Thornskye, 9 February

Dear Crane,

My first impulse in beginning this letter is to offer some meek apology for my scrawled hand that writes—nay, carves—these letters, as they have the appearance of a school-boy who has only begun to shape the forms of the alphabet. However, in the first few lines, two truths are self-evident. The first is that I write by my own hand, having recently been reunited with my body. The second is that there is no guarantee that these poor words will even reach your eye—except by Sharma’s marksmanship, and some buoy of fate that sees to it that your spirit and body continue to remain one.

Bennington succeeded in her efforts; it was not until after I had awoken that she had described her plan as “a long shot.” This is not to say that I would have protested or stopped her if she had made that known to me. I did not know just how dangerous her theory was prior to my somatic re-introduction; there are many rooms to the mansions of our minds, and respecting Bennington as a woman of science, I cheerfully confined myself to the guest’s quarters, already richly appointed with memory and a desire to bring order from the chaos that the Society has caused.

As for my awakening in my body, it was like being born an infant once again. I have spent the last few days learning to walk, to speak, to eat, and to use my hands. Since I had not spent a considerable amount of time outside of my body (a matter of weeks), I may have perhaps avoided a complete disconnection with it. As you had the intuition to see, with every passing moment I spent outside my body, the risk of not being able to return increased in like measure. A few more weeks, Bennington thinks, and I would not have had a physical vessel to which to return.

Bennington effected this return, in fact, with a solution made from the a few droplets of the blood in one of the vials (which fortunately we recovered from that desperate scene back at Skald along with MacTallan’s books and documents). The secure rooms in which we have secluded ourselves at Thornskye have enough rudimentary laboratory and kitchen equipment that Bennington felt confident enough to at least put her theory to the test. By introducing the blood taken from the Elizabeth College vials in some sort of stabilizing medium (such as a simple saline solution) into my body, she reasoned, it would cancel my Ability, the equivalent to a de-metamorphosis in my case. To assist in my consciousness accurately locating and re-animating my body, she also created a powerful sleeping agent for herself, so that her mind’s activity would not interfere with the transfer process. MacTallan watched over us as we slept, some fourteen long (and perhaps much needed) hours. As I was told after I woke up, Tollard also maintained an aloof, but interested, vigil.

Fortunately the re-learning process has been a matter of days thus far and considerable progress has been made, hence the words you see here. I might have written sooner but today was the first point at which I felt I could manage a draft of anything I had to tell you; and, with things quite uncertain at your end, I took more time to gather information from Tollard in an attempt to assist you to the maximum extent. The most notable change for me now, of course, is my Ability: I can no longer reach out with my thoughts to scan memories, ward or no ward, and to be blunt, I am glad for this.

In the meantime, as my fingers remember their dexterity with the pen, I can at least tell you what information Tollard has brought forward these last few days, unsolicited and quite forthcoming. It was at least a week before he produced any communication toward any of us; and when he did, it concerned only his basic human (or, recently re-humanized) needs. What astonished me, however, is that Bennington never doubted that he would remain with us in the secure areas of Thornskye, and we needed little oversight of him. Bennington’s demeanor, in fact, was more of a concerned physician than an enemy or a one-time captive. To assuage both my warnings and MacTallan’s disquiet, she explained to us that she believed that Tollard’s curiosity regarding the blood in the vials would win out over whatever inimical feelings he had toward us following his permanent de-transformation. In addition, she offered the logic that Tollard knew better than anyone that he would no longer be safe out in the wide world to face his former, now estranged, minions.

I will share the gist of Tollard’s information that he has told us, but with my apologies you will allow me to paraphrase, as my hand is not nimble enough to record dictation; but more to the point, while he does not escape, he is not always lucid. Would I were a young man back in Urquart’s class, Crane—you recall that he had us copy whole passages from Panthopheles and Demostio in the original classical Hellenic—would that this pen flew across the page and have captured more authentically Tollard’s utterances. Still, many of these utterances sounded, following the Bard, “all Hellenic to me.” In some cases, I can call them ravings; but Bennington has also been able to synthesize a sedative from the materials found here, so fortunately we have a solution on-hand for the occasional times Tollard experiences attacks of dementia.

It seems your theory may have some weight: indeed, the Society and the New Columbians were working together, or at least a cell of the one and a command group of the other. It is not yet clear if the whole of the two organizations were represented by the actions of the core group of operatives, or if one or both groups had gone “rogue” from its leadership. What does seem to emerge, however, is that after the Essen dig, the New Columbian High Command saw fit to act on some information that was received at the time of the dig, and Segismund had commissioned Tollard to captain a ship to explore the isle of Skald. That ship was meant to be a joint venture by the NCHC and the Society, and in fact on that boat there was at least one Society operative. This may connect now with your conversations with Van Dyke and the confrontation at Mont-Bré.

From Tollard’s point of view, Campbell was not only oblivious about the mission, but he had been deliberately lied to, perhaps for his own protection. From this I cannot deduce much about his father-in-law’s motive except to surmise that Segismund may have had another step in the plan at Yarmouth, and because of the devastation or disruption that was found there, was never able to complete that step; Tollard had made a mention of “additional orders” but I confess that was uttered at a time when he was being sedated. It now logically follows that when Tollard succumbed to the Incident, he made his way somehow to Skald. Changed as he was, a remnant of his humanity remained to drive him that goal. And that goal, it seems, was recovery of the Rexley Device. What vexes me now is how the scuttling of the Woodmere fits into this, much less its very presence on the Cambrian coast. Was it hastening to oversee the next step in the “additional orders,” or was it there as a stop-gap after original plans went awry?

It seems now that there was a race: even though the mission of the NCS Sigsbee had originally been a joint venture to recover the Rexley Device, there was a faction within the Society that had become intent on reaching it before the Sigsbee mission, and the NCHC now had a competitor in its former ally. Perhaps enough mistrust had been sown between the two organizations, exacerbated by the Incident, the horrid transformations of the population of Albion, and the appearance of the strange sites of supernatural power. The possibility of an acrimonious rivalry that emerged from the smoldering ashes of a cooperative, but abortive, effort between the two organizations seems reinforced by two factors: one, that Thompson, working as a spy for NCHC, had secondary orders to destroy the isle of Skald (somehow) if the Sigsbee mission had failed; two, Thorpe’s awareness of Thompson at the outset of our venture, his subsequent disassociation from Thompson (which was revealed to me that evening at Greysham), and his final elimination of Thompson onboard the Jagdschloss, at the apparently unnecessary sacrifice of Gates and his crew. Of course, the missive to you from Thompson himself, a copy of which I remain grateful to you for sending, cements all of this.

Another piece of information here that does not fit with any other thread—yet seems immediately relevant somehow—is that in the Daguerro-graph recovered from Stratham’s items, Segismund is not wearing the uniform of an NCHC officer. Is it possible that late in his career—after a retirement from the military that was meant only as a gambit—he turned secretly against the NCHC and used his position of admiral to leverage opposition, or at least subversion, of the Sigsbee mission? If this is true, what did he know and when did he know it—but alas, to learn those secrets is ostensibly your aim, and from what the simple but stalwart Jacobs reports, you currently have larger problems to resolve.

Next, I have reason to believe that Rachel is not the only—perhaps being is a general enough term—that was disinterred at Essen. Tollard’s fitful ramblings gave rise to something he called “dark blood,” and it did not seem that he was referring to what you sent in the vials. A theory that Bennington and I have is that it was this “dark blood” that had at one time powered the Rexley Device, and the device at that point was then employed as a weapon—bestowing a curse of lycanthropy. This, of course, explains nothing of how Tollard was changed into his half-rat form—although in a format not matching his underlings—unless the Rexley Device had been used on him; but I think it more plausible that he suffered a transformation at Yarmouth, not unlike Graustein and Thorpe, but of a different sort. At any rate, it could account for why Tollard thought that the blood in the vial would power the Device in like fashion as it had before; but this blood, as evidenced by the de-transformations of the ratfolk and my later recovery, has been proven to possess different supernatural properties. The connection I see here is that if this “dark blood” existed, it must have powered the Device, but have come from someone or something with a nature similar to Rachel’s and equal in power. I shudder to think that Brown may have a connection with this somehow.

One last item that I want to relay before I must stop and rest my shaking hand: I have not been able to get out of my mind the “click” I heard—we all heard—as the rat-Tollard fitted the vial of the blood into the Device. It seemed to have been made for the fitting, which, in my opinion, means a Society intervention. It is sufficiently intriguing to me that Bennington knew enough about the Device to know that the strange contraption that accompanied it was not part of Sir Edmund Rexley’s original design. But the additional steam-powered assemblies and the fittings that allowed for the vials to be inserted struck me as similar in intention and character as the diving-apparatus that had been affixed onto the Jagdschloss. The fact that the vials you recovered from Elizabeth College seemed already fitted to supply the converted Device is not insignificant, I daresay. I wonder now if someone at the College had intended to recover the Rexley Device and use it for good purposes—post Bennington’s tenure, of course, as she had no recognition of the containers themselves, although she did recognize the contents. If the theory about the “race” I described above holds true, then this would appear to be another piece in the puzzle that fits.

I hope that these stray bits of information, thoughts, and theories, if they fall under your living eyes, at least gives you something to ruminate about while you are detained at Caeradarn, and may make a connection that is useful somehow. In the meantime I will relate to Bennington what good Jacobs says about assimilation and ask if she has any clues from her research, and in like manner we will consult with MacTallan, who is as inaccessible as Tollard is, but for different reasons—he has immersed himself once again into the chest of Von Neumann documents and writings like a man obsessed.

I very much hope that I will receive a letter—from you or one of your company—that will tell of better fortunes for you and for the crew of the Sigsbee. Until then, we continue to wait, research, and listen.

May Deus protect you, my friend,