Dear Diary – although I suppose I might as well address this Dear Sarah, as I’ve no doubt you’ll be the one to decode it if anyone does. I hope you’ve enjoyed the cypher, little sister; as far as I know even Chomsky doesn’t have a work-around for this one yet.
As I was saying:
As though being charged with administering the fair (and yes, I do know that Mother and the rest are taking up a lot of my slack) and keeping an eye on Vekd, Doji, and the rest weren’t stressful enough, I’ve had a puzzle of my own to work on during the past few days. The documents Babbage so reluctantly furnished me with are complex in the extreme, and yet their contents are so important and so telling that I could not ignore them even if I dared to. They haunt my dreams, as do the consequences of having disrupted them.
Of all of our family’s “gifts”, it is perhaps the cruelest and most terrible form of genius to have the will and means to choose who lives and who dies. I confess I do not have the stomach for it, and yet I cannot argue with the results. Faced with horrors I can hardly conceive of, Babbage and Edna’s mother found a solution to a problem that no-one in the empire could solve. By any rational measurement she and her daughter should be lauded as heroes, were it not for the terrible cost of their achievement.
33 souls. Innocents.
33 brutal, horrible murders, the victims seemingly random but actually carefully selected. Nobodies, to look at them; fishwives, hookers, thieves, others; people whom the empire would hardly miss or even notice, were it not for the bloody, sensational manner of their death, and yet each was carefully selected: a courtesan who is the lover of the younger son of a minor noble dies, leading to the grief of the son and influencing the noble and from him his own lord, and in time, imperial policy. A cluster of deaths within blocks of the houses of the powerful, and suddenly the minds of the nobility turn toward the horrors of war and away from its glories, and the public opinion turns away from conflict. Each death, through its place and time and victim and method, carefully orchestrated to have the maximum effect with the minimum harm and bloodshed. Often the deaths were three, four, or even five steps removed from the people whom they were intended to influence, and yet the over-all effect was consistent.
The Hunt was stopped. Clean as clockwork.
I hate it.
I hate the whole bloody business. I hate that we, who do so much to try to improve the lives of the people of the Empire, would stoop to ordering the murder of innocents. I hate that we could ever be so arrogant as to think we could decide whether a person’s death was a worthy sacrifice for the prosperity of the empire. I hate that this was hidden from me, leaving me to stumble over it at a time like this, and I hate that this was revealed to me, making me responsible for keeping the secret and now for deciding whether to continue down this course. I hate that we have to keep this secret, since the population would turn on us in minutes if they knew. I hate that the family is now in danger because we took this step to save the people who would destroy us. I hate that Edna and her mother and now perhaps even Babbage had to be confined to the Sanctuary for their part in this matter. I hate most of all that, now that I see what they did and why they did it, I can almost feel myself admiring them even as I am revolted by them.
It’s easy to see, now, why Babbage’s machine wouldn’t work with the Mboshu delegation nearby. He was drawing upon everything from geneological data to personal biographies to commodities fluxuations, trying to find the patterns that would stop the Hunt without starting something possibly just as bad, but Mboshu presents a series of unknowns too numerous and complex to analyze as a single unit. He might be able to account for them with decades of experience, but three years of spotty data doesn’t even come close. He and Edna might be able to solve the problem together, but I doubt either of them have enough time left to account for Mboshu’s influence upon any future cycles – and I shudder to think that I will have to live through all of this again, with or without their guidance, should the time come…
- * *
I’ve come to a decision. Nafu has come to the faire disguised as some sort of fortune teller. Frankly I doubt that her bejeweled gnoll skull is much of an oracle, even by the standards of such things, but she does know more about the Mboshu gods than anyone other than perhaps Doji, who has an unfortunate habit of vanishing at key moments. A renegade Drow has offered us information upon the location of the Ard Righ’s missing Mboshu drow “guests”, and has also offered us what may be the key to disrupting the Unseelie Court’s control over the Hunt, and after her ride on the nightmare the other day Dodji seems convinced she can direct the Hunt back at the Drow themselves. If Nafu confirms this, I plan to lead Vekd and Doji to Sanctuary to learn what we can about where and when the Hunt will rise, the better to “steal” it, as Dodji claims. I only hope that I can persuade Vekd to stay his hand. If he should slay a Goldberg while at Sanctuary the consequences don’t bear thinking of.
In any case, Squirt, by the time you decode this you’ll already likely know how things work out. I sincerely hope I’m here to catch you reading it. If you’ve handled the page this far you’re probably about ready to pass out by now, so please try not to drool on the diary. If by chance I am dead or someone else is reading this, please know that my sister is the most gifted mage in a generation at triggered magic, and she has seen to it that you will be unable to speak or write about anything read here without our express permission, which will be difficult to get if we are dead. You’ll likely be experiencing any other little surprises she’s woven into these pages for more or less the foreseeable future.