The Whorl

Game 25 - The Great River
4,140 XP = Total: 58,440 XP

To: Sitara Devi, Councilor of Ayodhya
From: Vorm Longeye
Re: After Action Report

It's still strange to call you by your real name instead of "Onyx" … just as strange as it is to hear my name on your lips. I had become used to "Topaz." Just for the record, I still think keeping our old code-names is a good idea. Things haven't stabilized enough to risk our families and friends, but if you say it's important to send a message of confidence, then I'll do so… albeit grudgingly.

We're nearly at the two month mark since the attack on our city that has resulted in our current, messy situation. We've thrown our lot in with the occupiers who attacked us, which is not a popular move in some circles, but again, I trust you. You say this is the best path to creating new, more egalitarian government and I have no reason to doubt you. Still…

Current death estimates are at nearly 50,000 citizens. Between the Emperor's ritual and the violence in the streets we have been quite literally decimated. The would-be Varunan conquerers, with their Titan of the Sea and creepy army of vaguely snakey soldiers clearly expected to conquer us by force and set themselves up as a new divine ruling class devoted to the sea rather than the sun. A big blue dragon put paid to that plan, and now the Varunan priest Kalyan is our "interim governor" while he desperately tries to avoid being assassinated (although, according to some, he's already been assassinated at least three times. The guy seems to have multiple lives).

You don't need me to tell you all this, of course. You're his new right-hand woman, rooting out Suryan loyalist insurgents, devil-summoners, saboteurs and assassins in the name of "Civilization."

I tell you this because, while I still trust you and follow you, the others in the cell are having second thoughts. It's all well and good to push for a new Council-style government, but we need to make the "interim" part of Kalyan's title a reality sooner rather than later. We need an Ayodhyan in charge of Ayodhya or this whole city is going to go up in flames. Now, my goddess may get a thrill out of that, but I'd rather not get stabbed in the back.

And that is my long-winded way of approaching the subject of this report: The week-long nightmare that has been the visit from the "Regal Swan", a ridiculous boat-temple to Sarasvati that sailed on up to our city without a by-your-leave seeking to spread "cultural understanding" to Ayodhya. Of all the paternalistic bullshit I've seen living under a literally immortal emperor, this takes the cake. All that "art" and "dance" and "music" and "culture" and hedonistic, naive decadence floating on a fragile, intricate machine has been occupying my nightmares for the whole week it was here. How many assassination and sabotage attempts did we foil? Way too many, that's how many.

Don't get me wrong, the whole thing was a marvel, but who sends a floating art museum into a simmering would-be war zone? Their high priestess should have her head examined.

Fortunately not all Sarasvati priests are so clueless. Saatvik shared my nightmares that whole week, I suspect. He and his team did marvels helping out the boat's chief paladin, Kai, along with me and the other security forces you sent. Having Vin there, publicly, probably deterred more attempts than anything. The guy has become a legend, appearing wherever he's not expected to capture or kill insurgents, preaching the ways of his twin goddesses. He's public enemy number one among some of the older noble families. I know there's been at least six assassination attempts on his life in the last month alone. I didn't expect the druid to be much use, but he rooted out at least one infiltrator and seemed to have a knack for finding the parts of the boat least-attended-to which also happened to be the places enemies tended to gravitate to. Even that head-in-the-clouds wizard of theirs got bloodied up a bit, foiling an attack by Twilight himself, or at least an agent of his. That one ended comically (although that's probably the most I need to see of one of Varuna's pet sea monsters). Even Tavi the Terrible proved useful. Her stories of their exploits against the Risen Son gave even the hardcore Suryan loyalists something to think about. Better to be an occupied city than one converted to undead.

The festival is over, the boat survived the various attempts to destroy it or discredit the message it was trying to send of cultural openness and sharing. It's hard to convince a formerly insular and xenophobic society that the rest of the world has anything to offer, but I must grudgingly admit that it did seem to make a difference.

More importantly, all the attempts we foiled netted us some useful prisoners. Hopefully we can finally start taking down the Royal Assassins that have been making life nearly not-life for so many of us.

Oh, as for that other thing, I have three of our most trusted agents ready to start moving around the city disguised as Vinihata, Tavi, etc. to keep up the illusion they're still around. Apparently they're off spinward into the hinterlands on some mission for Videha. Vinihata especially is too good a deterrent to allow to lapse in their absence, so I've done my best to keep their journey a secret. Whatever they're looking for out there, I wish them luck. I don't expect they'll come back. They're not Ayodhyan, after all. They have no reason to care, really, what happens to us so long as our troubles don't spill over into their Kingdom. Still, I gotta give it to them, they put a lot more effort into helping us than I would have expected. So. Good luck to them.

Bah. I've rambled on for too long. Reports are supposed to be concise. I'm a war-cleric not a writer.

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Game 24 - The Sea
4,680 XP = Total: 54,300 XP

Journal of Professor Sanjaya Pandava, Bardic College of Lore, Royal University of Mithila

How can I convey the complex tangle of emotions I'm feeling right now, the immensity of the tragedy and the enormity of the challenges ahead of us? How can I set down in paltry words the awe at the realization that the Eternal Solar Empire is no more, that the Immortal Emperor Rama I is dead, taking many thousands of his own citizens with him in some obscure apotheosis? How can I imagine the unimaginable tragedy of a three-thousand year old story of rape and obsession resulting in the awakening of two of the Ten Great Dragons and the direct conflict between the God of Storms and the God of the Sea? How can I help you, hypothetical future reader, imagine seeing the spectral army of the Glorious Dead outside their realm of Kurukshetra

How can I explain what it feels like to finally go home after a century in exile?

The Emperor concluded his multi-millenial plan, whatever it was. He enacted his murderous ritual. He got closure with his "wife," insofar as being impaled on a blade of pure darkness counts as closure. I see it as poetry. I have spent this past month collecting accounts from the chaos. Amidst the tales of pain, exaltation, tragedy and hope it doesn't surprise me to find the five members of my old Team Eka from The Thar Desert Expedition featuring prominently in many stories. I picked them to accompany me on that long-ago trek into the unknown because they all had a certain… spark to them, the hint of untapped potential. They have proven that instinct right in ways I never could have anticipated.

It was from Saatvik that I learned many of the details of the Emperor's ritual, as well as the twisted family backstory that underpinned it. It was, after all, Saatvik and his companions to whom the Emperor chose to reveal the true story of his long-distant young adulthood; the version of the story where his marriage wasn't the perfect ideal of noble marital devotion but rather a story of mind-control and rape. From the Emperor's own mouth he told a tale subversive to his own millennial campaign of propaganda, a story of covetous lust and kidnapping, exile and the eventual escape of his "wife" as Surya transformed them into the first wave of high Elves. He never saw her again, but according to Saatvik she joined with the rebellion of Aranyani, ultimately ascending to the Feywild alongside her new mistress and, over the millenia, ultimately seized control of the Shadowfell as the "Lady of Blades." All of this, of course, after bearing twin sons, one of whom rebelled against his mother in the way most calculated to hurt her… fleeing to find and learn from his father.

This misguided youth ultimately unlocked the loopholes in the laws of death, becoming the source of one of the greatest threats to the Whorl. Mithila fought back the undead hordes of The Risen Son millennia ago, and my old friends from Team Eka thwarted his more recent attempts at domination with the aid of the Emperor himself, but the Emperor plays a long game. His undead son's phylactery was the very golden statue of Sita, his "wife", that sits beside him on his throne in Ayodhya. His son's understanding of the laws of death were instrumental to the Emperor's own apotheosis. He set in motion the events that would permit his son to succeed him as Emperor, conceivably ushering in a new Empire of Undeath if Saatvik and his companions weren't there to stop him.

So. My tendency to ramble catches up to me. I'll try to be succinct: The Emperor built in secret a Titan of the Sea in collaboration with Varuna and his priesthood, using a secret work force of Yuan-Ti. With this devastating marvel of thaumaturgy he planned to conquer his own city in the name of chrysalis, transformation, an end to the Surya-worshiping stagnation in which it has been spiraling since the Great War… but not really. As with all things related to the Emperor, he has many reasons. In truth, he was tired of his immortal life, unique in the Whorl, and sought personal chrysalis, transformation, into something semi-divine, and he did not care what state he left his empire in when he left. 

He came out of his palace in the company of his golden statue "wife" to address the thousands of loyal citizens flocking in the Grand Plaza. He made utterances guaranteed to enrage Sita should she be watching through the eyes of one of her warlocks, which he knew she was. He then invoked long-prepared sympathetic magic to summon and trap her in the statue made in her likeness, whereupon she, driven by her hatred and rage, impaled him on a blade of night. This marked their first face-to-face meeting in nearly three thousand years, and he smiled. That's when all 15,000 or so citizens filling the Grand Plaza died as golden paving-tiles inscribed with symbols of death activated, the blood fountaining to form chains of red mist binding their souls to the dying Emperor. In this way he broke the gates of the Halls of the Dead and went… somewhere else. I suppose someday we'll know where.

And that's when his son struck. The golden body, you see, was his phylactery, and now his hated mother was trapped within it. He sought to bind her soul to his service, and that's when Team Eka struck. It seems that Tavi Agarwal, known nowadays as "Tavi the Terrible", more than a mere treasure-hunter, now a bound warlock to Sita, acted as a conduit for her rage. Supported by the others she fought the animate statue of Sita who had been stuck to her marble throne through prior subterfuge. The Risen Son, enraged by his immobility, raised all 15,000 dead citizens to undeath. The team had to withstand not only a steady horde, but also the dread Scorpion Guard of the dead Emperor and the Risen Son's own faithful lieutenants until such a time as Tavi could destroy the statute, Saatvik could pull the golden heart from its chest that bound the Risen Son to this plane, and his threat could be extinguished for good.

Some might fault me for focusing so much on the sordid family dynamics of the royal family rather than the devastation wrought by the Titan of the Sea as it rose to assault the city, disgorging an army of Yuan-Ti and Varuna's Children. Some might take issue with me glossing over the sudden stormclouds and the arrival of the Great Dragon Nila the Blue, bearing the word of Indra that War is Forbidden, and ordering all parties to lay down their arms. Some might take me to task for neglecting to speculate on how and why Tamra the Copper appeared and seemed to attack her own draconic sibling. Some might ask if it's true that the spectral Glorious Dead of Kurukshetra manifested in the Grand Plaza to make war upon the undead horde. What is there to say? Everyone saw these events. Everyone has a family member or friend who died in the torrents of seawater, the collapsing buildings, the lightning strikes, the rampaging corpses. I would prefer to focus on the small heroisms: the resistance cells, normally fractious and divided, disagreeing on how best to oppose an Emperor who, by his own hand, had just made their struggle obsolete, dedicating their efforts to evacuation and protection of the citizenry. The common people who, seeing opportunity, rose up against their oppressors, breaking the chains that literally bound demons to this world, often at the cost of their lives. The illegal priests to gods now at war struggling to see to Civilization amidst chaos.

And, ultimately, Nila destroyed the Titan. The city's beleaguered defenders, alongside the invaders, destroyed the undead. Our new governor Kalyan has been robbed of his dream of being a new Emperor and has been forced by circumstance to throw his efforts into a broader council, a coalition of factions. And this, the aftermath, the rebuilding, is where the real story lies.

There is Vinihata, alongside his reluctant druid companion Panja, putting in long hours digging survivors out of the rubble, preaching the virtues of Civilized behavior and the mixed blessings of the Twin Goddesses. There they are helping Onyx and her progressive cell of insurgents organize communities of commoners to demand a place at the table while a new government is formed. 

There is Saatvik and Tavi, working hard to disable the complex traps and magical defenses on the Imperial Palace so that the Emperor's secrets could be brought to light, including the fact of a vast marvel of pre-war technology, an energy network underlying vast tracts of the Empire that, with the expertise and research of Xedris Thrannis, has permitted fully a third of the Thar Desert to bloom with greenery once again. There they are converting the old palace into a grand Temple of the Pantheon, a place where all the formerly forbidden faiths could gather, and a place where I have humbly accepted the immense responsibility of converting the Emperor's old libraries into a new University.

Everywhere I look I see tentative glimpses of hope, a new birth for a city I thought hopelessly lost to its own morbid decay, a fresh start for a civilization once so caught up in bitterness over an ancient loss, so dogged in clinging to a disgraced god, that I thought it would never recover. And I wonder… is this what the Emperor intended? It is, after all, exactly what he promised. Did he betray his monstrous son a second time, while using him to accomplish his goals?

It hurts that I can still see glimpses of good in him. He was only my lover for a brief time, and our every intimate interaction was… perverse in the extreme. He is a monster who murdered thousands for his ambition, who spent millenia spinning a tale of horrific assault into a love story, and yet… 

I can't help but think that Ayodhya will grow from this devastation into something marvelous, and I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that it does.

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Game 23 - The Bride Price
3,200 XP = Total: 49,620 XP - Level 9

Ms. Jasmine, ma'am, thank you for that break for food and rest. I know I did a lot of talking about my own team's efforts to track down the Ayodhyan Resistance cells likely to be pawns of the Emperor, but although we found no hard evidence to support my theory, I do believe it's likely that at least a significant percentage of the Resistance is primed to support the sudden rise of the "Emperor's Son", perhaps even The Risen Son himself. 

But I promised you a bit more information about what Apex Team is up to. As I mentioned earlier, they were close enough to rescue me from almost certain capture and death when we were betrayed to the Ayodhyan Guard. Sadly, they were unable to respond quickly enough to save the lives of the rest of my team, and they very nearly didn't arrive quickly enough to save me, but Vinihata risked evisceration at the hands of a bone devil to whisk me out of harm's way, and the rest of the team, while remaining unseen, demonstrated a degree of tactical coordination that I had not been prepared to expect from the reports I've read ensuring that our escape from an escalating situation was remarkably smooth. 

It seems they've associated themselves with one of the less authoritarian cells, one with a Cleric of Durga on hand to more carefully vet potential members and so, presumably, decrease the possibility of infiltration or betrayal. I filled them in on my cell's discoveries and, in turn, Saatvik made sure I was fully aware of their own discoveries and plans so I could convey this report to you. Many of the details of what they've learned so far are in my written report, so I'll limit myself to a quick verbal summary of their intended actions.

They have chosen to focus all their efforts on destroying the golden statue of Sita that, they believe, contains the spirit of the Risen Son. They have a plausible operating theory that over the millenia the Emperor has made it a sort of sympathetic connection to the real Sita who, apparently, is the immortal mistress of the Shadowfell now. They fear that the Emperor's plan may involve invoking or summoning his former "wife" to either destroy, consume, or replace her, but there is as of yet no evidence to support this theory. It certainly has the resident warlock of Sita they've been working with worried, though.

It seems that Saatvik received a vision from his goddess that heavily implied that whatever the Emperor is planning for his own apotheosis, it will be well and truly completed before the chaos erupts. This would put them in the position of either striving to foil his plan or foiling the Risen Son's plan. After hearing my own suppositions, they seem even more determined to prevent an Empire of Undead on our dawnward borders, but this means that aside from any incidental opportunities, the Emperor may well succeed at whatever his long-laid plan is. We'll need to get our Clerics and scholars of the Realms a heads-up if we're going to get ahead of this.

Their current plan, as I understand it, is to sabotage the public throne of Sita in advance of the impending chaos with some "sovereign glue" they found to lock it in place for destruction, and then to wait for the Titan to rise and things to go badly. They'll then use Tatterdemalion's help to portal to right up to the statue and use the cover of the chaos to try to destroy it before they can be overwhelmed by the Scorpion Guard or, maybe, by the Emperor himself. It's a direct plan, and potentially suicidal, but from what I can tell it's probably their best option. They've already scouted the magical defenses on the Palace steps and seem confident they can make a good go at it. 

This will absolutely put them at the center of whatever Rama's up to. Hopefully they'll be able to steer events in a directly more beneficial to the Kingdom than what might otherwise transpire.

I'm sorry, it's been a long journey, and I have one more obligation to attend to at the Monastery of Dependent Co-Arising. I'm at your disposal should you have any follow up questions.

What? Oh. Yes, Vinihata asked a favor of me, and considering he saved my life, it's the least I can do. He also gave me this… odd coin.

I… see. I'll… keep it safe. Thank you for the advice and the warning.

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Game 22 - The Thief
2,400 XP = Total: 46,420 XP

My Lady of Blades, Mistress, Patron, I have expended the power necessary to stand once more in your presence so that I might tender my news in person rather than risk misunderstanding, or even interception. Although I have no certain proof of this, I fear you may be in imminent danger.

In my guise as "Tatterdemalion", thief-extraordinaire, I responded to an attempt to contact me in the Old Imperial district. At first I thought it another mundane transaction, but no sooner did I appear than I recognized that the gnome who called to me was one of Your servants. Through this contact I ultimately introduced her and her sundry companions to a cell of the resistance I deemed most likely to be sympathetic to their cause. I was correct, but even then did not even remotely anticipate the news and the opportunity they presented.

There was the usual back-and-forth as trust was established. Eventually, though, these newcomers made the resistance aware that a Titan of the Sea would imminently attack Ayodhya, apparently at the behest of the the Emperor himself, who sought some complex form of suicide or apotheosis by bringing largescale death and chaos to his own empire…

I see from the look in your eyes that you are already aware of these details, presumably through your gnome servant. They did eventually tell me that they had met you personally. I will skip ahead then.

They revealed their primary target to be the offensive golden idol of you that the Emperor keeps at his side. They believe it holds the soul of your son in some capacity and they seek to destroy it. Needless to say, I was very much in favor of this plan. I have long contemplated the means by which I might accomplish this task, and so we put our heads together to formulate various plans and debate the strengths and weaknesses of each. Although we have not reached a consensus, there was some speculation and some news important enough and disconcerting enough to warrant my arrival here in Your realm.

Firstly, the monk among them suggested that the Emperor might have even darker purposes for that statue than has thus far been apparent. He speculated that there might be principles of sympathetic magic at play, that the fact of the statue's likeness to you, and the fact that the citizens of the Empire have been obligated to treat it as if it really was you for millenia, might enable him to extend some sort of power over you from afar, even in your current state…

My most abject apologies mistress. I see I have angered you, but I also see that this anger stems from fear. Forgive me for speaking bluntly, but it seems from your reaction that this is a very real possibility. I entreat you to call upon whatever loyalties and alliances you have to try to safeguard you against such a possibility. One way or the other, things will culminate in a little less than a week. 

The other news I wished to convey personally comes from the newcomers, but also from a dwarf resistance member named Topaz who is a Cleric of Durga. It seems that the goddess of war is preparing herself and her realm. I cannot believe that Indra remains ignorant, and he may well awaken one or more of the Dragons to suppress the conflict before it gets too big. One of the Dragons is, apparently, awake right now and in Ayodhya as we speak. The Emperor's plan will unleash chaos and conflict among the gods not seen since the Great War, and we should all be prepared for the worst.

I will be present to aid these foreigners in their goals, as they align with my goals. By helping them, I place myself closer to the hated Emperor. Perhaps I will have an opportunity to disrupt his plans.

My eyes are your eyes, and my blades are your blades. I return now to the city of your hated foe. Things will change soon. I will do my utmost to ensure those changes are for your betterment.

 

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Game 21 - The Son
2,720 XP = Total: 44,020 XP

(Translated from Cant)

Violet,

Tavi the Terrible is just as crazy as you said she was. She and a mixed-bag posse that would have shouted suspicion if not for the haughty high-elf among them showed up at my warehouse out of the blue. I assume I have you to thank for that. You could have given me warning. She claims they're looking to move cultural artifacts dug up from the desert through the city, but that doesn't make a lot of sense. I assume it's a smokescreen for some other clandestine activity, and knowing you, it's probably espionage of some sort. No skin off my back, business is business.

Still, when I dropped the hint that there's a specialist outfit that engages in the high-risk high-reward pursuit of royal robbery, she practically jumped at the chance to throw her life away. I told her the extra creepy way to contact them and she didn't blink. Maybe she doesn't know the rumors that surround the Old Imperial district. Those millenia-old estates rotting amidst overgrown gardens are said to be haunted by things worse than the ghosts of the ancient imperials, worse even than the devils that casually walk the streets here. I dunno, you claim that her reputation isn't as overblown as I'd expect considering Shah Khan's shameless habit of self-promotion. I guess we'll see if she and her friends come back alive.

~Salvador

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Game 20 - The Date Palm
3,200 XP = 41,300

Archmage Lorelei Qualm,

You asked that I provide a full, written report once I have a few moments. I entirely understand your skepticism about my claims to have negotiated terms with one of the Ten Great Dragons but I assure you, my visions of our forthcoming operation have stabilized significantly in the wake of that most singular meeting.

It started, apparently, with a shopping trip. 

As you may know, in addition to my role as a Diviner at the Wizard's College, I teach classes on augury and interpretation as an adjunct at the University. My office there, while small, is suitable for my needs. It sits next to the office of another illustrious wizard who also provides adjunct teaching services, the Abjurer Tuala. One of her students, Xedris “Somabhakta”, was procuring some particular spells from her in preparation for his own role in the imminent troubles. Tuala, being not the most discreet individual, mentioned my recent disturbing divinations as to the fate of our task force and the disturbing and repeated images of Tamra the Copper that I had taken for metaphor.

It so happened that Xedris was accompanied by a monk named Vin, and it so happened that this very person was responsible for awakening Tamra from her endless slumber. He came next door to talk to me about it, much to my horror and surprise. It never occurred to me that my many-times-ancestor was actually awake and active within the Whorl. Vin told me the tale of how she was awakened and why, and how she continues to remain awake. It would appear she owes him a boon and cannot slumber once more until she fulfills it. 

And so, through a series of seeming coincidences, the literal truth of my visions was laid bare before me. It seems Tamra has been tasked with seeking the secret of mortality, and she is likely to seek it within the Emperor's library during the chaos soon to be unleashed upon Ayodhya. This, of course, would bring her in direct conflict with our own mission there. Vin seemed to think he could intercede with Tamra on our behalf, and I promised him the gratitude of the Wizard's College should he do so, not truly expecting him to be so… efficient.

Mere hours after his departure, the door to my office disintegrated in a spray of poisonous acid and the spell I'd asked Tuala to cast to ward my office, which was still persisting, was blown down in a blast of countermagic and I was face-to-face with one of the most powerful corporeal beings in all the Whorl. She was holding a teacup. She entered my office, sipped her tea, and quite calmly asked me how we might avoid conflict in the near future.

The conversation itself was oddly anticlimactic. All she expected from us was a promise to allow her to take whatever books or scrolls she needed for her task, and she in turn was quite willing to leave the rest to us. We worked out a system of recognition, sign, and countersign so that… misunderstandings won't occur in the confusion.

After she left, and after I cleaned up my office and repaired my door, Vin returned. He called in his favor and asks that we engage in arcane retrofitting of his Monastery, imbuing the structure with wards and protections such as may reflect the degree of our gratitude. Considering the death I saw in my visions previously, I'm inclined to be generous in that regard. 

Clearly this Vin fellow piqued my interest significantly. I spent some time engaged in divinations specifically on him and his companions. It would appear that the five of them have been quite central to the events leading up to the anticipated chaos in Ayodhya, and they continue to have a central role. As agents of the Ministry of Culture, it's unsurprising that they're not more famous for it, what fame they have coming almost entirely from their recovery of a Titan's heart from Professor Pandava's recent archaeological expeditions. It would appear they're to infiltrate Ayodhya in advance of the uprising so as to be in position to thwart whatever plans the Risen Son may have, and possibly to thwart the Emperor's own inscrutable goals. 

I opted not to delve too deeply, and opt now not to put too many details into writing. I do know that they consulted with Ofuoma, our resident soul-theorist, and other experts in preparation for their departure.

I wish them fortune, and they have my gratitude for turning aside a certain doom that loomed large before us. I have far greater confidence in the success of our objectives now, and my visions show the usual range of successes and challenges.

Yours,

Megaera

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Game 19 - The Serpent
3,800 XP = Total: 38,100 XP

Translated from Abyssal

Your Holiness,

We have finished our "interrogation" of the priest Saatvik. I use the word in quotes because it was less an interrogation than a friendly conversation that he wasn't free to leave. It turns out his reputation was accurate in all particulars. With just the slightest prompting he ended up telling us all about the Emperor's secret Titan of the Sea and his somewhat incredible plan to not only re-engineer an entire species in exchange for centuries of free and secret labor, but also his plan to overthrow himself in the name of some sort of apotheosis. Saatvik even told us his speculation that, perhaps, the Emperor in his hubris seeks to ascend to Mahadeva's empty throne somehow.

The full particulars are in the attached informational summary. Of particular interest to Our Lord may be the very active and very real participation of His brother Varuna in this scheme, not to mention the suggestion that Varuna may well have violated Indra's law that no new races be created in the Whorl. 

As for Saatvik's companions, they were far more capable at rooting out complex conspiracies than I gave them credit for, which had unfortunately lethal consequences for our subcontractor, but which fortunately did not extend to open conflict. We handed them some very valuable information about the Minister on the Council of the Wise in Videha that wanted them all dead in exchange for them agreeing that our convoluted "assassination" attempt would not cause any ongoing issues between us.

The loss of the subcontractor is a particular blow Lilani (or Aolani, or Nolini, etc.) was an extraordinary talent when it came to juggling multiple simultaneous personas and cultivating an extensive network of potential disposable proxies for poison-based assassination. That poor half-elf waiter at the Rotund Barrel restaurant was just one example of the sort of men she would wrap around her finger. When we had her impersonate Tavi to hire him to slip a diluted poison into their meals we had no reason to believe they would somehow track her to her apartment within hours of the deed. We're still looking into where and how the information trail led them from the restaurant to her. It's also a shame to lose a perfectly good clay golem, but hey, we didn't pay for it.

It's also unfortunate that she was forced to use that clay golem in a frontal attack on a constable's office. Although the chaos proved a useful distraction that gave us plenty of time to talk to Saatvik, we do generally try to avoid any of our proxies or contractors coming into direct conflict with representatives of the Law. I assure you, I take Our Lord's chosen Aspect seriously, notwithstanding my… unconventional approach. Fortunately no members of the Watch were killed, although some were seriously wounded.

Tavi's companions are resilient indeed. They survived a poisoning, then a fight with a clay golem, then a fight with a master assassin and her associates all in a span of hours. Perhaps that's why, when they finally arrived at our tavern, they weren't in the mood for further violence. It may also be true that Tavi was able to convince them that without us underbidding the assassination contract on them for our own purposes they may well be dead. We had to walk a careful tightrope between appearing to attempt the contract while also leaving them alive to create the smokescreen while we accomplished our true objective.

I imagine the Minister of Agriculture won't be very pleased that her assassination failed. Then again, that's what she gets for going with the lowest bidder.

Yours in Faith
Violet

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Game 18 - The Vizier
2,800 XP = Total: 34,300 XP - Level 8

(In Private Cipher)

To my esteemed colleague Fenster Stone, Minister of War:

I think you'll agree after today's session that my rising stars are resourceful indeed. In addition to the intelligence they gathered from the jungles of the Empire's Bastion they managed, in a single day and through disparate sources, to compile additional information casting some light on the intentions and motivations of Ayodhya's emperor.

Saatvik's indiscretion is one of two, regrettable, character flaws in evidence in the group. I'm impressed by the facility with which you guided our colleague the Archmage to conclude that Saatvik's loose lips may, indeed, sink ships if this intelligence is not acted upon imminently. She gets to look the hothead while we all benefit from considering the possibility that we do not have the luxury of time in this matter.

The other flaw, of course, is our gnome's tendency to swear pacts to dark powers on a whim. Of all the beings she could have sworn to, The Risen Son is perhaps the worst, politically. It's a shame she crumbled under the subsequent interrogation. I think she could have made the case for infiltrating the enemy if our colleagues of Agriculture and Civics has given her space to breathe. Fortunately, she has forsaken that pact for one with a much more politically beneficial patron for our purposes. Thank you for changing the direction of discourse before she was forced to say too much about it in that forum.

It seems that our deliberations are moving toward permitting the Emperor's plan to proceed, and perhaps, even, to clandestinely aid its speedy progress. It falls to us, therefore, to find the loose threads of his design and foil those aspects that do not favor us or the Kingdom. I admit that I am of two minds as to how best to use the assets under discussion should things go the direction they appear to be going.

While I agree with your assessment that the Emperor's invitation to our agents to ride along with the Titan of the Sea during its assault on Ayodhya is intended to contain them and place them where he can account for them, the temptation (as with all the Emperor's blandishments) is that the offer is almost too good to refuse. Our agents may not have the operational flexibility they'd enjoy on the ground, but they would be in a position to neutralize the biggest and most dangerous piece on the board. I know your preference in the matter, but I think I'll need to wait for the next round of reports from my agents in Ayodhya before I can recommend one course of action over the other. Also, we should not forget our agents' preferences on the matter. We do, after all, have multiple teams. We can afford to give them a certain degree of leeway in how to pursue the course of action they've been so instrumental in setting in motion.

Although Saatvik and  Xedris did most of the talking, I imagine you noticed that the monk Vinihata was assiduously reading the room and quietly communicating his observations. His personal philosophy may be eccentric, but he has a piercing eye. I could see the effect of his insight on the words Saatvik used to sway our Minister of Religion. And let's not forget our rough druid who, notwithstanding his lack of formal etiquette, bears a powerful token of the favor of Kali.

I think these agents will rise far in the Ministry of Culture, unless you or someone else poaches them from me. To partially pre-empt such a notion, consider me interested in any joint operations you may have in mind for their talents, and we can have our people discuss whose budgets will suffer the brunt of them.

I remain, as always, your humble colleague and friend,

Ms. Jasmine, Minister of Culture

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Game 17 - The Merchant
2,660 XP = Total: 31,500 XP

To Aranyani, Queen of the Fae, Mistress of the Feywild and First Among Elves,

I send you this letter in our cipher and by the hand of my most trusted servant. The Accursed Emperor moves, at last, and I fear I have not your wisdom to anticipate him or plan for his subtleties.

A druid of our drow cousins came before me in my palace escorting mortal visitors to my realm. One of them was a druid of your people, another a Cleric of Sarasvati, another bore the marks of the Twins of Fate, another stayed silent and wide-eyed, while the last bore a strange mark upon her soul I did not at first recognize.

They spoke to me of a plan, long in its creation, that would imminently elevate my accursed captor and rapist to true immortality among the godrealms. I spilled the blood of the child of the River and through it saw, for the first time in thousands of years, his loathsome face in the child's memories.

It seems that the Emperor tires of his life. He builds in secret a Titan akin to the bastions of the Old Empire but dedicated now to Varuna. With it he seeks to conquer his own Empire, enabling a successful insurrection to slay him. In so doing, these messengers believe he will ascend to something greater than merely another dead soul, but rather something that can rival you or me. 

These messengers from the mortal world have encountered him more than once. I watched the Cleric's recollections from the first encounter in the ruins of a Titan of the Sun, through a brief appearance at the Dawn Forge. I witnessed him regaling them with a version of his and my mutual history shocking for how accurate it was, and for the details he lavished on his abuse of me, the years I spent with my mind and body magically enslaved. I saw their most recent conversation, engaged in mere hours before they sought me out wherein he spoke of his plans for apotheosis, his face nearly orgasmic at the mention of seeing me once more. 

Through the revulsion and the rage my mind could not help but wonder: Why was he going to such efforts to warn me of his plans? I know enough of his mind to realize that his mention of me, on multiple occasions, was very likely intended to lead these messengers to me, that they were acting in accordance with his desires and his plans. Why, though, would he seek to prepare me for his arrival? Surely he knows that the only greeting he will receive from me are my blades. 

One part of my mind suggested that this may be his twisted way of apologizing. That seems entirely impossible to me, but I am hardly an unbiased observer. This is why I write to you, who have become more than a mother to me. 

There were other things in the Cleric's memories of the Emperor. It would appear my wayward son Kusha exists, still, as a potent spirit of the dead. He has discovered a way to free himself from the Halls of the Dead and seeks to bring a plague of undeath upon the Whorl. That was when I realized what it was about the gnome. She bore my son's mark, his power and his resentment lived inside her, albeit weakly. It would appear that through the millenia he has found a way to tie himself to mortal objects and mortal servants and this gnome had sworn a pact with him.

This revelation was a surprise to some of her companions, not to others. She claimed she swore the pact in order to stay close to his counsel to ultimately defeat him. The druid among them appeared to have no tolerance for her reasons. His hatred for my son is pure. I offered, as recompense for the service they had done me, to sever my son's connection to their companion and tie her instead to my power. She agreed. I may now keep a closer eye on their movements and dealings with the Emperor, and will let you know of any further developments.

I do know that after they returned to the mortal realm they reported all they had learned to their political masters. It seems as if they plan to aid the Emperor in his scheme and thereby, through blood and revolution, drag our people out of decline. I cannot fault their ideals, even if I remain deeply concerned about what, precisely, the Emperor himself is getting out of this. They spoke to his representative in Xin, a tiefling creature bound to Surya, and she spoke of timelines and other mortal affairs. The details of their departure and return to Videha are unnecessary to recount to you.

You have greater sway among some of the gods than I do. I would entreat you to discover what you may of Varuna's part in all this. I cannot help but wonder how long Indra will remain ignorant, and what he may do once he learns of his brother/sister's collusion with an Empire that has spurned and insulted the gods for so long. You have always been better than me at such subtleties, I ask for your advice and your wisdom.

Yours,

Sita, Lady of Blades, Mistress of the Shadowfell

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Game 16 - The Mirror
2,800 XP = Total: 28,840

Boss, hey, it's me, Trout. I got some pretty crazy news for you today. You've probably already heard about that group of Civilized folks that came to Xin the other day claiming to be a scholar and his guards. The scholar seems legit, and the guy in full-plate mail couldn't be subtle if he tried, but the rest of the gang is all sorts of shifty, and one is actually pretty famous. I'll get to her in a bit.

So they obviously drew the eye, and pretty much everyone in town knew about them within the hour. They beelined for my establishment where they bartered some fine steel cookware for the top floor and all the security that entails. The gang and I went out of our way to make them feel welcome. 

After settling in, they made only one excursion out to Anathema's shop. Ann closed up shop to have a private chat, even sending that pretty daughter of hers out to keep an eye out. She doesn't do that for anyone, which makes me think whatever their real business is in town it has to do with the big secret project all the Yuan-Ti try not to talk about deep underground. Events later that evening bore this theory out.

So they came back to my place to confer. We figured they were being too watchful for us to be able to really spy on them, so I don't know what they talked about, but they seemed really jumpy for a few hours. Then, in the dead of night, there was the sound of combat. The security staff rushed up the stairs as fast as they could, but they arrived just in time to see the assailant dispatched by our badly-wounded guests. The assailant was… um… well… you know how some of the Yuan-Ti can look really freakish? This was the most freakish snake monster I've ever seen. It was enormous and had six heads. I have no idea how it got into the top floor, but one of our guests say it could shapeshift, so it probably flew in a window before turning into an enormous monstrosity. 

One of them, a high-elf male who had, previously, presented himself as a half-elf female, pulled me aside and indicated he suspected that the Imperial Representative Cinder may have sent the monster and they want me to repay our broken security guarantee by arranging an ambush for her lackey Shah Khan for interrogation. This confirmed that my guests are opposed in some way to the Yuan-ti's Project, as if the water-pattern on the monster's scales wasn't clue enough. 

I see no reason not to help them, even if it runs the risk of running afoul of the Green Hands. I figure I can arrange an ambush out of sight of the general public. I Yuan-ti and the Empire aren't our concern, so whatever, let them play their spy games and assassination games. I figure helping these guys out is worth it to cement our reputation as the premier hospitality establishment in this whole overgrown, ruined heap. Obviously if you have a preference or any orders let me know, otherwise I'll arrange their little ambush and generally stay informed for the sake of the Organization.

Oh, I was gonna say, "Tavi the Terrible" was with them. She totally slipped by unnoticed when they were checking in at first, but she came to warn us about the possibility of an attack prior to the actual attack. We had security on full alert, but sadly they were on lower floors. We didn't anticipate flying assault that we couldn't see from the ground. We'll fix that in the future. Anyway, Cinder's lackey Shah Khan has been spreading all sorts of shit about this Tavi for weeks now, so maybe they suspected she'd show up? Or maybe it's coincidence. Either way, for those of us who can't stand the insufferable bastard, she's something of a celebrity. I, for one, am looking forward to what she does to the guy once we spring their ambush.

 

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