Dear Crane, good Sir,
My hands have finally stopped shaking: the laudanum has taken its effect, and it is now with a firmer resolve and a greater degree of control over my mind and body that I take up a pen to write. I promised Bennington, your counterpart here, that I would only take what little I needed and reserve the rest for the other poor souls—if they return.
I am distressed to hear about Smythe and Dodgson, although not altogether surprised. I did not know Smythe well except that he had been a soldier in the Blood War. Dodgson, however, I thought well of, especially after his success in safely securing the first leg of our passage.
Robards is a good man, and I took some hope when your letter reminded me that he commands your part of the expedition. I fear our Thorpe is too brash, too impatient. We cannot spare the five that are with him now, and they have already been gone a day longer than expected. If he does not return, I shall assume control of this camp; and in that case, I will set out a plan to rendezvous with you and Robards. I have invested too much of my private fortunes to declare failure this early, and I confess my patience is wearing thin with Thorpe’s distractions.
In the meantime, I will set to answering your inquiry as best as I can relate, scrawling a few details here before Alia leaves.
Yes, indeed, my friend, there have been untoward changes since the Incident. Thorpe, Bennington’s man Graustein, and the others were well outside of the chamber where we found the stone, but I daresay that it has left none of us unaltered: Thorpe complains of discolored skin, Bennington wakes with night terrors not unlike the ones you describe, and Graustein has begun to show signs of albinism. I cannot account for all of it.
In the weeks that have followed since we parted, I have turned to a nightly regimen of three drops of laudanum in purified water. I find that this has been an effective way to dull the noises I hear, now constantly. Crane, perhaps you are right to speak of sanity; the first few days after the Incident I thought I was going slowly mad, as I was hearing sounds and voices keening on the wind or coming up from the earth. I dismissed them at first, thinking them only my imagination mixed with the stain of what we had just endured and seen.
By the second week I began to notice patterns: the sounds could be localized by direction, and they were almost absent during the day, intensifying markedly after sundown. One night, I chose to forgo the laudanum, and instead gave into hearing them in their full vigor; I recognized the distinct voices of our companions, including yours, even though you were well south of here already. Try as I might, I could not separate out words or ideas, but I could feel emotion and meaning conveyed in the voices. It was if I were my dream-self who came upon a great library, and, upon selecting a book, I learned its content, yet could not recognize the shapes of the individual letters. Since that night, I have had neither the energy nor the courage to try the same experiment again.
Crane, I hear the propellers of brave Alia’s aeroplane outside the canvas, and I must hastily close this letter or otherwise cause her, and you, undue delay. I will tell you more when I write again, and by then I will also know the outcome of Thorpe’s sally into the ravine. One question I would ask of you in you next correspondence: please tell me anything you concluded from the autopsies of our stalwart companions, and let me know your wishes should Thorpe have failed.
Wishing you godspeed,