Greysham, 5 April

My good Dr. Crane,

In one of your more recent letters, you encouraged me to reflect upon the quiet good fortune that visits both of our present conditions: namely, that neither of us are in destitute state of affairs, that we are relatively free from harm, horror, or hunger, and that we have, generally speaking, a wide latitude to decide at least our proximal fates and immediate directions.

Taking that to heart, and with Thorpe and his loyal lieutenant back among us, I have encouraged my fellow expedition leaders to take some well-earned leisure time for the purposes of personal reflection and, for lack of a better term, sanity. I will tell you what endeavors in which the others have immersed themselves a little later on, but before I do, I will hasten to add a note here that other folk here in Greysham have been far from idle. In fact, critical preparations are being made as we speak that may bring to an end at least one small portion of this nightmare.

However, first this: it delighted me to re-read some of the correspondence that had been exchanged between us—now that it is safely back in my hands. I am very glad I saved it all, and over the coming weeks I have resolved to re-copy it into a new journal-book (with the additional benefit of thoughtfully organizing it before I do so).

In particular I enjoyed that, during some of the darkest times of our expeditions to date, we took pains to remind each other of happier times at Big School. Do not worry, my dear friend, I am not deluded to think that only bright times lay ahead. But in reviewing these snippets of life gone past, it occurred to me that, in writing about them, we equipped each other with the hope that we may see again happier moments within a more normal and ordered world.

In one letter you reminded me of Mlle Tourno, our finishing teacher, who among her varied interests brought with her a great love of poetry. Not all of her pupils received her passion for verse: likewise myself, a stubborn and rather blockheaded boy, was quite immune to it. Or so I must have thought at the time, insulated as I was by my forbidden penny-dreadfuls and silly boasts with the other lads. Late last night, however, one of her favorite poems came to my mind, authored by Quentille, “the Pauper’s Poet,” late in the last century. This is one that she instructed us to recite, and as you will recall, we had to deliver it with the clearest diction lest we return to the beginning to start anew:

A thing unlook’d-for is a thing unfound
Until Fortune plies its trade
Then it declares its reason sound:
That it never was unmade.

Setting out maps with borders guessed
Did little for the rain
Every choice is turned-to on the test
When visions proven vain.

A path untrod is another world
A dream, perchance asleep
Then why should we fly flags unfurled
If only walls we keep?

Let’s slake our unswerving soldier’s tread,
Sang the muscle to the nerve:
We perceive a horizon’s road ahead,
But cannot see the curve.

Perhaps you remember more of it than I do. The mere fact that I can remember anything at all that has nothing to do with rat-men, or H-boats, or strange islands, or ancient beings, is a source of some astonishment for me. Indeed, it may also simply be the product of the current oasis of time that sees more preparation and anticipation than it does escape, combat, exploration, or travel.

The thing I feel compelled to tell you about is the status of Thorpe, as well as what activities Bennington, MacTallan, and Tollard have been busying themselves with. Now that I have made it this far with my letter, I think it best to first set out for you the information that we have uncovered following our interrogation of James Bledsoe, former mayor of Greysham—or, more accurately, his thorough and abject intimidation at the hands of our serpent-bodied captain with whom we have been recently reunited.

It was no small triumph of coincidence that allowed our transformed Captain to occupy the self-same room as Bledsoe for the duration of the questioning. Bledsoe, who was as shocked and terrified to look into his slit-like eyes as you might imagine, could scarcely speak for the first half-hour and after that only did so in a whisper. I attended the scene, with my journal and MacTallan’s pistol at the ready. Half-way through the ordeal it occurred to me how absurd it was to be keeping a weapon, since Bledsoe was quite immobilized from both the ropes and his own terror.

In addition to information relating to Bledsoe, what came from the exchange informed me a bit more of who Captain Louis Thorpe is (or was). Because of Thorpe’s previous membership in the group, he was in the prime position to determine the veracity of Bledsoe’s story and the orders he had received before our accidental arrival in his town some six months ago. In other words, because of their previous association, Bledsoe could not lie to Thorpe.

Bledsoe, as it happens, was a satellite within the same network of spies and military operatives who recovered the Essen finds and took them back to New Columbia for further study and analysis, under the watchful presence of the Society—who, as you conveyed to me from Van Dyke in an earlier letter, were meant to be co-observers. The short-lived alliance between the NCHC and the Society, while ostensibly formed for mutual benefit, now seems little more than a show in favor of an already tenuous transoceanic peace. The Essen finds tipped the balance of power far in favor of the New Columbians, whose guardianship of the beings that you named, as well as the attendant artifacts, was recognized almost immediately as a source of power well beyond modern weaponry.

The Society, far more loyal to its native Albion than it was those who it saw as clumsy hacks and foreign interlopers, made gradual but invisible moves to protect itself, summoning its ranks of far-flung but knowledgeable experts. This, I gather, would have been sometime after Rachel was transferred to Elizabeth College, as the alliance must have still held its integrity at that point. But with the experimentations on the body of En-ra back in New Columbia moving forward, as well the procedures on Rachel simultaneously progressing on Garnsey under the itinerant visitation of Brown, something snapped the alliance and fractured it into splinter groups.

That, from what Bledsoe confessed, was the confirmation of the existence of the Rexley Device on Skald. When we began our expedition in the wake of the cataclysm, and even afterwards when we were divided after the Incident, we carried several personalities with us who had come already with their private agendas. No longer a cooperative, each competing group had set someone among us to monitor the direction of the expedition and intervene if we had gotten too close to the objective that the other group desired.

I do not know exactly how your group managed to avoid this infighting after the Incident, but I recognize that confronting Brown—who is, de facto, the agent provocateur of the group that means to exploit the Essen finds for its own ends—is enough of a daunting task in its own right. One explanation is that, as it fell out during the interrogation, Smythe and Dodgson were two agents tasked with intervening should your group encounter the Rexley Device, but of course those two died well before my group learned of the object’s existence, and consequently you remained blissfully ignorant of their orders.

I can tell you that obviously Stratham and Thompson/Throckmorton were in this camp, as well as Gujparat, as I learned. But so was Thorpe. As for our captain, a shift occurred at the Cairns for the man, who recognized the power and potential of the Rexley Device to cure the benighted land and populace of Albion, and I daresay a more benevolent ambition overtook his senses that day. I think you can agree that his actions since that day have demonstrated good reason why we ought to trust him now.

As for his counterpart Robards, who knows? What you have narrated to me of his corruption and eventual defeat is a strange tale, but it does not indicate whether or not he had been involved in an earlier New Columbian/Society cooperative venture, or its fallout. Perhaps Thompson’s granting of a telesma to him was an effort to bring him into some clandestine fold—eventually thwarted, of course, by your own Rachel.

As for Bennington, I suspect she had been given orders to obtain the Rexley Device and bring it back to Elizabeth College. I do admit it is now on my mind to simply ask, and hold an overt and frank conversation with her. For some reason, I am loathe to do this, and Thorpe has not suggested it. Perhaps neither of us really need to hear her say what we already either know or suspect, and we both recognize that in the wake of this and other information—as well as in view of our joint, immediate, and arguably nobler cause of assisting the poor wretches who remain on Skald—there is no benefit to be gained in the asking.

Now turning to Tollard. It fell out during the questioning that it was from the former captain of the Sigsbee who Bledsoe had received his latest orders, although that was well over a year and a half ago. It is important to see Bledsoe in his true light: a sniveling and passive fixture of local government, at one time a council member of a little port town but appointed mayor in the days of fear and confusion that followed the cataclysm. With no military training and no moral grounding on which to fix a point of courage, Bledsoe had been brought into Tollard’s confidence with promises of financial gain after exploration of Skald, if the use of the port at Greysham was granted.

Of course, this leg of the Sigsbee’s journey was never made, owing to the disaster at Yarmouth; but Tollard, half-crazed as he already was (and perhaps already half-transformed at this point) made it on his own to Greysham, and from there, somehow, to Skald. Once there, of course, Tollard completed his mission, and the Rexley Device was his—but without a crew or any way to contact the outside world (including his superiors), Tollard’s descent into insanity was made complete, and he found a home (and a following) among his altered brethren. Bledsoe’s decision to allow Thompson to stow away on the Jagdschloss, as we understand it now, was a logical but ill-informed extension of his standing orders to assist a long-absent Tollard. What Bledsoe did not know, consequently, was Thompson’s intention to sabotage the boat, even at the loss of Gates, who was a known ally to Bledsoe. Bledsoe had believed that Thompson was going to kill or otherwise neutralize Thorpe, who had strayed off-mission.

As a further complication, Bledsoe believed that myself, as well as Bennington and MacTallan, were Society operatives seeking to gain control of Rexley before Gates and Thompson. This was reinforced by Thompson’s stories of Thorpe’s betrayal, and, secondarily, Stratham’s death. What is apparent to me is that, whoever the members are from either splinter group, both groups are convinced that the possession of the Rexley Device in the hands of the other group spells yet more doom for the world than was originally brought from the cataclysm, and suicidal risks are taken but for the prevention of that outcome. Yet, ironically, no one outside our group (myself, Bennington, MacTallan, Tollard, and Thorpe), and now you and whatever associates you decide to inform, know that not only has the Rexley Device been recovered, but we have it in our possession—along with an ample supply of “bright blood” that has been proven to reverse the effects of transformation and blight.

Thorpe knows, now, because only this morning, Bennington informed him of her intention to reverse his alterations and return him to his human state using the device. I use the words “informed him of her intention” more to convey that sort of physician’s comfort that I am sure you reflected in your travels, delivering babies and healing wounds among the unchanged villages along the Albionese coast last year. What I really mean is that Bennington informed Thorpe of Tollard’s own reclamation toward humanity (and civility) through the mechanism of the Device, which introduces the bright blood as a catalyst toward re-stabilizing the chaotic superstrata in the blood of a transformed individual. At this, the simple soldier was stultified, and replied that he would think about the matter. Perhaps he wishes to make more use of his Abilities now that they have saved his life and assisted in the takeover of the town from its corrupted leader. It is, of course, Thorpe’s own decision; but I have prevailed upon him that if he were to assume human form again, he might be able to better organize, train, and lead other able-bodied men from Greysham to assist in future missions.

One detail that remains in the dark is how Gates was able to gain copies of the men who were formerly under Thorpe’s command. On this Bledsoe appears to know nothing, and did not assist; nor did he recognize that anything was changed in the men during those days in November when they submitted to training for the piloting of the H-boat. Similarly, Bledsoe knows nothing of the whereabouts of the men, and on this score I personally consoled a visibly upset Thorpe (even for a snake-man) later in our private chambers at the Downborough Arms. A thought occurred to me that Thorpe may want to keep his Abilities for the time being in order to seek out his lost charges. After all, over the months we traveled together, I observed that he was nothing if not loyal to his men.

The existence of mooring equipment at Caeradarn for the Jagdschloss (or an H-boat like it) may be a further underscoring of the story that at one time the two powers had in fact cooperated and had pledged both men and materiel to a shared mission—if indeed we accept that the converted Saxonian H-boat was a Society contraption and that it was provided to the New Columbians for their use. This mission, I suspect, may have been an early expedition to Skald, which would consequently explain the existence of the Society bunker there that we encountered. Of this I cannot be certain; Thorpe had not questioned Bledsoe about this because my dear Alia had arrived with your latest letter after our visit with our prisoner. After reading the letter to our command group, Thorpe suggested that given Bledsoe’s previous responses, it was unlikely that he was privileged enough to know about the Caeradarn base. With Caeradarn now devoid of that Brown scum, however, it may be advantageous to us to attempt to recharge the H-boat with enough power to limp it there for repairs. With all of the other activities that are currently underway here, however, this may not happen for some time.

Ah, the leisure activities of our group—I had half a mind to close this letter but then I recalled that I had promised you some more narrative on that score. Besides her interest in returning Thorpe to a human condition, Bennington has spent the two weeks setting up and resupplying the town infirmary. This is, of course, because she knows that as the main physician here in the little town of fishermen and farmers, she will oversee the impending influx of Skald refugees needing medical attention, and there will need to be a way that post-transformation convalescence can be made private. Rachel’s latest donation of blood will go a long way in this, and you have Bennington’s thanks. She already has plans to extract a serum from the new supply of blood that can be used to inoculate people against unexpected transformation. We know that the good people here will not understand at first what we are attempting to do and why, save that we are hoping to help people who have endured a most horrific experience and life, and for that reason she has enlisted Tollard to recruit an additional stock of assistants, nurses, and guardsmen who can now staff what we affectionately call “Camp Greysham.” This walled-off portion of the town, with Bledsoe’s expansive house as its central building, will serve as a halfway-point between an intake of new refugees and their release into the populace.

As for MacTallan, he has been spending considerable time surveying the countryside around Greysham, not unlike when we first found him (although I reminded him that there are no longer stalwart Blood War veterans around to save him if he takes another poor footing along a cliff). He has a pair of bright-eyed assistants now, young gentlemen from a nearby farm, and has also made an informal lieutenant of Hollins, the insightful engineer who was instrumental in the repair of the Jagdschloss. The four of them have just returned from a venture to the Cairns, confirming it as a site of conveyance from Skald. This is most fortunate, since only the H-boat can safely make a crossing to the island because of the interposing storms; but it is damaged, has very little room for passengers, and is out of power, currently sitting dark off the coast some miles to the south. We now can organize the plan for MacTallan to energize the runes at the Cairns so that a party can be sent to find human survivors.

This plan, mind you, will most likely take several more weeks to come into full effect, should it even succeed. While we know that lives are at stake and we must try, we still have no idea what we will find when we use the mystical portal to Skald. Indeed, some of us have been there, and of course Tollard remains our best guide, having once been its rat-king; but whatever humans we find who have survived there may be fighting for their lives against those who remained rat-men in the wake of our escape. We have no idea of their true numbers, although Tollard put the original population of that cursed island at around ten thousand; and even if we were able to effect a relatively safe, systematic, and successful migration of humans from the island, we would still need a way to de-transform the remaining rat-men at large. A further complication, MacTallan tells me, is that although many groups of wererats had used the Skald-Thornskye conveyance line, he does not know the volume of living beings that may cross at any one time. At Thornskye, for example, we did not know how many of the ten thousand were able to assault the university tower.

That said, Crane, it also occurs to me writing this that we never found out how the wererats were even able to operate the Skald-Thornskye portal.

Upon reviewing these last few paragraphs, the activities I have laid out here no longer sound like leisure activities, but the tasks and endeavors of a crew still very much intent on working toward a rescue of Skald’s inhabitants, if not reclaiming some sense of civility, purpose, and friendship here amid a world that has gone so dark of late. What we are fortunate for, as I am sure Alia can confirm when she delivers this message to you, is that the storms that had so frequently battered the coasts of this land have seemed to lessen these last months. Far off at the horizon, where the blue-black meets the sky, we can still see them; and Tollard’s telescope confirms their swirling, menacing arms. But for now they remain at a distance, and we have begun to sense a resurgence of confidence among the townsfolk that their tempest-plagued days are at a close.

Finally, do tell me all you can of your “test run” using the conveyance lines and the map of their focal points; MacTallan believes your experience will inform his preparations. He feels the Cairns are “nearing an active state” but also has reported that the lines in the forest that he had mapped out some months ago have shifted in a way that he is not familiar with. It will very much help to know if you have been successful, and what factors led to your ability to use the conveyance lines with confidence, and whether or not your copy of the map is accurate. Alia has intimated to me some worry that should you become lost somehow, she and her sister will not be able to find you.

Be well and be safe, my friend.


Porthgain, 29 March

My Dear Rackham,

I was delighted and reassured to learn Thorpe is alive, and that you have been reunited with him. Delighted because, despite his temperament, even before his transformation he struck me as the sort of man one would like have in one’s corner in a pinch, and reassured because what had seemed to be a needless self-sacrifice now turns out to be part of a larger plan. As for the others who did not survive – whether they were enthralled or they were doppelgangers, it is troubling. We have seen precedent for both, now. Hopefully it ended with Gates.

I have my own Jagdschloss news, believe it or not. It begins with Van Dyke; I fear I may have conveyed a mistaken impression of him in my last letter. Where, in his constant wanderings in the Castle, I saw a sort of neurotic mania, there turns out to have been a measured purpose. six days ago he asked me to accompany him so he could show me what he had found. Deep under Caeradarn, in one of the passages that seemed to pre-date the castle itself, he had set up a number of lanterns so that a particular stretch of rough-hewn wall was well-lit.

“Do you see it?” he said.

I took me a minute to understand what I was looking for. “Yes,” I replied. “Though I can hardly imagine how you noticed it wandering down here with a solitary light.”

“I have had to be thorough,” he replied.

We were staring at what could easily be mistaken for a slightly rougher stretch of wall in what was already a rough-hewn corridor. But there was a good deal more rubble than usual, and if you looked closely, you could see pieces of wood amidst the stone – a fragmented lintel. There had been an opening here, another passageway that had collapsed completely.

“I could have blown my way through with explosives,” said Van Dyke, “But if there is valuable intelligence on the other side, we might damage it.”

“This looks like it was a larger sort of opening – a new passage, not a doorway.”

“Even so. It occurred to me that we had another option.” He looked at me intently. It took me a momemt to realize what he was thinking.

“You want me to ghost through the rubble and see what lies beyond.”

“‘Ghost’ through? Is that what you’re calling it? I like it.”

I believe I indicated in my last letter that, despite my secret being out, I had been very cautious about using my Ability in public. In private, however, was another matter. Ever since my gambit with the arrow my ability to ghost had not only come back, but seemed stronger than ever. I was able to do it more readily, and with greater control, than ever before. Hence, any qualms I had about Van Dyke’s idea had to do with what might lay on the other side, not about the process of getting there.

I picked up one of the lanterns and stood facing the rubble. “Very well,” I said. “Would you care to come along?”

He gaped at me, thunderstruck. “What on earth do you mean? Can … can you bring someone else with you?!”

“Perhaps. I have never tried. But come now, use your head. When I walk through a wall, my shirt and trousers come along for the ride. My shoes, my notepad, this hideously heavy pistol you insisted I start carrying. I fully expect this lantern will come along as well. None of those things are me. So clearly my Ability operates in a field around my person to some extent. If you stay close to me, it will probably work.”

“Probably?! You will forgive me for being a little cautious. Maybe we could test your theory on … I don’t know … a cat from the village or something.”

I shrugged. “Next time,” I said. I confess I did not expect him to agree to it. But seeing a man who is normally unflappable so thoroughly discombobulated was well worth the effort.

In any event, the actual transit was perfectly routine. I passed through twenty feet of collapsed rubble and emerged into pitch blackness on the other side. The lantern had gone out, and it took a few tries to get it lit again, but when I did I saw the passage end ahead of me at a wide stairway going straight down. Standing at its top, I was surprised to detect a salty tang to the air wafting up from below. I turned around and rejoined Van Dyke.

“It is safe to blow through the rubble,” I said. “But while we’re at it let’s get a few more men. I don’t want to explore down there alone.”

The hardest part was convincing Campbell to part with some dynamite from the Sigsbee’s armory. He relented, sending Barksdale and a few more men along to make sure everything was conducted properly. It turns out Van Dyke was the one most experienced in the fraught art of demolition, a facet of his background that I had not been aware of but did not find surprising. He managed to set the charges in such a way as to re-open the passage without bringing the ceiling down on the whole affair, and soon after the seven of us were making our cautious way down the stairway on the other side.

It was a long descent, angled in the direction of the cliffs, that finally opened onto a large cave. My best guess, later confirmed, was that it was at or near the water line, tucked behind the cliffs that loomed over the scrapped hull of the Woodmere. Most of the cave floor was covered in water – ocean water, as was evident from the smell. The parts that were dry, all along the right-hand side as we emerged from the stairway, comprised what can best be described as a dockworks. A wooden frame jutting out into the water was just the right size to nestle a submersible craft, and built into the side of the cave nearby were a series of storage lockers, workbenches, siphoning tubes, and an oversized winch.

Subsequent exploration confirmed our suspicions – that the space appeared to be designed to host a submersible craft the size of your Jagdschloss, and that the floor of the underground lake connected to the wide ocean via an opening in the cliff just below the water line. As best as we can tell, this area was not sealed off during Brown’s departure, but considerably earlier – perhaps around the time that the craft itself went missing. Unfortunately this meant that there was little in the way of helpful information to be found; certainly no clues as to Brown’s whereabouts. But if you should ever find yourself in need of equipment and supplies to repair or retrofit your Jagdschloss, then know there is a place tailored-suited to your purpose, albeit on the opposite side of our treacherous island home!

Interesting as that discovery was, since I have received your letter and MacTallan’s map, I have thought of little else. It is tempting, but undoubtedly dangerous, to view it as a menu of places we could go, via the conveyance network. Should we retake Thornskye? Visit Skald? Check on the Caledonian Obelisk that you encountered? If I am reading it correctly, there is a node under Becket Cathedral! Or maybe we should go farther afield – the map suggests that there is a node in the vicinity of Essen (unsurprisingly), and a few others on the Continent as well! But of course it is not that simple. MacTallan succeeded in transporting you and your companions, once. I am reasonably certain that I understand the principals and could do so myself. But the risk is great, the outcome unclear, and a safe return is by no means guaranteed.

This much we have decided: Van Dyke, Jacobs, Sharma, and myself will be the first to attempt to use the network. A small group risks fewer lives. It will be the same merry band as journeyed to Mont-Bré! As long as Jacobs and Van Dyke can avoid strangling each other I’m sure it will go well. I have not decided on our destination, but it will be a test case – using the network to go somewhere nearby and then returning as soon as possible, just to make sure that it works. Nevertheless, I am sending this off to you beforehand in case things do not go as planned. If we end up someplace unexpected, well, I’m sure we will be able to manage … but if we end up someplace where I cannot signal a flyer and continue our correspondence – that might be more than I could bear, my friend!

You have not asked for it but I am sending you Rachel’s gift, the bright blood she left behind. Use it if you may; keep it safe otherwise.

Warm Regards,


Greysham, 24 March

Dear Crane,

Before your eyes pass over this latest letter from me, I am sure that you will have already pored over MacTallan’s map. If all has gone well and Alona has made yet another successful run between Greysham and your location, then you have been handed a waterproof packet, in which has been placed carefully folded piece of nautical chart paper, next to this letter. This represents a clean copy of MacTallan’s best efforts to concatenate, organize, and confirm the known “active locations” of “paraclysmic activity.”

As I shared the details of your last three letters now with Bennington and MacTallan, it has become clear to us that we laughably powerless humans have become embroiled in an ancient struggle for power well beyond our ken, especially given the news and manner of Rachel’s departure, over and above the vexingly slippery Dr. Brown. Even Tollard seems now to recognize the hot fire with which he played, like an ignorant but fascinated child in the glow of sheer energy; he had not understood the half of his danger, and was thrice-blessed that it did not destroy him altogether. Quite half-crazed in the state that he had been when we found him, he was simply a product of the pull of this antediluvian power—and with his mind and humanity fully reclaimed now, he has become rather useful.

It was Tollard, you see, who first put into words the code that we had been receiving each of the five nights after Alia’s last flight out. It took us until the third evening for any of us to recognize that, around the same time each night, we would see dancing lights out in the water, faint like a distant star and lost to anything but the very periphery of our vision. A black storm had swept up the sea out on the horizon after the third night, but by then we had been sure of what we all had seen at different times, with Parsons corroborating our reports. On the fifth night, we were ready with Bledsoe’s telescope, trained out with a low-powered lens toward the east along the line of the dark water.

And there it was: blink-blink-blink. I wrote furiously in the log-book as Tollard called out the letters, translating from international military code. R-E-N-D-E-Z-V-O-U-S-C-O-A-S-T-1-1-0.

“Ship in distress?” Bennington asked from behind me.

“Not if they want a rendezvous,” Tollard replied, his eye still fixed out onto the water.

A bolt of inspiration hit me. I closed the cover of the log-book, its golden letters blazing. “I think I know who it is, and where they want to meet us.”

Tollard looked up from the telescope. My idea seemed to leap from my mind straight into Bennington’s.

“Only one other person in this part of the world would know 1-1-0 means the Cairns.”

“Then draw a parallel from that point out to the coast,” she said, picking up from my thought.

Tollard struggled to contain his confusion. “Who’s sending that message?”

Bennington and I smiled at each other, oblivious to Tollard. “Can you signal him in the affirmative?”

Tollard brought up the kerosene lantern that I had carried out to the rooftop where we had set up the telescope. Holding it aloft, he swung it upward and downward in wide strokes, looking not unlike an acolyte with a censer on a chain. After a short pause, three long, deliberate flashes came as a response from the dark mist.

Parsons was quite put out, not understanding quite why we had roused him from his sleep at his house—but we thought better of simply leaving, and not a one of us felt comfortable with staying behind in this urgency. In addition, it crossed our minds that venturing outside of town in the wee hours of the night was something generally regarded as unsafe, so informing Parsons of our intention to do exactly that seemed a necessary formality.

Dawn had just broken as we arrived on the chalk cliff, some twenty miles south of town. Bennington, MacTallan, and I scanned the water with a sense of uneasy anticipation mixed with a nebulous disbelief while Tollard started a signal fire, having located some dry brush along the cliff’s edge and some crooked sticks from among the grasses. Once we had been situated for an hour or two, our disbelief converted to an abject and undeniable reality: the Jagdschloss surfaced before our eyes, the copper housing of its Sehrohr jutting first over the water, followed by the sweep of its gray-steel conning tower.

“Impossible,” I breathed, my words swallowed by the wind.

As I write this now, we are joined around the ashes of our little fire, our coats pulled tightly around us in the chill air, facing the shocking figure of a man whose features have now been quite perfectly blended with a reptile. Thorpe wears no clothes now, and has little need of them: while he retains two legs and two arms, the remainder of his hairless body is covered in a skein of glistening scales, pattered green and red and copper-gold. His head has flattened, presenting the sleek aspect of a snake; his smallish black eyes have now migrated to the sides of his skull, with slits that alternately dilate and narrow as he turns his head. Where his jaw and chin once outlined his strong face, he now has a slightly elongated snout with a slit for a mouth, and speaks with an unmistakable hiss—although his voice is still very much his own as I remember it. Behind him follows a tail, protruding from his lower back and reaching easily down to the ground. As he spoke his tale to us, the tail swished to and fro, independently tapping out its own restless rhythm on the ground.

I captured what he said into the log-book after we welcomed him ashore—he jumped from the hatch and effortlessly swam the short distance in the cold water to reach us. Rather than to attempt to re-produce the ensuing dialogue between the five of us, I have copied what I recorded below.

“I had to find a way to separate you three from Gates. He had already brainwashed the men somehow. I was afraid that once we reached Skald, there was no way I was going to be able to protect you. Arasaku, Laray, Bell—all of them were already under his power. I don’t know if he had the same kind of power that Crane told you about with Robards, but I came to see that Kilcannon was the only one I could trust. Kilcannon and I had already planned a fake sabotage and a ruse to make it look like we had sunk. We figured that if we could get you three safely away from the boat and headed toward the island, it would give Kilcannon and I the time we needed to confront Gates and take our men back; once we had the ship, we would let Bledsoe think the boat was sunk. However, when Thompson showed up on board, it was perfect—we could blame him, get you off the boat, and take it over. But we had to move fast.”

“Gates wasn’t any fisherman—he was another NC spy, just like Thompson. He knew all about the H-boat and had been looking for it for several months already. When he found it, he and Bledsoe knew they had to have some way of including our men while still having control of it. What it was originally intended for—I have no idea. Gates is under our guard now, back on the ship. We gag him, partially in case his voice is somehow the source of his power, and partially because we do not want to hear his pathetic sniveling.”

“After I jettisoned your lifeboat, I took command of the ship from Gates, knocking him unconscious. The men all slumped forward in their chairs. I shouted for the lads to wake up, and tossed them about, but we were in mid-climb. After a few minutes Kilcannon was able to remember how to level the boat out and take the helm. But the men seemed dead, or at least in a deep sleep. Kilcannon shouted from the engine room that O’Doole and Bell looked the same way. Later, we saw that the two engine-room men had both been shot in the chest, and to us they seemed as if they had struggled before the end.”

“At that point, I ordered Kilcannon to gather up and eject some oil drums, spare parts, tools, and other non-essential items out from the starboard torpedo tube. We also figured that you would need some food and basic medical supplies, so we sent what we could find out of the tube, too—keeping enough for ourselves, or course.”

“In the port torpedo tube we had already loaded up a torpedo on a timer fuse. Kilcannon shot it out, and it worked perfectly. It detonated away from the ship, but amid our debris field. It rocked us fiercely, however, and we lost most of our power.”

“When we were able, Kilcannon and I went back to look at the men in the control cabin. The men had been awake the entire journey, of course, but Kilcannon and I had noticed that they seemed only able to hear Gates’ voice. In fact, I recall them acting somewhat strangely during the last day of tests—taking orders from him and not interacting with others—but as we had assigned them to Gates, we thought nothing of it at that point.”

“This is when we became convinced that these weren’t our men. Something about them looked odd, altered, as if they were being played by others in a costumed disguise. Kilcannon said he thought they had been sort of copied, like people constructed out of the features of others, but lacking their own true identities. For all of our efforts, we could not get a single one of them to wake up, and as the initial hours passed after jettisoning your life-pod, their skin went gray and ashen, as if rapidly dying. Kilcannon and I took turns pushing them into torpedo tubes and out into the water. But O’Doole and Bell, we gave them proper burials on the island.”

“Over the next week, we set to work repairing the real damage that Thompson had done to the engine screw motor. We finally got the motor to work again, but we had to set it at a lower speed to avoid further damage. With our food getting low, we knew that there wasn’t much time to find you on Skald. We got to the island, but you three were well on your way to the interior—our week spent in repairs without our engineers set us too far back. We found the concrete bunker and eventually tracked you to the cave you had stayed in; we knew it was you because we found the log-book there. But you had already vanished.”

“We had to backtrack south to the beach-head because of the wererat activity—it was just too dangerous for us to stay and try to figure out what happened to you. That strange island. While we were on the island, my transformation seemed to accelerate—look at me now. I am a snake-man, and from accidental discovery I found that I can change the color of my scales to blend in with my surroundings.”

“That’s how I got the log-book to your desk, in fact. In the week that followed our arrival—and then departure—Kilcannon and I went back to the Albionese coast, piloting the ship as best as we could with only three at the helm. We forced Gates to help us steer, dive, and surface, and he knew better than to resist us. It seemed to Kilcannon and I as if he had given up on some kind of mission that he’d had. Anyway, we put the ship up the shore a way from Greysham, and I swam ashore with the book. My skin helped me slip into the town undetected, and my only idea to signal to you that we were still alive was to put the log-book where I knew you had kept Crane’s letters, and where you had instructed the flyers to look for a letter if you were gone. I had hoped, anyway, that if you were alive and were to someday return to Greysham, you would find the log-book again.”

“Over the last few weeks, I had been able to make a few swimming journeys ashore. Going into town at night as the human chameleon that I apparently am, I was able to bring back food for Kilcannon and I, as well as our prisoner. However, something changed this last week, and I could sense it. I took a chance that Bledsoe was dead or at least no longer in power by signaling you off-shore. I am just glad it finally worked. The H-boat is now completely out of power with this last journey to the rendezvous point.”

Thorpe has now been caught up with the story from our end—our time on Skald, my temporary disembodiment, the discovery of Tollard and the Rexley Device, the use of the conveyance line, the “bright blood” and our time at Thornskye, our escape from the same, our arrival back in Greysham, and our arrest of Bledsoe. I explained to Thorpe that Bennington, MacTallan, and I act, at least in the interim, as the “council of leaders” for the little town—but in no wise do we harbor political ambitions. Rather, our current push is to find a way to rescue the human population of Skald and to convert its remaining wererat groups (if any did not make the crossing to the Albion mainland) into humans somehow.

Bennington has not yet offered to Thorpe the possibility of reversing his transformation with a droplet of blood, but I can sense in her that the gears are turning, so to speak. We have far less laboratory equipment than we did at Thornskye, and at any rate, we do not have the blood with us; it is locked up in a steel safe back at the Arms. But now we look forward to a morning’s journey back to the town, where we can put this letter and the map in Alona’s hands and set to planning a way to helping the people on Skald. The map, I hope, might also lead to an eventual re-unification of our two expedition teams at some point when our missions seem complete.

One final detail comes to mind as I close this letter, once more concerning the map. MacTallan used the largest sheet of chart paper we could find here in the town, and it also happened to be blank—we took it, among other useful things, from Bledsoe’s stock in his library. It seemed a small triumph in a way; there were many things in his guarded house that suggested that he had lived off the fat of his townsfolk for months. This is no small surprise to me, as I have seen the weakest of men profit from disaster: and not just this one, but the time after the Blood War, to be certain, as well as in the wake of the Novgorod Famine when we were boys.

I must confess—writing with no small show of emotion now—that a descendent of one of those men, I foolishly followed in those footsteps. You know that my father’s fortunes expanded with the shipments made to the Argyars and the Mondravians to those impoverished countries; as I assumed more of the operations of his business in my young adulthood, I began to see exactly how these fortunes had grown. He claimed expensive and risky ventures, but in fact he had exacted high profits from communities both dependent on the goods he sold while being insulated from all other competitors through bribes and back-room deals.

Although I pour out my thoughts here for you, I will of course thank you for your discretion in keeping these words private. Indeed, Crane, I financed this expedition many months ago, when we set out to determine the devastation that blighted our fair country, but I had made my own deals, calculating my own fortunes. I once had the thought that should we find something valuable from among the ruins of our once-proud cities and towns—say, for example, Society technology or some kind of new metal—then the expedition could be said to be worth the pains we took to launch it, and I would find a way to convert our discoveries to coin.

I no longer care about monetary gain, or living the comfortable existence as a wealthy gentleman. That life now seems half a world away, a faded set of impulses and cares built upon the shallow vanities of a forgotten time. I know have seen the real; I have known fear; I have found courage; and I have seen the greatness in others, a nobility that cannot be bought or sold.

I blame the reunion with Thorpe, the heady promise of returning to Skald, and my pangs of missing Alia for my sentimentality today. I had better simply end it here, and wish you Deus’ speed in your search for both Rachel and Brown. Where the one is, my gut tells me, so will be the other.




Porthgain, 18 March

My Dear Rackham,

Let us take a moment to consider our fortune: you have written to me, and I now write to you, from a place of relative security and comfort. Neither of us are imprisoned, missing, disembodied, or under attack. I do not expect this state of affairs to continue for very long, but it is a welcome respite.

I am including my own notes and drawings from the conveyance chamber under Caeradarn; please pass them along to MacTallan. I am hoping that they will assist him in completing his map. It is the single thing in all the world I want most to see, with the possible exception of another bottle of Lochnagar single malt.

Before I proceed to matters of import, I would be remiss not to fill in some of the gaps of my narrative, which has been so consumed with my own predicament, and with prior events, that I fear some of the supporting cast has wanted for time in the spotlight. To wit:

Campbell – Learning the fate of his countrymen, and of his father-in-law, hit the man hard. For a time I feared that his nerve might shatter, and took consolation only in that Barksdale (now his first lieutenant, if such ranks still have meaning) seemed able and level-headed enough to replace him if need be. But he seems to have found his means to keep it together, albeit with a demeanor that is somber bordering on the severe. The brash, talkative young man that first fell under Robards’ sway is no longer in evidence. I do not know at what point he will take his ship and crew and make for home rather than keeping common cause with the rest of us, but I am certain it is coming.

Van Dyke – He is bound and determined to hunt down Brown. I believe he is motivated in no small part by a desire to atone for some of the Society’s mis-steps, not unlike Bennington on your end. Lacking the expertise to assist me in the conveyance chamber, he turns his mind to preparation and security. While the rest of us spend no more time at Caeradarn than is absolutely necessary, he haunts it like a ghost, ever watchful for any sign of Brown’s return, hunting ceaselessly for one more secret to uncover.

Porthgain – I have not said much about the town. Thankfully there is not much to say. It is isolated, and its people are fiercely independent. Loss of contact with the wider world has not harmed it as much as it would a more cosmopolitan locale. Their hospitality has not faltered. For a time they were losing young men mysteriously in the night, but with Brown’s departure that has stopped. Now they are eager to replace the men they have lost, perhaps by convincing some sailors or soldiers to marry nice young Cambrian women and settle down here. If allowed, I have no doubt many of our men would take them up on it.

I have received no such offer, despite helping out the village with no small amount of doctoring. I am being left alone, which suits me just fine, but the reason for it is a cause for some concern. My secret, you see, is out. The fact of my Ability is now generally known. Van Dyke first witnessed it some time ago, but it is not his fault; he is a master of nothing if not parceling out information only at need. Jacobs and Sharma both witnessed my rather dramatic escape from the castle, and while the latter is the taciturn sort, the former is very talkative when in his cups. And he has been in his cups a great deal lately. He told a tale, and then, the Columbian sailor who has for months insisted up and down that he saw me fall through the ceiling of the grotto in Garnsey while on watch – his tale, which had been laughed at or ignored until now, was suddenly lent some credence. Then the matter of the prison break back at Garnsey came up again, and a picture emerged of a man who can walk through walls.

Among those I count as friends, and those I have worked closely with all this time, nothing has changed, of course. But as for the rest … when they think of men with strange powers, they think of Robards and of Brown. They regard me with caution at best, fear at worst. And their opinion has spread to the village. I had been thrilled with the return of my Ability, full of ideas for how I might use it in our exploration of the castle, or even to help with everyday tasks in Porthgain. Imagine the benefit of a ghosted hand in minor surgery! But it has seemed more prudent instead to keep a lid on it, maintain a low profile, and stay out of sight, out of mind.

Jacobs, who let the secret out, is of course the first one to come to my defense among the enlisted men. However, “Speak a word ill of im an Ill gouge yer eye out,” while welcome words of loyalty, are not necessarily well-suited toward smoothing things over and helping people accept my condition.

I have not mentioned Rachel yet, only because I have been saving my important news for last. It was two days ago that she came to me as I was working alone in the conveyance chamber at the castle, finishing my notes and drawings. I was surprised to see her; after her outburst at first seeing Brown, she had become even more withdrawn, content to spend her time in Porthgain, helping out the locals and watching the waves crash on the shore.

“I am glad you have come,” I exclaimed. “I have finished my notes but I have so many questions, particularly about this group of runes here …” It was a routine of ours: I would ask her things as if we were having an ordinary conversation, and she would smile demurely and say nothing. On the Sigsbee I would often think out loud when she was in the room, and even though she never made any response, even a silent audience often proved helpful to my thought process. I began in that manner then, starting to express my thinking aloud now that she was present, where before I had been working silently. But she interrupted me by placing a hand on my elbow. This in itself was unusual, so I looked up with some surprise.

“What is it?” I said.

She held my gaze with her wide, wise eyes. Then, to my surprise, she spoke. “I am sorry,” she said. The words came hesitantly, oddly accented. But before I could reply, the next word came far more confidently: “EZHEN.”

I had to look it up later. It is the ur-Samekh rune for stasis, cessation of movement. And as she spoke it, I froze in place, paralyzed. Not rigid, not cold – it was more as if time had simply stopped for me while it proceeded for everything else. Slowly, gently, she reached around the back of my head and removed the telesma, which I wore on a cord around my neck, and placed it in her pocket. Then she took a vial of red fluid out of that same pocket and placed it on the table beside us. She took a step back and met my eyes again.

“I am sorry,” she repeated. “I must go.”

Unable to turn my head, I could not see what happened next. But out of the corner of my eye I saw her proceed to the circle of runes on the floor. I heard her walk around it, muttering words in ur-Samekh. I felt a crackle of energy. And, minutes later, when I found myself able to move again, I was not at all surprised to see that she had disappeared.

It goes without saying that I don’t know where she went. But, after all she has been through, I cannot begrudge her her freedom. I certainly do not fault her for taking the telesma, which very likely belonged to her in the first place. My worry is that she has gone off after Brown without us. My hope is that we shall meet again.

Now you can see that my eagerness for MacTallan’s map is not only because of Brown, but also because of Rachel. In the meantime, I now have in my possession, I believe, some more “bright blood,” thanks to her. If Bennington believes it can be useful to your endeavors, I will send it along. If her success in undoing were-rat transformations lends us clues that will held against Brown, all the better.

Warm Regards,


Greysham, 14 March

Dear Crane,

They say the greatest treasures come in the tiniest of packages, and that the most profound of miracles reveal themselves after the most mundane of disguises. In this instance, you can imagine my welcome astonishment at finding your letters of 26 February and 9 March, tucked quite well inside the desk at my room at the Downborough Arms, like a child’s hidden Yuletide-present. Yet more to my surprise, there was an additional gift—if gift is indeed what I can call it.

Accompanying your letters was a thin volume with a grey cover, letters stamped out on the front in embossed gold: TAGEBUCH HAISCHIFF JAGDSCHLOß.

Not yet believing, yet drinking in the texture and slight weight of the little book in my hands, I opened it. Missing were the pages that would have held the left-facing entry for November 30 to December 7 on the right side. These would have been the pages that I extracted from the log-book and wrapped up with the additional chart paper, which I had found somewhere amid the washed-up wreckage of the submersible.

Tollard, Bennington, MacTallan and I are now sitting at a familiar table in the tavern at the Downborough Arms. Alia is resting from her latest journey in the bed in my familiar room here. I cannot tell you what joy it was to see the smiling face of my love again, our eyes wet from sheer relief at simply seeing each other alive. I will spare you further details of our meeting, as I feel that these would only ring hollow, since the information I have for you must needs take priority over selfishness and indulgence. But at least know, my friend, that I am alive and well, and so are the other three, and we can even say that we have safety and health—for now.

Tonight, my three companions and I are looking over the detritus of a well-enjoyed meal and the dregs of wine staining our glasses. For all of these restful distractions, I can still not quite fathom how this little book in front of me can be real, and if it is, how it should come into my possession once again. Its plain, quiet greeting there in the false bottom of the desk shook me quite to my core. Of all of the incredible occurrences that have happened to this tempest-toss’d band, the log-book’s unceremonious appearance is like a shard of abject unreality that cuts into a ribbon of remarkable yet otherwise explainable events.

I last had the log-book on the shores of Skald, and from there my memory fails. I must have had it when we first found the warm cavern, our hold for many days—but as I was then turned into a disembodied ghost, I confess a dutiful inventory of our possessions was not foremost on my mind. I might have assumed that the log-book had been put in with MacTallan’s chest of discovered Von Neumann works, but then it would have been brought with us to Thornskye. In any case, during our harrowing escape from Thornskye, all that MacTallan was able to save, sadly, was one particular precious volume and his map of conveyance lines.

Our escape. Almost one week ago.

We awoke to the terrible scratching at the safety door, as well as the cacophony of shrieks and gibbering far below in the courtyard. We convened in the common meeting room. Horror was etched deeply into MacTallan’s face, while I noted with some puzzlement the serenity on Tollard’s.

“Well, we knew they would return,” Bennington whispered, as the candles flickered in the gloom. “We just wait them out.”

MacTallan rose for a moment, pacing, moving to the window and then back again. I sensed that his mental energies were directed simultaneously at controlling his own panic while trying desperately to make sense of the situation at hand.

“But not like this,” MacTallan responded, finally sitting down. “Yes, they overran the Uni, a while ago. But they never gather in these numbers without a purpose.”

“What do you mean?” I remember asking. “Crane reported dozens at Sandown, for example.”

“Their raids were always at random, and usually motivated by food. Innesmere itself was pillaged over several weeks, and it was finally fully destroyed only after the Obelisk took its toll. The wererats came to Thornskye after finding that there wasn’t anything more at Innesmere but the dead. Even then, they never showed up in large numbers like this.”

“So we give them food.”

“They don’t want food,” Tollard suddenly interjected.

“What do you mean, man? MacTallan just said—”

“They want me.

We stared at Tollard. The din of what must have been thousands of rat-creatures filled the air far below, having redoubled its strength from when we awoke. He stared back at us, and at that moment I recognized that he was quite entirely in possession of his faculties now.

“They know there hasn’t been any food here for some time. You heard the professor yourself—that’s the only explanation for why we have been relatively unmolested here for the last month now. If there was something worth taking here, they would have done so by now.”

“How do you know they want—you?” I ventured.

“The sounds you hear outside aren’t from the same rat-men that ravaged Thornskye, Innesmere, or any of the ones that Crane’s expedition faced,” he continued. “They are my—people. From the island.”

The three of us listening searched each other’s expressions, finding an alien sense of plausibility in his words.

“They’ve come for revenge on me. They want me to answer for turning them into what they are.”

“Are you truly responsible?” I asked, instinctively.

“That doesn’t matter right now,” MacTallan reminded us. “They’ve obviously found a way to use the portal.”

Bennington snapped, a sudden fury taking her. “We should have been using the bloody thing this entire time to help those poor wretches! We should have been going back—”

Tollard shot back: “With what weapons? Rexley? Do you know how to power it? Have you fixed it?”

“Don’t pretend this isn’t all your fault. To think we nursed you back to health!”

I raised my arms and MacTallan stepped forward. Bennington and Tollard glared at each other with eyes of ice.

“This argument profits us nothing,” I finally suggested, “unless we can agree on a plan that includes going back to Skald to at least rescue the ones that Bennington transformed back into humans, if not save them all.”

“Are you serious?” MacTallan asked, incredulous. Bennington nodded her head and stood up in support.

“Quite. It’s the only thing right now that makes any kind of sense,” I responded.

We took several deep breaths in contemplation of my proposal. Finally, Tollard spoke again, his voice shaking.

“No. I must go to them and face my punishment. I must deliver myself up. It is my fault for having gone against orders. Perhaps I can be a distraction while the three of you leave somehow.”

He stood up and I interposed myself between him and the door.

“If you go out there, you do your ‘people’ no good,” I said.

His eyes focused on me. “This is my fault,” he choked, faintly.

“Then pay your penance with service as you once did. We’re going to need you, Captain. We’re going to need you when we finally get back to that bloody island and figure out a way to get those people to safety before they starve or get torn to shreds by the ones that weren’t transformed.”

This seemed to strike a chord with the man, who paused for a moment before sitting back down. The scratching and screeching we could hear from beyond the doorway became more desperate.

“We need a way out,” Bennington called, now spurred to action, as she dashed into a chamber to gather up the Rexley Device as well as whatever equipment could be carried easily.

I looked at MacTallan.

“The lines.”


“The one the rat-men are sitting on top of is the only one around for miles,” he explained. “But there is another, not too far from here. If—if we can get to Greysham again.”

“The Cairns,” I said, suddenly understanding.

The young professor nodded.

“So that’s why he’d insisted to head there. And why you were looking for it—”

“I didn’t have a clue what was really there until these past few weeks. Until I had a chance to study my mentor’s maps. I was working on a hunch, but apparently Stratham had access to more than I ever knew.”

I looked over at the pile of books. “You can’t take all of Von Neumann’s work with you this time,” I said, shaking my head.

“I won’t need to,” MacTallan replied. “I’ve been able to piece together a fairly accurate map from the several that I found. The map, my notebook, and one or two additional volumes—that should be what I need.”

“Gentlemen, there’s no time for this,” Bennington interrupted, exasperated. “We should be looking for an escape route now.

“Not to worry,” MacTallan said, suddenly a picture of calm. “Tollard, get up from that chair.”

With MacTallan’s directions, the three of us removed the massive conference table from its position in the center of the room, setting it aside with its chairs. I pulled away the expensive-looking rug to reveal a metal door set quite solidly into the stonework floor. Locating the key again on its strap around his neck, he set it into a recessed hole at the side of the door. It took Tollard and I assisting him to swing it open, its hinges creaking at the rust. Below, a stone stairway revealed itself to us and a cold draft wafted upwards. The air from below seemed stale but dry.

“Tunnels,” MacTallan explained. “Back in the days of the Blood War, emergency escapes like this were built into many buildings.”

“How do we know the wererats aren’t down there to greet us?” Bennington asked.

“If the rat-men were down there, we would have known by now,” MacTallan offered.

She peered down into the murky darkness of the stairway.

“The stairs are worked into the eastern wall of the main building and they bypass the cellar entirely. They connect up with a tunnel system deep below ground. If I’m right, we’ll find an exit to a road well outside of campus.”

“I’m not seeing any other options,” I finally said, standing up to gather up what I could from the supplies.

“Grab that lantern and help with whatever the doctor needs,” MacTallan instructed Tollard. “I’ll get my things.”

We fled, taking with us whatever we could carry in both of our hands and on our backs. The long stairway turned once and finally ended in a stout wooden door, which opened up onto a dusty stone corridor. For three miles, this passageway carried us, angling slightly to one direction and then another. An incline downwards and another little stairs took us deeper underground at one point; towards the end of the corridor three ponderous sets of stairs were necessary to return us to surface level. We finally exited from a little grotto, an open mouth of earth folded into a hillock in the middle of an expanse of forest. When we groped our way outside, dawn was breaking.

“This road will lead us toward Greysham. It’ll be a good day’s travel, and into the early evening. If we’re lucky, we can reach the town by nightfall and avoid the wererats.”

We approached the town, our relief flooding through us, quickening our pace and breathing hope into our hearts. We were greeted by good Parsons at the city gates, who of course recognized everyone except for Tollard. Giving us the equivalent to a heroes’ welcome, we were ushered swiftly back to the Downborough Arms with happy cheers and a crowd that followed us.

Confronting the coward Bledsoe was relatively easy, and it is one of the few times I have ever found myself with the desire to kill another man. I held back, of course, but the pistol that MacTallan had brought with him from the safe-room at Thornskye felt suddenly heavy in my hands and begged to be unleashed upon the man. After what I had seen, and after the danger he had put us in, I wanted him to pay. I wanted to convert him into an example in front of his town.

He seemed surprised, of course, to see us as we burst into the tavern at the Arms—but more mortified, in the way someone would look upon seeing a dead acquaintance come back to life to greet them. He stood up and Tollard quickly tackled him. Before his aides could come to his rescue, I pulled out the pistol, and backed them off. Seeing the confusion caused by those heralded as returned heroes confronting the town’s leadership, Parsons thought better of interfering, instead agreeing to accompany us to Bledsoe’s house. We interrogated the man there, most likely in the same room where Bledsoe must have kept Thompson out of sight after secretly releasing him from the wine cellar, the day before he boarded the Jagdschloss in secret.

Bledsoe confessed to collusion with the spy, having become convinced of Thompson’s mission to destroy Skald, and if that were impossible, at least sinking the Saxonian boat so that no one would gain access to the Rexley Device. Our unexpected reappearance was impossible to explain, since news of the wreck of the Jagdschloss had apparently reached the ears of the townsfolk; and the weak-willed Bledsoe at least opted not to introduce further lies. Neither Thompson nor Bledsoe had been aware of Tollard’s presence on the island, from what we gathered, and Bledsoe did not seem to recognize the former boat captain in our midst. Bledsoe’s motive for assisting Thompson, however, was the most chilling: when we questioned him, Bledsoe mentioned “Cambrian gold” and the “promise of seeing his wife again.” We left Bledsoe under Parsons’ overwatch, who is taking our orders, at least for now. I am thankful that he at least was able to quickly see to truth of this and give us his allegiance after the confession of his former mayor. Parsons is now acting as de facto mayor until an election is held.

Thankfully, it wasn’t until well after we left Bledsoe’s house that MacTallan noted that while he had taken a pistol with him from Thornskye, he had not taken any ammunition.

In the morning, I will let my beloved take flight again, and I will re-read your two letters in more careful detail than I have been able to these last few days. The story of your capture, the re-awakening of your Ability, the disappearance of Brown himself, and the last words of the Admiral, are all stories that I wish to relate to MacTallan and Bennington in order to bring forward their careful consideration. As for Tollard, we consider him joined in our mission now, but not quite in our full confidence. For that reason I am loathe to read your letters aloud or bring them into areas where we meet. I have also not disclosed to Tollard the death of Segismund, and I wish to withhold that until a more appropriate time. I think there is more that Tollard can tell us yet, and I have a vague impression that knowledge of Segismund’s death may change his motives somehow.

Please know that I have been most appreciative of your forbearance for my interruption in my part of the correspondence, and I will write again as soon as we here have decided on the next course of action. This will likely will be to muster a group of ships that can be used to transport whatever human survivors that we can find alive still on Skald to safety here in Greysham. For her part, Bennington favors the use of the Rexley Device and the “bright blood” to continue a de-transformation of rat-men, but I do not have the capacity to contemplate this at the present moment. I will say, however, that we have begun to discuss plans such as these and the role that MacTallan’s map of portals might play. Should you decide to hunt down that abomination Brown, MacTallan has already set to work on a copy of the map for your use. It is not complete yet, but expect it in a future missive from me.


Caeradarn, 9 March

My Dear Rackham,

Now it is my turn to write to you with a greater-than-usual sense of concern. Alona reports that neither you nor your compatriots were anywhere in sight the last time she was at Thornskye, and were-rat activity nearby meant that she could not tarry to determine your whereabouts. She left her delivery (including my last letter) at your pre-arranged dead-drop and left. Since then she has returned once to Thornskye but aborted her landing – the situation on the ground seemed “hot” to her and without any all-clear signal from your party she decided not to risk it.

I need hardly tell you that Alia has very limited patience for that sort of thing and will, before long, risk a landing no matter the danger in order to make sure you are all right. I am delaying her by insisting she wait for this letter, which I have told her contains important insights I have made in light of all our recent discoveries. That statement has the advantage of being true.

I myself am quite safe – if, after my last missive, you were anticipating a cataclysmic tête-à-tête with Brown in this one, you will be disappointed. He is no fool; he knew we would return after my escape, and made sure he was already gone when it happened. Other than two important discoveries that I will shortly relate, our storming of Caeradarn was a dull affair.

Because of this, I have had the opportunity to peruse some the intelligence taken from the Woodmere, as well as the (admittedly scant) notes and evidence pertaining to Brown here at the castle. I have also spoken with Segismund before he breathed his last. Rather than relate all of those investigations in tedious detail, allow me to synthesize them into a narrative of some recent history, filling in some of the gaps remaining after your debriefing of Tollard.

Dr. Amory Brown, a privileged child of whatever passes for nobility in New Columbia, entered a course of study under Dr. Von Neumann at the Extern-Universität of Tyrolia, as you had previously discovered. His time there overlapped for a few years with your man MacTallan, who, though he was undoubtedly the elder student, was eclipsed by the precocious newcomer’s unusual brilliance. Brown continued his studies for several more years after MacTallan returned home to Albion, even remaining after the point when political tensions rendered the presence of a New Columbian student at a Saxionan university rather complicated. At the outset of the Blood War, Brown managed to keep his head down, as it were, and when he was able to connect with a New Columbian regiment during the siege of Tyrolia, he was extracted and immediately enlisted on the field.

You will perhaps not find it too surprising that Brown’s regiment spent most of the war in and around Essen. Half of them did not escape the city in time to avoid its destruction. But Brown did, and when the war ended – ten years ago now, almost to the day – he returned home to New Columbia. He settled into what might have become a very ordinary life teaching archaeology and linguistics, but the immediacy and secrecy surrounding his return to Essen eight years later suggest that he maintained his connections with military intelligence, and may have even at this time been nurturing his contacts with the Society as well.

So then: Essen. What Van Dyke had told me about it earlier all checks out. Long after all the treaties had been signed and the other occupying forces had departed, an allied detachment remained in the ruins of the city. It included a number of New Columbians from Brown’s old regiment. The whole thing was shrouded in the highest levels of military secrecy, which explains why what would have been the archaeological discovery of the decade was unknown to the scholarly community at large and to those of us in the business. Brown arrived two years ago to conduct the dig. While the Society was not directly involved, one of the Albionese scholars there was affiliated with them to some degree. His name was Stratham, and I have every reason to believe it is indeed the late Stratham with whom you are already quite familiar.

Alas, I have no detailed reports on what they found in the impossibly ancient vaulted corridors deep beneath Essen. But I am confident enough to say that, whatever else they discovered, they found three people there, two men and one woman – people who should have been long dead, but instead were awakened as if from an incredibly long sleep. In runes above the chambers where they slept were, assuming an ur-Samekh pronunciation, three words: “EN-RA”, “ROS”, and “MAYIM”; whether those are their names or some other designation is unknown, though they are used to refer to them now.

There was a confrontation. Whether they were hostile to begin with or whether the expedition somehow provoked them, I cannot say, though I have my suspicions. One of the men – En-ra – died; the other – Ros – escaped; the woman – Mayim, who we know as Rachel – was captured. But all three of them were relieved of the amulets they had been wearing, the ones we now know as the telesma. (Indeed, I suspect that the removal of the amulets may have been what awakened them in the first place.) With Stratham’s help, Brown departed with the spoils: all three telesma, the captive Mayim, and the body of En-ra.

As you learned from Bennington, Rachel went to Garnsey, under the Society’s protection. But I am afraid she was not spared occasional trips to Caeradarn as a subject of Brown’s investigations. At minimum her blood was frequently extracted and analyzed, though I suspect she suffered more indignities than that. That is undoubtedly the source of her trauma and the reason for her hatred of the man. As for the body of En-ra, it too was subjected to all manner of experimentation and dissection, much if not all of which was kept secret from his allies in the Society.

On learning all of this I realized that I had assumed that Brown’s transition from man to monster must have come alongside his Ability: that, like Robards, some level of human weakness, overwhelmed with unexpected power, had caused him to abandon his moral compass. But in this case I am forced to conclude that the compass was cast aside at some earlier point: maybe under Essen, maybe during the war. Maybe he never had it. What is certain is that he was hell-bent on on extracting power in some form from these poor souls from another time. He succeeded in imbuing himself with an Ability, to be sure; whether it is exactly what he intended or just what he stumbled upon, we may never know.

Nor do I know exactly how it was accomplished, but the “dark blood” you mention assuredly had something to do with it. In a comminique between himself and Stratham, Brown, writing a year ago, indicates that his source of dark blood was the body of En-ra, and that he wants to find more. Why was En-ra a source for it, and not Rachel/Mayim? Is it simply because he was dead, or was something else at work? Would Ros potentially be another source, if he could be found? Questions without answers, at least for now.

Meanwhile, this tentative Society-N.C. alliance: your characterization of it from Tollard is apt, as it was never anything formal or complete, but was comprised of factions of both whose leashes were just long enough for them to get into this sort of trouble. Brown was a part of it, of course, but he seems to have been rather single-minded in his work on the telesma and dark blood. Others, most of whom we now know, were more concerned with the search for Rexley, and, as you have already discovered, the period during which all parties were harmoniously working together toward this end was surprisingly short.

That search was prompted by discoveries at Essen that suggested the location of Skald. The island itself is ancient, though it did not appear on maps until recently. Its rises from the waves and sinks again, cyclically, I believe, over a period of many years, though I cannot say for certain how many. The Society had long been obsessed with Edmund Rexley’s work, so of course they were eager to get to it.

Edward Segismund was already retired at this point, but was convinced by High Command to assist in this covert co-operation with the Society. He was given a cutting-edge ship, the Sigsbee, but he also took along his old command, the Woodmere, which he personally preferred, and which was slated for decommission anyway. He was personally motivated by fear: fear of the horrors unleashed in the Blood War, fear that his homeland was ill-equipped to deal with something similar closer to home. Unlocking the secrets of Essen, finding Rexley – he saw these as chances to gain crucial knowledge to buttress New Columbia’s defenses. But, to his credit, he was one of the first to realize things were not so simple.

His logs are a litany of hesitation and doubt: concern about his allies in the Society, distaste for working with deep-cover operatives like Thompson, reservations about using Rexley the more they learned of it. But above all, a deep disquiet about Brown. Even before Segismund learned what he was up to, he did not like the man. The mission to Gallia was the last straw.

It began in May of last year. Brown was operating out of Caeradarn at the time, but (rather impetuously, it seemed to Segismund) wanted to go on an extended mission surveying various locations in western Gallia. The Sigsbee was far too conspicuous for that sort of thing, so the Woodmere had to go, despite the admiral’s objections. (While Segismund was technically in charge, High Command had made it clear that what Brown wanted, Brown got.) For the next few months, the Woodmere skulked off the Gallian coast, dropping off Brown and his unsavory mercenaries under cover of night, picking them up again days later. It all seemed pointless to him, and Brown’s behavior was increasingly unsettling. When the landing party was days late for a rendezvous in September, Segismund decided to leave rather than risk being discovered and causing a diplomatic incident.

Imagine his shock upon returning to Albion, now ravaged by an altogether greater Incident. At Yarmouth: the Sigsbee gone, a blight upon the land. At Caeradarn: the same Brown (seemingly) he had left behind, calmly welcoming him back. When he began to understand what Brown had become, and what he had done to accomplish it, Segismund left again in disgust, now fully divorced from his original mission. The Woodmere spent weeks trying to find a route back west across the ocean, but was thwarted at every turn by vortex-storms. It tried to reach Garnsey, but failed again for the same reason. Up and down Albion’s coasts they wandered, alone.

Alone, I should say, by choice. Segismund could have found one of us. The Woodmere did not have a mooring tower, but it did have an aero beacon. But he deactivated it, fearing that the flyers would betray him to Brown and/or the Society. The notion seems ridiculous to us, but remember that he had been away for most of the post-Incident developments, and probably did not realize the extent to which old alliances had fractured and everything had been thrown into chaos. He was justifiably paranoid, and in the end, gave in to a kind of despair. Unable to get home, or find a safe haven he could trust, he concluded that his best chance would be to retake Caeradarn and neutralize Brown.

We arrived in the wake of that battle. Segismund had good intelligence on the number of mercenaries Brown had with him at the castle, but had not accounted for all the Brown-copies, and as a result things went poorly. After sustaining heavy losses, his forces retreated to the Woodmere, but the ship was overrun before he could weigh anchor. He ordered it scuttled rather than see it fall into Brown’s hands, and then he surrendered. Had he realized how many of his men would be cruelly assimilated, he would have had them fight to the death.

Two days ago we returned to Caeradarn to find it deserted. The first thing of note that we found was Segismund himself, imprisoned in a dungeon cell. I do not know why he had not been assimilated. I wish there was more to say about our encounter with him, but when we found him he was already a broken man, and learning the ultimate fate of his crew took away his last will to live. He spoke with me for some hours before begging me to let him sleep – a sleep from which he did not wake. So ends his tragic tale.

The second thing of note is what else we found beneath the castle: even lower than the dungeons, more chambers, even older still. A doorway with ur-Samekh runes around the frame. Past that, a room with a circle of runes carved into the floor. I recognized them instantly based on your (and Bennington’s) descriptions from Skald: we had found a node of the Ashkurian conveyance line network.

I would love to say we found it covered in dust, pristine and forgotten. But assorted detritus and disturbances in the dust suggest that the place has been visited very recently. And outside the castle, there were no signs to be found anywhere of a large group of people on the move. It is most likely that Brown escaped by way of a conveyance line – if MacTallan could manage it, then certainly he could as well. Can we ascertain where he went? Can we go there too, or perhaps adjust to another destination – even Thornskye? I will direct all my energies toward these questions in the coming days.

One final note. Segismund believed that Brown had caused the Incident. I am not convinced of this; I lean toward MacTallan’s theory that it was associated with a meterological event. But what seems undeniable is that he knew it was coming. He saw to it that one of his copies was abroad; he amassed vast quantities of food, water, and supplies at Caeradarn; he distributed two of the telesma to others – all in a short period of time just prior to the fateful day. He understands what has happened more than any man living, and he is loose in the world.

I can delay Alia no longer. While I am certain I will have much more to report in the coming days, I must send this off. I hope it finds you.

Warm Regards,


Porthgain, 26 February

My Dear Rackham,

Do you remember Mlle Tourno from our Everwood days? The headmaster brought her in on an assortment of Wednesdays, perhaps it was in our fourth year, to educate us on matters of etiquette. I recall she was something of a sensation with the older boys, for obvious reasons. But it is her lessons on the proper conduct of correspondence that brought her to my mind just now. Matters of penmanship and stationary that circumstance has forced us to abandon, but also rules of form and address that even now we continue to follow. I confess an impish desire to leave you in some suspense as to where I am writing from and what my current circumstances may be, so that I could reveal them with proper ceremony in the course of my narrative. But the fond memory of Mlle Tourno does not permit me: the heading of my letter must consist of the place of its composition, followed by a comma, a short interval of space, and then the date. I suppose in a way it is a comfort to adhere to such formalities. They are a connection to the past in a world where so much has changed.

But they have indeed spoiled the suspense: I write from Porthgain, the coastal Cambrian village nearest Caeradarn, and for these past weeks the Sigsbee’s home port. Let us roll back the clock, however, for the story of my escape depends on much that happened earlier, and though you have heard tell from our flyers about our first tragic investigation of the castle, hopefully my perspective will help you achieve a fuller understanding.

Over six weeks ago now, we ascended the cliffs and entered Caeradarn. We soon realized that we had come on the heels of a battle. The smell of gunpowder still lingered in the air, and streaks of blood were in evidence, especially near the castle gates – although, strangely, bodies were not to be found. We did not know it at the time, but Campbell and his men were also discovering signs of combat on board the Woodmere, albeit obscured by the shifting tides.

We proceeded with caution. Caeradarn is a rather traditional medieval castle in structure, though the addition of numerous crosswalks and elevated passages somewhat blur the distinction between its outer wall and central keep. One of the corner towers had been built higher at some point well following the initial construction; perhaps some long-dead baron had a plan once to transform the seat of his fiefdom into something a good deal more fanciful and grand, but he only made it so far as to extend the height of my eventual prison.

At first we were at a loss as to where to begin our exploration. But then we heard the screams. We followed the sounds to the great hall, only realizing then that they came from somewhere beneath, and, judging from the echoes, it seemed likely that the excavations beneath the castle might be substantial.

Those screams still haunt me. I have had the grisly duty of performing a battlefield amputation without the benefit of anesthesia; no scream of pain, even were it under the duress of torture, could have affected me so. This was somehow even worse. Not only that but we continued to see some gruesome evidence of fighting. At one point our way was barred by a pool of blood. Streaks of blood emanated from it, gradually fading, as if a body had been dragged – in the direction of the screams.

I say all this not to sensationalize, but to fully convey our sense of agitation and terror as we finally came upon the chamber. It was large, with an elevated ceiling, perhaps a storage room but more likely an ancient crypt, though now it resembled a cross between an operating theater and a site for ritual sacrifice.

And there was Dr. Brown. He was not alone in the room – several assistants were visible – but in those first few seconds he commanded our attention. He had something of the posture of a surgeon, leaning over a body splayed on a stone slab. Judging from its convulsions, the body had been the source of the screams we had heard, though in the moments before we entered they had ceased. Brown held no instruments; as he straightened to look at us it appeared that he had just been grasping the head of the poor man on the slab between his hands.

“Dr. Crane! Nice to meet ya again!” That voice, cheery as can be, unmistakable, terrifying. “You’ve caught us at a busy time, I’m afraid. Give us a chance to tidy up a bit and we can give you and your friends a proper welcome. How about dinner?”

That is when Rachel ran towards him, face twisted in rage. One of his assistants intervened, and they grappled there in the middle of the chamber. Van Dyke ran forward and pulled Rachel back to us, locking eyes with the assistant as he did so. “Crane,” he said, voice thin and strained, “Look at him. Look at him.”

What I saw was another Brown. Not identical, for this man’s build was slightly different, and there was a certain dullness in the eyes whereas the “real” Brown’s were hawklike. But it was somehow unmistakably him, not a chance resemblance.

“We have to fall back.” This voice came from behind us – Lt. Barksdale, who had remained at the entrance to the chamber. “We are being flanked. We have to fall back now.”

My own recollection of the ensuing hours remains muddled, but having had the time and the (unfortunate) opportunity to deal with Brown up close, and having the chance (at long last) to confer with my companions about that fateful day, I will lay things out as clearly as I can.

I do not know if it was a trap, exactly, but it is definitely the case that Brown and his forces had been aware of our approach, and most of them had remained silent and hidden as we entered the castle, allowing us to follow the screams down to the chamber. Then they had begun to close in around us; that Barksdale detected this probably saved our lives. As Van Dyke pulled Rachel bodily from the chamber, Brown’s assistants closed in on us, holding rudimentary weapons. My last glimpse back as I retreated was of the body on the slab, slowly sitting up, and its face … its face was also Brown’s.

The forces arrayed against us were of two types. First, New Columbian soliders out of uniform – mercenaries, or a rogue detachment, we still do not know, but in any case, loyal enough to Dr. Brown that they had attacked us without hesitation just as they had, the previous day, apparently battled their own countrymen without remorse. Second, the uncanny copies of Dr. Brown, which were by no means limited to those we had seen in the chamber.

Our group fought bravely, managing to stay together, but found the stairway we had taken down from the great hall blocked by the enemy. Van Dyke’s knowledge of Caeradarn’s myriad corridors was limited, but he seemed confident there was another way back to the surface somewhere, so we moved on through the lower halls, searching for an exit. A Brown-like half-man came lurching out of the shadows at me. I say “half-man” because his posture was ape-like, his rage animalistic, his strength enormous. The only saving grace is that his movements were choppy and clumsy, and even someone as untrained in the fighting arts as myself was able to wriggle free of his attempt to close his oversized hands around my throat. He seemed to lose interest and shambled back in the direction of the others, but our melee had taken us down a side passage just as they had been exchanging fire with soldiers attempting to cut off our intended route. As I pieced together later, what happened is that Barksdale perceived they were on the verge of being pinned down, and had one chance to surge ahead and escape the vice. He gave the order, unwittingly leaving me behind. As I stood and regained my own composure I realized that the voices I was hearing around me were not those of my friends. There was a side-room nearby, some long-unused closet with a dusty floor and a door of rotten wood. I ducked in and pulled the door shut behind me.

At this moment I was glad for the New Columbian-issue survival packs we had each taken from the Sigsbee prior to setting out for the castle. In addition to some simple provisions they had an insulated box containing candles and matches. I gave myself a little light then, and … I began to write. Perhaps a strange choice, I know. But I did not think my chances of finding my way out without being caught were very likely. And I had brought the letter I was in the process of writing to you along with me. I knew I wanted to hide it, but thought I should quickly add some note of what had just happened before I did so, especially if, as I feared, none of us were going to make it out of there.

I did not get very far. Maybe a few sentences beyond what you already read, lost when the page was torn. But when the pounding on the door began I barely had a moment to stuff the pages amid some debris in the corner before I was seized and knocked unconscious.

Barksdale, Van Dyke, and the others did make it out of the castle, save two brave souls (one sailor, one soldier) who died in the fighting. There they met reinforcements – Campbell, to his credit, had positioned a lookout at the top of the cliff, from where he could watch for activity both at the castle and at the Woodmere below in the water. This scout had heard sounds of fighting once it reached the upper halls, and had signaled the Sigsbee. Alia came up with the reinforcements, and proved to be the deciding vote in the question of whether to attempt to go back for me, as they had of course realized by then that I had been lost.

“Vote” is not the right word, exactly. Once Alia was apprised of the situation, she started running towards the castle gates. The others were obliged to either accompany her or stay behind, and no one much wanted to shy away where a woman did not fear to tread, much less bear any responsibility for the demise of one of the flyers. And so the now-larger group re-entered the castle.

They were fortunate that all this was happening very rapidly, and that the tactical situation remained, as they say, fluid. If Brown’s forces had had some time to assume defenive positions there would have been no chance of returning. As it was, the enemy was recovering from their own losses in the fighting, and certainly did not expect a counterattack. Alia’s gambit proved even more successful than they had hoped – the enemy was driven back, Barksdale established a control point in the great hall, and was able to lead sorties back down to look for me and to recover some evidence from the chamber where we had first encountered Brown (who was no longer there). For a while it seemed as if they may have succeeded in taking the castle.

But then the enemy counter-counter-attacked in greater numbers, arriving from still-lower chambers beneath the castle. Like a rising tide, dozens of Browns emerged from hidden staircases and unexplored corners, and our forces were sore pressed. Alia located the closet where I had been caught, and found my letters. Barksdale saved her from a particularly vicious Brown, and convinced her that nothing more could be done. Our forces engaged in a fighting retreat from Caeradarn; its great gates slammed shut as they made their way back down the cliffside to the Sigsbee.

I awoke in my prison cell in the tower. Why there, as opposed to some subterranean dungeon? Perhaps to keep me away from the secrets of the castle; clearly there is a good deal more to be found underground than what we were able to discover. But I suspect there was a touch of sadism in the choice as well. Brown would visit me in my cell and encourage me to take in the view of the foggy, windswept hills outside. He always couched it in terms of kind treatment of his prisoner, though I could not help but detect a hint of enjoyment in showing me a freedom he believed I would never have again.

I have gone far enough being elusive about Dr. Brown and his Ability. Time to lay out what I know. In addition to his occasional visits to my cell, he brought me back down to his Chamber on two occasions, and based on all that I have seen I have a clearer notion than I would like as to what he can do.

He can copy himself. His features, his memories, even his consciousness. Not only that, but these copies are linked – in earlier times I would hesitate to use a word like “telepathically,” but I trust you will not bat an eye at it now. This connection seems to function over great distances, although not at great strength. While he certainly recognized me from our meeting at Mont-Bré, it became clear that he did not know (or should I say remember?) exactly what transpired there, and wanted to get that story from me.

These copies are not created out of thin air, however. He needs, if you will pardon the macabre tenor of the term in this context, raw materials. For this, any body will do – even a corpse, so long as it is a fresh one. But a living body is best, and that is what we were witnessing when we first came upon his chamber. That is also the explanation of why we saw no bodies when we first entered the castle – Brown had been hard at work bolstering his ranks by assimilating the dead, the wounded, and the captured all alike.

I shudder to think of it, but surely you must recognize the eerie similarity between what he does and the transformative properties of the Rexley Device. What he accomplishes requires no apparatus or transfer of fluids, however. How he came by this Ability I still do not know; he was not with us at the Incident; he has thus far given no indication what his connection might be with Rexley. I suspect it may have something to do with the excavations under Essen.

At any rate, the form of each Brown-copy depends on the raw materials used. I believe that the copies closest in appearance and manner to the man himself – and I have seen a few that are nearly indistinguishable – come from healthy bodies and weak minds. I say “weak minds” because I have seen other copies that show evidence of inner turmoil, as if the host is actively fighting for control. These poor souls suffer rapid mental degradation and are most often seen as assistants or menial workers. And then there are the monsters, like the one that assailed me – nearly devoid of mind but uncommonly strong. These come from the bodies of the recently dead.

I was able to lay hands on a piece of mirrored glass and used it to signal outside, more as a way to pass the time than anything else. After eleven days in prison, one of my signals was detected, and soon after Sharma’s arrow found the arrowslit in the wall of my tower cell, sending me welcome word from the outside and allowing me to catch up on your activities as well. Back in Porthgain there was heated debate about whether it really was me up there in the tower. I do not fault those who believed me dead or lost. Between what they had seen and the things they retrieved from the chamber, my allies had a more or less clear notion of Brown’s Ability; why should he not have used it on me? But perhaps more to the point, Van Dyke had a clear notion of my Ability, and others, like Campbell, at least suspected it – none of them knew that it had been dormant since Carteret, though, save Rachel. Van Dyke’s assumption was that I should have been able to escape easily, and the fact that I had not rejoined them meant that I had almost certainly met my end, either by death or assimilation.

Which brings us to the chief question that bothered me during those long hours in my cell: why hadn’t I been assimilated? As I said, Brown brought me to the chamber he used to conduct that awful transformation more than once. Each time it seemed clear that that was what he meant to do to me as well. Both times he made me watch as someone else was transformed, no doubt to rattle me. On the second occasion he had me laid out on the slab, his fingers pressed into my temples – but then he stopped. And no, it was not that I possessed some great reserves of mental fortitude that he could not penetrate – it was more that he came to the point of it and changed his mind.

It was only upon receipt of your last letter – fired with astonishing precision by Sharma once again – that I began to conceive a theory accounting for Brown’s strange behavior toward me. Your own Ability appears to be dormant following Bennington’s use of the substance in the vials to return your mind to your body. Mine was suspended after Rachel triggered some power within the telesma. Brown’s own Ability proceeds unchecked, perhaps fueled by this “dark blood” from Essen, as you theorize. His questions to me about Mont-Bré suggest he was not just trying to understand what had happened to his copy there, but more importantly what I had done there. I regret to say that I had the telesma on my person when I was captured, and now Brown has it. He showed it to me once in my chambers, no doubt hoping to gauge my reaction. I did not give him the pleasure. “No matter,” he exclaimed, “It’s just a dead thing. Little like yourself, perhaps?”

Then, later, when he came to take to the ritual chamber the second time, his first words to me were, “Still sleeping, eh?” Which was odd, since I had been standing upright, staring out the window when he arrived.

As I said, your letter helped me put the pieces together somehow. The reason Brown had not tried to assimilate me is that he knew I possessed an Ability – that much he remembered from Mont-Bré, though perhaps the details were hazy. He suspected or intuited that it was dormant, but feared that attempting to transform me might somehow trigger it again. When he called me a “dead thing” or said I was “sleeping,” he was referring to my Ability, not my person. He was looking, perhaps, for some final piece of assurance that I was full and truly asleep and would not react in some fantastic way if assimilated.

Would I? I did not want to test that particular case. But his fear was a real one, in that I knew from experience that imminent trauma had been the most reliable trigger for my Ability in the past. It was upon this last realization that I conceived my plan.

I had to wait a while to carry it out. By this time I was receiving weekly deliveries via longbow – usually just notes and updates from Porthgain, along with a match to burn them after they had been read. These deliveries happened in late afternoon when the sun most reliably shone on the tower; first Sharma would signal me in readiness, then I would send a return signal with my mirror if the coast was clear.

It came to late afternoon on the appointed day. I could have done with a glass of something strong to fortify me for what I was about to do. As it was I had only my inner resolve to spur me on. But I knew it was only a matter of time before Brown concluded it was worth the risk trying to turn me into one of him, and I did not want to spend the rest of my days buried under the consciousness of an unnecessarily chipper New Columbian psychopath.

So then. Sharma signaled. I signaled back. I stepped away, counted to five, and then, standing on a chair, imposed my body over the entire length of the arrowslit.

The arrow hurtled straight for my throat. And in that instant before impact, true to my hopes, I woke up. I felt a tingle, not in my extremities, but in my internalities, if that makes any sense. My Ability returned just in time to save my life – my whole body ghosted, the arrow flew through me and clattered into the back of the room. I did not know how long it would last, but I had the presence of mind to solidify for just a moment to retrieve the arrow. Then I willed myself insubstantial again, jumped headlong through the wall of the tower, and drifted, cloud-like, downward. I solidified just enough as I reached the ground that I wouldn’t keep right on going, making for a quite graceful landing, if I do say so myself.

Sharma and Jacobs found me a few minutes later. The expressions of amazement on their faces were, admittedly, rather gratifying.

“We was goin to rescue you,” said Jacobs. He sounded almost disappointed.

“And I thank you for it,” I replied, “But don’t worry. You will get your chance to return to the castle. We are not done with Brown.” This seemed to satisfy him.

I have only been in Porthgain two days, enjoying some proper sleep and good food for the first time in a long while. I have yet to follow up on some important matters, foremost among them, learning from Campbell what was discovered on the Woodmere, and re-examining his story in light of everything you have discovered about Tollard. But I wanted to write to assure you of my safety, so those discoveries will have to wait. As will, if all goes well, the story of our assault on Caeradarn. That abomination Brown cannot be allowed to remain there in peace. He feared to awaken me; he was right to fear.

Warm Regards,


Thornskye, 9 February

Dear Crane,

My first impulse in beginning this letter is to offer some meek apology for my scrawled hand that writes—nay, carves—these letters, as they have the appearance of a school-boy who has only begun to shape the forms of the alphabet. However, in the first few lines, two truths are self-evident. The first is that I write by my own hand, having recently been reunited with my body. The second is that there is no guarantee that these poor words will even reach your eye—except by Sharma’s marksmanship, and some buoy of fate that sees to it that your spirit and body continue to remain one.

Bennington succeeded in her efforts; it was not until after I had awoken that she had described her plan as “a long shot.” This is not to say that I would have protested or stopped her if she had made that known to me. I did not know just how dangerous her theory was prior to my somatic re-introduction; there are many rooms to the mansions of our minds, and respecting Bennington as a woman of science, I cheerfully confined myself to the guest’s quarters, already richly appointed with memory and a desire to bring order from the chaos that the Society has caused.

As for my awakening in my body, it was like being born an infant once again. I have spent the last few days learning to walk, to speak, to eat, and to use my hands. Since I had not spent a considerable amount of time outside of my body (a matter of weeks), I may have perhaps avoided a complete disconnection with it. As you had the intuition to see, with every passing moment I spent outside my body, the risk of not being able to return increased in like measure. A few more weeks, Bennington thinks, and I would not have had a physical vessel to which to return.

Bennington effected this return, in fact, with a solution made from the a few droplets of the blood in one of the vials (which fortunately we recovered from that desperate scene back at Skald along with MacTallan’s books and documents). The secure rooms in which we have secluded ourselves at Thornskye have enough rudimentary laboratory and kitchen equipment that Bennington felt confident enough to at least put her theory to the test. By introducing the blood taken from the Elizabeth College vials in some sort of stabilizing medium (such as a simple saline solution) into my body, she reasoned, it would cancel my Ability, the equivalent to a de-metamorphosis in my case. To assist in my consciousness accurately locating and re-animating my body, she also created a powerful sleeping agent for herself, so that her mind’s activity would not interfere with the transfer process. MacTallan watched over us as we slept, some fourteen long (and perhaps much needed) hours. As I was told after I woke up, Tollard also maintained an aloof, but interested, vigil.

Fortunately the re-learning process has been a matter of days thus far and considerable progress has been made, hence the words you see here. I might have written sooner but today was the first point at which I felt I could manage a draft of anything I had to tell you; and, with things quite uncertain at your end, I took more time to gather information from Tollard in an attempt to assist you to the maximum extent. The most notable change for me now, of course, is my Ability: I can no longer reach out with my thoughts to scan memories, ward or no ward, and to be blunt, I am glad for this.

In the meantime, as my fingers remember their dexterity with the pen, I can at least tell you what information Tollard has brought forward these last few days, unsolicited and quite forthcoming. It was at least a week before he produced any communication toward any of us; and when he did, it concerned only his basic human (or, recently re-humanized) needs. What astonished me, however, is that Bennington never doubted that he would remain with us in the secure areas of Thornskye, and we needed little oversight of him. Bennington’s demeanor, in fact, was more of a concerned physician than an enemy or a one-time captive. To assuage both my warnings and MacTallan’s disquiet, she explained to us that she believed that Tollard’s curiosity regarding the blood in the vials would win out over whatever inimical feelings he had toward us following his permanent de-transformation. In addition, she offered the logic that Tollard knew better than anyone that he would no longer be safe out in the wide world to face his former, now estranged, minions.

I will share the gist of Tollard’s information that he has told us, but with my apologies you will allow me to paraphrase, as my hand is not nimble enough to record dictation; but more to the point, while he does not escape, he is not always lucid. Would I were a young man back in Urquart’s class, Crane—you recall that he had us copy whole passages from Panthopheles and Demostio in the original classical Hellenic—would that this pen flew across the page and have captured more authentically Tollard’s utterances. Still, many of these utterances sounded, following the Bard, “all Hellenic to me.” In some cases, I can call them ravings; but Bennington has also been able to synthesize a sedative from the materials found here, so fortunately we have a solution on-hand for the occasional times Tollard experiences attacks of dementia.

It seems your theory may have some weight: indeed, the Society and the New Columbians were working together, or at least a cell of the one and a command group of the other. It is not yet clear if the whole of the two organizations were represented by the actions of the core group of operatives, or if one or both groups had gone “rogue” from its leadership. What does seem to emerge, however, is that after the Essen dig, the New Columbian High Command saw fit to act on some information that was received at the time of the dig, and Segismund had commissioned Tollard to captain a ship to explore the isle of Skald. That ship was meant to be a joint venture by the NCHC and the Society, and in fact on that boat there was at least one Society operative. This may connect now with your conversations with Van Dyke and the confrontation at Mont-Bré.

From Tollard’s point of view, Campbell was not only oblivious about the mission, but he had been deliberately lied to, perhaps for his own protection. From this I cannot deduce much about his father-in-law’s motive except to surmise that Segismund may have had another step in the plan at Yarmouth, and because of the devastation or disruption that was found there, was never able to complete that step; Tollard had made a mention of “additional orders” but I confess that was uttered at a time when he was being sedated. It now logically follows that when Tollard succumbed to the Incident, he made his way somehow to Skald. Changed as he was, a remnant of his humanity remained to drive him that goal. And that goal, it seems, was recovery of the Rexley Device. What vexes me now is how the scuttling of the Woodmere fits into this, much less its very presence on the Cambrian coast. Was it hastening to oversee the next step in the “additional orders,” or was it there as a stop-gap after original plans went awry?

It seems now that there was a race: even though the mission of the NCS Sigsbee had originally been a joint venture to recover the Rexley Device, there was a faction within the Society that had become intent on reaching it before the Sigsbee mission, and the NCHC now had a competitor in its former ally. Perhaps enough mistrust had been sown between the two organizations, exacerbated by the Incident, the horrid transformations of the population of Albion, and the appearance of the strange sites of supernatural power. The possibility of an acrimonious rivalry that emerged from the smoldering ashes of a cooperative, but abortive, effort between the two organizations seems reinforced by two factors: one, that Thompson, working as a spy for NCHC, had secondary orders to destroy the isle of Skald (somehow) if the Sigsbee mission had failed; two, Thorpe’s awareness of Thompson at the outset of our venture, his subsequent disassociation from Thompson (which was revealed to me that evening at Greysham), and his final elimination of Thompson onboard the Jagdschloss, at the apparently unnecessary sacrifice of Gates and his crew. Of course, the missive to you from Thompson himself, a copy of which I remain grateful to you for sending, cements all of this.

Another piece of information here that does not fit with any other thread—yet seems immediately relevant somehow—is that in the Daguerro-graph recovered from Stratham’s items, Segismund is not wearing the uniform of an NCHC officer. Is it possible that late in his career—after a retirement from the military that was meant only as a gambit—he turned secretly against the NCHC and used his position of admiral to leverage opposition, or at least subversion, of the Sigsbee mission? If this is true, what did he know and when did he know it—but alas, to learn those secrets is ostensibly your aim, and from what the simple but stalwart Jacobs reports, you currently have larger problems to resolve.

Next, I have reason to believe that Rachel is not the only—perhaps being is a general enough term—that was disinterred at Essen. Tollard’s fitful ramblings gave rise to something he called “dark blood,” and it did not seem that he was referring to what you sent in the vials. A theory that Bennington and I have is that it was this “dark blood” that had at one time powered the Rexley Device, and the device at that point was then employed as a weapon—bestowing a curse of lycanthropy. This, of course, explains nothing of how Tollard was changed into his half-rat form—although in a format not matching his underlings—unless the Rexley Device had been used on him; but I think it more plausible that he suffered a transformation at Yarmouth, not unlike Graustein and Thorpe, but of a different sort. At any rate, it could account for why Tollard thought that the blood in the vial would power the Device in like fashion as it had before; but this blood, as evidenced by the de-transformations of the ratfolk and my later recovery, has been proven to possess different supernatural properties. The connection I see here is that if this “dark blood” existed, it must have powered the Device, but have come from someone or something with a nature similar to Rachel’s and equal in power. I shudder to think that Brown may have a connection with this somehow.

One last item that I want to relay before I must stop and rest my shaking hand: I have not been able to get out of my mind the “click” I heard—we all heard—as the rat-Tollard fitted the vial of the blood into the Device. It seemed to have been made for the fitting, which, in my opinion, means a Society intervention. It is sufficiently intriguing to me that Bennington knew enough about the Device to know that the strange contraption that accompanied it was not part of Sir Edmund Rexley’s original design. But the additional steam-powered assemblies and the fittings that allowed for the vials to be inserted struck me as similar in intention and character as the diving-apparatus that had been affixed onto the Jagdschloss. The fact that the vials you recovered from Elizabeth College seemed already fitted to supply the converted Device is not insignificant, I daresay. I wonder now if someone at the College had intended to recover the Rexley Device and use it for good purposes—post Bennington’s tenure, of course, as she had no recognition of the containers themselves, although she did recognize the contents. If the theory about the “race” I described above holds true, then this would appear to be another piece in the puzzle that fits.

I hope that these stray bits of information, thoughts, and theories, if they fall under your living eyes, at least gives you something to ruminate about while you are detained at Caeradarn, and may make a connection that is useful somehow. In the meantime I will relate to Bennington what good Jacobs says about assimilation and ask if she has any clues from her research, and in like manner we will consult with MacTallan, who is as inaccessible as Tollard is, but for different reasons—he has immersed himself once again into the chest of Von Neumann documents and writings like a man obsessed.

I very much hope that I will receive a letter—from you or one of your company—that will tell of better fortunes for you and for the crew of the Sigsbee. Until then, we continue to wait, research, and listen.

May Deus protect you, my friend,


Porthgain, 27 January

Well I better introduce meself startin off. Im Mortimer Jacobs, used to be in Captain Robards company though that aint exactly a thing so I must be a mercenary? Though I aint exactly gettin paid so who knows what I am. Maybe the doc has mentioned me in one of those letters hes always writin. When one of the lasses said it was a man named Rackham he writes to, it put me in mind of the time I was pulled up for bustin into a warehouse owned by a bloke name of Rackham. Dont know if it was yours or one of your kin, but after that was the time I had to chose between Newgate and the army. Guess its clear how that turned out.

Anyway probably youve heard from the lasses by now about what happened to the doc but the reason I am writin is that you may have heard he was dead and he aint. Sure hes locked up in that castle and all but we figured out he was bein kept in the tower and figured out which window on account of some sort of signals he was sendin out that the lasses picked up on. Me mate Sharma (hes a Pandjy if youre wonderin about the funny name) even wrapped up some stuff round an arrow and shot it straight into the window. From two hundred yards, fukin hero of Sherwood here! Anyway your last letter was in with the stuff so I hope it was an excitin one because he aint goin to have much more for readin til we can manage a rescue.

And see thats a mite more complicated than it should be on account of Campbell and Van Dyke believin the doc to be dead. Well not dead exactly – that skeevy lowlander said it was likely he had been ass-mutilated …

… ok me mate Sharma is readin over me shoulder and he just explained that the word was supposed to be “assimilated”. That makes more sense – a good buggerin will mess a man up good but not to the point of bein dead as a rule. I dont know what he means by assimilated exactly but Im bettin its somethin to do with that sick twist Brown. That bloke is creepy as fuk-all and there aint no shortage of us whod be happy to just keep sailin and leave him be. But here I am stupid me standin with those who want to go back to the castle and take him out. On account of loyalty to the doc and all. See he patched me up right more than once now and even hatched me outta the glasshouse on one occasion, and now that we know hes alive its one of those decisions that aint really a decision at all.

Now Van Dyke, he is a skeevy lowlander as I have said before and I still think fondly of the times I punched him in the face. But I will say two nice things about him. One, he did right by us all at Carteret, kept his head, which aint no easy thing. Two, hes all for goin back after Brown. Not for docs sake, him believin him dead or assimilated or whatever, but on account of Brown bein a dire threat to the whole wide world or some shite.

No its Campbell whos most like to just up and leave. Can I take a moment here and just ask what the fuk is up with these Yanks? Near as I can figure it was the Yanks on that sunk boat fightin the Yanks with Brown all before we got there. Blood in the halls and all that. Seems like if they all hated each other so much they couldve done the same thing on their own side of the pond and kept Albion out of it. Anyway Campbell walks around with that glassy stare – hes realizin that there aint no command structure any more, just him and his tryin to figure out what to do. I had me own moment like that a ways back and I remember enough what it was like that I wont call him weak. Man cant hold his grog but he aint weaker than any other Yank.

Anyway, some of us are plottin a rescue and we thought you should know that. Meantime we found a village with some normal folks further up the coast which is where we are now. They got a bit of a situation with men disappearing in the night recently but if thats their worst problem theyre doin all right, world as it is.

Point is were safe for the moment and if you write again we can get your words to the doc thanks to our Pandjy and his keen eyes and steady hands. Two hundred yards, with a bow taller than his own self! Hes a freaky marvel and I aint just sayin that because hes sittin right here.

Me hand is fukin tired from all this writin but Sharmas remindin me of stuff I didnt mention yet. That Rachel ladys still here. Deus beard, if you saw her face when she saw Brown! Shes like to claw his eyes out with her fingers if she sees him again. Never ever saw her get wound up like that until she saw him. Needless to say shes all for goin back too. Shes a funny one. Body like your best mates sister but eyes like your grannys. Nobody knows what to do with her. But shes worried about the doc so thats somethin we got in common.

And Brown, I guess thats the main thing, you knowin just what the deal was there. I put a bullet in one his creepy assistants but it wasnt till I got a good look at him lyin there that I realized he looked just like Brown. Maybe not exactly, but as if he had spent a year or two in Bedlam and come out a little loopy in the head but strong like an ape. And that wasnt the only one. Got to the point in that fight when you had to check every body to see if it was just a Yank gunman or another Brown lookalike. Makes you wonder if the bloke Van Dyke did in on that hill in Gallia was the real man or just another copy. Hell the bloke in charge of the castle might not even be the real one either now that I think on it. Or what does the real one even mean? And how does he make copies of himself like that?

Fuk if I understand it. Im just waitin for the chance to put bullets in Browns till we run plum out of em. Hopefully bring your mate back safe too. Then he can explain it all proper and I wont have to write any more damn letters.


Thornskye, 23 January

My dear friend,

If you are still alive, and if this letter somehow—by Deus’ grace—reaches your eyes, it shall be no small monument to the perserverance and sublime qualities of the entirety of both our crews. Mine, a researcher, a doctor, and a disembodied ghost of a man aching to return to the gilded cage of his own familiar flesh; yours, a sea-captain, his crew, a man of science, and a woman of innumerable years and impossible origins. Between us, gallant sisters flying near-constant journeys between us, a vital link of news, discovery, and goodwill. Without them, I do not know how we could carry on.

It has been a full fortnight since our last communication, and your last—well, forgive me, Crane, if my words come with hesitation even as Bennington’s fingers sketch the letters of my thoughts across this page. I am very afraid that you may be dead; worse yet is the fear that you may have died in a most horrific way, at the hands of some unholy revenant or phantom of a man. I know that you (unlike us) have the employ of many strong men and proven fighters, but given what we now know about the changes endured by Thorpe and the hordes of wererats, we have seen far too many good-hearted men succumb and twist to mysterious powers.

I will carry on with the assumption that you do not yet know that brave Alia was able to locate your letter, a bottom edge torn off as she found it in some dreary chamber at Caeradarn, and that she passed it to Alona. Alona herself was fortunate to have found us, or more accurately, we were the fortunate party, as we were no longer on Skald to be found at the time she had connected with her sister in Gresyham.

It was your Lt. Barksdale who protected an unwitting Alia from one of Brown’s “assistants,” as you called them, and all that I know of it is that he did this with pistol in hand and with no small measure of athletic ability on his part. This was told to Bennington, third-hand now, from Alona yesterday evening, as she recounted all of the details of her experience in Greysham and her fruitless search for us along the coasts and into the interior of Skald, nearly exhausting her aero’s amberite piles twice before at last seeing the beacon well to the north, on the Albionese mainland. To reach Greysham, Alia was able to make an efficient and timely escape in her aero from the Sigsbee thanks to Barksdale, but I confess I did not get the full story: and Alona only recounted what little Alia knew, despite Bennington’s questions for details on your condition.

I have not yet reunited mind with body, as I mentioned at the outset here, but it has not been for a lack of trying on my part and ongoing medical administrations on Bennington’s part. From what I see of myself through Bennington’s eyes, I seem peaceful, and the broth-and-water diet has effected the loss of a few pounds, something perhaps that I will welcome should my mind animate my own skin again. Would that I could simply walk with my own legs and talk with my own voice—while fascinating, this condition is maddening.

Yet it may be all changed tomorrow: Bennington has committed to attempting to what she calls the “final solution.” It is a cure that we know will work—as we witnessed it ourselves—but are both loathe to utilize, for reasons that shall become apparent as I narrate what has occurred these last two weeks.

I now will suggest to the good doctor that we explain to you where we are and how we came to be here. Alona will of course do her duty and bring this to Alia, who, I believe, will then attempt to locate the Sigsbee and hope that you are found safely aboard it. I write then in the solemn hope that the discoveries I describe here are not recorded in vain.

Yes, the Rexley Device had been used as a weapon, Crane—but it was never meant to be one. It was meant to be an instrument of healing.

The night after the last letter we wrote to you, Bennington awoke in a crude cage of bound wood, deep under the Skald mountain. I had been unconscious, too—while my mind and personality was still joined to her at that point, her body had not withstood whatever force had been applied to her, and my consciousness had followed suit to hers.

She looked around with the bleary vision of a sleeping infant, seeing distant, flickering lights hovering about in all directions, and felt cold, damp stone on her face. At this point I recognized that I was waking too, and, being no stranger to the torpor of a painful awakening following my many episodes in exercising my Ability, I believe I was able to find lucidity somewhat more quickly. In this way I was able to assist her in returning to full alertness, and I suggested that she focus her vision on any nearby light source.

As her eyes adjusted to the low light, we could make out the sullen and darkened face of MacTallan next to us, bound up as we were, but conspicuously outside of a cage. He had been left—or deposited—on the uneven cavern floor beside us. Bennington was close enough to him that she could discern the gentle motion of his lungs taking air, and thus we were consoled for the moment that he was still alive.

Over the next several and painful minutes, Bennington and I gave slow but terrible recognition to the fact that we were now located within a relatively central and somewhat higher point of a massive cavern system, whose corridors and gaping arches vanished far out to shadowed horizons. The lights we saw were the green and yellow flames of fires that were set, at regular intervals, among crowds—legions, I tell you—of creatures, vast armies of rat-men, kept as orderly and as submissive as an army of a conquering Hellenic general. Some could be seen running between groups, others could be seen squeaking about along the rings of fires, and yet others moved like moths between ledges and cliffs along the high cavern walls. The distant and chilling sounds of drums could be made out from the echoes that made their way to our ears.

At this, MacTallan sat up and groaned, exposing his bruised and cut face. “Bennington? What—”

“Take some rest,” I heard her say, “it could be our last.”


At that moment the three of us became aware that my body had not been conveyed to the place where we awoke. Bennington stood up, now, her body and head aching with a thousand bruises.

“I don’t see you, Benjamin,” she whispered aloud.

‘They may have taken you for dead,” MacTallan suggested.

I proposed an idea to Bennington. “He says he is going to try to reach out with his consciousness.”

I summoned my energy from deep within my thoughts, calling upon it to propel me outward and into the murky gloom of the cavern, over the hordes of—

Slam. It was like striking a stone wall—and I could feel it pushing back upon me, almost crushing me, like the ink-black waters outside the crippled Jagdschloss. Something was preventing my projection. I could sense that I could leave the confines of Bennington’s body, but my perceptions could travel no farther than just outside our makeshift prison; I could spin my altered vision fully about, but I could see no more than Bennington, MacTallan, and a nearby sputtering torch that had ostensibly marked the location of our future judgment.

Bennington involuntarily collapsed into a broken heap, her hands losing their grip on the rough-hewn bars of the cage. I joined with her body again, and lent my awareness to her, waking her up.

“Let’s not try that again,” she whispered.

“Agreed. I do not know where we are, but I believe we must assume my body is lost,” I replied.

She and I breathed together, as one, there in the shadows. MacTallan found a more comfortable position, propping himself up along our cage, fearing what was next for us. We listened to the drums and heard the faint shrieks of the rat-creatures. After several long and terrifying moments, we recognized that there were markings in a rough circle around us. These were set at regular intervals at the edge of the wide rock plateau that rose gently above the swelling scene in the cavern valleys to all sides of us.

“These look like what we found leading toward the obelisk at Loch Bairne.”

Bennington nodded. Then, a flash of memory. “You weren’t with us at the loch.”

MacTallan’s face turned slowly, and his black eye squinted. “You were there?”

Confusion reigned only for a moment, suppressed by a new, inexorable immediacy: just then several groups of rat-men swarmed up the sides of the plateau, screaming a cry that jolted both Bennington and MacTallan to attention. MacTallan, his arms and legs still bound with a cruel length of rough rope, fell over and called out in fear. The rat-men stopped to congregate in throngs along the sides of our little flat stone hillock, and many more torches were brought besides the one near us that had already been lit. In this dazzling firelight I saw thousands of eyes, stretching like a red sea into oblivion.

Bennington’s blood was chilled, and I could do nothing to calm her. The rapid pace of her heart had us both gripped in a panic. I knew I could not project my consciousness very far, and I feared that if she were to die, my spirit would also be lost. MacTallan at least had the sense to sit up, observe his surroundings, and shout back at the things, to no obvious effect.

For a few moments the wererats seemed to hiss and stare, with words barely intelligible through their high-pitched voices. Then, on an invisible cue, the chant went up. It sounded like the word “Higher, higher,” but then it settled upon us that the army of rat-men were chanting a name, casting their voices up and shaking the stalactites high above.

He emerged from somewhere within the crowd. Throngs seemed to step aside to accommodate him, but for several long minutes we did not see anything but waves of movement among this sea of altered humanity. When he arrived, we understood everything, and we watched astounded as he appeared.

His left arm was encased in matted brown fur, and his left hand was twisted into a rodent’s sharp claw. On the same side, a muscular, fur-covered leg bulged out from tattered trousers. The rest of him was still passably human. He stood, imperious, at the edge of the little stone ring, and then strode confidently into the center to stand in front of the cage that held Bennington. It was then that we noticed his rodent-like facial features, more subtle than the other rat-men, many of whom seemed uniformly rat-like from the waist up and somewhat still human from the waist down. He wore a tattered naval captain’s jacket with New Columbian insignia, but allowed it to drape over his bare shoulders like a cape.

“Bring me REXLEY!” he commanded. “We will teach these inferior humans who the real masters are!” We watched him double over slightly as he shouted into the crowd, his voice becoming shrill and finally finishing with a sinister laugh.

Turning to us: “We finally have the good doctor—and the professor as a further gift.” His New Columbian accent was barely detectible over his transformed voice.

“Tollard,” Bennington breathed. “Impossible.”

“Not so. Not after our own expedition.”


“As they say in my country,” he sneered, “the early bird catches the worm.”

At this, Bennington sunk to her knees, and I could feel the very despair that began to cloud her heart.

Tollard’s snout contorted in a hideous expression of mock pity, his rodentate teeth bared. “Now don’t be sad, Doctor—you finally get to see the fruits of your labor.”

Tears welled up in my companion’s eyes. For the first time I understood fully—she had been duped. Her life’s work. She never knew the ways that it was stolen and corrupted.

Four hulking wererats carried the apparatus, steadily trudging up the little incline like pall-bearers to a funeral. It was a contraption built around a copper and steel chassis, with pumps and tanks housed within a skeleton of pipes and valves. At one side was a smallish basket and a rod, with a hose extended to one side.

“No—not this—this is not what the device is for!”

Tollard looked back with a mocking smile.

Quickly, I asked Bennington what knew about this device—what she had not yet revealed to us. She showed me a memory of a droplet of blood dissolving into a vial, half-full with a strange green ichor. The green turned to transparent water when the red cloud had expanded inside the vial.

“Edmund Rexley was a healer,” she silently said to me. “He had discovered a panacea.”

“And the device?”

“Quite the opposite,” came the sad thought, in reply.

Bennington and MacTallan watched as the great machine was brought up, and another body was brought into the circle, conveyed on the shoulders of another team of wererats.

It was me.

“Let us show you what your contraption can do!”

With the flip of a switch, the machine thundered to life, filling the cavern with a whine and a methodical thump. It was the unmistakable sound of heavy pistons of iron pushing against the inside of a steam engine.

Squealing, a rat-man lunged toward us, took MacTallan by the hair, and pushed him down next to my sleeping body.

Taking the rod out from its holster on the side of the engine, we could now plainly see that the Device had at one time been a rudimentary medical instrument, one part early syringe-and-plunger, one part catheter, and one part container, all made of a fine glass. At the bottom of the portion that formed the base of the container chamber there was a copper pipe. This pipe extended out to an attachment that held in place a single glass tube with a rounded bottom.

Tollard stepped forward, the black hose trailing behind him.

“Doctor, this was your design. You should do the honors,” Tollard hissed.

I searched her emotions. Bennington felt outrage, horror, and defeat—but not the sting of guilt. She resigned to follow his commands in powerless humiliation, but she would not punish herself for a sin she did not commit, as shocking as her hideous captor could make it.

“Not mine—”

“BUT YOUR PRECIOUS SOCIETY’S!” came the booming accusation.

It was clear to me that Tollard—if this figure was even Tollard anymore—had found an unexpected moment of triumph in our capture, like a boon had finally descended to him from the same cruel heavens that had long cursed him. In this moment, he had decided to pour out his rage and pain, displaying it to his commanded legions with all of the sickly sanctimony of a tyrant.

My mind leapt to Robards for a moment.

That caused Bennington to recall Elizabeth College. Her long years of work. The vials—

As the rat-men beside him pulled a rope, our wooden cage lifted into the air, exposing her—us—to the imposing shape of Tollard looming over us, death-wand in hand as it pumped something through the hose, which dripped a green ichor onto the gray rough-hewn cavern stone.

“You see, when my boys found you, we thought we were out of luck,” Tollard wheezed, the words finding a whistle around his elongated front teeth. “But then you brought us a marvelous gift.”

As if acting as the debased celebrant of a profane ceremony, Tollard held aloft the rifle-like rod to his loyal crowd, using his clawed hand to display it high. With his human hand he twisted the empty glass vial in its socket, dislodging it and casting it to the ground in one fluid motion.

“Bring out the blood,” he called.

From the crowd a pair of wererats stepped forward and produced our equipment, wholesale, as it had apparently been taken along with our unconscious bodies. With a booted foot upon MacTallan’s trunk, Tollard stretched out his hand, and in it, a lieutenant placed one of the vials you sent.

The vial fit the socket perfectly, turning into place with a perfect click.

Upon seeing this I suddenly felt a wave of calm interest flow through Bennington, washing over her like a wind. Something inside her seemed to engage, and I sensed something like a mechanism of thought coming to life. It was her scientific mind, taking hold over her, pushing out the fear.

“What is in that blood?” I asked her, with silent words.

“I don’t think it is what he thinks it is,” she replied.

“YOUR APPARATUS IS READY, DOCTOR!” Tollard abruptly screamed, laughing maniacally at the same time, his eyes blazing, not at her but across his crowds.

Bennington shuffled forward and he pushed the device into her hands.

It was lighter than it seemed; the glass of the original device seemed elegant, benign, almost sacred. The end of it had been cruelly retrofitted with a heavy iron ring, copper piping, and round valve, which joined the long hose extending from the remainder of the machine. A metal trigger device had replaced the original stopper at the top of the plunger.

It was then when I made a suggestion to Bennington. She smiled imperceptibly and agreed.

She stood, in mock defeat, over my unconscious body and the cowering form of MacTallan. He looked up at her—and at once understood. With as much movement as he could muster, he put space between himself and me.

The gray mist that emanated from the device seemed a mixture of the red liquid in the vial and the green ichor that Bennington had showed me in her mind’s eye a few minutes beforehand. The device allowed the solution to atomize and then billow out toward a target, in this case MacTallan. The mist settled quickly upon him and stuck to his exposed skin and clothing, soaking in rapidly, as if he were a sponge.

Nothing happened.

MacTallan smiled at Bennington. “Now.”

Bennington turned and pushed the trigger again, this time aiming squarely for Tollard, who had the wherewithal to take a step back, but not the presence of mind to flee completely. The mist captured him, taking him fully within its boundaries, and magnetizing itself to his form.

His screams reverberated throughout the stone of our chamber. With piteous cries of agony and tortured spasms Tollard began to transform—back into a human.

Bennington wasted no time. Stepping forward, she opened the trigger completely, allowing the hose to run tight with a fast flow from the machine. Spraying first at the vanguard of the creatures nearest to her, she waved the device at any throng of creatures that dared to lunge at her, and then simply any that she could see. As they began to shriek and transform, she then walked along the perimeter of our little circle, letting the stream of gas find any target it could from among the rat-men who had not yet fled in panic.

Several minutes of this went on, and finally Bennington closed the trigger, lowering the device only when she came to rest astride my body. Our enemies now withdrawn and scattered, MacTallan set to freeing himself from his ropes, having found a sharpened blade from among the items dropped by the retreating creatures. Dozens of former wererats, now naked humans, lay before us on all sides, their twitches and convulsions slowing with the end of the transformation process.

I quietly proposed to Bennington that we could at once recover the Rexley Device and ensure that it never was used for corruptive purposes again, and she nodded her assent. Bennington walked over to the machine and switched it off. Holding the device aloft, she brought it down and smashed the end pipe against the side of the machine. The glass broke off inside its copper mount, releasing the remainder of the device to safer hands.

Just then, a fully human and half-naked Tollard stood up, jacket still draped around him, looking much like a forlorn castaway in a drunken stupor.

“You will be coming with us,” Bennington and I heard from behind us, and there stood MacTallan, knife in hand.

I had not seen a violent aspect on the man since I had met him; he seemed spurred in a way, at least to sudden action, perhaps half in the heat of the moment and half as a result of the scene that stretched out before us.

“MacTallan, you’re not hurting anyone,” I heard Bennington say. “Tollard will be coming with us of his own free will—isn’t that right, Captain?”

To my surprise, the broken man simply nodded and cast his gaze downwards.

“Then at least be sure to bring my research with you,” MacTallan said as he nodded toward the chest. Tollard, casting more a figure of a petulant child than a mighty warlord, grimaced but dutifully took hold of the chest.

“What about the others?”

“If this works the way that I think it will, then we can come back for them within a day,” MacTallan offered. “Then we find a way to safely help the others that fled.”

Tollard looked up at MacTallan and the academic met his eyes.

“That’s right, Captain. You were sitting on the bloody thing the entire time.”

MacTallan looked down and found the side of the circle a few feet away. As he walked along its circumference, he called out syllables with every step. As far as I could tell, he was reading the very runes that he saw on the floor, etched deep into the rock. How he was able to discern them from the broken and worn stone, I perhaps will never know, but as he did so, a strange mist began to rise from the floor. As Bennington and I watched, it enveloped us, my inert body, and Tollard, still holding the chest. MacTallan joined us in the center of the circle, and motioned to Bennington to assist in taking up my body. Bennington held up my limp arms as MacTallan lifted up my legs, facing forward.

The mist was as wet and as cold, like a Yuletide fog. It permeated our nostrils, covered our eyes, and slithered its way into our ears. “Just breathe,” I heard MacTallan call out softly into the heavy air.

Our vision went black except for a tiny and faraway point of light, like a star against the deep curtain of space. For a long moment, Bennington tried to focus her eyes on the light, but each time she did so, it seemed to fade. We could both see the light if she viewed it sidelong, using her peripheral vision instead of staring at it directly, as her instinct told her.

“Walk forward—slowly.”

It was like treading in mud: there was no visible source of resistance, but Bennington’s legs seemed as if fettered with a hundredweight chain. I could offer no bolstered will or additional force to her. Time felt slowed, or irrelevant, and even as we appeared to approach the light it seemed to dance away. Bennington and I could see nothing around us, and we could only hear the labored breathing of our two companions.

She shivered from the extreme cold, and although there was no wind, it felt to me like walking into a blizzard. Bennington’s fingers and toes went numb and her ears ached.

“Keep walking,” we heard. MacTallan sounded like a man at the bottom of a deep canyon, calling upward. We could account for no ground gained as we went.

As we did, Bennington’s limbs began to warm, and her steps became less labored. With each passing step, the air became easier to breathe and our vision became clearer.

I cannot say how long we spent in that state, but I recall that my consciousness was fully aware of every passing moment, yet I cannot account for the travel itself to have taken more than a mere second or two of time. When we exited, it felt as if we were awakening to the dawn of a new day with bright light that caressed and welcomed us. When we opened our eyes again, we found ourselves in a courtyard, under a great oak tree, surrounded by stone buildings. The sun shone in the east, a herald of a fresh winter’s morning.

“This is Thornskye.”

We stumbled out for a moment, looking up and around, in disbelief. Tollard set the chest down and fell to his knees, inexplicably weeping. MacTallan and Bennington set my body down onto the ground, the dead grass around me painted with a thin layer of frost.

“This is why it was built—it was what we protected.”

Bennington looked at the professor. “Wait a moment—I thought it was overrun by rat-men.”

“I didn’t say it was safe. But we couldn’t stay there, could we? We need to find a way to help the others who are still back on the island. And this might be a place from where you can carry on your work.”

Bennington looked at MacTallan with a sideways glance. “Society?”

MacTallan smiled back. “Not on your life.”

“What about Rackham?”

“We can’t take the risk of leaving him here. The books will be fine for now. Tollard, take him up.”

Bennington and MacTallan ventured into the university campus quickly, followed by a grunting Tollard. He had shouldered my body, draping me over his back. My mind still joined with Bennington’s, we saw scenes not unlike the school at Innesmere as we followed corridor after endless corridor throughout the buildings. Evidence of struggles and pitched battles, of desperate defenses and daring escapes: doors torn from hinges, toppled walls, broken windows, and smashed furniture, in every corridor and in almost every room we hurried by.

“Up these steps.”

We ascended a wide wooden stair that led to a single door at the landing. Unlike the other doors we had passed, this one looked solid. There was evidence of scratching at the door, but we saw no broken lock.

MacTallan reached around to my neck and slipped off the leather strap with the key.

“I knew enough to let him keep it since the lifeboat. If I had asked for it back, we’d have lost it. But when I saw Thorpe produce it, I knew he had no idea about the key either.”

Bennington smiled. “I had wondered what that was for.”

The lock gave way easily with a turn, and MacTallan ushered us in.

Behind the door was a set of rooms, more ornate than the decoration that was hinted at before Thornskye’s overrun. It seemed to be a place of refuge—and of observation. Several large windows looked out onto the wide forested valley below. The first of the rooms were laid out as small apartments, each with a gas stove, WC, bed, and expensive furniture. Down a wide corridor we discovered what appeared to be a meeting room, a small laboratory, a library, and a larger kitchen.

MacTallan instructed Tollard to set me down onto a bed. He came back after several minutes with the news that the tinned food stores were intact, and that it looked to him that this entire area had gone unmolested by rat-men. The water supply was also still flowing to the kitchen area, he reported, and had located several oil lanterns for use at night.

“We can’t house everyone here,” Bennington finally concluded.

“No, we can’t, and I don’t mean to,” MacTallan replied. “But we can’t leave them on that island, either. Maybe they can find a way—”

“Back to their homes? They don’t have homes anymore.”

MacTallan nodded sadly. “For now let’s take refuge here—it’s our best hope for recovery.”

“And the flyers? They will come to the island and not find us there.”

“This I have an answer to, doctor. Do you think Elizabeth College is the only academic institution with an aero beacon?”

An hour passed and MacTallan returned, out of breath, with the chest of books.

“I’ve done it. We have no way of knowing if Alia or Alona will see the beacon all the way from Greysham. If the storms return it will certainly make that impossible. But on a clear night—we may just get lucky.”

Crane, you now know the rest of the story. For his part, Tollard has been silent: he has made no threatening acts, and in fact seems quite catatonic, spending most of each day on his bed and taking little sustenance. Tomorrow we will attempt to finally unite my consciousness with my body. I may well die in the process, but Bennington assures me we have exhausted all other avenues. If you receive this letter, Alia will tell you whether Bennington has succeeded or failed, as her plans are to remain at Thornskye until the procedure has concluded.

Until then, we have escaped the island, found safe refuge and are reflecting upon our new discoveries. I hope that this letter finds you well—in truth, simply that it finds you.

Bennington, for Rackham