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the talesman

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“This is Dr. Martollow Kovski. It has been...approximately five days since the extraction. I cannot be sure how long I have been in the Fringe. Ideally, the DFR will have already been informed of the events the day Senior Investigator Rodriguez returned with his team. In case the extraction was unsuccessful, I will...attempt to summarize.

As Officer Jalloh previously reported, we were held in a large compound that was controlled by a sizable gang called the Southeast Rocket Punks. Although we had begun to earn the trust of the Punks, when Officer Jalloh learned of an impending retaliation from another gang, she and Officer Ljqvist decided it would be best to leave the Hot before the attack began. We utilized a breach in the walls to escape undetected, and received the message from Investigator Rodriguez shortly afterwards. The six of us -- as we had taken on three fringers from within the Punks -- met with the extraction team as the gangs fought.

The attack on the Punks drew the attention of other, smaller gangs, who were likely looking to use the chaos to their advantage. We encountered multiple hostile groups, and in one of the confrontations, Officer Ljqvist was struck with an axe and killed.

Sev -- Officer Ljqvist -- he was an excellent guard and a great man. I am truly sorry for his passing, and regret that there were no feasible means to return his body to his family.

I do hope that Officer Jalloh and Boom made it to Atrius safely, and, if they ever get the opportunity to hear this, I would like to apologize to both Jalloh and Investigator Rodriguez for any trouble that I may have caused. I know my methods have always seemed unorthodox for work in the Fringe, but I do believe I can make real progress with my research.

Now, as for my current update: I am continuing my work, studying Fringer culture and documenting what I can. Though I no longer have a protective detail, I feel I have learned a significant amount of survival skills from my time with the Officers and the time we spent with the Punks. I do not have my recorder, but I will make an effort to find writing utensils and leave detailed notes in dead drops when possible. Otherwise, I will give what information I can with these recordings.

Although I did not see much of the attack on the Rocket Punks myself, I have heard a few stories from other fringers that I believe to be credible enough. With their leader, Dismas, gone, the leadership role appears to have fallen on Skit, the one who oversaw their combat pit. I believe this decision to be based more on her fighting skills than anything else, but even that was not enough for the Punks to successfully defend their base.

It will be fascinating to see the resulting power shifts with this large of a gang destroyed. I will do my best to remain in the immediate area so I may document these changes.

Once again, I remain grateful to Officers Jalloh, Ljqvist, Patell, and Investigator Rodriguez for all of their efforts and sacrifices to protect me. I fully understand the decision to return to Atrius, but I was given a mission, and I intend to see it through. I am well aware -- as, I am sure, are those in the DFR -- of the sacrifices required in the pursuit of discovery.

I do not know when my next update will be. It is important to keep moving while on the streets in the Fringe, so I will be largely relying on finding these drops by chance. I hope that my research will prove to be useful. There is just so much to learn out here.

Dr. Kovski, signing out for now. May the Archon watch over us all.”

There were rumors he was an Inny. Those were only rumors, though. Only real good word was that he came from the North, that he was something called a talesman. He didn’t trade for meal in boom-pops or shells or even scrap, but in stories. He brought tales from the North itself, from the streets, from the old hideout of the Rocket Punks, even from the tunnels of the Dark Kin.

The talesman gave his name, but no one ever remembered it. Eventually, he stopped giving it. He was just the talesman, slipping in and out of bars or brothels, getting a meal in exchange for a story for the crowd, and then just listening. He would ask a few questions, strange questions, but he always had some scrap or a water token to make it worth the effort.

People liked to talk to the talesman, because that was all he ever wanted. He never promised more than he could give, never tried to snatch anyone’s scrap, never broke anything -- he just told his stories and listened to the stories of anyone who would give them.

The talesman was strange. He claimed most people from the North were like him. Some people didn’t like strange, but most people liked the talesman well enough.

After all, he just wanted to talk.

“This is Dr. Martollow Kovski, lead researcher in the expedition to the Southern Fringe. It has least twenty five days since the extraction. I have been unable to keep accurate count of my time in the Fringe, but I trust that the DFR will have more detailed records of when we first departed Atrius as well as when Senior Investigator Rodriguez brought his team to find us.

I do hope they returned safely.

It took far longer than it should have to find this drop. I have been in this area for the past eight days, and must have passed this alley at least a dozen times before I noticed the markings. Could certainly use the best eyes in Atrius now. I did manage to trade for some parchment, albeit of...questionable quality, and have left as detailed notes as I could manage along with this recording.

The Fringe has been fascinating . Though I did have to leave the area the Rocket Punks had previously occupied, as my time with Dismas had given me a strong association with him, I have heard many reports from fringers about the changes there. As I expected, the Children of Kon have claimed the Hot, and are using the ample resources within it to spread their influence even farther. It is unclear what may have happened to any Punks that survived the invasion. Judging from what I have seen of both the Kon and fringer culture as a whole, I believe it is safe to hypothesize that the slaves will have been kept to continue their work, and any still loyal to Dismas -- or the Punks in general, with Dismas no longer in play -- are likely to have been executed.

I have been following similar methods of interviews that we attempted at the beginning of this excursion, as it seems that most common meeting areas, such as bars or brothels, have an unspoken rule against violence while inside. I have witnessed more than one instance of two patrons beginning a fight, only to be bodily removed from the establishment and then left to their own devices. There are exceptions, of course, but for the moment I have determined that these are the safest places for questioning the locals.

Although I know I do not blend in as well as Investigator Rodriguez did, it appears that the guise of “talesman from the North” is a very convincing one. No one I have run into so far has been far enough north to dispute my claims, and there are a frankly surprising number of fringers willing to accept me as an...entertainer of sorts. I have been able to trade stories for meal on numerous occasions. I am certainly not short on stories these days, and many seem more willing to tell their own afterwards. I have included the notes from the most recent interviews -- one with a bartender named Napper, and a shorter one with a brothel’s owner named Crux -- in this drop.

I am faring well. Or, better than I expected, anyway. Fortunately, my slim stature makes me less threatening than many others, and thus less likely to be picked out as someone to challenge.

Unfortunately, it is likely also part of the reason I have been robbed twice so far.

I am going to try and find a proper weapon soon. I have used a pistol before, and I believe it would prove useful both for basic self defense and keeping a hold of what little I have. Last time I only lost one meal and a small bag of scrap I had found to trade, but it has made things...challenging.

Reeve, I’m hungry…

But, of course, the research must continue. I hope to use this drop again, as the fringers in this area seem to have grown used to my presence. If I didn’t know any better, I might say they even like me.

If it is allowed, please tell my family I am doing well, and doing what I need to. I think of them often.

Dr. Kovski, signing off. May the Archon watch over you.”

They always say trouble greets you with a smile. The talesman was no exception.

He was a pleasant man, even if he did talk a little funny. He came in, told stories, listened to anything anyone wanted to tell him with undivided attention. And he was never the trouble itself, not directly. They say he never touched a single pulse, never got involved in fights, never even raised his voice unless the story called for it.

But trouble...seemed to follow him.

First Crux’s place fell to shambles -- trouble with the bosses, they said -- and there wasn’t another half decent place for blocks. The falling out included harsh words, a few punches, and one warning shot into the ceiling. After Crux left, no one could keep things running like they should, and soon all the girls found better offers.

Then the real trouble came, with all of the surrounding gangs looking to take advantage of the demand that suddenly lacked a supply. More scuffles on the streets than usual, more kills to send a message, more tension between groups that had held uneasy alliances up to that point.

And, without anyone paying him any mind, the talesman slipped away.

He showed up at Big Herb’s place next, took the few days to settle in while everyone around decided whether or not to trust this funny-talking stranger from the North. They did, eventually -- they always did -- and then barely eight days later, Big Herb was found strung up in front of his own bar.

The Dusters had it on good authority he’d been skimping on his payments, they claimed. Suspected it for ages now, but he got what was coming to him.

And in the midst of the resulting protests and attempted retaliations, the talesman slipped away.

He was a pleasant man with a real knack for getting any crowd’s attention and keeping it. He never made trouble. He just wanted to collect the stories of the South from anyone who would offer them.

But he walked in with that smile and walked out as the place burned down.

“There appear to be only two speeds of events in the Fringe: either things remain stagnant for a very long time, or there are five raids and new leaders coming to power within an evening. While it is a fascinating dichotomy to observe, it also makes any kind of controlled research a real challenge.

Fortunately, the longer I stay in the Fringe, the easier it’s become to earn the trust of the locals. This has given me some...influence. Or, at the very least, a degree of trustworthiness. I’ve managed to nudge some events into motion a little earlier than they would have occurred otherwise and occasionally...we can call them experiments. Tests to see how certain aspects of society might change given specific stressors.

I try to stay for as much of the resulting events as I can, but when fringers are looking for someone to blame, I have found it best to be out of sight.

I keep finding myself concerned that my mark will show again someday. Rodriguez didn’t say the method of concealing it was permanent, but it certainly should have worn off by now if it weren’t. I suppose he assumed we would be returning to Atrius together, and would have a reason to...bring it back somehow.

Now, bringing it back would likely be a death sentence. Fringers certainly know what the mark is, and they would kill any Citizen they discovered immediately. I should be grateful the mark is hidden. Or gone.

Still, it hasn’t stopped looking strange to me.

There are skilled tattoo artists among the fringers. I may look into...meeting them. Inquiring about their businesses.

Things in this area are as calm as they seem to get for the moment. I’d like to -- scrap, someone’s coming, I need to go.

I’m just takin’ a starvin’ piss, what do you --

There were rumors. Always rumors.

He was actually one of the Dark Kin, crept up from the tunnels to avoid an execution. He was an Inny, sent to spy on them, to spread trouble wherever he went. He was...something else. Barely a shadow, passing through with his stories and his questions and vanishing without a trace.

No one knew how he was still alive. The talesman was generally accepted, provided he did his duty of entertaining, but there were always those who just wanted to start a fight. He never tried too hard to fight back, but somehow he always got away. Always moved on again to the next area, the next territory, the next audience.

The amount of time he spent at each varied, and that was the downfall of some. Rumors spread about the talesman, about how any group that let him in would fall. Anyone that heard his stories would see their work come crashing down around them.

Some grew wary of him, but after so many days, obviously the rumors couldn’t be true. His trade was stories, and he looked like a stiff breeze could blow him over. He couldn’t be any real threat.

Trouble came anyway.

Some were wary enough to not let him in at all.

Trouble seemed to come for them twice as hard.

It wasn’t always the total fall of leadership, or the collapse of a prominent gang. Sometimes it was just a shift in territory or an upset in an alliance, but it was always there, just as he suddenly wasn’t.

The talesman had quick feet and a quicker tongue. No one knew how he was still alive, but even when an entire building he had been frequenting was demolished by some well-placed explosives without warning, he showed up a few days later, many blocks away and no worse for wear.

Don’t let him in, or you’ll see trouble.

Don’t turn him away, or you’ll see trouble.

And whatever you do, never try to kill him.

“This is…

Ah, fuck it. This is Kovski. Not exactly much of a doctor anymore.

I dunno how long it’s been. How many of these updates I’ve sent. Considering I have yet to hear a single word back, I feel it safe to assume either nothing is getting over that wall, or the DFR has moved on.

I suppose, in a way, so have I.

But I’ve come too far to abandon the work now.

It was an unexpected...side effect, you might call it, that I’m turning into something of a ghost story in the Southern Fringe. The cultural implications of this have been harder to study, considering I’m the subject matter, but I’ll try to get some second-hand tellings of it when I get a chance. It makes talking to people a little more difficult, provided they recognize me. Still, relying solely on word-of-mouth accounts has a tendency to twist the facts, and I manage to find work even now.

There was a small rift in the Children of Kon. My notes on that are included in the drop. If anyone is ever coming to collect them. The dissenting side chose precisely the leader I’d expected, and the division of resources will make for an interesting shift in trade.

As long as I don’t run across Caimus again, the whole thing will have worked perfectly.

I’ll provide a report on the trade routes within a few days. Whether the information is being utilized or not is entirely out of my hands anyway.

Kovski, signing off.”

They say trouble greeted you with a smile.

In this case, that was very true.

Some said he was an Inny. Some said he was a ghost. All anyone really knew was that he’d come into a bar with a pleasant smile, looking like he was one missed meal away from turning to dust, and soon after he’d be telling his stories.

Rumor was, if you heard the start of a tale from the talesman, you wouldn’t be able to leave ‘til it was done.

Rumor was, if you heard the whole thing, any group you might run with was sure to see trouble soon.

He still got captive audiences. He was the talesman for a reason; his stories were new, his words smooth, and his hand slamming down on a table always came just at the right moment to make the whole bar jump. There were often mutters after he was done, because surely the rumors couldn’t be about this talesman. Surely someone this small, this pleasant, couldn’t ever stir up the trouble they said followed him.

Rumor was, if you saw the dark, intricate tattoo on his hand, you would be personally spared from whatever might be coming.

Rumor was, if you saw the small pistol he carried -- the only weapon he ever seemed to have -- even if he was simply adjusting his coat, you would die within eight days.

The talesman had no favorites and he had no loyalties. He was pleasant, he had that smile.

That smile that never really seemed to reach his eyes.

He arrived with a plan that only he knew. He vanished before anyone could figure out how to stop it.

“I’m sending this message just in case someone really is receiving them. I plan on traveling to the Western Fringe within the next few days, and I’ve got no idea if there are drops there. I’ll return to this area when I can, but right now, shifting my focus to new groups is best.

The South is too...aware of me. It’s influencing my interviews and skewing the data. I need fringers who are more impartial, and who don’t see me as another mysterious entity coming to wreak havoc.

I need better data. I need new subjects. I need a sample set that I can replicate some of the experiments on.

It would likely be easier to pass through the wall in order to get to the West, but even with the dual citizen mark, I can’t be sure I have access after this long. Anyway, given the constant silence, I can’t be sure I wouldn’t simply be executed on sight.

If there are drops where I go, my reports will continue. I hope they help better the understanding of the Fringe, and that somehow my work is helping keep Atrius safe. If there aren’t, I will try to summarize what I learn when I return.

Hopefully by then, the stories of me will have changed enough to let me study long-term effects.

The work will continue.

For now...the talesman is signing off.”