You are reading this because I am dead.
Something terrible happened at the Rewar Teng Institute of Experimental Methods. When the Tensorate’s investigators arrived, they found a sea of blood and bones as far as the eye could see. One of the institute’s experiments got loose, and its rage left no survivors. The investigators returned to the capital with few clues and two prisoners: the terrorist leader Sanao Akeha and a companion known only as Rider.
Investigator Chuwan faces a puzzle. What really happened at the institute? What drew the Machinists there? What are her superiors trying to cover up? And why does she feel as if her strange dreams are forcing her down a narrowing path she cannot escape?
JY Yang’s The Descent of Monsters, the third volume of their silkpunk fantasy Tensorate novellas, is available July 31st from Tor.com Publishing.
To My Beloved Kayan
Kayan, my sweet flower:
You’re reading this because I’m dead. That’s right, I’m doing that thing you hate in the weeklies you read, writing a last letter to my beloved because I expect to die. And my expectations have been excruciatingly accurate of late, so I’ll be surprised if I have to trash this. Surprised, and embarrassed.
But don’t worry—death circling overhead hasn’t turned me into a sentimental fool. This is not some misbegotten love letter or ode to a life unlived. As if I’d write that kind of horseshit.
Fuck that. This is a call to arms. This isn’t me feeling sorry for myself. I am burning with fury at the injustice I have encountered.
You were right, Kayan. You said that this job would kill me someday, and it has. Your prize is losing the only person who’s ever meant anything to you. Congratulations.
You remember my last letter to you? The one where I told you about the mountain disaster case I’d been given? Remember I said it smelled rotten? It was. That case went sour, real fast. The fruit was putrid to the core. Some news must filter out to your boat even on the unforgiving slush of the Demons’ Ocean, so you might have heard that the investigation closed recently, with all the blame pushed to the Machinists. Of course that shit isn’t true. The report carried my name, but neither my approval nor my complicity. Well, fuck. I guess it had my complicity. But I signed off on that heap of stinking lies to get them off my back. Since then I’ve been chasing the truth across the slimy underbelly of the Protectorate because the fortunes will cut off my tongue and hands before I let this stand unchallenged.
Well my love, it’s been days of wading deeper and deeper into foaming sewage. There’s a madness at the bottom of all this and I fear I haven’t even looked it in the face. The shit that’s gone down here is stranger than I could have ever imagined.
No doubt the Protectorate will spend the next few days smearing me as a traitor, a barbarian, a Kebangilan reprobate who couldn’t help but revert to her uncivilized nature despite her Kuanjin upbringing. All their usual nonsense—we know how they work, don’t we? I’ve worked for them for a dozen years, after all.
But you, my love—you will know the truth. Look. Here are the compiled journals, notes, and memos I’ve stacked up over the past few weeks. I suspected all along—hell, I knew—that it was all going to end in flames. Read these things. Read them, and understand what I’m sacrificing myself for. Read them, and then get fucking livid, like I did. Follow this gravesent affair to its bitter end. Anything else would be rank injustice, and I know how you feel about that. I trust you.
I know you’re going to make them pay.
A PRELIMINARY REPORT REGARDING THE INCIDENT AT THE
REWAR TENG INSTITUTE OF EXPERIMENTAL METHODS
Prepared by Tensor Chuwan Sariman
Here begins the preliminary report into the so-called Rewar Teng Incident, compiled by Tensor Chuwan Sariman. On this fourteenth day of the seventh month of the year 1162, I declare the investigation into the aforementioned incident open. By the grace of the Protector and the powers invested in me by the Ministry of Justice, I will lead the investigation into what happened on that terrible day. Where there was a jungle of fear and uncertainty, there shall be the shape of hidden things revealed. Where there were storms of lies, there will be truth. No expense shall be spared, no question left unanswered. The special investigation I lead will be relentless in the pursuit of justice, and whatever obstacles are determined to come my way should take heed, for I shall be merciless. No ocean, nor mountain, nor burning fire shall deter me. My will is absolute and my mandate clear. I will not rest until the reality of what happened is laid bare. And all my efforts shall not go to waste, for through understanding the tapestry of circumstances that led to this tragedy, we shall prevent it from ever happening again.
On the fourth day of the seventh month, it was registered with Senior Tensor Chu Xinyang of the Academy that the Rewar Teng Institute of Experimental Methods had failed to send in their weekly report and list of supply orders, as they had been due to. Further investigation revealed that family and acquaintances of institute staff had not been able to contact them for the past five days, although that had been attributed to ill weather, as the monsoons had destroyed a relay tower in the Mengsua Pass and disrupted land communications. But the storms passed, and still the silence persisted. On the sixth day of the seventh month, Tensor Chu dispatched a team northward to make contact with the institute and find out what happened.
Upon arrival at the institute, the special group found waiting for them a scene of disaster. The premises were a sea of blood and bones, and of the forty-two Tensors who had been registered to work at the Institute, there was no other sign. A swift and thorough investigation of the site drew a clear and unfortunate conclusion. All the residents of the Institute had been killed, both human and animal, and furthermore, it had been one of the Institute’s experiments that was responsible for the massacre.
The culprit was determined to be one of the large raptor-naga crossbreeds, whose carcass was discovered in the caverns beneath the Institute. Unlike the other bodies on the premises, the crossbreed was found freshly slain, the blood still liquid. With an abundance of wisdom, Tensor Yesai, who had been leading the team, determined that either survivors remained of the Institute’s staff, or that there were interlopers on the premises.
An armed search was immediately carried out, and the team discovered two outlaws hiding within the caverns, the Machinist terrorist leader Sanao Akeha and a female companion whose identity has yet to be determined. They were swiftly apprehended and taken into custody, and the institute secured.
Teams are on site to recover and process evidence that will unlock the truth of the incident. All forty-two residents of the institute are presumed deceased, pending identification of their remains. (Tensor Yesai’s overall report can be read appended to this document.)
THE HISTORY OF THE INSTITUTE
The Rewar Teng Institute of Experimental Methods was founded by Tensor M in 1148. Originally called the Rewar Teng Breeding Laboratory, it began operation under the authority of the Institute of Agricultural Development, with a personnel strength of eight. The site, high in the Longfong mountain range, was chosen due to its proximity to the Rewar Teng Slack anomaly, which produced deformations in the Slack useful to experimental procedures. In its early days, the laboratory focused on modifying large southern species to be more resistant to heavier gravity in the north. As a result of its successes, the laboratory was expanded to a personnel strength of twenty-five in 1152, and registered as a separate institute under the auspices of Tensor Sanao Sonami, who was then Agricultural Minister. Additional holding pens and animal handling facilities were built, and the compound was extended to include two new buildings and a dormitory. Tensor M retired in 1157, at which time Tensor R was nominated to head the institute by the Minister.
THE SCOPE OF THE CURRENT INVESTIGATION, AND PROPOSED METHODS
Our knowledge of what happened that day lies in tatters, incomplete and fraying. In order to stitch them back into whole cloth, the investigation must find the answer to these questions:
How did the crossbreed escape its bonds? Was it through caprice or malice that it was loosed upon the institute?
What safeguards did the institute have against such an eventuality? How were these safeguards breached? Did procedural lapses play a part? Or were the safeguards simply inadequate?
How were the outlaws involved in this incident? Can their presence at the site after the disaster be mere coincidence?
Why did five days pass before the extent of the disaster was made known? What protocols can we put in place to ensure a more timely response?
How can we prevent the same from happening again?
ACCOUNT OF THE STATE OF THE REWAR TENG INSTITUTE UPON ARRIVAL
Prepared by Tensor Yesai
We arrived at the compound just after first sunrise, following the path prescribed to us. The trail upward had been recently cleared, with rockfall debris lining the sides, although there was a layer of fallen leaves on the paving stone. I took this to mean that staff from the institute had cleared the path after the storms but not in the days after. The fence generators around the compound also had not been charged in a few days, and most had run out of power by the time we arrived. Taken together, these observations pointed to the fact that the incident must have happened almost immediately after the storm passed, which is to say about six days ago.
We found the institute devoid of life, animal or human. Entering the courtyard, we came across a good number of bones and partial bodies in states of heavy decomposition, all bearing marks of predation. Our initial assessment estimated at least fourteen human bodies and an unknown number of animal carcasses, presumed to be the remains of the experimental subjects being bred by the institute. The forensics expert, Dr. Inan, determined that the oldest remains were at least a week old, including the bodies which were recognizably human. He also said that the most recent corpses were at least three days old. Most of the bodies had been killed at another location and brought to the courtyard, indicating that the creature treated it as a lair of some kind. At this time, we did not know if the entity responsible for the kills was still in the area, and proceeded as though we were in hostile territory.
We split up into three groups of four. Tensor Ma Feng led the group assigned to examine the administrative building and the power plants, Tensor Quah led the group assigned to examine the dormitories and kitchens, and I led the last group, to examine the laboratory buildings and animal holding pens.
The dormitory group found six more bodies on the second floor, also badly decomposed, and presumed to have died at the same time as did the oldest bodies in the courtyard. Unlike those, these bodies appeared intact, aside from the injuries that were presumably the cause of death. The wound patterns suggested that the six were killed by a smaller beast, quite possibly a domestic raptor, as such creatures were a major component of the laboratory’s breeding program. It appeared that the victims had sought shelter on the second floor, barricading the stairway with furniture, a measure which proved ineffective.
A quick search of the dormitory found most of the staff’s personal belongings untouched, including clothes, books, toiletries, and keepsakes. These items were later collected by the team; they will be returned to the families of the victims pending completion of the full investigation.
The door to the main laboratory building was found badly damaged; we guessed that this was how the beast entered the facilities. We found evidence that the attack began while work was ongoing. Apparatus had been turned over and smashed, and chemicals left uncovered, some of which had evaporated. From the blood trails, we surmised that the beast had killed the Tensors working there, then dragged them outside at its leisure. The carcasses of two raptors in separate holding pens were presumed to have died from dehydration or starvation in the week after the incident. We recovered a number of laboratory journals from the scene, which will also be handed over to the investigative team as evidence.
The laboratory building had a large annex consisting of a single circular room at least three stories high. There we found the first concrete evidence of the beast that had ravaged the place. The annex was designed to hold at least two megafauna specimens, and from the destruction of the support beams and chains within the room, it was clear that one of those beasts had broken its bonds. The carcass of the other remained in the annex, still chained, and in an advanced state of decay. As far as we could tell—and inasmuch as our guesses were corroborated by what was written in the scientists’ notes—the creatures were successful crosses between raptors and nagas. In phenotype, the carcass resembled the former more than the latter, except for its extraordinary size. In other respects, the body was far too decayed for us to draw sufficient conclusions. One of the team noted that it was fascinating how the escaped crossbreed did not turn to the body of its fellow for sustenance, despite it being such a rich source. I concurred.
Behind these buildings we found the animal holding pens. There were five rows of pens, the gates to three of which had been sprung. We assumed that a member of the staff had loosed the animals in hopes of slowing down or stopping the crossbreed. The crossbreed had later torn the gates off the fourth row and presumably killed and consumed the animals kept within, but the fifth row remained intact. The power to the buildings must have failed after a few days, and none of the animals had survived the nights without heating. Light captures of the carcasses are appended to this report.
It was the final team, led by Tensor Ma Feng, which found the most important pieces of evidence. The main administrative buildings are built on top of a fissure that leads to the caverns underground, the source of the Rewar Teng anomaly.
It was in the last of these caverns, however, that we discovered the carcass of the beast. It was an albino creature, and lean but not malnourished. Alive, it must have stood ten yields high and weighed nearly a ton. It had been grievously wounded in a fight, presumably with a pack of raptors, several of which it had killed. The bodies of the raptors did not bear the institute’s brand and were significantly smaller than the breed kept in the animal pens above. Suspecting intruders, we went back to search the chambers.
Perhaps because of their injuries, or perhaps some other reason, the outlaws surrendered after only a token fight. The remainder of their raptor pack we tranquilized and transported with the leftover supplies that we found in the laboratory.
FROM CHUWAN’S PERSONAL DIARY
So, it’s come to pass. After sixteen years of toiling in the Justice Ministry—sixteen years of shit work, sixteen years of breaking open cases only to see the credit go to someone else, sixteen years of watching the pale-skinned and pretty gain favor at my expense—after sixteen years of concentrated horse piss from the higher-ups, I’ve finally been made principal investigator on a case of my own. Cause for celebration, right? I should slaughter some pigs and break out the wine, invite the whole damn neighborhood to the party.
But I’m no fool. I’ve spent long enough dodging the arrows of Protectorate malice to see this for what it is: a giant, gold-plated turd. For one thing, this investigation should be massive. Dozens of Tensors died in the disaster. Short of wars and terrorist attacks, this is the deadliest incident that’s befallen both the Tensorate and the Protectorate in decades. Yet they’ve assigned just me to work on the investigation, some mid-ranking Tensor who’s never handled her own case before. And while I’d like to think that my years of successes are being rewarded—who unmasked the Cashewnut killer? Who exposed the ring of naga breeders at the heart of the Tensorate?—I am nowhere that naive. Some agenda is at work here. Corruption rises from this affair like corpse-gas from a murky lake, stinking of putrefying secrets.
The Rewar Teng institute has been plagued by scandal and rumor since its inception. Nobody buys that they built a whole research institute out in the mountains just to stitch together better livestock. At the very least, there’s some shifty experimentation going on up there. And then there are the wilder tales: human sacrifices, mad attempts to deform the shape of the world. Is there any truth to these rumors? Who the fuck knows. All I know—all any of us peons know—is that everything to do with the institute is sewn up so tight, you could be sent to the mines just for asking.
So, something in the institute has gone belly-up and they want to conceal it. That’s what this is. They’ve picked me, some nobody with no prospects and no future, to be their puppet or, if anything sour surfaces during the investigation, their sacrificial goat. A hapless Kebangilan orphan whose adoptive family never liked her. Someone who’s bound to be so afraid of exile, she’ll do anything the Protectorate asks.
Idiots. They should have done their research, because I am not that person. I didn’t get to where I am today by playing the good girl and keeping my head below the grass. Whatever they’re trying to hide, I will find it. I will make them regret underestimating me.
The stress is getting to me, though. I won’t lie about that. This morning, I woke with my head ringing and my clothes clinging to my skin. Some slime-fish of a nightmare, slipping away the moment you try to hold it in your memory, growing dimmer the more you flail at its shape. There was something about a cave with tall ceilings, and a strange girl talking to me. Large pools of water, just like from my childhood. Except that I never lived near water in my childhood. We were hillside farmers. There was only the old mine, and children weren’t allowed down there. It was just a silly dream, a conjuration of a stressed mind, but I’ve spent the entire day with a prickle gathered around the skin of my neck. Every time I remember the husk of that dream, I shiver. Small things that shouldn’t bother me set my mind off like a firework. The slap of water on floor tiles sounds like footsteps. The creak of wood cooling at night sends my heart racing. Earlier this evening, I thought I heard someone whispering outside my window, but when I ran to check, there was no one there. Am I losing my mind?
Curse it all. It doesn’t help that I’m alone in this house. It would be nice if my pay allowed me to hire servants, but of course it doesn’t. And it would be wonderful if Kayan were here, but of course she isn’t. That’s what I get for marrying the daughter of a pirate queen—I see her three times a year, and that’s it. It’s fine. She’d only mock me for getting worked up by a meaningless dream, anyway.
Well. Journey of a thousand steps, and all that. I’ve sent for the chief investigator from the southern provinces—Ngiau Chimin. Don’t like her. She’s the kind of sadistic vampire that drinks power from the veins of the Protectorate. The bastard is drunk on her bloody authority. But she’s good at interrogations. Once might almost say, too good. She can talk to the outlaws, considering that I wasn’t allowed any access to them—a fantastic start to things. I’m sure she’ll get something useful out of them. She’s got a reputation to maintain.
Excerpted from The Descent of Monsters, copyright © 2018 by JY Yang.