My good Dr. Crane,
In one of your more recent letters, you encouraged me to reflect upon the quiet good fortune that visits both of our present conditions: namely, that neither of us are in destitute state of affairs, that we are relatively free from harm, horror, or hunger, and that we have, generally speaking, a wide latitude to decide at least our proximal fates and immediate directions.
Taking that to heart, and with Thorpe and his loyal lieutenant back among us, I have encouraged my fellow expedition leaders to take some well-earned leisure time for the purposes of personal reflection and, for lack of a better term, sanity. I will tell you what endeavors in which the others have immersed themselves a little later on, but before I do, I will hasten to add a note here that other folk here in Greysham have been far from idle. In fact, critical preparations are being made as we speak that may bring to an end at least one small portion of this nightmare.
However, first this: it delighted me to re-read some of the correspondence that had been exchanged between us—now that it is safely back in my hands. I am very glad I saved it all, and over the coming weeks I have resolved to re-copy it into a new journal-book (with the additional benefit of thoughtfully organizing it before I do so).
In particular I enjoyed that, during some of the darkest times of our expeditions to date, we took pains to remind each other of happier times at Big School. Do not worry, my dear friend, I am not deluded to think that only bright times lay ahead. But in reviewing these snippets of life gone past, it occurred to me that, in writing about them, we equipped each other with the hope that we may see again happier moments within a more normal and ordered world.
In one letter you reminded me of Mlle Tourno, our finishing teacher, who among her varied interests brought with her a great love of poetry. Not all of her pupils received her passion for verse: likewise myself, a stubborn and rather blockheaded boy, was quite immune to it. Or so I must have thought at the time, insulated as I was by my forbidden penny-dreadfuls and silly boasts with the other lads. Late last night, however, one of her favorite poems came to my mind, authored by Quentille, “the Pauper’s Poet,” late in the last century. This is one that she instructed us to recite, and as you will recall, we had to deliver it with the clearest diction lest we return to the beginning to start anew:
A thing unlook’d-for is a thing unfound
Until Fortune plies its trade
Then it declares its reason sound:
That it never was unmade.
Setting out maps with borders guessed
Did little for the rain
Every choice is turned-to on the test
When visions proven vain.
A path untrod is another world
A dream, perchance asleep
Then why should we fly flags unfurled
If only walls we keep?
Let’s slake our unswerving soldier’s tread,
Sang the muscle to the nerve:
We perceive a horizon’s road ahead,
But cannot see the curve.
Perhaps you remember more of it than I do. The mere fact that I can remember anything at all that has nothing to do with rat-men, or H-boats, or strange islands, or ancient beings, is a source of some astonishment for me. Indeed, it may also simply be the product of the current oasis of time that sees more preparation and anticipation than it does escape, combat, exploration, or travel.
The thing I feel compelled to tell you about is the status of Thorpe, as well as what activities Bennington, MacTallan, and Tollard have been busying themselves with. Now that I have made it this far with my letter, I think it best to first set out for you the information that we have uncovered following our interrogation of James Bledsoe, former mayor of Greysham—or, more accurately, his thorough and abject intimidation at the hands of our serpent-bodied captain with whom we have been recently reunited.
It was no small triumph of coincidence that allowed our transformed Captain to occupy the self-same room as Bledsoe for the duration of the questioning. Bledsoe, who was as shocked and terrified to look into his slit-like eyes as you might imagine, could scarcely speak for the first half-hour and after that only did so in a whisper. I attended the scene, with my journal and MacTallan’s pistol at the ready. Half-way through the ordeal it occurred to me how absurd it was to be keeping a weapon, since Bledsoe was quite immobilized from both the ropes and his own terror.
In addition to information relating to Bledsoe, what came from the exchange informed me a bit more of who Captain Louis Thorpe is (or was). Because of Thorpe’s previous membership in the group, he was in the prime position to determine the veracity of Bledsoe’s story and the orders he had received before our accidental arrival in his town some six months ago. In other words, because of their previous association, Bledsoe could not lie to Thorpe.
Bledsoe, as it happens, was a satellite within the same network of spies and military operatives who recovered the Essen finds and took them back to New Columbia for further study and analysis, under the watchful presence of the Society—who, as you conveyed to me from Van Dyke in an earlier letter, were meant to be co-observers. The short-lived alliance between the NCHC and the Society, while ostensibly formed for mutual benefit, now seems little more than a show in favor of an already tenuous transoceanic peace. The Essen finds tipped the balance of power far in favor of the New Columbians, whose guardianship of the beings that you named, as well as the attendant artifacts, was recognized almost immediately as a source of power well beyond modern weaponry.
The Society, far more loyal to its native Albion than it was those who it saw as clumsy hacks and foreign interlopers, made gradual but invisible moves to protect itself, summoning its ranks of far-flung but knowledgeable experts. This, I gather, would have been sometime after Rachel was transferred to Elizabeth College, as the alliance must have still held its integrity at that point. But with the experimentations on the body of En-ra back in New Columbia moving forward, as well the procedures on Rachel simultaneously progressing on Garnsey under the itinerant visitation of Brown, something snapped the alliance and fractured it into splinter groups.
That, from what Bledsoe confessed, was the confirmation of the existence of the Rexley Device on Skald. When we began our expedition in the wake of the cataclysm, and even afterwards when we were divided after the Incident, we carried several personalities with us who had come already with their private agendas. No longer a cooperative, each competing group had set someone among us to monitor the direction of the expedition and intervene if we had gotten too close to the objective that the other group desired.
I do not know exactly how your group managed to avoid this infighting after the Incident, but I recognize that confronting Brown—who is, de facto, the agent provocateur of the group that means to exploit the Essen finds for its own ends—is enough of a daunting task in its own right. One explanation is that, as it fell out during the interrogation, Smythe and Dodgson were two agents tasked with intervening should your group encounter the Rexley Device, but of course those two died well before my group learned of the object’s existence, and consequently you remained blissfully ignorant of their orders.
I can tell you that obviously Stratham and Thompson/Throckmorton were in this camp, as well as Gujparat, as I learned. But so was Thorpe. As for our captain, a shift occurred at the Cairns for the man, who recognized the power and potential of the Rexley Device to cure the benighted land and populace of Albion, and I daresay a more benevolent ambition overtook his senses that day. I think you can agree that his actions since that day have demonstrated good reason why we ought to trust him now.
As for his counterpart Robards, who knows? What you have narrated to me of his corruption and eventual defeat is a strange tale, but it does not indicate whether or not he had been involved in an earlier New Columbian/Society cooperative venture, or its fallout. Perhaps Thompson’s granting of a telesma to him was an effort to bring him into some clandestine fold—eventually thwarted, of course, by your own Rachel.
As for Bennington, I suspect she had been given orders to obtain the Rexley Device and bring it back to Elizabeth College. I do admit it is now on my mind to simply ask, and hold an overt and frank conversation with her. For some reason, I am loathe to do this, and Thorpe has not suggested it. Perhaps neither of us really need to hear her say what we already either know or suspect, and we both recognize that in the wake of this and other information—as well as in view of our joint, immediate, and arguably nobler cause of assisting the poor wretches who remain on Skald—there is no benefit to be gained in the asking.
Now turning to Tollard. It fell out during the questioning that it was from the former captain of the Sigsbee who Bledsoe had received his latest orders, although that was well over a year and a half ago. It is important to see Bledsoe in his true light: a sniveling and passive fixture of local government, at one time a council member of a little port town but appointed mayor in the days of fear and confusion that followed the cataclysm. With no military training and no moral grounding on which to fix a point of courage, Bledsoe had been brought into Tollard’s confidence with promises of financial gain after exploration of Skald, if the use of the port at Greysham was granted.
Of course, this leg of the Sigsbee’s journey was never made, owing to the disaster at Yarmouth; but Tollard, half-crazed as he already was (and perhaps already half-transformed at this point) made it on his own to Greysham, and from there, somehow, to Skald. Once there, of course, Tollard completed his mission, and the Rexley Device was his—but without a crew or any way to contact the outside world (including his superiors), Tollard’s descent into insanity was made complete, and he found a home (and a following) among his altered brethren. Bledsoe’s decision to allow Thompson to stow away on the Jagdschloss, as we understand it now, was a logical but ill-informed extension of his standing orders to assist a long-absent Tollard. What Bledsoe did not know, consequently, was Thompson’s intention to sabotage the boat, even at the loss of Gates, who was a known ally to Bledsoe. Bledsoe had believed that Thompson was going to kill or otherwise neutralize Thorpe, who had strayed off-mission.
As a further complication, Bledsoe believed that myself, as well as Bennington and MacTallan, were Society operatives seeking to gain control of Rexley before Gates and Thompson. This was reinforced by Thompson’s stories of Thorpe’s betrayal, and, secondarily, Stratham’s death. What is apparent to me is that, whoever the members are from either splinter group, both groups are convinced that the possession of the Rexley Device in the hands of the other group spells yet more doom for the world than was originally brought from the cataclysm, and suicidal risks are taken but for the prevention of that outcome. Yet, ironically, no one outside our group (myself, Bennington, MacTallan, Tollard, and Thorpe), and now you and whatever associates you decide to inform, know that not only has the Rexley Device been recovered, but we have it in our possession—along with an ample supply of “bright blood” that has been proven to reverse the effects of transformation and blight.
Thorpe knows, now, because only this morning, Bennington informed him of her intention to reverse his alterations and return him to his human state using the device. I use the words “informed him of her intention” more to convey that sort of physician’s comfort that I am sure you reflected in your travels, delivering babies and healing wounds among the unchanged villages along the Albionese coast last year. What I really mean is that Bennington informed Thorpe of Tollard’s own reclamation toward humanity (and civility) through the mechanism of the Device, which introduces the bright blood as a catalyst toward re-stabilizing the chaotic superstrata in the blood of a transformed individual. At this, the simple soldier was stultified, and replied that he would think about the matter. Perhaps he wishes to make more use of his Abilities now that they have saved his life and assisted in the takeover of the town from its corrupted leader. It is, of course, Thorpe’s own decision; but I have prevailed upon him that if he were to assume human form again, he might be able to better organize, train, and lead other able-bodied men from Greysham to assist in future missions.
One detail that remains in the dark is how Gates was able to gain copies of the men who were formerly under Thorpe’s command. On this Bledsoe appears to know nothing, and did not assist; nor did he recognize that anything was changed in the men during those days in November when they submitted to training for the piloting of the H-boat. Similarly, Bledsoe knows nothing of the whereabouts of the men, and on this score I personally consoled a visibly upset Thorpe (even for a snake-man) later in our private chambers at the Downborough Arms. A thought occurred to me that Thorpe may want to keep his Abilities for the time being in order to seek out his lost charges. After all, over the months we traveled together, I observed that he was nothing if not loyal to his men.
The existence of mooring equipment at Caeradarn for the Jagdschloss (or an H-boat like it) may be a further underscoring of the story that at one time the two powers had in fact cooperated and had pledged both men and materiel to a shared mission—if indeed we accept that the converted Saxonian H-boat was a Society contraption and that it was provided to the New Columbians for their use. This mission, I suspect, may have been an early expedition to Skald, which would consequently explain the existence of the Society bunker there that we encountered. Of this I cannot be certain; Thorpe had not questioned Bledsoe about this because my dear Alia had arrived with your latest letter after our visit with our prisoner. After reading the letter to our command group, Thorpe suggested that given Bledsoe’s previous responses, it was unlikely that he was privileged enough to know about the Caeradarn base. With Caeradarn now devoid of that Brown scum, however, it may be advantageous to us to attempt to recharge the H-boat with enough power to limp it there for repairs. With all of the other activities that are currently underway here, however, this may not happen for some time.
Ah, the leisure activities of our group—I had half a mind to close this letter but then I recalled that I had promised you some more narrative on that score. Besides her interest in returning Thorpe to a human condition, Bennington has spent the two weeks setting up and resupplying the town infirmary. This is, of course, because she knows that as the main physician here in the little town of fishermen and farmers, she will oversee the impending influx of Skald refugees needing medical attention, and there will need to be a way that post-transformation convalescence can be made private. Rachel’s latest donation of blood will go a long way in this, and you have Bennington’s thanks. She already has plans to extract a serum from the new supply of blood that can be used to inoculate people against unexpected transformation. We know that the good people here will not understand at first what we are attempting to do and why, save that we are hoping to help people who have endured a most horrific experience and life, and for that reason she has enlisted Tollard to recruit an additional stock of assistants, nurses, and guardsmen who can now staff what we affectionately call “Camp Greysham.” This walled-off portion of the town, with Bledsoe’s expansive house as its central building, will serve as a halfway-point between an intake of new refugees and their release into the populace.
As for MacTallan, he has been spending considerable time surveying the countryside around Greysham, not unlike when we first found him (although I reminded him that there are no longer stalwart Blood War veterans around to save him if he takes another poor footing along a cliff). He has a pair of bright-eyed assistants now, young gentlemen from a nearby farm, and has also made an informal lieutenant of Hollins, the insightful engineer who was instrumental in the repair of the Jagdschloss. The four of them have just returned from a venture to the Cairns, confirming it as a site of conveyance from Skald. This is most fortunate, since only the H-boat can safely make a crossing to the island because of the interposing storms; but it is damaged, has very little room for passengers, and is out of power, currently sitting dark off the coast some miles to the south. We now can organize the plan for MacTallan to energize the runes at the Cairns so that a party can be sent to find human survivors.
This plan, mind you, will most likely take several more weeks to come into full effect, should it even succeed. While we know that lives are at stake and we must try, we still have no idea what we will find when we use the mystical portal to Skald. Indeed, some of us have been there, and of course Tollard remains our best guide, having once been its rat-king; but whatever humans we find who have survived there may be fighting for their lives against those who remained rat-men in the wake of our escape. We have no idea of their true numbers, although Tollard put the original population of that cursed island at around ten thousand; and even if we were able to effect a relatively safe, systematic, and successful migration of humans from the island, we would still need a way to de-transform the remaining rat-men at large. A further complication, MacTallan tells me, is that although many groups of wererats had used the Skald-Thornskye conveyance line, he does not know the volume of living beings that may cross at any one time. At Thornskye, for example, we did not know how many of the ten thousand were able to assault the university tower.
That said, Crane, it also occurs to me writing this that we never found out how the wererats were even able to operate the Skald-Thornskye portal.
Upon reviewing these last few paragraphs, the activities I have laid out here no longer sound like leisure activities, but the tasks and endeavors of a crew still very much intent on working toward a rescue of Skald’s inhabitants, if not reclaiming some sense of civility, purpose, and friendship here amid a world that has gone so dark of late. What we are fortunate for, as I am sure Alia can confirm when she delivers this message to you, is that the storms that had so frequently battered the coasts of this land have seemed to lessen these last months. Far off at the horizon, where the blue-black meets the sky, we can still see them; and Tollard’s telescope confirms their swirling, menacing arms. But for now they remain at a distance, and we have begun to sense a resurgence of confidence among the townsfolk that their tempest-plagued days are at a close.
Finally, do tell me all you can of your “test run” using the conveyance lines and the map of their focal points; MacTallan believes your experience will inform his preparations. He feels the Cairns are “nearing an active state” but also has reported that the lines in the forest that he had mapped out some months ago have shifted in a way that he is not familiar with. It will very much help to know if you have been successful, and what factors led to your ability to use the conveyance lines with confidence, and whether or not your copy of the map is accurate. Alia has intimated to me some worry that should you become lost somehow, she and her sister will not be able to find you.
Be well and be safe, my friend.