My Dear Rackham,
Let us take a moment to consider our fortune: you have written to me, and I now write to you, from a place of relative security and comfort. Neither of us are imprisoned, missing, disembodied, or under attack. I do not expect this state of affairs to continue for very long, but it is a welcome respite.
I am including my own notes and drawings from the conveyance chamber under Caeradarn; please pass them along to MacTallan. I am hoping that they will assist him in completing his map. It is the single thing in all the world I want most to see, with the possible exception of another bottle of Lochnagar single malt.
Before I proceed to matters of import, I would be remiss not to fill in some of the gaps of my narrative, which has been so consumed with my own predicament, and with prior events, that I fear some of the supporting cast has wanted for time in the spotlight. To wit:
Campbell – Learning the fate of his countrymen, and of his father-in-law, hit the man hard. For a time I feared that his nerve might shatter, and took consolation only in that Barksdale (now his first lieutenant, if such ranks still have meaning) seemed able and level-headed enough to replace him if need be. But he seems to have found his means to keep it together, albeit with a demeanor that is somber bordering on the severe. The brash, talkative young man that first fell under Robards’ sway is no longer in evidence. I do not know at what point he will take his ship and crew and make for home rather than keeping common cause with the rest of us, but I am certain it is coming.
Van Dyke – He is bound and determined to hunt down Brown. I believe he is motivated in no small part by a desire to atone for some of the Society’s mis-steps, not unlike Bennington on your end. Lacking the expertise to assist me in the conveyance chamber, he turns his mind to preparation and security. While the rest of us spend no more time at Caeradarn than is absolutely necessary, he haunts it like a ghost, ever watchful for any sign of Brown’s return, hunting ceaselessly for one more secret to uncover.
Porthgain – I have not said much about the town. Thankfully there is not much to say. It is isolated, and its people are fiercely independent. Loss of contact with the wider world has not harmed it as much as it would a more cosmopolitan locale. Their hospitality has not faltered. For a time they were losing young men mysteriously in the night, but with Brown’s departure that has stopped. Now they are eager to replace the men they have lost, perhaps by convincing some sailors or soldiers to marry nice young Cambrian women and settle down here. If allowed, I have no doubt many of our men would take them up on it.
I have received no such offer, despite helping out the village with no small amount of doctoring. I am being left alone, which suits me just fine, but the reason for it is a cause for some concern. My secret, you see, is out. The fact of my Ability is now generally known. Van Dyke first witnessed it some time ago, but it is not his fault; he is a master of nothing if not parceling out information only at need. Jacobs and Sharma both witnessed my rather dramatic escape from the castle, and while the latter is the taciturn sort, the former is very talkative when in his cups. And he has been in his cups a great deal lately. He told a tale, and then, the Columbian sailor who has for months insisted up and down that he saw me fall through the ceiling of the grotto in Garnsey while on watch – his tale, which had been laughed at or ignored until now, was suddenly lent some credence. Then the matter of the prison break back at Garnsey came up again, and a picture emerged of a man who can walk through walls.
Among those I count as friends, and those I have worked closely with all this time, nothing has changed, of course. But as for the rest … when they think of men with strange powers, they think of Robards and of Brown. They regard me with caution at best, fear at worst. And their opinion has spread to the village. I had been thrilled with the return of my Ability, full of ideas for how I might use it in our exploration of the castle, or even to help with everyday tasks in Porthgain. Imagine the benefit of a ghosted hand in minor surgery! But it has seemed more prudent instead to keep a lid on it, maintain a low profile, and stay out of sight, out of mind.
Jacobs, who let the secret out, is of course the first one to come to my defense among the enlisted men. However, “Speak a word ill of im an Ill gouge yer eye out,” while welcome words of loyalty, are not necessarily well-suited toward smoothing things over and helping people accept my condition.
I have not mentioned Rachel yet, only because I have been saving my important news for last. It was two days ago that she came to me as I was working alone in the conveyance chamber at the castle, finishing my notes and drawings. I was surprised to see her; after her outburst at first seeing Brown, she had become even more withdrawn, content to spend her time in Porthgain, helping out the locals and watching the waves crash on the shore.
“I am glad you have come,” I exclaimed. “I have finished my notes but I have so many questions, particularly about this group of runes here …” It was a routine of ours: I would ask her things as if we were having an ordinary conversation, and she would smile demurely and say nothing. On the Sigsbee I would often think out loud when she was in the room, and even though she never made any response, even a silent audience often proved helpful to my thought process. I began in that manner then, starting to express my thinking aloud now that she was present, where before I had been working silently. But she interrupted me by placing a hand on my elbow. This in itself was unusual, so I looked up with some surprise.
“What is it?” I said.
She held my gaze with her wide, wise eyes. Then, to my surprise, she spoke. “I am sorry,” she said. The words came hesitantly, oddly accented. But before I could reply, the next word came far more confidently: “EZHEN.”
I had to look it up later. It is the ur-Samekh rune for stasis, cessation of movement. And as she spoke it, I froze in place, paralyzed. Not rigid, not cold – it was more as if time had simply stopped for me while it proceeded for everything else. Slowly, gently, she reached around the back of my head and removed the telesma, which I wore on a cord around my neck, and placed it in her pocket. Then she took a vial of red fluid out of that same pocket and placed it on the table beside us. She took a step back and met my eyes again.
“I am sorry,” she repeated. “I must go.”
Unable to turn my head, I could not see what happened next. But out of the corner of my eye I saw her proceed to the circle of runes on the floor. I heard her walk around it, muttering words in ur-Samekh. I felt a crackle of energy. And, minutes later, when I found myself able to move again, I was not at all surprised to see that she had disappeared.
It goes without saying that I don’t know where she went. But, after all she has been through, I cannot begrudge her her freedom. I certainly do not fault her for taking the telesma, which very likely belonged to her in the first place. My worry is that she has gone off after Brown without us. My hope is that we shall meet again.
Now you can see that my eagerness for MacTallan’s map is not only because of Brown, but also because of Rachel. In the meantime, I now have in my possession, I believe, some more “bright blood,” thanks to her. If Bennington believes it can be useful to your endeavors, I will send it along. If her success in undoing were-rat transformations lends us clues that will held against Brown, all the better.