January 25 (Received February 18)
I arrived yesterday in Anchasiu and although the railcar ticket was unimaginably expensive for such a distance, my instincts urged me to choose speed over economy. Now I am here, I see my instincts were correct. While the horrific incidents have been scattered in the Northern provinces, here they are occurring at the rate of an epidemic. The manifestation is so different from what we have seen in Cellen that it is difficult to believe there is a connection at all. But the timing is too perfectly aligned to be otherwise, of that I am certain.
I originally planned to track the Saharan clan through dogged interrogation of the locals until I found a general direction in which to travel, but I was quite concerned as to whether I would lose precious days in such a pursuit. However, on sinking my boot in the sand, I learned my presence had been anticipated because a young boy immediately approached me as I gathered up my luggage.
“Are you Cassie Leclaire?”
On replying in the affirmative and inquiring how long he had been waiting for me, he replied, “I’ve been a’waiting here for three days. The Dhangar sent me when he received your letter and knew you would come as soon as you read the one he had already sent. He gave me enough money to buy food for two weeks.” He patted the waist of his trousers, which corroborated the statement with a merry jingle. “We’re to get camels and head out immediately s’long as it suits you.” The flinty black eyes assessed my attire and his features settled into an approving expression. At that moment, I was quite pleased with myself for dressing in my Anchasiu garb that morning.
Since it did indeed suit me, we were out of the Anchasiu hub within the hour, despite the mobs of merchants distracting us with offerings of brined fish and the like. I was surprised when the boy told me the Saharans were only a night’s travel from the hub. “Things are real bad, you see. It’s in the hub too—you would’ve seen it if we’d stayed longer.”
After some consideration, I suggested, for reasons of expediency and safety, that we forego making camp in favor of riding all night long. We intercepted the Saharans just as the sun was rising. I heard Augustofe’s before I saw him. His robust voice sang: “Heave ho! Hoist those sails. You’re one pull closer than you were a’fore!”
I should mention that although Augustofe was born in Anchasiu, he wanted so mightily to be a pirate when he was younger and was so bitterly disappointed that his nation had no navy (as tends to happen to landlocked countries), that he left home at age fourteen to cross the border into Iab where he stowed away on a North Forth vessel. Somehow or other, I don’t recall the details, he won himself an apprenticeship and thereby acquired many tales of encounters with pirates before returning home six years later. He has remained with his clan ever since.
I had no intention of announcing my presence, but the boy counteracted any hope I had of an inconspicuous entrance and before I knew it, Augustofe was greeting me as warmly as if I had only been gone a week. He halted the clan’s efforts to break camp, since my appearance removed any need for travel.
And then he showed them to me. The Saharans are a medium-sized clan—a little over a hundred members, most of who are related by blood or marriage to the clan head, Mordechi. Out of those hundred, twenty-five have fallen to the waking-dead disease, although only twenty-two were still with the clan since three so far had wandered off and never returned. To prevent more casualties of this type, the current sufferers are kept in a fenced area with a rather nervous guard to watch them. There was no pattern in which victims were struck. A fever seemed to seize them quite suddenly and drained their strength within two to three days. They would lie dead for several hours and then a fit of convulsions seized their body before they miraculously regained consciousness. When I saw them, my suspicions were immediately strengthened. Every face showed some battle between pain, listlessness, and confusion concentration. They generally babbled sentences like those you hear in sleep talkers, but with a startling clarity in their speech. “I’ll be late, I just know it,” said one man to another, tugging frantically at his robes. “Do you have the time? No wait, perhaps it would be better…A toast! To our host…”
“Time?” said the second man (Note that he did acknowledge the first man’s presence and even comprehended the words). “I don’t know anything about—Oh, this is awful!” And he pawed his face with his fingers. I noticed patches of his hair were gone, his scalp even being a tad bloody in spots. All seemed to have rather a rather unpredictable grasp of their physical movements, sometimes turning in the appropriate direction for discussions, but other times they would clearly move in an unintended direction.
Since this first encounter, I have had many occasions to observe the Walkers. From the start my current theory has been that some sort of extraction of their essences is being attempted by an outside party. The more I watch them, the more I believe that the extractions have not only been successful, but that the outside party has managed to implant the essences back into the victims, but left them mentally crippled for life. This does not account for certain details of their existence, however, such as why so many of them claw at their clothes and skin. I know I do not have a completed picture yet. It is very hard to focus here sometimes, because of the heat and other things.
I eagerly await a letter from you. You are often in my thoughts, even though I do not have any flowers to send you that would say as much. How is the menagerie? How are you surviving my mother? You need not pass this correspondence to her since she finds my work generally horrifying and for your sake, I would not like to upset her. Please pass this onto Delphina, for she will need every possible clue to assist her in deciphering her own half of this puzzle.