Dear Crane, my friend,
I am glad to report to you that we have enjoyed a taste of rest and recuperation this past week, well-deserved after our recent episode, but also vital for our continued success. I have also had the fortuitous opportunity to gather some information about Throckmorton.
Or should I say, Lieutenant William S. Thompson of the New Columbian Expeditionary Forces?
I’m getting playfully ahead of myself with that revelation; I will detail to you all I know as my letter progresses. But I ought to first tell you about the newest member of our expedition, one Professor Hugh MacTallan. That’s right, Crane—the same MacTallan who wrote several well-researched and groundbreaking journal articles on the anthropological and sociological significance of historical astronomical events. I think you remember me sending you an advance copy of his research on the documentation of proximal comets and airbursts from near-orbit meteors among the scholars of the ancient world; this would have been at least four years ago, before our visit to Mont-Bré.
We met MacTallan—more accurately, rescued him—about three days ago. As you may recall, in my last letter, I mentioned that Thorpe had seen a small village marked on his rough map of the highlands. This was, of course, after we had been able to get our bearings somewhat, having fled east from the site of the Obelisk for two days. Finding that we were near the coastline, we decided to travel so that we would have the sea on our left, never losing sight of the shoreline. This allowed greater accuracy to plot not only our day-to-day position, but also to stay within easy sky-sight of one of our two aeronautic heroines.
At any rate, about two more days of hiking southward (at a rate thankfully slower that what we had known before), Thorpe appointed Kilcannon his new lieutenant, and ordered him and Arasaku to scout ahead for sign of the village. Thorpe’s caution is new, but I confess we all welcome it, ever since the harrowing trials of the last week, and especially because the scenes of death that we found at Innesmere are still burned into our minds.
Kilcannon and Arasaku came back in short order not only with news of the village, but also a new companion—dirty, disheveled, and looking somewhat flustered. He introduced himself as the good Professor, at which point he explained that if it were not for a quick-thinking Arasaku, he may well have plummeted to his death off a seaside cliff. MacTallan had been in the area, alone, doing some research into what he called “outcroppings” that he found in the vicinity; having taken a mis-step along a rocky path he found himself under the shifting weight of a rock that had dislodged from the cliff face. This led to his precarious position hanging from a thin ledge upon which he had caught himself; apparently expecting no one to find him, he did not cry out. Arasaku, rather, had caught rather expert notice of the dislodged rock interposing his own pathway which he and Kilcannon were exploring as a safer route down from the chalk cliffside. Recognizing that this small boulder seemed out of place, he looked up, and saw MacTallan struggling, about to fall further. We should be thankful that Thorpe and Robards saw fit to employ some men not only of fighting ability but also of some athletic prowess on this mission: Arasaku quickly found a path up the rocky face to where MacTallan had fallen and lowered the shaken man a rope.
Bennington was able to treat him with a minimum of effort; with a spot of tea and the remainder of my digestive biscuits, MacTallan was right as rain and in high spirits to have encountered us. I am happy to note that it was MacTallan that was able to obtain us entry into the little fortified town of Greysham, about a half-mile from the sea, the place from which I write you tonight.
We are all lodged in an old but perfectly comfortable hotel called the Downborough Arms. This, I can tell you, has boosted our morale tremendously. Thorpe and the men asked me to re-read one of your earlier letters where you narrated your dealings with the simple folk of Howgate, so that they might compare the situation in which we find ourselves here in Graysham.
Crane, you wrote of a folk relatively untouched by the Incident, but unfortunately that is less so here. The initial stories we have heard chilled us to the bone and made us think back, of course, to the Innesmere catastrophe. Imagine parents casting out changeling-children into the street, folk waking up in their beds with mutations too horrible to describe, whole mob scenes driving out those poor devils chosen by Fortuna to bear the debased forms of nature disturbed—the people here wear faces of grief and shock, of fatigue and confusion, and for good reason.
We have endeavored to bring a little hope into their otherwise altered lives, sharing what news we felt safe to give. With full understanding of the need for discretion, we have told them that while Albion seems the epicenter of the Incident and Caledonia a bedeviled land, there is hope on the Continent. We did not tell of the tales of destruction that you and I had learned from the Colonies, nor of the plight of the New Columbians—ah yes, I am getting to our friend in a moment. But whatever good news we could breathe to these destitute survivors of a world gone mad, I felt it best to do so.
It was MacTallan that aided Thorpe in making the first of the acquaintances here. The town had appointed a new mayor in the wake of the first of the rat-men attacks, and this man, Bledsoe, united the families who were left in the town after the ravages and erected a wall. Nothing more than a rampart in most places, it is nevertheless a structure that can be guarded, patrolled, and otherwise fortified against enemies. Over the last year Bledsoe had embraced MacTallan’s presence as someone knowledgeable—even if the Professor no longer could access his library at Thornskye. Apparently the last few months had seen fewer attacks, and this is why Bledsoe had sanctioned MacTallan’s solo explorations, although I sensed some mild chagrin on Bledsoe’s part when we told him the circumstances of our encounter with MacTallan.
There are some fifty families here, many having lost members in the wake of what they call the Changes. Only Bledsoe will talk to Thorpe and most avoid him; I sense that if Graustein had made it back with us, the townsfolk would have treated him likewise. We have only been here for a day and a half, but we have been received well, and there are already inquiries about able-bodied men joining our force. They will have to learn to take orders from Thorpe, however—something we have not yet discussed with any interested parties.
Now onto our New Columbian friend, Throckmorton (who I shall call by his real name from now on). As of the writing of this letter I have done nothing with the information save record it here. Bennington seems far more lucid and much like herself ever since we escaped the area of the Obelisk, and, like I said earlier to you, I have begun to respect her more. However, I read some caution in your account of what Sanders showed you in the laboratories at Elizabeth, and I am not quite convinced that her ties with the Society are weakened enough to make her into someone in whom I can fully confide. While he is our captain, Thorpe seems changed, and I feel that revealing what I learned when I attempted to scan Thompson’s memory—and, later, his personal items—may unsettle him, not unlike how Robards had leapt to easy but alarming conclusions when you confronted him with what you knew of his stone medallion. The next person I thought of is Stratham, but he seems singularly focused on reaching the Cairns, and cares for little else. Finally, MacTallan is someone I feel I could trust, but only if given time—it is too early to allow him to have knowledge like this about our troupe.
So it is only you and I who know this now.
In reading your account of Thompson’s gift of the stone, I took it immediately to mind to scan his memories for some clues as to how he came by the stone or what it meant to him. Now, Crane, lest you become jealous in some way of my command of my Ability, let me say that I had some particular difficulties with this task. The reading of memories, I find, is painful and not always successful to the extent I imagine beforehand.
I was careful about the setting and timing of my attempt—late at night the first night after we arrived, when Thorpe’s men were allowed some much-needed relaxation in the front room of the hotel. Bledsoe, after MacTallan’s generous introductions, allowed the lads free reign among his liquor stores, and this was a liberty that, may I say, they took to its most logical end. A little after midnight I found a more comfortable chair and settled in, my eyes fixed on Thompson, whose slumped form joined the others at the round tables in the hotel tavern area.
My eyes rolled back and I allowed myself to find the wave of sound. No longer able (or daring) to use my eyes, I reached out with my mind’s eye instead, visiting the mind of the man who was my target. Breathing shallowly at first, I concentrated on each breath, finding a resonance inside my body that would harmonize somehow with the noise.
No such noise came; for many solid and soundless minutes, all was still.
I tried again, this time redoubling my concentration. I half-expected a splitting migraine this time, as my temples had already throbbed with the anticipation of joining with another consciousness, taking in the confusion and chaos of the senses. I tell you, I sat there in my chair, feeling no different than I had on all of the other nights that I had been successful (especially in the case of Bennington some weeks ago), and following the same procedure that had attuned me to my otherworldly perceptions before. But no sounds filtered into the backgrounds of my waking dream; there was no wall of noise to channel.
Something was blocking my attempt, Crane: I could feel it. What it was, though, I do not exactly know. It was like staring at a blank wall. There should have been something there, but instead all I could sense was the absence of a thing.
So how, you may ask, did I learn of his identity?
The bloody fool left it in his jacket: a telegrammed set of orders from NCHC, the New Columbian High Command. It struck me, after I opened my eyes, that a clue to Thompson’s—then Throckmorton’s—true intentions regarding having given the stone to Robards may yet lie with this man’s person or his possessions. Thorpe’s men have very few personal items apart from their clothes, weapons, and tools, and, while the lads were sleeping, it was short work to locate Thompson’s scant items. I first searched his pack, finding nothing; I had been about to give up when I then detected a folded sheaf of papers poorly sewn into the lining of the jacket.
For your eyes only: I copied below the contents, and then did my best to replace the papers and re-sew the gap I created in the cloth.
TO: LT. WILLIAM S. THOMPSON, 4TH EXPEDITIONARY
GRAVE SECRECY WARRANTED [STOP]. TRACK ALL MOVEMENTS VIA AERO [STOP]. MAKE COPIES OF ALL RECORDS TO THE EXTENT POSSIBLE [STOP]. MAP LOCATION 67-88-110 KNOWN AS UNSAFE [STOP]. WILL PROVIDE FURTHER ORDERS THROUGH CONTACT AT REXLEY [STOP].
NEW COLUMBIAN HIGH COMMAND