My Dear Rackham,
Yes, I acknowledge that it is you, even if the handwriting is not your own. While I am sure Bennington is capable of a great many things, I have no reason to think she would be able to so impeccably imitate the peculiarities of your written voice. Your accomplishments … projecting your consciousness outside your body, crossing space, descending into the minds of others … the implications are staggering. But I encourage you to direct your energies toward restoring yourself to your self, if you take my meaning. One’s mind and body are not so easily separated, present circumstances notwithstanding. I fear for the long-term health of one or both the longer they remain disunited.
As for your encounter with the rat-men … I suspect we have both long harbored the idea that they were once ordinary people. Now you have confirmed it. But if their transformation is the result of the Rexley Device, my question is … what does that have to do with the Incident, and the chamber where we found the stone? As far as we know, our world was turned upside-down from that moment, far from Skald and with no apparent connection to Rexley. Perhaps the two are connected in some way. Or perhaps it was wrong to assume that every change we have seen in our wracked and ruined world came as a result of the Incident … perhaps some came from Rexley and other Society machinations.
We will get to the bottom of this, hopefully soon … though unfortunately, not as soon as I would have hoped. We should have arrived at our destination by now, but we have been delayed. Three days ago, the Sigsbee lurched suddenly – I assumed we had suddenly run aground, though we were far enough from shore that seemed unlikely. Then we lurched the other direction. The lookouts on duty reported seeing gigantic shapes moving beneath the waves. I believe that we were subject to what would have been a deadly attack had we been in anything other than a ironclad. Whatever the case, the lurching subsided with the hull intact. Things got jostled around in the engine room, however, and Campbell was loathe to get where we were going in a state of anything other than full readiness. Hence the delay.
In the meantime, Van Dyke, in a welcome display of candor and openness on his part, has briefed us on what he knows of our destination. Caeradarn is a Cambrian castle, long-abandoned and for the most part forgotten, situated as it is near a remote stretch of rocky coastline. Whatever fiefdom its medieval lord of yore once ruled has long since fallen into history; the area around it is uninhabited for many miles. The place has been used for some decades by the Society as a place to conduct research away from prying eyes. More recently, with their new projects performed in conjunction with the New Columbian military, Caeradarn’s proximity to the sea has made it an ideal location for smuggling goods and personnel in and out of Albion. Indeed, while Van Dyke had already admitted previously that he had been the one who brought Rachel to Garnsey, he has now also acknowledged that the place she had been coming from was Caeradarn.
At this point in the meeting everyone turned to gauge her reaction to any of this, but her response was as impassive as ever. I would like to think that, with all the time I have spent with her, I was able to detect at the very least that she understood what everyone was saying and simply chose not to react. But I cannot be sure.
We have arrived; in the morning we will disembark and take the (rather treacherous) path up the cliff to the castle. It is what we found in the waters at the base of the cliff that has been our immediate object of interest, however.
The N.C.S. Woodmere is, or perhaps I should say was, Admiral Segismund’s flagship: a battleship, steam-powered, but not a proper ironclad like the Sigsbee, which no doubt helped facilitate its current situation. My assumption as we approached was that it had been sunk, but Campbell quickly assured me that that terminology was not accurate. He pointed out the lack of visible damage to the hull, and the fact that it had descended straight down evenly, without any listing or leaning. No, he assured me, the Woodmere had been scuttled – likely by the use of explosives at key points, near the keel, from the inside – either deliberately by its crew, or as an act of sabotage. We were able to see enough for him to make these judgments because we happened to be approaching at low tide, when the deck and upper hull were exposed.
But the timing was terrible; no sooner had we taken all this in than we realized that the tide was coming in and we were quickly losing light to the dusk. We are waiting until morning to fully investigate the ship, and at the same time another party will ascend to Caeradarn. It is a risk to split up our forces in this way, but one other important thing we noticed is that debris and coal-streaks on the water were still visible in a halo around the wreck, which means that the scuttling occurred very recently. We decided we could not afford to wait.
Van Dyke, myself, and Rachel will be in the group heading for the castle on the morrow. Campbell himself was visibly torn as to which operation he should oversee; in the end he chose to adhere to his official responsibilities, and is sending a Lt. Barksdale to the castle in his stead, though the man holds barely enough years on his frame to be an Ensign. Three seamen under the lieutenant and three of Robards’ former men round out our company. For the latter I insisted on the inclusion of Jacobs and Sharma. Jacobs’ left arm is still in a sling after the Battle of Carteret, but if it comes to fighting I would rather have half of either of those men than any able-bodied other.
Forgive me for sending this letter in sections, but Alia wishes to leave again tomorrow, which means I will not have a great deal of time to write down whatever discoveries we made. And yes, I do mean Alia – the sisters have briefly switched routes, and she has been traveling with us for the past five days, while Alona presumably handles the Greysham/Skald end of the run, and whatever other business these flyers are up to. She did not explain the change but I believe at least part of the reason was that she could confirm the details of your situation to me with first-person testimony; for that I am grateful.
It is obvious that she cares for you deeply. I am happy for you, my friend. You should hasten to return to yourself if for no other reason than that you can cherish such moments of joy and intimacy as have been afforded you.
I must write in even greater haste than I anticipated. Dr. Brown … at first I thought the man we met at the castle must have been a twin. But when he spoke … “Nice to meet ya again!” … That smirk, that knowing glance! I had buried his hideously reanimated body at Mont-Bré, but my instinct told me that it was actually him, despite the impossibility. He had two assistants this time, hunched over, ape-like, but when I saw one of their faces clearly I finally understood.
Brown is alive, Rackham. And he –