Gathering all of the parts of the LaSein story into a single post for ease of discovery and linking. I’ve also added the bare bones of a frame.
You don’t have much time. Getting your wits about you, you shuffle down the hallway with all the haste you can manage in the dark, cramped space. The hag doesn’t look like much, but she’s a Maker. No way she’s survived this long without some way to protect herself, and if she comes back and finds out what you really came here for…well, it would be much better if she didn’t.
It’s hard to hear in this place. You can no longer feel the reverberations of her milling about in the distance. It’s all ticks and whirs from within the walls now. But good fortune: The passage opens to a messy study, well lit if still jarringly noisy. No gizmos in sight, but lots and lots of parchment. That’s fine. You’d settle for getting out of here with some schematics–the brokers would pay top dollar for those, and besides, you can still sell the old bat’s location.
You begin rifling through the scrolls on the shelf. Histories. Sketched artwork. A whole bunch of scripts you can’t read. You shove the most mundane to the side and shovel the more arcane works into your satchel. Better to value them later, once you’re outside. Then you come to a folio. Drawing out the first page, the parchment practically cracks in your hand. It’s old. Very old. And though it seems unassuming–it looks like a journal–you are taken aback by its language. It’s a dialect of the southern Revián, they spoke it where you were born. You haven’t seen anything like it since your village was overrun. In spite of the danger, you find yourself unable to resist reading through it.
At the top of the first page is a smudged symbol that may indicate a date.
I have received word of a costly skirmish in the northern reaches between one of our peacekeeping floats and an enemy raiding party. Diarchian, according to the scouts. The presence of the troublemakers in the area is of course no anomaly, but the outcome was apparently dire: They sunk the entire float. Barring the amassment of a far more significant force than we anticipated–a possibility the scouts’ report attempts to discredit–this is highly irregular.
The captain of the vessel was one Euphonia LaSein, and it seems she escaped with her life. The scouts found her maimed and delirious. Her recovery will likely take some time, but I am eager to hear her report as soon as possible.
A second symbol marks the top of the next page.
I have decided that I will compile these notes separately from my regular reports to the Shareholders. Captain LaSein’s account unsettled me, and I fear spreading it might induce a panic in the barge-districts we ought pointedly to avoid.
I had an opportunity to visit the LaSein estate on the northern plaza two days hence, and I found the captain there in a sorry state. She was confined to an infirmary chair, wheeled by her butler, as during the battle for her float, her leg had been crushed beyond any hope of healing. The scouts amputated it in the field. This war is a sordid business, and I shall be well glad to be rid of it when Spar is finally crushed. Still, though, the captain spoke very little of her physical state beyond those spare facts explaining her disposition. Her worries seemed to lie elsewhere.
She confided in me a disturbing theory. That her forces were defeated in the first place she was able to explain: The Diarchian raiding party attacked in the midst of a mutiny by the float’s slaves. However, that they were ready and waiting for the opportunity, indeed that they were even aware of the mutiny merits further examination. Captain LaSein posited that a portion of the slave crew–a group of ten or so that the float had captured while following a lead in the Windwood–had been deliberately planted by Spar. The slaves, in her opinion, had an unusual level of military training and cooperation, and the timing of their revolt alongside the raiding party’s assault could not have been a coincidence.
It is clear she fears the Diarchy may attempt a similar tactic closer to the Federation’s primary holdings, perhaps even within Thago itself. While I do not wish that such exaggerated fears should spread among the populace, I do think her story merits cautious concern: I intend to immediately undertake an evaluation of my subordinates’ loyalties, in case some sort of infiltration has already begun.
Of course, I attempted to relay the same measured concern in my feedback to the captain, but it seemed she found my reaction insufficient. After a time, she lapsed into an angry silence, and her butler, an elderly gentleman in conspicuously plain clothes, asked me politely to take my leave.
A third date symbol, resembling a small blade.
Charges were brought against Euphonia LaSein today by Prince Cotnoir on behalf of the Shareholders. I understand their reasoning. News of defeat means the riverways aren’t safe. It scares investors, or it would if it were a sign we were not handily winning our war. Thus, the reason for the destruction of Captain LaSein’s float must have been isolated incompetence on the part of her crew, and as her crew is entirely absent–almost entirely confirmed dead, by her account–the scapegoat must be Captain LaSein herself.
I do understand, and I understand as well that the Federation’s fortunes may have a bearing on the outcome of this war beyond the Shareholders’ personal profits, but the particulars are most inconvenient. From a strategic perspective, the LaSein account may indicate an actual threat from the Diarchy of Spar that we ought to mitigate. If Captain LaSein’s credibility is crushed here, I will lose most of my ground for argument on that point. Unfortunately, I fear that is exactly what will happen.
My research subsequent to my meeting with the captain has yielded a disturbing connection as well. The current commander of the Diarchian pseudo-military in the Revián is a man who goes by the name Selenus Ignigoet, and though it is not widely spoken of, he served in a security company in Thago some decades ago under the command of the very same Euphonia LaSein. Evidently he betrayed his unit, leaving LaSein as the only survivor, stole a cargo skiff, and bolted north. Though it is clear from the record that LaSein was in no way involved in this mutiny, it remains a point of curiosity that Ignigoet did not kill her as well. I did not have to search hard for this information–I have little doubt it will be raised in her trial.
Also, though Captain LaSein did not raise this connection as a factor for her concern in her most recent report, I suspect it is very much relevant.
Another date symbol, altered only slightly from the previous one.
It seems Captain LaSein has additional secrets the Shareholders would prefer buried. I met with Prince Cotnoir today to raise my concerns regarding the timing and publicity of her trial. He was not receptive, but as he understands my concerns to be related to his own safety, he did share with me the reason for his beliefs.
This is, according to the Prince, the third time that Euphonia LaSein has emerged with her life from a massacre, each one very costly to the Federation. The second was, of course, the incident with Ignigoet, but the first predated it by nearly twenty years, well before my time, indeed before any of the present Shareholders had reached their current positions. LaSein was only a child, but it was then that her father, Arman LaSein, was put on trial for unlawful magical experimentation.
The crime is familiar to me: I have known Riverwalkers to occasionally develop an unhealthy interest in the occult, and I have personally presided over investigations into those uncommon cases of mages acquiring an interest in the dissection and other subjection of human specimens in their research. The penalty for such actions is, of course, death, and this was precisely that prescribed for Arman. According to the records, he was executed in the third week of the harvest, nearly forty years ago. I was aware of this conclusion, aware as well that Captain LaSein’s military career was no doubt stunted by her inauspicious parentage. I did not hold it against her. What I did not realize was the extent to which the former Shareholders had been able to obscure the true narrative of Arman LaSein’s execution.
The Prince was in the audience on the day of the old mage’s hanging, had been brought there by his own father, and all seemed to go according to plan until the moment the block was kicked from under LaSein’s feet. As he dangled there, the Prince told me, Arman LaSein did not kick, did not thrash, indeed, did not die. He simply stared with “eyes like coal” upon the crowd, and as he did, the hangman, the guards and magistrates, all in attendance who facilitated the execution fell to their knees and died with rope-marks about their necks. Amid the screams, the Prince did not see what became of LaSein, but when the commotion finally settled, the old man was gone.
It is his opinion that a pattern has emerged, and the danger posed by Euphonia LaSein’s continued citizenship in Thago is greater than any possible threat she may profess regarding the defeat of her float.
I do not know if I agree with him–I feel that Captain LaSein’s account still merits preventative action–but it does not appear the point is negotiable. Even so, I am far, far more concerned by the fruits of my visit to the records office following my appointment with the Prince. I sought to glean background on his story in a report on the precise crimes of Arman LaSein, but my eye was taken by sketch of the man appended to the main document. I have seen this man before, in the LaSein estate, barely a week ago. I mistook him for the butler.
The same altered-knife symbol as the previous entry, appended with two tally marks.
The events immediately following my previous entry are rapidly decaying to something of a blur in my memory, but I will endeavor to recount them as accurately as possible. Upon realizing my oversight (which, in retrospect, could hardly have been blamed on me despite my feelings of foolishness), I rushed to assemble a unit of guardsmen, and, having done so, I proceeded to the LaSein estate in order to apprehend the old man I now understand to be Arman LaSein.
My greeting there was not so warm this time, though not for any hostility on the part of the estate. Perhaps it was our lack of appointment or the armed demeanor of the guards, but beyond distant acquiescence from the servants, we were not greeted at all. Rather, on our own, we found Arman LaSein in a far-flung parlor, playing some sonata on an old grand piano. He informed us, without interruption to his melody, that the Captain was unwell and would not be able to entertain that day.
I of course replied with the truth: We were not there for the Captain. As he nodded, still playing his music, I directed the guards to arrest him, but they would not. The sergeant just shook his head at me and departed. His subordinates followed, leaving me dumbfounded in the parlor when, at last, LaSein stopped playing. Unnerved but undeterred, I asked him a number of questions there, but still I cannot help but feel that his answers have not substantially enhanced my understanding of the situation.
I asked him what he had done to the guards–he said he showed them the truth. I asked why he was here in the city–he replied it was to persuade his daughter to cease her patriotism. I asked him what any of that meant, and he just sneered, asking me in return why I thought he was bothering to answer my questions at all. Without waiting for my response, he began to play again, a cyclical series of variations, alternating between dissonance and harmony. After a few moments, he elaborated:
He stated that he had devoted his life to the study of a particular pattern, and he had returned to Thago to answer the question of whether that pattern might be able to be broken if its components were simply made aware of their preordination. I remained bewildered as he bade me farewell, but then he issued a pointed suggestion: “Why don’t you write it down?”
That is what I am doing now, though I must confess I feel no wiser and all the more discomfited by Captain LaSein’s impending fate.
The symbol resembles a spiral with four blade-like appendages.
Captain LaSein’s trial is a mere two days away, but it seems there has been a fire at the LaSein estate. Reports from the guards indicate that the captain remained inside as the house burned. In her condition, I fear there is little hope she made it out alive. I am amidst preparation to visit once again, though I understand there is little left of the structure.
A few inches below, there is more written in a different hand.
Commissioner. I shall take this opportunity, in your absence, to bid you farewell. Despite my hostility during our last encounter, I do believe you come far closer to understanding me than the rest of your city, and I, perhaps in a maudlin wish that my daughter was right, see you as something of my last hope that a cycle I’ve long believed inexorable might, in fact, be broken. Perhaps you know this cycle, perhaps you are still coming to understand it–you see it always begins in a particular way: Discord. Betrayal. Destruction of the harmony which reigned before, will reign after, and, somewhere beyond, will be shattered again. It has always been, and I wonder whether you can prove to me whether there is some chance, a glimmer of hope that its course might even temporarily be averted.
As you are no doubt aware by now, my daughter is dead. Though my material circumstances made a typical paternal relationship difficult, I’d like you to know that I still pinned a great deal of my hope for the world to her and her success. She was a better human than most, far better than me. I have little doubt that her death will be repaid in kind, but the betrayal which presently bears scrutiny is different. It is the one that arose from her own countrymen, unconsummmated but very certainly noticed. It is not for me to speculate at the circumstances from which this dissonance arose, but I have become quite capable of measuring that Vengeance which restores harmony. Understand me, Commissioner: Euphonia devoted her life to this city and its Federation. Every action she took, even under threat from those she would defend, she took with Thago in mind. For this betrayal, the Old Gods should burn. Perhaps an extraordinary outpouring of goodwill would douse them.
Forgive my brevity–I genuinely do wish you good luck.
-Arman LaSein, aspirant to Harmony
The notes end here, but you notice an additional page, wrinkled and of diminished quality, tucked behind the final entry. It reads:
The officer we killed in the riot at LaSein’s house had this back in his desk. Looks like they would have been ready for us if we’d got here any later. The business with her father is spooky too, but we’ve looked, and there’s no sign of him anywhere around here.
Anyway, the plan is working so far. Ham and I are ingratiating ourselves with the smugglers in the lower-barges. Marilyn has reestablished connection with her father, and now that LaSein is dead, there’s no one to contest her “miraculous survival” story. I should be able to get the city’s underbelly amped up pretty soon, and then I understand she’ll be able to persuade her father to back a crackdown. Riots, I get it. It’s all a bit fucked, but I get it.
The shit with LaSein was a bit more fucked, though, and if it didn’t mean my own ass if we failed, I would have refused. When this is all over, we don’t intend to ask much of you, but know this: I’m looking at what happened to her as a warning. I’ve been warned, I know what to look for.
Having read the final page, you put it back in its place at the end of the folio and place it all back in its place on the shelf. As you do, a small scrap falls out from between the pages and lands at your feet. There are only a few sentences written on it, but they are written in an exquisite, ornate script:
Little Hawk, see the pattern, see the machinations that lie beneath. They are but carrion, still walking only because they cannot see what we have seen, that their race has died and now begins to rot. These intrigues, their greed, their righteous indignation, it is by these tools that we shall craft a more convincing image of humanity. In its shadow, they will have no choice but to be convinced.
At the bottom of the scrap is a mark resembling a bird’s foot with a long back claw.