A Series of Letters

Jonathan P. Halsey
Chesterfield’s Curiosities
996 Main Street
Ostley, County Lakesmouth
Victoria

Professor:

It is my sincerest hope that you are adjusting pleasantly to life back in Ostley and to the unique challenges posed therein. I hope that we have not forgotten any of your desired comforts in our haste to join this expedition, and that you find my home a welcoming one for as long as you should desire to rest, adapt, and enjoy the familiarity of the city.

It is the morning of 13 Coldstar, 1867 and a dreadful catastrophe has befallen the once-lovely desert village of Almeria. It was upon our return from exploring an ancient ruin with the respectable Dr. Mary-Anne Irons that we came upon the scene of a bombing, still in progress and by assailants unknown.

The expedition itself had come nearly to a terrifying halt before it could even begin; a variety of sand-dwelling worm known as olgoi-khorkoi were responsible for nearly removing the limbs of several crew members during the first night of our voyage South. Both Death Worms — as they were so styled — were handily dispatched by Capt. Zadra’s impeccable marksmanship and by the prompt intervention of all those present. Dr. Krauss treated all injuries and envenomations with his usual Imperial standard of care.

Narrowly avoiding the worst of a sandstorm, we encountered the ruined city on our third bumpy, fragrant day of camel-riding. The location was found after much exploration to be the ancient city of Or’samepha, 1 a location of cultural significance among the people of the Q’nari Empire — or the First as they were known. The discovery within of a statue believed to depict the fearsome deity Thotth-ogo brought us no end of satisfaction, and I was in particular overcome with an impatient desire to examine it more closely; this was quickly interrupted by the crumbling of a banister and a fall from which only my left arm and the crew were able to save me. The commotion, however, attracted a pair of solifugae: dark-dwelling spiders each the size of a small carriage which proceeded predictably to administer us a dreadful intoxicating venom with their piercing mandibles. The beasts were expertly disassembled by the skilled hands of the lad Nergui, but the details that follow are unclear to me as in the struggle I became perilously indisposed. Again it fell to Dr. Krauss to perform medical duties, assisted as I am told by a roving band of mixed nationality who were the ostensible keepers of said ruin. It was to their antitoxin that I owed the following several days of my life.

For on the third day of the return voyage, very much medically recovered, we were surprised by the sight of a fleet of unmarked airships speeding overhead toward the above named village. An explosion thereafter threw us from our very camels, and our panicked rush into the city was marked by several more such blasts as we attempted, blindly and in terror, to make our way back to the good ship Kestrel. In the confusion and destruction, Capt. Zadra suffered two cracked ribs and I a fractured fibula; it is in recovering from the fracture that I write to you now, confined to the medical bay of the ship. She, at least, was found to be in excellent condition. We have Airman Finnegan to thank for that. The ultimate fate of the village, however, is not yet clear.

I am forced to conclude, dearest Professor, two things from the events of this voyage: that the Western Wastes loathe me unconditionally, and that immediately following the retrieval of Dr. Irons (for she has not yet been found) I shall never again set foot on its hellish sands.

We hope to see you soon.

Yours always in service,
Elizabeth Chesterfield

1 Dr. Irons assures me that I have the correct spelling and pronunciation.

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Jonathan P. Halsey
Chesterfield’s Curiosities
996 Main Street
Ostley, County Lakesmouth
Victoria

Professor:

It is a strange sight: a hobbling crutch-bound woman attempting at once to wield a machete and a disarming smile. Were you aware that gigantic, biting ants swarm within the long, hollow thorns of the acacia tree? You may take my word as a Chesterfield that it is true. You may also take my word regarding the rest of the hostile wildlife, of which there is no blessed shortage; my father once wrote of the Mogathi Expanse that it could make a mastiff of a teacup hound, and as of this second voyage I am inclined to heartily concur. Everything is unreasonably gigantic, from the trees to the reptiles to the unholy buzzing clouds of bot flies that regularly terrorize the tribespeople. The Wastes, as we are learning, are not the only habitat for ridiculously-oversized fauna in this world.

Having mentioned the reptiles I feel it is my duty to describe them to you: they are terrible bipedal creatures ranging in size from dogs to watchtowers, with great long muscled hindlimbs and a forward-leaning gait. Their forelimbs are thinner, long-clawed and rending things made for grasping and dismantling their prey, and in the interest of balancing such a strange posture a thick and powerful tail swings wildly behind them. The narrow head appears nearly to unhinge at the jaw, revealing a row of sizeable teeth the sharpness of which is not a matter of debate, and great dorsal crests of red and yellow fan outward in unison with the creature’s terrifying screams, bright against the scales of mottled green and brown. Their tiny golden eyes fix upon their prey with a singular, murderous intent.

It will come as no surprise to you then, dearest Professor, that we were accosted by a roving pack of the blasted things not half an hour into our journey inland. It was immediately following the poor beleaguered Nergui’s stop for medical care, as the thorn-dwelling ants had savaged his arms and legs with their bites and stinging venom; darling Nneka, who knows those lands, was prompt in escorting him to a river and cleansing him of the dreadful insects. With these injuries fresh on the mind we first heard the rustling in the bush, and we learned yet another two things from the encounter: that they are not frightened off by alchemical explosives, and that their charge is not easily interrupted by a well-placed wooden crutch.

I am now, quite uncomfortably, one crutch short of a pair — but I am alive! We all are, and the beast was strangely delicious. My father would have been proud.

5th Firstbloom and it is sweltering. Our stay in the jungle was a short one this time; the above mentioned dangers well taken in hand, we departed for a temple several hours’ walk from the Jaguar city-tree where the leaders of the various tribes had gathered to discuss the Tengriin tournament. Much fuss was made over a collection of totem statues which were stolen by the leader of the Monkey tribe; the statues, he claimed, would be returned to each tribe leader once they had participated in the tourney. It was thus agreed, however grudgingly, that every tribe would send its finest, and in the morning we all departed for the port town of Cuevas Altas in order to see off the heroic participants.

In total: Capt. Zadra, Daniel O’Reilly, Airmen Finnegan and Esparza, Nergui, and the champions of fourteen tribes 1 departed by steamboat to the Plains where they will take part in the games. Dr. Krauss, Dr. Marwick, and I have chosen to remain in Cuevas Altas aboard the Kestrel for the duration of the event, our research requiring considerable attention and my leg still quite broken from the chaos of the Almeria disaster. We are taking this time to further our studies, above all in the direction which we have promised you. The discovery of a peculiar blue-and-black flower native to the island of La Croix has whipped us into a scientific frenzy, however dangerous its acquisition may yet prove to be. It is with the brightest optimism that we hope to bring you good news in the near future.

Please be safe, and mind the uneven floorboard in the attic.

Yours always in service,
Elizabeth Chesterfield

P.S. The local bookstore is appalling. Licentious works of fiction abound! I have salvaged from its depths a worn copy of The Adventures of Manuel Villazaras; please find it enclosed.

1 Jaguar, Monkey, Tiger, Boar, Parrot, Serpent, Giant Angry Lizard, Frog, Black Panther, Bat, Elephant, Crocodile, Gorilla, and Piranha tribes have entered the tournament.

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Jonathan P. Halsey
Chesterfield’s Curiosities
996 Main Street
Ostley, County Lakesmouth
Victoria

Professor:

There are moments in which a common person unaccustomed to the madness of a world outside walls — perhaps a scientist or a shopkeep — might realize that she is in far over her head. In these moments it is all such a person can do to cling to the small comforts: a night of rest, or the company of a dear friend. I have chosen to exchange the former for the latter, at least today.

Several of the crew have parted ways with the Kestrel since last I wrote you: Miss Zadra has relinquished the ship to the newly-appointed Capt. Finnegan following a shocking victory at the Tengriin horse races, and departed for Caravello some few days past; Daniel O’Reilly and his wife have gone home to the Mogathi jungles; Nergui seeks initiation into the Tiger tribe and has joined them. The Kestrel is alive with new crew members from all regions of the world, most notably a talented Marloux engineer named Noelle Deslys and her curious dragon-shaped clank. A foppish Marloux gentleman by the name of Laurent LaChance has hired the Kestrel for a mission to La Croix, where we are to deliver food to those most affected by the political turmoil therein; I fear by the look in Dr. Krauss’ eye and by the roundabout language of the new patron that there is more to the mission than I am being led to believe.

Whatever the mission itself may be, we are presently on the island of St. Martine awaiting nightfall and the opportunity to pass through a blockade undetected. That we arrived at all is a miracle; in the cover of darkness we were assaulted by pirates not half a day’s journey from the island, and roused from our sleep by shouting and the sound of cannonfire. The first strike rocked the ship and injured our crewman Lubsang, a hardy Tengriin fellow, but he was quickly stabilized by the capable Dr. Krauss and carried away from further harm. The second strike, however, rained incendiary pitch down onto our vessel, and immediately both deck and balloon were in flames as we attempted either to shoot down or outmaneuver the pirate ship.

You would have been awed at the Doctor’s bravery. Our very lives in danger, he scrambled up alone to extinguish the canopy flames with frosty alchemical vials and the sort of steel-eyed resolve that only an Imperial officer could ever boast. The handy Miss Deslys contributed a flying birdlike clank to his efforts, which dropped more freezing mixture from above, and the balloon fire was rapidly extinguished — but a hole in the material had by then formed beneath the blaze, and the craft was beginning to lose altitude at an alarming rate. With several fires still raging on deck and the good Doctor balancing for dear life several metres above us, The Two saw it fit to send us salutations in the form of a thunderstorm — complete with waterspout and the whipping winds that commonly accompany such a thing.

Yet even in the darkest times there is grace, and so it was: the pirates found the storm too dangerous for their liking, and immediately fled; this left us in the peculiar position of being at once on fire and pursued by rain, and wishing however madly that the rain might actually catch up to the ship if only to douse the blasted thing. Fortunately, the use of a few more freezing vials staunched the deck fires thoroughly, and the incredible Dr. Krauss was able to repair the holes in the canopy with minimal fuss. Soon we were well away from the dreaded waterspout and the storm, and landed safely at daybreak — shaken, but otherwise unharmed. Miss Deslys is taking this quiet moment to make repairs on the vessel, for she will be airborne again within several hours to brave what may well be the wrath of a nation. This Mr. LaChance has a great deal yet to explain.

I confess that I am afraid, for we cannot turn back now, and I do not know when I will be able to write again. Please be safe. I will return. I must.

Yours always in service,
Elizabeth Chesterfield

P.S. I have not forgotten your blue and black flower.

A Series of Letters

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