Les Rives, 20 January

Dear Uncle Friedrich,

I admit, I’m still trying to get my head around all the revelations in your “dissection notes.” The accompanying illustrations have provided me some memorable dreamscapes! But as someone who has been insulated from the Weltstufe – oh, and bravo, by the way: as ever, the Saxonian language really comes through when you need a term for something ominous and doom-laden – I’m baffled by the sheer number of subjects you have come across. Five hundred seventeen! My question is: where did you find them, if not from Albion? Did you have other allomorphs nearer at hand, perhaps as a result of fallout from the Blood War? And if so, why on earth should there be a connection?

Even as I write that I picture you peering at me knowingly over your wire-rimmed glasses as you prepare to yank the scales from my eyes. Yank away, if you must – you have already corrected my take on the Blood War, so I am primed for still more education and edification – but be gentle. And if you do not in fact wear wire-rimmed glasses, please don’t correct me … the image is already too well-fixed in my head.

I have to admit an error, though hopefully this is one of those bad-in-the-short-term, good-in-the-long-term ones. By introducing LaGrande to La Commission, I let him slip en dehors de la poche, as Maman put it (I got an earful from her regarding this tactical mis-step). As long as I was his sole point of contact with the larger authorities, I had control over his flow of information; he was “mine”. But now that he is part of the larger organization he no longer reports to me, and he is being kept so busy that I have even found it difficult to meet with him at times. The hopeful long-term benefit is that La Commission is now organizing multiple expeditions to various historical sites in-country; LaGrande himself will probably return to Mont-Bré at some point. The short-term loss is that I have no new information to convey directly to you. Hopefully next time.

But I do have information that you will find interesting, and, coincidence of coincidences, it involves (tangentially, at least) a name that you mentioned in your letter! What are the odds?

I know I don’t have to ask you if you know about the tiny island of Garnsey, because your precious College is/was there. That aside, it has been a Point of Interest because it is an Albionese island that lies closer to the Gallian coast than its motherland, and rumors had a way of creeping out of there even though the vortex-storms kept anyone from sailing near there who wasn’t certifiably suicidal.

A few weeks ago, as you probably know, the storms stopped. A great many ships that had presumably been holed-up at port there for months all set sail, and those that landed at Gallian docks were promptly impounded by La Quarantaine, their passengers and crews isolated and questioned, all the better to understand the Weltstufe and protect the people of the Continent. Those who seemed the most interesting and/or reliable were sent to Les Rives, and consequently I have spent many hours in the past week listening to the stories of salty sea-dogs and irate merchant captains. It doesn’t surprise me that you had already received word through your own channels that Elizabeth College had been destroyed, but hopefully I can add a little bit as to the how and the why.

Tensions were running high there owing to the isolation caused by the storms and the myriad rumors about the cause of it. But things got even more complicated when a New Columbian ironclad crashed on shore, bearing not just its own crew, but a contigent of Albionese soldiers led by a captain named Robards. He must have been quite the charismatic leader, because in a surprisingly short time he had most of the population rallying behind him as the de facto leader of “New Albion” – the old one having been left for dead, apparently. He seemed to have a great deal of success leveraging the resentment of the locals against the diverse crusty sailor-types stranded in the port, which were, not surprisingly, exactly the people who got the hell out of there as soon as they were able and eventually found their way to an interview room (“interrogation chamber” sounds so harsh) in Les Rives. So, no love lost on Robards for most of these people, but a few of them, despite all that they had been through – despite the fact that they weren’t even Albionese! – still professed loyalty to him. Bizarre.

Anyway, as a part of consolidating his power, he went to Elizabeth College, imprisoned and/or scattered the faculty and staff, burned the buildings to the ground, and made off with some interesting loot including what is referred to in the official reports as “experimental artillery.” Which makes absolutely no sense unless you’re aware of the College’s affiliation to the Society, which, thanks to you, I am.

Anyway, New Albion proved short-lived. The New Columbians that had brought him and his men there turned against Robards, the outlying villages united to oppose him, and he was also betrayed by his chief adviser, a man by the name of … wait for it … Dr. Eliot Crane.

I heard Crane give a lecture once in New Columbia, where he was visiting. As a rule I didn’t attend many lectures while I was there, but this one sounded interesting … a former combat medic from the Blood War was now an archaeologist traveling to ancient sites in exotic locales with his friend and traveling companion, Benjamin Rackham, footing the bill. How adventurous! But the man muttered his entire lecture with his nose buried in his notes, and practically put the whole hall to sleep. Apparently the written version was considerably more engaging, but I never read it. I couldn’t even be bothered to introduce myself to him afterward, and yes, I’m kicking myself about that now.

As far as I have been able to piece it together, this expedition of theirs, the one with your operative in it, split off into two at some point, with the part led by Robards and including Crane heading south, connecting with the New Columbians on the coast (who know what they were doing there …) and eventually crash-landing on Garnsey. What their original plan was, and why they turned against their leader, I have no idea. No one I have interviewed had firsthand knowledge of the battle in the village of Carteret where Robards was defeated. Apparently Crane and the New Columbians are no longer there, in any case.

But it’s still a place of strategic importance, and while the vortex-storms have come back, apparently they’re not as strong as they once were, and La Commission has decided to send a covert information-gathering mission to Garnsey before deciding on next steps. And when they look around the table at the meeting, thinking about who to send, their eyes fall on me as they exclaim, “Who better to send on a covert mission that the youngest son of Annette Dupont! Bien sûr!”

Ah well. I suppose I shouldn’t complain – it is field work, after all. Maman could get me out of it but she thinks a touch of danger will be character-building. And so, I will be sure to pop by the ruins of your College and see what there is to see. But if there is anything or anyone you want to me to keep an eye out for in particular, let me know. What with the necessary approvals and requisition forms I don’t imagine I’ll be leaving for a week or two, yet.


Bertie Dupont