Thornskye, 23 January

My dear friend,

If you are still alive, and if this letter somehow—by Deus’ grace—reaches your eyes, it shall be no small monument to the perserverance and sublime qualities of the entirety of both our crews. Mine, a researcher, a doctor, and a disembodied ghost of a man aching to return to the gilded cage of his own familiar flesh; yours, a sea-captain, his crew, a man of science, and a woman of innumerable years and impossible origins. Between us, gallant sisters flying near-constant journeys between us, a vital link of news, discovery, and goodwill. Without them, I do not know how we could carry on.

It has been a full fortnight since our last communication, and your last—well, forgive me, Crane, if my words come with hesitation even as Bennington’s fingers sketch the letters of my thoughts across this page. I am very afraid that you may be dead; worse yet is the fear that you may have died in a most horrific way, at the hands of some unholy revenant or phantom of a man. I know that you (unlike us) have the employ of many strong men and proven fighters, but given what we now know about the changes endured by Thorpe and the hordes of wererats, we have seen far too many good-hearted men succumb and twist to mysterious powers.

I will carry on with the assumption that you do not yet know that brave Alia was able to locate your letter, a bottom edge torn off as she found it in some dreary chamber at Caeradarn, and that she passed it to Alona. Alona herself was fortunate to have found us, or more accurately, we were the fortunate party, as we were no longer on Skald to be found at the time she had connected with her sister in Gresyham.

It was your Lt. Barksdale who protected an unwitting Alia from one of Brown’s “assistants,” as you called them, and all that I know of it is that he did this with pistol in hand and with no small measure of athletic ability on his part. This was told to Bennington, third-hand now, from Alona yesterday evening, as she recounted all of the details of her experience in Greysham and her fruitless search for us along the coasts and into the interior of Skald, nearly exhausting her aero’s amberite piles twice before at last seeing the beacon well to the north, on the Albionese mainland. To reach Greysham, Alia was able to make an efficient and timely escape in her aero from the Sigsbee thanks to Barksdale, but I confess I did not get the full story: and Alona only recounted what little Alia knew, despite Bennington’s questions for details on your condition.

I have not yet reunited mind with body, as I mentioned at the outset here, but it has not been for a lack of trying on my part and ongoing medical administrations on Bennington’s part. From what I see of myself through Bennington’s eyes, I seem peaceful, and the broth-and-water diet has effected the loss of a few pounds, something perhaps that I will welcome should my mind animate my own skin again. Would that I could simply walk with my own legs and talk with my own voice—while fascinating, this condition is maddening.

Yet it may be all changed tomorrow: Bennington has committed to attempting to what she calls the “final solution.” It is a cure that we know will work—as we witnessed it ourselves—but are both loathe to utilize, for reasons that shall become apparent as I narrate what has occurred these last two weeks.

I now will suggest to the good doctor that we explain to you where we are and how we came to be here. Alona will of course do her duty and bring this to Alia, who, I believe, will then attempt to locate the Sigsbee and hope that you are found safely aboard it. I write then in the solemn hope that the discoveries I describe here are not recorded in vain.

Yes, the Rexley Device had been used as a weapon, Crane—but it was never meant to be one. It was meant to be an instrument of healing.

The night after the last letter we wrote to you, Bennington awoke in a crude cage of bound wood, deep under the Skald mountain. I had been unconscious, too—while my mind and personality was still joined to her at that point, her body had not withstood whatever force had been applied to her, and my consciousness had followed suit to hers.

She looked around with the bleary vision of a sleeping infant, seeing distant, flickering lights hovering about in all directions, and felt cold, damp stone on her face. At this point I recognized that I was waking too, and, being no stranger to the torpor of a painful awakening following my many episodes in exercising my Ability, I believe I was able to find lucidity somewhat more quickly. In this way I was able to assist her in returning to full alertness, and I suggested that she focus her vision on any nearby light source.

As her eyes adjusted to the low light, we could make out the sullen and darkened face of MacTallan next to us, bound up as we were, but conspicuously outside of a cage. He had been left—or deposited—on the uneven cavern floor beside us. Bennington was close enough to him that she could discern the gentle motion of his lungs taking air, and thus we were consoled for the moment that he was still alive.

Over the next several and painful minutes, Bennington and I gave slow but terrible recognition to the fact that we were now located within a relatively central and somewhat higher point of a massive cavern system, whose corridors and gaping arches vanished far out to shadowed horizons. The lights we saw were the green and yellow flames of fires that were set, at regular intervals, among crowds—legions, I tell you—of creatures, vast armies of rat-men, kept as orderly and as submissive as an army of a conquering Hellenic general. Some could be seen running between groups, others could be seen squeaking about along the rings of fires, and yet others moved like moths between ledges and cliffs along the high cavern walls. The distant and chilling sounds of drums could be made out from the echoes that made their way to our ears.

At this, MacTallan sat up and groaned, exposing his bruised and cut face. “Bennington? What—”

“Take some rest,” I heard her say, “it could be our last.”


At that moment the three of us became aware that my body had not been conveyed to the place where we awoke. Bennington stood up, now, her body and head aching with a thousand bruises.

“I don’t see you, Benjamin,” she whispered aloud.

‘They may have taken you for dead,” MacTallan suggested.

I proposed an idea to Bennington. “He says he is going to try to reach out with his consciousness.”

I summoned my energy from deep within my thoughts, calling upon it to propel me outward and into the murky gloom of the cavern, over the hordes of—

Slam. It was like striking a stone wall—and I could feel it pushing back upon me, almost crushing me, like the ink-black waters outside the crippled Jagdschloss. Something was preventing my projection. I could sense that I could leave the confines of Bennington’s body, but my perceptions could travel no farther than just outside our makeshift prison; I could spin my altered vision fully about, but I could see no more than Bennington, MacTallan, and a nearby sputtering torch that had ostensibly marked the location of our future judgment.

Bennington involuntarily collapsed into a broken heap, her hands losing their grip on the rough-hewn bars of the cage. I joined with her body again, and lent my awareness to her, waking her up.

“Let’s not try that again,” she whispered.

“Agreed. I do not know where we are, but I believe we must assume my body is lost,” I replied.

She and I breathed together, as one, there in the shadows. MacTallan found a more comfortable position, propping himself up along our cage, fearing what was next for us. We listened to the drums and heard the faint shrieks of the rat-creatures. After several long and terrifying moments, we recognized that there were markings in a rough circle around us. These were set at regular intervals at the edge of the wide rock plateau that rose gently above the swelling scene in the cavern valleys to all sides of us.

“These look like what we found leading toward the obelisk at Loch Bairne.”

Bennington nodded. Then, a flash of memory. “You weren’t with us at the loch.”

MacTallan’s face turned slowly, and his black eye squinted. “You were there?”

Confusion reigned only for a moment, suppressed by a new, inexorable immediacy: just then several groups of rat-men swarmed up the sides of the plateau, screaming a cry that jolted both Bennington and MacTallan to attention. MacTallan, his arms and legs still bound with a cruel length of rough rope, fell over and called out in fear. The rat-men stopped to congregate in throngs along the sides of our little flat stone hillock, and many more torches were brought besides the one near us that had already been lit. In this dazzling firelight I saw thousands of eyes, stretching like a red sea into oblivion.

Bennington’s blood was chilled, and I could do nothing to calm her. The rapid pace of her heart had us both gripped in a panic. I knew I could not project my consciousness very far, and I feared that if she were to die, my spirit would also be lost. MacTallan at least had the sense to sit up, observe his surroundings, and shout back at the things, to no obvious effect.

For a few moments the wererats seemed to hiss and stare, with words barely intelligible through their high-pitched voices. Then, on an invisible cue, the chant went up. It sounded like the word “Higher, higher,” but then it settled upon us that the army of rat-men were chanting a name, casting their voices up and shaking the stalactites high above.

He emerged from somewhere within the crowd. Throngs seemed to step aside to accommodate him, but for several long minutes we did not see anything but waves of movement among this sea of altered humanity. When he arrived, we understood everything, and we watched astounded as he appeared.

His left arm was encased in matted brown fur, and his left hand was twisted into a rodent’s sharp claw. On the same side, a muscular, fur-covered leg bulged out from tattered trousers. The rest of him was still passably human. He stood, imperious, at the edge of the little stone ring, and then strode confidently into the center to stand in front of the cage that held Bennington. It was then that we noticed his rodent-like facial features, more subtle than the other rat-men, many of whom seemed uniformly rat-like from the waist up and somewhat still human from the waist down. He wore a tattered naval captain’s jacket with New Columbian insignia, but allowed it to drape over his bare shoulders like a cape.

“Bring me REXLEY!” he commanded. “We will teach these inferior humans who the real masters are!” We watched him double over slightly as he shouted into the crowd, his voice becoming shrill and finally finishing with a sinister laugh.

Turning to us: “We finally have the good doctor—and the professor as a further gift.” His New Columbian accent was barely detectible over his transformed voice.

“Tollard,” Bennington breathed. “Impossible.”

“Not so. Not after our own expedition.”


“As they say in my country,” he sneered, “the early bird catches the worm.”

At this, Bennington sunk to her knees, and I could feel the very despair that began to cloud her heart.

Tollard’s snout contorted in a hideous expression of mock pity, his rodentate teeth bared. “Now don’t be sad, Doctor—you finally get to see the fruits of your labor.”

Tears welled up in my companion’s eyes. For the first time I understood fully—she had been duped. Her life’s work. She never knew the ways that it was stolen and corrupted.

Four hulking wererats carried the apparatus, steadily trudging up the little incline like pall-bearers to a funeral. It was a contraption built around a copper and steel chassis, with pumps and tanks housed within a skeleton of pipes and valves. At one side was a smallish basket and a rod, with a hose extended to one side.

“No—not this—this is not what the device is for!”

Tollard looked back with a mocking smile.

Quickly, I asked Bennington what knew about this device—what she had not yet revealed to us. She showed me a memory of a droplet of blood dissolving into a vial, half-full with a strange green ichor. The green turned to transparent water when the red cloud had expanded inside the vial.

“Edmund Rexley was a healer,” she silently said to me. “He had discovered a panacea.”

“And the device?”

“Quite the opposite,” came the sad thought, in reply.

Bennington and MacTallan watched as the great machine was brought up, and another body was brought into the circle, conveyed on the shoulders of another team of wererats.

It was me.

“Let us show you what your contraption can do!”

With the flip of a switch, the machine thundered to life, filling the cavern with a whine and a methodical thump. It was the unmistakable sound of heavy pistons of iron pushing against the inside of a steam engine.

Squealing, a rat-man lunged toward us, took MacTallan by the hair, and pushed him down next to my sleeping body.

Taking the rod out from its holster on the side of the engine, we could now plainly see that the Device had at one time been a rudimentary medical instrument, one part early syringe-and-plunger, one part catheter, and one part container, all made of a fine glass. At the bottom of the portion that formed the base of the container chamber there was a copper pipe. This pipe extended out to an attachment that held in place a single glass tube with a rounded bottom.

Tollard stepped forward, the black hose trailing behind him.

“Doctor, this was your design. You should do the honors,” Tollard hissed.

I searched her emotions. Bennington felt outrage, horror, and defeat—but not the sting of guilt. She resigned to follow his commands in powerless humiliation, but she would not punish herself for a sin she did not commit, as shocking as her hideous captor could make it.

“Not mine—”

“BUT YOUR PRECIOUS SOCIETY’S!” came the booming accusation.

It was clear to me that Tollard—if this figure was even Tollard anymore—had found an unexpected moment of triumph in our capture, like a boon had finally descended to him from the same cruel heavens that had long cursed him. In this moment, he had decided to pour out his rage and pain, displaying it to his commanded legions with all of the sickly sanctimony of a tyrant.

My mind leapt to Robards for a moment.

That caused Bennington to recall Elizabeth College. Her long years of work. The vials—

As the rat-men beside him pulled a rope, our wooden cage lifted into the air, exposing her—us—to the imposing shape of Tollard looming over us, death-wand in hand as it pumped something through the hose, which dripped a green ichor onto the gray rough-hewn cavern stone.

“You see, when my boys found you, we thought we were out of luck,” Tollard wheezed, the words finding a whistle around his elongated front teeth. “But then you brought us a marvelous gift.”

As if acting as the debased celebrant of a profane ceremony, Tollard held aloft the rifle-like rod to his loyal crowd, using his clawed hand to display it high. With his human hand he twisted the empty glass vial in its socket, dislodging it and casting it to the ground in one fluid motion.

“Bring out the blood,” he called.

From the crowd a pair of wererats stepped forward and produced our equipment, wholesale, as it had apparently been taken along with our unconscious bodies. With a booted foot upon MacTallan’s trunk, Tollard stretched out his hand, and in it, a lieutenant placed one of the vials you sent.

The vial fit the socket perfectly, turning into place with a perfect click.

Upon seeing this I suddenly felt a wave of calm interest flow through Bennington, washing over her like a wind. Something inside her seemed to engage, and I sensed something like a mechanism of thought coming to life. It was her scientific mind, taking hold over her, pushing out the fear.

“What is in that blood?” I asked her, with silent words.

“I don’t think it is what he thinks it is,” she replied.

“YOUR APPARATUS IS READY, DOCTOR!” Tollard abruptly screamed, laughing maniacally at the same time, his eyes blazing, not at her but across his crowds.

Bennington shuffled forward and he pushed the device into her hands.

It was lighter than it seemed; the glass of the original device seemed elegant, benign, almost sacred. The end of it had been cruelly retrofitted with a heavy iron ring, copper piping, and round valve, which joined the long hose extending from the remainder of the machine. A metal trigger device had replaced the original stopper at the top of the plunger.

It was then when I made a suggestion to Bennington. She smiled imperceptibly and agreed.

She stood, in mock defeat, over my unconscious body and the cowering form of MacTallan. He looked up at her—and at once understood. With as much movement as he could muster, he put space between himself and me.

The gray mist that emanated from the device seemed a mixture of the red liquid in the vial and the green ichor that Bennington had showed me in her mind’s eye a few minutes beforehand. The device allowed the solution to atomize and then billow out toward a target, in this case MacTallan. The mist settled quickly upon him and stuck to his exposed skin and clothing, soaking in rapidly, as if he were a sponge.

Nothing happened.

MacTallan smiled at Bennington. “Now.”

Bennington turned and pushed the trigger again, this time aiming squarely for Tollard, who had the wherewithal to take a step back, but not the presence of mind to flee completely. The mist captured him, taking him fully within its boundaries, and magnetizing itself to his form.

His screams reverberated throughout the stone of our chamber. With piteous cries of agony and tortured spasms Tollard began to transform—back into a human.

Bennington wasted no time. Stepping forward, she opened the trigger completely, allowing the hose to run tight with a fast flow from the machine. Spraying first at the vanguard of the creatures nearest to her, she waved the device at any throng of creatures that dared to lunge at her, and then simply any that she could see. As they began to shriek and transform, she then walked along the perimeter of our little circle, letting the stream of gas find any target it could from among the rat-men who had not yet fled in panic.

Several minutes of this went on, and finally Bennington closed the trigger, lowering the device only when she came to rest astride my body. Our enemies now withdrawn and scattered, MacTallan set to freeing himself from his ropes, having found a sharpened blade from among the items dropped by the retreating creatures. Dozens of former wererats, now naked humans, lay before us on all sides, their twitches and convulsions slowing with the end of the transformation process.

I quietly proposed to Bennington that we could at once recover the Rexley Device and ensure that it never was used for corruptive purposes again, and she nodded her assent. Bennington walked over to the machine and switched it off. Holding the device aloft, she brought it down and smashed the end pipe against the side of the machine. The glass broke off inside its copper mount, releasing the remainder of the device to safer hands.

Just then, a fully human and half-naked Tollard stood up, jacket still draped around him, looking much like a forlorn castaway in a drunken stupor.

“You will be coming with us,” Bennington and I heard from behind us, and there stood MacTallan, knife in hand.

I had not seen a violent aspect on the man since I had met him; he seemed spurred in a way, at least to sudden action, perhaps half in the heat of the moment and half as a result of the scene that stretched out before us.

“MacTallan, you’re not hurting anyone,” I heard Bennington say. “Tollard will be coming with us of his own free will—isn’t that right, Captain?”

To my surprise, the broken man simply nodded and cast his gaze downwards.

“Then at least be sure to bring my research with you,” MacTallan said as he nodded toward the chest. Tollard, casting more a figure of a petulant child than a mighty warlord, grimaced but dutifully took hold of the chest.

“What about the others?”

“If this works the way that I think it will, then we can come back for them within a day,” MacTallan offered. “Then we find a way to safely help the others that fled.”

Tollard looked up at MacTallan and the academic met his eyes.

“That’s right, Captain. You were sitting on the bloody thing the entire time.”

MacTallan looked down and found the side of the circle a few feet away. As he walked along its circumference, he called out syllables with every step. As far as I could tell, he was reading the very runes that he saw on the floor, etched deep into the rock. How he was able to discern them from the broken and worn stone, I perhaps will never know, but as he did so, a strange mist began to rise from the floor. As Bennington and I watched, it enveloped us, my inert body, and Tollard, still holding the chest. MacTallan joined us in the center of the circle, and motioned to Bennington to assist in taking up my body. Bennington held up my limp arms as MacTallan lifted up my legs, facing forward.

The mist was as wet and as cold, like a Yuletide fog. It permeated our nostrils, covered our eyes, and slithered its way into our ears. “Just breathe,” I heard MacTallan call out softly into the heavy air.

Our vision went black except for a tiny and faraway point of light, like a star against the deep curtain of space. For a long moment, Bennington tried to focus her eyes on the light, but each time she did so, it seemed to fade. We could both see the light if she viewed it sidelong, using her peripheral vision instead of staring at it directly, as her instinct told her.

“Walk forward—slowly.”

It was like treading in mud: there was no visible source of resistance, but Bennington’s legs seemed as if fettered with a hundredweight chain. I could offer no bolstered will or additional force to her. Time felt slowed, or irrelevant, and even as we appeared to approach the light it seemed to dance away. Bennington and I could see nothing around us, and we could only hear the labored breathing of our two companions.

She shivered from the extreme cold, and although there was no wind, it felt to me like walking into a blizzard. Bennington’s fingers and toes went numb and her ears ached.

“Keep walking,” we heard. MacTallan sounded like a man at the bottom of a deep canyon, calling upward. We could account for no ground gained as we went.

As we did, Bennington’s limbs began to warm, and her steps became less labored. With each passing step, the air became easier to breathe and our vision became clearer.

I cannot say how long we spent in that state, but I recall that my consciousness was fully aware of every passing moment, yet I cannot account for the travel itself to have taken more than a mere second or two of time. When we exited, it felt as if we were awakening to the dawn of a new day with bright light that caressed and welcomed us. When we opened our eyes again, we found ourselves in a courtyard, under a great oak tree, surrounded by stone buildings. The sun shone in the east, a herald of a fresh winter’s morning.

“This is Thornskye.”

We stumbled out for a moment, looking up and around, in disbelief. Tollard set the chest down and fell to his knees, inexplicably weeping. MacTallan and Bennington set my body down onto the ground, the dead grass around me painted with a thin layer of frost.

“This is why it was built—it was what we protected.”

Bennington looked at the professor. “Wait a moment—I thought it was overrun by rat-men.”

“I didn’t say it was safe. But we couldn’t stay there, could we? We need to find a way to help the others who are still back on the island. And this might be a place from where you can carry on your work.”

Bennington looked at MacTallan with a sideways glance. “Society?”

MacTallan smiled back. “Not on your life.”

“What about Rackham?”

“We can’t take the risk of leaving him here. The books will be fine for now. Tollard, take him up.”

Bennington and MacTallan ventured into the university campus quickly, followed by a grunting Tollard. He had shouldered my body, draping me over his back. My mind still joined with Bennington’s, we saw scenes not unlike the school at Innesmere as we followed corridor after endless corridor throughout the buildings. Evidence of struggles and pitched battles, of desperate defenses and daring escapes: doors torn from hinges, toppled walls, broken windows, and smashed furniture, in every corridor and in almost every room we hurried by.

“Up these steps.”

We ascended a wide wooden stair that led to a single door at the landing. Unlike the other doors we had passed, this one looked solid. There was evidence of scratching at the door, but we saw no broken lock.

MacTallan reached around to my neck and slipped off the leather strap with the key.

“I knew enough to let him keep it since the lifeboat. If I had asked for it back, we’d have lost it. But when I saw Thorpe produce it, I knew he had no idea about the key either.”

Bennington smiled. “I had wondered what that was for.”

The lock gave way easily with a turn, and MacTallan ushered us in.

Behind the door was a set of rooms, more ornate than the decoration that was hinted at before Thornskye’s overrun. It seemed to be a place of refuge—and of observation. Several large windows looked out onto the wide forested valley below. The first of the rooms were laid out as small apartments, each with a gas stove, WC, bed, and expensive furniture. Down a wide corridor we discovered what appeared to be a meeting room, a small laboratory, a library, and a larger kitchen.

MacTallan instructed Tollard to set me down onto a bed. He came back after several minutes with the news that the tinned food stores were intact, and that it looked to him that this entire area had gone unmolested by rat-men. The water supply was also still flowing to the kitchen area, he reported, and had located several oil lanterns for use at night.

“We can’t house everyone here,” Bennington finally concluded.

“No, we can’t, and I don’t mean to,” MacTallan replied. “But we can’t leave them on that island, either. Maybe they can find a way—”

“Back to their homes? They don’t have homes anymore.”

MacTallan nodded sadly. “For now let’s take refuge here—it’s our best hope for recovery.”

“And the flyers? They will come to the island and not find us there.”

“This I have an answer to, doctor. Do you think Elizabeth College is the only academic institution with an aero beacon?”

An hour passed and MacTallan returned, out of breath, with the chest of books.

“I’ve done it. We have no way of knowing if Alia or Alona will see the beacon all the way from Greysham. If the storms return it will certainly make that impossible. But on a clear night—we may just get lucky.”

Crane, you now know the rest of the story. For his part, Tollard has been silent: he has made no threatening acts, and in fact seems quite catatonic, spending most of each day on his bed and taking little sustenance. Tomorrow we will attempt to finally unite my consciousness with my body. I may well die in the process, but Bennington assures me we have exhausted all other avenues. If you receive this letter, Alia will tell you whether Bennington has succeeded or failed, as her plans are to remain at Thornskye until the procedure has concluded.

Until then, we have escaped the island, found safe refuge and are reflecting upon our new discoveries. I hope that this letter finds you well—in truth, simply that it finds you.

Bennington, for Rackham

The Isle of Skald, 8 January

Dear Crane,

Alas, the hand that you see here is not mine, but the words are mine; in this you may rest assured. As a man of letters and of science, my friend, you are ever the skeptic, and of course this is what I have ever cherished about you, since the days at Everwood.

Speaking firstly to this, and in recognition of your generosity in reading the words of our good Dr. Bennington with an open heart, your acceptance of what has unfolded has not gone unnoticed or met with ingratitude. With additional forbearance, therefore—and with all the quiet patience of a scientist—I ask you to accept that my mind is now inside hers. No, not as a foreign and marauding presence, like Stratham’s; she is a consenting host. My thoughts and suggestions are only a small guest in the greater mansion-halls of her mind.

Yes, as she wrote in the last message, this strange place has amplified my Ability, providing additional dimensions to it. I feel rather like man who has found a new country, and thinking there had been only one trail to its hinterland instead has found a network of roads, each leading to a different terrain. I have been able to stretch out with my mind, projecting my perceptions as if invisibly floating along the ground. I can certainly read the memories of those on whom I focus, but now I can search out as well, and detect those intelligent creatures that possess memory. And as Bennington reported to you in the last letter, I no longer feel the crushing weight of pain in my cranium as before; now, I am left with a euphoria, an intoxication of the senses perhaps, when I enter into a trance.

Unfortunately that trance did me some harm the last time my physical body emerged from the caves that we have claimed as refuge. I followed the voices that I had heard out there, out in the wild forest, half-hearing them with my ears and half-tracking them with my mind. In the hopes of making contact with the memories I was receiving, I foolishly and abruptly left the company of MacTallan and Bennington—something I understand I ought not to have done, now.

What I saw in my mind that drew me was stirringly hopeful, but, as I came to find out, desperately sad. I saw a family; I saw a father’s pride in his two strong sons, and a mother’s kindness outstretched to envelop them all in nurturing comfort. I read the hard work of a young student, top of his class in the humanities—my favorite subject at Big School, if you will recall—with a letter from his esteemed dean of students proclaiming him the winner of a coveted essay award. His school was The Waterford School, Crane; the same one we found at Innesmere.

My mind looked through the memories as if flipping the pages of an enormous book, filled not with words but with pictures and sounds. I saw a brother looking up with admiration at his older one, older by just two years, wearing his brother’s sweater on the opening day of school. I saw this younger boy run a track and joining friends in an alley for a game football. The younger boy had been taught by the older one to look at the stars through a telescope that their father had built for them. I saw a mother scooping up the younger one after having fallen from a tree, and I saw the father coming home with news of a shuttered factory, prompting a move to Innesmere, where more work was waiting. I saw the streets of that city, its parks and its shops, its folk and its borders, stretched out before my mind’s eye through the eyes of whomever it was that had been remembering these things; and as I tore my way up the mountainside and into its pine forest, quite randomly and aimlessly, the horror of my own memories of that place seemed matched to them, superimposing themselves in my thoughts like two demented Daguerro-graphs from a penny sideshow.

I saw them in a chamber, a cage, built purposefully and cruelly, with restraints to hold the strongest of prisoners. I saw them watch as each was changed—a hideous and painful transformation from naked man to half-rat, rendering them screaming and collapsed. Their bodies covered in hair with bowed legs that supported their now curved, hunched backs, each one clawed at itself, incredulous and maddened to touch a snout that now protruded from an angular face and to find a tail grown from the small of the back. Fully cognizant of their new form after the transformation process, their lycanthropic flesh at once revolted against them and suffocated them, and they beat their breasts from anguish and defeat, until each new victim was dragged from the device by an enslaved underling just as gruesome in visage and form as the changed one.

Rexley. I knew then that I was seeing memories of the Rexley Device.

Blithering about through the woods I had a rudimentary sense of direction, but only relative to the sources of the memories that I had been tracking, and of course without the others I had no map. I had cut no trail as I had meticulously done the days before. The thought struck me that I would have very little idea of the way back unless my Ability was to assist then, and of course I had no way of knowing that. I felt I was closing in on the sources of these memories, and over a small hill I could barely make out a dim glow.

Then, I saw them.

They had made some sort of rough camp, mostly out of sticks and torn branches, with a small, wet fire that afforded little comfort in the cold air. Next to the low firelight I could make out three forms, speaking in harsh, guttural grunts and occasional muted screeches.

As I mentioned, my way had been lacking in cautious pause, as it had been these scenes that had enticed me forward, and the importance of employing stealth had been quite lost on me, and so I must have struck a curious figure, standing on a small rock above their position, framed by tall but bare pines in the moonlight. They looked up at me in alarm and fright, and made a sound that it etched into my heart—an inhuman cry of fury, created by a throat that is somewhere between human and beast, but not wholly either, echoing far into the valley below.

I confess that I did not register the obvious danger that I was currently in, and instead my feet felt bolted to the rock I was standing on. Something inside me knew that if I ran, I would be torn to shreds by these creatures. Instantly I thought of your descriptions of fighting them, back in the days when you had Thorpe and his men as allies and protectors—and knowing I had no such skills for combat (much less sprinting) I decided on another tack, more an act of desperation than it was planning.

I let my mind reach out to them with questions, demanding answers of them as if among them, whispering them into their ears. I decided to use what I had seen in my mind’s eye as a quarry from which to take my inquiries: I asked what they saw in their father’s telescope, what work their father was able to find in the new town, and, most importantly, why they had come here. I posed these silent questions in their very minds, not using any form of language, but pictures of the very memories I had previously viewed to form the basis of our communication; now I was the hostile stranger, the inquisitor of their dreams.

I had no idea, of course, if this technique would work; in hindsight I had let myself remain very exposed, both in an immediately physical sense as well as in a mental sense. I possessed no information about what these creatures before me really were, and, even if they could even communicate with me on some base and banal level, I had no inkling whether they would even desire such contact.

Rather than attack, their screaming ceased, and they looked at each other for a moment in seeming confusion and hesitation. One of them took a step back, its eyes flashing, its head rearing a moment. It was then that I sensed not malice, but shame: the two that had stood around the little fire (flanking the one now looking in my direction) bowed their heads and began to paw at their ears. These two then appeared to cower and seek refuge with the first, who assumed what I perceived to be a comforting role; appealing to this third one for guidance now, they began to step farther back, looking furtively back toward the mountain.

A wave of pity coursed through me, and it overtook my spirit: my horror and vulnerability converted to power, and with it, a sense of pity and wistful comprehension. I attempted to retract my wordless questions, somehow, to position myself now as a student of their experience rather than an authority; but between their own shock in seeing me appear quite suddenly out of the dark and what happened next, there was simply not the opportunity to engage in what would have become a much more meaningful discovery.

For at that moment a green light flashed out from a hidden grotto high on the mountaintop, and its light bathed us, sparing neither wood nor rock. It was as a beacon, but its rays did not beckon and guide—rather, it seemed imperious, both commanding and searching, sweeping itself quickly over the valley in several methodical rotations. Before it touched me I saw a glimpse of the rat-men running back toward it, tripping over their own feet as if in supplication and obedience; and when the light passed over me—or through me I ought to say—my stomach dropped and my head was gripped in an inexorable pain, the point that I thought my temples would burst. I felt the faint trickle of blood from my ears, and to escape it I had enough sense to dive clumsily behind my little rock.

I have no true recollection of finding my way back to the caves near the mountain stream where MacTallan and Bennington were, and I can say that although I was able to return most of the way, I had given up hope of finding them again by the time they ventured out to find me. My mind had gone completely astir, like the babble of a thousand voices, not a one of them a coherent thought, and for all of the new ways my Ability had manifested itself here on this island I was powerless to resist the effects of whatever had taken me.

Bennington very possibly saved my life with the administration of calming laudanum, and perhaps my body welcomed it now out of a demonstrable need. I felt my mind returning to me after some time, and I can sense my body resting comfortably. What is troubling now is that, while I have a keen awareness that I am quite out of danger and that the others are safe, I cannot seem to return to my own body. I see him breathing, and for the last few days Bennington has kept me alive, having designed a rather cunning system for dripping water and broth into my throat while allowing my body to relieve itself.

This has at least given MacTallan his desired time to investigate the ur-Samekh runes more completely and familiarize himself with the books and documentation he now carefully guards in a watertight chest. He is convinced that more runes are found elsewhere, and I have not asked Bennington yet to recount to him the full story of what I found higher on the mountain; he knows only that there were rat-men who I caused to run away with my Ability. Quite a half-truth, certainly, but Bennington agrees with me that before we animate this researcher toward a new goal, it is far better to see if I can heal completely and to allow him additional preparation time.

With your letter in hand, however, Bennington did take occasion to report that the rubbings resulted in a proposed partial translation as “changing the place where I am.” MacTallan agreed enthusiastically with this interpretation, especially to say that the leftmost rune appears to imply a first-person morpheme, as if the runes are meant to be spoken aloud by an activator or operator of the “conveyance line.” This is conjecture, of course, and as I ask Bennington to write this I cannot help but to involuntarily share with her that unnerving vision of the sickly green light.

MacTallan asks in return if the runes carry a sense of the imperative, a command perhaps spoken aloud, where “changing” is thought instead to mean “Change,” as if a keyword or phrase used to begin a process by a recognized user at the outset of an utterance. He thinks that the runes progressing to the right might explain the transition further, for example by naming a place that is the intended destination. His Von Neumann work seems to agree, in that the runes seem to be a right-branching or orthographic language system, and what may follow is not one destination but several, and the speaker is meant to choose the one that corresponds to a desired end point.

Finally, I imagined in my own mind the words that Bennington read as she received your letter, and I can only say that I am sorry to hear of the continued Blight in your various waypoints, and my relief that none of you decided to make a port at any dangerous or unsavory places. I understand your mild frustration at Campbell and his tendency to keep his own counsel; but I can only say that he is not like our other captains (and perhaps thankfully so, at least in the case of Robards), and he might have a plan that perceives more than what is only before him. If he thinks he can find Segismund, then he may well be your best hope for clues, and you are in good hands—much safer than we appear to be here on this forsaken island.

Yet there still is good news here. Alia is very sweet and comforting to me, and lately held vigil over my sleeping form while the weather and time could allow for it; her sorties with her sister remain successful, and we can only guess that Bennington’s letter has “hit home,” so to speak, with its recipient. We have been successfully resupplied, and in time, since the last of the recovered Saxonian rations had run out yesterday. Bennington believes a tincture of morphine, instead of laudanum, might have the effect of putting my body into a deeper sleep so that I might return to it; she likens it to a wall of semi-consciousness that must needs be lowered before I am to traverse it.

I hope then, that the next time I write you, it will be by my own hand, with more discoveries to share, or perhaps some kind of progress made either deeper into or higher up the mountain.

May you have smooth sailing,

Bennington, for Rackham

The Isle of Skald, 29 December

Dear Eliot,

Simply writing your name as I have done here seems a tiny victory, a bastion of control and normalcy in a time of chaos. It hints at a time when we two academicians might have addressed each other out of an informal but pleasant routine, discussing a matter of philosophy or research between us.

I write you partly in that spirit, certainly, but with a greater part arising from necessity; our Benjamin is right now convalescing on a thin mat of leaves and canvas, what could be salvaged among our little stores of clothing and equipment. I have thus taken his solemn office upon myself, and I now, for a while, become the erstwhile storyteller of our progress here on Skald, and the dangers we have yet to face.

I hope that you accept my words as written here, and welcome them as true and complete. I understand from Benjamin many of the trials you have faced, and the strange things you have learned; he has been generally forthcoming with accounts of what your part of the expedition has encountered and survived, including what remained of Elizabeth College and your dealings with Sanders. I do not expect to recruit you to our cause, nor that you can be swayed to believe in our mission. I cannot for myself say that our cause yet remains true and our mission means anything in the world anymore, and I would not waste what precious time we have trying to convince you of a vision that is only a hollow vapor, even if I believed that there was a time when I was not misled.

Instead, I hope only for your attention in several matters, as I feel that a greater good of discovery is about to be fulfilled. Upon this we might have an understanding and alliance, if nothing else.

First: Benjamin. This island has had quite an effect on him, I believe it is safe to say, and in my own personal observations the simple fact of being here has had an effect in mirror-reverse than the Essen telesmai (forgive me if I do not use the word “ward,” but instead use the term that was given to them by those of us who shared in their research, from the ancient Hellenic). His mind-vision seemed to grow and extend each passing day that we spent here, and nightly he would report to me feelings of momentary euphoria.

Over this last week, I decided to study him and take notes. Each evening, I asked him to lie still in the same position and perform the same mental activities that would allow him to reach out with his mind. On each separate occasion, he consistently described the sensation of music, or rhythm, filling him—not a storm of noise that had previously been typical—and upon pulling himself out of his self-induced trance, he described a pleasurable sensation and the ability to push his focus effortlessly between MacTallan and I, even though MacTallan was well away in an adjacent cave.

Yesterday morning, he confided in me that his mind-projection had been strong enough that he was able to perceive other minds that were present besides MacTallan and I, and he had become convinced that there were others on the island. I should make a note here that, up until then, we had not faced the idea that the island could be currently inhabited; the old storage bunker that I know Benjamin described to you seemed as if it had been empty for years, and the southern part of the island had seemed so overgrown with forest and devoid of the evidence of civilization that the thought of others here now simply never occurred to us.

“I saw them,” I recall Benjamin saying, rousing from sleep.

At first my mind lept to those shapes in the stormy mists on the surface of the water, and I shuddered in horror.

“They have memories—memories of horrible things,” Benjamin continued.

I reached for my notes. “This was a dream you had?”

“No—I have been awake now for an hour. I have been tracking them.”

“Are—they coming here?” I asked, my breath caught in my throat.

“It does not seem so. They seem to be searching, going in circles. They remember—digging.”

His eyes locked onto mine, and for a moment I felt as if he had transmitted to me thoughts of Innesmere.

“Of course they remember horrible things. They’re monstrous—”

“No,” he interrupted. “Memories from before.”

I stared at him, forgetting completely about my notes for the moment. I felt my palms dampen with sweat.

He nodded slowly, eyes fixed but somehow sad now. “They had families, jobs, neighbors. I saw ships and ocean voyages—whoever they were, they were brought here.”

I felt Benjamin look into me with a terrifying force. I knew that this was not the time for walls.

Eliot, please believe that I now feel that whatever my Society did must now be laid bare—there has to be a greater good that can arise from all of this. I must believe that. I cannot have been part of something horrid and evil. If I was—then I cannot allow myself to remain unchanged.

At any rate, at that moment, Benjamin stood up and muttered something akin to I think I can speak to them. He then exited the cave, with myself shouting words of caution and restraint after him.

When he did not return after four hours, MacTallan and I decided that it was time that one of us do a search of the area—not knowing, of course, how far he had strayed. Since I am a physician and we feared that physical harm had come to him, I was the obvious choice; but at the same time, neither MacTallan and I were versed in combat should it come to that, and we knew whatever time we had to search would be short.

Very fortunately—for both of us—I found him not too far from the mountain stream nearby, some hundred yards or so from the mouth of the cave. I found him collapsed against a rock; apparently, he had half-crawled, half-stumbled back to our encampment. I summoned MacTallan and we carried him the rest of the way, his body slack.

While his clothing seemed a bit disheveled and he had been sweating profusely, he otherwise bore no evidence of a fight—no lacerations, no bruises, no bites, no scratches. After making a first pass to assess superficial injuries, and then later performing a more complete assessment of his condition after MacTallan and I were able to set up a resting place for him, I catalogued what I now believe are symptoms of extreme mental trauma. I noted enlarged pupils, rapid breathing as if in a nightmarish sleep, skin that was slick with cold sweat; his pulse was quickened as if in terror, but his limbs were as limp as a dead man’s.

I forced a drink of fresh water from the stream with a drop of laudanum down his throat, opening his esophagus to prevent gagging. Thanks to the bouyancy of the medical kit that had washed ashore from the wreckage of the lost submersible, I have some supplies, most notably pain-killing opiates, kept in tight War-era metal cases. I am pleased to say that the laudanum seemed to calm whatever mental torments he was experiencing, and today he rests comfortably, but still quite unconscious.

This gives me the time to put in writing a few pieces of information that you may find useful, intriguing, or both, even though they may not directly inform your current mission—which, if you forgive me, I read this morning within the pages of your letter of December 23, which Alia put into my hands given Benjamin’s condition.

Before I come to those subjects, I should note to you that Alia is here with us now, certainly because of her enduring bravery, but also because of her ingenuity and excellent planning—traits shared with her sister. I suppose I could say that we three Bennington women have learned these qualities from our father; but I chose the route of quiet research whereas the twins became enamored by mechanisms, flight, and adventure in the same way he was. At any rate, Alona flies sorties between Greysham and the mooring tower on the Sigsbee, and Alia completes the leg of the journey between Greysham and the landing area on the southern part of the island. From there she uses the flight suit to reach us at predetermined coordinates. Our two flyers coordinate time lags between round trips and calculate in storm movements, which, at least between here and Albion, appear to have a discernible cyclical pattern, according to Alia’s flight logs.

I can guarantee, at least for now, safe landings at Greysham for a reason that will become apparent when you read a copy of an enclosed letter that I have asked Alia to give to Bledsoe on her return trip, but for now I would like to discuss what I know about Rachel, your companion, and inasmuch as you describe, your savior from Robards.

I know Rachel, and in fact I spent some considerable time at the College with her—or perhaps more accurately, in her presence, since she was as much an enigma to me then as she is to you now. Rachel was indeed discovered among the excavations at Essen; what we learned from two years of research and observation is scant, but you should have the details in their entirety.

We could never establish her true place of origin; and as you have already confirmed, her ethnic makeup and features do not match those of the known indigenous peoples that had inhabited the Essen valley in what is today central Saxonia, such as the Olmanni or Aetheli tribes. The fact that she returned to life shortly after her transport to the College was itself a testament to her otherworldly qualities, and yet in most respects she looks and acts—well, human.

I also recall a team of linguists failing to ascertain the origin of whatever scant handful of words she did speak in her time with us. You mentioned in your letter hearing her speak syllables, possibly in ur-Samekh, when holding aloft the telesma. Given what you describe, MacTallan agrees with your conclusion, and we can say that you may be one of the only people in the world today that has heard her speak this ancient language, if indeed that is what it was.

The majority of what we learned of Rachel was from our medical study of her: she accepted, to a limited extent, our tests and procedures, perhaps guided by some sense that we were not there to harm her, but learn what we could about her. My own theory regarding the harmonic energy storage and transfer that is facilitated by a human blood came from tests performed on blood extracted from her veins. I believe Benjamin referred to the term “superstrata” in a letter to you several months ago; he was correct in this word in that evidence points to condition present in the blood of some humans—not all—that allows the blood to act as conduit or vehicle for forces originating from a spiritual or aetherial world. It is not a substance, but more a specialized type of cell.

Eliot, as we are students of science, we know that all phenomena can be described in explicable and observable states; even where we do not understand, we believe scientific inquiry can give us the eyes to see. My eyes glimpsed the terrible and tortured shadows of those who lost their lives in the recent years to the horror and devastation Albion has seen—they were walking out on the very waves of the sea, dancing around the funnels of the black storm. I am a woman of science, and yet I cannot account for what I know I observed, but when we reach our goal, I am determined to do so, and share what I know with you.

The samples of blood you sent me via Sanders may very well be the last link to this theory that exists in the world, now that the College was reduced to ruin by Robards, and Thornskye was lost to the rat-creatures. In fact, I believe that what you have sent me is a concentrated version of what we extracted once from Rachel, although I do not recognize the tube-like vials as anything we used in the laboratories. Also, there seems to be a little more than a pint here among the twelve vials; I have no memory that we had more than what few droplets of blood Rachel allowed to be extracted from her fingertips.

Finally, a word about MacTallan and what he has found. I mentioned earlier in this letter that we had been taking shelter in a system of caves. These are loacted at the foot of the mountain that dominates the northern half of Skald, and they were found by Benjamin, who had been able to cut a trail northward after our discovery of the Society bunker. The valley below is bisected by a little stream, from which we have thankfully taken fresh, clean water.

MacTallan has had this little time to scan the Von Neumann work and he has—rather enthusiastically—reported that it contains his mentor’s descriptions of the utilization of something called “conveyance lines.” Essen was, in fact, one of these, as was this island, although the maps and notes that Von Neumann makes indicates that the mountain on this island was submerged at the time of the professor’s research. As a further twist to the mystery of this place, Von Neumann theorizes that some kind of bridge exists between points on the same conveyance line, whereby ancient peoples used to travel instantly between them. What method or mechanism was used to perform this, however, is not yet clear.

Just this morning, MacTallan has found what he believes are ur-Samekh runes etched upon walls deeper into the cave system where we are now. He does not date to excavate further without more equipment and help, and with Benjamin in the state he is, I am afraid that this is quite impossible, even if we could assure that the passages that wend their way into the roots of the mountain were safe. In a later letter either Benjamin or I will endeavor to describe or depict these runes in their entirety; for now, MacTallan has made a crude rubbing of the first of these that he has encountered, which I have enclosed.

Finally, speaking of enclosures, I mentioned earlier that I was going to provide a copy of the letter I am sending to Bledsoe via Alia when she flies out next, which ought to be tomorrow at the latest. I know that you may not understand everything you read in the letter to him, and I take several risks in openly showing it to you: but for the sake of my sisters and the greater success of our discovery, you have it, for whatever it is worth.

My best wishes to you, Eliot, as you steam off to find Segismund; may he have additional answers that we need.


– – – – –


If need be, I will send a missive to Southeby that will cancel your contract immediately. That means you will have no protection—you will not be able to hide behind your town any longer.

I will do this if either of the flyers are hampered in any way. Even if you detain the one flyer, the other will still reach us. By reading this, you must now know that your pathetic ploy to sabotage the mission has failed and that we have reached Skald successfully. And, oh yes—it does exist.

It was a poor decision to fall in with the NCHC, or at least those who you thought were on authority to speak for them. You are a small man and think in small ways. Who do you think really sent Thompson?

At any rate, as surety for your obedience and as a signal that you fully comprehend what I am saying here, you will place with Alia the complete package of Rackham’s correspondence with Crane, and you will destroy the copies I know you have already made. When next she returns, Alia will confirm for me that she has watched you burn the copies down to ash, and Rackham will confirm that all of the catalogued letters and documents are present.

Unless this is done exactly as I describe, my next correspondence is with Southeby.

Dr. Charlotte Bennington