked Bennington directly about her allegiance to the Society, which took me somewhat by surprise: again, Thorpe chose a brash approach where discretion may have otherwise been wisest. In response, Bennington revealed that it had been her personal mission to stop the New Columbians from gaining access to the Rexley Device, and by signing on with us, she hoped to learn clues as to its whereabouts. In a moment of clarity, I found myself agreeing with her statement that she has choice but to take us into her confidence now, and we into hers.

In response to this, and with Thorpe’s consent, I read my coded messages to our inner circle of leadership assembled in my room at the Arms. I felt that, for better or worse, it was imperative that we all operate from common knowledge and strive toward a common goal. I also knew enough about Bennington’s past—from having scanned her memories outside of the presence of the ward—that I felt I could keep an upper hand, so to speak, especially if she were an outcast from the Society, and no longer a trusted member.

It was MacTallan that put into place the next piece of the puzzle, upon hearing the coordinates mentioned in the telegram to Thompson that I found. As I had mentioned, your coordinates were correct; taking the Cairns as “110,” forty-six miles north and sixty-one miles east is the Isle of Skald, off the Caledonian coast. This is now our next destination, and we must act immediately: we have new recruits, experienced soldiers, trust among the leadership, and fresh supplies. Never before have we been in a better position to unlock more clues about the Incident and what has blighted our fair country. We found no Device at the Cairns, nor any structures that would require a key to open them. However, on the Isle of Skald, perhaps we shall.

Finally, the ward. Thorpe wants to wear it, but we will not allow it, as we do not yet know the power it holds. MacTallan guesses that it either absorbs, or nullifies, transformative activity. It is entirely possible that once a person wears a ward, that person is safe from the effects of “awakened” sites such as the Obelisks at Mont-Bré and the loch, but this is has not been conclusively proven. We took the ward away from Stratham and he withered into a dry corpse within hours. As I signaled in my last message, it can be safely concluded that my proximity to the ward causes me excruciating pain; it may be because I have an Ability, but then again, you did not seem to suffer ill effects such as these during the time when Robards must have been in possession of his ward, having received it from Thompson at Highmark.

MacTallan would like to keep it and study it, but we are about to set off for a voyage, and if the Isle of Skald was designated as a dangerous place by the New Columbian High Command, we might be well advised not to take it with us at all. We have considered keeping MacTallan behind as the caretaker of the ward, but MacTallan, as we have just decided, may be more useful at our next destination than he would be in Greysham. Bennington suggested that we consider keeping the ward here with Bledsoe, but none of us know the extent of his resources well enough to know whether or not he could truly keep it safe, and the fact that Thompson and the ward would be in the same general place—Thompson’s incarceration notwithstanding—gave us strong misgivings.

It became gradually clear to us who should be the keeper of the ward we recovered from Stratham.

Crane, the ward that Brown had worn was shattered at Mont-Bré and the one Robards had sunk to the bottom of the Channel (although I read from you that he has tasked you and Campbell with its return). You are the only documentarian I know that has an active and complete catalogue of the strange artifacts—damaged or otherwise—that we have recovered from either team. Finally, your notes about the dating of the Obelisk at Mont-Bré has convinced MacTallan that your reference material and sketches puts you in the best position among all of us to draw conclusions about ur-Samekh, the relationship between the active sites, the hidden history of Ashkur, and the powers that connect all these clues.

Therefore, in a separate cookie-tin, one that our brave flyer keeps in her cockpit for traveling snacks, you will find one of the surviving Essen wards.

Keep it secret; keep it safe.

With hearty regards,


The Cairns, 19 October

Dear Crane,

The foray we completed this past week reached a zenith of success: the current experience at the Cairns is expected to confirm Rexley as a town that is the cold epicenter of a catastophe, like Innesmere. “A weapon that is now defunct,” Stratham opined regarding the Obelisk. “Is it?” I asked. “Quite dead, I can assure you,” he replied confidently—and loud was my satisfied sigh! A transformed evil, then, one that I was very glad to believe was behind us.

Thus, the mysteries of the desolate Cairns, if anything at all, are similarly false. I suppose one could be fooled by one or two features; however, zero evidence is apparent to my eyes that the Cairns ache from The Incident. They had already used the word “vanished” to describe the effects when we arrived. Bennington and I observed today that it was with great difficulty and with extreme, dutiful caution that MacTallan inventoried only sparse outcroppings—now that we are here, it seems useless.

Bennington rightly feels that we waste time. Like her, I am anxious; a keening sense of the weight of past scholarly ignorance twists my pride, yet makes my thoughts focus my addled mind, bending them toward tomorrow. MacTallan wishes to return; he supports Thorpe’s proposed idea that your fruitful sea voyage, in theory, will yield similar fruit for us. I give us three days more to decide: reasons such as the insistence Stratham continues to make regarding used, outdated equipment are only one piece of the puzzle.

Word has now widely spread of our expedition; for over three weeks now, people from parts unknown have sought us at Graysham. If the ominous Obelisk taught us anything, any cuts of fortune, expected going in, are never set in stone. Those of us who are the leaders take a straight percentage (myself holding the edge of majority there), and from what we hear, these simple folk are merely the instruments of greedy Bledsoe.

A comet of inspiration hit me from the blue: today’s clear sky, devoid of black clouds, coincides neatly and somewhat propitiously with the anniversary of our shift in plans, made hurriedly in those fateful days. The ancient doorway was destroyed; the Society blessed us with Bennington, before we received the secret flood of information about her. The decision was made. Our ward was Caledonia, come what may. But today we all hold a fresh hope for a welcome lack of any key findings here, and if Thorpe agrees, it means new plans to leave here—perhaps to follow your team south. Take heart especially, Crane, that it yet unites us, although away you may be.

If his face is changed, Thorpe’s body is hale, and it is obvious that he is changing only outwardly. His mind more acutely computes strategy, and Bennington agrees that his iron will is untouched. Thus, to assist him further, we have found him a new lieutenant. Evidence of bravery and a showing of recent leadership at camp led to Arasaku; a bell rang when I proffered a memory of a lost, rogue, but herocially rescued MacTallan. From there, Bennington recalled Arasaku’s government had once awarded him the high honor of Bushido. Captain Thorpe was thrilled; he waits for Arasaku’s expected return. No better lieutenant could be chosen, we conclusively thought.

The path forward, therefore, is clear, yet we tarry needlessly. While the days pass and the Cairns yield nothing, our supplies are rapidly dwindling during this maze of indecision. I think of Thorpe’s map, which depicted caverns here, but no sites that attracted attention. An interesting twist—MacTallan’s torn, pencilled maps and charts are superior, and will now be used to take us through this territory.

A proposal I made a fortnight ago to Thorpe (and to Bennington) was that we explore the coastline. Perhaps eagle-eyed Alona can make some helpful reports from the line of clouds, thinner along the sea. Heavier cloud cover still remains on our horizon, but no approach is evident, thankfully, that may indicate that we will have to move north. A rendezvous will take place tomorrow at Greysham, between Arasaku and another squad of recruits. They place their trust in Thorpe; I commend them.

My enduring trust goes with him too; Alona holds him in regard but does not know his will in full. You can use a different measure and code of conduct for Robards; for all immediate purposes, he now commands an island. That must mean something, after all. Stay in his good graces—patiently, you may ultimately find in his new power some secret advantage.

Wishing you farewell,


[to see the hidden message embedded in the above letter, mouse over the text below]


The Cairns, 8 October

Dear Crane,

I am quite glad, at least for this chance, not to have to write in code for this letter; the reasons why will become apparent as I continue on. I expect I may have to revert to the Martineau cipher at some time, but I can do so now in the knowledge that you remember it from our days at Everwood, and it will allow us to continue communicating in any case.

I have appreciated the descriptions of your compatriots that made the landing with you into Gallian territory, not the least of them Van Dyke, who seems to have played a vital role at several points. At first, reading your description of events, the thought played in my mind that perhaps things went too easily, too smoothly for Van Dyke; and then learning of a connection between your spymaster and that strange Dr Brown made several pieces of suspicion and partial understandings come together, in a sense.

Perhaps I ought to provide a thumbnail-sketch, as artists might say, of my erudite traveling companion these last six days, and then my drift may become more apparent in your mind. I will also say that I now have a better view of the man myself, and I have learned that although reading a person’s research certainly provides one with a tone and tenor of an academic voice, that is but one aspect of many.

If after reading those journal articles I had sent you years ago, you thought (as I did) that Dr Hugh MacTallan was a wizened, dusty librarian type, a desk replete with forgotten, yellowed notes and bits of torn maps from archaeological digs, then you would have been in error as much as I confess I was. Hugh (as he has asked me to address him) is younger than I am by five years and considerably less portly around the belly; his young eyes leap from his face, and behind an unkempt beard he has rather an unshakeable grin. If he is scarred from his losses, he does not show it, and I daresay that he has found new energy in continuing his work. His curiosity is infectious.

The Incident claimed his young wife and his child, as well as his sister, the only survivor from their family. Over a wet campfire one evening MacTallan became emotional recalling the scene of how he found his wife and child, and I bade him recount the horror no more, and I most certainly did not have the heart to scan his memories for additional information that would have only taken my soul, too. His sister Penelope—or Penny as the family called her—had been a teacher at The Waterford School in Innesmere, I am also sad to say, and must have seen first-hand the horrors of the changes brought on by the Incident. I shuddered as my mind swept back to the detritus and carnage we found, and I could say nothing of it to him.

For this reason and others, MacTallan vowed to pursue his research, lucky enough to find refuge at Greysham after the Incident, even if he was without any source materials from which to draw his conclusions. He has made many forays into the countryside, straying as far as his energy and bartered supplies would allow him, until our group found him that fateful day last month. Now he intends to lead us to the sites that have become “active” in the last eighteen months, with the purpose that the information we learn, as well as what is compiled by your team, can shed light on the causes of the Incident—and perhaps onto its cures, if a hope like this can be had.

Since having been made a research fellow at Thornskye three years ago, MacTallan might well be the best authority on the events surrounding the Incident among our group—perhaps moreso even than Stratham, with whom we are both eager to rendezvous tomorrow at the Cairns. MacTallan believes that a meteorological event was the cause of the Incident, but only inasmuch as it had been foretold by ancient peoples long ago, and “energized” powerful objects that have been interred for millennia, undiscovered by man. According to him, the Obelisks at the Caledonian loch and at Mont-Bré, and what we may find at the Cairns, are examples of this, and there may yet be others that have become “activated.”

Since Greysham he has taken me fully into his confidence, sharing with me everything relevant to both our mission and expeditions that have gone before. As you read in the last paragraph, I have accordingly shared with him news of your expedition as well as what I could remember from the last three months of our experiences here. Significantly but not altogether surprisingly, MacTallan and Brown were students together, having studied under the prestigious Von Neumann at the Extern-Universität in Tyrolia. It is from Von Neumann that both Brown and MacTallan got the idea that the variant of symbols that we know as Ur-Samekh descended from the same language branch as the speakers of the antediluvian city of Ashkur.

Crane, I did not inform MacTallan of the harrowing account regarding the re-animation of the dead Brown and his companions at what I can only surmise was the “activation” of the Mont-Bré Obelisk, nor did I mention your Ability. MacTallan has seen enough devastation in the recent months, and since I did not know if he still felt friendship or colleagueship to Brown, I dared not mention either his death—or his short but disturbing unlife. However, quite casually, MacTallan volunteered information about the existence of a certain number of “ancient amulets” that were said to be magical wards—this was the “ward” I had referred to in my coded message. From what you described in your previous letters, I can only conclude that Brown had one, and Robards had one but lost his; and I now believe that Thompson wears one.

I make a couple of short notes still before I stuff this letter into the false medical box that Alia intends to include among the other supplies on her aero tomorrow evening. Thank the heavens above for good Alia, and know that while you counseled right in recommending discretion before confronting the spy, it may turn out to our advantage, at least in the short-term, to have the spy in our midst whilst feigning ignorance. MacTallan and I will make it back tomorrow afternoon for our rendezvous with the main part of the group on the periphery of the Cairns locale; the reason we had been able to gain leave to do so was because of Thorpe’s intervention.

On the morning of our departure, Thorpe asked to speak to me privately; I will relay the conversation in my hotel chamber with as much detail as I can muster. “Rackham, we have private matters to discuss,” our captain began, taking me rather by surprise, as I packed up the last of my clothing. I looked at him and marked his changes: he now has a very reptilian-looking head, having lost all his hair now, with colored scales in swirling patterns beginning to descend across his face and down his neck. “We have a spy among us.”

“The New Columbian,” I said, boldly, after a pause. Thorpe seemed surprised at first, but his expression—still apparent even with the changes to his skin and eyes—told me that his military training favored a matter-of-fact approach rather than one that signaled the failure of forethought. “Yes, Thompson. I was the one that selected him. I knew he was an NC man since the passage.” We allowed that sentence to hang in the air some long minutes before I spoke again.

“What about Robards?” I asked, clumsily, despite myself. Thorpe was calm, deliberate. “I don’t know what you have heard from your scientist friend from the other team,” Thorpe seemed to hiss, “but I shouldn’t worry about him. Even turncoats have to be employed somehow.” This word stuck in my mind; Thorpe’s intonation cast an icy chill, and I found myself lost in confusion for a moment, trying to unravel the meaning behind it.

“I suspect New Columbia and the Society are in on something together, and it has to do with these stones.” I nodded, desperately hoping Thorpe would reveal details that I did not need to scan his memory for later, as I did not know if I could endure another crushing migraine. “What has that to do with us, then?” This was my best attempt at probing delicately for more information—anything, I thought, that I could tell you.

“I don’t quite know yet, but I trust my men,” Thorpe replied, head bowed. He had not replied with the direction that I had expected, and if he had sensed the reason motivating my question before, he did not let on. “I know many of those lads served under you,” I began, appealing to his sense of leadership. “But we can’t have both the New Columbians and the Society having their claws into us—they’ll rip us apart. We’ve already taken losses these last three months.”

At this I was tempted to mention the considerable money I had fronted in order to fund our undertaking, but I thought better of it: it would only distract Thorpe momentarily onto a topic that he cared little about anyway, and may have inserted yet another untoward motivation underlying our efforts—in error, I might add, but to Thorpe might have been indistinguishable at that moment.

“I think I know where we can find more volunteers for this expedition,” Thorpe replied, and it was then that I recognized his true reason for speaking to me in private. “I will need your loyalty and agreement that after the Cairns we make…some personnel changes.” His flashing eyes fixed on me, scanning me for my reaction. I raised my eyes, not in protest, so much as alarm. “Murder?”

Thorpe shook his head. “Not if we can help it,” he replied, but something in my gut twisted. My sense of calm and caution kicked in, if only for a desperate moment. “I did not fund a mission of killers, Thorpe.” I knew that even then, whatever warning I was to give was one that he had already considered and was well past the point of indecision on the matter.

“Go with MacTallan back to the woods he keeps talking about, just you and him.” Thorpe’s voice was low now and he paced a little as I sat on the bed and watched him. “You’ve told me he has done research out there, the lines he has found among the trees. Then take the next few days to find out more about him. When you come back, if you say he is on our side—then he stays.”

I nodded, mute, but fully understanding my charge. “And Rackham—if you can, look into his mind.” At this, I stood up. “How?” was my only word. “You’re not the only one who has read your letters to Crane.”

I am not a fighting man, and I knew enough that if I were to attempt to inflict any kind of harm on a man as robust as our captain, it would be mere seconds before he would have me on the floor in pain. Yet he could sense my rising ire: and in recognition of this fact, he said simply, “He passed me your copies of the letters after reading them himself.” As a clarification, Thorpe offered, “Thompson thinks I am on his side—and I need to keep it that way for now.”

Thorpe then assured me that my copies had not disappeared, but he could not return them to me without some suspicion being raised: at this I consented, finally, more stung with all of this intrigue than truly outraged at the loss of my personal property, even if temporarily. Thorpe also offered another idea that I was glad to see you catch onto: a false letter will be sent with Alia, openly, with this letter being smuggled, for lack of a better term.

The last six days, then, have been an adventure that I did not expect to take. In order to accelerate your understanding of what MacTallan has found, I offer two maps on the backs of each of these pages: they outline—crudely, forgive me—what are unmistakable interlocking spirals created by dead and rotting wood, within an area of five square miles, centering roughly a mile and a half due west from Greysham. At points the dead curving pathways cut right through whole trees, turning them into piles of splinters in a five- to seven-foot swath. On the ground the plant cover seems blackened and aged, and the line of the sickly plants marches perfectly in line with the dead trees and missing branches high overhead. Complimenting these lines of dead greenery are more scorches, much like the ones we saw on the road toward Innesmere and other places; but these are also deep gouges like scoring, not unlike what we saw at the Ravine but in smaller scale. The deep scorch marks are more random, haphazard, and linear, and they do not seem to match in pattern the concentric spirals.

It took us five days to map it all out and to find the extreme edges; we took a supply of food and my canvas tent, and I am glad to say that one the last day not only did we find the rendezvous point in short order, but we also had some time to rest—thus I thought it best to take that opportunity to write down all that I have learned this last week.

I can say that any suspicion I may have had of MacTallan is gone, and I see him as an important ally to our expedition. He is eager to speak to Stratham tomorrow, especially based on what I told him of Stratham’s dramatic act at the Obelisk at the loch, but also because both MacTallan and I are of the opinion that the design of the spiral patterns are very close to rubbings that Stratham made of the stones near the Obelisk and at other locations. Perhaps they have meaning beyond decoration.

If you are reading this letter, it means that Alia has made another successful air voyage, and without her, Crane, I do not know how we would survive. One question that leaps to mind as I close this letter with my fondest wishes to you concerns Alona, who I had met at least once after we escaped the Obelisk. Is she still running aero missions for us, or have the Society at Elizabeth College set her to other purposes?

At any rate, Crane, I wish you well, and if my next missive is coded then you will know that I have taken up the ruse of ignorance of our New Columbian friend again; in that case, look for the keywords only you and I know.

Toward truer revelations,


Greysham, 31 September

Dear Crane,

Our intrepid Alia circled the skies and did cloudless loops high overhead. Well, I can say our letters have more thrilling adventures now. In Big School, we copied the Martineau text diligently, not seeing the elegance in safe words, which always pointed to high marks. Urquart would write, “Viz. Rackham” on your papers, adding to your frustration completely. Those easy days are gone, unfortunately, and now we must bravely forge forward and adopt new purposes.

Today, my new focus is study—a strategy Urquart instilled in me. He would see how life is, and pride would swell: using the full extent of a man’s knowledge to courageously ward away vice and doubt. Bennington always says that a mind unstimulated is like a blank slate. I look to Stratham, too, and how his thoughts seem to straighten a jumbled mess into meaningful order.

Thorpe is intent today; he knows a distraction may imperil his original heading. The arcane identity of the Obelisk seems now quite secondary to what MacTallan has been telling us, and the Cairns loom ahead. I do not know who found these structures, but the patterns of information painstakingly gathered in the troubled months after the Incident indicate that the trees near Thornskye actually flourished, and took on new appearances. Scorched tracks had riddled the earth, leading toward the Obelisk.

Thorpe has fully resupplied us, and shortly we gather the men to dine, and to move the equipment we acquired out to a motorized contraption. Tomorrow sees heavy activity; we may try to find and follow the same road that MacTallan had been found on, for better or worse. Some clues may elude us, but your description of the runes coordinates exactly with our records, correct in age and method.

But as for this fabled Rexley, forget it all: it is absent from maps, and not worth pursuing. It is a forgotten name for a place out of legends.



[to see the hidden message embedded in the above letter, mouse over the text below]

Alia did well letters now copied not safe to write papers completely gone must adopt new strategy he is using a ward Bennington mind blank Stratham thoughts jumbled Thorpe knows his identity now MacTallan and I found patterns in the trees and scorched earth Thorpe and men move out tomorrow may follow MacTallan for clues your coordinates correct but Rexley is not a place

Greysham, 12 September

Dear Crane, my friend,

I am glad to report to you that we have enjoyed a taste of rest and recuperation this past week, well-deserved after our recent episode, but also vital for our continued success. I have also had the fortuitous opportunity to gather some information about Throckmorton.

Or should I say, Lieutenant William S. Thompson of the New Columbian Expeditionary Forces?

I’m getting playfully ahead of myself with that revelation; I will detail to you all I know as my letter progresses. But I ought to first tell you about the newest member of our expedition, one Professor Hugh MacTallan. That’s right, Crane—the same MacTallan who wrote several well-researched and groundbreaking journal articles on the anthropological and sociological significance of historical astronomical events. I think you remember me sending you an advance copy of his research on the documentation of proximal comets and airbursts from near-orbit meteors among the scholars of the ancient world; this would have been at least four years ago, before our visit to Mont-Bré.

We met MacTallan—more accurately, rescued him—about three days ago. As you may recall, in my last letter, I mentioned that Thorpe had seen a small village marked on his rough map of the highlands. This was, of course, after we had been able to get our bearings somewhat, having fled east from the site of the Obelisk for two days. Finding that we were near the coastline, we decided to travel so that we would have the sea on our left, never losing sight of the shoreline. This allowed greater accuracy to plot not only our day-to-day position, but also to stay within easy sky-sight of one of our two aeronautic heroines.

At any rate, about two more days of hiking southward (at a rate thankfully slower that what we had known before), Thorpe appointed Kilcannon his new lieutenant, and ordered him and Arasaku to scout ahead for sign of the village. Thorpe’s caution is new, but I confess we all welcome it, ever since the harrowing trials of the last week, and especially because the scenes of death that we found at Innesmere are still burned into our minds.

Kilcannon and Arasaku came back in short order not only with news of the village, but also a new companion—dirty, disheveled, and looking somewhat flustered. He introduced himself as the good Professor, at which point he explained that if it were not for a quick-thinking Arasaku, he may well have plummeted to his death off a seaside cliff. MacTallan had been in the area, alone, doing some research into what he called “outcroppings” that he found in the vicinity; having taken a mis-step along a rocky path he found himself under the shifting weight of a rock that had dislodged from the cliff face. This led to his precarious position hanging from a thin ledge upon which he had caught himself; apparently expecting no one to find him, he did not cry out. Arasaku, rather, had caught rather expert notice of the dislodged rock interposing his own pathway which he and Kilcannon were exploring as a safer route down from the chalk cliffside. Recognizing that this small boulder seemed out of place, he looked up, and saw MacTallan struggling, about to fall further. We should be thankful that Thorpe and Robards saw fit to employ some men not only of fighting ability but also of some athletic prowess on this mission: Arasaku quickly found a path up the rocky face to where MacTallan had fallen and lowered the shaken man a rope.

Bennington was able to treat him with a minimum of effort; with a spot of tea and the remainder of my digestive biscuits, MacTallan was right as rain and in high spirits to have encountered us. I am happy to note that it was MacTallan that was able to obtain us entry into the little fortified town of Greysham, about a half-mile from the sea, the place from which I write you tonight.

We are all lodged in an old but perfectly comfortable hotel called the Downborough Arms. This, I can tell you, has boosted our morale tremendously. Thorpe and the men asked me to re-read one of your earlier letters where you narrated your dealings with the simple folk of Howgate, so that they might compare the situation in which we find ourselves here in Graysham.

Crane, you wrote of a folk relatively untouched by the Incident, but unfortunately that is less so here. The initial stories we have heard chilled us to the bone and made us think back, of course, to the Innesmere catastrophe. Imagine parents casting out changeling-children into the street, folk waking up in their beds with mutations too horrible to describe, whole mob scenes driving out those poor devils chosen by Fortuna to bear the debased forms of nature disturbed—the people here wear faces of grief and shock, of fatigue and confusion, and for good reason.

We have endeavored to bring a little hope into their otherwise altered lives, sharing what news we felt safe to give. With full understanding of the need for discretion, we have told them that while Albion seems the epicenter of the Incident and Caledonia a bedeviled land, there is hope on the Continent. We did not tell of the tales of destruction that you and I had learned from the Colonies, nor of the plight of the New Columbians—ah yes, I am getting to our friend in a moment. But whatever good news we could breathe to these destitute survivors of a world gone mad, I felt it best to do so.

It was MacTallan that aided Thorpe in making the first of the acquaintances here. The town had appointed a new mayor in the wake of the first of the rat-men attacks, and this man, Bledsoe, united the families who were left in the town after the ravages and erected a wall. Nothing more than a rampart in most places, it is nevertheless a structure that can be guarded, patrolled, and otherwise fortified against enemies. Over the last year Bledsoe had embraced MacTallan’s presence as someone knowledgeable—even if the Professor no longer could access his library at Thornskye. Apparently the last few months had seen fewer attacks, and this is why Bledsoe had sanctioned MacTallan’s solo explorations, although I sensed some mild chagrin on Bledsoe’s part when we told him the circumstances of our encounter with MacTallan.

There are some fifty families here, many having lost members in the wake of what they call the Changes. Only Bledsoe will talk to Thorpe and most avoid him; I sense that if Graustein had made it back with us, the townsfolk would have treated him likewise. We have only been here for a day and a half, but we have been received well, and there are already inquiries about able-bodied men joining our force. They will have to learn to take orders from Thorpe, however—something we have not yet discussed with any interested parties.

Now onto our New Columbian friend, Throckmorton (who I shall call by his real name from now on). As of the writing of this letter I have done nothing with the information save record it here. Bennington seems far more lucid and much like herself ever since we escaped the area of the Obelisk, and, like I said earlier to you, I have begun to respect her more. However, I read some caution in your account of what Sanders showed you in the laboratories at Elizabeth, and I am not quite convinced that her ties with the Society are weakened enough to make her into someone in whom I can fully confide. While he is our captain, Thorpe seems changed, and I feel that revealing what I learned when I attempted to scan Thompson’s memory—and, later, his personal items—may unsettle him, not unlike how Robards had leapt to easy but alarming conclusions when you confronted him with what you knew of his stone medallion. The next person I thought of is Stratham, but he seems singularly focused on reaching the Cairns, and cares for little else. Finally, MacTallan is someone I feel I could trust, but only if given time—it is too early to allow him to have knowledge like this about our troupe.

So it is only you and I who know this now.

In reading your account of Thompson’s gift of the stone, I took it immediately to mind to scan his memories for some clues as to how he came by the stone or what it meant to him. Now, Crane, lest you become jealous in some way of my command of my Ability, let me say that I had some particular difficulties with this task. The reading of memories, I find, is painful and not always successful to the extent I imagine beforehand.

I was careful about the setting and timing of my attempt—late at night the first night after we arrived, when Thorpe’s men were allowed some much-needed relaxation in the front room of the hotel. Bledsoe, after MacTallan’s generous introductions, allowed the lads free reign among his liquor stores, and this was a liberty that, may I say, they took to its most logical end. A little after midnight I found a more comfortable chair and settled in, my eyes fixed on Thompson, whose slumped form joined the others at the round tables in the hotel tavern area.

My eyes rolled back and I allowed myself to find the wave of sound. No longer able (or daring) to use my eyes, I reached out with my mind’s eye instead, visiting the mind of the man who was my target. Breathing shallowly at first, I concentrated on each breath, finding a resonance inside my body that would harmonize somehow with the noise.

No such noise came; for many solid and soundless minutes, all was still.

I tried again, this time redoubling my concentration. I half-expected a splitting migraine this time, as my temples had already throbbed with the anticipation of joining with another consciousness, taking in the confusion and chaos of the senses. I tell you, I sat there in my chair, feeling no different than I had on all of the other nights that I had been successful (especially in the case of Bennington some weeks ago), and following the same procedure that had attuned me to my otherworldly perceptions before. But no sounds filtered into the backgrounds of my waking dream; there was no wall of noise to channel.

Something was blocking my attempt, Crane: I could feel it. What it was, though, I do not exactly know. It was like staring at a blank wall. There should have been something there, but instead all I could sense was the absence of a thing.

So how, you may ask, did I learn of his identity?

The bloody fool left it in his jacket: a telegrammed set of orders from NCHC, the New Columbian High Command. It struck me, after I opened my eyes, that a clue to Thompson’s—then Throckmorton’s—true intentions regarding having given the stone to Robards may yet lie with this man’s person or his possessions. Thorpe’s men have very few personal items apart from their clothes, weapons, and tools, and, while the lads were sleeping, it was short work to locate Thompson’s scant items. I first searched his pack, finding nothing; I had been about to give up when I then detected a folded sheaf of papers poorly sewn into the lining of the jacket.

For your eyes only: I copied below the contents, and then did my best to replace the papers and re-sew the gap I created in the cloth.






Eastern Coastline, 4 September

My dear Crane,

There were times these last two weeks when I was gripped by a fear that our correspondence might come to an abrupt end. A horrid thought, indeed, and while it was fueled especially by the nightmares of the last few days, it was also grown out of our consistent failure to erect an aero beacon on any stable strip of land between the abandoned outpost at Tydonn and our present location.

Countering and dispelling that pall, as you can easily imagine, was the bright, shining morning star dipping out of the cloudy sky late in the day yesterday. The black storms were far enough to our west and south—although a wide ring around the site of the Obelisk—and for that reason we were able to clearly make sight of the aero, using a medical hand-mirror that Thorpe found among Bennington’s supplies in order to signal an approach.

Laray leveled a rifle at the flying machine at one point, I am embarrassed to tell you: yet before we condemn his judgment as poor, his eyesight was keen, and he was the only one among us to notice that the aero approaching was not Alia’s. I stayed his hand when it occurred to me that the aero had been first circling, as if to locate our group, rather than dive, as if to attack. Fortunately my quick thinking spelled a better outcome: on the ground, we hailed Alona’s arrival to cheers around the entire camp. The small packet of letters from you explained everything, of course, and Thorpe himself drank a toast to the female flyers of our country that have replaced—and surpassed—the “Skylads” we lost in the Blood War.

Now I am most interested in making this preface short, because given a safe return to Garnsey (Deus willing) by the second of our intrepid ferrywomen of the air, you hold now in your hands the copies of several journal entries as well as my rough sketches of the environs of the site of the Obelisk, and I am eager to introduce them. I will only say here how that while most of us are still alive (except Graustein and Thorpe’s lieutenant Elberts) we are certainly shaken and glad to be nowhere near the Obelisk. Bennington’s mind has mostly returned to her, I am relieved to report. As for Thorpe, he appears to have an Ability—or perhaps we ought to call it a Quality—quite different from what you or I have been experiencing; I have made sure to detail it well in my appended notes.

I can also report that we are all in good spirits having heard not only of Robards’ success (I obscured the finer details of his apparent sway over the men of the Sigsbee) but also in the comfort and respite you and your company must be enjoying on Garnsey. I will note that there is some coincidence regarding Elizabeth College that is present in my notes; read on.

Finally—and forgive this little paragraph written with a hasty hand, as my heart has leapt into my throat to think of the next leg of your expedition—if you mean to journey to Mont-Bré, then I think you will be very interested in my copies of the runes that we found near the Obelisk. My final journal entry included with this letter will describe it in full, but before I gathered this up to give to Alona, I made additional, full-page copies of the runes that appear on other sketches. Perhaps these will replace your old notes to some degree, if you find similarities between these and the inscriptions at Mont-Bré. I have only a vague memory of the carvings on those ancient stones, and the boxes of graphite rubbings your assistants dutifully made during those weeks we spent there. As the financier for that expedition I tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible, preferring to get out of the way in favor of the experts. It was you who convinced me that on our next venture I needed to take a more involved role, and, well, here I am now, Crane.

Allow me a short note of praise for your excellent idea to convince Robards to sail for the Gallian coast. Perhaps there will be some vital clue that links our happy past to our ever-darkening future and will summon the sun to break the dark swirling clouds that hang ever on the horizon. I do not attempt florid prose with that description: I mean quite literally about the clouds.

I will close this portion of my correspondence to you by noting that my opinion of Stratham has changed. You will read in my copied entries how Stratham outright saved us at one point, despite Thorpe’s consternations; but among us all Stratham seems the least marred by the last two weeks. He is changed, indeed—but for the better, as if a confidence has seized him and given him a new wisdom. Most admirable, however, is that this morning I saw that he had selflessly burned his books for our cooking-fire, their blackened spines poking up amongst the ash and embers.

May Fortuna continue to smile on you,


August 23

Broke camp at the first light of dawn, which I estimated to be a quarter to seven. Thorpe organized two parties—Thorpe leads mine and Elberts leads the other. One group scouts ahead and sends back two to report to the second, whereupon the second group meets the first and then has scout duty. Allows each group to rest or eat, &c., on a rota.

Dark clouds at the south-east with some movement noted in upper strata, starting about noon. Shadows on the road cast by smaller tendril clouds. Our group found a paved road, broken in parts but generally passable. We were able to speed up pace even as we headed into higher altitudes. Rockier terrain forward, fields to the south and west.

No signs of civilization—Caledonian moonscape. Many places we passed seemed scorched, as if from warfare, but devoid of shell craters and foxholes as on a battlefield. Found a small wood that had been reduced to sticks and ash, with earthen outcroppings in a ring formation. Did not investigate—Thorpe impatient to make progress while we had the light.

Slight headache occurring after evening meal, with noises like a distant waterfall in my mind. I was able to block them out but needed to focus my eyes on something bright, like a fire or a star above. All of us in one group make thirteen: myself, Thorpe, Bennington, Graustein, Stratham, Elberts, Laray, Arasaku, O’Doole, Kilcannon, Wright, Throckmorton, and Bell.

August 24

Some sunlight breaking through the clouds in the morning, no sign of the cloud-tendrils. Food palatable, men (and Bennington) in good spirits. Thorpe checks map incessantly.

Found end of paved road in ruined town around four in the afternoon. Thorpe’s map notes the place as Innesmere. Thorpe did not want to enter the town but Bennington made the case to find the injured or sick. Spent last four hours of daylight clearing out old hotel and adjoining buildings.

Scenes of horror in many areas of the town and inside buildings. The dead take different forms: some eviscerated and left to rot, scenes of combat. Others like mummies, but a ghostly white, as if drained of vitality and life, with skin like paper. Whole phantom-families in their beds were found by Thorpe’s men in nearby apartments. Thorpe ordered pullback after fifth building was cleared.

Headache manageable but still noticeable. Will not take laudanum; I fear a loss of control at this stage. Need to practice concentration and calm.

The place where we have taken shelter looks to be a school. Slate boards in most rooms and broken furniture litter the halls. One group of furniture looks to have been a barricade of some sort, separating an upper floor from the remainder of the building at the top of the wide stairway. We cleared part of barricade at lantern-light. Found gruesome scene of rotted corpses beyond, many look to be torn apart. Many bodies in this area seem to have military uniforms. Same scorching noticed on walls and ceiling in places.

Found headmaster’s library with school letterhead: The Waterford School. I know of it—a younger cousin attended here some years ago.

August 25 and 26

Thorpe wishes to spend three days assessing the town to find survivors, or, failing that, clues as to its demise. Bennington has advised against: she believes that there can be no one left alive. We follow Thorpe while we can afford the time. Today is darker; sun is low and cold.

Bennington has confided in me that her nightmares have returned. Graustein’s eyesight is getting worse but he holds vigil at night—his hearing has compensated somewhat. He can no longer use a rifle, but he can help with injuries.

Second day of slow investigation. My group of searchers have found some canned food and a few usable weapons to add to our supplies, including a fine pistol, which I have taken for myself. Terrible scene of carnage found at town hall and at bank. More barricades, evidence of strong defense mounted by citizens before being overwhelmed.

The rat-men attacked here. Several bodies with faces contorted into rodentine features and excessive body hair were found separated from the human dead. Perhaps some erstwhile survivors had dragged them into the pile we found before some final attack was made. We have also found earth outcroppings at sites that correspond to scenes of most violence.

Something seems to have disturbed our captain (besides the horror we have witnessed here). Complaining of tingling in his extremities. Blotchy skin apparent on neck, arms. Bennington has examined and taken notes, found some ointments to soothe the sensation.

August 27

Morning was barely noticeable from the night. Awoke to find darkness and black dust settling upon encampment at the school, wafting in through doors and broken windows. My headache has returned more intense than ever—I have considered turning to the laudanum or at least to alcohol, but I need to keep a clear mind at all times. Bennington appears exhausted from troubled sleep but has same fortitude. Society or not, I now admire her.

Thorpe has awoken to find patterns in his skin in reds and browns, now covering large areas of his body. He seems troubled but says there is no time for his ailment, and does not wish to draw from medical supplies. Bennington has examined sample of mummy-like flesh from a poor victim. Notes that the skin is brittle and crumbles easily, as if desiccated. No cause apparent.

It was decided (by Thorpe, Bennington, and myself) that we must move away from Innesmere lest the “wererats” sense our presence and return. I relayed the story of Robards and his offensive against the warren in Crane’s earlier letter; Thorpe is not convinced that we would be as successful, and wishes to risk neither men nor time. I cannot say that I blame him, but I note that this is a different Thorpe than we have had of late.

We did the best we could getting a start to our move after some time spent regrouping and reviewing maps. A ransacked local library proved useful, and turned up a large book about historical sites in the area. Stratham made quick claim of it and advised Thorpe on a new direction of approach toward the Obelisk.

Surgical masks from the Tydonn search were welcome, as the black dust irritates eyes, skin, and hampers normal breathing. Worst of the storm subsided around noon (so I guessed) and the sun was stronger in the afternoon. This long arm of the storm seemed to approach from the south-east.

Walked five hours, lost paved road after three. Stratham’s path has us following a river to the loch where the Obelisk stands. Should reach that by evening tomorrow. Made camp in an orchard at an abandoned farm. Thorpe is fearful of buildings now, and intones warnings that rat-things could come up from basements.

August 28

Awoke to almost unbearable migraine. By force of will I quieted my trembling and allowed the cacophony to overwhelm me. My mind reached out to Bennington in the next tent. Bennington was seeing unholy terrors invade her own memories, all in her dreams. Main image: graduation from the college on the windswept island, and the laboratory she had set up there. But the cadavers and the experiments haunt me now. Twisted scenes of torture and insanity! I saw Society men, decorating her with awards, but in her mind these credentials had been perverted into commendations for pain induction and gruesome vivisection.

I opened my eyes—migraine subsided and was replaced by dull pain at temples. Graustein had difficulty getting Bennington alert and ready to move. Weather is somewhat better and Thorpe is resolved to reach the loch tonight.

Uneventful but exhausting hike at a good pace but mostly uphill. Men need rest and Graustein is slowing us with poor eyesight. Cataracts now impeding all but bright lights. Bennington has run out of eye-drops from medical supplies. At least the others seem healthy and unaffected by the dust clouds of the days past. Made encampment on bank of wide panorama, only the stars above to lull us into calm.

August 29

Migraine is at peak on this cold morning. We are awoke on promontory overlooking loch. Concentration difficult. Noises in my mind seem to emanate and echo from the island in the loch.

Breakfast of strong coffee helping with migraine. Digestive biscuits found at Innesmere pantry perhaps the most delicious I have tasted since childhood. I wonder about the family from whose pantry we took the foods we now pass around among us. I think about their house, their neighborhood. Before the Incident.

Thorpe orders a stay on the rocky ledges until his men return with reports from scouting ahead. Fine; allows time for sketch of loch and consultation with Bennington. Bennington seems calm but far-away, not unlike the shell-shocked lads from the War. Graustein now believes he is hampering the mission; I try to give him hope that perhaps his condition is reversible.

Elberts first back from scouting teams. Reports clear path down to shores of loch. Thorpe’s team returns with description of abandoned cottages not far from shores, hope for boats to cross to island.

Thorpe makes decision to cross loch before nightfall, citing concerns about rat-men attacking camp; he thinks island is safer. No disagreement but I sense the scenes at Innesmere changed him. I am more concerned about the Obelisk but I have no evidence from which to argue. Stratham is eager to reach the site, seems cheerful in spite of misery of last few days.

Second scouting group was right: old boats found among the cottages. The cottages are not altogether deserted, if one counts the bleached and desiccated skeletal forms of their former inhabitants. Bodies of victims seem contorted, not in repose like at Innesmere: one paper-dry form up against wall, arms clawing in vain, another on floor, seeming to crawl away.

Now on island. My temple throbs in pain and I can hardly write. Maddening sounds from all directions makes putting pen to paper almost impossible. Directly in front of us: a hulking gray mass, surrounded by mists, incongruent with landscape backdrop. A monstrous presence dropped into idyllic scenery.

I can describe it only through glances from my periphery of vision: direct gazing leads to stabbing pains and watered eyes. General chill has descended upon our hardscrabble encampment. Tempers fraying. Stratham has gone to look ahead at site of Obelisk in direct defiance of Thorpe’s command. What we are doing here is now questioned in my mind.

While the last of the sun hangs in the horizon I am sketching what shapes I can make of the Obelisk, its summit of rock, and the twisted and blackened trees that remain here.

Stratham is rambling without stop about his books and runes. He is different now—animated, manic. Bennington can hardly speak and her body is in near-constant state of trembling. I now wholly fear for the success of our part of the expedition and care nothing for my fortunes. A world like this knows no comfort from money in any case.

August 30 and 31

Finally a few moments of rest to write following our flight from the island early in the morning hours. I will set down here what I know, what I saw, and the rest from the reports of others.

Late yesterday evening, Elberts set out to find Graustein, who had also disappeared at some point. I daresay that Thorpe had been well-distracted over the whole affair and left our camp, ordering Laray, Arasaku, Kilcannon, and Throckmorton to fan out on each side of the island in search of the junior professor. Elberts ordered remainder of men to guard camp while he went forward on the island to find Graustein. Stratham also gone without a trace.

Winds picked up and soon we were amidst a tempest. Lost some supplies into the water. Tents and shelters useless. Black dust clouds descending from sky high above and touched down at site of Obelisk. Surgical masks donned but we huddled close, protecting Bennington especially. Ethereal blue light seen flashing at base of funnel cloud. Then, a screeching, keening howl, a flash, and a compression like a shell from the Great War. Found myself knocked well into the water. Silence followed.

Hours passed and around dawn Thorpe and his men returned to our relief. Regrouped and discussed plans; my headache gone, Bennington seeming to rouse somewhat.

In full light of dawn we ventured toward Obelisk. In morning light, I could see the shape of the thing: rough-hewn base effacing to sharp-cut rock, like a spire, pointed tip, flat face. The carvings on the front and sides remarkably like those we saw at Mont-Bré, but additional shapes present. It does not pain me to look upon Obelisk today, and the sounds have vanished.

We found Stratham furiously sketching and making rubbings of outcropped black stones in a ring around the Obelisk. I am now close enough that I can take more precise measurements. Obelisk is sixteen feet high from base to tip, calculated from angle of sun and length of shadow measured at ten o’clock. Five feet at widest point; two feet at narrowest point at tip. Fine tools used to chip away oblong rectangular prism on three sides; back face left rough but rounded off by different tool. Sloped side of spire portion, angles forming tip look to be intentional, with some effort for symmetry evident. Front face and selected areas on both sides feature both angular and circular cuts; circular cuts are less deep, like scratchings, in intricate spiralled patterns, and angular cuts are thought to be Ur-Samekh or a close variant (as explained to me by Stratham).

Ring of similar stones have same types of circular scratches and deeper angled gouges. Sophisticated tools would have been necessary to bite this deep into the dense, almost crystalline rock. Ring of stones set an average twenty feet from base of Obelisk, in intentional eight-point pattern, with relatively accurate measurement of equidistance.

We found Graustein and Elberts, or who we believed were they: complete transformation into the terrible ghostlike apparitions, dry husks of men. One figure seemed to lead the other before being scattered like litter to the ground, arms flailing, digging deep into the unyielding earth. Poor devils!

When the blue light emanated from the Obelisk last night it enveloped Graustein and Elberts. What Graustein was doing there, Deus only knows. Stratham foolishly approached to get better look at the clouded Obelisk to verify Ur-Samekh; had been found by Elberts moments before the loud howl. Stratham watched as Elberts grabbed Graustein; described the man as “trance-like.” Light enveloped them; they screamed and turned bone-white. The pair fell to the ground in the form we found them now. Stratham then reported uttering three words—or syllables—memorized out of his books. A wave of energy pulsed from the rune-rock in front of him and out across the loch. No way to know if this is what protected us from the rays that claimed Elberts and Graustein but we cannot think of any other explanation.

Thorpe proclaimed Stratham’s recordings to be enough for the trouble and loss we incurred. Frankly I could not have agreed more with the man. I aided a weak but alert Bennington into a boat and helped collect salvageable supplies. Hiked back down the original trail until nightfall again to new encampment. All of us exhausted and our mind shattered, could not eat or drink.

September 1 to 3

I believe I was wrong about the cloud patterns. I now theorize that the black dust is spewed by the Obelisk—generated, perhaps, or called, I am not truly sure of the right word—in forceful swirls that loop back from the north. Like a child drawing a stick through algae in a bog. May explain some of the counter-current of the clouds from the south.

There is only a dull rumble in the edges of my hearing. Bennington is much better and upright now, eating what she can when we rest. Thorpe is a man bound, leading us at a forced march toward the east. Stratham has voiced an opinion to return and learn more about the Obelisk. Thorpe will hear none of it, and no one takes up Stratham’s banner, even myself.

We were too occupied to notice, but one of Thorpe’s eyes have changed: like a cat’s eyes, glowing with an internal light when shined upon. First noticed this around the fire on the first night after our flight from the loch. I am not strong enough to read his memories, nor would I want to at this time. He has also seemed to lose some hair on the left side of his face, the side that bears the changed eye. He will not suffer inquiries on the topic.

Two days now of hiking. Have reached downward slopes, to our relief. Thorpe has allowed a slower pace for now. His map notes a small village on the shoreline, which he has proclaimed to be our next destination. Stratham confides in me that the book he found at the school tells of another site of interest, perhaps connected somehow to the Obelisk, some fifty miles south and east, nearer to the coast. I will make no mention of this to Thorpe—or Bennington, for that matter—until the time is right. All I can hope for now is that the village is like the one in Crane’s letter, untouched by calamity and ruin.

We have better weather today and our thoughts now turn to the aero. Thorpe orders a search in a five-mile radius of a clearing, any open and generally flat land that we might set up the makeshift beacon. Bennington and I have taken this time to consult with Stratham, who has made compelling arguments that the expedition must now turn south to a site he calls “the Cairns.” We resolve to come to Thorpe with our position during the evening meal.

Tydonn Marsh, 22 August

Dear Crane, excellent Sir,

I must admit, reading your most recent letter not warmed my heart with some much-needed hope. Reading your descriptions about normal, (perhaps) good-natured, honest folk—that made me yearn for a day long past that sadly we may never see again in this altered world.

It also cast my mind back to our tender years at Everwood. Your playful self-admonishment about doing what is sensible and subsequently dashing off a hastily-written narrative made me smile with nostalgia for Big School. I think you remember Urquhart, whose precision clock kept in Albertus Hall would chime out the late offenders to the weekly essay submissions—who almost always included us. Well, with conditions the way they are, I can say anything written by you, on time or late, will be met with gratitude. And I am sure you recall old Ames, our headmaster, who pronounced that our young partnership would run us into ruin; I will never forget the blistering reprimand we endured after Edwards caught us running smuggled penny dreadfuls into the campus. Ah, if he could see us now!

On my side, I can report that Alia’s timing has been no less propitious here as well. First, Thorpe thanks you for the food supplies that you purchased (or bartered) from the good people of the village—fresh produce and preserved fish were most welcome around our makeshift kitchen these past few days. Second, I should note that tomorrow we leave through the northern passage toward the site of the Obelisk. My plan is to continue my journal throughout the next fortnight, but write more than just the scanty notes and sketches that I have made up to this point. I believe that we are moving into a phase of our journey that will be fraught with uncertainty and not a little danger, and for that reason, I wish to capture as many details as I can.

Along that theme, I was happy to have found a little blank notebook as spoils of a search of our deserted compound. It hadn’t occurred to me that I had run out of sheet paper following my last letter, and I couldn’t bring myself to tear pages out of Bennington’s medical journals. If you get future letters written in dull pencil, that will be because my inkwell has finally been exhausted.

I confess that it is now when I wish our places were exchanged, not least because a voyage on a New Columbian ship would be intriguing. More to the point, however: I say this because the closest we have to an expert in antiquities is Stratham, and I know how you feel about him. He has been mostly quiet, lost in the few books we have allowed him to take. After Thorpe returned with his men from the Ravine he became yet more introverted, and he seems inscrutable of motive and mood. Bennington and I made the joint decision to tell him nothing of what happened to Gujparat and poor Kensington, save something oblique about a wild animal attack.

All that is to say that I fear Stratham may not be of much good when we finally reach our destination—for this leg of the expedition at least. You are the master archaeologist; you proved your mettle when we encountered the strange carved stone, placing the date and the markings into a timeline that confirmed our hopes (and our fears). For my part, I will do what I can to make sure that there is at least an accurate recording of all we see and find, so that I can at least shuttle notes to you that will provide more clues. As for Stratham, I am expecting nothing more from him than I would from a well-meaning assistant, unless he returns to his better senses and displays some of the talent for which I am paying a lot of money.

Other snippets of news appear in my mind as I close this letter and prepare for what may be as long as a fortnight of travel toward our objective. First, we are sending back some medical supplies and a few small pieces of infirmary equipment back on the aero. When we completed a more thorough search of the compound where we are currently taking shelter, Thorpe’s men found a few crates of bandages, tinctures, pills, and instruments, as well as some sort of anaesthesia device and a steam-powered machine that looks like a pump. We took what we could shoulder in our packs, and Thorpe ordered the rest to be shipped to your team, upon hearing that you are now the most formidable navy afloat!

All levity aside, the next piece of news that I can recount is that since the horrific attack from the Creature, Thorpe’s skin looks a bit more normal and Bennington’s nightmares have seemed to subside. For myself, I can still hear voices and noises if I try to concentrate on them, but I certainly feel as if I have a measure of control over them—or at least, for now, they are simply suppressed by some mechanism. Graustein’s hair is permanently white now, however, and he complains of poor vision, for which Bennington has given him some eye drops found among the crates.

Finally, I read with some alarm your doubt in the trust we have put in Robards. I am sure that his camaraderie with Campbell is the same as any soldier’s or seaman’s upon meeting another in the same profession. Then again, I looked back at one of your previous letters and I read again your description of the glowing object that only your changed eyes could see. It would be interesting to find out that this new captain had a similar object in his possession. I want to advise you to “practice” your newfound ability as I have tried on occasion during these last few weeks, but I also know it might be potentially dangerous. I said that I was going to turn my attentions toward Bennington—and I will in good time—but we are still far from having all of the facts about the Incident or about what we truly encountered in the cold cavern chamber. You always were the more circumspect of the two of us; even if I may not put total faith in Bennington, Thorpe, or even Stratham, I trust your judgment.

For now, I will sign off: it is late and tomorrow we break camp. I also need my sleep, as I cannot quell the anxiety I feel for the next part of our journey.

With greetings and best wishes,


Tydonn Marsh, 10 August

Dear Crane,

As I begin this letter to you it is with fervent hope that Alia is able to locate you, either before you embark on your sea journey or, failing that, somehow afterwards. At the end of your last message, you noted with some uncertainty if the letter would find me. I am glad to report that it did, although Alia told us that she had some difficulty this time locating our encampment—even though buildings of brick and stone are easier to sight from the air than tents of canvas under the eaves of the forest.

Apparently there are storms of some enormous kind that she sees now on her voyage between our two expeditions, or at least this latest run between us. Dark tempests of black dust that interpose their tendrils enough so that sighting the ground becomes all but impossible except in the brightest day. This time, she found our beacon using a magnetometer, but only on the retour from a wide circle, having missed us the first time. The alarming thing was that here on the ground we recalled only a string of mildly cloudy days. It must be that the storms are to the south but progressing northward and have not yet reached us.

I write this evening confined to my cot, my senses reeling from the stench of death that still lingers here in the little white-tile room that we have dubbed, at least for now, the infirmary. I suppose I have an improved respect for Bennington, since over the last week I have seen her dispense critical attention to our men without regard for rank or status; and whatever her allegiances are, I care little just now after having seen what I did.

Gujparat is dead—Graustein heaved him away and out of here earlier this morning and then set to cleaning up the blood. As for Kensington, we have no idea where the body is (if it is still a body), and cannot spare the time or the effort to find it. When I write their families—if I ever get an opportunity to write them—I anticipate that those letters will be sad ones indeed, and I will have to choose my words carefully to spare the families unpleasant imaginings as I explain the causes of death.

Crane, in the wake of the devastation to the Colonies I know that many tales reached our ears, safe in our comfortable offices, homes, and cafés. Your recent words on the familiar-yet-alien doppelganger landscape we find here ring in my mind, especially to think now of the life we knew only some months ago. I recall hearing some of the strange stories of horror that began to trickle back to the Continent and knowingly dismissed many as either patently impossible, a likely product of a disordered mind, or an outright shocking joke, told to get attention in dimly-lit taverns.

I am now revising many of those judgments.

Two days ago I found Gujparat in the forest, having gone after him myself—foolish perhaps, I see that now—when he and Kensington did not arrive back from their reconnaissance. The trace I found of the men first took the form of a canvas supply pack swinging from a branch high overhead, its tools and instruments strewn about on the ground below. As I turned and strode into a clearing, I heard his labored cries and heavy moans coming from the area ahead, a rocky descent down to a wide river. Sensing the clear presence of danger, I drew my pistol and found a little pathway down to Gujparat, whose bloodied and broken figure I could see on a rock promontory. As his left leg ended in a tangled mass of shredded bone and muscle at the shin, he had apparently been trying to crawl away from the scene of something horrible, lifting and dragging himself as best he could on one good arm and a willpower of iron. As for Kensington, I saw no trace of him.

It wasn’t until that evening when Gujparat had awoken from his trauma that either Bennington or I could get any useful information from him. Thorpe wanted me to show him and a detachment of men where I had found Gujparat, but I think my reasoning that we needed first to learn what Gujparat knew beforehand won out in the end. I didn’t tell Thorpe that another reason why I was keen on questioning the poor man right away was because I sensed that we had little time before his impending death to find out what had happened.

As you know, I spent some time in Pandjara on the Mission, and I have a smattering of Sindhoo. I must say it was another point that impressed me about Bennington—her Sindhoo is not altogether bad. Where and how she learned hers I do not know, but I confess it added a dimension to her otherwise inscrutable nature. At any rate, between Bennington and I, we were able to capture a great deal of information from Gujparat as the laudanum calmed him enough to temporarily set aside his immense pain and speak a few words. We took furious notes throughout this exchange, and I will copy my notes into a representation of our dialogue with as much fidelity to my recollection—and to Gujparat’s voice—as I can muster.

“Kensington and I were searching, trying to find another way to get back on the North Road. We went into the forested area to the west about a quarter of a mile, maybe more. We didn’t think the wetland would be as thick there. We were right—the land started to slope up and away a bit and become rockier.

“After about another hour of walk we found a good trail. It went up into a hill. Kensington said something about the torch stakes, and that we would go back at night if we could find water. I did not understand but I put a stake in wherever Kensington pointed.

“I was resting after we had drank up the last of our water. Kensington said he heard a river and went to see; he came back after an hour and said he found good water. I went with him—we walked along a cliff and under big rocks overhead. Then we saw a river.

“We were going to turn around to go back to camp when we heard a sound that made us cover our ears and scream. Kensington was vomiting from the sound. It made my eyes shake and we fell down. I looked up and there was something around Kensington’s leg. He yelled and I saw a green-black rope (?) twist around his leg and up to his hip. It looked like a snake but it was coming out of a cave above us, and more of these shapes dropped down to take hold of Kensington. I could not run. I saw the ropes bite into Kensington’s legs and arms and rip them away. Blood was everywhere. I knew Kensington was dead.

“I got up and all I could think about was how to get away back the way we came. I jumped up on the rocks and the sound got louder again. The sound was like a wall of sharp whistles and it made my blood boil. I closed my eyes and then I felt a sting on my foot. I looked down and my leg was gone. At that point I felt another sting on my back and the creature tore by equipment pack away. I took my chances and dove downward off the rock instead of trying to stay and fight it. I fell a long way and broke my ribs, but if I hadn’t done that, I would have ended up like Kensington.

“I looked up from where I fell and I could see maybe twenty of these green and black snakes waving from outside of the cave. They were very long and some of them looked like they were sliding along the rocks, searching for more victims. Then the terrible sound stopped and the snakes went back into the cave. I think my eyes went black for a while.

“The next thing I remember is that I was trying to crawl up the rock again to find the path. About an hour later, Rackham found me.”

When I returned with the mangled Gujparat, Bennington noted that the areas where his body had suffered the most damage were bloodied but also slick with a translucent, slime-like substance. In transporting the wounded man, this ichor stained my clothes and had transferred onto my arms and chest. Where it had made contact with my skin, I felt a numbing sensation, not unlike an area affected by a venomous bite. While this was not particularly painful, Bennington ordered my assignment to a cot for erstwhile observation, to which I naturally assented.

As the laudanum worked its way through his veins I watched Gujparat slip into unconsciousness. I thought about what I had read in your letter about letting your focus drift to a subject, and I decided to try it. As the minutes passed, I let all other emotions and thoughts drain from my consciousness, and I let the sounds at the periphery of my awareness rush forward like a flood, overtaking me in a furious cacophony. Remembering how it caused me pain to open my eyes during these episodes, I resolved to recline with my eyes closed yet with my face toward Gujparat, in an attempt to reach out to his resting mind with my own.

Crane, I could read the man’s memories. He had told Bennington and I the details from his perspective as if narrating a short but dreadful tale; but when I “channeled” the sounds and signals from the sleeping man, they filled in several more details than what she and I had gleaned from our strained Sindhoo. For example, Gujparat and Kensington had argued about getting off the main road because Gujparat did not want to risk straying off their planned course. Kensington’s Sindhoo was quite limited, and I read in Gujparat’s thoughts that he felt it was easier to give in to the wishes of his companion.

His next series of thoughts was about the torch stakes—these are my invention, I should add. Gujparat knew what Kensington did not, which was that the Tesla beacons at the top of the stake only flash if the first one in the series is “jumped” with the hand generator—which I have here with me at camp. Thus, Gujparat knew that the torch stakes would have been of no use to the men, and he was annoyed with Kensington for bringing otherwise useless equipment with him on the scouting foray.

Gujparat also thought Kensington a fool for going ahead without him to find the source of the river. I suppose that in some cases, military training does not always bequeath common sense.

Something horrid also happened during this episode, Crane, and I am loathe to describe it but I know all information shared between us might have a benefit somehow. I stopped reading Gujarat’s memories at the moment his mind’s eye recalled the attack from the tentacled being that inhabited the cave. The fear—the panic—the blistering pain—I knew I could sense it all and drink it in, so to speak, if I allowed the cascade of sound to continue to overtake me. Had I done that, I would have borne scars of that unholy experience which would not have been shaken quickly. I opened my eyes and removed myself from concentration as soon as Gujparat’s first screams resounded in my mind. Even still, my hands shook and I found myself bathed in sweat as I awoke from my trance.

In closing, I would now advise you to continue to practice whatever—ability—you describe to me. We may have been altered from the Incident, or we may have acquired these peculiarities from our presence here; it matters little exactly how, but I am beginning to understand these as gifts of a sort, aberrant as they might seem, but not altogether useless. Do keep your eye on Robards, and on my side, I will resolve to place my focus on Bennington in the days ahead. There may indeed be more to these two than we know.

With wishes for a safe sea crossing,


The Narrows, 15 July

Dear Crane,

With your gentle admonishment fresh in my mind and a heart emboldened from the news of Thorpe’s unexpected success (details toward which I will progress as the ink flows here) I want to first tell you: I attempted it again.

I can remember that I stared for a few moments at the stopper on the laudanum bottle, knowing fully that peace was three droplets away, but something inside me changed. A new will seized me. I unfolded the torn sheet of note paper upon which you had written your missive, and I saw your advice to at least document my experience with the laudanum tincture. I decided that I would instead document my experience avoiding it—and I knew your ever-scientific mind would be eager to hear the results.

As you recall, there had been a night a few weeks ago when I had allowed the sounds to override my senses, welcoming the cascade of voices and noises into my mind. Then, I felt a visceral panic like a drowning man whose lungs are filling with water: confusion, fear, hopelessness, and then nothing. Last night, the same dread overtook me—but instead of resisting it, I welcomed it.

The fear melted, to my surprise, into peace—in fact, a feeling of control, not an abyss of horror. I tell you Crane, it was an odd feeling, to be sure, but one that left my heart beating with confidence, not weakness.

I could not quite sense the passage of time, and I found that during this episode, my eyes would not focus; at one point I tried to recognize any shape inside my tent, but as soon as I used my eyes, the noises caused a stabbing pain at my temple. The sensation reverted to pleasure each time I closed my eyes and allowed the sounds to crash over me like a mighty surf.

The most exciting discovery I can report is that I found that I could “channel” the voices by gentle concentration. For a few minutes—or perhaps an hour for all I could surmise—I chose to pick out Thorpe’s voice in my head. Not all of what he was saying was understandable, but as I mentioned in an earlier letter, I nevertheless understood meaning and emotion—direction and purpose, let us say. In my mind, I could hear him giving orders to the men under his command, accepting their reports, and explaining his plans to explore a deep ravine.

When I awoke, it was the darkest part of the night, but a light from a new fire blazed behind my tent. When I exited, it was Thorpe, who had newly returned from his foray. He was describing his discovery to Bennington, so I joined them.

My blood raced as I heard him describe the ravine. As he told us how he encountered this strange place and how his men approached it, I matched what he said to us at the campfire to what I recalled his voice telling me during my feverish repose. I then also noted that, for the few moments that I had been conversing with Thorpe and Bennington, the noises and sounds were all but vanished from the background of my perceptions.

I will leave off now more details of my personal experiences with the sounds, and instead devote the rest of this letter to news of Thorpe’s discovery, and then to Bennington’s opinions of your sketches.

If Thorpe is a fool then he is at least a fortunate one, and perhaps we ought to make full advantage of his luck for as long as we have him on our expedition. The five men that accompanied him—Arasaku, Kensington, Laray, Gujparat, and Elberts—came back relatively unharmed physically, and I daresay that Thorpe has thoroughly mapped out most of the way ahead. This is a huge advantage as we begin our northern slant tomorrow.

They returned after about a week’s time, and as Bennington and I learned later, most of the reason for the delay was the four days spent investigating what we have been calling “the Ravine.” To me, it sounded like more like a scar where a hideous giant carved out a great swath of earth, leaving an angry gangrenous wound behind.

The entrance to the ravine is more or less an easy, wide ramp, which Thorpe likened to the shape left behind from the angular strike of some rough-hewn meteor. Thorpe reported that no rocky debris was scattered that would indicate an explosion; rather, the burnt gouge seems to have drawn earth in with it, as if some elongated sinkhole occurred well underground yet cracked the land with a jagged mark in its inexorable progress.

The far end of the ravine was never reached by Thorpe and his crew. After finding a drop-off at the ramp’s edge, a laborious descent allowed them to land deep on its floor, but even navigating that depth was an hourly challenge: the base had no easy level, and sub-abysses were found every quarter-mile or so, such that additional equipment had to be employed to allow their safe navigation. After the fourth day Thorpe had decided that our base camp here at the Narrows was undefended for long enough that prudence (or guilt) dictated that he make a return.

The one detail that disturbed Bennington and I the most about Thorpe’s report was the fact that all five of the men who descended into the ravine described the discovery of humanoid skeletons near the bottom. Burned and charred just like the rock surface inside the ravine itself, the men who had enough light to make out these harrowing shapes found that in general, they all seemed to have laid in a uniform direction—skulls upward toward the open sky high above, arms seeming to clutch the side of the wall, reaching toward the surface. In some cases, skeletal remains seemed piled upon another yet slanted in the same configuration, always toward the top of the ravine and away from the far end of the ravine. The bones got more dense as the men moved away from the entrance, and finally, Thorpe commanded a halt.

Thorpe and his men had passed by what appeared to be an official building of some sort—as he tells me, a blasted, ruined bunker some thirty miles along our current trajectory—and so we will head for that in the morning. If I can, my next correspondence will be from that location.

Ah, my dear sir, I had almost forgotten to relay what Bennington wished to convey to you regarding your helpful sketches of the autopsy results. As a footnote, I appreciated what you noted in sotto voce regarding whether or not I thought she could be trusted with the autopsy findings. I can say that while you and I both know that she is an agent of the Society, thus far her motivations have been true regarding the purpose of our mission and her scientific interest. If that changes, you will be the first to know, and if you wish to follow the same course of action as we did the others, then so be it—but this time we must be of the same mind about it.

Bennington studied what you had enclosed for at least a day or more, which itself told me enough—she had seen this type of metamorphosis before. From your clinical notes and measurements she seemed to conclude that the agent of the transformation was carried in the blood of each victim; she pointed to a recent round of Society-sanctioned research that showed that the blood’s superstrata could be manipulated as an effective diffusion system for an aetherial force, like an ultra-magnetic pulse.

She does not know if this was the cause of the metamorphosis in those poor beings you described in your previous letter—she corrected me dryly for my proposed use of the word “wererat”—but I suspected that she felt the phenomena are connected, even though she did not say as much. She also told me that she could not account for the variance of the changes; in other words, why one man’s insides turned to liquid and another man’s insides became so efficient as to strain his own system to implosion. Finally, she asks that you convince Robards to find a way to safely autopsy one of the half-men, as she does not believe a communicable disease is truly at play here. (Do with that advice, friend, as you will, as I am loathe to countermand Robards.)

As for thoughts of rendezvous—agreed, that is well impossible now, as your group is striking east and ours is intent on heading north, with the eventual destination of the obelisk. My most immediate worry is whether Alia can find another safe landing area at our new location, and if not, I am afraid our correspondence will be yet more sporadic.

With best hopes,