Caeradarn, 15 January

12 January

My Dear Rackham,

Yes, I acknowledge that it is you, even if the handwriting is not your own. While I am sure Bennington is capable of a great many things, I have no reason to think she would be able to so impeccably imitate the peculiarities of your written voice. Your accomplishments … projecting your consciousness outside your body, crossing space, descending into the minds of others … the implications are staggering. But I encourage you to direct your energies toward restoring yourself to your self, if you take my meaning. One’s mind and body are not so easily separated, present circumstances notwithstanding. I fear for the long-term health of one or both the longer they remain disunited.

As for your encounter with the rat-men … I suspect we have both long harbored the idea that they were once ordinary people. Now you have confirmed it. But if their transformation is the result of the Rexley Device, my question is … what does that have to do with the Incident, and the chamber where we found the stone? As far as we know, our world was turned upside-down from that moment, far from Skald and with no apparent connection to Rexley. Perhaps the two are connected in some way. Or perhaps it was wrong to assume that every change we have seen in our wracked and ruined world came as a result of the Incident … perhaps some came from Rexley and other Society machinations.

We will get to the bottom of this, hopefully soon … though unfortunately, not as soon as I would have hoped. We should have arrived at our destination by now, but we have been delayed. Three days ago, the Sigsbee lurched suddenly – I assumed we had suddenly run aground, though we were far enough from shore that seemed unlikely. Then we lurched the other direction. The lookouts on duty reported seeing gigantic shapes moving beneath the waves. I believe that we were subject to what would have been a deadly attack had we been in anything other than a ironclad. Whatever the case, the lurching subsided with the hull intact. Things got jostled around in the engine room, however, and Campbell was loathe to get where we were going in a state of anything other than full readiness. Hence the delay.

In the meantime, Van Dyke, in a welcome display of candor and openness on his part, has briefed us on what he knows of our destination. Caeradarn is a Cambrian castle, long-abandoned and for the most part forgotten, situated as it is near a remote stretch of rocky coastline. Whatever fiefdom its medieval lord of yore once ruled has long since fallen into history; the area around it is uninhabited for many miles. The place has been used for some decades by the Society as a place to conduct research away from prying eyes. More recently, with their new projects performed in conjunction with the New Columbian military, Caeradarn’s proximity to the sea has made it an ideal location for smuggling goods and personnel in and out of Albion. Indeed, while Van Dyke had already admitted previously that he had been the one who brought Rachel to Garnsey, he has now also acknowledged that the place she had been coming from was Caeradarn.

At this point in the meeting everyone turned to gauge her reaction to any of this, but her response was as impassive as ever. I would like to think that, with all the time I have spent with her, I was able to detect at the very least that she understood what everyone was saying and simply chose not to react. But I cannot be sure.

14 January

We have arrived; in the morning we will disembark and take the (rather treacherous) path up the cliff to the castle. It is what we found in the waters at the base of the cliff that has been our immediate object of interest, however.

The N.C.S. Woodmere is, or perhaps I should say was, Admiral Segismund’s flagship: a battleship, steam-powered, but not a proper ironclad like the Sigsbee, which no doubt helped facilitate its current situation. My assumption as we approached was that it had been sunk, but Campbell quickly assured me that that terminology was not accurate. He pointed out the lack of visible damage to the hull, and the fact that it had descended straight down evenly, without any listing or leaning. No, he assured me, the Woodmere had been scuttled – likely by the use of explosives at key points, near the keel, from the inside – either deliberately by its crew, or as an act of sabotage. We were able to see enough for him to make these judgments because we happened to be approaching at low tide, when the deck and upper hull were exposed.

But the timing was terrible; no sooner had we taken all this in than we realized that the tide was coming in and we were quickly losing light to the dusk. We are waiting until morning to fully investigate the ship, and at the same time another party will ascend to Caeradarn. It is a risk to split up our forces in this way, but one other important thing we noticed is that debris and coal-streaks on the water were still visible in a halo around the wreck, which means that the scuttling occurred very recently. We decided we could not afford to wait.

Van Dyke, myself, and Rachel will be in the group heading for the castle on the morrow. Campbell himself was visibly torn as to which operation he should oversee; in the end he chose to adhere to his official responsibilities, and is sending a Lt. Barksdale to the castle in his stead, though the man holds barely enough years on his frame to be an Ensign. Three seamen under the lieutenant and three of Robards’ former men round out our company. For the latter I insisted on the inclusion of Jacobs and Sharma. Jacobs’ left arm is still in a sling after the Battle of Carteret, but if it comes to fighting I would rather have half of either of those men than any able-bodied other.

Forgive me for sending this letter in sections, but Alia wishes to leave again tomorrow, which means I will not have a great deal of time to write down whatever discoveries we made. And yes, I do mean Alia – the sisters have briefly switched routes, and she has been traveling with us for the past five days, while Alona presumably handles the Greysham/Skald end of the run, and whatever other business these flyers are up to. She did not explain the change but I believe at least part of the reason was that she could confirm the details of your situation to me with first-person testimony; for that I am grateful.

It is obvious that she cares for you deeply. I am happy for you, my friend. You should hasten to return to yourself if for no other reason than that you can cherish such moments of joy and intimacy as have been afforded you.

15 January

I must write in even greater haste than I anticipated. Dr. Brown … at first I thought the man we met at the castle must have been a twin. But when he spoke … “Nice to meet ya again!” … That smirk, that knowing glance! I had buried his hideously reanimated body at Mont-Bré, but my instinct told me that it was actually him, despite the impossibility. He had two assistants this time, hunched over, ape-like, but when I saw one of their faces clearly I finally understood.

Brown is alive, Rackham. And he –

The Isle of Skald, 8 January

Dear Crane,

Alas, the hand that you see here is not mine, but the words are mine; in this you may rest assured. As a man of letters and of science, my friend, you are ever the skeptic, and of course this is what I have ever cherished about you, since the days at Everwood.

Speaking firstly to this, and in recognition of your generosity in reading the words of our good Dr. Bennington with an open heart, your acceptance of what has unfolded has not gone unnoticed or met with ingratitude. With additional forbearance, therefore—and with all the quiet patience of a scientist—I ask you to accept that my mind is now inside hers. No, not as a foreign and marauding presence, like Stratham’s; she is a consenting host. My thoughts and suggestions are only a small guest in the greater mansion-halls of her mind.

Yes, as she wrote in the last message, this strange place has amplified my Ability, providing additional dimensions to it. I feel rather like man who has found a new country, and thinking there had been only one trail to its hinterland instead has found a network of roads, each leading to a different terrain. I have been able to stretch out with my mind, projecting my perceptions as if invisibly floating along the ground. I can certainly read the memories of those on whom I focus, but now I can search out as well, and detect those intelligent creatures that possess memory. And as Bennington reported to you in the last letter, I no longer feel the crushing weight of pain in my cranium as before; now, I am left with a euphoria, an intoxication of the senses perhaps, when I enter into a trance.

Unfortunately that trance did me some harm the last time my physical body emerged from the caves that we have claimed as refuge. I followed the voices that I had heard out there, out in the wild forest, half-hearing them with my ears and half-tracking them with my mind. In the hopes of making contact with the memories I was receiving, I foolishly and abruptly left the company of MacTallan and Bennington—something I understand I ought not to have done, now.

What I saw in my mind that drew me was stirringly hopeful, but, as I came to find out, desperately sad. I saw a family; I saw a father’s pride in his two strong sons, and a mother’s kindness outstretched to envelop them all in nurturing comfort. I read the hard work of a young student, top of his class in the humanities—my favorite subject at Big School, if you will recall—with a letter from his esteemed dean of students proclaiming him the winner of a coveted essay award. His school was The Waterford School, Crane; the same one we found at Innesmere.

My mind looked through the memories as if flipping the pages of an enormous book, filled not with words but with pictures and sounds. I saw a brother looking up with admiration at his older one, older by just two years, wearing his brother’s sweater on the opening day of school. I saw this younger boy run a track and joining friends in an alley for a game football. The younger boy had been taught by the older one to look at the stars through a telescope that their father had built for them. I saw a mother scooping up the younger one after having fallen from a tree, and I saw the father coming home with news of a shuttered factory, prompting a move to Innesmere, where more work was waiting. I saw the streets of that city, its parks and its shops, its folk and its borders, stretched out before my mind’s eye through the eyes of whomever it was that had been remembering these things; and as I tore my way up the mountainside and into its pine forest, quite randomly and aimlessly, the horror of my own memories of that place seemed matched to them, superimposing themselves in my thoughts like two demented Daguerro-graphs from a penny sideshow.

I saw them in a chamber, a cage, built purposefully and cruelly, with restraints to hold the strongest of prisoners. I saw them watch as each was changed—a hideous and painful transformation from naked man to half-rat, rendering them screaming and collapsed. Their bodies covered in hair with bowed legs that supported their now curved, hunched backs, each one clawed at itself, incredulous and maddened to touch a snout that now protruded from an angular face and to find a tail grown from the small of the back. Fully cognizant of their new form after the transformation process, their lycanthropic flesh at once revolted against them and suffocated them, and they beat their breasts from anguish and defeat, until each new victim was dragged from the device by an enslaved underling just as gruesome in visage and form as the changed one.

Rexley. I knew then that I was seeing memories of the Rexley Device.

Blithering about through the woods I had a rudimentary sense of direction, but only relative to the sources of the memories that I had been tracking, and of course without the others I had no map. I had cut no trail as I had meticulously done the days before. The thought struck me that I would have very little idea of the way back unless my Ability was to assist then, and of course I had no way of knowing that. I felt I was closing in on the sources of these memories, and over a small hill I could barely make out a dim glow.

Then, I saw them.

They had made some sort of rough camp, mostly out of sticks and torn branches, with a small, wet fire that afforded little comfort in the cold air. Next to the low firelight I could make out three forms, speaking in harsh, guttural grunts and occasional muted screeches.

As I mentioned, my way had been lacking in cautious pause, as it had been these scenes that had enticed me forward, and the importance of employing stealth had been quite lost on me, and so I must have struck a curious figure, standing on a small rock above their position, framed by tall but bare pines in the moonlight. They looked up at me in alarm and fright, and made a sound that it etched into my heart—an inhuman cry of fury, created by a throat that is somewhere between human and beast, but not wholly either, echoing far into the valley below.

I confess that I did not register the obvious danger that I was currently in, and instead my feet felt bolted to the rock I was standing on. Something inside me knew that if I ran, I would be torn to shreds by these creatures. Instantly I thought of your descriptions of fighting them, back in the days when you had Thorpe and his men as allies and protectors—and knowing I had no such skills for combat (much less sprinting) I decided on another tack, more an act of desperation than it was planning.

I let my mind reach out to them with questions, demanding answers of them as if among them, whispering them into their ears. I decided to use what I had seen in my mind’s eye as a quarry from which to take my inquiries: I asked what they saw in their father’s telescope, what work their father was able to find in the new town, and, most importantly, why they had come here. I posed these silent questions in their very minds, not using any form of language, but pictures of the very memories I had previously viewed to form the basis of our communication; now I was the hostile stranger, the inquisitor of their dreams.

I had no idea, of course, if this technique would work; in hindsight I had let myself remain very exposed, both in an immediately physical sense as well as in a mental sense. I possessed no information about what these creatures before me really were, and, even if they could even communicate with me on some base and banal level, I had no inkling whether they would even desire such contact.

Rather than attack, their screaming ceased, and they looked at each other for a moment in seeming confusion and hesitation. One of them took a step back, its eyes flashing, its head rearing a moment. It was then that I sensed not malice, but shame: the two that had stood around the little fire (flanking the one now looking in my direction) bowed their heads and began to paw at their ears. These two then appeared to cower and seek refuge with the first, who assumed what I perceived to be a comforting role; appealing to this third one for guidance now, they began to step farther back, looking furtively back toward the mountain.

A wave of pity coursed through me, and it overtook my spirit: my horror and vulnerability converted to power, and with it, a sense of pity and wistful comprehension. I attempted to retract my wordless questions, somehow, to position myself now as a student of their experience rather than an authority; but between their own shock in seeing me appear quite suddenly out of the dark and what happened next, there was simply not the opportunity to engage in what would have become a much more meaningful discovery.

For at that moment a green light flashed out from a hidden grotto high on the mountaintop, and its light bathed us, sparing neither wood nor rock. It was as a beacon, but its rays did not beckon and guide—rather, it seemed imperious, both commanding and searching, sweeping itself quickly over the valley in several methodical rotations. Before it touched me I saw a glimpse of the rat-men running back toward it, tripping over their own feet as if in supplication and obedience; and when the light passed over me—or through me I ought to say—my stomach dropped and my head was gripped in an inexorable pain, the point that I thought my temples would burst. I felt the faint trickle of blood from my ears, and to escape it I had enough sense to dive clumsily behind my little rock.

I have no true recollection of finding my way back to the caves near the mountain stream where MacTallan and Bennington were, and I can say that although I was able to return most of the way, I had given up hope of finding them again by the time they ventured out to find me. My mind had gone completely astir, like the babble of a thousand voices, not a one of them a coherent thought, and for all of the new ways my Ability had manifested itself here on this island I was powerless to resist the effects of whatever had taken me.

Bennington very possibly saved my life with the administration of calming laudanum, and perhaps my body welcomed it now out of a demonstrable need. I felt my mind returning to me after some time, and I can sense my body resting comfortably. What is troubling now is that, while I have a keen awareness that I am quite out of danger and that the others are safe, I cannot seem to return to my own body. I see him breathing, and for the last few days Bennington has kept me alive, having designed a rather cunning system for dripping water and broth into my throat while allowing my body to relieve itself.

This has at least given MacTallan his desired time to investigate the ur-Samekh runes more completely and familiarize himself with the books and documentation he now carefully guards in a watertight chest. He is convinced that more runes are found elsewhere, and I have not asked Bennington yet to recount to him the full story of what I found higher on the mountain; he knows only that there were rat-men who I caused to run away with my Ability. Quite a half-truth, certainly, but Bennington agrees with me that before we animate this researcher toward a new goal, it is far better to see if I can heal completely and to allow him additional preparation time.

With your letter in hand, however, Bennington did take occasion to report that the rubbings resulted in a proposed partial translation as “changing the place where I am.” MacTallan agreed enthusiastically with this interpretation, especially to say that the leftmost rune appears to imply a first-person morpheme, as if the runes are meant to be spoken aloud by an activator or operator of the “conveyance line.” This is conjecture, of course, and as I ask Bennington to write this I cannot help but to involuntarily share with her that unnerving vision of the sickly green light.

MacTallan asks in return if the runes carry a sense of the imperative, a command perhaps spoken aloud, where “changing” is thought instead to mean “Change,” as if a keyword or phrase used to begin a process by a recognized user at the outset of an utterance. He thinks that the runes progressing to the right might explain the transition further, for example by naming a place that is the intended destination. His Von Neumann work seems to agree, in that the runes seem to be a right-branching or orthographic language system, and what may follow is not one destination but several, and the speaker is meant to choose the one that corresponds to a desired end point.

Finally, I imagined in my own mind the words that Bennington read as she received your letter, and I can only say that I am sorry to hear of the continued Blight in your various waypoints, and my relief that none of you decided to make a port at any dangerous or unsavory places. I understand your mild frustration at Campbell and his tendency to keep his own counsel; but I can only say that he is not like our other captains (and perhaps thankfully so, at least in the case of Robards), and he might have a plan that perceives more than what is only before him. If he thinks he can find Segismund, then he may well be your best hope for clues, and you are in good hands—much safer than we appear to be here on this forsaken island.

Yet there still is good news here. Alia is very sweet and comforting to me, and lately held vigil over my sleeping form while the weather and time could allow for it; her sorties with her sister remain successful, and we can only guess that Bennington’s letter has “hit home,” so to speak, with its recipient. We have been successfully resupplied, and in time, since the last of the recovered Saxonian rations had run out yesterday. Bennington believes a tincture of morphine, instead of laudanum, might have the effect of putting my body into a deeper sleep so that I might return to it; she likens it to a wall of semi-consciousness that must needs be lowered before I am to traverse it.

I hope then, that the next time I write you, it will be by my own hand, with more discoveries to share, or perhaps some kind of progress made either deeper into or higher up the mountain.

May you have smooth sailing,

Bennington, for Rackham

The Albionese Coast, 3 January

My Dear Rackham,

Or should I say, “My Esteemed Colleague Dr. Bennington?” I hope you will understand, Doctor, that my sincerest wish is that this letter finds the hands of my friend Rackham and that he is of sound body and mind as he reads it. But as you have written me in his stead, I will address this to the both of you.

Having spent recent days worrying about a betrayal from Dr. Bennington, the sudden knowledge that she is the sister of Alia and Alona requires, if you will permit me to understate, a mental adjustment. No sooner had I read the letter than I went to find Alona, who had wasted no time since her arrival in joining some of the sailors at a poker game in the mess hall. As someone who routinely performs complex mathematical computations regarding windspeed and weight coefficients on the fly – literally! – card-counting and the calculation of odds present her no great difficulty, a fact she thoroughly enjoys capitalizing on at the card-table. And the sailors, unable to stomach being routinely trounced by a woman, are always ready to try yet again to prove their mettle. Poor naive souls.

But I digress. On this occasion I walked up to Alona and whispered in her ear, “Sisters?!” She excused herself from the table and was kind enough to engage with me on the subject. She confirmed the truth of the matter, first of all, and vouched for the other relevant details in Dr. Bennington’s letter, enough to convince me that it was written in earnest. She explained that her family had grown up in a culture of secrecy, owing to its Society connections, and that the concept of revealing information only at need was second nature to her and her sisters. As this has also been my habit of late, I can hardly fault them for it!

So, Dr. Bennington, if it is you who are reading this, rest assured that, owing to the credit given you by your sisters, I acknowledge the sincerity of your desire to understand the full truth of what is to be found on Skald, and of our larger predicament. I cannot of course agree with Thompson’s notion that wholesale slaughter is preferable to the uncovering of a secret; neither can I throw in with the likes of Dr. Brown, who, in the short minutes I spent with him, seemed intent and even eager to unleash upon Gallia the same devastation our homeland has suffered. I cannot say whether I would agree with you on every point, but I trust that we are, to the extent that such words have any meaning, on the same side.

That settled, let me account for the recent activities of the Sigsbee. We held outside Yarmouth for three more days. Unbeknownst to anyone not on the crew, Campbell ordered a sortie to the naval station where his ship had once been docked, in order to reclaim weapons, ammunition, and supplies. The Blight was still present, as well as whatever monstrosities had already claimed the lives of Tollard and others. They returned having laid claim to their prizes but also having lost six men; whether it was worth the loss is a calculation for Campbell, I suppose, though it seemed reckless to me. I believe part of his reason for the action was to reinforce his assertion that he and he alone commands operations on his ship. Van Dyke or I might have aided the sortie in many ways, to say nothing of some of Robards’ former company, all well-seasoned at fighting creatures out of nightmare. But, for better or worse, he chose not to inform us.

After this, we started making our way west. At first we hugged the coast, staying close enough to visually scan each coastal village or town we came across, hoping perhaps to find another point of stability like Greysham. The first town had been transformed into a warren for rat-men, so we passed it by. The second seemed deserted, though some reported seeing tentacles that put me in mind of the ones encountered by poor Kensington and Gujparat back in August; again we decided to keep going. At the third things looked peaceful and we saw several people coming down to the shore once they sighted us. I went along on the boat that was sent out to greet them. As we approached, it seemed a little strange that the townsfolk were standing in a straight line on the fishing pier, not waving or gesturing. Then, as we drew still closer and prepared to land, something happened to their faces …

Forgive me if I leave it at that. The details are not important and I would prefer not to dwell on it. We rowed our way back to the Sigsbee in all haste; after that Campbell ordered us to sail at a greater distance from shore, and we stopped surveying the coast. This has allowed us to cover more ground but I cannot help but wonder how many people in need we have passed by as a result. At any rate, we have rounded the cape at Land’s End and are now making our way north and east toward the coast of Cambria.

As to more personal matters, things remain unchanged – my Ability remains dormant, and the telesma (a suitable term, I grudgingly admit) remains inert. I had stopped making attempts to communicate with Rachel, given her evident reluctance, although that is not to say she does not remain ever-present and concerned for my well-being. But with the additional information in your letter, including MacTallan’s rubbings, I thought I might try again. I showed her the rubbings, explaining that they were found on Skald, and her usual calm demeanor evaporated for perhaps the first time. She became animated, and by means of hand gestures conveyed to me (eventually – after some rather inept guesses on my part) that she wanted to see a map. We went to the navigation room, and again, after some delay, I was made to understand that she wanted me to show her on the map there exactly where Skald was located.

Skald’s position was there, and so I showed her. (At the same time I noted with some interest – if not quite surprise – that Skald’s coordinates had not been added to the map in grease pencil, by Alona for instance, but rather were already there on the map as printed.) Her response to it was muted enough that I hesitate to describe it for fear of a mistaken impression. It was neither surprise nor alarm, but perhaps something closer to resignation – a suspicion confirmed, a hypothesis verified. Unfortunately, we were interrupted at that moment by one of Campbell’s lieutenants coming in and informing us rather sternly that the navigation room was part of Official Ship Business and access for “civilians” was prohibited. I had some curt words on the tip of my tongue for this young officer regarding the utter meaninglessness of the term “civilian” upon the loss of civil society, but Rachel was already leaving, and I elected to follow.

That was all I had from her on the subject. I wanted to ask her about MacTallan’s “conveyance lines,” and about her time with the Society and whatever horrors of experimentation she may have been subjected to there. But other than her reaction to Skald, she remains as serene and unresponsive as ever.

Working with the crude rubbings you have provided, I can only say that yes, they are ur-Samekh, and it would not at all surprise me if they had something to do with MacTallan’s theory. The leftmost rune carries the connotation of “transition” and the adjoining one that of “personal location”; direct translation is rarely illuminating with ur-Samekh, but a rough one might be “changing the place where I am.” The other runes I do not recognize, or perhaps the detail is insufficient. I eagerly await more information.

I had hoped to delay sending this until we had arrived in Cambria, but it is now clear we have some days ahead of us before then, and so what we discover there will have to wait for my next. The reason for our delay is encouraging, however – it is because of the cold! And even some snow! As you have previously observed, the weather has not turned to the degree that we might expect for the season, but, for a short time at least, it is properly cold here in Albion. I take it as a sign of hope.

Dr. Bennington, I charge you with the care of my dear friend Rackham. See to his health and place this letter in his hands when he is able to read it. I mean no disrespect to you personally, but please understand that any further contact between us is predicated on his recovery.

Warm Regards,


The Isle of Skald, 29 December

Dear Eliot,

Simply writing your name as I have done here seems a tiny victory, a bastion of control and normalcy in a time of chaos. It hints at a time when we two academicians might have addressed each other out of an informal but pleasant routine, discussing a matter of philosophy or research between us.

I write you partly in that spirit, certainly, but with a greater part arising from necessity; our Benjamin is right now convalescing on a thin mat of leaves and canvas, what could be salvaged among our little stores of clothing and equipment. I have thus taken his solemn office upon myself, and I now, for a while, become the erstwhile storyteller of our progress here on Skald, and the dangers we have yet to face.

I hope that you accept my words as written here, and welcome them as true and complete. I understand from Benjamin many of the trials you have faced, and the strange things you have learned; he has been generally forthcoming with accounts of what your part of the expedition has encountered and survived, including what remained of Elizabeth College and your dealings with Sanders. I do not expect to recruit you to our cause, nor that you can be swayed to believe in our mission. I cannot for myself say that our cause yet remains true and our mission means anything in the world anymore, and I would not waste what precious time we have trying to convince you of a vision that is only a hollow vapor, even if I believed that there was a time when I was not misled.

Instead, I hope only for your attention in several matters, as I feel that a greater good of discovery is about to be fulfilled. Upon this we might have an understanding and alliance, if nothing else.

First: Benjamin. This island has had quite an effect on him, I believe it is safe to say, and in my own personal observations the simple fact of being here has had an effect in mirror-reverse than the Essen telesmai (forgive me if I do not use the word “ward,” but instead use the term that was given to them by those of us who shared in their research, from the ancient Hellenic). His mind-vision seemed to grow and extend each passing day that we spent here, and nightly he would report to me feelings of momentary euphoria.

Over this last week, I decided to study him and take notes. Each evening, I asked him to lie still in the same position and perform the same mental activities that would allow him to reach out with his mind. On each separate occasion, he consistently described the sensation of music, or rhythm, filling him—not a storm of noise that had previously been typical—and upon pulling himself out of his self-induced trance, he described a pleasurable sensation and the ability to push his focus effortlessly between MacTallan and I, even though MacTallan was well away in an adjacent cave.

Yesterday morning, he confided in me that his mind-projection had been strong enough that he was able to perceive other minds that were present besides MacTallan and I, and he had become convinced that there were others on the island. I should make a note here that, up until then, we had not faced the idea that the island could be currently inhabited; the old storage bunker that I know Benjamin described to you seemed as if it had been empty for years, and the southern part of the island had seemed so overgrown with forest and devoid of the evidence of civilization that the thought of others here now simply never occurred to us.

“I saw them,” I recall Benjamin saying, rousing from sleep.

At first my mind lept to those shapes in the stormy mists on the surface of the water, and I shuddered in horror.

“They have memories—memories of horrible things,” Benjamin continued.

I reached for my notes. “This was a dream you had?”

“No—I have been awake now for an hour. I have been tracking them.”

“Are—they coming here?” I asked, my breath caught in my throat.

“It does not seem so. They seem to be searching, going in circles. They remember—digging.”

His eyes locked onto mine, and for a moment I felt as if he had transmitted to me thoughts of Innesmere.

“Of course they remember horrible things. They’re monstrous—”

“No,” he interrupted. “Memories from before.”

I stared at him, forgetting completely about my notes for the moment. I felt my palms dampen with sweat.

He nodded slowly, eyes fixed but somehow sad now. “They had families, jobs, neighbors. I saw ships and ocean voyages—whoever they were, they were brought here.”

I felt Benjamin look into me with a terrifying force. I knew that this was not the time for walls.

Eliot, please believe that I now feel that whatever my Society did must now be laid bare—there has to be a greater good that can arise from all of this. I must believe that. I cannot have been part of something horrid and evil. If I was—then I cannot allow myself to remain unchanged.

At any rate, at that moment, Benjamin stood up and muttered something akin to I think I can speak to them. He then exited the cave, with myself shouting words of caution and restraint after him.

When he did not return after four hours, MacTallan and I decided that it was time that one of us do a search of the area—not knowing, of course, how far he had strayed. Since I am a physician and we feared that physical harm had come to him, I was the obvious choice; but at the same time, neither MacTallan and I were versed in combat should it come to that, and we knew whatever time we had to search would be short.

Very fortunately—for both of us—I found him not too far from the mountain stream nearby, some hundred yards or so from the mouth of the cave. I found him collapsed against a rock; apparently, he had half-crawled, half-stumbled back to our encampment. I summoned MacTallan and we carried him the rest of the way, his body slack.

While his clothing seemed a bit disheveled and he had been sweating profusely, he otherwise bore no evidence of a fight—no lacerations, no bruises, no bites, no scratches. After making a first pass to assess superficial injuries, and then later performing a more complete assessment of his condition after MacTallan and I were able to set up a resting place for him, I catalogued what I now believe are symptoms of extreme mental trauma. I noted enlarged pupils, rapid breathing as if in a nightmarish sleep, skin that was slick with cold sweat; his pulse was quickened as if in terror, but his limbs were as limp as a dead man’s.

I forced a drink of fresh water from the stream with a drop of laudanum down his throat, opening his esophagus to prevent gagging. Thanks to the bouyancy of the medical kit that had washed ashore from the wreckage of the lost submersible, I have some supplies, most notably pain-killing opiates, kept in tight War-era metal cases. I am pleased to say that the laudanum seemed to calm whatever mental torments he was experiencing, and today he rests comfortably, but still quite unconscious.

This gives me the time to put in writing a few pieces of information that you may find useful, intriguing, or both, even though they may not directly inform your current mission—which, if you forgive me, I read this morning within the pages of your letter of December 23, which Alia put into my hands given Benjamin’s condition.

Before I come to those subjects, I should note to you that Alia is here with us now, certainly because of her enduring bravery, but also because of her ingenuity and excellent planning—traits shared with her sister. I suppose I could say that we three Bennington women have learned these qualities from our father; but I chose the route of quiet research whereas the twins became enamored by mechanisms, flight, and adventure in the same way he was. At any rate, Alona flies sorties between Greysham and the mooring tower on the Sigsbee, and Alia completes the leg of the journey between Greysham and the landing area on the southern part of the island. From there she uses the flight suit to reach us at predetermined coordinates. Our two flyers coordinate time lags between round trips and calculate in storm movements, which, at least between here and Albion, appear to have a discernible cyclical pattern, according to Alia’s flight logs.

I can guarantee, at least for now, safe landings at Greysham for a reason that will become apparent when you read a copy of an enclosed letter that I have asked Alia to give to Bledsoe on her return trip, but for now I would like to discuss what I know about Rachel, your companion, and inasmuch as you describe, your savior from Robards.

I know Rachel, and in fact I spent some considerable time at the College with her—or perhaps more accurately, in her presence, since she was as much an enigma to me then as she is to you now. Rachel was indeed discovered among the excavations at Essen; what we learned from two years of research and observation is scant, but you should have the details in their entirety.

We could never establish her true place of origin; and as you have already confirmed, her ethnic makeup and features do not match those of the known indigenous peoples that had inhabited the Essen valley in what is today central Saxonia, such as the Olmanni or Aetheli tribes. The fact that she returned to life shortly after her transport to the College was itself a testament to her otherworldly qualities, and yet in most respects she looks and acts—well, human.

I also recall a team of linguists failing to ascertain the origin of whatever scant handful of words she did speak in her time with us. You mentioned in your letter hearing her speak syllables, possibly in ur-Samekh, when holding aloft the telesma. Given what you describe, MacTallan agrees with your conclusion, and we can say that you may be one of the only people in the world today that has heard her speak this ancient language, if indeed that is what it was.

The majority of what we learned of Rachel was from our medical study of her: she accepted, to a limited extent, our tests and procedures, perhaps guided by some sense that we were not there to harm her, but learn what we could about her. My own theory regarding the harmonic energy storage and transfer that is facilitated by a human blood came from tests performed on blood extracted from her veins. I believe Benjamin referred to the term “superstrata” in a letter to you several months ago; he was correct in this word in that evidence points to condition present in the blood of some humans—not all—that allows the blood to act as conduit or vehicle for forces originating from a spiritual or aetherial world. It is not a substance, but more a specialized type of cell.

Eliot, as we are students of science, we know that all phenomena can be described in explicable and observable states; even where we do not understand, we believe scientific inquiry can give us the eyes to see. My eyes glimpsed the terrible and tortured shadows of those who lost their lives in the recent years to the horror and devastation Albion has seen—they were walking out on the very waves of the sea, dancing around the funnels of the black storm. I am a woman of science, and yet I cannot account for what I know I observed, but when we reach our goal, I am determined to do so, and share what I know with you.

The samples of blood you sent me via Sanders may very well be the last link to this theory that exists in the world, now that the College was reduced to ruin by Robards, and Thornskye was lost to the rat-creatures. In fact, I believe that what you have sent me is a concentrated version of what we extracted once from Rachel, although I do not recognize the tube-like vials as anything we used in the laboratories. Also, there seems to be a little more than a pint here among the twelve vials; I have no memory that we had more than what few droplets of blood Rachel allowed to be extracted from her fingertips.

Finally, a word about MacTallan and what he has found. I mentioned earlier in this letter that we had been taking shelter in a system of caves. These are loacted at the foot of the mountain that dominates the northern half of Skald, and they were found by Benjamin, who had been able to cut a trail northward after our discovery of the Society bunker. The valley below is bisected by a little stream, from which we have thankfully taken fresh, clean water.

MacTallan has had this little time to scan the Von Neumann work and he has—rather enthusiastically—reported that it contains his mentor’s descriptions of the utilization of something called “conveyance lines.” Essen was, in fact, one of these, as was this island, although the maps and notes that Von Neumann makes indicates that the mountain on this island was submerged at the time of the professor’s research. As a further twist to the mystery of this place, Von Neumann theorizes that some kind of bridge exists between points on the same conveyance line, whereby ancient peoples used to travel instantly between them. What method or mechanism was used to perform this, however, is not yet clear.

Just this morning, MacTallan has found what he believes are ur-Samekh runes etched upon walls deeper into the cave system where we are now. He does not date to excavate further without more equipment and help, and with Benjamin in the state he is, I am afraid that this is quite impossible, even if we could assure that the passages that wend their way into the roots of the mountain were safe. In a later letter either Benjamin or I will endeavor to describe or depict these runes in their entirety; for now, MacTallan has made a crude rubbing of the first of these that he has encountered, which I have enclosed.

Finally, speaking of enclosures, I mentioned earlier that I was going to provide a copy of the letter I am sending to Bledsoe via Alia when she flies out next, which ought to be tomorrow at the latest. I know that you may not understand everything you read in the letter to him, and I take several risks in openly showing it to you: but for the sake of my sisters and the greater success of our discovery, you have it, for whatever it is worth.

My best wishes to you, Eliot, as you steam off to find Segismund; may he have additional answers that we need.


– – – – –


If need be, I will send a missive to Southeby that will cancel your contract immediately. That means you will have no protection—you will not be able to hide behind your town any longer.

I will do this if either of the flyers are hampered in any way. Even if you detain the one flyer, the other will still reach us. By reading this, you must now know that your pathetic ploy to sabotage the mission has failed and that we have reached Skald successfully. And, oh yes—it does exist.

It was a poor decision to fall in with the NCHC, or at least those who you thought were on authority to speak for them. You are a small man and think in small ways. Who do you think really sent Thompson?

At any rate, as surety for your obedience and as a signal that you fully comprehend what I am saying here, you will place with Alia the complete package of Rackham’s correspondence with Crane, and you will destroy the copies I know you have already made. When next she returns, Alia will confirm for me that she has watched you burn the copies down to ash, and Rackham will confirm that all of the catalogued letters and documents are present.

Unless this is done exactly as I describe, my next correspondence is with Southeby.

Dr. Charlotte Bennington

Yarmouth, 25 December

My Dear Rackham,

Please forgive me for breaking our solemn (if unofficial) tradition by writing again before receiving a letter from you. I very much like our tradition, in no small part because each of your replies tells me that you are still alive; without that reassurance, I do not know that I would even bother to write. But I have news that can brook no delay.

I have received a letter from none other than Lieutenant Thompson, dated on the twenty-fifth of November. Rather than summarize its details I have taken the pains to make a copy to send along to you – read it carefully, and read it secretly, for reasons that will become clear.

How did I come to receive it? As I indicated in my last letter, Alona went to Greysham. This was not at the behest of anyone on the Tortoise Council; the plan was entirely a concoction of hers and Alia’s. They had both made enough flights into the region that they felt confident she could land away from town without being noticed. Her purpose was to ascertain the state of affairs there after Bledsoe’s betrayal of your expedition. As far as that goes, he is still mayor and not much has changed. The townsfolk wonder about the fate of the Jagdschloss but there has of course been no word, which is not yet unusual. She believes he wishes nothing more than to keep the whole affair a secret, and as long as he does not feel threatened on that front, Greysham might still be safely used as a waypoint. Whether Alia would be able to visit the town without stringing Bledsoe up with garrote-wire is a fair question, but that is why she was not the one to go.

Alona had remarkable success in skulking around Bledsoe’s house and other buildings in town undetected. In the room where Thompson had been imprisoned before his escape – though, as we now know, it is more likely that Bledsoe let him out – she found the letter addressed to me tucked in the back of a dresser drawer. Had it been found in Bledsoe’s study, I might have had occasion to doubt its provenance, but under the circumstances it seems most likely that it is genuine. And given the fact that he did indeed die attempting to end your expedition, I have no reason to doubt its sincerity, either.

So then, what to make of it? Even granting full credence to his ardor, his murderous response still strikes me as the action of a madman. Would not a rational appeal – to you, if not to Thorpe – have been a much more sensible course? To my mind, the extremity of his actions casts doubt on his cause. But what, then, of the others he names as confederates – would Admiral Segismund have agreed that access to Rexley must be stopped at all costs, even to the point of commiting murder?

Now I find myself casting my mind back to all his actions that we know of, and wondering whether they reflect the wishes of the New Columbian/Society conspiracy, or the anti-Rexley cabal he ultimately threw in with. The wards, for example – he kept one, and presented another to Robards … but under whose orders, and following which agenda?

More pressingly, you will have to decide what to make of this vis-a-vis Bennington. And I will have yet another reason to doubt whether Van Dyke has really, truly come clean with me, or if this is yet another secret he was aware of. Also, Campbell seems intent on locating his superior, the Admiral – should I now fear such a meeting? Setting sail from Garnsey, leaving all its thorny complications behind, I had been in possession of a modicum of clarity of mind. It lasted for all of a day! Then this Thompson letter arrived and everything is a-jumble once again.

Very well then; my errand concluded, I may as well update you on other matters. Firstly, our destination. This was a matter for much discussion and debate, during which Campbell made clear that, as the commanding officer of the Sigsbee, he was happy to hear our suggestions, but would be the one to make the ultimate decision. “If you’ve got a problem with that then you’re damn welcome to swim,” I believe were his words.

Several men voiced a wish to make for the Continent, to alight on soil untouched by cataclysm and never look back. Others of his crew advocated for sailing west across the wide ocean, homeward-bound. I fear that my wish – that the Sigsbee take advantage of the lull in storms and make all haste for Skald – would earn only my solitary vote, and of course there will be no vote in any case. Campbell’s main wish is to report in to the Admiral, if he is still in the area, and only then consider an ultimate destination.

He did not trust the storm-lull to last, and in this he was proved correct. We sailed north for Albion, and by the time we were in sight of the southern coast, vortex-storms were already visible in the distance behind us. We are currently at anchor off the coast near Yarmouth. The blight around that city is still visible and no one has any desire other than to remain aboard, but from here Alona will do some scouting before we move on again. Van Dyke tells us that there is a Society research station on the coast of Cambria that may be worth investigating. Insofar as the New Columbians and the Society have been known to work together, Segismund is as likely to be found there as anywhere else.

I myself have been devoting my time to attempting to communicate with the enigmatic Rachel. She remains as wordless as ever, but her force of will is strong and she rarely has any difficulty making her intentions known. Sanders objected back on Garnsey when it became clear that she wished to voyage on the Sigsbee, but for whatever reason he was unwilling to refuse her, and eventually relented.

I believe she made this choice because of me; for a while I labored under the false impression that it was because she admired me. She had, after all, served well as my assistant in the infirmary, and ever since the curious activation of the ward had remained a constant presence at my side. But it has become increasingly clear that what is really going on is that she is worried about me. I am not her exemplar; I am her patient. I do not know what it is that she fears, for in most respects I feel fine, with one notable exception. For days after the battle I had no desire to use my Ability, but when I eventually did try, out of simple curiosity, nothing happened. Now a casual attempt to push my hand through the surface of a table has become part of my morning ritual, but as of today I still have had no success. I do not yet fear a permanent loss, but I must admit, it is a growing concern.

I have attempted to communicate with her in ur-Samekh, but her response was unexpected. I had time before we left Garnsey to retrieve my belongings from Stockport, and with all my notes at hand I thought I might present her with a wide variety of ur-Samekh runes, learn from her their exact pronunciation, and from there we would be off to the races, conversationally speaking. But Rachel has proved entirely unwilling to speak in ur-Samekh. On one occasion when I pressed her on it overmuch, she lost her patience and blurted something out to me, but it was in yet another language. I could not identify it, though it bore some resemblance to Akkadian or Sumerian.

She is extremely bright, and if she has indeed been with us since the wards were found under Essen, that seems like ample time for her to learn enough of one of our languages to communicate effectively. If she wanted to use either of her languages with me I am nothing if not a ready and eager learner, but she shows no such inclination. I cannot help but wonder if this linguistic barrier is one she is content to leave erect.

Until she decides otherwise, her past remains a mystery. I have chosen not to share with anyone what Sanders told me about her during the battle. Van Dyke admitted to me that he knew of her, and was aware that she was somehow special – he was the one who smuggled her from Albion to Garnsey (for “safekeeping” at the College), four days before the Incident. But he professes not to know where she came from, and his curiosity about her certainly seems unfeigned.

On a brighter note … Happy Yule, my friend! Here, Campbell allowed for a celebratory meal, and afterwards there was even some singing, though the carols sung by these N.C. sailors are far more bawdy than some would consider appropriate for the holiday.

I will give this letter to Alona and try to convey to her my sense of urgency. Even if she does not attempt the crossing to Skald herself, perhaps she can use her new landing-point outside Greysham as a secret relay-point, and Alia can pick it up from there. I leave it in their hands.

Warm Regards,


Carteret, 23 December

My Dear Rackham,

It is over. The matter with poor Robards is settled, and the future of Garnsey, whatever it will be, will not unfold under his rule, and it will do so without me. I feel relief, sadness, and not a little guilt: many lives could have been saved if I had been a little smarter.

Best to tell it all as it happened, I suppose. At the time of my last letter I had just fled back to Carteret from Stockport. The attack came four days later, on the fifteenth of December. We had expected it, of course, and based on everything I had seen at the room in the residence where Robards confronted me, we girded ourselves for an assault from both land and sea.

We did not fear defeat; we only worried how we might repel the attack with a minimum of bloodshed. Robards had no shortage of ships, but who could he get to crew them? He could choose loyalty – the Brotherhood, those in his circle – but in that number were precious few sailors. Or he could choose skill, selecting from the numerous sailors of assorted nationalities who were stranded in the port district. But, you will recall, the Brotherhood had first been established to quell unrest at the docks – those seamen and merchant captains would prove reluctant allies at best. On our side we had a fully equipped New Columbian ironclad with a well-trained (and rather irate) crew. On land, he may have had an advantage in numbers, though when it came to seasoned military men, perhaps half of our original company remained loyal to him, whereas the other half, men like Jacobs and Sharma, had found their way to Carteret one way or another.

We set up some defensive embankments at key points in town, using the buildings when we could and constructing barriers where need be. We sent out scouts so as to have some warning of the enemy’s approach. The Tortoise Council discussed at great length the importance of restraint, of ending the fighting as quickly as possible, ideally by killing or capturing Robards himself, thereby neutralizing the effect of his Ability on his men.

How naïve we were.

When not in council meetings I busied myself with some actual doctoring – it had been some time since I had used those particular skills! I tended to a smattering of ailment and injuries, but mainly gathered supplies and laid out tables and cots in the main room of The Weeping Tortoise to serve as our infirmary. That is where I was when one of our scouts returned, reporting that Robards was on the move. A ship had been sighted leaving harbor and heading toward the south of the island; the Sigsbee lifted anchor and positioned itself at the edge of the small bay that Carteret sits upon, its broad side cannons ready to fire. Van Dyke and I climbed to the church belfry, the highest point in town, to survey the situation. His job was to call out enemy positions and co-ordinate our movements; I had nothing to do until the infirmary was needed.

From our vantage we could see a merchant vessel come into view, inching around a peninsula to the southeast of us. Campbell had instructions to fire upon any opposing ships, aiming to cripple rather than sink them if possible. But after a couple of minutes, the Sigsbee still had not fired.

“Strange,” muttered Van Dyke. He peered through a spyglass to get a better look at the approaching vessel, then lowered it and said grimly, “It is unarmed.”

“What on earth would be the point of that?” I exclaimed. “We know he has an impressive collection of artillery. Could it be concealed?”

He looked again. “I do not think so. That ship is not even big enough to handle some of those pieces in any case.”

“A floating bomb, then? A hold stuffed with gunpowder?”

“The Sigsbee could easily sink it before it got close enough for that.”

“What, then,” I cried, exasperated. “Where is the damned artillery?!”

On cue, from a quarter mile or so inland, came a boom. The shell hit our church squarely, though thankfully not at the base of the steeple, or that may have been the end of us right there. But then came another, and another. These were not aimed at the church, but at the piers. Carteret’s modest fishing fleet disappeared under billows of smoke, but more to the point, the dock where the Sigsbee put in caught fire.

Then, finally, I realized what was happening. The ship was a decoy. The whole notion of an assault from the sea was a ruse to make sure that the Sigsbee was positioned against that threat, and not positioned to defend the town. It could reposition now – Campbell was less a fool than me, and was already doing so. But by the time it was ready to counter-fire against Robards’ artillery, the bombing would have achieved its purpose, softening our defenses and paving the way for his men to storm the town. The fighting would already be in the streets.

And why were we caught by this trap? Because of me. Because I had seen a map and some scribblings on a chalkboard, and not stopped for a moment to question why Robards had ever allowed me see them, if he already suspected me. He sat in the corner of that room, let me look around before he made himself known, and then, instead of shooting me in the back, talked for a while, like a villain in a penny-dreadful. And I, perhaps fancying myself a hero in the same, was not in the least suspicious that I was being played.

If Van Dyke had the same realization at that moment, he was kind enough not to voice it, but rather led the way down from the belfry and out the (now decimated) front of the church. Three different messengers converged on him and he gave them diverse orders before hurrying off on his own errand. I hastened back to the Tortoise and my makeshift infirmary, where hard work was now certain to follow.

As a result I can only relate the larger developments of the engagement second-hand. But I have seen too many battles to relish the task of re-telling the story of this one; leave the fevered post-facto analysis of tactics to the armchair-generals. Like many battles, the outcome was decided mere minutes from the outset, and the ensuing hours comprised only the slow, bloody realization of an inevitable conclusion. In this case, the deciding factor was that one shell from the bombardment hit our defensive barricade at the north road square on. Three men were wounded; two more were needed to get them to me at the infirmary, and so when Robards’ forces came down that road what resistance remained had to fall back almost immediately. In short order Robards pressed forward to the town square, rendering our perimeter blockades useless. Carteret is not large; from the square he could strike out at any position, and our own forces on opposite sides of the town had no way to communicate or coordinate, let alone reach each other.

Late in the day, I was busy at work in the infirmary and could only guess from the grim faces of messengers and the number of casualties on my cots that the situation was dire. Van Dyke burst in with half a dozen men close behind, clearly making a fast retreat. He looked at me. “He’s here,” he said.

I had been wearing the ward, but now removed it from around my neck, knowing that doing so would save my life, hoping that it might provide me some way to help in a final stand here, if here is where it was to be. But as soon as she saw it, Rachel’s eyed widened –

– and now I must pause and take an extended and regrettable detour from my narrative. Were I a novelist, I would certainly have taken pains to introduce the character of Rachel to you, the reader, in the previous chapter, so that meeting her again now, she would require no introduction. But the fact of the matter is that at the time of my last letter, though I certainly had met her, the curiosity of her character was only one of many miscellaneous details about the situation here in Carteret that I neglected to mention due to lack of space. Had I only known the role she would come to play I would have brought her to your attention sooner!

When I first saw her, I took her for a foreign professor, visiting Elizabeth College from somewhere on the Continent. She had not been one of those in the prison, but had managed to escape the sacking of the College and eventually reunite with her colleagues at Carteret. It was clear that she did not speak our language, and it did not seem that anyone else spoke hers (whatever that may have been, for she never spoke, save to introduce herself by her given name only). That was the first unusual thing about her, for between myself, Van Dyke, Sanders, and a couple of others from the College, we commanded fluency in a great many languages. The second unusual thing was her age – she had the white-and-grey hair and eye-wrinkles of an elderly woman, but had the posture, complexion, and overall heartiness of someone in her thirties.

I had meant to ask Sanders about her, the same way I had meant to ask him about any number of things, and also meant to ask Campbell fifty more questions about Segismund, and meant to thoroughly debrief Van Dyke and who knows who else until finally all my questions had been answered or at least heard, but, as ever, there wasn’t the time, and finding out more about Rachel had seemed far less important than many other matters. At any rate, to bring us back to the story, she had, by means of silent gesture, indicated to Sanders that she had some skill in first aid, and was therefore assigned as one of my assistants in the infirmary. While she had no knowledge of medicine, she was indeed adept at basic care, and her intuition as to which patients required immediate attention and which did not was always correct.

So then: I took out the ward, and as soon as she saw it, Rachel’s eyes widened. That same moment, someone was shouting at us from outside to lay down our arms and come out peacefully. Rachel took two steps closer to me and spoke in a language I did not understand, and yet seemed strangely familiar. Jacobs (he was one of the men who had just retreated here with Van Dyke) answered the demand for us to surrender with some well-placed rifle shots from an upper-storey window, and the return fire was quick to follow. Everyone there who was not already prone on a table or cot fell to the ground for cover. Rachel crawled closer to me, said something again, and extended her hand. Her face was grim, her intention unmistakable: she wanted me to give her the ward.

The fighting intensified; only later I learned that Jacobs had been wounded, giving the attackers the space they needed to storm the door. It was closed and barred but with a span of wood meant to deter passing vagrants, not hold fast against a determined assault. We had very little time – and I had to decide to what to do. I was paralyzed with indecision, fear, concern for my casualties … in that awful moment Sanders crawled into view.

“Crane,” he wheezed – he was not a man accustomed to physical exertion – “Perhaps she can … she is …” – he paused – “… She is from Essen,” he finished.

I did not yet understand. “She is not Saxonian …” I sputtered.

“No no. She was found … at the same time as the wards. In the same place. Beneath the city. She had been … she … –” A crash, as the front door gave way. Our men had already thrown their rifles out the windows in surrender. “… She had been asleep for a long time. Crane. Do you understand? A very long time.”

I looked at Rachel again, who all the while had been unperturbed by the chaos around her, but had been staring steadily at me, her arm extended. And suddenly the words she had been speaking … I will not say I understood them, but I recognized the language. The chief difficulty was that not only had I never heard it before, but that no one had; indeed, its phonemes were purely theoretical. But it was a language that could have been, could only be, ur-Samekh.

Robards himself was striding triumphantly into the room. I had no time to process my realization. In the end I responded to Rachel’s eyes, clear and grey, intent but not angry, determined but calm. I handed her the ward.

In your last letter you described Alia upon finding the flight suit: though the particular device was unknown to her, the general principles were well-known, and her expertise had a direct bearing such that she was able to fly it without much difficulty. Rachel’s response to the ward seemed similar: she regarded the runes inscribed on it carefully, and spoke some words while holding it, first cautiously, then more confidently.

Meanwhile Robards had scanned the room, found me, and ordered me brought to him. The advantage in this was that no one was paying attention to Rachel. I was brought face to face with the captain. He stared down at me with a look of triumph on his face, but it then changed to a look of puzzlement as he glanced past me over my shoulder. I turned my head to see Rachel slowly standing up, speaking, perhaps chanting, and finally holding the ward high, and then, a burst of energy –

But afterwards no one else reported feeling a burst of energy. Most felt nothing. Robards and I were both stunned. But, as we learned later, all those who had been under Robards’ sway felt piercing headaches followed by a groggy feeling, as if waking from a dream. Pardon the fairy-tale description, but the spell had been broken.

Here, at last, some of our preparations proved to the good, for our men had been briefed that such a change might occur, and most held their fire. Not everywhere, tragically, and in a few areas the fighting continued. But by sunset it was all over.

I came to my senses ten minutes or so after Rachel’s trick with the ward. My first thought was to my patients. More kept arriving until the Tortoise was full to the gills with makeshift beds. We spent the whole night tending to them all, with more help once the fighting stopped, though the whole time Rachel proved the most capable assistant. At one point she solemnly returned the ward to me, but it felt different … somehow inert. I wanted to speak to her, of course, but without my notebooks and a great deal of time there was no hope of my uttering a coherent sentence in ur-Samekh.

Dawn came and we stepped outside, bleary-eyed, to take some air. We walked down to the wreckage of the docks and stared in amazement at the horizon – and we were not the only ones. For half mile away, where the vortex-storms had roiled for months, now there was only blue sky and gently rolling waves. The storms had been fading all through the night, we learned, a process that likely coincided with the burst of energy from the ward.

And that fact, of course, changed everything. There was a great deal of work to do in the aftermath of our miraculous victory, but Campbell, seeing a chance to sail freely, meant to depart with his crew right away. He was convinced otherwise at a very heated meeting of the Tortoise Council, but only barely. For my part, I would have no thought of leaving until all my patients were stabilized to the point where I might leave them safely under local care. Sanders and the other society men would have no thought of leaving without Rachel, and Rachel seemed to share my sense of obligation towards the wounded. And so Campbell agreed to wait, albeit vowing to set off the instant there was any sign of the storms returning.

Over a week has passed since then, and I write this on the eve of our departure. I say “our” because I have decided to ship out on the Sigsbee, though it was not an easy choice. Chiefly this is because, even after all that has happened, I feel some concern and even a sense of responsibility for Robards. He is now in chains back in Stockport, and will be subject to the justice of the citizens of Garnsey. The governor’s health has returned and I do not think he will be lenient. I fought hard against this decision in the Council meetings, wanting to bring Robards on the Sigsbee, but I was soundly outvoted.

Rachel is setting sail with us, however, as is Van Dyke. Sanders and most of the others from the College will remain behind and see to recovering what can be found in its ruins. There was a great deal of internal debate among the Society persons regarding that arrangement, and I do not yet know how or why it was all settled. I have no small amount of resentment that, even as they seemed to be opening up to me about everything, they had all along neglected to mention Rachel, but there will be time to confront Van Dyke about that at sea.

Robards’ company is now under the command of Lieutenant Atwell, a trusted subordinate who had proved resistant to his Ability and had therefore been ostracized early on. Atwell himself is remaining on Garnsey, along with the majority of the soldiers, but he is allowing any of them who desire it to ship out with the Sigsbee. Among the dozen who have so chosen are, I am glad to say, Jacobs and Sharma. They are inseparable now-a-days, and share the opinion that I will need them to watch my back among these, if you will pardon my using Jacobs’ expression, New Columbian c-cksuckers.

All this leaves me barely any space to comment upon your own discoveries. I am relieved that you are well and I wish I had time to interrogate Sanders regarding this Society encampment on Skald. But I think I can be of more use to you on the Sigsbee than by remaining here.

Alia has come directly from Skald and means to leave again soon, so I must wrap this up. I learned from her that Alona has gone to scout out Greysham covertly and is expected back soon, though if all goes well she will be returning directly to the Sigsbee’s mooring tower somewhere at sea, not here. Alia says that Alona has a letter for me; I imagine it must be one from you that was initially misplaced, though glancing back at our correspondence I see no conspicuous gaps. But who on earth else could be writing me? At any rate, both flyers now mean to keep Garnsey in their circuit as well as the Sigsbee, and hopefully we will have news from Greysham as well.

Perhaps I will write you next at leisure in the midst of an uneventful sea voyage? Something tells me it will not be that simple, but one can dream.

Warm Regards,


Greysham, November 25

To Dr. Eliot Crane:

Sir, I am sure you barely remember me, if at all—I was one of the men who was assigned to Captain Lewis Thorpe to head north into Caledonia. Our company parted ways with your company after the awful night with the pulsing stone, and this would have been the last time you and I saw each other. You used to know me by the name Throckmorton, but I am sure that Ben Rackham has told you all about my real name and nationality in his letters.

I know you might well tear this letter up and forget the whole thing, but that makes no difference to me—because when you get this, if you ever get this, I will be dead. I will be dead, that is, if everything goes according to plan. If it does, it means everyone else on this expedition will be dead too—and lying on the bottom of the Eastern Sea. That is a sacrifice you’re just going to have to accept.

I intend to blow up that Saxonian boat so that nobody reaches that cursed island. I don’t expect you to believe me about any of this, but like I said, I don’t care. You ignore me at your own peril, but at any rate this information is yours to do with as you wish. What will be worse than ignoring me is if the Society gets Rexley back, and that will be on your head.

I have to destroy that boat. Thorpe was in the know about who I really was and why I joined the expedition, but somewhere along the line he changed his mind about letting me complete my mission, when he found out that Rexley actually exists and where it is. I can understand him letting Rackham this far into his confidence, but the doctor—that fool will lead the Society right to the device.

When I shipped out under Tollard, we knew that we did not have much time. It was only about making sure no one else got control. We had seen time and time again how the Society infiltrated governments, stole secrets, broke promises, and amassed influence across the globe. Who do you think really started the Blood War? Or do you believe everything in those history books you read?

There was no way we were going to trust them with something like Rexley, if the stories we heard about it were halfway true. Segismund had to convince the NCHC to commit the ship somehow, so he told them we were going to get there first. But we knew that no one should have a power like this.

I am sorry that you will be losing your friend in all of this—if I could avoid any death, I truly would. You will just have to believe that this was for the greater good. And if you have any scruples yourself, sir, you will do what you can to complete the task we set out to do. Destroy that island before the world gets worse.

Lieut. 1st. Class William Thompson, New Columbian Expeditionary Forces

The Isle of Skald, 21 December

Dear Crane,

Exactly a fortnight has passed since I sent away the little sections from the log-book, and Alia has been with us four days of that time. Would that she could have left earlier: but yours was the caution as to exactly why she was detained until now.

We three certainly welcomed her latest landing, arriving upon the same little strip of land she found after she located our life-pod among the wreckage of the Jagdschloss. Soon after she left the first time, we were able to improve upon the strip by clearing the bulk of its brush, and we erected a makeshift beacon from some of that wreckage which had washed upon our beach over the next two days. Thus, she had little difficulty in finding us a few days ago.

When she landed, we asked immediate questions about the state of affairs in Greysham; but she had never been there, of course fearing that had she landed, she would have been detained by Bledsoe. Your letter reinforced the abject truth that, all things equal, our heroine Alia ought not to have attempted the crossing directly from Garnsey. Upon her arrival I was quickly able to ascertain for myself that a direct air crossing to Skald from your island—especially from its southern tip where Carteret is situated—depletes all but a sliver of the aero’s charge from its onboard amberite piles. At first, Alia had avoided my questions on the matter.

I would have scolded Alia for putting herself—and the greater mission at large—at considerable risk for making the crossing. At this time, I could not bring myself to do so for several reasons. A pragmatic rationale, of course, sprung to mind: that now that she is here, I thought, there is no use to calling her attention to the obvious. However, the true reason I said nothing is, I must confess, also the reason I have the most difficulty in admitting; and while my heart is glad that such happiness can still be felt in the midst of such stark hopelessness, it is a happiness I have neither earned nor deserve.

Yet if this letter still reaches you, it is because of two fortunate developments on this island—even if, in this world, almost every fortune we find seems to be at the sad expense of another. First of all, a large portion of supplies and debris has washed up on the southern beach-head of Skald, near where we had first guided our little life-pod and set up a simple camp. As a result, we have some supply of food and equipment, most notably items that were either buoyant or encased in watertight crates, such as our medical supplies.

Along with the debris that washed up on shore was a small section of the fuselage of the H-boat: this was one that contained part of an amberite pile, as it had been a section of the diving apparatus. Bennington won the laurels for technical know-how in this case, Crane—I am useless with tools and contraptions, as is MacTallan. This morning (after some failed attempts over the last few days) our brilliant doctor managed to finally find a way to transfer the charge from this piece of debris to the aero. We sighed in collective relief and celebrated with a round of tinned peaches.

Quite unfortunately, useful parts and food were not all that washed ashore from the ill-fated vessel. The last of the bodies was recovered five days ago, having come in at various points along the southern coast of the island over about a week’s time. Bennington and I identified, in order of arrival, Arasaku, Kilcannon, Laray, Gates, and finally Wright: thus, the entire crew of the forward control cabin. No other bodies—not Thompson, not Bell, not O’Doole, and most conspicuously not Thorpe—were recovered. MacTallan’s theory is that the Jagdschloss broke apart after Thompson’s sabotage did its damage, and that the forward cabin may have been able to trap more air than the aft areas, allowing it to rise and eventually spill its contents toward the surface of the water. This still does not explain why the bodies were not eaten by the sea-creature we espied out the porthole: yet they were whole bodies, pale from the salt water but otherwise unspoiled, and we were able to put them to rest in graves along the shore and say a few words of peace.

A second development is more startling and one that, we believe, has given us some new measure of purpose and guidance on our mysterious island. About a week ago I found an edifice here on Skald. It is a low, square building made of brick and mortar whose metal door had fallen off after having been thoroughly rusted from exposure to the wind and the rain. It looked not unlike the “pill-boxes” that the Gallian soldiers had built along their eastern front during the Blood War to resist the advancing Saxonian armies. At any rate, I encountered this building at a time when MacTallan and I had decided to institute the same two-person mapping system that we had employed when we studied the strange interlocking patterns in the trees north of the Cairns. During one particular long arc from his position (these bursitis-plagued knees be damned) I came upon this building, looking quite out of place, as I am sure you can imagine. Desiring safety and recognizing the value of having all three of us together, the three of us returned the next morning for a closer inspection.

Inside, we found a Society contraption, in good working order: a one-person winged suit capable of sustaining level and stable flight for six hours.

I say that it is a Society contraption for three reasons. First, Bennington immediately identified the technology used to achieve flight as similar to the aero’s, with a propeller design that mimics that of that aero. Second, its power system seems to use the same types of amberite piles found in both the aero and the diving apparatus from the H-boat. Third, Alia confirmed that just as the aero pushes against natural gravitational forces with its apparatus that seems to emit charged air particles—what Bennington calls a repulsor—this flight suit has six such devices, in smaller scale than the aero’s, extending from the chassis and surrounding the pilot during flight.

The entire suit can be collapsed into two large, rectangular, black metal chests, which is how we found it, and each of these two chests had a built-in padlock. I am sure that you have already guessed that it was Thompson’s key that opened these padlocks, to my chagrin. I say chagrin because while I am glad that we made the discovery and that I possessed the key to open these chests, it is simply that I had imagined the key as being necessary to open some hidden chamber that kept the Rexley device. As it stands now, we are on Skald with somewhat less general direction and sense of where to find the device as we were before, and even that seemed a fool’s hope.

Thus for most of yesterday morning and the afternoon, Alia assisted our mapping and exploration efforts greatly by ascending into the beautiful bright sky like a bird taken to wing; and like a bird, she seemed to know her way with the suit as if born to it—this fact is hardly surprising given her training and extensive experience with flight. After her reconnaissance efforts had concluded with the eventual depletion of the energy charge, we learned a great deal more about Skald in the meantime, including its mountainous region to the north of the island. After Alia leaves, we will likely head toward this higher ground, in the hopes that we will find fresh water there at the very least.

Before I move from the topic of the little bunker, I ought to make careful mention of the other items we recovered from it, and what the condition of the interior was in the first place. It had looked as if it had once held many more items that we had found, but it had been ransacked. We concluded this because had the door simply been removed at the force of the elements (certainly one of the touch-downs of the black storms could have done this), little damage other than wetness from rain would have befallen the contents; however, as it was, it looked as if materials and items were not only picked through, but many were removed entirely, as entire dust-shadows of items no longer there dotted the interior. Why the cases containing the flyer suit were not removed, we cannot say. We found nothing of value among the scant broken debris that littered the floor.

I have not yet mentioned the third case, smaller than the other two but matching in design, which held books and notes. MacTallan was at once awed and overjoyed at this treasure, and in observing him since our find, I believe it has restored some measure of lost hope that he may have carried since the world changed, especially in the wake of the subsequent over-run of the university at Thornskye by the twisted, changeling rat-men. He has only had a little time to investigate these items fully, but apparently three large books were contained within the third chest, with a bundle of accompanying loose documents and maps, held together with a red twine. The first of these books, quite coincidentally, is an early draft of a Von Neumann work. I believe it summoned most of MacTallan’s self-control not to openly weep at the sight of finding a key piece of original research from his mentor, here in the most desolate of surroundings, and at a time when any clue that can shine light upon our quest is most sorely needed.

Bennington and I resolved to allow MacTallan to review and organize the books and documents while Alia flew a number of short sorties first along the coast, then venturing into the interior as far as she dared, until eventually, as I have mentioned above, the contraption could yield no more service. During this time I was able to scout out a little way ahead and cut a trail north, building on the efforts MacTallan and I put in after our landing. Bennington has been very curious as to the physical properties of the vials of liquid (she has not settled upon calling it “blood” but seems to accept that as a proximate word in the interim by laymen such as MacTallan and myself). Without more sophisticated laboratory equipment, she cannot perform the necessary tests on the contents of the vials, but she recognizes the syringe as part of a larger device that may have been mounted upon a machine of some sort; according to her, it has not been designed to hold in the hand, but rather to accept, and then transfer, a larger volume of liquid for precise insertion into a subject. (I cringe writing that, Crane, but Bennington assures me that we all must uphold a scientific mind about such things.)

With the discovery of the bunker, however, Bennington has forwarded the theory that the Society made a landing on Skald some time ago, and that, if this shadowy agency built a structure for storage, it is possible that either other buildings remain to be found, or that there had been at one point an intention to return, or both. A Society landing must have been relatively recent, however. Aided by one of the maps that had been included in the third crate as well as a few of its supporting documents, MacTallan has now come to a crucial conclusion, representing an important but vexingly absent and elusive piece of his years of research—something that has now been put into place.

This island, MacTallan has concluded, does not appear on any nautical or historical maps before seven years ago.

With this, my friend, although multiple pages might not make a difference to Alia’s aero, the lateness of the hour with which she will make her return compels me to end my account here and send her on her way, hopeful that she can make the retour back to Carteret and avoid the next onslaught of storms. I wish her all speed, and for you, good fortune in your now inevitable conflict with Robards. We eagerly await news of the impending trouble but simultaneously do not expect another visit soon by Alia, given both the unrest there as well as the ongoing peril of these lengthy flights.


Carteret, 11 December

My Dear Rackham,

My deepest condolences to you and your fellow survivors. It is a little strange, perhaps, to mourn the loss of your submersible’s crew in light of the untold thousands Albion has already lost this year. But I knew some of them, and others I had come to know through your correspondence, and now they are gone. Here, we are afforded some peace in what I can only assume is the calm before the storm; this gives me some time to focus on your situation and what I can do to help.

The population of Carteret continues to swell with refugees and escapees from New Albion. In marked contrast to that faux nation, our resistance is governed by what I affectionately refer to as the Tortoise Council, run as it is from the common room of the town’s chief tavern, The Weeping Tortoise. The natives of Garnsey are represented by Carteret’s constable and the island’s lieutenant governor, who had been one of those imprisoned in the granary. (The governor himself remains confined to his rooms at the residence back in Stockport with an unspecified ailment.) Campbell has agreed to help defend the town until such time as a departure from the island is viable, gaining him a seat at the table. Sanders represents the remnants of Elizabeth College. These four are joined by yours truly, though I have been present only recently for reasons I will explain later.

One pleasant surprise in all of this is Sanders, who, you will recall, is the gentleman who Robards so effectively charmed with an early conscious use of his Ability. Because of that event, he had been filed away in my mind as a weak-willed bureaucrat; in fact he is a highly competent leader and administrator. The fact that Carteret’s sudden growth has not led to food riots and a panoply of sewage problems is largely due to his careful planning.

At any rate, while as a general rule I have been keeping the contents of your letters to myself, I realized upon reading your last that a greater amount of coordination would be needed to offer you all the help I could. I have shared your plight with the Tortoise Council, in doing so keeping in mind Thorpe’s exhortation to place some trust in Van Dyke and, by extension, Sanders. I am increasingly reassured that, while they are Society men, they had no direct involvement or perhaps even knowledge of the machinations that have led to our present calamity.

My first thought is how to get supplies to you; my second is whether from here we can do anything to convey you from Skald. The aeros are, as you know, one-person crafts, but I do not believe you understand the extent of their limitations. I myself would not have appreciated it had I not stumbled upon a heated argument between Alona and Alia not long after your letter was delivered. Alona was furious that her compatriot had even attempted to reach you. Simply put, a round trip to a destination one hundred miles distant is considered an aero’s maximum range. This puts Garnsey well within reach of the mainland, but Skald is considerably further away. In going out to find you, Alia had no beacon to guide her, and was traveling much further than an aero was ever meant to go, with limited instrumentation to keep her on course. She had to shed as much weight as possible and be extremely judicious in her use of natural air currents to assist her propulsion. Having accomplished it she can likely pull it off again, but it was extremely risky, and, more to the point, there are rather hard limits as to how much cargo she can bring with her. I have put together a package of rations and medical supplies and anything else I could find that might prove useful and does not weigh very much.

Her difficulties will be compounded by the fact of Bledsoe’s betrayal, and the question to whether it is safe to return to Greysham. The Council debated whether to even risk sending supplies your way at all. I was in favor, of course, as was Sanders, but the locals saw no reason to hazard losing Alia for the sake of some distant, unknown party, and Campbell agreed with them. Alia, present at that meeting, calmly let everyone know that unless they meant to set hands on her aero over her lifeless body, she would be returning to Skald, and so the matter was settled. She will either find a way to refuel at Greysham, or somewhere else. Resourcefulness has never been a problem for her.

Is “refuel” even the proper word? “Recharge,” perhaps? I have learned a great deal about aeros and their capabilities in the past couple of days, but I am still far from understanding how they work.

Two more points to address from your letter. I cannot help but mark the tragedy inherent in the manner in which Thorpe chose to execute Thompson. Why the deuce did he not simply wring the man’s neck, instead of ejecting the first lifeboat prior to sending him into the deep? That lifeboat may have saved three more of your companions, not least Thorpe himself, though I imagine he is the sort who would have gone down with the ship. You have noted before how his transformation predisposed him toward anger and impulsive behavior; I can only hope that he thought better of his choice during his final moments.

Second, I took great interest in Bennington’s reaction to the sight of the vortex storms. I encourage you to find out more from her about that if you can. I was lamenting to Sanders how the burning of the College meant that any hopes of turning up some answers in Bennington’s old lab are now lost. He intimated that unless the Brotherhood had been extremely thorough, there were places on campus very well-hidden and well-protected where we may yet find some answers. If we survive what is coming that is definitely on my agenda.

I have been saving for last just what I have been up to. Not long after sending my previous letter, I returned to Stockport, hoping that I would still find myself in Robards’ good graces. And that seemed, at first, to be the case. I had no direct contact with him, which was not in itself unusual, but I made myself seen at the residence and in town, and no particular notice seemed to have been made of my three-day absence.

So I resumed my usual business of staying out of the way but snooping around when I could. Something was definitely afoot; behind the closed door of a meeting-room, Robards’ staff were planning a large operation of some sort. These meetings typically recessed around sunset for dinner, and so that is when I came up unobtrusively from the wine cellar. I found the door to the meeting-room locked, so, after first carefully looking around to make sure no one was watching, I simply passed through it. (I had left the ward behind in Carteret, knowing I might need the freedom to use my Ability unhindered.)

What I found there, amid a sea of diagrams on chalkboards, maps on the walls, and a pile of official orders and proclamations, was nothing less than a plan to storm Carteret by both land and sea. So engrossed was I in taking in the details, memorizing what I could, that it was at least a minute before I realized someone had been sitting in a chair in the corner behind me, watching all the while.

It was Robards.

“I am disappointed, Dr. Crane,” he said.

I sighed. “How long have you known?”

“Truthfully? Not until the incident at the lighthouse. I am a fool for not having realized it sooner. My own fist passed through your body in a moment of anger not long after we arrived on this island. I should have suspected you of aiding the prison escape right away.”

“You remember my Ability, then? Good. Then perhaps you will also remember our conversation that day. You acknowledged that you might have an Ability of your own, that we did not understand them well, and that we should proceed with caution.”

“I have proceeded with what has been necessary to preserve all that is precious to us.”

“No! This false devotion you engender in others has addled your mind. This is not you, my friend, and if you would only give me a chance I believe I can –”

“Stop! Do you suppose I waited for you here out of some unconscious desire for you to talk sense to me?” He laughed, short and harsh. “This is why you are here.”

He picked up a pistol sitting on the desk beside him, aimed, and fired.

My Ability preserved me. I ghosted, instinctively, in the fraction of a second before the shot reached me. But though the shot passed harmlessly through, I will not say I was not wounded. I had imagined this confrontation countless times, and always thought that all was not lost, that I could make him see the light, and somehow bring him back to his old self. Now I realized that I had been naïve, that as surely as the strange workings of the Incident had turned Thorpe into a man-lizard, Robards had also been turned into a monster, but of a different sort, and that there may be no coming back from it.

He fired again as I allowed myself to sink through the floor. He had been prepared for this moment: the residence was already on high alert, the wine cellar under close guard; Brotherhood goons were everywhere. But how can you stop someone you cannot touch? It was a cat-and-mouse game for a while, but eventually I was able to slip through the outer wall into the garden at a spot where no one was looking, and from there ran to the countryside. Escape was not difficult, but there was a price: at least half a dozen men saw me pass through walls with their own two eyes, or witnessed objects passing through me. My secret is out; who knows how Robards will explain it to his men.

Now you understand the calm before the storm I alluded to earlier. We are bracing ourselves for Robards’ attack. Losing the element of surprise can only mean he will advance his timetable.

Alia stands ready to depart later today, so I only have time for a quick addendum. As we were loading up the aero – Alona carefully weighing the cargo one more time – Sanders approached and started asking what at first seemed rather impertinent questions about what I had discovered at the College, back on the day when he had allowed Robards and I into Bennington’s laboratory. I had not forgotten the red vials and syringe that we had found there, of course, but having never had a good opportunity to investigate them, they had not been foremost in my mind.

“Out with it, man,” I snapped. “I have no doubt you investigated things very thoroughly once you came to your senses. I have always assumed that you knew what we took.”

“The vials, yes,” he answered. “It occurs to me that Bennington is the one who knows best what they may be used for, and they may indeed have some use in their current predicament.”

And so, since you have already sent me a mysterious and powerful gift, I will now respond in kind. Hopefully Bennington will find some way to make these vials useful. Though they were not particularly heavy, including them on the aero did necessitate leaving something else out – in this case, the very fine bottle of Lochnagar single malt that I had hoped to include as a single item of luxury in an otherwise utilitarian delivery. Apologies – I will think of you fondly as I drink it!

Warm Regards,


The Isle of Skald, 7 December

Thingstag, 30. Elfmonat

MacTallan has passed this log-book onto me today, with the mutual agreement that I should fill its pages with as many details as I can during the upcoming journey. Upon handing it over, he made warm compliments toward myself as the chronicler of the expedition and praised my ability to let no detail go unobserved. Whereas I have seen the importance of keeping excellent records of everything we see and experience in this changed world, I am sure that I perform a mediocre service at best—but at any rate, I will use this nautical log-book during the journey to make what notes I can. Since I have run out of paper taken from The Waterford School, I will happily exercise this option, but make somewhat shorter notes while at sea. I will endeavor to capture the workings of the ship, details of how we navigate the voyage, and how the men fare in a strange and cramped environment.

– – –

Wodenstag, 1. Jahrende

December 1 and the weather has become no colder than it would be in mid-autumn. At least the lack of cold serves us in that it does not impede preparations for the testing of the Jagdschloss later this week, and as a further blessing, the last six days have been free of black storms.

Bennington and I expect to complete the work on the manual by tomorrow, in time for us to have a complete working copy aboard—although I should note that the most relevant parts have already become Gates’ abbreviated course for the men in the basics of piloting. Since Hollins has a young family and cannot be convinced to serve on-board as engineer, Gates will also be using the manual to train some of the men to service the engine—to the extent that two days’ study will allow.

Thorpe and Bledsoe have cooperated well in the acquisition of supplies for the journey, and we will have as much as we can take on waiting for us to load after we complete our tests.

– – –

Thonarstag, 2. Jahrende

Gates has ordered a day of on-board drills and walk-throughs for the men, complete with meals taken on board and confinement to their quarters for the evening, apparently to acclimate them to the experience of serving on a vessel such as the Jagdschloss. This leaves those of us still at the Downborough Arms a last quiet day of completing the translations on the manual, studying MacTallan’s maps and charts, and rest.

After supper Bledsoe related the news that Thompson was found dead earlier this afternoon by a fisherman who had strayed south along the coast in search of a catch. According to the man’s testimony to Bledsoe, he spotted a small boat out in the water, adrift, about a half-mile from the coast. In it, was the body of Thompson, sprawled out on the floor of the little craft. His face was pale and his body slack, and when the fisherman took him up onto his boat, it seemed to him as if he had been poisoned. Not knowing what to do, he brought the body back to town, where Bledsoe identified the dead man.

I wished then that Bledsoe had thought to at least alert Thorpe, or Bennington—but then again, with all of the business of the preparations for the crossing to Skald, I do not know what either of them would have spared the time to do, except to order that Thompson’s corpse be buried. This is what Bledsoe ordered upon seeing the man: and so that chapter is now completely ended.

After supper, Bennington offered that a practice among some Society operatives is to wear pendants which, when broken in half, would produce a hidden caplet of poison. In case they were discovered or compromised, suicide was ordered instead of the risk of revealing information under interrogation or torture. Perhaps this is what Thompson decided, finding no hope in striking out from the town into the bleak landscape beyond, and no ability to return.

– – –

Frigstag, 3. Jahrende

Gates and full crew completed day of successful tests. Diving ring apparatus appears fully functional; Greenley and Hollins congratulated. Single-screw steam engine seems fully operable, no problems reported. First test dive to 55 feet successful, followed by test dive to 120 feet at 6 arc-minutes per hour. This is as per Bennington’s translation of Knoten, about one and one-sixth mile per hour—thus our maximum speed is approximately 7 forward miles per hour.

All chambers on board have been inspected, with the maximum scrutiny possible, including the engine room, the storage and ballast chambers, the control cabin, crew quarters, and ready room. The ship has a small galley with a gas burner, a WC, with fresh water supplied though clever use of cooling condensed vapor along steam exhaust tubes. We also have two round pods attached to the hull that appear to be covered, windowless lifeboats, accessible via watertight hatches.

MacTallan estimates arrival at Skald, assuming linear movement at constant speed and time allotted for course corrections, in thirty-six hours’ time.

– – –

Samstag, 4. Jahrende

Last of the preparations and tests. Bennington has completed the last of her medical inspections on the men and confirms full health after both dives.

Bennington shared with me that after translating the technical manual, she concluded H-boat is of Society design, sold to the Saxonian Empire at outset of the War. Society inventors created steam-engine apparatus for diving. This conveys the water from inside the ballast-tanks into the condensation chamber by vibrating coils. Coils focus electrical power from the ship’s “amberite piles.” Water inside chamber then separates into vapors that allow the ship to rise or descend.

Irony of being conveyed in recaptured, repaired Society invention to recover lost, arcane weapon secretly sought by Society not lost on me.

Received Crane’s latest letter late in the evening from Alona. Too much excitement now; will read it after we have cast off.

– – –

Sonnentag, 5. Jahrende

Cast-off ceremony in early morning, with cheers and well-wishes of the entire port town. Bledsoe speech generous but not particularly inspirational. Gates and Thorpe generally confident, no errors on cast-off, ship’s engines sound strong. Total loaded cargo: three weeks’ food, medical supplies, clothing, and small equipment for exploration. Some weapons—Thorpe advises ammunition locked up separately from weapons, and Kilcannon at the watch with the key. Greysham coal reserves of 5 tons will be consumed during the journey, serving meantime as additional ballast.

Men remember past weeks of training well. High morale at sea thus far. Gates seems confident in men. Duty officers are as follows: Kilcannon as under-captain, discipline over men, general watch. Arasaku: Pilot-at-helm, follows Gates’ commands for rudder. Laray: Depth-officer, controls mechanisms for what we now call the “diving apparatus,” watches depth gauge. Wright: Co-pilot, follows Gates’ commands for forward velocity. O’Doole and Bell: Engineers, detect breakdowns, ensure correct operation of engines, make at-sea repairs.

Engines powered all through day and into evening at full speed, depth 30 feet. We have no awareness of waves, storms, or currents while submerged. All is quiet except for the rhythmic churning of the engine screw-shaft. Water-vapor air causes wet surfaces and some difficulty writing in book, but otherwise we are generally comfortable.

– – –

Montag, 6. Jahrende

Time is imperceptible in our wet metal tube. Awoke sometime the next morning after fitful sleep. Gates and MacTallan had already conferred: we have stayed relatively on course and now should find ourselves well into the Eastern Sea.

Some hours passed with no word from Gates, but otherwise quiet. Reviewed nautical map after short meal with rationed water. Alerted in ready chamber by strange noise echoing throughout. Low, thumping sound, each new noise punctuated by several seconds of silence. Men nervous—some heard similar sounds at front of ship, others heard in midsection, then as far back as engine room.

Sudden lurch to side—men thrown about, myself tossed against bulkhead. A cry came from Bennington in the ready chambers, and out the small porthole there we saw something moving in the deep. A long, reptilian tail swished suddenly against the porthole and the H-boat shuddered again, booming with the sound of the creature’s attack. Gates ordered a hasty surface and the diving apparatus engaged, allowing us a sudden burst of speed. I recalled Crane’s description of the sea creature during the passage to Machlou. Can only imagine that this was one of its cousins. Unlike the wooden boat, however, our iron hull stayed whole.

Gates ordered craft to remain just under the surface of the water, at a stop. We dared not to breathe for an hour. Thumping sound began to recede and then a cold silence. The air in the cabin had chilled to a frost and we shivered from both fear and cold.

Bennington mentioned seeing a tubular cupola mechanism in the manual to aid in viewing above surface, but had not labeled it, having found no word for it. Gates located this Sehrohr and operated it through a twinned eye-piece tube that descended from the ceiling of the vessel. Shocking scene: Gates described terrible force winds and heavy rains, sheets of water, descending from low, boiling clouds. Peaks of sea rose up to meet the clouds, as if being conducted through invisible funnels. Streaks of sparks, ball lightning, meeting furiously amidst the sky and the surface water. How glad we were then to be protected—and how lucky Crane must have been not to have been swept up by them.

Bennington then viewed the Sehrohr device. For a moment I saw her tremble—I caught her as she fell back in shock, mute, unsteady. “It cannot be,” I heard her gasp, and I helped her to a ready bunk. “I see energies in the storm.” Me, confused, struggling to settle my own disquiet: “Have you seen these—energies—before?” At this Bennington nodded, her eyes transfixed. Our immediate situation rushed to the fore of my mind; I whispered, “Are we in danger?” Bennington shook her head, but I was not sure if this was a response or an attempt to drive away the images that haunted her. I appointed Kilcannon to attend her, and rejoined Gates and the remainder of the crew in the control cabin.

Gates demanded an explanation, and seeing that I was unwilling or unable to provide one, concluded that we were not safe at the surface, either. “Deep dive, lads,” he called out, eyes still on me. “Hundred and forty feet or we scrape the bottom.” We looked at Thorpe. “Gates is captain here,” he said, “and we have already been badly delayed by all of this.” He then left to check on our doctor.

A whine and a shudder—diving apparatus engaged again, this time at its maximum capacity. Vaguely aware of forward movement but plane of descent steep enough to cause unattached objects to dislodge or roll. Men held on to seats and handles as ship plummeted downward into deep. Tiefenmesser reading indicated maximum depth; Gates ordered stop on apparatus.

[Log entry remains unfinished, account continues on separate page]

Crane, at this point I was unable to complete this log book entry to its fullest because of what happened after I had left the control room. I wrote this last portion to you from the shores of Skald, on chart-paper that you find wrapped around these log-book entries.

There in the silence and gloom we heard creaking as H-boat struggled to withstand crushing forces; having retreated to the ready quarters after several minutes of observing the men listening intently to the eerie sounds of the utter depths, I found a small gas lantern and penned the last few paragraphs of the log entry.

Just then, the H-boat shook violently and I thought in an instant that Gates had doomed us—but instead it was the engine screw from the rear cabin. Smoke floated slowly out from underneath the recessed door, and I could make out O’Doole screaming from behind it. The muffled but unmistakable report from a pistol shot then followed, and I feared the worst, paralyzed at my chair. I heard Thorpe sprint from his quarters, and as I steeled myself to peer astern into the long corridor, I saw Thorpe tear the iron bulkhead door from its very joints.

The hungry glow of hot flames beyond greeted our captain. Another shot rang out: but our snake-man dodged it in a blur—like a bolt, I tell you—and the bullet careened into a nearby pipe, causing an angry jet of steam to pour into the hold. I could see very little from the smoke and the steam, but Kilcannon sailed past me, shielding his eyes but intent on assisting his leader. I caught the general motions of a struggle and I heard another shot, and then a shout and a painful cry from a man whose voice I recognized—but whose presence was incomprehensible to me.

Kilcannon emerged first, and motioned to me to enter the galley. Finally remembering myself amidst the shock and urgency of the scene, I made out the outline of a water-bucket under a shelf. Passing Kilcannon the bucket, he retreated back behind the wall of vapor, and the light from the flames subsided. Then, out from the smoke marched Thorpe—dragging a sputtering Thompson, head firmly looped by a mighty arm-hold, stumbling behind Thorpe like a street urchin subdued by an angry constable.

I gasped, at the time not comprehending Bledsoe’s treachery, which is now obvious to me.

“He’s sabotaged the engines.”

For a moment all I could do was stare at Thompson in disbelief.

“What are you going to do?” I asked, recognizing a look in Thorpe’s reptilian eyes that I had seen once before.

Thorpe passed me with Thompson now going limp under his grip, and looked back for a moment. “What I ought to have done back at the Cairns.”


I had no choice but to follow Thorpe. As we both approached the control room, Gates appeared, eyes wide from the excitement, questions ready on his lips. Like myself, however, all that the seaman could do is watch Thorpe march the re-captured spy to the hatch at the side of the vessel.

Bennington and MacTallan exited the crew quarters, joining me there in the corridor as I breathlessly watched what Thorpe would do next.

“He’ll never survive at this depth,” observed Bennington. In her voice I heard a cold calculation—not a careful warning.

“That’s the idea.”

Thorpe turned and pulled a lever, and we heard the loud whoosh of the first of the lifeboats detach from the craft.

Gates stepped in. “What in Deus’ name, man—”

Thorpe stopped him with a glare.

He then turned the hatch wheel: his arm wrenched the wheel with a mighty strain as he maintained his hold on the now-unconscious Thompson. The hatch opened to the small crawlspace beyond, and Thorpe bundled the man inward. We could see him collapse in a heap as Thorpe replaced the hatch, sealing it watertight by turning the wheel in the opposite direction.

“For good, this time.” Another pull on the lever, and Thompson was sucked out into the murky void.

Just then the H-boat shuddered again, and from all around we heard an agonizing creak. Bolts and valves burst from above and near us as the pressure from the pipes overcame the metal that contained it, spewing water and steam.

“We can’t move forward, Captain, but we can still surface!” shouted Thorpe in the chaos.

Gates rushed back into the control chamber. “He’s right! Diving apparatus to full reverse—TAKE US UP, immediately!”

Instinctively, we all grasped the nearest safe handle and braced ourselves. The nose of the H-boat began to rise slowly, the hull groaning again as the apparatus answered its helm.

“Not you three.”

Somehow finding footing against the rise, Thorpe crossed the corridor and turned the hatch wheel leading to the other lifeboat.

“Get in.”

Bennington, MacTallan, and I looked at each other. What was Thorpe proposing?

Bennington looked at Thorpe. “We’ll make it,” she offered.

“No, we won’t. You know this as well as I, Doctor. There’s no time for argument.”

Thinking quickly, I grabbed my pencil, the log-book and the lantern from the ready room. MacTallan and Bennington hurried into the hatchway as quickly as they could, and Thorpe’s arm ushered me in to join them.

“One more thing, Rackham,” Thorpe said from behind me.


He held out the key on its leather strap—the one that he had taken from Thompson back at the Cairns. “You might need this.”

Beyond we found the shell-like lifeboat, a little submersible into itself; MacTallan closed a second hatch, and then the little lifeboat door, and sealed us in. A few more seconds and we felt a powerful thrust outward, like a bullet leaving a rifle.

From somewhere in the deep behind and below us we sensed a dull, sickening thump, and felt a strange bob in the water that disoriented us in our windowless pod. In the dim glow of the gas lantern, I noted the same expression of dread and horror etched on the faces of my compatriots that must have appeared on mine.

Perhaps an hour passed and we sensed a change in the air inside our boat. We soon heard the pelt of water droplets echoing on the hull: so with a kick, I dislodged the door, detaching it fully to reveal a sunrise horizon, the new sun dappling the waves. Some moments later and we three were able to climb out of the craft and onto its wide, flat roof, providing us with the scene of a wide, forested island looming not far to the east, and the wreckage of the H-boat bobbing up from the dark waves behind us. We now count it destroyed completely; the Jagdschloss has been lost with all hands.

You are able to read this and the log entries I have attached, in sum, because again our miraculous flyers have triumphed again: it is Alia this time who spotted us, having flown low along the water when she saw the glint of the debris and oil from the Jagdschloss fanning out on the water’s surface in the morning sun. We met her on the shores of the island, which she has confirmed from her own maps as Skald, after she was able to locate a suitable clearing on which to make a satisfactory but bumpy landing.

I had tucked your latest letter into the log-book and thus I was able to read it; I am glad to note that back in Greysham I had left the copies of all of my notes, and our correspondence, locked up in my desk at the Arms. I can only hope that these documents are not already taken by the traitor Bledsoe—who, as I see it clearly now, lied to me to conceal Thompson’s presence onboard the H-boat in order to sabotage it. I can only wonder what the spy offered to Bledsoe as a bribe that would be valuable enough to become an accessory to the deaths of so many fine men. In the meantime, since Alia knows well how to access the false bottom of the writing-desk, I have asked her to stop there first and secure my documents. She is clever, and I am confident that she will find a way not to arouse Bledsoe’s suspicions.

We are now only three, no food, no water, no equipment save what I took in our last moments aboard the submarine. I am sure that you will send supplies with our next flyer’s return trip—but until then, MacTallan, Bennington, and I will forage and sleep under the stars, taking refuge from the storms in whatever meager shelter we can manage to build from the trees. Our first hope is fresh water; there is higher ground on the northern part of the island, and perhaps there we might find a little stream.

And we have a key—a key to an unknown door with secrets more invisible than the door itself.

I can only wish that you fare better than we have of late, Crane, in your next adventures with Campbell and his crew, especially now that you are free of Robards. May fortune continue to smile upon you and find its way—somehow—back to us.