Jones exhales. "This is good. Had you been devout men this would have been much more difficult."
He pulls out a knife, and a deck of cards. He pulls a random card from the deck.
"Think of this card as our world. Not what we believe it to be but what it is. A plain object that doesn't allow us to see too far, or too much. And every other card is another world, except there are far more worlds than I have cards for in this deck. Each one is self contained and doesn't contaminate the others. Now on many of these other worlds there are forms of life indescribable to us, though most are simply beasts of the field or men of their world no matter how odd they would seem to us. But there are other things. Things that are older than all of the worlds, or at least many of them. And they do not like being restricted in their movements to the spaces in between the cards. They want in. And they use gullible men of whatever type by putting clues before them. Clues that let them do this."
He makes a cut in two cards midway, and slides them together. "Now these two worlds meet in one spot, even if only briefly, and beings from both worlds can pass from one to the other. And the things from outside can get in as well. Usually this is quickly noticed and corrected, or the method holding the worlds together isn't quite done right, and it collapses in on itself, and the worlds go apart again. But you'll notice the cards are still damaged when I pull them apart. Once an opening is made it's easier to do in the future unless a specific attempt to mend things is made. Franklin and Washington were foolish men. They thought they could control it. They opened a door, and let things in from a dozen or more worlds. That's what Raleigh was doing in Roanoke. The colonists were sacrifices of a sort. Cannon fodder for an experiment meant to protect the Crown should anything go wrong. Britain has many enemies after all. Franklin and some others somehow managed to find it all out, and decided to try to open a door to another world themselves. Just a small one. Just briefly. Their successes led them to believe we could control it. Control it well enough to use against the British by opening a door large enough to lead to dozens of other places. They'd hoped the beings from other places would find life here inhospitable and they would die from lack of food. Such is not the case entirely. This is why the war is over. The British no longer have a fleet, and no way back home. And it is not likely they'll be getting reinforcements since our spies did the same all over the Isle. The Colonies are on their own now. Alone to deal with the consequences of what we've done. Have I lost anyone so far?"
Flay"So, you're saying that our leaders broke the world, and monsters destroyed the English. And, further, this seemed like a good idea at the time?!"
Harry has his arms crossed in contemplation, and is just squinting at Jones. "No, you haven't lost me. What's worse is I believe you... for some god awful reason..."
Robert stares thoughtfully at the cards. "They sought to open a door...were they simply trying to draw other things through to attack the British, or were they attempting to go through themselves?"
"The idea was that whatever came through would likely be unwilling, and unhappy. The doorways between worlds may or may not adapt you to whatever place you happen to be going to, but it's not a comfortable experience. They opened a huge gate, and kept it open for a day, hoping that whatever stumbled through would be fearful or angered enough to simply lash out at whatever was nearby, and be powerful enough to disrupt the British and put the fear into them. The Crown may know about this, but the average citizen obviously doesn't. They'd see what they could only accept as demons and their fears would prompt them to never return here."
"It worked all to well. Whatever came through all but wiped them out. Now we've released who knows how many monsters in the process. The explosion you heard was something similar. My guess is that Washington found himself backed into a corner and tried to improvise and couldn't control it. With us being able to see it from here , the door was quite large. When it imploded it quite probably took everything in the area with it. Just like it did on one of the smaller tests. Washington may be many things but a competent Wizard he is not. That mist comes from whatever world he opened the door to, and if it's anything like the last time, it's not a good sign. If it imploded and took New York with it, it most likely left here whatever was on the other side. I'm thinking maybe the Indians saw it coming, and they either adopted the citizens of Valley Forge...or sent them to their doom to give their own tribesmen time to escape. The book we found makes me suspicious. It shouldn't be here, though I suppose Washington or one of the others could have left it behind. But their use of it implies they've had more than enough time to study and learn, and that more than one citizen did so. Very soon we'll have the choice of returning in force to confront whatever has come through, or waiting for it to come to us. The worst part is how we explain this to the people. If everyone knows, that gives the enemy opportunity to corrupt them. If we keep a tight lid on it, it gives them opportunity of another kind. Granted, depending on what came through we may not have much choice in the matter. Not everything will be immediately hostile to us, but the thing from outside have a lot of minions among the worlds. And some of the creatures on those worlds have encountered us before and liked the taste. They may have long memories."
"What you encountered Mr. McQuillen, and what Mr. Martin has seen in the past are what I call Shades. They aren't ghosts mind you. Once you're dead, you're dead as far as I can tell. But sometimes our people get abducted or accidentally cross over to the spaces between worlds. A space not meant for our kind. We think most perish. Hell maybe all of them do. But some adapt to it. Mostly by losing their humanity over time. That's our best guess anyway. The enemy uses deception as it's main weapon. It could be they've adapted, been converted, or it's just some monstrosity pretending to be them. For a time they remember their old life and they try to come back through the door that's no longer there. They appear as incorporeal phantoms to us, some of them even solid looking. But they always lose what made them one of us eventually. You friend may have remembered enough to try to warn you Will, you may not be so lucky next time. Like as not he may be a different being altogether. Most simply become feral killers but a few retain their ability to think, and can figure out how to cross back eventually. The things waiting outside make use of them. Do not confront such a being alone again."
"Mr. Martin you are what our little group calls a Medium, though I despise the term myself given it's connections. Something in your lineage makes you one of the rare few who can see into the spaces between worlds, or even into other places. It's hard to control but you can be taught. Eventually you will learn to do...other things. You will be perceived by both sides as a weapon. As an advantage. Weapons aren't considered to be people with feelings Mr. Martin so place great care in who you trust, and who you associate with.
"Mr. McQuillen you have now attracted a Shade. You go nowhere alone, not even to the outhouse. We always have a man on guard until we are in Philadelphia, and you DO NOT handle anything yourself without waking me first."
Flay"Yes; assuming we do get back to Philadelphia alive and tell them what we now know, what are we supposed to do about it? If these things could destroy the whole of the English fleet, I can imagine there is scarce little we can do to manage them. Either way, we should start back immediately... but to what avail, I do not know..."
"We don't know whats come through. If it's as mortal as we are this isn't so much a problem. We find out what it takes to make peace with it if we can, or kill it if we cant. That's what our job is. First contact. We might have gotten lucky and the implosion will simply have destroyed the area. Might have."
ArcI have no intent of speaking any of this to anyone outside this group. If I am to be a weapon I'd rather prefer it be on the side of humanity. If I can see these and possibly their world I will try to warn you, all of you, if I do notice them.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions so the saying goes. You will find life very much difficult from now on Mr. Martin, and you may not be human at the end of it. Take great care. Now then, who will be staying watch tonight?"
Will stands up. His face red with very pronounced vein on his left temple. "One more thing before we call it a day Jones. Did you have anything to do with this?"
"If by 'this' you mean your past or present encounters, then no, I haven't."
Pip"Then how do you know all this? In fact, how did Washington and Franklin gain this knowledge? We must have someone on our side who's been beyond such a portal."
"I know what I know because I have been taught by those who came before me. It's been almost several hundred years since the first Roanoke colony after all. I have been present when others demonstrated the calling up of doorways, and I have seen what happens when they fail. But no, none of us has been through and truly come back. Instead of magic think of this as a different form of science, one whose practical use involves making the universe around you do your bidding by force of will. It has rules we don't understand yet. To open a door you need the directions for where its going. If I simply try doing it from written instructions I could be opening one anywhere, even between worlds. The door will adapt you to whatever place you will arrive at, but once that happens there's no going home. You need the proper instructions to go back because they will contain the knowledge to adapt you again to your old home. But the ones who go outside...they're at the mercy of the enemy, and molded to it's purpose. They can cross from the outside to their old home only with absolute difficulty, and all but the most experienced manifest as insubstantial phantoms. But that doesn't make them any less dangerous. I myself avoid using what the others still insist on referring to as magic because they haven't found a better term. It corrupts. It's use is meant for beings far different than ourselves and we use a weak, imperfect version of it. A pale shadow of what it truly is. But consistent use changes you. It makes you less human. Less able to identify with us, easier to identify with the enemy. It is for that reason you shouldn't ever completely trust the others. Men before Franklin thought they knew enough to control what they were using, and they were put down by their students, who were later put down by their students. I hope to break that chain, and prevent a repeating of the usual cycle."
"Now, which of us is taking watch?"
Pip"I shall take first. Given the circumstances, I feel it's not wise to take two watches."
"I will take the second. Which of us wishes the third?"
Flay"I've no problem with taking the third watch..."
"Then let us sleep for now, and you can think on what I've said so far. And remember if there are incidents in the night, wake me. Don't deal with it yourself."
Spot, Listen rolls from those taking a watch.
First watch is odd but nothing truly horrible happens. A few times you think you see animals in the distance, but nothing that seems out of place.
Constable Jones appears to have an uneventful watch as well and awakens Constable Dresden on time for his watch.
Me to FLay
The night seems fairly uneventful. You do see quite a few animals though. All of them heading away from the direction you came.
Flay"I can work on translation; it shouldn't take me too long to figure out the major grammatical differences between German, English, and Dutch, and with the library I can get any sources available without the slightest suspicion.
And you mean the partner of the murdered man? How do we know his partner wasn't killed too?"
"Given the description of them I'm thinking his partner might not be entirely human. Once we report it might be a good idea to interview the local Indian tribes."