Simply writing your name as I have done here seems a tiny victory, a bastion of control and normalcy in a time of chaos. It hints at a time when we two academicians might have addressed each other out of an informal but pleasant routine, discussing a matter of philosophy or research between us.
I write you partly in that spirit, certainly, but with a greater part arising from necessity; our Benjamin is right now convalescing on a thin mat of leaves and canvas, what could be salvaged among our little stores of clothing and equipment. I have thus taken his solemn office upon myself, and I now, for a while, become the erstwhile storyteller of our progress here on Skald, and the dangers we have yet to face.
I hope that you accept my words as written here, and welcome them as true and complete. I understand from Benjamin many of the trials you have faced, and the strange things you have learned; he has been generally forthcoming with accounts of what your part of the expedition has encountered and survived, including what remained of Elizabeth College and your dealings with Sanders. I do not expect to recruit you to our cause, nor that you can be swayed to believe in our mission. I cannot for myself say that our cause yet remains true and our mission means anything in the world anymore, and I would not waste what precious time we have trying to convince you of a vision that is only a hollow vapor, even if I believed that there was a time when I was not misled.
Instead, I hope only for your attention in several matters, as I feel that a greater good of discovery is about to be fulfilled. Upon this we might have an understanding and alliance, if nothing else.
First: Benjamin. This island has had quite an effect on him, I believe it is safe to say, and in my own personal observations the simple fact of being here has had an effect in mirror-reverse than the Essen telesmai (forgive me if I do not use the word “ward,” but instead use the term that was given to them by those of us who shared in their research, from the ancient Hellenic). His mind-vision seemed to grow and extend each passing day that we spent here, and nightly he would report to me feelings of momentary euphoria.
Over this last week, I decided to study him and take notes. Each evening, I asked him to lie still in the same position and perform the same mental activities that would allow him to reach out with his mind. On each separate occasion, he consistently described the sensation of music, or rhythm, filling him—not a storm of noise that had previously been typical—and upon pulling himself out of his self-induced trance, he described a pleasurable sensation and the ability to push his focus effortlessly between MacTallan and I, even though MacTallan was well away in an adjacent cave.
Yesterday morning, he confided in me that his mind-projection had been strong enough that he was able to perceive other minds that were present besides MacTallan and I, and he had become convinced that there were others on the island. I should make a note here that, up until then, we had not faced the idea that the island could be currently inhabited; the old storage bunker that I know Benjamin described to you seemed as if it had been empty for years, and the southern part of the island had seemed so overgrown with forest and devoid of the evidence of civilization that the thought of others here now simply never occurred to us.
“I saw them,” I recall Benjamin saying, rousing from sleep.
At first my mind lept to those shapes in the stormy mists on the surface of the water, and I shuddered in horror.
“They have memories—memories of horrible things,” Benjamin continued.
I reached for my notes. “This was a dream you had?”
“No—I have been awake now for an hour. I have been tracking them.”
“Are—they coming here?” I asked, my breath caught in my throat.
“It does not seem so. They seem to be searching, going in circles. They remember—digging.”
His eyes locked onto mine, and for a moment I felt as if he had transmitted to me thoughts of Innesmere.
“Of course they remember horrible things. They’re monstrous—”
“No,” he interrupted. “Memories from before.”
I stared at him, forgetting completely about my notes for the moment. I felt my palms dampen with sweat.
He nodded slowly, eyes fixed but somehow sad now. “They had families, jobs, neighbors. I saw ships and ocean voyages—whoever they were, they were brought here.”
I felt Benjamin look into me with a terrifying force. I knew that this was not the time for walls.
Eliot, please believe that I now feel that whatever my Society did must now be laid bare—there has to be a greater good that can arise from all of this. I must believe that. I cannot have been part of something horrid and evil. If I was—then I cannot allow myself to remain unchanged.
At any rate, at that moment, Benjamin stood up and muttered something akin to I think I can speak to them. He then exited the cave, with myself shouting words of caution and restraint after him.
When he did not return after four hours, MacTallan and I decided that it was time that one of us do a search of the area—not knowing, of course, how far he had strayed. Since I am a physician and we feared that physical harm had come to him, I was the obvious choice; but at the same time, neither MacTallan and I were versed in combat should it come to that, and we knew whatever time we had to search would be short.
Very fortunately—for both of us—I found him not too far from the mountain stream nearby, some hundred yards or so from the mouth of the cave. I found him collapsed against a rock; apparently, he had half-crawled, half-stumbled back to our encampment. I summoned MacTallan and we carried him the rest of the way, his body slack.
While his clothing seemed a bit disheveled and he had been sweating profusely, he otherwise bore no evidence of a fight—no lacerations, no bruises, no bites, no scratches. After making a first pass to assess superficial injuries, and then later performing a more complete assessment of his condition after MacTallan and I were able to set up a resting place for him, I catalogued what I now believe are symptoms of extreme mental trauma. I noted enlarged pupils, rapid breathing as if in a nightmarish sleep, skin that was slick with cold sweat; his pulse was quickened as if in terror, but his limbs were as limp as a dead man’s.
I forced a drink of fresh water from the stream with a drop of laudanum down his throat, opening his esophagus to prevent gagging. Thanks to the bouyancy of the medical kit that had washed ashore from the wreckage of the lost submersible, I have some supplies, most notably pain-killing opiates, kept in tight War-era metal cases. I am pleased to say that the laudanum seemed to calm whatever mental torments he was experiencing, and today he rests comfortably, but still quite unconscious.
This gives me the time to put in writing a few pieces of information that you may find useful, intriguing, or both, even though they may not directly inform your current mission—which, if you forgive me, I read this morning within the pages of your letter of December 23, which Alia put into my hands given Benjamin’s condition.
Before I come to those subjects, I should note to you that Alia is here with us now, certainly because of her enduring bravery, but also because of her ingenuity and excellent planning—traits shared with her sister. I suppose I could say that we three Bennington women have learned these qualities from our father; but I chose the route of quiet research whereas the twins became enamored by mechanisms, flight, and adventure in the same way he was. At any rate, Alona flies sorties between Greysham and the mooring tower on the Sigsbee, and Alia completes the leg of the journey between Greysham and the landing area on the southern part of the island. From there she uses the flight suit to reach us at predetermined coordinates. Our two flyers coordinate time lags between round trips and calculate in storm movements, which, at least between here and Albion, appear to have a discernible cyclical pattern, according to Alia’s flight logs.
I can guarantee, at least for now, safe landings at Greysham for a reason that will become apparent when you read a copy of an enclosed letter that I have asked Alia to give to Bledsoe on her return trip, but for now I would like to discuss what I know about Rachel, your companion, and inasmuch as you describe, your savior from Robards.
I know Rachel, and in fact I spent some considerable time at the College with her—or perhaps more accurately, in her presence, since she was as much an enigma to me then as she is to you now. Rachel was indeed discovered among the excavations at Essen; what we learned from two years of research and observation is scant, but you should have the details in their entirety.
We could never establish her true place of origin; and as you have already confirmed, her ethnic makeup and features do not match those of the known indigenous peoples that had inhabited the Essen valley in what is today central Saxonia, such as the Olmanni or Aetheli tribes. The fact that she returned to life shortly after her transport to the College was itself a testament to her otherworldly qualities, and yet in most respects she looks and acts—well, human.
I also recall a team of linguists failing to ascertain the origin of whatever scant handful of words she did speak in her time with us. You mentioned in your letter hearing her speak syllables, possibly in ur-Samekh, when holding aloft the telesma. Given what you describe, MacTallan agrees with your conclusion, and we can say that you may be one of the only people in the world today that has heard her speak this ancient language, if indeed that is what it was.
The majority of what we learned of Rachel was from our medical study of her: she accepted, to a limited extent, our tests and procedures, perhaps guided by some sense that we were not there to harm her, but learn what we could about her. My own theory regarding the harmonic energy storage and transfer that is facilitated by a human blood came from tests performed on blood extracted from her veins. I believe Benjamin referred to the term “superstrata” in a letter to you several months ago; he was correct in this word in that evidence points to condition present in the blood of some humans—not all—that allows the blood to act as conduit or vehicle for forces originating from a spiritual or aetherial world. It is not a substance, but more a specialized type of cell.
Eliot, as we are students of science, we know that all phenomena can be described in explicable and observable states; even where we do not understand, we believe scientific inquiry can give us the eyes to see. My eyes glimpsed the terrible and tortured shadows of those who lost their lives in the recent years to the horror and devastation Albion has seen—they were walking out on the very waves of the sea, dancing around the funnels of the black storm. I am a woman of science, and yet I cannot account for what I know I observed, but when we reach our goal, I am determined to do so, and share what I know with you.
The samples of blood you sent me via Sanders may very well be the last link to this theory that exists in the world, now that the College was reduced to ruin by Robards, and Thornskye was lost to the rat-creatures. In fact, I believe that what you have sent me is a concentrated version of what we extracted once from Rachel, although I do not recognize the tube-like vials as anything we used in the laboratories. Also, there seems to be a little more than a pint here among the twelve vials; I have no memory that we had more than what few droplets of blood Rachel allowed to be extracted from her fingertips.
Finally, a word about MacTallan and what he has found. I mentioned earlier in this letter that we had been taking shelter in a system of caves. These are loacted at the foot of the mountain that dominates the northern half of Skald, and they were found by Benjamin, who had been able to cut a trail northward after our discovery of the Society bunker. The valley below is bisected by a little stream, from which we have thankfully taken fresh, clean water.
MacTallan has had this little time to scan the Von Neumann work and he has—rather enthusiastically—reported that it contains his mentor’s descriptions of the utilization of something called “conveyance lines.” Essen was, in fact, one of these, as was this island, although the maps and notes that Von Neumann makes indicates that the mountain on this island was submerged at the time of the professor’s research. As a further twist to the mystery of this place, Von Neumann theorizes that some kind of bridge exists between points on the same conveyance line, whereby ancient peoples used to travel instantly between them. What method or mechanism was used to perform this, however, is not yet clear.
Just this morning, MacTallan has found what he believes are ur-Samekh runes etched upon walls deeper into the cave system where we are now. He does not date to excavate further without more equipment and help, and with Benjamin in the state he is, I am afraid that this is quite impossible, even if we could assure that the passages that wend their way into the roots of the mountain were safe. In a later letter either Benjamin or I will endeavor to describe or depict these runes in their entirety; for now, MacTallan has made a crude rubbing of the first of these that he has encountered, which I have enclosed.
Finally, speaking of enclosures, I mentioned earlier that I was going to provide a copy of the letter I am sending to Bledsoe via Alia when she flies out next, which ought to be tomorrow at the latest. I know that you may not understand everything you read in the letter to him, and I take several risks in openly showing it to you: but for the sake of my sisters and the greater success of our discovery, you have it, for whatever it is worth.
My best wishes to you, Eliot, as you steam off to find Segismund; may he have additional answers that we need.
– – – – –
If need be, I will send a missive to Southeby that will cancel your contract immediately. That means you will have no protection—you will not be able to hide behind your town any longer.
I will do this if either of the flyers are hampered in any way. Even if you detain the one flyer, the other will still reach us. By reading this, you must now know that your pathetic ploy to sabotage the mission has failed and that we have reached Skald successfully. And, oh yes—it does exist.
It was a poor decision to fall in with the NCHC, or at least those who you thought were on authority to speak for them. You are a small man and think in small ways. Who do you think really sent Thompson?
At any rate, as surety for your obedience and as a signal that you fully comprehend what I am saying here, you will place with Alia the complete package of Rackham’s correspondence with Crane, and you will destroy the copies I know you have already made. When next she returns, Alia will confirm for me that she has watched you burn the copies down to ash, and Rackham will confirm that all of the catalogued letters and documents are present.
Unless this is done exactly as I describe, my next correspondence is with Southeby.
Dr. Charlotte Bennington