Greysham, 1 November

Dear Crane,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And risk the sound echoing across the valley?”

A pause.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep it secret; keep it safe.

With hearty regards,