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From: Master Scholar Palamedes Sextus
To: Lady Abigail Pent and Sir Magnus Quinn

My dear Lady Pent,  

Hope you and Sir Magnus are well; same to the Fourth. I know it’s hardly rare for the parents of that house to call dibs on grenades, but that doesn’t make it easier for kids that little. 

In any case, I have a mystery on my hands, and it features more history and fewer physical remains than is useful for my psychometry. I was recently reviewing a manuscript when I came across a passage that was extremely familiar— it was from a book titled Treasures of the River by Pelagios Sapta, I read it when I was a kid. But when I brought it up with Dr. Hexacosimus, he had no idea what I was referring to, and was rather displeased I had been focusing on that rather than finishing the proofreading he had asked for.

I can't seem to stop thinking about it, though, because it feels significant in a way I can't fully explain. So this is a mystery I must pursue on my own, it seems. I remember the book was in some collection with others by the same author, but I do not know what the collection was titled, or where it ended up, as it was just intake from some private library that was donated to us. Since your research concerns what lies beyond the River, and mostly because you’re already three major revisions into your literature review, I’m certain you must have some idea where to find this book before it drives me to distraction (and, subsequently, Camilla.) 

Besides this, my studies go well— I am sure you must have heard of our success in uncovering the secrets of Dr. Sex’s study, and I am quite pleased that I have the opportunity to keep analyzing what we have found. My defense and confirmation for the Master Warden title is coming soon, and I'm confident the committee will be very favorable after all that.

Can’t wait to hear back from you both about this.

— Palamedes + Camilla 

+++

From: Dulcinea Septimus
To: Palamedes Sextus and Camilla Hect

To my dearest pals--

How exciting this all sounds! Or at least I think so, with no sense of scale anymore; if your plagiarist is not that thrilling of a mystery, I would not know, Pro's mountain home is still unceasingly tranquil. I'm gagging for so much as a neighborly tiff over an untrimmed hedge. I came down with a fever and tachycardia just to have something to do. (Do NOT worry, it was essentially nothing, and you should in fact be proud of me for successfully figuring out how to raise  my oxygen saturation!)

Well as you can imagine, I can do very little from here, but I have been allowed my tablet for reading nothing more thrilling than literary fiction in which necromancers pine for the five hundred and ten pages for their lost beloveds and feel bad about their substandard knowledge of theorems. What I wouldn't give for some heart-pounding adult content. You know, like Seventh House tax records. However, in searching the name of your unoriginal fellow's source, I did find a book that had a mention of him-- apparently he showed up on our doorstep with some kind of construct that wasn't any kind of organic matter at all, but was still a resurrected thing, and then he died soon thereafter, and his remains shipped back to the Fifth. That's about the full length of the description, it's tremendously unimpressive.

I dearly hope that's some kind of vital clue, so that I can fancy myself an elderly spinster with a penchant for cracking crimes. Please let  me  know the moment you learn more. I may still be able to crawl out from under this heinous pile of roses to receive your missive, if you update me soon enough.

Dulcie

+++

From: Magnus Quinn and Abigail Pent
To: Palamedes Sextus and Camilla Hect

Hullo there Pal and Cam,  

Abigail is preoccupied with all manner of necromancy, talks to the dead night and day and revises her manuscript in all the rest of her ample time, so she has me penning her correspondence for her; apologies for this response from the lesser Fifth! 

We did hear about Dr. Sex’s study, and your part in working out that wonderfully named fellow's work. I am a dullard about these things, but Abigail was alight for days with possibilities about how revenants could linger, and if there was any way that a soul could have a foot on our side of the River and a foot across it. Sounds damned uncomfortable to me, but if she decides to follow in Dr. Sex’s shoes, it’ll be because there’s a whole new chapter to add to her manuscript, and three hundred more footnotes. 

So now to the matter at hand, your unidentifiable collection and the mysterious Pelagios Sapta. He’s clearly a part of the Sixth, but it appears he migrated to the Fifth some five hundred years ago, in order to pursue some kind of reverse-psychometry using souls of the recently dead, or so I gathered from my wife’s explanation. This process he describes pulls souls from the River, and places them within objects, using their characteristics in life to change the characteristics of the object to fit  them. The most practical application seems to have been creating spirit-powered computers, by channeling souls into silicon chips. He was more speculative, though, about the properties of other crystals, and if they could be used to make some kind of hybrid creature that became more than the person that soul was drawn from.

Of course, with these kind of potential uses, it seems a marvel he didn’t find some way of selling the theorems involved and retiring to a golden palace somewhere Third. But his experimental work was apparently distasteful, particularly the part where he was assisting his souls out of their living bodies and into objects, and strangely the community he was living in objected to a maniacal killing spree, so his work failed to make the waves one would normally expect.

How he traveled to your hands, however, is far less clear, and similarly the path to the researcher who was unlucky enough to pass under your critical eye. We didn’t find that he had any children to carry on his sinister work, although the lack of information available doesn’t render that conclusion foregone. The archival index of donor books to the Library, however, did indicate that a private collection containing something with his name on it did get shipped to the Library, but it wasn’t specific as to the contents. You may be able to find more information on the receiving end— the collection name and code was 9995-KLN-6674. Do let us know what you find; Abigail hordes all the mysteries for herself usually, and I am chuffed to labor on one of my own.

The Fourth are settling in alright here, which is to say that they hate it, hate us, and hate each other. Isaac has always been a quiet child, but now he creeps around like startling anyone would reverse the Resurrection, and Jeannemary near about sends him into fits as she ricochets from surface to surface with whatever weapon in hand she’s scrounged up and claimed as her right. She's thrashed me in three duels already. I find them delightful tiny people, and feel myself incredibly ancient next to them. 

Yrs., Magus Quint, Cavalier Primarried, Seneschal of the Koniortos Court, etc and so on

+++

From: The Ninth House
To: Palamedes Sextus

To Palamedes Sextus, Master Scholar of the House of the Sixth, 

We of the Ninth House and the Keepers of the Locked Tomb do not concern ourselves with cheap spiritualism and questionable seances, and especially are not interested in conjectures drawn from pickpocketing the dead. Furthermore, we have not sent any of our collections to the Library, nor have we received any collections in several centuries, and what we have is extremely specialized. We are certain that the Fifth House would be interested in your speculations, but we would not.

In the name of the King Undying, the Necrolord Prime, God and Resurrector—
The House of the Ninth, Reverend Lady Pelleamena Hight Novenarius and Reverent Lord Priam Hight Noniusvianus

POSTSCRIPT:

To whoever,

We would be so jazzed if you could come collect an orphan we barely feed and who belongs in a House warmer than a witch’s titty. Her name is Gideon Nav and she’s too cool for our lame butts. The sooner you can get her out of here, the better. You don’t have to keep her, we’re fine if you just want to drop her at Trentham, she’s the best ever swordswoman of our house.

Yrs., Reverend Ninth House Ghoulparents who are definitely still fucking kicking

+++

From: Coronabeth and Ianthe Tridentarius
To: The Giant Fucking Nerds

Hey, Palamedes--

Team Giant Fucking Nerds are at it again! It's nice that you're having fun. Sorry, though, we found nothing over here about that guy. Are you really contacting eight Houses' worth of necromancers just to find out where some book is?

In far more important news, our fifteenth birthday party is coming up. Are you and Camilla going to be chill for enough consecutive minutes to attend? Judith Deuteros is coming, even though she just got through Cohort boot camp survival training or something. Surely you two can make it.

Kisses,
Coronabeth and Ianthe

+++

To: Abigail Pent and Magnus Quinn
From: Palmedes Sextus

Lady Pent and Sir Magnus,

You found far more than did anyone else I contacted, and the collection code means I've been able to request that box out of archive and will be able to finally examine the book in question. I am glad that you both are interested; I'm intrigued by the necromancy involved, even though it seems like Sapta's application of the theorem was attempted primarily with the human models he created, and it would be neat to work out if there are ways to do it a little more organically. The analytic power would be a gamechanger, but the ethical issues of going fishing in the River is a thorny one. Still, how many necromancers would donate their eternal souls to science?

Lady Pent, I know you will be delighted to hear that Sapta was buried, or otherwise disposed of, on the Fifth. Dulcinia Septimus found a small mention of him being sent back after he died there. I somehow doubt anyone recorded a wish for him to rest in peace so he was probably automatically drafted into the skeleton war, but who knows, maybe there's a tomb for you to poke around.

Are you two going to the Tridentarii's birthday?

Warmest regards,
Palamedes

Sir Magnus--

Please come to the birthday party. Normally I wouldn't care, but if you aren't there, Prince Tern will be the only other cavalier. Don't make me suffer alone.

Camilla

POSTSCRIPT: The contents of the archived collection were destroyed. Nothing but ash and burn scorching in the box. We're going to examine it now, will let you know what we find -Cam

+++

From: Lady Abigail Pent of Koniortos Court, Heir to the House of the Fifth
To: Master Scholar Palamedes Sextus, Heir to the House of the Sixth; and Camilla, Cavalier Primary to the Heir, Warden's Hand of the Library

Please, the both of you, be careful. Forgive me for getting parental; I know you're beyond childhood in so many ways, but you're still so young, and I worry. Anyone morally capable of setting a fire in a pressurized station like the Sixth could do anything.

In the meantime, however, I must report on the tomb you were so generous to share with me!

Well, we made a day of it, brought a picnic lunch and headed into Sapta's tomb-- it was a small crypt in the western necropolis, simple and unmarked, and I only knew which one it was by the grave record number. I suspect, given his heresies, it may have been purposefully obscured. 

Of course I got straight to work making a binding circle and temping spirits with fresh blood-- five hundred years is a lengthy time, certainly, and while I'm good, there's no guarantee anything will ever work, after a span that long. And unsurprisingly yet disappointingly, Sapta's spirit did not sit up and start sharing his published work, and giving us something to work with regarding your plagiarist and potential arsonist. However, some of the stones around the tomb began to hum. Not as if something was speaking through them, but rather like they were machines of some kind, coming up to normal speed. I scraped some of the grave dust away from where it had coated the stones, and found quartz silicate.

Which was... growing, sprouting new facets and outcroppings of crystal, reacting to my touch and growing towards me, and what could I do but examine it up close and personal, like the first idiot who gets killed in a horror story about vengeful ghosts? That was when it suddenly burst out in more crystals, enveloping my hand and beginning to crush it, while a completely different howling mass spirits than the one I had hoped to study began an assault, to move out of their forced preservation in the quartz.

I don't remember what happened next; Magnus, however, said that my eyes rolled back in my head and I started having a seizure. Magnus hauled me away from the stones and swung me straight out of the crypt and onto the hard floor, breaking stones out of the wall and freeing me from its clutches. I became aware again several minutes after he had washed even the patina of dust off of me, removing all contact I had. I'll now need to isolate and make sure I didn't bring any of these pieces of souls along with me, but that's alright, since I needed to be locked away to finally make myself do the footnote citations on chapter three of my manuscript.

Of course, my husband has been wretchedly sorry about tossing me around so, and I shall be reassuring him for a while that my fragile necromancer bones are not quite so delicate as all that.

I can't wait to tell you more about how those ghosts crave that mineral and really discuss all the theoretical implications of what I observed-- we will be coming to the birthday, and bringing the Fourth with us, so you can meet them properly. Tell Camilla she'll get not one but two cavaliers for the evening! Oh, and give Lady Septimus my regards, I wouldn't have been able to locate the crypt without her help.

Yours most sincerely,
Abigail Pent, Lady of Koniortos Court and Heir to the House of the Fifth

+++

To: Pal
From: Cam

Hey, Dr. Hexacosimus came by looking for you. I didn't tell him you were at the archive study rooms feeling up ashes. He seemed nicer than usual; deeply sus. I'm off to Swordsman's Spire for afternoon drills. You have to proctor the Third Ring makeup examinations tonight, they were rescheduled from next week.

+++

To: Lady Abigail Pent
From: Palamedes Sextus

Lady Pent, my most profound apologies for thrusting you into such danger! I would never have suggested that if I had any idea that Sapta's very tomb would be filled with his monstrous technology. Please let me know that you aren't still carrying any of those fragmented bits of spirit, and that you've gotten someone to confirm that.

It is useful, however, to know that Sapta's theorem was at least partially effective, in activating the resonance within the quartz silicate; I'm deeply curious whether other mineral compounds can contain those soul fragments, and if the differing molecular structure lends itself to different function. Similarly, the quartz silicate was able to generate rapidly under those conditions, so would another mineral be able to do that as well, and at what speed? Would it transform matter into the crystal formations, or only multiply its own form to encrust other substances?

Getting back to the issue of the actual plagiarism, rather than the details of Sapta's work, we did find the complete collection burned into nothing but soot marks and ash, with barely anything left. Between the age of the materials and the condition of what was left of them, there wasn't much insight to derive, whichever way I tested them. However, I calculated the volume of ashes and fragments and compared with the approximate size of the collection, and I suspect something might have been removed.

Given your experience in Sapta's tomb, I am forced to reevaluate some of Dr. H's manuscript. One facet of the research concerns how much of the River's topology can be modeled by using the morphology of objects' resonance. It's troubling that the research he is referencing involves the actual spirits that were brought back, rather than just their shapes within a primitive computer. However, the whole relevant section of his manuscript is incremental in its advancements, so I don't know why Dr. H would need to take such an extreme course of action as plagiarizing and possibly destroying a Library collection. I'm certainly compelled to pursue the whole truth of the origin of this research, as I am with everything, but I understand that is sometimes others lack that compulsion. But it's for publication.

Sincerely,
Palamedes

+++

To: Dulcinea Septimus, Duchess of Rhodes
From: Palamedes Sextus, Master Scholar

Dear Dulcinea,

I hope this letter finds you not smothered in roses, or all our efforts at clearing that pulmonary edema will be in vain, and I shall have to have some words with Pro about his floral sabotage! I do hope that this missive provides you with the excitement you've been wishing for, since things certainly became much more exciting than I originally imagined sourcing a long passage would be. As you can probably guess, I was a perfect idiot and Camilla figured out everything while I was still calculating the molar mass of ashes.

We reached the Third House around the same time as Lady Pent and Sir Magnus arrived, the Fourth children in tow and clearly in meltdown mode; Camilla twirled her knives around for them, which delighted Jeannemary and rendered Isaac completely inconsolable, and then they screamed at each other until forced to take a nap. Magnus is really quite good with them, and endlessly good-natured. I think you would like them, if you met them, and you might find them more invigorating than the children you’re around currently.

Third birthdays are a Whole Event, going on an entire weekend and featuring more decadence than possibly any House I’ve seen on its own. Feasts, dancing, Princess Coronabeth providing matching gowns to her closest friends for ridiculous coordinated pictures. Absolutely a barrage upon the senses, and for once I was grateful for being perceived as young, since it meant most potential dance partners dismissed Camilla and I on sight. How much better to not be perceived at all, though; but whatever, maintaining good relationships with other Houses is worth a weekend of discomfort. The Fifth is effortlessly elegant at anything like this.

It all went very well up until the evening before we returned home, when Lady Pent and I found a secluded study to discuss recent events, and her experience in Sapta’s tomb; I examined her hand, where the quartz silicate had entrapped her, and was able to read the signatures of over seventy souls. It was truly astonishing, how fragmented they were.

So that is where we were, when the door opened to reveal Dr. Hexacosimus, far from the Sixth where I had lrft him, and wholly unexpected. Behind him was Sir Magnus, looking distinctly unhappy about this development, and I can’t say I was particularly glad of it. Camilla stood, as they entered.

He didn't greet us but only looked somewhat flustered as he said, "Palamedes, I've been sent to bring you back tonight."

I frowned at his unusual use of my name, since usually he's more prone to using titles, and stood as well, and asked, "What is happening that requires my return? I was planning to leave tomorrow, in any case."

He looked around the room, pausing briefly at Lady Pent in all her finery, and then looked again at me. I could almost swear I saw him twitching. "I... cannot tell you. It... I can't."

"Whatever it is, I am comfortable sharing it with the people in this room, Dr. Hexacosimus; you have no reason to distrust them."

He became increasingly agitated. "You have to come with me, now," he responded, like it was difficult for him to talk.

"That's not going to happen," said Camilla calmly. "He's not going anywhere with you."

I looked at her. She was standing between me and Dr. H, in a posture I recognized as sturdily ready to fight, as I had seen a thousand times as she went through her routines. I knew she could draw her two long knives in half of a heartbeat.

In that moment, still caught up in thoughts of the dire need to publish, I wondered what the worst thing Dr. H could be there for-- to confront me about my attempt to prove his plagiarism? That was hardly worth the trip, though we all know Scholars who have gone completely batty over failures to publish. So while I didn't know why Camilla would stand up to him, I knew that if she had an instinct, I didn't need anything more than that.

"He's staying here," Camilla said, and paused. "Pelagios Sapta, right? That's you?"

I looked between Cam and him. He spasmed, once, and that was when she drew her long knives. She began to step forwards, but jumped back when he reached into his pocket and then threw a handful of rocks to the floor. They immediately started multiplying into crystal formations, covering the floor and moving towards us, and I took the obvious leap of logic that Camilla had traveled before me.

"You weren't plagiarizing anyone, were you?" I asked, careful of my feet. "Sapta? You were bringing through all the spirits you failed to embed the first time, but this time knowing how to force your spirit on an object yourself."

The crystals were stacking and growing on top of each other, forming pillars reaching up into the air. Lady Pent was weaving abjuration necromancy, launching it towards the constructs, but not breaking their spiritual structure faster than they grew. Sir Magnus had drawn his rapier when Camilla had named Sapta, and he charged at him from behind.

"My descendent provided me the bridge back, considerate boy," the apparent Pelagios Sapta said. Two of the crystal pillars met, and grew up in a single column. It looked troublingly like legs and a torso. Camilla spun, her knives out in a blender of sharp edges, and smashed through that growing crystal. Sir Magnus stabbed directly at Sapta, who dodged the rapier at the last second. Lady Pent's face was white with the effort of abjuration. Sapta added, "I can bring them all back. Start an engine of knowledge never imagined by even the Necrolord Prime, and take his place. The infinite theorems that would be available could power Dominicus forever, and remove us from our pathetic dependence upon him." Zealotry in these heresies created a feverish light in his eyes.

"Eat shit," Camilla suggested briefly, then slammed the butt of her knife directly into his temple. He collapsed.

Lady Pent's work finally broke the crystal person forming, just as the growing crystal was about to form a head. Sir Magnus immediately leapt over the floor cluttered with broken fragments to retrieve a curtain tie, which he used to bind our attackers's legs and arms, and firmly wadded up a handkerchief to gag him. "Can someone, perhaps, find a broom," asked Lady Pent faintly. "I need to create a strong binding circle, until we can more fully contain the crystals."

I looked to Camilla. "How did you know?" I asked her.

She sheathed her knives. "I told you he was acting sus," she said, and shrugged. She seemed only a little embarrassed when I hugged her in front of everyone.

So that is the resolution of our little mystery, which turned out to be far more than I had imagined when it started. The Fifth have taken Dr. Hexacosimus/Pelagios Sapta back with them, as containing him and figuring out whether Sapta can be evicted will take more spirit magicians than we have near to hand at the Library. I've been going over the rest of his manuscript, and reviewing the sources he cited, and forming some hypotheses for testing about fixing souls securely to physical anchors while keeping them intact; between this and Dr. Sex's study, some very interesting avenues for exploration have arisen. The one that I am most hopeful for would be to perhaps change the cancerous cells in your blood to non-multiplying ones, if there are any physical parallels to the exponential crystal formation that we witnessed.

All my love,
Palamedes