Highmark, 31 May

22 May

Dear Uncle Friedrich,

Finally, at long last, I’m taking the time to write you again. It feels strange, because it has been so long, and because I have a feeling this letter will end up being longer than my report for La Commission or even my note to Maman. Not because I’m being overzealous in my duties as liaision to your Society, but because you may be one of the only people who can make sense of the things I have seen.

Let’s see … I last wrote you on the sixteenth of February, after which there were predictable delays from my superiors getting all the approvals and logistics for attempting a crossing to Albion. By the time I boarded a nimble schooner on the north coast of Garnsey under cover of night, it was already the fifth of March. That puts our landfall at Yarmouth on the seventh of that month.

The crossing went about as well as could be expected. That is to say, by some miracle we managed to avoid the vortex storms around the island, and had a period of strangely smooth sailing after that, but once in sight of the coast of Albion the storms appeared out of nowhere and pursued us like hounds. Our ship crashed into shore, ejected by the swirl of a gigantic vortex – the keel was split in the process, and maybe 2 out of 3 sailors survived the impact. I was spared all that by virtue of having been thrown overboard, which at the time felt like a death sentence, but by swimming myself to exhaustion I managed to get ashore via what turned out to be the far more comfortable route.

I will not regale you with the names and personalities of the Gallian soldiers and sailors who washed up with me on Albion. Not because some of them weren’t interesting, but because they are all dead. Yarmout took only the first of them. There was a haze there, a miasma in the air, thankfully only in limited pockets, though we stumbled upon one of those before we knew better. Those it did not kill outright it drove mad, and they had to be put down. As best as we could tell the haze had once covered the whole city, probably driving enough people crazy that they tore themselves apart. There was some evidence of arouranthrope activity but not enough to explain the desolation we found.

Interestingly, the naval station there had a secure bunker, underground near the port district, which had been unsealed within the past few months. Weapons, ammo, and supplies had been taken, but some strange-looking canisters had been left behind. I can’t help but wonder if the poisonous haze is not a direct result of some meteorological event, but instead related to whatever was in the canisters. I had no desire to open one in order to find out, and the lieutenant (oh, very well, one name: DeBarge) would not have allowed it in any case.

If, after I’m done relating all I have to relate, you add up the events and look at a calendar and wonder where all the time went, let me remind you: most of our time was exceedingly boring. Crash landing! Deadly gas! Mysterious bunker! Followed by, no lie, a full week of building-to-building searches, cartography, water samples, soil samples, etc. etc. That was how it things went as long as the rest of my countrymen lasted. We made our way inland, north from Yarmouth, and every desolate village, crossroads trading post, or abandoned farm was an occasion for at least a day’s worth of information-gathering, if not more.

I had wanted to cut east to the village of Howgate, which Robards had indicated on his map was the place they had actually disembarked from, and which he had labeled as “unmolested by troubles.” Speaking to the actual people of Albion seemed – to me anyway – to be a very sensible thing to try to do, but DeBarge would have none of it. On our northward route we did spot other people, but only at a distance, and none of them ever elected to approach our band of heavily-armed strangers.

The first tragedy after Yarmouth happened toward the beginning of April, and fell squarely in line with the horror stories we had heard out of Albion and all the things we had dreaded seeing but had not yet seen. We came upon a … gash in the countryside. Three meters across, perhaps ten meters long. Our first casualty was the poor soul scouting ahead, who literally fell in without seeing it. By the time the rest of us arrived his cries for help from below were distant, and then cut short. The appearance of the rift had clearly been a recent event, but appeared to pose no danger other than its unobtrusiveness and the steep fall. We were well-equipped with ropes, so DeBarge ordered a group to carefully descend and (hopefully) rescue their comrade.

The cries of those first to descend started as soon as they were to lost to sight in the gloom. Then something below yanked on the ropes with tremendous force, and the two whose job it had been to anchor them were pulled in as well. Then, when half a dozen men were standing on the edge, craning their necks to try to see below, the tentacles emerged. Long, sinewy, like those of an octopus but with lizardlike scales and no suctions. Four more were lost to the pit in that moment, including DeBarge.

And me? I had been deemed (perhaps not inaccurately) to be utterly useless in situations like this and instructed to remain well clear of the rift. So I saw it all and could do nothing.

The highest ranking survivor was an aging sergeant of the Gallian Expeditionary Force who, I have no doubt, would have given the order to make for home right then and there had we not lost our boat. As things stood there was no safe option, no clear way home, and according to the map we were close enough to Highmark that we may as well continue.

The second tragedy was not supernatural in nature; I guess you could call it a secondary effect. We came across an abandoned town., though not one eerily deserted like most we had seen … more like Yarmouth, with ample evidence of violence and bloodshed. There were many white husks which seemed similar to the descriptions in your lab reports. Some evidence of rat-men or perhaps another allomorph. And then … the marauders.

I would like to think that the citizens of this town, those who had survived, had left for elsewhere. I would like to think that those who attacked us were a band of evil men who had entered the town later. They wore patchwork clothing and carried improvised weapons, most prominently swords, spears, and maces looted from some castle or museum, making them seem like creatures out of time. Their faces were painted in the manner of the recalcitrant Caledonian tribesmen of old. And they wanted nothing more than blood. They came at us like berserkers without even a thought of communicating. They were animals, and that is why I want to believe they were already evil men. If they were survivors from this town, reduced to something less than human by the extremity of their circumstances … that would be hard to bear.

They were encamped at the church at the center of town. I think they must have spotted us when we first arrived, and sent a group the long way around to flank us when we reached the town square in the shadow of the steeple. We had been wary and were not caught off-guard, and we had firearms. But they had numbers, and fanatical determination.

I killed someone for the first time that day, with the rifle of a fallen Gallian. I’d like to think my woeful aim other than that contributed some tactical advantage, but I doubt it. Only three of us survived, including myself and the sergeant. The obstinacy of our foes left no room for prisoners or wounded survivors on either side. Every last one of them perished rather than surrender. We decided to burn all the bodies, and when we saw how our enemies lived inside the church, and what they had done to the women and children there, we agreed that the church should burn too.

We found plenty of lamp oil in storage under the nave. The sergeant and I set about soaking wooden supports and scaffolding as best we could. We heard a rifle shot from outside, and ran to find our other fellow survivor dead, staring down the barrel of his own gun. Misfire or suicide, who can say?

Finally, when the night sky was aglow with our building-sized pyre, the roof collapsed, the steeple tipped, and the plummeting church bell broke loose, ricocheted off a crossbeam, and hit the sergeant – lost in his own thoughts, staring into the flame – squarely on the head, ending him.

I laughed then. I don’t mind saying it now, since I have in some measure recovered, but I laughed long and hard at the absurdity of it all, and anyone who had seen me at that moment would have thought me mad, and they probably would have been right.

I cannot account for all the time in the next few weeks. When I finally left that town I was making for Highmark, but not out of any sense of determination or duty, only the sense that any direction would be as good as another to meet a colorful and/or laughable death. That I had been the one to survive was such a ludicrous proposition that every moment I failed to expire felt like a mistake, an error of arithmetic in the cosmic ledger.

The remainder of my journey to Highmark consists of fever dream fragments:

Neat hedgerows extending to the horizon, their smooth lines broken by a swath of destruction that might have been left by a boulder the size of a house.

Fingers of rock pushed up out of the earth, still smoldering.

A lake, its surface ominously tinted yellow, constant undulations suggesting massive things moving under the surface.

A single arctanthrope, head down, arms taut, pulling an entire wagon step by slow step toward London.

London. Albion’s capital, and yet, not a word from anyone as to its fate from all those interviewed by La Commission. What started to become clear when our group first examined abandoned farms and villages, and what I confirmed in my solitary wanderings, is that the inhabitants of these places, to the extent they survived, packed up their most precious belongings and made for London.

Not me, though. My road ended north and west of there, in what I can in retrospect deduce must have been the last week of April.

So now we come to Highmark. I should say right away that what I found there is not as interesting as who I found, or rather, who found me. But the “what” came first so let me get that out of the way.

The location is somewhat remote, sleepy villages and country estates (all abandoned) sprinkled across low, gloomy hills. The Albionese word for the terrain is “moors,” which certainly evokes the right mood. Robards’ map took on some extra detail here, because no roads lead to Highmark. It is a solitary hill, too rocky for grazing, utterly unremarkable, and, given the foggy haze that seems ever-present on the moors, not particularly conducive to scenic views from the top either. When I finally arrived I saw nothing unusual and let out one last laugh at my life, which at that moment seemed to have culminated in a divine joke told in exceptionally bad taste.

But then a patch of fog cleared and I saw a structure. It was not immediately clear whether a crack had appeared in the hillside, revealing it, or whether some force had caused it to burst up from the ground. Either way, its emergence seemed like something that could be dated back months, not years or centuries. And as I approached I saw the cleared ground of a former encampment, supplies left behind – I had no doubt that this was the place where Rackham’s infamous expedition had explored, and where something happened to Crane, Robards … perhaps others.

The revealed entrance led to a staircase, spiraling tightly downwards into the hill, ending in a corridor whose walls were decorated with multiple lines of intricate runes. And here is where you helped to bring me back from the edge of insanity, uncle. I am describing these things vividly, but remember that at the time I was still walking around in a cloud of despair. Those runes, though – when I saw them I realized they were just the sort of thing that you and LaGrande would love to see, and that it was my job to dutifully copy them down. And I still had paper and writing implements in the pack on my back, since I had been the one carrying them in the first place.

The prospect of a concrete task helped clear my mind. I wasn’t thinking about what would happen after, but if I could map the site and catalogue the runes and other details, well then, perhaps I could starve in peace if it came to that.

Exploring the rest of the site was no hard task: the corridor led to a large chamber with an upright stone in the center, with branching corridors from that point. Some led to empty rooms with no clear purpose. One led to a room where a narrow shaft allowed a beam of sunlight to shine down upon a table. Another had long shelves carved into the walls such as might be found in a crypt or catacombs.

I’m no expert, obviously, but something about the place felt … industrious, as if things were meant to happen there, or to be made. But there were no artifacts, no machinery. Just an abundance of runes, everywhere.

The stone, then, was the highlight. I guess I would call it “obelisk-like.” Surprise surprise, it too was carved with runes, on all four sides, though those were blackened, resembling soot stains from a fire, though there was nothing anywhere to burn.

Anyway, I started taking notes, writing it all down, taking measurements, and all of that will ultimately give you a much clearer picture of Highmark than my words, so I’ll leave off and jump ahead to when things got interesting. I was about a week after my arrival. I was in the stone chamber, trying my hand at yet another sketch of the thing – not my forte – and going very slowly since I did not have enough paper to afford mistakes.

My back was to the entrance corridor, and I had the feeling that I was being watched, but I had become accustomed to a bit of paranoia in my solitary wanderings, so that in and of itself didn’t alarm me. At some point I did glance back, though, and dropped my pencil. A man was standing there, calmly watching me.

Everything about him seemed out of place … though I don’t know what would count as in place in that context, now that I think about it. His clothing was so travel-worn it made mine seem fresh-pressed by comparison. Over it all he wore a swath of fabric draped around in the manner of a desert nomad.

His hair was grey, his beard salt-and-pepper, though not so long as the one I had grown since arriving in Albion. By his bearing I would have guessed him to be of fit middle-age, but the wrinkles around his piercing green eyes suggested someone much older.

“Good afternoon,” I said, in Albionese, aiming for casual cheerfulness, but, being a bit out of practice with that sort of thing, failing miserably.

He cocked his head, thoughtfully, then shook it.

“Not Albionese,” I ventured. “Thank Deus, neither am I. What then?” He had a little of the Teuton bearing about him, so I switched to Saxonian, such as I could. “What brings you to this lovely place?”

I sensed recognition then, and perhaps, at the risk of flattering myself, a touch of bemusement. His eyes calmly surveyed the room, settling on my makeshift sleeping pad and pile of supplies in the corner.

“You are Gallian,” he finally, said, in oddly accented Gallian.

“Guilty as charged!” I replied, delighted to be slipping into my mother tongue. “And how about yourself? Your accent is hard to place. You are something of a mystery.”

“Yes,” he said simply, and began walking around the chamber, looking around.

I followed behind him, holding my tongue (with some difficulty) as he completed a walk-through of the entire facility. It was the way he was looking at it all that I found most unusual. He did not have my what-the-hell-is-this-strange-place attitude, but neither was it the kid-in-a-candy-store curiosity that I would have expected from an archaeologist or historian. His gaze would linger, or he would touch the stone, at places that to me had seemed unremarkable. Occasionally his brow furrowed. He looked like a ship captain examining the hull of his vessel, or an engineer at a building site. Finally I could not resist interjecting.

“You seem to be familiar with this place,” I blurted. He looked at me then, holding my gaze for long enough for it to get uncomfortable, before finally speaking.

“I have been trying to get here for a long time,” he said.

“Ah, of course,” I said. “You had to make the crossing as well? Not exactly tourist season here, is it? At least overcrowding isn’t a problem. How did you manage?”

He ignored my question as we returned to the main chamber and he walked around the stone slowly, examining the strange burn marks. “Sadly, I am too late. There has already been an activation. The power is gone.”

“Yes, um, well … it wasn’t me. I mean, there were other people here. Months ago.”

He nodded. “They did not know what they were doing. They are probably dead.”

“Actually, not as far as I know. They survived and there were some … interesting developments.”

At this, he looked up sharply. “Where are they now?”

“I don’t know. I was trying to figure out where they had been, not where they were going.”


His simple question brought me up short. Official Gallian government business? Personal desire to “fix”Albion? Catastrophically misguided sense of adventure? Thankfully, he took my confused moment of hesitation itself as an answer. He nodded quietly, then left, returning shortly afterward from outside with his own shoulder pack. He rolled his own mat onto the floor across the chamber from my own.

“So … you’re staying,” I asked.

“For a while,” he answered. “If I left now, you would die.”

It took my over a week to understand what he meant by that. I assumed that he knew of other marauders nearby who might pose a threat, or perhaps some ancient monster whose job it was to guard the place. Our days passed quietly – despite my frequent attempts at conversation, it became clear he had already spoken more words than he was accustomed to speaking, and preferred silence. I continued the slow tedious work of recording every bit of information about Highmark I could manage. Sometimes he wandered, sometimes he meditated. At one point he hunted deer with a simple spear, none to soon – to say I hadn’t been taking care of my bodily needs was something of an understatement.

Finally I realized that when he said I would die, it was not because of some outside danger. He had seen through my bravado when we first met, recognized my lack of will to survive, and perhaps also my lack of expertise even had I possessed the will. He had been quietly supervising my recovery, physical and mental.

I came to this epiphany while eating deer stew, sitting across from him at the campfire we maintained just outside Highmark, among the detritus of the old expedition. “Thank you,” I said out loud. “I think if you left now I might survive.”

He nodded. “You might.”

“Instead … how about we travel together? I mean to get back to Gallia. I know people who would love to talk to you. Perhaps they would be better at asking the right questions.”

He smiled. “That will not happen.”

“I see. Well then, at least … let me know your name.”

He looked up in alarm. “My true name?”

“Well, not if you don’t want, I mean … whatever you want me to call you.”

He thought for a moment. “Call me Ros,” he said. He pronounced it somewhere between “Roos” and “Ross”; not really sure how to render that.

“And I’m Bertie,” I said.

That was when I decided it was time to write some of this down. Letter and reports, at long last, have been my work of the past few days, in the quiet of the stone chamber, or across the campfire from the enigmatic Ros. I will leave this off for now, and add more when our next steps give us something new to report.

31 May

I can hardly believe it even as I am writing this, but: I am in receipt of your letter, the one from all the way back in March! And I have an opportunity to finish this letter as well, with at least a reasonable chance of it making its way to you, via Sanders’ Society channels. If those channels will still work, that is, given your shifting loyalties. I never would have guessed you were so fickle, dear uncle!

Actually, even though I’m making light of it, the fact of the matter is I wouldn’t be writing to you at all, at least not candidly like this, in other circumstances. You have admitted to me that you have joined “them,” and it’s a Them I know next to nothing about. In Maman’s parlance, you are therefore a Potentially Compromised Asset, and my correspondence with you should be continued only with utmost caution. The problem is, the news I received from home at the same time as your letter has severely limited my options. There has been something of a shake-up at La Commission, apparently, and things are moving more quickly than expected. Garnsey has been occupied by the Gallian fleet. And Maman has had to make herself … scarce. OK, to be blunt, she is in hiding and has instructed me not to attempt contact. So I can’t be frank with her, and I daren’t be frank with La Commission. That leaves you.

My time with Ros was peaceful, if not quite as informative as I hoped. Some people take a bit of time to “warm up” to another person or a situation and come out of their shell. You’d think that weeks of being camping buddies on a desolate moor would serve to break the ice and loosen his tongue. Deus knows it loosened mine. But at the end of the day there were really only two things of import that I learned from him.

First of all, Highmark is definitely tied to your Weltstufe theory. It functions, or was supposed to function, as something between a power source and an emergency first aid kit. The entrance literally sinks and rises … or is hidden and is revealed, not sure which … in a cyclical fashion, so that the place is only available at need, in order to, as he put it, “weather the storm.” How that’s supposed to work I still have no idea, but what actually happened was that Rackham’s expedition found the place and managed to “activate” it haphazardly. The fact that that didn’t end in complete catastrophe appeared to give Ros some measure of hope, actually.

Second, while he came all the way to Albion specifically to find this place, he is also looking for someone. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that he lost someone, and while he has no trail to follow, he is always hoping for a clue that will lead him in the right direction. It was the only thing he ever asked me directly: whether I had seen a woman, someone who looked a little like him, who perhaps also seemed out of place.

“You mean someone who never answers questions and is creepily comfortable around strange runes and ancient ruins?” I said at the time.


“Nope, sorry, haven’t seen her.”

And that’s all I have to report on Ros, because from the moment we first spotted the silhouette of a flyer approaching in the morning sky, he gathered his things, nodded a curt farewell, and left, clearly not wanting to be discovered. I, on the other hand, threw extra logs on the campfire and waved my arms and whooped and hollered, right up to the point when that miraculous contraption settled down in a clearing at the foot of the hill and a woman vaulted out of the cockpit.

I moved to embrace her. It didn’t seem strange at the time. It is the Gallian way, after all, and I hadn’t seen another person other than Ros in quite some time, and hadn’t seen a woman in even longer than that. I don’t think it was a particularly aggressive embrace, but she turned out not to be a cuddly sort of person, and before I knew what was happening she had twisted around within my grasp and used my own momentum to toss me over her shoulder, flipping head over heels and landing on my back at her feet, gasping for breath.

“You must be Bertie,” she said, clearly unimpressed. “I am Alia.”

I’ll skip past the first hour or so of our conversation, in which I kept finding new ways to annoy and anger her in spite of myself. For example, when I learned that she had just been to Garnsey, and that Sanders was the one who asked her to come to this area and look for me here, I assumed that she was a Society operative. When I said as much, the ice in her glare brought me up short. “I answer to no one,” she said through clenched teeth. When I wondered out loud at one point whether there was room for two on that magnificent flying device of hers, she demurred with a rather pointed comment about “too much dead weight.”

Fortunately, we were stuck with each other, and ultimately she proved far more communicative than Ros. She had been operating in Albion all this time, carrying messages and light supplies among groups of survivors, most notably between the halves of Rackham’s expedition, which split up after Highmark. I put my cards on the table, explaining my interest in allomorphic transformations and how that had led me here, even explaining that I was no longer entirely sure who, exactly, I was doing this on behalf of any more, but that if I could find Rackham or his friend Crane it would certainly be a big help.

Then something unexpected happened: a tear slid down her cheek. I had not realized until that moment that her remarkable poise was only a mask. That single tear was the only evidence she allowed, and she remained guarded even after that, but still saw fit to share with me the source of her concern.

She had been blackmailed. She had recently flown to the island of Skald to meet with Rackham’s group (she would not at first admit the destination, but on a hunch based on your information, I guessed correctly). But when she arrived she found no sign of them, and was instead captured by forces which had occupied by the island, led by one Dr. Amory Brown. Brown told her that Rackham’s people were his prisoners, and they would surely be killed if she did not deliver a letter to Sanders on Garnsey – a forgery, ostensibly from Rackham himself – and return with the reply. Her stop at Highmark was en route back to Skald.

Obviously she had been cautioned to utmost secrecy about this blackmail, so I was a little surprised that she had confided in me. But I do not believe she was lying. I asked her why she was telling me any of it.

“If you make it back home,” she said. “Perhaps you will see fit to put a knife in Brown’s eye for me.”

“I would like nothing better than to please you, cherie, but my home is Les Rives.”

“He is there.”

“I don’t understand. I thought he was waiting for you on Skald?”

“He is resourceful. You will understand if you meet him.”

It is perhaps a testament to all the time I spent with Ros that I accepted her infuriatingly cryptic answer. Clearly I was out of practice in getting people to talk, and besides, I didn’t have a whole lot in the way of leverage.

And now I must conclude this letter, because she is leaving. She has promised to deliver it to Sanders for me when next she makes it to Garnsey. I spoke with her briefly about where I should head next in order to, you know, not die. I told her I was considering London.

“No, I would not go to London if I were you.”

“Where then?”

“Back south. Your people will be arriving soon, in force.”

South it is, then. Wish me the best. One final regret: there are some finishing touches I wish to make to my catalogue of Highmark. I will keep the notes with me until the next chance I get to write.

Feeling not so much a sapling in the midst of the ashes,

As a leaf blowing on the wind, I remain,

Your dutiful nephew,


The Isle of Skald, 20 June

My Dear Rackham,

There is too much to say, and not enough time. You wrote to me not expecting that your letter would be found, but I have found it. You expected to be dead; I know in my heart that you live. But you are not here, and I dare not linger, so I will write as fast as I can.

Know this: your grief is my grief, and my heart goes out to you for all you have lost and what you have endured. You were not able to include many details of your last three weeks of hell, but they are not necessary, because I saw them too. Some of the time, I was even at your side.

To explain that, I should go back to the conveyance chamber in the Black Mountains, a story whose last chapter you heard about not from me but from LaGrande. I could write an entire letter detailing that fight and my speculations about just what those creatures were, but it will have to wait. Suffice it to say, when the attack came, I saw the conveyance line as our best means of escape. I was able to get LaGrande out (with my previous letter), and my stalwart companions fought bravely to hold the enemy off for long enough to save some of the others, as well.

As we entered the In-Between, my experience could not have been more different than the first time. Why? This time, I knew what to expect. Adrenaline, rather than trepidation, coursed through my veins. But also: I had just used my Ability to aid LaGrande, and I honestly cannot remember to what extent, at the moment when we left, I was ghosted. At any rate, I had the same perception of an interconnected web of destinations laid out before me, but this time without the fear. I set us on a course, as it were, for Caeradarn.

I have no idea how long the trasition took, but it was long enough for me to look out with my mind’s eye and perceive some of the other destinations. Having studied the map that MacTallan sent I even found myself able to get my bearings. I felt in control: like I was not even bound by the destination that I had recited in my incantation. I could go anywhere.

That is when I made an impetuous decision, in a moment when I felt giddy with power. It was almost certainly ill-advised, and if you will agree that in the end it turned out for the best, it did so only by the narrowest of margins, because I have been able to accomplish so very little … but I digress. I knew I could go anywhere, but I also knew that my companions had injuries and that I had no right to decide for them. And so first we continued to Caeradarn.

“Step forward,” I said to them, there in the mists of the In-Between.

“Oughn’t you go first?” said Van Dyke, between grunts of pain from a broken rib.

“Not this time,” I replied.

“What the hell does that … Crane? Where are you? I can’t even see you.”

“I’m right here! Please, my friend, step forward.”

Van Dyke hesitated. Sharma did not: he gave a glance to Jacobs, who unceremoniously slung Van Dyke over his shoulder and the three of them moved out of the mist, into the conveyance chamber at Caeradarn. As if through a haze, I could even see the guard stationed there, one of Campbell’s men, mouth agape as they suddenly appeared before him.

But I did not go through. I drifted back to the heart of the In-Between and focused my attention somewhere else:


I knew from your letter on the 4th of May that your group hoped to use the conveyance lines to return there. You had alluded to needing some weeks to prepare. I thought I might find you there, or, if you had not yet arrived, that perhaps I might use my newfound affinity with the conveyance lines to help you arrive safely. And it all worked perfectly: I emerged from the mists into the conveyance chamber on Skald, a place that I only knew from your letters. I was alone for a few moments, looking around in wonder, but also somewhat puzzled because something seemed different about my vision. I sensed the presence of things more clearly, but their fine details were blurrier, if that makes any sense. The darkness did not seem to prevent me from seeing.

Then two were-rats entered the chamber. I did not have time to hide, so I stood my ground, trusting my Ability to help me contend with them if need be. But they did not respond to my presence at all. They walked right through me and carried on their way as if I did not even exist.

That was my first indication of the reality that I had long, bitter weeks to appreciate and explore. I thought myself very clever some months ago when, in our correspondence, I started using the term “ghosting” to describe what I can do. A fitting punishment, then, that I should now find myself as a ghost. I do not mean to say that I was dead, of course, but that my state of disembodiment was now so extreme that I was invisible and barely able to interact with the physical world at all, save for whatever instinctive sense of buoyancy kept me from sinking into the ground unless I willed it. And, worst of all, I could not turn it off. Try as I might – and trying to do so was my sole occupation for many days – I remained a ghost. And as for the conveyance chamber – for of course I tried that too – without the ability to speak audibly, I could not activate it.

When I wasn’t struggling to become solid again, I spent my time wafting around the island. Had I known what was coming I would have watched the were-rats much more closely, taken note of their numbers, locations, and activities. I would have tried to find some way to warn Fynewever and the other survivors what was coming. I would have familiarized myself with every inch of the island so that I could go where I wanted in an instant instead of meandering around like a lost shade.

I expected you via the chamber. So it was not until the day after your arrival – this would have been the 22nd or 23rd, I believe – that, when wandering outside, I sensed the presence of your group and found you camped near the cove where you had hidden the Jagdschloss. Ah, Rackham, how I tried! I shouted, I waved my arms. I wiggled my fingers inside your head. I tried to move small objects to call attention to myself, but if, once in a while, I barely succeeded, no one noticed. I hovered over your shoulder as you reread my last letter, and the one from LaGrande, and started to pen an urgent message to Sanders in your log-book.

Despite my frustration at being unseen and unheard, in an odd way, it was great comfort to see you again, to regard Tollard and MacTallan for the first time in the flesh, to see Bennington, and of course to see Thorpe – despite your excellent descriptions, I was still shocked at the extent of his transformation. I hovered about as you all discussed your plans, and envied you as you ate (in my ghostly state I had need of neither sustenance nor sleep).

And, once again, I was in the wrong place. For by the time I sensed that things were happening near the conveyance chamber, the Browns had already come through.

Rackham, I … I tried. Tried to stop them, tried to warn you, but it was all for naught. I will do my best to set aside emotion and relate those details that may yet help you.

I believe only half a dozen came through the portal. Four ur-Browns (the shambling half-men that he assimilates from corpses), one proper Brown-clone, and the man himself. The last two were indistinguishable from each other, at least outwardly. But with my ghostly vision, the difference could not have been more apparent. The Brown-clone seemed to have the stump of another person inside it, whereas the real Dr. Brown was suffused with power. Based on that and on what I saw afterwards, I feel certain that only the real Brown is able to assimilate others. Small comfort.

Because I was not there when they arrived, I did not see by what means they took command of the were-rats. Had they been expected? By what means did they assert control so quickly? I do not know. But in very short order the Browns had organized them into war parties in order to scour and secure the island. They found Fynewever’s group on the beach, and they found you …

Forgive me. I am finding it difficult revisit it all. So much death and pain, and me helpless through it all. But you know well how your companions were captured or killed, and what you suffered, and so I will not dwell on those details. Instead I will limit my narrative to three things you do not already know.

First: After your group had all been subdued – imprisoned, or killed – I was spying on the Browns as they pored over your log-book. There were more of them now, thanks to some assimilations. Because of the bond they share they never seemed to need to speak to each other, which made it difficult to understand what they were up to. But I saw one of them writing a second part to the letter you had started, meticulously copying your own handwriting. He was doing a rather mediocre job, and it would not have fooled me, but it was, as it turned out, enough to convince Sanders that the two parts had come from the same hand. In the second part, Sanders was urged to put his trust in Dr. Brown lend him aid should they ever come into contact. Although the letter you had started to Sanders was of course going to suggest the opposite, there was enough ambiguity in what you had already written that Brown was able to twist your intent in his forged conclusion.

A week later Brown received Sanders’ reply, which I read over his shoulder. More recently I have been able to lay my hands on it, and as it addressed to you, I include it with this letter for your perusal. I think you will agree it paints Sanders in a different light than my own descriptions, and we can be reassured as to his character and resilience. Brown was furious upon reading it – he had not realized, I think, the extent to which Sanders had long since distrusted and detested him.

You will note I make no mention of how your letter, or its reply, were delivered. That is because it remains a mystery to me. Certainly I have been keeping constant watch for the arrival of Alia or Alona, concerned for their safety, but I have seen no sign of either. While I did my best to spy on Brown, there was more than one of him, after all, and I could not be everywhere at once. Perhaps it is as simple as that he used the conveyance lines. Or perhaps something else – I simply do not know.

Second: MacTallan. As you know he was imprisoned, like you, but after about a week he was killed. I was there, Rackham, and I heard the conversation he and Brown had before the end. I will do my best to relate it in as exact detail as I can recall.

Brown – the real Brown – walked, nay, sauntered into the makeshift cell, hewn into the corner of a cave, where MacTallan was being kept.

“Hugh,” he said. “It has been far, far too long. Gosh … I’m sorry we finally get to see each other again and it has to be like this. How are you feeling? Are the rats giving you enough food?”

“Go to hell,” muttered MacTallan, his voice muddled by his swollen jaw and broken teeth.

Brown tsked. “It doesn’t have to be like that, old friend. We are on the same side, are we not? That of the enlightened. Hell, you were the astronomy savant back at Die Universität. You knew what was coming.”

“If I had known what was coming, why do you think I stayed? My wife? My child? I would have left, I would have warned–”

“Oh no no no, Hugh, you knew, you just didn’t believe. Faced with the possibility, you stuck your head in the sand. Me, I prepared. Don’t hate me for that.”

“And coming here, slaughtering my friends? Can I hate you for that? I believe I shall.”

“Yeah, look, I’m sorry about that. It would go much easier on the rest of them if somebody just tells me where the Rexley Device is.”

“I have no idea. I doubt they do either.”

Brown shrugged. “I’m not too worried. We’ll find it eventually. It’s not that big an island.” He got down on one knee now, his face close to MacTallan’s. “I mean, that’s important and all, but I’m also here for you. All that’s happened to Albion … it’s an opportunity, see? The fires of destruction and change are a crucible wherein those men with power and the will to use it can become gods. But most of the time I’m surrounded my idiots, even if they are idiots of my own making. I need men of like mind to forge ahead with me. Brilliant men.”


Brown stood. “But you don’t know what I’m offering! You’ve seen my power. I’ll admit, it’s not what I would have picked, but at least it’s something I did for myself. Didn’t stumble into it through blind chance, like some. Help me find Rachel and you, too, can be elevated above common men!”

“You’re a fool if you think you this sways me in the least.”

“I know, I know. Had to try, though. It’s a damn shame.”

“Get it over with. Just assimilate me.”

“Oh ho ho! Still thinking, I see. Good one, Hugh. I think you know that you are strong-willed enough to be a very difficult host, indeed. And maybe you know that I’ve already failed to take in Rackham, for some damn reason, and that after taking in some of those pour souls you recruited in Greysham I’m already stretched too thin.”

MacTallan’s head sagged.

“Ah yes. You get it, don’t you? You saw all that. But you also see that I would never admit any of it to you unless I had no intention of letting you live. And you what, Hugh? You’re exactly right.”

He used a knife. I screamed. I strained. Whatever it accomplished – a thickening of the air, loose stones dislodged from the walls of the cave – Brown was too intent on his bloody business to even notice.

Third – finally, a piece of good news. Even though you were imprisoned separately you probably know that Thorpe proved a very difficult prisoner. He possesses unusual speed and strength, and he was in no mood to cooperate. Brown was loathe to put a bullet in him, however, because of his curiosity about Thorpe’s transformation. He wanted an umblemished body to examine at his leisure, and so, after two near-escapes and the death of several were-rat guards, he secretly poisoned Thorpe’s food, and the poor man slumped lifeless on the floor of his cell.

From there he was moved elsewhere in the were-rat camp. But when I returned a day later to see if they had cut him open, I sensed something within him, something I would never have been able to detect if not in my ghostly form: a heartbeat. So slow, so faint, yet unmistakable. He was not dead. My first thought was that he must be comatose, but his outward appearance clearly suggested death: his scales, usually tinted green and splashed with surprising color, were a dull gray.

Then it occurred to me: there are species of lizards that possess the ability to feign death in order to deceive predators.

The next day, a Brown-clone arrived with a bag of medical tools, and the two ur-Browns with him hefted Thorpe’s body onto a large table.

“All righty,” said the Brown as he sharpened the blade of a scalpel. “Let’s see what we have in here!”

For a second I thought I had been wrong, for the body on the table did not move. But as the Brown leaned in close, Thorpe’s eye shot open, and with blinding speed his sinewed, scaly arm shot out, squeezed around the Brown’s neck, and twisted it with a sickening crack. The ur-Browns moved in but Thorpe was already standing. I had not realized until then that he also has fangs – I assume that they are retracted most of the time. At any rate, it was all over very quickly, and Thorpe was on his way out of the camp, moving close to the ground, faster than a man could run, yet making almost no sound.

When the bodies were found this put the rest of the Browns on edge, to say the least, and all attention was focused on tracking down Thorpe. If I am not mistaken, this is the moment that you yourself were able to effect your own escape, owing in part to the distraction, though you had no way of knowing the cause. But it is also why I was not there to witness your escape, and thus lost track of you – I was following Thorpe.

He put a great deal of distance between himself and the camp before he stopped. He darted up a tree and came back down having caught a possum-like creature for his dinner. It was the dead of night, and other than the distant sounds of the camp and his own chewing, all was silent.

“Who’s there?” he said suddenly.

He was looking in my direction. I shouted, but then thought better of it and focused my energy on stamping my foot on the ground, trying to create some disturbance, some reverberation.

“Show yourself,” he snarled, crouching low, clearly trying to sense me, but not by using his eyes. His lizardlike ears, as I later learned, perceived slightly different frequencies than humans, just enough to pick some of my ghostly movements out of the silence. Not waiting for an answer, he pounced, but found only air.

“What is going on?” he muttered, perhaps to himself. I stomped again, as loudly as I could. This time he clearly detected it, though of course he was still puzzled.

“Three pulses if you understand me,” he said.

Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.

Still wary, he skittered around the clearing, looking around to make sure no one else was near, then returned. “Very well. One pulse for yes, two for no. Are you a friend?”


“Is this Rackham? Are you in my mind?”

Stomp. Stomp.

“Are you someone I know?”


“I don’t suppose you are familiar with Samuel Morse’s telegraphic communications code?”

Stomp. Stomp.

“Quickly, then …” He grabbed a stick, moved into a patch of moonlight, and began to sketch into the ground. For A: a dot, then a dash. For B: A dash, then three dots. For C: dash, dot, dash, dot …

Scrape. Stomp. Scrape. Stomp.

“C … C …” Something clicked for him, though he still said it hesitantly: “Not … Crane?”


“Stranger and stranger. We should move somewhere where we can talk in safety. Can you follow me?”


“Can you follow very quickly?”



That is how it came to be that while you were making your own escape, Thorpe and I were holed up on the far side of the island, conversing in a tortuously slow manner. After he had etched out the entirety of the Morse Code for my benefit things went more quickly, and he was good at doing most of the talking and asking me yes-or-no questions so that we could communicate efficiently. Still, it was the better part of two days before we were ready to make another move.

Not knowing of your escape, our first priority was to try to release you. But I also had an idea of something that might help my predicament: the bright blood. I knew that the Browns had taken everything, and I knew where they were keeping it.

We made an odd pair, returning to the camp. Thorpe could be very stealthy all on his own, but coupled with my extended perception, and an occasional stomp to warn him of a concealed were-rat or an approaching patrol, we were nigh undetectable. First we discovered that you had escaped. Then we found the tent with the valuables, guarded by an ur-Brown and three were-rats. We waited for a moment when no one was within earshot, and then Thorpe came from behind and dispatched them with brutal efficiency. He emerged with a case holding the vial of bright blood.

I stomped repeatedly, with urgency, when I saw that was all that he had. He knew my concern. “No map,” he said grimly. I soon realized why. On the other side of the camp, in his own tent, Dr. Brown was perusing the map and taking careful notes. Actually there were four Browns sitting around the table, and at least a dozen were-rats arranged as guards outside. Thorpe wanted to go after him anyway, but I objected. The chances of losing him were too great, and I had another concern: the bestial rage with which he had dealt with those others had been terrifying to behold, and I did not want him, in embracing his animalistic abilities, to lose his own humanity. And so we left, as silently as we had arrived.

It is a good thing that I had had a very long time to ponder my condition and think about ways to counteract it. Naturally it occurred to me early on that the bright blood might be helpful, but I had no way to inject it. While my contact with the physical world seemed almost nonexistent, I did still have the sensation of breathing, which suggested that perhaps at some level I was still interacting chemically with my environment. So my theory was that if the bright blood could be introduced into a liquid infusion and then used to generate a mist, then by interspersing myself with said mist, some of its properties might transfer to me.

That is the sort of thing best engineered in a laboratory, of course, not in hiding on a mysterious island. But, as I said, I had had nothing if not time to consider such things. A dry cave, a fire, a mesh of woven reeds – some day I will give you all the details of my jury-rigged apparatus, made by Thorpe’s hands under my instruction. But for now let it suffice to say: it worked. I swooned as I rematerialized, my body suddenly resuming all its myriad ordinary functions.

It pains me that we have both been here on Skald for days, both in our proper forms, and our paths have not crossed. For the most part Thorpe and I have remained in hiding. While I do not think my brief encounter with a mist of bright blood has negated my Ability, I am afraid to end up as a permanent ghost again, and would only want to use it in direst need. Once Thorpe ascertained, on one of his scouting runs, that the Browns’ camp had been abandoned, we felt a little freer to move about. (It was while scavenging there that he retrieved the letter from Sanders, incidentally.) I recalled from our correspondence about the southern bunker where you had found the flight suit, and thought that might be a good place to look for you. Instead we found your letter – and the Rexley Device.

That led us in turn to search for the Jagdschloss, and it is on the shore within sight of its hiding place that I write these words while Thorpe keeps watch. You are not here, and I was hoping that you might arrive while I was writing. I am afraid that I dare not linger, however. Were-rats remain on the island, perhaps some of the Browns as well, and you are quite right that the Rexley Device cannot be allowed to be discovered. If Brown himself has indeed departed, perhaps fearing for his safety, there is nothing to say that he might not return in even greater force.

So I will leave this on the vessel for you to find. Thorpe will help me reach the conveyance chamber and I will leave by that route, taking the Device with me. He plans to stay: in order to find you if he can, but in order to continue to make life hell for any of his former captors who remain on the island, in any case.

I left your letter to Alia at the bunker. It is a saving grace that neither she nor Alona came here and ran afoul of Brown. But I am confident that when she does come looking for you, she will think to check the bunker, just as I did.

When the two of you are at last reunited, write and tell me. Leave your letter in her care for when she finds me next. And have her check on my friends at Caeradarn if she can. We have said before, “I do not know when next my letter will be able to reach you,” though there has always been a way. This time, though, I think it might be a long time before that happens. I know where I mean to go, and what I mean to do, but in case this should fall into the wrong hands, I will not set it down in writing.

I am sorry I could not do more, my friend. Sorry for all that you, that we, have lost. But you live. Thorpe lives. Brown has neither the bright blood, nor Rexley, nor Rachel. There is hope, and for that hope we must fight on.

Warm Regards,


Roudouallecc, 14 May

My Dear Rackham,

We seem to be going in circles! I write again from back where we started, although this time with considerably more hope for the path ahead. You may have heard some details of our little fracas on the coast from Alona, but I will set them out here to provide my perspective.

After she found our beacon the first time, we decided to find a place to settle in for a few days while we investigated options for getting to Garnsey or crossing the Channel. A mile further up the coast from our beacon site, we found an old fishing hut, currently abandoned, which seemed to have been rebuilt and repaired a dozen times after being overwhelmed by storms. That put us two miles from Brehat, where Denis or I would go for news and occasional supplies – Denis owing to being an unassuming native, myself owing to my ability to ghost.

You can imagine my concern when I saw the poster on the town notice board, alerting the locals to “imposteurs étrangers,” wanted, and extremely dangerous. Apparently Gallian soldiers had been through asking questions as well. But all that was not quite as alarming as the gossip Denis overheard: local opinion is that Albion’s collapse was due to the machinations of an evil cabal of men with strange powers. One such man had had all of Garnsey under his rule and stood poised to send an army of abominations – part man, part animal – to conquer the Continent, but was stopped by heroic Gallian forces arriving in the nick of time.

Part of me was fascinated at how grains of improbable truth persist within these false rumors. But what it made clear is that our way out of Gallia would not be easy – not only were we being actively hunted, but the general populace was alerted to our presence and their notions of what we represented made them unlikely to lend a hand or turn a blind eye.

We had already arranged with Alona to activate the beacon on the 7th if we were still in the area; we decided to remain at our hut until then, which proved a mistake. (I should have had a letter ready to go at that point but did not, for which I apologize.) That morning we proceeded to the rocky outcropping where we had set up the beacon, activated it, and welcomed her a few hours later. She put your letter in my hand, we started to exchange news – and then all stopped as we saw figures approaching from the path leading to Brehat.

It was Sgt. Lascelles and half a dozen others – four soldiers, two men from town. Perhaps we were not as careful in our visits to Brehat as I believed. The soldiers had weapons at the ready, and Lascelles himself had a triumphant gleam in his eye. But they were not aware of Sharma, hiding behind some rocks thirty yards away, and were equally unaware of the damage he could do from that range with Kali.

“Are they hostile?” said Alona tensely.

“Very possibly,” Van Dyke replied.

“We must not kill them,” I said. “With the things people here already believe … it will seal our fate if word gets out …”

Alona spoke with a measure of calm that was terrifying: “Word does not have to get out.”

“No killing,” I insisted, and signaled the same to Sharma.

Lascelles and his men approached. “You will come with us. Do not resist.” His Gallian accent was thick.

“We have hurt no one. We want to hurt no one. We just want to find our way home,” I replied.

“You are spies. LaGrande should not have trusted you. You will be questioned, and then we will have the truth.” He gestured to one of his men and spoke in Gallian. “Secure the aero” were the words, though the intent was clear in any language – as was Alona’s opinion of it. She took two steps to position herself between the soldiers and her beloved “bird.”

The soldier yelled at her to move out of the way. Almost imperceptibly, she shook her head. He raised his rifle. I looked to Lascelles to see if he would tell the man to stand down, and only then appreciated the fear and uncertainty behind his own bravado. In that instant, he hesitated, and the soldier was about to shoot …

You are familiar with the game of darts, I take it? I suspect you are like myself and were never in the habit of passing the time in taverns, which is the lifestyle required for becoming an expert in such a game. In the handful of times I ever played it I never hit the “bull’s eye,” and thought it something of a marvel that anyone could manage the feat with any level of consistency. All the more of a marvel, then, when the dart in question is tiny and grey, little more than a heavy needle, removed from a hidden pocket on Alona’s belt and hurled forward in the same fluid motion. And when the bull’s eye in question is the barrel of a rifle! It happened so quickly that I am fairly certain the Gallians did not see it. They probably thought that the soldier’s rifle misfired in a rather spectacular fashion, the flintlock exploding, sending him to the ground, clutching his face in pain.

I heard the ominous report of Kali being fired, but Sharma’s aim was true: he hit one of the other soldiers in the arm, not the head. Jacobs charged like a bull at Lascelles and the soldier standing nearest, plowing into them and sending all three to the ground.

I turned to Alona. “Go,” I said. She had a knife in her hand and was poised to join the fray. “We will be fine,” I said, “And even if we are not, you cannot be captured.”

Van Dyke shouted a word of warning. I turned to see the fourth soldier, little more than a boy, hands shaking as he leveled his rifle at me. He fired. Despite his poor aim the bullet flew true, but in the second before that I had already ghosted, and it passed harmlessly through my chest. I spoke again, my voice distorted in my incorporeal state: “GO.”

She went.

And, indeed, we were fine. After several minutes of fighting, we subdued Lascelles and his men with no deaths, though Van Dyke ordered one of the townsmen to rush back to Brehat to fetch a doctor on behalf of those with bullet wounds in their arms and legs. Jacobs had broken a finger, lost a tooth, and was bleeding from a bullet graze on his scalp – I swear, the man attracts injuries like ants rushing to spilt honey – but the rest of us were unscathed. Van Dyke was the one to speak to Lascelles in Gallian as he tied up his arms behind his back with rope.

“You see we have not killed you. We mean no harm but we cannot allow ourselves to be taken by La Quarantaine. I am sorry for your injuries, but please, do not follow us.”

We left that place. Denis, who had prudently kept out of sight the whole time, fell in alongside as we hustled inland. There was no question that leaving them alive made things much more difficult. And something else had been nagging me: Denis, delighted as he seemed to be to take part in our travels, was not some abandoned child that we had taken in out of the kindness of our hearts. He had a loving family back at his village, and while he was with us of his own free will, it was all too easy to imagine Gallian authorities seeing it as a straightforward kidnapping at the hands of foreign fugitives.

In the end, that was what tipped the scales. Rather than risk the difficult way to an uncertain fate on Garnsey, we decided upon option #1 from my previous letter: that of returning to the conveyance node that we had come from. Once again I will elide several days of overland hikes made all the longer by the care we took not to encounter anyone else. Denis, detecting our somber mood, did not ask as many questions. I could tell that no small part of him was eager to be going home.

The last day of our journey, we were low on supplies and eager for the respite of a warm hearth, and the village was remote enough – it seemed likely that word of Lascelles’ manhunt had not reached them. So we decided to resume our original cover and return Denis in person, hoping to score a good meal before setting off again. The boy’s mother greeted him tearfully at the door of their modest house; her anger at us for keeping him away so long quickly dissipated when he assured her it had been his own choice. We left him there and made straight for the inn, and were seated at a long common table, images of a shepherd’s pie full of succulent chunks of lamb filling our minds, when the doors swung wide and Gallian soldiers entered. They did not attack, but took up positions around us as they filed in. The innkeeper and other villagers were suddenly nowhere to be found. My mind raced … it was impossible that Lascelles could have beaten us here. So who …

LaGrande entered and joined us at the table.

“So glad to see you again, Dr. Crane,” he said.


“The boy was from Roudouallecc. Your story about that … the notion that you would sail all the way around to approach Mont-Bré from the south. And even if you did, that such a path would take you through this village … ridiculous.” He shrugged. “Lascelles, ah well … ç’est crédule. When you disappeared that night I knew I would find something interesting here. Though I must admit I did not expect you yourself to return.”

“And what have you found?”

“Your campsite up on the mountain. Then the caves. And finally the chamber … ah, Crane. I can understand why you would want to keep such an amazing discovery to yourself! But I cannot understand how you got there in the first place. I have a theory, but it is so incredible that I would not even entertain it were it not for the times we live in.”

He took a book from his satchel and placed it on the table in front of us. It bore no title on the cover, but “Von Neumann” was clearly embossed on the spine.

“The chamber, the runes – they are from an antediluvian civilization, n’est-ce pas? Ashkur? I confess that I am getting up to speed on the subject myself, but it is fascinating. And the circle on the floor!” He placed his hand on the book. “This reads like the ravings of a madman until one has seen such a place, or heard tell of foreign travelers arriving at a remote village as if out of nowhere. Tell me, Dr. Crane. These ‘conveyance lines’ … is it true?”

I hesitated, then nodded.

“I see,” he said. “Thank you for the courtesy of being forthright about it, this time.”

“What is to become of us now?”

LaGrande suddenly laughed. “My friend, I am not Lascelles! When faced with such discoveries, how can we let the laws between nations stand in our way? You wish to use the chamber again, I think. I wish simply to understand it. Can we not work together?”

I found his answer a great relief, and more than we deserved. I did not wait to consult with my companions before responding: “We can.”

And so, in the end, we had our hearty meal, and look forward to sleep in good warm beds. Tomorrow we will go with LaGrande back to the mountain. I cannot wait to find out what is in his Von Neumann book, and am more confident than ever that this time, we can make a successful transit to where we actually mean to go. Nonetheless I am taking the time to set this all down, since I don’t know when I will next have a chance!

My thoughts are with you as you ready for your return to Skald. Knowing what you plan to do, my hope was that by now I would have mastered the conveyance lines, found Brown, and put a permanent end to his threat before he could get in your way. Instead I have lost valuable time trudging back and forth across the Gallian countryside. If I cannot give you my aid, at least allow me to wish you good fortune!

Warm Regards,


Monsieur Rackham,

You may not remember me, but your friend Dr. Crane said he has mentioned me in an earlier letter. I am Dr. Julian LaGrande, and I have taken considerable pains to put the accompanying letter from him to you in the right hands. It was the very least that I could do, as I owe Dr. Crane my life. I include this note by way of explanation.

Crane and his men had happened to arrive on the eve of a big day for my expedition. Having first located the Ashkurian conveyance chamber through a series of narrow caves, I had taken time searching the mountainside to locate the original entrance, covered by a rockslide centuries old. That morning that he accompanied me to the site, we blew through the rock with dynamite and uncovered the tunnel mouth, allowing us at last to bring personnel and surveying gear to the site in force.

With the chamber fully lit at last, Crane and I went to work transcribing runes, comparing notes, making plans. It was a thrill to be working alongside him on something so momentous. All the while, though, the guards were increasingly on edge. One of Crane’s guards, the giant-sized rude one, insisted he saw runes on the walls glowing, though none showed any evidence of this when examined directly. We ignored this for too long, I fear. We started hearing unmistakable noises of movement and strange cries coming from the gash in the wall that opened onto the natural caves, but by then it was too late to seal it up.

That is when Crane handed me the enclosed letter. He asked me, if things went badly, to travel to the College on Garnsey and wait there until such time as I could place it directly in the hands of an aero pilot. Since I have done this, you may assume that things went very badly indeed.

The things that attacked were out of my nightmares. I mean this quite literally: the tales my nan told me as a child, the most terrifying bits of local folklore, were made real before my eyes. I fear my men put up a poor defense. Crane’s men fought to hold the circle, by which means he clearly intended to escape. He shouted for me to get out, but at the edge of the chamber I was caught by a creature whose hot breath singed my skin. I fell to the ground, expecting the end, not least because of the cries of agony around me. But then Crane was there, and he – I will write down what I saw, strange as it may be. He thrust his hands into the creature, then gestured upward, and it hurtled away, with its own cry of pain. Then he returned to the circle, where mist was beginning to rise up off the floor.

Half of my expedition died that day. Those that remained would no longer take my orders. Though we were not pursued once we emerged from the tunnel, they took it upon themselves to use the dynamite that remained to collapse the tunnel once again. And so I cannot say for certain what has happened to Dr. Crane. I can only say that there was no fear in his eyes, and while my men either fought in vain or cowered in terror, his fought well and seemed to be holding their own. I shudder to think what paths they have followed, that they addressed such an encounter with a calm and even practiced hand.

I am writing this on the 18th of May from Garnsey, in the presence of a Prof. Sanders and an aero pilot who gives her name as Alia. They are concerned that I keep secret the fact that she flies to and from the island in spite of Gallian control. If you would be so kind as to assure her that my allegiance to science and discovery exceed my sense of national loyalty, and she has nothing to worry about … some of her threats were very colorful indeed.

I must return to Gallia and make my report to La Commission, at which point I will do what I can to study these conveyance lines. As to that, I have received some news that gives me hope. One of Von Neumann’s former students, a professor from Nassau University in New Columbia, has apparently arrived in Les Rives and offered his services. His name is Dr. Amory Brown … I look forward to meeting him.


Dr. Julian LaGrande

outside Brehat, 30 April

Location Unknown, 10 April

My Dear Rackham,

I am violating my personal rule and writing again before I have heard from you. At this point I do not know how I will even get this to you, or when I will hear from you again. Things have gone awry, to put it mildly. But for that reason especially, I thought it important to set down what has happened.

The plan, as I described in my last letter, was to attempt using the conveyance lines – not immediately in order to locate Rachel or confront Brown, but first, a short transit to see if even that was something we could manage. It is rather ironic to think about it now, considering how things turned out, but the destination we settled upon was one that would have made for a pleasant surprise. I noticed that the map MacTallan provided indicated a conveyance node at the Cairns, a place that we knew, from your descriptions, was still extant, and was not currently overrun by were-rats or other unknown dangers. It seemed a safer bet than other options, and if it worked, there would be the added benefit of my being able to consult with MacTallan face-to-face – to say nothing of our own reunion!

Needless to say, things did not go as planned. I checked and re-checked my analysis of the runes, and reviewed my … I hesitate to use the word, but in an odd way it fits … my incantation. It is a matter of reciting the runes on the circle, to be sure, but also weaving in the ones associated with the intended destination. And there are matters of intonation and emphasis, undoubtedly subtleties of pronunication that I had no way to appreciate.

And why on earth should it all matter? I constantly asked myself this. And, in a way, I began to understand, although my mind has difficulty wrapping itself around the notion. Let me try to explain:

Words have power. Pre-cataclysm, you might ask your valet to bring you a cup of tea, and in a few minutes, tea would be provided – your words had made it happen, though not directly, of course. But ur-Samekh is different. In the right circumstances, its words are not merely the communicative artifacts of language as we understand it, but forces that make their weight felt upon the world. Rachel speaks a word, and I am paralyzed. Say where you are, and where you want to go, and, somehow, you might go there.

All this dawned on me as Van Dyke, Sharma, Jacobs, and I were stepping into the circle beneath Caeradarn. As I spoke the words in ur-Samekh, some part of me could feel the push that they were exerting, an essence to them beyond sounds traveling through the air. My voice wavered, and part of me quailed, suddenly appreciating the significance of what I was attempting, and my utter inability to comprehend the fathomless power and subtlety of the forces I was drawing upon.

But that was not what set us off-course. The culprit, I fear, was my Ability. We were in the circle, a mist rising up from the floor, when it triggered. You will recall my first experiences, before I was able to exert conscious control of my ghosting – those times, I also experienced heightened perception, sensing things around me in a manner beyond sight. This had not happened to me for a long time, but it happened now. I could sense the presence of my companions, feel their heart-beats. I knew we were not in Caeradarn any more. We were … in-between. And I felt the network of nodes, an array of potential destinations, an interconnected web sprawling out, overwhelming my mind. I sought concrete realities to latch onto, but we were in a liminal state of potentiality instead, and, I am ashamed to say, it was too much for me to take. I do not believe I successfully completed the incantation. I remember wanting to be in a place, any place that was real, willing us desperately toward one before I collapsed into unconsciousness.

The good news: I succeeded in bringing us somewhere. The bad news: We have no idea where we are. We arrived at a node in a subterranean cavern, deserted and ancient, with familiar ur-Samekh markings all around. While I recovered, the others lit lanterns and explored the area, finding the place where a rockslide had blocked the original entrance, probably centuries ago. Fortunately, moisture had eroded one of the other walls, giving way to a system of caves where the prevalence of mosses and liverworts, as well as bats, hinted at a connection to the surface.

My ability to ghost would have been very helpful in navigating our way out of that place, but even after I had regained consciousness, I was in no state to attempt it. I am not concerned, however – when it comes to my Ability, I have enough experience with it all now to recognize the difference between dormancy and simple exhaustion, and I am confident that this is a the case of the latter. Sharma offered to fire a bullet through my head in order “get the juices flowing,” since something like that had worked before. I politely declined.

It took several hours of fraught spelunking to finally break out into daylight. Not because we were far from the surface, but because in those natural cave formations, the hopeful-looking openings were always the ones that lead to dead-ends, and the true exit was a narrow horizontal gap that we passed a dozen times before realizing it was there. Sharma was the only one who could squeeze through it at first, and our last hour was spent hacking away with a rock-pick in order to create enough room for Jacobs to force his way through.

We found ourselves on a mountainside, at twilight. The flower-scented spring breeze brought tears to my eyes. I am writing from our campsite; with night falling fast we decided to wait for dawn to get a proper sense of our surroundings. But already we can see the lights of a village in the valley below, so we know we are near civilization, and, judging by the terrain, we are not in Albion.

More later.

Mont-Bré, 21 April

The prospect of actually sending this to you still seems remote, but as I have ample time now, I will continue my narrative. No doubt you are curious at the location I have entered at the top of the page!

The next morning Sharma was the first to ascertain that we were in Gallia. He pointed out various aspects of the flora and fauna that he found familiar from our previous visit; I doubt any of the rest of us would have noticed, but we quickly agreed once we were made aware. Our mountain was one of a small number in what appeared to be a very modest range, certainly not the Alpines, which narrowed the possibilities.

Les Montagnes Noires,” Van Dyke asserted after we had pooled our collective geographical knowledge and mulled it over for a while.

“But … that would put us in the same region as Mont-Bré. Not close, perhaps, but within less than a hundred miles,” I said.

“Indeed,” he replied. “Rather a fantastic coincidence, wouldn’t you say? The very area the four us traveled in before, and here we are again.”

I had done my best the previous night to explain to the others what had happened during our transit; I was frank about the fact that I had been overwhelmed by everything rushing upon my senses, and had lost control. But I do not think Van Dyke is correct; it was not a coincidence that we ended up where we did. In that moment when I was reaching out for a destination, any destination, the problem was not that I couldn’t see, but that I saw too much. It would make a certain amount of sense if my unconscious mind, connecting somehow to all the possible destinations, latched on to one that I felt an affinity to, perhaps because it was closely associated with my current companions.

At any rate, there on the mountainside, while the birds chirped around us and the sun shone brightly, we discussed our options:

  1. Squirming back into the caves in order to try to use the conveyance lines again.
  2. Returning to Albion by other means. Traveling overland to Machlou and seeking transit to Garnsey seemed like the best bet, since we had done it before.
  3. Choosing another destination – as long as we were already on the Continent, why not make for Essen, for example?
  4. Walking Away From It All. Just as was the case the last time, the sheer peace and beauty of a place unsullied by destruction was intoxicating, and I would be lying if I said we did not consider it, if only privately.

The scientist in me wanted to test some hypotheses about how I might approach the transit differently, and leaned toward #1. But the others were (understandably) not eager to re-descend into the darkness toward an uncertain end. #3 and #4 both suffered for the same reason that we were hesitant to saunter into the village for a hearty breakfast – we were strangers in a foreign land, and all indications from our previous visit were that the Continent held Albion under a very strict quarantine. Until we knew more, any contact with others would be risky. #2, if we could manage it, would allow us to check up on Elizabeth College, and on Robards. As you know, Alia and Alona have made occasional runs to the island on their routes, but the last one was several weeks ago, and no real news had come from there in even longer than that.

And then it occurred to me – if we were going to head toward Machlou, why not stop by Mont-Bré again? I know much more now than the last time we were there. Another look around, to take some more notes, see if there’s anything I missed, certainly couldn’t hurt. The others agreed, and Van Dyke offered to enter the nearby village to get the lay of the land and, hopefully secure some supplies.

His fluency in Gallian had proved helpful the last time, of course, but in recent months I have had little occasion to see his covert skills in play, and had forgotten just how formidable they were. Van Dyke strolled into town, posing as a frazzled government aide-de-camp from Les Rives who had been given the difficult task of entertaining a visiting Pandjaran raja with a penchant for wilderness exploration. As such he needed a guide to take us north across the mountains, perhaps someone familiar with the terrain who would not mind the company of an eccentric foreign noble and his security detail?

“Sometimes the bigger lie is just easier,” he explained to me afterwards. The rest of us came to town, chiefly so that the villagers could gawk at us, and, primed by Van Dyke’s fanciful tale, they saw what they wanted to see. The biggest flaw in the ruse was the notion that I, of all people, would ever be able find work on a security detail. But this was overlooked. And Sharma, normally so quiet, proved surprisingly adept at playing the raja, barking orders at us in his native tongue with an outrageously exaggerated accent.

The locals “ate it up,” as they say on the stage, agreeing to help and even sharing some provisions with us for the hike. Our lack of funds was something of a sticking point: Van Dyke assured them that payment would be forthcoming from the capital after the appropriate paperwork had been submitted. I suspect this was enough to dissuade many from helping, but the innkeeper’s son – a scrawny boy of 14, eager for adventure – insisted upon serving as our guide, and we accepted.

We were glad to have him, as his knowledge of the mountain passes turned what would have probably been a five-day journey otherwise to one of only three. Young Denis was full of questions about the distant land of Pandjara. Sharma was happy to provide answers, which Van Dyke was obligated to translate into Gallian and relay to the boy; our esteemed raja made his answers incredibly verbose and full of obscure vocabulary, engendering many a harsh glare from Van Dyke and chuckles from the rest of us. At least it passed the time.

Denis had stories of his own to tell, little bits of history and folklore associated with the various landmarks we passed. By far the most interesting was when he casually asserted that there was an entrance to Hell somewhere in the very mountains we were crossing, but that we were nonetheless safe from demons, since this area was under the protection of Herveus. He had several tales to tell about this local saint, a blind man, guided by his pet wolf, who apparently knew how to handle recalcitrant imps. Jacobs still claims he saw a wolf at our fight with Brown near the obelisk, so he paid particular attention to all of it, and took an extra watch every night – whether out of fear of demons or a desire to see the wolf again, I cannot say.

We reached Mont-Bré mid-morning on the 14th of April; Denis showed us a path up the hillside nearest us so we wouldn’t have to go all the way around to the main road. This meant we crested the hill near the site of the obelisk, and as we emerged from the trees into the clearing we could see things were much changed since our last visit. The entire area around the stump of the obelisk had been gridded off with stakes and rope; two canopies nearby sheltered tables, chairs, and cabinets. In other words it was an archaeological dig site, and a proper one now, not the rush job I had performed the last time.

Van Dyke looked at me tensely. “Could it be Brown?” he said. Even the thought of it put us all on edge, and we edged forward cautiously, weapons drawn. At one of the canopies, I glanced briefly at a couple of notebooks.

“They are in Gallian,” I said. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Together, we took the path to the chapel at the top of the hill. As we approached it was clear that now, as before with Brown, it was being used as a base of operations. No one was in sight, but then:

“Arrêtez!” The shout came from a lookout on the roof of the chapel, partially hidden, his eye to the sight of his rifle. I wondered whether we should break for cover, but when I saw Sharma lower Kali to the ground and raise his arms over his head, I had little doubt that the guard had us dead to rights. Soon after, four more uniformed gentlemen with rifles emerged from the chapel. Not mercenaries, this time, but Gallian soldiers. The sole officer in the group approached.

My Gallian was not quite up to the task of understanding everything that was said on the fly, so I write having had it all clarified for me afterwards. Denis, unfortunately, was the first to speak. Rather indignantly, he informed the soldiers that they were in the presence of the Maharaja Bahadur Sharma of Pandjara on an official diplomatic visit and they really ought to show some proper respect. This man here (he indicated Van Dyke) is a very important government official from Les Rives and they will be sorry they pointed their guns at him.

The officer was plainly suspicious, as we looked at that moment about as far from an official diplomatic delegation as one could possibly imagine. I detected a hint of bemusement on his face as he turned to Van Dyke and said, “Alors, monsieur … votre papiers, s’il vous plaît?”

To our stalwart spy’s credit, even though I knew that at that moment his mind was racing to come up with a story that would extricate us from our dilemna, his outward demeanor betrayed nothing at all. Jacobs, on the other hand … he did not say “Fuk this, I can get to this Gally ass before he can shoot an have my knife at his throat.” But the intent was so clear in the expression on his face that I feared he was about to instigate a bloodbath.

Just as Van Dyke was about to speak, he was interrupted by the voice of another man emerging from the chapel. Not a one of us expected the words that came out of his mouth.

“Dr. Crane? Is that you?”

“Monsieur LaGrande?!” I replied, incredulously.

Doctor LaGrand now, I have the fortune to say,” he replied. “How amazing it is that you are here! I assumed you were dead, along with so many of your countrymen. How is that you have returned to Mont-Bré?”

I do not know whether you will rember Julian LaGrande from our previous encounter. This would have been during our first expedition to the dolmens here, before all the troubles, what seems like a lifetime ago. Then, he was a young student of archaeology, the son of some local official or other. We brought him along with us to observe, as a favor to said official – “greasing the wheels of bureaucracy” was the term I believe you employed at the time. (You were always better at that sort of thing.) But I was the one who interacted with him at the site; while the many questions he peppered me with were distracting at the time, they were the questions of a sharp mind, and I had no doubt he would prosper in his studies. The intervening years had not dulled his boyish good looks.

For an instant I was alarmed by his question – had he somehow discovered that were at the Obelisk? But I realized, of course, that he was referring to our first visit to Mont-Bré, when we met.

“A long story,” I finally replied. “Perhaps we could catch up under less, ah, tense circumstances?”

“Of course, old friend. I must apologize.”

I was not quite so easy as that. The officer (one Sgt. Lascelles, we learned) remained highly suspicious – a credit to his instincts! We were allowed to gather in the chapel for refreshment and to exchange our stories, but only after we had been searched and our weapons locked away in the basement.

I would have loved for Van Dyke to be able to be the one to do the talking, but he had no knowledge of LaGrande or our relationship, so it fell to me. It occurred to me that the very fact that he was here meant that the Gallians, or some faction thereof, were keen on investigating this site, with a high level of security to boot. Therefore they were on the trail … of Brown perhaps, or attempting to understand Albion’s fate. So I opted for some degree of candor. I told him that we were indeed present at Albion’s fall, and had struggled to survive since. I said we had escaped the mainland and made it as far as Garnsey. From there I desired to reach Mont-Bré to see if any clues might be uncovered there, but given the Quarantine, we had opted for a covert approach.

All of this had the advantage of being precisely true! I just happened to elide the fact that it pertained to our previous visit, and made no mention of Brown, or the conveyance lines.

Lascelles interrupted at this point in Gallian. He had been prudent enought to take Denis aside for a separate interview, and wanted very much to know why, if we were coming from Garnsey, we had met and employed a guide from the village of Roudouallecc, across the Black Mountains in the opposite direction. Before anyone could translate, Van Dyke explained that we had sailed around the coast, hoping that approaching from the south might better our chances of avoiding the authorities.

The good news is that they believed our story. The bad news is that Lascelles’ took la Quarantaine very seriously and saw it as his duty to convey us his superiors. In deference to LaGrande, however, he let us continue to discuss matters first, as there was little worry of us escaping: where would we go?

As eager as they were to hear about what had happened to Albion, I was doubly eager to learn at long last about goings-on in the rest of the world. It seems that while La Quarantaine is still the strict policy followed by Gallia and the rest of the Continent, there has been much discussion of the Albion Problem, and plans to send forces across the Channel, with concerns both humanitarian and security-related in equal parts. For his part, LaGrande held a position at the Sorbonne in Les Rives, and had been asked by the newly-formed Commission d’Enquête de l’Albion to fully excavate the Mont-Bré site. He had arrived to discover that the dolmens had suffered some sort of explosion, as well as evidence that another group had been here much more recently, within the past year.

I had to feign surprise, of course, when he revealed rather dramatically that the more recent intruders were New Columbians. But I have no idea how he knew this – when we left the last time, I took with me any number of rock samples, copious notes, and every last thing scrap of paper or other evidence that we would carry about Brown’s expedition. I did not think we had left anything behind that would have given that away.

I have reached the end of dramatic developments. As of this writing we have been here at Mont-Bré for over a week. This came about after some rather heated debates between Lascelles and LaGrande: the former wanted to take us to Les Rives right away, while the latter insisted that he needed my help with his research, and as long as we were cooperative, what was the harm? Lascelles begrudgingly relented. As for the site, there is little to say: I made away with everything interesting the last time I was here, and, contrary to my hopes, nothing else seems to have happened in the meantime. Nevertheless, I continue to work, and meantimes the others remain compliant but vigilant.

Gallian coastline, 30 April

I am writing this in the presence of Alona, who I believe I embarassed considerably by referring to her as my “bright, shining star,” and embracing. I apologized afterward, but seeing the silhouette of her flyer on the horizon was an incredible relief, as I’m sure you can imagine. She has no way to convey us from Gallia, of course, but at last I am in receipt of your last letter, and I have the opportunity to send along mine. But it is a risk for Alona to stay here overlong, so I must write in haste.

First, how did this come to be? Cast your mind back for a moment to my letters from Mont-Bré last year. I mentioned that among the documents I recovered was evidence that Brown was expecting the delivery of an aero beacon, one part of the reason I suspected he might have some Society connection. It appears that said beacon, along with some other supplies, was indeed in transit at the time, but whatever smuggler they employed to deliver it must have arrived to find Mont-Bré deserted, and had hidden the large wooden crate containing it all under piles of brush halfway down the west hill-face. Though I have had occasion this past week to be rather annoyed with LaGrande’s fastidious methods, it is only because he had the soldiers carefully scout out the entire hill that the crate was found. That was how he knew that it was New Columbians who had been here.

I did not learn this until last Thursday, after many days of cultivating LaGrande’s trust. I hate that word, “cultivating” … it makes it sound so manipulative. In point of fact he is a good man and I have valued his company. But looming over it all was Lascelles’ plan to take us to Les Rives, which of course we could not abide. At any rate, LaGrande showed me the crate and its contents one night, hoping I might have some insight. And I had plenty, but I kept them to myself. The very next day I took pains to draw Van Dyke aside so we could speak in private.

“They have an aero beacon,” I whispered. “The one meant for Brown.”

“That is … hopeful,” he said cautiously. “But we are far too far from Albion for Alia or Alona to even detect a signal, let alone fly here.”

“Could they detect one from Garnsey?”

He shook his head. “Too far inland. We would have to set it up on the coast, north of here.”

“It is worth the attempt. Lascelles is already running out of patience.”

“Time to go?”

I nodded. “Tomorrow night. Try to get them all drinking at dinner.”

I was at pains the next day not to act suspicious. LaGrande’s official survey of the site was almost complete … I suspect he was even dragging his feet somewhat, knowing full well that our fate afterward would be uncertain at best. He was smart enough to be puzzled over some of his discoveries – for example, the stump of the shattered Obelisk, which had not been there on his last visit with us. But he looked to me for corroborration, and it was all too easy for me to feign ignorance or indifference, and thus allay his concerns.

That night, Van Dyke deftly poked at the ego of one of the soldiers concerning his ability to hold his liquor, and before long one of the other soldiers was proposing a drinking game. I like having Jacobs on my side because of his penchant for committing brutally efficient violence in a pinch, but in this case, it was his ability to drink any and everyone under the table that proved most useful. At the conclusion of festivities, only half the soldiers had even managed to stumble back to their cots. The rest were passed out at the table or on the floor.

The crate, and our weapons, were kept in the basement, behind an old door that the soldiers had secured with a formidable padlock. Ghosting through it and ferrying all our things out again would have taken too long. Smashing through was out of the question, of course. So I held the padlock in my hand, then ghosted, walking through the door with it firmly in my grasp, hoping it would come along for the ride. And it did.

On our way out, I saw LaGrande, passed out in the corner, snoring loudly. I fear he will get into trouble for our escape; I only hope I can make it up to him someday.

Our departure was not entirely undetected … as we slunk down the road that wound down the hill, Denis emerged from hiding and confronted us. Satisfied that he knew nothing else helpful, Lascelles had sent him home some two days earlier, but he had circled back and had been lurking around ever since. Taking his responsibility as a guide very seriously, he was not willing to abandon us.

“Denis,” Van Dyke said to him in Gallian, “We must be straight with you. Sharma is not a raja. I am not Gallian. These men are from Albion.”

“I know. The sergeant told me.”

“I am sorry we lied to you.”

“It’s all right. The truth is much more interesting.”

“Thank you for understanding. Will you go home now?”

“No no. I’m coming with you. You must escape la Quarantaine. And tell me more stories.”

Under the circumstances we could hardly deny him. Along he came.

There followed several days of high tension that are nevertheless tedious to relate. We took every precaution to hide our tracks, and stayed well clear of every town, and even of the roads whenever we could manage it. We frequently hid, and wasted long hours in an overabundance of caution, waiting for the right moment to steal alongside a field or cross an exposed stream. Finally we reached a stretch of rocky coastline out of sight of any village, and set up the beacon.

And we waited. For of course our only hope was to wait for one of the flyers to make a run to Garnsey, and hopefully, while there, detect another signal to the south and come to it out of a sense of curiosity. Who knew how long that would be?

Fortunately for us, as you no doubt know by now, the flyers were already looking for us, and Alona made a point of going to Garnsey when she might not have otherwise. We were waiting at the coast for only four days. I am far more familiar with skat, a Saxonian card game that Van Dyke adores, than I would prefer to be as a result. I am not proud to say that at one point I stole into the nearest village and, with the aid of my Ability, helped myself to food and water from the larder of the local inn. But eventually we saw the beautiful sight of an incoming aero, and are now reunited.

Alona brought important news. She stopped at the College, but Sanders was there to warn her off and send her on her way as soon as she had refueled. The Gallians are moving: they have already occupied Garnsey, and several ships of their fleet, as well as others from elsewhere on the Continent, are poised to cross the Channel. She detected our signal and came, but this means she will need to refuel again at Garnsey before she can make it back to you. She will have to do so under cover of night so as to remain undetected; so long as the Gallians do not take particular interest in the College it should be all right. But there is no telling whether, after reaching you again, she will be able to get back to me. We will certainly not remain here. All this is to say that I still do not know how or when I will be able to contact you again. But write nonetheless, and trust to our flyers to find a way!

I have scant minutes left, but let me briefly address some points in your letter. I appreciate your survey of all the assorted conspirators aswirl in this N.C./Society nonsense, and of trying to make sense of it all. I think now of the two of us at the outset of that fateful expedition, and we seem in retrospect to have been hopelessly naïve – completely unaware of the secretive agendas that were at play, and, even then, beginning to fracture.

Turning to Thorpe, and the notion of Bennington trying to restore him. It put a question in my mind: were I with you now, would I want to be restored? Of course I have the advantage of not looking like a giant lizard. But even so, the fact of the matter is that I would not want to lose this Ability, even if I could. It has saved my life on more than one occasion. And I feel am only at the beginning to appreciating its potential. It is his decision, as you say, but as you advise him, weigh whatever his new potential might be against, the advantages of seeing him restored. I am not convinced that the right answer to the question is so clear.

I would warn you about the possibility of a Gallian invasion, but to be honest, I am more worried for the Gallians themselves. True, it seems that the vortex storms are not as prevalent as they were. But I think of the vision I had beneath the waves – of a presence deep in the water that even now I hesitate to recall – and I am not certain that their fleet can look forward to a successful crossing. We will see.

Warm Regards,


Porthgain, 29 March

My Dear Rackham,

I was delighted and reassured to learn Thorpe is alive, and that you have been reunited with him. Delighted because, despite his temperament, even before his transformation he struck me as the sort of man one would like have in one’s corner in a pinch, and reassured because what had seemed to be a needless self-sacrifice now turns out to be part of a larger plan. As for the others who did not survive – whether they were enthralled or they were doppelgangers, it is troubling. We have seen precedent for both, now. Hopefully it ended with Gates.

I have my own Jagdschloss news, believe it or not. It begins with Van Dyke; I fear I may have conveyed a mistaken impression of him in my last letter. Where, in his constant wanderings in the Castle, I saw a sort of neurotic mania, there turns out to have been a measured purpose. six days ago he asked me to accompany him so he could show me what he had found. Deep under Caeradarn, in one of the passages that seemed to pre-date the castle itself, he had set up a number of lanterns so that a particular stretch of rough-hewn wall was well-lit.

“Do you see it?” he said.

I took me a minute to understand what I was looking for. “Yes,” I replied. “Though I can hardly imagine how you noticed it wandering down here with a solitary light.”

“I have had to be thorough,” he replied.

We were staring at what could easily be mistaken for a slightly rougher stretch of wall in what was already a rough-hewn corridor. But there was a good deal more rubble than usual, and if you looked closely, you could see pieces of wood amidst the stone – a fragmented lintel. There had been an opening here, another passageway that had collapsed completely.

“I could have blown my way through with explosives,” said Van Dyke, “But if there is valuable intelligence on the other side, we might damage it.”

“This looks like it was a larger sort of opening – a new passage, not a doorway.”

“Even so. It occurred to me that we had another option.” He looked at me intently. It took me a momemt to realize what he was thinking.

“You want me to ghost through the rubble and see what lies beyond.”

“‘Ghost’ through? Is that what you’re calling it? I like it.”

I believe I indicated in my last letter that, despite my secret being out, I had been very cautious about using my Ability in public. In private, however, was another matter. Ever since my gambit with the arrow my ability to ghost had not only come back, but seemed stronger than ever. I was able to do it more readily, and with greater control, than ever before. Hence, any qualms I had about Van Dyke’s idea had to do with what might lay on the other side, not about the process of getting there.

I picked up one of the lanterns and stood facing the rubble. “Very well,” I said. “Would you care to come along?”

He gaped at me, thunderstruck. “What on earth do you mean? Can … can you bring someone else with you?!”

“Perhaps. I have never tried. But come now, use your head. When I walk through a wall, my shirt and trousers come along for the ride. My shoes, my notepad, this hideously heavy pistol you insisted I start carrying. I fully expect this lantern will come along as well. None of those things are me. So clearly my Ability operates in a field around my person to some extent. If you stay close to me, it will probably work.”

“Probably?! You will forgive me for being a little cautious. Maybe we could test your theory on … I don’t know … a cat from the village or something.”

I shrugged. “Next time,” I said. I confess I did not expect him to agree to it. But seeing a man who is normally unflappable so thoroughly discombobulated was well worth the effort.

In any event, the actual transit was perfectly routine. I passed through twenty feet of collapsed rubble and emerged into pitch blackness on the other side. The lantern had gone out, and it took a few tries to get it lit again, but when I did I saw the passage end ahead of me at a wide stairway going straight down. Standing at its top, I was surprised to detect a salty tang to the air wafting up from below. I turned around and rejoined Van Dyke.

“It is safe to blow through the rubble,” I said. “But while we’re at it let’s get a few more men. I don’t want to explore down there alone.”

The hardest part was convincing Campbell to part with some dynamite from the Sigsbee’s armory. He relented, sending Barksdale and a few more men along to make sure everything was conducted properly. It turns out Van Dyke was the one most experienced in the fraught art of demolition, a facet of his background that I had not been aware of but did not find surprising. He managed to set the charges in such a way as to re-open the passage without bringing the ceiling down on the whole affair, and soon after the seven of us were making our cautious way down the stairway on the other side.

It was a long descent, angled in the direction of the cliffs, that finally opened onto a large cave. My best guess, later confirmed, was that it was at or near the water line, tucked behind the cliffs that loomed over the scrapped hull of the Woodmere. Most of the cave floor was covered in water – ocean water, as was evident from the smell. The parts that were dry, all along the right-hand side as we emerged from the stairway, comprised what can best be described as a dockworks. A wooden frame jutting out into the water was just the right size to nestle a submersible craft, and built into the side of the cave nearby were a series of storage lockers, workbenches, siphoning tubes, and an oversized winch.

Subsequent exploration confirmed our suspicions – that the space appeared to be designed to host a submersible craft the size of your Jagdschloss, and that the floor of the underground lake connected to the wide ocean via an opening in the cliff just below the water line. As best as we can tell, this area was not sealed off during Brown’s departure, but considerably earlier – perhaps around the time that the craft itself went missing. Unfortunately this meant that there was little in the way of helpful information to be found; certainly no clues as to Brown’s whereabouts. But if you should ever find yourself in need of equipment and supplies to repair or retrofit your Jagdschloss, then know there is a place tailored-suited to your purpose, albeit on the opposite side of our treacherous island home!

Interesting as that discovery was, since I have received your letter and MacTallan’s map, I have thought of little else. It is tempting, but undoubtedly dangerous, to view it as a menu of places we could go, via the conveyance network. Should we retake Thornskye? Visit Skald? Check on the Caledonian Obelisk that you encountered? If I am reading it correctly, there is a node under Becket Cathedral! Or maybe we should go farther afield – the map suggests that there is a node in the vicinity of Essen (unsurprisingly), and a few others on the Continent as well! But of course it is not that simple. MacTallan succeeded in transporting you and your companions, once. I am reasonably certain that I understand the principals and could do so myself. But the risk is great, the outcome unclear, and a safe return is by no means guaranteed.

This much we have decided: Van Dyke, Jacobs, Sharma, and myself will be the first to attempt to use the network. A small group risks fewer lives. It will be the same merry band as journeyed to Mont-Bré! As long as Jacobs and Van Dyke can avoid strangling each other I’m sure it will go well. I have not decided on our destination, but it will be a test case – using the network to go somewhere nearby and then returning as soon as possible, just to make sure that it works. Nevertheless, I am sending this off to you beforehand in case things do not go as planned. If we end up someplace unexpected, well, I’m sure we will be able to manage … but if we end up someplace where I cannot signal a flyer and continue our correspondence – that might be more than I could bear, my friend!

You have not asked for it but I am sending you Rachel’s gift, the bright blood she left behind. Use it if you may; keep it safe otherwise.

Warm Regards,


Porthgain, 18 March

My Dear Rackham,

Let us take a moment to consider our fortune: you have written to me, and I now write to you, from a place of relative security and comfort. Neither of us are imprisoned, missing, disembodied, or under attack. I do not expect this state of affairs to continue for very long, but it is a welcome respite.

I am including my own notes and drawings from the conveyance chamber under Caeradarn; please pass them along to MacTallan. I am hoping that they will assist him in completing his map. It is the single thing in all the world I want most to see, with the possible exception of another bottle of Lochnagar single malt.

Before I proceed to matters of import, I would be remiss not to fill in some of the gaps of my narrative, which has been so consumed with my own predicament, and with prior events, that I fear some of the supporting cast has wanted for time in the spotlight. To wit:

Campbell – Learning the fate of his countrymen, and of his father-in-law, hit the man hard. For a time I feared that his nerve might shatter, and took consolation only in that Barksdale (now his first lieutenant, if such ranks still have meaning) seemed able and level-headed enough to replace him if need be. But he seems to have found his means to keep it together, albeit with a demeanor that is somber bordering on the severe. The brash, talkative young man that first fell under Robards’ sway is no longer in evidence. I do not know at what point he will take his ship and crew and make for home rather than keeping common cause with the rest of us, but I am certain it is coming.

Van Dyke – He is bound and determined to hunt down Brown. I believe he is motivated in no small part by a desire to atone for some of the Society’s mis-steps, not unlike Bennington on your end. Lacking the expertise to assist me in the conveyance chamber, he turns his mind to preparation and security. While the rest of us spend no more time at Caeradarn than is absolutely necessary, he haunts it like a ghost, ever watchful for any sign of Brown’s return, hunting ceaselessly for one more secret to uncover.

Porthgain – I have not said much about the town. Thankfully there is not much to say. It is isolated, and its people are fiercely independent. Loss of contact with the wider world has not harmed it as much as it would a more cosmopolitan locale. Their hospitality has not faltered. For a time they were losing young men mysteriously in the night, but with Brown’s departure that has stopped. Now they are eager to replace the men they have lost, perhaps by convincing some sailors or soldiers to marry nice young Cambrian women and settle down here. If allowed, I have no doubt many of our men would take them up on it.

I have received no such offer, despite helping out the village with no small amount of doctoring. I am being left alone, which suits me just fine, but the reason for it is a cause for some concern. My secret, you see, is out. The fact of my Ability is now generally known. Van Dyke first witnessed it some time ago, but it is not his fault; he is a master of nothing if not parceling out information only at need. Jacobs and Sharma both witnessed my rather dramatic escape from the castle, and while the latter is the taciturn sort, the former is very talkative when in his cups. And he has been in his cups a great deal lately. He told a tale, and then, the Columbian sailor who has for months insisted up and down that he saw me fall through the ceiling of the grotto in Garnsey while on watch – his tale, which had been laughed at or ignored until now, was suddenly lent some credence. Then the matter of the prison break back at Garnsey came up again, and a picture emerged of a man who can walk through walls.

Among those I count as friends, and those I have worked closely with all this time, nothing has changed, of course. But as for the rest … when they think of men with strange powers, they think of Robards and of Brown. They regard me with caution at best, fear at worst. And their opinion has spread to the village. I had been thrilled with the return of my Ability, full of ideas for how I might use it in our exploration of the castle, or even to help with everyday tasks in Porthgain. Imagine the benefit of a ghosted hand in minor surgery! But it has seemed more prudent instead to keep a lid on it, maintain a low profile, and stay out of sight, out of mind.

Jacobs, who let the secret out, is of course the first one to come to my defense among the enlisted men. However, “Speak a word ill of im an Ill gouge yer eye out,” while welcome words of loyalty, are not necessarily well-suited toward smoothing things over and helping people accept my condition.

I have not mentioned Rachel yet, only because I have been saving my important news for last. It was two days ago that she came to me as I was working alone in the conveyance chamber at the castle, finishing my notes and drawings. I was surprised to see her; after her outburst at first seeing Brown, she had become even more withdrawn, content to spend her time in Porthgain, helping out the locals and watching the waves crash on the shore.

“I am glad you have come,” I exclaimed. “I have finished my notes but I have so many questions, particularly about this group of runes here …” It was a routine of ours: I would ask her things as if we were having an ordinary conversation, and she would smile demurely and say nothing. On the Sigsbee I would often think out loud when she was in the room, and even though she never made any response, even a silent audience often proved helpful to my thought process. I began in that manner then, starting to express my thinking aloud now that she was present, where before I had been working silently. But she interrupted me by placing a hand on my elbow. This in itself was unusual, so I looked up with some surprise.

“What is it?” I said.

She held my gaze with her wide, wise eyes. Then, to my surprise, she spoke. “I am sorry,” she said. The words came hesitantly, oddly accented. But before I could reply, the next word came far more confidently: “EZHEN.”

I had to look it up later. It is the ur-Samekh rune for stasis, cessation of movement. And as she spoke it, I froze in place, paralyzed. Not rigid, not cold – it was more as if time had simply stopped for me while it proceeded for everything else. Slowly, gently, she reached around the back of my head and removed the telesma, which I wore on a cord around my neck, and placed it in her pocket. Then she took a vial of red fluid out of that same pocket and placed it on the table beside us. She took a step back and met my eyes again.

“I am sorry,” she repeated. “I must go.”

Unable to turn my head, I could not see what happened next. But out of the corner of my eye I saw her proceed to the circle of runes on the floor. I heard her walk around it, muttering words in ur-Samekh. I felt a crackle of energy. And, minutes later, when I found myself able to move again, I was not at all surprised to see that she had disappeared.

It goes without saying that I don’t know where she went. But, after all she has been through, I cannot begrudge her her freedom. I certainly do not fault her for taking the telesma, which very likely belonged to her in the first place. My worry is that she has gone off after Brown without us. My hope is that we shall meet again.

Now you can see that my eagerness for MacTallan’s map is not only because of Brown, but also because of Rachel. In the meantime, I now have in my possession, I believe, some more “bright blood,” thanks to her. If Bennington believes it can be useful to your endeavors, I will send it along. If her success in undoing were-rat transformations lends us clues that will held against Brown, all the better.

Warm Regards,


Caeradarn, 9 March

My Dear Rackham,

Now it is my turn to write to you with a greater-than-usual sense of concern. Alona reports that neither you nor your compatriots were anywhere in sight the last time she was at Thornskye, and were-rat activity nearby meant that she could not tarry to determine your whereabouts. She left her delivery (including my last letter) at your pre-arranged dead-drop and left. Since then she has returned once to Thornskye but aborted her landing – the situation on the ground seemed “hot” to her and without any all-clear signal from your party she decided not to risk it.

I need hardly tell you that Alia has very limited patience for that sort of thing and will, before long, risk a landing no matter the danger in order to make sure you are all right. I am delaying her by insisting she wait for this letter, which I have told her contains important insights I have made in light of all our recent discoveries. That statement has the advantage of being true.

I myself am quite safe – if, after my last missive, you were anticipating a cataclysmic tête-à-tête with Brown in this one, you will be disappointed. He is no fool; he knew we would return after my escape, and made sure he was already gone when it happened. Other than two important discoveries that I will shortly relate, our storming of Caeradarn was a dull affair.

Because of this, I have had the opportunity to peruse some the intelligence taken from the Woodmere, as well as the (admittedly scant) notes and evidence pertaining to Brown here at the castle. I have also spoken with Segismund before he breathed his last. Rather than relate all of those investigations in tedious detail, allow me to synthesize them into a narrative of some recent history, filling in some of the gaps remaining after your debriefing of Tollard.

Dr. Amory Brown, a privileged child of whatever passes for nobility in New Columbia, entered a course of study under Dr. Von Neumann at the Extern-Universität of Tyrolia, as you had previously discovered. His time there overlapped for a few years with your man MacTallan, who, though he was undoubtedly the elder student, was eclipsed by the precocious newcomer’s unusual brilliance. Brown continued his studies for several more years after MacTallan returned home to Albion, even remaining after the point when political tensions rendered the presence of a New Columbian student at a Saxionan university rather complicated. At the outset of the Blood War, Brown managed to keep his head down, as it were, and when he was able to connect with a New Columbian regiment during the siege of Tyrolia, he was extracted and immediately enlisted on the field.

You will perhaps not find it too surprising that Brown’s regiment spent most of the war in and around Essen. Half of them did not escape the city in time to avoid its destruction. But Brown did, and when the war ended – ten years ago now, almost to the day – he returned home to New Columbia. He settled into what might have become a very ordinary life teaching archaeology and linguistics, but the immediacy and secrecy surrounding his return to Essen eight years later suggest that he maintained his connections with military intelligence, and may have even at this time been nurturing his contacts with the Society as well.

So then: Essen. What Van Dyke had told me about it earlier all checks out. Long after all the treaties had been signed and the other occupying forces had departed, an allied detachment remained in the ruins of the city. It included a number of New Columbians from Brown’s old regiment. The whole thing was shrouded in the highest levels of military secrecy, which explains why what would have been the archaeological discovery of the decade was unknown to the scholarly community at large and to those of us in the business. Brown arrived two years ago to conduct the dig. While the Society was not directly involved, one of the Albionese scholars there was affiliated with them to some degree. His name was Stratham, and I have every reason to believe it is indeed the late Stratham with whom you are already quite familiar.

Alas, I have no detailed reports on what they found in the impossibly ancient vaulted corridors deep beneath Essen. But I am confident enough to say that, whatever else they discovered, they found three people there, two men and one woman – people who should have been long dead, but instead were awakened as if from an incredibly long sleep. In runes above the chambers where they slept were, assuming an ur-Samekh pronunciation, three words: “EN-RA”, “ROS”, and “MAYIM”; whether those are their names or some other designation is unknown, though they are used to refer to them now.

There was a confrontation. Whether they were hostile to begin with or whether the expedition somehow provoked them, I cannot say, though I have my suspicions. One of the men – En-ra – died; the other – Ros – escaped; the woman – Mayim, who we know as Rachel – was captured. But all three of them were relieved of the amulets they had been wearing, the ones we now know as the telesma. (Indeed, I suspect that the removal of the amulets may have been what awakened them in the first place.) With Stratham’s help, Brown departed with the spoils: all three telesma, the captive Mayim, and the body of En-ra.

As you learned from Bennington, Rachel went to Garnsey, under the Society’s protection. But I am afraid she was not spared occasional trips to Caeradarn as a subject of Brown’s investigations. At minimum her blood was frequently extracted and analyzed, though I suspect she suffered more indignities than that. That is undoubtedly the source of her trauma and the reason for her hatred of the man. As for the body of En-ra, it too was subjected to all manner of experimentation and dissection, much if not all of which was kept secret from his allies in the Society.

On learning all of this I realized that I had assumed that Brown’s transition from man to monster must have come alongside his Ability: that, like Robards, some level of human weakness, overwhelmed with unexpected power, had caused him to abandon his moral compass. But in this case I am forced to conclude that the compass was cast aside at some earlier point: maybe under Essen, maybe during the war. Maybe he never had it. What is certain is that he was hell-bent on on extracting power in some form from these poor souls from another time. He succeeded in imbuing himself with an Ability, to be sure; whether it is exactly what he intended or just what he stumbled upon, we may never know.

Nor do I know exactly how it was accomplished, but the “dark blood” you mention assuredly had something to do with it. In a comminique between himself and Stratham, Brown, writing a year ago, indicates that his source of dark blood was the body of En-ra, and that he wants to find more. Why was En-ra a source for it, and not Rachel/Mayim? Is it simply because he was dead, or was something else at work? Would Ros potentially be another source, if he could be found? Questions without answers, at least for now.

Meanwhile, this tentative Society-N.C. alliance: your characterization of it from Tollard is apt, as it was never anything formal or complete, but was comprised of factions of both whose leashes were just long enough for them to get into this sort of trouble. Brown was a part of it, of course, but he seems to have been rather single-minded in his work on the telesma and dark blood. Others, most of whom we now know, were more concerned with the search for Rexley, and, as you have already discovered, the period during which all parties were harmoniously working together toward this end was surprisingly short.

That search was prompted by discoveries at Essen that suggested the location of Skald. The island itself is ancient, though it did not appear on maps until recently. Its rises from the waves and sinks again, cyclically, I believe, over a period of many years, though I cannot say for certain how many. The Society had long been obsessed with Edmund Rexley’s work, so of course they were eager to get to it.

Edward Segismund was already retired at this point, but was convinced by High Command to assist in this covert co-operation with the Society. He was given a cutting-edge ship, the Sigsbee, but he also took along his old command, the Woodmere, which he personally preferred, and which was slated for decommission anyway. He was personally motivated by fear: fear of the horrors unleashed in the Blood War, fear that his homeland was ill-equipped to deal with something similar closer to home. Unlocking the secrets of Essen, finding Rexley – he saw these as chances to gain crucial knowledge to buttress New Columbia’s defenses. But, to his credit, he was one of the first to realize things were not so simple.

His logs are a litany of hesitation and doubt: concern about his allies in the Society, distaste for working with deep-cover operatives like Thompson, reservations about using Rexley the more they learned of it. But above all, a deep disquiet about Brown. Even before Segismund learned what he was up to, he did not like the man. The mission to Gallia was the last straw.

It began in May of last year. Brown was operating out of Caeradarn at the time, but (rather impetuously, it seemed to Segismund) wanted to go on an extended mission surveying various locations in western Gallia. The Sigsbee was far too conspicuous for that sort of thing, so the Woodmere had to go, despite the admiral’s objections. (While Segismund was technically in charge, High Command had made it clear that what Brown wanted, Brown got.) For the next few months, the Woodmere skulked off the Gallian coast, dropping off Brown and his unsavory mercenaries under cover of night, picking them up again days later. It all seemed pointless to him, and Brown’s behavior was increasingly unsettling. When the landing party was days late for a rendezvous in September, Segismund decided to leave rather than risk being discovered and causing a diplomatic incident.

Imagine his shock upon returning to Albion, now ravaged by an altogether greater Incident. At Yarmouth: the Sigsbee gone, a blight upon the land. At Caeradarn: the same Brown (seemingly) he had left behind, calmly welcoming him back. When he began to understand what Brown had become, and what he had done to accomplish it, Segismund left again in disgust, now fully divorced from his original mission. The Woodmere spent weeks trying to find a route back west across the ocean, but was thwarted at every turn by vortex-storms. It tried to reach Garnsey, but failed again for the same reason. Up and down Albion’s coasts they wandered, alone.

Alone, I should say, by choice. Segismund could have found one of us. The Woodmere did not have a mooring tower, but it did have an aero beacon. But he deactivated it, fearing that the flyers would betray him to Brown and/or the Society. The notion seems ridiculous to us, but remember that he had been away for most of the post-Incident developments, and probably did not realize the extent to which old alliances had fractured and everything had been thrown into chaos. He was justifiably paranoid, and in the end, gave in to a kind of despair. Unable to get home, or find a safe haven he could trust, he concluded that his best chance would be to retake Caeradarn and neutralize Brown.

We arrived in the wake of that battle. Segismund had good intelligence on the number of mercenaries Brown had with him at the castle, but had not accounted for all the Brown-copies, and as a result things went poorly. After sustaining heavy losses, his forces retreated to the Woodmere, but the ship was overrun before he could weigh anchor. He ordered it scuttled rather than see it fall into Brown’s hands, and then he surrendered. Had he realized how many of his men would be cruelly assimilated, he would have had them fight to the death.

Two days ago we returned to Caeradarn to find it deserted. The first thing of note that we found was Segismund himself, imprisoned in a dungeon cell. I do not know why he had not been assimilated. I wish there was more to say about our encounter with him, but when we found him he was already a broken man, and learning the ultimate fate of his crew took away his last will to live. He spoke with me for some hours before begging me to let him sleep – a sleep from which he did not wake. So ends his tragic tale.

The second thing of note is what else we found beneath the castle: even lower than the dungeons, more chambers, even older still. A doorway with ur-Samekh runes around the frame. Past that, a room with a circle of runes carved into the floor. I recognized them instantly based on your (and Bennington’s) descriptions from Skald: we had found a node of the Ashkurian conveyance line network.

I would love to say we found it covered in dust, pristine and forgotten. But assorted detritus and disturbances in the dust suggest that the place has been visited very recently. And outside the castle, there were no signs to be found anywhere of a large group of people on the move. It is most likely that Brown escaped by way of a conveyance line – if MacTallan could manage it, then certainly he could as well. Can we ascertain where he went? Can we go there too, or perhaps adjust to another destination – even Thornskye? I will direct all my energies toward these questions in the coming days.

One final note. Segismund believed that Brown had caused the Incident. I am not convinced of this; I lean toward MacTallan’s theory that it was associated with a meterological event. But what seems undeniable is that he knew it was coming. He saw to it that one of his copies was abroad; he amassed vast quantities of food, water, and supplies at Caeradarn; he distributed two of the telesma to others – all in a short period of time just prior to the fateful day. He understands what has happened more than any man living, and he is loose in the world.

I can delay Alia no longer. While I am certain I will have much more to report in the coming days, I must send this off. I hope it finds you.

Warm Regards,


Porthgain, 26 February

My Dear Rackham,

Do you remember Mlle Tourno from our Everwood days? The headmaster brought her in on an assortment of Wednesdays, perhaps it was in our fourth year, to educate us on matters of etiquette. I recall she was something of a sensation with the older boys, for obvious reasons. But it is her lessons on the proper conduct of correspondence that brought her to my mind just now. Matters of penmanship and stationary that circumstance has forced us to abandon, but also rules of form and address that even now we continue to follow. I confess an impish desire to leave you in some suspense as to where I am writing from and what my current circumstances may be, so that I could reveal them with proper ceremony in the course of my narrative. But the fond memory of Mlle Tourno does not permit me: the heading of my letter must consist of the place of its composition, followed by a comma, a short interval of space, and then the date. I suppose in a way it is a comfort to adhere to such formalities. They are a connection to the past in a world where so much has changed.

But they have indeed spoiled the suspense: I write from Porthgain, the coastal Cambrian village nearest Caeradarn, and for these past weeks the Sigsbee’s home port. Let us roll back the clock, however, for the story of my escape depends on much that happened earlier, and though you have heard tell from our flyers about our first tragic investigation of the castle, hopefully my perspective will help you achieve a fuller understanding.

Over six weeks ago now, we ascended the cliffs and entered Caeradarn. We soon realized that we had come on the heels of a battle. The smell of gunpowder still lingered in the air, and streaks of blood were in evidence, especially near the castle gates – although, strangely, bodies were not to be found. We did not know it at the time, but Campbell and his men were also discovering signs of combat on board the Woodmere, albeit obscured by the shifting tides.

We proceeded with caution. Caeradarn is a rather traditional medieval castle in structure, though the addition of numerous crosswalks and elevated passages somewhat blur the distinction between its outer wall and central keep. One of the corner towers had been built higher at some point well following the initial construction; perhaps some long-dead baron had a plan once to transform the seat of his fiefdom into something a good deal more fanciful and grand, but he only made it so far as to extend the height of my eventual prison.

At first we were at a loss as to where to begin our exploration. But then we heard the screams. We followed the sounds to the great hall, only realizing then that they came from somewhere beneath, and, judging from the echoes, it seemed likely that the excavations beneath the castle might be substantial.

Those screams still haunt me. I have had the grisly duty of performing a battlefield amputation without the benefit of anesthesia; no scream of pain, even were it under the duress of torture, could have affected me so. This was somehow even worse. Not only that but we continued to see some gruesome evidence of fighting. At one point our way was barred by a pool of blood. Streaks of blood emanated from it, gradually fading, as if a body had been dragged – in the direction of the screams.

I say all this not to sensationalize, but to fully convey our sense of agitation and terror as we finally came upon the chamber. It was large, with an elevated ceiling, perhaps a storage room but more likely an ancient crypt, though now it resembled a cross between an operating theater and a site for ritual sacrifice.

And there was Dr. Brown. He was not alone in the room – several assistants were visible – but in those first few seconds he commanded our attention. He had something of the posture of a surgeon, leaning over a body splayed on a stone slab. Judging from its convulsions, the body had been the source of the screams we had heard, though in the moments before we entered they had ceased. Brown held no instruments; as he straightened to look at us it appeared that he had just been grasping the head of the poor man on the slab between his hands.

“Dr. Crane! Nice to meet ya again!” That voice, cheery as can be, unmistakable, terrifying. “You’ve caught us at a busy time, I’m afraid. Give us a chance to tidy up a bit and we can give you and your friends a proper welcome. How about dinner?”

That is when Rachel ran towards him, face twisted in rage. One of his assistants intervened, and they grappled there in the middle of the chamber. Van Dyke ran forward and pulled Rachel back to us, locking eyes with the assistant as he did so. “Crane,” he said, voice thin and strained, “Look at him. Look at him.”

What I saw was another Brown. Not identical, for this man’s build was slightly different, and there was a certain dullness in the eyes whereas the “real” Brown’s were hawklike. But it was somehow unmistakably him, not a chance resemblance.

“We have to fall back.” This voice came from behind us – Lt. Barksdale, who had remained at the entrance to the chamber. “We are being flanked. We have to fall back now.”

My own recollection of the ensuing hours remains muddled, but having had the time and the (unfortunate) opportunity to deal with Brown up close, and having the chance (at long last) to confer with my companions about that fateful day, I will lay things out as clearly as I can.

I do not know if it was a trap, exactly, but it is definitely the case that Brown and his forces had been aware of our approach, and most of them had remained silent and hidden as we entered the castle, allowing us to follow the screams down to the chamber. Then they had begun to close in around us; that Barksdale detected this probably saved our lives. As Van Dyke pulled Rachel bodily from the chamber, Brown’s assistants closed in on us, holding rudimentary weapons. My last glimpse back as I retreated was of the body on the slab, slowly sitting up, and its face … its face was also Brown’s.

The forces arrayed against us were of two types. First, New Columbian soliders out of uniform – mercenaries, or a rogue detachment, we still do not know, but in any case, loyal enough to Dr. Brown that they had attacked us without hesitation just as they had, the previous day, apparently battled their own countrymen without remorse. Second, the uncanny copies of Dr. Brown, which were by no means limited to those we had seen in the chamber.

Our group fought bravely, managing to stay together, but found the stairway we had taken down from the great hall blocked by the enemy. Van Dyke’s knowledge of Caeradarn’s myriad corridors was limited, but he seemed confident there was another way back to the surface somewhere, so we moved on through the lower halls, searching for an exit. A Brown-like half-man came lurching out of the shadows at me. I say “half-man” because his posture was ape-like, his rage animalistic, his strength enormous. The only saving grace is that his movements were choppy and clumsy, and even someone as untrained in the fighting arts as myself was able to wriggle free of his attempt to close his oversized hands around my throat. He seemed to lose interest and shambled back in the direction of the others, but our melee had taken us down a side passage just as they had been exchanging fire with soldiers attempting to cut off our intended route. As I pieced together later, what happened is that Barksdale perceived they were on the verge of being pinned down, and had one chance to surge ahead and escape the vice. He gave the order, unwittingly leaving me behind. As I stood and regained my own composure I realized that the voices I was hearing around me were not those of my friends. There was a side-room nearby, some long-unused closet with a dusty floor and a door of rotten wood. I ducked in and pulled the door shut behind me.

At this moment I was glad for the New Columbian-issue survival packs we had each taken from the Sigsbee prior to setting out for the castle. In addition to some simple provisions they had an insulated box containing candles and matches. I gave myself a little light then, and … I began to write. Perhaps a strange choice, I know. But I did not think my chances of finding my way out without being caught were very likely. And I had brought the letter I was in the process of writing to you along with me. I knew I wanted to hide it, but thought I should quickly add some note of what had just happened before I did so, especially if, as I feared, none of us were going to make it out of there.

I did not get very far. Maybe a few sentences beyond what you already read, lost when the page was torn. But when the pounding on the door began I barely had a moment to stuff the pages amid some debris in the corner before I was seized and knocked unconscious.

Barksdale, Van Dyke, and the others did make it out of the castle, save two brave souls (one sailor, one soldier) who died in the fighting. There they met reinforcements – Campbell, to his credit, had positioned a lookout at the top of the cliff, from where he could watch for activity both at the castle and at the Woodmere below in the water. This scout had heard sounds of fighting once it reached the upper halls, and had signaled the Sigsbee. Alia came up with the reinforcements, and proved to be the deciding vote in the question of whether to attempt to go back for me, as they had of course realized by then that I had been lost.

“Vote” is not the right word, exactly. Once Alia was apprised of the situation, she started running towards the castle gates. The others were obliged to either accompany her or stay behind, and no one much wanted to shy away where a woman did not fear to tread, much less bear any responsibility for the demise of one of the flyers. And so the now-larger group re-entered the castle.

They were fortunate that all this was happening very rapidly, and that the tactical situation remained, as they say, fluid. If Brown’s forces had had some time to assume defenive positions there would have been no chance of returning. As it was, the enemy was recovering from their own losses in the fighting, and certainly did not expect a counterattack. Alia’s gambit proved even more successful than they had hoped – the enemy was driven back, Barksdale established a control point in the great hall, and was able to lead sorties back down to look for me and to recover some evidence from the chamber where we had first encountered Brown (who was no longer there). For a while it seemed as if they may have succeeded in taking the castle.

But then the enemy counter-counter-attacked in greater numbers, arriving from still-lower chambers beneath the castle. Like a rising tide, dozens of Browns emerged from hidden staircases and unexplored corners, and our forces were sore pressed. Alia located the closet where I had been caught, and found my letters. Barksdale saved her from a particularly vicious Brown, and convinced her that nothing more could be done. Our forces engaged in a fighting retreat from Caeradarn; its great gates slammed shut as they made their way back down the cliffside to the Sigsbee.

I awoke in my prison cell in the tower. Why there, as opposed to some subterranean dungeon? Perhaps to keep me away from the secrets of the castle; clearly there is a good deal more to be found underground than what we were able to discover. But I suspect there was a touch of sadism in the choice as well. Brown would visit me in my cell and encourage me to take in the view of the foggy, windswept hills outside. He always couched it in terms of kind treatment of his prisoner, though I could not help but detect a hint of enjoyment in showing me a freedom he believed I would never have again.

I have gone far enough being elusive about Dr. Brown and his Ability. Time to lay out what I know. In addition to his occasional visits to my cell, he brought me back down to his Chamber on two occasions, and based on all that I have seen I have a clearer notion than I would like as to what he can do.

He can copy himself. His features, his memories, even his consciousness. Not only that, but these copies are linked – in earlier times I would hesitate to use a word like “telepathically,” but I trust you will not bat an eye at it now. This connection seems to function over great distances, although not at great strength. While he certainly recognized me from our meeting at Mont-Bré, it became clear that he did not know (or should I say remember?) exactly what transpired there, and wanted to get that story from me.

These copies are not created out of thin air, however. He needs, if you will pardon the macabre tenor of the term in this context, raw materials. For this, any body will do – even a corpse, so long as it is a fresh one. But a living body is best, and that is what we were witnessing when we first came upon his chamber. That is also the explanation of why we saw no bodies when we first entered the castle – Brown had been hard at work bolstering his ranks by assimilating the dead, the wounded, and the captured all alike.

I shudder to think of it, but surely you must recognize the eerie similarity between what he does and the transformative properties of the Rexley Device. What he accomplishes requires no apparatus or transfer of fluids, however. How he came by this Ability I still do not know; he was not with us at the Incident; he has thus far given no indication what his connection might be with Rexley. I suspect it may have something to do with the excavations under Essen.

At any rate, the form of each Brown-copy depends on the raw materials used. I believe that the copies closest in appearance and manner to the man himself – and I have seen a few that are nearly indistinguishable – come from healthy bodies and weak minds. I say “weak minds” because I have seen other copies that show evidence of inner turmoil, as if the host is actively fighting for control. These poor souls suffer rapid mental degradation and are most often seen as assistants or menial workers. And then there are the monsters, like the one that assailed me – nearly devoid of mind but uncommonly strong. These come from the bodies of the recently dead.

I was able to lay hands on a piece of mirrored glass and used it to signal outside, more as a way to pass the time than anything else. After eleven days in prison, one of my signals was detected, and soon after Sharma’s arrow found the arrowslit in the wall of my tower cell, sending me welcome word from the outside and allowing me to catch up on your activities as well. Back in Porthgain there was heated debate about whether it really was me up there in the tower. I do not fault those who believed me dead or lost. Between what they had seen and the things they retrieved from the chamber, my allies had a more or less clear notion of Brown’s Ability; why should he not have used it on me? But perhaps more to the point, Van Dyke had a clear notion of my Ability, and others, like Campbell, at least suspected it – none of them knew that it had been dormant since Carteret, though, save Rachel. Van Dyke’s assumption was that I should have been able to escape easily, and the fact that I had not rejoined them meant that I had almost certainly met my end, either by death or assimilation.

Which brings us to the chief question that bothered me during those long hours in my cell: why hadn’t I been assimilated? As I said, Brown brought me to the chamber he used to conduct that awful transformation more than once. Each time it seemed clear that that was what he meant to do to me as well. Both times he made me watch as someone else was transformed, no doubt to rattle me. On the second occasion he had me laid out on the slab, his fingers pressed into my temples – but then he stopped. And no, it was not that I possessed some great reserves of mental fortitude that he could not penetrate – it was more that he came to the point of it and changed his mind.

It was only upon receipt of your last letter – fired with astonishing precision by Sharma once again – that I began to conceive a theory accounting for Brown’s strange behavior toward me. Your own Ability appears to be dormant following Bennington’s use of the substance in the vials to return your mind to your body. Mine was suspended after Rachel triggered some power within the telesma. Brown’s own Ability proceeds unchecked, perhaps fueled by this “dark blood” from Essen, as you theorize. His questions to me about Mont-Bré suggest he was not just trying to understand what had happened to his copy there, but more importantly what I had done there. I regret to say that I had the telesma on my person when I was captured, and now Brown has it. He showed it to me once in my chambers, no doubt hoping to gauge my reaction. I did not give him the pleasure. “No matter,” he exclaimed, “It’s just a dead thing. Little like yourself, perhaps?”

Then, later, when he came to take to the ritual chamber the second time, his first words to me were, “Still sleeping, eh?” Which was odd, since I had been standing upright, staring out the window when he arrived.

As I said, your letter helped me put the pieces together somehow. The reason Brown had not tried to assimilate me is that he knew I possessed an Ability – that much he remembered from Mont-Bré, though perhaps the details were hazy. He suspected or intuited that it was dormant, but feared that attempting to transform me might somehow trigger it again. When he called me a “dead thing” or said I was “sleeping,” he was referring to my Ability, not my person. He was looking, perhaps, for some final piece of assurance that I was full and truly asleep and would not react in some fantastic way if assimilated.

Would I? I did not want to test that particular case. But his fear was a real one, in that I knew from experience that imminent trauma had been the most reliable trigger for my Ability in the past. It was upon this last realization that I conceived my plan.

I had to wait a while to carry it out. By this time I was receiving weekly deliveries via longbow – usually just notes and updates from Porthgain, along with a match to burn them after they had been read. These deliveries happened in late afternoon when the sun most reliably shone on the tower; first Sharma would signal me in readiness, then I would send a return signal with my mirror if the coast was clear.

It came to late afternoon on the appointed day. I could have done with a glass of something strong to fortify me for what I was about to do. As it was I had only my inner resolve to spur me on. But I knew it was only a matter of time before Brown concluded it was worth the risk trying to turn me into one of him, and I did not want to spend the rest of my days buried under the consciousness of an unnecessarily chipper New Columbian psychopath.

So then. Sharma signaled. I signaled back. I stepped away, counted to five, and then, standing on a chair, imposed my body over the entire length of the arrowslit.

The arrow hurtled straight for my throat. And in that instant before impact, true to my hopes, I woke up. I felt a tingle, not in my extremities, but in my internalities, if that makes any sense. My Ability returned just in time to save my life – my whole body ghosted, the arrow flew through me and clattered into the back of the room. I did not know how long it would last, but I had the presence of mind to solidify for just a moment to retrieve the arrow. Then I willed myself insubstantial again, jumped headlong through the wall of the tower, and drifted, cloud-like, downward. I solidified just enough as I reached the ground that I wouldn’t keep right on going, making for a quite graceful landing, if I do say so myself.

Sharma and Jacobs found me a few minutes later. The expressions of amazement on their faces were, admittedly, rather gratifying.

“We was goin to rescue you,” said Jacobs. He sounded almost disappointed.

“And I thank you for it,” I replied, “But don’t worry. You will get your chance to return to the castle. We are not done with Brown.” This seemed to satisfy him.

I have only been in Porthgain two days, enjoying some proper sleep and good food for the first time in a long while. I have yet to follow up on some important matters, foremost among them, learning from Campbell what was discovered on the Woodmere, and re-examining his story in light of everything you have discovered about Tollard. But I wanted to write to assure you of my safety, so those discoveries will have to wait. As will, if all goes well, the story of our assault on Caeradarn. That abomination Brown cannot be allowed to remain there in peace. He feared to awaken me; he was right to fear.

Warm Regards,


Caeradarn, 15 January

12 January

My Dear Rackham,

Yes, I acknowledge that it is you, even if the handwriting is not your own. While I am sure Bennington is capable of a great many things, I have no reason to think she would be able to so impeccably imitate the peculiarities of your written voice. Your accomplishments … projecting your consciousness outside your body, crossing space, descending into the minds of others … the implications are staggering. But I encourage you to direct your energies toward restoring yourself to your self, if you take my meaning. One’s mind and body are not so easily separated, present circumstances notwithstanding. I fear for the long-term health of one or both the longer they remain disunited.

As for your encounter with the rat-men … I suspect we have both long harbored the idea that they were once ordinary people. Now you have confirmed it. But if their transformation is the result of the Rexley Device, my question is … what does that have to do with the Incident, and the chamber where we found the stone? As far as we know, our world was turned upside-down from that moment, far from Skald and with no apparent connection to Rexley. Perhaps the two are connected in some way. Or perhaps it was wrong to assume that every change we have seen in our wracked and ruined world came as a result of the Incident … perhaps some came from Rexley and other Society machinations.

We will get to the bottom of this, hopefully soon … though unfortunately, not as soon as I would have hoped. We should have arrived at our destination by now, but we have been delayed. Three days ago, the Sigsbee lurched suddenly – I assumed we had suddenly run aground, though we were far enough from shore that seemed unlikely. Then we lurched the other direction. The lookouts on duty reported seeing gigantic shapes moving beneath the waves. I believe that we were subject to what would have been a deadly attack had we been in anything other than a ironclad. Whatever the case, the lurching subsided with the hull intact. Things got jostled around in the engine room, however, and Campbell was loathe to get where we were going in a state of anything other than full readiness. Hence the delay.

In the meantime, Van Dyke, in a welcome display of candor and openness on his part, has briefed us on what he knows of our destination. Caeradarn is a Cambrian castle, long-abandoned and for the most part forgotten, situated as it is near a remote stretch of rocky coastline. Whatever fiefdom its medieval lord of yore once ruled has long since fallen into history; the area around it is uninhabited for many miles. The place has been used for some decades by the Society as a place to conduct research away from prying eyes. More recently, with their new projects performed in conjunction with the New Columbian military, Caeradarn’s proximity to the sea has made it an ideal location for smuggling goods and personnel in and out of Albion. Indeed, while Van Dyke had already admitted previously that he had been the one who brought Rachel to Garnsey, he has now also acknowledged that the place she had been coming from was Caeradarn.

At this point in the meeting everyone turned to gauge her reaction to any of this, but her response was as impassive as ever. I would like to think that, with all the time I have spent with her, I was able to detect at the very least that she understood what everyone was saying and simply chose not to react. But I cannot be sure.

14 January

We have arrived; in the morning we will disembark and take the (rather treacherous) path up the cliff to the castle. It is what we found in the waters at the base of the cliff that has been our immediate object of interest, however.

The N.C.S. Woodmere is, or perhaps I should say was, Admiral Segismund’s flagship: a battleship, steam-powered, but not a proper ironclad like the Sigsbee, which no doubt helped facilitate its current situation. My assumption as we approached was that it had been sunk, but Campbell quickly assured me that that terminology was not accurate. He pointed out the lack of visible damage to the hull, and the fact that it had descended straight down evenly, without any listing or leaning. No, he assured me, the Woodmere had been scuttled – likely by the use of explosives at key points, near the keel, from the inside – either deliberately by its crew, or as an act of sabotage. We were able to see enough for him to make these judgments because we happened to be approaching at low tide, when the deck and upper hull were exposed.

But the timing was terrible; no sooner had we taken all this in than we realized that the tide was coming in and we were quickly losing light to the dusk. We are waiting until morning to fully investigate the ship, and at the same time another party will ascend to Caeradarn. It is a risk to split up our forces in this way, but one other important thing we noticed is that debris and coal-streaks on the water were still visible in a halo around the wreck, which means that the scuttling occurred very recently. We decided we could not afford to wait.

Van Dyke, myself, and Rachel will be in the group heading for the castle on the morrow. Campbell himself was visibly torn as to which operation he should oversee; in the end he chose to adhere to his official responsibilities, and is sending a Lt. Barksdale to the castle in his stead, though the man holds barely enough years on his frame to be an Ensign. Three seamen under the lieutenant and three of Robards’ former men round out our company. For the latter I insisted on the inclusion of Jacobs and Sharma. Jacobs’ left arm is still in a sling after the Battle of Carteret, but if it comes to fighting I would rather have half of either of those men than any able-bodied other.

Forgive me for sending this letter in sections, but Alia wishes to leave again tomorrow, which means I will not have a great deal of time to write down whatever discoveries we made. And yes, I do mean Alia – the sisters have briefly switched routes, and she has been traveling with us for the past five days, while Alona presumably handles the Greysham/Skald end of the run, and whatever other business these flyers are up to. She did not explain the change but I believe at least part of the reason was that she could confirm the details of your situation to me with first-person testimony; for that I am grateful.

It is obvious that she cares for you deeply. I am happy for you, my friend. You should hasten to return to yourself if for no other reason than that you can cherish such moments of joy and intimacy as have been afforded you.

15 January

I must write in even greater haste than I anticipated. Dr. Brown … at first I thought the man we met at the castle must have been a twin. But when he spoke … “Nice to meet ya again!” … That smirk, that knowing glance! I had buried his hideously reanimated body at Mont-Bré, but my instinct told me that it was actually him, despite the impossibility. He had two assistants this time, hunched over, ape-like, but when I saw one of their faces clearly I finally understood.

Brown is alive, Rackham. And he –

The Albionese Coast, 3 January

My Dear Rackham,

Or should I say, “My Esteemed Colleague Dr. Bennington?” I hope you will understand, Doctor, that my sincerest wish is that this letter finds the hands of my friend Rackham and that he is of sound body and mind as he reads it. But as you have written me in his stead, I will address this to the both of you.

Having spent recent days worrying about a betrayal from Dr. Bennington, the sudden knowledge that she is the sister of Alia and Alona requires, if you will permit me to understate, a mental adjustment. No sooner had I read the letter than I went to find Alona, who had wasted no time since her arrival in joining some of the sailors at a poker game in the mess hall. As someone who routinely performs complex mathematical computations regarding windspeed and weight coefficients on the fly – literally! – card-counting and the calculation of odds present her no great difficulty, a fact she thoroughly enjoys capitalizing on at the card-table. And the sailors, unable to stomach being routinely trounced by a woman, are always ready to try yet again to prove their mettle. Poor naive souls.

But I digress. On this occasion I walked up to Alona and whispered in her ear, “Sisters?!” She excused herself from the table and was kind enough to engage with me on the subject. She confirmed the truth of the matter, first of all, and vouched for the other relevant details in Dr. Bennington’s letter, enough to convince me that it was written in earnest. She explained that her family had grown up in a culture of secrecy, owing to its Society connections, and that the concept of revealing information only at need was second nature to her and her sisters. As this has also been my habit of late, I can hardly fault them for it!

So, Dr. Bennington, if it is you who are reading this, rest assured that, owing to the credit given you by your sisters, I acknowledge the sincerity of your desire to understand the full truth of what is to be found on Skald, and of our larger predicament. I cannot of course agree with Thompson’s notion that wholesale slaughter is preferable to the uncovering of a secret; neither can I throw in with the likes of Dr. Brown, who, in the short minutes I spent with him, seemed intent and even eager to unleash upon Gallia the same devastation our homeland has suffered. I cannot say whether I would agree with you on every point, but I trust that we are, to the extent that such words have any meaning, on the same side.

That settled, let me account for the recent activities of the Sigsbee. We held outside Yarmouth for three more days. Unbeknownst to anyone not on the crew, Campbell ordered a sortie to the naval station where his ship had once been docked, in order to reclaim weapons, ammunition, and supplies. The Blight was still present, as well as whatever monstrosities had already claimed the lives of Tollard and others. They returned having laid claim to their prizes but also having lost six men; whether it was worth the loss is a calculation for Campbell, I suppose, though it seemed reckless to me. I believe part of his reason for the action was to reinforce his assertion that he and he alone commands operations on his ship. Van Dyke or I might have aided the sortie in many ways, to say nothing of some of Robards’ former company, all well-seasoned at fighting creatures out of nightmare. But, for better or worse, he chose not to inform us.

After this, we started making our way west. At first we hugged the coast, staying close enough to visually scan each coastal village or town we came across, hoping perhaps to find another point of stability like Greysham. The first town had been transformed into a warren for rat-men, so we passed it by. The second seemed deserted, though some reported seeing tentacles that put me in mind of the ones encountered by poor Kensington and Gujparat back in August; again we decided to keep going. At the third things looked peaceful and we saw several people coming down to the shore once they sighted us. I went along on the boat that was sent out to greet them. As we approached, it seemed a little strange that the townsfolk were standing in a straight line on the fishing pier, not waving or gesturing. Then, as we drew still closer and prepared to land, something happened to their faces …

Forgive me if I leave it at that. The details are not important and I would prefer not to dwell on it. We rowed our way back to the Sigsbee in all haste; after that Campbell ordered us to sail at a greater distance from shore, and we stopped surveying the coast. This has allowed us to cover more ground but I cannot help but wonder how many people in need we have passed by as a result. At any rate, we have rounded the cape at Land’s End and are now making our way north and east toward the coast of Cambria.

As to more personal matters, things remain unchanged – my Ability remains dormant, and the telesma (a suitable term, I grudgingly admit) remains inert. I had stopped making attempts to communicate with Rachel, given her evident reluctance, although that is not to say she does not remain ever-present and concerned for my well-being. But with the additional information in your letter, including MacTallan’s rubbings, I thought I might try again. I showed her the rubbings, explaining that they were found on Skald, and her usual calm demeanor evaporated for perhaps the first time. She became animated, and by means of hand gestures conveyed to me (eventually – after some rather inept guesses on my part) that she wanted to see a map. We went to the navigation room, and again, after some delay, I was made to understand that she wanted me to show her on the map there exactly where Skald was located.

Skald’s position was there, and so I showed her. (At the same time I noted with some interest – if not quite surprise – that Skald’s coordinates had not been added to the map in grease pencil, by Alona for instance, but rather were already there on the map as printed.) Her response to it was muted enough that I hesitate to describe it for fear of a mistaken impression. It was neither surprise nor alarm, but perhaps something closer to resignation – a suspicion confirmed, a hypothesis verified. Unfortunately, we were interrupted at that moment by one of Campbell’s lieutenants coming in and informing us rather sternly that the navigation room was part of Official Ship Business and access for “civilians” was prohibited. I had some curt words on the tip of my tongue for this young officer regarding the utter meaninglessness of the term “civilian” upon the loss of civil society, but Rachel was already leaving, and I elected to follow.

That was all I had from her on the subject. I wanted to ask her about MacTallan’s “conveyance lines,” and about her time with the Society and whatever horrors of experimentation she may have been subjected to there. But other than her reaction to Skald, she remains as serene and unresponsive as ever.

Working with the crude rubbings you have provided, I can only say that yes, they are ur-Samekh, and it would not at all surprise me if they had something to do with MacTallan’s theory. The leftmost rune carries the connotation of “transition” and the adjoining one that of “personal location”; direct translation is rarely illuminating with ur-Samekh, but a rough one might be “changing the place where I am.” The other runes I do not recognize, or perhaps the detail is insufficient. I eagerly await more information.

I had hoped to delay sending this until we had arrived in Cambria, but it is now clear we have some days ahead of us before then, and so what we discover there will have to wait for my next. The reason for our delay is encouraging, however – it is because of the cold! And even some snow! As you have previously observed, the weather has not turned to the degree that we might expect for the season, but, for a short time at least, it is properly cold here in Albion. I take it as a sign of hope.

Dr. Bennington, I charge you with the care of my dear friend Rackham. See to his health and place this letter in his hands when he is able to read it. I mean no disrespect to you personally, but please understand that any further contact between us is predicated on his recovery.

Warm Regards,