Yarmouth, 25 December

My Dear Rackham,

Please forgive me for breaking our solemn (if unofficial) tradition by writing again before receiving a letter from you. I very much like our tradition, in no small part because each of your replies tells me that you are still alive; without that reassurance, I do not know that I would even bother to write. But I have news that can brook no delay.

I have received a letter from none other than Lieutenant Thompson, dated on the twenty-fifth of November. Rather than summarize its details I have taken the pains to make a copy to send along to you – read it carefully, and read it secretly, for reasons that will become clear.

How did I come to receive it? As I indicated in my last letter, Alona went to Greysham. This was not at the behest of anyone on the Tortoise Council; the plan was entirely a concoction of hers and Alia’s. They had both made enough flights into the region that they felt confident she could land away from town without being noticed. Her purpose was to ascertain the state of affairs there after Bledsoe’s betrayal of your expedition. As far as that goes, he is still mayor and not much has changed. The townsfolk wonder about the fate of the Jagdschloss but there has of course been no word, which is not yet unusual. She believes he wishes nothing more than to keep the whole affair a secret, and as long as he does not feel threatened on that front, Greysham might still be safely used as a waypoint. Whether Alia would be able to visit the town without stringing Bledsoe up with garrote-wire is a fair question, but that is why she was not the one to go.

Alona had remarkable success in skulking around Bledsoe’s house and other buildings in town undetected. In the room where Thompson had been imprisoned before his escape – though, as we now know, it is more likely that Bledsoe let him out – she found the letter addressed to me tucked in the back of a dresser drawer. Had it been found in Bledsoe’s study, I might have had occasion to doubt its provenance, but under the circumstances it seems most likely that it is genuine. And given the fact that he did indeed die attempting to end your expedition, I have no reason to doubt its sincerity, either.

So then, what to make of it? Even granting full credence to his ardor, his murderous response still strikes me as the action of a madman. Would not a rational appeal – to you, if not to Thorpe – have been a much more sensible course? To my mind, the extremity of his actions casts doubt on his cause. But what, then, of the others he names as confederates – would Admiral Segismund have agreed that access to Rexley must be stopped at all costs, even to the point of commiting murder?

Now I find myself casting my mind back to all his actions that we know of, and wondering whether they reflect the wishes of the New Columbian/Society conspiracy, or the anti-Rexley cabal he ultimately threw in with. The wards, for example – he kept one, and presented another to Robards … but under whose orders, and following which agenda?

More pressingly, you will have to decide what to make of this vis-a-vis Bennington. And I will have yet another reason to doubt whether Van Dyke has really, truly come clean with me, or if this is yet another secret he was aware of. Also, Campbell seems intent on locating his superior, the Admiral – should I now fear such a meeting? Setting sail from Garnsey, leaving all its thorny complications behind, I had been in possession of a modicum of clarity of mind. It lasted for all of a day! Then this Thompson letter arrived and everything is a-jumble once again.

Very well then; my errand concluded, I may as well update you on other matters. Firstly, our destination. This was a matter for much discussion and debate, during which Campbell made clear that, as the commanding officer of the Sigsbee, he was happy to hear our suggestions, but would be the one to make the ultimate decision. “If you’ve got a problem with that then you’re damn welcome to swim,” I believe were his words.

Several men voiced a wish to make for the Continent, to alight on soil untouched by cataclysm and never look back. Others of his crew advocated for sailing west across the wide ocean, homeward-bound. I fear that my wish – that the Sigsbee take advantage of the lull in storms and make all haste for Skald – would earn only my solitary vote, and of course there will be no vote in any case. Campbell’s main wish is to report in to the Admiral, if he is still in the area, and only then consider an ultimate destination.

He did not trust the storm-lull to last, and in this he was proved correct. We sailed north for Albion, and by the time we were in sight of the southern coast, vortex-storms were already visible in the distance behind us. We are currently at anchor off the coast near Yarmouth. The blight around that city is still visible and no one has any desire other than to remain aboard, but from here Alona will do some scouting before we move on again. Van Dyke tells us that there is a Society research station on the coast of Cambria that may be worth investigating. Insofar as the New Columbians and the Society have been known to work together, Segismund is as likely to be found there as anywhere else.

I myself have been devoting my time to attempting to communicate with the enigmatic Rachel. She remains as wordless as ever, but her force of will is strong and she rarely has any difficulty making her intentions known. Sanders objected back on Garnsey when it became clear that she wished to voyage on the Sigsbee, but for whatever reason he was unwilling to refuse her, and eventually relented.

I believe she made this choice because of me; for a while I labored under the false impression that it was because she admired me. She had, after all, served well as my assistant in the infirmary, and ever since the curious activation of the ward had remained a constant presence at my side. But it has become increasingly clear that what is really going on is that she is worried about me. I am not her exemplar; I am her patient. I do not know what it is that she fears, for in most respects I feel fine, with one notable exception. For days after the battle I had no desire to use my Ability, but when I eventually did try, out of simple curiosity, nothing happened. Now a casual attempt to push my hand through the surface of a table has become part of my morning ritual, but as of today I still have had no success. I do not yet fear a permanent loss, but I must admit, it is a growing concern.

I have attempted to communicate with her in ur-Samekh, but her response was unexpected. I had time before we left Garnsey to retrieve my belongings from Stockport, and with all my notes at hand I thought I might present her with a wide variety of ur-Samekh runes, learn from her their exact pronunciation, and from there we would be off to the races, conversationally speaking. But Rachel has proved entirely unwilling to speak in ur-Samekh. On one occasion when I pressed her on it overmuch, she lost her patience and blurted something out to me, but it was in yet another language. I could not identify it, though it bore some resemblance to Akkadian or Sumerian.

She is extremely bright, and if she has indeed been with us since the wards were found under Essen, that seems like ample time for her to learn enough of one of our languages to communicate effectively. If she wanted to use either of her languages with me I am nothing if not a ready and eager learner, but she shows no such inclination. I cannot help but wonder if this linguistic barrier is one she is content to leave erect.

Until she decides otherwise, her past remains a mystery. I have chosen not to share with anyone what Sanders told me about her during the battle. Van Dyke admitted to me that he knew of her, and was aware that she was somehow special – he was the one who smuggled her from Albion to Garnsey (for “safekeeping” at the College), four days before the Incident. But he professes not to know where she came from, and his curiosity about her certainly seems unfeigned.

On a brighter note … Happy Yule, my friend! Here, Campbell allowed for a celebratory meal, and afterwards there was even some singing, though the carols sung by these N.C. sailors are far more bawdy than some would consider appropriate for the holiday.

I will give this letter to Alona and try to convey to her my sense of urgency. Even if she does not attempt the crossing to Skald herself, perhaps she can use her new landing-point outside Greysham as a secret relay-point, and Alia can pick it up from there. I leave it in their hands.

Warm Regards,


Carteret, 23 December

My Dear Rackham,

It is over. The matter with poor Robards is settled, and the future of Garnsey, whatever it will be, will not unfold under his rule, and it will do so without me. I feel relief, sadness, and not a little guilt: many lives could have been saved if I had been a little smarter.

Best to tell it all as it happened, I suppose. At the time of my last letter I had just fled back to Carteret from Stockport. The attack came four days later, on the fifteenth of December. We had expected it, of course, and based on everything I had seen at the room in the residence where Robards confronted me, we girded ourselves for an assault from both land and sea.

We did not fear defeat; we only worried how we might repel the attack with a minimum of bloodshed. Robards had no shortage of ships, but who could he get to crew them? He could choose loyalty – the Brotherhood, those in his circle – but in that number were precious few sailors. Or he could choose skill, selecting from the numerous sailors of assorted nationalities who were stranded in the port district. But, you will recall, the Brotherhood had first been established to quell unrest at the docks – those seamen and merchant captains would prove reluctant allies at best. On our side we had a fully equipped New Columbian ironclad with a well-trained (and rather irate) crew. On land, he may have had an advantage in numbers, though when it came to seasoned military men, perhaps half of our original company remained loyal to him, whereas the other half, men like Jacobs and Sharma, had found their way to Carteret one way or another.

We set up some defensive embankments at key points in town, using the buildings when we could and constructing barriers where need be. We sent out scouts so as to have some warning of the enemy’s approach. The Tortoise Council discussed at great length the importance of restraint, of ending the fighting as quickly as possible, ideally by killing or capturing Robards himself, thereby neutralizing the effect of his Ability on his men.

How naïve we were.

When not in council meetings I busied myself with some actual doctoring – it had been some time since I had used those particular skills! I tended to a smattering of ailment and injuries, but mainly gathered supplies and laid out tables and cots in the main room of The Weeping Tortoise to serve as our infirmary. That is where I was when one of our scouts returned, reporting that Robards was on the move. A ship had been sighted leaving harbor and heading toward the south of the island; the Sigsbee lifted anchor and positioned itself at the edge of the small bay that Carteret sits upon, its broad side cannons ready to fire. Van Dyke and I climbed to the church belfry, the highest point in town, to survey the situation. His job was to call out enemy positions and co-ordinate our movements; I had nothing to do until the infirmary was needed.

From our vantage we could see a merchant vessel come into view, inching around a peninsula to the southeast of us. Campbell had instructions to fire upon any opposing ships, aiming to cripple rather than sink them if possible. But after a couple of minutes, the Sigsbee still had not fired.

“Strange,” muttered Van Dyke. He peered through a spyglass to get a better look at the approaching vessel, then lowered it and said grimly, “It is unarmed.”

“What on earth would be the point of that?” I exclaimed. “We know he has an impressive collection of artillery. Could it be concealed?”

He looked again. “I do not think so. That ship is not even big enough to handle some of those pieces in any case.”

“A floating bomb, then? A hold stuffed with gunpowder?”

“The Sigsbee could easily sink it before it got close enough for that.”

“What, then,” I cried, exasperated. “Where is the damned artillery?!”

On cue, from a quarter mile or so inland, came a boom. The shell hit our church squarely, though thankfully not at the base of the steeple, or that may have been the end of us right there. But then came another, and another. These were not aimed at the church, but at the piers. Carteret’s modest fishing fleet disappeared under billows of smoke, but more to the point, the dock where the Sigsbee put in caught fire.

Then, finally, I realized what was happening. The ship was a decoy. The whole notion of an assault from the sea was a ruse to make sure that the Sigsbee was positioned against that threat, and not positioned to defend the town. It could reposition now – Campbell was less a fool than me, and was already doing so. But by the time it was ready to counter-fire against Robards’ artillery, the bombing would have achieved its purpose, softening our defenses and paving the way for his men to storm the town. The fighting would already be in the streets.

And why were we caught by this trap? Because of me. Because I had seen a map and some scribblings on a chalkboard, and not stopped for a moment to question why Robards had ever allowed me see them, if he already suspected me. He sat in the corner of that room, let me look around before he made himself known, and then, instead of shooting me in the back, talked for a while, like a villain in a penny-dreadful. And I, perhaps fancying myself a hero in the same, was not in the least suspicious that I was being played.

If Van Dyke had the same realization at that moment, he was kind enough not to voice it, but rather led the way down from the belfry and out the (now decimated) front of the church. Three different messengers converged on him and he gave them diverse orders before hurrying off on his own errand. I hastened back to the Tortoise and my makeshift infirmary, where hard work was now certain to follow.

As a result I can only relate the larger developments of the engagement second-hand. But I have seen too many battles to relish the task of re-telling the story of this one; leave the fevered post-facto analysis of tactics to the armchair-generals. Like many battles, the outcome was decided mere minutes from the outset, and the ensuing hours comprised only the slow, bloody realization of an inevitable conclusion. In this case, the deciding factor was that one shell from the bombardment hit our defensive barricade at the north road square on. Three men were wounded; two more were needed to get them to me at the infirmary, and so when Robards’ forces came down that road what resistance remained had to fall back almost immediately. In short order Robards pressed forward to the town square, rendering our perimeter blockades useless. Carteret is not large; from the square he could strike out at any position, and our own forces on opposite sides of the town had no way to communicate or coordinate, let alone reach each other.

Late in the day, I was busy at work in the infirmary and could only guess from the grim faces of messengers and the number of casualties on my cots that the situation was dire. Van Dyke burst in with half a dozen men close behind, clearly making a fast retreat. He looked at me. “He’s here,” he said.

I had been wearing the ward, but now removed it from around my neck, knowing that doing so would save my life, hoping that it might provide me some way to help in a final stand here, if here is where it was to be. But as soon as she saw it, Rachel’s eyed widened –

– and now I must pause and take an extended and regrettable detour from my narrative. Were I a novelist, I would certainly have taken pains to introduce the character of Rachel to you, the reader, in the previous chapter, so that meeting her again now, she would require no introduction. But the fact of the matter is that at the time of my last letter, though I certainly had met her, the curiosity of her character was only one of many miscellaneous details about the situation here in Carteret that I neglected to mention due to lack of space. Had I only known the role she would come to play I would have brought her to your attention sooner!

When I first saw her, I took her for a foreign professor, visiting Elizabeth College from somewhere on the Continent. She had not been one of those in the prison, but had managed to escape the sacking of the College and eventually reunite with her colleagues at Carteret. It was clear that she did not speak our language, and it did not seem that anyone else spoke hers (whatever that may have been, for she never spoke, save to introduce herself by her given name only). That was the first unusual thing about her, for between myself, Van Dyke, Sanders, and a couple of others from the College, we commanded fluency in a great many languages. The second unusual thing was her age – she had the white-and-grey hair and eye-wrinkles of an elderly woman, but had the posture, complexion, and overall heartiness of someone in her thirties.

I had meant to ask Sanders about her, the same way I had meant to ask him about any number of things, and also meant to ask Campbell fifty more questions about Segismund, and meant to thoroughly debrief Van Dyke and who knows who else until finally all my questions had been answered or at least heard, but, as ever, there wasn’t the time, and finding out more about Rachel had seemed far less important than many other matters. At any rate, to bring us back to the story, she had, by means of silent gesture, indicated to Sanders that she had some skill in first aid, and was therefore assigned as one of my assistants in the infirmary. While she had no knowledge of medicine, she was indeed adept at basic care, and her intuition as to which patients required immediate attention and which did not was always correct.

So then: I took out the ward, and as soon as she saw it, Rachel’s eyes widened. That same moment, someone was shouting at us from outside to lay down our arms and come out peacefully. Rachel took two steps closer to me and spoke in a language I did not understand, and yet seemed strangely familiar. Jacobs (he was one of the men who had just retreated here with Van Dyke) answered the demand for us to surrender with some well-placed rifle shots from an upper-storey window, and the return fire was quick to follow. Everyone there who was not already prone on a table or cot fell to the ground for cover. Rachel crawled closer to me, said something again, and extended her hand. Her face was grim, her intention unmistakable: she wanted me to give her the ward.

The fighting intensified; only later I learned that Jacobs had been wounded, giving the attackers the space they needed to storm the door. It was closed and barred but with a span of wood meant to deter passing vagrants, not hold fast against a determined assault. We had very little time – and I had to decide to what to do. I was paralyzed with indecision, fear, concern for my casualties … in that awful moment Sanders crawled into view.

“Crane,” he wheezed – he was not a man accustomed to physical exertion – “Perhaps she can … she is …” – he paused – “… She is from Essen,” he finished.

I did not yet understand. “She is not Saxonian …” I sputtered.

“No no. She was found … at the same time as the wards. In the same place. Beneath the city. She had been … she … –” A crash, as the front door gave way. Our men had already thrown their rifles out the windows in surrender. “… She had been asleep for a long time. Crane. Do you understand? A very long time.”

I looked at Rachel again, who all the while had been unperturbed by the chaos around her, but had been staring steadily at me, her arm extended. And suddenly the words she had been speaking … I will not say I understood them, but I recognized the language. The chief difficulty was that not only had I never heard it before, but that no one had; indeed, its phonemes were purely theoretical. But it was a language that could have been, could only be, ur-Samekh.

Robards himself was striding triumphantly into the room. I had no time to process my realization. In the end I responded to Rachel’s eyes, clear and grey, intent but not angry, determined but calm. I handed her the ward.

In your last letter you described Alia upon finding the flight suit: though the particular device was unknown to her, the general principles were well-known, and her expertise had a direct bearing such that she was able to fly it without much difficulty. Rachel’s response to the ward seemed similar: she regarded the runes inscribed on it carefully, and spoke some words while holding it, first cautiously, then more confidently.

Meanwhile Robards had scanned the room, found me, and ordered me brought to him. The advantage in this was that no one was paying attention to Rachel. I was brought face to face with the captain. He stared down at me with a look of triumph on his face, but it then changed to a look of puzzlement as he glanced past me over my shoulder. I turned my head to see Rachel slowly standing up, speaking, perhaps chanting, and finally holding the ward high, and then, a burst of energy –

But afterwards no one else reported feeling a burst of energy. Most felt nothing. Robards and I were both stunned. But, as we learned later, all those who had been under Robards’ sway felt piercing headaches followed by a groggy feeling, as if waking from a dream. Pardon the fairy-tale description, but the spell had been broken.

Here, at last, some of our preparations proved to the good, for our men had been briefed that such a change might occur, and most held their fire. Not everywhere, tragically, and in a few areas the fighting continued. But by sunset it was all over.

I came to my senses ten minutes or so after Rachel’s trick with the ward. My first thought was to my patients. More kept arriving until the Tortoise was full to the gills with makeshift beds. We spent the whole night tending to them all, with more help once the fighting stopped, though the whole time Rachel proved the most capable assistant. At one point she solemnly returned the ward to me, but it felt different … somehow inert. I wanted to speak to her, of course, but without my notebooks and a great deal of time there was no hope of my uttering a coherent sentence in ur-Samekh.

Dawn came and we stepped outside, bleary-eyed, to take some air. We walked down to the wreckage of the docks and stared in amazement at the horizon – and we were not the only ones. For half mile away, where the vortex-storms had roiled for months, now there was only blue sky and gently rolling waves. The storms had been fading all through the night, we learned, a process that likely coincided with the burst of energy from the ward.

And that fact, of course, changed everything. There was a great deal of work to do in the aftermath of our miraculous victory, but Campbell, seeing a chance to sail freely, meant to depart with his crew right away. He was convinced otherwise at a very heated meeting of the Tortoise Council, but only barely. For my part, I would have no thought of leaving until all my patients were stabilized to the point where I might leave them safely under local care. Sanders and the other society men would have no thought of leaving without Rachel, and Rachel seemed to share my sense of obligation towards the wounded. And so Campbell agreed to wait, albeit vowing to set off the instant there was any sign of the storms returning.

Over a week has passed since then, and I write this on the eve of our departure. I say “our” because I have decided to ship out on the Sigsbee, though it was not an easy choice. Chiefly this is because, even after all that has happened, I feel some concern and even a sense of responsibility for Robards. He is now in chains back in Stockport, and will be subject to the justice of the citizens of Garnsey. The governor’s health has returned and I do not think he will be lenient. I fought hard against this decision in the Council meetings, wanting to bring Robards on the Sigsbee, but I was soundly outvoted.

Rachel is setting sail with us, however, as is Van Dyke. Sanders and most of the others from the College will remain behind and see to recovering what can be found in its ruins. There was a great deal of internal debate among the Society persons regarding that arrangement, and I do not yet know how or why it was all settled. I have no small amount of resentment that, even as they seemed to be opening up to me about everything, they had all along neglected to mention Rachel, but there will be time to confront Van Dyke about that at sea.

Robards’ company is now under the command of Lieutenant Atwell, a trusted subordinate who had proved resistant to his Ability and had therefore been ostracized early on. Atwell himself is remaining on Garnsey, along with the majority of the soldiers, but he is allowing any of them who desire it to ship out with the Sigsbee. Among the dozen who have so chosen are, I am glad to say, Jacobs and Sharma. They are inseparable now-a-days, and share the opinion that I will need them to watch my back among these, if you will pardon my using Jacobs’ expression, New Columbian c-cksuckers.

All this leaves me barely any space to comment upon your own discoveries. I am relieved that you are well and I wish I had time to interrogate Sanders regarding this Society encampment on Skald. But I think I can be of more use to you on the Sigsbee than by remaining here.

Alia has come directly from Skald and means to leave again soon, so I must wrap this up. I learned from her that Alona has gone to scout out Greysham covertly and is expected back soon, though if all goes well she will be returning directly to the Sigsbee’s mooring tower somewhere at sea, not here. Alia says that Alona has a letter for me; I imagine it must be one from you that was initially misplaced, though glancing back at our correspondence I see no conspicuous gaps. But who on earth else could be writing me? At any rate, both flyers now mean to keep Garnsey in their circuit as well as the Sigsbee, and hopefully we will have news from Greysham as well.

Perhaps I will write you next at leisure in the midst of an uneventful sea voyage? Something tells me it will not be that simple, but one can dream.

Warm Regards,


Carteret, 11 December

My Dear Rackham,

My deepest condolences to you and your fellow survivors. It is a little strange, perhaps, to mourn the loss of your submersible’s crew in light of the untold thousands Albion has already lost this year. But I knew some of them, and others I had come to know through your correspondence, and now they are gone. Here, we are afforded some peace in what I can only assume is the calm before the storm; this gives me some time to focus on your situation and what I can do to help.

The population of Carteret continues to swell with refugees and escapees from New Albion. In marked contrast to that faux nation, our resistance is governed by what I affectionately refer to as the Tortoise Council, run as it is from the common room of the town’s chief tavern, The Weeping Tortoise. The natives of Garnsey are represented by Carteret’s constable and the island’s lieutenant governor, who had been one of those imprisoned in the granary. (The governor himself remains confined to his rooms at the residence back in Stockport with an unspecified ailment.) Campbell has agreed to help defend the town until such time as a departure from the island is viable, gaining him a seat at the table. Sanders represents the remnants of Elizabeth College. These four are joined by yours truly, though I have been present only recently for reasons I will explain later.

One pleasant surprise in all of this is Sanders, who, you will recall, is the gentleman who Robards so effectively charmed with an early conscious use of his Ability. Because of that event, he had been filed away in my mind as a weak-willed bureaucrat; in fact he is a highly competent leader and administrator. The fact that Carteret’s sudden growth has not led to food riots and a panoply of sewage problems is largely due to his careful planning.

At any rate, while as a general rule I have been keeping the contents of your letters to myself, I realized upon reading your last that a greater amount of coordination would be needed to offer you all the help I could. I have shared your plight with the Tortoise Council, in doing so keeping in mind Thorpe’s exhortation to place some trust in Van Dyke and, by extension, Sanders. I am increasingly reassured that, while they are Society men, they had no direct involvement or perhaps even knowledge of the machinations that have led to our present calamity.

My first thought is how to get supplies to you; my second is whether from here we can do anything to convey you from Skald. The aeros are, as you know, one-person crafts, but I do not believe you understand the extent of their limitations. I myself would not have appreciated it had I not stumbled upon a heated argument between Alona and Alia not long after your letter was delivered. Alona was furious that her compatriot had even attempted to reach you. Simply put, a round trip to a destination one hundred miles distant is considered an aero’s maximum range. This puts Garnsey well within reach of the mainland, but Skald is considerably further away. In going out to find you, Alia had no beacon to guide her, and was traveling much further than an aero was ever meant to go, with limited instrumentation to keep her on course. She had to shed as much weight as possible and be extremely judicious in her use of natural air currents to assist her propulsion. Having accomplished it she can likely pull it off again, but it was extremely risky, and, more to the point, there are rather hard limits as to how much cargo she can bring with her. I have put together a package of rations and medical supplies and anything else I could find that might prove useful and does not weigh very much.

Her difficulties will be compounded by the fact of Bledsoe’s betrayal, and the question to whether it is safe to return to Greysham. The Council debated whether to even risk sending supplies your way at all. I was in favor, of course, as was Sanders, but the locals saw no reason to hazard losing Alia for the sake of some distant, unknown party, and Campbell agreed with them. Alia, present at that meeting, calmly let everyone know that unless they meant to set hands on her aero over her lifeless body, she would be returning to Skald, and so the matter was settled. She will either find a way to refuel at Greysham, or somewhere else. Resourcefulness has never been a problem for her.

Is “refuel” even the proper word? “Recharge,” perhaps? I have learned a great deal about aeros and their capabilities in the past couple of days, but I am still far from understanding how they work.

Two more points to address from your letter. I cannot help but mark the tragedy inherent in the manner in which Thorpe chose to execute Thompson. Why the deuce did he not simply wring the man’s neck, instead of ejecting the first lifeboat prior to sending him into the deep? That lifeboat may have saved three more of your companions, not least Thorpe himself, though I imagine he is the sort who would have gone down with the ship. You have noted before how his transformation predisposed him toward anger and impulsive behavior; I can only hope that he thought better of his choice during his final moments.

Second, I took great interest in Bennington’s reaction to the sight of the vortex storms. I encourage you to find out more from her about that if you can. I was lamenting to Sanders how the burning of the College meant that any hopes of turning up some answers in Bennington’s old lab are now lost. He intimated that unless the Brotherhood had been extremely thorough, there were places on campus very well-hidden and well-protected where we may yet find some answers. If we survive what is coming that is definitely on my agenda.

I have been saving for last just what I have been up to. Not long after sending my previous letter, I returned to Stockport, hoping that I would still find myself in Robards’ good graces. And that seemed, at first, to be the case. I had no direct contact with him, which was not in itself unusual, but I made myself seen at the residence and in town, and no particular notice seemed to have been made of my three-day absence.

So I resumed my usual business of staying out of the way but snooping around when I could. Something was definitely afoot; behind the closed door of a meeting-room, Robards’ staff were planning a large operation of some sort. These meetings typically recessed around sunset for dinner, and so that is when I came up unobtrusively from the wine cellar. I found the door to the meeting-room locked, so, after first carefully looking around to make sure no one was watching, I simply passed through it. (I had left the ward behind in Carteret, knowing I might need the freedom to use my Ability unhindered.)

What I found there, amid a sea of diagrams on chalkboards, maps on the walls, and a pile of official orders and proclamations, was nothing less than a plan to storm Carteret by both land and sea. So engrossed was I in taking in the details, memorizing what I could, that it was at least a minute before I realized someone had been sitting in a chair in the corner behind me, watching all the while.

It was Robards.

“I am disappointed, Dr. Crane,” he said.

I sighed. “How long have you known?”

“Truthfully? Not until the incident at the lighthouse. I am a fool for not having realized it sooner. My own fist passed through your body in a moment of anger not long after we arrived on this island. I should have suspected you of aiding the prison escape right away.”

“You remember my Ability, then? Good. Then perhaps you will also remember our conversation that day. You acknowledged that you might have an Ability of your own, that we did not understand them well, and that we should proceed with caution.”

“I have proceeded with what has been necessary to preserve all that is precious to us.”

“No! This false devotion you engender in others has addled your mind. This is not you, my friend, and if you would only give me a chance I believe I can –”

“Stop! Do you suppose I waited for you here out of some unconscious desire for you to talk sense to me?” He laughed, short and harsh. “This is why you are here.”

He picked up a pistol sitting on the desk beside him, aimed, and fired.

My Ability preserved me. I ghosted, instinctively, in the fraction of a second before the shot reached me. But though the shot passed harmlessly through, I will not say I was not wounded. I had imagined this confrontation countless times, and always thought that all was not lost, that I could make him see the light, and somehow bring him back to his old self. Now I realized that I had been naïve, that as surely as the strange workings of the Incident had turned Thorpe into a man-lizard, Robards had also been turned into a monster, but of a different sort, and that there may be no coming back from it.

He fired again as I allowed myself to sink through the floor. He had been prepared for this moment: the residence was already on high alert, the wine cellar under close guard; Brotherhood goons were everywhere. But how can you stop someone you cannot touch? It was a cat-and-mouse game for a while, but eventually I was able to slip through the outer wall into the garden at a spot where no one was looking, and from there ran to the countryside. Escape was not difficult, but there was a price: at least half a dozen men saw me pass through walls with their own two eyes, or witnessed objects passing through me. My secret is out; who knows how Robards will explain it to his men.

Now you understand the calm before the storm I alluded to earlier. We are bracing ourselves for Robards’ attack. Losing the element of surprise can only mean he will advance his timetable.

Alia stands ready to depart later today, so I only have time for a quick addendum. As we were loading up the aero – Alona carefully weighing the cargo one more time – Sanders approached and started asking what at first seemed rather impertinent questions about what I had discovered at the College, back on the day when he had allowed Robards and I into Bennington’s laboratory. I had not forgotten the red vials and syringe that we had found there, of course, but having never had a good opportunity to investigate them, they had not been foremost in my mind.

“Out with it, man,” I snapped. “I have no doubt you investigated things very thoroughly once you came to your senses. I have always assumed that you knew what we took.”

“The vials, yes,” he answered. “It occurs to me that Bennington is the one who knows best what they may be used for, and they may indeed have some use in their current predicament.”

And so, since you have already sent me a mysterious and powerful gift, I will now respond in kind. Hopefully Bennington will find some way to make these vials useful. Though they were not particularly heavy, including them on the aero did necessitate leaving something else out – in this case, the very fine bottle of Lochnagar single malt that I had hoped to include as a single item of luxury in an otherwise utilitarian delivery. Apologies – I will think of you fondly as I drink it!

Warm Regards,


Carteret, 2 December

My Dear Rackham,

I am new to this business of spycraft. Feigning loyalty to a man while plotting his downfall is an exhausting business, especially since I would strongly prefer that said downfall be accomplished with as little bloodshed as possible – not a likely proposition, historically speaking. All the while I must take care not to be, as the parlance goes, “burned.” I do not believe I am quite burned, though at this point I am undoubtedly “singed.” Van Dyke thinks it is utter folly to return to Stockport; he would rather escape this damnable island and leave it to its sorry fate.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I have had some days to carefully observe Robards, and now additionally some time well outside his influence, and I think you will find my observations fascinating. His Ability, or Curse, might seem enormous in scope based on what he has been able to accomplish. But the more I observe, the more limited I believe it to be in fact. He possesses a heightened charisma, nearly unconscious in its effect on others, as well as a more directed ability to charm those on whom he focuses his attention. But with these abilities comes a dependence – the adulation of others is now like an opiate to him. In a very real, perhaps even physiological way, he needs to bask in the presence of those who are devoted to him. Similarly, someone ensorcelled by his charm will find the effect ebbing over time, at a steadily increasing rate. Whether he is cognizant of this or is merely responding intuitively, I do not know, but his practice of constantly bringing his aides and lieutenants to meet with him personally in his audience chamber now makes perfect sense. He is simultaneously feeding on their love and reasserting his control over them.

This being the case, what can we say about the hundreds of people who do not see him face-to-face, but nevertheless sing his praises and pledge their allegiance to New Albion? Is there some other facet to his Ability, or is it an ominous critique of the herd mentality of human nature itself? Even outside of Stockport, where I feel confident enough to say that no shred of his Ability is present, still you will find fisherman and villagers happy to accede to his rule. It does, after all, provide some measure of stability and continuity in tumultuous times.

However, outside of town, the majority of the islanders have not been taken in, and they are gradually converging on Carteret, which is where I write from now. But my narrative has not yet arrived there: patience!

First, the College. You will recall that the Brotherhood had swept through there, establishing control and taking prisoners; I was not present for that, of course, but after the escape, Robards sent me there. Until that point I had hoped to find deserted buildings stuffed to the gills with Society secrets that I could archive, index, and peruse. But, to the contrary, the whole place had been put to the torch. Burned-out husks of buildings were all that remained; the only shred of sanity in the whole affair had been to leave the mooring tower and aero beacon intact. From there Alia set off on repeated flights over the island, ostensibly to look for the escapees. I spent some time sifting through the ashes, trying to find anything of value, but without success. Only later did I learn that some things had been preserved – anything with obvious military applicability, in fact – but I have not been able to find out the full extent of it.

Next, the Sigsbee. I had long wondered why they remained in the grotto – surely the repairs must have been completed by now? But some snooping around at the residence and at the docks turned up the answer. To understand it, you must picture Stockport’s bay, a wide U, east-facing. Its northern side is comprised of a high, wide promontory. The grotto housing the Sigsbee lies directly under that promontory, but its opening onto the sea lies opposite the bay, facing north. A road winds around the tip of the promontory and ends in a cave that connects to the larger grotto. At some points it is little more than a track, ten feet wide with a cliff face on one side and a fall into crashing surf on the other; this is what makes the grotto so easily defensible, and the chief reason Robards never stormed it.

Now picture a cluster of a dozen or so shore-based mortar cannons – a collection of artillery wholly out of place for a merchant town of Stockport’s size. Some of them were the port’s original defenses, relics from the days of defending against the pirate threat. More had been seized from some of the vessels trapped in the port. And one in particular, a gigantic mortar not resembling anything I was familiar with, was one of the things claimed from the College before it was razed, some sort of experimental prototype.

Of course, the promontory itself blocked direct line-of-sight from the artillery to the mouth of the grotto. But there is a lighthouse atop the promontory, with a clear view of the waters immediately outside the grotto on one side, and the bay on the other. Robards stationed forward observers there and, through careful calculation and some trial and error, obtained firing solutions for all of the artillery to fire over the promontory and rain fiery hell upon the mouth of the grotto. Sentries were stationed atop the lighthouse, watching the grotto mouth around the clock, ready to give the signal to fire should the Sigsbee ever decide to stick its nose out.

No surprise, then, that not much had been heard from Campbell or his crew in over a month. I was determined to make contact again, but first I took some time to carefully examine the documents you sent featuring him, including the curious Daguerro-graph with Admiral Segismund. What I found puzzling about them was that they were not the secretive communiques one might have expected an undercover agent to have in his possession, but, as you noted in your letter, they included Campbell’s commission document as first officer on the Sigsbee, and their official orders, referring to a military exchange program between Albion and New Columbia, all thoroughly bureaucratic and pedestrian. I was reminded that, while Campbell was the commanding officer when we first encountered the ship, that was only because its original captain, named Tollard, had perished during the Incident-inspired strangeness at Yarmouth.

Wanting to minimize my contact with Robards, I did not want to offer myself up as an official envoy to the Campbell. I doubt he would have agreed to it in any case. That meant reaching the grotto unseen. I might have made use of my Ability in this context, and indeed I considered it, but that would mean leaving the ward behind. I was also not certain I wanted to reveal my capabilities to the New Columbians. And so I turned to none other than Bertram, the smuggler who had secreted us to Machlou and back. He had kept a low enough profile to avoid entanglements with the Brotherhood, though we had met surreptitiously on a few occasions to exchange updates on the state of things. Perhaps it goes without saying that he had not fallen under Robards’ sway. For someone who had invented a way to cross a treacherous seaway infested with vortex-storms, the prospect of a short smuggling run along the coast under cover of darkness presented no great difficulty.

As we rowed up to the mouth of the grotto I thought it prudent to announce ourselves, so as not to be taken as attackers by anyone on duty. The crew were, not surprisingly, in a state of high alertness, and more than a little on edge. We were immediately detained and locked in separate cabins on board; fortunately it was not long before Campbell came by to find out why on earth I had returned.

It was evident in our conversation that he still had some means of getting news from town, but this worked against me in that he believed me to be entirely loyal to Robards. Indeed, for a moment I feared I had made a terrible miscalculation, and that he would keep me to use as a bargaining chip, and do who-knows-what with poor Bertram. But then Alona arrived, took one look at me, and said to Campbell, “We can trust him.”

“And how can you be sure of that?” he snapped back.

“He orchestrated the prison break,” she replied.

I did a terrible job at masking my surprise when she said that. How could she know? But then I realized … I had told Alia as much, and if the two of them had some means of communicating with each other, then that would explain not only how she knew, but also how the New Columbians had managed to stay informed about goings-on outside the grotto. Campbell wanted very much to know how I had managed to free the prisoners without drawing any attention to myself, but I was coy on that point, hoping that it might add to my mystique as an unlikely master of subterfuge.

I learned that the Sigsbee was ready to sail, but could not hope to withstand the artillery barrage waiting for it, to say nothing of lacking a reasonable destination should it manage to escape. For the latter, I suggested Carteret, and as to the former, I allowed that I had a plan for that too, if they could be ready to leave by midmorning, and if Campbell would answer one question for me. “Name it,” he said.

I handed him the picture showing him standing alongside Admiral Segismund. “Who is he?” I asked.

“How did you –” he began, but then he settled back with a look of resignation on his face. I was not prepared, however, for what he said next: “He is my father-in-law.”

I will spare you a detailed rendition of our ensuing discussion. Segismund, a retired New Columbian admiral, arranged for his recently-married son-in-law to receive a commission as first officer aboard an ironside bound for Albion on an ostensibly routine mission. Campbell had reason to believe that his captain, Tollard, also had secret orders, and while he did not know what they were, he suspected that they were from his father-in-law, who, being retired, would only be issuing orders if it was a rogue operation or if his retirement was in fact a ruse. Campbell’s assumption was that he was being carefully evaluated, and that if he proved reliable, he might eventually be let in on the secret. But before that could happen, the strange blight struck Yarmouth, and … well, you know the rest. He was indeed charmed by the early manifestations of Robards’ Ability; when the effect ended he said it was like waking from a dream. He is eager to get out, and to find a way to somehow report back to the New Columbian High Command, but chiefly he just wants to get out of this mess and find a way to be reunited with his new wife back home.

So perhaps Stratham was keeping tabs on him precisely because he was not One of Them, at least not yet, and was therefore an unknown quantity. Did Segismund indeed intend to eventually bring him into the fold? Or was he there simply as a family favor, and therefore (from the perspective of someone like Stratham) an unwelcome complication? And what the deuce was Segismund up to, and what did it have to do with Dr. Brown, if anything? Getting some answers from Campbell has only spawned ever-more questions, in a pattern that is now all too familiar.

Far from being a cagey operative, Campbell seems to be an earnest and rather naive officer just trying to do his best, Deus bless him. It was he who thought me to be a personage of portentious secrets and untold abilities, and, I confess, I did give him one more reason to earn that reputation, the following morning.

The plan had come to me while I was investigating the artillery and the watch-post maintained at the lighthouse atop the promontory. But it was not until I was inside the Sigsbee that I decided it was best to brook no delay. I left the ward behind in my old berth on the ship, and in the pre-dawn half-light I left by way of the path leading from the side cave, and clambered my way to the top of the promontory. One guard was stationed at the door to the lighthouse, but the rest were all inside, either off-duty in a room at the base, or keeping careful watch of the waters near the grotto from the lantern room on top. From a distance I snuck around to the side of the lighthouse opposite the entrance, out of sight of the guard. Then I had to wait for more daylight to spot what I was looking for: the means the guards had to signal the artillery back in Stockport. The main lanthorn could have served them, of course, but lighting it would have been too time-consuming. Finally I saw it: a signal-lantern, small but powerful, of the kind used by ships at sea to communicate through fog and the like. It was bolted to the balcony ringing the lantern room, pointed back toward the docks in town.

To get to it, I climbed up the side of the lighthouse. And no, I do not possess incredible athletic prowess belied by my modest appearance. Just as I had done to get back into my upper-storey room after the prison break, I used my Ability at a sort of moderated level, making my hands insubstantial enough to pass into the stone wall, but not so light as to pass completely through it. The effect was like sinking one’s hands into firm clay, and with the lightness that came with a partially ghost-like body, climbing was surprisingly easy.

I found myself on the balcony, and, looking around for a means to disable the signal lantern, spotted the very wrench that presumably had aided in bolting it to the railing in the first place. I solidified myself, grabbed the wrench, and smashed down on the lantern repeatedly.

I should have realized just how loud this would have been, especially in the peaceful quiet of early morning. The sentries on duty had not been looking for anyone climbing up the outside of the lighthouse, of course, but now they came quickly enough – indeed, one of them had been just inside the lantern room, and emerged on the balcony just a few feet away. He wasted no time in lunging at me.

I have often thought about the fight at Mont-Bré, and specifically about how, in the heat of the moment and quite without meaning to, I used my Ability to propel the reanimated corpse of Dr. Brown away from me as it attacked. It had occurred to me that, with study and practice, I might use my Ability to great effect in a fight. Imagine a combatant who can be hit by neither blows nor bullets, but can solidify when needed to send his opponents flying through the air! And yet, as you well know, that sort of violence is not in my nature. The gentleman assailing me at the moment wore the armband of the Brotherhood, a group of ruffians for whom I had developed, it is safe to say, a rather extreme level of distate, and yet I had no wish to commit any physical harm against him.

So I jumped. As the ground rushed up to meet me, I resisted the temptation to de-solidify too early, for you see, I wanted to build up as much momentum as possible. In the instant before impact I ghosted (that is the term I have been using in my own notes, for lack of a better one) to the greatest extent possible. I wanted to pass through the solid earth not like a knife through clay, slowly, but rather steadily, like a pillow through a cloud. And into the earth I plummeted.

What followed was a time of profound fear and uncertainty. I wanted to be … hoped to be … sinking steadily through the earth, into the promontory, but was not afforded the greater level of perception that would have assured me that that was what was in fact happening. In the utter darkness, with my body ghosted to such an extreme extent, I saw nothing, felt nothing. I was a spark of consciousness in a black void. I held on with desperation to two pillars of faith: that gravity was still working its magic on me, even though I could not feel its effects, and that my rough measurements of the dimemsions of the grotto the previous night had been accurate.

Have you guessed my gambit yet? Forgive me for indulging in a bit of unnecessary dramatics in relating it. Since you are reading this, you know that I am not perpetually trapped underground. True to my hopes, after an indeterminate passage of time, I emerged from out of the earth, falling through the ceiling of the grotto, and splashing into its waters within a stone’s throw of the Sigsbee. After a bit of floundering I called out, was hauled aboard, and told Campbell that now was the time to sail.

The great steam engines engaged and the ship lurched forward for the first time in many weeks. As it emerged from the grotto, all hands braced for the sound of artillery fire, but none came. I imagined those poor guards at the lighthouse spying the Sigsbee and desperately trying to signal. They did in fact light the main lanthorn, and the mortar fire did rain down, but by that time we had already emerged and turned hard to port, and were making headway counter-clockwise around the island, hugging close to the shore so as to avoid the vortex-storms.

Now the Sigsbee is anchored just off Carteret. Its mooring tower has been erected, and if all goes well it will be Alona who puts this letter in your hands. I have been eager to write this so that you are apprised of the situation here, but obviously there are many more developments to come as we all meet and plot our next steps. As I indicated at the outset, however, my own plan is to return to Stockport. I doubt I was personally recognized atop the lighthouse, but I have been absent for what may seem to be a suspicious amount of time … hence my fear that I am “singed.” Time will tell.

You must pass along to Bennington my shock and disappointment that her mastery of Saxonian is not up to the task. I find the whole language nigh unintelligible when spoken, but written is another matter, and I feel reasonably confident that I could have had you on your way a good deal more quickly than you have managed. And so I wish you godspeed, but not without a word of caution. I remain ever-haunted by the Presence I sensed beneath the waves of the channel, that day the Sigsbee was tossed about by the storms. Der untersee is not a safe place, I fear, and if you are passing through it, do so as quickly as you may.

As for Thompson, I shall keep an eye out for him. That is perhaps not as unlikely as it sounds, as Campbell is eager to re-establish contact with his superiors, and as his vessel is the best chance at safety and mobility that we have at the moment. To the extent that said superiors may have been partially responsible for the destruction of Albion, I am not sure that puts me on any better footing than being at the disposal of a deluded megalamoniacal dictator. But my choices are, for the moment, rather limited.

Warm Regards,


New Albion, 20 November

My Dear Rackham,

It is with great relief that I can write to you frankly once again. I can tell from the tone of your reply that you accurately surmised my purpose: I had reason to believe that our communications were being intercepted, and I thought it better under the circumstances to reassure Robards with some feigned loyalty than it would be to use any sort of code.

Nonetheless, the bare facts of what has been happening on Garnsey, as related in my last letter, are all too accurate. Permit me to take a few steps back and narrate two key incidents from that time that I did not mention in my previous letter, for obvious reasons.

I immediately knew there was trouble when I received your long letter – and the accompanying cookie tin – not from either of our beloved flyers, but from one of Robards’ functionaries, wearing the armband of the Brotherhood. I quickly read that letter and realized that time was of the essence. If it had already been read by this functionary, or some other toadie, or – Deus forbid – by Robards himself, then he would know that you had sent me one of the wards!

I rushed to my wine-cellar laboratory and unearthed from the boxes in the corner some of the fragments we had taken from Mont-Bré. Fortunately the business of archaeology involves no shortage of tools for working with stone. Carving and etching feverishly, I made, as best I could in an hour or two, an exact replica of the ward you sent me, as well as the leather cord used to wear it around one’s neck. Looking at the two of them side by side on the table, it was obvious to me which was the counterfeit. But I daresay the differences were slight enough that not everyone would notice them, especially if they had no reason to be suspicious.

And then I stopped short, paralyzed in thought. My intention, of course, had been to give Robards the counterfeit in order to prevent the real ward from falling into his hands. We know so little about them, except that they are powerful, and that he was willing to risk countless lives on a doubtful mission to reclaim the one he had lost at the bottom of the Channel. But we do know one other thing: that proximity to a ward distinctly inhibited your Ability. If the same held true for Robards – if wearing it again might put a damper on the strange charisma with which he holds this island ensorcelled – would that not be for the best?

And yet again – if I was wrong about that, and wearing the ward did not slow him, I should have little chance of ever getting my hands on it again. And there is a great deal I could learn from studying it. What to do? What to do?

I do not know what decision I would have finally arrived at, given time to reflect and to properly weight the benefits and consequences, ideally utilizing some sort of chart. Because in that very moment when I was staring the ward and its copy there on the table, I heard footsteps approaching the wine cellar. Acting on impulse, or instinct, or just blind fate, I grabbed one of the objects in front of me – the genuine article, not the fake – and stuffed it into my waistcoat pocket a bare second before Robards himself sauntered into the room.

He was all congeniality and warmth, posturing with a feigned sort of curiosity, asking what I was about and oh-by-the-way that thing on the table looks awfully familiar, is-that-what-I-think-it-is, &c. It was plain on his face that either he had read your letter or had had some of its contents reported to him, and that he was here for the express purpose of finding the object you had delivered in the cookie tin. I affirmed that it was, and that it was only fitting that, having lost his previous ward, he ought to wear this one … perhaps it might serve as a sort of sigil befitting the stature of his new office? He agreed, though, ever-mindful these days of the importance of ceremony, insisted that I present it to him officially in his audience chamber (he does not yet refer to it as a “throne room”) in front of his subjects.

Let me pause here to mourn what Robards has become. I never would have described him as crafty, exactly, but he was certainly bright. But now he resembled that sort of politician – you have had far more contact with these kinds of people than me, so you will recognize the type – who, being constantly surrounded only by supporters who affirm and compliment his every decision and whim, loses all perspective on the world. He lacks empathy with people outside his circle, and his sound judgment in the face of evidence contrary to his assumptions slowly withers. Nothing – not my nervous behavior in that moment, not the ample of evidence of recent stone-work on the table between us, not (later) the rather cloying tone of praise in the last letter I sent, knowing it would be intercepted – nothing tipped him off in the slightest. Even as his Ability was steadily elevating him to the status of a god-king it was, unbeknownst to him, eroding his own incredulity and morality and plain good sense. Call it not an Ability, but rather a Curse.

At any rate, he proudly accepted – and still wears – the counterfeit. I kept the genuine article on my person, which brings me to my chance discovery of how the ward affects my own Ability, as well as the tale of how Jacobs and Sharma came to be imprisoned.

It all started with a song. A patriotic hymn about New Albion, penned recently by some local songsmith, much in vogue amongst the loyal in town. At the particular tavern where the two of them were prone to habituate of an evening, and where on this particular night I was joining them, concern was expressed by some members of the Brotherhood that Jacobs was not singing along with everyone else in the room. He then acquiesced, and began to sing along, but in a voice so loud, grating, and ever-so-slightly off-key that the effect was to thoroughly spoil the communal experience.

Now, I happened to know from my travels with this man that he had a sonorous, smooth baritone and an excellent sense of pitch, and so any mistakes he was making in the sing-along were quite intentional. All the while I was trying to catch his eye and gesture to indicate that he should not antagonize the Brotherhood goons quite so much. But there is a certain kind of gentleman who, being of a mind to begin a tavern brawl, will not stop until he has induced someone else to swing the first punch. When he hit a particularly dissonant flat note at the close of the hymn, one of the arm-banded thugs obliged, and the melee was joined.

Sharma has a knack for remaining unobtrusive – no one had pestered him about not singing along. He could have steered clear of the entire affair, and indeed, I lost sight of him as the fighting commenced. But shortly afterward, empty bottles came flying out from behind the bar with great speed and surprising precision, stunning one, two, then three of the Brotherhood and allowing Jacobs to incapacitate two more by smashing their crania together as they charged at him headlong. But there were a great many more than that in the room, and I am sad to say that it was not just the Brotherhood, but some of Jacobs’ fellow soliders and even ordinary folk of the town who were all too happy to help bring him down.

I should like to report that at that point that I used my Ability to cleverly turn the tide of the battle. I did, in fact, attempt to join in the fisticuffs, rather impetuously and perhaps not in the best judgment, given the importance of maintaining the trust of Robards. But I am embarrassed to say that before I could make any sort of impact on overall tactical situation, the backswing of a chair-wielding goon caught me on the head and I crashed to the floor, dazed. As I lay there, I realized that, unlike during similar moments of imminent danger, my Ability had not kicked in to protect me. I also had a splitting headache, but given the welt developing near my left temple, that was no surprise.

The fight continued without me. After no small amount of spilt blood and even more spilt ale, the end result was Jacobs and Sharma in shackles. Around this time Robards’ forces took the College as well, and suddenly the granary-turned-makeshift-prison contained prisoners who were either my friends or, in the case of Van Dyke and Sanders, persons of strategic interest. Alia remained free, not having done anything to anger Robards, though I was at that time only able to contact her indirectly – she remained near the beacon at the College, which was under very close guard. Then, when the gallows went up in the town square, I realized that many lives were in danger. Something had to be done.

Late at night, I risked some simple experiments with my Ability. After my success in reaching Van Dyke through the wall, I had some new confidence. Perhaps the knowledge that my time was limited helped as well. Though it sometimes took a frustratingly long while, I found that, with intense concentration, I could pass through the wall into the (now abandoned) adjoining room at will. With slightly less time spent in preparation, I could perform feats of a more limited nature, such as passing my hand and arm through the surface of a table. I could do none of this while in possession of the ward, I should note, but keeping it at a distance of approximately twenty yards, or even enclosing it in a thick metal box, seemed sufficient to allow my Ability free reign.

So far so good. By day, I was largely left in peace, though in my comings and goings to and from town I often suspected the ever-present Brotherhood had been instructed to keep an eye on me. By night I practiced my Ability. I knew Robards planned to give his prisoners a trial, in all likelihood just one for show, followed by an immediate sentence of execution. I waited until the posters went up in town announcing a public trial in two days’ time. That night, I acted.

In some ways the very first part was the hardest. I still slept in a rented room in town, but it was on the third storey of an inn which was perpetually busy – there was little chance of slipping out unnoticed on the ground floor. The single window was tiny and would have been difficult to wriggle through even if it had not been boarded up, ostensibly to protect the residents from the unruly denizens of the docks. And so I drank down one final swig of wine, took a deep breath, backed up, and made a running start straight at the wall. I jumped, passed through it, and plummeted downward into the alley behind the inn.

This was not something I had been able to test, and the trick, I imagined, was to maintain some degree of incorporeality even after passing through the wall, so that when my legs hit the ground they would not break. I was successful – the landing was quite gentle, in fact, and the fall itself likely slower than it would have been otherwise. I felt myself solidify, and was able to slip out of the alley and down the street unseen.

The granary where the prisoners were kept had a simple door and one side and a shipment entrance with oversized double-doors on another; both were of course guarded. But no thought was given to the rear of the building, nestled up against the hillside, a bare face of wood and brick with nary a window. I counted thirty paces from the corner of the building, passed through the wall, and took the ring full of keys from where it sat on the warden’s desk. Then I passed back out the way I had come, counted forty more paces down the outer wall, and entered once again, straight into the room where Van Dyke was imprisoned.

Now, before you begin suspect that I must possess some second Ability involving an inordinate amount of Luck, let me explain. When Robards decreed that the granary should be turned into a prison, plans were drawn up sketching out the dimensions of the place and the areas most suitable for holding prisoners. These plans were kept at the residence, and as I still had Robards’ trust, I had been able to get a look at them without too much trouble. These plans clearly indicated the proposed locations of guard stations, and an office for the warden, as well as the relative securability of various rooms. I rightly guessed that Van Dyke would be kept isolated from other prisoners, in one of the most secure rooms, and there was really only one room in the granary that fit the bill. I suppose my one bit of luck was that said room was on the ground floor along the rear wall of the building.

“That is an impressive trick,” Van Dyke said.

“You don’t seem entirely surprised,” I replied.

“Please do not mistake my demeanor for unflappability. I have seen so much that is bizarre and unexplainable of late that one more discovery simply adds to the pile. I am, perhaps, over-flapped.”

“Very well. Perhaps we can compare notes on our fantastical experiences at a later date. For now, I need you to orchestrate a prison break.” I handed him the keyring. (The door, not being a proper prison door, had access to the keyhole from both sides.) “I trust you will see to your own people. You must also release Jacobs and Sharma and anyone else being kept here.”

Van Dyke frowned. “Does Jacobs still have a fondness for beating my face into a pulp?”

I handed him a note. “Give this to him. It is from me, explaining the situation, and your destination.”

“Which is?”

“Carteret. A village on the far side of the island. Currently resisting Robards’ rule. I will either meet you there or send word.”

“And why aren’t you coming with us?”

“He still has my trust. And … I still hope to reverse this somehow. He is not himself.”

Van Dyke nodded curtly. “How many guards?”

“Six. Two out front, two patrolling indoors, two asleep. Will that be a problem?”

“I should hope not.”

I still do not trust Van Dyke, but I will confess, in a situation such as that, when brevity of word and directness of action were what was needed, his presence was most welcome. I departed, hastened back to the alley behind the inn, and, for my final trick of the night, used my Ability to climb with ease, ghost-like, up the side of the building before passing through the wall into my room.

Judging from the furor at the residence the following morning, and the red-faced rage with which Robards berated his cowering aides, Van Dyke had been successful. Since my departure from my room that night had not been noted, I was above suspicion. The captain even called me into the audience chamber and commanded me to assist in tracking down the escapees. I suggested that the College might be a good place to look for clues as to their likely whereabouts, and perhaps Alia might be convinced to do some aerial reconnaisance over the island as well? He commended me for my ingenuity and bade me see to it personally.

That is when I knew I would have the freedom to put a letter directly into Alia’s hands, and began writing what you are reading now. It will have to serve as an update very much in the middle of things. For I have yet to fully investigate the ward, explore the College, make contact again with Campbell, or somehow reach the escapees in Carteret, to say nothing of finding a way to stop Robards and (hopefully) restore him to his former self.

You should feel free to write openly in your next missive. Either I will have maintained my current level of freedom and will be able to intercept the letter directly, or the situation will have transformed so much that there is no predicting where I will be and how your news will find me. If I had time for a spare thought, it would most certainly be one of concern at the thought of you trapped in a metal tube beneath the waves, hurtling to some new danger. I am not sure which of us is in the less enviable position! Stay safe as ever, my friend.

Warm Regards,


New Albion, 9 November

My Dear Rackham,

No doubt you have had the experience of waking in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar place, stumbling around in the dark, groping about with your hands. You can imagine what it would be like if, in the next moment, you opened a door into a room fully-lit. At first it would be blinding – you might even raise your arm to shield your eyes – but gradually you could see again, and would be loathe to return to the dark.

I feel these days like a man whose vision has acclimated to the light, and can at last see clearly, as if for the first time. I fear that in some of my earlier letters I was like the man with his arm shielding his eyes, expressing fear and caution when all that was really needed was a moment to adjust. I have made that adjustment now, and am eager to relate all the progress we have made in establishing our bright beacon of hope, New Albion.

I wish you could have been there to see the official ceremony yesterday! The governor has suffered from ill health of late, but he gamely stepped forth onto the veranda, in front of the surging crowds, and placed a circlet of gold on Robards’ head while the band played our new anthem. A barrage of gunfire was heard in the distance, which many in the crowd took for a fitting salute. In fact it was members of the Brotherhood quelling unrest at the docks, but I found it quite serendipitous that it might serve a dual purpose!

The captain – or the former captain, I should say – is too modest, and refuses to fully embrace the role of a monarch. For a year and a day he will designate himself the Steward of the Albionese crown, and only then will he take on the full mantle of kingship if none of the rightful line have been found to have survived. While part of me fears that his hesitation in this matter may prevent him from acting as decisively as will be needed in the coming months, there can be no doubt that his humility endears him to the people.

And while you did not know it at the time, your own actions have played a part in his ascension, and solved a thorny problem to boot! While I hold Robards in extremely high regard, as you know, he is no god, and I have, on isolated occasions, had cause to question his judgment. Even as I dutifully made the preparations to venture to the bottom of the Channel to recover his talisman, I feared that the end of such a mission would be the loss of too many loyal subjects for an uncertain gain. And what should arrive in the middle of all of this but your letter, and the ward you had from Stratham via Thompson! No sooner had I read your letter – and opened the cookie tin – than I eagerly rushed to the audience chamber and presented Robards with a replacement for his lost treasure. He accepted it graciously and wore it proudly around his neck at the ceremony. So you were there in spirit, my friend!

Bringing the justice of New Albion to all of Garnsey has come with some pains, to be sure. While the ranks of the Brotherhood swell with devoted and militant citizens, eager to help in any way they can, some of the soldiers in Robards’ own company have not proven as loyal. I regret to say that my former traveling companions, Jacobs and Sharma, were among those who have been arrested on charges of insubordination and inciting revolt.

A granary near the residence has been converted into a prison for the housing of said soldiers, Van Dyke, and now too Sanders and several others from the College. Robards had made several peaceful overtures to the Society and those who fronted for their machinations, offering to welcome them into the fold of New Albion, but they steadfastly refused to see the light. And so he returned with the Brotherhood at his back, and now the College is fully under his control.

Some allowances must be made, in these times, for the wheels of justice to turn somewhat faster in times of crisis than they may otherwise. Robards is empowering a panel of judges to try these prisoners in the coming weeks. At the same time, he realized that idleness among some of the dockworkers was a growing problem, and so he has conscripted them to construct a magnificent gallows in the town square for after the sentences are handed down.

The one remaining thorn in the side of our restored kingdom is Campbell and his New Columbian crew. They have not recognized the new authority, and the land approach to their grotto is a thoroughly defensible position. And, of course, they are well-armed. Ever the canny commander, Robards has calculated that the cost of assaulting them directly would be too high, and in any case, his forces are needed to address pockets of resistance elsewhere on the island. (Those villages farthest from Stockport, in particular, have been more reluctant to embrace our bright new future.) And so he is content to wait them out. Without reprovisioning they will falter soon enough. If the Sigsbee is repaired they may try to set sail and risk the vortex-storms; naturally, I would rather that they capitulate and come into the fold.

As to our flyers: I regret to say that Alona appears to have thrown in with Campbell. At any rate she is holed up with him in the grotto. I encouraged Robards to require an oath of loyalty from Alia, but in his wisdom he has decided it best to allow her the freedom befitting her profession. That way, when she does pledge herself into the service of New Albion of her own volition, it will be all the sweeter. Her value – and that of the mooring tower at the College, only lightly damaged in the fighting – is beyond measure, and security there is appropriately tight. Not even I am permitted to see her any longer; instead, I will hand this letter to a loyal Brother of New Albion, who will no doubt hasten it up the hill and place it directly into her hands.

I pray you finish your business at this Isle of Skald and hurry south as safely as you may! My daily concern these days is to find some reliable way for larger vessels to cross the vortex-storms, so that loyal citizens such as yourself might come and assist in the rebuilding of our great nation here at its new island home.

Warm Regards,


Stockport, 25 October

My Dear Rackham,

If things were different, it would be job enough for any man to simply be your correspondent, perhaps a sort of amanuensis, dutifully reading and recording your fantastic exploits and providing what research assistance and advice you might require. Instead, I have my own swirling intrigues to contend with, and in these letters we barely have space to catch each other up in the barest detail, let alone dwell with leisure and contemplation on what the other is experiencing.

I am opting for the double-letter approach again, rather than that of Martineau. I picture you having to write shoulder-to-shoulder with others, encamped in the midst of underground caverns, with no way to prevent them from seeing what you are doing. On the other hand, I am afforded my privacy, at least for the moment. And so I will write frankly and trust our flyers to deliver this to you only under secure circumstances.

Life on the island of Garnsey is increasingly surreal. I have a small room in town, where I am joined for meals most days by Jacobs or Sharma or both. Even though we are technically on Albion soil, in a civilized and peaceful place, sometimes it feels like it did when we were hidden in an attic in Machlou – surrounded by strangers, trying our best not to attract attention.

The Brotherhood of New Albion is a local militia that has sprung up in response to unrest near the docks. With a diverse assortment of trading vessels still trapped here due to the vortex storms, and with more rumors trickling in about the effects of the Incident, really it is no surprise that tensions have been high. Things came to a head when some opposing factions came to blows on the streets, but very soon after, this Brotherhood appeared: ordinary natives of Stockport and the environs, each wearing a blue armband with a red stripe. They put an end to the infighting among sailor-gangs with sudden and brutal efficiency, and have been patroling the streets and keeping the peace ever since. I thought it peculiar how quickly this local group came into existence, until, on my way to my wine cellar work-space one afternoon, I spied one of their number making a report to a member of Robards’ staff. I suspect the group’s origin is far less spontaneous than it appears to be. It goes without saying that the Brotherhood of New Albion supports Captain Robards and deeply appreciates the aid he is lending the governor.

Why “New Albion?” I asked one of their number that question on the street one day. He was of the belief that nothing remains of Albion proper, that everyone has been killed or transformed into monsters, and that Garnsey is all that remains of a once-great empire. Therefore it is time to start again. I assured him that, while things were definitely bad, it wasn’t as bad as all that, but he would have none of it. Though it did give me cause to wonder about the full extent of the devastation. Specifically, what about the capital? Alia and Alona have both reported too much storm activity in that area to even attempt a fly-over. It would be good to know whether we even still have a government. I’m sure you are curious whether there is still a Bank that holds some of your riches.

But I digress. Things have been very quiet and peaceful in Stockport since the Brotherhood arrived. I would prefer a little more noise and chaos in exchange for not having a populace enthralled under the eldritch will of their unofficial new leader. Jacobs and Sharma and I cannot be the only ones who, for whatever reason, have not fallen under Robards’ sway. But whatever others there may be are probably like us, going about their business quietly, meeting in private in the back rooms of taverns.

It was six days ago that Sharma told me that he had been called in to report to Robards. They had met in private, and the Pandjaran had given a full accounting (from his perspective) of everything that had happened at Mont-Bré. He was visibly shaken after the interview. As a loyal soldier, he would have told his commanding officer everything in any case, but he reported feeling a terrible weight from Robards’ gaze, as if, even had he wanted to lie to the man, he would not have been able to. That was troubling, but what was equally strange was that Sharma had been called and not me. I had, after all, made a public report and all but begged the captain to meet me in private so that I could tell him the whole story.

Two days later I was sent for, and for a short while I thought that he was simply debriefing each of us in turn, separately. A bit paranoid perhaps, but understandable to a point. It turned out to be something quite different.

The banquet hall that Robards was using as his center of operations had changed since the last time I was there. The desks and chalkboards and bustling activity had all been moved to adjoining rooms, giving the hall a much more cavernous feel. Earlier, the captain had sat behind a desk on a raised platform, suitable for performances, at one end of the room. That desk was now also missing; instead, Robards sat upon a high-backed, Gothic, ornamental chair. The sort of thing one might find in the foyer of some country estate, an heirloom, not a chair for actually sitting in. But there he sat.

“I understand you have been to see Campbell,” he said without preamble. This was at least a week after we had gone to the grotto, as I related in my previous letter.

“Indeed,” I replied. “He wants for some supplies to complete his repairs.”

“He shall have them,” he said. “But only because I need his ship. You must make that clear to him.”

“If you wish,” I said, “But captain, we have much else to discuss. Would it be possible for me to give you a confidential report?” I glanced at the half-dozen or so functionaries who stood around the room. One of them seemed to be dutifully recording everything that was said.

Robards gave a curt nod, and they all filed out of the hall, closing doors behind them. A good bit of the light had been spilling in from the adjacent rooms, so now the two of us found ourselves shrouded in a half-darkness, me feeling very small standing in the middle of the floor, Robards up on his – I hesitate to say it, but there is no way around it – his throne.

I started to speak of Mont-Bré, but he raised his hand to stop me. “I have all I need from Sharma on that matter,” he said. “The situation is in hand.”

“We really need to discuss what, if anything, we should do about Van Dyke. Whatever his connection –”

“It is in hand,” he interrupted. “Van Dyke is in custody. I need your attention on other matters.”

I was flabbergasted. “In custody how? And what other matters?”

“When the Sigsbee is repaired I need her to perform a salvage and recovery mission. Campbell seems to trust you, and you have a particular insight into the thing I want recovered.”

“And … what is that thing?” I asked, fearing to hear the answer.

“You know very well. The object you saw falling from the ship in the storm. My pendant.”

“Robards!” I stammered, “I hardly know where to begin! The vortex storms have not abated! That thing is on the bottom of the Channel, hundreds of feet deep! And when last we spoke of it, you said that when you lost it it was as if a weight was being lifted from your shoulders! Why the deuce would you even want to go back for it now?”

“As to the last, that is my affair. The depth is a concern, but the Society has some expertise in underwater exploration. They have equipment that will serve.”

“I have not seen them coming to pay their respects,” I said, “Even if they have such equipment at the College I hardly think they will hand it over.”

“I can be very convincing,” he replied. I searched his face for a hint of smugness, since that is just the sort of thing the Robards of old would have said with an grin, plying his boyish charm. But this Robards hadn’t an ounce of humor in him. He simply meant what he said. “As to the storms,” he continued, “We will simply have to risk it.”

“Listen to me, my friend,” I said. He stiffened a bit at my use of the word “friend.” “Please trust me when I say you must not do this. Whatever lies beneath those waves,” – I shuddered in spite of myself – “Leave it well enough alone.”

“You have your orders,” he said coldly. Then he fixed his gaze on me. And I sensed what he was attempting, bringing his Ability to bear on me. I could feel the weight that Sharma described, but only as an abstract concept; it did not sway me. But in a sudden (and rare) moment of devious insight, I feigned acquiescence.

“As you wish,” I said, bowing my head.

He nodded, satisfied. “I may need you at the College when we get the equipment. You will be sent for.”

Then, as if by hidden signal, the doors to the hall opened and his functionaries streamed in. The interview was over.

I have taken the liberty of relating that entire conversation in detail, given its importance. It should be clear that I had no opportunity to discern in what sense Robards may or may not be a “turncoat.” But I am beginning to wonder whether his previous associations and loyalties are in any way steering his current activities, or whether it all stems from his Ability in some way. He seems to feed off of the devotion that he is now able to engender in others almost effortlessly, creating a loop of ever-expanding influence. My intuition says that his desire to go after the ward is a personal obession and not part of some larger agenda. But of course I cannot be sure. And I need hardly tell you just what a very bad idea I think that would be. I still have nightmares about what I sensed beneath the waves.

But that fateful mission has not happened yet, so I hold out hope that it may yet be averted. In the days after the meeting with Robards I tried to discover where he was holding Van Dyke, and this proved far easier than I would have guessed. I was in the wine cellar one afternoon – in point of fact my work with the artifacts from Mont-Bré is more or less complete, but keeping it going in order to have access to the residence seems like a good idea at this point – when I saw a guard walking past the open doorway holding a tray. Peeking out into the hallway after him, I saw him unlock a door and deliver the tray, which was indeed bearing a modest evening meal, to the occupant of the room, then lock the door again behind him.

It could only be Van Dyke, I supposed, and here he was, my veritable neighbor, with only a wall and an empty wine rack between us! I stepped into the hallway, thinking to examine the locked door, but that is when I saw another guard stationed at the end of the hallway, very alert, and so I feigned another errand before returning to the cellar. Observation over the next couple days verified that he was being kept under very close watch. (For that matter, perhaps I was, as well.) So frustrating, to have him so close, and yet have no way to reach him.

Then I thought: all that lies between us is a wall.

Every other time my Ability has manifested, it has been outside my control, usually the result of adrenaline in the face of imminent danger. It had been some time since I had even tried to accomplish anything by will alone, but this seemed like as good a time as any to give it another go. On the theory that my conscious, active mind had not been of much help with this in the past, I helped myself one night to one of the bottles of wine still lingering in the cellar, drinking steadily until I felt fuzzy around the edges, as it were. Then I set my attention on the wall.

Let us sail past the hour or so of failed attempts, including the one where I bruised my forehead walking into the wine rack with considerable force because I was absolutely convinced that I was, at that moment, incorporeal. The time when it actually worked, it came as something of a surprise. It did not feel like it was going to be a successful attempt, for one thing, but also, the increased perception that had always accompanied my altered state in the past was not there. I experienced a momentary panic thinking that I had gone blind, but then I realized that I was inside the wall. Taking the next step forward was surprisingly difficult, and I shudder to think of my fate had I not been able to take it. But I did, and found myself in the bare room serving as Van Dyke’s prison. He sat on a cot, reading by the light of a single dim lantern. He only noticed me when I took another step forward.

You must forgive me if I do not render my conversation with Van Dyke in exacting detail. For one thing, it was rather long. But more to the point, I was drunk, and any specific dialogue I might relate would be more invention than recollection.

He was, of course, surprised to see me. At first I found it odd that he was merely surprised and not agape at my astounding entrance, but I gradually realized that, not having seen it directly, he simply assumed that I had come in quietly through the door and he had somehow missed the moment. We spoke quietly; it was understood that this was a surreptitious meeting, and that the reason for this was that something was amiss with Robards. Nonetheless, I made it clear that I was not there to give assurances, but to receive answers. And he gave them. I count it for little that he seemed completely sincere and forthright, for that is one of the skills of his profession. Who knows where the truth ends and the lies begin? With that caveat, here, in summary, is what he had to relate:

While the Society’s chief interests lie in scientific inquiry and the development of technology, there is a faction in their membership concerned with historical research; these are the ones who would throw a fit whenever Von Neumann or one of his protegés would utter the word “Ashkur” at an academic conference. But at the same time they apparently saw fit to insert one of their own spies as a student working under the old professor himself. Unbeknownst to us there was a very important dig in the Ruhr valley two years ago; the destruction of Essen in the Blood War had laid bare a heretofore unknown network of caverns beneath the city. Brown was the chief archaeologist on that expedition. That is where they unearthed what we now know as the “wards.”

Moving briefly to another track: you will recall that, after the Blood War, the Crown allowed the Society to share aero technology with New Columbia. This established connections between our scientists and their military; these connections have been maintained. Unlike the Crown, the New Columbians, perhaps insulated somewhat from the horrors of that war, seemed eager to utilize new discoveries in order to create better and more destructive weapons; in this they found willing partners in the Society, always eager to press the envelope no matter the consequences.

Apparently the discovery of the wards was a rather sensational affair, involving unexplained powers and dangerous creatures, the details of which Van Dyke either does not know or will not share. Word reached the Society via their mole, then reached the N.C. military via the Society, and they in turn reached out to Brown, who, in addition to studying under Von Neumann, had his own military connections, having served in one of those rare N.C. detachments in the Blood War. Whether it was the wards themselves, or some other information discovered there, something was valuable enough that they instructed Brown to abandon the expedition and return home, taking the wards with him. In doing so he undoubtedly had help from the Society spy who had posed as a student.

Now we reach an important period where Van Dyke avers complete ignorance; he describes himself as an “operations” man, valuable because he gets things done without asking too many questions. At any rate, for a long time work was done in New Columbia investigating the wards and whatever else they may have taken from under Essen; this work was a close collaboration between the N.C. military and the Society. The end point of that work was bringing the wards to Albion – Van Dyke’s personal involvement came in getting Brown and others in and out of the country undetected. He confirmed that one of those he helped Brown make contact with was Thompson/Throckmorton. He also acknowledged that “Rexley” was much in discussion among them, though he could provide no additional information about it.

This would have been a scant ten days before the Incident, which of course threw everything into chaos. And while no one at the Society had anticipated anything like it, they grew increasingly concerned that they did not have all the information, and that the Incident was indeed anticipated by, and perhaps even welcomed by, our dear departed Dr. Brown.

Sending Van Dyke along to Mont-Bré, then, was not just your typical nosy Society behavior. He had specific instructions to aggressively neutralize any threat, especially anything related to the wards, or to triggering ancient mechanisms or invoking ancient rituals. He recognized Brown, and, hearing what he had to say about “activating” the Obelisk, decided to follow his orders to the letter.

I wish I had more to report, but after having discussed that much, we heard noises in the hallway. The guards apparently checked on Van Dyke at regular intervals, even through the night. The next moment we heard the sound of a key turning; the suddenness of the danger perhaps worked to my advantage, since when I dived headlong for the wall, hoping for the best, I did indeed pass right through it and back into the wine cellar. I only wish I had thought to glance back and catch the expression on Van Dyke’s face as I did so.

It is at least somewhat gratifying to learn (if it is true, of course), that the Society has realized it made a bad partnership and now seeks to undo damage it may have been complicit in causing. But as Van Dyke was quick to point out, said Society is no more than a collection of individuals, many of whom were lost in the Incident, with the remainder desperately trying to piece things together and stay in contact just as we are.

It seems clear that Brown was some sort of apocalyptic madman. Maybe something he saw at the Essen dig drove him to insanity. But rather importantly: was he the only apocalyptic madman, or are there others still intent on carrying out his plans? You are, at this very moment, in the company of both a New Columbian spy and a Society scientist – what, if anything, is their connection to each other? Thompson’s relationship to all of this is undeniable; Bennington’s is less clear. I wonder too whether her research, these vials I still have, are part of this in any way, or are a separate affair.

Oh, and as to that, Van Dyke did confirm that Elizabeth College is far from being a backwater educational institution, and indeed hosts some of the Society’s most sensitive and secretive endeavors. Unfortunately he felt certain that somewhere on the campus could indeed be found the sort of underwater exploration gear that Robards was seeking.

I have not risked another walk through the wall in the days since. I am trying to decide just what I can do to dissuade or hinder Robards while overtly remaining in his good graces. I would ask your advice in all of this, my friend, but I fear your reply may reach me too late to do any good. Nonetheless, any insight you can give I will happily take, even if it arrives belatedly. Especially, I seek further clarification on what you have discovered about Campbell. He may be a “rogue from government,” but if he is a rogue from those New Columbians who may have set Brown on his path, that is a good thing to be. Or perhaps all of them who are involved themselves constitute an independent faction carrying out their own monstrous business, and Campbell is in on it. But I think of the orders that Thompson received, coming as they did from the N.C. High Command, and I fear the former is more likely the case.

I hasten to finish this while Alona stands waiting; she reported being harassed by Brothers of New Albion on the streets wanting to know her business. An ominous sign. I have instructed her that your reply is to be delivered only to me directly. Stay safe, my friend!

Warm Regards,


Stockport, 13 October

My Dear Rackham,

It has been good to engage in simple old-fashioned archaeological investigation for a few days. There was some of that at Mont-Bré after the action, of course, but at the time we were constantly on the lookout for unexpected arrivals, wary of Van Dyke, traumatized by what we had endured, and mostly concerned with gathering what we could and getting out of there. Now I work on a series of long tables set up in a musty wine cellar devoid of wine, sifting through all the fragments and detritus we were able to carry out with us. My work has been free from significant interruption, and your letter has, in most timely fashion, provided an additional piece to the puzzle.

First let me say I was overly pessimisstic in my earlier assessment of how much evidence had survived the explosion. With some careful and tedious work I have been able to reconstruct a few pages of Brown’s notes, and many more ur-Samekh runes from the shards of the Obelisk than I would have thought possible. Analysis of these led me to scribble “Von Neumann cxn??” in the margin of my notebook, so you can imagine my sense of delight and vindication when I read that name coming from you.

I was never a student of Von Neumann’s, as you know, but even my curiosity concerning his theories of ur-Samekh and Ashkur was enough to embroil me in a huge scholarly debate. Your work has kept you in proximity to that sort of thing, but since your mind is usually on the business side, perhaps you do not appreciate the full extent of it. I will attempt a summary, since, as is becoming increasingly clear, what I once would have taken as nothing more than an academic curiosity now may prove to be a critical question for the fate of humanity.

So then: Ashkur. Center of an ancient, and yet somehow incredibly advanced, civilization. A sort of near-Eastern counterpart to Atlantis. But whereas those who argue for the existence of Atlantis need only posit that some limited cataclysm caused it to sink beneath the sea, conveniently removing it from view, proponents of Ashkur can only explain the lack of archaeological evidence of its existence by recourse to the Deluge. Whether one interprets it as a Flood in the biblical sense or some other world-spanning event, something must have wiped the proverbial slate clean.

Von Neumann came to believe in Ashkur from the linguistic side of things. Even before he was aware of physical artifacts bearing ur-Samekh runes, he believed that there must be a root language, and that the civilization bearing that language was a sophisticated one. So convinced was he of this that he was willing say “Occam’s Razor be damned” and put forth a far-fetched antediluvian hypothesis to explain why no one could find physical evidence of Ashkur. Our own work investigating ancient sites played into all of this, of course. Von Neumann and his devotees took our findings as evidence supporting their own ideas. You know that I most often ran afoul of the Society by criticizing their, shall we say, ethical corner-cutting – but just as scandalous (to them) was the fact that I refused to denounce and/or distance myself from the “Ashkur nonsense.”

I have a new theory. Lacking the time, resources, or linguistic acumen to even attempt to prove it, though, let us call it a “working assumption.” There is a certain circularity to our current understanding of ur-Samekh. To wit: Language tells us there must be an ancient advanced civilization, but we can find no evidence of Ashkur, therefore it must have all been wiped out. Since it has all been wiped out, these strange runes we find at ancient sites must be from a language derived from Ashkur, not from Ashkur itself. But while this has been perfectly plausible from a linguistic standpoint, the dating of it all has never quite sat right with me. Granted, I am working here with evidence in the aftermath of a literal explosion, but nevertheless, it seems clear to me that the Mont-Bré Obelisk was impossibly, incredibly ancient. What if ur-Samekh is not derived from Ashkur, but in fact is itself the language, or at least a language, of Ashkur? What if these Obelisks come from a time before recorded history, and a civilization out of legend?

They have in some cases been literally interred, possibly rising from the ground, as you note, only in response to some meterological event, which would help to explain why nothing had been found until recently. And if we assume that the devastation in the Pandjaran and Coptic Colonies is in fact related to all of this, well, that would correspond to the supposed reach of Ashkur’s empire at its height.

I would say that all this sounds fantastical and improbable, but given all that we have seen and experienced in recent months, the mere fact that something seems unlikely in “normal” life hardly seems like a reason to discount it. I am including some notes of a more technical nature, especially concerning the dating of the Obelisk. I would be gratified if you would share them with MacTallan. If he agrees with me perhaps there is something to it; else you may safely discount the preceding paragraphs as the ravings of a man who has endured a little too much these past weeks, and is perhaps going a little bit mad.

Whatever we make of the past, it would seem that we have more than enough to contend with in the present. I, at least, need not worry that a lizard-man is reading my incoming mail. But I have much to unravel between Robards, Van Dyke, and Campbell, and that work is ongoing.

My first encounter with Robards since returning was a peculiar one. I expected him to want to see me right away, but it was three days before he sent for me. An aide escorted me to the governor’s residence, where the captain had converted a banquet hall into a sort of office-cum-audience-chamber. I expected that we would meet privately, but he wanted to hear my report right there, amid numerous members of his company and quite a few additional functionaries that I did not recognize – they must have been recent hires from among the local population of Garnsey. (Or perhaps members of the governor’s own staff, though I never saw the governor himself anywhere.) As a result I delivered a somewhat abbreviated and rather more circumspect version of events, with hints that there was More to the Story that I hoped would cause him to ask for a private meeting. But he thanked me for my report and dismissed me. On the way out, I could not help but notice that everyone around seemed very busy – but doing what exactly? I would have thought they were cooling their heels, waiting for repairs to the Sigsbee, and that my mission to Gallia would have been the very center of attention. Instead, I was practically ignored.

I was able to find out a little more in the following days, largely by making the rounds in my capacity as expedition’s physician, checking up on soldiers still recovering from injuries over the past months. They were, to a man, bursting with pride that their captain had seen fit to extend the umbrella of his benign wisdom and leadership to the people of Garnsey. And indeed, the general populace appear to look up to him as well. For no good reason, he seems to be taking on the administrative duties of governing this island!

Whether he is wielding it consciously or not, I suspect his Ability in all this. His charisma is literally supernatural, and he seems to be deriving deep satisfaction from the devotion of others. One the one hand, this has left me free to continue my research unhindered. On the other hand, it is a little disconcerting to watch those around me fall increasingly under his spell. My meals and leisure time are now spent with Jacobs and Sharma, who, despite having almost nothing in common with me, remain immune to Robards’ charms – perhaps as a result of our extended absence. Make no mistake, they remain loyal to him. But when the bawdy songs sung in taverns or at the mess hall were replaced by rambling, multi-versed odes to their commanding officer, they found it difficult to share in the general level of enthusiasm.

Robards did set up me up with this wine cellar below the residence to do my work, but since then I have not seen him. I also have nothing to update when it comes to Van Dyke. When Bertram let us off at the pier, he wasted no time in disappearing into the mist. If I ever do get an opportunity to make a proper report to Robards, I will leave it up to him whether to seek out the spy and take further action – although now, hearing from you that Thorpe considers him a “turncoat” makes me wonder whether I should say anything at all. At any rate, I have often gazed at the college on the hill and wondered what Sanders and Van Dyke have going on up there. All I know for sure is that they have kept to themselves and, as a result, presumably are not under the captain’s sway. I still have the vials we took out of Bennington’s lab there, but have not had time to properly analyze them – just one more thing I have yet to do but have not done yet.

My work investigating all the Mont-Bré evidence did yield one interesting tidbit possibly related to the Society. I discovered some encoded messages in the innocuous-seeming documents we took from the encampment at the chapel. It turned out only to be a schedule for delivery of additional supplies – but among those supplies they were due to receive was an aero beacon. This is significant because if we assume Brown was operating on his own, I cannot imagine how he would get his hands on one. But with military connections, or a Society connection, it becomes much more plausible.

This brings me at last to the one decent bit of legwork I have accomplished since I last wrote. Yesterday I went to the grotto to pay a visit to Campbell and the other New Columbians on the Sigsbee. By his orders, reportedly, they remained near their ship and did not get out into the populace much, if at all. Not knowing whether he was in on whatever N.C./Society conspiracy we may have going on around us, I thought it best not to go alone; Jacobs came along, eager for a change of scenery, as did Alia, recently-arrived, and herself eager to check in with her sister-in-flight, Alona.

Campbell was at his wit’s end. Apparently, ever since Robards set himself up in the governor’s house (and helped himself to most of the man’s responsibilities as well), he has lost all interest in helping the New Columbians with their ship. The Sigsbee is very nearly seaworthy again, but final repairs had been held up for days waiting for a delivery of supplies from Stockport. We spoke at length and he implored me to intercede on his behalf. All the while I was examining his behavior, looking for a sign of some hidden agenda. He seemed for all the world like an exasperated officer just trying to get his ship going again – though it’s not at all clear where he would take it even it could go anywhere.

While we spoke, Alia and Alona had their own conversation. (Jacobs in the meanwhile arm-wrestled with members of the Sigsbee’s crew. Or perhaps it was a head-butting competition? At any rate, he won.) These flyers that we rely on – they are an enigmatic bunch. I remember when we lost the Skylads, and there was talk of how females might be better-suited, physiologically speaking, to the task of piloting aeros. It all seemed very sensible. But I am beginning to suspect that they learned a good deal more in their training program than just how to fly. Of necessity the Society had a hand in that program, but the flyers do not seem to be loyal to anyone but themselves. Alona is technically a member of the crew of the Sigsbee, but while most of that crew has been confined to the grotto, Alona has been plenty busy making deliveries and performing scouting operations.

We emerged from the grotto safe and sound. On the way back to town, Alia informed me that Alona would be making the next run to Greysham, and if I wanted a letter to be sent along I should give it to her. I must have betrayed my concern with an expression on my face, and indeed, I did start to say something, but then she gave me The Look. No doubt you are familiar with it. No words accompanied it, but what I understood it to mean was something to the effect of: “You don’t know if you can trust Alona, but you have put your trust in me, and I say you must also trust her, and this is my way of demonstrating it. You could object, but that would make our ensuing conversation a tedious one, so think carefully before you speak.”

So this letter is hopefully reaching you via Alona, who, in answer to your question, may well have been running missions for the Society, or someone else entirely, but if you object to her, you will have to take it up with Alia.

I read your account of the spiraling patterns in the forest with great interest, but have no insight to add at this point. Whether the Cairns will have brought you new revelations, or betrayal, or both, I am eager to hear.

Warm Regards,


Stockport, 4 October

My Dear Rackham,

I hope you are reading this. If you are, it means that Alia has successfully relayed it to you without anyone else noticing; I need hardly warn you to read it when no one else is watching. She will also have given you another letter, much shorter, and much less interesting – if you take my advice, you will allow yourself to be seen reading that one, and perhaps even leave it lying around so someone else might read it. It is entirely devoid of sensitive information. I am risking this because there is altogether too much to say, some of it directly relevant to you. But if the risk is too great, indicate so in your next message and I will take a page from Martineau in my subsequent missives. Rest assured that I was able to discern the full meaning of your last letter.

Obviously in arranging all this I had to share with Alia that you were concerned about, if not danger, at the very least surveillance from members of your own expedition. She demanded to know the names of those who opposed you. “Even if you knew, what on earth could you do?” I replied. She took that opportunity to show me just how many knives and other blades were stashed in the hidden pockets of her flight suit, along with an ample supply of garrote wire and some curious Nipponese throwing-weapons with very pointy ends. I considered asking her just which weapons in her arsenal she was actually trained to use, but thought better of it. Instead I advised her that, for now, discretion was preferable to outright confrontation, and she grudgingly agreed. I leave it to you decide how much else to share with her in the interest of your own safety, and caution you to never, ever give her cause to become angry with you.

The details of our escape from Machlou could easily fill an entire letter all on their own, but I will elide them for now. Someone at La Gardelle who knew we were in the attic decided to tell the authorities, and we found ourselves slipping out the back, down to the river, and into the Gromit while innkeeper delayed the constable at the front door. We were fortunate that the people of this region are Bretonnes, having more in common with our Caledonian and Gaelic neighbors than the Gallians with whom they share a country. The folk of Machlou are more than a little resentful that a garrison of Gallian troops is now stationed there to enforce the Quarantine, which many believe to be nothing more than a conspiracy to hamper their fishing industry. Suffice it to say that we found a surprising number of people willing to help cover our escape without even knowing, or caring to know, our purpose. Bertrand took us upriver several miles and let us out along a trade road.

We were decently outfitted for a cross-country trek, our chief disadvantage being that Jacobs (the Muscle, you will recall) had an arm in a sling and a thoroughly stitched-up torso, which meant he would not be carrying any heavy loads. Therefore we had to shed some weight, and left behind mostly weapons, ammunition, and some survey gear. We departed armed only with pistols, save Sharma, who cherishes his long-range Enfield rifle – nearly as tall he is – that he has affectionately named Kali.

Our three-day westward hike ended up taking us four due to an excess of caution; Sharma would scout ahead and we would get off the road rather than meet other travellers. On those occasions when there was not enough time for this, Van Dyke’s cover persona served reasonably well. We camped just out of sight of the road in quiet-looking corners of glens and fields. After long weeks traversing the mutilated countryside of our homeland, spending time hiking through an unmarred, beautiful land was a much-needed balm. I will not lie: it occurred to all of us to simply remain here, to make new lives on the Continent and leave the troubles of Albion behind. My only hesitation was in abandoning my compatriots, not least of all yourself, but whether that would have been enough to sway me is now an academic question. After what we saw at Mont-Bré, I know we must go back.

The afternoon of the fourth day we broke from the road and followed a winding track toward the saint’s hill. We had our first clear view of it from a mile away, and while trees still obscured the flat-topped summit itself, the chapel there, and the dolmens nearby, we already knew that we would not find it deserted. Campfire smoke in the sky betrayed some sort of encampment, and tracks along our path suggested that they, whoever they were, had recently brought up a wagonload of supplies. There followed a lengthy discussion as to how to proceed. Van Dyke was strangely noncommital during all this, which made a good deal more sense in retrospect. Jacobs favored a surprise ambush, despite my repeatedly insisting that we had no evidence that those on the hill would necessarily be enemies. In the end he agreed to my plan: an open and peaceful, but cautious, approach, but with an ace in the hole.

That ace was Sharma, who broke from the track and clambered up the hillside through the underbrush, intending to find a vantage point to cover our approach. We allowed him ample time for this purpose, then made our own way up the hill along the winding track, arriving at the summit an hour or so before twilight.

The chapel of Saint Herveus, you will recall, is a medieval building of crumbling stone, no doubt revered by some of the locals, but long overdue for a renovation, and seldom visited. It was at the moment, however, serving as a base of operations for several men, two of whom confronted us as we walked up. They wore no uniforms, but their bearing evinced some military training, and they were well-armed. They escorted us from the chapel down a path to the site of the dolmens, where we found five more men. Three of them were also soldier-types, and the last two I could pick out as an archaeologist and his aide from a hundred feet away, just by the way one was crouching near one of dolmens and the other was furiously scribbling the first’s dictations into a notebook.

But at the time I barely processed this fact, because my eyes were on the Obelisk. I need hardly remind you that the last time we were at Mont-Bré there was no Obelisk, just the ring of dolmens that I suspected were far older than the local lore credited them as being. Now, in the center of the dolmen ring, there it stood. For reasons that will soon become clear I cannot provide exact measurements, but to the best of my memory, it was, in size, shape, and inclination with respect to the surrounding stones, identical to the Obelisk you encountered late in August on the loch.

I must have been standing there, staring at it agog for a good while, because the archaeologist had ample time to wipe his hands, walk up to us, and introduce himself. “Pleased ta meetcha. I’m Dr. Brown.”

Hopefully my spelling has successfully conveyed my next realization, nearly as shocking as seeing the Obelisk, which is that this gentlemen was New Columbian. Dr. Brown gestured toward the Obelisk. “She’s a beaut, ain’t she? Not quite active yet, but soon, soon.”

“I beg your pardon,” I stammered. “You don’t seem surprised in the least to see me, but I must confess a great deal of surprise in finding …” – I gestured at the Obelisk, the soldiers, the whole scene – “… all this.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you must have a ton of questions. And I have quite a few for you. You know what? We outnumber you so I think we’re going to get to my questions first. Maybe back at the chapel?” The soldiers nearest us stepped a little closer, and I noticed the other ones at the site readying their weapons. “How about you leave your weapons right there at your feet and we’ll take a little stroll that-a-way.”

No one was pointing a weapon at us, but the aura of menace was unmistakable. Dr. Brown’s cheery smile carried no air of threat itself, but his eyes were ice-cold. Adding a macabre tinge to an already tense situation, the man who I took for his aide was crouched by the Obelisk, babbling to himself and clapping his hands as if he could not contain his excitement about what was to happen next.

Van Dyke and I crouched to lower our pistols to the ground and stood slowly again. Jacobs did not move. I begged him sotto voce to do the same, but he stood impassively. Twenty seconds passed in silence.

“Darn,” said Dr. Brown. “It looks like things are going to get uncomfortable.” He nodded curtly to one of his men, who raised his rifle, aiming at Jacobs. Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glint of light coming from a line of trees at the crest of the hill, sixty yards away. A signal.

That is when things began to happen very quickly. Jacobs dove toward me and barreled us both to the ground. The soldier shifted his aim, but before he could fire we heard a crack from the direction of the signal, and he reeled backwards, shot through the heart. The other one who had been standing near us crumpled to the ground after a second crack just a few seconds later. The rest were already reacting, seeking cover behind dolmens and the obelisk itself. One of them judged the direction of Kali’s ire incorrectly and left himself exposed – another crack, and he was dead. Meanwhile, the “aide” let out a rather primitive-sounding cry of rage and scrambled toward us on his arms and legs, like an ape. Jacobs rolled up into a crouch, took aim, and – despite having one arm still in a sling – brought him down with a single bullet to the head.

Dr. Brown, sheltered behind a dolmen from Sharma’s view, looked at Van Dyke. “Now or never, wouldn’t you say?” he said. For a brief moment, Van Dyke’s face betrayed a spasm of shock and anger, but he quickly brought it under control. He retrieved his weapon. Jacobs glanced at me uncertainly. The two remaining soldiers, peeking out from behind cover, seemed similarly unsure of what to expect next. I hesitated, and Van Dyke fired a round – squarely into Brown’s chest. The look on the archaeologist’s face as he coughed up blood made it all too clear that this was not what he had been expecting.

That was when the thrumming began. At first I mistook it for an earthquake, but the ground was steady – rather it was the very air that seemed to shake, with a deep sound like an orchestra composed entirely of string basses. Suddenly I was aware that in the bloody wreckage of Dr. Brown’s torso lay the shattered pieces of a stone worn around his neck, and that twisting coils of energy passing from that pendant to the Obelisk were what was causing the thrumming.

That awareness was coupled with a heightened awareness of everything around me – I glanced at my own hands to confirm that, indeed, I had shifted to a translucent state. I was immediately self-conscious and wondered what the others would think, but their attention was focused elsewhere. Invisible to them, but visible to me, crackling arcs of energy emitted from the Obelisk into each of the five corpses now on the ground around us. And the corpses rose. They were mere shells, animated somehow by the Obelisk, but they moved with surprising speed. Another crack from Sharma, and one of them fell – only to rise again the next instant and continue on its way. One of the soldiers at this point was running pell-mell away, but the other one remained huddled behind one of the dolmens. The animated corpse of one of his compatriots found him crouched there, and … suffice it to say that I am glad that the dolmen blocked the others’ view of what befell the poor man. It is a vision I will have to carry with me to my grave.

Dr. Brown’s husk was upon me, its mouth open as if it meant to clamp down on my flesh. Even as its arm passed harmlessly through my ghostly shoulder, I instinctively pushed it away. My hand entered its chest, but then – I am not sure how to describe it, for I did not solidify, but rather it was as if, by force of will, I laid claim to to that particular bit of space that both our forms were occupying, and Brown’s body was forcefully ejected away from my hand. He flew away from me, slamming into a dolmen thirty feet away.

If I was reasonably safe from the creatures, the same could not be said of Jacobs and Van Dyke, who were beset upon by three of them, fending off clawlike hands and gnashing teeth as best they could, finding their pistols of no use whatsoever. But my chief attention was now focused on the Obelisk. In my mind’s eye it glowed with eldritch light, but within it was something that seemed alive. Deep in the heart of obelisk was a bulbous mass, pulsing in rhythm, like a misshapen heart the size of a cow’s head. Hanging down from it was a tentacle or tendril, or perhaps artery, that extended below the ground going deep, deep, to the edge of my perception.

I headed toward it. There was no wind, but I felt resistance as I went forward, despite my incorporeal state. The closer I got the more it was like I was striving upstream against a strong current. I could hear the sounds of struggle behind me but my attention was focused ever-forward; I sensed that if I could only reach the thing, and somehow stop it, we might be spared. Time seemed to stretch thin, and my final steps up to the Obelisk felt like they took a lifetime. At last, my arm passed through the side of it, I grabbed, or tried to grab, the hideous beating thing in its center, to crush it, eject it, will it away, whatever might work …

For an instant I was connected to it, and I saw. A great yawning awareness filled me, but I cannot tell you a thing about it now, for like a dream it has slipped away, and even so it only lasted for a second before my mind shut down and I slumped to unconsciousness. I count that fact as a blessing.

I have tried to relay that entire scene in as much detail as possible, given its importance, but now of necessity I must take a step back and summarize, for, as with my experience in the storm on the Channel, in the aftermath I was not myself, this time for a period of about twenty-four hours. When I came to, Sharma was sitting over me, Jacobs was tending to a campfire, and Van Dyke was crouched rather sullenly off to the side, his face a black-and-blue patchwork of repeated bludgeonings. I learned later that this was not the result of the corpse attack. He had been making a concerted effort to write down everything that I said in my delirious state, and, considering the suspicious exchange between him and Dr. Brown, Jacobs felt that he should not be quite so presumptuous, and made his feelings known a little overzealously.

My striving toward the Obelisk had, in fact, taken close to five minutes, during which Sharma had moved up from the treeline, and the three of them had been in embroiled in a pitched battle for their lives. At the moment when I reached into it, the Obelisk had shattered, the corpses had collapsed, and only then (I assume) I had taken solid form once again, slumped on the ground. Nowhere was there evidence of a once-beating heart-like thing: only shards of stone. While I was indisposed, the others made a good effort at gathering the larger pieces back together for sketches and analysis.

We spent two more days at the site, gathering evidence and taking notes of whatever we could salvage. I am able to confirm from pieced-together shards that the runes on the Obelisk are also ur-Samekh, and perhaps with access to a proper library I can provide a bit more, but the detonation did away with much of what would have been valuable information. Some of the dolmens were themselves destroyed in the blast, others blackened by a fine dust that obscured their markings.

Van Dyke was, unsurprisingly, not forthcoming about much of anything. I had to remind Jacobs and Sharma that we had expected some sort of Society twist in all of this, that it was part of the game, and that we were fortunate that whatever he did was not the outright betrayal that perhaps Brown had expected of him. My best guess was that they had recognized each other, but had not necessarily been allies, and Van Dyke deemed it better that the man die than that the nature of their connection might come to light. Of course, had he let Brown live, we might have learned much from him, and the awakening of the corpses might never have happened. But while he has much to answer for, I was not willing to make a summary judgment concerning his fate.

We found frustratingly little at the encampment to further identify Dr. Brown and his entourage. We could find no official communiques, no orders, not even personal effects among the soldiers’ things. If this was an official N.C. military expedition, it was a highly covert one. More likely it was an independent operation of some sort – perhaps the soldiers were mercenaries? Brown’s work-table and notes would have been a valuable trove of clues, but they were situated near the Obelisk, and did not survive the explosion in readable form.

One afternoon I chided Jacobs for not letting me know that three of his stitches had come loose in the fight. “But sir,” he asked, dumbfounded, “How did you know?” Upon recollection I realized that I had idly wondered about it, looked at him, and had simply seen. It was not the total transformation of perception that has accompanied my ghostly state, but something smaller, more targeted, and, sadly, still something not under my conscious control, it seems.

Speaking of my Ability, the cat is out of the proverbial bag to some extent with respect to my companions. If nothing else, they know I was adjacent to the Obelisk when it exploded, and yet I somehow survived. Sharma, at the very least, must have seen the way that I sent one of the corpses flying through the air, but he has said nothing about it. Jacobs, for his part, repeatedly insists that that we had additional aid during the fight. He claims that, at one point, a ferocious wolf pulled a corpse off of him when he was at the point of death. He also says that a blind old man was standing near me when the Obelisk exploded. None of the rest of us saw anything of the sort, of course. But I thought I saw a beating heart within the Obelisk, but afterward there was no evidence of such a thing – who am I to gainsay him?

We made our way cautiously back to Machlou over another four days. It was a good thing we had not done anything overly rash with Van Dyke – though he was undoubtedly a persona non grata among us, we needed him to slip into town and find Bertram. We had to bide our time for another couple days before he was able to secret us onto the Gromit. One thrilling vortex-ride later, we found ourselves back on Garnsey, where Alia had arrived just the day before with your letter.

It will take me some time to sort through all the information we have gathered, and so my more detailed and scholarly conclusions will have to wait for future letters. But the idea that drew me back toward home is this: what if I could do to the Obelisk at the loch what I did to the one at Mont-Bré? Getting there will be a trick, of course. And in the meantime we must sort out what is going on with these New Columbians. It is no coincidence, I assume, that Dr. Brown had a stone pendant similar to the one that Throckmorton – I mean Thompson – gave to Robards. But what is their agenda? Brown’s “soon, soon” rings hauntingly in my ears – it is as if he was trying to awaken the Obelisk, or at the very least was eager for it to happen.

Now my hand is cramped and my ink is dry; I hope Alia is able to deliver this to you surreptitiously, else it has all been a wasted effort. Do try to keep her from doing anything too rash. And, as ever, stay safe, my friend.

Warm Regards,


Machlou, 17 September

12 September

My Dear Rackham,

I do not know when I will be able to send word back your way, but I will take the opportunity to write a brief update. What I lack in news from Mont-Bré I make up for in time, being cooped up in an attic with little else to do. Read on and discover why.

My life these past few days has felt something like a play where the playwright has gone out of his way to create Colorful Characters, hoping perhaps that these will compensate for a singular Lack of Compelling Dialogue. Indulge me:

Dramatis Personae

Bertram, the Smuggler: In a manner that seems to me wholly inappropriate for someone whose occupation is deeply concerned with secrecy, the man never stops talking. He has accrued a large number of stories in his long and varied life and seems worried that he will not get a chance to relate all of them to us, so he fills any silence he can with more words. He can keep up this monologue, with both hands on the tiller, and yet the omnipresent cigar clamped to one side of his mouth is never seen to even so much as wobble. Verily, I think this man has an Ability all his own, albeit one of limited scope.

Crane, the Professor: So named by Bertram (even though I have explained to him more than once that I do not currently hold any university position). Dour and quiet. If this be one of those New Columbian “vaudeville” productions, Crane is undoubtedly the Straight Man.

Jacobs, the Muscle: He is the sort of soldier who joins the military not out of a sense of family tradition or patriotic duty, but because he enjoys commiting violence and it seems as good an avenue for that as any. One shudders to think what line of work he would have sought out otherwise. Jacobs finds every story that Bertram tells endlessly fascinating and/or hilarious — often flying in the face of Reason. But one has no indication that Reason is this man’s strong suit.

Sharma, the Scout: I lack the instrumentation to verify my theory, but I am reasonably certain that two Sharmas would weigh the same as one Jacobs. A Pandjaran born and bred, he survived the devastation of his homeland and, perhaps for that reason, seems the least fazed by everything that has befallen Albion in recent months. Reputedly a crack shot.

Van Dyke, the Spy: If one is obligated to travel with an agent of a mysterious Society, facing the possibility that he will report your every action and may even undermine your ultimate objective if it contravenes his own secretive agenda, one could hardly ask for a nicer chap than this one. Handsome, genial, well-read, gregarious but not too talkative. Even though he is apparently a Lowlander by birth, his chief asset to us is that he is also fluent in Gallian.

It is with this merry band that I set out from Garnsey on the eighth of September in Bertram’s unassuming single-sail dory, the Gromit. Sanders had introduced us to Van Dyke, who in turn had had dealings with Bertram, though my impression is that the smuggler is an independent operator and not a Society man himself. I will attempt to summarize for you his disquisition on the vortex storms and how to get through them. “Air’s a treck to’t, see?” as he might say.

From Garnsey’s shores the storms are often visible, but not always. One might be led to assume that their lulls create windows whereby one might sail easily away, but one would be most mistaken. The storms have a nasty habit of rolling in quickly as soon as there is a boat in the water. (When I asked Bertram if he was suggesting there was a malicious Intent behind the storm, he grunted as if this was self-evident.) Within them, there is no prevailing wind and no real hope of pushing straight through. Certainly no hope of weathering them until they go away — they will not ebb until you succumb or somehow make it out. (My experience on the Sigsbee would seem to be an exception, but I said nothing.) The trick — the ingenious, improbable, and altogether suicidal trick — is to use the centripetal force of a vortex to slingshot around it, steering at just the right moment to disengage, centrifugally, and latch on to the next vortex, ideally one rotating in the opposite direction, and repeat the process. This results in nothing resembling a straight course, but as long as one is patient, and makes no mistakes whatsoever, one can eventually get where one is going. The additional trick is that, times being what they are, there are many watchful eyes on the Gallian coast, and to arrive undetected it is best to arrive at night. But of course navigating the vorteces without daylight is impossible. Therefore it is necessary to leave mid-day and to time one’s break from the storm on the other side for dusk.

Suffice it to say that our experience in the storm perfectly matched Bertram’s description. There was a certain elegance to it, I must admit. The most nerve-wracking moment was undoubtedly when, within sight of land, Bertram took us back into the storm because the sky was not yet dark enough and we might be spotted. All the while, he did not stop talking, Jacobs rarely stopped chuckling, and Van Dyke kept sending knowing smirks and grim nods my way as if we were in on the same joke. Sharma napped. When we emerged the second and final time the sky was growing dark. We could see the lights of the town of Machlou — by no means the closest landing point to Mont-Bré, but it was the place Bertram used for his smuggling runs and we thought it best to play it safe. The last of the vorteces was receding behind us.

The next moment there was a terrific crash and the sound of splintering wood as we lurched to starboard. Van Dyke, who had been sitting on the gunwale at that moment, was thrown overboard. I thought perhaps we had hit a reef, but then a gigantic form passed beneath us in the water: we had just been rammed! It was difficult to make out details in the dimming light, but whatever it was was at least thirty feet long. It was skimming just below the surface, and through the distortions it made in the water it was clear it was coming around for another pass.

Van Dyke had surfaced and was making competent strokes back toward us, but the water was rough and his progress slow. The ominous outline of our underwater aggressor drew ever nearer, and it became clear that it was heading, not directly for us, but rather for our floundering comrade. Another splash: this time Jacobs, shirtless, diving into the water, a curved knife blade clenched between his teeth.

The creature surfaced. It all happened so quickly, in the twilight chaos, that I fear I cannot give the scene the detail it deserves. What was it? No shark, no whale, though its body was most like one of those, but the head resembled nothing so much as a crocodile of the Nile: the snout elongated, the teeth numberless as it opened its maw. The sound that it made as Jacobs thrust his blade into the roof of its mouth was guttural, ancient, unearthly. It flailed, and in doing so drenched us and very nearly capsized the Gromit.

But somehow we stayed upright and afloat, and in the next moment we were scrambling to pull Van Dyke and Jacobs back aboard. We spent the next minutes limping toward shore, anxiously looking every direction, waiting for the next attack, but it never came. Perhaps the wound was sufficient to drive it off. Perhaps we had passed into shallower waters. Or perhaps the Intent behind the storm had made one last angry gesture before we passed out of its influence.

The Gromit weathered the hit it took reasonably well. Jacobs was not so lucky. Some of those teeth had torn him a nasty gash from waist to armpit, and his left arm was broken in two places. Our plan had been to slip quietly past Machlou, up the river that empties there into the bay, and disembark far from prying eyes. Now, instead, I needed to land as soon as possible to try to save Jacobs’ life. Bertram had contacts in Machlou, unsavory gentlemen engaged in all manner of illegal dealings, but this meant they had out-of-the-way places to stash goods (and people) and were accustomed to getting things (and people) into town surreptitiously.

That is how we find ourselves in the attic from which I write. We are above a rather bustling and boisterous inn, La Gardelle, near the river. While that might not seem very low-profile, the noise of the place helps mask our own activity, and we have ready access to food and water. Bertram is constantly coming and going, bringing news, negotiating with our thuggish benefactors. Their price for keeping us hidden here will not be cheap. Van Dyke has proved his worth by procuring for me the medical implements I needed to sew Jacobs back up and set his arm. I was amazed that he had managed it so quickly in a foreign land; I understand from Bertram that the man’s accent and demeanor were both so natural that he had passed successfully in town as a Gallian. Spy indeed.

We have been here four nights. Jacobs is now stable, but still in need of several more days’ rest. There was some discussion of leaving him here and pressing on, but Bertram does not trust his Machlou contacts any farther than he can see them, and thought it likely that if we left him behind they would sell him out to the authorities. And so we wait, and so I write. More anon.

17 September

I fear for your safety, my friend; I am in receipt of your last letter, but the circumstances of its retrieval are unusual, and I find myself wondering (even more than usual) whether what I write will find its way to you.

We remain in our attic hideaway. I sent Bertram back to Garnsey to report in and gather news. He returned with your letter and an accompanying note from Alia, which I will reproduce below:

Dr. Crane: Some weeks ago … [here she began to write “Benjamin” but then crossed it out] … Rackham asked that if I should ever meet his expedition and find him absent or indisposed, before assuming that he had no letter to send, I should check his portable writing desk, which has a secret compartment in the bottom that he showed to me, and bring whatever I found there to you. I landed near Greysham on the 13th of September and found the expedition in good order, certainly compared to the last time I had seen them. Thorpe seemed well, despite his alarming appearance. He told me Rackham was out investigating local happenings and would not be back that day. At an opportune moment I located his belongings and found a letter in the compartment, included here. I did not read it, but glanced at it briefly enough to see that it was indeed intended for you, and that it was incomplete.

My feeling is that Thorpe was not telling me everything he knew. I detected a hint of concern in his tone. I hope that I am making too much of this, but I will return to Greysham as soon as is feasible to verify that Rackham is well. In any case, upon arriving at Garnsey I found you absent, but Robards had in his company a smuggler who was to be returning to you soon. I was not certain whether the greater good would be to ensure the privacy of your correspondence or to get the letter to you as soon as possible; I hope I have chosen correctly. Bertram knows what I will do to him if he betrays your confidence. -Alia

I believe she has indeed chosen correctly, though it concerns me now more than ever how easily the sensitive and personal information we are including in these missives could be read by others. For myself, I say, damn their eyes and write on; in these trying times I sometimes feel it is only our correspondence that keeps me sane, and I am loath to cease or censor it.

Judging from the smudges of ink at the end of your letter, I gather that you had to break from it in haste. My best guess is that something caused you to hurriedly stash it in your writing desk — and as to that, my friend, very clever indeed! I have made no similar arrangements with our messengers but will adopt your stratagem or something similar at the first opportunity. Were it not for the rather explosive revelation you were in the process of writing at that moment, I might not be fearful for your safety; as it is, I certainly am. But I will press on in faith that you will receive this in due course.

Throckmorton, or should I say Thompson, a New Columbian spy … I can hardly fathom it. I am not so naive as to be surprised that nations with cordial relations may still spy on one another, of course. But this would mean that he has been operating under an assumed identity since at least the time he and Robards began serving together, five or more years ago. Incredible.

I am not familiar with Rexley; either it is a code name or my geographical memory is lacking. I believe I can help you with the location coordinates, however. In the N.C. military system, the first and second numbers will indicate latitude and longitude, respectively, in hundredths of a degree. The third number is the “key” in that it references a fixed point, usually a central location or base of operations, though it may be an arbitrary point for particularly sensitive communications. Assuming the location referenced is roughly local, by my calculations it is approximately 46 miles north and 61 miles east of “110”. Get thee to an atlas, and if there is indeed a town called Rexley in your vicinity try that as your 110. Otherwise try other landmarks of note. I’m afraid that’s the best I can do.

That communique, combined with the stone pendant, imply that the New Columbians know much more about the Incident — and perhaps even its cause — than they are letting on. I agree with you that until we know more this is best kept strictly between us.

Jacobs’ recovery continues; he is a remarkably fast healer, and my hope is that we will be able to depart in a few more days. He and I have been staying out of sight. Sharma too, as a Pandjaran would be especially conspicuous in these parts, though he does slip out at night to get some air. Van Dyke has the locals believing he is a minor playwright from southern Gallia on holiday; he has booked a legitimate room in the inn and enjoys the run of the town. As envious as this makes the rest of us, at least it allows him to keep us supplied and informed. Apparently there is a close watch on the coast and constant military patrols here and at other coastal towns; the Quarantine is very real and our caution is not unwarranted.

I will send Bertram back to Garnsey with this letter, and with instructions to check in on Campbell and the New Columbians, as well as reporting to Robards. Apparently the captain is operating out of the governor’s house now. Good to hear that relations between them have improved.

When next I write I hope to have news from Mont-Bré; my daily prayer is that you will be safe, secure, and able to receive it!

Warm Regards,