There are several different accounts of how everyone in the town of Edgestow died in a single disaster.
I.e., the events in That Hideous Strength. In summary, the NICE's police-state grip on the town drove out almost everyone but their employees and their most ardent supporters. Merlin arrived, fresh from Belbury, where he had stripped the leaders of the NICE of language and left them to face chaos and frustrated demons. He then unloosed powers of a more physical nature, filling the town with mist and strange lights, then shocks—explosions or earthquakes. The unstated but clear implication is that no one is left alive in Edgestow.
It is not clear if the whole town was leveled, or if the catastrophe was just big enough to do its job. We will posit that Things In The Mist (indicated by the lights) chivvied the NICE people into one place, Bragdon Wood, where Merlin was buried for centuries, the place that brought the NICE to Edgestow in the first place. There, Merlin caused a sudden landslide (Edgestow is in a river valley) and buried them all.
The fire Frost started in the library at Belbury, we posit, destroyed the building and killed many, but we know from the book that many also escaped.
In the smoking ruins, the authorities found Frost's charred remains, locked in the library.
In the banquet hall, they found many bodies, crushed by an elephant, mauled by a tiger, etc. They found the body of Horace Jules, dead from a shot from the gun of Miss Hardcastle, dead of an animal attack.
In the laboratory, they found the naked bodies of Wither, Filostrato, and Straik, the latter two decapitated, one cleanly, one savagely. And there was the guillotine...
Beyond the end of the book's plot, we posit that a lot of ugly truths came out about the NICE, though nothing like the whole, bizarre truth. Among other things, it was clear there were poisonously antagonistic factions within the NICE. This fit together well with the evidence of murder and mayhem at Belbury, the night the NICE died.
By pulling strings with the government and manipulating publicity (and admittedly, by helping catch Nazi spies during the War), the NICE won itself a lot of power and used it to take over Edgestow. Quite why they wanted to is obscure, but the totalitarian tactics they used, under cover of the manipulated publicity, suggest they were going to try to take over the government, either in stages or in a coup.
Fortunately (some say "providentially"), after the town was emptied of all but NICE personnel, they were struck down when a meteor strike set off a landslide, burying them all at their archeological excavation, where they were apparently met for a planning meeting.
The shocks also caused a fire at Belbury, with resultant escape of wild animals. In the chaos, rival factions with the NICE took the opportunity to attack each other, greatly exacerbating the destruction. Hardcastle may have shot Jules for personal reasons. The killings of Frost, Wither, Filostrato, and Straik are even more disturbing, especially since we don't know who did it and whether they were among the people who escaped (all of whom were thoroughly investigated, to little effect—at least, little effect in relation to the Edgestow Event; material surfaced about the NICE's earlier shady dealings). One popular theory, never substantiated, is that Frost attacked his rival Wither and Wither's defenders, then died in the library, becoming trapped either accidentally, as an act of suicide, or by a vengeful partisan of Wither's. This theory is popular largely because it leaves fewer loose ends.
A nearby country house at St. Anne's made it their business to collect and care for the escaped animals until they could be properly placed.
What MI5 and similar groups believe is an amplification of the public account. Mainly, they know many more details about the dealings, bribery, and blackmail between the NICE and the government.
They also know that Filostrato and his assistant would have been in jail (sorry, "gaol") or on the run, if they had not been recruited and shielded by the NICE. A detailed examination of that guillotine shows it was specifically designed for human necks. Beheading apes? Possibly, but why do you want to behead apes? MI5 is fairly certain Filostrato was working toward live, disembodied heads for some sick reason that the NICE supported. They don't know the reason and they don't know he succeeded. Their best guess is that the NICE let Filostrato do his mad little head-game to keep him happy so he would do other medical stuff for them.
The account of the Edgestow Memorial Society can stand for a number of similar accounts, all conspiracy theories. The NICE was an army of martyrs, according to the EMS, taken down by shadowy, fascist, reactionary forces:
Greenwood knows there was no meteor strike, because those don't leave prana residues. Or not that kind. They would really, really like to understand the prana residues they've found at Edgestow. They are so pure in their five different qualities. It's like painting in ochre and charcoal and chalk, then seeing laser light.
Though they disapprove of necromancy generally, they would interrogate the ghosts of casualties for more information, but there are no ghosts. Even known local hauntings, from before the NICE occupation, have been cleared out. This is deeply unsettling.
Everything occult has been cleared out. Merlin's Well in (the remains of) Bragdon Wood is gone psychically as much as physically. They think one of the five classes of high-purity traces (those of Lurga/Saturn/Time, in reality) resembles the quality of the Bragdon prana, but now they have nothing to compare it to. They wish they'd paid more attention to Bragdon Wood before, but it seemed like a minorly enchanted wood.
Greenwood started going through the NICE's London offices (all that remains of the NICE) very thoroughly, pushing aside the MI5 people and similar with really startling clearances. They have found plenty of scandalous stuff, which they happily left for MI5, and very occasional hints that Wither and Frost were working for some other parties, but nothing clearly esoteric.
They did find references to Dr. Edward Rolles Weston, supposedly killed in the Blitz late in the War. The NICE believed he had, instead, been murdered by a party they did not name. Weston's work on the relationship of gravitational and electromagnetic fields did not sound esoteric in the sense that interests Greenwood, but as a matter of routine they followed the paper trail to a cottage in Oxfordshire, where they found the storage shed in the back yard had burned down a few weeks after the Edgestow Event. Hm. Greenwood is therefore inclined to believe that Weston was murdered, though they are not particularly interested in that fact.
Greenwood could not help noticing that Edgestow and Belbury were near the manor at St. Anne's, once belonging to the late Col. Michael Fisher-King, the head of Logres and, as far as Greenwood knew, the last surviving member of it. Greenwood had no fond memories of Fisher-King, since he had directed Logres in anti-imperial activities. This new lot seemed no more than a bunch of academics. Fisher-King's heir, Dr. Elwin Ransom, now Elwin Ransom Fisher-King, was not in evidence. But this new bookish Logres appeared to do nothing but collect stray animals escaped from the NICE, so Greenwood did nothing but keep an eye on them.
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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2010