Les Rives, 20 December

Dear Uncle Friedrich,

May I call you uncle? Maybe you were not even aware we had a connection. I certainly wasn’t aware of it until recently. If I’m not mistaken, your sister Hildegard married a Gallian, Thierry Arnaud, who is a cousin to my mother, Annette Dupont – I don’t know if you’ve met her, but I’m sure you at least know her by reputation. Anyway, Maman pointed all this out to me. What a strange coincidence!

You’ll have to be patient with me as I “get up to speed,” a delightful New Columbian expression. I have spent most of the past six years there, so my Albionese is excellent. Yours seems perfectly adequate so I think it will suit our purposes. Which are … what, exactly? The way it was explained to me is that I am to serve as a liaison between the Gallian government, or, more specifically, those parts administering La Quarantaine, and the Society, represented by you. Open channels of communication, fostering trust and cooperation in a difficult time, et cetera, et cetera. I will confess, my first question upon receipt of this assignment was, “The Society? Weren’t they based in Albion? Do they even still exist?” Evidently you do, at least enough so that my Gallian superiors think it’s prudent to make nice.

Let me give you a sense of just what our liaison looks like on this end. Ever since Albion was … destroyed? Transformed? Irrevocably shat upon? I don’t know what the right term is here. Anyway, La Quarantaine has been a haphazard process, but very recently an official commission has been established, with a name and stationary and everything, definitely making it more official and if we’re lucky also making it a little more effective. It is La Commission d’Enquête de l’Albion. Among its many official acts was summoning me home from my vacations (technically “studies” but let’s be frank here) in order to serve my country in an administrative capacity.

As I’m sure you can imagine there are a thousand opinions around here over what do about the Albion situation. With your own country still recovering from the ravages of Blood War (and speaking of that, let me just state that I was not of military age then, so had nothing to do with it, no hard feelings I hope), Albion completely off the map (hopefully not literally but it’s not as if anyone has been able to check for sure), Hispania busy with its own internal strife, and New Columbia content to keep this mess at ocean’s length, Gallia finds itself in an odd position of power and influence. Smaller nations now look to us for leadership and guidance! Frankly I’m not sure we’re up to the task. But so it goes.

As you so aptly put it, a wall has two sides, and at La Commission, there’s Faction A, which consists of people who want to keep that wall very high and very firm in order to keep the Continent safe. (You used the word “lycanthropy,” which either means that you believe all the crazy stories floating around, or that you know something I don’t.) Then we have Faction B, which consists of people who want to keep the wall porous enough to get people to and from Albion. Faction B is a strange alliance of scholars and humanitarians with the hyper-aggressive types. I heard one general at a meeting yesterday use the phrase “annex them for their own good.” You get the idea. (Of course, for the moment the storms in the Channel preclude anyone getting through, but believe me when I say there are a lot of people here working on that problem.)

And moi? You’re not going to like this part, especially because, given all the materials that you have sent me, it’s evident that you have received some assurances as to my education and expertise that were probably … exaggerated, to say the least. I’m afraid the truth of the matter is that, for reasons of family prestige, and in order to keep herself well-informed as to the internal workings of La Commission, Maman arranged to get me this assignment. Her main instruction was “Do not embarrass yourself, or me,” but she used much more colorful language that does not translate well.

You’re probably thinking now that corresponding with me will be a colossal waste of time. And maybe you’re right; I certainly wouldn’t blame you if this was our last contact. The only reason I do not say that I am “out of my depth” is that I look around and see plenty of other people just as ill-equipped to deal with the Albion problem as I am.

But if you do decide to write back, it will be because of this: I want to help you. I didn’t think I would, but you wrote, “ … there are those of us who believe that Albion’s condition is only temporary. We believe that the reversal can even be accelerated.” And I want that … I need that … to be true. For my own reasons. It is the one thing no one at La Commission seems to be saying.

So, as to all of these rubbings from historical sites you have given me. I hung them on the wall at a salon I hosted last weekend, and they were very popular. Perhaps we have started a fashionable new trend! But in all seriousness, my position as an official of La Commission gives me a lot of freedom, so I am hopeful that I can find out what you need. I will see if I can find someone who can translate the strange symbols, but any direction you can give would be most welcome. I will also read up on our own reports of contacts and near-contacts with Albionese since the Event and hope to be much better-informed on all these matters in short order.

As for prying eyes reading our letters … I will say that thanks to my family connections I am reasonably sure that mine will reach the diplomatic pouch unexamined, but how things go on your end is another matter. It is best to assume these are being read by someone, as you said. But I have never been one to hold my tongue, and have no plans to start now.


Bertie Dupont

Essen, 14 December


It is my understanding that we correspond in Albionese for the course of our work. A superior made this request of me; I ought not ignore this request. I think the word “order” in Albionese is probably a better choice than “request” here—but we have no military rank or discipline in the Society. As a result, I am more accustomed to receiving requests of my time in service to my oath. I suspect a similar request was made of you regarding the use of Albionese, but I do not know that for sure. What I can be sure of: this letter, and the letters to come, will no doubt be read by eyes other than our own.

Perhaps it is all the same. If I were able to record my findings in my native Saxonian, it would be easier for me, but perhaps more difficult for you. If you were able to write in your native Gallian, it would be simpler for you, but heavy for my mind. I have much to explain to you and I fear that Albionese will not be sufficient for my reports. However, this is how we find ourselves. Forgive my short sentences and poor grammar.

My organization has recently suffered incredible losses. Our hope to dive underneath Skald is sunk and lying on the sea floor. We have reason to believe that our best agent—a leading expert of certain transformations of the blood—has been compromised. And now I have received word of the loss of the laboratory at the College. All of this demands that at least some of us work toward a reëstablishment of the original Stiegsmark Pact. If it means Albion is quaratined forever, so be it. But there are those of us who still believe that Albion’s condition is only temporary. We believe that the reversal can even be accelerated.

I will not shock our shadowy readers if I denounce the Quarantine as a hindrance as much as it is a help. After all, any wall has two sides. There are people I know in Albion, people who are still alive according to what I know. They could unlock at least some of the research that I have done over these eighteen months. Here, I am frustrated that I do not have their minds. Now, I was never a student of the this Von Neumann fellow, but I am convinced I do not need to be. You might be an adequate link to resources I do not have here and cannot access because of the Quarantine.

Folios 1 and 2 are the rubbings from four sites here, in Saxonia and Tyrolia. I present them that they might be compared with the Essen research. The rubbings show a clear connection in both style and use of tools to make the markings. I have labelled them each according to origin. The first set of rubbings (above my red pencil) is from the Altensteine in northern Saxonia. The second (below the red line) are from Tyrolia, from the hills at the foot of the great Waldberg. The smaller set on the second folio constitutes a third rubbing, this time from a site high up in the Alpinspitze. Finally, the fourth set seems to tie them all together. This one is obviously the most similar to the ones at Mont-Bré, but were not etched onto dolmens. Instead, this last set comes from the dark caverns underneath Dürenmar.

I am not a linguist, nor am I an archivist, or an archaelogist—but in times like these the Society must rely on those who it knows are loyal first and knowledgeable second, and not the other way. I am a physician, biologist, and a naturalist, and my true interest is in effect of the transformations. The feared loss of our agent from our ranks is a bitter blow. Now, our conclusion that she is no longer reliable put me in the expert’s chair for these matters. Yet I am in desperate need of assistance.

At any rate, it is my hope that you can assist me in gaining access to those records. If you cannot, then I will of course turn to other things. But the Quarantine be damned—we need to know how to protect ourselves from lycanthropy. If we can profit from that goal and find a way to control its impulses, then we stand astride the world.

Please convey the enclosed records with my goodwill and sincere wish to receive some of the secrets that remain guarded there. For all our sakes.

Dr. Friedrich Nussbaum

A Note from the Authors

Greetings, loyal readers!

With their final letters from the Isle of Skald, the correspondence between Benjamin Rackham and Eliot Crane has reached the end of what we are calling Part One. We hope you have enjoyed it! Rest assured, however, this does not mean we are ending anything. Quite the contrary.

Next up is an Interlude wherein we will write a correspondence between two new characters. This will be a shorter-term project, an opportunity to try some new voices and explore other facets of the world of Rackham & Crane. Before long we will return to the writings of our chief protagonists in Part Two.

Obviously, a little bit of conversation between the two of us was necessary in order to coordinate ending Part One and beginning the Interlude. But other than that, we do not plan ahead or compare notes about what is to come. Neither author knows what the other author is going to write next; our process remains, as ever, highly improvisational.

For those keeping track, Friedrich Nussbaum will be written by Phil; Bertram Dupont will be written by Nate.


Phil & Nate

The Isle of Skald, 20 June

My Dear Rackham,

There is too much to say, and not enough time. You wrote to me not expecting that your letter would be found, but I have found it. You expected to be dead; I know in my heart that you live. But you are not here, and I dare not linger, so I will write as fast as I can.

Know this: your grief is my grief, and my heart goes out to you for all you have lost and what you have endured. You were not able to include many details of your last three weeks of hell, but they are not necessary, because I saw them too. Some of the time, I was even at your side.

To explain that, I should go back to the conveyance chamber in the Black Mountains, a story whose last chapter you heard about not from me but from LaGrande. I could write an entire letter detailing that fight and my speculations about just what those creatures were, but it will have to wait. Suffice it to say, when the attack came, I saw the conveyance line as our best means of escape. I was able to get LaGrande out (with my previous letter), and my stalwart companions fought bravely to hold the enemy off for long enough to save some of the others, as well.

As we entered the In-Between, my experience could not have been more different than the first time. Why? This time, I knew what to expect. Adrenaline, rather than trepidation, coursed through my veins. But also: I had just used my Ability to aid LaGrande, and I honestly cannot remember to what extent, at the moment when we left, I was ghosted. At any rate, I had the same perception of an interconnected web of destinations laid out before me, but this time without the fear. I set us on a course, as it were, for Caeradarn.

I have no idea how long the trasition took, but it was long enough for me to look out with my mind’s eye and perceive some of the other destinations. Having studied the map that MacTallan sent I even found myself able to get my bearings. I felt in control: like I was not even bound by the destination that I had recited in my incantation. I could go anywhere.

That is when I made an impetuous decision, in a moment when I felt giddy with power. It was almost certainly ill-advised, and if you will agree that in the end it turned out for the best, it did so only by the narrowest of margins, because I have been able to accomplish so very little … but I digress. I knew I could go anywhere, but I also knew that my companions had injuries and that I had no right to decide for them. And so first we continued to Caeradarn.

“Step forward,” I said to them, there in the mists of the In-Between.

“Oughn’t you go first?” said Van Dyke, between grunts of pain from a broken rib.

“Not this time,” I replied.

“What the hell does that … Crane? Where are you? I can’t even see you.”

“I’m right here! Please, my friend, step forward.”

Van Dyke hesitated. Sharma did not: he gave a glance to Jacobs, who unceremoniously slung Van Dyke over his shoulder and the three of them moved out of the mist, into the conveyance chamber at Caeradarn. As if through a haze, I could even see the guard stationed there, one of Campbell’s men, mouth agape as they suddenly appeared before him.

But I did not go through. I drifted back to the heart of the In-Between and focused my attention somewhere else:


I knew from your letter on the 4th of May that your group hoped to use the conveyance lines to return there. You had alluded to needing some weeks to prepare. I thought I might find you there, or, if you had not yet arrived, that perhaps I might use my newfound affinity with the conveyance lines to help you arrive safely. And it all worked perfectly: I emerged from the mists into the conveyance chamber on Skald, a place that I only knew from your letters. I was alone for a few moments, looking around in wonder, but also somewhat puzzled because something seemed different about my vision. I sensed the presence of things more clearly, but their fine details were blurrier, if that makes any sense. The darkness did not seem to prevent me from seeing.

Then two were-rats entered the chamber. I did not have time to hide, so I stood my ground, trusting my Ability to help me contend with them if need be. But they did not respond to my presence at all. They walked right through me and carried on their way as if I did not even exist.

That was my first indication of the reality that I had long, bitter weeks to appreciate and explore. I thought myself very clever some months ago when, in our correspondence, I started using the term “ghosting” to describe what I can do. A fitting punishment, then, that I should now find myself as a ghost. I do not mean to say that I was dead, of course, but that my state of disembodiment was now so extreme that I was invisible and barely able to interact with the physical world at all, save for whatever instinctive sense of buoyancy kept me from sinking into the ground unless I willed it. And, worst of all, I could not turn it off. Try as I might – and trying to do so was my sole occupation for many days – I remained a ghost. And as for the conveyance chamber – for of course I tried that too – without the ability to speak audibly, I could not activate it.

When I wasn’t struggling to become solid again, I spent my time wafting around the island. Had I known what was coming I would have watched the were-rats much more closely, taken note of their numbers, locations, and activities. I would have tried to find some way to warn Fynewever and the other survivors what was coming. I would have familiarized myself with every inch of the island so that I could go where I wanted in an instant instead of meandering around like a lost shade.

I expected you via the chamber. So it was not until the day after your arrival – this would have been the 22nd or 23rd, I believe – that, when wandering outside, I sensed the presence of your group and found you camped near the cove where you had hidden the Jagdschloss. Ah, Rackham, how I tried! I shouted, I waved my arms. I wiggled my fingers inside your head. I tried to move small objects to call attention to myself, but if, once in a while, I barely succeeded, no one noticed. I hovered over your shoulder as you reread my last letter, and the one from LaGrande, and started to pen an urgent message to Sanders in your log-book.

Despite my frustration at being unseen and unheard, in an odd way, it was great comfort to see you again, to regard Tollard and MacTallan for the first time in the flesh, to see Bennington, and of course to see Thorpe – despite your excellent descriptions, I was still shocked at the extent of his transformation. I hovered about as you all discussed your plans, and envied you as you ate (in my ghostly state I had need of neither sustenance nor sleep).

And, once again, I was in the wrong place. For by the time I sensed that things were happening near the conveyance chamber, the Browns had already come through.

Rackham, I … I tried. Tried to stop them, tried to warn you, but it was all for naught. I will do my best to set aside emotion and relate those details that may yet help you.

I believe only half a dozen came through the portal. Four ur-Browns (the shambling half-men that he assimilates from corpses), one proper Brown-clone, and the man himself. The last two were indistinguishable from each other, at least outwardly. But with my ghostly vision, the difference could not have been more apparent. The Brown-clone seemed to have the stump of another person inside it, whereas the real Dr. Brown was suffused with power. Based on that and on what I saw afterwards, I feel certain that only the real Brown is able to assimilate others. Small comfort.

Because I was not there when they arrived, I did not see by what means they took command of the were-rats. Had they been expected? By what means did they assert control so quickly? I do not know. But in very short order the Browns had organized them into war parties in order to scour and secure the island. They found Fynewever’s group on the beach, and they found you …

Forgive me. I am finding it difficult revisit it all. So much death and pain, and me helpless through it all. But you know well how your companions were captured or killed, and what you suffered, and so I will not dwell on those details. Instead I will limit my narrative to three things you do not already know.

First: After your group had all been subdued – imprisoned, or killed – I was spying on the Browns as they pored over your log-book. There were more of them now, thanks to some assimilations. Because of the bond they share they never seemed to need to speak to each other, which made it difficult to understand what they were up to. But I saw one of them writing a second part to the letter you had started, meticulously copying your own handwriting. He was doing a rather mediocre job, and it would not have fooled me, but it was, as it turned out, enough to convince Sanders that the two parts had come from the same hand. In the second part, Sanders was urged to put his trust in Dr. Brown lend him aid should they ever come into contact. Although the letter you had started to Sanders was of course going to suggest the opposite, there was enough ambiguity in what you had already written that Brown was able to twist your intent in his forged conclusion.

A week later Brown received Sanders’ reply, which I read over his shoulder. More recently I have been able to lay my hands on it, and as it addressed to you, I include it with this letter for your perusal. I think you will agree it paints Sanders in a different light than my own descriptions, and we can be reassured as to his character and resilience. Brown was furious upon reading it – he had not realized, I think, the extent to which Sanders had long since distrusted and detested him.

You will note I make no mention of how your letter, or its reply, were delivered. That is because it remains a mystery to me. Certainly I have been keeping constant watch for the arrival of Alia or Alona, concerned for their safety, but I have seen no sign of either. While I did my best to spy on Brown, there was more than one of him, after all, and I could not be everywhere at once. Perhaps it is as simple as that he used the conveyance lines. Or perhaps something else – I simply do not know.

Second: MacTallan. As you know he was imprisoned, like you, but after about a week he was killed. I was there, Rackham, and I heard the conversation he and Brown had before the end. I will do my best to relate it in as exact detail as I can recall.

Brown – the real Brown – walked, nay, sauntered into the makeshift cell, hewn into the corner of a cave, where MacTallan was being kept.

“Hugh,” he said. “It has been far, far too long. Gosh … I’m sorry we finally get to see each other again and it has to be like this. How are you feeling? Are the rats giving you enough food?”

“Go to hell,” muttered MacTallan, his voice muddled by his swollen jaw and broken teeth.

Brown tsked. “It doesn’t have to be like that, old friend. We are on the same side, are we not? That of the enlightened. Hell, you were the astronomy savant back at Die Universität. You knew what was coming.”

“If I had known what was coming, why do you think I stayed? My wife? My child? I would have left, I would have warned–”

“Oh no no no, Hugh, you knew, you just didn’t believe. Faced with the possibility, you stuck your head in the sand. Me, I prepared. Don’t hate me for that.”

“And coming here, slaughtering my friends? Can I hate you for that? I believe I shall.”

“Yeah, look, I’m sorry about that. It would go much easier on the rest of them if somebody just tells me where the Rexley Device is.”

“I have no idea. I doubt they do either.”

Brown shrugged. “I’m not too worried. We’ll find it eventually. It’s not that big an island.” He got down on one knee now, his face close to MacTallan’s. “I mean, that’s important and all, but I’m also here for you. All that’s happened to Albion … it’s an opportunity, see? The fires of destruction and change are a crucible wherein those men with power and the will to use it can become gods. But most of the time I’m surrounded my idiots, even if they are idiots of my own making. I need men of like mind to forge ahead with me. Brilliant men.”


Brown stood. “But you don’t know what I’m offering! You’ve seen my power. I’ll admit, it’s not what I would have picked, but at least it’s something I did for myself. Didn’t stumble into it through blind chance, like some. Help me find Rachel and you, too, can be elevated above common men!”

“You’re a fool if you think you this sways me in the least.”

“I know, I know. Had to try, though. It’s a damn shame.”

“Get it over with. Just assimilate me.”

“Oh ho ho! Still thinking, I see. Good one, Hugh. I think you know that you are strong-willed enough to be a very difficult host, indeed. And maybe you know that I’ve already failed to take in Rackham, for some damn reason, and that after taking in some of those pour souls you recruited in Greysham I’m already stretched too thin.”

MacTallan’s head sagged.

“Ah yes. You get it, don’t you? You saw all that. But you also see that I would never admit any of it to you unless I had no intention of letting you live. And you what, Hugh? You’re exactly right.”

He used a knife. I screamed. I strained. Whatever it accomplished – a thickening of the air, loose stones dislodged from the walls of the cave – Brown was too intent on his bloody business to even notice.

Third – finally, a piece of good news. Even though you were imprisoned separately you probably know that Thorpe proved a very difficult prisoner. He possesses unusual speed and strength, and he was in no mood to cooperate. Brown was loathe to put a bullet in him, however, because of his curiosity about Thorpe’s transformation. He wanted an umblemished body to examine at his leisure, and so, after two near-escapes and the death of several were-rat guards, he secretly poisoned Thorpe’s food, and the poor man slumped lifeless on the floor of his cell.

From there he was moved elsewhere in the were-rat camp. But when I returned a day later to see if they had cut him open, I sensed something within him, something I would never have been able to detect if not in my ghostly form: a heartbeat. So slow, so faint, yet unmistakable. He was not dead. My first thought was that he must be comatose, but his outward appearance clearly suggested death: his scales, usually tinted green and splashed with surprising color, were a dull gray.

Then it occurred to me: there are species of lizards that possess the ability to feign death in order to deceive predators.

The next day, a Brown-clone arrived with a bag of medical tools, and the two ur-Browns with him hefted Thorpe’s body onto a large table.

“All righty,” said the Brown as he sharpened the blade of a scalpel. “Let’s see what we have in here!”

For a second I thought I had been wrong, for the body on the table did not move. But as the Brown leaned in close, Thorpe’s eye shot open, and with blinding speed his sinewed, scaly arm shot out, squeezed around the Brown’s neck, and twisted it with a sickening crack. The ur-Browns moved in but Thorpe was already standing. I had not realized until then that he also has fangs – I assume that they are retracted most of the time. At any rate, it was all over very quickly, and Thorpe was on his way out of the camp, moving close to the ground, faster than a man could run, yet making almost no sound.

When the bodies were found this put the rest of the Browns on edge, to say the least, and all attention was focused on tracking down Thorpe. If I am not mistaken, this is the moment that you yourself were able to effect your own escape, owing in part to the distraction, though you had no way of knowing the cause. But it is also why I was not there to witness your escape, and thus lost track of you – I was following Thorpe.

He put a great deal of distance between himself and the camp before he stopped. He darted up a tree and came back down having caught a possum-like creature for his dinner. It was the dead of night, and other than the distant sounds of the camp and his own chewing, all was silent.

“Who’s there?” he said suddenly.

He was looking in my direction. I shouted, but then thought better of it and focused my energy on stamping my foot on the ground, trying to create some disturbance, some reverberation.

“Show yourself,” he snarled, crouching low, clearly trying to sense me, but not by using his eyes. His lizardlike ears, as I later learned, perceived slightly different frequencies than humans, just enough to pick some of my ghostly movements out of the silence. Not waiting for an answer, he pounced, but found only air.

“What is going on?” he muttered, perhaps to himself. I stomped again, as loudly as I could. This time he clearly detected it, though of course he was still puzzled.

“Three pulses if you understand me,” he said.

Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.

Still wary, he skittered around the clearing, looking around to make sure no one else was near, then returned. “Very well. One pulse for yes, two for no. Are you a friend?”


“Is this Rackham? Are you in my mind?”

Stomp. Stomp.

“Are you someone I know?”


“I don’t suppose you are familiar with Samuel Morse’s telegraphic communications code?”

Stomp. Stomp.

“Quickly, then …” He grabbed a stick, moved into a patch of moonlight, and began to sketch into the ground. For A: a dot, then a dash. For B: A dash, then three dots. For C: dash, dot, dash, dot …

Scrape. Stomp. Scrape. Stomp.

“C … C …” Something clicked for him, though he still said it hesitantly: “Not … Crane?”


“Stranger and stranger. We should move somewhere where we can talk in safety. Can you follow me?”


“Can you follow very quickly?”



That is how it came to be that while you were making your own escape, Thorpe and I were holed up on the far side of the island, conversing in a tortuously slow manner. After he had etched out the entirety of the Morse Code for my benefit things went more quickly, and he was good at doing most of the talking and asking me yes-or-no questions so that we could communicate efficiently. Still, it was the better part of two days before we were ready to make another move.

Not knowing of your escape, our first priority was to try to release you. But I also had an idea of something that might help my predicament: the bright blood. I knew that the Browns had taken everything, and I knew where they were keeping it.

We made an odd pair, returning to the camp. Thorpe could be very stealthy all on his own, but coupled with my extended perception, and an occasional stomp to warn him of a concealed were-rat or an approaching patrol, we were nigh undetectable. First we discovered that you had escaped. Then we found the tent with the valuables, guarded by an ur-Brown and three were-rats. We waited for a moment when no one was within earshot, and then Thorpe came from behind and dispatched them with brutal efficiency. He emerged with a case holding the vial of bright blood.

I stomped repeatedly, with urgency, when I saw that was all that he had. He knew my concern. “No map,” he said grimly. I soon realized why. On the other side of the camp, in his own tent, Dr. Brown was perusing the map and taking careful notes. Actually there were four Browns sitting around the table, and at least a dozen were-rats arranged as guards outside. Thorpe wanted to go after him anyway, but I objected. The chances of losing him were too great, and I had another concern: the bestial rage with which he had dealt with those others had been terrifying to behold, and I did not want him, in embracing his animalistic abilities, to lose his own humanity. And so we left, as silently as we had arrived.

It is a good thing that I had had a very long time to ponder my condition and think about ways to counteract it. Naturally it occurred to me early on that the bright blood might be helpful, but I had no way to inject it. While my contact with the physical world seemed almost nonexistent, I did still have the sensation of breathing, which suggested that perhaps at some level I was still interacting chemically with my environment. So my theory was that if the bright blood could be introduced into a liquid infusion and then used to generate a mist, then by interspersing myself with said mist, some of its properties might transfer to me.

That is the sort of thing best engineered in a laboratory, of course, not in hiding on a mysterious island. But, as I said, I had had nothing if not time to consider such things. A dry cave, a fire, a mesh of woven reeds – some day I will give you all the details of my jury-rigged apparatus, made by Thorpe’s hands under my instruction. But for now let it suffice to say: it worked. I swooned as I rematerialized, my body suddenly resuming all its myriad ordinary functions.

It pains me that we have both been here on Skald for days, both in our proper forms, and our paths have not crossed. For the most part Thorpe and I have remained in hiding. While I do not think my brief encounter with a mist of bright blood has negated my Ability, I am afraid to end up as a permanent ghost again, and would only want to use it in direst need. Once Thorpe ascertained, on one of his scouting runs, that the Browns’ camp had been abandoned, we felt a little freer to move about. (It was while scavenging there that he retrieved the letter from Sanders, incidentally.) I recalled from our correspondence about the southern bunker where you had found the flight suit, and thought that might be a good place to look for you. Instead we found your letter – and the Rexley Device.

That led us in turn to search for the Jagdschloss, and it is on the shore within sight of its hiding place that I write these words while Thorpe keeps watch. You are not here, and I was hoping that you might arrive while I was writing. I am afraid that I dare not linger, however. Were-rats remain on the island, perhaps some of the Browns as well, and you are quite right that the Rexley Device cannot be allowed to be discovered. If Brown himself has indeed departed, perhaps fearing for his safety, there is nothing to say that he might not return in even greater force.

So I will leave this on the vessel for you to find. Thorpe will help me reach the conveyance chamber and I will leave by that route, taking the Device with me. He plans to stay: in order to find you if he can, but in order to continue to make life hell for any of his former captors who remain on the island, in any case.

I left your letter to Alia at the bunker. It is a saving grace that neither she nor Alona came here and ran afoul of Brown. But I am confident that when she does come looking for you, she will think to check the bunker, just as I did.

When the two of you are at last reunited, write and tell me. Leave your letter in her care for when she finds me next. And have her check on my friends at Caeradarn if she can. We have said before, “I do not know when next my letter will be able to reach you,” though there has always been a way. This time, though, I think it might be a long time before that happens. I know where I mean to go, and what I mean to do, but in case this should fall into the wrong hands, I will not set it down in writing.

I am sorry I could not do more, my friend. Sorry for all that you, that we, have lost. But you live. Thorpe lives. Brown has neither the bright blood, nor Rexley, nor Rachel. There is hope, and for that hope we must fight on.

Warm Regards,


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.



Stockport, 29 May

Mr. Rackham,

Good sir, you mistake me. I do not think it likely that you mistake me for a friend, but I fear that you mistake me for a fool – I assure you that I am neither. I reply to you out of general concern for human welfare and sympathy for your current predicament; please do not misinterpret this as an overture seeking continued correspondence.

You speak of “goodwill” and a “steadfast alliance” between myself and Dr. Crane. Crane, who washed ashore on Garnsey with a crew of military brutes. Who brought the accursed Robards into our midst – indeed, who brought the man to my office, knowing what he was capable of, in order to gain access to Bennington’s lab. True, he saw the danger Robards posed in due time, and stood against him. He even rescued me from prison! Of course, it was a prison of Robards’ making, and Crane might have ended the affair much earlier by putting a bullet in his brain or a knife in his back. Instead he continued to hope for a way to “fix” him; worse, he did not see through Robards’ ruse, which led us to expect an attack on Carteret from the sea. We would all have been doomed were it not for Rachel’s interference.

Ah yes, Rachel. One of my most important charges – indeed, the responsibility which I took the most to heart – was to keep her safe and comfortable after the indignities she had suffered. That Bennington had the temerity to ask her for more blood – still more! – after all that she had been through … you are correct, that is a reason why hearing her name gives me little joy. It is only a testament to Rachel’s own generosity of spirit that she agreed, over my strenuous objections. But that was all in the past, and she had a good life, happy and content, until Crane and Robards came along. She saved us all at Carteret, and then … well, I need hardly tell you. She chose not to stay here, with me, in relative safety. She departed with Crane.

More recently I have had the occasion, while presiding over the smoldered ruins of my life’s work, to see a foreign power raise its flag over my tiny island home. If any of what I have said thus far strikes you as offensive, then I urge you to consider all that I have endured and kindly take your indignation and shove up it your a**.

There. All that having been said, Alia has convinced me that your motives are just as you state them. And I do credit Bennington for attempting to atone for her past sins. In that spirit I will tell you what I know.

The destruction of Greysham is a tragedy, but one that is puzzling to me. I am by no means privy to the plans of our Gallian invaders, but the fact that I am fluent in their language, and that they have deemed me not to be a threat, means that I have had some interaction with their Admiral. He has sought me out for advice in the administration of the island and insight into recent events. Thus I feel that I can say with a modest degree of certainty that the attitude of the Gallian fleet toward Albion is primarily one of Trepidation, coupled with a shocking degree of Bureaucratic Sluggishness. The idea of a surgical strike on Greysham does not seem like them at all, and I caught no whiff of it here. Thus I am inclined to agree with your assessment: someone thought something was there, and had the wherewithal to command a force to see it destroyed.

As to Crane, and LaGrande. The Gallian did indeed find me here. I saw to it his letters were delivered, and we spoke – indeed, his introductions facilitated the current state of goodwill that exists between myself and our occupiers. But I did not read the letters, and only now, having read yours and having some details filled in by Alia, do I begin to understand everything that has occurred. You will be disappointed to hear that Crane did not come here. I have had no contact with him or his companions, and no further contact with LaGrande once he departed. Certainly he left me no map.

I am sorry that I cannot be of any help – but no, I am not. For the help you ask for in the second part of your letter is peculiar in the extreme. You wish me to “assist” Brown? Crane knew that Dr. Amory Brown is a monster. And rest assured that the man is all too well-known to me. When I called in every Society favor that I could manage in order to bring Rachel here to the College, under my protection, it was from Brown that I was protecting her. Before Mont-Bré, who do you suppose it was that instructed Van Dyke to shoot the man on sight if he should be encountered?

So I find it hard to fathom that you, sir, do not also recognize his danger. Instead you bid me to aid him. If you are misled, please stand corrected. If you are a fool, then there is no help for that. But if you are writing under duress – well, that is indeed a concern, and one that I have shared with Alia, who seems fond of you. I will indeed send word to Les Rives best I can, but it will be to warn LaGrande about Brown, not otherwise.

I will conclude with a concern of my own, one that, despite all our differences, I would be giving to Crane if I could. Perhaps you could pass it along if you find him. When I was questioned by the Gallian authorities, they understandably wanted to know a great deal about Robards, and of the brief but memorable existence of the state of New Albion here on Garnsey. What became evident to me is that they had already spoken with the man himself, in whatever cell the governor had stashed him. I know that his power over mens’ wills was no longer present after the battle of Carteret. I trust and hope that this is still the case, and long for some means to verify it. For if Robards should find his voice again … Deus help us all.


Prof. Sanders

The Isle of Skald, 25 May

Thingstag, 24. Elter

Dear Professor Sanders,

Let me open this letter to you by saying that I should have liked to have made your acquaintance under very different circumstances and with a nobler aim than the one that motivates me today. In another time, however—or in another world, perhaps—you and I might never have had cause to correspond or contact one another. And more’s the pity: for good Dr. Crane has shared with me your steadfast alliance and goodwill at several different points, through the usurpation of your blissfully remote island, its dramatic reclamation, and now through the recent discoveries of the “Ashkurian conveyance chambers,” as Dr. LaGrande wrote to me recently. I must thank you principally for the support and friendship you have shown him, and congratulate you on the leadership you have shown at many points through difficult times.

It is LaGrande’s addendum to Crane’s last letter to me that had me sick with worry, at least until the Gallian battleship turned up off the Albionese coast some two weeks ago. It is with this news that I turn to you in this letter, hoping you at least might be free and able to assist in some way: the expeditionary force led by our gallant Captain Thorpe finds itself here in dire straits. I do not know what has happened to Dr. Crane since the 18th of May, it seems LaGrande has walked into the tentacles of a trap, and the town of Greysham has been reduced to ash under the punishing cannons of Gallian warships. What’s more, we (Thorpe, Bennington, MacTallan, Tollard, and ten trained but young soldiers under our charge, along with myself) find ourselves on the shores of the Isle of Skald, having made a frantic but (apparently) invisible escape in a steam-powered Saxonian submersible. We now find ourselves bound by a mission we never wished to undertake, brought to an island where we wished never to return and, according to most maps, never existed. We arrived here on a ship that we thought had sunk, led by a captain we had taken for dead.

I have enjoyed in past letters Crane’s description of his companions, not least for the color that each of them bring to the experiences he has relayed, and certainly with appreciation for their contributions to the success of his part of our shared mission. I feel I owe you at least something similar, if not as detailed—but there simply is not the time. For efficient context I will say that the names I have listed above, and mine, belong to those who we view as the leaders of our part of the mission, and at least one of them you will know well: Dr. Charlotte Bennington, formerly of your very College. I do not know how a mention of her will turn your mood as you read this letter, but I can put in, at least, that any hidden, personal agenda she had upon starting the expedition aligned to Society goals has been thoroughly erased with the new calling of rescuing the changed people of Skald and bringing them back to Albion, or what civilized parts remain. I hope you do not count it as impertinent on my part if I imagine much the same is true of you.

Captain Louis Thorpe is our leader in matters of security, exploration, and, if needed, combat—he has an Ability which has manifested itself by altering his appearance and agility to something approximating a walking snake-man. As for Professor Hugh MacTallan, he is an academician from the lost university of Thornskye in Caledonia, and our expert in the ancient origins of the phenomena which wreathe our current troubles. Finally, we are joined by Captain Frederick Tollard, formerly of the New Columbian Navy. His presence on the island is the most ironic, as we found him as a rat-man some three months ago on this same damnable island; we changed him back into human form in part by scientific breakthroughs made at your Elizabeth College and he has assisted us since—at first begrudgingly, and now wholeheartedly.

As for myself, I do not know the breadth or depth at which Dr. Crane has described me to you, but I must assume that you at least know some of the history of our expedition, how we parted ways, and what discoveries we made in the meantime, including the acquaintance of Rachel, the enigmatic figure from the world’s forgotten past who may well be the lynchpin upon which all our troubles turn, and from which our future fortunes stem. I have never made her acquaintance but nevertheless feel as if I know her, both from Crane’s letters and from the fact that it is by her blood that I was reunited with my body and Tollard was brought back to human form again.

I can assume, in addition, that you know the contents of Crane’s letter as of the 14th of May, and LaGrande’s addendum on the 18th. You may not, however, know that LaGrande had it in mind to see one Dr. Amory Brown, or you may be only vaguely aware of this; in the addendum to Crane’s letter, LaGrande had it in mind to find a meeting with Brown in the town of Les Rives.

– – –

Thonarstag, 26. Elter

(With apologies for having run out of space on the log-book pages upon which I write this, I will continue here.)

I am, of course, not sure how much you know of Brown’s work, his influence upon the alliance between the Society and the New Columbian High Command, or the critical discoveries he made in the wake of the finds at Essen after the Blood War. At the risk of assuming too much security between us, it is important that LaGrande meet with Brown and share what he and Crane know; if you have any resources at your command, I advise you to put them toward ensuring the success of that meeting, of at all possible or practicable. I will say that the interference of the Gallian military would have a deleterious effect, or at least a delay, upon Brown’s unraveling of the mysteries of the conveyance chambers, and you may consider giving Brown safe—or at least secret—harbor at the College for any further research that may come out his most recent successes in traveling upon them.

That the Gallians have shelled the peaceful town of Greysham meant to us that they were looking for something, and when they found it, they were bent on its destruction; I can only surmise that they received incorrect information that our expedition found whatever that was and had it in our midst. They were not, of course, counting that we had the use of a Saxonian Haischiff; they also must have known something about the black storms that plague the sea lanes between Albion and the Continent, since we have seen no sign of them since we landed at Skald. However, their outright murder of the people of Gresyham ought to give you clue enough not to assist them in anything they ask for should they remain on Garnsey. In a sad way I suppose I am glad to hear that the research halls of Elizabeth College had been ruined under the madman Robards, since it means the Gallians ought to leave you relatively in peace.

One item in particular that I know would assist Brown in the last stages of his research is a map that our MacTallan made for Crane. It describes the locations of the conveyance chambers and their interlinking qualities; it had been compiled by MacTallan over many years of research and now serves as a guide, if you will, to the many destinations that can be accessed through these mystical corridors. I would ask MacTallan to make a new copy here, but sadly, our copy was lost in our chaotic exodus out of Greysham when the Gallians opened fire. While MacTallan is confident that he can activate the runes of the chamber on Skald to get us home, his only hope in reconstructing the map is to return to Thornskye and hope that he can still locate the same notes of Von Neumann’s that assisted him in creating the first map. Thus, if you are in possession of the map that was given to Crane, or its copy—perhaps for safe-keeping, for example—I urge you to make two copies: one for me, here, that Alia can transport, and another that you can send forthwith to Les Rives.

I would be inclined to write more to you but we are intent to move out the next morning, and of course we do not wish to delay Alia any further. It is my hope that Alia can steer well clear of Gallian warships as she passes over the sea. My duties here have made it impossible to give her the fare-well that I should like; when she arrives, please remind her that she is my dear love, and if anything were to happen to her, I would consider the world ended for good.

With high flags,


Roudouallecc, 14 May

My Dear Rackham,

We seem to be going in circles! I write again from back where we started, although this time with considerably more hope for the path ahead. You may have heard some details of our little fracas on the coast from Alona, but I will set them out here to provide my perspective.

After she found our beacon the first time, we decided to find a place to settle in for a few days while we investigated options for getting to Garnsey or crossing the Channel. A mile further up the coast from our beacon site, we found an old fishing hut, currently abandoned, which seemed to have been rebuilt and repaired a dozen times after being overwhelmed by storms. That put us two miles from Brehat, where Denis or I would go for news and occasional supplies – Denis owing to being an unassuming native, myself owing to my ability to ghost.

You can imagine my concern when I saw the poster on the town notice board, alerting the locals to “imposteurs étrangers,” wanted, and extremely dangerous. Apparently Gallian soldiers had been through asking questions as well. But all that was not quite as alarming as the gossip Denis overheard: local opinion is that Albion’s collapse was due to the machinations of an evil cabal of men with strange powers. One such man had had all of Garnsey under his rule and stood poised to send an army of abominations – part man, part animal – to conquer the Continent, but was stopped by heroic Gallian forces arriving in the nick of time.

Part of me was fascinated at how grains of improbable truth persist within these false rumors. But what it made clear is that our way out of Gallia would not be easy – not only were we being actively hunted, but the general populace was alerted to our presence and their notions of what we represented made them unlikely to lend a hand or turn a blind eye.

We had already arranged with Alona to activate the beacon on the 7th if we were still in the area; we decided to remain at our hut until then, which proved a mistake. (I should have had a letter ready to go at that point but did not, for which I apologize.) That morning we proceeded to the rocky outcropping where we had set up the beacon, activated it, and welcomed her a few hours later. She put your letter in my hand, we started to exchange news – and then all stopped as we saw figures approaching from the path leading to Brehat.

It was Sgt. Lascelles and half a dozen others – four soldiers, two men from town. Perhaps we were not as careful in our visits to Brehat as I believed. The soldiers had weapons at the ready, and Lascelles himself had a triumphant gleam in his eye. But they were not aware of Sharma, hiding behind some rocks thirty yards away, and were equally unaware of the damage he could do from that range with Kali.

“Are they hostile?” said Alona tensely.

“Very possibly,” Van Dyke replied.

“We must not kill them,” I said. “With the things people here already believe … it will seal our fate if word gets out …”

Alona spoke with a measure of calm that was terrifying: “Word does not have to get out.”

“No killing,” I insisted, and signaled the same to Sharma.

Lascelles and his men approached. “You will come with us. Do not resist.” His Gallian accent was thick.

“We have hurt no one. We want to hurt no one. We just want to find our way home,” I replied.

“You are spies. LaGrande should not have trusted you. You will be questioned, and then we will have the truth.” He gestured to one of his men and spoke in Gallian. “Secure the aero” were the words, though the intent was clear in any language – as was Alona’s opinion of it. She took two steps to position herself between the soldiers and her beloved “bird.”

The soldier yelled at her to move out of the way. Almost imperceptibly, she shook her head. He raised his rifle. I looked to Lascelles to see if he would tell the man to stand down, and only then appreciated the fear and uncertainty behind his own bravado. In that instant, he hesitated, and the soldier was about to shoot …

You are familiar with the game of darts, I take it? I suspect you are like myself and were never in the habit of passing the time in taverns, which is the lifestyle required for becoming an expert in such a game. In the handful of times I ever played it I never hit the “bull’s eye,” and thought it something of a marvel that anyone could manage the feat with any level of consistency. All the more of a marvel, then, when the dart in question is tiny and grey, little more than a heavy needle, removed from a hidden pocket on Alona’s belt and hurled forward in the same fluid motion. And when the bull’s eye in question is the barrel of a rifle! It happened so quickly that I am fairly certain the Gallians did not see it. They probably thought that the soldier’s rifle misfired in a rather spectacular fashion, the flintlock exploding, sending him to the ground, clutching his face in pain.

I heard the ominous report of Kali being fired, but Sharma’s aim was true: he hit one of the other soldiers in the arm, not the head. Jacobs charged like a bull at Lascelles and the soldier standing nearest, plowing into them and sending all three to the ground.

I turned to Alona. “Go,” I said. She had a knife in her hand and was poised to join the fray. “We will be fine,” I said, “And even if we are not, you cannot be captured.”

Van Dyke shouted a word of warning. I turned to see the fourth soldier, little more than a boy, hands shaking as he leveled his rifle at me. He fired. Despite his poor aim the bullet flew true, but in the second before that I had already ghosted, and it passed harmlessly through my chest. I spoke again, my voice distorted in my incorporeal state: “GO.”

She went.

And, indeed, we were fine. After several minutes of fighting, we subdued Lascelles and his men with no deaths, though Van Dyke ordered one of the townsmen to rush back to Brehat to fetch a doctor on behalf of those with bullet wounds in their arms and legs. Jacobs had broken a finger, lost a tooth, and was bleeding from a bullet graze on his scalp – I swear, the man attracts injuries like ants rushing to spilt honey – but the rest of us were unscathed. Van Dyke was the one to speak to Lascelles in Gallian as he tied up his arms behind his back with rope.

“You see we have not killed you. We mean no harm but we cannot allow ourselves to be taken by La Quarantaine. I am sorry for your injuries, but please, do not follow us.”

We left that place. Denis, who had prudently kept out of sight the whole time, fell in alongside as we hustled inland. There was no question that leaving them alive made things much more difficult. And something else had been nagging me: Denis, delighted as he seemed to be to take part in our travels, was not some abandoned child that we had taken in out of the kindness of our hearts. He had a loving family back at his village, and while he was with us of his own free will, it was all too easy to imagine Gallian authorities seeing it as a straightforward kidnapping at the hands of foreign fugitives.

In the end, that was what tipped the scales. Rather than risk the difficult way to an uncertain fate on Garnsey, we decided upon option #1 from my previous letter: that of returning to the conveyance node that we had come from. Once again I will elide several days of overland hikes made all the longer by the care we took not to encounter anyone else. Denis, detecting our somber mood, did not ask as many questions. I could tell that no small part of him was eager to be going home.

The last day of our journey, we were low on supplies and eager for the respite of a warm hearth, and the village was remote enough – it seemed likely that word of Lascelles’ manhunt had not reached them. So we decided to resume our original cover and return Denis in person, hoping to score a good meal before setting off again. The boy’s mother greeted him tearfully at the door of their modest house; her anger at us for keeping him away so long quickly dissipated when he assured her it had been his own choice. We left him there and made straight for the inn, and were seated at a long common table, images of a shepherd’s pie full of succulent chunks of lamb filling our minds, when the doors swung wide and Gallian soldiers entered. They did not attack, but took up positions around us as they filed in. The innkeeper and other villagers were suddenly nowhere to be found. My mind raced … it was impossible that Lascelles could have beaten us here. So who …

LaGrande entered and joined us at the table.

“So glad to see you again, Dr. Crane,” he said.


“The boy was from Roudouallecc. Your story about that … the notion that you would sail all the way around to approach Mont-Bré from the south. And even if you did, that such a path would take you through this village … ridiculous.” He shrugged. “Lascelles, ah well … ç’est crédule. When you disappeared that night I knew I would find something interesting here. Though I must admit I did not expect you yourself to return.”

“And what have you found?”

“Your campsite up on the mountain. Then the caves. And finally the chamber … ah, Crane. I can understand why you would want to keep such an amazing discovery to yourself! But I cannot understand how you got there in the first place. I have a theory, but it is so incredible that I would not even entertain it were it not for the times we live in.”

He took a book from his satchel and placed it on the table in front of us. It bore no title on the cover, but “Von Neumann” was clearly embossed on the spine.

“The chamber, the runes – they are from an antediluvian civilization, n’est-ce pas? Ashkur? I confess that I am getting up to speed on the subject myself, but it is fascinating. And the circle on the floor!” He placed his hand on the book. “This reads like the ravings of a madman until one has seen such a place, or heard tell of foreign travelers arriving at a remote village as if out of nowhere. Tell me, Dr. Crane. These ‘conveyance lines’ … is it true?”

I hesitated, then nodded.

“I see,” he said. “Thank you for the courtesy of being forthright about it, this time.”

“What is to become of us now?”

LaGrande suddenly laughed. “My friend, I am not Lascelles! When faced with such discoveries, how can we let the laws between nations stand in our way? You wish to use the chamber again, I think. I wish simply to understand it. Can we not work together?”

I found his answer a great relief, and more than we deserved. I did not wait to consult with my companions before responding: “We can.”

And so, in the end, we had our hearty meal, and look forward to sleep in good warm beds. Tomorrow we will go with LaGrande back to the mountain. I cannot wait to find out what is in his Von Neumann book, and am more confident than ever that this time, we can make a successful transit to where we actually mean to go. Nonetheless I am taking the time to set this all down, since I don’t know when I will next have a chance!

My thoughts are with you as you ready for your return to Skald. Knowing what you plan to do, my hope was that by now I would have mastered the conveyance lines, found Brown, and put a permanent end to his threat before he could get in your way. Instead I have lost valuable time trudging back and forth across the Gallian countryside. If I cannot give you my aid, at least allow me to wish you good fortune!

Warm Regards,


Monsieur Rackham,

You may not remember me, but your friend Dr. Crane said he has mentioned me in an earlier letter. I am Dr. Julian LaGrande, and I have taken considerable pains to put the accompanying letter from him to you in the right hands. It was the very least that I could do, as I owe Dr. Crane my life. I include this note by way of explanation.

Crane and his men had happened to arrive on the eve of a big day for my expedition. Having first located the Ashkurian conveyance chamber through a series of narrow caves, I had taken time searching the mountainside to locate the original entrance, covered by a rockslide centuries old. That morning that he accompanied me to the site, we blew through the rock with dynamite and uncovered the tunnel mouth, allowing us at last to bring personnel and surveying gear to the site in force.

With the chamber fully lit at last, Crane and I went to work transcribing runes, comparing notes, making plans. It was a thrill to be working alongside him on something so momentous. All the while, though, the guards were increasingly on edge. One of Crane’s guards, the giant-sized rude one, insisted he saw runes on the walls glowing, though none showed any evidence of this when examined directly. We ignored this for too long, I fear. We started hearing unmistakable noises of movement and strange cries coming from the gash in the wall that opened onto the natural caves, but by then it was too late to seal it up.

That is when Crane handed me the enclosed letter. He asked me, if things went badly, to travel to the College on Garnsey and wait there until such time as I could place it directly in the hands of an aero pilot. Since I have done this, you may assume that things went very badly indeed.

The things that attacked were out of my nightmares. I mean this quite literally: the tales my nan told me as a child, the most terrifying bits of local folklore, were made real before my eyes. I fear my men put up a poor defense. Crane’s men fought to hold the circle, by which means he clearly intended to escape. He shouted for me to get out, but at the edge of the chamber I was caught by a creature whose hot breath singed my skin. I fell to the ground, expecting the end, not least because of the cries of agony around me. But then Crane was there, and he – I will write down what I saw, strange as it may be. He thrust his hands into the creature, then gestured upward, and it hurtled away, with its own cry of pain. Then he returned to the circle, where mist was beginning to rise up off the floor.

Half of my expedition died that day. Those that remained would no longer take my orders. Though we were not pursued once we emerged from the tunnel, they took it upon themselves to use the dynamite that remained to collapse the tunnel once again. And so I cannot say for certain what has happened to Dr. Crane. I can only say that there was no fear in his eyes, and while my men either fought in vain or cowered in terror, his fought well and seemed to be holding their own. I shudder to think what paths they have followed, that they addressed such an encounter with a calm and even practiced hand.

I am writing this on the 18th of May from Garnsey, in the presence of a Prof. Sanders and an aero pilot who gives her name as Alia. They are concerned that I keep secret the fact that she flies to and from the island in spite of Gallian control. If you would be so kind as to assure her that my allegiance to science and discovery exceed my sense of national loyalty, and she has nothing to worry about … some of her threats were very colorful indeed.

I must return to Gallia and make my report to La Commission, at which point I will do what I can to study these conveyance lines. As to that, I have received some news that gives me hope. One of Von Neumann’s former students, a professor from Nassau University in New Columbia, has apparently arrived in Les Rives and offered his services. His name is Dr. Amory Brown … I look forward to meeting him.


Dr. Julian LaGrande

Greysham, 4 May

Dear Crane,

To say that I felt relief when your bundled letter was handed to me would do little to convey the emotion that filled my heart. It was both a shock and a deliverance, all at once, from the worry and concern that worked its way through our bones. Inwardly, we became a shabby and changeling few, with a flagging spirit that haunted our breaths in greater measure each passing day—indeed, we were affected by the delay in correspondence to a degree that none of us had anticipated. As Bennington aptly pointed out some days ago over our weekly meal and meeting, it was the spectre of the unknown that had gripped us. Had you had written to report sudden disaster, bitter defeat, or a gnawing frustration, we might have taken some tiny solace in the simple fact that you were still alive and, despite whatever bad straits in which you found yourself, unhurt.

MacTallan has had the most to say of late regarding what you reported regarding your experience with the conveyance lines. I think you may find that the greater part of his reflections match some of the sensations that you must have had upon entering what he calls the “aetherial state.” What you describe, for example, as the “heightened perception” of your companions stemming from the activation of your Ability, is in fact also a facet of the phantom world into which one sidesteps along these mystical pathways. One thing MacTallan asked me to include in this letter is this: if your Ability were activated along the conveyance line, its effects, taken in combination with the already disorienting and disembodied nature of travel by these otherworldly mechanisms, might have well accounted for a loss of control, especially to someone using the lines for a first time.

“Intentionality,” he repeated to me, as I stared blankly for a moment at his waxed moustache.

I must have seemed as I did once to Mlle Tourno and Master Urquart: a dull student, his mind in the clouds, fixed on some far-off luxury instead of the lesson at hand. “Eh?” was all I could manage, training my eyes again on him.

“Ben, that was the difference. I wanted to get us back to somewhere I knew was home. We were escaping and I had—well it was all a dreadful panic, I suppose. Here was your inert body, then there was Bennington turning those creatures back into their former selves—it was unlike anything I had ever seen before.”

“Yet—I saw you through Bennington’s eyes. You read those runes like an expert.”

A sudden hardness overtook his face and his eyes shone. His jaw shifted, and I could see that a desperate emotion had taken him for a second. “I had the knife—I had it at him.”

Now finally comprehending, I took a deep breath and set my hand gently upon the table. “You would never have used it, Professor.”

He gave a small, almost defeated nod: and I prepared myself for information that, secretly, I forgave MacTallan for not providing before now. The motives that drove this man forward, I began to see, were something more than simply academic. I recalled our little conversation on the hills overlooking the Cairns that evening in early October.

“I wanted to be home. More than anything. That’s essentially the only difference. The runes are basically the same anywhere, I’d wager.”

I narrowed my eyes at him, studying him, now putting logical points in my mind into a new configuration. “You never found your wife and child,” I ventured, with all the gentleness I could muster.

He collapsed into a nearby easy chair and shook his head, casting his eyes downwards. I paused, looking out the window of the second-floor study in the mansion that used to be Bledsoe’s.

“And Penelope?” I asked. “She wasn’t among the dead at The Waterford School, was she?”

At this I could not push for more, as shimmering tears fell from the man’s eyes, onto his beard and lap. I got up from my chair and draped my arm around him, holding him as he trembled and shook.

When he had composed himself somewhat, Bennington arrived at the door. I needed say nothing: she, standing there, had surveyed us for several seconds, not knowing whether to return another time or join us as a further comfort. I am glad to say that the compassionate nature of our doctor is joined in equal measure with her professionalism, as she strode over and took the young man’s hand in hers.

As he unfolded his tale to the both of us, it became apparent that MacTallan’s hunger to study the scorched lines, the environs of the Cairns, and other features of the land was done in a potentially dangerous but unfortunately vain attempt to uncover more clues as to the whereabouts of his family in as much as it was an academic curiosity. Driven by his vexing loss and the mysterious disappearances of whole villages and towns in Thornskye’s vicinity and parts to the north, MacTallan became convinced that his family had been taken, and not killed. Given that the deans of his own university had known that their campus was the site of some kind of ancient power, he formed the theory that this site was somehow responsible for their disappearance. Being a student of VonNeumann, he had already been led down the corridor—so to speak—of a belief in a people, or a race, whose very language had a mysticism, a form of communication that shaped and defined reality even as it described it, a specialized speech far removed from the quotidian and charged with something from the very stars.

“I think my family are on Skald,” he said, drawing careful breaths as I brought him tea.

Bennington shifted in her chair. “Tell us why you think that, Professor.”

“I—I don’t quite have proof. I sort of, well—I feel it.”

“Then our efforts here are not in vain. In a month’s time, my good man, look what we have built. Camp Greysham is very nearly ready.”

“But what if our travel from the Cairns turns out like Crane’s? What if we lose our way?”

Bennington knelt beside the man. “We will find your family and bring many more families home, as well. When you read the runes you uncovered at the Cairns, let your desire to see them again guide you.”

He nodded, accepting what we had to say at least as a temporary balm. Bennington called for Thorpe and Tollard to join us at the familiar table in Bledsoe’s former dining-room, which had been converted into a work-space for planning and conversation among us, it main feature bestrewn now with various pencil-drawn construction plans and documents of inventories. We are now collectively known as the Town Council, having hastily adopted a set of by-laws that are modeled on public works committees—a kind of consensus-driven governing body that thriving towns before the Incident would have convened. Our first act three weeks ago as a governing body was to appoint faithful Parsons as the Town Supervisor; our second act was to organize a group of able-bodied young men and women as the Town Watch, under direct command of Parsons, whose first official report to us as Supervisor was delivered a week ago.

Given this, and knowing that this letter will reach you—finding you either at a Gallian-occupied Garnsey or the northern coast of Gallia proper—I feel I can provide you with some more detail regarding our preparations for our crossing attempt, which will take place sometime within the week. Thanks to your letter, we now know the Gallians may be moving north along the coast; while we are caught somewhere between a nebulous uncertainty and a hope of some aid, our overriding motivation is to make the crossing before any interference occurs, for good or for ill. If the Gallians come and assume control of the town, the five of us have decided to move on using the conveyance line, leaving Parsons and Hollins here. For their part, they have already decided to submit themselves to their command should they assert it—they have seen a belly full already of death and destruction and welcome an organizing force, even if a foreign one. Few have forgotten that the Albionese and the Gallians were enemies at the outset of the Blood War, only to become allies during the twilight months of that horrible conflict. They hope, then, that the same spirit of reconciliation that swept the two nations following the death of Marshal Vanaise holds true now.

Enough of national politics; few of us here have time to become overly concerned with that now. Besides news of the government of the town itself, the completion of three hundred and ten habitable apartments between the various empty buildings of the northern section of the town, and the fact that the Jagdschloss had been towed safely back into the Greysham harbor some days ago, I can share with you that earlier this past month, a week-long search was conducted by MacTallan, Hollins, and his assistants, aided further by Thorpe. Unfortunately, their mission to canvas some twenty square miles of the land surrounding the town has turned up no evidence of the bodies of the original men under Thorpe’s command, even with the maps that MacTallan and I created some months ago to assist in the progress. This had cast Thorpe in a dark mood for quite some time, understandably, and some days ago he agreed to hold a brief memorial service for the dead men, speaking remembrances of their bravery on our long road. Following this, the Council received news of a group of strong youths from the town—aged sixteen through twenty-two—who volunteered to act as our new armed escort, knowing we might well need one soon for the crossing. This act of selfless bravery by this untrained but stalwart team of men and women, I think, lifted Thorpe’s spirits considerably. As I write this, I can hear out of an open window the rifles firing in a drill out on the proving yards next to the mansion.

Speaking quickly of Thorpe—and while I still have a few minutes as Alona finishes up a meal before take-off—I ought to speak to your points that you made very poignantly in the letter that at last arrived here some three days ago. Thorpe had delayed his response to Bennington’s offer to administer the bright blood and thus hopefully reverse his transformation, citing a rationale that his changed body would aid in the search efforts for his men. Indeed it had, to a degree, as Thorpe’s considerable celerity as a reptilian humanoid allowed him to cover considerable ground in advance of MacTallan’s survey group and cut trails through the woods and up the cliffs. When the group had returned, Bennington again entreated Thorpe that he consider returning to human form—but Thorpe finally declined her offer. In fact I had shared with him your exact words: that your Ability had saved your life. As he explained it to Bennington and I, this was also true for him; he feels, also, that with his Abilities, he may yet save the lives of others in the future. With the impending crossing to Skald in our minds, we could only nod our heads in assent.

Again, I must mention that the fact that I can hand Alona this letter now and it will make its way back to you is a thought that fills me with elation. I am doubly grateful for this, as I am sure that the next of my letters will have news of our rescue attempt, and consequently whether or not we have been successful in using the conveyance line once again. Until then, may this letter find you in somewhat safer and more comfortable conditions.

Our most warm thoughts to you and your companions,


outside Brehat, 30 April

Location Unknown, 10 April

My Dear Rackham,

I am violating my personal rule and writing again before I have heard from you. At this point I do not know how I will even get this to you, or when I will hear from you again. Things have gone awry, to put it mildly. But for that reason especially, I thought it important to set down what has happened.

The plan, as I described in my last letter, was to attempt using the conveyance lines – not immediately in order to locate Rachel or confront Brown, but first, a short transit to see if even that was something we could manage. It is rather ironic to think about it now, considering how things turned out, but the destination we settled upon was one that would have made for a pleasant surprise. I noticed that the map MacTallan provided indicated a conveyance node at the Cairns, a place that we knew, from your descriptions, was still extant, and was not currently overrun by were-rats or other unknown dangers. It seemed a safer bet than other options, and if it worked, there would be the added benefit of my being able to consult with MacTallan face-to-face – to say nothing of our own reunion!

Needless to say, things did not go as planned. I checked and re-checked my analysis of the runes, and reviewed my … I hesitate to use the word, but in an odd way it fits … my incantation. It is a matter of reciting the runes on the circle, to be sure, but also weaving in the ones associated with the intended destination. And there are matters of intonation and emphasis, undoubtedly subtleties of pronunication that I had no way to appreciate.

And why on earth should it all matter? I constantly asked myself this. And, in a way, I began to understand, although my mind has difficulty wrapping itself around the notion. Let me try to explain:

Words have power. Pre-cataclysm, you might ask your valet to bring you a cup of tea, and in a few minutes, tea would be provided – your words had made it happen, though not directly, of course. But ur-Samekh is different. In the right circumstances, its words are not merely the communicative artifacts of language as we understand it, but forces that make their weight felt upon the world. Rachel speaks a word, and I am paralyzed. Say where you are, and where you want to go, and, somehow, you might go there.

All this dawned on me as Van Dyke, Sharma, Jacobs, and I were stepping into the circle beneath Caeradarn. As I spoke the words in ur-Samekh, some part of me could feel the push that they were exerting, an essence to them beyond sounds traveling through the air. My voice wavered, and part of me quailed, suddenly appreciating the significance of what I was attempting, and my utter inability to comprehend the fathomless power and subtlety of the forces I was drawing upon.

But that was not what set us off-course. The culprit, I fear, was my Ability. We were in the circle, a mist rising up from the floor, when it triggered. You will recall my first experiences, before I was able to exert conscious control of my ghosting – those times, I also experienced heightened perception, sensing things around me in a manner beyond sight. This had not happened to me for a long time, but it happened now. I could sense the presence of my companions, feel their heart-beats. I knew we were not in Caeradarn any more. We were … in-between. And I felt the network of nodes, an array of potential destinations, an interconnected web sprawling out, overwhelming my mind. I sought concrete realities to latch onto, but we were in a liminal state of potentiality instead, and, I am ashamed to say, it was too much for me to take. I do not believe I successfully completed the incantation. I remember wanting to be in a place, any place that was real, willing us desperately toward one before I collapsed into unconsciousness.

The good news: I succeeded in bringing us somewhere. The bad news: We have no idea where we are. We arrived at a node in a subterranean cavern, deserted and ancient, with familiar ur-Samekh markings all around. While I recovered, the others lit lanterns and explored the area, finding the place where a rockslide had blocked the original entrance, probably centuries ago. Fortunately, moisture had eroded one of the other walls, giving way to a system of caves where the prevalence of mosses and liverworts, as well as bats, hinted at a connection to the surface.

My ability to ghost would have been very helpful in navigating our way out of that place, but even after I had regained consciousness, I was in no state to attempt it. I am not concerned, however – when it comes to my Ability, I have enough experience with it all now to recognize the difference between dormancy and simple exhaustion, and I am confident that this is a the case of the latter. Sharma offered to fire a bullet through my head in order “get the juices flowing,” since something like that had worked before. I politely declined.

It took several hours of fraught spelunking to finally break out into daylight. Not because we were far from the surface, but because in those natural cave formations, the hopeful-looking openings were always the ones that lead to dead-ends, and the true exit was a narrow horizontal gap that we passed a dozen times before realizing it was there. Sharma was the only one who could squeeze through it at first, and our last hour was spent hacking away with a rock-pick in order to create enough room for Jacobs to force his way through.

We found ourselves on a mountainside, at twilight. The flower-scented spring breeze brought tears to my eyes. I am writing from our campsite; with night falling fast we decided to wait for dawn to get a proper sense of our surroundings. But already we can see the lights of a village in the valley below, so we know we are near civilization, and, judging by the terrain, we are not in Albion.

More later.

Mont-Bré, 21 April

The prospect of actually sending this to you still seems remote, but as I have ample time now, I will continue my narrative. No doubt you are curious at the location I have entered at the top of the page!

The next morning Sharma was the first to ascertain that we were in Gallia. He pointed out various aspects of the flora and fauna that he found familiar from our previous visit; I doubt any of the rest of us would have noticed, but we quickly agreed once we were made aware. Our mountain was one of a small number in what appeared to be a very modest range, certainly not the Alpines, which narrowed the possibilities.

Les Montagnes Noires,” Van Dyke asserted after we had pooled our collective geographical knowledge and mulled it over for a while.

“But … that would put us in the same region as Mont-Bré. Not close, perhaps, but within less than a hundred miles,” I said.

“Indeed,” he replied. “Rather a fantastic coincidence, wouldn’t you say? The very area the four us traveled in before, and here we are again.”

I had done my best the previous night to explain to the others what had happened during our transit; I was frank about the fact that I had been overwhelmed by everything rushing upon my senses, and had lost control. But I do not think Van Dyke is correct; it was not a coincidence that we ended up where we did. In that moment when I was reaching out for a destination, any destination, the problem was not that I couldn’t see, but that I saw too much. It would make a certain amount of sense if my unconscious mind, connecting somehow to all the possible destinations, latched on to one that I felt an affinity to, perhaps because it was closely associated with my current companions.

At any rate, there on the mountainside, while the birds chirped around us and the sun shone brightly, we discussed our options:

  1. Squirming back into the caves in order to try to use the conveyance lines again.
  2. Returning to Albion by other means. Traveling overland to Machlou and seeking transit to Garnsey seemed like the best bet, since we had done it before.
  3. Choosing another destination – as long as we were already on the Continent, why not make for Essen, for example?
  4. Walking Away From It All. Just as was the case the last time, the sheer peace and beauty of a place unsullied by destruction was intoxicating, and I would be lying if I said we did not consider it, if only privately.

The scientist in me wanted to test some hypotheses about how I might approach the transit differently, and leaned toward #1. But the others were (understandably) not eager to re-descend into the darkness toward an uncertain end. #3 and #4 both suffered for the same reason that we were hesitant to saunter into the village for a hearty breakfast – we were strangers in a foreign land, and all indications from our previous visit were that the Continent held Albion under a very strict quarantine. Until we knew more, any contact with others would be risky. #2, if we could manage it, would allow us to check up on Elizabeth College, and on Robards. As you know, Alia and Alona have made occasional runs to the island on their routes, but the last one was several weeks ago, and no real news had come from there in even longer than that.

And then it occurred to me – if we were going to head toward Machlou, why not stop by Mont-Bré again? I know much more now than the last time we were there. Another look around, to take some more notes, see if there’s anything I missed, certainly couldn’t hurt. The others agreed, and Van Dyke offered to enter the nearby village to get the lay of the land and, hopefully secure some supplies.

His fluency in Gallian had proved helpful the last time, of course, but in recent months I have had little occasion to see his covert skills in play, and had forgotten just how formidable they were. Van Dyke strolled into town, posing as a frazzled government aide-de-camp from Les Rives who had been given the difficult task of entertaining a visiting Pandjaran raja with a penchant for wilderness exploration. As such he needed a guide to take us north across the mountains, perhaps someone familiar with the terrain who would not mind the company of an eccentric foreign noble and his security detail?

“Sometimes the bigger lie is just easier,” he explained to me afterwards. The rest of us came to town, chiefly so that the villagers could gawk at us, and, primed by Van Dyke’s fanciful tale, they saw what they wanted to see. The biggest flaw in the ruse was the notion that I, of all people, would ever be able find work on a security detail. But this was overlooked. And Sharma, normally so quiet, proved surprisingly adept at playing the raja, barking orders at us in his native tongue with an outrageously exaggerated accent.

The locals “ate it up,” as they say on the stage, agreeing to help and even sharing some provisions with us for the hike. Our lack of funds was something of a sticking point: Van Dyke assured them that payment would be forthcoming from the capital after the appropriate paperwork had been submitted. I suspect this was enough to dissuade many from helping, but the innkeeper’s son – a scrawny boy of 14, eager for adventure – insisted upon serving as our guide, and we accepted.

We were glad to have him, as his knowledge of the mountain passes turned what would have probably been a five-day journey otherwise to one of only three. Young Denis was full of questions about the distant land of Pandjara. Sharma was happy to provide answers, which Van Dyke was obligated to translate into Gallian and relay to the boy; our esteemed raja made his answers incredibly verbose and full of obscure vocabulary, engendering many a harsh glare from Van Dyke and chuckles from the rest of us. At least it passed the time.

Denis had stories of his own to tell, little bits of history and folklore associated with the various landmarks we passed. By far the most interesting was when he casually asserted that there was an entrance to Hell somewhere in the very mountains we were crossing, but that we were nonetheless safe from demons, since this area was under the protection of Herveus. He had several tales to tell about this local saint, a blind man, guided by his pet wolf, who apparently knew how to handle recalcitrant imps. Jacobs still claims he saw a wolf at our fight with Brown near the obelisk, so he paid particular attention to all of it, and took an extra watch every night – whether out of fear of demons or a desire to see the wolf again, I cannot say.

We reached Mont-Bré mid-morning on the 14th of April; Denis showed us a path up the hillside nearest us so we wouldn’t have to go all the way around to the main road. This meant we crested the hill near the site of the obelisk, and as we emerged from the trees into the clearing we could see things were much changed since our last visit. The entire area around the stump of the obelisk had been gridded off with stakes and rope; two canopies nearby sheltered tables, chairs, and cabinets. In other words it was an archaeological dig site, and a proper one now, not the rush job I had performed the last time.

Van Dyke looked at me tensely. “Could it be Brown?” he said. Even the thought of it put us all on edge, and we edged forward cautiously, weapons drawn. At one of the canopies, I glanced briefly at a couple of notebooks.

“They are in Gallian,” I said. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Together, we took the path to the chapel at the top of the hill. As we approached it was clear that now, as before with Brown, it was being used as a base of operations. No one was in sight, but then:

“Arrêtez!” The shout came from a lookout on the roof of the chapel, partially hidden, his eye to the sight of his rifle. I wondered whether we should break for cover, but when I saw Sharma lower Kali to the ground and raise his arms over his head, I had little doubt that the guard had us dead to rights. Soon after, four more uniformed gentlemen with rifles emerged from the chapel. Not mercenaries, this time, but Gallian soldiers. The sole officer in the group approached.

My Gallian was not quite up to the task of understanding everything that was said on the fly, so I write having had it all clarified for me afterwards. Denis, unfortunately, was the first to speak. Rather indignantly, he informed the soldiers that they were in the presence of the Maharaja Bahadur Sharma of Pandjara on an official diplomatic visit and they really ought to show some proper respect. This man here (he indicated Van Dyke) is a very important government official from Les Rives and they will be sorry they pointed their guns at him.

The officer was plainly suspicious, as we looked at that moment about as far from an official diplomatic delegation as one could possibly imagine. I detected a hint of bemusement on his face as he turned to Van Dyke and said, “Alors, monsieur … votre papiers, s’il vous plaît?”

To our stalwart spy’s credit, even though I knew that at that moment his mind was racing to come up with a story that would extricate us from our dilemna, his outward demeanor betrayed nothing at all. Jacobs, on the other hand … he did not say “Fuk this, I can get to this Gally ass before he can shoot an have my knife at his throat.” But the intent was so clear in the expression on his face that I feared he was about to instigate a bloodbath.

Just as Van Dyke was about to speak, he was interrupted by the voice of another man emerging from the chapel. Not a one of us expected the words that came out of his mouth.

“Dr. Crane? Is that you?”

“Monsieur LaGrande?!” I replied, incredulously.

Doctor LaGrand now, I have the fortune to say,” he replied. “How amazing it is that you are here! I assumed you were dead, along with so many of your countrymen. How is that you have returned to Mont-Bré?”

I do not know whether you will rember Julian LaGrande from our previous encounter. This would have been during our first expedition to the dolmens here, before all the troubles, what seems like a lifetime ago. Then, he was a young student of archaeology, the son of some local official or other. We brought him along with us to observe, as a favor to said official – “greasing the wheels of bureaucracy” was the term I believe you employed at the time. (You were always better at that sort of thing.) But I was the one who interacted with him at the site; while the many questions he peppered me with were distracting at the time, they were the questions of a sharp mind, and I had no doubt he would prosper in his studies. The intervening years had not dulled his boyish good looks.

For an instant I was alarmed by his question – had he somehow discovered that were at the Obelisk? But I realized, of course, that he was referring to our first visit to Mont-Bré, when we met.

“A long story,” I finally replied. “Perhaps we could catch up under less, ah, tense circumstances?”

“Of course, old friend. I must apologize.”

I was not quite so easy as that. The officer (one Sgt. Lascelles, we learned) remained highly suspicious – a credit to his instincts! We were allowed to gather in the chapel for refreshment and to exchange our stories, but only after we had been searched and our weapons locked away in the basement.

I would have loved for Van Dyke to be able to be the one to do the talking, but he had no knowledge of LaGrande or our relationship, so it fell to me. It occurred to me that the very fact that he was here meant that the Gallians, or some faction thereof, were keen on investigating this site, with a high level of security to boot. Therefore they were on the trail … of Brown perhaps, or attempting to understand Albion’s fate. So I opted for some degree of candor. I told him that we were indeed present at Albion’s fall, and had struggled to survive since. I said we had escaped the mainland and made it as far as Garnsey. From there I desired to reach Mont-Bré to see if any clues might be uncovered there, but given the Quarantine, we had opted for a covert approach.

All of this had the advantage of being precisely true! I just happened to elide the fact that it pertained to our previous visit, and made no mention of Brown, or the conveyance lines.

Lascelles interrupted at this point in Gallian. He had been prudent enought to take Denis aside for a separate interview, and wanted very much to know why, if we were coming from Garnsey, we had met and employed a guide from the village of Roudouallecc, across the Black Mountains in the opposite direction. Before anyone could translate, Van Dyke explained that we had sailed around the coast, hoping that approaching from the south might better our chances of avoiding the authorities.

The good news is that they believed our story. The bad news is that Lascelles’ took la Quarantaine very seriously and saw it as his duty to convey us his superiors. In deference to LaGrande, however, he let us continue to discuss matters first, as there was little worry of us escaping: where would we go?

As eager as they were to hear about what had happened to Albion, I was doubly eager to learn at long last about goings-on in the rest of the world. It seems that while La Quarantaine is still the strict policy followed by Gallia and the rest of the Continent, there has been much discussion of the Albion Problem, and plans to send forces across the Channel, with concerns both humanitarian and security-related in equal parts. For his part, LaGrande held a position at the Sorbonne in Les Rives, and had been asked by the newly-formed Commission d’Enquête de l’Albion to fully excavate the Mont-Bré site. He had arrived to discover that the dolmens had suffered some sort of explosion, as well as evidence that another group had been here much more recently, within the past year.

I had to feign surprise, of course, when he revealed rather dramatically that the more recent intruders were New Columbians. But I have no idea how he knew this – when we left the last time, I took with me any number of rock samples, copious notes, and every last thing scrap of paper or other evidence that we would carry about Brown’s expedition. I did not think we had left anything behind that would have given that away.

I have reached the end of dramatic developments. As of this writing we have been here at Mont-Bré for over a week. This came about after some rather heated debates between Lascelles and LaGrande: the former wanted to take us to Les Rives right away, while the latter insisted that he needed my help with his research, and as long as we were cooperative, what was the harm? Lascelles begrudgingly relented. As for the site, there is little to say: I made away with everything interesting the last time I was here, and, contrary to my hopes, nothing else seems to have happened in the meantime. Nevertheless, I continue to work, and meantimes the others remain compliant but vigilant.

Gallian coastline, 30 April

I am writing this in the presence of Alona, who I believe I embarassed considerably by referring to her as my “bright, shining star,” and embracing. I apologized afterward, but seeing the silhouette of her flyer on the horizon was an incredible relief, as I’m sure you can imagine. She has no way to convey us from Gallia, of course, but at last I am in receipt of your last letter, and I have the opportunity to send along mine. But it is a risk for Alona to stay here overlong, so I must write in haste.

First, how did this come to be? Cast your mind back for a moment to my letters from Mont-Bré last year. I mentioned that among the documents I recovered was evidence that Brown was expecting the delivery of an aero beacon, one part of the reason I suspected he might have some Society connection. It appears that said beacon, along with some other supplies, was indeed in transit at the time, but whatever smuggler they employed to deliver it must have arrived to find Mont-Bré deserted, and had hidden the large wooden crate containing it all under piles of brush halfway down the west hill-face. Though I have had occasion this past week to be rather annoyed with LaGrande’s fastidious methods, it is only because he had the soldiers carefully scout out the entire hill that the crate was found. That was how he knew that it was New Columbians who had been here.

I did not learn this until last Thursday, after many days of cultivating LaGrande’s trust. I hate that word, “cultivating” … it makes it sound so manipulative. In point of fact he is a good man and I have valued his company. But looming over it all was Lascelles’ plan to take us to Les Rives, which of course we could not abide. At any rate, LaGrande showed me the crate and its contents one night, hoping I might have some insight. And I had plenty, but I kept them to myself. The very next day I took pains to draw Van Dyke aside so we could speak in private.

“They have an aero beacon,” I whispered. “The one meant for Brown.”

“That is … hopeful,” he said cautiously. “But we are far too far from Albion for Alia or Alona to even detect a signal, let alone fly here.”

“Could they detect one from Garnsey?”

He shook his head. “Too far inland. We would have to set it up on the coast, north of here.”

“It is worth the attempt. Lascelles is already running out of patience.”

“Time to go?”

I nodded. “Tomorrow night. Try to get them all drinking at dinner.”

I was at pains the next day not to act suspicious. LaGrande’s official survey of the site was almost complete … I suspect he was even dragging his feet somewhat, knowing full well that our fate afterward would be uncertain at best. He was smart enough to be puzzled over some of his discoveries – for example, the stump of the shattered Obelisk, which had not been there on his last visit with us. But he looked to me for corroborration, and it was all too easy for me to feign ignorance or indifference, and thus allay his concerns.

That night, Van Dyke deftly poked at the ego of one of the soldiers concerning his ability to hold his liquor, and before long one of the other soldiers was proposing a drinking game. I like having Jacobs on my side because of his penchant for committing brutally efficient violence in a pinch, but in this case, it was his ability to drink any and everyone under the table that proved most useful. At the conclusion of festivities, only half the soldiers had even managed to stumble back to their cots. The rest were passed out at the table or on the floor.

The crate, and our weapons, were kept in the basement, behind an old door that the soldiers had secured with a formidable padlock. Ghosting through it and ferrying all our things out again would have taken too long. Smashing through was out of the question, of course. So I held the padlock in my hand, then ghosted, walking through the door with it firmly in my grasp, hoping it would come along for the ride. And it did.

On our way out, I saw LaGrande, passed out in the corner, snoring loudly. I fear he will get into trouble for our escape; I only hope I can make it up to him someday.

Our departure was not entirely undetected … as we slunk down the road that wound down the hill, Denis emerged from hiding and confronted us. Satisfied that he knew nothing else helpful, Lascelles had sent him home some two days earlier, but he had circled back and had been lurking around ever since. Taking his responsibility as a guide very seriously, he was not willing to abandon us.

“Denis,” Van Dyke said to him in Gallian, “We must be straight with you. Sharma is not a raja. I am not Gallian. These men are from Albion.”

“I know. The sergeant told me.”

“I am sorry we lied to you.”

“It’s all right. The truth is much more interesting.”

“Thank you for understanding. Will you go home now?”

“No no. I’m coming with you. You must escape la Quarantaine. And tell me more stories.”

Under the circumstances we could hardly deny him. Along he came.

There followed several days of high tension that are nevertheless tedious to relate. We took every precaution to hide our tracks, and stayed well clear of every town, and even of the roads whenever we could manage it. We frequently hid, and wasted long hours in an overabundance of caution, waiting for the right moment to steal alongside a field or cross an exposed stream. Finally we reached a stretch of rocky coastline out of sight of any village, and set up the beacon.

And we waited. For of course our only hope was to wait for one of the flyers to make a run to Garnsey, and hopefully, while there, detect another signal to the south and come to it out of a sense of curiosity. Who knew how long that would be?

Fortunately for us, as you no doubt know by now, the flyers were already looking for us, and Alona made a point of going to Garnsey when she might not have otherwise. We were waiting at the coast for only four days. I am far more familiar with skat, a Saxonian card game that Van Dyke adores, than I would prefer to be as a result. I am not proud to say that at one point I stole into the nearest village and, with the aid of my Ability, helped myself to food and water from the larder of the local inn. But eventually we saw the beautiful sight of an incoming aero, and are now reunited.

Alona brought important news. She stopped at the College, but Sanders was there to warn her off and send her on her way as soon as she had refueled. The Gallians are moving: they have already occupied Garnsey, and several ships of their fleet, as well as others from elsewhere on the Continent, are poised to cross the Channel. She detected our signal and came, but this means she will need to refuel again at Garnsey before she can make it back to you. She will have to do so under cover of night so as to remain undetected; so long as the Gallians do not take particular interest in the College it should be all right. But there is no telling whether, after reaching you again, she will be able to get back to me. We will certainly not remain here. All this is to say that I still do not know how or when I will be able to contact you again. But write nonetheless, and trust to our flyers to find a way!

I have scant minutes left, but let me briefly address some points in your letter. I appreciate your survey of all the assorted conspirators aswirl in this N.C./Society nonsense, and of trying to make sense of it all. I think now of the two of us at the outset of that fateful expedition, and we seem in retrospect to have been hopelessly naïve – completely unaware of the secretive agendas that were at play, and, even then, beginning to fracture.

Turning to Thorpe, and the notion of Bennington trying to restore him. It put a question in my mind: were I with you now, would I want to be restored? Of course I have the advantage of not looking like a giant lizard. But even so, the fact of the matter is that I would not want to lose this Ability, even if I could. It has saved my life on more than one occasion. And I feel am only at the beginning to appreciating its potential. It is his decision, as you say, but as you advise him, weigh whatever his new potential might be against, the advantages of seeing him restored. I am not convinced that the right answer to the question is so clear.

I would warn you about the possibility of a Gallian invasion, but to be honest, I am more worried for the Gallians themselves. True, it seems that the vortex storms are not as prevalent as they were. But I think of the vision I had beneath the waves – of a presence deep in the water that even now I hesitate to recall – and I am not certain that their fleet can look forward to a successful crossing. We will see.

Warm Regards,