Collected Letters of Francis St. James, Letter 10
Third day at second island
I must confess, brother of mine, to a distinctly unsettled feeling as I begin to write these words. I was writing to Theodora (and have you seen her? and how is she? does she speak of me?) not two days past, and collapsed into a sodden pile of despair in the midst of a sentence. The aftermath of this ‘breakdown’ has left me more than a little shaky in the limbs - I pray I will not suffer a relapse of the temporal ague; should I become further unmoored in time, I fear I will lose myself entirely, to the point where when I ‘do return’ I know not what time or place it will be to.
But I am quite lucky, my brother, to have a most singular distraction: we have been ‘at anchor’ at an island - the second thus far encountered on our journey. I do not recall if I told you of my findings on the first of the islands (suffice to say they were intriguing in the extreme), but what I have found on the second has far surpassed them in ev’ry fashion. It seems that life past the Boundary has adapted in a peculiar fashion to the ribbons of magnetism and rust that permeate the environs: the ‘plants’ have evolved a sort of ‘magnetosynthesis’ (I am rather proud of that coining, I must confess) that feeds into a magneto-metallic ecosystem. When I encountered this on the first island, I thought it might prove no more than an isolated case - what I found on the second island made liars of that timid supposition: it teemed with a sort of life that I venture to say might be deemed mechanistic.
In short, in the tangled mounds of metal and detritus that formed the interior of the island, I found two distinct forms of flora: the first delicate flowers, sprouting from cogs, a-filigreed with tracings of wire; the second a more robust fellow, drooping down from the tops of the metal piles, and bearing a strange glassy bulb where one might expect to see stamens and pistils and the sort of floral nonsense I could never bring myself to care about overly much. But the flora is a mere sideshow to what I found capering about the metal hills, pausing for a nibble of glass bulb here, a speck of wire there. Life, mobile, terrestrial life. To, the first island was not entirely without fauna, but those strange flying fishy things pale in comparison to the frankly charming creatures that I have just discovered.
They have the rough appearance of a mongoose, but with a pudgier body, and soft fur all a-standing on end. Their eyes have the typically mechanistic form that I have come to expect: framed in gears and lit from within by a cheery glow. Metallic fins sprout from their backs, though what purpose these serve s mysterious - I have observed these creatures to neither swim nor fly. And their midsections are girdled with curious patterns of lacy gold. There is something about their appearance that is almost cartoonish in nature.
But mere description cannot do justice to these creatures: though they scramble about piles of rusted metal - the sort of place that our dear mother would fly into fits were she to see us playing therein - they have a singularly charming air to them, a rakish, devil-may-care attitude. I found simply sitting and observing them to lighten my mood (which had grown, as I mentioned, ponderously melancholy). And then I did a rash thing: breaking off a bit of glass ‘flower,’ I ventured to lure one of the little creatures into range of my net and, quick as a biscuit, had him in my grasp, where he remains, even as I write this. He is a friendly fellow and, even at far remove from his comrades, has kept up a chipper mood, purring and chirruping from the cage in which he now resides (a gift from Theodora that has proven most useful). I have named him Wendel, and I expect he will be my companion for the remainder of this voyage.
Ah, but looking at Wendel, I espie something else that burdens my previously lifted heart: my parting gift from Zakharov. It is a simple box with a lever and a gear, bearing the enigmatic label: ‘End.’ I know not what it means or to what use I am intended to put it. It feels me with a vague dread that not even the gentle trills of Wendel do sooth.
Alas, I must go for a walk ‘bout the deck, in hopes that it will ease my spirits. Until I write again, I remain,
Francis St. James
P.S. I fear I have neglected to inform you of two interesting developments aboard the ship. First, through some machinations unknown to me (and apparently assisted by some artifact he discovered when rambling ‘bout the second island), Glasikis is now captain of this vessel. As he has been kind, if oddly deferential, to me, I cannot help but feel this to be a positive development. Second, there appears to be a crewmember of whom I was unaware: a chaplain. Why she has remained hidden for so long is unclear, for I have yet to catch her in conversation, but I hope she will prove herself to be open to my confidences.