The Isle of Skald, 18 June

Samstag, 18. Brachting

My dear friend and companion Dr. Crane,

I write this last, short letter in sharp defiance of despair, yet in utter disbelief of my own survival, such as it is. I have come to the point where I no longer can distinguish whether I have persevered against great adversity or merely been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, like a bumbling fool. At times I perceive myself as mindless and aimless, like a blind man tottering into a busy city road yet somehow managing not to be trampled.

It is not me who should have survived. Why am I still here?

No! After what I have seen—what we both have seen—I know better than to give myself into the darkness; something inside me steels my nerves and heightens my senses, and allows me to use the Ability that has been restored to me to at least keep the Rexley device out of the hands of our enemies. That alone is what sustains my will to remain alive, though all others are dead—those poor souls!—and what pushes me to take my next breath, while our grand expedition lies in tatters and ruin. Yet, Crane, if you ever see this letter, which I am assuming is my last, please know that as I write this I expect to meet the same fate as my courageous countrymen, and part of me seeks death. Now, I do constant battle with my own mind to set one foot in front of the other.

I write this not knowing if it will be found by Alia or Alona after the fracas and trauma of the last three weeks on Skald. I have taken some pains to hide it where we last left the flight suit, neatly packed, in the bunker that we once visited on the southern region of the island. I am distressed to think that my darling Alia may already have visited the island in search of me, her emotions dire and her heart breaking. I can only hope that she sees this letter, and an additional one just for her, that I have left here in this mouldy bunker. Nevertheless, that this last communication never reaches your eyes, or hers, is insufficient reason not to pen it.

Yet, for all of this and more, that is exactly why I have hidden the Rexley Device with this letter. I will be found soon. I will be found if I attempt to leave the island, and very possibly if I stay. I—we all!—cannot suffer the Rexley Device to be found on my person. They have dark blood and they have taken our supply of its antidote. Bennington died to prevent the Device from falling into the hands of Brown and his network. Getting the Device off this island and into your hands is my only recourse now. I have no inkling of where you may be of even if you are alive, but my last action shall be to do as I thought best to thwart the intentions of our enemies.

I was surprised to find that the Brown-clone had left my log-book behind; it was rather sloppy work on his (its?) part to say the very least, and I can only explain it by saying that its methodologies matched your discoveries at Caerdarn, a dying Segismund left behind to tell his story, or serve as a warning, for reasons yet beyond the both of us. It may be that Brown and his minions are more desperate than they want to show, as I do not think them so stupid as to have had no intention behind leaving me alive. Perhaps I was simply their next Segismund: they left me, poisoned with their transformation venom, a last bitter measure of the torture that they inflicted upon my companions and I over these last ten days of hell.

That said, I was able to effect the agency of my own return to this bunker, having had knowledge beforehand of the cave system underneath the Skald mountain. Even though I experienced the twists of the caverns mostly from Bennington’s eyes—and even though she and I had been unconscious at the point of our capture—I was able to recall that the passages that led out to the surface were those that MacTallan had found, the ones that had etchings of the ur-Samekh runes. I finally found them after a day of searching, quenching my thirst in the same freshwater stream where we had once made camp. I find it poignant that by following the runes I was conveyed out of certain death once again, but in a much different way.

I also find it poignant that it was Bennington’s foresight to have used the bright blood on me back at Thornskye, simultaneously erasing my Ability but, unbeknownst to her, also inoculating me against further transformations. The Brown-clone that tortured us could not have known that I had been a recipient of bright blood. As for Bennington and MacTallan, they were killed outright in ways that I cannot bear to recount here. This was after we had already suffered the deaths of Tollard, Thorpe, and our brave squadron of young recruits fighting the hordes of wererats of which the Brown-clone had taken command.

As for that, if you ever come to read this, you should also know of the horrors that befell the people of Skald. After our arrival here on the Jagdschloss, the team had but two days to learn that the rat-people that Bennington had transformed back to humanity with the Rexley Device made a valiant stand against those who remained the feral shadows of who they once were. These groups moved to the southern part of the island to find immediate food and shelter, under the leadership of a resourceful man who they called Fynewever, taken to Skald some years before by Society scientists. A quarter-mile from this bunker, in fact, is the smouldering remains of the tent-camp where the five hundred or so humans clung to survival for four months.

One detail that I am sure you must have surmised by now is that they now have MacTallan’s original map. This, I believe, was one of their two chief aims in arriving on Skald through the conveyance line to capture us; the other being the taking of the Device, which had been secretly stored by Bennington, and whose location was divulged to me upon her death in the caves: she had left the Device with Fynewever at the camp, who hid it among medical equipment taken from the bunker and left in their makeshift infirmary. I found it among the ashes, quite undamaged. In commanding the rat-things to ravage the camp, the Brown-clone had never thought to pick through the burned remains, assuming principally that Bennington had the Device on her person. For similar reasons, I seek to ensure that if I am found, I do not make this mistake.

Finally—as I push my mind to write out every possible detail that I can that will somehow help you—I found my log-book among my scattered clothes and personal effects that the Brown-clone and its assistants left behind near the conveyance chamber on Skald. It was clear to me that our items had been searched thoroughly, and this is what leads me to conclude that the map had been taken, as MacTallan had it on him when the three of us were captured. The log-book had been left discarded as well, but when I opened the book, I found that the letter that I had last written had been torn out, along with an extra page. I will tell you now that this was a letter that I had intended to send back with one of our intrepid flyers to Sanders on Garnsey. Among my words of praise for his assistance and of news that the Gallians had destroyed Greysham, I had written him a warning that LaGrande’s addendum to your last letter to me seemed to indicate that he was walking into a trap, and to commit whatever resources to his rescue. I am sure that with your predicament at the conveyance chamber at Mont-Bré—as described by LaGrande to me—you do not as yet know that LaGrande may already be the next in Brown’s long line of unfortunate victims. Yet, in all of this, I cannot figure why the Brown-clone took my letter out of my log-book and what was done with it—surely, I had no known way of getting the letter to you, even if it had found you or done some good when it arrived.

I have decided to attempt to use the Jagdschloss as my exit from the island, since I do not know how to pronounce syllables in ur-Samekh, but my experience onboard the submersible has at least allowed me to observe the workings of the pilot’s throttle. Still, I am not entirely sure of my next move, except to write the attached letter to my love, should she find it. I will tell her something in that letter that I also tell you now, Crane: do not worry about me; I may already be dead.

Save yourself.