The Isle of Skald, 21 December

Dear Crane,

Exactly a fortnight has passed since I sent away the little sections from the log-book, and Alia has been with us four days of that time. Would that she could have left earlier: but yours was the caution as to exactly why she was detained until now.

We three certainly welcomed her latest landing, arriving upon the same little strip of land she found after she located our life-pod among the wreckage of the Jagdschloss. Soon after she left the first time, we were able to improve upon the strip by clearing the bulk of its brush, and we erected a makeshift beacon from some of that wreckage which had washed upon our beach over the next two days. Thus, she had little difficulty in finding us a few days ago.

When she landed, we asked immediate questions about the state of affairs in Greysham; but she had never been there, of course fearing that had she landed, she would have been detained by Bledsoe. Your letter reinforced the abject truth that, all things equal, our heroine Alia ought not to have attempted the crossing directly from Garnsey. Upon her arrival I was quickly able to ascertain for myself that a direct air crossing to Skald from your island—especially from its southern tip where Carteret is situated—depletes all but a sliver of the aero’s charge from its onboard amberite piles. At first, Alia had avoided my questions on the matter.

I would have scolded Alia for putting herself—and the greater mission at large—at considerable risk for making the crossing. At this time, I could not bring myself to do so for several reasons. A pragmatic rationale, of course, sprung to mind: that now that she is here, I thought, there is no use to calling her attention to the obvious. However, the true reason I said nothing is, I must confess, also the reason I have the most difficulty in admitting; and while my heart is glad that such happiness can still be felt in the midst of such stark hopelessness, it is a happiness I have neither earned nor deserve.

Yet if this letter still reaches you, it is because of two fortunate developments on this island—even if, in this world, almost every fortune we find seems to be at the sad expense of another. First of all, a large portion of supplies and debris has washed up on the southern beach-head of Skald, near where we had first guided our little life-pod and set up a simple camp. As a result, we have some supply of food and equipment, most notably items that were either buoyant or encased in watertight crates, such as our medical supplies.

Along with the debris that washed up on shore was a small section of the fuselage of the H-boat: this was one that contained part of an amberite pile, as it had been a section of the diving apparatus. Bennington won the laurels for technical know-how in this case, Crane—I am useless with tools and contraptions, as is MacTallan. This morning (after some failed attempts over the last few days) our brilliant doctor managed to finally find a way to transfer the charge from this piece of debris to the aero. We sighed in collective relief and celebrated with a round of tinned peaches.

Quite unfortunately, useful parts and food were not all that washed ashore from the ill-fated vessel. The last of the bodies was recovered five days ago, having come in at various points along the southern coast of the island over about a week’s time. Bennington and I identified, in order of arrival, Arasaku, Kilcannon, Laray, Gates, and finally Wright: thus, the entire crew of the forward control cabin. No other bodies—not Thompson, not Bell, not O’Doole, and most conspicuously not Thorpe—were recovered. MacTallan’s theory is that the Jagdschloss broke apart after Thompson’s sabotage did its damage, and that the forward cabin may have been able to trap more air than the aft areas, allowing it to rise and eventually spill its contents toward the surface of the water. This still does not explain why the bodies were not eaten by the sea-creature we espied out the porthole: yet they were whole bodies, pale from the salt water but otherwise unspoiled, and we were able to put them to rest in graves along the shore and say a few words of peace.

A second development is more startling and one that, we believe, has given us some new measure of purpose and guidance on our mysterious island. About a week ago I found an edifice here on Skald. It is a low, square building made of brick and mortar whose metal door had fallen off after having been thoroughly rusted from exposure to the wind and the rain. It looked not unlike the “pill-boxes” that the Gallian soldiers had built along their eastern front during the Blood War to resist the advancing Saxonian armies. At any rate, I encountered this building at a time when MacTallan and I had decided to institute the same two-person mapping system that we had employed when we studied the strange interlocking patterns in the trees north of the Cairns. During one particular long arc from his position (these bursitis-plagued knees be damned) I came upon this building, looking quite out of place, as I am sure you can imagine. Desiring safety and recognizing the value of having all three of us together, the three of us returned the next morning for a closer inspection.

Inside, we found a Society contraption, in good working order: a one-person winged suit capable of sustaining level and stable flight for six hours.

I say that it is a Society contraption for three reasons. First, Bennington immediately identified the technology used to achieve flight as similar to the aero’s, with a propeller design that mimics that of that aero. Second, its power system seems to use the same types of amberite piles found in both the aero and the diving apparatus from the H-boat. Third, Alia confirmed that just as the aero pushes against natural gravitational forces with its apparatus that seems to emit charged air particles—what Bennington calls a repulsor—this flight suit has six such devices, in smaller scale than the aero’s, extending from the chassis and surrounding the pilot during flight.

The entire suit can be collapsed into two large, rectangular, black metal chests, which is how we found it, and each of these two chests had a built-in padlock. I am sure that you have already guessed that it was Thompson’s key that opened these padlocks, to my chagrin. I say chagrin because while I am glad that we made the discovery and that I possessed the key to open these chests, it is simply that I had imagined the key as being necessary to open some hidden chamber that kept the Rexley device. As it stands now, we are on Skald with somewhat less general direction and sense of where to find the device as we were before, and even that seemed a fool’s hope.

Thus for most of yesterday morning and the afternoon, Alia assisted our mapping and exploration efforts greatly by ascending into the beautiful bright sky like a bird taken to wing; and like a bird, she seemed to know her way with the suit as if born to it—this fact is hardly surprising given her training and extensive experience with flight. After her reconnaissance efforts had concluded with the eventual depletion of the energy charge, we learned a great deal more about Skald in the meantime, including its mountainous region to the north of the island. After Alia leaves, we will likely head toward this higher ground, in the hopes that we will find fresh water there at the very least.

Before I move from the topic of the little bunker, I ought to make careful mention of the other items we recovered from it, and what the condition of the interior was in the first place. It had looked as if it had once held many more items that we had found, but it had been ransacked. We concluded this because had the door simply been removed at the force of the elements (certainly one of the touch-downs of the black storms could have done this), little damage other than wetness from rain would have befallen the contents; however, as it was, it looked as if materials and items were not only picked through, but many were removed entirely, as entire dust-shadows of items no longer there dotted the interior. Why the cases containing the flyer suit were not removed, we cannot say. We found nothing of value among the scant broken debris that littered the floor.

I have not yet mentioned the third case, smaller than the other two but matching in design, which held books and notes. MacTallan was at once awed and overjoyed at this treasure, and in observing him since our find, I believe it has restored some measure of lost hope that he may have carried since the world changed, especially in the wake of the subsequent over-run of the university at Thornskye by the twisted, changeling rat-men. He has only had a little time to investigate these items fully, but apparently three large books were contained within the third chest, with a bundle of accompanying loose documents and maps, held together with a red twine. The first of these books, quite coincidentally, is an early draft of a Von Neumann work. I believe it summoned most of MacTallan’s self-control not to openly weep at the sight of finding a key piece of original research from his mentor, here in the most desolate of surroundings, and at a time when any clue that can shine light upon our quest is most sorely needed.

Bennington and I resolved to allow MacTallan to review and organize the books and documents while Alia flew a number of short sorties first along the coast, then venturing into the interior as far as she dared, until eventually, as I have mentioned above, the contraption could yield no more service. During this time I was able to scout out a little way ahead and cut a trail north, building on the efforts MacTallan and I put in after our landing. Bennington has been very curious as to the physical properties of the vials of liquid (she has not settled upon calling it “blood” but seems to accept that as a proximate word in the interim by laymen such as MacTallan and myself). Without more sophisticated laboratory equipment, she cannot perform the necessary tests on the contents of the vials, but she recognizes the syringe as part of a larger device that may have been mounted upon a machine of some sort; according to her, it has not been designed to hold in the hand, but rather to accept, and then transfer, a larger volume of liquid for precise insertion into a subject. (I cringe writing that, Crane, but Bennington assures me that we all must uphold a scientific mind about such things.)

With the discovery of the bunker, however, Bennington has forwarded the theory that the Society made a landing on Skald some time ago, and that, if this shadowy agency built a structure for storage, it is possible that either other buildings remain to be found, or that there had been at one point an intention to return, or both. A Society landing must have been relatively recent, however. Aided by one of the maps that had been included in the third crate as well as a few of its supporting documents, MacTallan has now come to a crucial conclusion, representing an important but vexingly absent and elusive piece of his years of research—something that has now been put into place.

This island, MacTallan has concluded, does not appear on any nautical or historical maps before seven years ago.

With this, my friend, although multiple pages might not make a difference to Alia’s aero, the lateness of the hour with which she will make her return compels me to end my account here and send her on her way, hopeful that she can make the retour back to Carteret and avoid the next onslaught of storms. I wish her all speed, and for you, good fortune in your now inevitable conflict with Robards. We eagerly await news of the impending trouble but simultaneously do not expect another visit soon by Alia, given both the unrest there as well as the ongoing peril of these lengthy flights.