My memories of you have already faded to a dull ache, a shadow and a ghost where you once lived in my mind and in my heart, and all that remains of you is a cold rage and desire for revenge. I am filled with a power I never imagined before as a baker in Heian. Then, my days were consumed with the challenges of creating enough bread for the community with limited and sometimes ad-hoc supplies. Now I have communed with a newly resurgent crocodile goddess, trading my memories for revenge, and crafted a sword from ironwood and crocodile teeth. I have cut down trolls who stood in my path, and met strange heroes from outside the swamp who seek to prevent the sun from being extinguished.
I always knew my desire to avenge you would likely result in my death. The crocodile goddess makes no promises. Her gifts make one stronger but do not necessarily make one strong enough. I don't think I truly appreciated how deadly a task I had set myself until I met the outsiders though. I had spent a week in prayer and meditation at Ammit's shrine with the old, blind priest creating my sword and then another few days poling my boat through increasingly impassable swamps when I received a magical communication in my mind from the shrine-keeper telling me of others seeking to slay the Queen of the Hags. I asked that they meet me at the Burning Obelisks and I spent a few days waiting. I don't know exactly what I expected but it was not the strange assemblage of people who eventually arrived.
They were clearly from more Civilized lands, wearing armor and clothing that no sane swamp-dweller would wear, but they made up for such hindrances with powerful magic, walking upon the surface of the swamp's water with ease, explaining, I suppose, how they caught up to me so quickly. I took some precautions to ensure this wasn't some hag trick. One of their number, Lankeshvar, seemed hesitant. His companions reassured me that his potential aversion to my protections was due to his own bloodline. He's apparently a descendant of a god, much like Isa, who I already knew. Whatever his birthright, he passed my test and I asked them why they cared to avenge my daughter. They were quite forthright in their response that while they considered what happened to my daughter to be abhorrent, their goals were to stop the Hag Queen's larger agenda, something that I knew nothing about, nor particularly cared. Still, it appeared we had common cause, and so I agreed that they might travel with me.
Their attention was, however, rapidly diverted to the Burning Obelisks themselves. They apparently knew something of the magic that powered them and they engaged in more magic to permit them to breathe water so they might submerge and investigate the artifacts. I didn't much care, and so I stayed above with Isa to keep watch. Some time passed with no apparent threat before I was suddenly overwhelmed by a blast of cold that incapacitated me immediately. I awoke, coughing swamp water from my lungs, with the outsider Saatvik by my side having healed me, to see the outsiders fighting with a trio of hags who had, apparently descended from above on magical wooden flying-staves. Two of the hags had already been disposed of by the time I was brought to consciousness, but my fury consumed me and I called out to the crocodile goddess and her children killed the remaining hag.
We left the Burning Obelisks whose light had faded even further in the time we had been there and sought dry ground to camp. The golden-skinned elf performed three nested spells to create a campsite of such magical security that I was amazed. We settled in to recover from our wounds. Late in the night, we were awakened by those on watch to see a manifestation approaching. She was a beautiful woman clothed in utter darkness within which sparkled tiny lights like the lights of the skylands at night.
The outsiders called her "Ratri" and through their talk it became clear to me that she was the Mother of Hags, the Lady of Claws, Shurpanakha disguised in a fair form. I drew my sword and prepared to either slay her or die in the attempt, but I was persuaded to allow the outsiders to speak with her first.
I don't claim to have understood even a fraction of their conversation, but it became immediately clear that I was out of my depth. The outsiders asked the Hagmother why she had stolen vast energies from the Eternal Solar Empire and she told them to rejoice for she planned to "free" all of us "mortals" from our "prison." She referred to us as "cargo," a term the outsiders had clearly heard before, and indicated that our individual lives mean nothing to the gods, only our large-scale aggregate prosperity. Their purpose is to deliver us, alive and thriving, to some unstated destination, but that this purpose had been subverted. She told us of her desire to snuff out the sun, killing the whorl, to force something she called "planetfall."
The others seemed just as confused about this term as me, except for the wizard Lankeshvar, who reacted strongly, exhorting the Hagmother not to speak of this "planetfall," for it is apparently the one secret that the god of secrets will slay anyone who knows. He called her "grandmother" and entreated her not to doom us all with this deadly secret. Perhaps to support his entreaty in her eyes he… transformed, showing what I suspect was his true face, a cat-like countenance with strange, inverted hands. She clearly recognized him and demanded to know what her "son" wanted with her. It seemed to me, then, that his honorific of "grandmother" was not metaphorical but, perhaps, literal. He renewed his entreaty that she not doom us with the deadly secret of "planetfall" and that she please step aside from her goal of snuffing out the sun. She acquiesced to the former, although would not commit to the latter. Instead of telling us this secret she asked us a question instead. What were we taught of the reasons for the godswar?
Xedris gave a summary of the generally held knowledge about the sun god creating elves, sparking a war over their immortality, the sun god's greed for his father's power, the slaying of the king of the gods and the alliance against Surya that led to his own imprisonment. She then asked us why Surya created the elves in the first place? Was it truly just hubris? Or was there a reason. She implied that the gods warred for reasons entirely different than the ones we had been taught. All the gods want to preserve the prosperity of their "cargo" and deliver them to their destination. It became clear that the war was fought over a difference in opinion as to how best to accomplish this goal. She claimed that our current existence was a decaying status quo, stasis, and would ultimately result in the deaths of everyone. By forcing the death of the whorl, she would kill most of us, but those of us who would survive would ensure the thriving continuity of our kind.
It seemed the conversation was over, and so I decided it was time for me to slay her. That's when I learned another lesson… apparently, according to Saatvik, one's sworn enemy always appears, first, as an illusion or manifestation. She vanished leaving my desire for vengeance unfulfilled… for now.
My companions engaged in a heated debate about what the Hagmother had told them. Lankeshvar, who returned to his human semblance, claimed not to know any more about "planetfall" than the term itself, and the fact that apparently the god of the underworld will doom any who know it. Conversation turned to the metaphor of the whorl as a boat on a great river. Piecing together a theory from what they had heard, they surmised that perhaps in the eyes of the Hagmother the boat had sprung a leak, and the dock was broken. The gods could make the people on board swim ashore through monster-infested waters. Most would die, but some would live. Alternately, they could wait for the slow leak to sink the boat and kill everyone. It's a depressing thought. I must assume that the gods who so clearly oppose the Hagmother's plan have some alternate plan in mind that will preserve more of us than her mad agenda.
In order to attempt to ascertain this, the two clerics sought the advice of their gods. Saatvik saw no visions, but Xedris was… dramatically incapacitated by what he saw, frothing and babbling about the cold darkness, and vast terror, and whatnot, biting his tongue in a fit of madness. Saatvik cast a spell upon Xedris and Xedris fell unconscious. We were all disconcerted by this. The druid Panja stepped outside the magical protections of the campsite and withdrew a rib bone from a bag which summoned a terrifying creature, apparently a messenger of the goddess of death, who confirmed that the gods, for all their squabbles, were unified against the Hagmother's agenda, but that they could not act directly against her due to their own edict, or curse, placed on the Hagmother so long ago. Which means, of course, that it falls to we mere mortals to save the whorl from destruction.
Daughter, I fled to this swamp years ago to escape my mother, your grandmother, and her increasingly mad plans for me. I made a life here learning how to bake bread from local swamp grains, contributing to the community. When I left Heian to avenge your loss on the hags who had taken you I never imagined, not once, that an obscure crocodile goddess would embroil me in events such as this. But although I am now just a humble baker from a swamp town built on the ruins of a more glorious age, I will do everything in my power to rise to this occasion. Although I am in the company of men and women of vastly greater knowledge and power than me, I will seek to comport myself well in their company. And should I die, Isa will bear this letter back to the crumbling remains of the Eternal Solar Empire and will deliver it to my mother so she will know what became of me, and of the grand-daughter she never knew she had. Although I hate her, and cannot bear even to address this letter to her, she does not deserve to die in darkness unwarned.