Tydonn Marsh, 22 August

Dear Crane, excellent Sir,

I must admit, reading your most recent letter not warmed my heart with some much-needed hope. Reading your descriptions about normal, (perhaps) good-natured, honest folk—that made me yearn for a day long past that sadly we may never see again in this altered world.

It also cast my mind back to our tender years at Everwood. Your playful self-admonishment about doing what is sensible and subsequently dashing off a hastily-written narrative made me smile with nostalgia for Big School. I think you remember Urquhart, whose precision clock kept in Albertus Hall would chime out the late offenders to the weekly essay submissions—who almost always included us. Well, with conditions the way they are, I can say anything written by you, on time or late, will be met with gratitude. And I am sure you recall old Ames, our headmaster, who pronounced that our young partnership would run us into ruin; I will never forget the blistering reprimand we endured after Edwards caught us running smuggled penny dreadfuls into the campus. Ah, if he could see us now!

On my side, I can report that Alia’s timing has been no less propitious here as well. First, Thorpe thanks you for the food supplies that you purchased (or bartered) from the good people of the village—fresh produce and preserved fish were most welcome around our makeshift kitchen these past few days. Second, I should note that tomorrow we leave through the northern passage toward the site of the Obelisk. My plan is to continue my journal throughout the next fortnight, but write more than just the scanty notes and sketches that I have made up to this point. I believe that we are moving into a phase of our journey that will be fraught with uncertainty and not a little danger, and for that reason, I wish to capture as many details as I can.

Along that theme, I was happy to have found a little blank notebook as spoils of a search of our deserted compound. It hadn’t occurred to me that I had run out of sheet paper following my last letter, and I couldn’t bring myself to tear pages out of Bennington’s medical journals. If you get future letters written in dull pencil, that will be because my inkwell has finally been exhausted.

I confess that it is now when I wish our places were exchanged, not least because a voyage on a New Columbian ship would be intriguing. More to the point, however: I say this because the closest we have to an expert in antiquities is Stratham, and I know how you feel about him. He has been mostly quiet, lost in the few books we have allowed him to take. After Thorpe returned with his men from the Ravine he became yet more introverted, and he seems inscrutable of motive and mood. Bennington and I made the joint decision to tell him nothing of what happened to Gujparat and poor Kensington, save something oblique about a wild animal attack.

All that is to say that I fear Stratham may not be of much good when we finally reach our destination—for this leg of the expedition at least. You are the master archaeologist; you proved your mettle when we encountered the strange carved stone, placing the date and the markings into a timeline that confirmed our hopes (and our fears). For my part, I will do what I can to make sure that there is at least an accurate recording of all we see and find, so that I can at least shuttle notes to you that will provide more clues. As for Stratham, I am expecting nothing more from him than I would from a well-meaning assistant, unless he returns to his better senses and displays some of the talent for which I am paying a lot of money.

Other snippets of news appear in my mind as I close this letter and prepare for what may be as long as a fortnight of travel toward our objective. First, we are sending back some medical supplies and a few small pieces of infirmary equipment back on the aero. When we completed a more thorough search of the compound where we are currently taking shelter, Thorpe’s men found a few crates of bandages, tinctures, pills, and instruments, as well as some sort of anaesthesia device and a steam-powered machine that looks like a pump. We took what we could shoulder in our packs, and Thorpe ordered the rest to be shipped to your team, upon hearing that you are now the most formidable navy afloat!

All levity aside, the next piece of news that I can recount is that since the horrific attack from the Creature, Thorpe’s skin looks a bit more normal and Bennington’s nightmares have seemed to subside. For myself, I can still hear voices and noises if I try to concentrate on them, but I certainly feel as if I have a measure of control over them—or at least, for now, they are simply suppressed by some mechanism. Graustein’s hair is permanently white now, however, and he complains of poor vision, for which Bennington has given him some eye drops found among the crates.

Finally, I read with some alarm your doubt in the trust we have put in Robards. I am sure that his camaraderie with Campbell is the same as any soldier’s or seaman’s upon meeting another in the same profession. Then again, I looked back at one of your previous letters and I read again your description of the glowing object that only your changed eyes could see. It would be interesting to find out that this new captain had a similar object in his possession. I want to advise you to “practice” your newfound ability as I have tried on occasion during these last few weeks, but I also know it might be potentially dangerous. I said that I was going to turn my attentions toward Bennington—and I will in good time—but we are still far from having all of the facts about the Incident or about what we truly encountered in the cold cavern chamber. You always were the more circumspect of the two of us; even if I may not put total faith in Bennington, Thorpe, or even Stratham, I trust your judgment.

For now, I will sign off: it is late and tomorrow we break camp. I also need my sleep, as I cannot quell the anxiety I feel for the next part of our journey.

With greetings and best wishes,