It has been the better part of a morning now until I have found myself calm enough to write you; this first part has been penned after the excitement of having very unexpectedly received your letter, but the latter sections will be my copies and re-writes of records that I had been making now these past eight weeks, intended for you all along but never sure that you would be in continued correspondence.
From now re-reading your letter of 31 May I will take pains not to give into my overwhelming temptation and dash out something quick, but altogether too short, in the enthusiasm and delight of hearing from you again. Since you seem to be on the move toward the south of Albion, hoping to make contact with Gallian soldiers, then I think I will take the time to write out what this happy round of correspondence needs. And that, my nephew, is best understood as an attempt to provide more forthright and bare information, coupled with a measure of precise detail, than I might have been able to afford in the past.
Not that I was never truthful in what I wrote, or complete—that is not my gist. I mean to say that although I cared nothing for those that might have watched our correspondence, the circumstances are vastly different now. And, in fact, a period of you and I having not heard from each other may well be a boon in this area. We may be—and ought to be—freer with our information than ever before, given the developments on my side of things of the last eight weeks, and indeed, as I read, yours as well. I am glad that you have come to a similar revelation, via your own route, that we no longer have the luxury of being anything less than frank and urgent, content to wait upon the priorities of our paymasters.
I am very thankful that the intrepid Alia was your erstwhile savior, if not a messenger—I can imagine the scene of her swooping out of the sky like a mechanical angel—even if she was necessarily cautious of you at first. That she was busy ferrying messages between the two halves of the Rackham and Crane mission since their division makes logical sense given what I know. That she was blackmailed by this Dr. Amory Brown makes me hate him all the more, fitting with what I have already learned of him. My re-produced notes below will explain something of those comments, but what you say also gives me some hope that you and I may yet make the acquaintances of Mr. Benjamin Rackham and Dr. Eliot Crane, despite what Alia might have described of their situation. I have never met Alia, but last week I made a brief greeting of her sister Alona here at our laboratories. As our collaboration with Sanders increases—without the corruption of the Society—I believe that the discoveries I will explain to you will deepen and prove themselves true. Alona, and perhaps her sister, may very well play a key part in that.
As for myself and my new colleagues, we are in the northern Saxonian town of Mauerburg, known, ironically enough, for its medieval walls that once saw it through the onslaughts of the ambitious Novgorod kings centuries ago. Its walls have now become a symbol of the quixotic and doomed goal of my fellow Saxonians to resist the changes that, we are sure, have already begun to take hold on the Continent. No, the cataclysm that blights Albion will not be localized to that island nation—we are sure of it now, from our work. The Gallians have chosen not to listen, and indeed their Quarantaine, as well as La Commission itself, were established in the fool-hardy belief that they might prevail over the events that most certainly herald the closing months of our current Weltstufe. What they fail to see—to their detriment, of course—is that no nation on this world will be spared. Not even the myopic and thick-headed New Columbians, despite whatever plans this Brown has concocted. It all must change, and we with it.
In the meantime, I have conveyed your name to my colleagues should you decide to come and seek a short refuge. That said, your developing abilities, and mine, may be called upon to usher in the next Weltstufe. You may read this and you feel yourself under no Abilities, no altered state, and neither do I: but as you will read in my notes below, it is very likely that you and I may develop them, in time. Especially you, since you have already traveled at length through Albion proper, and have not managed to turn into a pillar of white-gray salted ash, nor have you changed into an arouranthrope, like so many of the sad remains I have studied. Take heart that this is good news. If you make your way to Mauerburg any time in the next few months, find Herr Brandt, and he will lead you to me. If you continue to work for your current employers, then feel free to pass along to them our latest research. It won’t make a difference if they know; and in the best of all possible outcomes, perhaps what I explain below may convince a few of them to act in concert with us.
I’ve composed the information on the next pages under two topics; I recognized that while I had originally recorded my notes in chronological order (as anyone with my training naturally would) what I have to tell you makes better sense if I group the findings under like headings. Where memory served me, I attempted to tell a narrative of the most salient parts from my perspective, adding in what I recall my colleagues might have said, or actually had said. I did this in an effort to make things yet more clear to you—you are certainly clever, but that there are some highly technical details that require the support of background or context.
On the Nature of Conveyance Lines
I was correct about some of the direction my earlier work at the College had been going, although I did not know to what extent in some cases, and in other cases I was off along a side track that might never have gotten me back on the main road were I to have spent weeks examining it. My original Society handlers had directed me to review the star-charts you graciously recovered from the Observatory in the thought that the time of the next Weltstufe was predictable from the arrangement of the celestial bodies in the night skies above. I might have told them even then that the end of the current era of the world was at hand, but I sensed that this was not the kind of answer they wanted—so, misled by the direction of my own superiors at the time, I blundered around in the dark, not seeing the truths right in front of me. At the time I was also unable to obtain from my own organization the ancillary material necessary to make the connection which I later saw staring back at me in plain view just a few days after I moved from Essen to where I am now.
The world is criscrossed with pathways, hidden from the eye and impossible to traverse unless one knows the secrets of their activation. These pathways, or lines of conveyance as they first appeared in the work of one of our foundational sources, permit near-instantaneous travel between their points for living beings. They are not overland routes nor subterranean passages, although many of their terminal points, or “nodes” happen to be found underground. The lines of conveyance, the energies that support them, and the nodes that connect them have been here for millennia. Only recently—only because the current Weltstufe is at an end and a new one begs to be ushered in—have they reappeared, accessible now to adventurers like you, and of course Rackham and Crane. We have evidence that at least Rackham has experienced travel along one of them, if not Crane as well. We also believe that the despicable Brown has been exploiting them for his own ends—although exactly what these ends are we cannot say.
What I had been chasing using the astronomical charts was the timing of the Weltstufe and its portents; what I ought to have been seeing was the correspondence between the stars and the lines.
With help from a strange little man named Haien, a curator of archives here, the stars and their motions were plotted against a map of Albion and the Continent. With a simple mathematical algorithm of Haien’s design which allowed us to take into account the distance of the stars in both their apogee and their perigee from our world, we were able to plot both the locations of the “nodes” of the conveyance lines. What we found was that the distance of certain stars from our world was proportional to the power invested in the many and several nodes that we had gathered information about. The perigee of key stars in both the winter sky and the summer sky has happened several times in recorded history, and thanks to the last eight years of painstaking cross-referential work by Haien, a tablature of the “activation” and the “dormancy” of the nodes for conveyance lines has been compiled. According to our theory, at the end of a Weltstufe, these stars are all in perigee, activating all of these nodes. Also notable at the end of each of these eras of history, a comet has been seen passing close to the world. With the comet’s appearance, a “central hub” appears and sends out its power along these lines, allowing relatively free travel between them for a short time. All signs point to Highmark being this Weltstufe’s hub.
I recall the conversation with Haien, in the studio portion of his sprawling office. I had finished a reproduction of the known nodes of the conveyance lines on a large map, more of a collection of smaller maps either recopied from Von Neumann works or from Haien’s own gathered research. For each site, every time we were able to confirm at least three sources from stories, legends, records of the unexplained, or from eyewitness accounts on the site, we plotted its supposed location on the map. At the end my first month in Mauerburg, we completed two dozen of these cross-referenced locations, with five more listed as likely or possible. Some of these sites seemed more important than others, with more lines of conveyance passing to and from them.
“What you’re saying, Haien,” I said, studying the connections plotted on the map in push-pins and string, “is that this is not the first time the world has experienced this.”
“Not at all, Herr Doktor,” he replied, from somewhere behind me. Haien was the kind of researcher who, if allowed, would assume too much familiarity without establishing a like protocol for his own titles and experience, which, given the circumstances, I found relieving. I needed not regard him to know his pudgy nose was wrinkled upward to lift up his ponderous round spectacles in effort to add weight to what I sensed he would say next.
“Three times in recorded history, with archaeological evidence to suggest a fourth time. We may well be looking forward to a fifth impending Weltstufe, if not a later one yet.” I noted that his pronunciation of the Saxonian word was tinged with a different accent, very possibly Carpathian. Around the office we had fallen into Albionese as a default, since other assistants and colleagues on retinue here seemed to prefer the same.
“Each time a comet?”
“Yes. The last time was sixty years before Rexley published his volumes, er—”
“The Universal Lexigraph, yes,” I hastily interrupted, turning to look at him.
He smiled. “Begging your pardon, I meant to say his earlier works, such as the Utility of Nature.”
I nodded. “Indeed. You have read them all?”
“Not in entirety,” my short colleague admitted, joining me at the map. “But he knew enough that the comet passing through the atmosphere awakened effects in the world around him.”
“Surely if it were the end of an age, he and his contemporaries would have recorded more effects than this.”
“Not if the central, er—chamber—had not been activated,” he said, lifting his glasses to peer closely at the red pin labeled ‘Highmark’ on our map.
“I don’t understand,” I said, stepping back a moment to take in the breadth of the web we had plotted on the massive board. “The activation of the hub is something that could be chosen?”
He shook his head. “Not from the evidence we have. You see, not every Weltstufe ushers in changes to the extent we think this one has. It’s entirely possible that Rexley was fortunate enough not to live through a Great Cataclysm, yet be able to uncover at least some of the discoveries that have flooded into the Society within the last two years. His early work would have found correspondences to what we have learned now, but he may not have had the entire picture.”
I stared at the map one more time before reaching for my tea. “You mean the Ur-Samekh runes. What Von Neumann based his own research upon during his time at the Extern-Universität.”
“Not just based his research upon. He managed to codify three hundred and forty distinct syllables in the language of Ashkur.”
“Ashkur?” I asked, blankly.
“It was a city of ancients, founded well before the migrations of the four tribes out of—”
I waved my hand to stop him, thankful for his wealth of knowledge of ancient civilizations but with no stomach for legends that day. “We have other Von Neumann volumes, Haien—where are these codes?”
He looked downward. “We do not know. The Society owned a great set of them once, said to be the only copies made after the professor’s death. They never reached Mauerburg. But there is the curious story of their disappearance.”
“They were simply misplaced,” he chuckled.
“This is why the Rackham and Crane expedition had been backed by the Society,” I concluded, sighing with the satisfaction of sudden recognition. “They needed Von Neumann’s work, and without it, they were trying to gather as much information on as many symbols as possible.”
Haien nodded and refilled his tea. “From what I understand, Rackham’s money had been his own, but many of the other elements, including key members of the expedition, were Society agents.”
“Crane?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Not to my knowledge,” he replied. “But the friendship between the two, stemming from their schoolboy days, provided a handy cover for Society leadership. If the New Columbians were to catch wind—”
“Yes,” I murmured, returning to the map.
“At any rate,” Haien continued, “you asked about comets. We think that the Weltstufe that ended of the Ashkurian civilization had its own comet, which passed very close to the world and blotted out the sun.”
“Your source?” I inquired. “This would have been before the advent of the written word.”
“Our observations of the path of the comet that passed into our skies two years ago, with a mathematical formula that agrees with every aspect of its appearance,” he replied, adjusting his spectacles. “And, of course the fossil evidence of the Tyrolian glacier basins.”
He shrugged. “There are also the markings of the caves on Skald.”
I turned and frowned at him. “How did we—er, excuse me, the Society—recover those? I thought the mission on Skald had been abandoned.”
“Begging your pardon, again, Herr Doktor,” he said after a short cough. “The mission had in fact come to fruition as the establishment for the allomorphic experiments.”
A look of disgust and horror came across my face as I thought back to the many twisted and changed corpses I had dissected at the College of Surgeons. Poor devils.
Bertie, I do not quite recall the conversations over the next few days as well as I do the one we had on that particular morning, but I can tell you a few more details I learned from Haien over the course of our work—before I was assigned to reviewing the prevailing theories regarding the transformations (with details in the next section).
In the first place, Bertie, your description of the Highmark location as an “emergency chamber” may prove more apt than you might know. It is a prevailing opinion here that each of the sites Haien and I have plotted on the ponderous map that dominates the wall in our laboratory functioned once, long ago, to somehow accommodate and link the Ur-Samekh speakers of Ashkur, providing refuge against the effects of the changing of the world. Haien sometimes refers to them as the “original people,” preferring not to give this civilization the label of “true speakers” as has been suggested elsewhere in some of his sources, most notably the few Von Neumann works we do own. The Highmark chamber, it has come to be regarded, may well have been a special protective chamber that linked the remainder of the sites when it became active, but which also the leaders of this mysterious civilization might regulate and join their people, lest they become lost.
If he were writing you, Haien might say flatly that these chambers were the method by which the Ur-Samekh speakers were able to continue their civilization from one Weltstufe to the next, where widespread catastrophes proved impossible to continue whatever lives they had led at the time of Ashkur’s ascendance. As I keep reminding him, we can support no theories about the utility of the sites and conveyance lines unless we have incontrovertible evidence that is supported independently from non-contemporaries of the main source. While I do think that Haien is given to occasional flights of fancy, he does not know yet that I intend to support his conclusions in my own report to the others, based partly on your reports but also some information that I had managed to retain after the break-in and removal of my materials earlier this year.
I believe that the Essen dig uncovered three of these ancient Ur-Samekh speakers, awakening two of them from a state of self-induced slumber in which their unique physiology allowed for a state of prolonged stasis. I take my source as Bennington herself; she had managed to write a small examination manual on the subject she called “Rachel” which, as I understood when I received the work, was somewhat more benevolent than the other ghastly things the Society operatives did to her there. I only wish I had Rachel here in our midst to prove this theory beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Our shared view is also substantiated by the preponderance of runes at each “activated” location. Reviewing my own copies of the rubbings I sent you a few months ago, my intuition tells me that some of the symbols relate to transportation along the lines, while others seem to be different somehow, more descriptive than they are functional. I believe that I can support Haien’s archaeological theory that the Ur-Samekh speakers used these sites to not only preserve their lives but also to preserve the history and culture from one catastrophic Weltstufe to the next, with transportation between places allowing the sustenance of some sort of leadership or collective good.
The work that Haien had completed before my arrival also points to a rule-governed variance in the appearance of the sites throughout history, independent of cosmological events or the marking of time in semi-catastrophic eras. Several sites under Haien’s study had been active in their own ways but remained “unlinked” from the network for centuries, and were active at different times because of the positions of the corresponding stars. Skald was like this, according to him—and true to Rexley’s suggestion, is linked to the alignment of certain planets and the position of Tisiphone. In an earlier letter, I told you that I thought it sunk under the waves and raised again, around every two hundred years; but Haien would say that it does no such thing, since the Society landings there confirmed that full trees and a variety of plant life grows there since a few years ago when it reappeared, which would have been impossible during submerged years. While we do not know exactly the manner of how it can disappear for years at a time from the very passing of seafarers, Haien would nevertheless tell you that no one save for Edmund Rexley had even come close to finding these patterns between sites such as Skald and the movement of the stars, not least because their patterns were not recorded until recently in human history. Those early sages who had an inkling about such things certainly never had recognized what they were looking at. Sadly, Von Neumann was closing in on this conjoined cosmological and archaeological theory as one of the greatest research minds of our time, but the bulk of his work has been lost to the disintegrated relationship between the Society and New Columbia, the incompetence of the former, and the avarice of the latter.
You can imagine, then, that the expedition of Mr. Rackham and Dr. Crane, can be said to have generated the greatest record of the Ur-Samekh speakers in the wake of the Von Neumann works and since the age of Edmund Rexley, recording and cataloguing all that they could and sending their findings to and from the halves of their mission. Whatever little we here in Mauerburg have been able to recover as copies of their correspondence seems to prove that humanity was not the only sentient life on the planet, a theory which of course was held and expanded by Von Neumann. As a result, it is imperative that as many of their records that can be recovered as possible be found—and the flyers might be the key, Bertie, if you can find a way to be in contact with her again following your rendezvous with your countrymen. Even if either Rackham or Crane, or both, are compromised, Alia and Alona know where they are. If they do not, they seem the ones that are most capable of locating them again.
On the Transformations
The last few weeks, then, have turned from analysis of the heavens and their relationship to invisible roads used by ancient peoples to the specific—and alarming—breakthroughs in what we potentially understand about the physiological changes present in the various specimens that came my way during my time at the College, combined with newest crops of specimens here, and observations gathered from various sources, including your own most recent letter.
If you recall, I explained some months ago that a man named Tarquin had watched me in the wake of the break-in at the College, following me daily to my preferred café in Essen, until such time as he could make his identity and purpose known. In the weeks that have followed, Tarquin has become something less of a recruiter and more of an organizer of sorts, assisting in my requisition of new equipment and introductions to valuable contacts such as Haien. At least I can say about these fellows that they are more respectful of my work than my previous handlers ever were. (If you had been reading for what factors influenced me in formally renouncing the Society and finally joining their efforts, here is indeed at least a partial explanation.)
At any rate, on several occasions, I met with Tarquin, as well as his associate, a woman named Covington. Covington is an older woman, with eyes and a demeanor bespeaking military rank and experience; both are Albionese, something I found almost unsurprising. In private quarters, Tarquin sometimes referred to Covington as “the Countess,” but would not explain whatever noble lineage she possessed. I recall one particular revelatory conversation which, in like wise that I attempted for my talks with Haien, I will endeavor to reproduce to the best of my memory. This conversation occurred last week, thankfully, so I believe I have command of its detail.
“You must be wondering something of your purposes here, Herr Doktor,” Tarquin called to me from his comfortable settee in a sitting-room somewhere in the town. I noted that over the past months, half of my working time had been spent at the central laboratory location in the old part of Mauerburg, and the other even half had been spent providing updates and reports in private residences around the town. I did not know if this was done for convenience or for some strategic advantage.
“I have in some ways, Tarquin,” I responded, sitting across from him, expecting still to provide a summary of my most recent findings, whereupon I would be allowed to go. “But in other ways I can see the direction of it, especially where concerns bringing in the critical work of Haien and his assistants.”
He nodded, closing his eyes with a little smile. “But you must naturally wonder about the intersection of that work with what you’ve found among the specimens.”
I swallowed, wishing to convey intention in my next words. “I must ask that you not call them specimens. They are people—or, according to what I now conclude—were people. But they deserve freedom just as any of us do.”
“As soon as we can confirm that they are not a threat, we will release them. And after all, are we not treating them with the utmost respect?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t excuse detaining them overlong,” I replied, testing the waters.
He sighed. “When the Countess arrives, she can explain better than I can what our strategy is in this regard. For now, I will take your tack as one of compassion, and note it among your more positive traits.”
I relented and reached for a pfeffernuss biscuit. Somewhere in this upturned world, I thought to myself, someone continues the critical work of turning out pfeffernuss biscuits. (I forgot to mention earlier, Bertie, that I sent a small tin of biscuits along with this letter, and I expect you are munching on them as you read these lines.)
After a few minutes of smaller talk and the discussion of some sundries that I needed at the laboratory, Covington arrived, assisted by a spritely teenager, who I learned later was a grand-nephew. Covington and I had met twice before, and as a result the three of us were able to quickly move to the main point of our meeting.
“Herr Doktor, I asked you here today to give an account as to your findings of the last month,” Tarquin prompted, smiling tightly at me.
I leaned forward in my seat, meeting her gray eyes. “Bennington’s data is conclusive, and I have been able to reproduce almost the exact findings independently.”
Covington looked, for a brief moment, as if she were about to shed a tear at the relief my news brought. Something in her shifted, however, and she remembered something more stoic in herself, and simply nodded slowly, blinking softly as she listened.
I continued. “The superstrata are all demonstrable, and above all they are stable. The samples we’ve collected will withstand transport. I cannot guarantee every individual reading, but—”
Covington raised her nose. “But you have isolated specific phenotypes?”
“Yes. There are three.”
She and Tarquin exchanged satisfied expressions. “Very good. They are?”
“We have catalogued a clear pattern of augmentations among those we included within the first phenotype. These augmentations all seem benevolent in nature, although within about five percent of the sample, the augmentations resulted in death from an inability for the body to become fully hospitable to the changes. Within this first phenotype, we observed specific variance in the beta set of the superstrata collected.”
“And in the alpha set?” Tarquin prompted.
I drew a long breath, heavy with the meaning of what I was about to report. “The alpha set is identical in each specimen—er, volunteer.”
The last word hung in the air between us, causing Covington to raise an eyebrow, but I sensed no imminent reproach.
“They can go free,” she said suddenly.
Tarquin sat up in his chair in protest. “But we don’t have—”
“We have enough, thanks to Herr Doktor,” she corrected, waving her hand. “We are not the Society.”
“Nor are we the New Columbians,” I put in, taking advantage at the unexpected support I now had for my original request.
Tarquin relaxed, resigned to the impossibility of fighting a two-front argument against those who, after all, he had sworn to respect as equals. Covington may have counted herself as first among equals, but if she had power in this way, she never seemed to wield it. (Perhaps, Bertie, this is where the structure of Society leadership had fallen astray.)
Tarquin turned toward me. “You said that there were three phenotypes?”
“Yes,” I continued, thankful to return to the main point of my report. “The second phenotype is one where we found the alpha set of the superstrata identical to the first, but the beta set seemed to have been altered somehow. Stunted, perhaps, is the correct Albionese word.”
“Yes, as if the coding of the beta set seems to have begun to follow one of the directions observed among samples of the first phenotype, but then stops. In its wake there is the introduction of a coding set that seems—well, chaotic, and not based on the chemical trace patterns of the other beta sets. In one-hundred percent of these occurrences, we found the same result, which of course we identified as arouranthropic.”
“Has this altered your original categorization scheme?” asked Covington. It encouraged me that Covington had read as much of my work at Essen as Tarquin had.
“Somewhat. My team and I are now categorizing the first phenotype as superpotentials, and folding non-arouranthropic animalism under this category, given the additional assistance from the volunteers we—ah—recruited. The second phenotype is now firmly designated as degenerate, not least due to the non-conforming chemical markers, but also due to the subtractive nature of the resultant changes.”
She nodded, satisfied with this explanation, and understanding enough of it to ask her last question. “And the third phenotype are those who have no beta set present in their superstrata?”
“—Who have no superstrata present whatsoever,” I corrected, gently.
Tarquin and Covington exchanged looks once again upon this news. “That confirms what Haien came up with in his last report,” the man said, and stood up to begin pacing.
I frowned. “I haven’t had the opportunity to speak to Haien for a while now,” I said, folding my arms. “Perhaps you two could let me into the newest developments?”
“He’s shared with you his evidence about the speakers of the Ashkurian language?”
I looked up at Tarquin, licking my fingers from their dusting of sugar. “Ur-Samekh. Yes. I should rather say so. And you know I support his reasoning?”
“We do. And we’re all in agreement that the Essen beings were three of their number. But, Herr Doktor, have you ever wondered why the human race survived the changes from one Weltstufe to the next?”
“You mean,” I clarified, “if the nodes and conveyance lines were meant for this advanced race, why humans would have continued to exist in their present forms throughout the centuries, managing to avoid extinction themselves?”
Covington let slip a little grin. “Exactly, Herr Doktor.”
“Clearly they were allowed to access the protections of the Ur-Samekh speakers as well,” I laughed, half-leading my colleagues into their next revelations.
Tarquin smirked. “Not quite so,” he returned, leaning against his brick mantle. “In fact, Haien thinks that they were given specific alterations from the Ur-Samekh speakers. Something extra that allowed them to survive—on their own terms, but indeed survive. Call it an uplift.”
I pursed my lips, suddenly understanding. “Call them augmentations, you mean.” At this, I caught Covington indulging in a smile of satisfaction from the periphery of my vision.
“Indeed, man,” Tarquin said. “Haien thinks that some subset of humanity was gifted by these ancient people.”
“How?” asked Covington, flatly.
“Passed through infusions of blood,” Tarquin replied, letting the connections set in for a dramatic moment. “As for Rexley, he knew he needed to find one of these ancient ones. He didn’t know he was about two hundred years too early.”
I nodded. “And I suppose that there’s one critical more detail present in Haien’s work that you are going to explain next.”
Tarquin narrowed his eyes. “Well—yes.”
Covington put her hands in her lap. “Well?”
“There are no historical precedents whatsoever supporting the appearance of rat-men,” he said, slowly.
“Arouranthropes, if you please, Tarquin,” I corrected. “As far as my research can indicate, we do not know if the extent of the degenerations meant that the poor creatures lost their minds. They may yet have been human—inside. Somewhere.”
Covington waved her hand again, indicating her lack of patience with distractions. “Gentlemen, I think what you’re telling me is that the arouranthropes are a recent—well, development.”
“More like a recent corruption,” I countered.
“It has to be what the Society and the New Columbians had allied themselves to create in the wake of the cataclysm,” Tarquin put in. “After the Essen discovery, they found a way to control the effects that an introduced superstratum had on a subject. Taint it somehow. But toward a certain design.”
“And we’re sure that all of the arouranthropes came from Albion?” asked Covington, now riveted to her chair with the thought of what Tarquin had suggested.
“Yes,” I confirmed, myself now standing up with a vague urgency. “The volunteers for the recent studies are all from Gallia or Saxonia. All of them have showed the beginning of augmentations from inborn superstrata. We have not yet confirmed findings of the third group—those without superstrata at all—but we expect to soon, if the changes in Albion have indeed begun to affect the Continent.”
“What of our associates?” Covington finally asked, looking upward at me.
“My catalog is complete. All of us, including myself, bear augmentative superstrata.”
Tarquin stepped forward, his face grave. “Then it could by any time.”
“We need to make contact with one of the two beings that were found at Essen,” Covington offered, her voice quavering with disquiet.
“Even if we could find them,” Tarquin replied, “we’re not meant for their special chambers. To them, we are simply the descendants of humans they once gifted long ago. The changes we will soon undergo will most likely be mirrors of what our ancestors once had in order to survive the transition to the next era.”
“If we survive,” I added, my own voice faltering.
I leave off my little story there, Bertie, since you now have everything you need to know, if knowing will even make any difference in the months to come. I will also say that this is very likely the last letter you will receive from me, even if it finds you safe in some Gallian town, or still in Albion. This last week has brought debate whether we ought to conclude our research and disband, and each take up the protection of his or her own devising to weather the coming storm, or if we ought to hold up in Mauerburg for as long as we can, like a little castle that stands against the siege of nature itself. I do not know the direction our group of twenty researchers and scientists will take as time goes on, watching the Continent changes around us just as it did in Albion. If you come here, you can at least join me for whatever purpose we can see in the last light of the age. With any luck, perhaps you can impart upon my colleagues a story of putting a knife in Brown’s eye, if you choose to take on Alia’s challenge.
In closing, as a final thought from my end of the world, I can tell you that Haien is convinced that the Ur-Samekh speakers will eventually repopulate this world once again, although their reappearance will be slow. Given this, I can further speculate that the Ros you met was one of the creatures unearthed at Essen, and he may well be looking for Rachel. When I read your account of meeting him back to Haien, he agreed exactly.
Whatever the case, if you come upon him again, wish him well from the gifted humans. Perhaps we will meet his kin in the next age.