Howgate, 23 July

My Dear Rackham,

I wiggled my toes in the ocean today. Over the objections of Robards, I might add! “Doctor! You of all people should know that we cannot assume anything about the safety of the water! Where is your analytical mind?” Or something to that effect. I was impetuous; I confess it, nevertheless, if our world has changed to a point where a man can no longer take a dip in the brine on a fine summer afternoon, then would it really be worth it to go on?

As it happened, the water was fine. Very refreshing to see something so vast and so unchanged. Your description of the Ravine brought to mind a lingering question: Are we in the same place that we were before the Incident? Certainly since then I have seen familiar landmarks, yes, but also unfamiliar or unexpected terrain, to say nothing of the things we have encountered out of fantasy and nightmare. Is this home, or is this a place only resembling it, a doppleganger landscape at once reassuring and alienating? Idle speculations, I know, but at least the ocean remains the ocean.

And, as I suspected, Robards means to cross it. No one knows how far the chaos has spread, and if lands abroad remain untouched, then perhaps there we can gain succor, or at least clarity. For all his brilliance the man is a landlubber through and through, however, and several of us had to convince him that the fishing boats in this backwater village where we are encamped would not make the crossing. Where to find a bigger boat? That is the question of the day, but it is, thankfully, Not My Problem.

Have I let slip a hint of annoyance at our illustrious captain? I do confess it. But I have good reasons. Your last letter reaffirmed something that had already been troubling me: forbidding the autopsy of the “were-rats” (a terrible name but at least it is short) on grounds of “hygiene” was not only ill-advised but also out of character. Certainly you remember Robards in the days leading up to the Incident: he was not an investigator himself, of course, but he shared our unbridled enthusiasm for uncovering the secrets of the stone. Never one to shy from turning over a rock to find out what lies beneath.

Alas, the opportunity of a hybrid autopsy is now lost to me. He did not want to risk an attack while we were on the move, and so, two days before we were to leave the observatory, he took a dozen men and took the fight to their warren. I was not invited to that particular party. Indeed, while I am generally present at all meetings of consequence, and am known to have Robards’ ear, on this particular operation he kept me completely out of the loop. The first I learned of it was when they returned, thoroughly bloodied. I was kept busy patching up the wounded right until the moment we decamped, and so had no opportunity to investigate the warren myself. He says they burned it all, and I do not doubt him.

Hence my annoyance with the man. I will not say “suspicion” — I have seen him risk his life far too many times to doubt his devotion to his men, and to the expedition — and yet, there is something he is not telling us. No doubt it would be easier to swallow if he were a Society man, or a Luminator. One could imagine all manner of ulterior motives or secret agendas in a such a case.

It is now the following day, and I only have time for a brief yet consequential addendum. Amid spirited discussion at our morning council, I found myself staring absently at Robards, pondering what I had written the night before, my mind wandering … and then my perception shifted. It was similar to what I had experienced weeks ago, but this time focused solely on the captain. I saw through him, saw into him, after a fashion. But I could make out very little, because something glowed so brightly that it overwhelmed my second sight. It was small, in the vicinity of his chest, where one might expect to find a pendant on a necklace. More I cannot say, for so bright was it that I reflexively raised my arm to cover my eyes. When I lowered it, my vision had cleared and all present were staring at me quizzically.

Do I now have evidence of the very thing he is hiding? Or are my interior doubts simply projecting themselves and deluding me? I hope to discover more, but with no sense of when I may experience another perception shift, I cannot say when that will be.

I will make every effort to write again before we take to sea, though from your report it seems uncertain whether even if this letter will find you. I pray that it does. Stay safe, my friend!

Warm Regards,