11th June, 18--
Other than the reminiscences of my Ambition, I am not ordinarily the journaling sort; experience has taught me that private information may easily tip, or be made to fall, into unsuitable hands. Nonetheless, an eminent professor at the University has convinced me that in this instance a journal of the travels on which I am about to embark may prove edifying, for it has been years since any Neath-dweller has seen California and returned to tell of it. But I get ahead of myself.
Well. I shall begin from the beginning. I am, in brief, a citizen of Fallen London who has found it desirable to make the acquaintance of several parties in this city. Even in this journal, I shall not be more specific. They, in turn, have found my services equally desirable, as I possess that all-too-rare quality of not having yet had a first death. As such, I am available for certain -- ventures, I shall call them -- that rely on the ability to move easily to the Surface.
Unfortunately, for my sins, I have acquired also a great number of unsavory habits during my time in the Neath. I shall forbear from enumerating them for the sake of any gentlebeings who may read this. Let it suffice to say that my need for frequent doses of prisoner's honey from the dens of Hollow Street in Veilgarden is neither the most appalling of these habits nor the most expensive. As such, I have recently found myself lacking funds.
This morning I was approached by an agent of Mr. Wines himself; the woman had a curtly-worded request that I see the Master at my earliest convenience regarding another venture that I might undertake for it. With my personal finances being in such a state as I have outlined, I thought it best to accept immediately.
The Master, hidden as usual in its robes, hissed the following offer from its darkness: that I accompany a shipment of its finest wines to the colonies. As I have performed this task for it before, there was nothing unusual in it, until it added that I should accompany them still further, to the brazen new California Republic. Deliveries to the area, I was given to understand, had been suspended during the long rebellions, but would now resume. There were to be several stops, plying our trade down the coast. Especially important was the final stop: a Hotel bearing the very name of the republic, with which the Bazaar had long had an amiable working relationship.
"They have been desiring to be supplied again with my wines for years," the Master told me. "Do not disappoint me. After the business you had with R--, I should not hesitate to make my displeasure known in the harshest possible terms."
It then made it plain that I was selected in spite of my more unseemly qualities and emphasized that none would miss me were I to fail to return, but offered me a sum of rostygold that could pay my debts thrice over.
What could I do but accept?
13th June, 18--
Preparations for the journey began yesterday and continue apace. I spent the day watching the Clay Men move boxes upon boxes out of the Bazaar, presumably at Mr. Wines' behest. The master is ambitious, certainly, as to the amount of commerce to be undertaken.
A bystander told me that fully half of the allotted stock is for this Hotel California; truly, I know not whether to credit the statement. It is outrageous that they could need so much.
To my amazement, further boxes marked as Mr. Spices' were also carried; the sides identified them as the best grades of prisoner's honey, in quantities enough to have half of London in honey-dreams for a week, bound for the same Hotel. I feel an urge for it, but I am still mindful of Mr. Wines' warning to me. I had not thought the Masters would work together; everyone knows they are sore about who rightfully should traffic in dreams. It seems that the lure of business with the Hotel California causes them to put aside even that enmity.
Already I begin to regret my involvement.
I must take laudanum tonight; the nightmares are again too much to bear.
14th June, 18--
I awoke late today. As is often the case after a night of laudanum, my awareness was not at its usual standard, and as such I nearly missed seeing the note that had been slipped under my door at some point during the night. The paper was crumpled and the hurried hand in which my name was scrawled on the outside unknown to me; these facts did not necessarily signify, as many here employ dictation.
I unfolded the paper. In the same hand, it read: DO NOT STAY AT THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA. A warning, then.
I stood a long time in my rooms, pondering the small list of people who ought to be aware of my participation in this journey and the even smaller list of people who currently owed me favors for services well-rendered. As far as I could, and can, determine, these lists do not intersect.
I spent the rest of the day engaging in my packing for the voyage. As I sit and write this my very last, unpacked candle is beginning to gutter out. It is time to seek my bed.
We leave for the Surface tomorrow.
17th June, 18--
I cannot write of the trip to the Surface. I say this not to be coy in my description, as might a traveler who has glimpsed eldritch horrors -- for those I have seen aplenty in the Neath -- but I say it instead because I truly did not see the trip. We were blindfolded that we might not know the way. The process was a day of walking, shifting slowly, scraping against walls, and moving ever upward.
But today we are above and aloft. Mirabile visu! I thought I should never see the Surface again. We staggered for hours like blind men, squinting with eyes too unused to light. There is not much to see here; the ruins are as I remembered them. A sad fact, that.
I write this from the dirigible; I know my hand is an unsteady one, but we fly low and are buffeted by all the winds, so laden with cargo are we. Well, the more we carry, the more the Masters profit. And the more they profit, the better my take of it. It is a mercenary ideal, but I find it serves me well. I only wish I had some substance to calm my nerves.
25th June, 18--
Winds still punishing. We have tethered at a large floating platform, maintained by the Rubbery Men, who are refueling the delicate gases that make all flight possible.
I have noted that while my comrades in London may jeer at Rubbery Men, none of these Aeronauts do. For indeed, the Rubbery Men supply them with their very lifeline.
I shall write more later, when we move again.
29th June, 18--
We are traveling again. All below us is clouds, and so it has been for days. I wondered aloud that the crew did not go mad from the loneliness of it, and J-- volunteered that they do indeed, and offered me laudanum from his private stock. I took it gratefully.
2nd July, 18--
Finally, New York. We arrived yesterday. I have been here before, on similar trading missions. Unlike in my previous visits, we are not to trade all we have, but merely enough to refuel, and to spark the interest of the inhabitants when the next airship arrives.
The people here talk quickly and rudely, always pushing for more -- and the rats are even worse in their complaining, truly a sorrier sight than our London stock. I heard one bemoan to his fellows for an hour about the lack of cheese and his feeling that he rightfully deserved it.
After a long day of trading and haggling and bargaining, I write this entry at twilight, in the quietest spot in all the city: a dock overlooking the sunken isle of Manhattan. You may have heard it was once the domain of humankind, and indeed it was, but they received an offer, the terms of which no one has ever seen fit to disclose, and the next day it disappeared under the waves. The mayor of the remaining boroughs of the city smiled until the day he died. The Rubbery Men live there now, beneath murky waters; God only knows what else lives with them.
3rd July 18--
We are traveling again, so soon. I cannot say I will miss the place. Nor the vermin.
4th July, 18--
We may have an infestation of rats.
5th July, 18--
There are no longer rats. The death of one of the crew was a truly unfortunate consequence of the poison, and a reminder to all to stay well clear of the exterminator's hoses.
No other news to report. The flight continues at a leisurely pace. Below us are plains, always and forever plains. It feels like we shall never see anything else. Perhaps I might partake of more of J--'s laudanum.
10th July, 18--
Our first sight of California. We flew over great lofty snow-capped peaks, higher than I had seen, with the air so cold that we had to all throw on more clothing in a haste. Descending, we were greeted by two other airships, of a nature that suggested some official use, for they both bore what I was quietly told later was the Bear Flag. It was originally a symbol of the previous Republic that had held power in the north for such a short time, during the riots. None of the crew could tell me for certain what the bear was; no small number of them maintained that it was a changed-bear, deep from this land's own Neath. But J--, whom I have written of before, told me that it was only a natural bear; he himself has seen one with just such a look.
The flag now, I am told, is much like the Bear Flag of old, except with the writing done also in Spanish and the hellish, spidery symbols that mortals are forbidden to pronounce. But enough of vexillary matters.
There is, surprisingly, little to report about the journey. From the name I had been told to expect the mythic land of Amazons, fertile and fecund, but as we draw closer to the coast much of the land is surprisingly brown, the life leached out of the grasses. Strange, for summer. I am told it is always thus.
11th July, 18--
We are moored in San Francisco. It is a city ruled by the mad emperor Norton, who is kind to all his subjects, and so do they accede to his whims. As we flew in low over a great shining bay, we observed Clay Men hard at work on his newest grandiose idea: that there should be a long bridge, all across the huge span of water. It is madness, but then, as the residents assure me, he has always been mad.
The city itself, too, is a mad place, home to the strangest assortment of people who manage -- even more strangely -- to live in peace. Men from China have come in droves to work the fields, and with Norton's blessing some rule whole neighborhoods as fiefdoms, but placid ones. There are no beatings here. Rubbery Men walk the streets openly and none mock them. And there are people from all places, come to mine the gold, forced to stay when the horrible truth of the Neath-gold was discovered. Many wear jewelry made of it. They cannot, of course, remove it any longer.
Sadly, for our profits, many of the city's people will not trade with us, for the emperor's scrip is the only currency officially accepted in this place. We finally interest some of the local peoples, the Miwok and the Ohlone, and they trade honey for honey, intrigued.
In a few days we will be on our way again.
14th July, 18--
We wend our way south. J-- and I have sampled the honey given us by the Miwok and, laughing, tasted the dreams of others for hours on end. It is of a fine make.
15th July, 18--
Last night we passed the shimmering lights of the City of Angels, far off in the distance. The city itself seems to float in the air. We dare not approach any nearer. Even seeing the lights is a risk. Those who have entered it have never returned.
No true angels dwell in Los Angeles. The ambassadors of the Brass Embassy (for who but they would be best informed of the nature of their enemies) have made it abundantly clear that the beings within share nothing but the name, and we do not inquire further.
16th July, 18--
We arrived, late this evening, at the Hotel California. It is a sprawling building in the Spanish style, the only thing of note for miles around in this desert, and yet too close to the Angels' lights for me to be entirely comfortable.
It somehow has the air of the Bazaar about it, for all that we are thousands of miles away. The figure who greeted us tonight was hooded and cloaked even in this heat, like one of the Masters, but he insisted he was merely an employee.
We were here to deliver a special shipment from Mr Wines of the London Bazaar, we told him, and he tilted his head under the robes as if he did not understand us.
"We have no wine," he said, sounding puzzled, with the accent of a Spaniard.
We explained that, yes, we knew that and we had indeed brought some for that very reason. He seemed to understand this, finally; I believe he thought our speech difficult.
"Ah," he said, and deep within his shadowed face I thought I saw a smile. "Then you must deliver it to her tomorrow, properly, but you should be our guests at least for this night."
It would be rude not to avail myself of the hospitality, I thought. And truly the suite they have shown me to is marvelous. I hear tell that the suites of the Royal Bethlehem are not as fine -- or so said J--, looking at his suite across the open courtyard from mine.
Only now as I write this do I remember the warning. But whoever wrote it surely cannot have meant to be as strict as it sounded. One night will do no harm. They cannot expect us to sleep in the tethered dirigible indefinitely.
In the morning we will deliver the goods to her (as the clerk said; who can this person be?) and be on our way. And it will be a good thing, too, for I have thought that I have been hearing the strangest noises. They sound to me like the cries of some wounded animal, not too distant. But I have heard worse, and I think I shall be able to sleep well enough, for now.
17th July, 18--
She does not have a name; her servants refer to her as the Mistress. And she is beautiful, of such form and presence that all beings would no doubt be enamored of her. I met her as I carried the first crate in.
"Be welcome," said she, "to my hotel."
I thanked her and went back up for the next crate.
"I used to live in London," she told me, as I held the next box in my arms.
"When?" asked I, politely. "And where? Perhaps I know of it." I did not mean to sound boastful, but I knew a great many places in the city, more than most.
She smiled such a smile that made my blood heat in a way I shall not be so crass as to describe, and she did not reply.
And the third: "Your Masters know me," she put in coyly. "You might ask them."
By the time we were finished with the last of the unloading, it was dark already, too dark to leave. She leaned over and whispered: "I am in exile. Your Masters fear me. And you are mine now."
It was the last thing she said before she summoned her servants -- youths, all of them -- to escort her away. More of them stood at the outside doors.
I found J-- in his rooms, looking nearly as terrified as I felt.
"O, we must leave!" he cried, clutching my shirt front. "But we cannot lift in the dark, and the mooring-strip is hers to control!"
I assured him that we would prevail. In the morning we would assemble the crew for breakfast, surely, and then we could all leave, whether she willed it or no. There would be enough of us.
As I write this, the screams grow louder.
We must leave on the morrow. I cannot bear to stay any longer.
18th July, 18--
I awoke this morning with strange dreams. I feel as though I dreamed about wanting to leave. But this cannot be true. Why would I ever want such a thing? I lack not for food or wine, and as for companionship, well, the Mistress keeps youths for those who may like the use of them. She herself likes the look of them, she has told me, and they dance long hours for her.
She offered me two of them this afternoon. They came to me, fingers sticky with prisoner's honey, smiling smiles with too many teeth in them, and I tumbled them both into bed. When I awoke I was alone, as if it had all been a most glorious honey-dream.
Tonight I am told there will be a banquet, in honor of our arrival. How kind this Mistress is!
19th July, 18--
They are coming for me. She is coming, she and her creatures. They are none of them human.
O God, the knives! The knives!
20th July, 18--
This is a wonderful place. I do not understand why any should desire to leave.