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Dearest Friend,

It rained each day I awaited your letter, and today it rained the hardest, before the clouds parted and the heavens shined down for one, short moment, and it was gone before I could confirm it true. Like waking from a dream, I completed my duties for the day and confined myself to my laboratory, where neither rain nor light can reach, with a vague sense of sunshine warming my bones.

Forgive my awful scratchings, William, as my hand shakes even as I write this letter, for I've had an extraordinary day. 'Tis as if my hand wishes to relieve itself of the excitement that currently courses through my body, like a pleasant poison. On top of this already extraordinary day, I received your letter, and it is that which sets me over the edge.

Half of me is anxious to write of this, William, for I know this very topic is what caused this rift to fall between usmiles of physical distance do not compare to the immeasurable gap that has come between our friendship. Do not deny it, William, as you know you cannot lie to me. I know you too well. My other half, however, the one I keep locked away, the one that lives in the cellar laboratory as the rest of me serves the Whites, is indescribably pleased to share this news.

It begins with a most peculiar dream. Be it a call from God or a result of my isolation at 24 Thornewood Road, it was regardless my inspiration for what I am about to inform you. I believe the dream itself was inspired by your thesis on food science, William, though I know you will want no part in what is to come.

I dreamt I was surrounded by cold darkness. As my vision corrected, I found myself fitted inside a velvet-lined box. Much to my panic, I found it impossible to move even an inch in the confines of the box, not even to wiggle my toes or part my lips to shout for help. The terrible panic grew within me to the point of pure agony. I felt many hours pass by in this state, until the sound of footsteps caught my ears. Someone had come down the basement stairsfor I knew, somehow, that I lay in the cellarand entering my laboratory by way of the secret door. A new panic shot through my bones, an irrational fear of being discovered as more than a simple butler in a country house. I wondered, who could it be entering my laboratory, if not a soul knew of its existence besides myself and my dearest William, who lives so many miles away?

My heart nearly burst within my paralyzed chest at the thought of my William entering my laboratory. I yearned to see his face, and my yearning grew as the footsteps grew louder, nearer to my coffin prison. I tried to shout, to cry out in utter joy, as the footsteps stopped and the being lifted the lid of my box. But the face that bore down on me wasn't the brilliant golden face of my William, but a man less familiar, a man I knew only from odd angles, vague shadows, momentary reflections in glass or water. Impossibly, I stared into the face of Edward Poole, who stared back at me as if I wasn't there at all. Suddenly, the dream changed slightly, as dreams often do, and I now stood within the body of my Other, staring down into the box from which I was just revealed. But inside the box was not a man, not Edward Poole as you or I know him, but a body reduced to bone, a black hat and a deflated suit the only indication to whom it once belonged.

I tell you this, William, not to disturb your own dreams, but to explain how I came to continuing my dark research that took me away from you. I awoke from this dream, shaken but inspired, for it had given me an idea I hadn't previously considered: Perhaps, as you've told me, science can't keep a mortal being alive forever, as you might keep a ham from spoiling. This dream has revealed to me another path to immortality: the preservation of the soul.

Recall the Magnum opus, the prima materia, the Philosopher's Stone, which, in theory, could be used to transmute metals to gold, prolong human life, heal illness and injury, even restore life to the lifeless. For centuries, the greatest alchemists of this life sought to "square the circle," to conquer human mortality, but to no avail: no human on this earth has or will survive physical death, the failure of our organs, the rot of our muscles, the decay of our flesh.

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